Lesson 33: Decline of Judah

Reading Preperation:
  • 2 Kings 21-25
  • Zephaniah
Lesson Notes:
1. Manasseh, son of King Hezekiah (697-642 B.C.)
Following the righteous reign of King Hezekiah in which he had sought to do “that which was right in the sight of the Lord,” (2 Kings 18:3), his son, Manasseh became king. He will now reign in wickedness. Rumor has it that it was king Manasseh who had the Prophet Isaiah put to death. The reign of wicked King Manasseh will be followed by his wicked son, Amon, who will then be followed by his righteous son, Josiah as king.
Old Testament student manual notes,
“King Manasseh had ascended the throne in Jerusalem at the age of twelve. He reigned for about fifty years and became the most loathed and cursed king in the history of Judah” (Old Testament student manual 1 Kings—Malachi. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982, Second Edition, 213).
His father, Hezekiah, had sought to destroy idolatry, restore the feast of the Passover, repair the temple, keep the commandments of the Lord and heed the voice of the Lord as given by his prophets. Manasseh, his son, does the opposite. He builds up idol worship, defiled the temple with pagan altars and even offered one of his sons as human sacrifice.
2 Kings 21:6
6 And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.
The Old Testament student manual states,
“Manasseh added a third form of worship: devotion to the heavenly bodies and the constellations. Remnants of this worship are seen today in astrology” (Old Testament student manual. 1982, Second Edition, 213).
We read in 2 Kings the following regarding Manasseh.
2 Kings 21:2
2 And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, after the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out before the children of Israel.
We read further regarding the effects of Menasseh’s reign on his people.
2 Kings 21:9, 16
9 But they [Judah] hearkened not [to the Lord]: and Menasseh seduced them to do more evil than did the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the children of Israel.
16 Moreover Menasseh shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another; beside his sin wherewith he made Judah to sin, in doing that which was evil in the sight of the LORD.
Jeremiah, a contemporary prophet of Zephaniah, recorded the following words of the Lord regarding King Manasseh.
Jeremiah 15:4
4 And I will cause them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth, because of Manasseh the son of Hezekiah King of Judah, for that which he did in Jerusalem.
It is recorded in 2 Chronicles 33:11-20, that when Manasseh had been bound and was being carried captive to Babylon, that “in affliction, he [then] besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers” (2 Chronicles 33:12). Today, he is still remembered as one who contributed to the downfall of his people.
2. Amon, son of Manesseh (642-640 B.C.)
We read in 2 Kings 21:19-22, a synopsis of the reign of king Amon.
2 Kings 21:19-22
19 Amon was twenty and two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned two years in Jerusalem… .
20 And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, as he father Manasseh did.
21 And he walked in all the way that he father walked in, and served the idols that his father served, and worshipped them:
22 And he forsook the LORD GOD of his fathers, and walked not in the way of the LORD.
Amon’s reign was cut short when his servants, “slew the king in his own house” (2 Kings 21:23). Following his death, justice was served as those who had conspired Amon were killed and the son of Amon, Josiah, was made king “by the people of the land” (see 2 Kings 21:24). It appears that the people of Judah had a voice in the selection of their new monarch.
While 2 Chronicles 33:21-25 provides essentially the same information regarding king Amon’s reign, we learn an important insight regarding his character.
2 Chronicles 33:23
23 And [Amon] humbled not himself before the LORD, as Manasseh his father had humbled himself; but Amon trespassed more and more.
Unlike his father, Amon was without remorse regarding the wickedness he had perpetuated during his reign suggesting that he was more willful in his wickedness.
3. Josiah, son of Amon (640-609 B.C.)
3.1. Nature of Josiah
2 Kings 22:1
1 Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty and one years in Jerusalem…
Gary Lee Walker observes,
“[that while] we can assume that righteous advisers administered the affairs of state during the childhood of the king… a passage in 2 Chronicles, however, indicated the nature of the young monarch: “For in the eight year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father: and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images” (“The Fall of the Kingdom of Judah.” (“The Fall of the Kingdom of Judah” in Studies in Scriptures 4. Edited by Kent P. Jackson. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993, 169).
