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.
It’s important to remember that throughout the Scriptures we are constantly reminded of the veracity of God’s Word. Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree and spiritually died (Gen. 2:17); Noah preached for one-hundred and twenty years and then the flood came (Gen. 6:3); despite the physical impossibility of conception at a ripe old age, Sarah conceived and gave birth to Isaac (Gen. 17:21; 18:14); and, to conclude what could be an incredibly more extensive sampling, in the fullness of time God’s Son was born, conceived in the womb of a virgin (Isa. 7:14). Every promise that God has made will, in His time, come to pass. That doesn’t only include the ones of blessedness for the repentant believing, it also includes the promises of divine wrath upon the unrepentant and unbelieving. The Fall of Jerusalem illustrates that. Jeremiah 39, then, at least in part, ought to be a reminder of the inevitability of Acts 17:31 – “[God] has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained.”
Interestingly, the chapter is essentially split between a brief depiction of judgment (Jer. 39:1-10) and two examples of branches snatched from the burning (vs.11-18). Since the former will essentially be rehearsed in the final chapter of this book (Jer. 52:4-11), we’ll turn our attention to the latter, beginning with what happened to Jeremiah.
Upon reading, “Now Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon gave charge concerning Jeremiah to Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, saying…” (vs.11) someone might hang their head thinking that this is where another one of God’s saints was martyred for the faith. But their heads wouldn’t hang long because in the next verse we see the surprising instruction that followed – “Take him and look after him, and do him no harm; but do to him just as he says to you” (vs.12). No, Nebuchadnezzar and Jeremiah weren’t buddies from back-in-the-day; although, admittedly, the language is unexpectedly gracious. The likely impetus for this benevolence was that word had gotten to Nebuchadnezzar of Jeremiah’s preaching. And while Nebuchadnezzar was certainly not a long-distance supporter of Jeremiah’s ministry, he could get behind the message of submission to Babylon; and such is what likely happened. Word of God’s Word through Jeremiah likely spread to Babylon via those who had already surrendered (cf. Jer. 38:19; 39:9). And such is why, at least in part, there’s more of Jeremiah’s story to tell.
Nebuzaradan saw to it that his king’s orders were carried out (vs.13) and the men to whom he delegated the Jeremiah-task took the prophet “from the court of the prison, and committed him to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, that he should take him home” (vs.14b). Don’t miss that – notice the person to whom Jeremiah was committed: “Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan.” Now although this is the first time you’re reading of this Gedaliah (the one in the previous chapter wasn’t him), you have heard of his father. His father was the man who leveraged whatever position he had for Jeremiah’s deliverance (Jer. 26:24). Gedaliah was of ‘good stock’ spiritually-speaking. And in the gracious outworking of God’s providence, that’s the person to whom Jeremiah was committed. Not to mention the fact that instead of being confined to the court of the prison, Jeremiah would dwell among the people (Jer. 39:14c).
And as though such preserving grace were not enough, the chapter ends with, if you will, ‘grace upon grace’ in the form of a brief flashback looking back to a time not too long before the account in the previous verses. We’re told,
15 Meanwhile the word of the Lord had come to Jeremiah while he was shut up in the court of the prison, saying, 16 “Go and speak to Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Behold, I will bring My words upon this city for adversity and not for good, and they shall be performed in that day before you. 17 But I will deliver you in that day,” says the Lord, “and you shall not be given into the hand of the men of whom you are afraid. 18 For I will surely deliver you, and you shall not fall by the sword; but your life shall be as a prize to you, because you have put your trust in Me,” says the Lord.’”
Now we get to know a little bit more about Ebed-Melech – the Ethiopian eunuch who appealed to Zedekiah to release Jeremiah from his dungeon prison lest he die (Jer. 38:7-9). God had a message for him. He first reinforced the reality that the Babylonians were not existentially independent beings living in an ungoverned universe. Their wickedness upon wicked Judah would fulfill His words (vs.16). But although Jerusalem was appointed for wrath, Ebed-Melech was appointed for deliverance (vs.17). What’s interesting is – the impetus for his pardon was not his act of intercessory heroism; nor was it his kindness; it was his faith. God told Ebed-Melech, “For I will surely deliver you… because you have put your trust in Me” (vs.18). Behind the bravery was a grace-granted faith that pleased God and secured His pardon.
Who, then, are the two examples of men delivered from the judgment of God upon the wicked city – as illustratively appropriate as it could be: one was a Jew, the other was a Gentile, and both had this common – they were saved by grace through faith. And so it is for all who will be saved from fires of judgment far greater than that of 586 B.C. They will not be saved on the basis of their own compassion and kindness, and neither will they secure independent entrance into Heaven by virtue of spotless law-keeping. Their exoneration will be inextricably tied to their Savior’s satisfactory offering. He quenched the flames of divine wrath by absorbing in His body the punishment of all who would put their trust in Him. And so, let Ebed-Melech serve as a reminder to you that in both the OT and NT alike, the one who is saved from the judgment to come is saved “by grace…through faith…not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9; cf. Gen. 15:6).