My question, more simply put, is: What is the WTS stated reasoning for 587 not being consistent with the bible? How is 587 actually consistent with what the Bible says?
The issue should really be whether Jerusalem was destroyed in 607, which it was not, and whether the Jews served Babylon for exactly 70 years, which they did not. Historical and archeological evidence, mountains of it, support Jerusalem's destruction in 587/586. The JWs' focus on proving or disproving 587 is a smoke screen distracting from their monumental weaknesses because if Jerusalem was not destroyed in 607 then their crucial 1914 date is another false prohecy and their entire theological foundation crumbles.
Here's an overview of the controversy
For those unfamiliar with the issues, a very brief historical overview is in order. We are basically dealing with events that span roughly 125 years, from 625 B.C.E. to 500 B.C.E. It includes the end, or fall, of the Assyrian Empire to Babylon in 609 B.C.E. followed by the rise and subsequent end, or fall, of the Neo-Babylonian Empire (Babylonian Empire) which lasted seventy years, followed by the rise and early years of the combined empires of the Persians and Medes which ended Babylon’s reign in October 539 B.C.E.
We are especially concerned with the Jews of Jerusalem and Judah during this time who were caught between these rising and falling empires, particularly the seventy-year period defined here as the Babylonian Empire. These Jews would come to serve Babylon in various capacities, as did all the surrounding nations that fell under the dominion of the Babylonians, or Chaldeans.
There were numerous Babylonian kings during this era, beginning with Nabopolassar who presided over the final demise of Assyria in 609 B.C.E., followed by his son Nebuchadnezzar (or Nebuchadrezzar), the great warrior king who consolidated the empire through numerous military campaigns. It was Nebuchadnezzar who enslaved the Jews, forced them to become vassals, dispersed them to other nations, exiled them to Babylon and annihilated or devastated Jerusalem and Judah. The end of the Babylon Empire was presided over by Nabonidus who was then king, though his son Belshazzer was co-ruler of Babylon when the Persians and Medes conquered them in October 539 B.C.E.
Our attention is basically focused on three Jewish kings:
a) Jehoiakim: He ruled eleven years, and had been in power when Nebuchadnezzar ruled in his first year as king of Babylon. Jehoiakim became a vassal to Babylon in his eighth year, rebelled against Babylon, and depending upon which Bible one reads, and other factors, was exiled to Babylon with other Jews (2 Kings 24:1-4).
b) Jehoiachin (also called Jeconiah): His reign replaced Jehoiakim's but lasted only three months at which time he, and 10,000 others - all of Jerusalem - were exiled to Babylon roughly 800 miles away (2 Kings 24:8 - 17).
c) Zedekiah: He replaced Jehoiachin, ruled eleven years, became a vassal to Babylon early on, and steadfastly rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar who then utterly destroyed Jerusalem and Judah in Zedekiah’s eleventh year; he either slaughtered, dispersed or exiled the remaining Jews to Babylon. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe this destruction of Jerusalem occurred in 607 B.C.E., while everyone else for the most part agrees it occurred in 587/6 B.C.E. See generally Jeremiah chapters 24 and 25.
After the Persians and Medes conquered Babylon in 539 B.C.E. the Jews were set free and roughly 50,000 of them returned home to Judah in the fall of 537 B.C.E.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses' task of proving that Jerusalem was destroyed in 607 B.C.E. and not 587/6 B.C.E. is no easy feat in light of strong archeological, historical and scriptural evidence to the contrary. Notwithstanding this uphill battle, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have gone to elaborate lengths to rationalize their position, regrettably causing a dizzying smoke-screen of complexity when the answers and issues, as will be detailed below, are relatively simple and straightforward as the Almighty intended them to be - in order to reach as many people as possible.
At the heart of the controversy is a seventy-year prophetic period of time. The Jehovah’s Witnesses simply count backward seventy years from the fall of 537 B.C.E., the year Jews returned to Judah after being exiled to Babylon, to arrive at 607 B.C.E. Therefore, they reason, Jerusalem must have been destroyed in 607 B.C.E.
The problem is that they have completely misinterpreted and misapplied the prophecy at Jeremiah 25:11 and accompanying verses because they desperately need 607 B.C.E. in order to arrive at 1914. An abbreviated form of this seventy-year prophecy, unfortunately taken out of context, and reproduced in the article Setting the Record Straight - a fierce and very comprehensive defense of the Jehovah’s Witnesses' pro-607 stance - provides:
The word that occurred to Jeremiah . . . concerning all the people of Judah and concerning all the inhabitants of Jerusalem . . . all this land must become a devastated place, an object of astonishment, and these nations will have to serve the king of Babylon seventy years. —Jeremiah 25:1a, 2, 11.
According to Setting the Record Straight this prophecy has two parts equal in length, both parts beginning and ending at exactly the same time:
A) The land of Judah, and Jerusalem, would be devastated and remain so without a single inhabitant exactly seventy years commencing with Jerusalem’s destruction and not before, and this period of devastation ended seventy years later only when the exiled Jews physically returned to their homeland Judah from Babylon in 537 B.C.E. The opposing view is that Jerusalem was destroyed in 587/6 B.C.E. and the period of complete devastation lasted only 48 - 50 years.
B) All exiled Jews that fell within the scope of the prophecy were removed at Jerusalem’s destruction, and not before, and remained as exiles serving Babylon a full seventy years until their actual return to Judah in 537 B.C.E. Again, the opposing view is that Jerusalem was destroyed in 587/6 B.C.E. and those exiles removed at that time to Babylon served only 48 - 50 years in captivity.
It should be pointed out that should either prong of this composite two-prong approach fail, the entire prophecy, or their version of it, fails.
As such, we are essentially dealing with two primary areas of interest related to a) when Judah’s devastation began and ended, and the extent of that devastation, and b) when servitude to the king of Babylon began and ended, what servitude meant, and to whom it applied. Saving the Record Straight frames the Jehovah’s Witnesses' position as follows:
While some critics argue that Jeremiah 25:11 only refers to seventy years of servitude, Daniel 9:2 confirms that the prophecy also entailed seventy years of devastation for the land of Judah. Second Chronicles 36:20, 21 further shows that it was the composite effect of exiling the remaining ones who “came to be servants to [Nebuchadnezzar]” and the resulting devastation and desolation of the land of Judah that began to fulfill the prophecy concerning the seventy years.
The Watchtower Society in its publication Let Your Kingdom Come and elsewhere confirms that the seventy-year period ended only upon the Jews’ return to Judah, and not before.
The 70 years expired when Cyrus the Great, in his first year, released the Jews and they returned to their homeland. (Chronicles 36:17 - 23)
The Bible prophecy does not allow for the application of the 70-year period to any time other than that between the desolation of Judah, accompanying Jerusalem's destruction, and the return of the Jewish exiles to their homeland as a result of Cyrus' decree," - Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 1, p. 463.
This paper begins with an analysis of the underlying issues presented by the phrase a) “and these nations will have to serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (servitude), followed by a discussion of issues pertaining to the phrase b) "all this land must become a devastated place, an object of astonishment” (devastation).