The forgotten king

King Jehoiachin’s brief reign of only three months over the nation of Judah may be why he is often overlooked or forgotten, although he was obedient to the LORD. There is conflicting information about his age when he took over for his father Jehoiakim. It says in 2 Kings 24:8 that Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign and in 2 Chronicles 36:9 it says he was eight. Whether he was eight or eighteen, Jehoiachin was exceptionally young to become king.

In the third month of his reign, Jehoiachin was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar and carried away to Babylon (2 Kings 24:15). He was the last descendant of king David to actually sit on the throne and rule over God’s people. King Zedekiah, who was appointed by Nebuchadnezzar to replace Jehoiachin, was the son of Josiah, Jehoiachin’s grandfather. After he was transported to Babylon, Jehoiachin was referred to as Jeconiah or just Coniah, the son of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 22:24). The Greek form of his name, Jechonias is listed in the geneology of Jesus in Matthew 1:11-12.

Jehoiachin was considered to be despised by the LORD because none of his descendants ever reigned, “sitting upon the throne of David” (Jeremiah 23:30), but Jehoiachin’s grandson, Zerubbabel became governor of Judah after the exiles returned to the Promised Land (Haggai 1:1). A pivotal point in the life of Jehoiachin is recorded in Jeremiah 52:31-34. It says that he was released from prison in the thirty-seventh year of his captivity and was given daily rations from the king of Babylon.

Evidence of Jerhoichin’s survival has been found in Babylon. According to archeological records, “Jehoiachin and his family were kept in Babylon, where clay ration receipts bearing his name have been found” (Exile of the Southern Kingdom). The fact that Jehoiachin was not killed like many of the other important officials from Judah (Jeremiah 52:27) and was later shown great respect by the Babylonian king (Jeremiah 52:32) shows that God was intentionally working to save his life, and the lives of his sons and grandsons, in order to preserve the royal blood line.

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Trouble makers

After the fall of Jerusalem, it says in Jeremiah 39:9-10, “Then Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard carried away captive into Babylon the remnant of the people that remained in the city, and those that fell away, that fell to him, with the rest of the people that remained. But Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard left the poor of the people, which had nothing, in the land of Judah, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time.” Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan governor over the cities of Judah and had Jeremiah released from prison. “Then went Jeremiah unto Gedaliah the son of Ahikam to Mizpah; and dwelt with him among the people that were in the land” (Jeremiah 40:6).

Everything was fine until the captain of the forces which were in the fields, that had escaped with king Zedekiah when he tried to run away from Nebuchadnezzar, heard that the king of Babylon had made Gedaliah governor in the land (Jeremiah 40:7). The leader of the men, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, wanted to kill Gedaliah and take back control of Judah. Even though the captains of the forces tried to warn Gedaliah (Jeremiah 40:13-14), it says in Jeremiah 41:2, “Then arose Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and ten men that were with him, and smote Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan with the sword and slew him, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land.”

A power struggle between Ishmael the son of Nethaniah and Johanan the son of Kareah resulted in Ishmael escaping to the Ammonites and Johanan and all the military men that were with him looking to Jeremiah for advice about what to do next. Jeremiah was asked to pray to the LORD and was told that whatever God said, the men would obey his instructions (Jeremiah 42:6). Jeremiah received this message:

If you will still abide in this land, then will I build you, and not pull you down, and I will plant you, and not pluck you up: for I repent me of the evil that I have done unto you. Be not afraid of the king of Babylon, of whom ye are afraid; be not afraid of him, saith the LORD: for I am with you  to save you, and to deliver you from his hand. And I will shew mercies unto you, that he may have mercy upon you, and cause you to return to your own land. But if ye say, We will not dwell in this land, neither obey the voice of the LORD your God, Saying, No; but we will go into the land of Egypt, where we shall see no war, nor hear the sound of the trumpet, nor have hunger of bread; and there will we dwell: and now therefore here the word of the LORD, ye remnant of Judah; Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; If ye wholly set your face to enter into Egypt, and go to sojourn there; then it shall come to pass, that the sword, which ye feared, shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine, whereof ye were afraid, shall follow close after you there in Egypt;  and there ye shall die.

Afterwards, Johanan accused Jeremiah of lying to him (Jeremiah 43:2). In spite of Jeremiah’s warning, it says in Jeremiah 43:5-7, “But Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces, took all the remnant of Judah, that were returned from all nations, whither they had been driven, to dwell in the land of Judah: even men, and women, and children, and the king’s daughters, and every person that Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard had left with Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Jeremiah the prophet, and Baruch the son of Neriah. So they came into the land of Egypt: for they obeyed not the voice of the LORD: thus came they even to Tahpanhes.”

Transfer of wealth

King Solomon, who has been credited with being the wealthiest man to ever live, invested millions of dollars in the construction of his palace and the temple of God. Many of the items in God’s temple were overlaid with gold and the exterior covered with brass. When the army of the Chaldees came into Jerusalem, they ransacked the city and took all of its valuable treasures back to Babylon with them.

