Temple to Temple

Yirmiyahu’s Prophecy (Part 4)
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Wednesday 9th December 2015

Yehoyakim, the king of Judea, was still in an alliance with Pharaoh-Necho of Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian forces were racing down the coastal plain on their way to Egypt. The coastal cities were falling swiftly under the might of the Babylonian army, and Judea feared for its existence.

The prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) had warned that the destruction of the Temple was drawing near and that an army from the north would bring destruction and desolation to Judea.

While Yehoyakim was still in an alliance with Egypt, any talk of the kingdom being destroyed by a northern army was considered criminal, and Yirmiyahu was jailed for an act of high treason against the king.

Yehoyakim saw the forces of Babylon drawing ever closer and heard of the annihilation of his neighbour Ashkelon. He commanded all the people of Judea to come to Jerusalem and fast, in the hope that G-d would save them from the oncoming battle (Yirmiyahu 36:9).

Yirmiyahu, while in jail, told his student Baruch ben Neria to go out to the Temple and read his prophecy to the people in the form of the Megillat Eicha (Book of Lamentations). We read this every year on Tisha B’Av. When the people and the ministers heard the prophecy of Eicha, they were truly upset. They brought Baruch ben Neria and the scroll of Eicha before King Yehoyakim. The Midrash relates what happened when the king heard the devastating words prophesied in Eicha:

Eicha opens by saying: “How does the city sit so solitary, that was once full of people?”

The king responded to his advisors: “But I will still remain its king!”

“And she wept into the night,” continues Eicha.

“What do I care, I am still king,” came the king’s reply.

“Judah has gone into Exile.”

“I am the king.”

“The paths of Zion do mourn.”

“I am the king.”

“The adversaries of Zion will become the rulers of Zion.”

With that last verse, Yehoyakim realised the meaning of Eicha and that if the people are exiled, they will have no king. At that point, he grabbed the scroll, took a knife and cut out the name of G-d wherever it appeared in the scroll of Eicha. He then threw it into the fire.

Much of the idolatrous practice that had infiltrated society in the years preceding the destruction of the First Temple came from the leaders. When the people fasting in the courtyards of Jerusalem heard the prophecy of Eicha, they were upset and looked to the leadership of the King, in the hope of turning things around. The king at that point was interested in neither. Without his leadership, the people were left with no recourse but to await the imminent destruction that Yirmiyahu had prophesied.