In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army came against Jerusalem and besieged it. In the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, on the ninth day of the month, a breach was made in the city. Then all the officials of the king of Babylon came and sat in the middle gate: Nergal-sar-ezer of Samgar, Nebu-sar-sekim the Rab-saris, Nergal-sar-ezer the Rab-mag, with all the rest of the officers of the king of Babylon. When Zedekiah king of Judah and all the soldiers saw them, they fled, going out of the city at night by way of the king’s garden through the gate between the two walls; and they went toward the Arabah. But the army of the Chaldeans pursued them and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho. And when they had taken him, they brought him up to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, at Riblah, in the land of Hamath; and he passed sentence on him. The king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah at Riblah before his eyes, and the king of Babylon slaughtered all the nobles of Judah. He put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him in chains to take him to Babylon. The Chaldeans burned the king’s house and the house of the people, and broke down the walls of Jerusalem. Then Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, carried into exile to Babylon the rest of the people who were left in the city, those who had deserted to him, and the people who remained. Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, left in the land of Judah some of the poor people who owned nothing, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time. – Jeremiah 39:1-10 ESV
Payday had come. All that Jeremiah had been prophesying about the last two decades came to fruition. God’s words became Zedekiah’s worst nightmare. The city of Jerusalem fell and all its citizens, officials and royal ruler, experienced the fate that God had in store for them.And Zedekiah, true to form, did what any leader lacking in moral fortitude would do, he tried to escape. As his royal capital and its citizens are being slaughtered or captured as slaves, Zedekiah and his troops attempt to escape under the cover of night through the palace gardens. But their little plan failed, because they were seen, followed and captured. Up until the very last minute, Zedekiah was doing everything in his power to get our from under God’s sovereign decree concerning his fate. God had told him that if he surrendered to the Babylonians, all would go well with him.
“If you surrender to the Babylonian officers, you and your family will live, and the city will not be burned down.” – Jeremiah 38:17 NLT
Zedekiah had been given a choice and a chance to make it. He had been fairly warned by God – on multiple occasions. He was clearly told what would happen if he refused to surrender.
“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 38:18 NLT
So, what does King Zedekiah attempt to do? Escape. And in doing so, he directly violated the command of God – yet again. He should have considered the words of one of his esteemed predecessors, King David. It was he who had learned a valuable lesson regarding God’s sovereign power and omnipresence, and wrote:
I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you. – Psalm 139:7-12 NLT
Zedekiah could run, but he would find it impossible to run from God’s will concerning his life. The old adage,: “He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day” sounds logical and reasonable, except when it violates the expressed will of God. Zedekiah was going to learn the hard way that attempting to escape God’s ordained will was more difficult than trying to escape the omnipresent Babylonians.
Zedekiah was captured, bound in chains and taken to the ancient city of Riblah, where King Nebuchadnezzar had some sort of headquarters established. It would seem that the victory over Jerusalem was so assured, the Nebuchadnezzar had not even been there for its eventual fall. So, Zedekiah, his family and royal officials were brought before the king of Babylon. And we’re told, “There the king of Babylon pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah” (Jeremiah 39:5 NLT). Judgment day had come for King Zedekiah. He would be judged by a pagan king, but Nebuchadnezzar was actually acting as a vassal for God. Earlier in the book of Jeremiah, God referred to Nebuchadnezzar as his servant.
Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the Lord, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation. – Jeremiah 25:8-9 ESV
Later on, after the fall of Jerusalem, the remnant of the Jews left in Judah, will attempt to escape from the deplorable conditions in Judah by running to Egypt. This would be in direct violation of God’s commands. So, once again, God will warn them through His prophet, Jeremiah, that He will use His servant, Nebucadnezzar to punish them.
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will set his throne above these stones that I have hidden, and he will spread his royal canopy over them. He shall come and strike the land of Egypt, giving over to the pestilence those who are doomed to the pestilence, to captivity those who are doomed to captivity, and to the sword those who are doomed to the sword. – Jeremiah 43:10-11 ESV
It seems that those who refuse to obey God’s commands are always the first to try and escape the consequences. As sinful human beings, the only thing more distasteful to us than obeying the will of God is having to suffer the consequences for failing to do so. We stubbornly hold on to the belief that we are free to do what we want. And, in a way, we are. But we are not free to escape the judgment that comes with disobedience to the will of God. Zedekiah could refuse to surrender, but he could not refuse to suffer the judgment of God for doing so. And that judgment would come at the hands of a pagan king, whose concept of judgment would be brutal and blunt. It is important to keep in mind that Zedekiah had been placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar. He owed his royal position and the power and wealth that came with it to this foreign king. He was a vassal, a servant to King Nebuchadnezzar. But from day one, Zedekiah had chosen to rebel against Nebuchadnezzar, refusing to submit to his sovereignty over him. And this was nothing more than a sign of Zedekiah’s refusal to submit to God. Nebuchadnezzar was a servant of God. And now, God’s servant was going to mete out God’s judgment.
The king of Babylon made Zedekiah watch as he slaughtered his sons at Riblah. The king of Babylon also slaughtered all the nobles of Judah. Then he gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him in bronze chains to lead him away to Babylon. – Jeremiah 39:6-7 NLT
All did not go well for Zedekiah, because Zedekiah did not serve God well. He had been rebellious, disobedient, impulsive, headstrong and, more than anything else, unbelieving. He had not trusted God that His way was best. He did not believe that God was serious and would do what He had promised. The author of the book of Hebrews provides us with some serious words of warning concerning the sin of unbelief.
That is why the Holy Spirit says,
“Today when you hear his voice,
don’t harden your hearts
as Israel did when they rebelled,
when they tested me in the wilderness.
There your ancestors tested and tried my patience,
even though they saw my miracles for forty years.
So I was angry with them, and I said,
‘Their hearts always turn away from me.
They refuse to do what I tell them.’
So in my anger I took an oath:
‘They will never enter my place of rest.’”
Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. – Hebrews 3:7-12 NLT
Zedekiah had turned away from the living God. He had refused to believe His words or heed His warnings. And he would suffer a fate worse than death: Having to watch as his sons were slaughtered before his eyes and then having his eyes gouged out. And while all of this was going on in Riblah, the city of Jerusalem was being sacked and burned. Its citizens were rounded up and taken captive. The king’s palace and the temple of God were plundered and destroyed. The walls of the city were torn down. And the once mighty city of Jerusalem was left in a state of total devastation.
But Nebuzaradan allowed some of the poorest people to stay behind in the land of Judah, and he assigned them to care for the vineyards and fields. – Jeremiah 39:10 NLT
What a sad statement. It provides us with a stark reminder of just how devastating the fall of Judah had been. There was no one left in the nation but the poorest of the poor. Nebuchadnezzar left behind a skeleton population to maintain the fields and vineyards, but took all the rest as his captives to Babylon. The entire nation of Judah had spent decades trying to run from God, but now they knew that they couldn’t hide. They could not escape His presence or His judgment. Payday had come. The due date on their debt to God had finally arrived. And they would pay with their lives. But the saddest thing about this whole story is that if the people of Judah had chosen to run to God, instead of away from Him, they could have avoided all of this. If they had repented instead of rebelling, they would have experienced His blessing. And the apostle Paul reminds us:
These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.
If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. – 1 Corinthians 10:11-12 NLT
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.