Our reading today begins sometime during Zedekiah’s reign (37:1 – see 2 Chr 36:10). Even though he and the people ignored the words of Jeremiah (v. 2 – see 2 Chr 36:15-16), yet they ask him to pray for them (v. 3). How often we don’t want to hear God’s words yet pray for what we want. We see that at some point during the siege, Babylon is distracted by war with Egypt (v. 5). But because Zedekiah and Judah have ignored His words, He is going to take the distraction out of Babylon’s way and allow them to defeat Judah (vv. 6-8). He warns them not to doubt His word (vv. 9-10).
In verse 11, we see that it was during this respite that Jeremiah went to take the land he had bought during the siege (see 32:1-15). He is accused of treason (v. 13) and arrested (v. 15). While in prison, Zedekiah sends for him to see if God has again spoken (v. 17). Even when God’s word is plain, we tend to want to hear what we want Him to say rather than what He actually said (ask Adam and Eve). But God’s word to Zedekiah has not changed. Jeremiah pleads with the king to realize that the other prophets who prophesied peace were clearly wrong (v. 19). Jeremiah spoke the true words of God. So Zedekiah releases him from prison (v. 21). We see that the siege had started again since “all the bread of the city was gone.”
In chapter 38, we see Jeremiah again call for Judah to surrender to Babylon and live (38:2 – see 21:9). The officials fear he is discouraging the remaining Judahite soldiers (v. 4) and they convince Zedekiah to put him in a makeshift prison (v. 6). Ebed-melech (literally “servant king”) intercedes for Jeremiah (v. 9) and the king allows him to remove Jeremiah from his prison (v. 10). We see the character of Zedekiah in his flip-flopping ways. And Jeremiah is back at the court of the guard (v. 13). And the cycle repeats yet again. Zedekiah seeks Jeremiah once again to hear what YHWH has to say (v. 14). Jeremiah is skeptical that he will listen (v. 15). But Jeremiah says once again what got him arrested (v. 17 – see v. 2). Now, the burning of Jerusalem is said to be conditional on Zedekiah’s response to the words of YHWH (vv. 17-18).
When Zedekiah expresses his fear (v. 19), Jeremiah reassures him that if he obeys, he has nothing to fear (v. 20). But if he is disobedient, Jeremiah tells him that even his allies will abandon him (vv. 21-22) and the city will be burned (v. 23). The reference to being “sunk in the mud” shows us that Jeremiah’s rescue by Ebed-melech was an object lesson. He was rescued from the mud by his allies because he obeyed the Lord. Zedekiah will not if he disobeys. That Jeremiah remained there until “the day that Jerusalem was taken” shows us that Zedekiah did not obey (v. 28).
Chapter 39 records the fall of Jerusalem (39:2 – see 2 Kings 25:1-4) and the fate of Zedekiah (vv. 6-7 – see 2 Kings 25:6-7). Jerusalem is destroyed (v. 8) and many are carried into captivity (v. 9). In verse 11, we see that even Nebuchadnezzar recognized that Jeremiah spoke for YHWH1, so he is allowed to remain in Judah under the care of the family of Shaphan (v. 14). Yet the destruction is not complete (v. 16). But God will reward Ebed-melech for his faith (v. 18). Note that this is a promise to a Gentile.
1 We will see that Nebuchadnezzar respects YHWH and His prophets (see Daniel 2) and may have even come to faith (see Daniel 4).