It is of interest to me that “the people of the land who made Josiah… king” (2 Kings 21:24) saw in this young man of “eight years” (2 Kings 22:1), someone who would reform Judah from the wicked reigns of both his father, Amon, and grandfather, Manesseh. We learn that at an early age, Josiah was seeking to rule his people in righteousness.
2 Kings 22:2
2 And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of David his father, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left.
It is an important lesson for each of us to learn that even children of righteous parents can become disobedient, just as the children of wicked parentage can be righteous. Wicked or righteous, it is an individual choice in spite of genealogy.
3.2. Influence of Zephaniah
Brother Crothers and others (Sperry, Voice of Israel’s Prophets, 377, Rasmussen, Latter-Day Saint Commentary on the Old Testament, 322 and the Old Testament student manual 1 Kings—Malachi, Second Edition, 223) note that the mission of Zephaniah probably preceded Josiah’s reforms.
Duane S. Crowther states,
“It appears that he [Zephaniah] was closely connected with the young boy-king, Josiah, and was able to influence him for good… Josiah, while still a young boy, undertook an extensive program to counter the idolatry which apparently was being carried on during Zephaniah’s ministry. This undoubtedly brought sharp criticism upon the boy king from the pagean factions” (Prophets and Prophecies of the Old Testament. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1966, 413-414).
3.3. The Lost Book of the Law
In the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign, king Josiah undertook the reparation of the house of the Lord “to repair the breaches [5 ftn. holes, broken areas] of the house” (2 Kings 22:5). It is while the work was going on that “Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the LORD… ” (2 Kings 22:8).
The Old Testament student manual states,
“Some have suggested this book was the book of Deuteronomy; others believe it was the whole Pentateuch (Genesis to Deuteronomy), written by the prophet Moses… The account of the great joy at finding the law suggests that the scriptures had been lost for some time. That would partly explain why evil and corruption had become so widespread in Israel” (Old Testament student manual 1 Kings—Malachi. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982, Second Edition, 214).
The reaction of the king to hearing the words of the book are noteworthy.
2 Kings 22:11
11 And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes.
The Old Testament student manual states,
“To rip or tear one’s clothes was to signify profound sorrow and tragedy. When King Josiah heard the law read, it instantly become obvious how far Israel had strayed from what God required of them. Therefore, Josiah rent his clothes to dramatize his profound sorrow and shock at the spiritual state of the nation” (Old Testament student manual 1 Kings—Malachi. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982, Second Edition, 214).
Following his hearing of the words, king Josiah issued the following request of his spiritual leaders.
2 Kings 22:13
13 Go ye, enquire of the LORD for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found: for great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us.
Ellis T. Rasmussen notes,
“Rather than making a direct inquiry by prayer or going to the holy place in the temple, the priests and scribes went to “Huldah the prophetess” for her interpretation” for spiritual direction” (A Latter-Day Saint Commentary on the Old Testament. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993, 322).
The Old Testament student manual observes,
“Nothing further is known of the prophetess Huldah from what is mentioned here. All that we can infer… is that she was highly distinguished on account of her prophetic gifts, and that none of the prophets of renown, such as Jeremiah and Zephaniah, were at that time in Jerusalem” (Old Testament student manual 1 Kings—Malachi. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982, Second Edition, 214).
3.4. Huldah the prophetess
Huldah is one of four prophetess noted in the Old Testament: Miriam — Exodus 15:20; Deborah — Judges 4:4, and false prophetess Noadiah — Nehemiah 6:14.
Camille Fronk Olson notes,
“For Hilkiah, Shaphan, and their colleagues, ‘Go, inquire of the Lord” meant to ask one who had the gift of prophecy to discern the Lord’s will for Josiah and the kingdom of Judah. Whether the prophet was a man or a woman seemed irrelevant to them. Neither account of the story indicate surprise that men in official leaderhip positions conferred with a woman over the divine authority and application o the discovered book of the law. We simply read that they went to Huldah the prophetess (2 Chronicles 34:22, 2 Kings 22:14)… With the witness of the Spirit that attends the communication of prophets and prophetess, Huldah bore fervent testimony of the Lord’s will (2 Chronicles 34:23-28; 2 Kings 22:15-20). For times in her six-verse response to the scroll, Huldah boldly declared, “Thus saith the Lord” (2 Chronicles 34:23-24, 26-27). Validating the authenticity of the document, Huldah applied the specific judgments in the scroll to Judah of her day. The kingdom would not escape ruin, as it had escaped under King Hezekiah. Huldah’s witness underscored the seriousness of Judah’s predicament and drew attention to God’s warnings… Remarkable reigns and reforms carried out by two righteous kings could not unto the evils of wicked kings or prevent the dire consequences that God had prophesied (2 Chronicles 34:24-25). The time for present conditions had ended. Consequences would follow ” (Women of the Old Testament. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2009, 155-156).
Camille Fronk Olson continues,
“Huldah’s prophetic message, however, contained a second part. Because the Lord recognized Josiah’s sincere efforts to bring a humble people to Him, He would protect Josiah from witnessing the horrors of Judah’s fall. Huldah sent the message to Josiah that he would die, ‘gathered to [his] grave in peace,’ before Judah’s devastating demise (2 Chronicles 34:28)” (Women of the Old Testament. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2009, 156-157).
In the latter days, Huldah’s name was referenced by Wilford Woodruff on January 1, 1877, as part of the dedication of the St. George Temple.
Wilford Woodruff prayed,
“May the society [Relief Society] influence the daughter of Zion to deeds of virtue, holiness, righteousness, and truth. May the blessings of Sarah, Huldah, Hannah, Anna, and Mary, the ancient prophetess, and of the holy women rest upon them” (Daniel H. Ludlow. A Companion To Your Study of the Old Testament. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981, 242-243, underline added).
Certainly her courage and commitment to speak the words of the Lord to her king, even though they foretold the demise of her nation, brought her favor in the eyes of the Lord and recognition by women through the ages.
The effect of the prophecies of Huldah concerning the warnings found in the book of law, instead of discouraging Josiah, inspired him to continue his efforts to reform his people.
3.5. Josiah’s Reforms
His reforms included: (1) He caused them to renew their covenants with the Lord [2 Kings 23:3]; (2) reformed the Passover [see 2 Chronicles 35:1-19]; (3) sought to cleanse his kingdom, even to burning dead men’s bones [considered to be unclean] on Jeroboam’s altar [2 Kings 23:16]; (4) fulfilling a prophecy in 1 Kings 13:2, he was careful not to disturb the prophet’s bones [2 Kings 23:17-18]; and (5) emphasized the importance of the temple in Judah’s worship again, as commanded in Deuteronomy 12:5-14.
3.6. Effect of Josiah’s Reforms on people
Keil and Delitzsch observe,
“[While] it is true that Josiah had exterminated outward gross idolatry throughout the land by his sincere conversion to the Lord, and by his zeal for the restoration of the lawful worship of Jehovah, and had persuaded the people to enter into covenant with its God once more; but a thorough conversion of the people to the Lord he had not been able to effect. For, as Clericus has correctly observed, ‘although the king was most religious, and the people obeyed him through fear, yet for all that the mind of the people was not changed, as is evident enough from the reproaches of Jeremiah, Zephaniah, and other prophets, who prophesied about that time and a little after’… Compare especially the first ten chapters of Jeremiah, which contain a resume of his labors in the reign of Josiah, and bear witness to the deep inward apostasy of the people from the Lord, not only before and during Josiah’s reform of worship, but also afterwards” (Commentary on the Old Testament 3. Grand Rapids: William Eerdmans Publishing Co, n.d., 492).
3.7. Death of Josiah
The Old Testament student manual notes,
“In the scramble for power that came with Babylonia’s conquest of Assyria, Egypt sought to move north and help Assyria, since they preferred a weak Assyria to a powerful Babylonia. For reasons not named, Josiah sought to stop Pharaoh Necho’s passage through the promised land. [King Josiah, disguised as a soldier, joined with the army of Judah in an effort to defeating Egypt]… Josiah took up his position… [at Megiddo] to dispute the passage across Carmel of Necho” (Old Testament student manual 1 Kings—Malachi. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981, Second Edition. 215).
In accordance with Huldah’s prophecy (see 2 Kings 22:18-20; 2 Chronicles 34:26-28), Josiah was killed in battle and did not live to see the final destruction of the Kingdom of Judah which was to occur twenty-two years later in 587 B.C. by the Babylonians. With Josiah’s death, Judah’s last hope to avoid destruction ended. Judah’s next king, Jehoahaz who was Josiah’s son, served only three months. He would follow in the footsteps of his Great-Grandfather Manesseh and Grandfather, Amon.
4. Evil Rulers following Josiah (609-587 B.C.)
4.1. Jehoahaz (609 B.C)
The son of Josiah who ruled after his father’s death.
2 Kings 23:31 2 Chronicles 36:1-2
31 Jehoahaz was twenty and three years old when he began to reign; and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Hamutal, the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. 1 Then the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah, and made him king in his father’s stead in Jerusalem.
2 Jehoahaz was twenty and three years old hen h began to reigh and he reigned three months in Jerusalem
Jehoahaz did not follow the righteous example of his father, but instead did evil.
2 Kings 23:32
32 And he [Jehoahaz] did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his fathers [Manesseh and Amon] had done.
Pharaoh-nechoh, king of Egypt, put the land [of Judah] “under tribute” (2 Kings 23:33). Jehoahaz was disposed by Pharaoh-nechoh, king of Egypt, who put him in chains and took him to Egypt where he died (see 2 Kings 23:34).
4.2. Eliakim [Jehoiakim] (609-598 B.C.)
2 Kings 23:34-35
34 And Pharaoh-nehoh made Eliakim the son of Joshiah king in the room of Josiah his father, and turned his name to Jehoiakim,…
35 And Jehoiakim gave the silver and gold to Pharaoh; but he taxed the land to give the money according to the commandment of Pharaoh: he exacted the silver and the gold of the people of the land, of every one accord to his taxation…
Old Testament student manual states,
“Nebuchadnezzar was the son of Nabopolassar, king of Babylon. Jehoiakim was the king of Judah. At the time that Nebuchadnezzar first laid siege to Jerusalem, Jehoiakim was paying tribute to Pharoah Necho, king of Egypt, in return for protection against Babylonians. The ploy did not work… About 605 B.C., Jehoaiakim revolted” (Old Testament student manual 1 Kings—Malachi. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981, Second Edition, 215).
The scriptures record that the overthrow of Judah was orchestrated by the Lord at the hands of the Babylonians.
2 Kings 24:1-3
1 In his days Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim become his servant three years: then he turned and rebelled against him.
2 And the LORD set againt him bands of the Chaldees, and bands of the Syrians, and bands of the Moabites and bands of the children of Ammon, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by his servants the prophets.
3 Surely at the commandment of the LORD came this upon Judah, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he did;
Adam Clarke states,
“The mixed army of Chaldeans, Syrians, Moabites, and Ammonites, was sent against him [Jehoiakim], who ravaged the country and took 3,023 prisoners whom they brought to Babylon [see Jeremiah 52:28]” (Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible. Abridged by Ralph Earle. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1967, [Nineteenth Printing, March, 1991], 382-383).
Just as the Lord has used the Assyrians to come against Israel when their cup of iniquity was overflowing due to the wickedness which had begun with the reign of Jeroboam, he now uses the Babylonians to come against Judah due to the wickedness that had begun with the reign of Manasseh.
According to Jeremiah 22:18-19, it appears possible that while being taken to Babylon as a captive, Jehoiakim rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar’s forces a second time, causing those in charge to kill him and cast his body aside before continuing their journey.
The scriptures record the following commentary regarding the reign of Jehoiakim.
2 Kings 23:36-37 2 Chronicles 36:5
36 Jehoiakim was twenty and five years old when he began to reign; and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Zrbudah, the daught of Pedaiah of Rumah. 5 Jehoiakim was twenty and five years old when he gegan to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem: and he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD his God.
37 And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD according to all that his fathers [Manasseh, Amon, Jehoahaz] had done.
  6 Against him came up Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and bound him in fetters, to carry him to Babylon.
4.3. Jehoiachin (598 B.C.)
2 Kings 24:6, 8-9
6 So Jehoiakim slept with his fathers: and Jehoiachin his son reigned in his stead.
8 Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign in Jerusalem three months.
9 And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father [Jehoiakim] had done.
Jehoiachin becomes yet another wicked king who continued, during his short reign of three months, the wickedness of his father, Jehoiakim.
Ellis T. Rasmussen states,
“The young King Jehoaichin was besieged almost immediately and was taken away—along with his mother, the servants, the princes, the craftsmen, and the treasures from the temple and palace-in the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign about 597 B.C… .This group of ten thousand exiles may have included young Ezekiel, who became a prophet in exile (Ezekiel 1:1-2. Daniel had like been taken earlier (ca. 605 B.C.; Daniel 1:1-2)” (A Latter-Day Saint Commentary on the Old Testament. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993, 324).
The first deportation of the Jews occurred in 597 B.C. under king Nebuchadnezzar is described in 2 Kings 24 and is noted in the Rasmussen’s Commentary.
4.4. Mattaniah [Zedekiah] (598-587 B.C.)
He was a third son of Josiah and brother to both Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim. He was the uncle of Jehoiahin who had been taken to Babylon (2 Kings 24:17).
2 Kings 24:17-19
17 And the king of Babylon [Nebuchadnezzar] made Mattaniah his father’s brother king in his stead, and changed his name to Zedekiah.
18 Zedekiah was twenty and one years old when began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Hamutal, the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah.
19 And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that Jehoiakim had done.
Following his nephew, he was placed on the throne by King Nebuchadnezzar. He will reign for eleven years. Mattaniah continued to do “evil in the sight of the Lord,” just as had each king of Judah since Josiah.
Within a year of Zedekiah’s “coronation,” Lehi, who had been prophesying with other prophets (possibly Jeremiah, Zephaniah and Habakkuk) regarding the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, was now commanded by the Lord to leave. The Lord appeared to Lehi in a dream.
B/M, 1 Nephi 2:1-2
1 For behold, it came to pass that the Lord spake unto my father, yea, even in a dream [vision], and said unto him: Blessed art thou Lehi, because of the things which thou hast done; and because thou hast been faithful and declared unto this people the things which I commanded thee, behold, they seek to take away thy life.
2 And it came to pass that the Lord commanded my father, even in a dream [vision], that he should take his family and depart into the wilderness.
It is important to understand that the Lord can speak to an individual in a dream or vision in order to reveal unto them important truths.
Lehi now leaves with his family and is guided to the Americas. The record of his journey is found in the ancient record known as the Book of Mormon. The righteous group of Lehi’s family will be identified as the Nephites, while the unrighteous group will become known as the Lamanites.
In 587 B.C., eleven years later, Jerusalem was destroyed through a return visit of Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24:18; 25:1-5). Just prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, 588 B.C., a younger son of Zedekiah named Mulek was taken out of Jerusalem in order to spare his life. Nephi teaches this truth as recorded in the Book of Mormon.
B/M, Helaman 8:21
8 … Will ye say that the sons of Zedekiah were not slain, all except Mulek? Yea, and do ye not behold that the seed of Zedekiah are with us, and they were driven out of the land of Jerusalem?…
This group will be directed to the Americas and will become known as the Mulekites.
LeGrand Richards states,
“It will be seen that one of the sons of Zedekiah escaped and he and his people were led to the land of America. This seems to have been about 588 B.C., or twelve years after Lehi and his family left Jerusalem. It seems that the people of Mulek did not keep records, but after a sojourn in the Land of America for approximately 400 years, the Nephites discovered them [Mulekites] and the two peoples were united under King Mosiah with the people of Nephi (Omni 1:15-16, 19)” (Israel! Do You Know? Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1964, Paperback Edition, 1990, 36).
Although we had previously read in 2 Kings 24:19, that Zedikiah was declared to be an evil king, Gary Lee Walker cites evidence from the book of Jeremiah that may alter our final perception.
Gary Lee Walker states,
“there is evidence in the book of Jeremiah that he may have had some good intentions (Jerimiah 37:17-21; 38:7-28)… [however] he was a weak monarch,… fearful of the people and unable to stand up to the nobles and underlings (Jerimiah 38:5,19)… [The Prophet Jerimiah (2 Chronicles 36:12-13), had counseled] Zedekiah to submit to the yoke of bondage under Nebuchadnezzar, for which the unrighteous king openly rebelled (2 Chronicles 36:12-13)… In January of 588 B.C., Jerusalem was placed under a blockade… until the city was encircle by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar (Jerimiah 34:7)… No mercy was shown to the rebellious Zedekiah” (“The Fall of the Kingdom of Judea” in Studies in Scriptures 4. Edited by Kent P. Jackson. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993, 174-175).
