Judea on the Downward Path

Before his death, King Josiah designated his second son Jehoahaz as his successor to the throne, because he seemed to be more inclined than his older brother to follow in the footsteps of his father. Indeed the people proclaimed him king, but his reign was very brief. His reign lasted only three months, during which he did not live up to his father's expectations at all. His reign was terminated by Pharaoh Necho, king of Egypt, whose anger Jehoahaz had provoked. Necho advanced upon the land of Israel, attacked and captured Jehoahaz, and brought him in fetters to Egypt, where he died in captivity. Having exacted a heavy tribute from the people of Judah, Necho placed Jehoahaz's brother, Eliakim, on the throne, and changed his name to Joiakim.

The newly-appointed king Joiakim, Josiah's eldest son, was much worse than his brother. He disregarded the laws of the Torah which his father had so strictly enforced in the land, and he set a poor example for his people by following the ways of wickedness and idolatry. The people were easily led astray inasmuch as their plight under the burden of heavy taxes made them restive and rebellious. With pain in his heart, the prophet Jeremiah watched this growing depravity of the people and sternly admonished them.

"Roam about the streets of Jerusalem, and see now, and notice, and search in its broad places, if you can find one man, if there be one that executes justice, that searches for truth: And I will pardon it. And though they say, 'As the L-rd lives!' surely they only swear to a falsehood. Oh, L-rd, are not Your eyes directed to the truth? You did strike them, but they felt it not; You did make an end of them, yet they refused correction: they made their faces harder than a rock, they refused to return. Yet I myself thought, oh these are but poor; they are foolish; for they knew not the way of the L-rd, the ordinance of their G‑d. I had better go unto the great men and let me speak to them; for these surely know the way of the L-rd, the ordinance of their G‑d; but these altogether have broken the yoke, burst the bands. Therefore slays them the lion out of the forest; the wolf of the desert wastes them; the leopard lies in wait against their cities: Everyone that comes out thence shall be torn in pieces; because many are their transgressions, very numerous are their backslidings."

Fall of Assyria; Growth of Babylon

Meanwhile, the prophecy of Nahum concerning the fate of Assyria had come true. The Chaldeans and Babylonians, under the leadership of Nabopolassar, had united and defeated Assyria. They dealt horribly with Assyria and reduced its mighty capital Nineveh to heaps of ruins.

In the fourth year of Joiakim's reign, important events took place which boded ill to the little Jewish kingdom. King Pharaoh Necho of Egypt, who boldly advanced to the Euphrates to challenge the growing might of the Babylonians, was defeated at Carchemish (Circesium). In consequence of this defeat, he lost all the lands from the river Euphrates to the river of Egypt. The victor, king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who had an insatiable desire for conquest, began to cast covetous eyes upon all lands dominated by the Assyrian and Egyptian empires, both of which were defeated by the new power of Babylon.

The ever watchful prophet Jeremiah followed these events with anxiety. Soon he appeared in the court of the Temple with an ominous warning which G‑d had sent him to deliver to the king, and the people of Judah. "Thus says the L-rd, 'If you will not hearken to Me, to walk in my Law, which I have set before you, to listen to the words of My servants, the prophets, I will render this house like Shiloh, and will make this city a curse to all nations of the earth."

When the priests and false prophets heard these words, they seized Jeremiah and brought him before the princes and elders of the people, clamoring for his death. But Jeremiah fearlessly declared that G‑d had sent him to announce His message, and to induce the people to mend their evil ways. "As for me," the Prophet continued, "I am in your hands, but know for certain that if you put me to death, you shall surely bring innocent blood upon yourselves, and upon this city, and upon the inhabitants thereof." The princes and elders were impressed by Jeremiah's sincerity and courage, and they told the false prophets and priests to leave him alone. Unconcerned for his own safety, Jeremiah continued to preach publicly, walking along the streets of Jerusalem, and calling upon the people to return to G‑d to avert disaster. While the anger of many people was roused, there were some old people who defended the prophet, saying, "In the days cf King Hezekiah, the Prophet Micah prophesied to the people of Judah saying, 'Zion shall be ploughed up like a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins, and the Mountain of the House, woody high places.' Did Hezekiah put him to death for it? Shall we now bring such great evil on our souls?" Thus Jeremiah escaped the wrath of the irate false prophets and priests.

The Prophet Uriah

Jeremiah was not alone in his fearless reproofs. Other prophets brought similar messages of disaster and retribution if the people failed to return to G‑d betimes. Conspicuous among them was Uriah, whose boldness and outspokenness had aroused the king's anger. The king sent messengers to apprehend him, and Uriah fled to Egypt. Unfortunately, the royal messengers dragged him back to Jerusalem, where he was publicly executed. Jeremiah too was threatened with death by the king's henchmen. But Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, Josiah's scribe, saved him.

Jeremiah and the False Prophets

In vain did Jeremiah reprove the king, warning him of the imminent doom which would visit the land. In vain did he paint the gloom and despair that would prevail when G‑d would punish the people for their faithlessness, immorality, and injustice. There were so many false prophets who misled the king and the people by their predictions of glorious days to come that Jeremiah's words were unheeded; nay, he became an object of public ridicule and derision. Every day that passed without any disturbance to the normal life of Jerusalem afforded another opportunity for the people to make Jeremiah appear ridiculous and insane. They challenged him and his Divine mission: "Where is G‑d's word? Why does it not come true? G‑d is not, and misfortune will never reach us."

Jeremiah never ceased to admonish the people, and he was finally put in prison by the king.

Jeremiah's Scroll

Meanwhile Nebuchadnezzar, at the head of a large army, was advancing upon the land of Israel. The king and people were determined to oppose them, despite Jeremiah's pleas that opposition to the Babylonians would spell disaster. Then G‑d ordered Jeremiah to have some of his speeches and prophecies, which he had made since the death of King Josiah, recorded on a scroll. Jeremiah did so, and dictated his prophecies to his disciple Baruch son of Neriah. Said Jeremiah to his disciple; "I am imprisoned and I am not able to enter the house of the L-rd: Therefore you go and read out of the scroll, which you recorded from my mouth, the words of the L-rd before the ears of the people in the house of the L-rd on the fast day... Perhaps it may be that they will humbly present their supplication before G‑d, and that they will return from their evil ways; for great are the anger and the fury that the L-rd has decreed against this people."

On the fast day many people from Jerusalem and the cities and villages of Judea gathered in the Temple. Fearlessly, Baruch read the contents of the scroll to them. He was immediately reported to the princes who had gathered in the palace. They sent for Baruch and ordered him to repeat what was written in the scroll. When they heard the harsh prophecies, they became frightened and asked Baruch from whence the words came. Baruch informed the people that he had recorded the words exactly as they had come from Jeremiah's lips. The princes advised Baruch to seek refuge in a hidden place, together with Jeremiah. Then they informed the king of the prophet's scroll. Joiakim had the scroll read before him, while he was sitting before a fire-place in his winter palace. On hearing the terrible admonition contained in the scroll, the king flew into a rage. He cut the scroll in pieces, and cast the pieces into the fire, over the protests of the princes. Then he sent for Jeremiah and his scribe Baruch to have them both put to death, but they could not be found. G‑d then ordered Jeremiah to have the scroll rewritten, and Jeremiah once again dictated it to Baruch.

Nebuchadnezzar, remaining in the north, sent a part of his army southward to invade Judea. Joiakim was forced to submit, and a heavy tax was imposed upon the land.