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