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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary

2 Kings 25

 

 

Verses 1-7

20

ZEDEKIAH, THE LAST KING OF JUDAH

B.C. 597-586

2 Kings 24:18-20; 2 Kings 25:1-7

"Quand ce grand Dieu a choisi quelqu’un pour etre l’instrument de ses desseins rien n’arrete le cours, en enchaine, ou il aveugle, ou il dompte tout ce qui est capable de resistance."

- BOSSUET, "Oraison funebre de Henriette Marie."

WHEN Jehoiachin was carried captive to Babylon, never to return, his uncle Mattaniah ("Jehovah’s gift"), the third son of Josiah, was put by Nebuchadrezzar in his place. In solemn ratification of the new king’s authority, the Babylonian conqueror sanctioned the change of his name to Zedekiah ("Jehovah’s righteousness"). He was twenty-one at his accession, and he reigned eleven years.

"Behold," writes Ezekiel, "the King of Babylon came to Jerusalem, and took the king thereof, and the princes thereof, and brought them to him to Babylon; and he took of the seed royal" (i.e., Zedekiah), "and made a covenant with him; he also brought him under an oath: and took away the mighty of the land, that the kingdom might be base, that it might not lift itself up, but that by keeping of his covenant it might stand." {Ezekiel 17:12-14}

Perhaps by this covenant Zechariah meant to emphasize the meaning of his name, and to show that he would reign in righteousness.

The prophet at the beginning of the chapter describes Nebuchadrezzar and Jehoiachin in "a riddle."

"A great eagle," he says, "with great wings and long pinions; full of feathers, which had divers colors, came unto Lebanon, and took the top of the cedar" (Jehoiachin): "he cropped off the topmost of the young twigs thereof, and carried it into a land of traffic; he set it in a city of merchants. He took also of the seed of the land" (Zedekiah), "and planted it in a fruitful soil; he placed it beside great waters, he set it as a willow tree. And it grew, and became a spreading vine of low stature, whose branches turned towards him, and the roots thereof were under him: so it became a vine, and brought forth branches, and shot forth sprigs." {Ezekiel 17:1-6}

The words refer to the first three years of Zedekiah’s reign, and they imply, consistently with the views of the prophets, that, if the weak king had been content with the lowly eminence to which God had called him, and if he had kept his oath and covenant with Babylon, all might yet have been well with him and his land. At first it seemed likely to be so; for Zedekiah wished to be faithful to Jehovah. He made a covenant with all the people to set free their Hebrew slaves. Alas! it was very short-lived. Self-sacrifice cost something, and the princes soon took back the discarded bond-servants. {Jeremiah 34:8-11} What made this conduct the more shocking was that their covenant to obey the law had been made in the most solemn manner by "cutting a calf in twain, and passing between the severed halves." But the weak king was perfectly powerless in the hands of his tyrannous aristocracy.

The exiles in Babylon were now the best and most important section of the nation. Jeremiah compares them to good figs; while the remnant at Jerusalem were bad and withered. He and Ezekiel raised their voices, as in strophe and antistrophe, for the teaching alike of the exiles and of the remnant left at Jerusalem, for whom the exiles were bidden to entreat God in prayer. Zedekiah himself made at least one journey northward, either voluntarily or under summons, to renew his oath and reassure Nebuchadrezzar of his fidelity. He was accompanied by Seraiah, the brother of Baruch, who was privately entrusted by Jeremiah with a prophecy of the fall of Babylon, which he was to fling into the midst of the Euphrates.

The last King of Judah seems to have been weak rather than wicked. He was a reed shaken by the wind. He yielded to the influence of the last person who argued with him; and he seems to have dreaded above all things the personal ridicule, danger, and opposition which it was his duty to have defied. Yet we cannot withhold from him our deep sympathy: for he was born in terrible times-to witness the death-throes of his country’s agony, and to share in them. It was no longer a question of independence, but only of the choice of servitudes. Judah was like a silly and trembling sheep between two huge beasts of prey.

Only thus can we account for the strange apostasies-"the abominations of the heathen"-with which he permitted the Temple to be polluted; and for the ill-treatment which he allowed to be inflicted on Jeremiah and other prophets, to whom in his heart he felt inclined to listen.

