Zedekiah the son of Josiah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made king in the land of Judah, reigned instead of Coniah the son of Jehoiakim. But neither he nor his servants nor the people of the land listened to the words of the Lord that he spoke through Jeremiah the prophet.
King Zedekiah sent Jehucal the son of Shelemiah, and Zephaniah the priest, the son of Maaseiah, to Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “Please pray for us to the Lord our God.” Now Jeremiah was still going in and out among the people, for he had not yet been put in prison. The army of Pharaoh had come out of Egypt. And when the Chaldeans who were besieging Jerusalem heard news about them, they withdrew from Jerusalem.
Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet: “Thus says the Lord, God of Israel: Thus shall you say to the king of Judah who sent you to me to inquire of me, ‘Behold, Pharaoh’s army that came to help you is about to return to Egypt, to its own land. And the Chaldeans shall come back and fight against this city. They shall capture it and burn it with fire. Thus says the Lord, Do not deceive yourselves, saying, “The Chaldeans will surely go away from us,” for they will not go away. For even if you should defeat the whole army of Chaldeans who are fighting against you, and there remained of them only wounded men, every man in his tent, they would rise up and burn this city with fire.’” – Jeremiah 37:1-10 ESV
Fast-forward about 18 years. Chapter 37 chronicles events that take place almost two decades after those recorded in chapter 36. Zedekiah is now the king of Judah and the Babylonians, referred to as the Chaldeans, are laying siege to Jerusalem. Jehoiachin (Coniah), the son of Jehoiakim, took the throne after his father, but only lasted three months before he surrendered to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and was taken captive. Then, Nebuchadnezzar replaced him with his uncle, Mattaniah, whose name was changed to Zedekiah.
The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign and carried off all the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the Lord, which Solomon king of Israel had made, as the Lord had foretold. He carried away all Jerusalem and all the officials and all the mighty men of valor, 10,000 captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths. None remained, except the poorest people of the land. And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon. The king’s mother, the king’s wives, his officials, and the chief men of the land he took into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. And the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon all the men of valor, 7,000, and the craftsmen and the metal workers, 1,000, all of them strong and fit for war. – 2 Kings 24:12-16 ESV
Jehoiachin’s surrender was costly. It not only meant his own captivity and deportation, but that of his mother, wives and all his chief officials. On top of that. the Babylonians plundered the palace and the temple; and took thousands of leading citizens of Jerusalem back to Babylon as slaves.
Jehoiachin’s uncle, Zedekiah became a vassal of Nebuchadnezzar, answering directly to the Babylonian king and commanded to pay an annual tribute tax. In the face of the ongoing presence of the Babylonians in Judah and the knowledge that God had predicted the fall and destruction of Jerusalem, Zedekiah sent two emissaries to plead with Jeremiah to pray to God on the nation’s behalf. But this time, Zedekiah would have been well aware of God’s predictions of the coming fall of the nation and the less-than-pleasant end that Zedekiah would face.
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. – Jeremiah 34:2-3 ESV
Of course, this prophecy doesn’t sound so bad, but the actual way it all panned out paints a much more bleak and painful image.
Since the city was surrounded by the Babylonians, they waited for nightfall. Then they slipped through the gate between the two walls behind the king’s garden and headed toward the Jordan Valley.
But the Babylonian troops chased the king and caught him on the plains of Jericho, for his men had all deserted him and scattered. They took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where they pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. They made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – 2 Kings 25:4-7 NLT
But in spite of God’s warnings against Zedekiah, he refused to repent. Instead, he asked the prophet to pray for he and the nation. He wanted to God’s forgiveness without showing any signs of repentance. He wanted God to show grace and mercy, while he and the people were unwilling to show any signs of true heart change. Part of what seems to have motivated Zedekiah’s request for prayer was the presence of the Egyptians. It seems that he had made a deal with the Egyptians to help bail them out of trouble. In the book of 2 Kings, we read that: “Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon” (2 Kings 24:20 NLT). But while Zedekiah had high hopes that God might use the Egyptians to buy relief from the onslaught of the Babylonians, it was not to be. God gave him bad news:
“Pharaoh’s army is about to return to Egypt, though he came here to help you. Then the Babylonians will come back and capture this city and burn it to the ground.” – Jeremiah 37:7-8 NLT
Zedekiah’s trump card was about to turn and run. They would prove to be no help. And God was not going to rescue them from all that He had predicted would happen. God wasn’t interested in Zedekiah’s request for help, because Zedekiah had not plans to repent. Zedekiah and the people may have been high-fiving one another when the Babylonians vacated their camps outside the walls. They may have excitedly assumed that the worst was over. But they were wrong.
“Do not fool yourselves into thinking that the Babylonians are gone for good. They aren’t! Even if you were to destroy the entire Babylonian army, leaving only a handful of wounded survivors, they would still stagger from their tents and burn this city to the ground!” – Jeremiah 37:9-10 NLT
They couldn’t pray away the Babylonians. Begging God to change His mind wasn’t going to cut it as long they refused to change their ways. They were essentially asking God to repent, to change His mind about destroying them, when they were the ones in the wrong. I am reminded of the response God gave to King Solomon on the day that the temple of God was dedicated. He told the people of Israel:
“At times I might shut up the heavens so that no rain falls, or command grasshoppers to devour your crops, or send plagues among you. Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. My eyes will be open and my ears attentive to every prayer made in this place. For I have chosen this Temple and set it apart to be holy—a place where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart.” – 2 Chronicles 7:13-16 NLT
Notice what God wants: Humility that reflects an awareness of their guilt and their need for God’s forgiveness; and a turning to Him and away from their sin. THEN, God will hear, forgive and restore. Prayer without humility, a seeking of God and a rejection of sin is pointless and powerless. Those prayers will not be heard or answered. And what is amazing is that Zedekiah and the people of Judah, who had refused to listen to one thing that God had said to them through Jeremiah, had the audacity to expect God to hear their requests to spare them.
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.