The Wartburg Project

May 30th, 2023

90. Josiah's Four Sons

The following image appears in the first edition of the EHV Study notes under 2 Chronicles 36.

However, 2 Kings 23:31 says that Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he became king, and he ruled in Jerusalem for three months. His mother’s name was Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah from Libnah. It appears that Jehoahaz should be moved to the right side of the chart.

The information in 2 Kings 23:31 support your suggestion to redraw the chart, but before we do that, let’s take a closer look at the bewildering succession of Josiah’s four “sons”. The word “sons” is in quotation marks because Josiah had four sons in two different senses of the word “son”. He had four physical sons, three of whom followed him as king. He had four “sons” who succeeded him as king, but one of these “sons” was a grandson.

The chart above conveys the most important information about Josiah’s sons who succeeded him as king. All of them had more than one name, leading to much confusion for readers. They came from two different mothers. They did not follow the normal pattern of ascending to the throne by birth order.

In 1 Chronicles 3:15-16, four sons of Josiah are listed:

15The sons of Josiah were his firstborn Johanan, his second Jehoiakim, his third Zedekiah, and his fourth Shallum [also called Jehoahaz]. 16The sons of Jehoiakim were his son Jeconiah [also called Coniah and Jehoiachin] and his son Zedekiah.

The listing of Josiah’s sons as “firstborn, second, third, and fourth” seems to imply that Jehoiakim was the second-born; Zedekiah was the third-born, and Jehoahaz was the fourth-born. But data gathered from 2 Kings indicates that Jehoiakim was the second-born; Jehoahaz was the third-born; and Zedekiah was the fourth-born. It seems that despite appearances, the order in Chronicles must not be chronological.

Jehoiachin and Zedekiah are both called sons of Jehoiakim, but unless the Zedekiah listed here is a different Zedekiah than the one who became king, this Zedekiah was Jehoiakim’s brother not his son. The Zedekiah who became king was Jehoiachin’s uncle, not his brother. He seems to be called Jehoiakim’s “son” because he followed him as king. There are some other instances in which the data in Chronicles seems to be offered from a different perspective than that in Kings.

Josiah was the last good king of Judah. He ruled for thirty-one years from 641-609 BC. He was a very good king who carried out reforms in the worship life of the people, especially after the discovery of the Book of the Law in the temple (either the book of Deuteronomy or a larger portion of the writings of Moses) around 621 BC. Josiah tried to preserve Judah’s independence from the great powers who were dueling for control of the Near East, but he was killed in battle when he tried to prevent Pharaoh Neco from crossing through Israel to help the Assyrians ward off the rising power of Babylon. With Josiah’s death, Judah’s last political hope was gone.

Johanan, Josiah’s first-born, either had died before his father or he had been disqualified from being king for some other reason.

When Josiah died, the people of Judah by-passed Jehoiakim, Josiah’s second-born son, in favor of Jehoahaz, the third-born son, who was two-years younger than Jehoiakim. This was apparently because Jehoahaz’s views were more in line with his father’s policy of resisting Egyptian power. He ruled for only three months before Pharaoh Ncco removed him from the throne, deported him to Egypt, and replaced him with his brother.

Jehoiakim ruled for eleven years (609-597 BC). He was a very bad king, who was a bitter enemy of the prophet Jeremiah. During his reign, Judah passed from the control of Egypt to the control of Babylon. In 605 BC Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon made the first deportation of Jews to Babylon. This group of exiles included Daniel. Jehoiakim’s revolt against Nebuchadnezzar led to his removal as king and led to the second major deportation of Jews to Babylon in 597 BC. This group of exiles included Ezekiel and young king Jehoiachin.

There is some confusion surrounding the timing of the death of Jehoiakim, but his son Jehoiachin ruled for only three months before he was deported to Babylon as a captive.

