Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. A NATION SINKING INTO SERVITUDE. When Egypt comes up and deposes one king and sets up another, calling that other by a name that it pleases to confer, at the same time imposing a heavy tribute on the people of the land; and when, that power declining, Assyria sends its troops and, without any resistance, enters the capital, puts the sovereign in chains, and then extends to him a contemptuous protectorate; when this same power again comes up and carries away the sovereign after a brief reign of three months, and takes him away, with the most precious treasures of the capital; - we are affected by a sense of pitiful national decline. We enter into the feelings of its patriot-subjects who could not have helped contrasting the glories of the age of David and Solomon with the abject humiliation of their own time. A strong and self-respecting people falling into servitude, bowing its head to an utterly relentless power which has no other force than that of the sword and the war-chariot, - this is a melancholy spectacle indeed. It may profitably suggest to us the question - What is the real cause of a nation's fall? and it will be found, on inquiry, that while this may be due to overweening ambition, it is much more likely to be ascribed to indulgence, to demoralization, to the weakness which must attend moral and spiritual deterioration. Simplicity and purity of life, sustained by Christian principle - this is the one security against decline, subjection, and ruin.
II. A YOUNG MAN'S HOPES EXTINGUISHED. NO doubt the young prince Jehoahaz grew up in the court of Judah with high hopes for his future. His father was in possession of no mean estate, and there was every prospect of his succeeding to some measure, if not to the chief part of it. But, after three months' occupancy or power and enjoyment of wealth, to be cast into chains and taken away to languish in confinement in Egypt until he died, was a sad and sorry portion. We do not know, but we can well imagine, that there was high hope extinguished, love broken off, much earthly brightness suddenly eclipsed. It is one of the consolations of obscurity that it is much less likely than is prominence to be subjected to such sudden and painful overthrow. It is most wise on the part of all of us to have in reserve a spiritual force that will sustain us if we "suffer the loss of all things" human and temporal.
III. A YOUNG MAN CHOOSING THE EVIL PATH. Of Jehoahaz, as well as of Jehoiakim and of Jehoiachin (see 2 Kings 23:32, 37; 2 Kings 24:9), it is recorded that "he did evil in the sight of the Lord." This is peculiarly sad as applicable to Jehoahaz. Considering the gracious influences under which he spent his childhood and his boyhood at court, he ought to have done (as he must have known) better things. Instead of confirming and consolidating the glorious revolution effected by his father, he dissipated all good forces and broke up all good institutions. It is not in the power of most young men to work evil on such a scale; but who shall measure the good left undone and the evil wrought when one young man deliberately chooses the evil part? Within the compass of one human life large capacities are included; how large only Omniscience can tell. Lot the young man feel that not for his own sake only, but also for the sake of a very large number of other human souls, it is of the greatest consequence that he should walk in the ways of heavenly wisdom. - C.
1. ELECTED BY THE PEOPLE OF THE LAND. (Ver. 1.)
1. In his father's stead. When Necho had defeated Josiah, instead of turning back to seize Jerusalem, which was virtually in his power, he pushed forward on his first intended march towards the Euphrates. Accordingly, on Josiah's death, Josiah's second son, Shallum, "He who shall be requited" (Jeremiah 22:11) - a name of evil omen (2 Kings 15:13) - was called to the throne under the name Jehoahaz, "He whom Jehovah sustains." Like his predecessor of the same name, Ahaz the son of Jotham (2 Chronicles 28:1), he failed to follow in the steps of his pious father, and rather, like the earlier untheocratic kings, surrendered himself to the practice of idolatry under the guidance of the heathen party in the state (2 Kings 23:2). According to Josephus, he was "an impious man, and impure in his course of life" ('Ant.,' 10:5. 2). Most likely it was he whom Ezekiel described as "a young lion that learned to catch the prey and devoured men, but, as soon as the nations heard of him, he was taken in their pit, and brought with hooks into the land of Egypt" (Ezekiel 19:3, 4).
2. Over his elder brother. As Eliakim was twenty-five years when he began to reign (ver. 5), it is obvious he was older than Shallum, who must, therefore, have been elevated to the throne by the voice of the people. As Shallum was not the legitimate heir, he was anointed (2 Kings 23:30) - a custom usual in the case of founders of new dynasties (2 Kings 9:3). He may have been preferred to his brother Eliakim on account of his ferocious character and supposed warlike qualities (Keil), or because Eliakim was at the time beyond their reach, having probably taken part in the battle of Megiddo and been made a prisoner (Rawlinson).
II. DEPOSED BY THE KING OF EGYPT. (Ver. 3.)
1. After a short reign. Only three brief months was he allowed to retain the regal dignity. The other Shallum's time of glory was still shorter. Sic transit gloria mundi.
2. At the request of his brother. This, at least, is not improbable. As Necho was not far distant, viz. at Riblath, in the land of Hamath (2 Kings 23:33), the party favourable to Eliakim, the legitimate heir, may have craved his help against the usurper.
3. By means of treachery. The language of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 19:3, 4) seems to imply that he was caught by guile, entrapped by stratagem. That Necho actually returned from Riblah with part of his forces, besieged and captured Jerusalem (Keil), is doubtful, and is not required by the language of the Chronicler (ver. 3). It is more likely that Jehoahaz was either expressly summoned by Necho (Josephus), or treacherously enticed into visiting the camp at Riblah (Ewald), where he was thrown into chains and so deposed.
4. With the imposition of a fine upon the land. "A hundred talents of silver;' equivalent to £34,200, and "a talent of gold," equivalent to £5475, were exacted in tribute, and as a pledge of fealty to Egypt.
III. SUCCEEDED BY HIS FATHER'S SON. (Ver. 4.)
1. Whose right was vindicated. The throne belonged to him by right of primogeniture.
2. Whose name was changed. Called Eliakim, "Whom God establishes," he was designated, on acceding to the king-dora, Jehoiakim, "Jehovah has set up"
3. Whose throne was secured. The usurper being deported to Egypt, where he died (2 Kings 23:34), removed the likelihood at least of civil strife.
