Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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 they besieged it.XXXIX.
(1) In the ninth year of Zedekiah . . .—The great crisis came at last, as Jeremiah had long ago predicted. A fuller narrative of the siege and capture is given in Jeremiah 52. The two verses which open the chapter seem to have been inserted here by the editor of the prophecies in their present form, as explaining the fact with which Jeremiah 38 had closed. The siege had lasted eighteen months, beginning in B.C. 590 and ending B.C. 588. It came to an end, as we learn from Jeremiah 52:6, through the pressure of the famine, of which we have seen traces in Jeremiah 37:21.
And all the princes of the king of Babylon came in, and sat in the middle gate, even Nergalsharezer, Samgarnebo, Sarsechim, Rabsaris, Nergalsharezer, Rabmag, with all the residue of the princes of the king of Babylon.(3) In the middle gate.—The term indicates a position in the line of walls between the citadel of Zion—the “upper city” of Josephus (Ant. v. 20. 2), which as yet was not surrendered (Jeremiah 39:4)—and the lower city, in the walls of which a breach had been effected. Here an open space, originally used as a forum, or place of judgment, now gave the Chaldæan generals a central encampment, from which they could command both quarters of the city, and by taking their place in the heart of its life, formally assert their mastery. Each of the names that follow has a meaning and history of its own.
Nergal-sharezer.—The first half of the name appears in 2Kings 17:30 as that of a Cuthite, or Assyrian deity, and means the “great hero.” It occurs frequently in the inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser and Assur-banipal (e.g., Records of the Past, i. 77, 103). The whole name appears in Assyrian monuments as Nergal-shar-uzur. Two of the generals mentioned here bore the same name, and each apparently was distinguished by a special title.
Samgar–nebo.—Here the second half is the name of a Babylonian deity (Isaiah 46:1; Jeremiah 48:1), possibly connected with the Hebrew Nabi (= prophet), and so answering to the Egyptian Thoth and the Greek Hermes. The great temple at Borsippa, known as Birs Nimroud, was dedicated to him (Records of the Past, vii. 77). The first half has been explained by some scholars as meaning “warrior,” by others as “cupbearer,” and so equivalent to Rabshakeh (Isaiah 36:2), and as such is attached to the foregoing name of Nergal-sharezer. As a rule, the name of Nebo appears always in the beginning of compound words, as in Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuzar-adan, &c.; and probably we should connect it here with the name that follows.
Sarsechim, Rab-saris.—Probably, as indicated in the previous Note, the name should stand as Nebo-sarsechim. The two names go together, the first as a proper name, the second as a title, meaning “the chief eunuch.” In Jeremiah 39:13, Nebushasban appears as bearing the same title. In 2Kings 18:17 it appears simply as a title, as in Rabshakeh we have “the chief cupbearer.”
Nergal-sharezer, Rab-mag.—Here also the second name is the title of office, meaning probably “chief of the Magi,” or “chief of the priests.” The man thus named, who appears on the Assyrian monuments as Nergal-shar-uzur Rubu-emga, played a prominent part afterwards as murdering Evil-merodach, the son of Nebuchadnezzar, whose sister he had married. He reigned for three or four years, and appears in Berosus (Joseph. 100 Apion, i. 20) under the name of Neriglissar. The older name is found on the bricks of a palace at Babylon, on the right bank of the Euphrates (Smith’s Dict. of Bible. Art. Nergal-sharezer).
And it came to pass, that when Zedekiah the king of Judah saw them, and all the men of war, then they fled, and went forth out of the city by night, by the way of the king's garden, by the gate betwixt the two walls: and he went out the way of the plain.(4) When Zedekiah the king of Judah saw them . . .—The hasty flight is narrated again in Jeremiah 52:7. The gate between the two walls was one apparently that opened from the park-like garden of the palace, near the pool of Siloah (Nehemiah 3:15); probably identical with the garden of Uzza, which was used as a burial-place for Manasseh and Amon (2Kings 21:18-26); and led to the Arabah, the plain (always known by this distinctive name) of the valley of the Jordan (Deuteronomy 1:1; Deuteronomy 3:17; Deuteronomy 4:49; Joshua 12:1, and elsewhere). The “two walls” appear as part of the defence of the city in Isaiah 22:11, and connected Zion with the fortress known as Ophel (2Chronicles 27:3; 2Chronicles 33:14).
