Zedekiah

(Righteousness of Jehovah)

(2 Kings 24:17—25:21; 2 Chron. 36:11-21)

Contemporary Prophets: Jeremiah; Ezekiel; Daniel; Obadiah.

“Her king and her princes are among the Gentiles: the law is no more: her prophets also find no vision from the Lord.”—Lamentations 2:9

“And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah his father’s brother king in his [Jehoiachin’s] stead, and changed his name to Zedekiah. Zedekiah was twenty and one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Hamutal, the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that Jehoiakim had done. For through the anger of the Lord it came to pass in Jerusalem and Judah, until he had cast them out from His presence, that Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.”

Zedekiah was Josiah’s youngest son, and full brother of Jehoahaz. He was, at his father’s death, only ten years old. Nebuchadnezzar changed his name (as a token of his vassalage) but did not put upon him the name of some heathen deity, as in the case of Daniel and the three Hebrew children. He “had made him swear by God,” and his new name, Righteousness of Jehovah, may have been given him to remind him of his oath; or, it may have had some connection, even in the heathen king’s mind, with Jehovah’s righteousness in taking from this wicked people (called by His name) their political independence, and subjecting them to his dominion.

“Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.” He had no real faith in Jehovah, Israel’s covenant-keeping God, and therefore did not scruple to break his covenant with Nebuchadnezzar. But how dearly he paid for this violation of his oath! “And it came to pass, in the ninth year of his reign,…that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he, and all his host, against Jerusalem,…and the city was besieged unto the eleventh year of king Zedekiah. And on the ninth day of the fourth month the famine prevailed in the city, and there was no bread for the people of the land. And the city was broken up, and all the men of war fled by night by the way of the gate between two walls, which is by the king’s garden: (now the Chaldees were against the city round about) and the king went the way toward the plain. And the army of the Chaldees pursued after the king, and overtook him in the plains of Jericho: and all his army were scattered from him. So they took the king, and brought him up to the king of Babylon to Riblah; and they gave judgment upon him. And they slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him with fetters of brass, and carried him to Babylon.”

The occasion of this rebellion was Zedekiah’s hope of assistance from the king of Egypt. (See Ezek. 17:11-21.) He also vainly attempted to form an alliance with the surrounding nations, for the purpose of rid- ding himself, and them, of the yoke of the Babylonish king. (See Jer. 27:1-11)14 Pharaoh-hophra attempted to relieve Zedekiah during the siege, but was driven back into Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar’s army, who then returned and reinvested Jerusalem. (See Jer. 37:5-10.) It was a terrible siege, lasting eighteen months; famine and pestilence prevailed. Mothers boiled and ate their own children (Lam. 4:10). At midnight (Josephus) the Chaldees gained entrance into the city, and the fugitive king was captured. He was brought, with his sons, to Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah, “on the high road between Palestine and Babylon, where the Babylonian kings remained in directing the operations of their armies in Palestine and Phenicia” (Fausset). Here his terrible punishment was meted out to him for his perfidy in violating his solemn compact with his master. After seeing his own children slain before him, his own eyes were “dug” out of their sockets, and he was bound “with double chains of bronze” (2 Kings. 25:7, lit.), and led off to Babylon. So the two seemingly contradictory prophecies of Jeremiah (32:4) and Ezekiel (12:13) were literally fulfilled. At Babylon he was cast into prison “till the day of his death” (Jer. 52:11). “Until I visit him” (Jer. 32:5), might imply that he was finally set at liberty, but “till the day of his death” precludes any such construction. It is more agreeable to take the expression to mean that God in mercy would visit him with repentance and a true knowledge of Himself as He did to Manas- seh before him. How often God has used the stern hand of his government to break down the pride and rebellion of the heart, and through such “visitation” secure to the penitent soul the truest of all liberty—deliverance from the bondage of sin. So would his soul be set free, though his body remain in bondage.

      “Stone walls do not a prison make,

      Nor iron bars a cage,

      If I have freedom in God’s love,

      And in my soul am free.

Josephus (Ant. x. 8, §8) says Nebuchadnezzar “kept Zedekiah in prison until he died; and then buried him magnificently.” This agrees with Jer. 34:5: “Thou shalt die in peace: and with the burnings of thy fathers, the former kings which were before thee.”

Zedekiah has been justly characterized as “weak vacillating, and treacherous.” His weakness and subserviency to his princes mark him as a man wholly unfit to wear a crown, or sit upon a throne: “Behold he [Jeremiah] is in your hand,” he says to them, “for the king is not he that can do anything against you” (Jer. 38:5). He was hypocritical also. He feigned a desire for the prophet’s prayers, saying, “Pray now unto the Lord our God for us” (Jer. 37:3). He pretended too, at times, to have confidence in the prophecies of Jeremiah (“Enquire, I pray thee, of the Lord for us,” Jer. 21:2), which when delivered, he refused to heed, or believe. “He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord his God, and humbled not himself before Jeremiah the prophet speaking from the mouth of the Lord” (2 Chron. 36:12). He was not so openly wicked as his three predecessors, perhaps, and not willingly given to persecution. This is probably why Josephus judging after the standards of men, speaks of “his gentle and righteous disposition.” But the Lord seeth not as man seeth, neither are His thoughts man’s thoughts. He says, “He stiffened his neck, and hardened his heart from turning unto the Lord God of Israel.” So God took him away in His anger.

The temple was burned to the ground; and only a miserable remnant of the nation was left in the land (“the poor”) “to be vine-dressers, and husbandmen” (2 Ki. 25:12). Rebellion arose even among these, and for fear of the Chaldees they fled to the land of Egypt, only to miserably perish there, as Jeremiah had faithfully, and with tears, warned them.

For seventy years the land “lay desolate”; after which a remannt was permitted to return, that, six hundred years later, “wise men” might come from that very land of the East, enquiring where they might find Him that was “born King of the Jews.”

Until that day the godly remnant of His heritage could only pray, in the language of David—the type of that coming King—

“Oh, let the wrong of the wicked come to an end, And establish Thou the righteous [Man]” (Psa.7:9). “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”!15

14 In Jer. 27:1 read, “Zedekiah” for “Jehoiakim” ; so Syr., Arab.; and one of Kennicott’s MSS. Comp. vers. 3, 12, and chap. 28:1. “Jehoiakim” is a copyist’s error, evidently.

15 Note. Further details in connection with these last four kings of Judah may be found in “Notes on Jeremiah,” by H. A. Ironside—a most excellent exposition.