Chapter 37 continues to give us the story of Jeremiah in defeat. Now we fast forward again to the reign of Zedekiah. The text begins by noting that Nebuchadnezzar made Zedekiah king of Judah in the place of Jehoiakim’s son Coniah. This fulfills what the previous chapter had said, that the Davidic kingship would not continue with Jehoiakim’s descendants.
Concerning Zedekiah’s reign the text says, “But neither he nor his servants nor the people of the land listened to the words of YHWH that he spoke through Jeremiah the prophet” (Jer 37:2).
But the text does say that Zedekiah sent a priest and another man to Jeremiah the prophet asking him, “Please pray for us to YHWH our God” (Jer 37:3).
The text gives us some important background information for what follows. It tells us that this took place before Jeremiah was put in jail and at the time when the Chaldeans who were besieging Jerusalem stopped for the moment because the army of Pharaoh had come out of Egypt. Thus their implied inquiry of YHWH is to see if the Chaldeans might leave permanently.
We know that Jeremiah has been forbidden to intercede for them. And he does not do so here. But God does give them an answer through Jeremiah.
The answer is not what they want to hear. “Behold, Pharaoh’s army that came to help you is about to return to Egypt, to its own land. And the Chaldeans shall come back and fight against this city. They shall capture it and burn it with fire” (Jer 37:7-8).
And YHWH even says, “For even if you should defeat the whole army of Chaldeans who are fighting against you, and there remained of them only wounded men, every man in his tent, they would rise up and burn this city with fire” (Jer 37:10).
And because the Chaldean army left at the news that Pharaoh’s army was coming there was more freedom of travel. So Jeremiah went home to Anathoth apparently for something related to the family’s land (“to receive his portion there among the people”) and when he got to the Benjamin Gate he was seized for desertion to the Chaldeans and brought before the officials who beat him and imprisoned him. After he had been there “many days” King Zedekiah sent for him and questioned him secretly in the king’s house, “Is there any word from YHWH?”
Jeremiah’s answer was simply, “There is.” And “You shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon.” And Jeremiah also questioned why he had been put in prison and pleaded with the king not to be sent back to that prison, so King Zedekiah ordered that he be jailed in the court of the guard instead and given a loaf of bread daily until the city had no bread left.
Chapters like this one remind us that we are still reading the same genre (kind of writing) as the former prophets (Joshua-Kings).
In the next chapter Jeremiah was accused of “not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm” by telling the truth about what was coming. The problem was that it was destroying army morale. They sought to put him to death. And like Pilate in the days of Jesus, Zedekiah said, “Behold, he is in your hands, for the king can do nothing against you” (Jer 38:5). So they lowered Jeremiah down into an empty cistern where there was no longer any standing water and Jeremiah sank in the mud.
Note the death and resurrection pattern: he was in the cistern – in the pit – where he would die of hunger – and an Ethiopian eunuch saved him. The eunuch went to the king and said, “My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they did to Jeremiah the prophet by casting him into the cistern, and he will die there of hunger…” (Jer 38:9). And the king told the eunuch to take three men with him to rescue Jeremiah. They lowered down rags and worn-out clothing for him to tie himself to the rope and they pulled him out. The servant’s name Ebed-melech means “servant of the king.”
And the king sent for Jeremiah again and Jeremiah asked for assurances because he was concerned that Zedekiah would not follow his advice nor would Zedekiah like the answer that YHWH has to his questions. And Zedekiah swore, “As YHWH 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” (Jer 38:16).
With all of this we see what Kings taught – when judgment finally comes to the ruling royal house the king on the throne at the time is not totally wicked like his predecessors.
Jeremiah told King Zedekiah that the only way he would live and avoid the city being burnt down and such was if Zedekiah surrendered to the king of Babylon. Zedekiah said that he was afraid of those who had already deserted to the Chaldeans but Jeremiah said that he would not be given to them.
Zedekiah told Jeremiah to lie about what he had told the king if the officials asked about it. And Jeremiah did as ordered.
Chapter 39 opens saying that in year nine of Zedekiah, month ten, Nebuchadnezzar’s army was beseiging Jerusalem. Then it notes, “In the eleventh year of Zedekiah [his last year], in the fourth month, on the ninth day of the month, a breach was made in the city” (Jer 39:2). Babylonian officials then came and sat down in the middle gate. And Zedekiah and his solders saw this sight and fled at night “through the gate between the two walls.” “But the army of the Chaldeans pursued them and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho” (Jer 39:5a).
Nebuchadnezzar then slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and then all the nobles of Judah, and then gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes and put him in chains and took him to Babylon. And the Chaldeans burned the king’s house, and the house of the people, and broke down the walls of Jerusalem. And the rest of the people left in the city and those who earlier had deserted to the Chaldeans were carried off into exile. And “some of the poor people who owned nothing” were left in the land of Judah and given vineyards and fields.
These orders were supervised by Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, who also had orders from Nebuchadnezzar to treat Jeremiah the prophet well and do him no harm and “deal with him as he tells you” (Jer 39:12). Thus Jeremiah was freed from the court of the guard and allowed to stay among the people.
Verses 15-18 ending the chapter are a flashback: the message to Ebed-melech the Ethiopian was that he would “not fall by the sword,” he shall have his “life as a prize of war,” because he trusted in YHWH.
In Jeremiah 40 the text relates to us the words of the captain of the guard to Jeremiah in accordance to the orders of Nebuchadnezzar.
