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CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES.—1. Chronology of the Chapter.—Cf. notes in loc. chap. 34. The siege lasted just one year and six months, not reckoning the interval during which the Chaldeans broke up to give battle to the army of Pharaoh.
2. Contemporary Scriptures.—Ezekiel 12:8-20; Ezekiel 17:11-21; 2 Kings 25:1-12; 2 Chronicles 36:11-21; Jeremiah 52:4-11.
3. National Affairs.—Vide below on “The thread of Events.”
4. Personal Allusions.—Jeremiah 39:3; Jeremiah 39:13. A critical examination of Hitzig and others, into these compound names, tends to reduce them to three (instead of, as in Jeremiah 39:3, six), thus: (1). Nergal-Sharezer, the Samgar, or cup-bearer; (2). Nebo-Sarsechim, the Rab-saris, or chief of the eunuchs, or chamberlain; (3). A second Nergal-Sharezer, the Rab-mag, or chief of the magi. The LXX read Ναβουσαχαρ, as a name linking together the terminal “Nebo” and “Sarsechim;” while other Greek manuscripts read Ναβουσαρσεχιμ. This Nebo-Sarsechim is called in Jeremiah 39:13 “Nebushasban the Rab-saris.” The second “Nergal Sharezer,” the Rab-mag, or chief of the magicians, is known in history as Neriglissar, son-in-law of Nebuchadnezzar (supposed by Dr. Payne Smith to have been his vicegerent during Nebuchadnezzar’s seven years’ madness: see Daniel). This Neriglissar seized the crown two years after Nebuchadnezzar’s death, murdering Evil-merodach, the late king’s son. This man’s identification with the “Rab-mag” named here arises from Neriglissar being called “Rabu-emga” in the Assyrian cuneiform inscriptions.
Jeremiah 39:9. “Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard, i.e. the Rab-tabbachim, or chief of the executioners, called in the Assyrian inscriptions, “Nabu-zir-iddina,” i.e. “Nebo has given offspring.”
Jeremiah 39:14. “Gedaliah the son of Ahikam.” Jeremiah’s steadfast and courageous friend, as his father “Ahikam” had been before him (chap. Jeremiah 26:24, vide note in loc). He was “a man of a generous, genial nature, such as might have rallied the better spirits of his countrymen round him, and taken the place of the fallen dynasty” (Stanley).
5. Geographical Allusions.—Jeremiah 39:4. “By the way of the king’s garden, by the gate betwixt the two walls.” Jerusalem then consisted of an upper and lower city; the upper including Mount Zion, with a strong fortress; the latter, to the north, was considerably lower, and more easily accessible to the Chaldeans. The “gate” from the upper city to the “king’s garden” was appropriated exclusively to royalty, and “stairs” led down from Mount Zion and the palace to the king’s garden below (Nehemiah 3:15). There was a double wall south of Zion, towards the plain of Jericho (Jeremiah 39:5). He broke an opening through the wall in order to escape (see Ezekiel 12:12).
Jeremiah 39:5. “Riblah.” An ancient city on the northern boundary of Palestine, in the land of Hamath, about six miles distant from Jerusalem, forty miles south of Hamath, on the great road between Palestine and Babylon.
Literary Criticism.—Jeremiah 39:7. “He put out Zedekiah’s eyes,” עִוִּרִ. Excavated, dug out.
Jeremiah 39:14. “That he should carry him home,” where, is uncertain, for הַבַּיִת is indefinite. The words are lit. “to take him out into the house.” Not Gedaliah’s, or it would have read “his house.” Either the Temple, therefore, or the king’s house; and most naturally the latter—the royal palace.
GENERAL SURVEY OF CHAPTER 39
THE SIEGE OF JERUSALEM BY NEBUCHADNEZZAR
I. The thread of events as indicated in this chapter. For preliminary events see notes on chap. 34.
1. Nebuchadnezzar’s army effected an entrance into the city of Jerusalem. It was at midnight (Jeremiah 39:4). The date is carefully given in Jeremiah 39:2. The date answers to our July. This was after an eighteen months’ siege, B.C. 587. At this time the city was reduced to misery and starvation (Ezekiel 5:12).
2. Nebuchadnezzar, who himself opened the siege in person (Jeremiah 39:1), had retired to Riblah, and was there at its close (Jeremiah 39:3; Jeremiah 39:6; cf. Jeremiah 38:17).
3. It was into the lower city, on the north side, that the Chaldeans forced an entry (Jeremiah 39:3), “the middle gate” being situate between the lower and the upper city.
