In this chapter we watch the end of Jerusalem and the nation of Judah unfold before our eyes. Jeremiah warned king Zedekiah several times that the Babylonians were going to seize control of Jerusalem unless he repented and turned back to God, but we note here that not only did Zedekiah not believe his repentance would accomplish anything, he did believe he could escape from the hands of his enemies.
The fate of the city and the fate of the king are almost overwhelming. After a year and a half of siege, the Babylonians break through the walls and the foreign princes set up their court in the gate of the city, thus demonstrating that they were now in charge. We should, at this point, remind ourselves of what siege warfare was like for the people in the streets of Jerusalem. In Lamentations, Jeremiah records this moment in history, and in chapter 4 the images are stark:
"The tongue of the nursing infant sticks to the roof of its mouth for thirst; the children beg for food, but no one gives to them. Those who once feasted on delicacies perish in the streets; those who were brought up in purple embrace ash heaps….Happier were the victims of the sword than the victims of hunger, who wasted away, pierced by lack of the fruits of the field. The hands of compassionate women have boiled their own children; they became their food during the destruction of the daughter of my people." (vs. 4-5, 9-10)
This is what Zedekiah watched happen to his people for over a year, and yet he fled at night through a hole in the wall. Zedekiah’s failing is not so much that he is an evil and brutal king, but that he is a fool. He lacks the strength of character to confront the moment, he does not have enough virtue to do the right thing when necessary, and his sycophant advisors easily sway him. God told Zedekiah exactly what was coming, exactly what to do to avoid it, and exactly what the consequences would be.
We also need to note that Zedekiah had more than just his fate in his hands. In the conversation recorded in Jeremiah 38:17-23, Jeremiah tells him in no uncertain terms that his obedience will mean peace and safety for thousands and his rebellion will mean their death. With the fate of thousands of people hinging on his reaction to God’s call of grace (and after watching them die slowly and horribly for 18 months), Zedekiah finally and ultimately turns against God and tries to escape. As a result, the city is burned, the nation is taken into exile, Zedekiah’s family and advisors are slaughtered before his very eyes, and he is blinded. The last thing Zedekiah beheld—indeed, the only thing he saw for the rest of his life—was the execution of his sons.
Judgment fell, not because God was capricious or evil, but because Zedekiah refused to listen to the gracious and loving calls of his God. The book of Jeremiah is not about a judgmental God; it is about a loving God reaching out to rebellious and obstinate people. And in this story, we learn that our refusal to be reconciled to God in our behavior as well as our beliefs has dire consequences far beyond ourselves. You may not be in a position to influence thousands, or even hundreds, but do not deceive yourself into thinking that you can live to yourself. “As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone I can do what I please,” is a powerful, but completely false, moral and spiritual placebo.
Today, take advantage of the patience and grace of our God. God’s patience and kindness toward you is “meant to lead you to repentance,” and a life of abundance in His Son.