Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Thus saith the LORD; Go down to the house of the king of Judah, and speak there this word,XXII.
(1) Thus saith the Lord . . .—The message, delivered in continuation of Jeremiah 21, and therefore probably as following up the answer to the messengers of Zedekiah (Jeremiah 21:1), reviews the history of the three preceding reigns, and apparently reproduces the very words of the warnings which he had uttered in each to the king who then ruled, and which had been but too terribly fulfilled. It was delivered, we are told, in the very palace of the king.
And say, Hear the word of the LORD, O king of Judah, that sittest upon the throne of David, thou, and thy servants, and thy people that enter in by these gates:(2) That sittest upon the throne of David.—The words obviously imply that the message was delivered to the king as he sat in the gate in the presence of his people.
Thus saith the LORD; Execute ye judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place.(3) Execute ye judgment.—As the Hebrew verb is not identical with that in Jeremiah 21:12, and implies a less formal act, it might be better to render it, do ye judgment . . .
Do no wrong . . .—The Hebrew order connects both verbs with the substantives—to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, do no wrong, no violence—and gives the latter the emphasis of position. The whole verse paints but too vividly a reign which presented the very reverse of all that the prophet describes as belonging to a righteous king.
For if ye do this thing indeed, then shall there enter in by the gates of this house kings sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, he, and his servants, and his people.(4) Then shall there enter in . . .—The picture of renewed and continued prosperity gains a fresh force, as reproducing the very terms of Jeremiah 17:25. In both the “chariots and horses” are conspicuous as the symbol of kingly pomp (1Kings 4:26), just as their absence furnished a topic to the sarcastic taunts of Rabshakeh (Isaiah 36:8), and entered into the picture of the true, peaceful king in Zechariah 9:9-10.
But if ye will not hear these words, I swear by myself, saith the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation.(5) I swear by myself.—The formula is an exceptionally rare one, but meets us in Genesis 22:16. In Deuteronomy 32:40 the came thought is embodied in the language of the loftiest poetry. The principle in both cases is that on which the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews dwells in Jeremiah 6:13. Men swear by the greater, but God can swear by nothing greater than Himself.
This house.—The context determines the application of the word as meaning the king’s palace, not the Temple.
For thus saith the LORD unto the king's house of Judah; Thou art Gilead unto me, and the head of Lebanon: yet surely I will make thee a wilderness, and cities which are not inhabited.(6) Thou art Gilead unto me, and the head of Lebanon.—The conjunction, which is not found in the Hebrew, is better omitted. Even in his utterance of woes the prophet’s mind is still that of a poet. The chief point of the comparison in both cases is to be found in the forests that crowned the heights of both ranges of mountains. The “oaks of Bashan,” in the Gilead district (Isaiah 2:13; Zechariah 11:2), were as famous as the cedars of Lebanon, and both were alike the fit symbol of the glory of sovereignty (Isaiah 37:24; Ezekiel 17:3). There may be a reference to the group of cedar-buildings, which of old gave to one of the palaces the name of “the house of the forest of Lebanon” (2Samuel 7:2; 2Samuel 7:7; 1Kings 7:2; 1Kings 10:21).
And I will prepare destroyers against thee, every one with his weapons: and they shall cut down thy choice cedars, and cast them into the fire.(7) I will prepare destroyers.—The verb, as in Jeremiah 6:4, implies the idea of a solemn appointment or consecration.
They shall cut down thy choice cedars.—The metaphor of the preceding verse is carried further, and the “choice cedars” are the princes of the royal house of Judah, and the chief counsellors and generals, as well as the actual columns of cedar-wood.
And many nations shall pass by this city, and they shall say every man to his neighbour, Wherefore hath the LORD done thus unto this great city?(8, 9) Wherefore hath the Lord done thus . . .—The coincidence of thought and language with Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 29:24-26) again calls for notice.
Weep ye not for the dead, neither bemoan him: but weep sore for him that goeth away: for he shall return no more, nor see his native country.(10) Weep ye not for the dead.—With this verse begins the detailed review of the three previous reigns, the prophecies being reproduced as they were actually delivered. The “dead” for whom men are not to weep is Josiah, for whom Jeremiah had himself composed a solemn dirge, which seems from 2Chronicles 35:25 to have been repeated on the anniversary of his death.
For him that goeth away.—This is obviously Jehoahaz, the son and successor of Josiah, who was deposed by Pharaoh-nechoh, and carried into Egypt (2Kings 23:31-34; 2Chronicles 36:2-4). The latter passage shows that he was younger than his successor, Jehoiakim, by two years. The doom of the exile who was to return no more was a fitter subject for lamentation than the death of the righteous king who died a warrior’s death (2Kings 23:29), and was thus “taken away from the evil to come.”
For thus saith the LORD touching Shallum the son of Josiah king of Judah, which reigned instead of Josiah his father, which went forth out of this place; He shall not return thither any more:(11) Shallum.—Josiah’s successor appears in the historical books as Jehoahaz (“Jehovah sustains,” meant as a nomen et omen), the latter being probably the name assumed on his succession to the throne. Such changes were common at the time, as in the case of Jehoiakim and Zedekiah (2Kings 23:34; 2Kings 24:17). Shallum (= retribution) might probably have seemed a name of evil augury. In 1Chronicles 3:15 a Shallum appears as the fourth son of Josiah, Jehoiakim being the second, and one otherwise unknown, Johanan, the eldest. This may have been the same as the one now referred to (the order of the last two names being in some way inverted), or there may have been two brothers bearing the same name. The short and disastrous reign of Shallum, and the meaning of the word probably account for the prophet’s using the private rather than the kingly name. The fact that the name had been borne by one of the later kings of Israel whose reign lasted but for a single month (2Kings 15:13) may have given a further point to its use, as being full of disastrous memories that made it ominous of evil. The title “king of Judah” belongs grammatically to Shallum, not to Josiah.
But he shall die in the place whither they have led him captive, and shall see this land no more.(12) Shall see this land no more.—There is no record of the duration of the life of Shallum in his Egyptian exile, but the total absence of his name in the history that follows is presumptive evidence of the fulfilment of the prediction. There is no trace of his being alive when the prophet is dragged by his countrymen to Egypt (Jeremiah 43:6-7).
Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour's service without wages, and giveth him not for his work;(13) Woe unto him that buildeth . . .—The prophet now turns to Jehoiakim, and apparently reproduces what he had before uttered in denouncing the selfish bearing of that king. The feelings of the people, already suffering from the miseries of foreign invasion, were outraged by the revival of the forced labour of the days of Solomon, pressing in this instance not on the “strangers” of alien blood (1Kings 5:13-15; 2Chronicles 2:17-18), but on the Israelites themselves. We are reminded of the general characteristics of Eastern, and perhaps of all other, despotism. Like the modern rulers of Constantinople, Jehoiakim went on building palaces when his kingdom was on the verge of ruin, and his subjects were groaning under their burdens.
His chambers.—Strictly speaking, the upper storeys of the house. This is dwelt on as aggravating the severity of the work.
Without wages.—The labourers were treated as slaves, and, like the Israelites in their Egyptian bondage (Exodus 16:3), received their food, but nothing more.
That saith, I will build me a wide house and large chambers, and cutteth him out windows; and it is cieled with cedar, and painted with vermilion.(14) Large chambers.—As before, “upper storeys or chambers.”
Cutteth him out windows.—The verb is the same as that used in Jeremiah 4:30 for dilating the eyes by the use of antimony, and implies accordingly the construction of windows of unusual width. These, after the Eastern fashion, were fitted with lattice-work, or shielded by curtains.
Vermilion.—Probably the red pigment (sulphuret of mercury?) still conspicuous in the buildings of Egypt. The word meets us again in Ezekiel 23:14. The king was probably impelled by a vainglorious desire to imitate the magnificence of the Egyptian king (Pharaoh-nechoh) who had placed him on the throne.
Shalt thou reign, because thou closest thyself in cedar? did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him?(15) Thou closest thyself in cedar.—Better, thine ambition is in cedar. The verb means strictly, as in Jeremiah 12:5, “to vie with” or “to contend,” and Jehoiakim is reproached for endeavouring to outdo the magnificence even of his greatest predecessors. A various reading, followed by the LXX., gives, “thou viest with Ahaz,” or “Ahab,” probably, in this latter case, with reference to the ivory palace built by that king (1Kings 22:39).
Did not thy father eat and drink . . .?—The words are obviously those of praise, and paint a healthy, blameless enjoyment like that of Ecclesiastes 2:24; like those, we may add, which the Son of Man used to describe the outward portion of His own life (Matthew 11:19). Josiah was not an ascetic, devotee king, but lived his life happily, and did his work—the true kingly work of judgment and justice—well. There was a truer greatness in that than in the stateliness of Jehoiakim’s palaces. “Then it was well with him” s repeated with the emphasis of iteration.
He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the LORD.(16) Was not this to know me?—The prophet, as a true witness of the law of righteousness, proclaims that the religious fame of Josiah rested not on his restoration of the Temple worship, nor on his suppression of idolatry, but much more on his faithfulness in his kingly work to the cause of righteousness and mercy. They only could know Him who, in this respect, strove to be like Him (1John 3:2).
But thine eyes and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness, and for to shed innocent blood, and for oppression, and for violence, to do it.(17) Thy covetousness.—More literally, thy gain, the word used implying (as in Jeremiah 6:13; Jeremiah 8:10) the idea of violence and oppression as the means by which it was obtained. The verb from which the noun is derived is so translated—“ violence” (literally, “crushing”)—in Deuteronomy 28:33. The marginal reading, “incursion,” has nothing to commend it. In “the blood of the innocent” here, as in Jeremiah 22:3, we have an allusive reference to many, for the most part unrelenting, acts of cruelty. One of these, the murder of Urijah, meets us in Jeremiah 26:23.
Therefore thus saith the LORD concerning Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah; They shall not lament for him, saying, Ah my brother! or, Ah sister! they shall not lament for him, saying, Ah lord! or, Ah his glory!(18) They shall not lament for him.—The words contrast the death as well as the life of Jehoiakim with that of Josiah. For him there should be no lamentation such as was made for the righteous king (2Chronicles 35:25), either from kindred mourning, as over a brother or a sister (perhaps, however, as “sister” would not be appropriate to the king, the words are those of a chorus of mourners, male and female, addressing each other), or from subjects wailing over the death of their “lord” and the departure of his “glory.” For the funeral ceremonies of Israel, see 1Kings 13:30; Matthew 9:23; Mark 5:38.
He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem.(19) He shall be buried with the burial of an ass.—The same prediction appears in another form in Jeremiah 36:30. The body of the king was “to be cast out in the day to the heat, and in the night to the frost.” We have no direct record of its fulfilment, but its reproduction shows that the prophet’s word had not failed. The king was dragged in chains with the other captives, who were being carried off to Babylon (2Chronicles 36:6), and probably died on the journey, his corpse left behind unburied as the army marched. The phrase “he slept with his fathers” in 2Kings 24:6 cannot be pressed as meaning more than the mere fact of death. So Ahab, who died in battle, “slept with his fathers” (1Kings 22:40).
Go up to Lebanon, and cry; and lift up thy voice in Bashan, and cry from the passages: for all thy lovers are destroyed.(20) Go up to Lebanon.—The great mountain-ranges—Lebanon and Bashan (Psalm 68:15)—running from north to south, that overlooked the route of the Babylonians, are invoked by the prophet, as those of Gilboa had been by David (2Samuel 1:21), as witnesses of the misery that was coming on the land and people. Even here, as in Jeremiah 22:23, there is probably still the same reference as before to the cedar-palaces of Jerusalem. The people are called from the counterfeit “forests of Lebanon” to the height of the real mountains, and bidden to look forth from thence.
Cry from the passages.—It is better to take the word Abarim as a proper name. As in Numbers 27:12; Numbers 33:47; Deuteronomy 32:49, it was part of the range of Nebo, south of Gilead and Bashan, and coming therefore naturally after the last of those two mountains.
All thy lovers.—The word points, as in the corresponding language of Ezekiel 23:5; Ezekiel 23:9, to the Egyptians and other nations with whom Judah had made alliances. The destruction reached its climax in the overthrow of Pharaoh-nechoh’s army by Nebuchadnezzar at Carchemish (Jeremiah 46:2).
I spake unto thee in thy prosperity; but thou saidst, I will not hear. This hath been thy manner from thy youth, that thou obeyedst not my voice.(21) In thy prosperity.—Literally, prosperities. The word is used, as in Proverbs 1:32; Ezekiel 16:49; Psalm 30:6, in reference to what in old English was called “security,” the careless, reckless temper engendered by outward prosperity. The plural is used to include all the forms of that temper that had been manifested in the course of centuries.
The wind shall eat up all thy pastors, and thy lovers shall go into captivity: surely then shalt thou be ashamed and confounded for all thy wickedness.(22) The wind shall eat up all thy pastors.—The word for “eat up” is the root of the noun rendered “pastors,” and the play of sound may be expressed in English by shall feed on them that feed thee—i.e., thy princes and statesmen. The “lovers” are, as before in Jeremiah 22:20, the king’s chosen allies.
O inhabitant of Lebanon, that makest thy nest in the cedars, how gracious shalt thou be when pangs come upon thee, the pain as of a woman in travail!(23) O, inhabitant of Lebanon.—The phrase develops the thought of Jeremiah 22:6. The king, in his cedar-palace, is as one who has made Lebanon his home, literally and figuratively (see Note on Jeremiah 22:7), and is as an eagle nestling in the cedar.
How gracious shalt thou be . . .!—Better, how wilt thou sigh! or, how wilt thou groan! as connected with the pangs of travail. No pomp or majesty could save the royal house from the inevitable doom.
As I live, saith the LORD, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah were the signet upon my right hand, yet would I pluck thee thence;(24) Coniah the son of Jehoiakim.—The grammatical structure of the sentence fixes the original utterance of the message, now reproduced, at a time when Coniah was actually king, during his short three months’ reign. The name of this prince appears in three forms :—(1) The abbreviated Coniah, as here and in Jeremiah 37:1 : this was probably the name by which he was known before he was proclaimed as king. (2) Jeconiah, with slight variations, in Jeremiah 24:1; Jeremiah 27:20, and elsewhere. (3) Jehoiachin, also with varied spelling—probably the regal title assumed on his accession (Jeremiah 52:31; Ezekiel 1:2). The meaning of the name “Jehovah establishes” is constant in all the forms. In 2Kings 24:8 he is said to have been eighteen years old when he began to reign. In 2Chronicles 36:9 the age is given as eight. The latter is obviously an error of transcription. His reign lasted for three months only. There is probably a touch of scorn, as in the case of Shallum, in the prophet’s use of the earlier name instead of that which he had assumed as king.
The signet upon my right hand.—The seal-ring was, as in Haggai 2:23, the symbol of kingly power (Genesis 41:42; Esther 3:10; Esther 8:2), authenticating every edict, and was therefore the type of all that was most precious. (Comp. Song of Solomon 8:6.)
And I will cast thee out, and thy mother that bare thee, into another country, where ye were not born; and there shall ye die.(26) Thy mother that bare thee.—The youth of Coniah probably led to his mother assuming the authority of a queen-regent. She directed the policy of his brief reign, and shared in his downfall. Her name, Nehushta, is given in 2Kings 24:8, and in Jeremiah 29:2 she is named as the gebirah, the “great lady “or” princess-queen.”
But to the land whereunto they desire to return, thither shall they not return.(27) Whereunto they desire to return.—The English expresses the sense, but lacks the poetic force, of the Hebrew, to which they lift up their souls to return, yearning thitherward with the longing of unsatisfied desire.
Is this man Coniah a despised broken idol? is he a vessel wherein is no pleasure? wherefore are they cast out, he and his seed, and are cast into a land which they know not?(28) Is this man Coniah a despised broken idol?—Better, a broken piece of handiwork. The word is not the same as that elsewhere rendered “idol,” though connected with it, and the imagery which underlies the words is not that of an idol which men have worshipped and flung away, but of the potter (as in Jeremiah 19:11) rejecting and breaking what his own hands have made. (Comp. Psalm 2:9; Psalm 31:12.) The question implies an affirmative answer. The prophet speaks as identifying himself with those who gazed with wonder and pity at the doom which fell on one so young, and yet not the less does he pronounce that doom to be inevitable.
O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD.(29) O earth, earth, earth.—The solemnity of the mystic threefold repetition expresses the certainty of the Divine decree (comp. Jeremiah 7:4). So in our Lord’s most solemn utterances we have the twice-repeated “Simon, Simon” (Luke 22:31), and the recurring “Verily, verily” of St. John’s Gospel (John 8:51 et al.).
Thus saith the LORD, Write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah.(30) Write ye this man childless.—The meaning of the prediction, as explained by the latter clause of the verse, was fulfilled in Jeconiah’s being the last kingly representative of the house of David, his uncle Zedekiah, who succeeded him, perishing before him (Jeremiah 52:31). In him the sceptre departed, and not even Zerubbabel sat upon the throne of Judah. Whether he died actually childless is less certain. In 1Chronicles 3:17 Assir (possibly, however, the name should be translated “Jeconiah the prisoner”) appears as his son, and as the father of Salathiel, or Shealtiel; and in Matthew 1:12 we find “Jechonias begat Salathiel.” In these genealogies, however, adoption or succession, or a Levirate marriage so constantly takes the place of parentage, that nothing certain can be inferred from these data, and St. Luke (Luke 3:27) places Salathiel among the descendants of Nathan, as though the line of Solomon became extinct in Jeconiah, and was replaced by the collateral branch of the house of David (see Note on Luke 3:23). The command, “write ye this man childless,” is apparently addressed to the “scribes who kept the register of the royal genealogies (Ezekiel 13:9; Psalm 69:28-29). They were told how, without waiting for his death, they were to enter Coniah’s name in that register.