Jeremiah 38-41 If you will surrender to Babylon, then your life shall be spared

From Jeremiah 38-41

Jeremiah Has someone ever given you advice that you should have heeded but didn’t? What happened? In today’s reading the Babylonians as besieging Jerusalem and Jeremiah is asked to pray for them. The people were resting their hopes on Egypt to save them, but the Egyptians turn away from them. Jeremiah gives a discouraging message to the people.

This post is part of my bible in a year series.

Passage and Comment

The Babylonians will remain and they will be conquered. So they put Jeremiah in prison. Hezekiah is still interested in what Jeremiah has to say from the LORD so he keeps providing for him (Je 37.1-21).

Jeremiah persists in giving less than a optimistic message to the people. They are being judged, they are being punished. Babylon will have its way with them. The only thing they can do is submit to Babylon and to the LORD’s will. No one likes this so they lower Jeremiah into a pit of mud and leave him to die. But one person, Ebed-melech the Ethiopian has compassion on Jeremiah and believes what they are doing is wrong. He asks they get him out of the pit. (Je 38.1-13).

This is where our passage picks up.

14 King Zedekiah sent for Jeremiah the prophet and received him at the third entrance of the temple of the Lord. The king said to Jeremiah, “I will ask you a question; hide nothing from me.” 15 Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “If I tell you, will you not surely put me to death? And if I give you counsel, you will not listen to me.” 16 Then King Zedekiah swore secretly to Jeremiah, “As the Lord lives, who made our souls, I will not put you to death or deliver you into the hand of these men who seek your life.” (Je 38.14-16)

Jeremiah is understandably concerned about how they will treat him. They don’t have a good track record in treating him well after he gives them bad news. Zedekiah assures him he will keep him safe. Jeremiah trust’s his word.

17 Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “Thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: If you will surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then your life shall be spared, and this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live. 18 But if you do not surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then this city shall be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hand.” (Je 38.17-18)

Jeremiah presents him with a choice – Surrender to Babylon, or Don’t surrender to Babylon.

The writing is on the wall. Jeremiah doesn’t say they will win the conflict. They will lose. The LORD will punish Judah and they must submit. Zedekiah has to put the city and his life into the hands of his enemies, the Babylonians. A scary idea. They could kill him, torture him. Inflict horrors on his people. But in this situation this is what trusting in the LORD looks like. Surrender to your enemy, or bad things will happen.

19 King Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “I am afraid of the Judeans who have deserted to the Chaldeans, lest I be handed over to them and they deal cruelly with me.” 20 Jeremiah said, “You shall not be given to them. Obey now the voice of the LORD in what I say to you, and it shall be well with you, and your life shall be spared. 21 But if you refuse to surrender, this is the vision which the LORD has shown to me: 22 Behold, all the women left in the house of the king of Judah were being led out to the officials of the king of Babylon and were saying,

“ ‘Your trusted friends have deceived you

and prevailed against you;

now that your feet are sunk in the mud,

they turn away from you.’

23 All your wives and your sons shall be led out to the Chaldeans, and you yourself shall not escape from their hand, but shall be seized by the king of Babylon, and this city shall be burned with fire.” (Je 38:19–23)

Zedekiah is understandably afraid of the Babylonians. Jeremiah has given him a hard choice. But what he has instructed is the better alternative. Does Zedekiah believe him? Does he trust the LORD? Will he give into fear at the last moment?

Remember to pray for courage when you need to trust in the LORD in difficult situations.

24 Then Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “Let no one know of these words, and you shall not die. 25 If the officials hear that I have spoken with you and come to you and say to you, ‘Tell us what you said to the king and what the king said to you; hide nothing from us and we will not put you to death,’ 26 then you shall say to them, ‘I made a humble plea to the king that he would not send me back to the house of Jonathan to die there.’ ” 27 Then all the officials came to Jeremiah and asked him, and he answered them as the king had instructed him. So they stopped speaking with him, for the conversation had not been overheard. 28 And Jeremiah remained min the court of the guard until the day that Jerusalem was taken (Je 38.24-28).

Zedekiah wants to keep secret what Jeremiah has instructed him. Jeremiah agrees and when asked he lies with the truth. Jeremiah did plead with Zedekiah not to have him killed (cf. Jer 38.15-16). But this is a diversion from what he really shared with Zedekiah and he is spared.

Then the Babylonian army comes.

