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The contents of this chapter prove that it is not an independent narrative, but the concluding part of a history of the kings of Judah. It agrees almost word for word with 2 Kings 24:18-30, from which we are justified in inferring that it is taken from the historical work which the editor of the Books of Kings closely followed. It is most improbable that Jeremiah was the author. Would the prophet have contented himself with the meagre statement that Zedekiah "did that which was evil in the eyes of the Lord" (verse 2), or with such a summary description of the siege of Jerusalem? Apparently the editor who attached Jeremiah 52:1-34. as an appendix to the Book of Jeremiah omitted the account of Gedaliah (preserved in 2 Kings 25:22-26) because a fuller narrative had been already given in ch. 40-42. Apparently, too, either the same or some later editor inserted verses 28-30 from another source; the passage differs in several respects from 2 Kings 24:1-20. The text of ch. 52. seems to be a nearer approach to the original document than that of 2 Kings 24:18-30 (see Graf's commentary). Compare ch. 39.
It came to pass. The implied subject of the verb is Zedekiah's evil doing. That Zedekiah rebelled. There ought to be a full stop before these words, and "that" should rather be "And."
The famine was sore (see the pathetic descriptions in Lamentations 1:19, Lamentations 1:20; Lamentations 2:11, Lamentations 2:12, Lamentations 2:20; Lamentations 4:9, Lamentations 4:10).
Broken up; rather, broken into. The plain. The Hebrew has," the Arabah," the name constantly given to the chalky depression in the midst of which the Jordan ran.
Gave judgment (see on Jeremiah 1:16).
In prison; literally, in the house of custody.
All of brass, etc.; rather, all of brass: and like unto these had the second pillar, and pomegranates.
On a side; rather, towards the outside.
In the seventh year. As Ewald and Keil agree, we should correct "seventh" into "seventeenth" (just as in 2 Chronicles 36:9, for "eight" we should read "eighteen"). On the small number of Jews deported Ewald remarks, "Nothing so clearly shows the extent to which the best men from the upper classes had been already despatched by the Chaldeans across the Euphrates, as the fact that in all the years of the second, and, if it be insisted on, of the third revolt, put together, they found only 4600 men more whom they thought worth the trouble of transporting" ('History of Israel,' 4.265). As to the third deportation, see on Jeremiah 41:1.
Lifted up the head of Jehoiachin. Ewald thinks that Jehoiachin was regarded by the Jews in exile as the legitimate king, and compares Lamentations 4:20; Lamentations 2:9.
The siege and capture of Jerusalem.
I. GENERAL LESSONS OF THE SIEGE.
1. God will perform his threats. The capture of Jerusalem had been long and frequently predicted. The accumulated prophecies were now fulfilled.
2. Delay of judgment is no reason for expecting it to be permanently withheld. The fate of Jerusalem seemed to be long postponed. But at length it came.
3. Previous immunity is no security for the future. The Jews fondly idolized Jerusalem as a charmed city. It seemed impossible that she should fall into the hands of her foes. We grow careless and confident through a series of fortunate escapes. But our confidence is irrational unless it has any deeper ground.
4. The favour of God is no protection against the punishment of sin. The Jews regarded themselves as Divine favourites. They had received many peculiar privileges. But these made the duty of fidelity only the more obligatory. For the most favoured people to be faithless was a great and terrible wickedness. Indeed, the favour of God, instead of mitigating punishment, makes a heavier penalty to be fitting for those who are so ungrateful as to sin against it.
II. SPECIAL FEATURES OF THE SIEGE.
1. It was thorough. The great king Nebuchadnezzar came in person and "all" his army, and pitched a camp and built forts. Every effort was made to secure the city. The instruments of Divine vengeance are terrible, earnest, and vigorous.
2. It was protracted. It lasted for eighteen months How wearily those days and weeks and months must have dragged themselves along, every hour increasing the agony! But what is this period to the vast, dim reaches of the "punishment of the ages," which awaits lost souls?
3. It produced horrible sufferings. In the madness of famine, women devoured their own children. Thus God punished
(1) "satiation and disgust towards his holy Word and soul food;
(2) the terrible offering up of children to Moloch;
(3) the loose discipline of children" (Cramer, quoted by Naegelsbach).
From a merely selfish position, who that knew and realized the frightful consequences of his sins would bring these upon his head for the sake of the poor pleasures of an hour?
4. It was successful. The siege ended in the capture of Jerusalem. The force of Nebuchadnezzar was great and terrible, but behind it was the judicial will of Heaven. To withstand this was certainly futile. All resistance to the decrees of Divine judgment must be vain. Our one hope is not in opposition, but in penitent cries for God's mercy and unresisting submission to his will.
