Ezekiel 19 – Lament for Israel’s Princes & Life in Babylonian Captivity

When I first started reading about the exile I knew You would be there to help some people out, like You did with Daniel.  Just like You helped out Joseph when his brother’s threw him in the pit and then sold him to the Egyptians (Gen 37:20-50:26).

We live in an evil world so the counterfeit Jews (not the remnant) did pretty well financially because they’re dishonest and their god is money, which they’ll “pay” for, talk about irony.  

“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Tim 6:10).

We got the same Jews now that lived in Babylon, but now they live in Israel.  They, like the majority of the world for that matter, don’t believe in You and that’s sad because Jesus is very clear on their future residence.

“He that believe on him is not condemned: but the that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

For everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.

But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God (Jn 3:18-21).

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but the that believeth not shall be damned” (Mk 16:16).

I don’t hate the Jews, I feel sorry for them.  I used to be just like them, money was all I cared about.  I used to believe that there were two types of people in the world, the “Givers” and the “Takers,” and I wasn’t about to be a “Giver.”  Funny how things can change.  I am so thankful that You showed me the light.

Anyway, being exiled from your own homeland would be horrible, so I’m wondering,,,

Ezekiel 19
Lament for Israel’s Princes

1 Moreover take thou up a lamentation for the princes of Israel,

Jerusalem today with temple-mount and dome of the rock.

“Lamentation” – a metered (three beats plus two beats) chant usually composed for funerals of fallen leaders (as in 2 Sam 1:17-27), but often used sarcastically by the Old Testament prophets to lament or to ironically predict the death of a nation.

2 And say, What is thy mother? A lioness: she lay down among lions, she nourished her whelps among young lions.

“Lioness” – although a lament, this chapter is an allegory like that in chapter 17 (to which it is related in content).  Chapter 17 gives an interpretation, but this one doesn’t. 

The lioness may be a personification of Israel, Judah or Jerusalem, all of which may be considered to be mother to the kings.

3 And she brought up one of her whelps: it became a young lion, and it learned to catch the prey; it devoured men.

“One of her whelps” – Jehoahaz who reigned only three months.

“Devoured men” – a reference to his oppressive policies.

Assyriologists have translated a rare 3,500-year-old cuneiform tablet that asks a series of riddles about daily life and politics in ancient Mesopotamia.

4 The nations also heard of him; he was taken in their pit, and they brought him with chains unto the land of Egypt.

5 Now when she saw that she had waited, and her hope was lost, then she took another of her whelps, and made him a young lion.

“Another of her whelps” – perhaps Jehoiachin (who reigned only three months), but probably Zedekiah (of whom v. 7 appears a more likely description).  Both were taken to Babylon.  If the reference is to Jehoiachin this was a true lament, if to Zedekiah, it was a prediction.

6 And he went up and down among the lions, he became a young lion, and learned to catch the prey, and devoured men.

7 And he knew their desolate palaces, and he laid waste their cities; and the land was desolate, and the fullness thereof, by the noise of his roaring.

8 Then the nations set against him on every side from the provinces, and spread their net over him: he was taken in their pit.

9 And they put him in ward in chains, and brought him to the king of Babylon: they brought him into holds, that his voice should no more be heard upon the mountains of Israel.

In London’s British Museum, there is a baked clay tablet (just under 3¼ inches) with cuneiform writing (wedge-shaped characters) recording important activities of king Nebuchadnezzar between the years 605-594 B.C. 91 times Nebuchadnezzar is mentioned in the Scriptures.

Amazingly, this is a Scriptural calendar.

10 Thy mother is like a vine in thy blood, planted by the waters: she was fruitful and full of branches by reason of many waters.

11 And she had strong rods for the scepters of them that bare rule, and her stature was exalted among the thick branches, and she appeared in her height with the multitude of her branches.

12 But she was plucked up in fury, she was cast down to the ground, and the east wind dried up her fruit: her strong rods were broken and withered; the fire consumed them.

“East wind” – Nebuchadnezzar and his army.

13 And now she is planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty ground.

“Wilderness” – Babylon, which to Israel seemed like a wilderness.

14 And fire is gone out of a rod of her branches, which hath devoured her fruit, so that she hath no strong rod to be a scepter to rule. This is a lamentation, and shall be for a lamentation.

