The wicked

Jacob’s departure from his father Isaac’s home was prompted by a threat to his life. Jacob’s mother Rebekah took the initiative to send Jacob away after he deceived Isaac into blessing him instead of his twin brother Esau (Genesis 27:19). Genesis 27:41-45 states, “Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.’ But the words of Esau her older son were told to Rebekah. So she sent and called Jacob her younger son and said to him. ‘Behold your brother Esau comforts himself about you by planning to kill you. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice. Arise, flee to Laban my brother in Haran and stay with him a while until your brother’s fury turns away — until your brother’s anger turns away from you, and he forgets what you have done to him.'”

It appears that 20 years later, Esau was still carrying a grudge against Jacob. After he had fled from his uncle Laban’s home, Jacob sent messengers to Esau to let him know he was on his way home. “And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.’ Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed” (Genesis 32:6-7). Jacob’s conclusion that Esau intended to harm him was a reasonable one considering that Esau had no reason to bring such a large number of men with him unless he intended to fight or defend himself against his brother. As a result of his distressful situation, Jacob repented of his sin and asked God to show him mercy. Jacob openly admitted, “I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant” (Genesis 32:10).

King David prayed a similar prayer when he was betrayed by one of his counselors. David said, “Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy. Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the throng of evildoers, who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows, shooting from ambush at the blameless, shooting at him suddenly and without fear” (Psalm 64:1-4). The Hebrew word that is translated wicked, ra’a’ is properly translated as “to spoil (literally, by breaking to pieces)” (H7489). Figuratively, ra’a’ can mean “to make (or be) good for nothing.” David referred to his enemies as evildoers, people that make an effort to practice wickedness on a regular basis and think it is their job to make others suffer (H6466/H205). David said the evildoers whet their tongues like swords and aimed bitter words like arrows (Psalm 64:3), indicating the primary weapons of evildoers are rumors and lies.

David described the ammunition that was used against him as “bitter words” (Psalm 64:3). The Hebrew word that David used, marah (maw-raw’) likened bitterness to a trickle or the slow drop by drop collection of liquid in the distillation process (H4843/H4752) which often takes long periods of time to accumulate fluid. The Hebrew term dabar (daw-baw’) means a word and by implication “a matter (as spoken of)” (H1697), suggesting that the bitter words that were being shot at David had to to with something that had happened in the past that had never been forgotten or forgiven. Likewise, in the situation with Jacob and Esau, many years had passed since Jacob had stolen his brother’s birthright and yet, there was no lessening of Esau’s anger, only what seemed to be a determined effort on his part to settle the score by annihilating his brother’s family. As Esau approached, Jacob quickly divided up his family and prepared himself for the worst (Genesis 33:2-3).

One of the reasons David thought he was justified in asking for God’s help was that his enemy was “shooting from ambush at the blameless” (Psalm 64:4). The Hebrew word that is translated blameless, tam (tawm) means complete (H8535). Tam is derived from the word tamam (taw-mam’). “The basic meaning of this word is that of being complete or finished, with nothing else expected or intended” (H8552). David may have been thinking of himself as having completed the assignment that God had given him as the king of Israel which was to conquer the foreign nations that occupied the Promised Land (2 Samuel 8:14). David credited God with delivering him from all his enemies (2 Samuel 22:1) and said, “For I have kept the ways of the LORD and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all his rules were before me, and from his statutes I did not turn aside. I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from guilt” (2 Samuel 22:22-24).

David’s claim of being blameless wasn’t based on him never having broken any of God’s rules because we know that David committed adultery and murder (2 Samuel 12:9). Jesus explained that David was innocent because of God’s mercy, his free gift for the forgiveness of sins. When the Pharisees accused his disciples of breaking the law because they plucked heads of grain to eat on the Sabbath, Jesus told them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?” (Matthew 12:3-5). The Greek word that is translated profane, bebelos (beb’-ay-los) means to cross a threshold and by implication according to Jewish notions to be heathenish or wicked (G952).

