The Causes of the Destruction of the First Temple - Part 3

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

THE CAUSES OF THE DESTRUCTION OF THE FIRST TEMPLE Part 3:

From Yehoyakhin until the Destruction

 

By Rav Yitzchak Levi

Translated by David Strauss

 

 

            The destruction of the First Temple was not a sudden event, but rather the culmination of a long deterioration.  In previous shiurim, we examined the period from Shlomo until Chizkiyahu (http://www.vbm-torah.org/3weeks/tish67-yl.htm) and the subsequent reigns of Menasheh and Yehoyakim (http://www.vbm-torah.org/3weeks/tisha68yl.htm).  This shiur will examine the reigns of the final two kings of Yehuda, and try to summarize the causes of the destruction.

 

I.          THE EXILE OF YEHOYAKHIN, THE DAYS OF TZIDKIYAHU AND THE DESTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLE

 

            As we saw in the previous shiur, during the time of Yehoyakim, Egypt's role as a regional power diminished, and in their place came the Chaldeans. Like his uncle Yehoachaz, Yehoyakhin the son of Yehoyakim had also been ruling for only three months, when he was arrested and sent into exile by a foreign king – this time Nevukhadnetzar the King of Babylonia:

 

Yehoyakim was eighteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months. And his mother's name was Nechushta, the daughter of Elnatan of Jerusalem. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father had done.

At that time the servants of Nevukhadnetzar King of Babylonia came up against Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. And Nevukhadnetzar King of Babylonia came up against the city, and his servants besieged it. And Yehoyakim the King of Yehuda went out to the King of Babylonia, he, and his mother, and his servants, and his princes, and his officers; and the King of Babylonia took him in the eighth year of his reign. And he carried out from there all the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king's house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold which Shlomo King of Israel had made in the Temple of the Lord, as the Lord had said.

And he carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty warriors, ten thousand exiles, and all the craftsmen and the smiths: none remained, save the poorest part of the people of the land. And he carried away Yehoyakim to Babylonia, and the king's mother, and the king's wives, and his officers, and the mighty of the land, those he took away into exile from Jerusalem to Babylonia. And all the men of might, seven thousand, and craftsmen and smiths a thousand, all that were strong and apt for war, even them the king of Babylonia took into exile to Babylonia.

And the King of Babylonia made Matanya his father's brother king in his stead, and changed his name to Tzidkiyahu. (II Melakhim 24:8-17)

 

            The treasures of the house of God, and the treasures of the king's house, and the vessels of the house of God, and all the princes, and all the mighty warriors, and all the craftsmen and the smiths go into exile together with Yehoyakhin. The land of Yehuda loses its ruling class, its uppermost percentile; and the Temple, which had already lost its spiritual grace in the days of Menasheh, now loses its material splendor, it being emphasized that Shlomo's work is thereby cancelled. In place of Yehoyakhin, Nevukhadnetzar appoints as king his uncle Matanya and changes his name (as Pharaoh Nekho had done in his day) to Tzidkiyahuthe last of the kings of Yehuda:

 

Tzidkiyahu was twenty-one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Chamutal, the daughter of Yirmiyahu from Livna. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that Yehoyakim had done. For through the anger of the Lord it came to pass in Jerusalem and Yehuda, until he had cast them out from his presence; and Tzidkiyahu rebelled against the King of Babylonia.

And it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, that Nevukhadnetzar King of Babylonia came, he, and all his host, against Jerusalem, and camped against it: and they built a siege wall against it round about. And the city was besieged until the eleventh year of King Tzidkiyahu.

And on the ninth day of the fourth month the famine prevailed in the city, and there was no bread for the people of the land. And a breach was made in the city, and all the men of war fled by night by the way of the gate between the two walls, which is by the king's garden. (Now the Chaldeans were against the city round about:) and they went in the direction of the Arava. And the army of the Chaldeans pursued after the king, and overtook him in the plains of Jericho; and all his army were scattered from him. So they took the king, and brought him up to the king of Babylonia to Rivla; and they gave judgment upon him. And they slew the sons of Tzidkiyahu before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Tzidkiyahu, and bound him with fetters of brass, and carried him to Babylonia.

