THE BOOK OF JEREMIAH
Part I: Oracles Against Judah and Jerusalem
(The Last Oracles and the Fall of Jerusalem)
The Sufferings of Jeremiah and the Babylonians Conquer Jerusalem
You are the Hope of the hopeless and the Help of the helpless. You are the Savior of those caught in the storms of life, and You are both the Haven and Divine Physician of those who suffer from physical and mental distress. In the challenges that we face in life, help us to remember that You raised up Lazarus from the dead and saw to the care of Your Mother from the cruelty of the Cross. No problem we face is too big for You to guide us through the battles that sin and evil inflict upon us. For those who die in the midst of their sufferings, grant them Your mercy in the remission of their sins, and call us all to be wise servants who follow in Your footsteps on our journey to eternal salvation. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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But for the king himself ... that he might not be engaged in a quarrel with those rulers at such a time by opposing what they intended, he let them do with the prophet whatsoever they would: whereupon, when the king had granted them such a permission, they presently came into the prison and took him, and let him down with a cord into a pit full of mire, that he might be suffocated, and die of himself. So he stood up to the neck in mire, which was all about him, and so continued.
Flavius Josephus writing about King Zedekiah's weakness of character and Jeremiah's suffering, Antiquities of the Jews, 10.5.120-121
Chapter 37: The Princes and Chief Men Imprison Jeremiah
Chapter 37 takes place in 588 BC, when Pharaoh Hophra (ruled from 589 to 569) sent an Egyptian army to come to Zedekiah's aid against the Babylonians. Nebuchadnezzar temporarily lifted the first siege of Jerusalem to take his army to meet the advancing Egyptian threat. In this chapter, Zedekiah receives two short oracles confirming the return of the Babylonian army and the destruction of Jerusalem:
Jeremiah 37:1-5 ~ Zedekiah Consults Jeremiah
1 Zedekiah son of Josiah became king, succeeding Coniah son of Jehoiakim. Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had made him king of Judah. 2 But neither he nor his courtiers nor the people of the country paid any attention to the words Yahweh spoke through the prophet Jeremiah. 3 King Zedekiah sent Jehucal son of Shelemiah and the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah to the prophet Jeremiah with this message, Intercede for us with Yahweh our God." 4 Now Jeremiah was still moving freely among the people: he had not yet been put in prison. 5 Meanwhile Pharaoh's army was on the move from Egypt and the Chaldaeans besieging Jerusalem had raised the siege when they heard the news.
The Babylonians besieged Jerusalem and deposed King Jehoiakim for treason in 598 BC. They also deposed his eighteen year old son, Jehoiachin (Coniah), and made Zedekiah king of Judah in his place (2 Kng 24:1-18). However, like his predecessors, Zedekiah did not believe the oracles of Yahweh through His prophet Jeremiah. This passage took place in 588 BC when the Babylonians temporarily broke off the siege of Jerusalem to deal with the Egyptian threat.
3 King Zedekiah sent
Jehucal son of Shelemiah and the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah ...(1)
King Zedekiah sent representatives composed of a royal official and a chief priest to Jeremiah to make a request for an oracle. An army send by the Pharaoh of Egypt caused the Babylonians to withdraw from the siege of Jerusalem (see verse 5), and the king wanted divine intercession to end the siege for good. Therefore, he sent emissaries to get a favorable word from Yahweh.
Zedekiah sent an earlier embassy to Jeremiah (21:2) for the same reason, but the word that came back then was unfavorable. He also received an unfavorable oracle from Jeremiah during the siege in 34:1-7. Zedekiah may be testing Jeremiah. The earlier request was made in the hope of securing a withdrawal of the Babylonians, and while Yahweh's answer promised nothing like that, the Babylonians have now withdrawn, and the king might think his earlier instinct was right and Jeremiah's oracle was wrong. On the other hand, the king may be desperate and fearful after Jeremiah's oracle that the failure to keep the oath to release the Hebrew slaves would mean the return of the Babylonians.
King Zedekiah urged Jeremiah to speak to Yahweh, saying, Intercede
for us with Yahweh our God.
Question: Zedekiah expresses belief in Yahweh, calling Him "our God," but what is his problem in his relationship with God?
Answer: The king doesn't want the truth of Yahweh's divine plan; he wants Yahweh to conform His oracles to Zedekiah's needs and desires.
There are many professing Christians who behave in the same way, rejecting the teachings of Mother Church because they do not conform to their views and the views of modern society. They want the Church to conform to them instead of submitting in obedience to the teachings of Christ through His Church.
5 Meanwhile Pharaoh's
army was on the move from Egypt and the Chaldaeans besieging Jerusalem had
raised the siege when they heard the news.