David said that he had not wickedly departed from his God (2 Samuel 22:22). David compared himself with the wicked in order to point out that his relationship with the LORD was what had kept him from becoming a bad person, someone that was hostile toward God and deserved to be punished (H7561). In his psalm, David said of the wicked, “They hold fast to their evil purpose; they talk of laying snares secretly, thinking, ‘Who can see them?’ They search out injustice, saying, ‘We have accomplished a diligent search.’ For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep” (Psalm 64:5-6). To hold fast to something in the sense that David was talking about meant that the person was bracing up or strengthening himself in order to act in defiance against God (H2388). The person’s heart was hardened to the point that he would not let go of his evil purpose or “the wicked deed and its consequences” (H7451). “While the prominent characteristic of the godly is lovingkindness (H2617), one of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury both to himself and to everyone around him.”

David’s comment that “the inward mind and heart of a man are deep” (Psalm 64:6) was meant to draw attention to the fact that it’s very difficult for a person’s behavior to be changed once he has made up his mind to do something. The immaterial inner self is where conscious decisions are made and the heart is often guided by long patterns of thoughts and emotions that eventually come to fruition, rather than being influenced by single events. Jesus said, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matthew 12:34-35). The Greek word that is translated treasure, thesauros (thay-sow-ros’) means a deposit and suggests Jesus was saying that the only words that come out of our mouths are those that have been stored up in our hearts for some length of time. Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).

A careless word is one that proves to be useless in the sense of accomplishing a task or you might say settling a matter (G692/G4487). When God created the world, “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). If God had said, “Let there be light” and he was not able to create light, then his command would have been a useless one. Jesus wanted his disciples to understand that their words had power, just like God’s and were intended to be used in a productive way. David said of the wicked, “They hold fast to their evil purpose; they talk of laying snares secretly, thinking, ‘Who can see them?’ They search out injustice, saying, ‘We have accomplished a diligent search'” (Psalm 64:5-6). The Hebrew terms that are translated diligent search have to do with concealing one’s identity in order to trick someone (H2664/H2665). You might say a diligent search is a covert operation, the objective being in David’s case to damage his reputation.

When Jacob saw his brother Esau approaching him in the distance, he divided up his wives and children, “And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he come near to his brother” (Genesis 33:2-3). Jacob’s action of bowing demonstrated his submission to Esau’s authority. Jacob was sending Esau a definite message that he no longer wanted to supplant him as the eldest of Isaac’s twin sons. Genesis 33:4 states, “But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” Jacob realized that his brother no longer intended to kill him and said, “For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me” (Genesis 33:10). The Hebrew word that is translated accepted, ratsah (raw-tsaw’) means specifically to satisfy a debt and indicates that Jacob felt he and his brother were friends again (H7521).

In spite of their renewed affection, when Esau offered to travel with Jacob and have his men protect his family, Jacob declined Esau’s offer (Genesis 33:15). “So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house and made booths for his livestock” (Genesis 33:16-17). Jacob was being disobedient when he decided to settle down in Succoth because God had instructed him to “return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred” (Genesis 31:3). It was also contrary to what Jacob had told Esau he intended to do, which was to travel at a slower pace and eventually meet him in Seir (Genesis 33:14). It is likely that Jacob lived in Succoth for at least 5 years and perhaps as many as ten years until his daughter Dinah reached the age of maturity. Genesis 34:1-2 tells us that she “went out to see the women of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her.”

The Hebrew word that is translated humiliated in Genesis 34:2, ‘anah (aw-naw’) indicates that Shechem raped Dinah (H6031), but it says in Genesis 34:3 that Shechem’s soul was drawn to Dinah, that he loved her and spoke tenderly to her. Frequently the verb ‘anah “expresses the idea that God sends affliction for disciplinary purposes.” The situation was a very difficult one because Shechem had clearly done something wicked and yet, Shechem’s motive was honorable. Shechem’s father came to speak to Jacob (Genesis 34:6) and indicated that Shechem wanted to marry Dinah (Genesis 34:8), but Jacob’s sons wanted revenge. “The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant and very angry, because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing must not be done” (Genesis 34:7).

The way that Jacob and his sons handled the situation showed that they were more interested in settling the score with Shechem than they were finding a solution to their problem. When Jacob found out what happened to Dinah, Genesis 34:5 says that he held his peace until his sons came in from the field. The Hebrew word that is translated held his peace, charash (khaw-rash’) means to scratch and by implication to engrave or fabricate something. In a bad sense, charash is used figuratively with regard to secretly devising a plan (H2790). It could be that during the time while Jacob was waiting for his sons to return from the field, the event was being replayed and engraved in Jacob’s mind and the horror of what took place caused him to become numb with shock. The figurative use of charash implies the mistreatment of others and is used to express the plotting of evil against a friend. Perhaps, Jacob was overcome with rage and could think of nothing else, but to kill the man that had raped his daughter.

Shechem came to Jacob and his sons and offered to make things right. He suggested that the two families could live peaceably with each other. “Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, ‘Let me find favor in your eyes, and whatever you say to me I will give. Ask me for as great a bride price and gift as you will, and I will give whatever you say to me. Only give me the young woman to be my wife” (Genesis 34:11-12). Shechem’s plea for reconciliation fell on deaf ears. Genesis 34:13 states, “The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah.” Dinah’s brothers led Shechem to believe that he could marry Dinah if every male in his city was circumcised. “On the third day, when they were sore, two sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away” (Genesis 34:26).

Simeon and Levi’s murder of every male in the city of Shechem was compounded by the fact that the sons of Jacob plundered the city and “they took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All the wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered” (Genesis 34:27-29). Jacob’s expression of displeasure afterward didn’t carry much weight since he had essentially endorsed his son’s behavior by standing by and allowing them to ransack a city that was in the process of dedicating themselves to God (Genesis 17:10-13). Ultimately, the impression that Jacob’s sons gave was that they would destroy anyone that dared to cross them.

Jesus said that his disciples should “either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). On the surface, this seems to suggest that Jesus wanted his disciples to label people according to their actions, but the Greek word Jesus used that is translated known, ginosko (ghin-oce’-ko) means “to understand completely” (G1097). “In the New Testament ginosko frequently indicates a relation between the person ‘knowing’ and the object known; in this respect, what is ‘known’ is of value or importance to the one who knows, and hence the establishment of the relationship.” Jesus made it clear that the overall behavior of a person needed to be considered, not just a single action or an isolated event. From that standpoint, the fruit of a tree is an ongoing testament to its inner workings and a person’s actions the evidence that he has been converted or born again.

Jesus admonished the scribes and Pharisees that wanted him to perform a miracle in order to prove he was Israel’s Messiah. He told them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Johan, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:39-41). The point that Jesus wanted to make was that it didn’t take a miracle to know that he had come into the world to help people, not hurt them. The reason why the scribes and Pharisees didn’t want anything to do with Jesus was because he kept exposing their hypocrisy. In order to emphasize the wicked state of the Jewish nation, Jesus said, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation” (Matthew 12:43-45).

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment and write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

Cultural change

The Israelites’ exile into Babylon created a situation in which their lives were strongly influenced by the Babylonian culture. It is likely there was a deliberate attempt by the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, to wipe out any remembrance of their former way of life. The book of Daniel opens with a recount of the events that led up to their captivity. He said, “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god” (Daniel 1:1-2).

The Hebrew word translated vessels in Daniel 1:2, keliy (kel – ee´) refers to something prepared (3627). It is derived from the word kalah which means to cease, be finished or perish (3615). Although the instruments that were taken were not identified, it can be assumed that they were critical and were taken so that worship services would be interrupted, or perhaps even permanently terminated. According to Daniel’s record, certain young men from the king of Judah’s household were also brought into king Nebuchadnezzar’s palace in order to indoctrinate them into the Chaldean culture. Daniel said these young men were, “children in whom there was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 1:4).

Four young men were singled out by the king’s servant and given new names, a sign of conversion or adoption of the Babylonian gods they were expected to worship. Daniel said, “Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abed-nego” (Daniel 1:6-7). In spite of the extreme pressure they must have felt to conform to king Nebuchadnezzar’s demands; Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah refused to cooperate with their captor’s subtle attempts to brainwash them. It says of Daniel that “he purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself” (Daniel 1:8). The Hebrew term for defile has to do with reputation and is associated with the kinsman redeemer who was expected to “raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance. Thus the kinsman redeemer was responsible for preserving the integrity, life, property, and family name of his close relative” (1350).

 

Repentance (Step 2)

Godly sorrow, the first step in the process of repentance, is marked by an attitude of humility that recognizes the damage that one’s sin has caused. A description of godly sorrow can be found in Lamentations 2:10. It says, “The elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground, and keep silence: they have cast up dust upon their heads:  they have girded themselves with sackcloth: the virgins of Jerusalem hang down their heads to the ground.”

