Humiliation and terror are nasty things to chose between – not that I got the choice. No, I got both, with frustration and misery as a side dish. Josiah met his inevitable end, playing off one super-power against another. Our most ancient enemy and ally, Egypt, clashing horns – not the old enemy, Syria, but the new one, Babylon. One tricky power-play too many had him skewered by an Egyptian arrow and dying nastily in Jerusalem. His younger son got three months to play at being King before he was carted off to Egypt, and his elder brother was plonked on the throne by the Egyptians.
For a brief moment, my hopes rose. Surely everybody could now see that playing with the big boys was an utter disaster. All we had landed was a crippling tribute, which meant impossible taxes on my poor people – or more bluntly on the poor of my people.
I was the more encouraged because another prophet, Uriah, was also listening to Yahweh, and taking the same tack as me. So, as soon as Jehoiakim was enthroned, and demanding his taxes, I began to proclaim the same message, all over again.
I had nothing new to say. It was so simple. Treat every person with respect. Include the powerless in this. The basic necessities of food, drink, and justice, must be for everybody, even for foreigners. Love Yahweh. Put no trust in sacrifices, or in the Temple. Never imagine you have Yahweh shut up in the Temple, he is bigger than that. You think he lives in the Temple, but he is bigger than Judah, Egypt, Babylon. He is bigger than the earth, than the sky.
If you keep playing power games, if you ignore justice, he will turn Jerusalem into a ploughed field. He will destroy this King as he destroyed Josiah.
Speaking against the King is, apparently, treachery, while selling a whole country to one power after another is not. Whoring your birthright, your God-given responsibility is just fine.
For pity’s sake, could they not see what had happened already? Had Jehoiakim not watched his father’s lingering death? And for once it was not just me: it was me and Uriah.
They threatened Uriah. He fled to Egypt. They hunted him down, abducted him, and brought him back to Jerusalem. I knew people at court. Not friends, exactly, or not trustworthy ones, but people who delighted in spelling out the details. They told me it was the King himself who struck him down with a sword. I still had people at court. I was put into the stocks. Jeers, and rotten fruit, and stones, while I wondered if this was the warm up to my final agony, or if I would get to limp off to my solitary home and get myself cleaned up and to bed.
I got to my home. I was sad, and furious, and utterly betrayed. Betrayed by Yahweh. He had promised me I would a pillar. I was a battered, bruised, stinking mess. I had been duped by him. He had given me nothing to fulfil that heady promise. Instead I was caught between a desperate need to speak the truth he insisted on showing me, a need which was fire in my bones, and open public derision when I spoke, jeers and decaying vegetables, and filth in my mouth. I turned it into a poem. I sat sobbing, and wrenching my anger and misery into my best verse. Dear knows who would ever hear it. They had accused me of treachery and blasphemy, and here I was in my honesty abusing the God I sought to serve.