But the Chaldeans' army pursued after them, and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho: and when they had taken him, they brought him up to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to Riblah in the land of Hamath, where he gave judgment upon him.(5) In the plains of Jericho.—Here again we have the distinctive word, the Araboth of the Jordan, the enlargement of the Jordan valley, three miles wide, near Jericho. The intention of the king was apparently to make his way to the ford near Jericho, cross the river, and escape to the open country of Gilead.
Riblah in the land of Hamath.—The city of Hamath stood on the Orontes, about half-way from its source, near Baalbek, to the bend which it makes at Jisr-hadid, and commanded the whole valley of the river to the defile of Daphne, below Antioch. It was a well-known city at the time of the Exodus (Numbers 13:21; Numbers 34:8), and in that of David was the capital of a kingdom, which became tributary to him and Solomon (2Samuel 8:10; 1Kings 4:21-24). Riblah (still retaining its name, Ribleh), also on the Orontes, and near its source, was a centre from which the great lines of traffic led by the Euphrates to Nineveh, by Palmyra to Babylon, by Lebanon and the coast to Palestine and Egypt, and through the Jordan valley to the Holy Land. It was, therefore, a natural post of observation for the Chaldæan king while his generals were carrying on the sieges of Tyre and Jerusalem. So when Pharaoh-necho was for a time, before the battle of Carchemish, master of the Assyrian territory, it was to Riblah that he summoned Jehoahaz, and there imprisoned him (2Kings 23:33). In this instance Zedekiah was brought before Nebuchadnezzar as a vassal prince who, having received his authority from the Chaldæan king (2Kings 24:17), had rebelled, and met with scant mercy.
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.(6) The sons of Zedekiah.—The history of Eastern monarchies presents us with many examples of this refinement of cruelty, notably in the case of (Eobazus under Darius (Herod. Iv. 84), and Pythius under Xerxes (Herod, vii. 39). The slaughter of the “nobles” probably included most of those whom we have seen in Jeremiah 36:12, and elsewhere.
Moreover he put out Zedekiah's eyes, and bound him with chains, to carry him to Babylon.(7) Moreover he put out Zedekiah’s eyes.—The special form of punishment is noticeable as fulfilling the two prophecies—(1) that Zedekiah should see the king of Babylon and be taken to that city (Jeremiah 32:4); and (2) that though he was to die in Babylon, he should never see it (Ezekiel 12:13). Beyond this, the fate of the last king of Judah is buried in darkness. His brother Jehoiachin was already a prisoner in Babylon (2Kings 24:15), but we do not know whether the two were allowed to meet. Twenty-six years later Jehoiachin was released by Evil-merodach (2Kings 25:27); but there is no mention of Zedekiah, and it is a natural inference that his sufferings had ended previously.
Bound him with chains.—Literally, as in the margin, with two brazen chains.
And the Chaldeans burned the king's house, and the houses of the people, with fire, and brake down the walls of Jerusalem.(8) And the Chaldeans burned the king’s house.—In the fuller account of Jeremiah 52:12, we find that this was the work of Nebuzar-adan, who had been sent by Nebuchadnezzar, on hearing of the capture of the city, and that it included the destruction of the Temple as well as the palace.
