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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 39

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Verses 1-3

Jer 39:1-3

Jeremiah 39:1-3

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, in 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], Nergal-sharezer, Samgar-nebo, Sarsechim, Rab-saris, Nergal-sharezer, Rab-mag, 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. (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."

THE PROPHET CONFIRMED Jeremiah 39:1-18

For years Jeremiah had been preaching that Jerusalem would fall to the enemy from the north, the Chaldeans. Only through national submission to Nebuchadnezzar the servant of the Lord was there any hope of deliverance. Because of this message Jeremiah had suffered. He had been ridiculed, condemned as a false prophet, tortured, accused of treason, buffeted, harassed, imprisoned. On more than one occasion he nearly lost his life. Yet he never ceased to preach. He never compromised his message. Chapter 39 relates the confirmation of Jeremiah as a prophet. All of which he had warned and threatened came to pass. No longer could there be any doubt in the mind of anyone. Jeremiah was a man of God speaking forth the revelations he had received from the one true God.

The fall of Jerusalem to the Chaldeans was one of the monumental events of Old Testament history. The account here in chapter 39 is one of four accounts of the events surrounding the fall of the city, the others being found in Jeremiah 52, 2 Kings 25 and 2 Chronicles 36. Naturally all these accounts should be studied together for the complete picture. The narrative in chapter 39 may be divided into four paragraphs: the collapse of the city (Jeremiah 39:1-3); the capture of the king (Jeremiah 39:4-7); the captivity of the people (Jeremiah 39:8-10); and the command of Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 39:11-14).

It should, perhaps, be noted that the genuineness of the greater part of chapter 39 has been called into question. Jeremiah 39:4-13 are omitted in the Septuagint (Greek) version of Jeremiah. But the Septuagint of Jeremiah has all the appearance of being a translation of an abridged version of the book. Perhaps in that abridged version this section was omitted because the same material is repeated in more detail in chapter 52. In this case the absence of this passage from the Septuagint is not a very weighty argument against its genuineness. The same can be said for the alleged contradictions found in this passage. These will be treated in the comments which follow.

The Collapse of the City Jeremiah 39:1-3

The siege of Jerusalem had begun in the ninth year of the reign of Zedekiah, i.e., in January 588 B.C. (Jeremiah 39:1). The siege was brought to a successful conclusion in the eleventh year of Zedekiah, i.e., July 587 B.C. What a fateful day that was when the city was broken up, i.e., a breach was made in the walls (Jeremiah 39:2). It was a day commemorated by fasting for nearly seventy years (Zechariah 7:3; Zechariah 8:19). After eighteen long, weary months during much of which time the people in Jerusalem were at the point of starvation, the city had fallen. All that was left for the Chaldeans to do was to storm the upper part of Jerusalem where the remnant of the Judean army was holding out. Nebuchadnezzar himself was not present when the city fell. After defeating Pharaoh Hophra a few months earlier the great king had gone about 200 miles north of Jerusalem to the Syrian town of Riblah where he made his military headquarters. The final conquest of Jerusalem and the other military operations in the area were left in the hands of his subordinates.

As soon as the outer areas of Jerusalem had fallen the Chaldeans established a military government for the city. The administrative headquarters was set up at the middle gate, perhaps a gate in the wall that separated the upper and lower parts of the city. Three or possibly four Chaldean officers of that provisional government are named in Jeremiah 39:3. First is Nergal-sharezer whose name means “may Nergal protect the king.” The next name which appears in the King James Version is Samgar-nebo. There is quite some difference of opinion about this name. The present writer concurs with most modern scholars in connecting the “nebo” element with the next name. But what is to be done with Samgar? It has been taken to be (1) the name of a second official, (2) the name of the town from which Nergal-sharezer hailed, or (3) the official title of Nergal-sharezer. At the present time it is best to be non-committal on the meaning of the word Samgar and await further information from the ancient Near East, Nebo-sarsechim is the third officer named. He occupied the office of Rab-saris. The final officer is another Nergal-sharezer who occupied the office of Rabmag. From archaeological evidence it is now known that Rab-saris and Rab-mag were titles of high ranking military or diplomatic officials but their exact functions are unknown. The literal translation of the titles, “chief of eunuchs” and “chief soothsayer” does not do justice to the importance of these men. One of the Nergal-sharezers mentioned in this verse is probably the same fellow by that name who succeeded the son of Nebuchadnezzar on the throne of Babylon in 560 B.C. (Bright contends that the two Nergalsharezers mentioned here are the same person.) He is more commonly known by his Greek name, Neriglissar. These three or four officials administered martial law upon the city until the arrival of Nebuzaradan, the captain of the garrison force, who came about a month after the breach was made in the walls (Jeremiah 52:12).

Verses 4-10

Jer 39:4-10

Jeremiah 39:4-5

THE CAPTURE OF ZEDEKIAH

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 king of Babylon to Riblah in the land of Hamath; and he gave judgment upon him.

When the king. and the men of war ... saw them .....

(Jeremiah 39:4). 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...

(Jeremiah 39:5). 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. 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.

Jeremiah 39:6-7

ZEDEKIAH’S PUNISHMENT

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...

(Jeremiah 39:7). Feinberg tells us that ancient kings liked to perform this act of cruelty, and often did it with their own hands. 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.

Jeremiah 39:8-10

JERUSALEM DESTROYED

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 of the poor of the people, that had nothing, in the land of Judah, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time.

And the houses of the people...

(Jeremiah 39:10). 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. 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.

The Capture of the King Jeremiah 39:4-10

When the lower city fell to the Chaldeans, Zedekiah knew that within a matter of hours he would be captive in the hands of his enemies. Under cover of night he and what was left of the army made a desperate dash for safety. The king fled through the gate between the two walls, i.e., where the inner and outer walls came together. The “king’s garden” was on the southeastern slope of the city near the junction of the Hinnom and Kidron Valleys. It must have been his intention to cross the Jordan river (Jeremiah 39:4). But in the plains around Jericho the Chaldean army overtook him. The king and his staff were taken in chains to the headquarters of Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah some two hundred miles to the north. This is probably the same Riblah mentioned in Numbers 34:11 as on the eastern boundary of the promised land. Some years earlier Pharaoh Necho had made Riblah his military headquarters. There he had summoned Judean king Jehoahaz who was then deported to Egypt in chains (2 Kings 23:33). Riblah was a strategic military point being at one of the major crossroads of western Asia. There Zedekiah was forced to stand in the judgment of the king against whom he had violated a sacred oath of allegiance (Jeremiah 39:5).

Many vassal oaths from the ancient Near East have come to light in recent years. In swearing fidelity to his overlord the vassal would call upon the gods of both nations to punish him if he proved unfaithful to the terms of the agreement. Generally such vassal treaties contained a section of maledictions which the vassal pronounced against himself, his family, and his nation should he violate any part of the treaty. Such treaties were regarded as the most solemn possible obligation. The overload would punish in the most severe way the vassal who disregarded the treaty and rebelled. Though the exact wording of the vassal treaty between Zedekiah and Nebuchadnezzar is unknown, perhaps the words can be reconstructed in the light of what happened at Riblah. If this particular vassal treaty followed the terminology which was more or less standard in such documents, Zedekiah may well have said something like the following: “May my sons and my officials be slain before my eyes and my eyes be blinded if I am unfaithful to any of the terms of this treaty. May I be carried to Babylon in fetters of bronze and languish in prison until my death if I violate this agreement.” If Zedekiah said something to this effect when he was placed on the throne of Judah as the vassal of Nebuchadnezzar then no wonder he tried so desperately to escape the wrath of the great king. Those self-maledictions, uttered as part of a formal vassal treaty, were literally fulfilled at Riblah. The last sight which Zedekiah saw was the slaying of his own sons. Then his own eyes were blinded and he was carried away to Babylon (Jeremiah 39:6-7).

The tragedy of Riblah is that all of this could have been avoided had Zedekiah only heeded the word of God spoken through the prophet Jeremiah. Again and again Jeremiah had warned Zedekiah that disobedience to his vassal oath would result in face to face confrontation with the king of Babylon and eventual deportation to Babylon (Jeremiah 32:4-5; Jeremiah 34:3). The prophet Ezekiel in far away Babylon also accurately predicted the course of events though his words must have seemed vague and contradictory at the time he uttered them. “I will bring him (Zedekiah) to Babylon to the land of the Chaldeans; yet shall he not SEE it, though he shall die there” (Ezekiel 12:13). “As I live (oracle of the Lord God), surely in the place where the king dwells that made him king, whose oath he despised, and whose covenant he brake, even with him in the midst of Babylon he shall die” (Ezekiel 17:16).

The Captivity of the People Jeremiah 39:8-10

The capture of the upper city of Jerusalem and other pockets of resistance must have taken three or four weeks. According to Jeremiah 52:12, Nebuzaradan, the captain of the king’s body guard, did not arrive on the scene in Jerusalem until a month after the city fell. When he arrived he put the city to the torch and broke down the walls which had for so many months thwarted the Chaldean might (Jeremiah 39:8). The Judeans who had already defected to the Chaldeans and those who were captured when the city fell were prepared for deportation to Babylon (Jeremiah 39:9). Only the very poor of the land were left. The parallel accounts (Jeremiah 52:16; 2 Kings 25:12) say that they were left as vinedressers and husbandmen. The text here indicates further that these poor were given the vineyards and fields (Jeremiah 39:10).

Verses 11-14

Jer 39:11-14

Jeremiah 39:11-14

GOD’S PROTECTION OF JEREMIAH

Now Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon 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 even as he shall say unto thee. So Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard sent, and Nebushazban, Rab-saris, and Nergal-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 .....

(Jeremiah 39:13). These names were the titles belonging to certain high officers of Babylon. Rabsaris means ’chief of the eunuchs.’ The precise meaning of Rab-mag is unknown. It has been suggested that the title means, the chief butcher, or chief executioner.

Took him out of the court of the guard...

(Jeremiah 39:14). 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.

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...

(Jeremiah 39:14). 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...

(Jeremiah 39:14). 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, as in Matthew 10:28-30; Matthew 28:18-20.

The Command of Nebuchadnezzar Jeremiah 39:11-14

Nebuchadnezzar had given specific orders to the captain of his guard with regard to the welfare of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 39:11). No doubt Nebuchadnezzar had learned of the preaching of Jeremiah through some of those who had defected during the siege. He must have regarded Jeremiah as a friend and ally and so consequently ordered that he be given this special treatment. Upon arriving in Jerusalem Nebuzaradan consulted with the Chaldean officials on the scene[336] in order to prevent any possible harm to Jeremiah by conflicting orders or ignorance of the royal decree (Jeremiah 39:13). Nebushasban seems to have replaced Sarsechim in the position of Rabsaris by the time that Nebuzaradan arrived (cf. Jeremiah 39:3) Thereafter Jeremiah was removed from the court of the guard (Jeremiah 38:28) and committed into the care of Gedaliah who had been appointed or would shortly be appointed as governor of the land (Jeremiah 40:5). Gedaliah was instructed “to carry him home" (Jeremiah 39:14). This has been taken to be (1) Gedaliah’s house; (2) the (chief) house, i.e., the king’s palace; (3) Jeremiah’s own house. The last is probably the best interpretation. This phrase suggests that Jeremiah was physically infirm at the time of his release from confinement. His age coupled with the deprivation and hardship which he had suffered during those last few months had left the venerable man of God frail and emaciated. And so Jeremiah dwelt among the people. The prophet was free at last.

Verses 15-18

Jer 39:15-18

Jeremiah 39:15-18

GOD REWARDS EBEL-MELECH

Now the word of Jehovah came unto Jeremiah, while he was shut up in the court of the guard, saying, Go, and speak to Ebed-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...

(Jeremiah 39:15). 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.

Thou shalt not be delivered into the hand of the men of whom thou art afraid...

(Jeremiah 39:17). 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)."

APPENDIX: A MESSAGE FOR EBED-MELECH Jeremiah 39:15-18

Attached to the end of this present section of the book is a brief appendix containing a word of comfort for the slave Ebed-melech. Chronologically these four verses would stand after Jeremiah 38:13. They are postponed till now in order that there might be no break in the narrative of Jeremiah’s imprisonment and the capture of the city. In their present position these verses provide a bright conclusion to the dark story of the fall and destruction of Jerusalem. The passage suggests that God takes care of His own and rewards men of faith who have the courage to act decisively.

While still in the court of the guard (Jeremiah 39:15) Jeremiah was given a message for Ebed-melech. Doubtlessly in the course of this servant’s daily work he would have had occasion to be in or near the court of the guard. Perhaps it was his task to feed the prisoners there. Jeremiah was instructed to go to this eunuch with a message of hope. Ebed-melech would see the city of Jerusalem captured and destroyed just as the Lord had spoken through His prophet (Jeremiah 39:16). Perhaps this is an oblique way of saying that Ebed-melech need not fear reprisals at the hands of the wicked princes who hated him for rescuing Jeremiah. Ebed-melech must have been harassed with fear as to his personal future when Jerusalem was captured. As a royal servant he knew that he would most likely be killed by the Chaldeans. Jeremiah assures him that this will not be the case. “you shall not be delivered into the hands of the men of whom you are afraid” (Jeremiah 39:17). Though his life would be endangered in that day, God would deliver him. His life would be given to him for a prey i.e., a prize of war. God will be gracious to this humble servant because he had put his trust in the Lord. What a contrast between this royal servant and the king he served. The servant trusted God and risked his life to take a stand for right, His master tried to save his life by refusing to heed the word of God. The Ethiopian found life among death; the king died a thousand deaths as he languished in blindness in a Chaldean dungeon.

The Fall of Jerusalem - Jeremiah 39:1 to Jeremiah 40:6

Open It

1. What is your favorite story, true or fictional, of a total reversal of fortunes?

2. What do you think of the idea that the captain should go down with the ship? Why?

Explore It

3. What happened to Jerusalem? (Jeremiah 39:1-3)

4. What did the king of Judah and his soldiers do when the Babylonians entered the city? (Jeremiah 39:4)

5. What happened to Zedekiah and his troops because they decided to flee? (Jeremiah 39:5-7)

6. What was left of the kingdom of Judah when the Babylonians finally left? (Jeremiah 39:8-10)

7. What happened to the prophet Jeremiah when the Babylonians took the city? (Jeremiah 39:11-14)

8. What words of comfort did Jeremiah have on the eve of the Babylonian victory for the man who had rescued him from the cistern? (Jeremiah 39:15-18)

9. Where was Jeremiah when the Babylonian commander of the guard came looking for him in order to carry out the king’s instructions? (Jeremiah 40:1-2)

10. What did Nebuzaradan understand about what had just transpired in Judah? (Jeremiah 40:2-3)

11. What choices were given to Jeremiah about where he would live? (Jeremiah 40:4-5)

12. Where did Jeremiah choose to stay after he was freed by the Babylonians? (Jeremiah 40:6)

Get It

13. Although Zedekiah had been installed as a puppet king for the Babylonians, why did he run in fear when they finally took the city?

14. Why would the Babylonians have left a few poor people and given them property?

15. What can we learn about Jeremiah’s character and motives from the fact that he chose to stay with his people rather than receive honor in Babylon?

16. What is revealed about God’s character through His concern for Ebed-Melech?

17. How would you respond to the self-imposed suffering of someone who had ignored your previous warnings about the consequences of a specific behavior?

Apply It

18. What immediate action can you take this week concerning a warning from God’s Word?

19. What person of faith could you study in the coming weeks in order to learn how to take a stand for God’s righteousness while maintaining compassion for sinners?

Questions On Jeremiah Chapters Thirty-Nine Thru Forty-One

By Brent Kercheville

1 What does chapter 39 describe?

What were some of the horrors of this event?

Where in Deuteronomy did God warn Israel that this would happen if they disobeyed?

2 How does Nebuchadnezzar treat Jeremiah (Jeremiah 39:11-14)? Compare and contrast his treatment by Nebuchadnezzar with his treatment by Zedekiah.

3 What is God’s promise to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 39:15-18)?

4 What happens to Jeremiah in Jeremiah 40:1-6? Who does the text say did all of this for Jeremiah?

5 What happens in Jeremiah 40:7-16?

6 What else happens in chapter 41?

TRANSFORMATION:

How does this relationship change your relationship with God? What did you learn about him? What will

you do differently in your life?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Jeremiah 39". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/jeremiah-39.html.
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