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NON-ACCEPTANCE OF CHASTISEMENT
‘Moreover he put out Zedekiah’s eyes.’
What are the speakings of this ‘Moreover’ to us? It says to us—
I. Reject not limited chastisement or trial, for you know not how wide God may remove those bounds when it comes upon you as something rejected by you, but inflicted, whether you will or no, by Him.
II. Be sure that God will carry out His own way.—He has never yet been conquered by man.
III. If we reject what God thus ordains, we are laying up for ourselves a long period of sad thought, peopled with sad memories.—Zedekiah could now do nothing but think sadly over the past; it may be over the terrible sights which he had last seen. Acceptance would have saved this terrible experience.
IV. God has terrible reserves of chastening dealings.—He can replace ‘yokes of wood’ (chapter 28) with ‘yokes of iron.’ That which the palmer worm has left, the locust will devour.
V. We must leave it to God to take care of us, when leading us either into discipline or chastisement.—This is generally one of the very last thoughts which would occur to us in such circumstances.
—Rev. P. B. Power.
‘What a doom! The sons of the king were killed before his eyes, and it was the last sight that the king saw on earth. Zedekiah was blinded, and loaded with chains, and carried away to Babylon, and there he remained in prison till he died. There is a Jewish tradition that he was set to work in a mill. The king, in chains, toiled with the common slave. It makes us recall the dark lot of Samson, and read the glorious lines of Milton on it—
“Ask for this great deliverer now, and find him
Eyeless in Gaza at the mill with slaves.
Yet stay, let me not rashly call in doubt
Divine prediction; what if all foretold
Had been fulfilled but through my own default?” ’
THE CAPTIVE DAUGHTER OF ZION
‘The Chaldeans … brake down the walls of Jerusalem.’
How Zedekiah must have repented now that he had not listened to the prophet’s word! How his neglect must have stabbed him to the heart when he saw his little children massacred! But it was all too late now, and the hour had struck. The day of mercy had closed for Zedekiah. Like Esau, he found no place of repentance, although he sought it carefully with tears. Let us all remember the terrible risk we run if we neglect so great salvation. God speaks to us through minister and teacher, as He spoke to Zedekiah through the prophet. And we may love and reverence our teachers, as the king in secret reverenced Jeremiah, yet if we live on and never heed their message, may not we also have to suffer terribly? It is to teach us such things that this tale is written. It is far more than a dark scene from ancient history. It is a scene of warning and of judgment, written for us by the God of love.
There are three particular lessons we should learn here.
I. How slow yet sure is God.—All that now happened had been long foretold, yet it had come so slowly that men doubted it. More than once it had looked as if all were lost, and more than once the sun had shone again; until at length the citizens of Judah had come to think that all would yet be well. That was one thing graven on their hearts, when at long last the city was destroyed. It was that God, though He may long delay, yet never fails at last to keep His word. And whether it be for evil or for good, do not forget that God is still the same—‘though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small.’
II. How our sin involves the life of others.—Not only did Zedekiah perish, but he brought a doom upon his helpless children. Had he obeyed the message of his God, all would have been well with him and them; but disobeying it, not only did he suffer, but the children whom he loved so, suffered also. Sin would be bad and terrible enough if it affected no one but ourselves. But the worst of sin is that it puts out its hands and touches the happiness of other people. Hence sin is fittingly portrayed by leprosy, that most deadly and infectious trouble, that spreads insidiously, with its curse and blight, till it takes the brightness from the eyes of innocence. Lastly, let us notice here—
III. How no service to the needy is forgotten.—Ebed-melech had rescued Jeremiah, and in the day of trouble God did not forget it. ‘Lord, when saw we Thee in prison and visited Thee, or when did we see Thee naked and clothed Thee?’ ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My little ones, ye have done it unto Me.’
(1) ‘The siege of Jerusalem by the king of Babylon was begun amid the hardships of mid-winter, and was continued, with certain intermissions, for a period of eighteen months. It was a common belief that the city was impregnable, a belief which the false prophets helped to foster, but the strongest city is no longer safe when it neglects the God Who is its refuge. Jerusalem was captured, and through the broken walls the Babylonian troops came pouring in. Following them, in all the pride of victory, came the procession of Babylonian princes. And in the middle gate, where had sat the Hebrew rulers, now sat these heathen and contemptuous nobles, whose very names suggested the false gods that they worshipped in their Babylonian home.’