The pharaoh at this time was the ambitious but incompetent Hophra (also known as Apries; see 44:30) who ascended the throne in 589 BC. At the beginning of Hophra's reign, Zedekiah sent an embassy to Egypt to solicit military aid because he decided to break his treaty with the Babylonians. The priest/prophet Ezekiel, living with the other captives in Babylon, worried about Zedekiah's rebellion against the Babylonians, writing: But the prince rebelled against him and sent envoys to Egypt to procure himself horses and a large number of troops. Will he succeed? Will a man who has done this go unpunished? Can he break a treaty and go unpunished? (Ez 17:15). The Lachish Letters, dating from this period, confirm this event in Letter #3.
Jeremiah 37:6-10 ~ Yahweh's Reply to King Zedekiah
6 Then the word of Yahweh came to the prophet Jeremiah as follows, 7 "Yahweh, God of Israel, says this, To the king of Judah who sent you to consult me make this reply: Is Pharaoh's army marching to your aid? It will withdraw [return] to its own country, Egypt. 8 The Chaldaeans will return to attack this city, they will capture it and burn it down. 9 Yahweh says this: Do not cheer yourselves up by thinking: The Chaldaeans are leaving us for good. They are not leaving. 10 Even if you cut to pieces the whole Chaldaean army now fighting against you until there were only the wounded left, they would stand up again, each man in his tent, to burn the city down.'"
[...] = IBHE, vol. IV, page 1838.
The prophet Ezekiel made the same prophecy about the Egyptians in Ezekiel 17:15-17, which is later supplemented by oracles in Ezekiel 29:1-12; 30:20-26; and 31:1-18. The Egyptians are a weak and worthless ally, a fact that Jeremiah expressed in 2:18-19, 36. It is also a warning given a century earlier by Isaiah in 30:1-7, and the same warning is later remembered in Lamentations 4:17. The prophecy of the Babylonian army's return to the city was already made in 34:21-22.
7 "Yahweh, God of Israel, says this, To the king of Judah who sent you to consult me make this reply: Is Pharaoh's army marching to your aid? It will withdraw [return] to its own country, Egypt. 8 The Chaldaeans will return to attack this city, they will capture it and burn it down.
The message Jeremiah delivers in Oracle #1 in verse 7 is in two parts:
Notice that there is a play on the Hebrew word "return" in verses 7-8. The Pharaoh's army will "return" to Egypt while the Babylonians "return" to Jerusalem.
9 Yahweh says this: Do
not cheer yourselves up by thinking: The Chaldaeans are leaving us for good.
They are not leaving. 10 Even
if you cut to pieces the whole Chaldaean army now fighting against you until
there were only the wounded left, they would stand up again, each man in his
tent, to burn the city down.'"
Jeremiah's message in Oracle #2 confirms that the destruction of Jerusalem is inevitable. The point is made that even with both the armies of Judah and Babylon at the point of exhaustion, Jerusalem will still be burned to the ground.
Jeremiah 37:11-16 ~ The Arrest of Jeremiah
11 At the time when the Chaldaean army, threatened by Pharaoh's army, had raised the siege of Jerusalem, 12 Jeremiah set out from Jerusalem for the territory of Benjamin to see about a piece of his property among the people there. 13 He was at the Benjamin Gate when the guard commander there, a certain Irijah son of Shelemiah, son of Hananiah, arrested the prophet Jeremiah, shouting, "You are deserting to the Chaldaeans!" 14 "It is a lie!" Jeremiah answered. "I am not deserting to the Chaldaeans." But Irijah would not listen to Jeremiah and took him under arrest to the chief men. 15 And the chief men, furious with Jeremiah, had him beaten and shut up in the house of the scribe Jonathan, which had been turned into a prison. 16 Thus Jeremiah found himself in an underground vault. And there for a long time he stayed.
The Babylonian's lifted the siege of Jerusalem, and Jeremiah took the opportunity to travel to his hometown of Anathoth to see about a piece of his property among the people there. It is possible there was a death and the nearest kinsmen needed to determine ownership of the ancestral property or, if it was a Jubilee year when the land returned to the original families, he may have need to see about the division of the property within his family. We have already heard about the issue of the property and the resolution in Jeremiah 32:1-15. The town of Anathoth was north of Jerusalem within the tribal lands of Benjamin; therefore, it is reasonable that Jeremiah should leave the city by the northern Benjamin Gate.
13 He was at the
Benjamin Gate when the guard commander there, a certain Irijah son of
Shelemiah, son of Hananiah, arrested the prophet Jeremiah, shouting, "You are
deserting to the Chaldaeans!"
That two patronyms are used to identify Irijah, Commander of the Guard, suggests that he came from a prominent family. He accuses Jeremiah of intending to desert to join the enemy. A number of Judeans were deserting to the Babylonians (Jer 38:19; 39:9; 52:15), and, in fact, Jeremiah was advocating surrender (Jer 6:1; 21:9). He rejects Jeremiah's protests of innocence and turns Jeremiah over to his enemies: the princes and the king's chief ministers.
15 And the chief men,
furious with Jeremiah ...
During the reign of the former king, the princes and chief ministers of the king were Jeremiah's supporters, going so far as to oppose the chief priests to intervene on Jeremiah's behalf in his trial for sedition (see Jer 26:16-19). However, the ministers serving King Zedekiah are Jeremiah's enemies. They arrest Jeremiah, beat him, and confine him to prison in an underground vault, probably intending that he should die of starvation (Jer 37:20). In Chapter 36:25, it was only the king who did not listen and opposed Jeremiah, but now we are told that everyone is against him. He is even imprisoned in the house of a scribe (verses 15 and 20); in the past the scribes supported and defended Jeremiah. This is only the beginning of Jeremiah's great sufferings.
Jeremiah 37:17-21 ~ King Zedekiah Sends for Jeremiah
17 Later, King Zedekiah had him sent for, and the king questioned him privately in his palace. 18 "Is there any word from Yahweh?" he asked. "There is," Jeremiah answered, and added, "you will be handed over to the king of Babylon." 18 Jeremiah then said to King Zedekiah, "What wrong have I done you, or your courtiers or this people, for you to have put me in prison? 19 Where are your prophets now who prophesied, The king of Babylon will not attack you or this country"? 20 So now I beg you to hear me, my lord king! I beg you to approve my request! Do not have me taken back to the house of the scribe Jonathan, or I shall die there." 21 King Zedekiah then gave an order, and Jeremiah was confined in the Court of the Guard and given a loaf of bread a day from the Street of the Bakers as long as there was bread left in the city. So Jeremiah stayed in the Court of the Guard.
The Babylonians returned to resume the siege of the city, just as Jeremiah prophesied in 37:8. Zedekiah is a weak king who fears the power of his ministers (38:5); therefore he sends for Jeremiah in secret. It is possible that King Zedekiah now suspects that Jeremiah is a true prophet of Yahweh while the other prophets spoke falsely. You may recall that in 17:15 Jeremiah's enemies taunted him, saying "Where is Yahweh's word? Let it come true then!" Zedekiah could not have missed the fact that Jeremiah's oracles are all coming true and Jeremiah reminds him of this fact (verse 19).
Zedekiah wants to know if Yahweh's oracles in the past have a different message, but Jeremiah tells him the message is the same: "you will be handed over to the king of Babylon." This is the same prophecy given in 32:4 and 34:3.
18 Jeremiah then said to
King Zedekiah, "What wrong have I done you, or your courtiers or this people,
for you to have put me in prison?
Jeremiah's point is that his negative oracles are not personal; he only speaks the words that Yahweh tells him.
Question: Jeremiah uses the opportunity of the private audience
to make his own request in verse 20; what is it, and what is the king's
Answer: He asks not to be returned to the pit where he was imprisoned. The king grants Jeremiah's request.
21 King Zedekiah then
gave an order, and Jeremiah was confined in the Court of the Guard and given a
loaf of bread a day from the Street of the Bakers as long as there was bread
left in the city. So Jeremiah stayed in the Court of the Guard.
The Court of the Guard was in the palace (Jer 32:2; Neh 3:25). It was where Jeremiah could be comfortably detained but was still free to speak to the guards and the other people gathered there. He was probably safer there than in the city, and Zedekiah's order to keep him there may show that he was not Jeremiah's enemy. Jeremiah received a ration of bread, but eventually famine spread across the city near the end of the siege (Jer 52:6).
Chapter 38: Jeremiah's Enemies Seek His Death
The year is 587 BC. The princes and royal officials supported Jeremiah in the reign of King Jehoiakim (26:16-24), but the princes and royal officials in power during the reign of King Zedekiah are his enemies and want him executed for sedition against the government. This chapter has three oracles:
The third oracle concludes with Jeremiah telling Zedekiah about the vision Yahweh gave him of the king's wives as they are led out of the palace to the Babylonian generals (verses 21-23). His vision is the only poetry passage since the last poetic prophecy of the Messianic Davidic king in 33:15-16.
Jeremiah 38:1-3 ~ Yahweh's Oracle Concerning the Fall of Jerusalem
1 But Shephatiah son of Mattan, Gedeliah son of Pashur, Jucal son of Shelemiah and Pashur son of Malchiah heard the words which Jeremiah was saying to all the people. 2 "Yahweh says this, Anyone who stays in this city will die by sword, famine or plague; but anyone who leaves it and surrenders to the Chaldaeans will live; he will escape with his life. 3 Yahweh says this: This city will certainly be handed over to the army of the king of Babylon, and he will capture it.'"
Jeremiah is still giving Yahweh's oracles in the palace Court of the Guard. There are two short oracles in this passage that are a summary of Yahweh's oracles to the people during the 35 years of Jeremiah's ministry.
1 But Shephatiah son of
Mattan, Gedeliah son of Pashur, Jucal son of Shelemiah and Pashur son of
Malchiah heard the words which Jeremiah was saying to all the people.(2)
Four of Zedekiah's chief ministers heard that Jeremiah's oracles are reaching "all the people" and are determined to deal with Jeremiah once and for all.
