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.
On the night that Jesus was betrayed He took the cup after supper and spoke words that any Jewish person familiar with the Old Testament would have marveled to hear, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Lk. 22:20b). At long last the time had come! The covenant spoken about approximately six hundred years earlier via the prophet Jeremiah was about to be implemented and ratified with the shedding of Jesus’ blood on the cross. This was, and is, cause for celebration. But such celebration must be fueled by understanding (cf. Ps. 47:7b). And if we are to understand and appreciate this New Covenant it is good to begin by setting it against the backdrop of the Old Covenant – at least that’s how Jeremiah presented it in the passage before us.
Today’s chapter flashes forward quite a bit, approximately 20 years, to the latter portion of the last king of Judah’s reign prior to the Babylonian sacking of Jerusalem. That kind of time-shift sometimes happens in the book of Jeremiah given the fact that it isn’t arranged according to a strict chronology. The chapter opens by informing us that God gave Jeremiah an answer to the question of King Zedekiah (vs.1-2) – a fact that was in itself gracious. Zedekiah sent two messengers to Jeremiah with the request that he would inquire of the LORD on their behalf (vs.2a). The occasion? To use the words of the messengers, “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon makes war against us” (vs.2b). The hope? “Perhaps the Lord will deal with us according to all His wonderful works, that the king may go away from us” (vs.2c).