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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The remnant

Throughout the Old Testament of the Bible, the concept of a remnant was used to signify God’s intent to preserve mankind in spite of his sin nature or tendency to abandon God and seek after the pleasures of this world. The first example of a remnant was Noah and his family whom God saved from the flood that destroyed all life on earth. When God determined to destroy the nation of Judah, he said, “Yet will I leave a remnant, that ye may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the countries” (Ezekiel 6:8).

Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came against the city of Jerusalem in 597 B.C. For three years, king Jehoiakim had been paying tribute to Nebuchadnezzar, but “then he turned and rebelled against him” (2 Kings 24:1). As a result of Jehoiakim’s actions, God began to destroy the nation of Judah (2 Kings 24:2). Nebuchadnezzar’s attack on Judah in 597 B.C. resulted in the majority of people recognized as the remnant that God intended to preserve being taken into captivity in Babylon. Among the captives was king Jehoiachin, the son of Jehoiakim who “went out to the king of Babylon, he, and his mother, and his servants, and his princes, and his officers” (2 Kings 24:12).

The number of captives taken to Babylon was reported to be 10,000 in 2 Kings 24:14, but Jeremiah’s report suggested there were only about 3,000 survivors from the initial group taken into captivity (Jeremiah 52:28). The total number of persons in the remnant of the nation of Judah was reported to be 4,600 (Jeremiah 52:30). Regardless of the actual number, it could be said that the remnant of Judah was so small that it could easily have been absorbed into the Babylonian culture and disappeared as a separate people group. It was only because God intentionally chose to preserve them that the remnant of Judah remained independent and were faithful to their identity as God’s chosen people.

Not too hard

While the city of Jerusalem was under siege from king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, Jeremiah was kept in prison so he couldn’t speak to the people and discourage them from fighting (Jeremiah 38:4). About halfway through a two-year battle that was eventually lost, Jeremiah received a message from the LORD. “And Jeremiah said, The word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Behold, Hanameel the son of Shallum thine uncle shall come unto thee, saying, Buy thee my field that is in Anathoth: for the right of redemption is thine to buy it…And I bought the field of Hanameel my uncle’s son, that was in Anathoth, and weighed him the money, even seventeen shekels of silver” (Jeremiah 32:6-7,9).

Jeremiah’s act of obedience to the Mosaic Law served two purposes. First, it was a sign of Jeremiah’s faith that he believed God would return his people to the Promised Land after their captivity was completed. Second, Jeremiah’s redemption of his cousin’s property demonstrated that normal economic activity was expected to resume after the exile. Judah’s captivity would not change the course of events. It was meant to reset, not alter the execution of God’s covenant with his people.

One of the main problems that existed at the time of Judah’s captivity was a lack of faith. No one really believed God could or would save his people. As a means of establishing his ability to do the impossible, God intended to destroy the city of Jerusalem, and then, to bring it back to life again. Jeremiah declared, “Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee” (Jeremiah 32:17). What was not too hard for God was to make his people want to obey his commandments. In other words, for God’s people to have faith in him.

One of the reasons the Israelites did not obey God was he had never punished them. In a sense, you could say, they had gotten away with their sins, and therefore, continued to do what they knew was not right. Also, there was probably a sense that God couldn’t or wouldn’t punish them, so there was no need for them to repent. In some ways, you could say God’s people were leading double lives. They offered sacrifices to God and continued to sin as if the two had nothing to do with each other; there was no connection in their minds.

God’s answer to the problem of disobedience or lack of faith was to give his people a desire to know  him, to have a personal relationship with him. God told his people they were to obey his voice (Exodus 19:5), but they had stopped listening. They were distracted by their sin and interest in accumulating wealth. God said to Jeremiah, “And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them” (Jeremiah 32:39). In essence, what God was saying was he would give his people only one option, they would obey him or they would not live in the Promised Land.

Grace

God’s concern for the people that were taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar was evident when he told Jeremiah to write them a letter to remind them of his plan to bring them back to the Promised Land after their 70 years of captivity was completed. Jeremiah began by instructing the people to settle down and make the best of their difficult situation. He said, “Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished” (Jeremiah 29:5-6).

A key aspect of God’s plan for the remnant of his people that went into captivity in Babylon was the restoration of their relationship with him. Many false prophets, including Hananiah the son of Azur, were telling the people they would be brought back to Jerusalem shortly (Jeremiah 28:3-4). The false hope that was being instilled in their hearts made the captives vulnerable to disappointment and discouragement in the face of great trials. In his letter, Jeremiah told them specifically when they could expect to go home. He wrote, “For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place” (Jeremiah 29:10).

The period of seventy years represented the average person’s lifespan. By establishing that number as the length of their captivity, God was essentially assuring that none of those who left Jerusalem would actually return, unless he granted them an extension of their life on earth. The hope of a return to the Promised Land was really meant for the next generation, but they would only make it back if those who were taken captive believed in the LORD and followed his instructions. In order to stir up their faith, Jeremiah wrote these familiar words:

For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive. (Jeremiah 29:11-14)

An expected end is one in which the outcome has already been decided. Each person in his own heart had to know and believe the truth of Jeremiah’s message or God’s plan could not be carried out. Therefore, to say that the outcome was already settled and God could guarantee a certain result, meant the people’s faith had to be based on God’s decision, not their own. Although Jeremiah’s letter to the people exiled to Babylon did not specifically use the word grace, his message implied it. The only way God could cause his people to return to Jerusalem was to “grace” them, make them want to return by way of his divine influence upon their hearts.

Last Chance

In 605 B.C. Nebuchadrezzar became king of Babylon. At that time, Jehoiakim the son of Josiah was king of Judah and Pharaoh-nechoh was the ruler of Egypt. Pharaoh-nechoh killed king Josiah when he tried to stop him from aiding the Assyrians in their war with Babylon (2 Kings 23:29). After killing Josiah, Pharaoh-nechoh deported his heir to the throne and put in place a king that would enable him to control the government of Judah. It says in 2 Kings 23:34-35, “And Pharaoh-nechoh made Eliakim the son of Josiah king in the room of Josiah his father, and turned his name to Jehoiakim, and took Jehoahaz away, and he came to Egypt, and died there. And Jehoiakim gave the silver and the gold to Pharaoh; but he taxed the land to give the money according to the commandment of Pharaoh; he exacted the silver and the gold of the people of the land, of every one according to his taxation, to give it unto Pharaoh-nechoh.”

Jeremiah was instructed to write down the message he had received from the LORD about Judah’s destruction and have it read to the people (Jeremiah 36:2). God said to Jeremiah, “It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the evil which I purpose to do unto them; that they may return every man from his evil way; that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin” (Jeremiah 36:3). God wanted Jeremiah to give the people one last chance to repent. It had already been revealed that Nebuchadrezzar was the Babylonian king that would destroy Judah. Once Nebuchadrezzar became king, it was inevitable that he would carry out God’s plan. Just a few years before God’s people were to be taken into captivity, he gave them one final opportunity to be saved.

After Jeremiah’s message was recorded in a book, a fast was proclaimed and everyone in Judah came to observe it (Jeremiah 36:9). “Then read Baruch in the book the words of Jeremiah in the house of the LORD, in the chamber of Gemariah the son of Shaphan the scribe, in the higher court at the entry of the new gate of the LORD’s house, in the ears of all the people” (Jeremiah 36:10). King Jehoiakim’s reaction to Jeremiah’s message indicated he intended to ignore the warning and continue to pay Pharaoh-nechoh tribute in exchange for military protection. In spite of the  evidence before him, Jehoiakim thought he was safe and could count on Pharaoh-nechoh to deliver Jerusalem from Nebuchadrezzar. It says in Jeremiah 36:24 when the word of God was read to Jehoiakim and his servants, “they were not afraid, nor rent their garments, neither the king, nor any of his servants that heard all these words.”