Life in Babylonian Captivity

If you ever felt your world has crash around you and nothing seems to go your way anymore, you know a little of how exiles from Judah felt in Babylonia. 

The Jewish people survived in Babylon because the Babylonian policy allowed the Jews to settle in towns and villages along the Chebar River, which was an irrigation channel.

The Jews were allowed to live together in communities, they were allowed to farm and perform other sorts of labor to earn income.

The Babylonian steamroller had flattened  the land of Judah.

Scripture indicates and archaeological discoveries confirm that Nebuchadnezzar’s army had not only sacked the fortified towns of Judah, but also had broken down their walls and buildings and burned them.

According to scripture, Nebuchadnezzar then pulled up around Jerusalem and settled in for a multi-year siege, eventually breaking through its wall in 586 B.C.

He removed everything valuable and leveled the city in a burst of savage destruction.  As Nebuchadnezzar’s army retreated, it took with it the remnants of Judah’s army and anyone who might lead another uprising.

God’s Sovereign Watchcare

When thinking of exiles, we usually think of groups like the Kurds on the border between Iraq and Turkey, living in poverty in makeshift tent cities and surviving on relief aid by the United Nations.

That’s not how Judah’s exiles lived in Babylon.

Jewish Synagogue Art 200 A.D.
The Twelve Tribes of Israel

Consider the remarkable story of Daniel.  Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that he didn’t understand and none of his magicians, astrologers, sorcerers or Chaldeans couldn’t describe it or interpret it (Dan 2:2).

God was with Daniel (Dan 2:30) and he described the king’s dream (Dan 2:31-35) and interpreted it (Dan 2:37-45), so the king raised him to the important position of chief of the “wise men,” on whom the king depended for advice (Dan 2:48), clearly a position of luxury and power that in most countries would have gone to a local politician.

Evidently Daniel continued in this leadership role for a number of years. Thus he could ease the lot of Ezekiel and the other captives who were brought to Babylon in 597 B.C., and probably again in 586 B.C., when Jerusalem was destroyed and thousands of additional Hebrews were brought to Babylon.

Daniel’s intervention would help to explain why Ezekiel had his own house (Eze 8:1) and freely interacted with people and counseled them. Moreover, the  elders, acting as representatives of the Jews, could visit him and seek counsel (Eze 8:1; 14:1; 20:1).

Evidently they also maintained some of Judah’s institutions retained a certain amount of local autonomy.

Daniel may also have been influenced in the release of King Jehoiachin from imprisonment during the days of Evil-Merod (Amel-Marduk, 561-559), Nebuchadnezzar’s successor (2 Kgs 25:27-30).

Kurdistan “Land of the Kurds”
Also formerly spelled Curdistan; ancient name: Corduene is a roughly defined geo-cultural region wherein the Kurdish people form a prominent majority population, and Kurdish culture, language, and national identity have historically been based.

Contemporary use of Kurdistan refers to large parts of eastern Turkey (Turkish Kurdistan), northern Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan), northwestern Iran (Iranian Kurdistan) and northeastern Syria (Western Kurdistan) inhabited mainly by Kurds. Kurdistan roughly encompasses the northwestern Zagros and the eastern Taurus mountain ranges, and covers small portions of Armenia.

At any rate, the king released Jehoiachin from prison. He and his five sons received food and other provisions at the Babylonian court for the rest of their lives. Cuneiform tablets found in Babylon support the biblical statement.

Kings 25:28 may indicate that Jehoiachin even enjoyed some limited authority after his release.  The king’s experience further illustrates the favor shown the Hebrews when in captivity.

Apparently the lines of communication were open too. Jeremiah wrote letters to the captives in Babylonia (Jer 29:1).  The captives in Babylon also wrote letters to friends in Judah (Jer 29:25).

Though Daniel seems to have lost his high office under a couple of successive kings, Belshazzar, the last Babylonian  king, recalled him to service (Dan 5:29).  He lived a long life, f1or he stuck around until at least the first year of King Cyrus of Persia (Dan 1:21).

Thus he was in a position to be involved with Cyrus’ decree permitting the Jews to return to Jerusalem.  Moreover, he may well have been able to facilitate the Hebrew return to Palestine approximately seventy years after the final assault on Jerusalem because he was still around during the third year of King Cyrus (Dan 10:1).

Economic Opportunities Abounded

Economic opportunities evidently abounded. Nebuchadnezzar imported craftsmen and artisans in the captivity of 597 B.C. (2 Kgs 24:14-16), ostensibly 111 remove those who might stir up revolt against him.

But he probably also intended for them to contribute to the Babylonian economy – and these progressive people might do well under adverse conditions.

Jeremiah urged them to “Build ye houses and dwell in them; and plant gardens and eat the fruit of them” (Jer 29:5).

A Kurdish mother goddess: Shahmaran
A Kurdish mother goddess Shahmaran (The King of the snakes)

Shameran is name of the goddess of wisedom and guardian of the secrets in Kurdish mythology.

It’s name literally means ”king of the snakes”. Shameran is thought to have an anthropomorphic figure with a female head on a snake body, the way she is often depicted and her pictures are traditionally hung on bedroom walls of Kurdish girls.

Shameran which can be compared with the Greek ”Mermeid”, exactly corresponds with the snake-legged goddess of earth, Api (see here), in the Scythian (ancient Kurds) mythology.

Other spellings of the name include: Shamaran, Shahmeran, Shahmaran and alike.

Note that the exiles lived in various places with “tel” in the name (e.g., Tel-Melah, Tel-Harsha, Tel-Abib). “Tel” may mean “mound” or “ruin”; so the Jews may have been settled on abandoned sites where they became tenants to the king and where they could provide labor, pay taxes, and serve in military.

Many lived near the river Chebar (Eze 1:1,3; 3:15,23), probably the large irrigation canal nar kabari (meaning “the great canal”), which flowed out of the Euphrates north of Babylon, past Nippur, and then reentered the Euphrates.

In time many of the Jews became quite wealthy (see Ezra 1:6; 2:68-69) and even had slaves (Ezra 2:65). Scripture indicates that 7,337 slaves were counted among the 42,360 Jews in the first stage of the return to Jerusalem, revealing how well the Jews did while in captivity.

The Jews that became wealthy and had slaves are not the remnant, but are those that Jesus spoke of as being of the Synagogue of Satan (Rev 2:9, 3:9), which are 95%-98% if the Jews today.

Another hint of their success appears in the archives of the great Babylonian firm Murashu Sons, bankers and brokers at Nippur in the last half of the 5th century B.C.

In these records Hebrew members of the firm appear – renting, buying, and selling. Though these texts date after the period of the Exile, they do mention Jews who were prominent in the economic life of the community.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Policy
of Selective Depopulation

The process of depopulation had been going on for some time. Nebuchadnezzar had initially carried off a few promising young men in 605 so he could train them for positions in his kingdom. That included the prophet Daniel (Dan 1:4).

Although Kurds have inhabited their highlands for several millennia BC, their prehistory is not very well known.

The earliest known evidence of a unified and distinct culture in the Kurdish mountains dates back to the Halaf culture of 8,000-7,400 years ago. This was followed by the Hurrian period (in Mesopotamia and Zagros-Taurus mountains) which lasted from 6,300 to about 2,600 years ago.

Then in 597 the Babylonians deported about 10,000 (2 Kgs 24:14). This apparently included the 7,000 of the standing army left within Jerusalem, 1,000 craftsmen, and 2,000 other notables of the land, including Ezekiel (Eze 1:1-3).

Jeremiah’s reference to 3,023 taken in this captivity probably includes all the non-military personnel from the highest classes of Jerusalem (Jer 52:28).

How many thousands Nebuchadnezzar deported when he leveled Jerusalem in 586 we do not know, but his policy was to remove the enterprising elements of society that might organize a rebellion in the future.

He executed those judged guilty of rebellion or leading the opposition to his invasion in 588-586 B.C. Of course other thousands died in battle or fled to Egypt, Moab, Ammon, and elsewhere.

The result was that only the poorest of the land remained (2 Kgs 25:12).

Usually we talk about these three deportations (605, 597, 586 B.C.). But Jeremiah mentions a fourth in the twenty-third year of Nebuchadnezzar, about 582 B.C. (Jer 52:30), and there may have been others.

Some idea of the total number of captives may be guessed from the fact that 42,360 returned in the restoration of 538-536 B.C. (Ezra 2:64; Neh 7:66), and only a fraction of the deportees decided to return. Of course by that time the exile population had increased for close to seventy years.

…what was life like during their captivity?