OT History Part 10: Judah Alone -- 722-586 BC

Table of Contents

Chapter 10.1: Hezekiah Renews the Covenant

Hezekiah has two goals: to restore Temple service in Covenant renewal and to bring Judah out from under pagan rule. While he did quite well on the first, he attempted the latter without the Lord's guidance. The parallel passage runs through 2 Kings 18 and 19.

2 Chronicles 31:1-4 -- The grand celebration of Passover gave way to a concerted effort to remove every shrine of the pagan devotion to Baal and Astarte, as well as the paganized high places. They did this not just in Judah and Benjamin, but in the ravaged countryside of Israel. With most of the ruling classes gone, there were few to resist this cleansing of idols. Observing the Passover removed the stain of ritual disobedience, giving Hezekiah courage for re-instituting the full rotation of priests and offerings. He budgeted for the offering from his own personal herds and other resources. Further, he published a command that the residents of the royal capital should pitch in to keep the priests and Levites from having to do other work for a living.

31:5-21 -- The command to support the Temple was not some harsh edict, but more of an announcement the Temple was ready to receive the support commanded in the Law of Moses. This was circulated throughout the whole of Judah and the friendly portions of Israel. The timing was perfect, as it was about the wheat harvest (May). Over the next few months the response was overwhelming. Four months later (September) was the fruit harvest. The amount of offerings in-kind is referred to as heaps and we are left with a picture of the Temple Mount resembling an agricultural storage area. The official records indicate the names of those deputized to manage all this stuff. New storage facilities were added to the Temple complex; a fresh census was made of those eligible for the Temple dole. There was a strict accounting, but the offerings brought were of such quantity the Chief Priest reported they could get fat very easily.

32:1-8 -- This brief accounting jumps over quite a bit of history. It becomes necessary to weave in details from several other passages of the Bible to clear things up. The land was a hive of activity. Sargon was tied up dealing with Urartu (modern Armenia) to his north between 720-711 BC, while Egypt had just succumbed to Nubian invasion at about the time Hezekiah gets the Temple service back on track, 715 BC. Ashdod in Philistia revolted, allied with the new Nubian rulers of Egypt. At this same time, the Babylonians, far to the south of Nineveh, began having dreams of throwing off the Assyrian yoke. They sent encouragement to the Philistines, hoping to keep the imperial troops tied up away from their area. Isaiah 20 mentions the Assyrian commander by his title, Tartan, coming to lay siege to Ashdod. Hezekiah knew his day to revolt was not yet and took no overt action, though he may have been secretly supporting Ashdod's. We know that Edom and Moab, also under Assyrian rule, were in revolt at the same time.

The Assyrian army finally finished matters in Urartu and came straight down to Ashdod, the apparent center of revolt. The city falls quickly and Sargon installs an Assyrian governor. All this resistance kept Assyrian troops busy, so when Sargon dies in 705 BC, Hezekiah openly revolts. A change of rulers is always a good time for such things, because of the inherent political instability when the government officials must be tested for loyalty. There was always a portion that had to be replaced.

Meanwhile, Hezekiah made several major mistakes. A faction among his advisers favored Egypt and this party remained a force in royal politics until the Fall of Jerusalem much later. To the prophets, alliances with Egypt were seen as a repudiation of the Exodus. This was like poking a finger in God's eye; the event which gave birth to Israel, the ultimate symbols of her special status before Jehovah, was treated as a mistake. We see this addressed directly in Isaiah 30. Resisting the yoke of Assyria was no sin, but relying on mere human methods was. Hezekiah should have inquired of God, not his partisan advisers. At the same time, Merodoch-baladan of Babylon sent an envoy to see if Hezekiah is likely to resist better than the Philistines. In 1 Kings, this appears somewhat out of sequence in chapter 20, mentioned after the revolt Babylon was hoping to foment. Here again, Hezekiah is foolish, because he shows the Babylonian visitors all his wealth and preparations for the siege he knew was coming. Isaiah warned him these were the very people who would take his sons captive someday (1 Kings 20:17-19). Hezekiah was short-sighted enough to feel it wouldn't matter to him, since it was clearly after his lifetime.

