God’s Word for You
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, March 12, 2015
Seventy Years of Exile
25 1 The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, king of Judah. This was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.
In Daniel 1:1, this same date is given as the third year of Jehoiakim and the first year of Nebuchadnezzar. Is this an important discrepancy? We need to look at it seriously, because if Daniel’s date is incorrect, then the historical basis for Daniel’s book falls into question, and the whole book—including its prophecies about Jesus and the end times—becomes questionable. So was Nebuchanezzar’s first year the fourth year of Jehoiakim (as Jeremiah states) or the third year of Jehoiakim (as Daniel states)? Some commentators try to smooth over the problem by saying that it must have been partly Jehoiakim’s third year, and partly his fourth year. This would be possible if Nebuchadnezzar’s accession to the throne took a long time, the way winter takes a long time to happen. But Nebuchadnezzar’s accession didn’t take a long time. One day he was not king, and the next day he was. The question is: Did that day happen in Jehoiakim’s third year or fourth year?
First, a reader may be assured that there no mistake in the two passages. The trouble is that Judah and Babylon used two different calendars. The Babylonians at this time were using a system of counting reignal years as full years, so that Nebuchadnezzar’s “first” year was his first full year, beginning on New Year’s Day after he became king. Daniel adjusts for this when he relates that this was the same year in which he was taken captive to Babylon. Daniel makes other adjustments for the Babylonians, such as writing a large portion of his book in Aramaic rather than in Hebrew (Daniel 2:4-7:28), so that it could be read by the Babylonians. Jeremiah counts the years as the Jews of his time would usually count them.
(Some readers may find their curiosity about his matter sated at this point, and could jump down to the brief comments on verses 2-3 below.)
There are several examples in the Bible of these differing calendars. In 2 Kings 18:1, Hezekiah “began to reign” (an important phrase) in the third year of Hoshea king of Israel. Later in the chapter (2 Kings 18:9-10), our inspired author says that the 7th year of Hoshea was the 4th year of Hezekiah, and that the 9th year of Hoshea was the 6th year of Hezekiah. Since 7-4=3, and since 9-6=3, it should follow that Hezekiah began to reign in Hoshea’s fourth year, not third, since 4-1=3 (all of the dates should subtract down to the same number). Yet the text says “third year.” The issue is the phrase “began to reign,” a signal that an accession year was being followed. An accession year is the first full year of a king’s reign, not the actual beginning of his reign. So if a prince’s father died and the prince became king, he might, under one system, “begin to reign” only after the beginning of the following year, or he might count his reign from the moment of his father’s death. Both systems are used in the Bible, and failing to understand this leads to serious difficulties in Bible chronology.
Jeremiah’s statement in verses 2-3 below, “for twenty-three years…,” is a synchronism, another way of counting up years apart from the usual manner which only accounts for the dates of the kings’ reigns. Jeremiah uses his own ministry as a prophet as a way of synchronizing the reigns of the kings during his lifetime: Josiah (640-609), Jehoahaz (3 months in 609), and Jehoiakim up to the present date (609-605). Such synchronisms are on the one hand a great help to scholars for dating biblical events; on the other hand, they can often be a hornet’s nest of problems, since Israel and Judah (and other nations like Babylon) often used different calendars, different ways of counting a king’s years (as we have seen), or both. These synchronisms are a great help, because they help us to judge which reignal system was being used by which kings, and when.
God’s holy word is a vast treasure of truth, reminding us again and again that God wants us to know and understand that his whole word is the truth, not just one testament or the other, not just one teaching or another, but all of it.
2 Jeremiah the prophet spoke to all the people of Judah and to everyone who lived in Jerusalem: 3 For twenty-three years—from the thirteenth year of Josiah son of Amon, king of Judah, to this very day, the word of the LORD had come to me, and I have spoken to you again and again. But you have not listened.
This twenty-fifth chapter of Jeremiah is a powerful dose of law and gospel. It illustrates just how soaring and gracious the gospel is for the ears and hearts of believers. It also illustrates just how terrible and damning the law is for those who reject their Savior. The opening verse was both, because the chapter was delivered to “all the people of Judah,” whether belivers or not. Now the prophet speaks to the people of Jerusalem who have not been paying attention to his preaching. His words, “but you have not listened,” ring like the very bell of judgment day. Yet there will be gospel coming yet—the gospel of forgiveness that God offers and offers again to his people.
“You have not listened,” God says, but he is still speaking. We are still able to listen. Now is the moment to turn away from sin and embrace God’s offer of eternal life through Jesus. “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). This is our certainty, and our greatest treasure.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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