The fate of Zedekiah.
I. THE CAUSES WHICH LED TO THE FATE OF ZEDEKIAH.
1. The general calamity of his nation. The king suffers with his people. Unfortunately it too often happens that an innocent people is punished for the fault of its sovereign. We must not be surprised if the converse is sometimes true. We are all members one of another. Not only kings, but in a less degree private individuals, must expect to share the troubles of the community, apart from the exact measure of private desert. In this life the execution of Divine justice is general; in the next life it will be particular—then the judgment will be individualistic.
2. His own sin. Zedekiah did "evil in the eyes of the Lord" (Jeremiah 52:2). Others may have done worse and escaped. But if we have no more severe a fate than we deserve, we can find no ground for complaint in the fact that more wicked men receive (at present) a milder treatment.
3. His weakness. Zedekiah was more weak than wicked. It is often observable in history that the weak king suffers calamities which the bad king escapes. But weakness is a culpable defect in a sovereign. If he is not strong enough for his duties he should resign the reins of power. No one has a right to retain a post which he cannot efficiently fulfil. Moral weakness is always wrong—to be blamed as much as to be pitied—for it can be overcome (Isaiah 40:29-31).
4. His erroneous policy. Zedekiah was set on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar; he plotted with Pharaoh against his suzerain; and when his rebellion roused the vengeance of Babylon, he found Egypt to be only "a broken reed." In his case the vanity of trust in princes was illustrated.
5. The will of God. The fate of Zedekiah had been predicted by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 34:1-7). The prophecy implied a Divine decree. God has no hard, cruel decrees irrespective of our conduct and will. But following our wrong doing, God's fixed counsels of judgment make flight hopeless.
II. THE LEADING FEATURES OF THE FATE OF ZEDEKIAH.
1. He was captured in the agonies of flight. According to Josephus, this was not till he had reached the banks of the Jordan. How terrible to be so nearly saved, and yet to fall a prey to vengeance at last! To be only almost saved is worse than never to have had a hope of deliverance. They who have been near to the kingdom of heaven and have not entered it will feel the more bitterly the doom that they will share with the city of Destruction. "Remember Lot's wife."
2. He was carried to Babylon and tried before King Nebuchadnezzar. The triumph of the great monarch was the shame of his vassal.
3. His children were slain before his eyes. Parents suffer in the sufferings of their children more than in the pain of their own bodies. The action of Nebuchadnezzar was cruel, brutal, devilish. There are no such spiteful elements in God's punishment of the wicked. His is given in sorrow and with reluctance.
4. His eyes were put out. Here was the greatest refinement of cruelty. Zedekiah's sight was preserved till he had witnessed the death agonies of his children. Then he was blinded, so that the last vision to dwell in his memory was the harrowing spectacle of his children's massacre. But after so terrible a sight would the wretched man care to look on the light of day?
5. He was detained in prison till his death—a punishment worse than death. Dethroned, humiliated, in chains, in a dungeon, bereaved of his children, the poor blind king is left to the agony of his own bitter thoughts. May God deliver us from a similar fate in the future world!
The destruction of the temple.
I. THE GREATEST EARTHLY SPLENDOUR IS DESTRUCTIBLE. Solomon's temple was the pride of the Jews. For centuries it had stood mellowing with age. But when the brutal Chaldeans flung their torches at it the magnificent pile of buildings was soon reduced to a mass of smouldering ruins. Sic transit gloria mundi. An invasion, a revolution, a conflagration, may destroy the work of years in a night. Splendid possessions are poor refuges. A palace is not necessarily a castle.
II. THERE IS NO SAFETY IN HOLY PLACES AND CONSECRATED THINGS. The temple was burnt, and its treasures and sacred vessels were carried to Babylon. The flames that leaped up on the private houses of Jerusalem found no charmed circle to keep them off from the temple. The building was holy only in so far as it was put to holy uses. But when it was desecrated by sin no magical influence could prevent it from complete destruction. And if the temple could not preserve itself, much less could it protect its superstitious devotees. It was vain indeed for them to cry, "The temple of the Lord," as though the words were a spell to ward off trouble. Thus all who trust in holy sites, ceremonial services, etc; apart from spiritual devotion, will find their faith wrecked, even if the idol of their superstition is not destroyed.