IV. LAMENTED BY A PROPHET OF JEHOVAH. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 22:10-12) probably only gave expression to the feelings of regard cherished by Jeheahaz's subjects, who mourned:
1. For their own disappointed hopes. During his short reign he had pleased the people, caught the popular imagination, and excited in them expectations of being able to revive the faded glories and upraise the fallen fortunes of Judaea. But now these anticipations were scattered to the winds.
2. For his melancholy fate. This seemed worse than what had threatened to befall Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:1; Isaiah 38:10) - to be cut off in the middle of his days; worse even than what had overtaken his illustrious father - death upon the battle-field (2 Chronicles 35:23, 24). No king of Judah had before been carried off into hopeless exile. Manasseh had, indeed, been deported to Babylon (2 Chronicles 33:11), but had afterwards been restored to his crown and kingdom (2 Chronicles 33:20). In the case of Jehoahaz no such alleviation of his misery could be looked for. Jehovah's word, through Jeremiah, was the death-stroke to any such expectation: "He shall die in the place whither they have led him captive, and shall see this land no more." Learn:
1. The strange vicissitudes of mortal life.
2. The miseries of many kings - a check to ambition.
3. The certainty of God's Word. - W.
I. A NEW KING UPON THE THRONE OF JUDAH. (Ver. 5.)
1. His designation. Eliakim, "Whom God establishes," changed into Jehoiakim, "Jehovah has set up;" not by himself (Cheyne, 'Jeremiah: his Life and Times,' p. 142), though it would almost seem as if Uzziah had adopted that name instead of Azariah on acceding to the crown (2 Chronicles 26:1), and Pal had assumed the title Tiglath-Pileser, "Adar is my confidence," on succeeding Shalmaneser of Assyria (Saye, 'Fresh Light,' etc., p. 126); but by Necho II. (ver. 4; 2 Kings 23:34), as Mattaniah's name was changed into Zedekiah by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24:17); which statements may be harmonized by supposing that "Necho and Nebuchadnezzar treated the vassal kings appointed by them not altogether as slaves, but permitted them to choose themselves the new names, which they only confirmed in token of their supremacy" (Keil).
2. His lineage. The son of Josiah and of Zebudah, the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah, supposed to be identical with Arumah, near Shechem (2 Kings 32:36). Jehoahaz., whom he succeeded, was his younger brother by a different mother, Hamutal, the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah (2 Kings 23:31).
3. His accession.
(1) As to time, when he was twenty-five years of age, which shows he must have been born in his father's fourteenth year.
(2) As to means, by the help of Necho II., who deposed his usurping brother (ver. 3), partly perhaps because he was a usurper, but partly also, it may be assumed, because the people had elected that brother without having first obtained Necho's consent.
(3) As to title, he was Josiah's eldest son, and therefore the crown prince and legal heir to the throne.
4. His character. Bad; modelled upon that of Ahab rather than of Josiah (Jeremiah 22:15, reading of two Septuagint manuscripts, adopted by Cheyne).
(1) Idolatrous: "He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord" (ver. 5), as his half-brother had done (2 Kings 23:32). "He devoted himself with his whole soul to the heathen party, reintroduced all the foreign rites formerly extirpated by Josiah, and added the Egyptian to their number" (Ewald), of which the amplest proof appears in the prophets (Jeremiah 7:9, etc.; Jeremiah 17:2; 19:4, 5; Ezekiel 8:9-17).
(2) Violent; in this respect like his brother, compared to a young lion who learnt to catch the prey and devoured men (Ezekiel 19:5, 6; of. Jeremiah 22:17); the worst examples of his violence being his murder of Urijah the prophet, whom he fetched out of Egypt and slew (Jeremiah 26:22), and his burning of Jeremiah's roll, accompanied with an order to arrest the prophet (Jeremiah 36:23, 26).
(3) Luxurious; he strove to excel in cedar, by building for himself a costly palace of ample proportions, with spacious chambers and large windows, celled with cedar, and painted with vermilion (Jeremiah 22:14, 15). "At another time certainly no one could have blamed Jehoiakim and his nobles for being discontented with the narrow, ill-lighted chambers of Syrian houses; but was this the moment for beautifying Jerusalem when the land was still groaning under Necho's war-fine?" (Cheyne, 'Jeremiah: his Life and Times,' p. 141).
(4) Exacting; grinding the faces of his people with severe taxation to pay the tribute to Pharaoh (2 Kings 23:33), and cheating of their hard-earned wages the very labourers who built his palace (Jeremiah 22:13).
(5) Licentious; abandoning himself to lewdness (Ezekiel 19:7, margin; 1 Esdr. 1:42). In short, "he remained fixed in the recollections of his countrymen as the last example of those cruel, selfish, luxurious princes, the natural product of Oriental monarchies, the disgrace of the monarchy of David "(Stanley).
5. His reign. Eleven years. Too long for any good it wrought. Judah could hardly have fared worse, had he been uncrowned after three months, as his brother had been.
6. His death. Accounts vary.
(1) The Chronicler does not make it clear whether he was carried to Babylon or not. If he was (Daniel 1:2; 1 Esdras 1:40, LXX.), he was probably, like Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:13), permitted after a time to return to his own land (Keil, Bertheau, Jamieson), since
(2) according to 2 Kings (2 Kings 24:6), Jehoiakim" slept with his fathers," and, according to the LXX., "was buried in the garden of Uzzah." The addendum of the LXX. is obviously non-authentic, and the statement of Scripture seems contradicted by
(3) passages in Jeremiah, which say that Jehoiakim should be "buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem" (Jeremiah 22:19), and that his dead body should be "cast out in the day to the heat, and in the night to the frost" (Jeremiah 36:30). The reconciliation, however, of the seeming discrepancy is easy. He may have been slain by the hand of an assassin, and his dead body thereupon cast out unburied (Cheyne); or "he may have perished in a battle with some one of the irregular marauding bands who, according to 2 Kings 24:2, came against him" (Keil, Bahr), and his corpse been left to rot upon the battle-field; or, after being first executed by Nebuchadnezzar and buried with the burial of an ass, his bones may have been collected and interred in the sepulchre of Manasseh (Rawlinson). If. A NEW ENEMY AT THE GATE OF JERUSALEM. (Ver. 6.)
1. His person. Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadrezzar (Jeremiah 21:2), Nabuchodonosor (LXX.), in the inscriptions Nabu-kudurri-usur, meaning "Nebo protect the crown."
2. His descent. A son of Nabopolassar, a general of Sarak, the last King of Nineveh (Ewald), perhaps the viceroy of Babylon (Cheyne). On the fall of Nineveh he founded the new Babylonian empire (B.C. 625-610).
3. His title. King of Babylon. Hitherto the enemies of Jerusalem and Judah had been kings of Egypt (2 Chronicles 12:2; 2 Chronicles 36:3) or of Assyria (2 Chronicles 28:20; 2 Chronicles 32:1, 2); now it is a King of Babylon. According to the canon of Ptolemy, Nebuchadnezzar ascended the throne in B.C. 604; according to Berosus, while crown prince he was, in B.C. 605, despatched by his father "to crush a revolt of the western provinces," in which he was entirely successful, having conquered Syria and Phoenicia as well as Egypt.
4. His invasion. According to Daniel, this occurred in Jehoiakim's third year (Daniel 1:1), the year before Nebuchadnezzar defeated Necho at Carchemish (Jeremiah 25:1; Jeremiah 46:2), i.e. B.C. 606. The probability is that, either before or immediately after defeating Necho, he proceeded to Jerusalem and received the submission of Jehoiakim, who had up till that time been Necho's vassal. In order to secure this transference of Jehoialdm's allegiance, he appears to have both taken the city and put its sovereign in chains, as if, should he prove refractory, to deport him to Babylon, but to have departed from this design on obtaining promise of Jehoiakim's fealty. This, however, Jehoiakim only kept for three years (2 Kings 24:1), at the end of which he rebelled, Nebuchadnezzar, being occupied with affairs in Babylon, having acceded to the throne only two years prior to Jehoiakim's revolt, despatched against the rebel several detachments of troops, "bands of Chaldeans," at the same time stirring up the Ammonites, Syrians, and Moabites to harass Judah (2 Kings 24:2), but not himself returning to Jerusalem till five years later, in the reign of Jehoiachin.
III. A NEW SPOLIATION OF JEHOVAH'S TEMPLE. (Ver. 7.)
1. The first plundering of the sacred edifice.
(1) By whom? Shishak (Sheshonk) King of Egypt.
(2) When? In the fifth year of Rehoboam, B.C. 971.
2. The second plundering of the sacred edifice.
(1) The despoiler. Ahaz King of Judah.
(2) The time. B.C. 734, during the Syro-Ephraimitish invasion.
(3) The reason. To purchase therewith the help of Tiglath-Pileser II. against Rezin of Damascus and Pekah of Samaria (2 Chronicles 28:21).
3. The third plundering of the sacred edifice.
(1) The agent, Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz.
(2) The act. He took "all the silver found in the house of the Lord... and the gold from the doors and pillars of the temple" (2 Kings 18:15, 16).
(3) The object. To give to Sennacherib King of Assyria as tribute-money.
(4) The date. When Sennacherib was encamped at Lachish, B.C. 701.
4. The fourth plundering of the sacred edifice.
(1) The person. Nebuchadnezzar, called King of Babylon, though at the time only crown-prince.
(2) The extent. Partial: "He carried off the vessels of the house of the Lord." Jeremiah (Jeremiah 27:18, 20) predicted that the vessels which had been left would one day be carried to Babylon, and would remain there until the return from captivity, when they should again be restored to their place in the temple (cf. ver. 18; Daniel 5:2; Ezra 1:7).
(3) The cause. To punish Judah as well as Jehoiakim, and to ensure their fealty.
(4) The aggravation. The pillaged vessels were transported to Babylon and deposited in "his temple," or "treasure house of his god" (Daniel 1:2; 1 Esdras 1:41), rather than "his palace" (Bertheau). The inscriptions show that Marduk, or Merodach, was Nebuchadnezzar's patron divinity, that Nebuchadnezzar's temple was the temple of Merodach at Babylon, which he completely built and restored, and that Nebuchadnezzar himself was, according to his ideas, intensely religions, even calling himself "the heaven-adoring king" ('Records,' etc., 5:113, etc.; 7:75, etc.).
1. The native corruption of the human heart, attested by the wicked characters of Josiah's sons.
2. The impossibility of going on in sin with impunity. - W.
Jeremiah 22:14), and in order to do this he had to impress the labour of his subjects (Jeremiah 22:13); he thus excited a strong feeling of just resentment and natural disaffection among them, and brought down upon himself the severe rebuke of the prophet of the Lord. We also learn from Jeremiah that the king acted in daring defiance of God's holy Law, presuming to cut in two and to burn in the fire the sacred roll (Jeremiah 36:23). By this wanton and impious action he still further drew down upon him the wrath of Jehovah, and by that act he terribly prejudiced and injured his country. How, then, can we wonder that the Chronicler writes, as in the text, of "the abominations which he did"? and how can we wonder that his death excited so different, so opposite a feeling throughout all his kingdom to that which the death of his father called forth (2 Chronicles 35:24, 25)? We have in him a melancholy instance of an unlamented death (Jeremiah 22:18).
I. A LAMENTABLE ABSENCE OF SORROW. Let no man say lightly or cynically, "I don't want any tears shed over my grave; I shall be quite content to die without any one sorrowing on my account." There is no true unselfishness, but much thoughtlessness" in such a sentiment. Any minister of religion who has stood at the grave-side, and has been unable to ask for God's comfort to be granted to those who are left behind, will know how little to be desired is the absence of grief at the death of a man or woman. For what does it mean? It means that God gave to such a man all the opportunities for winning human love, and that he did not gain it; for doing service, and that he left it undone; for rendering help and blessing, and that he did not render it; if means that a human life has been one long act of mean, barren, dreary selfishness, has been an utter failure, condemned of God and man! God forbid that any whom we love should die unlamented; with none to say, "Ah, my brother! ah, my sister!"
II. A SORROW MUCH TO BE DESIRED. Truly there is sorrow enough and to spare in this world of sin and woe. But there is one sorrow that no wise or good man would wish for one moment to be spared. It is that which we feel when our kindred and our friends are taken from us by death. The hope we have concerning these may chasten and (in time)supersede it. But sorrow there must be and should be. And it is well with us and for us that the heart bleeds freely then. For such sorrow is:
1. The tender tribute we pay to the worth of the departed, to their affection and to their goodness.
2. The proof that this hardening world has not petrified our spirit with its touch.
3. The share we have with all the best and truest of our race, enabling us to sympathize with them and to succour them.
4. The occasion which takes us often to the sympathizing Friend in elevating, chastening communion.
5. The unloosening of the ties which must soon he unbound to set us free. - C.
I. HIS CORONATION.
1. His title to the throne, He was Jehoiakim's son, his mother having been Nehushta, "The Brazen," the daughter of El-nathan of Jerusalem (ver. 8; 2 Kings 24:6, 8), one of the princes attached to Jehoiakim's court (Jeremiah 26:22; Jeremiah 36:12, 25).
2. His regal designation. Jehoiachin, "Jehovah has established," perhaps expressive of the hopes with which he assumed the sceptre. His personal name appears to have been "Couiah" (Jeremiah 22:24, 28), or Jeconiah (1 Chronicles 3:16), also signifying "Jehovah establishes."
3. His age at accession. Eight years (ver. 9), obviously a mistake for eighteen (2 Kings 24:8), since he had wives (2 Kings 24:15), and in Jeremiah is represented as a man, while, if Ezekiel (Ezekiel 19:5-9) refers to him rather than Jehoiakim, the language in ver. 7 is hardly suitable as applied to an infant or child of eight.
4. His continuance upon the throne. Three months and ten days - ten days longer than his uncle Jehoahaz (ver. 2), and "just as long as Napoleon's after his landing in March, 1815" (Cheyne). Another illustration of short-lived glory. Vanitas vanitatura!
II. HIS CHARACTER.
1. As a man. He was obviously no better than his father, in whose footsteps he walked. His father's wickedness allured more than his father's evil fortunes repelled him. Jehovah's withering scorn of Coniah as "a despised and broken pot," "a vessel wherein is no pleasure" (Jeremiah 22:28; cf. 48:38), significantly intimates the esteem in which he was held by him who tries the hearts and reins alike of kings and common men; while the relentless doom pronounced upon "this man" and "his seed" was a clear certification that the stock from which he sprang was incurably diseased, that the taint of vileness in the family was ineradicable, that he and his descendants were only fit to be cast out and trodden in the mire (Matthew 5:13; Luke 14:34).
2. As a king. "He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord" (ver. 9), He had no power, even had he possessed the inclination, to arrest the downward progress of his nation. By personal preference as well as by official position he was bound neck and heels to the heathen party to which his mother Nehushta belonged, and which sought neither the prosperity nor the safety of their land and kingdom in maintaining the pure worship of Jehovah, but in serving Canaanitish, Phoenician, Egyptian, Assyrian, or Babylonian idols, whichever should at any time be thought most likely to serve their turn.
III. HIS CAPTIVITY.
1. The reason. Not stated by either the Chronicler or the author of Kings, this may have been suspicion of Jehoiachin's fidelity (Rawlinson, . Kings of Israel and Judah,' p. 231), or knowledge of Egyptian troops advancing to the aid of Jerusalem (Cheyne, 'Jeremiah: his Life and Times,' p. 162).
2. The time. At the return of the year (ver. 10), i.e. in springtime, when kings were accustomed to go forth to battle (2 Samuel 11:1). The year was the eighth of Nebuchadnezzar's reign (2 Kings 24:12), or B.C. 597.
3. The manner. (2 Kings 24:10-15.)
(1) Nebuchadnezzar despatched his generals to besiege Jerusalem.
(2) Afterwards Nebuchadnezzar himself appeared in front of the city.
(3) Jehoiachin, accompanied by his mother, his wives, his servants, his princes, his officers, went out to make submission and surrender the city to Nebuchadnezzar, in the hope doubtless of being permitted, like Jehoiakim, to retain his kingdom as a vassal of Babylon. This, however, was not accorded him.
(4) Nebuchadnezzar made him prisoner and carried him off to Babylon, as Jeremiah (Jeremiah 22:25) had some time before predicted he would do.
(5) In addition, Nebuchadnezzar carried off his mother, his wives, his officers, the chief men of the land, amongst whom was Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1, 2), even ten thousand captives, with seven thousand men of might, and a thousand craftsmen and smiths - "a sad mitigation of his lot indeed, but one for which Jehoahaz might have envied him. All that was best and worthiest in the old capital city went with Jehoiachin to Babylon" (Cheyne, 'Jeremiah,' etc., p. 162).
(6) Only the poorest sort of people were left in the land, with the king's uncle Mattanias, or Zedekiah, as king.
(7) The temple and palace were on this occasion completely plundered. "The goodly vessels of the house of the Lord" (ver. 10), i.e. the larger articles - the smaller ones having been previously taken (ver. 7) - were transported to Babylon.
4. The duration. Thirty-seven years. Then, on the twenty-seventh day of the twelfth month of the year, Evil-Merodach (in the inscriptions Avil-Marduk, signifying "Man of Marduk" or "Merodach"), on coming to the throne after Nebuchadnezzar's death, lifted up his head out of prison (3 Kings 25:27-30). Learn:
1. The incurable character of sin, at least by any merely human means.
2. The swiftness in some cases of Divine retribution.
3. The misery entailed by sin upon evil-doers and all connected with them.
4. The evil done to religion by the wickedness of those who profess and should adorn it. - W.
I. AN EXAMPLE OF INSENSATE WICKEDNESS. (Vers. 11-16.)
1. On the part of the king. Seemingly the third (1 Chronicles 3:15), but in reality the fourth, son of Josiah (cf. 2 Kings 23:31, 36), and the full brother of Jehoahaz, or Shallum (2 Kings 23:31; 2 Kings 24:18). but the half-brother of Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23:36), Mattanias, or Jehovah's gift, as he was originally called, ascended the throne of Judah in his twenty-first year, by the favour of Nebuchadnezzar his overlord (ver. 10). With his superior's consent, like Jehoiakim, he adopted of his own accord, or had chosen for him by others (Cheyne), a special throne-name. Zedekiah, Zidkiah, meaning "Jehovah is righteous," or "Justice of Jehovah," had been the name of a former sovereign of Ascalon, whom Sennacherib had subdued (Schrader, 'Die Keilinschriften,' p. 291); and whatever may have been the object of Mattanias or his princes in selecting this as the designation of Judah's last king, it is hardly possible not to be struck with its singular propriety. To a people who were frequently instructed by "signs" it was a double symbol - first by way of contrast of the utter corruption of the nation, both prince and people; and second by way of prediction of coming doom for the kingdom. So far as the king was concerned, it was a grim satire on holy things to designate a creature like him Zedekiah. If his person and character were remarkable for anything, it was for the absence of righteousness.