4. Zedekiah, with his wives and children and royal guards, having their heads muffled (Ezekiel 12:6; Ezekiel 12:12), fled on the entrance of the Chaldeans, by the gate south of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 39:4), breaking an opening in the wall to get out (Ezekiel 12:12).
5. Pursued by the Chaldeans and captured in the plains of Jericho, his troops were “scattered from him” (chap. Jeremiah 52:8); and Zedekiah and his family were manacled, and thus marched to Riblah to confront the wrathful king of Babylon (Jeremiah 39:5).
6. Doomed for the violation of his oath of allegiance to Babylon (Ezekiel 17:13-19; Ezekiel 2:0. Chron. Jeremiah 36:13), Zedekiah was first made to behold the slaughter of his courtiers and family, and then his own eyes were put out, and he carried away in chains to Babylon (Jeremiah 39:6-7). Thus were reconciled the two passages, Jeremiah 32:4, and Ezekiel 12:13.
7. A month elapsed, during which the Chaldean princes had probably gone to Riblah to consult Nebuchadnezzar as to the fate of the city and inhabitants (chap. Jeremiah 52:10; 2 Kings 25:8), and then Nebuzar-adan came with royal orders to utterly destroy the city (Jeremiah 39:8). Fire consumes the city (chap. Jeremiah 52:13); foul ravages were committed upon the inhabitants (Lamentations 5:11-12); desecration was heaped upon the dead (chap. Jeremiah 7:32; Jeremiah 8:3).
8. Among the hosts of captives carried off to Ramah (Jeremiah 39:9) was Jeremiah (chap. Jeremiah 40:1). See below: IV. Kindness to the Lord’s Prophet.
II. Incidents of the siege. It began in January, B.C. 587, and continued till July, B.C. 586.
1. The store of bread became gradually exhausted (chap. Jeremiah 52:6), and the horrors of starvation set in (Ezekiel 5:10; Ezekiel 5:16; Lamentations 2:20; Lamentations 4:4-5; Lamentations 5:9-10).
2. In their profanity and despair, the priests increased their flagrant idolatries within the very Temple of Jehovah (2 Chronicles 36:14; see Ezekiel 8:7-9.)
3. The midnight surprise (Jeremiah 39:4), was a moment for fearful slaughter. The sleeping city awoke in terror, and soon the streets flowed with the blood of the slain (2 Chronicles 36:17; Lamentations 1:15). Princes were hung up by their hands on the Temple walls (Lamentations 5:12).
4. The treasures of the Temple were carried away as spoil (2 Kings 25:13-17; Jeremiah 52:17-22).
5. Pilgrims from surrounding nations came to wonder and bewail over the ruins of the city (chap. Jeremiah 41:5-6), while savage heathen tribes exulted over Jerusalem’s overthrow (Psalms 79:1; Ezekiel 25:6; Ezekiel 25:8; Ezekiel 25:15; Ezekiel 26:2).
III. Vengeance for a violated oath (Jeremiah 39:5-7).
1. Faithless himself, he was abandoned by faithless friends—
(1.) Deserters from the city carried tidings to the Chaldean army of Zedekiah’s escape (Josephus, Antiq. Jeremiah 10:8, § 2).
(2.) His “friends and captains” who fled with him abandoned him at the appearance of the Chaldean soldiers (Ibid).
4. The wrath of the conquering king was justly severe. Brought before Nebuchadnezzar, he was first charged by him as a “covenant-breaker,” and “reproached for his ingratitude,” that he had “used the power he gave him against him who gave it;” but, said Nebuchadnezzar, “God is great, who hateth this conduct of thine, and hath brought thee under us” (Ibid).
Then followed the horrors recorded in Jeremiah 39:6-7. And in Babylon Zedekiah was imprisoned till he died.
3. The execration of God, through His prophets, fell upon him for his violated oath; from Jeremiah in Jerusalem (chap. Jeremiah 37:9-10), and from the prophet Ezekiel among those already carried captive to Babylon (Ezekiel 17:16-20).
See homily on chap. Jeremiah 38:17-18 : “SINNERS THE CAUSE OF THEIR OWN SUFFERINGS.”
IV. Kindness shown to the Lord’s prophet (Jeremiah 39:11-14).
1. His faithful witness against Zedekiah’s falsity and his nation’s perfidy had become known to Nebuchadnezzar, probably through the Jews carried captive to Babylon with Jeconiah, and now again through deserters (chap. Jeremiah 38:19, and Jeremiah 39:9). Hence the king’s clemency.
