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2 Kings 23:31-25:30 – The Final Days of Judah

Summary

The chaos of Judah's final days is depicted in the hapless reigns of Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah, helpless before the might of Egypt and Babylon. Jerusalem falls to Nebuchadnezzar, who destroys the temple and deports the population to Babylon.

Analysis

What a tragic ending after the promise of Josiah and his reforms. With both Egypt and Babylon vying for dominance in the wake of Assyria's collapse, Judah's political days were numbered as Josiah's weak successors vacillated between the two powers. The curious symmetry of their reigns (3 months, followed by 11 years; 3 months, followed by 11 years) ironically stresses the political and theological chaos of Judah's last days:

•    Jehoahaz (609) reigned for three months. His account is similarly brief, consisting of a condemnation of his reign for unspecified "evil" (23:31-32) and a statement that he died as a political prisoner in Egypt (v. 34b). The "people of the land," probably the politically influential land owners, placed him on the throne instead of his older brother due to their differing policies regarding Egypt.
•    Jehoiakim (609-598), the elder brother of Jehoahaz, was placed on the throne by Pharaoh Neco to reestablish Egypt's power in Syria-Palestine (v. 34a). Eliakim's throne name, Jehoiakim ("Yah[weh] has established"; instead of Eliakim, "God has established"), blatantly indicates Egypt's political ruse of claiming the support of the Lord (Yahweh). Jehoiakim's eleven-year reign is similarly condemned (vv. 36-37). Jehoiakim began as a vassal of Egypt. Following Nebuchadnezzar's crushing defeat of Egypt at Carchemish in 605 B.C.E., however, Jehoiakim eventually became a Babylonian vassal. When Nebuchadnezzar was forced to return to Babylon in 601 after yet another battle with Egypt, Jehoiakim attempted to rebel (24:1). His defeat at the hands of the Chaldeans and others is interpreted by the narrator as coming from God, not Nebuchadnezzar, in fulfillment of the prophetic announcement of punishment for the sins of Manasseh (vv. 2-4).
•    Jehoiachin (597), Jehoiakim's son, was left to bear the brunt of Nebuchadnezzar's onslaught. He surrendered and went into exile as Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem on March 16, 597 B.C.E., according to Babylonian records (24:8-17), just as the Lord had said to Hezekiah through Isaiah (v. 13, compare 20:12-21).
•    Zedekiah (597-586), another of Josiah's sons, ruled for eleven years as a Babylonian vassal but eventually revolted, probably pressured by Egypt. After a siege lasting a year and a half, the city Jerusalem fell, the temple was destroyed, and the upper classes were deported to Babylon. Zedekiah died in captivity (24:18-25:21).
•    Gedaliah, appointed as governor by the Babylonians (see Jeremiah 40:7-41:18), attempted to keep peace for the sake of the remaining people of Judah. He was killed by several Judean military officers who had escaped the Babylonians. This resulted in yet a third deportation of Judeans to Babylon in 582 B.C.E. (2 Kings 25:22-26).

The book of Kings concludes with a mixed message: the ambiguous release of Jehoiachin from prison in 560 B.C.E. A Babylonian document even records his preferential treatment with a notation declaring that food was provided "for Ya'u kinu [Jehoiachin], king of the land of Yahudu [Judah]." Many see this release and provision as a sign of hope. Others note that Jehoiachin is still in exile, dependent upon the whims of a foreign despot. At least it would announce to the exiles in Babylon that life can go on, even in exile.

2 Kings 23:31-25:30

Reign and Captivity of Jehoahaz

31 Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he began to reign; he reigned for three months in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. 32He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, just as his ancestors had done. 33Pharaoh Neco confined him at Riblah in the land of Hamath, so that he might not reign in Jerusalem, and imposed tribute on the land of one hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold. 34Pharaoh Neco made Eliakim son of Josiah king in place of his father Josiah, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. But he took Jehoahaz away; he came to Egypt, and died there. 35Jehoiakim gave the silver and the gold to Pharaoh, but he taxed the land in order to meet Pharaoh’s demand for money. He exacted the silver and the gold from the people of the land, from all according to their assessment, to give it to Pharaoh Neco.

Jehoiakim Reigns over Judah

36 Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he began to reign; he reigned for eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zebidah daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah. 37He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, just as all his ancestors had done.

Judah Overrun by Enemies

24In his days King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came up; Jehoiakim became his servant for three years; then he turned and rebelled against him. 2The Lord sent against him bands of the Chaldeans, bands of the Arameans, bands of the Moabites, and bands of the Ammonites; he sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servants the prophets. 3Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the Lord, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, for all that he had committed, 4and also for the innocent blood that he had shed; for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord was not willing to pardon. 5Now the rest of the deeds of Jehoiakim, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah? 6So Jehoiakim slept with his ancestors; then his son Jehoiachin succeeded him. 7The king of Egypt did not come again out of his land, for the king of Babylon had taken over all that belonged to the king of Egypt from the Wadi of Egypt to the River Euphrates.

