Jeremiah-Historical Background Part Ten
So matters continued until 605 when, at a stroke, the delicate balance of world power was upset and Judah was brought face to face with a new and more fearful emergency. In the late spring of that year, Nebuchadnezzar launched his all out attack. Leaping upon the Egyptian forces at Carchemish, he sent them in headlong rout (Jeremiah 46:2–12) and then, pursuing them southward, dealt them a second and yet more crushing defeat in central Syria. Nothing stood in the way of a Babylonian sweep southward into Israel.
News of Nabopolassar’s death obliged Nebuchadnezzar to halt his advance and hasten home; he took the throne in Babylon, although the first official year of his reign began the following year (Compare II Kings 24:12, 25:8, and Jeremiah 52:8).
The Babylonian army soon resumed its advance and by the end of the year took and ravaged Ashkelon (Jeremiah 47:2–7); leading elements of that city’s population were deported to Babylon. Consternation reigned in Judah, as contemporary prophets spoke (Habbakuk 1:5–11; Jeremiah 5:15–17; 6:22–26). Yehoyakim transferred his allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar and became his vassal (II Kings 24:1). Judah’s fortunes had come full circle; she was once more within the orbit of another power.
Yehoyakim had taken this step only from necessity, and apparently with the intention of rectifying the situation at the earliest opportunity. Three years later he thought he saw his chance. Late in that year, Nebuchadnezzar moved against Egypt and was met by Necho in a pitched battle near the frontier. We do not know the details of this engagement but, since Nebuchadnezzar returned home after word and spent the following year reorganizing his army, it was certainly no Babylonian victory.
Presumably encouraged by this, Yehoyakim rebelled (II Kings 24:1). It was a fatal mistake. Though Nebuchadnezzar was unable to bring his main army to bear at once, he immediately ordered such Babylonian contingents as were available in the area, together with auxiliary troops from the Aramaean lands, Moab and Ammon (II Kings 24:2), to move against Judah and do what damage they could; apparently, in outlying areas, this was considerable (Jeremiah 35:11).
Finally, in the end of 598, the Babylonian army marched. In that very month, Yehoyakim died; and it is quite likely that he was assassinated in the hope of gaining milder treatment for Judah. His son, Yehoyachin, an 18-year-old boy, was placed on the throne, and within three months Jerusalem surrendered. Nebuchadnezzar, apparently somewhat appeased, behaved with relative leniency. Contenting himself with deporting the king, the queen mother, the court officials, military leaders and skilled artisans to Babylon, and seizing a considerable booty, he allowed Judah to continue in existence, placing the king’s uncle Zedekiah, another of Josiah’s sons, on the throne as his vassal (II Kings 24:10–17). Judah had been granted a brief respite.