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2 Kings 25:1-21
And it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign.
Captivity of Judah
We have two prominent characters in this lesson--Zedekiah King of Judah, and Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon. The latter was one of the remarkable men of the world, not only as a military conqueror, but as a ruler of great genius and executive power. Zedekiah was the youngest son of Josiah, and was placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar at the age of twenty-one. He reigned eleven years in Jerusalem, and “did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 24:19). At length he revolted against the King of Babylon, and this revolt was the beginning of the end, which was the captivity of Judah. It was in the year 589 b.c., in the month of January, that the siege of Jerusalem commenced, and it lasted one year five months and twenty-seven days. During this time the besieging army, or a part of it, marched to meet the Egyptians, who were coming to the help of the Jews, and with the retreat of the Egyptians the siege was continued even more rigorously. As the Jews were accustomed to observe the anniversary of national disasters with lastings, the dates of such disasters were preserved accurately. (See Zechariah 7:3-5; Zechariah 8:19.) By turning to Jeremiah 34:7 we learn that the army of Nebuchadnezzar also besieged the cities of Lachish and Azekah, which were the only strongholds remaining to the Jews, so that with their capture the victory was complete and the humiliation of God’s people perfected (verses 1-3). It is interesting to study the life of Jeremiah in connection with the events of this lesson (Jeremiah chaps, 37., 38.), for it was he who prevented for some time the revolt of the king against the yoke of Babylon by counselling submission and patience, and after the siege he urged Zedekiah to surrender to the enemy, assuring him, by the word of the Lord, that there was nothing to be gained by resistance, and that the end would be the burning of the city and the king’s capture and death. And now commenced the afflictions of Zedekiah--afflictions which were the fulfilment of Divine prophecy, in which fulfilment the King of Babylon was unconsciously the instrument in God’s hand in the punishment of this wicked monarch of Judah. And notice how terrible the punishment was. In the first place, his sons were put to death before his eyes, the purpose being to put an end to the dynasty. Then we learn from Jeremiah 12:10 that his daughters were carried into captivity. In addition to this, Zedekiah himself was bound in chains, “fetters of brass,” and double fetters too, so that he was bound hand and foot, making escape impossible. His trial took place in the royal camp at Riblah, but we may suppose that it was a mere form, since the guilt of Zedekiah in breaking his oath of allegiance to the King of Babylon was known to all. Now let us consider what sins Zedekiah had committed, which brought down upon him and his family and the people of God this terrible punishment.
1. We know from 2 Kings 24:19 that he did not seek the glory of God in his reign. “He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all which Jehoiakim had done.” By studying the history of the reign of his brother Jehoiakim we know that this “evil” consisted in the fact that he did not oppose and overthrow idolatry in the kingdom. We have no evidence that Zedekiah was himself an idolater, but we are responsible to God not only for what we say and do, but for our influence over others.
2. Another sin of Zedekiah’s was his revolt from the King of Babylon, and we learn from the punishment visited upon Judah’s king the sacredness of an oath in God’s sight.
3. Zedekiah broke a solemn covenant which he had made with the people, that all Jews held in bondage should be set free. In accordance with the king’s command, this degree of emancipation was carried out, and no Jew throughout Judah was a slave. But when it was known that the Egyptian army was coming to help them, then Zedekiah thought that he would not need the assistance of these freedmen in the battle with the enemy, and so the order of emancipation was revoked, and slavery was re-established in the land (Jeremiah 34:16-17).
4. Zedekiah’s treatment of the prophet was another cause which led to his overthrow. Although in the beginning of the national peril he had sent to Jeremiah with the urgent message, “Pray now unto the Lord our God for us,” yet we read (Jeremiah 37:2), “Neither he, nor his servants, nor the people of the land, did hearken unto the words of the Lord, which he spake by the prophet Jeremiah.” And not only did he refuse to follow the prophet’s advice, but he yielded to the enemies of this fearless man of God, and suffered them to imprison and maltreat him. There are some very solemn lessons which we learn from the sad life and tragic end of this last king of Judah.
1. The first and indispensable requisite to success is for one to gain the victory over his own lower nature. So long as we are slaves to sin, we cannot be great in any path of life, but he who keeps self under, who has conquered passions and appetites for the sake of God and His cause, is sure to live a royal life, though he may never sit on a throne.
2. The fact that any one is our enemy does not relieve us from the obligation to keep faith with him (Joshua 9:19). Perjury is always a terrible sin.
