Jeremiah 52 – The Fall of Jerusalem and the Captivity of Judah
Several commentators believe this final chapter was not authored by Jeremiah, but perhaps by Baruch. It testifies to the truthfulness and integrity of Jeremiah’s long, faithful work as a prophet of God.
“It appears that the following chapter is not the work of this prophet: it is not his style. The author of it writes Jehoiachin; Jeremiah writes him always Jeconiah, or Coniah. It is merely historical, and is very similar to 2 Kings 24:18-25:30.” (Clarke)
“Nearly every verse of Jeremiah 52 is a fulfilled prophecy. In fact, reading the chapter is a good way to review the entire book of Jeremiah. The facts speak for themselves: Jeremiah spoke the true words of God.” (Ryken)
“In its present context the chapter seems to say: the divine word both has been fulfilled – and will be fulfilled!” (Bright, cited in Kidner)
“The Septuagint have set this title upon it: And it came to pass after that Israel was carried captive, and Jerusalem laid waste, the Prophet Jeremiah sat weeping, and wailing, and bitterly lamenting the case of his people. Thus they knit together this chapter and the ensuing Lamentations, which the Jews also are still said to read together in their synagogues on the ninth day of the month Ab, which answereth to our July, because that on that day the city was taken and destroyed by the Chaldeans. [Jeremiah 52:7].” (Trapp)
A. The siege and conquest of Jerusalem.
1. (1-3) The evil reign and rebellion of Zedekiah.
Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. He also did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that Jehoiakim had done. For because of the anger of the LORD this happened in Jerusalem and Judah, till He finally cast them out from His presence. Then Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.
a. Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king: 2 Kings 25:17 explains that Nebuchadnezzar set young Zedekiah on the throne of Judah as his puppet king after the rebellion of Jehoiachin.
i. 2 Kings 25:17 also says that Zedekiah’s name was originally Mattaniah, and that Nebuchadnezzar changed it to Zedekiah. The name Zedekiah means, The Lord is Righteous. The righteous judgment of God would soon be seen against Judah.
b. He also did evil in the sight of the LORD: 2 Chronicles 36:11-20 tells us more of the evil of Zedekiah, specifically that he did not listen to Jeremiah or other messengers of God. Instead, he mocked and disregarded the message.
i. “Zedekiah’s evil (v. 19) is fully explained in 2 Chronicles 36:12-14. (i) He was not willing to listen to God’s word through Jeremiah; (ii) he broke an oath made in Yahweh’s name as a vassal of Babylon; (iii) he was unrepentant and failed to restrain leaders and priests from defiling the temple with the reintroduction of idolatrous practices.” (Wiseman)
c. He finally cast them out from His presence: God’s patience and longsuffering had finally run its course and He allowed – even prompted – the Babylonian conquest of the Kingdom of Judah.
i. “The absence of every expression of emotion is most striking. In one sentence the wrath of God is pointed to as the cause of all: and, for the rest, the tragic facts which wrung the writer’s heart are told in brief, passionless sentences.” (Maclaren)
ii. “The Book of Lamentations weeps and sobs with the grief of the devout Jew; but the historian smothers feeling while he tells of God’s righteous judgment.” (Maclaren)
d. Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon: Jeremiah tells us that there were many false prophets in those days who preached a message of victory and triumph to Zedekiah, and he believed them instead of Jeremiah and other godly prophets like him. Therefore, he rebelled against the king of Babylon.
i. For example, Jeremiah 32:1-5 tells us that Jeremiah clearly told Zedekiah that he would not succeed in his rebellion against Babylon. Zedekiah arrested Jeremiah and imprisoned him for this, but the prophet steadfastly stayed faithful to the message God gave him.
2. (4-6) The final siege of Jerusalem.
