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Jeremiah: Historical Background Part Eight

It was in the year 609 B.C.E. that tragedy first struck. This year witnessed both Yoshiyahu’s death and the end of Judah’s independence. The Medes and the Babylonians had allied to bring Assyria to the ground, in 612 destroying Nineveh, and in 610 ejecting the refugee Assyrian government from Harran.

But a serious crash was not to bring peace to Judah. There was the corpse of an empire to be divided, and about it the vultures gathered: The Medes, the Babylonians, and the Egyptians. The first of these busied themselves extending their control through the areas east and north of the mountains, in Iran, in Armenia and into Asia Minor. But the Babylonians, already in control of the whole of the Mesopotamian plain, and the Egyptians, who desired to further their own interests, both had their eyes on erstwhile Assyrian holdings west of the Euphrates. And between the upper and nether millstones of their rival ambitions, Judah was caught and crushed.

In 609, Pharoah Necho II, who had succeeded his father Psammetichus on the throne of Egypt, marched with a large force northward to Carchemish on the Euphrates to assist the Assyrians in a last effort to retake Harran.  At Megiddo, now within the territory of reunited Israel, Yoshiyahu tried to stop him. The verse promises, “And a sword will not cross your land (Vayikra 26:6),” and Yoshiyahu was convinced that his reforms were sufficient to rely on this promise of the Torah despite Jeremiah’s warnings to the contrary. Yoshiyahu was killed and brought dead in his chariot to Jerusalem amid great lamentation (II Kings 23:29, II Chronicles 35:20–25). His son Yehoachaz was made King in his place.

Necho was left for the moment in control of Israel and Syria. So he set out to consolidate his position. Naturally, he accorded Judah rough treatment. Having summoned Yehoachaz, who had reigned only 3 months, to his headquarters at Riblah in central Syria, he deposed him and deported him to Egypt (II Kings 23:31–35), and then placed Yehoachim, another of Yoshiyahu’s sons, on the throne as his vassal, and placed the land under heavy tribute. Yehoachim was obliged to raise this by means of a heavy tax levied on all landholding citizens. Judah’s independence was over.

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