Nephi begins his prophecies against Judah with an eternal principle, the Lord always warns a people by the prophets before they are destroyed. Nephi, in abridging his father’s record, stated:
4 For it came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, (my father, Lehi, having dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days); and in that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed. [1 Nephi 1:4]
The biblical record confirms Nephi’s statement.
14 Moreover all the chief of the priests, and the people, transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen; and polluted the house of the LORD which he had hallowed in Jerusalem.
15 And the LORD God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place:
16 But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people, till there was no remedy. [2 Chronicles 36:14–16]
Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Lehi were some of the prophets who warned Judah before they were destroyed. There were others, but we do not have their records (see 1 Nephi 19:10).
Nephi left Jerusalem with his father Lehi about 600 B.C. The Babylonians came in 607 B.C. (traditional dating) and took many of the Jewish people into captivity. In 588–586 B.C. the Babylonians came into the land of Judah and destroyed them as a nation. Many who were not destroyed then went into Egypt (see Jeremiah 43). Jeremiah prophesied the length of time they would remain in Babylon:
11 And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. [Jeremiah 25:11]
After seventy years (538 B.C.), as Jeremiah had prophesied, Cyrus, king of Persia, issued a decree that the Jews could return to their promised land (v. 11).
1 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,
2 Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.
3 Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.
4 And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem. [Ezra 1:1–4]