The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed the first temple and the city of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. But while Nebuchadnezzar II led the siege against Jerusalem and eventually destroyed the temple, the biblical narrative complicates the question of fault: rather than put the blame on Nebuchadnezzar, the destruction is said to have been caused by the Israelites’ sinning against God.
Was the capturing of Judah simply in order to safeguard Babylonian imperial power?
Nebuchadnezzar II rose to power in Babylon in 605 BCE as the second king of the Neo-Babylonian empire. In that same year, after the battle of Carchemish, Judah became a vassal state under Nebuchadnezzar. Following the Egyptian military victory against Babylon in 601, many vassal states—including Judah—rebelled and declared allegiance to Egypt. This led to Nebuchadnezzar besieging Jerusalem in 598 BCE and conquering the city. The result was that many elite Jerusalemites were exiled to Babylon. Among the exiles at this time were King Jehoiachin and Ezekiel the prophet. During this time Nebuchadnezzar also raided the temple treasury and the royal palace of any valuables (
Did the Judeans deserve to be punished because of their faithlessness to God?
While the Hebrew Bible supports this historical account, it also places the blame for the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and even for the Babylonian exile, firmly in the hands of the kings of Judah, who “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (
See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn from the way that I am commanding you today, to follow other gods that you have not known.
The lens of retribution highlights the idea that if the Israelites/Judahites did what is right in the eyes of the Lord—that is, follow God’s commandments—then they would be rewarded. And if they did not, they would be punished. While King Nebuchadnezzar was the agent of the destruction of Jerusalem, the lens of retribution evident in the prophets makes it clear that Nebuchadnezzar was simply an instrument used by God to punish the Israelites for their sins against God (