Lehi and Zedekiah

In a previous post, it was established that Zedekiah began his reign two years previous to the death of his father, Josiah. That post dealt mainly with the evidence for this. This post is about what this means for Lehi and Nephi and the narrative of the Book of Mormon.

First, time frame. Josiah died around 610/609 BC. This would place the first year of Zedekiah as 612/611 BC. Lehi left Jerusalem 600 years before the birth of Christ. The exact year of Christ’s birth is disputed by scholars, both religious and secular, but, in my opinion, the most likely year is 4/5 BC. This would give a departure year of 604/605 BC. That is to say, Lehi likely had at least 6 years of preaching in Jerusalem before leaving forever. 6 years of which we have no story, for Nephi did not record any story (except in the barest of outlines), and Mormon’s abridgment was lost as part of the 116 pages.

How did people react to his preaching? Nobody listened. Not even his own family. The Jews in Jerusalem sought to take away his life (1 Nephi 1:20), and his two eldest sons, Laman and Lemuel, were little different (1 Nephi 2:12-13). Laman and Lemuel would never accept his teachings. Lehi’s two other sons, Nephi and Sam, did not believe at any point during these years in Jerusalem. It appears that Sariah did not believe until after her sons returned carrying the plates of brass (1 Nephi 5:1-2, 8).

I say that Nephi did not believe during that period based on the timing of his conversion account. In 1 Nephi 2:16, Nephi writes that he did “cry unto the Lord” and the Lord “did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father.” The fact that his heart needed softening implies that it was hardened, and did not believe his father’s words prior to this point. ┬áNephi waited until after telling us about Lehi’s departure into the wilderness before providing this brief account. It would appear that this experience occurred while they were living in the wilderness, on the run from those who would kill Lehi. He had been preaching for many years, enduring many things, from mockery to death threats, but nobody believed him. His family obeyed him when he took them into the wilderness, but this was out of a sense of duty and obedience to their father, not because they believed anything he said. Small wonder that Lehi would be “exceedingly glad” when he heard Nephi say “I will go and do…” (1 Nephi 3:7-8).

All of this raises another question: How old were Nephi and his brothers when Lehi received his first vision? We know that Nephi was the youngest of the four, and he tells us that he was not just young, but “exceedingly young” (1 Nephi 2:16). How young is that? And is it related to why Nephi did not obtain a testimony prior to their departure into the wilderness? Lehi had been teaching his family the things he had seen in vision for several years by that point, yet it was not until they left that Nephi cried unto the Lord and had his heart softened. Perhaps, because of the childishness of his youth, although he desired to know the things of God (1 Nephi 2:16), he did not worry too much about it. When Lehi told his family they needed to depart into the wilderness, claiming that this was what God had ordered him to do, Nephi began to worry about these things. He began to take these things seriously, and he began to seek the Lord. Having been taught these things for what may have been the majority of his life certainly helped.

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Nephi and Zedekiah

What better place to start than at the beginning? Not the beginning of my journey, but that of the Book of Mormon. As his record begins, he mentions that many prophets began to prophesy “in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah”, prophesying destruction unless the people repent. (1 Nephi 1:4.) Often, critics of the Church will say that this is an obvious mistake, for, they say, in the Bible, Zedekiah does not start his reign until after the Babylonians destroy Jerusalem the first time. If Jerusalem had already been destroyed, how can it be that Laman and Lemuel could not believe that it was possible for Jerusalem to be destroyed? (1 Nephi 2:12-13.) Some also point out that Lehi has wealth (1 Nephi 3:16), something that would seem odd, if not impossible, after the destruction of Jerusalem. Is this proof that the Book of Mormon is false?

No.

If anything, this is proof in favor of the Book of Mormon. First, it must be recognized that not all of the kings of Israel and Judah reigned alone. Sometimes, a co-regent was appointed. In the records that have been preserved, there is no consistent way of recording such a reign. Sometimes, the total years of a king include his period as co-regent, and sometimes it does not. Other anomalies appear sometimes. A more thorough discussion of these anomalies may come up in a future post; suffice it to say that such does occur, and, I would argue, occurs with the reign of Zedekiah.

First, the narrative straight from 2 Kings chapters 23 and 24:

King Josiah dies, and the people anoint his son Jehoahaz as king.

Jehoahaz was 23 when he started his reign, and he reigned for 3 months before being taken captive into Egypt by Pharaoh-Necho, who places Eliakim/Jehoiakim, another son of Josiah, upon the throne.

Jehoiakim was 25 when he started his reign, and he reigned for 11 years. His rebelled against his feudal lord Nebuchadnezzar, who then destroyed Judah according to the prophesies. Jehoiakim is slaim by Nebuchadnezzar, and the people place his son Jehoiachin upon the throne.

Jehoiachin was 18 when he started his reign, and he reigned 3 months. Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin into captivity, and placed Mattaniah/Zedekiah, another son of Josiah, upon the throne.

Zedekiah was 21 when he began his reign, and he reigned 11 years, ending when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem a second time. His sons were slain, and Zedekiah was carried captive into Babylon.

Now, when this is the only information available, it would appear that Zedekiah started his reign after Jerusalem was destroyed. But the ages of the sons of Josiah are very interesting: they all started their reign in their 20s, despite one of them allegedly starting his reign 11 years after the previous one. Was Zedekiah really that many years younger than his brother Jehoiakim?

1 Chronicles 3:15 sheds some light on this:

And the sons of Josiah were, the firstborn Johanan, the second Jehoiakim, the third Zedekiah, the fourth Shallum.

Jehoiakim is definitely older than Zedekiah, according to the Bible, but who is Jehoahaz, the first of the sons of Josiah to reign? If the account in 2 Kings is to be believed, then Jehoahaz is younger than Jehoiakim by up to 2 years. This would suggest that Jehoahaz is the same as Shallum. This supposition is supported by Jeremiah 22:11-12.

For thus saith the Lord touching Shallum the son of Josiah king of Judah, which reigned instead of Josiah his father, which went forth out of this place: He shall not return thither any more; But he shall die in the place whither they have led him captive, and shall see this land no more.

The only other son of Josiah taken into captivity was Zedekiah himself, but this prophetic statement was given by Jeremiah to a reigning king, meaning Jehoahaz is the only possible identity for Shallum. The LDS Bible Dictionary entry for Shallum also states that he is one and the same as Jehoahaz.

What do we have now? We now have the ages of three of the sons of Josiah at the time they began to reign in Jerusalem, along with their birth order:

Oldest: Eliakim/Jehoiakim 25

Next oldest: Mattaniah/Zedekiah 21

Youngest: Jehoahaz/Shallum 23

These ages and birth order only makes sense if Zedekiah began his reign at least two years before the beginning of the reign of Jehoahaz, which would make him a co-regent with his father Josiah. This is also supported by the reference to the people anointing Jehoahaz, possibly suggesting a rebellion against Zedekiah.

Where does this leave Nephi and the Book of Mormon? The first year of the reign of Zedekiah is now placed at around 2 years before the death of Josiah. The first destruction of Jerusalem occurred more than a decade later, meaning there is no conflict with the apparent prosperity of Jerusalem in the beginning part of 1 Nephi and Biblical chronology.

More can be said about the implications thereof, but this is sufficient for now.