Reign and Captivity of Jehoiachin

8 Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign; he reigned for three months in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Nehushta daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem. 9He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, just as his father had done.

10 At that time the servants of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came up to Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. 11King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to the city, while his servants were besieging it; 12King Jehoiachin of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon, himself, his mother, his servants, his officers, and his palace officials. The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign.

Capture of Jerusalem

13 He carried off all the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king’s house; he cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the Lord, which King Solomon of Israel had made, all this as the Lord had foretold. 14He carried away all Jerusalem, all the officials, all the warriors, ten thousand captives, all the artisans and the smiths; no one remained, except the poorest people of the land. 15He carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon; the king’s mother, the king’s wives, his officials, and the elite of the land, he took into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. 16The king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon all the men of valour, seven thousand, the artisans and the smiths, one thousand, all of them strong and fit for war. 17The king of Babylon made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in his place, and changed his name to Zedekiah.

Zedekiah Reigns over Judah

18 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he began to reign; he reigned for eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. 19He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, just as Jehoiakim had done. 20Indeed, Jerusalem and Judah so angered the Lord that he expelled them from his presence.

The Fall and Captivity of Judah

Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon. 251And in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came with all his army against Jerusalem, and laid siege to it; they built siege-works against it all round. 2So the city was besieged until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. 3On the ninth day of the fourth month the famine became so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land. 4Then a breach was made in the city wall;* the king with all the soldiers fled* by night by the way of the gate between the two walls, by the king’s garden, though the Chaldeans were all round the city. They went in the direction of the Arabah. 5But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king, and overtook him in the plains of Jericho; all his army was scattered, deserting him. 6Then they captured the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah, who passed sentence on him. 7They slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, then put out the eyes of Zedekiah; they bound him in fetters and took him to Babylon.

8 In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. 9He burned the house of the Lord, the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. 10All the army of the Chaldeans who were with the captain of the guard broke down the walls around Jerusalem. 11Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had defected to the king of Babylon—all the rest of the population. 12But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest people of the land to be vine-dressers and tillers of the soil.

13 The bronze pillars that were in the house of the Lord, as well as the stands and the bronze sea that were in the house of the Lord, the Chaldeans broke in pieces, and carried the bronze to Babylon. 14They took away the pots, the shovels, the snuffers, the dishes for incense, and all the bronze vessels used in the temple service, 15as well as the firepans and the basins. What was made of gold the captain of the guard took away for the gold, and what was made of silver, for the silver. 16As for the two pillars, the one sea, and the stands, which Solomon had made for the house of the Lord, the bronze of all these vessels was beyond weighing. 17The height of one pillar was eighteen cubits, and on it was a bronze capital; the height of the capital was three cubits; lattice-work and pomegranates, all of bronze, were on the capital all round. The second pillar had the same, with the lattice-work.

18 The captain of the guard took the chief priest Seraiah, the second priest Zephaniah, and the three guardians of the threshold; 19from the city he took an officer who had been in command of the soldiers, and five men of the king’s council who were found in the city; the secretary who was the commander of the army who mustered the people of the land; and sixty men of the people of the land who were found in the city. 20Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took them, and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. 21The king of Babylon struck them down and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath. So Judah went into exile out of its land.

Gedaliah Made Governor of Judah

22 He appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam son of Shaphan as governor over the people who remained in the land of Judah, whom King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had left. 23Now when all the captains of the forces and their men heard that the king of Babylon had appointed Gedaliah as governor, they came with their men to Gedaliah at Mizpah, namely, Ishmael son of Nethaniah, Johanan son of Kareah, Seraiah son of Tanhumeth the Netophathite, and Jaazaniah son of the Maacathite. 24Gedaliah swore to them and their men, saying, ‘Do not be afraid because of the Chaldean officials; live in the land, serve the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you.’ 25But in the seventh month, Ishmael son of Nethaniah son of Elishama, of the royal family, came with ten men; they struck down Gedaliah so that he died, along with the Judeans and Chaldeans who were with him at Mizpah. 26Then all the people, high and low,* and the captains of the forces, set out and went to Egypt; for they were afraid of the Chaldeans.

Jehoiachin Released from Prison

27 In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of King Jehoiachin of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, King Evil-merodach of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, released King Jehoiachin of Judah from prison; 28he spoke kindly to him, and gave him a seat above the other seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. 29So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes. Every day of his life he dined regularly in the king’s presence. 30For his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, a portion every day, as long as he lived.

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10 February 2011

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