in the Christian Library
2 Chronicles 36:10-13
1. King Zedekiah was the last King of the Southern Kingdom. He was the son of good King Josiah but the righteous heart of his father was not present in Zedekiah. Zedekiah has the tragic biography of a King who led his nation to complete destruction. Here is a man who ruined both himself and his country. The history of Chronicles offers the briefest comment on Zedekiah. It fully explains why this King is forever identified in a negative way. Notice various parts of the historian’s comment upon Zedekiah because they reveal the King’s attitudes.
a. “Zedekiah” – His name was “Mattanias” and was the half-brother of Jehoiakim (2 Ki 23:36). When he was placed upon Judah’s throne by Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian Emperor changed the name. This was a typical situation. A special throne-name was selected. He chose “Zedekiah” which literally means “Jehovah is righteous” or the “Justice of Jehovah.” Since one’s name was to reflect the significant character traits, adopting this name should have stressed the King’s desire for righteousness and divine justice. However such was not the situation.
“He underestimated the demands of that righteousness, which extended to the heart as well as to the outward conduct” (Pulpit Commentary, Vol 11, 587).
This gives us the first insight into Zedekiah’s character – he wanted to be recognized as a righteous King, however adopting the name did not give him the ability. There is much more to character than the name worn!
b. “He did evil” – This phrase is misleading but very instructive. From the history of Zedekiah found in the Book of Jeremiah it can be learned that Zedekiah practiced a “passive evil” and not an “active evil.”
This was a weak King! He was fearful of the princes left in Jerusalem (Jere 38:24), of those who had surrendered to the Babylonians (Jere 38:19), and of Jeremiah (Jere 37:3). He was so fearful that he did not take a stand for anything. Consequently he allowed everything to be practiced! He allowed the people to continue their “pollutions” and “abomination” (2 Chron 36:14). He allowed the princes to do whatever they desired (Jere 38:5). He was a weak, spineless Monarch. However, his “weakness” is called “wickedness” by the inspired Historian!
An important question – Why was Zedekiah’s weakness seen as wickedness? Is this tragedy possible in our modern religious world? Can one become so “tolerant” (actually “weak” in convictions that s/he actually is seen as “wicked” in God’s eyes?
The great “evil” that Zedekiah committed was not the aggressive idolatry of Manasseh or the overt persecution of Jehoiakim. It was the great “wickedness” of keeping silent, of allowing compromises, of remaining “neutral” in religious matters. According to the inspired historian such behavior is “evil in the sight of the Lord God.” Are we aware of this fact?
Ask – What would have prompted King Zedekiah to have done this? Why would he have remained silent and not taken a firm stand for righteousness? Evidentially he desired to be known for righteousness because he chose a name that said so. BUT his name did not change his actions! Some possible “reasons” why Zedekiah remained silent when he should have been outspoken:
1) Maybe he wanted to “make everyone happy.” He knew what was right but he also knew that if he advocated righteousness then some would get upset. So maybe he decided to keep silent and try to please everyone.
2) Perhaps he had the desire for righteousness but no real conviction about righteousness. He really had no firm beliefs as to what was acceptable to God and what was unacceptable.
3) Possibly the culture of his community pressured him into silence. The general attitude of society was to reject God’s restrictions in favor of a more liberal freedom in religious practice. Thus the Temple was desecrated as pagan gods were worshiped. Although Zedekiah understood what God required maybe he accepted the cultural lie that everyone has a right to choose for themselves and thus no one can condemn any choice!
4) Maybe Zedekiah’s desire for righteousness was real but the King did not receive any support, except from Jeremiah.
5) Maybe this King thought he could find “common ground” for those determined to reject God’s Laws and those seeking righteousness. Was he striving for a “reconciliation” between these two groups? He was acting kindly toward Jeremiah but supportive of the prophet’s persecutors. He sought to renew the covenant but accepted flagrant violations of that covenant (cf Jere 34:8-21). If this was his objective it was utter folly because the two groups could NEVER find “common ground.”
5) NOTE: The same temptations that confronted Zedekiah and silenced his voice and removed his steadfastness are those still confronting modern Christians. Let us learn that silence in regard to God’s commands and God’s will puts us alongside Zedekiah and we will practice “evil” in doing such! Do we really understand this point?
6) NOTE: What was the real root of Zedekiah’s “evil”? He showed no zeal for the Lord’s will, urged no restoration of reform in beliefs and practices. In essence he did NOTHING to discourage Judah’s apostasy. They were committing great sins but the King did nothing.
c. “Did not humble himself before Jeremiah” – The history shows the King did not persecute Jeremiah and in fact often helped the prophet to find relief from the persecutions of others who were enraged with Jeremiah. Zedekiah had a “friendly feeling” toward the prophet. He believed in Jeremiah’s status as a true prophet. However the spineless King did not have the faith to follow the prophet’s counsel (cf Jere 21:1-7; 24:1-10; 27:12-22; 32:3-5; 34:1-22; 37:2; 38:5,6,14-28). The attitude of Zedekiah toward Jeremiah is summarized in Jere 38:15,20,21.
d. “Rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar” – The King had taken a solemn vow of allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar (2 Ki 24:17). Almost immediately Zedekiah began discussions with Egypt and plotted a rebellion. Ezekiel highlights the sin of Zedekiah in breaking this promise (17:18-20; 21:25).
e. “Stiffened his neck and hardened his heart” – 2 Chron 36:16 offers the tragic comment upon this attitude that Zedekiah possessed. When one refuses to stand up for God’s will and speak out for righteous religion, the only option left is the tragic destiny of Zedekiah!
This is a remarkable point to consider – Zedekiah did not have the backbone to stand up against those in his country who were doing wrong BUT he would stand up against the powerful Babylonian King whose armies had already taken two groups captive from Jerusalem. He would stand up against the Lord God Almighty whose power was unquestioned and whose commands had been clearly revealed by Jeremiah. Why would he do such folly? He did it for the same reason many today will defy God’s commands and yield to mortal opinions and allow a wide latitude where God has restricted! Such have a greater respect for those around them than for the Almighty God! Zedekiah KNEW what was right but he refused to submit to the right. He allowed those surrounding him to have greater influence than God had! Tragedy struck King Zedekiah because of this attitude and it will strike all today who have the same attitude!
f. SUMMARY of King Zedekiah’s life – his life was remarkable because it longed for righteousness but did not practice it. He was a King righteous in name only!
His devotion was to idols (2 Ki 24:19; Jere 52:2; 2 Chron 36:12).
His unbelief was pronounced (Jere 37:2).
His disobedience was flagrant (2 Chron 36:13; 2 Ki 24:20; Ezek 17:13-19).
2. Zedekiah defines “wickedness” by a practical vocabulary.
a. Devotion to Idols – He recognized Jehovah as Lord God, but he was not fully dedicated to Jehovah. He “allowed room” for beliefs and convictions that were different from what God commanded. Zedekiah believed in God but he fashioned “God” to be what he wanted. His idolatry was practiced as he tolerated those who practiced and believed differently than what God commanded! This is seen clearly in Ezekiel’s prophecy:
1) The Hebrew women wept for Tammuz (8:14).
2) Beneath the Temple court, in subterranean chambers, incense was offered to the forms of creeping things and abominable beasts portrayed on the wall (8:10,11).
3) At the entrance of the Temple people would bow before the rising sun, turning their backs upon the sanctuary and worshiping with their faces toward the east (8:16).
b. Unbelief to God’s Word – Zedekiah did not destroy God’s Word. He listened to Jeremiah and even asked the prophet’s advice and prayers. However he did not practice what he heard! (Jere 37:6-10).
c. Disobedience to God’s Will – The King was no overt opponent of God but he did not obey God (cf Jere 34:8-21; 37:1-3; 38:15,20; 40:2-3). It does not take a direct rejection of God’s Word to be a rebel. It does not requires one to shout “I do not believe!” in order to disobey. All it takes is NOT DOING what God commands. This is the root of “evil.” Do we really believe this or are we too much like Zedekiah to recognize this truth?
d. Covenant Breaker – His word was false; his promises were untrue. He lied to everyone. When one makes a promise to God, there is no way that promise can be ignored without suffering divine wrath!
e. Mistreatment of God’s followers – even though he did not take an active role in persecuting Jeremiah, Zedekiah was accountable. He could have spoken in defense but he remained silent (cf Jere 37:11-16, 18; 38:1-6).
f. Weak instead of strong – When challenges to the Almighty God arose, Zedekiah was among those with closed mouths. He never stood up against those who sought to compromise God’s will or those who sought to trouble God’s followers (Jere 38:5). God requires us to “be very strong and courageous” but many follow Zedekiah’s passivity instead!
g. Forever associated with scorn – He is forever known as the King with a stiff-neck and a hard heart! He marched the Southern Kingdom into extinction (2 Chron 36:12-13). Those who try to remain “neutral” and “tolerant” and seek “common ground” with the enemies of God, will find they are forever associated with Zedekiah’s “evil.” What a tragedy! His permissive attitude toward religious “tolerance” brought a tragic harvest to his life! (Cf 2 Ki 25:6; Jere 21:7).
3. What practical lessons should we learn from this King with neck problems?
a. There is DANGER IN FORSAKING God!
b. There is DANGER IN DISREGARDING God’s Word!
c. There is DANGER IN DESPISING God’s warnings!
d. There is DANGER IN ASSOCIATING WITH God’s enemies!
4. “Life thus ended for Zedekiah when he was yet a young man of
little over thirty years of age. His sons must have been mere boys, and
their pitiable death would be a pang in his heart greater even than the
pain of the iron which pierced his eyes. The joy of life was lost to him,
like the darkness which had now fallen for ever on the outer world. The
dreary living death of the prison was all that was left to him. Miserable
man, how bitterly he had to expiate his sin, and mourn over past errors
and self-willed courses! Will it be otherwise with those who stand at the
last before the judgment-seat of God, if their lives are spent in disobedience?
If it was hard to face Nebuchadnezzar when he ‘was full of fury and the
form of his visage was changed’ (Dan iii.19), how shall men endure ‘the
wrath of the Lamb’ (Rev. vi.16)?” (Pulpit Commentary, Vol 5, 500).
Copyright 1999 by John
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