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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 39

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



For many years, God’s prophets had foretold the fall of the reprobate city of the Chosen People, but the Israelites refused to believe it; but, in this chapter, we have the record of the disaster itself when it fell. At last, the iniquity of God’s people had reached a point of no return; their day of grace was past; and Jerusalem was given over to “the sword, the famine, and the pestilence,” as so often stated in Jeremiah.

There are no less than four Biblical accounts of the fall of Jerusalem: (1) the account recorded in this chapter; (2) the account in Jeremiah 52; (3) the record in 2 Kings 25; (4) and yet another in 2 Chronicles 36.

As should be expected, there are variations and differences in these several accounts, just as there are in the four Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ; and we learned in our studies of the New Testament that such variations prove the accuracy and historicity of the whole record. It is of no value whatever to concern oneself with all of the alleged discrepancies found in narratives of this kind. The principle facts are open to no question or doubt whatever; and in the same manner that four eyewitness accounts of a traffic accident are impossible of verification on every little detail, so it is in these four accounts. Exploring them is an absolutely worthless endeavor. We accept the whole truth about the fall of Jerusalem as the composite accumulation of all that is written in the sacred text. All that is written in the Bible concerning the fall of Jerusalem is true, but men are not always able to understand at this late date just exactly how it all happened, nor is such an understanding necessary.

The length of the siege which was terminated in the record of this chapter lacked, “only one day of being exactly eighteen months, lasting from January 588 B.C. to July 587 B.C.”(F1)

There are similarities in Jeremiah’s account to portions of the accounts given in Kings and Chronicles; but as Keil noted, “This does not mean that either account was derived from the other.”(F2) The language here is definitely that of Jeremiah. Remember, the Biblical writers were describing the same events from different vantage points.

Verses 1-3

“And it came to pass when Jerusalem was taken (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 besieged it; In the eleventh year of Zedekiah, and the fourth month, the ninth day of the month, a breach was made in the city); that all the princes of the king of Babylon came in, and sat in the middle gate, to wit, Nergel-sharezer, Samgar-nebo. Sarsechim, Rabsaris, Nergel-sharezer, Rabmag, with all the rest of the princes of the king of Babylon.”

Some have erroneously supposed the siege to have lasted two years or more, due to the mention of “the ninth year of Zedekiah” in Jeremiah 39:1; but differences in the methods of reckoning the years of a reigning monarch account for the error.

The principal event mentioned here is that the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem and set up their own administrative system in the principal gate of the city. This signaled the fall of the city.

The names of these Babylonian princes could not possibly be of much interest to anyone. It appears to us that scholars take an inordinate amount of interest in these Babylonian names. Ash tells us that some of these proper names are the names of titles, not of persons; we have one name repeated.(F3) (Were there two generals by this name?) What difference does it make?

It has been determined from, “a large clay prism found at Babylon, which lists high officials of the Babylonian court,”(F4) that three of the names in this list are indeed the titles of the persons mentioned; but the same author explains that “we do not know the meaning of two of these.”(F5)

Verses 4-5


“And it came to pass that, when Zedekiah, the king of Judah and all the men of war saw them, then they fled, and went forth out of the city by night, by the way of the king’s garden, through the gate betwixt the two walls: and he went out toward the Arabah. But the army of the Chaldeans pursued after them, and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho: and when they had taken him, they brought him up to Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon to Riblab in the land of Hamath; and he gave judgment upon him.”

“When the king… and the men of war… saw them” The word “saw” in this passage simply means, “when they perceived, or understood, what had happened.” One often hears a blind person say, “we went and saw” this or that. A similar usage is found here. We may be certain that the king fled the city as soon as he definitely knew that Nebuchadrezzar’s army had entered it. Nothing certain is known about the exact location of the king’s garden, or the gate by which he escaped, nor can we trace the route of his departure.

“Nebuchadrezzar at Riblah in the land of Hamath” “This place was a stronghold on the Orontes river, 35 miles north-east of Baalbeck, in an area that provided an abundant supply of fuel and food. Pharaoh-Necho II made it his headquarters at the time of the defeat of Jehoahaz; and Nebuchadnezzar made it the base of his operations in the final campaign to destroy Jerusalem in 588-587 B.C.”(F6) This place was about 200 miles north and east of Jerusalem; but Nebuchadnezzar remained there and entrusted the siege of Jerusalem to his military subordinates.

At Riblah, Nebuchadnezzar was fully equipped for his murderous business of executing all of his enemies. Here he gave judgment against Zedekiah.

Verses 6-7


After the ancient custom of terrible and inhumane punishment of defeated enemies, Nebuchadnezzar imposed his ruthless sentence upon Zedekiah and his nobles, sons, and friends.

“Then the king of Babylon slew the sons of Zedekiah in Riblah before his eyes: also the king of Babylon slew all the nobles of Judah. Moreover he put out Zedekiah’s eyes, and bound him in fetters to carry him to Babylon.”

“He put out Zedekiah’s eyes” Feinberg tells us that ancient kings liked to perform this act of cruelty, and often did it with their own hands.(F7) The word in the Hebrew from which the verb comes in this place is from a root which means “to dig out,” indicating that the entire eyeball was popped out of the victim’s skull. Another form of blinding was that of bringing a red hot iron to the surface of the eye. What made this especially pitiful to Zedekiah was the fact of his witnessing the execution of his sons and the nobles of Judah as the very last events that he would ever be able to remember seeing.

In Jeremiah 52:11, it is stated that Zedekiah remained a prisoner in Babylon until the day of his death, but no hint of just when that death occurred is given.

Verses 8-10


“And the Chaldeans burned the king’s house, and the houses of the people, with fire, and brake down the walls of Jerusalem. Then Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive into Babylon the residue of the people that remained in the city, the deserters also that fell away to him, and the residue of the people that remained. But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left some of the poor of the people, who had nothing, in the land of Judah, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time.”

“And the houses of the people” It is strange that the temple was not included in this list of the things destroyed; and some commentators think that the omission was due to a damaged text. In any case, the temple also was among the things burned with fire (Jeremiah 52:13). Harrison suggested that the place should read: “The royal palace, the Lord’s temple, and the houses of the populace.”(F8) The text, however, is accurate as it stands. In the Bible, one must read all that the Bible says on any given subject in order to know the whole truth; and here we have another illustration of that fact.

Verses 11-14


“Now Nebuchadrezzar gave charge concerning Jeremiah to Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, saying, Take him, and look well to him, and do him no harm; but do unto him as he shall say unto thee. So Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard sent, and Nebushazban, Rab-saris, and Nergel-sharezer, Rab-mag, and all the chief officers of the king of Babylon; they sent and took Jeremiah out of the court of the guard, and committed him unto Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, that he should carry him home. So he dwelt among the people.”

“Rab-saris… Rab-mag” These names were the titles belonging to certain high officers of Babylon. “Rabsaris means `chief of the eunuchs.’ “(F9) “The precise meaning of Rab-mag is unknown.”(F10) It has been suggested that the title means, “the chief butcher,” or “chief executioner.”

“Took him out of the court of the guard” Keil believed that this mention of the court of the guard was because that was the last place the Bible revealed as his location until this incident, stating that, “At the exact moment of his liberation, Jeremiah was no longer in the court of the prison of the palace at Jerusalem, but had already been carried away as a captive to Ramah.”(F11)

Keil’s opinion here was based on the fact that in Jeremiah 40:1 it is declared that, “Nebuzaradan liberated Jeremiah at Ramah, where he had taken him in chains” among all the captives awaiting their transfer to Babylon.

We. find no difficulty at all here. The taking of Jeremiah “out of the court of the prison in the king’s house,” mentioned here was probably so commanded in the order to his generals from Nebuchadnezzar; and Nebuzaradan’s obedience to that order occurred in the liberation of Jeremiah at Ramah. There is also the possibility that Jeremiah had indeed already been liberated from the prison in the king’s courtyard; but in the subsequent circulation of Jeremiah among the Jewish people, the soldiers, who would not have recognized him, had rounded him up with the other captives awaiting transfer to Babylon, and carried him bound to Ramah. Let it be remembered that we are here dealing with a brief summary, and such quibbles can never be decided without a ton of additional information which no man has, such as, “when did the order of Nebuchadnezzar reach his commanding general; had the house of the king already been burned; exactly where was Jeremiah when the general got his orders; was Jeremiah released twice, once from the prison, and again at Ramah; was Jeremiah’s release from the courtyard prison a formal and official release, or did he and all the other prisoners escape when the palace burned, etc., etc.?”

Such information is irrevocably lost in the ruin of Jerusalem; and there is no way for men living twenty-five centuries after the event to provide complete explanations of all the mysteries in Biblical passages. Our joyful duty is to believe it in the full confidence that God’s Word is true and every man a liar.

“Gedaliah” This man was appointed by Nebuchadnezzar as governor of the conquered Judah and its remnant of the remaining poor people to whom the Babylonians had divided the fields and vineyards of the area. He was in control for the next five years; and Jeremiah was safe in his hands.

“Take him home” Some think this meant the king’s house which presumably belonged to the new governor; but the palace had already been burned, It probably means that “wherever Gedaliah the new governor lived,” there also Jeremiah would be quartered and protected. “Christians also have a firm assurance of God’s loving care and concern for their welfare,”(F12) as in Matthew 10:28-30; Matthew 28:18-20.

Verses 15-18


“Now the word of Jehovah came to Jeremiah, while he was shut up in the court of the guard, saying, Go, and speak to Ebel-melech the Ethiopian, saying, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will bring my words upon this city for evil, and not for good; and they shall be accomplished before thee in that day. But I will deliver thee in that day, saith Jehovah; and thou shalt not be given into the hand of the men of whom thou art afraid. For I will surely save thee, and thou shalt not fall by the sword, but thy life shall be for a prey unto thee; because thou hast put thy trust in me, saith Jehovah.”

“Go, and speak to Ebel-melech” Ebel-melech was in the king’s house; and apparently there would have been impediment against Jeremiah’s seeking an interview with the Ethiopian who had saved his life. Evidently, this word to Jeremiah’s benefactor probably came, “shortly after Jeremiah’s final interview with Zedekiah, but is not reported earlier in order not to break the sequence of events.”(F13)

“Thou shalt not be delivered into the hand of the men of whom thou art afraid” Right here is the explanation of why thirty men were needed (not three) for the rescue mission on behalf of Jeremiah. Ebel-melech had every reason to fear those evil princes who had tried to murder Jeremiah, and who would have certainly prevented his rescue if it had not been protected by an armed group of men.

Those evil princes would certainly have murdered Ebel-melech if they had found an opportunity; but that opportunity never came, thanks to the orders Nebuchadnezzar gave to his “head butcher” to put all of those reprobate “nobles” to death. “Ebel-melech’s trust in God proved to be his salvation, a situation that is normative also for Christians (Acts 16:31).”(F14)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Jeremiah 39". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/jeremiah-39.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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