III. WHEN THE SPIRIT OF DEVOTION HAS FORSAKEN A TEMPLE THE DESTRUCTION OF THE BUILDING MAY BE A GOOD RATHER THAN AN EVIL. The temple is then worse than useless; it is a snare, tempting men to believe that all is well so long as it stands. So the ordinances of religion delude men into false confidence. While these are duly administered with imposing solemnity, it is difficult to believe that the spirit of religion has fled. Let these go too and men have their eyes open to their true condition. The temple without true worship is a mockery to God. When the soul has gone the body had better be put away as soon as possible. If the Christian has ceased to offer spiritual sacrifices in his body as in a temple of the Holy Ghost, his life is no longer of any true value. When this temple is destroyed the fate is striking and alarming, yet it is but little after its sad desecration through sin.
IV. THE ONLY DURABLE WORK IS SPIRITUAL AND HOLY WORK, "Each man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it is revealed in fire" (1 Corinthians 3:13). There will be a test to the work of life. This may be splendid as a temple, but if it is unholy and earthly in character it must pass away ultimately. How many temples, and cities, and kingdoms, "cloud-capped towers, and gorgeous palaces" have left "not a rack behind"! It is the spiritual work of a man that endures. Even this fails, fruitless, unless it is good in character.
Sparing the poor.
I. THE FACT. Whilst the king, the nobles, the wealthy, and many others were carried into exile, certain of the poor were still left in the land. We are accustomed to speak of the hardships of poverty, but there are compensating advantages not a few. Many evils of the worst character only visit the rich. In times of public trouble the houses of the rich are attacked and the persons of the great are threatened, while the poor are left in happy neglect. Great men are beset with anxieties such as are unknown to the simpler lives of the poor. Who would be a king now that kings are all marks for the assassin? In those countries where the sovereign is compelled to take elaborate precautions for his safety, the poor citizen can move about the streets without fear. The one is a prisoner in his own palace, the other a free man with liberty to roam over the whole kingdom. Ambition aims at distinction, but that is a poor crown to win. Distinguished men have peculiar vexations and dangers of their own. There is more happiness in obscurity. The wise man will say, "Give me neither poverty nor riches;" and the Christian will add, "Not my will, but thine, be done," knowing well that for him that lot is best which his heavenly Father assigns to him.
II. THE EXPLANATION. What was there in the condition of the poor to induce the Chaldeans to spare them?
1. Their innocence. The peasants had not been plotting against Nebuchadnezzar, and the vengeance that the Babylonian monarch vented on the king and the seat of his government was naturally averted from the quiet country folk. These men were also more innocent in the sight of God. The leading people had shown their faithlessness in turning from Jehovah to Egypt; they, too, had probably descended the lowest in the vices of the age, which brought upon the nation the wrath of God. Poor men may be bad men. But there are sins to which they are less liable than great men.
2. Their weakness. While the great men were removed to Babylon, there would appear to be little danger of an insurrection among the poor people scattered over the farms, who had enough to do to earn their daily bread. There is a protection in weakness. A little strength often courts danger. They who are weak in themselves may be strong in the protection of God's providence.
3. Their usefulness. These poor people were left to work as "vine dressers and husbandmen." Nebuchadnezzar had no wish to see his newly acquired territory converted into a desert. It was for his advantage that some of the people should be spared. There is no protection like usefulness. Be serviceable and you will be safe. lie who lives for the real. good of his fellow men and the glory of his great Master may be sure that no harm can touch him so long as he is faithful to his task.
The deliverance of Jehoiachin.
The new king signalized his accession to power by an act of clemency. Possibly he saw no reason to continue the cruelty of his predeceesor now that the Jews were quieted; possibly he was influenzal by Daniel. Whatever the cause of it may have been, it is pleasant to see how mercy "becomes the throned monarch better than his crown."
I. DELIVERANCE MAY COME AT LENGTH AFTER PROLONGED SUFFERING. Jehoiachin had endured thirty-seven years of imprisonment. He must have lost hope long before his liberation. Yet the longest night has its end. If trouble outlast life, there is the blessed liberator, death, that ultimately frees the most wretched from his distresses. Then what will thirty-seven years of suffering be to the ages of eternity? It is a weary time to endure, but, Compared with the life beyond, it will seem both light and brief.
II. THE PROLONGED ENDURANCE OF SUFFERING MUST MAKE THE RETURN OF THE COMMON MERCIES OF LIFE A WONDERFUL BLESSING. What a meaning there is in the word "liberty" in the ears of the captive! Only the sufferers from thirst know the sweetness of water. The sick, when restored, enjoy health as the strong never can. Jehoiachin would find his change of circumstances wonderful beyond all expression.
