On the tenth day of the fifth month, in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard, who served the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He set fire to the temple of the LORD, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down. The whole Babylonian army, under the commander of the imperial guard, broke down all the walls around Jerusalem. Nebuzaradan the commander of the guard carried into exile some of the poorest people and those who remained in the city, along with the rest of the craftsmen and those who had deserted to the king of Babylon. But Nebuzaradan left behind the rest of the poorest people of the land to work the vineyards and fields.
The Babylonians broke up the bronze pillars, the movable stands and the bronze Sea that were at the temple of the LORD and they carried all the bronze to Babylon. They also took away the pots, shovels, wick trimmers, sprinkling bowls, dishes and all the bronze articles used in the temple service. The commander of the imperial guard took away the basins, censers, sprinkling bowls, pots, lampstands, dishes and bowls used for drink offerings—all that were made of pure gold or silver.
The bronze from the two pillars, the Sea and the twelve bronze bulls under it, and the movable stands, which King Solomon had made for the temple of the LORD, was more than could be weighed. Each pillar was eighteen cubits high and twelve cubits in circumference; each was four fingers thick, and hollow. The bronze capital on top of one pillar was five cubits high and was decorated with a network and pomegranates of bronze all around. The other pillar, with its pomegranates, was similar. There were ninety-six pomegranates on the sides; the total number of pomegranates above the surrounding network was a hundred.
The commander of the guard took as prisoners Seraiah the chief priest, Zephaniah the priest next in rank and the three doorkeepers. Of those still in the city, he took the officer in charge of the fighting men, and seven royal advisers. He also took the secretary who was chief officer in charge of conscripting the people of the land, sixty of whom were found in the city. Nebuzaradan the commander took them all and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. There at Riblah, in the land of Hamath, the king had them executed.
So Judah went into captivity, away from her land.
This is well written history. It is plain and matter-of-fact. An objective description of what took place. And yet despite the plain style of writing, it's a deeply moving passage. Ever since the great rebuke, I have trained myself to read the detail in the harder bits of the Bible (a.k.a. some of those long, tedious descriptions) slowly and carefully and have come to love passages like the painstaking accounts of the construction of the Tabernacle in Exodus and the detailed buildng plans of the Temple in Kings and Chronicles. The beautiful and extraordinary detail in these plans is important because these were the places where God would dwell - these were physical spaces that needed to be fit for a King.
And here in Jeremiah, described in very plain language, it is all plundered and destroyed.
This week I have been reading Lamentations. If the end of Jeremiah was moving, Lamentations is raw grief. This is the more human description of the fall of Jerusalem - the eye witness account and the personal response, written in poetic form, probably by Jeremiah. There's horror, pain, sorrow, remorse, repentance, an acceptance of God's righteousness and right to judge and running wonderfully through chapter three, deep faith in God and hope in Him despite desperate circumstances.
This is a really amazing section of Scripture. It describes an important moment in Biblical history but it also gives a stunning portrait of the human experience - of the hope we have if we choose Life (that can sustain us in our earthly life even under the most extreme of situations) and the consequences we face if turn our backs on Him.
See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.