Study Guide

The Enemies of Zion in Lamentations

The Enemies of Zion

The Poet never says so, but these guys are the big bad Babylonians. Back in the day, these dudes ran the region (or at least they were trying to). They got into major scuffles with the Assyrians and Egyptians over who would control the area. Judah was right in the middle of all that.

Let's Fight!

In 605 BCE, the Babylonians (technically, the Neo-Babylonians since some of the leadership had changed hands) came to town and took control of Judah. They forced the Jewish king to give them money, which he did. But within a few years, Babylon was getting serious challenges from Egypt. Judah started supporting Egypt and Babylon laid down the hammer. Judah was on the wrong side of history at that point.

In those days, Jerusalem was still in one piece, but there were divisions in the city. Some leaders wanted to keep on supporting the Egyptians and try to get rid of their Babylonian oppressors. Other folks thought that Judah should just put up with Babylon for a while instead of risking war. Eventually, the Jewish king sided with the Egyptians and Babylon rolled into Jerusalem as retribution (source).

The Babylonian army destroyed the city and the Temple and forced hundreds of people to evacuate the city and head towards Babylon.

It wasn't fun (hence Lamentations). Eventually, the Persian Empire took control of the region and the Babylonians were crushed. The Jews got to head back home and start rebuilding the place. Everyone was happy. Well, except the Babylonians, obviously.

The Evil Empire

So the Babylonians are not-so-nice guys. The Poet refers to them over and over again like they're giving out lessons in being evil:

  • Enemies have stretched out their hands over all her precious things (1:10)
  • All my enemies heard of my trouble; they are glad that you have done it. (1:21)
  • All your enemies open their mouths against you; they hiss, they gnash their teeth, they cry: "We have devoured her! Ah, this is the day we longed for; at last we have seen it!" (2:16)
  • All our enemies have opened their mouths against us. (3:46)
  • Those who were my enemies without cause have hunted me. (3:53)

Wow. These guys are practically drooling over all this death and destruction. Seriously, gloating is just in poor taste.

These guys might be tough, but they're nothing without God's help. God pretty much invited the Babylonians in and let them have a death and destruction party on his watch. The Poet says God "invited my enemies from all around as if for a day of festival" (2:22). In the end, it's God who's "become like an enemy" (2:5) to Judah.

Not-So-Bad Guys

Thanks to books like Lamentations, today the name "Babylon" is synonymous with an evil empire. Them and the Galactic Empire, of course.

But back in the day, the Babylonians were no worse than any other conquerors in town. Sure, they attacked nations and forced them to fork over all kinds of taxes, but King Nebuchadnezzar II (the leader during the fall of Jerusalem) also built up a vast empire centered around a beautiful city. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were built under his rule. They're gone now, but they were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

But if you had to be conquered, the Babylonians were definitely way better than the Assyrians. When the Assyrian Empire attacked the Northern Kingdom of Israel, they totally destroyed and scattered the population there in exile. The Babylonian exilees from Judah were allowed to live together in a community and were generally treated pretty well there (source). By "well" we meant they weren't enslaved. That's probably the best an exiled people can hope for.

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