1 - 7 Flee and Capture of Zedekiah
1 Now in the ninth year of his reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he and all his army, against Jerusalem, camped against it and built a siege wall all around it. 2 So the city was under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. 3 On the ninth day of the [fourth] month the famine was so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land. 4 Then the city was broken into, and all the men of war [fled] by night by way of the gate between the two walls beside the king’s garden, though the Chaldeans were all around the city. And they went by way of the Arabah. 5 But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king and overtook him in the plains of Jericho and all his army was scattered from him. 6 Then they captured the king and brought him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, and he passed sentence on him. 7 They slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, then put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him with bronze fetters and brought him to Babylon.
The history described in these verses is also found in Jeremiah 39 and Ezekiel 24. Here the final judgement begins. Now it is over for Judah and there can be no more grace.
As a result of the uprising of Zedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar comes to Jerusalem for the third time. The city is besieged and a siege wall is built all around it. This happens with the city that was first surrounded by the favor of the LORD. The city, however, has driven out the LORD by its iniquity, and now experiences its consequences. The city is no longer surrounded by the favor of God, but by enemies.
Nebuchadnezzar takes the time for the conquest. For two years he besieges the city. His aim is to starve the city. Lack of food will cause many to starve to death and have made the remaining living so weak that the city can be taken without any resistance.
The famine drives the militant men to a deed of despair. Instead of surrendering, as Jeremiah has strongly urged (Jer 38:17), an attempt is made to escape. The moment the city is broken into by the enemy and the enemy is in the city, they make the attempt. When it is night, they leave the city through the gate. Zedekiah also participates in the flee attempt. It is all foretold by God (Eze 12:12-15). It does not get out of His hand. It goes as He has said.
Zedekiah manages to get away far. He is already far away, in the plains of Jericho. Just a moment and he can cross the Jordan. Then he is overtaken. It is also nonsensical to think that you can flee from the discipline of God. There is no defense whatsoever when he is arrested. Nothing is left of his army. It is completely scattered. Every soldier thinks only of himself. There is no one who wants to defend him any more.
When he is seized, he is brought to the king of Babylon, who is then in Riblah, the place where Jehoahaz was imprisoned (2Kgs 23:31-33). Here stands a little king of a small city, king of the throne of David, before the mighty Nebuchadnezzar, whom God has said to be the golden head (Dan 2:37-38). God is on the side of Nebuchadnezzar because of the unfaithfulness of His people. Nebuchadnezzar is His rod of discipline for His people. Although it says here “he passed sentence on him”, it is actually Nebuchadnezzar who does so (Jer 52:9).
This sentence is executed in verse 7. It is a dramatic and horrific sentence. This verse speaks twice about Zedekiah’s eyes. First his sons are slaughtered before his eyes. The word “slaughtered” shows that they were killed in a horrible way. He sees how it happens. With this picture before his eyes his eyes are blinded. This picture has remained with him for the rest of his life. What happens to him is worse than death. It is an incessant torment of the mind.
8 - 21 Judah Led Away into Exile
8 Now on the seventh day of the fifth month, which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. 9 He burned the house of the LORD, the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem; even every great house he burned with fire. 10 So all the army of the Chaldeans who [were with] the captain of the guard broke down the walls around Jerusalem. 11 Then the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon and the rest of the people, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away into exile. 12 But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and plowmen. 13 Now the bronze pillars which were in the house of the LORD, and the stands and the bronze sea which were in the house of the LORD, the Chaldeans broke in pieces and carried the bronze to Babylon. 14 They took away the pots, the shovels, the snuffers, the spoons, and all the bronze vessels which were used in [temple] service. 15 The captain of the guard also took away the firepans and the basins, what was fine gold and what was fine silver. 16 The two pillars, the one sea, and the stands which Solomon had made for the house of the LORD—the bronze of all these vessels was beyond weight. 17 The height of the one pillar was eighteen cubits, and a bronze capital was on it; the height of the capital was three cubits, with a network and pomegranates on the capital all around, all of bronze. And the second pillar was like these with network. 18 Then the captain of the guard took Seraiah the chief priest and Zephaniah the second priest, with the three officers of the temple. 19 From the city he took one official who was overseer of the men of war, and five of the king’s advisers who were found in the city; and the scribe of the captain of the army who mustered the people of the land; and sixty men of the people of the land who were found in the city. 20 Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took them and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. 21 Then the king of Babylon struck them down and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath. So Judah was led away into exile from its land.
These verses report on the downfall of the realm of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by order of Nebuchadnezzar. This work begins “the fifth month, which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon” (verse 8), which in our era is August 15, 586 BC. “Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, the servant of the king of Babylon, a servant of the king of Babylon” begins burned with fire all the houses in Jerusalem. He sets them on fire in order of importance.
The first house he burns is “the house of the LORD” (verse 9). The house has been empty for five years. Maybe there are still some materials, but the glory of the LORD has left. That glory is gone to this day. Christianity also has buildings that are impressive to the eye but empty inside. They are empty shells. The house of the LORD has become useless, and is given away to the nations. The king’s house and the other houses have lost their meaning and are being destroyed. Where there are no more houses and people, a wall is no longer necessary. The wall is also demolished (verse 10).
Then it is the turn of the rest and homeless population of the city. Together with the deserters and a remnant of the crowd living outside Jerusalem, they are led by Nebuzaradan to Babylon (verse 11). Nebuzaradan does not take all people with him. He leaves a few to take care of the land and not to let it fade (verse 12).
In verses 13-17, a detailed description is given of everything Nebuchadnezzar takes with him. It shows us once again how beautiful everything has been and how good it could have been if the people had not only a beautiful temple, but also a heart to serve the LORD. If that heart is not there, everything loses its value to God. He is not bound to His people. If it does not meet His purpose, He sets it aside. This is also the general judgment on Christianity.
What happens to all these temple objects is an extremely sad contrast to the destination given to them by Solomon and as he placed them with great care in the house of the LORD at the time. In verse 15, reference is still made to that time in connection with “the two pillars, the one sea, and the stands”. The Babylonians have no respect for this. They demolish these parts. What is of value to them, they take with them.
The people was not worrying about the meaning of the pillars and the sea. The pillars symbolically represent the power of God, the basis on which the temple can only be maintained. The sea points to the cleansing of the priest to be fit to enter God’s temple. However, if the people deny God’s power and the necessary cleansing, the symbols lose their meaning and God let these things taken away by the nations.
Today we see the same thing in Christianity. The meaning of baptism and the Lord’s Supper lose their real meaning when they are separated from God’s meaning and given their own interpretation. If we do not experience them prayerfully and spiritually, the flesh will feed on them. In this way God let take away these things by the nations and withdraws Himself from them and from those who give them their own interpretation. It may all look beautiful, but He is not present there.
The verses 18-21 give an account of the putting to death of leading persons from Jerusalem. In the city the people who are connected to the temple are first captured. They must have been the most fierce opponents of surrendering to the king of Babylon. They were also those who preceded the people in idolatry. Their imprisonment and death are an exercise of God’s righteousness. With the prisoners the commander takes some other prominent people from the city to the king of Babylon to be killed together with the temple officials.
This liquidation as an expression of God’s righteousness is the beginning of the Babylonian exile (verse 21b).
22 - 26 Appointment and Death of Gedaliah
22 Now [as for] the people who were left in the land of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had left, he appointed Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan over them. 23 When all the captains of the forces, they and [their] men, heard that the king of Babylon had appointed Gedaliah [governor], they came to Gedaliah to Mizpah, namely, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and Seraiah the son of Tanhumeth the Netophathite, and Jaazaniah the son of the Maacathite, they and their men. 24 Gedaliah swore to them and their men and said to them, “Do not be afraid of the servants of the Chaldeans; live in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it will be well with you.” 25 But it came about in the seventh month, that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, the son of Elishama, of the royal family, came with ten men and struck Gedaliah down so that he died along with the Jews and the Chaldeans who were with him at Mizpah. 26 Then all the people, both small and great, and the captains of the forces arose and went to Egypt; for they were afraid of the Chaldeans.
In this section we have a brief announcement about what happens to the people who were left in the land of Judah. These people will largely end up in Egypt. A detailed description of this can be found in Jeremiah 40:1-43:7. The announcement here completes the picture of the end of Judah’s realm. It ends with the deportation to Babylon and the flee to Egypt.
After Nebuchadnezzar had finished all his actions in and with Judah and Jerusalem, he appointed Gedaliah, “the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan” over the people he let live in “the land of Judah”. Gedaliah is one of the descendants of the God-fearing Shaphan we met during the reign and reformation of Josiah (2Kgs 22:3,8-14).
When four of the named captain hear of Gedaliah’s appointment, they and their men come to him in Mizpah. These four probably fled with Zedekiah (verse 4) and escaped the pursuit by the Babylonians. They do not seem to accept the situation that has arisen. Gedaliah advises them urgently, he “swore to them”, to just stay in the land. He wants to convince them that they have nothing to fear from the Chaldeans if they stay and serve the king of Babylon. They can be sure that things will go well with them. Gedaliah speaks what God has said through Jeremiah. Jeremiah has always summoned to bow for king Nebuchadnezzar. If we bow under the discipline of God, it will bring blessing to us.
Despite Gedaliah’s penetrating words, the few remaining in the land revolt against Gedaliah. They pertinently refuse to function as servants of the Babylonians. They have their own views on the matter and their own plans to deal with it and see in him a danger to their plans. That is why Gedaliah is being murdered. A detailed account of the murder of Gedaliah (verse 25) can be found in Jeremiah 40:13-41:15. The perpetrators and all the people flee to Egypt.
However, the Holy Spirit does not close the book with this. He finishes with a ray of hope about which we read in the following and also the last verses of this book.
27 - 30 Grace for Jehoiachin
27 Now it came about in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-seventh [day] of the month, that Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he became king, released Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison; 28 and he spoke kindly to him and set his throne above the throne of the kings who [were] with him in Babylon. 29 Jehoiachin changed his prison clothes and had his meals in the king’s presence regularly all the days of his life; 30 and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, a portion for each day, all the days of his life.
In these verses a ray of hope lights up. For this, the Holy Spirit advances to “the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin”, which is 560 BC. Nebuchadnezzar is no longer king. Jehoiachin, who has been in Babylon since he was eighteen, is now fifty-five. It is his deserved judgment, for he has done what is evil in the sight of the LORD.
But then suddenly we read in these verses about grace. Jehoiachin is taken out of captivity, is spoken kindly to and gets a position of prestige above the other kings who are subject to the king of Babylon. He may eat at the table of the king of Babylon, as long as he lives. His entire allowance is also guaranteed for all the days of his life.
In what happens to Jehoiachin we see a picture of what will happen to all the people of God in the future. God will accept His people again in grace and take care of them as long as they are His people on earth, that is, during the entire period of the millennial kingdom of peace.
In what happens to Jehoiachin, we still see another picture. Here we see the change in someone who repents. It is the display of undeserved and unexpected grace. It also shows that in an evil time, when the judgment on the mass comes, God has grace for the individual. Those who take part in it are given different clothing, which speaks of different behavior, and are assured of an allowance for their spiritual life.