In 1993, Baptist missionary Keith Grimes visited Kalingalinga, Zambia. He recruited their singing boys to tour the United States, naming them the Zambian Acappella Boys Choir and promising them salaries, health care, and education in return. The Choir toured churches and generated millions of dollars in donations—but it was a scam. Not one penny was given to any of the boys, and they were held in restrictive conditions under threat of deportation. Several local church members who attended concerts in Texas and Louisiana grew suspicious and requested criminal investigations. Finally in 2000, a judgment for nearly $1 million was handed down against the Grimes family for unpaid wages for 67 Zambian boys.
In today’s text, benefitting from exploited labor clearly does not please God, and there are consequences for people who practice oppression. We have learned that God entrusted Israel’s kings with maintaining His justice and righteousness, yet both Israel and her kings were better known for injustice and idolatry.
Today’s passage records a direct message from the Lord to Jehoiakim, one of Judah’s kings. Like his brother Shallum before him, he had disregarded the reforms of his father, Josiah (2 Kings 23:31–37). Jeremiah begins with a reminder: the one who sits on David’s throne is to enact justice and righteousness; he is to rescue the maltreated and defend the innocent (vv. 2–3). Then he states a promise and a warning. If you are not the kind of king God desires, your palace—symbolic for your whole reign—will be destroyed (vv. 4–8). This is the consequence of ignoring the covenant made with their compassionate God (v. 9).
Verses 13 through 17 contrast two kinds of kings. One king pads his pockets through unjust means. He uses his countrymen like slaves (vv. 13–14). His eyes and heart are corrupt and greedy; he disregards the rights and health of his employees (v. 17). This is God’s description of Jehoiakim. Josiah, on the other hand, understood that God is the provider who cares for those who obey Him. Josiah regarded the concerns of the poor and needy (vv. 15–16).