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the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Kings 23". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ 2-kings-23.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Kings 23". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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2 Kings 23:1-37
JOSIAH'S RENEWAL OF THE COVENANT. HIS REFORMS AND DEATH. REIGN OF JEHOAHAZ. ACCESSION OF JEHOIAKIM.
2 Kings 23:1-3
Josiah's renewal of the covenant. The first care of Josiah, on receiving Huldah's message, which stamped the book found as the true "book of the covenant," was to call together a great assembly of the nation, which should be sufficiently representative of it, and renew the covenant between God and his people made originally at Horeb (Exodus 19:5-8; Exodus 24:3-8), which it was apparent, by the words of the book, that he and his people had broken. His proceedings may be fitly compared with those of Jehoiada, the high priest after the reign of the idolatrous Athaliah, recorded in 2 Kings 11:17; but they were still more formal and solemn, inasmuch as the recent alienation of the people from Jehovah had been so much more prolonged, and so much more complete, than the alienation under Athaliah.
2 Kings 23:1
And the king sent, and they gathered unto him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem; i.e. all the elders of Jerusalem and of the rest of Judah. (On the important position held by "the elders" in the undivided kingdom, see 1 Kings 8:1, and the comment ad loc.; and on their position in the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, see 1 Kings 20:7, 1Ki 20:8; 1 Kings 21:8, 1 Kings 21:11; 2 Kings 10:1, etc.)
2 Kings 23:2
And the king went up into the house of the Lord. No place could be so suitable for the renewal of the covenant between God and his people as the house of God, where God was in a peculiar way present, and the ground was, like the ground at Horeb, holy. Josiah "went up" to the temple from the royal palace, which was on a lower level. And all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him. Not only the "elders," who had been summoned, but of the people, as many as chose to attend, besides. The gathering was no doubt great; but the expressions used are (as with the Orientals generally) hyperbolical. And the priests, and the prophets. The representation would have been incomplete without these two classes—the priests, the ordinary and regular readers (Deuteronomy 31:11) and teachers (Deuteronomy 33:10) of the Law; and the prophets, the extraordinary and occasional teachers, inspired from time to time, and commissioned to enforce the Law, and futile to declare God's will to the people. And all the people, both small and great; i.e. without distinction of classes—all ranks of the people, high and low, rich and poor, noble and base-born. All were concerned, nay, concerned equally, in a matter which touched the national life and the prospects of each individual. And he read in their ears. There is no reason for translating, with Keil, "he caused to be read in their ears," as though either the Jewish kings could not read, or would be usurping the functions of the priests in publicly reading the Law to the people. If a king might, like Solomon (1 Kings 8:22-61), lead the prayers of the congregation of Israel in the temple, much more might he read the Law to them. The readers in the Jewish synagogues are ordinarily lay people. All the words of the book of the covenant. Perhaps there is here some exaggeration, as in the phrases, "all the men of Judah," and "all the inhabitants of Jerusalem." The entire Pentateuch could scarcely be read through in less than ten hours. Possibly, the Book of Deuteronomy was alone read. Which was found in the house of the Lord (see above, 2 Kings 22:8).
2 Kings 23:3
And the king stood by a pillar—עַל צָעַמּוֹד is not "by the pillar," but (as in 2 Kings 11:14) "on the platform" (see the comment on that place)—and made a covenant before the Lord; literally, made the covenant (as in 2 Kings 11:17); i.e. made, or renewed, the old covenant with God (Exodus 24:5-8), which had been broken by the complete neglect of the Law, and the manifold idolatries of Manasseh and Amon. He renewed this covenant "before the Lord," i.e. from his platform in the court, directly opposite the entrance to the temple, through which he could, perhaps, see the veil hanging in front of the holy of holies-at any rate being, and feeling himself to be, in the immediate presence of God. To walk after the Lord—i.e. to be his true follower and servant—and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes. (On the multiplication of such terms, see the comment upon 1 Kings 2:3.) They are intended to express "the totality of the Law," all its requirements without exception. With all their heart and all their soul—obedience was worthless, unless paid from the heart and soul (see Deuteronomy 4:29; Deuteronomy 30:2; Joel 2:12, Joel 2:13)—to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people stood to the covenant. The representatives of the people, one and all, were parties to the premise made on their behalf by the king, and signified their consent, probably as they had done in Horeb, when "Moses took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people; and they said, All that the Lord has said will we do, and be obedient" (see Deuteronomy 24:7).
2 Kings 23:4-27
Josiah's reformation of religion. The reformation of religion by Josiah next engages the writer's attention, and is treated, not chronologically, but rather gee-graphically, under the three heads of
(1) reforms in Jerusalem;
(2) reforms outside Jerusalem, but in the kingdom of Judah; and
(3) reforms in the territory which had belonged to the kingdom of Samaria (2 Kings 23:4-20).
The celebration of the Passover is then briefly noticed (2 Kings 23:21-25); and the section concludes with a eulogy of Josiah (2 Kings 23:24, 2 Kings 23:25), who, however, it is noticed could not, with all his piety, obtain a revocation of the sentence passed on Judah in consequence of the sins of Manasseh. The fate of Judah was fixed (verses 26, 27).
2 Kings 23:4
And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, and the priests of the second order. Not the "deputy-high priests," of whom there seems to have been only one at this period of the history (2 Kings 25:18); nor the "heads of the courses," who were not recognized as a distinct class of priests till much later; but merely the common priests, as distinguished from the high priest. (So Keil, Bahr, and others.) And the keepers of the door; literally, the keepers of the threshold; i.e. the Levites, whose duty it was to keep watch and ward at the outer temple gates (see 1 Chronicles 26:13-18). Their importance at this time appears again in 2 Kings 25:18. To bring forth out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels that were made for Baal. The reformation naturally began with the purging of the temple. So the reformation under Jehoiada (2 Kings 11:18) and that of Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:15). Under "the vessels" (הַכֵּלִים) would be included the entire paraphernalia of worship, even the two altars which had been set up in honor of Baal in the outer and the inner courts. And for the grove (see 2 Kings 21:3), and for all the host of heaven. The three worships are here united, because there was a close connection between them. Baal was, in one of his aspects, the sun; and Astarte, the goddess of the "grove" wet-ship, was, in one of her aspects, the moon. The cult of "the host of heaven," though, perhaps, derived from a different source, naturally became associated with the cults of the sun and moon. And he burned them without Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron. The Law required that idols should be burnt with fire (Deuteronomy 7:25), and likewise "groves" (Deuteronomy 12:3). It was enough to "overthrow" altars (Deuteronomy 12:3) and to "break" pillars. But Josiah seems to have thought it best to destroy by fire, i.e. in the completest possible way, all the objects, of whatever kind, which had been connected with the idol-worship (see verses 6, 12, 15, 16). The burning took place in "the fields of Kidron," i.e. in the upper part of the Kidron valley, to the northeast of Jerusalem, in order that not even the smoke should pollute the town. And carried the ashes of them unto Bethel. This was a very unusual precaution, and shows Josiah's extreme scrupulousness. He would not have even the ashes of the wooden objects, or the calcined powder of the metal ones, remain even in the vicinity of the holy city, but transported them to a distance. In selecting Bethel as the place to convey them to, he was no doubt actuated by the circumstance that that village was in some sense the fount and origin of all the religious impurities which had overflowed the land. That which had proceeded from Bethel might well be taken back thither.
2 Kings 23:5
And he put down the idolatrous priests; literally, the chemarim. The same word is used of idolatrous priests in Hosea 10:5 and Zephaniah 1:4. It is best connected with the Arabic root chamar, colere deum, and with the Syriac cumro, "priest" or "sacrificer." The Syrian priests were probably so called at the time, and the Hebrews took the word, and applied it to all false priests or idolatrous priests, reserving their own cohanim (כֹּהֲנִים) for true Jehovistic priests only. Whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem. This practice had not been mentioned previously, and can scarcely have belonged to the earlier kingdom of Judah, when "the people" (as we are told so often) "worshipped and burnt incense in the high places." But it is quite in harmony with the other doings of Manasseh and Amen, that, when they re-established the high places (2 Kings 21:3, 2 Kings 21:21), they should have followed the custom of the Israelite monarchs at Dan and Bethel (1 Kings 12:28-32), and have "ordained priests" to conduct the worship at them. Them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon (on the Baal-worship of Manasseh and Amen, see 2 Kings 21:3; on the sun-worship, compare below, 2 Kings 21:11; the moon-worship was probably a form of the worship of Astarte), and to the planets; rather, to the twelve signs. The constellations or signs of the zodiac are, no doubt, intended. The proper meaning of the term is "mansions;" or "houses," the zodiacal signs being regarded as the "mansions of the sun" by the Babylonians. And to all the host of heaven (see the comment on 2 Kings 21:3).
2 Kings 23:6
And he brought out the grove from the house of the Lord. The Asherah set up by Manasseh (2 Kings 21:3 and 2 Kings 21:7), and if removed (2 Chronicles 33:15), then replaced by Amon (2 Chronicles 33:22), is intended. (On its probable form, see the comment upon 2 Kings 21:7.) Without Jerusalem, unto the brook Kidron (see the comment on verse 4), and burned it at the brook Kidron. After the example of Asa, who had treated in the same way the idol of the queen-mother Maachah (1 Kings 15:13). Asa followed the example of Moses (Exodus 32:20), when he destroyed the golden calf. And stamped it small to powder. Metals may be calcined by intense heat, and reduced into a state in which a very small application of force will crush them into a fine powder. It is clear from the present passage, that Manasseh's Asherah was made of metal, at any rate in part. And cast the powder thereof upon the graves of the children of the people; i.e. "upon the graves of the common people" (comp. Jeremiah 26:23, where the expression used in the Hebrew is the same). The common people were not buried, like the better sort, in rock-hewn sepulchers, but in graves of the ordinary description. Burial-places were regarded as unclean, and were thus fit receptacles for any kind of impurity.
2 Kings 23:7
And he brake down the houses of the sodomites; literally, of the consecrated ones. (See the comment on 1 Kings 14:24; and note that the male prostitutes, or Galli, who consecrated themselves to the Des Syra, formed an essential element in the Astarte-worship, and accompanied it wherever it was introduced.) Dollinger says of these wretched persons, "To the exciting din of drums, flutes, and inspired songs, the Galli cut themselves on the arms; and the effect of this act, and of the music accompanying it, was so strong upon mere spectators, that all their bodily and mental powers were thrown into a tumult of excitement, and they too, seized by the desire to lacerate themselves, deprived themselves of their manhood by means of potsherds lying ready for the purpose. Thereupon they ran with the mutilated part through the city, and received from the houses which they threw them into, a woman's gear. Not chastity, but barrenness, was intended by the mutilation. In this the Galli only desired to be like their goddess. The relation of foul lust, which they thenceforward occupied towards women, was regarded as a holy thing, and was tolerated by husbands in their wives." That were by the house of the Lord. The near vicinity is an indication that the Galli took part in the foreign rites introduced into the temple by Manasseh and Amon. The awful profanation of the house of God by such orgies is too terrible to dwell on. Where the women wove hangings for the grove. "The women" are no doubt the priestesses of the Dea Syra, who are constantly mentioned with the Galli, and, indeed, lived with them. They employed themselves, among other occupations, in weaving "hangings" (literally, "houses," i.e. "coverings") for the Asherah. It may be gathered from Ezekiel 16:16 that these "coverings" were dainty fabrics of many colors.
2 Kings 23:8
And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah. Here the writer diverges from his proper subject—the reforms in and near Jerusalem—to speak of changes which were made in other parts of Judaea. The Levitical priests, who in various cities of Judah had conducted the worship at the high places, were summoned to Jerusalem by Josiah, and forced to remain there, that the unauthorized worship which they had conducted might be brought to an end. And defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense. Hezekiah had "removed the high places, and broken the images, and cut down the groves" throughout his dominions (2 Kings 18:4), but he had not in any way "defiled the high places;" and therefore no sooner did a king take a different view of his duties than the worship was at once restored (2 Kings 21:3), and flourished as before. Josiah conceived the idea that, if the high places were "defiled," it would be impossible to renew the worship at them. From Geba to Beersheba. Geba takes here the place of Bethel as the northern limit of Judah. It was situated at a very short distance from Bethel, and was made to supersede it on account of the idolatries by which Bethel had been disgraced. The exact site is probably the modern Jeba, on the southern edge of the Wady Suweinit. And brake down the high places of the gates. The high-place worship had, it would seem, invaded Jerusalem itself. In some of the gates of the city, which were "large open buildings for public meetings and intercourse" (Bahr), altars, or more elaborate places of worship, had been established, and an unauthorized ritual of the high-place type had been set up. That were—rather, that which was—in the entering in of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city. This and the succeeding clauses are limitations of the general statement concerning the "high places of the gates," and indicate that two gates only had been polluted by high-place worship, viz. "the gate of Joshua," and the gale known κατ ἐξοχὴν as "the city gate." Neither of these can be determinately fixed, since they are only mentioned in the present passage. Which were on a man's left hand at the gate of the city; rather, and also that which was on the left-hand side in the gate of the city. (So Thenius, Keil, and Bahr.)
2 Kings 23:9
Nevertheless the priests of the high places came not up to the altar of the Lord in Jerusalem. Though Josiah recalled to Jerusalem the Levitical priests who had recently been attached to the various high places, yet he did not attach them to the temple, or assign them any part in its services. Their participation in a semi-idolatrous service had disqualified them for the temple ministrations. But they did eat of the unleavened bread among their brethren. They were allowed, i.e; their maintenance out of the priestly revenues, as were priests disqualified by a personal blemish (Le 2 Kings 21:21, 2 Kings 21:22). Practically they lived on the altar gifts intended for the priests (Le 2 Kings 6:9, 2 Kings 6:10, 2 Kings 6:22), in which it was unlawful to mix leaven.
2 Kings 23:10
And he defiled Topheth. "To-pheth" or "Tophet" was the name given to the place in the valley of Hinnom where the sacrifices were offered to Moloch. The root of the word is thought by some to be taph (תַּף), "a drum," because the cries of the children burnt there were drowned by the beating of drums. Others suggest as the root, tuph (תּוּף), "to spit," because the place was "spat at" by the orthodox. But Gesenius and Bottcher derive it from an Aryan root, taph, or tap, "to burn," whence Greek θάπτειν τέφρα, Latin tepidus, Mod. Persian taftan, Sanskrit tap, etc; and regard the meaning as simply "the place of burning" (see the comment on Isaiah 30:33). Which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom. The valley of Hinnom, or of the sons of Hinnom, is generally allowed to be that which sweeps round the more western of the two hills whereon Jerusalem was built, in a direction at first south and then east, uniting itself with the Kidron valley a little to the south of Ophel. The origin of the name is uncertain; but it is most likely that the Beni-Hinnom were a tribe of Canaanites, settled on this side of Jerusalem in the time of Joshua (Joshua 15:8). The "valley" is a ravine, deep and narrow, with steep, rocky sides. When the Moloch-worship first began in it we cannot say; but it was probably before the time of Solomon, who built a high place for Moloch (1 Kings 11:11), on one of the heights by which the valley is enclosed. (On the horrible profanations of the Moloch-worship, see Jeremiah 7:31, Jeremiah 7:32; Jeremiah 19:4-13; Jeremiah 32:35.) After the Captivity, the valley of Hinnom—Ge-Hinnom—was reckoned an accursed and abominable place, a sort of earthly counterpart of the place of final punishment, which. thence derived its name of "Geheuna" (Γέεννα); (see Matthew 5:22, Matthew 5:29, etc.). That no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Moloch (see the comment on 2 Kings 16:3).
2 Kings 23:11
And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun. The custom of dedicating horses to the sun was practiced by many ancient nations; but it is only in Persia that we find horses and chariots so dedicated (Xen; 'Cyrop.,' 2 Kings 8:3. § 12). The idea of the sun-god as a charioteer, who drove his horses daily across the sky, is one common to several of the Aryan nations, as the Greeks, the Romans, the Hindoos, and others;but we do not find it either in Egypt or among the Semitic peoples. The sacrifice of the horse to the sun was more general, but does not seem to have been adopted by the Hebrews. It is not at all clear whence the "kings of Judah"—i.e. Ahaz, Manasseh, and Amon—derived the idea of maintaining sacred chariots and horses to be used in their sun-worship. They certainly could not have received it, as Keil thinks, "through the Assyrians." At the entering in of the house of the Lord—the horses, i.e; were kept near one of the entrances to the temple, to be ready for use in sacred processions—by the chamber of Nathan-melech the chamberlain, which was in the suburbs. There were many "chambers" attached to the temple, which were sometimes used as store-rooms for different materials (1 Chronicles 9:26; 2Ch 31:11, 2 Chronicles 31:12; Nehemiah 10:38; Nehemiah 13:5), sometimes as residences (Nehemiah 13:7). In Josiah's time, "Nathan-melech the chamberlain," or rather "the eunuch," occupied one of these. It was situated בַפַדְוָרִים—"in the outskirts" or "purlieus" of the temple. And burned the chariots of the sun with fire (comp. verses 4, 6, 15, etc.). Josiah burnt all the material objects that had been desecrated by the idolatries; the persons and animals so desecrated he "removed," or deprived of their functions.
2 Kings 23:12
And the altars that were on the top of the upper chamber of Ahaz. It would seem that "the upper chamber of Ahaz" was within the temple precincts, since the pollutions spoken of, both before and after, are pollutions belonging to the temple. It may have been erected on the flat roof of one of the gates, or on the top of a store-chamber. Altars upon roofs were a new form of idolatry, apparently connected with the worship of the "host of heaven" (see Jeremiah 19:13; Zephaniah 1:5). Which the kings of Judah—i.e. Manasseh and Amen, perhaps also Ahaz—had made, and the altars which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the Lord (see above, 2 Kings 21:4, 2 Kings 21:5). As Manasseh, on his repentance, merely "cast these altars out of the city" (2 Chronicles 33:15), it was easy for Amen to replace them. They belonged to the worship of the "host of heaven." Did the king beat down, and brake them down from thence, and east the dust of them into the brook Kidron (comp. verse 6, and the comment ad loc.).
