In this chapter we first find the reign of three sons and a grandson of Josiah who are successively king of Judah. They all have double names:
1. Joahaz/Jehoahaz (or Sallum, 1Chr 3:15-16), son of Josiah, verses 1-4;
2. Jehoiakim (or Eliakim), son of Josiah, verses 5-8;
3. Jehoiachin (or Jeconiah or Coniah, Jer 22:24,28; 24:1; 37:1), son of Jehoiakim, verses 9-10;
4. Zedekiah (or Mattaniah), son of Josiah, verses 11-16.
The description of their reign is brief. It is as if the chronicler is in a hurry to come to the end, in order to point out a new perspective.
During the reign of Zedekiah the destruction of Jerusalem takes place (verses 17-21). God’s patience with His people has ended.
However, this is not the end of the book. In the last two verses the writer points to a new beginning. God allows through Cyrus the possibility that the Jews who were deported into exile can return to Jerusalem (verses 22-23).
1 - 4 Joahaz King of Judah
1 Then the people of the land took Joahaz the son of Josiah, and made him king in place of his father in Jerusalem. 2 Joahaz was twenty-three years old when he became king, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. 3 Then the king of Egypt deposed him at Jerusalem, and imposed on the land a fine of one hundred talents of silver and one talent of gold. 4 The king of Egypt made Eliakim his brother king over Judah and Jerusalem, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. But Neco took Joahaz his brother and brought him to Egypt.
After the death of Josiah the people take the initiative and choose a successor (verse 1). This is not the eldest son, Jehoiakim, but a younger son, Sallum, who takes the name Joahaz. He reigns for only three months (verse 2). He reigns that short period of time by the grace of the king of Egypt, who deposes him after three months (verse 3). Here we see the result of Josiah’s failure by interfering in a battle of the king of Egypt (2Chr 35:20-24). Josiah interfered with Egypt and was overwhelmed by it.
The king of Egypt also imposes a heavy fine on the land that must be paid by all the people (2Kgs 23:35). As a result, the whole population feels the yoke of domination. This must have been a huge difference with the favors they enjoyed under Josiah.
Now the king of Egypt decides who becomes king (verse 4) and not the people of the land (verse 1). The power of the king of Egypt is also shown by the fact that he gives another name to Eliakim he made king (cf. Dan 1:7). It seems that Joahaz has caused the displeasure of the king of Egypt, because he is taken to Egypt. There he also died (Jer 22:10-12).
5 - 8 Jehoiakim King of Judah
5 Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem; and he did evil in the sight of the LORD his God. 6 Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up against him and bound him with bronze [chains] to take him to Babylon. 7 Nebuchadnezzar also brought [some] of the articles of the house of the LORD to Babylon and put them in his temple at Babylon. 8 Now the rest of the acts of Jehoiakim and the abominations which he did, and what was found against him, behold, they are written in the Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah. And Jehoiachin his son became king in his place.
After Joahaz, Jehoiakim reigned eleven years (verse 5). The characteristic of his reign is that “he did evil in the sight of the LORD his God”. More information about this can be found in the book of Jeremiah. He is an arrogant, selfish man, who is completely indifferent to the LORD (Jer 36:21-31). He is a tyrant who abuses his power to oppress and extort. He has imposed enormous taxes on the people to live a life of indulgence (Jer 22:13-17).
After Egypt, Babylon comes to power in Jerusalem (verse 6). Nebuchadnezzar goes up against Jehoiakim to take him, bound with bronze chains, to Babylon. It is not clear whether Jehoiakim has arrived there. It is assumed that he was allowed to stay in Jerusalem because he swore allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar. However, with this arrival of Nebuchadnezzar the first deportation to Babylon takes place (2Kgs 24:14; Jer 52:3-16; Dan 1:1-3). This is the beginning of the seventy-year exile of Judah (Jer 29:10), which lasted from 606-536 BC.
The king of Babylon also takes some articles from the house of the LORD to Babylon (verse 7). There he places them in “his temple”. In this way he mixes the things of God with his idols. He does not bring his pagan gods into the house of God, but takes the objects of God’s house to his own pagan idolatry. This is an illustration of what has taken place in the history of Christianity through the ages. First, pagan practices are brought into the church. Later, things from God’s Word are introduced into the idolatrous practices of a worldly religion, which we see especially in roman-catholicism.
The remarks with which the chronicler concludes his description of Jehoiakim’s life are not particularly flattering. He doesn’t have a good word left for him. He summarizes the life of this king with the words “the abominations which he did” (verse 8). He doesn’t say a word about his death and burial. Jeremiah tells us that this man was given a burial of a donkey, that he was thrown away as a cadaver (Jer 22:19; 36:30).
