But if you refuse to surrender, this is the vision which the Lord has shown to me: Behold, all the women left in the house of the king of Judah were being led out to the officials of the king of Babylon and were saying,
“‘Your trusted friends have deceived you
and prevailed against you;
now that your feet are sunk in the mud,
they turn away from you.’
All your wives and your sons shall be led out to the Chaldeans, and you yourself shall not escape from their hand, but shall be seized by the king of Babylon, and this city shall be burned with fire.”
Then Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “Let no one know of these words, and you shall not die. If the officials hear that I have spoken with you and come to you and say to you, ‘Tell us what you said to the king and what the king said to you; hide nothing from us and we will not put you to death,’ then you shall say to them, ‘I made a humble plea to the king that he would not send me back to the house of Jonathan to die there.’” Then all the officials came to Jeremiah and asked him, and he answered them as the king had instructed him. So they stopped speaking with him, for the conversation had not been overheard. And Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard until the day that Jerusalem was taken. – Jeremiah 38:21-28 ESV
Jeremiah had been released from the cistern and been brought before the king. Zedekiah had planned to pose a question to Jeremiah, but before he could do so, the prophet had delivered the very same message that had gotten him thrown in the cistern to begin with.
“This is what the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘If you surrender to the Babylonian officers, you and your family will live, and the city will not be burned down. But if you refuse to surrender, you will not escape! This city will be handed over to the Babylonians, and they will burn it to the ground.’” – Jeremiah 38:17-18 NLT
It wasn’t what the king wanted to hear. And he told Jeremiah that his greatest fear was that, if he surrendered to the Babylonians, they would turn him over to the people of Judah who had already surrendered. He feared revenge. But Jeremiah assured him that this would not happen.
“You won’t be handed over to them if you choose to obey the Lord. Your life will be spared, and all will go well for you.” – Jeremiah 38:20 NLT
“All will go well with you.” That was the message the prophet gave to the king. But the condition was that Zedekiah had to surrender. He had to submit to God by surrendering to the king of Babylon. He had to humble himself and trust that God’s way was the best way. As bad as it may have appeared at face value, God’s command to give up was going to be the best way in the long run. And we know that, because we have recorded for us what happened to Zedekiah because he refused to do it God’s way.
When King Zedekiah and all the soldiers saw that the Babylonians had broken into the city, they fled. They waited for nightfall and then 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. They took him to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who was at Riblah in the land of Hamath. There the king of Babylon pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. He made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons and all the nobles of Judah. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – Jeremiah 39:4-7 NLT
Zedekiah would choose to do it his way, rather than God’s, and he would suffer the consequences. Rather than thing going well for him, he would have to watch his sons killed right before his eyes, then suffer the agony of having his eyes gouged out. So, the last thing he would ever remember seeing was the murder of his sons. And what makes this story that much more sad and pathetic, is that Zedekiah had been given a chance. He had been warned by God and told exactly what to do. Jeremiah had shared a vision he had been given by God.
“But if you refuse to surrender, this is what the Lord has revealed to me: All the women left in your palace will be brought out and given to the officers of the Babylonian army. Then the women will taunt you, saying,
‘What fine friends you have!
They have betrayed and misled you.
When your feet sank in the mud,
they left you to your fate!’” – Jeremiah 38:21-22 NLT
Jeremiah tells Zedekiah that his wives and concubines will become the property of King Nebuchadnezzar, and they will curse Zedekiah for failing to protect them. And notice their words: “When your feet sank in the mud…” (Jeremiah 38:22). The tables will be turned. Zedekiah had given permission for Jeremiah to be thrown in the empty cistern, where his feet had sunk into the mud. This had been the attempt by men to stifle the word of God by killing the prophet of God. But now, God reveals to Zedekiah that it is he who will find himself sunk in the mud, and unable to escape. His aspirations for greatness will become mired and permanently stalled by God’s sovereign decree. Zedekiah will watch as his wives and children are led away and his capital is burned to the ground. Then, as the very next chapter records, he will be forced to witness the death of his sons, ending any hope of a future dynasty. Then his eyes will be gouged out.
After hearing these words from Jeremiah, the king commanded him to tell no one, on the threat of death. If the court officials should approach Jeremiah and ask what he and the king discussed, Zedekiah instructed him to say that he was begging not to be returned to the cistern. And when Jeremiah was eventually confronted by the court officials, he told them exactly what the king had instructed him to say. Jeremiah would remain a prisoner in the court of the guard until the bitter end. But he was free from the mud of the cistern. God had spared him from dying of starvation at the bottom of a well. And he would live to survive the devastation that was coming. But Zedekiah, the king, would live to regret the day that he refused to listen to the word of God. His stubborn refusal to do things his way, rather than God’s, was going to haunt him the rest of the days of his life.
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.