Perhaps, the most obvious sign that a person has repented of his sins is the absence of pride. Typically, guilt subsides when true repentance begins to take place. A lack of guilt enables the sinner to see that what has happened is a matter of cause and effect. God is not responsible for our bad fortune, he is the one that tries to prevent us from doing harm. Lamentations 2:17 declares, “The LORD hath done that which he had devised; he hath fulfilled his word that he had commanded in days of old.”

If God were not in control, there would be no reason to obey him. The fact that he does what he says he’s going to, proves to us that God is able to make things happen according to his plan and purpose for our lives. When we sin, we are trying to control or alter our own destiny. When we realize that we cannot alter the course of our lives in a positive way, we see that it is foolish to ignore God’s warnings and try to succeed without his help.

We reach the second step of repentance when we are willing to talk to God about what has gone wrong in our lives. We are instructed in Lamentations 2:19 to, “Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches, pour out thine heart like water before the face of the LORD: lift up thy hands toward him for the life of the young children, that faint for hunger in the top of every street.” The Hebrew word translated arise, quwm (koom) is sometimes used to signify empowering or strengthening (6965). In this instance, it is most likely suggesting a restoration of relationship and communication.

It is clear from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that the desired outcome of repentance is a restored relationship with God and our fellow man (2 Corinthians 7:8-10). The key to a right relationship with God is an understanding that his commandments are not optional. It is easy to believe that we are free to choose whether or not we want to live according to God’s word, but the fact of the matter is that there will always be negative consequences if we choose to disobey him.

Having a relationship with God is a prerequisite for forgiveness. God does not forgive strangers. The type of relationship that is necessary is not only personal, but also intimate. The phrase in Lamentations 2:19, “pour out thine heart like water before the LORD” is similar to a phrase used by king David in Psalm 62. David said, “Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him” (Psalm 62:8). The idea being we are to express sincere and intense conviction when we communicate with God.

Disobedience

The disobedience of God’s people involved more than just breaking his commandments. At the heart of the Mosaic Law was an intent to establish a relationship between God and his people that involved ongoing communication. Many times, God’s people were encouraged to listen to the voice of the LORD and to pay attention to his instructions, but the people chose to ignore the God that had delivered them from bondage.

The final act of disobedience by the remnant of people left in Judah was leaving the Promised Land to live in Egypt, the place that they had been delivered from. It says in Jeremiah 43:7, “So they came into the land of Egypt: for they obeyed not the voice of the LORD: thus came they even to Tahpanhes.” The residence of Pharaoh was in Tahpanhes, so most likely this was a city that catered to his needs, a place where jobs as household servants were abundant.

After the last remnant of people left Jerusalem, Jeremiah received a message from the LORD. He said, “Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Ye have seen all the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, and upon all the cities of Judah; and behold, this day they are a desolation, and no man dwelleth therein” (Jeremiah 44:2). The lack of life in Jerusalem was a testament to the complete desolation that God had brought on his people. No one remained because there were none that had been faithful to his commandments.

In a final act of retaliation, God swore to destroy the remnant that had departed to Egypt (Jeremiah 44:14). If this weren’t bad enough, God’s people made it clear that their relationship with the LORD was over. They would worship the queen of heaven, Ishtar, instead. They said to Jeremiah, “As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the LORD, we will not hearken unto thee. But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil” (Jeremiah 44:16-17).

Trouble makers

After the fall of Jerusalem, it says in Jeremiah 39:9-10, “Then Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard carried away captive into Babylon the remnant of the people that remained in the city, and those that fell away, that fell to him, with the rest of the people that remained. But Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard left the poor of the people, which had nothing, in the land of Judah, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time.” Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan governor over the cities of Judah and had Jeremiah released from prison. “Then went Jeremiah unto Gedaliah the son of Ahikam to Mizpah; and dwelt with him among the people that were in the land” (Jeremiah 40:6).

Everything was fine until the captain of the forces which were in the fields, that had escaped with king Zedekiah when he tried to run away from Nebuchadnezzar, heard that the king of Babylon had made Gedaliah governor in the land (Jeremiah 40:7). The leader of the men, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, wanted to kill Gedaliah and take back control of Judah. Even though the captains of the forces tried to warn Gedaliah (Jeremiah 40:13-14), it says in Jeremiah 41:2, “Then arose Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and ten men that were with him, and smote Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan with the sword and slew him, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land.”

A power struggle between Ishmael the son of Nethaniah and Johanan the son of Kareah resulted in Ishmael escaping to the Ammonites and Johanan and all the military men that were with him looking to Jeremiah for advice about what to do next. Jeremiah was asked to pray to the LORD and was told that whatever God said, the men would obey his instructions (Jeremiah 42:6). Jeremiah received this message:

If you will still abide in this land, then will I build you, and not pull you down, and I will plant you, and not pluck you up: for I repent me of the evil that I have done unto you. Be not afraid of the king of Babylon, of whom ye are afraid; be not afraid of him, saith the LORD: for I am with you  to save you, and to deliver you from his hand. And I will shew mercies unto you, that he may have mercy upon you, and cause you to return to your own land. But if ye say, We will not dwell in this land, neither obey the voice of the LORD your God, Saying, No; but we will go into the land of Egypt, where we shall see no war, nor hear the sound of the trumpet, nor have hunger of bread; and there will we dwell: and now therefore here the word of the LORD, ye remnant of Judah; Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; If ye wholly set your face to enter into Egypt, and go to sojourn there; then it shall come to pass, that the sword, which ye feared, shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine, whereof ye were afraid, shall follow close after you there in Egypt;  and there ye shall die.

Afterwards, Johanan accused Jeremiah of lying to him (Jeremiah 43:2). In spite of Jeremiah’s warning, it says in Jeremiah 43:5-7, “But Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces, took all the remnant of Judah, that were returned from all nations, whither they had been driven, to dwell in the land of Judah: even men, and women, and children, and the king’s daughters, and every person that Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard had left with Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Jeremiah the prophet, and Baruch the son of Neriah. So they came into the land of Egypt: for they obeyed not the voice of the LORD: thus came they even to Tahpanhes.”

Zedekiah’s escape

King Nebuchadnezzar’s attack of Jerusalem lasted from the ninth year and tenth month of Zedekiah’s reign over Judah until the eleventh year and fourth month, on the ninth day of that month. The exact date of the fall of Jerusalem is known to be July 18, 586 B.C. During the nineteen month siege upon his country, king Zedekiah pretended to believe Jerusalem would survive Nebuchadnezzar’s attack, but in reality, Zedekiah knew the end was coming.

When Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, all his princes, and all his army came against Jerusalem, and sat in the middle gate, a strategic vantage point for invaders; it says in Jeremiah 39:4: “And it came to pass, that when Zedekiah the king of Judah saw them, and all the men of war, then he fled, and went forth out of the city by night, by the way of the king’s garden, by the gate betwixt two walls: and he went out the way of the plain.” Zedekiah took with him all his princes and men of war and left the people of Jerusalem defenseless (Jeremiah 52:7-10).

Zedekiah’s plan of escape went against the counsel he received from Jeremiah. The LORD told Jeremiah, “And Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape out of the hands of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him mouth to mouth, and his eyes shall behold his eyes” (Jeremiah 32:4). The Chaldean army overtook Zedekiah in the plans of Jericho and brought him to Nebuchadnezzar’s military headquarters (Jeremiah 39:5).

Zedekiah was appointed king of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 B.C. after the first wave of captives was taken to Babylon (2 Kings 24:14, 17). Initially, Zedekiah did what Nebuchadnezzar wanted him to , but later Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon and sought assistance from the king of Egypt because Nebuchadnezzar “made him swear by God” that he would remain faithful to their agreement (2 Chronicles 36:13). It says of Zedekiah in 2 Chronicles 36:13 that “he stiffened his neck, and hardened his heart from turning unto the LORD God of Israel.”

When Zedekiah stood before Nebuchadnezzar after he had been captured, Zedekiah was treated as a traitor. It says in Jeremiah 39:6-8, “Then the king of Babylon slew the sons of Zedekiah in Riblah before his eyes: also the king of Babylon slew all the nobles of Judah. Moreover he put out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him with chains to carry him to Babylon. And the Chaldeans burnt the king’s  house, and the houses of the people with fire, and brake down the walls of Jerusalem.”

