THE TEARING DOWN AND ROOTING OUT
Pursuant to the object of Jeremiah's call and work, the first king on David's throne to be disposed of was Josiah, for it was in the thirteenth year of his reign that the call of God came to Jeremiah, as you may know by reading Jer. 1:1, 2. Jeremiah himself gives no account of the downfall of Josiah, but it is recorded in 2 Kings 23, and 2 Chr. thirty-fifth chapter. It took place in the days of Pharaoh-Necho, king of Egypt, and Charchemish, king of Assyria.
Josiah himself was a good man and a good king; he did all that could be done to restore the people to the worship of God. He had all the wizards, workers with familiar spirits, images, idols and abominations put out of the land; but the Lord would not stay his threatened punishment of the kingdom of Judea, which had become "worse" than Israel.
Concerning the goodness of Josiah, and also his inability to prevent the impending calamity, it is written:
"And like unto him was no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose any like him. Notwithstanding, the Lord turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh [son of Hezekiah] had provoked him withal. And the Lord said, I will remove Judah [the Jews] out of my sight, as I have removed Israel [the ten tribes]," (2 Kings, 23:25-27).
Not only was Josiah the best king they ever had, and not only did he put away those abominations, but he also kept the greatest Passover that was ever held in Israel or Judah since the days of Samuel the prophet. To this Passover that good king gave thirty-three thousand and three hundred cattle and oxen, and to this the princes and people gave willingly of their flocks and herds, until the number was swelled to many thousand more.
The sons of Aaron made themselves ready; the people made themselves ready; the sacrifices were killed; the blood sprinkled; the offerings were burned upon the altar of the Lord, and the people kept the feast of unleavened bread for seven days. But all this availed nothing, except a personal blessing to Josiah, that he should die in peace and not see the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of the people.
No, the eternal fiat of God had gone forth, and we think that no number of worshipers, no number of good kings, or good men, and surely no mighty army of bad men, could stay the downfall of that nation.
For the Lord says, "After all this," when Pharaoh Necho, the king of Egypt, came up to fight against Charchemish, king of Assyria, Josiah rashly, without provocation, made it his business and went out to fight against the king of Egypt, who kindly tried to restrain him, and sent ambassadors to him saying: "What have I to do with thee, thou king of Judah? I come not against thee this day, but against the house [Assyria] wherewith I have war; for God commanded me to make haste: forbear thee from meddling with God, who is with me, that he destroy thee not." And the record continues: "Nevertheless, Josiah would not turn his face from him, but disguised himself, that he might fight with him and harkened not unto the word of Necho from the mouth of God, and came to fight in the valley of Megiddo. And the archers shot at King Josiah; and the king said to his servants, Have me away, for I am sore wounded. His servants therefore took him out of that chariot, and put him in the second chariot that he had, and brought him to Jerusalem, and he died, and was buried in one of the sepulchres of his fathers. And all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah. And Jeremiah lamented for Josiah," (2 Chr. 35:21-25).
So Jeremiah saw that good king pulled down, and lamented him, together with the whole nation; and the singing men and women made an ordinance of lamentations for Josiah, and Shallum the son of Josiah ascended the throne. But the Lord had said, "I swear by myself" that this house of Judah shall come to desalation. So he says to this lamenting people: "Weep 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. For thus saith the Lord touching Shallum, the son of Josiah, which reigned instead of Josiah, his father, which went out of this place, he shall not return any more: but he shall die in the place whither they have led him captive, and shall see this land no more," (Jer. 22:10-12). Thus Jeremiah records the fact of another overthrow; and so the work goes on.
Jehoiakim, another son of Josiah, was next to take the throne of his fathers; but hear the judgment which was pronounced upon him: "Therefore thus saith the Lord concerning Johoiakim, the son of Josiah, king of Judah: They shall not lament for him saying (to each other), Ah, my brother! or, my Ah, my sister! They shall not lament for him, saying, Ah, Lord! or, Ah, his glory! He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem," (Jer. 22:18, 19.) Another disposed of. Who next?
"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; and I will give thee into the hand of them that seek thy life, and into the hand of them whose faces thou fearest, even into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and into the hands of the Chaldeans. 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. But unto the land whereunto they desire to return thither shall they not return."