Jehoiachin’s uncle Zedekiah ruled as a Babylonian puppet for eleven years (597-586 BC). He was a weak wishy-washy king, who was half-hearted in his support for Jeremiah. He wavered back and forth between allegiance to Egypt or Babylon. His revolt against Babylon led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the Judean monarchy in 586 or possibly 587 BC.

The era of Josiah and his four sons is the most difficult and confusing period of Old Testament history. This period corresponds with the ministry of Jeremiah the prophet.

A number of nations threatened Judah during Jeremiah’s lifetime. When Jeremiah was called as prophet in about 627 BC, the Assyrian empire still seemed to be strong, but Babylon was on the rise, and in less than twenty years Assyria would fall. Assyrian power was ended by 612 BC. Then Judah was caught in the crossfire between Egypt and Babylon. Egypt, formerly crippled by civil war, was regaining some strength and stability but would fail in its efforts to re-establish itself as an international power. Scythians, Medes, and other peoples threatened the Near East, either as raiders or as mercenaries in the imperial armies. Jeremiah’s many warnings about attackers “from the north” could have referred to any of these nations, although ultimately it would be the Babylonians who would lay siege to Jerusalem and carry the people of Judah into captivity (Jeremiah 52).

Internally the nation of Israel was a shadow of what it had been. Samaria and the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen and had been taken into exile a century earlier. Judah had reached a spiritual low point under King Manasseh, although for a short time Judah returned to the Lord under the reforms led by good King Josiah, who ruled during Jeremiah’s early years.

This chaotic situation explains the tumultuous reigns of Josiah’s four sons,

Two of the last four kings, Jehoahaz (609) and Jehoiachin (597), each reigned for only a very short time before they fell victim to the power struggles between Egypt and Babylon. Between these two short-term kings, Jehoiakim reigned for eleven years (609-598 BC), and many of Jeremiah's prophecies of judgment against Judah come from his time as king. Jehoiakim was a bitter enemy of Jeremiah, who even burned Jeremiah’s scroll.

The last king of Judah was Zedekiah, Jehoiakim’s much younger half-brother. Zedekiah imprisoned Jeremiah more than once, and he even dumped the prophet into a dry cistern, but he did try to protect Jeremiah from his most bitter enemies in the Judean government. Jeremiah summed up Zedekiah’s lack of faith with this comment: “Neither he nor his attendants nor the people of the land obeyed the word of the Lord that he spoke through the prophet Jeremiah” (Jeremiah 37:2).

These last four kings all fluctuated between submitting to Babylonian power and seeking Egyptian help against Babylon. Egyptian help provided only limited, temporary relief. The key to the kings’ downfall was their lack of trust in the Lord.

If it is hard enough to keep these kings straight in Kings and Chronicles, it is even more bewildering in Jeremiah. The prophecies in Jeremiah are not in chronological order and all these kings of Judah were known by more than one name. This makes it difficult to keep track of these kings through the course of Jeremiah. The arrangement of the prophecies in Jeremiah seems disjointed, because they jump from one subject to another and from one time period to another without much introduction. The following chart will help readers sort this all out.

The non-chronological order of events in the book of Jeremiah is illustrated by this list of the chapters of Jeremiah in which each of the five kings appears:

We see that in the book of Jeremiah, Jehoahaz makes his appearance after the first appearances of Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah even though he was the first of the group to be king. (It may be coincidence, but it is interesting that the order of the three sons in 1 Chronicles 3 appears to match their relative importance in Jeremiah.) It is for all these reasons that a chart like the one that precipitated this question is a very necessary tool to help readers keep their bearings in the bewildering succession of kings.

Does moving Jehoahaz to the right side of the chart make any significant difference in our understanding the situation? Not much, because the birth-order, the order of succession, and the confusion caused by multiple names for the same king all remain the same. But this correction may add one additional insight. If Hamutal was the favored wife, this may an additional reason why Jehoiakim was passed over in favor of Jehoahaz.