Jeremiah 35 – The Rechabites & The Lachish Ostraca

I still want to know about the Hittites, but first I want to know about…

Jeremiah 35
The Rechabites

1 The word which came unto Jeremiah from the LORD in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, saying,

Tell en-Nasbeh
This is a well-preserved four-room house at Tell en-Nasbeh. It has stone pillars separating the long rooms and a broadroom across the back.

35:1-19 – the family of the Rechabites who obeyed their forefather’s command are an example and rebuke to the people of Judah who have disobeyed the Lord.  The mention of “the army of the Chaldeans and…Syrians [Arameans]” dates the chapter to no earlier than the eighth year of King Jehoiakim, who began his reign in 609 B.C.

Their capital city of Jerusalem was besieged in 605 B.C. (see Dan 1:1) by Nebuchadnezzar, and who rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar three or four years later – an unwise act that led to raids on his territory by the Babylonians, Syrians and others.

2 Go unto the house of the Rechabites, and speak unto them, and bring them into the house of the LORD, into one of the chambers, and give them wine to drink.

“Rechabites” – nomadic tribal group related to the Kenites, some of whom lived among or near the Israel’s and were on friendly terms with them.

Bethsaida
The ruins of the village are located on a hill, above the delta of the upper Jordan river, a fertile area with many ancient villages. It was a Biblical city in the land of Geshur, and a Roman city, the site of Jesus’ two miracles.

Mark 8:22: “And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him…”

3 Then I took Jaazaniah the son of Jeremiah, the son of Habaziniah, and his brethren, and all his sons, and the whole house of the Rechabites;

“Jaazaniah” – means “The LORD hears.”  It was a common name in Jeremiah’s time and appears on a stamp deal (discovered at Tell en-Nashbeh north of Jerusalem and dating c. 600 B.C.), as well as on one of the Lachish ostraca.

4 And I brought them into the house of the LORD, into the chamber of the sons of Hanan, the son of Igdaliah, a man of God, which was by the chamber of the princes, which was above the chamber of Maaseiah the son of Shallum, the keeper of the door:

5 And I set before the sons of the house of the Rechabites pots full of wine, and cups, and I said unto them, Drink ye wine.

6 But they said, We will drink no wine: for Jonadab the son of Rechab our father commanded us, saying, Ye shall drink no wine, neither ye, nor your sons forever:

7 Neither shall ye build house, nor sow seed, nor plant vineyard, nor have any: but all your days ye shall dwell in tents; that ye may live many days in the land where ye be strangers.

8 Thus have we obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab our father in all that he hath charged us, to drink no wine all our days, we, our wives, our sons, nor our daughters;

9 Nor to build houses for us to dwell in: neither have we vineyard, nor field, nor seed:

10 But we have dwelt in tents, and have obeyed, and done according to all that Jonadab our father commanded us.

11 But it came to pass, when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up into the land, that we said, Come, and let us go to Jerusalem for fear of the army of the Chaldeans, and for fear of the army of the Syrians: so we dwell at Jerusalem.

12 Then came the word of the LORD unto Jeremiah, saying,

Palmyra in Syria – Roman ruins.
Palmyra is an ancient archaeological site located in modern-day Syria. … The Syrian government retook the area in March 2016, and the ancient site—which has survived multiple wars and strife—remains a key historical and cultural treasure.

13 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Go and tell the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Will ye not receive instruction to hearken to my words? saith the LORD.

14 The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, that he commanded his sons not to drink wine, are performed; for unto this day they drink none, but obey their father’s commandment: notwithstanding I have spoken unto you, rising early and speaking; but ye hearkened not unto me.

15 I have sent also unto you all my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, Return ye now every man from his evil way, and amend your doings, and go not after other gods to serve them, and ye shall dwell in the land which I have given to you and to your fathers: but ye have not inclined your ear, nor hearkened unto me.

16 Because the sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have performed the commandment of their father, which he commanded them; but this people hath not hearkened unto me:

17 Therefore thus saith the LORD God of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring upon Judah and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the evil that I have pronounced against them: because I have spoken unto them, but they have not heard; and I have called unto them, but they have not answered.

