Jehoahaz to Zedekiah
John Scarsbrook, Killamarsh, England
The closing years of the monarchy saw four young men ascend the nation’s throne. Jehoahaz was twenty-three, his brother, Jehoiakim, who succeeded him, was twenty-five. His son Jehoiachin followed at the age of eighteen and the last king, Zedekiah, was twenty-one. Four young men with potential to follow the good example of king Josiah, yet, sadly, each one in turn received the censure from the Spirit of God, ‘He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord’.
In order to follow the development of the last twenty-two-and-a-half years of the monarchy it is necessary to read and compare the records of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, together with the prophecy of Jeremiah and parts of Ezekiel.
Historically, the rising power was Babylon, although Egypt still wielded an influence, particularly around the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Within a short time, however, Egypt would succumb to the might of Nebuchadnezzar’s territorial ambition; Jerusalem would be overrun and the people taken into captivity.
In 1 Chronicles chapter 3 verse 15 we discover that Josiah had four sons. Of the eldest we know nothing save his name; it is assumed that he died while quite young. On the death of Josiah, the natural progression would be for the eldest living son to take possession of the throne. However, as with his father, it was ‘the people of the land’ who took Shallum, the youngest son and, with his name changed to Jehoahaz, ‘anointed him, and made him king in his father’s stead’. No doubt they worked to an agenda which suited their purpose, but whatever the reason it was soon frustrated as his reign lasted only three months. In that brief time, however, he managed to gain the reputation of being ‘evil in the sight of the Lord’; that which Josiah had striven to accomplish over the previous thirty-one years, Jehoahaz undermined in three months. With good reason, Jeremiah has been called ‘the weeping prophet’, as he exposed the fickle disposition of the nation at large, Jer. 2. 11-13.
Following his victory at Megiddo, Pharaoh Necho proceeded to assume sovereignty over Josiah’s successor. Removing him from Jerusalem, where his influence for any further opposition to Egypt would be strongest, he confined him ‘in bands at Riblah in the land of Hamath’, well to the north of Jerusalem, on the Syrian border. Having separated the figurehead from the heart of the nation, Pharaoh levied a crippling tax on the land, no doubt to help finance his military ventures against Assyria.
Pharaoh then decided it would be advantageous to have a puppet king in Jerusalem and chose Eliakim, the second son of Josiah. In order to stamp his authority on the decision, Pharaoh changed his name from Eliakim to Jehoiakim and set him on the throne. Jehoahaz, meantime, was taken from Riblah down to Egypt. Jeremiah directed the people to mourn no longer for Josiah, but rather for Jehoahaz who would never see the land of promise again, but would end his days a captive in Egypt,
With Jehoiakim ruling under the watchful eye of Pharaoh, events began to move swiftly towards the captivity of the nation, foretold by faithful prophets during years of idolatrous excess. Away to the east, the fledgling empire of Babylon was beginning to flex its muscles. Some four years after events at Megiddo, Nebuchadnezzar led a Chaldean army to Carchemish on the banks of the Euphrates, and all but annihilated the forces of Pharaoh Necho in 605 BC.
As a result of this defeat, Egypt’s hold over Jehoiakim was broken and Nebuchadnezzar moved swiftly to annexe the nation so that ‘Jehoiakim became his servant three years’. However, in the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign he rather foolishly decided to rebel. As a result of this, Nebuchadnezzar began to remove certain of the nation from Jerusalem to Babylon. Among those taken were the young man Daniel and his three companions, Dan. 1. 1-2, 6. So commenced the seventy years of captivity in Babylon, a period of time which also determined the remaining years of the Babylonian Empire. A powerful, all-conquering dynasty, seemingly set for centuries, would be brought to nothing in so brief a time that the word of God might be fulfilled! If only nations in our day would heed the word to Babylon’s monarchs, ‘There is a God in heaven . . . who rules in the kingdom of men’, Dan. 2. 28; 5. 21.
Jehoiakim occupied the throne for eleven years and, yet again, the Spirit of God felt compelled to record the evil influence exerted by the man who should have set a good example to the nation. It was left to prophets like Jeremiah to challenge the nation and stir their conscience. So in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, word came to Jeremiah to take ‘a roll of a book and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee against Israel, and against Judah’, Jer. 36. 2.
With the written roll in his hand, the faithful and fearless scribe Baruch made his way to the temple. Jeremiah’s instruction was to read it ‘in the ears of the people’. However, he soon attracted the attention of the scribes and the princes, who listened attentively to the word of the Lord. Having heard the words, they decided that the king should be made aware of this writing, but not before advice was given to Baruch and Jeremiah to hide themselves in case Jehoiakim reacted badly!
Their fears were well founded! Having listened to just a small part of the scroll, Jehoiakim angrily snatched it, ‘cut it with the penknife, and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the roll was consumed’, Jer. 36. 23. As anticipated, he ordered the arrest of Jeremiah and Baruch, ‘but the Lord hid them’.
The remaining years of Jehoiakim were plagued by incursions from the surrounding nations until eventually Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem, and ‘bound him in fetters to carry him to Babylon’, 2 Chr. 36. 6. Jehoiakim’s death is recorded in 2 Kings chapter 24 verse 6 by the familiar and sanitized phrase, ‘he slept with his fathers’. Jeremiah, however, gives rather more explicit detail, ‘He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem’, unmourned, unmissed and for some time at least, unburied, Jer. 22. 18-19; 36. 30, regretting for all eternity his attempts to destroy the word of God.
On the death of Jehoiakim, the throne passed to his eighteen-year-old son, Jehoiachin; Babylon now reigned supreme from the Nile to the Euphrates. The tenure of Judah’s penultimate king lasted precisely three months and ten days. It is interesting to note how, as the time of the monarchy draws to a close, the Spirit of God counts not only years and months, but days as well. Almost as though heaven’s clock is counting down reluctantly to that moment when the city would be left solitary, widowed and weeping, Lam. 1. 1.
Jehoiachin emulated the evil ways of his father and soon attracted the attention of Nebuchadnezzar. He had no intention of allowing this young upstart and his troublesome people to have any influence in his well-ordered empire, so he came with his armies and besieged Jerusalem. Resistance, it would seem, was minimal and Jehoiachin with his family soon capitulated and cast themselves upon the mercy of Nebuchadnezzar, a somewhat hazardous and unpredictable action to take, Cp. 2 Kgs. 25. 21. The historical records see him taken to Babylon, with some 18,000 other captives, and ‘all the treasures of the house of the Lord’. Then some thirty-seven years later Jehoiachin was released from prison and given both position and provision in Babylon for the rest of his life, 2 Kgs. 25. 27-30.
In spite of the brevity of Jehoiachin’s reign, Jeremiah nevertheless spoke strong words of censure about him. Using a shortened form of his name, Jechoniah or Coniah, Jeremiah denounced him as a ‘despised broken idol . . . a vessel wherein is no pleasure’, Jer. 22. 28. Calling earth to witness his words, he said, ‘Write this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days’. Furthermore, though he did have sons in Babylon, Jeremiah recorded that no descendant of his would occupy the throne of David. His line of descent is recorded in Matthew chapter 1, to Joseph the husband of Mary; thus establishing a legal right to the throne for Mary’s son. It is, however, the unbroken line through David’s son Nathan to Mary which grants the absolute right of the Lord Jesus to ultimately occupy the throne of His father David, Luke 3. 23-38.
When Zedekiah, the remaining son of Josiah, was placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar, just eleven years remained before the curtain would fall upon five hundred years of the nation’s monarchy. Having learned nothing from the judgements which had befallen his immediate predecessors, Zedekiah indulged himself in their evil ways. For nine years Zedekiah ‘humbled not himself’, ‘stiffened his neck, and hardened his heart’. The priests and people ‘polluted the house of the Lord’, mocked the messengers of God and misused His prophets until divine patience finally ran out and ‘there was no remedy’, 2 Chr. 36. 16.
To bring this chaotic situation to a conclusion, the Lord instigated rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar in the heart of Zedekiah, 2 Kgs. 24. 20. A two-year siege followed during which time the doomed king vacillated between moments of remorse and persistence in evil. On occasion he consulted with Jeremiah, desired his prayers, Jer. 37. 3, and sought his help: ‘Is there any word from the Lord?’, 37. 17. At the instigation of the princes, however, he allowed him to be confined to the dungeon, then later arranged his release! When it became evident that Jerusalem could no longer withstand the siege, Zedekiah attempted to escape; he was soon caught and brought before Nebuchadnezzar.
Ezekiel was already among the exiles in Babylon by this time. Speaking of Zedekiah, the ‘prince in Jerusalem’, he prophesied that he would be brought to Babylon, ‘yet shall he not see it, though he shall die there’, Ezek. 12. 13. In callous confirmation of this, we read that they ‘put out the eyes of Zedekiah’, but not before ensuring that the last thing he would ever see was his own sons, who could only have been children, slain ‘before his eyes’, 2 Kgs. 25. 7.
Blinded and bound, Zedekiah, only thirty-two years old, passes from the record of scripture with no sons to follow him. Jerusalem is left plundered, ravaged and ransacked; nothing remained but the ‘poorest sort of the people’ and the tears of Jeremiah. Yet, a new dawn would break, a new day after the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths; a remnant would return, a temple and city would be built anticipating the first advent of ‘the Desire of all nations’, Hag. 2. 7.