HEN the good King Josiah fell in battle the people of the land made his son Jehoahaz king. At that time all the kingdoms around Judah were in confusion. The great empire of Assyria had been the ruler of nearly all that part of the world; but now it had been broken up, Nineveh, its chief city, had been destroyed, and Egypt, Babylonia, and other lands were at war, each striving to take the place of Assyria as the ruler of the nations.
Pharaoh-nechoh, the king of Egypt, whose warriors had slain King Josiah, became for a time the master of the lands between Egypt and the Euphrates river. He felt that he could not trust the young King Jehoahaz, and he took his crown from him, and carried him a captive down to Egypt, so that Jehoahaz, the seventeenth king, reigned only three months. The prophet Jeremiah, who arose during Josiah's reign, spoke thus of the young king who so soon was taken away a prisoner, "Weep not for the dead King Josiah, nor sorrow over him, but weep for him that goeth away, the King Jehoahaz, for he shall return no more, nor shall he again see his own land. In the place where they have led him captive, there shall he die, and he shall look upon this land no more."
The man whom Pharaoh-nechoh set up as king over Judah in place of Jehoahaz was his brother Jehoiakim, another son of Josiah. But he was not like his father, for he lived most wickedly, and led his people back to the idols which Josiah had tried to destroy. Jeremiah, the prophet, spoke to him the words of the Lord, and warned him that the evil way in which he was going would surely end in ruin to the king and the people. This made King Jehoiakim very angry. He tried to kill the prophet, and to save his life Jeremiah was hidden by his friends.
Jeremiah could no longer go out among the people nor stand in the Temple to speak the word of the Lord. So he wrote upon a roll God's message, and gave it to his friend Baruch to read before the people. While Baruch was reading it some officers of the king came and took the roll away, and brought it to the king. King Jehoiakim was sitting in his palace, with the princes around him, and a fire was burning before him, for it was the winter time. The officer began to read the roll before the king and the princes, but when he had read a few pages the king took up a knife and began cutting the leaves and throwing them into the fire. Even the princes were shocked at this, for they knew that the writing on the roll was God's word to the king and the people. They begged the king not to destroy the roll, but he would not heed them. He went on cutting up the roll and throwing it in the fire until it was all burned.
The king told his officers to take Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch, who read his words; and he would have killed them if he had found them. But they were hidden, and he could not find them, for the Lord kept them in safety.
Jehoiakim reigned a few years as the servant of the king of Egypt. But soon the Egyptians lost all the lands that they had gained outside of their own country; and the Babylonians, under Nebuchadnezzar, rose to power over the nations, and took the place of empire that had been held by the Assyrians. Nebuchadnezzar was the son of the king of Babylon, and at first was the general of his army. He came against Judah and Jerusalem, but Jehoiakim did not dare to fight with him. He promised to serve Nebuchadnezzar, and on that condition was allowed to remain king; but no sooner had the Babylonian army gone away than he broke his promise, and rose against Babylon, and tried to make himself free.
But in this King Jehoiakim did not succeed. Instead, he lost his kingdom and his life, for either by the Babylonians or by his own people he was slain, and his dead body, like that of a beast, was thrown outside the gate of the city. He had reigned in wickedness eleven years, and he died in disgrace.