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38. The Downfall of the Israelite Kingdom.


God patiently, with long suffering, called on the Israelite people through many of His prophets, to turn from evil and come to believe in Him. But neither the kings nor the people listened to them.

Finally, when the people’s evil deeds had reached the ultimate limits, the Lord withdrew from the Israelite kingdom and it perished. The Assyrian King Shalmaneser conquered and destroyed the Israelite kingdom. He sent a large part of the Israelite people to his own country. In their place he settled pagans from his own kingdom. These pagans assimilated with the Israelites who remained and formed a people who came to be called Samaritans, from the name Samaria, which was the main city of the destroyed Israelite kingdom.

The Samaritans spoke an impure Hebrew language. They accepted faith in the true God, but not completely, because they did not abandon their former pagan customs and they honored only one of the prophets, Moses. The Jews despised the Samaritans and would not sit with them at the table and even tried not to speak to them. The Israelite kingdom existed for 257 years.

Note: See II Kings, chap. 17.

The Judean Kingdom.

After the collapse of the Israelite kingdom, the Judean kingdom existed for still another 100 years, since among the Judean kings there were a few pious ones. In addition, the people remembered God more than in the Israelite kingdom. The prophets sent by God to the Judean kingdom exposed the evil deeds of the Jews and foretold much about the coming of the Saviour to earth. The Prophet Micah foretold that the Saviour would be born in the city of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). The Prophet Joel foretold the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and all those who believed in the Saviour.

The Prophet Isaiah.

Especially famous among the Jewish prophets was the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah was a descendant of King David and a relative of the kings of the Jews. The Lord made him a prophet through an extraordinary vision. Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on a high throne. Around Him stood six-ringed Seraphim, and they called out, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts! The whole earth is full of His glory!" One of the Seraphim took with tongs a burning coal from the heavenly altar, touched Isaiah’s lips and said, "Behold, thy sins are purged." After this the Lord ordered him to go and expose the unbelief and vices of the Jews.

The Prophet Isaiah foretold that the Judean kingdom would be destroyed by enemies, the Jews would be taken into captivity and then again would return to their homeland.

With particular clarity Isaiah foretold that the Saviour, Christ, would come from the house of David, that the Saviour would be born from a virgin and would not be a simple man, but also God. "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel" (Is. 7:14) which means, "God is with us."

He foretold that the Saviour would suffer and die for our sins. "But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed...He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth" (Is. 53:5-7).

Isaiah also prophesied that the Saviour would be crucified with evildoers, and would be buried not with them, but in the tomb of a rich man. Through faith in Christ the Saviour, people would save themselves from eternal damnation. For the clarity of his predictions about Christ the Saviour, the Prophet Isaiah is called "the Old Testament Evangelist."

At that time Isaiah was ardently exposing the wrongdoing of the Jewish King, Manasseh. The impious King placed altars to pagan idols in Solomon’s Temple. However, at the end of Manasseh’s life, after being taken captive and put in prison, he repented and asked God’s forgiveness. Under the influence of their impious King, the Jewish people began to completely forget the true God. The Jews even stopped celebrating the Passover and other feasts established by Moses.

The holy Prophet Isaiah endured a martyr’s death. For exposing the wrongdoing of King Manasseh, he was sawed in two.

Note: See II Kings, chaps. 16 and 18-23; II Chronicles, chaps. 28-35; Book of Isaiah and other prophets.

The Fall of the Judean Kingdom. The Prophet Jeremiah.

For a long time the Lord endured the sins of the Jewish people and awaited their repentance, but the people did not reform themselves. Through the Prophet Jeremiah God clearly foretold that for their evil deeds, the Jewish people would be subjugated and led into captivity by the Babylonians and that the Jews would be in captivity for seventy years.

At first, the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 37:1) subjugated the Jewish King, but he preserved Jerusalem and did not destroy all the Jewish kingdom.

The Prophet Jeremiah persuaded the Jews to submit to Babylon. He pointed out that the Babylonians had been sent against the Jews by God as a punishment for the sins of the kings and the people, and for their apostasy from the faith. He told them that the only way to rid themselves of the disaster was to repent, reform, and pray to God.

