The People Go into Exile
2 Chronicles 36:15–21; Psalm 137
2 Chronicles 36:15–21; Psalm 137:1–6
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Retell the events leading up to and following the destruction of Jerusalem.
2. Review how God continues to warn humanity of the consequences of sin.
3. Write a personal “psalm” confessing one specific area of spiritual need.
How to Say It
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Nov. 13—Embrace Wisdom (Proverbs 1:20–33)
Tuesday, Nov. 14—Key to the Good Life (Proverbs 8:32–36)
Wednesday, Nov. 15—Jeremiah Prophesies Judgment (Jeremiah 1:11–19)
Thursday, Nov. 16—Jeremiah Predicts Jerusalem’s Fall (Jeremiah 25:1–11)
Friday, Nov. 17—Zedekiah Rebels Against God (2 Chronicles 36:11–14)
Saturday, Nov. 18—Jerusalem Falls (2 Chronicles 36:15–21)
Sunday, Nov. 19—Psalm of Remorse (Psalm 137)
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. —Psalm 137:1
Why Teach this Lesson?
“Oh, I can’t drink these days. I’m allergic to alcohol and narcotics. If I use them I break out in handcuffs.” The harsh reality behind that humor from actor Robert Downey, Jr. spells out the truth in today’s lesson: often we fail to correct wrong behavior until circumstances force our hand. If we would only listen to God’s message to us at the warning stage, we might avoid calamity.
This lesson will hit people differently. For those experiencing loss it is a reminder that God—then, now, and always—is in control and is working through the hard times as well as the good times to accomplish his will. For those in a period of calm, this account can encourage a time of soul searching.
Are you neglecting any warnings in your life? Is God speaking to you through his Word, through Christian friends, through your circumstances, or through nudges by his Holy Spirit? Give attention to his warning before sin’s consequences make an unfriendly visit.
A. One Unforgettable Day
Some older Americans will remember where they were and what they were doing on December 7, 1941—the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. A more current example of an unforgettable day would certainly be September 11, 2001. Who can forget what he or she was doing or the emptiness that was felt upon hearing and seeing the Twin Towers in New York City being attacked?
Whatever you feel inside when such events occur, it may be similar to how the people of Jerusalem felt as they witnessed the Babylonians ravaging their holy city and setting Solomon’s magnificent temple on fire. We should not miss what the religious implications of this action were at the time it took place. The Babylonians’ destruction of the temple of the God of Judah implied that their pagan gods were mightier than Judah’s God. After all, so the thinking went, if the Lord were stronger, wouldn’t he have intervened to protect his sacred dwelling place?
Of course, that was not at all the case. Prophets such as Jeremiah repeatedly emphasized that the Babylonians were not conquering Jerusalem through their own might; the Lord was giving Jerusalem into their hands as punishment for the sins of his people (Jeremiah 27:5–7; 34:2). Even some Babylonians recognized this truth (see Jeremiah 40:2, 3).
The destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of God’s people did not signal the absence of the Lord; on the contrary, these events provided evidence of his control. The events validated his prophets as messengers who conveyed his truth.
B. Lesson Background
Conditions in Judah deteriorated rapidly following the death of Josiah in about 609 b.c., the last godly king in that country. Here is a summary of the reigns of Judah’s last four kings:
Jehoahaz, also called Shallum, was a son of Josiah. He reigned over Judah only three months. He was taken captive to Egypt, where he died (2 Kings 23:31–34; Jeremiah 22:11, 12).
Jehoiakim was put on the throne by the Egyptians after they had removed Jehoahaz from power. This was another son of Josiah. He ruled for 11 years (609–598 b.c.). He was a striking contrast to his father. Jehoiakim lived in personal extravagance (Jeremiah 22:13–15), pursued dishonest gain, and set his eyes and his heart “on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion” (22:17). During Jehoiakim’s reign, King Nebuchadnezzar came to power in Babylon as Egypt declined in influence. Jehoiakim switched his loyalty to Babylon in an attempt to keep up with the times, but rebelled after three years (2 Kings 24:1). The Scriptures do not indicate how Jehoiakim died; possibly he was assassinated.
