Papers on Jeremiah
THE PROPHET PRIEST OF ANATHOTH
[“UNTO THE NATIONS” (verse 5)]
The character and work of Jeremiah, as well as the political position in which he was placed, need a few introductory remarks.
The priest of Anathoth succeeded the scion of the Royal House of Judah as chief of the prophetic office.
Isaiah, son of Amos, had guided national affairs for sixty
years, during the reigns of four kings - Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and
Hezekiah. And of the last king he was
the close friend and esteemed adviser.
His policy all along was resistance to
Jeremiah, on the contrary, was persecuted
by Court, priests, prophets and people during the reigns of the last four kings
of Judah - Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jeconiah, and Zedekiah. Feared and hated alike, for his antagonism to
their depravity and idolatry, and to their foreign policy of resistance to
Regarded by the ancient Jews as a type of the Messiah, surely no man ever approached so near to Him as he in the fellowship of His sufferings.
Witness the tears and pain of heart over the sins of his countrymen, Jer. 8: 18; 15: 18; 23: 9; 13: 17; Lam. 2: 11; 3: 48-51: the reproach and curses he had to bear for his faithfulness, Jer. 15: 10, 15: the slanders and general ill-treatment he endured, Jer. 26: 10-24; 11: 18, 19; 12: 6; 18: 18; 20: 10; Lam. 3: 52-4: isolation, Jer. 15: 17; 16: 1-8: the plots laid to kill him, Jer. 11: 18, 19, 23: the necessity of hiding from his foes, 36: 19; the ridicule cast upon him, 20: 7, 8: his bodily anguish, Lam. 3: 1-15: his mental anguish, revealed so pathetically, in his ten prayers, Jer. 10: 23-5; 11: 20; 12: 1-3; 14: 7-9; 14: 19-22; 15: 15-18; 17: 13-18; 18: 19-23; 20: 7-13; 32: 17-25: and, perhaps the hardest thing of all to bear - snares laid to make him fall into sin - “My familiar friends watch for my halting” (Jer. 20: 10; compare Luke 20: 20).
But he, too, had a small band of loyal friends who nobly, stood by his side through the worst crisis: the family of Shaphan, and Baruch, and Ebed-melech were men worthy of any hero’s friendship.
Had Jeremiah merely denounced sin, while foretelling
deliverance from national danger as Isaiah had done, princes and nobles would
have ignored his plain speaking certainly, but he would have been popular. As it was,
they showed him the most vindictive hatred on account of his persistent
prophecies of ruin to
Why then, did Jeremiah preach submission to Babylonia when
Isaiah had enforced resistance to
The history of ancient dynasties teaches us that the rise of one meant the downfall of the others; all subordinate kingdoms being gradually absorbed into that Power which happened to have the ascendancy. There was one important exception to this general rule, and this exception makes all the difference between sacred and profane history. The independence of the Hebrews as assured on condition of their faithfulness to God; and archaeological discoveries have made the very stones cry out in vindication of Bible truth. The story engraved on Assyrian monuments corroborate sacred history and reveal the long buried past.
We now know that Assyria, originally a
colony of Babylonia, led the van of power from the commencement of the 14th
century B.C., to the year 1120 - the time of Samuel’s rule in
After Solomon’s death,
In the year 730 B.C. the ascendancy of
Hezekiah was now on the throne of
In the year 676,
From 670 to 626 reigned
Assur-bani-pal, called by the Greeks Sardanapolis, and by Ezra Asnapper. He was the greatest of Assyrian
monarchs. After his death Assyrian
history is obscure. Media had become,
out of a mere collection of tribes, an organised power, and revolted against
In B.C. 610, Nabopolassar, an Assyrian general, and father of
Nebuchadnezzar, was made king of
It was not until four years after the battle of
THE FULL PERIOD OF JEREMIAH’S TIME
2 Kings 22. 23: 30; 2 Chron. 34. 35.; Zephaniah; Jer. 1. - 4.
Period II. - From the 1st to the 3rd year of Jehoiakim’s Reign - 3 years.
2 Kings 23: 31-37; 2 Chron. 36: 1-5; Habakkuk; Jer. 26: 1-7; 7. -10.;
27: 8-24.; 11.; 12.; 14. to 20.; 22.; 23.
Period III. - From the 3rd year to the 11th, or the end of Jehoiakim’s Reign - 8 years.
2 Kings 24: 1-17; 2 Chron. 36: 6-12; Psalms 71; Jer. 46. - 49: 33; 35.; 25.; 36.; 14.; 13.
Period IV. - From the 1st year of Zedekiah’s Reign to the Siege of Jerusalem - 11 years.
2 Kings 24: 18-20; 2 Chron. 36: 11-16; Jer. 24.; 29.; 49: 34-39; 27.; 28.; 50.; 51.; Ezek. 1. - 23.
Period V. - The Siege and Fall
2 Kings 25.; 2 Chron. 36: 17-21; Jer. 21.; Ezek. 24.; Jer. 34.; 37.; 32.; 30.;
32. 33.; 38.; 39: 15-18; Lamentations.
Period VI. - From the Fall of Jerusalem to the
Jer. 39: 1-14; 52.; Psalms 74.; 79.; Obadiah; Jer. 40. - 44.; Psalms 130.; 129.; Ezek. 33.
* * *
From the 13th Year to the End of Josiah’s Reign. Eighteen Years.
2 Kings 22. - 23: 30. Zephaniah.
2 Chron. 34., 35. Jer. 1. to 4.
Fifty years before the fall of
The city swarmed with idolatrous priests, burning incense to Baal, and to the twelve signs of the zodiac. Altars of the Baalim and sun-images abounded in the very streets, upon the housetops, and throughout the whole land.
Society was abominably corrupt. Three classes of people were distinguished by Zephaniah.
(1) Worshippers of false gods.
(2) Worshippers of Jehovah, along with other gods.
(3) Generally godless men.
One might even traverse the city without meeting a citizen who had kept faithful to God (Jer. 5: 1.).
But at the worst of times God never leaves Himself without true witnesses. One or two He will choose as leaders, and around them will rally all the good, who otherwise might not have the courage to stem the tide of evil.
In the 13th year of Josiah’s reign, and the 21st
of his age, Jeremiah received his first call.
History repeats itself in the
lives of God’s servants as in everything else. Like Samuel, he was a child; like
The first lesson that this child prophet received was that God always keeps his promises. And when a child, great or small, learns that, he has learned the initial step to a life of trust. It was fixed on his memory by an object lesson, “What seest thou?” “I see a rod of an almond tree (shaked).” “Thou hast well seen; for I watch over (shoked) my word to perform it.”
Such was the beginning of Jeremiah’s call; but we know very little about him for the next eighteen years (Jer. 1: 2; 26: 1). All his prophecy during this period is comprised in the first six chapters of the Book called after his name.
For further information of contemporary events we turn to the historical books and to the prophet Zephaniah.
During these eighteen years there were four great witnesses and leaders of righteousness. A woman’s name stands first, by right of her superior age, prophetic gift, and the position of authority she must have held; for even the high priest submitted to her words, and her fellow-witnesses were probably her pupils.
(1) Huldah, the prophetess (2 Kings 22: 14).
(2) Josiah, the young king who, at sixteen, began to seek the Lord.
(3) Zephaniah, his second cousin, the young prophet prince.*
* See Genealogical Table of the Kings of
(4) Jeremiah, son of Hilkiah, the young prophet priest.
Josiah, at the age of twenty, commenced vigorously to carry
out his reforms in City, State, and
But his reformation wrought only outwardly on the nation (Jer. 3: 10.). Princes and prophets were all alike corrupt (Jer. 2: 27); the city was full of wickedness (Jer. 4: 14; 5: 1); and the whole land as bad (Jer. 3: 6).
For six years he continued his drastic reforms on
For a while there was a semblance of true religion. The people flocked to Josiah’s great
Passover, and attended the
At last there came that disastrous expedition of Josiah
against Pharoah-Necoh, which ended in his death at
With him perished the last hope of deferring the doom of
* * *
From the 1st to the 3rd year of Jehoiakim’s reign. Three years.
2 Kings 23: 31-37. Jer. 26: 1-7; 7. to 10.;
2 Chron. 37: 1-5. 27: 8-24.; 11.; 12.; 14.
Habakkuk. to 20.; 22.; 23.
Josiah was dead, Zephaniah’s prophecy had ceased, Josiah’s son
Jehoahaz was an exiled prisoner in
“Stand in the Court of the LORD’S House, and speak unto all the cities of
At first sight, such a message sounded hopeful as if the
people had taken to heart the reforms of Josiah’s reign. But the hypocrisy of
their worship was quickly unveiled. Yet
the Lord is ever ready to give, when possible, another chance: so He said: “It may be
they will hearken and turn every man from his evil way.” But the message was stern.
An angry crowd gathered round to listen - people, priests, and princes. The priests, prototypes of Christ’s accusers, shouted treason: “This man is worthy of death.” Jeremiah retorted that the Lord had sent him, and appealed to the people to mend their ways. Then there was a division amongst his listeners. Some of the princes and people took his part against the priests and prophets, saying: “This man is not worthy of death; for he hath spoken unto us in the name of the LORD.”
This sturdy defence of Jeremiah had weight. Certain elders took courage to remind the people that Micah the prophet had said the very same things in Hezekiah’s reign, and that king did not put him to death; he rather besought the Lord for His favour, and was graciously heard.
Then a contrary case was cited. Uriah had a short time previously
corroborated all Jeremiah’s words, and had, in consequence, to fly for his life
Shaphan, his sons and grandsons, were all, with one exception, on the side of Jehovah.
Shaphan was scribe, or minister of finance, under Josiah. His four sons were Ahikam, Elasah, Gemariah, and Jaazaniah, and his two grandsons were the famous Gedeliah (son of Ahikam), and Micaiah (son of Gemariah).
Jaazaniah was the only apostate of the family (Ezek. 8: 11).
It was Shaphan who brought the recovered Law of the Lord to king Josiah. Ahikam, as we have seen, saved Jeremiah’s life at a critical moment.
Elasah was entrusted by Jeremiah with an important letter to
the exiles in
It was in Gemariah’s room that the last terrible message was first read that Jehoiakim was to hear; and it was his son Micaiah who courageously paved the way for the king to listen to it (Jer. 36).
And after the fall of
“Cursed be he that confirmeth not the words of this law to do them” (Deut. 27: 26).
When this last curse was sounded on the heights of Ebal, all the people said Amen. It was mow repeated by the Lord in the ears of His prophet: “And I said, Amen, O LORD” (Jer. 11: 5).
A conspiracy had been already set on foot to restore the
worship of Baal, and now his altars were again as many as the streets of
“The LORD gave me knowledge of it and I knew it” (verse 18).
Something else, too, Jeremiah discovered which concerned himself. His own townsfolk, of Anathoth, were seeking to take his life. For the third time he was in danger; but he naturally felt this the more bitterly, coming from such a quarter. He pleaded with God to maintain his cause, and the answer came immediately, with a special pronouncement of judgment upon that town. God knew how treacherous were even the prophet’s own family (12: 6), and He took care that none should hurt him until his work was done.*
*A modern hero of the mission-field, the Rev. T. Paton, said amid his hairbreadth escapes from death: “I felt immortal till my work was done!”
A great drought now came upon the
Jeremiah interceded for them unsuccessfully; for he wrote: “The LORD said unto me, Pray not for this people for their good ... I will not hear their cry ... I will not accept them; but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence.”
Then said I, “Ah, Lord GOD Behold the prophets say, Ye shall not see the sword ...” Then said the Lord unto me: “The prophets prophesy lies in My Name.” And their punishment would come - sword and famine, upon them and their dupes (Jer. 14: 16).
Another prayer, for forgiveness of sin: “Do not abhor us for Thy Name’s sake;” and another answer from the LORD: “Though Moses and Samuel stood before Me, yet My mind could not be toward this people.” They would go into captivity; the sword and beasts would devour and destroy.
The awful theme of his mission seemed to bear down Jeremiah to the earth: “Woe is me, my mother,” he cried, “for thou hast borne me a man of strife ... everyone of them doth curse me.” And he found relief again in prayer: “O Lord, Thou knowest ... for Thy sake I have suffered reproach ... Thy words were unto me a joy and the rejoicing of my heart ... I sat alone because of Thy hand ... Why is my pain perpetual? Wilt Thou indeed be unto me as a deceitful brook?”
The answer, as always, immediately succeeded his prayer: “If thou take forth the precious from the vile thou shalt be as My mouth ... I am with thee to save thee and to deliver thee, saith the LORD.”
From this revelation given to us of Jeremiah’s habitual communion with God, we have an insight into the very. heart of Divine Love as the Hearer and Answerer of prayer. We see the workings of Jeremiah’s “inward man;” his cry in the dark, amid the mysteries of pain, loneliness, mental depression, vicarious suffering, and man’s injustice, and above all, of God’s unfathomable ways. As in job’s case, Satan’s part in the problem of life is left out of account, and the mischief due to him is attributed to the wrong source. Hence doubt creeps in and shows itself even in prayer; its earthliness spoils the beauty of the precious ore of fellowship, and of joy in His presence, His Word, and His Goodness.
Contrast with this prayer of Jeremiah that of Habakkuk written about the same time: Although everything should fail, “yet I will rejoice in the LORD.” A disinterested joy: not merely because of His goodness to us; but because He is Good.
Three severe restrictions were laid upon Jeremiah by the Lord:
(1). He was to remain a wifeless, childless man - a witness to the evil parents who would soon see their children suffer for their guilt.
(2). He was forbidden to enter any house of mourning, or to sympathise with the bereaved.
(3). He was forbidden to enter any house of rejoicing, or to join in their feasts.
If they inquired, “What is our iniquity?” his answer was to be that their fathers departed from God, but they were worse than their fathers.
It happens very frequently in the prophets that in the midst of awful judgments there shines out of the cloud a glorious hope for the future - the Coming Messiah, and the final restoration of the nation.
After such a vision (16: 15) Jeremiah prayed. His faith at once laid hold on God’s faithfulness, and endorsed the promise in His own words: “Unto thee shall the nations come from the ends of the earth.”
But future glory never condones present evil. National sin must be punished in the fire of God’s anger (17: 1-4). Individual sin brings its own retribution on the sinner (17: 5-11). Religion is a very personal thing. “All souls are Mine.” God deals with every soul separately. Each has to choose - life or death; blessing or cursing; a well-watered land or a parched place in the wilderness; a life of trust in God or of confidence in the flesh. The “deceitful brook” is the human heart; not the “fountain of living waters.” And Jeremiah now prays aright, as he now recognises the source of all fruitfulness: “Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me and I shall be saved: for Thou art my praise.”
