This is how Jerusalem was taken: 39 1 In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his whole army and laid siege to it.2 And on the ninth day of the fourth month of Zedekiah’s eleventh year, the city wall was broken through. 3 Then all the officials of the king of Babylon came and took seats in the Middle Gate: Nergal-Sharezer of Samgar, Nebo-Sarsekim a chief officer, Nergal-Sharezer a high official and all the other officials of the king of Babylon. 4 When Zedekiah king of Judah and all the soldiers saw them, they fled; they left the city at night by way of the king’s garden, through the gate between the two walls,and headed toward the Arabah.
5 But the Babylonian army pursued them and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho. They captured him and took him to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath, where he pronounced sentence on him. 6 There at Riblah the king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes and also killed all the nobles of Judah.7 Then he put out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him with bronze shackles to take him to Babylon.
8 The Babylonians set fire to the royal palace and the houses of the people and broke down the walls of Jerusalem. 9 Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard carried into exile to Babylon the people who remained in the city, along with those who had gone over to him, and the rest of the people. 10 But Nebuzaradan the commander of the guard left behind in the land of Judah some of the poor people, who owned nothing; and at that time he gave them vineyards and fields.
(Jeremiah 38:28b – 39:10 NIV)
Chapter 39 lays out the fall of Jerusalem. Just as the Lord had declared, the Babylonians returned from taking care of the Egyptian counterattack and laid siege to Jerusalem again. Overall, the assault lasted about a year and a half, with the brief respite when the Babylonians fought the Egyptians.
When King Zedekiah saw that the Babylonians had broken through the city’s defenses, he tried to escape. The king’s escape route was likely through a hidden gate in the king’s garden. The Babylonians quickly figured out the king and his officials had fled the city; the army pursued them and caught them in the Jordan Valley just outside Jericho.
After the Babylonian army had captured King Zedekiah and his entourage, they took them to King Nebuchadnezzar’s camp at Riblah in Syria. King Nebuchadnezzar pronounces judgment on King Zedekiah. For his rebellion against Babylon, Zedekiah must watch as his heirs and nobles are executed. Nebuchadnezzar then blinds Zedekiah, so the last images he will forever carry in his mind are the executions of his sons. King Nebuchadnezzar then sent Zedekiah to Babylon as an exile.
Verses 8 – 10 continue to fulfill the Lord’s promise: the Babylonians set Jerusalem on fire. The remaining citizens were rounded up and also exiled to Babylon. Only the poorest of the poor were left behind to tend the crops and perform the harvest. Nebuchadnezzar likely took the produce of the harvest to keep himself and his household.
And what of Jeremiah? Stay tuned – we shall find out his fate our next time together.
May we learn the faith lesson of obeying the Lord’s commands and heeding His call when He offers His provision and protection. Zedekiah could have avoided all the bloodshed, and horrific treatment had he surrendered as the Lord commanded. Zedekiah’s fears of mistreatment by his countrymen who had deserted earlier was nothing compared to his sentence as a rebellious leader.
And may we not judge Zedekiah too harshly, lest we condemn ourselves for our disobedience and lack of faith. May our faith be greater than our fears, even when it doesn’t make sense.
May we learn to trust in the Lord our God, who declares that surrender to Him is the path to freedom of our souls from the bondage and sentence of sin.