What was the Babylonian captivity / Babylonian exile?
In Israel's history, at the end of the time of their kings, the Israelites were attacked and captured by King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. The Babylonian army completely destroyed the temple and much of Jerusalem, and the Israelites spent seventy years living in Babylon. This period of Israel's history is called the Babylonian captivity or the Babylonian exile. It is significant because it was prophesied about in the Old Testament and it had a big spiritual impact on the Israelites and their faithfulness to God.
The time leading up to the Babylonian exile is recorded in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, during which the Israelites lived unfaithfully to God by worshipping false idols, sometimes going even as far as sacrificing their children to these idols. God used the prophet Jeremiah to warn His people against their idolatry and to tell them that they would be captured by Babylon if they did not repent (Jeremiah 25).
Unfortunately, they did not heed the word of the Lord. Second Kings 24 records the events leading up to the fall of Jerusalem. King Jehoiakim was forced into vassalage under Nebuchadnezzar II around 607 BC when Babylon was spreading across the known world. Jehoiakim died at a young age, and Nebuchadnezzar II sieged Jerusalem during the reign of his son Jehoiachin in 597 BC. King Jehoiachin surrendered himself to Nebuchadnezzar, and he was taken away to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar seized all of the treasures that were in the temple, as well as all of the officials, all of the mighty men, all of the craftsmen and smiths, and 10,000 other captives. This included all of the brightest, most learned young men to appear in Nebuchadnezzar's court, including Daniel, Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abednego). Only the poor were left in Jerusalem.
Nebuchadnezzar II made Jehoiachin's uncle, Zedekiah, king in his place. At this time, Jeremiah prophesied to Zedekiah, saying "Bring your necks under the yoke of Babylon and serve him and his people and live. Why will you and your people die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, as the LORD has spoken concerning any nation that will not serve the king of Babylon?" (Jeremiah 27:12–13). Zedekiah ignored the word of the Lord and rebelled against Babylon, so Nebuchadnezzar came against him. This time, Nebuchadnezzar sieged Jerusalem for over a year, and the people inside the city suffered greatly: the city ran out of food; Zedekiah was captured, and his sons slaughtered before him; the temple was set aflame, as well as the king's palace and all of the great houses in Jerusalem; and all of the people were taken into exile in Babylon except for a few poor vinedressers and farmers (2 Kings 25:1–21).
While the Israelites were captive to Babylon, some people accepted the Babylonian way of life and religion, while others rebelled against it. Still, others chose a different way. Daniel and his friends chose to live in Babylon, adapt to a new way of life, and even support the Babylonian kings, but their allegiance was to God. When their faithfulness to God was challenged, they were willing to lay down their lives rather than worship false idols. This is how God commanded the Israelites to live in Babylon: "Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare" (Jeremiah 29:4–7). God continued to work even during the Israelites' captivity. The books of Daniel and Ezekiel were both written during the time of the Babylonian exile. The book of Ezra records the Israelites' return to Jerusalem under the Persian king Cyrus, as Daniel prophesied. Nehemiah also records the rebuilding of Jerusalem at the end of the exile.
One of the biggest impacts of the Babylonian captivity was that the Israelites never again practiced idolatry. God ultimately judged Babylon as He promised, and Babylon was destroyed by the Persian empire. The Babylonian captivity reveals that God is true to His Word. It also demonstrates that He will bring about the chastisement His people need in order to walk faithfully and receive His blessings. Babylon also becomes a metaphor in the Bible for worldly temptations and idols. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah set an example for us to look to as we navigate this world. Like the Israelites in Babylon, if we have put our faith in Jesus Christ, we are aliens and exiles (1 Peter 2:11). Our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). We can take instruction from the way God commanded the Israelites in Babylon: we are to build our homes and our gardens, serve our countries and work for their good. Peter echoes similar instructions throughout 1 Peter. Just as the Israelites were to continue to serve God even in their exile, our full allegiance must remain in Jesus Christ, who has the power to save our bodies and our souls.
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