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2 Chronicles 36:2-23 – Exile and Restoration

Summary

The demise of Judah is rapidly related through reports of the continued apostasy of their last four kings culminating in the Babylonian invasion. Following the exile, Cyrus issues a proclamation encouraging the exiles to go home.

Analysis

The last four kings of Judah are bound together in the Chronicler's view. They ruled during the difficult geopolitical situation that accompanied the decline of Assyrian hegemony. Since Egypt and Babylon were both vying for power, the Egyptians had killed Josiah, deposed his son Jehoahaz, and installed Jehoiakim as a puppet king, hoping to bolster the crumbling Assyrians in the face of Babylonian aggression. This was in 609 B.C.E. Four years later, however, Nebuchadnezzar defeated Egypt at Carchemish and solidified Babylon's supremacy. When Jehoiakim died in 598 B.C.E., the Babylonians deposed his son Jehoiachin and placed Zedekiah on the throne.

In the Chronicler's account, the kings are virtually indistinguishable. The source material in 2 Kings 23:31-25:30 has been drastically reduced to a brief notice of accession for each king followed by a reference to their doing "evil in the sight of the LORD" (vv. 5, 9, 12); though this reference to "doing evil" is mysteriously missing in the account of Jehoahaz, despite its presence in 2 Kings 23:32. References to their deportation or exile to Babylon (vv. 4, 6, 10) and desecration of the temple (vv. 7, 10, 18-19) complete the account. Omission of royal death notices further binds these kings together, and the additional notices about the desecration of the temple indicate the Chronicler's intention to parallel the fate of the temple with the fate of the Davidic kings, consistent with his emphasis on king and cult.

The personal fate of each of these kings, seen in their deportation or exile, skillfully foreshadows the fate of the nation. Jerusalem is destroyed and the people go into exile because of the sin of Zedekiah (vv. 12-13) and the people (v. 14)--or, rather, because they failed to repent as the prophets had urged (vv. 15-16). This is at some odds with 2 Kings, which saw the worship of foreign gods by Israel's kings and Manasseh in particular as the cause of the exile (2 Kings 21:10-16; 22:16-17; 24:3-4, 20). The Chronicler thus ends his narrative as he had begun. Just as Saul was depicted as "unfaithful" and slain by God (1 Chronicles 10:13-14), just as the northern kingdom was "unfaithful" (1 Chronicles 5:25-26) and driven into exile, so now Judah's "unfaithfulness" results in exile (see 1 Chronicles 9:1).

But since the exile is depicted as just the last in a series of divine judgments, the Chronicler can hold out the hope that it, too, will be followed by the kind of restitution that followed all the previous judgments. The Deuteronomistic History was written to explain to a Judah in Babylon why they had been exiled; Chronicles was written to the returned community. In his depiction of the exile, the Chronicler explains Jeremiah's announcement that the exile would last seventy years (Jeremiah 25:10-12; 28:2-4; 29:10) due to their neglect of the sabbatical and jubilee years (Leviticus 25:1-13). Thus, the exile is seen as a mere interval in the history of the people and the land that allowed the land to enjoy its Sabbaths, not as an exile out of its land as in 2 Kings 25:21.

The conclusion found in verses 22-23 has probably been added from Ezra 1:1-3a in order to stitch the two originally separate works together. Other possibilities for their incorporation include, ironically, evidence that Chronicles and Ezra are in fact a unity, and the avoidance of ending on the pessimistic note of exile. The jussive form of the final verb, "[and l]et him go up," may indicate that the process of restoration is ongoing and available to the Chronicler's struggling postexilic community, as indeed, it is to us all.

2 Chronicles 36:2-23

2Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he began to reign; he reigned for three months in Jerusalem. 3Then the king of Egypt deposed him in Jerusalem and laid on the land a tribute of one hundred talents of silver and one talent of gold. 4The king of Egypt made his brother Eliakim king over Judah and Jerusalem, and changed his name to Jehoiakim; but Neco took his brother Jehoahaz and carried him to Egypt.

Reign and Captivity of Jehoiakim

5 Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he began to reign; he reigned for eleven years in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord his God. 6Against him King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came up, and bound him with fetters to take him to Babylon. 7Nebuchadnezzar also carried some of the vessels of the house of the Lord to Babylon and put them in his palace in Babylon. 8Now the rest of the acts of Jehoiakim, and the abominations that he did, and what was found against him, are written in the Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah; and his son Jehoiachin succeeded him.

Reign and Captivity of Jehoiachin

9 Jehoiachin was eight years old when he began to reign; he reigned for three months and ten days in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. 10In the spring of the year King Nebuchadnezzar sent and brought him to Babylon, along with the precious vessels of the house of the Lord, and made his brother Zedekiah king over Judah and Jerusalem.

Reign of Zedekiah

11 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he began to reign; he reigned for eleven years in Jerusalem. 12He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord his God. He did not humble himself before the prophet Jeremiah who spoke from the mouth of the Lord. 13He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God; he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord, the God of Israel. 14All the leading priests and the people also were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations; and they polluted the house of the Lord that he had consecrated in Jerusalem.

The Fall of Jerusalem

15 The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling-place; 16but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord against his people became so great that there was no remedy.

17 Therefore he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their youths with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or young woman, the aged or the feeble; he gave them all into his hand. 18All the vessels of the house of God, large and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his officials, all these he brought to Babylon. 19They burned the house of God, broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all its palaces with fire, and destroyed all its precious vessels. 20He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, 21to fulfil the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had made up for its sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfil seventy years.

Cyrus Proclaims Liberty for the Exiles

22 In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in fulfilment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom and also declared in a written edict: 23‘Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him! Let him go up.’

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10 February 2011

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