Temple to Temple

 
A Bleak Situation (Part 7)
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Friday 4th December 2015

Eleven years prior to the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem (586 BCE), the situation in Judea looked bleak.

The last righteous king, Yoshiyahu, had died in a battle against the Egyptians at Megiddo. His second son Yehoachaz then ruled for just three months before being dethroned.

Yehoachaz’s elder brother Yehoyakim subsequently ruled for eleven years. During his reign, the children of the aristocracy were exiled and were raised as protected hostages within Nebuchadnezzar’s palace in Babylon.

Yehoyakim’s son Yechania briefly succeeded his father. During his three month rule, a further ten thousand of Judea’s best and brightest citizens were exiled. Whilst extremely traumatic, it marked the beginning of the building of the Jewish community in Babylonia, as we have discussed previously.

This demonstrates how the death of Yoshiyahu signalled that Judea was no longer able to exist in the world independently of its neighbours, becoming a vassal of either the Babylonians or the Egyptians, often flipping sides in the hope of maintaining an existence in between the world’s two ancient super powers.

The last king from the Davidic line to rule Judea was the youngest son of Yoshiyahu, appointed by Nebuchadnezzar in another attempt to align the Judeans with Babylonian interests.  Originally called Matanya, the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni) describes how, upon ascending to the throne, he changed his name to Tzidkiyahu, as a prayer that that his sons would be tzadikim (righteous people). However tzedek - the root of the word tzadikim - also means justice. During the reign of Tzidkiyahu, G-d meted out strict justice to the people.

Nebuchadnezzar, having been betrayed previously by a Davidic king, made Tzidkiyahu swear allegiance.  The following eleven years, culminating in the destruction of the Temple, saw mounting pressure on Judea and in particular on Tzidkiyahu, from all sides. He was faced with a ruling aristocracy that challenged his hold over his political decisions. Jerusalem and the coastal plains came under envious Egyptian and Babylonian eyes. Most of the wise and experienced leaders had been exiled.

As if the geopolitical and internal struggles were not enough, one of Tzidkiyahu’s biggest challenges was the ongoing bleak prophecies of Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah).

Next week we will analyse the story of Chanania ben Azur, who set himself up as a rival to Yirmiyahu and related positive, optimistic prophecies.