THE PUPPET KING CANNOT CONTROL THE FAITHFUL PROPHET OF GOD
Nobody loved the nation of Israel more deeply than Jeremiah. Nobody grieved over their sinful state more deeply than he. He was a true patriot but was falsely accused and imprisoned as a traitor. Jeremiah was a man of conviction who stood by God’s revelation to him despite whatever pressure was exerted by people in high places to try to get him to compromise.
Rick Ezell: Throughout Jeremiah’s ordeal, he stood by his convictions, speaking the truth of God’s will. He was “an iron pillar, and bronze walls” (Jer. 1:18). He was a man of unfaltering conviction. . .A person with convictions knows what he believes, where he is going, and why. Convictions are not forced on an individual. They are beliefs and actions of choice. They are the truth, the mission, and the calling given by God that is not altered by time, people, opinions, or circumstances.
Francis Kelley wrote, “Convictions are the mainsprings of action, the driving powers of life. What a man lives are his convictions.” Martin Luther King, Jr. often told his children, “If a man has nothing that is worth dying for, he is not fit to live.”
Each day will challenge our convictions. The person who perseveres in obedience lives by those convictions each day.
THE PUPPET KING CANNOT CONTROL THE FAITHFUL PROPHET OF GOD
I. (:1-10) THE CONDEMNED SEEK TO MANIPULATE GOD’S FAVOR
A. (:1-5) Manipulative Tactics by the Puppet King
1. (:1-2) Weakness of the Puppet King
a. (:1) Weak Politically – Propped up by Nebuchadnezzar
“Now Zedekiah the son of Josiah whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had made king in the land of Judah, reigned as king in place of Coniah the son of Jehoiakim.”
Maclaren: Zedekiah was a small man on a great stage, a weakling set to face circumstances that would have taxed the strongest.
b. (:2) Weak Spiritually – Rejecting God’s Word
“But neither he nor his servants nor the people of the land listened to the words of the LORD which He spoke through Jeremiah the prophet.”
Transition – making the connection from Jehoiakim in chap. 36 (who was so opposed to Jeremiah while his officials were somewhat supportive) to Zedekiah (who showed some kindness to the prophet while his officials were intent on imprisoning him).
Feinberg: This verse shows the fulfillment of the judgment Jeremiah pronounced against the godless Jehoiakim in 36:30. Instead of Jehoiakim’s son Coniah (Jehoiachin), Nebuchadnezzar put on the throne Zedekiah, who was not descended from Jehoiakim but was his brother and thus the uncle of Coniah. . . Eighteen years pass between chapters 36 and 37. Now the narrative centers on the last two years of the reign of Zedekiah, who was appointed king by Nebuchadnezzar after solemnly pledging his loyalty in the name of the Lord. Because of Egyptian influence at court, which he could not resist, Zedekiah decided to break his pledge. This was the immediate cause of the final siege of Jerusalem.
2. (:3) Weaseling Request Made to Jeremiah by the Puppet King
“Yet King Zedekiah sent Jehucal the son of Shelemiah, and Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah, the priest, to Jeremiah the prophet, saying, ‘Please pray to the LORD our God on our behalf.’”
Seems like Zedekiah had more respect for the intercessory efficacy of Jeremiah than of his own religious officials.
Mackay: Zedekiah and his courtiers were looking for divine endorsement of their policy. They expect a prophet to engage in efficacious intercession for divine blessing to accrue to them on their own terms. It does not reveal a willingness to listen to the word of the Lord to them and to act in obedience to it. They have the political and military insight to recognize that the circumstances of the city are desperate, but still they lack the spiritual perception to see how inadequate and demeaning their attitude is towards the Lord.
Constable: Zephaniah the priest was a member of the delegation that Zedekiah had sent to Jeremiah at the beginning of the siege (Jeremiah 21:1-10). He was also the recipient of a letter from the false prophet Shemaiah, who was already in Babylonian exile, demanding Jeremiah’s imprisonment (Jeremiah 29:24-32). Jehucal (also called Jucal) appears later as Jeremiah’s enemy (Jeremiah 38:1).
3. (:4-5) Wavering Circumstances
a. (:4) Situation for Jeremiah was About to Change
“Now Jeremiah was still coming in and going out among the people, for they had not yet put him in the prison.”
b. (:5) Siege of Jerusalem Temporarily Interrupted
“Meanwhile, Pharaoh’s army had set out from Egypt; and when the Chaldeans who had been besieging Jerusalem heard the report about them, they lifted the siege from Jerusalem.”
Parunak: The point of the request: Jer, now that you see that Neb has withdrawn, wouldn’t you like to agree with the official temple prophets that God really is going to spare the city?
B. (:6-10) Bold Prophecy of God’s Faithful Prophet
(:6) “Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, saying,”
Everything Jeremiah does is governed by the Word of God.
1. (:7) Don’t Look to Egypt for Deliverance
“Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Thus you are to say to the king of Judah, who sent you to Me to inquire of Me: Behold, Pharaoh’s army which has come out for your assistance is going to return to its own land of Egypt.’”
2. (:8) The Prophecy of Destruction of Jerusalem Still Stands
“The Chaldeans will also return and fight against this city, and they will capture it and burn it with fire.”
Nothing has changed with respect to Jeremiah’s prophecy – despite the changing circumstances
Feinberg: Jeremiah did not waver in his fidelity to the truth. The relief of Jerusalem was, he said, only temporary and would ultimately change nothing (vv. 6-8). It was only a passing incident. The Egyptian army may have been defeated (cf. Ezek 30:21); so Peake). Circumstances and appearances to the contrary, God’s ultimate word about Jerusalem was that it would be taken and burned. There was no basis for a false hope. Then the prophet stated (v.9) in the strongest terms, which some have called hyperbolic, God’s unchanging purpose to destroy Jerusalem. This was unquestionably the will of the Lord. Escape was out of the question. Even the “wounded” would be able to carry out the doom threatening God’s people (v.10).
3. (:9-10) The Chaldeans Cannot be Defeated
a. (:9) The Chaldeans Will Return
“Thus says the LORD, ‘Do not deceive yourselves, saying, The Chaldeans will surely go away from us, for they will not go.’”
b. (:10) The City Will Be Burned
“For even if you had defeated the entire army of Chaldeans who were fighting against you, and there were only wounded men left among them, each man in his tent, they would rise up and burn this city with fire.”
Longman: But instead of prayer, Jeremiah responds with yet another oracle of judgment directed toward Zedekiah. After all, God had earlier forbidden Jeremiah to pray for the people as a way to express the depth of their sin and the certainty of their destruction (7:16; 11:14; 14:11).
Parunak: Don’t conclude that you’re off the hook. The Bible uses two vivid pictures to show the strength of Babylon and the weakness of Egypt.
1) Babylon will destroy you even under the worst of circumstances. Even if every man of the Babylonian army were wounded and lying in his tent, they would still rise up like zombies and destroy the city.
2) It is useless to trust in the aid of Egypt. Ezek makes this point to the captives already in Babylon, at this same time, in Ezek. 29:6, when he says that the Egyptians “have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel. When they took hold of thee by thy hand, thou didst break, and rend all their shoulder; and when they leaned upon thee, thou brakest, and madest all their loins to be at a stand.”
Relying on Egypt for protection against Babylon is like trying to use a cattail as a walking stick on a rough hike. It just won’t hold up.
II. (:11-16) THE CAPTURED PROPHET OF GOD ACCUSED OF TREASON
A. (:11-12) Innocent Business Trip Undertaken by Jeremiah
1. (:11) Opportunity: Gates of Jerusalem Opened Up
“Now it happened when the army of the Chaldeans had lifted the siege from Jerusalem because of Pharaoh’s army,”
2. (:12) Operation: Real Estate Transaction Pursued
“that Jeremiah went out from Jerusalem to go to the land of Benjamin in order to take possession of some property there among the people.”
B. (:13-14) Illegitimate Arrest as a Traitor
“While he was at the Gate of Benjamin, a captain of the guard whose name was Irijah, the son of Shelemiah the son of Hananiah was there; and he arrested Jeremiah the prophet, saying, ‘You are going over to the Chaldeans!.’ But Jeremiah said, ‘A lie! I am not going over to the Chaldeans’; yet he would not listen to him. So Irijah arrested Jeremiah and brought him to the officials.”
Ryken: Jeremiah had good reason to leave the city: He needed to take care of some personal business. Most likely, he was going to discuss his family estate, including the field his cousin Hanamel was trying to sell him (the actual purchase was not made until after Jeremiah was in prison). But he ran into trouble at Checkpoint Benjamin. The head of security misinterpreted Jeremiah’s intentions. Irijah recognized him, accused him of desertion, and arrested him for treason.
