The entire national structure of the kingdom, which was thought to be ordained by God himself, came crashing down. This event fulfilled centuries of prophetic warnings, as hundreds of years of tradition, culture, and history was destroyed in just one year. This was their Day of the Lord, and it left them absolutely devastated.
Read the book of Lamentations if you want some somber reflection on what it felt like to live through the tragedy of Jerusalem’s destruction and the people’s enslavement under Babylonian rule. You can understand how it may be hard to find hope in such a situation. That is why the book of Isaiah plays such a key role in the Old Testament, especially given its placement in the ordering of the Hebrew Bible (if you are reading along with our Bible Project plan, it’s placed here instead of after Songs). Isaiah’s entire focus is hope on the other side of the exile. From the very first chapter of the book, this hope shines bright, and it comes right on the heels of the most devastating moment in Israelite history. Let’s first explore the exile and then the hope we find in Isaiah.
Yahweh was eternally committed to his promises to Abraham, Israel, and David, which means he was committed to dismantling Israel’s kingdoms if they were unfaithful to their covenant obligations. God would allow Israel’s national structures to be wiped out so he could create a faithful remnant of who would return and be faithful (see Isa 10:21). God is faithful to his promises, those that come in the form of blessings, and those that come in the form of punishment and exile. The Israelites made a promise long ago in Moses’ day, which you can read more about in this blog. If they were loyal to their God and to each other, He would bless them and make them His treasured possession. However, if they rebelled and did not keep His covenant, he would turn His back on them… at least temporarily. As Deuteronomy 28:36-37 says, “The LORD will exile you and your king to a nation unknown to you and your ancestors. There in exile you will worship gods of wood and stone! You will become an object of horror, ridicule, and mockery among all the nations to which the LORD sends you.”
Ouch. Hindsight being what it is, one could say God was faithful to that promise; even in His correction and punishment. But that was a long time ago, right? You could have expected the Israelites to forget such a promise/warning. But they didn’t just have ancient scrolls to remember, they had the living, breathing prophets getting in their faces on a regular basis. For centuries the prophets had been warning Israel and their kings (read more about the prophets in this blog). As you read through the rest of the books of the prophets you’ll discover just how widespread Israel’s corruption and covenant failure had become.
Before the end, Kings like Hezekiah and Josiah tried their hands at reform and even took a few steps forward. But it was too little too late. The king who came in between these two, Manasseh, took Israel’s apostasy to a new level, unparalleled in the family of David.
“The Lord spoke by His servants the prophets, saying, “Because Manasseh, king of Judah, has done these abominations, things more evil than all that the Amorites did and has also caused Judah to sin with his idols, therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel: I am bringing evil on Jerusalem and Judah, such evil that the ears of whoever hears about it will tingle. I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria and the level of the house of Ahab, and I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes out a bowl, wiping it and turning it upside down. I will disregard the remnant of My inheritance and give them into the hand of their enemies. They shall become plunder and spoil for all their enemies, because they have done evil in My sight and have provoked Me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day.” – 2 Kings 20:10-15
A hard message. Remember what happened to the northern kingdom in 722 B.C? Samaria, under corrupt kings ruling in the spirit of Ahab’s ways, was hauled off into exile by the Assyrians. This is the same verdict and sentence rendered to Judah by Yahweh here. Five short chapters later, Jerusalem falls, systematically plundered, methodically enslaved. Every item they had amassed in their storehouses was removed. This was the Egyptian exile all over again, but they were not the ones collecting the goods, and they were not being set free (See 2 Kings 25).
Is this how it ends? The prophets before this event were considered crazy, but now their words of warning were vindicated. That is why the writings of the prophets grew in importance after the exile. Nobody was listening before their predictions came true. Surely God was on their side. Israel’s kings were divinely appointed and mandated. They were untouchable. However, after the fall of Jerusalem, the tables were turned. The prophets were right. So, what now?