9 - 10 Jehoiachin King of Judah
9 Jehoiachin was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned three months and ten days in Jerusalem, and he did evil in the sight of the LORD. 10 At the turn of the year King Nebuchadnezzar sent and brought him to Babylon with the valuable articles of the house of the LORD, and he made his kinsman Zedekiah king over Judah and Jerusalem.
Jehoiachin becomes king when he is eight years old (verse 9). He reigns only three months and ten days. He is young and reigns short, but the judgment of him is as negative as that of his predecessor. Also “he did evil in the sight of the LORD”. Nebuchadnezzar puts an end to his reign by bringing him to Babylon “at the turn of the year” (verse 10). Here the second deportation takes place.
Together with that deportation “the valuable articles of the house of the LORD” are taken away (verse 7). Nebuchadnezzar gradually robs the temple. Thus the confessing Christianity is in the process of robbing the church of its truths. This is done by giving a different content to biblical expressions. Repentance is then no longer a turning to God with repentance for sins, but, for example, the letting go of a habit that hurts someone himself or others, a change in social behavior.
Nebuchadnezzar makes his power felt by making Zedekiah king over Judah and Jerusalem. Zedekiah is not Jehoiachin’s brother, but his uncle. He is a son of Josiah and the brother of Jehoiachin’s father.
11 - 14 Zedekiah King of Judah
11 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. 12 He did evil in the sight of the LORD his God; he did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet who spoke for the LORD. 13 He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar who had made him swear [allegiance] by God. But he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the LORD God of Israel. 14 Furthermore, all the officials of the priests and the people were very unfaithful [following] all the abominations of the nations; and they defiled the house of the LORD which He had sanctified in Jerusalem.
Then Zedekiah becomes king of Judah (verse 11; 2Kgs 24:18-20; Jer 37:1). Zedekiah means ‘the LORD is my righteousness’. Zedekiah does not honor his name, for he tramples on the righteousness of the LORD. As a result he shall experience that righteousness personally. He is the last king of Judah.
Zedekiah is a weak figure and an evil man. He also “did evil in the sight of the LORD his God” (verse 12). He does not humble himself before the prophet Jeremiah. This can be said, because Jeremiah speaks “for the LORD”, literally, “out of the mouth of the LORD” (cf. Jer 1:6-9; 37:2). Zedekiah does let him come, but does not listen to his words.
That he ignores the word of Jeremiah means that he lives in rebellion against God. The result is that he rebels against Nebuchadnezzar, breaking the oath that Nebuchadnezzar made him swear (verse 13; Eze 17:13-19). This gives him a unique mention. It is said of him that he both stiffened his neck and hardened his heart. Such a combination appears only here in Scripture. He has a stubborn neck and a toughened heart. By deliberately hardening his own heart, he deprives himself of the chance of conversion.
Wickedness is not limited to Zedekiah. It is ‘so king, so people’. All the leaders of the priests and the people were very unfaithful (verse 14; Ezekiel 8-11). They join in the abominations of the pagan people and defile the house which the LORD has sanctified for himself in Jerusalem. They transgress in all things that the LORD has abhorred. They take over the whole form of life of the Gentiles.
We see in this end time of Judah a striking picture of the end time of Christianity in which we live. Christians increasingly live in a way that resembles that of people who live without God. The last days are characterized by loving oneself and loving pleasure more than God (2Tim 3:1-5).
15 - 21 Nebuchadnezzar Destroys Jerusalem
15 The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent [word] to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; 16 but they [continually] mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, until there was no remedy. 17 Therefore He brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or infirm; He gave [them] all into his hand. 18 All the articles of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king and of his officers, he brought [them] all to Babylon. 19 Then they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burned all its fortified buildings with fire and destroyed all its valuable articles. 20 Those who had escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon; and they were servants to him and to his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, 21 to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it kept sabbath until seventy years were complete.
At a certain moment the measure is full. Before God lets the judgment come, He lets hear again how much effort He has made to spare His people and His dwelling place (verse 15). Again and again He has called the people to return to Him through His messengers. The expression “again and again” indicates the necessary urgency of the message. God has made haste. He has not been slow or sparse in His attempts to urge them to turn back. None of this has been effective.
It is striking to read about “His people and His dwelling place”. It is about what is His. His judgment of what is His concerns Him Himself. He does not judge aloofly. It touches Him Himself deeply. That is why He has done everything He can to keep it from coming this far.
The rebellion of God’s people and their leaders is evidenced by their reception of His messengers (verse 16). All the effort of God to bring His people back to Himself has been answered with contempt and scorn (cf. 2Chr 30:10; 2Pet 3:3). People always mock those who come with a message from heaven that they do not like. Religious people in particular react in this way.
Then God can no longer postpone the judgment and gives His people and also His dwelling place to the enemy. He makes the king of the Chaldeans rise up against them (verse 17). Judgment comes to all age groups who are responsible for their actions (cf. Rev 19:18; 20:12). There is no regard for persons with God.
According to the historians, Nebuchadnezzar goes up against Jerusalem on January 15, 588 BC. On 28 July 586 BC the city falls. On 14 August the temple is burned (verse 19). Before this happens, the treasures are robbed from God’s house and brought to Babylon (verse 18). These will be the treasures left over from the previous two lootings (verses 7,10).
This time also the treasures of the king (2Kgs 20:15-17) and his princes are robbed and taken. All the palaces of the princes in which they have lived their lazy lives, with everything in them, go up in flames.
God makes everything happen because there is nothing more desirable in the temple for Him. He gives His temple to the Gentiles (Psa 79:1; Lam 2:1,7; 4:1; Jer 51:51). We see the same when the church reveals her “Laodicea spirit” (Rev 3:14-22). There is also nothing in it that pleases Him. Therefore, He will give up Christianity, which culminates in the great Babylon, to judgment (Rev 17:15-18; 18:1-2,19).
All who have not been killed are taken by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon to serve him and his sons as servants (verse 20). The judgment is total, the humiliation complete. Yet the rejection is not final, but temporary. There is talk of a “until”, i.e. “the rule of the kingdom of Persia”. Persia is the kingdom through which God judges Babylon and to which He then gives world dominion (Dan 5:28).
What happens as soon as the Persians have world domination and therefore authority over Judah and Israel, we will see in verses 22-23. First it is said how long the exile will last and that is, after “the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah”, seventy years (verse 21; Jer 29:10; 25:11; Dan 9:2,24-27). This period of seventy years is counted from the first transportation to Babylon.
The fact that the exile lasts seventy years is not coincidental. The people are driven out of the land for seventy years to let the land enjoy its sabbaths. God has set a perfect time for the land to come to rest after all the idolatry the people have committed there (Lev 26:34-35,43a).
When those years are fulfilled, the LORD fulfills His word and brings the people back to His land and to His city and to His house. We see the fulfillment in the books of Ezra and of Nehemiah. The next two verses, the last two of this Bible book, prepare us for this.
22 - 23 Return to Jerusalem
22 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia—in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah—the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and also [put it] in writing, saying, 23 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up!’”
At the end of this book in these verses a ray of hope lights up of the return of a remnant. In the Hebrew Bible, Chronicles is the last book of the Old Testament. The Hebrew Old Testament concludes with this word of hope, the expectation of restoration. If these verses were missing, the reader could be overwhelmed by a feeling of despair at the end of the book.
These two verses show that the last word is not the judgment of God, but that after the judgment there is a new beginning. They describe the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise in verse 21. A revival or restoration is always the work of God. That is why we read that He stirs up the spirit of Cyrus. He does this right at the beginning of His reign, “in the first year”. As soon as the period of seventy years is over, the LORD immediately goes to work to fulfill His promise, which He has made through Jeremiah.
The name of Cyrus has been mentioned by the LORD a hundred and sixty years before (Isa 44:28). God brings through him, who is called “His anointed” (Isa 45:1), the judgment of Babylon (in October 539 BC). Cyrus acknowledges that he is God’s servant and that he owes his dominion over all kingdoms to “the LORD, the God of heaven” (verse 23). He also acknowledges that God has commanded him “to build Him a house in Jerusalem”. The house is to be built for Him and not for the Jews.
God’s house today, the church, is also not a house where people determine the service, but God Himself. The church should not strive to be interesting and useful to the world outside. The church should not make itself attractive to the world, but to its bridegroom, Christ. In the local church today, the question sounds more and more: How do people get the most out of the church? The only question that matters, however, is: How does God get to His right?
Cyrus does two things. First, he gives everyone who belongs to God’s people, whoever they may be, the freedom to go to Jerusalem and build God’s house. In the second place he wishes every one who goes the company of “the LORD his God” on his way. The first is a call in a way that exercises the conscience of every one who professes to belong to God’s people. No one is forced to go. The second means that every one who goes up cannot or does not have to do so in his own strength, but that the LORD goes with him.
Spiritually this word is now being fulfilled for us. Anyone who confesses to belong to the church of God, may return to the principles that God’s Word tells us about the church. In practice this will only happen by those who have been exercised in their consciences, while at the same time realizing that there is no power in them, but that the Lord is with them.