Jehoiachin, Jehoiakim’s son, ruled for only three months. He was taken captive to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 b.c. His later release from prison and elevation to a position of honor in Babylon is mentioned in 2 Kings 25:27–30 and Jeremiah 52:31–34.
Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, was another son of Josiah. Zedekiah reigned for 11 years until Jerusalem fell in 586 b.c. Weak and unstable, he refused to heed the counsel of Jeremiah to surrender to the Babylonians (Jeremiah 27:12–15; 38:17, 18). When the Babylonians finally overtook Jerusalem, Zedekiah watched as they slaughtered his own sons. The Babylonians then put out his eyes and took him to Babylon (39:5–7), where he most likely was at the time of his death.
The two printed texts for today examine the fall of Jerusalem from two perspectives. The first, from 2 Chronicles, summarizes why this tragedy occurred. It also provides a somber description of the Babylonians’ destruction of the city and the exile of its residents.
The second passage is taken from Psalm 137. Though the author of this psalm is not named, the contents clearly reflect the perspective of someone experiencing the anguish of living as a captive in a foreign land. However, the psalm also conveys the dogged determination not to forget the beloved city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem may have been out of sight, but it was certainly not out of mind.
I. Pleas of the Prophets (2 Chronicles 36:15, 16)
The verses immediately preceding the section covered in our printed text recount what took place during the reign of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah. In particular, it is noted, “all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful, following all the detestable practices of the nations and defiling the temple of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 36:14).
Visual for Lessons 2 & 12
Keep this map posted throughout the quarter to help set the geographical context.
A. God’s Mercy (v. 15)
15. The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place.
The Lord has responded by giving his people fair and frequent warning of the judgment they face if they continue in their sinful practices. God is described as repeatedly sending these faithful messengers. As noted earlier, these messengers include prophets such as Jeremiah. Others who serve at this time include Habakkuk and Zephaniah.
Notice that God’s pity extends not only to his people, but also to his dwelling place. God had promised to put his name in Jerusalem after the temple had been completed (1 Kings 9:3; 2 Kings 21:4). In addition the identity of the people is so closely bound to the temple in Jerusalem that God knows that its destruction will be an especially devastating burden for them to bear. Yet, as 2 Chronicles 36:14 tells us, the people have defiled the temple through their pagan practices. The time has come when God’s judgment can no longer be avoided.
B. People’s Mocking (v. 16)
16. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.
Here is how God’s efforts to reach out in pity to his people have been received: they mocked the messengers of God, despised his words, and scoffed at his prophets. When the Son of God comes to save mankind from sin, a similar response is noted in John 1:11. See also Stephen’s description in Acts 7:51-52.
What patience God has! Yet eventually such callous treatment of the Lord’s messengers results in God’s wrath. He is aroused against his people and there is no remedy. No remedy is available, not because God cannot supply one, but because the people’s sinfulness has reached the stage where they are not willing to accept any remedy (compare Romans 1:24, 26, 28).
II. Power of Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:17–21)
The Babylonians defeated the Egyptians at the Battle of Carchemish in 605 b.c. (see 2 Chronicles 35:20; Jeremiah 46:2). This epic battle changed the balance of power in the ancient world. After defeating the Egyptians, the Babylonians turn their attention to Judah.
A. Lives Lost (v. 17)
17. He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and spared neither young man nor young woman, old man or aged. God handed all of them over to Nebuchadnezzar.
Both the beginning and the conclusion of this verse highlight a pivotal truth: it is the Lord who brings up against his people the king of the Babylonians, and God hands his people over to Nebuchadnezzar. A secular historian may explain the Babylonian triumph over Jerusalem as the exercise of sheer political and military supremacy. The Bible reveals the primary cause to be the Lord’s deliverance of his people to be judged.
B. Treasures Taken (v. 18)
18. He carried to Babylon all the articles from the temple of God, both large and small, and the treasures of the Lord’s temple and the treasures of the king and his officials.
Suppose you pulled into the driveway of your home after work one day only to see someone dousing your home with gasoline and preparing to strike a match and set it on fire. What would you do? The answer is obvious: you would do all you could to stop him! As noted earlier, the mind-set of the time would ask why Israel’s God does not come to the rescue of his house—his temple and its treasures. The answer has nothing to do with the weakness of the Lord. He allows these tragedies to occur in fulfilling his promises of judgment.
C. Buildings Burned (v. 19)
19. They set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there.
The two main structures of many cities of the time are the temple (a spiritual landmark) and the wall (the primary source of defense). The Babylonians destroy both. The palaces—symbolic of status and wealth—suffer the same tragic end.
It was February 13, 1945, and it seemed as if the sky itself was on fire. By the end of the two-day bombing raid, 650,000 incendiary bombs had fallen on Dresden, Germany. Dresden’s cultural treasure had been epitomized in the Frauenkirche (frau-in-kur-kuh), the “Church of Our Lady,” built in 1743. It had been called one of the most remarkable buildings in the world. Now it was a burning treasure.
The morality of the Dresden attack is still debated. At best, the bombing of Dresden can be said to be an example of the consequences of warfare. The nation of Judah felt similar consequences when Babylon’s forces sacked Jerusalem. Those forces burned its greatest treasure, the temple, and either destroyed or pillaged everything of value in the temple and in the city.
There is a similarity of cause in the burning of the treasures of these two cities: the cause, somewhere along the line, was sin. None of us can say whether a calamity such as the burning of Dresden was an act of God. But Scripture is clear why Jerusalem was destroyed. We should heed the warning. —C. R. B.
D. Remnant Removed (v. 20)
20. He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power.
“The doctrine of the remnant” is one of the most important in Old Testament prophecy. In spite of God’s judgment, he does not completely destroy his people. Just as he speaks warnings through his prophets (see v. 15), so also he speaks hope and promise. In time a remnant will return (Isaiah 10:21; Jeremiah 23:3; Ezekiel 6:8; Micah 2:12). That remnant eventually will be the source from which the Messiah comes to offer deliverance to all peoples from the captivity of sin.
This verse reveals another important truth: the Babylonians’ days on the center stage of world history will reach their limit—just as the Assyrians reached theirs before being overthrown by Babylon. Eventually, the Persians will take control of the Babylonian empire. Under the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great (next week’s lesson), the remnant will be granted the opportunity to return to their homeland and start anew.
E. Rest Remembered (v. 21)
21. The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah.
The law of Moses prescribed a sabbath year for the promised land—a time (every seventh year) during which the land was to be given a rest. It was not to be cultivated or harvested. The people were instead to eat what grew in the Sabbath year (Leviticus 25:1–7). Such a procedure gave the land the opportunity to be replenished for further use. This law also reminded the people of Israel that they were caretakers who cared for the land according to the giver’s stipulations.
However, like many of the laws God gave to his people, this one had been ignored. In a sense the land cried out for God’s judgment to be administered, for it had not been treated according to the giver’s directives. The punishment for violating this law is found in Leviticus 26:34, 35, the language of which is very similar to the wording found here in 2 Chronicles.
III. Passion of God’s People (Psalm 137:1–6)
This psalm captures the bitter sentiments of one who is enduring captivity in a foreign land.
A. Bitter Memories (v. 1)
1. By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
Memory can be a wonderful gift, but it can also be a source of unbearable heartache. Tragedy often causes one to look back and long for happier days. Emotions run high whenever the captives in pagan Babylon remember the sacred site of Zion. Zion gained significance because of David, who brought the ark of the covenant there (2 Samuel 6:12). Eventually the term Zion comes to mean the entire city of Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:21).
It should be noted that Jeremiah, known as the weeping prophet, had shed countless tears while warning God’s people of the coming judgment (Jeremiah 13:17; 14:17). Now, because they had refused to heed the prophet’s tears, they are the ones weeping.
B. Brutal Masters (vv. 2, 3)
2, 3. There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
The people’s despair in their captivity is multiplied by the way their captors are making light of their sorrow. Sing us one of the songs of Zion! they say mockingly. But this is hardly a time for songs of joy, whether vocal or instrumental.
C. Better Memories (vv. 4–6)
4. How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land?
Some music is just not appropriate in certain settings. Songs of the Lord do not seem right when sung on foreign soil or sung simply to comply with the sarcastic requests of one’s oppressors.
5, 6. If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.
In verse 1 the memory of Zion had brought tears to the captives. But that memory is also the source of hope to them. Here the writer expresses his fierce loyalty to Jerusalem in an oath, pronouncing a kind of curse on his right hand and on his tongue if he should forget Jerusalem. Having earlier mentioned the harps (v. 2) and the songs of Zion (v. 3), the writer says, in effect, “May I lose the ability to play the harp and sing if I allow the circumstances of captivity to affect my devotion to the beloved city of God—Jerusalem!”
Longings, Worthwhile and Otherwise
Between 1830 and 1850, the total mileage of railroad track in the United States went from 23 to 9,000. At the same time steamboats were providing a new form of transportation. In 1844 the first telegraph message was sent. It was about the year 1850 that former New York City mayor Philip Hone, age 69, bemoaned, “The world is going too fast!” He longed for the good ol’ days when horse-drawn coaches sped along at the rate of six miles an hour (Newsweek, Nov. 29, 2004).
The nineteenth-century Industrial Revolution was just the beginning. The rate of change has been accelerating ever since. Some of us lament the increasing complexity of technology. The classic example is the inability of some of us to program our VCRs. We might as well give up: DVDs are now the state of the art. Yet even they will likely be outmoded soon by another technology.
“Even nostalgia ain’t what it used to be!” That comic’s quip says a lot about our longing for a more peaceful past, or a healthier past, or an [add your own longing here] past. We catch some of that spirit in Psalm 137. But it contains more than a longing for days past, lost in the “daze” of imperfect memory. There is a recognition that some values of the past are worth keeping. When we think wistfully about the past, is it to long for something important—something that is “of God”—or is it for something trivial? —C. R. B.
A. The Enemy Is Us!
From the comic strip “Pogo” by Walt Kelly comes an often-quoted line: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” That statement could be applied to a variety of situations, including the history of God’s people in the Old Testament.
From the beginning of its existence as God’s holy nation, Israel was warned repeatedly of the need to remain faithful and obedient to the Lord. The people’s worst enemy would not be any of the peoples cited in Deuteronomy 7:1—the various names ending in “ites,” whom they were commanded to destroy. The “ites” who became their worst enemy were the Israelites themselves! Today’s text from 2 Chronicles highlighted this tragic truth: God’s people had no one to blame for their captivity but themselves.
To what extent is this principle applicable to the church? While it is true that our world has grown increasingly hostile to the Christian faith, is it not also true that at times Christians have brought some hostility upon themselves? Think of our arrogance toward others, our infighting, our general lack of love (John 13:35). These have caused many to treat the Christian faith as if it were a disease instead of the hope of the world.
B. Look in the Mirror
The story is told of a minister who began serving a church in a small town. After he arrived, he spent a few days visiting the homes of the members and urging them to attend his first service that coming Sunday. But only a few people came.
After several Sundays like this, the minister placed a notice in the newspaper announcing that the congregation appeared to be dead, thus it was his duty to give it a decent burial. The funeral was to be held the following Sunday afternoon.
The next Sunday the building was filled nearly to capacity. (Many had come simply out of curiosity.) In front of the pulpit was an open casket. The minister read an obituary and delivered a eulogy. He then invited those present to step forward and pay their respects to the deceased.
Each mourner who filed by peered into the casket and then turned away with a sheepish look. In the casket, tilted at just the correct angle, was a mirror. Each person saw himself or herself as the reason for the death of the congregation.
New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007 . Standard Publishing: Cincinnati