The Causes of Destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple (II)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Jerusalem in the Bible
Yeshivat Har Etzion


 
 

Shiur #24: THE CAUSES OF THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM AND THE FIRST TEMPLE (II)

 

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

 

            In the previous shiur we examined the causes of the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple from the days of Shelomo until the days of Chizkiyahu. We will now complete this study by discussing the causes of the destruction from the days of Menasheh until the end of the First Temple period. Even though we have not dealt at all with the kings who ruled during this period, we cannot discuss here all aspects of their reigns, and we will focus exclusively on those phenomena that led to the destruction.

 

I.          MENASHEH

 

Menasheh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Cheftziba. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, after the abominations of the nations, whom the Lord cast out before the children of Israel. For he built up again the high places which Chizkiyahu his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for the Ba'al, and made an asheira, as did Achav King of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord said, In Jerusalem will I put My name. And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he caused his son to pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with mediums and wizards: he did much wickedness in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger. And he set the carved idol of the asheira that he had made, in that house, of which the Lord said to David, and to Shelomo his son, In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of tribes of Israel, will I put My name for ever. Neither will I make the feet of Israel to wander any more out of the land which I gave their fathers. Only if they will observe to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the Torah that My servant Moshe commanded them. But they hearkened not; and Menasheh seduced them to do more evil than did the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the children of Israel.

And the Lord spoke by His servants the prophets, saying, Because Menasheh King of Yehuda has done these abominations, and has done wickedly above all that the Emori did, which were before him, and has made Yehuda also to sin with his idols. Therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel, Behold, I am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem and Yehuda that whoever hears of it, both his ears shall tingle. And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Shomeron, and the plummet of the house of Achav. And I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipes a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down. And I will abandon the remnant of My inheritance, and deliver them into the hand of their enemies; and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies; because they have done that which was evil in My sight, and have provoked Me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, and to this day.

Moreover Menasheh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another; besides his sin with which he made Yehuda to sin, in doing that which was evil in the sight of the Lord.

Now the rest of the acts of Menasheh and all that he did, and his sin that he sinned, are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Yehuda. And Menasheh slept with his fathers, and was buried in the garden of his own house, in the garden of Uzza; and Amon his son reigned in his stead. (II Melakhim 21:1-18)

 

            Menasheh the son of Chizkiyahu is, then, the first king about whom it was stated that on account of him came the destruction. The expression, "Whoever hears of it, both his ears shall tingle," appears also in connection with the destruction of Shilo (I Shemuel 3:11), and the phrases "The measuring line of Shomron" and "The plummet of the house of Acha'av" relate to the destruction of Shomron. Associating the upcoming calamity with two cases of destruction that already took place makes it real and concrete. Yirmiyahu also hangs the destruction on Menasheh:

 

And I will make them into a horror for all the kingdoms of the earth, on account of Menasheh the son of Yechizkiyahu King of Yehuda, for that which he did in Jerusalem. (Yirmiyahu 15:4)

 

            The verses in Divrei Ha-yamim tell of Menasheh's repentance:

 

And the Lord spoke to Menasheh, and to his people; but they would not hearken. So that the Lord brought upon them the captains of the host of the King of Assyria, who took Menasheh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylonia. And when he was in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed to Him. And He received his entreaty, and heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Menasheh knew that the Lord was God… And he took away the strange gods, and the idol out of the house of the Lord, and all the altars that he had built in the mountain of the house of the Lord, and in Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city. And he repaired the altar of the Lord, and sacrificed on it peace offerings and thanksgiving offerings, and commanded Yehuda to serve the Lord God of Israel. (II Divrei Ha-yamim 33:10-16)

 

