Sermon preached on 2 Kings 25 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/27/2020 in Novato, CA.
Today is our sixty-ninth and final sermon in our series through the book of 1 and 2 Kings. The book began with such a high point in the history of God’s people, with Solomon building the house of God in Jerusalem and establishing the kingdom in rest and peace and prosperity. More importantly, God had blessed that house that Solomon had built and placed his holy presence there and it was a light and a lamp among Israel for several centuries. Yet, beginning even with Solomon, our trek through 1 and 2 Kings found a history of God’s kings leading their people to turn away from God in different ways. Despite some noteworthy and commendable exceptions, too many forsook God. After the kingdom split into two, the northern kingdom more quickly and more severely fell into wide scale apostasy, resulting in God bringing the covenant curses upon them first with their fall to the Assyrians in 722 BC. But now the remnant of God’s people in Judah and Jerusalem come to the same sort of fate here in 587 BC, falling to the Babylonian empire. As we sang from Psalm 79 earlier in the service, “God, the nations have invaded.”
We begin first then today considering King Zedekiah’s rebellion against Babylon. Recall, last chapter ended with King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon coming down against Jerusalem because King Jehoiakim had rebelled against him. King Nebuchadnezzar not only killed Jehoiakim but then shortly thereafter Jehoiakim’s successor son, King Jehoiachin, surrendered himself to Nebuchadnezzar who then took him prisoner back to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar then placed Zedekiah on the throne of Jerusalem as his new vassal king. But last chapter ended in verse 20 with Zedekiah rebelling against the King of Babylon. We might note that Jeremiah had specifically prophesied before that happened to King Zedekiah to submit to Babylon and live, otherwise they would be destroyed. That was in in Jeremiah chapter 27. Sadly, Zedekiah did not heed the prophetic word of the Lord and see the outcome of it in today’s chapter.
So, then our chapter today picks up with King Zedekiah’s rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar with Babylon again coming down against Jerusalem, verse 1. This will be the last straw. Nebuchadnezzar besieges the city for a little over a year. Of course, what you are typically trying to do in a siege like that is to starve the people and weaken them before they either give up or you attempt to overcome its fortifications and take the city by military force. Verse 3 shows that the siege was indeed working. As Jeremiah had prophesied to Zedekiah, Jerusalem would experience famine if they rebelled against Babylon. And verse 3 says that was the case, that they ran out of food. The Chaldeans (that’s the name of the peoples of Babylon) then seized the opportunity and the city wall was breached, and they begin to try to take the city.
But that’s when Zedekiah and his soldiers attempt to escape. Jeremiah 39:4 records that there was some sort of way out of the city near the king’s garden that Zedekiah and his men took. They flee from the city, apparently hoping to survive so that they can later regroup to live to fight another day. They head north and west toward the Arabah, which is basically the whole valley up and down the Jordan River. But they don’t make it that far. The Chaldeans overtake them in the plains of Jericho. Recall that Jericho was the first city in the Promised Land that Israel had conquered. Now there they meet their final defeat. There, the Chaldeans capture Zedekiah and his army is scattered.
So then, Zedekiah is hauled up in chains north to Riblah where the Nebuchadnezzar had setup as his field camp for his campaign against Judah and Jerusalem. There, he is basically put on trial before Nebuchadnezzar and found guilty. They kill his sons before his eyes. Then they put out his eyes. Then they drag him off in chains to Babylon. Jeremiah 52:11 records that there Zedekiah remained in Babylonian prison until the day of his death. Thus ends the reign of the last Davidic king to reign over Jerusalem.
While it is very sad to read of the fall of King Zedekiah, things yet get worse as we move into our second point for today. Let us now consider how Jerusalem is despoiled and destroyed in the aftermath of Zedekiah’s fall. We find this recorded starting in verse 8. Nebuchadnezzar’s servant Nebuzaradan is tasked with finishing the job in Jerusalem. It is clear that at this point Babylon intends to permanently eliminate any chance of Jerusalem ever posing a problem again in the future by so pillaging and destroying it that not only would it be able to be unable to be defended, there would not be anything left worth defending.
Where to begin in this list of plundering and destroying? First, let’s note everything they take. We can begin with how they take all the furnishings and precious medals from the temple. They literally gut the place and strip off all the metals of value and take them back to Babylon. This description is given in verses 13-17. It’s a rather lengthy description of how they plunder all this from the temple and it makes me remember back to how much detail was given in 1 Kings 6-7 when it described how Solomon furnished the temple in the first place. The effect of that is to show that everything Solomon had done to build and furnish the house was being reversed. Surely that’s why Solomon even gets mentioned by name in verse 16.
Besides the valuables that were plundered here, the people themselves also become spoil. Verse 11 records how they exiled the rest of the people who remained alive in the city. The only exception is that they left some of the poorest people to farm the land, surely on behalf of Babylon. But this is now the third and final major deportation of the Jewish people to Babylonian exile.
And then we see great destruction. Again, we can start with the people. Verses 18-21 records the several religious leaders and city officers are also put to death. They too were taken to Riblah and brought before Nebuchadnezzar and then executed. But the destruction continues beyond that. Every great house and building is torn down in Jerusalem, verse 9. This included the grand palace complex which Solomon had so marvelously built as recorded in 1 Kings 7. But even worse, it includes the temple. Solomon’s temple is burned to the ground. It’s gone. The prophet Ezekiel had already prophesied in Ezekiel 10 that the glory of the LORD had already departed from the temple. The fact that the Chaldeans could burn this temple down in today’s chapter only confirms that God had already abandoned his temple in Jerusalem. The destruction of Jerusalem is completed by the Chaldeans burning the walls of the city down. That would keep the city from being defensible even if any did yet want to try to defend it in the future.
So then, “How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave” (Lamentations 1:1). And Lamentations 1:3, “Judah has gone into exile because of affliction and hard servitude; she dwells now among the nations, but finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress”. The book of 1 and Kings began with a glorious multi-chapter account of Solomon building a house for the Lord, and for his anointed king, and in establishing a competent administration, and in building up the wealth of the nation. We end the book here with a great reversal of everything he had accomplished. In fact, things are even far worse than with what Solomon had started with. Again, I read from Lamentations:
How the Lord in his anger has set the daughter of Zion under a cloud! He has cast down from heaven to earth the splendor of Israel; he has not remembered his footstool in the day of his anger. The Lord has swallowed up without mercy all the habitations of Jacob; in his wrath he has broken down the strongholds of the daughter of Judah; he has brought down to the ground in dishonor the kingdom and its rulers. He has cut down in fierce anger all the might of Israel; he has withdrawn from them his right hand in the face of the enemy; he has burned like a flaming fire in Jacob, consuming all around. (Lam. 2:1-3).
We turn then finally to our third point to consider the aftermath. Starting in verse 22 we are given a few final verses regarding the state of things post the fall of Jerusalem. We find that Nebuchadnezzar appoints someone named Gedaliah to be a governor of the region of Judah. Note, he is a governor, not a king. Also, note that he is not of the line of David. I can also add from what we learn in Jeremiah that this Gedaliah had been supportive of Jeremiah’s prophecies, prophecies which had advocated submission to Babylon. We also learn in Jeremiah 39 that Nebuchadnezzar gave the prophet Jeremiah a choice. He could go with the other deportees to Babylon, or he could remain in Jerusalem with Gedaliah. Jeremiah chose to remain with Gedaliah in Jerusalem.
So then in verse 23 we find that when word gets out that Gedaliah has been placed as a governor, the various Jewish forces that had been scattered about come and pay a visit to Gedaliah. Gedaliah’s message to these returning forces is clear. Submit to the king of Babylon and it will go well with you. This is the same word we find Jeremiah telling these same forces as well in the book of Jeremiah and Jeremiah delivers it as a prophecy from God. You can learn more about all this in Jeremiah chapters 42 and 43. But here we have a summary and can surmise sufficiently that these forces didn’t like Gedaliah’s siding with Babylon. So, as we see here, they kill Gedaliah and the Chaldean and Jewish people with them. Then they decide to flee themselves to Egypt and take up refuge there. The book of Jeremiah records that they forced him to go with them as well to Egypt.
An important detail should not be missed in this conflict between Gedaliah and these military forces of Judah. It’s in verse 25. The leader of some of these forces was someone named Ishmael, and he was of the royal family. In other words, he was of the seed of David. That fact should not be overlooked. If you are part of the surviving remnant among God’s people, if you have any religious hope left, it should be that God would yet restore the line of David to the throne. If you are there with Ishmael, you may be thinking he’s your last hope. You might be inclined to side with him over the word of some Jewish governor Gedaliah whom your probably saw as a collaborator with the Babylonians at this point.
And yet while such logic might at first seem compelling, I remind you that just being a son of David does not mean that you are faithful to God and therefore should expect God to be with you. In this case, we must remember the bigger context. While Ishmael was of the royal lineage, discernment would need to analyze whether his vision moving forward was the correct one or not. How might one consider his plans for the future compared to what Gedaliah offered here in verse 24? In other words, how do you know where to put your hope? While that decision might sound like a choice between the word of a son of David or the word of Gedaliah, it actually wasn’t. You see, the word of God had already contributed to this conversation. The word of the LORD through Jeremiah had been and continued to advocate that at this point Israel’s only hope was to submit to Babylon. Whether it be in exile in Babylon or living here under their dominion, for now the word of the LORD through Jeremiah confirmed that Gedaliah’s council was to be followed.
And if that recent word of the Lord was not sufficient, you could go back to the word of the LORD through the prophet Moses. In Deuteronomy 17:16, Moses had specifically instructed the future kings of Israel to never return to Egypt again nor to require the people to return to Egypt. God had gone to great lengths to bring the people out of Egyptian bondage, he didn’t want them to ever go back to them for help or refuge. If Ishmael had visions of one day becoming king himself over God’s people, he would do well to already begin to heed the word of the Lord that was even specifically given to instruct how a king was to lead God’s people.
And so, while at first Ishmael might have looked like a light of hope amidst all the sorrow of this chapter, his disregard for God’s word just shows him to be another Davidic king that has decided to forsake the God of his fathers. The hope that someone of the remnant might have found in Ishmael, sadly, would have been a false hope. Yet, praise the LORD because while Ishmael was a counterfeit hope from the line of David, there was yet a hope from the line of David. We find that recorded in verses 27 through the end of the book. Yes, that is how this long book ends. With the hope that the Davidic Covenant had in fact not yet failed.
For there in these closing verses we find that King Jehoiachin is released from Babylonian prison and exalted in many ways. Remember, he last chapter had surrendered himself to Nebuchadnezzar after only reigning for 3 months in Jerusalem. He was then imprisoned in Babylon. Yet, as Jeremiah had been repeatedly prophesying, Babylonian exile would become the lifeboat for the remnant that God would ultimately use to one day restore his people. This becomes even the case for King Jehoiachin. After 37 years, King Jehoiachin is released from Babylonian prison. Notice the text emphasizes that – that he is the king of Judah; it says it twice. And not only is he released, but he is treated very well in the Babylonian court. He gets to sit at the king’s table and get an allowance from the king. And not only that, kings from the other conquered kingdoms are also there, but for some reason Jehoiachin was exalted above those other kings.
For some reason? Surely, we know the reason. Surely, it was of the LORD. But notice that the text doesn’t tell us that here. There’s nothing here that credits these acts of restoring and exalting Jehoiachin to the work of God. For that matter, stand book and notice that for this entire chapter. Nothing in this chapter is explicitly put as an action of God. God’s name is only mentioned here at all in this chapter in a descriptive sense when talking about how the house of the LORD was destroyed. We read here of what King Nebuchadnezzar did, and what Nebuzaradan did, and what Gedaliah did, and what Ishmael did, and what King Evil-merodach did. But nothing in this chapter is put in terms of something that God did.
Now that doesn’t mean God wasn’t behind all these things. Nothing happens apart from God’s foreordained plan for history. God’s foreordination included allowing the evil Babylonians to so conquer and devastate Judah and Jerusalem. God’s foreordination also included his preserving a remnant of his people in Babylonian exile, and preserving the seed of David. But our chapter doesn’t describe things here in terms of God’s actions. And I believe that stems back to what we find at the end of the previous chapter. Chapter 24 verse 20 is the last verse describing something God had done. It says there that God cast Judah and Jerusalem out of his presence. In other words, God had already forsaken and abandoned them by the time you get into today’s chapter. So, we are not surprised to not read of any explicit actions credited to God here. Because of their sin, he had abandoned them to the nations, to everything we read about here.
And yet this seems very similar to the book of Esther. The book of Esther historically follows this chapter. It describes life for God’s people in exile. And amazingly, God’s name is never mentioned in that Bible book of Esther. Yet it is in the Bible because when you read it, we can discern that God was nonetheless providentially at work during the time of exile to preserve his chosen people so he could eventually restore them. Surely, then, that is how we must read these last few verses about King Jehoiachin. How come he not only got released from prison but was treated so well? Surely it was the grace of God beginning to move forward with his plan yet to save his chosen people in the line of David. And so, this book of 1 and 2 Kings ends up with hope of the line of David and the Davidic Covenant. Not through Ishmael – it’s never been through an Ishmael! That was ultimately a false hope. But it’s through Jehoiachin that God’s would fulfill his promises.
Indeed, the hope of Jehoiachin that’s given here was not a false hope. For as we read in Matthew 1:11, Jehoiachin, also known as Jechoniah, is of the line that leads to King Jesus, the Christ. Jehoiachin’s grandson Zerubbabel would first lead the Jewish people back to Jerusalem and begin to rebuild it, especially the temple. But that itself was only a type of a far greater restoration yet to come. For that line would lead to Jesus who would ultimately bring the hope of a glorious kingdom and temple which was held out in 1 and 2 Kings.
So then, in conclusion of this book of 1 and 2 Kings, what do we find? God’s covenantal promise to David doesn’t find fulfillment in Solomon. God promised David that one of his offspring would build a house for God’s name and God would establish his throne forever. The book of 1 and 2 Kings showed how that didn’t ultimately happen in Solomon. Solomon’s house for the LORD didn’t even endure. But the book ends with hope that yet a son of David would make an enduring house for God and God would establish that one’s kingdom, forever. As Stephen implied in Acts 7 (verses 47-48), that one was not Solomon but is Jesus.
I leave you with two applications then. One, today we are reminded that apostasy ends in the disaster and destruction of being forsaken by God. By the grace of God, let us hold fast in faith to our God. Two, we have seen how this chapter and this whole book points us to the hope we have in Jesus Christ. While we’ve come to the end of a long story today by completing this book, we come back to where we started. The hope that the Davidic promise would be fulfilled. What was yet just a hope at the end of this book, is for us a hope and victory that has already been inaugurated. King Jesus has built a house for God in his church, and he continues to do so as he reigns already now and forevermore, with all authority in heaven and on earth. Amen.
Copyright © 2020 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.