“YHWH your God pronouncd this disaster against this place. YHWH has brought it about, and has done as He said. Because you sinned against YHWH and did not obey His voice, this thing has come upon you. Now, behold, I release you from the chains on your hands. If it seems good to you to come with me to Babylon, come, and I will look after you well, but if it seems wrong to you to come with me to Babylon, do not come.”
“See, the whole land is before you; go wherever you think it good and right to go. If you remain, then return to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon appointed governor of the cities of Judah, and dwell with him among the people. Or go wherever you think it right to go” (Jer 40:3-5).
The text tells us that Jeremiah went and lived with the new governor of Judah. And the army captains whose forces were in the open country came and submitted to the new governor and people who had fled to nearby nations returned.
The chapter ended with the leaders of the armed forces in the open country going to Gedaliah the governor and telling him that Baalis the king of the Ammonites had sent Ishmael the son of Nethaniah to kill him. But Gedaliah did not believe them and when the charge was repeated in private to him Gedaliah continued to tell the captain bringing the accusation that it was speaking falsely of Ishmael.
And chapter 41 opens in the seventh month with this Ishmael coming with ten men and striking down Gedaliah the governor of Judah. And then 80 men arrived grieving and bringing grain offerings and incense for the temple of YHWH and Ishmael killed 70 (7×10) of them and threw them into a cistern. The other ten he spared because they said they had food hidden in the fields. And Ishmael took captive the people who had been entrusted to Gedaliah’s care. As we are reading this we should be wondering, ‘And what about Jeremiah?’
And the armed forces of Judah that were out in the open country came and fought against Ishmael and took back the people Ishmael had seized.
We get many more of the details here in Jeremiah 40-41 whereas 2 Kings 25:22-26 only gives us a brief summary of these events.
In Jeremiah 42 all the commanders of the armed forces of Judah from the open country as well as all the people “from the least to the greatest” came to the prophet and asked him to intercede for them and to ask YHWH what they should do now and where they should go. Jeremiah agreed to do so.
“Then they said to Jeremiah, ‘May YHWH be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act according to all the word with which YHWH your God sends you to us. Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of YHWH our God.”
At the end of 10 days, the word of YHWH came to Jeremiah and he sommoned everyone to tell them what YHWH said.
“If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you. Do not fear the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid. Do not fear him, declares YHWH, for I am with you, to save you and to deliver you from his hand. I will grant you mercy, that he may have mercy on you and let you remain in your own land” (Jeremiah 42:10-12).
The other option, one of disobedience to YHWH, was to go back to Egypt. They might say, “We will go to the land of Egypt, where we shall not see war or hear the sound of the trumpet or be hungry for bread, and we will dwell there.” And YHWH told them that even in Egypt sword, famine, and pestilence would find them and “they shall have no remnant or survivor from the disaster that I will bring upon them” (cf. Jer 42:14, 17).
And Jeremiah reminds them of their oath and says that he knows now that as they never obeyed before they will not start now.
And then the people of Judah dared to say that Jeremiah was telling a lie by saying that they were not to go to Egypt and that this was a conspiracy to kill them or take them into exile in Babylon. Even accusing Baruch the scribe of being a leader in the plot: “Baruch the son of Neriah has set you against us” (Jer 43:3). So they took the people who had been entrusted to Gedaliah the governor (including the princesses, daughters of Zedekiah, and even Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch the son of Neriah) to Egypt.
And the chapter ends with the people in Egypt and Jeremiah prophesying that Nebuchadnezzar would invade Egypt and burn the temples of Egypt and carry them away captive.
Jeremiah 44 is then addressed as the word that came to Jeremiah concerning the Judeans living in Egypt. It is a sermon invoking the history that they had just experienced and reminding them how God “persistently sent to you all [His] servants the prophets” and how they did not listen and repent. The chapter speaks openly about their idolatry serving the “queen of heaven” (Asherah) and the people responded by saying they would not listen to the word Jermiah spoke in the name of YHWH but would continue their idolatrous ways.
And the chapter ends, “This shall be the sign to you, declares YHWH, that I will punish you in this place, in order that you may know that my words will surely stand against you for harm: Thus says YHWH, behold, I will give Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt into the hand of his enemies and in the hand of those who seek his life, as I gave Zedekiah king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, who was his enemy and sought his life” (Jer 44:29-30).
And then chapter 45 we have discussed before – only five verses long – “The word that Jeremiah the prophet spoke to Baruch the son of Neriah, when he wrote these words in a book at the dictation of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah: ‘Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, to you, O Baruch: You said, ‘Woe is me! For YHWH has added sorrow to my pain. I am weary with my groaning, and I find no rest.’ Thus shall you say to him, Thus says YHWH: Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up—that is, the whole land.”
“And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares YHWH. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go.”
This was that same language we saw concerning Ebed-melech the Ethiopian eunuch. The expression means that he would barely escape with his life but he would escape with his life from the coming disaster.
Baruch, no doubt, could have said the laments in Jeremiah himself. He had a very difficult life simply because he was Jeremiah’s scribe. And he said that YHWH had added sorrow to his suffering. So Jeremiah reminded Baruch that God was also experiencing sorrow as He now was destroying what He had built and uprooting what He had planted.
It makes sense logically, though this did not take place chronologically here, to put these verses here because it shows us that Baruch was spared of the death sentence that Jeremiah prophesied for the people in chapter 44.
Thus we have seen a couple times now where there seems to be a logical rather than timing reason for the arrangment of the material in Jeremiah. This bolsters the argument that the structure of the book is in fact the chiasm proposed in an earlier post.