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Two ghost towns nearly 3,000 years apart

R.A. Mathews Special to The Star

A ghost town. The photos of New York City taken last March show high-rise buildings and wide streets with no signs of life. Not a person, not a vehicle in sight.

It was eerie and unforgettable. Old timers said they’d never seen anything like it.

Even so, it has happened before. There’s just such a scene in Scripture:

“How lonely sits the city that was full of people.”

That’s the opening line of a book of the Bible.

“How lonely sits the city that was full of people.”

What had once been a bustling and magnificent jewel of a city suddenly stood empty in the 6th Century B.C. --- a ghost town.

“My eyes fail with tears,” the holy man continues, weeping as he writes the Book of Lamentations. Unlike NYC, this town will not return to life within weeks or months. It will take centuries—the holy man will never see it alive again.

What city? I’ll tell you, but first let me show you how it happened.

The story begins when Judah’s beloved King Josiah goes into battle. Remember, Judah is the name for Southern Israel. Northern Israel no longer exists.

Scripture says there was no king of Judah who loved God as Josiah did, not before or after. 2 Kings 23:25

King Josiah is mortally wounded by Pharaoh Necho in that battle. Josiah is 39 years old. The prophet Jeremiah, who guided Josiah, bitterly mourns his death. Jeremiah is famously chosen to speak from the mouth of God to five kings of Judah.

Two of Josiah’s sons, a grandson, and a third son, reign for over 20 years after Josiah, one right after the other. They’re all evil and Jeremiah has his hands full. One wants to kill the prophet, and one puts him in prison.

Worse yet, the nation is the victim of international intrigue.

At first, Judah falls under the heavy hand of Egypt. Then it’s under Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, who takes thousands of Hebrews captive and marches them back to Babylon.

But that’s just the beginning.

Jeremiah warns the people to stick with God. Scripture has a beautiful passage from this time. It says that God rises early every morning to save His people.

“And the Lord God … sent warning to them by His messengers … rising up early … because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place.” 2 Chronicles 36:15 (NKJV)

But the Hebrews follow their evil kings. God tells Jeremiah, “My people are foolish … they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge.” Jeremiah 4:19-22 (NKJV)

Jeremiah’s fifth king rebels against Nebuchadnezzar, and the Babylonians siege the capital city. When the troops finally penetrate Jerusalem, the Babylonians show no mercy. The city is burned, and it seems few Jews survive. Hundreds, not thousands, are marched in chains back to Babylon.

Jeremiah is among those captives, but Nebuchadnezzar’s general stops at a city north of Jerusalem. There he frees Jeremiah and gives him a gift.

Nebuchadnezzar deliberately leaves poor, rural Jews behind to inhabit the land. But some fear the return of the Babylonians and head toward Egypt.

Jeremiah tells them not to go. By now, you’d think they'd listen. But no, instead they drag Jeremiah with them. When Nebuchadnezzar invades Egypt, the Jewish remnant suddenly realizes the prophet was right.

Today, God expects no less from His people than in the 6th Century B.C. He wants us to love Him.

We too are faced with chronic evil as Jeremiah was. It’s not just wild celebrity-lifestyles, but the Supreme Court and national leaders who say God is wrong. Christians had better fall in line or keep quiet. Otherwise, they'll be ostracized like Jeremiah.

But in the midst of such disrespect for God, ghost-town photos of NYC appeared. The nation stopped and asked, “Have the end times come?”

God suddenly mattered.

Jesus said the end times are for God alone to know. That’s not the important question. Here it is: Am I with Jesus? That’s what matters.

As Jeremiah proclaimed, it will not go well for those who fight God. Listen to our Lord, study Scripture, and follow Him. Then, whatever happens, God will be there for you.

Mathews is an ordained minister and the author of “Reaching to God.” Contact her at letters@RAMathews.com.

Copyright © 2020 R.A. Mathews All rights reserved.