A Message Set in History
This part of Jeremiah focuses on the reigns of the last kings of Judah, Jehoiakim (who ruled 11 years, 608—597 BC), Jehoiachin (3 months, 597 BC ) and Zedekiah (11 years, 597–586 BC). As Jeremiah is a book where chronological sequence of events is not strictly followed, it might be a little confusing at first reading through this segment of Scripture.
Warning to Zedekiah
Jeremiah warns King Zedekiah of the conquest of Jerusalem by the King of Babylon (1—7). The city of Jerusalem was then under siege. King Zedekiah then proclaimed freedom to all the Jewish slaves. It was promptly obeyed but later the people changed their mind and took back the freed slaves and enslaved them again.
God through Jeremiah reminded the people that they had violated the principle of freeing slaves every seventh year (Deut. 15:12). Since they had not obeyed God (Jer. 34:17) and had not given their fellow Jews freedom, God was giving them freedom to die by the sword, plague and famine (v.17).
Mention is made of the ritual of cutting the calf into two when making an agreement (34:18. see also Genesis 15) which actually meant that “May it happen to me like what has happened to this calf if I do not keep my part of the covenant.” By this time the army of Babylon had gone to fight elsewhere; but God said that He would cause them to come back so as to punish the people of Jerusalem and to burn down the city.
The Obedience of the Recabites
God uses the example of the Recabites and their obedience to contrast it with the disobedience of the people of Judah. The incident quoted here happened during the reign of Jehoiakim. God asked Jeremiah to invite the Recabites to drink wine. But they replied that their forefather Jonadab son of Recab had commanded them not to drink wine and that they had obeyed everything that he had commanded them.
God used this example to find fault with His people saying that the Recabites had obeyed the command of their forefather; but even though God had spoken to the people again and again, they had not obeyed Him. So God said that He was going to bring on Jerusalem all the disaster that was pronounced against them, the reason being: “I spoke to them, but they did not listen; I called to them, but they did not answer” (v. 17).
God, appreciating the spirit of obedience of the Recabites, makes a promise to them that they will always have someone in their family to serve Him (v. 19). 2 Kings 10:15–28 shows that the founder of the Recabites was a leader in Jehu’s time who stood for God.
Jehoiakim Burns Jeremiah’s Scroll
God commanded Jeremiah to write on a scroll all the words that God had spoken to him concerning Israel, Judah and all the other nations from the time He had begun to speak to him. Jeremiah dictated the words and Baruch son of Neriah wrote them down. Since Jeremiah was restricted, he told Baruch to go to the house of the Lord on a day of fasting and read the words recorded. Jeremiah hoped that perhaps the people would repent after listening to judgements pronounced on them.
Baruch did as was commanded. It was reported to the officials. They had Baruch brought before them and he was asked to read the scroll for them. Then they asked both Jeremiah and Baruch to go into hiding and then they reported to the king all that had happened.
The king (Jehoiakim) who was sitting in his winter apartment with a fire burning before him responded to the reading of the scroll by systematically cutting it with a knife and throwing it into the firepot, even though some of the officials urged the king not to do so. The entire scroll was thus burned. The highlight was this: “The king and all his attendants who heard all these words showed no fear, nor did they tear their clothes” (v. 24).
Instead the king sent people to arrest Jeremiah and Baruch. “But the Lord had hidden them” (v. 26b). But God’s word came to Jeremiah again to take another scroll and write again (the previous one might have taken Jeremiah more than a year to write). Great judgement was pronounced on Jehoiakim for the words he spoke while he burned the scroll. But Jeremiah wrote on another scroll and many similar words of judgement were added to it.
Jeremiah Is Put in Prison
King Zedekiah sent messengers to Jeremiah asking him, “Please pray to the Lord our God for us” (v. 4). At this time the Babylonian army had retreated to fight with the Egyptian army of Pharaoh. So Jeremiah was free to to come and go among the people. In response to Zedekiah’s request, Jeremiah told the king that surely the Babylonian army would come back to fight against Jerusalem. After saying this, Jeremiah tried to leave the city to get his share of the property among the people there. It was misrepresented by the guards and they arrested Jeremiah saying that he was deserting to the Babylonians.
Afterwards King Zedekiah brought Jeremiah out from prison and asked him privately whether there was any word from the Lord. To this Jeremiah replied “Yes,” and told him bluntly, “You will be handed over to the king of Babylon” (v. 17b). Jeremiah appealed to the king to set him free from the house of Jonathan. So the king gave orders to place Jeremiah in the courtyard and to supply him with bread as long as it lasted in the city.
Jeremiah Is Thrown Into a Cistern
We find a weak-willed king, King Zedekiah here. When the people came and told that Jeremiah was discouraging the people by saying that surely the city would fall to the Babylonians; the king just gave up Jeremiah into their hands (v. 5). They took Jeremiah and lowered him by ropes into a cistern filled with mud into which he sank down.
But a courageous man, Ebed-Melech a Cushite (not an Israelite), an official in the royal palace went out of the palace to the king who was sitting at the Benjamin gate and pleaded with him for Jeremiah’s life. Then the king gave orders to Ebed-Melech to lift Jeremiah out of prison. This he did so immediately. Later God through Jeremiah sent a special word of encouragement to Ebed-Melech promising him that even when disaster would befall the city, he “will escape with your life, because you trust in me, declares the Lord” (Jer. 39:15—18).
After Jeremiah was taken out of the pit, Zedekiah questioned Jeremiah privately. He wanted to know if there was any message for him from God. Jeremiah tells the king, who is afraid of Jews already defected to the Babylonian side (v. 19), to surrender to the Babylonians and thereby live: “Obey the Lord by doing what I tell you. Then it will go well with you, and your life will be spared” (v. 20). And Jeremiah remained in his place of confinement in the courtyard of the guard till the day Jerusalem was captured.
The Fall of Jerusalem
Jerusalem fell during the reign of Zedekiah after a siege. Zedekiah and his soldiers fled and the Babylonians captured him and put out his eyes. The manner in which this happened was exactly prophesied earlier to the exiles in Babylon by Prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 12:1—14).
The Babylonian army killed Zedekiah’s sons before his eyes and also put out his eyes and bound him with bronze shackles to take him to Babylon. Jerusalem was burned down and the people carried away into exile. Only the poor were left behind in the land.
The capture of Jerusalem is also described in Jeremiah 52, II Kings 25 and II Chronicles 36. King Nebuchadnezzar, the mighty king of Babylon, had given instructions to his commander to ensure the safety of Jeremiah.
“Nebuchadnezzar, knowing of Jeremiah’s life-long admonition to Jerusalem to submit to him, now offered to confer on Jeremiah any honour that he would accept, even a worthy place in the Babylonian court, 11—14; 40:1—6.” Halley’s Bible Handbook.
Chapters 40 and 41
Jeremiah Freed, and Gedaliah the Governor Is Assassinated
Jeremiah after being released was somehow by mistake taken captive again. He was again found by Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard of Babylon who acknowledges Jeremiah to be a true prophet of the Lord (40:2, 3). He, a pagan official, understood that “All this happened because you people sinned against the Lord and did not obey him” even though the Israelite officials failed to understand it, so observed Matthew Henry.
And the commander commended Jeremiah to go to Gedaliah whom Nebuchadnezzar had appointed over the towns of Judah. “Gedaliah, whom Nebuchadnezzar appointed governor over Judah, was son of Ahikam, Jeremiah’s friend, 40:5; 26:24. But within three months he was assassinated, 39:2; 41:1” — Halley’s Bible Handbook.
The man who killed Gedaliah was Ishmael son of Nethaniah who was of royal blood (41:1) who then made captives of all the rest of the people who were in Mizpah (41:10). But then Johanan son of Kareah and army officers with him fought against Ishmael and were able to secure the release of all the captured people; but Ishmael escaped (41:11—15; see also 40:15, 16). Then they started a journey towards Egypt.
