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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
2 Kings 23

 

 

Verses 1-25

JOSIAH’S REFORMATION

2 Kings 22:8-20;, 2 Kings 23:1-25

"And the works of Josias were upright before his Lord with a heart full of godliness."

- #/RAPC 1 Esdras 1:23

"From Zion shall go forth the Law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem."

- Isaiah 2:3

IT is from the Prophets-Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Ezekiel-that we catch almost our sole glimpses of the vast world-movements of the nations which must have loomed large on the minds of the King of Judah and of all earnest politicians in that day. As they did not directly affect the destiny of Judah till the end of the reign, they do not interest the historian of the Kings or the latter Chronicler. The things which rendered the reign memorable in their eyes were chiefly two-the finding of "the Book of the Law" in the House of the Lord, and the consequent religious reformation.

It is with the first of these two events that we must deal in the present chapter.

Josiah began to reign as a child of eight, and it may be that the emphatic and honorable mention of his mother-Jedidah ("Beloved"), daughter of Adaiah of Boscath-may be due to the fact that he owed to her training that early proclivity to faithfulness which earns for him the unique testimony, that he not only "walked in the way of David his father," but that "he turned not aside to the right hand or to the left."

At first, of course, as a mere child, he could take no very active steps. The Chronicler says that at sixteen he began to show his devotion, and at twenty set himself the task of purging Judah and Jerusalem from the taint of idols. Things were in a bad condition, as we see from the bitter complaints and denunciations of Zephaniah and Jeremiah. Idolatry of the worst description was still openly tolerated. But Josiah was supported by a band of able and faithful advisers. Shaphan, grandfather of the unhappy Gedaliah-afterwards the Chaldaean viceroy over conquered Judah-was scribe; Hilkiah, the son of Shallum and the ancestor of Ezra, was the high priest. By them the king was assisted, first in the obliteration of the prevalent emblems of idolatry, and then in the purification of the Temple. Two centuries and a half had elapsed since it had been last repaired by Joash, and it must have needed serious restoration during long years of neglect in the reigns of Ahaz, of Manasseh, and of Amon. Subscriptions were collected from the people by "the keepers of the door," and were freely entrusted to the workmen and their overseers, who employed them faithfully in the objects for which they were designed.

The repairs led to an event of momentous influence on the future time. During the cleansing of the Temple Hilkiah came to Shaphan, and said, "I have found the Book of the Law in the House of the Lord." Perhaps the copy of the book had been placed by some priest’s hand beside the Ark, and had been discovered during the removal of the rubbish which neglect had there accumulated. Shaphan read the book; and when next he had to see the king to tell him about the progress of the repairs, he said to him, "Hilkiah the priest hath handed me a book." Josiah bade him read some of it aloud. It is evident that he read the curses contained in Deuteronomy 28:1-68. They horrified the pious monarch; for all that they contained, and the laws to which they were appended, were wholly new to him. He might well be amazed that a code so solemn, and purporting to have emanated from Moses, should, in spite of maledictions so fearful, have become an absolute dead letter. In deep alarm he sent the priest, the scribe Shapbah, with his son Ahikam, and Abdon, the son of Micaiah, and Asahiah, a court official, to inquire of Jehovah, whose great anger could not but be kindled against king and people by the obliteration and nullity of His law. They consulted Huldah, the only prophetess mentioned in the Old Testament, except Miriam and Deborah. She was the wife of Shaltum and keeper of the priests’ robes, {Exodus 28:2, etc.} and she lived in the suburbs of the city. Her answer was an uncompromising menace. All the curses which the king had heard against the place and people should be pitilessly fulfilled, -only, as the king had showed a tender heart, and had humbled himself before Jehovah, he should go to his own grave in peace.

Thereupon the king summoned to the Temple a great assembly of priests, prophets, and all the people, and, standing by the pillar (or "on the platform") in the entrance of the inner court, read "all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the House of the Lord" in their ears, and joined with them in "the covenant" to obey the hitherto unknown or totally forgotten laws which were inculcated in the newly discovered volume.

Immediate action followed. The priests were ordered to bring out of the Temple all the vessels made for Baal, for the Asherah, and for the host of heaven; they were burnt outside Jerusalem in the Valley of Kedron, and their ashes taken to Bethel. The chemarim of the high places were suppressed, as well as all other idolatrous priests who burnt incense to the signs of the Zodaic, the Hyades, and the heavenly bodies. The Asherah itself was taken out of the Temple, and it is truly amazing that we should find it there so late in Josiah’s reign. He burnt it in the Kedron, stamped it to powder, and scattered the powder "on the graves of the common people." The Chronicler says "on the graves of them that had sacrificed" to the idols-but this is an inexplicable statement, since it is (as Professor Lumby says) very improbable that idolaters had a separate burial-place. It is equally shocking, and to us incomprehensible, to read that the houses of the degraded Qedeshim still stood, not "by the Temple" (A.V), but "in the Temple," and that in these houses, or chambers the women still "wove embroideries for the Asherah." What was Hilkiah doing? If the priests of the high places were so guilty from Geba to Beersheba, did no responsibility attach to the high priest and other priests of the Temple who permitted the existence of these enormities not only in the bamoth at the city gates, but in the very courts of the mountain of the Lord’s House? If the priests of the immemorial shrines were degraded from their prerogatives, and were not allowed to come up to the altar of Jehovah in Jerusalem, by what law of justice were they to be regarded as so immeasurably inferior to the highest members of their own order, who, for years together, had permitted the worship of a wooden phallic emblem, and the existence of the worst heathen abominations within the very Temple of the Lord? Every honest reader must admit that there are inexplicable difficulties and uncertainties in these ancient histories, and that our knowledge of the exact circumstances-especially in all that regards the priests and Levites who, in the Chronicles, are their own ecclesiastical historians-must remain extremely imperfect.

And what can be meant by the clause that the degraded priests of the old high places, though they were not allowed to serve at the great altar, yet "did eat of the unleavened bread among their brethren"? Unleavened bread was only eaten at the Passover; and when there was a Passover, was eaten by all alike. Perhaps the reading for "unleavened bread" should be (priestly) "portions"-a reading found by Geiger in an old manuscript.

Continuing his work, Josiah defiled Tophet; took away the horses given by the kings of Judah to the sun, which were stabled beside the chamber of the eunuch Nathan-Melech in the precincts; and burnt the sun-chariots in the fire. He removed the altars to the stars on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz, {See Zephaniah 1:5; Jeremiah 19:13; Jeremiah 32:29} and ground them to powder. He also destroyed those of his grandfather Manasseh in the two Temple courts-which we supposed to have been removed by Manasseh in his repentance-and threw, the dust into the Kedron. He defiled the idolatrous shrines reared by Solomon to the deities of Sidon, Ammon and Moloch, broke the pillars, cut down the Asherim, and filled their places with dead men’s bones. Traveling northwards, he burnt, destroyed, and stamped to powder the altars and the Asherim at Bethel, and burnt upon the altars the remains found in the sepulchres, only leaving undisturbed the remains of the old prophet from Judah, and of the prophet of Samaria. {1 Kings 13:29-31} He then destroyed the other Samaritan shrines, exercising an undisputed authority over the Northern Kingdom. The mixed inhabitants did not interfere with his proceedings; and in the declining fortunes of Nineveh, the Assyrian viceroy - if there was one-did not dispute his authority. Lastly, in accordance with the fierce injunction of Deuteronomy 17:2-5, "he slew all the priests of the high places" on their own altars, burnt men’s bones upon them, and returned to Jerusalem.

It is very difficult, with the milder notions which we have learnt from the spirit of the gospel, to look with approval on the recrudescence of the Elijah-spirit displayed by the last proceeding. But many centuries were to elapse, even under the Gospel Dispensation, before men learnt the sacred principle of the early Christians that "violence is hateful to God." Josiah must be judged by a more lenient judgment, and he was obeying a mandate found in the new Book of the Law. But the question arises whether the fierce commands of Deuteronomy were ever intended to be taken au pied de la lettre. May not Deuteronomy 13:6-18 have been intended to express in a concrete but ideal form the spirit of execration to be entertained towards idolatry? Perhaps in thinking so we are only guilty of an anachronism, and are applying to the seventh century before Christ the feelings of the nineteenth century after Christ.

After this Josiah ordered the people to keep a Deuteronomic Passover, such as we are told-and as all the circumstances prove-had not been kept from the days of the Judges. The Chronicler revels in the details of this Passover, and tells us that Josiah gave the people thirty thousand lambs and kids, and three thousand bullocks; and his priests gave two thousand six hundred small cattle and three hundred oxen; and the chief of the Levites gave the Levites five thousand small cattle, and five hundred oxen. He goes on to describe the slaying, sprinkling of blood, flaying, roasting, boiling in pots, pans, and caldrons, and attention paid to the burnt-offerings and the fat; {2 Chronicles 35:1-19} but neither the historians nor the chroniclers, either here or anywhere else, say one word about the Day of Atonement, or seem aware of its existence. It belongs to the Post-Exilic Priestly Code, and is not alluded to in the Book of Deuteronomy.

Continuing his task, he put away them that had familiar spirits (oboth), and the wizards, and the teraphim, with a zeal shown by no king before or after him; but Jehovah "turned not from the fierceness of His anger, because of all the provocations which Manasseh had provoked Him withal." Evil, alas! is more diffusive, and in some senses more permanent, than good, because of the perverted bias of human nature. Judah and Jerusalem had been radically corrupted by the apostate son of Hezekiah, and it may be that the sudden and high-handed reformation enforced by his grandson depended too exclusively on the external impulse given to it by the king to produce deep effects in the hearts of the people. Certain it is that even Jeremiah-though he was closely connected with the finders of the book, had perhaps been present when the solemn league and covenant was taken in the Temple, and lived through the reformation in which he probably took a considerable part-was profoundly dissatisfied with the results. It is sad and singular that such should have been the case; for in the first flush of the new enthusiasm he had written, "Cursed be the man that heareth not the words of this covenant, which I commanded your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, saying, ‘Obey My voice."’ Nay, it has been inferred that he was even an itinerant preacher of the newly found law; for he writes: "And the Lord said unto me, ‘Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, saying, Hear ye the words of this covenant, and do them."’

The style of Deuteronomy, as is well known shows remarkable affinities with the style of Jeremiah. Yet it is clear that after the death of Josiah the prophet became utterly disillusioned with the outcome of the whole movement. It proved itself to be at once evanescent and unreal. The people would not give up their beloved local shrines. The law, as Habakkuk, {Habakkuk 1:4} became torpid; judgment went not forth to victory; the wicked compassed about the righteous, and judgment was perverted. It was easy to obey the external regulations of Deuteronomy; it was far more difficult to be true to its noble moral precepts. The reformation of Josiah, so violent and radical, proved to be only skin-deep; and Jeremiah, with bitter disappointment, found it to be so. External decency might be improved, but rites and forms are nothing to Him who searcheth the heart. {Jeremiah 17:9-11} There was, in fact, an inherent danger in the place assumed by the newly discovered book. "Since it was regarded as a State authority, there early arose a kind of book-science, with its pedantic pride and erroneous learned endeavors to interpret and apply the Scriptures. At the same time there arose also a new kind of hypocrisy and idolatry of the letter, through the new protection which the State gave to the religion of the book acknowledged by the law. Thus scholastic wisdom came into conflict with genuine prophecy."

How entirely the improvement of outward worship failed to improve men’s hearts the prophet testifies. {Jeremiah 17:1-4} "The sin of Judah," he says, "is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the tablets of their hearts, and upon the horns of their altars, and their Asherim by the green trees upon the high hills. O My mountain in the field, I will cause thee to serve thine enemies in the land thou knowest not: for ye have kindled a fire in Mine eyes, which shall burn forever." While Josiah lived this apostasy was secret; but as soon as he died the people turned again to folly," {Psalms 85:8} and committed all the old idolatries except the worship of Moloch. There arose a danger lest even the moderate ritualism of Deuteronomy should be perverted and exaggerated into mere formality. In the energy of his indignation against this abuse, Jeremiah has to uplift his voice against any trust even in the most decided injunctions of this newly discovered law. He was "a second Amos upon a higher platform." The Deuteronomic Law did not as yet exhibit the concentrated sacerdotalism and ritualism which mark the Priestly Code, to which it is far superior in every way. It is still prophetic in its tone. It places social interests above rubrics of worship. It expresses the fundamental religious thought" that Jehovah is in no sense inaccessible; that He can be approached immediately by all, and without sacerdotal intervention; that He asks nothing for Himself, but asks it as a religious duty that man should render unto man what is right; that His Will lies not in any known height, but in the moral sphere which is known and understood by all. The book ordained certain sacrifices; yet Jeremiah says with startling emphasis, "To what purpose cometh there to Me frankincense from Sheba, and the sweet calamus from a far country? Your burnt-offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices pleasant unto Me." Therefore He bids them, "Put your burnt-offering to your sacrifices and eat them as flesh"-i.e., "Throw all your offerings into a mass, and eat them at your pleasure (regardless of sacerdotal rules): they have neither any inherent sanctity nor any secondary importance from the characters of the offerers." And in a still more remarkable passage. "For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings and sacrifices: but this thing I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice."’

Nay, in the most emphatic ordinances of Deuteronomy he found that the people bad created a new peril. They were putting a particularistic trust in Jehovah, as though He were a respecter of persons, and they His favorites. They fancied, as in the days of Micah, that it was enough for them to claim His name, and bribe Him with sacrifices. {Micah 3:11} Above all, they boasted of and relied upon the possession of His Temple, and placed their trust on the punctual observance of external ceremonies. All these sources of vain confidence it was the duty of Jeremiah rudely to shatter to pieces. Standing at the gates of the Lord’s House, he cried: "Trust ye not in lying words, saying, ‘The Temple of the Lord! the Temple of the Lord! the Temple of the Lord. are these!’ Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit. Will ye steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods; and come and stand before Me in this house, whereupon My name is called, and say, ‘We are delivered,’ that ye may do all these abominations? Is this house become a den of robbers in your eyes? But go ye now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I caused My name to dwell at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of My people. I will do unto this house as I have done to Shiloh; and I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out the whole house of Ephraim." {Jeremiah 7:4; Jeremiah 7:8-15} -Yet all hope was not extinguished forever. The Scythian might disappear; the Babylonian might come in his place; but one day there should be a new covenant of pardon and restitution; and as had been promised in Deuteronomy, "all should know Jehovah, from the least to the greatest."

At last he even prophesies the entire future annulment of the solemn covenant made on the basis of Deuteronomy, and says that Jehovah will make a new covenant with His people, not according to the covenant which He made with their fathers. {Jeremiah 31:31-32} And in his final estimate of King Josiah after his death, he does not so much as mention his reformation, his iconoclasm, his sweeping zeal, or his enforcement of the Deuteronomic Law, but only says to Jehoiakim:-

"‘Did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice?- then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy: then it was well. Was not this to know Me?’ saith the Lord." {Jeremiah 22:15-16}

Whether because his methods were too violent, or because it only affected the surface of men’s lives, or because the people were not really ripe for it, or because no reformation can ever succeed which is enforced by autocracy, not spread by persuasion and conviction, it is certain that the first glamour of Josiah’s movement ended in disillusionment. A religion violently imposed from without as a state-religion naturally tends to hypocrisy and externalism. What Jehovah required was not a changed method of worship, but a changed heart; and this the reformation of Josiah did not produce. It has often been so in human history. Failure seems to be written on many of the most laudable human efforts. Nevertheless, truth ultimately prevails. Isaiah was murdered, and Urijah, and Jeremiah. Savonarola was burnt, and Huss, and many a martyr more; but the might of priestcraft was at last crippled, to be revived, we hope, no more, either by open violence or secret apostasy.

"Then to side with Truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust,

Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ‘tis prosperous to be just;

Then it is the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside,

Doubting in his abject spirit till his Lord is crucified,

And the multitude make virtue of the faith they have denied."


Verses 1-37

JOSIAH

B.C. 639-608

2 Kings 22:1-20; 2 Kings 23:1-37

Jos., "Ant.," X 4:1.

"In outline dim and vast

Their fearful shadows cast

The giant forms of Empires, on their way

To ruin: one by one

They tower, and they are gone."

- KEBLE

IF we are to understand the reign of Josiah as a whole, we must preface it by some allusion to the great epoch-marking circumstances of his age, which explain the references of contemporary prophets, and which, in great measure, determined the foreign policy of the pious king.

The three memorable events of this brief epoch were,

(I.) the movement of the Scythians,

(II.) the rise of Babylon, and

(III.) the humiliation of Nineveh, followed by her total destruction.

I. Many of Jeremiah’s earlier prophecies belong to this period, and we see that both he and Zephaniah-who was probably a great-great-grandson of King Hezekiah himself, and prophesied in this reign-are greatly occupied with a danger from the North which seems to threaten universal ruin.

So overwhelming is the peril that Zephaniah begins with the tremendously sweeping menace, "I will utterly consume all things of the earth, saith the Lord."

Then the curse rushes down specifically upon Judah and Jerusalem; and the state of things which the prophet describes shows that, if Josiah began himself to seek the Lord at eight years old, he did not take-and was, perhaps, unable to take-any active steps towards the extinction of idolatry till he was old enough to hold in his own hand the reins of power.

For Zephaniah denounces the wrath of Jehovah on three classes of idolaters-viz.,

(1) the remnant of Baal-worshippers with their chemarim, or unlawful priests, and the syncretizing priests (kohanim) of Jehovah, who combine His worship with that of the stars, to whom they burn incense upon the housetops;

(2) the waverers, who swear at once by Jehovah and by Malcham, their king; and

(3) the open despisers and apostates.

"For all these the day of Jehovah is near; He has prepared them for sacrifice, and the sacrificers are at hand. {Zephaniah 2:4-7} Gaza, Ashdod, Askelon, Ekron, the Cherethites, Canaan, Philistia, are all threatened by the same impending ruin, as well as Moab and Ammon, who shall lose their lands. Ethiopia, too, and Assyria shall be smitten, and Nineveh shall become so complete a desolation that pelicans and hedgehogs shall bivouac upon her chapiters, the owl shall hoot in her windows, and the crow croak upon the threshold. ‘Crushed! desolated!’ and all that pass by shall hiss and wag their hands." {Zephaniah 2:12-15}

The pictures of the state of society drawn by Jeremiah do not, as we have seen, differ from those drawn by his contemporary. Jeremiah, too, writing perhaps before Josiah’s reformation, complains that God’s people have forsaken the fountains of living water, to hew out for themselves broken cisterns. He complains of empty formalism in the place of true righteousness, and even goes so far as to say that backsliding Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah. {Jeremiah 3:1-9} He, too, prophesies speedy and terrific chastisement. Let Judah gather herself into fenced cities, and save her goods by flight, for God is bringing evil from the North, and a great destruction.

"The lion is come up from his thicket, and the destroyer of the nations is on his way; he is gone forth from his place to make thy land desolate; and thy cities shall be laid waste, without an inhabitant. Behold, he cometh as clouds, and his chariots shall be as the whirlwind." Besiegers come from a far country, and give out their voice against the cities of Judah. The heart of the kings shall perish, and the heart of the princes; and the priests shall be astonished, and the prophets shall wonder.

"For thus hath the Lord said, The whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end"-and, "O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved!" {Jeremiah 4:7-27}

"I will bring a nation upon you from far, O House of Israel, saith the Lord: it is a mighty nation, it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language"-unlike that of the Assyrians-"thou knowest not, neither understandest what they say. Their quiver is an open sepulcher, they are all mighty men. They shall batter thy fenced cities, in which thou trustest with weapons of war." {Jeremiah 5:15-17}

"O ye children of Benjamin, save your goods by flight: for evil is imminent from the North, and a great destruction. Behold, a people cometh from the North Country, and a great nation shall be raised from the farthest part of the earth. They lay hold on bow and spear; they are cruel, and have no mercy; their voice roareth like the sea; and they ride upon horses, set in array as men for war against thee, O daughter of Zion. We have heard the fame thereof: our hands wax feeble." {Jeremiah 6:1; Jeremiah 6:22-24}

And the judgment is close at hand. The early blossoming bud of the almond tree is the type of its imminence. The seething caldron, with its front turned from the North, typifies an invasion which shall soon boil over and floor the land.

What was the fierce people thus vaguely indicated as coming from the North? The foes indicated in these passages are not the long-familiar Assyrians, but the Scytbians and Cimmerians.

As yet the Hebrews had only heard of them by dim and distant rumor. When Ezekiel prophesied they were still an object of terror, but he foresees their defeat and annihilation. They should be gathered into the confines of Israel, but only for their destruction {See Ezekiel 37:1-28; Ezekiel 39:1-29} The prophet is bidden to set his face towards Gog, of the land of Magog, the Prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him that God would turn him about, and put hooks in his jaws, and drive forth all his army of bucklered and sworded horsemen, the hordes of the uttermost part of the North. They should come like a storm upon the mountains of Israel, and spoil the defenseless villages; but they should come simply for their own destruction by blood and by pestilence. God should smite their bows out of their left hands, and their arrows out of the right, and the ravenous birds of Israel should feed upon the carcasses of their warriors. There should be endless bonfires of all the instruments of war, and the place of their burial should be called "the valley of the multitude of Gog."

Much of this is doubtless an ideal picture, and Ezekiel may be thinking of the fall of the Chaldaeans. But the terms he uses remind us of the dim Northern nomads, and the names Rosh and Meshech in justaposition involuntarily recall those of Russia and Moscow.

Our chief historical authority respecting this influx of Northern barbarians is Herodotus. He tells us that the nomad Scythians, apparently a Turanian race, who may have been subjected to the pressure of population, swarmed over the Caucasus, dispossessed the Cimmerians (Gomer), and settled themselves in Saccasene, a province of Northern Armenia. From this province the Scythians gained the name of the Saqui. The name of Gog seems to be taken from Gugu, a Scythian prince, who was taken captive by Assurbanipal from the land of the Saqui. Magog is perhaps Matgugu, "land of Gog." These rude, coarse warriors, like the hordes of Attila, or Zenghis Khan, or Tamerlane-who were descended from them-magnetized the imagination of civilized people, as the Huns did in the fourth century. They overthrew the kingdom of Urartis (Armenia), and drove the all-but exterminated remnant of the Moschi and Tabali to the mountain fortresses by the Black Sea, turning them, as it were, into a nation of ghosts in Sheol. Then they burst like a thunder-cloud on Mesopotamia, desolating the villages with their arrow-flights, but too unskilled to take fenced towns. They swept down the Shephelah of Palestine, and plundered the rich temple of Aphrodite (Astarte Ourania) at Askelon, thereby incurring the curse of the goddess in the form of a strange disease. But on the borders of Egypt they were diplomatically met by Psammetichus (d. 611) with gifts and prayers. Judah seems only to have suffered indirectly from this invasion. The main army of Scyths poured down the maritime plain, and there was no sufficient booty to tempt any but their straggling bands to the barren hills of Judah. It was the report of this over-flooding from the North which probably evoked the alarming prophecies of Zephaniah and Jeremiah, though they found their clearer fulfillment in the invasion of the Chaldees.

II. This rush of wild nomads averted for a time the fate of Nineveh.

The Medes, an Aryan people, had settled south of the Caspian, B.C. 790; and in the same century one of these tribes-the Persians-had settled southeast of Elam the northern coast of the Persian Gulf. Cyaxares founded the Median Empire, and attacked Nineveh. The Scythian invasion forced him to abandon the siege, and the Scythians burnt the Assyrian palace and plundered the ruins. But Cyaxares succeeded in intoxicating and murdering the Scythian leaders at a banquet, and bribed the army to withdraw. Then Cyaxares, with the aid of the Babylonians under Nabopolassar their rebel viceroy, besieged and took Nineveh-probably about B.C. 608-while its last king and his captains were reveling at a banquet.

The fall of Nineveh was not astonishing. The empire had long been "slowly bleeding to death" in consequence of its incessant wars. The city deemed itself impregnable behind walls a hundred feet high, on which three chariots could drive abreast, and mantled with twelve hundred towers; but she perished, and all the nations-whom she had known how to crush, but had with "her stupid and cruel tyranny" never known how to govern-shouted for joy-that joy finds its triumphant expression in more than one of the prophets, but specially in the vivid paean of Nahum. His date is approximately fixed at about B.C. 600, by his reference to the atrocities inflicted by Assurbnipal on the Egyptian city of No-Amon. "Art thou [Nineveh] better," he asks, than No-Amon, "that was situate among the canals, that had the water round about her, whose rampart was the Nile, and her wall was the waters? Yet she went into captivity! Her young children were dashed to pieces at the head of all the streets: they cast lots for her honorable men, and all her great men were bound in chains. Thou also shalt be drunken: thou shalt faint away, thou shalt seek a stronghold because of the enemy." {Nahum 3:8-11}

All the details of her fall are dim; but Nineveh was, in the language of the prophets, swept with the besom of destruction. Her ruins became stones of emptiness, and the line of confusion was stretched over her. Nahum ends with the cry, -

"There is no assuaging of thy hurt; thy wound is grievous:

All that hear the bruit of this, clap the hands over thee:

For upon whom hath thy wickedness not passed continually?"

In truth, Assyria, the ferocious foe of Israel, of Judah, and all the world, vanished suddenly, like a dream when one awaketh; and those who passed over its ruins, like Xenophon and his Ten Thousand in B.C. 401, knew not what they were. Her very name had become forgotten in two centuries, "Etiam periere ruinae!" The burnt relics and cracked tablets of her former splendor began to be revealed to the world once more in 1842, and it is only during the last quarter of a century that the fragments of her history have been laboriously deciphered.

III Such were the events witnessed in their germs or in their completion by the contemporaries of Josiah and the prophets who adorned his reign. It was during this period, also, that the power to whom the ultimate ruin and captivity of Jerusalem was due sprang into formidable proportions. The ultimate scourge of God to the guilty people and the guilty city was not to be the Assyrian, nor the Scythian, nor the Egyptian, nor any of the old Canaanite or Semitic foes of Israel, nor the Phoenician, nor the Philistine. With all these she had long contended, and held her own. It was before the Chaldee that she was doomed to fall, and the Chaldee was a new phenomenon of which the existence had hardly been recognized as a danger till the warning prophecy of Isaiah to Hezekiah after the embassy of the rebel viceroy Merodach-Baladan.

It is to Habakkuk, in prophecies written very shortly after the death of Josiah, that we must look for the impression of terror caused by the Chaldees.

Nabopolassar, sent by the successor of Assurbanipal to quell a Chaldaean revolt, seized the viceroyalty of Babylon, and joined Cyaxares in the overthrow of Nineveh. From that time Babylon became greater and more terrible than Nineveh, whose power it inherited. Habakkuk {Habakkuk 2:1-19} paints the rapacity, the selfishness, the inflated ambition, the cruelty, the drunkenness, the idolatry of the Chaldaeans. He calls them {Habakkuk 1:5-11} a rough and restless nation, frightful and terrible, whose horsemen were swifter than leopards, fiercer than evening wolves, flying to gorge on prey like the vultures, mocking at kings and princes, and flinging dust over strongholds. Nor has he the least comfort in looking on their resistless fury, except the deeply significant oracle-an oracle which contains the secret of their ultimate doom-

"Behold, his soul is puffed up it is not upright in him:

But the righteous man shall live by his fidelity."

The prophet places absolute reliance on the general principle that "pride and violence dig their own grave."


Verse 29-30

THE DEATH OF JOSIAH

B.C. 608.

2 Kings 23:29-30

"Howl, O fir tree; for the cedar is fallen."

- Zechariah 11:2

JOSIAH survived by thirteen years the reformation and covenant which are the chief events of his reign. He lived in prosperity and peace. He did justice and judgment; the poor and needy flourished under his royal protection; and it was well with him. It seemed as if the Deuteronontic blessings on faithfulness to its law were about to be abundantly fulfilled, when "the azure calm of heaven" was suddenly shattered, and "down came the thunderbolt." The great and victorious Assurbanipal of Assyria had died, and left his power to weaker successors. Meanwhile, Egypt was growing in power and splendor under Pharaoh Necho II (B.C. 612-596), the sixth king of the twenty-fifth or Saitic dynasty. He nearly anticipated M. de Lesseps in making the Suez Canal, and perhaps actually anticipated Vasco da Gama in rounding the Cabo Tormentoso, or Cape of Good Hope, in a three years’ voyage. He was fixed by the ambitious dream of succeeding the Assyrians as the chief power in the world, or at any rate of seizing part of the dominions which they had conquered. Accordingly, in B. C. 608, he went up against the King of Assyria to the river Euphrates. The Chronicler says that his destination was Carchemish, on the Euphrates, and some have conjectured that the vague phrase "against the King of Assyria" is incorrect, and that, as Josephus states, he was really marching against the Medes and Babylonians after the fall of Nineveh.

With this expedition Josiah was not greatly concerned. He may have begun his reign as the vassal of Assurbanipal; but if so, it is probable that he had long since ceased to pay tribute to a power which was tottering to its fall under the attacks of Scythians and Babylonians. He had availed himself of the disorganization of the Assyrian power to re-establish some, at least, of the old authority of the House of David over the Northern Kingdom, and perhaps he only undertook the desperate expedient of withstanding the northward march of the Egyptian host under the notion that either on the march or on his return the Pharaoh intended to subjugate Palestine to Egypt.

Pharaoh Necho II, among his other achievements, had created a powerful fleet, and it is nearly certain that he did not advance along the coast of Palestine, but made his way by sea to Acco or Dor. Here he received the news that Josiah meant to block his path at Megiddo, on the plain of Jezreel. That plain has been the great and only possible battle-field of Palestine, from the revolt in which Barak destroyed the host of Jabin, to that in which Tryphon met Jonathan the Maccabee, and Kleber in 1799 defeated twenty-five thousand Turks with three thousand French.

The Chronicler here adds a very remarkable incident. {2 Chronicles 35:20-22} Necbo, like Joash of Israel in former days, did not care to fight with the poor little King of Judah-or at any rate did not wish to do so at present, when he was on his way to the greater encounter. He therefore sent an embassy to Josiah, saying, "What have I to do with thee, King of Judah? I come not against thee this day, but against the house wherewith I have war. For God [Elohim] commanded me [in a dream] to make haste. Forebear, then, from meddling with God, who is with me, that He destroy thee not."

