Question: "When and how was Judah conquered by the Babylonians?"
Answer: During the reign of King Jehoiakim, 635—597 BC, “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years. Then he turned and rebelled against him” (2 Kings 24:1). Nebuchadnezzar quelled the rebellion and took prisoners back to Babylon—Daniel and his three friends among them. After Jehoiakim’s death, his 18-year-old son, Jehoiachin, became king, reigning for three months and doing evil in God’s sight (verses 8–9).
During Jehoiachin’s reign, King Nebuchadnezzar besieged the city of Jerusalem. Jehoiachin gave himself up, and we have the following report: “The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign and carried off all the treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the LORD, which Solomon king of Israel had made, as the LORD had foretold. He carried away all Jerusalem and all the officials and all the mighty men of valor, 10,000 captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths. None remained, except the poorest people of the land” (verses 11–14). This second deportation of Jews to Babylon included the priest Ezekiel, who later wrote the book that bears his name.
The nation of Judah would continue to exist under Babylonian rule with King Zedekiah installed in Jerusalem as a puppet king. But Zedekiah, too, rebelled, and “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came with all his army against Jerusalem and laid siege to it. And they built siegeworks all around it. So the city was besieged till the eleventh year of King Zedekiah” (2 Kings 25:1–2).
The city fell in 597 BC: “He burned the house of the LORD and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem. And the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the multitude, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile. But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and plowmen” (verses 9–12).
Gedaliah was placed in charge as a governor in Judah (2 Kings 25:22). He was killed seven months later, causing many of the remaining Jews to flee to Egypt in fear of their lives (verse 26). This group of refugees included the prophet Jeremiah, who was forced against his will to go to Egypt.
Second Kings ends with King Jehoiachin being released from prison in Babylon and given freedom to dine at the king’s table in Babylon. Though originally a king, Jehoiachin became a foreign prisoner of war and was thankful to be released from prison. These dire events had all been predicted by God’s prophets. The Jews’ exile in Babylon lasted for 70 years, as Jeremiah predicted (Jeremiah 25:12). Then the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem and start rebuilding. That period of history is described in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.