Hezekiah continued preparations for the siege by securing the water supply. Recall the Spring of Gihon was outside the city wall, typical of ancient custom from when the city was built by Jebusites. The tunnel through which David's forces slipped into the city was still there, along with another that brought the water around the ridge to a pool on the lower west side. It allowed a rather low volume of water. Hezekiah's' tunnel was much larger and longer, taking a route that was a bit flatter. He also enlarged the original pool at the low end of the ridge on which the old city was built. This tunnel is still there today, and modern engineers agree it was quite a feat to get it done so quickly. He had men digging from both ends, speeding up the work, which required precise surveying to meet at the exact same spot. At the same time, he filled the entrance to the spring from the Kidron Valley with a mass of packed rubble to prevent siege troops from having access to the water. His plaque just inside the lower opening of the new tunnel gave him grand credit, but Isaiah reminded him that he gave no credit to the Lord who made the pool (Isaiah 22:9-11). In that same passage, Isaiah berates Hezekiah for his utter failure to trust in Jehovah for success in a revolt He had commanded.

32:9-15 -- Sargon's successor was named Sennacherib. Once the imperial bureaucracy was working, he immediately marched on Babylon in 703 BC. He placed an Assyrian governor over Babylon, then turned and made the long trek up the Valley to Charan, across the Upper Euphrates, and down along the coast. He vanquished rebellions in Tyre, Acco, Joppa and Ashkelon. He began a siege on Lachish, but was interrupted. The Nubians sent a force under Pharaoh Shabakah's brother, Tirhakah. These were quickly vanquished at Libnah, and the the Assyrians returned to working on cities of Judah. While they were tied up again at Lachish, Hezekiah sent a message requesting terms to ward off a siege (2 Kings 18:13-16). Sennacherib demanded a huge tribute of silver and gold. Hezekiah stripped the Temple of the overlay he had so lavishly provided at the start of his reign. Jerusalem remained on alert while waiting the response. Sennacherib sent his chief officers for some psychological warfare, each identified by his title: Tartan, the Commander in Chief; Rabsaris, the Chief of Staff; and Rabshakeh, who appears to be the Assyrian appointed to become the governor of Judah, once Hezekiah was captured (2 Kings 18:17). There was a large military escort with them, whose approach caused the city to close up.

These three presented themselves at the city's oldest gate, near the Spring of Gihon pool, which was now a dry cistern after Hezekiah's engineering of the water flow. They had a message from the Emperor. They called out to Hezekiah, who sent out his scribe, Eliakim. Apparently the King was expecting the visitors to speak in Aramaic, a somewhat different Semitic tongue, because Eliakim could translate. Instead, the new governor appointee took care to speak in clear Hebrew, so that everyone manning the defenses could hear. First, he mentioned how foolish it was to have trusted in Egyptian troops. Then, if they were claiming to trust Jehovah, was that not the altars Hezekiah had destroyed throughout the land? It's not that the Rabshakeh didn't know the high places weren't valid altars to the Lord; it was an attempt to stir up those who resented Hezekiah's reforms -- they thought the Baalist forms of worship were valid. He goes on to mention that their supply of horses was far greater than those of Egypt and bragged how one company of Assyrian soldiers could fight their way into Jerusalem alone. Indeed, it was Jehovah who had sent them!

Eliakim tried to remind Rabshakeh he was breaching protocol by not speaking in Aramaic, but in the language of the people (2 Kings 18:26ff). This was the business of rulers, not troops on the city wall. The reply was a continuation of unvarnished arrogance. He wanted to make sure the troops would remember his offer when the siege got nasty. Then he directed a long speech to the citizens, promising all manner of wonderful future in another land if they would ignore Hezekiah and submit to Assyria. He compared Jehovah to the pagan gods of all the nations the Empire had vanquished, naming several that failed to deliver their people. Those people were those already trickling in as advanced parties for the mass resettlement of folks into Israel to the north. These three came and went several times, returning to the Emperor when the siege of Lachish was lifted to face the Nubians, and then coming back to Jerusalem again.

