APRIES -NEBUCHADNEZZAR Chapter 37—Carried Captive Into Babylon
In the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he, and all his host, against Jerusalem,” to besiege the city. 2 Kings 25:1.
Can you appreciate the mixed feelings of the citizens. They could chose between two scenarios. They whiched their loyalty from Nebuchadnezzar to Pharaoh Ophra of Egypt.
According to their secret services the Egyptian army had greater military advantage. But then there was another scenario. The prophet Jeremiah and the prophet Ezekiel advised them to surrender to the Babylonians and save the city and the temple of destruction.
Have you even been exposed to logic and the word of God?
The outlook for Judah was hopeless.
Ezekiel 21:4 “Thus says the LORD: “Behold, I am against you, and I will draw My sword out of its sheath and cut off both righteous and wicked from you.
21:4 Because I will cut off both righteous and wicked from you, therefore My sword shall go out of its sheath against all flesh from south to north,
21:5 that all flesh may know that I, the LORD, have drawn My sword out of its sheath; it shall not return anymore.” ‘
21:6 Sigh therefore, son of man, with a breaking heart, and sigh with bitterness before their eyes.
21:7 And it shall be when they say to you, ‘Why are you sighing?’ that you shall answer, ‘Because of the news; when it comes, every heart will melt, all hands will be feeble, every spirit will faint, and all knees will be weak as water. Behold, it is coming and shall be brought to pass,’ says the Lord GOD.”
21:31 I will pour out My indignation on you; I will blow against you with the fire of My wrath, And deliver you into the hands of brutal men who are skillful to destroy.
21:32 You shall be fuel for the fire; Your blood shall be in the midst of the land. You shall not be remembered, For I the LORD have spoken.’ ”
Pharaoh Hophrah and his Egyptian army endeavoured to come to the rescue of the beleaguered city; and the Chaldeans, in order to keep them back, abandoned for a time their siege of the Judean capital.
Here you have two scenarios. Two prophets, Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesied that the Babylonians would destroy Jerusalem.
But here the see the mighty Egyptian came to their rescue and the Babylonian army take their leave.
Hoe did the king of Juda react to this strange event?
Hope sprang up in the heart of Zedekiah, and he sent a messenger to Jeremiah, asking him to pray to God on behalf of the Hebrew nation. How ridiculous!
The prophet’s fearful answer was that the Chaldeans would return and destroy the city. The fiat had gone forth; no longer could the impenitent nation avert the divine judgments.
Let us listen to what the Lord revealed to Jeremiah. It will be a similar one because the Holy Spirit will not contradict Itself:
Jeremiah 37:1 Zedekiah son of Josiah was made king of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; he reigned in place of Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim.
37:2 Neither he nor his attendants nor the people of the land paid any attention to the words the LORD had spoken through Jeremiah the prophet.
37:3 King Zedekiah, however, sent Jehukal son of Shelemiah with the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah to Jeremiah the prophet with this message: “Please pray to the LORD our God for us.”
37:4 Now Jeremiah was free to come and go among the people, for he had not yet been put in prison.
37:5 Pharaoh’s army had marched out of Egypt, and when the Babylonians who were besieging Jerusalem heard the report about them, they withdrew from Jerusalem.
This incident was the outcome of an agreement between Pharaoh Hophra (Apries in Greek) and king Zedekiah to resist Nebuchadnezzar.
37:6 Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet:
37:7 “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of me, ‘Pharaoh’s army, which has marched out to support you, will go back to its own land, to Egypt.
37:8 Then the Babylonians will return and attack this city; they will capture it and burn it down.’
37:9 “This is what the LORD says: Do not deceive yourselves, thinking, ‘The Babylonians will surely leave us.’ They will not!
37:10 Even if you were to defeat the entire Babylonian army that is attacking you and only wounded men were left in their tents, they would come out and burn this city down.”
The remnant of Judah were to go into captivity, to learn through adversity the lessons they had refused to learn under circumstances more favourable. From this decree of the holy Watcher there could be no appeal.
WHAT ABOUT THE ARK OF THE COVENANT?
Among the righteous still in Jerusalem, to whom had been made plain the divine purpose, were some who determined to place beyond the reach of ruthless hands the sacred ark containing the tables of stone on which had been traced the precepts of the Decalogue.
This is what they did. With mourning and sadness they secreted the ark in a cave, where it was to be hidden from the people of Israel and Judah because of their sins, and was to be no more restored to them. That sacred ark is yet hidden. It has never been disturbed since it was secreted.
There are some who would prefer the resting place of the ark in one of the sub-terranean tunnels of Jerusalem. Others prefer the Moab mountains, the Qumran caves and Ethiopia.
For many years Jeremiah had stood before the people as a faithful witness for God; and now, as the fated city was about to pass into the hands of the heathen, he considered his work done and attempted to leave.
But was prevented by a son of one of the false prophets, who reported that Jeremiah was about to join the Babylonians, to whom he had repeatedly urged the men of Judah to submit. The prophet denied the lying charge, but nevertheless.
They were angry with Jeremiah and had him beaten and imprisoned in the house of Jonathan the secretary, which they had made into a prison. Jeremiah 37:15.
The hopes that had sprung up in the hearts of princes and people when the armies of Nebuchadnezzar turned south to meet the Egyptians, were soon dashed to the ground.
Ezekiel 29:1 In the tenth year, in the tenth month on the twelfth day, the word of the LORD came to me:
This is of Jehoiachin’s captivity. The month date here given is January 586 BC. The prophecy may have been delivered shortly after the time the Babylonians temporarily lifted the siege of Jerusalem because of the approach of the Egyptians under Pharaoh Hophra.
The news of these events may have stimulated the exiles to fresh hope in te deliverance of Jerusalem. Ezekiel’s prophecy against Egypt may have been found its occasion in these circumstances.
Ezekiel 29:3 Speak to him and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “‘I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt.
The might of Egypt was but a broken reed.
29:6 “Then all the inhabitants of Egypt Shall know that I am the LORD, Because they have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel.
30:25 Thus I will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon, but the arms of Pharaoh shall fall down; they shall know that I am the LORD, when I put My sword into the hand of the king of Babylon and he stretches it out against the land of Egypt.
While the princes of Judah were still vainly looking toward Egypt for help, King Zedekiah with anxious foreboding was thinking of the prophet of God that had been thrust into prison. After many days the king sent for him and asked him secretly,
“Is there any word from the Lord?” Jeremiah answered, “There is: for, said He, thou shalt be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon.
“Moreover Jeremiah said unto King Zedekiah, 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 37:17-20.
At this Zedekiah commanded that they “commit Jeremiah into the court of the prison, and that they should give him daily a piece of bread out of the bakers’ street, until all the bread in the city were spent. Thus Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.” Verse 21.
The king dared not openly manifest any faith in Jeremiah. Though his fear drove him to seek information of him privately, yet he was too weak to brave the disapprobation of his princes and of the people by submitting to the will of God as declared by the prophet.
From the court of the prison Jeremiah continued to advise submission to the Babylonian rule. To offer resistance would be to invite sure death. The message of the Lord to Judah was:
Jeremiah 38:2 “Thus says the LORD: ‘He who remains in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but he who goes over to the Chaldeans shall live; his life shall be as a prize to him, and he shall live.’
Plain and positive were the words spoken. In the name of the Lord the prophet boldly declared,
38:3 Thus says the LORD: ‘This city shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon’s army, which shall take it.’ ”
At last the princes, enraged over the repeated counsels of Jeremiah, which were contrary to their set policy of resistance, made a vigorous protest before the king, urging that the prophet was an enemy to the nation, and that his words had weakened the hands of the people and brought misfortune upon them; therefore he should be put to death.
The cowardly king knew that the charges were false; but in order to propitiate those who occupied high and influential positions in the nation, he feigned to believe their falsehoods and gave Jeremiah into their hands to do with him as they pleased.
Jeremiah 38:6 So they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the king’s son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.
But God raised up friends for him, who besought the king on his behalf, and had him again removed to the court of the prison.
Once more the king sent privately for Jeremiah and bade him faithfully relate the purpose of God toward Jerusalem. In response, Jeremiah inquired,
Jeremiah 38:15 Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “If I declare it to you, will you not surely put me to death? And if I give you advice, you will not listen to me.”
The king entered into a secret compact with the prophet.
38:16 So Zedekiah the king swore secretly to Jeremiah, saying, “As the LORD lives, who made our very souls, I will not put you to death, nor will I give you into the hand of these men who seek your life.”
There was still opportunity for the king to reveal a willingness to heed the warnings of God, and thus to temper with mercy the judgments even now falling on city and nation.
38:17 Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “Thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘If you surely surrender to the king of Babylon’s princes, then your soul shall live; this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live.
38:18 But if you do not surrender to the king of Babylon’s princes, then this city shall be given into the hand of the Chaldeans; they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hand.’ ”
38:19 And Zedekiah the king said to Jeremiah, “I am afraid of the Jews who have defected to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hand, and they abuse me.”
38:20 But Jeremiah said, “They shall not deliver you.” and he added the earnest entreaty, “Please, obey the voice of the LORD which I speak to you. So it shall be well with you, and your soul shall live.
