Read Jeremiah 37-39
Voices. Which voices do you listen to? I remember the series we did at Shoreline Community Church in Monterey, CA, some years ago where we asked this question. Today we read about the consistent voice of the Lord through Jeremiah that spoke words the leaders of Judah did not want to hear. I hope we are able to hear the voice of God through the loudest chatter of the great deceiver. Lord, help us!
Jeremiah in a Dungeon, then Courtyard, then Cistern
Zedekiah continues to show his ignorance, his lack of understanding, perhaps unwise counsel. We referred to this in yesterday’s post, briefly, Jehoiakim was installed by an Egyptian Pharaoh, now Babylon is in charge, so Zedekiah is put in charge, another puppet king. The historical outline is seen in 2 Kings 24-25 and 2 Chronicles 36; Jeremiah’s focus is on the spiritual perspective. Let’s set the stage:
Zedekiah son of Josiah was made king of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; he reigned in place of Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim. Neither he nor his attendants nor the people of the land paid any attention to the words the Lord had spoken through Jeremiah the prophet. Jeremiah 37:1-2
No one listened to the words of the Lord. Jeremiah explains rather simply Judah was not going to escape the wrath of the Babylonians, words Zedekiah and his cronies did not want to hear:
Even if you were to defeat the entire Babylonian army that is attacking you and only wounded men were left in their tents, they would come out and burn this city down.” Jeremiah 37:10
Imprisoned under false pretenses, Jeremiah finally gets his day in front of Zedekiah and is released from the dungeon and confined to the courtyard with the provision of bread (i.e., food) from Baker Street each day, until it’s all gone. Have no doubt, Jeremiah is still in prison, but the courtyard is a much better accommodation. Even so, his message remains the same: the Babylonians will destroy the city and all who are in it.
Then the officials said to the king, “This man should be put to death. He is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, as well as all the people, by the things he is saying to them. This man is not seeking the good of these people but their ruin.” Jeremiah 38:4
It’s interesting to note the conclusion of the officials here. Jeremiah is speaking the truth, but it is not what they want to hear, therefore, it is keenly offensive and he should be killed as a result. Zedekiah releases Jeremiah into their hands and he is placed in a different kind of dungeon, a cistern with muddy floor (as you would expect). When Ebed-Melek, a Cushite, an official in the royal palace, heard what they did to Jeremiah, he appealed to Zedekiah to have him removed from the cistern. Zedekiah The Amiable agreed and Jeremiah was pulled out of the cistern and returned to the courtyard.
Zedekiah has a private conversation with Jeremiah. He swears not to kill Jeremiah (or hand him over to those who would kill him) for answering his questions, so once again, he hears the words of the Lord through Jeremiah–the same words in a different form. Perhaps this time Zedekiah will listen. The truth is, Zedekiah is selfishly motivated, he’s really only concerned about what they will do to him, so Jeremiah explains how this will work:
Jeremiah replied. “Obey the Lord by doing what I tell you. Then it will go well with you, and your life will be spared. But if you refuse to surrender… Jeremiah 38:20-21
Good enough for Zedekiah, he heard what he wanted to hear and allowed Jeremiah to remain confined in the courtyard as long as he didn’t tell anyone about the conversation, instead, they created a plausible story to tell the officials to keep them from killing Jeremiah while saving face for Zedekiah. All politically correct.
Jeremiah 39: The Fall of Jerusalem
The Babylonians sieged Jerusalem and methodically broke through the wall and made themselves at home.
When Zedekiah king of Judah and all the soldiers saw them, they fled; they left the city at night by way of the king’s garden, through the gate between the two walls, and headed toward the Arabah. Jeremiah 39:4
Jeremiah told Zedekiah, “surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, your life will be spared and this city will not be burned down; you and your family will live” (Jeremiah 38:17), but he ran with his officials and was captured. His sons and all the nobles of Judah were killed before his eyes, then his eyes were gouged out. His hands were bound in bronze shackles and he was taken to Babylon.
Jeremiah was apparently known to the Babylonians:
Now Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had given these orders about Jeremiah through Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard: “Take him and look after him; don’t harm him but do for him whatever he asks.” Jeremiah 39:11-12
This would look like a sympathizer in the eyes of the officials, except that all who would have had that perspective were just killed! There doesn’t seem to be any real motivation for allowing Jeremiah to live, except that it is God’s provision for his faithful servant. Ebed-Melek was also granted favor:
I will save you; you will not fall by the sword but will escape with your life, because you trust in me, declares the Lord.’” Jeremiah 39:18
I’m glad to read there was someone other than Jeremiah that listened to the Lord. It gives me hope to know that somewhere in the midst of chaos, there were those who were paying attention. Which voices are we listening to today?