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CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE THE FALL OF JERUSALEM
We now enter upon what is more especially the historical part of the book.
Jeremiah's admonitory ministry was drawing to a close. Faithfully and fervently he had, ever since Josiah's day (that is, for a period of some thirty years or more), warned and pleaded and entreated his backsliding and treacherous people; but there had been no true response. They had put the Lord's word behind their backs and drifted further and further from His counsels. Now the judgment so long announced, while the Lord waited in longsuffering patience, can be no more delayed, but must fall with awful fury upon the devoted nation.
The words spoken through Hosea two centuries earlier must at last be fulfilled. "I will go and return to My place till they acknowledge their offence" (or, till they be guilty; that is, confessedly so), "and seek My face: in their affliction they will seek Me early" (Hosea 5:15).
In wondrous grace and mercy they had been spared the final blow thus far; but there is now no remedy. Nothing can turn aside the Lord's indignation. They must learn in captivity what they would not be taught in their own land.
In the 37th and 38th chapters we have a detailed account of the temporary withdrawal of the Babylonian troops upon the occasion of the Egyptian invasion. This for the moment raises the hopes of the people, as already noted in chap. 34. Jeremiah, having the secret of the Lord, assures them that the respite is but temporary and that the Chaldeans will return shortly and utterly destroy Jerusalem.
Then we find this honored servant of GOD seeking to escape from the doomed city. It is apparently a mistake on his part: though we would not criticize. He was worn in body and mind. His testimony was rejected. He himself was hated and persecuted.
What more natural than that, feeling his work is completed, he should seek quiet and respite in his old home in the land of Benjamin? It was indeed a natural thing, but not a spiritual one; hence we find the Lord does not permit him to carry out his purpose. His apprehension results in a false charge and imprisonment. From death he is marvelously delivered.
Chap. 39 gives the fall of the city. The prophet is, however, favored by the conqueror. There was no need to flee to Benjamin. The hand of GOD is stretched forth to protect His servant in the woeful day. But we must look at all this more in detail, for it is of intense interest, and pregnant with instruction.
"And king Zedekiah the son of Josiah reigned instead of Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, whom Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon made king in the land of Judah. But neither he, nor his servants, nor the people of the land, did hearken unto the words of the Lord which He spake by the prophet Jeremiah" (Jeremiah 37:1-24.37.2).
We have already noticed that no chronological order is followed in the arrangement of this book. Rather, we have prophecies and incidents grouped together, and narrated in such moral order as to give us an ever-increasing sense of the departure from GOD, which culminated at last in His rejection of His once-favored heritage, and the pouring out of condign judgment.
In these two verses we have a succinct account of Zedekiah's whole reign. It was eleven years of indifference to the Word of the Lord. This king personally was not so daringly impious as some of his predecessors. He realized in some measure the claims of GOD upon him and his people, but he never earnestly set himself, like Hezekiah or his father Josiah, to seek His face and to do those things that were pleasing in His sight. He was supine and frivolous - almost incredibly so, at so serious a time.
In the next verse we read of his sending Jehucal and Zephaniah the priest (whose acquaintance we made in chaps. 21, 29) to Jeremiah with the request, "Pray now unto the Lord our GOD for us." (Jeremiah 37:3) It was a similar errand upon which Zephaniah had gone shortly before (Jeremiah 21:1-24.21.2). There is no word of repentance; no confession, or grief for Judah's awful sin. The Lord is owned in a certain sense, and His aid is sought, but all is selfish; there is no prostration of soul in His presence.
Pharaoh's army had essayed to come out of Egypt to the relief of the Hebrew king, who had sent ambassadors beseeching him to "give him horses and much people" (Ezekiel 17:15).
Hearing of this move, the Chaldeans immediately raised the siege of Jerusalem and departed to give battle to this new enemy ere he could secure any real advantage (Jeremiah 37:5).
This to the Jews seemed a good omen and greatly revived their hopes. Now, if their long-neglected GOD would help them, they might achieve a decided victory, and by union with Egypt throw off the hated Babylonian yoke. This was not to be, however.
In answer to Zedekiah's request, the prophet replies:
"Thus shall ye say to the king of Judah, that sent you unto me to inquire of me: Behold, Pharaoh's army, which is come forth to help you, shall return to Egypt, into their own land. And the Chaldeans shall come again, and fight against this city, and take it, and burn it with fire. Thus saith the Lord: Deceive not yourselves, saying, The Chaldeans shall surely depart from us: for they shall not depart. For though ye had smitten the whole army of the Chaldeans that fight against you, and there remained but wounded men among them, yet should they rise up every man in his tent, and burn this city with fire" (Jeremiah 37:6-24.37.10).
Both in grace and in judgment GOD will fulfil all His word. For stubborn, willful Judah there can be no deliverance, because there is no self-judgment nor humbling on their part. It seemed as though some mad infatuation possessed the people. They "knew not the time of their visitation," as was the case with their children in a later period.
How strikingly analogous was their condition to that of Christendom, "whose judgment now of a long time slumbereth not." (2 Peter 2:3)
Men still love to deceive themselves with a vain optimism founded on the desires of their own deceitful hearts, ignoring the sure testimonies of Him who hath said, "Vengeance is Mine; I will recompense." (Romans 12:19) Teachers and people, or clergy and laity, as they are unscripturally designated, congratulate themselves on the great strides being made, as they affirm, by Christianity and civilization; but, alas, in how large a measure is it a mere Christless religiousness and a culture that in no sense affects the heart!
The departure from GOD and His Word plainly evidenced on every hand calls forth no confession of sin, no repentance; but, instead, men congratulate each other and boast of large-mindedness and liberality, while despising the ways that be in CHRIST, and the paths of scriptural simplicity.
Church and world are linked up in an unholy concubinage, and thus GOD is dishonored and His claims ignored. Surely the prophetic Word points to dire judgment to come upon the professing body, composed largely, as it is, of mere earth-dwellers who are strangers to the heavenly calling. It is a time when every faithful minister of CHRIST needs both grace and wisdom to "cry aloud and spare not," (Isaiah 58:1) but to show the people their sins.
We know the end of this empty profession, persistently dishonoring CHRIST's holy name and Word, must be the subjection to spiritual Babylon, whose power is yet to be supreme on earth in matters religious, though but for a brief space, GOD having likewise already pronounced her judgment (Revelation 17:18).
What GOD had decreed concerning Israel and Judah for their apostasy and forgetfulness of His Word was fulfilled to the letter. His declarations concerning a far guiltier Christendom shall likewise be carried out.
It was when Jeremiah saw that all hope of the people's repentance was past, and that sure and certain wrath awaited them, that he essayed to leave the city, where he had ministered so long, to go to the land of Benjamin, probably to his own home.
It is to be remembered he was a priest of Anathoth, a city belonging to that tribe. He was now considerably past middle life, possibly prematurely aged because of all that he had gone through, and his usefulness appeared to be over. It does not seem to be fear that actuates him. Through grace he is above that. It would rather seem to be a longing for rest after so arduous a life, with its sorrows and its disappointments.
Accordingly, taking advantage of the withdrawal of the Chaldean army, he endeavors to make good his purpose (Jeremiah 37:11-24.37.12). However good and right that purpose might appear, it is a step in advance of the Lord. It is never safe to plan one's own way, or to seek an easier path for one's self. In this instance the prophet clearly is acting in the energy of nature. GOD has a service for him still, as will be manifested in due time, even after the rebellious city has been overthrown. Jeremiah, devoted servant as he was, erred in choosing for himself.
Even a Paul went to Jerusalem against the plain testimony of the Holy Ghost, drawn by natural affection for his kinsmen after the flesh.
So our prophet is for the moment turned aside from the path of implicit dependence upon GOD, led apparently by a desire for rest and quiet after his stormy life. He must learn, as every other, that it is not in man to direct his way. The Lord is not yet through with him. He has a ministry for the poor who are to be spared from the sword, and for all who are left in the land.
As a result of his effort to better his condition, he is misunderstood and brought into deeper distress.
He was in the gate of Benjamin when a captain of the ward, Irijah, apprehended him, saying, "Thou fallest away to the Chaldeans" (Jeremiah 37:13). In vain Jeremiah protested his innocence and the utter falsity of the charge. Irijah refused to credit his explanation, and carried him before the princes. It is hardly to be supposed that these men really believed him to be guilty, but it gave them an opportunity to vent their hatred upon the man who had so often reproved them. He was ignominiously smitten, and, apparently without a hearing, was cast into prison, in the house of Jonathan the scribe (Jeremiah 37:15).
From what befell Jeremiah we may learn it is always best to sit still when there is no command from GOD to move.
The best of servants and the most faithful men blunder when they take things into their own hands. Little as one may realize it, or mean it to be so at the time, this acting for one's self really implies lack of confidence in GOD's love and care. Faith can wait upon Him, assured that He is far too much concerned about His children to overlook anything that is for their good; hence it is quiet and restful amid all changing circumstances. Unbelief forgets GOD and suggests that we must act; opportunities are slipping away-something must be done, and at once. This looks, to the natural mind, like sound judgment and common sense; but, alas, how often, when acted upon, are things made not better, but worse! It is far preferable to wait quietly upon Him whose wisdom never fails, and who sees the end from the beginning, than to rashly venture forth in the energy of nature, only to be defeated in the very purpose one seeks to achieve.
That the king knew the prophet was innocent of the charge upon which Irijah had arrested him is evident from the remaining verses of the chapter (Jeremiah 37:16-24.37.21).
Jeremiah was cast into the dungeon and into the cells - probably underground apartments, gloomy and damp. There he was allowed to remain for many days, neglected, and with no opportunity given to clear himself of the imputation of treachery. Eventually Zedekiah sent and took him out for a secret conference in the palace, and asked him, "Is there any word from the Lord?" (Jeremiah 37:17)
What a picture is here presented for us: the man on the throne and the man from the dungeon confronting each other, and the former is forced to own the superiority of the latter. The falsely accused prisoner has the secret of the Lord, and the haughty monarch is dependent on the prisoner to learn of the Lord's purpose.
In reply to the anxious question Jeremiah gives the old answer. There is indeed a message from the Lord: it is the same so often given before, and unheeded. "For," said he, "thou shalt be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon." (Jeremiah 37:17)
There is no effort to palliate the terrible truth; no endeavor to win the king's favor by good words and fair speeches. The plain, unwelcome truth is declared; and then, with neither apology nor flattery, he pleads his cause before the king:
"What have I offended against thee, or against thy servants, or against this people, that ye have put me in prison? Where are now your prophets which prophesied unto you, saying, The king of Babylon shall not come against you, nor against this land? Therefore hear now, I pray thee, O my lord the king: let my supplication, I pray thee, be accepted before thee, that thou cause me not to return to the house of Jonathan the scribe, lest I die there." (Jeremiah 37:18-24.37.20)
Manifestly the army of the king of Babylon had again invested the city; the word of Jeremiah had proved true, and the false prophets had been put to shame. Convinced that injustice and wrong had been done the man of GOD, Zedekiah gives order that his circumstances be made more endurable, though he does not release him nor declare abroad his innocence. With the shame of supposed crime against his country hanging over him still, Jeremiah is taken from the dungeon and given a place in the court of the prison, with the allowance of "a daily piece of bread out of the baker's street," (Jeremiah 37:21) so long as any bread remains in the city. Famine rations are being served out by weight. The end cannot be far away.
Among the king's ministers of state there were many, however, who entertained for the pessimistic prophet feelings far different to those of the monarch himself. It was reported to a few of these that Jeremiah had said to the people:
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Jeremiah 37". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany