Vol. 8, No. 10
Copyright © James B. Jordan 1996
by James B. Jordan
Jeremiah and the Beginning of Jehoiakim’s Reign
Now comes Jeremiah, at the beginning of Jehoiakim’s reign, with similar words (Jeremiah 26). Harken to God’s law, he said, or else God will destroy the Temple the same way He sent the Philistines to tear down the Tabernacle at Shiloh (Jeremiah 26:6; 1 Samuel 4). Jeremiah 7:1-15 seems to provide the gist of this sermon. Possibly all of Jeremiah 7-10 is the sermon in full.
The response to Jeremiah’s sermon was interesting. The people, priests, and other prophets called for his death. They dragged him before a court of princes and officials. But after Jeremiah gave his defense the people changed sides, and the princes and officials decided to let him go. Then some of the older men spoke up and said that Jeremiah had spoken wisely and that the people should listen to him. These were the men who had participated in Josiah’s reforms, and were now concerned to see them being undone. At the same time, however, King Jehoiakim and his officials put to death another righteous prophet, Uriah.
Coming when it did, Jeremiah’s sermon warned the nation that religious and political nationalism was not the answer. They needed to serve Yahweh. As the older generation of Josiah’s reformation died off, however, fewer and fewer people listened to the truth.
For three years Jehoiakim served Neco of Egypt, but then in the spring of 605 BC, in Jehoiakim’s third year, Nebuchadnezzar defeated Egypt at Carchemish and conquered Palestine. Shortly thereafter, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim (which began in October of 605 BC), Jerem-iah told the people that God had appointed Nebuchadnezzar king of kings, and that all the nations including Israel were to serve him (Jeremiah 25). He began his message by telling the people that he and other prophets had been preaching to them for 23 years, but that they had not listened. As a result, they were going to be given to judgment. Now, we have seen that Josiah’s reformation did take place, so some of the people did listen. We have also seen, however, that the icon worshippers of the high places did not accept the reformation, and that the rich and powerful were only waiting for an opportunity to begin abusing their power again. Thus, the poorer country people still harbored their images, and the rich city people still lusted for wealth and power. By and large, the people had not really listened.
Jeremiah lists the nations that will be given to Nebuchadnezzar in 25:18-26. In Jeremiah 46-49 he expands on this threat in letters sent to all these nations at this time. Egypt he mocks for their recent defeat at Carchemish, and he tells them that they will not be able to escape a full conquest by Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 46). This message is discussed more fully below.
He sends a letter to the Philistines also (Jeremiah 47). In a few years, in 601 BC, Pharaoh Neco will temporarily hold off Nebuchadnezzar and will conquer Gaza. But he will not hold it, and the Babylonians will take Philistia, Tyre, and Sidon.
Moab, Ammon, Edom, Syria, and the descendants of Ishmael (Kedar) are next informed that Babylon will raze them and destroy their gods (48:149:33). Finally there is a prophecy against Elam (the Medes), but since Babylon did not war against them, the reference is not to Babylon. This prophecy is fulfilled in the book of Esther (49:34-39).
Toward the end of Jehoiakim’s fourth year, in the summer of 604 BC, Jeremiah was told by Yahweh to write up all his previous prophecies into a book and give them to King Jehoiakim (36:1-3). It seems that this is the first form of Jeremiah 1-20, the prophecies of which are not specifically dated, and also of the oracles against the nations, Jeremiah 46-49. Jeremiah dictated this condensation and summary of his previous 23 years of work to Baruch, his scribe. It seems that Baruch complained and grieved overly much about the judgments that Yahweh was threatening, and so Jeremiah rebuked him, but promised him that God would spare his life (Jeremiah 45).
Jeremiah himself had been barred from the Temple (36:5), probably as a result of the riot a number of months earlier (Jeremiah 26, see discussion above). So he told Baruch to go to the Temple and read the book on a fast day. The only appointed fast day was the Day of Atonement, which came on the 10th of the 7th month, and would have been in the 5th year of Jehoiakim. Evidently, however, this was not the day intended. Rather, Baruch got the people to proclaim a fast in the 9th month and read it then. A certain Micaiah heard it read, and reported to some of the more religious officials of the king. They called for Baruch to read it to them, and they were struck with fear. They told Baruch that he and Jeremiah should go into hiding, and then they took the scroll to King Jehoiakim. As the scroll was being read, the King cut it into pieces and burned it, and then sent some of his other officials to seize Baruch and Jeremiah, but they were well hidden. Then God told Jeremiah to write it all again, and to add more words to it.
This second, more complete version of Jeremiah’s prophecies to date is probably what we have as Jeremiah 1-20. From reading it, we realize that all was not rosy in the years of Josiah. And this is not strange. Liberal "scholars" today say that the priests produced the book of Deuteronomy and then "found" it in the Temple and gave it to Josiah. Doubtless many in Israel believed the same thing. The image-worshippers of the high places had always resented the official, God-given worship at the Temple, and they doubtless saw the "discovery" of this book as just another "protestant ploy" to destroy their "holy traditions." The callous rich, while happy with the ornate cathedral worship style of the Jerusalem Temple, no doubt regarded the laws in the Book of the Covenant as having been fabricated to despoil them of their wealth. These two groups would accuse Josiah, Zephaniah, and Jeremiah of trying to centralize power in Jerusalem. They would conspire against Jeremiah, as we see in these chapters they did.
Jeremiah 1-20 summarizes God’s revelations to Jeremiah and his prophecies during the reign of Josiah up to the early days of Jehoiakim. They are prophecies of doom. Two centuries earlier Jonah had prophesied for only three days that Nineveh would be destroyed, but the Assyrians repented and Nineveh was spared. But Jeremiah prophesied destruction for 23 years, yet Israel did not repent. Thus, his prophecies eventually came true for them.
Nebuchadnezzar’s Conquest of Israel
Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem in the summer of 605 BC and transported some of the youth of the nobility back to Babylon to be incorporated into his retinue. We have already discussed this in our studies in Daniel, but to get a complete picture of the "countdown to exile," we need to review it here.
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it; and Yahweh gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his gods, and he brought them into the treasury of his gods. (Daniel 1:1-2)
This statement, that Nebuchadnezzar invested Jerusalem in the 3d year of Jehoiakim, has been regarded as problematic because of statements we find elsewhere in the Bible. To get a full picture, let us consider all of these. First, 2 Kings 23:36-24:1:
36Jehoiakim was 25 years old when he became king, and he reigned 11 years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Zebidah the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah. 37And he did evil in Yahweh’s sight, according to all that his fathers had done. 1In his days Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant three years; then he turned and rebelled against him.
2 Chronicles 36:6-7 adds more:
5Jehoiakim was 25 years old when he became king, and he reigned 11 years in Jerusalem; and he did evil in the sight of Yahweh his God. 6Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up against him and bound him with bronze to take him to Babylon. 7Nebuchadnezzar also brought of the articles of Yahweh’s house to Babylon and put them in his temple at Babylon.
Neither of these passages tells us when Nebuchadnezzar came up to Jerusalem this first time. Jeremiah 25:1 adds light on the subject:
The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah, in the 4th year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah (that was the 1st year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon).
In the oracle Yahweh says that Nebuchadnezzar is "My servant" (Jer. 25:9) and that all the "nations shall serve the king of Babylon 70 years" (v. 11).
So, Jeremiah says that Nebuchadnezzar’s 1st year is Jehoiakim’s 4th, and predicts that Nebuchadnezzar will conquer Judah and all surrounding nations; while Daniel 1:1 says that Nebuchadnezzar, as king, conquered Jerusalem in the 3d year of Jehoiakim. Is there a difficulty here?
Not yet. At this point the problem can easily be resolved. Sometime during the 3d year of Jehoiakim, Nabopolassar King of Babylon died and his son Nebuchadnezzar became king. This is Nebuchadnezzar’s Year 0, for the year is given to Nabopolassar as his last. During this year, Nebuchadnezzar invested and took Jerusalem. He brought Jehoiakim and some of the golden vessels of the Temple back to Babylon. Equivalent to the golden vessels were some of the nobility of Judah, which they symbolized, including Daniel and his friends; thus a party of the Judahite nobility’s youths was also brought to Babylon. Then Jehoiakim was sent back to rule Judah as Nebuchadnezzar’s vassal.
After Jehoiakim returned to Jerusalem, Jeremiah was given the prophecy recorded in Jeremiah 25, which was that from now on Nebuchadnezzar was going to rule the world. Keil in his commentary goes to great lengths to insist that this prophecy had to come before Nebuchadnezzar’s first investiture of Jerusalem, thus creating a conflict with Daniel 1:1. But Keil is simply being perverse. The prophecy of Jeremiah 25 says that Nebuchadnezzar is going to rule from now on, and that he will in time utterly destroy Jerusalem. Nothing in the prophecy conflicts with the notion that Nebuchadnezzar had already taken Jerusalem once.
In fact, the prediction in Jeremiah 25:9-11 certainly did not take place until the final destruction of Jerusalem:
9"Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north," says Yahweh, "even to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land, even against its inhabitants, and against all these nations round about; and I will put them under the ban and make them a horror and a hissing and an everlasting desolation. 10Moreover, I will cause to perish from them the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp. 11And this whole land shall be a desolation and a horror, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years."
If, however, someone still wants to insist that Jerem-iah 25 was prophesied before Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem the first time, the matter is still easy to explain. Daniel 1:1 simply says that Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem in the 3rd year of Jehoiakim. Perhaps the siege was not completed until the 4th year of Jehoiakim. On the basis of Daniel 1-2, however, we must reject this possibility. (See discussion of Daniel 2 in the Daniel series.) And after all, there is no reason for such a convoluted explanation.
In 605 bc (using our present current consensus chronological dating system), Crown Prince Nebuchadnezzar was sent by his ailing father Nabopolassar to fight the Egyptians, who had three years previously invaded Babylonian territory and established themselves at Carchemish. In the spring of that year Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish, and then pursued them to Egypt. Thereafter he conquered Syria and Palestine. He probably took Jerusalem at this time, and probably without a fight. Pharaoh Neco had killed King Josiah at Megiddo three years earlier when he was advancing toward his futile attempt to reconquer Haran. Pharaoh had put Jehoiakim on the throne. Now that Pharaoh had been defeated, Jehoiakim could see the handwriting on the wall, and submitted to Nebuchadnezzar.
Then, on August 15, 605 bc, Nabopolassar King of Babylon died. Nebuchadnezzar immediately dropped everything and rushed to Babylon to take control before anarchy and conspiracy could get a foothold. He ascended the throne on September 7. This was still in the 3rd year of Jehoiakim.
The 4th year of Jehoiakim began in the fall, and thus shortly after Nebuchadnezzar became King of Babylon. After becoming king, Nebuchadnezzar quickly returned to Palestine and Syria and completed his conquests. He returned to Babylon with much spoil in late February of 604 bc. The Babylonians counted their kings’ regnal years from spring to spring, not from fall to fall; and Nebuchadnezzar shook hands with the statues of the gods Bel and Bel’s Son on the first day of Nisan (April 2, 604 bc). This began his first year of reign, by Babylonian reckoning, midway through the 4th year of Jehoiakim.
Putting it all together: In the summer of 605 bc Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and shipped back to Babylon some gold from the Temple, some of the youth of the nobility, and King Jehoiakim. Nebuchadnezzar himself went to Babylon to become king shortly thereafter. Nebuchadnezzar is called King of Babylon in Daniel 1:1 because that is how he is known to history, even though he had not yet officially become king. A few months later, after Jehoiakim returned to Jerusalem, God told Jeremiah to inform him and the people that from now on Nebuchadnezzar was His servant, and all nations would need to submit to him. The message to Jehoiakim was: "Don’t even think about rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar."
Some have said, though, that the first year of Nebuchadnezzar did not start until April, and thus overlaps only the second half of Jehoiakim’s 4th year. Thus, Jeremiah had to be prophesying after Nebuchadnezzar became king officially, and had entered into his official first year. This argument assumes that Jeremiah is using the fall-to-fall reckoning for the kings of Judah and the spring-to-spring reckoning for Nebuchadnezzar. I don’t believe there is any reason to accept this line of thinking. The Bible itself teaches that national years are solar, and thus are reckoning from autumnal equinox to autumnal equinox, while religious months are lunar and are reckoned from vernal equinox to vernal equinox. There is no reason to think that Jeremiah or any other Bible writer would shift from the accepted way of reckoning years and adopt the Babylonian method, without a statement to that effect.
A more serious challenge seems to come from Jeremiah 46:2, which reads:
To Egypt. Against the army of Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, who went to the River Euphrates at Carchemish, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon defeated, in the 4th year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah.
As this statement reads, it could mean that Nebuchadnezzar defeated Neco in the 4th year of Jehoiakim, or it could mean that the oracle is dated the 4th year of Jehoiakim. If the former, we have a problem, since it seems clear that Nebuchadnezzar defeated Neco at Carchemish in the 3rd year of Jehoiakim. This is not a likely interpretation, however. Virtually every other oracle and prophecy in Jeremiah is dated, and thus the date (4th year of Jehoiakim) is almost certainly the date of this oracle.
Now, the oracle itself begins with a description of the battle of Carchemish (Jer. 46:3-12), but since the heading of the letter has already stated that Pharaoh was defeated at Carchemish, the oracle must be taken as describing an event that has already taken place. In other words, at the beginning of the letter, Pharaoh Neco is addressed as someone who has already been defeated at Carchemish; this would make no sense if the battle had not already happened. Verses 3-4 call on the Egyptians to make ready for war, while verses 5-6 mock them for running away from the battle. Verses 7-9 describe the "rising of the Nile" as Egypt’s move into Babylonian territory four years previously, while verse 10 says that Egypt’s defeat was from the hand of Yahweh God. In verse 11a Egypt is invited to convert to the worship of Yahweh, while verses 11b and 12 state that their defeat has been visible to all the world.
Having described the defeat at Carchemish at the hands of Yahweh and His servant Nebuchadnezzar, Yahweh now tells Egypt that in the future Nebuchadnezzar will invade and conquer her (vv. 13-26). The point of the oracle seems to be this: God says, "I’ve defeated you once already, and I’m going to do so again. Repent and turn to Me!"
(to be continued)