Then Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive into Babylon the remnant of the people that remained in the city, and those that fell away, that fell to him, with the rest of the people that remained.(9) Then Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard.—Here again the title in the Hebrew—Bab-tab-bachim—takes a form like that of Rab-saris and Rab-shaken, and means literally, “chief of the slaughterers” The title is given to Potiphar in Genesis 37:36, and probably answered to our “commander of the king’s body-guard.” The name has been interpreted as “the prince-lord, or the worshipper, of Nebo,” but the etymology of the last three syllables is uncertain, He does not appear as taking part with the other generals in the siege of Jerusalem, but comes on the capture of the city, arriving a month afterwards (Jeremiah 52:12) to direct, even in its minute details, the work of destruction (2Kings 25:9). The defenders and deserters were involved in the same doom of exile. It need scarcely be said that, as in the case of the conquests of Tiglath-pileser (2Kings 15:29), Shalmaneser (2Kings 17:6), Esar-haddon (2Kings 17:24), and Sennacherib (2Kings 18:32), this wholesale deportation was part of the systematic policy of the great Assyrian and Babylonian monarchs. So Darius carried off the Pæonians from Thrace (Herod. v. 14). To distribute the lands of the exiles thus dispossessed among “the poor of the people,” was, it was thought, likely to enlist their interests on the side of the conqueror; and, by keeping up the cultivation of the soil, secured the payment of tribute.
Now Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon gave charge concerning Jeremiah to Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, saying,(11) Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon. . . .—It is clear that Nebuchadrezzar had been well informed of the part which Jeremiah had taken from first to last in counselling submission. This he may have heard from the deserters named in Jeremiah 39:9, or even from the lips of Zedekiah. Possibly the journey to Euphrates, of which we read in Jeremiah 13:5, may, at even an earlier period, have brought the king and the prophet into contact. From the time of Nebuzar-adan’s arrival, the position of Jeremiah was obviously changed for the better, and he became an honoured and trusted counsellor. It appears from Jeremiah 40:1 that the prophet had at first been taken in chains to Ramah, with the other captives. Probably he had been sent back to Jerusalem when the others were carried off to Riblah, or Babylon (Jeremiah 39:6-9).
So Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard sent, and Nebushasban, Rabsaris, and Nergalsharezer, Rabmag, and all the king of Babylon's princes;(13) Nebushasban.—The name, which occurs in the Annals cf Assur-banipal (Records of the Past, i. 64), is possibly another form of the Nebo-sarsechim of Jeremiah 39:3. Rab-saris ( = chief eunuch, or chamberlain) is, as before, his title. Ashpenaz appears as holding the same position, possibly, as Nebushasban’s predecessor, in Daniel 1:3.
Even they sent, and took Jeremiah out of the court of the prison, 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.(14) Out of the court of the prison.—There is a slight apparent discrepancy between this statement and that in Jeremiah 40:1, that the prophet was set free at Ramah. It seems likely that, at first, he was sent back to the prison where he had been found, till he could be placed under the protection of Gedaliah.
Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan.—The reason of the choice lies almost on the surface. Gedaliah was the representative of a house which for three generations had been true to the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Shaphan had been the king’s scribe in the early years of Josiah, and had taken an active part in the restoration of the Temple (2Kings 22:3-7). He was the first to read the newly-found lost copy of the Law, which we identify with the Book of Deuteronomy (2Kings 22:8-14), and his son Ahikam acted with him. The latter protected Jeremiah in the reign of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 26:24). His brother Gemariah gave the prophet the use of his chamber in the Temple (Jeremiah 36:10), and tried to turn aside the king’s wrath (Jeremiah 36:25). And now the son of Ahikam appears as the prophet’s friend and protector.
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.(16) Go and speak to Ebed-melech.—It lies in the nature of the case that the prophet, when he put this prediction, given during the progress of the siege, on record, knew that it had been fulfilled. We hear nothing more of the faithful Ethiopian, but we may believe that he was spared by the Chaldæans, probably at the prophet’s intercession. It is not without significance that the promise is given in the same terms as that to Baruch in Jeremiah 45:5. The “men” of whom he was afraid were obviously the princes whom he had irritated by his interference on behalf of Jeremiah.