The Destruction of Jerusalem
Jeremiah 39:1-18 gives us some good news and some bad news.
Why does Jeremiah talk so much about the wrath of God? I think it’s probably because if he doesn’t emphasize the bad news, we’ll never fully be able to understand the good news. Jeremiah 39 has plenty of bad news about the destruction of Jerusalem, but it also has good news. So let’s start with the good news in the passage, then move to the bad news, and then wrap things up with some more good news.
The good news is that the Babylonians didn’t kill everyone when Jerusalem fell. For some people, Jerusalem’s fall could even be called a day of salvation.
Jeremiah 39:10 CSB
However, Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guards, left in the land of Judah some of the poor people who owned nothing, and he gave them vineyards and fields at that time.
For many of the poor, the fall of Jerusalem was the start of something good. It was good for the poor when the captain of the guard gave them the property of the wealthy landowners—it was a kind of salvation. Of course, God will do this on a much larger scale in the future when he takes the wealth of the unfaithful and gives it to those who trust in him.
So imagine being one of those slaves we read about a few chapters back. How would you feel if your harsh masters were taken away and given their land? You might have some mixed feelings, but primarily it would be a time of rejoicing!
Now also notice that this terrible time was also a day of salvation for Jeremiah and his servants:
Jeremiah 39:11–12 CSB
Speaking through Nebuzaradan, captain of the guards, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon gave orders concerning Jeremiah: “Take him and look after him. Don’t do him any harm, but do for him whatever he says.”
That’s good news, especially considering that previously Jeremiah had been put in prison and thrown in a cistern by his people! But with the invasion of Babylon, things got better for Jeremiah. Jeremiah was given a royal escort out of the guard’s courtyard and in the loving arms of his family.
So the point is that God hadn’t forgotten Jeremiah as Jerusalem was being destroyed, and God won’t forget one single believer on the day of Judgement either. Every single person that belongs to God will be saved.
In addition, the fall of Jerusalem brought good news for Ebed-Melech, one of Jeremiah’s servants. Remember, he was the black slave that God used to save Jeremiah from the cistern.
This is what the Lord told Ebed-Melech:
Jeremiah 39:17–18 CSB
But I will rescue you on that day—this is the Lord’s declaration—and you will not be handed over to the men you dread. Indeed, I will certainly deliver you so that you do not fall by the sword. Because you have trusted in me, you will retain your life like the spoils of war. This is the Lord’s declaration.
This is excellent news! It’s a reminder that the gospel isn’t just for white or Jewish people; it is for all people, even black African slaves who put their faith in Christ. God won’t forget a single one of his people.
Why was Ebed-Melech saved? Was it because he was brave? No, it was because he trusted in the Lord, as it says in verse 18. He was saved by faith alone, which is excellent news for the poor and those society rejects. And it’s wonderful news for us, too!
But salvation by faith alone is terrible news for those who don’t trust in God.
Unfortunately, when Zedekiah saw the King of Babylon’s men approaching the city, he fled. He snuck out at night but didn’t get too far before he was caught and brought back to Nebuchadnezzar. Then, he and his family paid dearly for his mistake.
Zedekiah’s family and friends suffered first.
Jeremiah 39:6 CSB
At Riblah the king of Babylon slaughtered Zedekiah’s sons before his eyes, and he also slaughtered all Judah’s nobles.
Then, Zedekiah personally felt the wrath of God.
Jeremiah 39:7-8 CSB
Then [Nebuchadnezzar] blinded Zedekiah and put him in bronze chains to take him to Babylon.
And after that, as a picture of final judgment, the city of Jerusalem was burned. The Chaldeans burned down the king’s palace and the people’s houses and tore down the walls of Jerusalem. Everyone else who hadn’t been rescued by God or otherwise killed was deported to Babylon (Jeremiah 39:9).
What happened to Jerusalem is similar to what will happen on the day of final judgment. At that time, there will be two different kinds of people, which the Bible calls sheep and goats. The sheep, those who trust in their Shepherd, will be saved, but the goats will be lost forever. In other words, the righteous will be given eternal life, but the unrighteous will go away to eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46).
On the day of final judgment, I expect that, like Zedekiah, many will try to escape it. Some will try to convince God that they’ve been good, but that won’t work because no one can be good enough. Others will try to escape by hoping that the warning of God’s wrath has been exaggerated and that God will let them in because he’s “nice.” But there will be no hope for those not trusting Christ. We are saved by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).
So, the awful things that happened to Zedekiah should serve as a severe warning to those who are hoping to escape the wrath to come. Zedekiah suffered a fate far worse than death. First, he was forced to watch as his sons were killed; then, he had to live out the rest of his days blind and in chains to the amusement of his captors. For him, his punishment was a living hell, which sounds harsh, but remember, Zedekiah had every opportunity to repent, yet he refused to listen.
So that’s the bad news, but for those who listen, there is...
Only Good News
Every sinner who comes to Christ in faith is like a person snatched from the flames. Ebed-Melech, Jeremiah, and others were literally taken out of the flames of burning Jerusalem, but so will everyone who trusts in Jesus for salvation.
That’s good news for us, but it’s our responsibility to help rescue as many people as we can. Jude says to those that are called and loved by God,
Jude 22–23 (CSB)
Have mercy on those who waver; save others by snatching them from the fire; have mercy on others...
This means that as disasters occur nearby and around the world, it is our God-given responsibility to help save as many as we can, not just from physical harm but especially from eternal destruction.
There is an urgency in our calling as the final day of judgment approaches. The end may be far away or near, but either way, we are one day closer to the time when the enemies of God will be cast into the flames of hell, and the believers in the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved.
So now is not the time to sit back and relax; it’s time to be about our Father’s business more than ever. It’s time to live and share the gospel. It’s time to show mercy to others by snatching them from the fire, too.