Lecture 22: 2 Kings 22-25
Course: Old Testament Survey
Lecture: 2 Kings 22-25
Will you join me in prayer please? Father, we would appreciate Your presence; we know that You are kind enough to guarantee it if we ask, and we appreciate that. We thank You that You can make Your word which You inspired so long ago fresh, clear in our minds, and that You can make practical for guiding us and for guiding others. That is our desire and we pray for that through Christ. Amen.
I. The Babylonian Empire
2 Kings 22-25 is set in the huge Babylonian empire, near the vast Median Empire. From the point of view of the Israelites, that is very far away. It would hardly have occurred to any Israelite that eventually that empire would change hands. The Persians would dominate it and it would become the Medial/Persian Empire, really what most of us just call the Persian Empire because the Persians dominate it.
The time period we are looking at is the time period of the Babylonian Empire which is vast. This is a huge amount of territory way up into what we call modern day Turkey, way down into modern day Ethiopia, and covering virtually all of Egypt and some of modern day Libya. It was a very big empire, and it certainly covered all of what we find in the material that we deal with today in 2 Kings 22-25.
II. 2 Kings 22-25
The story begins with a wonderful revival. It is the last great, good story; 2 Kings 22 and 23. In some ways it is what 2 Kings is heading for if viewed positively. 1 and 2 Kings is a tragic story; it has an unhappy ending, but there are ways in which the lessons out of that tragedy are still very positive for us. One of the lessons is that those people who fully give themselves to God and keep His covenant have the assurance of His blessing, care, protection, acceptance and so on. These are wonderful truths. Josiah is a young king, only eight-years-old, when he comes to reign; so he is a boy king.
A. Foundation Deposits
It is the eighteenth year of his reign, and that year happens to be 622 BC, and a discovery is made during temple renovations. The temple in Jerusalem was built like most ancient buildings in the ancient world; it was built with, what are called foundation deposits. These foundation deposits were the kinds of things that we might put in a time capsule, that is an expression used by Americans. It is something that you put valuables into when you build a building in order to open later. It would have all kinds of documents that tell you about the building and its purposes, the people who once occupied the building and so on. They did this kind of thing routinely in the ancient world and would place documents related to the purpose of the building in a building. Solomon had apparently done that.
Solomon built the temple around 970 BC or so, 980 or 970, and therefore you have a period of three and a half centuries before 622 BC, when renovations discover a copy of The Law, either the Book of Deuteronomy or the whole Pentateuch, hard to tell which for sure. What happens then is this is brought to the king with great excitement. Since it is three and a half centuries old, it is very interesting. It is not as if no one had ever seen a Bible before, but they did have great interest in saying, “What does this old, old, old, old copy of the law contain?” None of them had a copy that old. They were all excited and interested. “What will we find in this? Will it be the same as what we are reading?”
Of course, it was, in fact, the same as what they had already had the chance to read. However, the king, like most people, probably never had a chance to listen to the Word of God straight through over a long period of time. Lots of people have heard a sermon here and a sermon there. If you get them reading the Bible in large chunks, it makes a profound difference. We are doing this in our church, reading the Bible through in a year, and all kinds of people who have been Christians for decades are saying, “This is eye opening, I love this, it is amazing the stuff I’m finding.” They are just so tickled about it because the Bible is not written primarily to be digested six or eight verses at a time every Sunday morning. That is just one way to support knowledge of the Bible. The Bible is written as a wonderful, big book of great material so that it may be beneficially read in large chunks. He says, “Read it through for me,” and they read it through.
