Jeremiah, Ireland, the Stone of Scone, and the English Kings ...
CHAPTER II. THE CLOSING SCENES OF A GREAT DRAMA
MATTANIAH or Zedekiah, the youngest son of Josiah, and grandson [?] of the Prophet Jeremiah (2 Kings 24:18), was only twenty-one years of age when selected by Nebuchadnezzar to fill the vassal throne of Judah, yet young as he was, the picture presented to us of him and of his people, in the Sacred Volume is a sad mixture of precocious vice in the youthful King and the most abandoned wickedness, in both the priests and the people, over whom he was permitted to rule (2 Chron. 36:11-16; Jer. 37:1 and 2).
The shameful ill-usage he knowingly allowed to be perpetrated on the person of his pious old maternal grandfather, is referred to in Jeremiah 22:2 and 3; 33:1; 37:12-16; and 38:9-13.
The whole course of his iniquitous and disastrous reign of eleven years, was one steady declension from bad to worse, until this faithless and dissolute prince of Judah, and his debased subjects had "filled up the measure of their fathers": and "when the transgressors had come to the full," they were "suddenly cut off, and that without remedy" (Matt. 23:32; Dan. 8:23; Prov. 29:1; 2 Chron. 36:16).
Before conferring the sovereignty on Zedekiah, the Chaldean monarch had compelled that prince to "swear by God" to be true and faithful in his duty to the suzerain State of Babylon (2 Chron. 36:13); yet the Jewish King - whether he thought (like Harold II. in later times), that an oath exacted under such circumstances was not binding, or whether, more probably, he had received offers of assistance from the new King of Egypt, Haa-ab-ra (the "Pharaoh Hophra" of Jeremiah 44:30), the successor of Pharaoh-Necho, we are not informed, broke his compact with Nebuchadnezzar, and defied the Chaldean power. This ill-advised temerity cost Zedekiah dear. The Babylonian monarch, justly incensed at the defection of his faithless and rebellious vassal, despatched an army under some of his trusty officers, whose names and titles are given in Jeremiah 39:3, and Jerusalem was invested; all hope of offering resistance to the Chaldean advance in the open field being out of the question.
An Egyptian army, either sent or led by Pharaoh Haa-ab-ra, in person, now advanced to the relief of the beleaguered city:- "Then Pharaoh's army was come forth out of Egypt: and when the Chaldeans that besieged Jerusalem heard tidings of them, they brake up from Jerusalem" (Jer. 37:5). This respite filled the citizens with the hope that they had seen the last of their stern enemies: but Jeremiah dashed these aspirations to the ground by declaring that the Egyptian army would be forced back into their own territory, and that the Chaldean forces would resume the siege of Jerusalem, and bring it to a successful issue (Jer. 37:7-10).
It was during the relaxed conditions due to this temporary raising of the siege by the Chaldean army that the grief-stricken Jeremiah attempted to leave the doomed city; an attempt that led to his arrest and severe punishment at the hands of venal judges, placing more faith in the word of an official than in that of a Prophet of God (Jer. 37:11-16).
The guilty conscience of Zedekiah pricked him when he heard of the indignities heaped upon his unoffending grandfather by his corrupt and mendacious myrmidons; and after Jeremiah had "remained in the dungeon many days," he sent for the ill-treated servant of the God whom he had so grossly neglected, and "asked him secretly in his own house, and said, Is there any word from THE LORD?" (Jer. 37:16-17). And when Jeremiah upbraided him for the cruelties which had been inflicted upon him by his time-serving courtiers, and piteously begged for release from the durance to which he had been subjected, all Zedekiah did was to enlarge the bounds of his imprisonment, and order his aged relative a daily ration of bread! (Jer. 37:18-21).
But the inveterate malice of the villainous crew of officials could not be allayed. On a trumped-up charge of disaffection to the ruling powers, they again seized upon the unoffending Prophet and thrust him into a fouler dungeon than before, where he would have perished but for the service of a devoted friend, Ebedmelech, a despised Ethiopian, who alone dared to tell the weak King Zedekiah some plain truths, and secured Jeremiah's release from a horrible death (Jer. 37:1-13).
Having compelled Pharaoh Haa-ab-ra's forces to re-enter Egypt, and thus insured themselves against all menace from this quarter, the Chaldean armies, now largely augmented, again appeared before the defenses of Jerusalem, from which they were never to retire until the proud walls, which had successfully repelled all previous attempts upon them, were levelled in the dust. And now the gaunt spectre of famine stared the wretched defenders in the face, and added its horrors to those of war. The terror-haunted Zedekiah - driven into a cul de sac out of which no escape was possible - once more had recourse to his aged relative, the prophet Jeremiah.
"In the third entry that is in the house of THE LORD," the cowed and despondent King tremblingly seeks to know his future and that of his doomed capital. "I will ask thee a thing; hide nothing from me," falteringly pleads the miserable dupe of his own delusions and the treacherous machinations of his false and opportunist counsellors. The seer knew perfectly the character of his now abject grandson: "If I declare it unto thee wilt thou not surely put me to death? and if I give thee counsel, wilt thou not hearken unto me? So Zedekiah the King swore secretly unto Jeremiah, saying, 'As the LORD liveth that made us this soul, I will not put thee to death, neither will I give thee into the hand of these men that seek thy life'" (Jer. 38:14-16).
This oath was kept: see Jeremiah 38:28.
The dread alternative is then placed before the terror-smitten monarch, "Thus saith THE LORD, THE GOD OF HOSTS, THE GOD OF ISRAEL, 'If thou wilt assuredly go forth unto the King of Babylon's princes, then thy soul shall live, and this city shall not be burned with fire: and thou shalt live and thy house. But if thou wilt not go forth to the King of Babylon's princes, then shall this city be given into the hands of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and thou shalt not escape out of their hand'" (Jer. 38:17-18).
THE FALL OF THE CURTAIN.
The rest of this melancholy story may be soon told. The weak and irresolute Zedekiah, now perceiving when too late that further resistance was unavailing, and that such could only have the effect of further exasperating the fierce and relentless enemy, who now pressed on the siege more vigorously, would have yielded to the Prophet's inspired counsel, but a feeling of false pride restrained him. It appears that many of the Jews, realizing that the struggle was hopeless, had deserted to the Chaldean army, for Zedekiah said to his grandfather, "I am afraid of the Jews that are fallen away to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hand and they mock me" (Jer. 38:19). He also dreaded that his evil ministers should know of this secret conference with the man whom from pure malice they sought to destroy (Jer. 37:24-27).
Truly "the wicked flee when no man pursueth" .... "neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it" (Prov. 28:1; Eccles. 8:8).
After a siege of two years (interrupted for a short time by the Egyptian attempt to thwart the efforts of the Chaldean army to reduce Jerusalem), "a breach was made in the city, and all the princes of the King of Babylon came in and sat in the middle gate" (Jer. 39:2 and 3), thus exactly fulfilling the prophecy of Jeremiah, uttered some years before; "For, lo, I will call all the families of the kingdoms of the North, saith THE LORD; and they shall come, and they shall set every one his throne at the entering of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all the walls thereof round about, and against all the cities of Judah" (Jer. 1:15).
Zedekiah witnessed this mortifying spectacle with feelings which can be imagined, but not adequately described. "And it came to pass that when Zedekiah King of Judah, and all the men of war saw them, then they fled, and went forth out of the city of night, by way of the King's garden, by the gate betwixt the two walls; and he went out the way of the plain (Arabah). But the army of the Chaldeans pursued after them, and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho; and when they had taken him they brought him up to Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon to Riblah" - (where Jehoahaz, Zedekiah's own brother, had been deposed and imprisoned by Necho of Egypt, 2 Kings 23:33), - and he gave judgment upon him" (Heb. "spake judgments with him"). "Then the King of Babylon slew the sons of Zedekiah in Riblah before his eyes; also the King of Babylon slew all the nobles of Judah. Moreover he put out Zedekiah's eyes, and bound him in fetters to carry him to Babylon. And the Chaldeans burned the King's house, and the houses of the people, with fire, and brake down the walls of Jerusalem" (Jer. 39:4-8. R.V.). Thus were fulfilled the prophesies concerning this rebellious and wicked city, uttered by Isaiah 1:7-9, Hosea 9:17, Joel 1:6-7, and other prophets, and also the remarkable prediction of Ezekiel, "This burden (or `oracle') concerneth the Prince in Jerusalem, and all the house of Israel ..... the prince that is among them shall bear upon his shoulder in the twilight, and shall go forth; they shall dig through the wall to carry out thereby; he shall cover his face that he see not the ground with his eyes. My net also will I spread upon him, and he shall be taken in My snare; and I will bring him to Babylon to the land of the Chaldeans; yet shall he not see it, though he shall die there!" (Ezek. 12:10-13).
The misguided and miserable people of Judah, deserted in their hour of dire misfortune by their craven, panic-stricken monarch and his sordid and venal councilors, were left to "Sit down by the rivers of Babylon, and weep when they remembered Zion" (Psa. 138:1); the weak and vicious Zedekiah, deprived of his eyesight,, went into durance in a foreign prison, and the shameless Jewish nobles and wicked councilors met with the just reward of their evil doings, being put to death by Nebuchadnezzar, who had no further use for such traitors.
With its King a captive, its nobility and skilled artisans expatriated; its proud Capital a heap of smoldering ruins, and its territory overrun by a savage and relentless enemy, Judah drank the cup of misery and degradation to the very dregs. All her former pride, pomp, and power were laid in the dust at the feet of a ruthless conqueror, and she sank into the condition of an acquired Dependency whose fortunes were henceforth to depend upon the will and whims of an alien despot. And, humanly speaking, all the promises of God made to the forefathers of Israel and Judah (see Note 2 in Appendix) had come to nothing.
"But Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, left of the poor of the people, which had nothing, in the land of Judah, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time" (Jer. 39:10).
"And as for the people that were left in the land of Judah ..... even over them he made Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, governor" (2 Kings 25:22 R.V.).
Jeremiah, Ireland, the Stone of Scone, and the English Kings ... Tamar
Tephi: or The Maid of Destiny, by John Dunham-Massey, 1918, and J. J. Pearson,