There is a lot of confusion over the seventy years prophesied by Jeremiah in chapters 25 and 29, especially when the seventy years began, when they ended, and how it was related to the destruction of Jerusalem. Even Jewish tradition teaches that there was uncertainty during Daniel’s time as well. Ever wonder why Belshazzar chose the vessels from God’s house from which to drink wine? Jewish tradition says Belshazzar knew the Jeremiah chapter 25 prophecy foretold the destruction of Babylon. So he calculated when the seventy years would come to an end and once that date had passed, he held a celebration. In his mind, the Hebrew God had failed, Babylon was secure, and thus Jehovah was not to be feared. Unfortunately for him, he calculated wrong. (See “People of the Book”, Torah from Dixie.)
But before we get too deep into the subject, it would be beneficial to review the history of the period. Just prior to Jeremiah’s time, Assyria was the main power in the Middle East. The following dates are in accordance with the conclusions of most historical scholars:
626 B.C. Nebuchednezzar’s father, Nabopolassar, defeated the Assyrians in a battle near Babylon and gained independence.
Summer of 614. Cyaxares the Mede destroyed the Assyrian religious center Aššur.
609. After a new Assyrian king reestablished a capitol in Harran, he asked Pharaoh Necho II of Egypt for help in anticipation of another Babylonian attack. Necho gathered an army and passed through Judah on his way to Carchemish. Josiah is the king of Judah at that time. Whether Josiah supported the Babylonians, or he just didn’t like a foreign army transitioning through his land (perhaps pillaging as they went), he decided to attack the Egyptians. We pick up the story in 2 Kings 23:29-30:
In his days Pharaohnechoh king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates: and king Josiah went against him; and he slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him. And his servants carried him in a chariot dead from Megiddo, and brought him to Jerusalem, and buried him in his own sepulchre. And the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah, and anointed him, and made him king in his father’s stead.
The Egyptians went to Carchemish and then continued onto Harran, but were not able to save the Assyrians from the Babylonians.
608. The Egyptians retreated back to Egypt through Judah, but on the way, they stopped in Jerusalem and we see what happened in 2 Kings 23:31a,34:
Jehoahaz was twenty and three years old when he began to reign … And Pharaohnechoh put him in bands at Riblah in the land of Hamath, that he might not reign in Jerusalem; and put the land to a tribute of an hundred talents of silver, and a talent of gold. And Pharaohnechoh made Eliakim the son of Josiah king in the room of Josiah his father, and turned his name to Jehoiakim, and took Jehoahaz away: and he came to Egypt, and died there.
Jeremiah makes wooden yokes and prophecies about the destruction of nations around Judah.
608-605. Egypt and Babylon continued to fight battles in and around modern day Syria and Lebanon.
May/June of 605. The decisive battle of Carchemish was fought. Under the command of Prince Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonians routed the Egyptians. (Jeremiah 46:1-2 describes Nebuchadnezzar’s victory and Egypt’s defeat.) Nebuchadnezzar pursued the Egyptian army south, dominated kingdoms along his way, and besieged Jerusalem. Jehoiakim surrendered and agreed to serve Babylon. (2 Kings 24:1) Daniel and other nobles were taken captive to Babylon.
August 15, 605. Babylonian King Nabopolassar died.
September 7, 605. While in Canaan, Nebuchadnezzar received news that his father died in Babylon. With a small cavalry contingent, Nebuchadnezzar took a short cut across the Syrian Desert and ascended to the throne on the same day he arrived and was immediately recognized as king.
Summer/Fall 605. Jeremiah wrote the 70-year prophecy recorded in Jeremiah 25.
