ACCORDING to Josiah's wish, his grandson, then eight years old, was to succeed him. But he was removed from any opportunity to reign after ten days' time. Neither did Josiah's eldest son, Eliakim, succeed his father because the people of Judah believed he would regard the king of Egypt as their master. Instead, they put Eliakim's younger half-brother Jehoahaz on the throne. Meanwhile, the Egyptians were not victorious over the Babylonian king as they had hoped to be. The Chaldeans pursued the Egyptians southwestward for hundreds of miles. Later, with the Chaldeans on their way back home, Necho had freedom to demand of Jerusalem that Eliakim should be made king. Jehoahaz was therefore king only three months because King Necho of Egypt considered Judah his vassal nation and thought only he should have the right to decide who should be made king. As a gesture to prove that his will should be carried out in every respect, the king of Egypt decreed that from then on Eliakim should be known as Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim continued to rule Judah for the next eleven years, even though he wasn't the choice of the people who followed God. During those years, there was an unhappy return to idolatry and a constant heavy tribute, mostly in gold and silver, to the king of Egypt.
A Reluctant Prophet
As for Jehoahaz, he was taken by the Egyptians to their country, where he died. (II Kings 23:31-34; II Chronicles 36:1-4.) As a result of allowing his nation to fall back into idolatry, Jehoiakim had his share of troubles. One of his sources of worry was the prophet Jeremiah, who had been around in Josiah's time, but who because of his youth didn't earn much respect until he had spoken at Josiah's funeral. Jeremiah was probably only in his late teens when God first contacted him, telling him that long before he was born God had chosen him to be a prophet to warn many nations of their wrong ways and what would come to pass unless they turned to observing God's laws. "But how can I speak to nations?" Jeremiah asked. "I would have to talk to kings, and kings wouldn't listen to me because I am only a boy." "You shall grow in wisdom," God told him. "Besides, I shall tell you what to say in every situation. You are not to fear anyone, regardless of his rank or his fierce or scornful expressions. I won't allow harm to come to you." Obviously in a vision, Jeremiah felt his lips being touched by God's hand. "This day I have put words in your mouth," the Creator said. "I am setting you over the nations and kingdoms with the power to root out and destroy, but I shall also give you the power to plant and build." This meant that Jeremiah was to do far more than warn Judah and other nations of calamities to come. God would also reveal, through Jeremiah, where the captive and scattered House of Israel would again be started as nations, eventually, in other parts of the world. (Jeremiah 1:1-19.) In time, with the passing of generations, many Israelites forgot their identity. Migrating among other nations, ever-increasing numbers came to regard themselves as Gentiles. Most of them, as this is written still do. Through Jeremiah and others of God's servants who would be born much later, the Creator planned that the Israelites of the ten-tribed House of Israel would eventually recognize themselves and no longer be lost, and would remember the commission their ancient ancestors had been given and the covenant between their people and God. Jeremiah spent his early years in the priests' town of Anathoth, only a few miles north of Jerusalem. Because of being bothered by people who despised and troubled him, he moved to Jerusalem. There he could be lost in the nonreligious capital crowd instead of being conspicuous in a small ministerial town where many priests were growing lukewarm and didn't like to have a zealous prophet around. Jeremiah became respected in Jerusalem after having much to say at Josiah's funeral and having already gained the friendship of some of the more upright men of King Josiah's acquaintance. Jeremiah's first major trouble during Jehoiakim's reign came about when he was told by God to go to the temple and warn all who came there that unless they would live by God's laws, God would cause Jerusalem to become as ravaged as the ancient town of Shiloh, the town where the tabernacle was set up when Israel first came into the land of Canaan. (Joshua 18: 1; Psalm 78:60; Jeremiah 26:6.) Shiloh had been destroyed by the Philistines hundreds of years before Jeremiah's time. (I Samuel 4:10-12.) "God has told me that unless the people of Judah repent of their evil ways and wholeheartedly return to obeying Him, this city will soon become a place that will be spoken of only with scorn, ridicule and contempt!" Jeremiah shouted to the crowds who came to the temple to try to make themselves right with God by making token offerings and pausing for what would appear to be periods of prayer or religious reflection.
Who Believes a Prophet?
This was too much for many in authority who had long tired of what they called "Jeremiah's prophecies of doom." Self-styled prophets of God and many of the people, and even priests at the temple, joined in seizing Jeremiah and accusing him before the multitude. "You have uttered curses against Jerusalem and the temple of God!" they shouted angrily. "For this reason you deserve to die!" When the king's counsellors heard about Jeremiah being held by the priests and others, they immediately arranged for a quick trial. (Jeremiah 26:1-10.) "Why should we delay what should be done by holding an unnecessary trial?" Jeremiah's accusers heatedly asked. "It's plainly evident what he has done and what the penalty should be!" "Why should any of you speak against God?" Jeremiah asked in his own defense. "It was God who sent me to the temple to warn of trouble to come. Why not obey God and thus avoid the evil things that will otherwise come to you? Do what you will with me, but if you kill me you will bring greater calamity on yourselves and the people of Jerusalem because of unjust treatment of one of God's chosen servants." There was a noisy babble of voices as the priests and their supporters derided Jeremiah's remarks. Some were still demanding the prophet's life. Hastily the princes and the king's counsellors conferred with the representatives of the people, the chiefs of the clans. "We can't agree with you that this man should be punished by death because of prophesying," the king's counsellors and the princes told the prophets and the priests. Then certain respected older men reminded the crowd: "Other prophets have made dire predictions and they weren't executed for their remarks. Why should Jeremiah be the exception? When King Hezekiah heeded the warning of the prophet Micah, and called on God, remember how God spared Hezekiah and the nation? Wouldn't it be wise for us to do as Hezekiah did?" The most influential man speaking for Jeremiah was Ahikam, the son of Shaphan who was a friend of Hilkiah, Jeremiah's father. (Jeremiah 26:11-19, 24.) Reluctantly the envious priests and self-appointed prophets bowed to the will of the counsellors, and Jeremiah was released. At the same time a prophet named Urijah had publicly declared essentially the same things Jeremiah had stated. He, too, was being sought to be punished by death for making gloomy remarks about what would happen to Jerusalem and the temple. Having heard that Jeremiah had been arrested, and that he would share Jeremiah's fate, Urijah lacked faith that God would protect him, and managed to escape from Jerusalem and reach Egypt, where he succeeded in hiding for a time. Jehoiakim, king of Judah, was so angered that a prophet he disliked should evade a trial that he sent men to Egypt to ask King Necho to find Urijah and turn him over to the emissaries from Judah. Necho cooperated. Urijah was found, given over to the men of Judah, and slain as soon as he was brought back to Jerusalem. If he had joined Jeremiah to face his accusers, probably his life would have been spared. (Jeremiah 26:20-23.) In those days King Jehoiakim heavily taxed his people to enable him to pay the high tribute demanded regularly by the king of Egypt. (II Kings 23:31-35.) Meanwhile, Jeremiah continued his warnings. Some people considered him a traitor to his country because he spoke of Babylon as a greater power than Egypt, and therefore a greater menace to Judah. This greatly irritated the king, who owed his office to the ruler of Egypt, whom the Jews were expected to look up to as the most powerful of rulers. In the fourth year of Jehoiakim's reign, God told Jeremiah that he should write down all the warnings He had given Jeremiah to speak to the public and declare them all again at one time to the people at the temple. Jeremiah dictated them to his secretary, a man named Baruch, who wrote them on a heavy scroll. "Perhaps when people hear at one time all of the calamity I plan to bring on them, they will be sobered," God observed to Jeremiah. (Jeremiah 36:1-3.) God didn't require that Jeremiah should be the one to again warn the people at the temple. The prophet was relieved. He knew that the scheming priests and false prophets, especially those from Anathoth, his home town, would seek his life if he appeared again at the temple. (Jeremiah 11:21.) God had told Jeremiah not to fear anyone, but he had been staying out of sight, knowing it would be unwise to deliberately go about and tempt his enemies.
A Crisis Approaches
"If I again proclaim all that is on your scroll," Jeremiah told his secretary, "the priests and prophets will again try to have me killed. You they probably would ignore just because you aren't me. Be my spokesman. Go to the temple on the special fast day that has been set for a few days from now, and read aloud all you have written. On such a solemn day some might repent and be spared from the misery God is going to bring on Judah." Baruch was at first uneasy at carrying out the prophet's wishes, but he complied without complaining. He faced a large audience on the day when people were fasting because they believed that might appease God and cause Him to protect them from their enemies. Many concerned people listened attentively, but there was no way for Baruch to determine how much they were affected. One young man, Michaiah, a grandson of Shaphan, who had been King Josiah's secretary, and was friendly toward Jeremiah, was greatly impressed. He ran to the king's house, where there was a meeting of Judah's princes and counsellors of Jehoiakim. Michaiah excitedly told them about the terrible things Baruch had said would come on the nation.