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Surely, it is painful to see our loved ones suffer. But there is a limit to our human understanding. God is eternal and almighty. We cannot fully understand his plans. Likewise with Jeremiah at that time. God allows us to go through difficult times but he also brings good out of the bad. God allows us to go through trials, but he also provides a path of safety as we endure those trials. I pray that we will look beyond our hardships and believe that God can bring good out of evil that happens.
And now we enter chapter 21 and 22 of Jeremiah. First, let’s get some historical background from the book of 2 Chronicles, chapter 36. When Josiah, the king who had brought religious reforms to the country, passed away, his son Jehoahaz became king of Judah. Jehoahaz was crowned king at the age of 23, but his reign in Jerusalem lasted only 3 months. After 3 months, he was taken away as a prisoner to Egypt. The Pharaoh put Jehoahaz’s brother Jehoiakim on the throne of Judah. Jehoiakim was 25, and he reigned for 11 years. But he strayed far from God. So God allowed the king of Babylon to defeat Jehoiakim and take him as prisoner to Babylon. The powers of Egypt and Babylon were drawing closer to Jerusalem. Jehoiachin became the next king (verse 9) at the age of 18, but for only 3 months and 10 days. He too was exiled to Babylon. Next was Zedekiah who became king at age 21 and reigned for 11 years (verse 11). But, as it says in 2 Chronicles 36:12, “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord his God and did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke the word of the Lord.”
2 Chronicles 36:16 then says, “But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.” And that is where we find Jeremiah today.
In chapter 20 Jeremiah lamented the day he was born, but in chapter 21 we see him boldly speaking a message from the Lord to King Zedekiah. It seems Zedekiah knew of the miracle that God did for his predecessor King Hezekiah. When Jerusalem was surrounded by Assyrian soldiers during Hezekiah’s time, he had asked for help from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah had prophesied that Jerusalem would be saved. Indeed, God struck down the Assyrian army and they fled back to Assyria, releasing Jerusalem from their siege. That was God’s miracle, recorded in 2 Kings 19.
Now Zedekiah was seeking a miracle like this as well. In Jeremiah 21 verse 2, he said to Jeremiah, “Inquire now of the Lord for us because Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is attacking us. Perhaps the Lord will perform wonders for us as in times past so that he will withdraw from us.” But Zedekiah was unlike his predecessor Hezekiah, who trusted and feared the Lord. Hezekiah tried to live by God’s laws. But Zedekiah is recorded to be an evil king, the last king of Judah, who asked for Jeremiah’s help only when he was in trouble. Unfortunately, as we see in verse 3 onwards, Jeremiah responded that terrible judgment would fall on Jerusalem.
Then in verse 8, Jeremiah told the king to deliver a message to his people: “This is what the Lord says: See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death. Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live; they will escape with their lives.” God’s plan was to destroy the kingdom of Judah by Babylon’s hand. So he urged the people not to stay in Jerusalem. Instead they could keep their lives by living in repentance in Babylon.
The reason for God’s judgment is mentioned again in chapter 22 verse 9: this is all happening “because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and have worshiped and served other gods.” Both the kings and the people of Judah had strayed from their God. That was the sad reality. They abandoned their covenant with the Lord, so what do they put their faith in now?
Let’s see what else God says to the leaders of his people. Chapter 21 verse 12 says, “Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done—burn with no one to quench it.” In Chapter 22, there is a similar message. See 22:3-4: “This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. For if you are careful to carry out these commands, then kings who sit on David’s throne will come through the gates of this palace, riding in chariots and on horses, accompanied by their officials and their people.”
In other words, leaders are to love God and love the people. They are supposed to lead righteously, help the poor, and be kind to foreigners. This is how God’s chosen people should behave. If the leaders are righteous, God will bless the nation.
When we reflect on our lives, we can see that we have received God’s grace and blessings. That is because Christ lives with us; he has been both our King and Servant. People who have good leaders are blessed. Christ is our good king who invites us to come near his throne and receive grace. Still, it is possible to fall from grace and for our hearts to abandon God.
It is clear what kind of leader God desires. God wants leaders who do not act selfishly but who take care of the poor. Who show kindness to foreigners. It is then that God will bless the nation. Let us pray for leaders to live according to God’s promises and his grace. War is evil. I believe that if Japan values peace, the nation will be blessed. One day, God will judge each of us righteously. He calls for leaders who fear him and seek his will. So let’s continue to pray for those who are in positions of power.