Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 126. Zedekiah King Of Judah, Part 1

Prophets And Kings
Day 126
Zedekiah King Of Judah
Part 1

We begin our study of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah.

2 KINGS 24:18-20 
"Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eleven years. His mother's name was Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah; she was from Libnah." (2 Kings 24:18) We know that King Josiah had at least two wives because more than one woman is named as the mother of his children: Hamutal and Zebidah. 

Unfortunately, Zedekiah is no better than his brothers before him. "He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, just as Jehoiakim had done." (2 Kings 24:19) The Chronicler adds more details, "He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him take an oath in God's name. He became stiff-necked and hardened his heart and would not turn to the Lord, the God of Israel." (2 Chronicles 36:12-13) When Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin captive to Babylon, he placed Zedekiah on the throne of Judah and left him there to manage what remained of the nation. He made Zedekiah swear an oath of allegiance to him in the name of the Lord, an oath which meant little to Zedekiah since the name of the Lord meant little. Nebuchadnezzar, like many ancient kings before him, could easily have wiped out the entire royal family and put his own man in charge of Judah. But instead he extended a measure of mercy to the kingly line, placing a man descended from David on the throne, allowing him to remain king as long as he kept his oath of loyalty. 

But during this time many false prophets and teachers arose, promising the people they would soon break off the yoke of Babylon, assuring them that God would not allow any nation to conquer Judah. Zedekiah and most of the people chose to believe this good report instead of the dire warnings of the true prophets of God. Time and again men of God stood up and denounced the sin of the nation and the coming judgment but nobody wanted to hear that kind of talk. The Chronicler tells us, "Furthermore, all the leaders and the priests became more and more unfaithful, following all the detestable practices of the nations and defiling the temple of the Lord, which He had consecrated in Jerusalem." (2 Chronicles 36:14) 

Because the king wouldn't bow to the Lord, neither did the people. Instead they all listened to the false prophets who promised happy days would soon return. "It was because of the Lord's anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end He thrust them from His presence." (2 Kings 24:20a) "The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through His messengers again and again, because He had pity on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked God's messengers, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against His people and there was no remedy." (2 Chronicles 36:15-16) This verse about the Lord's wrath reminds me of my own father. He was "slow to anger", much like the Lord, but when I didn't desist in my rebellion there always came a point where his wrath was aroused and there was no remedy. I was a bratty and stubborn child and I never quite knew when to stop. It took a lot to get Daddy angry but when he finally lost his temper there was a spanking or a time-out or some sort of deprivation of privileges in store for me. This is where the Lord is with Judah in today's passage. Like any loving father, He didn't want to bring discipline. He wanted to reason with them instead, helping them to see that obeying Him and living a godly life was for their own good. But time and again, century after century, they remained stubborn. At last He has lost his temper. At last He has run out of every alternative except defeat and captivity. 

Zedekiah himself only wanted to hear tales of victory and he was carried away with false hopes to the point of allying himself with Pharaoh of Egypt, rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar and breaking his oath. If a man cannot keep the oath he took in the Lord's name, he cannot be trusted with anything. This tells us all we need to know about the character of the king. He is fickle and unfaithful, willing to join himself with anyone who might help, anyone but God that is. He is a double-minded man, the type of man the Lord's brother James said "is unstable in all his ways". (James 1:8)

The downfall of Jerusalem is imminent once Zedekiah does this, "Now Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon." (2 Kings 24:20b) 

Zedekiah rebelled like his brothers before him because rebellion was their nature. It's easy to rebel against a mighty king when you've already rebelled against the King of kings. He even had the prophet Jeremiah put in prison because he would not stop preaching in the name of the Lord and prophesying about the coming disaster. If only Zedekiah had listened to the word of the Lord like his father Josiah! If only he had torn his robes in grief over the sins of the nation and had wept before the Lord! If he had only instituted reforms and encouraged a revival! The Lord urged him many times to repent but the Bible tells us, "Neither he nor his attendants nor the people of the land paid any attention to the words the Lord had spoken through Jeremiah the prophet." (Jeremiah 37:2) 

During our study of the kings I've been more concerned than ever about our own nation. I've heard my own church pastor and several other preachers and evangelists say that God is gradually breaking down the protective hedge around America. It's time to turn wholeheartedly back to Him and plead for His mercy. Although I believe America is a great nation and I am happy to call it my native land, we need to get over ourselves. Before the terrorist attacks of 9/11, did we believe anyone would dare attack us? Didn't we have the same attitude as Israel and Judah in the times of the kings? Didn't we believe we were too great and powerful for anyone to attack us? Didn't we believe we were still living under the protective hand of God even though we have fallen so far from Him? No nation is too mighty to fall. Where are the powerful and ancient kingdoms of Assyria, Persia, and Egypt? Where is Babylon? Where is the Holy Roman Empire? None of these kingdoms survive in their original forms. All of them fell at one time or another. Who are we to believe we are immune from judgment? 

I love America. I am fiercely loyal to here and believe the USA is the most wonderful place on earth to live. But because of that, I am afraid for her. We are being attacked from the outside. We are being attacked from within. I am reminded of how the Lord warned Israel through Moses in Deuteronomy 32. He warned the people that if they did not hear and obey His words, "In the street the sword will make them childless; in their homes terror will reign." (Deuteronomy 32:25a) The Lord said He would bring this discipline because the nation had grown fat and complacent over her blessings. They had forgotten the One who bestowed the blessings. They had worshiped idols, which in our times can be anything and anyone that means more to us than God. The Lord pointed out that Israel would not be a great nation unless He fought for them. He says that the gods of the nations Israel conquered were defeated because their gods were not gods, "For their rock is not like our Rock, as even our enemies concede." (Deuteronomy 32:31) Even Israel's enemies had to admit her God was mighty. Even her enemies trembled in fear. Haven't the nations of the world trembled in fear of America? But it seems that fear is breaking down, just as the fear of Israel broke down in ancient times. 

I feel an urgency of the spirit to pray for America like never before. The news headlines are frightening: the various types of terrorism both foreign and domestic, the cruelty of those who abuse and neglect and even murder their own children, the injustice in the courts, the problems in the economy, the mass shootings, the political fighting and the upcoming elections. It's gotten to the point we have to think twice about attending any type of large public gathering. I am a member of a large church and for several years now we've had uniformed police officers present at every service for fear of robbery or a shooter. Who would have thought of such a thing a decade ago? But I believe these things are happening because we have forsaken what the Lord Jesus Christ said was the first and most important commandment: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your strength, all your soul, and all your mind." When we don't love the Lord this way, we fail to keep the second most important commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself." 

We need to get back to the basics of loving God and loving our neighbor. We need to obey the word of the Lord, honoring Him and doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. I'm not making any sort of political statement here but am making a religious statement. If we put God first in our lives He will be our mighty sword and shield just as He was to David. If we honor the Lord above all else I believe He will be our Protector and Defender. But if we reject Him, He has the option to reject us. If we reject the One who set us in our nation and made us wealthy and powerful, He is within His rights to let us fall. 

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