Guzik: Because he said that it was futile for the people of Judah to resist the Babylonians, Jeremiah was suspected of being a sympathizer with the Babylonians and maybe even their spy.
C. (:15-16) Imprisonment by Angry Officials
“Then the officials were angry at Jeremiah and beat him, and they put him in jail in the house of Jonathan the scribe, which they had made into the prison. For Jeremiah had come into the dungeon, that is, the vaulted cell; and Jeremiah stayed there many days.”
Parunak: Why are the princes so opposed to him and his message? To the common people it makes little difference whether they are peasants under a Babylonian puppet or under Neb himself. But a noble is only a noble in his own society. His only hope of retaining his prestige and prosperity is in outlasting Neb. If the defenders all defect, as Jer has been preaching, the city will fall, and they will lose their position. Thus it is the deceitfulness of their own riches that blinds them to God’s warnings, their only real hope of surviving at all.
Mackay: This pit, however, seems to have been used for storage of commodities such as grain, in that there were cells/cellars there. It was in such an underground prison that Jeremiah was confined in airless, gloomy, and probably damp conditions. It certainly seems to have constituted on its own a threat to his health (v. 20). Jeremiah in prison in in some senses a paradigm for what had happened to the word of the Lord as well as to the messenger who brought that word. The word was having no freedom to impact on the life of the nation; it too was in confinement. The leaders of the nation closed the prophet’s mouth and ministry by imprisoning him in part of the domain of the ruling arty in Jerusalem.
III. (:17-21) THE CONFRONTATION BETWEEN THE PUPPET KING AND THE FAITHFUL PROPHET OF GOD
A. (:17) Jeremiah Prophecies Consistently
1. (:17a) Intimidation – Trying to get Jeremiah to change his prophecy
“Now King Zedekiah sent and took him out; and in his palace the king secretly asked him and said, ‘Is there a word from the LORD?’”
2. (:17b) Boldness – Standing Strong against the manipulative tactics
“And Jeremiah said, ‘There is!’ Then he said, ‘You will be given into the hand of the king of Babylon!’”
Constable: The king was really the one bound in this situation, and the prisoner was the truly free man.
B. (:18-19) Jeremiah Pleads His Innocence
1. (:18) Committed No Sin
“Moreover Jeremiah said to King Zedekiah, ‘In what way have I sinned against you, or against your servants, or against this people, that you have put me in prison?’”
Ryken: Jeremiah said two things to try to gain his freedom. He tried to prove his innocence and his truthfulness.
2. (:19) Contrasted with False Prophets Whom Jeremiah Exposes
“Where then are your prophets who prophesied to you, saying, ‘The king of Babylon will not come against you or against this land’?”
Wiersbe: Jeremiah took the opportunity to expose the deceptive, optimistic messages of the false prophets. If they had been speaking the truth, the king should have asked them for a message from the Lord! Meanwhile, Jeremiah asked to be delivered from prison, a request that Zedekiah granted. The prophet was placed in the court of the prison and granted a daily ration of bread as long as the supply lasted. While we appreciate Zedekiah’s concern to save Jeremiah, we wonder why the king didn’t have a concert to save his people. He was afraid to change his policies because he was afraid of his advisers and officers.
C. (:20-21) Jeremiah Petitions the King for Improved Care
1. (:20) Improved Conditions of Confinement
“But now, please listen, O my lord the king; please let my petition come before you and do not make me return to the house of Jonathan the scribe, that I may not die there.”
2. (:21) Improved Nourishment
“Then King Zedekiah gave commandment, and they committed Jeremiah to the court of the guardhouse and gave him a loaf of bread daily from the bakers’ street, until all the bread in the city was gone. So Jeremiah remained in the court of the guardhouse.”
Constable: quoting Keown — In many ways, Zedekiah is a tragic figure. It seems that he is attracted to Jeremiah and his message like iron filings to a magnet, yet he is never able to summon enough resolve to act in response to that message. While such conclusions are speculative, it is possible that Zedekiah presents a paradigm of persons whose rejection of the purposes of God through their weakness of character is every bit as damaging and damning as the aggressive rebellion of Jehoiakim.