We come now to the account of the last kings of Judah before the exile to Babylon. Manasseh was one of, if not the most evil kings ever to reign over Judah according to the authors/editors of 2 Kings. The authors/editors devote an entire chapter to the evils that Manasseh committed. It was because of the bad things Manasseh did that the Lord took Judah into exile. Manasseh reigned from 687 to 642 having enjoyed co-regency with his father Hezekiah from 697. It is amazing but true that one of the worst kings followed one of the best kings. What is it about the good kings of Judah that leads them not to train their sons effectively in the ways of Yahweh? Of course, no parent can take full responsibility for the choices of their children. Our children will make their own choices as they grow up. However, it seems to be a repeated theme in 1 and 2 Kings that either the royal parents fail in their job of training up their children in the ways of the Lord or the royal children are extremely rebellious.
Manasseh’s son Amon succeeded him and did evil just as his father had done before him. Amon reigned in Jerusalem for only two years, from 642 to 640. His servants conspired against him and killed him. Then the people of Judah made his son Josiah king in his place.
Josiah was only eight years old when he began to reign. However, he reigned for 31 years and did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. Perhaps this is the more amazing thing, not that some of the royal sons in the line of King David made evil choices, but that some of those in David’s line made good choices despite the evil example they had.
Lawrence Boadt gives this helpful summary of Josiah’s reign….
2 Kings 22 tells the story of how Josiah began his reforming efforts. In his eighteenth year, which would be 622, he decided to repair the temple which was in poor shape. He spared no expense in the effort, and shortly after he had begun the task, the high priest Hilkiah brought out a book which had been found hidden somewhere in the temple. The Second Book of Kings is not clear whether it had lain there lost in a corner for a long time or whether the high priest had known about it all along and only risked showing it to the king when he was certain that Josiah was serious about religious reform.
After Josiah had read the book, he tore his clothes in distress because it threatened God’s wrath on any who did not obey its words (2 Kgs 22:13). When he asked the prophetess Huldah to seek a word from God about the book, she answered that God would destroy Jerusalem for its idolatry but that the king would be spared because he had repented. Then the king gathered all the people and made them renew the covenant and promise to obey all its divine laws and statutes (2 Kgs 23:2-3). Finally he began a bold effort to remove all pagan shrines and cult objects from the land and to restore the worship of Yahweh alone (2 Kgs 23:4-20).
What exactly was this book that had such a shattering effect on the king? At different places in the text, the Second Book of Kings calls it the “book of the law,” “this book,” and “the book of the covenant,” and once it says that Josiah did all according to “the law of Moses” (2 Kgs 23:25). Thus it certainly reflects the traditions of the covenant given at Mount Sinai. A close comparison of the language used about the book in 2 Kings 22-23 with the contents of the Pentateuch shows the most similarities to the words of Deuteronomy….
It seems that Josiah’s “lawbook” was some form of the Book of Deuteronomy, probably the middle sections that run from chapter 4 through 28, and that the king’s reforms were a serious attempt to return to a faithful understanding of the covenant of Moses as it was described by the authors of Deuteronomy. The energy which Josiah gave to his movement shows that he did indeed undergo a sincere conversion from the ways of his fathers, and the later authors of the Second Book of Kings remember Josiah as the greatest king in the history of the people after David himself.
However, things went seriously downhill for Judah after the death of Josiah at the hands of Pharaoh Neco of Egypt. Once again, either Josiah did not do a good job of training his sons in the ways of the Lord, or else his sons were simply very rebellious. Josiah’s son Jehoahaz followed his father on the throne of Judah. He reigned for only three months in the year 608 BC and did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. Pharaoh Neco, who was using Judah as a buffer against the expanding Babylonian Empire, put Jehoahaz in prison and placed his brother Eliakim on the throne of Judah, changing his name to Jehoiakim. This son of Josiah reigned for 11 years, but he too did evil in the eyes of the Lord. Jehoiakim became a servant of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon before rebelling against him. Nebuchadnezzar crushed this rebellion and drove the king of Egypt back into his homeland.
Jehoiachin followed his father on the throne of Judah. He reigned for only three months in the year 597 and did evil. King Nebuchadnezzar took him as prisoner and carried all the treasures of the Judean palace and the temple off to Babylon, as well as deporting the royal family and the elite of the land.
Nebuchadnezzar made Jehoiachin’s uncle Mattaniah king in his place and changed his name to Zedekiah. He reigned from 597 to 586. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord just like the immediately previous kings of Judah. He was the very last king of Judah and was taken, bound in fetters, to Babylon. After this, Nebuzaradan, the captain of Nebuchadnezzar’s bodyguard, burned the temple, the palace, all the houses of Jerusalem, and broke down the walls of the city.
Intriguingly, the last we hear of any of the kings of Judah is a word about Jehoiachin. In the 37th year of exile, King Evil-merodach of Babylon began to reign and he released Jehoiachin from prison. This king of Babylon gave to the former king of Judah a seat above the other kings of conquered lands who had been deported to Babylon. Thus, Jehoiachin ended his life relatively well, albeit in exile, dining at the table of the king of Babylon and existing on an allowance from the king.