FAITH DETERMINES THE OUTCOME OF EITHER DEVASTATION OR DELIVERANCE
King Zedekiah and his fellow countrymen in Jerusalem were given every opportunity to respond to the repeated prophecies of Jeremiah warning of impending devastation at the hands of the Chaldeans. But they chose to rely on their own rose-colored predictions of safety and protection within the walls of God’s chosen city. This passage reminds us that God will always keep His promises – both promises of devastation and promises of deliverance. The dividing line is faith. Where do we place our ultimate confidence? Here we see how even an obscure Gentile like Ebed-Melech plays the role of a hero because of his faith in God. The devastation exacted against King Zedekiah and the citizens of Jerusalem stands in stark contrast to the providential protection provided to this one Gentile and to Jeremiah, God’s faithful prophet.
FAITH DETERMINES THE OUTCOME OF EITHER DEVASTATION OR DELIVERANCE
I. (:1-10) DEVASTATION
A. (:1-3) Capture and Occupation of Jerusalem
1. (:1) Siege of Jerusalem
“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;”
Longman: Ancient warfare strategy attests going over walls by ladders, picking out stones so the wall would collapse, and digging under the walls.
2. (:2) Timestamp for the Breaching of the City Wall
“in the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, in the ninth day of the month, the city wall was breached.”
3. (:3) Occupation of Jerusalem
“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.”
Adam Clarke: The city of Jerusalem stood upon two hills, Sion to the south, and Acra to the north, with a deep valley between them. The gate of the center, 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 rushing forward and posting themselves in this gate, in the very heart or center of the city, became thereby masters at will of the whole. Zedekiah with his troop, perceiving this, fled out of the opposite gate on the south side.
B. (:4-5) Capture of Zedekiah
1. (:4) Flight
“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.”
Adam Clarke: There were two roads from Jerusalem to Jericho. One passed over the mount of Olives; but, as this might have retarded his flight, he chose the way of the plain, and was overtaken near Jericho, perhaps about sixteen or eighteen miles from Jerusalem. He had probably intended to have passed the Jordan, in order to escape to Egypt, as the Egyptians were then his professed allies.
2. (:5) Pursuit and Capture
“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.”
MacArthur: Nebuchadnezzar’s command headquarters were 230 miles to the North of Jerusalem.
C. (:6-10) Conquering Atrocities
1. (:6) Death
“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.”
Maclaren: But to make the sight of his slaughtered sons the poor wretch’s last sight, was a refinement of gratuitous delight in torturing.
2. (:7) Debilitation
“He then blinded Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him in fetters of bronze to bring him to Babylon.”
Constable: quoting Keown – Jeremiah 39 presents a strong contrast between faithfulness and the lack of faith. Jeremiah and Ebed-melech represent those who are faithful to the LORD and to whom the LORD is faithful in return. Zedekiah represents faithlessness. In some respects, Zedekiah’s faithlessness is of the most troublesome sort among people of faith. His faithlessness is not rejection of the LORD but an inability to act in courage when pressures mount. Like the church at Laodicea in Revelation 3:15 [which was also blind], Zedekiah was neither hot nor cold, and he paid a terrible price for his indecision.
3. (:8) Destruction
“The Chaldeans also burned with fire the king’s palace and the houses of the people, and they broke down the walls of Jerusalem.”
Parunak: Destruction of the walls is important: it removes the ability of a city to make war. Recall in Neh the political complications that surrounded the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. A settlement without walls is just a town, guaranteed to be under someone else. With walls, it becomes a city-state, capable of some claim to independence.
Constable: Back in Jerusalem, the Chaldeans burned the royal palace, the other houses in the city, including the temple (Jeremiah 52:13), and broke down the city walls to make it uninhabitable and indefensible. Thus began “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24), the period in history during which Israel is under Gentile control, which will continue until Christ’s second coming.
Feinberg: The Fall of Jerusalem was so important that Scripture relates it four times – here, in chapter 52, in 2 Kings 25, and in 2 Chronicles 36.
4. (:9) Deserters Carried Into Exile
“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.”
5. (:10) Destitute Provided for in Judah
“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.”
Constable: It was in Babylon’s best interests to maintain the agricultural productivity of Canaan.
Kidner: The Babylonians needed to keep some balance between reprisals and reconstruction, since chaos would be in no-one’s interests: hence the distribution of land to those who could work it (10; cf. 52:16), and the appointment of an acceptable governor.
II. (:11-18) DELIVERANCE
A. (:11-14) Deliverance of Jeremiah
1. (:11-12) Charge of Protection Issued by the King
“Now Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon gave orders about Jeremiah through Nebuzaradan the captain of the bodyguard, saying, ‘Take him and look after him, and do nothing harmful to him, but rather deal with him just as he tells you.’”
2. (:13-14) Release from Imprisonment
“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; 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.”
B. (:15-18) Deliverance of Ebed-melech
1. (:15-16a) Prophecy Delivered Thru Jeremiah
“Now the word of the LORD had come to Jeremiah while he was confined in the court of the guardhouse, saying, ‘Go and speak to Ebed- melech the Ethiopian, saying, Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel,’”
2. (:16b) Pronouncement of Coming Disaster on Jerusalem
“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.”
3. (:17-18a) Promise of Deliverance for Ebed-melech
“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. For I will certainly rescue you, and you will not fall by the sword; but you will have your own life as booty,”
Parunak: Echoes 17:5-8 — The earlier portion pointed out the futility of trusting in man and the blessedness of trusting in the Lord. Now the nobles of the city, who trusted in Pharaoh to deliver them, are destroyed, while this humble slave is guaranteed his life.
Thompson: This small unit (:15-18) belongs properly with the story of Ebed-melech in 38:1-13. Why it was placed in the present context is not clear unless it was that the editor wished to show that Ebed-melech (39:15-18), like Jeremiah himself (39:11-14), survived the fall of Jerusalem recorded in 39:1-10.
4. (:18b) Pivotal Faith in the Lord
“’because you have trusted in Me,’ declares the LORD.’”
Kidner: As a postscript to the oracle for Ebed-melech, we can notice that it says nothing of the heroism, the compassion or the resourcefulness of his rescue-operation, outstanding though these were: only of the faith in God that was the mainspring of them all.
David Platt: This is the essence of the Christian message, the message all throughout the Bible. Trust in God and be saved. This is what God is saying to His people over and over and over again all throughout the Old Testament. In fact sin came into the world when what happened? God’s people, His creation, Adam and Eve did not trust in Him. And yet, in Genesis 3, God gave this promise that He would send a savior who would crush the serpent and from the very beginning then, God is calling these people to trust in His promises, and that is what we see over, and over, and over again. And so when we get to the New Testament and we hear Jesus proclaiming the good news of salvation that comes from God, what’s the message? Repent and believe. Turn from yourself and trust in God.
Mackay: We can tell that throughout Ebed-Melech was motivated not just by humanitarian concerns for Jeremiah, but by his commitment to the Lord, foreigner though he was. . . Ebed-Melech’s readiness to risk his life for what he though was right before God is rewarded by his deliverance (Mark 8:35). Jerusalem, Zedekiah and his officials had a misplaced confidence in their own ingenuity and political dexterity, and as a result they had been overwhelmed.