Old Testament Survey - Lesson 29

Jeremiah and Ezekiel

You will gain understanding of the political and social environments surrounding the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel during the exile period. The lesson digs into the turbulent international scene, the decline of the Assyrian empire, the rise of Babylonia under Nebuchadnezzar, and the subsequent capture and destruction of Jerusalem. It explores the social context of the Israelite population dispersed across Judah, Egypt, and Babylon, detailing their economic, political, and spiritual struggles. The focus shifts to the book of Lamentations, analyzing its structure, authorship, and thematic elements. 

Daniel Block
Old Testament Survey
Lesson 29
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Jeremiah and Ezekiel

I. Political Environments of Jeremiah and Ezekiel

A. International Scene

1. Transition from Neo-Assyrians to Babylonians

2. Rise of Nebuchadnezzar

3. Events leading to Assyrian fall and Babylonian dominance

B. Judean Scene

1. Spiritual decline under Manasseh

2. Josiah's attempts at reform and subsequent failure

3. Reigns of Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah

C. Consequences of Jehoiakim's rebellion

1. Babylonian capture of Jerusalem

2. Deportation of Judeans to Babylon

3. Installation of Zedekiah as puppet ruler

II. Social Environments of Jeremiah and Ezekiel

A. Israelite Population Locations

1. Judah, Egypt, and Babylon

2. Deportation and devastation

B. Conditions of Remnant Population

1. Economic, political, and spiritual depression

2. Emergence of a new class

C. Ministries of Jeremiah and Ezekiel

1. Jeremiah's warnings in Jerusalem

2. Ezekiel's prophetic ministry to Jews in Babylon

III. The Book of Lamentations

A. Authorship and Composition

1. Traditional ascription to Jeremiah

2. Modern scholarship's view of anonymous authorship

B. Structure and Characteristics

1. Five separate laments

2. Alphabetic acrostics

C. Message and Theme

1. Lamentation over the fall of Jerusalem

2. Crisis of faith and divine judgment

3. Hope in God's faithfulness and compassion

  • Learning about the First Testament's language, geographical, and cultural contexts, and how these factors contribute to its frequent misinterpretation and underappreciation in modern times.
  • Gain insights into the literary and cosmic foundations of grace and glory in the Torah, understanding its role as more than law.
  • Learn that to be made in God's image entails embodying divine qualities and functioning as His representative on Earth, which extends a universal dignity upon all humans and shapes a theological ethic that influences how you treat others.
  • Genesis 1-3 frames human response to divine creation, emphasizing human dignity, work's moral role, free will's consequences, and the persistent grace amid sin.
  • This lesson reviews the Israelite covenant, understanding its stages, implications, and its role in God's redemptive plan.
  • Gain insights into Abraham's covenant with God, exploring his faith and God's promises.
  • Learn how the Exodus from Egypt marked Israel's transformation from a family to a nation under Yahweh.
  • Understand how the covenant at Sinai transforms Israel from slaves into a treasured nation destined for a divine mission, fulfilling God's ancient promises.
  • This lesson covers the covenantal expectations at Sinai. The covenantal agreement provided a constitutional and ethical framework for societal living, focusing on community rights and responsibilities.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into how the tabernacle was both a physical manifestation of God's presence and a profound symbol of His grace, emphasizing the holiness and detailed guidance He provided to the Israelites for worship and daily life.
  • Gain insights into Deuteronomy, recognizing its focus on teaching rather than legislation, and understanding Moses' role as an instructor of Yahweh's will.
  • In this lesson, you explore how to interpret the First Testament's historiographic writings, emphasizing the divine inspiration and literary artistry that guide the selective storytelling and theological themes.
  • Learn how the books of Joshua and Judges illustrate the fulfillment and failure of Israel's covenant with Yahweh, highlighting divine promise, cultural assimilation, and the cyclical nature of faith and apostasy.
  • The Book of Ruth, highlights divine providence, social justice, and personal righteousness while exploring the role of Boaz as a pivotal figure in maintaining the lineage of King David.
  • Samuel had a significant yet complex role in Israel's history; judge, priest, prophet, and crucial figure in establishing monarchy.