"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? O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord. 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," (Jer. 22:24-30).
Thus Coniah makes the fourth king who has been disposed of since the Lord called and commissioned Jeremiah; but there is still another, as recorded by that prophet: "And King Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, reigned instead of Coniah, the son of Jehoiakiah," (Jer. 37:1).
Zedekiah, the successor to Coniah, ascended the throne about six hundred years before Christ. His reign lasted only eleven years, and he is the last king of the Judo-Davidic line who has reigned over the Jewish nation from that day to this. Yet God has said that he would build up David's throne unto all generations, and prior to that he declared: "The Sceptre shall not depart from Judah [his posterity], nor a law-giver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him [Shiloh] shall the gathering of the people be," (Gen. 49:10). With these facts before us it behooves us to look well into this history of Zedekiah, and learn his fate and also that of his family.
During the reign of Coniah, the predecessor of Zedekiah, the king of Babylon had come against the kingdom of Judah, subdued it and carried away the king, his mother, his wives, and others, into Babylon. Consequently at the time when Zedekiah ascended the throne, the country of Judah was a province of Babylon. But the then tolerant Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, took Mathaniah, the third son of Josiah, who was of course brother to Jehoiakim, Coniah's father, and changed his name to Zedekiah, then made him king instead of Coniah.
We do not purpose, especially at this time, to go into endless genealogies, as it is generally confusing to the reader. In this Josiah family there were at least two Zedekiahs, and Zedekiahs along the family line for centuries back. There were also Shallums, and Shallums, and Shallums, and even Coniah's name is spelled three different ways. We will also say, for the benefit of the more critical student, that often a man is said to be the son of another when in fact he is grandson or even further removed. Christ is the "Son of David," and yet David is his great-grandfather twenty-eight generations back. "From David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations," (Matt. 1:17).
This Zedekiah of whom we write is the third son of Josiah, for we read, "And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah, his (Coniah's) father's brother, king in his stead, and changed his name to Zedekiah."
"Zedekiah was twenty-and-one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Hamutal, the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah," (2 Kings 24:17-19). Thus we find Jeremiah making the following record concerning Coniah's successor: "And King Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, reigned instead of Coniah, the son of Jehoiakim, whom Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, made king in the land of Judah," (Jer. 37:1). Hence this young king, the fifth to occupy the throne of David, since Jeremiah had received his commission, was his own grandson.
The work of rooting out and tearing down has been well done so far, and we may rest assured that, although the prophet's own flesh and blood are on the throne and dwelling in the palace, the God-assigned work will not stop. But if there should be any very young or helpless members of that family survive the wreck which must come during the tearing down and rooting out period, who would have a greater claim as their natural protector than one so closely allied by the ties of blood as this very man whom God has chosen for the work of building and planting, as well as of tearing down and rooting out?
Jeremiah records the downfall of Zedekiah and his sons, the royal princes, as follows: "In the ninth year of Zedekiah, king of Judah, in the tenth month, came Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and all his army against Jerusalem, and they besieged it. And in the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, and the ninth day of the month, the city was broken up. And all the princes of the king of Babylon came in, and sat in the middle gate, even Nergal-sharezar, Samgar-Nebo, Sarsechim, Rabsaris, Rabmag, with all the residue of the princes of the king of Babylon.
"And it came to pass, that when Zedekiah, the king of Judah, saw them, and all the men of war, then they fled, and went forth out of the city by night, by the way of the king's garden, by the gate betwixt the two walls; and he went out the way of the plain. But the Chaldeans' army pursued after them, and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho; and when they had taken him, they brought him up to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, to Riblah, in the land of Hamath, where he gave judgment upon him. Then the king of BabyIon slew the sons of Zedekiah in Riblah before his eyes; also the king of Babylon slew all the nobles of Judah. Moreover he put out Zedekiah's eyes, and bound him in chains, to carry him to Babylon. And the Chaldeans burned the king's house, and the houses of the people, with fire, and brake down the walls of Jerusalem,” (Jer. 39:1-8).