But contempt is hard to bear, and the hardest taunt of all is that God does not confirm our testimony. The mere possibility of it was the secret of Jonah’s cowardice (Jonah 4: 2), and its reality the cause of so much anguish to Jeremiah: “Behold, they say unto me, Where is the word of the LORD? let it come now.” And for the first time the limits of his forbearance is past, and he cries to God to punish his persecutors.
The sole answer he received was a command to bear fresh
testimony, first at the gates of
The potter was making a vessel, Jeremiah was watching the process, and the LORD taught Jeremiah as he watched. “And when the vessel that he made of the clay was marred in the hand of the potter, he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.” The Lord was the potter, and His people the clay. He could do what He liked, and change His methods if they changed their ways. When the vessel was marred, the fault was not in the workman but in the clay; but for all that, the marred vessel was not thrown away: a vessel of another pattern was made (18: 1).
The lesson learned at the potter’s house was delivered to the
He had interceded for them on a former occasion: “Remember how I stood before Thee to speak for them;” but now his prayer was exactly the reverse words of Moses: “Forgive not their iniquity, neither blot out their sin from Thy sight.”
The word of the LORD came
to Jeremiah to testify in the
Jeremiah bought an earthen bottle, according to command, on
his way to it through the potter’s gate, where vessels were made for the
From Tophet he returned to the
Pasher, a descendant of Immer, one of the original governors of the Sanctuary (1 Chron. 24: 14), was amongst his listeners, and he was the first to offer personal violence to the prophet. He struck Jeremiah and put him in the stocks, an instrument of torture with five holes - two each for the hands and feet, and one for the neck- and left him there for a day and a night. Upon his release Jeremiah gave him a personal message from the LORD, changing his name from Pasher (security on every side) to Magor-miss-abib (terror on every side), and foretelling the place of his death and the fate of his friends.
Jeremiah felt this cruelty and indignity very sorely, coming as it did from one of the same family and order as himself: and he showed it in the following prayer: “O LORD, Thou hast enticed (R.V. mg,) me (to undertake my prophetic office) ... Thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed (Jer. 1: 7): I am become a laughing stock all the day, everyone mocketh me. For as often as I speak I cry out; I cry, Violence and spoil! because the word of the LORD is made a reproach unto me, and a derision all the day. And if I say, I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His Name, then there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with forbearing; I cannot contain. For I have heard the defaming of many; terror on every side. Denounce, and we will denounce him, say all my familiar friends, they that watch for my halting; peradventure he will be enticed, and we will prevail against him, and we shall take our revenge on him.”
A very sorrowful prayer, with Job’s curse on the day of his birth at the end of it. But again we see, encased within it, the precious ore of trust and praise in God (20: 12, 13).
The most favoured saints of God have all had to learn the same hard lesson. Moses, Job, David, Paul, the Divine Son Himself, must take up the cross of unpopularity. The same expressions were used by them to illustrate the same experiences: “A laughing-stock,” - Job 12: 4; “A reproach,” Psa. 22: 6; 80: 20; “A burning fire within,” Job 32: 18, 19; Psa. 39: 3; 2 Cor. 5: 14; “Familiar friends,” Psa. 41: 9; “Watch for my halting,” Psa. 35: 15.
It is a good sign when all men do not speak well of us (Luke 6: 26).
King Jehoiakim must next receive his message. The LORD told Jeremiah to go to the king’s house and deliver it there. King and princes were to hear what the LORD’S will was for them to do, and if they did not fulfil it their blood would be upon their own heads. The lamentations for Josiah had not yet ceased: “Weep not for the dead,” cried the prophet, “but weep sore for the exiled Jehoahaz, he shall not return any more” (22: 10).
Two messages of woe end the prophesies of this period, one to Jehoiakim, for his
oppression of the poor. He was at that
very time building a spacious palace on forced labour with no wages. The manner of his death was told him, and he
heard God’s summary of his life (22: 21).
As for Jehoiachin, the future captive in
* * *
From the 3rd year to the end of Jehoiakim’s Reign. Eight years.
2 Kings 24: 1-17. Jer. 46. to 49: 33,
2 Ch. 36: 6-10. 35.; 25.; 36.
Psalm 6. 45.; 13.
More than twenty years had now elapsed since his first call,
and during this period Jeremiah delivered the Word of the LORD concerning the surrounding nations -
The incident of the Rechabites originated in one of
Nebuchadnezzar’s threatening movements on
In the latter part of the third (Dan.
1: 1), or
early in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, Nebuchadnezzar was preparing for an
Jeremiah employed Baruch as his amanuensis, and when the roll was finished he said, “I cannot go to the LORD’S House: I am shut up (excluded), therefore go thou and read in the roll which thou hast written from my mouth, the words of the LORD in the ears of the people in the LORD’S House upon the fast day ... It may be they will present their supplication before the LORD, and will return everyone from his evil way.”
“It may be.” Again and again is this sorrowful refrain concerning a people whose heart would not turn. “I would,” said their Messiah, when He came in the flesh, “I would ... but ye would not.”
