from Pete Williamson
“he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon.” – 2 Kings 24:15
Growing up in the church, I heard a great many Bible stories. I’d hear the stories of Jesus, of course. But also the favorite stories about David, and Moses, and Abraham. I knew about the Exodus. I knew some stories about Elijah. I knew about the Apostles and what they did and wrote.
But it wasn’t really until I started reading the Bible systematically for myself as a teenager that I began to really learn about the exile. Given how central the exile is to the Old Testament, and the world Jesus inhabited, it’s surprising that it’s rarely reflected on in normal church life. I would posit that probably most of the Old Testament is in some way reflecting on the significance of the exile.
The exile is a seventy-year period starting around 586BC when the southern Kingdom – Judah – is conquered by the Babylonians and its people are taken to Babylon as exiles. Seventy years later, once Persia conquers Babylon, God’s people are allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.
In 2 Kings 24 we get a depressing account of the final days of a nation, with short-reigning kings seeking to find some way to maintain their autonomy. One king – Jehoiakim – becomes a tributary of Babylon, but stages an unsuccessful rebellion. His son, Jehoiachin, reigns three months before Babylon completely overtakes Jerusalem, pillages the city, and takes away the first batch of exiles. Babylon sets up a puppet king – Zedekiah – who also rebels, which precipitates the final destruction of Jerusalem and the ultimate exile.
In this midst of this societal collapse, the words of the psalmist seem to fall flat: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!” – Psalm 33:12. Who would want to be this nation? How is the LORD their God still? What does this make of the Covenant? Has God been faithful? Does this failure of God’s nation mean that God himself has failed?
These are the questions the Old Testament is left to ponder in the midst of the exile. But the consensus is clear. God is faithful to his people. He has not failed, and has in fact orchestrated this sad new reality in response to Israel’s sin. God does his greatest work in the darkest moments, and it is in the ghettos of Babylon that God’s people were forged into a people centered on God’s Word ultimately leading to the Messiah, Jesus.
God truly is always faithful, and we see this in this passage through one insignificant king. Jehoiachin. He’s 18 years old. He reigns until he’s 18 ¼ years old. But this name becomes a significant name in Jewish hope. Not because of his greatness or because of what he did in history. He is, in fact, condemned as an evil king. Rather, his name becomes a symbol of hope that the line of David has not been extinguished, and God’s promise to David was still valid – “Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16). Jehoiachin is taken into exile and imprisoned. But 2 Kings ends the following chapter with an odd little fact. The new king of Babylon releases Jehoiachin and treats him well. 2 Kings ends – after detailing the demise of a nation – with a tiny seed of hope. But it is this seed – this evil 18-year-old king who barely got to reign – that stands in the lineage of Jesus in Matthew 1, declaring Jesus to be the son of David, whose throne shall be established forever.
With God there is always a Jehoiachin. No matter how desperate things are, or how bad things get. Even if everything seems to be crashing down around us and even when it might be said that God’s promises are becoming void. With God there is always a seed of hope locked away, later to be set free to grow into the fulfilment of what God has promised. God is faithful to his promises, to his covenant to us, and when it doesn’t feel like that to us, maybe the right response is that we need to start looking for our Jehoiachin.
Pete Williamson currently has two sons, currently has one dog, and permanently has one wife. He’s a deacon at CotC and his primary ministry is with grad students at Harvard and Tufts.