And in the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month, which is the nineteenth year of King Nevukhadnetzar King of Babylonia, Nevuzaradan, captain of the guard, a servant of the King of Babylonia, came to Jerusalem. And he burnt the house of the Lord, and the king's house, and all the houses of Jerusalem, and every great house he burnt with fire. And all the army of the Chaldeans, that were with the captain of the guard, pulled down the walls of Jerusalem round about.

Now the rest of the people that were left in the city, and the fugitives that fell away to the King of Babylonia, with the remnant of the multitude, did Nevuzaradan the captain of the guard carry away into exile. But the captain of the guard left of the poor of the land to be vinedressers and fieldworkers.

And the pillars of brass that were in the house of the Lord, and the bases, and the brazen sea that was in the house of the Lord, did the Chaldeans break in pieces, and carried the brass of them to Babylonia. And the pans, and the shovels, and the snuffers, and the spoons, and all the vessels of brass with which they ministered, they took away. And the firepans, and the basins, and such things as were of gold, in gold, and of silver, in silver, the captain of the guard took away. The pillars, one sea, and the bases which Shlomo had made for the house of the Lord; the brass of all these vessels was without weight. The height of one pillar was eighteen cubits, and the capital upon it was brass. And the height of the capital three cubits; and there was wreathen work, and pomegranates upon the capital round about, all of brass; and like capital round about, all of brass; and like this with wreathen work was the second pillar also.

And the captain of the guard took Seraya the chief priest, and Tzefanyahu a priest of the second order, and the three keepers of the door. And out of the city he took an officer that was set over the men of war, and five men of them that were in the king's presence, who were found in the city, and the scribe, of the commander of the host, who kept the muster of the people of the land, and sixty men of the people of the land who were found in the city. And Nevuzaradan captain of the guard took these, and brought them to the King of Babylonia in Rivla. And the King of Babylonia smote them, and slew them at Rivla in the land of Chamat. So Yehuda was carried away out of their land. (II Melakhim 24:18-25:21)

 

            In this description as well Scripture emphasizes the destruction of Shlomo's grand project, even though the name of Shlomo is not mentioned: the detailed description of the Temple's vessels that the King of Babylonia took as spoil cannot but bring to mind the story of their construction at the beginning of the book (I Melakhim 7).

 

            In Divrei Ha-yamim, the description of the destruction is much more concise, but it clearly emphasizes the spiritual significance of the sins of the last generations of the First Temple period:

 

Tzidkiyahu was twenty-one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned for eleven years in Jerusalem. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord his God, and did not humble himself before Yirmiyahu the prophet speaking from the mouth of the Lord. And he also rebelled against King Nevukhadnetzar, who had made him swear by God; and he stiffened his neck, and hardened his heart from turning to the Lord God of Israel.

Moreover all the chiefs of the priests, and the people, transgressed very much according to all the abominations of the nations, and polluted the house of the Lord which He had hallowed in Jerusalem.

And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by His messengers, from morning till night; because He had compassion on His people, and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord mounted against His people, till there was no remedy.

So He brought upon them the king of the Chaldeans, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion either upon young men, or virgins, old men, or feeble; He gave them all into his hand. And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the kings, and of his princes; all these he brought to Babylonia. And they burnt the house of God, and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all its palaces with fire, and destroyed all its choice vessels. And those who had escaped from the sword he carried away into exile to Babylonia; where they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Paras. To fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Yirmiyahu, until the land had made good her sabbaths. For as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfill seventy years. (II Divrei Ha-yamim 36:11-21)

 

THE SIN OF THE REBELLION AGAINST BABYLONIA

 

            One of the most important prophets during this period was Yechezkel, who lived in Babylonia among those who had been exiled in the days of Yehoyakhin, and prophesied from there about the sins of Jerusalem and the impending destruction. In his prophecies, he mentions all the sins that we saw in the days of Tzidkiyahu's predecessors, to which he adds another sin: the rebellion against Nevukhadnetzar. The people had refused to listen to Yirmiyahu's warnings against such action (see, for example, Yirmiyahu 21:27-29, 37), and Yechezkel relates to their conduct with great severity, and sees in it the breaking of a covenant and a desecration of God:

 

And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Say now to the rebellious house, Know you not what these things mean? Tell them, Behold, the King of Babylonia is come to Jerusalem, and has taken its king, and its princes, and has led them with him to Babylonia; and has taken of the king's seed, and made a covenant with him, and has put him on oath. He has also taken away the mighty of the land: that the kingdom might be lowly, that it might not lift itself up, but that by keeping his covenant it might stand. But he rebelled against him by sending his ambassadors to Egypt, that they might give him horses and much people. Shall he prosper? shall he that does such things escape? or shall he break the covenant, and yet be saved?

