I have been reading in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah and came across the account of King Zedekiah’s request to have a private meeting with the prophet Jeremiah, with whom he had an ambivalent relationship. Zedekiah had not paid attention to God’s Word spoken through the prophet (37:2) and wasn’t quite sure what to do with him; alternately, having him thrown in prison for advocating surrender to the Babylonians and then rescuing him from death. At one time, he even reached out to Jeremiah and asked for prayer (37:3).
This ambivalence continued and in chapter 38 we read that the king asked for a private meeting with Jeremiah. He had the beleaguered prophet released from prison and secretly brought before him so he could ask him a question. Jeremiah, who certainly did not have a martyr complex and had quite enough of all this persecution stuff, immediately responded by asking the king if he could speak freely without risking his life. Zedekiah swore an oath that he would not harm the prophet. Zedekiah wanted the truth.
So with the stage set, the king asked Jeremiah whether he should surrender to the King of Babylon, who at this time was besieging the city of Jerusalem. Jeremiah had already prophesied that such surrender would be equivalent to obeying the Word of the Lord. This would be the first step of repentance because it would be the very opposite of the direction in which the king was headed and would contradict the counsel he was receiving from everyone else surrounding him. It would also vindicate Jeremiah who was regarded as a traitor for advocating surrender to the enemy.
Jeremiah boldly declared that he should definitely surrender or else he would face total destruction of his family and nation. The king hesitated for fear that if he did surrender the Babylonians would abuse him and his family. After all, it was Zedekiah who had chosen to rebel against the King of Babylon and brought this whole situation on himself. (2 Kings 24:20) Jeremiah responded, “Obey the Lord! Do what I tell you. You will be spared. If you don’t surrender you and your family will be destroyed!” The meeting ended at that point and the king asked Jeremiah not to tell anyone what they discussed. (This narrative seems so reminiscent of Nicodemus coming to interview Jesus by night– John 3:1–6.)
Zedekiah is a picture of a soul in turmoil—not willing to follow God, but not ready to totally dismiss God. There is something deep within that soul which draws it to the truth. “What should I do? I’m afraid if I go God’s way, I’ll suffer. I’m also afraid that if I go the way I want, it will bring further disaster. What should I do? To whom should I turn? To whom should I listen?”
Such a troubled soul does not need coddling. It needs the electric shock of truth, and nothing but the truth. Jeremiah’s abrupt counsel was exactly what Zedekiah needed to hear. It was one of those moments when he couldn’t pussyfoot around: “Obey the Lord! Just do it! He will deliver you!”
So what did the Zedekiah do? In chapter 39, we read that he chose to go his own way and listen to the “fake news” of his prophets. Instead of surrender, he tried to escape Jerusalem, but was captured along with his entire family. The Babylonians killed his family while he was forced to watch and then gouged out his eyes so their deaths were the last thing he saw! He was then dragged off into captivity.
Remember I mentioned Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews who came secretly to Jesus by night? He was also a soul in turmoil, but he chose to believe Jesus rather than all that he had been trained to believe as a Pharisee. He was “born again from above” and became a Christ-follower—at first a secret one, but later an outspoken one at the risk of his own life. (John 7:50–5; 19:39–42)
Are you a troubled soul? Are you clinging to your own truth even though you know it’s not working out very well. You also know there is another way—God’s way, but you find yourself hesitating because you are not sure what it will cost you. Stop your foolishness! You are in no position to bargain. Obey God! Choose Christ, for Heaven’s sake!
There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25 NIV).