III. NO EARTHLY DELIVERANCE IS PERFECT. The old man had endured captivity so long that he must have been bewildered and distracted by his release. For him, once a proud tyrant, now an aged, humiliated captive, crushed with the imprisonment of more than a third of a century, the thoughtless merriment of a court would seem like the life of another world or like a dream of childhood. His sufferings must have been too severe and too protracted for him to enter at once into the liberty and honour that were offered to him; One can scarcely think that he could ever feel at home with them. We know not what will be the first impressions of a new world when the soul escapes from its earthly captivity and enters the court of heaven. But there is an essential difference between Jehoiachin's condition and this. Jehoiachin remained an old man, worn with suffering as well as with years. The Christian has the gift of eternal life. To him the liberation by death is more than a change of external circumstances. He looks for the renewal of the fresh vigour of youth. Jehoiachin was never restored to his kingdom; at best he was an honoured subject of Babylon. But the Christian is restored to more than the primitive rights of man—to glory and kingship. Finally, there is no indication that Jehoiachin was changed in character. His long, lonely sufferings and the many reflections of thirty-seven years of imprisonment may have humbled him to penitence. But the historian does not appear to know of any such change. Yet a man's greatest enemy is himself. Deliverance of the body from a dungeon is a small boon if the soul is still captive to sin. The salvation in Christ effects this complete deliverance.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
(Cf. former homily, Jeremiah 37:1.)—C.
The Lord creating evil.
This is one of the passages of Scripture the meaning of which does not lie on the surface. It seems to represent God as instigating sin. For "through the anger of the Lord" it is said "that Zedekiah rebelled." But it was for that very rebellion he was so sorely punished, and yet it is said it was "through the Lord." Note—
I. THERE ARE OTHER PASSAGES LIKE THIS. Cf. "the Lord hardening Pharaoh's heart." The history of Judas. "None of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the Scripture might, be fulfilled" (John 17:12). Again," Is there evil in the city and I have not done it?" (Amos 3:6; Isaiah 45:7). And St. Peter's word to the Jews on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:23). They wickedly did what nevertheless God had determined before to be done. And there are yet other Scriptures besides these.
II. THEY GIVE ELSE TO GREAT DIFFICULTY. It is not difficult to understand that men should do wrong, or even the particular wrong which is charged against them and for which they are punished; but the difficulty is that the sin should be seemingly ascribed to God. And the Jews seem to have believed that God did prompt men to sin; cf. John 9:1, "Who did sin, this man or his parents in order that (ἱνα) he should be born blind?" The effect, the man's blindness, they looked on as designed and intended by God, and hence the cause producing that effect must have been designed also. As we read over Scriptures like these, the question of Abram starts immediately to our lips, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (cf. Romans 3:5-8). God "may and must transcend our understanding. He will by the very nature of the case dazzle and confound our imagination by the unsuspected riches and glory of his many mansions; but he must not trouble our sense of right if he would retain our homage and our love." But it is this sense of right that is troubled by what seems to be the teaching of Scriptures like these. They seem to teach that God prompts men to sin and then punishes them for it. Some who reasoned with St. Paul appear to have suggested (cf. Romans 3:1-31) that in such cases God was "unrighteous'" who took "vengeance." The apostle does not attempt to argue the matter, but treats the suggestion with a sort of "Get thee behind me, Satan," which is what his μὴ γένοιτο really amounts to. And where the suggestion is made from mere captious motives, or with the intent only to support a foregone conclusion and determination to disregard God, then such a reply is the proper one to make. But it can never be other than right to endeavour to meet the honest difficulties which some of the utterances of God's Word and some of the actings of his providence do unquestionably give rise to. If the suggestion were true that God made men to sin and then damned them for it, nothing could be more horrible, and no possible force could make men trust, love, or sincerely worship a God who would act so. But the suggestion is not true; for—
III. THE DIFFICULTY IS APPARENT, NOT REAL. God is never the author of sin. "The Lord is holy in all his ways, and righteous in all his works." "Let no man say when he is tempted," etc. (cf. James 1:13). But when sin has been Begotten in a man's soul by his own evil desires, then the special form in which that sin shall manifest itself is very often ordered by God. This is how we understand all these passages. That very Babylon in connection with which this John 9:3 is written may supply an apt illustration. Isaiah calls Babylon "the desert of the sea," for when, by reason of the melting of the snows which fed the Euphrates and her many tributaries, the great river overflowed its hanks, the great plain on which Babylon stood became like a vast sea. But the great Assyrian lords cut their canals and constructed their massive dams and reservoirs so that the superabundant and otherwise destructive waters were directed into safe channels, and could do no further harm. Those monarchs were not the authors of the floods, but by their skill and wisdom they directed which way those floods should flow. On one of our great railways a little while ago, a signalman saw to his horror that an engine had somehow got away without its driver, and was rushing on with ever-increasing speed to its own destruction and that of the first unhappy passenger train—and one was nearly due—that it should meet. Quick as thought the signalman seized his levers and turned the runaway into a siding where it could harm no one but itself. In every large fire the firemen act in a similar way. And so God. When sin has broken out by no will of his, but altogether contrary to his will, he does not let it run riot, as it might, but he orders the way it shall take. Thence it came to pass "through the Lord" that "Zedekiah rebelled against the King of Babylon" (verse 3).
IV. THIS ORDERING OF SIN'S WAY ON THE PART OF GOD IS A THING MUCH TO BE REMEMBERED.
1. For our consolation and comfort. Mad and monstrous as sin is, it is yet under God's control. Like as to the raging sea, he can say and does say to it, "Thus far shalt thou go, and no further," etc; and cf. Jeremiah 5:22.
2. For the warning of the sinner. The flames of the eternal fire are lit within our own soul. Sin is ever twisting and knotting its own scourge. What a man soweth that shall he also reap. The seed of all our punishments was sown by our own hand, though we never intended the harvest. The way sin shall take is utterly out of our power. If it does somewhat that we did intend, it does for men that we never dreamt of nor desired.
3. For instruction to all thoughtful readers of God's Word and beholders of his providence. God "does" the evil that is in the city (Isaiah 45:1-25.), but he does not originate it, and that which he does is but the ordering of its way.—C.
The march of doom.
These verses tell of the awful progress of the judgment of God on the doomed city of Jerusalem, her king, and people. To all who imagine that God is too full of love and graciousness to sternly judge and punish men, the contemplation of the events told of here may be painful, but assuredly they will be salutary also. We are shown the Babylonian armies gathering round the city; the long and dreadful siege; the gaunt famine that fastens upon the besieged; the walls broken at last and the inrush of the infuriated foe; the flight, capture, and tragedy of the king; the burning of the city and temple; and the carrying off into exile or slaughter of all but the poorest of the people. Ten weary years are covered by these events, and they were years full of lamentation, affliction, and woe. Now, all this teaches plainly—
I. THAT THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD ARE SLOW TO BEGIN. He is slow to anger. How long he bore with Judah and Jerusalem ere these tribulations came!
II. BUT WHEN BEGUN THEY GO ON. What a procession of one calamity after another it is!
III. THEY CANNOT BE ARRESTED OR TURNED ASIDE. All that endurance, courage, and skill could do was done in that memorable siege. Cf. Ezekiel 7:6, "An evil, an only evil, behold, it is come," etc.
IV. THE DISTRESS AND ANGUISH DEEPEN. (Cf. Ezekiel 7:1-27.; Ezekiel 8:0.; Ezekiel 11:0.; Lamentations 2:11, Lamentations 2:12, Lamentations 2:19; Lamentations 4:4, etc.)
V. THEY ARE RELENTLESS AND KNOW NO PITY. Prayers and entreaties are in vain (cf. Proverbs 1:24-31).
VI. THEY CEASE NOT FILL THEIR WORK IS DONE. See this history. The heart of the deceived evil doer protests that God cannot deal so. But he has dealt so with ungodly men, not once nor twice alone; and when he declares that he will again, of what avail is man's mere protest that he will not? Cf. the whole Book of the Revelation. How loudly, therefore, do facts like these cry out to the sinner, "Flee from the wrath to come"!—C.
Jeremiah 52:4, Jeremiah 52:6, Jeremiah 52:12
Days whose duties are indelible.
Note the particularity of the dates given in each of these verses. Not the year only, but the month; and not the month only, but the day; and sometimes not the day only, but the hour, whether morning or evening, during the light or dark. Now—
I. THERE ARE SUCH DAYS. In the record of the Flood we have such exactness of date. And in the later history of Jerusalem, the story of its decline and fall under its last kings, we again and again, as in this chapter, meet with such careful giving of exact dates. And in our own experience, looking back over the record of our lives, how vividly some dates stand out! We know the year, the month, the day, and hour, and it seems likely that we shall never forget them nor the events connected with them.