As I live, says the Lord God, surely in the place where the king dwells that made him king, whose oath he despised, and whose covenant he broke, even with him in the midst of Babylonia he shall die. Neither shall Pharaoh with his mighty army and great company help him in the war, by casting up mounds, and building siege works, to cut off many persons. Seeing he despised the oath by breaking the covenant; for, surely, having given his hand, and having done all these things, he shall not escape.

Therefore thus says the Lord God: As I live, surely My oath that he has despised, and My covenant that he has broken, even that will I recompense upon his own head. And I will spread My net upon him, and he shall be taken in My snare, and I will bring him to Babylonia, and will plead with him there for his trespass that he has trespassed against Me. And all his fugitives of all his troops shall fall by the sword, and they that remain shall be scattered to all the winds. And you shall know that I the Lord have spoken it. (Yechezkel 17:11-21)

 

ILLICIT SEXUAL RELATIONS AND BLOODSHED

 

            Allusions to illicit sexual relations and acts of bloodshed are scattered in various places in the book of Yechezkel (see, for example, 33:26). We will not discuss them all here. At the end of this section of the shiur, we will cite Yechezkel's prophecy in chapter 22, which lists many sins of Yehuda, while placing special emphasis on the crime of bloodshed. It would also appear that it is not by chance that two of Yechezkel's harshest prophecies – in chap. 16 and in chap. 23 (which not for naught adjoins the prophecy of the destruction that was delivered on the day that the siege of the city was established [chap. 24]) – the prophet chooses to criticize the treachery of the king and the nation against God, and their zealous pursuit of foreign cultures and their abominations, using the most blatant imagery of prostitution.

 

IDOL WORSHIP AND THE REMOVAL OF THE SHEKHINA

 

            Yechezkel also relates at length to the sins of idol worship committed at that time. We shall suffice with two such references. In chapter 6, the prophet describes the destruction of the idols scattered throughout all of Israel:

 

And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Son of man, set your face towards the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them, and say, You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God; thus says the Lord God to the mountains, and to the hills, to the ravines, and to the valleys. Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places. And your altars shall be desolate, and your sun images shall be broken. And I will cast down your slain men before your idols. And I will lay the dead carcasses of the children of Israel before their idols; and I will scatter your bones round about your altars. In all your dwelling places the cities shall be laid waste, and the high places shall be desolate; that your altars may be laid waste and made desolate, and your idols may be broken and cease, and your sun images may be cut down, and your works may be wiped out. (Yechezkel 6:1-6)

 

            Chapters 8-11 constitute a single prophecy, in which the prophet is carried in a prophetic vision to Jerusalem where he sees the abominations performed in the Temple, the preparations being made for the punishment of the city, and the removal of the Shekhina. This prophecy describes the idol worship taking place in the Temple itself as follows:

 

And it came to pass in the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house, and the elders of Yehuda sat before me, that the name of the Lord God fell there upon me. Then I beheld, and lo a likeness as the appearance of fire. From what appeared to be his loins downward, fire; and from his loins upward, as it were the appearance of brightness, something like the color of electrum. And he put out the shape of a hand, and took me by a lock of my head; and a wind lifted me up between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the inner gate that looks towards the north; where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy. And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, according to the vision that I saw in the plain. Then He said to me, Son of man, lift up your eyes now the way towards the north. So I lifted up my eyes the way towards the north, and behold northward at the gate of the altar this image of jealousy in the entry. And he said to me, Son of man, see you what they do? The great abominations that the house of Israel commits here, to drive Me far off from My sanctuary? but you shall see yet again greater abominations.

And He brought me to the door of the court; and when I looked, behold a hole in the wall. Then said He to me, Son of man, dig now in the wall; and when I had dug in the wall, behold a door. And He said to me, Go in, and behold the wicked abominations that they are doing here. So I went in and saw; and behold every form of creeping thing, and abominable beast, and all the idols of the house of Israel, traced upon the wall round about. And there stood before them seventy men of the elders of the House of Israel and in the midst of them stood Ya'azneyahu, the son of Shafan, every man with his censer in his hand; and a thick cloud of incense went up. Then He said to me, Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the House of Israel are doing in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? For they say, The Lord sees us not; the Lord has forsaken the land. He said also to me, You shall see yet again greater abominations that they do. Then He brought me to the door of the gate of the Lord's house which was towards the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz.

Then He said to me, Have you seen this, O son of man? You shall see yet again greater abominations than these. And he brought me into the inner court of the Lord's house, and, behold, at the door of the Temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty five men, with their backs toward the Temple of the Lord, and their faces towards the east; and they were prostrating themselves towards the sun eastwards. Then He said to me, Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it not enough for the house of Yehuda that they commit the abominations which they commit here? but they also have filled the land with violence, and have provoked Me even further to anger; and lo, they put the branch to their nose. Therefore I too will deal in fury. My eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity. And though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, yet will I not hear them. (Yechezkel 8)

 

            As we saw with respect to Menasheh and Yehoyakim, here too the prophet describes many and varied types of idol worship. Here, however, the idolatrous practices are being performed in the Temple itself! This results in the completion of the process of the removal of the Shekhina which began in the days of Uziyahu and continued in the days of Menasheh:

 

And the glory of the God of Israel has ascended from the keruv, on which it was, to the threshold of the house…

And the keruvim mounted up… Then the glory of the Lord departed from above the threshold of the house, and stood over the keruvim. And the keruvim lifted up their wings, and mounted up from the earth in my sight, when they went out, with the wheels beside them; and every one stood at the door of the east gate of the Lord's house; and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above…

Then did the keruvim lift up their wings, and the wheels along with them; and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above. And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city. (Yechezkel 9:3, 10:15-19, 11:22-23)

 

THE ABSENCE OF JUSTICE AND OTHER TRANSGRESSIONS BETWEEN MAN AND HIS FELLOW

 

Oh, that My head were waters, and My eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of My people! Oh, that I were in the wilderness, in a lodging place of wayfaring men; that I might leave My people, and go from them! For they are all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men. And they bend their tongues, their bow of falsehood. But they are not valiant for the truth upon the earth; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they know Me not, says the Lord. Take heed everyone of his neighbor, and trust not in any brother: for every brother acts deceitfully, and every neighbor goes about with slanders. And they deceive everyone his neighbor, and do not speak the truth. They have taught their tongue to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit iniquity. Your habitation is in the midst of deceit; through deceit they refuse to know Me, says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, Behold, I will smelt them, and try them; for how else shall I do for the daughter of My people? Their tongue is a sharpened arrow; it speaks deceit. One speaks peaceably to his neighbor with his mouth, but in heart he lies in wait for him. Shall I not punish them for these things? says the Lord; shall not My soul be avenged on such a nation as this? (Yirmiyahu 9:1-8)

 

During the First Temple was there no groundless hate? But surely it is written: "Terrors by reason of the sword shall be upon My people: smite therefore upon your thigh" (Yechezkel 21:17). And Rabbi Elazar said: These are people who eat and drink together, and stab each other with the swords of their tongues! – That refers to the princes of Israel, as it is written: "Cry and howl, son of man: for it shall be upon My people, it shall be upon all the princes of Israel." (Yoma 9b)

 

            Even though the above prophecy of Yirmiyahu does not specify that it was delivered during the period of  Tzidkiyahu, it seems that the falsehood, deceit, friction, groundless hate, slander and gossip described therein, which are so great that they justify destruction, correspond well with the words of Chazal in tractate Yoma[1] and with the words of Yechezkel. It stands to reason that these sins resulted from the exile of the ruling elite together with Yehoyakhin, on the one hand, and from the weakness of Tzidkiyahu's rule on the other[2] - a situation that made it easy for those with evil in their hearts to carry out their wicked plans.

 

            A good example of the dire social and governmental reality at that time is the phenomenon of the liberation of the Hebrew slaves followed by their renewed subjugation:

 

That is the word that came to Yirmiyahu from the Lord, after the King Tzidkiyahu had made a covenant with all the people which were at Jerusalem, proclaim liberty to them; that every man should let his Hebrew manservant, and every man his Hebrew maidservant, go free; that none should enslave any of them, namely a man of Yehuda, being his brother. Now when all the princes, and all the people, who had entered into the covenant, heard that every one should let his manservant, and every one his maidservant, go free, that none should enslave them any more, then they obeyed, and let them go. But afterwards they relapsed, and caused the servants and the handmaids, whom they had let go free, to return, and brought them into subjection for servants and for handmaids.

