Then said Jeremiah to Zedekiah, “thus says the Lord, the God of host, the God of Israel: ‘If you surely surrender to the king of Babylon’s princes, then your soul shall live; this city shall not be burned with fire…’
Jeremiah 38:17 NKJV
King Zedekiah was in a tough spot. His capital was under siege by the Babylonian army. The Egyptians whom he had made a pact with to help him defend Jerusalem failed to lift the siege (as Jeremiah told him they would). The court prophets agreed all would work out well, but Zedekiah was still not sure. So, he asked Jeremiah. Why? Because Jeremiah would go to prison rather than relay a false message.
Jeremiah’s answer was for the king to go out and surrender, throwing himself on the mercy of Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah was fairly certain of three things. First, life was cheap, and he was of no real value to the Babylonian king. Secondly, Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t known as a man of great mercy. Finally, Jeremiah spoke for God.
What to do?
Zedekiah took the popular option. Relying on his own craftiness, and his friends, he slipped out of the city and made a run for it. He was not about to try it God’s way. Everybody knew the kingdom wouldn’t be in such a fix if there really was a God. Zedekiah also knew that, if there was a God, He had to see things Zedekiah’s way.
A real God would be celebrating Zedekiah’s life and his choices and have nothing to do with a stick-in-the-mud like Jeremiah. The man was so negative. Zedekiah would never admit he was wrong, never surrender his pride, and never beg for mercy he didn’t need.
I know many Zedekiahs. Some have heeded God’s message. Most did not and for the same reason King Zedekiah refused it—it just didn’t fit them. There’s no room in their self-image, lifestyle, or life plans for the kind of God who sends Jeremiah-types with instructions to surrender it all and do it His way.
Self-celebrants often suppose God is “the man upstairs” who indulges rebels. However, God says of Himself that He is not a man nor the son of man. He is the true self-existent One, who speaks universes into existence and yet, humbles Himself to regard the lives of His creatures.
He will not be bargained with and respects the right He gave people to reject Him. Unconditional surrender, those are His terms. Take it or leave it.
And what of Zedekiah? His sons and the princes of Judah were killed before his eyes, then he was blinded and led away in chains. His home and Jerusalem were burned to the ground. Zedekiah remained in prison until he died.