            Scripture does not spell out how deep and lasting was Menasheh's repentance and to what extent it repaired the sins that he had committed and had caused Israel to sin. It is reasonable to assume that the many years of his sinful regime had an exceedingly great impact on the people. The matter seems to be clarified by the prophecy of Chulda that followed the discovery of the Torah scroll during the days of Yoshiyahu, which implies that Menasheh's repentance did not succeed in erasing his sins and their impact, and that the prophecy of destruction that was delivered in his days remained in force despite his repentance and despite the righteousness of Yoshiyahu.[1]

 

Thus says the Lord, Behold I will bring evil upon this place, and upon its inhabitants, even all the words of the book which the king of Yehuda has read. Because they have forsaken Me, and have burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke Me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore My wrath shall be kindled against this place, and shall not be quenched. But to the king of Yehuda who sent you to inquire of the Lord, thus shall you say to him, Thus says the Lord God of Israel, Regarding the words which you have heard, because your heart was tender, and you have humbled yourself before the Lord, when you did hear what I spoke against this place, and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and have rent your clothes, and wept before Me; I also have heard you, says the Lord. Behold therefore, I will gather you unto your fathers, and you shall be gathered into your grave in peace; and your eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place. (II Melakhim 22:16-20)

 

            As Scripture testifies, to the absence of justice in the days of Chizkiyahu, there were added during the period of Menasheh the sins of idol worship, illicit sexual relations, and bloodshed.

 

INJUSTICE

 

            The absence of justice that we encountered during the days of Chizkiyahu among the heads of the people spread during the days of Menasheh to the entire nation, as it follows from one of Yirmiyahu's prophecies relating, as it would appear, to the period of Menasheh:[2]

 

Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and see now, and know, and seek in its broad places, if you can find a man, if there be any that does justice, that seeks the truth, and I will pardon it. And though they say, As the Lord lives; surely they swear falsely…

For among My people are found wicked men: they lie in wait, as he that sets snares; they set a trap, they catch men. As a cage is full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit; therefore they are become great, and grown rich. They are grown fat, and sleek: yea, they overpass in deeds of wickedness. They judge not the cause of the fatherless, that they may prosper; and the right of the needy do they not judge…

For thus says the Lord of hosts, Hew down trees, and cast up a mound against Jerusalem: this is the city to be punished; there is oppression everywhere in the midst of her. As a well keeps its water fresh, so she keeps fresh her wickedness: violence and spoil, grief and wound, is heard in her before Me continually…

For from the least of them even to the greatest of them everyone is greedy for gain; and from the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely. (Yirmiyahu 5:1-2, 26-28; 6:6-7, 13)

 

IDOL WORSHIP AND THE REMOVAL OF THE SHEKHINA

 

            We already cited the description of the extensive and varied idol worship of Menasheh found in the book of Melakhim (see also the parallels in II Divrei Ha-yamim 33:2 and on):

 

For he built up again the high places which Chizkiyahu his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for the Ba'al, and made an asheira… and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them… And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he caused his son to pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with mediums and wizards. He did much wickedness in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger.

 

            Scripture also alludes that Menasheh's actions brought the selection of the city and the Temple to an end:

 

And he set the carved idol of the asheira that he had made, in that house, of which the Lord said to David, and to Shelomo his son, In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of tribes of Israel, will I put My name for ever.

 

            Scripture also attests explicitly during the days of Yoshiyahu that despite his repentance, God did not turn back from His anger and from His rejection of Jerusalem and the Temple in the days of Menasheh:

 

Nevertheless, the Lord did not turn back from the fierceness of that great anger with which His anger burned against Yehuda, on account of all the provocations with which Menasheh had provoked him. And the Lord said, I will remove Yehuda also out of My sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there. (II Melakhim 23:26-27)

 

            During the days of Yehoyakim as well, the prophet makes explicit mention of Menasheh's share of the responsibility for the destruction:

 

Yehoyakim was twenty-five years old when he began to reign… And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done… Surely at the commandment of the Lord came this upon Yehuda, to remove them out of His sight, for the sins of Menasheh, according to all that he did; and also for the innocent blood that he shed. For he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood; which the Lord would not pardon. (II Melakhim 23:36-24:4)

 

            In various places, Chazal note the great extent and severity of the idol worship during the period of Menasheh:

 

Menasheh… did not forgo a single idolatrous practice in the world. (Yerushalmi, Sanhedrin 10:2)

 

Rav Ashi terminated the lecture at "Three Kings." He said: "Tomorrow, we will commence with our colleagues."  [That night] Menasheh came and appeared to him in a dream, saying: "You have called us your colleagues and the colleagues of your father; now, from what part [of the bread] is [the piece for reciting] the ha-motzi to be taken?" He said to him: "I do not know." He said to him: "You have not learned this, yet you call us your colleagues!" He said to him: "Teach it to me, and tomorrow I will teach it in your name at the session." He said to him: "From the part that is baked into a crust."  He then asked him: "Since you are so wise, why did you worship idols?" he answered: "Were you there, you would have caught up the skirt of your garment and sped after me." The next day he observed to the students: "We will commence with our teachers [so referring to the Three Kings]." (Sanhedrin 102b)

 

            Other midrashim emphasize that through his actions, Menasheh was trying – and even succeeded – to bring God's resting of His Shekhina to an end:

 

Menasheh cut out the Divine Name [from the Torah], and broke down the altar. (ibid. 103b)

 

The fire that came down during the days of Shelomo did not depart until Menasheh came and caused it to leave. (Zevachim 61b)

 

When Menasheh erected the image in the sanctuary, the Shekhina departed. (Yalkut ha-Mekhiri, Tehillim 115, 22)

 

            We see then that beginning in the days of Menasheh, the structure of the Temple stood in its place, but the Shekhina no longer rested therein. As it is stated in the Yerushalmi:

 

Rabbi Acha bar Yitzchak said: When Shelomo built the Temple, he drew all kinds of trees on the inside. When they would bear fruit [on the outside], these trees on the inside would bear fruit. This is what is written: "It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing, etc." (Yishayahu 35:2). When did they dry up? Rabbi Yitzchak Chinena bar Yitzchak said: They dried up when Menasheh erected an image in the sanctuary, as it is written: "And the flower of Lebanon fades" (Nachum 1:4). (Yerushalmi, Yoma 4:4)

 

            In other words, the physical structure of the Temple continued to exist, but its vitality had already ceased.

 

            Against this background, we well understand Yoshiyahu's decision to conceal the ark (Tosefta Sota 13:1; Bavli Yoma 52b), and the prophetic assertion that it was on account of the sins of Menasheh that the Temple was destroyed: it is upon the ark that the Shekhina rests in the Temple, and there is no place for an ark in a Temple in which the Shekhina does not reside; such a Temple has no right to exist, and is destined for destruction.

 

BLOODSHED

 

            We already cited the following verses from the book of Melakhim:

 

Moreover Menasheh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another. (II Melakhim 21:16)

 

And also for the innocent blood that he shed: for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood; which the Lord would not pardon. (ibid. 24:4)

 

            Obviously, passing his sons through the fire (ibid. 21:6) was an act of murder, according to the plain sense of the verses and the Ramban's understanding (Vayikra 18:21).

 

            According to rabbinic tradition (Yevamot 49b, Sanhedrin 103b), Menasheh killed the prophet Yishayahu, and that too contributed to the removal of the Shekhina.

 

ILLICIT SEXUAL RELATIONS

 

            Scripture does not make explicit mention of such a sin, but Chazal – in keeping with their position that the First Temple was destroyed on account of idol worship, illicit sexual relations, and bloodshed – included Menasheh in the list of sins involving such forbidden relations that were committed by the wicked kings at the end of the First Temple period: "Achaz permitted incestuous relations, Menasheh had sexual relations with his sister, Amon had sexual relations with his mother" (Sanhedrin 103b). It is also stated in the vision of Barukh: "He defiled married women by force" (ed. Kahana, pp. 396-397).

 

II.        YEHOYAKIM

 

Following the fifty bloody years of Menasheh's rule, his wicked son Amon reigned for two years, until he was murdered by his servants. In his place, the people of the land crowned Yoshiyahu, the most righteous among the kings of Yehuda. We have already mentioned the prophetic assertion that despite his repentance, the decree of destruction that had been issued in the wake of the sins of Menasheh remained in force. In the thirty-first year of his reign, Yoshiyahu was killed in battle by Pharaoh Nekho, and in his place the people of the land crowned his wicked son, Yehoachaz. Three months later, however, Pharaoh Nekho imprisoned Yehoachaz, and set his brother Elyakim on the throne, changing his name to Yehoyakim. The books of Melakhim and Divrei Ha-yamim describe in brief the eleven years of this evil king's reign:

 

Yehoyakim was twenty-five years old when he began to reign; and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Zevuda, the daughter of Pedaya of Ruma. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done. In his days Nevukhadnetzar King of Bavel came up, and Yehoyakim became his servant for three years: then he turned and rebelled against him. And the Lord sent against him bands of Kasdim, and bands of Aram, and bands of Mo'av, and bands of the children of Amon, and sent them against Yehuda to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord, which He spoke by His servants the prophets. Surely at the commandment of the Lord came this upon Yehuda, to remove them out of His sight, for the sins of Menasheh, according to all that he did; and also for the innocent blood that he shed: for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood; which the Lord would not pardon. Now the rest of the acts of Yehoyakim, and all that he did, are written in the book of the chronicles of the king of Yehuda. So Yehuda slept with his fathers; and Yehoyakim his son reigned in his stead. And the king of Egypt came not again any more out of his land. For the king of Babylonia had taken from the wadi of Egypt to the Euphrates River all that pertained to the king of Egypt. (II Melakhim 23:36-24:7)

 

Yehoyakim was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned for eleven yeas in Jerusalem; and he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord his God. Against him came up Nevukhadnetzar King of Babylonia, and bound him in fetters, to carry him to Babylonia. And Nevukhadnetzar carried some of the vessels of the house of the Lord to Babylonia, and put them in his temple at Babylonia. Now the rest of the acts of Yehoyakim, and his abominations which he did, and that which was found in him, behold, they are written in the book of the kings of Israel and Yehuda: and Yehoyakim his son reigned in his stead. (II Divrei Ha-yamim 36:5-8)

 

            Despite this brevity, the prophets and Chazal attribute great importance to the period of Yehoyakim and see it as an important milestone on the road leading toward the destruction.

 

            While we have chosen not to deal with the particulars concerning the periods of the kings under discussion, we must note here the fourth year of the reign of Yehoyakim, which was a decisive year both with respect to external events and with respect to God's relationship with Israel. Yirmiyahu 25 teaches us that in that year Nevukhadnetzar began to rule Babylonia, which marked, according to that prophecy, the beginning of Babylonia's hegemony over the entire region and the approaching destruction. This is concisely described by the author of Seder Olam Rabba (chap. 24): "In the fourth year of Yehoyakim's reign, the decree against Israel and Jerusalem was sealed to drink the cup of wine of anger."

 

            The sins committed by Achaz and Menasheh – idol worship, illicit sexual relations, bloodshed, and moral corruption – are all described in Yirmiyahu's prophecy at the gate of the Temple in chapter 7, which is dated to the days of Yehoyakim, based on the parallelism with chapter 26,[3] and which is one of the most important prophecies[4] about the sins of that generation and the destruction that will come in their wake:

 

The word that came to Yirmiyahu from the Lord, saying, Stand in the gate of the Lord's house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all Yehuda, that enter in at these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place.

Trust not in lying words, saying, The Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, are these.

For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings; if you thoroughly execute justice between a man and his neighbor, if you oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt. Then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever.

Behold, you trust in lying words, that cannot profit. Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense to the Ba'al, and walk after other gods whom you know not, and come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, We are delivered; that you may do all these abominations? Is this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, says the Lord.

