A few years back, I was talking to a friend of mine. His daughter had recently moved to a different country and taken a job there. He wasn't happy about it though. In addition to missing her, he questioned her motivation for moving. Their family had experienced a high degree of conflict and disfunction during the years prior and he was convinced that she had moved far away, particularly to avoid having to interact with her mother. He described what she was doing as "running."
Have you ever felt like you were trying to run from something? Has there ever been a season of your life when you may have been running from God? I know that in my life, there have been a few occasions when I was trying to run from Him. I'll let you in on a little secret. It doesn't work.
Sometimes, God tells us things we don't want to hear. Sometimes He asks us to be obedient to Him in ways that conflict with our preferences or personal goals. Sometimes He confronts the prevailing logic of our generation and asks us to go in a different direction. How do we respond to Him in those moments?
In Jeremiah 39, we can see an example of someone who spent plenty of time ignoring the voice of God. His heart spent years running from the Lord, and then his legs attempted to do some running as well. What do you suppose the Lord wants us to learn from a passage like this? What kind of questions should we be asking ourselves as we look at this sad season in King Zedekiah's life?
I. Are we running when our heart is out of shape?
Consider for just a moment all the ways the Lord had blessed Zedekiah. In God's sovereignty, he was given to privilege to serve as the king of Judah. He was blessed with wealth and influence. He lived among people that the Lord had revealed Himself to in a special way, and in addition to that, he was blessed with the opportunity to hear the prophetic instruction of Jeremiah as the Lord repeatedly spoke through him.
But what did Zedekiah do with these blessings? As we observe what Scripture tells us about him, it seems clear that he enjoyed most of these blessings without honoring the Lord who blessed him. And in regard to the blessing of hearing Jeremiah's prophetic voice, Zedekiah didn't seem to consider that a blessing at all. Jeremiah was treated like a nuisance during Zedekiah's reign, and in the previous chapter of this book, we see that Zedekiah gave permission to others to treat Jeremiah in such a way as to jeopardize his life.
But Jeremiah had been telling Zedekiah and all the leaders and people of Judah the truth. For years, he warned them that a day was going to come when the nation of Babylon was going to successfully invade them and take them captive. As often as Jeremiah shared these words, he was told to be quiet because this was an unwelcomed message. But now the day had come, and the words Jeremiah had spoken were shown to be true and of divine origin.
When Zedekiah and his soldiers saw that a breach was made in the wall of the city of Jerusalem, they waited for the cover of night and then ran. They were running for their lives, trying to escape their impending fate.
Practically speaking, it's wise to be in good shape when you take up running. I used to run and jog a lot. Now I prefer to walk. Several years ago, I took the time to repair my running shoes because the soles were pulling away from them. In the process, I ended up accidentally gluing my fingers together. Definitely not my finest moment.
The kind of running that we see taking place here had a spiritual component to it. Yes, Zedekiah was fleeing on foot, but before he ever did that, his heart became well-versed at fleeing from the will of God. Spiritually speaking, his heart was out of shape. Do we wrestle with that same struggle? What shape are our hearts in right now? Which direction do we commonly run when God speaks to us? Do we run toward Him or run away from Him?
II. Will we lose the ability we took for granted?
One of the strangest aspects of life that you learn to get used to, but strikes you as disturbing at first, is the gradual loss of certain abilities. Over the course of time, our minds may grow wiser and our knowledge base may grow, but our bodies will likely become slower and our ability to exert ourselves physically may start to diminish. It's reality, but it can be difficult to admit to ourselves that our physical abilities have changed over time.
It's also worth noting that at times, in addition to our physical abilities changing, our window for certain opportunities changes as well. If we don't learn to seize opportunities when the Lord places them before us, those opportunities eventually expire, and the vast amounts of time we used to tell ourselves we had, abruptly ends when we least expect it to.
This passage records the day that Zedekiah had to learn that lesson. For years, he was blessed with the ability to see. He could see what was going on around him. He could see his family. He could have led his sons to know and worship the Lord. Now, his ability to see and his ability to bless his sons would all be taken away at once. The king of Babylon, in an act of dominance, slaughtered Zedekiah's sons right before his eyes. Then he slaughtered the nobles. Effectively, it seemed that anyone who might pose a political threat was killed. After that, the king of Babylon plucked out Zedekiah's eyes, placed him in chains, took him away as a captive, and burned his house down. It very well may be that the last thing Zedekiah ever saw was the slaughter of his sons.
When I look at a passage like this, there are a lot of emotions I begin to experience, but one of the things that runs through my mind is the reminder that the time is short and the consequences for willful ignorance are real and painful. In Luke 16:24-25, Jesus illustrated the eternal consequences for rejecting the opportunity He has blessed us with now.
Right now is the time He has given us to trust in Him. Right now is the day He has blessed us with the privilege to receive Him as Lord. Right now is the moment He is offering to cleanse us of our sin and unrighteousness. And right now, there are people living all throughout this world who make light of this opportunity and will one day soon lose this ability.
I'm grateful for the fact that our Lord is patient with us, but He makes it clear in His word that this season of His divine patience has an end date. It wasn't His desire that Zedekiah reject Him, yet that's what Zedekiah chose to do. Zedekiah rejected God's counsel and went from being spiritually blind to being physically blind and bound in chains. This picture should strike us in a meaningful way because it may be a very accurate description of the nature of our hearts as well. The day will absolutely come when we will lose the ability to respond to Christ's invitation to receive Him. Are we making the most of that opportunity while it's still being offered to us?
III. Have we learned that there's no escaping from God's plan?
The events recorded in this passage describe God's prescription for ending the idolatry of the people of Judah. Even though the Lord had intentionally revealed Himself to them, they rejected that special revelation and worshipped false gods like the neighboring nations - idols and the work of craftsmen, coupled with false teachings that were inspired by demonic influences aligned with Satan.
It's possible to grieve the heart of God, and the faithless lives of the people of Judah certainly did just that. When you look back at the Lord's plans for this group of people, we can see that He had called them unto Himself with the goal that they live a life of holiness, empowered by Him, distinct from the unbelieving nations that surrounded them.
It was also through this specific group of people that the Lord promised the Messiah would come to rescue and redeem the world. This promise is seen way back in Genesis when Jacob prophetically blessed his sons before passing away.
That's a prophetic portion of Scripture that finds its ultimate fulfillment in the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who was born into the lineage of the tribe of Judah. God's plan would absolutely be fulfilled, so in the meantime, He used the Babylonian captivity as a season of purging idolatry so that future generations of the people of Judah would experience a genuine revival of true faith in the Lord. Running from the Lord was never going to work for them.
As we look at a passage like this, and contemplate the fact that the people of Judah could not escape the plan of God no matter how hard they tried, we should become keenly aware that we can't escape His plan for us either. We cannot ultimately thwart His sovereign will. We cannot successfully run from Him. We cannot expect to enjoy true peace or ultimate success if the tenor of our life is one of rejecting God's desires for us. The Lord is inviting us to run to Him.
I don't know what the nature of your relationship with the Lord is right now, but let me say this... If you're doing your best to run from Him, you're going to grow tired and greatly disappointed. But if you'd be willing to stop fighting Him, you can enjoy a rich welcome into His family through faith in Jesus Christ. And if you claim to already possess faith in Christ, that's wonderful, but are you experiencing the peace and rest Christ is willing to supply you? If your heart is still anxious and you're trying to control the things that only God can control, it might be worth asking yourself if there's still an area where you're trying to run from Him. You'll grow weary from running, but you will, without a doubt, experience peace when you stop holding parts of your life back from the presence of Christ.
© John Stange, 2018