Learning from a Leadership Failure (Jeremiah 38:17-19)

Jeremiah 38:17-19


17 Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: If you will surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then your life shall be spared, and this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live. 18 But if you do not surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then this city shall be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hand.” 19 King Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “I am afraid of the Judeans who have deserted to the Chaldeans, lest I be handed over to them and they deal cruelly with me.”


            Here is a classic leadership dilemma. The king clearly has instructions given to him by God. At the same time, the king has every reason to expect that the people he rules will oppose his orders. What will he do?


            If you know the history of this nation, you know that this king will not prevent the city from being burned with fire. Thus, you already know what the king did. He feared the people more than the word of God. He sought security in public opinion more so than in the revelation of the Lord.


            I do not point this out to be cruel to King Zedekiah. Truly the position he was in was hard. And, were any of us in the same spot, I think we would be tempted too. It is so easy just to try to please everyone around you. It is easy to ignore the right for the sake of sparing conflict. “After all,” we rationalize, ”we are really trying to do what is good for the people as a whole.” WE do that while knowing that our goal is to save our own skin and to not lose the people in the process.


            But there is a greater lesson for all of us. Whether your spine is made of iron or is undetectable, there is still this truth: God has spoken. If God has spoken, then obedience to his word and his ways is the only option. Anything less, any compromise, is something that is terribly sad. It will not lead to good.


            Let me be honest. I know what it is like to fail to do what God says because of fear of man. I think we all do. I’m not claiming to be better than King Zedekiah. But I think we should learn from him. We should pray, asking God to fortify our character. We should plead with him to give us the inner strength to stand on his principles, regardless of the direction that our friends or our society would take us.


            Also, this passage and the failure of King Zedekiah reminds me of our great need for the gospel. None of us stands perfectly with the Lord. We all fail. We fail to do what is commanded. We fail to not do what is forbidden. We need grace. WE cannot stand before God without being covered by the mercy of Christ.