39 In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army came against Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 In the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, on the ninth day of the month, a breach was made in the city. 3 Then all the officials of the king of Babylon came and sat in the middle gate: Nergal-sar-ezer of Samgar, Nebu-sar-sekim the Rab-saris, Nergal-sar-ezer the Rab-mag, with all the rest of the officers of the king of Babylon. (Je 39:1–3)

The come against Jerusalem and for two whole years the people held out against them. After a long protracted siege and many deaths from sword and hunger Jerusalem falls. They break through the walls and enter the city. This is Zedekiah’s last opportunity to surrender to the Babylonians as Jeremiah instructed him.

4 When Zedekiah king of Judah and all the soldiers saw them, they fled, going out of the city at night by way of the king’s garden through the gate between the two walls; and they went toward the Arabah. 5 But the army of the Chaldeans pursued them and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho. And when they had taken him, they brought him up to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, at Riblah, in the land of Hamath; and he passed sentence on him. (Je 39:4–5)

Unfortunately they flee. They are pursued and caught. Then brought to the King of Babylon. Nothing good will happen to him or his family. Perhaps it is only now that he wished he had followed the LORD’s instructions.

6 The king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah at Riblah before his eyes, and the king of Babylon slaughtered all the nobles of Judah. 7 He put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him in chains to take him to Babylon. 8 The Chaldeans burned the king’s house and the house of the people, and broke down the walls of Jerusalem. (Je 39:6–8)

After two years of hard battle the Babylonians hated him. The last thing Zedekiah saw was his sons being slaughtered in front of him. He would remember that as the last thing he saw for the rest of his life. Jeremiah is treated differently and is looked after by Nebuchadnezzar’s (Babylonian King) command (Jer 39.9-14).

15 The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah while he was shut up in the court of the guard: 16 “Go, and say to Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will fulfill my words against this city for harm and not for good, and they shall be accomplished before you on that day. 17 But I will deliver you on that day, declares the Lord, and you shall not be given into the hand of the men of whom you are afraid. 18 For I will surely save you, and you shall not fall by the sword, but you shall have your life as a prize of war, because you have put your trust in me, declares the Lord.’ ” (Jer 39.15-18)

Zedekiah feared the Babylonians and trusted in himself, hoping he could win the battle. He paid a heavy price for his mistake. Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian, a Gentile of all people, trusted in the LORD and was spared. Jeremiah contrasts the two and sets an ongoing example for many who hear of the tale.

Trust in the LORD in difficult situations.

Jeremiah is given the option whether he would like to stay in the land or be taken off to Babylon. Either way Jeremiah will be taken care of. Jeremiah decided to remain among the people who were left in the land. These included the nominated governor Gedaliah who serves them well (Je 40.1-12). Not all are happy with his rule and some plot to assassinate him. Gedaliah hears of the plot from a man named Johanan but unfortunately does not believe him (Je 40.13-16).

The assassin Ishmael with some other thugs rise up against Gedaliah, kill him and a number of Jews with him. They cover up what they had done, so no one initially knows. He then captured the town they were in, holding many captive. Eventually Johanan finds out about what they had done and musters up an army. He battles against Ishmael and defeats him. Ishmael gets away, but the captives rejoice because they are free (Je 41.1-18).

Story of Israel

Click to enlarge.Click to enlarge.

Moses once gave a choice to the people how they should live.

11 “For this commandment that I command you today tis not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 14 But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. 15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. (Dt 30.11-15)

Jeremiah set before Zedekiah a choice. It was a tough decision because trusting the LORD required he turn himself over to the Babylonians – surrendering. In the end he gave in to fear and trusted in his own powers. He suffered greatly.

Story of Jesus

Jesus presents all people with a choice as well. After he died and rose again his apostles were commanded to share the good news with all. Both Jew’s like Zedekiah and Gentile’s like Ebed-melech. Sometimes there were warnings attached. Paul once said;

26 “Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. 27 For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. 28 And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. 32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33 this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm,

o“ ‘You are my Son,

today I have begotten you.’

34 And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way,

“ ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’

35 Therefore he says also in another psalm,

“ ‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’

36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, 37 but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. 38 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. 40 Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about:

41 “ ‘Look, you scoffers,

be astounded and perish;

for I am doing a work in your days,

a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’ ”

42 As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. 43 And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God. 44 The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. (Acts 13.26-44)

I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. Beware lest what is said in the Prophets should come about. Believe Jesus rose from the dead and is LORD. Trust in his death for the forgiveness of your sins. Dont be like Zedekiah, trust in the LORD like Ebed-melech.

Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2014. All Rights Reserved.