Ruined

Habakkuk believed that God would do what he said he was going to, and, therefore, Habakkuk knew that his life was about to be ruined. God had said the Chaldeans would come and completely destroy the nation of Judah. He also said everyone would be killed except for a small portion of the population that would be taken into captivity and would become slaves of the king of Babylon. Given what he knew, Habakkuk prayed, “O LORD, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid. O LORD, revive thy work in the midst of the years in the midst of the years make known, in wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2).

Somehow, Habakkuk knew that God could show his people love in the midst of their punishment. He asked that God would revive his work and make himself known to his people while they were in captivity in Babylon. Habakkuk was most likely referring to God’s work of salvation. One of the key components to God’s plan was that the Messiah had to be a descendant of king David. In order for God to accomplish this, he had to preserve the royal blood line. Habakkuk didn’t know what would happen to him or his family when his country was invaded, but he believed that his salvation was assured and that was enough for him to trust God with the outcome of his situation.

Habakkuk declared, “Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, even for salvation with thine anointed; thou woundest the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck. Selah” (Habakkuk 3:13). Habakkuk was able to see there was more at stake than the occupation of the Promised Land by God’s people. Where they lived was not as important as the fact that the Israelites remained alive until God’s plan of salvation was completed. Habakkuk understood that God was preserving, as well as punishing, his chosen people by sending them into captivity.

Habakkuk’s concluding statement of faith showed that he was able to trust in God’s providence regardless of his circumstances. His anticipation of what was to come, caused Habakkuk to set his mind ahead of time that he would survive against all odds. Habakkuk confidently stated, “The LORD is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places” (Habakkuk 3:19). Although Habakkuk’s fate is unknown, it is possible he escaped Jerusalem before it was invaded and became a member of the first wave of what has been described as the dispersion of the Jews. He may have set out for a far off land, leaving behind his prophetic writing as a testament to his belief that God would protect and preserve those of his people who truly put their trust in him.

Perfection

Jeremiah’s account of Judah’s captivity included unmistakable details that made it not only reliable, but verifiable. According to Jeremiah, it was foretold, “Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the LORD, and Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land… and this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (Jeremiah 25:11).

Jeremiah delivered this proclamation in the first year of Nebuchadrezzar’s reign (Jeremiah 25:1), which was in 605 B.C. The seventy year period was most likely from 586 B.C., when king Solomon’s temple was destroyed, to 516 B.C., when Zerubbabel’s temple was completed. The Hebrew word translated serve, ‘âbad (aw – bad´) means to work or to be enslaved. What was implied by the phrase “serve the king of Babylon (Jeremiah 25:11) was the involuntary service or worship of another god.

God’s reference to Nebuchadrezzar as “my servant” (Jeremiah 25:9) was an indication that even though the people of Judah would be serving Nebuchadrezzar, they would still be serving God indirectly because the LORD was in control of their circumstances. In some ways, Nebuchadrezzar was no different that the kings of Israel. He was established in his position to carry out God’s plan for his people. Nebuchadrezzar was unlike the kings of Israel though, in that, he did not have a choice as to whether or not he would serve God’s purposes, he was merely hired or appointed to do a job.

When the seventy years of Judah’s captivity was finished, God said he would punish Nebuchadrezzar (Jeremiah 25:12) and recompense the nations and kings that had harmed Israel (Jeremiah 25:14). Essentially, what God intended to do was bring an end to the powers that were hindering his plan of salvation from being implemented. The Hebrew word translated recompense in Jeremiah 25:14, shâlam (shaw – lam´) means to finish or complete, but it also refers to God’s ability to achieve a state of perfection. In his punishment of Nebuchadrezzar, God would ultimately bring about his divine intent of returning his people to the Promised Land so that their Messiah could be born.