II. BUT THESE DAYS ARE NEARLY ALWAYS DAYS OF PAIN AND DISTRESS. It was so in the instances given in these verses. There are anniversaries which we keep, but these are for the most part joyous days, the memory of which we will not willingly let die. But the fact of our keeping them shows that there is probability that such memory would die if we did not carefully keep it up. But the days whose dates are indelible need no anniversaries to remind us of them. We cannot forget them, though, perhaps, we would fain do so. They are burnt in upon our souls so deeply that they are written as on a rock forever. And they are days, not of joy, but of sore distress; as when first the fierce Babylonian forces beleagured the holy city, and as when after weary months of obstinate defence the awful famine at length broke them down; and as when the proud conqueror in his rage burned down the sanctuary of God. Days of judgment were they, never to be forgotten by Israel any more. And there were many such days. We read of the "fasts" of the different months, many of which commemorated these sad events.
III. AND THEIR DATES ARE INDELIBLY WRITTEN IN OUR SOULS.
1. Because of the contrast which they offer to well nigh all other days. If any mark stands out conspicuous—like the black marks on a white page, or white on black—it proves that the ground upon which such mark stands out so conspicuously is of an entirely opposite colour, a complete contrast. And so the very blackness of these indelible days proves that the days against which they stand out so conspicuously have been of a far other and happier kind. Our very trials, by the vividness with which we remember them, prove the general goodness of our God, because they are such exception to his rule.
2. Because of their intensity. The mark is not merely dark, but deep. The sword pierces through the soul. It is the intensity of the pain that makes it so memorable.
3. Because of the shadow they cast. All our after life may be darkened—it often is so—by the effect of some awful blow, and the shadow ever starts from and guides our thoughts up to the terrible fact which has caused it.
IV, BUT THESE DATES ARE NOT INDELIBLE FOREVER. Cf. our Lord's illustration: "A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow,… but as soon as she is delivered … she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy." So it is oftentimes even in this world. Life would not be bearable were all sorrows indelible. But they are not. The lapse of time, the pressure of necessary work, the awakening of other interests, and, above all, the bestowment of new joys—all tend to scatter the gloom of the soul and to thrust into oblivion memories that could only give pain. And none of them shall follow us into our eternal home. We shall not—it does not appear possible—forget facts that have occurred, but we shall see them in such new lights and irradiated by such love of God that all the pain that belonged to them will depart and be seen no more.
"Help, Lord, that we may come
To thy saints' happy home.
Where a thousand years
As one day appears;
Where one day appears
As a thousand years
One of the most frightful that over befell any city is told of here. Its ghastly details may be traced out from this verse and different parts of the writings of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. This verse tells how the store of bread gradually failed; Jeremiah 37:21 and 38:29 with what difficulty ever so little was gained (also Ezekiel 5:16; Ezekiel 5:16; Ezekiel 12:19) Then Lamentations 4:7 and Lamentations 5:10 tell of the sufferings of the nobles; Lamentations 4:5 and Ezekiel 4:12-15 of the degradation of the high-born ladies of Jerusalem, snatching morsels of bread from the dunghills. The cries of the poor little children (Lamentations 2:11, Lamentations 2:12, Lamentations 2:19; Lamentations 4:4); the hard-heartedness of their parents (Lamentations 4:3). Fathers ate the flesh of their own sons (Ezekiel 5:10); mothers that of their new-born babes (Lamentations 2:20; Lamentations 4:10). Thus frightful was this famine. And it is ever a fearful thing, let the cause be what it may. Note—
I. WHEREFORE THEY ARE SENT.
1. As punishment:
(1) For violation of natural law. When men will crowd together in space too limited or on lands that will not yield sufficient, or will out of greed or selfishness refuse to cultivate aright the land they have, then sooner or later famine will come.
(2) For violation of Divine laws. So in the case of famine told of here. But:
2. They are sent as prompters and promoters of repentance and amendment. In case of violated natural laws they have again and again performed this needed office. Men have spread themselves abroad, communications between one district and another have been opened up, improved methods of cultivation have been adopted, wiser and juster laws have been enacted, and men's energies and thoughts have been roused to devise remedies and safeguards against the recurrence of the evil. And when it is the Divine laws that have been violated, the Divine laws against sin—for natural laws are also Divine—famine has brought many a prodigal to himself, and led him to say," I will arise and go to my Father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned." It did so in the case of the Jews.
II. BUT FAMINE IS AN UNNECESSARY AND UNNATURAL THING. For in our Father's house there is bread enough and to spare, and none need perish with hunger. The world contains ample store; the resources of nature are in no degree exhausted, and therefore it can only be by negligence of God's laws in nature that famine can in ordinary cases occur. And why need any go away into the far country of sin, and so compel the righteous and loving Father to send such sore judgment after them in order to bring them back? "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself!" It is not according to God's will in any case.
