The Spirit of Jehoiakim and the Sin of Taking Advantage
Robert Wurtz II
Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness And his chambers by injustice, Who uses his neighbor’s service without wages And gives him nothing for his work. (Jeremiah 22:13 NKJV)
In this article, I wish to discuss the spirit of Jehoiakim from God’s perspective. The woe oracle is a specific genre of Old and New Testament writing intended to convey God’s estimate of sinful behaviors in strong terms. In the Old Testament, we have familiar passages such as Isaiah 5:20, “Woe (comes upon) those who call the evil good and the good evil, who turn darkness into light and light into darkness.” or in Jeremiah, “Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD.” (Jeremiah 23:1 KJV)
We also find the woe oracle in the New Testament, where Jesus denounced the religious leaders with seven woes in Matthew 23, followed by John, who described the terrible judgments coming upon the earth in Revelation 8:13, 9:12, 11:14, and 12:12. These verses help us understand the strength of a woe oracle.
Oppressive Policies and Practices
In our text in Jeremiah 22:13, we have a “woe” to the oppressive Jehoiakim, “(…) Who builds his house by unrighteousness and his chambers by injustice, uses his neighbor’s service without wages, and gives him nothing for his work.” The oppression consisted of him building a magnificent palace with the sweat and blood of his subjects, whom he compelled to do forced labor without giving the laborers wages.
God said, “Woe to him that builds,” etc., cf. Hab. 2:12, Mic. 3:10. “That maketh his fellow labor,” lit., through his neighbor he works, i.e., he causes the work to be done by his neighbor (fellow-man) for nothing in return, without giving him wages, forces him to unpaid statute labor. (Keil and Delitzsch)
Built by Unrighteous Methods
After the righteous king Josiah died, his son sat on the throne in Judah for three months. Pharaoh deposed him and installed his brother Jehoiakim in his place. We note that Jehoiakim built his projects by unrighteousness. In simple terms, his dealings were crooked. Moreover, he financed his projects with money obtained unjustly. Part of the reason he had money to buy extra materials was that he defrauded his workers of their wages. Jehoiakim’s means of prosperity and quest for vain glory was a mockery to the kings of Judah.
Matthew Henry once said, “God notices the wrong done by the greatest to poor servants and laborers, and will repay those in justice, who will not, in justice, pay those whom they employ.” It is cruel to have money in the bank to pay wages and then expect them to do it for free or at a price the employer would not accept.
Sadly, though Jehoiakim is long dead and gone, Jehoiakim’s spirit (attitude) is alive and well. It may surprise you that as recently as the 1800s, preachers ministered on the sin of borrowing a neighbor’s tool to shirk buying it themselves. To use a neighbor’s tool and wear it out when you could have purchased your own was considered a sin against your neighbor, akin to theft.
Fairness Among the Saints
God does not look pleasingly upon people who greedily take advantage of others, use people, or any other saying that expresses the concept no matter who they are or what capacity they are laboring in (preaching, teaching, construction, etc.). Therefore, we must never enrich ourselves at the expense of other peoples’ free labor, especially in the kingdom of God.
Jehoiakim did this type of thing. So why did he expect people to work for free? I recall, as a teenager, thanking a coworker for helping me work on my car. He replied, “Robert, “thanks” is good, but “thanks” doesn’t put bread on the table.” It doesn’t mean people can’t volunteer their time to help others, but the person receiving the services should never take advantage.
It is highly arrogant to expect people to work for free when you have money to pay them (Proverbs 3:27). If they volunteer freely (and not because of some guilt trip placed on them), that is different. It is within our rights to volunteer for anything, but it is up to the individual to decide, not by coercion.
Fair and Equitable Dealings
Moreover, we need to be consistent in how and to who we pay. If two people do the same job, they should be paid equally. No excuses. The servant of mammon will devise a thousand schemes to justify holding back wages by fraud, but James tells us that those wages will cry into the ears of the Lord. It does not please God, and the people who do it will not prosper in the long run. It’s only a temporary win for them.
People who do these things do not know they are destroying their testimony before others. God is simply not going to bless the behavior. Is there any wonder He declared, Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness and his chambers by injustice, who uses his neighbor’s service without wages and gives him nothing for his work? God doesn’t tolerate it, and neither should we.