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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Zedekiah

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(Heb. Tsidkiyah', צַדְקַיָּה [but in this simple form only in 1 Kings 22:11; Nehemiah 10:1; Jeremiah 27:12; Jeremiah 28:1; Jeremiah 29, 3; elsewhere in tile prolonged form Tsidkiya'hu, צַדַקַיָּהוּ, my righteousness is Jah, or, righteousness of Jehovah; Sept andJosephus, Σεδεκίας ), the name of several Hebrews.

1. Son of Chenaanah, a prophet at the court of Ahab, head, or, if not head, virtual leader, of the college. He appears but once, viz., as spokesman when the prophets are consulted by Ahab on the result of his proposed expedition to Ramoth-Gilead (1 Kings 22; 2 Chronicles 18). B.C. 896. Zedekiah had prepared himself for the interview with a pair of iron horns, after the symbolic custom of the prophets (comp. Jeremiah 13:19), the horns of the irem, or buffalo, which was the recognized emblem of the tribe of Ephraim (Deuteronomy 33:17). With these, in the interval of Micaiah's arrival, he illustrated the manner in which Ahab should drive the Syrians before him. When Micaiah appeared and had delivered his prophecy, Zedekiah sprang forward and struck him a blow on the face, accompanying it by a taunting sneer. For this he is threatened by Micaiah in terms which are hardly intelligible to us, but which evidently allude to some personal danger to Zedekiah.

The narrative of the Bible does not imply that the blow struck by Zedekiah was prompted by more than sudden anger, or a wish to insult and humiliate the prophet of Jehovah. But Josephus takes a very different view, which he develops at some length (Alt. 8:15, 3). He relates that after Micaiah had spoken, Zedekiah again came forward, and denounced him as false, on the ground that his prophecy contradicted the prediction of Elijah, that Ahab's blood should be licked up by dogs in the field of Naboth of Jezreel; and, as a further proof that he was an impostor, he struck him, daring him to do what Iddo, in somewhat similar circumstances, had done to Jeroboam-viz. wither his hand. This addition is remarkable; but it is related by Josephus with great circumstantiality, and was perhaps drawn by him from that source, now lost, from which he has added so many touches to the outlines of the sacred narrative.

As to the question of what Zedekiah and his followers were, whether prophets of Jehovah or of some false deity, it seems hardly possible to entertain any doubt. True, they use the name of Jehovah, but that was a habit of false prophets (Jeremiah 28:2; comp. Jeremiah 29:21; Jeremiah 29:31); and there is a vast difference between the casual manner in which they mention the awful name and the full and, as it were, formal style in which Micaiah proclaims and reiterates it. Seeing, also, that Ahab and his queen were professedly worshippers of Baal and Ashtaroth, and that a few years oily before this event they had an establishment consisting of two bodies one of 450, the other of 400 prophets of this false worship, it is difficult to suppose that there could have been also 400 prophets of Jehovah at his court. But the inquiry of the king of Judah seems to decide the point. After hearing the prediction of Zedekiah and his fellows, he asks at once for a prophet of Jehovah: "Is there not here besides (עוֹד ) a prophet of Jehovah that we may inquire of him?" The natural inference seems to be that the others were not prophets of Jehovah, but were the 400 prophets of Ashtaroth (A.V. "the groves") who escaped the sword of Elijah (comp. 1 Kings 18:19 with 22:40). They had spoken in his name, but there was something about them some trait of manner, costume, or gesture which aroused the suspicions of Jehoshaphat, and, to the practiced eye of one who lived at the center of Jehovah-worship and was well versed in the marks of the genuine prophet, proclaimed them counterfeits. (See MICAIAH).

2. The son of Hananiah, one of the princes of Judah who were assembled in the scribes chamber of the king's palace when Micaiah announced that Baruch had read the words of Jeremiah in the ears of the people from the chamber of Gemariah the scribe (Jeremiah 36:12). B.C. 605.

3. The last king of Judah and Jerusalem. B.C. 598588. He was the son of Josiah, and his genealogy is given in 1 Chronicles 3, 15, from which it appears that the sons of Josiah were Johanan the first-born (who is never elsewhere mentioned, and therefore probably had died young, or had been set aside by some popular resolution, to which Shallum may have been indebted for the crown in preference to his elder brother, Jehoiakim), the second Jehoiakim, the third Zedekiah, and the fourth Shallum. Since Jehoiakim was twenty-five at his father's death, and Jehoahaz, or Shallum, twenty-three, while Zedekiah was not twenty-one till his accession to the throne, eleven years later, there must be a different order from that of, age adopted with the last two sons of Josiah: perhaps it war arranged so as to bring together the two sons of Josiah, who reigned each eleven years, each having been preceded by a king who reigned for only three months. Zedekiah is, indeed, called the brother of his predecessor Jehoiachin (2 Chronicles 36:10); but the word must be used in an indefinite sense, for he certainly was his uncle. His mother was Hamutal, the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnab; so that he was full brother of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 23:31; 2 Kings 24:18).

His original name had been Mattaniah, which was changed to Zedekiah by Nebuchadnezzar when he carried off his nephew Jehoiachin to Babylon, and left him on the throne of Jerusalem. Zedekiallhwas but twenty-one years old when he was thus placed in charge of an impoverished kingdom, and a city which, though still strong in its natural and artificial impregnability, was bereft of well-nigh all its defenders. But Jerusalem might have remained the head of the Babylonian province of Judah, and the Temple of Jehovah continued standing, had Zedekiah possessed wisdom and firmness enough to remain true to his allegiance to Babylon. This, however, he could not do (Jeremiah 38:5). His history is contained in the short sketch of the events of his reign given in 2 Kings 24:17-20; 2 Kings 24:7, and, with some trifling variations, in Jeremiah 39:1-7; Jeremiah 52, 1-11, together with the still shorter summary in 2 Chronicles 36:10, etc.; and also in Jeremiah 21, 24, 27, 28, 29, 32, 33, 34, 37, 38 (being the chapters containing the prophecies delivered by this prophet during this reign, and his relation of various events more or less affecting Zedekiah), and Ezekiel 16:11-21. To these it is important to add the narrative of Josephus (Ant. 10:7, 1-8, 2), which is partly constructed by comparison of the documents enumerated- above, but also seems to contain information derived from other and independent sources. From these it is evident that Zedekiah was a man not so much bad at heart as weak in will. He was one of those unfortunate characters, frequent in history, like Charles I of England and Louis XVI of France, who find themselves at the head of affairs during a great crisis, without having the strength of character to enable them to do what they know to be right, and whose infirmity becomes moral guilt. The princes of his court, as he himself pathetically admits in his interview with Jeremiah, described in ch. 38:had him completely under their influence. "Against them," he complains, "it is not the king that can do anything." He was thus driven to disregard the counsels of the prophet, which, as the event proved, were perfectly sound; and he who might have kept the fragments of the kingdom of Judah together, and maintained for some generations longer the worship of Jehovah, brought final ruin on his country, destruction on the Temple, death. to his family, and a cruel torment and miserable captivity on himself.

It is evident from Jeremiah 27 (in Jeremiah 27:1 Jehoiakim's name is a copyist's error for that of Zedekiah) and 28 (apparently the earliest prophecies delivered during this reign) that the earlier portion of Zedekiah's reign was marked by an agitation throughout the whole of Syria against the Babylonian yoke. Jerusalem seems to have taken the lead since in the fourth year of Zedekiah's reign we find ambassadors from all the neighboring kingdoms Tyre, Sidon, Edom, and Moab at his court, to consult as to the steps to be taken. This happened either during the king's absence or immediately after his return from Babylon, whither he had gone on some errand, the nature of which is not named, but which may have been an attempt to blind the eyes of Nebuchadnezzar to his contemplated revolt (Jeremiah 51:59). The project was attacked by Jeremiah with the strongest statement of the folly of such a course statement corroborated by the very material fact that a man of Jerusalem named Hananiah, who had opposed him with a declaration in the name of Jehovah, that the spoils of the Temple should be restored within two years, had died, in accordance with Jeremiah's prediction, within two months of its delivery. This, and perhaps also the impossibility of any real alliance between Judah and the surrounding nations, seems to have put a stop, for the time, to the anti- Babylonian movement. On a man of Zedekiah's temperament the sudden death of Hananiah must have produced a strong impression; and we may without improbability accept this as the time at which he procured to be made in silver a set of the vessels of the Temple to replace the golden plate carried off with his predecessor by Nebuchadnezzar (Bar. 1, 8).

The first act of overt rebellion of which any record survives was the formation of an alliance with Egypt, of itself equivalent to a declaration of enmity with Babylon. In fact, according to the statement of Chronicles and Ezekiel, with the expansion of Josephus, it was in direct contravention of the oath of allegiance in the name of Elohim by which Zedekiah was bound by Nebuchadnezzar-namely, that he would keep the kingdom for Nebuchadnezzar, make no innovation, and enter into no league with Egypt (Ezekiel 17:13; 2 Chronicles 36:13; Joseph. Ant. 10:7, 1). As a natural consequence, it brought on Jerusalem an immediate invasion of the Chaldaeans. The mention of this event in the Bible, though sure, is extremely slight, and occurs only in Jeremiah 34:21; Jeremiah 37:5-11, and Ezekiel 17:15-20; but Josephus (Ezekiel 10:7; Ezekiel 10:3) relates it more fully, and gives (probably by conjecture) the date of its occurrence as the eighth year of Zedekiah. Probably, also, the denunciations of an- Egyptian alliance contained in Jeremiah 2:18; Jeremiah 2:36, have reference to the same time. It appears that Nebuchadnezzar, being made aware of Zedekiah's defection, either by the non-payment of the tribute or by other means, at once sent an-army to ravage Judaea. This was done, and the whole country was reduced, except Jerusalem and two strong places in the western plain, Lachish and Azekah, which still held out (Jeremiah 34:7). I n the panic which followed the appearance of the Chaldaeans, Zedekiah succeeded in inducing the princes and other inhabitants of Jerusalem to abolish the odious custom which prevailed of enslaving their countrymen. A solemn rite (Jeremiah 34:18), recalling in its form that in which the original covenant of the nation had been made with Abram (Genesis 15:9, etc.), was performed in the Temple (Jeremiah 34:15), and a crowd of Israelites of both sexes found themselves released from slavery. In the meantime Pharaoh had moved to the assistance of his ally. On hearing of his approach, the Chaldaeans at once raised the siege and advanced to meet him. The nobles seized the moment of respite to reassert their power over the king, and their defiance of Jehovah, by re-enslaving those whom they had so recently manumitted; and the prophet thereupon utters a doom on these miscreants which, in the fierceness of its tone and in some of its expressions, recalls those of Elijah on Ahab (Jeremiah 34:20).

This encounter was quickly followed by Jeremiah's capture and imprisonment which, but for the interference of the king (Jeremiah 37:17; Jeremiah 37:21), would have rapidly put an end to his life (Jeremiah 37:20). How long the Babylonians were absent from Jerusalem we are not told. It must have required at least several months to move a large army and baggage through the difficult and tortuous country, which separates Jerusalem from the Philistine Plain, and to effect the complete repulse of the Egyptian army from Syria, which Josephus affirms was effected. All we certainly know is that on the tenth day of the tenth month of Zedekiah's ninth year, the Chaldaeans were again before the walls (Jeremiah 52:4). From this time forward the siege progressed slowly but surely to its consummation, with the accompaniment of both famine and pestilence (Josephus). Zedekiah again interfered to preserve the life of Jeremiah from the vengeance of the princes (Jeremiah 38:7-13), and then occurred the interview between the king and the prophet of which mention has already been made, and which affords so good a clew to the condition of abject dependence into which a long course of opposition had brought the weak-minded monarch. It would seem from this conversation that a considerable desertion had already taken place to the besiegers, proving that the prophet's view of the condition of things was shared by many of his countrymen. But the unhappy Zedekiah throws away the chance of preservation for himself and the city which the prophet set before him, in his fear that he would be mocked by those very Jews who had already taken the step Jeremiah was urging him to take (Jeremiah 38:19).

At the same time, his fear of the princes who remained in the city is not diminished, and he even condescends to impose on the prophet a subterfuge, with the view of concealing the real purport of his conversation from these tyrants of his spirit (Jeremiah 38:24-27). But while the king was hesitating the end was rapidly coming nearer. The city was indeed reduced to the last extremity. The fire of the besiegers had throughout been very destructive (Josephus), but it was now aided by a severe famine. The bread had long been consumed (Jeremiah 38:9), and all the terrible expedients had been tried to which the wretched inhabitants of a besieged town are forced to resort in such cases. Mothers had boiled and eaten the flesh of their own infants (Baruch 2, 3; Lamentations 4:10). Persons of the greatest wealth and station were to be seen searching the dung heaps for a morsel of food. The effeminate nobles, whose fair complexions had been their pride, wandered in the open streets like blackened but living skeletons (Lamentations 4:5; Lamentations 4:8). Still the king was seen in public, sitting in the gate where justice was administered, that his people might approach him, though indeed he had no help to give them (Jeremiah 38:7).