III. AND WHAT IS TRUE OF THE LITERAL IS TRUE ALSO OF THE SPIRITUAL FAMINE.
1. It is caused by man's disobedience. So it was at the first. Sin thrust him forth from the Father's house, the happy home where he never knew what want was. And so it is still. Had those who knew of Christ and his redemption but obeyed the word, "Let him that heareth say, Come," long ere this the whole world would have been evangelized. And if the same command were obeyed now, the like result would speedily follow. Christ has given a self-propagating power to his Church, which it has failed to use, and therefore spiritual famines are and will be until the Church obeys her Lord's commands. But:
2. Such famine need not be. Christ is the "Bread of life" for all, and there is enough and to spare for all
CONCLUSION. Let not thy brother hunger if thou canst give him of this bread. Think of what famine means, and let thy charity be aroused. Take care that thou eatest—not merely talkest—of the Bread of life thyself.—C.
The irony of a name.
These verses tell of King Zedekiah—of the tragedy of Zedekiah, we might say, for never was there a tragedy more terrible than that in which he bore the chief part. But think of his name—"Jehovah our Righteousness." "As the last note of Jeremiah's dirge ever Jehoiachin died away, he had burst forth into one of those strains of hope, in which he had represented the future ruler of Israel as the righteousness or justice of Jehovah (cf. Jeremiah 23:5-7). It may be that, in allusion to this, the new king assumed that name Zedek-Jah on his accession to the throne. He was a mere youth, but not without noble feelings which, in a less critical moment, might have saved the state." And his very name attested the hope which was cherished concerning him. But read the history of his career and his awful fate, and see if ever there could be sadder irony than in the name he bore. It was a glorious name, but how miserably belied! Defeated, dethroned, disgraced, bereaved, tortured, blind, an exile, a slave,—so he dragged out the last weary years of his life. We know not how many they were, we can only hope they were but few.
I. SUCH IRONY OF NAMES IS FREQUENT. The degenerate bearers of noble and hallowed names are many. The children of Abraham were told by our Lord that they were children of the devil. A good name should be an inspiration; it often is; noblesse oblige. That it may be so is often the motive wherewith it is given by parents to their children. But, as with Zedekiah, their character and their names are in sad contrast.
II. NOTE THE CAUSE OF THIS SAD IRONY IN THIS CASE. It was not lack of right knowledge. For a while he was under the teaching and influence of God's prophet Jeremiah. And men rarely go wrong from lack of knowledge. Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor. Nor for lack of right feeling. He had again and again good purposes and aspirations. So with men like him. Nor were there wanting sundry endeavours to act according as God prompted him. He made one and another attempt. But the secret of his sad failure was his lack of strength, infirmity of will, weakness of resolve. And thus it perpetually is with men who turn out failures in life. There is no more pitiful sight in this world than the spectacle of these ruined men. Jeremiah lamented bitterly over Zedekiah, as he well might.
III. LET THIS ILL-APPLIED NAME LEAD US TO THINK OF HIM WHOSE NAME WAS NOTHING BUT BLESSED TRUTH—JESUS. He was called Jesus because "he should save his people from their sins." For in him is the remedy for all such as Zedekiah was. Give up our will to him, come to be in him by a living faith, and his strength shall be reproduced in us, and out of weakness we shall be made strong.—C.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
Zedekiah as king.
I. THE POSITION OF A YOUNG MAN. He was twenty-one years old when he began to reign. Out of boyhood, looking round him at a time when he had become responsible for the conduct of his life. In England the age of twenty-one is full of significance to many young men, for then they become free from legal disabilities and restrictions. Any young man about the age of Zedekiah becomes thereby an object of special interest.
II. AN UNEXPECTED POSITION. At least we may fairly assume this from 2 Kings 24:17. Zedekiah was not in the succession. Of course it is just possible there may have been aims and intrigues by which Zedekiah gained the crown. But that does not make less noticeable the fact that young men often do find themselves in unexpected positions. They have been making ready for one course, when all in a moment they are turned into a new course where they have to act without much time for consideration.
III. A RESPONSIBLE POSITION. Responsible in any case as that of a young man; peculiarly responsible as being called to a throne. To be called to a position of peculiar responsibility may sober a man if he is inclined to be reckless, may rouse him if inclined to be easy going and self-indulgent. This point may be illustrated by the traditional belief in the change that came over Henry V. on his accession to the throne, especially as this view is brought out in Shakespeare.
