Tisha B’Av – Last 4 Kings


This historical article covers the last 4 kings of Judah after the death of King Josiah and traces the decline of the Judean kingdom through:

  • Loss of sovereignty.
  • Exile.
  • Destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

The following table lists the names of these kings, their relation to King Josiah, years of reign from creation, country of appointment, and deposal by foreign government.

NameRelationYearsAppointed ByDeposed
JehoahazSon3316 (3 months)JudahEgypt
JehoiachinGrandson3327 (3 months)BabylonBabylon

This article will examine the life of each of these kings from a personal and national perspective through scripture, Talmud, and Midrash. The scripture refers primarily to 2 Kings 23:30–25:12, 2 Chronicles 36:1-19 and several chapters in Jeremiah.    

(Note: The author has spelled the names of the kings with an opening letter “J” as Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, and Jehoiachin which is commonly used online. Others spell the name with an opening letter “Y” as Yehoahaz, Yehoiakim, and Yehoiachin.)     

Names of Kings

The Talmud (Horayot 11b) reconciles the names of the names of these 4 kings with the following verses in 1 Chronicles Chapter 3:

Verse 15 – “The sons of Josiah: the firstborn Johanan, the second Jehoiakim, the third Zedekiah and the fourth Shallum.”

Verse 16 – “The sons of Jehoiakim: Jeconiah and Zedekiah.”         

The following table lists the name in the verse, identity of the person according to scripture or Talmud, and reason for interpretation.  

JohananJehoahazJohanan not mentioned in scripture as king (Talmud)
JehoiakimJehoiakimSame name (Talmud)
JeconiahJehoiachinSimilar name (Scripture)
ZedekiahZedekiahSame name (Talmud)
ShallumZedekiahShallum not mentioned in scripture as king (Talmud) 

The numbers of the sons (i.e. 1-4) indicate their position in the monarchy with Zedekiah as the 3rd son but 4th in the monarchy from King Josiah. The Talmud states that Jehoiakim mentioned in verse 16 is the same as described in the book of Kings and 2 Chronicles. His son Jeconiah was originally named Jeconiah.  

Following this introduction the author will describe the life of each king in detail with emphasis on:

  • Major events during his reign.
  • Behaviour (righteous or wicked).
  • Downfall of Judah.
  • His Death


After the death of his father, the people chose Jehoahaz as their king (2 Kings 23:30) when he was 23 (Ibid. 23:31). Although scripture does not record the reason for this choice, historians have speculated that the people wanted a monarch who would oppose Egypt and in some way avenge the death of King Josiah who was killed by the Egyptian king (2 Kings 23:29). However Jehoahaz was a wicked king (ibid. 23:32) and as a result he was deposed by the king of Egypt (ibid. 23:33). Later he was exiled to Egypt and died there (ibid. 23:34). This marked the end of sovereignty in Judah.


In place of Jehoahaz, the king of Egypt appointed Jehoiakim as king and changed his name from Eliakim to Jehoiakim to assert his power over Judah (ibid. 23:34). He was 2 years older than his brother Jehoahaz (ibid. 23:36). Like his forefathers Jehoiakim was wicked (ibid. 23:37) and the end of his reign marked the beginning of the Babylonian exile of Judah.

Major Events

The following table shows the major events in his reign, year of reign, and supporting sources in scripture or Seder Olam.  

Coronation of Nebuchadnezzar4thJeremiah 25:1
Capture of Jehoiakim5thSeder Olam Chapter 24
Served Nebuchadnezzar6th – 8th2 Kings 24:1
Rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar9th-11thDaniel 1:1

Coronation of Nebuchadnezzar

The prophet Jeremiah clearly sets the 4th year of the reign of Jehoiakim as the beginning of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. The verse (ibid.) follows, “The word came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the 4th year of Jehoiakim, son of Josiah and king of Judah, which is the 1st year of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.” With the impending exile and destruction of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah exhorts the Israelites to return to Hashem (ibid. 25:5) and abandon idolatry (ibid. 25:6). Otherwise Nebuchadnezzar will destroy Judah (ibid. 25:9) and the Israelites will serve Babylon for 70 years (ibid. 25:12).    

Capture of Jehoiakim

The Seder Olam is a 2nd century CE Hebrew language chronology written by Rabbi Yose ben Halafta, detailing biblical events from creation until the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great. This source (Chapter 24) states that Nebuchadnezzar captured Jehoiakim in the 5th year of the latter’s reign and made him a vassal king.

Served Nebuchadnezzar

The verse (2 Kings 24:1) states that Jehoiakim served Nebuchadnezzar for 3 years (i.e. 6th-8th year of his reign) before his rebellion.  

Rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar

The rebellion persisted for 3 years (i.e. 9th – 11th year of his reign) as alluded to in Daniel 1:1, “In the 3rd year of the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem and besieged it.” As the Seder Olam (Chapter 25) points out the verse cannot literally mean that Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem in the 3rd year of the reign of Jehoiakim because Nebuchadnezzar was crowned in the 4th year of Jehoiakim. In addition, scripture records that the reign of Jehoiakim lasted for 11 years (2 Kings 23:36). In the 11th year of his reign Nebuchadnezzar put down the rebellion and exiled Jehoiakim (2 Chronicles 36:6).         

Behaviour – Wicked

Cardinal Sins

Both the book of Kings (2 Kings 23:37) and Chronicles (2 Chronicles 36:5 and 8) attest to the wickedness of Jehoiakim. In fact he committed the cardinal sins for which the 1st temple was destroyed (Yoma 9b):

  • Idolatry (Sanhedrin 103b).
  • Forbidden relations (incest) (Leviticus Rabbah 19:6).
  • Murder (ibid.).


The Talmud (ibid.) relates that Jehoiakim tattooed the name of a pagan deity on his male member as a sign of devotion to idolatry and a provocation of Hashem.  

Forbidden Relations

The Midrash (ibid.) states that Jehoiakim had relations with his mother, step mother, and daughter in law.


The verse (2 Kings 24:4) states that he shed innocent blood during his reign which led to the decree of the destruction of the temple. The Midrash (ibid.) adds that he would kill married men and take possessions of their wives.

Burning of Scroll

In addition to the cardinal sins that were rampant during his reign, Jehoiakim sinned by disregarding the warnings of the prophet Jeremiah. The Talmud (Moed Katan 26a) relates that the prophet wrote a scroll to warn the Israelites of the impending destruction of the temple and Jerusalem if they did not abandon their evil ways and return to Hashem. Rather than accept the warning, the king cut out all the names of Hashem in the scroll and burned them. Appendix 1 provides the details of this burning from chapter 36 of Jeremiah.

Beginning (of the End)

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 103a and Arachin 17a) notes that scripture uses the word בראשית (in the beginning) twice for the reign of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 26:1 and 27:1) and twice for the reign of Zedekiah (ibid. 28:1 and 49:34) and nowhere else in scripture except for Genesis 1:1. The Maharsha (ibid.) notes that scripture uses this expression and not the more conventional the 1st year of his reign (e.g. 2 Chronicles 29:3). The Talmud (ibid.) asks, “Why only for these 2 kings and not the many others kings of Judah who preceded them?” The Talmud answers that Hashem wanted to return the world to emptiness (Genesis 1:2) because of the sins of Jehoiakim. However when Hashem saw that his generation was righteous Hashem spared the people. In the opinion of the author, the use of the word בראשית (in the beginning) alludes to the end of sovereignty due to the rise of Nebuchadnezzar and beginning of the Diaspora or in the popular expression “The beginning of the end”.      


The verse in 2 Chronicles 36:6 relates that Nebuchadnezzar “Bound him in copper chains to bring him to Babylon” but does not record his death. Scripture (2 Kings 24:6) records his death but not his burial, “Jehoiakim slept with his forefathers.” The Midrash (Leviticus Rabbah 19:6) fills in the details as follows.

After putting down the rebellion, Nebuchadnezzar demanded the life of Jehioakim. The Sanhedrin complied and passed him over the walls of Jerusalem. The sages of this Midrash debate whether he died before, during, or after passing the walls. In any event Nebuchadnezzar decreed that he would suffer an ignominious end. According to one view, Nebuchadnezzar ordered the splitting of a carcass of a donkey and the insertion of the corpse of Jehoiakim into this carcass. This fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah (22:18-19), “So said Hashem about Jehoiakim king of Judah: They will not lament him. A donkey’s burial shall he be buried, dragged and tossed past the gates of Jerusalem.”

According to the other view, Nebuchadnezzar ordered the cutting of his corpse into small pieces to be fed to dogs. In this manner he received the burial of a donkey because the carcass of a donkey is usually fed to dogs. This disgrace also fulfills the prophecy of Jeremiah (36:30), “His corpse (referring to Jehoiakim) shall be cast to the heat by day and to the frost at night.”

World to Come

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 103b) raises the question, “If Jehoiakim was so wicked, why he was not included in the Mishna (ibid. 90a) which lists the 3 kings of Israel that lost their share in the world to come?” Surprisingly the Talmud does not provide as answer. However the Jerusalem Talmud (Peah 1:1 or specifically 10a) clearly states that he lost his share in the world to come. Maimonides, in his commentary on the Mishna (Sanhedrin 10:2), explains that these 3 kings are specifically mentioned in the Mishna because they possessed great Torah knowledge but this did not protect them from purgatory because of their grievous sins. Hence there may have been other kings who lost their share in the world to come but were not included in the Mishna because they were not scholars. In addition, the degrading death of Jehoiakim may have atoned for his sins and therefore he attained a share in the world to come. By contrast the Jerusalem Talmud explains that the Mishna only mentions prominent kings of Israel (i.e. Jeroboam, Ahaz, and Manasseh) and therefore Jehoiakim was not included even though he was wicked.  


The Midrash (ibid.) relates that after killing Jehoiakim, Nebuchadnezzar appointed Jehoiachin the son of the deposed monarch as king at the age of 18 (2 Kings 24:8). After 3 months (2 Kings 24:8) Nebuchadnezzar relented, fearing that Jehoiachin would rebel like his father, and replaced him with his uncle Zedekiah. The original name of Jehoiachin was Jeconiah (יכניה) as mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3:16-17, Jeremiah 28:4 and (ibid.) 29:2 or כניהו (as mentioned in Jeremiah 22:24, 22:28, and 37:1). Scripture does not mention who changed his name. Presumably Nebuchadnezzar changed his name, as he did to Jehoiakim and Zedekiah. Perhaps scripture did not mention his change of name because he only ruled for 3 months. By contrast the other 2 monarchs ruled for 11 years.      

Major Event – Exile

In addition to deposing him, Nebuchadnezzar exiled the king, royal family, his servants, officers, and warriors (ibid. 24:11). He also exiled a total of 10,000 people from Jerusalem (i.e. officials, craftsmen, and sentries) leaving only the poorest of the land (ibid. 24:14). This exile marked a major decline in Judah. Mordecai of the Purim story was also part of this exile (Esther 2:6).

Behaviour – Wicked

Scripture (2 Kings 24:9) attests that Jehoiachin was wicked and as a result the army of Nebuchadnezzar ransacked the temple. The verse (2 Kings 24:13) relates,” He (Nebuchadnezzar) removed all the treasures of the house of Hashem and treasures of the king’s palace. He stripped off all the golden decorations that Solomon, king of Israel, had made in the Temple of Hashem, as Hashem had spoken (through his prophets).”

The prophet Jeremiah predicted that Jehoiachin would not have offspring due to his wickedness (Jeremiah 22:30). However the Midrash (Leviticus Rabbah 19:6) explains that Jehoiachin returned to Hashem while in prison and consequently Hashem rescinded the decree. Hence the book of 1 Chronicles (3:17-24) record his progeny, especially Zerubbabel (ibid. 3:19), played an important role in the building of the second temple as governor of Judah.         

Prison and Death

Jehoiachin remained imprisoned in Babylon for 37 years until the death of Nebuchadnezzar. The verse (2 Kings 25:27) relates, “It was in the 37th year of the exile of Jehoiachin, king of Judah, … that Evil-Merodach, king of Babylonia (and son of Nebuchadnezzar), in the year of his coronation, lifted up the head of Jehoiachin, king of Judah, and released him from prison.“ The next verse says,” He (Evil-Merodach) spoke kindly with him and placed his throne above the other kings who were with him in Babylon.” The following verses conclude that Evil-Merodach changed his prison garb and supplied him with meals for the rest of his life where he died in Babylon. Scripture does not record the year of his death. The book of Jeremiah concludes on a similar note (ibid. 52:31-34).



After exiling Jehioachin, Nebuchadnezzar appointed the uncle of the former to be king and changed his name from Mattaniah to Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:17) to assert the authority of Babylon. Zedekiah was only 21 years old at his appointment (ibid. 24:18). According to the Talmud (Horayot 11b) Nebuchadnezzar changed his name to warn Zedekiah against rebellion. His new name meant that Hashem (ה-י) will justify judgment (צדק) against him if unfaithful, as stated in 2 Chronicles 36:13, “He (Zedekiah) rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who adjured him by G-d.” He reigned for 11 years (ibid. 24:18) until deposed by Nebuchadnezzar. 

The Talmud (Horayot 11b) comments on his other name Shallum (שלום) as mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3:15. This name refers to his righteousness (i.e. complete person) and the end of Davidic monarchy (i.e. monarchy was completed or ended) in his time.  

Major Events

The end of Zedekiah is characterized by the following events:

  • Rebellion
  • Capture of Zedekiah and his sons.
  • Destruction of the temple and burning of Jerusalem.
  • End of monarchy.


In the 9th year of his reign he rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar with disastrous results. Initially Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem with his entire army on the 10th of the month of Tevet. This day is now observed as a fast day (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 549:1) to remember the tragedies that followed. The siege lasted until the 11th year of his reign (Jeremiah 52:5). On the 9th day of the 4th month (Tammuz) the famine became severe (ibid. 52:6) leading to the weakness of the soldiers, breaching of the walls of Jerusalem, and flight of the Israelite soldiers (ibid. 52:7). The Talmud (Taanit 28b) notes that today the 17th of Tammuz is a fast day and not the 9th of Tammuz to remember the breaching of the walls of the second temple by the Romans which led to the current Diaspora.  

Capture of Zedekiah and his Sons

Facing impending doom, Zedekiah and his sons attempted to flee from Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:4) but were captured by the Babylonian army (ibid. 25:6). In retaliation for the unsuccessful revolt, Nebuchadnezzar ordered that the sons of Zedekiah be slaughtered before his eyes (ibid. 25:7). In addition they blinded Zedekiah, bound him with copper chains, and exiled him to Babylon where he died many years later (Ibid.).

Rashi on (2 Kings 25:4) quotes an unknown Midrash which explains his capture. Zedekiah attempted to flee to Jericho via a tunnel which led from his home to the plains of Jericho. Hashem ordained that a deer run on the roof of this tunnel. The Babylonians pursued the deer and when they reached the entrance of the tunnel they captured Zedekiah and his sons. 

Destruction of the Temple and Burning of Jerusalem  

On the 7th day of Av the Babylonian army entered Jerusalem (ibid. 25:8) and later burned the temple, king’s palace, and all of the houses in Jerusalem (ibid. 25:9). In Jeremiah 52:12-13 the date of this burning is set as the 10th of Av. The Talmud (Taanit 29a) resolves this apparent contradiction by stating that on the 7th of Av the Babylonians entered the temple. They ate, drank, and reveled on the 7th and 8th of Av. On the 9th towards evening they set fire to the temple which burned through the 10th of Av. The Talmud (ibid.) further explains that since the temple began to burn on the 9th of Av the fast is observed on that day and not on the 10th. In the language of the Talmud, “The beginning of the tragedy is the main point”. Afterwards on the 10th a previously deconsecrated temple was burning.  

End of Monarchy

After the rebellion was put down, Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah as governor of Judah (ibid. 25:22) because all the sons of Josiah were either killed or imprisoned. However a contender to the throne of royal descent assassinated Gedaliah thus ending rule by an Israelite until the time of the Hasmonean government. 

Behaviour – Righteous and Sinful


The Talmud (Sanhedrin 103a and Arachin 17a) considers Zedekiah as a righteous king. Tosafot (Moed Katan 28b) notes that scripture does not mention his righteousness but indicates that his rescue of Jeremiah from prison (Jeremiah 38:10) is a meritorious act as described in Appendix 2 – Rescue of Jeremiah.   

Similar to Jehoiakim, scripture uses the word בראשית (in the beginning) for the reign of Zedekiah. The Talmud (Horayot 11b) explains that Hashem wanted to return the world to emptiness (Genesis 1:2) because of the sins of his generation.  However when Hashem saw that Zedekiah was righteous Hashem spared the people. In the opinion of the author, the use of the word בראשית (in the beginning) alludes to the end of the monarchy of the line of David and beginning of the rule of governors under foreign control or autonomy under the Hasmonean government. Hence the word בראשית may refer to the popular expression “The beginning of the end”. 


Even though Zedekiah was personally righteous both scripture and the Talmud point out his shortcomings.  


Scripture (2 Kings 24:19) records that Zedekiah, “Did what was evil in the eyes of Hashem like all that Jehoiakim had done.” The verses explain his sins as:

  • He did not listen to the words of Jeremiah the prophet who warned him not to rebel against Nebuchadnezzar (2 Chronicles 36:12 and Jeremiah 38:17-18).
  • He violated his oath of peace with Nebuchadnezzar and stiffened his heart by not returning to Hashem (2 Chronicles 36:13).

The Talmud (ibid. 103a) adds that Zedekiah was held morally responsible for the failings of his generation by not protesting their evil deeds. Scripture (2 Chronicles 36:14) relates that the priests with the people committed treacherous acts. Hence even though he was actually righteous, he was compared to the wicked Jehoiakim in 2 Kings 24:19.

Hashem in His mercy (חמל) had sent prophets (especially Jeremiah) to warn the Israelites about the consequences of their sins (2 Chronicles 36:15). Instead of listening to the prophets, they mocked their words and utterly disregarded their message (ibid. 16). In turn the wrath of Hashem descended upon the Israelites in the form of the Babylonians who had no mercy (חמל) and slew the young and old (ibid. 17).  The use of the same word (חמל) implies that Hashem dealt with the Israelites according to the principle of measure for measure (Sotah 8b). Since the Israelites rejected Hashem’s mercy in the form of prophetic warnings, in turn Hashem withheld His protection and allowed the Babylonians to kill without mercy. It is interesting to note that the word mercy in the form of חמל occurs only 6 times in scripture, 2 of which occur in the 2nd book of Chronicles (36:15 and 17) as discussed above and 2 in the book of Lamentations (2:2 and 2:17). When referring to Hashem, this word indicates Hashem’s apparent lack of mercy which leads to the cruelty of the Babylonians.

The verse (2 Chronicles 36:16) relates, “They mocked the messengers of G-d, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets. Therefore, Hashem’s wrath ascended upon His people who were beyond cure.” The Talmud (Shabbat 119b) notes that this verse mentions both the “messengers of Hashem” and the prophets. The Talmud (ibid.) explains that the former are the teachers of Torah who guide the Israelites and warn them about sin. The verse concludes by stating that there was no cure for the Israelites. The Maharsha (ibid.) comments that a sinner may ignore the message of a Torah sage but realize that his instruction is true. This realization may lead the sinner to changes his ways and return to Hashem (Isaiah 55:7). However when a sinner mocks the word of Torah there is scant chance of reforming his ways.

Due to the sins of the king and Israelites, the wrath of Hashem turned against Jerusalem and Judah (2 Kings 24:20). Therefore Hashem imparted a desire for rebellion in the heart of Zedekiah which lead to his exile (Rashi ibid.). Rather than punishing the Israelites directly, Hashem allows leaders to make mistakes and bring the punishment upon them or in the popular idiom, “Give someone enough rope and they will hang themselves.” In fact, the prophet Jeremiah while lamenting the destruction of the Jerusalem and the temple says (Lamentations 3:38-39),” By the command of the Most High, neither good nor evil come (without cause). Rather evil comes because of sin.” Therefore Jeremiah advises (ibid. 3:40), “Let us examine our ways and return to Hashem. In addition to the sin of mocking the sages scripture (2 Chronicles 36:21) mentions the sin of neglecting the sabbatical years, “Until the land (of Israel) was appeased for its Sabbaths, for all the days of its desolation.”


Scripture does not mention the death of Zedekiah, perhaps to spare him disgrace since he was blind.  The prophet Jeremiah predicted (Jeremiah 34:3) that Zedekiah would be seized by the Babylonians and brought to Babylon. He even alluded to his blindness by saying that he would see the king of Babylon before his exile, implying that he would not see afterwards. Jeremiah said that he would not die by the sword (ibid. 34:4). Rather he would die peacefully and be mourned in an honourable manner (ibid. 34:5).           

The Talmud (Moed Katan 28b) mentions that Zedekiah was released from prison on the day of Nebuchadnezzar’s death and died as a free man on the following day (Seder Olam Chapter 28). Hence he was in prison for 26 years (Jehoiachin was in prison for 37 years and Zedekiah reigned after him for 11 years, 37-11 =26)).  


It is interesting to compare the ends of the 4 kings as they appear in scripture. The following table lists the names of the kings, places of burial and related verses.

NamePlace of BurialVerses
JehoahazEgypt2 Kings 23:34, 2 Chronicles 36:4
JehoiakimIsrael2 Kings 24:6, 2 Chronicles  36:6
JehoiachinBabylon2 Kings 24:15 and 25:27-30, 2 Chronicles 36:10
ZedekiahBabylon2 Kings 25:7, 2 Chronicles 36:20

Scripture mentions that:

  • Jehoahaz was exiled to Egypt and buried there without royal honours.
  • Jehoiakim slept with his ancestors implying that he was buried in Israel. However as explained above, Nebuchadnezzar bound him with copper chains to bring him to Babylon. He died along the way and received a donkey’s burial (Jeremiah 22:19) negating his previous royal position.
  • Jehoiachin was exiled to Babylon and kept in prison for 37 years. After the death of Nebuchadnezzar he was released from prison by the new king of Babylon and accorded royal honours.   
  • Zedekiah was blinded by the decree of Nebuchadnezzar, exiled to Babylon and died there.

The reader may ask, “Since all of these kings failed in their mission why was Jehoiachin privileged to be restored to an honourable position?” The following answers are provided from the oral Torah:

  • Power of returning to Hashem – The Midrash (Leviticus Rabbah 19:6) explains that in prison Jehoiachin sincerely returned to Hashem and would not have relations with his wife when she saw menstrual blood.. 
  • Exile – The Talmud (Sanhedrin 37b) states that exile may atone for sins. However exile alone cannot atone for sins because Jehoahaz and Zedekiah were also exiled yet they died in obscurity. Rather returning to Hashem when combined with exile can atone for sins and even overturn a divine decree as Jehoiachin was destined to die childless but in Hashem’s mercy the decree was overturned.
  • Continuity – The Midrash (Leviticus Rabbah 10:5) adds that the restoration of the line of David through Zerubavel occurred after the death of Jehoiachin. In this manner Hashem kept his promise to maintain the line of David (2 Samuel 7:16).           


This article traced the history of the Israelites through the last 4 kings of Judah which led to loss of:   

  • Loss of sovereignty.
  • Exile.
  • Destruction of the temple.

Each of these kings and their subjects sinned before Hashem disregarding warning of the prophets resulting in divine retribution. In effect they were the author of their own misfortune. In addition each king ruled at a young age (i.e. less than 35) lacking the maturity, judgment, and experience for this role.  The cascading path of downfall as follows:

  • Jehoahaz – Loss of sovereignty when deposed by Pharaoh of Egypt.
  • Jehoiakim – In his reign, Nebuchadnezzar rose to power in Babylon and decreed his execution which marked the death knell for the Israelites.   
  • Jehoiachin – In his reign, Nebuchadnezzar exiled the religious and political leaders of the Israelites leading to a power vacuum in Judah.
  • Zedekiah – His reign ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and the holy temple. In addition he was last of the kings of Judah from the line of David.

Although this chapter of the history of Israel ends on a sad note, the prophets (e.g. Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Zachariah) predict the restoration of the line of David through the advent of the messiah. In fact the prophet Jeremiah in chapter 30 of his book predicts the restoration of Israel (viz. restoration of sovereignty, end of exile, rebuilding of the temple, and unification with Hashem) as described in Appendix 3 – Restoration of Judah with supporting verses.

Appendix 1 – Details of Burning

The book of Jeremiah (chapter 36) provides the details of this burning of the scroll. In verse 1 the word of Hashem came to Jeremiah in the 4th year of the reign of Jehoiakim. Hashem commanded Jeremiah to write a scroll with words of warning (Ibid. 36:2). As explained above, Nebuchadnezzar became the king of Babylon during this year which means that Hashem wished to warn the Israelites of their impending doom if they did not return to Hashem. The verse (ibid. 36:3) reads, “Let the house of Judah hear about the punishment that I (Hashem) plan to inflict upon them (Israelites). In order that they should repent, each man of his evil way, and I (Hashem) will forgive their iniquity.”

One year later the Israelites assembled in the temple for a fast day (ibid. 36:9). Baruch the son of Neriah, disciple of Jeremiah, read the words of the scroll to the assembled. The officers of the king were moved by his words and wished to inform the king (ibid. 36:16). Fearing for the safety of Jeremiah and his disciple, the officers warned them to hide (ibid. 36:19). After hearing 3 or 4 verses from the scroll the king became angry and tore it with a razor and cast it into a fire until the scroll was burnt (ibid. 36:23).

The Talmud (Moed Katan 26a) explains that the scroll was from the book of Lamentations and the 4 verses correspond to Lamentations 1:1-4. The Talmud further explains that the king did not react to the prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem because he would remain as king. However the king became angry after the reading of the 5th verse which states, “Her adversaries (referring to Jerusalem as the capital city) have become her master and her enemies are at ease.” He understood that that this meant that he would no longer be king and took this prophecy as a personal insult. Rather than taking the prophecy to heart, the king and his servants ignored the message (ibid. 24). However there were some who heeded the message and pleaded with the king not to burn the scroll (ibid. 36:25). The king ordered the arrest of Jeremiah and Baruch but Hashem miraculously hid them. 

Following the burning, Hashem commanded Jeremiah to rewrite the scroll (ibid. 36:28) to emphasize the message of the impending destruction of Judah (ibid. 36:29), “The king of Babylon shall surely come and destroy this land.” In addition Hashem cursed Jehoiakim (ibid. 36:30), “He shall have no one sitting on the throne of David (end of his family line) and his corpse shall be cast to the heat by day and to frost at night.” At this point Hashem decreed the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah (ibid. 36:31).

The Midrash (Lamentations Rabbah 1:1) presents opposing views about this scroll. One view holds that this scroll is in fact the book of Lamentations written as a prophetic work before the destruction of the temple. The opposing view holds that the book of Lamentations was written after the destruction of the temple and therefore this scroll was a prophetic warning but not necessarily a part of scripture. It is also possible that the book of Lamentations was written before the destruction but was not widely recognized until the fall of Jerusalem.

Midrash Rabbah (Lamentations Rabbah 3:1) and Rashi (Lamentations 1:1) follow the former view and explain that the initially Jeremiah wrote chapters 1, 2, and 4 of this book. Later he added chapters 3 and 5 to complete the book. However Midrash Rabbah (ibid. Proem 28) holds that only the 1st chapter was written before the burning with the rest written afterwards. In our time, the book of Lamentations is read in the synagogue on the night of the 9th of Av.

Appendix 2 – Rescue of Jeremiah

Jeremiah warned the people not to rebel against Babylon because Hashem had given Jerusalem to the army of Nebuchadnezzar (ibid. 38:3). To avoid death by the sword, pestilence, or famine, the Israelites should surrender to his army and live (ibid. 38:2). Rather than accepting his words as prophetic, the ministers of King Zedekiah considered Jeremiah as a traitor and sought his death (ibid. 38:4). The king complied (ibid. 38:5) and the ministers ordered that Jeremiah be placed in a deep pit (ibid. 38:6) where he would die from hunger. The righteous Ebed-melech the Cushite recoiled from this inhumane treatment (ibid. 38:7) and suggested that the king rescue Jeremiah (ibid. 38:8-9). The king agreed and ordered that Jeremiah be lifted from the pit (Ibid. 38:10). Although a literal reading of the verse indicates that the servant was a Cushite, the Talmud (Moed Katan 16b) explains that Zedekiah was called a Cushite, as a simile. He was outstanding in his righteousness as a Cushite (Ethiopian) is striking in his skin colour.

After the rescue, King Zedekiah asked Jeremiah about his prophecies (ibid. 38:14). Jeremiah fearing for his life said to the king (ibid. 38:15), “If I tell you, will you not put me to death? If I advise you, you will not listen to me.” The king assured Jeremiah that he would not harm him (ibid. 38:16). Then Jeremiah told the king in the name of Hashem (ibid. 38:17), “If you go out to the officers of the king of Babylon, you and your household shall live and this city (Jerusalem) shall not be burnt.” To reinforce his prophecy Jeremiah warned the king (ibid. 38:18), “But if you do not go out to the officers of the king of Babylon, this city shall be delivered into the hands of the Chaldeans and they shall burn it with fire. (In addition) you shall not escape from their hands.” However the king afraid of appearing as a traitor refused to heed the warning of Jeremiah (ibid. 38:19). Then Jeremiah reiterated his promise of survival by surrendering (ibid. 38:20) and warning of doom if he refused (ibid. 38:21), to no avail. Sadly, Zedekiah did not heed the words of Jeremiah leading to his own downfall and destruction of the temple.          

Appendix 3 – Restoration of Judah

Although Jeremiah as often seen as the prophet of doom, he is also a prophet of hope and predicts the following events of restoration in chapter 30 of his book:

  • Restoration of sovereignty.
  • End of Exile.
  • Destruction of the temple.

Restoration of Sovereignty 

30:9 – “They (Israelites) shall serve Hashem and David their king (מלכם), whom I will set up for them. “ This may refer literally to King David who will reappear at the resurrection of the dead or a figure of speech which refers to the messiah who will descend from the line of David. However the verse in Ezekiel 37:25 predicts that David himself will rule, “They (Israelites) shall dwell on the land that I have given to My (divine) servant Jacob where your forefathers lived … My servant David shall be their prince (נשיא) forever.” The Talmud (ibid.) resolves the apparent contradiction by saying that there will be two leaders, the messiah and David as his viceroy. Rashi (ibid.) notes that the former verse which mentions king refers to the actual messiah who will rule as king. By contrast the latter verse which mentions prince refers to David who will serve as viceroy. In any event the prophet Jeremiah predicts a full restoration of sovereignty with the messiah.               

End of Exile

30:3 – “For, behold, days are coming, says Hashem: I will restore the captivity of … Israel (lost 10 tribes) and Judah (tribes of Judah and Benjamin). I will restore them to the land that I gave their forefathers and they shall possess it.”

Rebuilding of the Temple

30:18 – “Hashem said: Behold I am ending the captivity of Jacob (literally returning them from captivity) and I will have mercy on his dwellings.  The city (Jerusalem) will be built on its mound and the palace (Temple) shall be established on its proper site.”

Rashi (ibid.) quotes Targum Yonathan on this verse who explains that the palace refers to the temple and the proper site refers to the exact location, on the temple mount, for the altar and the holy of holies which will contain the Holy Ark. Maimonides elaborates (Laws of the Temple 2:1) as follows,” The Altar is to be constructed in a very precise location, which may never be changed.” In addition Maimonides states (ibid. 4:1), “The Ark will be placed on a stone in the western portion of the Holy of Holies.” The Talmud (Yoma 53b) explains that this stone is the foundation on which Hashem fashioned the world, hence the precise location.  

Unification with Hashem

 In conclusion the prophet (ibid. 30:22) says that Hashem will be unified with his people, “You (Israelites) shall be My (divine) people, and I will be your G-d.”

In this manner Jeremiah proves that that his prophecies are not vindictive nor is he an eternal pessimist. Rather he is a servant of Hashem who communicates the divine message of returning to Hashem to avert disaster and inspires his people to anticipate the messianic redemption.

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