Lord, help me to appreciate the sobriety of the moment.
Read JEREMIAH 39:1–18
1 In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his whole army and laid siege to it. 2 And on the ninth day of the fourth month of Zedekiah’s eleventh year, the city wall was broken through. 3 Then all the officials of the king of Babylon came and took seats in the Middle Gate: Nergal-Sharezer of Samgar, Nebo-Sarsekim a chief officer, Nergal-Sharezer a high official and all the other officials of the king of Babylon. 4 When Zedekiah king of Judah and all the soldiers saw them, they fled; they left the city at night by way of the king’s garden, through the gate between the two walls, and headed toward the Arabah.
5 But the Babylonian army pursued them and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho. They captured him and took him to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath, where he pronounced sentence on him. 6 There at Riblah the king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes and also killed all the nobles of Judah. 7 Then he put out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him with bronze shackles to take him to Babylon.
8 The Babylonians set fire to the royal palace and the houses of the people and broke down the walls of Jerusalem. 9 Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard carried into exile to Babylon the people who remained in the city, along with those who had gone over to him, and the rest of the people. 10 But Nebuzaradan the commander of the guard left behind in the land of Judah some of the poor people, who owned nothing; and at that time he gave them vineyards and fields.
11 Now Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had given these orders about Jeremiah through Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard: 12 “Take him and look after him; don’t harm him but do for him whatever he asks.” 13 So Nebuzaradan the commander of the guard, Nebushazban a chief officer, Nergal-Sharezer a high official and all the other officers of the king of Babylon 14 sent and had Jeremiah taken out of the courtyard of the guard. They turned him over to Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, to take him back to his home. So he remained among his own people.
15 While Jeremiah had been confined in the courtyard of the guard, the word of the Lord came to him: 16 “Go and tell Ebed-Melek the Cushite, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: I am about to fulfill my words against this city—words concerning disaster, not prosperity. At that time they will be fulfilled before your eyes. 17 But I will rescue you on that day, declares the Lord; you will not be given into the hands of those you fear. 18 I will save you; you will not fall by the sword but will escape with your life, because you trust in me, declares the Lord.’”
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Zedekiah is the poster boy for Proverbs 29:10: “The bloodthirsty hate a person of integrity and seek to kill the upright.”
Life is full of “if-onlys.” Most are relatively trivial—“If only I’d continued with piano lessons,” but some are more serious—“If only I’d left on time I wouldn’t have been in that crash.” Zedekiah’s if-only is massive, though not surprising. He and the people have had the opportunity to obey and surrender to the Babylonians, but needless delay has made it too late. Resisting God is always risky, to say the very least.
For eighteen months, from January 588 B.C. to July 587 B.C., Jerusalem is under siege. Finally, the Babylonians breach the wall. Their officials enter and begin occupying places of royal authority (3). Zedekiah and the army know that the game is up. They flee for their lives (4) but are overtaken. Zedekiah is returned to Nebuchadnezzar for sentencing (5). After being forced to watch the murder of his sons and friends (6), he is blinded and marched off to Babylon (7). Meanwhile, the city is torched and the remaining population carried into exile (9). This was so unnecessary. If only Zedekiah had obeyed God…
Amazingly, there are signs of grace in this sorry mess—and more often than not it comes through foreigners rather than God’s people. First, the Babylonians spare some of the poor (10). They are allowed to stay and are given vineyards and fields. Second, on the orders of Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah is protected by the Babylonians (12), taken back to his home and allowed to remain in Judah with his people (14). Finally, God sends Jeremiah to reassure Ebed-Melek (who had saved him in the cistern) that he would be spared. You “will escape with your life, because you trust in me,” God tells him (18). Now isn’t that always the way of grace?
Think what you could do today to avoid future if-onlys. People to speak to? Letters/emails to send? Things to put right? Fences to mend?
Lord, I fully appreciate the weight behind Your words of warning to me.