Kings 24:13; see also 25:13-17). In the loss of land, people, dominion and Yahweh’s Presence, the promises to Abraham have been reversed.
Despite the sadness that we feel as we read these chapters, we must understand them well, in part because there are six prophetic books linked with this period of history: Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. Therefore we want to have a good understanding of four key events that occur in these chapters.
The first event is Judah’s loss of independence caused by Josiah’s death.
Egypt and Babylon were fighting over the remains of the empire of the Assyrians, the old enemy of Yahweh’s people. The Assyrians were defeated in the destruction of their capital city of Nineveh in 612 BC and then of their next capital at Haran two years later. In the year 609 BC, “Neco king of Egypt went up to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates” (2 Chronicles 35:20), and just like the majority of international
transportation at this time, he went along the Mediterranean coast of the Promised Land. “Josiah went out to meet him” (2 Chronicles 35:20), possibly with the intention of imposing his dominion over a region that no longer belonged to Assyria. “But he [Neco] sent envoys to him, saying, ‘What have we to do with each
other, king of Judah? I am not coming against you this day, but against the house with which I am at war. And God has commanded me to hurry. Cease opposing God, who is with me, lest he destroy you’” (2 Chronicles 35:21). But Josiah does not accept the warning; he attacks Neco on the plain of Megiddo and dies (2 Chronicles 35:22-24). The prophet Jeremiah publicly laments Josiah’s death (2 Chronicles 35:25).
Neco continues his march north and loses the battle of Carchemish to the Babylonians in 609 BC. Returning to Egypt, he decides to impose his authority over the kingdom of Judah who has just placed Jehoahaz on the throne to replace his father Josiah as king (2 Kings 23:31; 2 Chronicles 36:1). “Pharaoh Neco put him in bonds at Riblah in the land of Hamath, that he might not reign in Jerusalem, and laid on the land a tribute of a hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold” (2 Kings 23:33). The king of Judah, the reigning descendant of David, is taken prisoner! At this moment, Judah loses its independence and will not recover it for centuries.
Now the king of Judah is a puppet of Egypt: “And Pharaoh Neco made Eliakim the son of Josiah king in place of Josiah his father, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. But he took Jehoahaz away, and he came to Egypt and died there” (2 Kings 23:34). In submission to his new lord: “Jehoiakim gave the silver and the gold to Pharaoh, but he taxed the land to give the money according to the command of Pharaoh. He exacted the silver and the gold of the people of the land, from everyone according to his assessment, to give it to Pharaoh Neco” (2 Kings 23:35). The desire to regain lost independence is a strong motivation for the
decisions of the coming years.
The second outstanding event is the change in authority over Judah when Egypt loses another battle at Carchemish in 605 BC. As a consequence, the
Babylonians continue marching south and take over Egyptian territories including
Judah: “In his days, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up” (2 Kings 24:1). Now Jerusalem is put under siege, defeated and suffers its first deportation to Babylon, one that serves principally for the education of government workers for the administration of the new territory of Judah: “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand” (Daniel 1:1-2). “Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 1:3-4). Among these youths are Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
The third event begins when Babylon is defeated at the Egyptian border in 601 BC, and Jehoiakim sees an opportunity to declare independence: “Jehoiakim became his servant three years. Then he turned and rebelled against him” (2 Kings 24:1). The events that follow do not depend so much on the strength of Babylon
nor on the strength that Jehoiakim thinks he has: “And the LORD sent against him
bands of the Chaldeans [Babylonians] and bands of the Syrians and bands of the
Moabites and bands of the Ammonites, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by his servants the prophets”
(2 Kings 24:2). Jerusalem is put under siege again, Jehoiakim dies, and he is replaced by his son Jehoiachin who in 597 BC only has enough time to hand over the city and be carried off in the second deportation that includes many from the royal family, all the officials and mighty men of valor and all the craftsmen and smiths (2 Kings 24:10-16). This group also includes another young man, Ezekiel, who will be called to prophesy in exile.
Zedekiah is named king and governs during the fourth outstanding event, the final destruction of Jerusalem and the last deportation to Babylon in 586 BC: “For because of the anger of the LORD it came to the point in Jerusalem and Judah that he cast them out from his presence” (2 Kings 24:20). Jeremiah prophesies in Jerusalem, and Daniel and Ezekiel in exile in the years the approach this decisive moment in Yahweh’s judgment of His people.
To summarize, these four main events are:
1) The loss of Judean independence with the death of Josiah (609 BC)
2) Babylon takes control of Judah and orders the first deportation (605 BC)
3) After Jehoiakim’s rebellion, Babylon defeats Judah again and orders a second, larger deportation (597 BC)
4) After Zedekiah’s rebellion, Babylon destroys Jerusalem completely and orders a massive deportation (586 BC)
In the midst of this devastating judgment over Jerusalem, there still remains a tiny ray of hope. After 37 years of captivity, the former king Jehoiachin who had reigned only three months is freed from prison and placed in a position of grace and
privilege by the king of Babylon (2 Kings 25:27-30). Though without a kingdom, the house of David continues.