Therefore the word of the Lord came to Yirmiyahu from the Lord, saying: Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel; I made a covenant with your fathers in the day that I brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, saying, At the end of seven years, shall you release every man his brother being a Hebrew, who has been seen to you; and when he has served you six years, you shall let him go free from you. But your fathers hearkened not to me, neither inclined their ear. And you now turned, and had done right in My sight, in proclaiming liberty every man to his neighbor; and you had made a covenant before Me in the house which I called by My name. Nevertheless you relapsed and have profaned My name, and everyone of you has caused his servant, and his handmaid, (whom he had set at liberty at their pleasure,) to return, and has brought them into subjection, to be to you for servants and for handmaids.

Therefore thus says the Lord: Since you have not hearkened to Me, in proclaiming liberty, everyone to his brother, and everyone to his neighbor; behold, I proclaim a liberty for you, says the Lord, to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine; and I will make you to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth. And I will give the men that have transgressed My covenant, who have not performed the words of the covenant which they made before Me, when they cut the calf in two, and passed between its sections, the princes of Yehuda, and the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land, who passed between the sections of the calf; I will give them into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of them that seek their life. And their dead bodies shall be for food to the birds of the heaven, and to the beasts of the earth. And Tzidkiyahu King of Yehuda and his princes will I give into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of them that seek their life, and in the hand of the king of Babylonia's army, who are gone up from you. Behold, I will command, says the Lord, and cause them to return to this city; and they shall fight against it, and burn it with fire. And I will make the cities of Yehuda a desolation without inhabitants. (Yirmiyahu 34:8-22)

 

            The words "violence," "robbery" and "oppression" appear in several places in the book of Yechezkel. For example:

 

Violence is risen up into a rod of wickedness. None of them shall remain, nothing of their multitude, nor of their splendor; neither shall there be wailing for them… Make the chain; for he land is full of bloody crimes, and the city is full of violence. (Yechezkel 7:11, 23)

 

The people of the land have used oppression, and committed robbery, and have wronged the poor and needy; indeed, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully. (ibid. 22:29)

 

            The same motif appears in the prophecies of Yirmiyahu from that same period:

 

O House of David, thus says the Lord: Execute judgment in the morning, and deliver him that is robbed out of the hand of the oppressor. (Yirmiyahu 21:12)

 

            So great was the wickedness that in chapter 16 Yechezkel compares Jerusalem to Sodom and presents the sins of the former as greater than those of the latter, and in several places he asserts that violence caused the destruction:

 

Moreover the word of the Lord came to me saying, Son of man, eat your bread with quaking, and drink your water with trembling and with anxiety. And say to the people of the land, Thus says the Lord God of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and of the land of Israel; They shall eat their bread with anxiety, and drink their water with dismay, that her land may be desolate, bare of its fullness, because of the violence of all that dwell in it. And the cities that are inhabited shall be laid waste, and the land shall be desolate; and you shall know that I am the Lord. (Yechezkel 12:17-20)

 

            Even the prophecy in chapter 8, where the prophet envisions the idol worship practiced in the Temple itself, hangs the destruction on the violent and oppressive conduct of the people:

 

Then He said to me, Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it not enough for the house of Yehuda that they commit the abominations which they commit here? but they also have filled the land with violence, and have provoked Me even further to anger; and lo, they put the branch to their nose. Therefore I too will deal in fury. My eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity. And though they cry in My ears with a loud vice, yet will I not hear them. (ibid. 8:17-18)

 

And in the continuation of that very same prophecy:

 

Then He said to me, The iniquity of the House of Israel and Yehuda is exceedingly great, and the land is full of blood, and the city full of injustice. For they say, The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord sees not. (ibid. 9:9)

 

The Radak explains (ad loc.):

 

Even though they committed other transgressions, the great punishment was for the violence, for civilized society cannot survive violence, and the flood came because of violence.

 

            From the same prophecy we also learn that this conduct stemmed from the feeling (which apparently came in the wake of the exile of Yehoyakhin and the Babylonian penetration into the land) that "The Lord has forsaken the land," and thus all moral and religious obligations have come to an end.