Nebuchadnezzar’s barbaric treatment of Zedekiah was a type of psychological torture that was intended to cause him pain and anguish. Most likely, Zedekiah suffered from nightmares and perhaps depression as a result of seeing his family slaughtered before his eyes. The practice of putting out someone’s eyes after he has witnessed a personal tragedy suggests that Nebuchadnezzar was a ruthless disciplinarian that controlled others to the point that no one dared cross him. Zedekiah was foolish to think he could escape from Nebuchadnezzar’s army and paid dearly for his rebellion against the king of Babylon.

Not too hard

While the city of Jerusalem was under siege from king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, Jeremiah was kept in prison so he couldn’t speak to the people and discourage them from fighting (Jeremiah 38:4). About halfway through a two-year battle that was eventually lost, Jeremiah received a message from the LORD. “And Jeremiah said, The word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Behold, Hanameel the son of Shallum thine uncle shall come unto thee, saying, Buy thee my field that is in Anathoth: for the right of redemption is thine to buy it…And I bought the field of Hanameel my uncle’s son, that was in Anathoth, and weighed him the money, even seventeen shekels of silver” (Jeremiah 32:6-7,9).

Jeremiah’s act of obedience to the Mosaic Law served two purposes. First, it was a sign of Jeremiah’s faith that he believed God would return his people to the Promised Land after their captivity was completed. Second, Jeremiah’s redemption of his cousin’s property demonstrated that normal economic activity was expected to resume after the exile. Judah’s captivity would not change the course of events. It was meant to reset, not alter the execution of God’s covenant with his people.

One of the main problems that existed at the time of Judah’s captivity was a lack of faith. No one really believed God could or would save his people. As a means of establishing his ability to do the impossible, God intended to destroy the city of Jerusalem, and then, to bring it back to life again. Jeremiah declared, “Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee” (Jeremiah 32:17). What was not too hard for God was to make his people want to obey his commandments. In other words, for God’s people to have faith in him.

One of the reasons the Israelites did not obey God was he had never punished them. In a sense, you could say, they had gotten away with their sins, and therefore, continued to do what they knew was not right. Also, there was probably a sense that God couldn’t or wouldn’t punish them, so there was no need for them to repent. In some ways, you could say God’s people were leading double lives. They offered sacrifices to God and continued to sin as if the two had nothing to do with each other; there was no connection in their minds.

God’s answer to the problem of disobedience or lack of faith was to give his people a desire to know  him, to have a personal relationship with him. God told his people they were to obey his voice (Exodus 19:5), but they had stopped listening. They were distracted by their sin and interest in accumulating wealth. God said to Jeremiah, “And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them” (Jeremiah 32:39). In essence, what God was saying was he would give his people only one option, they would obey him or they would not live in the Promised Land.

A coward

The kings of Israel and Judah had a responsibility as the earthly representative of God to defend and protect his people. In some instances, the king was considered a savior because God used him to deliver his people from their enemies (2 Kings 13:4-5). Like their Messiah, the king of Judah was endowed with special capabilities that enabled him to intercede for the people, and yet, many of Judah’s kings neglected their responsibilities and sought help from foreign kings (2 Kings 23:35).

King Zedekiah, the last king to rule over God’s people, had access to God  through the prophet Jeremiah. After Jeremiah repeatedly told the king and his people that Babylon was going to attack and destroy Judah, king Zedekiah began to seek counsel from Jeremiah secretly (Jeremiah 37:17). Although the king knew Jeremiah was telling him the truth, he had already made up his mind to disregard Jeremiah’s advice.

The reason king Zedekiah met with Jeremiah secretly was so that no one would know he planned to use the information Jeremiah provided to save himself from going into captivity. While the rest of the nation was deceived into thinking the king of Babylon was going to retreat as he had when the Egyptians came to assist Judah, king Zedekiah knew the end of his nation was nearing, and so, he distanced himself from Jeremiah to make it seem as though he wasn’t paying any attention to his message.

Jeremiah was placed in a dungeon and left for dead (Jeremiah 38:9), but king Zedekiah rescued him and arranged a meeting. It says in Jeremiah 38:14, “Then Zedekiah the king sent, and took Jeremiah unto him into the third entry that is in the house of the LORD, and the king said unto Jeremiah, I will ask thee a thing; hide nothing from me.” Zedekiah used his position as king to gain an advantage over the prophet Jeremiah. He wanted Jeremiah to reveal the future to him and Zedekiah intended to use the information for his own benefit.