IV. A POSITION UNUSUALLY DIFFICULT. A king appointed by a foreign conqueror would be regarded with dislike by many. In such circumstances the best of personal qualities were needed, decision of character combined with the utmost circumspection.
V. A POSITION IN WHICH ZEDEKIAH HAD A COMPETENT ADVISER. Not any of his own courtiers, though there may have been men among them marked by prudence and insight. He has a prophet of Jehovah, a man with a keen sense of right and wrong, a man with revelations from on high, to help him. Moreover, it is on record that he actually sought Jeremiah out. Note the many references in the course of the book to the dealings between the king and the prophet. By the plain speaking of such a man many doubts might be cleared and many errors corrected. It is the censure on Zedekiah (2 Chronicles 36:12) that "he humbled not himself before Jeremiah the prophet speaking from the mouth of the Lord." ― Y.
Zedekiah's army scattered.
Zedekiah's aim was to keep his army together, for as long as he could do that there was a chance of averting the evil day, and perhaps in the end escaping it altogether. But without his army he was utterly helpless. He could not bring himself to heed Jeremiah's counsels, doing the right and putting his trust in Jehovah. And so when the army was gone everything was gone. Nothing remained but random, desperate attempts at flight, and the certainty of ultimate capture. We have to ask ourselves what we shall do when our army is scattered from us, when the resources of our own making are vanished. The chief battles of our life are not to be fought with external resources at all. In every warfare where the weapons are carnal the weapons must fail at last. Only when we are engaged in truly spiritual warfare, and have the hosts of heaven on our side, can we be sure that our army will not be scattered from us.—Y.
Here is a triple bondage—the bondage of blindness, fetters, and imprisonment. Truly a dreadful doom! Look—
I. AT THE CAUSE OF IT.
1. The cause so far as it lies in his own conduct. There was no need for him to accept a throne as viceroy for Babylon, but, having done so, he had entered into an implied covenant. No wonder that the King of Babylon took special care to stamp such conduct in a peculiar way.
2. The cause so far as it lies in the notions of the time. Zedekiah was treated, not only vindictively, but savagely. The meaning must have been to humiliate him, to make the iron enter into his very soul. What a difference Christianity has made in the treatment of conquered foes! The change has Come very slowly, but it is real and stable. One cannot imagine the time returning when a captured enemy would be deprived of his eyesight.
II. AT A CONTRAST IMMEDIATELY SUGGESTED. One cannot but think of Samson, whose external condition was exactly that of Zedekiah, blinded, fettered, and imprisoned. Reduced to this state the Philistines reckoned he was impotent. Zedekiah really was impotent; he seems to have gone on to the day of his death in monotonous submission to what he felt necessity. But it was only necessity because he made it so. The worst limitations our fellow men can put on us may become in certain conditions like an easily snapped thread. Zedekiah might have risen above all these insults and pains. Perhaps he did rise. It is well for us to recollect how God has placed the essential liberty of every individual in his own hands.—Y.
Jeremiah 52:12, Jeremiah 52:13
A great burning.
I. THE BURNING IN GENERAL. The sum of the details amounts to a statement that the city was reduced to ashes. For this not Babylon is to be blamed, but Zedekiah and his predecessors, together with their advisers. Babylon was only acting according to the fashion of the times. The hand of Jehovah was withdrawn, the hand that might have averted the torch; and it was withdrawn because the destruction of Jerusalem had become a better thing for the world than its preservation. Still, it is not to be said in the fullest sense of the word that Jehovah destroyed Jerusalem say as he destroyed Babylon. In the course of a few generations Jerusalem rose from its ashes, temple included. The mere destruction of buildings, terrible as it is at the time, may soon be got over, as witness the rebuilding of London, and Chicago. The decay of national spirit and national resources is the thing to be feared.
II. THE BURNING OF THE TEMPLE IN PARTICULAR. Babylon had no fear in destroying the house of the Lord. Doubtless it was quite a common thing in war to destroy the temples of gods, for they were looked upon merely as part of the resources of nations. We must distinguish between what is essentially sacred and what is sacred only by association and to serve a purpose. When the purpose is accomplished the sacred sinks back into the common. God dwelleth not in temples made with hands. He was none the poorer for all this burning. Babylon learned hereafter that, though his house had been burned, his power was not at all diminished. The chief value of the temple lay in this, that it had been an expression of the piety and devotion of David and Solomon. Kings and people alike had proved themselves unworthy of their great ancestors.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 52". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27