Today: [Jeremiah 22] What Cost the Neglect of the Poor? In verse 22 of Jeremiah the prophet emphasizes the mistreatment of the poor as one of the primary reasons that the kings of the line of David at the fall of Judah would be extinguished. How important is it for us to take care of and be a blessing to those who are struggling? In the words of Jeremiah, it meant the difference between personal survival and destruction, to remember the poor and refuse to oppress those less fortunate.
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[Jer 22:1-30 KJV] 1 Thus saith the LORD; Go down to the house of the king of Judah, and speak there this word, 2 And say, Hear the word of the LORD, O king of Judah, that sittest upon the throne of David, thou, and thy servants, and thy people that enter in by these gates: 3 Thus saith the LORD; Execute ye judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place. 4 For if ye do this thing indeed, then shall there enter in by the gates of this house kings sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, he, and his servants, and his people. 5 But if ye will not hear these words, I swear by myself, saith the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation. 6 For thus saith the LORD unto the king’s house of Judah; Thou [art] Gilead unto me, [and] the head of Lebanon: [yet] surely I will make thee a wilderness, [and] cities [which] are not inhabited. 7 And I will prepare destroyers against thee, every one with his weapons: and they shall cut down thy choice cedars, and cast [them] into the fire. 8 And many nations shall pass by this city, and they shall say every man to his neighbour, Wherefore hath the LORD done thus unto this great city? 9 Then they shall answer, Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD their God, and worshipped other gods, and served them. 10 Weep ye 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.
In the previous chapter Jeremiah condemns the city and the line of the kings of David for their oppressive regime and the manner in which they take unfair advantage of the poor and the hireling. This chapter continues as Jeremiah declares the word of the Lord commanding the king to execute judgment and deliver those that have been spoiled and ill-treated. Apparently there was much injustice in Jerusalem at this time toward the fatherless, the widows and foreigners traveling through the southern nation of Judah. It was to these policies Jeremiah speaks – saying if the king repents of these wrongdoings that the kingdom will be secure for him and those that come after him.
How important is it in a nation or even to an individual to care for the poor? Conservative government tends to marginalize poverty programs while liberal governments use them merely to curry the vote without really solving any of the problems in the lower economic classes. To be sure poverty is a constant in any society. Jesus Himself said in Matt. 26:11 that the poor are always with us. The context of His remark was in reply to the objection of the disciples that an expensive quantity of perfumed oil was poured upon Jesus’ feet. There are always complaints among small minded people against giving where it seemingly isn’t necessary, but what of the poor?
Every believer should have a personal plan to do something to assist those less fortunate than themselves. It should be as personal as possible, and institutional if necessary. The people of God under the law were called upon to give what amounted to 15.7 percent of their surplus to the impoverished in their midst. There is little evidence that they ever did this. We certainly make the case in Christianity for tithing and supporting the church but very little is done for the poor. Most ministerial alliances do little more than give the indigent a night in a hotel and a tank of gas to get out of town. There is a deep disparity between the vast resources given to building programs, etc., to the paltry, even insulting pittances earmarked for the impoverished. This is very telling when you realize in Jeremiah that the neglect of the poor was the primary reason after idolatry God gives for destroying the city of Jerusalem.
11 For thus saith the LORD touching Shallum the son of Josiah king of Judah, which reigned instead of Josiah his father, which went forth out of this place; He shall not return thither any more: 12 But he shall die in the place whither they have led him captive, and shall see this land no more. 13 Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; [that] useth his neighbour’s service without wages, and giveth him not for his work; 14 That saith, I will build me a wide house and large chambers, and cutteth him out windows; and [it is] cieled with cedar, and painted with vermilion. 15 Shalt thou reign, because thou closest [thyself] in cedar? did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice, [and] then [it was] well with him? 16 He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then [it was] well [with him: was] not this to know me? saith the LORD. 17 But thine eyes and thine heart [are] not but for thy covetousness, and for to shed innocent blood, and for oppression, and for violence, to do [it]. 18 Therefore thus saith the LORD concerning Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah; They shall not lament for him, [saying], Ah my brother! or, Ah sister! they shall not lament for him, [saying], Ah lord! or, Ah his glory! 19 He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem.
The three final kings of the line of Judah were all sons of Josiah. One king was installed by the Egyptians and two were put in place by the Babylonians. Each of them had their names altered by the foreign powers that put them on the throne, as a way of making it plain that their power derived from Egyptian or Babylonian policies and not their own strength. Each of these three kings rebelled in turn and was punished for doing so. The first king after Josiah was Jehoakim who after 11 years of wicked rule was so despised that his body was unceremoniously cast out into a dumping place where diseased livestock were disposed of. His descendant Jeconiah ruled only 3 months before he was taken to Babylon where he died in prison. His replacement was Zedekiah, the last king of the line of David who had his children and wife slain before him, after which his eyes were put out and he was taken to Babylonian captivity where he died.
The pronouncement of Jeremiah against these unjust kings was “woe to him that buildeth his house by unrigteousness…” The opposite truth for us is that our lives will be blessed and established when we make fair dealing and merciful policies the governing principles by which we conduct ourselves particularly toward those that are without. In Islam there are edicts that encourage just dealing toward fellow Muslims, but allow mistreatment of infidels. What about Christianity? Are we allowed to mistreat, or to neglect others, particularly those outside the faith? Paul said this:
[Gal 6:10 KJV] 10 As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all [men], especially unto them who are of the household of faith.
In day to day dealings we will have occasion to see the selfish conduct of others toward us, but our personal commitment should be whether we are fairly treated or not to do good unto all men equally with particular attention to those in the body of Christ. If you see a need – do something about it. Take personal responsibility to advocate for those in unfortunate circumstances as best you can. When doing so be prepared to deal with thanklessness and the disposal of resources we have sacrificed to make available not being used the way we thought they would. The poor are poor for a reason usually and they don’t always demonstrate the greatest wisdom when they do have a windfall. Refuse to take offense when the gift you give is foolishly squandered. Keep on loving and keep on being a blessing as best you can. This is the lesson the kings of Judah at the end of the line of David refused to learn and were extinguished.
20 Go up to Lebanon, and cry; and lift up thy voice in Bashan, and cry from the passages: for all thy lovers are destroyed. 21 I spake unto thee in thy prosperity; [but] thou saidst, I will not hear. This [hath been] thy manner from thy youth, that thou obeyedst not my voice. 22 The wind shall eat up all thy pastors, and thy lovers shall go into captivity: surely then shalt thou be ashamed and confounded for all thy wickedness. 23 O inhabitant of Lebanon, that makest thy nest in the cedars, how gracious shalt thou be when pangs come upon thee, the pain as of a woman in travail! 24 [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; 25 And I will give thee into the hand of them that seek thy life, and into the hand [of them] whose face thou fearest, even into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, and into the hand of the Chaldeans. 26 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. 27 But to the land whereunto they desire to return, thither shall they not return. 28 [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? 29 O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD. 30 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.
In verse 21 the prophet Jeremiah speaks to the kings in their prosperity but found they were unwilling to listen. It is a truth that we seek prayerfully after the voice of God when we are hurting and in a crisis, but tend to marginalize the need for instruction when everything is going well. Because of this Jeremiah tells the king that he will go into captivity. In verse 24 the Lord declares that though the king’s son Coniah was as the very signet on his right hand that he would pluck him up and give them into the hands of their enemies because they refused to have a seeing eye and listening ear to the counsel of God. The chapter concludes with a prediction that of the line of David there shall no more be any ruling over the nation of Judah, and this was fulfilled when Zedekiah was deposed and it was then approximately 600 years before the birth of Jesus.
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