2. Nebuchadnezzar’s chieftain, therefore, was charged specially to care for the prophet amid the judgments to be dealt on the nation.
3. A month after Zedekiah’s flight (see “Thread of Events,” 7, above), Nebuchadnezzar found him in the prison where “he abode” (chap. Jeremiah 38:28); who released him, and with the first mass of captives he was hurried on to Ramah (chap. Jeremiah 40:1).
4. At this point he was released (chap. Jeremiah 40:4), and allowed to choose either a place of high favour in the royal court at Babylon, or any spot in Palestine which he might elect to dwell.
5. Nebuchadnezzar, in accordance with Jeremiah’s desire, placed the prophet in Gedaliah’s charge (chap. Jeremiah 39:14, Jeremiah 40:5); gave him “a reward;” and the prophet made his home in Mizpah (chap. Jeremiah 40:6).
Patriotic to the last, this grand servant of God “had no mind to follow” Nebuzar-adan to Babylon, “nor to dwell anywhere else, but would gladly live in the ruins of his own country,” pleading that Nebuzar-adan would “set at liberty his disciple Baruch, one of a very eminent family, and exceedingly skilful in the language of his country” (Josephus, Antiq. Jeremiah 10:9, § 1).
On the release of Jeremiah, Wordsworth comments: “The siege and capture of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans were the cause of the liberation of Jeremiah. So it is often in the history of the Church. The shocks of dynasties and overthrow of thrones have often been overruled by God into occasions for the liberation and free circulation of His Word. How much has the diffusion of the Holy Scriptures been facilitated by God amid storms and revolution, as in Italy and Spain! How much may the Church of God be extended and purified by His power and love amid the coming conflicts and sufferings of the latter days!”
Note.—For descriptions of the events of the siege and capture of Jerusalem, see Stanley’s “Jewish Church,” 2. sect. 40.; and Josephus, “Antiquities of the Jews,” book 10. chap. 8.
Topic: A LONELY HERO OF FAITH. “Go and speak to Ebed-melech the Ethiopian … I will deliver thee … because thou hast put thy trust in Me, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 39:15-18).
Comp. homily on chap. Jeremiah 38:7-13, also outline following this, “The Believing Ethiopian.”
The hour had come for the noble act of this Ethiopian to receive its due reward: God would befriend him amid prevailing calamity and destruction.
I. Alone in his heroism, he is singled out by God for special recompense (Jeremiah 39:17-18).
1. Generous deeds arrest God’s attention. His hazardous interest in the persecuted prophet was chronicled before Heaven. Nothing noble is overlooked by God (Acts 10:4).
2. Kindnesses shown to God’s servants are especially valued by God. Those who “receive a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward” (Matthew 10:41); for they thus further the prophet’s work, as “fellow-helpers to the truth” (3 John 1:6-8).
3. His single-handed defence of the prophet made his valour the more worthy of reward. It enhanced his service that it was done without the sympathy and support of others, and in the teeth of their malice. See Paul’s words respecting Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 1:16-18).
II. Human conduct is most approved by God when inspired by faith. “Thou hast put thy trust in Me.”
This religious element in his conduct does not make itself seen in his meritorious service to Jeremiah. All that we should gather as we watch his actions is, that his humane heart moved him to seek the prophet’s release; although it is clear that he regarded the cruelty of the princes as “evil” in itself, and especially “evil” when done against “the prophet” (chap. Jeremiah 38:9).
1. Amid prevailing unbelief, this Ethiopian revered the Lord. What a rebuke on these Jews—God’s favoured people! Remember the words of Jesus, “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel!”
2. His humanity to the prophet was prompted by devout feeling. He had the Lord before him in rendering this noble service to His prophet. And this explains his dauntless courage and earnest solicitude. “Ye did it unto Me” (Matthew 25:36; Matthew 25:40).
3. Trust in God sustained him amid the perils he had to confront. Well he knew that he could not act as the prophet’s friend without incurring hatred and danger; but “he trusted in the Lord that He would deliver him” (Psalms 22:8). Trust in God was at the root of his defiance of the mighty men who were foes of God and His servant.
Note, therefore, Ebed-melech believed in and trusted the Lord.
(a.) He held the word of the Lord which Jeremiah proclaimed against the city to be true (Jeremiah 39:16).
(b.) He placed no hope on the means of succour or escape in which the king and his courtiers trusted.
(c.) He withstood the cruelty of Jeremiah’s enemies as resistance of the Lord’s purposes.
(d.) He placed his only hope on the power and graciousness of God Himself.
