I was perusing the last few chapters of Jeremiah the other day (because I do that), and noticed that the very last chapter of Jeremiah — chapter 52, the chapter after all the all the curses against the nations, especially the long two chapter judgment of Babylon — is a fairly straight forward narrative. And it ends with this description of deposed King Jehoiachin’s life in Babylonian exile:
31 And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-fifth day of the month, Evil-merodach (אֱוִ֣יל מְרֹדַךְ֩) king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah and brought him out of prison. 32 And he spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. 33 So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table, 34 and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, according to his daily needs, until the day of his death, as long as he lived. (Jeremiah 52:31–34 ESV)
Compare that with the end of 2 Kings 25:
27 And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, Evil-merodach (אֱוִיל מְרֹדַךְ֩)king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison. 28 And he spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. 29 So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table, 30 and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, according to his daily needs, as long as he lived. (2 Kings 25:27–30 ESV)
These are virtually identical passages. The last king of Judah, Zedekiah, who rebelled against Babylonian rule and brought this final destruction upon Judah and Jerusalem, suffers a particularly awful fate — both Jeremiah and 2 Kings relate that he is forced to watch the Babylonians slaughter his sons (with Jeremiah adding that the Babylonians kill all the officials of Judah), at which point the Babylonians gouge Zedekiah’s eyes out and haul him in chains back to Babylon, where he dies a miserable death in one of Nebuchadnezzar’s dungeons.
There’s no hope in this.
Which is why this last bit, about Jehoiachin finding room at Evil-merodach’s table, is so interesting. Chronicles ends with the conquest of Babylon at the hands of Persia — forecast by Jeremiah at the end of his book — and the proclamation of Cyrus that the exiles of Judah can go home to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. But 2 Kings and Jeremiah end with defeat and destruction. A burnt city, a destroyed temple, and a bloody and eyeless king cuffed and manacled and led to his death.
This is death. And nothing of the promise of God to restore his people can come of this. There’s nothing of David left.
But there is. Jehoiachin, king before Zedekiah, whose brief reign was marked by war and siege:
8 Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Nehushta the daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem. 9 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father had done. (2 Kings 24:8–9 ESV)
Jehoiachin (יְהֹויָכִין also known as Jeconiah) and his family surrender to the Babylonians, who carry them off — along with the spoils of the city — and Nebuchadnezzar makes his uncle Zedekiah king in his place.
Jehoiachin “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” He was an idolatrous king — by the point, idolatry has become the way Israel does business, so lost has the worship of the Lord become. Even with an intact temple in place in the center of the city. Jehoiachin follows the revelation of God given through Jeremiah to the people of Judah: “he who goes out and surrenders to the Chaldeans who are besieging you shall live and shall have his life as a prize of war.” (Jeremiah 21:9)
He surrenders. And saves his life. His wicked, godless, immoral life.
And yet here he is, later in life, dealing with a successor to Nebuchadnezzar, released, paroled, pensioned. He now has a place at the king’s table. And no doubt he enjoys all the king of Babylon has to offer him. I doubt he has changed his idolatrous and likely lustful and lascivious ways. After all, the king of Babylon probably lots of beautiful young women at his disposal for the use of “guests” like Jehoiachin/Jeconiah.
Jehoiachin the captive. The sinner. Not Zedekiah’s dismal, eyeless end. But not the thing of hope either.
Except … Jehoiachin shows up as Jeconiah in Matthew’s genealogy of Christ (Matthew 1:11–12). Viewed by itself, his is a sinful, dissolute, and probably somewhat pointless life. But viewed as part of the whole story, he is the bearer of the promise of God. A distant bearer of that promise, to be sure, but without Jehoiachin/Jeconiah, there will be no Joseph to be the husband of Mary and foster father to Jesus, who is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, and to Israel through the prophets.
It’s a reminder as we view lives we consider pointless, empty, and dissolute (our own, or the lives of others), that we may not live to see the promises they will bear, the hope they will give life to. That if we live with hope, then we must live with that hope too.