In an earlier post on “The Fast of Gedaliah,” I mentioned the important role Gedaliah and the family of Shaphan played in the ministry of Jeremiah. I have always been interested in the role the Shaphanites played in the life and ministry of Jeremiah.
Because of my interest in the Shapanites, one of my students, Cesar Melgar, wrote his M.A. thesis on the role of the Shaphanites in helping Jeremiah accomplish his mission. Melgar’s thesis, “The Shaphanites: Political Allies to a Revolutionary Prophet,” studies the function of the scribe in ancient Israel and the influence of the Shaphanites in the political life of Judah.
Shaphan was a royal scribe who served under Josiah, king of Judah. Shaphan and his sons provided political support to the prophet Jeremiah and protected Jeremiah from those who opposed him, including the king, the king’s officials, the false prophets, and other officials who opposed the message and ministry of Jeremiah.
In response my post on Gedaliah, Peter Kirk commented on Shaphan’s father. Peter wrote:
Shaphan’s father Azaliah (2 Kings 22:3), however, does not seem to have been a faithful Yahwist, given that he did not give his son a traditional Yahwistic name but instead named him after an animal (hyrax or rock badger). This was probably early in the long reign of Manasseh when Yahwistic names were out of fashion. At least by the time Shaphan named his son Gemariah (Jeremiah 36:10) he had become a convert to Yahwism.
I agree with Peter’s view about Azaliah. Naming children after animals was not common in Israel and was generally practiced by those who were not Israelites. Azaliah probably was one of those Israelites who had abandoned their faith during the reign of Manasseh. Even though Azaliah was not a fervent Yahwist, his son Shaphan and his children were faithful followers of Yahweh, with the exception of Jaazaniah.
James Pate wrote in his comment that Shaphan’s son Jaazaniah was not a strict Yahwist since the prophet Ezekiel criticized Jaazaniah for engaging in idolatry. Ezekiel wrote: “Before them [the idols of the house of Israel] stood seventy of the elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah son of Shaphan standing among them. Each had his censer in his hand, and the fragrant cloud of incense was ascending” (Ezekiel 8:11). I will come back to Jaazaniah later.
The family of Shaphan was very influential in the political life in the last days of the monarchy in Judah. Shaphan’s son Ahikam (2 Kings 22:12) was a high government official during the reign of Josiah. He was sent to the prophetess Huldah with his father as a member of the official delegation in order to ascertain the message of the book of the law.
Gemariah, the son of Shaphan (Jeremiah 36:10) was part of Jehoiakim’s court. Jehoiakim was king of Judah and son of Josiah. When Baruch read the words of Jeremiah in the house of the Lord from the scroll which he had written at the dictation of Jeremiah, Baruch read it in the chamber of Gemariah which was in the upper court, at the entry of the New Gate of the Lord’s house (Jeremiah 36:10). Gemariah was one of the palace officials who was present when Jeremiah’s scroll was read before the king.
Elasah, the son of Shaphan, served in the government during the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah. Elasah was sent to Babylon on a diplomatic mission by Zedekiah after Zedekiah and a group of vassal nations failed in their attempt to rebel against Babylon. At the time of his journey to Babylon, Elasah carried Jeremiah’s letter to the people who were captives in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:1-3).
Shaphan had two grandsons: Micaiah and Gedaliah. Micaiah was the son of Gemariah. Micaiah was one of the royal officials who heard Baruch read the scroll of Jeremiah in the temple. And Micaiah was the one who told the king’s officers about the message Baruch was reading to the people (Jeremiah 36:13).
Gedaliah, the grandson of Shaphan, was the son of Ahikam. Gedaliah became the governor of Judah after the destruction of Babylon in 587 B.C. Gedaliah was a friend of Jeremiah and he tried to become an intermediary between the Babylonians and the people of Judah. However, because of some opposition by members of the royal family, Gedaliah was killed by Ishmael, forcing the Babylonians to deport more people to Babylon.
The only enigma in Shaphan’s family is Jaazaniah. From Ezekiel’s passage, it seems that Jaazaniah held an important position among the elders of Judah because out of the seventy elders only he is mentioned by name as one of the leader of the elders of Judah.
Shaphan, his sons, and grandsons were prominent leaders in the reform movement sponsored by Josiah; they were friends of Jeremiah, and served with distinction as royal officials with the exception of Jaazaniah. Jaazaniah probably served under Jehoiakim and Zedekiah and this may explain his uncharacteristic behavior. The fact that one of Shaphan’s sons was the leader of a group of idolatrous people must have been very painful to Ezekiel, so much so that it forced him to recognize Jaazaniah by name.
Shaphan played an important role in the reforms of Josiah. In the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign, the king commanded Shaphan to go to Hilkiah and collect the money the people had donated for the repairs of the temple. After Shaphan arrived in the Temple, Hilkiah, the High Priest, told Shaphan that he had found the book of the Law of God in the temple.
Shaphan read the book and took it to Josiah and read it to the king. Josiah’s reaction to the message of the book was profound. Josiah tore his garments and ordered Shaphan and his son Ahikam, together with Hilkiah and two other officials, to inquire of the Lord and ascertain his will about the book.
The delegation sent by Josiah went to Huldah, the prophetess. The reason the king’s official selected Huldah to provide an evaluation of the book is unknown. However the fact that the High Priest and the Royal Scribe went to a prophet of Yahweh to seek God’s will, reveals the importance of the prophetic word in the religious life of Israel.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary