Today’s reading: Jeremiah 51-52.
“I wish it to be remembered that I was the last man of my tribe to surrender my rifle.” Sitting Bull
We idolize those warriors who fight to the finish and never give up. We call them heroes, though sometimes they are dead heroes. Is it always best to fight, or are there times when it is wiser to surrender?
Today’s devotional is a tale of two kings. First, there is Zedekiah, Judah’s final king. Jeremiah counseled him to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar, but he fought to the end. When defeat was certain he still didn’t give up, but tried to run.
…the Babylonian army pursued King Zedekiah and overtook him in the plains of Jericho. All his soldiers were separated from him and scattered, and he was captured. He was taken to the king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath, where he pronounced sentence on him. There at Riblah the king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes; he also killed all the officials of Judah. Then he put out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon, where he put him in prison till the day of his death. Jeremiah 52:8-11
Zedekiah didn’t suffer alone. Nebuchadnezzar also killed the chief priest, the next priest in rank, the doorkeepers, the officer in charge of the fighting men, seven royal advisers, the officer in charge of conscripting people, and sixty of his assistants.
Then there is King Jehoiachin. He was king of Judah just before Zedekiah, eleven years before the destruction of Jerusalem. He served only three months before he surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar’s army. He lived in obscurity in a Babylonian prison for thirty-seven years, but then his fortune changed.
In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Evil-Merodach became king of Babylon, he released Jehoiachin king of Judah and freed him from prison on the twenty-fifth day of the twelfth month. He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honor higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the king’s table. Jeremiah 52:31-33
After so much emphasis on the disasters that engulfed Jerusalem and its people, it seems a little odd for Jeremiah’s book to end with this account of a forgotten prisoner. It sets up a contrast, however, between those who fight and those who surrender – those who fight God’s discipline and those who surrender to his will. The distinction doesn’t have anything to do with Babylon, who was only God’s agent. It has everything to do with how a person responds to God’s declaration of their sin. Zedekiah and Jehoiachin were both sinful men, but Zedekiah resisted God’s judgment totally. It appears that Jehoiachin accepted it.
God calls us to account for our sins by his word, by his spirit, and sometimes by our friends. If we’re wise we feel the conviction of our error and repent. Many don’t repent, however, and face the hard consequences of a life opposed to God’s will. It’s a prison of our own making, full of deprivation and self-torture. We hold the key to the prison door – it’s called grace. When we surrender to God’s will and turn away from our sin the prison door falls open.
When Zedekiah asked for Jeremiah’s advice, he told the king, “Obey the LORD by doing what I tell you. Then it will go well with you, and your life will be spared.” In the end the king was too afraid to surrender his control and trust God. You and I should learn by his example and not make the same mistake.