And now tonight, continuing through the Bible, the book of Jeremiah, Chapters 37 and 38. So, Pastor Skip.
I know you think, what are the odds? It's Super Bowl. It's raining outside, at least where I was at. And yet, what a pleasant surprise to see hungry sheep. So, Jeremiah 37. Shouldn't be a surprise around this joint. It's been that way for a long time. It was April 16th when Paul Harvey had his special show. He's the talk show host at-- his radio show sort of spans the country. And it was this special on people who try to cheat the IRS and the excuses that they use. One lady didn't file because she told the IRS, I'm just not in the mood. But she promised to file twice in the next year. The IRS contacted her and said that she had better get in the mood now. Another person told the IRS, please remove my name from your mailing list. Nice try. But it didn't work. I think the highlight of that little show was when Paul Harvey told about a man who was in New York City, and stood before the tax judge and said, as God is my judge, I do not owe this money. And the judge said, he's not, I am, you do, next case.
It's one thing trying to fight the IRS. It's wholly another thing and sheer nonsense to think that one can fight God and win. Back in the '60s, there was a song, I Fought the Law and the Law Won. I think Zedekiah's song would be I Fought God and God Won in these chapters. Zedekiah is not the only one who has tried to fight God. Throughout history, many have tried. In fact, Nebuchadnezzar, whose name is mentioned in these chapters, was one whom we find later on tried to fight God. And he was humbled by God. Others through history have tried, and they have all miserably failed. So, I suggest, throw in the towel. Don't fight God when God has the best plan for your life. It's best to surrender to His will. And that was Jeremiah's message to Zedekiah. And we get Zedekiah highlighted in Chapters 37, 38, and 39.
I think that next to Pontius Pilate, no leader, no ruler in scripture, was as weak, as vacillating, as pathetic as King Zedekiah of Judah. At least four times in this section, Zedekiah and Jeremiah meet. Jeremiah is extending the word of God to this king, but the results are the same. He refuses to hear. Now King Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, reigned instead of Coniah, the son of Jehoiakim, whom Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, made king in the land of Judah. Zedekiah was Jeconiah's uncle. Jeconiah, if you remember, was deposed, taken off of the throne, by King Nebuchadnezzar. And Zedekiah was placed in his place while Jeconiah was taken to Babylon. So there, Zedekiah reigned in Jerusalem as a vassal, as a puppet king of Nebuchadnezzar. His mistake is that he rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar and tried to form an alliance with Egypt. Trusting in the flesh, trusting in a worldly king down south. Thinking that when and if Nebuchadnezzar will come against the city, and he did, that this alliance will be strong enough to push off the Babylonians.
You've got to make sure that if a bully comes to attack you, you have friends who are bigger and badder than the bully. Egypt wasn't enough to sustain the attack. I remember in grade school, there was a bully. I never got along with Duane Moore. And Duane, if you happen, just happen, to be listening tonight, the past is the past. But he and I never got along. In fact, one time I tried to come from behind him and I jumped on Duane, thinking I really got him, and he just bent over, flipped me over, and my head hit the concrete. And I suffered a concussion. So I had a friend. Alan Coreys. What a great friend. Now Alan was mean, he had a mean streak. But he wasn't as bad as Duane Moore. And that was my mistake, is that though I had a friend to intercede, Duane was still bigger and badder than the both of us.
And so Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, was about to defeat the pharaoh of Egypt and come back again the second time in attacking Jerusalem. But neither he, nor his servants, nor the people of the land gave heed to the words of the Lord, which he spoke by the prophet, Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a missionary, you might say, to his own people. He spoke to men about God, and he spoke to God about men. He was that go-between, praying for them and speaking to them on behalf of the Lord, but to no avail. And Zedekiah, the King, sent Jehucal, the son of Shelemiah, and Zephaniah, the son of Maaseiah the priest, to the prophet Jeremiah, saying, pray now to the Lord our God for us. Now here is a King who is afraid to come personally and ask for prayer. And he is afraid to pray. He's the guy that should be praying. He sends two folks, two emissaries, and says, hey. Go to Jeremiah and say, Jeremiah, pray for us.
We will find out in a few verses and in the next couple of chapters why the King is so afraid. He's afraid of princes, his own staff, his own cabinet, that had conspired against him and were really in charge. But the request, pray for us. It's not the only time this happens in the Bible. When Pharaoh felt the brunt of the plagues that came upon Egypt, when the frogs swarmed the land, when hail fell from heaven and destroyed the plants, and even the livestock, Pharaoh said to Moses, pray for us. When Saul became King, the people requested, demanded really, a king. And Saul was given to them. Samuel, the prophet, stood before the people and rebuked them for their disbelief and their request. The Bible tells us that it stormed all that day, thunder and rain. And the people were scared, and they said, pray to the Lord for us, because of the circumstances. When fiery serpents came out and started biting the people in the wilderness, same thing. Pray for us. And I suppose the people that you witness to, all the folks that laugh at you, that don't want to have anything to do with you, will say, when they're in trouble, when their back's against the wall, would you pray for me? And at that time you will, because you want to be a faithful witness.
This last week on Thursday, I was back in Washington DC for the National Prayer Breakfast. It's always a real blessing to look around and see the president, cabinet members, Congress, both houses, praying together. Now, I don't know the depth of their relationships with the Lord. But one of the highlights was when a young sergeant, who was stationed in Afghanistan previous to this event, stood up to read Psalm 91. And he stood up. He was the fellow who was driving the Humvee when it exploded and two of his buddies in that car were killed in the war. He said throughout his life, he had leaned upon the Lord, trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and clung to the promises of God being a refuge in Psalm 91. And he turned to the President of the United States, and he said, Mr. President, it gives us great confidence to know that you pray. And be assured, sir, that we are praying for you. The president got up after several other speakers and people who prayed, and he turned to that young sergeant and he said, Sergeant Norman, your prayers are working. Your prayers are working. And he said, may we never be, as a nation, too proud to pray. And I would say, Amen to the President of the United States for saying that.
It does give us great confidence to know that our president is praying to the Lord. Imagine how shaken the people, like Jeremiah, who trusted the Lord, would be feeling in a king who was too weak to pray. And who had to send a couple of people to say, hey, things are really bad. Go talk to the prophet and ask him to pray for us.
Now, Jeremiah was coming and going among the people, for they had not yet put him in prison. Now, the guy does end up in prison. We've already seen it and he'll be there again. He's in and out of jail, this prophet. It sort of reminds me of Paul. Paul had quite a prison ministry, didn't he? In fact, I often wondered if Paul, when he went into new towns, went first to the local jail just to see where he'd spend the night. Because he so often ended up there. Why? Because he was faithful to God. Why did Jeremiah end up there? Because he was faithful in telling the people the truth. And Pharaoh's army came up from Egypt. And when the Chaldeans, who were besieging Jerusalem, heard the news of them, they departed from Jerusalem.
The pharaoh mentioned here is a pharaoh known as Pharaoh Hophra, who had formed an alliance at the bequest of King Zedekiah. And he came to help. He was the kid who thought, if we band together, we can take the bully. And so there is a lull in the battle. It would seem like the Babylonian siege has abated for a period of time. And it was just a brief period of time, because they will be coming back. Now I can just hear the false prophets in the land. Remember the false prophets said, oh, the Babylonians aren't going to overtake us. We're going to be just fine. I'm sure as soon as the Babylonians left to take care of the Egyptian problem, that the false prophets showed their heads again and spouted off, saying, see? It's a miracle, just like we said. Hallelujah. We spoke the word of faith. And we got rid of them. But they are going to come back.
Then the word of the Lord came to the prophet Jeremiah, saying, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, thus you shall say to the king of Judah, who sent you to Me to inquire of Me. Behold, Pharaoh's army, which has gone up to help you, will return to Egypt, to their own land. And the Chaldeans shall come back and fight against this city, and take it and burn it with fire. Thus says the Lord, do not deceive yourselves saying the Chaldeans will surely depart from us, for they will not depart. For though you had defeated the whole army of the Chaldeans who fight against you, and there remain only wounded men among them, they would rise up every man in his tent and burn the city with fire.
And it happened, when the army of the Chaldeans left the siege of Jerusalem for the fear of Pharaoh's army, that Jeremiah went out of Jerusalem to go to the land of Benjamin to claim his property there among the people. So Jeremiah says, I know it looks good, but don't trust in what you see. Because even if everyone was wiped out of this army, except the weak and the lame, and there was just a few defeated ones, they'd come back and they'd get you. Jeremiah, during this lull in the battle, a lull in the siege, this little respite time, decides to go to his home town. Probably Anathoth, the territory of Benjamin, where he came from. And you remember back in Chapter 32, he bought a field from his cousin Hanamel. And no doubt, during that time, he's going to go check it out. He purchased it. The Lord told him to do so, he was obedient. So now he goes over to Anathoth to sort of settle the family business. And when he was in the gate of Benjamin, a captain of the guard was there, whose name was Irijah, the son of Shelemiah, the son of Hananiah. And he sees Jeremiah the prophet saying, you are defecting to the Chaldeans. You traitor. You turncoat. You defector. You Benedict Arnold. Well, Benedict Arnold wasn't around then. You Shlomo Arnold, whatever it might be.
Now notice it says Irijah is the son of Shelemiah, the son of Hananiah. That should ring a bell. Hananiah was the prophet, the false prophet, who stood up some years before in Chapter 28. And he said, within two full years, all of the vessels that the Babylonians have stolen and taken to Babylon will be back. And even Jeconiah, who has been deported, he will be back as well. When he said that, Jeremiah stood up and prophesied against Hananiah and said, you're going to die. And by that year's end, that false prophet was dead.
So here we have the grandson. Oh, he doesn't like Jeremiah. This is the grandson's revenge. There was the prophet, who consigned his grandpa prophetically to death. And so he spouts off this false accusation, which is not a good thing to do. It's never good to get on the wrong side of God. And that's sort of the recurrent, overarching lesson in all of these chapters, is that there's these glimmers of false hope that the false prophets offer, trying to get people optimistically on the wrong side of God. And it never pays. They always end up the loser. And Jeremiah said, false. I am not defecting to the Chaldeans. But he did not listen to him. So Irijah seized Jeremiah and brought him to the princes.
You remember Jeremiah had preached, surrender. It would seem, to the onlooker, that Jeremiah was defecting. Because he said, hey, don't fight the Chaldeans. Surrender to them. If you surrender to them, you'll be kept safe. You'll live. You fight against them, you'll die. So surrender. This is what God is doing, He's bringing judgment. Don't try to oppose the Babylonians. Six times in the book of Jeremiah, the prophet is either attacked or falsely accused because he obeyed God.