What these abominations were we read with amazement in the eighth chapter of Ezekiel. The prophet is carried in vision to Jerusalem, and there he sees the Asherah-"the image which provoketh to jealousy"-which had so often been erected and destroyed and re-erected. Then through a secret door he sees creeping things, and abominable beasts, and the idol blocks of the House of Israel portrayed upon the wall, while several elders of Israel stood before them and adored, with censers in their hands-among whom he must specially have grieved to see Jaazaneiah, the son of Shaphan, flattering himself, as did his followers, that in that dark chamber Jehovah saw them not. Next at the northern gate he sees Zion’s daughters weeping for Tammuz, or Adonis. Once more, in the inner court of the Temple, between the porch and the altar, he sees about twenty-five men with their backs to the altar, and their faces to the east; and they worshipped the sun towards the east; and, lo! they put the vine branch to their nose. Were not these crimes sufficient to evoke the wrath of Jehovah, and to alienate His ear from prayers offered by such polluted worshippers? Egypt, Assyria. Syria, Chaldaea, all contributed their idolatrous elements to the detestable syncretism; and the king and the priests ignored, permitted, or connived at it. {Ezekiel 16:15-34} This must surely be answered for. How could it have been otherwise? The king and the priests were the official guardians of the Temple, and these aberrations could not have gone on without their cognizance. There was another party of sheer formalists, headed by men like the priest Pashur, who thought to make talismans of rites and shibboleths, but had no sincerity of heart-religion {Jeremiah 7:4; Jeremiah 8:8; Jeremiah 31:33; Jeremiah 7:34} To these, too, Jeremiah was utterly opposed. In his opinion Josiah’s reformation had failed. Neither Ark, nor Temple, nor sacrifice were anything in the world to him in comparison with true religion. All the prophets with scarcely one exception are anti-ritualists; but none more decidedly so than the prophet-priest. His name is associated in tradition with the hiding of the Ark, and a belief in its ultimate restoration; yet to Jeremiah, apart from the moral and spiritual truths of which it was the material symbol, the Ark was no better than a wooden chest. His message from Jehovah is, "I will give you pastors according to My heart and they shall say no more, ‘The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord’: neither shall it come to mind; neither shall they remember it; neither shall they miss it; neither shall it be made any more." {Jeremiah 3:15-16} Doom followed the guilt and folly of king, priests, and people. If political wisdom were insufficient to show Zedekiah that the necessities of the case were an indication of God’s will, he had the warnings of the prophets constantly ringing in his ears, and the assurance that he must remain faithful to Nebuchadrezzar. But he was in fear of his own princes and courtiers. A combined embassy reached him from the kings of Edom, Ammon, Moab, Tyre, and Sidon, urging him to join in a league against Babylon. {Jeremiah 27:3} This embassy was supported by a powerful party in Jerusalem. Their solicitations were rendered more plausible by the recent accession (B.C. 590) of the young and vigorous Pharaoh Hophrah-the Apries of Herodotus- to the throne of Egypt, and by the recrudescence of that incurable disease of Hebrew politics, a confidence in the idle promises of Egypt to supply the confederacy with men and horses. In vain did Jeremiah and Ezekiel uplift their warning voices. The blind confidence of the king and of the nobles was sustained by the flattering visions and promises of false prophets, prominent among whom was a certain Hananiah, the son of Azur, of Gibeon, "the prophet." To indicate the futility of the contemplated rebellion, Jeremiah had made "thongs and poles" with yokes, and had sent them to the kings, whose embassy had reached Jerusalem, with a message of the most emphatic distinctness, that Nebuchadrezzar was God’s appointed servant, and that they must serve him till God’s own appointed time. If they obeyed this intimation, they would be left undisturbed in their own lands; if they disobeyed it, they would be scourged into absolute submission by the sword, the famine, and the pestilence. Jeremiah delivered the same oracle to his own king.

The warning was rendered unavailing by the conduct of Hananiah. He prophesied that within two full years God would break the yoke of the King of Babylon; and that the captive Jeconiah, and the nobles, and the vessels of the House of the Lord would be brought back. Jeremiah, by way of an acted parable, had worn round his neck one of his own yokes. Hananiah, in the Temple, snatched it off, broke it to pieces, and said, "So will I break the yoke of Nebuchadrezzar from the neck of all nations within the space of two full years."

We can imagine the delight, the applause, the enthusiasm with which the assembled people listened to these bold predictions. Hananiah argued with them, so to speak, in shorthand, for he appealed to their desires and to their prejudices. It is always the tendency of nations to say to their prophets, "Say not unto us hard things: speak smooth things; prophesy deceits."

Against Hananiah personally there seems to have been no charge, except that in listening to the lying spirit of his own desires he could not hear the true message of God. But he did not stand alone. Among the children of the captivity, his promises were echoed by two downright false prophets, Ahab and Zedekiah, the son of Maaseiah, who prophesied lies in God’s name. They were men of evil life, and a fearful fate overtook them. Their words against Babylon came to the ears of Nebuchadrezzar, and they were "roasted in the fire," so that the horror of their end passed into a proverb and a curse. {Jeremiah 29:21-23} Truly God fed these false prophets with wormwood, and gave them poisonous water to drink. {Jeremiah 23:9-32}

