Are You Acquainted With Shaphan and His Family?
WHEN reading your Bible, have you ever noticed references to Shaphan and some members of his influential family? Who were they? What did they do? What lessons can we learn from them?
The Bible introduces “Shaphan the son of Azaliah the son of Meshullam” to us in connection with Josiah’s restoration of true worship in about 642 B.C.E. (2 Kings 22:3) During the following 36 years, until Jerusalem’s destruction in 607 B.C.E., we are introduced to his four sons, Ahikam, Elasah, Gemariah, and Jaazaniah, and to his two grandsons, Micaiah and Gedaliah. (See chart.) “The family of Shaphan dominated the bureaucracy [in the kingdom of Judah] and held the position of king’s scribe from the time of Josiah until the Exile,” explains the Encyclopaedia Judaica. A review of what the Bible says about Shaphan and his family will help us appreciate how they supported the prophet Jeremiah and the true worship of Jehovah.
Shaphan Supports True Worship
In 642 B.C.E., when King Josiah was about 25, we find Shaphan serving as the king’s secretary and copyist. (Jeremiah 36:10) What did that involve? The above-mentioned reference work states that a royal scribe and secretary was a close adviser to the king, in charge of financial matters, competent in diplomacy, and knowledgeable in foreign affairs, international law, and trade agreements. Thus, as a royal secretary, Shaphan was one of the most influential men in the kingdom.
Ten years earlier, young Josiah had “started to search for the God of David his forefather.” Shaphan was evidently much older than Josiah and could therefore be a good spiritual adviser to him and a supporter of Josiah’s first campaign of restoring true worship.*—2 Chronicles 34:1-8.
During temple repair work, “the very book of the law” was found, and Shaphan “began to read it before the king.” Josiah was shocked to hear its content and sent a delegation of trusted men to Huldah the prophetess in order to inquire of Jehovah concerning the book. The king showed confidence in Shaphan and his son Ahikam by including them in the delegation.—2 Kings 22:8-14; 2 Chronicles 34:14-22.
This is the only reference in the Scriptures to what Shaphan himself did. In other Bible verses, he is just referred to as a father or a grandfather. Shaphan’s offspring came into close contact with the prophet Jeremiah.
Ahikam and Gedaliah
As we have already noted, Shaphan’s son Ahikam is first mentioned in connection with the delegation sent to the prophetess Huldah. A reference work notes: “Although Ahikam’s title is not given in the Hebrew Bible, it is evident that he was high-ranking.”
Some 15 years after that incident, Jeremiah’s life was in danger. When he warned the people about Jehovah’s intention to destroy Jerusalem, “the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying: ‘You will positively die.’” What then developed? The account continues: “It was the hand of Ahikam the son of Shaphan that proved to be with Jeremiah, in order not to give him into the hand of the people to have him put to death.” (Jeremiah 26:1-24) What does this show? The Anchor Bible Dictionary states: “This incident not only attests the influence wielded by Ahikam, but also indicates that he, like other members of the family of Shaphan, was kindly disposed toward Jeremiah.”
About 20 years later, after the Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. and taken most of the people into exile, Shaphan’s grandson Gedaliah, son of Ahikam, was appointed governor over the remaining Jews. Did he, like Shaphan’s other family members, care for Jeremiah? The Bible record reads: “Accordingly Jeremiah came to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam at Mizpah and took up dwelling with him.” Within a few months, Gedaliah was killed, and the remaining Jews took Jeremiah with them when they moved to Egypt.—Jeremiah 40:5-7; 41:1, 2; 43:4-7.
Gemariah and Micaiah
Shaphan’s son Gemariah and grandson Micaiah played a prominent part in the events described in Jeremiah chapter 36. The time was about 624 B.C.E., in the fifth year of King Jehoiakim. Baruch, Jeremiah’s secretary, read aloud from the book the words of Jeremiah at the house of Jehovah, “in the dining room of Gemariah the son of Shaphan.” Accordingly, “Micaiah the son of Gemariah the son of Shaphan got to hear all the words of Jehovah from out of the book.”—Jeremiah 36:9-11.
Micaiah notified his father and all the other princes about the scroll, and they all wanted to hear what it said. How did they react? “Now it came about that as soon as they heard all the words, they looked at one another in dread; and they proceeded to say to Baruch: ‘We shall without fail tell the king all these words.’” Before speaking to the king, however, they advised Baruch: “Go, conceal yourself, you and Jeremiah, so that no one at all will know where you men are.”—Jeremiah 36:12-19.
As anticipated, the king rejected the message in the scroll and burned it piece by piece. Some princes, including Shaphan’s son Gemariah, “pleaded with the king not to burn the roll, but he did not listen to them.” (Jeremiah 36:21-25) The book Jeremiah—An Archaeological Companion concludes: “Gemariah was a strong supporter of Jeremiah at the court of King Jehoiakim.”
Elasah and Jaazaniah
In 617 B.C.E., Babylon took control of the kingdom of Judah. Thousands of Jews, “all the princes and all the valiant, mighty men . . . and also every craftsman and builder of bulwarks,” were taken into exile, including the prophet Ezekiel. Mattaniah, whose name the Babylonians changed to Zedekiah, became the new vassal king. (2 Kings 24:12-17) Later Zedekiah sent a delegation that included Shaphan’s son Elasah to Babylon. Jeremiah entrusted to Elasah a letter that had an important message from Jehovah to the exiled Jews.—Jeremiah 29:1-3.
The Bible record thus indicates that Shaphan, three of his sons, and two of his grandsons used their influential positions to support true worship and the faithful prophet Jeremiah. What about Shaphan’s son Jaazaniah? Unlike the other members of Shaphan’s family, he evidently engaged in idol worship. In the sixth year of Ezekiel’s exile in Babylon, or about 612 B.C.E., the prophet had a vision in which 70 men offered incense to idols at the temple in Jerusalem. Among them was Jaazaniah, the only one mentioned by name. This may suggest that he was a prominent member of this group. (Ezekiel 8:1, 9-12) Jaazaniah’s example demonstrates that being raised in a godly family does not ensure one’s becoming a faithful worshiper of Jehovah. Each individual is responsible for his own course of action.—2 Corinthians 5:10.
Historicity of Shaphan and His Family
By the time Shaphan and his family played a part in the events that took place in Jerusalem, the use of seals had become common in Judah. Seals were used to witness or sign documents and were made of precious stones, metal, ivory, or glass. Usually the name of the seal’s owner, his father’s name and, occasionally, the owner’s title were engraved on them.
Hundreds of Hebrew seal impressions on clay have been found. Professor Nahman Avigad, scholar on Hebrew epigraphy, the study of ancient inscriptions, noted: “The seal inscriptions are the only Hebrew epigraphic source that mentions persons known from the Bible.” Have any seal inscriptions of Shaphan or his family members been found? Yes, the names Shaphan and his son Gemariah appear on the seal shown on pages 19 and 21.
Scholars also say that possibly four other members of the family are referred to on seal impressions—Azaliah, the father of Shaphan; Ahikam the son of Shaphan; Gemariah the son of Shaphan; and Gedaliah, who was apparently referred to on a seal impression as being “over the House.” The fourth of these seals is considered to have belonged to Gedaliah, grandson of Shaphan, although his father, Ahikam, is not mentioned. His title on the seal impression indicates that he was one of the highest officials in the state.
What Can We Learn?
What a fine example Shaphan and his family set in using their influential position in support of both true worship and faithful Jeremiah! We too can use our resources and influence to support Jehovah’s organization and our fellow worshipers.
It is enriching and faith-inspiring for us not only to read the Bible regularly but also to dig into it and acquaint ourselves with such ancient witnesses of Jehovah as Shaphan and members of his family. They too belong to the great “cloud of witnesses” whose examples we can imitate.—Hebrews 12:1.
[Box on page 22]
Huldah—An Influential Prophetess
Upon hearing the reading of “the very book of the law” found in the temple, King Josiah ordered Shaphan and four other high-ranking officials to “inquire of Jehovah” about the book. (2 Kings 22:8-20) Where could the delegation find the answer? Jeremiah and possibly Nahum and Zephaniah, all prophets and Bible writers, lived in Judah at the time. The delegation, however, approached Huldah the prophetess.
The book Jerusalem—An Archaeological Biography comments: “The remarkable thing about this episode is that the male-female aspect of the story was completely unremarked. No one considered it the least bit inappropriate that an all-male committee took the Scroll of the Law to a woman to determine its status. When she declared it the word of the Lord, no one questioned her authority to determine the issue. This episode is often overlooked by scholars assessing the role of women in ancient Israel.” Of course, the message received was from Jehovah.
[Diagram/Picture on page 21]
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The Family Tree of Shaphan
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Ahikam Elasah Gemariah Jaazaniah
[Picture on page 20]
Gemariah and others pleaded with Jehoiakim not to burn the scroll from Jeremiah
[Picture on page 22]
Jaazaniah, though a member of Shaphan’s family, was seen in a vision worshiping idols
[Picture Credit Line on page 19]
Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority
[Picture Credit Line on page 21]
Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority