The Condition of The Nation – 2 Kings 24; 25:1-17
A nation at times undergoes some difficult periods. It may be political, economic or social. People that love their nation identify themselves with these problems and offer possible solutions to the problems. These type of people can be described as “being patriotic”.
Such was the situation in Israel when some people exhibited noticeable acts of patriotism. They were Ezra, Zerubbabel and Nehemiah. Occasion was the exile of Judah and the destruction of the temple and walls of Jerusalem.
Jehoiakim was twenty five years old when he began to rule Judah in Jerusalem. Formerly called Eliakim, King Neco of Egypt changed his name to Jehoiakim when he (Neco) conquered Israel. Jehoiakim was the son of Josiah, the man who carried out various reforms in Israel. Thus, Jehoiakim was loyal to Egypt. However, Jehoiakim was very different from his father, Josiah. He was very lax in attitude, carefree and non-challant. Soon, paganism reared its ugly head again as prophets were harassed and killed as a result of the death of Josiah’s reforms.
Meanwhile, by this time, (605 B.C) Egypt had been defeated by Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar. Consequently, Judah automatically transferred its allegiance to Babylon. However, King Jehoiakim rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, thinking that Egypt will come to his rescue. Nebuchadnezzar reacted by sending a powerful contingency of the Chaldeans, Syrians, Moabites and Ammonites to destroy Judah (these countries were arch-enemies of Judah). It may be worthy of note that this was a punishment from God to Judah for her unfaithfulness to Him.
But Jehoiakim died that very month before the arrival of the invaders, and was replaced by Jehoiachin, his eighteen-year-old son. Thus, Nebuchadnezzar, in (598 B.C) invaded Judah and took Jehoiachin prisoner alongside his mother, wives, officials, the chief men of Judah, the mighty men of valour, as well as craftsmen and smiths.
Also, the temple was looted as well as the King’s house. Only the poorest people and the aged and wretched were spared. To make things worse, Nebuchadnezzar made Mattaniah-Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in his stead and changed his name to Zedekiah. Zedekiah was twenty one years old when he began to reign.
Nevertheless, it was not long before Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. Therefore, Nebuchadnezzar stormed Judah again and Zedekiah fled with his men by night at the peak of famine but were captured near Jericho and taken to Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah Zedekiah’s two sons were slain before his very eyes and his two eyes plucked out. He was then taken to Babylon where he died. Shortly after, Nebuchadnezzar sent his men to burn down Jerusalem including the temple and the walls. This time, another batch of captives were deported to Babylon, while Gedaliah was appointed governor over what remained of Judah. It is worthy of mention here that many years back, Jeremiah had prophesied over Judah’s exile to Babylon. This final destruction of the temple and deportation took place in 586 B.C
Response to the State of the Nation and Nehemiah’s Role in Reconstructing the Nation – Nehemiah 1:1-11:2.9-20, 4:1-23. Ezra 1:1-11: 4: 5:1-2 6:13-22: 7:1-10
As time went on, the Babylonian empire grew famous and more powerful For Israel, she no longer existed as a corporate entity. But in Babylon, they were allowed to settle at a particular area of the land. They were not enslaved at all, but allowed to own property and practice their religion. Prophets also taken to exile like Jeremiah and Ezekiel also ministered to their people while in exile. Gradually, many Babylonian Jews became prosperous while others attained high positions of authority.
Again, it did not take long before another world power emerged Persia defeated Babylon and made her and all her empires to be under the Persian king -Artaxerxes. Under him, many Jews became high-ranking officers, including Nehemiah.
As the king’s cup-bearer, Nehemiah had unrestricted access to the king and later used this position for the welfare of his people.
It was not long that a delegation from Jerusalem visited Babylon The delegation was led by Hanani, Nehemiah’s brother, who briefed him on the condition of the once glamorous city of Jerusalem was greatly touched and distressed that he decided to the king so as to obtain permission to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the city. He succeeded, as King Artaxerxes issued him a letter of authority to carry out his idea. The king also gave a promise to sponsor the project.
Nehemiah came back to Jerusalem and assessed the degree of damage. He however, faced the opposition of his enemies especially, Samballat and Tobiah. They employed various means to sabotage the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah eventually completed the project, with a unique determination and sense of purpose.
Nehemiah was not the only Jew who undertook to rebuild Jerusalem. Before him, Zerubbabel and Ezra had made attempts at this. As soon as Persia over-ran Babylon, King Cyrus had issued a decree for all Jews to return to Jerusalem with both financial and legal assistance (Ezra 1:1-4). He returned five thousand, four hundred and sixty nine vessels of gold and silver which King Nebuchadnezzar took from the house of God in Jerusalem. It was later handed over to Sheshbezar the prince of Judah to be returned to Jerusalem.
Zerubbabel led about 50,000 Jews to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Some Samaritan Jews offered to help in the work, but Zerubbabel rejected their offer, saying they were not real Jews having inter-married with other tribes during their exile years.
Twenty years after his arrival, Zerubbabel completed the rebuilding of the temple, amongst armed opposition from Samaritans, though leaving the walls of the city “Again, about eighty years later, Ezra, a Jewish scribe led another 6,000 Jews back to Jerusalem. His task was not to rebuild but to carry out religious reforms. This was the stage when Nehemiah reformed and rebuilt the walls.
Lessons to Learn from Nehemiah’s, Zerubbabel’s and Ezra’s Concern for Their Nation
- Their actions showed strong concern and commitment to God and their nation which are acts of patriotism. We should emulate such unique love for one’s people and cause.
- We should not forget our responsibilities to others simply because we are in comfortable positions. Even, as Nehemiah was a topranking officer under King Artaxerxes, he never forgot his duty.
- Even in the midst of danger, we should not be afraid to perform our responsibilities. Nehemiah at the risk of death from armed opposition was not deterred in his service to his people.
- We should note that in the service of our nation, there are bound to be oppositions and clash of interests. But with determination, God will always see us through. Nehemiah, Zerubbabel and Ezra faced such oppositions and yet, they succeeded.
- In Nehemiah, we see a gracious combination of trust in God, strength, doggedness, ruggedness, commitment, energy, prayerfulness, determination, patriotism, nationalism and devotion. He is worthy of emulation by our leaders.
- We should learn to take advantage of every vantage situation to help our nation. Nehemiah used his position as the king’s cupbearer to obtain permission from him to go back home to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
- Whatever good positions we find ourselves elsewhere, we should use it to develop our nation. Home is Home.
- As earlier stated, the love and concern for one’s country can force a real patriot to even lay down his life for it.
- Like Moses, Joshua, Samuel and other patriots of old, Nehemiah, Ezra and Zerubbabel showed unflinching zeal and concern for their country -Jerusalem while in captivity in Babylon.
- As soon as King Cyrus of Persia ordered all Jews to go home, Zerubbabel led 50,000 of his people home to rebuild the temple which Nebuchadnezzar destroyed and looted in 598 B.C.
- Many years later, Ezra, a scribe arrived with another batch of 6,000 Jews for the same purpose.
- However, it was Nehemiah who completed the rebuilding of the walls of the city amidst stiff opposition from Samaritan Jews and others.