After the action of Hananiah, Jeremiah went home stricken and ashamed: apparently he never again uttered a public discourse in the Temple. It took him by surprise; and he was for the moment, perhaps, daunted by the plausive echo of the multitude to the lying prophet. But when he got home the answer of Jehovah came: "Go and tell Hananiah, Thou hast broken the yokes of wood; but thou hast made for them yokes of iron. I have put a yoke of iron on the necks of all these nations, that they may serve Nebuchadrezzar. Hear now, Hananiah, The Lord hath not sent thee: thou makest this people to trust in a lie. Behold, this year thou shalt die, because thou hast spoken revolt against the Lord. What hath the chaff to do with the wheat? saith the Lord." {Jeremiah 28:13-16; Jeremiah 23:28}

Two months after Hananiah lay dead, and men’s minds were filled with fear. They saw that God’s word was indeed as a fire to burn, and as a hammer to dash in pieces. {Jeremiah 23:29} But meanwhile Zedekiah had been over-persuaded to take the course which the true prophets had forbidden. Misled by the false prophets and mincing prophetesses whom Ezekiel denounced, {Ezekiel 13:1-23} who daubed men’s walls with whitened plaster, he had sent an embassy to Pharaoh Hophrah, asking for an army of infantry and cavalry to support his rebellion from Assyria. {Ezekiel 17:15} In the eyes of Jeremiah and Ezekiel the crime did not only consist in defying the exhortations of those whom Zedekiah knew to be Jehovah’s accredited messengers, in mitigation of this offence he might have pleaded the extreme difficulty of discriminating the truth amid the ceaseless babble of false pretenders. But, on the other hand, he had broken the solemn oath which he had taken to Nebuchadrezzar in the name of God, and the sacred covenant which he seems to have twice ratified with him. {2 Chronicles 36:13; Jeremiah 52:3} This it was which raised the indignation of the faithful, and led Ezekiel to prophesy:-

"Shall he prosper? Shall he escape that doeth such things? Or shall he break the covenant and be believed? ‘As I live,’ saith the Lord God, ‘surely in the place where the king dwelleth that made him king, Whose oath he despised and whose covenant he broke, Even with him in the midst of Babylon, shall he die.’" {Ezekiel 17:15-16; Ezekiel 28:19}

Sad close for a dynasty which had now lasted for nearly five centuries!

As for Pharaoh, he too was an eagle, as Nebuchadrezzar was-a great eagle with great wings and many feathers, but not so great. The trailing vine of Judah bent her roots towards him, but it should wither in the furrows when the east wind touched it. {Ezekiel 17:7-10}

The result of Zedekiah’s alliance with Egypt was the intermission of his yearly tribute to Assyria; and at last, in the ninth year of Zedekiah, Nebuchadrezzar was aroused to put down this Palestinian revolt, supported as it was by the vague magnificence of Egypt. Jeremiah had said, "Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, is but a noise [or desolation]: he hath passed the time appointed." {Jeremiah 46:17}

This was about the year 589. In 598 Nebuchadrezzar had carried Jehoachin into captivity, and ever since then some of his forces had been engaged in the vain effort to capture Tyre, which still, after a ten years’ siege, drew its supplies from the sea, and remained impregnable on her island rock. He did not choose to raise this long-continued siege by diverting the troops to beleaguer so strong a fortress as Jerusalem, and therefore he came in person from Babylon.

In Ezekiel 21:20-24 we have a singular and vivid glimpse of his march. On his way he came to a spot where two roads branched off before him. One led to Rabbath, the capital of Ammon, on the east of Jordan; the other to Jerusalem, on the west. Which road should he take? Personally, it was a matter of indifference; so he threw the burden of responsibility upon his gods by leaving the decision to the result of belomancy. Taking in his hand a sheaf of brightened arrows, he held them upright, and decided to take the route indicated by the fall of the greater number of arrows. He confirmed his uncertainty by consulting teraphim, and by hepatoscopy-i.e., by examining the liver of slain victims. Rabbath and the Ammonites were not to be spared, but it was upon the covenant-breaking king and city that the vengeance was to fall. {Ezekiel 21:28-32} And this is what the prophet has to say to Zedekiah:-

"And thou, O deadly-wounded wicked one, the prince of Israel, whose day is come in the time of the iniquity of the end; thus saith the Lord God, ‘Remove the miter, and take off the crown. This shall be not thus. Exalt the low, and abase that which is high. An overthrow, overthrow, overthrow, will I make it: this also shall be no more, until He come whose right it is: and I will give it Him."’

So (B.C. 587) Jerusalem was delivered over to siege, even as Ezekiel had sketched upon a tile. {Ezekiel 4:1-3} It was to be assailed in the old Assyrian manner-as we see it represented in the British Musemn bas-relief, where Sennacherib is portrayed in the act of besieging Lachish-with forts, mounds, and battering-rams; and Ezekiel had also been bidden to put up an iron plate between him and his pictured city to represent the mantelet from behind which the archers shot.

In this dread crisis Zedekiah sent Zephaniah, the son of Maaseiah, the priest, and Jehueal, to Jeremiah, entreating his prayers for the city, {Jeremiah 37:3} for he had not yet been put in prison. Doubtless he prayed, and at first it looked as if deliverance would come. Pharaoh Hophrah put in motion the Egyptian army with its Carian mercenaries and Soudanese Negroes, and Nebuchadrezzar was sufficiently alarmed to raise the siege and go to meet the Egyptians. The hopes of the people probably rose high, though multitudes seized the opportunity to fly to the mountains. {Ezekiel 7:16} The circumstances closely resembled those under which Sennacherib had raised the siege of Jerusalem to go to meet Tirhakah the Ethiopian; and perhaps there were some, and the king among them, who looked that such a wonder might be vouchsafed to him through the prayers of Jeremiah as had been vouchsafed to Hezekiah through the prayers of Isaiah. Not for a moment did Jeremiah encourage these vain hopes. To Zephaniah, as to an earlier deputation from the king, when he sent Pashur with him to inquire of the prophet, Jeremiah returned a remorseless answer. It is too late. Pharaoh shall be defeated; even if the Chaldaean army were smitten, "its wounded soldiers would suffice to besiege and burn Jerusalem, and take into captivity the miserable inhabitants after they had suffered the worst horrors of a besieged city."


Verses 1-21

THE FALL OF JERUSALEM

B.C. 586

2 Kings 25:1-21

"In that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all nations."

- Zechariah 12:3

"An end is come, the end is come; it awaketh against thee: behold the end is come."

- Ezekiel 7:6

"Behold yon sterile spot Where now the wandering Arab’s tent Flaps in the desert blast; There once old Salem’s haughty fane Reared high to heaven its thousand golden domes, And in the blushing face of day Exposed its shameful glory."

- SHELLEY

AFTER the siege had lasted for a year and a half, all but one day, at midnight the besiegers made a breach in the northern city wall. It was a day of terrible remembrance, and throughout the exile it was observed as a solemn fast. {Zechariah 8:19}

Nebuchadrezzar was no longer in person before the walls. He had other warlike operations and other sieges on hand-the sieges of Tyre, Asekah, and Lachish-as well as Jerusalem. He had therefore established his headquarters at Lachish, and did not superintend the final operations against the city. But now that all had become practically hopeless, and the capture of the rest of Jerusalem was only a matter of a few days more, Zedekiah and his few best surviving princes and soldiers fled by night through the opposite quarter of the city. There was a little unwatched postern between two walls near the king’s garden, and through this he and his escort fled, hoping to reach the Arabah, and make good his escape, perhaps to the Wady-el-Arish, which he could reach in five hours, through the wilds beyond the Jordan. The heads of the king and his followers were muffled, and they carried on their shoulders their choicest possessions. But he was betrayed by some of the mean deserters, and pursued by the Chaldaeans. His movements were doubtless impeded by the presence of his harem and his children. His little band of warriors could offer no resistance, and fled in all directions. Zedekiah, his family, and his attendants were taken prisoners, and carried to Riblah to appear before the mighty conqueror. Nebuchadrezzar showed no pity towards one whom he had elevated to the throne, and who had violated his most solemn assurances by intriguing with his enemies. He brought him to trial, and doomed him to witness with his own eyes the massacre of his two sons and of his attendants. After he had endured this anguish worse than death, his eyes were put out, and, bound in double fetters, he was sent to Babylon, where he ended his miserable days. To blind a king deprived him of all hope of recovering the throne, and was therefore in ancient days a common punishment. The LXX adds that he was sent by the Babylonians to grind a mill. This is probably a reminiscence of the blinded Samson. But thus were fulfilled with startling literalness two prophecies which might well have seemed to be contradictory. For Jeremiah had said, -{Jeremiah 34:3}

"Thine eyes shall behold the eyes of the King of Babylon, and he shall speak with thee mouth to mouth, and thou shalt go to Babylon."

Whereas Ezekiel had said, {Ezekiel 12:13} -

"I will bring him to Babylon, the land of the Chaldaeans; yet shall he not see it, though he shall die there."

Henceforth Zedekiah was forgotten, and his place knew him no more. We can only hope that in his blindness and solitude he was happier than he had been on the throne of Judah, and that before death came to end his miseries he found peace with God.

The conqueror did not come to spoil the city. He left that task to three great officers, -Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, or chief executioner; Nebushasban, the Rabsaris, or chief of the eunuchs; and Nergalshareser, the Rabmag, or chief of the magicians. They took their station by the Middle Gate, and first gave up the city to pillage and massacre. No horror was spared. {Psalms 79:2-3} The sepulchers were rifled for treasure; the young Levites were slain in the house of their Sanctuary; women were violated; maidens and hoary-headed men were slain. "Princes were hanged up by the hand, and the faces of elders were dishonored; priest and prophet were slain in the Sanctuary of the Lord," {2 Chronicles 36:17; Lamentations 2:21; Lamentations 5:11-12} till the blood flowed like red wine from the winepress over the desecrated floor. The guilty city drank at the hand of God the dregs of the cup of His fury. It was the final vengeance. "The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion. He will no more carry thee away into captivity." {Lamentations 4:22} And, meanwhile, the little Bedouin principalities were full of savage exultation at the fate of their hereditary foe. {Psalms 79:1} This was felt by the Jews as a culmination of their misery, that they became a derision to their enemies. The callous insults hurled at them by the neighboring tribes in their hour of shame awoke that implacable wrath against Gebal and Ammon and Amalek which finds its echo in the Prophets and in the Psalms. After this the devoted capital was given up to destruction. The Temple was plundered. All that remained of its often-rifled splendors was carried away, such as the ancient pillars Jachin and Boaz, the masterpieces of Hiram’s art, the caldron, the brazen sea, and all the vessels of gold, of silver, and of brass. Then the walls of the city were dismantled and broken down. The Temple, and the palace, and all the houses of the princes were committed to the flames. As for the principal remaining inhabitants, Seraiah the chief priest, perhaps the grandson of Hilkiah and the grandfather of Ezra, Zephaniah the second priest, the three Levitic doorkeepers, the secretary of war, five of the greatest nobles who "saw the king’s face," {Comp. Esther 1:14} and sixty of the common people who had been marked out for special punishment, were taken to Riblah, and there massacred by order of Nebuchadrezzar. With these Nebuchadrezzar took away as his prisoners a multitude of the wealthier inhabitants, leaving behind him but the humblest artisans. As the craftsmen and smiths had been deported, these poor people busied themselves in agriculture, as vine-dressers and husbandmen. The existing estates were divided among them; and being few in number, they found the amplest sustenance in treasures of wheat and barley, and oil and honey, and summer fruits, which they kept concealed for safety, as the fellaheen of Palestine do to this day. {Jeremiah 41:8; Jeremiah 40:12} According to the historic chapters added to the prophecies of Jeremiah, the whole number of captives carried away from Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar in the seventh, the eighteenth, and the twenty-third years of his reign were 4,600. The completeness of the desolation might well have caused the heartrending outcry of Psalms 79:1-13. "O God, the heathen are come into Thine inheritance; Thy holy Temple have they defiled; they have made Jerusalem a heap of stones. The dead bodies of Thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of heaven, and the flesh Of Thy saints unto the beasts of the land. Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem; and there was no man to bury them."

Among the remnant of the people was Jeremiah. Nebuzaradan had received from his king the strictest injunctions to treat him honorably; for he had heard from the deserters that he had always opposed the rebellion, and had prophesied the issue of the siege. He was indeed sent in manacles to Ramah; but there Nebuchadnezzar gave him free choice to do exactly as he liked-either to accompany him to Babylon, where he should be well treated and cared for, or to return to Jerusalem, and live where he liked. This was his desire. Nebuchadnezzar therefore dismissed him with food and a present; and he returned. The LXX and Vulgate represent him as sitting weeping over the ruins of Jerusalem, and tradition says that he sought for his lamentations a cave still existing near the Damascus Gate. Of this Scripture knows nothing. But the melancholy prophet was only reserved for further tragedies. He had lived one of the most afflicted of human lives. A man of tender heart and shrinking disposition, he had been called to set his face like a flint against kings, and nobles, and mobs. Worse than this, being himself a prophet and priest, naturally led to sympathize with both, he was the doomed antagonist of both-victim of "one of the strongest of human passions, the hatred of priests against a priest who attacks his own order, the hatred of prophets against a prophet who ventures to have a voice and a will of his own." Even his own family had plotted against his life at humble Anathoth, {Jeremiah 11:19-21} and when he retreated to Jerusalem, he found himself at the center of the storm. Now perhaps he hoped for a gleam of sunset peace. But his hopes were disappointed. He had to tread the path of anguish and hatred to the bitter end, as he had trodden it for nearly fifty years of the troubled life which had followed his call in early boyhood.

"But, in the case of Jerusalem," says Dean Stanley, "both its first and second destruction have the peculiar interest of involving the dissolution of a religious dispensation, combined with the agony of an expiring nation, such as no other people has survived, and, by surviving, carried on the living recollection, first of one, and then of the other, for centuries after the first shock was over."


Verses 22-30

GEDALIAH

B.C. 586

2 Kings 25:22-30

"Vedi che son un che piango."

- DANTE, "Inferno."

"No rather steel thy melting heart To act the martyr s sternest part, To watch with firm, unshrinking eye Thy darling visions as they die, Till all bright hopes and hues of day Have faded into twilight grey."

- KEBLE

IN deciding that he would not accompany Nebuchadrezzar to Babylon, Jeremiah made the choice of duty. In Chaldaea he would have lived at ease, in plenty, in security, amid universal respect. He might have helped his younger contemporary Ezekiel in his struggle to keep the exiles in Babylon faithful to their duty and their God. He regarded the exiles as representing all that was best and noblest in the nation; and he would have been safe and honored in the midst of them, under the immediate protection of the great Babylonian king. On the other hand, to return to Judaea was to return to a defenseless and a distracted people, the mere dregs of the true nation, the mere phantom of what they once had been. Surely his life had earned the blessing of repose? But no! The hopes of the Chosen People, the seed of Abraham, God’s servant, could not be dissevered from the Holy Land. Rest was not for him on this side of the grave. His only prayer must be, like that which, Senancour had inscribed over his grave, Eternite, deviens mon asile! The decision cost him a terrible struggle; but duty called him, and he obeyed. It has been supposed by some critics that the wild cry of Jeremiah 15:10-21 expresses his: anguish at the necessity of casting in his lot with the remnant; the sense that they needed his protecting influence and prophetic guidance; and the promise of God that his sacrifice should not be ineffectual for good to the miserable fragment of his nation, even though they should continue to struggle against him.

So with breaking heart he saw Nebuzaradan at Ramah marshalling the throng of captives for their long journey to the waters of Babylon. Before them, and before the little band which returned with him to the burnt Temple, the dismantled city, the desolate house, there lay an unknown future; but in spite of the exiles’ doom it looked brighter for them than for him, as with tears and sobs they parted from each other. Then it was that-

"A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children refuseth to be comforted, because they are not. Thus saith the Lord, ‘Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded,’ saith the Lord; ‘and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. And there is hope for thy time to come,’ saith the Lord, ‘that thy children shall come again to their own border."’ {Jeremiah 31:15-17}

Disappointed in the fidelity of the royal house of Judah, Nebuchadrezzar had not attempted to place another of them on the throne. He appointed Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, his satrap (pakid) over the poor remnant who were left in the land. In this appointment we probably trace the influence of Jeremiah. There is no one whom Nebuchadrezzar would have been so likely to consult. Gedaliah was the son of the prophet’s old protector, {Jeremiah 26:24} and his grandfather Shaphan had been a trusted minister of Josiah. He thoroughly justified the confidence reposed in him, and under his wise and prosperous rule there seemed to be every prospect that there would be at least some pale gleam of returning prosperity. The Jews, who during the period of the siege had fled into all the neighboring countries, no sooner heard of his viceroyalty than they came flocking back from Moab, and Ammon, and Edom. They found themselves, perhaps for the first time in their lives, in possession of large estates, from which the exiles of Babylon had been dispossessed; and favored by an abundant harvest, "they gathered wine and summer fruits very much." {Jeremiah 40:12}

Jerusalem-dismantled, defenseless, burnt-was no longer habitable. It was all but deserted; so that jackals and hyenas prowled even over the mountain of the Lord’s House. All attempt to refortify it would have been regarded as rebellion, and such a mere lodge in a garden of cucumbers would have been useless to repress the marauding incursions of the envious Moabites and Edomites, who had looked on with shouts at the destruction of the city, and exulted when her carved work was broken down with axes and hammers. Gedaliah therefore fixed his headquarters at Mizpah, about six miles north of Jerusalem, of which the lofty eminence could be easily secured. It was the watchtower from which Titus caught his first glimpses of the Holy City, as many a traveler does to this day, and the point at which Richard I averted his eyes with tears, saying that he was unworthy to look upon the city which he was unable to save. Here, then, Gedaliah lived, urging upon his subjects the policy which his friend and adviser Jeremiah had always supported, and promising them quietness and peace if they would but accept the logic of circumstances-if they would bow to the inevitable, and frankly acknowledge the suzerainty of Nebuchadrezzar. It was perhaps as a pledge of more independence in better days to come that Nebuzaradan had left Gedaliah in charge of the young daughters of King Zedekiah, who had with them some of their eunuch-attendants. As that unfortunate monarch was only thirty-two years old when he was blinded and carried away, the princesses were probably young girls; and it has been conjectured that it was part of the Chaldaean king’s plan for the future that in time Gedaliah should be permitted to marry one of them, and re-establish at least a collateral branch of the old royal house of David.

How long this respite continued we do not know. The language of Jeremiah 39:2; Jeremiah 41:1, compared with 2 Kings 25:8, might seem to imply that it only lasted two months. But since Jeremiah does not mention the year in Jeremiah 41:1, and as there seems to have been yet another deportation of Jews by Nebuchadrezzar five years later, {Jeremiah 52:30} which may have been in revenge for the murder of his satrap, some have supposed that Gedaliah’s rule lasted four years. All is uncertain, and the latter passage is of doubtful authenticity; but it is at least possible that the vengeful atrocity committed by Ishmael followed almost immediately after the Chaldean forces were well out of sight. Respecting these last days of Jewish independence, "History, leaning semisomnous on her pyramid, muttereth something, but we know not what it is."

However this may be, there seem to have been guerilla bands wandering through the country, partly to get what they could, and partly to watch against Bedouin marauders. Johanan, the son of Kareah, who was one of the chief captains among them, came with others to Gedaliah, and warned him that Baalis, King of Ammon, was intriguing against him, and trying to induce a certain Ishmael, the son of Nethaniah, the son of Elishama-who, in some way unknown to us, represented, perhaps on the female side, the seed royal-to come and murder him. Gedaliah was of a fine, unsuspicious temperament, and with rash generosity he refused to believe in the existence of a plot so ruinous and so useless. Astonished at his noble incredulity, Johanan then had a secret interview with him and offered to murder Ishmael so secretly that no one should know of it. "Why," he asked, "should this man be suffered to ruin everything, and cause the final scattering of even the struggling handful of colonists at Mizpah and in Judah?" Gedaliah forbade his intervention. "Thou shalt not do this," he said: "thou speakest falsely of Ishmael."

But Johanan’s story was only too true. Shortly afterwards, Ishmael, with ten confederates, came to visit Gedaliah at Mizpah, perhaps on the pretext of seeing his kinswomen, the daughters of Zedekiah. Gedaliah welcomed this ambitious villain and his murderous accomplices with openhanded hospitality. He invited them all to a banquet in the fort of Mizpah; and after eating salt with him, Ishmael and his bravoes first murdered him, and then put promiscuously to the sword his soldiers, and the Chaldaeans who had been left to look after him. The gates of the fort were closed, and the bodies were flung into a deep well or tank, which had been constructed by Asa in the middle of the courtyard when he was fortifying Mizpah against the attacks of Baasha, King of Israel.

For two days there was an unbroken silence, and the peasants at Mizpah remained unaware of the dreadful tragedy. On the third day a sad procession was seen wending its way up the heights. There were scattered Jews in Shiloh and Samaria who still remembered Zion; and eighty pilgrims, weeping as they went, came with shaven beards and rent garments to bring a minchah and incense to the ruined shrine at Jerusalem. In the depth of their woe they had even violated a law, {Leviticus 19:28; Leviticus 21:5} of which they were perhaps unaware, by cutting themselves in sign of their misery. Mizpah would be their last halting-place on the way to Jerusalem; and the hypocrite Ishmael came out to them with an invitation to share the hospitality of the murdered satrap. No sooner had the gate of the charnel-house closed upon them, than Ishmael and his ten ruffians began to murder this unoffending company. Crimes more aimless and more brutal than those committed by this infinitely degenerate scion of the royal house it is impossible to conceive. The place swam with blood. The story "reads almost like a page from the annals of the Indian Mutiny." Seventy of the wretched pilgrims had been butchered and flung into the tank, which must have been choked with corpses, like the fatal well at Cawnpore when the ten survivors pleaded for their lives by telling Ishmael that they had large treasures of country produce stored in hidden places, which should be at his disposal, if he would spare them.

As it was useless to make any further attempt to conceal his atrocities, Ishmael now took the young princesses and the inhabitants of Mizpah with him, and tried to make good his escape to his patron the King of Ammon. But the watchful eye of Johanan, the son of Kareah, had been upon him, and assembling his band he went in swift pursuit. Ishmael had got no farther than the Pool of Gibeon, when Johanan overtook him, to the intense joy of the prisoners. A scuffle ensued; but Ishmael and eight of his bloodstained desperadoes unhappily managed to make good their escape to the Ammonites. The wretch vanishes into the darkness, and we hear of him no more.

Even now the circumstances were desperate. Nebuchadrezzar could not in honor overlook the frustration of all his plans, and the murder, not only of his viceroy, but even of his Chaldaean commissioners. He would not be likely to accept any excuses. No course seemed open but that of flight. There was no temptation to return to Mizpah with its frightful memories and its corpse-choked tank. From Gibeon the survivors made their way to Bethlehem, which lay on the road to Egypt, and where they could be sheltered in the caravanserai of Chimham. Many Jews had already taken refuge in Egypt. Colonies of them were living in Pathros, and at Migdol and Noph, under the kindly protection of Pharaoh Hophrah. Would it not be well to join them?

In utter perplexity Johanan and the other captains and all the people came to Jeremiah. How he had escaped the massacre at Mizpah we do not know; but now he seemed to be the only man left in whose prophetic guidance they could confide. They entreated him with pathetic earnestness to show them the will of Jehovah; and he promised to pray for insight, while they pledged themselves to obey implicitly his directions.

The anguish and vacillation of the prophet’s mind is shown by the fact that for ten whole days no light came to him. It seemed as if Judah was under an irrevocable curse. Whither could they return? What temptation was there to return? Did not return mean fresh intolerable miseries? Would they not be torn to pieces by the robber bands from across the Jordan? And what could be the end of it but another deportation to Babylon, with perhaps further massacre and starvation?

All the arguments seemed against this course; and he could see very clearly that it would be against all the wishes of the down-trodden fugitives, who longed for Egypt, "where we shall see no war, nor hear the sound of the trumpet, nor have hunger of bread."

Yet Jeremiah could only give them the message which he believed to represent the will of God. He bade them return. He assured them that they need have no fear of the King of Babylon, and that God would bless them; whereas if they went to Egypt, they would die by the sword, the famine, and the pestilence. At the same time-doomed always to thwart the hopes of the multitude-he reproved the hypocrisy which had sent them to ask God’s will when they never intended to do anything but follow their own.

Then their anger broke out against him. He was, as always, the prophet of evil, and they held him more than half responsible for being the cause of the ruin which he invariably predicted. Johanan and "all the proud men" (zedim) gave him the lie. They told him that the source of his prophecy was not Jehovah, but the meddling and pernicious Baruch. Perhaps some of them may have remembered the words of Isaiah, that a day should come when five cities, of which one should be called Kir-Cheres ("the City of Destruction")-a play on the name Kir-Heres, "the City of the Sun," On or Heliopolis-should speak the language of Canaan and swear by the Lord of hosts, and there should be an altar in the land of Egypt and a matstsebah at its border in witness to Jehovah, and that though Egypt should be smitten she should also be healed. {Isaiah 19:18-22}

So they settled to go to Egypt; and taking with them Jeremiah, and Baruch, and the king’s daughters, and all the remnant, they made their way to Tahpanhes or Daphne (Jeremiah 2:16; Jeremiah 44:1;, Ezekiel 30:18;, Jeremiah 43:7; Jeremiah 46:14; Herod. 2:30), an advanced post to guard the road to Syria. Mr. Flinders Petrie in 1886 discovered the site of the city at Tel Defenneh, and the ruins of the very palace which Pharaoh Hophrah placed at the disposal of the daughters of his ally Zedekiah. It is still known by the name of "The Castle of the Jew’s Daughters" - El Kasr el Bint el Jehudi.

In front of this palace was an elevated platform (mastaba) of brick, which still remains. In this brickwork Jeremiah was bidden by the word of Jehovah to place great stones, and to declare that on that very platform, over those very stones, Nebuchadrezzar should pitch his royal tent, when he came to wrap himself in the land of Egypt, as a shepherd wraps himself in his garment, and to burn the pillars of Heliopolis with fire.

Jeremiah still had to face stormy times. At some great festival assembly at Tahpanhes he bitterly reproached the exiled Jews for their idolatries. He was extremely indignant with the women who burned incense to the Queen of Heaven. The multitude, and especially the women, openly defied him. "We will not hearken to thee," they said. "We will continue to burn incense, and offer offerings to the Queen of Heaven, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem; for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil. It is only since we have left off making cakes for her and honoring her that we have suffered hunger and desolation; and our husbands were always well aware of our proceedings."

Never was there a more defiantly ostentatious revolt against God and against His prophet! Remonstrance seemed hopeless. What could Jeremiah do but menace them with the wrath of Heaven, and tell them that in sign of the truth of his words the fate of Pharaoh Hophrah should be the same as the fate of Zedekiah, King of Judah, and should be inflicted by the hand of Nebuchadrezzar.

So on the colony of fugitives the curtain of revelation rushes down in storm. The prophet went on the troubled path which, if tradition be true, led him at last to martyrdom. He is said to have been stoned by his infuriated fellow-exiles. But his name lived in the memory of his people. It was he (they believed) who had hidden from the Chaldaeans the Ark and the sacred fire, and some day he should return to reveal the place of their concealment. When Christ asked His disciples six hundred years later, "Whom say the people that I am?" one of the answers was, "Some say Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He became, so to speak, the guardian saint of the land in which he had suffered such cruel persecutions.

But the historian of the Kings does not like to leave the close of his story in unbroken gloom. He wrote during the Exile. He has narrated with tears the sad fate of Jehoiachin; and though he does not care to dwell on the Exile itself, he is glad to narrate one touch of kindness on the part of the King of Babylon, which he doubtless regarded as a pledge of mercies yet to come. Twenty-six years had elapsed since the capture of Jerusalem, and thirty-seven since the captivity of the exiled king, when Evil-Merodach, the son and successor of Nebuchadrezzar, took pity on the imprisoned heir of the House of David. He took Jehoiachin from his dungeon, changed his garments, spoke words of encouragement to him, gave him a place at his own table, assigned to him a regular allowance from his own banquet, and set his throne above the throne of all the other captive kings who were with him in Babylon. It might seem a trivial act of mercy, yet the Jews remembered in their records the very day of the month on which it had taken place, because they regarded it as a break in the clouds which overshadowed them-as "the first gleam of heaven’s amber in the Eastern grey."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Kings 25:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/2-kings-25.html1.


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Monday, June 26th, 2017
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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