Jeremiah 39 Commentary

We’re in Jeremiah 39.

Jeremiah 39 is the culmination of much of what we’ve already read throughout the first 38 chapters of this book. God has made many threats in an attempt to turn his people back to him. But they had refused over and over. So, you wonder – what will happen to those people?

On the other hand, there have been a few bright shining examples of obedience. And we all hope that whatever happens to the bad guys doesn’t happen to these who have obeyed the Lord.

Well, Jeremiah 39 is where we learn the fate of these two groups of people.

God’s judgement finally falls. And we’re going to see the repercussions in this chapter.

Babylon Captures Jerusalem (1-14)

So, to begin, in verses 1-14 we see Babylon finally capturing Jerusalem, just as God had been threatening through Jeremiah for so many years – decades, really.

Babylon Besieges Jerusalem (1)

And it all starts with Jeremiah taking a step back and recounting that Jerusalem was indeed under siege by Babylon in verse 1. We knew this already even from Jeremiah 38, but for the purpose of this chapter, Jeremiah wants to recount this fact of Babylon’s besieging Jerusalem.

KJV Jeremiah 39:1 ¶ In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, came Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon and all his army against Jerusalem, and they besieged it.

Now, our pastor has in the last month or so commended to us laboring to understand what we read in the Bible. And one resource that I use for that purpose is the NET Bible study notes. I really used that resource heavily as I prepared for this message and so I wanted to try to avoid plagiarizing by naming a big source that I used this time – and that I have used regularly throughout the course of this series. I also of course wanted to put this resource in your mind as one that could be quite helpful for your personal Bible study.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let me point out two cross-references that speak of what we just read in verse 1. Verse 1 here told us that Babylon came in Zedekiah’s 9th year and in the 10th month of that year. Both 2 Kings 25:1 and Jeremiah 52:4 give the day of the month as well. That would be the 10th day. So, 10th day of 10th month of Zedekiah’s 9th year is when Babylon came to lay their final siege to Jerusalem. This actually equates to January 15th, 588 BC. This then all happened right around 2,605 years ago.

Babylon Breaks into Jerusalem (2)

And not quite two years into that siege, Babylon finally broke into the city in verse 2.

2 And in the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, the ninth day of the month, the city was [broken up/breached/broken into].

This would have been July 18th, 586 BC. So, about 18 months after the siege began, Jerusalem was broken into.

Babylonian Officials Set Up Shop (3)

Well, so, now Babylon has entered the city. By virtue of that fact, they are now the de facto governing authority. And so their officials set up governmental operations in the city gate in verse 3.

3 And all the princes of the king of Babylon came in, and [sat/set up quarters/set up a provisional military government over the city] in the middle gate [“The identification of the location of the Middle Gate is uncertain since it is mentioned nowhere else in the OT.” – NET], [see 1:15] even
Nergalsharezer, [of] [Samgarnebo/Samgar],
[Sarsechim/Nebo-Sarsechim], [the] [Rabsaris/the chief officer],
Nergalsharezer, [the] [Rabmag/a high official],
with all the [residue/rest] of the [princes/officers] of the king of Babylon.

Now, what we need to realize at this point is that this very thing was promised by God all the way back in Jeremiah 1:15. There, the Lord said…

KJV Jeremiah 1:15 For, lo, I will call all the families of the kingdoms of the north, saith the LORD; and they shall come, and they shall set every one his throne at the entering of the gates of Jerusalem, …

And so, accordingly, these people from Babylon are now setting up their thrones – they’re acting as rulers – in the gate of Jerusalem. God’s word came to pass.

Also, it’s hard to tell if there are six names in verse 3 or just three with the other three just describing the person. For example, “Rab-Saris” might be a person’s name or it might be that person’s position or title. Whatever the case, the officials of Babylon are now ruling Jerusalem.

Zedekiah Flees (4)

So, seeing that there was now “a new sheriff in town,” so to speak, Zedekiah and his officials decide that the city isn’t big enough for all of them – and he flees.

4 And it came to pass, that when Zedekiah the king of Judah saw them, and all the [men of war/soldiers],

then they fled, and went forth out of the city by night,
by the way of the king’s garden,
by the gate betwixt the two walls:

And what is so sobering and sad to realize is that Zedekiah and these soldiers had multiple opportunities to “flee” when fleeing would have done them any good. They could have gone out to Babylon at any time before this and been spared. They could have been treated well. But we’ll see what their disobedience earns them later on in the story.

Now, this “king’s garden” is likely on the southern end of Jerusalem. There, the wall of the eastern hill and the western hill would have converged. Thus the reference to the “two walls.”

Continuing on…

and he went out [the way of/toward] the [plain/Arabah/Jordan Valley].

Apparently, Zedekiah and his soldiers were planning to flee to a country beyond the Jordan River – maybe Ammon or Moab.

Babylon Captures and Sentences Zedekiah (5-7)

And yet, Zedekiah can’t escape God’s punishment for his disobedience and wavering. So, as God has promised him several times already through Jeremiah, Zedekiah finally does see the king of Babylon eye-to-eye in verses 5-7. And that will be one of the last sights he sees.

5 But the Chaldeans’ army pursued after them, and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho:

And let’s not miss the significance of where Zedekiah was caught. He was caught – and thus, the fate of Judah was sealed – in this city called Jericho. But this was the very city that marked the beginning of the conquest of Canaan by Israel almost 10 centuries before this time.

And now, because of their disobedience, the Lord finally had to bring on them what he promised at the end of the book of Deuteronomy. And instead of giving them the land and keeping them there, he was now throwing them out. Back around 1400 BC, they were invading this land and expelling the inhabitants. But now in 586 BC, the Jews themselves are being expelled by the invading Babylonians.

Let me also mention one thing that I think I’ve glossed over to this point. We’ve noticed several times that this book has referred to the Babylonians or the Chaldeans interchangeably. And that’s fine, but I wanted to add a little background to that.

The Chaldeans were originally a group that was south of Babylon proper. It was from that group that Nebuchadnezzar came. His father was the one who built that Chaldean dynasty, actually. And so, it’s that entity – the Chaldean dynasty – that is referred to as “the Babylonians” or as “the Chaldeans.” This situation also partially explains why Jeremiah 1 cites God as speaking of “the families of the north” – probably reflecting this mix of groups within this entity known as “the Chaldeans” here in verse 5.

Now, verse 5 says that these Chaldeans overtook Zedekiah. But we just heard that his soldiers went with him. So, what’s going on?

Well, according to 2 Kings 25:5 and Jeremiah 52:8, at this point in the story his soldiers scattered from him. So, now Zedekiah is all alone – abandoned by his officials, and soldiers, and supposed friends. Just like Jeremiah told him in chapter 38. Just when his feet were stuck in the proverbial mud, they turned their back on him.

On the other hand, God wouldn’t have. God never leaves not forsakes his people. If only Zedekiah would have listened to and feared God rather than men.

And this kind of thinking is how we should read narratives in the Bible. When we come across stories in Scripture, we do need to allow them to shape our morals. Now, these stories are more than just moral teachings – but they’re no less than moral teachings.

As we read this story, for example, look at what Zedekiah did. Look at what God said. And consider the results of Zedekiah’s actions and faith – or lack thereof. And in this particular story, the message is – trust and obey God even when it looks like obeying him means certain death. Because, if you don’t take God seriously, you will experience worse than you could ever imagine. Do you think Zedekiah imagined that he’d have to witness the slaying of his sons followed by his eyes being put out? I doubt it. I imagine that this is what he was trying to avoid by not obeying God. It didn’t work. And this kind of disobedience won’t work for us either.

Trust and obey God even when doing so looks like it will kill you. Because the alternative could be even worse than death.

So, let’s get back to our story. The end of verse 5 relates the beginning of the lamentable result of Zedekiah’s disobedience to God.

and when they [the Babylonian army…] had taken him, they brought him up to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to Riblah in the [land/territory] of Hamath, where he [gave judgment upon/passed sentence on] him.

Now, Riblah was a city on the western edge of what is today Syria – slash – Lebanon. It’s north of Israel and Judah, which is why the army brought Zedekiah “up.” They took him north of Jericho, where they found him.

6 Then the king of Babylon [slew/slaughtered/put to death] [used 36x in Lev. of animals…] the sons of Zedekiah in Riblah [before his eyes/while Zedekiah was forced to watch]:

also the king of Babylon [slew/slaughtered/put to death] all the nobles of Judah.

7 [Moreover/Then] he put out Zedekiah’s eyes [eyes emphasized in Heb; 32:4 and 34:3 said that Zed would see Neb with his eyes], and bound him with chains, to carry him to Babylon.

So, that’s how things went with Zedekiah and his officials. Death, destruction, disfigurement. It had not worked out as they had planned. And that’s because they didn’t plan with any thought of what God wanted.

They all met a most bitter end.

Babylon Burns Jerusalem and Breaks Down Its Wall (8)

So, now, moving on, we’re going to see how things went for the people of Jerusalem who refused to surrender to Babylon.

To begin, Babylon starts destroying their city in verse 8.

8 And the Chaldeans burned the [king’s house/royal palace], and the houses of the people, with fire, and [brake/tore] down the walls of Jerusalem.

So, the city of these rebellious people is now in ruins – ruins that won’t be rebuilt until Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah start leading a return to the land in around 70 years from this point.

Now, 2 Kings 25:8-9 and Jeremiah 52:12-13 tell us that what we just read in verse 8 occurred almost one month after Zedekiah’s escape from Jerusalem. So, between verses 5-7 and verse 8 we have around one month passing.

Also, it wasn’t Nebuchadnezzar himself who did these things to Jerusalem personally. Rather, from those passages we just referenced, we learn that a Babylonian official named Nebuzaradan carried out this destruction of Jerusalem. We’ll hear more about this man in the next verse.

Babylon Takes Most into Exile and Leaves the Poorest (9-10)

So, with the people’s houses and city in ruins, Babylon takes the rest of the people – those who hadn’t died – back to Babylon in verses 9-10, leaving once again only the poorest of the poor in the land.

9 Then Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive into Babylon the [remnant/rest] of the people [that remained/who were left] in the city, and those [that fell away, that fell/who had deserted] to him, with the rest of the people that remained.

10 But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left of the poor of the people, which had nothing, in the land of Judah, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time.

Now, remember that around 10 years prior to these events, Nebuchadnezzar came and took away most of the skilled people from Judah, leaving the new king Zedekiah with mostly unskilled ignorant folks. Well, now, to make matters even worse, the cream of that crop that was left to Zedekiah was now being taken. So that now only the poorest of the poor were left in the land.

The rest were exiled. Many before this point had died. This is what happened to these people who rebelled against the Lord.

They worshipped idols. They abused their fellow-man. And yet they would come to the temple and make themselves believe that everything would be alright. Because, after all they thought, surely a God wouldn’t destroy his own temple, let alone the city that housed it.

And yet, our God, the only true and holy God, is more concerned about his people’s hearts and corresponding behavior than he is about their external religious observances.

And this is true to this day. Now, let us be clear on this. Every one of us in here is a sinner. We all fall short of God’s glory. The way to respond to sin in our life is not to avoid meeting with the church here in this city.

On the other hand, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that we can be godless Monday morning through Saturday night and then come to church on Sunday morning and harbor some hope in our heart that the simple act of attending church is going to make things right with you and the Lord.

Attending church does not extend pardon to you of your sins. Only confessing those sins to the Lord, with an attendant faith in Christ does that.

I trust we have numerous people in here today who have a real sense that they are accepted by God and that all of their sins are pardoned by him.

And yet, I hope that no one in here thinks that this pardon is achieved by doing any sort of religious ritual. Going to church, getting baptized, giving your money to good causes, whatever. External religious observance will not save you. True repentance with a genuine saving faith in Christ alone does.

Babylon Deals with Jeremiah (11-14)

Well, so, that’s how Babylon dealt with the rebellious king of Judah along with his sons, officials, and the rebellious people of Jerusalem.

So, now, starting in verse 14 we hear of how Babylon treated Jeremiah the prophet.

11 ¶ Now Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon gave [charge/command] concerning Jeremiah [to/through] Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, saying,

12 Take him, and look [well/out] [to/after/for] him, and do him no harm; but [do unto/deal with] him [even as/whatever] he [shall say unto/tells] thee.

By the way, contrast this treatment of the prophet with the way that Jeremiah’s own people treated him! The Jews put him in jail, put him in a cistern, wanted him to die, abused him, and much more.

But this pagan army? They treat him well.

And they even know him by name! This is amazing.

What can we compare this to? I can’t think of any 100% parallel, but I’ll try to get close.

Picture the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. This situation with Jeremiah would be as if – when the US army was entering the capital city of Kabul – that George W. Bush would have given command to the army to spare the life of one particular citizen of that city.

It’s totally unlikely. There would be very little reason for the ruler of the invading nation to show mercy to anyone. And in fact, when it comes to Babylon, they are going to be so cruel – even to the old and weak of Judah – that God uses that as a reason that he is going to judge them in the future.

So, despite the fact that Babylon was cruel and brutal, they show great mercy toward Jeremiah. This then is nothing other than the direct influence of God on the heart of this pagan leader. The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord – whether that king is Jewish or Babylonian or any other nationality.

So, the command was given concerning Jeremiah. Now it’s executed.

13 So Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard sent,
and Nebushasban, [the] [Rabsaris/a chief officer],
and Nergalsharezer, [the] [Rabmag/a high official],
and all the king of Babylon’s [princes/chief officers];

14 Even they sent,
and took Jeremiah out of the [court/courtyard] of the [prison/guard/guardhouse],
and [committed/entrusted/turned over] him unto

Gedaliah
the son of Ahikam
the son of Shaphan,

that he should [carry/take] him [to Gedaliah’s…] home:

[so/but] [he/Jeremiah] [dwelt/stayed] among the people.

And here is the first mention of this man named Gedaliah. We’ll discover later that this man is now appointed governor of Judah by Babylon.

He has an interesting and godly lineage. His father Ahikam defended Jeremiah back in Jeremiah 26:24. And Gedaliah’s grandfather Shaphan as we’ve said before was a man who was involved in Josiah’s repentance.

Gedaliah himself seems to be a good man. But at the very least, his father and grandfather were good men.

Now, that last statement that Jeremiah stayed among the people is so significant. Do you think that Jeremiah liked these people? I mean, do you think he enjoyed being around them? Do you think they had a lot in common? Would their idolatry and abuse of others have been something Jeremiah would have been comfortable with?

No. I don’t think Jeremiah would have normally wanted to associate with these people. And yet, even when given the chance to separate himself from them, he stays among them. God had just had to punish these people for their flagrant sins. These people had abused Jeremiah and given him many reasons to hate them.

Why did Jeremiah stay with them? Here’s why. Jeremiah had come to understand that God called him to minister to these people – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

What keeps the missionary ministering in the presence of abhorrent sin? What will keep you and me reaching out to obstinate family and loved ones? Remember that God has called us to be witnesses to him in this life. That’s our job. That’s our one job in this life.

And the people you and I are called to serve are not our motivation for serving. The Lord our God should be our motivation to serve sinful people made in his image. That’s the way it was for Jeremiah. It’s that way for us, too.

Flashback: Ebed-Melech Saved by Faith (15-18)

Now, for a final time, I just want to remind us that we’ve seen how several groups or individuals have fared now that God’s judgements are coming to pass.

Zedekiah, his kids, his officials, and the people over whom he ruled – all of whom were disobedient to God’s reasonable requirements – are now all dead or in captivity. God’s word has been proven true in their situations.

Jeremiah, who was not like the others – but was obedient to God’s commands – he is alive and free and after decades of dealing with these rebels, he’s still standing by God’s grace.

But now the story stops right there and takes us back a few months. Last chapter we read about a man named Ebed-Melech. He was a mercenary fighter from Ethiopia. He apparently was hired to fight for Judah against Babylon.

And yet, something happened to this man – this gentile – that moved him to be concerned for the welfare of the prophet Jeremiah.

And now, we’re going to find out why Ebed-Melech was concerned for Jeremiah. Ebed-Melech trusted the one true God while he was there in Jerusalem. And as a result, he would be delivered from the people he was fearing – the Babylonians.

And thus, here in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, we have an amazing instance of a Gentile being saved by faith.

This is how God deals with Ebed-Melech – delivering him because of his faith. Verses 15-18.

15 ¶ Now the word of the LORD [came/had come] unto Jeremiah, while he was [shut up/confined] in the [court/courtyard] of the [prison/guard/guardhouse], saying,

16 Go and speak to Ebedmelech the Ethiopian [recall the Ethiopian eunuch in the NT…], saying,

So, again, this was in the previous 18 months during which time at some point Jeremiah was imprisoned. Ebed-Melech would have been accessible since Jeremiah’s prison was in the guard house where soldiers like Ebed-Melech would have been housed.

Thus saith the LORD of hosts [military term…], the God of Israel;

Behold, I will [bring/fulfill] my [words/promises] [upon/against] this city for evil, and not for good;

and they shall be accomplished in that day before thee.

So, that’s bad news. God’s punishment is coming and Ebed-Melech – this man hired to help these Judean soldiers – is on the losing side of things.

But now, contrast the dire situation Ebed-Melech faces as a soldier on the losing side of a battle to God’s promise to him in the midst of this catastrophe.

17 But I will [deliver/rescue] thee in that day,

[saith/affirms!] the LORD:

and thou shalt not be given into the hand of the men of whom thou art afraid.

Now, the men whom this mercenary soldier is fearing are probably not the Judean officials who imprisoned and tried to kill Jeremiah. Rather, this is a reference to the invading Babylonians who would normally kill the soldiers that they’re fighting. But God will reverse the way things usually go and deliver Ebed-Melech.

18 For I will surely [deliver/save] thee [or “delivering I will deliver”…],
and thou shalt not fall by the sword,

but thy life shall be [for/as] a [prey/prize of war] unto thee:

Why did God determine to deliver or save this man?

because thou hast put thy trust in me,

[saith/declares/affirms!] the LORD.

Saved. By faith!

So, let’s review.

Zedekiah? His children slaughtered. His kingdom violently wrested from him. His sense of vision stolen forever.

All the people of Jerusalem? Many of them died. The rest were taken from their homes, never to return. Their homes all destroyed.

Jeremiah? Treated well – better than he’d been treated for a few decades, probably.

Ebed-Melech? Saved by his faith in the one true God. Just like we are.

And you’d like to think that this is the end. That maybe Jeremiah could live happily ever after. And yet, we’ll see from the next several chapters that the rebellion of these Jews is far from over. We’ll look forward to that next time.

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