But go now to My place which was in Shilo, where I set My name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of My people Israel. And now, because you have done all these deeds, says the Lord, and though I spoke to you, from morning till night, but you did not listen; and I called you, but you did not answer; therefore will I do to this house, which I called by My name, and in which you trust, and to the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shilo. And I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, the whole seed of Ephraim.

Therefore pray not you for this people, nether lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me: for I will not hear you. See you not what they do in the cities of Yehuda and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings to other gods, that they may provoke Me to anger. Do they provoke Me to anger? says the Lord: do they not provoke themselves to their own disgrace?

Therefore thus says the Lord God; Behold, My anger and My fury shall be poured out upon this place, upon man, and upon beast, and upon the trees of the field, and upon the fruit of the ground; and it shall burn, and shall not be quenched.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat meat. For I did not speak to your fathers, nor command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. But this thing I commanded them, saying, Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.

But they did not hearken, nor incline their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward. From the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt to this day I have sent to you all My servants the prophets, sending them from morning till night. Yet they did not hearken to Me nor incline their ear, but stiffened their neck: they did worse than their fathers. Therefore you shall speak all these words to them; but they will not hearken to you: you shall also call to them; but they will not answer you. But you shall say to them, This is a nation that does not obey the voice of the Lord their God, nor does it receive correction: truthfulness is perished, and is cut off from their mouth.

Cut off your hair, and cast it away, and take up a lamentation on the high hills; for the Lord has rejected and forsaken the generation of His wrath. For the children of Yehuda have done evil in My sight, says the Lord: they have set their abominations in the houses which is called by My name, to pollute it. And they have built the high places of Tofet, which is the Valley of Ben-hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command them, nor did it come into My heart.

Therefore, behold, days are coming, says the Lord, it shall no more be called Tofet, nor the valley of Ben-hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter: for they shall bury in Tofet, because there is no room. And the carcasses of this people shall be food for the birds of the heaven, and for the beasts of the earth; and none shall frighten them away. Then will I cause to cease from the cities of Yehuda, and from the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride; for the land shall be desolate. (Yirmiyahu 7)

 

            This prophecy clearly describes the sins of illicit sexual relations, bloodshed, idol worship and moral corruption. Additional testimony to these sins may be brought from the words of the prophets and the words of Chazal.

 

            The most important prophecy about the injustice that ruled during the period of Yehoyakim is chapter 22 of the book of Yirmiyahu, in which the prophet contrasts the corruption of Yehoyakim with the righteousness of his father, Yoshiyahu:

 

Thus says the Lord; Go down to the house of the king of Yehuda, and speak there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, O king of Yehuda, that sits upon the throne of David, you, and your servants, and your people that enter in by these gates. Thus says the Lord: Execute judgment and righteousness, and deliver the robbed out of the hand of the oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, or the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place. For if you do this thing indeed, then shall there enter in by the gates of this house kings of the House of David sitting upon his throne, riding in chariots and on horses, he, and his servants, and his people. But if you will not hear these words, I swear by Myself, says the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation…

Woe to him that builds his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by injustice; that uses his neighbor's service without wages, and gives him not for his hire; that says, I will build me a wide house with large upper chambers, and he cuts him out windows; and it is covered with rafters of cedar, and painted with vermilion. Shall you reign, because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him? He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know Me? says the Lord. But you have eyes and heart only for your dishonest gain, and for shedding innocent blood, and for oppression, and for practicing violence. Therefore thus says the Lord concerning Yehoyakim the son of Yoshiyahu King of Yehuda, They shall not lament for him, saying, Ah my brother! or, Ah sister! they shall not lament for him saying, Ah lord! or, Ah his glory! He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem. (Yirmiyahu 22:1-5, 13-19)

 

            There is no need to expand on the idol worship and service of the Molekh that were practiced at the end of the First Temple period; the prophecies of the period are filled with reproaches about these sins.

