The Last Reign

2Ki_24:17-20; 2 Kings 25; 2 Chronicles 36

by John Kitto, Daily Bible Illustrations

Although Nebuchadnezzar set up a king, he left him but little more than the shadow of a throne to sit on. All the treasures of the temple, as well as of the palace, were taken, and even the golden vessels that remained in the house of the Lord were cut up and sent away. The temple and palace had more than once before this been stripped of their treasure; but Nebuchadnezzar imposed a severer weakening, from which recovery would be much more difficult. He sent away to Babylon, besides the deposed king and his courtiers, all the chief inhabitants of Jerusalem, to the  number of ten thousand, with all “the mighty of the land,” comprising seven thousand of the most able warriors, with a thousand of the best artisans. The Mordecai of Esther’s history, and the future prophet Ezekiel, were among the captives. There are some remarkable points in the description of these captives. Those which, in the common version, appear as “the mighty of the land,” are in the eastern versions—“the great ones of the land,” and in the Vulgate—“the judges of the land,” but literally, in the original Hebrew, “the rams of the land,”—being, like many other epithets descriptive of the character and conditions of men, derived from animals. In this case, the leadership of the male animal, its strength, and its prominence in the flock or herd, rendered it a suitable epithet for nobles and leading men. Such terms, when they come into established use, suggest little idea of the animal from which they are taken, but only of the quality designed to be expressed. It will be remembered by many of our readers, that Homer sometimes compares princes to rams.

The artisans are described in the version as “craftsmen and smiths.” The first of these terms, in the original, denotes a workman in general, whether in wood, stone, or metal. The second term is more obscure; and it is difficult to see what special trade it may be that is not included in the general term of craftsmen. The term means strictly one that shuts up—an encloser. From this, some think it means a mason, because he builds the enclosing walls and repairs the breaches of towns; while others declare in favor of locksmiths, from their securing of gates and doors. Others fancy that it denotes goldsmiths, whose art consisted chiefly in the manufacture of enclosing rings, and in enclosing precious stones in metal. In fact, the meaning has been sought in almost every art with which the idea of enclosing can be connected. Perhaps the greater importance to kings, and to founders and fortifiers of cities, of masons, beyond all other trades, gives the greatest probability to the first of these interpretations, as it became more likely to acquire a  designation distinct from the general term of “worker.” It may be that the fortresses built by king Uzziah excited the admiration of Nebuchadnezzar, and made him especially desirous of possessing the masons capable of constructing such works. At all events, it is clear that Nebuchadnezzar had great need of skilful masons, engaged as he was in improving and enlarging his metropolis.

It is distinctly stated that Nebuchadnezzar took a solemn oath of Zedekiah to remain in honorable allegiance to the prince who had placed him on the throne: and this oath he kept so long as he had no temptation to break it. But temptation came, as usual, from the side of Egypt, which had now king Pharaoh-Hophra, the Apries of the Greek historians, whose active and enterprising character, with the success of his warlike enterprises, suggested that he would be able and willing to afford efficient aid against the Chaldeans. Jeremiah the prophet perceived this inclination, and warned the king of the consequences. But eventually, in the ninth year of his reign, after having entered into a secret compact with the Egyptian king, Zedekiah went into open revolt. This soon brought the king of Babylon, with a most powerful army, before Jerusalem; and a regular siege was commenced, by the building of forts and other military works outside the town, to annoy the city, to cut off supplies from the country, and to prevent sallies. Eager longings were directed towards Egypt; and hope and exultation rose high within the city when it was known that the Egyptians were actually on the march for its relief. This compelled Nebuchadnezzar to raise the siege in order to meet this new enemy. It is uncertain whether a battle was fought or not. The impression seems to be that, on becoming acquainted with the force of the Chaldeans, the Egyptians declined to risk an action that was certain to be bloody, and probably disastrous, in behalf of the Jewish king, and therefore drew back to their own country, leaving Nebuchadnezzar to pursue his plans at leisure. So when the people of Jerusalem beheld the dust of an advancing army, and were prepared to hasten  forth to greet their deliverers, they found, with bitter disappointment, that the Chaldeans had returned to resume the siege of the city. This interruption had, however, enabled the besieged to recruit their supplies, and so to sustain a more protracted siege than might otherwise have been practicable. This was important, as the military art was, even in the hands of the Chaldeans, so imperfect for the reduction of towns, that, in the case of a city so strong by nature and art as Jerusalem, there was no effectual means of reduction but that of sitting down before the place until the people were starved into surrender—meantime, taking such opportunities as might offer of harassing the inhabitants. So, in this case, the walls being found impregnable, the siege was soon turned into a strict blockade. Eventually, this produced the usual effects of extreme famine and mortality, and it became evident that the city could not hold out much longer. In fact, in the fourth month of the eleventh of Zedekiah’s reign, the Chaldeans succeeded in making a practicable breach in the first wall, which the besieged had no heart to defend. But, during the ensuing night, the king, with his family and chief officers, fled, escaping apparently through some vaults that led into the king’s garden, aided by the relaxed vigilance which the excitement of success produced in the Chaldean host. But his evasion was soon discovered; and he was pursued, but not captured until he had reached the plain of Jericho. He was sent off by the captors to Nebuchadnezzar, who was then at Riblah, in the land of Hamath—the very same place to which, twenty years before, Jehoahaz had been brought a prisoner to Pharaoh-Necho. Zedekiah could not expect mercy from Nebuchadnezzar; but perhaps did not anticipate the severity of judgment—worse than death—which was executed upon him. His two sons—who must have been of tender years, for their father was but thirty-two years of age—were slain before his eyes; and then his eyes were put out, as if, with fiendish ingenuity, to keep that harrowing spectacle forever present to him, by rendering it the last sight his eyes beheld. In this  condition he was sent off in chains to Babylon, and we hear of him no more, except that he remained in prison in the imperial city to the day of his death.

Not only the king of Babylon, but his chief commander, Nebuzaradan, seem to have been absent when the city was taken; and those left in command appear to have been in doubt how to deal with it, until orders came from the king. In the next month, Nebuzaradan himself arrived with a commission to destroy everything, and leave the city a desert. Effectually did he discharge this commission. The temple and other buildings were set on fire—and what the fire spared, and the strong walls of the city, on which fire could make no impression, were broken down by the soldiers. Eleven years before the Chaldeans had well cleared the temple of its gold and silver. What remained was now taken, together with all the utensils and ornaments of brass, and the two pillars, Jachin and Boaz, and the brazen sea with its bulls. It is remarkable that nothing is said of the ark—the most valuable and important of all the furniture of the temple. It could hardly escape the cupidity of the Chaldeans; and yet, had it been at Babylon when Cyrus gave back the spoils of the temple, this would doubtless have been restored. But this is not stated; and it is known that, in fact, there was no ark in the second temple. It seems to us likely that it was taken away; and it is possible that, if it were still in existence at the restoration, the Jews were afraid to point it out as belonging to them, lest the king should take the figures thereon to be idols which they worshipped. It might have been difficult to undeceive him in this; and they knew that a strong point in his sympathy for them consisted in their common abhorrence of idols—he being a worshipper of the sun, and of fire as its symbol. It may have been broken up, however, for more convenient transport to Babylon, being valuable to the conquerors only for the precious metal—as it could not, like the golden vessels, be applied to unconsecrated or idolatrous uses. The Jews have a tradition that the ark  was hidden by the prophet Jeremiah, and that it will not be brought to light until their polity and ritual service is hereafter gloriously restored at Jerusalem.