Message Regarding the New King
When Josiah's son Jehoiakim died in 598 B.C. after an evil reign of 11 years (2 Kings 23:36-37; 2 Chronicles 36:5), Jehoiakim's son Jehoiachin—also known as Jeconiah (1 Chronicles 3:16-17; Jeremiah 28:4; 29:2; Matthew 1:11-12) or simply Coniah (Jeremiah 22:24, Jeremiah 22:28)—was crowned king of Judah.
But here we encounter what appears to be a contradiction. The Chronicles version of the story says that Jeconiah was eight years old when he began to reign, whereas the 2 Kings version says eighteen. Which was it? The archaeological and biblical evidence proves that he had to be much older than eight at the time he took over the rule of Judah and reigned for three months (from December 598 through March 597 B.C.). For he had at least five children while a captive in Babylon only five years later, as mentioned on a Babylonian ration receipt (see Expositor's Bible Commentary, notes on 2 Chronicles 36:7, 2 Chronicles 36:9). And "the scriptural descriptions of Jehoiachin seem to represent him as a mature young man (Jeremiah 22:24-30; Ezekiel 19:6)" (Nelson Study Bible, note on 2 Kings 24:8).
The answer is probably fairly simple. Jeconiah was no doubt 18 when he succeeded his father in 598 B.C. Ten years earlier, at the age of 8 in 608 B.C., his father must have installed him as coregent—probably just in name rather than critical function, so as to perpetuate the dynasty in the event the whirlwind of events removed Jehoiakim from the throne (as Jehoiakim's brother Jehoahaz had been removed the previous year, 609 B.C.). A coregency of Jehoiakim and Jeconiah could explain why Jeremiah addresses the "kings" of Judah in Jeremiah 17:19-20. But as Jeconiah likely assumed no actual power until his father died, he is credited with a reign of only the three months rather than 10 years.
As king, Jeconiah follows in the footsteps of his father—continuing in evil rather than turning to God (even though Nebuchadnezzar is in the process of mobilizing his forces against Jerusalem during Jeconiah's entire three-month reign, as we will later see). Since Jeconiah's mother Nehushta, the daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem, is mentioned prominently, including the fact that she would and later did suffer deportation with her son (2 Kings 24:8, 2 Kings 24:12; Jeremiah 22:26-27; Jeremiah 29:2; Jeremiah 13:18), it seems likely that she wields considerable influence over the young ruler. As earlier noted, Nehushta's father is probably the same Elnathan mentioned elsewhere as the son of Achbor, the official in the administration of Jehoiakim who apprehended Urijah the prophet but later tried to talk Jehoiakim out of burning the scroll of Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 26:21-23, Jeremiah 36:12, Jeremiah 36:25).
In Jeremiah 22, God's message regarding Jeconiah quickly moves from third person (verse 24a) to second person—addressing the king directly (verses 24b-26). God tells Jeconiah that even if he were the signet ring on God's right hand, "the most important private possession bearing the owner's mark and authority" (New Bible Commentary, note on verses 24-30), God would still pluck him off and hand him over to others. Continued rebellion against God by Judah's rulers would be tolerated no longer. Jeconiah and his mother would soon be carried captive to Babylon (verses 25-26). Switching back to third person in verse 27, we are told that "they"—Jeconiah and his mother—will not return to the land of Judah.
In verse 28, Jeconiah is described as a "broken idol." The Jews idolized their Davidic ruler, likely expecting him to save them from the Babylonians. Yet Jeconiah himself would be taken captive to Babylon. In verse 30, God declares him "childless"—which is qualified by what follows, as Jeconiah actually had seven sons (1 Chronicles 3:17-18; compare Matthew 1:12). Indeed, in the same verse God says Jeconiah would have "descendants" (Jeremiah 22:30). But they, like him, would not "prosper" as a king. They were, in effect, banned from the throne of David. Thus, it was only in regard to the throne that Jeconiah was to be regarded as childless.
It should be mentioned that though Jesus Christ, the ultimate heir of David's throne, "was lineally descended from Jeconiah [see Matthew 1], it was only through Joseph, who, though His legal, was not His real father. Matthew gives the legal pedigree through Solomon down to Joseph; Luke the real pedigree, from Mary, the real parent, through Nathan, brother of Solomon, upwards (Luke 3:31)" (Jamieson, Fausset & Brown's Commentary, note on Jeremiah 22:29-30). We will look more closely at these genealogies later in the Beyond Today Bible Commentary.
"Woe to the Shepherds"
While Jeremiah 23 may constitute a separate prophecy, it is also possible that it follows right on from chapter 22. Chapter 22 decried the three failed Davidic rulers who followed Josiah, ending with Jeconiah. Chapter 23 begins with a message of "woe to the shepherds," the leaders, of God's "sheep," His people (verse 1), and then speaks of the future King of the line of David who finally will save Judah and set things right (verses 5-8).
In verses 1-2 the leaders, both civil and religious, bear a huge responsibility for driving God's people away from Him, which is why the people are driven from the land and scattered into distant parts. The leaders have failed to "attend to" or take care of the people—so God will take care of them (that is, in an altogether different sense). The prophet Ezekiel would later convey a very similar message from God concerning the wayward shepherds of His people (see Ezekiel 34).
