(Ten of the tribes revolted against tax and labour burdens imposed since King Solomon during the early part of the reign of his successor Roboam. They elected a former official under Solomon, Jeroboam, as their king. The portion of the old kingdom remaining to Roboam became known as the kingdom of Juda [Judah]. This division of the kingdom took place in the year 932 B.C. – The fate of the Kingdom of Israel from Jeroboam onwards until their captivity by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. is related in Part I, posted immediately before today’s Mass readings on this blog.)
JUDA’S WORSHIP, UNLIKE ISRAEL’S, REMAINED FREE OF GOLDEN CALF STATUES
The tribes of Juda and Benjamin remained loyal to the House of David. They are known as the kingdom of Juda. The kingdom of Juda endured longer than the kingdom of Israel. This was due in part to the fact that their geographical position protected them from the Syrians, the Assyrians and the Egyptians. It may also be due to greater protection from God. The divine protection of Juda was fitting for several reasons. In the first place the kingdom was faithful to the House of David and God had promised that David should rule forever.
In the second place the kingdom was, by and large, more faithful to the worship of Jahewh, the true God. The worship of Jahweh at Jerusalem was not adulterated by the use of a calf-representation of Jahweh as it was at Dan and Bethel in the northern kingdom. The Davidic kings, Asa (913-873 B.C.), Josaphat (873-849 B.C.), Joas (836-797 B.C.), Ezechias (718-689 B.C.) and Josias (639-609 B.C.), all made strenuous efforts to induce the people to worship Jahweh properly at Jerusalem.
In fact, Ezechias trusted so firmly in God that when Jerusalem was threatened by Sennacherib, king of Assyria, he both refused to surrender or to make an alliance with Egypt for his own protection. On the advice of the prophet Isaias Ezechias trusted in God alone. In return God sent a plague or a pestilence to the army of the Assyrians and they withdrew without attacking the city.
NOT WITHOUT FAULT IN THE SIGHT OF GOD
But the House of David and the people of the kingdom of Juda were not without fault in the sight of God. Abia (915-913 B.C.) allied himself with Tab-Rimmon, king of Damascus, against the kingdom of Israel and thus helped to bring about the interference of Syria in the affairs of Israel and Juda.
Josaphat, even though he was an ardent Jahwist, married his son Joram to Athalia, the daughter of Jezabel, Queen of Israel and a militant anti-Jahwist. The Jahwism of Josaphat was thus later overturned by the anti-Jahwism of Athalia when she seized the throne in 842.
Achaz (733-718), when threatened by an anti-Assyrian league formed by Rasin of Damascus and Peqah of Israel, appealed to Tiglath-Pileser III, king of Assyria, instead of trusting in Jahweh. As a result the kingdom of Juda became a vassal of Assyria.
During the reign of Joachim (608-597) the kingdom conspired with other principalities, relying on the aid of Egypt against the Babylonians. As a result, in 597, Nabuchodonosor of Babylonia entered Jerusalem and effected the first deportation of the people to Babylonia. Sedecias, the last king of the dynasty of David, also conspired with the Egyptians against Babylonia. In 586 Nabuchodonosor captured Jerusalem and deported the more important or wealthier people to Babylonia. The kingdom of Juda had perished.
THE KINGDOM OF JUDA, TOO, FAILED BECAUSE OF LACK OF TRUST IN GOD
The kingdom failed first of all because it had not trusted in Jahweh. Instead it had turned to political and military alliances with polytheistic and idolatrous peoples to insure its own political preservation. And the kings, the nobles and the peoples did this in the face of repeated warnings of the prophets of God.
THEY IGNORED THE WARNINGS OF GOD’S PROPHETS
When Achaz was in danger from the kings of Damascus and Israel (Rasin and Peqah), the prophet Isaias counselled him to trust in God alone. But he appealed instead to the Assyrians, even though Isaias threatened that God would let the Babylonians devastate the land.
When Joachim was seeking an alliance with Egypt against Assyria, the prophet Jeremias warned that the people would suffer as much harm through Egypt as through Assyria: ‘And thou shalt be ashamed of Egypt as thou wast ashamed of Assyria’ (Jeremias 2:36). Their miseries, he tells them, are due to the fact that they have deserted their God: ‘Hath not this been done to thee because thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God…?’ (Jeremias 2:17).
DURING MANASSES’ REIGN, THE GODS OF ASSYRIA WERE WORSHIPPED IN JUDA
The concern of the prophets with the problem of alliances with other nations was not so much political as it was religious. As events almost always proved, such alliances led to a deterioration of the religious views and practices of the people. Thus, the alliance of Achaz with the Assyrians led to the introduction of a new altar in the Temple at Jerusalem, an altar modelled after an Assyrian altar which Achaz saw at Damascus when he went there to see Tiglath-Pileser. Achaz even sacrificed his own son in a holocaust, probably made to Moloch, the god of the Ammonites. During the reign of Manasses (689-641), when the kingdom was subject to Assyria, the gods of Assyria were worshipped in the land of Juda.