2 "Yahweh says this,
Anyone who stays in this city will die by sword, famine or plague; but anyone
who leaves it and surrenders to the Chaldaeans will live; he will escape with
The first oracle repeats the triple death threats of "sword, famine, or plague," the common sufferings of any city under siege by an enemy. However, it also has Yahweh's promise of salvation in surrendering to the Babylonians (see 21:9). It is a prophecy that recalls Moses' warnings of life versus death in Deuteronomy 30:15-20.
3 Yahweh says this: This
city will certainly be handed over to the army of the king of Babylon, and he
will capture it.'"
Verse 3 is the second short oracle confirming the capture of Jerusalem. Both oracles are repeated in Zedekiah's last oracle in 38:17-18.
Jeremiah 38:4-6 ~ The Royal Officials Conspire Against Jeremiah
4 The chief men then said to the king, "You must have this man put to death: he is unquestionably disheartening the remaining soldiers in the city, and all the people too, by talking like this. This man is seeking not the welfare of the people but their ruin." 5 "He is in your hands as you know," King Zedekiah answered, "for the king is powerless to oppose you." 6 So they took Jeremiah and put him into the storage-well of the king's son Malchiah in the Court of the Guard, letting him down with ropes. There was no water in the storage-well, only mud, and into the mud Jeremiah sank.
Question: What reason do the king's chief ministers give for
wanting to execute Jeremiah?
Answer: Jeremiah is preaching sedition and is weakening the resolve of the soldiers and the people to resist the Babylonians.
5 "He is in your hands
as you know," King Zedekiah answered, "for the king is powerless to oppose
It appears, that against his will, the king agrees to their request. He says he is "powerless to oppose" them, which suggests he fears his ministers might depose him if he refuses. It is a sad commentary on the character of the king that he fears his ministers more than God.
6 So they took Jeremiah
and put him into the storage-well of the king's son Malchiah in the Court of
the Guard, letting him down with ropes.
Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he came to the throne, and it is now a decade later; therefore, Malchiah could not have been Zedekiah's son. This prince was either a younger brother or a royal cousin of the king and an enemy of Jeremiah. The princes and royal officials put Jeremiah into an empty cistern.
Question: In addition to keeping Jeremiah from speaking to the
people, what was the darker motive for confining Jeremiah in the empty cistern?
See verse 6b, 9, and 38:4.
Answer: Their intention was to leave him to die without water and food.
If he dies of "natural causes," they probably think they will not incur the "blood guilt" of executing Jeremiah. However, Yahweh who sees and knows all, including the evil intentions of every man and woman, knows the evil they planned for Jeremiah. One can only imagine the suffering Jeremiah endured, sinking into the mud, which the historian Flavius Josephus records came up to his neck (Antiquities of the Jews, 10.5.120-121; see the quote at the beginning of this lesson).
Jeremiah 38:7-13 ~ The Eunuch Ebed-melech Saves Jeremiah's Life
7 But Ebed-melech the Cushite, a eunuch attached to the palace, heard that Jeremiah had been put into the storage-well. As the king was sitting in the Benjamin Gate, 8 Ebed-melech came out from the palace and spoke to the king. 9 "My lord king," he said, "these men have done a wicked thing by treating the prophet Jeremiah like this: they have thrown him into the storage-well. He will starve to death there, since there is no more food in the city." 10 At this the king gave Ebed-melech the Cushite the following order: "Take thirty men with you from here and pull the prophet Jeremiah out of the storage-well before he dies." 11 Ebed-melech took the men with him and went into the palace to the Treasury wardrobe; out of it he took some torn, worn-out rags which he lowered on ropes to Jeremiah in the storage-well. 12 Ebed-melech the Cushite then said to Jeremiah, "These torn, worn-out rags are for you to put under your armpits to pad the ropes." Jeremiah did this. 13 Then they hauled Jeremiah up with the ropes and pulled him out of the storage-well. And Jeremiah stayed in the Court of the Guard.
Question: What promise did Yahweh make to Jeremiah when He first
called him to his prophetic ministry in 1:17-18?
Answer: God promised to make Jeremiah fearless before his enemies, and that He will be with Jeremiah to rescue him.
7 But Ebed-melech the
Cushite, a eunuch attached to the palace, heard that Jeremiah had been put into
True to the oath Yahweh made Jeremiah, He sent a very unlikely savior in the person of a Cushite (generally understood to be an Ethiopian), Gentile palace eunuch, and we may not even know his name. Ebed-melech [ebed = servant; melech = king] means "servant [of the] king" or more literally, "king's servant." It is more likely that this is not his name but describes his position within the palace as a eunuch who served in the women's quarters. The Ethiopian eunuch heard about Jeremiah's desperate condition because he worked in the palace. Jeremiah's condition may have been kept a secret from his friends the scribes and the common people.
