Life or Death? – Jeremiah 21:8-10

life-or-death“This is what the Lord says: Look, I am presenting to you the way of life and the way of death. Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine, and plague, but whoever goes out and surrenders to the Chaldeans who are besieging you will live and will retain his life like the spoils of war. For I have turned against this city to bring disaster and not good—this is the Lord’s declaration. It will be handed over to the king of Babylon, who will burn it down” (Jeremiah 21:8-10, HCSB).

King Zedekiah of Judah was depending on Pharaoh Hophra of Egypt to defeat Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Nevertheless, King Zedekiah sent one of his officials, Pashhur, and the priest, Zephaniah, to the prophet, Jeremiah, to ask him to foretell what the outcome of the Zedekiah’s rebellion against Babylon would be.

King Zedekiah was hopeful that the Lord would perform wonderful works for Judah as He had done in the days of Hezekiah (see 2 Kings 18-19) and Jehoshaphat (see 2 Chronicles 20).

The phrase, “the way of life and the way of death,” may be intended to call to mind Moses’s challenge to the Israelites when they renewed the covenant with God before entering the promised land: “I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, love the Lord your God, obey Him, and remain faithful to Him” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

But Jeremiah puts a different spin on it! Jeremiah’s challenge results in the opposite consequences from Moses’s challenge.

In Moses’s challenge to the Israelites, the choice for life was conquering the promised land in the name of the Lord. In Jeremiah’s challenge to the Israelites, the choice for life was surrendering the promised land.

In both cases their obedience to God would lead to keeping their lives. But, in the second case their obedience would lead to staying alive and it would also lead to the loss of all of God’s covenant promises to them regarding possession of the promised land.

What a choice! They would save their lives but lose everything they had worked so hard to possess–their land, their homes, their way of life!

Eventually, Nebuchadnezzer attacked Jerusalem and the Israelites refused to surrender, were defeated and led into exile.

I suppose it would be an exercise in futility to speculate what the outcome would be had the Israelites chosen the way of life (surrender). They were already so disobedient to God that it was difficult, if not impossible, for them to accept God’s will as Jeremiah had declared it to them.

But the point is that all of us, all human beings, are confronted with choosing the way of life (obedience to God) or the way of death (disobedience to God).

No matter the consequences of your choice, God would always have you choose the way of life, the way of obedience to Him. To His will!

When you choose the way of life, then you choose God’s will. And what really matters is not so much the consequences of your choice but your willingness to do God’s will.

After all, God’s will means God will!

“And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever.” (1 John 2:17, HCSB).

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