The God Who Lets Us Choose
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon replaces King Jehoiakim with the puppet kings Jehoiachin and—three months later—Zedekiah. During Zedekiah’s reign, which began in 597 BC, no one pays attention to what God has told his people through Jeremiah.
When the Babylonian armies besiege Jerusalem once again in 588, Egypt sends its army to the city’s defense. King Zedekiah sends messengers to Jeremiah to ask him to pray on behalf of the nation. God tells Jeremiah that although Egypt’s intervention has prompted the Babylonians to withdraw, they are going to return and burn Jerusalem to the ground. God is going to let Babylon take Jerusalem.
Jeremiah is soon arrested on false charges and put in prison. Soon after, he’s put into a muddy cistern, but the righteous Ebed-Melek rescues him. King Zedekiah sends for Jeremiah again and vows to protect his life if Jeremiah will just tell him what God is saying. God is clear: If Zedekiah surrenders to Babylon, Jerusalem will not be destroyed.
But Zedekiah doesn’t surrender. Zedekiah is captured and taken to Babylon where his sons and all of Judah’s nobles are murdered while he watches. It is the last image he sees—the Babylonians put out his eyes, shackle him and take him to Babylon. And Jerusalem falls. Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar gives orders: Jeremiah is not to be harmed.
The King’s Heart
Over and over, God sent Jeremiah to tell Zedekiah exactly what to do to survive when Babylon came. “Surrender to the king of Babylon, and you will live.”
But Zedekiah feared people more than he trusted God. He feared his officials: He gave them free reign to do anything they wanted to Jeremiah, and then he begged Jeremiah not to tell his officials that he had spoken with the prophet because he was afraid of them. He confided in Jeremiah that he was afraid that the Jews who had surrendered to the Babylonians would hurt him if he surrendered too. In Zedekiah’s mind, the power of people was greater than God’s.
God let Zedekiah make his own choice and the result was disastrous. The Good King must have been so sad as Zedekiah lost his sons and then his eyes. He wanted to come to Zedekiah’s aid, but Zedekiah refused to trust him.
When Zedekiah was captured, he was taken to King Nebuchadnezzar in Syria, where the king cut out his eyes (see Jeremiah 39:5-9). This fulfilled two prophecies. Zedekiah saw the king of Babylon in Babylon with his own eyes (see Jeremiah 34:3-4) yet he was taken to Babylon and killed there without ever really seeing it (see Ezekiel 12:13).