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THE SIEGE AND CAPTIVITY FORETOLD
The various prophecies of Jeremiah as set before us in this book do not follow any chronological order. The series recorded in chapters 21-24 belong to the last days of Zedekiah, in whose time the final carrying away to Babylon took place. The next series were uttered in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, and the ones following in his first year. Nevertheless there is evidently a divine purpose in thus grouping them, as they follow a definite moral order showing how utterly hopeless was the state of the people.
Nebuchadrezzar had already commenced the siege of Jerusalem when this portion opens. The form of his name, it will be noticed, is slightly different to that found in the book of Daniel and elsewhere, even in the latter portion of this same book. The spelling as given here agrees better with the inscriptions of late years unearthed in Babylonia than the other, which was probably a Hebraized form. This mighty potentate had, when still a prince, conquered Palestine and Jerusalem, but bad left Jehoiakim, brother of Jehoahaz, upon the throne as a tributary to Babylon. From Palestine Nebuchadrezzar marched into Egypt, having already routed the armies of Pharaoh-Necho. While here, tidings of the death of Nabopolassar, his father, reached him, whereupon he returned at once to Chaldea with his light troops, in order to make sure of his succession to the throne. The balance of his army, convoying a number of captives of royal lineage, followed later by a more circuitous route.
Soon after this, Jehoiakim rebelled against him (as recorded in 2 Kings 24:1), and was punished by being carried captive to Babylon. His son Jehoiachin, or Jeconiah, was placed on the throne; but he too rebelled very soon afterwards. Nebuchadrezzar marched again to Jerusalem, and carried him also captive with about ten thousand of the people. It was at this time that Ezekiel and Mordecai were carried to Babylon.
The victorious Chaldean made Mattaniah, uncle of the deposed monarch, king in his stead, changing his name to Zedekiah. Mattaniah meant "Gift of Jah." Zedekiah means the "Justice of Jah." This Jewish prince was a most ungodly man, though but a youth of one-and-twenty when he ascended the throne, and his reign lasted seven years.
Of him it is recorded that "he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that Jehoiakim had done. For through the anger of the Lord it came to pass in Jerusalem and Judah, until He had cast them out from His presence, that Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon" (2 Kings 24:19-20).
The Chaldean army appeared once more before the devoted city, and a long siege began, which lasted almost an entire year. It was during this time of distress and perplexity that Zedekiah sent Pashur the son of Melchiah, and Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah the priest, to Jeremiah. Of the first of these two messengers we shall hear more when we come to consider the thirty-eighth chapter. Zephaniah we shall also meet with as we pursue our meditations. He is mentioned by name on several occasions, and on none to his credit (Jeremiah 29:25; Jeremiah 37:3; 2 Kings 25:18).
The very fact of Zedekiah having revolted and broken his pledges to the king of Babylon manifested his unbelieving and unsubject heart.
GOD had sent the conqueror against Judah because of sin. That evil unrepented of, no human prowess could avail to effect deliverance. Yet the Judean monarch had thought to break off the yoke by force of arms. Now, in his helplessness, he sends to the Lord's prophet, but gives evidence of no sense of wrong-doing; consequently his petition is utterly devoid of any expression that might speak of contrition or repentance.
His message is, "Enquire, I pray thee, of the Lord for us; for Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon maketh war against us; if so be that the Lord will deal with us according to all His wondrous works, that he may go up from us" (Jeremiah 21:2).
It all sounds pious, but he had not framed his ways or his doings to turn unto the Lord. He feels himself to be in a tight and difficult place. He would avail himself of divine power, if possible, while ignoring divine claims upon him. He is neither the first nor the last that has so acted. For him, however, as for any such, there is no answer of peace.
Jeremiah bids the messengers return to their master, and say that not only does the Lord refuse to fight for him, but He will fight against them, even to turning back the weapons of war in their hands. The city shall be delivered to the Chaldeans, and the bulk of the inhabitants shall die of the sword and a great pestilence. Those that are left, including Zedekiah, shall become the captives of Nebuchadrezzar and be carried away to the imperial city on the Euphrates (Jeremiah 21:3-7).
Yet a choice was to be given to the people. "The way of life and the way of death" should be set before them. All abiding in the city should die, but any who should go out and fall to the besiegers should live; "his life shall be unto him for a prey." (Jeremiah 21:8-9)
The city itself was to be burned with fire (Jeremiah 21:8-10).
As for the house of Judah's king, there was a special exhortation and a warning. The execution of justice morning by morning (see Psalms 101:8) was called for, and the deliverance of the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor; otherwise the fury of the Lord should burn against them like a fire which none could quench. Proudly they had said, in their fancied security, "Who shall come down against us? or who shall enter into our habitations?" The Lord Himself was against them, and would punish according to their corrupt and ungodly ways (Jeremiah 21:11-14).
The result of this reply to the king's message we are not told. We can but infer that it was entirely disregarded, although Zedekiah evidently feared it was the truth, but did not dare act upon it.
In the beginning of the twenty-second chapter we find the prophet sent by the Lord to the royal palace. He was a pre-Christian John Knox, who, "strong in the Lord and the power of His might," (Ephesians 6:10) though in himself a frail and trembling man, could be the reprover of kings as well as pastor of the poor.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Jeremiah 21". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25