The Destruction of the Temple and King Zedekiah

The following monitorial instructions on the Super Excellent Master degree appear on pp. 84-89 of “Cryptic Masonry: A Manual of the Council” by Albert G. Mackey.

The destruction of the temple which had been built by King Solomon is the important event that is recorded in the legend of this degree. This was not the result of a single hostile act, but was brought about after a series of wars and sieges, which, with brief intervals of peace and prosperity, lasted for one hundred and fifty years, and finally culminated not only in the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, its holy temple, and all its magnificent palaces and dwellings, but also in the total annihilation of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. About the year 741 B.C., which was two hundred and sixty-three years after the building of the temple, and in the reign of Ahaz, king of Judah, an invasion of Palestine was made by Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, who carried off the pastoral population that lived beyond the river Jordan, together with the tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali. His successor, Shalmanezer, continued these predatory incursions, and after having made Hoshea, the king of Israel, tributary to Assyria, when the tribute was withheld he attacked and reduced Samaria, in the year 721 B.C., and carried the remnant of the ten tribes, which constituted the Israelitish monarchy, into Assyria and Media, whence they never returned. This was the end of the kingdom of Israel.

But the kingdom of Judah still remained, consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, the capital of which was the city of Jerusalem.

Less than a century after the extinction of the kingdom of Israel, Nebuchadnezzar, the Chaldean monarch, commenced those hostile aggressions upon the kingdom of Judah which only terminated in its meeting with a similar fate.

In the reign of Jehoiakim, in the year 599 B.C., Jerusalem was besieged and taken by Nebuchadcezzar, who carried away many of the people as captives to Babylon, and despoiled the temple of a large proportion of its treasures and sacred vessels.

In the reign of Jehoiachin, who succeeded his father Jehoiakim on the throne of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar again laid siege to Jerusalem. On its surrender, for it made but little resistance, Jehoiachin was carried to Babylon, where he remained a prisoner until his death. Nebuchadnezzar, on this invasion, took away ten thousand Jewish captives, consisting of all the remaining artificers and effective Inhabitants, leaving behind only the poorer people and the unskilled laborers. He also placed Zedekiah, the uncle of Jehoiachin, upon the throne, having first exacted from him an oath of fidelity and allegiance.

The third and last invasion of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar was in the reign of this king, who proved treacherous to his Babylonian master. Nebuchadnezzar accordingly marched upon Jerusalem with a mighty army, and, having taken up his own residence in Riblah, a town of Syria, he dispatched Nebuzaradan, his general, or, as he is called in Scripture, “captain of the guard,” to the city, which he took by storm after a twelve months’ siege.

On this occasion, the King of Chaldea was resolved to inflict signal vengeance on his unfaithful tributaries, and to leave no means for a renewed revolt. He accordingly directed Nebuzaradan, after having taken possession of all the vessels and treasures of the temple which had escaped the former pillage, and all the riches that he could find in the king’s house and the houses of the other inhabitants, to set fire to the temple and the city, and completely to consume them; to overthrow the walls, the towers, and the fortresses, and in short to make a thorough desolation of the place, in which condition it remained for fifty two years, until the restoration of the captives by Cyrus.

This is the calamitous event which is briefly referred to in a portion of the ceremonies of the Royal Arch, and which it is the sole object of the Super–Excellent Master’s degree to commemorate.


Zedekiah was the twentieth and last king of Judah. When Nebuchadnezzar had in his second siege of Jerusalem deposed Jehoiachin, whom he carried as a captive to Babylon, he placed Zedekiah on the throne in his stead. By this act Zedekiah became tributary to the King of the Chaldees, who exacted from him a solemn oath of fidelity and obedience. This oath he observed no longer than till an opportunity occurred of violating it. In the language of the author of the Books of Chronicles, “he rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God.”

This course soon brought down upon him the vengeance of the offended monarch, who invaded the land of Judah with an immense army. Remaining himself at Riblah, a town on the northern border of Palestine, he sent the army under his general, Nebuzaradan, to Jerusalem, which was invested by the Babylonian forces. After a siege of about one year, during which the inhabitants endured many hardships, the city was taken by an assault the Chaldeans entering it through breaches in the northern wall.

It is very natural to suppose, that when the enemy were most pressing in their attack upon the devoted city, when the breach which was to give them entrance had been effected, and when perhaps the streets most distant from the temple were already filled with Chaldean soldiery, a council of his princes and nobles should have been held by Zedekiah in the temple, to which they had fled for refuge, and that he should ask their advice as to the most feasible method of escape from the impending dangers. History, it is true, gives no account of any such assembly, but the written record of these important events which is now extant is very brief, and as there is every reason to admit the probability of the occurrence, the original compiler of the degree was authorized to make the meeting of such a council a part of its legendary ceremony. By the advice of this council, Zedekiah attempted to make his escape across the Jordan. The result is so succinctly told in the simple language of the prophet Jeremiah, who was present during the siege and at the capture, that no other words could give as good a description.

“And it came to pass that when Zedekiah the King of Judah saw them [the princes of Babylon] and all the men of war, then they fled, and went forth out of the city by night, by the way of the king’s garden, by the gate betwixt the two walls: and he went out the way of the plain. But the Chaldeans’ army pursued after them, and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho: and when they had taken him, they brought him up to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to Riblah, in the land of Hamath, where he gave judgment upon him.

“Then the King of Babylon slew the sons of Zedekiah in Riblah before his eyes: also the King of Babylon slew all the nobles of Judah. Moreover, he put out Zedekiah’s eyes, and bound him with chains, to carry him to Babylon. And the Chaldeans burned the king’s house and the houses of the people with fire, and brake down the walls of Jerusalem.

“Then Nebuzaradan, the Captain of the Guard, carried away captive into Babylon the remnant of the people that remained in the city, and those that fell away, that fell to him, with the rest of the people that remained. But Nebuzaradan, the Captain of the Guard, left of the poor of the people, which had nothing, in the land of Judah, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time.” — Jeremiah 39:4-10.

The full text of Mackey’s monitorial instructions on the Super Excellent Master degree may be found at:

Super Excellent Master from Mackey’s “Cryptic Masonry: A Manual of the Council”