 

            As for the sin of illicit sexual relations, let us note the words of the Midrash concerning Yehoyakim:

 

"Now the rest of the acts of Yehoyakim, and all that he did, etc." (II Melakhim 24:5). Rabbi Yochanan said: Because he had sexual relations with his mother, his daughter-in-law, and his father's wife. For Rabbi Yochanan said: The opening from which he emerged [= his mother] he entered. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: …He would kill their husbands and abuse their wives and confiscate their property for the crown treasury. This is what is written: "And he knew their widows" (Yechezkel 19:7). (Vayikra Rabba 19:6)

 

            As in the days of Menasheh, in the period of Yehoyakim as well the prophets were singled out as targets for scheming plots. Yirmiyahu himself was almost killed for his harsh prophecy at the Temple gate (which was apparently the prophecy in chap. 7 itself, see note 3). The account of that almost-murder describes in passing the murder of another prophet at the hand of Yehoyakim:

 

In the beginning of the reign of Yehoyakim son of Yoshiyahu King of Yehuda came this word from the Lord saying, Thus says the Lord; Stand in the court of the Lord's house, and speak to all the cities of Yehuda, which come to worship in the Lord's house, all the words that I command you to speak to them; leave nothing out. Perhaps they will hearken, and turn every man from his evil way, that I may relent of the evil, which I purpose to do to them because of the evil of their doings. And you shall say to them, Thus says the Lord; If you will not hearken to Me, to walk in My Torah, which I have set before you, to hearken to the words of My servants the prophets, whom I send to you, (sending from morning to night, but you have not hearkened;) then will I make this house like Shilo, and will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth.

So the priests and the prophets and all the people heard Yirmiyahu as he spoke these words in the house of the Lord. Now it came to pass, when Yirmiyahu had made an end of speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, that the priests and the prophets and all the people took hold of him, saying, You shall surely die. Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, This house shall be like Shilo, and this city shall be desolate without inhabitant? And all the people were gathered against Yirmiyahu in the house of the Lord. When the princes of Yehuda heard these things, then they came up from the king's house unto the house of the Lord, and sat down in the entry of the new gate of the Lord's house.

Then spoke the priests and the prophets to the princes and to all the people, saying, This man is worthy to die; for he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your ears. Then spoke Yirmiyahu to all the princes and to all the people, saying, The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and against this city all the words that you have heard. Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God; and the Lord will relent of the evil that He has pronounced against you. As for me, behold, I am in your hand: do with me as seems good and proper in your eyes. But know for certain, that if you put me to death, you shall surely bring innocent blood upon yourselves, and upon this city, and upon its inhabitants. For of a truth the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.

Then said the princes and all the people to the priests and to the prophets: This man is not worthy to die; for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God. Then rose up certain of the elders of the land, and spoke to all the assembly of the people, saying, Mikha the Morashti prophesied in the days of Chizkiyahu King of Yehuda, and spoke to all the people of Yehuda, saying. Thus says the Lord of hosts; Zion shall be plowed like a field, and Jerusalem shall be come heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest. Did Chizkiyahu King of Yehuda and all Yehuda put him to death? Did he not rather fear the Lord, and beseech the Lord, and the Lord repented of the evil which he had pronounced against them? And shall we bring such a great evil against our souls?

And there was also a man that prophesied in the name of the Lord, Uriyahu the son of Shemayahu of Kiryat ha-Ye'arim, who prophesied against this city and against this land according to all the words of Yirmiyahu. And when Yehoyakim the King, with all his mighty men, and all the princes, heard his words, the kings sought to put him to death. But when Uriyahu heard it, he was afraid, and fled, and went into Egypt; and Yehoyakim the King sent men to Egypt, namely, Elnatan the son of Akhbor, and others with him into Egypt. And they fetched Uriyahu out of Egypt, and brought him to Yehoyakim the King, who slew him with the sword, and cast his dead body upon the graves of the common people. Nevertheless the hand of Achikam the son of Shafan was with Yirmiyahu, that they should not give him into the hand of the people to put him to death. (Yirmiyahu 26)

