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JUDAH'S LAST KING AND THE END OF THE JEWISH KINGDOM
This chapter records the tragic eleven-year reign of Zedekiah, his rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and another deportation of the people. There are also a couple of paragraphs dealing with the governorship of Gedaliah and amazing favors conferred upon Jeconiah by the king of Babylon.
ZEDEKIAH'S FOOLISH REBELLION AND THE SIEGE OF JERUSALEM
"And Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon. And it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he and all his army, against Jerusalem, and encamped against it; and they built forts against it round about. So the city was besieged unto the eleventh year of king Zedekiah. On the ninth day of the fourth month the famine was sore in the city, so that there was no bread for the people of the land."
"Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon" (2 Kings 25:1). This rebellion was against the prophecies and warnings of God's great prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah, who had specifically warned Zedekiah that God had delivered apostate Israel into the hands of Babylon and that the people would serve the king of Babylon for seventy years (Jeremiah 25:11-12). Furthermore, Zedekiah had sworn with a solemn oath invoking the name of Jehovah that he would be faithful to his overlord the king of Babylon.
Why then, did he rebel? (1) He did NOT believe what the prophets of God had prophesied. (2) He was influenced by a conceited group of personal advisers who followed the false prophet Hananiah who prophesied that, "Within two years God would break the yoke of the king of Babylon, that Jeconiah would be restored to the throne of David, and that all the stolen vessels of the temple would be returned, signifying the complete independence of Judah from Babylon" (Jeremiah 28:1-4). "We can only imagine the wild enthusiasm with which the foolish people greeted such bold predictions."
(3) Zedekiah was also, in all probability, seduced by the rampant paganism supported and advocated by the priesthood itself, a paganism which had thoroughly replaced the worship of Jehovah in the Temple of Solomon. Farrar, commenting on Ezekiel 8 and its description of all those abominations, pointed out that the priesthood themselves: (1) were burning incense to beasts; (2) worshipping the sun with their backs turned to the altar of Jehovah; and (3) offering incense and sacrifices to the pagan gods of Assyria, Egypt, Syria and Babylon; and also that the daughters of Zion were weeping for Tammuz or Adonis as devotees of Ishtar the evil goddess of Assyria, and that all of this was going on in Solomon's temple itself. "The king and the priests alike permitted, ignored and even connived at all this, participating in it themselves."
Most of the commentaries we have consulted have ameliorated to some extent the guilt of Zedekiah, but we do not agree with this. They speak of his weakness and the power of the Egyptian party who seduced him, and describe him as timid, undecided and confused. Very well, but he was also an unbeliever, wicked, untruthful, a false swearer and a thankless rebel against the ruler who had made him a king. It was the will of God that Jerusalem and Judah should have been destroyed, a fact well known to Zedekiah, but his ambition led him to thoughts of independence and rebellion. However, at that point in the apostasy of Israel, "It was no longer a question of their independence, but only of the choice of servitudes. Judah was like a silly and trembling sheep between two huge beasts of prey."
It seems to this writer that Josephus properly understood the evil nature of Zedekiah. He wrote that, "His friends perverted him," not that they deceived him.
Perhaps the crucial mistake of Zedekiah was his foolish conclusion that God's two great prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah had contradicted each other. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 34:8) declared that Zedekiah would see the king of Babylon and be carried there as a captive, but Ezekiel prophesied in God's name saying that, "God would take Zedekiah to Babylon in the land of the Chaldeans, but that he should never see the place, even though he would die there" (Ezekiel 12:13). Despite the unbelief of Zedekiah, "These predictions were exactly fulfilled. Zedekiah saw the king of Babylon, not in Babylon, but at Riblah. There, at the king's command, his sons were slain before his eyes. Then Zedekiah was blinded, bound in fetters and carried to Babylon where he died."
The nearly incredible factor in this disaster was the trust that Zedekiah and his court were willing to place in Egypt! "It seems that Isaiah's doom of blindness upon Israel (Isaiah 6:9-10) had a political as well as a religious fulfillment."
"In the ninth year ... tenth month ... tenth day" (2 Kings 25:1). "This was the Jewish month Tebet (December/January) of 588 B.C." "The exact day was January 15th."
The siege described here brought unspeakable sorrow and sufferings to God's people. "These are best understood from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, written probably immediately after the capture and looting of the city." Unger spoke of the "pitiless rage" of the Babylonian army and of the pestilence, famine, and even cannibalism that followed."
"The ninth day ... the fourth month" (2 Kings 25:3). "This was the Jewish month of June/July (Tammuz)." "This was July 19,586 B.C." This first breach of the city walls led to the flight of Zedekiah and his army, but the Chaldeans overtook them and captured them on the plains of Jericho.
THE SIEGE ENDED; AND ZEDEKIAH WAS CAPTURED AND TAKEN TO RIBLAH
"Then a breach was made in the city, and all the men of war fled by night by the way of the gate between the two walls, which was by the king's garden (now the Chaldeans were against the city round about); and the king went by the way of the Arabah. But the army of the Chaldeans pursued after the king, and overtook him in the plains of Jericho; and all his army was scattered from him. Then they took the king, and carried him up unto the king of Babylon to Riblah; and they gave judgment upon him. And they slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon."
THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM AND THE TEMPLE
"Now in the fifth month on the seventh day of the month, which was the 19th year of king Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, came Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Babylon, unto Jerusalem. And he burnt the house of Jehovah, and the king's house; and all the houses of Jerusalem, even every great house, burnt he with fire. And all the army of the Chaldeans, that were with the captain of the guard, brake down the walls of Jerusalem round about. And the residue of the people that were left in the city, and those that fell away, that fell to the king of Babylon, and the residue of the multitude, did Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carry away captive. But the captain of the guard left of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and husbandmen."
"The fifth month ... the seventh day of the month" (2 Kings 25:8). "This was the Jewish month of Abh (July/August) 586 B.C., corresponding to our August 15th. A month had elapsed after the flight of Zedekiah from the city; and, "During this time the princes of the Chaldeans had probably gone to Riblah to consult with Nebuchadnezzar (at his military headquarters there) regarding the fate of Jerusalem; they returned with orders to burn it and utterly destroy it, to destroy all of its important buildings and to loot everything of value."; Lamentations 5:11-12 gives a summary of what happened.
"Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard" (2 Kings 25:11). "Archeological discoveries reveal that this character was the Babylonian Nabuzeridinna, `the chief baker,' a title that had come to have no functional significance whatever." He was one of the great generals in command of the armies of Babylon.
THE LOOTING AND DESTRUCTION OF SOLOMON'S TEMPLE
"And the pillars of brass that were in the house of Jehovah, and the bases of the brazen sea that were in the house of Jehovah, did the Chaldeans break in pieces, and carried the brass of them to Babylon. And the pots, and the shovels, and the snuffers, and the spoons, and all the vessels of brass wherewith they ministered, took they away. And the fire-pans, and the basins, that which was of gold, in gold, and that which was of silver, in silver, the captain of the guard took away. The two pillars, the one sea, and the bases, which Solomon had made for the house of Jehovah, the brass of all these vessels was without weight. The height of the one pillar was eighteen cubits, and a capital of brass was upon it; and the height of the capital was three cubits, with network and pomegranates upon the capital round about, all of brass: and like unto these had the second pillar with network."
The pillars mentioned here were the Jachin and Boaz which adorned the entrance to the Temple of Solomon. They were of immense weight, being composed of brass elaborately forged and cast by Solomon's friend Hiram of Tyre. In a word, what is described here is the wiping off the face of the earth of the very last vestiges of the glory of Solomon. His reign was throughout an inglorious disaster; but the Jews had fallen in love with it. In the actions recorded here God destroyed their idol.
