Temple to Temple

The Final Years of the First Temple Period (Part 3)
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Thursday 10th December 2015

The body of Yoshiyahu (Josiah), King of Judea, was brought back to Jerusalem from the Battle of Megiddo, having been pierced by 300 arrows in battle. One of the Kinnot (poetic lamentations) that we say on the Tisha B’Av tells of this tragic event. The Battle signified the unravelling of the kingdom of Judea and the beginning of the events that lead ultimately to the destruction of the First Temple:

The Egyptian army, led by Pharaoh-Necho, was making its way northwards to engage the newly-emerging, combined power of the Medes and the Babylonians. As the old empire of Assyria began to fade, the Babylonians perceived a power vacuum. The Egyptians noticed the same vacuum and a chance to reassert their power in the Middle East. The city of Carchemish, located at the northernmost point of the Euphrates River, was of strategic value to both armies and the race to win Carchemish commenced.

As the Egyptian forces climbed northwards, Yoshiyahu ran into battle to stop the Egyptian army from crossing his land. Sadly, his end was swift.

The people choose Yoshiyahu’s second son, Jehoahaz, to be king. Jehoahaz was vehemently opposed to the Egyptians; it was for this reason that he was chosen to be king ahead of his older brother. For the very same reason, when Pharaoh-Necho – during the battle in Carchemish – found out that Jehoahaz was on the throne, he had him swiftly removed. After just three months of ruling, Jehoahaz was sent to Egypt, perhaps in chains. The prophet in Kings II (chapter 23) tells us that he died in Egypt.

Next to assume the throne was Josiah’s older son – and well known Egyptian sympathiser– Yehoyakim. Yehoyakim quickly swore allegiance to Pharaoh-Necho and started paying tribute.

In the fourth year of Yehoyakim’s rule, the Egyptian army was still entrenched in Carchemish when a decisive battle against Nebuchadnezzar, the general of the Babylonians, took place. Nebuchadnezzar absolutely decimated the forces of Pharaoh-Necho in Carchemish. During the following six months, he gained control of most of the land in the north and east of the Middle East. He then started working his way southwards.

The coastal plains were controlled by the Philistines, from Gaza in the south to Tyre in the north (situated in modern day Lebanon). From the Babylonian chronicle, we learn that the King of Ashkelon – an ally of Egypt – wrote to Pharaoh-Necho, begging for aid, as he saw the armies of Nebuchadnezzar descending from the north, annihilating everything in their path. The King of Ashkelon received no answer from his Egyptian ally. The city was decimated and its people sent out into exile. Yehoyakim was worried. Should he change sides? Would the Egyptians come to save the Judeans?

Next week, we will see that Yirmiyahu’s (Jeremiah’s) prophecy complicated the situation even further.