Jeremiah told the king exactly what he needed to do to avoid Jerusalem being burned to the ground. The kings response showed his true motive for disobedience to God’s command was a lack of concern for anyone but himself. It says in Jeremiah 38:19, “And Zedekiah the king said unto Jeremiah, I am afraid of the Jews that are fallen to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hand, and they mock me.” Jeremiah assured Zedekiah he would be safe if he obeyed the LORD and encouraged him to listen to the voice of the LORD (Jeremiah 38:20).

In spite of Jeremiah’s warning, Zedekiah chose to keep the truth hidden and threatened Jeremiah with death if he told anyone else what he revealed to the king (Jeremiah 38:24). In the end, Judah’s army believed they could withstand Nebuchadnezzar’s attack and many of the people waited inside the walls of the city until it was too late for them to surrender and save their own lives (2 Chronicles 36:17).

False information

The people of Judah were dependent on false prophets and corrupt priests to guide them in their spiritual activities. One of the reasons God’s people were unrepentant was they thought their sacrifices were enough to guarantee God’s blessing on their nation. There was no real awareness among the people of Judah that they were in trouble. Jeremiah described their problem as a “perpetual backsliding” (Jeremiah 8:5). Jeremiah’s use of the term perpetual backsliding indicated there was a permanent separation between God and his people. Another way of describing their condition would be to say the people had abandoned their faith. They no longer believed in God.

It was difficult for Jeremiah to get through to the people because their consciences were unaffected by what they were doing. Jeremiah declared, “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among them  that fall: in the time of their visitation” (Jeremiah 8:12). A time of visitation was an appointed time when an officer or custodian would have to give an account for his area of responsibility. The nation of Judah was responsible to God for their worship activities. They were not free to worship in any other way than what had been prescribed to them by the Mosaic Law. God’s ultimate goal for his people was for them to receive salvation and eternal life. Because of their disobedience, God’s plan could not be carried out.

God was grieved over the situation in Judah. He didn’t want to punish his children, but he couldn’t overlook the fact that they had disassociated themselves from him and were going to die without their sins being atoned for. Jeremiah depicted God’s attitude toward his children as one of care and concern for their well-being. He said, “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?

Recompense

God intended his children to be different than everyone else. He rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and gave them the Promised Land so they could prosper and live there for ever. When the Mosaic Law was implemented, God made a way for his people to be forgiven of their sins and again to prosper even though they had made mistakes. As a result of their special treatment, the Israelites became wicked, and selfish, and took advantage of God’s mercy toward them (Jeremiah 5:27-28). In some ways, God’s people acted as if the LORD was their servant, instead of the other way around. God asked Jeremiah, “Do they provoke me to anger? do they not provoke themselves to the confusion of their own faces? (Jeremiah 7:19). In other words, God was saying that the people had lost sight of who they were and why he had delivered them from slavery.

The main thing the people of Judah had forgotten was their responsibility to do the will of God. The LORD reminded Jeremiah, “But this thing commanded I them saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you” (Jeremiah 7:23). Just because their sins were forgiven didn’t mean God’s children were exempt from suffering the consequences of their wrong behavior. In effect, God had told the Israelites from the beginning that it would go well for them if they obeyed his commandments, but if they didn’t, they would be punished (Deuteronomy 28:15). In condemnation of their wrong choices, the LORD stated, “But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsel and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward” (Jeremiah 7:24).

Jeremiah warned the people  of Judah of terrible days to come. He described the scene of a great slaughter that would take place at a sight known as the “valley of the son of Hinnom” where children were burned in a fire pit as a sacrifice to pagan gods (note on Jeremiah 7:31). As if he was paying a recompense to the unfortunate children that had been killed there, the LORD said he would turn the valley of Hinnom into a cemetery when the people of Judah were slaughtered there by the Babylonian invaders. He said, “Therefore, behold, the days will come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of the son of Himmom, but the valley of slaughter: for they shall bury in Tophet till there be no place. And the carcasses of the people shall be meat for the fowls of heaven, and for the beasts of the earth; and none shall fray them away” (Jeremiah 7:32-33).