Jeremiah 39 – The Fall of Jerusalem
A. The LORD judges King Zedekiah and Jerusalem.
1. (1-3) Jerusalem falls to the Babylonians.
In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army came against Jerusalem, and besieged it. In the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, on the ninth day of the month, the city was penetrated. Then all the princes of the king of Babylon came in and sat in the Middle Gate: Nergal-Sharezer, Samgar-Nebo, Sarsechim, Rabsaris, Nergal-Sarezer, Rabmag, with the rest of the princes of the king of Babylon.
a. Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army came against Jerusalem, and besieged it: Nebuchadnezzar used the common method of attack in those days of securely walled cities – a siege. A besieged city was surrounded, preventing all business and trade from entering or leaving the city, and eventually starving the population into surrender – or the defenses of the city gave way and the surrounding army poured into the weakened city.
i. The Book of Lamentations vividly describes some of the agony of Jerusalem under siege.
The tongue of the infant clings
To the roof of its mouth for thirst;
The young children ask for bread,
But no one breaks it for them.
Those who ate delicacies
Are desolate in the streets;
Those who were brought up in scarlet
Embrace ash heaps…
Those slain by the sword are better off
Than those who die of hunger;
For these pine away,
Stricken for lack of the fruits of the field.
The hands of the compassionate women
Have cooked their own children;
They became food for them
In the destruction of the daughter of my people.
The LORD has fulfilled His fury,
He has poured out His fierce anger.
He kindled a fire in Zion,
And it has devoured its foundations…
Still our eyes failed us,
Watching vainly for our help; In our watching we watched
For a nation that could not save us.
They tracked our steps
So that we could not walk in our streets.
Our end was near;
Our days were over,
For our end had come
(Lamentations 4:4-5, 9-11, 17-18).
b. The city was penetrated: It happened just as God said through His Prophet Jeremiah. The Egyptians did not rescue Judah and the LORD did not miraculously deliver them as He did with the Assyrians some 130 years before. The false prophets who promised deliverance and success were wrong, and Jeremiah was proved right.
i. “So the siege lasted for eighteen months, from 10 January 588 to 9 July 587, interrupted briefly by the respite recorded in Jeremiah 37:5ff.” (Kidner)
ii. “The battering ram took its last run at the walls. Darts from the enemy siege mounds arched into the midnight sky and struck their mark in flames. Famine had already claimed many lives inside the walls. Five Babylonian princes marched through the streets of Jerusalem, their faces illuminated by the flames of destruction.” (Josephus, cited in Ryken)
c. Then all the princes of the king of Babylon came in and sat in the Middle Gate: This showed their authority over the conquered city. It belonged to them. The names of the princes listed here is difficult; it isn’t easy to tell which is a name and which is a title in this list.
i. In a modern setting, this sitting in the gates of the city was similar to an enemy conquering Washington D.C. and then sitting in the Oval Office.
ii. Rabmag is literally, chief magi (according to Feinberg).
2. (4-5) The capture of King Zedekiah.
So it was, when Zedekiah the king of Judah and all the men of war saw them, that they fled and went out of the city by night, by way of the king’s garden, by the gate between the two walls. And he went out by way of the plain. But the Chaldean army pursued them and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho. And when they had captured him, they brought him up to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, to Riblah in the land of Hamath, where he pronounced judgment on him.
a. They fled and went out of the city by night: They did this not only to escape the Babylonians, but even more so in hope of escaping the promised judgment of God against them.
i. “Zedekiah, who has not dared to let God save him and his city and his family (Jeremiah 38:17-19), now deserts the people he has doomed.” (Kidner)
ii. “Probably there was a private passage under ground, leading without the walls, by which Zedekiah and his followers might escape unperceived, till they had got some way from the city.” (Clarke)
iii. Ezekiel 12:12 is a remarkable prophecy of this event: And the prince who is among them shall bear his belongings on his shoulder at twilight and go out. They shall dig through the wall to carry them out through it. He shall cover his face, so that he cannot see the ground with his eyes.
iv. “The king’s garden was located near the Pool of Siloam (cf. Nehemiah 3:15).” (Harrison)
b. The Chaldean army pursued them and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho: This was a good distance away from Jerusalem. They were not far from the Jordan River and perhaps safety when they were captured. Yet they were captured, and their near success only made their fate more bitter.
