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Biblical Facts from Old Testament


Jeremiah’s unpopular message. While all the other prophets were predicting victory over Babylon, Jeremiah told the people it was God’s will that they serve Babylon for a certain number of years. Then, God would rescue them and would judge Babylon (Jer. ch. 27). Needless to say, Jeremiah’s message did not make him very popular with either the people or the king.


Why were Israel’s craftsmen taken? Craftsmen were highly prized by conquering kings (Jer. 29:2). They could provide assistance with the king’s projects as well as offer secrets of the trade that had been passed down through the generations.


Books in the OT could refer to any written material (see Jer. 30:2). Usually this was in the form of papyrus scrolls. Pages were glued together end to end so they could be rolled up. A typical papyrus page was similar to the pages used in printers today. Scrolls were usually around 20 pages long, or roughly 15 feet (4.5 m).


Jeremiah said that Jerusalem would someday be rebuilt from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate (Jer. 31:38). This is probably where the Babylonian army broke through the walls of Jerusalem. It was on the north side of the city, where the land was flat. There were steep valleys around the rest of the city, which would have made it harder to invade.


Sealing documents in earthenware vessels (Jet. 32:14) was a common way to preserve them for future generations. The Dead Sea Scrolls, one of the most important biblical archaeological discoveries, were found in vessels similar to the one Jeremiah used.


Burning of spices during funerals (Jer. 34:5) served a number of purposes. If a burial was delayed, spices would mask any unpleasant odors. Since they were expensive, spices were also a way of displaying wealth and honoring the memory of the deceased.


The Lord commended the Rechabites for keeping the commandments of their founder (Jer. ch. 35), which included abstaining from wine and not building permanent houses. The Rechabites obeyed after being told only once, while the people of Judah continued to disobey the Lord after being warned many times.


The dungeon cells or cisterns in which Jeremiah was imprisoned (Jer. chs. 37–38) were most likely dark, damp rooms without enough room to stand up in. Cisterns were dug out of rock, had a small opening, and spread out at the bottom. Escape from such a place was virtually impossible.


Free vineyards.

After they conquered Judah and shipped all the leading citizens to Babylon, the Babylonians gave vineyards to some of the poor Judeans who remained in the land (Jer. 39:10). This would have made the people less likely to rebel and would allow them to resume farming after many years of war.


The town of Geruth Chimham (Jer. 41:17) may have been named after the Chimham mentioned in 2 Sam. 19:37–40 (see also “sons of Barzillai,” 1 Kings 2:7), who apparently served King David in a time of great need. It was common for members of the royal court to be paid for their services in land rather than money.


Tahpanhes (Jer. 43:7) was a fortified city in the eastern part of the Nile delta, near what is now the Suez Canal. Archaeologists have found a large building that may have served as a governor’s residence. Since all such buildings would have belonged to the state, this may be “Pharaoh’s palace” mentioned in v. 9.


Pharaoh Hophra had a tumultuous nineteen-year reign. To the northeast he faced the Babylonians as they invaded Israel; to the west, the armies of Greece were invading Libya. He sent an army to Jerusalem to assist the Israelites but they were defeated, as were his forces in Libya. His own general overthrew him in 570 b.c., and he was killed in battle three years later, thus fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophesy (Jer. 44:30).


The balm of Gilead (Jer. 46:11) was an ointment used to treat wounds. It was probably made from the sap of a tree.


Doves are known for hiding their nests in high cliffs and other places difficult to reach (Jer. 48:28).


The jungle of the Jordan was the bottommost region of the Jordan Valley. Filled with dense thickets and lush plant life, it provided an ideal hunting ground for animals such as lions (Jer. 49:19; compare 12:5).


How Babylon fell.

Cyrus captured the well-fortified city of Babylon using a simple but clever plan. The Euphrates River ran directly through the city, and there were spiked gates where it entered and exited. Cyrus’s army dug canals upstream to divert the flow of the river. With the water level lowered, his soldiers slipped under the spiked gates and took the city during the night.


Babylon was conquered in one night, while the king feasted in pride, using the golden vessels stolen from the temple (Daniel 5). Jeremiah sees this as the Lord taking vengeance for his temple (Jer. 50:28; 51:11).


The Ashkenaz (Jer. 51:27) were also known as the Scythians. They were nomads famed for their horseback-riding abilities. Most Scythians lived north of the Black Sea but some migrated as far away as northern Iran. It is believed that Attila the Hun was a direct descendant of the Scythians.


Sieges were designed with one purpose in mind: to get the citizens of a city to give up without a fight. By surrounding a city, an invader could cut off not only a city’s food and water supply but also any means of escape. Once this was done, it was only a matter of time before thirst and hunger set in.


In the Hebrew Bible, the title of the book of Lamentations is actually “How.” This is the first word in the book, and it occurs again at the beginning of Lamentation chs. 2 and 4. It expresses “how” much Jerusalem has suffered.