597. Jehoiakim allied himself with the Egyptians. Retribution from Babylon came quickly. According to 2 Chronicles 36:6, Nebuchadnezzar carried Jehoiakim in chains to Babylon. Based loosely upon Jeremiah 22:18,19, some believe he was thrown over the wall to appease Nebuchadnezzar. Jehoiakim’s 18-year-old son, Jehoiachin, became king in his place. When Nebuchadnezzar left to attack Egypt; Jehoiachin rebelled. Upon Nebuchadnezzar’s return, he destroyed several of Judah’s major cities and Jerusalem surrendered. Then, according to 2 Chronicles 24:11-18, Nebuchadnezzar “carried out thence all the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king’s house.” He also “carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon, and the king’s mother, and the king’s wives, and his officers, and the mighty of the land, those carried he into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon.” Then, “the king of Babylon made Mattaniah his father’s brother king in his stead, and changed his name to Zedekiah.” Along with Jehoiakim, Ezekiel was taken to Babylon. 2 Kings 24:7 records, “And the king of Egypt came not again any more out of his land: for the king of Babylon had taken from the river of Egypt unto the river Euphrates all that pertained to the king of Egypt.”
597-589. According to Jeremiah 29, after Jehoiachin was carried away, Jeremiah sent a letter with instructions to the exiles in Babylon to build houses, get married, raise families, and live peacefully because the service for Babylon would last seventy years, after which God would allow them to return to Judah. Though no date for when the letter was sent is specified, Jeremiah said it was while Zedekiah was king and we can assume it was before the final siege began.
595. Pharaoh Neco died.
593. Representatives from the city-states of Edom, Moab, Ammon, and Tyre met in Jerusalem to plan a rebellion. Nebuchadnezzar summoned Zedekiah to Babylon in his fourth year (Jeremiah 51). This appears to be directly related to the planned insurrection. Probably because of the summons from Nebuchadnezzar, Zedekiah did not openly join the rebellion.
September 592. Ezekiel’s visions recorded in chapters 8-11.
589. Egyptian Pharaoh Psammetichus II died and Pharaoh Hophra (Apries) came to the throne of Egypt. Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar moved to his military headquarters in Riblah (located in modern day southern Lebanon), in order to attack Jerusalem. The Rechabites sought refuge in Jerusalem. (Jeremiah 35)
December 589. The siege of Jerusalem began.
587. Jeremiah chapter 34 tells us that Zedekiah decided to free all of the Jewish slaves they held, which was in accordance with God’s Law as written in Deuteronomy chapter 15. In response to their act of obedience, God demonstrated His willingness to save Jerusalem. The Egyptians decided to intervene. (Jeremiah 37:5) When the Babylonians, who had been besieging Jerusalem, heard the report about them, they lifted the siege from Jerusalem to deal with the Egyptians. Once Zedekiah and his princes saw the Babylonian army leave, “they turned, and caused the servants and the handmaids, whom they had let go free, to return, and brought them into subjection for servants and for handmaids.” God told Jeremiah He would cause the Babylonians “to return to this city; and they shall fight against it, and take it, and burn it with fire” (Jeremiah 34:11,22b). The Babylonians turned back the Egyptian threat, and then returned to Jerusalem.
July 10, 586. The walls of Jerusalem were penetrated. Zedekiah was captured and brought before Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah. There he witnessed the execution of his sons after which his eyes were put out, and he was taken in chains to Babylon. (Jeremiah 39 and 52)
August 14, 586. Nebuzaradan, captain of Nebuchadnezzar’s bodyguard, sets the Temple, the royal palace, and all the dwellings in the city of Jerusalem on fire. (2 Kings 25)
October 586. Ishmael assassinated Gedeliah, the latter having been appointed as the governor of Judah after it was reorganized as a province. (II Kings 25:25) In reprisal for the death of Gedeliah and his attending Babylonian officials, the province was abolished and the territory was placed under the governor of Samaria.
January 8, 585. In Babylon, Ezekiel received word of the fall of Jerusalem. (Ezekiel 33:21)
May 28, 585. A solar eclipse ends the final battle of a fifteen-year war between Alyattes II of Lydia and Cyaxares the Mede at the Battle of Halys. Cyaxares, who fought as an ally with Nabopolassar against Nineveh, died shortly thereafter.
