ZEDEKIAH


ZEDEKIAH (Heb. צִדְקִיָּהוּ ,צִדְקִיָּה; "YHWH is my righteousness"), the third son of Josiah (I Chron. 3:15) and the last king of Judah (597/6–587/6 B.C.E.). Zedekiah was 21 years old when he ascended the throne. His mother was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah (II Kings 24:18; Jer. 52:1). His original name, Mattaniah, was changed to Zedekiah by *Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylonia when the latter appointed him king in place of his brother's son (II Kings 24:17). The change of name is a symbolic expression of Zedekiah's political status as a vassal of the king of Babylonia. Echoes of the vassal pact made between Babylonia and Judah are found in Ezekiel 17:12–14.

From *Jehoiachin, Zedekiah inherited "a humble kingdom" (Ezek. 17:14), a country that was small and weak, subject to a foreign yoke, and divided within. Nebuchadnezzar's campaign against Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin his son brought in its wake the destruction of many cities in Judah, which Zedekiah was prevented from refortifying properly. With Jehoiachin there went into exile some of the honored ones of the country, an important part of the veteran leadership, and many of the craftsmen and experts. Israel's neighbors, especially the Edomites, taking advantage of the difficult position of the kingdom of Judah, made attempts to invade its territory. Ostraca from Arad reveal echoes of the danger that threatened the settlements in the south of Judah from the Edomites. Furthermore, after the exile of Jehoiachin, the kingdom of Judah was under the leadership of inexperienced soldiers and civilians, some of whom were disposed to adventures. Zedekiah himself was not the right leader at the right time. He did not possess those qualities with which he could have prevented the situation from deteriorating to its bitter end – the destruction of the state, of Jerusalem, and of the Temple. The Bible describes him as lacking self-confidence, irresolute, vacillating, Zedekiah was a weak ruler, unsuited for the difficult conditions of the time. Disposed to listen to the advice of *Jeremiah the prophet and not rebel against Babylonia, nevertheless, fearing the princes, he followed their wishes and renounced his allegiance (Jer. 38:5). Zedekiah's position was not an easy one. He ruled only by grace of the king of Babylonia, and Jehoiachin, the preceding king, lived in exile and continued to bear the title of king of Judah even while in Babylonia. There were circles in Judah who hoped for Jehoiachin's return to Jerusalem and for his reappointment as king of Judah (Jer. 28).

During his first years, Zedekiah bore the yoke of Babylonia loyally. It was only in the fourth year of his reign (594/3 B.C.E.) that he showed a tendency to throw off that yoke. In Jeremiah 27 (in verse 1, the reading should be Zedekiah instead of Jehoiakim; cf. 28:1) it is reported that representatives of Edom, Moab, the Ammonites, Tyre, and Sidon assembled in Jerusalem to confer and revolt against Babylonia. The arrival in Jerusalem of the emissaries of the different countries may indicate that Zedekiah took a notable part in initiating the revolt. To the kings subject to Babylonia, that year may have seemed a suitable one for an attempt to throw off the Babylonian yoke; either because of the internal unrest prevailing in Babylonia in 595/4 B.C.E., which is evident from the Babylonian Chronicle, or because of the accession of Psammetichus II to the throne of Egypt (595–589). For reasons that are not clear, the rebellion did not take place. Nebuchadnezzar apparently became acquainted in time with the plot that was being hatched against him and nipped the revolt in the bud by undertaking a campaign to Syria (in 594 B.C.E., according to the Babylonian Chronicle). To this, apparently, belongs the information about the delegation sent by Zedekiah to Nebuchadnezzar to express loyalty (Jer. 29:3), and it is not impossible that he himself journeyed to the king of Babylonia to humble himself before him and express loyalty to him (Jer. 51:59).

The final rebellion of Judah against Babylonia broke out in 589/8 (II Kings 24:20). What prompted Zedekiah to rebel in that year is not clearly known. It is, however, reasonable to assume that he acted not only from a desire to satisfy the wishes of his army commanders, who favored the throwing off of the yoke of Babylonia, but also in coordination with and support of Hophra (589–570), king of Egypt (cf. Jer. 44:30). Echoes of the conspiracy of Judah with Egypt occur in Ezekiel 17 and in Ezekiel's prophecy against Egypt (Ezek. 29). The *Lachish Letters also clearly show that Judah had close ties with Egypt, for important princes of Judah went to Egypt. Letter no. 4 (Rainey, 266–67; COS III, 80) states: "The commander of the host, C[on]iah son of Elnathan, has come down in order to go into Egypt." This army commander undertook a mission to the pharaoh of Egypt on behalf of Zedekiah. Tyre may also have been involved in the revolt, if the statement quoted by Josephus (Apion 1:15ff.) on the siege of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylonia which lasted 13 years can be assigned to this period. It is not impossible that Ammon may also have been a party to the revolt, in view of what is said in Ezekiel 21:24–25 and the subsequent murder of *Gedaliah the son of Ahikam by *Baalis the king of Ammon. At the height of the rebellion, Zedekiah made a covenant with the people "that everyone should set free his Hebrew slaves, male and female, so that no one should enslave a Judite his brother" (Jer. 34:9–11). This act may attest the enthusiasm that came upon various circles among the people during the rebellion. It was, however, not long before all those who had previously been freed were once more enslaved (Jer. 34:11).

The failure of the rebellion was foreseen. Nebuchadnezzar was at the pinnacle of his power, and a treaty of two or three states was unable to oust Babylonia from Syria and Palestine. The internal position in Judah was very grave. The nation was divided about its relations with Babylonia. There were circles that were disposed to rely on Egypt and throw off the yoke of Babylonia. Those who incited the people to rebellion and instilled confidence in them, a confidence that was false, were the army commanders and the prophets, referred to by Jeremiah as prophesying lies. These prophets promised the people that neither sword nor famine would come to Jerusalem and that God would help them in their distress (Jer. 14:13; 21:2). Jeremiah refuted the words of the prophets, prophesied sufferings for the people, and uttered a grievous prophecy on Jerusalem and its Temple (7:14–15; 34:21–22). According to Jeremiah, the fate of the nation had already been determined for destruction, in consequence of its moral and religious sin (6:13; 7:17–19, et al.). Because of his warnings and rebukes, Jeremiah, as well as all those who had similar ideas, were persecuted by the princes and the false prophets (Jer. 26).

The Babylonian answer was not long in coming. Nebuchadnezzar went to Syria and established his camp at Riblah in the land of Hamath (II Kings 25:6, 20; Jer. 39:5), while troops of Chaldeans made their way southward, and laid siege to Jerusalem. The siege lasted for about two and a half years, from Zedekiah's ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth of the month, until the city was breached in his 11th year (587 to 586 B.C.E.), in the fourth month, on the ninth of the month (II Kings 25:1–4; Jer. 39:1–2; 52:4–7).

There is no explicit information on the help extended to Judah by the neighboring countries except Egypt. Hophra, king of Egypt, sent a force to help Judah. The Chaldeans besieging Jerusalem withdrew before the Egyptian auxiliary force and lifted their siege of the city (Jer. 37:5; Ezek. 17;29–32; cf. Lam. 4:17). When the Egyptian force returned to Egypt, the Babylonian forces renewed the siege of Jerusalem. At the same time, the Chaldeans, attacking the hill country and the Shefelah, captured the fortified cities of Judah one by one (Jer. 44:2). In Jeremiah 34:7 it is stated that "the army of the king of Babylon fought against Jerusalem and against all the cities of Judah that were left, Lachish and Azekah; for these were the only fortified cities of Judah that remained" (see also Jer. 44:2). In Lachish Letter no. 4 the commander of one of the strongholds writes to the commander of Lachish: "And let [my lord] know that we are watching for the signals of Lachish, according to all the indications which my lord hath given, for we cannot see Azekah." It has been argued that this letter reflects the moment when Azekah, too, fell and the signals from it ceased, but this is unlikely (Begin). Archaeological excavations of the tells to the south of Jerusalem show that many cities, such as Lachish, Beth-Zur, Ramat Raḥel, and Tell Bet Mirsim, were destroyed at this period. The Lachish ostraca reflect the tension and straits of Judah during the last days. Letter no. 6 (Ahituv, 48) indicates that some of the people "were weakening hands," i.e., spreading discouragement about the rebellion. This tallies to a great extent with Jeremiah 38:4, according to which the princes blamed Jeremiah for "weakening the hands" of the soldiers. Jeremiah himself was suspected of treachery when he tried to go over to the land of Benjamin (Jer. 37). He urged the people to give up the fight and surrender to the Babylonians (21:8–10); and indeed some of the people deserted to the Chaldeans (38:19). Zedekiah was not only unable to inspire and encourage the people at this fateful hour, but was afraid of them and in the power of the princes. He himself was not wholeheartedly in favor of the rebellion against Babylonia. If Zedekiah did not abandon Jerusalem during the siege itself, it was because he feared the Judites who were already in the camp of the Babylonians (Jer. 38:19). At the same time, many refugees from the provincial cities had come to Jerusalem, where the situation became intolerable because of the severe famine (Jer. 37:21; 52:6; II Kings 25:3).

When the city was breached on Tammuz 9 (587 or 586 B.C.E.), Zedekiah fled, together with the aristocrats of Jerusalem, toward eastern Transjordan, but was captured in the neighborhood of Jericho and brought to Riblah. There his sons were killed before his eyes, after which he was blinded and sent in chains to Babylonia, where he died (II Kings 25:4–7; Jer. 39:4–7; cf. Ezek. 12:1–14). In the month of Av, on the seventh of the month, Nebuzaradan (Akkadian: Nabû-zēriddina), "the captain of the guard" (the Hebrew, a translation of the Akkadian title, literally means "chief cook") came to Jerusalem, demolished the city, burnt the Temple, and took many of the people captive (II Kings 25:11; cf. Jer. 52:29–30). The nobility of Jerusalem were brought to Riblah, where they were executed (II Kings 25:8–21).

[Bustanay Oded]

In the Aggadah

Despite the fact that Nebuchadnezzar demanded that Zedekiah swear fealty to him on a Torah scroll, he did not keep faith and soon rebelled against him (PR 26:129). Nor was this his only treachery toward his overlord. Once he surprised Nebuchadnezzar in the act of eating flesh cut from a living hare. The king adjured him not to relate what he had seen, but Zedekiah reported it to the neighboring kings (Ned. 65a; Tanh. B., Ex. 33). Zedekiah was duly punished for his unfaithfulness. When Jerusalem fell, he tried to escape through a cave extending from his house to Jericho, which tradition identifies with the "Cave of Zedekiah" in Jerusalem. God sent a deer into the Babylonian camp, and in pursuit of the animal the soldiers reached the opening of the cave at the very moment when Zedekiah was leaving it (Rashi, II Kings 25:4). Nebuchadnezzar justified the cruel punishment he meted out to Zedekiah and his sons (II Kings 25:7) because the Jewish king had sinned both according to the laws of God and the laws of the state (PR 26:131a). Nevertheless, Zedekiah did possess virtues. He is particularly praised for having Jeremiah rescued from the mire (MK 28b). God wanted to reduce the world to chaos because of the misdeeds of his generation, but when he considered Zedekiah his anger subsided (Ar. 17a). Jeremiah's prophecy that Zedekiah would "die in peace" (34:5) was fulfilled in that he outlived Nebuchadnezzar, although he died shortly after (MK 28b). He was mourned as the king who represented "the residue of all the previous generations" (Seder Olam R 28). Royalty in Israel is compared to the moon. The bright light of Solomon's reign, which was like the moon at its zenith, gradually waned until it was extinguished with the blinding of Zedekiah (Ex. R. 15:26).

[Aaron Rothkoff]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Ginzberg, Legends, 7 (1938), 512f. (index); M. Greenberg, in: JBL, 76 (1957), 304–9; Bright, Hist, 306–10; A. Malamat, in: IEJ, 18 (1968), 144–56; Freedy and Redford, in: JAOS, 90 (1970), 462–85. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Cogan and H. Tadmor, II Kings (AB; 1988), 315–24; S. Ahituv, Handbook of Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions (1992); R. Althann, ABD, 6:1069–70; Z. Begin, in: VT, 52 (2002), 166–74; A. Rainey and R. Notley, The Sacred Bridge (2006), 264–67.


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.