Is it true that 2 Chronicles 36:21 doesn't really say that Jerusalem laid desolate for seventy years?
The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, translates 2 Chronicles 36:17-21 as follows:
Regarding these, and the verses that follow, the publication, All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial, p.84, states: "The closing verses of Second Chronicles (36:17-23) give conclusive proof of the fulfillment of Jeremiah 25:12 and, in addition, show that a full 70 years must be counted from the complete desolation of the land to the restoration of Jehovah's worship at Jerusalem in 537 B.C.E. This desolation therefore begins in 607 B.C.E.—Jer. 29:10; 2 Ki. 25:1-26; Ezra 3:1-6."
There is the opinion among some, however, that the words at 2 Chronicles 36:21 do not necessary indicate that Jerusalem laid desolate for seventy years. They point out that this verse does not specify when the seventy years began, and therefore, at best, only indicates that Jerusalem laid desolate for the remainder of the seventy years. Thus, they reason that Ezra (the writer of 2 Chronicles) was simply pointing out that the desolation of the land ended at the close of the seventy years spoken of by Jeremiah.—Jeremiah 25:11.
It is true that the desolation of the land ended at the close of the seventy years. But if we refer back to Jeremiah 25:11 we see that the seventy years began to count after Jerusalem became "a devastated place," that is, at the time of its destruction, which is precisely the event narrated at 2 Chronicles 36:17-21. It is for this reason that Ezra does not elaborate on when the seventy years commenced; it is to be understood that they took place from that point forward.
Furthermore, mentioning the seventy years solely as an end point for the desolation of the land would be unnecessary since the verses immediately preceding and following verse 21 make this fact known in much more definitive terms. The desolation of the land was the result of carrying "off those remaining . . . to Babylon." The preceding verse (2 Chronicles 36:20) tells us that these ones became servants to Nebuchadnezzar and his sons "until the royalty of Persia began to reign." And, the two verses that follow (2 Chronicles 36:22, 23) mention Cyrus' decree, "in the first year of Cyrus," permitting the Jews to return to their homeland to bring an end to the desolation of the land. Therefore, only if the prophesied seventy-year period commenced with the desolation of the land would Ezra have addressed the issue at all; to do so for any other reason would serve no purpose but to confuse.
A popular Bible translation among those who hold to the view that Ezra was simply stating that the land laid desolate for the remainder of the seventy years is the New International Version, which translates 2 Chronicles 36:21 as follows:
Whether intentionally or not, the translators of the NIV have arranged the sentence structure of verse 21 so that it appears that the seventy years are not in any way connected to the desolation of the land of Judah. Incidentally, a literal word-for-word translation of 2 Chronicles 36:21 is provided by the publishers of the New International Version in the Interlinear NIV Hebrew-English Old Testament (John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan Publishing, 1987). Shown below, each word or hyphenated word-group corresponds to an original Hebrew word, with the words arranged so that they read from left to right:
Please note the word translated by the NIV as "to-complete." It is the Hebrew word lemâlê', comprised of the inseparable preposition le followed by mâlê', which literally means "to fill" or "to be full of." Strong's Hebrew and Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament also defines the word, when used in this context (i.e., as an infinitive verb form), as "accomplish," "satisfy," or "fulfill."
Interestingly, the NIV translates the identical word, lemâlê', as "to-fulfill" at the beginning of the very same verse where it later translates it as "to-complete." In comparison, most other Bibles translate both occurrences of lemâlê' in verse 21 as "to fulfill." Is it possible that the translators of the NIV chose the rendering "to-complete" to give the reader the impression that the seventy years were already in progress?
Possibly. But, the significant word here is not the verb "complete," but rather, the preposition "to," which, when modifying a verb, literally means "with the resultant condition of." Under no circumstance can it be translated "until," as done by the New International Version. The word-for-word interlinear translation reveals that the land laid desolate with the resultant condition of seventy years being fulfilled. However, if, as critics claim, the seventy years had already begun to be fulfilled several years prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, and if the desolation of the land was not in any way connected to the fulfillment of the seventy years, its mention would be completely meaningless. The desolation of the land could not add to the fulfillment of the prophecy if it was already being fulfilled (since this would require that all criteria for fulfillment had already been met). Thus, 2 Chronicles 36:21 can mean one thing only—that the seventy years of devastation began after Jerusalem's destruction.
A few other Bibles translate 2 Chronicles 36:21 in a manner similar to the NIV. Among these are the New American Standard Bible, the New English Bible, and The Bible in Basic English. Despite their chosen rendition, the translators of the New American Standard Bible evidently recognized the importance of preserving the true meaning of this verse, as shown by the included footnote:
While "to complete" is certainly a possible translation of lemâlê', most Bible translations have rendered it as "to fulfill" as shown below:
The following Bibles translate 2 Chronicles 36:21 more uniquely, but preserve the intended meaning:
The Awake! of August 8, 1980 (p. 19) correctly points out that "although the Bible does not depend on Josephus, or any secular historian, for verification of what it says, nevertheless an appreciation of how the Bible has proved true in the past might well encourage objective persons to consider closely what it says for our day."
Thus, we'll do well to consider two separate accounts by Jewish historian Josephus, which corroborate the Biblical account, showing that the seventy years commenced after the complete fall of Jerusalem:
Second-century (C.E.) historian, Theophilus of Antioch, also attests that the seventy years began following the destruction of the temple:
And, Hippolytus of Rome (170-236 C.E.) records:
Referring to the words at 2 Chronicles 36:21, a well-known critic of Jehovah's Witnesses has gone on the record admitting that, "these words can imply that the land was desolated for exactly seventy years." To the contrary, however, he reasons that they don't imply this (and then incorrectly applies Ezekiel 33:24 in support of his view).
The word-for-word interlinear translation of 2 Chronicles 36:21, as well as numerous supporting Bible translations and the above historical testimony, affirm that following the destruction of Jerusalem, the Jews spent a full seventy years in Babylonian captivity while the land comprising Judah laid completely desolate, "without an inhabitant."
Next article: Do the words at Zechariah 1:7, 12 indicate that by 519 B.C.E. the seventy years of desolation had not yet been fulfilled? If so, might this suggest that the seventy-year period began in or around 589 B.C.E.?
Last revised: September 28, 2006. Copyright © 1997 by Jehovah's Witnesses—Setting the Record Straight. All rights reserved. This web site is not affiliated with or sanctioned by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. However, every effort has been made to adhere to the current views published by the "faithful and discreet slave" (Matthew 24:45; Luke 12:42) through the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. The "Official Web Site of Jehovah's Witnesses" can be found at http://www.jw.org, and should be recognized as the authoritative source about the beliefs, teachings, and activities of Jehovah's Witnesses.