At last, after sixteen dreadful months had dragged on, the catastrophe arrived. It was on the ninth day of the fourth month, about the middle of July, at midnight, as Josephus with minuteness informs us, that the breach in those stout and venerable walls was effected. The moon, nine days old, had gone down below the hills which form the western edge of the basin of Jerusalem, or was, at any rate, too low to illuminate the utter darkness which reigns in the narrow lanes of an eastern town, where the inhabitants retire early to rest, and where there are but few windows to emit light from within the houses. The wretched remnants of the army, starved and exhausted, had left the walls, and there was nothing to oppose the entrance of the Chaldaeans. Passing in through the breach, they made their way, as their custom was, to the center of the city, and for the first time the Temple was entered by a hostile force, and all the princes of the court of the great king took their seats in state in the middle gate of the hitherto virgin house of Jehovah. The alarm quickly spread through the sleeping city, and Zedekiab, collecting his wives and children (Josephus), and surrounding himself with the few soldiers who had survived the accidents of the siege, made his way out of the city at the opposite end to that at which the Assyrians had entered, by a street which, like the Bein es-Surein at Damascus, ran between two walls (probably those on the east and west sides of the so-called Tyropoeon valley), and issued at a gate above the royal gardens and the Fountain of Siloam. Thence he took the road towards the Jordan, perhaps hoping to find refuge, as David had, at some fortified place in the mountains on its eastern side. On the road they were met and recognized by some of the Jews who had formerly deserted to the Chaldseans. By them the intelligence was communicated, with the eager treachery of deserters, to the generals in the city (Josephus), and, as soon as the dawn of day permitted it, swift pursuit was made. The king's party must have had some hours' start, and ought to have had no difficulty in reaching the Jordan; but, either from their being on foot, weak and infirm, while the pursuers were mounted, or perhaps owing to the encumbrance of the women and baggage, they were overtaken near Jericho, when just within sight of the river. A few of the people only remained round the person of the king. The rest fled in all directions, so that he was easily taken.

Nebuchadnezzar himself was then at Riblah, at the upper end of the valley of Lebanon, some thirty-five miles beyond Baalbek, and therefore about ten days journey from Jerusalem. Thither Zedekiah and his sons were dispatched; his daughters were kept at Jerusalem, and shortly after fell into the hands of the notorious Ishmael at Mizpah. When he was brought before Nebuchadnezzar, the great king reproached him in the severest terms, first for breaking his oath of allegiance, and next for ingratitude (Josephus). He then, with a refinement of cruelty characteristic of those cruel times, ordered his sons to be killed before him, and lastly his own eyes to be thrust out. See EYE. He was loaded with brazen fetters, and at a later period taken to Babylon, where he died. We are not told whether he was allowed to communicate with his brother Jehoiachin, who at that time was also in captivity there; nor do we know the time of his death; but from the omission of his name in the statement of Jehoiakim's release by Evil- Merodach, twenty-six years after the fall of Jerusalem, it is natural to infer that by that time Zedekiah's sufferings had ended.

The fact of his interview with Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah, and his being carried blind to Babylon, reconciles two predictions of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, which at the time of their delivery must have appeared conflicting, and which Josephus indeed particularly states Zedekiah alleged as his reason for not giving more heed to Jeremiah. The former of these (Jeremiah 32:4) states that Zedekiah shall "speak with the king of Babylon mouth to mouth, and his eyes shall behold his eyes;" the latter (Ezekiel 12:13), that "he shall be brought to Babylon yet shall he not see it, though he die there." The whole of this prediction of Ezekiel, whose prophecies appear to have been delivered at Babylon (Ezekiel 1:1-3; Ezekiel 40:1), is truly remarkable as describing almost exactly the circumstances of Zedekiah's flight.

4. A son of Jehoiachin or Jeconiah, and grandson of Jehoiakim, king of Judah (1 Chronicles 3:16). B.C. 598 or later. As nothing further is recorded of him, and he is not mentioned subsequently among the royal lineage (1 Chronicles 3:17), Keil conjectures (Comment. ad loc.) that he may have died prior to the deportation of the royal family; but in that case he must have been only an infant.

5. The son of Maaseiah, a false prophet in Babylon among the captives who were taken with Jeconiah (Jeremiah 29:21-22). He was denounced in the letter of Jeremiah (595) for having, with Ahab the son of Kolaiah, buoyed up the people with false hopes, and for profane and flagitious conduct. Their names were to become a by-word, and their terrible fate a warning. Of this fate we have no direct intimation, or of the manner in which they incurred it; the prophet simply pronounces that they should fall into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and be burned to death. In the Targum of R. Joseph on 2 Chronicles 28:3, the story is told that Joshua the son of Jozadak the high-priest was cast into the furnace of fire with Ahab and Zedekiah, but that, while they were consumed, he was saved for his righteousness sake. 16. The first named of the princes who sealed the sacred covenant with Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10:1 A. V. "Zikijah"). B.C. 410.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Zedekiah'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/z/zedekiah.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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