How do you end the telling of Israel’s history? The author of Kings started with the rise of Solomon and has described for us the complete failure of the nation. Solomon’s sins have trickled down until we have heard the Lord declare that Jerusalem will be wiped like a dish so that there will be nothing left. So how do you end the telling of Israel’s history when its history has been one of complete failure? Israel has failed in its divine purpose in representing God to the world. Israel has failed in being a light to the nations and bringing salvation to the ends of the earth. Israel has failed so catastrophically that we were told that the people are behaving worse than the nations that lived on the land before them. It is interesting to me that as humans we cannot bear to watch a movie or television show that ends on a bad note. It just does not seem right. Intrinsically we need there to be a happy ending or something is just wrong. The final message to Israel is an important message to us as we face our difficulties as well.
The Final Kings
If you will scan your Bible from 2 Kings 23:31-24:20 you will notice that the author quickly gives his narrative about the final four kings of Judah. None of these kings are given a significant amount of attention, telling us as readers that their actions are not the focus for the end of the nation. Jehoahaz, the son of Josiah, takes the throne and reigns three months (23:31-35). He does what is evil in God’s eyes just like the majority of the prior kings and not like his father. Pharaoh Neco of Egypt imprisoned Jehoahaz and the nation became subjugated to Egypt. Jehoahaz dies in Egypt (23:34). Pharaoh Neco places another of son of Josiah on the throne, Eliakim, but changes his name to Jehoiakim (23:34-37). Jehoiakim reigns for 11 years and also does what is evil is God’s eyes. It is during his reign that the Babylonians invade Judah and he is carried away into captivity. His son Jehoiachin takes the throne and reigns three months. He also does what is evil in the Lord’s sight (24:6-16). The Babylonians invade again and Jehoiachin was taken into Babylonian captivity. Finally, Jehoiachin’s uncle, Zedekiah, is put on the throne by the king of Babylon. He reigns 11 years and does evil in the Lord’s sight (24:17-20). It is during his reign that Babylon comes invades again, utterly destroying the rest of Judah and Jerusalem. I mentioned at the beginning that what the kings did during their reigns is not really the focus of these final chapters. Rather, the author wants to draw our attention to three key teaching points as the history of Israel’s kings comes to a close.
God Brought the Destruction
One point that is highlighted throughout these chapters is that God was the reason for Judah’s destruction, using Egypt and Babylon to invade. Look at 2 Kings 24:2. Jehoiakim revolts against the king of Babylon. Verse 2 says that the Lord sent the Babylon’s against Jehoiakim. Look at the middle verse 2. The Lord sent them against Judah to destroy it. Look at verse 3. “It indeed came upon Judah at the command of the Lord” (24:3). Jump down to the reign of Zedekiah and notice what the text says in 24:20. “For it was due to the anger of the Lord that this happened in Jerusalem and Judah, until he cast them out of his presence” (24:20). I want us to see that all the trouble that came on the leaders, all the trouble that came on the people, and all the trouble that came on the country was from God. God brought these things. God brought the chaos into the land. It was at God’s command and from God’s anger that these things happened. Judah was not supposed to consider their difficulties as a result from a series of unfortunate events. Trouble is supposed to cause us to look to God. But each king continued to do what was evil in God’s sight and disregard the prophets that were speaking on God’s behalf. The collapse of the country was God directed. The book of Daniel reveals that this is true, not only for Israel, but all world nations and powers (cf. Daniel 4:17; 5:23; 7:23-27; 2:31-45).
But there is something else that is said about this in this section about God bringing about the nation’s collapse. Look again at 2 Kings 24:3-4. The Lord did all these things “and the Lord was unwilling to forgive.” Do you find this statement disturbing? I hope it does. Why was the Lord unwilling to forgive? I do not believe the point is that the people were repenting and asking for forgiveness but God was unwilling to forgive. That is not the picture of God that we read in the scriptures. Further, God did not send the prophets to the people to tell them that there was no hope. Rather, the prophets were calling for the people to repent and perhaps God will relent because that is his character. So why was the Lord unwilling to forgive? The reason is because no one was returning to the Lord. The kings continued in wickedness. The people continued to reject God. No one was seeking the Lord. To put this another way: the corruption was irreversible. The 55 years of Manasseh’s reign forever changed Judah so that it could not return. We can see similar things in our country where certain decisions have been made and various sins praised so that the country is forever changed and could not return to God. There is a point where the wickedness only produces more wickedness and the condition cannot be reversed. God is unwilling to forgive because the nation is too far gone. Therefore God brings his judgment and destruction.
