In the last part of our special series, I promised we would share what may be the single worst thing a nation’s leaders can do to their citizens. It’s the opposite of what may be the single best thing a nation’s leaders can do to their citizens.
Best thing — tell the truth
Worst thing — lie
The Lies of Leaders
We ended the last part of the series looking at ancient Israel and Judah in the years leading up to the two kingdoms’ collapse. Assyria’s King Sargon II conquered Israel, the Northern Kingdom, in 722 BC and Israel ceased to exist. Sargon deported Jews from the Northern Kingdom to many different parts of the Assyrian Empire and imported Gentiles from across the Empire to take up residence in what had been the Northern Kingdom. The armies of Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar II came against Judah in the late part of the 7th century BC, took Jews captive to Babylon and finally destroyed Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple in 586 BC. The land was left with only a small number of poor Jews to live there until King Cyrus of Persia issued a proclamation in 538 BC that allowed the Jewish people to return to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. Many Jews remained in Babylon, but small groups of Jews returned over many years to rebuild the Temple and the city.
We saw how God used prophets to warn the leaders and people of each kingdom (Israel and Judah) how they would be destroyed by outside forces. This raises a basic question about these leaders. What did they tell the people after hearing from the prophets of God? Did they tell their citizens God’s truth or did they lie about it? Keep in mind that the best thing they could have done was tell the truth and the worst thing they could do was lie.
THEY LIED! They lied to God’s people in the name of the Lord. They prophesied according to false gods and caused God’s people to sin.
And the Lord said to me, ‘The prophets prophesy lies in My name. I have not sent them, commanded them, nor spoken to them; they prophesy to you a false vision, divination, a worthless thing, and the deceit of their heart. Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who prophesy in My name, whom I did not send, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not be in this land’—‘By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed! Jeremiah 14:14-15
And I have seen folly in the prophets of Samaria: They prophesied by Baal And caused My people Israel to err. Also I have seen a horrible thing in the prophets of Jerusalem: They commit adultery and walk in lies; They also strengthen the hands of evildoers, So that no one turns back from his wickedness. All of them are like Sodom to Me, And her inhabitants like Gomorrah. Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets: ‘Behold, I will feed them with wormwood, And make them drink the water of gall; For from the prophets of Jerusalem Profaneness has gone out into all the land.’ Jeremiah 23:13-15
I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in My name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ How long will this be in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies? Indeed they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart, who try to make My people forget My name by their dreams which everyone tells his neighbor, as their fathers forgot My name for Baal. Jeremiah 23:25-27
Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,’ says the Lord, “who steal My words every one from his neighbor. Behold, I am against the prophets,’ says the Lord, ‘who use their tongues and say, ‘He says.’ Behold, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,’ says the Lord, ‘and tell them, and cause My people to err by their lies and by their recklessness. Yet I did not send them or command them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all,’ says the Lord. Jeremiah 23:30-32
Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, And your fingers with iniquity; Your lips have spoken lies, Your tongue has muttered perversity. No one calls for justice, Nor does any plead for truth. They trust in empty words and speak lies; They conceive evil and bring forth iniquity. They hatch vipers’ eggs and weave the spider’s web; He who eats of their eggs dies, And from that which is crushed a viper breaks out. Isaiah 59:1-5
What profit is the image, that its maker should carve it, The molded image, a teacher of lies, That the maker of its mold should trust in it, To make mute idols? Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Awake!’ To silent stone, ‘Arise! It shall teach!’ Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, Yet in it there is no breath at all. But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.’ Habakkuk 2:18-20
Keep in mind that Isaiah began prophesying to the leaders of Judah about 150 years before the Babylonians began their attack against Judah and Jerusalem. Jeremiah began his prophesies more than 40 years before King Nebuchadnezzar II began taking Hebrews into captivity. Ezekiel was one of the early captives who prophesied to Judah from Babylon during the time that Babylon was attacking Jerusalem. Habakkuk also prophesied during the years of Nebuchadnezzar’s attacks on Judah. They all had the same message. Judah’s leaders lied to the people. They did not tell the people what God said and invented sayings of the Lord that were not true. They did a terrible thing.
What did the people of Judah think about their leaders lying to them? They must have been furious – right?
An astonishing and horrible thing Has been committed in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule by their own power; And My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end? Jeremiah 5:30-31
As hard as it may be to think that the people of Judah loved being lied to, that’s a strange truth in the collapse of civilizations. It was true in Judah, in Israel and in so many of the other civilizations that have collapsed through human history. It is an astonishing and horrible thing, but it is true. People often don’t want to hear the truth. They prefer when leaders lie. That means the people don’t have to change their beliefs and practices. They can continue in their sin. That is until God’s justice and judgment arrives. It is too late when that comes. What will people do in the end? They, the people and their lying leaders, will be dismantled and destroyed.
The Truth of God
Even as the leaders of Judah lied to their people, the prophets of God told the truth to the leaders. As you read through Isaiah and Jeremiah, you will find God speaking truth after truth after truth. Keep in mind that Isaiah was the first to prophesy to the kings of Judah. Micah, Jeremiah, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk followed Isaiah in prophesying to Judah’s leaders. Ezekiel prophesied as an exile in Babylonia. All of them prophesied truth and were met with opposition from Judah’s leaders who would then lie to the citizens of Judah even though the leaders knew the truth.
The prophets told the leaders of Judah what God expected and what God would do if the leaders did not respond appropriately to His truth. As we know from the biblical prophets and secular historians, Judah’s leaders did not respond appropriately and were either killed or taken into captivity. Josiah, the last good king of Judah, died in battle in 609 BC, shortly before the Babylonians began their battles against Judah. The last four kings of Judah were bad and their rule ended poorly. You can read details in 2 Kings chapters 23 – 24 and in 2 Chronicles 36.
- King Jehoahaz ruled as an evil king for three months in 609 BC. The king of Egypt removed him and replaced him with his brother, Eliakim. Pharaoh Necho took Jehoahaz captive and carried him off to Egypt. Necho also changed Eliakim’s name to Jehoiakim.
- Jehoiakim ruled as an evil king in Judah under Egypt’s oversight for several years. Pharaoh Necho supported Assyria in a war with Babylonia at the same time, but King Nebuchadnezzar II defeated Assyria and Egypt and came against Judah. Nebuchadnezzar defeated Jehoiakim and deported him in bronze fetters to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar also carried off some of the sacred articles from the Temple in Jerusalem and placed them in his temple at Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar made Jehoiakim’s son, Jehoiachin, King of Judah.
- Jehoiachin was also an evil king. He ruled for only three months and ten days. King Nebuchadnezzar summoned Jehoiachin to Babylon at the turn of the year (598-597 BC) and took more costly articles from the Temple to the temple in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar made Zedekiah king over Judah.
- Zedekiah ruled as an evil king in Judah under Babylonian oversight for eleven years. Zedekiah was 21 years old when he became king. 2 Chronicles 36 reports that Zedekiah “did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke from the mouth of the Lord. And he also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear an oath by God; but he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord God of Israel. Moreover all the leaders of the priests and the people transgressed more and more, according to all the abominations of the nations, and defiled the house of the Lord which He had consecrated in Jerusalem.”
The next verses in 2 Chronicles 36 stand as a strong accusation against the kings and other leaders of Judah and a demonstration of how God carries through with prophetic warnings:
And the Lord God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy. Therefore He brought against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or virgin, on the aged or the weak; He gave them all into his hand. And all the articles from the house of God, great and small, the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his leaders, all these he took to Babylon. Then they burned the house of God, broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all its palaces with fire, and destroyed all its precious possessions. And those who escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon, where they became servants to him and his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths. As long as she lay desolate she kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.
Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, was taken captive to Babylon in 586 BC. King Nebuchadnezzar ordered his army to destroy Jerusalem and the Temple of God.
2 Kings 25 contains detailed information about how the Babylonian army systematically dismantled and destroyed Judah and Jerusalem. Here’s what happened to Judah’s lying king:
But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king, and they overtook him in the plains of Jericho. All his army was scattered from him. So they took the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah, and they pronounced judgment on him. Then they killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, put out the eyes of Zedekiah, bound him with bronze fetters, and took him to Babylon. 2 Kings 25:5-7
What will they do in the end?
Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet because of his deep love for his people, God’s people. We move from “warning” to “lament” in the next part of our special series – Warning and Lament: The Collapse of Civilizations. What we will see in Jeremiah’s lament is remarkably like similar laments of collapsed civilizations throughout history.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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