582 or 581. Nebuchadnezzar ordered a third deportation of the Jews to Babylon. (Jeremiah 52:30)
572. Egypt fell to Babylon.
561. Evilmerodach king of Babylon released Jehoiachin from prison and “he spake kindly to him, and set his throne above the throne of the kings that were with him in Babylon” (II Kings 25:27-30).
539. Belshazzar held a feast during which he “commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein.” He saw the handwriting on the wall, and was killed that night. (Daniel 5) The Babylonian Empire fell to the Medes and Persians.
October 539. Cyrus the Great became king.
Daniel “understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.” (Daniel 9:1,2)
535. Work began on the Temple, but enemies of the Jews stopped construction. (Ezra 4)
September 29, 522. Darius becomes ruler over Persia.
521. Darius’ first year.
520. Darius’ second year. Work began again on the Temple.
December 5, 520. Haggai’s prophecy that from this day forward God will bless Judah.
February 519. Zechariah’s vision recorded in chapter 1, beginning in verse 7.
516. The temple “was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king” (Ezra 6:15).
458. Ezra traveled to Jerusalem (Ezra 7)
445. Artaxerxes I made Judea a separate Persian province, appointed Nehemiah as its governor, and issued an order to rebuild the city. Nehemiah completed the walls in fifty-two days. (Nehemiah 2:1-8; 6:15)
I know this was lengthy, but many Biblical scholars make mistakes because they do not use all of the available facts. That would be like trying to solve a murder mystery without investigating the entire crime scene or examining all of the clues. Needless to say, false conclusions could easily be reached.
Let’s look at one more historic note. The following event occurred after the Babylonians renewed their siege against Jerusalem. King Zedekiah summoned Jeremiah. We pick up the story in Jeremiah 38:
Then said Jeremiah unto Zedekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel; If thou wilt assuredly go forth unto the king of Babylon’s princes, then thy soul shall live, and this city shall not be burned with fire; and thou shalt live, and thine house: But if thou wilt not go forth to the king of Babylon’s princes, then shall this city be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and thou shalt not escape out of their hand. But if thou refuse to go forth, this is the word that the LORD hath shewed me: So they shall bring out all thy wives and thy children to the Chaldeans: and thou shalt not escape out of their hand, but shalt be taken by the hand of the king of Babylon: and thou shalt cause this city to be burned with fire. So Jeremiah abode in the court of the prison until the day that Jerusalem was taken: and he was there when Jerusalem was taken (Jeremiah 38:17,18,21,23,28).
Let’s get back to the seventy years and our original pursuit, which is to determine the beginning and ending events/dates of the seventy years. A review of the prophecy from Jeremiah 25 is in order:
The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, that was the first year of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon. Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the LORD, and Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and an hissing, and perpetual desolations. And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith the LORD, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and will make it perpetual desolations. And I will bring upon that land all my words which I have pronounced against it, even all that is written in this book, which Jeremiah hath prophesied against all the nations (Jeremiah 25:1,9,11-13).
What it does say:
1) Nebuchadnezzar would come against “this land” – meaning Judah. (Nebuchadrezzar is an alternate spelling of Nebuchadnezzar found on occasion in the KJV.)
2) “These nations” would serve Babylon for seventy years.
3) Babylon would be punished after seventy years.
What it does not say:
1) Judah shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
2) The seventy years is tied to the destruction of Jerusalem.
Is there a clue as to the nations of which Jeremiah is prophesying? Yes:
In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah came this word unto Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, Thus saith the LORD to me; Make thee bonds and yokes, and put them upon thy neck, And send them to the king of Edom, and to the king of Moab, and to the king of the Ammonites, and to the king of Tyrus, and to the king of Zidon, by the hand of the messengers which come to Jerusalem unto Zedekiah king of Judah; And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant; and the beasts of the field have I given him also to serve him. And all nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son’s son, until the very time of his land come: and then many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of him. And it shall come to pass, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and that will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish, saith the LORD, with the sword, and with the famine, and with the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand. But the nations that bring their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him, those will I let remain still in their own land, saith the LORD; and they shall till it, and dwell therein (Jeremiah 27:1-3,6-8,11).
What it says:
Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon will serve Babylon – either willingly or they will be destroyed.
Now, let’s review the prophecy in Jeremiah 29:
Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem unto the residue of the elders which were carried away captives, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon; (After that Jeconiah the king, and the queen, and the eunuchs, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, and the carpenters, and the smiths, were departed from Jerusalem;) Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace. For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Let not your prophets and your diviners, that be in the midst of you, deceive you, neither hearken to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed. For they prophesy falsely unto you in my name: I have not sent them, saith the LORD. For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive. Know that thus saith the LORD of the king that sitteth upon the throne of David, and of all the people that dwelleth in this city, and of your brethren that are not gone forth with you into captivity; Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Behold, I will send upon them the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and will make them like vile figs, that cannot be eaten, they are so evil (Jeremiah 29:1,2,5-10,14,16,17).
What it does say:
1) Settle down – build homes, plant gardens, build families, live peacefully
2) Don’t be fooled by the false prophets.
3) Seventy years will be accomplished at Babylon (better translated for Babylon as in the following modern translations – NIV, NASB, ESV, ASV, NIV-UK)
4) God would cause them to return to Judah after the seventy years.
5) Those who were still in Judah would be severely punished.
It doesn’t say that the Temple and Jerusalem had to be burned to fulfill this prophecy. That’s why I wanted to review the conversation between King Zedekiah and Jeremiah. Jeremiah plainly stated that if Zedekiah would surrender, “this city shall not be burned with fire.” Had Zedekiah listened to Jeremiah, Jerusalem and the Temple would not have been destroyed. Therefore, the year Jerusalem was destroyed and the Temple was burned are not part of the equation.
Just as in our lives today, sometimes we don’t know what God is doing until the event has passed and we can look back on it, the same would be true here. So, let’s see what the Bible has to say about when the seventy years ended. Where do we look for fulfillment? One clue we have is found in the first prophecy:
And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon. (Jeremiah 25:12a)
When was the king of Babylon punished? In 539, the Persian army invaded Babylonia. They defeated the Babylonians in June at the battle for Opis; and immediately afterwards, the town of Sippara surrendered. Two days later, Babylon fell without a fight. Belshazzar was killed and his father Nabonidus was captured. Cyrus arrived in October and was crowned king. Babylon was completely defeated.
If we go back in history 70 years prior, we get 609 B.C., the year Babylon defeated the last king of Assyria at Harran. Prior to the Babylonian victory, the Assyrians controlled most of the Middle East, from Egypt to the Persian Gulf. Once defeated, “all these nations round about” that had once comprised the Assyrian Empire would now serve Babylon. So with the fall of Babylon in 539, the prophecy of Jeremiah 25 is fulfilled.
The next major event that occurred was when Cyrus allowed a group of the Jews to go home. The proclamation is in Ezra 1:
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-3).
Well, this is good, but if the 70 years of service for Babylon ended with this decree, then that means the beginning point was in 609. But Judah did not serve Babylon in 609! Yes, that’s correct, and Cyrus didn’t give permission for all of the Jews to return in the decree recorded in Ezra 1.
I always thought the fall of Babylon and the return of the first exiles were both fulfillments of the seventy-year prophecy. But, if you will notice, there is nothing that connects the prophecy of Jeremiah 25 with the prophecy of Jeremiah 29! Yes, there is a lot of similarity – they were both given through Jeremiah. They were both for a period of seventy years. But nowhere does it say in the same passage, “And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon and I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.” And as we will see in a few moments from the book of Zechariah, the Jeremiah 29 seventy-year period did not end with the return of these first exiles. The Babylonian exile will continue for almost twenty more years! Cyrus’ decree that authorized the 42,360 exiles Zerubbabel led back to Judah was for the purpose of building the Temple. (Ezra 2) That may seem like a lot of people just to build the Temple, but that’s few compared to Solomon’s labor force of 183,300 recorded in 1 Kings 5:13-18.
So, where do we go from here? Notice Daniel’s words in chapter 9:
In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans. In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake. O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name (Daniel 9:1,2,17-19).
Daniel said this prayer in 538, after the fall of Babylon and after Cyrus' decree to rebuild the Temple. (By the way, this is not the same Darius that is found in Haggai and Zechariah’s writings.) About Jerusalem, Daniel said, “thy sanctuary that is desolate.” It is obvious he considers the period of desolation and captivity to be still ongoing. The second verse gives the idea that he finally found the answer to something about which he had been wondering: “How long will Jerusalem suffer? How long will this last? Oh, I understand now! Jeremiah said seventy years!” He pleaded that God would grant Jerusalem and the Jewish people mercy. Then he submitted a long prayer of forgiveness for his sins and the sins of his people.
So, if the end of the Jeremiah 29 prophecy is not related to the fall of Babylon, the return of the first exiles, or the restoration of the Temple, to what is it related? The answer is in 2 Chronicles 36:21:
To fulfil the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths: for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfil threescore and ten years.
In Levitcus 25, God commanded, “But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the LORD: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard,” and “A jubile shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed.” There were years in which the land was not to be farmed in accordance with a set timetable. For every fifty-year cycle after coming into the land, no one was to farm the land in years 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49, and 50. That equates to sixteen times in a century. The Jews quit obeying God in this aspect and had farmed the land in seventy of these “sabbath of rest unto the land” years.
So one of the reasons for the exile was so that the land would rest. There are two ways the land could rest. One is that there was no one there to farm it; the other was if the land didn’t produce. Once the siege of Jerusalem began in 589, there were few people left in Judah to farm the land. Many, such as the Rechabites, were hiding from the Babylonians in Jerusalem. That accounts for the beginning of the seventy years, but what about the end? Is there a possibility that after the first exiles returned, the land was still resting by not producing? Haggai 1:
In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month, came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet unto Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, saying … And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands (Haggai 1:1,11). Yes, the land wasn’t producing. Haggai wrote this in August 520.
Then, Haggai makes a wonderful announcement from God in December 520: “from this day will I bless you” (Haggai 2:19). This harmonizes well with God’s message through Zechariah a month later:
Upon the four and twentieth day of the eleventh month, which is the month Sebat, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the LORD unto Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet, saying … Then the angel of the LORD answered and said, O LORD of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these threescore and ten years? Therefore thus saith the LORD; I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies: my house shall be built in it, saith the LORD of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem (Zechariah 1:7,12,16).
Zechariah’s announcement specifically mentions the seventy years, yet it is made in early February of 519 – almost nineteen yeas after Zerubbabel led the first exiles back to rebuild the Temple! But now, the seventy-year period is ending since the angel spoke of it in the past tense “thou hast had indignation these threescore and ten years” and God spoke in present tense when He says, “I am returned to Jerusalem.”
Seventy years before 519 was 589. That was the year the siege of Jerusalem began. The farmers would have gone to Jerusalem in advance of the siege to seek refuge – just as the Rechabites did in Jeremiah 35:11. There they would have remained until the city fell where they either died or were exiled. So the last time the land was farmed was early 589. Thus, the land had its rest for seventy years from 589 to 519.
Jeremiah’s seventy years were two separate prophecies. The chapter 25 prophecy was fulfilled when Harran fell, the Egyptians fled, and subsequently “these nations” became subject to Babylon in 608 B.C. and ended when Babylon fell to the Medes and Persians in 538. The chapter 29 prophecy was fulfilled when the land began its seventy-year rest prior to the start of the siege of Jerusalem in 589 and ended with the first crops in 519. The Scripture agrees with secular history.
You, as an individual have the resources available to judge whether a teaching is truth or not. It all begins by studying your Bible. Then, if the answer isn’t obvious, ask God to tell you what is truth.