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This terrible climax, to which all the previous portion of the book has been pointing, is reached in chap. 39.
The long-suffering patience of GOD at last gives way to judgment; the glory departs, and Jerusalem, whose name means "the foundation of peace," or, "founded in peace," is delivered into the hands of the Gentiles. What other city on earth has had a history so full of pathos and tragedy, and which so dreadfully belies its name? Yet the prophetic Word assures us that it shall eventually be established in peace, no more to be overthrown.
Nebuchadrezzar's siege lasted eighteen months, save for the brief respite when he withdrew his troops to meet the king of Egypt.
During this long period, how terrible the suffering of the inhabitants had been! Yet, in it all, there was callousness of conscience and hardness of heart, coupled with a complaisant self-righteousness most abhorrent in the eyes of the Lord. Trouble does not result in repentance, unless the soul sees in it the hand of GOD in government. Even in the awful days of the last great tribulation, when men shall be scorched with great heat, they will blaspheme the name of GOD and repent not to give Him glory; and when the kingdom of the beast (the Satan-inspired ruler of the ten kingdoms in that day) shall be full of darkness, they will gnaw their tongues for pain, and blaspheme the GOD of heaven, repenting not of their deeds (Revelation 16:10-11).
It is a fallacy, that has become very popular today, that punishment of necessity results in repentance. Upon this is based the "larger hope" of men who try to persuade themselves that, in the judgment to come after death, GOD will be better than His Word, and that it will not be eternal in its nature, because leading those who are the subjects of it to self-judgment. Scripture holds out no such hope.
There is not a single ray of light to illumine the future of the Christ-rejecter throughout eternity's unending ages.
"He that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of GOD abideth on him" (John 3:36).
Even on earth, where the Holy Spirit pleads with men, suffering does not always result in men's turning to the Lord in confession and contrition of soul; neither will it when time has ceased to be, and the Spirit has ceased His striving.
In the case of the men of Judah and Jerusalem, the last act of the fearful tragedy found them as hard and unresponsive as ever.
"In the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, the ninth day of the month, the city was broken up" (Jeremiah 39:2).
How definite the date, to be remembered by the Lord forever! His heritage turned over to strangers, the sheep of His pasture devoured by the wild beast of the nations! That ninth day of the fourth month of Zedekiah's eleventh year shall have its place in His heart evermore.
Vainly had they sought to put far off the evil day. Long deferred in grace, while the Lord waited for some sign of brokenness of spirit, it had to come at last. And how brief the account of the fall of the one-time metropolis of the world: "The city was broken up!" (Jeremiah 39:2) What a world of anguish and sorrow is wrapped up in these five words! The details are all omitted, save in regard to Zedekiah's vain effort to escape when redemption point * had been passed and it was too late.
* Many will remember that there is an insignificant headland in the Niagara river, just above the Falls, known as "Redemption Point," because no boat, once past, has ever been saved from destruction. In men's lives there is also a "Redemption Point."
The horrors of the sack of a great city by an Oriental army beggar all description. Neither age nor sex nor beauty avails to avert the cruel work of the blood-drunken conquerors. Death, shame and slavery tell the dreadful story.
Nebuchadrezzar was not present in person when Jerusalem fell, but his chief princes, "Nergalsharezer, Samgarnebo, Sarsechim (chief of the eunuchs), Rabsaris, Nergalsharezer (chief of the Mages), Rabmag, will all the residue of the princes of the king of Babylon," sat at the middle gate to direct the troops (Jeremiah 39:3). It will be noticed that Rabsaris and Rabmag, left untranslated in the Authorized Version, are really not proper names, but titles. This helps to distinguish the two princes who bear the name Nergalsharezer.
The second one was chief of the Magi, or the priests of the Babylonish mysteries. It is a similar title to the Roman Pontifex Maximus, and was sometimes borne by the kings of Babylon.
When Zedekiah and his men of war (their ranks sadly depleted by famine, pestilence, and battle) saw that all effort to save the city was vain, they fled, leaving Jerusalem under cover of darkness, "by the way of the king's garden, by the gate betwixt the two walls." (Jeremiah 39:4)
It will be remembered that strong walls separated the royal city, or the city of David, from the lower portion of Jerusalem. The palace and its environs as yet remained intact, though it was clear that their overthrow was but a matter of a few days at most, with no hope of succor. Zedekiah defended the stronghold to the last, and fled only when to remain would have been madness and a needless act of bravado. Stealthily the little company took the way of the plain, hoping to avoid detection. But all their efforts were in vain, for the Chaldeans pursued them and brought them to bay in the plains of Jericho. Those who could, forsook the king and fled to the wilderness (2 Kings 25:4-6). He himself was taken captive. The word of the Lord by Jeremiah had declared it; now it is fulfilled.
Nebuchadrezzar was at Riblah (where Pharaoh-necho had bound Jehoahaz thirty-four years earlier) when Jerusalem fell. Thither, Zedekiah was hurried, that the conqueror might wreak his vengeance upon the vassal who had rebelled against him, violated his oath, and occupied his army for a year and a half in accomplishing his overthrow. The wretched man who had lost his crown and sceptre by refusing to heed the words of Jeremiah had to endure the anguish of beholding his own sons slain before his eyes, and then, that no other scene might ever efface that one to the end of his life, his own eyes were put out.