The conjecture "in a dream" is not unlikely, nor is it in disaccord with other events in the annals of the Pharaohs and the Sargonidae of Assyria. We may indeed be surprised that an Egyptian Pharaoh should profess to deliver to a Jewish king the messages of Elohim though we have seen something like this in the case of the Rabshakeh. {2 Kings 18:25} The variation in #/RAPC 1 Esdras 1:26-28 is curious and interesting. We are there told that the message was sent to Josiah, not only by Pharaoh Necho, who had sent to say "The Lord is with me hastening me forward: depart from me, and be not against the Lord," but also by "the prophet Jeremy." Josephus frankly ascribes the error of Josiah to destiny, as though he had been infatuated by the dementation which the Greeks attributed to Ate.

This, however, is not likely; for it is clear that Jeremiah, though not mentioned in the Book of Kings, must have had a strong influence over the mind of Josiah, whom he loved, whose views he shared, in whose religious revolution he had taken part. Further, we do not read of any warning recorded by the prophet himself; and had he uttered one, it would certainly have been mentioned, when he committed his prophecies to writing twenty-three years after their commencement. A warning of which the neglect had led to fatal issues would have been so decisive a confirmation of Jeremiah’s prophetic insight that it could not have been passed over in silence.

Indeed, Jeremiah may have shared the conviction which, founded on imperfect generalization, perhaps dazzled the unfortunate king to his ruin. Josiah had accepted the Book of Deuteronomy with the whole strength of his belief, and the Book of Deuteronomy had proclaimed to Israel as the reward of faithfulness this promise: "And it shall come to pass that Jehovah, thy God, shall set thee on high above all the nations of the earth.. Jehovah shall cause thine enemies which rise up against thee to be smitten before thy face: they shall come out against thee one way, and flee before thee seven ways." {Deuteronomy 28:1-8} In the strength of that promise, Josiah was perhaps saying to himself, in the language of the Psalms, that Jehovah could not fail to save His anointed, and dash His enemies to pieces under His feet; {Psalms 20:6; Psalms 18:29-50} in the language, perhaps, of later days, that the sound of a shaken leaf should chase them, and they should flee when none pursued. {Leviticus 26:36}

Alas! such passages do not apply invariably to our worldly fortunes! God’s promises are general. The individual must be considered apart from the universal in the region of spiritual and eternal blessings. In the affairs of earth the wicked often seem to be in prosperity, while the righteous are overwhelmed by all God’s waves and storms. Further, Josiah evidently received a warning-a warning which professed to come, and really came, from God-whether uttered by Pharaoh or by Jeremiah. And in this instance Josiah had sought war: he had not been forced into it. It was not for him to go out of his way to champion the cause either of cruel Assyria or vaunting Babylon.

The result was entire disenchantment. No more disheartening and disastrous calamity could have happened to the kingdom, which had just begun to struggle out of the slough of idolatry and humiliation.

Heedless of the message he had received, strong in mistaken hopes, Josiah opposed his poor, weak forces to the powerful host of renovated Egypt. The result was instantaneous ruin. Judah was defeated and scattered without a blow, -Necho came, saw, conquered. Josiah, according to the present record of the Chronicles, like Ahab, "disguised himself" and went into the battle; and as he drove from rank to rank an Egyptian archer drew a bow at a venture, and smote him while he was putting his forces in array. The arrow-point brought conviction too late. Josiah saw his error; he knew that his own death involved the rout of his army. He sounded a retreat, and said to his servants, "Bear me away to my traveling chariot, for I am sore wounded." He died at Megiddo, where his ancestor Ahaziah had died before him from the arrow-wounds of Jehu’s pursuers. His servants carried him in a Chariot dead from Megiddo. The famous plain of Esdraelon had already witnessed two great victories-that of Barak over Sisera, and that of Gideon over the Midianites; and one deplorable defeat - that of Saul by the Philistines It was now darkened by a catastrophe even more sad.

When that chariot, accompanied by its wailing escort, entered the gates of Jerusalem, with the routed army of Judah behind it, the feeling of the people must have resembled that of the Athenians when the news reached them that Lysander had destroyed their whole fleet at Aegospotami, and the long wail went thrilling up through that sleepless night from the Peiraeus all along the Makra Teiche to the Parthenon and the Acropolis And there followed such a mourning as the land had never known before. It had begun at Megiddo and Hadadrimmon, leaving the sad memory of its hopeless intensity. It was renewed at Jerusalem when they buried the king in his own sepulcher. "The land mourned, every family apart; the family of the House of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the House of Nathan apart, and their wives apart; the family of the House of Levi apart, and their wives apart; the family of Shimei apart, and their wives apart; all the families that remained, every family apart, and their wives apart." "And all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah. And Jeremiah lamented for Josiah: and all the singing men and the singing women spake of Josiah in their lamentations unto this day, and they were made an institution in Israel: and, behold, they are written in the Lamentations." Not even for heroic David, or royal Solomon, or pious Asa, or prosperous Jehoshaphat had there been so loud a dirge.

But, alas! there was a cause for far deeper sorrow than the loss of a prince, however able, however beloved. The dead was dead. Natural sorrow for the bereavement of the people would soon be healed by time, but behind the passing affliction lay a great fear and a great reaction.

A great fear, -for now a southern foe was added to the northern. Jeremiah and other prophets had warned Israel of the peril from the North. When the Scythian wave "rolled shoreward, struck, and was dissipated," when the source of Assyrian terror seemed to be drying up, worldlings may have felt inclined to laugh at Jeremiah. But now it was evident that, sooner or later, the Chaldaeans would be as formidable as their predecessors, and out of the serpent’s egg was breaking forth a cockatrice. The uncalled-for attempt of Josiah to bar the path of the new and mighty Pharaoh had also added Egypt to the list of formidable enemies. For the present the Pharaoh had passed on to the Euphrates; but whether he returned victorious or defeated, his troops could not but be a source of danger to the little kingdom, which would henceforth be helpless between the overwhelming forces of its foes.

If such were the fears of the timid and the pessimistic, still deeper was the disheartenment of the faithful. Josiah had been the most obedient, the most religious, of all the kings of Judah from childhood upwards. Where, then, were Jehovah’s old loving-kindnesses which He sware unto David in his truth? Had God forgotten to be gracious? Had He hidden away His mercy in displeasure? Where were the blessings of the newly discovered Book of the Law, if the curse fell on its most earnest votary? Where was Huldah’s promise that he should be gathered to his fathers in peace, if he was carried back dead from the field of fruitless battle? There can be little doubt that the apparent blight which had fallen on unavailing righteousness hastened the reaction of the subsequent reigns. Many might be inclined to cry out with even Jeremiah in his moments of overwhelming despondency, "Ah, Lord God! surely Thou hast greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, ‘Ye shall have peace’; whereas the sword reacheth unto the soul." {Jeremiah 4:10} "O Lord, Thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived: Thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am a derision daily, every one mocketh me. Whenever I speak, I must shout, I must cry violence and spoil; for the word of the Lord is made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily." {Jeremiah 20:7-8}

But man judges partially and judges amiss. God’s ways are not as man’s ways. God sees the whole; He sees the future; He sees things as they are. Through defeat, through captivity, through multiform affliction, lay the path to the final deliverance of the nation from the grosser forms of idolatry. When they wept as they remembered Zion, when they took down their harps from the willows by the water-courses of Babylon to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land, they turned again-and at last with their whole heart-to God their Savior, who had done so great things for them; -until the grey secret lingering in the East was brightened by the Morning Star, and there was revealed to the world a true Israel, and a New Jerusalem, wherein the Lord should be King forevermore.


Verses 31-33

JEHOAHAZ

B.C. 608

2 Kings 23:31-33

"I went by, and, lo! he was gone: I sought him, but his place could nowhere be found."

- Psalms 37:36

IT was under the disastrous circumstances which attended his father’s death at Megiddo that Jehoahaz began to reign. There is some confusion about the four sons of Josiah, whom the Chronicler calls Johanan, Jehoiakim, Zedekiah, and Shallum. {1 Chronicles 3:15} From Jeremiah 22:11, it appears that Jehoahaz was the royal name taken on his anointing by Shallum, the third son. If so, he cannot be identified with Johanan, the firstborn, as in the margin of our version. Further, it appears from our historians that Jehoahaz was twenty-three at his succession, and was therefore younger than Jehoiakim who (three months later) succeeded him at the age of twenty-five. Jehoahaz was the own brother of Zedekiah, Jehoiakim being his half-brother by another mother (Zebudah).

We do not know for what reason he was preferred by "the people of the land" to his elder brother Eliakim or Jehoiakim. It was probably because they regarded him as a prince of eminent courage and ability. The high hopes which the nation conceived of him may be seen in the pathetic elegy of Ezekiel 19:1-14 :-

"Moreover take thou up a lamentation for the princes of Israel and say,

What was thy mother? A lioness!

Amidst lions she couched,

In the midst of the young lions she nourished her whelps.

She brought up one of her whelps: he became a young lion;

He learned to catch the prey; he devoured men.

The nations heard of him;

In their pit was he taken,

And they brought him with hooks into the land of Egypt." {Ezekiel 19:1-4}

We see, too, that he was to an eminent degree the darling of the nation in the still more plaintive wail of Jeremiah which will be quoted later. The fact that Shallum solemnly changed his name to Jehoahaz ("Jehovah taketh hold"), and that the people of the land not only "made him king in his father’s stead," but also "anointed him, points to a disputed succession." High hopes were conceived of him; but he hardly had a chance of fulfilling them, for he was only permitted to reign three months. What were the events of those months we do not know. Jehoahaz must have disappointed any hopes which may have been formed of him by the religious party; for dear as he was to them, the historians record of him that "he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done," although they specify no particular offence. The same sad verdict is passed on all his four successors; but Josephus says even more emphatically of Jehoahaz that he was impious and impure.

He must have shown some activity in other respects, or else Ezekiel would hardly have said that "the nations heard of him," and that "he learned to catch the prey; he devoured men." Over all his deeds, whatever they may have been "the iniquity of oblivion has blindly scattered her poppy," and he fell a victim to the great world-movements of those troublous times.

For Pharaoh, after his defeat of Josiah at Megiddo, proceeded to make himself master of Syria and Palestine. He took Cadytis, which Herodotus calls "a large city of Syria" and which-since it cannot here mean Gaza, as in Herod. 3:5-has been identified by some with Kadesh. Thence he marched to Carchemish, on the right bank of the Euphrates, none venturing to check him, till "once more, after the lapse of nine centuries, Egyptian garrisons looked down on that historic stream." On his return he stopped at Riblah, on the Orontes, to consolidate his Syrian conquests; and there he learnt that, without consulting him, the people of Jerusalem had made Jehoahaz their king. Perhaps he heard enough of the warlike prowess of Jehoahaz to make him resent this act of independence. After his three months’ campaign he sent for Jehoahaz to Riblah, and the unhappy prince had no choice but to obey. Possibly the Egyptian party in Jerusalem, headed by his disappointed elder brother Eliakim, may have intrigued against him with Pharaoh Necho. When he reached Riblah, he was unceremoniously deposed; and though we may hope that the expression of Ezekiel, that "they brought him with hooks into the land of Egypt," belongs to the metaphor of the captured lion’s whelp, it is certain that he was taken to the banks of the Nile as a fettered captive, never to return. How long his miserable life was protracted, or how he was treated in Egypt, we do not know. The sun of the young prince went down in darkness while it was yet day. No king of Judah before him had died in prison and in exile, and the calamity smote heavily the heart of his people. Egypt was not to escape-shortly thereafter-the doom of violence and pride; but whether the young Jewish king had died meanwhile of a broken heart, or whether he dragged on to hoar hairs his maimed life, or whether he was murdered in his dungeon, no man knew. One thing only was clear to the sad prophet-that he would never return.

"Weep ye not for the dead, neither bemoan him: but weep ye sore for him that is gone away: for he shall return no more. nor see his native country. For thus saith Jehovah concerning Shallum, the son of Josiah, King of Judah, which reigned instead of Josiah his father, which went forth out of this place: ‘He shall not return thither any more: but in the place whither they have led him captive there shall he die, and he shall see this land no more."’ {Jeremiah 22:10-12}

To show his absolute power over Judah and Jerusalem, Pharaoh Necho not only deposed and fettered their king, but put the whole land under a yearly tribute of one hundred talents of silver (about £40,000) and a talent of gold (about £4,000).

Even this comparatively small sum was a heavy burden for so greatly afflicted and impoverished a country, and Pharaoh further imposed on them a vassal to see that it was duly extorted. This was Eliakim, the eldest living son of Josiah. There was nothing left to plunder in the Temple or the palace, and therefore the exaction had to be borne by the taxed and suffering people.


Verse 36-37

JEHOIAKIM

B.C. 608-597

2 Kings 23:36-37; 2 Kings 24:1-7

"But those things that are recorded of him, and of his uncleanness and impiety, are written in the Chronicles of the Kings,"

- RAPC 1 Esdras 1:42

"When Jehoiakim succeeded to the throne, he said,"

"My predecessors knew not how to provoke God."

- Sanhedrin, f. 103, 2

"There is no strange handwriting on the wall, Through all the midnight hum no threatening call, Nor on the marble floor the stealthy fall Of fatal footsteps. All is safe.-Thou fool, The avenging deities are shod with wool!"

- W. ALLEN BUTLER

ELIAKIM succeeded to the throne at the age of twenty-five under very unenviable circumstances-as a nominal king, a helpless nominee and tributary of the Pharaoh. He seems to have been thoroughly distasteful to the people; and if we may judge from the fact that Ezekiel frankly ignores him and passes from Jehoabaz to Jehoachin, he was regarded as a tax-gathering usurper nominated by an alien tyrant. For after speaking of Jehoahaz, Ezekiel says, -

"Now when she [Judah] saw that she had waited [for the restoration of Jehoahaz], and her hope was lost, Then she took another of her whelps; A young lion she made him. He went up and down among the lions; He became a young lion."

The historian says that Necho turned the name of Eliakim ("God will establish") to Jehoiakim ("Jehovah will establish"); but by this can hardly be meant more than that he sanctioned the change of El into Jehovah on Eliakim’s installation upon the throne.

