Wednesday Bible Study at 7:00 P.M.
A Study of the Bible
A STUDY OF THE BOOK OF KINGS
THE SURVIVING KINGDOM - 2 Kings 18–25
In this third major section of 1 and 2 Kings, the writer showed that the captivity of Judah was also a natural consequence of not following the covenantal relationship with Yahweh. The remaining kings in 2 Kings all ruled over the Southern Kingdom of Judah. This part of the book concludes with events that happened in Judah immediately following the Babylonian Captivity in 586 B.C.
A. Hezekiah's Good Reign chs. 18—20 (cf. 2 Chron. 29—32)
The writer of Kings devoted more attention to Hezekiah than to any Hebrew king except Solomon.
1. Hezekiah's goodness 18:1-12 (cf. 2 Chron. 29—31)
"Hezekiah" ("Yahweh Has Strengthened") began reigning as his father Ahaz's vice-regent in 729 B.C. and ruled as such for 14 years. In 715 B.C. he began his sole rule over Judah that lasted until 697 B.C. (18 years). He then reigned with his son Manasseh who served as his vice-regent for 11 more years (697–686 B.C.). His 29-year reign (v. 2) was from 715–686 B.C.188 The writer recorded that only three other kings did right as David had done: Asa (1 Kings 15:11), Jehoshaphat (2 Chron. 17:3), and Josiah (2 Kings 22:1-2). These were the other three of Judah's four reforming kings. The only other king, beside Hezekiah, that the writer said removed the high places (v. 4), was Jehoshaphat (2 Chron. 17:6). Someone must have rebuilt them after Hezekiah removed them. Nehushtan (v. 4) was the name that someone had given to Moses' bronze serpent. This word in Hebrew sounds similar to the Hebrew words for bronze, snake, and unclean thing. The Israelites had come to worship the object that had been a symbol of Yahweh's healing grace. "How easy it is for human nature to want to honor religious relics that have no power!" "There are certain organizations, certain movements, and certain methods that God has used in the past. Unfortunately, folk did not know when God was through with them. . . . They became Nehushtan. They became brazen serpents that at one time had served a purpose and were mightily used by God. Then the day came when God was through with them." Regarding his faith, Hezekiah was the greatest Judahite king (v. 5). He did not depart from Yahweh later in life (v. 6). Consequently God's blessing rested on him (v. 7; cf. 2 Chron. 29—31). His rebellion against Sennacherib (v. 7) precipitated Assyria's invasion of Judah (18:3—19:36). This was a reversal of his father Ahaz's policy of allying with Assyria (16:7-9). God gave him consistent victory over the Philistines (v. 8). Verses 9-12 serve a double purpose. They relate the Assyrian defeat of Samaria to Hezekiah's reign, and they explain again the spiritual reason for that defeat (v. 12). Verses 11 and 12 are a concise statement of the purpose of the books of Kings. Hezekiah's fourth year (v. 9) was 725 B.C., the fourth year of his coregency with Ahaz.
2. Sennacherib's challenge to Hezekiah 18:13-37 (cf. 2 Chron. 32:1-19; Isa. 36)
Samaria's conqueror, Shalmaneser V, died in 722 B.C. shortly after his conquest. His successor, Sargon II (722–705 B.C.), carried out the deportation of the Israelites. The king who followed him was Sennacherib (705–681 B.C., v. 13).191 Hezekiah's fourteenth year (v. 13) as sole ruler over Judah was 701 B.C. Sennacherib's inscriptions claim that he conquered 46 strong cities of Hezekiah, plus many villages. In preparation for his siege of Jerusalem, the Assyrian king set up his headquarters at Lachish, 28 miles to the southwest of Jerusalem. Hezekiah had joined an alliance with Phoenicia, Philistia, and Egypt to resist Assyria. He admitted to Sennacherib that this was a mistake (v. 14). Hezekiah offered to pay whatever Sennacherib would take to avoid a siege of Jerusalem. Sennacherib demanded about 11 tons of silver and one ton of gold, which Hezekiah paid. He did so by stripping the palace and temple that the king had previously re-overlaid to glorify Yahweh (v. 16). "In Judah silver appears to have been more valuable than gold." Sennacherib accepted the ransom but would not abandon his goal of taking Judah's capital. The upper pool (v. 17) was the pool at the Gihon spring on Jerusalem's east side. From this pool water ran down into the Kidron Valley to a field where the people did their laundry. This was close to the wall of Jerusalem and was a busy area. Rabshakeh stood at the very spot where Isaiah had stood when he warned King Ahaz against making an alliance with Assyria (cf. Isa. 7:3-9). Hezekiah sent three of his officials to negotiate with the three representatives that Sennacherib had sent. "Rabshakeh" was an Assyrian title equivalent to commander-in-chief of the army. Whitcomb defined the titles of the various Assyrian officers mentioned in verse 17 as follows: "Tartan" ("Field Marshal" or "Second In Rank"; cf. Isa. 20:1), "Rabsaris" ("Chief Eunuch"; cf. Jer. 39:3), and "Rabshakeh" ("Chief Officer"). The Rabshakeh assumed Hezekiah was trusting in his Egyptian alliance and that Judah's gods were no better than those of the other nations. He said that even if the Assyrians provided 2,000 horses for Hezekiah, perhaps what Egypt might have contributed, Judah could not win. ". . . cavalry was never an important arm of the Israelite military . . ." The Rabshakeh used six arguments to persuade Hezekiah to surrender: 1. Egypt was an undependable ally (vv. 19-21). 2. The altars to Yahweh throughout the land had been removed (v. 22). 3. The Assyrian army was overwhelmingly large and powerful (vv. 23-24). 4. Yahweh had told Sennacherib to attack Jerusalem (v. 25). 5. Conditions for the Israelites would be paradisiacal (vv. 31-32). 6. No other god was able to save the peoples whom the Assyrians had attacked. The commander's claim that Yahweh had sent Sennacherib against Judah (v. 25) may or may not have been true (cf. Isa. 45:1-6). Because many Judahites were hearing the negotiations taking place and would have become fearful as a result, Hezekiah's officials asked that they proceed in the Aramaic language. Only the educated leaders of Israel understood Aramaic (v. 26). "Aramaic was the language of international diplomacy and . . . the normal medium of communication in such a situation." However, the Assyrians wanted all the people to know that surrender would be better than resistance. The commander may have spoken in the language of the Israelites through an interpreter. His references to the inability of the gods of Samaria would have been especially intimidating since many in Israel had worshipped Yahweh (v. 35). The writer recorded this lengthy incident in Kings because it shows the central issues Judah faced. Would she trust in Yahweh or herself? God's enemies challenged Him again (cf. Exod. 7—11; 1 Sam. 17). Isaiah also recorded these events (18:13, 17—20:17) in Isaiah 36:1—38:8 and 39:1-8, as did the writer of Chronicles in 2 Chronicles 32:1-23.
3. Yahweh's Immediate Encouragement 2 Kings 19:1-13 (Isaiah 37:1-13) Hezekiah's response to this crisis was to turn to Yahweh in prayer and to His prophet for an answer. He sensed his position under Yahweh's authority, humbled himself, and sought God's help (cf. 2 Sam. 7; 1 Kings 8). God rewarded Hezekiah's attitude and assured him of success because the Assyrians had challenged the reputation of Yahweh. God's method of deliverance involved harassing the Assyrian army. First Libnah, a town a few miles northeast of Lachish, needed Sennacherib's attention. Then he received word that the king of Cush (southern Egypt) was coming to attack from the southwest, the direction opposite from Libnah and Jerusalem. These divinely sent diversions caused Sennacherib to suspend his siege of Jerusalem. Finegan suggested that Sennacherib made a second invasion of Palestine after Tirhakah was actually ruling as king, that is after 689 or 684, and before his own (Sennacherib's) death in 681 B.C. "In this case we might consider II Kings 18:13—19:8 as describing Sennacherib's first invasion when Hezekiah paid heavy tribute, and II Kings 19:9-37 with its mention of Tirhakah as king as referring to Sennacherib's second campaign."
4. Hezekiah's Prayer 2 Kings 19:14-19 (2 Chronicles 32:20; Isa. 37:14-20) Sennacherib sent another warning to Hezekiah (vv. 10-13) that led him to pray again. "My friend, we need to spread our disturbing letters before the Lord just as Hezekiah did." Some scholars believe that Sennacherib conducted two campaigns against Jerusalem. Hezekiah's model prayer shows the king's proper view of Yahweh, himself, and their relationship, all of which were in harmony with God's revelation. Hezekiah's concern was more for God's glory than for Judah's safety. Furthermore, he viewed deliverance as an occasion for Israel to fulfill the purpose for which God had raised her up (v. 19; cf. Exod. 19:5-6). "God is the one Being in all the universe for whom seeking his own praise is the ultimately loving act. For him, self-exaltation is the highest virtue. When he does all things 'for the praise of his glory,' he preserves for us and offers to us the only thing in all the world which can satisfy our longings. God is for us! And the foundation of this love is that God has been, is now, and always will be, for himself."
5. Yahweh's Answer 2 Kings 19:20-37 (2 Chronicles 32:21-23; Isaiah 37:21-38) God sent Hezekiah the news of what He would do, and why, through Isaiah. The "virgin" daughter of Zion (v. 21) refers to Jerusalem as a city that a foreign foe had never violated. The "Holy One of Israel" (v. 22), a favorite name of God with Isaiah (cf. Isa. 5:24; 30:11- 15; et al.), stresses His uniqueness and superiority. On some monuments Assyrian conquerors pictured themselves as leading their captives with a line that passed through rings that they had placed in the victims' noses. God promised to do to them as they had done to others (v. 28; cf. Gal. 6:7). An immediate sign helped Hezekiah believe in the long-range deliverance God promised (v. 29). Signs were either predictions of natural events, which came to pass and thus confirmed the prediction (cf. Exod. 3:12; 1 Sam. 2:34; Jer. 44:29), or outright miracles that proved God's work in history (cf. Isa. 7:14; 38:7). The Israelites had not been able to plant crops around Jerusalem because of the besieging Assyrians. God promised to feed His people for two years with what came up naturally, namely, as a result of previous cultivation. This was a blessing of fertility for trust and obedience (cf. Deut. 28:33). In the third year they would again return to their regular cycle of sowing and reaping. Like the crops, the remnant of the people remaining after the invasions of Israel and Judah would also multiply under God's blessing. As for Sennacherib, God would keep him away from Jerusalem (vv. 32-33).
"The mention of mice [in Herodotus' history] may well indicate that it was plague which struck Sennacherib's army, since mice are a Greek symbol of pestilence and since rats are carriers of the plague. Perhaps this is the real explanation of the disaster referred to in II Kings 19:35 as a smiting of the army by an angel of the Lord, for plague and disease elsewhere in the Bible are regarded as a smiting by an angel of God (II Samuel 24:15-17; Acts 12:23)." Ironically, the Assyrian king suffered assassination in the temple of his god, who was not able to deliver him. This was the very thing he had charged Yahweh with being unable to do for Judah. Extra-biblical sources corroborate Sennacherib's assassination, though they mention only one assassin. Sennacherib’s own account of his siege of Jerusalem is inscribed on clay cylinders, or prisms, now kept in the British Museum in London and in the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
6. Hezekiah's Illness and Recovery 2 Kings 20:1-11 (2 Chronicles 32:24-27; Isaiah. 38:1-8, 21-22)
"In those days" (v. 1) refers to the year Sennacherib threatened Jerusalem (701 B.C.) since Hezekiah died 15 years later in 686 B.C. His response to his illness was proper. He sought help from Yahweh primarily (v. 2). "He turned his face to the wall" evidently "for private communion with his God" (cf. 1 Kings 21:4). In contrast, King Ahaziah sought help from Baal-zebub when he was ill (1:1-2). God had promised long life to the godly under the Mosaic Covenant, and that promise was the basis of Hezekiah's appeal and God's answer (cf. James 5:16). Fig poultices were a common treatment in the ancient world as a remedy for boils. Hezekiah's physicians apparently did not prescribe this treatment. "Despite his recovery, Hezekiah asks for a sign that he will in fact go back to the temple in three days. Rather than an indication of unbelief, his request should be viewed against the background of Ahaz's refusal of a sign in Isa 7:12. Isaiah gladly offers Hezekiah a choice of signs . . ." God's sign guaranteed what He had promised. This was evidently a local miracle as were some others involving sunlight (cf. Exod. 10:21-23; Josh. 10:12-13). The same Hebrew word, ma'alim, can be translated either "steps" ("stairs") or "degrees."
7. The Prophecy of Babylonian Captivity 2 Kings 20:12-19 (2 Chronicles 32:31; Isaiah 39:1-8)
Merodach-baladan ruled as king of Babylon for two terms, 721–710 and 703–702 B.C. The event recorded in these verses evidently took place in 702 B.C. Hezekiah appears to have let his visitors know the extent of Judah's financial strength because he favored Merodach-baladan and the Chaldeans against the then more powerful Assyrians. "His [Merodach-baladan's] search for allies in his resistance to Assyria may have occasioned the embassy to Hezekiah, especially because he had heard of Hezekiah's miraculous deliverance from the Assyrian army (2 Chr. 32:31)." In pride, as a result of his healing, Hezekiah evidently wished to impress his Babylonian visitors with his wealth and power (cf. 2 Chron. 32:25, 31). Isaiah prophesied that Babylon would take Judah into captivity one day (vv. 17-18). While Hezekiah would have been sorry to hear this prophecy, he evidently accepted it as the Lord's will for Judah and was glad it would not happen in his lifetime (v. 19). Other interpretations are that he made a smug, self-serving comment, or that he took the message as a prayer that the disaster would be delayed as long as possible. The first interpretation seems most consistent with Hezekiah's character. Babylon's future invasion came primarily as a result of Judah's sins. Hezekiah's unwise exposure of Judah's wealth on this occasion was not the major cause.
8. Hezekiah's Death 2 Kings 20:20-21 (2 Chronicles 32:32-33)
Hezekiah's 1,777-foot long tunnel was a noteworthy accomplishment. It brought water from the Gihon spring outside the city wall, under the wall of Jerusalem, and into the city, specifically to the pool of Siloam. This made Jerusalem much more self-sufficient in times of invasion than it would have been otherwise. Hezekiah's reign was one of the best in Judah's history because of the king's humility and dependence on God, evidences of which the writer of Kings provided in abundance. Judah declined from then on, however, because most of the subsequent kings were wicked. Judah fell to the Babylonians exactly 100 years after Hezekiah died. The prophet Isaiah ministered during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (Isa. 1:1). Micah ministered during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (Mic. 1:1). Both eighth-century prophets ministered in the Southern Kingdom.
"Perhaps Hezekiah's only serious flaw is his inability to prepare Manasseh, his successor, to be like himself. On the other hand, how can anyone guarantee the quality of their children's life choices?" "Between the death of Hezekiah and the final fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians there lay precisely a century (687–587). Seldom has a nation experienced so many dramatically sudden reversals of fortune in so relatively short a time. Through the first half of the period a vassal of Assyria, Judah then knew in rapid succession periods of independence and of subjection, first to Egypt then to Babylon, before finally destroying herself in futile rebellion against the latter. So quickly did these phases follow one another that it was possible for one man, as Jeremiah did, to have witnessed them all."
B. Manasseh's Evil Reign 2 Kings 21:1-18 (2 Chronicles 33:1-20)
"Manasseh" (lit. "Making Forgetful") began reigning as vice-regent with his father Hezekiah when he was 12 years old in 697 B.C. This arrangement continued for 11 years until Hezekiah died in 686 B.C. For a total of 55 years Manasseh was king of Judah (697–642 B.C.). He reigned longer than any Hebrew king, and he was Judah's worst king spiritually. "Externally, the period was one of political stability. It is known as the Assyrian Peace, an era in which the kings Esarhaddon (681–668 B.C.) and Ashurbanipal (668–626 B.C.) reigned and brought the Assyrian Empire to its zenith." "Manasseh was 'the Ahab of Judah' and the antithesis of the great David." Among his serious sins, Manasseh built idol altars in Yahweh's temple (v. 4). This diminished the reputation of Yahweh considerably, as well as diverting worship from Him. Canaanite idolatry, Ahab's Baalism, Canaanite astral worship, Ahaz's human sacrifice, and Saul's spiritism were all heresies he revived even though the Law of Moses condemned them (Exod. 20:3-5). He did not follow David's example, he defiled the temple with idolatry, and he rejected the Mosaic Covenant. Thus he not only acted opposite to Hezekiah, but he also scorned the examples of Moses, Joshua, David, and Solomon. In his day the people were more wicked in their religious practices than even the Canaanites had been (v. 9). Isaiah and Micah were two of the prophets that God had used to warn the nation before Manasseh's reign, and their influence undoubtedly continued after their deaths. According to Jewish tradition, Manasseh sawed Isaiah in two (cf. Heb. 11:37). The early church father Justin Martyr (ca. A.D. 150) wrote that the Jews sawed him to death with a wooden saw. However, this tradition is quite late and may be inaccurate. We have no record of who "the prophets" who ministered during Manasseh's reign were (v. 10; cf. 2 Chron. 33:10). One of them might have been Nahum, whose recorded ministry was against Assyria. Some scholars believe Nahum ministered at about the same time as Jeremiah, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk, namely, after Manasseh's reign. I think Nahum probably ministered during Manasseh's reign (ca. 660–650 B.C.). Keil believed that Habakkuk was one of these prophets. But it seems more likely that Habakkuk ministered later, during the reign of King Jehoiakim (609–598 B.C.). Not only did Manasseh apostatize himself, he also led the nation in departing from God (v. 11). The "line of Samaria" (v. 13) refers to the righteous standard that God had used to measure Samaria's fidelity to His will. The "plummet of Ahab's house" (v. 13) was the same plumb line of righteousness by which God had judged Ahab's family. God would abandon His people temporarily but not permanently (v. 14; cf. Deut. 28:63-64). The "remnant" that God said He would "abandon" probably refers to the Southern Kingdom of Judah (cf. 17:18). It, too, in addition to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, would go into captivity. Manasseh's murders included those of his own children (v. 6) as well as Isaiah, evidently. Manasseh's many sins stained Judah deeply. Even Josiah's later reforms could not avert God's judgment (23:36). His "garden variety" burial reflects the fact that his behavior resulted in his people esteeming him lightly. God had disciplined him personally (cf. 2 Chron. 33:11-13), and he had become a channel of God's discipline for Judah. Perhaps we should view the fact that God allowed such a wicked king to rule His people so long, as an evidence of His longsuffering desire that Manasseh and Judah would repent. The king did repent later in life (2 Chron. 33:12-19). His long life was not a blessing for faithfulness, as Hezekiah's had been, but an instrument of chastening for Judah.
C. Amon's Evil Reign 2 Kings 21:19-26 (2 Chronicles 33:21-25)
"Amon" reigned two years (642–640 B.C.). Rather than continuing to follow the Lord, which his father's repentance encouraged, Amon reverted to the policies of Manasseh's earlier reign and rebelled against Yahweh completely. This provoked some of his officials to assassinate him (v. 23). Again we see that rebellion against God often leads to one's premature personal destruction (cf. 1 John 5:16). To their credit, the leaders of Judah executed the king's assassins and so prevented anarchy.
Amon may have been the only king of either Israel or Judah who bore the name of a foreign god. "Amon-Re" was the sun god of Egypt. Amon's father may have named him in honor of this god. However, the Hebrew word amon means "faithful," so his name may not connect with Amon-Re at all.
D. Josiah's Good Reign 2 Kings 22:1—23:30 (2 Chronicles 34—35)
Since Josiah was eight years old when his father died at age 22, he must have been born when Amon was only 14. It was very common, both in the ancient Near East generally and in Israel, for kings to marry very young and to father children when they were early teenagers. The years Josiah ruled were 640–609 B.C., 31 years. During his reign Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, fell in 612 B.C., as did the Assyrian Empire in 609 B.C., to Babylon. Thus world leadership passed from Assyria to Babylon during Josiah's reign.
1. Josiah's Goodness 2 Kings 22:1-2
"Josiah" ("The Lord Supports") was one of Judah's best kings. He was one of the reformers who followed David's good example (v. 2) all his life. A young unnamed prophet from Judah had predicted his birth, by name, long before he was born (1 Kings 13:1-2; cf. Isa. 44:28; 45:1; Mic. 5:2).
2. Josiah's Reforms 2 Kings 22:3—23:27 (2 Chronicles 34)
Josiah began to seek Yahweh when he was 16 years old and began initiating religious reforms when he was 20 (2 Chron. 34:3-7). His reforms were more extensive than those of any of his predecessors. One of them involved the repair of Solomon's temple (v. 5; cf. 12:4-16). He began this project when he was 26. ". . . Josiah rules during years in which Assyria fades but also those in which Babylon is not yet ready to rule as far west as Judah and in a time when Egypt does not yet attempt to rule the smaller nations north of the border. Judah thereby gets a rest from its constant role as political football." It seems probable that Manasseh or Amon had destroyed existing copies of Israel's covenant constitution since there is every reason to believe that Hezekiah knew the Mosaic Law (cf. chs. 18—20). This would not have been difficult because in ancient times there were few copies of even official documents.
