And I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm, even in anger, and in fury, and in great wrath. — Jeremiah 21:5
In November 1994, voters in the State of Oregon passed Ballot Measure 11, which requires mandatory sentencing for those convicted of specific crimes. This means there will be no leniency because of a previously good record, and there will be no reduction of sentence or parole because of good behavior while incarcerated. Measure 11 states that the penalty for a conviction cannot be negotiated down. Youths age fifteen and older who are charged with the listed crimes have to be tried as adults. The hope was that more stringent penalties will be a stronger deterrent. While the measure has since been tested in court and no doubt will be again, only under “rare circumstances” can lesser sentences be imposed. The law makes the sentence compulsory.
In today’s focus verse, Zedekiah was facing God’s “mandatory sentencing.” The king asked God for deliverance from King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, but God answered with an emphatic refusal. Zedekiah was desperate and would have liked to negotiate to obtain God’s help, but he had ignored Jeremiah’s instructions to make peace with King Nebuchadnezzar and had relied instead on an alliance with Egypt. As a result, Zedekiah and the nation of Judah were going to receive the terrible judgment of God: Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians, and only those who surrendered immediately would be spared.
We know that God extends incredible love and mercy. However, if His provisions are persistently refused, His justice demands judgment. As we come to God for direction or ask for His favor and intervention in our lives, we need to be ready to respond obediently to His instructions. We never want God to refuse us because we have been disobedient or have insisted on having our own way. Like King Zedekiah discovered, fighting against God is a losing battle.
In spite of God’s resounding refusal to save Jerusalem, He did offer guidance through Jeremiah to any of the people who would heed. They were instructed to submit themselves to the Chaldeans, and thus, ultimately, to God. Today also, fully yielding to God is the route to receiving His help. How privileged we are to be able to come willingly and ask Him to direct our lives, and how blessed we are if we do this!
Chapter 21 is an abrupt change from the previous chapters. It begins the ninth sermon with a message against Zedekiah. The king sent his counselors to Jeremiah requesting help from the Lord because of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. However, Jeremiah said that surrender was the only hope.
It is thought that the prophecies of the next several chapters are not in chronological order. The events of chapter 21 transpired during the ninth year of King Zedekiah’s eleven-year reign. The final siege of Jerusalem lasted eighteen months, and the Babylonian armies were coming against Judah.
The regard for Jeremiah shown in this chapter is a stark contrast to the attitudes demonstrated in the prior chapter. Here he was considered a prophet who gave worthy advice. The king sent two of his officials to ask Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord. The Pashur mentioned in this chapter is the son of Melchiah, so he is a different person than the Pashur in chapter 20, who was the son of Immer. The phrase “if so be that the Lord will deal with us according to all his wondrous works” suggests that Zedekiah hoped for a promise of deliverance like Isaiah had given Hezekiah one hundred years earlier. “That he may go up from us” meant Zedekiah hoped the siege would be lifted. However, God’s answer was clear: He would fight with Babylon against Judah.
Beginning in verse 8, God gave the people a choice: “the way of life” or “the way of death.” To stay in Jerusalem meant death by the sword, famine, or pestilence. To live, they must go out and surrender to the enemy. Jeremiah was not being a traitor by giving this counsel. He knew judgment was sure, and the only hope was for the people to cease resisting.
The fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem is recorded in 2 Kings 25:1-11. The city was besieged, famine weakened the inhabitants, the warriors fled and were captured, Zedekiah was taken captive and executed, and the Temple, the palace, and all the houses of the nobles were destroyed by fire. Zedekiah was the last king to reign over Judah before their exile into Babylon.
Beginning with verse 10, the variation in chronology seems to appear again, because the final verses of the chapter could be directed to more kings than just Zedekiah. God wanted them to rule justly. Some scholars believe that “who shall come down against us? Or who shall enter into our habitations?” referred to the excellent fortifications of the city of Jerusalem. These may have been the object of the people’s trust, but their hope was in vain. God said, “I will kindle a fire in the forest thereof,” which may have referred to the houses of Jerusalem, many of which were built with cedar and were close together.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
II. The pronouncement of judgment against Judah
A. The condemnation of the prophet
9. The ninth sermon: Against Judah’s kings
a. The message against Zedekiah
(1) The request of Zedekiah (21:1-2)
(2) The reply of Jeremiah (21:3-14)
(a) To the king (21:3-7)
(b) To the people (21:8-10)
(c) To the royal house (21:11-14)
Quick compliance to God brings His mercy; persistent refusal to heed His Word brings His justice.