Zedekiah or Tzidkiyahu (Hebrew צִדְקִיָּהוּ, justice of YHWH) or Mattaniah or Mattanyahu (Hebrew מַתַּנְיָהוּ, gift of YHWH) (620-r. 599-588 BC according to Ussher or 618-r. 597-586 BC according to Thiele), was the nineteenth, and last, king of the Southern Kingdom of Israel. He is best known for losing Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar II, who ordered his chief-of-staff to burn it to the ground. But he is also known for the most flagrant physical and personal abuse of a prophet, short of ordering that prophet's execution, that any king of the Southern or Northern Kingdom ever committed.
Early Life and Family
His birth name was Mattanyahu or Mattaniah, meaning "gift of God." He was the youngest of the four named sons of Josiah and the second named son by Josiah's wife Hamutal. Three brothers preceded him; their names were Johanan, Jehoiakim, and Jehoahaz. He had an unknown number of sons, but all his sons would eventually perish by the sword (although the Book of Mormon would allege that one son of his, named Mulek, would escape, cross the Atlantic Ocean and found a nation that would figure in an alleged pre-history of the United States).
Political Setting and Prior History
Mattaniah grew up during one of the most turbulent periods in the ancient Middle East, that being the decline of Assyria as a world power, the rise of Babylonia, and the displacement and temporary conquest of Egypt. Six years before Mattaniah was born, Nabopolassar had, according to James Ussher, led an allied Medo-Chaldean army against Nineveh, capital of Assyria, and reduced it to a ruin. (Most conventional Assyriologists assert that the attack on Nineveh took place in 612 BC.) When Mattaniah was ten years old, Pharaoh Necho II made a bid to thwart the rising of Babylon by capturing the city of Carchemish. King Josiah made an ill-advised attempt to stop him in the Megiddo valley, and as a result he, and probably his eldest son with him, were killed in action.
Jehoahaz II took the throne quickly, but three months later, Necho deposed him and set up Mattaniah's other brother Eliakim, who then took the name Jehoiakim, to reign instead. Jehoiakim had been on the throne for only three years when Nebuchadnezzar II (whom Ussher says was made viceroy of Babylonia at this time) came from the east, recaptured Carchemish, chased Necho back to Egypt, and besieged Jerusalem for the first time.
Jehoiakim pledged his allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar, but within three years he rebelled against him. He probably hoped that Necho II would support him. Necho did in fact challenge Nebuchadnezzar, who barely won the resulting action and had to retire to Babylon to rebuild his forces. But in due course Nebuchadnezzar was back.
Jehoiakim died and his body was left exposed, and Jehoiakim's son Jehoiachin reigned for a hundred days afterward. Jehoiachin was as rebellious as his father had been, and Nebuchadnezzar came with a very large force that convinced Jehoiachin to surrender immediately.
At this time, no one, including Nebuchadnezzar, had any realistic expectation of more trouble from the Egyptian quarter. But that situation would eventually change. Necho had died in 600 BC (conventional Egyptologists suggest that he lived to 595 BC), and his son Psammtik II had succeeded him. While Psammtik would not give Nebuchadnezzar any trouble, Psammtik's son Apries, known in the Bible as Hophra, would.
Nebuchadnezzar placed Mattaniah on the throne in the eighth year of his, Nebuchadnezzar's reign. He changed Mattaniah's name to Zedekiah, meaning justice of God, and compelled Zedekiah to swear an oath of allegiance to him in God's Name.
Zedekiah showed little regard for God, and even less for the promises he made. The Bible plainly accuses him of doing "evil in the sight of YHWH." Not only he, but virtually the entire priestly class committed multiple sacrileges and other offenses, including the ceremonial pollution of the Temple of Jerusalem.
Jeremiah advised Zedekiah—and also the kings of Moab, Ammon, Sidon, and Tyre—to submit to Nebuchadnezzar and stop listening to psychics and astrologers who repeatedly advised Zedekiah and the other kings not to submit.
Zedekiah regarded Jeremiah as a disruptive influence. Then, within a year of his assuming the throne, he received what he must have regarded as confirmation.
Zedekiah had sent three messengers to Babylon with a letter from him to Nebuchadnezzar. Those messengers now (598 BC or 596 BC) came back with another letter from Seraiah, a man among the deportees who traveled with Jehoiachin. In that letter, Seraiah accused Jeremiah of encouraging the deportees to disaffect from their old country and, in essence, defect to Nebuchadnezzar's Babylonia.
In fact, all that Jeremiah encouraged the deportees to do was to conduct themselves as proper lawful and law-abiding residents of Babylon, and to await the proper season for their return, which would occur after a mandated seventy-year period (reckoned, according to Ussher, from the deportation of 607 BC) had elapsed for the land of Israel to have its sabbaths. Jeremiah also said that the deportees would have far greater blessing than those who were still in the Southern Kingdom territory at the time (or perhaps that those now left behind were more accursed).
As mentioned, Seraiah regarded this as seditious and so reported it to Zedekiah. Zedekiah read the accusatory letter to Jeremiah. Jeremiah replied by pronouncing a curse from God on his accuser.
Hananiah's False Prophecy
In the fifth month of Zedekiah's fourth year (596 BC or 594 BC), a prophet named Hananiah gave Zedekiah a word of encouragement: that within two years' time all the Temple furnishings, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken away, and all the deportees would return home. Jeremiah said, presumably in the presence of the king, that people might believe the peace that Hananiah now prophesied when they saw it. Hananiah persisted in his message by taking off Jeremiah's neck the symbolic wooden yoke he was wearing and breaking it. Jeremiah then said that instead of that wooden yoke, God would make a yoke of iron to place on the necks of all the nations of the region.
Jeremiah then called Hananiah a liar straight-out and foretold that God would put the man to death. Two months later Hananiah was dead.
In Zedekiah's first year, representatives from Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon visited Zedekiah and apparently proposed an alliance. Jeremiah warned specifically that such a coalition would never succeed. Little or nothing seems to have come of these meetings until much later.
In 594 BC, according to Ussher, Pharaoh Psammtik II died, and his son Apries began a twenty-five-year reign. Very rapidly Apries marched out of Egypt and into Phoenicia, where he captured Sidon before returning to Egypt with a great load of booty. He was that Pharaoh-hophra in whom Zedekiah would repose his trust as he now, in this year, rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar and suspended payment of his annual tribute. (Thiele's supporters insist that Apries did not succeed Psammtik II until 588 BC, two years before the Fall of Jerusalem. Though this would be in accord with the role that Apries/Hophra is said to have played in delaying Nebuchadnezzar, this does not explain nearly as well the political change that suggested to Zedekiah that rebellion might actually succeed. After all, in Thiele's system, Apries/Hophra did not take command until the ninth year of Zedekiah's reign—and Zedekiah was plotting rebellion and sending secret messages to Egypt long before this.)
Three years later was a sabbatical year, when the law required the Israelites to set their slaves free. In that year Nebuchadnezzar came into the Southern Kingdom and captured all the fortified cities except Lachish, Azekah, and Jerusalem. In mid-winter, Nebuchadnezzar invested Jerusalem and built fortresses all around it.
Now Jeremiah predicted that Nebuchadnezzar would capture Jerusalem, arrest Zedekiah, and deport him, but that Zedekiah would die peacefully and have a proper burial. Furious, Zedekiah had Jeremiah imprisoned for sedition.
The slaveowners apparently set their slaves free, as the sabbatical law required. Then Apries came in force to attack Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar had to break off his siege to deal with Apries. Nebuchadnezzar did send 832 prisoners to Babylon before he fought against Apries and chased him away.
While Nebuchadnezzar was dealing with Apries, the slaveowners of Jerusalem forced their slaves back into their previous condition of servitude. Jeremiah reprimanded them severely for this, and said that their only chance to escape arrest and possible execution at the hands of the Chaldeans was to release their slaves.
Zedekiah repeatedly asked Jeremiah for prophecies during this time. Jeremiah's answer was always the same: that the Southern Kingdom was doomed, and that everyone ought to submit to Nebuchadnezzar, who had direct license from God to conquer the kingdom.
The princes were outraged and accused Jeremiah of high treason. They asked Zedekiah for permission to execute him, and Zedekiah told the nobles to do with Jeremiah as they saw fit. So they lowered Jeremiah into a muddy dungeon. But an Ethiopian named Ebedmelech warned Zedekiah not to let Jeremiah die of starvation and thirst, so Zedekiah ordered Jeremiah lifted out of the mudhole and kept in the court. There Jeremiah remained until the city fell.
Fall of Jerusalem, Exile, and Death
- Main Article: Fall of Jerusalem
Nebuchadnezzar II was back in 589 BC and, according to Ussher, now began a siege that lasted precisely 390 days—almost exactly the number of years since the Division of the Kingdom between Kings Rehoboam and Jeroboam I. During this time, famine set in, and eventually the city had no food within it at all.
Finally Nebuchadnezzar's army breached the walls and entered the city. Zedekiah and all the soldiers fled by night. This, however, was unavailing. A Chaldean war patrol chased them, caught them, and brought them to Nebuchadnezzar's camp at Riblah. There Nebuchadnezzar forced Zedekiah to watch as he executed all of Zedekiah's sons. Nebuchadnezzar then had Zedekiah blinded and chained for deportation to Babylon. In that city, after an unknown number of years, Zedekiah died, a miserable and broken man.
An Extrabiblical Allegation Involving Zedekiah
The Apocryphal book of II Maccabees alleges that Jeremiah removed the Ark of the Covenant to a secret location in Jerusalem. In 1998, the amateur archaeologist Ron Wyatt claimed to have determined where the Ark is located, in a place that his supporters call "Zechariah's Cave."
In fact, Jeremiah said during the reign of Josiah that the Ark would not be needed any longer. The Ark has never been seen again since the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II.
Extrabiblical Evidence for Zedekiah and his Court
In 2008, archaeologists excavating near the building repeatedly identified as King David's palace found a clay bulla belonging to Gedalyahu ben Pashhur, one of Zedekiah's courtiers whom Jeremiah specifically named.
Additional persons named Zedekiah
- 1. The son of Chenaanah (1Ki_22:11, 1Ki_22:24; 2Ch_18:10, 2Ch_18:23). Zedekiah was apparently the leader and spokesman of the 400 prophets attached to the court in Samaria whom Ahab summoned in response to Jehoshaphat's request that a prophet of Yahweh should be consulted concerning the projected campaign against Ramoth-gilead. In order the better to impress his audience Zedekiah produced iron horns, and said to Ahab, “With these shalt thou push the Syrians, until they be consumed.” He also endeavored to weaken the influence of Micaiah ben Imlah upon the kings by asking ironically, “Which way went the Spirit of Yahweh from me to speak unto thee?”
- 2. The son of Maaseiah (Jer_29:21-23). A false prophet who, in association with another, Ahab by name, prophesied among the exiles in Babylon, and foretold an early return from captivity. Jeremiah sternly denounced them, not only for their false and reckless predictions, but also for their foul and adulterous lives, and declared that their fate at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar should become proverbial in Israel.
- 3. The son of Hananiah (Jer_36:12). One of the princes of Judah before whom Jeremiah's roll was read in the 5th year of Jehoiakim.
- 4. One of the officials who sealed the renewed covenant (Neh_10:1, the King James Version “Zid-kijah”). The fact that his name is coupled with Nehemiah's suggests that he was a person of importance. But nothing further is known of him.
- Mike Campbell, "Entry for Zedekiah," Behind the Name, 2007. Retrieved April 16, 2007
- Mike Campbell, "Entry for Mattaniah," Behind the Name, 2007. Retrieved April 16, 2007
- James Ussher, The Annals of the World, Larry Pierce, ed., Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003 (ISBN 0890513600), pghh. 806-7, 809-12, 814-6, 818, 824,831-2, 834-8, 841-3, 847-9
- Leon J. Wood, A Survey of Israel's History, rev. ed. David O'Brien, Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1986 (ISBN 031034770X), pp. 318-20
- Anonymous, "Entry for Zedekiah," Holy Spirit Interactive. Retrieved April 16, 2007.
- II_Kings 25:8-10 (NASB)
- I_Chronicles 3:15 (NASB)
- Jeff Lindsay, "Mulek, Son of Zedekiah," Book of Mormon Nuggets, May 15, 2004. Retrieved April 16, 2007.
- Intellectual Reserve, Inc., "Index for Zedekiah," The Official Scriptures of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2006. Retrieved April 16, 2007.
- Intellectual Reserve, Inc., "Bible Dictionary Entry for Zedekiah," The Official Scriptures of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2006. Retrieved April 16, 2007.
- Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 740
- II_Kings 23:29-30 (NASB), II_Chronicles 35:20-25 (NASB)
- II_Kings 23:31-34 (NASB), II_Chronicles 36:1-4 (NASB)
- Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 769-70, 774-5.
- II_Kings 24:1 (NASB)
- Wood, op. cit., p. 317.
- Jeremiah 22:19 (NASB)
- II_Kings 24:8-16 (NASB), II_Chronicles 36:9-10 (NASB)
- Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 790
- II_Kings 24:18 (NASB)
- "Zedekiah." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved April 16, 2007.
- "King Zedekiah - Biography." The Kings of Israel. Retrieved April 16, 2007.
- Wayne Blank, "Entry for Zedekiah," Church of God Daily Bible Study, retrieved April 16, 2007
- Matthew G. Easton and Paul S. Taylor, "Zedekiah," WebBible Encyclopedia, retrieved April 16, 2007.
- "Entry for Zedekiah", The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia.© 1994, 2000-2006, on Infoplease. © 2000–2007 Pearson Education, publishing as Infoplease. Retrieved April 16, 2007.
- Easton, Matthew George. "Entry for Zedekiah." Easton's Bible Dictionary. Retrieved April 16, 2007
- "Entry for Zedekiah." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. Retrieved April 16, 2007.
- Anonymous. "Entry for Zedekiah". The Classic Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 16, 2007.
- II_Chronicles 36:13 (NASB)
- II_Chronicles 36:14 (NASB)
- David Holt Boshert, Jr., and David Ettinger, Zedekiah King of Judah, Christ-Centered Mall. Retrieved April 16, 2007
- Genung, John Franklin. "Entry for ZEDEKIAH (2)". International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, M.A., D.D. gen. ed. 1915. Retrieved April 16, 2007.
- Jeremiah 29:1-23 (NASB)
- Jeremiah 28:1-17 (NASB)
- Jeremiah 27:1-3 (NASB)
- Jeremiah 34:8-10 (NASB)
- Jeremiah 34:11-22 (NASB)
- Jeremiah 39:15-18 (NASB)
- Ezekiel 4:4-6 (NASB)
- Jeremiah 52:1-11 (NASB)
- II Maccabees 2:4-8
- Anonymous, "Zedekiah's Cave," ArkDiscovery.com. Retrieved April 16, 2007. This site contains a fanciful and highly dubious account describing six "Levite" men who descended into the cave, penetrated to within sight of the Ark, and then met death at the hands of angels.
- Jeremiah 3:16 (NASB)
- Jeremiah 38:1
- Bushinsky, Jay. "Clay seal connects to Bible." Washington Times, October 1, 2008. Accessed October 2, 2008.
- International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, M.A., D.D., General Editor http://www.bible-history.com/isbe/Z/ZEDEKIAH+(1)
- Nebuchadnezzar II
- House of David
- Southern Kingdom
- Biblical chronology dispute