The totality of the destruction wrought upon Jerusalem was phenomenal. Unger has this: "Excavations at Jerusalem and Palestine show how thorough was the destruction wrought by the Chaldean invasion. Not a trace of Solomon's temple, nor of the houses of the Davidic kings has remained. Diggings at Azeka, Beth-Shemesh and Lachish furnish mute evidence of the terrific destruction."
Also the extent of the depopulation of Judah was probably much more extensive that some believe. The Lord had promised to make Jerusalem "a desolation," and that is certainly what it became.
"That which was of gold, in gold, that which was of silver, in silver" (2 Kings 25:15). This means that the vessels made of precious metals were melted down and converted to metal bars.
JUDGMENT OF ZEDEKIAH'S COURT AT RIBLAH
"And the captain of the guard took Serajah the chief priest, and Zephaniah the second priest, and the three keepers of the threshold: and out of the city he took an officer that was set over the men of war; and five men of them that saw the king's face, who were found in the city; and the scribe, the captain of the host, who mustered the people of the land; and threescore men of the people of the land, that were found in the city. And Nebuzaradan took them, and brought them to the king of Babylon to Riblah. And the king of Babylon smote them, and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath. So Judah was carried away captive out of his land."
According to the standards of justice in those days, the officials mentioned here, who included the friends and advisers who had persuaded Zedekiah to rebel against Babylon, certainly deserved the punishment they received.
"These officials were men of authority, the High Priest and his deputy, the equivalent of Secretary of Defense, the commandant of the city and five members of the King's Privy Council, and sixty other prominent and powerful men in the city."
"Compared with the many occasions in which Persian or Assyrian conquerors put to death hundreds, or even thousands of a revolted town, the executions recorded here must be regarded as moderate, or even merciful in their vengeance." It was perhaps due to the great influence of Daniel that the Hebrew captives received much favorable treatment. Also, it could have been that same influence that led Nebuchadnezzar to take a full twenty years actually to liquidate and destroy Jerusalem and Judea. In fact, it appears that Nebuchadnezzar would never really have made the city a desolation except for the repeated rebellions of the Jews.
"Nebuchadnezzar took twenty years to destroy Jerusalem, but he could have done it at first if he had wanted to. Perhaps Daniel may have had a restraining influence upon him."
Among the captives carried away was the prophet Jeremiah, but Nebuchadnezzar ordered that he should be privileged and not restrained in any manner (Jeremiah 39:10-12).
"Nebuzaradan took them to the king of Babylon to Riblah" (2 Kings 25:20). "Riblah was located on the Orontes river, where for several years Nebuchadnezzar had his headquarters."
"So Judah was carried away out of his land" (2 Kings 25:21). "Zedekiah was the last king who occupied the throne of the House of David. He called himself The Righteousness of God, but all that he did gave the lie to a name like that, and he vacated the throne until He should come who was truly The Righteousness of God, even the Lord Jesus Christ."
In Jeremiah 41, we learn that a number of Jews, after the murder of Gedaliah, went to Egypt, but many of the captives were taken to Babylon in Mesopotamia. "How strange it was that some fifteen hundred years after Abraham had left Ur of the Chaldees to go to Palestine, some of his descendants were at this time returning to that land, not as free men, but as captives."
Montgomery appeared to believe that "the number of captives carried away might not have been very large, based upon figures given in Jeremiah. However, Jeremiah apparently gave only the number of the men, after the Jewish custom, and the actual number would have been much higher including women and children. Besides that, LaSor, quoting Albright, observed that, "The virtual depopulation of Judaea has been confirmed by archeological research."
GEDALIAH WAS MADE GOVERNOR OF JUDEA
"And as for the people that were left in the land of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had left, even over them he made Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, governor. Now when all the captains of the forces, they and their men, heard that the king of Babylon had made Gedaliah governor, they came to Gedaliah to Mizpah, even Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and Serajah the son of Tanhumeth the Netophathite, and Jaazaniah the son of Maaeathite, they and their men. And Gedaliah sware to them and their men, and said unto them, Fear not because of the servants of the Chaldeans: dwell in the land, and serve the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you. But it came to pass in the seventh month, that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, the son of Elishama of the seed royal, came, and ten men with him, and smote Gedaliah so that he died, and the Jews and the Chaldeans that were with him at Mizpah. And all the people, both small and great, and the captains of the forces, arose, and came to Egypt; for they were afraid of the Chaldeans."
"Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan" (2 Kings 25:22). "Gedaliah means `Yahweh is great'; he was a grandson of Shaphan, head of a prominent family in Judah. They had supported the reforms of Josiah and were friendly and helpful to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26:24)." We might even suppose that Jeremiah could have mentioned Gedaliah favorably to Nebuchadnezzar which would help explain Nebuchadnezzar's appointment of him.
The full story of the shameful treachery of Ishmael and his murder of Gedaliah is found in Jeremiah 40-44, and reference is made to our extensive comments in those chapters.
"The captains of the forces, they and their men" (2 Kings 25:23). These were components of Zedekiah's army which had deserted him on the plains of Jericho and left him to the tender mercies of Nebuchadnezzar!
Gedaliah was a man of honor and good sense, and Ishmael's treacherous murder of this good man was probably due to two things: (1) his jealousy that Gedaliah had been appointed governor instead of himself, a member of the seed royal, and (2) the ambition of the king of the Ammonites who, for his own selfish reasons, wished to destroy Gedaliah. Gedaliah had been warned of Ishmael's enmity but unwisely refused to believe the warning.
"Gedaliah died ... and the Jews and the Chaldeans that were with him at Mizpah" (2 Kings 25:25). The use of the word "Jews" in this verse prompted the following from Honeycutt: "Technically, one should limit the word `Hebrew' to the pre-conquest period, `Israel' to the period of the conquest and the monarchy, and the word `Jew' to the post-exilic period."
THE PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT OF JEHOIACHIN BY EVIL-MERODACH
"And it came to pass in the seven and thirtieth year of the captivity of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the seven and twentieth day of the month, that Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, did lift up the head of Jehoiachin king of Judah out of prison; and he spake kindly to him, and set his throne above the thrones of the kings that were with him in Babylon, and changed his prison garments. And Jehoiachin did eat bread before him continually all the days of his life: and for his allowance, there was a continual allowance given him of the king, every day a portion, all the days of his life."
There is surely a mystery in this. Why should Evil-merodach have done such a thing? What a change for a man who had spent the previous 37 years in prison! One explanation is that the new king of Babylon, Evil-merodach, desired to make an ostentatious display of his power, and at meal-times he had before him the numerous kings who had been defeated by Babylon seated on `thrones' (substantially below that of Evil-merodach, of course), but this does not explain why Jehoiachin's throne should have enjoyed some preeminence above that of the other captive kings.
Certainly the sacred writer considered the episode as important, hence, its inclusion here.
Keil has this comment: "This event was intended as a comforting sign to the whole of the captive people, that the Lord would one day put an end to their banishment, if they would acknowledge that their captivity was a well-deserved punishment for their sins, that because of those sins they had been driven away from the face of the Lord, and that God would again bless them if they would turn again to Him with all their heart."
It is of interest that Dentan spoke of Jehoiachin and commented that, "According to Matthew 1:12, Jesus Christ was descended from this very Jehoiachin." This writer can sympathize with a mistake like that, because he himself made the same mistake in his commentary on Matthew, where he made mention that Bathsheba also was among the ancestors of Jesus. Not so! The genealogy of Christ in Matthew is actually that of his foster father Joseph, given for the purpose of revealing Christ as the heir to the throne of David. Christ's title to the throne indeed came through Bathsheba, Jeconiah and Joseph, but he was the descendant of David, NOT through Solomon, but through Nathan, according to the genealogy in Luke 3:23ff.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Kings 25". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent