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He put out the eyes of Zedekiah.
Zedekiah the prisoner
Here is no mystery. A wicked man, unfaithful to a very sacred trust, ending his days in darkness and a prison (Psalms 37:35). The son of the good Josiah, whose name suggests thoughts of early piety and godly patriotism, degenerate, idolatrous, and in the end eyeless and captive, pining away years of monotonous misery in a Babylonish dungeon--it is all according to that law which God has stamped on the world, “Your sin will find you out.” It has been said of him that he was a man “not so much bad at heart as weak in will.” “He was one of those unfortunate characters,” it has been said, “frequent in history, like our own Charles I. and Louis XVI. of France, who find themselves at the head of affairs during a great crisis, without having the strength of character to enable them to do what they know to be right, and whose infirmity becomes moral guilt.” That he was weak in will and purpose we see in the manner in which he surrendered Jeremiah to the princes who sought his life (Jeremiah 38:3). But he was “bad at heart” likewise. His heart was not right towards the Lord God of his father--self and the world and idols were the objects of his affection, and after them he would go. Warning succeeded warning in vain. For eleven years the struggle lasted between this wicked prince and the voice which came to him from the God of heaven. And the Jerusalem of his day may be described as the Sodom of an earlier day--
Long warned, long spared, till her whole heart was foul,
And fiery vengeance on its clouds came nigh.
Vengeance came in another form than that in which it fell on those cities over whose ashes the waves of the Dead Sea now roll, and yet scarcely less terrible. The Babylonian siege lasted sixteen months (53:4), and the miseries of Jerusalem were only less than those endured in the siege by the Roman Titus, seven centuries after. The calamities which befell the royal family are recorded with an undisguised bluntness (verses8-11). What a catalogue of horrors! But all in keeping with the character of the people. They had been described to the very life at an earlier stage of the ministry of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 6:22-23). This witness is true. The very stones, stones carved with their own hands, have been disinterred from the grave of ages, to bear testimony to the truth of the histories and prophecies of the Bible. Instead of being ashamed of the barbarities in which they indulged, the Assyrians (and in this we need make no distinction between the Assyrians and the Chaldeans) gloried in them, and employed the arts of sculpture and painting to perpetuate the memory of their cruel deeds. On the relics of their civilisation, now exhibited in our own museums and places of public resort, we find cities which have surrendered represented as given up to indiscriminate slaughter and the flames. The kings themselves took part in perpetrating the cruelties which are brought to light by recently discovered sculptures. On one of these sculptures a king is represented as thrusting out the eyes of a kneeling captive with his own spear, and holding with his own hand the cord which is inserted into the lips and nostrils of this and two other prisoners. The spirit which possessed the Assyrians and Babylonians may be traced through later ages in the same lands. One of the best of the Roman emperors, Valerian, was taken prisoner in battle in the third century by a Persian king, who detained him in hopeless bondage, and paraded him in chains, invested with the imperial purple, as a constant spectacle of fallen greatness, to the multitude. Whenever the proud conqueror mounted his horse, he placed his foot upon the neck of the Roman emperor “Nor was this all for when Valerian sank under the weight of his shame and grief, his corpse was flayed, and the skin, stuffed with straw, was preserved for ages in the most celebrated temple of Persia.” Would that such things as these could he told only of Eastern lands! But Western story is full of them likewise. The conflicts of the Moors and so-called Christians in Spain, from the eighth century, the age of Moorish conquest, to the sixteenth, the age of their final expulsion from Europe, contains histories of cruelty, perhaps, to be rivalled nowhere else--cruelty in which the so-called Christian luxuriated as much as his Moslem enemy. This spirit attained its highest point of intensity and barbarity in the same land in the Inquisition, strangely called the Holy Office, by which sheer torture was invoked to root out Judaism, and every form and shade of Christianity except that of the Roman Church. The appliances of rude barbarians, like American Indians, and of civilised barbarians, like Assyrians and Chaldeans, are not to compare with the appliances which the Inquisition perfected through its ages of murder. But to return to the Babylonish cruelties on the person and family of the