2 Kings 25:8-9 says:

And in the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month, which is the nineteenth year of king Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, came Nebuzar-adan, captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Babylon, into Jerusalem: and he burnt the house of the LORD, and the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem, and every great man’s house burnt he with fire. And all the army of the Chaldees, that were with the captain of the guard, brake down the walls of Jerusalem round about.”

Three of the items that were removed from the temple before it was burned were identified as: 1) two pillars of brass, 2) ten bases of brass, and 3) the brazen sea that was in the house of the LORD (2 Kings 25:13). The dimensions of these items can be found in 1 Kings 7:15, 27, and 23. The two pillars of brass were each eighteen cubits high and twelve cubits around, so approximately 27 feet high and 18 feet around. The weight of just one of these pillars may have been as much as 366,469 lbs.

It says in 2 Kings 25:13 and 16, “And the pillars of brass there were in the house of the LORD, and the bases, and the brazen sea that was in the house of the LORD, did the Chaldees break in pieces, and carried the brass of them to Babylon…the brass of all these vessels was without weight.” In other words, there was too much brass to weigh it. How king Nebuchadnezzar managed to move probably more than a million tons of brass, silver, and gold, more than 500 miles from Jerusalem to Babylon is unknown, but in the process, he became a very wealthy man.

Zedekiah’s escape

King Nebuchadnezzar’s attack of Jerusalem lasted from the ninth year and tenth month of Zedekiah’s reign over Judah until the eleventh year and fourth month, on the ninth day of that month. The exact date of the fall of Jerusalem is known to be July 18, 586 B.C. During the nineteen month siege upon his country, king Zedekiah pretended to believe Jerusalem would survive Nebuchadnezzar’s attack, but in reality, Zedekiah knew the end was coming.

When Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, all his princes, and all his army came against Jerusalem, and sat in the middle gate, a strategic vantage point for invaders; it says in Jeremiah 39:4: “And it came to pass, that when Zedekiah the king of Judah saw them, and all the men of war, then he fled, and went forth out of the city by night, by the way of the king’s garden, by the gate betwixt two walls: and he went out the way of the plain.” Zedekiah took with him all his princes and men of war and left the people of Jerusalem defenseless (Jeremiah 52:7-10).

Zedekiah’s plan of escape went against the counsel he received from Jeremiah. The LORD told Jeremiah, “And Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape out of the hands of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him mouth to mouth, and his eyes shall behold his eyes” (Jeremiah 32:4). The Chaldean army overtook Zedekiah in the plans of Jericho and brought him to Nebuchadnezzar’s military headquarters (Jeremiah 39:5).

Zedekiah was appointed king of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 B.C. after the first wave of captives was taken to Babylon (2 Kings 24:14, 17). Initially, Zedekiah did what Nebuchadnezzar wanted him to , but later Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon and sought assistance from the king of Egypt because Nebuchadnezzar “made him swear by God” that he would remain faithful to their agreement (2 Chronicles 36:13). It says of Zedekiah in 2 Chronicles 36:13 that “he stiffened his neck, and hardened his heart from turning unto the LORD God of Israel.”

When Zedekiah stood before Nebuchadnezzar after he had been captured, Zedekiah was treated as a traitor. It says in Jeremiah 39:6-8, “Then the king of Babylon slew the sons of Zedekiah in Riblah before his eyes: also the king of Babylon slew all the nobles of Judah. Moreover he put out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him with chains to carry him to Babylon. And the Chaldeans burnt the king’s  house, and the houses of the people with fire, and brake down the walls of Jerusalem.”

Nebuchadnezzar’s barbaric treatment of Zedekiah was a type of psychological torture that was intended to cause him pain and anguish. Most likely, Zedekiah suffered from nightmares and perhaps depression as a result of seeing his family slaughtered before his eyes. The practice of putting out someone’s eyes after he has witnessed a personal tragedy suggests that Nebuchadnezzar was a ruthless disciplinarian that controlled others to the point that no one dared cross him. Zedekiah was foolish to think he could escape from Nebuchadnezzar’s army and paid dearly for his rebellion against the king of Babylon.

Spiritual manipulation

One of God’s key characteristics is the reliability of his word. Jeremiah frequently used the phrase “thus saith the LORD” to indicate God’s authority over what he said. As in the creation of the world, God speaks things into being and can cause something to happen by merely saying that it will. Therefore, God only says things that are consistent with his will. God does everything he promises to, because to him, saying and doing are essentially the same thing.

The commandments that were given to the Israelites were like a contract between God and his people that bound their actions together so that an obligation existed whenever obedience or disobedience occurred. If the Israelites kept the commandments, God rewarded them, and if they didn’t, he punished them. So, over time, the Israelites learned how to get what they wanted from God.

Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, was told to become a servant to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (Jeremiah 25:11). Instead of submitting himself to Nebuchadnezzar’s authority, Zedekiah continually resisted and fought against going into captivity. In his attempt to change the outcome of his situation, Zedekiah used one of God’s commandments to manipulate God’s behavior. Zedekiah made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to let their Hebrew slaves go free (Jeremiah 34:8-9).

Zedekiah’s interpretation of the law was correct in that he understood it was wrong for the Israelites to make slaves of their own people, but the law of liberty or year of jubilee did not mean that letting the people go free would prevent Judah from going into captivity. And yet, God recognized Zedekiah’s  action and told him, “And ye were now turned, and had done right in my sight, in proclaiming liberty every man to his neighbor” (Jeremiah 34:15).

Unfortunately, Zedekiah wasn’t sincere in his effort to follow God’s commandment. When he saw that Pharaoh’s army was coming from Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar’s army stopped attacking Jerusalem (Jeremiah 37:5). And so, it says in Jeremiah 34:11, “But afterwards they turned, and caused the servants and the handmaids whom they had let go free, to return, and brought them into subjection for servants and handmaids.”

As soon as Zedekiah thought he got what he wanted, Nebuchadnezzar stopped attacking Jerusalem, he did an about face and recanted his promise to let the Hebrew slaves go free. God responded to Zedekiah’s broken promise by sending Nebuchadnezzar’s army back. He told Zedekiah, “Behold, I will command, saith the LORD, and cause them to return to this city; and they shall fight against it, and take it, and burn it with fire: and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation without an inhabitant” (Jeremiah 34:22).

God’s power

God’s ability to control the world we live in is due to his active, sovereign, and mighty involvement in the affairs of men. Not only does God rule directly over his people, but he also governs them through every person in authority that affects their lives. The LORD told Jeremiah, “I have made the earth, the man and the beast that are upon the ground, by my great power and by my outstretched arm, and have given it unto whom it seemed meet unto me” (Jeremiah 27:5).

God gave Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon all the land in and around the nations of Israel and Judah to rule over while his people were in captivity. God described Nebuchadnezzar as his servant, a term usually reserved for his chosen people. It would have been fair to say that Nebuchadnezzar was nothing more than a hired hand, but as the king of Babylon, he had more power and control than probably any other individual in history. Nebuchadnezzar was the first king to rule over what was considered to be at that time the entire civilized world.

Jeremiah was told to warn the kings of the world that God was going to subject them to Nebuchadnezzar’s authority. He declared, “And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant…And it shall come to pass, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish, saith the LORD, with the sword, and with the famine, and with the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand” (Jeremiah 27:6,8).

The symbol of the yoke was used to convey the idea of having an attitude of submission to Nebuchadnezzar’s authority. It was unlikely Jeremiah’s message was taken seriously because false prophets were contradicting everything Jeremiah said (Jeremiah 27:9). As a sign of his sovereign control, God promised he would bless those who obeyed his command. Jeremiah declared, “But the nations that bring their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him, those will I let remain still in their own land, saith the LORD; and they shall till it, and dwell therein” (Jeremiah 27:11).

Choosing

Jeremiah’s vision of the figs illustrated God’s natural inclination to choose good rather than evil. Choice is an important theme in the Old Testament of the Bible, especially in connection with living in the Promised Land. Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Moses presented the people with a choice that they needed to make. He said, I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Before he died, Joshua reiterated the choice that each person had to make and emphasized the need to serve or worship the LORD instead of idols (Joshua 24:15). In spite of their promised to do so, the people of Israel and Judah were not faithful to God, but continually chose idolatry as a way of life. The tendency of man to choose evil rather than good was first demonstrated in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden. Even though God told them they would die if they ate it, “the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6).

In his vision, Jeremiah was shown two baskets of figs that were set before the  temple of the LORD as if they were an offering to God. Jeremiah recorded, “One basket had very good figs, even like the figs that are first ripe: and the other basket had very naughty figs, which could not be eaten they were so bad” (Jeremiah 24:2). Jeremiah’s reference to the second basket of figs as “naughty figs” was intended to portray the character rather than the condition of the people they represented. The Hebrew word translated naughty, ra‘ is a word that “combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences” (7451). Ra‘ characterizes the ungodly man that has chosen a life of evil. “One of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury both to himself and every one around him.”

Jeremiah was told that the good figs had been chosen or set apart by God to fulfill his plan of salvation. Jeremiah declared:

Thus saith the LORD, the  God of Israel; Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive in Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good. For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up. And I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart. (Jeremiah 24:5-7)

In order to differentiate which of his people were the evil figs, God stated, “And as the evil figs, which cannot be eaten, they are so evil; surely thus saith the LORD, So will I give Zedekiah the king of Judah, and his princes, and the residue of Jerusalem, that remain in this land, and them that dwell in the land of Egypt: and I will deliver them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth for their hurt, to be a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse, in all places whither I shall drive them” (Jeremiah 24:8-9). In 597 B.C., 3,023 Jews, the best of Judah’s leaders and craftsmen were taken captive by Nebuchadrezzar and they went into exile in Babylon. In 588 B.C., Nebuchadrezzar’s army attacked those who remained in Jerusalem. After a two year battle, the Babylonian army finally penetrated the walls of Jerusalem and the city fell to Nebuchadrezzar who completely destroyed it.