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Jeremiah: Historical Background Part Seven

We know of two prophets who were active during these years. One of these was the young Jeremiah, who thundered against the idolatry with which the land was filled and, predicting its dire consequences, pleaded with the nation to repent.

Zephaniah also prophecies at this time. He assailed the religious and moral decay which Menashe had allowed to flourish as a prideful rebellion against God which had invited His wrath (Zephaniah 1:4–6, 3:1–4). Announcing that the day of God’s judgment was at hand, he declared that the nation had no hope except in repentance (2:1–3), for which it had now been offered one last chance (3:6).

It is no small wonder that Yoshiyahu tore his garments in the dismay after reading the Torah (II Kings 22:11). It must have seemed to him that if this was in fact God’s law, the nation was living in a fool’s paradise in assuming that God was irrevocably committed to its defense. In bringing the people back into the covenant to obey the Torah, it was undoubtedly Yoshiyahu’s conviction that he had chosen the only course that could save the nation from ruin.

How the reforms actually worked out is difficult to say, since we know almost nothing of the latter years of Yoshiyahu’s reign. Certainly there was no foreign power that could interfere with Yoshiyahu’s freedom to pursue whatever course he chose.

It is clear that the reform produced no profound change in the national character, but rather tended to stop short with external measures. The chief result seemed to have been a heightening of religious activity and eventually, a blind complacency regarding the nation’s future that was dangerous in the extreme. Those who had wanted such a change found themselves bitterly disappointed. This was certainly true of Jeremiah, who, even before Yoshiyahu’s tragic death, became deeply disillusioned with the whole thing. More than once he complained that no real repentance had come out of it (6:16–21), and that the wealthy and powerful, confident that the presence of the Temple was the nation’s sufficient defense, were using their behavior as a disguise for the most egregious violations of Torah law (7:1–5).

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