Palmyra in Syria – Colonnade
The Great Colonnade at Palmyra was the main colonnaded avenue in the ancient city of Palmyra in the Syrian Desert. The colonnade was built in several stages during the second and third century CE and stretched for more than a kilometer.

18 And Jeremiah said unto the house of the Rechabites, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Because ye have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts, and done according unto all that he hath commanded you:

19 Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me forever.

“Not want a man to stand before me” – various traditions in the Jewish Mishnah claim that the Rechabites were later given special duties to perform in connection with the Jerusalem temple built after the return from Babylonian exile.

The Lachish Ostraca

In 1935, eighteen ostraca (broken pieces of pottery used for writing) were discovered in a guard room below the gate tower inside the outer wall at Lachish, a fortified town protecting the southern Judean hill country and in 1938, three more were found.

In 701 BCE, the Assyrian king Sennacherib led his armies to Phoenicia (the coast of Lebanon) and the Land of Israel with the aim of crushing a rebellion against him that had erupted under the leadership of Hezekiah, king of Judah, and Zedaka, king of Ashkelon. (The story of this rebellion is alluded to in I Kings 18:13-14).

 While a few of the ostraca are unreadable and four are administrative lists, the remaining are letters dating to the period from 597 to 587 B.C. 

They are extremely important, not only for their value in studying the development of Hebrew grammar and syntax, but also for their illumination of the political situation and general turmoil as Judah prepared for the inevitable attack by Nebuchadnezzar.

The most significant of the letters are numbers 3, 4, and 6.  Number 3 is from Hoshaiah, a subordinate officer writing to Yaosh, probably the governor or military commander of Lachish.  He reported that Coniah, son of Elnathan, had traveled to Egypt to obtain military assistance.

OstraconisOstrakon of Megacles, son of Hippocrates 487 B.C.
Megacles or Megakles was the name of several notable men of ancient Athens, as well as an officer of Pyrrhus of EpirusThe first Megacles was possibly a legendary archon of Athens from 922 BC to 892 BC.

An ostraconis a piece of pottery, usually broken off from a vase or other earthenware vessel. In an archaeological or epigraphical context, ostraca refer to sherds or even small pieces of stone that have writing scratched into them.

Usually these are considered to have been broken off before the writing was added; ancient people used the cheap, plentiful and durable broken pieces of pottery around them as convenient places to place writing for a wide variety of purposes, mostly very short inscriptions, but in some cases surprisingly long.

Jeremiah 37:6-8 indicates that king Zedekiah had believed that Egyptian forces would come to his aid but that the Lord had declared otherwise.  The pharaoh’s army would not stave off the Babylonian onslaught. 

Some suggest that Elnathan might have been the official of Zedekiah mentioned in 26:22 and 36:12, 25.  The letter concludes with a warning message from an unnamed prophet.

In letter 4 the author appears to say that he was watching for the fire signals of Lachish; those of Azekah were not visible.  This may indicate that Azekah had already capitulated at the time the ostracon was inscribed.

Azekah was the only other fortified city besides Lachish still standing in Judah just prior to Jerusalem’s fall.

The New Kingdom pharaoh depicted on this limestone fragment bears the finesse of a master’s hand. The two arms, however, are rendered more crudely. It is likely that a master used this ostracon to teach his student, and the work of both individuals can be seen on the piece.

Letter 6 is concerned with the words of certain princes and officials of the sort intended to demoralize troops facing imminent war.  A prophet is mentioned, but the name is illegible except for the ending “-yah” (i.e., “Yah-weh”).

It may be that the prophet was either Uriah or Jeremiah (both their names end in “-yah” in Hebrew), although of course we cannot know.  Jeremiah had already prophesied that God would hand over Jerusalem to Babylon; many had thus regarded him as a traitor and a bad influence upon the people.

…Lachish.

Jeremiah 34 – Zedekiah’s Broken Promise & The Hittite Ritual of Passing Between the Pieces of a Sacrifice

People like the Hittites weren’t with You, and they worshiped false gods.

The entrance to Zedekiah’s Cave is at the Jerusalem city wall, northeast of the Damascus Gate.

