By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: Jeremiah 52.1-11
Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Book of Jeremiah in conjunction with this article.
Sometimes, Not All Is Well
When reading the prophets, one sometimes wonders when Israel and Judah had a good day. Theologically speaking their bad days came because of their unfaithfulness to the covenant they made with Jehovah in the dessert, but some days are just terrible. Such is the case for Zedekiah.
Zedekiah: The King
Zedekiah was only twenty-one when he ascended to the throne of Judah and ruled eleven years.1 Considering that our presidents serve four-year terms, Zedekiah reigned for the equivalent of almost three terms. Jeremiah does not tell us much about Zedekiah’s reign, but we do learn some fascinating information.
Zedekiah found himself at the end of Nebuchadrezzar’s (depending on translation, perhaps Nebuchadnezzar’s) fury. At the time, Nebuchadrezzar was king of Babylon2 and Zedekiah was king of Jerusalem. Following Nebuchadrezzar’s two-year siege of Jerusalem,3 Zedekiah was taken captive and taken to Nebuchadrezzar.4
What Zedekiah experienced is not anything that this writer would want to endure. Before Zedekiah’s very own eyes he, the king of Jerusalem, had to witness the Babylonian king execute the princes (or officials)5 of Judah. As if that would not have been enough torture, on the very same day Nebuchadrezzar also had Zedekiah watch the execution of his very own sons.6 In no small way, it became a terrible day for Zedekiah. Personally, he lost all his sons, and nationally, Judah lost some of her important leaders. One would hope that that would be the end of the day, but his day is not yet over.
Before being carried off in chains and meeting his fate of death in prison, the last thing that Zedekiah saw was Nebuchadrezzar forcibly blinding him.7 Jeremiah does not seem to record the age of Zedekiah at his death, but we can gather from the narrative that Zedekiah was in his early thirties when he lost his sons, his eyes, Judah’s leaders, and his own kingship. One can hardly imagine the heartaches and nightmares Zedekiah experienced while in prison.
Zedekiah: The Man
From the narrative about Zedekiah as a king, we should find sympathy. No matter the king or kingdom, the fact that any person experienced such a loss is not just tremendous, it is down right depressing. It seems proper to assume that this is not the kind of outcome that anyone would want personally, or that one should wish on any other. But alas, history is not so kind to better senses.
Zedekiah met his demise on the battlefield, as king, a conquered would-be-conqueror. Nationally, we want our leaders to succeed. Leadership failure is not national glory. Personally, while we have our favored leaders and not-so-favored leaders, we want to identify with them – vicariously feeling their hurts, their trials, their victories. Perhaps we feel this way with Zedekiah. But how willing is one to continue identifying with a defeated king, if the Bible reveals less-than-favorable character traits of Zedekiah?
The narrative that reveals such personal and national tragedy is the same narrative that has Jeremiah proclaiming that Zedekiah was not everything that he should have been before Jehovah. Jeremiah’s description of Zedekiah is brief. The prophet does not spend any time speaking of spiritual successes, partial victories, or desired spiritual goals. God’s spokesman simply states that Zedekiah “did evil in the eyes of the LORD.”
The Hebrew word translated evil is found in the Scriptures 664 times.8 In the King James Version, 440 of the 664 occurrences (or about 2/3rds of the time) translate the Hebrew as evil. The definition includes things from disagreeable and malignant to unpleasant to displeasing.9 The only additional information Jeremiah provides to clarify the kind of evil that Zedekiah did is that Zedekiah did evil “according to all that Jehoiakim had done.”10
Zedekiah: In Reflection
To begin to fully understand Zedekiah’s evil, we must find Jehoiakim’s evil, which is found in II Kings 23.31-37. But that passage also states that Jehoiakim did “evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his fathers had done.” So without examining Jehoiakim and the sins of his fathers, it becomes difficult to ascertain what kind of evil Zedekiah did. But, generally (among other various and sundry transgressions) it seems that when Judah’s kings did evil they worshipped other gods and practiced religious rituals that were not in keeping with the Israelite covenant. Contemporarily, one might ask, “What is the big deal? Aren’t all religious rituals the same?”
The interesting thing with covenant is that when one agrees to enter the covenant with Jehovah, they agree to abide by “the rules,” so to speak. Zedekiah, by nationalistic birth, was part of the covenant with Israel. By his unwillingness to be righteous (being faithful to the covenant) he lost his kingdom’s glory, his kingdom’s leaders, his sons, and his eyesight. It seems that Scripture provides no detail as to Zedekiah’s spiritual condition while in prison, so we can only hope that he made things right. Our application? We might not be Israel’s king, but we need to be faithful. Jehovah is the giver of all good things. May he bless us as we seek to do his will.
1. “Zedekiah’s age and length of tenure.” Jeremiah 52.1, NASB.
2. “Nebuchadrezzar, King of Babylon.” Jeremiah 52.4, NASB.
3. “Nebuchadrezzar’s Siege of Jerusalem.” Jeremiah 52.4-5, NASB.
4. “Zedekiah taken to Nebuchadrezzer.” Jeremiah 52.8-9, NASB.
5. “Officials.” Jeremiah 52.10, English Standard Version (ESV).
6. “Nebuchadrezzars’ executions.” Jeremiah 52.9-10, NASB.
7. “Zedekiah Blinded.” Jeremiah 52.11, NASB.
8. Hebrew word for “evil”, Strong’s Number H7451, e-Sword 7.9.8.
9. “Evil.” Definition: Brown, Driver, Briggs’ Hebrew Definitions, e-Sword 7.9.8.
10. “Zedekiah’s evil.” Jeremiah 52.2, NASB.