I was writing an article for our church a few days ago, and I was just about to submit it when I realized I had made a mistake. Each week, we put a small article in the bulletin, answering a question someone in the congregation had submitted. This week, I was answering a question about a particular Jewish king…only I realized I had written about the wrong ruler.
Yet I believe the Lord did lead me as I was writing, calling to mind several cross references about king Zedekiah of Judah. Though he was not a good king by any means, there is much we can learn from his example. So with that said, here is a modified version of the original article I wrote.
When we look through the books of Kings, we find Zedekiah right at the end. Actually, he was the last independent king to physically reign in Judah. Rather than be a place of honor, though, Zedekiah’s reign serves as a cap stone of the evil kings who went before.
The Scripture is pretty clear on this issue. Right off the bat, 2 Kings 24:19 says that “he did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that Jehoiakim had done.” Jehoiakim was Zedekiah’s brother, and these two men struggled with the same sin—rebellion. They were ruled by the Babylonians, but both brothers rejected those in authority over them (2 Kings 24:1, 20). They had been warned by the Lord to submit, but they rejected the instruction of the Lord.
And when we dig into Zedekiah’s life, that is the real issue we are confronted with. In the prophets, we read this statement right after hearing that Zedekiah took the throne: “neither he nor his servants nor the people of the land listened to the words of the Lord which He spoke through Jeremiah the prophet” (Jeremiah 37:2). What a judgement.
Now we don’t need to get the impression that Zedekiah was a hardened man who never wanted to hear from God. Rather, there are actually a couple times where he sends for Jeremiah so he can hear what God has to say. The issue was that he just wouldn’t obey. If the word from God was not in line with what Zedekiah wanted to hear, he could grow quite vengeful. In response to one request to hear God’s word, Jeremiah tells him, “If I tell you, will you not certainly put me to death? Besides, if I give you advice, you will not listen to me” (Jeremiah 38:15). Jeremiah knew the king’s behavior in the past, and knew he was only seeking confirmation for what he already determined to do.
You see, God was asking Zedekiah to do something the king really did not want to do, nor did the people around him.
Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians were besieging Jerusalem, and God told His people that if they surrendered themselves up, then they would be spared (Jeremiah 38:2). This was the exact opposite of what they thought was wise, and required a great amount of humility. We can conjecture why Zedekiah did not obey, but the fact remains was that he continued to rebel—both against the king of Babylon and the Lord Himself.
In the end, however, the cost was far greater than I think he imagined. In trying to explain why he wouldn’t obey, Zedekiah told Jeremiah that he feared the other Jews would “abuse” him (Jeremiah 38:19). What actually happened was far more brutal. Not only was the city razed to the ground, but “all the commanders of Judah” were massacred, and Zedekiah was forced to watch the murder of his own “sons” before he was “blinded” (2 Kings 25:7; Jeremiah 52:10, 11). He feared consequences for himself, but by disobeying, those around him suffered a terrible price.
As I was thinking about these events from Zedekiah’s life, it struck me anew the need to obey the Lord. Not out of an attitude of self-preservation, but because we know His ways are best. We don’t know for sure all that would have happened if Zedekiah had submitted, but I know all those who would have followed him in obedience would have been spared. We know that God’s “commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). Instead, they give life and are the best course we can choose. Jesus Himself said that He “came that [believers] may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Of course we should follow Him.
Our flesh may not exactly like everything He does instruct us to do, but we ought to humble ourselves and submit. The consequences of disobedience can be great, but the blessings of obedience are even greater. Let us keep our eyes on Him and submit to His authority. This is the way of life.