Captivity

The nations of Israel and Judah were not the only ones God sent into captivity. Their exile was merely an example of God’s sovereign right to control the rise and fall of kingdoms on earth. The first mention of captivity in the Bible was in Numbers 21:29 where it says, “Woe to thee, Moab! Thou art undone, O people of Chemosh: he hath given his sons that escaped, and his daughters into captivity unto Sihon king of the Amorites.” As early as the book of Deuteronomy, even before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, it was declared that God intended to send his people into captivity. Regarding the rewards of repentance, it states, “That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee” (Deuteronomy 30:3).

The goal of captivity was repentance and an acknowledgment of God’s ultimate authority over mankind. The primary reason God sent his and other people into captivity was they would not obey him. A stubborn refusal to submit to God’s sovereign will caused the people of Egypt to be singled out and punished numerous times. Ezekiel identified pride as the root cause of the Egyptians’ problem and was told, “Speak, and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of the rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself” (Ezekiel 29:3). In order to extend Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom beyond the borders of Palestine and to show that God could take any kingdom he wished to for his own, Egypt was given into the hands of the king of Babylon. Ezekiel was told:

Son of man, Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon caused his army to serve a great service against Tyrus: every head was made bald, and every shoulder was peeled: yet had he no wages, nor his army, for Tyrus, for the service that he had served against it: therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will give the land of Egypt unto Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon: and he shall take her multitude, and take her spoil, and take her prey; and it shall be the wages for his army. (Ezekiel 29:18-19).

God’s ability to speak things into existence and to destroy his enemies through a prophetic word was demonstrated in his overthrow of Egypt. Ezekiel recorded this command, “And I will make the rivers dry, and sell the land into the hand of the wicked: and I will make the land waste, and all that is therein, by the hand of strangers: I the LORD have spoken it” (Ezekiel 30:12). Even though the Egyptians did not present a military threat to the Israelites, God decided to remove them from their land and send them into captivity so that they would no longer draw God’s people away from him. The kings of Israel and Judah had a history of calling on the Egyptians for help and would not relinquish their dependence on a nation that worshipped idols. Ezekiel was told regarding Eygpt, “It shall be the basest of the kingdoms; neither shall it exalt itself any more above the nations: for I will diminish them, that they shall no more rule over the nations. And it shall be no more the confidence of the house of Israel, which bringeth their iniquity to remembrance, when they shall look after them: but they shall know that I am the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 29:15-16).

Egypt

Jeremiah received a message from the LORD about the fate of all the nations that were enemies of Israel. The first kingdom to be dealt with was the one that had been a continual stumbling block to the descendants of Abraham. Egypt had been a refuge that the Israelites often retreated to during difficult times. Egypt was the eventual destination of Jacob and his sons when a famine wiped out all life sustaining crops in the region of Mesopotamia (Genesis 43:12).

The descendants of Jacob spent 430 years in Egypt as slaves of Pharaoh as the result of their dependence on a foreign economy to sustain themselves. During their time in bondage, the Israelites learned the culture of the Egyptians and were influenced by their pagan worship system. One of the key factors in the downfall of the nation of Israel was their worship of the two golden calves made by king Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:28). A turning point for the nation of Judah was the death of king Josiah who was killed by Pharaoh-nechoh king of Egypt in the valley of Megiddo (2 Kings 23:29).

The message Jeremiah received pronounced an end to the reign of Pharaoh-nechoh. Jeremiah declared, “They did cry there, Pharaoh king of Egypt is but a noise; he hath passed the time appointed…Egypt is like a very fair heifer, but destruction cometh; it cometh out of the north…And I will deliver them into the hand of those that seek their lives, and into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon” (Jeremiah 46:17, 20, 26). Josiah king of Judah had tried to intervene in the battle of Charchemish and was unsuccessful. God intended to end Egypt’s age-long claims to power and pretensions once and for all. The defeat of Egypt by the king of Babylon in the battle of Charchemish brought and end to Egypt’s dynasty.

Jeremiah was assured that Babylon’s destruction of the Egyptian empire would not mean the end of Judah also. He was told, “Fear thou not, O Jacob my servant, saith the LORD: for I am with thee; for I will make a full end of all the nations whither I have driven thee: but I will not make a full end of thee, but correct thee in measure; yet will I not leave thee wholly unpunished” (Jeremiah 46:28). God would impose the penalty against his people for breaking his Ten Commandments, but he would not abandon them completely. Once they were purged of their idolatrous habits, God would bring his people back to their homeland.