For this is what the Lord says about the palace of the king of Judah: “Though you are like Gilead to me, like the summit of Lebanon, I will surely make you like a wasteland, like towns not inhabited. I will send destroyers against you, each man with his weapons, and they will cut up your fine cedar beams and throw them into the fire. “People from many nations will pass by this city and will ask one another, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this great city?’ And the answer will be: ‘because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and have worshiped and served other gods.’ ” Do not weep for the dead king or mourn his loss; rather, weep bitterly for him who is exiled, because he will never return nor see his native land again. For this is what the Lord says about Shallum son of Josiah, who succeeded his father as king of Judah but has gone from this place: “He will never return. He will die in the place where they have led him captive; he will not see this land again.” “Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor. He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.’ So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red. – Jeremiah 22:6-14
The challenging passages of Jeremiah continue…In this passage God is describing a very bleak future for Judah, Jerusalem, and those who have been exiled to Babylon. God is going to make Judah and Jerusalem like a wasteland. When I think of a wasteland I think of the land of Mordor from the Lord of the Rings. Frodo and Sam toiled through this place of perpetual darkness, smoldering fires, and smoke. The future that Jeremiah is sharing with the people of Jerusalem and Judah sound a lot like Mordor. Perhaps this is why Jeremiah is not such a popular prophet among the people of Judah.
The land of Mordor is a land without light and hope. The people of Judah and Jerusalem have made their home a place like Mordor by actively choosing to run from God and the light that He provides. God is very specific about the destruction that will come. They will come and “cut up your fine cedar beams and throw them into the fire.” This was probably a reference to the cedars of the temple in Jerusalem. God predicts that people will see the destruction in Jerusalem and they will wonder why God would allow this – asking “where is their God?”
God goes on to explain what is happening and why it is happening…”because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and have worshiped and served other gods.” So because the people have moved away from God they find themselves in darkness. This should not be such a surprise. When one is in darkness and a light is available one should move toward it not away from it.
Then God makes a distinction between those who will be taken into exile and those that will remain behind. For whatever reason God directs people not to “weep for the dead king or mourn his loss; rather, weep bitterly for him who is exiled, because he will never return nor see his native land again.” So the people who have remained in Jerusalem are seemingly a lost cause, but those who have been separated from God in exile still have a choice of returning to God or remaining separate from Him.
Jeremiah gives this final word from God, “Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.” This sounds like God is once again admonishing the leaders for failing to care for the people they have been given the privilege to lead. They are failing the “Meribah Test” just like Moses and taking advantage of their “view from the top” like David.
There is a lesson here for all those who take on leadership as a follower of Jesus. We are to lead while following. All of us flawed followers, especially those called to lead, need to build our lives, and the “palaces” we are building, on God rather than a substitute in the form of an idol.
Prayer: God help us to build our lives on You and resist the temptation to follow idols rather than Your Son Jesus.