The 70 Years of Captivity

The 70 Years of Captivity

The prophetic expression describing the time of Judah’s captivity as “seventy years” (Jer 25:11,12; 29:10) has prompted speculation throughout the history of interpretation.

  • The numeric systems of the ancient Near East were predom­inantly hexagesimal (based upon ascending groups of six), and the maximum number that could be easily calculated was 60,The number 70 may have been used to symbolically represent a numeric value of staggering proportions or perhaps the number of years representing a generation (Ps 90:10; Isa 23:15). The number 70 may have been used in the same way in Jeremiah 25, as in Isaiah’s announcement that Tyre would be desolate for 70 years (Isa 23:15,17), and a similar usage may be reflected in the Black Stone of Esarhaddon, in which Marduk decreed displeasure against Babylon for 70 years.
  • The original context of the prophetic word was the fourth year of Jehoiakim of Judah and the first of Nebuchadnezzar (605 B.C.). “Until this very day” (Jer 25:3) Jeremiah anticipated a period of dev­astation and judgment during which Judah would serve Babylon. Upon the completion of this interval, the prophet expected that divine judgment would be visited upon Babylon (vv. 12-13) and Judah and that Jerusalem would be restored (29:10-14).

King Jehoiakim began to serve the Babylonians by politi­cally consigning Judah as a vassal state in 604 B.C. (2Ki 24:1). Almost 70 years later Babylon was captured by the Persians, bringing about the end of Babylonian sovereignty over Judah and initiating the process of exilic return under Cyrus the Great (539/538 B.C.).

The interpretation of Jeremiah’s 70 years of captivity as the approximate period between 604-539/538 B.C. is more explic­itly stated in later Biblical texts. According to 2 Chronicles 36:20-21, divine judgment was executed against the Judahites by the Babylonian king in that “they became servants to him and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power… until the sev­enty years were completed.” Both the Chronicler (2Ch 36:22) and Ezra (Ezr 1:1) interpreted the edict of Cyrus, which authorized the return of the exiles and the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem (Ezr 1:2-4; 6:1 -12), as the fulfillment of the prophetic word of Jeremiah.

A different calculation of the “seventy years of captivity” appears to underlie Zechariah 1:12 and 7:5. There it denotes the interval between the physical destruction of the temple (586 B.C.) anditsrededication (515 B.C.).

SOURCE: NIV Archaeological Study Bible

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