“If you surely surrender to the king of Babylon’s princes,’’ was the message given the king, “then your soul shall live; this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live. But if you do not surrender to the king of Babylon’s princes, then this city shall be given into the hand of the Chaldeans; they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hand.’ ”
Thus even to the last hour, God made plain His willingness to show mercy to those who would choose to submit to His just requirements. Had the king chosen to obey, the lives of the people might have been spared, and the city saved from conflagration.
But he thought he had gone too far to retrace his steps. He was afraid of the Jews, afraid of ridicule, afraid for his life. After years of rebellion against God, Zedekiah thought it too humiliating to say to his people, I accept the word of the Lord, as spoken through the prophet Jeremiah; I dare not venture to war against the enemy in the face of all these warnings.
With tears, Jeremiah entreated Zedekiah to save himself and his people. With anguish of spirit, he assured him that unless he should heed the counsel of God, he could not escape with his life, and all his possessions would fall to the Babylonians.
But the king had started on the wrong course, and he would not retrace his steps. He decided to follow the counsel of the false prophets, and of the men whom he really despised, and who ridiculed his weakness in yielding so readily to their wishes.
He sacrificed the noble freedom of his manhood and became a cringing slave to public opinion. With no fixed purpose to do evil, he was also without resolution to stand boldly for the right. Convicted though he was of the value of the counsel given by Jeremiah, he had not the moral stamina to obey; and as a consequence he advanced steadily in the wrong direction.
The king was even too weak to be willing that his courtiers and people should know that he had held a conference with Jeremiah, so fully had the fear of man taken possession of his soul. If Zedekiah had stood up bravely and declared that he believed the words of the prophet, already half fulfilled, what desolation might have been averted!
He should have said, I will obey the Lord, and save the city from utter ruin. I dare not disregard the commands of God because of the fear or favor of man. I love the truth, I hate sin, and I will follow the counsel of the Mighty One of Israel.
Then the people would have respected his courageous spirit, and those who were wavering between faith and unbelief would have taken a firm stand for the right. The very fearlessness and justice of this course would have inspired his subjects with admiration and loyalty. He would have had ample support, and Judah would have been spared the untold woe of carnage and famine and fire.
The weakness of Zedekiah was a sin for which he paid a fearful penalty. The enemy swept down like a resistless avalanche and devastated the city. The Hebrew armies were beaten back in confusion. The nation was conquered.
Zedekiah was taken prisoner, and his sons were slain before his eyes. The king was led away from Jerusalem a captive, his eyes were put out, and after arriving in Babylon he perished miserably. The beautiful temple that for more than four centuries had crowned the summit of Mount Zion was not spared by the Chaldeans.
“They burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof.” 2 Chronicles 36:19.
At the time of the final overthrow of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, many had escaped the horrors of the long siege, only to perish by the sword. Of those who still remained, some, notably the chief of the priests and officers and the princes of the realm, were taken to Babylon and there executed as traitors.
Others were carried captive, to live in servitude to Nebuchadnezzar and to his sons “until the reign of the kingdom of Persia: to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah.” Verses 20, 21.
Of Jeremiah himself it is recorded: “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon gave charge concerning Jeremiah to Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard, saying, Take him, and look well to him, and do him no harm; but do unto him even as he shall say unto thee.” Jeremiah 39:11, 12.
Released from prison by the Babylonian officers, the prophet chose to cast in his lot with the feeble remnant, certain “poor of the land” left by the Chaldeans to be “vinedressers and husbandmen.”
Over these, the Babylonians set Gedaliah as governor. Only a few months passed before the newly appointed governor was treacherously slain. The poor people, after passing through many trials, were finally persuaded by their leaders to take refuge in the land of Egypt.
Against this move, Jeremiah lifted his voice in protest. “Go ye not into Egypt,” he pleaded. But the inspired counsel was not heeded, and “all the remnant of Judah, … even men, and women, and children,” took flight into Egypt. “They obeyed not the voice of the Lord: thus, came they even to Tahpanhes.” Jeremiah 43:5-7.
The prophecies of doom pronounced by Jeremiah upon the remnant that had rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar by fleeing to Egypt were mingled with promises of pardon to those who should repent of their folly and stand ready to return.
While the Lord would not spare those who turned from His counsel to the seductive influences of Egyptian idolatry, yet He would show mercy to those who should prove loyal and true. “A small number that escape the sword shall return out of the land of Egypt into the land of Judah,” He declared; “and all the remnant of Judah, that are gone into the land of Egypt to sojourn there, shall know whose words shall stand Mine, or theirs.” Jeremiah 44:28.
