Miles to go...

I have miles to go... please pray each day for the next leg of my Biblical journey!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Day 57 & 58: You Can Run...

Bone Texture: Photo by Atif Gulzar

Jeremiah 38:17-19

New Living Translation (NLT)
17 Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “This is what the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘If you surrender to the Babylonian officers, you and your family will live, and the city will not be burned down. 18 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.’”
19 “But I am afraid to surrender,” the king said, “for the Babylonians may hand me over to the Judeans who have defected to them. And who knows what they will do to me!”


Zedekiah was a wishy-washy kind of guy. Every time the wind blew, he changed his mind, and it ended up not only being his own downfall, but the downfall of Jerusalem, and all of Judah, as well. He was the last king of Judah. 

I know all these kings have been hard to keep straight, at least for me, so I'm going to review just a little bit. Zedekiah was the son of Josiah, the king who had discovered the scrolls containing the laws given to Moses and who had brought revival to the land. Josiah was killed by Egypt's king, Pharaoh Neco, who then appointed one of Zedekiah's brothers to be king after their dad. But it didn't take long for Neco to decide he'd made a mistake putting Jehoahaz in that position, so he threw him in prison and appointed Jehoiakim, another of his brothers, as the new king. That wasn't Jehoiakim's real name, by the way. Egyptians were really fond of giving Jews new names. Jehoiakim's real name was Eliakim. Anyway, in order to appease Neco over in Egypt who was really pulling all the strings, Jehoiakim had to pay tribute, which he got by taxing the people in his own kingdom. He was a bad guy, but he kept Neco happy, and stayed on the throne for 11 years. Then he died, and his teenage son, Jehoiachin, became king for a whopping three months before he and his entire army surrendered to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. Neb needed someone to rule over Judah for him though, so he picked someone.

And that's how Zedekiah became king. The 21 year old spineless wimp was Jehoiachin's uncle, so he was the logical choice for King Neb of Babylon to put in charge. It was an arrangement that lasted 11 years, which is kind of surprising, because this kid really was an idiot. 

At the beginning of his rein, the prophet Jeremiah was in hiding because he'd written down all of God's prophecies and promises of doom and read them to Jehoiakim as a warning. The former king didn't like what he heard, so he ordered his men to shoot the messenger. Jeremiah and his secretary fled, but while they were in hiding, they re-wrote the scroll. So now that Zed was in charge, he sent someone to find Jeremiah, begging him to pray. Over in Egypt, Neco had been succeeded by Hophra, who had sauntered on over to Jerusalem, temporarily scaring off the Babylonians. So Jeremiah prayed, and then he informed King Zed that the Babylonians would be back, worse than ever, and would burn the city to the ground. Then Jeremiah started to leave, so he could go take care of some family business in another city.

There was a sentry on duty by the gate through which he was leaving, and as luck would have it, the sentry just happened to be the grandson of Hananiah, the false prophet who had died shortly after a confrontation with Jeremiah. So the sentry, whose name was Irijah, had a bit of a score to settle, and arrested Jeremiah on some trumped up charges, claiming he was defecting to the Babylonians. Irijah was particularly hateful, and had Jeremiah flogged before imprisoning him in a dungeon.

Zedekiah wanted answers though, so he had someone sneak Jeremiah out and take him to the palace. It was all so secretive! In hushed tones, he asked if Jeremiah had a message from God. That's when Jeremiah showed the timid king what a backbone looked like.

Of course I have a message for you from God! Babylon is going to squash you like a bug. Now why the heck do you have me locked up in that dungeon? What have I done to you or anyone else that deserves that? And where are the prophets that promised you King Neb wouldn't attack you or this land? You must have finally realized they were full of hot air or you wouldn't have snuck me here for this little chat. So listen, Zed, I think you owe me a favor, so I'm begging you, don't send me back to the dungeon to die.