(2) His unbelief was pronounced. He refused to believe Jeremiah the prophet speaking to him in Jehovah's name (Jeremiah 37:2).
(3) His disobedience was flagrant. He rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear (allegiance) by God (ver. 13; cf. 2 Kings 24:20; Ezekiel 17:13-19) - a wickedness for which Jehovah declared he should die in Babylon. The reason of this revolt was the accession of a new Pharaoh, Hophrah in Scripture (Jeremiah 44:30), in the hieroglyphic - inscriptions Uahibri, Οὐαφρῆ in the LXX., Ἀπίης, or Apries, in Herodotus (2:161, 169; 4:159). To him Zedekiah, against Jeremiah's advice, despatched ambassadors, hoping to obtain "horses and much people" (Ezekiel 17:15). Nebuchadnezzar at once took the field, uncertain whether to march against Egypt or Jerusalem. By means of divination he decided for Jerusalem (Ezekiel 21:20-22). In the ninth year of Zedekiah's reign, on the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar with his armies sat down before Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:1). Hearing, however, of Pharaoh-Hophra's approach, he raised the siege (Jeremiah 37:5). This having excited false hopes as to Nebuchadnezzar's final withdrawal from the city (Ezekiel 17:17), Jeremiah warned king and people that he would soon return (Jeremiah 37:8-10). This warning Zedekiah would not hear (2 Chronicles 36:16).
2. On the part of the people. Hardly second to their monarch were the priests, the princes, and the people.
(1) Their passion for idolatry was as great: "They trespassed very greatly after all the abominations of the heathen" (ver. 14). "Like priest, like people" - a proverb applicable to kings and subjects, masters and servants, as well as ecclesiastics and worshippers.
(2) Their insolence was as high. "They polluted the house of the Lord which he had hallowed in Jerusalem" (ver. 14). "Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23:11) alludes to practices specially inconsistent with the holy place, and one of the Jewish captives explains what they were (Ezekiel 8:11-17). There was
(a) an image of Asherah;
(b) totemistic animal-emblems on the wall of a temple-chamber;
(c) weeping for 'Tammuz dearly wounded;'
(4) sun-worship and the rite of holding up 'the twig' to the nose'" (Cheyne, 'Jeremiah: his Life' etc., pp. 166, 167).
(3) Their unbelief was as daring. Though Jehovah had "sent to them by his messengers, rising up early and sending them," yet had they "mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and scoffed at his prophets" (vers. 15, 16) - a degree of criminality beyond that of which the Israelites had been guilty when they laughed Hezekiah's messengers to scorn (2 Chronicles 30:10), but not above that which hearers of the gospel may incur (Acts 2:13; Acts 17:32; Hebrews 10:29; 2 Peter 2:3, 4; Jude 1:18).
II. AN INSTANCE OF DIVINE RETRIBUTION. (Vers. 17-21.) The moral and spiritual corruption of the community in Zedekiah's time was so great that nothing remained but to pour out upon them the vials of long-threatened wrath (Deuteronomy 28:21, 36, 52; Deuteronomy 31:16-21; Jeremiah 5:19; Jeremiah 32:28-36). In the expressive language of the Chronicler, "there was no remedy," "no healing," more; nothing but fire and sword. After defeating Pharaoh-Hophra, or causing him to retreat, Nebuchadnezzar returned to his head-quarters at Riblah, on the east bank of the Orontes, thirty-five miles northeast of Baalbec, and despatched his captains, Nergal-sharezer, Samgar-nebo, Sar-sechim, Rab-saris, Rab-mag, and others to resume the siege of Jerusalem, which, however, triumphantly withstood their assaults until the beginning of the eleventh year, when the supply of provisions began to fail (Jeremiah 52:6). On the ninth day of the fourth month, i.e. in July, B.C. 586, "there was no bread for the people of the land." The starving defenders of the city could no longer hold out. The horrors of the situation may be gathered from Lamentations 2:19; Lamentations 4:3-10; Ezekiel 5:10; Baruch 2:3. The besiegers eventually effected a breach in the north wall, and poured in like a destroying flood. Then ensued:
1. Merciless carnage. The Chaldean soldiers butchered all and sundry, young and old, lad and maiden, not even sparing such as had taken refuge in the temple (ver. 17). The massacre was wholesale, truculent, and pitiless, eclipsed in horror only by that which took place when Jerusalem was captured by Titus (Josephus, 'Wars' 6:9. 4).
2. Ruthless sacrilege. They completely despoiled the temple of its sacred vessels, great and small, as well as pillaged the royal palaces, carrying off their treasures (ver. 18). Among the articles removed from the temple were the brazen and golden utensils of service, the two pillars, the brazen sea, and the vases which Solomon had made (2 Kings 25:13-17; Jeremiah 52:17-23).
3. Wholesale destruction. "They burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces" (ver. 19); which was pure vandalism. This appears to have been done not on the night of the city's capture (tenth day of tenth month), but seven months after, on the tenth day of the fifth month, i.e. in February, B.C. 587 (Jeremiah 52:12), and to have been carried out by one of Nebuchadnezzar's generals, Nebuzar-adan, captain of the king's guards, or "chief of the executioners" (cf. Genesis 39:1), despatched from Riblah for the purpose. What happened in the interval is narrated in 2 Kings (2 Kings 25:4-7) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 52:7-11), viz. the capture, near Jericho, of Zedekiah with his court and his forces, who had escaped when the city was taken, and their journey north to Riblah, the head-quarters of Nebuchadnezzar, where, after judgment held (2 Kings 25:6), Zedekiah's sons and the princes of Judah were slain, and Zedekiah himself blinded according to an inhuman practice of the time (see 'Records,' etc., 3:50, 1. 117, "Of many soldiers I destroyed the eyes;" and comp. Herod., 7:18), and cast into bonds preparatory to being deported to Babylon. In Babylon he was cast into prison until the day of his death (Jeremiah 52:11); according to tradition, his work in prison was that of grinding in a mill like an ordinary slave (Ewald, 'History of Israel,' 4:273, note 5).
