Who was Jehoiakim?
Jehoiakim was a king of Judah, elder (half-) brother and successor of Jehoahaz; reigned 11 years from 608 BC.
I. Sources for His Life and Time
The circumstances of his accession and raising of the indemnity to Pharaoh-necoh, followed by a brief résumé of his reign, are narrated in 2 Kings 23:34 through 24:6. The naming of the source for "the rest of his acts" ( 2 Kings 24:5 ) is the last reference we have to "the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah." The account in 2 Chronicles 36:5-8 , though briefer still, mentions Nebuchadnezzar's looting of the temple at some uncertain date in his reign. Neither account has any good to say of Jehoiakim; to the writer of 2 Kings, however, his ill fortunes are due to Yahweh's retributive justice for the sins of Manasseh; while to the Chronicler the sum of his acts, apparently connected with the desecration of the sanctuary, is characterized as "the abominations which he did." For "the rest of his acts" we are referred, also for the last time, to the "book of the kings of Israel and Judah."
For the moral and spiritual chaos of the time, and for prophecies and incidents throwing much light on the king's character, Jeremiah has a number of extended passages, not, however, in consecutive order.
The main ones clearly identifiable with this reign are: 2 Kings 22:13-19 , inveighing against the king's tyrannies and predicting his ignominious death; 2 Kings 26, dated in the beginning of his reign and again predicting (as had been predicted before in 2 Kings 7:2-15 ) the destruction of the temple; 2 Kings 25, dated in his 4th year and predicting the conquest of Judah and surrounding nations by Nebuchadnezzar; 2 Kings 36, dated in the 4th and 5th years, and telling the story of the roll of prophecy which the king destroyed; 2 Kings 45, an appendix from the 4th year, reassuring Baruch the scribe, in terms of the larger prophetic scale, for his dismay at what he had to write; 2 Kings 46, also an appendix, a reminiscence of the year of Carchemish, containing the oracle then pronounced against Egypt, and giving words of the larger comfort to Judah.
The Book of the prophet Habakkuk, written in this reign, gives expression to the prophetic feeling of doubt and dismay at the unrequited ravages of the Chaldeans against a people more righteous than they, with a sense of the value of steadfast faith and of Yahweh's world-movement and purpose which explains the seeming enormity.
II. Character and Events of His Reign
1. The Epoch
The reign of Jehoiakim is not so significant for any personal impress of his upon his time as for the fact that it fell in one of the most momentous epochs of ancient history. By the fall of Nineveh in 606 to the assault of Nebuchadnezzar, then crown prince of the rising Babylonian empire, Assyria, "the rod of (Yahweh's) anger" (Isaiah 10:5 ), ended its arrogant and inveterate sway over the nations. Nebuehadnezzar, coming soon after to the Chaldean throne, followed up his victory by a vigorous campaign against Pharaoh-necoh, whom we have seen at the end of Josiah's reign (see under JOSIAH ) advancing toward the Euphrates in his attempt to secure Egyptian dominion over Syria and Mesopotamia.
The encounter took place in 605 at Carehemish on the northern Euphrates, where Necoh was defeated and driven back to the borders of his own land, never more to renew his aggressions (2 Kings 24:7 ). The dominating world-empire was now in the hands of the Chaldeans, "that bitter and hasty nation" (Habakkuk 1:6 ); the first stage of the movement by which the world's civilization was passing from Semitic to Aryan control. With this world-movement Israel's destiny was henceforth to be intimately involved; the prophets were already dimly aware of it, and were shaping their warnings and promises, as by a Divine instinct, to that end. It was on this larger scale of things that they worked; it had all along been their endeavor, and continued with increasing clearness and fervor, to develop in Israel a conscience and stamina which should be a leavening power for good in the coming great era (compare Isaiah 2:2-4 ; Micah 4:1-3 ).
2. The King's Perverse Character
Of all these prophetic meanings, however, neither the king nor the ruling classes had the faintest realization; they saw only the political exigencies of the moment. Nor did the king himself, in any patriotic way, rise even to the immediate occasion. As to policy, he was an unprincipled opportunist: vassal to Necoh to whom he owed his throne, until Necoh himself was defeated; enforced vassal to Nebuchadnezzar for 3 years along with the other petty kings of Western Asia; then rebelling against the latt er as soon as he thought he could make anything by it. As to responsibility of administration, he had simply the temper of a despotic self-indulgent Oriental.
He raised the immense fine that Necoh imposed upon him by a direct taxation, which he farmed out to unscrupulous officials. He indulged himself with erecting costly royal buildings, employing for the purpose enforced and unpaid labor (Jeremiah 22:13-17 ); while all just interests of his oppressed subjects went wholly unregarded. As to religion, he let matters go on as they had been under Manasseh, probably introducing also the still more strange and heathenish rites from Egypt and the East of which we see the effects in Ezekiel 8:5-17 .
And meanwhile the reformed temple-worship which Josiah had introduced seems to have become a mere formal and perfunctory matter, to which, if we may judge by his conspicuous absence from fast and festal occasions (e.g. Jer 26; 36), the king paid no attention. His impious act of cutting up and burning Jeremiah's roll (Jeremiah 36:23 ), as also his vindictive pursuit and murder of Uriah for prophesying in the spirit of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26:20-23 ), reveal his antipathy to any word that does not prophesy "smooth things" (compare Isaiah 30:10 ), and in fact a downright perversity to the name and w ill of Yahweh.
3. The Prophetic Attitude
With the onset of the Chaldean power, prophecy, as represented in the great seers whose words remain to us, reached a crisis which only time and the consistent sense of its Iarger issues could enable it to weather. Isaiah, in his time, had stood for the inviolability of Zion, and a miraculous deliverance had vindicated his sublime faith. But with Jeremiah, conditions had changed. The idea thus engendered, that the temple was bound to stand and with it Jerusalem, an idea confirmed by Josiah's centralizing reforms, had become a superstition and a presumption (compare Jeremiah 7:4 ); and Jeremiah had reached the conviction that it, with its wooden rites and glaring abuses, must go: that nothing short of a clean sweep of the old religious fetishes could cure the inveterate unspirituality of the nation.
This conviction of his must needs seem to many like an inconsistency - to set prophecy against itself. And when the Chaldean appeared on the scene, his counsel of submission and prediction of captivity would seem a double inconsistency; not only a traversing of a tested prophecy, but treason to the state. This was the situation that he had to encounter; and for it he gave his tender feelings, his liberty, his life. It is in this reign of Jehoiakim that, for the sake of Yahweh's word and purpose, he is engulfed in the deep tragedy of his career.
And in this he must be virtually alone. Habakkuk is indeed with him in sympathy; but his vision is not so clear; he must weather disheartening doubts, and" cherish the faith of the righteous (Habakkuk 2:4 ), and wait until the vision of Yahweh's secret purpose clears (Habakkuk 2:1-3 ). If the prophets themselves are thus having such an equivocal crisis, we can imagine how forlorn is the plight of Yahweh's "remnant," who are dependent on prophetic faith and courage to guide them through the depths. The humble nucleus of the true Israel, which is some day to be the nation's redeeming element, is undergoing a stern seasoning.
4. Harassing and Death
After Syria fell into Nebuchadnezzar's power, he seems to have established his headquarters for some years at Riblah; and after Jehoiada attempted to revolt from his authority, he sent against him guerrilla bands from the neighboring nations, and detachments from his Chaldean garrisons, who harassed him with raids and depredations. In 2 Chronicles 36:6 , 2 Chronicles 36:7 , it is related that Nebuchadnezzar carried some of the vessels of the temple to Babylon and bound the king in fetters to carry him also to Babylon - the latter purpose apparently not carried out. This was in Jehoiada's 4th year. In Daniel 1:1 , Daniel 1:2 , though ascribed to Jehoiakim's 3rd year, this same event is related as the result of a siege of Jerusalem.
It is ambiguously intimated also that the king was deported; and among "the seed royal and of the nobles" who were of the company were Daniel and his three companions (Daniel 1:3 , Daniel 1:6 ). The manner of Jehoiakim's death is obscure. It is merely said (2 Kings 24:6 ) that he "slept with his fathers"; but Josephus ( Ant. , X, vi, 3) perhaps assuming that Jeremiah's prediction (Jeremiah 22:19 ) was fulfilled, states that Nebuchadnezzar slew him and cast his body outside the walls unburied.
IBSE, "Abner" (in the public domain) with minor edits.