 

            In chapter 22, Yechezkel describes a varied series of sins in all the realms dealt with above and among all strata of society, from its leaders to the people of the land. Besides the fact that he describes the abominations in the last years preceding the destruction – that is, during the days of Tzidkiyahuthis chapter constitutes, in its scope and severity, sort of a summary of the difficult picture that we have outlined in the last two shiurim. We shall therefore cite it in its entirety:

 

Then the word of the Lord came to Me, saying, Now, you son of man, will you judge, will you judge the bloody city? Then make known to her all her abominations. And you shall say, Thus says the Lord God, A city that sheds blood in the midst of it, that her time may come, and makes idols against herself to defile herself. You have become guilty in your blood that you have shed; and are defiled in your idols which you have made; and you have caused your days to draw near, and have come to your years. Therefore have I made you a reproach to the nations, and a mocking to all countries. Those that are near, and those that are far from you, shall mock you, infamous as you are, and full of tumult. Behold, the princes of Israel, each of them among you, putting out his full force, for shedding blood. Among you, they have made light of father and mother; in the midst of you have they dealt by oppression with the stranger; in you they have wronged the fatherless and the widow. You have despised My holy things, and have profaned My sabbaths. In you are men that did carry slander to shed blood: and in you they did eat upon the mountains; in the midst of you they have committed lewdness. In you they have uncovered their father's nakedness; in you they have abused her who is unclean of her menstrual flow. One has committed a disgusting act with his neighbor's wife; and another has lewdly defiled his daughter–in-law; and another in you has abused his sister, his father's daughter. In you they have taken gifts to shed blood; you have taken usury and interest, and you have taken unjust gain of your neighbors by extortion, and have forgotten Me, says the Lord God. Behold, therefore I have struck My hand at your dishonest gain which you have made, and at your blood which has been in the midst of you. Can your heart endure, or can your hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with you? I the Lord have spoken it, and will do it. And I will scatter you among the nations, and disperse you in the countries, and will consume your uncleanliness out of you. And you shall be profaned by yourself in the sight of the nations, and you shall know that I am the Lord.

And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Son of man, the House of Israel is to Me become dross; all of them, brass, and tin, and iron, and lead, in the midst of the furnace; they are even the dross of silver. Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you are all become dross, behold, therefore I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem. As they gather silver, and brass, and iron, and lead, and tin, into the midst of the furnace, to blow the fire upon it, to melt it; so will I gather you in My anger and in My fury, and I will leave you there, and melt you. And I will gather you, and blow upon you in the fire of My wrath, and you shall be melted in the midst of it. As silver is melted in the midst of the furnace, so shall you be melted in the midst of it. And you shall know that I the Lord have poured out My fury upon you.

And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Son of man, say to her, You are a land that is not cleansed, nor rained upon in the day of indignation. There is a conspiracy in her prophets in the midst thereof, like a roaring lion ravening the prey; they have devoured souls; they take treasure and precious things; they have made her widows many in the midst of her. Her priests have violated My Torah, and have profaned My holy things; they have put no difference between the holy and common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have hidden their eyes from My sabbaths, and I am profaned among them. Her princes in the midst of her are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood, and to destroy souls, to get dishonest gain. And her prophets have daubed them with whitewash, seeing false visions, and divining lies to them, saying, Thus says the Lord God, when the Lord has not spoken. The people of the land have used oppression, and committed robbery, and have wronged the poor and needy; indeed, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully. And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the breach before Me the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found none. Therefore I have poured out My indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath. Their own way have I recompensed upon their heads, says the Lord God. (Yechezkel 22)

 

II.         SUMMARY

 

            In the last three shiurim we have tried to give a brief survey of the main causes of the destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem.

 

            We saw the fundamental role played by the king, his policies and personal example in the fashioning of the kingdom, as is exemplified by Chizkiyahu and Yoshiyahu in the great effort to restore Yehuda to the path of God despite the many difficulties that stood before them. On the other hand, we saw the king's limitations in the face of the decisive influence of other factors: office holders, courtiers, and above all else, the norms of society. The king did not always succeed in uprooting the prevailing patterns of behavior, and he was not always able to successfully overcome powerful elements in his kingdom. Evidence to this is provided by the days of Menasheh son of Chizkiyahu and the days of Yehoyakim son of Yoshiyahu, on the one hand, and the evil influence of Shevna (in the days of Chizkiyahu) and the officers of Tzidkiyahu, on the other.