  • Learn of David's central role in the Bible, understanding his unique portrayal and the extensive attention he receives compared to other figures.
  • Learn about the Davidic covenant's role in shaping biblical history and theology, emphasizing its eternal impact on Israel and beyond.
  • The books of Kings and Chronicles use historical events to underline theological themes, highlighting the role of scribes in documenting Israel’s history.
  • In this lesson on 1 and 2 Kings, review the downfall of Israel through kings' forgetfulness of God's covenants.
  • Learn about Solomon's temple's historical and theological significance, its divine design and purpose, and its role in Israelite worship and communal life.
  • Gain insights into the transformation and resilience of the Judean people during their exile in Babylon from 586-539 BC, exploring their struggles and adaptations in a new socio-political and religious context.
  • Learn about Daniel's exemplary life in Babylon, his integrity, and his prophetic visions, which highlight divine sovereignty and the vindication of the faithful amidst calamities.
  • Review the Persian period's impact on the Jewish diaspora, analyze the Book of Esther's literary and theological significance, and reflect on divine providence and cultural identity.
  • Explore the crucial roles of Ezra and Nehemiah in reconstructing the Jewish community and faith post-exile, understanding their historical significance, source materials, and theological insights.
  • Gain insight into the roles and significance of prophets in ancient Israel, learning about their historical context, and their critical function in guiding and correcting the nation through direct communication from Yahweh.
  • Learn about the lives and ministries of prophets Amos and Hosea, their calls for justice and return to divine covenant amidst Israel's political and spiritual turmoil, through prophetic books that blend personal biography with national prophecy.
  • This lesson reviews Jonah's struggle with divine grace and Micah's advocacy for justice and the messianic hope.
  • In this lesson, you learn how Isaiah's vision portrays the Messiah as king, servant, and conqueror, emphasizing his divine roles and global mission.
  • Learn of the political and social contexts of Jeremiah and Ezekiel's exile, including Babylon's rise, Jerusalem's fall, and the crisis of faith portrayed in Lamentations, emphasizing hope amid despair through God's faithfulness.
  • Learn about Jeremiah's life and prophetic ministry, navigating challenges with kings, themes in the Book of Jeremiah, and profound passages on true religion and a future covenant, offering lessons on prophetic burdens, God's faithfulness, and spiritual transformation.
  • Explore Ezekiel's life as a priest in exile, his bizarre actions, and profound messages revealing Yahweh's passion and eternal promises of judgment and restoration.
  • Learn about Nahum and Joel's prophecies on judgment, hope, and Yahweh's character. Explore the day of the Lord and the expansion of the covenant community.
  • Explore Obadiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah's prophecies. Discover themes of judgment, faith, and restoration in God's plan.
  • Gain insight into Haggai's role in motivating temple rebuilding during the Persian rule. His brief yet impactful ministry fosters hope and action amid community disillusionment, recoginizing God's presence and reign.
  • Gain deep insight into Hebrew poetry: its forms, parallelism, acrostics, and emotional depth. Explore its celebration and lamentation of Yahweh's glory.
  • Gain insight into Psalms which reflect diverse emotions and experiences. Structured into five divisions, attributed to various authors, their interpretation involves understanding Torah context, literary devices, and applying timeless principles to life.
  • Explore biblical wisdom's depth: from practical skill to moral insight, rooted in the fear of Yahweh. It contrasts with secular knowledge, emphasizing God's order and universal application.
  • Engage with Proverbs to unravel its diverse wisdom, from aphorisms to discourses. Understand its practical guidance for righteous living and leadership.
  • Discover the Song of Songs, a rich exploration of love's nature. From its allegorical interpretations to its celebration of covenantal love, it examines human relationships with wisdom and depth.
  • The book of Job offers insights into faith and suffering, exploring theological themes and character dynamics. It emphasizes trust in God amid life's most difficult trials.
  • Uncover Ecclesiastes' profound journey from despair to hope. Koheleth's existential ponderings contrast with the narrator's faith, urging a shift from worldly pursuits to finding fulfillment in God's sovereignty.

This Old Testament Survey course offers a deep exploration of the Old Testament's literary structure, divine covenants, and historical context. Lessons cover the Pentateuch, emphasizing its narrative over legalistic interpretations, and extend through key biblical figures like Abraham and Moses. Topics such as the covenant at Sinai, the concept of imago Dei, and the tabernacle rituals highlight the continuity of God's grace and the ethical implications of divine laws. The course critically addresses common misconceptions, the role of the Torah as instruction, and the portrayal of God’s plan, underscoring the relevance and complexity of these ancient texts.

Dr. Daniel Block 
Old Testament Survey
Jeremiah and Ezekiel
Lesson Transcript


This is an introduction to the great prophets of the exile. Along with Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel represent the major prophets, so-called primarily because of the size of the collections of their oracles. But this pair of prophets ministered under radically different circumstances than their great 8th century predecessors.

Before we examine their prophecies specifically, it's necessary to understand the worlds in which they served. So let's talk about the political environments of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. First of all, the international scene.

The world into which Ezekiel and Jeremiah were born was a turbulent world. The major players on the ancient Near Eastern stage were switching roles, and smaller nations were disappearing from the scene altogether. For centuries, the Neo-Assyrians had maintained their grip on the region, their imperial tentacles at times reaching as far as Egypt.

However, by the time of Ashurbanipal's death in 627 BC, it had become evident that the Assyrians had not only overextended themselves, they had lost the imperial heart. Meanwhile, the Babylonians were waiting in the wings, ready to try their hands. Babylonia had been an important political center for more than a thousand years, having produced in the previous millennium world-class actors like Hammurabi 1792 to 1750 BC and Nebuchadnezzar I 1133 to 1116 BC.

But since the 8th century BC, the Neo-Assyrians, the Babylonians' neighbors to the north, these people had dominated the region. Meanwhile, the Babylonians were rising. The situation was understandably insulting to the Babylonian pride, and anti-Assyrian agitation flared up repeatedly.

An important Chaldean sheikh, a contemporary of Hezekiah of Jerusalem, Merodach Baladin, launched the most significant challenge. See II Kings 20 verse 12 and Isaiah 13 39 1. But the Assyrians prevailed, and in 689 BC, Sennacherib inflicted the ultimate indignity upon Babylon, the holy city, dragging off the statue of her patron deity Marduk and razing the town. But the crumbling of the Assyrian empire coincided with the emergence of another genius of Chaldean descent, Nebuchadnezzar 625 to 605 BC.

Rising from obscurity, this man not only founded a new dynasty in Babylon, he laid the foundation for one of the most brilliant, if short-lived, empires of the ancient world. The pace of historical events quickened with his arrival on the scene. In 626 BC, he won a resounding victory outside Babylon in his attack, in the last attack the Assyrians would ever make on this city.

In 616, Nebuchadnezzar went on the offensive, marching up the Euphrates, alarmed at the rising might of the Babylonian under Semiticus I. The Egyptians did the unthinkable. They changed allegiance and joined the Assyrians to stall the Babylonian advance. But in 614, the Medes joined the fray, taking the city of Ashur, which used to be the capital.

They took it by storm. The allies continued their pressure on the dying empire, laying siege to Nineveh in 612 BC and bringing about her fall after three months. What remained of the Assyrian army dug in in Haran.

With the aid of the Medes in 610 BC, Nebuchadnezzar drove the combined forces of Egypt and Assyria out of the city. In 609, the Assyrians attempted to retake Haran, but it ended in failure. The decisive battle occurred four years later in 605 BC at Carchemish.

See Jeremiah 46.2. With this victory, the Assyrians were driven off the map, never to be heard of again, and the Egyptians were forced to retreat to their homeland like whipped puppies with their tails between their legs. That's the international scene. Now the Judean scene.

In spite of the apparent latter-day conversion of Manasseh 687-642 BC, the kingdom of Judah never recovered from the spiritual depths to which this wicked king had brought the nation. Branded by the historian as the worst king to sit on David's throne, II Kings 21 and 24, after 45 years of court-sponsored paganism, Judean apostasy was so deeply entrenched that the sweeping reforms of the good king Josiah 640-609 BC could do no more than scratch the surface, but not for lack of trying. Acceding to the throne of David at the tender age of eight, Josiah represented Judah's last hope.

His attempt to break out of a half-century of paganism by purging the nation of pagan cult objects, eliminating divination and magic, centralizing public worship in Jerusalem, and reinstituting the Passover, these are all laudable, and they're in total keeping with the Torah of Moses that Huldah had read before him. His extension of the campaign against idolatry into the northern kingdom, II Chronicles 34-67, as well as his effort in 609 BC to intercept Pharaoh Necho on his way to Carchemish, suggest he may have been trying to restore the old Davidic kingdom, but it was too little too late. His tragic death at the age of 31, II Kings 23, 28-30, this leaves one wondering what might have been.

Or was Josiah like Enoch, so out of step with the evil times in which he lived that God took him home? He was spared the sight of what would happen to his sons and his grandson. Following the untimely death of Josiah, the people installed his younger son Jehoahaz on the throne, but his reign was short, only three months, but long enough to demonstrate that he had inherited more personal qualities from his evil grandfather, Amnon, who ruled from 642 to 640. He inherited more from his grandfather than from his father, the good Josiah.

But Pharaoh Necho took advantage of the political uncertainties in Jerusalem after the death of Josiah, placing his own puppet, Eliakim, Josiah's older son, on the throne and renaming him Jehoiakim as an act of sovereignty, I Kings 23, 31-37. But Jehoiakim's was a longer reign, but it was fateful. Continuing the spiritual policies of his predecessor, he managed to undo most of the effects of Josiah's reform.

Sometime after 605 BC, when Nebuchadnezzar had consolidated his control in Babylon, his forces returned to Babylon to continue the offensive against the Egyptians. Nebuchadnezzar was just beginning. They were driven out of Judah, and Jehoiakim became a vassal of Babylon.

To maintain Judean loyalty, Daniel and his friends were taken to Babylon as hostages. But Jehoiakim was not inclined to comply with his new overlord's demands. In 598 to 597, he rebelled, and now Nebuchadnezzar had had enough.

Together with a horde of other armies, after a three-month siege, Nebuchadnezzar's forces brought Jerusalem to her knees. This event is recounted in the Babylonian Chronicle, which we have in the translation in ancient Near Eastern texts relating to the Old Testament, pages 563 to 64. Jehoiakim was captured and apparently executed, and his son Jehoiakim installed in his place, 2 Kings 24.

But he ruled again, only long enough to confirm his own pattern of evil, and either would not or could not lead his people in submission to the Babylonians. Nebuchadnezzar responded to his overtures to Egypt for aid, that is, Jehoiakim was looking to Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar now was angry, and he responded with the severest indignities.

The king, the queen, the royal officers, the leading citizens, and vast amounts of booty, including the temple treasures, were all removed to Babylon. Many of these captives, including Ezekiel, were settled in a separate Jewish colony near Nippur on the Kibar Canal. In Jehoiakim's place, Nebuchadnezzar installed a third son of Josiah, Mataniah, whom he renamed Zedekiah.

In those days, you would rename somebody to affirm and assert your sovereignty over him. But the reign of this, the last descendant of David on the throne of Jerusalem, was a total fiasco. Zedekiah joined with his neighbors on several occasions to try to throw off the Babylonian yoke.

