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)
The woe oracle is a specific genre of Old and New Testament writing that is intended to convey in strong terms God’s estimate of sinful behaviors. In the Old Testament, we have the familiar passages such as, “Woe (comes upon) those who call the evil good and the good evil, who turn darkness into light and light into darkness.” (Isaiah 5:20) or as we find in Jeremiah, “Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD.” (Jeremiah 23:1 KJV) We find them in the New Testament where Jesus denounced the religious leaders with seven woes (Matthew 23) and by John who described the horrific 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.”
In our text in Jeremiah 22:13, we have a “woe” being issued to the oppressive Jehoiakim, “(…) 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.” The oppression consisted in his 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)
After the righteous king Josiah died, his son sat three months on the throne in Judah. Pharaoh deposed him and installed his brother Jehoiakim in his place. We note that Jehoiakim built his projects by unrighteousness. That is a way of saying that his dealings were crooked. Moreover, he financed his projects with money gotten unjustly. Part of the reason he had money to buy extra materials is that he defrauded his workmen 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 that, “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 a dastardly thing to have money in the bank to pay people to do work and then expect them to do it free or at a price the employer would not do the work for themselves. Sadly, though Jehoiakim is long dead and gone, the spirit (attitude) of Jehoiakim is alive and well. It may surprise you to know that as recently as the 1800s preachers would minister on the sin of borrowing a neighbor’s tools in order to shirk buying it for ourselves. To use a neighbors tool and wear it out when you could have bought your own and wore it out was considered a sin against you neighbor akin to theft.
If there is one place in the world where people should be able to go and not have to worry about being taken advantage of it’s the churches. There should never be reports of people being befriended for what they can “offer.” God does not look pleasingly upon people who greedily take advantage of others, use people, or any other way of expressing the concept — no matter who the are or what capacity thy are laboring in (preaching, teaching, construction, etc.). We must never enrich ourselves at the expense of other peoples’ labors — especially in the kingdom of God. This is what Jehoiakim did. Why on earth did he expect people to work for free? I’m reminded of an elderly coworker who once told me as a young teenager, “Robert, “thanks” is good, but “thanks” doesn’t put food on the table.”
It is the epitome of arrogance to expect people to work for free — especially when there are funds available to pay the person(s) (Proverbs 3:27). If they volunteer freely (and not because of some guilt trip placed on them), that is different. It is within our personal rights to volunteer for anything, but it is up to the individual to decide and not by coercion. Moreover, we need to be consistent in how and who we pay. If two people are doing the same job they should both 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. In fact, the people who do these things have no idea that they are destroying their own testimony before the people. 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?