A recent report from Tel Aviv University announced the discovery of an ancient garden at Ramat Rachel just south of Jerusalem. The article compares the idea of a royal garden to the hanging garden of Nebuchadnezzar (in Babylon) and the Garden of Eden. The royal garden just uncovered dates to the seventh-century B.C. (600s B.C.).
That might seem like little more than an interesting archaeological fact...until you combine this discovery with other key information. First, Ramat Rachel is just two miles south of Jerusalem. It sits on a hill between Jerusalem and Bethlehem--close to the capital yet away from the sounds (and smells!) of the ancient city, perched on a hill with fresh air and commanding views. Second, previous excavations at Ramat Rachel uncovered remains of a royal palace at the site that dates from the time of the last kings of Judah. Likely, the ancient garden was part of this royal palace...and gives additional insight into the opulence of the entire complex.
But what king during this period of history--a time when Judah was under Babylonian domination--would be foolish enough to construct a new royal palace...with an elaborate garden? I believe the Bible actually supplies us with the answer. His name is King Jehoiakim!
King Jehoiakim was a wicked king who ruled Judah for eleven years (605–597 B.C.). He was eventually assassinated by his own people to spare the city of Jerusalem from being destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar.
The dates of Jehoiakim's reign match the general date for the construction for the palace and royal garden. More importantly, the ruins that have been uncovered could illuminate Jeremiah's message of judgment against this wicked king.
"Woe to him who builds his house without righteousness and his upper rooms without justice, who uses his neighbor’s services without pay and does not give him his wages, who says, 'I will build myself a roomy house with spacious upper rooms, and cut out its windows, paneling it with cedar and painting it bright red.' Do you become a king because you are competing in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink, and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He pled the cause of the afflicted and needy; then it was well. Is not that what it means to know Me?” declares the LORD. "But your eyes and your heart are intent only upon your own dishonest gain, and on shedding innocent blood and on practicing oppression and extortion." Therefore thus says the LORD in regard to Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, "They will not lament for him: 'Alas, my brother!' or, 'Alas, sister!' They will not lament for him: 'Alas for the master!' or, 'Alas for his splendor!' He will be buried with a donkey’s burial, Dragged off and thrown out beyond the gates of Jerusalem" (Jeremiah 22:13-19).
At the very time Judah needed a godly leader with wisdom and strength of character, Jehoiakim ruled as a petty despot who only cared about building a new palace to satisfy his own greed. The palace and royal gardens just uncovered could very well be the palace condemned by Jeremiah. If so, they provide clear evidence of the excesses of this self-absorbed, wicked king.