Jehoiakim is condemned in the same terms as all the other sons of Josiah. His misdoings are far more definitely recorded in the Prophets, who furnish us with details which are passed over by the historians. Some of his sins may have been due to the influence of his wife Nehushta, who was a daughter of Elnathan of Achbor, one of the princes of the heathen party. It was this Elnathan whom the king chose as a fitting ambassador to demand the extradition of the prophet Urijah from Egypt. One of the crimes with which Jehoiakim is charged is the building for himself of a sumptuous palace, and thus vainly trying to emulate the splendors of Assyrian, Babylonian, and Egyptian kings. In itself the act would not have been more wicked than it was in Solomon, whose architectural parade is dwelt upon with enthusiasm. But the circumstances were now wholly different. Solomon was at that time in all his glory, the possessor of boundless wealth, the ruler of an immense and united territory, the head of a powerful and prosperous people, the successor of an unconquered hero who had gone to his grave in peace; Jehoiakim, on the other hand, had succeeded a father who had died in defeat on the field of battle, and a brother who was hopelessly pining in an Egyptian prison. The Tribes had been carried into captivity by Assyria; the nation was beaten, oppressed, and poor; the king himself possessed but a shadow of royalty. In such a condition of things it would have been his glory to maintain a watchful and strenuous activity, and to devote himself in simplicity and self-denial to the good of his people. It showed a perverted and sensuous mind to insult the misery of his subjects at such a time by feeble attempts to rival heathen potentates in costly aestheticism. But this was not all; he carried out his ignoble selfishness at the cost of oppression and wrong.

It is possible that the prophet Habakkuk alludes to him in the words:

"Woe to him that getteth an evil gain for his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the hand of evil! Thou hast consulted shame to thy house by cutting off many peoples, and hast sinned against thy soul. For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it." {Habakkuk 2:9-11}

The thought of the Jewish king’s selfish expensiveness may have crossed the mind of Habakkuk, though the taunt is addressed directly to the Chaldaeans. and especially to Nebuchadrezzar, who was at that time reveling in the beautifying of Babylon, and especially of his own royal palace. On the other hand, the rebuke, or rather the denunciation, uttered by Jeremiah against the king for this line of conduct, and for the forced labor which it required, is terribly direct.

"‘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 his hire;

That saith, "I will build me a wide house and spacious chambers,"

And cutteth out windows;

And it is ceiled with cedar, and painted with vermilion.

Shalt thou reign because thou viest with the cedar?

Did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice?

Then it was well with him! ‘Was not this to know Me?’ saith the Lord.

But thine heart is not but for thy dishonest gain,

And for to shed innocent blood,

And for oppression and for violence to do it.’" {Jeremiah 22:13-17}

Then follows the stern message of doom which we shall quote hereafter. The king’s bad example stimulated or perhaps emulated similar folly and want of patriotism on the part of his nobles. They were shepherds who destroyed and scattered the sheep of Jehovah’s pastures. But vain was their imagined security, and their ostentation. The judgment was imminent. {Jeremiah 23:1}

"O inhabitress of Lebanon, that makest thy nest in the cedars," exclaims the prophet in bitter mockery, "how greatly wilt thou groan when pangs come upon thee, the pain as of a woman in travail!" {Jeremiah 22:23}

But Jehoiakim’s offences were deadlier than this. The Chronicler speaks of "the abominations which he did"; and some have therefore supposed that the evil state of things described by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 19:1-15) refers to this reign. If so, he plunged into the idolatry which caused Judah to be shivered like a potter’s vessel. Certainly he sinned grievously against God in the person of His prophets.

Jeremiah was not the only prophet who disdained the easy and traitorous popularity which was to be won by prophesying "peace, peace," when there was no peace. He had for his contemporary another messenger of God, no less boldly explicit than himself-Urijah, the son of Shemaiah of Kirjath-Jearim. Jeremiah had as yet only prophesied in his humble native village of Anathoth; he had not been called upon to face "the swellings" or "the pride of Jordan." {Jeremiah 12:5} Urijah had been in the fuller glare of publicity in the capital, and his bold declaration that Jerusalem should fall before Nebuchadrezzar and the Chaldaeans had excited such a fury of indignation that he escaped into Egypt for his life. Surely this should have appeased the rulers, even if they chose to pay no attention to the Divine menace. For the prophets were recognized deliverers of the messages of Jehovah; and with scarcely an exception, even in the most wicked reigns, their persons had been regarded as sacrosanct. But Jehoiakim would not let Urijah escape. He sent an embassy to Necho, headed by his father-in-law Elnathan, son of Achbor, requesting his extradition. Urijah had been dragged back from Egypt, and, to the horror of the people, the king had slain him with the sword, and flung his body into the graves of the common people. What made this conduct more monstrous was the precedent of Micah the Morasthite. He, in the days of Hezekiah, had prophesied, -

"Zion shall be ploughed as a field,

And Jerusalem shall become heaps,

And the Mountain of the House as the wooded heights." {Jeremiah 26:18}

Yet so far from putting him to death, or even stirring a finger against him, the pious king had only been moved to repentance by the Divine threatenings. Thus the blood of the first martyr-prophet, if we except the case of Zechariah, had been shed by the son of Judah’s most pious king. Jeremiah himself only narrowly escaped martyrdom. The precedent of Micah helped to save him, though it had not saved Urijah. He was far more powerfully protected by the patronage of the princes and the people. Standing in the Temple court, he had declared that, unless the nation repented, that house should be like Shiloh, and the city a curse to all the nations of the earth. Maddened by such words of bold rebuke, the priests and the prophets and the people had threatened him with death. But the princes took his part, and some of the people came over to them. His most powerful protector was Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, a member of a family of the utmost distinction.

Meanwhile, we must follow for a time the outward fortunes of the king and of the world.

Necho, after his successful advance, had retired to Egypt, and Jehoiakim continued to be for three years his obsequious servant. An event of tremendous importance for the world changed the entire fortunes of Egypt and of Judah. Nineveh fell with a crash which terrified the nations. We might apply to her the language which Isaiah applies to her successor, Babylon.

"Sheol from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the shades for thee, even the Rephaim of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations. All they shall answer and say unto thee, ‘Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us?’ All the kings of the nations, all of them, sleep in glory, every one in his own house. But thou art cast forth away from thy sepulcher like an abominable branch, as the raiment of those that are slain, that are thrust through with the sword, that go down to the stones of the pit.. They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee and say, ‘Is this the man that made the earth to tremble? that did shake kingdoms? that made the world as a wilderness, and overthrew the cities thereof? that let not loose his prisoners to their home?"’

Yes, Assyria had fallen like some mighty cedar in Libanus, and the nations gazed without pity and with exultation on his torn and scattered branches.

And coincident with the fate of Nineveh had been the rise of the Chaldaean power.

Nabupalussur had been a general of one of the last Assyrian kings, and had been sent by him with an army to quell a Babylonian revolt. Instead of this, he seized the city and made himself king. When the final overthrow and obliteration of Nineveh had secured his power, he sent his brave and brilliant son Nebuchadrezzar (B.C. 605) to secure the provinces which he had wrested from Assyria, and especially to regain possession of Carchemish, which commanded the river.

Necho marched to protect his conquests, and at Carchemish the hostile forces encountered each other in a tremendous battle, -immemorial Egypt under the representative of its age-long Pharaohs; Babylon, with her independence of yesterday, under a prince hitherto unknown, whose name was to become one of the most famous in the world. The result is described by Jeremiah. {Jeremiah 46:1-12} Egypt was hopelessly defeated. Her splendidly arrayed warriors were panic-stricken and routed; her chief heroes were dashed to pieces by the heavy maces of the Babylonians, or fled without so much as looking back. The scene was one of "Magor-missabib"-terror on every side (Jeremiah 46:5 ). Pharoah’s host came up like the Nile in flood with its Ethiopian hoplites and Asiatic archers; but they were driven back. The daughter of Egypt received a wound which no balm of Gilead could cure. The nations heard of her shame, and the prophet pronounced her further chastisement by the hands of Nebuchadrezzar.

