(34) I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose – 2 Kings 23:27

The Lord is a very patient God. Despite centuries of unfaithfulness from his people, he kept a son of David on the throne in Jerusalem and, even after the exile of Israel, continued to defend Judah. However, the wickedness of Manasseh’s reign provoked God’s anger. His perfect sense of justice is offended by behaviour which brings death and misery to others and he has to act out of his goodness and love for all. Josiah’s wholehearted turning back to God brought a stay of execution for Judah but the word from the Lord was clear: “I will remove Judah also from my presence as I removed Israel, and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose, and this temple about which I said, ‘My name shall be there’” (2 Kings 23:27).

After Josiah died in battle with the Egyptians – a foolish attempt to stop them marching through Judah on the way to support the Assyrians in their battles against the Babylonians – Judah descended into a period of political instability and increasing conflict.

Judah had four kings over her remaining 22 years as a nation – three of Josiah’s sons and one grandson. All four came to the throne as young men – the oldest was 25 – and the writer of 2 Kings describes all four as evil. They all faced a difficult international situation as the expanding Babylonian empire clashed with the might of Egypt.

Jehoahaz came to the throne at the age of 23 and reigned for just three months before the king of Egypt removed him from the throne. He took him to Egypt and appointed his brother Jehoiakim, who was 25, in his place. Jehoiakim started his 11 year reign as an Egyptian puppet. However, when Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, came to Judah he became his servant for three years. Then, in a disastrous misreading of the situation, he rebelled against Babylon. This brought the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar who sent his army to besiege Jerusalem. Jehoiakim died before he arrived, leaving his 18 year old son Jehoiachin as king. The Babylonians took Jerusalem after he had been on the throne for just 3½ months. They looted the temple and the king’s palace and took Jehoiachin to Babylon along with ten thousand of the most skilled people in the land.

Nebuchadnezzar appointed Jehoiachin’s uncle, Zedekiah, to be his puppet king at the age of 21. After a few years, despite the recent experience of his brother, Zedekiah decided to rebel against the Babylonians. This signalled the end of the tiny kingdom of Judah.

In Zedekiah’s ninth year, Nebuchadnezzar came and besieged Jerusalem for 18 months. The prophet Jeremiah urged him to surrender and had a long conversation with the king during the siege in which Jeremiah promised him from God that he and his family would live and the city would be spared if he surrendered. Unfortunately Zedekiah ignored this advice and held out until eventually, starving and desperate, he and his army fled, only to be captured by the Babylonians. His punishment for not surrendering was to have his sons slaughtered in front of him and then have his eyes burnt out. That was his last visual memory before he was taken in chains to Babylon. This tragically fulfilled Ezekiel’s prophecy that the king would be taken to Babylon but not see it (Ezekiel 12:13).

In order to avoid another uprising, Nebuchadnezzar completely destroyed the city, breaking down the walls and the temple. This time very few people were left to look after the land and the king of Babylon appointed a man called Gedaliah as governor. He tried to get the remaining people to accept that they should serve the Babylonians, but he was assassinated by a distant relative of the king and his companions who then fled in fear to Egypt.

There was no longer a descendant of David reigning on the throne in Jerusalem but 2 Kings ends with a ray of hope. 37 years into the exile, King Jehoiachin, who reigned for three months as a young man of 18, was released from prison by the king of Babylon. This descendant of David , now a man of 55, “ate regularly at the king’s table” (2 Kings 25:29) for the rest of his life, a sign that the kings of Israel were still significant and God’s promise remained.

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