## Jeremiah 39

Statisticians speak of continuous variables, categorical variables and dichotomous variables. This is simpler than it sounds! Continuous variables are things like measurements of heights. In the human population there are a multiplicity of heights, in a continuous spread over a range; I’m 1.75 m, you may be 1.8 m or 1.69 m etc. With categorical variables every person in a population fits into a discrete category, for example those with blue eyes, those with brown eyes, green eyes and so on, there are a multiplicity of categories, but they are not continuous like height. Finally, there are dichotomous variables, such variables are either one thing or another, black or white, male or female. It seems to me, that in our standing before God we are part of a dichotomous variable, we are in either one of two places: we are saved, or we are lost. We are all faced with the choice of which group we are in. In Jeremiah 39 we will see that king Zedekiah finally chose to reject God’s message and do things his way. In contrast Jeremiah and Ebed Malek chose to serve God. Our choice in this matter has huge consequences for our lives as we shall see.

1. Zedekiah

Nebuchadnezzar had waited 18 months for this moment. Firstly, he slaughtered Zedekiah’s sons as Zedekiah watched helplessly. Next, he killed the nobles of Judah – almost certainly some of those who opposed Jeremiah and wanted him killed were amongst this group. Lastly, he put Zedekiah’s eyes out. The last thing that Zedekiah would remember would be the sight of his sons and officials being killed. Zedekiah was then placed in shackles and made the long trip to Babylon. What a tragic situation, and all brought about by the king’s stubbornness to listen and act on God’s word given through Jeremiah. The book of Chronicles records these words: ‘He became stiff-necked and hardened his heart and would not turn to the Lord, the God of Israel (2 Chronicles 36:13).’  Note that Zedekiah himself hardened his heart – the longer we refuse to acknowledge God, the more difficult it becomes to respond to his call. We don’t become ‘stiff-necked’ overnight, but over the years our ability to respond to God’s word diminishes if we continue to fail respond to his prompting. If God is prompting you to repent and turn to him, do not hold out a minute longer.

Interestingly Jeremiah had previously prophesied that Zedekiah would look into the eyes of Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 32: 4). This was certainly fulfilled. In the book of Ezekiel we also read of Zedekiah of whom it was said: ‘13 .. I will bring him to Babylonia, the land of the Chaldeans, but he will not see it, and there he will die. (Ezekiel 12).’ This must have seemed a strange prophecy to Ezekiel at the time, how could he be in Babylon and not see it? But this is exactly what happened to Zedekiah, he saw Nebuchadnezzar and was taken to Babylon, a city he never actually saw!

Having dealt with the Judean leaders, Nebuchadnezzar now turned his attention to the city and its inhabitants. Nebuchadnezzar had appointed Nebuzaradan as his commander of the imperial guard. It turns out that this is a rather remarkable man, but you will need to wait until the next chapter to hear why this was so! Nebuzaradan rounded up the people and organised the exile of all those in the city –  they were sent to Babylon and they would never return! The royal palace was burnt down, and the walls were destroyed. The city was in ruins. Again this should have come as no surprise, back in Jeremiah chapter 9 we read these words: ‘I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals; and I will lay waste the towns of Judah so no one can live there (Jeremiah 9: 11).’ Some people insist that we cannot take the bible literally and that we need to take much of it (especially the Old Testament) as an allegory. Try telling the people on their way to Babylon (and indeed Zedekiah) that!

The land of Judah and Israel was still of value to the Babylonians and in order to derive benefit from it, Nebuzaradan left ‘some of the poor people’ to tend to the vineyards and fields.

Zedekiah is a lesson to all who refuse to listen to God’s word. Sadly, we live in a period in history where most people have rejected God’s word. I have a subscription to the Times on-line newspaper: the news today was that the prince William was reported to have said he would be ‘fine if my children are gay. ’ In the readers’ comments section beneath the article anyone who spoke up for biblical moral purity was roundly criticised. The apostle Paul noted in his letter to the Romans: ‘32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practise them.’ The apostle Paul seemed to connect such practices with the coming wrath of God. If this is the case, we have much to learn from Jeremiah in our day. How can we avoid God’s wrath? Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved (Acts 16:31)!

2. Jeremiah

Jeremiah’s life had not been an easy one. He had spent the best part of his days preaching and persuading the people of Judah to turn back to God and to mitigate the coming judgment, but they would not listen. He was opposed at every turn and his life was often in danger. As he watched the city burn he must have been filled with sadness but perhaps also he felt that he had done his job of warning, he had not given up doing what God had asked him to do. What now? He was in danger too – perhaps he would be caught up in the killing and deportation?