2 Kings 23:31—24:7 (NIV)✞: Jehoahaz King of Judah, Jehoiakim King of Judah
This passage starts the beginning of the end for the nation of Judah. In Chapter 22 we read about Josiah being a king who was faithful to God, and in 23:1–30 we read about him trying to renew the covenant between God and His people—and maybe it worked or maybe it didn’t—but in the couple of short passages outlined here we see that whatever reforms he’d set in motion didn’t last.
We start with Josiah’s son Jehoahaz, in 23:31–35✞, who does evil in the eyes of the LORD (v. 23:32✞) and only lasts a few months in power before he is captured by Pharaoh Neco II of Egypt1. Egypt is apparently a power in the world at this point (temporarily), because they decide they don’t want Jehoahaz ruling in Judah, so they capture him and make his brother Eliakim king in his place – whom they rename Jehoiakim. Imagine it! Egypt is so [temporarily] powerful that they can not only change the king of another nation to one more favourable, they can even rename him! They also impose a heavy tax on Judah.
The ESV Study Bible note for the parallel passage in 2 Chronicles 36:1–4✞ gives some additional detail:
2 Chron. 36:1–4 Pharaoh Neco II asserted control over Judah after Josiah’s death. The “people of the land” who made Jehoahaz king (see 23:13; 26:1; 33:25) probably hoped he would continue Josiah’s opposition to Egypt. Neco preempted this risk by deposing him in favor of Eliakim, whom he renamed Jehoiakim as a mark of his authority over him. The tribute that Neco imposed on the land was a tax exacted from those who had supported Jehoahaz (2 Kings 23:35). Inscription 88 of the Arad Ostraca, dating to c. 600 B.C., is fragmentary but appears to be a letter from a king who has just been enthroned. The king is apparently warning the military commander of Arad of a possible military encounter with Egypt. Arad at this time guarded the southern end of Judah. The excavator identified the king who wrote this letter as Jehoahaz, who ruled Judah for three months in 609 B.C. (Cf. note on 2 Kings 23:31–35.)
ESV Study Bible
His brother Jehoiakim—yes, he keeps the name assigned to him by the Egyptians—goes on to pay the tax levied on Judah by the Egyptians.
Speaking of which, his reign, which lasts for eleven years, is covered in 23:36–24:7✞. He also does evil in the eyes of the LORD (v. 23:37✞), and the only coverage given to his reign is how much time he spent trying to fend off oppressors! Although his brother had been captured by the Egyptians it’s not Egypt Jehoiakim needs to worry about, it’s the Babylonians2 who are now the problem:
1 During Jehoiakim’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon invaded the land, and Jehoiakim became his vassal for three years. But then he turned against Nebuchadnezzar and rebelled. 2 The LORD sent Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite and Ammonite raiders against him to destroy Judah, in accordance with the word of the LORD proclaimed by his servants the prophets. 3 Surely these things happened to Judah according to the LORD’s command, in order to remove them from his presence because of the sins of Manasseh and all he had done, 4 including the shedding of innocent blood. For he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the LORD was not willing to forgive.
There are two final points made at the end of this passage:
- After Jehoiakim’s death—yes, the author(s) of Kings continue to use the name given to him by the Pharaoh!—his son Jehoiachin becomes king, and
- After this the Egyptians are no longer a problem because they have also been defeated by the Babylonians.
As highlighted in 24:1–4✞ above, the author(s) make a point of calling out that this is happening out of judgement from God. Josiah had already been warned that it was too late to save Judah—though I continue to hold he was right in trying—and it turns out that, in this case, Judah’s sin has gone on long enough that God’s patience has run out.
The point about Egypt being so powerful that they can step in and change Judah’s king on a whim is interesting in 23:31–35✞ but becomes downright important in 23:36–24:7✞ because suddenly Egypt isn’t a major power anymore! In the space of a few verse we go from “I’m going to name your king and there’s nothing you can do about it” to “Egypt? Who’s Egypt?” It doesn’t matter how powerful a nation might be, God does as He pleases. He brings nations up, and He brings them back down.
“Egypt, who’s Egypt” a bit of an exaggeration, it’s not that bad, but verse 24:7✞ tells us that the Babylonians have done enough damage that we won’t be seeing them again as a major power for a while, if ever. It’s an example of the Bible caring about different things than historians do. I’m sure historians would care a lot more about Egypt’s defeat to Babylon than they would care about the reigns of Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim in this tiny nation of Judah, but the author(s) of the book of Kings aren’t writing about world history, they’re writing about the histories of Judah and Israel, so that’s what they focus on.
In fact, from a historical perspective, the Babylonians probably didn’t care much about the nation of Judah anyway – they were just in the middle between Babylon and Egypt! From the ESV Study Bible notes:
2 Kings 23:36–24:7 Jehoahaz’s replacement is his brother Jehoiakim, who is confronted by the armies of Babylon that have just dismantled the Assyrian Empire and now invade Palestine in pursuit of complete victory over Egypt. Their ruler is Nebuchadnezzar, who was never able to defeat Egypt completely but did enough to ensure that the king of Egypt did not come again out of his land. Jehoiakim first switched his allegiance from Egypt to Babylon (604 B.C.), but after Nebuchadnezzar’s failed attempt to invade Egypt in 601 (i.e., after three years), he rebelled against Babylon and looked once again to Egypt for help (cf. Jer. 46:14–28).
Regardless of their reasons for going through Judah the Babylonians are now the major threat Judah has to worry about. At this specific moment Judah hasn’t been conquered, but that will come in the next passage.
I’m left wondering if thoughts of the LORD even passed through the minds of Jehoahaz or Jehoiakim as this was all happening. They clearly weren’t faithful to Him, but were they actively rebelling against Him, shaking their fists at Him as they suffered under the Egyptians and Babylonians? Or had they forgotten Him altogether, focused as they were on worship of other gods?
- The NIV calls him Pharaoh Necho, the ESV calls him Pharaoh Neco, and the ESV Study Bible notes identify him as Pharaoh Neco II. ↩
- I don’t know how important it is, but the NIV footnotes often mention that “Babylonians” could also be translated “Chaldeans.” For example, for 24:2 the ESV uses the term “Chaldeans,” the NIV uses “Babylonians,” the KJV uses “Chaldees,” and the NKJV uses “Chaldeans.” (I note that the ESV Study Bible notes tend to use the term “Babylonians” pretty consistently, even if the ESV text sometimes uses one and sometimes uses the other.) ↩