But neither the King nor the people listened to the Prophet and instead they started a revolt. Then the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem, plundered it, set it on fire, and destroyed Solomon’s Temple to the foundation. At that time the Ark of the Covenant was hidden in a cave by the Prophet Jeremiah.

All the Jewish people were taken into captivity (in 589 B.C.). Only the poorest Jews were left on their land to cultivate the vineyards and fields. The Prophet Jeremiah remained in Jerusalem. He grieved over the ungodliness of his people amidst the ruins of the city and continued to teach virtue to those inhabitants who stayed.

Note: See II Kings, chaps. 24-25; Book of the Prophet Jeremiah; II Chronicles, chap. 36:5-21.

The Babylonian Captivity.

The Jews had a hard life in the Babylonian captivity, but the Lord did not abandon His chosen people in exile. So as to arouse repentance in the Jews and comfort them, the Lord sent to them His prophets during the captivity. The Prophet Ezekiel and the Prophet Daniel were particularly remarkable during this period.

The Prophet Ezekiel.

Ezekiel was a contemporary of the Prophet Jeremiah. While in the Babylonian captivity, even before the final destruction of the Judean kingdom, he was called by God to be a prophet.

The Prophet Ezekiel was made famous by his prophecies about the resurrection of the dead, which simultaneously symbolically represented the restoration to freedom of the Jewish people.

The Prophet had a vision from the Lord. He saw a field strewn with men’s bones.

God asked him, "Son of man, will these bones live?"

Ezekiel replied, "O Lord God, Thou knowest this."

The Lord said, "Prophesy upon these bones, and thou shalt say to them, ‘Ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’"

The Word of the Lord was as follows: "Thus saith the Lord to these bones; Behold I will bring upon you the breath of life and I will lay sinews upon you, and bring up flesh upon you, and will spread skin upon you, and will put My Spirit into you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord" (Ezek. 37:3-6).

When Ezekiel prophesied, at God’s command there was a noise and movement and the bones began to come together, each bone to its appointed bone. Ezekiel saw there were sinews on them, and flesh appeared, and skin covered them on top, but there was no spirit in them.

And the Lord said: "Prophesy to the wind; prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, ‘Thus saith the Lord: Come from the four winds, and breathe upon these dead men, and let them live" (Ezek. 37:9).

The words, "from the four winds," mean that from four ends of the world (north, south, east and west) dead souls, wherever they might be, must gather in the field covered with spiritless bodies and come to life.

Ezekiel uttered the prophecy as the Lord commanded him, and the Spirit entered them and they came to life and stood on their feet.

The Lord said, "These bones are the whole house of Israel....Therefore prophesy and say, ‘Thus saith the Lord: Behold I will open your tombs, and will bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, that I may bring up My people from their graves. And I will put My Spirit within you, and ye shall live, and I will place you upon your own land; and ye shall know that I am the Lord" (Ezek. 37:11-14).

This great prophecy, besides pointing to the restoration of the Israelite people, was given to us by God as a graphic portrayal of the general resurrection of the dead at the second coming of the Saviour, when, according to the all-powerful Word of God, all the bodies of dead people will unite with their spirits and come to life.

Note: See II Kings, chap. 25:27-30; II Chron., chap. 36:10-23; Ezekiel, chap. 37:1-14.

The Prophet Daniel.

The Prophet Daniel was descended from the royal family. While still a young boy, he was taken prisoner to a Babylonian prison. In prison, by the will of King Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel was chosen with several other imprisoned youths of the children of Israel to serve in the King’s palace. The King ordered that they be brought up in the palace, taught in various fields of knowledge and in the language of the Chaldeans. The King appointed them a daily provision of food from his own table. Among those chosen besides Daniel were Ananias, Azarias, and Misael.

Daniel and his three friends firmly kept faith in the true God. They did not wish to eat the King’s meat in order to avoid being defiled by anything forbidden by the Law of Moses. They begged the prince of eunuchs to give them only bread and vegetables. The prince would not agree for fear they would lose weight, and the King would decapitate him. But Daniel asked him to do as they asked for ten days. When ten days had passed, Daniel and his friends not only did not lose weight, but they appeared fatter, more healthy and fairer than all the other children. After this they were not required to eat the King’s food. For such strict observance of the Law, for their fasting and piety, God rewarded these young boys with great ability and success in their studies. In tests, they proved to be more intelligent and better than the others, and they were given positions in the King’s palace. To Daniel, God gave the gift of interpreting dreams, as He had once to Joseph.

The rise of the Hebrew youths benefited the Jews in captivity. The piety of the youths served to defend the Jews from oppression and to better their life in captivity. Furthermore, through them the pagans were able to come to a knowledge of the true God and to glorify Him.

One day Nebuchadnezzar had an unusual dream, but when he awoke in the morning, he could not remember it. This dream greatly distressed the King. He convened all his wise men and magicians and ordered them to recall this dream and explain it. But they were not able do it and said, "There is not a man upon the earth that can recall the dream for the king" (Dan. 2:10). Nebuchadnezzar was infuriated and wanted to destroy all the wise men of Babylon.

Then Daniel asked the King to give him some time, and he would explain the dream. Going home, Daniel fervently implored God to reveal to him this mystery. In a vision at night, God revealed to him the dream of Nebuchadnezzar and its meaning.

Daniel went to the King and said, "O king, thy thoughts came into thy mind upon thy bed, what should come to pass hereafter ...Thou, O king, sawest and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay" (Dan. 2:29, 31-33). Then from a mountain, by itself, a stone was cut out without hands, and it smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces, then the whole image fell apart and turned into dust, and the stone became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. This, O King, is thy dream!

This dream," continued Daniel, "means the following. Thou art a king of kings, for the God of Heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory, and He hath made thee ruler over all. Thou art this head of gold. After thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass which shall bear rule over all the earth. The fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and all these shall it break in pieces and bruise. But at the same time that the kingdom shall be divided, the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly broken. In the days of these last kings shall the God of Heaven set up an eternal kingdom which shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. Thus the great God hath made known to the King what shall come to pass hereafter."

Hearing this, King Nebuchadnezzar stood up and bowed down to the earth before Daniel, and said, "Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings!" (Dan. 2:47).

He honored Daniel greatly by giving him great gifts, seating him in the gate of the King, and making him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief of the governors, over all the wise men of Babylon. His three friends Ananian, Azarias, and Misael were set over the affairs of the province of Babylon.

The prophecy of Daniel was precisely fulfilled. After the Babylonian kingdom, there followed three great kingdoms: the Median-Persian, the Macedonian or Greek, and the Roman, each of which reigned over the Jewish people. Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, appeared on earth during the Roman empire, and established His universal, eternal kingdom, the holy Church.

The mountain, from which was carved the stone, represents the Holy Virgin Mary, and the stone, Christ and His eternal kingdom.

Note: See the Book of Daniel, chapters 1-2.

Friends of the Prophet Daniel — Ananias, Azarias, and Misael — the Furnace of Babylon.

Shortly after, the friends of the Prophet Daniel, Ananias, Azarias, and Misael (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego KJV), underwent a great trial of their faith. King Nebuchadnezzar set up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon, a great image of gold. For its dedication all the important and distinguished people of the Babylonian kingdom were gathered. It was declared to all the people that when they heard the sound of the trumpet and musical instruments, they must fall down and worship the golden image. Whosoever did not comply with the order of the King would be thrown into a burning fiery furnace. Upon the sound of the trumpet, all fell to the ground. Only three — Ananias, Azarias, and Misael — failed to worship the image.

The King was enraged, and commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual, and to bind them and cast them into the burning fiery furnace. The flames were so fierce that the soldiers who threw them in the furnace fell dead. But Ananias, Azarias, and Misael remained unharmed, because the Lord sent His angel to guard them in the midst of the flames. They sang, glorifying the Lord.

Nebuchadnezzar sat on a high throne near the furnace. When he heard the singing, he was astonished, then dumbfounded. He rose up in haste and said to his counselors, "But I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not burnt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God." Then he came near to the furnace and said, "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, ye servants of the most high God, come out and come here."

When they came, it was seen that the fire had had no power over them, even their coats and hair were not singed, nor did they smell of fire. Nebuchadnezzar, seeing this said, "Blessed be your God, Who sent His angel and delivered his servants that trusted in Him."

The King forbade anyone, on penalty of death, to speak anything amiss against the God of Israel.

Note: See the Book of Daniel, chap. 3.

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