3. If our trust is in God, we need never fear what our enemies may do, for with God on our side all must be well. Zedekiah feared his nobles because he had no faith in God.
4. The Christian is the only one who can be absolutely fearless of the future, for around him are the everlasting arms. Zedekiah put his trust in the fortifications around Jerusalem; if he had trusted in Jehovah and believed the words of Jeremiah, his life would have been safe and his kingdom would have been preserved. David sang: “In God is my salvation and my glory; the rock of my strength and my refuge is in God.”
5. We never gain by doing wrong. When we do evil that good may come, we are always disappointed.
6. God is not mocked. If He determines to punish, no walls or weapons can defeat His purpose. When He says to us that all other paths but the one which he has marked out lead to destruction, we may be sure that our disobedience will in the end prove His words to be true (Jeremiah 2:17; Hosea 13:9). (A. E. Kitteridge, D. D.)
The captivity of Judah
The destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and the removal of the Jews into the Babylonish captivity, were a Divine judgment. Nebuchadnezzar was an unconscious agent of God in destroying, as Cyrus was in rebuilding and restoring. This judgment was not final Terrible as it was, it was a chastisement rather than a punishment. As such it illustrates some features of the Divine method in disciplinary judgment.
I. It is a Divine method to delay judgment, not only final, but also partial judgment. The instructions of Moses had been clear. His warnings had been full and explicit. He had gathered in the Book of Deuteronomy a complete presentation of the conditions upon which his people would alone be blessed; failing to comply with which they would be afflicted and cursed. When the people began to transgress, God began to afflict them; first, however, reviewing the warning of Moses by His prophetic messengers. He was prompt to chide them. As a father He chastised them.
II. The Divine judgments are certain. We do not know the time of them, but God does. It is delayed, but it is not indefinite. It is fixed. There are many hints in the Scripture at the exact timing of events in God’s government. The Saviour began early to speak of His hour. At times He said it was not yet come. The night was coming, but it had not come. Then the fateful announcement fell from His lips in a prayer: “Father, the hour is come!” One chapter in Ezekiel, pointing to the culmination of judgment upon Judah, has for its awful refrain, It is come. The notes of time in the history grow definite. Nebuchadnezzar came in the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month. In the eleventh year, the fourth month, the ninth day, the supply of food gave out, and famine prevailed. In the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, in the fifth month, in the seventh day of the month, the city was destroyed. The very hour when the Chaldeans broke into the city is recorded. So certain are the delayed judgments of God, if men do not repent. They impend. They are withheld. They may be withdrawn. God would withdraw them. It grieves Him to inflict them. But when a certain definite hour is reached, and His people is still incorrigible, they must fall. A thousand years may pass. Men may grow bold, and say, “Since the fathers fell asleep, all things remain as they were from the beginning.” But not when the hour strikes. Then, punctually, the fire falls upon the cities of the plain, and the floods of the deluge are poured out, and Shiloh falls, and Samaria falls, and Jerusalem falls. Here is a lesson for all nations, all families, all individuals, under the Divine government. To remain unsubmissive under the government of God is to expose ourselves to His judgments. These may be delayed. Not so, they will be delayed. But their time is not indefinite: it is fixed. When the hour is reached the blow will fall. It may be a trial; it may be an affliction! it may be a tragedy. It may be all these three, for disciplinary judgments are cumulative.
III. The judgments of God are thorough. It is true of those that are final, it is true also of those that are partial. When Nebuchadnezzar came, he had a force equal to his needs. He came in person with “all his host.” Jeremiah says more explicitly, “All his army, and all the kingdoms of the earth of his dominion, and all the people.” This immense host was the Lord’s messenger. “It seemed,” says Stanley, “to those who witnessed it, like the rising of a mighty eagle, spreading out its vast wings, feathering with the innumerable colours of the variegated masses which composed the Chaldean host, sweeping over the different countries, and striking fear in his rapid flight.” If this array had not been sufficient for the conquest, God would have brought new levies; for the day was come. The siege was thorough. The city was surrounded. It was assailed from huge mounds and towers built up for the purpose. For a year and a half it held out. Then its store of provisions failed. Fathers devoured the flesh of their own sons and daughters. The hands even of pitiful mothers have sodden their own children, the mere infants just born. When the city still stubbornly held out, the siege was pressed more fiercely. At last the wall was pierced. At midnight the breach was made. The Chaldeans swarmed in. The destruction was complete. The, ark now disappeared, to be seen no more. Tradition says that Jeremiah buried it. Probably the fire destroyed it. It could not have been taken to Babylon with the spoil of the temple, the pillars of Solomon, and the molten sea, whose loss Jeremiah so bitterly bewailed; for otherwise it would have been returned with the other temple furniture by Cyrus. It was not needed longer. Religion had not disappeared from the nation. It is of much consequence to observe, in the light of this history, that a certain proportion of religious life is necessary to save a nation or an individual. There were individuals like Jeremiah and Baruch and their friends. There were youths like Daniel and his companions. There were others, perhaps even numerous, who cherished the law so recently discovered by Josiah, and whose recovery was so joyfully regarded as an event of national importance. But it was not enough to save the nation that there were good men and women in it, or that it had the Bible.
IV. The purpose of a disciplinary judgment is kept ever in view. Though the judgment of Judah was terribly thorough it was not final. Its aim was to save the nation, if possible, and as many of its individual citizens as possible. A considerable remnant of the poorer classes was left on the land to keep it in tillage. Those taken into captivity were told that it should only be of limited duration. After seventy years they should return. They were permitted to have prophets and religious teachers with them in Babylon and in Judah. (Monday Club Sermons.)
Captivity of Judah
If we come to the fall of Jerusalem with the desire to see not merely a special judgment of God, but to gain lessons from the operation of what are commonly called natural causes, we shall discover three facts to which it was largely due.
1. Bad economic conditions. Judah fell into the hands of the Babylonians because her kings had wasted bet resources. David gave a united nation to Solomon, who in turn passed it, still entire, to Rehoboam. Under this its fourth king the nation was broken into two hostile kingdoms. The narrative gives the cause explicitly,--unendurable taxation. The glory of Solomon, his navy and palaces and harem and chariots, had been purchased at the price of great suffering on the part of the people. Had Rehoboam followed the advice of his older counsellors and lightened taxation, Jeroboam would never have become his rival, and the confederation of the twelve tribes, none too strong at best, would not have wasted its strength in civil war.
2. Moral degeneracy. But back of the bad financial policy of the nation lay its moral weakness. For a nation whose God was Jehovah, the Jews were wonderfully prone to idolatry. If we except a few years of David’s reign, there was not a moment, from the Call to the Return, when Israel was not itching to run after strange gods. Solomon was a typical eclectic in religion, permitting heathen divinities to be worshipped by the side of his great temple. The reforms of such kings as Hezekiah and Josiah were short-lived, and served but to set in strange contrast the popular worship in the high places and the groves.
3. Disregard of religious teachers. Nothing is more dramatic than the struggle between the prophets and the kings of Israel. Samuel with the gigantic Saul cowering at his feet; Elijah defying Ahab, slaying the prophets of Baal, and running from Jezebel; Elisha travelling up and down a half-converted land; Isaiah outspoken and dying a martyr’s death; Jeremiah deep in the filth of his prison,--are but leaders in the noble army of prophets whom God sent to guide Israel through the paths of national success, in the face of the bitterest opposition. Each of them was faithful and spoke his message; but his words passed unheeded, or only excited anger and persecution. Neither people nor king cared to follow the stern words of their religious teachers except as they were threatened by some overwhelming disaster. Then perhaps, for a few days or months, the worship of Jehovah was reinstated in its proper place, and the prophetical office was again honoured. Judah is the type of the world. Had its king listened to God’s servants, the nation would have weathered its financial distress and been cured of its wickedness. In their words lay the only hope; and Judah laughed at them and stoned them. Jerusalem, the Zion of David, became the execution city of the prophets. Judah fell, just as any nation will fall that fails to apply religion to national problems. The one great lesson of the captivity of Judah is this: the fearless application of Christianity to living questions is the duty of both clergy and laymen, and the hope of the state. (S. Matthews.)
2 Kings 25:18
And the captain of the guard took Seraiah the chief priest.
