KING ZEDEKIAH’S RESPONSE TO JEREMIAH’S MESSAGE FROM JEHOVAH
Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, was the last king of the Southern Kingdom (Judah). It was during Zedekiah’s reign that Judah fell to the Babylonians. Before that horrendous destruction, on a number of occasions Jeremiah sent messages to the king and also had private conversations with him. We read about all of that in the Book of Jeremiah.
For our study, however, we are focusing our attention on the statements about Zedekiah that are recorded in a single Bible verse: 2 Chronicles 36:12. Zedekiah became king at the young age of 21 and ruled for 11 years before Judah’s crash (36:11). What was God’s overall assessment of Zedekiah?
He did evil in the sight of the LORD his God, and did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke from the mouth of the LORD.
Let us consider the facts which are set forth in this text and see what lessons we can learn from them.
First, royalty does not equal godliness, and position does not guarantee proper conduct. In the history of Israel (the Northern Kingdom), all 19 kings were evil. In the South (Judah), some kings were a “mix” of good and wicked, while some were outstanding. Zedekiah did not fit into either of those categories; he was just bad.
Even though Zedekiah sat on a throne, that throne and the position which came with it did nothing to make him a righteous person. At the same time, though, we must point out that from a biblical standpoint, there is no justification for us having a built-in suspicion of every person that is in a position of high authority. While few mighty or rich choose to follow the ways of the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:26), to say that few are willing to do so is far from concluding that zero per cent of such people will make righteous choices. We respect the authority of the position that modern-day civil leaders hold (1 Peter 2:13), and in fairness to them, we should analyze their character on an individual basis rather than concluding that all royalty and others in high positions are either “super” or “not trustworthy.”
Second, God alone sets the standard for good and evil. Our text in 2 Chronicles 36:12 declares that Zedekiah did evil “in the sight of the LORD.” Zedekiah’s conduct may have pleased men, but it failed to please God. That is really all that matters, is it not? Right and wrong are not determined by personal feelings, public opinion, politicians, or pastors. God’s instructions are righteous (Psalm 119:172), and they are truth (Psalm 119:151). That is the way that it always has been. In every era of human history, when God has charged His people to abhor and stay away from what is evil and cleave to what is good (Romans 12:9), that means “evil” and “good” per God’s point of view, not man’s. Zedekiah failed to conform to the divine standard. That is what made his behavior “evil in the sight of the LORD.”
Third, Jeremiah “spoke from the mouth of the Lord.” Later in 2 Chronicles 36, we also read that God’s word was spoken “by the mouth of Jeremiah” (36:21). So, the message went from God’s mind to God’s mouth to Jeremiah’s mouth, and through his mouth to the ears of those who heard him speak. Thus, it was Jehovah’s message, spoken through Jeremiah. Put another way, God was the Source of the message (2 Timothy 3:16), while Jeremiah was the instrument through whom the message was made known. Jeremiah wrote, “Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth’” (Jeremiah 1:9). Jeremiah did not present his own personal opinions to educate and motivate King Zedekiah. No, Jeremiah proclaimed God’s word. We do not have inspired prophets today, but we can still speak from the mouth of the Lord. How? By opening His Book and speaking as the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11).
Fourth, Zedekiah “did not humble himself.” He could have; he just chose not to do so. When a person hears God’s truth, as Zedekiah did, but refuses to humble himself, what will be the consequences? He will not submit to God’s will, and when that happens, he does “evil” in God’s sight. And? Evildoers who fail to repent will be raised from the dead to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:28,29). Humility, or a lack of it, is the difference between eternal life and eternal torment. Hear what God says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:5,6).
Finally, a righteous man does not always produce righteous children. Zedekiah’s father was Josiah, who walked in the way of Jehovah (2 Chronicles 34:2) and is considered generally to be the finest king in the history of Judah. Boy, was his son Zedekiah of a different mold! Faithful servants of the Lord should not assume that their offspring will follow their example automatically. Both a father and his son will be judged by God according to their personal conduct (Ezekiel 18:20).
Humbling ourselves and submitting to the will of God is always the right course of action. Zedekiah had so many plusses in his life, including a righteous father and a faithful prophet to tell him exactly what the Lord wanted. Sadly, he chose to live his own way instead of God’s. Let us not follow in his steps.
— Roger D. Campbell