III. In the hour of His servant’s alarm, God manifests His timely favour (Jeremiah 39:17). For here observe—
1. How this noble and daring man was now disturbed by alarm. “Men of whom thou art afraid!” Courageous though he had been when Jeremiah was perishing, he yet realised impending danger, and trembled in fear. Whether these “men” of whom he was afraid were the princes of Zedekiah’s court, or the Chaldeans who were besieging the city, is uncertain; most naturally the latter, for the mention of “the sword” connects his dread with the army.
2. How tenderly God comforts the souls of His faithful children (Jeremiah 39:17-18). Quiets his fear with express and appropriate assurances.
3. How envious is their lot whom the Lord lovingly befriends! In that hour of Zion’s overthrow what avails it to Zedekiah that he was a king, or to the princes that they were the mighty ones of that doomed kingdom? And what harms it now that Ebed-melech was only a servant in the king’s household, and hated by those in power? The Lord was on his side; and while king and nobles suffered miserably for their ungodliness (Jeremiah 39:6-7), this Ethiopian was divinely shielded from mischief (see Hebrews 13:6; Psalms 146:5).
Observe—(i.) Faith may often be found in those we should least expect to be believers. “There are last that be first,” &c.
(ii.) Faith never is allowed to pass unrewarded by God, who prizes a soul’s trust beyond all else. “Because he trusted in Me.”
THE BELIEVING ETHIOPIAN
Connect chap. Jeremiah 38:7-13 with chap. Jeremiah 39:15-18.
Help for God’s servants arises from directions little expected. Though not one of Jeremiah’s fellow-countrymen befriended him, a Cushite eunuch became his friend.
I. Godliness in an unlikely person. “Ethiopian.”
1. A prophet’s ministry may win success where not expected.
2. Though hearers we naturally supposed would regard our messages turn aside, there are hearts opened to our word.
3. Buried seed will, in its right time, spring up and reward the faithful worker for God.
II. Faith stirring the soul to heroism.
1. Convinced that God’s servant suffered wrongfully, he could not longer conceal his attachment.
2. Reckless of perils, he attempted the prophet’s deliverance.
3. A lowly servant acting in defiance of mighty courtiers, and even rebuking the cowardly king!
III. Religious life flowing out in kindness.
1. How natural for a convert to love his teacher.
2. Piety beautifully expressed—in services of kindness.
3. Affection makes the soul solicitous and courageous; he could not rest: pleaded with the king; hastened to rescue. What a motive in life is godly affection!
IV. Noble service signally rewarded.
1. A message of comfort sent to calm his fears.
2. In the general ruin this godly man was saved. None escapes God’s care who trust in Him.
3. No service for God is allowed to pass unrequited. “A cup of cold water given … shall in no wise lose its reward.”
V. God’s pleasure in His servants’ welfare.
1. Ebed-melech’s generous help to Jeremiah, by which God’s prophet was saved from death, won for the Ethiopian special Divine favour. For God was concerned that His prophet should not suffer; and He providentially provided deliverance through this alien eunuch. For He “careth for” His own.
2. Hence, also, God was concerned for the Ethiopian’s comfort and safety. He was a child of God; and amid menacing perils which filled him with fears, God sent assurance of his preservation.
3. God loves His saints, and will assuredly work out their full redemption.
Note.—Cramer remarks: “This pious courtier had interceded for the prophet with the king; but the prophet had in turn interceded for him with God the Lord. Ebed-melech had drawn him out of the pit, but Jeremiah draws him by his prayer from the jaws of all Chaldean war-vortices. Preachers do their patrons more good than they get from them.”
Jeremiah 39:18. Theme: TRUST.
I. This trust in a Power Divine, and in a Hand unseen, is regarded as fanaticism by scoffers and sceptics.
But against this David says, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.” It is trust in the Infinite, the Immutable, the Immortal.
II. Trust in the Lord calms and assures the soul in times of alarm and distress. So that the believer says, “I will trust and not be afraid.”
III. Trust in God both pleases Him and wins special manifestations of His favour. “The Lord shall deliver him because he trusteth in Me.” God is honoured by our trust, and He honours them that honour Him.
IV. Trust in God for our welfare and success does not supersede the necessity of effort, nor the wisdom of prayer. “Trust in the Lord at all times; pour out your hearts before Him.” God expects men to ask for grace.
Men of faith and prayer have Omnipotence on their side, and can confidently say, “No weapon formed against us shall prosper.”—“Walks with Jeremiah,” Rev. D. Pledge.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Jeremiah 39". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany