Jeremiah 39
Biblical Illustrator
&&& In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, came Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon.
The siege and sacking of Jerusalem under Nebuchadrezzar is the most tragic story in history. The second destruction of the city under Titus, the Roman general, was analogous, but did not equal the first in horror of detail. The siege was more prolonged under the king of Babylon, the resistance by the Jews more desperate, and the determination with which the people held out more stubborn, preferring starvation to surrender. During those eighteen months the city presented an awful spectacle; delicately reared princesses were seen clawing over dung-heaps and street refuse to find a morsel of food; the once snow-clad Nazarites walked the streets in filthy garments; the fairest and best-looking of the people were reduced to the merest skeletons; desperation of hunger forced fond mothers to boil and eat their own children. The horrors depicted even in outline by the sacred writers almost beggar the imagination. The king of Judah was the vassal of the king of Babylon, but being deceived by false prophets he rebelled against his foreign sovereign, and sought, through an alliance with the king of Egypt, to throw off the Chaldean yoke. Hearing of this attempt at rebellion, the Chaldeans had sent a strong detachment of their army to reduce Zedekiah to obedience, when an Egyptian army making its appearance forced them to raise the siege. Subsequently the Egyptian army was defeated, and then, with his entire army, Nebuchadrezzar came up and besieged Jerusalem for eighteen months, and took it. Jeremiah had persistently warned the king that it was folly to contend with Babylon, for the Lord had determined upon their captivity. So the king and the princes not only rebelled against the king of Babylon, but set themselves in defiance against God Himself.

I. JERUSALEM TAKEN AND SACKED. The prophet does not dwell on the details of the siege, as it was no part of his plan to detail the military processes by which the holy city was at last put into the hands of the Chaldeans. His purpose was simply to record the fact, and thus mark the fulfilment of God's word. After eighteen months, in which the city had been completely invested, a breach in the walls was effected, and the Babylonian army was in full possession. The princes of the Chaldean king entered the city and took up their headquarters in the middle gate. This was probably the gate through an inner wall within the city which surrounded the citadel. At any rate, the presence of these Babylonian princes in that place showed that the city was entirely in their hands. For further details, compare 2 Kings 25. with our present text, and Jeremiah 52. These three accounts are substantially the same. For details of the horrors and sufferings of the inhabitants of Jerusalem during the siege, compare Lamentations (especially chap. Lamentations 4.), in which the heartbroken prophet pours forth his sorrow over the downfall of the city, and especially over the woes which had come upon his people. See also Ezekiel 4:5, 12; Ezekiel 21., where minute prophecies of the downfall of the city are recorded. After the subjugation of the city, and the flight, capture, judgment, and imprisonment of the king, under the command of Nebuzar-adan, the captain of the guard, the Babylonian soldiers burned the city, including the Temple, king's palace, and all the houses of the princes and chief men; the walls were razed; the whole city was turned into a waste and ruinous heap (ver. 8; 52:13, 14). Jeremiah laments the destruction of the glorious city of God in these sad and pathetic words: "How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people; how is she become a widow, she that was great among the nations... She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks; among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her; they are become her enemies... And from the daughter of Zion all her beauty is departed... How is the gold become dim; how is the most fine gold changed; the stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street. The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter" (Lamentations 1:1, 2, 6; Lamentations 4:1, 2). The great lesson to be deeply pondered from this awful judgment upon Jerusalem is the certain retribution of God upon persistent sin. No honest and thoughtful man can read these prophetic and historic records without being profoundly impressed with the longsuffering mercy of God toward sinners, and the certainty of retribution following upon unrepented and persistent sin. God's judgment may be slow in coming, but it is as sure as it is slow. How long He had borne with Judah and Jerusalem before He began to pour out His fury upon them! Long God postpones His judgment, when once it sets in, it goes on to the end, though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small. What a culmination of calamities at the last! There is no stopping or turning them back. All the skill, the courage, and the endurance which Jerusalem brought to bear in order to avert this awful judgment, availed nothing. When the time for judgment comes it is too late for prayer and entreaty. When will men learn this lesson? We have not to do with the judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem, but with that which is coming upon all men who, like this apostate people, despise God's Word, and believe not His prophets. No amount of theory or argument will prevent the doom of the persistent sinner. Men may say that death ends all; but the resurrection of Jesus proves that it does not; men may say that God is too merciful to punish sinners according to the declaration of the Scriptures; but is He? Let the story of the flood; the overwhelming fate of Pharaoh; the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; the terrible calamities that came upon Israel and Judah, be our answer. After God's mercy has been ruthlessly trampled under foot, then His righteous retribution comes, and proceeds to the bitter end.

