The Disastrous Reign Of Jehoiakim:
The Beginning Of The End (609-589)
The vigorous reforms set on foot by Josiah gave grounds for hope of a spiritual recovery in Yahudah, if only the effort were continued by his successors. But the four kings who were to succeed him on the throne of David 25 commited so many blunders in their domestic and foreign policy that twenty years after the death of Josiah the kingdom of Yahudah collapsed. And so we see the plundering and burning of Yerusalem, the destruction of the Tabernacle of YAHWEH and, finally, the deportation of the leading citizens from Yahudah to Babylon.
Jehoiakim's disastrous reign, which began the series of catastrophes, falls logically into three distinct parts: Yahudah, the vassal of Pharaoh Neco II (609-606); Yahudah, the vassal of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (606-602), rebels against its overlord, thus provoking an immediate and terrifying reaction by the Babylonian power (602-598); and just at the time when Jehoiakim died Nebuchadnezzar's armies appeared before the walls of Yerusalem. The end of the city was near.
Jehoiakim, Vassal Of Pharaoh Neco II (609-606)
After disdainfully pushing aside the tiny Judaean army at Megiddo where Josiah met his death, Neco continued his way towards the Euphrates where he expected to match his strength against the forces of Nebupolassar, the king of Babylon.
It was a drawn battle, fought by the banks of the great river. Neco was determined to continue the battle at the first opportunity, but for the time being retired a short distance to the south. As a result he retained control of Yahudah which thus became Egypt's vassal.
The elders of Yerusalem had placed on the throne Jehoahaz, Josiah's eldest son. Neco, who did not trust this prince, summarily deposed him and deported him to Egypt. Jehoahaz reigned scarcely three months (609).
On Neco's orders Jehoahaz was replaced by his brother Jehoiakim. At the beginning of his reign the new sovereign seemed to have decided to be an obedient vassal; with great regularity he paid the enormous tribute exacted by Egypt.
Between 609 and 606 Nebupolassar and his son Nebuchadnezzar were busy fighting in Armenia. Directly they had concluded their business with the northern rebels they came down towards the Euphrates. In passing they halted at Haran where, as was related above, the last enclave of Assyrian resistance, which had escaped from Nineveh, was entrenched. The matter was soon settled. The huge Assyrian power, which for several centuries had held sway over the east, thus disappeared unobtrusively from the military history of western Asia.
Nebuchadnezzar, the hereditary prince of Babylon, was in command of the Babylonian army. He was an outstanding tactician and inflicted a terrible defeat on the Egyptians, cutting them in pieces so that they were obliged to retreat in haste to the Delta (May-June, 605). The Babylonian forces pursued them at close quarters and would probably have finished them off altogether, but at this moment news came to Nebuchadnezzar of the death of his father in the palace at Babylon (15-16 August 605). Nebuchadnezzar had therefore to abandon the pursuit of his enemy to return as quick as he could to the capital of his empire.26
Nebuchadnezzar was in a hurry to return to Babylon to keep usurpers off the throne. He had only to put in an appearance to receive the crown.
Thus, Yahudah, formerly the vassal of Egypt for a few years under Neco, became in 605 the vassal of the Babylonian empire. It was at this point that things began seriously to go wrong.
Central section: attack on a stronghold.
Bottom section: convoy of prisoners..
YAHWEH, the pagans have invaded YOUR heritage [Yerusalem],
they have descrated YOUR set apart Tabernacle
they have reduced Yerusalem to a pile of ruins
they have left the corpses of YOUR servants
to the birds of the air for food
and the flesh of your devout to the beasts of the earth.
May the groans of the captive reach YOU;
by YOUR mighty arm rescue those doomed to die!
25 There were four of them. though only two are important historically. The chronological list is as follows:
1. Jehoahaz, son of Josiah; reigned three months in 609
2 Jehoiakim, son of Josiah; reigned eleven years (609-598)
3. Jehoiachin, son of Jehoiakim; reigned three months (598)
4 Zedekiah, Josiah's brother; reigned eleven years (598-587)
26 Until quite recently, following the statements of ancient historians, it was thought that Nebuchadnezzar, on the heels of Neco, was nearing Pelusium 'the gateway to the Delta' when he received news of Nebupolassar's death About ten years ago the deciphering of certain Babylonian Divre Hayamim preserved at the British Museum have resulted in a correction of this statement According to these chronicles, which are written on bricks, Nebuchadnezzar was not on the frontiers of Egypt when he decided to return to Babylon. In reality he was camping near Homs in Syria about 500 miles from his capital to which he returned by traversing the Arabian wilderness, without baggage and with a very small escort mounted on two camels He took the caravan route leading to Babylon by way of Palmyra and Hit. (Nova Chronica babylonica -Tabula British Museum 21946 -Chronica Wiseman: 605-595a C -Pugna apud Karkemis et expugnation Syriae mart Aug 605 In Bib/ica 1956, vol 37, fasc 3, pp 388-9).