Now it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army came against Jerusalem and encamped against it; and they built a siege wall against it all around. So the city was besieged until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. By the fourth month, on the ninth day of the month, the famine had become so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land.
a. They built a siege wall against it all around: Nebuchadnezzar used the common method of attack in those days of securely walled cities – a siege wall. A siege was intended to surround a city, prevent all business and trade from entering or leaving the city, and to eventually starve the population into surrender.
i. “So crucial was this event that the OT records it four times – in 2 Kings 25; 2 Chronicles 36:11-21; Jeremiah 39:1-14; and in this passage.” (Feinberg)
b. The famine had become so severe in the city: This was the intended goal of a siege. This indicates that Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians were at the point of victory over Jerusalem.
i. “An eighteen months’ agony is condensed into three verses (Jeremiah 52:4-6).” (Maclaren)
3. (7-11) Zedekiah is captured and executed.
Then the city wall was broken through, and all the men of war fled and went out of the city at night by way of the gate between the two walls, which was by the king’s garden, even though the Chaldeans were near the city all around. And they went by way of the plain. But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king, and they overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho. All his army was scattered from him. So they took the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath, and he pronounced judgment on him. Then the king of Babylon killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes. And he killed all the princes of Judah in Riblah. He also put out the eyes of Zedekiah; and the king of Babylon bound him in bronze fetters, took him to Babylon, and put him in prison till the day of his death.
a. Then the city wall was broken through: At this desperate point for Judah at the siege of Jerusalem, Zedekiah made a last-chance effort to escape the grip of the nearly-completely successful siege. They planned a secret break through the city walls and the siege lines of the Babylonians, using a diversionary tactic.
b. The army of the Chaldeans pursued the king, and they overtook him in the plains of Jericho: This was a considerable distance from Jerusalem. Zedekiah probably thought that his strategy was successful, and that he had escaped the judgment that prophets such as Jeremiah had promised. Yet God’s word was demonstrated to be true and he was captured in the plains of Jericho.
i. “It seems ironic that here, at the very spot where Israel first set foot on the Promised Land, the last of the Davidic kings was captured and his monarchy shattered. Here, where Israel experienced her first victory as the walls of Jericho fell before unarmed men who trusted God, was the scene of her last defeat.” (Dilday)
c. Then they killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, put out the eyes of Zedekiah: The Babylonians were not known to be as cruel as the Assyrians who conquered the northern kingdom of Israel some 150 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 he 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 also spread My net over him, and he shall be caught in My snare. 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. “With his eyes put out, and bound in fetters, he was carried to the court of the conqueror, the symbol of the people who had rebelled against God, and had been broken in pieces.” (Morgan)
iii. “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)
iv. “Josephus (Antiquities x.8.8) says Nebuchadnezzar ‘kept Zedekiah in prison until he died; and then buried him magnificently.’ This agrees with Jeremiah 34:5.” (Knapp)
4. (12-14) The destruction of Jerusalem.
Now in the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month (which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon), Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, who served the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He burned the house of the LORD and the king’s house; all the houses of Jerusalem, that is, all the houses of the great, he burned with fire. And all the army of the Chaldeans who were with the captain of the guard broke down all the walls of Jerusalem all around.
a. He burned the house of the LORD: Solomon’s great temple was now a ruin. It would stay a ruin for many years, until it was humbly rebuilt by the returning exiles in the days of Ezra.
i. On the tenth day: “For the tenth day (Jeremiah 52:12), 2 Kings 25:8 has seventh day, the difference perhaps embracing the interval between the arrival of Nebuzaradan and the beginning of the destruction.” (Harrison)
ii. “The Talmud declares that when the Babylonians entered the temple, they held a two-day feast there to desecrate it; then, on the third day, they set fire to the building. The Talmud adds that the fire burned throughout that day and the next.” (Dilday)
iii. The nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar: “The apparent contradiction between verses 12 and 29 is readily explained; in the former the accession year of Nebuchadnezzar has been included, in the later it has not.” (Cundall)
b. Broke down the walls of Jerusalem all around: The walls of Jerusalem – the physical security of the city – were now destroyed. Jerusalem was no longer a place of safety and security. The walls would remain a ruin until they were rebuilt by the returning exiles in the days of Nehemiah.
i. On Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard: “That title in Hebrew is literally, ‘the chief executioner’ or ‘the slaughterer.’ Methodically, he set about to demolish the beautiful city, burning the palace and the chief buildings, breaking down the walls, and wrecking the temple.” (Dilday)
B. Judah and Jerusalem under the Babylonians.
1. (15-23) The captives, those left in the land, and the plunder.
