“Yet hear the word of the LORD, O Zedekiah, king of Judah! Thus says the LORD concerning you, ‘You will not die by the sword. You will die in peace, . . . Jeremiah 34:4-5a NASB
In peace – This seems like an inconsequential verse. Perhaps not inconsequential for Zedekiah, but certainly nothing more than Jeremiah’s prophecy about Zedekiah’s death. God assures Zedekiah that in spite of the coming destruction of the kingdom, he will not die “by the sword.” He will die beshalom.
There’s only one small problem. Zedekiah didn’t die beshalom. We know the history from the Bible itself. Zedekiah was captured and taken before the king of Babylon. His sons were slaughtered before his eyes. Then his eyes were plucked out, he was bound and put into prison where he finally died (Jeremiah 52:10-11). This is hardly peaceful. So what can we say? Was Jeremiah’s prophecy untrue? Does the book of Jeremiah contain an internal contradiction? Biblical history doesn’t match this biblical prophecy. Have we encountered an historical error in the text?
There are plenty of people who deny the claims of Scripture because they disagree with the Bible’s theological perspective. One example might be the continual objection that no real God would command extermination of entire populations including women and children. Objections like these tend to turn on the differences between an ancient Near Eastern worldview and our contemporary Western ideas. But that isn’t the case when it comes to Zedekiah. Either God’s prophetic word about Zedekiah’s death is true or it is mistaken. And if it is mistaken, as history demonstrates, then how can we trust anything else prophecy might claim about events that have not yet occurred? This little verse becomes a very big problem.
Before we attempt some sort of reconciliation, we need to ask why this is a problem in the first place. The answer revolves around a doctrine called inerrancy. Millard Erickson defines inerrancy as the belief that “the Bible is fully truthful in all of its teachings.”
Erickson goes on to say, “Indeed, whether the Bible is fully truthful is a matter which is of importance theologically, historically, and epistemologically.” According to Erickson’s view (which represents most conservative Christian thinkers), the Bible must be inerrant if it is to be authoritative. This is based on the prior doctrines. As Erickson summarizes:
1. If God is omniscient and if God knows all things, then “He cannot be ignorant of or in error on any matter.
2. Further, if he is omnipotent, he is able to so affect the biblical author’s writing that nothing erroneous enters into the final product.
3. God desires to communicate in a way which will not mislead men.
4. Thus, our view of inspiration logically entails the inerrancy of the Bible. Inerrancy is a corollary of the doctrine of full inspiration.
In other words, those who follow doctrinal statements like Erickson argue that the Bible is completely dependable in what it claims and teaches. But Erickson adds one important caveat. “It is obvious that belief in the inerrancy of the Scriptures is not an inductive conclusion arrived at as a result of examining all the passages of the Bible. . . . Nor is the doctrine of biblical inerrancy explicitly affirmed or taught in the Bible. Rather, it is a corollary of the doctrine of full inspiration of the Bible.”
Carefully consider what Erickson just said. Essentially Erickson notes that inerrancy is a statement of faith, not a claim based on evidence. It is a statement of faith because it depends on a prior doctrine, full inspiration, which is also not the result of examining the evidence. In fact, Erickson concedes that Scripture neither asserts such a doctrine nor endorses such a doctrine. And that raises a very important question. If Scripture itself doesn’t explicitly teach inerrancy or explicitly endorse inerrancy, then where did the idea come from?
Perhaps, while you are roiling this question around, you might ask why we would require a doctrine of inerrancy. Is inerrancy really about our penchant for certainty? And is certainty a concomitant of faith or is it faith’s opposite?
“Accepting a tenet of faith is not difficult; the hard part is accepting the attendant consequences.”
Topical Index: in peace, beshalom, Jeremiah 34:4-5, Jeremiah 52:10-11, inerrancy
 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Baker Book House, 1985), p. 221.
 Ibid., p. 225.
 See Erickson’s chapter on Inerrancy
 Ibid., p. 229.
 Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity, p. 78.