The Word Made Fresh
1The LORD said, “Go down to the palace of the king of Judah and announce this message: 2“Listen to the word of the LORD, you king of Judah who sits on the throne of David, and your servants and everyone who enters these gates. 3The LORD commands you to do what is right and fair. Rescue the ones who are oppressed by those in power. Don’t rob or mistreat refugees, orphans, and widows. Don’t spill the blood of those who are innocent in this place. 4If you obey this, then kings who occupy the throne of David will come through these gates with chariots and horses, followed by their servants and other people. 5But if you don’t obey this, I swear by my name, declares the LORD, that this place will be nothing but ruins.
6The LORD makes this proclamation concerning the palace of the king of Judah:
Although you are like Gilead to me, or like the highlands of Lebanon,
I will turn you into a desert with empty cities.
7I will summon enemies to destroy you.
They will use their weapons against you,
and they will cut down your best cedar trees
and throw them onto the fire.
8People from other nations will pass by this city and ask, “Why has the LORD destroyed a great city like this one?” 9And the answer will be, “Because they abandoned the agreement with the LORD their God and worshiped and served other gods.”
10Don’t weep, don’t mourn for the dead.
Instead, weep for the one who has left you
and will never return to this, his native soil.
11This is what the LORD says about Shallum, son of Judah’s King Josiah, who succeeded his father Josiah as king, but has now gone and will never return. 12He will die where he has been exiled, and he will never see this land again.
13How terrible it will be for Jehoiakim,
whose reign has been built on corruption
and his government departments with injustice,
for he works his own citizens for nothing,
refusing to pay them what they have earned.
14The king says, “I will build myself a great palace.
It will have large upper rooms with ornate windows,
cedar paneling and rich red decorations.”
15Is this what you think being a king is all about –
having more cedar than anyone else?
Didn’t your father have plenty to eat and drink
and still did what was right and just?
And it went well for him!
16He defended the rights of those who are poor and needy,
and his kingdom fared well.
Isn’t that what it really means to know me?
17But you! You set your eyes and your heart on nothing but riches,
and you harm the innocent and are cruel to them.
You oppress your subjects.
18Therefore, this is what the LORD says about Jehoiakim,
son of King Josiah of Judah:
they won’t grieve for him,
saying, “Oh, my brother! Oh, my sister!”
Or “Oh, my master, who rules in majesty!”
19Instead, they’ll give him a donkey’s burial.
They’ll drag his body outside the gates of Jerusalem
and dump it there.
20Go up to Lebanon and cry.
Lift up your voice in Bashan.
Cry out from Abarim,
because all your lovers have been violated.
21When you were safe and secure I spoke to you,
but you refused to listen.
You have been that way,
refusing to hear my words, since your youth.
22Your shepherds will be tossed into the wind,
and your lovers will be taken into exile.
You will be embarrassed and humiliated
because of your wickedness.
23You who live in Lebanon surrounded by cedar trees,
who will take pity on you when you are in terrible pain
as if you were giving birth?
24As surely as I live, says the Lord, even if Jeconiah, Jehoiakim’s son from Judah, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still send you away from there. 25I would surrender you to those who want to kill you, to those whom you fear, even to Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. 26I will banish you and your mother to a faraway land, and both of you will die there. 27You will never return to the land you long for.
28Isn’t this man, Jehoiachin, nothing more than a broken pot,
defiled and cast out?
Why do you think he and his children have been thrown out
and cast away into a land he knows nothing about?
29Land! Land! Land! Hear the word of the LORD:
30The LORD says this man has no children and will not prosper,
no matter how long he lives.
None of his children will occupy David’s throne and rule Judah.
1-12: Chapter 22 goes back about 22 years to the end of the reign of Josiah. Josiah was killed in a battle with Pharaoh Neco of Egypt in 609 B.C. (2 Kings 23:29). Josiah, according to the earlier accounts, was succeeded by his son Jehoahaz (2 Kings 23:30), not Shallum. Shallum was Josiah’s 4th son (1 Chronicles 3:15). Other than this mention, which is probably mistaken, there are no records to indicate that Shallum ever ruled. Johoahaz, however, fits the description we have in verse 11, which tells us that Josiah’s son who succeeded him was carried away and never returned: Jehoahaz only ruled for 3 months before Pharaoh Neco deposed him and carried him off to Egypt, where he died (2 Kings 23:31-34).
It may be possible, then, to date this chapter to the last months of the year 609 B.C. Jeremiah is speaking out a warning to Josiah’s successors that they will come to a bad end unless they “act with justice and righteousness.” It is a time of great instability. Jehoahaz ruled 3 months. Jehoiakim ruled 11 years. Jehoiachin ruled 3 months, and finally Zedekiah ruled for 11 years, all under Babylonian administration, and then Judah and Jerusalem were no more.
13-19: Jeremiah seems to be taking aim at the two men who immediately followed the good king Josiah – Jehoahaz (or Shallum?) and now Jehoiakim (verse 18), who were brothers, both of them sons of Josiah. He obviously has no respect for Jehoiakim, sarcastically asking him if he is a king because he has more cedar than anyone else. In contrast his father Josiah “did justice and righteousness” and as a result “it was well with him.”
By the way (and I hate to bog you down with so much history here, but it is fascinating to me), when Matthew traces the genealogy of Jesus, he names Josiah but skips the next generation and doesn’t mention Jehoiakim but jumps to his son Jehoiachin (see Matthew 1:11, where he is called by his other name, Jeconiah). Jehoiachin was not a great king. His reign only lasted 3 months, but he had the good sense to simply surrender to Nebuchadnezzar, after which he was taken to Babylon as a captive but later released from prison and became an honored guest at Nebuchadnezzar’s table (2 Kings 24:10-12, 25:27-28).
20-23: Lebanon, Bashan, and Abarim are all high mountain ranges north, northeast, and south of Jerusalem. Jeremiah taunts the king and the leaders, telling them to cry for help from their “lovers” — Egypt and Assyria, the nations they had in the past called on for help against their enemies instead of relying on God. They wouldn’t listen to God, so they ought to beg these former allies for help, he says. Unfortunately, he tells them, these “lovers” are also now captives: Egypt and Assyria have been supplanted as world powers by the Babylonians.
24-30: A dirge for Judah: Jeconiah (alias Jehoiachin) will be taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar (sorry I gave that away in the last paragraph). He will never return. Jeremiah doesn’t think much of Jeconiah (verse 18), but he was very young, either eighteen (2 Kings 24:8) or eight (2 Chronicles 36:9) years old. Jeremiah casts him as childless, and prophesies that none of his children will become king, which turned out to be true, of course.
“O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” (Sir Walter Scott, 1808). It seems that Jeremiah was dealing with a number of people who were trying to deceive the people of Judah and God (imagine that!). “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (Lord John Acton, 1887). That sentiment has proven true over and over. Living honestly under God is the best protection against becoming corrupt.