These verses set the context for the whole book. They also introduce us to some of its big themes. Verse 1 tells us that we are in the early years of the sixth century BC. God’s people, Israel, had split into two kingdoms after the reign of Solomon. The larger, northern kingdom, retaining the name Israel, had been destroyed 140 years earlier. The southern kingdom, Judah, survived longer. But now it was under siege from the king of the then world superpower, Babylon.
Although Babylon versus Judah was no contest, verse 2 tells us that the Lord delivered the king of Judah into Nebuchadnezzar’s hands. The reason for this is explained in 2 Kings 24 and 2 Chronicles 36. There we learn that the king and the people rejected the Lord, and refused to listen to the warnings of the prophets.
Verse 2 is therefore telling us that the defeat of Judah and the removal of articles from the Temple (which was also destroyed by the Babylonians) was the judgement of God on Judah. It also shows us that while Nebuchadnezzar was king of the Babylonians, God was the one who ultimately ruled.
It wasn’t just articles from the Temple that were taken to Babylon. In verses 3 to 7 a particular group from Judah are exiled into Babylon. It was a brilliant strategy by Nebuchadnezzar. He exiled anyone who might lead a rebellion against him, and he sought to turn them into Babylonians. His state-funded, three-year course at the University of Babylon would fill the exiles’ stomachs with the food of Babylon and their minds with the culture of Babylon so that they would become Babylonians.
Among the exiles are four men who feature throughout the rest of the book, found in verses 6 and 7. These four represent the many who are exiled to Babylon. They are placed in a strange pagan land that seeks to make them just like the Babylonian world around them. Just as Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden as a result of their sin, so Judah is exiled from her land as a result of her sin.
The situation for these exiles is similar to ours. The apostle Peter describes us as aliens and strangers in this world (1 Pet. 2:11). The apostle Paul tells us that we are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20). We live in a world that seeks to make us conform to its ways (Rom. 12:2). The pressures to compromise that the exiles are about to face are similar to the pressures we face, too.
Why is it that we forget that we are exiles in this world? What impact do you think it would make if we were more conscious of our real home being heaven?