II. THE FLIGHT AND CAPTURE OF THE KING. When the king saw the city in the possession of the enemy, he hastily gathered his army and family, and by night fled from the city by a secret way through his garden, and between two walls which concealed his movements (ver. 4, 52:7; 2 Kings 25:4). His flight, however, was of no avail; for though he nearly effected his escape, having reached the borders of the Jordan, his absence was discovered, and the Chaldeans pursued after him; and, while his army was scattered abroad, probably on a foraging expedition, the king and his family and the princes that were with him were captured. Too late the king sought safety in flight. It was not to be. God had decreed his capture, and no precaution could prevent it. Had he heeded the warning of Jeremiah, who brought him the word of God, and surrendered to the king of Babylon, his own life would have been spared, his children's lives would have been spared, his princes' lives would have been spared, and the glorious City of God would have been spared (Jeremiah 28:17-20). The king was a weak man, and hesitated to do the word of God because he was afraid of being taunted with cowardice by his nobles and the people. How many men are cowards before their fellow-men, and yet bravo before God! They fear the reproach of we

1. Prophecy and its fulfilment. In connection with the flight, arrest, condemnation, and punishment of the king, we have a most remarkable series of prophetic fulfilments. Ezekiel, under the command of God, had before this final calamity, by means of pantomime, as well as by clear and unmistakable words, depicted every detail of the king's flight, capture, and punishment. Read Ezekiel 12:1-13. Thus have we seen the king laden with his valuables, fleeing at night, digging through a wall to escape the Chaldeans; we have seen God spreading His net, catching and delivering him over, to be first blinded, then loaded with chains, carried to Babylon and thrust into prison; there we have seen him die. How impossible to have understood Ezekiel's prophecy until it was fulfilled; how then does it appear to have been the very letter of subsequent fact!

2. Arrested, condemned, and punished. The details are briefly but graphically told. When the soldiers arrested the flying king, they brought him to the king of Babylon, who(1) "gave judgment upon him." Zedekiah was, according to the law of nations, a traitor to the king of Babylon, who had set him upon the throne of Judah as his vassal, and against whom Zedekiah had rebelled. So while the Chaldean king was carrying out God's decree against Zedekiah for his persistent sin and equity, he was also executing his own law upon him as a rebel. God's providence ever fits in with the ordinary workings of human history.(2) The first part of the judgment was that the sons of the king should be butchered before his eyes. What a horrible thing this was! Alas for that poor king! He had brought this upon them. What may be the agonies of a sinful father who, through precept and example, has encouraged his own sons to infidelity, and the final loss of their souls! Then followed the slaughter of the nobles before his face; this too was in part his doing; for, though the king s action in holding out against the king of Babylon, contrary to the counsel and entreaty of Jeremiah, was due to his fear of the nobles, yet as king it was his duty to have asserted his authority and saved them and the city in spite of their mockeries of God's word.(3) Finally the king of Babylon ordered Zedekiah's eyes to be put out, then loaded him with chains, sent him to Babylon, and there cast him into prison, until death released him into the other world. Let us hope that a gate of repentance was opened for him before he passed thither. But what an awful punishment for a king and a father! The last impression on his brain from this world was the awful sight of his butchered sons and nobles. Who can tell the horrors of his lonely confinement, shut up with these memories for ever haunting his dark soul? Men choose the ways of sin in this life, counting them to be "good things," but they forget that in the hereafter the "evil things" which they contemptuously denied will be their portion, soured with memory's poisoned sting.

III. THE BLESSED POOR. Only one ray of light penetrated the dark cloud of doom that hung over and burst on Jerusalem. The city burned with fire, the Temple destroyed, her fair stones scattered, the king and his family, the princes and nobles, and all the city's inhabitants carried away, slain, or held in a wretched captivity, which brought them nought but sighs and tears; what exception was there in all this misery? Just this; and it is not unsuggestive. The wretchedly and miserably poor were left behind; and more; for the captain of the guard, acting for the king of Babylon, gave them fields and vineyards. In the general judgment that overwhelmed Jerusalem, the sparing of these poor people and the gift to them of fields and vineyards suggest to us the blessings that are in reserve for those on earth who, though "poor in this world, are rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He has promised to them that love Him" (James 2:5). It also suggests the beatitude of Jesus: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:3, 5). God will not forget such. Here is seen God's reversal. The rich and great of Jerusalem, who had grown so by grinding oppression of the poor, are carried away captive, slain with the sword and cast into prison, while those whom they oppressed are now inheriting their lands and vineyards (Isaiah 57:15; Isaiah 66:2). Till the captivity the poor were only a portion of the people, but now they were the whole. This event, therefore, would seem to indicate that the poor, meek, and contrite in spirit are the whole sum of those who shall constitute the people of God in the day of judgment.

(G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)

He put out Zedekiah's eyes.
We sometimes act as though we thought that dispensations of light and joy were made to draw us to God; those of darkness and sorrow the reverse; but that is our mistake; our thought must be "God in all." And here God makes the announcement of the chastisement in a manner worthy of Himself — in the midst of judgment He remembers mercy. He commissions Jeremiah to promise circumstances of alleviation and gracious dealing; even though the trouble remain. The trouble and its alleviations were to exist side by side. But now, what are the speakings of this "moreover" to us?

1. It says to us, Reject not bounded chastisement or trial, for you know not how wide God may remove those bounds, when it comes upon you as something rejected by you, but inflicted, whether you will or no, by Him.

2. It says, Be sure that God will carry His own way. Look upon all resistance of His will as madness, as full of mischief for yourself.

3. If we reject what God thus ordains, we may rest assured that we are laying up for ourselves a long period of sad thought, peopled with sad memories.

4. Though the chastisement or the trial God announces be heavy, still let us be assured that it is the lightest possible under the circumstances.

5. Let us believe that God has terrible reserves of chastening dealings. We think that each trial, as it comes, is the worst that can be; sometimes a man in folly and desperation feels as though God could do no more to him; but the reserves of the Lord in this way, as in blessing, are illimitable — take care, "lest a worse thing come upon thee."

6. We may, and must leave it to God to take care of us, when leading us into either discipline or chastisement.

7. Instead of fretting and troubling ourselves unduly, and setting our minds upon finding out fresh and fresh elements in our trial, let us count up some of the "moreovers" of what might have come upon us; some of the "moreovers" of the mercies which are bestowed.

8. Let us be careful to keep ourselves well within the line of God's action with us, and not to subject ourselves to man's. It is not God's purpose to make a full end of us; He means to deal wisely and admeasuredly with us; He means us to taste that He is gracious; to have reason to believe that He is so.

(P. B. Power, M. A.)

I will surely deliver thee, and thou shalt not fan by the sword, but thy life shall be for a prey unto thee.
It is strange that, amongst all the tracts and biographies and scriptural stories which the press sends forth, one never meets the name of Ebed-melech the Ethiopian. It shows that Scripture history is either little read or little understood. It makes one doubt whether those whom either the world or the Church is admiring be those whom He that looketh not on the outward appearance, and seeth not as man seeth, will delight to honour in the day when He maketh up His jewels. Although, for aught we know, he never was a member of any church upon earth, being a poor heathen, brought from a land that the light of God's revelation had never reached, he is held up in the Book of God to our admiration and imitation, in contrast with the whole Church and nation that was in covenant with God in ancient times; and even under the New Testament, if we honoured saints at all, his name should hold a conspicuous place in our calendar of worthies and illustrious confessors of the faith, for he was, like ourselves, a Gentile man, and it was by faith he obtained a good report from God Himself. Jerusalem was to fall, but Ebed-melech the Ethiopian would stand in the evil day. As he had delivered the prophet from his dungeon, and from the cruelty of the princes his persecutors, and the danger of a horrible death, he himself would be delivered in the day of danger, and the men of whom he was afraid would not have it in their power to take his life, or injure a hair of his head. God would be his saviour, and shows him beforehand the certainty of his salvation.


1. No one is forgotten before God, and nothing that concerns the least left out of the regard of the Father of all. The one who was the object of special care to the God of Israel, the Lord of hosts, in the day of Israel's final overthrow, was one of these who were least regarded by men upon earth, a slave, a eunuch, an Ethiopian, an uncircumcised heathen, an alien from the commonwealth of Israel, a stranger to the covenant of promise. Who then is forgotten by the God of Israel?

2. God is far from confounding the righteous with the wicked in His judgments.

3. So far from confounding the righteous with the wicked, God contrasts them with one another. What brighter display of Divine righteousness can there be than the salvation of the least of saints in the midst of the destruction of a whole nation, or church of sinners, like the Jews here, or like Christendom, to whose doom we are to look forward?


1. Why are such actions as this of Ebed-melech those which in the sight of God are of great account? Because they are acts of self-denying love and self-sacrifice; because they are thus, God Himself in the text expressly says, the fruits of a living faith in God.

2. It is not his circumstances that prevent any man from becoming great before God, great as Ebed-melech, for it is not his circumstances that prevent any from becoming good, from having the same character, and manifesting in his place the same heroic and holy spirit.

3. Woe to us if we are not like Ebed-melech in unselfishness, or in self-denying love, the fruit of faith! Church membership, Church privileges, Church knowledge and advantages of whatever kind, what will they prove but the condemnation of those who are not like Ebed-melech in character?


1. Kindness to those whom the world despises, or the worldly and ungodly church reprobates or persecutes, is not the least part of the duty of Christians, or those who would be saved in the day of wrath, like Ebed-melech.

2. How different is public opinion in a corrupt church or age from the judgment or truth of God!

(R. Paisley.).

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