Chapters 42 and 43
Towards Egypt, in Disobedience
The group fearing the Babylonians try to flee to Egypt (41:18). But before doing so, they went to Jeremiah and asked him to pray for them to give them direction as to what to do (42:2, 3). Jeremiah promised to pray and to tell them whatever God would tell him, keeping nothing back (42:4). And they promised him that they would act according to what God told them whether it was favourable or unfavourable (42:5, 6).
After 10 days the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah [kindly note that even a great prophet like Jeremiah did not get immediate answers from God at times] which he communicated to the people. The gist of the message was that God commanded them not to go to Egypt. Instead if they stayed in the land of Judah God would build them up. But if they still chose to go to Egypt, God would destroy them completely.
Jeremiah also understood that the people had no intention of obeying the Lord even though they had asked him to pray to get direction (42:19—22). Jeremiah was accused of lying. And the people proceeded to Egypt: “So they entered Egypt in disobedience to the Lord and went as far as Tahpanhes” (43:7).
Tahpanhes: At Tahpanhes the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah asking him to take some large stones while the Jews watched and bury them in clay in the brick pavement at the entrance to Pharaoh’s palace at Tahpanhes. God told Jeremiah that He will cause Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to set his throne over these stones that Jeremiah buried there.
Archaeological Note: “Tahpanhes, 43:8—13. Its site has been identified about 10 miles west of the Suez Canal. In 1886 Sir Flinders Petrie uncovered the ruins of a large castle, in front of which was a “a great open platform of brick work,” the very place Petrie believed, where Jeremiah hid the stones, 43:8. Also, Nebuchadnezzar’s annals state that he did invade Egypt in 568 BC which was 18 years after Jeremiah uttered the prophecy that he would, 43:10. Three of Nebuchadnezzar’s inscriptions have been found near Tahpanhes” – Halley’s Bible Handbook.
Disaster Because of Idolatry
God reminded the Israelites of their great idolatry in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem which brought ruin on them. Now the few who were left and had come to Egypt had started to burn incense to the gods of Egypt. God proclaimed disaster and doom on them for this wrong practice (v. 14). But the people said that they were prosperous when they burned incense to the Queen of Heaven (Ashtoreth, whose worship was done with acts of immorality); but they suffered when they stopped doing so. The women were also doing this with their husbands’ knowledge. But Jeremiah warned them that God would bring them disaster for this defiance of the Lord (vv. 24—30).
God’s Message to Baruch
This chapter contains God’s message to Baruch (given during the reign of Jehoiakim). Baruch was the man who wrote the words of this prophecy in a scroll. He was the one who read it out. But he found the burden of being godly in an evil generation very difficult (see also 43:3 where he is being accused), for he had said: “Woe to me! The Lord has added sorrow to my pain; I am worn out with groaning and find no rest” (v. 3).
But the Lord who understood that Baruch was a man with high ambitions told him not to “seek great things for yourself” when God was overthrowing everyone around him and bringing disaster on all the people. Instead God encouraged him saying that in the midst of the coming disaster, “but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life” (v. 5).
Chapters 46 to 51
Judgement on the Nations
These chapters contain prophetic judgements on the surrounding nations of Israel. Babylon is given a major place in these judgements (50:1—46; 51:1—64). “Babylon has a special theological significance in the Bible, starting with the rebellion against God at Babel (which is another name for Babylon) in Genesis 11 and concluding with the announcement of the fall of Babylon in Revelation 18. Note also the two Babylon taunt songs in Isaiah, one in each of the main parts of the prophecy (chapters 13 and 47).” — From The Bible in Outline, published by Scripture Union.
Note how Jeremiah instructs Seraiah to take the scroll containing these prophecies against Babylon, and to read all the words aloud when he got to Babylon, then to tie a stone to the scroll and throw it into the Euphrates symbolizing its final fall, never to rise again (51:59—64). “So will Babylon sink to rise no more because of the disaster I will bring upon her. And her people will fall” (Jer. 52:64).
Life Lesson: The judgement on these nations, especially over Proud Babylon (51:53) who was at the height of its power and glory at the time of this prophecy, show us that God is in control of human history. The ruins of Babylon near Baghdad in Iraq is enough and more proof of God’s absolute control of human history and the prophetic fulfilment of predictions made in His Word. They also tell us with certainty that the prophecies in His Word relating to the end times, that are yet to be fulfilled, will also come to pass.
