ZEDEKIAH (zĕd'ĕ-kī'a, Heb. tsidhqîyahû, the Lord is righteous)
ZEDEKIAH zĕd’ ə kī’ ə (צִדְקִיָּֽהוּ, צִדְקִיָּ֤ה; LXX Σεδεκιας; meaning Yah(u) is my righteousness). 1. A son of Chenaanah, one of four hundred false prophets who, in opposition to Micaiah, the true prophet, encouraged Ahab, king of the northern kingdom and Jehoshaphat, king of the southern kingdom, to go to war against the king of Aram in order to recapture Ramoth-gilead (1 Kings 22:1-38; 2 Chron 18:1-19:3).
The incident is of interest in part for the historical reason that it illuminates group prophecy in ancient Israel. The incident took place at the “threshing floor at the entrance of the gate of Samaria” (1 Kings 22:10). “Threshing floor” (Heb. gōren) more accurately denotes “an open public place” (grn lit. means “well-rubbed” according to Arab. etymology). J. Gray called attention to a passage in the texts: “He rises to sit at the entrance to the gate, in the place of notables who are in the public place (Ug. grn).” As the four hundred false prophets predicted in unison Israel’s victory, Zedekiah made himself iron horns, an act of prophetic symbolism prob. intended to reinforce the ancient tribal oracle to Joseph (Deut 33:17).
The incident is also of theological interest for several reasons. First, Chronicles, which ignores the history of the northern kingdom records the event because of the role played by Jehoshaphat and to teach the spiritual truth proclaimed by Jehu the son of Hananai the seer: “Should you (Jehoshaphat, Yahweh’s vice-regent), help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord?” (2 Chron 19:2), a sequel to the story found only in Chronicles.
Second, the story demonstrates the attitudes toward prophecy in ancient Israel. Ahab regarded the prophets as instruments of propaganda to serve the interests of the state, using their words and actions to influence the deity. There was a whole corps of prophets willing to give him the moral support he required (1 Kings 22:5, 6, 13, 26, 27). Jehoshaphat, on the other hand, regarded the prophet not as an agent of the community to influence the deity by magic, but as the instrument of revelation of the will of God to the community (1 Kings 22:7ff.).
Finally, through the vision granted Micaiah, Yahweh makes it clear that these false prophets receive their charismatic quality from lying spirits sent forth by the one God to achieve the divine will (1 Kings 22:19-23).
2. A son of Maaseiah; a false prophet whom Jeremiah predicted would be executed along with Ahab the son of Kolaiah, by Nebuchadrezzar for his immorality and false prophesying (Jer 29:21-23).
3. A son of Hananiah, one of the princes who heard Jeremiah’s scroll read by Baruch and then in company with the king by Jehudi (Jer 36:11-26).
4. The third son of Josiah (1 Chron 3:15), whose given name Mattaniah, “Gift of Yahweh,” was changed to Zedekiah by Nebuchadrezzar as a mark of vassalage when he made Zedekiah king in place of his eighteen year old nephew, Jehoiakin, taken captive to Babylon in 597 b.c. along with the cream of the country’s leadership (2 Kings 24:8-17; Jer 29:2). He was twenty-one when he began to reign and he reigned until the fall of Jerusalem in Dec 587 b.c., eleven years of continual agitation and sedition.
Although the prophet-historian of Kings bypasses the events of Zedekiah’s reign (cf. 2 Kings 24:18-25:2), the historical incidents of his reign and his character can be traced through the Books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Here Zedekiah is portrayed as a man who is indecisive, torn asunder by conflicting emotions, recognizing Jeremiah as a true prophet but unable to act in faith on his words. Unable to choose the good by faith he acts perfidiously as seen in Jeremiah 34 and Ezekiel 17. This man who feared the Jews (Jer 38:19) rather than God, Ezekiel described as the “unhallowed wicked one, prince of Israel” (Ezek 21:25). Because he could not act in faith on the word of God through Jeremiah (cf. Jer 33:17-23) he brought death upon himself and his people instead of the life offered him.
In the beginning of his reign (Jer 27:1), clarified as the fifth month of his fourth year (Jer 28:1), Jeremiah warned Zedekiah not to join in the revolt with Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon against Babylon (Jer 27:1-12). The fire of insurrection was fanned at this time by false prophets among the Jews both in Jerusalem and Babylon who were predicting the defeat of Nebuchadrezzar and the liberation of Jehoiakin (Jer 28; 29). The plot in fact came to nothing. Possibly, however, it was these activities which brought him under suspicion and necessitated his visit to Babylon in 593 b.c. (Jer 51:59).
In the ninth year of Zedekiah, i.e. 589 b.c., Zedekiah openly rebelled under the influence of the pro-Egyp. party. J. C. J. Waite properly observed: “This was not merely an act of political suicide, it was a flagrant violation of the oath of loyalty to Nebuchadrezzar which the king had sworn in the name of Yahweh (Ezk. xvii)” (NBD, 1357). Most scholars think he had an understanding with the Egyp. Pharaohs, Psammetichus II (593-588 b.c.) and his son Hophra (Apries [588-569 b.c.]) who had resumed a policy of intervention in Asia. Judging from his repeated consultations with Jeremiah, he himself was indecisive in this act, but allowed the decision to be made by the “hawks” under him over whom he lacked leadership (cf. Jer 38:5).
In response to Zedekiah’s inquiry about the outcome of Babylon’s retaliatory siege of Jerusalem begun in 589 b.c., Jeremiah predicted death, pestilence, the sword, and the execution of the city’s survivors (Jer 21:1-3). They would be treated like bad figs, unfit to be eaten (Jer 24:8). Zedekiah himself, however, was not to die by the sword but to die in peace with an honorable burial (Jer 34:5).
The advance of an Egyp. army in the summer of 588 b.c. forced the Babylonians to lift the siege of Jerusalem temporarily (Jer 37:5). Probably against this background Jeremiah denounced the ruler and people for breach of faith. During the siege King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem that everyone should set free his Heb. slaves, male and female. But when the Babylonians withdrew from the city to meet the Egyp. army, those who had been set free were enslaved again (Jer 34:8-11).
At this same time, lacking decisive leadership ability, he allowed the princes to beat Jeremiah and imprison him in the house of Jonathan the secretary, for it had been made into a prison (Jer 37:15). Upon Jeremiah’s plea, however, Zedekiah had him transported to the court of the guard (Jer 37:21). But once again Zedekiah appeared impotent and irresolute as he allowed the princes to cast Jeremiah into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son (Jer 38:4-6). (“The king’s son” may refer to a literal son of the king or possibly a member of the royal family. On the other hand, a similar case in 1 Kings 22:26 in connection with the confinement of Micaiah suggests that this is a title, a theory which is suggested by the fact that a seal imprint from Pal, “the son of the king,” follows the proper name where one would expect an official title (cf. J. Gray, I and II Kings , 453). This time upon the plea of Ebed-melech Zedekiah had Jeremiah transported again to the court of the guard (Jer 38:7-13).
The following summer, July 587 b.c., the Babylonians breached the wall and poured in (2 Kings 25:2ff.; Jer 39:1ff; 52:5ff.). By this time the food supply was exhausted (Jer 37:21). Zedekiah with his men of war fled the city by night toward the Jordan. The Chaldeans overtook Zedekiah whose army had become separated from one another. He was brought before Nebuchadrezzar at his headquarters at Ribiah in central Syria. He was shown no mercy. His sons were slain before his eyes; he himself was blinded, bound in fetters, and brought to Babylon (Jer 52:1-11). The prophecies of Jeremiah predicting death if he lacked faith to act resolutely on the word of God’s prophet was fulfilled.
J. B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts (1955); D. N. Freedman, “The Babylonian Chronicle,” BA, XIX (1956), 50-60; J. P. Hyatt, “New Light on Nebuchadrezzar and Judean History,” JBL LXXV (1956), 277-284; D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles of Chaldean Kings (1956); J. Bright, A
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(tsidhqiyahu, tsidhqiyah, "Yah my righteousness"; Sedekia, Sedekias):
(1) The son of Chenaanah (1Ki 22:11,24; 2Ch 18:10,23). Zedekiah was apparently the leader and spokesman of the 400 prophets attached to the court in Samaria whom Ahab summoned in response to Jehoshaphat’s request that a prophet of Yahweh should be consulted concerning the projected campaign against Ramoth-gilead. In order the better to impress his audience Zedekiah produced iron horns, and said to Ahab, "With these shalt thou push the Syrians, until they be consumed." He also endeavored to weaken the influence of Micaiah ben Imlah upon the kings by asking ironically, "Which way went the Spirit of Yahweh from me to speak unto thee?"
In Josephus (Ant., VIII, xv, 4) there is an interesting rearrangement and embellishment of the Biblical narrative. There Zedekiah is represented as arguing that since Micaiah contradicts Elijah’s prediction as to the place of Ahab’s death, he must be regarded as a false prophet. Then, smiting his opponent, he prayed that if he were in the wrong his right hand might forthwith be withered. Ahab, seeing that no harm befell the hand that had smitten Micaiah, was convinced; whereupon Zedekiah completed his triumph by the incident of the horns mentioned above.
(2) The son of Maaseiah (Jer 29:21-23). A false prophet who, in association with another, Ahab by name, prophesied among the exiles in Babylon, and foretold an early return from captivity. Jeremiah sternly denounced them, not only for their false and reckless predictions, but also for their foul and adulterous lives, and declared that their fate at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar should become proverbial in Israel.
(3) The son of Hananiah (Jer 36:12). One of the princes of Judah before whom Jeremiah’s roll was read in the 5th year of Jehoiakim.
(4) One of the officials who sealed the renewed covenant (Ne 10:1, the "Zid-kijah"). The fact that his name is coupled with Nehemiah’s suggests that he was a person of importance. But nothing further is known of him.
(5) The last king of Judah (see following article).
John A. Lees
(tsidhqiyahu, "Yah my righteousness"; name changed from Mattaniah (mattanyah, "gift of Yah"; Sedekias):
I. SOURCES FOR HIS REGION AND TIME
II. THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE LAST KING OF JUDAH
1. The Situation
2. The Parvenu Temper
4. Character of the King
5. His Fate
6. Doom of the Nation
The last king of Judah, uncle and successor of Jehoiachin; reigned 11 years, from 597 to 586, and was carried captive to Babylon.
I. Sources for His Reign and Time.
Neither of the accounts in 2Ki 24:18-25:7 and 2Ch 36:11-21 refers, as is the usual custom, to state annals; these ran out with the reign of Jehoiakim. The history in 2 Kings is purely scribal and historianic in tone; 2 Chronicles, especially as it goes on to the captivity, is more fervid and homiletic. Both have a common prophetic origin; and indeed Jeremiah 52, which is put as an appendix to the book of his prophecy, tells the story of the reign and subsequent events, much as does 2 Kings, but in somewhat fuller detail.
II. The Administration of the Last King of Judah.
1. The Situation:
When Nebuchadnezzar took away Jehoiachin, and with him all the men of weight and character (see under JEHOIACHIN), his object was plain: to leave a people so broken in resources and spirit that they would not be moved to rebellion (see Eze 17:14). But this measure of his effected a segmentation of the nation which the prophets immediately recognized as virtually separating out their spiritual "remnant" to go to Babylon, while the worldly and inferior grades remained in Jerusalem. These are sharply distinguished from each other by Jeremiah in his parable of the Figs (chapter 24), published soon after the first deportation. The people that were left were probably of the same sort that Zephaniah described a few years before, those who had "settled on their lees" (1:12), a godless and inert element in religion and state. Their religious disposition is portrayed by Ezekiel in Zedekiah’s 6th year, in his clairvoyant vision of the uncouth temple rites, as it were a cesspool of idolatry, maintained under the pretext that Yahweh had forsaken the land (see Eze 8). Clearly these were not of the prophetic stamp. It was over such an inferior grade of people that Zedekiah was appointed to a thankless and tragic reign.
2. The Parvenu Temper:
For a people so raw and inexperienced in administration the prophets recognized one clear duty: to keep the oath which they had given to Nebuchadnezzar (see Eze 17:14-16). But they acted like men intoxicated with new power; their accession to property and unwonted position turned their heads. Soon after the beginning of the reign we find Jeremiah giving emphatic warning both to his nation and the ambassadors of neighboring nations against a rebellious coalition (Jeremiah 27 mistakenly dated in the 4th year of Jehoiakim; compare 27:3,12); he has also an encounter with prophets who, in contradiction of his consistent message, predict the speedy restoration of Jehoiachin and the temple vessels. The king’s visit to Babylon (Jer 51:59) was probably made to clear himself of complicity in treasonable plots. Their evil genius, Egypt, however, is busy with the too headstrong upstart rulers; and about the middle of the reign Zedekiah breaks his covenant with his over-lord and, relying on Egypt, embarks on rebellion. The prophetic view of this movement is, that it is a moral outrage; it is breaking a sworn word (Eze 17:15-19), and thus falsifying the truth of Yahweh.
This act of rebellion against the king of Babylon was not the only despite done to "Yahweh’s oath." Its immediate effect, of course, was to precipitate the invasion of the Chaldean forces, apparently from Riblah on the Orontes, where for several years Nebuchadnezzar had his headquarters. Ezekiel has a striking description of his approach, halting to determine by arrow divination whether to proceed against Judah or Ammon (21:18-23). Before laying siege to Jerusalem, however, he seems to have spent some time reducing outlying fortresses (compare Jer 34:1-7); and during the suspense of this time the king sent a deputation to Jeremiah to inquire whether Yahweh would not do "according to all his wondrous works," evidently hoping for some such miraculous deliverance as had taken place in the time of Sennacherib (Jer 21:1 ). The prophet gives his uniform answer, that the city must fall; advising the house of David also to "execute justice and righteousness." Setting about this counsel as if they would bribe Yahweh’s favor, the king then entered into an agreement with his people to free all their Hebrew bond-slaves (Jer 34:8-10), and sent back a deputation to the prophet entreating his intercession (Jer 37:3), as if, having bribed Yahweh, they might work some kind of a charm on the divine will. Nebuchadnezzar had meanwhile invested the city; but just then the Egyptian army approached to aid Judah, and the Babylonian king raised the siege long enough to drive the Egyptians back to their own land; at which, judging that Yahweh had interfered as of old, the people caused their slaves to return to their bondage (Jer 34:11). This treachery called forth a trenchant prophecy from Jeremiah, predicting not only the speedy return of the Chaldean army (Jer 37:6-10), but the captivity of the king and the destruction of the city (Jer 34:17-22). It was during this temporary cessation of the siege that Jeremiah, attempting to go to Anathoth to redeem his family property, was seized on the pretext of deserting to the enemy, and put in prison (Jer 37:11-15).
4. Character of the King:
During the siege, which was soon resumed, Zedekiah’s character, on its good and bad sides, was revealed through his frequent contact with the prophet Jeremiah. The latter was a prisoner most of the time; and the indignities which he suffered, and which the king heedlessly allowed, show how the prophet’s word and office had fallen in respect (compare the treatment he received, Jer 26:16-19 with 37:15; 38:6). The king, however, was not arrogant and heartless like his brother Jehoiakim; he was weak and without consistent principles; besides, he was rather helpless and timid in the hands of his headstrong officials (compare Jer 38:5,24-26). His regard for the word of prophecy was rather superstitious than religious: while the prophet’s message and counsel were uniformly consistent, he could not bring himself to follow the will of Yahweh, and seemed to think that Yahweh could somehow be persuaded to change his plans (see Jer 37:17; 38:14-16). His position was an exceedingly difficult one; but even so, he had not the firmness, the wisdom, the consistency for it.
In his siege of the city Nebuchadnezzar depended mainly on starving it into surrender; and we cannot withhold a measure of admiration for a body of defenders who, in spite of the steadily decreasing food supply and the ravages of pestilence, held the city for a year and a half.
5. His Fate:
During this time Jeremiah’s counsel was well known: the counsel of surrender, and the promise that so they could save their lives (Jer 21:9; 38:2). It was for this, indeed, that he was imprisoned, on the plea that he "weakened the hands" of the defenders; and it was due to the mercy of a foreign slave that he did not suffer death (Jer 38:7-9). At length in the 11th year of Zedekiah’s reign, just as the supply of food in the city was exhausted, the Chaldean army effected a breach in the wall, and the king of Babylon with his high officials came in and sat in the middle gate. Zedekiah and his men of war, seeing this, fled by night, taking the ill-advised route by the road to Jericho; were pursued and captured in the plains of the Jordan; and Zedekiah was brought before the king of Babylon at Riblah. After putting to death Zedekiah’s sons and the nobles of Judah before his eyes, the king of Babylon then put out the eyes of Zedekiah and carried him captive to Babylon, where, it is uncertain how long after, he died. Jeremiah had prophesied that he would die in peace and have a state mourning (Jer 34:4,5); Ezekiel’s prophecy of his doom is enigmatic: "I will bring him to Babylon to the land of the Chaldeans; yet shall he not see it, though he shall die there" (Eze 12:13).
6. Doom of the Nation:
The cruelly devised humiliation of the king was only an episode in the tragic doom of the city and nation. Nebuchadnezzar was not minded to leave so stubborn and treacherous a fortress on his path of conquest toward Egypt. A month after the event at Riblah his deputy, Nebuzaradan, entered upon the reduction of the city: burning the temple and all the principal houses, breaking down the walls, carrying away the temple treasures still unpillaged, including the bronze work which was broken into scrap metal, and deporting the people who were left after the desperate resistance and those who had voluntarily surrendered. The religious and state officials were taken to Riblah and put to death. "So," the historian concludes, "Judah was carried away captive out of his land" (Jer 52:27). This was in 586 BC. This, however, was only the political date of the Babylonian exile, the retributive limit for those leavings of Israel who for 11 years had played an insincere game of administration and failed. The prophetic date, from which Ezekiel reckons the years of exile, and from which the prophetic eye is kept on the fortunes and character of the people who are to be redeemed, was 597 BC, when Jehoiachin’s long imprisonment began and when the flower of Israel, transplanted to a foreign home, began its term of submission to the word and will of Yahweh. It was this saving element in Israel who still had a recognized king and a promised future. By both Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Zedekiah was regarded not as Yahweh’s anointed but as the one whom Nebuchadnezzar "had made king" (Jer 37:1; Eze 17:16), "the king that sitteth upon the throne of David" (Jer 29:16). The real last king of Judah was Jehoiachin; Ezekiel’s title for Zedekiah is "prince" (Eze 12:10).