Seventy Years of Exile

Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words…this whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (vv. 8–11).

- Jeremiah 25

Deuteronomy 28:15–68 reveals that while the Lord was slow to get angry with His old covenant people, warning them of their sin’s consequences through many hardships, His patience was not eternal. Persistent, impenitent, and flagrant covenant violation would get them expelled from the Promised Land. God’s patience with the northern kingdom of Israel ran out in 722 B.C., and Israel was exiled to Assyria (2 Kings 17:7–23). The Lord’s patience with the southern kingdom of Judah ran out about 120 years later.

Jeremiah gave the prophecy recorded in today’s passage “in the fourth year of Jehoiakim”—604 B.C.(Jer. 25:1). Babylon had gained control of the Middle East a year earlier and was forcing Judah to serve the empire as a vassal state and pay tribute (2 Kings 24:1). Isaiah’s prophecy about Judah going into Babylon was beginning to come true, and Jeremiah saw Judah rushing headlong into exile by its rebellion. Despite having received many chances to turn from idolatry, Judah rejected the word of the Lord (Jer. 25:1–7).

Nebuchadnezzar, the Lord’s “servant,” would take the Judahites from their land (vv. 8–9). God’s calling Nebuchadnezzar His servant shows the Lord’s sovereign providence, not the godliness of the Babylonian ruler. Nebuchadnezzar did not think he was serving Yahweh when he conquered Judah, but since the Almighty works all things according to His will (Eph. 1:11), even those who think they are opposing God fulfill His good purposes. John Calvin writes that Nebuchadnezzar as God’s servant “is to be referred to God only, who governs by his hidden and incomprehensible power both the devil and the ungodly, so that they execute, though unwittingly, whatever he determines.”

Importantly, Jeremiah told ancient Judah that the exile would last seventy years. Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem twice, so there are two options for marking the beginning of the exile. First, in 597 B.C., he took King Jehoiachin and the nation’s leading citizens to Babylon, installing Zedekiah as ruler in his place (2 Kings 24:10–17). Then, he took Jerusalem in 586 B.C., exiling the rest of the people (25:1–21). Either way, the seventy years were cut short from one perspective, since the return from exile via Cyrus’ decree began in 538 B.C.(2 Chron. 36:22–23). Yet as we will see when we study Daniel 9 in a few months, God also extended the seventy-year period because of Judah’s impenitence. That paved the way for the coming of Christ, who finally restores His exiled people.

Coram Deo

John Calvin also writes on this passage that “there is a great difference between these and God’s servants, who, when anything is commanded them, seek to render that obedience which they ought—all such are faithful servants.” Although all people, in some way, serve the Lord’s sovereign will, only those who do so because they love God will be rewarded. Let us pray that we will always be those who follow the Lord willingly and eagerly.

Passages for Further Study

Leviticus 26:14–46
Jeremiah 29:10
Zechariah 1:7–17
Acts 7:35–43

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