corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.19.10.15
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
2 Kings 24

 

 

Verses 1-7

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."


Verses 8-16

JEHOIACHIN

B.C. 597

2 Kings 24:8-16

B.C. 597

"There are times when ancient truths become modern falsehoods, when the signs of God’s dispensations are made so clear by the course of natural events as to supersede the revelations of even their most sacred past."

- STANLEY, "Lectures," 2:521

JEHOIACHIN-"Jehovah maketh steadfast"-who is also called Jeconiah, and-perhaps with intentional slight-Coniah, succeeded, at the age of eighteen, to the miserable and distracted heritage of the throne of Judah. The "eight years old" of the Chronicler must be a clerical error, for he had a harem. He only reigned for three months; and the historian pronounces over him, as over all the four kings of the House of Josiah, the stereotyped condemnation of evil-doing. Was there anything in the manner in which Josiah had trained his family which could account for their unsatisfactoriness? In Jehoiachin’s case we do not know what his transgressions were, but perhaps his mother’s influence rendered him as little favorable to the prophetic party as his brother Jehoiakim had been. For the Gebirah was Nehushta, the daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem. Her name means apparently "Brass," and nothing can be deduced from it; but her father Elnathan was (as we have seen) the envoy who, by order of Jehoiakim, had dragged back from Egypt the martyr-prophet Urijah. {Jeremiah 26:22} Brief as was his reign of three months and ten days {2 Chronicles 36:9}-a hundred days, like that of his unhappy uncle Jehoahaz-he is largely alluded to by the contemporary prophets. Indignant at the sins and apostasies of Judah, and convinced that her retribution was nigh at hand, Jeremiah took with him an earthen pot to the Valley of Hinnom, and there shivered it to pieces at Tophet in the presence of certain elders of the people and of the priests, explaining that his symbolic action indicated the destruction of Jerusalem. On ‘hearing the tenor of these prophecies, the priest Pashur, who was officer of the Temple, smote Jeremiah in the face, and put him in the stocks in a prominent place by the Temple gate. Jeremiah in return prophesied that Pashur and all his family should be carried into captivity, so that his name should be changed from Pashur to Magor-Missabib, "Terror on every side." Against the king himself he pronounced the doom: "‘As I live,’ saith the Lord, ‘though Coniah, the son of Jehoiakim, King of Judah, were the signet on My right hand, yet will I pluck thee thence; and I will give thee into the hands of them that seek thy life even into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar. And I will hurl thee, and thy mother that bare thee, into another country; and there shall ye die.’ Is this man Coniah a despised broken piece of work? is he a vessel wherein is no pleasure? wherefore are they hurled, he and his seed, and cast into a land which they know not? O land, land, land! hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord, ‘Write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, or ruling any more in Judah."’

Yet there must have been something in Jeconiah which impressed favorably the minds of men. Brief as was his reign, his memory was never forgotten. We learn from the Mishna that one of the gates of Jerusalem-probably that by which he left the city-forever bore his name. Josephus says that his captivity was annually commemorated. Jeremiah writes in the Lamentations:-

"Our pursuers are swifter than the eagles of heaven: they have pursued us upon the mountains, they have laid wait for us in the wilderness. The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the Lord, was taken in their pits, of whom we said, ‘Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen."’

Ezekiel compares him to a young lion:-

"He went up and down among the lions, he became a young lion, and learned to catch the prey. And he knew their palaces, and laid waste their cities; and the land was desolate, and the fullness thereof, by the noise of his roaring. Then the nations set against him on every side from the provinces, and spread their net over him: he was taken in their pit. And they put him in ward in hooks, and brought him to the King of Babylon: they brought him into holds, that his voice should no more be heard upon the mountains of Israel."

A prince of whom a contemporary prophet could thus write was obviously no fainéant. Indeed, the energetic measures which Nebuchadrezzar adopted against him may have been due to the fact that he had endeavored to rouse his discouraged people. But what could he do against such a power as that of the Chaldaeans? Nebuchadrezzar sent his generals against Jerusalem; and when it was ripe for capture, advanced in person to take possession of it. Resistance had become hopeless; there lay no chance in anything but that complete submission which might possibly avert the worst effects of the destruction of the city. Accordingly, Jeconiah, accompanied by his mother, his court, his princes, and his officers, went out in procession, and threw themselves on the mercy of the King of Babylon. Nebuchadrezzar was far less brutal than the Sargons and Assurbanipals of Assyria; but Judah had twice revolted, and the defection of Tyre showed him that the affairs of Palestine could no longer be neglected. He thoroughly despoiled the Temple and the palace, and carried the spoils to Babylon, as Isaiah had forewarned Hezekiah should be the case. That he might further weaken and humiliate the city, he stripped it of its king, its royal house, its court, its nobles, its soldiers, even its craftsmen and smiths, and carried ten thousand eight hundred and thirty-two captives to Babylon (Jos., "Antt.," X 7. I), among whom was the prophet Ezekiel. He naturally spared Jeremiah, who regarded him as "the sword of Jehovah," {Jeremiah 47:6} and as "Jehovah’s servant, to do His pleasure". {Jeremiah 25:9; Jeremiah 27:6; Jeremiah 43:10} On the whole, Nebuchadrezzar is not treated with abhorrence by the Jews. There was something in his character which inspired respect; and the Jews deal with him leniently, both in their records and generally in their traditions. "Nebuchadnezzar," we read in the Talmud ("Taanith," f. 18, 2), "was a worthy king, and deserved that a miracle should be performed through him."

From the allusion of Ezekiel we might infer that Jehoiachin was violent and self-willed; but Josephus speaks of his kindness and gentleness. Was he, as Jeremiah had prophesied, literally "childless"? It is true that in 1 Chronicles 3:17-18, eight sons are ascribed to him, and among them Shealtiel, in whom the royal line was continued. But it was far from certain that these sons were not the sons of his brother Neri, of the House of Nathan {Luke 3:27; Luke 3:31 Matthew 1:12} and it seems that they were only adopted by the unhappy captive. The Book of Baruch describes him weeping by the Euphrates. But if we may trust the story of Susannah, his outward fortunes were peaceful, and he was allowed to live in his own house and gardens in peace and in a certain degree of splendor.


Verses 18-20

ZEDEKIAH, THE LAST KING OF JUDAH

B.C. 597-586

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

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

- BOSSUET, "Oraison funebre de Henriette Marie."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Kings 24:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/2-kings-24.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
ADVERTISEMENT
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology