Zedekiah, the final king of Judah before the exile, ascended the throne in Jerusalem in 597 BC. Put in place by Babylon after the empire took King Jehoiachin into exile, Zedekiah was little more than a puppet ruler (2 Kings 24:8–17). And like many of the kings of Judah before him, he repeated his predecessors’ idolatry and their failed revolts against greater powers. In Zedekiah’s case, however, the consequences of the king’s failures were the loss of the promised land and the temple in Jerusalem.
During Zedekiah’s reign of eleven years, the Lord’s patience with His covenant nation finally ended. As 2 Kings 24:20 indicates, “because of the anger of the LORD it came to the point in Jerusalem and Judah that he cast them out from his presence.” His means of doing this was Babylon’s capture and destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. At some point during his reign, Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon, seeking to cast off the yoke of the empire and restore Judah’s independence (v. 20). Jeremiah 37:1–10 indicates that Egypt attempted to come to Judah’s aid, so it is clear that in this rebellion, Judah was trusting in earthly powers and not in God. Isaiah forbade looking to Egypt for assistance a century and a half earlier, but Zedekiah’s heart was far from the Lord and thus far from the revelation given through the prophets (2 Kings 24:19; see Isa. 30:1–5).
We do not know exactly when Zedekiah’s rebellion began, but by 588 BC, Babylon had Jerusalem surrounded and began laying siege to the city. No “international laws” regarding military operations existed in the ancient world, and we cannot overemphasize the horror that the two-year siege inflicted on the residents of Jerusalem (25:1–2). The goal was to cut off supplies to the city and starve its residents to the point of surrender, and that is exactly what happened in 586 BC. Zedekiah and his army tried to flee, but Zedekiah was captured and forced to watch the execution of his sons before having his own eyes put out by the Babylonians, who then took him into exile (vv. 3–7). The Babylonians destroyed the temple, the most sacred site in the promised land, and carted off the precious metals in the temple complex. Only the poorest and least influential Judahites were allowed to remain in their land (vv. 8–21).
The fall of Judah and Jerusalem shows us that while God is exceedingly patient, He will not abide sin forever. His judgment may seem slow in coming, but it will surely come.