Then Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive some of the poor people, the rest of the people who remained in the city, the defectors who had deserted to the king of Babylon, and the rest of the craftsmen. But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left some of the poor of the land as vinedressers and farmers. The bronze pillars that were in the house of the LORD, and the carts and the bronze Sea that were in the house of the LORD, the Chaldeans broke in pieces, and carried all their bronze to Babylon. They also took away the pots, the shovels, the trimmers, the bowls, the spoons, and all the bronze utensils with which the priests ministered. The basins, the firepans, the bowls, the pots, the lampstands, the spoons, and the cups, whatever was solid gold and whatever was solid silver, the captain of the guard took away. The two pillars, one Sea, the twelve bronze bulls which were under it, and the carts, which King Solomon had made for the house of the LORD—the bronze of all these articles was beyond measure. Now concerning the pillars: the height of one pillar was eighteen cubits, a measuring line of twelve cubits could measure its circumference, and its thickness was four fingers; it was hollow. A capital of bronze was on it; and the height of one capital was five cubits, with a network and pomegranates all around the capital, all of bronze. The second pillar, with pomegranates was the same. There were ninety-six pomegranates on the sides; all the pomegranates, all around on the network, were one hundred.
a. Carried away captive the rest of the people who remained in the city: This was the third major wave of captivity taking the remaining people, all except for the poor of the land.
b. And carried their bronze to Babylon…. the things of solid gold and solid silver, the captain of the guard took away: As the remaining people were taken captive to Babylon, so also the remaining valuables from the temple were taken. Jerusalem was left desolate, completely plundered under the judgment of God.
i. Jeremiah 52:17-23 is a detailed inventory of all that the Babylonians looted from the temple. “The material in Jeremiah 52 is thus merely a summary, and it is not surprising that it is not always possible to match this account with that in 1 Kings 7. The aim was not to give a detailed technical account but rather to stress two facts, first, that there was a very considerable amount of bronze, and second, that the pillars were very beautiful, which made their destruction all the more tragic.” (Thompson)
2. (24-27) The authority of Nebuchadnezzar over Jerusalem and Judah.
The captain of the guard took Seraiah the chief priest, Zephaniah the second priest, and the three doorkeepers. He also took out of the city an officer who had charge of the men of war, seven men of the king’s close associates who were found in the city, the principal scribe of the army who mustered the people of the land, and sixty men of the people of the land who were found in the midst of the city. And Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took these and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. Then the king of Babylon struck them and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath. Thus Judah was carried away captive from its own land.
a. The king of Babylon struck them and put them to death: These last leaders of Jerusalem and Judah were also captured and put to death. The king of Babylon had what seemed to be complete rule over the former Kingdom of Judah.
i. Struck them: “The root nkh is difficult to translate. The Hiphil is often translated ‘smite,’ but it can mean ‘wound, hurt, torture, flog,’ etc.” (Thompson)
b. Thus Judah was carried away captive from its own land: This was the land God gave to His people, the tribes of Israel. They had possessed this land for some 860 years; they took it by faith and obedience, but they lost it through idolatry and sin.
i. “The reader cannot help but be struck by the passionless tone of the narrative in this chapter. Not once does the author show his feelings, even though he is describing the tragic downfall of his country. We have to turn to the Book of Lamentations for weeping and groaning.” (Dilday)
3. (28-30) The register of the final phase of exile.
These are the people whom Nebuchadnezzar carried away captive: in the seventh year, three thousand and twenty-three Jews; in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar he carried away captive from Jerusalem eight hundred and thirty-two persons; in the twenty-third year of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive of the Jews seven hundred and forty-five persons. All the persons were four thousand six hundred.
a. These are the people whom Nebuchadnezzar carried away captive: This described part of the final exile and forced depopulation of the land. The conquest and exile of Judah came in waves, of which this was the last.
b. All the persons were four thousand six hundred: This relatively small number is normally understood as referring to a portion of the exiles, and only the adult males of that portion.
i. “If only Jews are numbered or only males reckoned in Jeremiah 52:28-30, the ultimate total of exiles was doubtless much higher.” (Feinberg)
ii. “The figures given here vary from those in 2 Kings 24:14, 16. 3,023 may be the actual head count of the deported adult males, while the Kings’ figures may comprise the total number of deportees.” (Harrison)
4. (31-34) A small ray of hope seen in Jehoiachin improved situation in Babylon.
Now it came to pass in the thirty-seventh year of the captivity of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-fifth day of the month, that Evil-Merodach king of Babylon, in the first year of his reign, lifted up the head of Jehoiachin king of Judah and brought him out of prison. And he spoke kindly to him and gave him a more prominent seat than those of the kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin changed from his prison garments, and he ate bread regularly before the king all the days of his life. And as for his provisions, there was a regular ration given him by the king of Babylon, a portion for each day until the day of his death, all the days of his life.
a. In the thirty-seventh year of the captivity of Jehoiachin king of Judah: This King Jehoiachin was not the last king of Judah; Zedekiah came after him. But he was taken away to Babylon in bronze fetters (2 Kings 24:10-12). This happened when Jehoiachin had been a captive for many years.
i. “Thirty-seven years in prison! And so long a sentence for a reign of three months.” (Kidner)
b. Spoke kindly to him, and gave him a more prominent seat: This describes small kindness and blessings given in the worst circumstances. Judah was still depopulated; the people of God were still exiled; and the King of Judah was still a prisoner in Babylon. Yet, looking for even small notes of grace and mercy as evidences of the returning favor of God, the divine historian noted that King Jehoiachin began to receive better treatment in Babylon.
i. Lifted up the head of Jehoiachin king of Judah: “This phrase is taken from Genesis 40:13. It is founded on the observation that those who are in sorrow hold down their heads, and when they are comforted, or the cause of their sorrow removed, they lift up their heads. The Hebrew phrase, lift up the head, signifies to comfort, cheer, make happy.” (Clarke)
ii. “Tablets recovered from the ruined Ishtar Gate in Babylon confirm that Jehoiachin was a recipient of the king’s bounty.” (Harrison)
iii. “The fact that Jehoiachin lived on long after the exile and that he was finally released from prison may have seemed like the first signs of the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s promise of a day of restoration.” (Thompson)
iv. This was small, but evidence nonetheless that God was not done blessing and restoring His people, foreshadowing even greater blessing and restoration to come. “God has finally brought the promised punishment upon His apostate and idolatrous people, and the chastening discipline of exile has begun. Despite this dreadful calamity there lingers the hope that God will restore His people, bringing a faithful remnant back to repopulate the homeland.” (Harrison)
v. “No hosts encamped against the people of God can gain any advantage over them, so long as they remain loyal in heart and mind and will to their One King. But when they are disloyal, and persist in disloyalty, then no force can save them from the opposing hosts.” (Morgan)
vi. “If the King of Babylon did this for a captive king, his prisoner, will your heavenly Father do less for you?” (Meyer)
Cundall gives a good postscript to Jeremiah: “Jeremiah may have failed in his strenuous efforts to turn his people back to the Lord, but in his conception of true religion as a vital, inward relationship with the living God (e.g. Jeremiah 9:24) he was to set the necessary standard, not only for the immediate future, but for all time.”