Jeremiah prophesied to King Zedekiah that if the people of Judah surrendered to Babylon, they would not be destroyed. Previous to this, Jeremiah’s prophecies of the captivity of Judah were read to King Jehoiakim, who cut them up and burned them. Jeremiah had these prophecies written down again and added to them. Both Jehoiakim and Zedekiah refused to hearken to Jeremiah, and Judah was conquered.
Ask students to think of a time when someone told them something that they needed to hear but did not want to hear.
What are some ways people might respond in this type of situation?
What if a prophet were to teach something you did not necessarily want to hear? What should you do?
Explain that in Jeremiah 34–41 we read that a prophet told the Jews things they needed but did not want to hear. Invite students to look as they study these chapters for how the Jews responded to the prophet and what we can learn from their actions.
Summarize Jeremiah 34–36 by explaining that chapter 34 records that Zedekiah, the king of Judah, and his people broke a covenant they had made to free all their servants, as they had been commanded in the law of Moses (see Deuteronomy 15:12). As a result, the Lord told Jeremiah that the people and their king would be put into bondage. Jeremiah 35–36 refers back to experiences Jeremiah had during the reign of Jehoiakim, who was king before Zedekiah.
Invite a student to read Jeremiah 36:1–3 aloud. Ask students to follow along and look for what the Lord told Jeremiah to do in the days of Jehoiakim.
What did the Lord command Jeremiah to write in this book?
According to verse 3, why did the Lord want Judah to hear His words?
Invite students to write down on a piece of paper what the current weather is. After they have written this down, pass around a garbage can and invite them to tear up the piece of paper and throw it away.
What effect will throwing the piece of paper away have on the weather conditions? (Ensure that students understand that this action will have no effect on the weather.)
Explain that in Jeremiah 36:4–19 we read that Jeremiah instructed his scribe, Baruch, to write down the words of the Lord as Jeremiah dictated them and then to go to the temple and read the words to the people. Baruch did so, and news of the reading reached several princes of Judah at the royal palace. They sent for Baruch and had him read Jeremiah’s prophecies to them. When they heard these prophecies, they became afraid and informed King Jehoiakim about them. The king had the scroll brought and read to him. Invite a student to read Jeremiah 36:22–23 aloud. Ask students to follow along and look for how the king reacted. Invite students to report what they find.
What might the king have been trying to show by cutting up and burning Jeremiah’s prophecies?
What effect would doing this have had on the fulfillment of the prophecies?
Explain that after the king burned Jeremiah’s prophecies, he ordered that Jeremiah and Baruch be arrested, but the Lord helped them avoid capture. Invite a student to read Jeremiah 36:27–28, 32 aloud. Ask the class to look for what the Lord then commanded Jeremiah and Baruch to do.
What did the Lord command Jeremiah and Baruch to do?
Explain that the Lord also told Jeremiah to prophesy to King Jehoiakim that Babylon would attack Jerusalem and that the king’s dead body would be cast out of the city (see Jeremiah 22:18–19; 36:30). Following Jehoiakim’s death, the Babylonians eventually made Zedekiah king of Judah.
What can we learn about the Lord’s words from this account? (Students may use different words, but make sure they identify a truth similar to the following: The Lord’s words will be fulfilled regardless of whether we believe in them.)
Consider inviting a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 1:37–38 aloud and then asking students to look for what the Lord teaches us about His words being fulfilled.
Ask students the following questions:
Why do people sometimes choose to do things that are contrary to what God wants them to do?
What are some ways that fear might influence some people to go against what they know is right?
Invite students to look for how fear influenced King Zedekiah’s decisions and what the consequences were.
Help students understand the context and content of Jeremiah 37–38 by explaining that the Babylonian army again besieged Jerusalem but temporarily withdrew because of an approaching Egyptian army. Many Jews therefore wanted King Zedekiah to make an alliance with the Egyptians and rely on the Egyptian army to deliver them from the Babylonians. However, Jeremiah prophesied that the Egyptians would not save the Jews. Later, he was accused of deserting to the Babylonians and was thrown into a dungeon. Zedekiah had him removed and put in the palace prison. Jeremiah prophesied that if the Jews surrendered to the Babylonians, they would not be destroyed. This prophecy angered the Jewish princes.
