Jeremiah 39:1
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.
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(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.



Jeremiah 39:1 - Jeremiah 39:10

Two characteristics of this account of the fall of Jerusalem are striking,-its minute particularity, giving step by step the details of the tragedy, and its entire suppression of emotion. The passionless record tells the tale without a tear or a sob. For these we must go to the Book of Lamentations. This is the history of God’s judgment, and here emotion would be misplaced. But there is a world of repressed feeling in the long-drawn narrative, as well as in the fact that three versions of the story are given here {Jeremiah 52:1 - Jeremiah 52:34, 2 Kings 25:1 - 2 Kings 25:30}. Sorrow curbed by submission, and steadily gazing on God’s judicial act, is the temper of the narrative. It should be the temper of all sufferers. ‘I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.’ But we may note the three stages in the final agony which this section distinguishes.

I. There is the entrance of the enemy. Jerusalem fell not by assault, but by famine. The siege lasted eighteen months, and ended when ‘all the bread in the city was spent.’ The pitiful pictures in Lamentations fill in the details of misery, telling how high-born women picked garbage from dung-heaps, and mothers made a ghastly meal of their infants, while the nobles were wasted to skeletons, and the little children piteously cried for bread. At length a breach was made in the northern wall {as Josephus tells us, ‘at midnight’}, and through it, on the ninth day of the fourth month {corresponding to July}, swarmed the conquerors, unresisted. The commanders of the Babylonians planted themselves at ‘the middle gate,’ probably a gate in the wall between the upper and lower city, so securing for them the control of both.

How many of these fierce soldiers are named in Jeremiah 39:3? At first sight there seem to be six, but that number must be reduced by at least two, for Rab-saris and Rab-mag are official titles, and designate the offices {chief eunuch and chief magician} of the two persons whose names they respectively follow. Possibly Samgar-Nebo is also to be deducted, for it has been suggested that, as that name stands, it is anomalous, and it has been proposed to render its first element, Samgar, as meaning cup-bearer, and being the official title attached to the name preceding it; while its second part, Nebo, is regarded as the first element in a new name obtained by reading shashban instead of Sarsechim, and attaching that reading to Nebo. This change would bring Jeremiah 39:3 into accord with Jeremiah 39:13, for in both places we should then have Nebo-shashban designated as chief of the eunuchs. However the number of the commanders is settled, and whatever their names, the point which the historian emphasises is their presence there. Had it come to this, that men whose very names were invocations of false gods {‘Nergal protect the king,’ ‘Nebo delivers me’ if we read ‘Nebo-shashban,’ or ‘Be gracious, Nebo,’ if Samgar-nebo} should sit close by the temple, and have their talons fixed in the Holy City?

These intruders were all unconscious of the meaning of their victory, and the tragedy of their presence there. They thought that they were Nebuchadnezzar’s servants, and had captured for him, at last, an obstinate little city, which had given more trouble than it was worth. Its conquest was but a drop in the bucket of his victories. How little they knew that they were serving that Jehovah whom they thought that Nebo had conquered in their persons! How little they knew that they were the instruments of the most solemn act of judgment in the world’s history till then!

The causes which led to the fall of Jerusalem could be reasonably set forth as purely political without a single reference to Israel’s sins or God’s judgment; but none the less was its capture the divine punishment of its departure from Him, and none the less were Nergal-sharezer and his fellows God’s tools, the axes with which He hewed down the barren tree. So does He work still, in national and individual history. You may, in a fashion, account for both without bringing Him in at all; but your philosophy of either will be partial, unless you recognise that ‘the history of the world is the judgment of the world.’ It was the same hand which set these harsh conquerors at the middle gate of Jerusalem that sent the German armies to encamp in the Place de la Concorde in Paris; and in neither case does the recognition of God in the crash of a falling throne absolve the victors from the responsibility of their deeds.

II. We have the flight and fate of Zedekiah and his evil advisers {Jeremiah 39:4 - Jeremiah 39:7}. His weakness of character shows itself to the end. Why was there no resistance? It would have better beseemed him to have died on his palace threshold than to have skulked away in the dark between the shelter of the ‘two walls.’ But he was a poor weakling, and the curse of God sat heavy on his soul, though he had tried to put it away. Conscience made a coward of him; for he, at all events, knew who had set the strangers by the middle gate. Men who harden heart and conscience against threatened judgments are very apt to collapse, when the threats are fulfilled. The frost breaks up with a rapid thaw.

