We get a sense of how bad things were during the final days of Judah when we consider the lengths of the reigns of the final four kings—Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. These four kings ruled for just over twenty-two years, with two of them reigning for only three months each and two for eleven years each (2 Kings 23:31, 36; 24:8, 18). Such rapid turnover was more characteristic of the northern kingdom of Israel, which had been known for its pervasive idolatry. Yet, at the end of Judah’s history before the exile, the same political instability that earlier marked the north now marked the south. The lesson is clear: Judah’s spiritual degeneracy had become as bad as or worse than Israel’s, for Judah was suffering the same kind of political upheaval that characterized Israel (see 15:8–22).
Today’s passage takes us through the reigns of the last two kings of Judah, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah. Jehoiachin was on the throne in Judah for only three months when Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem. This happened around 603/602 BC, and it occurred because Babylon was finally putting an end to the rebellion initiated by Jehoiachin’s predecessor, King Jehoiakim (see 24:1). As happened when Babylon first took Judah from Egypt’s control (Dan. 1:1–7), Babylon deported many of the residents of Jerusalem and Judah. This time, however, Babylon also took the king, the king’s mother, the king’s wives, and many other officials from the land. The Babylonians also captured the craftsmen and fighting men, and they looted the treasuries of the temple and palace (2 Kings 24:10–16). This siege was far more devastating to Judah than the one that happened at the beginning of Jehoiakim’s reign. The prophet Ezekiel was among the Judahites taken to Babylon alongside Jehoiachin (Ezek. 1:1–3).
In place of Jehoiachin, the Babylonians set up his uncle Mattaniah as king of Judah, renaming him Zedekiah. We read more about Zedekiah in the book of Jeremiah, where we see that he often heard from Jeremiah, although he was not willing to heed the prophet’s warnings (e.g., Jer. 37–38). Among other things, Zedekiah is known for proclaiming the Year of Jubilee only to later go back on his word (34:8–22; see Lev. 25:1–22). After all, as we are told in 2 Kings 24:19, he did what was evil in God’s sight, including violating the law regarding the Year of Jubilee. He lacked godly wisdom, and that would prove to be Judah’s undoing.