Baruch obeyed and read aloud the words in the
In the fifth year and ninth month of Jehoiakim’s reign,
Nebuchadnezzar came down upon
Then leaving the roll behind them, they went into the king’s winter house to tell the king. He sent off Jehudi to fetch it, and made him read it aloud. Jehoiakim listened as he sat warming himself by the fire burning in the brazier; but three or four columns were all that he heard. Snatching the roll from Jehudi, he cut it with his penknife and threw it into the fire. Three men rushed forward to intercede for its preservation, but the king was deaf to their entreaties. He commanded Baruch and Jeremiah to be delivered up “but, the LORD hid them.”
After the destruction of the roll, Jeremiah was bidden by the LORD to re-write it, adding a special clause concerning Jehoiakim’s fate.
Jeremiah did so, dictating to Baruch all the words of the first roll, “and there were added besides unto them many like words” (36: 32).
Baruch’s heart grew sad as he repeated his former task, and the LORD saw it and read his thoughts, “Thou didst say, woe is me now! for the LORD hath added sorrow to my pain! I am weary with my groaning, and I find no rest” (45: 3). The LORD reminded him that to Him belonged the power to undo whatever he did; that, in this awful time of coming trial, all personal ambition must be laid low, even though the “great things” desired might be for the good of others; evil was near, and his life alone would be the only thing secured to him.
This incident recorded of the burning of the roll in the last
connected with Jehoiakim. All we know of
him further is from a few words in
the historical books, and in Dan. 1: 1.
Directly afterwards he was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar, and with
Daniel and other members of the royal family was brought to
The remaining four years of this period were spent by Jeremiah
near the Euphrates (Jer. 13.), so he must have gone to
The LORD told him
to buy a linen girdle, wear it for a while, and then hide it in a hole by the
His son Jehoiachin was on the throne
three months when Nebuchadnezzar arrived at Jerusalem, deposed him, and put his
uncle Zedekiah on the throne instead, making him swear by Jehovah to keep his
allegiance. Jehoiachin, the queen-mother, Nehushta, with many thousands of
captives were carried to
* * *
From the 1st year of Zedekiah’s reign to the Siege of Jerusalem. Eleven years.
2 Kings 24., 18-20. Jer. 24., 24., 49.,
2 Chron. 36., 11-16 34-39; 27., 28.,
Ezek. 1. - 23. 50., 51.
Jeremiah was once again at
“What seest thou, Jeremiah?” and I said, “Figs, the good figs, very good; and the bad, very bad, that cannot be eaten, they are so bad.”
Then the LORD showed
him that the good figs represented the captives in
At the commencement of his reign, Zedekiah had occasion to
send an embassage to Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah took this opportunity to send
with the embassage a letter to the captives in
Shemaiah’s punishment was owing to his audacity. He had sent letters in his own name to the
It was also early in Zedekiah’s reign (27: 1, R.V. mg.), when the Word of the LORD came again to Jeremiah. This time
it was to teach the surrounding nations an object-lesson. He was to make a number of wooden neckbands
and distribute them to the kings of
Nebuchadnezzar was at this time engaged in a struggle with the
Elamites, and Zedekiah thought it a good opportunity to break his oath of
allegiance. He was encouraged by the Egyptians,
and plans were now being formed to unite, under the leadership of
But the King of all these kings, unacknowledged as their God, would not leave them in the dark about His Will, and His servant gave His message, the LORD, of Sabaoth, Owner of the earth, had given all these nations into the hands of the Babylonian kings; Nebuchadnezzar, his son, Evil-Merodach, and his grandson, Nabonadius (who associated his son Belshazzar with him in the kingdom (27: 6-7; 2 Kings 25: 27; Dan. 5: 1).
They were not to hearken to their false prophets, and that nation who submitted to the Chaldean yoke, would be kept in peace in their own land.
Zedekiah received the same warning and the same promise if he
too would submit. He was told not to listen
to the prophets who prophesied of the speedy return of the spoil of the
Hananiah had taken the LORD’S name on his lips, therefore Jeremiah answered him solemnly, “Amen; the LORD do so ... Nevertheless ... when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known that the LORD had truly sent him.” Hananiah was not done with his farce. He took the bar of wood off Jeremiah’s neck, and broke it, saying: “Thus saith the LORD, even so will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar within two full years from off the neck of all the nations.” Silence followed this. falsehood, and Jeremiah went his way. It was not for him to retort. He waited until God spoke, and soon, the command came to him to go and tell Hananiah “Thus saith the LORD, Thou hast broken the bars of wood, but thou shalt make in their stead bars of iron; I have put a yoke of iron upon the neck of all these nations that they may serve Nebuchadnezzar.”
Jeremiah was now free to tell Hananiah that the LORD had not sent him; that he made the people to trust in a lie; and that he would die that very year as a sign of his rebellion against God. In two months Hananiah was dead (Jer. 28.).
In the fourth year of Zedekiah, Jeremiah wrote the LORD’S judgments upon
This prophecy was written upon a separate roll, and given into
the care of Baruch’s brother Seraiah, the chief chamberlain, who accompanied
Zedekiah on a visit to
Two hundred miles north of
* * *
THE SIEGE AND FALL OF
2 Kings 25. Jer. 24.; 37.; 32.;
2 Chron. 36: 17-21. 30.; 31.; 33.; 38.;
Jer. 21.; Ezek. 24. 39: 15-18 & Lamentations
In the 9th
year of Zedekiah’s reign, the 10th day of the 10th month,
the siege of
The most detailed account is given to this period which proved to Jeremiah one long tremendous strain on mind and body. It was a forecast of another period to come, in which the last terrible week of his Messiah’s life-story would be the most minutely recorded in the Gospel Narratives.
The last king of
Far away in Mesopotamia Ezekiel was writing the name of the day on which the Babylonians commenced the siege. As a sign of the approaching desolation, he was told that the desire of his eyes would be taken from him at a stroke. In the morning he spoke to the people, and in the evening his wife died. By command he showed no external signs of grief. The mystified people asked:- “Wilt thou not tell us what these things are to us that thou doest so?” He replied to them that when the news would reach them of the destruction of “the desire of their eyes” they would be unable to mourn outwardly in the conqueror’s country, but should “moan one toward another.”
During the whole of the siege, eighteen months, Ezekiel spoke
no more concerning
And now the Chaldean army had closed round the fated city, and
the word of the LORD came again to
Jeremiah with another message for Zedekiah. He was told that the city would be taken and
set on fire, and that he himself would be caught and taken a prisoner to
These words were spoken to the king just when all the cities
had fallen into the enemies’ hands, except
Zedekiah, now thoroughly aroused and frightened, endeavoured to propitiate the people who had been so miserably oppressed under him and his predecessors. They were leaving the city in numbers and falling off to the enemy, preferring the protection of the Chaldeans to the tender mercies of a proud and cruel nobility. The broken Law of Moses was re-enacted, and liberty to all Hebrew slaves was proclaimed; but this leniency was of short duration. News came in that the Egyptian army was advancing to the relief of the city, and that the Chaldeans were withdrawing their forces in order to go and meet it. This change in the aspect of affairs without, changed also the conduct of the nobles within; the masses were again enslaved, and their insincere covenant with God broken (Jer. 34).
Jeremiah was, at present, free to go in and out among the people. For the second time he received a message from the king, saying:- “Pray now unto the LORD our God for us.” Zedekiah, weak and wicked as he was, by no means despised the word of God through His servant, and would have followed Jeremiah’s counsel had he not been in servile fear of his own subjects. His only answer was that the Egyptians would soon retreat back to their own country, the Chaldeans resume the siege, and finally take the city and bum it with fire.
During the short time the siege was raised, Jeremiah took the opportunity to attempt to get to his native Anathoth, about three miles distant, upon business matters connected with his property there. The way to it led through the gate of Benjamin, and here he was seized by one of his enemies, Irijah, grandson of that Hananiah who had died by his prediction. Irijah, delighted to have an excuse to bring a charge against him, accused him of falling away to the enemy, and Jeremiah’s denial, “It is false,” was not listened to.
He was brought before the princes, who wreaked their malice upon him by a cruel beating and imprisonment in the house of Jonathan the scribe. He remained here in the worst part of the prison, the dungeon house, for many days, until Zedekiah sent to him for the third time. He did this secretly, for fear of the princes, and fetched the prophet in to his own house.
Then he asked him, was there any word, from the LORD? Jeremiah said: “There is,” and he told him that he would fall into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. It speaks well for the king, inasmuch as he never resented Jeremiah’s plain speaking, or ever treated him badly; on the contrary, he befriended him whenever he could. On this occasion he did so. The miseries endured by Jeremiah in the dungeon had been so dreadful that he implored the king not to send him back to it. Zedekiah accordingly gave orders for him to be placed in the court of the guard, and that he was to receive daily a loaf from the bakers’ street so long a there was bread to be had in the city (Jer. 37).
But the king, although secretly favouring Jeremiah dared not seem to befriend him openly, so shut him up in the court of the guard in pretended anger, saying:- “Wherefore dost thou prophesy ... ye shall not prosper?”
While he was here, Jeremiah had a visit from his cousin, Hanamel, who came to ask him to buy his land at Anathoth, as the right of redemption was his, being the nearest kinsman. Jeremiah bought the land from Hanamel, and then, having signed the deed of purchase he gave it to Baruch, saying:- “Thus saith the LORD, take these deeds ... and put them in an earthen vessel, that they may continue many days. For thus saith the LORD of Hosts, the God of Israel - ‘Houses and fields and vineyards shall yet again be bought in this land.’”
The prayer that followed his signing of the deed of purchase is a model of a prayer in perplexity. We would do well to imitate it when the ways of God seem especially incomprehensible. He communed with God about His Majesty and power:- “There is nothing too hard for Thee;” His past mercies and wonderful works; His fulfilment of His promises, and of His threatenings of woe to the city by the Chaldeans; “and now Thou hast said unto me, O Lord GOD, ‘Buy thee the field for money, and call witnesses; whereas the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans.’”
In answer, the Lord repeated Jeremiah’s words in the form of a
question: “Behold, I am Jehovah, the God of all flesh: is there
anything too hard for Me?” It was quite true the fate of the city was
scaled on account of the iniquity of
Yet deeper revelations were unfolded to the prophet while still imprisoned in the court of the guard. (Jer. 30., 31. & 33.). Visions, not only of the Restoration to the land, but to the favour of God through the Mediatorship of their Prince (Glorious One), of “themselves;” “of David’s Line;” His name, “Jehovah our Righteousness” (chap. 23: 5).
Messianic predictions of a Divine Man were indeed “great and difficult” things to Jeremiah (33: 3). The most difficult of paradoxes and yet the explanation of them all. The solution of God’s healing power over against “incurable hurt;” of His “tempest of fury” sweeping to destruction, over against His “everlasting Love” drawing on to Salvation.
The “Great Light” that has arisen upon us has cleared away this mist of perplexity - why the God of Love, in the midst of His people, became their destroying Angel; while the Son of LOVE rebuked his disciples for their reference to that very attribute (Luke 9: 54).
If Christ had not taken our humanity upon Him, His holy nature could not have endured that daily contact with sin (Mark 9: 19) without an outburst of wrath upon the sinner (Deut. 9. Psalm 78: 31. 1 Cor. 10: 9, 10). He became Man to save men; but He also became Man as the only way He could live in the presence of man’s sin without becoming a consuming fire (Heb. 12: 29).
Jeremiah was now openly preaching the policy of non-resistance, and advising the people to save their lives by joining the deserters outside. Four of his enemies listened to his words and reported them to the princes. They appealed to the king: “Let this man, we pray thee, be put to death; forasmuch as he weakeneth the hands of the men of war that remain in this city.” Desertions were growing alarmingly frequent, even among its defenders. Zedekiah was too weak to go against them, and told them so. Then they took the prophet and threw him into the dungeon of Malchiah, the king’s son. It was a filthy hole under the floor of the court of the guard, and into this was he lowered by cords and sank in its mire. He was left there to die; but one friend he had, brave enough to face consequences for his sake - an African, with a hero’s heart. This man, Ebed-melech, hunted the city for the king. He found him, sitting in the gate of Benjamin, where Jeremiah had been arrested as a deserter, and informed him of the prophet’s danger. There was now no more bread to be had in the city, and he would soon die of hunger. The king at once gave him leave to rescue him, bidding him take thirty men to help him in case of opposition. Ebed-melech was a man of thought. He guessed that the poor prisoner was by this time too faint to help himself; so first he went into the king’s house to search for old pieces of cloth which he found under the treasury: by his directions they were fixed to the loops of the cords and let down to Jeremiah, who placed them under his arms, and in this way he was drawn up out of his living death (Jer. 38.).
His terrible experience was not easy to be forgotten and in his great Threnody, he alludes to the time when he was gasping for breath in that horrible pit, the name of which in the original means “to bend oneself.”
But so long as there was life at all in Jeremiah there too was the spirit of prayer, and the consciousness of the Divine Presence: “I called upon Thy Name, O LORD, out of the lowest dungeon. Thou heardest my voice; hide not Thine ear at my breathing at my cry. Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon Thee: Thou saidst, Fear not” (Lam. 3: 53-57)
For the fourth and last time, Zedekiah summoned Jeremiah to a
private interview, choosing the
It was all of no use; the king would not make up his mind; and so the conversation ended, with a glimpse into the real cause of his vacillation. He was, in truth, afraid of the princes, and cautioned Jeremiah to keep silent. If he were asked any questions he was to say that he made petition to the king not to send him back to die in Jonathan’s house. No sooner had Jeremiah left the king’s presence than he was seized upon by the princes on the alert to cross-question him: and he told them what the king bade him. He remained in the court of the guard till the city was taken (Jer. 38.).
The last incident recorded before its fall relates to the faithful Ethiopian who saved Jeremiah’s life. “I will deliver thee in that day,” said the LORD to Ebed-melech, “and thou shalt not be delivered into the hand of the men of whom thou art afraid.” King and eunuch both received the same promise; but only the one proved its truth: “Because thou hast put thy trust in Me saith the LORD” (Jer. 39: 15-18).
The state of the city was appalling. Famine stalked the streets. The nobles, haggard and withered, with hollow-checked discoloured faces, were unrecognisable in the thoroughfares. The children fell for weakness, and died of hunger as they lay. Their mothers, crazed with want, fed upon the poor little corpses. And exactly the same scenes, the same horrors, were described by Josephus, 660 years later, as were depicted by Jeremiah in Lamentations.
Oh, self-willed nation: the world learns a lesson from such needless suffering: the Messiah’s tears over that self-same city, His anguish and death, re-echo the same truth as it ever did through the past ages: “I would ... but ye would not.”
The great Lord of Love, having done his utmost to save, must stand aside weeping when man’s will rushes him blindly on to ruin.
* * *
From the Fall of
Jer. 39: 1-14; 52. Jer. 40. - 44.
Psa. 74.; 79. Psa. 130.; 129.
Obadiah. Ezek. 33.
In the 11th year of Zedekiah,
the 4th month, and the 9th day, the first breach was made
in the city. Nergal-sharezer
(Neriglassar, who afterwards usurped the throne of
The escape was made in great haste. As many valuables as they could carry were
secretly removed by day into the garden, and they digged through the wall in
the dark. This opening let out the
fugitives into a narrow passage between two walls which ran alongside the king’s
garden. At the end of it was a gate, and
through it they went on their way to the plains of
Nebuchadnezzar had not conducted the siege in person. He had stationed himself at Riblah, north of
A month after the Fall of the city,
Nebuzaradan, Captain of the Guard, arrived at
Seventy-four of the most determined resisters were also put to
death at Riblah - amongst them, Seraiah, chief priest; Zephaniah, second
To the captives settled in the conqueror’s country, and to the peoples who readily submitted, the Chaldeans were usually lenient; but they were the cruellest nation on earth to prisoners who had exasperated them by a lengthy resistance. No mercy was then shown, even to women and children. Women captives, even of high rank, had to endure awful hardships and indignities (Isa. 3: 24; 47.; 10: 6). Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk all allude to their cruelty (Jer. 6: 23).
The author of Psalms 74. and 78. was
probably Jeremiah himself, being an eye-witness of the destruction of the
There was one nation, and that the nearest to her in ties of
blood, that acted unconscionably towards the vanquished
As soon as the Babylonians had effected
an entrance into
This most interesting interview between Jeremiah and the
Chaldean general is only one of many other incidents illustrating, not only the
importance of individual life, but of heathen individual life in the eyes of
the God of nations. Monarchs of
Gedeliah, at Mizpah, was soon joined
by all the fugitives who had taken refuge in
Before the news of the massacre reached the other towns Ishmael
carried off all the residents of Mizpah, including some of the king’s daughters
who had been left under Gedeliah’s care. He intended to make his way back to King
Baalis, but was circumvented by Johanan who overtook him with a strong force at
Johanan, being afraid to return for fear of the Chaldeans’
vengeance for the men killed by Ishmael, went to
“Ye have dealt deceitfully against your own souls,” thundered Jeremiah, “for ye sent me unto the LORD your God, saying, Pray for us unto the LORD our God, and according unto all that the LORD our God shall say, so declare it unto us and we will do it: and I have this day declared it unto you, but ye have not obeyed” (Jer. 42.).
The same scene repeated itself here as it did at Shechem, eight hundred years before (Josh. 24.). Joshua had the same experience as Jeremiah had. They presented themselves before God, but not unto God (Rom. 6: 13, R.V.). They gave pious ejaculations and good resolutions which were not kept; for they were not made with a perfect heart. And both servants of God knew that they did not want to keep them.
When Jeremiah had ceased speaking, it was quickly seen that he
spoke the truth about them. They burst
out into proud resentment: “Thou speakest falsely,” they said, “the LORD
our God hath not sent thee to
say, ‘Ye shall not go into Egypt to sojourn
there: but Baruch the son of Neriah setteth thee
on against us, for to deliver us into the hand
of the Chaldeans’ ...” Many a good man has to bear unjust slander as a cover for other people’s
wrongdoing. The end of it was that Johanan
compelled Jeremiah and Baruch to go with him and all the people into
Here the word of the LORD
came to Jeremiah concerning
The last act of Jeremiah, by command of the LORD was to visit the various places in
For answer, the people deliberately said that they would pay
no heed to his words; that when in the moonlit streets of
Jeremiah vainly pointed out that all their disasters were the consequences of sin, and he gave them, for the last time the word of the LORD. They and their wives had vowed allegiance to Ashtaroth:- “Therefore I have sworn by My great Name saith the LORD, that My Name shall no more be named in the mouth of any man of Judah in the land of Egypt, saying, As the Lord God liveth … and they shall know whose word shall stand, Mine or theirs” (Jer. 44.).
Of Jeremiah’s further history, we know no more than what tradition tells us - that he was stoned by the Jew at Tahpanhes. Psalms 129., 130., were possibly penned by him in the darkest hour of the captivity.
Ezekiel shows that the state of the lives of
the captives elsewhere, were not much better than those in
The story of Jeremiah, and of this sad epoch, is finished. To Jeremiah and Ezekiel was given a sad and disheartening task. But against the dark background of their prophecies of woe there flashes out in relief the bright visions of future good - not merely the brief interval of Maccabean rule, but what is yet to happen in the days to come, of their Messiah’s [millennial] reign upon earth – a time when they shall dwell IN THE LAND that the Lord gave them “from of old and even for evermore.”