Thursday, 28 June 2012

Jeremiah and the Gibeonite

http://w2.chabad.org/images/global/spacer.gifThe dark days of the siege of the Holy City had begun. The vast army of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon surrounded all the walls of Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar himself remained in Rivlah, a safe distance from Jerusalem. He sent his chief general Nebuzaradan to raze the city.
There was famine and distress inside the city. The Jews began to see that Jeremiah, their faithful prophet, was right. He had warned them of this trouble, and of many more to come. Would the other prophecies also come true?
There were other prophets who claimed to speak in the name of G-d. They told the people there was nothing to fear, for the walls of Jerusalem were too strong for any army.
One of these false prophets was a man called Hanamah. He was a descendant of the Gibeonites, a tribe that tricked Joshua into giving them everlasting protection. Joshua kept his oath, and the Gibeonites became the servants of the people, serving as water carriers and wood hewers.
Now this Hananiah the Gibeonite appeared in the Temple court and said that he had a message from G-d. "Fear not," were his words, "for thus said G-d the Lord of Hosts,
'I have broken the yoke which the king of Babylon had placed on your neck. I will bring back to this holy place all the sacred vessels which he had carried away to Babylon eleven years ago. And more than this. I will bring the exiled king Jechoniah and all the captives of Judah back unto this city!'"
"Amen!" somebody answered. And when the people looked around, they saw it was Jeremiah who had spoken.
"But you have always prophesied ill of this place. Surely you do not wish to see my words came true," demanded Hananiah.
"You are wrong, Hananiah," replied Jeremiah sadly. "I wish your words came true, and mine were false, and my people would be saved from destruction and exile, as you say. As for you and me," Jeremiah continued, "after all, I am a priest, of the children of Aaron. I want to see the service and sacrifices in this holy place restored to their former glory, for then I shall again have my privileged place in the Holy Temple, as a priest. And you Hananiah would go back to your work as a Gibeonite, to hew wood and draw water for the altar. So, you see, that I have everything to gain, and nothing to lose should your words come true. But, alas! You are not speaking the truth, but misleading the people with false promises. For as long as my people do not mend their ways and do not return to G-d with all their hearts, they cannot avoid the dire calamity. It grieves me to say, that this place shall become a shambles and Jerusalem's downfall is near."
"Give us a sign that you speak the truth!" Hananiah demanded.
Jeremiah shook his head. "If I had prophesied words like yours, it would be easy to give a sign. For G-d does not change His mind once He desires to bring goodness to any man. But if it is punishment that is awaiting anybody, there is time to repent and avoid it. For G-d is merciful and forgiving. If my people would this day return to G-d, all my words of dire prediction would fall to the ground. So, how can I give you a sign?"
Every day the Babylonian soldiers pounded away at the walls of Jerusalem, but all their efforts came to naught. After a day's work they fell to the ground exhausted, and the walls of Jerusalem were not even dented. Nebuchadnezzar became impatient. Still afraid to come personally to direct the siege of Jerusalem, he sent to Nebuzaradan three hundred camels laden with sharp axes. "With these you will easily break down the walls," he sent word confidently.
The soldiers began to hammer and pound at the walls, but each time an axe struck the wall, it became embedded in it and disappeared. Only the wooden handle of the axe remained in the hand of the bewildered soldier.
Nebuzaradan was about to give up the siege. He despaired of ever breaking down the mighty walls of the city. He decided to order the army back to Babylon.
Then one soldier came forward, carrying the last axe that was left. "How about you trying your hand, general? Maybe you will be more successful than we?"
Nebuzaradan took the axe and approached the wall a little uncertainly. "If I fail," he thought, "we go back at once."
While everybody was looking on, Nebuzaradan swung the axe with all his might. There was a dull thud, and for a moment nothing seemed to have happened. Then suddenly there appeared a crack in the wall, which grew wider and wider. At the same time, the wall began to sink into the earth!
A shout of triumph rang through the, air. The wall of Jerusalem was broken! The city was captured!
That was a sad day for our people. It was the 17th day of Tammuz.


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