THE FALL OF JERUSALEM: JEREMIAH 39
The Wall Is Breached
God finally brought to Jerusalem the punishment that he decreed. This event is also described in chapter 52. Nebuchadnezzar brought the whole of army of Babylon back to Jerusalem and attacked. After six months, they breached the wall and took seats in the gate. This is a declaration that they now control the city. It is also a symbol of the right to judge.
All through the book of Jeremiah we saw him deliver the message of God. That message was that God will destroy this city and give it to the Babylonians unless you repent. In 3:12, God told them to return to him and acknowledge their guilt and he would be merciful. They never did.
In chapter 1, God said he would bring people from the north (Babylon) who would set up their thrones in the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem. (1:14) Here in 39:3 that word is fulfilled.
When the Babylonians breached the gate, Zedekiah (the king of Judah) tried to escape with his officials. The Arabah was a wilderness area in the south. Its name literally means “desolate and dry area”. Zedekiah would soon learn that Jeremiah was the true prophet of God. He would also learn that God would do as he said. He would fulfill his word.
Ezekiel 24:1-14 also deals with this. On the day it happened, God told Ezekiel, who was in exile in Babylon already, what he was doing and why.
Zedekiah did not get far before he was captured. The Babylonians caught him in the plains of Jericho, about 15 miles away. The Babylonians were brutal. They killed Zedekiah’s sons and nobles in front of him. Then they gouged out his eyes so that would be the last thing he saw. Finally, the shackled him and took him to Babylon as a prisoner of war.
In Jeremiah 38, we saw God extend mercy to Zedekiah one last time. He told Zedekiah to surrender to the Babylonians. If he did, he and his family would live in exile. The city would also be saved. But, if he did not, he family would suffer, he would be captured and the city would be burned. (38:17-18) Zedekiah refused God’s offer of mercy. The Lord fulfilled all that he spoke through Jeremiah. Zedekiah was captured. His family suffered. His nobles were slaughtered.
Why was Nebuchadnezzar so hard on Zedekiah? Remember that the reason for this invasion goes back to the relationship between Babylon and Judah. Babylon had already conquered Judah. Judah surrendered. To avoid destruction, Judah, through Zedekiah the king, surrendered and became a vassal of Babylon. Judah paid tribute to Babylon. Had it continued to do so, all would have been well. Nebuchadnezzar was the one who put Zedekiah on the throne when his predecessor rebelled. But Zedekiah rebelled and quit paying tribute. This is detailed in 2 Kings 25 and 2 Chronicles 36.
The City Burned
The Babylonians burned the city, including the palace. They broke down the walls. All but the very poorest people were taken into exile. Again, the Lord fulfilled his word. He told Zedekiah “this city will be burned down”. (38:23)
The only people left were the very poorest. They were left to tend the vineyards and fields. In Jeremiah 6:12, the Lord said “their houses will be turned over to others together with their field and their wives when I stretch out my hand against those who live in the land.”
Nebuchadnezzar had Jeremiah released from confinement in the court of the guard and returned to his own house. Nebuchadnezzar likely did this because he knew Jeremiah had been counseling people to leave Jerusalem and surrender to the Babylonians. That is what the Lord told him to say. Some people had believed God’s word and obeyed by going out and surrendering to the Babylonians. Chapter 38 showed us that Zedekiah was afraid of the Jews who had gone over to the Babylonians. (38:19) Jeremiah was arrested for preaching this message of surrender. (38:2)
The Babylonians turned Jeremiah over to Geldaliah, who was to care for him and get him home. Geldaliah would be appointed as a type of governor to take care of the few people who were left in Judah.
Ebed-melech was the Ethiopian eunuch who rescued Jeremiah from death in the cistern. God sent Jeremiah to him to say God would save him when the city fell. He would not die. This was because he put his trust in God. (18) I think God meant that Ebed-melech acted to save Jeremiah because he believed God’s word concerning Jerusalem and he trusted God to protect him from Jeremiah’s enemies.
This reminds us of Rehab in Jericho, who was rewarded for protecting the Hebrew spies. Even in the Old Testament times, God brought Gentiles to himself and rewarded the faithful with life in Israel.
So, what happened here? Well, two things happened. First, God brought judgment on his rebellious people as he said he would. Second, though, God’s people suffered a huge loss at the hands of Satan’s people. Although God withdrew his protection from Israel, and although he sent the Babylonians as his tool of judgment, they were still the forces of the god of this world, not the forces of Christ. The Book of Revelation uses Babylon as a symbol for the world order that opposes Christ and his people. Satan must have howled in victory.
We see that the dwelling place of God was destroyed. God refused to dwell there because of Israel’s idolatry and other sins. The elements used in worship of God were taken away to the dwelling place of a pagan king and his false god who was just Satan in disguise.
The holy land was defiled. God’s people were taken into a pagan land. He thrust them out of his land as he said he would. In 6:8 he said he would make them a desolation and an uninhabited land. The Davidic king was tortured and imprisoned, leaving his people to be ruled by a pagan king, the emissary of Satan. It seemed that all was lost by God and won by Satan.
But God told us through Isaiah that he would preserve a faithful remnant. In 5:18, he said “I will not make a full end of you.” In 16:15, God said “I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers”.
He also said that from this remnant, another king would arise and rule. In 23:5, he said “Behold the days are coming declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely.”
So, Israel’s story was not over.