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.
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.
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).
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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Isaiah 53 is about the prophesy of Jesus Christ. This is even interpreted plainly in the book of Acts 8:26-40. When the evangelist Philip explains the gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch.
No doubt the New Testament applies Isaiah 53 to Jesus because Jesus fulfilled the work and mission of the Suffering Servant. However, the prophet was probably writing about an individual who lived at the same time he lived. Prophecies in the Old Testament can have a double fulfillment.
We despised him and rejected him – He was taken into captivity by Babylon?
He never said a word. – Jesus before Pilate
He was arrested and sentenced and led off to die – Jesus
It was my will that he should suffer; his death was a sacrifice to bring forgiveness – No mere mortal can be a sacrifice of forgiveness
He had never committed a crime or ever told a lie – JESUS WAS THE ONLY PERFECT MAN.
He took the place of many sinners and prayed that they might be forgiven – ONLY JESUS FORGIVES SINS.
He was put to death for the sins of our people – Jehoichan never died for the people he lived out his old age in comfort in the court of a wicked King?
I have never heard anyone correlate this passage in Isaiah this way in 50 years of being a Christian. Too many outright contradictions as I mentioned above.
Why would Evil Merodach suddenly show compassion? The Jews in Babylon got into all kinds of evil because of Babylonian influence. Their religion today is a falsehood because of wicked and evil corruption during the Babylonian captivity. Approx. 400 years later Jesus would have strong words against these false religious leaders. Paul was persecuted by them and called them enemies for the Gospels sake. Revelation refers to the synagogue of Satan which is comprised of false Jews. The time in Babylonian captivity was not generally a time of repentance before God by all Jews.
Israeli philosopher and Biblical scholar Yehezkel Kaufmann said “The exile is the watershed. With the exile, the religion of Israel comes to an end and Judaism begins.
According to many historical-critical scholars, the Torah was redacted during this time, and began to be regarded as the authoritative text for Jews.
This process coincided with the emergence of scribes and sages as Jewish leaders.
As in the days of Rabbi Judah HaNasi, Rav Ashi, the leader of the Jewish people, had the three qualities necessary for this endeavor: supreme political power granted him by the Babylonian authorities, universal recognition as the greatest Torah scholar of the era, and unsurpassed wealth. As such, he spent close to 60 years in conjunction with other sages editing the voluminous material known as the Gemara, making a first draft and then a final copy
Food for thought and prayer.
Thank you for your comment. You have to remember that the king of Judah was the anointed one of God. Since the Hebrew word for anointed is “messiah,” then the text has a historical background first and then a messianic background. Read my book Divine Violence and the Character of God. I spend three chapters dealing with The Suffering Servant theme and how it finds fulfillment in the ministry of Christ.
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This was a prophecy about Jesus. Maybe also about the king coming out of prison? A dual application. Thank you for insight .
You are right, there is a dual application for the oracle. The king of Israel was anointed by the priest. The Hebrew word for “anointed” is “messiah.” The Greek word for “messiah” is “christos.” So, you can see the dual application of Isaiah’s oracle.
I have 690 BC as the date for Isaiah 53. How could this be written about an event after 586 BC which my Bible indicates the Fall of Jerusalem and King Jehoichins release is some years later?
I believe it is prophetic written earlier about Jesus and maybe Jehoichins fate and release matches that prophecy to some degree.
The chronology you are following is not good. Isaiah of Jerusalem began to minister in 742 BC, the year king Uzziah died. I believe that Isaiah 40-55 was written by a student of the prophet Isaiah and his message was added to the book of Isaiah. We call Isaiah’s disciple, Second Isaiah. Second Isaiah lived in Babylon where he was taken after the fall of Jerusalem. Where did you find 690 BC for the date of Isaiah 53?
Dear Prof. Mariottini,
above you gave one of the most logical, and therefore one of the most acceptable explanations for the nature of the Suffering Servant Song. Personally, I do not accept super-natural interpretations of things, and therefore, reject “prophesy” as superstition. However, given the poetic and metaphorical nature of the Servant text, I have no problem with reading the validation of the evangelists’ stories into such ancient poem, but we should not take causality to be a vice-versa phenomenon, as is done in the Christian explanation of the text.
Thank you for your explanation
Many people refuse to accept a historical background behind Isaiah 53. It is evident that the prophet was writing about someone in his community. There is nothing wrong for the New Testament to apply the passage to Jesus. Jesus was relieving the experience of Israel and he adopted the character of the Suffering Servant to himself. This is the reason the New Testament writers applied the passage to Jesus and his ministry.
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Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary