King Josiah of Judah, the last good king of the southern kingdom before the exile, led God’s people in a short-lived revival and reformation during his thirty-one years on the throne (2 Kings 22:1–23:25). But when Josiah died, Judah returned to the wickedness that had marked the land before Josiah. As Matthew Henry aptly observes in his commentary, “Jerusalem saw not a good day after Josiah was laid in his grave, but one trouble came after another, till within twenty-two years it was quite destroyed.”
After Josiah was killed in battle with Pharaoh Neco of Egypt, the Judahites made his son Jehoahaz king. His reign, which was marked by his doing “evil in the sight of the LORD,” would last only three months before Neco removed him from the throne. Neco had brought Judah under his control when he defeated Josiah, and evidently Jehoahaz did something to displease the pharaoh, though the text does not tell us what. In any case, Jehoahaz was not godly like his father, and the land of Judah suffered for it (2 Kings 23:30b–33).
After deposing Jehoahaz, Neco took another of Josiah’s sons, Eliakim, renamed him Jehoiakim, and set him on the throne. The renaming signified that Neco and Egypt had the real power over Judah, not Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim continued to tax the Judahites in order to send tribute to Egypt, and during his eleven-year reign, he also “did what was evil in the sight of the LORD” (vv. 34–37).
That brings us to 2 Kings 24:1, where we read that “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years.” We are reading about events that took place in about 606 BC, the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign, when Nebuchadnezzar II was expanding the reach of the Babylonian Empire and gained control of Judah after defeating Egypt. Unsurprisingly, Judah did not submit to Babylon without a fight. Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, and in keeping with Babylonian practice, he took many of the members of the Judahite royal family as well as promising young leaders to Babylon, including the prophet Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Dan. 1:1–7).
After three years of subjection to Babylon, Jehoiakim rebelled, and the rest of his reign was marked by continual decline as he fought the Chaldeans (Babylonians) and many others (2 Kings 24:1–7). As the Lord had promised, He was bringing disaster upon Jerusalem and Judah to punish the people’s evil (21:10–15).