Fear of Man Snares King Zedekiah
WELL does God’s Word remind us that “trembling at men,” yielding to the fear of men, “lays a snare, but he that is trusting in Jehovah will be protected.” (Prov. 29:25) Due to inherited weaknesses a person has the tendency to compromise when danger threatens or when any unpleasant prospect faces him. Thus the fear of what people may think or say can cause a person to shrink from doing what he knows is right.
For example, a Christian may know that he should speak Bible truths to others in imitation of Jesus Christ and his early followers, including the apostle Paul who taught “publicly and from house to house.” (Luke 8:1; Acts 20:20) Yet fear of what others may think or say causes some to shrink back from this Christian activity. Giving a forceful example of how the fear of man can cause one to compromise to one’s own harm is Zedekiah, the last king of the two-tribe kingdom of Judah.
THE CHALLENGE TO KEEP HIS WORD
Zedekiah, the son of King Josiah by his wife Hamutal, originally bore the name Mattaniah. When his nephew King Jehoiachin was taken captive by the Babylonians, Mattaniah was made vassal king, subject to Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. At that time his name was changed by Nebuchadnezzar to Zedekiah, meaning “Jehovah is righteousness.” Zedekiah was required to take an oath in Jehovah’s name that he would remain loyal to Nebuchadnezzar. But would he keep his oath-bound promise?—2 Ki. 24:12, 17, 18; 2 Chron. 36:13; Jer. 37:1.
For a while Zedekiah did. But in time he yielded to the pressure from powerful princes in his realm who were agitating for revolt against the Babylonians. So he broke his promise and rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar and turned to Egypt for help. To quell this rebellion, the king of Babylon led his forces against Jerusalem, laying siege to the city in the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign.—Jer. 52:3, 4; Ezek. 17:15.
It seems that it was at the start of this siege that Zedekiah sent word to the prophet Jeremiah, asking what would happen to Jerusalem. Jehovah’s word through Jeremiah warned that all efforts to defend the city were doomed to fail. The only avenue of escape, Jeremiah said, was to surrender to the besieging army.—Jer. 21:1-10.
However, King Zedekiah and his officials had yet another option if they wanted to be shown mercy. Through his prophet Jeremiah, Jehovah gave this admonition: “Every morning render sentence in justice, and deliver the one being robbed out of the hand of the defrauder, that my rage may not go forth just like a fire and actually burn and there be no one to extinguish it because of the badness of your dealings.”—Jer. 21:12.
During the siege, Zedekiah, his princes and other people in Jerusalem made an attempt to win Jehovah’s favor by doing something to comply with His law. Even though it was not a Jubilee year, they made an agreement to set free their Hebrew slaves, both male and female, and they did set them free. But when the Egyptian forces came to Jerusalem’s aid and Babylon lifted the siege to deal with the Egyptian threat, they changed their mind. They took their slaves back and forced them into servitude again. What did King Zedekiah do about this?
The king made no efforts to stop the princes and the people from violating their agreement to set their Hebrew slaves free. He knew how wrong their actions were, but, evidently due to fear of displeasing these prominent ones, he condoned their wickedness. Hence, disaster was certain to befall Jerusalem, for Jehovah would not save a corrupt people.—Jer. 34:8-22; 37:5.
After Jeremiah was imprisoned on the false charge of deserting to the Chaldeans, and when Jerusalem again came under siege, Zedekiah sent for Jeremiah. In reply to the king’s inquiry as to the future, Jeremiah said: “Into the hand of the king of Babylon you will be given!” On this occasion Jeremiah appealed to Zedekiah that he not be returned for confinement in the house of Jehonathan. The king granted this request and had Jeremiah put “in custody in the Courtyard of the Guard.”—Jer. 37:11-21.
AGAIN YIELDS TO FEAR
Zedekiah knew that Jeremiah had been treated unjustly. Yet, when the princes later accused Jeremiah of weakening the morale of the people, Zedekiah did nothing to protect the prophet. Again yielding to the fear of man, he gave Jeremiah into the hands of the princes, saying: “Look! He is in your hands. For there is nothing at all in which the king himself can prevail against you.” The princes took Jeremiah and threw him into a miry cistern to die. Only by the courageous intervention of the Ethiopian eunuch Ebed-melech was Jeremiah’s life spared from death in it.
Later Zedekiah had another private meeting with Jeremiah. Again Jeremiah told him that only by surrendering to the Babylonians could Jerusalem be saved. But Zedekiah did not heed Jeremiah’s inspired advice. Why? Because the king feared that he might be handed over to Jews who had already deserted to the Babylonians, and that these Jews might torture him. Indicative of his fear of man was his request that Jeremiah not reveal the subject of their discussion to the princes of Judah.—Jer. 38:1-28.
As Jeremiah had foretold, Jerusalem did fall to the Babylonians. In the 11th year of Zedekiah’s reign, the enemy forces breached the city’s walls. Under the cover of darkness, Zedekiah and a detachment of warriors took flight, but were overtaken in the desert plains of Jericho. Brought before Nebuchadnezzar for judgment, Zedekiah first witnessed the slaying of his sons. Then he was blinded and taken prisoner to Babylon. The fear of man had indeed proved to be a snare to him.—Jer. 52:9-11.
Truly, the case of Zedekiah forcefully illustrates the principle that the fear of man leads to a snare. What is the antidote for the fear of man? Exercising faith in Jehovah and fearing to displease him, for “in the fear of Jehovah there is strong confidence.” (Prov. 14:26) Also helping to counteract the fear of man is God’s holy spirit, for it is “not a spirit of cowardice, but that of power and of love and of soundness of mind.”—2 Tim. 1:7.