Here is a young, 26-year-old king who is hearing minute after minute, really hour after hour the Word of God. Whether it was the whole Pentateuch or only Deuteronomy, Deuteronomy is at the end. What does he hear at the end? He hears all the blessings for obeying the covenant and all those curses if you do not. By the time it is over, he has heard what Israel should have been doing and he realizes, “We’re in horrible trouble.” So he tears his garments and sends for a prophet named Huldah. She says, “Yes, absolutely O king.” She must have been someone he felt he could trust. She probably spoke the truth reliably, never with minced words. She says, “Yes, these curses will come upon the people of Israel because they have been doing all these kinds of things. They have been worshipping various gods and goddesses; right down the line, basically breaking all of the Ten Commandments, and God will exile His people. However, you O king, because you’re interested in this word, because you’ve repented, because you are sorry, shocked, and ashamed, you are going to be able to continue on and die in peace. You won’t see the horrible agonies that will come upon your people soon enough.”
B. Covenant Renewal
The king does not settle for that. He says, “We’ve got to change, we’ve got to change.” 2 Kings 23 describes his renewal of the covenant. He gathers people together and he makes them listen. He has the law read to them, insists that they pay attention, and gives his own speech about the importance of keeping the covenant and so on. In other words, what he does is conduct a covenant renewal of which we have quite a number of samples in the Old Testament. There are are nine or ten that are pretty significant covenant renewals:
1. The first covenant, of course, is the one you already know about
2. A renewal for a new generation that grew up in the wilderness in Deuteronomy
3. Joshua 24 has a wonderful covenant renewal speech
4. Samuel’s covenant renewal speech in 1 Samuel 12
5. Solomon’s renewal prayer in 1 Kings 8
>6. 2 Kings 23, the passage we are currently looking at
7. King Asa’s very fine covenant renewal in 2 Chronicles 15
8. Ezra has one
9. Nehemiah has one that he enlists Ezra’s help with so the two of them together are involved in that one
These covenant renewals have the purpose to bring people back to obedience to the Word of God. The same kind of preaching and teaching that you and I always do in churches; we try to bring people back to the Word of God, not give them something new. We do not say, “Well, that was fine for them but here’s the latest.” No, we are trying to tell them that God has known all along what our behavior and thinking ought to be; therefore, let’s get back to what He revealed long ago and conform ourselves to that truth and let it have its effect on our lives so that we may be beneficiaries of it. Covenant renewal is always looking backwards in the best sense, conforming self or group to the covenant that already exists and has already been revealed and you renew.
What Josiah did is really enlightening to us because when you read about the things that he eliminated, you realize how bad things were. I am just reading quickly a portion of chapter 23 starting with verse 4, “The king ordered Hilkiah the high priest, the priests next in rank, and the doorkeepers to remove form the temple of the Lord all the articles made for Baal and Asherah and all the starry hosts.” Right in the Jerusalem temple was any number of alters, rooms, eating places, and so on, associated with these various idols. “He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron Valley and took the ashes to Bethel.” Why to Bethel? Bethel was an old, corrupt center of heterodox worship starting with the days of Jeroboam the first, Solomon’s successor in the north, and Josiah wanted that stuff to be done away with. “He did away with the pagan priests appointed by the kings of Judah to burn incense on the high places of the towns of Judah and on those around Jerusalem—those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and moon, to the constellations and to all the starry hosts. He took the Asherah pole from the temple of the Lord to the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem and burned it there. He ground it to powder and scattered the dust over the graves of the common people.” That was done because the idea was that that which is dead is defiled, and if you take this and scatter it over graves there is no way it can ever be undefiled. It is kind of an extreme measure, but he is serious. He wants to clean up the nations act. “He also tore down the quarters of the male shrine prostitutes, which were in the temple of the Lord and where women did weaving for Asherah.” The Asherah pole would be where the sign effectively saying “Asherah” on it would be, it was almost like a big sign saying Exxon or something, and it is a place where people would come to engage in occult sex. Also, if you were a homosexual, you could come and engage in homosexual occult sex. That was the kind of thing going on right in the temple.
It goes on and talks about all the other kinds of things that he did. There were child sacrifice locations as verse 10 describes; he got rid of that. In verse 11 there were the horses right at the entrance to the temple that symbolized pulling the chariot for the sun and the moon; he got rid of those. If you read it all, you realize that Yahweh was practically obscured by all these other worship methods and idols and so on. The nation had really become ultra-corrupt. He had a lot of cleaning up to do, it really was a significant thing, but it is an encouraging story.
I am sure that many of you who start ministry, whether it is youth ministry or pastoral ministry, Christian education ministry, missions, or whatever, are going to go into your first assignment into some church or situation that is not going to be very healthy and you are going to find all kinds of weakness. You will find people who have long ago given up, you find that there may not be much knowledge or orthodoxy at all, that the leadership in the past may not have preached or taught the Gospel, and that it is easy to get discouraged and say, “This is hopeless. How in the world am I going to handle this?” Be encouraged by the kind of revival that a king like Josiah could bring about with proper resolve and by immediately getting control of the nominating committee which I certainly recommend in any church. You can begin to operate and make some changes. It is a challenge; it is not easy, and you will shed a lot of tears, you will pray a huge amount, but you will find allies, you will lead people to Christ, you will begin to build a momentum, and you can turn a church around. It is wonderful to see it.
You can take a youth group where it is entertainment-based and gradually but steadily make it discipleship-based, and what a change you will see. You will see kids thrilled to go to prayer meetings in a church. You will see them thrilled to go to Bible study and say this counts for something, whereas if you just take them on one more roller coaster ride it will be just another roller coaster ride. You cannot out-entertain the world but you can certainly out-disciple it. There is a lot of wonderful things that can take place.
Nevertheless, this is against the backdrop of the fact that the Babylonian Empire is coming. In Josiah’s time reigning, about 640 to 609 BC, the Assyrian Empire, the one that we have been talking about before are the big oppressors.
C. Josiah's Big Mistake
Josiah at the end of chapter 23 makes a big mistake. He had the idea that so often prevails in international relations, “The enemy of my enemy must be my friend.” He knew toward the end of his reign that the Babylonians were trying to take over the Assyrian Empire. The Babylonians did not like paying tax, toll, and tribute any more than anybody else did, so they had organized themselves and had rebelled against the Assyrians. They were gaining strength, getting allies, grouping, fighting, and beginning to capture more and more territory from the Assyrians who were very actively fighting the Babylonians. From about 611 BC to 605, for that long period of time, it was a very lengthy war, the Babylonians gained more and more ground and the Assyrians lost more and more. So, the Assyrians appealed in 609 BC to the Egyptians. They said, “we will pay you very well if you will send troops.” Every government is always looking for more money. That was one thing that was done in ancient times; governments would accept money and use that for the payment of troops and supply troops to other governments as allies. The Egyptians, under Pharaoh Neco, were marching north through Israel to go link up with the Assyrians to form a coalition to try to fight against the Babylonians and Josiah made a mistake. A lot of great people in Scripture makes huge mistakes. Their hearts are good, their desires are right but they forget that they are supposed to depend entirely on the Lord and not try to work it all out themselves. Usually we have it all figured out. We know what has to happen instead of saying, “God knows what has to happen. He’ll figure out how to do it and I will simply respond and try to carry out His will.”
Josiah thought, “if the Egyptians are cut off so that they cannot link up with the Assyrians, that will give the Babylonians a chance to win. After all, who could be worse than the Assyrians?” The answer was, of course, the Babylonians, but he did not know that. He just thought, “Nobody could be worse than these Assyrians. It’s been oppressive, it’s been horrible, we hate it. They are the worst, the meanest.” If you have ever read the Book of Nahum, you know they were pretty bad. Of course he wanted relief.
Therefore, he got his Judean troops into battle against Egypt. He could not succeed, he did not win, and he himself was mortally wounded and died in 609 BC. The Egyptians did link up with the Assyrians but it did not work; the Babylonians were by that time all too powerful and conquered and became the possessors of what had previously been the entire Assyrian Empire. Then, from the end of chapter 23 into chapter 25 you read about a succession of kings who were the kings of the last days of Judah and who were the experiencers of the decline and eventual capture by Babylon.