AN INSIDIOUS WORLDLINESS ATTACKED JUDA’S MORAL AND RELIGIOUS LIFE
But the lack of trust in God and the acceptance of idolatrous elements in the religious practices of the people were only the more striking manifestations of an insidious worldliness which had attacked the moral and religious life of the nation. In the eyes of God. As the prophets so strongly asserted, the people had given up God and the things of God for the pleasures, riches and power of this fallen world.
Thus the prophet Micheas [Micah] complains of the people: ‘And they have coveted fields and taken them by violence, and houses they have forcibly taken away: and oppressed a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.’ Isaias says to the people: ‘Wash yourselves: be clean. Take away the evil of your devices from your eyes. Cease to do perversely. Learn to do well. Seek judgment. Relieve the oppressed. Judge for the fatherless. Defend the widow… The princes are faithless, companions of thieves; they all love bribes, they run after rewards. They judge not for the fatherless: and the widow’s cause cometh not in to them’ (Isaiah 1:16-17, 23).
UNRULY DESIRES FOR WORLDLY THINGS LEAD TO DISTRUST OF GOD
It is easy to see how the unruly desires of the people for possessions, power and influence could lead to a lack of trust in God. The man whose property is threatened will tend to put greater trust in force of arms than he will place in an invisible God. This is especially true if the wealth has been acquired by breaking the law of justice which God has established. The man whose wealth has been gained by sinning against God’s will can hardly look to God to protect him. This is why the prophets reproach the people of Juda for their sins. This is why they call for a return to the Mosaic Law as a means of obtaining God’s mercy.
WHAT MADE THE PEOPLE OF JUDAH TURN TO BAAL AND OTHER IDOLS INSTEAD?
Again, a people enamoured of the pleasures and power of the world will easily tend to admire the gods of nations wealthier or more powerful than themselves. This explains, too, why the Chosen People turned to the worship of Baal and Astarte, of Ishtar and Moloch. The shrewd seeker after fame and wealth will neglect no divinity that might farther or hinder his aims.
At any rate, Juda sinned against God. The prophets pleaded with the people to give up their sins and return to God. But their admonitions were in vain. God therefore announced the destruction of the kingdom of Juda. ‘Be in pain and labour,’ said the prophet Micheas, ‘O daughter of Sion, as a woman that bringeth forth: for now thou shalt go out of the city and shalt dwell in the country and shalt come even to Babylon’ (Micah 4:10).
To King Ezechias Isaias prophesied: ‘Behold the days shall come, that all that is in thy house, and that thy fathers have laid up in store until this day shall be carried away into Babylon: there shall not any thing be left, saith the Lord. And of thy children that issue from thee, whom thou shalt beget, they shall take away: and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon’ (Isaiah 39:6-7).
STILL GOD WILL NOT FORSAKE HIS PEOPLE, SAY THE PROPHETS
But the future history of the people, as seen by the prophets, is not all darkness and despair. God will deliver a remnant, a portion of his people from captivity. ‘Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who are carried by my bowels, are borne up by my womb. Even to your old age I am the same. And to your grey hairs I will carry you. I have made you and I will bear: I will carry you. I have made you and I will bear: I will carry and I will save’ (Isaiah 46:3-4). And again: ‘Come forth out of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, declare it with the voice of joy: make this to be heard, and speak it out even to the ends of the earth. Say: The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob’ (Isaiah 48:20).
Jeremias sends a word of comfort to those who have been led into captivity in Babylon: ‘When the seventy years shall begin to be accomplished in Babylon, I will visit you, and I will perform my good word in your favour, to bring you again to this place… and I will bring back your captivity, and I will gather you out of all nations, and from all the places to which I have driven you out, saith the Lord; and I will bring you back from the place to which I have caused you to be carried away captive’ (Jeremiah 29:10, 14).
THE PROPHETS FORESEE IN THE FUTURE THE JUST KING FOR ALL, JESUS CHRIST
The prophets foresee not only the return of the people to Jerusalem; they foresee in the distant future the reign of a just king who shall be a descendant of King David. Isaias, when seeking to dissuade Achaz from making an alliance with Tiglath-Pileser, says that God will send a wonderful sign to the House of David: ‘Hear ye, therefore, House of David… Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son: and his name shall be called Emmanuel’ (Isaiah 7:14).
