Things look bad. Israel has fallen to the Assyrians. Most of Judah has been captured. And Jerusalem is under siege. The end seems inevitable. Yet amazingly, the end is not as near as we would think.
Hezekiah leads the people in seeking God for deliverance and the prophet Isaiah prophesies ? incredibly ? that the superior might of Sennacherib of Assyria, will fail. Death swept over the camp of the Assyrians, killings hundreds of thousands, and Sennacherib withdrew. But Isaiah has other prophecies for Hezekiah ? that his palace riches will all be taken away and some of his family will be deported.
Manasseh (Hezekiah?s twelve year old son) took over as King of Judah. Unlike his father, the boy king reinstituted pagan practices, witchcraft, sorcery and idolatry, even killing some of his own people. His equally evil son, Amon, eventually succeeded him. Amon only ruled two years before being executed by his own officials, who were in turn executed by the people for their part in the conspiracy.
The eight year old Josiah (Amon’s son) began his rule in the ways of his great-grandfather, following the ways of the Lord. Judah ? teetering on the edge of destruction – had one of its last reprieves. During temple renovations, workers discovered the book of the law (perhaps part of Deuteronomy, or perhaps the whole Pentateuch?) and this lead to a small revolution in the country. Seemingly lost in time and after centuries of idolatry and lost leadership, the book of the law provided a new sense of direction to the ailing nation. Josiah renewed the covenant to follow God and keep his commands. He removed pagan priests and destroyed everything to do with foreign gods. There were widespread reforms throughout the nation. But was it too late?
Unfortunately, Josiah was killed in a battle against Pharaoh Neco of Egypt. Jehoahaz took over as king, but his kingdom was weak and he was captured and imprisoned by Pharaoh Neco. Judah was forced to pay heavy taxes to Egypt, and the ultimate insult came when the Pharaoh began deciding and appointing who would be king of Judah.
Jehoiakim took over as king. He didn?t have to serve the Egyptians for long, however, as they were soon invaded by the superior super-power of the region, the Babylonians. So Jehoiakim served the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar for three years, before he instituted a feeble revolt against the Babylonians. Jehoiakim died, leaving his son (with a very similar name) Jehoiachin to face the wrath of the invading Babylonians. In the face of the military might and siege, Jehoiachin promptly surrendered and was taken prisoner. Nebuchadnezzar took all the treasures from the temple, including all the beautiful ornaments and articles crafted under the rule of Solomon. He also took all the fighting men, the craftsmen and artisans, leaving only the poor behind. Like Israel before it, Judah?s population was now exiled and the precious homeland a thing of the past.
Nebuchadnezzar put a puppet ruler in place ? Jehoiachin?s uncle, who he renamed Zedekiah. In a final desperate gesture, Zedekiah rebels against Nebuchadnezzar, who promptly lays siege to Jerusalem. After eighteen months, Jerusalem is captured, Zedekiah?s sons executed, Zedekiah blinded and then Jerusalem is destroyed. The temple and the palace are both burnt down and other important buildings smashed. Any remaining important articles of significance are taken away, as are more of the population. Judah was finished.
And so the epic era of the kings comes to an end. God?s people turned their backs on him and they followed the path of idolatry. They splintered and lost their way, leading to their ultimate destruction. It is a shocking and horrific period of history as we see God?s promised land now in the hands of foreign rulers, its people crushed and dispersed around the region.
It is an understanding of this time, however, that gives us a crucial insight into the words of the prophets of the Old Testament, as they wrote during this era of rebellion and destruction. And it is this period that also gives us a framework to understand the life, times and teachings of Jesus, who would follow many years later.
Ironically, we finish our month reading more Proverbs from the era of Solomon, himself one of the great kings. They again encourage us with exhortations to be truthful, diligent, kind and righteous.