So he didn't. Zedekiah had Jeremiah transferred from the dungeon to the palace courtyard. He was still a prisoner, but it was a much nicer cell. He even ordered the guards to make sure that Jeremiah got a fresh loaf of bread every day as long as there was any.

But then the wind shifted directions. There were other officials who had heard Jeremiah's prophecies. Jeremiah had been saying that anyone who stayed in Jerusalem would die from war, famine, or disease, but that God would spare the life of anyone who surrendered to Babylon. They didn't like what they heard, so they went to King Zed and said "hey, this guy needs to die! he's messing with the troops morale and everyone else! He's a traitor, let us kill him!"

And Zed said "ok".

So the bad guys took Jeremiah from his cell and lowered him into an empty cistern in the prison yard. I say empty, but only of water. The floor of the cistern was covered about hip-deep in mud, and Jeremiah sunk right into it.

And then the wind shifted again. An Ethiopian named Ebed-melech who was one of the court officials went running in to talk King Zedekiah out of letting the bad guys kill Jeremiah. So Zed changed his mind again, and told Ebed-melech to take thirty men with him and pull Jeremiah out of the cistern. So they lowered a rope and a bunch of old rags (to protect his armpits from getting rope-burns) and lifted Jeremiah out, and returned him to his cell in the palace prison.

Do you feel the wind blowing? It must have been a good breeze not long after that, because Zed had Jeremiah brought to him again. They had a conversation that went something like this:

King Zedekiah: Jeremiah, I want to ask you something, and I want you to be honest with me. Don't hold back, just lay all the cards on the table and tell me the ugly truth.

Jeremiah: Yeah, and if I do that, you're going to have me killed. And for what? It's not like you'd listen to me anyway!

King Zedekiah: I swear to God, I won't kill you, and I won't hand you over to the guys that want you dead. 

Jeremiah: Fine. This is what God says. If you surrender to Babylon, you and your family will live, and the city will remain intact. If you don't surrender, Babylon is going to get the city anyway, only they'll burn it down. And as for you and your family, you can run, but you can't hide!

King Zedekiah: But, but, but, I'm scared! What if I surrender and the Babylonians turn me over to the Judeans who have defected to them already? There's no telling what they will do to me!

Jeremiah: You have a reason to be scared, but you're scared of the wrong thing! You ought to be worried about what God will do to you, not about what the Babylonians or the Judeans will do. I'm telling you, if you do what God is saying, you won't be handed over to them. God will spare your life and you'll be fine! But God has revealed to me that if you refuse to surrender, all the women left in your palace will be given to the officers of the Babylonian army. And then the women will be taunting you about your stupidity. You won't escape, either. Neb's army is going to hunt you down, and the city of Jerusalem will be burned to the ground. There won't be anything left but a big pile of ashes.

King Zedekiah: Ok, ok, I get it! Now go back to your cell, but keep this conversation between us. If anyone finds out what you've told me, they'll kill you. So this will be our little secret.

So how do you think the story ends? Well, Jeremiah went back to his cell, and King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army came to attack Jerusalem. They laid siege for two and a half years before they finally broke down the wall of the city. And when the wall came tumbling down, Zed and all his soldiers took off. They waited til it was dark, then slipped out and ran for the hills. Well not really. They ran toward the Jordan Valley. Not that the general direction mattered. Just as Jeremiah had warned, he could run but he'd never be able to hide. He was captured, and King Neb of Babylon made King Zed of Judah watch while his family and his nobles were slaughtered. Then they gouged out his eyes, chained him up, and led him to Babylon while the city of Jerusalem burned in the background.

But Jeremiah was safe. I'm not sure why King Neb had a soft spot for the Jewish prophet, but he did. He was given his freedom, and was given anything he wanted. What he wanted most was to be among his own people, even though there weren't many left in Judah. So Jeremiah was given a place to live in the home of Gedaliah, the new governor that Neb had put in charge, and he got to remain in his own ravaged country with whatever friends and family were still there.

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