The Release of Jehoiachin from Prison

The conclusion of the book of Kings (2 Kings 25:27-30) is an appendix to the book which was written in exile. The text describes the release of Jehoiachin from prison. According to the text, in the thirty-seventh year of his exile (560 BCE), Jehoiachin was set free by Evil-merodac and was given preference and a position of honor above the other kings who were vassals and captives in Babylon.

Evil-merodach was the son and successor of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. He is also called Amel-marduk. Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king of Judah and he reigned three months before he surrendered to the Babylonian army and was deported to Babylon with the royal family and many members of the nobility of Judah.

In Babylon, he spent thirty-seven years in prison. So, when he was set free in 560 BCE, Jehoiachin was fifty-five years old. What changes can happen to one’s life after thirty-seven years in prison? Jehoiachin was born to be a king, a man of power and authority and yet, because of the sins of his people, he was taken into exile, put in prison, and forgotten by all.

As an heir of God’s promise to David, Jehoiachin ruled as the servant and as the son of God, as a seedling from David’s root. As king, he represented the nation and as such, he had to pay for Israel’s rebellion. Even the people in exile recognized this fact: “Our king, the Lord’s anointed, the very life of our nation, was caught in their snares. We had foolishly boasted that under his protection we could hold our own against any nation of earth” (Lamentations 4:20 NLT).

In prison, Jehoiachin lost his dignity as king. He endured suffering and pain; he was ignored by one and all. Some people believed he was an evil king and that his suffering was a punishment sent by God because of the sins of his father Jehoiakim (2 Kings 24:9).

No one ever heard a word spoken by Jehoiachin while he was in prison. It was as if he were dead, as if the prison were his grave. He was arrested, deported, and led off to Babylon to die in prison there. But after thirty-seven years in prison, Jehoiachin again was recognized as a king, given a place of honor at the king’s table, and exalted above the other captive kings. The thirty-seven years of humiliation and suffering were forgotten and a new life began for Jehoiachin.

This privileged situation of Jehoiachin lasted as long as he lived. The date of his death is unknown. Thus, the conclusion of the book of Kings provides a ray of hope, a light shining for the Jewish community, announcing the coming of a new day. God had brought judgment to his people but his anger would not last forever: Israel’s king was alive.

The news that their anointed one, their Messiah, was alive and out of prison brought great joy among the exiles. It is possible that most of them had no idea whether the king was dead or alive. It is possible that many people believed that the king was put to death as punishment for the people’s rebellion and that he was buried with the evil men that had destroyed their land.

To celebrate this special occasion, the prophet of the exile known as Deutero-Isaiah composed a song of thanksgiving for the people in Babylon to celebrate the release of their king from prison.

A Song of Thanksgiving
Celebrating the Release of the King

Who would have believed what we now report?
Who could have seen the Lord’s hand in this?
It was the will of the Lord that his servant
should grow like a plant taking root in dry ground.
He had no dignity or beauty
to make us take notice of him.
There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing that would draw us to him.
We despised him and rejected him;
he endured suffering and pain.
No one would even look at him –
we ignored him as if he were nothing.

But he endured the suffering that should have been ours,
the pain that we should have borne.
All the while we thought that his suffering
was punishment sent by God.
But because of our sins he was wounded,
beaten because of the evil we did.
We are healed by the punishment he suffered,
made whole by the blows he received.
All of us were like sheep that were lost,
each of us going his own way.
But the Lord made the punishment fall on him,
the punishment all of us deserved.

He was treated harshly, but endured it humbly;
he never said a word.
Like a lamb about to be slaughtered,
like a sheep about to be sheared,
he never said a word.
He was arrested and sentenced and led off to die,
and no one cared about his fate.
He was put to death for the sins of our people.
He was placed in a grave with the wicked,
he was buried with the rich,
even though he had never committed a crime
or ever told a lie.

The Lord says,
It was my will that he should suffer;
his death was a sacrifice to bring forgiveness.
And so he will see his descendants;
he will live a long life,
and through him my purpose will succeed.
After a life of suffering, he will again have joy;
he will know that he did not suffer in vain.
My devoted servant, with whom I am pleased,
will bear the punishment of many
and for his sake I will forgive them.
And so I will give him a place of honor,
a place among the great and powerful.
He willingly gave his life
and shared the fate of evil men.
He took the place of many sinners
and prayed that they might be forgiven.
(Isaiah 53:1-12)

There was hope for the future. As Deutero-Isaiah had spoken: “My servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up” (Isaiah 52:13).

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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