I’m curious about what kind of people they were, but I also want to know more about…

Jeremiah 34
Zedekiah’s Broken Promise

1 The word which came unto Jeremiah from the LORD, when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and all his army, and all the kingdoms of the earth of his dominion, and all the people, fought against Jerusalem, and against all the cities thereof, saying,

34:1-35:19 – The first major division of the book (chapters 2-35) now draws to a close.  Jeremiah’s warnings and exhortations to Judah are concluded with a historical appendix (chapters 34-35), a technique used to conclude the third major division of the book (chapters 39-45), as well.

Chapter 52, written by someone other than Jeremiah, serves as a fitting historical appendix to the entire book.

34:1-22 – the chapter divides naturally into two parts (vv. 1-7 and 8-22), each of which dates to 588 B.C.

34:1-7 – Jeremiah’s warning to King Zedekiah parallels the prophet’s similar admonition in 21:1-10.

2 Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel; Go and speak to Zedekiah king of Judah, and tell him, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire:

Cherub carved figure.
In 1874, French Archaeologist discovered a carving in the rock depicting an animal with a human head and a winged-lion’s body.

This carving measuring 14 x 10 inches.

“Lachish, and against Azekah” – Solomon’s son Rehoboam had fortified them, but Lachish was later besieged (701 B.C.) during Hezekiah’s reign by the Assyrian king Sennacherib.  A contemporary relief depicting Sennacherib’s conquest states that he “sat on a throne and passed in review the plunder taken from Lachish.”

In 1935, 18 Ostraca (broken pottery fragments used as writing material were discovered at Lachish, nearly all of them in the ruins of the latest occupation level (588 B.C.) of the Israelite gate-tower.  Ostracon 4, written to the commander at Lachish shortly after the events described here, ends as follows: “We are watching for the fire-signals of Lachish…for we cannot see Azekah.”

3 And thou shalt not escape out of his hand, but shalt surely be taken, and delivered into his hand; and thine eyes shall behold the eyes of the king of Babylon, and he shall speak with thee mouth to mouth, and thou shalt go to Babylon.

4 Yet hear the word of the LORD, O Zedekiah king of Judah; Thus saith the LORD of thee, Thou shalt not die by the sword:

5 But thou shalt die in peace: and with the burnings of thy fathers, the former kings which were before thee, so shall they burn odors for thee; and they will lament thee, saying, Ah lord! for I have pronounced the word, saith the LORD.

6 Then Jeremiah the prophet spake all these words unto Zedekiah king of Judah in Jerusalem,

7 When the king of Babylon’s army fought against Jerusalem, and against all the cities of Judah that were left, against Lachish, and against Azekah: for these defensed cities remained of the cities of Judah.

8 This is the word that came unto Jeremiah from the LORD, after that the king Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people which were at Jerusalem, to proclaim liberty unto them;

9 That every man should let his manservant, and every man his maidservant, being an Hebrew or an Hebrewess, go free; that none should serve himself of them, to wit, of a Jew his brother.

10 Now when all the princes, and all the people, which had entered into the covenant, heard that everyone should let his manservant, and everyone his maidservant, go free, that none should serve themselves of them anymore, then they obeyed, and let them go.

This carving was removed and is in a museum in London. The carving may fit the quote below which mentions that Jeremiah’s men marked the way when hiding the Ark.
“Prompted by a divine message, the prophet [Jeremiah] gave orders that the Tent of Meeting and the ark should go with him. Then he went away to the mountain from the top of which Moses saw God’s Promised Land.

When he reached the mountain, Jeremiah found a cave-dwelling; he carried the tent, the ark, and the incense-altar into it, then blocked up the entrance.

11 But afterward 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.12 Therefore the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,13 Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel; I made a covenant with your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondmen, saying,

14 At the end of seven years let ye go every man his brother an Hebrew, which hath been sold unto thee; and when he hath served thee six years, thou shalt let him go free from thee: but your fathers hearkened not unto me, neither inclined their ear.

15 And ye were now turned, and had done right in my sight, in proclaiming liberty every man to his neighbor; and ye had made a covenant before me in the house which is called by my name:

16 But ye turned and polluted my name, and caused every man his servant, and every man his handmaid, whom ye had set at liberty at their pleasure, to return, and brought them into subjection, to be unto you for servants and for handmaids.

“Ye…polluted my name” – by breaking the Lord’s covenant.  Zedekiah was a man whose word couldn’t be trusted (Eze 17:15, 18).

17 Therefore thus saith the LORD; Ye have not hearkened unto me, in proclaiming liberty, everyone to his brother, and every man to his neighbor: behold, I proclaim a liberty for you, saith the LORD, to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine; and I will make you to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth.

18 And I will give the men that have transgressed my covenant, which have not performed the words of the covenant which they had made before me, when they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts thereof,

“Transgressed…passed” – the Hebrew root underlying both words is the same, again providing an ironic play on words.

“Made,,cut” – the Hebrew for the two words is identical.  In ancient times, making a covenant involved a self-maledictory oath (“May thus and so be done to me if I do not keep this covenant”), which was often symbolized by cutting an animal in two and walking between the two halves (Gen 15:18).

Several groups have excavated for various archaeological artifacts in the cave. The cave was created by cutting large blocks of stone for use in the construction of Solomon’s temple.

19 The princes of Judah, and the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, and the priests, and all the people of the land, which passed between the parts of the calf;

20 I will even give them into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of them that seek their life: and their dead bodies shall be for meat unto the fowls of the heaven, and to the beasts of the earth.

21 And Zedekiah king of Judah and his princes will I give into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of them that seek their life, and into the hand of the king of Babylon’s army, which are gone up from you.

34:21-22 – because of the arrival of the Egyptians on the scene, the Babylonians in 588 B.C. temporarily lifted the siege of Jerusalem.

22 Behold, I will command, saith the LORD, and cause them to return to this city; and they shall fight against it, and take it, and burn it with fire: and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation without an inhabitant.

The Hittite Ritual of Passing Between
the Pieces of a Sacrifice

Treaty between Mursili II and Talmi-sharruma of Aleppo to regulate future relations between the two states.

Jeremiah 34:18-20 refers to Zedekiah’s covenant with God, in which the people passed between the parts of a calf cut in two.  A similar ceremony is described in Genesis 15.  What was the significance of passing between the pieces of an animal that had been split in half?

Ancient texts supply us with several parallels to the Biblical rite:

A Middle Hittite text describes a purification ceremony.  This ceremony required defeated troops to march between the severed halves of a human, a Billy goat, a puppy and a piglet, with fires burning on each side. 

The troops were first to perform the ritual near a river, where they would sprinkle themselves with water as they matched; then they were to enact it in the plain in like manner.

In an 8th century B.C. Aramaic treaty between Ashumirai of Assyria and his vassal Matilu and his sons are likened to a spring lamb whose knuckle is placed in the mouth of its severed head, lest he should “sin” against the treaty with his lord.

This ancient Assyrian clay tablet was discovered among the ruins of Calah.

It reveals a treaty made in 672 BC between Esarhaddon, king of Assyria and Ramataia, one of his vassal Median kings.

It is signed with the seals of the god Ashur and Esarhaddon and also his predecessors ruling on the Assyrian throne. The treaty ends with curses if it is to be violated and the gods are witnesses to it.

This is similar to the words spoken by Jeremiah the prophet regarding the Lord and the covenant with his people, Jeremiah 11:3 “Cursed be the man who does not heed the words of this covenant.”

Esarhaddon (680-669 B.C.) of Assyria declared in a treaty that his vassal and the vassal’s children, if he were to break the Assyrian king’s covenant, were to be treated in the same manner as the animals that lay slaughtered and gutted before them.

The Hittite ritual is similar to its Biblical counterpart, but the Assyrian texts may help us to understand its true significance.  Essentially these rites served as self-imprecation oaths by which people called down curses upon their own heads should they fail to keep their part of the covenant they were solemnly ratifying.

The ritual was a way of saying, “May what happened to these animals happen to us if we break this covenant.” 

Zedekiah’s covenant symbolized what would befall covenant-breakers.  In this case Zedekiah and his people did break the covenant and the death and destruction the ritual enacted were indeed the outcome.

…these Ostracas.  We had talked about this before, but I want to know more about this in regards to the town of Lachish.