4. Pitiless expatriation. Those that had escaped the sword were driven off, like gangs of slaves, to become exiles in a strange land, and servants to the kings of Babylon, "until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths," viz. for three score and ten years (vers. 20, 21). Such transplantations of conquered populations were common in the ancient Orient. "Sargon transported the Samaritans to Gozan and Media; Sennacherib carried off two hundred thousand Jews from Judaea; Esarhaddon placed Elamites, Susianians, and Babylonians in Samaria. Darius Hystaspis brought the nation of the Paeonians from Europe into Asia Minor, removed the Barcaeans to Bactria, and the Eretrians to Ardericca near Susa" (Rawlinson, 'Egypt and Babylon,' pp. 45, 46).
1. The incorrigible character of some sit, hers.
2. The offensiveness in God's sight of pride and hardness of heart.
3. The heinousness of oath-breaking and of unjustifiable rebellion.
4. The hopelessness of reformation in a city or a land when all classes are in love with wicked ways.
5. The infinite compassion of God towards the worst of men.
6. The certainty that mercy despised will turn into wrath displayed.
7. The pitiless character of Heaven's judgments upon them for whom there is no remedy.
8. The indifference God shows towards the external symbols of religion when the inner spirit is wanting.
9. The impossibility of God's Word failing. - W.
I. A MISFORTUNE. That of bodily deformity; such as was suffered by the poor woman of whom we read that "she had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bound together, and could in no wise lift up herself" (Luke 13:11). We do not wonder that the Lord of love had compassion on her, and "loosed her from her infirmity." Perhaps few men and women are more to be pitied than the deformed. They see all ethers round them standing, walking, running, erect in the full stature and freedom of manhood, and they themselves are subjects of uncomeliness and inability. How cruelly unchristian to treat these with contempt, or even with disregard! How are we bound, as the followers of our Lord, to extend to these stooping ones our sympathy, our brotherliness, our honour! "Trust me no more, but trust me no less," our great popular novelist makes such an afflicted one say continually; and here, as often, the secular writer is more Christian than he may know.
II. A MARK OF TIME. This is the case of those named in the text; they "stoop for age." The burdens of life have rested on their shoulders and have made them stoop. They have carried much, and they bend with the weight of the years they have spent. It is an honorable mark, like that of the "hoary head." Shall we pity them that stoop for age? Yes, if they have lived a life that has not been worthy, and move toward a future in which no star of hope is shining. No, if they are bent down with estimable and fruitful labour, with work that will leave many traces behind it - especially if the weight beneath which they stoop is the burden of others which they have generously and (perhaps) nobly borne (Galatians 6:2); no, if this mark of the passage of time only indicates that he who thus stoops is nearing the end of his earthly service, that he may lay it down and take up the better work in the brighter light and the broader sphere, where toil knows no fatigue, and, instead of wearing out the worker, continually multiplies his power. But let those who "stoop for age" remember that their work below is nearly finished; that what else they would do here for the Master and for their kind they must do quickly; "so much the more (therefore) as they see the day approaching."
III. A SERIOUS DISCREDIT. There is:
1. The stoop of servility. This is discreditable. No one need be and no one should be servile. It is a mistake as well as a fault and a dishonour. Civility every one appreciates; respect, all who are worthy of it look for and like to receive; but cringing or servility is as unacceptable to him to whom it is shown as it is dishonourable and injurious to him by whom it is offered.
2. The stoop of immorality; the lowering of the standard of morals in order to accommodate ourselves to circumstances, in order to be free to gain or to enjoy that which, in our truer and worthier moods, we could not touch. This stooping of the soul is pitiable indeed; it is also condemnable indeed. If we have yielded to it, let us be ashamed of it; let us rise to our true height, let us stand erect again in the full stature of honourable and estimable Christian manhood. Only then can we respect ourselves and enjoy the esteem of the pure and good.
IV. THE HIGHEST SPIRITUAL ATTAINMENT. We know who it is that has stooped the furthest; it is that Son of God who became the Son of man. It is he who, "though he was rich, for our sake became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9; and see Philippians 2:3-8). We never rise so high in the estimation of our Divine Lord as when we stoop thus. When we are thus reduced we are enlarged indeed. When we renounce our right, whether it be
(1) of enjoyment, or
(2) of adornment, or
(3) of enrichment,
in order to reach and rescue others, then do we rise toward the nobility of our great Exemplar, and then are we in the way of reaping a large reward. - C.
We look at -
I. A SAD HISTORICAL FACT. Perhaps a Jew would say, the saddest of all the facts of history. This is the very climax of disasters - the, great temple of Jehovah in Jerusalem burnt down, and all its precious treasures and all its sacred vessels carried away into a heathen land, to be there profaned by irreverent and wanton hands! Could anything happen more painful to the feelings, more shocking to the imagination, of the devout than that? All the work to which David consecrated his energies with such rare affection and devotion, to which Solomon brought all his wisdom and for which he obtained the most advanced culture of his time, brought to desolation by the ruthless hand of the heathen! That glorious, that sacred, that beloved building, meeting-place of God and man, where the people of God realized their highest privileges, and recognized their relation to their Redeemer and to one another, burned and desolated, the foot of the idolater intruding into its holiest sanctuary, and the hand of the spoiler taking away its most sacred treasure!
II. ITS SADDEST HISTORICAL ANALOGUE. Once there lived upon the earth a Son of man who could say of himself without presumption, "In this place is One greater than the temple" (Matthew 12:6); and he once spake of "the temple of his body" (John 2:21). And well, indeed, might the Son of God speak thus of himself; for was he not the manifestation of the Divine to the children of men, and did he not reveal the truth of God to mankind, and in his presence men drew near to God as they did not even in "the holy of holies"? We know how that living temple of God suffered from the rude violence of men, and at last "with wicked hands was slain." No such desecration took place when the temple was burnt and spoiled as was witnessed when Jesus Christ was crowned with thorns in the soldiers' hall, and was crucified at Calvary.
