Saturday, December 3, 2011

Why and When Lehi Left Jerusalem Part I

In 622 B.C., an old law book was discovered—a major portion of the book now called Deuteronomy—which expounded on the theology of the Mosaic covenant. In line with its Mosaic precepts, all sacrificial rituals were ordered performed in the Jerusalem temple, and the provincial clergy were invited to join the priestly guilds in the capital, though most refused to do so. Many Jews, however, were afraid to give up their pagan practices for fear it would invite retaliation from Assyria who governed the land.

However, by 612 B.C. the Assyrian Empire began crumbling. Babylonia destroyed Nineveh, Assyria's magnificent capital, marking an end to Assyrian power and rule. Josiah, king of Judah, sparked by religious zeal and political ambition, carried his reformation north to Galilee and west to the Mediterranean Sea. With Assyria's fall from power, Josiah led a fight for Jewish independence.

In 608 B.C., Necho, the Pharaoh of Egypt, wanted to establish a buffer between aggressive Babylon and his own empire. He dispatched an army to help Assyria, moving his forces through Israel. Josiah resolved to resist the approaching Egyptians and went out to meet their army at the head of a small Judean force. In the battle that followed, the Hebrews were beaten and Josiah was killed. The beleaguered and defeated Jews then chose one of Josiah's sons, Jehoahaz, to be their leader. The Egyptians, however, replaced Jehoahaz after only three months on the throne, with another of Josiah's sons, a man named Jehoiakim, and exercised political control of the Kingdom of Judah for three years through this puppet king.

Babylonian involvement began in 605 B.C., with the Egyptian authority in Palestine suddenly halted by Crown Prince Nebuchadnezzar who marshalled a mighty force and crushed the Pharaoh's army in upper Syria in the battle of Carchemish. This Babylonian victory took the Jewish nation out of Egypt's grasp and made Jehoiakim a servant of Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 23-25; 2 Chronicles 36; Jeremiah 26-39). Nebuchadnezzar II ruled Babylon from 604-562 B.C. He was the son of Nabopolassar, who founded the last Chaldean Dynasty in 625 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar married Amyitis, the daughter of the King of the Medes, a country which formed a major portion of ancient Persia, and collected tribute from Jerusalem, controlling all of southern Palestine as a vassal state.

Nebuchadnezzar allowed Jehoiakim to continue to rule, but the Israelite king later rebelled against Babylon. When the Chaldeans returned with a much larger army, Jehoiakim proclaimed a fast for heavenly intervention against Judah's enemy, but he mysteriously died and his son, Jehoiachin, ascended to the throne of Judah. Jehoiachin's first royal act was to surrender the city to Nebuchadnezzar on March 16, 597 B.C. On his departure from Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar appointed a king of the Davidic lineage. His choice was Mattaniah—the gift of Jehovah—whose name was changed to Zedekiah—the righteous gift of Jehovah. Consequetly, by 597 B.C., Zedekiah, destined to be the last King of Judah, was in his first year of his reign in Jerusalem.

King Zedekiah was the uncle of Jehoichin, the youngest son of Josiah by the same mother as Jehoahaz (2 Kings 23:31). Well-meaning but completely weak, the twenty-one-year-old Zedekiah embarked on a wicked, immoral and corrupt rule. Wickedness swept through Judah and dishonesty, false swearing and idolatry were common vices of the day. Adding to this, Zedekiah decided to follow the disastrous course of Jehoiakim in seeking an alliance with Egypt and scheming a break with Babylon. Seeing the disastrous alliances the king was about to make, the Lord sent his prophet Jeremiah into the royal palace to dissuade Zedekiah. The incensed priests and princes of Judah found Jeremiah's predictions that Jerusalem and its temple were doomed to destruction and that the entire population would be led away captive if they did not repent, bordering on blasphemy. The result was Jeremiah's arrest and imprisonment.

Thus, we see that the stage was set for Lehi. Nephi writes to open his record: “In the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah” (1 Nephi 1:4). Traditionally, we talk about this being 600 B.C., and certainly makes for an easier time frame. However, Zedekiah began his reign as king of Judah in 597 B.C., and by stating in the commencement of the first year, Nephi tells us that the Lehi Colony left Jerusalem in the springtime, for among the Hebrews in biblical times, the first month always refers to the first spring month. “The commencement of the year,” therefore, would fall in the springtime regardless of when Zedekiah began to reign as king, for the Jews, like the Egyptians, dated a king's rule from the beginning of the real year, and was the ritual time of coronation.

(See the next post, “Why and When Lehi Left Jerusalem – Part II,” for a continuation of this subject.)

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