In 589 BC, together with Tyre and Ammon, and under the sponsorship of Edom, they launched an open revolt against Babylon. This time, Nebuchadnezzar responded with even greater vengeance. He invaded Judah and placed Jerusalem under siege.

After more than one year, the walls were finally breached. Zedekiah fled, but he was soon captured and presented to Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah. While Zedekiah watched, his sons were executed, and then his own eyes were gouged out, and he was taken and changed to Babylon.

And he never had a proper burial. Two months later, Nebuchadnezzar's general, Nebuchadnezzar torched the city, reducing even the temple to a pile of rubble and leaving only a few survivors to try to eke out a living among the ruins. Judah was gone.

That's the political environment. What about the social environments of Jeremiah and Ezekiel? During Ezekiel's tenure as prophet of Israel, the remnants of the once innumerable Israelite population were to be found in three principal locations, Judah, Egypt, and Babylon. According to the biblical record, the Babylonians deported virtually all who remained of the population of Judah after the earlier exile, that is, 597, and after the devastations of 588 to 586.

Only some of the poorest of the land were left behind to tend the vineyards and the olive groves. Only a few were left in Judah. Of the few that were left, many fled to Egypt in the wake of the assassination of Gedaliah, the governor installed by the Babylonians, 2 Kings 25 and Jeremiah 41.

According to Jeremiah 42, Jeremiah was forced to go with them. Archeology confirms the complete devastation of the land, particularly the major population centers like Jerusalem and Lachish. In general, the people that remained were poor and depressed economically, politically, and spiritually.

However, inevitably, a new class emerged, but they were of the same order and ilk as the preceding ones. According to Ezekiel 11, 14 to 16, they had no understanding of their rich religious heritage and no sensitivity, no pity for their deported country folk. Jeremiah, the senior member of this pair of prophets, ministered in Jerusalem to the very end in 586 B.C., warning his fellow Judeans of the imminent fall of Jerusalem and his prophecies, and after his prophecies had been fulfilled, he himself was dragged off to Egypt.

The primary audience for his contemporary, Ezekiel, was the community of Jews in Babylon. We've mentioned before that Mesopotamia had long been the beneficiary of forced Israelite immigration. According to Neo-Assyrian records, hundreds of thousands of citizens of the northern kingdom had been sent off to Mesopotamia.

Well, Nebuchadnezzar continued this policy with the Judeans, and he's bringing the cream of the population to Babylon in 597, and then there were more stragglers after that in 586. Well, this is the world that we are faced with in the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and this is the moment that is lamented in the biblical book that we know as the book of Lamentations. What can we say about the book of Lamentations? Although tradition is unanimous in ascribing this book to Jeremiah, modern scholarship treats the book as an anonymous work composed shortly after the fall of Jerusalem.

Now, we know Jeremiah composed a lament after the death of Josiah, 2 Chronicles 35-25, but the evidence for his authorship of this book is largely circumstantial. He was around at the time. He witnessed the event.

He could have done it. The pathos of the five laments does indeed suggest an eyewitness to the tragic events of 587 to 586, but it's not signed by an author, and it could be that it was some other person inspired by the Spirit of God. Like the book of Psalms, Lamentations should not be treated as a coherent whole consisting of five chapters telling a single story.

Instead, we should recognize here five separate laments, each self-contained and independent. So, this is the book of Lamentations, five laments brought together. Like several Psalms, such as 119, the five laments are governed by the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

That is, they are alphabetic acrostics. Here's how this works. The first lament, we speak of five laments rather than five chapters in Lamentations.

The first lament, Lamentations 1, the verses are generally triadic. The first line letters of the first lines of each verse consist of successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet, which is why it has 22 verses. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph, Bet, Gimel, Daleth.

Each verse starts with a new letter. Second, the second lament, chapter 2, verses 1 to 22, again, notice 22 verses because there are 22 letters in the alphabet. These verses are generally triadic as well.