In the fifty-second chapter of Jeremiah there is a statement of these events, to which, after recording the fact concerning the king's being carried to Babylon in chains, there is added the following: "And the king of Babylon . . . put him in prison till the day of his death," (Jer. 52:11).
Thus ends the history of the last prince of the house of David who has ever reigned over the Jewish people from that time until the present; and we know that they are not now, as a nation, being ruled over by any prince of their royal family; for they are scattered among all the nations of the earth, and are now fulfilling, not the prophecies concerning their ultimate and most glorious destiny, but a class of prophecies which pertain to this period, or time, of being scattered, which are those of becoming "a hiss and a byword," "crying for sorrow of heart and vexation of spirit," and leaving "their name for a curse." When those events occurred which resulted in the overthrow of the Zedekiah branch of the royal house, a climax was reached, not only in the history of all those things which were involved in the Davidic covenant, but also in that predestined work, for the accomplishment of which God sanctified and sent Jeremiah into this world.
By this climax, the first part of his mission, in all its phases, was now most thoroughly accomplished -- namely, the plucking up, throwing down, afflicting. Indeed, it was so well done, that the heretofore accepted authorities in theologic, historic and ethnologic matters have taught that the sceptre, throne and kingdom of David were wiped out of existence, together with the house of David, excepting only another branch of the family of Josiah, who were carried away into the Babylonish captivity, of whom came Christ, the son of David, who, according to the Scripture, must yet sit upon the throne of his father David. We will give but one example of that class of sophistical reasoning which has led the mind of the Christian world into this gross error.
Take, for instance, the well-known and much-used Polyglot Bible, published by Samuel Bagster & Sons, of London. The compilers of this work (whoever they are we know not) give what is called "A summary view of the principal events of the period from the close of the sacred canon of the Old Testament until the times of the New Testament." According to the system of chronology which this work adopts, the overthrow of Zedekiah occurred in the year 589 B. C. This proposed summary begins after the return of the Jewish people from the Babylonish captivity, but while they were yet under the dominion of the Kingdom of Persia; and when Artaxerxes Longimanus was the reigning king, who in his twentieth year commissioned Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, an event which happened, according to the chronology used, in 446 B. C.
Then follows a brief record of the death and successions of kings, the rise and fall of dynasties, and the overthrow of kingdoms, powers, dominions and empires. But it is always shown conclusively that these ruling powers, whatever might be their nationality, were dominating the Jewish people.
The summary shows that Alexander the Great marched into Judea to punish the people for certain grievances which, in his mind, they had practiced against him as commander of the Grecian forces, and that God thwarted him in that purpose. It shows that when Alexander died the Grecian empire was divided among his four generals; that Palestine was given to Loamedon, one of those generals, and that it was soon taken away from him by Ptolemy, the king of Egypt, that they "rejoiced to submit to this new master," and what the consequences were. It shows what they suffered under Antiochus Epiphanes, especially after a false rumor had been spread concerning his death, which they believed and rejoiced in, and that in consequence of this rejoicing "he slew 40,000 persons, sold as many more for slaves, plundered the temple of gold and furniture to the amount of 80 talents of gold, entered the Holy of Holies, and sacrificed a sow upon the altar of burnt offerings, and caused the broth of it to be sprinkled all over the temple." No greater indignity than this could have been put upon that people. The summary continues, a truthful record of suffering after suffering, trouble after trouble, and indignity after indignity, heaped upon that conquered people, who during all those centuries were reigned over by their enemies, the Gentile nations; but not once does the record show -- no not for even one generation -- that they were ruled by a prince of their own royal house.
Finally, the summary ends as follows: "At length Antipater, a noble but crafty Idumean, by favor of Julius Caesar, was made procurator of Judea, and Hyrcanus continued in the priesthood. After Antipater's death, his son, Herod the Great, by the assistance of Antony, the Roman triumvir, and through much barbarity and bloodshed assumed the regal dignity; which authority was at length confirmed by Augustus Caesar. He maintained his dignity with great ability, but with the utmost cruelty, in his own family as well as among others, till the birth of Christ. In the interval he built many cities, and, to ingratiate himself with the Jews, almost rebuilt the temple.
His crude attempt to murder the infant Saviour is recorded by the evangelist; and soon afterward he died most miserably. After some years, during which the dominions of Herod were governed by his sons, Judea became a Roman province, and the sceptre deparied from Judah, for Shiloh was come [the italics are their own]; and after having been under the government of Roman procurators for some years, the whole Jewish state was at length subverted by Titus, the son of Vespasian."
The sophistry in the use of those italicised words, as employed by the compilers of that summary, is that they destroy the evident meaning of that prophecy to which they refer, by the substitution of various sceptres -- held by various kings, of various Gentile nations, that have consecutively held dominion over the Jewish people -- for one particular Sceptre, which the Lord promised should be held, only by some member of Judah's family line, and which should not cease to be held by those of his posterity until Shiloh should come.
If the view, as put forth in the closing sentence of that summary, is the true one, then the entire prophecy must, for several reasons, go by default.
(1) A sceptre did not depart from over the Jews when Christ came. Forty years after Christ had come and gone finds them still under the power of Rome. Shortly afterward they were dispersed and have since been scattered among all nations, where they remain unto this day, and are still being ruled over.
(2) If the first coming of Christ was his Shiloh coming, then Shiloh failed; for the people did not gather unto him.
(3) The Lord declares: "Judah is my law giver." According to this summary and other accepted evidence, Judah as Lawgiver departed from the Jews 588 years before Shiloh came. Hence that unbridged chasm of nearly six hundred years stands like a gaping wound in the side of the Church of Jesus Christ, whenever she is compelled to show herself in naked honesty. The entire trend of this summary with its subtle reference to the prophecy in question seems to be that so long as the Jewish nation was ruled over, no matter by whom, and held together as a province or state, this prophecy was vindicated: whereas such vindication, conception, or use of those words, is only an attempt to hold together, by daubing with untempered mortar, an edifice which is tottering and tumbling.
The most charitable construction which can be put upon such accommodating, mollifying, weak and abortive efforts to vindicate the truth of God, is that the persons are ignorant of just some such vital point as the fact that Jeremiah was called and commissioned of God to build and plant anew the plucked-up kingdom of David.
All who claim that Christ has come as Shiloh are compelled to resort to just such distortions of the Divine Word as the one under consideration, in order to fill up that gaping hiatus of 588 years, from the overthrow of Zedekiah until Christ.
Furthermore, after they have plastered over that gap to their own (questionable) satisfaction, they are still confronted with the fact that the Lord God did not give unto Christ the throne of his father David, nor cause him to reign over the house of Jacob --no, not even spiritually -- for the Jews are a part of the house of Jacob: as these men themselves are compelled to admit. Also the Jews are enemies to the gospel of grace which Jesus Christ came to bring, "but as touching the election [of race], they are beloved for the fathers' sake."
Meanwhile, the great question which confronts us is this: Has God suffered his faithfulness to fail, or allowed any of his promises to go by default, or permitted his covenant either with Judah, David or Christ to suffer lapse? The very thought that such could possibly be the case causes us to feel the first chilling blight of skepticism to fall heavily upon our hitherto believing and happy hearts.
The next link in the chain of this divine history is of such deep import that it is impossible for us to over estimate its value, as it is the connecting link between sacred history and prophecy; for you will notice in the first clause of the following text we find a record of events which have become history, but before the sentence is finished we are carried out into the field of prophecy. "It shall come to pass that like as I have watched over them, to pluck up, and to break down, and to throw down, and to destroy, and to afflict, so shall I watch over them, TO BUILD and TO PLANT, saith the Lord,” (Jer. 31:28).
The Lord here uses the already accomplished facts of history as a basis upon which to rest his promise concerning the accomplishment of those which are yet future. Hence, upon events which once were prophetic, but which have now become history, he predicts the fulfillment of others which are still in the future. But these events must follow as a sequence to those which have gone before, since both these which are past and those which are yet to come were originally couched in the same prophecy, in the same commission, and were to be accomplished by the same prophet, Jeremiah of Libnah.
The Lord has said that David should never lack a man of his seed to sit upon that throne.
Query -- Where was the seed with which Jeremiah must "build and plant"?