The sorrow of the prophet over the utter perversity of those who would have been the spiritual light of the world, his sorrow over the fate of Zion and of the people carried captive to Babylon, is revealed in the lamentations he has left on record as a memorial of the folly of turning from the counsels of Jehovah to human wisdom.
Amid the ruin wrought, Jeremiah could still declare, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed;” and his constant prayer was, “Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord.” Lamentations 3:22, 40.
While Judah was still a kingdom among the nations, he had inquired of his God,
Jeremiah 14:19 “Have You utterly rejected Judah? Has Your soul loathed Zion? “ And he pled with God “Why have You stricken us so that there is no healing for us? We looked for peace, but there was no good; And for the time of healing, and there was trouble.
14:20 We acknowledge, O LORD, our wickedness And the iniquity of our fathers, For we have sinned against You. And he pled with his people:
14:21 Do not abhor us, for Your name’s sake; Do not disgrace the throne of Your glory. Remember, do not break Your covenant with us.
The prophet’s absolute faith in God’s eternal purpose to bring order out of confusion, and to demonstrate to the nations of the earth and to the entire universe His attributes of justice and love, now led him to plead confidently on behalf of those who might turn from evil to righteousness.
But now Zion was destroyed; the people of God were in their captivity. Overwhelmed with grief, the prophet exclaimed:
Lamentations 1:1 How lonely sits the city That was full of people! How like a widow is she, Who was great among the nations! The princess among the provinces Has become a slave!
1:2 She weeps bitterly in the night, Her tears are on her cheeks; Among all her lovers She has none to comfort her. All her friends have dealt treacherously with her; They have become her enemies.
1:3 Judah has gone into captivity, Under affliction and hard servitude; She dwells among the nations, She finds no rest; All her persecutors overtake her in dire straits.
1:4 The roads to Zion mourn Because no one comes to the set feasts. All her gates are desolate; Her priests sigh, Her virgins are afflicted, And she is in bitterness.
1:5 Her adversaries have become the master, Her enemies prosper; For the LORD has afflicted her Because of the multitude of her transgressions. Her children have gone into captivity before the enemy.
Lamentations 2:1 How the Lord has covered the daughter of Zion With a cloud in His anger! He cast down from heaven to the earth The beauty of Israel, And did not remember His footstool In the day of His anger.
2:2 The Lord has swallowed up and has not pitied All the dwelling places of Jacob. He has thrown down in His wrath The strongholds of the daughter of Judah; He has brought them down to the ground; He has profaned the kingdom and its princes.
2:3 He has cut off in fierce anger Every horn of Israel; He has drawn back His right hand From before the enemy. He has blazed against Jacob like a flaming fire Devouring all around.
2:4 Standing like an enemy, He has bent His bow; With His right hand, like an adversary, He has slain all who were pleasing to His eye; On the tent of the daughter of Zion, He has poured out His fury like fire.
2:13 How shall I console you? To what shall I liken you, O daughter of Jerusalem? What shall I compare with you, that I may comfort you, O virgin daughter of Zion? For your ruin is spread wide as the sea; Who can heal you?
Lamentations 5:1 Remember, O LORD, what has come upon us; Look, and behold our reproach!
5:2 Our inheritance has been turned over to aliens, And our houses to foreigners.
5:3 We have become orphans and waifs, Our mothers are like widows.
5:7 Our fathers sinned and are no more, But we bear their iniquities.
5:8 Servants rule over us; There is none to deliver us from their hand.
5:17 Because of this our heart is faint; Because of these things our eyes grow dim;
5:19 You, O LORD, remain forever; Your throne from generation to generation.
5:20 Why do You forget us forever, And forsake us for so long a time?
5:21 Turn us back to You, O LORD, and we will be restored; Renew our days as of old,
5:22 Unless You have utterly rejected us, And are very angry with us!
THE SERIOUS MESSAGE OP JEREMIAH, EZEKIEL TO KING ZEDEKIAH
Did God speak to you while listening to the undecidedness of King Zedekiah?
I was doing some heart-searching. Zedekiah knew what to do. Two prophets kept on warning him to obey God’s instructions. He could have apologised to Nebuchadnezzar that he was an unfaithful vasal king.
He could have severed ties with Egypt, a mighty power but an unreliable partner.
By obedience to God’s Word, he could have saved the most beautiful temple on the planet. He could have saved the city of Jerusalem and the lives of his people. He disobeyed and lost every that was so precious to him and his people.
What about me and you? If there is any form of disobedience in us, let us decide to replace it with obedience and experience one of the greatest joys in the world.