1. Most of us, I daresay, are familiar with the story of the faithful sentinel at Pompeii. It is told for us by Miss Yonge, in her little book of golden deeds. The man was an ordinary soldier, set to guard the city gate. It was the time of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and from the position assigned to him he was able to watch the stream of molten lava, like a cruel crawling hungry tide, setting in the direction of Pompeii: on and on it came: nearer and nearer with its blinding light and burning flame it advanced towards him: but the sentinel never stirred from his post; he stood where he had been ordered to stand: and when after more than a thousand years the buried city was, as it were, disentombed from her sepulchre, the good soldier’s bones, still girt about with breast-plate and helmet, and with the hand still raised to keep the dust from his mouth, remained to tell all future generations how a Roman soldier, rather than leave the post of duty, was not unwilling to die. The story is not without modern parallels. Lord Wolseley pays a tribute of respectful admiration to the chivalrous faithfulness which was shown by one of the English sentinels at the battle of Inkermann. In the blinding mist of the November morning, the Russian soldiers crept within our lines. Through what some call chance, but what we would rather call the providence of God, the enemy in their progress failed to come across one of our sentries: all day long, with enemies before him and enemies behind him, that man remained where he had been placed; and when, in the evening of the day, the thin red line of our troops drove back their opponents into their entrenchments, Lord Wolseley found this sentinel, still holding his ground, at his post, doing his duty. I have referred to these two incidents, not merely because they are golden deeds, but because they help, I think, to illustrate the act of unconscious heroism which our text describes. In this last chapter of the Second Book of Kings we read the story of the abolition of the Jewish monarchy and of the leading away into captivity of the Jewish people. From the throne on which had once reigned David and Solomon and Hezekiah, the last occupant passed forth a blind and childless man, to the ignominy of a Babylonish prison: by command of King Nebuchadnezzar, the wall and the palaces of the city, once the joy of the whole earth, were levelled to the ground: and the holy and beautiful temple, fragrant with cedar wood and bright with gold, where in happier days the shining cloud of God’s presence had rested upon the mercy seat, was turned into a charred and dilapidated ruin. Verily the weeping captives as they went forth to their exile in the land of the enemy must have learned at last the lesson which is taught so plainly on every page of history, and by the experience of every life, “be sure your sin will find you out.” But just as some gleams of pleasant sunshine will often come to cheer us at the end of a cloudy and dark day, so this dark and terrible national catastrophe seems to have been lit up by at least one deed of noble unconscious heroism. When the armies of King Nebuchadnezzar forced themselves at last into the very precincts of the temple, the great crowd of worshippers, who habitually were present there, had gone; the many attendant priests and Levites, who habitually assisted at the services, had also gone; but Seraiah the chief priest was there; and Zephaniah the second priest was there: and there were also present three men whose names are not so much as told us, three men of whom the historian apparently knows nothing, three men who were faithful but not famous; they were only keepers of the door, but faithful among the faithless, they were ready to sacrifice their lives rather than desert their posts. “The captain of the guard took Seraiah the chief priest and Zephaniah the second priest and the three keepers of the door, and the king of Babylon smote them and slew them at Riblah in the land of Hamath.” What epitaph shall we write on the grave of these unconscious heroes? “Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life.” It is the peculiar glory of the Christian religion that it has sowed the world broadcast with unconscious heroes. By their love of God, by their devotion to duty, by the unselfishness of their lives, by their repression of themselves, by their enthusiasm for humanity you may know them; they are to be met with almost everywhere; in cottages, in palaces; in towns and villages; in busy workshops, in great seats of learning; in the silence of the sick-room, among those who go down to the sea in ships, in the darkness of the underground mine. They are of all ages; some are schoolboys and schoolgirls; some are young men and maidens; some are old and grey-headed, weary with the burden of three score years and ten, holding the staff in the hand for very age. Yes, “who can count the dust of Jacob or the number of the fourth part of Israel?” Thanks to the example which our Lord set, thanks to the teaching which our Lord gave, thanks to the Holy Spirit which our Lord sends, unconscious Christian heroes have been as the stars in heaven for multitude and as the sand which is by the seashore innumerable. Quite impossible is it for human mind to measure the widespreading fruitfulness of any single life, however humble, thus given unreservedly to the service of God. As God’s word expressly teaches us, as Church History continually reminds us, as our own experience of life shows us, it is, as a rule, Almighty God’s way to work great results by apparently insufficient means. By little grains of sand the proud waters of the sea are held within their limits; by little drops of rain the earth is made to give seed to the sower and bread to the eater. When our Lord Jesus Christ came to save the world He chose the humiliations of poverty and the ignominy of a death upon a cross. Not so much by the pre-eminent holiness of great saints as by the unconscious heroism of numberless Christian lives has the faith, which was once committed to the saints, won its way throughout the world. Sometimes it is given to us to know bow fruitful a humble Christian life can be. In our own time a single Christian nobleman has been allowed to lift hundreds and thousands of his fellow-countrymen out of abysses of ignorance ‘and oppression, and in many cases to guide their feet into the way of peace. But whence did Lord Shaftesbury acquire his enthusiasm for humanity and his desire to serve God? He did not learn it from his father or mother; he did not learn it from his schoolmasters at Harrow or elsewhere; but he learned it, as he tells us, from that unlettered, faithful nurse who had the courage to lift up her voice for God, who spoke to him about our Lord Jesus Christ, and taught him to pray, who prayed with him and prayed for him, and who unconsciously sowed a seed in a kindly soil, which brought forth fruit thirtyfold, sixty-fold, hundredfold.
3. And here we stop and ask how is it possible to attain to that state of grace which produces as its natural fruit a life of unconscious Christian heroism? I answer you by referring you to a text of Scripture. We read that when Moses after forty days came down from the clouds and darkness that wreathed and settled on the top of Sinai, “he wist not,” so the Revised Version has it, “that the skin of his face shone by reason of his speaking with God.” For forty days without weariness and without cessation he had lived in the light of the presence of God; during that time there had been revealed to him, as before time to no other, thoughts from the mind of God; and when at last he turned to go back to the camp of Israel, lo, just as the moon with its surface of extinct volcanoes gets illuminated by the beams of the sun, till it is beautiful with silver light, so the earthly features of the countenance of Moses were radiant with more than human brightness, and the Israelites could not bear to look upon him because he reflected the glory of God. Yet Moses wist not that his countenance did shine because of his speaking with God. Surely it is not difficult to guess the secret of the faithfulness to duty of those three keepers of the door in the house of the Lord. Do you ask how it was that when they heard the tramp of the army of the enemy they did not make haste to escape? How it was that when priest and Levite, and chorister, and worshipper were seeking safety they choose to remain at their post? Was it not because they were men worthy of their office? They preferred to be doorkeepers in the house of the Lord rather than dwell in the tents of ungodliness; their hearts rejoiced within them when they said one to another, day by day, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.” They loved worship; they loved duty; they loved God; and so when the hour of their trial came they east in their lot with Seraiah the chief priest and Zephaniah the second priest, being all the time as unconscious of their heroism as Moses was of his glory, when he wist not that the skin of his face shone by reason of his speaking with God. And not otherwise has it been with all the bright and shining lives which have made the pages of Church history, and the homes of pious Christians flash and glitter like a milky way. They were by nature men of like passions with ourselves, they were compassed like us with manifold infirmities; they found, as we do, a law in their members warring against the law of their minds; but over and over again, morning, noon, and night, they prayed God that for Jesus Christ’s sake Satan might not have dominion over them, and so, out of weakness they were made strong, “and in the darkness o’er their fallen heads perceived the waving of the hands that bless.” (W. T. Harrison, D. D.)
Heroism is not heroism until it is ingrained in the character. No one can become an hero in an instant. Like the flower of the century plant, heroism is the sudden blossoming of what has been years in preparation. It is not premeditated, it is instinctive, because nobility has grown into a habit, and grandeur has become the fife-blood, and self-sacrifice the very fibre of the nerves. So we may parody Milton’s famous saying, “If you would write an epic, your whole life must he an heroic poem,” and assert, “If you would do a deed of heroism at any time in the future, you must begin to be a hero now.” (Amos R. Wells.)
2 Kings 25:27-30
And it came to pass in the seven and thirtieth year of the captivity of Jehoiachin.
Jehoiachin as a victim of tyrannic despotism and as an object of delivering mercy
The incident here recorded presents Jehoiachin--
I. As a victim of tyrannic despotism. He had been in prison for thirty-seven years and was fifty-five years of age. It was Nebuchadnezzar, the tyrannic King of Babylon, who stripped this man of liberty and freedom, and shut him up in a dungeon for this very long period of time. Such despotism has prevailed in all ages and lands. To the eternal dishonour of England, it has existed here for centuries, and is rampant even now. Look at this man--
II. As an object of delivering mercy. We are told that as soon as “Evil-Morodach” came to the throne on the death of his father Nebuchadnezzar, mercy stirred his heart and he relieved this poor victim of tyranny. Corrupt as this world is, the element of mercy is not entirely extinct. This mercy gave honour and liberty to the men who had been so long in confinement and disgrace. Let not the victims of tyranny--and they abound everywhere--despair. Mercy will ere long sound the trump of jubilee over all the land. “The spirit of the Lord,” said the great Redeemer of the race, “is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor, He hath sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Kings 25". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany