Temple to Temple

A Competing Prophecy (Part 8)
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Thursday 3rd December 2015

The people of Tzidkiyahu’s time had slipped considerably in their Torah observance since the better days of his father Yoshiyahu’s rule. We read in the Midrash of how the idol worship that had previously been done in secret became so public that made its way into the sanctuary of the Temple. The corruption amongst the aristocracy had consumed the people.

The people looked far and wide for other gods, perhaps in order to avoid accepting the prophesies of Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah). Yirmiyahu had been warning the people for years about the impending destruction. A new prophet emerged, with a positive message, named Chanania ben Azur.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 89a) relates that while Yirmiyahu walked in the upper market of Jerusalem with a yoke across his shoulders, prophesising that the end was nigh, Chanania would take  Yirmiyahu’s prophecy and turn the negative message into a positive statement, disseminating his falsehood in the lowers street of the marketplace. He would say that the yoke of Babylon would no longer be on their shoulders. He even went as far as grabbing the yoke off of Yirmiyahu and breaking it, to demonstrate that the liberation and not the exile was on its way.

The people were eager to believe Chanania. Firstly he offered hope. Secondly, at this point Nebuchadnezzar and his troops were stretched thin across the region. The Babylonians had been invaded in the south of the empire by the country of Eylan near the Persian Gulf. The people of the capital Nineveh had rebelled. The Babylonian troops had also suffered losses in their latest battle against the Egyptians. Perhaps the people were justified in hoping that the Babylonian empire had overstretched itself.

Tzidkiyahu was forced to throw Yirmiyahu into a pit, an almost certain death sentence. Yirmiyahu, after escaping, went on to prophesise Chanania’s death in the coming year. Chanania indeed died and Yirmiyahu was proven to be the true prophet.

At this point, as the destruction of the Temple was only a few of years away, it was the pressure put on Tzidkiyahu from the aristocracy that finally caused him to betray Nebuchadnezzar and brake faith with the oath he swore, and ultimately with G-d.