Even after being beaten, thrown in a cistern, and lifted out Jeremiah is unflappable. He continues to speak the words of the Lord. But he also uses care in his delivery.
Jeremiah is bold but he is not stupid. Jeremiah KNEW who had given permission for the things that had happened to him. He had a message from the Lord for the king but Jeremiah needed assurances that the king would not kill him if he delivered that message.
God had sent Jeremiah to speak to MANY different people; warning them of the price of their sin. But this was a personal message for King Zedekiah. One that, IF he would have listened, would have saved MANY lives. The words of God through Jeremiah would have far reaching consequences but they were for the king to adopt or reject; none other.
We are not told how long it was between Jeremiah being lifted out of the cistern and his audience with the king. It could have been right away or even a few days later. I don’t believe it could have been very long because the effects of the events were still weighing heavily on Jeremiah’s mind. He just escaped being left to starve to death in an empty cistern, being beaten, and spending HORRIBLE days in the prison in Jonathan’s house.
The king has been wishing and hoping God would say something different; bring about a better outcome for himself and the city. He asks for Jeremiah to be brought to him, hoping all along that he would hear something encouraging.
Zedekiah truly feels stuck. The “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” feeling. He sees disaster whichever way he turns. He believes that if he surrenders to Nebuchadnezzar, he will be given over to the Judeans who were already taken and they will kill him. If he stays and fights, God has already told him how THAT will work out! He sees no ‘good’ choice. All Zedekiah feels he has left is a slim hope that God will change what He has decreed.
As desperately as Zedekiah wants a ‘good’ answer, he wants the truth even more. He willingly swears to Jeremiah that he will NOT kill him for the answer or turn him over to others who want him dead. Funny; that is just what happened not too long ago. Jeremaih accepts Zedekiah’s word as it was sworn by NOTHING higher; Zedekiah swore on God’s life. God would deal with Zedekiah if he broke this oath!
Jeremiah starts out his word from God with an option of life. Not the life Zedekiah was hoping for, but life none the less. Surrender and live; you and the city. Or refuse and die; you and the city. There is NO third option. No ‘easy way’ out. No ‘win-win’ situation that Zedekiah feels he can live with.
I’m curious. Why didn’t Zedekiah believe God would protect him if he surrendered? God told him straight out that He would if he would just obey. Apparently, Zedekiah felt he had a better chance if he stayed the course. He seemed to believe he would somehow still escape if he kept his future in his own hands.
Jeremiah didn’t hold back ANY detail God had shared with him. He laid out the options; knowing which Zedekiah would take. Surrender was his BEST option but Jeremiah KNEW he would refuse to take it.
When Jeremiah had told the king all there was to know, the king came up with one more condition. Remember when Zedekiah said he wouldn’t kill Jeremiah or give him over to those who wanted him dead? Now Zedekiah threatens Jeremiah’s life again. If Jeremiah doesn’t go along with the king’s cover up his life will be in danger again! How many times will he hold Jeremiah’s life over him?
Apparently, God didn’t tell Jeremiah he couldn’t use this half-truth when he was questioned. Zedekiah KNEW the officials would want to know what was said and he was afraid of them finding out there was an option. Did he think they would pressure him to surrender? Did he believe they would be angry that there was a word of hope for him? Was he afraid that they would ‘surrender’ him to save the city? Would they have?
Jeremiah went along with the king’s story when he was questioned by the officials. As the king had said that they were talking about Jeremiah pleading not to be put back in prison, Jeremiah could truthfully report that as the truth. Also, Jeremiah HAD asked the king that very thing in an earlier discussion.
A couple of things rose up as I was thinking about this passage. First, the ‘finish line’ kept being moved in this encounter. “Do this and I will not kill you” came more than once in this conversation. Second, God actually told Samuel to be shrewd when giving an answer to King Saul. Jeremiah was doing the same when giving his answer to the officials.
‘Moving finish lines’ can become a BIG problem. The biggest problem is when the ‘finish line’ comes along with a compromise to get there. If we make the first compromise, then the next one becomes easier to justify. The third compromise doesn’t even feel like a compromise after that; just part of the process. I don’t know if Jeremiah even paid attention to this ‘move’ as this may have simply been the customs of the day in regard to how they spoke. But then again, he could have felt every inch of this ‘move’.
This brought the picture of a donkey trying to get a carrot that is hanging off a stick in front of him. As he moves forward so does the carrot. If he ONLY focused on the carrot, he may walk right off a cliff chasing it.
Speaking shrewdly can be over used to the point that it becomes a lie. Caution is needed any time you approach this line. I know that when I do, my stomach twists in knots. Sometimes though it is a necessity. Both examples that I stated saved the men of God’s lives. And GOD told Samuel what to say to Saul in that instance. The answer was to protect both Samuel and David’s life as Samuel went to anoint the next king.
When you are speaking shrewdly, be CERTAIN that it contains the truth. Not the part of the truth that would bring trouble but not a lie either. Someone may later say you have committed a ‘lie of omission’ but sometimes that is what is required for survival. Be SURE God says it’s ok first!
By submitting to all the king’s directives Jeremiah was as safe as possible and he was still able to continue warning the people to repent. He was never set free, but he was provided for until the day when provisions ran out for everyone. I have a feeling that this was God’s hand in operation. Both protecting him and keeping him where he needed to be to complete His work.
Father God, thank You for ALL Your creative ways of protecting Your children. Help me know when it’s part of Your plan to use ‘special circumstances’ alternatives. Submitting to ‘moving finish lines’ and ‘shrewd’ speech CAN be a tool for good or evil. Keep me clear of the evil instances Holy Spirit by speaking to my spirit. And MAKE ME LISTEN if need be. I would LOVE to promise that I will always know which path to choose, but You know me better than that. I have a feeling I will still find my way on the wrong path, at least a few steps down the road, on occasion. THANK YOU that You will NEVER lose track of me and will ALWAYS bring me back!
I can’t imagine being in Jeremiah’s position. KNOWING that, in his lifetime, disaster would fall by Your hand and that what he was doing to try and prevent it was having NO effect. He did EVERYTHING he could to convince the people but they ignored him.
Actually, that sounds a LOT like today’s world. Help me be as strong as he was. I don’t know that disaster will come in my lifetime, but I will do everything I can to share Your word as if it was coming in the next hour. Keep me walking with You, no matter what is thrown at me to deter me. NOTHING is worth turning away from You! There is NO hope without You!!!