In the middle of chapter 22, Jeremiah turns his attention to Shallum – or Jehoahaz – promising that he will not return from exile in Egypt. He then condemns Jehoiakim, who succeeded him, and Coniah, short for Jeconiah, who also will not return from captivity in Babylon.
To frame these oracles, it’s time for a history review. 2 Kings lets us know that King Josiah (Jehoahaz’ father) had died trying to thwart Egypt’s advance against Babylon. Judah placed Jehoahaz on the throne in Josiah’s stead, but the Pharaoh, on his way back through Jerusalem, took Jehoahaz captive and placed Jehoiakim on the throne.
During Jehoiakim’s reign the political winds turned and Judah came under Babylonian rule. Jehoiakim rebelled however, and Babylon was amassing its forces against him when he died in 598 B.C. His son Jeconiah (who’s named Jehoiachin in 2 Kings), eighteen years old and three months into his reign, gave himself up to the king of Babylon.
To release his siege of Jerusalem, 2 Kings 24 tells us that Nebuchadnezzar carried off all the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king’s house… He also carried away all the officials and all the mighty men of valor, 10,000 captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths. None remained, except the poorest people of the land… Further, the king of Babylon made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle [and Josiah’s remaining son], king in his place, and changed his name to Zedekiah.
It’s unclear why the author is dropping these oracles in here – especially when some of them could be two decades old – except that it’s possible there was a Judean hope that one of these rulers will return to the throne. Even imagining their homecoming would give a glimmer of hope that there will be a homeland for them to return to. Jeremiah’s challenge all along has been to convince the remaining Judeans that no hope remains; perhaps he is simply checking any glimpses of optimism off the list.
Optimism-crushing is certainly the theme in the rest of today’s reading. In chapter 23, the LORD calls Judah a burden, and promises to cast them off. He even declares opposition to the prophets “who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make my people forget my name…” In chapter 24 Jeremiah recalls a vision from Nebuchadnezzar’s earlier seige, in which the LORD promises to protect the exiles and reject the remnant in Jerusalem, promising to “send sword, famine, and pestilence upon them, until they shall be utterly destroyed from the land that I gave to them and their fathers.”
Our verse for this week is Hebrews 8:10: For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Jeremiah 22 through 24. Now let’s read it!
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?