 

            Additional testimony concerning Yehoyakim's attitude toward the words of the prophets and his plots against them is found in Yirmiyahu 36:

 

And it came to pass in the fourth year of Yehoyakim son of Yoshiyahu King of Yehuda, that this word came to Yirmiyahu from the Lord, saying, Take a scroll, and write in it all the words which I have spoken to you about Israel, and about Yehuda, and about all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Yoshiyahu, and to this day… Then Yirmiyahu called Barukh the son of Neriya; and Barukh wrote from the mouth of Yirmiyahu all the words of the Lord… And Yirmiyahu commanded Barukh, saying, I am confined; I cannot go into the house of the Lord. Therefore go you and read in the scroll, which you have written from My mouth, the words of the Lord in the ears of the people in the Lord's house upon the fast day. And also you shall read them in the ears of all Yehuda that come out of their cities. It may be they will present their supplications before the Lord, and will return everyone from his evil way. For great is the anger and the fury that the Lord has pronounced against his people…

And it came to pass in the fifth year of Yehoyakim son of Yoshiyahu King of Yehuda, in the ninth month, that they proclaimed a fast before the Lord… Then Barukh read in the book the words of Yirmiyahu in the house of the Lord, in the chamber of Gemaryahu the son of Shafan the scribe, in the higher court, at the entry of the new gate of the Lord's house, in the ears of all the people. When Mikhayehu the son of Gemaryahu, the son of Shafan, had heard out of the book all the words of the Lord, then he went down into the king's house, into the scribe's chamber; and, lo, all the princes sat there… Then Mikhayehu declared to them all the words that he had heard… Therefore all the princes sent Yehudi the son of Netanyahu, the son of Shelemyahu, the son of Kushi, to Barukh, saying, Take in your hand the scroll in which you have read in the ears of the people, and come. So Barukh the son of Neriya took the scroll in his hand, and came to them. And they said to him, Sit down now, and read it in our ears. So Barukh read it in their ears. Now it came to pass, when they had heard all the words, they turned to one another in fear, and said to Barukh, We will surely tell the king of all these words…

Then the princes said to Barukh, Go, hide yourself, you and Yirmiyahu; and let no man know where you are. And they went in to the king to the court, but they deposited its scroll in the chamber of Elishama the scribe, and recited all the words in the ears of the king. So the king sent Yehudi to fetch the scroll. And he took it out of the chamber of Elishama the scribe. And Yehudi read it in the ears of the king, and in the ears of all the princes who stood beside the king. Now the king sat in the winter house in the ninth month; and there was a fire in the brazier burning before him. And it came to pass, that when Yehudi had read three or four leaves, he would cut it with a penknife, and cast it into the fire that was in the brazier, until all the scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the brazier. Yet they were not afraid, nor rent their garments, neither the king, nor any of his servants that heard all these words. Elnatan and Delayahu and Gemaryahu even pleaded with the king not to burn the scroll, but he would not listen to them. But the king commanded Yerakhmeel the king's son, and Serayhu the son of Azriel and Shelemyahu the son of Avdeel, to seize Barukh the scribe and Yirmiyahu the prophet: but the Lord hid them. (Yirmiyahu 36:1-26)

 

            From all that we have seen thus far, we see the significant correspondence between the sins of Yehoyakim and his people and the sins of Menasheh: the intensive and varied worship of idols and the Molekh; the adultery and incest; the shedding of innocent blood and other moral travesties; the rejection of the word of God and any connection with Him, to the point of killing His prophets and burning their words. We can summarize by saying that the period of Yehoyakim constitutes a natural continuation of the period of Menasheh.

