Divided Exile

“In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah . . . Eval-merodach king of Babylon . . . released Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison” (2 Kings 25:27). Jehoiachin was elevated above other kings, given royal robes, and allowed to sit at the table of the king of Babylon the rest of his life.

This incident divides the exile in two. For the first thirty-seven years of Jehoiachin’s exile, the Davidic king was imprisoned. In the middle of the exile, his imprisonment ended and he was enthroned. Already in exile, the Davidic kingdom was (semi-) restored. Exile was divided into imprisonment and exaltation, reversing the sequence of the Egyptian exile, which began with Joseph’s exaltation and ended with the enslavement of the Hebrews.

The specific timing of Jehoiachin’s elevation is also notable.

The phrase “thirty-seventh year” appears once before in 2 Kings: “In the thirty seventh year of Joash king of Judah, Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz became king over Israel in Samaria” (13:10). The account of Jehoash’s life is astonishingly brief, the only notable event of his reign being the death of Elisha (13:14-19). There doesn’t appear to be any thematic connection between Jehoash and Jehoiachin; the similarity seems purely numerical.

A more promising connection is that between Jehoiachin’s elevation and the wilderness wanderings of Israel. From Kadesh-barnea to the exit from the desert in the crossing of the wadi Zered was a period of thirty-eight years (Deuteronomy 2:14). Jehoiachin’s manumission from prison is like a release from the wilderness and an entry into the promised land.

Further, if we date the 70-year exile from the capture of Jehoiachin rather than the destruction of Jerusalem (which took place over a decade later, 2 Kings 24:18-20), we have another potential numerical message. Jehoiachin spent the first 37 years in exile, and when he was elevated there were another 33 years to go. 33 was the number of years that David reigned over all Israel, after spending the first seven years of his reign as king of Judah only. The 33 years after Jehoiachin’s elevation are numerically connected with David’s reign. This reinforces the obvious point that Jehoiachin’s exaltation restores the fortunes of David.

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