A word of advice: If you are the king of a small nation and you were put on the throne by the king of a much bigger, more powerful nation, rebellion is generally not a wise option. Unfortunately for all of Judah, Zedekiah did not heed such advice.
Zedekiah was the last king of Judah. His nephew Jehoiachin had preceded him on the throne, having the misfortune to rise to power just as King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon decided to lay siege to the city of Jerusalem. The year was 597 BC. Time was running out for the kingdom of Judah.
Jehoiachin was forced into a humiliating surrender, after which Nebuchadnezzar looted the temple and displaced all but the poorest residents from Jerusalem. Jehoiachin was carried to Babylon, while his uncle, Zedekiah, was made king in his place.
Zedekiah, however, had little real power. He did not even have control over his own name. That had once been Mattaniah, but Nebuchadnezzar changed it when he put him on the throne. It was a simple yet profound way of reminding Zedekiah who was in charge.
Zedekiah ruled for just over a decade, and then he made the biggest mistake of his life: He rebelled against the king of Babylon. It seems that Zedekiah did not bother to seek God’s direction until well after he had committed to revolt. Only when Nebuchadnezzar was beating down Jerusalem’s door did the king of Judah seek advice from the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 21).
Unfortunately, Jeremiah had no words of encouragement for Zedekiah. Time was up. Zedekiah and his people had nothing to look forward to but “plague, sword and famine”—and finally, total defeat at the hands of the Babylonian army. As a final insult, Zedekiah was forced to watch as his sons were killed. Then his eyes were gouged out, and he was led to Babylon.
Like Jeremiah, the prophet Ezekiel had anything but kind words for Zedekiah (see Ezekiel 17:14–16). Ezekiel seemed to marvel at Zedekiah’s stupidity, noting with astonishment that it was after Nebuchadnezzar had rendered Judah “unable to rise again” that Zedekiah chose to rebel. “Will he succeed?” Ezekiel asked, his words no doubt dripping with sarcasm. “Will he break the treaty and yet escape?” The answer was a resounding no.