The Fall of the Temple
Look at what gets the majority of the attention in 2 Kings 23:31-25:30. We see the Babylonian invasion described in 24:1-5. More is said about the second invasion in 24:10-16. In verse 13 the stripping of the temple is described. The articles of gold that Solomon made are smashed and the people are carried into exile. But look at chapter 25. Babylon attacks Jerusalem again. The first seven verses describe the attack against the city of Jerusalem. But look at verses 8-21. The author gives us a detailed account of the destruction of the temple. The temple is burned. Everything of any value is stripped from the temple. Whatever could not be taken was smashed to pieces.
Why is so much attention given to the destruction of the temple? We need to remember the importance and meaning of the temple to answer this question. When Solomon completed this temple he made an important dedication speech in 1 Kings 8. The temple represented the presence of God. The temple represented God living among his people, placing his name with them. The temple represented the place where the people could come and worship God, enjoying fellowship with him. The temple represented the place where the people could turn and pray to God. The temple represented the place where the people could turn and find forgiveness. Now this temple, representing God with his people, God in fellowship with his people, God receiving the prayers from his people, and God forgiving his people is destroyed. God destroyed his own temple. The reason the majority of the text describes the destruction of the temple is because the significance of this event cannot be overstated. Ezekiel had a vision where he saw the Lord leaving his temple to be destroyed because God was not with his people anymore (Ezekiel 10). Twenty-two years after Josiah died, the temple is destroyed. Without the temple, God is not with his people. Without the temple, the people cannot worship God. Without the temple, the people cannot be forgiven nor be in fellowship with God. God has tried to live with his people. But the experiment has failed and God cannot be with them any longer. This is the overwhelming message of these final chapters. The hope of the people and the world appears to be gone.
But the book ends on a strange note. The book does not end with the destruction of the temple as we might expect. The book does not end with the final king, Zedekiah, and the death of his sons or of himself. The book does not end with the governors vying for power in the land now that the kings are gone. The book does not end with the people moving to Egypt for fear of the Babylonians (25:26). Look at 2 Kings 25:27-30 and see how the book ends.
The book ends with Jehoiachin, who had been taken into Babylonian exile, having a reversal of fortune. He is released from prison by the new king of Babylon. The new king speaks kindly to Jehoiachin and elevates him to a set of honor. He is changed out of his prison clothes and dines at the table of the king for the rest of his life. The rest of his days he is provided for by this new king. So why does the account end on Jehoiachin, who is not the last king of Judah? Why does the account end with a strange account of reversal in Babylon?
First, Jehoiachin is important because he is the king line to Jesus (cf. Matthew 1:12). When we read the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 we see the son of Josiah, Jechoniah which is another name of Jehoichin. The survival of Jehoiachin is important because it will be his sons that will ultimately bring the Savior of the world.
Second, Jehoiachin’s reversal shows that Israel’s condition is not permanent. Though exiled, Jehoiachin is eventually set free from his exile and is made to prosper yet again. In the same way, though Judah has been sent into exile, this is not the final word. There is left a whispering hope that Judah will also be set free from its exile, a new exodus will arrive, and the people will prosper yet again.
Finally, the template for return is pictured in these final events recorded for Jehoiachin. What the people must wait for is a new king to arise. When the new king comes, he will set the people free from their captivity. When the new king comes he will speak kindly and have a heart of compassion for the people. When the new king comes, he will give them a seat of honor and elevated status that is completely undeserved. When the new king comes, he will call for the people to sit at table with him, dining with him, and enjoy the king’s provisions all the days of their lives. The book whispers a final hope that when the king comes, everything that had been lost will be restored. When the king comes, the solution to all our problems will have come. The Gospel of Matthew opens with the announcement of King Jesus. But we will have to save our look at that announcement for in a few weeks when we start our study of the Gospel of Matthew.
God’s story never ends without a message of hope. The books of 1 & 2 Kings show us that the wages of sin is death. These books show us what happens when we make anything in our lives more important than God. But these books also always show us a picture of hope. Even the vilest of people were afforded the opportunity to repent and to be released from their sins. God whispers this same hope to you. You have not sinned too much. Your sin is not too great. You are not doomed to eternal punishment. God whispers hope to you that you can have your condition reversed if you will turn back to him.