1 - 3 Jerusalem Is Captured
1 Now when Jerusalem was captured in the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army came to Jerusalem and laid siege to it; 2 in the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, in the ninth [day] of the month, the city [wall] was breached. 3 Then all the officials of the king of Babylon came in and sat down at the Middle Gate: Nergal-sar-ezer, Samgar-nebu, Sar-sekim the Rab-saris, Nergal-sar-ezer [the] Rab-mag, and all the rest of the officials of the king of Babylon.
What has been foretold is happening. The army of the king of Babylon returns from the battle against Egypt and besieges Jerusalem (verse 1; Jer 37:8). This happens in the tenth month of the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign. Over a year and a half later the city falls (verse 2). The date is given to the exact day.
All the officials of the king of Babylon are there, that is, there is a great display of power (verse 3). The starving city is dwarfed by it. The “Rab-mag” is the head of magi. The fact that the officials of Babylon are posted at the Middle Gate probably means that they form a government for the city there and also judge the captives there.
4 - 10 The Fate of Zedekiah and Jerusalem
4 When Zedekiah the king of Judah and all the men of war saw them, they fled and went out of the city at night by way of the king’s garden through the gate between the two walls; and he went out toward the Arabah. 5 But the army of the Chaldeans pursued them and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho; and they seized him and brought him up to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath, and he passed sentence on him. 6 Then the king of Babylon slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes at Riblah; the king of Babylon also slew all the nobles of Judah. 7 He then blinded Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him in fetters of bronze to bring him to Babylon. 8 The Chaldeans also burned with fire the king’s palace and the houses of the people, and they broke down the walls of Jerusalem. 9 As for the rest of the people who were left in the city, the deserters who had gone over to him and the rest of the people who remained, Nebuzaradan the captain of the bodyguard carried [them] into exile in Babylon. 10 But some of the poorest people who had nothing, Nebuzaradan the captain of the bodyguard left behind in the land of Judah, and gave them vineyards and fields at that time.
When Zedekiah sees the enemy appearing in the city, he concludes his evil reign with the shameful and cowardly act of attempting to flee (verse 4). Concerned for his own life, he abandons his people whom he has plunged into misery by his futile opposition to an overpowering enemy. Far worse, in doing so, he again demonstrates his disobedience to God’s Word that was so clearly preached to him by Jeremiah.
He ventures out together with the remaining fighting men. They do it at night in a place that seems to be hidden from the eye of the enemy. He leaves “toward the Arabah”, that is, that of the Jordan. The escape attempt proves to be in vain. It is also folly to run away from the clear statements of the LORD and the means He uses. He is caught up on the plains of Jericho and seized there (verse 5). It is rather tragic that the last king of the people suffers this fate at the very place where Joshua and the people won their first victory in the land (Jos 6:2,20-21).
Zedekiah is taken to the king of Babylon. There, as has been foretold, he stands face to face with the mighty Nebuchadnezzar (Jer 32:3-4), the man who made him king (2Kgs 24:16). He made a covenant with him and broke it (Eze 17:18). Now he reaps what he sowed in his folly (2Chr 36:12-13). The king of Babylon passes sentence on him. In a deeper sense, this is the sentence of the LORD.
His sons are slain before his eyes (verse 6). That must have been a terrible sight. All the nobles of Judah, who supported Zedekiah in his wicked policy, are also slain. Then Zedekiah’s eyes are put out and he is blind (verse 7). He has always refused the light of God’s Word and lived in spiritual darkness. Now he must also lack the light of his eyes for the rest of his life and literally live in darkness.
The last thing he saw in the light of the world was the slaughter of his sons. That picture will always stay with him and torment him. Then, blind and bound with fetters of bronze, he is taken to Babylon. Thus also the word is fulfilled that he shall go to Babylon, but shall not see it (Eze 12:13).
1. Zedekiah, the last king,
2. Samson, the last judge and
3. Laodicea, the last church,
all ended up blind. They were overcome by the world because of their unfaithfulness to God and their disobedience to His Word. As a result, they lost sight of the things of God.
The Chaldeans burn the king’s house and the houses of the people (verse 8). They also break down the walls of Jerusalem. What is left of the people, both in the city and outside it, is taken into exile to Babylon, as are the deserters (verse 9). The poorest of the land, those who have no possessions – perhaps the Rechabites (Jer 35:1-11)? – may continue to live in the land (verse 10). They pose no threat and can tend the vineyards and fields placed at their disposal.
11 - 14 The Deliverance of Jeremiah
11 Now Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon gave orders about Jeremiah through Nebuzaradan the captain of the bodyguard, saying, 12 “Take him and look after him, and do nothing harmful to him, but rather deal with him just as he tells you.” 13 So Nebuzaradan the captain of the bodyguard sent [word], along with Nebushazban the Rab-saris, and Nergal-sar-ezer the Rab-mag, and all the leading officers of the king of Babylon; 14 they even sent and took Jeremiah out of the court of the guardhouse and entrusted him to Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, to take him home. So he stayed among the people.
Nebuchadnezzar will certainly have been informed of Jeremiah’s preaching to the people to surrender to him. This is the reason why he gives orders concerning Jeremiah (verse 11). He commands that Jeremiah should be taken into protection and that no harm should be done to him (verse 12). On the contrary, he is to be at his beck and call when he says something. Nebuchadnezzar commands his entire staff that is in Jerusalem to do this (verse 13).
They do as he commands and send messengers to Jeremiah to release him from his captivity (verse 14). Then they turn him over to the care of Gedaliah, who is to take him home. Jeremiah is free again. He reaps the truth of the LORD’s words that he spoke to all the people.
15 - 18 Promise for Ebed-Melech
15 Now the word of the LORD had come to Jeremiah while he was confined in the court of the guardhouse, saying, 16 “Go and speak to Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, “Behold, I am about to bring My words on this city for disaster and not for prosperity; and they will take place before you on that day. 17 But I will deliver you on that day,” declares the LORD, “and you will not be given into the hand of the men whom you dread. 18 For I will certainly rescue you, and you will not fall by the sword; but you will have your [own] life as booty, because you have trusted in Me,” declares the LORD.’”
The LORD forgets nothing of what anyone has done for Him or His own. Before the city has fallen and Jeremiah is still a prisoner, the word of the LORD has come to him with a message for Ebed-Melech (verse 15). He is to bring Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, the word of the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel (verse 16).
First the LORD points out that He will bring His words of calamity upon the city. Ebed-Melech will see that for himself. But the LORD will deliver him (verse 17). He does fear the Chaldeans, for he has been a servant of Zedekiah. Perhaps he is also afraid of the men who wanted to kill Jeremiah because he helped Jeremiah out of the cistern into which they had thrown him. The man who did such a brave act of faith, they will want to make him pay for that.
But he has served the LORD, the King of kings, and Who promises that He “will certainly rescue” him (verse 18) from all dangers. The sword will not strike him; he will remain alive. The reason is: “Because you have trusted in Me.” God honors those who honor Him. Let us too take the risks of faith in the way of obedience and thus adorn the gospel.