EXILE

While the peasants in Judea doggedly reconstructed their narrow lives after the first deportation their former wealthy neighbors, herded by their captors, trudged a thousand weary kilometers along the ancient trade roads, northeast then southeast beside the Euphrates to the land of their exile. As Isaiah had warned long ago their fine raiment turned to rags and the women's uncoiffed hair and paintless faces revealed their sisterhood with the peasants whom they had despised. At last they who had so proudly dominated the narrow, hilly streets of Jerusalem came to the great city of
Babylon.

On the wide alluvial plain the most magnificent city of the Near East lay flat and rectangular beside the meandering Euphrates, surrounded by massive double walls of burnt or sun dried bricks. The Ishtar Gate, perhaps not yet finished but soon to be so, towered twelve meters above the wide processional street, gleaming with hundreds of blue-enameled plaques on which marched bas-reliefs of tawny bulls and dragons. The marvelous hanging gardens, classed by later generations as one of the seven wonders of the world, relieved the hard line of the rooftops with waving greenery; beyond rose the lofty tower of Babel, reconstructed by Nebuchadnezzar, rising in terraces beside the walled temple of Marduk, chief of the Babylonian gods.

Not only to the Babylonian commoners but to the white-clad aristocrats of the city, moving in an aura of perfume and swinging their delicately carved canes, the looming ziggurat was a constant reminder that well-being depended on the good will of Marduk and his many subordinate gods; good will to be bought only by righteousness and importunate subservience. To the dismayed newcomers from Judea it must have flaunted the bitter question, why had their God, the almighty God of David and Jerusalem, abandoned his people?

The hand of God was still upon them for good. Unlike the Assyrians, who had scattered the ten tribes of Israel a hundred and twenty-five years before, Nebuchadnezzar chose to keep his captives in and near Babylon where he might benefit by their skills; he permitted them to settle together in certain neighborhoods, to acquire houses and to engage in trade.

The stubborn priests of David's city quickly seized upon this policy as a straw of hope. With no basis but their own smugness they promised King Jehoiakin's swift return to Jerusalem and, fed with this false confidence, a faction of Jews apparently rebelled against their captors. The uprising was of course promptly quashed by the Babylonians and Jehoiakin was thrown into prison for his part in the revolt, or as a warning to his subjects.

From Jerusalem the aged Jeremiah wrote with infinite yearning but with firmness to his captive kinsmen:


Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that
are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried
away from Jerusalem unto Babylon; Build ye houses, and
dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them;
And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to
be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for
in the peace thereof shall ye have peace. (Jeremiah 29:4,5,7)

He told them they must reconcile themselves to seventy years of exile. But the more comfortable belief in Jerusalem's inviolability would not die. Before the confidence of a swift return the wise advice was only partially heeded.