Ezekiel {Ezekiel 12:12} prophesied the very details of the flight. It was to be ‘in the dark,’ the king himself was to ‘carry’ some of his valuables, they were to ‘dig through’ the earthen ramparts; and all appears to have been literally fulfilled. The flight was taken in the opposite direction from the entrance of the besiegers; two walls, which probably ran down the valley between Zion and the temple mount, afforded cover to the fugitives as far as to the south city wall, and there some postern let them out to the king’s garden. That is a tragic touch. It was no time then to gather flowers. The forlorn and frightened company seems to have scattered when once outside the city; for there is a marked contrast in Jeremiah 39:4 between ‘they fled’ and ‘he went.’ In the description of his flight Zedekiah is still called, as in Jeremiah 39:1 - Jeremiah 39:2, the king; but after his capture he is only ‘Zedekiah.’

Down the rocky valley of the Kedron he hurried, and had a long enough start of his pursuers to get to Jericho. Another hour would have seen him safe across Jordan, but the prospect of escape was only dangled before his eyes to make capture more bitter. Probably he was too much absorbed with his misery and fear to feel any additional humiliation from the mighty memories of the scene of his capture; but how solemnly fitting it was that the place which had seen Israel’s first triumph, when ‘by faith the walls of Jericho fell down,’ should witness the lowest shame of the king who had cast away his kingdom by unbelief! The conquering dead might have gathered in shadowy shapes to reproach the weakling and sluggard who had sinned away the heritage which they had won. The scene of the capture underscores the lesson of the capture itself; namely, the victorious power of faith, and the defeat and shame which, in the long-run, are the fruits of an ‘evil heart of unbelief, departing from the living God.’

That would be a sad march through all the length of the fair land that had slipped from his slack fingers, up to far-off Riblah, in the great valley between the Lebanon and the anti-Lebanon. Observe how, in Jeremiah 39:5 - Jeremiah 39:6, the king of Babylon has his royal title, and Zedekiah has not. The crown has fallen from his head, and there is no more a king in Judah. He who had been king now stands chained before the cruel conqueror. Well might the victor think that Nebo had overcome Jehovah, but better did the vanquished know that Jehovah had kept his word.

Cruelty and expediency dictated the savage massacre and mutilation which followed. The death of Zedekiah’s sons, and of the nobles who had scoffed at Jeremiah’s warnings, and the blinding of Zedekiah, were all measures of precaution as well as of savagery. They diminished the danger of revolt; and a blind, childless prisoner, without counsellors or friends, was harmless. But to make the sight of his slaughtered sons the poor wretch’s last sight, was a refinement of gratuitous delight in torturing. Thus singularly was Ezekiel’s enigma solved and harmonised with its apparent contradictions in Jeremiah’s prophecies: ‘Yet shall he not see it, though he shall die there’ {Ezekiel 12:13}.

Zedekiah is one more instance of the evil which may come from a weak character, and of the evil which may fall on it. He had good impulses, but he could not hold his own against the bad men round him, and so he stumbled on, not without misgivings, which only needed to be attended to with resolute determination, in order to have reversed his conduct and fate. Feeble hands can pull down venerable structures built in happier times. It takes a David and a Solomon to rear a temple, but a Zedekiah can overthrow it.

III. We have the completion of the conquest {Jeremiah 39:8 - Jeremiah 39:10}. The first care of the victors was, of course, to secure themselves, and fires and crowbars were the readiest way to that end. But the wail in the last chapter of Lamentations hints at the usual atrocities of the sack of a city, when brutal lust and as brutal ferocity are let loose. Jeremiah 52:1 - Jeremiah 52:34 shows that the final step in our narrative was separated from the capture of the city by a month, which was, no doubt, a month of nameless agonies, horrors, and shame. Then the last drop was added to the bitter cup, in the deportation of the bulk of the inhabitants, according to the politic custom of these old military monarchies. What rending of ties, what weariness and years of long-drawn-out yearning, that meant, can easily be imagined. The residue left behind to keep the country from relapsing into waste land was too weak to be dangerous, and too cowed to dare anything. One knows not who had the sadder lot, the exiles, or the handful of peasants left to till the fields that had once been their own, and to lament their brethren gone captives to the far-off land.

Surely the fall of Jerusalem, though all the agony is calmed ages ago, still remains as a solemn beacon-warning that the wages of sin is death, both for nations and individuals; that the threatenings of God’s Word are not idle, but will be accomplished to the utmost tittle; and that His patience stretches from generation to generation, and His judgments tarry because He is not willing that any should perish, but that for all the long-suffering there comes a time when even divine love sees that it is needful to say ‘Now!? and the bolt falls. The solemn word addressed to Israel has application as real to all Christian churches and individual souls: ‘You only have I known of all the inhabitants of the earth; therefore I will punish you for your iniquities.’

Jeremiah 39:1-3. In the ninth year of Zedekiah, &c. — See notes on 2 Kings 25:1-4. And all the princes of the king of Babylon came in, and sat in the middle gate — Or, the gate of the centre, as Blaney translates it, observing, “The city of Jerusalem stood upon two hills, Zion to the south, and Acra to the north, with a deep valley between them. The gate of the centre, as the term seems plainly to import, was a gate of communication in the middle of the valley between the two parts of the city, sometimes called the higher and the lower city. The Chaldeans entered the city on the north side by a breach in the walls, and immediately rushing forward, and posting themselves in this gate, in the very heart of the city, they became thereby masters at will of the whole. Zedekiah, with his troops, perceiving this, fled out of the opposite gate on the south side.” Even Nergal- sharezer, Samgar-nebo, &c. — It was customary among the Chaldeans to give the names of their idols, as an additional title or mark of honour, to persons of distinction: see note on Isaiah 39:1. Nergal was the name of an idol worshipped by the Cuthites, 2 Kings 17:30. Nebo was a Babylonish deity, Isaiah 46:1.

39:1-10 Jerusalem was so strong, that the inhabitants believed the enemy could never enter it. But sin provoked God to withdraw his protection, and then it was as weak as other cities. Zedekiah had his eyes put out; so he was condemned to darkness who had shut his eyes against the clear light of God's word. Those who will not believe God's words, will be convinced by the event. Observe the wonderful changes of Providence, how uncertain are earthly possessions; and see the just dealings of Providence: but whether the Lord makes men poor or rich, nothing will profit them while they cleave to their sins."The Capture of Jerusalem" - The majority of the particulars given in Jeremiah 39:1-14 occur again (marginal reference); and are by some regarded as an interpolation. The external evidence (that of the versions) is, however, in favor of their authenticity. Jeremiah 39:14 is to be reconciled with Jeremiah 40:1-4 by remembering that Gedaliah had left Jerusalem and gone to Mizpah Jeremiah 40:6, a city in the immediate neighborhood; and as he was not at home to protect the prophet, nothing is more probable than that Jeremiah in company with the main body of captives was brought to Ramah in chains. CHAPTER 39

Jer 39:1-18. Jerusalem Taken. Zedekiah's Fate. Jeremiah Cared for. Ebed-melech Assured.

This chapter consists of two parts: the first describes the capture of Jerusalem, the removal of the people to Babylon, and the fate of Zedekiah, and that of Jeremiah. The second tells of the assurance of safety to Ebed-melech.

1. ninth year … tenth month—and on the tenth day of it (Jer 52:4; 2Ki 25:1-4). From Jer 39:2, "eleventh year … fourth month … ninth day," we know the siege lasted one and a half years, excepting the suspension of it caused by Pharaoh. Nebuchadnezzar was present in the beginning of the siege, but was at Riblah at its close (Jer 39:3, 6; compare Jer 38:17).Jerusalem is taken: Zedekiah’s sons are slain; his eyes put out; he is sent to Babylon: all the nobles of Judah are slain: the city is burnt, and the chief of the people carried captive, Jeremiah 39:1-10. Nebuchadrezzar’s charge concerning Jeremiah, Jeremiah 39:11-14. God’s promise to Ebed-melech, Jeremiah 39:15-18.