2 Kings 23:13
And the high places that were before Jerusalem. The high places which Solomon established in the neighborhood of Jerusalem for the use of his wives, and in the worship at which he became himself entangled in his old age, appear to have been situated on the ridge of the mountain which lies over against Jerusalem to the east, a part of which is Olivet. The southern summit, the traditional roans offensionis, was probably the high place of Moloch (Milcom), while the most northern summit (now called Karem-es-Seyad) has some claim to be regarded as the high place of Chemosh. The site of the high place of Ashtoreth is doubtful. Which were on the right hand of the mount of corruption. The name "mount of corruption" seems to have been given after Solomon's time to the entire ridge of hills which lies over against Jerusalem to the east, on account of the rites which he had allowed to be established on it. The "right hand" of the mountain would, according to Jewish notions, be the more southern part. Which Solomon the King of Israel—rather, King of Israel, since there is no article—had builded for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Zidonians (see 1 Kings 11:7). Though Ashtoreth, or Astarte, or Ishtar, or the Dea Syra, was worshipped generally throughout Phoenicia, and perhaps even more widely, yet she was in a peculiar way "the abomination of the Zidonians," being the deity to whom the city of Sidon was especially dedicated. And for Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites. Chemosh appears as the special god of the Moabites on the famous Moabite Stone in eleven places. The stone itself was dedicated to Chemosh (line 3). The Moabites are spoken of as "the people of Chemosh" (lines 5, 6). Success in war comes from him, and defeat is the result of his anger. One of his designations is "Ashtar-Chemosh" (line 17), or "Chemosh, who is also Ashtar," Ashtar being the male principle corresponding to the female Astarte or Ashtoreth. And for Milcom. Moloch was called by the Jews "Milcom," or "Malcam"—"their king" i.e. the king of the Ammonite people, since he was the sole god whom they acknowledged (see 1 Kings 11:5; Jeremiah 49:3 compared with Jeremiah 48:7; Amos 1:15; Zephaniah 1:5). The abomination of the children of Ammon. Did the king defile. The manner of the defilement is stated in the next verse.
2 Kings 23:14
And he brake in pieces the images—or, pillars (see the comment on 1 Kings 14:23)—and out down the groves—i.e. the asherim, or "sacred trees"—and filled their places with the bones of men. Whatever spoke of death and dissolution was a special defilement to shrines where the gods worshipped were deities of productivity and generation. Bones of men had also the actual taint of corruption about them. The "uncleanness" of dead bodies arose first out of man's natural shrinking from death, and was then further confirmed by the horrors accompanying decay. The notion was probably coeval with death itself. It received a sanction from the Law, which made it a legal defilement to touch a corpse (Numbers 19:11, Numbers 19:16), and placed under a sentence of uncleanness all that was in the tent where a man died (Numbers 19:14, Numbers 19:15).
2 Kings 23:15
Moreover the altar that was at Bethel, and the high place; rather, the altar that was at Bethel, the high place, without any "and." הַבָמָה is in apposition with הַמִּזְבֵּץַ. By setting up an altar at Bethel, Jeroboam constituted Bethel a "high place." Which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, had made, both that altar end the high place he brake down. "The high place" is here equivalent to the "house of high places" in 1 Kings 12:31, and designates "the buildings of this sanctuary" (Keil). At such a national center as Bethel a temple would, of course, accompany the altar. Whether the temple and altar were in use or not at the time when Josiah destroyed them, is uncertain. The mixed race which had superseded the Israelites in the country (2 Kings 17:24-41) may have continued the worship, or may have set it aside. And burned the high place, and stamped it small to powder. It is not clear that this latter clause applies to the high place. Perhaps we should translate—And stamped small to powder, and burned, the grove. It is for the most part only comparatively small objects that are "stamped small to powder".
2 Kings 23:16
And as Josiah turned himself, he spied the sepulchers that were there in the mount. The Israelite sepulchers, excavated in the reeky sides of hills, are everywhere conspicuous. Those of Bethel may have been in the low hill on which the town stands, or in the sides of the Wady Suweinit, a little further to the south. His accidentally "spying the sepulchers" gave Josiah the thought of completing his desecration of Bethel by having bones brought from them and burnt upon the altar—whereby he exactly accomplished the old prophecy (1 Kings 13:2), which was not at all in his mind. And sent, end took the bones out of the sepulchers, and burned them upon the altar, and polluted it (see the comment on 2 Kings 23:14), according to the word of the Lord which the men of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these words; rather, who prophesied these things. The reference is to 1 Kings 13:2, and the meaning is, not that Josiah acted as he did in order to fulfill the prophecy, but that in thus acting he unconsciously fulfilled it.
2 Kings 23:17
Then he said, What title is that that I see? rather, What pillar is that that I see? Josiah's eye caught sight of a "pillar" or obelisk (צִיוֹן) among the tombs, or in their neighborhood, and he had the curiosity to ask what it was. And the men of the city told him, It is the sepulcher of the man of God, which earns from Judah (see 1 Kings 13:1). The "pillar" could not have been the actual "sepulcher," but was no doubt a monument connected with it. Many of the Phoenician excavated tombs are accompanied by monuments above ground, which are very conspicuous (see Renan's 'Mission de Phenicie,' Psalms 11:0; et seq.). And proclaimed these things that thou hast done against the altar of Bethel (see 1 Kings 13:2). According to the present text of Kings, Josiah was prophesied of by name, as the king who would defile the altar; but it is possible that the words, "Josiah by name" (יאשִׁיָהוּ שְׂמוֹ), have crept in from the margin.
2 Kings 23:18
And he said, Let him alone; let no man move his bones. Josiah remembered the circumstances when they were recalled to him, and, in order to show honor to the "man of God" (1 Kings 13:1-34; passim), commanded that his tomb should be undisturbed. So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet that came out of Samaria; i.e. with the bones of the Israelite prophet, who had taken care to be buried with him. The reference is to 1 Kings 13:31.
2 Kings 23:19
And all the houses also of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria. The writer of Chronicles enters into more detail. Josiah, he says, carried out his destruction of the high places, the groves, and the images "in the cities of Manasseh, and Ephraim, and Simeon, even unto Naphtali" (2 Chronicles 34:6)—i.e. to the northern limit of the Holy Land, which was occupied by Naphtali and Asher. By what right Josiah exercised sovereign authority in the old kingdom of Samaria, which the Assyrians had conquered and attached to their empire, can only be conjectured. Some have supposed that the Assyrians had enlarged his sovereignty, and placed Samaria under his rule; others regard him as having transferred his allegiance to Nabopolassar, and having been made by him viceroy over Palestine. But it is, perhaps, most probable that he merely took advantage of the political commotions of the time to extend his dominion so far as it seemed safe to do so. Asshur-bani-pal, the last energetic King of Assyria, appears to have ceased to reign in Josiah's fourteenth year, when he was succeeded by a weak monarch, Asshur-ebil-ili. Great troubles now broke out. The Scythians ravaged Western Asia far and wide. Assyria was attacked by the Medea and Babylonians in combination. Under these circumstances, Josiah found himself practically independent, and began to entertain ambitious projects. He "extended his dominion from Jerusalem over Samaria" (Ewald). Assyria was too much occupied to take any notice. Baby-Ionia was in the thick of the struggle. Josiah found himself able to reunite under his own headship all the scattered portions of the old Israelite kingdom, except, perhaps, the trans-Jordanic district. He levied taxes in Samaria as freely as in Judaea (2 Chronicles 33:9). He reformed on the same model the religions of both countries. When finally he had to fight for his throne, he marched his army into the northern portion of Samaria, and there fought the battle which cost him his life. Which the kings of Israel had made to provoke the Lord to anger. The earlier kings of Israel had simply allowed the "high places" to continue, without actively increasing or multiplying them; but Manasseh had re-established them after their destruction by Hezekiah (2 Kings 21:3), and Amen had probably done the same after Manasseh's tardy reformation. Jonah took away, and did to them according to all the acts that he done in Bethel (see above, verse 15).
2 Kings 23:20
And he slew all the priests of the high places that were there upon the altars. It is not directly said that he had done this at Bethel, though it had been prophesied that he would do so (1 Kings 13:2). Possibly there were no priests at Bethel at the time, since the "calf" set up by Jeroboam had been carried off (Hosea 10:6) by the Assyrians. The difference between the treatment of the high-place priests in Israel and in Judah (2 Kings 23:9) clearly implies that the former were attached to the worship of false gods, while the latter were priests of Jehovah who worshipped him with superstitious and unauthorized rites and ceremonies. And burned men's bones upon them, and returned to Jerusalem.
2 Kings 23:21
And the king commanded all the people, saying, Keep the Passover. The account given of Josiah's Passover is much more full in Chronicles than in Kings. In Chronicles it occupies nineteen verses of 2 Chronicles 35:1-27. We learn from Chronicles that all the rites prescribed by the Law, whether in Exodus, Leviticus, or Deuteronomy, were duly observed, and that the festival was attended, not only by the Judaeans, but by many Israelites from among the ten tribes, who still remained intermixed with the Assyrian colonists in the Samaritan country (see 2 Chronicles 35:17, 2 Chronicles 35:18). Unto the Lord your God, as it is written in the book of this covenant. The ordinances for the due observance of the Passover feast are contained chiefly in Exodus (Exodus 12:3-20; Exodus 13:5-10). They are repeated, but with much less fullness, in Deuteronomy 16:1-8. The "book of the covenant" found by Hilkiah must, therefore, certainly have contained Exodus (see below, verse 25).
2 Kings 23:22
Surely there was not holden such a Passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah. Such a Passover, one so numerously attended (2 Chronicles 35:18). and so exactly kept according to every ordinance of the Law of Moses (2 Chronicles 35:6), had not been celebrated during all the period of the judges, from Joshua to Samuel, nor under the kings of all Israel, Saul, David, and Solomon, nor under those of the separated kingdom of Judah, from Rehoboam to this year (the eighteenth) of Josiah. It is an extraordinary perversity which concludes (as do De Wette and Thenius), from this comparison of the present with former Passovers under the judges and the kings, that there had been no such former Passovers at all! Two, at any rate, are recorded (Joshua 5:10, Joshua 5:11; 2 Chronicles 30:13-26). Ewald has the good sense to express his dissent from this view, and to declare the meaning of the writer to be simply that "since the time of the judges there had never been such a celebration of the Passover, in such strict accordance, that is, with the prescriptions of a sacred book as that which now took place".
2 Kings 23:23
But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, wherein this Passover was holden to the Lord in Jerusalem (compare, on the date, 2 Kings 22:3 and 2 Chronicles 35:19). The eighteenth year of Josiah corresponded probably, in part to B.C. 622, in part to B.C. 621.
2 Kings 23:24
Moreover the workers with familiar spirits, and the wizards. Persons of these classes had been encouraged by Manasseh, in his earlier reign (2 Kings 21:6), and probably by Amon (2 Kings 21:21). As Josiah designed a thorough reformation, it was necessary for him to put them down. And the images; literally, the teraphim, which are thought to have been small images kept as household gods in many Israelite families from a very ancient date (see Genesis 31:19-35). The superstition was exceedingly persistent. We find it under the judges (Judges 18:14), under Saul (1 Samuel 19:13), here under the later kings, and it is still mentioned after the return from the Captivity (Zechariah 10:2). The superstition was, apparently, Babylonian (Ezekiel 21:21), and brought from Ur of the Chaldees by the family of Abraham. Besides being regarded as household gods, the teraphim were used in divination. And the idols, and all the abominations that were spied. The "idols," gillulim, are probably, like the teraphim, of a private nature, figures used as amulets or talismans. Excepting in Ezekiel, the word is an uncommon one. By the "abominations that were spied" are meant secret defilements and superstitious practices in households, which needed to be searched out. (So Thenius and Bahr.) In the land of Judah and in Jerusalem. Not, apparently, in the cities of Samaria, where such a rigid inquisition would perhaps have provoked a stubborn resistance. Did Josiah put away, that he might perform the words of the Law; rather, that he might establish the words of the Law. Laws against such practices as Josiah now put down will be found in Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:10-12. Which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord (see 2 Kings 22:8).
2 Kings 23:25
And like unto him was there no king before him (see the comment on 2 Kings 18:5). The writer of Kings cannot be said to place Josiah above Hezekiah, or Hezekiah above Josiah. He accords them the same degree of praise, but, in Hezekiah's case, dwells upon his trust in God; in Josiah's, upon his exact obedience to the Law. On the whole, his judgment accords very closely with that of the son of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus 49:4). "All, except David and Ezekias and Josias, were defective: for they forsook the Law of the Most High." That turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might. This triple enumeration is intended to include the whole moral and mental nature of man, all the energies of his understanding, his will, and his physical vitality (see the comment on Deuteronomy 6:5—a passage which is in the writer's mind). According to all the Law of Moses. This is an indication that, in the writer's view, the whole Law was contained in the book found by Hilkiah. Neither after him arose there any like him. This is but moderate praise, since the four kings who reigned after him—Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah—were, one and all, wicked princes.
2 Kings 23:26
Notwithstanding the Lord turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath. It was too late, not for God to forgive upon repentance, but for the nation to repent sincerely and heartily. Sin had become engrained in the national character. Vain were the warnings of Jeremiah, vain were his exhortations to repentance (Jeremiah 3:12-14, Jeremiah 3:22; Jeremiah 4:1-8; Jeremiah 7:3-7, etc.), vain his promises that, if they would turn to God, they would be forgiven and spared. Thirty years of irreligion and idolatry under Manasseh had sapped the national vigor, and made true repentance an impossibility. How weak and half-hearted must have been the return to God towards the close of Manasseh's reign, that it should have had no strength to resist Amon, a youth of twenty-two, but should have disappeared wholly on his accession! And how far from sincere must have been the present conformity to the wishes of Josiah, the professed renewal of the covenant (verse 3), and revival of disused ceremonies (verses 21-23)! Jeremiah searched in vain through the streets of Jerusalem to find a man that executed judgment, or sought the truth (Jeremiah 5:1). The people had "a revolting and rebellious heart; they were revolted and gone" (Jeremiah 5:23). Not only idolatry, but profligacy (Jeremiah 5:1) and injustice and oppression everywhere prevailed (Jeremiah 5:25-28). "From the least to the greatest of them, every one was given to covetousness" (Jeremiah 6:13); even the prophets and the priests "dealt falsely" (Jeremiah 6:13), The state of things was one which necessarily brought down the Divine judgment, and all that Josiah's efforts could do was a little to delay it. Wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked him withal. Manasseh's provocations lived in their consequences. God's judgment upon Israel was not mere vengeance for the sins that Manasseh had committed, or even for the multitudinous iniquities into which he had led the nation (2 Kings 21:9). It was punishment rendered necessary by the actual condition of the nation—the condition whereto it had been reduced by Manasseh's evil doings.
2 Kings 23:27
And the Lord said—God said in his secret counsels, came to the determination, and pronounced the sentence in his thoughts—I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel. The sins of Judah were now as great as those of Israel had been; therefore her punishment must be the same, as God is no respecter of persons. And I will east off this city Jerusalem which I have chosen. God "chose" Jerusalem when he put it into the heart of David to bring up the ark thither (2 Samuel 6:1-17). And the house of which I said, My Name shall he there (see Deuteronomy 12:11; 1 Kings 8:29, etc.). A visible confirmation was given to all that David and Solomon had done in establishing the temple at Jerusalem as the head-quarters of the national religion, when "fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices" made there, and "the glory of the Lord filled the house".
2 Kings 23:28-30
The events of Josiah's reign from his eighteenth to his thirty-first year are left a blank, both here and in Chronicles. Politically, the time was a stirring one. The great invasion of Western Asia by the Scythic hordes (Herod; 1.103-106), which is alluded to by Jeremiah 6:1-5, Eze 38:1-23 :39; and perhaps by Zephaniah 2:6, probably belongs to it; as also the attack of Psamatik I. upon Philistia (Herod; 2.105), the fall of the Assyrian empire, and the destruction of Nineveh: the establishment of the independence of Babylon, and her rise to greatness; together with the transfer of power in the central part of Western Asia, from the Assyrians to the Medea. Amid the dangers which beset him, Josiah appears to have conducted himself prudently, gradually extending his power over Samaria and Galilee, without coming into hostile collision with any of the neighboring nations, until about the year B.C. 609 or 608, when his land was invaded by Pharaoh-Nechoh, the Neku of the Egyptian monuments. Josiah felt himself called upon to resist this invasion, and, in doing so, met his death (verses 29, 30).
2 Kings 23:28
Now the rest of the acts of Josiah, and all that he did. Josiah was reckoned a good rather than a great king. No mention is made of his "might." The writer of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 35:26) commemorates his "kindnesses" or "his good deeds." The son of Sirach speaks of his "upright" behavior (Ecclesiasticus 49:2). Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 10.4. § 1) praises his "justice" and his "piety," and says (ibid; 10.4. § 5) his later years were passed "in peace and opulence." Are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? (see 2 Chronicles 35:27).