 

            The constant problem that forms the backdrop for the monarchy of the House of David relates to the limits of the authority, strength and rule of a king of flesh and blood in relation to the kingdom of God. This is the key to understanding the king's behavior in all areas, and especially with respect to his relationship to the Temple and the priesthood, on the one hand, and prophecy, which represents the word of God, on the other. A perverted attitude regarding these authorities is one of the prominent expressions of the king's feelings of inflated arrogance and confidence, and of the blurring of the boundaries between his kingdom and the kingdom of God. As we have seen, this blurring began already at the beginning of the First Temple period, in the days of Shlomo, and it worsened over time, beginning with the use of the treasures of God's Temple, continuing with the king's entry into the sanctuary to burn incense, and ending with the establishment of idol worship in the house of God and the killing of a priest and a prophet in the Temple. We see, then, that at first this blurring of boundaries prevented righteous kings from serving God in perfect manner, and in the end it served as the basis for the absolute corruption of the kingdom and the Temple.

 

A straight line connects the wicked kings of the second half of the First Temple period – Achaz, Menasheh, Yehoyakim, Yehoyakhin and Tzidkiyahu. The abominations common to all of them include the most severe transgressions: idol worship, illicit sexual relations, bloodshed, and serious sins between man and his fellow.

 

The idol worship included a wide variety of forbidden practices, and was at times performed in the Temple itself, as a substitute for the service of God. The illicit sexual relations and bloodshed also assumed many and varied forms. These three most severe transgressions – all of which are included in the despicable service of the Molekh – testify to the evil influences of neighboring cultures, on the one hand, and to Israel's growing disregard of God and their connection to Him, with all the demands that it dictates, on the other.

 

All this notwithstanding, the first explicit prophecy concerning the destruction of the Temple – the prophecy of Mikhawas delivered in the days of Chizkiyahu, during whose period there was no idol worship, no illicit sexual relations, and no bloodshed. The background for this prophecy was the moral corruption that spread through all the ruling institutions. From that time on, the absence of justice and righteousness stands out even in the most evil times (the periods of Menasheh, Yehoyakim and Tzidkiyahu) as a fundamental cause of the destruction (what is more, there is often a connection between idol worship and moral corruption in interpersonal relations). The cessation of justice found expression at every level of the relationships between man and his fellow, from the king and his officers down to the people of the land. This included greed, oppression, violence, theft, falsehood, slander, gossip, groundless hate, and the most extreme expression – the shedding of innocent blood. Justice is the foundation of the God's kingdom in His world, and its absence prevents the continued revelation of His kingdom and the resting of the Shekhina in His Temple.

 

The prophecies that explicitly speak of the destruction continue in the days of Menasheh and attribute the impending calamity to him; in the days of Menasheh "the soul of the Temple" was extinguished, and the process of the Shekhina's removal began. Even Menasheh's repentance failed to effect an essential change in the situation and could not change the decree, as is emphasized by the prophets not only of his day but also in the time of Yoshiyahu. Despite his great repentance, it was precisely in his day that the ark was hidden away – the ark which more than anything else gave expression to the resting of God's Shekhina in the world.

 

Yehoyakim repeats the wicked deeds of Menasheh with one fundamental difference: parallel to all the abominations, the Temple service continues. The Temple service was viewed by the people of the period as sort of an "insurance policy" for God's presence in the world, and this feeling turned the Temple service into technical-automatic actions, which freed the individual and the kingdom from all moral and religious commitment.

 

The period ends with the days of Tzidkiyahu, and the practice of all types of abominations that push aside the Shekhina, based on the understanding that "the Lord has forsaken the land": a feeling of despair of God's presence, which allows the king and the kingdom to act as they please in all areas.

 

The removal of the Shekhina from the city and the Temple, the completion of which is described in the book of Yechezkel, is then a direct result of complex processes that began already in the time of Shlomo and continued to the very end of the First Temple period.

 



[1] The passage there speaks of the leadership, but without a doubt the conduct of the leaders filtered down to the people and impacted upon them.

[2] Tzidkiyahu's weakness is evident from Yirmiyahu 37-38, where Tzidkiyahu meets with Yirmiyahu in secret and works toward his rescue in roundabout ways, because of his fear of his officers who are hostile to the prophet.