 

However, the harsh prophecy of rebuke in Yirmiyahu 7 indicates an important difference between the two kings. In the days of Menasheh, we get the impression that the worship of idols replaced the service of God. In the days of Yehoyakim, on the other hand, the Temple service continued alongside all the abominable practices. And furthermore, the people viewed the Temple and the sacrificial service conducted therein as a sort of "insurance" against having to pay a heavy price for their sins: 

 

Trust not in lying words, saying, The Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, are these… Behold, you trust in lying words, that cannot profit. Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense to the Ba'al, and walk after other gods whom you know not, and come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, We are delivered; that you may do all these abominations? Is this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, says the Lord.

 

            Menasheh emptied the Temple of its vitality and soul, but the full expression of this came only in the days of Yehoyakim. From a rite filled with spiritual and religious content, the Temple and sacrificial service turned into an external rite of a technical-magical nature, whose very performance was seen as protecting its practitioners, even without any religious or moral commitment on their part. The very existence of the Temple and its capacity to protect Israel were viewed as self-evident and unchanging – as is attested to by the reaction of the people, the priests, and the prophets to Yirmiyahu's prophecy in chapter 26. This feeling of trust in "the Temple of the Lord" and its eternal quality turned into a supreme value, which did not take into account the balance of military and political power between Yehuda and its neighbors, on the one hand, and the conduct of the people, on the other.[5] It is not by chance that the prophet compares the impending destruction of Jerusalem to the destruction of Shilo, which also stemmed from a blind faith and absolute trust in the power of the holy ark, in total detachment from moral and religious commitment and against the background of the severe actions of Chofni and Pinchas, the sons of Eli, in the Mishkan (see I Shemuel 2-4).

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



 



[1] There is also room to discuss the extent to which the changes made during the period of Chizkiyahu succeeded in taking root among the people in the aftermath of the sins of Achaz. The question is sharpened in light of the fact that during the period of Menasheh there was, in many senses, a return to the sins of Achaz (idolatry, service of the Molekh, and others).

[2] Even though the chapter lacks a heading assigning it to a particular period, it is commonly assumed that it belongs to the period of Menasheh. On the one hand, it is found at the beginning of the book, whereas the first prophecies explicitly associated with the period of Yehoyakim appear only later in the book; on the other hand, the content of the chapter is inappropriate for the period of Yoshiyahu. In light of the fact that Yirmiyahu 36:2 implies that Yirmiyahu only began to prophesy during the days of Yoshiyahu, we emphasize that the prophecy relates to the period of Menasheh, that is to say, we assume that it was delivered at the beginning of the period of Yoshiyahu and that it relates to the situation that prevailed in the wake of the sins of Menasheh.

[3] Compare this prophecy to what is stated in Yirmiyahu 26, cited below. It seems that the prophecy itself is found in chap. 7, and that what is stated in chap. 26 is merely a synopsis, for the concern of chap. 26 is not the prophecy itself, but what happened in its wake: the attempt to kill Yirmiyahu and his rescue.

[4] Yirmiyahu was the most prominent prophet during the days of Yehoyakim and Tzidkiyahu, and the stories that accompany his prophecies about his struggles with the king, the officers, the courtiers, the false prophets, and the wicked priests who fawned before the wicked of the generation have much to teach us about the spiritual state in Yehuda at the end of the First Temple period.

[5] The strength of this feeling is evident from the fact that it appears to have penetrated down to the nations of the world, as is attested to by Eikha 4:12: "The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy would enter the gates of Jerusalem."

It is possible that the absolute trust in the eternity of the Temple is based, among other things, on the prophecy of Yishayahu during the siege of Sancheriv, "For I will defend this city to save it for My own sake, and for My servant David's sake" (Yishayahu 37:35), which stands in stark contrast to the prophecies of Yirmiyahu in chapters 7, 19, and 26 concerning the destruction of the city and the Temple, as well as to his demand that they submit to Babylonia, which in and of itself constitutes a significant retreat in comparison to the period of Chizkiyahu both from the national perspective and from the theological perspective. This, however, is not the forum in which to expand upon this idea.