The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army and all the kingdoms of the earth under his dominion and all the peoples were fighting against Jerusalem and all of its cities: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Go and speak to Zedekiah king of Judah and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am giving this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire. You shall not escape from his hand but shall surely be captured and delivered into his hand. You shall see the king of Babylon eye to eye and speak with him face to face. And you shall go to Babylon.’ Yet hear the word of the Lord, O Zedekiah king of Judah! Thus says the Lord concerning you: ‘You shall not die by the sword. You shall die in peace. And as spices were burned for your fathers, the former kings who were before you, so people shall burn spices for you and lament for you, saying, “Alas, lord!”’ For I have spoken the word, declares the Lord.”
Then Jeremiah the prophet spoke all these words to Zedekiah king of Judah, in Jerusalem, when the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and against all the cities of Judah that were left, Lachish and Azekah, for these were the only fortified cities of Judah that remained. – Jeremiah 34:1-7 ESV
Chapters 30-33 provided a pleasant diversion from all the prophecies that Jeremiah had been required by God to proclaim to the people of Judah. They contain much more optimistic news regarding the long-term future of Judah. But now, in chapter 34, Jeremiah goes back to his original predictions of Judah’s looming destruction. The Babylonians are at the gate – literally. They have the city besieged and it’s only matter of time before the walls fall, the troops descend, and the destruction begins. And God has a special message for King Zedekiah.
“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am about to hand this city over to the king of Babylon, and he will burn it down. You will not escape his grasp but will be captured and taken to meet the king of Babylon face to face. Then you will be exiled to Babylon.” – Jeremiah 34:2-3 NLT
God doesn’t pull any punches. He doesn’t sugarcoat the reality of what is about to happen. It’s not going to be pretty. And Zedekiah is not going to escape the inevitable outcome of Judah’s apostasy and disobedience. Even the king will fall. He will be taken captive. But God has some good news for Zedekiah.
“You will not be killed in war but will die peacefully. People will burn incense in your memory, just as they did for your ancestors, the kings who preceded you. They will mourn for you, crying, “Alas, our master is dead!” – Jeremiah 34:4-5 NLT
Granted, at first blush this probably didn’t come across as the best of news to Zedekiah. And it doesn’t completely provide the details of Zedekiah’s ultimate demise. That comes later in the book of Jeremiah.
But the Babylonian troops chased King Zedekiah and overtook him on the plains of Jericho, for his men had all deserted him and scattered. They captured the king and took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath. There the king of Babylon pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. The king of Babylon made Zedekiah watch as he slaughtered his sons. He also slaughtered all the officials of Judah at Riblah. Then he gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him in bronze chains, and the king of Babylon led him away to Babylon. Zedekiah remained there in prison until the day of his death. – Jeremiah 52:8-11 NLT
God was going to bring Zedekiah’s reign to an end. He would live out his days in captivity, blind and with the last scene he could remember being the death of his own sons. And this would happen because Zedekiah refused to heed God’s warning and submit to the authority of Nebuchadnezzar as a representative of God’s judgment. Jeremiah 52 tells us: “Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon” (Jeremiah 52:3 NLT). This is what had led to the siege of Jerusalem, a situation that would last three years, leaving the citizens starving to death within the walls and awaiting their inevitable end at the hands of the Babylonians.
The end was coming. The very outcome of God’s prophecies concerning Judah was going to come to pass just as He had said – down to the last detail. And while the preceding chapters had outlined God’s future restoration of Judah and Israel, they would first go through a demoralizing and humiliating fall from God’s grace. They would suffer for their unfaithfulness. God would not and could not overlook their sin. He couldn’t turn a blind eye to their apostasy and spiritual adultery. How would it look if God simply excused their behavior? What would the nations of the earth think if the God of Israel did nothing about the blatant rebellion of the people of Israel? He would be seen as weak and incapable of ruling His own people. There would be no fear of Him among the pagan nations. He would be seen as impotent and inconsequential, rather than a force with which to be reckoned.
Before the grace of God could be experienced, the wrath of God would have to be assuaged. His justice would have to be meted out and the disobedience against His sovereign will would have to be punished. And while Israel and Judah would suffer for their sins, their complete reconciliation to God would eventually happen. There was a day coming when they would be restored to a right relationship with Him. Not because they deserved it. Not because they willingly returned to Him in repentance. But because He would choose to shower them with His grace and mercy, and make available to them the forgiveness made possible through His Son, Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
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.