2 Kings 23:29
In his days Pharaoh-Nechoh King of Egypt went up against the King of Assyria. Neku, the "Pharaoh-Nechoh" of this passage, and the Necos of Herodotus, was the son of Psamatik I; and succeeded his father on the throne of Egypt, probably in B.C. 610. He was one of the most enterprising of the later Egyptian kings, and appears to have made this expedition in his second or third year. The unsettled condition of Western Asia after the Scythic invasion, and the fall of the Assyrian empire, seemed to give an opportunity for Egypt to reclaim her old dominion over Syria and Mesopotamia. The "King of Assyria," against whom Pharaoh-Nechoh "went up," was probably Nabopolassar, the father of Nebuchadnezzar. His proper rifle was "King of Babylon," which is what Nebuchadnezzar always calls him; but the Jews not unnaturally regarded him as the inheritor of the Assyrian empire, as indeed they regarded the Persian monarchs also (Ezra 6:22), and therefore gave him the title of "King of Assyria." To the river Euphrates. The author of Chronicles says that "Necho King of Egypt came up to fight against Carchemish" (or "at Carehemish") "by Euphrates," which shows that his design was to penetrate into Northern Syria, where Carchemish (now Jerabus) was situated, with a view probably of crossing the Euphrates by the ford at Bir, or by that at Balis, into Mesopotamia. And King Josiah wont against him. It is possible that Josiah had accepted the position of Babylonian tributary after the fall of the Assyrian kingdom, and thought himself bound to resist an attack upon his suzerain. Or he may simply have resented the violation of his territory, without his permission, by a foreign army. Certainly, if he had allowed the free passage of the Egyptian troops, backwards and forwards, through his country, he would in a short time have lost even the shadow of independence. Nechoh's assurance that his expedition was not against him (Josiah), but against the Assyrians (2 Chronicles 35:21), was not a thing to be relied upon, any more than his declaration that God had commanded his expedition. And he slew him at Megiddo, when he had soon him. Megiddo is, beyond all doubt, the present El-Ledjun on the northern outskirt of the range of hills which separates the Plain of Esdraelon from that of Sharon. It is certainly surprising to find that Josiah had taken up a position so far to the north, leaving Jerusalem, and, indeed, all Judaea, unprotected. But he may have thought the advantages of the position such as to compensate for any risk to the Judaean cities, in which he would, of course, have left garrisons. Or, possibly, as Keil and Bahr suppose, Nechoh may have conveyed his troops to the Syrian coast by sea, and have landed in the Bay of Acre, close to the Plain of Esdraelon. In this case Josiah would have no choice, but, if he opposed the Egyptian monarch at all, must have met him where he did, in the Esdraelon plain, as he entered it from the Plain of Acre.
2 Kings 23:30
And his servants carried him in a chariot—his "second chariot," according to the writer of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 35:24), which was probably one kept in reserve in case flight should be necessary, of lighter construction, and drawn by fleeter horses, than his war-chariot—dead from Megiddo. Wounded to death, that is. From Chronicles we gather that his wound, which was from an arrow, was not immediately fatal (2 Chronicles 35:23, 2 Chronicles 35:24); but that he died of it on his way to Jerusalem, or directly after his arrival. And brought him to Jerusalem, and buried him in his own sepulcher. The writer of Chronicles says, "in the sepulcher of his fathers," apparently meaning the burial-place in which were interred the bodies of Manasseh and Amen. We learn from Chronicles that a great lamentation was made for Josiah, the only King of Judah slain in battle, the last good king of David's line, the pious prince whose piety had not sufficed to avert the anger of Jehovah. Jeremiah "lamented for him" (2 Chronicles 35:25), perhaps in a set composition (Josephus, ' Ant. Jud.,' 10.5. § 1); though that composition is certainly not either the Book of Lamentations or the fourth chapter of that book. He was further mourned by "all the singing men and the singing women" (2 Chronicles, l.s.c.), who "spake of him in their lamentations, and "made them an ordinance in Israel," and entered these "lamentations," apparently in a book, which was called 'The Book of Lamentations,' or 'of Dirges.' And the people of the laud took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah. Jehoahaz was otherwise named "Shallum" (1 Chronicles 3:15; Jeremiah 22:11). On what grounds the people preferred him to his elder brother, Eliakim, we do not know. Perhaps Eliakim had accompanied his father to Megiddo, and been made prisoner by Nechoh in the battle. And anointed him (see the comment on 1 Kings 1:34, and supra, 2 Kings 11:12), and made him king in his father's stead.
2 Kings 23:31-33
SHORT REIGN OF JEHOAHAZ. Pharaoh-Nechoh, having defeated Josiah, left Jerusalem and Judaea behind him, while he pressed forward on his original enterprise (see 2 Kings 23:29) into Northern Syria and the district about Carehemish, or the tract north-east of Aleppo. It was three months before he had completed his conquests in these quarters, and, having arranged matters to his satisfaction, set out on his return to Egypt. During these three months Jehoahaz bore rule at Jerusalem (2 Kings 23:31), and "did evil in the sight of the Lord" (2 Kings 23:32). Ezekiel compares him to "a young lion," which "learned to catch the prey, and devoured men" (Ezekiel 19:3). It may be suspected that he re-established the idolatries which Josiah had put down; but this is uncertain. Pharaoh-Nechoh, on his return from Carehemish, learning what the Jews had done, sent envoys to Jerusalem, and summoned Jehoahaz to his presence at Riblah, in the territory of Hamath (verse 33; comp. Josephus, 'Ant. Jud.,' 10.5. § 2). Je-hoahaz obeyed the summons; and Nechoh, having obtained possession of his person, "put him in bands," and carried him off to Egypt, where he died (verse 34; comp. Jeremiah 22:10-12; Josephus, l.s.c.)
2 Kings 23:31
Jehoahaz was twenty and three years old when he began to reign. He was, therefore, younger than his brother Eliakim, who, three months later, was "twenty-five years old" (2 Kings 23:36). His original name seems to have been "Shallum," as above noticed (see the comment on 2 Kings 23:30). Probably he changed it to "Jehoahaz" ("Possession of Jehovah") on his accession. And he reigned three months in Jerusalem—three months and tern days, according to Josephus—and his mother's name was Hamutal, the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. The father of Hamutal was not, therefore, Jeremiah the prophet, who was a native of Anathoth (see Jeremiah 1:1).
2 Kings 23:32
And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord (see the comment on 2 Kings 23:31-33). Josephus says that he was ἀσεβὴς καὶ μιαρὸς τὸν τρόπον (l. s. c.)—"irreligious and of impure habits." Ezekiel (Ezekiel 19:3) seems to call him a persecutor. According to all that his fathers had done. As idolatry was the chief sin of his "fathers," Jehoahaz must have been an idolater.
2 Kings 23:33
And Pharaoh-Nechoh put him in bands at Riblah. "Riblah," which retains its name, was situated in the Coele-Syrian plain, on the right bank of the Orontes, in lat. 34° 23' N. nearly. It commanded a ford over the river, and is in the midst of a rich, corn-producing country. Hamath, to which it was regarded as belonging, is situated more than fifty miles further down the river. Riblah was well placed as a center for communication with the neighboring countries. As Dr. Robinson says, "From this point the roads were open by Aleppo and the Euphrates to Nineveh, or by Palmyra (Tadmor) to Babylon, by the end of Lebanon and the coast to Palestine (Philistia) and Egypt, or through the, Buka'a and the Jordan valley to the center of the Holy Land." Nebuchadnezzar followed the example of Nechoh in making Ribiah his headquarters during his sieges of Tyro and Jerusalem (see 2 Kings 25:21; Jeremiah 39:5; Jeremiah 52:9, Jeremiah 52:10, Jeremiah 52:26, Jeremiah 52:27). In the land of Hamath. The "land of Hamath" was the upper part of the Coele-Syrian valley from about lat. 34° to lat. 35° 30' N. That he might not reign in Jerusalem. Nechoh might naturally distrust the people's choice. He might also regard the setting up of any king at Jerusalem without his sanction as an act of contumacy on the part of a nation which had been practically conquered by the complete defeat of Josiah at Megiddo. Whether his conduct in seizing Jehoahaz after inviting him to a conference was justifiable or not may be questioned; but, in point of fact, he did but use the right of the conqueror somewhat harshly. And put the land to a tribute of an hundred talents of silver, and a talent of gold. (So Josephus, l.s.c.) The tribute was a very moderate one. A century earlier Sennacherib had enacted a tribute of three hundred talents of silver, and thirty of gold (see above, 2 Kings 18:14). We may conjecture that Nechoh wished to conciliate the Jews, regarding them as capable of rendering him good service in the struggle, on which he had entered, with Babylon.
2 Kings 23:34-37
ACCESSION AND EARLY YEARS OF JEHOIAKIM. Pharaoh-Nechoh, when he deposed Jehoahaz, at once supplied his place by another king. He had no intention of altering the governmental system of Palestine, or of ruling his conquests in any other way than through dependent monarchs. His choice fell on Josiah's eldest surviving son (1 Chronicles 3:15), Eliakim, who was the natural successor of his father. Eliakim, on ascending the throne, changed his name, as Jehoahaz appears to have done (see the comment on 2 Kings 23:31), and reigned as Jehoiakim. For three years he continued a submissive vassal of the Egyptian monarch, and remitted him his tribute regularly (2 Kings 23:36). But his rule was in all respects an evil one. He "did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord" (2 Kings 23:37). He leant towards idolatry (2 Chronicles 36:8); he was oppressive and irreligious (Josephus, 'Ant. Jud.' 10.5. § 2); he "shed innocent blood" (Jeremiah 22:17); he was luxurious (Jeremiah 22:14, Jeremiah 22:15), covetous (Jeremiah 22:17), and tyrannical (Ezekiel 19:6).
2 Kings 23:34
And Pharaoh-Nechoh made Eliakim the son of Josiah king in the room of Josiah his father. (On the general inclination of Oriental monarchs to support the hereditary principle, and to establish sons in their fathers' governments, even when the father's had been rebels or enemies, see Herod; 2 Kings 3:15.) And turned his name to Jehoiakim. We may understand that Nechoh required him to take a new name, as a mark of subjection (comp. Genesis 41:45; Ezra 5:14; Daniel 1:7; and also 2 Kings 24:17), but left the choice of the name to himself. He made the change as slight as possible, merely substituting "Jehovah" for "El" as the initial element. The sense of the name remained the same, "God will set up." The idea that Nechoh was pleased with the new name on account of its apparent connection with the Egyptian moon-god, Aah (Menzel), is very fanciful. And took Jehoahaz away—i.e. carried him captive to Egypt (see Jeremiah 22:10, Jeremiah 22:11; Ezekiel 19:4), a very common practice of Egyptian conquerors, and one often accompanied by extreme severities—and he cams to Egypt, and died there (see Jeremiah 22:12, where this is prophesied).
2 Kings 23:35
And Jehoiakim gave the silver and the gold to Pharaoh. Jehoiakim, i.e; paid the tribute, which Nechoh had fixed (2 Kings 23:33), regularly. He did not, however, pay it out of the state treasury, which was exhausted. But he taxed the land to give the money according to the commandment of Pharaoh: he exacted the silver and the gold of the people of the land, of every one according to his taxation, to give it unto Pharaoh-Nechoh; rather, he had the land valued (comp. Leviticus 27:8), and "exacted the silver and the gold of the people of the land, of every one according to his valuation."
2 Kings 23:36
Jehoiakim was twenty and five years old when he began to reign—he was therefore two years older than his brother Jehoahaz (see the comment on 2 Kings 23:31)—and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem—probably from B.C. 608 to B.C. 597—and his mother's name was Zebudah—he was, therefore, only half-brother to Jehoahaz and Zedekiah, whose mother was "Hamutal" (see 2 Kings 23:31 and 2 Kings 24:18)—the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah. "Rumah" is probably the same city as the "Arumah" of Judges 9:41, which was in the vicinity of Shechem.
2 Kings 23:37
And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done. Jeremiah says of Jehoiakim, "Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbor's service without wages, and giveth him not for his work; that saith, I will build me a large house and wide chambers, and cutteth him out windows; and it is coiled with cedar, and painted with vermilion. Shalt thou reign, because thou closest thyself in cedar? did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him? He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the Lord. But thine eyes and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness, and for to shed innocent blood, and for oppression, and for violence, to do it" (Jeremiah 22:13-17). Josephus calls him "an unjust man and an evil-doer, neither pious in his relations towards God nor equitable in his dealings with his fellow men" ('Ant. Jud.,' 10.5. § 2). His execution of Urijah, the son of Shemalah, for prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 26:20-23), was an act at once of cruelty and impiety. It is suspected that, besides reintroducing into Judah all the foreign rites extirpated by his father, he added Egyptian rites to their number. The tyranny which he practiced was likewise of an Egyptian cast, including, as it did, the exaction of forced labor from his subjects (Jeremiah 22:13), an old custom of the Pharaohs, and it is quite possible that his "passion for building splendid and costly houses" (Ewald) was awakened by his knowledge of the magnificence which characterized the monarchs of the Saitic dynasty, who revived in Egypt the architectural glories of the Ramessides.
2 Kings 23:1-3
Standing to the covenant.
With a heart stirred up to intense zeal for God by the words which he had heard read out of the newly found book—the precious "book of the Law," thrust into temporary oblivion by his wicked grandfather and father—Josiah felt that a greet act of national repentance and national profession of faith was called for; and summoning "the men of Judah" by their representatives, and all the whole mass of the people of Jerusalem, he proceeded to call upon them to "stand to the covenant." The idea was well conceived and well carried out. After a national apostasy—an open, evident, and flagrant turning away from God, and adoption of idolatrous worships most abominable in his sight—it was only fitting, only decent, that there should be a sort of public reparation of the wrong done—a turning to God as open, evident, and manifest as the turning away had been. Accordingly, this was what Josiah determined-on; and the public act of reparation resolved itself into three parts.
I. A PUBLIC RECITATION OF THE COVENANT. As the Law had been put out of sight, neglected, forgotten, during the space of two reigns, or the greater part of them, so now it was solemnly and publicly recited, proclaimed, declared to be the basis of the national life, the law of the community. The utmost possible honor was done to it by the king reading it himself in the ears of the people—reading it from first to last, "all the words of it," while the priests and the prophets and "all the people" stood attent, listening to the words so long unheard, so long forgotten, so long treated with contempt.
II. A DECLARATION OF ASSENT AND CONSENT TO THE WORDS OF THE COVENANT BY THE KING. The king was the federal head of the nation, and, in pledging himself to the keeping of the covenant, performed not a mere personal, but a representative and federal act. He pledged the nation as a whole to the acceptance and performance of the covenant, undertaking for them that they should "walk after the Lord, and keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and all their soul."
III. A DECLARATION OF ASSENT AND CONSENT TO THE WORDS OF THE COVENANT BY THE PEOPLE THEMSELVES INDIVIDUALLY. Nations cannot be saved in the lump. It is necessary that each individual come into personal relations with his Maker and Redeemer and Savior. So "all the people," each of them severally, with one accord and one acclaim, "stood to the covenant"—pledged themselves to keep all the words of it henceforth with all their heart and with all their soul. A great wave of religious feeling seems to have passed over the people, and with a sincerity that was for the moment quite real and unfeigned, they declared their willing acceptance of the whole covenant, of its terrible threats as well as of its gracious promises, of its stern commands no less than of its comforting assurances. They bound themselves individually to observe all the words that were written in the book; so renewing their federal relation with God, and again becoming—what they had well-nigh ceased to be—his people. But something more was wanting. It is in no case enough to make a resolution unless we keep to it. Performance must follow upon promise. The people were bound, not merely to "stand to the covenant," in the way of profession, just once in their lives, but to stand to it, in the way of action, thenceforward perpetually. It was here that they failed; and it is here that men most commonly fail. To resolve is easy; to stick to our resolutions, difficult. The writings of Jeremiah prove to us that, within a very few years of their acceptance of the covenant in the eighteenth year of Josiah, the people of Judah cast it behind them, became a backsliding people, returned to their idolatries and abominations, forsook God, and sware by them that were no gods, committed adultery, assembled themselves by troops in the harlots' houses—were "as fed horses in the morning, every one neighing after his neighbor's wife" (Jeremiah 5:7, Jeremiah 5:8). A righteous God could not but "visit for these things"—could not but "be avenged upon such a nation as this" (Jeremiah 5:29).
2 Kings 23:4-27
The inability of the best intentions and the strongest will to convert a nation that is corrupt to the core.
Josiah's reformation was the most energetic and the most thorough-going that was ever carried out by any Jewish king. It far transcended, not only the efforts made by Jehoiada in the time of Joash (2 Kings 11:17-21; 2 Kings 12:1-16), and the feeble attempts of Manasseh on his return from Babylon (2 Chronicles 33:15-19), but even the earnest endeavors of Hezekiah at the beginning of his reign (2 Kings 17:3-6). "It extended not only to the kingdom of Judah, but also to the former kingdom of Israel; not only to the public, but also to the private, life of the people. The evil was everywhere to be torn out, roots and all. Nothing which could perpetuate the memory of heathen or of illegitimate Jehovah-worship remained standing. All the places of worship, all the images, all the utensils, were not only destroyed, but also defiled; even the ashes were thrown into the river (?) at an unclean place, that they might be borne away forever. The idol-priests themselves were slain, and the bones of those who were already dead were taken out of the graves and burnt. The priests of Jehovah, who had performed their functions upon the heights, were deposed from their office and dignity, and were not allowed to sacrifice any more at the altar of Jehovah" (Bahr). It may be added to this account that private superstitions, the use of teraphim and gillulim, together with the practice of witchcraft and magic arts, were put a stop to, and the rightful ordinances of the Mosaic religion restored and re-established with the utmost strictness and exactitude (verses 24, 25). Josiah did all that a godly king could do to check the downward course of his nation and recall it to piety and virtue. And for his efforts the sacred writers give him the highest praise (2Ki 22:2; 2 Kings 23:25; 2 Chronicles 34:2; 2 Chronicles 35:26; Ecclesiasticus 49:1-3). It has been reserved for modern criticism to discover that he defeated his own ends by the violence of his methods, and injured the cause of true religion by making a book—"especially such an imperfect law-book and history as the Pentateuch"—the fundamental law of the nation (Ewald, Eisenlohr). It has not, however, been as yet shown that Josiah's methods were any more violent than the Law required (Exodus 22:20; Deuteronomy 13:5, Deuteronomy 13:9, Deuteronomy 13:15), much less that injury is done to the cause of true religion by the adoption of a sacred book as the standard of religious truth and morality. The real reason for the failure of his reformation was "the irreformability of the people." When they professed to turn to God, they did not do it "with their whole heart, but feignediy" (Jeremiah 3:10)—at any rate, with but half their heart, moved by a gust of sentiment, not by any deep strong tide of religious feeling. And so they soon relapsed into their old ways. The severe religion, the stern morality, which Josiah sought to impose, had no attraction for them. They shrank from Mosaism as cold, hard, austere. They preferred the religions of the nations, with their lax morality, their gay rites, their consecration of voluptuousness. So they "slid back by a perpetual backsliding" (Jeremiah 8:5); they reintroduced all the old abominations; they sinned in secret when they were unable to sin in public; they "proceeded from evil to evil" (Jeremiah 9:4). It has been argued that if Josiah's life had not been cut short within thirteen years of his undertaking the great national reform, if he had been permitted to carry on for some years longer in the same spirit the work which he had initiated, there might have been a complete removal of all the ancient and deep-rooted evils, and a lasting impression might have been made upon the character of the whole people. But this seems too favorable a forecast. The nation was rotten to the core; the "whole head was sick, and the whole heart faint …. from the sole of the foot even unto the head there was no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores." When such is the case, no human efforts can avail anything—not the strongest will, not the wisest measures, not the purest and best intentions; the time for repentance and return to God is gone by, and nothing remains but "a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall destroy God's adversaries" (Hebrews 10:27).
HOMILIES BY C.H. IRWIN
2 Kings 23:31
2 Kings 24:7
Two royal brothers: the reigns of Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim.
I. THEY WERE BROTHERS IN WICKEDNESS. Of each of them it is said, "He did evil in the sight of the Lord." What the particular sins of Jehoahaz were we are not told. But the sins of Jehoiakim are fully and fearlessly stated and denounced by Jeremiah. "Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbor's service without wages, and giveth him not for his work; that saith, I will build me a wide house and large chambers, and cutteth him out windows; and it is celled with cedar, and painted with vermilion. Thine eyes and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness, and for to shed innocent blood, and for oppression, and for violence, to do it (Jeremiah 22:13-17). Injustice, fraudulence, selfishness, covetousness, oppression, violence, murder,—such were the main characteristics of him who should have been an example of the people. Selfishness and covetousness were at the bottom of all the rest. And are they not common sins? In the rich they lead to injustice and oppression; in the poor they lead to discontent ant envy and violence. The spirit of the gospel, by promoting unselfishness, would lead to fair and upright dealing between man and man.
II. THEY WERE BOTH WICKED, THOUGH THE SONS OF A GOOD FATHER. Even a good man may have had sons. Perhaps the home training they received was defective. Josiah may have been so much engrossed with the cares of his kingdom, and the reformation of his people, that he neglected the state of his own household. But nevertheless, they had a good example, which they neglected to follow. Jeremiah reminds Jehoiakim of this. "Did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment, and justice, and then it was well with him? He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 22:15, Jeremiah 22:16). The privileges and the example they had received increased their guilt. "To whom much is given, of him shall much be required." If we have great privileges, we have also great responsibilities. Those who have been brought up in a Christian land or in a godly home will be expected to know better than those who have been brought up in a heathen country or amid careless and godless surroundings.
III. THEY WERE BOTH WICKED, THOUGH THE ONE HAD THE OTHER'S FATE AS A. WARNING. Jehoahaz was sent into exile for his sins. Yet Jehoiakim, who succeeded him, did not profit by the warning. None of us are without many warnings against sin. We have the plain warnings of God's Word. We have the terrible warnings of his providence. How fearful, even in this life, are the consequences of many sins! We have warnings against putting off the offer of salvation to a more convenient season. "See that ye refuse not him that speaketh."
IV. THEY BOTH HAD A MISERABLE END. Jehoahaz died in exile. Pharaoh-Nechoh put him in prison at Rihlah, and he died in captivity. Speaking of him, Jeremiah says, "Weep ye not for the dead, neither bemoan him: but weep sore for him that goeth away: for he shall return no more, nor see his native country" (Jeremiah 22:10). What a pathetic strain! The love of the Jews for their native land was most intense. "How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" "Yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion." But, after all, what a profitless kind of patriotism theirs was! They loved their native land, hut they were blind to its best interests. They did not remember the secret of true prosperity and well-being. They did not remember that "righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people." They forsook him who was their nation's best Defender and unfailing Friend. A patriotism without righteousness will not benefit a nation much. Jehoiakim died at Jerusalem. But what an ignominious fate was his! Jeremiah had foretold it when he said, "They shall not lament for him, saying, Ah my brother! or, Ah sister! … He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem" (Jeremiah 22:18, Jeremiah 22:19). It was Jehoiakim who cut with his penknife the roll on which were written the words of the Lord, and cast the leaves into the fire (Jeremiah 36:1-32.). For this God said, regarding Jehoiakim, that he should have none to sit upon the throne of David; "and his dead body should be east out in the day to the heat, and in the night to the frost." Jehoiakim perished, but the Word of God, which he sought to destroy, was fulfilled. God's Word cannot be destroyed. Roman emperors sought to destroy it. The Church of Rome, for the exaltation of the priesthood, kept it from the people. "But the Word of God is not bound." Contrast the fate of Jehoiakim, who despised and dishonored the Word of God, with the universal lamentation that followed the death of his father Josiah, who honored God's Word and obeyed its teachings.—C.H.I.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
2 Kings 23:1-25
Good aims and bad methods.
"And the king sent," etc. Did the world ever contain a people more morally corrupt than that of the Jews? When we mark them journeying in the wilderness forty years, a more murmuring, disorderly, rebellious set of men where else could we discover? When settled in Palestine, a "land flowing with milk and honey" we find them committing every crime of which humanity is capable—adulteries, suicides, murders, ruthless wars, gross idolatries, their priests impostors, their kings bloody tyrants. Even David, who is praised the most, was guilty of debauchery, falsehood, and blood. They were a nation steeped in depravity. They were "stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears;" they did "always resist the Holy Ghost" (see Acts 7:51). No doubt there was always a true "Church of God" within the nation (1 Kings 19:18); but to call the whole nation "the Jewish Church" is a misnomer, and far from a harmless one. It has encouraged Christian nations to fashion their communities after the Jewish model instead of after the Christian one. The verses I have selected record and illustrate good aims and bad methods.
I. GOOD AIMS. Josiah's aims, as here presented, were confessedly high, noble, and good. I offer two remarks concerning his purposes as presented in these verses.
1. To reduce his people to a loyal obedience to Heaven. His aim was to sweep every vestige of religious error and moral crime from his dominion. Truly, what more laudable purpose could any man have than this, to crush all evil within his domain, to crush it not only in its form but in its essence? This was indeed the great end of Christ's mission to the world. He came "to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself."
2. Generated within him by the discovery of the Divine will. Somehow or other, as was seen in the last chapter, the book of the Law which was to regulate the lives of the Jewish people had been lost in the temple, lost probably for many years, but Hilkiah the high priest had just discovered it, and Josiah becomes acquainted with its contents. What is the result? He is seized with the burning conviction that the whole nation is gone wrong, and forthwith he seeks to flash the same conviction into the souls of his people. "And the king sent, and they gathered unto him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem. And the king went up into the house of the Lord, and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests, and the prophets, and all the people, both small and great: and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the Lord. And the king stood by a pillar, and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people stood to the covenant." Thus sprang his noble purpose. It was not a capricious whim or the outcome of a sudden and fitful impulse; it was rooted in an enlightened conviction. A noble purpose must be righteously founded.
II. BAD METHODS. Real good work requires not only a good purpose, but a good method also. Saul sought to honor the God of his fathers, and this was good; but his method, viz. that of persecuting the Christians, was bad. How did Josiah now seek to realize his purpose to sweep idolatry from the face of his country? Not by argument, suasion, and moral influence, but by brute force and violence (2 Kings 23:4-28). "All the vessels that were made for Baal, and for the grove" (2 Kings 23:4), that is, all the apparatus for idol-worship, these he ordered to be burnt outside Jerusalem, "in the fields of Kidron." He "stamped it small to powder, and cast the powder thereof upon the graves of the children of the people. And he brake down the houses of the sodomites" (2 Kings 23:6, 2 Kings 23:7). He also "brake in pieces the images, and cut down the groves, and filled their places with the bones of men" (2 Kings 23:14). Moreover, "he slew all the priests of the high places that were there upon the altars, and burned men's bones upon them" (2 Kings 23:20). In this way, the way of force and violence, he essayed to work out his grand purpose. I offer two remarks concerning his method.
1. It was unphilosophic. Moral evils cannot be put down by force; coercion cannot travel to a man's soul. The fiercest wind, the most vivid lightnings, cannot reach the moral Elijah in his cave. The "still small voice" alone can touch him, and bring him out to light and truth. After all this, were the people less idolatrous? Before Josiah was cold in his grave idolatry was as rife as ever. You may destroy to-day all heathen temples and priests on the face of the earth, but in doing this you have done nothing towards quenching the spirit of idolatry—that will remain as rampant as ever; phoenix-like, it will rise with new vitality and vigor from the ashes into which material fires have consumed its temples, its books, and its feasts. Ay, and you might destroy all the monastic orders and theological tomes of the Roman Catholic Church, and leave the spirit of popery as strong, nay, stronger than ever. Truth alone can conquer error, love alone can conquer wrath, right alone can conquer wrong.
2. It was mischievous. The evil was not extinguished; it burnt with fiercer flame. Persecution has always propagated the opinions it has sought to crush. The crucified Malefactor became the moral Conqueror and Commander of the people. Violence begets violence, anger begets anger, war begets war. "He that taketh the sword shall perish by the sword."—D.T.
2 Kings 23:26-37
Lamentable unskillfulness and incorrigibility.
"Notwithstanding the Lord," etc. This short fragment of Jewish history reflects great disgrace on human nature, and may well humble us in the dust. It brings into prominence at least two subjects suggestive of solemn and practical thought.
I. THE WORTHLESSNESS OF UNWISELY DIRECTED EFFORTS TO BENEFIT MEN, HOWEVER WELL INTENDED. Josiah, it seems from the narrative, was one of the best of Israel's kings. "Like unto him was there no king before him." Most strenuous were his efforts to improve his country, to raise it from the worship of idols to the worship of the true God. He sacrifices his very life to his endeavors; and what was his success? Nil. "Notwithstanding the Lord turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked him withal. And the Lord said, I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and will cast off this city Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, My Name shall be there. Now the rest of the acts of Josiah, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?" All the efforts of this noble king seemed to be abortive. But why? Because, as shown in our preceding homily, while his motive was good, his methods were bad. Instead of depending upon argument and suasion, moral influence, and the embodiment of moral goodness, he uses force. "He slew all the priests of the high places that were there upon the altars, and burned men's bones upon them," etc. Here is a principle in the Divine government of man. No man, however good, can accomplish a good thing unless he employs wise means. The Church of Rome is an example. Its aim, the bringing of the world into the one fold, is sublimely good, but the means it has employed not only neutralize the purpose, but drive large masses of the population away into the wilderness of infidelity and careless living. It is not enough for a Church to have good aims; it must have wise methods: not enough for preachers to desire the salvation of their people; they must use means in harmony with the laws of thought and feeling. Hence fanatical Churches and preachers have always done more harm than good. "If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct." Indeed, this man's unwise efforts not only failed to benefit his country, they brought ruin on himself. He lost his life. "In his days Pharaoh-Nechoh King of Egypt went up against the King of Assyria to the river Euphrates: and King Josiah went against him; and he slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him. And his servants carried him in a chariot dead from Megiddo." No doubt Josiah was inspired with patriotic and religious purposes in going forth against Pharaoh-Nechoh, and in seeking to prevent the march of a bloody tyrant and a hostile force through his territory in order to attack the King of Assyria. But where was his wisdom? What chance had he to hurl back such a formidable invasion? None whatever. Single-handed, of course, he could do nothing. And what help could he obtain from his subjects, most of whom had fallen into that moral degradation which robs the soul of all true courage and skill?
II. THE AMAZING INCORRIGIBILITY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE. Do we find that the men of Israel were improved by the efforts of such kings as Hezekiah and Josiah? Nay. They seemed to grow worse. Scarcely was Josiah in his grave before his son Jehoahaz, who was twenty-three years old, ascended the throne, and during the three months of his reign he "did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord;" and when he is struck down another son of Josiah, Eliakim, who was afterwards named Jehoiakim, received the throne, and, after a reign of twenty-five years, the record is, "He did that which is evil in the sight of the Lord. Here, then, is moral incorrigibility. In all history, ancient or modern, I know no people whose doings were of a baser type. With all the lofty advantages which they had, and with the interpositions of Heaven vouchsafed to them, they seemed to grow worse from age to age. The little spring of depravity that broke forth from their great ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, seemed to deepen, swell in volume, and widen as time rolled on. It was at last a kind of Stygian stream. You can scarcely point to one pellucid wave rising on its surface. It was foul from top to bottom. How sadly have many professed disciples of Christ misinterpreted Jewish history! So much so that they have Judaized the very gospel, and made Judaism a model after which they have shaped communities professedly Christian.
1. A word to those who desire to be useful. Unless you practically recognize the truly scientific adaptation of means to ends, and understand the eternal principles by which the human mind can be rightly influenced, you will "labor in vain, and spend your strength for naught." There is no way by which coercion can travel to a man's soul, no way by which cruelties and persecutions can enlighten, strengthen, and ennoble souls.
2. A word, next, to those who desire to be benefited. You may have seers from heaven working among you, endeavoring to improve you and elevate you. But unless you yield to the influences and attend to the counsels, you will grow worse and worse. Pharaoh's heart grew harder under the ministry of Moses on the banks of the Nile; the Jewish people became worse and worse under the forty years' ministry in the wilderness, and the contemporaries of Christ filled up their measure of iniquity under his benign and enlightening ministrations. The things that belong to your peace may become the elements of your ruin.—D.T.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
2 Kings 23:1-14
Josiah's great reformation.
The narrative of Josiah's reforms contained in this chapter incorporates several particulars which, if the Book of Chronicles is to be regarded as giving the true chronology, belong to an earlier period. It is next to incredible that, after Jehovah's worship had been regularly established, such scandals as the prostitution alluded to in 2 Kings 23:7, and the horses and chariots of the sun in 2 Kings 23:11, should have Been allowed to continue. The narrative in Kings seems specially designed to bring all Josiah's reforms into one view. We have—
I. SOLEMN COVENANTING. After the example of Jehoiada in the reign of Joash (2 Chronicles 23:16), and the still more ancient example of Moses (Deuteronomy 29:1-29.), Josiah convened the people together to renew the covenant made with them by God at Sinai (Exodus 24:1-8). The covenanting took place appropriately in the house of the Lord—another evidence that the worst abominations had by this time been removed from the temple. All classes were assembled, high and low, priests, prophets, and people. In proposing to them to enter on this solemn engagement, in which he set them the example:
1. The king asked them to do a right thing. It was Israel's distinction among the peoples of the earth that they stood in covenant with God. God had chosen them as a people for himself, that they should serve him alone in the land he had given them. If they had failed to do this, and, now relented of their disobedience, it was meet that they should acknowledge their transgressions, and anew pledge themselves to be the Lord's. This was what Josiah desired Judah and Jerusalem—"the remnant of God's inheritance"—to do. Standing on a raised platform, he set them the example of covenant. It is a good thing when nations have leaders who are themselves conspicuous examples of godliness, and who point the way in what is right to their people. The propriety of national covenants is a question to be settled by the circumstances of each particular age. The individual Christian, at least, is called to frequent renewal of his vows to God, and such an exercise is peculiarly suitable after seasons of backsliding.
2. He did it on a right basis. The covenant was based on the declarations of "the book of the covenant," the words of which were first read in the hearing of all the people. Then the people, following the example of their monarch, pledged themselves to walk after the Lord, to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and soul, and to perform the words that were written in the book. Their covenant thus rested on the right foundation, viz. God's Word. It is God who, in his Word, draws near to us, declares to us his will, holds out his promises, invites us to engagement with himself, and lays down the rule of our obedience. A covenant means nothing save as it springs from faith in, acceptance of, and submission to the revealed Word of God. Our covenanting is to be
(1) intelligent—based on the study of God's Word, and understanding of its requirements;
(2) cordial—with all the heart and soul; and
(3) dutiful—in the spirit of obedience, "to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book."
3. Yet the engagement was not sincere. It was so in the case of Josiah, but not in the case of the people generally, though it is written, "All the people stood to the covenant." In lip they honored God, but in heart they were far from him (Isaiah 29:13). This is evident from the descriptions in the prophets. The movement was not a spontaneous one originating in the hearts of the people themselves, but came down to them from above through the king's command. The formal ceremonies of covenanting were gone through, and some temporary, and perhaps genuine, enthusiasm was awakened. But there was no real heart-change of the people. Their goodness was like the morning cloud and the early dew (Hosea 6:4). This is too often the fats of movements originating with kings, princes, and those in high positions, and not springing from the people's own initiative. They are popular and fashionable, and draw many after them who have no real sympathy with their aims. But the effects do not endure. Rank, fashion, royalty, the adhesion of the great and mighty and noble of this world (1 Corinthians 1:26), do not of themselves make a movement religious, though they may secure for it eclat. The Lord looketh on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7), and if the essence of religion is wanting, imposing external forms count for little.
II. THE TEMPLE CLEANSED. In the covenant they had just made, the people bound themselves in the most solemn manner to rid the land of all visible traces of idolatry (Exodus 23:24; Deuteronomy 12:1-3). Josiah took this work in hand more systematically than any king who had gone before' him (2 Kings 23:25). He began with the temple, the thorough purification of which had probably been left over till the repairs above referred to (2 Kings 22:1-20.) could be overtaken. Similar zeal for the destruction of idols was manifested at the conclusion of the previous covenant under Joash (2 Chronicles 23:17).
1. A cleansing away of the traces of Baal-worship. In the first place, a careful clearing out was made of all the vessels and utensils that had been used in the service of Baal, or of the Asherah, or of the host of heaven. These were burned in the valley of Kidron, and the ashes of them carried to Bethel, as the appropriate source of this idolatry. The sacred tree itself—the Asherah—was then cut down, burned in the same valley, and its ashes sprinkled on the graves of the people, many of whom had shared in the guilt of its worship. Afterwards the altars erected to Baal in the temple courts were broken down, and the dust of them cast also into the valley of Kidron (2 Kings 23:12). Possibly the Asherah and these altars had been removed, and treated as described, at an earlier date.
2. A cleansing away of the traces of Venus-worship. The Asherah was devoted to the licentious Astarte, and rites the most shameless and abominable had been conducted in the temple courts in honor of this goddess. Houses, even, had been reared close to the sacred enclosure for the bands of depraved men and women who took part in these orgies. Doubtless the worship ere this had been stopped, and the filthy actors driven out, but the houses which remained as a reminder of its existence were now broken down.
3. A cleansing away of the traces of sun-worship. To the worship of the sun and of the host of heaven belonged the sacred horses and chariots (2 Kings 23:11), probably ere this removed, and the chariots burned; and the altars on the top of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which successive kings had set up. These, like the altars of Manasseh, were broken down, and their dust scattered in the adjoining valley. Every vestige of idolatry was thus cleansed out of the house of which the Lord had said, "In Jerusalem will I put my Name" (2 Kings 21:4).
III. IDOLATRY PUT AWAY. Judgment began at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17), but it spread thence throughout the whole land.
1. Degradation of the priests. The land apparently had been already "purged" of the idols, Asherahs, and sun-images, which were worshipped at the high places (2 Chronicles 34:3, 2 Chronicles 34:4). Measures were now taken to degrade the priests who had ministered at these forbidden altars, and through whom, perhaps, the worship was still in many places carried on. These priests were of different kinds.
(1) Some were "idolatrous priests"—chemarim—after the fashion of the priests of the northern kingdom. They do not appear to have been of Levitical descent at all, but were "ordained" of the kings of Judah to burn incense in the high places, and may have been drawn, like Jeroboam's chemarim, from "the lowest of the people" (1 Kings 12:31). Some of them were ostensibly priests of Jehovah, serving him, probably, with idolatrous symbols; others served Baal, and the sun, moon, and planets. The whole of this illegitimate class of priests Josiah put sternly down—suppressing their order as contrary to the Law of Moses.
(2) The second class of priests were true Levites, but they ministered at the high places. These were brought from their several cities to Jerusalem, and there provided for out of the temple revenues. They were not, however, permitted to minister at the altar of Jehovah, though, like the other priests, they received their support from the temple offerings. These stringent regulations effectually broke the power of this class throughout the country. God must be served by a pure ministry.
2. Defilement of the high places. The next part of Josiah's policy was to destroy and defile the high places themselves. One way in which this was done was by covering them with dead men's bones, or burning dead bones upon them. The high places were thus rendered unclean, and became hateful to the people. Two special acts of defilement are mentioned in addition to that of "the mount of corruption" next referred to, viz.
(1) the defilement of the high places at the entrance of the gate of Joshua; and
(2) the defilement of Topheth in the valley of Hinnom. The real defilement was in the idolatrous and murderous rites with which these places were associated, but Josiah put a special brand of pollution on them, and stamped them as spots to be held in abhorrence for their vileness.
3. The defilement of "the mount of corruption." Such was the appropriate name given to the hill on which Solomon, long before, had reared altars to the heathen gods worshipped by his wives—Ashtoreth, Chemosh, Moloch, etc. The high places of that mount, which directly overlooked Jerusalem, did Josiah now defile. Idolatry is none the less pernicious that it has the sanction of a great name, and flaunts itself under the guise of a spurious toleration. Any spot where God is not worshipped, but idols are set up in his place, soon becomes a mount of corruption. Heathenism is a mount of corruption. Godless civilization will become a mount of corruption. Our very hearts will turn to mounts of corruption if we allow God to be dethroned in them.
IV. LESSONS OF THE REFORMATION.
1. From what it did accomplish. Josiah's was a true "zeal for the Lord." He was actuated by a right motive, guided himself strictly by God's Word, and directed his efforts unswervingly to execute God's will. He wrought earnestly to purify his state from the evils that afflicted it, and to restore the influence of pure and undefiled religion. He deserves our highest admiration for the
(3) method, and
(4) thoroughness with which he did God's work.
Externally, his work was a success. He cleansed the land from idolatry, we, too, have a call to labor for the purification of society, the dethronement of idols, and the spread of true religion. The age of idolatry is not past. Church, state, literature, science, art, have all their idols. There is self-idolatry, nature-idolatry, wealth-idolatry, art-idolatry, the idolatry of genius, and many more worships besides. Our own hearts are abodes of idols. We do well to imitate Josiah in the energy and thoroughness with which he labored to uproot these false gods. We should be unsparing in our judgment Of whatever vice, error, evil lusts, or passions, or inclinations, or tendencies, we discover in ourselves. Let high thoughts be mercilessly brought low, and proud imaginations abased (2 Corinthians 10:5). Wherever sin is detected, let it be yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge!"
2. From what it did not accomplish. This reformation of Josiah wrought, after all, only on the exterior of the nation's life. It lacked power to reach the heart. Therefore it failed to regenerate or save the nation. We are thus pointed to the need of a better covenant, that which Jeremiah predicts in 2 Kings 31:31-34 of his prophecies, "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah I will put my Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts," etc.—J.O.
2 Kings 23:15-20
The altar at Bethel.
From Judah Josiah passed on to Israel, continuing his work of idol-demolition. Everywhere he went he proved himself a veritable "hammer of God"—leveling, defacing, dishonoring, destroying.
I. AN ANCIENT PROPHECY FULFILLED.
1. Iconoclasm at Bethel. Bethel had been the chief scene of Israel's idolatry—the head and front of its offending (cf. Hosea 4:15; Hosea 10:4-9, etc.). On it Josiah's zeal first expended itself. Hosea had prophesied its desolation, the destruction of its high places, the carrying away of its calf, the cessation of its mirth and feasts, its abandonment to thorns and nettles (Hosea 2:11; Hosea 9:6; Hosea 10:8, etc.). But an older voice had foretold the end from the beginning. Scarcely had the schismatic altar, with its calf, been set up, when a prophet out of Judah denounced Jeroboam's sin to his face, and proclaimed that a future king would stain the altar-stones with the blood of the priests, and defile it by burning dead men's bones upon it. A sign had been given in confirmation of the truth of the prediction (1 Kings 13:1-10). That oracle stood at the head of the way of transgression, warning men away from it; but its voice had been unheeded. Now, centuries after, the prediction was fulfilled. Idolatry in some form still held its ground on the ancient spot, but Josiah put an end to it. The altar and high place he broke down, and burned the high place, and reduced it to powder, and burned the Asherah. The idolatry at Bethel had wrought out its effects in the ruin of the state. That evil was irremediable, but Josiah could show at least his detestation of the sin, and his determination that no more evil should be wrought, by totally demolishing the sanctuary. Special regard should be paid to the removal of centers of wickedness. It is useless to capture outworks, if strongholds are left standing. We should not rest content till the very name and memory of sin has perished in places that were conspicuous for it.
2. The sepulcher invaded. Josiah would have no half-measures. It was part of his settled policy, not simply to break down the high places, but to defile them, and unfit them for future use. In looking round him at Bethel for means to accomplish this end, he spied the sepulchers that were in the mount, and sent and took bones out of the sepulchers, and polluted the altar by burning them upon it. His immediate design was to defile the altar, but in taking the bones to burn, he dishonored also the ashes of the dead. In his consuming zeal against idolatry he felt that no respect was due to the bones of those who, by their sins, had brought death upon the nation. It is easy to blame the act, and to compare it with the ruthless violations of the sanctity of the grave of which persecutors have often been guilty. It seems a paltry and vindictive proceeding to wreak one's vengeance on the dead. To Josiah, however, no sanctity attached to these graves, but only a curse. His very object was to do deeds which would make men feel, as they had never felt before, the hateful nature of idolatry, and the certainty of a Nemesis attending it. In having their bones dragged out and burned upon the altar, the dead idolaters were, in a sense, making atonement to God's insulted majesty (cf. Jeremiah 8:1-3). The feeling, nevertheless, is one which might easily go too far, and be mixed up with mean and purely spiteful motives. However it might be under Jewish law, it can hardly be right now. None the less is it the case that a curse rests upon the very bones of the wicked dead. Death to them is the penal stroke of God's displeasure, and, when they rise, it is to the resurrection of damnation (John 5:29).
II. THE BONES OF THE PROPHET RESPECTED.
1. A monument in a wicked place to a good man. Among the tombs which Josiah beheld was one with a monument before it. He asked whose it was, and was told it was the monument of the man of God who prophesied of these things which had been done to the altar. That monument had, perhaps, been built by the hands of the very men whose sins 'the prophet had denounced, so great oftentimes is human inconsistency (cf. Matthew 23:28-30). In any case, it stood there for centuries a silent witness against the iniquities that were perpetrated in its presence. Monuments to prophets, martyrs, saints, still crowd our burial and public places; we pay external honor to their memories; but what God will ask of us is—Do we imitate their spirit? As great men recede into the distance, it becomes easy to pay them reverence. These idolatrous Israelites no doubt magnified their descent from Abraham, and boasted of their great lawgiver Moses, at the very time that they were breaking his commandments. When the prophets were among them, they sought to kill them; then they built monuments in their honor.
2. A solitary witness for truth justified by the event. This prophet in his day stood alone. Even among the dead he lay alone. The multitudes around him were not those who believed, but those who had disregarded his word. If ever man was in a minority, he was. Century after century rolled by, and still the word he had spoken remained unfulfilled. Did it not seem as if the oracle were about to fail? But Wisdom in the end is justified of her children (Matthew 11:19). The prophet's word came true at last, and it was seen and acknowledged of all that he was right. Thus is it with all God's true servants. We should not concern ourselves too much with man's gainsaying. We have but to bear our testimony and leave the issues with God. He will at length vindicate us.
3. Discrimination between good and bad. When Josiah learned whose the sepulcher was, he gave command that his bones should not be touched, nor yet the bones of the old prophet who was buried along with him (1 Kings 13:31). The righteous was discriminated from the sinners. So shall it be at the last day. No confusion will be made in the resurrection between good and bad. While the wicked come forth to the resurrection of judgment, the good shall come forth to the resurrection of life (John 5:29). A gracious Savior watches over their dust.
III. THE SLAUGHTER OF THE PRIESTS.
1. General demolition. The wave of destruction spread from Bethel over all the other high places in the cities of Samaria. Josiah's procession through the land was the signal for the overthrow of every species of idolatry. "So did he," we are told, "in the cities of Manasseh, and Ephraim, and Simeon, even unto Naphtali, in their ruins round about" (2 Chronicles 34:6).
2. Priests of the high places slain. In connection with this progress of Josiah through Israel is mentioned the fact that "he slew all the priests of the high places that were there upon the altars," If this stern policy had been confined to Israel, it would have been difficult to exculpate Josiah from partiality in his carrying out of the provisions of the Law; but the words in Chronicles imply that the like was, at least in some places, done in Judah also (2 Chronicles 34:5). In what he did he was no doubt strictly within the letter of the Law, which he and the people had sworn to obey, for that undeniably denounced death against idolaters (Deuteronomy 13:1-18; etc.). To equal his act, therefore, with Manasseh's shedding of innocent blood is to miss the essential fact of the situation. This was not innocent blood by the fundamental law of the constitution. It is probably with reference to this, as to ether parts of his conduct, that Josiah gets special praise for the fidelity of his obedience to the Law of Moses (verse 25). It does not follow that his conduct is such as Christians, living under a milder and better dispensation, should now imitate. It does not even follow that every individual act which Josiah did was beyond blame. His human judgment may have erred at times on the side of severity. The holiest movements are not free from occasional excesses; but we should judge the movement by the soul which actuates it, and not by its superficial excrescences.—J.O.
2 Kings 23:21-28
The reformation completed, yet Israel's sin not pardoned.
We have in these verses—
I. THE GREAT PASSOVER.
1. A seal of the covenant. This great year of reformation began with a covenant, and ended with a Passover. The ceremonies of the occasion are fully described in 2 Chronicles 35:1-27. The Passover in the Old Testament was in some respects very much what the Lord's Supper is in the New, It took the people back to the origin of their history, revived vivid memories of the deliverance from Egypt, and ratified their engagement to be the Lord's. It reminded of the past, set a seal upon the present, and gave a pledge for the future. The Christian sacrament seals God's promises to the believer, and, at the same time, seals the believer's covenant with God. It establishes, nourishes, and strengthens the life received in the new birth.
2. An historic celebration. "Surely there was not holden such a Passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel," etc. A true religious awakening shows itself
(1) in increased interest in God's ordinances;
(2) in stricter fidelity in observing them; and
(3) in joyful alacrity in taking advantage of them.
II. FIDELITY TO MOSES.
1. Cleansing away the concomitants of idolatry. Together with the idols, Josiah cleansed out of the land the tribes of wizards, necromancers, soothsayers, etc; who found their profit in the ignorance and superstition of the people. Where Bible religion returns, Sanity returns. The hideous specters begotten of fear and superstition vanish. Josiah further carefully eradicated any remaining traces of idol-worship that could be "spied."
2. Pre-eminent fidelity. In these deeds, and by his whole course as a reformer, Josiah earned for himself the distinction of being the most faithful king that had yet reigned. He and Hezekiah stand out pre-eminent the one for trust in God (2 Kings 18:5), the other for fidelity to the Law of Moses. "Like unto him was there no king before him," etc. Like gems, each of which has its special beauty and excels in its own kind, these two kings shine above all the rest. Only one character exhibits all spiritual excellences in perfection.
III. ISRAEL'S SIN YET UNPARDONED.
1. God's unappeased anger. "Notwithstanding the Lord turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath," etc. The sole reason of this was that, notwithstanding the zealous Josiah's reforms, the people had not in heart turned from their great sins. The spirit of Manasseh still lived in them. They were unchanged in heart, and, with favoring circumstances, were as ready to break out into idolatry as ever. The outward face of things was improved as regards religion, but social injustice and private morals were as bad as ever. Hence the Lord could not, and would not, turn from his wrath. It is real, not lip, repentance that God requires to turn away his auger from us. We see:
(1) The posthumous influence of evil. "One sinner destroyeth much good" (Ecclesiastes 9:18). Manasseh's deeds lived after him. His repentance could not recall the mischief they had done to the nation. They went working on after his decease, propagating and multiplying their influence, till the nation was destroyed.
(2) The righteousness of individuals cannot save an unrighteous people. Not even though these righteous persons are high in rank, are deeply concerned for the revival of religion, and labor with all their hearts to stem the tide of corruption. Their piety and prayers may delay judgment, but if impenitence is persisted in, they cannot finally avert it (cf. Jeremiah 15:1, "Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be toward this people").
2. God's unshaken purpose. "I will remove Judah also out of my sight," etc. Terrible is the severity of God when his forbearance is exhausted. Moral laws are inexorable. If the spiritual conditions, by which only a change could be effected, are wanting, they work on till the sinner is utterly destroyed.—J.O.
2 Kings 23:29-37
Pharaoh-Nechoh and the Jewish kings.
A new power had risen in Egypt which was to play a temporary, but influential, part in the evolution of God's purposes towards Judah. Assyria was at this time in its death-agonies. The scepter of empire was soon to pass to Babylon. But it was Pharaoh-Nechoh who, following the designs of his own ambition, was to set in motion a train of events which had the effect of bringing Judah within the power of the King of Babylon.
I. THE DEATH OF JOSIAH.
1. Circumstances of his death. Taking advantage of the troubles in the East, Pharaoh-Nechoh was bent on securing his own supremacy over Syria and extending it as far as the river Euphrates. He disclaimed all intention of inter-feting with Josiah (2 Chronicles 35:21), but that monarch thought it his duty to oppose him. It was a perilous venture, and Josiah seems to have entered upon it somewhat rashly. He certainly had not prophetic sanction for the enterprise. The issue was as might have been anticipated. He encountered Pharaoh-Nechoh at Megiddo, and was disastrously defeated. Wounded by the archers, he bade his servants carry him away, and, placing him in another chariot, they drove him off. It is to be inferred from Zechariah 12:11 that he died at "Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddo," and that his dead body was afterwards brought to Jerusalem. By this defeat Judah was brought into subjection to Pharaoh-Nechoh, and the way prepared for its subjection to Nebuchadnezzar, when he, in turn, became master of the situation. It is wise not unduly to meddle with the quarrels of other nations.
2. Mourning for his death. The untimely death of Josiah was a cause of unexampled mourning throughout the whole land. The affection with which his people regarded him, and the confidence they placed in him, are strikingly shown by the sorrow felt at his loss. The mourning at Hadadrimmon is used by the prophet to illustrate the mourning which will take place at the national repentance of Israel in the times of the Messiah (Zechariah 12:9-14). It was as the mourning for a firstborn. Jeremiah composed an elegy for the good king departed, and the singing-men and singing, women kept up the practice of lamenting for him even unto the Captivity (2 Chronicles 35:24, 2 Chronicles 35:25). Well might Judah mourn. Josiah was the last great and good king they would see. But infinitely better would it have been if their sorrow had been the "godly sorrow" which "worketh repentance" (2 Corinthians 7:10). This unfortunately it was not, as the result showed. It is because it was not that, the mourning of Hadadrimmon will have to be done over again (Zechariah 12:10), next time in a very different spirit. We see that it is possible to lament good men, yet not profit by their example. The best tribute we can pay the just is to live like them.
3. Providential aspects of his death.
(1) An irreparable loss to the nation, Josiah's death was yet great gain to himself. It was God s way of taking him away from the evil to come, and so of fulfilling the promise given by Huldah (2 Kings 22:20). Josiah, perhaps, erred in taking the step he did, but while God punished him for his error, he providentially overruled the event for his good. Death is sometimes a blessing. It may hide things from our eyes we had rather not see; as, in the case of the good, it translates to scenes of bliss beyond human conception. "The dark things" of God's providence are these in which we may ultimately recognize the greatest mercy. "Judge not the Lord by feeble sense," etc.
(2) In regard to the nation, the providential aspects of this death were widely different. It took from them a gift which they had failed to prize, or at least to profit by. It was, moreover, a step in Providence towards the fulfillment of the threatenings of captivity. Pharaoh-Nechoh's conquest was the gate through which Nebuchadnezzar entered.
II. THE DEPOSITION OF JEHOAHAZ.
1. A brief reign. In virtue of the defeat of Josiah, Judah became ipso facto a dependency of Pharaoh-Nechoh. The people, however, were in no mood to acknowledge this subjection, and immediately set about making a king for themselves. They passed by Eliakim, Josiah's eldest son, and raised the next son, Shallum (Jeremiah 22:11), to the throne under the name of Jehoahaz. The younger son was probably the more spirited and warlike of the two. Ezekiel compares him to a young lion (Ezekiel 19:3). Under him the nation cast off the restraints of thee reign of Josiah, and reverted to its former sinful ways. It does not suffice to make a good king that he has—
(1) a good father—"the son of Josiah;"
(2) a good name—Jehoahaz, "he whom the Lord sustains;" or
(3) a solemn anointing—they "anointed him"
The people probably thought otherwise, for it was they, apparently, who gave him this name, and took the step of formally consecrating him with the anointing oil Anointing oil, without the grace which it symbolizes, of little use. Jehoahaz was permitted to possess his throne only for three brief months.
2. A hard captivity. By the end of the period named, Pharaoh-Nechoh was sufficiently free to attend to the proceedings at Jerusalem. The city had flouted his supremacy, and he did not let it escape. His own camp was at Riblah, but he sent to Jerusalem, required Jehoahaz to attend his court at Riblah, there put him in chains, and carried him with him into Egypt (Ezekiel 19:4). This was a worse fate than Josiah's. "Weep ye not for the dead," said Jeremiah, "neither bemoan him: but weep sore for him that goeth away: for he shall return no more, nor see his native country." (Jeremiah 22:10). This captivity of Jehoahaz was a prelude to the captivity of the nation—the first drop of the shower soon about to fall. Yet the people would not hearken.
3. A heavy tribute. In addition to removing the king, Pharaoh-Nechoh put the land under a tribute. He exacted a hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold. Again we see how sin works out bondage, misery, and disgrace. An oft-read lesson, but how impossible, apparently, for this people to learn!
III. JEHOIAKIM'S VASSALAGE.
1. Egypt dictates a king. Once again, as in the earliest period of their history, Israel was in bondage to Egypt. Pharaoh-Nechoh used his power unsparingly. The eldest son of Josiah, who seems not to have been a favorite with the people, was willing to accept the throne as a vassal, and him, accordingly, Nechoh made king, changing his name, in token of subjection, from Eliakim to Jehoiakim. How bitter the satire—Jehoiakim, "he whom Jehovah has set up!"
2. Jehoiakim becomes Egypt's tool. Jehoiakim had, perhaps, no alternative but to give "the silver and the gold to Pharaoh," but in his manner of exacting it he showed himself the willing tool of the oppressor. To obtain the money, he put heavy taxation on the people. His rule was a bitter, ignominious, and oppressive one for Judah. Jeremiah says of him, "But thine eyes and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness, and for to shed innocent blood, and for oppression, and for violence, to do it" (Jeremiah 22:17). But such are the kings men must submit to when they reject God for their Sovereign. In a moral respect Jehoiakim's reign was "evil," and in a temporal respect it was the stumbling on from one misfortune to another.—J.O.
2 Kings 24:1-20
2 Kings 24:1-20
REIGNS OF JEHOIAKIM, JEHOIACHIN, AND ZEDEKIAH.
2 Kings 24:1-7
REST OF THE REIGN OF JEHOIAKIM. Troubles now fell thick and fast upon Judaea. Within three years of the invasion of the country by Pharaoh-Nechoh, another hostile army burst in from the north. In B.C. 605, the last year of Nabopolassar, he sent his eldest son, Nebuchadnezzar, into Syria, to assert the dominion of Babylon over the countries lying between the Euphrates and the frontier of Egypt. Nechoh sought to defend his conquests, but was completely defeated at Carehemish in a great battle (Jeremiah 46:2-12). Syria and Palestine then lay open to the new invader, and, resistance being regarded as hopeless, Jehoiakim made his submission to Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24:1). But, three years later, sustained by what hope we know not, he ventured on an act of rebellion, and declared himself independent. Nebuchadnezzar did not at once march against him, but caused him to be attacked, as it would seem, by his neighbors (2 Kings 24:2). A war without important result continued for four years. Titan Nebuchadnezzar came up against him in person for a second time (2 Chronicles 36:6), took Jerusalem, and made Jehoiakim prisoner. He designed at first to carry him to Babylon; but seems to have afterwards determined to have him executed, and to have treated his corpse with indignities (Jeremiah 22:30; Jeremiah 36:30). The writer of Kings throws a veil over these transactions, closing his narrative with the customary phrase—Jehoiakim "slept with his fathers" (2 Kings 24:6).
2 Kings 24:1
In his days Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon came up. The Hebrew נְבֻכַדְנֶאצַר (Nebuchadnezzar) or נְבֻכַדְרֶאצַר (Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah, Ezekiel) represents the Babylonian Nabu-kudur-uzur ("Nebo is the protector of landmarks"), a name very common in the Babylonian and Assyrian inscriptions. It was borne by three distinct kings of Babylon, the most important of whom was Nebuchadnezzar III; the son of Nabopolassar, the monarch of the present passage. According to Berosus, he was not at the time of this expedition the actual sovereign of Babylonia, but only the crown prince, placed by the actual king, Nabopolassar, at the head of his army. It is possible that his father may have associated him in the kingdom, for association was not unknown at Babylon; or the Jews may have mistaken his position; or the historian may call him king by prolepsis, as a modern might say, "The Emperor Napoleon invaded Italy and defeated the Austrians at Marengo". His father had grown too old and infirm to conduct a military expedition, and consequently sent his son in his place, with the object of chastising Nechoh, and recovering the territory whereof Nechoh had made himself master three years before (see 2 Kings 23:29-33, and compare below, 2 Kings 23:7). And Jehoiakim became his servant—i.e. submitted to him, and became a tributary king—three years: then he turned and rebelled against him. How Jehoiakim came to venture on this step we are not told, and can only conjecture. It is, perhaps, most probable that (as Josephus says, 'Ant. Jud.' 10.6, § 2) he was incited to take this course by the Egyptians, who were still under the rule of the brave and enterprising Nechoh, and who may have hoped to wipe out by fresh victories the disaster experienced at Carehemish. There is, perhaps, an allusion to Jehoiakim's expectation of Egyptian succors in the statement of 2 Kings 24:7, that "the King of Egypt came not again any more out of his land."
2 Kings 24:2
And the Lord sent against him bands of the Chaldees. That Nebuchadnezzar did not promptly march against Jehoiakim to suppress his rebellion, but contented himself with sending against him a few "bands" (גְדוּדֵי) of Chaldeans, and exciting the neighboring Syrians, Ammonites, and Moabites to invade and ravage his territory, can scarcely be otherwise accounted for than by supposing that he was detained in Middle Asia by wars or rebellious nearer home. It may have been a knowledge of these embarrassments that induced Jehoiakim to lend an ear to the persuasions of Nechoh. And bands of the Syrians, and bands of the Moabites, and bands of the children of Ammon (comp. Ezekiel 19:8, "Then the nations set against him on every side from the provinces, and spread their net over him: he was taken in their pit"), and sent them against Judah to destroy it—i.e. to begin that waste and ruin which should terminate ultimately in the complete destruction and obliteration of the Judaean kingdom—according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by his servants the prophets. As Isaiah, Micah, Habakkuk, Jeremiah, Zephaniah, and Huldah (see 2 Kings 22:16-20).
2 Kings 24:3
Surely at the commandment of the Lord came this upon Judah; literally, only at the mouth of the Lord did this come upon Judah; i.e. there was no other cause for it but the simple "mouth" or "word" of the Lord. The LXX; who translate πλὴν θυμὸς Κυρίου ἧν ἐπὶ τὸν ιούδαν, seem to have had אַף instead of פִי in their copies. To remove them out of his sight for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he did. The meaning is not that the nation was punishes for the personal sins and crimes of the wicked Manseseh forty or fifty years previously, but that the class of sins introduced by Manasseh, being persisted in by the people, brought the stern judgments of God upon them. As W. G. Sumner well observes, "The sins of Manasseh had become a designation for a certain class of offences, and a particular form of public and social depravity, which was introduced by Manassseh, but of which generation after generation continued to be guilty." The special sins were
(1) idolatry, accompanied by licentious rites;
(2) child-murder, or sacrifice to Moloch;
(3) sodomy (2 Kings 23:7); and
(4) the use of enchantments and the practice of magical arts (2 Kings 21:6).
2 Kings 24:4
And also for the innocent blood that he shed. Like the other "sins of Manasseh," the shedding of innocent blood continued, both in the Moloch offerings (Jeremiah 7:31) and in the persecution of the righteous (Jeremiah 7:6, Jeremiah 7:9, etc.). Urijah was actually put to death by Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 26:23); Jeremiah narrowly escaped. For he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood; which the Lord would not pardon. Blood "cries to God from the ground" on which it falls (Genesis 4:11), and is "required" at the hands of the bloodshedder (Genesis 9:5) unfailingly. Especially is the blood of saints slain for their religion avenged and exacted by the Most High (see Revelation 6:10; Revelation 11:18; Revelation 16:6; Revelation 19:2, etc.).
2 Kings 24:5
Now the rest of the acts of Jehoiakim; and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? Among the acts of Jehoiakim recorded elsewhere in the Old Testament, the most remarkable are the following:
(1) His execution of Urijah the son of Shemaiah (Jeremiah 26:23);
(2) his destruction of the first collection of the early prophecies made by Jeremiah, in a fit of anger at hearing its contents (Jeremiah 36:20-23);
(3) his order that Jeremiah and Baruch should be arrested (Jeremiah 36:26);
(4) his capture by some of the "nations" which Nebuchadnezzar had stirred up against him, and delivery into the hands of that monarch (Ezekiel 19:9), probably at Jerusalem. How Nebuchadnezzar treated him is uncertain. Josephus says ('Ant. Jud.,' 10.6. § 3) that he put him to death, and east him out unburied beyond the walls of the city. But from the biblical notices we can only gather that he died prematurely after a reign of no more than eleven years, and was u-lamented, "buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem" (Jeremiah 22:18, Jeremiah 22:19). Conjecture has filled up the blanks of this history in several ways, the most purely imaginative being, perhaps, that of Ewald, who says, "When the Chaldean armies presented themselves at the gates of the capital, Jehoiakim seems to have been betrayed into the same error as his brother (Jehoahaz), eleven years before. He gave ear to a crafty invitation of the enemy to repair for negotiations to their camp, where, in sight of his own city, he was made prisoner. He offered a frantic resistance, and was dragged away in a scuffle, and miserably cut down; while even an honorable burial for his corpse, which his family certainly solicited, was refused."
2 Kings 24:6
So Jehoiakim slept with his fathers. It is not certain that the writer means anything more by this than that "Jehoiakim died." His body may, however, possibly have been found by the Jews after the Babylonians had withdrawn from before Jerusalem, and have been entombed with those of Manasseh, Amen, and Josiah. And Jehoiachin his son reigned in his stead, Josephus says (l.s.c.) that Nebuchadnezzar placed him upon the throne, which is likely enough, since he would certainly not have quitted Jerusalem without setting up some king or other. Jehoiachin has in Scripture the two other names of Jeconiah (1 Chronicles 3:16, 1 Chronicles 3:17; Jeremiah 27:20; Jeremiah 28:4; Jeremiah 29:2) and Coniah (Jeremiah 22:24, Jeremiah 22:28; Jeremiah 37:1). Jehoiachin and Jeconiah differ only, as Jehoahaz and Ahaziah, by a reversal of the order of the two elements. Both mean "Jehovah will establish (him)." "Coniah" cuts off from "Jeconiah" the sign of futurity, and means "Jehovah establishes." It is used only by Jeremiah, and seems used by him to signify that though "Jehovah establishes," Jeconiah he would not establish.
2 Kings 24:7
And the King of Egypt earns not again any mere out of his land. Nechoh's two expeditions were enough for him. In the first he was completely successful, defeated Josiah (2 Kings 23:29), overran Syria as far as Carchemish, and made Phoenicia, Judaea, and probably the adjacent countries tributary to him. In the second (Jeremiah 46:2-12) he suffered a calamitous reverse, was himself defeated with great slaughter, forced to fly hastily, and to relinquish all his conquests. After this, he "came not any more out of his land." Whatever hopes he held out to Judaea or to Tyre, he was not bold enough to challenge the Babylonians to a third trial of strength, but remained—peaceably within his own borders. For the King of Babylon had taken from the river of Egypt. The נַצַל מִצְרַיִם is not the Nile, but the Wady el Arish, the generally dry watercourse, which was the ordinarily accepted boundary between Egypt and Syria (see 1 Kings 8:65; Isaiah 27:12). The Nile is the נָהַר מִצְרַיִם. Unto the river Euphrates all that pertained to the King of Egypt; i.e. all that he had conquered and made his own in his first expedition in the year B.C. 608.
2 Kings 24:8-16
REIGN OF JEHOIACHIN. The short reign of Jehoisshin is now described. It lasted but three months. For some reason which is unrecorded, Nebuchadnezzar, who had placed him on the throne, took offence at his conduct, and sent an army against him to effect his deposition. Jehoiachin offered scarcely any resistance. He "went out" of the city (2 Kings 24:12), with the queen-mother, the officers of the court, and the princes, and submitted himself to the will of the great king. But he gained nothing by his pusillanimity. The Babylonians entered Jerusalem, plundered the temple and the royal palace, made prisoners of the king, his mother, the princes and nobles, the armed garrison, and all the more skilled artisans, to the number altogether of ten thousand souls (Josephus says 10,832, 'Ant. Jud.,' 10.7. § 1), and carried them captive to Babylon. Zedekiah, the king's uncle, was made monarch in his room.
2 Kings 24:8
Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign. In 2 Chronicles 36:9 he is said to have been only eight years old, but this is probably an accidental corruption, the yod, which is the Hebrew sign for ten, easily slipping out. As he had "wives" (2 Chronicles 36:15) and "seed" (Jeremiah 22:28), he could not well be less than eighteen. And he reigned in Jerusalem three months. "Three months and ten days," according to 2 Chronicles (l.s.c.) and Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' l.s.c.). And his mother's name was Nehushta, the daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem. Elnathan was one of the chief of the Jerusalem princes under Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 26:22; Jeremiah 36:12, Jeremiah 36:25). His daughter, Nehushta—the Noste of Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 10.6. § 3)—was probably the ruling spirit of the time during her son's short reign. We find mention of her in Jer 26:1-24 :26; Jeremiah 29:2; and in Josephus, 'Ant. Jud.,' 10.6. § 3, and 10.7. § 1. Ewald suggests that she "energetically supported" her son in the policy whereby he offended Nebuchadnezzar.
2 Kings 24:9
And he did that which was evil the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father had done. Josephus says that Jehoiachin was φύσει χρηστὸς καὶ δίκαιος ('Ant. Jud.,' 10.7. § 1); but Jeremiah calls him "a despised broken idol," and "a vessel wherein is no pleasure" (Jeremiah 22:28). The present passage probably does not mean more than that he made no attempt at a religious reformation, but allowed the idolatries and superstitions which had prevailed under Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim to continue. It is in his favor that he did not actively persecute Jeremiah.
2 Kings 24:10
At that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon came up against Jerusalem. This siege fell probably into the year B.C. 597, which was "the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar" (2 Kings 24:12). Nebuchadnezzar himself was, at the time, engaged in the siege of Tyre, which had revolted in B.C. 598, and therefore sent his "servants"—i.e. generals—against Jerusalem. And the city was besieged. Probably for only a short time. Jeconiah may at first have had some hope of support from Egypt, still under the rule of Nechoh; but when no movement was made in this quarter (see the comment on 2 Kings 24:7), he determined not to provoke his powerful enemy by an obstinate resistance, but to propitiate him, if possible, by a prompt surrender.
2 Kings 24:11
And Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon came against the city, and his servants did besiege it; rather, his servants were besieging it. While the siege conducted by his generals was still going on, Nebuchadnezzar made his appearance in person before the walls, probably bringing with him an additional force, which made a successful resistance hopeless. A council of war was no doubt held under the new circumstances, and a surrender was decided on.
2 Kings 24:12
And Jehoiachin the King of Judah went out to the King of Babylon (for the use of the expression, "went out to," in this sense of making a surrender, see 1 Samuel 11:3; Jeremiah 21:9; Jeremiah 38:17, etc.), he, and his mother (see the comment on 2 Kings 24:8), and his servants, and his princes, and his officers—rather, his eunuchs (see the comment on 2 Kings 20:18) and the King of Babylon took him in the eighth year of his reign. Nebuchadnezzar succeeded his father, Nabopelassar, in B.C. 605; but his first year was not complete till late in B.C. 604. His "eighth year" was thus B.C. 597.
2 Kings 24:13
And he carried out thence all the treasures of the house of the Lord. "Thence" means "from Jerusalem," which he entered and plundered, notwithstanding Jehoiachin's submission, so that not much was gained by the voluntary surrender. A beginning had been made of the carrying off the sacred vessels of the temple in Jehoiakim's third (fourth?) year (Daniel 1:1), which was the first of Nebuchadnezzar. The plundering was now carried a step further; while the final complete sweep of all that remained came eleven years later, at the end of the reign of Zedekiah (see 2 Kings 25:13-17). And the treasures of the king's house. If the treasures which Hezekiah showed to the envoys of Merodach-Baladan were carried off by Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:15), still there had probably been fresh accumulations made during their long reigns by Manasseh and Josiah. And out in pieces all the vessels of gold which Solomon King of Israel had made in the temple of the Lord. (For an account of these vessels, see 1 Kings 7:45-50.) They consisted in part of articles of furniture, like the altar of incense and the table of shrewbread, which were thickly covered with plates of gold; in part of vessels, etc; made wholly of the precious metal, as candlesticks, or rather candelabra, snuffers, tongs, basins, spoons, censers, and the like. As the Lord had said.
2 Kings 24:14
And he carried away all Jerusalem. The expression has to be limited by what follows. "All Jerusalem" means all that was important in the population of Jerusalem all the upper classes, the "princes" and "nobles," all the men trained to the use of arms, and all the skilled craftsmen and artisans of the city. The poor and weak and unskilled were left. The number deported, according to our author, was either ten or eleven thousand. The whole population of the ancient city has been calculated from its area at fifteen thousand. The largest estimate of the population of the modern city is seventeen thousand. And all the princes. The sarim, or "princes," are not males of the blood royal, but the nobles, or upper classes of Jerusalem (comp. Jeremiah 25:18; Jeremiah 26:10-16, etc.). And all the mighty men of valor—i.e. "all the trained troops" (Ewald); not "all the men of wealth," as Bahr renders—even ten thousand captives. As the soldiers are reckoned below (2 Kings 24:16) at seven thousand, and the craftsmen at one thousand, the upper-class captives would seem to have been two thousand; unless, indeed, the "craftsmen" are additional to the ten thousand, in which Case the upper-class captives would have numbered three thousand, and the prisoners have amounted altogether to eleven thousand. And all the craftsmen and smiths. Ewald understands "the military workmen and siege engineers" to be intended; but the term צָרָשׁin Hebrew includes all workers in stone, metal, or wood (Genesis 4:22; Isaiah 44:12; 1 Kings 7:14), and there is nothing to limit it here to military craftsmen. It was an Oriental practice to weaken a state by the deportation of all the stronger elements of its population. None remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land. These words must be taken with some latitude. There are still "princes" in Jerusalem under Zedekiah (Jeremiah 38:4, Jeremiah 38:25, Jeremiah 38:27), and courtiers of rank (Jeremiah 38:7), and "captains of forces" (Jeremiah 40:7), and "men of war" (Jeremiah 52:7). But the bulk of the inhabitants now left behind in Jerusalem were poor and of small account.
2 Kings 24:15
And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon. Jehoiachin continued a captive in Babylon during the remainder of Nebuchadnezzar's reign—a space of thirty-seven years (see the comment on 2 Kings 25:27). And the king's mother (see above, 2 Kings 24:12), and the king's wives—this is important, as helping to determine Jehoiachin's ago (see the comment on 2 Kings 24:8)—and his officers—rather, his eunuchs (comp. Jeremiah 38:7; Jeremiah 39:16)—and the mighty of the land. Not only the "princes" and the trained soldiers and the skilled artisans (2 Kings 24:14), but all who were of much account, as the bulk of the priests and the prophets (see Jeremiah 29:1-24). Those carried he into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. "Babylon" (בָבֶל) is the city, not the country (as Thenius imagines). It was the practice for the conquering kings to carry their captives with them to their capital, for ostentation's sake, before determining on their destination. The Jewish prisoners were, no doubt, ultimately settled in various parts of Babylonia. Hence they are called (Ezra 2:1; Nehemiah 7:6) "the children of the province."
2 Kings 24:16
And all the men of might—i.e. "The mighty men of valor" (or, "trained soldiers") of 2 Kings 24:14—even seven thousand, and craftsmen and smiths a thousand, all that were strong and apt for war—the craftsmen and smiths would be pressed into the military service in the event of a siege—even them the Zing of Babylon brought captive to Babylon; i.e. he brought to Babylon, not only the royal personages, the officials of the court, and the captives who belonged to the upper classes (2 Kings 24:15), but also the entire military force which he had deported, and the thousand skilled artificers. All, without exception, were conducted to the capital.
2 Kings 24:17-20
EARLIER PORTION OF ZEDEKIAH'S REIGN. Nebuchadnezzar found a son of Josiah, named Mattaniah, still surviving at Jerusalem. At his father's death he must have been a boy of ten, but he was now, eleven years later, of the age of twenty-one. This youth, only three years older than his nephew Jehoiachin, he appointed king, at the same time requiring him to change his name, which he did from "Mattaniah" to "Zedekiah" (2 Kings 24:17). Zedekiah pursued nearly the same course of action as the other recent kings. He showed no religious zeal, instituted no reform, but allowed the idolatrous practices, to which the people were so addicted, to continue (2 Kings 24:19). Though less irreligious and less inclined to persecute than Jehoiakim, he could not bring himself to turn to God. He was weak and vacillating, inclined to follow the counsels of Jeremiah, but afraid of the "princes," and ultimately took their advice, which was to ally himself with Egypt, and openly rebel against Nebuchadnezzar. This course of conduct brought about the destruction of the nation (verse 29).
2 Kings 24:17
And the King of Babylon made Mattaniah his father's brother king in his stead. Josiah had four sons (1 Chronicles 3:15)—Johanan, the eldest, who probably died before his father; Jehoiakim, or Eliakim, the second, who was twenty-five years old at his father's death (2 Kings 23:36); Jehoahaz, the third, otherwise called Shallum (1 Chronicles, l.s.c.; Jeremiah 22:11), who, when his father died, was aged twenty-three (2 Kings 32:31); and Mattaniah, the youngest, who must have been then aged ten or nine. It was this fourth son, now grown to manhood, whom Nebuchadnezzar appointed king in Jehoiachin's room. And changed his name to Zedekiah. (On the practice of changing a king's name on his accession, see the comment upon 2 Kings 23:31, 2 Kings 23:34.) Mat-lab means "Gift of Jehovah;" Zedekiah, "Righteousness of Jehovah." Josiah had called his son the first of these names in humble acknowledgment of God's mercy in granting him a fourth son. So other pious Jews called their sons "Nathaniel," and Greeks "Theodotus" or "Theodorus," and Romans "Deodatua." Mattaniah, in taking the second of the names, may have had in his mind the prophecy of Jeremiah 23:5-8, where blessings are promised to the reign of a king whose name should be "Jehovah-Tsidkenu," i.e. "The Lord our Righteousness." Or he may simply have intended to declare that "the righteousness of Jehovah" was what he aimed at establishing. In this case it can only be said that it would have been happy for his country, had his professions been corroborated by his acts.
2 Kings 24:18
Zedekiah was twenty and one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem; Probably from B.C. 597 to B.C. 586. He was thus contemporary with Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, with Cyaxares and Astyages in Media, and with Psamatik II. and Ua-ap-ra (Pharaoh-Hophra) in Egypt. And his mother's name was Hamutal, the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. He was thus full brother of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 23:31), but only half-brother to Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23:36). His father-in-law, "Jeremiah of Libnah" is not the prophet, who was of Anathoth.
2 Kings 24:19
And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that Jehoiakim had done. Keil says, "His attitude towards the Lord exactly resembled that of his brother Jehoiakim, except that Zedekiah does not appear to have possessed so much energy for that which was evil." He allowed the people to continue their "pollutions" and" abominations" (2 Chronicles 36:14). He let the "princes" have their way, and do whatever they pleased (Jeremiah 38:5), contenting himself with sometimes outwitting them, and counteracting their proceeding (Jeremiah 38:14-28). He fell into the old error of "putting trust in Egypt" (Jeremiah 37:5-7), and made an alliance with Apries (Pharaoh-Hophra), which was an act of rebellion, at once against God and against his Babylonian suzerain. He was, upon the whole, rather weak than wicked; but his weakness was as ruinous to his country as active wickedness would have been.
2 Kings 24:20
For through the anger of the Lord it came to pus in Jerusalem and Judah. It was "through the auger of the Lord" at the persistent impenitence of the people, that that came to pass which actually came to pass—the rejection of the nation by God and the casting of it out of his presence. In his anger he suffered the appointment of another perverse and faithless monarch, who made no attempt at a reformation of religion, and allowed him to run his evil course unchecked, and to embroil himself with his suzerain, and to bring destruction upon his nation. God's anger, long provoked (2 Kings 21:10-15; 2 Kings 23:26, 2Ki 23:27; 2 Kings 24:3, 2 Kings 24:4), lay at the root of the whole series of events, not causing men's sins, but allowing them to go on until the cup of their iniquities was full, and the time had arrived for vengeance. Until he had east them out from his presence. To be "cast out of God's presence" is to lose his protecting care, to be separated off from him, to be left defenseless against our enemies. When Israel was once finally cast off, its fate was sealed; there was no further hope for it; the end was come. That Zedekiah rebelled against the King of Babylon; rather, And Zedekiah rebelled, etc. The sentence is a detached one, and would, perhaps, better commence 2 Kings 25:1-30. than terminate, as it does, 2 Kings 24:1-20. Zedekiah, when he received his investiture at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24:17), took a solemn oath of allegiance and fidelity (2 Chronicles 36:13; Ezekiel 17:13) to him and to his successors; but almost immediately afterwards he began to intrigue with Egypt, sent a contingent of troops to help Psamatik II. in his wars, and thus sought to pave the way for an Egyptian alliance, on the strength of which he might venture upon a revolt. It was probably owing to the suspicions which these acts aroused that, in the fourth year of his reign, B.C. 594, he had to visit Babylon (Jeremiah 51:59), where, no doubt, he renewed his engagements and assured the Babylonian monarch of his fidelity. But these proceedings were nothing but a blind. On the accession of Hophra to the throne of Egypt in B.C. 591, Zedekiah renewed his application to the Egyptian court, openly sending ambassadors (Ezekiel 17:15), with a request for infantry and cavalry. Thus was his rebellion complete, his "oath despised," and his "covenant broken" (Ezekiel 17:15, Ezekiel 17:16). The war with Babylon, and the siege of Jerusalem, were the natural consequences.
2 Kings 24:1-4
Conquering kings and nations instruments in God's hands to work out his purposes.
The sudden disappearance of Assyria from the scene, and the sudden appearance of Babylon upon it at this point of the history, are very remarkable. Without a word upon the circumstances that had brought it about, the writer of Kings shows us that a great crisis in the world's history has come and gone; that the mighty state which had dominated Western Asia for centuries is no more, and has been superseded by a new, and hitherto scarce heard of, power. "In his [Jehoiakim's] days Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon came up." We have thus presented to us, by implication—
I. ASSYRIA'A FALL. For nearly a thousand years Assyria had been "the rod of God's anger" (Isaiah 10:5). She had been sent against nation after nation, to execute God's wrath, with a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets" (Isaiah 10:6). As Hezekiah confessed in his prayer (2 Kings 19:17,2 Kings 19:18), their success had been continual: "Of a truth, Lord, the kings of Assyria have destroyed the nations and their lands, and have cast their gods into the fire, etc. But why and whence was this? Because God had used Assyria as his instrument. God had brought it to pass that Assyria should exist "to lay waste fenced cities into ruinous heaps. Therefore their inhabitants were of small power, they were dismayed and confounded; they were as the grass of the field, and as the green herb, as the grass on the house-tops, and as corn blasted before it be grown up" (2 Kings 19:25, 2 Kings 19:26). But this time was now gone. Assyria had offended God by her pride and self-trust. She had said, "By the strength of my hand I have done this, and by my wisdom; for I am prudent: and I have removed the bounds of the people, and have robbed their treasures, and I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man" (Isaiah 10:13). The axe had "boasted itself against him that hewed therewith; and the saw had magnified itself against him that moved it to and fro" (Isaiah 10:15). Therefore God thought it time to vindicate his own honor, and Assyria fell. Two Other nations were raised up to break in pieces the proud and haughty conqueror; and, after a short struggle, Assyria sank, to rise no more (Nahum 3:19).
II. BABYLON'S RISE TO GREATNESS. Babylon had in remote days (Genesis 10:8-10) been a powerful state, and had even possessed an empire; but for the last seven hundred years or more she had been content to play a very secondary part in Western Asia, and had generally been either an Assyrian feudatory or an integral part of the Assyrian monarchy. But in the counsels of God it had been long decreed that she, and not Assyria, should be God's instrument for the chastisement of his people (2 Kings 20:16-19). Therefore, as the appointed time for Assyria's fall approached, Babylon was made to increase in power and greatness. A wave of invasion, which passed over the rest of Western Asia, left her untouched. A great monarch was given her in the person of Nabopolassar, who read aright the signs of the times, saw in Media a desirable ally, and, having secured Median co-operation, revolted against the long-established sovereign power. A short, sharp struggle followed, ending in the utter collapse of the great Assyrian empire, and the siege and fall of Nineveh. The two conquering states partitioned between them the Assyrian dominions—Media taking the countries which lay to the north-west and north, Babylon those towards the south-west and south. Thus, so far as the Jews were concerned, Babylon, between B.C. 625 and B.C. 608, had stepped into Assyria's place. She had become "the hammer of the whole earth" (Jeremiah 50:23); God's battle-axe and weapons of war (Jeremiah 51:20), wherewith he brake in pieces nations and kingdoms, man and woman, old and young, captains and rulers (Jeremiah 51:20-23). The prophecy of Isaiah to Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:16-19), which seemed so unlikely of fulfillment at the time that it was uttered, found a natural and easy accomplishment, the course of events in the latter part of the seventh century B.C. having transferred to Babylonia, under Divine direction anal arrangement, that grand position and dignity which had previously been Assyria. When she had served God's purpose, Babylon's turn came; and she sank as suddenly as she had risen, because she too had been "proud against the Lord" (Jer 1:1-19 :29), and had provoked his indignation.
2 Kings 24:1-6
The beginning of the end.
It has been already observed (see the homiletics to 2 Kings 16:1-20.) that God's punishment of a nation, though often long-deferred, when it comes at last comes suddenly, violently, and at once. Nineteen years only intervened—a brief space in the life of a nation—between the first intimation which the Jews received of danger impending from a new enemy, and the entire destruction, by that enemy, of temple, city, and nation. Peril first showed itself in B.C. 605; Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews carried into captivity in B.C. 586. From first to last they were scarcely given a breathing-space. Blow was struck upon blow; calamity followed close upon calamity. "The beginning of the end" is to be dated from Nebuchadnezzar's first invasion—when "Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon came up" against Jehoiakim, "and Jehoiakim became his servant three years" (2 Kings 24:1). When an iron vessel and an earthen one come into contact and collision, it is not difficult to foresee the result. Nebuchadnezzar's first campaign proved his absolute superiority over all the forces that could be brought against him by the nations of the west. Could the Jews have accepted, honestly and loyally, the position which Jehoiakim professedly took up—that of a faithful vassal and feudatory, who would keep watch over the interests of his suzerain, and aid him to the best of his power—a prolonged though inglorious existence would have been possible for the people. But the nation was too proud to submit itself. Neither king nor people had any intention of putting up with the loss of independence or becoming loyal Babylonian subjects, however strongly the duty might be pressed upon them by Jeremiah and the other Jehovistic prophets. A profound antagonism was developed from the first. Nebuchadnezzar probably carried off the captives "of the king's seed, and of the princes" (Daniel 1:3), from Jerusalem by way of hostages. Jehoiakim meditated revolt from the moment of his submission; and within three years threw off the mask, and rebelled openly. Five years of struggle followed. Prompted by Nebuchadnezzar, "the nations set upon him on every side from the provinces, and spread their net over him", ravaged his territory far and wide, "destroyed" multitudes of the people, and, at last, "took the king in their snare" (Ezekiel 19:8), and "brought him to the King of Babylon" (Ezekiel 19:9). Nebuchadnezzar punished him with death, cast out his body unburied, and took as hostages to Babylon three thousand more of the upper classes of the citizens (Josephus, 'Ant. Jud.,' Jeremiah 10:6. § 3). Distrust and suspicion on the one side, hatred and sense of cruel wrong on the other, must, under these circumstances, have grown and increased; the antagonism, instead of dying away with the lapse of time, must have become accentuated. "The end" already approached, though it "was not yet." The weaker party could not but go to the wall; and events were evidently hastening to a denouement. With the death of Jehoiakim the first scene of the last act had terminated.
2 Kings 24:8-16
Blow upon blow.
A mild and conciliatory policy might, perhaps, have won the Jews to acquiescence in their subjection. But Nebuchadnezzar's policy was the reverse, and could only tend to their exasperation. With what exact intention or expectation he made Jehoiachin king after executing his father, it is difficult to conjecture. Perhaps he thought he had nothing to fear from a youth of eighteen. Perhaps he trusted to the known mildness of the youth's disposition (Josephus, 'Ant. Jud.,' 2 Kings 10:7. § 1). In either case, the experiment failed. Jehoiachin, within a few weeks, gave him cause of offence, or, at any rate, furnished him with some pretext for reopening the quarrel. Then blow was struck upon blow. An army was sent to besiege the city (2 Kings 24:10); soon the great king came up against it in person (2 Kings 24:11). In vain did Jehoiachin make submission. He was seized and carried off to Babylon, and there shut up in prison. The temple and the royal palace were plundered, and at least ten thousand of the inhabitants—the noblest, wealthiest, bravest, and most skilled—torn from their homes and led into captivity (2 Kings 24:12-16). A remnant only, consisting chiefly of "the poorest of the people of the land" (2 Kings 24:14), were left behind. Jerusalem, denuded of more than half her population, can scarcely have known herself. She "sat solitary" (Lamentations 1:1) and "wept sore in the night" (Lamentations 1:2), and felt that her total destruction was nigh at hand. So ended the second scene of the last act.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Wickedness, retribution, and Divine control, as revealed in Nebuchadnezzar's invasion of Judah.
"In his days Nebuchadnezzar," etc. In glancing through these chapters there are two objects that press on our attention.
1. A national crisis. The peace, the dignity, the wealth, the religious privileges of Judah are converging to a close. Israel has already been carried away by a despot to a foreign land, and now Judah is meeting the same fate. All nations have their crises—they have their rise, their fall, their dissolution.
2. A terrible despot. The name of Nebuchadnezzar comes for the first time under our attention. Who is he? He is a prominent figure in the histories and the prophecies of the old Scriptures. He was the son and successor of Nabopolassar, who, having revolted from Assyria and helped to destroy Nineveh, brought Babylon at once into pre-eminence. The victories of Nebuchadnezzar were stupendous and many. Egypt, Syria, Phoenicia, Palestine, all bowed to his triumphant arms. He made Babylon, his capital, one of the most wonderful cities of the world. The walls with which he fortified it contained, we are told, no less than five hundred million tons of masonry. He was at once the master and the terror of the age he lived in, which was six hundred years before Christ. There is no character in all history more pregnant with practical suggestions than his—a mighty fiend in human form. We have in these two chapters a view of
(1) the wickedness of man;
(2) the retribution of Heaven;
(3) and the supremacy of God.
Here we have—
I. THE WICKEDNESS OF MAN. The wickedness here displayed is marked:
1. By inveteracy. It is here said of Jehoiachin, "He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father had done." In 2 Kings 25:19 the same is also said of Zedekiah: "He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that Jehoiakim had done." This has, indeed, been said of many kings of Judah, as of all the kings of Israel. What a hold, then, had wickedness taken on the Jewish people! It had so deeply struck its roots into their very being that neither the mercies nor the judgments of Heaven could uproot it. It was a cancer transmitted from sire to son, poisoning their blood and eating up their nature. Thus, then, from generation to generation the wickedness of the Jewish people seemed to be a disease hereditary, ineradicable, and incurable.
2. By tyranny. "At that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon came up against Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. And Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon came against the city, and his servants did besiege it." This is seen in the conduct of Nebuchadnezzar. What right had Nebuchadnezzar to leave his own country, invade Judah, plunder it of its wealth, and bear away by violence its population? None whatever. It was tyranny of the worst kind, an outrage on every principle of humanity and justice. Sin is evermore tyrannic. We see it everywhere. On all hands do we see men and women endeavoring to bring others into subjection—masters their servants, employers their employees, rulers their subjects. Tyranny everywhere is the evidence, the effect, and the instrument of wickedness.
3. By inhumanity. "And the King of Babylon … carried out thence all the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king's house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold which Solomon King of Israel had made in the temple of the Lord, as the Lord had said. And he carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty men of valor, even ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths: none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land. And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon, and the king's mother, and the king's wives, and his officers, and the mighty of the land, those carried he into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. And all the men of might, even seven thousand, and craftsmen and smiths a thousand, and all that were strong and apt for war, even them the King of Babylon brought captive to Babylon." He rifled the country of its people and its property, and inflicted untold misery on thousands. Thus wickedness transforms man into a fiend, and turns society into a pandemonium.
4. By profanity. We read here that Nebuchadnezzar carried away all the treasures of the house of the Lord, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold which Solomon had made in the temple thereof. We also read here that "he burnt the house of the Lord …. And the pillars of brass that were in the house of the Lord, and the bases, and the brazen sea that was in the house of the Lord, did the Chaldees 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. The two pillars, one sea, and the bases which Solomon had made for the house of the Lord; the brass of all these vessels was without weight." Thus this ruthless despot, becoming a scourge in God's hands, desecrated the most holy things in the city of Jerusalem and in the memory of millions. He reduced the magnificent pile of buildings to ashes, and rifled it of its sacred and priceless treasures. Wickedness is essentially profane. It has no reverence; it crushes every sentiment of sanctity in the soul. O sin, what hast thou done? Thou hast quenched the divinest instincts in human nature, and poisoned the fountain of religious and social sympathies, substituted cruelty for love, tyranny for justice, blind superstition and blasphemous profanity for devotion.
II. THE RETRIBUTION OF HEAVEN.
III. THE SUPREMACY OF GOD.—D.T.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
2 Kings 24:1-9
The advent of Nebuchadnezzar.
It had been predicted that the final blow on Judah would be delivered, not by the Assyrians, but by the Chaldeans. "The days come, that all that is in thine house … shall be carried into Babylon: nothing shall be left" (2 Kings 20:17; cf. Micah 4:10). That prediction now hasted to its accomplishment. Babylon had emerged as the successor to Assyria in the undisputed possession of imperial power. Its second king was Nebuchadnezzar, God's chosen instrument for the chastisement of Judah and surrounding nations (Jeremiah 27:1-22.).
I. JEHOIAKIM'S SUBMISSION.
1. The defeat of Nechoh. It was through Pharaoh-Nechoh, as previously stated, that Nebuchadnezzar was brought into relations with Judah, which did not end till the final ruin of the latter state. Nechoh had advanced to Carchemish on the Euphrates, when Nebuchadnezzar, finding his hands free, met him in battle, and completely defeated him. All the country between Egypt and the Euphrates, which Nechoh had conquered, thus fell under the power of Babylon (2 Kings 24:7). Egypt might intrigue, but was thereafter powerless to help. Wonderful are the combinations of circumstances by which, in providence, God works out his ends.
2. Nebuchadnezzar's adduce on Jerusalem. It was now the fourth year of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 25:1), and, as Nechoh's vassal, he had probably contributed his contingent to the defeated Egyptian army. Nebuchadnezzar speedily came against him. We learn from other passages (2 Chronicles 36:6, 2 Chronicles 36:7; Daniel 1:1, Daniel 1:2) that Jerusalem actually was besieged, and Jehoiakim bound in fetters, with the intention of being sent to Babylon. The king saved himself by submission; but the temple was plundered of its sacred vessels, and certain princes, among them Daniel, were taken away captive. This is the beginning of the seventy years' captivity (Jeremiah 25:11).
3. The three years servitude. For three years Jehoiakim bore the heavy yoke of the King of Babylon, as before he had borne that of Nechoh. During that period his character underwent no improvement. He still proved himself the tyrant and oppressor of his people, was obstinate and headlong in his courses, and sought the life of God's prophets. He built magnificent palaces by forced labor (Jeremiah 22:13-17). When Jeremiah's roll was read to him, he cut it up with his penknife, and threw it in the fire (Jeremiah 36:20-23). He slew Urijah the prophet, and would have put Jeremiah also to death if he had dared (Jeremiah 26:12-24). Under his reign heathenism underwent a great revival, and the moral condition of the people rapidly deteriorated. Judah, like Israel of former days, had become a hopelessly corrupt carcass, and nothing remained but to remove it from the face of the earth.
II. JEHOIAKIM'S REBELLION.
1. Its motives. Three years Jehoiakim served the King of Babylon, then "he turned and rebelled against him" Not much light is thrown on the motives of this rebellion beyond the fact that Nebuchadnezzar was at this time at a distance, and Jehoiakim may have thought he might assert his independence with impunity. Pharaoh-Nechoh was still intriguing to stir up disaffection; plots were always hatching to get the subject-nations to combine against their common oppressor (cf. Jeremiah 27:3 : on this occasion, however, Moab and Ammon were on the side of Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah 27:2); and false prophets were never wanting to predict success (cf. Jeremiah 28:1-17.). Jeremiah gave a steady voice to the contrary, but it was unheeded. The proverb was again to be fulfilled—whom the gods wish to destroy, they first madden. Jehoiakim was given up to the delusions of his own vain and foolish notions, and the people cherished extravagant hopes based on their possession of the temple and the Law (Jeremiah 7:4; Jeremiah 8:8). But neither temple nor Law will avail those who refuse to "thoroughly amend" their "ways' and their "doings" (Jeremiah 7:5).
2. Human instruments of punishment. "And the Lord sent against him bands of the Chaldees, and bands of the Syrians," etc. Nebuchadnezzar could not at the time attend to Jehoiakim in person; but he could lay his commands on neighboring peoples, and these were ordered to keep up a galling and harassing attack on Judah by means of marauding bands. Detachments of his own Chaldeans were assisted by Syrians, Moabites, and Ammonites, and gave Jehoiakim no peace. God's heritage is compared by Jeremiah to "a speckled bird, the birds round about are against her" (Jeremiah 12:9). Troubles rise on every side against those who forsake God.
3. God over all. It was the "Lord" who sent these hostile bands "against Judah to destroy it"—"surely at the commandment of the Lord came this upon Judah, to remove them out of his sight." In sacred history everything is looked at from the standpoint of Divine providence. From second causes it mounts invariably to the supreme cause. Nebuchadnezzar is God's "servant—his instrument for the chastisement of the nations" (Jeremiah 27:4-7); and what, from the purely historical point of view, seems a lawless play of forces, is, from the Divine point of view, a scene full of meaning, interest, and purpose. The rejection of Judah is again in these verses connected with the sin of Manasseh, only, however, as before shown, because people and rulers made these sins their own, and would not depart from them. Heathenism was again rampant (cf. Ezekiel 8:1-18.), and Jehoiakim, like Manasseh, was shedding "innocent blood" (Jeremiah 22:17). Scripture knows no fatalism beyond that which springs from the incorrigibleness of a people wedded to their sins. Neither is there any sin which, if sincerely repented, of, God will not pardon, though its temporal effects may still have to be endured. But there is the awful possibility of getting beyond pardon through our own obduracy. Both sides of the truth are seen in Jeremiah—on the one hand exhortations to repentance, with assurances of forgiveness. (Jeremiah 18:7-10; Jeremiah 26:1-3;. Jeremiah 35:15); and on the other declarations that the time for pardon was past (Jeremiah 7:15-16, Jeremiah 7:27, Jeremiah 7:28; Jeremiah 11:11-14; Jeremiah 15:1; Jeremiah 18:11, Jeremiah 18:12; Jeremiah 36:16, Jeremiah 36:17, etc.). It was not because the fathers had eaten sour grapes that the children's teeth were set on edge (Ezekiel 18:2); but the children had walked in the fathers' ways.
III. JEHOIAKIM'S SON.
1. Jehoiakim's end. Like so many other wicked kings, Jehoiakim came to a miserable end, for there is no reason to doubt that Jeremiah's prophecy was fulfilled regarding him, "He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem" (Jeremiah 22:18, Jeremiah 22:19). The circumstances are unknown.
2. Jehoiachin's character. Jehoiachin succeeded to the throne of his father, but, like Jehoahaz, he only held it for three months. Of him, too, the record is borne that he "did evil." He is, perhaps, the "young lion" of Ezekiel 19:5-9, whom the nations took in their net, and brought to the King of Babylon. There seem to have been some elements of nobleness in his nature, and, after a long captivity, he became the friend and companion of the Babylonian king who succeeded Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25:27-30).—J.O.
2 Kings 24:10-20
The first general captivity.
Some captives had been taken to Babylon on occasion of Nebuchadnezzar's first advance against Jerusalem (Daniel 1:1, Daniel 1:2). The full storm of predicted judgment was now, however, to descend. What prophets had so long foretold amidst the scoffing and incredulity of their godless contemporaries was now at length to be accomplished. The final tragedy fails into two parts, of which the first is before us.
I. JEHOIACHIN MAKES SURRENDER.
1. The city besieged. The attacks of the Chaldeans, Syrians, Moabites, etc; mentioned in 2 Kings 24:2, had served an immediate purpose in weakening the strength and exhausting the resources of Judah. The great king, whose fame was already equaling that of a Sargon or a Sennacherib, was now able to send his main army against the city, and soon after appeared upon the scene in person. Again, as in the days of Hezekiah, the city was closely invested; but this time there was no Isaiah to hurl back scorn for scorn, and assure the trembling king of the complete discomfiture of the enemy. Neither was there a king of Hezekiah's stamp to lay the blasphemous messages of the invader before the Lord, and entreat his interposition (2 Kings 19:14-19). It was another kind of message Jeremiah the prophet had to bear to king and people. The day for mercy was past; and in default of a general repentance, which was not to be expected, there remained nothing but "a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation" (Hebrews 10:27). The day of final reckoning surely comes for every sinner. It had come for Israel a hundred and twenty years before; it was now come for Israel's sister Judah.
2. Jehoiachin's voluntary surrender. Seeing resistance to be hopeless, Jehoiachin did what, on the most favorable interpretation of his conduct, was a noble thing. The city could not hold out; but if he and the other members of the royal house went and made voluntary surrender of themselves to Nebuchadnezzar, the worst horrors might be spared. This, indeed, was what Jeremiah always counseled. Jehoiachin accordingly went forth, with Nehushta his mother, and his servants, princes, and officers, and delivered themselves up to the Babylonian king. He might feel, with the lepers of Samaria, "If they save us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die" (2 Kings 7:4). Or he may have been actuated by the nobler impulse to save the people, and may have thought, "It is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not" (John 11:50). His submission did avert the worst from the nation. His own life was spared, though he was led away a prisoner; the city was not sacked and burned, as afterwards; and no massacre of the inhabitants took place. A tender tone pervades Jeremiah's references to this unfortunate king (Jeremiah 22:24-30). Ezekiel likens him to "the highest branch of the cedar," which the "great eagle, with great wings, long-winged, full of feathers, which had divers colors," crops off (Ezekiel 17:3, Ezekiel 17:4); and again (according to some) to "a young lion," who had "learned to catch the prey, and devoured men," but "the nations set against him on every side," and "he was taken in their pit" and put in chains, and brought to the King of Babylon (Ezekiel 19:5-9). We may share with Jeremiah in his sympathy for the unhappy young king in his exile (Jeremiah 22:28). Had his circumstances been more favorable, better things might have been hoped of him. The nobility of self-sacrifice redeems a character from many faults.
II. THE CITY DESPOILED. If Jehoiachin's surrender saved the people from slaughter, it could not save the city from plunder, nor its inhabitants from captivity. Nebuchadnezzar was no kid-gloved conqueror; where his mailed hand fell, he let it be felt. This city had rebelled against him, and he would effectually cripple its power to rebel again by impoverishing, degrading, and weakening it to the utmost. Nebuchadnezzar was intent only on his own ends, yet unconsciously he was carrying out to the letter the predictions which God's prophets had been dinning into the people's ears with so little result during all the years of their backsliding. The city was despoiled:
1. Of its wealth and sacred vessels. "He carried out thence all the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king's house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold which Solomon … had made," etc. Jehoiakim had saved his treasures at the expense of exactions from the people, and his "covetousness" had doubtless filled them still more (Jeremiah 22:17). These ill-gotten gains were now carried away, and with them such of the temple vessels as were made of, or plated with, gold, the "cutting to pieces" being probably confined to the latter, with such large articles as the golden candlestick, etc. Of the smaller articles some few were spared (2 Kings 25:15), and the rest were preserved in Babylon, and restored on the return (Ezra 1:7-11). Judgment thus again began at the house of God. As, with the wealth of the city, the wealth-producers were also taken (verse 14), it is easy to see to what poverty it was reduced.
2. Of its royal family and nobles. "And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon, and the king's mother, and the king's wives," etc. The land was thus deflowered of its king and aristocracy. The nobles, indeed, had proved no source of strength to the nation, but had set an example of luxury, oppression, corruption, and idolatry. Still, they were the representatives of its old hereditary families; they had high social position and great influence; and they ought to have been, if they were not, patrons and examples of everything good and great. Those who have rank, fortune, and leisure may be of the highest service to a state, if only they devote their powers to its true welfare. They contribute elements of refinement, culture, and wealth to it, which cannot be lost without impoverishment. If, however, they abuse their opportunities, and grow luxurious, idle, and wicked, they have generally to suffer severely in the end.
3. Of its artisans and warriors. "And all the men of might, even seven thousand, and craftsmen and smiths a thousand, all that were strong and apt for war," etc. Besides removing from the city the wealth that enriched it, and the nobles who adorned it, Nebuchadnezzar took away the skilful hands that did its work, and the strong arms that fought for it. He left none "save the poorest sort of the people of the land." This was to drain the city dry of every element of its prosperity. The middle classes of a nation—its wealth-producers and skilled laborers—even more than its aristocracy—are the source of its strength. By them is created the capital of the country; through them that capital undergoes constant renewal and increase; they supply the wants of every other class; without them the nobles would be helpless, and on them "the poorest sort of people"—too often the unfortunate, the shiftless, the inefficient classes—depend for casual employment and support. Nebuchadnezzar looked well to his own interests when he deported these classes, and not the poor, the less able, leas thrifty, to Babylon. But their departure was ruinous to Jerusalem, and this also Nebuchadnezzar intended. It was, indeed, an irretrievable, crushing blow, which had fallen on the nation, nonetheless ruinous and terrible that it had been so long predicted, and was so richly deserved. Piety tends to the enrichment and strengthening of a nation, as of an individual, even temporally; but a course of ungodliness ends in the loss of temporal and spiritual possessions together.
III. ZEDEKIAH MADE KING.
1. Accession of Zedekiah. Jehoiachin was a man of spirited character, and Nebuchadnezzar seems to have thought that he would be better served by putting a weaker man upon the throne. The person chosen was an uncle of the young king's, a brother of Jehoiakim, whose name, Mattaniah, Nebuchadnezzar changed to Zedekiah—"the Righteousness of Jehovah." There was little honor now in being King of Judah; but at least the city and temple still stood; the priesthood had not been carried away; there were a few nobles left to grace the court; and by degrees new artisans and soldiers might have been got in, and the state again Built up. It was the last chance, and was given only to show clearly how hopeless the moral condition of the people was. For if anything could have sobered them, and convinced. them of the truth of the words of the prophets, it was such a catastrophe as had descended upon them. Deaf to all warnings, however, whether of mercy or judgment, the people only went on from bad to worse.
2. His weak character. The outstanding feature in Zedekiah's character was weakness—lack of courage and strength of will He was not without good impulses. He showed a friendly disposition to Jeremiah; on various occasions he sought his advice and intercession (Jeremiah 21:1, Jeremiah 21:2; Jeremiah 37:3; Jeremiah 38:14-17); at Jeremiah's instigation he made a covenant with the people of Jerusalem, pledging them to give liberty to their bondmen (Jeremiah 34:8, Jeremiah 34:11), and once at least he refrained from entering into a proposed league against Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 27:3). But his timid, faithless, unstable nature reveals itself at every turn. He was like Herod, who did many things at the bidding of John the Baptist, and heard him gladly, yet at last beheaded him to please a wicked woman (Mark 6:20). Zedekiah knew what was fight, but did not do it (Jeremiah 37:2); he weakly allowed himself to be overruled by his nobles—when they broke through his covenant he had no power to resist (Jeremiah 34:11); when they urged him to put Jeremiah to death, he consented, saying, "Behold, he is in your hand: for the king is not he that can do anything against you" (Jeremiah 38:4, Jeremiah 38:5); then, when Ebed-Melech pleaded for the prophet, he gave orders for his deliverance (verse 10); he disobeyed Jeremiah in throwing off his allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar, and in seeking an alliance with Egypt; and when Nebuchadnezzar again came up against him, he sought Jeremiah's counsel, but did not take it when it was given (Jeremiah 38:14-28), etc. Meanwhile idolatry had firmly established itself in the holy city, and within the very precincts of the temple (Ezekiel 8:1-18.). Fitly, therefore, is the reign of this last king described, like the rest, as "evil." His weakness and vacillation, his unfaithfulness to his own best convictions, his sinful yielding to others in what he knew to be wrong, were his ruin. He was in a hard and difficult position, and he had no strength of mind to cope with it.
3. His rebellion. At length, yielding to the solicitations of his nobles, and hopeful of help from Egypt (Ezekiel 17:15), he broke his oath of allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar, an act which Ezekiel strongly condemns (Ezekiel 17:16-19). The cup was full, and the Lord left him thus far to himself, that the nation might be destroyed. Men who will not follow light, lose light. A blindness, as from heaven, falls upon them. They are left to the bent of their own hearts, and their own counsel is their ruin. Sin is the supreme folly, as righteousness is the supreme wisdom.—J.O.