Jehoiakim, The Vassal Of Nebuchadnezzar, King Of Babylon (606-603)
This new Babylonian empire lasted for a relatively short time, only eighty years in round figures (616-539). The forty-two years of Nebuchadnezzar's reign (604-562) occupied well over half of this period. He was a military genius who distinguished himself by extraordinary exploits throughout the Middle East, but he was also an excellent administrator and a tireless builder: he was able, in fact, to transform his capital city of Babylon into one of the finest cities of the ancient world. In addition, his haughty authoritarianism did not allow his satellite states to take the slightest liberty. In view of the rather turbulent character of the sovereigns of Yahudah conflicts seemed inevitable in the near future. The tragedy was, in the circumstances, that the military party in Yerusalem did not realize that a declaration of war on this huge empire was nothing less than absolute suicide.
It might have been hoped that Yahudah would be integrated into the new political organization without too much difficulty. Jehoiakim seemed disposed to accept the new state of affairs, and as a matter of fact there was a brief period of peace in Yahudah.
Jehoiakim did what was displeasing to YAHWEH
The future of Yahwism, nonetheless, gave cause for disquiet. Jehoiakim did what is displeasing to YAHWEH, just as his ancestors had done (2 Melechim 23:37), notes the Scriptural writer. The prophet YermeYah informs us more explicitly about the serious dangers threatening the national religion in the near future. They can be classified under three principal categories -syncretism, formalism, fetishism.
Syncretism: the Judaeans did not reject the worship of YAHWEH, but they combined with it the worship given to other gods, to the Baals, Ashtoreth, the idols with human or animal faces.
YAHWEH was hardly thought of
Formalism: scarcely anyone at the time of Jehoiakim thought of basing their conduct on the 'Second Law' revealed to his people by Josiah hardly twenty years previously. Believing in their heart, the conversation of YAHWEH's faithful follower with HIM, intimate, personal prayer, save for a few exceptions, were hardly thought of. It was very simple and far more practical to confine their belief to the ancient sacrificial rite; the individual placed on the altar the usual offering (an animal or a symbolic part of the harvest) and he then thought that YAHWEH was strictly obliged to grant what he asked. It was the still living memory of a set apart rite which originated at a remote period. What was important in the circumstances was the kind of animal offered, its age and physical condition and, of course, the exact performance of the complicated rites. It seemed as if the people were still in the centuries of the times before Abraham when the shepherds of the plains offered their sacrifices before their primitive idols.
Fetishism: regarding his personal future and that of his nation the Judaean was quite without misgivings. In the capital city of Yerusalem stood the Tabernacle where YAHWEH dwelt. It was a shrine regarded as inviolable. It was unthinkable that an enemy of the Chosen People should capture the City of David and penetrate into YAHWEH's tabernacle.
That was the position: false views and very dangerous ones, combined with a childish theology. YermeYah opposed these errors with all his strength, denouncing them with great vehemence.
YermeYah had stood out as the enthusiastic collaborator of Josiah in his great spiritual reform; he now showed himself the declared opponent of the successors of this same Josiah. He spoke against all these sovereigns who were leading the country to disaster, attacking their baleful policies. YermeYah was a man of affectionate nature who would have liked a calm and untroubled life, and yet the whole time he was sent by YAHWEH to fight against kings, kohens and the people. And so his meditations from time to time are punctuated with despair: 'A curse on the day when I was born' (Jer. 20:14).
The struggle between king Jehoiakim and the prophet YermeYah
In the fourth year of Jehoiakim's reign (that is, in 605) the struggle between the young king and the prophet began. YermeYah had decided to take a scroll and write on it all the prophecies that he had so far pronounced against Yerusalem. Then he ordered his secretary, Baruch, to go and read this scroll, probably not very pleasant hearing for the inhabitants of Yerusalem, before the people assembled in the Tabernacle for a festival. The effect was overwhelming; all present were filled with terror. The officials present thought that the scroll should be taken to the king and he ordered that it should be read to him. It was wintertime -the month of Chislev, which corresponds to December -and the king was sitting by a brazier. When he had heard three or four columns of these prophecies, Jehoiakim, filled with rage, began to cut the scroll in pieces with a knife and then throw the pieces angrily into the fire.
