It’s difficult enough for me, as a lover of history, to keep track of all the kings of Judah, especially the last four, so I pity those who aren’t as enthusiastic about it as I am. In this blog, I have undertaken to simplify the facts for the benefit of the average reader. Judah had four final kings before the destruction of Jerusalem. Each of them catered to the cultural diversity that came from foreign nations, rather than demanding adherence to their own religious heritage. Their immoral conduct and horrific religious practices were so disgusting as to earn them the reputation of being outright “evil”. Even in making the wrong choices, they have lessons to teach us about life.
|Jehoahaz, Shallum||3 mos.||608 BC||608 BC||Josiah||Egypt||In Egypt|
|Eliakim, Jehoiakim||11 yrs.||608 BC||597 BC||Josiah||Egypt and Babylon||Jerusalem|
|Jehoiachin, Jechoniah||3 mos.||597 BC||597 BC||Jehoiachim||Babylon||In Babylon|
|Zedekiah||11 yrs.||597 BC||586 BC||Josiah||Babylon||In Babylon|
So who were they? Each king had one to three names, which makes it all the more confusing. The first and third kings reigned three months; the second and fourth each reigned eleven years. Three were brothers, the sons of Josiah; the third was the son of Jehoiachim, the second king, and the grandson of Josiah. All of them were in the royal line of king David. The first two dealt mostly with Egypt; the last two with Babylon. They all died badly, one without a funeral, two in foreign prisons, and one after having been released from prison. The big question is what they did to deserve such treatment.
The answer to why is that the kings led Israel to break the covenant that it had made with Jehovah on Mount Sinai some 875 years earlier. That may seem like a long time, but it was less than the lifetime of Noah, 950 years. This breaking of the covenant had been going on for the entire time to some degree, which is an indication of God’s superhuman patience. A number of times, national punishment brought repentance and restoration. Total obliteration had been an option for nine centuries. It was the “nuclear option” which God’s mercy and steadfast love was able to put off: “The Lord will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone.” (Deut. 28:36). What did the last four kings do?
The First King
Let’s start with Jehoahaz, a.k.a. Shallum. The people anointed him king at the death of Josiah, even though he was the fourth and youngest son of Josiah. Although the people liked him, Pharaoh Neco did not. For one thing, his father Josiah had refused to heed to words of the pharaoh and stand down from battle (2 Chron. 35:22). The family seemed to show a stubborn and rebellious attitude toward Egypt, and later toward Babylon. This would cost them dearly. Jehoahaz died as a captive in Egypt, without ever being able to see his precious homeland again. This is considered the first of several times that Israel would be carried away into captivity. There is no indication of how many were deported at this time besides the king.
The Second King
Neco replaced Jehoahaz with his brother Eliakim, whom he renamed Jehoiakim. He was the second of the four sons of Josiah. This brother turned out to be ruthlessly devoted to the pharaoh and a traitor to his own God and country. To please Egypt, Jehoiakim raised a tax of a hundred talents of silver (7500 lbs.) and a talent of gold (75 lbs.) from the wealthiest people of the land. There was nothing left in the state coffers. This exorbitant tribute amounted to $3.5 million, which meant that the king was willing to plunder his own country to please Egypt.
Three years into Jehoiakim’s reign, in 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar defeated Egypt at the battle of Carchemish, which led him to besiege Jerusalem. Jehoiakim immediately switched his loyalty to Babylon to stay on the throne. This is when Daniel and some of the royal family and the nobility went to Babylon, along with some of the holy vessels from the temple (Daniel 1:1). First the king licked the feet of Egypt, then Babylon, but he was always looking for the best deal. In about 602 BC, he revolted against Babylon and was put down by the Chaldeans, Syrians, Moabites, and Ammonites (2 Kings 24:1,2). It was two years later that Jehoiakim shamelessly burned the scroll of the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 36). He had no fear of God. Five years later, in 597 BC, which was his eleventh year, Jehoiakim again rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, who launched a new campaign from Babylon and besieged Jerusalem. According to Jeremiah, Jehoiakim died like a dog early in the siege and no one mourned for him (Jer. 22:18, 19). No glory came from Jehoiakim’s reckless pride, as he vacillated between serving and rebelling against the greatest powers of the world.
The Third King
When Jehoiakim died, his son Jehoiachin, a.k.a. Jechoniah, a.k.a. Coniah, took his place for three months, until he surrendered to end the siege. He was as bad as his father, though for less time. Nebuchadnezzar exiled him and his family to Babylon, so that he never saw Jerusalem again. There, he remained in prison in Babylon for 37 years, until he was released by Evil-merodach and allowed to dine at the king’s table until his death. This is confirmed by the Weidner tablets. Although his descendants did not return to reign as kings in Jerusalem, they are mentioned in the lineage of Jesus Christ, who will someday take the throne of David in Jerusalem (Matt. 1:12). Temporary judgment does not invalidate the eternal promises.
When Jehoiachin surrendered, Nebuchadnezzar took 10,000 Jews captive, including Ezekiel. The greatest of the soldiers, officials, craftsmen, and smiths were relocated, and the treasures of the temple and the city were taken to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar’s chronicle describes this siege, but unfortunately it is missing the years that describe the final fall and destruction of Jerusalem 11 years later.
The Forth King
According to I Chronicles 3:15 and 16, Zedekiah is the name of both a son and a grandson of Josiah, which is confusing. 2 Kings 24:17 says that Nebuchadnezzar replaced Jehoiachin with his uncle, who would be the third son of Josiah. This is pretty precise. 2 Chronicles 36:10 calls Zedekiah Jehoiachin’s brother, but that word can also have the sense of a relative, as Abraham with Lot in Genesis 13:8. It was his uncle.
Zedekiah reigned for 11 years. According to 2 Chronicles 36:13, Nebuchadnezzar made Zedekiah swear allegiance to him in the name of Jehovah. Then, after he left, Zedekiah hardened his heart and rebelled against the king of Babylon and the God of Israel. He broke the mold for pride and stupidity. Moreover, his officers and religious leaders were totally behind him in the coup. They were constantly at odds with Jeremiah, even throwing him into a slimy cistern. More than any other, this kingship openly mocked God (2 Chron. 36:14-16). When Nebuchadnezzar returned, he burned down Jerusalem in 586 BC and slaughtered Zedekiah’s sons in front of him before gouging out his eyes (2 Kings 25:7). It was the last thing he saw. Then they took him to Babylon.
The drama and intrigue of this time period would make a good soap opera. All the kings knew about the good deeds of their father Josiah as well as the poetic warnings of Jeremiah. Actions have consequences. The prophets repeated that theme over and over. Even though God is loving and patient, we reap what we sow. I think Teddy Roosevelt described God well when he said, “Walk softly, but carry a big stick”.
Judgment had a silver lining. First of all, the captivity was limited to seventy years, and the Jews returned according to prophecy. Other nations were not so fortunate. When the Jews returned, they were more zealous than ever, creating strict movements like the Pharisees. More importantly, they began looking intently for the “righteous Branch”, the son of David who would reign as king and “execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer. 23:5,6).