Chapters 21-22 contain God’s message about and to five kings of Judah: Zedekiah, the final king before the fall of Jerusalem, is addressed in chapter 21. Chapter 22 is a flash back, containing a prophetic word about the four previous kings: Josiah (“the dead king”—10), Shallum (also known as Jehoahaz—10-12), Jehoiakim (13-23) and Jehoiachin (also known as Coniah or Jeconiah—24-30).
Why the reverse order? Why is the prophecy to Zedekiah given before the message about and to the other four kings? I see the flow this way: the message to Zedekiah in chapter 21 is one of unstoppable, impending judgment. It’s too late. It’s over. Zedekiah’s and Jerusalem’s fate is sealed: “I will hand over Zedekiah, king of Judah, his officials and the people in this city who survives the plagues, sword and famine, to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and to their enemies who seek their lives” (7).
The following chapter shows that, while it’s too late to change things now, God had given ample, repeated opportunities for the kings (and the nation) to repent and be spared destruction. But these warnings and invitations were repeated rejected.
Chapter 22 is best read as delivered during the long reign of Jehoiakim, after Josiah’s death and Shallum’s exile to Egypt and before Johoiachin’s exile to Babylon. Shallum is referred to as already “gone from this place” (11) and exiled (10). Jehoiachin, who is exiled to Babylon, is spoken of in future terms: “I will hand you over to those who seek your life” (24); “I will hurl you and the mother who gave you birth into another country” (25).
Here’s a summary of the five kings who reigned in the years before the fall of Jerusalem:
Josiah. Good king. Reigned 31 years. Jeremiah’s form ministry began during the 13thyear of Josiah’s reign. Josiah was killed in a battle with Egypt.
Shallum/Jehoahaz. Evil king. Reigned 3 months. Exiled into Egypt by Pharaoh Neco at Riblah (2 Kings 23:31).
Jehoiakim. Evil king. Reigned 11 years. Was Jeremiah’s primary antagonist.
Jehoiachin/Coniah. Evil king. Reigned 3 months. Exiled (along with his mother) to Babylon. Never returns to Judah but is shown kindness by a later king of Babylon (see 52:31-34—a sign for good).
Zedekiah. Evil king. Reigned 11 years. Captured, blinded (at Riblah) and exiled by Nebuchadnezzar when the city falls.
Chapter 21 could be entitled “When wonders cease” based on God’s response to Zedekiah’s hope (“perhaps the Lord will perform wonders for us as in the times past”—2). This time there would be no more wonders. God’s “outstretched hand and mighty arm” (a reversal of the way the adjectives are normally used) would fight against, not for, His people. God will “turn against you the weapons of war that are in your hands” (4)—an indication that God would incite internal strife and civil infighting (this is why death by the sword comes prior to the Babylonian takeover of the city—see vs. 7). God would fight by sending plague—a direct consequence of the famine resulting from the siege (6-7). God would fight against them by “gathering” the Babylonian armies “inside this city”(4). God would fight against them “in anger and fury and great wrath” (5). Zedekiah, the official leaders, and the people would be captured and shown “no mercy or pity or compassion” (7).
It’s a dangerous thing to have God as your adversary, not your ally. It’s a devastating thing when the wonders of God’s deliverance cease. It’s a dreadful thing to fall into the [outstretched] hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). For those who struggle with God’s command to the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites, it should be remembered that He commanded Babylon to do the same to His own people. God is the righteous Judge of all: “The Lord will judge His people” (Hebrews 10:30).
Chapter 22 contains references or rebukes to five kings of Judah: David (2) and Josiah (10) are mentioned in passing. Jehoahaz, already exiled to Egypt, should be mourned for he will never return to his homeland (10-12). Jehoiakim receives most of the attention; he is rebuked for ruling with injustice (17) and self-aggrandizement (building a posh, cedar-paneled palace—13-14). Even in dire times, when his nation is subjugated and reduced by Babylon, he enlarges and enhances his own palace, ignoring the needs of the poor and oppressed (16-17) and the rights of those who work for him (13). God is furious with leaders who use their positions of power to enrich themselves rather than serving the powerless. Kings are given power by God to help the poor and powerless get justice when oppressed (“defend the cause of the poor and needy”—16; see also Psalm 72:4, 14). Oppressors often only respond to power; they must be overpowered by leaders who exercise it in a godly way for the good of the vulnerable. Judah’s final four kings did not do this. May all of us who are in positions of leadership utilize power for the good of those we lead and serve.
The closing prophecy about Jehoiachin (Jeconiah) not having a son sit on David’s throne is fulfilled when his seven sons die childless (made eunuchs in Babylon: http://christianthinktank.com/fabprof4.html). This matter is relevant to Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew (which lists Jeconiah—Matthew 1:11). Luke does not mention him, tracing Jesus’ lineage not through Solomon but Nathan. The best explanation is that Luke records Mary’s lineage and Matthew records Joseph. Jesus, being virgin born, was a son of David through Mary and not a “son of Jeconiah.”