Jeremiah had prophesied that Nebuchadnezzar would destroy Jerusalem. The destruction happened, just as God had said, but straight after that, Judah had a bumper harvest. This is a very unusual situation. When a nation is attacked and pillaged, a famine normally follows, further increasing the survivors’ sufferings.
Let’s explore what happened at that time, and perhaps we can find out why.
With the current Hebrew calendar, the year can start as early as 13th March or as late as 12th April. In considering this harvest, I’ve used the current Hebrew calendar as a guide, although there is no proof that the calendar would have been exactly the same in 587/586BC.
Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem finished on the 9th day of the 4th month of the Jewish year (Jeremiah 39:2; 52:5-7), which would be some time between the middle of June and the middle of July. One month later, Jerusalem was destroyed, starting on the 10th day of the 5th month (Jeremiah 52:12). This was probably sometime between the 17th of July and the 16th of August.
In my series of novels Terror on Every Side! about the life of Jeremiah, I assumed that the fall of Jerusalem happened in July 587BC and the destruction of Jerusalem in August.
Following the destruction of the city, Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah governor of Judah. Gedaliah encouraged the remaining people to gather wine, summer fruits and oil (Jeremiah 40:10). Wine requires harvested grapes, and oil requires harvested olives. Gedaliah was encouraging the surviving remnant to get on with the work of harvesting and processing what the harvesters gathered. Would people have bothered with this if they were sure their harvest would be stolen from them?
However, Gedaliah’s instructions seem to have been given after most of the Chaldeans had left the land, probably to go to Riblah, from whence they proceeded to Babylon. By this time, then, there were few Chaldeans left in the land – reducing the likelihood that the harvest would be taken from them.
This is where the interesting situation arises. It was probably mid- to late-August when the instruction was given and we are told that the people gathered wine and harvested summer fruits in great abundance (Jeremiah 40:12).
Now grapes would normally have been harvested around mid-June to mid-July, while Nebuchadnezzar was still besieging Jerusalem and laying waste the land. God’s hand was heavy on his people as the siege ended and the nation was brought to its knees. However, he seems to have lifted his heavy hand once the punishment was underway. In fact, it was not just stopping punishment, it was positive blessing! Crops started growing well. Once again, the mercy of God is shown even in the midst of punishment and destruction. God did not intend to destroy his people, just to teach them a lesson. In the normal course of events, the invaders would have left the land of Judah ruined, bereft of any possible harvest, yet instead we read of bumper crops!
God really does show mercy when people do not deserve it.
Maybe the harvests were late that year just to make sure that God’s people could survive.
After all, common harvest times for summer fruits in Israel are:
It seems likely that the harvest of all of these fruits was delayed until after the Chaldeans had left, with the result that, instead of famine, the remaining people were blessed with more than they could use.
Ordinarily, winter figs are harvested from mid-October to the end of October. Maybe this too was delayed. Ploughing would normally begin between mid-November and mid-December, but if everyone was to be taken to Egypt, they may not have bothered ploughing. The land was meant to be left fallow every seven years (Leviticus 25:2-4), and we are told that during the captivity, the land would enjoy its Sabbaths (2 Chronicles 36:21), presumably meaning both the weekly Sabbaths and the years of rest for the land.
God was merciful. Why? Not because of their behaviour, but because of what God is like (Exodus 34:6-7). He never intended to destroy his people completely, simply to punish them to teach them a lesson and try to save some from the national choice of evil over good.