This chapter is the beginning and fulfillment of what Jeremiah had been prophesying for over 20 years to Israel, its people, rulers, and religious sects. There are several components to this chapter:
- The capture of Jerusalem (Last of the cities of Israel to fall)
- Jeremiah protected by the Babylonians
- Removal of Judean people from Israel to Babylon (the first of three transfers)
- The fate of King Zedekiah
- Assurance of and to Ebed-melech
- He was the Ethiopian who rescued Jeremiah from the cistern back in chapter 38
- This may not be his real name as it reads more as a title; Ebed: a servant; Melech: [of the] king.
Zedekiah had originally been put on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar several years earlier when he removed King Jehoiachin after initially conquering Judah/Jerusalem. Zedekiah was a vassal king to Babylon. In short…he owed his allegiance and crown to Nebuchadnezzar. Christians too often seek a truly close relationship with God only in a time of trouble. When the trouble goes away, the tendency is to think one is not needing God until the next trouble pops up. Zedekiah had decided he could rebel as long as Egypt came alongside with its forces against Neb. Pharaoh Necho brought out his forces as agreed between him and Zedekiah, but then changed his mind and returned to Egypt (Jeremiah 37:5-7).
This left Zedekiah all alone without help. A very weak kingdom was Judah. When Zedekiah saw Neb’s men sitting at the city gate (39:4) they panicked and fled Jerusalem. If it was only Zedekiah and a few of his court who fled, they may have escaped. But the minimal armed forces of Jerusalem fled with him. A group this size was not easy to stay stealth and the Chaldean army caught them. We read how he (they) escaped by going back to Ezekiel 12:12…they broke a hole in the outer and inner walls of Jerusalem and fled. The double wall design had two purposes; 1) To specifically provide an egress or escape route if the city was invaded and 2) a type of thermo-pane-wall (double) to keep the enemy at bay once they broke through the outer wall.
JIV NOTE: Personally, this incident fascinates. Israel under the auspices of Joshua entered the Promised lands via Jericho. Now over 800 years later, the last of the vestiges of the former Israel as a nation ends “on the plains of Jericho” [verse 5]. Is there poetic justice, irony, or thought knowing this nation of people came full circle beginning at Jericho then ending at the same location?
Just as under Joshua and centuries earlier the Israelites slaughtered the sinful inhabitants of Jericho, (v6) “The king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah at Riblah before his eyes, and the king of Babylon slaughtered all the nobles of Judah.” History repeated itself!
There is another even more fascinating insight to this event at Jericho. We have often wondered about the Magi and the Star of Bethlehem. Who were they? We know they were astronomers, studied the stars and were of the Zoroastrian religion. Here is what secular history along with the bible tells us:
Rab-mag: chief (Rab) of the magi (mag); was brought along with the Babylonian expedition to Jerusalem in order that its issue might be foreknown through his astrological skill. Mag is a Persian word, meaning “great,” “powerful.” The magi were a sacerdotal caste among the Medes, and supported the Zoroastrian religion. The name Rab-mag is of interest…this chief of the magi was brought along to assure victory. When Israel marched on Jericho centuries earlier, Rahab (very similar name and meaning) was saved and through her came Jesus many years after… in order that its issue might be foreknown. Magi visited Jesus when he was yet a baby. Rahab was the mother of Boaz, the great grandfather of King David. Jesus descended from the line of King David.
Jeremiah 39:9-14 tells us that Jeremiah was released from the prisons of Zedekiah and protected by the Babylonian guards; probably because his many years of prophecy had now come to past, there were a significant number of his fellow Judeans that dispised him. Now that what he had prophesied came true, they had even more reason to hate him as their royal courts, leaders, and religious rulers had been openly slaughtered by Nebuchadnezzar. Verse 39 takes us back to the above indented paragraph concerning the discussion of the RAB-MAGI (saris). They came to the rescue of Jeremiah and honored him just like 600 years later the magi from the east came to the babe Jesus and honored him.
The Babylonian armies initially removed 10,000 of the best people of Judah taking them captive to Babylon. This would include Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego (Book of Daniel). This was only the first of three forced removals of people from Judah/Jerusalem; most likely dates are 605, 597, & 586.
Jeremiah 39:15 takes us a step backward in this historical event recorded in Babylonian records and archaeological discoveries of these records. Jeremiah 39:15-17a… The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah while he was shut up in the court of the guard: “Go, and say to Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will fulfill my words against this city for harm and not for good, and they shall be accomplished before you on that day, but I (God) will deliver you from danger.”
…jumping to verse 18: “I (God) will surely save you (Ebed-Melech), and you shall not fall by the sword, but you shall have your life as a prize of war, because you have put your trust in me, declares the LORD.”