(2) ‘We can well imagine with what divided feelings Jeremiah would view the capture of the city. There is always a mingling of feelings in our greatest moments, and so it would be with the prophet in this hour. On the one hand, as a true child of Israel, he must needs mourn for the downfall of the kingdom. He loved his land and its capital too well not to be bitterly humbled at this overthrow. But on the other hand would be that exaltation that comes from God’s unquestioned intervention, for this was the very issue of events that God had led His prophet to predict. Had Jeremiah spoken in his own wisdom, you might have found him crying now, “I told you so.” You might have found him boasting in his triumph, and taunting all who had gainsaid his word. But a true messenger of God is always humble, and while he proclaims the punishment of sin, no one has such a sorrowing heart as he, when the predicted punishment arrives.’
‘SOME SHALL BE TAKEN AND OTHERS LEFT’
‘Nebuzar=adan … 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.’
I. It is an ill wind that blows nobody good, and the sack of Jerusalem strangely blessed the poor.—Perhaps in the bosom of every judgment of heaven there lies an unexpected joy for somebody. The very poor were not carried off to Babylon. Here, at any rate, blessed were the poor. They received gifts of fields and grants of vineyards from Nebuchadrezzar’s captain who had been left in charge. Note, too, that Jeremiah was not made prisoner. Our chapter dwells in some detail on that. The Chaldeans had learned the burden of his prophecy, and they regarded the prophet as their friend. Word came to the city that he should be set at liberty. He was committed to the charge of a staunch and godly home. Perhaps Nebuchadrezzar thought the prophet would exult in the fulfilment of the doom that he had heralded. But it is one thing to be a messenger of sorrow and another to rejoice when sorrow comes. A prophet may be constrained of heaven to speak, yet suffer an agony when the speech proves true. It is never the man whose lips have been touched by God who can find pleasure in saying, ‘I told you so.’ So Jeremiah was not exultant now. His heart was desolate in a desolate city. He is pictured as sitting in the forsaken streets, or in the cave near the Damascus gate that still bears his name. It is now, if ever, that we find him in the ‘attitude of hopeless sorrow,’ that is attributed to him by Michael Angelo.
II. Note the second lesson from the sad story. Good intentions are not enough to save us.—If ever there was a man of good intentions, I think that King Zedekiah was that man. He was not a monarch who sinned with a high hand; his heart was in the right place, as we say. He meant well, when he resisted Babylonia. He meant well, when he rescued Jeremiah. Yet for all his well-meaning, here is his end—darkness and worse than death in Chaldea. We may have the best intentions, and still be castaways. Our hearts may respond to what is bright and good, and life may be a failure after all. From Zedekiah we should learn that courage is needed, and trust in God in the teeth of all appearance, if our path is to move into the perfect day.
III. Our weakness is certain to make others suffer.—I am sure that Zedekiah was proud of his bodyguard. It was a very gallant and devoted band. And he loved his sons. He would have fought to the death for them very gladly. He never wished them ill—but he was weak, and that cost them all their lives. And is not that the worst of weakness always? It involves in suffering our dearest and our best. For none of us can be untrue to God, nor can we halt or hesitate in our obedience, nor can we hearken to the baser voices, nor play the coward when the trumpet calls, but life will be made harder for our friend, and shadows will fall on lives we dearly love, and others will suffer because we are weak.
IV. We are doing God’s will when we little dream of it.—Do you think that when the Chaldeans took the city, they knew that Jehovah had foretold that doom? Do you think that they set themselves to work that judgment, because they felt it was the will of God? Chaldea had its own hopes and ends and purposes of vengeance; but behind all, we trace the Sovereign Will. Let us try to realise that in our lives. God is behind us when we dream not of it. We plan and toil, we prosper and we fail, but underneath are the everlasting arms. The Sovereign Will is working to its goal.
‘Notice the beneficial purposes served by the seventy years of captivity in Babylon.
( i.) The tribes which had hitherto been divided under the rival kings of Israel and Judah lost sight of this mischievous distinction. When they returned, it was as a united people once more.
( ii.) By being scattered over the eastern empire, the Jews carried to far-off places the knowledge of the true God. The Books of Daniel and Esther, for example, show us that good missionary work was done by these exiles. There is that scattereth and yet increaseth. So the truth was spread at the beginnings of Christianity ( Acts 8:1).
( iii.) This destruction of Jerusalem, and the consequent breaking up of the privileged classes, went far to renew the blood of Israel. The old families were separated, and marriages became possible which would otherwise never have been thought of.
( iv.) Better than all, idolatry received its death blow. Never again did the people return to it. A severe remedy was the fall of the city, the banishment of the people, the shattering for a time of national life. But all was justified if only idolatry was stopped. The first commandment now, as always, is, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Jeremiah 39". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19