Now if anyone had the right, I guess you could say, to say, Lord, this isn't fair. Why, if you're a God of love, would you allow this? It would be Jeremiah. Because at every turn, he obeyed. He spoke truth. He was faithful. And six times in this book, either falsely accused or attacked. Jeremiah reminds me of the interesting situation that we find ourselves in in the present day. We live in a country that has a motto, in God we trust. And yet, as time goes on, from the inception of this country until now, things have changed. Now, if you love Jesus Christ with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and you stand for God, and you trust in God, people will say, the liberal press will say, and so many other institutions will say, you Christians are the real problem in our country. You're so narrow-minded. This country would be better off if you weren't around. The same position Jeremiah was in, we so often find ourselves in. Now there is a way to avoid that kind of persecution, by the way. It's actually pretty easy. All you have to do is live like the world and keep quiet about Jesus. If you live like them, and you don't ever mention the name of Jesus, they won't hassle you. Because the Bible promises all those who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. So if you're going, well I'm glad I never persecuted, that's not a good sign.
I heard of a boy who grew up in a Christian home. It was a sheltered environment. He'd been in the Christian schools all of his life, which is great. But his parents wanted to keep him away from the evils of the world, so much so that he was ill-prepared to face the real world. His first job away from home that summer was working up in Oregon with the loggers. And they knew it's a pretty rough group of people, and we don't know how Junior's going to fare. Well, it was a long summer for the parents. They prayed for him. And finally, Junior came back, and they said, how did it go? And he said, great, terrific. They never even found out I was a Christian, he said to them. Well, that is the way to avoid the persecution, the hassle, that comes from the world. Live like them and never mention Jesus, and you'll be all right.
Jeremiah stood alone with his God in the midst of these onslaughts. And though there were times where he dipped and wanted to quit, he pressed on. Therefore, verse 15. The princes were angry with Jeremiah. They struck him and put him in the prison in the house of Jonathan the scribe, for they made that the prison. When Jeremiah entered the dungeon and the cells, and Jeremiah remained there many days, then Zedekiah the king sent and took him out. Then the king asked him secretly in his house. And he said, is there any word from the Lord? What has Jeremiah been doing all these years? He's been giving him the word of the Lord. But again, here it is. It's secret, it's clandestine, it's in quiet. He brings the prophet into his house, and he says, is there any word from the Lord? Look at this. Jeremiah said, there is. And he said, you shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon. Oh, you want a word from God? Here it is. It's the same. Thus says the Lord, time's up. You're going to be delivered into the hands of the king of Babylon. I feel that Jeremiah was quite wise here. It's not a long message. It's a very short message. A very short sermon. A single sentence. Here's my message from the Lord, time's up.
In the book of Proverbs, in Chapter 10 of Proverbs, it says, in the multitude of words, sin is not lacking. But he who restrains his lips is wise. Jeremiah was wise in not going on and belaboring what he had already said, but simply re-introducing the single thought of his prophecies, his theme all along, and just stating that and leaving it with him. Jesus was that way before Pilate. His words were few, his message succinct and clear to the point. But he didn't speak all that much during that episode. And I think we are wise when in certain situations, when we have exhausted our opportunity, to simply leave it at that.
We do well to remember, a closed mouth gathers no feet. You don't want to put your foot in your mouth. You want to just say what the Lord tells you to say, and then it's over. So he did. Moreover, Jeremiah said to King Zedekiah-- this is during that same interview, same time, we don't know if it was immediately after or some time later-- moreover, Jeremiah said to King Zedekiah, what offense have I committed against you? Against your servants or against this people, that you have put me in prison? Where, now, are your prophets, who prophesied to you saying the king of Babylon will not come against you or against this land? Remember they said, oh, the king of Babylon won't come. The vessels will be returned. King Jeconiah, he's coming back. But where now are the prophets? They're strangely silent, King. Therefore, please hear now, oh my lord, the king, please let my petition be accepted before you. Do not make me return to the house of Jonathan the scribe, lest I die there. Zedekiah the king commanded that they should commit Jeremiah to the court of the prison, that they should give him daily a piece of bread from the bakers' street until all the bread in the city was gone. Then Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.
What prison do you find yourself in tonight? You've done all the right things. But you're still in the house of the prison. You've said all the right things. You've prayed all the right prayers. You've looked and examined your life, and confessed every sin you possibly have committed. Maybe you even made up a few just to cover your bases. And still, tonight, you find yourself in that prison. It's a very telling sentence. And still, Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison. Well, if indeed you are in that place, then you have a choice tonight. The choice is where you're going to gaze, where you're going to fix your gaze, where you're going to look, if you're going to look vertically or horizontally. Are you going to look at the bars of the prison? Are you going to look within yourself at your depressed state? Or will you look beyond that to the Lord and say, my God is still on the throne. He is still in control. I may be still in this prison, but God is still faithful. That's a choice we all have to make.
Jeremiah was confronted with that and he chose to look vertically. I love what Corrie ten Boom used to say. She said, look around and be distressed. Look within and be depressed. Look to Jesus, be at rest. The words of that song are still true. Beautiful song of the faith that we have sung. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace. So if you're in prison tonight, look beyond it. Look beyond you into the face of the Lord.
Now, Shaphatiah, the son of Mattan, Gedaliah the son of Pashur, Jehucal the son of Shelemiah, Pashur the son of Malkijah, heard the words that Jeremiah had spoken to all the people, saying-- now that's a list of the princes that were controlling this pathetically weak, vacillating monarch. That's his staff. Those are the ones that are really in control here. Thus says the Lord, he who remains in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. But he who goes over to the Chaldeans shall live. His life shall be as a prize to him and he shall live. Thus says the Lord, this city shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon's army, which shall take it. Therefore, the princes said to the king, please let this man be put to death. For thus he weakens the hands of the men of war who remain in this city and the hands of all the people by speaking such words to them, for this man does not seek the welfare of this people, but their harm. These princes are angry. They're mad because they look at Jeremiah the prophet as somebody who is ruining the morale of the people in Jerusalem. He's hurting the war effort. We're in a battle here. It doesn't do us any good, our men who are fighting and defending this city, to hear this kooky prophet saying, give up. And I suppose they have a point.
You remember back in Isaiah when the Assyrians had surrounded the city of Jerusalem, and one of the Syrian officials, called the Rabshaqeh, stood in front of the walls of the city. And he spoke to them in their Hebrew tongue and says, give up. This is it. You're surrounded. We're going to take you down like we have taken down every other city in this area. Don't trust in the lying words of your king, or of any prophet, saying that the Lord is going to deliver you. Have any of the other gods of the other cities that we have overtaken delivered them? And this irritated the officials within the city of Jerusalem. They finally said, look, we understand your language. Don't speak in the Hebrew language anymore. You're demoralizing our men. Of course, you know the story. King Hezekiah went to prayer. Isaiah said it was going to be all right. The Assyrians were defeated miraculously by God. They turned away. But it did weaken their morale. And so they looked at Jeremiah as a fly in the ointment. And Zedekiah the king said-- look at what he says. Look at this weak king. King Zedekiah said, look, he's in your hand, for the king can do nothing against you. You see, this king was too weak to oppose his own staff members, who had joined together and played upon his weaknesses. They knew he was weak. They knew he could be controlled. The king finally gives up and admits it, look, he's in your hand. The king, that is, me, can do nothing to oppose you.
I think of Pontius Pilate very similar to this. There he was, the procurator of Judea. But he was walking on thin ice in his relationship with Caesar, over in Rome. He had already had three infractions, and he knew that the next one would cost him his own authority. He knew Jesus was innocent, didn't want to see him killed. But he was too weak to say, you're wrong. These are false charges. This man has done nothing wrong, therefore my edict is that he goes free. Because they brought up the idea that whoever would let this man go is not a friend of Caesar's. That tumbled around in his brain a little bit. Because he knew what it meant. If this gets back to Caesar, I won't be procurator. I won't be governor any longer. And so, perhaps one of the saddest verses in all of scripture is found in the Gospel of Luke. It says, and the voices of the chief priests and the people prevailed. And he gave them over to whatever they wished. They gave Jesus over. He did because he was too weak to put his foot down, operating out of fear.
Fear is one of the most debilitating forces in the world. It dulls creativity. It promotes mediocrity. And so many people live in fear. And the worst kind is the fear of man. It's great to fear the Lord in that healthy sense of respect and awe. I love what the chaplain to the United States Senate, years ago, Dick Halverson once said, He said, if you fear only God, you will live life fearlessly. If you live without the fear of God, eventually you will fear everything and everyone else. The Bible says the fear of man brings a snare. Pilate was ensnared, and Zedekiah was ensnared, by the fear of man. Remember Paul referred to this. He said, am I trying to please man, or am I trying to please God? If I was still trying to please man, I would not be the servant of Christ.
Well, this weak king is trying to please his cabinet, trying to get them all happy, and they are controlling him. So they took Jeremiah, and they cast him into the dungeon of Malchiah, the king's son, which was in the court of the prison. And they led Jeremiah down with ropes. And in the dungeon there was no water but mire, so Jeremiah sank in the mire. What a picture. No doubt, the dungeon was one of the many cisterns that were in Jerusalem, and still are. If you're an archaeologist, have at it. They're everywhere. And the cisterns were these huge, cavernous, carved out by hand, and then mortared caves that people dug out of solid bedrock to collect the rain water during the rainy months so that it would sustain them during the dry months, which are from May to October. But there was a siege, and many of these cisterns had dried up. There was only a little bit of water at the bottom mixed with dirt, so it was miry. And I've been in some of these cisterns, and some of them are huge. The one especially on top of Masada. You could have church in that thing, it's so big.
But there's Jeremiah, he was let down in this cistern to just starve to death, or maybe die of hypothermia, if he was let down in the mire long enough, because the body temperature displaced by the moisture would kill him quick enough. Left there to die. He sunk in the mire. Now, Ebed-Melech, the Ethiopian, one of the eunuchs who was in the king's house, heard that they had put Jeremiah in the dungeon. When the king was sitting in the gate of Benjamin, Ebed-Melech went out of the king's house and spoke to the king, saying, my lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they have done to Jeremiah the prophet, whom they have cast into the dungeon. And he is likely to die from hunger in the place where he is, for there is no more bread in the city.