32:16-19 -- Hezekiah knew there was no hope. His strongest ally had failed -- the Nubians -- and every other ally was already prostrate at Sennacherib's feet. One of the strongest fortresses of Judah was now under attack and Jerusalem was next. Already, there was a substantial force outside the gates to keep them holed up and under strain. By the time the larger army appeared, the siege would be well advanced, with people inside dying. All his human wisdom brought nothing and his actions had distanced him from Jehovah. Further, as the siege of Jerusalem got under way, the trio of messengers began blaspheming God and cursing Hezekiah. Sennacherib sent letters doing the same. The trio made regular speeches in Hebrew trying to spread fear in the defenders' ranks. They thought to incite a revolt.

32:20-23 -- All this time Isaiah had been encouraging Hezekiah to stand fast in his trust in God. With the blasphemy and cursing, they had far stronger grounds for expecting a reaction from God for His own sake. Hezekiah humbled himself and began seeking the Lord. At one point he took one of Sennacherib's threatening letters and spread it out in the presence of the Lord at the Temple (2 Kings 19:14). The Lord spoke to Isaiah and sent his own message back to the Emperor (2 Kings 19:22ff). His promise to Hezekiah was that the Assyrian troops would not enter the city. As the main army came on the scene, the Lord moved. While the text does not say, we get a hint from secular historians writing of that time. One mentions that the entire Assyrian army fell not far from the border of Egypt from a plague of mice that ate all the leather bindings on their weapons and equipment. If true, that would leave them nearly disarmed, since even swords had leather handles. Even then, it does not account for the loss of 185,000 men from causes other than battle. Perhaps the mice carried a horrific disease, too. It all sounds like bubonic plague. Either way, Sennacherib returned in shame to Nineveh and covered up his loss by recording how glorious it was to have Hezekiah trapped inside Jerusalem. No mention of breeching the city walls, though, as was boasted of in the case of Lachish.

This utter failure on such an ostensibly simple mission left Sennacherib's war machine weak. He undertook no further military missions. Some twenty years later, while bowing in the temple to his god, Nisroc, two of his many sons executed him. They fled, but were eventually executed themselves. Meanwhile, the heir to the Imperial throne was Esarhaddon. Back in Jerusalem, Hezekiah gained in fame and power from his now sure victory over the army that crushed all others.

32:24-33 -- The summary of Hezekiah's final days goes back to pick up some loose ends. Sometime early in the siege, Hezekiah suffered some illness that was expected to be fatal. The account in 2 Kings 20 gives more detail, including a description of the miracle that God offered -- the sun retreating back on his father's sundial -- to show he would live a bit longer. However, Hezekiah did not keep his implied promise to give God the glory. Instead, he became arrogant again for a time. We aren't told what, but some disaster loomed over the kingdom and Hezekiah again turned back to the Lord. This brought the kingdom back to safety. This wavering back and forth did not help his son, Manasseh, learn faith in Jehovah. During Hezekiah's last decade, his son was co-regent, starting when the boy was but 12 (697 BC). We are given a quick look at his extraordinary personal wealth, the same wealth he showed off to the visiting Babylonians. In death, his resting place was among the most honored in the royal cemetery.

Chapter 10.2: Manasseh and Amon

In yet another complete reversal from one king to the next, Manasseh returns to the sins of his grandfather Ahaz. In so doing, it was more than a reversal of Hezekiah's revival. Manasseh brought in his own new heathen perversions.

2 Chronicles 33:1-9 -- Manasseh had the longest reign in the House of David, 55 years (696-642 BC). In the Temple courts he placed new shrines to the Canaanite Baals and Astarte. With a boldness not seen in any other fallen king, Manasseh placed altars to them inside the Temple itself, along with carved images. He even went so far as to resurrect the filthy cult of Molech in the Valley of Hinnom below the old Jebusite city of Ophel, off the lower end of the ridge of Jerusalem. He brought back the practices of consulting the dead, conjuring various spirits and just about everything God told Moses was forbidden. Finally, we have indications he brought back both male and female temple prostitution. The entire atmosphere of the city changed, affecting the rest of Judah as well. Ever ready to sin, we see hints of the nobles of Judah helping take the lead in all this. This loosed a reign of terror, as well. The City of Jerusalem was the home of tyranny, senseless murder and oppression of every stripe. One of the prophets warned it was worse than Samaria had ever been.