D. The Practice of Exile
The Babylonians did the following—they practiced exile just as the Assyrians had done and all kinds of people before them. The idea was that you could keep a conquered territory relatively suppressed by deporting to a distant location nearly all of the leadership including the royal family, people in government service, people well-educated and so on. Take them all, anybody who might lead a rebellion against you, deport them to a distance, replace them if you need to with other people, and that will minimize the likelihood of their rebelling against you and you having to spend lots of money to bring your troops back in, suppress them once again, increase the tax, toll, and tribute and so on. The idea was to get the tax, toll, and tribute money as conveniently and comfortably as you possibly can year after year. Get rid of the problem people and have everybody else contribute to your wealth.
1. Therefore, in 605 BC the Babylonians exiled a number of Israelites. Daniel went in that exile.
2. In 598 BC they were back again and this time they exiled a king named Jehoiachin. His name is important because of the way that 2 Kings ends. With Jehoiachin went thousands of people. It was a fairly substantial exile.
3. After him the Babylonians put on the throne what we call a “puppet king,” a king of their choosing. And they had that king, whose name was Zedekiah, do their will, but even Zedekiah eventually got a big head. He decided he might be able to rebel against the Babylonians, because after a few years you hate that tax, toll, and tribute and you are thinking of rebellion constantly. He organized a rebellion, fortified Jerusalem, and put in all kinds of stores for a long siege because he knew there would be one. He then thumbed is nose at the Babylonians in 588 BC. They came immediately and began the siege of Jerusalem which broke after two years and the Babylonians occupied the city Zedekiah had. Zedekiah was blinded after seeing his children put to death. They put his children to death and then blinded him so the last thing he would have seen on this earth would be his children being killed in front of him. That was the style of the Babylonians. Then they took tens of thousands of Israelites into exile; massive, massive exile. That is really the exile; that is the big one; that is the beginning of the period of curse.
E. Jehoiachin at the King's Table
We read this at the very end of 2 Kings. We read starting with verse 27, “In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah,” that is all the way down from 598 to about sometime around 551 or so, “in the year of a Evil-Merodach,” sounds really bad, but it really just means man of the god Marduc, “became king of Babylon, he released Jehoiachin from prison on the twenty-seventh day of the twelfth month.” This was someone who knew Jehoiachin and released him from prison. He “spoke kindly to him, gave him a seat of honor higher than the other kings who were with him in Babylon.” Lots of kings had been exiled to Babylon; the Judean king was not the only one. “So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes for the rest of his life and ate regularly at the king’s table. Day by day the king gave Jehoiachin a regular allowance as long as he lived,” for centuries.
Skeptical scholars said, “This is pure fiction; just a fabrication, just pious Jews of a later time adding a positive note on a tragedy to try to give some hope. Why would any Babylonian king, especially after thirty-seven years, release an obscure Israelite king like Jehoiachin who had reigned less than a year? He only reigned a few months before he was taken into exile. There is no motive. It is just silly the idea that they would give him a seat of honor higher than all other kings. There were kings of great nations, powerful lands; you are not going to have the Judean king singled out. All obvious fabrication, obviously fictional, obviously people looking from a self-interested point of view at this history and making up a minor happy ending. That was the prevailing view until a young researcher named Donald Weizman, teaching at the University of London, found among the tens of thousands of tablets in the British museum a tablet describing Evil Merodach’s food distribution for captured kings. That tablet is published; you can read it in Ancient Near Eastern Text by Pritchard in the library, there are several copies of it. It talks about various kings and lists their names.
This is actually prevision now, eating at the king’s table, the king providing for them. Low and behold you come to a king named Jehoiachin; there it is, it is Jehoiachin written in Babylonian characters. It says he gets such and such. You look at it and you compare it to all other kings on the list and he has got about three times as much. There it is. It just happens that God preserved a tablet from twenty-five hundred years ago that would demonstrate the historicity absolutely perfectly of this passage. Now, of course, skepticals always say, “Oh yes, of course, that is historical, anybody knows that,” but not the rest.