Josiah to Zedekiah, the Last Kings
(641 – 586 B.C)
The Bible makes more sense when we understand the history behind it. This summary helps the exiles make sense by looking at the last kings of Judah.
KING JOSIAH, JUDAH’S LAST GOOD KING
King Josiah became king when he was 8 years old. He was a good king, tearing down the altars and idols that had been built for false gods. After finding scrolls containing God’s Word, Josiah also reestablished the celebration of the Passover feast, which was celebrated to remind the Jews of their miraculous rescue from Egyptian slavery.
Josiah, however, made a very costly mistake at the end of his reign. The Egyptians, led by Pharaoh Neco, came up from their land to fight the growing Babylonian empire. Despite being warned that Josiah should not go fight Egypt, he went anyway and Josiah died in battle.
Neco appointed Josiah’s sons, Jehoahaz, as king of Judah (who ruled for 3 months) and then Jehoiakim (who ruled for 11 years). Both of them served only as puppet kings (a puppet king does not really have any power but does whatever the ruling king of another nation wants them to do).
They did evil in the eyes of the Lord. Meanwhile, the Egyptians and the Babylonians continued to fight for power and the Babylonians were victorious. Babylon took control of Jerusalem.
Making Sense of the Exiles
The 1st Exile of Jerusalem
Jehoiakim was now forced to serve the Babylonian ruler, King Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar carried off many of the princes and fine young men as hostages to Babylon. Jehoiakim served Babylon and was forced to pay him a tribute (or tax) to show loyalty.
The 2nd Exile of Jerusalem
Jehoiakim eventually rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar. King Jehoiakim’s revolt against Babylon was well under way when he suddenly died, and his son, King Jeconiah became king. King Jeconiah ruled for 3 months, and then he was forced to surrender to the Babylonians who had laid siege to Jerusalem.
The Babylonians looted Jerusalem, stole the treasures from the temple, and took many people from Jerusalem back to Babylon as captives, including King Jeconiah.
Zedekiah was then made king after swearing alliance to King Nebuchadnezzar and was left behind in Jerusalem to serve as a puppet king. Zedekiah paid tribute to Nebuchadnezzar for 9 years. Zedekiah was the last king of Judah.
The 3rd Exile of Jerusalem
Zedekiah then decided to revolt against the Babylonians and join the Egyptian army to try to defeat Babylon. The Babylonians were not happy and responded by laying siege to the city of Jerusalem again. For weeks the soldiers of Judah fought to defend Jerusalem’s walls.
King Zedekiah was nervous and frightened that they would lose the battle to the Babylonians when suddenly the enemy soldiers turned and fled. The people were ecstatic that the Babylonians had given up the fight and retreated.
Jeremiah, however, warned them that the Babylonians would return. The enemy soldiers had gone to stop the Egyptians who had been coming to help Judah. King Zedekiah and the people ignored Jeremiah’s warnings and threw Jeremiah in jail instead.
The Babylonians Lay Seige to Jerusalem
Sure enough, the Babylonians quickly returned and surrounded Jerusalem once more. The city was under siege for 30 months.
During the siege, people were desperate; they were starving, they ran out of fuel to cook with, garbage was overflowing in the city, and diseases were rampant. Desperate, Zedekiah sought Jeremiah’s advice.
Jeremiah told Zedekiah that if they would surrender to Babylon then they would be spared but if he continued to fight the Babylonians, they would be tortured and killed. (This was the message from God that Jeremiah had been sharing for a long time).
Zedekiah still refused to listen to Jeremiah. When the Babylonians finally broke through the walls, Zedekiah fled with his family and tried to escape. The Babylonian army pursued him and caught him. They then killed his sons and gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes before carrying Zedekiah back to Babylon as a captive.
Back in Jerusalem, the army completely destroyed Jerusalem. They tore down the walls, they looted the temple, they burned everything to ashes. Jerusalem, once a city of splendor where gold was as common as stones (2 Chronicles 1:15), was a rubble heap. All that remained of it were piles of ashes and blackened stones.
Most of its inhabitants were carried off as prisoners to Babylon but a few remained. Among those left was Jeremiah. He wrote letters to the exiles in Babylon telling them that they would remain captives in Babylon for 70 years. This prophecy was fulfilled when 70 years later, King Cyrus allowed the people of Jerusalem to return and to rebuild the city’s temple.