We don’t know much about the internal politics of the kingdom of Judah.
But when we read between the lines, in the history of the later kingdom, we can see some of the effects of religious tensions upon political life.
After the downfall of Athaliah, the kings had to decide what to do about the power of the Temple priesthood.
Hezekiah chose to take their side, wholeheartedly.
Kings like Uzziah and Ahaz looked to assert their own authority in public worship.
When this was not permitted, kings like Manasseh and Amon might join with the idolaters and treat the priesthood as a rival power.
The servants of Amon made a conspiracy against him and killed him. They were slain in turn by the people of the land.
Nevertheless, the reign of Josiah saw another swing of the pendulum, back to working in close partnership with the Temple.
The decisive moment came in the eighteenth year of his reign, when the king sent Shaphan the secretary to help count the money for the Temple
The high priest Hilkiah showed him “the book of the law”, which had just been found in the Temple. Modern scholars would identify this with
Deuteronomy, or at least the first draft of Deuteronomy.
The effect of this book was to condemn the widespread idolatry which Manasseh and Amon had been permitting.
It was already too late (said the prophetess Huldah) to change the Lord’s mind about the fate of the kingdom, but the repentant king himself would
be “gathered to his fathers and go to his grave in peace” with his God.
There was another great cleansing of the Temple and the land from the altars of other gods. The altars of the Sidonian, Moabite, and Ammonite gods
established by Solomon. The personal altars of Ahaz and Manasseh. The horse and chariot images dedicated to the sun. The “high places” where
priests had been burning incense to Baal, and the sun and the moon and “all the host of heaven”. The location Topheth was defiled, in order to
stop the sacrifice of children to Molech. Josiah was even in a position to defile the schismatic altar of Bethel.
But he went further. In the interests of the Temple, rather than the campaign against idolatry, he also shut down all the other “high places”
where priests had been legitimately offering incense to the Lord. Once the priesthood and the worship had been centralised in this way, it was
possible to celebrate the first of a new, more national, kind of Passover, “no such Passover since the time of the judges” (2 Kings chs21-23).
But the kingdom was not united in renouncing other gods.
Zephaniah prophesied at the time “I will punish the officials and the king’s sons and all who array themselves in foreign attire” (Zephaniah ch1
v8). “Foreign attire” implies being receptive to foreign gods, and the inclusion of the royal family is ominous for the future.
We are not told that Josiah’s radical attack on all these vested interests provoked an undercurrent of resentment and hostility, but this must have
been the case.
That would help to explain something which has puzzled me for some time.
What exactly possessed Josiah to take his army to intercept the Egyptians and fight against hopeless odds at Megiddo?
It occurs to me now that he would have been under considerable pressure from the “religious opposition” among his princes to prove the value of
the God whose cause he had undertaken.
It would have been a challenge to test God, akin to “throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the Temple”, and he fell for it.
After the king’s death at Megiddo, everything went downhill.
He left three sons that we know about; Eliakim, Shallum, and Mattaniah.
In the emergency, Shallum was made king by the people in Jerusalem and took the throne-name Jehoahaz.
I have a theory about Eliakim. I think he was taken captive at Megiddo and then swore allegiance to Pharaoh.
If he was in captivity, that would explain why his younger brother was chosen as the new king.
If he was now an Egyptian client, that would explain why Pharaoh decided to come up to Jerusalem and enthrone him in his brother’s place.
Pharaoh gave him the new name Jehoiakim (just to show that he could). He also imposed a large tribute, which Jehoiakim recovered later by taxing the
Shallum was taken into exile in Egypt.
At least one party in the state must have been hoping that another revolution would bring him back, for Jeremiah told them to forget it;
“For thus says the Lord concerning Shallum the son of Josiah, who reigned instead of Josiah his father and went away from this place; He shall
return here no more, but in the place where they have carried him captive there shall he die” (Jeremiah ch22 vv11-12).
The party loyal to the Lord must have been crushed and demoralised. People would have begun making the kind of complaint which was later heard after
the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians; “Everything went well as long as we served the queen of heaven”.
While the followers of other gods were getting bolder again.
Ezekiel’s vision (ch8) reports continued idolatry close to the Temple, including worship of Tammuz, of the sun, and of “the image of
The leadership of the Temple were no longer pursuing the “Deuteronomic “ reforms which they had set in motion, leaving Jeremiah to pick up the
They also supported the anti-Babylonian policy of the royal house. I’m not sure why. Their independence would not have been any greater under
Jehoiakim was a reluctant tributary of Babylon from the eighth year of his reign, and then decided to rebel. Big mistake. By the time the king of
Babylon got to the scene, Jehoiakim was already dead, probably the best move he ever made in his life.
He was succeeded by his eighteen-year old son Jehoiachin, also known as Coniah.
Coniah paid the price for his father’s policy.
Jeremiah predicted that he would not last very long.
“As I live, says the Lord, though Coniah were the signet ring on my right hand, yet would I tear you off… I will hurl you and the mother who bore
you into another country… like a despised, broken pot, a vessel no-one cares for” (Jeremiah ch22 vv24-28).
Nebuchadnezzar took half the city into exile, including the new king, and installed the king’s uncle Mattaniah in his place. He changed
Mattaniah’s name to Zedekiah (just to show that he could).
Zedekiah was not a confident king. He was only three years older than his nephew.
And it is easy to guess at his political difficulties.
A substantial party among his princes would regard his exiled nephew as the real king.
He would also be under pressure to resume his predecessors’ defiance of Babylon. So he had the choice between being deposed and killed by the
Babylonians, if he renounced obedience to Nebuchadnezzar, or being deposed and killed by his own people if he did not.
His case was that of the hapless, though fictional, politician Jim Hacker; “I am their leader, and I must follow them”.
He could not stop the rebellion, though he could send to ask Jeremiah if they had done the right thing.
Nor did he feel able to protect Jeremiah from the vengeance of his enemies.
He resembled another “last king” –the last Byzantine, Constantine XI Palaeologus- in that neither of them had the full support of the city they
were supposed to be defending.
Finally Nebuchadnezzar came back and wound up the affairs of the bankrupt kingdom.
This was the effect of detaching the governance of Judah from their relationship with their God.
edit on 21-10-2016 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)