The last king of Judah, Zedekiah, was discontent and disobedient to his God. It destroyed him and his whole nation with him. How does his tragic experience inform and challenge us today?
By Mark D. Harris
Few Christians look at Jeremiah or the Old Testament prophets for guidance in modern life. Fewer still look at the wicked kings of Israel and Judah. But their folly and failure contain powerful lessons for followers of Christ today. Zedekiah is a good place to start.
Unfaithful to those around (2 Chronicles 36:11-13)
Zedekiah was one of the sons of the good king Josiah. However, when his father died in 609 BC, his brother took the throne. One by one Zedekiah’s relatives failed to please their Egyptian or Babylonian masters and more importantly, failed to continue their father’s reforms. The last choice, Zedekiah, finally got his chance to reign in 597 BC. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon installed him as king and forced him to take an oath of allegiance, swearing to never rebel against him.
For nine years, Jeremiah told Zedekiah to return to the Lord, stop worshipping idols, and make the people stop worshipping idols as well. He told the king to remain faithful to Babylon and pay tribute. God would establish Zedekiah if he obeyed. Zedekiah refused.
Simultaneously, envoys from Egypt promised Zedekiah freedom to reign and freedom from paying tribute if he would break his oath and rebel against Babylon. Pharaoh would send his army in support of Judah and Nebuchadnezzar would be beaten. Zedekiah’s court advisors counseled rebellion and may have even threatened Zedekiah’s throne if he refused.
For nine years, Zedekiah resisted this temptation. However, he also refused to listen to the Lord speaking through Jeremiah. Zedekiah was disconsolate at the thought of losing what he had, but discontent with his rule, though he was king of Judah. He neither thanked God each day for his amazing blessings nor trusted and obeyed Him with joy through the trials of life.
Hearing only the voices of evil day after day, and more worried about what his court and his army would do to him than what God had done and would do, Zedekiah rebelled. The king was unfaithful to Nebuchadnezzar, unfaithful to Jeremiah, unfaithful to his people (who wanted nothing but peace), and unfaithful to God.
Who are we listening to instead of God? Who do we fear instead of our Lord? Who do we trust as we encounter the challenges of life? Do we obey anyone? Who are we betraying by the choices that we are making?
Unsure of where to find help (Jeremiah 37:2-3)
Nebuchadnezzar mobilized his army and marched towards Jerusalem, arriving in less than a month. He built camps and defensive works around the city and settled in for a long siege. Zedekiah’s advisors had assured their king that the Babylonians would never come, or if they did, that they would be beaten. Now Zedekiah stood on the walls of his city and gazed at tens of thousands of red-coated soldiers, their swords and shields glistening in the morning sun. He considered his pitiful forces, just the garrison of Jerusalem, the rest of the country having fallen to Nebuchadnezzar.
Zedekiah summoned Jeremiah to the palace and asked the prophet to pray for him and the people. Meanwhile, Pharaoh marched from Thebes to attack Nebuchadnezzar. The Babylonians broke the siege, turned, and fought the Egyptians. Zedekiah and his advisors thought that perhaps Pharaoh was their deliverer, as he had promised. The king’s advisors congratulated themselves on their actions. But Jeremiah foretold disaster. God opposed Judah for their sins, and Jeremiah prophesied that even if the Babylonian army was crushed and reduced to a few wounded men, Jerusalem would be destroyed. Their only hope was repentance.
Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar clashed, and Pharaoh was crushed. The Egyptians fled back to Egypt, and the Babylonians returned to besiege Jerusalem. Zedekiah could find no one to deliver the Jews now. He had been discontent with God’s plan for him and wanted more. Now he was in danger of losing what he had.
Months passed and Nebuchadnezzar’s noose tightened.
Where do we go for help? Do we consider not only peoples’ technical skill but also their character? Do we actively seek out faithful believers? Do we share our needs with them?
Unable to resist the evil words and plans of others (Jeremiah 38:4-5)
Zedekiah’s advisors blamed Jeremiah. In their minds, he had betrayed his nation. Jeremiah’s words of judgement had induced many Jews to flee the city and defect to the Babylonians. The number of defenders shrank, and their morale dropped. Just after the Babylonians had turned to fight Pharaoh, Jeremiah was seen trying to leave the city. He was imprisoned.
A still, small voice told Zedekiah to call Jeremiah out of prison. God was giving the king another chance. Jeremiah asked the king where his advisors, his prophets, and the others whose counsel he had followed were now. The prophet also asked to be released from prison. Zedekiah released Jeremiah. But Jeremiah continued his faithful preaching of the word of God. The court officials and military, the ones who pressured the king to get into this disaster in the first place, hated Jeremiah. They asked the king for permission to kill him. Zedekiah capitulated. The king who believed in the prophet and called him for help now assented to his execution.
Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern where he was sinking into the mud. A harrowing death of suffocation or dehydration was not far away. One of the few faithful men in the king’s court, Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, told Zedekiah. The king reversed himself again and sent men to rescue the prophet. Jeremiah was brought again to the presence of the king.
Do we flip-flop on our decisions? Who do we hurt when we do so? Do we waver between following God and following sin? Do we tolerate sin that we enjoy, only to find that it weakens us when the pressure mounts?
Unwilling to obey the Lord (Jeremiah 38:17-28)
It was Zedekiah’s last chance. He could save himself and his family, Jeremiah promised, if he would only submit to Nebuchadnezzar. The king shared his fears with the prophet, finally realizing that he could trust no one else. Jeremiah spoke with hope and compassion but utter honesty. Filled with compassion for this desperate man, Jeremiah implored the king to obey the Lord and surrender to the Babylonians.
Zedekiah knew that Jeremiah was right. No one else had been faithful to him. No one else knew the truth or had spoken it with courage as Jeremiah had. Even when Zedekiah had been unfaithful to Jeremiah, the prophet remained faithful. But despite Zedekiah’s realizations, he could not bring himself to obey God. The opinions of his advisors, the military, and the leaders of the people were too strong. Zedekiah’s pride as king was too great.
Jeremiah returned to house arrest.
Trusting and obeying God is a habit. The more we do it, the more we are able to do it in the future. What challenges are we facing now? What must we do to trust and obey? What sins are holding us back from following the Lord? Do we provide good and faithful counsel to others? Are we available for them?
Undone in the end (Jeremiah 39:4-7)
Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian troops conquered Jerusalem and destroyed everything, including Solomon’s temple. The leaders of Zedekiah’s court, military, and religious establishment were executed. The king watched Babylonian soldiers butcher his sons. Then those same soldiers gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes. Finally, the blind king was taken in chains to Babylon, where he died.
 2 Chronicles 36:1-11 – Jehoahaz (23 years old at ascension, reigned 609 BC), Jehoiakim (25 years old at ascension, reigned 609-598 BC), Jehoiachin (8 years old at ascension, reigned 598), Zedekiah (21 years old at ascension, reigned 597-586 BC).