(You can read the full biblical account in 2 Kings 21-25)
In about the year 609 BCE, a generally very wise king of Judah named Josiah (Heb. Y’oshi-yah) made a very bad decision. Against the advice of his counselors, he led an army against an Egyptian army under the Pharaoh Necho II.
At the time, Judah was a vassal state to Babylon and Josiah thought fighting the Egyptians would help his relationship with the Babylonian state under Nebuchadnezzar I.
Josiah’s army met the Egyptians in the Jezreel Valley, and they were thoroughly defeated. Josiah was wounded and died shortly thereafter. He was thirty-nine years old.
The people quickly declared Josiah’s twenty-three year old son Jehoahaz (Heb. Yahow’achaz) as king, but on his way north, Necho II took a detour to Jerusalem and deposed him three months later. In Jehoahaz’s place, Necho installed his older brother Jehoiakim (Heb. Yahowyaqiym).
In 605 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar’s army decimated Necho at the Battle of Carchemish. To quell some internal problems, Nebuchadnezzar withdrew from the region but he returned in 601 BCE to bring Judah back under his sway.
Unwisely, Jehoiakim stopped paying his tribute to Babylon three years later. Although Nebuchadnezzar was busy elsewhere, he fomented trouble with the Arameans, Moabites and Edomites so that Jehoiakim spent the last years of his reign fighting off constant raiding.
When Jehoiakim died in 598, the nation declared his son Jehoiachin (Heb. Yahowyakiyn) as king. Nebuchadnezzar found this unacceptable and marched on Jerusalem. He deposed Jehoiachin and appointed Josiah’s last son, Mattaniah as king and named him Zedekiah.
After nine years of rule, Zedekiah foolishly chose to stop payment of tribute, just as his brother Jehoiakim had done. Nebuchadnezzar marched on Jerusalem and held the city under siege for two years before it fell finally in 586 BCE. The Babylonians destroyed the city and took everyone they could find as captives.
Jehoiachin spent thirty-seven years rotting in prison in Babylon, but his fate was better than Zedekiah’s. Zedekiah was forced to watch his children be killed, then he was blinded so the last thing he would see was their death.
This is the story of Josiah’s three sons – Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim and Mattaniah. None were fit to rule even the stump of the nation, which was basically only the city of Jerusalem itself. Josiah died young, but he had become king at the age of 8 and overseen massive reform. It was not that his sons did not have time to prepare to be king. They did. But they couldn’t save the kingdom.
Had Josiah lived for just a decade more, he might have had a worthy son. Ever indication seems to be that unlike his predecessors, Josiah had not appointed Jehoiakim or Jehoahaz as a co-ruler prior to his departure. This says that either Josiah had utter confidence in his abilities to defeat the Egyptians or he did not want to entrust the kingdom to any of his sons. (According to 2 Chronicles, Josiah had a fourth son Shallum who never ruled.)
The Kingdom that began with the warrior-poet David ended with a group of incompetent brothers.