Zedekiah, 3rd son of Josiah (by wife Hamutal)

Brother of Jehoahaz, uncle to Jehoiachin (cf. 1Ch 3:15; Jer 1:3). His name was Mattaniah, meaning “gift of Jehovah,” but Nebuchadnezzar changed it as a sign of subordination when he placed him on the throne:

“Then the king of Babylon made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin's uncle, king in his place, and changed his name to Zedekiah ...He also did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that Jehoiakim had done. For because of the anger of the LORD this happened in Jerusalem and Judah, that He finally cast them out from His presence.” (2Ki 24:17, 19-20a)

Zedekiah ascended the throne at the age of twenty-one years and ruled in Jerusalem under Babylonian sovereignty for eleven years (597 to 586 B.C.). Jeremiah recognized this Babylonian overlordship as divinely ordained (cf. Jer 27; 28:12-14), and warned the young king to remain in submission (Jer 27:12). He ignored the prophet's advice and attempted to throw off the Babylonian yoke in 588 B.C., by entering into an alliance with Hophra, King of Egypt. This precipitated a siege against Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar “with all his host” (2Ki 25:1). The siege began in the ninth year of Zedekiah's reign, and the holy city withstood the Babylonians until his eleventh year. Hezekiah's tunnel provided an uninterrupted supply of fresh water, and the city enjoyed a short reprieve after an Egyptian foray stalled the Babylonian assault (Jer 37:5). Nevertheless, after two and one half years of siege the food supply in Jerusalem ran out, the wall was breached in July, 586 B.C., and the city fell (2Ki 25:1-7; Jer 38:2-3; 52:6-11).

“By the ninth day of the fourth month the famine had become so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land. Then the city wall was broken through, and all the men of war fled at night by way of the gate between two walls, which was by the king's garden, even though the Chaldeans were still encamped all around against the city. And the king went by way of the plain.” (2Ki 25:3-4)

The Babylonian army pursued the king about twenty miles to the east, overtaking him on the plains of Jericho. All of his army was scattered, and the traitor Zedekiah was captured. He was taken to the Babylonian military headquarters at Riblah, and presented before Nebuchadnezzar. Judgment was pronounced and he was forced to watch his own sons be put to death, and then his eyes were gouged out. The execution of the royal heirs ensured against future uprising, and the blinding prevented any retaliation attempt. Zedekiah was bound in bronze fetters and carried off to Babylon where he remained a prisoner until the day of his death. Jeremiah had warned Zedekiah that he would see Nebuchadnezzar (Jer 32:2-5; 34:3), but Ezekiel had predicted that he would not see Babylon (Eze 12:10-13). Both prophecies were accurately fulfilled.

“And in the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month (which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon), Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He burned the house of the LORD and the king's house; all the houses of Jerusalem, that is, all the houses of the great, he burned with fire. And all the army of the Chaldeans who were with the captain of the guard broke down the walls of Jerusalem all around.” (2Ki 25:8-10)

After the fall of Jerusalem the Temple was stripped for Babylon's coffers of every last sacred treasure and article of value. The holy city was burned and razed to the ground. Nebuzaradan carried off Seraiah the high priest, various other priests, city officials, doorkeepers, and military officers to Riblah were the king of Babylon struck them and put them to death. In a final deportation the vast majority of remaining Jews were carried off to Babylon and only a few vinedressers and farmers were allowed to remain.

In an attempt to bring political stability, Nebuchadnezzar appointed a governor from an important Judean family named Gedaliah. He was stationed at Mizpah (about eight miles north of Jerusalem) to rule over the spoiled remains of Judah (2Ki 25:22, 24; Jer 40:1,2,5,6). Gedaliah tried to persuade the small populace under his authority that loyalty to the Babylonians would ensure their safety. However, two months after the destruction of Jerusalem, a small revolutionary band led by the grandson of a former member of Jehoiakim's royal household assassinated Gedaliah and all those with him at Mizpah. Fearing swift Babylonian reprisal, the residual peoples small and great and the captains of the armies, arose and fled to Egypt.