When Esarhaddon came down in 676 BC, bringing the new residents of Israel and removing the bulk of the remaining northern Tribes of Israel, Manasseh went out to meet him. The lesson of Assyrian defeat meant nothing to him. Instead, he sought to become a servant of the Empire. Imperial records point to his sending tribute. As a willing servant, he imported the gods of his master. Assyria practiced a version of the ancient Babylonian Astrology. This was the "hosts of heaven" mentioned in the text. More than just images of the various star-gods, this would require decorative seasonal markers based on the annual track of the sun's angle and height. Similar markers were used at night to track the stars. Manasseh would celebrate the various festivals to the star-gods, which broke the rhythm of the Mosaic calendar. He placed these observatories in the Temple courts.

33:10-20 -- As always, the Lord sent prophets. While we know Isaiah joined in the denunciations, he managed to survive. Many other prophets were murdered. Micah and Nahum were known to have been active during this time, though their writings indicate nothing about their possible confrontation of Manasseh. The former wrote of his ministry under Hezekiah, for the most part, while the latter addresses the eventual fall of Nineveh. The obvious point was Assyria cannot be trusted to protect Judah. We can be sure there were plenty of prophets whose words were not recorded. They were all ignored, not just by the King, but by the people, as well.

In his dealings with Assyria, it appears at one point Manasseh considered an alliance with Egypt, too. Esarhaddon passed and two brothers fought to succeed him on the throne. It would seem Manasseh aligned himself with the losing brother, who had raised up a rebellion in Babylon. During the four-year war fought in Mesopotamia, Egypt had risen up to resist Assyrian policy. Recall that Egypt lost a major battle to Sennacherib during Hezekiah's reign; defeated armies surrender their nation to the victorious rulers. Loyalty is assumed. Thus, having won that war in Babylon, Ashurbanipal in 648 BC passed through Palestine on his way to confront Egypt. Along the way, he had Manasseh arrested and deported to the prison in Babylon where the co-conspirators were held with Ashurbanipal's brother. We aren't quite certain what Assyrian nose-hooks looked like, but we can be sure it was exceedingly painful as a form of torture to be lead by the nose.

It was most likely during the time Manasseh contemplated his doom after the failure of his ally in Babylon that he sacrificed a son on the altar to Molech. During his captivity, he repented of his former sins. The Lord heard and restored him, allowing the King to return to Jerusalem. There, Manasseh set about correcting his mistakes, but too late. For more than 50 years he drove his people to idolatry. A mere two or three years' effort was not enough to change much in the minds of a whole generation raised in sin. Thus, his efforts to cleanse the Temple and city did little real good. More useful, perhaps, was his rebuilding of the city wall, probably damaged or destroyed by Ashurbanipal. It's possible his project extended the wall out over the Central Valley of the city, and took in some of the western ridge. It's referred to as the "Second Quarter" of Jerusalem.

33:21-25 -- Upon his death, Manasseh passed the throne to Amon. This heir thought nothing of his father's repentance, but renewed the hideous practices of his upbringing. It's most likely the policy of continued submission to Assyria that provoked his death. Traditions of the time indicate an element of deep southern nobility who resented this submission. Such would be the perfect source of a plot to assassinate King Amon. It was reputed these same southern nobles also resented the pagan practices, but that was not the primary reason for the conspiracy. Either way, we know the Lords of Judah, based in Kiriath-jearim, rose up to execute all the known members of the conspiracy. They would have been concerned with a renewed attack from Assyria and hoped to appease the Imperial Court by this move.

The die had been cast. The end of Judah, and of the Nation of Israel, had been set.

Chapter 10.3: Josiah's Reforms

Josiah was nothing like his father and grandfather. The prophets say he was more committed to serving Jehovah than any king before him. The parallel passage is in 2 Kings 22 and 23.

2 Chronicles 34:1-7 -- At the time his father, Amon, was assassinated in 640 BC, Josiah was a mere lad of eight. His early years on the throne would have been under some unnamed regent. This regent maintained the previous policy of placating Assyria, trying to draw as little attention as possible. At age 16 the boy king determined to serve the Lord. He would have spent time with the priests and Levites learning what the Law required. Then, at age 20 (628 BC), asserting his full royal authority for the first time, he began destroying the pagan shrines. All the awful things his father and grandfather had brought to Jerusalem were swept away.

To insure the people would not be tempted to sin again, he had the pagan priests slaughtered, then their bodies burned on their own altars, to the point of burning the bones long after the flesh was gone. This and other things were done to defile the pagan shrines so no worshiper would go near them. He then personally led troops out the do the same across Judah. Finally, he took the same fervor across the lands of the northern kingdom among the as yet unsettled new residents. The future Samaritans were still wrestling with their new religion of corrupted Judaism to worry much about largely abandoned pagan shrines from ancient Canaanite religions.

That Josiah was able to exercise such authority north of his border was the result of two salutary events. From 628-626 BC, the Scythians came down out of the north on horses and raided the northern reaches of the Assyrian Empire. Their raids ranged as far south as the upper Mesopotamian Valley itself. At the same time, Emperor Ashurbanipal died, leaving Assyria with no strong ruler. A former tributary, Babylon, rose up in revolt and would eventually replace the Assyrian rule with their own. They were led by Nabopolassar, whose commander was his son Nebuchadnezzar. Far away in the background, the Medes were beginning to take over swathes of the weakening Assyrian northeast. When the Scythian hordes began harassing the coastal plains west of Judah, they were stopped by Egypt. This left Judah as the strongest power standing in Palestine.

34:8-18 -- Cleansing the land took several years. With that issue settled, the King -- now 26 -- called for refurbishing the Temple. The job was massive, due not only to 50-plus years of clutter and neglect, but all the pagan junk that defiled it. Contracts were let out to remodel and refurbish the structures. In the process, a copy of the Law was found. Consider that over a half-century had passed since anyone cared what Moses had written. Priests now dead had hidden the copy of the Torah within the structure itself. During Manasseh's reign, with all the pagan altars moved into the Temple, both the Ark of the Covenant and the official copy of the Scroll of Moses had been moved around a bit. The scribe Shaphan read it through first. Then he brought it to the King, along with his report on the Temple repairs.

34:19-28 -- Having lived under the thumb of Assyria for over a century, the common tongue of Mesopotamia -- Aramaic -- had largely displaced the older Hebrew language. The two are quite similar, with the writing more squared in Hebrew and the pronunciation was rather different to their ears. Thus, while the scribe would naturally be trained to handle older Hebrew documents, he might have read the Torah to the King by paraphrasing. At any rate, few of us today could imagine such a patient oral reading taking place in one session. During the long recitation, the King became increasingly alarmed.

When the reading was finished, Josiah tore his royal robes in sorrow at how deeply Judah had sinned. Having until now a mere oral account based on failing human memory from more than a half-century past, this fresh confrontation from the Law of Moses spoke of the nation's doom. He ordered the Book be verified by someone able to inquire of Jehovah. This turned out to be a prophetess named Huldah. She was living in the western quarter of Jerusalem, across the central valley where Manasseh had stretched the walls of Jerusalem. She confirmed this book was the Word of God, that the curses were indeed upon them, and punishment was already prepared by the Lord. Her choice of phrase made it plain that, when the punishment came, it would be the permanent end of Judah as she now existed. However, since the King sincerely cried out to Jehovah in public, the Lord promised he would allow Josiah to die before it happened.

34:29-33 -- In response, Josiah called a solemn assembly of the elders of the Nation of Israel. He gathered them in the Temple courtyard and had the Torah read to them. Again, we can hardly envision the patience with which they listened in silence over several hours. In his ceremonial position next to one of the great pillars, in the presence of everyone in the city, the entire corps of priests and Levites and the ruling elders of the land, he swore a renewed oath to abide by the Covenant, requiring all present to join him. Having now a much more clear and precise understanding of the Law, all the remaining vestiges of pagan practices were ended. 2 Kings 23 lays out the details. Apparently the first cleansing was not so thorough, but only removed the most obvious transgressions. The second effort was a radical departure from all that anyone remembered. The phrasing "abominations of Israel" points to the paganized shrines of Jeroboam in Bethel, Gilgal-ephraim and Dan. This brings us to about 622 BC.

35:1-19 -- With this cleansing fresh on their hands, Josiah ordered the Passover be celebrated according to the Temple calendar, at the turning of the year in mid-month. To insure it went off properly, he provided for the visiting people lambs and goats from his own flocks so everyone would have a fit offering. The nobles took their cue from this and made sure none were left out. The priests were so busy, night fell before the altar work was done. The Levites set aside a portion for themselves in their own family preparations. The text tells us no previous king had been so careful in meeting the whole obligation of the Law.

Then Josiah ordered the priests and Levites to take roll and organize the annual rotation of Temple service. Along with this was enrolling the Temple food portions. All was proper and fit. However, the prophets writing the Book of Kings noted this did not turn away God's wrath. Indeed, it heralded a shortened reign for Josiah, for the divine punishment was on schedule and could not be held back. Josiah must die soon.

35:20-27 -- As Assyria continued crumbling, her former vassal began pacifying the old empire under her own imperial power. The court of Pharaoh Necho of Egypt suddenly decided to support the old Assyrian Empire against the Babylonian uprising. In 608 BC Pharaoh rushed up the coast to battle at the head of the Euphrates. They would eventually meet the Babylonian army at Carchemish, a ways west of ancient Charan. On the way, their passage raised alarm in Judah. Josiah was sure he had the help of God in breaking the pagan influence of Assyria and saw Egypt's support for her as a threat. Pharaoh insisted he had no interest in Judah, but Josiah rushed troops to the Meggido Valley to cut him off. In the battle Josiah died while fighting in disguise, shot through with several arrows. No doubt his body's return to Jerusalem was a shock to all, for this had surely been God's man.

The full impact of their new subjection to Egypt would come later. For the time being, Pharaoh went on to meet Nebuchadnezzar and failed to do much good for Assyria. However, Egypt did claim Syria and Palestine. This is the beginning of the end for Judah.

Chapter 10.4: Jeremiah and the End

Jeremiah -- Jeremiah was born approximately the same time as Josiah. Of all the prophets whose words are recorded in Scripture, we know the most about Jeremiah the man. Born in Anathoth, just north of Jerusalem, we can be certain he was of the family of Abiathar, dismissed from service by Solomon for conspiracy with Adonijah's revolt. He supported Josiah's reforms, of course, and this earned him the ire of his relatives. His prophetic writings seem to apply most to the period after Josiah's death in 609 BC.

His celibacy was quite rare among Jews (Jeremiah 16:1ff). He was regarded by the ascendant party in the Court as the leader of the opposition. His message warns that Judah should serve Babylon willingly and trust in God to make that service light. He had several brushes with death and spent much time in confinement. At one point the priests ordered him placed in stocks, beaten (20:1-6) and left to die in a filthy mud pit (38:6-13). His escape, with that of his scribe, Baruch, was clearly the hand of God. Still, he was always up against the false prophecies from the professional prophets in the Temple.

We note several things about his unique character. First was a fathomless personal honesty. He willingly admitted he tried to avoid prophesying, but could not remain silent. He wrestled often with God, saying things we might take as blasphemy if read with a shallow grasp. To his chagrin, many of his messages seemed foolish because the Lord didn't intend fulfillment until long after the message was forgotten.

Second, he never shrank from the duty to warn of God's judgment. One man's courage is another's hardheadedness, but Jeremiah had plenty of both. The persecution and punishment only seemed to make him more determined. That's because, third, he took sin personally. So intense was his identification with the Lord's righteousness that he had plenty of harsh words and vengeful prayers for his enemies. He spent a lot of time haranguing about idolatry, oppression and false prophets.

Fourth, he was gripped by a fierce love for God's People. His zeal for their welfare gave him nightmares, knowing what was coming. His fiery call for purity was largely a result of his sure knowledge the coming disasters were due directly to sin. He was fully capable of warm friendships with people who showed him kindness or were open to his message.

Finally was his undying hope that God was going to bring joy and peace in the end. There must be cleansing of sin because the Lord intended to bless the people and the land. So certain was he of the future blessings he bought land in Anathoth during the final siege (32:6-15).

The book itself indicates it was the shared labor of Jeremiah and Baruch. The first 25 chapters were dictated by Jeremiah to Baruch, burned by the King, and then dictated again from memory with no apparent loss. They are in the first person and loaded with verse and poetic imagery. The rest is in the third person and appears to be the records of Baruch appended to the prophet's original commission, written in simple prose. However, it would be a mistake to think of the book as being in any chronological order. One of his greatest contributions to Jewish religion down through the ages is a clear statement that Jehovah was sovereign, that no other god existed. The affairs of men and kingdoms worldwide were guided by the hand of the God of Israel.

The domination by Egypt after the death of Josiah at Megiddo was short lived. The primary objective was to maintain lines of communication between the Egyptian forces encamped at Carchemish and the homeland on the Nile. The army of Egypt remained in the field against Babylon for several years. As the dominant power on that long path, Judah received the bulk of Pharaoh's attention. The parallel passages are found in 2 Kings 23-25.

2 Chronicles 36:1-4 -- As soon as Josiah was buried, his son Jehoahaz was crowned. He was in the city as King three months, just long enough to attend to the essential ceremonial requirements and basic administrative tasks setting up his administration. As the first king serving under Necho's authority, he was required to go to his master in northern Syria. There, he was deposed and imprisoned by Necho. This most likely was to demonstrate his absolute mastery and to strike fear in Judah. From the King's entourage, Necho selected a brother of Jehoahaz, Eliakim, to replace him. He renamed him Jehoiakim. The right of renaming was but another grating reminder who was boss. Jehoahaz was dispatched to Egypt, where he died in prison. The new King Jehoiakim returned with an edict to collect a huge tribute tax. The amount was crushing and impoverished the whole nation of Judah, because the King took it from the people, while retaining his royal luxury.

36:5-8 -- Jehoiakim brought back many of Manasseh's sins, all the while preaching complacency in God's protection of the Temple. A willing servant of Pharaoh, he joined in a coalition with his neighbors to support Egypt in resisting Nebuchadnezzar's advance into Syria. However, within a few years (605 BC) Necho lost in battle against Babylon. Jeremiah had warned this would happen and that capitulating to Babylon was the Lord's will. This set the tone for a long-running battle of sorts in Jerusalem between Jeremiah and the Court, but seemingly plenty of disputes between Jeremiah and the Lord. The long delay seemed to mock Jeremiah's proclamations of judgment. To his chagrin, Nebuchadnezzar failed to follow up his victory at Carchemish, delayed by his father's death back home in Babylon.

Still, the dark looming shadow of Babylon's approach never lifted. It was during this period the first scroll of Jeremiah's prophecy was burned. In 603 BC, Jehoiakim was forced to pledge allegiance to the new Emperor of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar. Babylon was once again on the move, passing through Judah on the way to face Egypt's home, her only rival on the west. When the battle on the border of Egypt in 601 BC turned into a stalemate, Jehoiakim was foolish enough to believe it was a sign from God, despite Jeremiah's warnings. The king made a bid for independence. Nebuchadnezzar's first response was to send raiding bands of his own Chaldean troops, along with Ammonites, Moabites and Syrians. They were told to seize all the spoil they could. Finally, in 597 BC, he brought his own troops back to Palestine and laid siege to Jerusalem. The text says Jehoiakim was hauled away in fetters, but tradition says he was already sick and dying during the siege, thus his son was crowned. Jehoiakim is believed to have died on the journey to Babylon, still a young man.

36:9-10 -- There is some confusion between 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles regarding the age of Jehoiachin at his coronation. The former says he was eighteen, which is more probable, but the latter says eight. Either way, he was too young to be very independent. His court was still in the grip of the pro-Egypt party. It seems they tried to hold out and negotiate while Nebuchadnezzar's troops lounged outside the walls of Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar was still there three months later and prepared to renew efforts to breach the walls of Jerusalem. The royal household capitulated as a whole, which spared the life of this last in the line of David. He was taken away as hostage, along with the best noble warriors and artisans, to insure the good behavior of the Kingdom of Judah. Also taken were the treasures and furnishings of the Temple. By our reckoning, it was still 597 BC.

36:11-14 -- In place of Jehoiachin was his uncle, Mattaniah, renamed Zedekiah by Nebuchadnezzar. This youngest son of Josiah was very much a puppet of Babylon. Not that he was so actively evil, but his reign was marked by a weakness that promoted evil. The rightful king was still alive in Babylon and the pro-Egypt party still had a large presence in the royal court. Most of the noble houses were in exile; there were few craftsmen left. Secretly, Zedekiah respected the prophet Jeremiah, if for no other reason than his prophecies came true about Babylon, but he didn't always follow the prophet's advice. There was a major conflict between Jeremiah and the Court prophets about the length of time for the Exile. Jeremiah advised everyone in Babylon to get comfortable and wait about seventy years, while the false prophets insisted it was just a couple of years or so. When Necho in Egypt began building a new coalition to face Babylon yet again -- drawing in Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon -- Jeremiah warned the king not to be suckered again, but to remain faithful to Babylon and to God. This was the scene when the false prophet Hananiah tore the wooden yoke off Jeremiah, only to see it replaced by one of iron (Jeremiah 28:12-16). Hananiah died a short time later.

Meanwhile, the foolish Zedekiah cast his lot with Egypt, though not the abortive revolt in 593 BC. Records are scant, but there's no doubt the new Pharaoh was involved in encouraging Zedekiah to go along with his arrogant nobles. Judah managed to act in rebellion against her vow before Jehovah to serve Babylon. In due time, Nebuchadnezzar and his troops returned to Judah. The siege began in 588 BC. For two years, the king kept trying to convince the Lord to back his revolt; the nobles waited in vain for another deliverance as with Hezekiah. Even during the siege, Jeremiah showed his confidence in God's promises by going to lay claim to the land he bought in Anathoth. He was arrested on his return as a traitor and it was here he was thrown in the pit. His rescue was hardly the end of his sorrows and only the success of the siege brought him relief, in 586 BC.

36:15-21 -- Our text recounts the hideous brutality of the final battle as the direct punishment for treating God's prophets with despite, more prophets than Jeremiah alone. The parallel passage in Kings 25 describes how the wall was breached late one day. While the Babylonians waited until morning light to finish the job, the King and his soldiers slipped through the opening and escaped by night past the siege lines. They attempted to flee by taking the road past the Mount of Olives and down to the Jordan Valley. However, they were caught by pursuing Babylonians. The royal bodyguard was executed. Then Zedekiah and his family were hauled to Nebuchadnezzar's field office in Riblah of Hamath. There, Zedekiah was forced to watch his sons killed, the last thing he saw, for his eyes were then put out. He was imprisoned in Babylon. We pick up the story in 2 Kings.

2 Kings 25:8-21 -- The destruction of Jerusalem was mostly a matter of taking down the city wall completely, then destroying everything on the Temple Mount: the Temple, Palace, Royal Residence and of course any military buildings. In each, the wooden frame was burned so the stonework collapsed in a pile of rubble. With only the brass and bronze Temple furnishings left, the large pieces were broken down into fragments easily moved and taken away to Babylon. The surviving Court officers in the city were taken to Riblah and executed. The city was de-populated, taken along with the surviving Jews throughout the rest of Judah. Only a few peasants were left to keep the farms and vineyards going. Everyone else was moved to Babylon. Jeremiah wrote Lamentations to describe the sense of loss. He was left alive by the conquering commanders and stayed with the handful of nobles considered trustworthy enough to manage the harvest on behalf of the Empire. Judah was now nothing but an agricultural region dependent on Babylon.

25:22-26 -- Of course, there would always be a few who evaded capture. They hid out in the wilderness places. Meanwhile, Babylon appointed Gedaliah as governor of Judah. He met with these escaped nobles at Mizpah, the new seat of government. On behalf of Babylon, he promised them amnesty and a peaceful life among the remnants in the land, encouraging them to help rebuild enough of the ravaged land to keep it ready for the return of the nation someday. Between the breach of the city walls and the wicked assassination of Gedaliah was only two months. Fearing Babylon's response, the last few leaders of the nation still in the land took as many peasants as they could round up, along with Jeremiah, and fled to Egypt. Jeremiah died there in sorrow, but not before his scribe noted a very encouraging sign, taking a page from the official records.

25:27-29 -- In about 562 BC, Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded by Evil-merodach ("Man of Marduk"), who changed the policy of the Jewish captives in Babylon. In his mid-50s now, Jehoiachin was released from prison and given a prominent place in the Imperial Court. Here, roughly half-way through the Exile, the light of God's forgiveness began to shine, and there was hope.


Ed Hurst
14 May 2005, revised 09 February 2016

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: People of honor need no copyright laws; they are only too happy to give credit where credit is due. Others will ignore copyright laws whenever they please. If you are of the latter, please note what Moses said about dishonorable behavior -- "be sure your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23)