This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, when King Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur the son of Malchiah and Zephaniah the priest, the son of Maaseiah, saying, “Inquire of the Lord for us, for Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is making war against us. Perhaps the Lord will deal with us according to all his wonderful deeds and will make him withdraw from us.”
Then Jeremiah said to them: “Thus you shall say to Zedekiah, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands and with which you are fighting against the king of Babylon and against the Chaldeans who are besieging you outside the walls. And I will bring them together into the midst of this city. I myself will fight against you with outstretched hand and strong arm, in anger and in fury and in great wrath. And I will strike down the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast. They shall die of a great pestilence. Afterward, declares the Lord, I will give Zedekiah king of Judah and his servants and the people in this city who survive the pestilence, sword, and famine into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and into the hand of their enemies, into the hand of those who seek their lives. He shall strike them down with the edge of the sword. He shall not pity them or spare them or have compassion.’
“And to this people you shall say: ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out and surrenders to the Chaldeans who are besieging you shall live and shall have his life as a prize of war. For I have set my face against this city for harm and not for good, declares the Lord: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.’” – Jeremiah 21:1-10 ESV
Towards the end of Jeremiah’s ministry and Judah’s existence as a nation, Zedekiah become the king of Judah. He would be their final king. He was only 21-years old when he became king, placed on the throne of Israel by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. By this time in Judah’s history, Babylon had made significant inroads into their territory, having conquered many of its cities and laying siege to Jerusalem itself. In order to spare the city, Zedekiah was forced to sign a vow of allegiance to King Nebuchadnezzar, but he proved to be an obstinate and hard-headed vassal. The book of 2 Chronicles gives us further insight into Zedekiah and his reign.
Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he ruled for eleven years in Jerusalem. He did evil in the sight of the Lord his God. He did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, the Lord’s spokesman. He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him vow allegiance in the name of God. He was stubborn and obstinate, and refused to return to the Lord God of Israel. All the leaders of the priests and people became more unfaithful and committed the same horrible sins practiced by the nations. They defiled the Lord’s temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 36:11-14 NLT
Under increasing pressure from the Babylonians and feeling the impact of the constant siege against Jerusalem, Zedekiah sends a couple of dignitaries to Jeremiah in order to get his help. And interestingly enough, Zedekiah sends two priests, Pashtur and Zephaniah, to plead with the prophet. The first priest is familiar to us, because he was the one who had beaten Jeremiah and thrown him in the stocks for his constant threats of destruction against Judah. And with a certain sense of irony, it is this very same man who is chosen by the king to humbly plead with Jeremiah to pray to God on behalf of the city. By this late state, everyone had realized that Jeremiah’s prophecies had come true. The Babylonians had came just as God had said they would. Their armies were already wreaking havoc and destruction throughout Judah, and they were camped outside the walls of Jerusalem. It was just a matter of time now. So King Zedekiah sends his two emissaries to Jeremiah with the following words:
“Please speak to the Lord for us and ask him to help us. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is attacking Judah. Perhaps the Lord will be gracious and do a mighty miracle as he has done in the past. Perhaps he will force Nebuchadnezzar to withdraw his armies.” – Jeremiah 21:2 NLT
Now, they were calling on God. When the enemy was at the gate, they suddenly decided to turn to God and ask for His help. But notice what is missing in Zedekiah’s statement to Jeremiah: There is no sign of repentance. No confession of guilt. No admission of sin. He just expects God to show them grace and do a miracle on their behalf. But Jeremiah gives the king a message that he is not going to like. He tells them that God is angry with them and will not only give them over to the Babylonians, but will play a significant role in their destruction. Repeatedly we see God say, “I will”.
“I will make your weapons useless…” – vs 4
“ I will bring your enemies right into the heart of this city…” – vs 4
“I myself will fight against you with a strong hand and a powerful arm…” – vs 5
“I will send a terrible plague upon this city, and both people and animals will die.” – vs 6
“I will hand over King Zedekiah, his staff, and everyone else in the city who survives the disease, war, and famine…” – vs 7
“I will hand them over to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and to their other enemies…” – vs 7
The Babylonians were simply pawns in the hands of God. They were His agents of judgment against the people of Judah. And God gives the dire warning that Nebuchadnezzar would “slaughter them and show them no mercy, pity, or compassion” (Jeremiah 21:7 NLT). There would be no grace. There would be no miracle of deliverance. In fact, God gives the people two choices: Either life of death. They could stay in the city and try to wait on the Babylonians. But if they did, they would suffer death by famine, disease or the sword. Their second choice would be surrender. If they simply gave themselves up, they would be spared, but end up as slaves in Babylon. Either way, the people of Judah were going to suffer God’s wrath against their sinful behavior against Him. The only reward they would get from God would be life. The once great city of Jerusalem, the city of David and the home of the temple of God, would be reduced to rubble and ashes. God makes it clear that He was going to do to Jerusalem: “For I have set my face against this city for harm and not for good” (Jeremiah 21:10 ESV). Which brings to mind the words God gave to Moses to have Aaron share with the people of israel, centuries earlier:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
“So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” – Numbers 6:24-27 ESV
Rather than God’s shining face and gracious countenance, the people of Judah were going to endure the wrath of God as He turned His face against them. There would be no blessing, no peace, no grace. God had given them ample opportunities to repent and return to Him. But they had rejected His messages and repeatedly spurned the prophets He had sent to them. Now, it was too late. Their fate was sealed. Their destruction was a foregone conclusion. And the two options God gave the people of Jerusalem are still the only options men and women face today. If we refuse to turn to God, we will die as a result of our sins, because the penalty for sin is death. We can choose to try and fight our sins on our own, but we will die. We will discover that we have no capacity to stand against our sinful nature. Or we can choose to surrender to our sin and be taken captive by the enemy. We will live, but only as slaves to the prince of this world. And that life will be nothing like the one God has offered to us through simple faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. The citizens of Jerusalem were doomed either way, because they chose to reject God and His offer of salvation – on His terms. They weren’t willing repent or give up their false gods. They simply wanted His salvation, but refused to submit to His sovereign rule over their lives.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.