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.

The wound

Jeremiah described the problem of sin as one of bondage, enslavement to a way of life that was contrary to God’s written laws. Referring to the restoration of Israel, Jeremiah said, “For it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off thy neck, and will burst thy bonds, and strangers shall no more serve themselves of him: but they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them” (Jeremiah 30:8-9). God’s plan to deliver his people from sin began with their captivity. The only way God could convince them of their need for salvation was to let his people see what life was like apart from him, to experience the pagan culture of Babylon first hand.

Separation from God was a foreign concept to the people of Israel and Judah. The temple that stood in the midst of Jerusalem was a symbol of God’s constant presence. The people were unaware that their sin had caused God to turn away from them and that he was no longer paying attention to their sacrifices and prayers. The spiritual condition of the people living in Jerusalem was terrible. They thought they were doing well, but they were actually very sick. Jeremiah declared, “Thus saith the LORD; thy bruise is incurable and thy wound is grievous, there is none to plead thy cause, that thou mayest be bound up: thou hast no healing medicines” (Jeremiah 30:12-13).

Isaiah wrote about the good tidings of salvation that would be available in the future. He prophesied, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek, he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” (Isaiah 61:1). The Hebrew word translated meek, ‘anayv refers to someone that has been humbled through affliction or difficult circumstances. The root word anah means to respond or to begin to speak. The idea behind these words is a situation that causes one to pray or cry out to God for help.

God’s promise to his people was that he would not allow them to perish or cease to exist as a nation. He said, “For I will restore health unto thee and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 30:17). The wound God was referring to was the breaking of their hearts. As with a blow that breaks a bone, the truth of God’s word can have a devastating effect on sinners. When the Israelites learned that Jeremiah had been right about Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem, they were crushed spiritually because they had not believed what he told them. After the initial group of captives were taken away to Babylon, those who remained in Jerusalem were left to fend for themselves and terror began to set in, “as a woman in travail” (Jeremiah 30:6).

It’s not fair

Jeremiah’s job as a prophet to the nation of Judah caused him to be a target of abuse and slander. It says in Jeremiah 20:1-2, “Pashur the son of Immer the priest, who was also chief governor in the house of the LORD, heard that Jeremiah prophesied these things. Then Pashur smote Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in stocks that were in the high gate of Benjamin, which was by the house of the LORD.”

Pashur had heard Jeremiah say that God was going to punish the people of Judah because they would not repent. Pashur’s actions gave the people the impression that Jeremiah was lying and was not a true prophet of God. Jeremiah was severely beaten and placed in a torturous device that would have caused him severe pain and discomfort. Pashur’s intention was to scare Jeremiah into silence. Instead, Jeremiah proclaimed:

And thou, Pashur, and all that dwell in thine house shall go into captivity: and thou shalt die, and shalt be buried there, thou, and all thy friends, to whom thou hast prophesied lies.

Jeremiah’s bold proclamation was not given as a result of his own strength, but because he feared God more than he feared Pashur. Jeremiah complained to the LORD about the unfair treatment he received. He said, “I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me” (Jeremiah 20:7). Jeremiah had become a laughing-stock and was mocked for speaking the truth. He was so upset by what was happening, that he wanted to give up his calling (Jeremiah 20:9).

In a moment of complete despair, Jeremiah revealed his feelings of depression and thought of suicide. He openly declared, “Cursed be the day wherein I was born: let not the day wherein my mother bare me be blessed, cursed be the man who brought tidings to my father, saying, a man child is born unto thee; making him very glad…because he slew me not from the womb; or that my mother might have been my grave…wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labor and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?” (Jeremiah 20:14-18).

Jeremiah’s death wish was in part a testimony to the hopelessness of the situation in Judah. Even though Jeremiah would have rather been able to encourage the people of Judah with a message of God’s mercy, he knew their destruction was imminent and all he could do was try to warn them. Showing us that he felt like a man stuck between a rock and a hard place, Jeremiah declared of the LORD, “Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forebearing, and I could not stay”

The purpose of pain

The psalmist said, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes” (Psalm 119:71). The word translated afflicted, anah means to be humbled or made to be meek. “To take a woman sexually by force may be to humble her” (6031) as was the case with Jacob’s daughter Dinah when she was raped by Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite (Genesis 34:2).

Being raped is never a good thing, but the experience of being raped can teach us important lessons about life and human behavior. The Hebrew word translated statutes in Psalm 119:71, choq means an appointment. Statutues are laws of nature, including human nature, that govern God’s creation (2706). God’s laws do not change, therefore, the sooner we learn them the better, if we do not want to live a life of pain and suffering.

The psalmist said, “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word” (Psalm 119:67). The word translated astray means to stray or figuratively to sin. The same word is also translated as deceived and sin ignorantly (7683). With regards to human behavior, sin could be the result of bad role models or following in the footsteps of someone that is not committed to God. The only way we can break free from these patterns is to be aware that they exist.

The psalmist said, “I know, O LORD, that thy judgements are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me” (Psalm 119:75). God does not vary in the way he controls the universe. When the atmosphere reaches certain conditions, it rains, when the earth’s orbit reaches a certain position, the season’s change from summer to fall. If we jump off a cliff, we will always fall to the bottom of the cavern. It is best for us to know the dangers of certain behaviors.

I can’t explain how I know, but after I was raped, I knew God loved me and he was protecting me. It could be that because I escaped and was not seriously hurt, that I felt someone unseen was looking out for me. The psalmist prayed, “let thy tender mercies come unto me, that I may live” (Psalm 119:77). One of the ways that God protects us is through his word, by letting us know how the world works. If we live by his commandments, we will able to avoid a lot of harsh, painful circumstances.

What’s the use?

A sign that you have hit the bottom is that you start feeling sorry for yourself. The difference between a believer and non-believer is when a non-believer hits the bottom, he gives up. When a believer hits the bottom, he looks up. David said, “So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee” (Psalm 73:22) when he realized that he had been feeling sorry for himself.

It is not unusual to feel sorry for yourself when everything seems to be going against you. David said in his discouragement, “Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning” (Psalm 73:13-14).

David had seen the wicked prospering and evil men literally getting away with murder. It did not seem fair that David was constantly in trouble and plagued with adversity. David said, “When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end” (Psalm 73:16-17).

What David understood was that the wicked were separated from God. They could only do evil because they had not godly influence in their lives and their only opposition was a conscience that had been numbed to the existence of God. Even though their lives seemed easy, David knew that they were suffering from their sinful behavior and would one day be judged for the wrongs they had committed.

The reason why believers do not give up when they hit the bottom is because God is there waiting for them to look up. When David realized it was foolish for him to feel sorry for himself, he began to focus on the future and what he had to look forward to rather than his present circumstances. What gave him hope was that he would never be alone and would eventually triumph over his greatest enemy, death.

Nevertheless I am continually with thee: Thou has holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. (Psalm 73: 23-24)

A better life

If you looked up the meaning of every name in a family lineage in the Old Testament of the Bible, you would probably find that the names tell a story about the journey that the family has traversed. The family of Judah started with three sons; Er, Onan, and Shelah (Genesis 38:3-5). Judah’s first son, Er was so wicked the LORD slew him (Genesis 38:7). When Er died, it became Onan’s responsibility to produce a male heir for his brother’s wife. Onan’s refusal to fulfill his obligation caused him to be slain also.

Eventually, Judah impregnated his daughter-in-law, Tamar and produced twin sons, Pharez and Zarah.

And it came to pass, when she travailed, that one put out his hand: and the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, saying, This came out first. And it came to pass, as he drew back his hand, that, behold his brother came out: and she said, How hast thou broken forth? this breach be upon thee: therefore his name was called Pharez. And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and his name was called Zarah.

The name Zarah means to shoot forth or to appear (2224) and the name Pharez means to break out (6555).

Zarah is not mentioned in 1 Chronicles, Chapter 4 among the family of Judah, so it is possible he died childless like Er, but there is one man, Jabez who may have been his descendant. Jabez is not connected to any other relative of Judah and is given two verses to capture his biography in a list of names tied to Caleb, the first of Judah’s family to settle in the Promised Land.

And Jabez was more honourable than his brethren: and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, Because I bare him with sorrow. And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh, that thou wouldest bless me in deed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me. And God granted him that which he requested.

The name Jabez means to grieve or be sorrowful (3258). Sometimes Jabez’s name is translated pain, which is another word for sorrow. Jabez was not satisfied with his life of pain and wanted to become great, so he prayed that God would bless him. As illogical as it may seem, most people do not believe that God wants to bless them and therefore, do not ask for his blessing. It is possible to change your life, but you first have to realize that only God can change the future and you must ask him to do it.

Changing the course of a family legacy is comparable to changing the course of a river. For years, perhaps decades or even centuries, water has been following the same course, traveling from mountain peaks to the oceans below along pathways that have been forged through rocks and debris. Dams and channels are necessary to overcome nature’s force.

Many people enjoy going with the flow. They do not want to rock the boat or cause any friction in family relationships. The problem with going with the flow is that you will end up at the same destination as your ancestors, which could be a life of pain and sorrow.

Jabez knew there was a problem that needed to be overcome in order for his life to be different. Jabez prayed that God would keep him from evil, “that it may not grieve me” (1 Chronicles 4:10). Jabez understood that the reason he was grieved was because he was suffering the consequences of the evil that had become a part of his life. “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” (7451). It is likely that Jabez’s trouble was not a result of his own actions, but those of his family. He may have inherited his mother’s sorrow, but he did not have to keep it and pass it on to the next generation.