Then, ignominiously bound in chains, he is carried to Babylon. The word of the Lord through Ezekiel, concerning Zedekiah, though he may never have learned of it, had been, "My net also will I spread upon him, and he shall be taken in My snare: and I will bring him to Babylon, to the land of the Chaldeans; yet shall he not see it, though he shall die there" (Ezekiel 12:13).
See, also, Ezekiel 17:12-21 of the same book, where what is related as history by Jeremiah is all foretold by the prophet of the dispersion. Thus minutely had the Holy Spirit made known, ere it came to pass, the evil that should befall Zedekiah, that when it had been literally fulfilled all might know that GOD had spoken.
The palatial residence of the kings of Judah was razed to the ground in the conflagration that followed the taking of the city: nor was the temple of the Lord spared, as we learn from Jeremiah 52:13. The sack of the city was complete. The walls were broken down, and the gates consumed with fire.
Well might the man who for so long had sought to turn his people's hearts back to the GOD of their fathers cry out in the bitter anguish of his soul, "How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people! How is she become as a widow!" (Lamentations 1:1).
Her judgment had come, because of her unfaithfulness to her Lord (Jeremiah 39:8).
The remnant who were not put to death were carried away captive into Babylon by Nebuzaradan, chief of the executioners. Those also who had obeyed the voice of Jeremiah, and had gone out to the Chaldean camp before the sack of the city, were spared the pains of death, but sent captive to the queen city on the Euphrates, as the prophet had predicted. Step by step, down to the smallest detail, the word through Jeremiah was fulfilled (Jeremiah 39:9).
Another prophet, Zephaniah the son of Cushi, had declared that even at this time a few of the lower class should be spared to dwell in the land. This too must be carried out. He lived in the days of Josiah, and may have known Jeremiah personally. He had said, "I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord" (Zephaniah 3:12).
How brightly shines this instance of the divine clemency in behalf of a few, and their true piety, in a day so dark, when the mass of the nation was utterly apostate. In accordance with this word, Nebuzaradan, unconscious that he was carrying out the declaration of the GOD of Israel, left a few "of the poor of the people, which had nothing, in the land of Judah, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time" (Jeremiah 39:10).
Striking are the lessons here brought before us. It is the poor in spirit who are blessed - those who own their nothingness. These had nothing, and did not seek to hide their poverty; and the Lord gave them both vineyards and fields. The former tells of joy; the latter, of sustenance. Both were to be found in Himself, though all else had failed. He could still meet the need of any who would confide in Him.
Such an one was the prophet Habakkuk, who, though at first greatly bewildered by GOD's governmental dealings with the people of His choice, learned the great lesson that the just shall live, not by sight, but faith, and could therefore sing, in view of the very destruction we have been considering:
"Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the GOD of my salvation" (Habakkuk 3:17-18).
There is no day so dark but that the Lord will be the light of every soul that ceases from man and turns to Himself; no sorrow so great but that fellowship with Him will sweeten the bitter waters. In every trial He is near; in every hour of discouragement and gloom He abideth faithful still - “He cannot deny Himself." (2 Timothy 2:13)
The little remnant left in the land might seem to be bereft of all that could make life worth living. But they had Himself, and they could call upon His name, knowing that if He had been faithful to His own holy character in chastening them for their sin, now bowels of mercy were moved for them when, in lowliness of mind and confession of their iniquities, they sought His face.
The Lord was looking out for the interests likewise of the now aged man who had witnessed for Him so long in the midst of a gainsaying people.
In so doing He made use of what men call natural causes, as He often does to carry out His purposes. It had evidently been reported to Nebuchadrezzar how Jeremiah had ever counseled submission to the Babylonian yoke, and reproved the kings of Judah for breaking their oaths of allegiance. He therefore sent a special message to Nebuzaradan regarding the prophet, bidding him: "Take him, and look well to him, and do him no harm, but do unto him even as he shall say unto thee" (Jeremiah 39:11-12).
It was a pompous company who went down to seek out the man who was the subject of this communication from the king: composed of the chief captain himself, together with Nebushasban, another chief of the eunuchs, the Pontifex Nergalsharezer, and all the princes of Babylon. They found Jeremiah in the court of the prison, where he still abode in confinement; none having, apparently, given him a thought when the city fell. Releasing him, they gave him to the care of a man whose father, on several occasions, had befriended him - Gedaliah the son of Ahikam - with instructions to carry him home and see to his welfare. Gedaliah had already been selected to fill the position of governor in the land. He gave Jeremiah liberty to go wherever he desired; "so he dwelt among the people" - evidently the poor who were left, as we have seen (Jeremiah 39:13-14).
He had already received a message for another man whom GOD had not forgotten. While still in the prison-court, the word of the Lord had come to him bidding him:
"Go and speak to Ebedmelech the Ethiopian, saying, Thus saith the Lord 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 in that day before thee. But I will deliver thee in that day, saith the Lord. . . 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 the Lord" (Jeremiah 39:15-18).
Thus was the service of the faithful Ethiopian rewarded. GOD will be no man's debtor. The last clause gives us the secret of Ebedmelech’s devotion: he had put his trust in the Lord. Though a stranger to the commonwealth of Israel, he was a child of GOD through faith; and faith in his case worked by love.
Various have been the shifting scenes brought to our notice in this section. May grace be given to lay all to heart and find eternal profit from our meditations upon it.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Jeremiah 39". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany