Zedekiah and the king of Babylon: Eye to eye

Wed, 15/11/2023 - 09:42 -- James Oakley

Zedekiah, king of Judah (597-587 B.C.) consistently expected that God would bring a last minute reprieve, and he and his people would not be conquered by the Babylonians. He underestimated the sin of his people, and he underestimated God's power to deal with that.

For this reason, the prophet Jeremiah consistently has to warn him that there will be no reprieve. Into exile they will go.

I gave the same message to Zedekiah king of Judah. I said, ‘Bow your neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon; serve him and his people, and you will live. Why will you and your people die by the sword, famine and plague with which the Lord has threatened any nation that will not serve the king of Babylon? Do not listen to the words of the prophets who say to you, “You will not serve the king of Babylon,” for they are prophesying lies to you. “I have not sent them,” declares the Lord. “They are prophesying lies in my name. Therefore, I will banish you and you will perish, both you and the prophets who prophesy to you.”’ (Jeremiah 27:12-15)


Now Zedekiah king of Judah had imprisoned him [Jeremiah] there, saying, ‘Why do you prophesy as you do? You say, “This is what the Lord says: I am about to give this city into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will capture it. Zedekiah king of Judah will not escape the Babylonians but will certainly be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and will speak with him face to face and see him with his own eyes. He will take Zedekiah to Babylon, where he will remain until I deal with him, declares the Lord. If you fight against the Babylonians, you will not succeed.”’ (Jeremiah 32:3-5)


While Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army and all the kingdoms and peoples in the empire he ruled were fighting against Jerusalem and all its surrounding towns, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: go to Zedekiah king of Judah and tell him, “This is what the Lord says: I am about to give this city into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will burn it down. You will not escape from his grasp but will surely be captured and given into his hands. You will see the king of Babylon with your own eyes, and he will speak with you face to face. And you will go to Babylon. (Jeremiah 34:1-3)

I was reading this in the Christian Standard Bible, for a change. Jeremiah 34:3 reads "You will meet the king of Babylon eye to eye and speak face to face; you will go to Babylon." So I had a look, and the NIV's language of "see him with your own eyes" is literally "your eyes to the eyes of the king of Babylon"

עֵינֶיךָ אֶת־עֵינֵ֙י מֶֽלֶךְ־בָּבֶ֜ל

He will see the king of Babylon (we might say in modern idiomatic English) "eyeball to eyeball". Or "you'll be so close he'll see the whites of your eyes". Or "he'll eyeball you".

All of which is a little grotesque where prophetic details go.

Here's what happened as told in 2 Kings 25, but let's hear it from Jeremiah 39:

But the Babylonian army pursued them and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho. They captured him and took him to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath, where he pronounced sentence on him. There at Riblah the king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes and also killed all the nobles of Judah. Then he put out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him with bronze shackles to take him to Babylon. (Jeremiah 39:5-7)

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