13 “Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness,
his upper rooms by injustice,
making his own people work for nothing,
not paying them for their labor.
14 He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace
with spacious upper rooms.’
So he makes large windows in it,
panels it with cedar
and decorates it in red.
15 “Does it make you a king
to have more and more cedar?
Did not your father have food and drink?
He did what was right and just,
so all went well with him.
16 He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?”
declares the Lord.
17 “But your eyes and your heart
are set only on dishonest gain,
on shedding innocent blood
and on oppression and extortion.”
18 Therefore this is what the Lord says about Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah:
“They will not mourn for him:
‘Alas, my brother! Alas, my sister!’
They will not mourn for him:
‘Alas, my master! Alas, his splendor!’
19 He will have the burial of a donkey—
dragged away and thrown
outside the gates of Jerusalem.”
(Jeremiah 22:13-19 NIV)
Yesterday we looked at the first successor to King Josiah – his son Shallum (also known as Jehoahaz). Today we look at Shallum’s successor and brother Eliakim (also known as Jehoiakim).
2 Kings 23:31-37 tells the story of Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim. As we learned yesterday, Jehoahaz was appointed king by the people of Judah after Josiah died. When Pharoah Necho of Egypt took over as ruler of Judah, he quickly replaced Jehoahaz with Eliakim and changed his name to Jehoiakim (v. 34). Pharoah Necho also put a tax on Judah (specifically on Jehoiakim). Jehoiakim quickly passed the tax burden along to the people of Judah. And what was the final analysis of Jehoiakim? “And he did evil in the eyes of the Lord, just as his predecessors had done.” (v. 37)
In today’s passage, we see the word of the Lord come out very strongly against Jehoiakim. As we will learn later (chapter 36), Jehoiakim had no respect for the Lord or Jeremiah and treated Jeremiah with hatred and contempt. In verses 13 – 15a, the Lord calls out Jehoiakim’s injustices against his people. Jehoiakim forces his people to work for nothing (essentially treating them as slaves) and builds himself a lavish mansion lined with cedar wood. This palace was not just a beautiful place to live; this was a monument to himself, a house greater than any other king.
Verse 17 shows the extent to which Jehoiakim reached to fulfill his selfish desires – cheating, murder, slavery, and extortion. In contrast, the Lord points out Jehoiakim’s father Josiah as a positive example of how to be a king: Josiah administered righteousness (v. 15b) and justice (v. 16) all while living like a king.
Jehoiakim’s reign of tyranny and terror lasted eleven years. And what was his predicted outcome? Verses 18 – 19 inform us that no one will mourn for Jehoiakim and that his body will be dragged out of the city and dumped like the carcass of a dead animal to rot in the wilderness. There would be no flags flown at half-mast, no state funeral, not even a proper burial that a commoner would typically receive.
While Egyptian ruler Pharoah Necho may have conquered Judah and appointed Jehoiakim in place of his younger brother Jehoahaz, it was Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar who overtook Jerusalem and captured King Jehoiakim.
2 Chronicles 36:6 recounts the story of Jehoiakim’s defeat; historians tell us that after Jehoiakim had died, Nebuchadnezzar ordered that Jehoiakim’s body be tossed outside the city (thus fulfilling God’s prophecy).
While there is much to learn from Jehoiakim’s evil example and Josiah’s good example, we must be careful not to compare the kings of Jeremiah’s day directly with our modern-day governmental structures, no matter the nation in which we live. All the kings of Judah were from David’s family and appointed by God. This lineage was established from David through Josiah and ended with Jesus Christ the King, who now rules forever and ever.
So what are the learnings from this passage? The universal themes of justice and righteousness echo throughout Scriptures – from Jeremiah’s day to our day to the end of the world as we know it when Christ will come again to rule over all.
Justice and righteousness are not political viewpoints or leanings to the left or to the right to align with a particular party platform. Justice and righteousness are intrinsic to God’s character and stand independent of and over any and all political ideologies and persuasions.
May the words of James, the half-brother of Jesus remind us that justice and righteousness are just as much a part of living for the Lord today as they were in Jeremiah’s day:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
(James 1:27 NIV)