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I tip my hat to the prophet Jeremiah. It will be interesting meeting such a man in God’s heavenly dwelling places. I wonder what that will be like. Of course, we have no way of knowing. But Jeremiah was so—strong. He is such a model—as all the prophets are—of dedication to the Lord God Almighty and the truth of His word.

In Jeremiah 38 we see the prophet being lowered into a pit because a couple of guys named Shephatiah and Pashhur complained to the king of Judah, Zedekiah, that Jeremiah had said this: “Thus says the LORD: He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out to the Chaldeans shall live. He shall have his life as a prize of war, and live. Thus says the LORD: This city shall surely be given into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon and be taken” (Jeremiah 38:2–3).1

Think about this for a moment. Jeremiah was saying—and he had said multiple times—that the people of Jerusalem, God’s holy city, should be traitors. They should betray all things concerning the existence of God’s holy city and temple, and go over to the enemy, the very entity that was working to destroy them. If they did this, Jeremiah said, they would live. If they didn’t, they would die.

Imagine for a moment yourself standing in some public venue and saying that this is what your countrymen should do with an enemy threatening outside the gates. I doubt the response of your leaders would be much different from Zedekiah’s—probably worse. In this case, King Zedekiah told these two men that he would not stop them from doing whatever they wished to the bold, traitorous prophet.

So, they threw Jeremiah into a muddy cistern, and he sank into the muck.

Lovely. Any bathroom facilities there?

However, to the rescue came, of all people, an Ethiopian. He interceded for the poor prophet, asking the king to release him. Executing a one-hundred eighty-degree change of heart, King Zedekiah told him to go rescue him.

The mind boggles.

But the mind-boggling is not over.

After Jeremiah was rescued, King Zedekiah asks him to be completely honest with him and hold nothing back. (As if he’d been doing something else all along!) Jeremiah says that he is sure the king will kill him if he does that. The king promises he will not. So, as Jeremiah had said many times: Surrender yourself to the officers of the king of Babylon. Your life and the lives of your family will be spared. If you don’t, you and your family will die and the city will be burned to the ground.

Then the king makes Jeremiah promise that the conversation they just had must be kept secret. Jeremiah agreed.

In the very next chapter, we discover that King Zedekiah did not do what the Lord, speaking through Jeremiah, told him to do. He tried, secretly, to escape and was caught. His sons were slaughtered as he watched. His eyes were put out and he died in captivity—as the Lord promised.

As I was reading this, a light bulb went on in my head. Now, whether it was a Holy Spirit light bulb or a Jim Thomson lightbulb, the reader may decide.

The Lord had put King Zedekiah, the officials, and the people of Jerusalem in an “impossible” situation. Betray their country, give up what they perceive as their national and religious identity (although the Lord told them He would one day restore it), give up their power and be humbled.

The king would not do this. He would not pay this price and obey the word of God.

Why? He didn’t want to lose his power? His position? He didn’t want to be humbled and sacrifice his pride?

So, he tried another way, thinking he could avoid the truth of God’s word. (Perhaps He wouldn’t notice!)

It is tremendously difficult for religious leaders to consider the loss of their power, their position, their dignity, their perception that what they are doing could ever be in contradiction to God’s word. To them, becoming “nothing,” as Paul wrote that he, Apollos, and Peter were (1 Corinthians 3:5-7), is inconceivable. They cannot grasp the New Testament truth that they should not be leaders as the world perceives leaders (Luke 22:24-27) but servants, like waiters serving a meal. But Jesus said He came, not to recline at table, but to serve like a house servant does. Thus, servants are leaders. They don’t aspire to lead, they aspire to take the lowest place, the least. That is what Jesus plainly taught: Take the lowest position like I did. I was willing to give up the supremely exalted position I had in heaven. Willing to give up a large portion of My power I possessed in heaven. Willing to be mocked and humbled, even suffering death like a criminal.

We ignore that Example. Religious leaders are on the top rung, away from all that. We just can’t see it, or even imagine how it might work in our context, just like King Zedekiah–whose house was burned down by forces the Lord ordained.

However, God was merciful and restored. And He will restore all those who humble themselves, repent, and come to Him.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.

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