In our previous article, we listed the three times when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon laid siege to Jerusalem and then looked in some detail at the second siege. In this article, we look at Nebuchadnezzar’s third attack on Jerusalem, the best known and the most devastating attack, that resulted in the complete destruction of the city. By that time, Nebuchadnezzar was reigning over a large empire, yet he dedicated almost two years to the conquest of Judah (during the 17th-19th years of his reign).
It’s easy to just think of such sieges as historical details rather than as terrifying experiences that affected the lives of millions of people. A powerful and ambitious nation like Babylon was a recurring threat that never left the surrounding nations in peace. Nebuchadnezzar’s final siege was the third attack in 18 years, and each one had been more frightening than the previous one.
The book of Jeremiah contains many details that are not in chronological order, and putting the events of the third siege in order is not easy.
Zedekiah (originally known as Mattaniah) was probably in the 9th year of his reign when the initial attack came. Maybe it was a desperate attempt to placate God because of Jeremiah’s constant warning that punishment was coming, but whatever the reason, King Zedekiah made an agreement with the people that everyone should free their Hebrew slaves. A special ceremony was arranged, similar to the experience of Abraham so long before.
Terror on Every Side! Volume 4 “The Darkness Deepens” tells the story as it may have been:
“…the calf was led out to stand patiently near the large altar in the courts of the temple. A large group of men – all those who owned Hebrew slaves – stood nearby waiting for their turn to shine as generous and godly citizens. Many had very little experience with worship in Yahweh’s temple, and several priests were on hand to give instructions as necessary. A large crowd surrounded the group; these were the slaves whose freedom was being promised in a covenant made in the name of Yahweh before many witnesses.
“My brother carried the knife and swiftly cut the calf’s throat, starting the blood draining into a bowl. Levites caught the calf as it collapsed, and soon it had been carefully cut in two. One part was left where it had been slaughtered, while the other was carried to one side to leave a pathway between the halves.
“One after another, the rich slave-owners walked between the pieces of the unfortunate calf, and as each one passed, a cheer arose from the watching crowd and smiles broke out on many faces.”
When the solemn ceremony was over, all of the Hebrew slaves had been freed, but their freedom was short-lived.
Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and his army moved towards Jerusalem, prompting Nebuchadnezzar to lead his army away to face the approaching threat.
The people of Judah thought that their deliverance had come, and it’s not hard to imagine their relief as they saw the last Chaldean soldier disappear towards the south. But then they got to thinking. The rich people, in particular. If the threat was over, what was the point in pleasing God by freeing their slaves? God’s promised destruction hadn’t come, so why not ignore him (and their promises) and reclaim their slaves? In short order, the slaves were “re-possessed” and the slave-owners had made it clear just how much their word could be trusted. God was not pleased and announced through Jeremiah that Nebuchadnezzar would be back.
We do not know how long Nebuchadnezzar’s army was occupied driving away the army of Egypt, but the impression given is that it was not very long – probably somewhere between a few weeks (3-4 weeks) and a few months (maybe 3-4 months). However long it was, the holiday was over when Nebuchadnezzar returned to Jerusalem on the 10th day of the 10th month of the 9th year of Zedekiah. This was probably in December or January – the wettest and coldest time of the year in Jerusalem. From that time until the 9th day of the 4th month of the 11th year of Zedekiah, Jerusalem stayed under siege.
By the time the Chaldean army returned, Jeremiah had been put in prison, and he stayed there for some time afterwards. Later he was moved to the court of the guard. He was still imprisoned, but seems to have had more freedom than where he was originally confined. This is where he was in the 10th year of Zedekiah, when God told him that Hanamel his uncle’s son would come to him offering some land for sale.
So events in the ninth year of Zedekiah may have unfolded something like this (using the months of the Jewish religious calendar):
|Month number in Judah||Estimated time in our calendar||Events|
|1||March/April||Nebuchadnezzar attacks Israel/Judah|
|2||May||Nebuchadnezzar arrives at Jerusalem and besieges it (Jeremiah 34:1-7)|
|6||start September||Rich make agreement to free their Hebrew slaves (Jeremiah 34:8-10)|
|6||mid September||Zedekiah sent Jehucal the son of Shelemiah and Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah the priest to intercede with God (Jeremiah 37:3)|
|7||start October||Pharaoh moves army towards Judah (Jeremiah 37:5)|
|7||start October||Nebuchadnezzar and his army leave Jerusalem to deal with Pharaoh (Jeremiah 34:21; 37:5)|
|7||mid October||Jeremiah told them that Nebuchadnezzar’s army would return and burn Jerusalem (Jeremiah 37:7-10)|
|8||end October||Rich break their agreement and reclaim their slaves (Jeremiah 34:11)|
|8||end October||Messages of condemnation from God for breaking their word and warning that the Chaldeans would return (Jeremiah 34:21-22)|
|9||end November||Jeremiah tries to go out of Jerusalem (probably to Anathoth) to receive some land but is arrested (Jeremiah 37:12-14)|
|9||end November||Rulers/officials were enraged, and imprisoned Jeremiah in the house of Jonathan the scribe for many days (Jeremiah 37:15)|
|10||December/January||Nebuchadnezzar returns to besiege Jerusalem on 10th day of 10th month of 9th year of Zedekiah (2 Kings 25:1-2; Jeremiah 52:4; Ezekiel 24:1-2)|
Thus, if Jeremiah was imprisoned in the 9th month of Zedekiah’s 9th year and had been moved to the court of the guard at some time in the 10th year of Zedekiah, the “many days” he spent in prison would be between 3 and 15 months.
See also Sieges.
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