Kings, though they are gods to us, are men to God, and shall die like men; so it appears in these verses, where we have a sentence of death passed upon two kings who reigned successively in Jerusalem, two brothers, and both the ungracious sons of a very pious father.
I. Here is the doom of Shallum, who doubtless is the same with Jehoahaz, for he is that son of Josiah king of Judah who reigned in the stead of Josiah his father (Jer. 22:11), which Jehoahaz did by the act of the people, who made him king though he was not the eldest son, 2 Kgs. 23:30; 2 Chron. 36:1. Among the sons of Josiah (1 Chron. 3:15) there is one Shallum mentioned, and not Jehoahaz. Perhaps the people preferred him before his elder brother because they thought him a more active daring young man, and fitter to rule; but God soon showed them the folly of their injustice, and that it could not prosper, for within three months the king of Egypt came upon him, deposed him, and carried him away prisoner into Egypt, as God had threatened, Deut. 28:68. It does not appear that any of the people were taken into captivity with him. We have the story 2 Kgs. 23:34; 2 Chron. 36:4. Now here, 1. The people are directed to lament him rather than his father Josiah: “Weep not for the dead, weep not any more for Josiah.” Jeremiah had been himself a true mourner for him, and had stirred up the people to mourn for him (2 Chron. 35:25): yet now he will have them go out of mourning for him, though it was but three months after his death, and to turn their tears into another channel. They must weep sorely for Jehoahaz, who had gone into Egypt; not that there was any great loss of him to the public, as there was of his father, but that his case was much more deplorable. Josiah went to the grave in peace and honour, was prevented from seeing the evil to come in this world and removed to see the good to come in the other world; and therefore, Weep not for him, but for his unhappy son, who is likely to live and die in disgrace and misery, a wretched captive. Note, Dying saints may be justly envied, while living sinners are justly pitied. And so dismal perhaps the prospect of the times may be that tears even for a Josiah, even for a Jesus, must be restrained, that they may be reserved for ourselves and for our children, Luke 23:28. 2. The reason given is because he shall never return out of captivity, as he and his people expected, but shall die there. They were loth to believe this, therefore it is repeated here again and again, He shall return no more, Jer. 22:10. He shall never have the pleasure of seeing his native country, but shall have the continual grief of hearing of the desolations of it. He has gone forth out of this place, and shall never return, Jer. 22:11. He shall die in the place whither they have led him captive, Jer. 22:12. This came of his forsaking the good example of his father, and usurping the right of his elder brother. In Ezekiel’s lamentation for the princes of Israel this Jehoahaz is represented as a young lion, that soon learned to catch the prey, but was taken, and brought in chains to Egypt, and was long expected to return, but in vain. See Ezek. 19:3-5.
II. Here is the doom of Jehoiakim, who succeeded him. Whether he had any better right to the crown than Shallum we know not; for, though he was older than his predecessor, there seems to be another son of Josiah, older than he, called Johanan, 1 Chron. 3:15. But this we know he ruled no better, and fared no better at last. Here we have,
1. His sins faithfully reproved. It is not fit for a private person to say to a king, Thou art wicked; but a prophet, who has a message from God, betrays his trust if he does not deliver it, be it ever so unpleasing, even to kings themselves. Jehoiakim is not here charged with idolatry, and probably he had not yet put Urijah the prophet to death (as we find afterwards he did, Jer. 26:22, 23), for then he would have been told of it here; but the crimes for which he is here reproved are, (1.) Pride and affection of pomp and splendour; as if all the business of a king were to look great, and to do good were to be the least of his care. He must build himself a stately palace, a wide house, and large chambers, Jer. 22:14. He must have windows cut out after the newest fashion, perhaps like sash-windows with us. The rooms must be ceiled with cedar, the richest sort of wood. His house must be as well-roofed and wainscoted as the temple itself, or else it will not please him, 1 Kgs. 6:15, 16. Nay, it must exceed that, for it must be painted with minium, or vermilion, which dyes red, or, as some read it, with indigo, which dyes blue. No doubt it is lawful for princes and great men to build, and beautify, and furnish their houses so as is agreeable to their dignity; but he that knows what is in man knew that Jehoiakim did this in the pride of his heart, which makes that to be sinful, exceedingly sinful, which is in itself lawful. Those therefore that are enlarging their houses, and making them more sumptuous, have need to look well to the frame of their own spirits in the doing of it, and carefully to watch against all the workings of vain-glory. But that which was particularly amiss in Jehoiakim’s case was that he did this when he could not but perceive, both by the word of God and by his providence, that divine judgments were breaking in upon him. He reigned his first three years by the permission and allowance of the king of Egypt, and all the rest by the permission and allowance of the king of Babylon; and yet he that was no better than a viceroy will covet to vie with the greatest monarchs in building and furniture. Observe how peremptory he is in this resolution: “I will build myself a wide house; I am resolved I will, whoever advises me to the contrary.” Note, It is the common folly of those that are sinking in their estates to covet to make a fair show. Many have unhumbled hearts under humbling providences, and look most haughty when God is bringing them down. This is striving with our Maker. (2.) Carnal security and confidence in his wealth, depending upon the continuance of his prosperity, as if his mountain now stood so strong that it could never be moved. He thought he must reign without any disturbance or interruption because he had enclosed himself in cedar (Jer. 22:15), as if that were too fine to be assaulted and too strong to be broken through, and as if God himself could not, for pity, give up such a stately house as that to be burned. Thus when Christ spoke of the destruction of the temple his disciples came to him, to show him what a magnificent structure it was, Matt. 23:38; 24:1. Note, Those wretchedly deceive themselves who think their present prosperity is a lasting security, and dream of reigning because they are enclosed in cedar. It is but in his own conceit that the rich man’s wealth is his strong city. (3.) Some think he is here charged with sacrilege, and robbing the house of God to beautify and adorn his own house. He cuts him out my windows (so it is in the margin), which some understand as if he had taken windows out of the temple to put into his own palace and then painted them (as it follows) with vermilion, that it might not be discovered, but might look of a piece with his own buildings. Note, Those cheat themselves, and ruin themselves at last, who think to enrich themselves by robbing God and his house; and, however they may disguise it, God discovers it. (4.) He is here charged with extortion and oppression, violence and injustice. He built his house by unrighteousness, with money unjustly got and materials which were not honestly come by, and perhaps upon ground obtained as Ahab obtained Naboth’s vineyard. And, because he went beyond what he could afford, he defrauded his workmen of their wages, which is one of the sins that cries in the ears of the Lord of hosts, Jas. 5:4. God takes notice of the wrong done by the greatest of men to their poor servants and labourers, and will repay those, in justice, that will not in justice pay those whom they employ, but use their neighbour’s service without wages. Observe, The greatest of men must look upon the meanest as their neighbours, and be just to them accordingly, and love them as themselves. Jehoiakim was oppressive, not only in his buildings, but in the administration of his government. He did not do justice, made no conscience of shedding innocent blood, when it was to serve the purposes of his ambition, avarice, and revenge. He was all for oppression and violence, not to threaten it only, but to do it; and, when he was set upon any act of injustice, nothing should stop him, but he would go through with it. And that which was at the bottom of all was covetousness, that love of money which is the root of all evil. Thy eyes and thy heart are not but for covetousness; they were for that, and nothing else. Observe, In covetousness the heart walks after the eyes: it is therefore called the lust of the eye, 1 John 2:16; Job 31:7. It is setting the eyes upon that which is not, Prov. 23:5. The eyes and the heart are then for covetousness when the aims and affections are wholly set upon the wealth of this world; and, where they are so, the temptation is strong to murder, oppression, and all manner of violence and villany. (5.) That which aggravated all his sins was that he was the son of a good father, who had left him a good example, if he would but have followed it (Jer. 22:15, 16): Did not thy father eat and drink? When Jehoiakim enlarged and enlightened his house it is probable that he spoke scornfully of his father for contenting himself with such a mean and inconvenient dwelling, below the grandeur of a sovereign prince, and ridiculed him as one that had a dull fancy, a low spirit, and could not find in his heart to lay out his money, nor cared for what was fashionable; that should not serve him which served his father: but God, by the prophet, tells him that his father, though he had not the spirit of building, was a man of an excellent spirit, a better man than he, and did better for himself and his family. Those children that despise their parents’ old fashions commonly come short of their real excellences. Jeremiah tells him, [1.] That he was directed to do his duty by his father’s practice: He did judgment and justice; he never did wrong to any of his subjects, never oppressed them, nor put any hardship upon them, but was careful to preserve all their just rights and properties. Nay, he not only did not abuse his power for the support of wrong, but he used it for the maintaining of right. He judged the cause of the poor and needy, was ready to hear the cause of the meanest of his subjects and do them justice. Note, The care of magistrates must be, not to support their grandeur and take their ease, but to do good, not only not to oppress the poor themselves, but to defend those that are oppressed. [2.] That he was encouraged to do his duty by his father’s prosperity. First, God accepted him: “Was not this to know me, saith the Lord? Did he not hereby make it to appear that he rightly knew his God, and worshipped him, and consequently was known and owned of him?” Note, The right knowledge of God consists in doing our duty, particularly that which is the duty of our place and station in the world. Secondly, He himself had the comfort of it: Did he not eat and drink soberly and cheerfully, so as to fit himself for his business, for strength and not for drunkenness? Eccl. 10:17. He did eat, and drink, and do judgment; he did not (as perhaps Jehoiakim and his princes did) drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of the afflicted, Prov. 31:5. He did eat and drink; that is, God blessed him with great plenty, and he had the comfortable enjoyment of it himself and gave handsome entertainments to his friends, was very hospitable and very charitable. It was Jehoiakim’s pride that he had built a fine house, but Josiah’s true praise that he kept a good house. Many times those have least in them of true generosity that have the greatest affection for pomp and grandeur; for, to support the extravagant expense of that, hospitality, bounty to the poor, yea, and justice itself, will be pinched. It is better to live with Josiah in an old-fashioned house, and do good, than live with Jehoiakim in a stately house, and leave debts unpaid. Josiah did justice and judgment, and then it was well with him, Jer. 22:15; and it is repeated again, Jer. 22:16. He lived very comfortably; his own subjects, and all his neighbours, respected him; and whatever he put his hand to prospered. Note, While we do well we may expect it will be well with us. This Jehoiakim knew, that his father found the way of duty to be the way of comfort, and yet he would not tread in his steps. Note, It should engage us to keep up religion in our day that our godly parents kept it up in theirs and recommended it to us from their own experience of the benefit of it. They told us that they had found the promises which godliness has of the life that now is made good to them, and that religion and piety are friendly to outward prosperity. So that we are inexcusable if we turn aside from that good way.
2. Here we have Jehoiakim’s doom faithfully read, Jer. 22:18, 19. We may suppose that it was in the utmost peril of his own life that Jeremiah here foretold the shameful death of Jehoiakim; but thus saith the Lord concerning him, and therefore thus saith he. (1.) He shall die unlamented; he shall make himself so odious by his oppression and cruelty that all about him shall be glad to part with him, and none shall do him the honour of dropping one tear for him, whereas his father, who did judgment and justice, was universally lamented; and it is promised to Zedekiah that he should be lamented at his death, for he conducted himself better than Jehoiakim had done, Jer. 34:5. His relations shall not lament him, no, not with the common expressions of grief used at the funeral of the meanest, where they cried, Ah, my brother! or, Ah, sister! His subjects shall not lament him, nor cry out, as they used to do at the graves of their princes, Ah, lord! or Ah his glory! It is sad for any to live so that, when they die, none will be sorry to part with them. Nay, (2.) He shall lie unburied. This is worse than the former. Even those that have no tears to grace the funerals of the dead with would willingly have them buried out of their sight; but Jehoiakim shall be buried with the burial of an ass, that is, he shall have no burial at all, but his dead body shall be cast into a ditch or upon a dunghill; it shall be drawn, or dragged, ignominiously, and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem. It is said, in the story of Jehoiakim (2 Chron. 36:6), that Nebuchadnezzar bound him in fetter 4c44 s, to carry him to Babylon, and (Ezek. 19:9) that he was brought in chains to the king of Babylon. But it is probable that he died a prisoner, before he was carried away to Babylon as was intended; perhaps he died for grief, or, in the pride of his heart, hastened his own end, and, for that reason, was denied a decent burial, as self-murderers usually are with us. Josephus says that Nebuchadnezzar slew him at Jerusalem, and left his body thus exposed, somewhere at a great distance from the gates of Jerusalem. And it is said (2 Kgs. 24:6) he slept with his fathers. When he built himself a stately house, no doubt he designed himself a stately sepulchre; but see how he was disappointed. Note, Those that are lifted up with great pride are commonly reserved for some great disgrace in life or death.