This exactly agreeth with the historical part of Scripture, 2 Kings 25:1, and with the repetition of it, Jeremiah 52:4. This month was called Tebeth, Esther 2:16, and answers to part of our December and January. Princes are said to do that which is done by their officers by their order, yet some think Nebuchadnezzar came first in person, though he quickly left his army, and was not there at the taking of the city.

In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month,.... The month Tebet, which answers to part of our December, and part of January; so that it was in the winter season the siege of Jerusalem began:

came Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon and all his army against Jerusalem,

and they besieged it; provoked by Zedekiah's breaking covenant with him, and rebelling against him, who had set him upon his throne, in the room of his nephew; so that here was a mixture of perfidy and ingratitude, which he was determined to revenge; and being impatient of it, came at such an unseasonable time of the year for a long march and a siege. The king of Babylon came in person at first; but having begun the siege, and given proper orders to his generals for the carrying of it on, and supposing it would be a long one, retired to Riblah in Syria, either for pleasure or for business. The time of beginning the siege exactly agrees with the account in 2 Kings 25:1; only there it is more particular, expressing the day of the month, which was the tenth of it; and so in Jeremiah 52:4. The reason of inserting the account of the siege and taking of the city, in this place, is both to show the exact accomplishment of Jeremiah's prophecies about it, and to lead on to some facts and predictions that followed it.

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.
Jeremiah 39:3. and sat] to carry out the matters arising from the capture.

Nergal-sharezer, etc.] From the Eng. it would appear that there are six princes mentioned by name. In fact however there are but four at the most (and probably only two), viz. (a) Nergal-sharezer, (b) Samgar-nebo, (c) Sarsechim, (d) Nergal-sharezer. But (d) is probably an erroneous repetition of (a). Rab-saris (usually explained chief of the eunuchs or chamberlains but more probably chief of the heads, i.e. principal men) and Rab-mag (probably chief of the soothsayers) are the titles of those whose names they follow. Moreover, the first part of Samgar-nebo is probably a corruption of Sar-mag = Rab-mag, chief of the soothsayers, while the latter portion, inasmuch as it never elsewhere ends a name, is to be transferred to the beginning of the third name. Sarsechim, thus becoming Nebo-sarsechim, is an error for Nebushazban of Jeremiah 39:13. The above modifications of the text thus reduce the list to the more accurate form in which it appears in Jeremiah 39:13, viz. two names and two titles, i.e. Nergal-sharezer the Rab-mag and Nebushazban the Rab-saris. Nergal-sharezer was a son-in-law of Nebuchadnezzar, and after the murder of Evil-Merodach (b.c. 560) seized the throne.

Jeremiah 39:1"And it came to pass, when Jerusalem had been taken (in the ninth year of Zedekiah the king of Judah, in the tenth month, Nebuchadrezzar and all his army had come against Jerusalem and besieged it; in the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, on the ninth of the month, was the city broken into), then came all the princes of the king of Babylon and sat down at the middle gate, - Nergal-sharezer, Samgar-nebo, Sarsechim, chief chamberlain, Nergal-sharezer, chief magician, and all the rest of the princes of the king of Babylon." These three verses, to which the last clause of Jeremiah 38:28 belongs, form one period, broken up by a pretty long piece inserted in it, on the beginning and duration of the siege of Jerusalem; so that, after the introductory clause והיה כּאשׁר( equals ויהי as in Jeremiah 37:11), Jeremiah 38:28, the conclusion does not come till the word ויּבאוּ, Jeremiah 39:3. In the parenthesis, the length of the siege, as stated, substantially agrees with Jeremiah 52:4-7 and 2 Kings 25:1-4, only that in these passages the time when the siege began is further determined by the mention of the day of the month, לחדשׁ be בּעשׂור, which words are omitted here. The siege, then, lasted eighteen months, all but one day. After the besiegers had penetrated into the city through the breaches made in the wall, the princes, i.e., the chief generals, took up their position at "the gate of the midst." ישׁבוּ, "they sat down," i.e., took up a position, fixed their quarters. "The gate of the midst," which is mentioned only in this passage, is supposed, and perhaps rightly, to have been a gate in the wall which divided the city of Zion from the lower city; from this point, the two portions of the city, the upper and the lower city, could most easily be commanded.

With regard to the names of the Babylonian princes, it is remarkable (1) that the name Nergal-sharezer occurs twice, the first time without any designation, the second time with the official title of chief magician; (2) that the name Samgar-nebo has the name of God (Nebo or Nebu) in the second half, whereas in all other compounds of this kind that are known to us, Nebu forms the first portion of the name, as in Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuzaradan, Nebushasban (Jeremiah 39:13), Naboned, Nabonassar, Nabopolassar, etc.; (3) from this name, too, is omitted the title of office, while we find one with the following name. Moreover (4) in Jeremiah 39:13, where the Babylonian grandees are again spoken of, instead of the four names, only three are given, but every one of them with a title of office; and only the third of these, Nergal-sharezer, the chief magician, is identical with the one who is named last in Jeremiah 39:3; while Nebushasban is mentioned instead of the Sarsechim of Jeremiah 39:3 as רב־סריס, chief of the eunuchs (high chamberlain); and in place of Nergal-sharezer, Samgar-nebo, we find Nebuzaradan as the commander of the body-guards (רב טבּחים). On these four grounds, Hitzig infers that Jeremiah 39:3, in the passage before us, has been corrupted, and that it contained originally only the names of three persons, with their official titles. Moreover, he supposes that סמגּר is formed from the Persian jâm and the derivation-syllable kr, Pers. war, and means "he who has or holds the cup," the cup-bearer; thus corresponding to רב שׁקה ot gnidnop, Rab-shakeh, "chief cup-bearer," 2 Kings 18:17; Isaiah 36:2. He also considers שׂרסכים a Hebraizing form of רב סריס; סכה or שׂכה, "to cut," by transposition from חצה, Arab. chtṣy, from which comes chatṣiyun, "a eunuch," equals סכי, plur. סכים; hence שׂרסכים equals רב סריס, of which the former has been a marginal gloss, afterwards received into the text. This complicated combination, however, by which Hitzig certainly makes out two official titles, though he retains no more than the divine name Nebu as that of Rabsaris, is founded upon two very hazardous conjectures. Nor do these conjectures gain much support from the renewal of the attempt, made about fifty years since by the late P. von Bohlen, to explain from the Neo-Persian the names of persons and titles occurring in the Assyrian and Old-Babylonian languages, an attempt which has long since been looked upon as scientifically unwarranted. Strange as it may seem that the two persons first named are not further specified by the addition of an official title, yet the supposition that the persons named in Isaiah 36:3 are identical with those mentioned in Isaiah 36:13 is erroneous, since it stands in contradiction with Jeremiah 52:12, which even Hitzig recognises as historically reliable. According to Jeremiah 52:12, Nebuzaradan, who is the first mentioned in Jeremiah 39:13, was not present at the taking of Jerusalem, and did not reach the city till four weeks afterwards; he was ordered by Nebuchadnezzar to superintend arrangements for the destruction of Jerusalem, and also to make arrangements for the transportation of the captives to Babylon, and for the administration of the country now being laid waste. But in Jeremiah 39:3 are named the generals who, when the city had bee taken by storm, took up their position within it. - Nor do the other difficulties, mentioned above, compel us to make such harsh conjectures. If Nergal-sharezer be the name of a person, compounded of two words, the divine name, Nergal (2 Kings 17:30), and Sharezer, probably dominator tuebitur (see Delitzsch on Isaiah 37:38), then Samgar-Nebu-Sarsechim may possibly be a proper name compounded of three words. So long as we are unable with certainty to explain the words סמגּר and שׂרסכים out of the Assyrian, we can form no decisive judgment regarding them. But not even does the hypothesis of Hitzig account for the occurrence twice over of the name Nergal-sharezer. The Nergal-sharezer mentioned in the first passage was, no doubt, the commander-in-chief of the besieging army; but it could hardly be maintained, with anything like convincing power, that this officer could not bear the same name as that of the chief magician. And if it be conceded that there are really errors in the strange words סמגּר־נבוּ and שׂרסכים, we are as yet without the necessary means of correcting them, and obtaining the proper text.

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