John T. Willis

Monday, May 09, 2011

Five Oracles about Judean Kings shortly prior to the Babylonian Exile--Jeremiah 21:11-23:8

The Book of Jeremiah present FIVE oracles concerning kings of Judah from Josiah to Jehoiachin, recorded in Jeremiah 21:11-23:8. Three introductory thoughts are appropriate before dealing with these oracles.
*The composer of the Book of Jeremiah does not arrange Jeremiah 21-24 in chronological order. Zedekiah surrounds 21:11-23:8 [in 21:1-10--589-587 BCE; 24:1-10--598 or 597 BCE], and although 21:11-22:9 and 23:1-8 are anonymous, mostly likely 21:11-22:9 has in mind Josiah [see 22:15-16] and 23:1-8 has in mind Zedekiah, because "The Lord is our righteousness" in 23:6 is a word play on Zedekiah in Hebrew. Hence, the oracles in 21:11-23:8 seem to be in chronological order.
*22:11-23:8 may contain two oracles in 22:11-14 and 23:1-8, but the content and message are so similar that I am assuming this is one oracle.
*The dates of the reigns of these five kings are:
+Josiah--640-609 BCE
+Jehoahaz=Shallum, one son of Josiah--609 BCE for 3 months, when Pharaoh-neco carried him into Egypt. See 1 Chronicles 3:15, which equates Shallum with Jehoahaz.
+Jehoiakim, another son of Josiah--609-598 or 597 BCE.
+Jehoiachin=Jeconiah=Coniah--son of Jehoiakim and grandson of Josiah--598 or 597 BCE for 3 months, when Nebuchadrezzar II carried him and 10,000 leading citizens of Judah into Babylonian exile.
+Zedekiah, another son of Josiah--598 or 597 BCE-587 or 586 BCE. In 587 or 586 BCE, the Babylonians destroyed the walls and temple of Jerusalem and carried many Judeans into exile.

Let us now discuss each of these oracles.

I. An Oracle Concerning Josiah. Jeremiah 21:11-22:9.
a. Yahweh through Jeremiah addresses 21:11-14 to the king of Judah [probably Josiah]. The Hebrew text simply reads: "To the house of the king of Judah." The word "say" in the NRSV is not in the Hebrew. "Hear" is a PLURAL imperative. Thus, apparently, Yahweh instructs Jeremiah to summon the king and his people to hear God's word. 21:11.
b. God's message is that the king of Judah and his people are to "execute justice," "deliver" the robbed from their oppressors, who boast that they are impenetrable. 21:12.
c. Yahweh declares he is "against" such oppressors, and will punish them according to the fruit of their doings. 21:13-14.
d. Yahweh re-emphasizes that his message through Jeremiah is: "Act with justice and righteousness, deliver the robbed from their oppressors, do no wrong to the alien, orphan, or widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. 22:1-3.
e. If the kings of Judah obey Yahweh, Yahweh will bless them richly. If they rebel against Yahweh, Yahweh will punish them severely. The fundamental issue is whether God's people will serve Yahweh or serve other gods. 22:4-9.

II. An Oracle Concerning Shallum=Jehoahaz. Jeremiah 22:10-12.
This is a very simple, clear, straightforward oracle announcing that Jehoahaz will be taken into Egypt and will remain there the rest of his life.

III. An Oracle Concerning Jehoiakim. 22:13-23.
a. 22:18 makes clear that this oracle pertains to Jehoiakim, not Shallum= Jehoahaz.
b. Yahweh through Jeremiah denounces Jehoiakim for treating the people of God unjustly and unrighteously. Jehoiakim's laborers built his palace, and paid them nothing in return. 22:13-14.
c. Jehoiakim behaved precisely the opposite of his father Josiah. Josiah did justice and righteousness, and Yahweh blessed him. To defend and support the poor and needy is to KNOW God. 22:15-16.
d. Unlike Josiah, Jehoiakim is interested ONLY on his dishonest gain, shedding innocent blood, and practicing violence and oppression. 22:17.
e. Therefore, Yahweh declares Jehoiakim will be buried like the burial of a donkey. 22:18-19.
f. Yahweh declares that "all the lovers" of Jehoiakim and Judah will go into captivity. Apparently, these "lovers" are foreign nations to whom the king of Judah and his people make alliances. 22:20-23.

IV. An Oracle Concerning Jehoiachin. 22:24-30.
Yahweh through Jeremiah declares that Yahweh will "hurl" Jehoiachin out of the land of Canaan into a foreign land=Babylon under King Nebuchadrezzar II. Jehoiachin will be "childless" in the sense of his descendants to continue into the land of Canaan.

V. An Oracle Concerning Zedekiah. 23:1-8.
a. Yahweh through Jeremiah rebukes the "shepherds" of Judah because they have scattered the flock. The flock is Judah, and the shepherds are the kings of Judah and their associates. 23:1-4.
b. In contrast, Yahweh announces that he will raise up "a righteous Branch" for David to execute justice and righteousness among God's people. The new name of the righteous branch is: "The Lord is our righteousness," a word play on the Hebrew word Zedekiah. 23:5-6. Zechariah 3:1-10; 6:9-15 make clear that this "righteous Branch" is Zerubbabel, who will lead a remnant of Judah from Babylon back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. See Haggai 1-2; Zechariah 1-6.
c. As a result of this, no one will say: The Lord brought his people Israel out of Egypt, but The Lord brought his people Israel out of Babylonian exile. 23:7-8.

Unfortunately, most human leaders soon become corrupt. Josiah was an exception, not the rule. So, eventually Yahweh sent the people of God into exile. The primary theme of the oracles in 21:11-23:8 is justice and righteousness. This is God's primary concern for all time. James 1:26-27 emphasizes this truth.

Share YOUR thoughts and insights with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


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