Jeremiah 22:20-23

20 “Go up to Lebanon and cry out,
    let your voice be heard in Bashan,
cry out from Abarim,
    for all your allies are crushed.
21 I warned you when you felt secure,
    but you said, ‘I will not listen!’
This has been your way from your youth;
    you have not obeyed me.
22 The wind will drive all your shepherds away,
    and your allies will go into exile.
Then you will be ashamed and disgraced
    because of all your wickedness.
23 You who live in ‘Lebanon,’
    who are nestled in cedar buildings,
how you will groan when pangs come upon you,
    pain like that of a woman in labor!
(Jeremiah 22:20-23 NIV)

In previous passages, we have seen the Lord’s pronouncements against former kings of Judah:  to all the kings of Judah in general (vv. 1-9), to Shallum (Jehoahaz) (vv. 10-12) and Eliakim (Jehoiakim) (vv. 13-19) so far.

At first glance, it may appear that in today’s text, the Lord is still talking about Jehoiakim since He has not called out another king’s name.  Upon further investigation, we discover that the Lord is not talking about a person, but a place:  Jerusalem.

Hebrew scholars tell us that all the pronouns (“your” and “you”) and verbs in this section are feminine, which in Hebrew literature refers to a city (unless they specifically call out a woman by name).

Verse 20 tells Jerusalem to go to three historical places to cry out for help:

  • Lebanon (with all its abundant forest resources )
  • Bashan (with all its rich pasturelands)
  • Abarim (the mountain range in Moab, most notably Mount Nebo, where Moses saw the Promised Land from afar before he died).

None of these places (or the resources or the people associated with them) could save Jerusalem from the Lord’s discipline.

Scholars also point out that today’s text fits chronologically during the latter years of King Jehoiakim’s reign, and before the ascension of Jehoiakim’s son, King Jehoiachin, to power.  When we looked at 2 Kings 23:31-37 as part of the backdrop of history, we saw that Pharoah Necho of Egypt put Jehoiakim in authority.  We also saw that Jehoiakim was not a patriot and chose to serve his master Pharoah Necho rather than the Lord or his country.

When we turn the chapter and look at 2 Kings 24:1-7, we see that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invades Judah and takes it away from Pharoah Necho of Egypt.  King Jehoiakim no longer had his political allies and tried in vain to rebel against Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

The Lord had warned the rulers not to make allies (v. 20) with human leaders (13:20-27) but reconcile with Him instead.  Verses 20cd- 21 point out that these former allies would not last; they would at best be neutral or unable to help; at worst, they would turn against Jerusalem and become her enemies.

Verses 22 – 23 are reminiscent of 13:20-27; when her allies are all gone, Jerusalem will be all alone, like a woman in labor without a midwife or husband to help her give birth.  With no political allies and no buffer of Judean land around her, Jerusalem found herself on her own against her attackers.

May we remember that our strength comes not from our power, or from alliances with others, but from the Lord our God.  In our weakness, He becomes our strength, our power, and our defender.

May we agree with King David that the Lord disciplines those He loves and that His discipline leads us back into right relationship with Him if we will but humble ourselves before Him:

65 Do good to your servant
    according to your word, Lord.
66 Teach me knowledge and good judgment,
    for I trust your commands.
67 Before I was afflicted I went astray,
    but now I obey your word.
68 You are good, and what you do is good;
    teach me your decrees.
69 Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies,
    I keep your precepts with all my heart.
70 Their hearts are callous and unfeeling,
    but I delight in your law.
71 It was good for me to be afflicted
    so that I might learn your decrees.
72 The law from your mouth is more precious to me
    than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.
(Psalm 119:65-72 NIV, underlines mine)