Hebrew king. “The King of Babylon slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes.” How many or how old they were, we are not told. The father being now only two-and-thirty years old, his sons must have been boys. And ungodly as the father was, there is no sign in his life of any want of natural affection, while there is sign of his sensibility to the sufferings of others. To put his sons to death before his eyes was an act of wanton cruelty, designed to give him the utmost possible pain. Then were put to death the princes of Judah, who must now recall with bitterness, if not with repentance, their long and obstinate resistance to the Divine counsels, and their own hard-hearted attempt on the life of the prophet Jeremiah. His sons dead, and the princes dead, the king himself must now submit to the cruel sentence of his conqueror--a sentence more barbarous than death itself. His eyes were put out. The process is revealed to us in a bas-relief, to which I have already referred, in which the conquering king is digging out the eyes of the conquered king with a spear. The King of Babylon may have done this with his own hands to the King of Judah, or by the hands of another. In either ease the conquered had no alternative but to submit. And thus blinded he is carried to the prison on the banks of the Euphrates in which he must end his days. Two predictions were thus fulfilled--one by Jeremiah 32:5, addressed to the king m person, and one by Ezekiel 12:13, who was with the captives which had been carried to Babylon some years before. The Word of the Lord was not broken. The King of Judah saw the King of Babylon’s eyes with his eyes, but it was the last vision which his eyes saw. The city of Babylon he saw not, though he was doomed to be imprisoned in it and to die there. When Zedekiah reached Babylon, there was already a King of Judah imprisoned there. His nephew, the son of his elder brother Jehoiakim, had been dethroned, as we have seen, after a brief reign of three months and ten days, and had been carried into exile with many of his princes and subjects (Jeremiah 29:1-32.). That he was still alive when his uncle and successor, blind and childless, arrived in the city of their enemy, we know--for the last sentences of the Book of Jeremiah tell us what befell him many years later. One wonders whether the two dethroned Kings of Judah, uncle and nephew, ever met in the land of their imprisonment, and had opportunity of talking over the events which had involved them in so great a disaster. If they had, did they curse the God of their fathers, or did they learn, as some of these fathers had done in the day of their adversity, to humble themselves and seek forgiveness? Their great predecessor, Solomon, in dedicating the temple which Babylon had now ]aid waste, had prayed (1 Kings 8:46-50). Imagine Jehoiakim reading these words out of the book of the law to his blind uncle Zedekiah. Imagine them recalling the history of the great-grandfather of the elder of them--how Manasseh had done evil exceedingly; how the King of ‘Assyria had bound him with fetters and carried him to Babylon; and how, when he was in affliction, he besought the Lord (2 Chronicles 33:12). Thus encouraged to repent and seek forgiveness, the royal prisoners may have bent the knee together before the throne of the heavenly grace, and pied the promises which had been given so often to the penitent. And if they presented thus the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart in their prison-house, we know that mercy was not withheld. We find one little word which encourages hope. “There shall he be till I visit him, saith the Lord” (32:5). God visits men with judgment; but this He had done to Zedekiah before he reached his prison in Babylon. God visits men with favour, with compassion, with restoring mercy: was it thus He said He should visit Zedekiah in Babylon I doubt not that the words “until I visit him” were meant to be indefinite and obscure, but were meant at the same time to give assurance to the king that in Babylon he should not be beyond the reach of God, whether for good or evil. “Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide in secret places, that I shall not see him, saith the Lord?” (Jeremiah 23:23-24.) Jehovah was a God at hand in Jerusalem, but equally a God in Babylon afar off. The throne of Judah was exposed to His eye, but equally so the most secret place in the Babylonish prison. And God would visit Zedekiah in his exile and prison. This assurance might be a terror or a joy. If the king hoped that, being in Babylon, he was now away from the presence of Jehovah and under the rule of other gods, and had nothing more to fear, let him know that Jehovah should visit him even there. If he feared that, being in Babylon, he should be beyond the reach of the mercy of the God of his fathers, let him know, to his heart’s joy, that Jehovah should visit him even in that far-off land. (J. Kennedy, D. D.)
Lifted up the head of Jehoiachin.
Jehoiachin’s change of fortune
What changes may occur in life: who can tell what we may come to? After thirty-seven years there arose a king who took a fancy to Jehoiachin, and made quite a favourite of him in the court. Good fortune is often tardy in coming to men; we are impatient, we want to be taken out of prison to-day, and set among kings at once, and to have all our desires gratified fully, and especially at once. See what has befallen Jehoiachin. For the first time for seven-and-thirty years the man of authority has spoken kindly to him. Kind words have different values at different times; sometimes a kind word would be a fortune--if not a fortune in the hand, a fortune in the way of stimulating imagination, comforting disconsolateness, and so pointing to the sky that we could see only its real blue beauties, its glints of light, its hints of coming day. When we have an abundant table, what do we care for an offered crust? that crust may be regarded by our sated appetite as an insult: but when the table is bare, and hunger is gnawing, and thirst is consuming, what then is a crust of bread, or a draught of water? More men hunger for kind words than for bread. There is a hunger of the heart. Here is an office we can all exercise. Where we cannot give much that is described as substantial we can speak kindly, we can look benignantly, we can conduct ourselves as if we would relieve the burden if we could: thus life would be multiplied, brightened, sweetened, a great comforting sense of Divine nearness would fall upon our whole consciousness, and we should enter into the possession and the mystery of heavenly peace. See what fortune has befallen Jehoiachin! After thirty-seven years he is recognised as king and gentleman and friend, and has kind words spoken to him in a kind of domestic music. Was not all this worth living for? What have we been doing in thus dwelling upon the good fortune of Jehoiachin? We have been playing the fool. We have been reckoning up social precedences, better clothes, and abundance of food; and we have been adding up how much the man must have worn and eaten and drunken within the twenty-four hours, and all the while the king looking at him benignantly, speaking to him as an equal, dealing out to him kind words,--the whole constituting an ineffable insult. Yet how prone we are to add up circumstances, and to speak of social relations as if they constituted the sum-total of life. Now look at realities. Jehoiachin was in his heart a bad man. That is written upon the face of the history of the kings of Judah, and not a single word is said about his change of heart; and bad men cannot have good fortune. He has been taken out of prison in the narrow sense of the term, his head has been lifted up, a place of precedence has been accorded him at the royal table, and his bread and water have been made sure for the rest of his days: what a delightful situation! No. Jehoiachin at his best was only a decorated captive; he was still in Babylon. That is the sting. Not what have we, but where are we, is heaven’s piercing inquiry. Not how great the barns; state the height, the width, the depth, the cubic measure of the barns; but, What wheat have we in the heart, what bread in the soul, what love-wine for the spirit’s drinking? (J. Parker, D. D.)
A captor’s magnanimity and generous dealing
At the battle of Poitiers the Black Prince defeats and captures the French King John II. That night the Prince of Wales (the Black Prince) made a supper in his lodging for the French king and to the great lords that were prisoners. “And always the prince served before the king, as humbly as he could, and would not sit at the king’s board, for any desire that the king could make, and exhorted him not to be of heavy cheer, for that King Edward, his father, should bear him all honour and amity, and accord with him so reasonably that they should be friends ever after.”. . . This scene, so gracefully performed by him who, a few hours before, was “courageous and cruel as a lion,” was in perfect accordance with the system of chivalry. (Knight’s England.)
And spake kindly unto him.--
To be kind is “to be disposed to do good to others, and to make them happy”; and kindness is “that temper or disposition which delights in contributing to the happiness of others.”
I. Much depends on our spirit and disposition--well-nigh everything; for a kindly spirit or disposition will always be finding ways of showing itself.
II. Be kind in your thoughts one to another. To have pure streams you must have a pure fountain; and if we think unkindly of people, we shall not be likely to speak or act kindly towards them. Some people rob their own hearts of peace and sweetness, and destroy in themselves all nobility of character, because they have got into the sad, sinful habit of always looking for the faults and failings of others, and attributing to them wrong motives.
III. Be kind in your speech one to another. Words are little things and soon spoken, but they carry much with them. They have power to give great joy or bitter sorrow; they may nestle in the heart a very benediction, cherished to the dying day as an inspiration to all that is good; or they may rankle in the breast, fostering a bitterness which goes down to the grave. “Kind words can never die.”
IV. Do kind acts one to another. Every day brings opportunities. Keep a look-out for them. (R. M. Spoor.)
Every day a portion.
The daily portion
If the King of Babylon did thus for a captive king, his prisoner, will your Heavenly Father do less for you? He created you to need the daily portion, and cannot be oblivious of His own constitution of your nature. You wind up your watch each day, because you know that otherwise it will stop; and God win not be less thoughtful of your constant need of reinforcement. His faithfulness guarantees that there always will be the portion of good for the body; always the portion of love and light for the soul; always the portion of Holy Spirit quickening ,for the spirit. It is easier to die once than to live always. It is not easy to meets the continual demand of recurrent duty; not easy to live a full and strong life, that never dips below the horizon, or sinks in the fountain-basin. But it is possible, when the soul has learnt to leave all care with God, waiting on Him for the supply of all its needs, and esteeming that He is the only really satisfactory portion we need. “Neither prison walls, nor locks, nor the cruelty of man,” said some imprisoned suffering soul, “can obstruct the issues of the Lord’s love nor the manifestation of His presence, which is our joy and comfort, and carries us above all sufferings, and makes days and hours and years pleasant to us; which pass away as a moment, because of the enjoyment of seeing Him with whom a thousand years is but as one day.” Those who can trust God in these directions are not only abundantly satisfied of His great goodness, but are able to send portions to others. Like the disciples, they share out their slender supplies and get twelve baskets full in return. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
All the days of his life.--
A good income for life
This paragraph describes the providential dealings of the Lord with Jehoiachin by the instrumentality of Evil-merodach, the son of Nebuchadnezzar, who was then King of Babylon; yet the successive items of those dealings are so expressive that they seem almost to force themselves upon the mind in a spiritual form, and therefore I shall accommodate those items to spiritual things.
I. The dealings of the Lord as here set before us, with Jehoiachin, king, as he should have been, of Judah, but for thirty-seven years a captive. Now, however, the time came for him to be released. First, then, “Evil-merodach, King of Babylon, lifted up the head of Jehoiachin,” that is, gave him a hope of deliverance, This is the first item. Now it is sin” which hath brought us down,” and when a sinner is made acquainted with his state as a sinner, he feels then that his heart and soul are bowed down, and he can in no wise lift up himself. Faith brings in the Redeemer in His perfection; there is an end to our sin and our folly; by faith in Him we may lift up our heads and meet the smiles of heaven; we shall meet, by faith in Him, the approbation of heaven, the light of Jehovah’s countenance; we shall thus meet our great Creator as our covenant God, dwelling between the cherubim, and He will shine forth. Here, then, we may say with David, “Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.” If, then, we would lift up our heads, it must be by Jesus Christ; that is, by His wisdom, not by our own; except that our wisdom consisteth in the feeling our foolishness, and receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as that way in which we may rise, and do at times rise as eagles; run, and are not weary; walk, and shall not faint. Second, he brought him forth out of prison. Here we have another Gospel blessing to go with us all the days of our life. Jesus Christ came into the prison of our law responsibility; He became a debtor to do the whole law; and He hath preceptively, actively, and passively magnified the law. He has gone to the end of our law responsibility, and has suffered all that sin has entailed. He has done a great deal more spiritually than Evil-merodach, King of Babylon, did literally. He brought forth Jehoiachin out of prison, but our Jesus Christ has destroyed our prison; there is no prison left. The Son of God has made you free; let us stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and that all the days of our lives. So, then, He lifts up our heads, and we are free. The next thing the king did was a very wonderful thing, an extraordinary, out-of-the-way, uncommon thing--an unheard-of, an unseen thing almost. And what was that? Why, “spake kindly unto him” all the days of his life. So our God. He spake kindly unto us when He called us by His grace, and He has spoken kindly unto us ever since, and He will speak kindly unto us all the days of our life; and there will be no danger afterwards, because no manner of cause win exist after the end of this life for there to be anything but kindness. The law of kindness is the mightiest power in existence; it will do what nothing else can. But, fourth, Jehoiachin s throne was set “above the throne of the kings that were with him in Babylon.” How expressive is this! The Christian has a higher throne than the highest men in this world. Then, fifth, he changed his prison garments. So the Lord has promised to give His people the oil of joy for mourning; the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. But in the last place--and all these things put together seem to amount to perfection itself--“he did continually eat bread before the king all the days of his life.” So we are brought before God and into the presence of God, and as long as Jesus Christ remains in the presence of God, so long shall His people remain. Jehoiachin was associated in eating with the king; that is to say, he partook of the same food, or he delighted in the same things, the same provisions, the same pleasant fruits. Now the things the people of God live upon are the testimonies of the Gospel in Christ.
II. The duration of these blessings. First, then, his head was lifted up all the days of his life. Look at it, Christian, what a good life you have before you! You have the Holy Spirit to keep you believing in Jesus Christ; the day will never come when you shall not lift up your head to God. You have before you Jesus Christ, the lifter up of your head; the day will never come when He will cease to love you. “Having loved His own, He loved them unto the end.” You have God the Father, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Ah, then, let me say, if circumstances of affliction or adversity should be such that you can lift up your head nowhere else you can lift up your head there; there is a God that will sustain, that will bear, that will carry to old age, to hoar hairs, and will deliver. And so he was brought out of prison; and we are made free all the days of our life. There never will be when we shall not have liberty in Christ; there never will be when we are not free there. There we may lift up our heads, because the Saviour has put down into eternal silence everything that is against us. And the king spake kindly unto him all the days of his life. Circumstances are like the clouds--not in one shape, nor in one form, nor one height, nor one colour, nor one position, for a day, or half a day, or half an hour sometimes; but the glorious truths of the Gospel--His kindness--still the same. And he set his throne above the kings of Babylon all the days of his life. I want a religion that places my foot upon the lion, upon the adder, upon the young lion, upon the dragon, and enables me to trample the whole under foot. Here, then, is a God that lifts up your head for life, that sets you free for life, speaks kindly to you all the days of your life, will keep you enthroned all the days of your life; you shall reign like a king, and your throne unshaken stands; you shall wear the royal robe all the days of your life, and be sustained all the days of your life. What more can you want?
III. Several Scriptures by which these things are very strikingly and beautifully exemplified. I will notice three different Scriptures where we have the words of our text named, “All the days of his life.” David upon this subject saith, “Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” What goodness and mercy? First, pastoral goodness and mercy. “He maketh me to lie down,” not in dry, but “in green pastures,” new covenant promises; “He leadeth me beside the still waters,” the deep mysteries of His wondrous kingdom; pastoral kindness, and restorative and directive goodness and mercy. “He restoreth my soul.” I am sick, wretched, and miserable; He restores me to health; cast down, weary, everything against me; He restores me again. “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness,” paths of faith, righteousness of faith; “for His name’s sake”; directive and restorative goodness and mercy. Also accompaniment goodness and mercy. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” And then comes provisional goodness and mercy; “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Go from the 23rd to the 27th Psalm. “One thing have I desired of the Lord”; “that will I seek after.” To be so good and pious that all the world should admire” you? No, that is self-righteousness, no, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” Well, what are you going to do? “To behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple. For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion”; His royal pavilion, the place of His royal authority; and if I have God on my side in His sovereign authority, who can be against me? “In the secret of His tabernacle shall He hide me”; where the mercy-seat is, that is where I like to be, He shall set me upon a rock. And what then? “Now shall mine head be lifted up above wine enemies round about me; therefore I will offer in His tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord.” One more Scripture upon this subject. Zacharias, in the 1st of Luke, saith, “That we might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.” Here carefully note how Zacharias comes into possession of that holiness and that righteousness by which he knew he should serve the Lord acceptably all the days of his life. He saith, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed His people,” “and bath raised up an horn of salvation.” Oh, then, if you are going to get this holiness by faith in Christ’s eternal redemption,” I will come with you. “As He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began. So here is redemption, and here is salvation. Well, that redemption brings holiness, and brings in everlasting righteousness. Salvation brings holiness, and brings in everlasting righteousness. “To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant; the oath which He aware to our father Abraham,” saying, “In thee and in thy seed,” Christ Jesus, “shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” So, then, Zacharias got this holiness and righteousness by faith in the redemption, salvation, mercy, and covenant of Christ, and the oath of God. Now, in conclusion, if you lose sight of all the rest, do pay attention to the spirit in which Zacharias desired all the days of his life to serve God. I do not think there is any Scripture more expressive of the feeling of the right-minded than that there given. “That He would grant unto us,” &c. How different this from the spirit in which people suppose that they do God a great favour, and that they merit great things at His hands, by a little formal service! But Zacharias looked at being admitted into the faith, the service of faith, the service of that faith that receives Christ as the end of sin, and thereby you serve God in Christ as your sanctification and your justification--Zacharias looked upon that as a Divine grant; “that He would grant unto us to serve Him in holiness and in righteousness all the days of our life.” (Jas Wells.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 52". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany