The day finally came. The prophecies of the Book of Jeremiah had been driving to this point. The year-and-a-half siege that began in the ninth year and tenth month of Zedekiah (Jer. 39:1; 52:4; 2 Ki. 25:1), yet had a brief intermission as Babylon temporarily withdrew to deal with an Egyptian threat, finally penetrated the city walls in the eleventh year and fourth month (Jer. 39:2; Jer. 52:6,7; 2 Ki. 25:3,4). It was the unthinkable; even though it should have been the foreseeable. Jeremiah predicted the coming of the Babylonian sword, starvation, and captivity (Jer. 15:2); he predicted that the siege would so disrupt the city’s food supply that cannibalism would occur (19:9); he predicted that staying in the city would lead to death but that surrendering would lead to life (21:9); and he predicted that the land would be a desolation and a horror, in servitude to Babylon for seventy years (25:11). And it all happened just as God had spoken through him.
‘A mix of the expected and unexpected’ – that’s a good way to summarize the opening half of Jeremiah thirty-eight. You’d expect to see the princes of Judah continue to pursue their persecution of Jeremiah – no surprises there. You’d expect to see King Zedekiah cooperate with them, at least if there was enough pressure to do so. What you wouldn’t expect is for Ebed Melech to be the lowercase “h” hero of the story; not only because you don’t know him prior to this point but even more so because of who he is. And you wouldn’t expect Zedekiah to cooperate with his rescue efforts after he had just signed off on Jeremiah’s imprisonment. It’s a good reminder that although God’s dealings in providence are not relentlessly unexpected, neither are they relentlessly expected. With that said, let’s look at the passage before us, expecting to see the unexpected.
History is full of infamous betrayals. Although the relationship between Brutus and Caesar was likely not as close as depicted in Shakespeare’s play, and although the famous question that Caesar posed to Brutus – ‘Et tu, Brute?’- likely didn’t happen, nonetheless, the betrayal of Brutus and the other Roman senators engaged in Caesar’s assassination is legendary in its infamy. Then there’s the man whose name is virtually synonymous with betrayal – ‘Benedict Arnold’, the former American hero who felt under-appreciated by his countrymen, found some measure of the recognition he felt he deserved from the British, not to mention the prospect of quite a pay day along with the potential expulsion of his lingering financial obligations. He betrayed America and sought to give West Point over into the hands of the British. Then of course there’s the man whose act of betrayal was the most heinous and universally well known, Judas Iscariot’s kiss of identification in the Garden of Gethsemane when he handed Jesus over to His persecutors. And if the list were to go on and on one name that wouldn’t appear on it is that of the prophet Jeremiah – though a captain of the guard at the gate of Benjamin would have said differently. More about that shortly. First let’s create context.
When I was a child there was a time in which ‘trick-birthday candles’ were all the rage. It was always somewhat interesting to watch someone’s face as they tried, tried, and tried again to blow out their birthday candles to no avail. Some of us tried with all of our might, and no a matter how hard we tried, the light we thought we snuffed out came back. And it’s been like that throughout history as it pertains to God’s Word. Whether it was Antiochus or Diocletian, philosophers, false religious systems, or Communist regimes, many have tried throughout history to either chain or cut off the Word of God. Some have tried to cut off translations, others have tried to prohibit transmissions, all have one thing in common – they have failed. And one of those men who stand in such a line of infamy is Jehoiakim. Granted, his attempt was on a small scale when compared with some of the aforementioned attempts at such things, but he attempted nonetheless.
For about five years, from 1969 to 1974, many Americans regularly tuned in to watch the family sitcom called The Brady Bunch. Even though the show lasted only five seasons, via syndication and spin-offs multiple generations have tuned in to view the adventures of this blended family. Like many of the old-style sitcoms, episodes not only had distinct plots but particular life lessons. In many ways many episodes illustrated how we could learn not only from individuals but from families. Well, the Scripture provides a similar lesson for us. To that end – here’s the story of a Rechabite family.