That is, each verse has three lines. The first letters of the first lines of each verse are successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and if you want to learn the Hebrew alphabet by memory, just look at these letters, and you'll get it. The third lament, chapter 3, well, actually not chapter 3. These aren't chapters.

It's the third lament, verses Lamentations 3, 1 to 66. Notice that 66 is a multiple of 22. The strophes here consist of three two-line verses, each beginning with the same letter.

The initial letters of the respective strophes consists of 22 successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The fourth lament, Lamentations 4, the strophes tend to consist of two two-line verses. The first letters of the strophes consist of successive letters of the Hebrew.

This is boring by now, isn't it? But whoever put this book together has done this to us in preparation for the fifth lament. It also has 22 verses, but guess what? It is not an acrostic. Here, the numbers of letters in the alphabet has determined the length of the lament, but the alphabet has not determined its shape.

But it fits because it has the right number of verses. In acrostics like this, form has taken over completely in determining the shape of a poetic piece. The clue to identifying an acrostic in the original, if one is using a translation, is found, as I mentioned, in the number of lines.

If these represent a multiple of 11 or 22, check out a commentary that deals with these issues, and some texts like Lamentations 5 may fool you, but the rest, look for the alphabet. There's another thing we need to say about the book of Lamentations. These are laments, that is dirges.

A dirge is a literary piece composed in commemoration of a tragedy, a death. Lament texts are recognizable by three or four features. First, often there is an opening exclamation, how? How could this happen? Or how long? Or something of that sort, with an exclamation.

Second, they often have a 3-2 kina meter, lament meter. That is, line one will have three accents, line two will have two. Third, they often have a then-now pattern, where they contrast the flourishing of the past.

This is how it used to be, but now it's a miserable scene that faces us. And then, of course, they all share a passionate and pathetic, sad tone. The form of biblical laments derives from funeral dirges for an individual like David composes for Saul and Jonathan in 2 Samuel 1, 17 to 27, and 2 Chronicles 35-25, though the form is often used loosely.

In this context, in the context of the book of Lamentations, Jerusalem is not described as a deceased person, but as a lonely widow who sits there destitute. How lonely sits the widow. But what's the message of Lamentations? What Jeremiah and Ezekiel had predicted the book of Lamentations laments, the fall of Jerusalem.

This event created a serious crisis of faith for the Jews. By all appearances, in the critical moment, Yahweh had abandoned his people, either because he was unable to withstand the power of the Babylonian deity Marduk, or because he was unwilling to stand by his covenant. That's what the people were thinking, and they were totally disillusioned, and they were angry.

But the poets recognized that the fault lay with the people. Jerusalem lay in ashes because of God's just judgment for her sin. The laments were written from the perspective of faith.

These were people of faith crying before God over what happened. They recognized the human causation, and they were convicted also of divine faithfulness. We'll see a special text in a moment.

As in the book of Job, it is the character of God that offers hope for the future in this book. Healing and restoration will replace the pain of the present. The covenant still stands.

Here, listen to this nugget, this precious text in Lamentations 3, 19-33. This is a declaration of hope in the midst of despair. I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.

I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yes, this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope. Because of Yahweh's great chesed, unfailing love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, Yahweh is my portion, therefore I will wait for him.

Yahweh is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him. It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.

Let him sit alone in silence, for Yahweh has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust. There may yet be hope.

Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him. Let him be filled with disgrace, for no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion.

So great is his unfailing chesed, for he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone. This is a precious text. This translation is modified from the new international version, the NIV.

This is a precious text, because it reminds us that if God ever does need to judge and punish his people, he does not do it with delight. He always does it with a broken heart, with deep anguish. But this text reminds us, as we have it in one of our favorite hymns, great is your faithfulness.

God is always true, and even in the midst, or is it especially in the midst of his judgment and punishment, we know that he hasn't changed, and our hope is in him alone. This is the message of grace in Lamentations.