by Jenny Fulton
At first glance, Jehoiakim seems like every other random king in the long, anecdotal list of kings with difficult-to-pronounce names. But if we dig a little deeper, we discover there are significant lessons we can learn from this man’s life and God’s dealings with him.
Who Was Jehoiakim?
Jehoiakim is mentioned 36 times in the Bible. A general account of him can be found in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles and he’s referenced in a genealogy of kings in 1 Chronicles. He is a key figure in several of Jeremiah’s prophecies and appears at the beginning of Daniel as the Judean king in power when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquered Jerusalem. It was during this time that Nebechadnezzar took Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach, and Aded-nego back with him to Babylon.
Jehoiakim was originally named Eliakim, which means “God will establish.” His dad was King Josiah. After a couple of truly horrendous kings (Manassah and Amon), Josiah came along as one of the few good Judean kings (2 Kings 22:2; 2 Chron. 34:2). He began reigning when he was only eight years old. When he was 26, one of the priests found “the book of the law” and brought it to him. When the king read it, he was deeply grieved and sought the Lord from then on. 2 Kings 23:25 summarizes his reign. “Before him there was no king like him who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him” (NASB).
With such a father, it would have been great if that godly legacy had continued. Sadly, it didn’t. Jehoiakim’s half brother Jehoahaz took the throne, but he didn’t last long. Three months into Jehoahaz’ evil reign, Pharaoh Neco, who’d invaded the land and killed Josiah, captured Jehoahaz and imprisoned him in Syria. Then the pharaoh made Eliakim king and changed his name to Jehoiakim (“Jeh will establish”).
Jehoiakim began reigning when he was 25 years old and reigned for 11 years in Jerusalem. Three years into his rule, he found himself in the middle of a powerhouse land grab. King Nebuchadnezzar came down and conquered the Judean and Israelite territory formerly held by Egypt. After three years under the new management, Jehoiakim rebelled. God wasn’t pleased and responded by sending bands of raiders against him to destroy the land and cities of Judah.
2 Kings 23:27 summarizes Jehoiakim’s reign by stating, “He did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done.”
Here are four lessons we can learn from the life of this evil king.
4 Lessons from Jehoiakim’s Reign
1. A godly leader can delay God’s wrath while an evil leader hastens it
Jehoiakim’s great-grandpa, Manassah, was one of the most evil kings Judah had yet seen. Because of his deeds, God declared he would bring great calamity on Jerusalem and Judah (2 Kings 21:11-12).
When Josiah came along and turned his heart and the nation back to God, the Lord delayed his wrath and things went well for the nation (2 Ki 22:19-20).
Although Jehoiakim followed the evil path of his great-grandpa, God presented the same options to him. In Jeremiah God gave the king and his people two if-then statements. If they turned to Him, then He would bless them and not bring destruction, but if they continued to do evil, they would be destroyed.
It only took one good leader to delay God’s judgment upon the nation for their wickedness. It only took one bad leader to undo everything the godly leader had done and hasten the destruction.
Though none of us are leaders of a nation, many of us are leaders of someone. Whether we’re leaders in our family, at church, in our community, or at work, our hearts and actions matter and we can make a difference.
2. There’s no excuse for doing evil
Josiah’s dad and grandpa were two of the most evil Judean kings. With such parentage, we might think it inevitable for Josiah to follow the same path. But he chose differently. When he heard God’s word, he accepted it as true and allowed it to penetrate and change his heart.
Jehoiakim’s dad was one of Judah’s most godly kings. He grew up in a time when the worship of God was being lifted up and altars to the idols were being torn down. But he chose a different path. Rather than embrace God, Jehoiakim rejected him.
You could look at Jehoiakim’s reign and see him as an unfortunate victim caught between two warring world powers. However, the Bible makes it clear that while those forces were inflicting pain upon the nation from without, Jehoiakim was inflicting equal, if not greater, pain upon his people from within. “Now the rest of the acts of Jehoiakim and the abominations which he did, and what was found against him, behold, they are written in the Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah” (2 Chronicles 36:8, NASB).
Jehoiakim was without excuse for his evil behavior and God held him accountable. While his father Josiah showed how someone with terrible parents can turn out good, Jehoiakim proved that even the most good-hearted ones can’t prevent their children from going astray. Although he later found himself in grim circumstances, Jehoiakim could have chosen to turn to God for help, as other leaders before and after him did. Instead, he dug in his heels and stubbornly persisted in his evil path.
3. God reaches out multiple times through multiple people.
Although Jehoiakim was incredibly evil, God sent multiple people to call him to repent. Prophets like Jeremiah and Uriah urged him to follow God and do what was right. Both men spoke a similar message: “‘Thus says the Lord, “If you will not listen to Me, to walk in My law which I have set before you, to listen to the words of My servants the prophets, whom I have been sending to you again and again, but you have not listened; then I will make this house like Shiloh, and this city I will make a curse to all the nations of the earth.” ’ ” (Jeremiah 26:4-6).
Rather than focus on the implied “if you do listen to me, then I’ll bless you” part of the message, most of the people, including King Jehoiakim, fixated on the “I will curse this city” part, got really mad, and tried to kill the messengers. While Jeremiah was saved from death, Uriah wasn’t. Jehoiakim tracked this latter prophet to Egypt, had him brought back to Jerusalem, and killed him.
Because of God’s mercy and desire to withhold calamity (Jeremiah 26:3), He gives people numerous opportunities to turn to Him. Even though God knows their hearts and knows what they’ll do, He keeps seeking them. If people don’t desire God, it’s often not because they’ve lacked opportunity or the right messenger. On the flip side, we can be sure God won’t give up on them, or us.
4. God honors those who obey Him
Jehoiakim and most of the people of Judah were evil (Jeremiah 25). However, some of those in the land still followed God. Because they loved and served Him, though their nation was being destroyed, God blessed these individuals.
Jeremiah was saved time and again from the evil plottings of prophets, priests, and kings.
Some of the elders, officials, and scribes (Jeremiah 26, 36) responded to Jeremiah’s words and did what they could to serve God.
Daniel and his friends, whose stories are told in the book of Daniel, grew up in the midst of Jehoiakim’s reign. Yet their faith is shown as being so strong that it turned the hearts of foreign kings to God.
Though God punished the nation, He blessed those who loved and followed Him.
God is so strong that He can use something evil to teach us something good. May we be comforted in the knowledge that one person walking in faith can make a difference and that even if the world around us may feel like it’s going crazy, we can be grounded and secure in God’s presence.
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