Friday of Week 12 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 2 Kings 25:1-12

Today we come to the end of the sad story of Israel’s degradation and humiliation – the second deportation. Yesterday we saw how Mattaniah, renamed Zedekiah, had been made a puppet or vassal king of Judah, the southern kingdom, by Nebuchadnezzar. He was no improvement on his predecessors. The passage which comes between yesterday’s and today’s readings is as follows:

Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he began to reign; he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem…He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, just as Jehoiakim had done. Indeed, Jerusalem and Judah so angered the Lord that he expelled them [the two kings] from his presence. Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon. (2 Kings 24:18-20)

Rebelling against the king was a bad mistake on his part…

It was in the ninth year of his reign that Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem with his army and, for the second time, laid it under siege. Earlier, he had subdued all the fortified cities in Judah except Lachish and Azekah (see Jer 34:7). A number of Hebrew inscriptions on potsherds were found at Lachish in 1935 and 1938. The Lachish ostraca (i.e. letters) describe conditions at Lachish and Azekah during the Babylonian siege.

Jerusalem, built as it was on an outcrop of high rock with steep sides, was not an easy city to capture and was able to resist for more than one year, into the 11th year of Zedekiah’s reign. But eventually, with the people starving, the walls were finally breached. It is possible that some desperate citizens may have deliberately brought this about to end the siege – and their starvation.

However, the king and his soldiers escaped from the city by night. Because of the surrounding armies, they had no option but to head for the Arabah, a desolate area in the Jordan valley. But there was no escape and the hapless king was caught near Jericho and abandoned by his troops.

He was brought into Nebuchadnezzar’s presence where sentence was passed on him, as a rebellious vassal. His two sons (his potential successors as king) were killed before his eyes while Zedekiah himself then had his eyes put out and was brought to Babylon. Ezekiel (12:13) had prophesied that the king would be brought to Babylon, but would not see the city. Jeremiah had advised Zedekiah what to do to avoid his own punishment and the destruction of the city, but the king had not listened (see Jer 38:14-28).

Finally, Nabuzaradan, the captain of Nebuchadnezzar’s bodyguard, took control over Jerusalem. He proceeded to wipe out every vestige of its past by burning the Temple, the king’s palace and every large building in the city. In the previous siege, the vessels of the Temple had been taken away but, the building had remained. Lastly, the formidable walls which had protected the town were torn down.

The remainder of the population, those who had gone over to Babylon’s side, and the last of the artisans, were all carried off into bitter exile. Only the very poor were left behind to take care of the vineyards and the farms. They would form the remnant which would maintain the continuity of the city of David with the future.

It was an ignominious end of the kingdom originally established by Saul. With the outstanding exception of David – and even he had done some pretty bad things – the dynasty had a pretty dismal record as vicegerents of Yahweh.

The lesson of the reading is very similar to that of previous days. God does not take vengeance as we humans do but, on the other hand, we do reap the natural consequences of immoral behaviour.

At the same time, even the most negative experiences can be turned round. A good example of this is to be found in Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, where he shows that those who survived best in the Nazi concentration camps were those who found positive meaning and something to live for even in the utter degradation of their surroundings. Frankl himself was a clear example of one such person. Out of all this corruption and immorality will come David’s descendant, Jesus the Christ. God certainly does write straight with crooked lines.

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