7b As the king was
sitting in the Benjamin Gate, 8 Ebed-melech
came out from the palace and spoke to the king.
The king was probably hearing the petitions of the people at the Benjamin Gate. It is the same gate where was Jeremiah first arrested in 37:11-16. Ebed-melech courageously decides to petition the king to save the prophet's life. The point of the narrative it that it is a Gentile foreigner who is restricted from worshipping in the Temple (Lev 21:17-21; Dt 23:2/1) who intervenes to save Jeremiah's life.(3)
9 "My lord king," he
said, "these men have done a wicked thing by treating the prophet Jeremiah like
this: they have thrown him into the storage-well. He will starve to death
there, since there is no more food in the city."
Not only does he petition for Jeremiah's release to save his life, but he accuses the king's chief ministers of a "wicked thing." The irony is the Gentile eunuch is a righteous man while the rulers of the covenant people are wicked men.
10 At this the king gave
Ebed-melech the Cushite the following order: "Take thirty men with you from
here and pull the prophet Jeremiah out of the storage-well before he dies."
The king grants the petition; it is obviously not his intention that Jeremiah should die.
Question: Why does the king tell Ebed-melech to take thirty men with him to rescue Jeremiah?
Answer: Zedekiah probably does this as a precaution in case there are soldiers guarding Jeremiah who might resist the rescue mission.
Question: Why does Ebed-melech take worn out clothes to lower
down to Jeremiah in verses 11-13?
Answer: It is probably because he assumes Jeremiah is emaciated from his days without food and water, and the clothes will provide padding to protect him from the ropes around his frail and perhaps unclothed body.
And Jeremiah stayed in the Court of the Guard.
The prophet is returned to what is probably the safest place for him at this time. As a reward for his kindness in saving Jeremiah, Ebed-melech will receive an oracle from Yahweh promising his salvation in 39:15-18.
Jeremiah 38:14-23 ~ Oracle #2: Jeremiah's Last Conversation with the King
14 King Zedekiah had the prophet Jeremiah summoned to him at the third entrance to the Temple of Yahweh. "I want to ask you for a word," the king said to Jeremiah, "keep nothing back from me." 15 Jeremiah answered Zedekiah, "If I do proclaim it to you, are you not sure to have me put to death? And if I give you advice, you will not listen to me." 16 King Zedekiah then secretly swore this oath to Jeremiah, "As Yahweh lives, giver of this life of ours, I will have you neither put to death nor handed over to these men who are determined to kill you." 17 Jeremiah then said to Zedekiah, "Yahweh, God Sabaoth, God of Israel, says this, If you go out and surrender to the king of Babylon's generals, your life will be safe and this city will not be burned down; you and your family will survive. 18 But if you do not go out and surrender to the king of Babylon's generals, this city will be handed over to the Chaldaeans and they will burn it down; nor will you yourself escape their clutches [hands].'" 19 King Zedekiah then said to Jeremiah, "I am afraid of the Judaeans who have already gone over to the Chaldaeans: I might be handed over to them and they would ill-treat me." 20 "You will not be handed over to them," Jeremiah replied. "Please listen to Yahweh's voice as I have relayed it to you, and then all will go well with you and your life will be safe. 21 But if you refuse to surrender, this is what Yahweh has shown me: 22 the sight of all the women left in the king of Judah's palace being led off to the king of Babylon's generals and saying: They have misled you, they have triumphed over you, those friends of yours! Your feet have sunk in the mud! They are up and away!' 23 Yes, all your wives and children will be led off to the Chaldaeans, and you yourself will not escape their clutches [hands] but will be a prisoner in the clutches [hands] of the king of Babylon. And as for the city, it will be burnt down."
Zedekiah summons Jeremiah for what will be their final meeting. There will be one final request and one final answer. The location of the meeting is unknown. It was a private entrance from the palace to the Temple that suited the purpose of a clandestine meeting.
"I want to ask you for a word," the king said to Jeremiah, "keep
nothing back from me."
Zedekiah seeks a message from Yahweh concerning his future. Jeremiah is understandably wary because in the past the king has rejected Yahweh's oracles and blamed the messenger as much as the message.
Question: What assurance does Zedekiah give Jeremiah in verse 16?
Answer: The king swears an oath in Yahweh's name not to kill Jeremiah nor will he turn the prophet over to his enemies.
Jeremiah then repeats the oracles he gave in 38:2-3:
Question: The king does not reject the oracle, but what does he
Answer: He admits that he is afraid the Babylonians will turn him over to be tortured by the Judahite deserters who blame him for the disaster.
Jeremiah assures the king he will not be handed over to them and pleads with him to "listen to the voice of Yahweh" in verse 20. The give further evidence of what will happen if he refuses to listen, Jeremiah shares a vision Yahweh gave him in verses 22-23 of his royal wives and children being led away as they sing a reproachful song condemning Zedekiah because he trusted false friends/advisors who misled him. Their song ends with Zedekiah's feet "sunk in the mud"; it is a metaphor for his inability to free himself and an ironic contrast with Jeremiah who was freed from the mud that held him by a trusted friend while Zedekiah has been betrayed by false friends.
Jeremiah 38:24-28 ~ Zechariah Cautions Jeremiah not to Reveal Their Conversation
24 Zedekiah then said to Jeremiah, "Do not let anyone else hear these words or you will die. 25 If the chief men hear that I have been talking to you, and come and say, Tell us what you said to the king and what the king said to you; keep nothing back from us, or we shall put you to death,' 26 you must reply, I presented this request to the king: that he would not have me sent back to Jonathan's house to die.'" 27 And in fact all the chief men came to Jeremiah and questioned him. He told them exactly what the king had ordered him to say. They then left him in peace, since the conversation had not been overheard. 28 And Jeremiah stayed in the Court of the Guard until the day Jerusalem was captured. And he was there when Jerusalem actually was captured.
After hearing the final oracle, the king's only response is to command Jeremiah not to repeat their private conversation or the oracle. Zedekiah says if the princes/chief men hear about their meeting and demand an account, he is to only tell them that he petitioned the king not to send him back to Jonathan's prison where he would die. This is exactly what he did in verse 27, and without any information to the contrary, the ministers sent him back to the Court of the Guard where Jeremiah stayed until the Babylonians captured the city.
Chapter 39: The Fall of Jerusalem and Zedekiah's Attempt to Escape
Now the king of Babylon was very
intent and earnest upon the siege of Jerusalem, and he erected towers upon
great banks of earth and from them repelled those that stood upon the walls.
He also made a great number of such banks round about the whole city, the
height of which was equal to those walls. [...] and this siege they endured for
eighteen months, until they were destroyed by the famine, and by the darts which
the enemy threw at them from the towers. Now the city was taken on the ninth
day of the fourth month, in the eleventh year of the reign of Zedekiah.
Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 10.8.131, 134-135a
This chapter has only one oracle, and it is a prophecy concerning the fate of the Cushite/Ethiopian eunuch who saved Jeremiah (verses 15-18).
Jeremiah 39:1-3 ~ The Babylonians Invade the City of Jerusalem
1 In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon advanced on Jerusalem with his entire army, and they laid siege to it. 2 In the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, a breach was made in the city wall. 3 The king of Babylon's officials, all having made their entry, took their seats in the Middle Gate: Nergal-Sharezer, Samgar, Nebo-Sar-Sechim [Nebo-Sarsekim,] a high dignitary of state [chief eunuch], Nergal-Sharezer [perhaps Nebushazban? see verse 13) the chief astrologer, and all the king of Babylon's other officials. [...] = IBHE, vol. IV, page 1844.
The passage begins with a summary of the siege of Jerusalem. The "eleventh" year of Zedekiah is, as the ancients counted, from the first year of his reign in 598 BC counting as year #1. It is now 587 BC, and Zedekiah is 31 years old. Jerusalem's city gates, like the gates of other large, walled cities, were fortified complexes with many rooms where guards had their quarters and where the city rulers heard legal cases in chambers lined with benches. Nebuchadnezzar's princes/generals enter the city and take up positions in the Middle Gate to judge important captives.
The Middle Gate was located in the center of the city's northern wall, and its ruins can still be seen in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The Babylonians must have entered Jerusalem from the north, as did all Jerusalem's attackers through the centuries, since this was the city's highest elevation and the only side that was unprotected by ravines. The city gate is where judgment takes place; and now, instead of the king or the elders/ministers of the Judah rendering judgment, it is the Babylonians. Nebuchadnezzar is not with his commanders because he is at his headquarters at Riblah addressing rebellion in western Syria (see verse 5 and Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 10.131-135).
Nergal-Sharezer, Samgar, Nebo-Sar-Sechim [Nebo-Sarsekim] a
high dignitary of state [chief eunuch], Nergal-Sharezer [perhaps Nebushazban?
see verse 13) the chief astrologer, and all the king of Babylon's other
Comparing the names of the Babylonians in verse 3 with the names in verse 13 there is a discrepancy. What we have are probably three names with titles and not four since the name Nergal-Sharezer is repeated in verse 3.(4)
Jeremiah 39:4-7 ~ King Zedekiah's Failed Escape and Capture
4 On seeing them, Zedekiah king of Judah and all the fighting men fled, leaving the city under cover of dark, by way of the king's garden through the gate between the two walls, and made their way towards the Arabah. 5 But the Chaldaean troops pursued them and caught up with Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho. They captured him and took him to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon at Riblah in the territory of Hamath, where he passed sentence on him. 6 The king of Babylon had Zedekiah's sons slaughtered before his eyes at Riblah; the king of Babylon also had all the leading men of Judah put to death. 7 He then put out Zedekiah's eyes and, loading him with chains, carried him off to Babylon.
Since the Babylonians entered the city from the north, Zedekiah, his sons, and the men still loyal to him made their escape to the south. They headed toward the city of Jericho, probably intending to cross the Jordan River near there. It was near Jericho that was the crossing Joshua and the children of Israel made coming from the opposite direction when they first entered the Promised Land, and it is near the site where St. John baptized Jesus. The Arabah refers to the rift valley that extends from the Sea of Galilee to the Gulf of Aqaba and includes the Jordan River Valley.
The Babylonians captured the king, his young sons, and his companions near Jericho and took them to Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah in Syria. Sentence was passed on Zedekiah. The unfaithful vassal who swore allegiance to Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar made him king of Judah (2 Kng 24:17; 2 Chr 36:18; Ez 17:16), is condemned for breaking his oath and rebelling against his lord, the great king Nebuchadnezzar.
Question: What was the judgment carried out
It was the fulfillment of all Yahweh's oracles concerning King Zedekiah, and it also fulfilled the prophecy Yahweh gave Ezekiel, in Babylonian exile, concerning Zedekiah's fate: Their prince will shoulder his pack in the dark and go out through the wall; a hole will be made to let him out; he will cover his face, so that he cannot see the country... I shall take him to Babylon to the land of the Chaldaeans, though he will not see it; and there he will die (Ez 12:12-13).
Jeremiah 39:8-14 ~ The Destruction of the Palace and the Fate of Jeremiah
8 The Chaldaeans burnt down the royal palace and the private houses, and demolished the walls of Jerusalem. 9 Nebuzaradan commander of the guard deported the remainder of the population left behind in the city, the deserters who had gone over to him, and the rest of the artisans to Babylon. 10 But Nebuzaradan commander of the guard left some of the poor people behind in the country of Judah, those who had nothing, at the same time giving them vineyards and fields. 11 With regard to Jeremiah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had given the following orders to Nebuzaradan, commander of the guard, 12 "Take him, look after him; do him no harm, but treat him as he may ask you." 13 He entrusted this mission to Nebuzaradan commander of the guard, Nebushazban the high dignitary of state, Nergal-Sharezer the chief astrologer and all the king of Babylon's other officials. 14 These dispatched men took Jeremiah from the Court of the Guard and turned him over to Gedaliah son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan for safe conduct home. So he remained among the people.
2 Kings 25:9 and Jeremiah 52:13 record that Nebuchadnezzar's chief minister, Nebuzaradan, arrived in Jerusalem one month after the city fell, and at that time he ordered his soldiers to burn the city to the ground and demolish its walls. The royal palace was the magnificent royal dwelling described in 1 Kings 7:1-12; 10:18-20. The Babylonians looted and destroyed it along with the glorious Temple of Yahweh (1 Kng 6:1-38; 7:13-8:13). Both buildings were built by King Solomon in the 10th century BC. During the 35 years of Jeremiah's ministry, he repeatedly warned that Jerusalem and its gates would be burned with fire and destroyed (Jer 17:27; 21:10; 32:29; 34:2, 22; 37:8, 10; 38:17-18, 23) and that the house of the king would also be destroyed (Jer 6:5; 17:27; 21:14; 22:7). With the destruction of Jerusalem, the nation that was Israel perished.
Question: What three groups of people were
deported to Babylon and what group was left behind? What reward did they last
Answer: The deportees were the remaining citizen of Jerusalem, the deserters, and the rest of the artisans. The poor received the lands of the exiled landowning class.
Those who resisted the Babylonians contrary to Yahweh's oracles were taken into exile, but the poor who had no part in those decisions concerning the nation received the land; a fulfillment Yahweh's prophecy to Jeremiah in 27:10-11, They prophesy lies to you, the result of which will be that you will be banished from your soil, that I shall rive you out, and you will perish. The nation, however, that is prepared to bend its neck to the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I shall leave in peace on its own soil, Yahweh declares, to farm it and stay on it.
King Nebuchadnezzar knew about the prophet who preached about the Babylonian victory. It is ironic but, unlike Jeremiah's own people, the Gentile king ordered his men to safeguard Jeremiah and to treat him with respect.
dispatched men took Jeremiah from the Court of the Guard and turned him over to
Gedaliah son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan for safe conduct home. So he remained
among the people.
After the Babylonian commanders found Jeremiah in the palace Court of the Guard, they transferred him to Ramah where he was kept with other captives from Jerusalem and Judah (40:1) before he was freed and allowed to go to Gedaliah in Mizpah (40:6). After the fall of Jerusalem, King Nebuchadnezzar's commanders brought the Jewish captives to the plain at Ramah between Jerusalem and Bethel. It was near the site of Rachel's (wife of Jacob) tomb and where the people destined for exile were assembled in chains before their deportation, as prophesied by Jeremiah's oracle in 31:15.
Gedaliah belonged to the influential Shaphan family of palace scribes with whom Jeremiah had a long-standing relationship:
Members of the Shaphan family must have heeded Jeremiah's warning and left the city to surrender to the Babylonians. It would explain why they weren't present to intervene on his behalf when he was imprisoned in the cistern. That they gave themselves up to the Babylonians explains why Nebuchadnezzar knows about Jeremiah and entrusts him to their care. The Babylonians regard Gedaliah as a loyal subject, as we shall see later in the narrative. Gedaliah evidently took Jeremiah "home" to his house in Mizpah (40:6). Jeremiah, like the poorest of the poor of Judah was shown mercy on a day of judgment, in fulfillment of Yahweh's promise that Jeremiah would be rescued at a time when others received no rescue. Later, Jeremiah will meet face to face with Nebuzaradan at Ramah (40:1-5).
Jeremiah 39:15-18 ~ Oracle Concerning the Fate of Edeb-melech
15 While Jeremiah was confined in the Court of the Guard, the word of Yahweh came to him as follows, 16 "Go and say to Ebed-melech the Cushite, Yahweh, God of Israel says this: Look, I am about to perform my words about this city of its ruin and not for its prosperity. That day they will come true before your eyes. 17 But I shall rescue you for that day, Yahweh declares, and you will not be handed over to the hands of the men you fear. 18 Yes, I shall certainly rescue you: you will not fall to the sword; you will escape with your life, because you have put your trust in me, Yahweh declares.'"
This passage concludes the story of Ebed-melech that began in 38:7-13. Jeremiah's confinement in verse 15 is after Ebed-melech rescued Jeremiah from the cistern and returned him to the custody of the commander of the Palace Guard. Verse 2 is a special oracle for Ebed-melech, warning him of the ruin that is coming but also reassuring him with a word of mercy concerning God's intention to rescue the kind Gentile eunuch.
Question: Yahweh gives His promise to
rescue Ebed-melech for what reason?
Answer: It is because he has put his trust in Yahweh.
The demonstration of the eunuch's trust was his belief that Jeremiah was Yahweh's true prophet and his determination to rescue Jeremiah for that reason. For God, faith and trust in Him is a precious attribute. It brings blessings, and it also becomes the dividing line between salvation and judgment. Where do you place your faith and trust? Do you place it in the foolishness of the "wisdom" of man and in those actions condemned by God but socially acceptable in this modern age, or do you trust the wisdom of God that He has entrusted to Mother Church to guide you on the narrow path to salvation? Do not be deceived by false prophets like the citizens of Judah and Jerusalem; remain faithful and trust in the Lord like Ebed-melech and Jeremiah.
Questions for reflection or group discussion:
What is you assessment of the character of King Zedekiah? He was 21 years old when he became king, and he was 31 when he was blinded and taken into exile by the Babylonians. He apparently wanted to believe in Yahweh, who he referred to as "Yahweh our God" in 37:3, when he wanted to know what Yahweh said concerning his fate. But why couldn't or wouldn't he submit himself to what Yahweh asked of him in obedience, even to save himself from disaster? Why is it impossible to serve Yahweh with a "divided heart," and how was Zedekiah guilty of this failing in his relationship with Yahweh? How do people who claim to be Catholic commit the same failures in their relationship with Christ and His Church today?
1. A seal impression bearing the name of Jehucal son of Shelemiah was discovered in the ruins of Jerusalem dating to the time of the Babylonian conquest.
2. A seal impression naming Gedaliah son of Pashhur was discovered in the ruins of Jerusalem dating to the time of the Babylonian conquest.
3. The law prohibiting eunuchs from Temple worship referred to descendants of Aaron as well as all men without their male parts or deformed testicles. The reason for the law was because the men of the covenant were to represent redeemed man, as God created him, in the liturgy of worship. The priest who approached God to serve at His altar was to share God's holiness in a special way. A physical effect in him or any man of the covenant would be an affront to Yahweh who created the physical word without defect or blemish. One day the Redeemer-Messiah would come to heal a dis-graced humanity by imparting the holiness of His divine grace to all men and women, no matter their physical state, through the Sacrament of Baptism.
4. Dr. Michael Jursa, an Austrian Assyriologist from the University of Vienna, discovered a cuneiform tablet from the Babylonian collection of the British Museum containing a reference to Babylonian "chief eunuch" Nebo-Sarsekim. The tablet is a receipt that records the donation made to the temple in Babylon by the kings "chief eunuch" Nabu-sharrussu-ukin. Dr. Jursa has identified this name as the same name as the Babylonian chief eunuch named in Jeremiah 39:3 as one of the officials present at city gate when Jerusalem fell. His name in Hebrew is rendered as Nebo-Sarsekim. He is described in Jeremiah 39:3, as he is in the cuneiform document, as chief eunuch. See Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2007, "Cuneiform Tablet Confirms Biblical Name," page 18.
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