The Book of Jeremiah contains a fascinating example of just such a “bad person” and his good behavior, however. Jeremiah 52, the last chapter of the book, tells us how:
“… in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-fifth day of the month, Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah and brought him out of prison. And he spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king's table, and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, according to his daily needs, until the day of his death, as long as he lived” (Jeremiah 52:31-34).
To understand the significance of this story we must realize that the Babylonian king the Hebrew biblical text calls “Evil-merodach” was Amil-Marduk (Man of [the god] Marduk), the son and successor of Nebuchadnezzar. Amil-Marduk is mentioned in several ancient king lists, and some 30 Babylonian cuneiform tablets are dated to his reign between 562-560 B.C. His reign was also recorded by the Hellenistic Babylonian historian Berossus who used ancient Babylonian records and texts that have not survived to us to write his Babyloniaca or History of Babylonia. Berossus tells us that Amil-Marduk was a bad man who ruled in an “illegal and impure manner," and that he was eventually deposed and killed by his successor, Nergal-sharezer who was praised for his good deeds.
We do not know how much the description of Amil-Marduk that has survived to us is colored by political and other factors of the time, but the historical evidence we do have shows that he was not seen as a “good” person. Yet his kindness to the Judean king Jehoiachin is made clear by the Bible and reminds us of David’s kindness to Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan and grandson of King Saul (2 Samuel 9:1-13), whom David brought out of obscurity and restored his possessions, telling him “you shall eat at my table always” (2 Samuel 9:7, 13).
This act of great kindness that was recorded of David (of whom we might expect it) is nearly identical to that done toward Jehoiachin by Amil-Marduk (of whom we certainly might not expect it). Once again, we do not know all the circumstances – it is possible that Amil-Marduk was being influenced by God – yet the fact remains that he clearly performed a good deed in this case.
It’s a small story that might prompt us to ask if there are individuals in our lives of whom we don’t expect good deeds or behavior – people we distrust if they do something out of character as we know them. Sometimes we must remember that just as God says he will forget the bad things people have done if they turn and do good (Ezekiel 18:27), we should always be aware of the possibility of good coming from those of whom we might least expect it.