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b.c. 597

2 Kings xxiv. 8-16

"There are times when ancient truths become modern falsehoods, when the signs of God's dispensations are made so clear by the course of natural events as to supersede the revelations of even their most sacred past."—Stanley, Lectures, ii. 521.

Jehoiachin—"Jehovah maketh steadfast"—who is also called Jeconiah, and—perhaps with intentional slight—Coniah, succeeded, at the age of eighteen, to the miserable and distracted heritage of the throne of Judah. The "eight years old" of the Chronicler must be a clerical error, for he had a harem. He only reigned for three months; and the historian pronounces over him, as over all the four kings of the House of Josiah, the stereotyped condemnation of evil-doing. Was there anything in the manner in which Josiah had trained his family which could account for their unsatisfactoriness? In Jehoiachin's case we do not know what his transgressions were, but perhaps his mother's influence rendered him as little favourable to the prophetic party as his brother Jehoiakim had been. For the Gebîrah was Nehushta, the daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem. Her name means apparently "Brass," and nothing can be deduced from it; but her father Elnathan was (as we432 have seen) the envoy who, by order of Jehoiakim, had dragged back from Egypt the martyr-prophet Urijah.800800   Jer. xxvi. 22.

Brief as was his reign of three months and ten days801801   2 Chron. xxxvi. 9.—a hundred days, like that of his unhappy uncle Jehoahaz—he is largely alluded to by the contemporary prophets.

Indignant at the sins and apostasies of Judah, and convinced that her retribution was nigh at hand, Jeremiah took with him an earthen pot to the Valley of Hinnom, and there shivered it to pieces at Tophet in the presence of certain elders of the people and of the priests, explaining that his symbolic action indicated the destruction of Jerusalem. On hearing the tenor of these prophecies, the priest Pashur, who was officer of the Temple, smote Jeremiah in the face, and put him in the stocks in a prominent place by the Temple gate.802802   Jer. xx. 2. There seem to have been special "stocks" and "collars" in the Temple, reserved, by order of the priest Jehoiada, for those whom the priests regarded as unruly prophets (Jer. xxix. 26). Jeremiah in return prophesied that Pashur and all his family should be carried into captivity, so that his name should be changed from Pashur to Magor-Missabib, "Terror on every side."

Against the king himself he pronounced the doom: "'As I live,' saith the Lord, 'though Coniah, the son of Jehoiakim, King of Judah, were the signet on My right hand, yet will I pluck thee thence; and I will give thee into the hands of them that seek thy life, ... even into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar.... And I will hurl thee, and thy mother that bare thee, into another433 country;803803   Jer. xxii. 24-30. The captivity of the queen-mother struck men's imaginations (Jer. xxix. 2). ... and there shall ye die.' ... Is this man Coniah a despised broken piece of work? is he a vessel wherein is no pleasure? wherefore are they hurled, he and his seed, and cast into a land which they know not? O land, land, land! hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord, 'Write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, or ruling any more in Judah.'"

Yet there must have been something in Jeconiah which impressed favourably the minds of men. Brief as was his reign, his memory was never forgotten. We learn from the Mishna that one of the gates of Jerusalem—probably that by which he left the city—for ever bore his name.804804   Middoth, ii. 6, quoted by Cheyne, p. 163; Jos., B. J., VI. ii. 1. Comp. Ezek. i. 2. Josephus says that his captivity was annually commemorated. Jeremiah writes in the Lamentations:—

"Our pursuers are swifter than the eagles of heaven: they have pursued us upon the mountains, they have laid wait for us in the wilderness. The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the Lord, was taken in their pits, of whom we said, 'Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen.'"

Ezekiel compares him to a young lion:—

"He went up and down among the lions, he became a young lion, and learned to catch the prey. And he knew their palaces, and laid waste their cities; and the land was desolate, and the fulness thereof, by the noise of his roaring. Then the nations set against him434 on every side from the provinces, and spread their net over him: he was taken in their pit. And they put him in ward in hooks, and brought him to the King of Babylon: they brought him into holds, that his voice should no more be heard upon the mountains of Israel."805805   Ezek. xix. 6-9. The special allusions are no longer certain.

A prince of whom a contemporary prophet could thus write was obviously no fainéant. Indeed, the energetic measures which Nebuchadrezzar adopted against him may have been due to the fact that he had endeavoured to rouse his discouraged people. But what could he do against such a power as that of the Chaldæans? Nebuchadrezzar sent his generals against Jerusalem; and when it was ripe for capture, advanced in person to take possession of it. Resistance had become hopeless; there lay no chance in anything but that complete submission which might possibly avert the worst effects of the destruction of the city. Accordingly, Jeconiah, accompanied by his mother, his court, his princes, and his officers, went out in procession, and threw themselves on the mercy of the King of Babylon. Nebuchadrezzar was far less brutal than the Sargons and Assurbanipals of Assyria; but Judah had twice revolted, and the defection of Tyre showed him that the affairs of Palestine could no longer be neglected. He thoroughly despoiled the Temple and the palace, and carried the spoils to Babylon, as Isaiah had forewarned Hezekiah should be the case.806806   2 Kings xx. 17. The expression "he cut to pieces all the vessels of gold which Solomon had made" is hardly consistent with Ezra i. 7-11, unless we understand the word in a loose sense. That he might further weaken and435 humiliate the city, he stripped it of its king, its royal house, its court, its nobles, its soldiers, even its craftsmen and smiths, and carried ten thousand eight hundred and thirty-two captives to Babylon (Jos., Antt., X. vii. 1), among whom was the prophet Ezekiel. He naturally spared Jeremiah, who regarded him as "the sword of Jehovah" (Jer. xlvii. 6), and as "Jehovah's servant, to do His pleasure" (Jer. xxv. 9, xxvii. 6, xliii. 10). On the whole, Nebuchadrezzar is not treated with abhorrence by the Jews. There was something in his character which inspired respect; and the Jews deal with him leniently, both in their records and generally in their traditions. "Nebuchadnezzar," we read in the Talmud (Taanith f. 18, 2), "was a worthy king, and deserved that a miracle should be performed through him."

From the allusion of Ezekiel we might infer that Jehoiachin was violent and self-willed; but Josephus speaks of his kindness and gentleness.807807   He says that he nobly gave himself up to save the city (Antt., X. vii. 1). His captivity was made an era from which to date Ezek. i. 2, viii. 1, xxiv. 1, xxvi. 1, etc. Comp. Susannah 1-4. Was he, as Jeremiah had prophesied, literally "childless"?808808   Jer. xxii. 30, 'arîrî. His "son" Assir (1 Chron. iii. 17) may have been made an eunuch (Isa. xxxix. 7). It is true that in 1 Chron. iii. 17, 18, eight sons are ascribed to him, and among them Shealtiel, in whom the royal line was continued. But it is far from certain that these sons were not the sons of his brother Neri, of the House of Nathan,809809   Luke iii. 27, 31; Matt. i. 12. and it seems that they were only adopted by the unhappy captive. The Book of Baruch describes him weeping by the Euphrates.810810   Baruch i. 3, 4. But436 if we may trust the story of Susannah, his outward fortunes were peaceful, and he was allowed to live in his own house and gardens in peace, and in a certain degree of splendour.811811   The favourable notice of Nebuchadrezzar in Taanith (quoted above) is not found in Berachoth, f. 57, 2, where he is called "the wicked." There are many wild legends about him. In Nedarim (f. 65, 2), R. Yitzchak says: "May melted gold be poured into the mouth of the wicked Nebuchadrezzar! Had not an angel struck him on the mouth, he would have outshone all David's songs and praises." With reference to Isa. xxii. 1, 2, the Rabbis say that Jeconiah went to the Temple roof, and flung up the keys into the air, when Nebuchadrezzar required them: "a hand took them, and they were seen no more" (Shekalim, vi. 5). In Nedarim (f. 65, 2) we are told that Zedekiah's rebellion consisted in divulging, contrary to his oath, that he had seen Nebuchadrezzar eating a live hare (Hershon, Treasures of the Talmud).

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