Decision by Default

Today I was reading in the book of  Jeremiah. I’m almost done with Jeremiah, aka the “weeping prophet”.  The book is depressing.  God’s frustration with His people comes out over and over.  Jeremiah is not far behind.

Jeremiah 14:  19-21:

 Lord, have you completely rejected Judah?
    Do you really hate Jerusalem?
Why have you wounded us past all hope of healing?
    We hoped for peace, but no peace came.
    We hoped for a time of healing, but found only terror.
 Lord, we confess our wickedness
    and that of our ancestors, too.
    We all have sinned against you.
 For the sake of your reputation, Lord, do not abandon us.
    Do not disgrace your own glorious throne.
Please remember us,
    and do not break your covenant with us.

Over and over Jeremiah prophesies the Babylonian overthrow of Jerusalem.  But lying prophets kept saying “peace and safety” and “never give up, never surrender!”  The people liked those words.  Jeremiah, doomsayer, got blacklisted.  Three officials who had King Zedekiah’s ear went to him and tattled on Jeremiah.  “He’s making the people anxious.  He’s telling the people to surrender to the Babylonians when they come.  Their reward will be life” (Jeremiah 38:  1-3).

So these officials went to the king and said, “Sir, this man must die! That kind of talk will undermine the morale of the few fighting men we have left, as well as that of all the people. This man is a traitor!” 

 King Zedekiah agreed. “All right,” he said. “Do as you like. I can’t stop you.” (Jeremiah 38:4-5)

They took it upon themselves to lower Jeremiah into an empty cistern (a tank for water storage), where he was safe but sinking into the thick mud.

Another official named Ebed-melech heard of Jeremiah’s new circumstances.  He rushed to the king.

“My lord the king,” he said, “these men have done a very evil thing in putting Jeremiah the prophet into the cistern. He will soon die of hunger, for almost all the bread in the city is gone.”

So the king told Ebed-melech, “Take thirty of my men with you, and pull Jeremiah out of the cistern before he dies.” (Jeremiah 38: 9-10)

He  and a team of his friends lowered some old rags and discarded clothes to Jeremiah, directing him to put them under his arms so the rope wouldn’t chafe him.  Then they pulled him out.  He was returned to prison.  But because of Ebed-melech’s intervention, he got a fresh loaf of bread every day until it ran out.

The end. Or is it?

Ever had a boss like King Zedekiah?  I have.  My boss had a policy.  You came to him with problems, but you also came with a couple of solutions.  Sounds great, right?  Except sometimes you have problems you can’t solve.  That’s why there’s a boss.

I remember going to my boss at Aspen with a problem.  I even had a solution,  I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing.  All I needed, I figured, was the rubber stamp of his approval.  I got it.  But then…a coworker came into boss man’s office after me, citing the same problem.  He had a different solution.  So, the boss (let’s call him Ed) approved my coworker’s idea.

Wait a minute!  We just talked about this 5 minutes ago!  You said my plan was the right approach.  You can’t pull a switcheroo like that!  Because of this kind of double-mindedness, Ed undercut his own authority again and again .  Unable to commit to a single decision, his waffling made him seem dishonest.  We,  a small cohort, found it hard to trust him.  We never knew if he heard or understood the depth of a problem.  We also knew his word was never final, never complete.

Zedekiah was this type.  When faced with a problem like the extreme downer prophet Jeremiah, he let others decide.  It seemed to me, at first, like passive-aggressive behavior. Keep in mind Zedekiah was appointed as king by Nebuchadnezzar; he was not in the royal lineage. It’s possible he didn’t want to be king, at least not the icky parts dealing with people’s lives and such.  But as I read on, it seems more like resignation.

Why didn’t Zedekiah just have Jeremiah killed and end the negative Nancy fallout?  Well, he called for Jeremiah over and over again.  He wanted to hear, once again, what the Lord had to say.  We see it  later in chapter 38:

Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “This is what the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘If you surrender to the Babylonian officers, you and your family will live, and the city will not be burned down. But if you refuse to surrender, you will not escape! This city will be handed over to the Babylonians, and they will burn it to the ground.’” (Jer. 38:17)

Zedekiah later confesses he’s afraid to surrender.  He’s afraid of the Babylonians and the Judeans who defected to them (38:19).  So, he  does nothing.  Even more than the person of  Jeremiah himself, the fate of the people rests on the king’s shoulders.  He calls on Jeremiah now and then and takes him from confinement, like a dusty, human Magic 8-Ball.  “What’s the word, Jerry?”  But it’s always the same.  Babylon will win.  Surrender and live!  Zedekiah finds himself caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.  He has no good choice.  He sees no way out.

What happened to Zedekiah?  Glad you asked.  It was as Jeremiah foretold.  The Babylonians came in Zeke’s 9th year as king.  The king and some of his posse tried to escape at nightfall.  The Babylonians captured the group.  They killed Zedekiah’s sons and all the other nobles right in front of him.  Then they gauged out his eyes and imprisoned him (Jeremiah 39).  Jeremiah, on the other hand, got to live.  King Nebuchadnezzar himself set up a “Jeremiah Prosperity Plan” (Jer. 39:12).  Jeremiah and those allied with him were given their lives as their reward.

The moral of the story is:  Not deciding is the same as deciding.  Are you in a place like Zedekiah today? Feeling resigned or hostile towards your circumstances but doing nothing to change them constitutes a settlement of sorts.  You can have all the faith in the world, but eventually you need to *do* something.  You will incur consequences, regardless.  Heeding the voice of God, no matter how hard it may seem, is the only safe path.

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