Invite a student to read Jeremiah 38:4 aloud. Ask students to follow along and look for what the Jewish princes wanted to do with Jeremiah and why.
What did these princes want King Zedekiah to do with Jeremiah?
According to this verse, why did they want Jeremiah put to death? (They thought he was influencing Jerusalem’s soldiers to not fight against the Babylonians.)
Invite students to read Jeremiah 38:5–6 silently and look for what the princes did to Jeremiah instead. Ask students to report what they find.
Summarize Jeremiah 38:7–16 by explaining that Zedekiah secretly had some of his men remove Jeremiah from the mire pit and put him back in the palace prison. Zedekiah then sought counsel from Jeremiah in secret. After the king promised not to kill him, Jeremiah spoke the word of the Lord.
Write the following words on the board:
Invite students to read Jeremiah 38:17–20 and look for two sets of “if–then” statements. Explain that the phrase “if thou wilt assuredly go forth unto the king of Babylon’s princes” (verse 17) refers to Zedekiah and the Jews submitting to the Babylonians rather than fighting against them.
What would the result be if Zedekiah hearkened to Jeremiah’s words? What would the result be if he didn’t? (As students share their answers, complete the “if–then” statements on the board using their words.)
What lesson can we learn from these verses? (Students may identify a variety of principles, but make sure it is clear that if we obey the word of the Lord given through His servants, we will prosper spiritually.)
To help students understand how obeying the prophet’s words can help us prosper, invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Invite students to listen for the blessings that come from following the prophet:
“It is no small thing, my brothers and sisters, to have a prophet of God in our midst. … When we hear the counsel of the Lord expressed through the words of the President of the Church, our response should be positive and prompt. History has shown that there is safety, peace, prosperity, and happiness in responding to prophetic counsel” (“His Word Ye Shall Receive,” Ensign, May 2001, 65).
What are some blessings that come from following the prophet?
Invite a student to reread Jeremiah 38:19 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for how King Zedekiah responded to Jeremiah.
What was Zedekiah afraid of? (Being mocked or hurt by Jews who had joined or been captured by the Babylonians.)
Summarize Jeremiah 38:21–28 by explaining that Jeremiah again told King Zedekiah what would happen if he chose not to hearken to the word of the Lord that Jeremiah had given him. Explain that Zedekiah chose not to hearken to the Lord’s prophet and hearkened instead to those who wanted to rebel against the Babylonians. Invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from Jeremiah 39:1–7. Ask the class to follow along and look for what happened to Zedekiah and the people of Judah.
What were the consequences of Zedekiah’s decision?
What principle can we learn from this account? (Students may use different words, but make sure they identify the following principle: If we give in to fear and follow the world instead of the Lord’s prophet, we will perish spiritually. Write this principle on the board.)
In what ways will we perish if we follow the ways of the world rather than the Lord’s prophet?
How do you think fear can prevent someone from following the Lord’s prophet today?
What has helped you choose to follow the prophet even when others are pressuring you to do something else?
Ask students if they remember any counsel or warnings extended by the prophet in the most recent general conference. (You should come prepared to share several examples if needed.) List them on the board. Invite students to choose an item of counsel or warning listed on the board and write a goal that will help them obey it.
You may also want to explain that we know from the Book of Mormon that one of King Zedekiah’s sons escaped being killed. Mulek was a son of Zedekiah, and he escaped and was led to the Americas. His people, called the Mulekites, eventually became the people of Zarahemla. They were later joined by the Nephites led by Mosiah (see Helaman 6:10; 8:21; see also Omni 1:12–19).
Summarize Jeremiah 40–41 by explaining that after King Zedekiah and the majority of the Jews were carried away into Babylon, the king of Babylon appointed a governor over those who remained in the land of Judah. The Babylonians also freed Jeremiah from prison, and he continued to reveal the word of the Lord to the Jews who still remained. After a group of Jews killed Gedaliah, the governor appointed by the Babylonians, the remnant of the Jews feared reprisals from Babylon and contemplated moving to Egypt.
Consider concluding the lesson by inviting students to act on the thoughts and impressions that came to them throughout the lesson.