Seventy years of Babylonian rule: A detailed look at Jeremiah 25:9-12 and some objections that skeptics have
Many people have questioned the accuracy of Jeremiah's prophecy about a 70-year period during which Babylon would dominate Judah and hold Jews as captives in Babylon. These questions, in my opinion, are based on a mistaken belief that the captivity was supposed to last 70 years. My response is in three parts:
Part 1. Summary of my understanding of the prophecy
Part 2. My explanation of when the 70 years ended.
Part 3. My theory on when the 70 years began.
Part 1. Summary of my understanding of the prophecy:
1. Jeremiah 25:9-12 said that Judah would serve Babylon for 70 years.
2. Jeremiah 29:10 makes it clear that Babylon's domination of Judah would include a captivity during which Jews would be taken as captives to Babylon.
3. Jeremiah 29:10 said that the captivity would end when the "70 years" ended.
4. But Jeremiah never said that the captivity itself would last 70 years. He only said that Babylonian rule would last 70 years.
5. Babylon's rule lasted 70 years, from 609 BC when the last Assyrian king, Ashur-uballit II, was defeated in Harran, until 539 BC when the Medo-Persians conquered Babylon.
Part 2. My explanation of when the 70 years ended:
The people who have questioned the accuracy of this prophecy are, as far as I have been able to determine, are correct in that the captivity Jews in Babylon did not last 70 years, if the commonly assigned dates for the captivity are taken seriously. Most historical sources that I have seen state that 539 BC was the year that Babylon was conquered by the Medo-Persians. And that would seem to be a reasonable ending date for the captivity. But when did the captivity begin? Some say it began in 597 BC, when Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem. If this date is accepted, then the captivity spanned no more than 59 years. So how does or 59 years equal 70 years? It can't and it doesn't.
Believers, including myself, often point out that the book of Daniel states that there was an earlier taking of captives from Judah to Babylon, in either 605 BC or 606 BC, depending on which source of information is used. And, the believers often point out that although Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 BC, he didn't release the Jews until the following year, in 538 BC or even 537 BC. And some believers have assigned the actual year in which the Jews of Babylon did begin to return to Judah was 537 BC or 536 BC. Using the two extremes as the starting and ending points, one could arrive at a 70-year span. But, in my opinion, none of this is even necessary because Jeremiah never said that the captivity would last 70 years. He only said that Babylonian rule would last 70 years.
In Jeremiah 25:9-12, it said that Judah and the surrounding nations would serve Babylon for 70 years. But, Jeremiah does not say that the forced deportation of Jews from Judah would last 70 years. The captivity is something that grew out of Babylon's domination of Judah. The domination was supposed to span 70 years, but Jeremiah never said that the captivity itself would span 70 years. Below is the NIV translation of Jeremiah 25:9-12:
9 I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon," declares the LORD, "and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin.
10 I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp.
11 This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
12 "But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt," declares the LORD, "and will make it desolate forever.
But, in Jeremiah 29:10, Jeremiah does clearly say that the captivity will terminate at the end of the 70-year period. Below is the NIV translation of Jeremiah 29:10:
This is what the LORD says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.
In Daniel 9:1-2, the prophet Daniel refers to the 70 years in that "the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years." But he too does not state that the captivity was supposed to last 70 years. What did he mean by "desolation?" Some might argue that he meant "captivity." But that would be an assumption, and nothing more than an assumption. And, in my opinion, given the fact that Daniel is probably referring to the Jeremiah prophecy, it would be a weak assumption to think that he meant "captivity" when he said "desolation." The desolation could simply refer to Babylonian domination, lasting from 609 BC to 539 BC. Others might claim that the "desolation" that Daniel referred to might actually be a reference to the 70 years in which the Temple had been destroyed. The Temple, and Jerusalem, were destroyed in 586 BC by the Babylonians. The Temple, which was rebuilt, was consecrated in 516 BC, 70 years after its destruction. Below is the NIV translation of Daniel 9:1-2:
1 In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom--
2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.
In 2 Chronicles 36:19-21, the Bible refers to a 70 year period during which the land of Judah enjoyed its Sabbath rests. This Bible passage begins with a reference to the 586 BC destruction of Jerusalem, during which the Temple was also destroyed. If it specifically meant to apply Jeremiah's 70-year prophecy to the destruction of the city, then that application could find fulfillment in that the Temple remained destroyed and non-operational for 70 years, from 586 BC to 516 BC. After the Jews rebuilt the Temple, it was consecrated in 516 BC. But regardless of how the 70 years reference is being used in this passage, it does not say that the captivity itself would last 70 years. Below is the NIV translation of 2 Chronicles 36:19-21:
2 Chronicles 36:19-21
19 They set fire to God's temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there.
20 He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power.
21 The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah.
In Zechariah 1:12, the prophet Zechariah makes a passing reference to a 70 year period. But that passage also does not in any way contradict my contention that the 70 year prophecy of Jeremiah refers to Babylonian rule and that Jeremiah never said that the captivity would last 70 years.
Part 3. My theory on when the 70 years began:
When did Babylon begin its domination of Judah? We know that there are historical records that claim that the Assyrian Empire dominated Judah, and many other nations. And we know that the Assyrian Empire was conquered by the Babylonian Empire.
In 612 B.C. the Babylonians and the Medes conquered Nineveh, which at that time was the capital of the Assyrian Empire. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica: "…Nineveh suffered a defeat from which it never recovered. Extensive traces of ash, representing the sack of the city by Babylonians, Scythians, and Medes in 612 BC, have been found in many parts of the Acropolis. After 612 BC the city ceased to be important…"
After the defeat of Nineveh, the last of the Assyrian kings, Ashur-uballit II, fled to the west with members of his army. Most online historical references that I have been able to find state that the reign of Ashur-uballit II ended in 609 BC. My sources for this are the two Web site addresses below, the first of which is a page from the Missouri Western State College web site:
The conquest of the Assyrian Empire allowed Babylon and the Medes to divide the empire amongst themselves. The Babylonians chose a vast area of the Assyrian-controlled territories, including Judah and the surrounding countries.
Using the 609 BC date for the demise of the Assyrian Empire and for the rise of the new Babylonian Empire, and using the 539 BC date for the end of the Babylonian Empire, we end up with a 70-year span of Babylonian rule. That, for the reasons described above, is what I believe is the 70-year period referred to in Jeremiah 25:9-12 and Jeremiah 29:10.