The Bible Story - Volume VI
Jehoiakim Buys Trouble AT THE TEMPLE young Michaiah heard Baruch read the scroll that he had written for Jeremiah. In it were dire warnings of trouble to fall on Judah just as had already fallen on Israel. Michaiah, grandson of the Levite prince Shaphan, who had been King Josiah's secretary and was friendly toward Jeremiah, ran to the palace and reported what he had heard. His audience was the assembled princes, that is, the chiefs from the tribes of Judah and Levi who had been chosen as the king's counselors. They were impressed.
"Right or wrong, this man is risking death and deserves an honorable hearing," one of the princes spoke out. "He should come here to read his scroll to us so we can hear all he had to say."
The princes agreed. Baruch was brought to them to read his scroll. They were so alarmed at what he read that they took the scroll and told Baruch to leave at once.
"Get back to Jeremiah and tell him to hide himself or get out of Jerusalem," they warned Baruch. "And go with him. The king may be very angry when he hears what you have written from the prophet's mouth!" They knew the false prophets and some priests would be angered by Baruch's reading all of Jeremiah's warning prophecies to the people at the temple. (Jeremiah 36:1-19.)
Scroll of Jeremiah Burned While Baruch hurried back to Jeremiah, the officials went to the king, hoping they could persuade him to prevent Jeremiah's enemies from seizing the prophet, whom most of them believed was a spokesman from God. On their way, they left Baruch's scroll in the office of Elishama, the king's secretary.
"This Jeremiah is too intent upon upsetting my people!" Jehoiakim muttered angrily after he heard what his visitors had to say. "I want that scroll brought here and read to me! Then I'll decide what to do, and I don't want any of you men trying to talk me into helping this troublemaker!"
A little later one of Jehoiakim's men started reading aloud from the scroll. The king sat glumly on a couch by a blazing open hearth fire, necessary to offset the chill of a winter day. The princes stood uncomfortably about, waiting to see how the king would react to what he was hearing.
The reader had gone through only three or four columns of Jeremiah's dreadful warnings when Jehoiakim sprang up and snatched the scroll from the surprised aide. With his other hand the king grabbed up the scribe's razor from a nearby table and angrily cut the scroll to throw it into the fire. Then three of the startled princes tried in vain to persuade the king not to burn the scroll.
"You could be burning the very words of God!" one of the three remonstrated.
The king wouldn't listen. "I said no!" he scowled. "This dismal thing deserves to be burned!"
The whole scroll was burned. (Jeremiah 36:20-25.) The three officials who were concerned about the scroll were Elnathan the son of Achbor and Gemariah the son of Shaphan (Achbor and Shaphan were conscientious officials whom good King Josiah had sent to confer with the prophetess Huldah — Jeremiah 36:12, 25; II Kings 22:12-14) and Delaiah the son of Shemaiah, who was probably the same Shemaiah who had contributed many cattle to Josiah's great Passover sixteen years earlier. (II Chronicles 35:9.) These men illustrate the importance of good parental example and training.
Disappointed, all the princes departed. Then Jehoiakim sent three of his officers to arrest Jeremiah and Baruch. But the two were nowhere to be found. God had caused them to be warned through the princes and had provided a secret place for hiding. (Jeremiah 36:26.)
While more and more men futilely searched for the prophet and his secretary, the king paced impatiently back and forth past the ashes of the scroll. By then he was more troubled than angry. He had heard read a prediction that the Babylonians (Chaldeans) would soon attack Jerusalem. This was the startling statement that had caused him to slash and burn the parchment.
Jeremiah and Baruch didn't waste their time while in hiding. At God's command they began to prepare another scroll. This one contained more details and added predictions, including one that had to do with Jehoiakim.
Jehoiakim's Penalty "Because the king of Judah has followed idolatry and has spurned my warnings, he shall soon become a victim of the Babylonians," God told Jeremiah. "Later, he shall come to a shameful death. For him there will be no royal burial. His body shall lie outside the walls to be covered by frost at night and bloated by festering heat in the daytime. I shall also punish his descendants, his servants and all the people of Judah who have refused to listen to me." (Jeremiah 36:27-32.)
For a long time the prophet and his secretary managed to remain concealed from the king's police. When the added prophecy concerning his death eventually reached Jehoiakim, he was angrier than ever and sent his men even outside of Jerusalem to seek for Jeremiah and Baruch.
God had said it would happen. So it occurred one day that part of the army of Babylon, commanded by one of King Nebuchadnezzar's generals, set out for Judah.
When Jehoiakim heard that troops, chariots and cavalry were pouring across the Jordan River in the region of Jericho, he became undignifiedly excited.
"Send every man to his station on the wall fortifications!" he shakily ordered his officers. "These pagan impostors can perhaps overrun other cities of Judah, but don't let them take Jerusalem!"
Jehoiakim didn't attempt any defense of the towns, villages and farms in the path of the approaching enemy. He feared that Judah's army would be defeated, leaving Jerusalem without enough soldiers to fully man the gates and walls.
From the vantage point of the walls, the king and his men could see the Babylonians long before they arrived. As they spread out around the city, it appeared that their numbers were less than had been reported crossing the Jordan.
"This is their whole army?" Jehoiakim asked. "Surely not, sir," one of the officers answered. "Most of it is probably still in Babylon. And there could be many thousands of them concealed behind the hills off to the north."
Just as Jehoiakim was thinking that his army could probably defeat the Babylonians who were within sight, a group of enemy officers rode up perilously close to the archer-lined wall in which were the main gates.
"We bring a message from the mighty King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon!" one of them yelled in Hebrew. "Our king has ordered us to deliver it directly to Jehoiakim, your king! Either open the gates immediately to let us in or send out your king with any and all he wishes to accompany him!"
"Our king has nothing to discuss with invaders!" a Jewish spokesman shouted back from the wall a few minutes later.
"By that you are admitting your king is a coward who is a king over a nation of cowards!" the Babylonian bellowed back.
"We should have gone out to meet these dogs before they reached Judah!" Jehoiakim angrily muttered to his officers.
To Jehoiakim's growing frustration, the Babylonian continued his insults. Even people of the city who were out of range of his voice learned what he was saying almost as soon as he said it.
Foolish Bravado "Call my best warriors to accompany me!" the king of Judah growled wrathfully. "I'll show my people that I have a few words to say to these heathen!"
"Your words will CERTAINLY be few if you do that!" an officer warned him. "Surely you aren't about to fall for their scheme to get the gates open or capture you!"
"Just do as I tell you!" Jehoiakim snapped, glaring. "I'll go out only a short way. If they dare approach, my archers and lancers will bury them in spears and arrows!"
In spite of reminders from other officers that Jerusalem might be lost if the gates were opened, Jehoiakim was intent on having his way. To the gratification and surprise of the enemy, the main gates of Jerusalem swung inward. Out rode Jehoiakim on a handsome charger, surrounded closely by soldiers bristling with bows, spears and swords. The moment they were outside the wall, the gates slammed shut behind them and the huge bars thudded into place.
Instantly Jehoiakim experienced a frantic feeling of being cut off from safety. He was more aware of it when he heard the swiftly increasing sound of horses' hoofs. Suddenly all was confusion as he was knocked off his mount when his men, grouped too closely around him, wildly struggled for room in which to wield their weapons on the Babylonian cavalrymen who rushed them.
As the king of Judah regained his senses, he gradually realized that he was among strangers. There were voices babbling in a language he couldn't understand, and the painful pressure of chains around his wrists, ankles and neck. Smirking, unfriendly faces were poised over him.
"You are fortunate to be alive — perhaps," one of the faces told him in Hebrew. "Some of the soldiers with you were killed by your own archers and spearmen on the wall. Some of my men lost their lives too, but you owe your life to my men who managed to bring you to this tent."
"Don't assume that I'm thankful to be your prisoner," Jehoiakim muttered bitterly. "Whatever it is that you require of Judah can be discussed after I'm freed from these chains and returned safely inside Jerusalem. Otherwise, my city will disgorge a horde of fighting men who will wipe you out!"
"I can't believe that," the Babylonian general answered, while his officers grinned knowingly. "While you were unconscious, we threatened to kill you unless Jerusalem's gates were opened to us. There was no response. Those chains will remain on you during our trip back to Babylon. There you can explain to our king why you've been paying tribute to a lesser nation like Egypt instead of to Babylon. You'll have about two months and hundreds of miles to think up some good answers."
That night the misery from his chains convinced Jehoiakim that he wouldn't be able to bear weeks of such discomfort. Next morning he asked for a chance to talk to the Babylonian commander, who received him coldly. (II Chronicles 36:5-6.)
"If you're here to waste my time asking for some favor, forget it," the Babylonian advised.
False Peace Purchased "I'm here to suggest that we exchange favors," the king said. "If you will release me to return safely inside Jerusalem, I will give you any tribute for as long as you demand it."
"In that event, there would be no more tribute to Egypt," the commander finally replied. "You would have to swear full allegiance to Babylon!"
This Jehoiakim eagerly did, but his eagerness faded when the commander stated what Babylon would require as a regular tribute. The king doubted that he would be able to meet such heavy demands for very long, but he promised to comply because his life was at stake.
"You have made your solemn commitments," the commander reminded Jehoiakim. "Be warned now that if you fail in this matter, my king will come to Judah to exact payment in the form of ravaged cities and many Jewish lives! I shall carry out our first part of the agreement by freeing you of your shackles."
At a signal from their commander, Jehoiakim's guards cut his chains. As they rattled to the floor, the king felt that he could breathe freely for the first time in many hours.
"And now for our next part of the agreement," the Babylonian continued. "That is to depart from your land and allow you to return inside your city. That we shall do as soon as you arrange to get together the first tribute payment and have it delivered to us here where our tents are pitched."
Jehoiakim was stunned. He had believed that Judah would deliver the first payment by caravan some days later. Getting the required items together on such short notice was impossible.
"Why do you look so startled?" the Babylonian inquired, grinning slightly because of Jehoiakim's obvious misery. "Aren't you prepared to deliver it?"
"Not right now. It would take several days to obtain some of the items from scattered towns and farms," Jehoiakim explained.
"Then for this time we'll overlook things such as cattle and sheep and foodstuffs and take the total amount in gold, silver and brass. Surely you can easily obtain those items in your great city."
"Let me return there safely, and I'll see that the required amount is brought out to you." Jehoiakim said shakily, knowing that he was in for much more trouble if the commander wouldn't agree.
"If it isn't here by noon, my men will spread over your land and we'll take it for ourselves by the sword!" the commander warned, motioning for his prisoner to leave.
Tremendously relieved, but smarting under the indignity of having to hike, unescorted, back to Jerusalem's gates, Jehoiakim was further humiliated when he had to go to some length to identify himself to guards before thousands of his people on the walls. Once he was safely inside, there was cheering and applause because of his return. But the people showed little enthusiasm when Jehoiakim told them of his problem.