Of this child Isaias also foretells: ‘A child is born to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the World to come, the Prince of Peace. His empire shall be multiplied and there shall be no end of peace. He shall sit upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom: to establish it and strengthen it with judgement and with justice, from henceforth and forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this’ (Isaiah 9:6-7).
Jeremias echoes the same thought: ‘Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, and I will raise up to David a just branch. And a king shall reign, and shall be wise, and shall execute judgement and justice in the earth. In those days shall Juda be saved and Israel shall dwell condfidently: and this is the name that they shall call him: The Lord, Our Just One’ (Jeremiah 23:5-6).
Micheas adds the detail that the just King will be born at Bethlehem of Juda: ‘And thou, Bethlehem Ephrata, art a little one among the thousands of Judah: out of thee shall He come forth unto me that is to be the ruler in Israel: and His going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity’ (Micah 5:2).
HIS BLESSINGS WILL BE EXTENDED TO ALL THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH
Moreover, when this King shall come, His blessings will be extended to all the nations of the earth. ‘And in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be prepared on the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills: and all nations shall flow into it. And many people shall go, and say: Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and to the house of the God of Jacob: and He will teach us His ways, and we will walk in His paths. For the law shall come forth from Sion; and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge the Gentiles and rebuke many people: and they shall turn their swords into ploughshares and their spears into sickles. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation: neither shall they be exercised any more to war’ (Isaiah 2:24).
THEY WILL BE CONVERTED FROM SIN AND RETURN TO THE LORD
God’s plan, then, to redeem the world through the people of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, will not fail. Because His people have sinned against Him, He will allow their kingdoms to be destroyed and the people to be led away into captivity. But a remnant of them, a small portion of them, will repent of their sins. The severity of their chastisement will cause them to be converted from sin and to return to the Lord their God. Then, after seventy years of humiliating captivity, they will return to their land.
WHEN JESUS CHRIST COMES, GOD’S PROMISE TO ABRAHAM WILL BE FULFILLED
When, through disastrous defeat and bitter misfortune, they have learned to trust in and worship Jahweh alone, God will send them a King who will restore justice and judgment to the world. They will be able to recognise their true King because in some mysterious way known only to God He will be conceived and born of a virgin of the House of David. He will be born at Bethlehem of Judah.
When the promised King comes, then the word of God to Abraham will be fulfilled: the blessings of God will be extended to all nations through the seed of Abraham.
THE PLAN FOR THE REDEMPTION OF THE HUMAN RACE IS STILL UNFOLDING AT THAT POINT IN TIME
It is clear, then, that the divine plan for the redemption of the human race is still in the process of its mysterious unfolding. In the historic moment of defeat the divine promise still rings clear: God will save men through the seed of Abraham. But first He will mould. To His own requirements a remnant of His people. This remnant will learn the lesson of faithfulness to Himself.
Through humiliation and suffering they will learn the utter emptiness of the false gods of the other nations of the world. Through the failure of their worldly aims they will learn to seek the blessings of God. When, through their dispersal throughout the nations of the world the nations have heard of Jahweh, the true God, then the Just One of God will come to extend the blessings of God to all men.
THE SUFFERING SERVANT
To those who trusted in God this message of the prophets must have been most consoling. But it was accompanied, in the case of the prophet Isaias, with another message which must have been most mysterious to the people of Juda. For Isaias spoke to his compatriots not only of a great King who would save them but also of a mysterious Servant of Jahweh Who would redeem men through his sufferings. The prophecy of the Suffering Servant of Jahweh is found scattered in the Book of Isaias [Isaiah], in chapter 42:1-7; chapter 49:1-9a; chapter 50:4-9, and in chapters 52:13 to 53:12.
A LIKELY CAUSE FOR BEWILDERMENT AMONG THE CHOSEN PEOPLE
[…] This picture of the Servant of Jahweh no doubt caused much bewilderment to the Chosen People. In the first place, they were probably looking for worldly success and power rather than forgiveness of sin. This ambition looked for a powerful king-deliverer rather than the abject figure of the Servant of Jahweh. In the second place they were looking for a deliverer who would make them the rulers of the world. But, according to Isaias, they would reject the Servant of Jahweh and He would become instead the light of the Gentiles.
THE WISDOM OF GOD WILL ULTIMATELY MAKE THINGS CLEAR
It is true that the reference to the tender plant and the root might have recalled to them the ‘root of Jesse’ of whom Isaias had already spoken, the Descendant of David Who would save them. But still, it would have been difficult for them to reconcile the mighty King, the Descendant of David, with the Suffering Servant. […] But to us, who have the benefit of hindsight and the inestimable blessing of faith, we can for the moment rest easy in the thought that the wisdom of God will ultimately make all things clear.”
– Martin J. Healy, 1959