21 The word came to Jeremiah from the Lord when King Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur son of Malkijah and the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah. They said: 2 “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.”
3 But Jeremiah answered them, “Tell Zedekiah, 4 ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am about to turn against you the weapons of war that are in your hands, which you are using to fight the king of Babylon and the Babylonians who are outside the wall besieging you. And I will gather them inside this city. 5 I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm in furious anger and in great wrath. 6 I will strike down those who live in this city—both man and beast—and they will die of a terrible plague. 7 After that, declares the Lord, I will give Zedekiah king of Judah, his officials and the people in this city who survive the plague, sword and famine, into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and to their enemies who want to kill them. He will put them to the sword; he will show them no mercy or pity or compassion.’
8 “Furthermore, tell the people, ‘This is what the Lord says: See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death. 9 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. 10 I have determined to do this city harm and not good, declares the Lord. It will be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will destroy it with fire.’
(Jeremiah 21:1-10 NIV)
Chapters 21 – 23 are a new section in Jeremiah’s writings. This section deals with the kings and prophets of Jeremiah’s day. Chapter 21 also indicates a break in the timeline from Chapter 20. Remember from our introduction to the book of Jeremiah that the writings are not chronological. The book of Jeremiah is rather a series of biographical and autobiographical stories about the work of the Lord in Judah and Jerusalem during Jeremiah’s years of ministry.
While we don’t know the exact timeframe of Chapter 20, we do know the date of Chapter 21. Jeremiah explicitly calls out the reign of King Zedekiah and the final overthrow of Jerusalem. Historians identify this timeframe to be in the spring of 588 BC.
Some twenty years has likely passed from the end of chapter 20 to the beginning of chapter 21. King Josiah, the great reformer, has died, and there has been a long list of kings that occupied the throne since then. The current King Zedekiah finds himself trapped in Jerusalem, surrounded by the Babylonian armies.
King Zedekiah sends Pashhur (same name, but a different person than the one in Chapter 20) and Zephaniah to see Jeremiah. The king is hoping for a favorable word from the Lord. The king remembers what the Lord did to the Assyrians many years ago, wiping out 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night (2 Kings 18-19). He is thinking, “Hey, God did this for our nation back then, what will He do for us today?” (verse 2)
When the king’s two representatives find Jeremiah, they quickly learn that the message from the Lord is precisely the opposite of what the king was expecting. In verses 3 – 7, the Lord says He will fight against Jerusalem instead of for her. The Lord repeats the outcome spelled out in previous chapters: the inhabitants of Jerusalem will die by the sword, plague, or famine; the remnant of survivors will be carried off into exile in Babylon.
In verses 8 – 10, Jeremiah gives a message to the king that he is to share with all the people of Jerusalem: Choose life in exile or death in Jerusalem. There are only two choices. Notice that there is not a third option of repentance. The Lord has extended that offer many times, and the people have either ignored or refused the offer many times. The opportunity for repentance has come and gone. The only option now is judgment for their sin. This choice was not a new revelation to the people of Jerusalem – they knew their options from the days of Moses (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).
King Zedekiah fully expected Jeremiah to be loyal to God and country, and bring good news to the situation at hand. Jeremiah’s loyalty was to God alone, and when the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, and he passed the words on to the two representatives and the king, they could easily take Jeremiah’s prophecy as high treason against his country. In fact, treason had taken place – not by Jeremiah, but by the nation of Judah in abandoning the Lord and worshipping other gods.
May we chose life via loyalty to the Lord only and walk with Him all the days of our life.