Then he put out the eyes of Zedekiah; and the king of Babylon bound him in chains, and carried him to Babylon…
Here is no mystery. A wicked man, unfaithful to a very sacred trust, ending his days in darkness and a prison (Psalm 37:35). The son of the good Josiah, whose name suggests thoughts of early piety and godly patriotism, degenerate, idolatrous, and in the end eyeless and captive, pining away years of monotonous misery in a Babylonish dungeon — it is all according to that law which God has stamped on the world, "Your sin will find you out." It has been said of him that he was a man "not so much bad at heart as weak in will." "He was one of those unfortunate characters," it has been said, "frequent in history, like our own Charles I. and Louis XVI. of France, who find themselves at the head of affairs during a great crisis, without having the strength of character to enable them to do what they know to be right, and whose infirmity becomes moral guilt." That he was weak in will and purpose we see in the manner in which he surrendered Jeremiah to the princes who sought his life (Jeremiah 38:3). But he was "bad at heart" likewise. His heart was not right towards the Lord God of his father — self and the world and idols were the objects of his affection, and after them he would go. Warning succeeded warning in vain. For eleven years the struggle lasted between this wicked prince and the voice which came to him from the God of heaven. And the Jerusalem of his day may be described as the Sodom of an earlier day —
Long warned, long spared, till her whole heart was foul,
And fiery vengeance on its clouds came nigh.Vengeance came in another form than that in which it fell on those cities over whose ashes the waves of the Dead Sea now roll, and yet scarcely less terrible. The Babylonian siege lasted sixteen months (Jeremiah 52:4), and the miseries of Jerusalem were only less than those endured in the siege by the Roman Titus, seven centuries after. The calamities which befell the royal family are recorded with an undisguised bluntness (vers Jeremiah 52:8-11). What a catalogue of horrors! But all in keeping with the character of the people. They had been described to the very life at an earlier stage of the ministry of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 6:22, 23). This witness is true. The very stones, stones carved with their own hands, have been disinterred from the grave of ages, to bear testimony to the truth of the histories and prophecies of the Bible. Instead of being ashamed of the barbarities in which they indulged, the Assyrians (and in this we need make no distinction between the Assyrians and the Chaldeans) gloried in them, and employed the arts of sculpture and painting to perpetuate the memory of their cruel deeds. On the relics of their civilisation, now exhibited in our own museums and places of public resort, we find cities which have surrendered represented as given up to indiscriminate slaughter and the flames. The kings themselves took part in perpetrating the cruelties which are brought to light by recently discovered sculptures. On one of these sculptures a king is represented as thrusting out the eyes of a kneeling captive with his own spear, and holding with his own hand the cord which is inserted into the lips and nostrils of this and two other prisoners. The spirit which possessed the Assyrians and Babylonians may be traced through later ages in the same lands. One of the best of the Roman emperors, Valerian, was taken prisoner in battle in the third century by a Persian king, who detained him in hopeless bondage, and paraded him in chains, invested with the imperial purple, as a constant spectacle of fallen greatness, to the multitude. Whenever the proud conqueror mounted his horse, he placed his foot upon the neck of the Roman emperor "Nor was this all. for when Valerian sank under the weight of his shame and grief, his corpse was flayed, and the skin, stuffed with straw, was preserved for ages in the most celebrated temple of Persia." Would that such things as these could he told only of Eastern lands! But Western story is full of them likewise. The conflicts of the Moors and so-called Christians in Spain, from the eighth century, the age of Moorish conquest, to the sixteenth, the age of their final expulsion from Europe, contains histories of cruelty, perhaps, to be rivalled nowhere else — cruelty in which the so-called Christian luxuriated as much as his Moslem enemy. This spirit attained its highest point of intensity and barbarity in the same land in the Inquisition, strangely called the Holy Office, by which sheer torture was invoked to root out Judaism, and every form and shade of Christianity except that of the Roman Church. The appliances of rude barbarians, like American Indians, and of civilised barbarians, like Assyrians and Chaldeans, are not to compare with the appliances which the Inquisition perfected through its ages of murder. But to return to the Babylonish cruelties on the person and family of the Hebrew king. "The King of Babylon slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes." How many or how old they were, we are not told. The father being now only two-and-thirty years old, his sons must have been boys. And ungodly as the father was, there is no sign in his life of any want of natural affection, while there is sign of his sensibility to the sufferings of others. To put his sons to death before his eyes was an act of wanton cruelty, designed to give him the utmost possible pain. Then were put to death the princes of Judah, who must now recall with bitterness, if not with repentance, their long and obstinate resistance to the Divine counsels, and their own hard-hearted attempt on the life of the prophet Jeremiah. His sons dead, and the princes dead, the king himself must now submit to the cruel sentence of his conqueror — a sentence more barbarous than death itself. His eyes were put out. The process is revealed to us in a bas-relief, to which I have already referred, in which the conquering king is digging out the eyes of the conquered king with a spear. The King of Babylon may have done this with his own hands to the King of Judah, or by the hands of another. In either ease the conquered had no alternative but to submit. And thus blinded he is carried to the prison on the banks. of the Euphrates in which he must end his days. Two predictions were thus fulfilled — one by Jeremiah 32:5, addressed to the king m person, and one by Ezekiel 12:13, who was with the captives which had been carried to Babylon some years before. The Word of the Lord was not broken. The King of Judah saw the King of Babylon's eyes with his eyes, but it was the last vision which his eyes saw. The city of Babylon he saw not, though he was doomed to be imprisoned in it and to die there. When Zedekiah reached Babylon, there was already a King of Judah imprisoned there. His nephew, the son of his elder brother Jehoiakim, had been dethroned, as we have seen, after a brief reign of three months and ten days, and had been carried into exile with many of his princes and subjects (Jeremiah 29.). That he was still alive when his uncle and successor, blind and childless, arrived in the city of their enemy, we know — for the last sentences of the Book of Jeremiah tell us what befell him many years later. One wonders whether the two dethroned Kings of Judah, uncle and nephew, ever met in the land of their imprisonment, and had opportunity of talking over the events which had involved them in so great a disaster. If they had, did they curse the God of their fathers, or did they learn, as some of these fathers had done in the day of their adversity, to humble themselves and seek forgiveness? Their great predecessor, Solomon, in dedicating the temple which Babylon had now ]aid waste, had prayed (1 Kings 8:46-50). Imagine Jehoiakim reading these words out of the book of the law to his blind uncle Zedekiah. Imagine them recalling the history of the great-grandfather of the elder of them — how Manasseh had done evil exceedingly; how the King of 'Assyria had bound him with fetters and carried him to Babylon; and how, when he was in affliction, he besought the Lord (2 Chronicles 33:12). Thus encouraged to repent and seek forgiveness, the royal prisoners may have bent the knee together before the throne of the heavenly grace, and pied the promises which had been given so often to the penitent. And if they presented thus the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart in their prison-house, we know that mercy was not withheld. We find one little word which encourages hope. "There shall he be till I visit him, saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 32:5). God visits men with judgment; but this He had done to Zedekiah before he reached his prison in Babylon. God visits men with favour, with compassion, with restoring mercy: was it thus He said He should visit Zedekiah in Babylon I doubt not that the words "until I visit him" were meant to be indefinite and obscure, but were meant at the same time to give assurance to the king that in Babylon he should not be beyond the reach of God, whether for good or evil. "Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide in secret places, that I shall not see him, saith the Lord?" (Jeremiah 23:23, 24.) Jehovah was a God at hand in Jerusalem, but equally a God in Babylon afar off. The throne of Judah was exposed to His eye, but equally so the most secret place in the Babylonish prison. And God would visit Zedekiah in his exile and prison. This assurance might be a terror or a joy. If the king hoped that, being in Babylon, he was now away from the presence of Jehovah and under the rule of other gods, and had nothing more to fear, let him know that Jehovah should visit him even there. If he feared that, being in Babylon, he should be beyond the reach of the mercy of the God of his fathers, let him know, to his heart's joy, that Jehovah should visit him even in that far-off land.
(J. Kennedy, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then he put out the eyes of Zedekiah; and the king of Babylon bound him in chains, and carried him to Babylon, and put him in prison till the day of his death.
WEB: He put out the eyes of Zedekiah; and the king of Babylon bound him in fetters, and carried him to Babylon, and put him in prison until the day of his death.