III. ITS LAMENTABLE ILLUSTRATION NOW. Where shall we find the visible, approachable, appreciable manifestation of God now? Where, but in the life and the character of good men? We are the temple of God when we are what our Divine Father created us to be; such are we then, that, as men draw nigh to us and observe us and learn of us, they know God and learn of him. But how may this temple be desecrated and destroyed?
1. By the profanation of our powers and our affections. When our powers are expended on the furtherance of that which is evil and on the production of that which is baneful; when our affections are wasted on those who are unworthy of our love; when we prize and when we pursue that which is below our true aspiration, and which leads us downward and backward; - then the temple of God is despoiled and desecrated.
2. By the guilty forfeiture of our life. What a destruction of the temple of God is a guilty suicide! And they are many who take their own lives. It is not only those who shoot or hang themselves that commit suicide; it is they who deliberately and repeatedly do those things which they must know are destroying their vitality and taking away their life; these are men who put a brand to the temple which God as well as man has built.
IV. ITS EXCELLENT OPPOSITE. This is found in the reverence we pay to the human body as the temple of God; the habit of regarding our bodily frame - and how much more our human spirit! - as a sacred thing, because it is (because we are) the very dwelling-place of God (see 1 Corinthians 2:9, 16, 17; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:20, 21; 1 Peter 2:5). It is this elevated and ennobling thought which, more than any other, stirs and strengthen us to "purify ourselves even as Christ the Lord is pure;" to seek, by earnest effort and frequent prayer, for the utmost attainable sanctity of spirit and of life. - C.
I. As A PENALTY. It undoubtedly was that; nothing can be clearer than that they were permitted to be "the prey to the teeth" of the enemy because of their sins. The very next verse (21) intimates that it was disobedience to the Law of God that resulted in the denudation of the land. And the truth that national calamity is the consequence of national transgression is "writ large' and plain on every page of this Book of Chronicles. He may run that reads it. Sin entails penalty. The truth is written on the pages of national and individual history as well as on those of the Word of God. Every nation and every man may make up its (his) mind that, sooner or later, sin will entail defeat, humiliation, bondage. The penalty may take various forms, but penalty will most surely come. It may be obviously physical, or it may be principally spiritual; it will almost certainly be both the one and the other. But no man can harden himself against the Holy One and prosper. Whoso sinneth against him "wrongeth his own soul;" he deprives himself of inestimable good, and he makes himself the victim of deep and lasting evil. The children of Judah in Babylon had often occasion to say, "We suffer because we sinned against the Lord." This is the explanation of the tribulation and distress, of the darkness and the death, of the human world.
II. AS A PURGATION. God meant that Babylonian captivity to be a fiery trial which should burn up the large measure of "wood, hay, and stubble" in the character of the Jews that needed to be consumed. Strange it may seem to us that they should learn purity of creed among the heathen; that, away from the city and the temple of God, they should acquire a taste and a love for his service and worship shown for many generations in their synagogues; that in the midst of many superstitions they should come to hate all idolatrous forms and tendencies with the utmost abhorrence. But so it was. In the land of the stranger they lost their inclination to apostatize from God; they were purged of their old folly and guilt. And what early instruction, what fuller privileges, what later experiences will not do, that Divine chastisement may accomplish. God passes us through the fiery trial to purge us of our dross, to consume our earthliness, our selfishness, our grossness, our unbelief. And in some "strange land," in some place of spiritual solitude, in conditions under which we are compelled to feel as we never felt before, to learn what we never knew before, to lay to heart what we never realized before, we leave many things behind us which are weights and hindrances, we move on to that which is before us.
III. AS A PICTURE. Of what is that exile a picture? Is it not of our spiritual distance from God? To be living in sin, in a state in which we are not reconciled unto God, - is not this the exile of the soul? For what does it mean?
1. It is distance from God. It is to be a long way, an increasing distance, from him, from his favour, from his likeness, from the desire to hold communion with him, and therefore from his felt presence.
2. It is captivity. It is to be in the hands of the enemy; it is to be where silken cords at first, and at last iron chains, of unholy habit hold us fast in a cruel and degrading bondage; where we are held fast to covetousness, or to vanity, or to procrastination, or even to some dishonouring vice.
3. It is unsatisfiedness or even misery of soul. In that "strange land" these exiles could not sing "the Lord's song;" they "wept when they remembered Zion" Spiritual exile is joylessness of soul; unreconciled to him, there can be no "joy and rejoicing in him' or in his holy service. But let us bless God that away in this saddest exile we have not to wait until an appointed term is fulfilled, or until some Cyrus issues a proclamation (ver. 22); we may hear, if we will listen, the voice of One who does indeed rule over "all the kingdoms of the earth" (ver. 23), who is ever saying to us, "Return unto me, and I will return unto you." We may hear the blessed words of him who never ceases to address the generations of men, saying, "Come unto me, and I will give you rest." We may ]earn of that Divine Teacher that whoever comes back from the "far country' of sin, and seeks the heavenly Father's mercy, shall find the most cordial welcome he could hope to meet, and be taken back at once to all the love and to all the freedom of the Father's home. - C.
I. The GREAT DELIVERER. (Ver. 22.)
1. Foretold in Scripture.
(1) That his name should be Cyrus.
(2) That he should come from the East.
(3) That he should be a mighty conqueror, subduing nations and dethroning kings.
(4) That he should overthrow Babylon, and become the sovereign of the empire of that name.
(5) That he should liberate the captive Jews in that city and empire.
(6) That he should issue orders or grant permission for the rebuilding of both the city and the temple of Jerusalem.
(7) That in doing all this he should act (whether consciously or unconsciously is not stated) under the immediate guidance and direct superintendence of Jehovah (Isaiah 41:2; Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1-5; Isaiah 46:11; Isaiah 48:14, 15).
2. Raised up in history.
(1) He was called Cyrus, in Hebrew Coresh (ver. 22; Ezra 1:1), in the inscriptions K'ur'us and Ku-ra-as (Schrader, 'Die Keilinschriften,' p. 372).
(2) He came from the East, being named in sacred history (ver. 22; Ezra 1:1; Ezra 4:3; Daniel 6:28), as well as in profane (Herod., 9:122; Xen., 'Cyr.,' 8. 2:7), King of Persia, though the monuments now show that he was originally King of Elam, on the east of Persia (Sayce, 'Fresh Light,' etc., pp. 168, etc.).
(3) First he conquered Astyages the Median, who had marched against him in the sixth year of Nabonidus King of Babylon. Next, before the ninth year of Nabonidus, he must have acquired the sovereignty of Persia, as in that year he calls himself "King of Persia."
(4) In the month Nisan (March), of the ninth year of Nabonidus, Cyrus marched his troops into Accad, or Northern Babylonia. In the tenth year Erech was captured. In the eleventh the situation remained in statu quo. In the seventeenth year, in the month of Tammuz (July), Cyrus encountered the army of Accad in the town of Rutum, upon the river Nizallat, when the soldiers of Nabonidus broke into revolt. On the fourteenth day the garrison of Sippara surrendered, while Nabonidus fled. On the sixteenth the governor of Gutium (Kurdistan) marched the troops of Cyrus into Babylon without requiring to strike a blow. Nabonidus, subsequently captured, was cast into fetters in Babylon. Whether the siege of Babylon described by Herodotus (3:158, 159) was this of Cyrus (Budge), or a later one of Darius Hystaspis (Sayce), need not here be determined; it is sufficient to note that after this Cyrus assumed the title "King of Babylon" (Ezra 5:13) in addition to his other titles - "King of Persia and King of Elam."
(5) The clay cylinder of Cyrus contains "a reference to the restoration of the Babylonian captives to their several homes. The experience of Cyrus had taught him that the old Assyrian and Babylonian system of transporting conquered nations was an error, and did but introduce a dangerously disaffected people into the country to which they had been brought" (Sayce, ibid.).
(6) "Those who chose to return to Jerusalem were allowed to do so, and there rebuild a fortress, which Cyrus considered would be useful to him as a check upon Egypt" (Sayce).
(7) In the Cyrus cylinder it is said, "Merodach sought out a king for himself who would perform according to the heart's desire of the god whatever was entrusted to him. He proclaimed the renown of Cyrus the King of Anzan [Elam, Sayce; Persia, Budge] throughout the length and breadth of the land Merodach, the great lord, directed his (Cyrus's) hand-and heart" (Budge, ' Babyonian Life,' etc., pp. 80, 81).
II. THE CHEERING PROCLAMATION. (Ver. 23.)
1. Its date. The first year of Cyrus, i.e. the first year of his reign as King of Babylon, i.e. B.C. 538 (Canon of Ptolemy).
2. Its cause. The stirring up of his heart by Jehovah. Though the monuments have shown that Cyrus was not a monotheist, but a polytheist, they have also made it manifest that he considered himself as under the immediate guidance of Heaven in the taking of Babylon; and hence, it may be assumed, also in the liberation of the captives. That he was powerfully persuaded of the propriety of such an action, and regarded his impulse in that direction as "from Heaven," is apparent. The sacred writer states that the true source of that inspiration was Jehovah. Cyrus believed it to be Merodach.
3. Its design. To fulfil the Word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:10), that after seventy years the captives should be restored. This was Jehovah's design, not Cyrus's - concerning which see above. That the seventy years, in round numbers, were accomplished, can be seen from an easy calculation. Dating from s.c. 599, the year of Jehoiachin's captivity, and setting down the first year of Cyrus as B.C. 538, the interval is only sixty-one years; but if the period of the exile be dated from the third (Daniel 1:1) or the fourth year of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 25:1-12), i.e. B.C. 606, then the interval from Jeremiah's prediction to Cyrus's proclamation will be sixty-eight years, or sixty-nine inclusive, which, with the months that elapsed before the first company of exiles settled in Palestine (Ezra 3:1), will practically make seventy years. Or the prophetic year may be taken as consisting of 360 days; in which case 360 × 70 = 25,200 days = 69 years of 365 days.
4. Its form.
(1) Vocal; being probably proclaimed by means of heralds (cf. 2 Chronicles 30:5, 6).
(2) Written; being most likely set forth in two languages - Persian and Chaldee.
5. Its contents.
(1) A devout acknowledgment of Heaven's grace. "All the kingdoms of the earth hath the Lord God of heaven given me" (ver. 23; Ezra 1:1), the term "Jehovah" being employed in the Hebrew copy instead of "Ormazd," in the Persian. Persian sovereigns were accustomed to speak of the Supreme Being as the God of heaven (Ezra 6:9, 10; Ezra 7:12, 23), and to recognize their dependence on him for their earthly power, an inscription of Darius saying, "Then the land was mine, and the other lands which Ormazd has given into my hand. I conquered them by the grace of Ormazd" ('Records,' etc., 9:68). And the cylinder of Cyrus stating, "Cyrus King of Elam, he (Merodach) proclaimed by name for sovereignty; all men everywhere commemorate his name" (Sayce, 'Fresh Light,' etc., p. 172).
(2) A hearty submission to Divine will. "He hath charged me to build him an house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah." According to Josephus ('Ant.,' 11:1. 2), Cyrus learnt the Divine will concerning himself by reading Isaiah's prophecy (Isaiah 44:28); but as Cyrus, whether a polytheist (Sayce) or a monotheist (Budge), was extremely tolerant to all religions, and as on capturing Babylon he immediately proceeded to restore the shrines of the Babylonian gods, he may have conceived himself as called upon by Jehovah to do the same thing for the Jews in Palestine.
(3) An earnest inquiry after Jehovah's people. "Who is there among you of all his people. The proclamation was not limited to the Judahites, but extended to all worshippers of Jehovah - to those who had been carried captive from both kingdoms.
(4) A free permission to return to Jerusalem. "Let him go up." "Jerusalem was on a much higher level than Babylonia, and the travellers would consequently have to ascend considerably" ('Pulpit Commentary on Ezra,' 1:3.).
(5) A solemn benediction on those who availed themselves of his permission. The Lord his God be with him." The expression of this wish or pray corresponded with the mild and benevolent character of Cyrus.
1. The ability of God to fulfil his promises no less than his threatenings.
2. The secret access which God has to the hearts of men - of kings no less than of common men.
3. The certainty that God can raise up at any moment a fitting instrument to do his will. - W.