Thursday, June 16, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 127. Zedekiah King Of Judah, Part 2

Prophets And Kings
Day 127
Zedekiah King Of Judah
Part 2

Zedekiah's rebellion brings Nebuchadnezzar's army against Judah.

2 KINGS 25:1-2
"So in the ninth year of Zedekiah's reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his whole army. He encamped outside the city and built siege works all around it. The city was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah." (2 Kings 25:1-3) It took longer than we would expect for Babylon to complete its victory over Judah because during this time Nebuchadnezzar learned that Pharaoh and his army was marching out to support Judah. So he had to withdraw from Jerusalem for a time to deal with Egypt. "Pharaoh's army had marched out of Egypt, and when the Babylonians who were besieging Jerusalem heard the report about them, they withdrew from Jerusalem." (Jeremiah 37:4-5)

The false prophets who were telling lies in the Lord's name pointed to Nebuchadnezzar's withdrawal as proof that soon Judah would be free of Babylon. They even prophesied that the articles which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple would be returned. But the prophet Jeremiah, on inspiration of the Holy Spirit, warned Zedekiah that the withdrawal of Babylon was temporary, that destruction was still coming, "This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of Me, 'Pharaoh's army, which has marched out to support you, will go back to its own land, to Egypt. Then the Babylonians will return and attack this city; they will capture it and burn it down.' This is what the Lord says: Do not deceive yourselves, thinking, 'The Babylonians will surely leave us.' They will not! Even if you were to defeat the entire Babylonian army that is attacking you and only wounded men were left in their tents, they would come out and burn this city down.'" (Jeremiah 37:6-10)

While Babylon temporarily left Jerusalem unguarded, some of the people went out and joined up with Babylon, deserting Judah. Jeremiah attempted to leave the city to claim the land of his inheritance in the tribe of Benjamin but was arrested and accused of deserting, which was a crime of treason. Despite his protests of innocence and his intention of coming back, he was beaten and put in prison. Zedekiah sent for Jeremiah to be brought to the palace for questioning about the future of Judah but Jeremiah simply repeated the truth: God was going to let Jerusalem fall. Nebuchadnezzar was going to burn the city. Anyone who surrendered him would be taken captive but would remain alive. Those who resisted would die. Even though this was bad news, Zedekiah answered Jeremiah's request for better prison quarters. He was being mistreated in the dungeon of the secretary Jonathan and was evidently not being fed, for he said, "Do not send me back to the house of Jonathan the secretary, or I will die there." (Jeremiah 37:20) So Zedekiah let Jeremiah stay in the courtyard of the guard and he ensured Jeremiah was fed a fresh loaf of bread every day until all the bread in the city was gone. But at one point some of the men got tired of hearing Jeremiah's prophecies against Jerusalem and decided he ought to die, so they lowered him into a cistern. Upon hearing about this, Zedekiah had him taken out and put back in the courtyard, sending for him once again to hear the news from the Lord. 

Jeremiah appealed to Zedekiah to surrender to Babylon. He promised on authority of the Lord that everyone who surrendered would live. But so many have deserted Judah and gone over to the Babylonians that Zedekiah says he is afraid to surrender. He's afraid the Babylonians will hand him over to the men who deserted , men who are unhappy with Zedekiah, men who might mistreat or even torture him. But Jeremiah repeats the promise of the Lord, "'They will not hand you over,' Jeremiah replied. 'Obey the Lord by doing what I tell you. Then it will go well with you, and your life will be spared." (Jeremiah 38:20) If Zedekiah will not surrender, Jeremiah warns him that he and his wives and children will be captured and the city burned. At this point Zedekiah is afraid of his own officials, the men who had lowered Jeremiah into a cistern to die because they believed a man who kept prophesying doom and gloom ought not be allowed to live. Zedekiah knows the threat of assassination is very real during these perilous times so he warns Jeremiah not to tell anyone what the two of them have talked about. He's afraid his own people will kill him if they realize he is consulting a prophet of God. 

If only Zedekiah had surrendered to the Lord! If he had feared the Lord he wouldn't have needed to fear anyone else. He doesn't know which way to turn or who to trust but if he had only given his heart to the Lord and repented and humbled himself, he could have faced the future without fear. Yes, the nation would likely still have fallen, if not in his lifetime then in the lifetime of the next king, but whether he was allowed to remain in the land or whether he had to go to Babylon, he could have lived in the peace of being right with the Lord. He could have lived in fearless confidence that no matter where he was, the Lord was with him. The fact that he would send for Jeremiah on several occasions tells us that in his heart he knew Jeremiah was speaking the truth. The king lost confidence in the prophets who kept predicting victory. There's something about this man of God and his unshakable faith in the face of persecution that moves the king. He senses there's something different about this man and the difference has to do with his relationship with the Lord. I believe deep down Zedekiah knows Jeremiah is receiving the word of the Lord but he has allowed his fear of the humans around him to keep him from obeying what Jeremiah tells him. If Zedekiah decides to march out the front gate with his hands held up in surrender, he thinks his own people will shoot arrows at him from the wall because they believe the lies of the false prophets that victory is coming soon. He is afraid the people will kill him for listening to the prophet and surrendering. 

We find in Zedekiah the character of one who sits on the fence, unable to make a decision. Part of him wants to believe but part of him fears man more than he fears God. He is still holding out hope that Egypt will come to his aid and so is trusting in man more than he is trusting in God. All he needed was the Lord. He didn't need the support of his nation and he didn't need the army of Pharaoh. All he needed to do was make the decision Jeremiah was pleading with him to make: surrender to God by obeying the word of the Lord, surrender to Nebuchadnezzar, and live. 

Because Zedekiah is stubborn and will not turn from resisting the word of the Lord, he does not surrender and neither do the people. Egypt does not come and help them fight against Babylon. The Babylonians return to their siege of the city and the people begin to starve, but still they don't surrender. If Zedekiah had come out waving the white flag I think the people would have gladly surrendered with him; it's hard to remain stubborn when your belly is growling with hunger. But he did not and so Jerusalem remains locked up tight until Nebuchadnezzar's men break through the wall. Tomorrow we will study the fall of Jerusalem. Only those who put their hands up and go willingly into captivity will live. All who resist will die.

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