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Occational Letters: Glimmerings in the Gloom

D Newell, Glasgow

The final chapter of 2 Kings is not exactly a cheerful read. Unflinchingly it records the terrible fate of Judah, when in 586 BC the city of Jerusalem fell to the besieging Babylonian army. For propaganda purposes, politicians and military leaders frequently attempt to present a resounding defeat in the best possible light. Thus in 1940 the catastrophic retreat of the BEF to Dunkirk was transformed into a marvel of deliverance, because a sizeable portion of the army, deprived of their weaponry, was ferried back to Britain in the face of constant enemy action. But, as some remarked at the time, wars are not won by evacuations. And Scripture doesn't airbrush the tragedy of Judah's collapse. More, the previous chapter clearly spells out its cause: "Surely at the commandment of the Lord came this upon Judah, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he did" (2 Kings 24.3). Let us take note: sin brings suffering.

In this candid narrative of Jerusalem's overthrow, four things should grab our attention. First is the utter devastation of the city: "And in the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month, which is the nineteenth year of king Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, came Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Babylon, unto Jerusalem: And he burnt the house of the Lord, and the king's house, and all the houses of Jerusalem, and every great man's house burnt he with fire. And all the army of the Chaldees, that were with the captain of the guard, brake down the walls of Jerusalem round about…And such things as were of gold, in gold, and of silver, in silver, the captain of the guard took away" (2 Kings 25.8-15). Solomon's magnificent temple, the royal palace, and the houses of the nobility were all destroyed, and the city wall razed to the ground, while the nation's remaining treasures were looted. Most had already been pillaged in earlier invasions.

Second, to prevent any serious resistance, the victors ordered the extermination of the country's surviving leaders: "So they took the king, and brought him up to the king of Babylon to Riblah; and they gave judgment upon him. And they slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him with fetters of brass, and carried him to Babylon…And the captain of the guard took Seraiah the chief priest, and Zephaniah the second priest, and the three keepers of the door…And Nebuzaradan captain of the guard took these, and brought them to the king of Babylon to Riblah: And the king of Babylon smote them, and slew them at Riblah in the land of Hamath" (2 Kings 25.6-7, 18-21).

Third, the transportation of the remaining citizens to Babylon left only the poorer Judeans to eke out an existence in a war-ravaged land: "Now the rest of the people that were left in the city, and the fugitives that fell away to the king of Babylon, with the remnant of the multitude, did Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carry away. But the captain of the guard left of the poor of the land to be vinedressers and husbandmen" (2 Kings 25.11-12). Babylon's triumph was complete.

So far all is bleak: God's judgment upon His apostate people has fallen as promised and, apart from the short-lived generosity of Gedaliah, the local governor appointed by the Chaldeans, the picture is one of unrelieved gloom. King Zedekiah has been blinded, the immediate royal family slaughtered, the people scattered. Then, at the very close of the chapter, comes an unexpected appendix which shifts the scene to Babylon.

"And it came to pass in the seven and thirtieth year of the captivity of Jehoiachin king of Judah…that Evilmerodach king of Babylon in the year that he began to reign did lift up the head of Jehoiachin king of Judah out of prison; And he spake kindly to him, and set his throne above the throne of the kings that were with him in Babylon; And changed his prison garments: and he did eat bread continually before him all the days of his life. And his allowance was a continual allowance given him of the king, a daily rate for every day, all the days of his life" (2 Kings 25.27-30).

Josiah's grandson Jehoiachin (and it is vital to bear in mind that he is also called Jeconiah and Coniah) had been captured 37 years earlier when he was eighteen, after an evil reign of three months (2 Kings 24.8-13). But now came a change. In honour of his coronation, the new Babylonian king decided to show him favour, replacing his prison clothes and diet with treatment befitting a foreign dignitary rather than a captive. Why is this recorded? We can of course view it as a picture of the merciful way God today raises sinners to blessing in Christ. But in context it signals the gracious preservation of Judah's kingly line. A light remained in the darkness, for God had promised that "David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel" (Jer 33.17). Therefore Jehoiachin's name duly appears in Matthew's messianic genealogy: "Josiah begat Jechoniah and his brethren, at the time of the carrying away to Babylon. And after the carrying away to Babylon, Jechoniah begat Shealtiel" (Mt 1.11-12, ASV). Coniah is in the ancestry of the Lord Jesus. But there's a problem. The same prophet who affirmed the perpetuity of David's dynasty also pronounced a divine curse on Coniah: "Is this man Coniah a despised broken vessel?…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, and ruling any more in Judah" (Jer 22.28-30). Do you see the difficulty? The great Davidic covenant of 2 Samuel 7 guarantees the preservation of David's royal family as the line of messianic blessing. The curse in Jeremiah 22 equally emphatically debars any descendant of Jehoiachin (himself one of David's successors) from kingship. How then can the Lord Jesus as son of David reign and prosper? The answer is found by examining the New Testament genealogies of Christ. Matthew traces the royal ancestry from David, Solomon, and Coniah to Joseph, the Saviour's foster-father. But Joseph was only Christ's legal father, not His physical parent, as Matthew's careful language demonstrates: "Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ" (Mt 1.16). Luke 3, on the other hand, traces what we may assume is Mary's ancestry through another of David's sons, Nathan, one outside the royal line and therefore exempt from the Coniah curse. The Lord Jesus is of the seed of David physically via Mary, but His throne rights come from His adoptive father Joseph. To quote the words of the Jamieson, Fausset & Brown Commentary, "Matthew gives the legal pedigree through Solomon down to Joseph; Luke the real pedigree, from Mary, the real parent, through Nathan, brother of Solomon, upwards (Lk 3.31)". I strongly recommend a reading of Robert G Gromacki's superb book, The Virgin Birth (Kregel, 2002) for a full account of this remarkable fulfilment of prophecy.

In the midst of slaughter, defeat and exile Scripture holds out the hope of blessing. 2 Kings concludes with a testimony to God's inexorable government (in disciplining Judah) and amazing grace (in preserving and, through the Babylonians, showing unlooked-for kindness to the wretched Coniah). But it does far more than that – it underlines the inviolability of God's messianic programme. Not even Israel's failure, or the many sins of David's descendants, could frustrate the coming and the ministry of Messiah. Because of the virgin birth, which circumvents the Coniah curse, the Lord Jesus is the only one who can legitimately sit on David's throne, ruling this world in righteousness and peace. There's glory ahead.

To be continued.

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