Jeremiah 38-40…The Fall of Jerusalem
Jeremiah records the fall of Jerusalem twice in his book, and Jeremiah 39 is the first account of it. Commentators believe he recorded the event twice in order to mark the end of the portion containing the prophecies given to Judah before it fell to Babylon (chap. 39) and then to conclude the book, somewhat ironically, on a note of hope, as we will see next week (chap. 52). In any case, Jerusalem’s fall was the final act in Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of the city after Zedekiah rebelled against the empire. It actually took Babylon about two years to conquer Jerusalem. Although the empire came against Zedekiah and the city as soon as the king rejected its status as a client state of the Babylonian empire, there was a temporary reprieve when Egypt intervened. But once Egypt had been beaten back, the siege resumed in earnest and Jerusalem fell, fulfilling God’s warning that Babylon would capture the nation if His people did not repent (2 Kings 24:18–25:7; Jer. 32:1–2; 37:1–5; 39).
Ancient empires commonly used siege warfare to subdue a people, surrounding a city and effectively imprisoning its citizens within its walls. Without access to farms and wells outside the city walls, the people eventually used up the limited supplies of food and water, and both famine and pestilence ensued. Eventually, the people were too weak to resist any longer, and the army that was besieging the city would break through and conquer it. This is exactly what happened when Babylon conquered Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:3; Jer. 38:2). In keeping with ancient practices of shaming an enemy, Babylon slaughtered King Zedekiah’s sons and advisors, fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy that a refusal to surrender to Babylon would bring about the end of the house of Zedekiah (Jer. 39:6–8; see 38:17–23).
Zedekiah and his court fell to Babylon because of their faithlessness, but God did not overlook the service of Jeremiah and his friends. We read in today’s passage of how Nebuchadnezzar kept Jeremiah safe, ordering his captain of the guard, Nebuzaradan, to take good care of the prophet. Jeremiah was entrusted into the care of Gedaliah, the governor Babylon left behind to rule over the few impoverished Judahites that Nebuchadnezzar allowed to stay in Judah after he carried the vast majority of Jews into exile (39:10–14; see 2 Kings 25:22).
But God was also faithful to Gentiles who believed in Him. The Lord also preserved the life of Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian who helped rescue Jeremiah from the cistern (Jer. 39:15– 18; see 38:7–13). Our Creator is no respecter of persons but will save all who trust Him.