The king was backed into a corner. His small country, founded on religious principles, was no longer a major force. Unable to protect himself form the powerful nations that surrounded them he felt no choice but to align himself with one of them. The nation was Judah and the king was Jehoiakim. To his north was the Babylonian empire, to the south the Egyptians. Neither of these empires shared the culture or values of his people but his only hope seemed to be aligning with one of them.
Four years earlier it seemed as if the Egyptians were the major force. The Egyptian army had swept through Israel in its way north to challenge the mighty Babylonians in battle. Jehoiakim’s father died in a foolish attempt to halt the progress of the Egyptian army. A short while later the Egyptians joined the Assyrians in battle against Babylon and were defeated. Pharaoh and his army went home defeated. The King of Babylon followed south to Jerusalem and besieged the city, forcing the new king Jehoiakim to surrender.
Since that time Judah had been forced to pay tax and tribute to the pagan nation of Babylon. The burden was great on the people and the city of Jerusalem was divided in its opinions. Some felt Egypt was still its greatest hope, others were persuaded that subjection to Babylon was the only way forwar (perhaps because Babylon allowed them to continue with their own king and customs.) For four years the allegiance to Babylon held sway.
At that time a second battle between Egypt and Babylon led King Jehoiakim to question his loyalty to the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar’s army had tried to expand its influence further south into Egyptand had been repelled by the Egyptians. Jehoiakim king of Judah again had a choice between two evils. With whom would he align? He chose Egypt, hoping the might of the Pharaoh could save him. It didn’t.
A short while later Nebuchadnezzar returned with his army and laid siege. King Jehoiakim died during the siege and before long the city fell. Nebuchadnezzar and his army took Jehoiakim’s son and thousands of the nation’s best and brightest away into captivity in Babylon. Leaving behind a puppet king to rule in Nebuchadnezzar’s name.
The new king, Zedekiah, did not learn from the mistakes of his predecessor. A new Pharaoh came to power in Egypt, and once again the King of Judah was tempted to change his alliances and allegiance. He too rebelled against Babylon.
Only 4 years after Jehoiakim fell, Nebuchadnezzar and his army arrived again outside the gates of Jerusalem. This time, his wrath was not contained. He laid waste to the city and destroyed the walls and its temple. He killed Zedekiah’s sons right in front of the king and then put out his eyes, making the death of the sons his final visible memory. Judah was no more.
The fall of Judah reminds us of the challenges of choosing unholy alliances. The kings of Judah repeatedly saw only two options available, Egypt or Babylon. Neither option was good, neither nation shared any of their cultural values. One can imagine the debates in the courts of Jerusalem as people argued for one position or the other, trying to point out minuscule areas of good or potential incremental preserving of freedoms as they agonized over which evil was lesser.
They repeatedly out their hopes in powerful Pharaohs, setting their beliefs and values aside in favor of an alliance that might give them the best hope of preserving the greatest portion of the society in which they lived. Egypt may well have been the lesser of two evils, but they were still a bad choice. Judah lost everything.
What makes the story even more tragic is that Judah should have known better. The premise of having to choose between two earthly evils had been proven false many times in their history. Over and over again, their small nation had been threatened with destruction at the hands of overpowering enemies and over and over again they had been delivered, not through allying with another army but by trusting in their God. They should have recognized the false dichotomy. Their choices were not limited to Egypt or Babylon. There was a third way. They could have chosen to turn to God, returned to their values, and stood alone, trusting only in Him.
Modern day American Christians have much to learn from the lessons of Judah. We should resist the foolish claims of those who tell us that we have to choose between two evils. When both choices require us to compromise our values and deny who we are and what we believe, we need to choose the third way. If we do not, we should not be surprised when we find ourselves in trouble.
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