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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

When facing an impossible decision

Our prime minister with his government face the most appallingly difficult decision for decades – when and how to end the national lockdown. Lives or livelihoods? It’s an impossible choice. To avoid economic catastrophe you can ease the lockdown but then you risk a second wave of the disease greater than the first as was the case for the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. Get it wrong either way and we face disaster, the whole nation. Even the experts do not agree (they rarely do). Is it the Oxford model or the Imperial College? Both have very different forecasts. It doesn’t help to know that these two distinguished science departments have history – some 20 years ago Imperial poached 80 scientists from Oxford. And not just our own government but leaders throughout the world. Angela Merkel, for example, cautions her fellow Germans against lifting lockdown too quickly saying infections could spike. I've just been reading of a leader caught up in an impossible situation, facing devastation either way: King Zedekiah of Judah. Fortunately for him (although it did not seem so at the time) God sent someone to show him the way forward, the prophet Jeremiah, who had been giving God's counsel for some 40 tumultuous years but for 40 years had been ignored. First some background for those of you not totally familiar with the power politics of the Near East around the turn of the sixth century BC. Babylon is on the rise, aiming to take over from Assyria as number one world power. Naturally Egypt, another strong player, is keeping a close eye on the situation. Judah, led by King Josiah, is caught in the middle. Essentially, as we will see, the big decision for Josiah is who to back, a key decision to be fumbled by each of his four successors in turn Sadly Josiah gets it wrong. He goes for the Babylonians with the result that he is taken on by the Egyptians who defeat him in 608 BC at the battle of Megiddo (which much later is named Armageddon) where he loses his life. He is replaced as king by his younger son Jehoahaz. Jehoahaz doesn't last long. Just three months later he is deposed by the Egyptians and replaced with his older brother, Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim doesn’t do much better. Just three years later the Babylonians, having seen off the Assyrians, defeat the Egyptians and begin to besiege Jerusalem. At this point Jehoiakim promptly changes sides and starts paying tribute to the Babylonians, trading in some of his family as hostages. But soon after, when the Babylonian invasion of Egypt fails, Jehoiakim changes sides yet again, Not a clever move because in 599BC the Babylonians, now under Nebuchadnezzar II, are back and besiege Jerusalem again. During this three month siege Jehoiakim dies and he is succeeded by his son Jeconiah, who is confusingly also known as Jehoiachin. Generations of Bible readers have since struggled to distinguish Jehoiakim from his son Jehoiachin. Nebuchadnezzar, on securing victory, deposes Jeconiah in favour of his uncle whose name thankfully does not begin with a J. Enter Zedekiah, at the tender age of 21. Zedekiah finds himself in an appallingly difficult situation as his kingdom is steadily bled white by the Babylonians. Surely Judah can rely on God’s promise to keep his side of the covenant with his people? For the record Jeremiah has been warning his people not to presume on God’s protection – the covenant is two-way and they need to honour their side. The king is under immense pressure to throw off the Babylonian yoke and after some ten years Zedekiah revolts against the Babylonians and despite the warnings from Jeremiah he seeks the support of the Egyptians. Cue another Babylonian siege of Jerusalem And here is the setting for this morning’s BRF Guidelines Bible reading, Jeremiah 38. Zedekiah is facing an appallingly difficult choice, to surrender or stand firm. So in secret he summons the prophet Jeremiah, just rescued from a deep cistern where he had been left to die for his supposed sympathies with the Babylonians. The king confides: “I am afraid of the Jews who have gone over to the Babylonians, for the Babylonians may hand me over to them and they will mistreat me.” (Jeremiah 38:19). You get the impression that like Czar Nicholas II he is like a leather pillow in that he bears the impression of the last person to sit on him. However, he can’t simply let events take their course: he has to get a grip and make a decision. It can be very lonely on the throne. Jeremiah’s counsel is clear. ‘If you surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, your life will be spared and this city will not be burned down; you and your family will live.” (Jeremiah 38:17). The alternative, he warns, is complete catastrophe – which is what happened. You get the impression that Zedekiah knows this is the right course but lacks the political courage. He simply pleads with Jeremiah to keep their conversation secret. He is more concerned for his reputation than the final outcome, not the best qualification for inspired leadership. So we pray for our prime ministers and all other world leaders who find themselves in a no-win situation. We pray for wise counsel and in the words of the Prayer Book, right judgement in all things. #wisdom #leadership

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