Duane S. Crowther notes,
“After Jerusalem had been under seige for a year-and-a-half, he [Zedekiah] attempted to escape but was captured… Nebuchadnezzar killed Zedekiah’s sons before his eyes and then put out his eyes and carried him and the people of Judah to Babylon as captives in c. 586 B.C. (Second deportation of the Jews)” (Prophets and Prophecies of the Old Testament. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1966, 409).
See 2 Kings 25 and Jeremiah 52 regarding the scriptural account of the second deportation of the Jews.
4.5. Gedaliah (586 B.C.)
He was appointed as a temporary governor by Nebuchadnezzar following the fall of the city of Jerusalem. During his brief rule of two months, before being murdered by Ishmael, he encouraged the Jews to make themselves subject to the rule of Babylonia (see 2 Kings 25:24-25).
Following the assassination of Gedaliah, by Ishmael and his co-conspirators, they then compel the remaining Jews in Palestine to accompany them to the land of the Ammonites.
Old Testament student manual records,
“Josephus, the great Jewish historian, recorded that Ishmael compelled the Jews remaining in Palestine to accompany him to the land of the Ammonities. Before their arrival there, another Jewish patriot, Johanan, angry with Ishmael for slaying Gedaliah, rescued his countrymen from Ishmael’s grasp and took them to Egypt to settle. This move was contrary to the counsel of Jeremiah, who still resided in Palestine and who urged Johanan and the other Jews to do the same. They refused and compelled Jeremiah and his scribe, Baruch, to flee to Egypt with them (See Josephus, Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, bk. 10, chapter 9.)” (Old Testament student manual 1 Kings—Malachi. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982, Second Edition, 216).
The book of Second Kings ends with Evil-merodiach, king of Babylon, [son of Nebuchadnezzar] releasing Jehoiachin from prison after 37 years of captivity and allowed him to participate in the affairs of the Babylonian court (see 2 Kings 25:27-30).
5. The Prophet Zephaniah (639-608 B.C.)
5.1. Introduction to Zephaniah
One reason for the importance of the book of Zephaniah to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is provided by Rulon D. Eames.
Rulan D. Eames states,
“the first commentary on a book of the Bible written by an LDS Church leader was Oliver Cowdery’s treatise on the book of Zephaniah in 1834… From the early years of the Restoration, modern prophets have seen in the visions of Zephaniah a vivid picture of the last days” (“The Book of Zephaniah.” Studies in Scripture 4. Edited by Kent P. Jackson. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993, 178).
Zephaniah 1:1
1 The word of the LORD which came unto Zephaniah the son of Cashi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hizkiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Juda.
Ellis T. Rasmussen states,
“His [Zephaniah] time was in the days of Josiah” (Zephaniah 1:1), about 639 to 608 B.C. That was the period of the overthrow of Assyria and the rise of Babylon… The prophet himself was a great-great-grandson of one Hizekiah (the same as Hezekiah in Hebrew), and it is entirely possible that he also was of the royal line” (A Latter-Day Saint Commentary on the Old Testament. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993, 672).
Arvid S. Kapelrud states,
[In response to the lack of detail regarding Zephaniah’s personal background, “His own person apparently played no role; the message was the totally dominating feature” (The Message of the Prophet Zephaniah. Oslo, Norway: Universitevorlaget, 1975, 46).
Living in the City of Jerusalem and as previously noted closely connected with the boy King Josiah, Zephaniah ministry probably took place during the first half of Josiah’s reign.
5.2. Prophecy of Zephaniah
Sidney B. Sperry summarizes Zephaniah’s message,
“Zephaniah’s use of the theme of the Day of the Lord was brought about by the wickedness of the people of Judah. Their crimes and excesses merited a stern and vigorous rebuke. Knowing the great judgments and desolations that were to descent upon the world in the latter days of the Lord’s Second Advent, Zephaniah determined to bring home to his people the awful retribution that should shortly befall them in terms of descriptive of that great but future event in world history” (The Voice of Israel’s Prophets. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1952, 380).
Sidney B. Sperry continues,
“Zehpaniah’s prophecy is definitely apocalyptic; it is a great revelation of the future, designed to impress the people of his own and future times with the fact that crime, wickedness, and religious indifference cannot be forever condoned by a patient and merciful God. That which men sow they must inevitably reap” (The Voice of Israel’s Prophets. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1952, 380-381).
For the kingdom of Judah, the day of judgment would come in just a few short decades when the Babylonians destroyed their cities and took their people into forced exile. Zephaniah writing of Babylonian conquest and the last days, describes the destruction that will occur.
Zephaniah 1:2-3
2 I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the Lord.
3 I will consume man and beast; I will consume the fowls of the heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the stumbling blocks with the wicked; and I will cut off man from off the land, saith the Lord.
For the world as a whole there will be a similar day of reckoning.
Zephaniah 1:7
7 Hold thy peace at the presence of the LORD GOD: for the day of the LORD is at hand:…
At the Lord’s second coming, the wicked will be cleansed from off the face of the earth. For the unrepentant it will be a dreadful day of judgment and sorrow.
He now addresses his own people, making reference to symbols they would be familiar with in their everyday life.
Zephaniah 1:10-12
10 And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord, that there shall be the noise of a cry from the fish gate, [gate on north end of city to view enemy from north] and an howling from the second [the quarter which would be the first reached from the north] and a great crashing from the hills
11 Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh,[the merchant quarters in the second quarter], for all the merchant people are cut down; all they that bear silver are cut off.
12 And it shall come to pass at that time, I will search Jerusalem with candles, [an exhaustive search made in the poorly lighted houses of the times], and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The LORD will not do good, neither will he do evil.
The Old Testament student manual notes,
“Settled upon their lees” (Zephaniah 1:12) is a figure drawn from wine making. The lees are the thick residue of the pulp of the grapes. ‘Good wine, when it remains for a long time upon its lees, becomes stronger; but bad wine become harsher and thicker’ (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 10:2:134). The interpretation of the symbol is that wicked men, like bad wine, remain apathetic about the true religion and become increasingly harsh and bitter” (The Old Testament student manual 1 Kings–Malachi. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982, Second Edition, 224).
In these verses, Zephaniah warns Judah of the nearness of the day and the judgments which shall come upon the people,
Zephaniah 1:14-15, 17-18
14 The great day of the Lord is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the Lord: the mighty man shall cry bitterly.
15 That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness.
17 And I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord: and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as dung.
18 Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy: for he shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land.
Sidney B. Sperry observes,
“This description of the destruction and terror that God shall pour out upon the wicked in the latter days is meant by the prophet to symbolize the desolation and woes that shall befall Judah if she does not repent” (The Voice of Israel’s Prophets. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1952, 381).
While the destruction of the wicked in Judah is imminent, the Lord in his mercy continues to extend his arm of forgiveness to those who are truly repentant. The time for destruction is not yet, but it is neigh at the doors. When the time does arrive, it will be too late for repentance.
Zephaniah 2:1-3
1 Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation not desired;
2 Before the decree bring forth, before the day pass as the chaff, before the fierce anger of the Lord come upon you, before the day of the Lord’s anger come upon you.
3 Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD’s anger.
Zephaniah directs his attention to those nations traditionally hostile to Judah at each point of the compass: Philistines to the west, Moab and Ammon on the east, Egypt on the south (the reference to Ethiopians seems to be a taunt based on Ethiopian domination of Egypt) and Assyria on the north (see Zephaniah 2:4-13). He makes special notice of Assyria and her crown city, Nineveh.
Zephaniah 2:13, 15
13 And he will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and will make Nineveh a desolation, and dry like a wilderness.
15 This is the rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly, that said in her heart, I am, and there is none beside me: how is she become a desolation, a place for beasts to lie down in! every one that passeth by her shall hiss, and wag his hand.
Assuming that Zephaniah wrote about 626 B.C, he predicted the breakup of the Assyrian Empire which was completed in 610 B.C., sixteen years before it occurred. The great city of Nineveh fell in 612 B. C.
Jerusalem however is no better than Nineveh. In fact, because Jerusalem was the repository of Jehovah’s law, her crimes were far worse than those of pagan Nineveh. He condemned many groups in Judah’s society, including the political leaders, the judges, the false prophets and priests.
Zephaniah 3:3-4
3 Her princes [city leaders] within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow.
4 Her prophets are light and treacherous persons; her priests have polluted the sanctuary, they have done violence to the law.
One of the reasons for the interest of Latter-day Saints in the book of Zephaniah are the parallels between the destruction of Judah and the destruction of the last days.
Zephaniah 3:8
8 Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the LORD, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy.
Sidney B. Sperry states,
“[In this verse] The Lord addresses Himself to the righteous, apparently of Zephaniah’s own generation and tells them of the great day in which God will pour out His indignation and fiery anger upon the kingdoms of the earth. To Latter-day Saints it is clear from the verses immediately following that this judgment is to take place in the present dispensation, since they refer to the [time of the] gathering of Israel” (The Voices of Israel’s Prophet’s. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1952, 386).
Zephaniah 3:13
13 The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth: for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.
Sidney B. Sperry continues,
“Not all Israel are to be destroyed. There will still exist in the centuries to come a righteous remnant with whom God can work and bring to pass His righteous purposes in the earth” (The Voices of Israel’s Prophet’s. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1952, 387).
Zephaniah 3:9
9 For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent.
Daniel H. Ludlow observes,
“One of the blessings that will result from the destruction of the wicked is that a ‘pure language’ will be restored which will be spoken by everyone. From the days of Adam unti the time of the tower of Babel, a single, universal language was on the earth (the ‘Adamic language’), patterned after the language of God. Since the confusion of languages at Babel, the people have not served the Lord with either ‘one consent’ or one voice” (A Companion to Your Study of the Old Testament. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981, 388).
Zephaniah 3:15-17, 19-20
15 The LORD hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the king of Israel, even the LORD, is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more.
16 In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not: and to Zion, Let not thine hands be slack.
17 The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.
19 Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflict thee: and I will save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out; and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame.
20 At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, said the LORD.
In the last days, there will be two distinct and separate locations where the will and law of the Lord will go forth: (1) Jerusalem and (2) Zion. (see Zephaniah 3:16).
Rulan D. Eames summarizes,
“The Lord will reign in the midst of his people (Zephaniah 3:15, 17), sorrow will turn to rejoicing (Zephaniah 3:14, 18), and the shame of Israel’s long dispersion will be swallowed up in anthems of praise—from ‘all people of earth’ (Zephaniah 3:19-20)… The judgments of Jehovah must come upon the wicked in every nation; yet it is his exaltation of the righteous that will be the final and enduring reality” (“The Book of Zephaniah” in Studies in Scripture 4 1 Kings to Malachi. Edited by Kent P. Jackson. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993, 182).
Sidney B. Sperry offers this fitting tribute to the writings of Zephaniah,
“Zephaniah saw our day and beyond. In it he both suffered and rejoiced. He suffered in spirit because of the desolation and destruction which he saw, but he was able to use this as a warning and threat to his own people. {It was] in the redemption and final blessing of Israel [that] he saw a ray of hope to extend to Judah” (The Voice of Israel’s Prophets. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1952, 388).
6. Conclusions
The period between the death of Josiah and the final deportation of the Jews to Babylon could be described as the dying time of the kingdom of Judah. The last fifty-seven verses of 2 Kings records that steady decline of Judah towards its final devastation and the captivity of its people.
How do these conditions compare with ours today? In modern times the Lord’s prophets are for the most part ignored by the world. While individual apathy brings less direct condemnation upon an individual than their taking part in violence and murder, the results of ignoring the modern prophets will be the same for us as they was for Judah. The world is again rushing toward a spiritual disaster as great as any it has ever known. Once again the prophets raise their voices, warning of impending disasters and pointing the way for national and personal salvation. How are you and I responding to their clarion call? Like Judah of old, as the covenant people, you and I have greater responsibilities as well as the promise of even greater blessings.
Like those who have preceded us, we may also be called upon to suffer the effects of physical deprivation along with the wicked; some of us will yet suffer calamities, pain and even death. Nevertheless, if we trust in the Lord and continue to be righteous, we will yet receive the peace the Savior promised even though it may be on the other side of the veil. We will be tried and tested. Will we be faithful and obedient to the end?