IN THIS LAST CHAPTER OF 2 Kings (2 Kings 25), Jerusalem slouches off into shame and defeat. But there is a twist in the tale.
The narrative itself is grubby. Zedekiah, the caretaker king, was weak and corrupt. Jeremiah was preaching submission: God had decreed that Judah be punished in this way, and therefore the nation must not rebel against Babylon. Seven hundred miles away, Ezekiel was preaching much the same thing to the exiles: Judah and Jerusalem, he insisted, were much worse than most people thought, and God had decreed judgment upon her. Several years before the final destruction, he predicted that the glory of God would abandon Jerusalem, and the city would be destroyed (Ezek. 8–11)—a devastating message to the exiles, for to them it meant there would be no home to which to return, and an abandonment by God so total they scarcely had categories to comprehend it.
But Zedekiah rebelled anyway. Babylonian retaliation was as brutal as it was inevitable. By 588 B.C., the mighty Babylonian army was back at Jerusalem’s gates. The city was taken in 587 B.C. Zedekiah tried to escape, but was captured near Jericho and taken to Nebuchadnezzar’s headquarters at Riblah. There his sons were killed before his eyes—and then his eyes were gouged out. Most of the city was burned, and the walls were taken down stone by stone. Anyone of any substance was transported to Babylon. Over the poor who remained in the land to tend the vines, Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah as governor, who set up his administrative center at Mizpah, since Jerusalem was so thoroughly destroyed. A mere seven months later, Gedaliah was assassinated by stupid toughs of royal blood: apparently they were affronted that a governor had been appointed from outside the Davidic line. Realization of what they had done finally dawned. Fearing retaliation from the Babylonians, the remaining people fled to Egypt.
If that is the way 2 Kings ended, the themes of justice and judgment would be served, but the reader would be left wondering if there was any hope for the Davidic line and the sweeping messianic promises bound up with it. But in fact, the book ends with a twist in the tale. The last few verses (2 Kings 25:27–30) quietly report that in the thirty-seventh year of his exile, King Jehoiachin was released from his imprisonment. For the rest of his life, he was supported by the Babylonian state: He “put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the king’s table,” receiving “a regular allowance as long as he lived.” The story of redemption is not yet done, the Davidic line not yet extinct. In the midst of crushing sin and slashing judgment, hope still beckons.