i. “Another hour would have seen him safe across the Jordan, but the prospect of escape was only dangled before his eyes to make capture more bitter.” (Maclaren)
ii. The Chaldeans captured Zedekiah, but even more so God captured him. “There is no escape from God possible. We must have to do with Him.” (Morgan)
iii. This fulfilled the prophecy of Ezekiel 12:13: I will also spread My net over him, and he shall be caught in My snare.
c. They brought him up to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon: Several times before Jeremiah prophesied that Zedekiah would meet the king, he rebelled against face to face (Jeremiah 32:4, 34:3). Now it was fulfilled.
i. Riblah: “An ancient Syrian town to the south of Kadesh on the river Orontes. It was situated at a strategic point where military highways between Egypt and Mesopotamia met.” (Thompson)
3. (6-10) The fate of Zedekiah, Jerusalem, and the people of Judah.
Then the king of Babylon killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes in Riblah; the king of Babylon also killed all the nobles of Judah. Moreover he put out Zedekiah’s eyes, and bound him with bronze fetters to carry him off to Babylon. And the Chaldeans burned the king’s house and the houses of the people with fire, and broke down the walls of Jerusalem. Then Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive to Babylon the remnant of the people who remained in the city and those who defected to him, with the rest of the people who remained. But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left in the land of Judah the poor people, who had nothing, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time.
a. The king of Babylon killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes: God had promised Zedekiah that if he refused to obey Him and surrender to the Babylonians, his wives and children would suffer (Jeremiah 38:23). Here the terrible promise was fulfilled.
b. The king of Babylon also killed all the nobles of Judah: The princes of Judah who rebelled against God and hated His Prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 38:4) were justly judged.
i. “The death of Zedekiah’s sons, and of the nobles who had scoffed at Jeremiah’s warnings, and the binding of Zedekiah, were all measures of precaution as well as of savagery. They diminished the danger of revolt; and a blind, childless prisoner, without counselors or friends, was harmless.” (Maclaren)
c. Moreover he put out Zedekiah’s eyes, and bound him with bronze fetters to carry him off to Babylon: The Babylonians were not known to be as cruel as the Assyrians who conquered the northern kingdom of Israel some 130 years earlier, but they were still experts in cruelty in their own right. They made certain that the last sight King Zedekiah saw was the murder of his own sons, and then spent the rest of his life in darkness.
i. This fulfilled the mysterious promise God made through Ezekiel regarding Zedekiah shortly before the fall of Jerusalem: I will bring him to Babylon, to the land of the Chaldeans; yet he shall not see it, though he shall die there. (Ezekiel 12:13)
ii. “The eyes of whose mind had been put out long before; else he might have foreseen and prevented this evil – as prevision is the best means of prevention – had he taken warning by what was foretold.” (Trapp)
iii. “But to make the sight of his slaughtered sons the poor wretch’s last sight, was a refinement of gratuitous delight in torturing.” (Maclaren)
iv. “Assyrian sculptures show how kings delighted to put out, often with their own hands, the eyes of captive rulers.” (Feinberg)
v. “He was to die blinded and in exile, as Ezekiel 12:13 predicted, but in peace and with the mourning rites proper to a king.” (Kidner)
d. The Chaldeans burned the king’s house and the houses of the people with fire, and broke down the walls of Jerusalem: Jerusalem was burned and destroyed, just as God promised Zedekiah, the king who was hardened in his disobedience (Jeremiah 38:23).
i. “The Fall of Jerusalem was so important that Scripture relates it four times – here, in Jeremiah 52, in 2 Kings 25, and in 2 Chronicles 36.” (Feinberg)
ii. “The city of Jerusalem has a long and blood-stained history, but possibly only the Roman destruction of AD 70 could have been more gruesome than this one in 587 BC” (Cundall)
iii. “Feeble hands can pull down venerable structures built in happier times. It takes a David and a Solomon to rear a temple, but a Zedekiah can overthrow it.” (Maclaren)
e. Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive to Babylon the remnant of the people who remained: All but the poorest of the land were taken as forced refugees and exiles to Babylon.
i. “Well might the victor think that Nebo had overcome Jehovah, but better did the vanquished know that Jehovah had kept his word.” (Maclaren)
ii. It all fulfilled the word of the LORD and vindicated the LORD’s prophet, Jeremiah. It happened just as God said.
· God said disaster would come from the north (Jeremiah 1;14, 4:6, 6:22, 13:20).
· God said a strange, foreign nation would attack (Jeremiah 5:15).
· God said Jerusalem would be surrounded and besieged (Jeremiah 4:17, 6:3, 6:6).
· God said there would be famine in the land (Jeremiah 14:1-6, 14:16-18, 18:21).
· God said the whole land would be laid waste (Jeremiah 25:11).
· God said nations and kingdoms would be torn down (Jeremiah 1:10).
· God said death would enter the city (Jeremiah 9:21, 15:7-9, 18:21).
· God said enemy kings would sit in the gates of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 1:15).
· God said the city would be burned (Jeremiah 21:10, 21:14, 32:29, 34:2, 34:22, 37:8, 38:18, 38:23).
· God said the people would be taken into exile (Jeremiah 10:17-18, 13:17-19, 15:14, 17:4).
B. The LORD cares for His servants.
1. (11-14) Jeremiah protected by the Babylonians.
Now Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon gave charge concerning Jeremiah to Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, saying, “Take him and look after him, and do him no harm; but do to him just as he says to you.” So Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard sent Nebushasban, Rabsaris, Nergal-Sharezer, Rabmag, and all the king of Babylon’s chief officers; then they sent someone to take Jeremiah from the court of the prison, and committed him to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, that he should take him home. So he dwelt among the people.
a. Take him and look after him, and do him no harm: Jeremiah had to wonder what would become of him when the Babylonians eventually conquered Jerusalem. God cared for His faithful servant, keeping him safe and in favor with Nebuchadnezzar and his captains.
i. “How Jeremiah was known to the Babylonian authorities is not made clear, though very likely it was through the Judean deserters.” (Thompson)
b. So he dwelt among the people: Now an old man, Jeremiah was released from prison, protected by the Babylonians, and allowed to live among the people once again. This was a demonstration of God’s grace, even in the larger context of judgment.
2. (15-18) God’s assuring promise to Ebed-Melech.
Meanwhile the word of the LORD had come to Jeremiah while he was shut up in the court of the prison, saying, “Go and speak to Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Behold, I will bring My words upon this city for adversity and not for good, and they shall be performed in that day before you. But I will deliver you in that day,” says the LORD, “and you shall not be given into the hand of the men of whom you are afraid. For I will surely deliver you, and you shall not fall by the sword; but your life shall be as a prize to you, because you have put your trust in Me,” says the LORD.’”
a. Go and speak to Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian: This was the man who rescued Jeremiah when the prophet was near death in the pit-like dungeon described in Jeremiah 38.
b. I will bring My words upon this city for adversity and not for good: God assured Ebed-Melech that the catastrophe upon Jerusalem was actually His will and would be completed.
c. But I will deliver you in that day: Though the destruction of Jerusalem was certain, so was the deliverance of the man who rescued the prophet of God and who put his trustin God. It took a lot of courage for Ebed-Melech to oppose the princes of Judah and to appeal the king’s decision (Jeremiah 38:7-13), but that risk and courage was rewarded.
i. This shows that you did not have to be a famous prophet to receive God’s grace in the midst of judgment. It was also extended to a Gentile man excluded from the temple who trusted God. This shows us that his compassionate acts were motivated by his trust in the LORD.
ii. Because you have put your trust in Me: Ebed-Melech could come and find refuge in the God of Israel through trust, through faith. “We can notice that it says nothing of the heroism, the compassion, or the resourcefulness of his rescue-operation, outstanding though these were: only of the faith in God that was the mainspring of them all.” (Kidner)
iii. “It is prophetic that on the eve of the fall of the nation, a heathen man should be entering into union with God.” (Maclaren)
iv. “One man, besides Jeremiah, had his confidence in the right place. Was he one of the despised prophet’s few ‘converts’?” (Cundall)
v. I will surely deliver you: “Hebrew, Delivering, deliver thee. It would be a great stay of mind, if God should say the same to us in particular and by name, as he doth here to this Ethiopian. And yet he saith no less to us in the precious promises, which we are by faith to appropriate.” (Trapp)