Some scholars have interpreted 22:8-10 as meaning that Hilkiah found the Book of Deuteronomy, but it was not the writing of Moses. They have hypothesized that someone in Josiah's day composed this Deuteronomy about 621 B.C. to encourage centralization of worship in Jerusalem. Conservative scholars have rejected this late date theory of Deuteronomy for several reasons. The laws peculiar to it, and the nature of the commands that presuppose a wilderness wanderings context and anticipation of entrance into the Promised Land, argue against a late date of composition. Furthermore, the names of deity used in it, the detailed geographical data, and the anachronism of stressing centralization of worship in Jerusalem after the fall of the Northern Kingdom make this theory unlikely. "The book of the law" here seems to refer to the entire Torah (Pentateuch), not just the Book of Deuteronomy. Josiah's shock at hearing the Law read points to the fact that people had been unfamiliar with it for a long time. Verse 13 of chapter 22 is especially helpful in understanding Josiah's perception of and response to God's will. He was a genuinely humble man who trembled at the Word of the Lord. Josiah made monotheism the official theology again, but it is hard to say how many of the people abandoned other gods. The prophets who wrote in that time bewailed the lack of true godliness in the nation. "We don't need so-and-so's book; we need the Bible. We don't need the book of the month; we need the Book of the ages." Other prophets beside Huldah lived in and around Jerusalem at this time: Jeremiah (Jer. 1:1), Zephaniah (Zeph. 1:1), and perhaps Nahum and Habakkuk. Nevertheless, for reasons unexplained in the text, the king sought the prophetess Huldah in her residence in Jerusalem's Second Quarter (v. 14; i.e., the southern, lower part of the city topographically). His willingness to seek guidance from a woman demonstrates Josiah's humility. God would judge Judah, but He would spare Josiah because he humbled himself under Yahweh's authority (22:19). The king would die in peace (22:20). His death in 609 B.C. was four years before King Nebuchadnezzar's first attack on Jerusalem in 605 B.C. Josiah died in battle (23:29-30). The promise of his dying in peace (22:20) therefore probably means that he would die before God ended the peace of Jerusalem by bringing Nebuchadnezzar against it. Some commentators have taken the promise as referring to the fact that Josiah evidently died at peace with God. Josiah did not wait for the completion of the temple renovation before he assembled the people and personally read some parts of the Mosaic Law to them (23:2). Perhaps he read the portions that dealt with God's covenant with Israel (i.e., Lev. 26; Deut. 28—30) or perhaps Deuteronomy 12—26 or 5—30. He then rededicated himself to Yahweh, and the people renewed their commitment to the covenant as a nation (23:3; cf. 2:3; Exod. 19:8; Josh. 24:21-24).
"The story of finding the book is the most detailed narrative in Ki., apart from the stories of the prophets, since the history of Solomon." Putting the ashes, which burning the relics connected with Baal worship created, on the Bethel altar would have made it unclean (v. 4). Evidently Josiah scattered more ashes on the graves of the common people because they had been idolaters (v. 6). Male prostitutes had apparently been living in the side rooms of the temple (v. 7). The king excluded the Levitical priests who had offered sacrifices on the high places from serving at the rededicated altar. Nevertheless he permitted them to eat the unleavened bread the worshippers brought to the temple (v. 9; cf. Lev. 6:9 10, 16). Topheth was the place where child sacrifice had taken place (v. 10; cf. 16:3; Josh. 15:8). "Some scholars equate Molech with a pagan deity such as the Ammonite god Milcom (I Kin. 11:5) or an individual Canaanite god (Lev. 20:1-5), whose worship was carried on in Jerusalem. Other scholars think that Molech was the name of a type of child sacrifice associated with Baal (see Jer. 7:31, 32; 19:5, 6; 32:35. Evidence of child sacrifice has been found in the excavations at the Phoenician city of Carthage." The people had also used horses and chariots to honor the sun (v. 11). This was a common practice in the ancient Near East. The Mount of Destruction was the hill on the southern portion of the Mount of Olives, later known as the Hill of Corruption (cf. 1 Kings 11:5, 7). Josiah finally destroyed Jeroboam's altar at Bethel (v. 15) and desecrated the site. A young prophet from Judah had predicted Josiah's actions back in Jeroboam's day (v. 16; cf. 1 Kings 13:2-3). "The prophet who came from Samaria" (v. 18) was the "old prophet living in Bethel," mentioned in 1 Kings 13:11. King Josiah even extended his purges into formerly Israelite territory (vv. 19-20). Josiah also replaced pagan worship with revived Yahweh worship. He conducted his Passover celebration with more attention to the Law than anyone had done since the days of the judges. King Hezekiah had held a Passover (2 Chron. 30), but he had done so with some modification of the Mosaic Law (cf. 2 Chron. 30:13-20). Josiah was careful to conduct the Passover just as the Law required (cf. 2 Chron. 35:1-19). Teraphim (v. 24) were household gods that some people connected with oracles and sources of prosperity. Josiah was Judah's most careful king regarding the Mosaic Covenant (v. 25). He is the only king described with the exact wording of Deuteronomy 6:5: he turned to the Lord "with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might." Hezekiah was praiseworthy for his great trust in Yahweh (18:5), and Josiah excelled in his obedience to Yahweh.
Notice that in the sequence of reforms that the writer narrated, the discovery of the Law (22:8-13) that took place during the repairing of the temple (22:3-7) led to the other reforms. This order is another indication of the writer's purpose. He emphasized the centrality of the Law in Israel's life. When leaders recommit themselves to following God’s Word wholeheartedly, good things result for their followers.
3. Josiah's Death 2 Kings 23:28-30 (2 Chronicles 35:20-27)
The king seems to have preferred Babylon to Assyria in his foreign policy. When Egyptian armies moved up the Mediterranean coast to join Assyria in resisting Babylonian advance westward, Josiah intercepted Pharaoh Neco II (609–595 B.C.) at Megiddo and tried to stop him. Unfortunately for Judah, the Egyptians killed Josiah there in 609 B.C. Egypt continued north, united with Assyria, and battled Babylon at Carchemish on the upper Euphrates River. There Babylon defeated the allies and broke the domination of the Assyrian Empire over the ancient Near Eastern world. The Battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C. was one of the most important in ancient Near Eastern history for this reason. Josiah was a strong influence for righteousness in his day and a very capable ruler. The success of his far-reaching reforms indicates his ability to overcome much popular opinion that must have opposed his convictions. His influence for good extended even into the fallen territory of Israel. Unfortunately, he died prematurely as a result of his unwise decision to challenge Pharaoh Neco (cf. 2 Chron. 35:20-27). Josephus wrote that the prophet Jeremiah composed an elegy to lament Josiah, which was still extant when Josephus wrote. Unfortunately, it no longer exists.
E. Jehoahaz's Evil Reign 2 Kings 23:31-35 (2 Chronicles 36:1-4)
"Jehoahaz" ("The Lord Has Grasped"), whose other name was Shallum, was the middle of Josiah's three sons, all of whom ruled Judah after Josiah. Jehoahaz was the people's choice (v. 31), but he reigned for only three months in 609 B.C.
When Pharaoh Neco defeated Josiah at Megiddo (v. 29), Judah fell under Egyptian control. Neco summoned Josiah's successor Jehoahaz to meet him at Riblah. This town stood about 65 miles north of Damascus in central Aramea. The meeting took place before the battle of Carchemish. Neco found Jehoahaz obstinate, as his father had been, so he imprisoned him and sent him back to Egypt (v. 34) where he died later (Jer. 22:10- 12). Neco also imposed a heavy tax on Judah (v. 33) and installed Jehoahaz's older brother Eliakim on Judah's throne as his puppet. The naming of a person shows superiority over that person. Neco was declaring his sovereignty over Judah's king by renaming him Jehoiakim.
F. Jehoiakim's Evil Reign 2 Kings 23:36—24:7 (2 Chronicles 36:5-8)
"Jehoiakim" (lit. "Yahweh Has Established"), formerly named "Eliakim" (lit. "God Establishes"), reigned as a puppet king for 11 years (609–598 B.C.). He was a weak ruler who did not stand up for Judah's interests against her hostile enemies. In 605 B.C. Prince Nebuchadnezzar led the Babylonian army of his father Nabopolassar against the allied forces of Assyria and Egypt and defeated them at Carchemish in Syria. This victory, as previously explained, gave Babylon supremacy in the ancient Near East. "The three major Chaldean tribes—Bit-Yakin, Bit-Dakkuri, and BitAmukani—first appear in texts from the era of Shalmaneser III (ca. 850). Eventually becoming the dominant political element in the south, they wee the forerunners of the Neo-Babylonian Empire founded by Nabopolassar in 626. It is accurate to say, then, that 'Chaldean' and 'Neo-Babylonian' are interchangeable terms to describe a people or peoples who occupied central and lower Mesopotamia in post-Kassite times." With Babylon's victory Egypt's vassals, including Judah, came under Babylon's control. Shortly after that event, in the same year that Nabopolassar died, Nebuchadnezzar succeeded him. Nebuchadnezzar has been called "the greatest Eastern king since Hammurabi." Nebuchadnezzar then moved south and invaded Judah (605 B.C.). He took some captives to Babylon including Daniel (Dan. 1:1-3). This was the first of Judah's three deportations in which the Babylonians took groups of Judahites to Babylon. Jehoiakim submitted to Nebuchadnezzar for three years and, according to Josephus, paid him tribute of 100 talents of silver and a talent of gold. But then Jehoiakim rebelled. He appealed to Egypt for help unsuccessfully (24:1, 7). Foreign raiders who sought to take advantage of her weakened condition besieged Judah (24:2). The Babylonians then took Jehoiakim to Babylon (2 Chron. 36:6). Later they allowed him to return to Jerusalem where he died (Jer. 22:19).
"The name 'Chaldeans' [v. 2] originally applied to certain inhabitants of southern Mesopotamia. But by the neo-Babylonian period, the term Chaldean had become identified with Babylonians, and Babylonia was called Chaldea. After the fall of the Chaldean or Neo-Babylonian Empire, the term Chaldean was used to mean 'soothsayer' (see. Dan. 2:2). In this verse the ethnic sense of the term is meant." Jehoiakim did little to postpone God's judgment on Judah for her previous sins. The prophet Jeremiah despised him for his wickedness (Jer. 22:18-19; 26:20-23; 36). "He was of a wicked disposition, and ready to do mischief; nor was he either religious towards God, or good-natured towards men."
G. Jehoiachin's Evil Reign 2 Kings 24:8-17 (2 Chronicles 36:9-10)
Jehoiakim's son "Jehoiachin" ("The Lord Has Appointed"), whose other names were Jeconiah and Coniah, succeeded him on the throne but only reigned for three months (598–597 B.C.). When Nebuchadnezzar's troops were besieging Jerusalem, the Babylonian king personally visited Judah's capital, and Jehoiachin surrendered to him (v. 12). The invasion fulfilled the Lord's warning to Solomon about apostasy in 1 Kings 9:6-9. A large deportation of Judah's population followed in 597 B.C. Josephus numbered the deportees at 10,832.245 None of Jehoiachin's sons ruled Judah, as Jeremiah had prophesied (Jer. 22:30). Rather, Nebuchadnezzar set up Jehoiakim's younger brother, "Mattaniah" ("The Gift of Yahweh") on the throne—as his puppet-king—and exercised his sovereign prerogative by changing his name to "Zedekiah" (v. 17). The Jewish people, however, seem to have continued to regard Jehoiachin as the rightful heir to David's throne until his death.
H. Zedekiah's Evil Reign 2 Kings 24:18—25:7 (2 Chronicles 36:11-21)
Zedekiah (Mattaniah) was Josiah's third son to rule over Judah. He rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar (v. 20) by making a treaty with Pharaoh Hophra (589–570 B.C.), being pressured by nationalists in Judah (cf. Jer. 37:1—39:18; 52:1-3, 17-34).
"Clearly, he lacks the moral fiber to be more than what he is, a man who gauges each situation by how long its results can keep him in power." Jerusalem was under siege for about eighteen months (588–586 B.C.; 25:1-2). Josephus described it this way: "Now the king of Babylon was very intent and earnest upon the siege of Jerusalem; and he erected towers upon great banks of earth and from them repelled those that stood upon the walls: he also made a great number of such banks round about the whole city, the height of which was equal to those walls." The resulting famine that the residents experienced (v. 3) was only one of many that the Israelites underwent for their rebellion against God. Yahweh again withheld fertility as a punishment for apostasy. Jerusalem finally fell in 586 B.C. Some scholars believe it fell in 587 B.C. The Babylonians captured King Zedekiah while he was trying to escape and took him to Riblah (cf. 23:33) where Nebuchadnezzar passed judgment on him. Nebuchadnezzar killed Zedekiah's heirs to the throne thus ending his fertility, blinded him (cf. Rev. 3:17), and bound him with bronze shackles (v. 7). "The act of blinding captives appears in Assyrian reliefs; such mutilation destroyed the royal potency." All of these measures also represented the fate of the nation the king led. The Israelites were now without royal leadership, spiritually blind, and physically bound. The blinding of prisoners was a common practice in the ancient East (cf. Judg. 16:21). Josephus recorded that Nebuchadnezzar also took the high priest "Josedek" captive to Babylon. "The lesson of Samaria's fall and exile should have been learned." ". . . the deuteronomistic history, which extends from Joshua through 2 Kings 25, begins victoriously on the plains of Jericho (Josh. 1—7) and ends in tragic defeat on the plains of Jericho (2 Kings 25:5)." These bracketing references to the plains of Jericho are an indication of the narrative unity of this section of Scripture.
Josephus, who reflects some traditional Jewish interpretations of Scripture, wrote the following about Zedekiah. "It happened that the two prophets [Jeremiah and Ezekiel] agreed with one another in what they said as to all other things, that the city should be taken, and Zedekiah himself should be taken captive; but Ezekiel disagreed with him [Jeremiah], and said, that Zedekiah should not see Babylon [Ezek. 12:12-13]; while Jeremiah said to him, that the king of Babylon should carry him away thither in bonds [Jer. 32:4-5]; and because they did not both say the same thing as to this circumstance, he [Zedekiah] disbelieved what they both appeared to agree in, and condemned them as not speaking truth therein, although all the things foretold him did come to pass according to their prophecies . . ." "And after this manner have the kings of David's race ended their lives, being in number twenty-one, until the last king, who all together reigned five hundred and fourteen years, and six months, and ten days: of whom Saul, who was their first king, retained the government twenty years, though he was not of the same tribe with the rest."
I. The Captivity of the Southern Kingdom 2 Kings 25:8-30
Nebuzaradan, Nebuchadnezzar's commander-in-chief, returned to destroy Jerusalem more thoroughly and to preclude any successful national uprising in Judah. Berosus, an ancient Chaldean historian, confirmed the destruction of the city, the temple, and the captivity of the people. His burning of Yahweh's house (v. 9) was a statement that the Babylonians had overcome Yahweh as much as it was an effort to keep the remaining Judahites from worshipping Him. This act would have thoroughly demoralized even the godly in Judah, since in the ancient Near East the condition of the house (temple) of a god reflected on that god's reputation. (Josephus claimed that the temple had stood 470 years, six months, and 10 days after it was built, 1,957 years, six months, and 10 days after the Flood; and 3,513 years, six months, and 10 days after the creation of Adam. He also counted the time from the fall of the Northern Kingdom to the fall of the Southern Kingdom as 130 years, six months, and 10 days.) The breaking down of Jerusalem's walls (v. 10) prevented the inhabitants from defending themselves but also visualized the fact that Judah no longer had any defense. Yahweh had been her defense. The third deportation removed all but the poorest of the people from the land (vv. 11-12).
The writer's emphasis on the desecration of Yahweh's temple (vv. 13-17) illustrates God's abandonment of His people (cf. 1 Kings 9:7-9). His special interest in the pillars (v. 17) draws attention to the fact that Israel, which God had established (Jachin), had suffered destruction. Israel's strength (Boaz) had also departed from her because of her apostasy (cf. Samson). Most scholars believe the Babylonians either destroyed the ark of the covenant, perhaps when they burned the temple, or took it to Babylon from which it never returned to Jerusalem (but cf. 2 Chron. 5:9). A few believe the Jews hid it under the temple esplanade. Another tradition is that Jeremiah took the Tent of Meeting, the ark, and the altar of incense to Mount Nebo, where he hid them in a cave, believing that when the Lord restored the Israelites, He would reveal the hiding place to His people (2 Macc. 2:4-8). The Babylonians also cut the priesthood back (vv. 18-21) so the people could not unite around it and rebel. (Josephus provided a list of the 18 high priests who served from Solomon's time to Zedekiah's.) Its temporary termination also meant that Israel was no longer able to worship God as He had prescribed because she had been unfaithful to Him. Access to God as the Mosaic Law specified was no longer possible. Both the temple furnishings and the priesthood that God had ordained for access to Himself were no longer available to the people. Israel could no longer function as a kingdom of priests as God had intended her to live (Exod. 19:5-6). There were three Babylonian invasions of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar. The first occurred in 605 B.C., during Jehoiakim's reign, when Nebuchadnezzar took many of the nobles captive, including Daniel and his three friends. The second invasion and deportation occurred in 597, during the reign of Jehoiachin, when Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin, Ezekiel, and about 10,000 other Jews into exile. The third invasion and deportation took place in 586, during the reign of Zedekiah, when Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and took Zedekiah and all but the poorest of the remaining Jews captive. The Jews returned to the land from Babylon in three waves: in 536, 458, and 444 B.C. Ezekiel and Daniel both ministered in Babylon during the Captivity: Ezekiel to the exiles in their settlement, and Daniel to the Babylonians and Medo-Persians in their capitals. The context of the Book of Esther is also the Babylonian captivity and the Persian capital. "In the exile and beyond it, Judaism was born." By this, Bright meant the present form of Israelite worship that operates around the world today without a temple and Levitical priesthood. Gedaliah (v. 22) was a descendant of Josiah's secretary (of state? 22:3). He was a friend of Jeremiah (Jer. 39:14) who followed that prophet's advice to cooperate with the Babylonians. Ishmael (v. 25) possessed royal blood and evidently wanted to rule over Judah (cf. Jer. 41:2). Mizpah, the Babylonian provincial capital, was just seven miles north of Jerusalem (cf. 1 Sam. 7:5-12).
"It is not altogether clear whether this [Gedaliah's assassination] is in the same year that Jerusalem fell or not. The wall was breached in the fourth month (early July; Jer 39:2) and Nebuzaradan came and burned the palace, the temple, and many of the houses and tore down the wall in the fifth month (early August; Jer 52:12). That would have left time between the fifth month and the seventh month (October) to gather in the harvest of grapes, dates and figs, and olives (Jer 40:12). However, many commentators feel that too much activity takes place in too short a time for this to have been in the same year and posit that it happened the following year or even five years later when a further deportation took place, possibly in retaliation for the murder of Gedaliah and the Babylonian garrison at Mizpah (Jer 52:30). The assassination of Gedaliah had momentous consequences and was commemorated in one of the post exilic fast days lamenting the fall of Jerusalem (Zech 8:19)." It is ironic that the Judahites who rebelled against the Babylonians and God's will in an attempt to secure their independence ended up fleeing back to Egypt. Their forefathers had been slaves there, and God had liberated them from Egypt 850 years earlier (v. 26; cf. Deut. 28:68). In 560 B.C., the Babylonian king Evilmerodach (562–560 B.C.) permitted Jehoiachin to enjoy a measure of freedom. "The reason for the new king's favour to Jehoiachin is obscure; political motives in his short and troubled reign [of only two years] may have been the cause." "Cuneiform tablets found by [E. F.] Weidner in Babylon agree with these biblical notations. They identify Jehoiachin as 'King of the land of Judah,' and indicate that he and his five sons received liberal allowances of oil and food. They state further that the sons were in the care of an attendant, suggesting that servants were actually provided for the family." "Daniel may . . . have exerted influence to bring about the elevation of Jehoiachin to a place of honor by King Amel-marduk (II Kings 25:27-30). This type of act toward a captive king suggests the interests of a special friend working in his behalf. Further, Daniel may have had much to do with the decree which permitted Jews to return to Palestine. The decree was issued in Cyrus' first year (II Chron. 36:22; Ezra 1:1) when Daniel was yet active. He [Daniel] held his highest position at the time of this return and could have exerted his greatest influence."
Perhaps the writer of Kings chose to end his book on this positive note because in the Abrahamic Covenant, God had promised that He would never abandon His chosen people completely (Gen. 12:1-3, 7). In the Mosaic Covenant, He also assured them that if they repented, He would bring them back into their land (Deut. 30:1-5; cf. 1 Kings 8:46- 53). God's mercy to Jehoiachin also points to the continuation of the Davidic dynasty that God had promised would never end (2 Sam. 7:16). God's mercy to His people is one of the persistently recurring motifs in Kings. "The people of Judah seem never to have accepted Zedekiah as their true king, . . . probably because he had been appointed by the foreign Nebuchadnezzar. Instead, they ascribed this honor still to Jehoiachin, though in captivity." Second Kings closes on a positive note (25:27-30; cf. Jer. 52:31-34). The writer takes us back to the covenant promises of God in the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants. He did not cut off the line of David. God is faithful to His promises. The way was now open for return and restoration, which we read about in Ezra and Nehemiah (cf. 2 Chron. 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4).
Conclusion The Books of Kings teach that failure to honor the revealed will of God always brings ruin and destruction. The writer traced this theme through the 411-year monarchy, from Solomon to the Babylonian Captivity. He did so both in the national affairs of Israel and Judah and in the lives of representative individuals, notably the kings. "The entire history of the monarchy in Israel hinges on the word of the Lord. Having established the basis of his covenant relationship with David, God faithfully demonstrates the veracity of his word. From the first chastisement against Solomon to the ultimate deportation of the nation, God's word of the covenant controls history." The United Kingdom of Israel attained its largest extent geographically, as well as its greatest influence, under Solomon. However, it ended in discord and ruin because of Solomon's failure to honor the Mosaic Covenant faithfully. In the period of the Divided Kingdom, the writer evaluated each king by his allegiance to that covenant. He showed that Yahweh either blessed him for his fidelity, or cursed him for his infidelity to it. Also the writer opened windows into the lives of the ordinary citizens. God dealt with them as He did the kings. He consistently applied these principles to the common people's lives as well as the kings' reigns. As the people departed from God, He raised up His servants the prophets to call them back to trust and obedience. To review, during the divided monarchy there were in Israel nine dynasties and 20 kings, of whom seven were assassinated. The writer evaluated all of them as bad, but Ahab was probably the worst and Jehu the best. In Judah there was only one dynasty, with 19 kings, plus one queen who usurped the throne. Five of these rulers suffered assassination. Twelve were bad, eight were good, and four of the good kings were reformers (very good). Manasseh was the worst king, and Josiah was probably the best. In the history of the Surviving Kingdom, the writer emphasized that ultimately, deportation (unrest) and captivity (enslavement) are the inevitable consequences of persistent departure from God and His will. The church operates under a different covenant than Israel did, and what God requires of us is different in many respects from what He required of the Israelites. Nevertheless, He still deals with us in the same way He dealt with Israel. He blesses those who trust and obey Him, and He disciplines those who do not (cf. Rom. 11:21-22). God has preserved the Books of Kings to teach us how consistently He deals with people on this basis. "What does the writer tell the reader? Trust the Lord and find hope in him. If God can give the land once, God can give it again. If the Lord can raise up one David, another can come to take his ancestor's place. If people could be faithful in Hezekiah's and Josiah's reigns, then they can be obedient again."