Sunday, November 25, 2012

Jeremiah's Troubles Begin



37:1, 5
The Time

This chapter leaves the reign of Jehoiakim that was the setting of chapters 35 and 36. It moves forward to Zedekiah. Those two chapters were an insert into the continuing saga of Zekekiah’s reign. Chapter 37 resumes the story.

We know from 2 Kings 24 that Jehoiakim died and left his son, Jehoiachin, to become king at 18 years of age. He is referred to in Jeremiah 37 as Coniah. But Jehoiachin only reigned 3 months, for the Babylonians came and besieged the city. Jeohiachin surrendered himself, his mother and his officials and became a prisoner. The Babylonians carried off the treasures of the temple and the king’s house. They took all the officials and mighty men, the craftsmen and the smiths. Mostly the poor were all that were left.

Nebuchadnessar, the king of Babylon, put Jehiachin’s uncle, Mattaniah on the throne. He changed Mattaniah’s name to Zedekiah. This was in 597 B.C. Zedekiah rebelled and Nebuchadnezzar attacked again.

Verse 5 tells us that during this 2nd siege, the Egyptian army came out to attack the Babylonians while they were busy attacking Jerusalem. The Babylonians withdrew to engage the Egyptians. We know from other sources that the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians, who then withdrew to Egypt and did not come out again. Then the Babylonians returned and destroyed Jerusalem.

It was during this lull in the siege that this prayer request came. This is also the same period during which the slave owners recaptured their freed slaves are recorded in chapter 34. Likely everyone wondered if the Babylonians would return or if Egypt would defeat them or at least weaken them.

The Spiritual Condition of Judah

Verse 2 tells us that no one listened to Jeremiah’s prophecies and sermons. They rejected him as a prophet and they did not believe God would bring the punishments Jeremiah said were coming, despite the fact that God said he would in the book of Deuteronomy.

This is similar to the situation today with many theological issues. For example, take the issue of Hell. John 3:18 says whoever does not believe in Christ is condemned already for his unbelief. In Matthew 25:41 and 46 he said the condemned depart into eternal punishment. Yet, you often hear people say “I do not believe a loving God would send people to Hell”. Then you read the book of Revelation, where John painted a vivid picture of the final judgment and the casting of unbelievers into Hell. The Word of God says one thing, and they refuse to believe it and choose to believe their own wishful thinking. This is what Zedekiah and his people did.

The Prayer Request

Despite his unbelief, King Zedekiah faced a terrible hardship with the siege. So, he sent two guys to ask Jeremiah to pray for them. This is ironic. They rejected Jeremiah’s message, in effect rejecting him as God’s prophet. Yet, they thought there might be something to his claim, because they asked him to talk to the Lord for them.

The contemporary example is the person you know who rejects your beliefs and even makes fun of them, but asks you to pray for him or her when trouble comes. I had a friend in college who ridiculed me constantly, yet came to me in the middle of the night for help when he went through tranquilizer withdrawal after his doctor cut him off. Another friend told me, after attending a liberal seminary, that he only believed in a spiritual power in the universe, not a personal, living God. But, years later, when he hurt his back and was out of work, he called me from another state and asked me to pray for him.

You might speculate here that Zedekiah hoped for a miracle like the one granted to Hezekiah, when he killed and ran off the Assyrian armies from Jerusalem. (2 Kings 19:32-37).

Jeremiah’s Condition

Jeremiah was still free at this point. He had not yet been imprisoned. That would not last long from this point.

The Word From The Lord

In response to this prayer request, the Lord gave Jeremiah a word. The passage does not indicate that Jeremiah prayed before the word came from the Lord. It reads as if the word came in response to the request itself. Indeed, the Lord had already instructed Jeremiah not to pray for the deliverance of Jerusalem. (7:16; 14:11) Plus, in chapter 34, the Lord condemned the people for taking back their slaves and violating the covenant requirements of the Sabbath year.

Unfortunately, the Lord would not answer the prayer for protection with a “yes”. Instead, he told them again that he would destroy the city no matter what they did.

He also told them not to deceive themselves. (9) Specifically, this meant do not believe the Chaldeans (Babylonians) are leaving permanently. They will come back and defeat Judah. You can see how this answer could make some people in Jerusalem mad.

Jeremiah In Jail

Jeremiah tried to leave the city to go to his hometown of Anathoth and claim some land. This may be part of the story where he bought land from his cousin. It is the only reason I can see that he would leave the protection of the city. But he only got as far as the Gate of Benjamin before the guards grabbed him. (13) The location of the gates in the wall around Jerusalem are not precisely known. However, the Benjamin Gate was likely on the north side of the city.

I think this is so, for verse 12 says Jeremiah left to go to the land of Benjamin. Joshua 18 tells us that the allotment to Benjamin was north of the allotment to Judah. Jeremiah’s hometown was Anathoth, a city given to the priests. Joshua 21:17 tells us this.

If you have a Bible with maps showing the allotments to the tribes of Israel, you will see the little territory of Benjamin nestled in the northeast corner of the border with Judah. Its territory went almost to Jerusalem. Anathoth is believed to be about 2 miles north of Jerusalem. So, it makes since that Jeremiah would attempt to leave for his hometown by going through a gate on the north side of the city.

The guard accused Jeremiah of sneaking out of the city to defect to the Babylonians. This was likely because Jeremiah had been saying God wanted them to surrender to the Babylonians and go willingly into exile.

All of the anger of the frustrated officials came to rest on Jeremiah. They beat him and imprisoned him in a house that had been converted into a prison. (15) Evidently, a dungeon had been made. (16) the word is literally “house of the cistern”, so the house may have had its own cistern underground, or under the house, as a water supply. It would have been damp and cold and dark. That would be a place in which you got sick easily. Hebrews 11:36 may refer to Jeremiah’s plight.

How a person receives the word of God is a sign of whether they belong to God. Jesus said ““Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:47)

Another Prayer Request

After Jeremiah had been in jail many days, the King must have found out. He sent for him and asked him if there was any word from the Lord. This may have been because Jeremiah never got to deal with the prayer request before. Note, though, that Zedekiah is again acknowledging Jeremiah’s status as the man of God. He expected that Jeremiah could tell him the word of the Lord.

And Jeremiah did indeed tell him the word of the Lord. But again, it was that the king would go into captivity in Babylon. (17)

Jeremiah’s Plea

Since the king inquired of Jeremiah, Jeremiah inquired of the king. He pointed out his innocence and asked to be delivered from the dungeon. He thought he would die there.

The King Responds Favorably

The king removed Jeremiah from the dungeon and put him in detention in the court of the guard. This is where we found him in chapter 33. This was a great improvement. In addition, he was provided bread to eat until all the bread ran out due to the siege.

God provided for Jeremiah. He gave him favor with the king. He gave him bread. But sometimes the servant suffers. Jeremiah suffered arrest, imprisonment, beating, hatred and rejection.

Christians around the world suffer today. We should pray for them and identify with them. If you are one of them, may God grant you favor with those around you and provide for your safety and your physical needs. Above all, may God give you strength to bring glory to his name.

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