At the end the whole of the manuscript was burned. Beside himself, Jehoiakim ordered the arrest of YermeYah and Baruch, but they had prudently taken flight. It was a bad beginning to the relationship between the king and the prophet.
For three years (605-602) Jehoiakim gave every appearance of being Nebuchadnezzar's eager and respectful vassal. In reality he was secretly plotting with Egypt which, as usual, was continually urging Yahudah to throw off the Babylonian yoke. YermeYah was well aware of these secret maneuvers and thought them extremely dangerous.
Warmongers for open rebellion and those who were for peace
Thus two parties were in confrontation in Yerusalem. There were the warmongers, led by the king himself, who impatiently awaited the favourable moment for open rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar; there were those who were for peace, for whom YermeYah was the untiring and vehement spokesman.
The prophet was sure that he would never convince the king. Moreover the die was cast. YAHWEH had decided to mete out exemplary punishment on the king who had refused to heed the spiritual warnings of YAHWEH's envoy and was determined to follow other gods. As a result of this, YermeYah openly declared, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, would be sent by YAHWEH to Yerusalem: The whole land of Yahudah shall be devastated and reduced to a desert, while they will stay in slavery among the nations for seventy years (Jer. 25:11). Only when the seventy years granted to Babylon are over, will I visit you. (Jer. 29:10). The prophecy was indeed a terrible one.
YermeYah's campaign against any warlike action was illustrated by picturesque examples and symbolic actions intended to strike the imagination of his hearers. One day, probably in about 605, we find him going down to a potter's house while the latter was working at the wheel. The prophet then told his hearer this fable: when the vessel came out wrong from the hands of the potter he broke and threw it away for scrap. Then he begins another. This is how YAHWEH will act if the Chosen People, the work of YAHWEH, do not mend its ways (Jer. 18). On another occasion, also about 605, he gathered together a small group in which were some of the kohens of the Tabernacle; the party went down towards one of the gates of the city called the Potsherd’s gate. There, in the name of YAHWEH of Yisrael, YermeYah reminded them of the iniquities committed by Yahudah; incense offered to foreign gods, the abandonment of the worship of YAHWEH, the sacrifice of innocent children in the flames. He then foretold the punishment to come: I [YAHWEH speaking through the mouth of his prophet] will make this city a desolation, a derision; I will make them eat the flesh of their own sons and daughters: they shall eat each other during the siege, in the shortage to which their enemies in their determination to kill them will reduce them.' In conclusion the prophet took an earthenware jug which he had brought with him and broke it: it was thus that Yerusalem would be destroyed.
YermeYah went at once to the court of the Tabernacle where he spoke sharply to the people: 'YAHWEH Sabaoth, the Mighty One of Yisrael, says this, "Yes, I am going to bring down every disaster I have threatened on this city'" (Jer. 19).
YermeYah had gone too far. The kohen Pashhur, who was in charge of the police of the Tabernacle, ordered the arrest of the prophet; then he had him beaten and put in stocks at the Gate of Benjamin, in which ignominious position he remained until next day. But directly he was set free YermeYah continued his frightening predictions: the City of David and all Yahudah would fall into the hands of the king of Babylon; Pashhur and his minions would be deported to the banks of the Euphrates and they would never return from this far-off country (Jer. 20).
Baruch son of Neriah duly carried out the order that the prophet YermeYah had given him, to read all the words of YAHWEH from the book in his Tabernacle. He read the words of YermeYah from the book. where all the people could hear. YermeYah 36:8-10
The word that was addressed to YermeYah by YAHWEH, 'Get up and make your way down to the potter's house. ' And whenever the vessel he was making came out wrong. he would start afresh and work it into another vessel. 'House of Yisrael, can not I do to you what this potter does? it is YAHWEH who speaks. Yes, as clay is in the potter's hand, so you are in mine, House of Yisrael.' YermeYah 18:1-6
These are the words of the book written in Babylon by Baruch son of Neraiah, son of Mahseiah, son of Zedekiah, son of Hasadiah, son of Hilkiah, in the fifth year, on the seventh day of the month, at the time when the Chaldaeans captured Yerusalem and burned it down. Baruch 1:1-2