Then, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, the young Babylonian conqueror swept down upon Syria and Palestine like a bounding leopard, like an avenging eagle. {Habakkuk 1:7-8} Jehoiakim had no choice but to change his vassalhood to Necho for a vassalage to Nebuchadrezzar. He might have suffered severe consequences, but tidings came to the young Chaldaean that his father had ended his reign of twenty-one years and was dead. For fear lest disturbances might arise in his capital, he at once dashed home across the desert with some light troops by way of Tadmor, while he told his general to follow him home through Syria by the longer route. He seems, however, to have carried away with him some captives, among whom were Daniel, Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, {Daniel 1:6} destined hereafter for such memorable fortunes. Jehoiakim himself was thrown into fetters to be carried into Babylon: but the conqueror changed his mind, and probably thought that it would be safer for the present to accept his pledges and assurances, and leave him as his viceroy. "He took an oath of him," says Ezekiel; {Ezekiel 17:13} "he took also the Mighty of the land."

For three years this frivolous egotist who occupied the throne of Judah remained faithful to his covenant with the King of Babylon, but at the end of that time he rebelled. In this rebellion he was again deluded by the glamour of Egypt, and reliance on the empty promise of "horses and much people." Ezekiel openly disapproved of this policy, {Ezekiel 17:15} and reproached the king for his faithlessness to his oath. Jeremiah went further, and declared in the plainest language that "Nebuchadrezzar would certainly come up and destroy this land, and cause to cease from thence both man and beast." {Jeremiah 36:29; Jeremiah 25:9; Jeremiah 26:6}

Nearer and nearer the danger came. At first the King of Babylon was too busy to do more than send against the Jewish rebel marauding bands of Chaldaeans, who acted in concert with the hereditary depredators of Judah-Syrians, Moabites, and Ammonites. But the prophet knew that the danger would not end there, believing that God would yet "remove Judah out of His sight" for the unforgiven sins of Manasseh and the innocent blood with which he had filled Jerusalem. {2 Kings 24:2-4} At last Nebuchadrezzar had time to turn closer attention to the affairs of Judah, and this became necessary because of the revolt of Tyre under its King Ithobalus. In the stress of the peril Jehoiakim proclaimed a fast and a day of humiliation in the Temple. Jeremiah was at this time "shut up"-either in hiding, or in some sort of custody. As he could not go and preach in person, he dictated his prophecy to Barnch, who wrote it on a scroll, and went in the prophet’s place to read it in the Lord’s House to the people there assembled from Jerusalem and all Judah in the chamber of Gemariah, the son of Shaphan, in the inner court, by the new gate. Gemariah was the brother of Ahikam, the protector of the prophet.

No one was more painfully alarmed by Jeremiah’s prophecy than Micaiah, the son of Gemariah, and he thought it his duty to go and tell his father and the other princes what he had heard. They were assembled in the scribe’s chamber, and sent a courtier of Ethiopian race-Jehudi, the son of Cushi - bidding him to bring the scroll with him, and to come to them.

Baruch was a person of distinction. He was the brother of Seraiah, who is called in our A.V "a quiet prince," and in the margin "prince of Menucha" or "chief chamberlain," literally "master of the resting-place"; and he was the grandson of Maaseiah, "the governor" of the city. The office imposed on him by Jeremiah was so perilous and painful that it nearly broke his heart. He exclaimed to Jeremiah, "Woe is me now! the Lord hath added grief to my sorrow. I am weary with my sighing, and I find no rest." The answer which the prophet was commissioned to give him was very remarkable. It confirmed the terrible doom on his native land, but added, "And seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not. For, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh,’ saith the Lord: ‘but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest."’ {Jeremiah 45:1-5}

Baruch obeyed the summons of the princes, and at their request sat down with them and read the scroll in their ears. When they had heard the portentous prophecy, they turned shuddering to one another, and said, "We must tell the king of all these words." They asked Baruch how he had written them, and he said he had taken them down at the prophet’s dictation. Then, knowing the storm which would burst over the bold offenders, they said, "Go, hide thee, thou and Jeremiah, and let no man know where ye be."

Not daring to imperil the awful document, they laid it up in the chamber of Elishama, the scribe, but went to the king and told him its contents. He sent Jehudi to fetch it, and to read it in their hearing. Jehoiakim and the illustrious company were seated in the winter chamber; for it was October, and a fire was burning in the brazier, where Jehoiakim sat warming himself in the chilly weather.

As he listened, he was filled not only with fury, but with contempt. Such a message might well have caused him and his worst counselors to rend their clothes; but instead of this they adopted a tone of defiance. By the time that Jehudi had read three or four columns, Jehoiakim snatched the scribe’s knife which hung at his girdle, and began to cut up the scroll, with the intention of burning it. Seeing his purpose, Gemariah, Elnathan, and Seraiah entreated him not to destroy it. But he would not listen. He flung the fragments into the brazier, and they were consumed. He ordered his son Jerahmeel, with Seraiah and Shelemiah, to seize both Baruch and Jeremiah, and bring them before him for punishment. Doubtless they would have suffered the fate of Urijah, but "the Lord hid them." There were enough persons of power on their side to render their hiding-place secure.

But the king’s impious indifference, so far from making any difference in the things that were, only brought down upon his guilt a fearful doom. Truth cannot be cut to pieces, or burnt, or mechanically suppressed.

"Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again.

The eternal years of God are hers:

But error vanquished, writhes in pain,

And dies amid her worshippers."

All the former denunciations, and new ones added to them, were rewritten by Jeremiah and his faithful friend in their hiding-place, and among them these words:-

"Thus saith the Lord of Jehoiakim, King of Judah, ‘He shall have none to sit upon the throne of David; and his dead body shall be cast out in the day to the heat, and in the night to the frost."’ A frightful drought added to the misery of this reign, but failed to bring the wretched king to his senses. Jeremiah describes it:-

"Judah mourneth, and the gates thereof languish; they bow down mourning unto the ground; and the cry of Jerusalem is gone up. And the nobles send their menials to the waters: they come to the pits, and find no water; they return with their vessels empty; they are ashamed and confounded, and cover their heads because of the ground which is chapped, for that no rain hath been in the land. Yea, the hind also in the field calveth, and forsaketh her young, because there is no grass. And the wild asses stand on the bare heights, they pant for air like jackals; their eyes fail, because there is no herbage."

Even this affliction, so vividly and pathetically described, failed to waken any repentance. And then the doom fell. Nebuchadrezzar advanced in person against Jerusalem. Even the hardy nomad Rechabites had to fly before the Chaldaeans, and to take refuge in the cities which they hated. The sacred historian tells us nothing as to the manner of the death of Jehoiakim, only saying that he "slept with his fathers": his narrative of this period is exceedingly meager. Josephus says that Nebuchadrezzar slew him and the flower of the citizens, and sent three thousand captives to Babylon. Some imagine that he was killed by the Babylonians in a raid outside the walls of Jerusalem, or "murdered by his own people, and his body thrown for a time outside the walls." If so, the Babylonians did not war with the dead. His remains, after this "burial of an ass," {Jeremiah 36:30; Jeremiah 22:19} may have been finally suffered to rest in a tomb. The Septuagint says {2 Chronicles 36:8} that he was buried "in Ganosan," by which may be meant the sepulcher of Manasseh in the garden of Uzza. Not for him was the wailing cry "Hoi, adon! Hoi, hodo!" ("Ah, Lord! Ah, his glory!").

"The memory of the wicked shall rot." Certainly this was the ease with Jehoiakim. The Chronicler mysteriously alludes to "his abominations which he did, and that which was found in him." {2 Chronicles 36:8} The Rabbis, interpreting this after their manner, say that "the thing found" was the name of the demon Codonazor, to whom he had sold himself, which after his death was discovered legibly written’ in Hebrew letters on his skin. "Rabbi Johanan and Rabbi Eleazar debated what was meant by that which was found on him." One said that "he tattooed the name of an idol upon his body (wtma), and the other said that he had tattooed the name of the god Recreon."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Kings 23:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/2-kings-23.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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