I like Ebed-Melech. Don't you? Here Jeremiah is left to die, and low and behold, his rescuer comes, an Ethiopian eunuch, which I find interesting. Two times, Ethiopian eunuchs are mentioned in the Bible. And both of the times, they are good guys. One is in Acts Chapter 8, and here's the other one. Ebed-Melech is a Hebrew word that means servant of the king. And being a eunuch, he was probably overseeing the royal harem, at one time, of Ethiopia. He was Jeremiah's rescuer. He came in to intercede on behalf of this rejected, despondent, left in the mire prophet of God. For there is no bread in the city, he said, and the king commanded Ebed-Melech, the Ethiopian, saying, take from here 30 men with you and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the dungeon before he dies.
Now I read this and I was wondering, why 30 men? It doesn't take 30 men to lift a guy out of a hole. Maybe two, maybe three. And some have suggested because of the famine and the pestilence, the disease, that men were so weakened at that point it would take 30 of them to do the job. I don't know if I buy that. It's probably that he needed to be guarded because there were so many people against him. And the king knew, you need a contingent. Get 30 guys and pull him out. So, Ebed-Melech took the men with him and went into the house of the king, under the treasury, and took from their old clothes and rags, and let them down by ropes into the dungeon, to Jeremiah. Then Ebed-Melech, the Ethiopian, said to Jeremiah, please. Isn't that a great thing to say to somebody? He's nice to him. Please, do yourself a favor. Please, put these old clothes and rags under your armpits, under the ropes. And Jeremiah did so.
Oh, the value of an encourager. Just when you need to be lifted up because you can't sink any lower, to have somebody come and say, I'm praying for you. I'm rooting for you. I love you. You're doing a great job. So necessary. And I would say it's necessary, especially in the body of Christ. Because we're assaulted all week long by the enemy, and by the world, who's obeying the enemy. We need the encouragement from the body of Christ.
In his commentary on the book of Hebrews, William Barclay-- and I don't always like his commentaries, but there's something he said that I liked. He said, one of the highest human duties is the duty of encouragement. It's easier to pour cold water on people's enthusiasm. It's easy to discourage others. The world, he said, is full of discouragers. We have a Christian duty to encourage one another. Many a time, a word of praise, or thanks, or appreciation, or cheer, has kept a man on his feet. Jeremiah, you're free, man. Please put these rags under your armpits. You're Coming up. An Ethiopian eunuch.
I'll never forget the afternoon when I was in our office a few years back in Albuquerque. The church had grown. The Lord blessed immensely. I mean, we pinched ourselves. It was such a great ride. And I came in, and my secretary said, Skip, there's somebody in the sanctuary who's waiting to talk to you. I said, well, why is he in the sanctuary? Well, I don't know. He's just out there. He's all alone, he's just kind of walking around. So I said, great, I'll go meet him. And so I walked through, and I found him. He was an elderly gentleman, introduced himself. And he shook my hand warmly, firmly. He said, I'm a pastor in this town, and I've been a pastor in this town for many years. And for years I prayed that God would bring revival to Albuquerque, and that God would pour out his spirit, and an incredible work would happen. He goes, the trouble is, I thought he would do it through me. But here I am, shaking your hand, and I realize that God has answered my prayers through you. And I just want to encourage you, and tell you you're doing God's work and we love you here for that. Now there is an Ebed-Melech. There is an encourager. Please, put the ropes on. It came at a great time, too.
Well, Jeremiah 39, we'll get to it sometime. Jeremiah will send a special message to Ebed-Melech, saying, you've been faithful. Now God's going to be faithful to you. And you won't die a violent death when the Babylonian comes, you won't be destroyed. So they pulled Jeremiah up with the ropes and lifted him out of the dungeon, and Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison. And Zedekiah the king sent and had Jeremiah the prophet brought to him at the third entrance of the house of the Lord. And the king said to Jeremiah, I will ask you something. Hide nothing from me. When is this guy going to get a clue? I mean, Jeremiah has been honest with him, forthright at every turn. Now he comes again, and he says, I'm going to ask you something. I don't want you to hold it. Tell me the truth. Level with me. That's what he's been doing. You have a word of the Lord? Yes I do. Time's up. OK, now I'm really open. Hide nothing from me. It would seem, at least the evidence in the text, is that this is the last meeting that Jeremiah and Zedekiah have before Jerusalem falls, and he runs and is captured, and his eyes are put out, and he's taken to Babylon.
I have a suspicion that Zedekiah, in all of these meetings, though weak, though vacillating, is curious, is hungry, and is sort of, in a sense, reaching out. He's convicted, but unwilling to take that step of faith that is necessary. I want to hear from the Lord, Jeremiah. What is it? Oh, message hasn't changed, buddy. You've got to surrender. OK, level with me. Don't hide anything from me. And he's sort of reaching out, but he is unwilling to make that change. He's curious. He's convicted.
Back in the 1970s and late '60s, I was intrigued by these Jesus freaks. I was young. So I thought, I've got my whole life ahead of me. I'm not going to ruin it now by letting God have it. That's how I thought. But they interested me. They intrigued me. There was such fervor, such zeal. And so I watched them. I was curious. I'd ask them questions. I got good answers, but I rejected it. One day, out of curiosity, I turned on the television, and there was Billy Graham. Now I was a bystander. I was watching from afar. I thought, OK, I'm safe behind a television set. He's talking to them, not to me. And he invited people to come off of their seats and come to the stage, and he would lead them to Christ. He'd say a prayer with them. And I remember thinking to myself, oh it's good that I'm not in those grandstands. Because I'd get up and I'd do what they're doing. I felt so convicted at the time. So I said, whew, don't have to do that. Then he turns toward the camera. And you've noticed, if you've seen his program, he does it every time. And he looks right in the lens. And he says, if you're watching by television, you can know Christ tonight. And I thought, he just read my mind. And it was there that I surrendered.
This interesting repartee between the prophet and the king, and still the king just holds on, doesn't surrender. Jeremiah said to King Zedekiah, if I declare it to you, will you surely not put me to death? If I give you advice, you will not listen to me. So Zedekiah the king swore secretly-- there it is again, it's all in stealth, it's all clandestine, it's secret, don't tell anybody-- to Jeremiah, saying, as the Lord lives, who made our very souls, I will not put you to death, nor will I give you into the hand of these men who seek your life. Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel, if you surely surrender to the king of Babylon's princes, then your soul shall live. The city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live. But if you do not surrender to the king of Babylon's princes, then this city shall be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hands. So it's like God is giving him one final opportunity, one chance left. And again, this is the last meeting that is recorded before the fall of Jerusalem. Last chance. Here it is. Here's the choice.
You never know when the last opportunity that God gives is gone. You never know when that is. If you're saying, well, I can live any way I want, and when I am old, on my death bed, or, I've got time to think about that. You never know how much time you do have. Your days are in God's hands. Your breath is in God's hands. So, while God is giving you the opportunity, it might be your last opportunity.
One evening years ago, I received an interesting phone call. It was a phone call from North Carolina. It was Ruth Graham on the phone. She is married to Dr. Billy Graham. And she said, Skip, I have a friend that I went to school with in China. And she has a son that is living there in Albuquerque. And see, they grew up together, these two ladies. And of course, she married Billy Graham, and this other gal married the defense minister who became the defense minister for Fidel Castro, in Cuba. And you know the history in Cuba, and the fallout there. And he was let go of his position. And these two boys, one was named Tony, who was living in Albuquerque. Tony and his brother swore to assassinate Fidel Castro. They had plotted to do so. She called up and said, would you do me a favor, and would you just try to get a hold of this guy? He doesn't know the Lord. He's rebellious against Christ. But I just felt if you just paid him a visit, that maybe it would turn the tide. I said I'd be happy to.
I got a hold of him, I met him for dinner. He didn't really want to talk to me. And I asked a friend of mine, who worked with the FBI, about him, and he ran a check on him. And said, oh, this guy, Skip. Stay away from him. He's bad news. He's wanted. In fact, we'll probably bust him in the next couple of months. We've had a line on him with drugs from South America for years. So they said, stay away from him. But Ruth Graham said, would you just spend a little time with him? So I talked to him a few times, took him out to dinner one evening. And when Franklin would come to town, I'd invite him, because Franklin and he grew up together. He didn't want to hear about the gospel. And he put it off, and put it off, and he was smarter, more intellectual, and just a cut above that, and didn't need that, because that's for weak people, all that.
One day I got a phone call again from Ruth, who said, Tony's in the hospital. He's dying. And I visited him in that Albuquerque hospital. And he was dying. He was in advanced stages of cancer. I said, Tony, you have heard the gospel. You've heard me talk to you. You've heard Franklin talk to you. You've heard Dr. Graham over the years. And why don't you just throw in the towel, man? He said, well, I don't know. I don't know if I need that. That's really not for me. I don't know if I believe that. And by the way, I've done a lot of things you don't know about. And I didn't tell him, I know all about what you've done. I said, Tony, you're right. I probably don't know all about what you've done. But God knows everything you've done, and thought, and planned. And he's willing to forgive you. He goes, no, you don't know what I've done. So I told him about the thief on the cross, who in his last moments of life called out and asked the Lord for mercy. And Jesus said, today you'll be with me in paradise. I told him that story. And Tony, his eyes filled with tears. He wept. He said, that's the most beautiful story I've ever heard.
I left the room, and Tony died just a couple of days later. But before he died, he prayed to receive Christ, too. In his final moments, he found that last opportunity. And boy, did he wait till the very end. He found that God was there to say to him, today, you'll be with me in paradise. There is a mercy that is in God that is unfathomable. God is always trying to reach out and get people's attention, even if they spurn His acts of love and mercy. And even in the Old Testament, this nonsense of, well there's the God of the Old Testament, and there's the God of the New Testament. The God of the Old Testament is angry, and the God of the new-- they're the same. And here is the loving, merciful God of the Old Testament extending his hand to the king. And Zedekiah the king said to Jeremiah, I'm afraid of the Jews-- now he's getting honest-- who have defected to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hands and they abuse me. Jeremiah said, they shall not deliver you. Please obey the voice of the Lord, which I speak to you, so it shall be well with you and your soul shall live. But if you refuse to surrender, this is the word that the Lord has shown me. Now, behold. All the women who are left in the king of Judas's house shall be surrendered to the king of Babylon's princes. Those women shall say, your close friends have set upon you and prevailed against you. Your feet have sunk in the mire, and they have turned away again. So they shall surrender all your wives and children to the Chaldeans. You shall not escape from their hand, but shall be taken by the hand of the king of Babylon, and you shall cause the city to be burned with fire.
You know what, the best way to protect your family, your wife, your children, isn't to make an alliance somewhere else. The best way to protect your family is to obey God. In fact, a disobedient husband or father is dangerous. Oh, he wants his family protected. You want to protect it? Obey God, king. Surrender. They'll be OK. You don't surrender, and that's the worst thing that could happen to them. And Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, let no one know of these words, and you shall not die. But if the princes hear that I have talked with you, and they have come to you and say to you, declare to us now what you have said to the king, and also what the king said to you. Do not hide it from us. We will not put you to death. And you shall say to them, I presented my request before the king, that he would not make me return to Jonathon's house to die there. Then all the princes came to Jeremiah and asked him. And he told them according to all these words that the king had commanded, so they stopped speaking with him, for the conversation had not been heard. Now, Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison until the day that Jerusalem was taken, and he was there when Jerusalem was taken.
Sometimes God will judge a nation by sending them bad leaders, weak leaders, to drive them further down the course that they have decided themselves to go down. Did you know that? In Isaiah Chapter 34, God says, I will give the children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them. That was part of the judgment of God upon that nation. Well, in that regard, I thank God that he has extended his mercy. And I don't want to get too political here, but I am thankful we have a president who prays, and who trusts in the Lord. And no, he's not perfect. But I thank God for it. And you might say, well, I don't know that I agree with him on this or that. Irrespective. You and I should be praying for him, for all who are in authority, that we might lead a peaceful life.
Well, it's only 12 after the hour, and we have a few more minutes. And Chapter 39 is short, so shall we? In the ninth year of Zedekiah, the king of Judah, in the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, and all of his army, came against Jerusalem and besieged it. And you might want to write in the margin of your Bible, 2 Kings Chapter 25 and 2 Chronicles Chapter 36. Those are parallel renditions of this, which is the tragic fall of Jerusalem. 30 months was the siege of Jerusalem. It began in 588 BC on January 15th. It ended July 18th, 586 BC. And now we are seeing its tragic end in the 11th year of Zedekiah. In the fourth month, on the ninth day of the month, the city was penetrated. Bingo. Now we're starting to see something unfold.
We start here, part of the prophetic calendar, in an era known as the times of the Gentiles. The times of the Gentiles is the times when Jerusalem would be occupied and controlled by the Gentiles. Jesus said in Luke 21, Jerusalem will be trampled, or trodden on, by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. And they will be, though the Jews took hold of Jerusalem once again back in '67, in June, when Jesus comes and rules and reigns after the tribulation period. After that time, when the Jews were persecuted, Jerusalem will still be, under that time, occupied. The times of the Gentiles officially, permanently, will be over.
Then all the princes of the king of Babylon came in and sat in the middle gate. Nergal-sarezer, Samgar, Nebo-sarsekim, Rabsaris, Negral-sharezer, Rabmag, with the rest of the princes and the king of Babylon. In other words, the city was under full military occupation, for the middle gate was between two sides of the city, right in the middle of town, between the North and the South, between Mount Zion and the other end of the Temple Mount. And so what this means is they took the city. They set up court. full military occupation. So it was when Zedekiah, the king of Judah, and all the men of war saw them, that they fled and went out of the city by night, by way of the king's garden, by the gate between the two walls. And he went out by the way of the plain.
Now the word plain is literally the Arabah. And the Arabah is a geographical place in Israel that's below sea level. It's out in the desert. The Arabah is that desert region that extends just north of the Dead Sea, out by Jericho. The Dead Sea is 1,290 feet below sea-level. It's part of that Syrio-African rift, and it extends down below the Dead Sea, geographically. So King Zedekiah fled out toward Jericho, toward that northern section of the plain, the Arabah, the desert area, thinking, I'm going to get out in the middle of the sticks. Nobody will find me. Ran toward Jericho, toward the Dead Sea. But the Chaldean army pursued them and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho. And when they captured him, they brought him to Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, to Riblah, in the land of Hamath, where he pronounced judgment on him. And the king of Babylon killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes in Riblah. And the king of Babylon also killed all the nobles of Judah. Moreover, he put out Zedekiah's eyes and bound him with bronze fetters to carry him off to Babylon. And the Chaldeans burned the king's house and the houses of the people with fire, and broke down the walls of Jerusalem.
Now, headquarters for the Babylonian army wasn't in Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar was far away from the battle. He sent his men down. He was 230 miles to the north, in this area called Riblah. So Jeremiah fled topographically down, but geographically north, upward. They pursued him, brought him 230 miles up from Jerusalem to Riblah, where Nebuchadnezzar was, so he was able to see the king. And then the king, as the last parting gesture and punishment for this disobedient vassal, was to watch the death of his own sons, and then his eyes taken from him, so he was blinded, so that the haunting memory that he would live with forever was seeing the death of his own children.
The Babylonians were not known for their compassion. They were pretty rough people. And this practice of putting one's eyes out and performing this ignominious kind of practice was not unknown. Lots of leaders did it. In the Code of Hammurabi, these things are mentioned. That was sort of a practice of conquering kings. They were brutal. We think about the Abu Ghraib prison over at the airport in Baghdad and some of the atrocities that have been committed by our soldiers against the Iraqis. Listen, if the ancient Iraqis, the Babylonians, would have been brought to a modern day war trial, they wouldn't stand up. They were cruel to the max. They had no mercy at all. They were very abusive. Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard-- he's the general-- carried away the captives to Babylon. The remnant of the people who remained in the city, and those who defected to him, with the rest of the people who remained.
There are several lists found on pyramids and tablets in ancient Babylon that have the name Nebuzaradan on there, and he is called the chief baker of Babylon. I don't think, though, this is the chief baker. It seems that Nebuzaradan was a pretty common name for Babylonians back in those days. But the point is his name, or names like his, have been found in archeology. But Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, left in the land of Judah the poor people, who had nothing, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time. And you might think, oh, what a nice guy. What a sweet gesture. Leaving the poor. No, no, it's very self-serving. Somebody has to take care of the soldiers, the Babylonian soldiers, who are still mopping up the mess. And so by leaving the poor, the disenfranchised, the unskilled laborer, to work the fields, it would give the Babylonians, who stayed behind and occupied, food. That was their motivation.
Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, gave charge concerning Jeremiah to Nebuzaradan, the king of the guards, saying, take him and look after him. And do him no harm. But do to him just as he says to you. So Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, sent Nebushazban, Rab-saris, Nergal-sharezer, Rabmag, and all the king of Babylon's chief officers. And they sent someone to take Jeremiah from the court of the prison, and committed him to Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam, the son of Shafan, that he should take him home. So he dwelt among the people. Thus, God fulfilled his promise to Jeremiah in Chapter 1. He said, Jeremiah, don't be afraid of their faces. Speak what I tell you to speak. I'm going to make you like a fortified wall and strong brass to these people. And I am with you to deliver you. So even in the bitter fall of Jerusalem, that Jeremiah as he wept predicted God protected him.
Meanwhile, the word of the Lord had come to Jeremiah while he was shut up in the court of the prison, saying, go and speak to Ebed-Melech, the Ethiopian, saying, thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel. Behold, I will bring my words upon this city for adversity and not for good. And they shall be performed in that day before you. But I will deliver you in that day, says the Lord. And you shall not be given into the hand of the men of whom you are afraid. For I will surely deliver you, and you shall not fall by the sword, but your life shall be as a prize to you, because you have put your trust in me, says the Lord.
For all of us, for every person who lives on the earth, there will come the final day. For every person, there will come the 11th year, the fourth month, and the 10th day, the end of all opportunities. God is merciful and gracious. His hand is extended. And the smartest thing is to take it now. That's the word of God. Behold, now is the day of salvation. Today. Now is the accepted time. Today is the day of salvation. Somebody once put it this way. The wheels of God grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine. That's God's judgment. God will postpone his judgment as long as his mercy, mixed with his justice, find it acceptable. But then they will grind exceedingly fine.
Zedekiah vacillated, and he vacillated too long. And four times, just in these chapters, we have seen these private meetings between the prophet and the king. Eventually he lost it all. Pilate tried to wash his hands of Jesus. After he had that dream, not wanting to make the decision. But he made the decision. For Jesus said, if you're not for me you are against me. If you do not gather, then you help me scatter. You can't compromise when it comes to eternal matters. You can't put it off. The mistake people make is, they say, well, I'll come halfway, God. No, God says. Surrender. It's the only way you'll live. Ah, well, I'll surrender just this much. No, I want it all.
Remember the bumper sticker, God is my copilot? No offense if you have it, but I don't like that bumper sticker. Because when you come to Christ, you give him the pink slip. He's not a backseat driver, or even a copilot. He's in charge. And that's something you can't compromise.
Story is told of a Russian hunter, perhaps you've heard the story. He was out with his gun, up in the woods of northern Russia. He had it cocked. He was hunting bear, and there in his sight, he found a bear. Pretty close, he was about to pull the trigger, and then the bear spoke to him. And the bear said, not so fast. What are you wanting? Maybe we can negotiate. And the Russian hunter said, I want a fur coat. And the bear said, good. We can negotiate. All I want is a good meal. And so they went off into the woods to negotiate. And soon, the bear came back alone, licking its chops. He got a good meal. And the hunter got his fur coat. When you compromise like that, it'll eat your lunch. You'll be lunch. So God, perhaps, is working, is dealing in your life, maybe to bring you to him. Surrender. Or maybe you find yourself in a prison tonight. And you've done all the right things and said all the right things, and you've been obedient, and you've confessed everything. And yet, you're still there. Fix your eyes past the prison, past yourself, unto the Lord.
Heavenly Father, thank you for your tender mercies that are new every single morning. When we woke up, you were there. Your promises, ever fresh, were there, your mercy and grace extended to us. In the midst of all of our failures, in the midst of our trials, in the midst of our prison, we, here and now, decide to fix our eyes upon you, to look vertically rather than within or horizontally. Lord, I especially pray for anyone who might be hearing by radio or internet, or even here in this room who haven't yet surrendered to you. That the white flag would go up. And some would say yes to Jesus Christ, as Savior and as Lord, for it's in his name we pray. Amen.
Shall we stand? You know, it does seem that God always sets before us life or death. Here before Zedekiah, God gives him the opportunity to choose life by obeying, or to face the consequences and lose his life. God sets before us tonight the choice of life or death. And then he says, choose life, that you might live. God said, I don't have any pleasure in the death of the wicked. And so, your choice. You would think, with a choice like that, that it would be a no-brainer. That you'd just say, well, I'll take life. But it's amazing, amazing to me, how many people, like Zedekiah, make the wrong choice. Sometimes, like Zedekiah, it's just the fear of being mocked. The fear of someone making fun of you has kept so many people out of heaven. Don't make that mistake. The pastors are here to minister to you and to pray for you tonight. And we would encourage you, as soon as we're dismissed, come on forward. Spend some time with the Lord before you go home. It will guarantee a much better week when you start it with him.
[SINGING] Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace. Once more. Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.
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