2 Chronicles 36:2-23 – Exile and Restoration
SummaryThe 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.
AnalysisThe 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.