The Fall of Jerusalem, Jehoiachin Released
In addition to the Fall of Jerusalem being described, the last section of the chapter talks about the release of King Jehoiachin of Judah who was earlier carried captive to Babylon (52:31—34). (He had reigned just three months in Jerusalem). The king of Babylon spoke kind words to him and gave him a seat of honour higher than those of the other kings with him in Babylon. His prison clothes were set aside and for the rest of his life he ate regularly at the king’s table. He enjoyed these privileges till the day he died.
Matthew Henry comments: “Though the night of affliction may be very long, yet we must not despair. The day may dawn at last. Jehoiachin was thirty-seven years a prisoner, in confinement, in contempt, since he was eighteen years old. [emphasis added]. Let those whose afflictions have been lengthened out encourage themselves with this instance; the vision will at the
end speak comfortably, and therefore wait for it. God can make his people find favour in the eyes of their oppressors, and turn their hearts to pity them (Ps. 106. 46), He caused them to be pitied by all who held them captive. It is not in vain to hope and quietly to wait for the salvation of the Lord.”
Jeremiah, His Life as a Prophet of the Lord [Chapter 44 end]
“This is the last we hear of Jeremiah. How long he lived in Egypt afterward we know not. Other prophets had at least occasional successes to cheer their hearts in the midst of difficulties, but Jeremiah seemed to be fighting a losing battle to the very end. Disaster, failure, hostility were rewards for his work. He preached to deaf ears and seemed to reap only hate in return for his love for his people. In life he seemed to accomplish little. He was brokenhearted. But God has given us a record that makes him one of the greatest of all prophets.
Jeremiah’s life was one of deepening gloom. He had to watch the people and city he loved fall from sin to sin. And all the time he had no hope that things might change. How deeply he felt all this can be seen in his Lamentations. Hudson Taylor (James Hudson Taylor, 1832—1905, British missionary to China and founder of China Inland Mission) one time wrote: `God delights to trust a trustworthy child with a trial.’ How God must have trusted Jeremiah!” “The prophecy of Jeremiah . . . is like a beautiful symphony of sorrow, God’s oratorio of tears and consolation as His great heart of love weeps over the people He is chastening. The message of the book deals with the certainty of God’s judgement because of sin, yet the tenderness and eternity of His boundless love.” – What the Bible Is All About by Dr. Henrietta C. Mears. [emphasis added].
“No Old Testament Character is so intimately know to us as Jeremiah. It is not simply that we are informed concerning the many events of his life, but we are shown something of the way he feels. It has been said that `we can never know anyone until we know how that person really feels.’ . . . Who does not remember the words: `Let my eyes overflow with tears night and day, without ceasing . . . ‘ (Jer. 14:17? The main lesson of his life is brought out in Jeremiah 8:21: `Since my people are crushed, I am crushed . . .’ He was willing to be hurt, and then use those hurts to deepen his sensitivity to the needs of his people and to the will and purposes of God.” – Character by Character by Selwyn Huges & Trevor J. Partridge. [emphasis added]
“The book of Jeremiah offers a vital lesson to the preacher: there can be no preaching of the good news without the preaching also of the bad news. . . . The preacher of salvation may find himself popular, but the preaching of judgement . . . that’s an occasion for sticks and stones and prison. . . . But then there are preachers who enjoy hell. They revel in preaching hell. Jeremiah was not such a man as that. . . . The preacher cannot revel in the thought of hell. God doesn’t! It must be preached . . . but always with Jeremiah’s spirit of compassion, never vindictively.” From The Bible in Outline, published by Scripture Union. [emphasis added].
Jeremiah 38:14a The Third Entrance
Jeremiah 39:16a, 18 Ebed-Melech: Because You Trust in Me
Jeremiah 41:8 Oil and Honey Hidden in a Field
Jeremiah 48:10 A Curse on Him Who Is Lax
Jeremiah 50:7 Whoever Found Them Devoured Them