Verses 3-8 of Jeremiah 23 are parallel with Jeremiah 3:14-18. Eventually, God would gather a "remnant" of His flock, bringing them "back to their folds," and appoint new, caring shepherds for them (verses 3-4). This would be fulfilled in part when a small remnant of the Jewish people later returned from Babylonian captivity—the shepherds being Ezra, Nehemiah, Zerubbabel and others. There would be a later fulfillment through the Church of God as the "remnant according to the election of grace" (Romans 11:5)—the shepherds being Jesus Christ and His true ministers (the word "pastor" actually means shepherd). And, of course, the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy is when Jesus Christ takes over the world at His return, when all people—including a regathered Israel—will be governed and taught by Him, His glorified saints and spiritually converted human leaders.
In Jeremiah 23:5, the "Branch" from David's genealogical tree is the Messiah, Jesus Christ (see also Jeremiah 33:14-16; Isaiah 4:2; Isaiah 11:1-5; Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12). The mention of both Judah and Israel in Jeremiah 23:6-7 makes it clear that this is an end-time prophecy—referring exclusively to the return of Christ in power and glory to rule all nations. Verses 7-8 explain that the great "Second Exodus" of the house of Israel (compare Jeremiah 3:18; Isaiah 11:11-16) will surpass even the ancient Exodus from Egypt (compare Jeremiah 16:14-15). This is certainly not referring to the small Jewish return from Babylonian captivity in the sixth century B.C. Instead, it is clearly speaking of a great and awesome return that is yet future.
The rest of Jeremiah 23 contains a scathing denunciation of the religious shepherds of God's people: "For both prophet and priest are profane" (verse 11). The same is true today. The word "prophet," it should be pointed out, can simply mean preacher, especially in the New Testament. In other words, "prophet" refers to those who foretell the future and those who forthtell God's truth—that is, who preach and teach it according to His direction. Yet not all who claim to represent God actually do—in fact, most don't.
There is one true God, who reveals divine truth, and calls a relatively few to be His followers, prophets and ministers. But the world has always been filled with many counterfeit and alternative religions and religious leaders. If a false religion teaches some good values and good works, it is still damaging in an overall sense because any false religion ultimately deprives its followers of a genuinely committed and close relationship with God and the one path that leads to eternal life. Compounding the evil is the utter blasphemy and disgrace of leaders who claim to represent God while setting examples of corrupt and immoral behavior, implying that such conduct is God's nature or that it is acceptable to Him. God is outraged when people claim to be His spokesmen when they are anything but—living and preaching totally contrary to His will (compare Matthew 15:1-9).
Beginning with Jeremiah 23:9, Jeremiah's conscientious character and compassionate personality are shown. He reels in shock and misery as if drunk at the harmful message of the false prophets and because of the judgment God has proclaimed for his countrymen. Terrible droughts continue (compare verse 10; Jeremiah 12:4; Jeremiah 14:1-6) because the land, Jeremiah says, "is full of adulterers" (verse 10). And no wonder, for the spiritual leaders themselves "commit adultery" (verse 14). "This term could apply to those who practiced immoral sexual behavior, those who committed spiritual adultery by pursuing other gods, and those who were involved in cultic prostitution" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verses 9-10).
The deplorable situation God addresses here through Jeremiah certainly existed in the prophet's day—and the message was clearly applicable to that time. But there are indications that the message was also, even primarily, for the end time. While "the year of their punishment" (verse 12) may have referred in part to the year of ancient Jerusalem's fall, 586 B.C., the primary fulfillment, we may ascertain from verse 20, was to come in "the latter days." Surprisingly, the end-time year of punishment usually refers to the final Day of the Lord, after the time of "Jacob's trouble" (30:7), when God punishes the enemies of Israel. Perhaps God views the false prophets in Jeremiah 23, who represent spiritual Babylon, as Israel's enemies. Verse 12 may mean that they will suffer through the darkness of the Great Tribulation to meet with final disaster in the Day of the Lord. In verse 20, God says that we would understand all of this perfectly in the latter days (other translations say "clearly"). But do we—even though it appears we are in the latter days? Verse 20 seems more likely to mean that after these things are actually fulfilled in the latter days, then we will understand perfectly.
Part of Jeremiah 23:15 is a reiteration of Jeremiah 9:15, where God decreed punishment for following false religion (see verses 13-14). And the false prophets are the source of this abomination.
The false prophets basically told the people what they wanted to hear, which was, "You shall have peace" (verse 17). The people did not appreciate Jeremiah telling them otherwise—and people still don't want to hear what God actually says. Ironically, this runs counter to the main reason for prophecy. Verse 22 highlights an important truth: the primary purpose of a prophet of God was not to merely foretell the future, but to turn the hearers "from their evil way and from the evil of their doings." Instead, these prophets shamefully "cause [God's] people to err by their lies and by their recklessness" (verse 32)—shrugging off any damage they may be doing. Rather than delivering God's messages, they "steal [God's] words every one from his neighbor" (verse 30). That is, they plagiarize each other and often take God's actual words (those in Scripture being the prime example) and twist them to suit their own messages.
From verse 33 to the end of the chapter, God is warning them not to mock Jeremiah, sarcastically asking him, "What is the sad news from God today?" Jeremiah's experiences are sobering because they give us insight into the hostile resistance God's Church can anticipate as its end-time warning message becomes stronger and more and more people become aware of it.