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CHAPTER XXXVIII

THE FALL OF JERUSALEM

b.c. 586

2 Kings xxv. 1-21

"In that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all nations."—Zech. xii. 3.

"An end is come, the end is come; it awaketh against thee: behold the end is come."—Ezek. vii. 6.

"Behold yon sterile spot

Where now the wandering Arab's tent

Flaps in the desert blast;

There once old Salem's haughty fane

Reared high to heaven its thousand golden domes,

And in the blushing face of day

Exposed its shameful glory."

Shelley.

After the siege had lasted for a year and a half, all but one day, at midnight the besiegers made a breach in the northern city wall.866866   Jos., Antt., X. viii. 2; 2 Chron. xxxii. 5, xxxiii. 14. First and last, the siege seems to have lasted one year, five months, and twenty-seven days. It was a day of terrible remembrance, and throughout the exile it was observed as a solemn fast.867867   Zech. viii. 19.

Nebuchadrezzar was no longer in person before the458 walls. He had other war-like operations and other sieges on hand—the sieges of Tyre, Asekah, and Lachish—as well as Jerusalem. He had therefore established his headquarters at Lachish, and did not superintend the final operations against the city.868868   The inscriptions of Nebuchadrezzar which have been as yet deciphered speak of his sumptuous buildings and of his worship of the gods rather than of his conquests. See Records of the Past, vii. 69-78. But now that all had become practically hopeless, and the capture of the rest of Jerusalem was only a matter of a few days more, Zedekiah and his few best surviving princes and soldiers fled by night through the opposite quarter of the city. There was a little unwatched postern between two walls near the king's garden, and through this he and his escort fled, hoping to reach the Arabah, and make good his escape, perhaps to the Wady-el-Arish, which he could reach in five hours, through the wilds beyond the Jordan.869869   Robinson, Bibl. Res., ii. 536. Some suppose that "the king's garden" was near the mouth of the Tyropœon Valley. The heads of the king and his followers were muffled, and they carried on their shoulders their choicest possessions.870870   Ezek. xii. 12. Perhaps the gate alluded to is the fountain gate of Neh. iii. 15. Ezekiel seems to speak of "digging through the wall." Robinson says that a trace of the outermost wall still exists in the rude pathway which crosses the mouth of the Tyropœon on a mound hard by the old mulberry tree which marks the traditional site of Isaiah's martyrdom. But he was betrayed by some of the mean deserters,871871   Jos., Antt., X. viii. 2. and pursued by the Chaldæans. His movements were doubtless impeded by the presence of his harem and his children. His little band of warriors could offer no resistance, and fled in all directions. Zedekiah, his family, and attendants were taken prisoners, and carried to Riblah459 to appear before the mighty conqueror.872872   Traces of his presence are found in inscriptions in the Wady of the Dog near Beyrout, and in Wady Brissa. See Sayce, Proceedings of the Bibl. Arch. Soc., November 1881. Nebuchadrezzar showed no pity towards one whom he had elevated to the throne, and who had violated his most solemn assurances by intriguing with his enemies. He brought him to trial, and doomed him to witness with his own eyes the massacre of his two sons and of his attendants. After he had endured this anguish, worse than death, his eyes were put out, and, bound in double fetters,873873   2 Kings xxv. 7. See Layard, Nineveh, ii. 376. he was sent to Babylon, where he ended his miserable days. To blind a king deprived him of all hope of recovering the throne, and was therefore in ancient days a common punishment.874874   The blinding was sometimes done by passing a red-hot rod of silver or brass over the open eyes; sometimes by plucking out the eyes (Jer. lii. 11, Vulg. oculos eruit; 2 Kings xxv. 7, effodit). See a hideous illustration of a yet more brutal process in Botta (Monum. de Ninève, Pl. cxviii.), where Sargon with his own hand is thrusting a lance into the eyes of a captive prince, whose head is kept steady by a bridle fastened to a hook through his lips. See also Judg. xvi. 21; Xen., Anab., i. 9, § 13; Procopius, Bel. Pers., i. 1; Ammianus, xxvii. 12; Rawlinson, Ancient Monarchies, i. 307. The LXX. adds that he was sent by the Babylonians to grind a mill—εἰς οἰκίον μυλῶνος. This is probably a reminiscence of the blinded Samson. But thus were fulfilled with startling literalness two prophecies which might well have seemed to be contradictory.875875   Jos., Antt., X. viii. 2, 3. For Jeremiah had said (xxxiv. 3),—

"Thine eyes shall behold the eyes of the King of Babylon, and he shall speak with thee mouth to mouth, and thou shalt go to Babylon."

Whereas Ezekiel had said (xii. 13),—

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"I will bring him to Babylon, the land of the Chaldæans; yet shall he not see it, though he shall die there."

Henceforth Zedekiah was forgotten, and his place knew him no more. We can only hope that in his blindness and solitude he was happier than he had been on the throne of Judah, and that before death came to end his miseries he found peace with God.

The conqueror did not come to spoil the city. He left that task to three great officers,—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, or chief executioner;876876   Nebur-zir-iddina, "Nebo bestowed seed." Jer. xxxix. 9, 13, is in some way corrupt. Ezekiel (ix. 2), however, and Josephus (Antt., X. viii. 2) mention six officers. Nebuzaradan was "chief of the executioners" (Gen. xxxvii. 36; 1 Kings ii. 25, 35, 46). Nebushasban, the Rabsaris, or chief of the eunuchs; and Nergalshareser, the Rabmag, or chief of the magicians. They took their station by the Middle Gate, and first gave up the city to pillage and massacre. No horror was spared.877877   Psalm lxxix. 2, 3. The sepulchres were rifled for treasure; the young Levites were slain in the house of their Sanctuary; women were violated; maidens and hoary-headed men were slain. "Princes were hanged up by the hand, and the faces of elders were dishonoured; priest and prophet were slain in the Sanctuary of the Lord,"878878   2 Chron. xxxvi. 17; Lam. ii. 21, v. 11, 12. till the blood flowed like red wine from the winepress over the desecrated floor.879879   To the reminiscences of these scenes are partly due the Talmudic legend about the blood of Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, bubbling up to demand vengeance. Nebudchadrezzar slew a holocaust of human victims to appease the shade of the wrathful prophet, until the king himself was terrified, and asked if he wished his whole people to be slaughtered. Then the blood ceased to bubble. The guilty city461 drank at the hand of God the dregs of the cup of His fury.880880   See Rawlinson, Kings of Israel and Judah, p. 236. It was the final vengeance. "The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion. He will no more carry thee away into captivity."881881   Lam. iv. 22. And, meanwhile, the little Bedouin principalities were full of savage exultation at the fate of their hereditary foe.882882   Psalm lxxix, 1. This was felt by the Jews as a culmination of their misery, that they became a derision to their enemies. The callous insults hurled at them by the neighbouring tribes in their hour of shame awoke that implacable wrath against Gebal and Ammon and Amalek which finds its echo in the Prophets and in the Psalms.883883   Obad. 14-16; Psalm cxxxvii. 7; 1 Esdras iv. 45.

After this the devoted capital was given up to destruction. The Temple was plundered. All that remained of its often-rifled splendours was carried away, such as the ancient pillars Jachin and Boaz, the masterpieces of Hiram's art, the caldron, the brazen sea, and all the vessels of gold, of silver, and of brass. Then the walls of the city were dismantled and broken down. The Temple, and the palace, and all the houses of the princes were committed to the flames. As for the principal remaining inhabitants, Seraiah the chief priest, perhaps the grandson of Hilkiah and the grandfather of Ezra, Zephaniah the second priest, the three Levitic doorkeepers, the secretary of war, five of the greatest nobles who "saw the king's face,"884884   Comp. Esther i. 14. and sixty of the common people who had been marked out for special punishment, were taken to Riblah, and there462 massacred by order of Nebuchadrezzar.885885   On these personages see 1 Chron. vi. 13, 14; 2 Kings xxii. 4; Ezra vii. 1; Jer. xxi. 1, xxxvii. 3, etc. With these Nebuchadrezzar took away as his prisoners a multitude of the wealthier inhabitants, leaving behind him but the humblest artisans. As the craftsmen and smiths had been deported,886886   Nebuchadrezzar had no doubt needed them for his great buildings at Babylon, and their deportation would render more difficult any attempt to refortify Jerusalem. these poor people busied themselves in agriculture, as vine-dressers and husbandmen. The existing estates were divided among them; and being few in number, they found the amplest sustenance in treasures of wheat and barley, and oil and honey, and summer fruits, which they kept concealed for safety, as the fellaheen of Palestine do to this day.887887   Jer. xli. 8, xl. 12.

According to the historic chapters added to the prophecies of Jeremiah, the whole number of captives carried away from Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar in the seventh, the eighteenth, and the twenty-third years of his reign were 4,600.888888   Jer. lii. 28-30. In his seventh year, 3,023; in his eighteenth, 832 in his thirty-third, 745 = 4,600. The completeness of the desolation might well have caused the heart-rending outcry of Psalm lxxix.: "O God, the heathen are come into Thine inheritance; Thy holy Temple have they defiled; they have made Jerusalem a heap of stones. The dead bodies of Thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of heaven, and the flesh of Thy saints unto the beasts of the land. Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem; and there was no man to bury them."

Among the remnant of the people was Jeremiah. Nebuzaradan had received from his king the strictest463 injunctions to treat him honourably; for he had heard from the deserters that he had always opposed the rebellion, and had prophesied the issue of the siege. He was indeed sent in manacles to Ramah;889889   Ramah was but five miles from Jerusalem, and at first Jeremiah may not have been identified (Jer. xl. 1-6). but there Nebuchadrezzar gave him free choice to do exactly as he liked—either to accompany him to Babylon, where he should be well treated and cared for, or to return to Jerusalem, and live where he liked. This was his desire. Nebuchadrezzar therefore dismissed him with food and a present;890890   The present, if accepted, could only be regarded, under the circumstances, as part of the necessity of life. It does not fall under the head of the presents often offered to prophets (1 Sam. ix. 7; 2 Kings iv. 42; Mic. iii. 5, 11; Amos vii. 12). and he returned. The LXX. and Vulgate represent him as sitting weeping over the ruins of Jerusalem, and tradition says that he sought for his lamentations a cave still existing near the Damascus Gate. Of this Scripture knows nothing. But the melancholy prophet was only reserved for further tragedies. He had lived one of the most afflicted of human lives. A man of tender heart and shrinking disposition, he had been called to set his face like a flint against kings, and nobles, and mobs. Worse than this, being himself a prophet and priest, naturally led to sympathise with both, he was the doomed antagonist of both—victim of "one of the strongest of human passions, the hatred of priests against a priest who attacks his own order, the hatred of prophets against a prophet who ventures to have a voice and a will of his own." Even his own family had plotted against his life at humble Anathoth;891891   Jer. xi. 19-21, xii. 6. and when he retreated to Jerusalem, he found himself at the centre of the storm.464 Now perhaps he hoped for a gleam of sunset peace. But his hopes were disappointed. He had to tread the path of anguish and hatred to the bitter end, as he had trodden it for nearly fifty years of the troubled life which had followed his call in early boyhood.

"But, in the case of Jerusalem," says Dean Stanley, "both its first and second destruction have the peculiar interest of involving the dissolution of a religious dispensation, combined with the agony of an expiring nation, such as no other people has survived, and, by surviving, carried on the living recollection, first of one, and then of the other, for centuries after the first shock was over."892892   Stanley, Lectures, ii. 515.


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