Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 41)

41This chapter continues to chronicle the political and spiritual collapse of the Jewish remnant left in the land after the fall of Jerusalem.  Seven months into Gedaliah’s governorship, Ishmael returns to meet with Gedaliah.  Ishmael, who is almost always referred to as “son of Nethaniah”, had been one of Zedekiah’s (“the king) officers and was “of royal blood” (1).  In the previous chapter, Johanan had privately met with Gedaliah, accusing Ishmael of being an assassin working for Baalis, king of the Ammonites (40:14).  That accusation, dismissed by Gedaliah, now proves true.

While we aren’t told his motives (envy? revenge? money?), we are told his actions.  He comes with ten men to meet with Gedaliah (1).  During a meal together, he overpowers and kills Gedaliah and “all the Jews who were with Gedaliah at Mizpah, as well as the Babylonian soldiers who were there” (3).

assassinationThe following day, before word of the assassination spreads, he continues the slaughter.  Eighty men come by Mizpah, headed for the “house of the Lord” (5). Several curious things are reported about these men:  they are headed for the Temple with “offerings and incense” (5) but the temple has been recently demolished.  Perhaps an altar for sacrifice had been rebuilt in the intervening months.  They come from “Shechem, Shiloh and Samaria”—places not associated with faithful worship of YHWH.  They had “shaved off their beards, torn their clothes and cut themselves” (5).  These were all signs of mourning, though cutting was expressly prohibited by the Mosaic Law (Lev. 19:28).

For some reason (robbery?), Ishmael sets a trap for them.  He meets them weeping and invites them to come to Gedaliah (6), perhaps telling them a tragedy has taken place.  Once in Mizpah, he kills seventy of the men, sparing ten who claim to know where a stash of goods is hidden (8).  He throws the dead bodies into a cistern containing the corpses of the previous night’s crimes (9).  Jeremiah adds that King Asa had built this cistern during a time of tension with Baasha, king of Israel (9).

What are we to make of all this?  Why the details about the eighty men and King Asa’s cistern?  It may be that Jeremiah is revealing details to show the degraded state of the Israelite remnant.  A former officer to the king, even one of royal blood, is a murderous traitor.  Those in mourning and coming to worship at the Temple ruins are spiritually syncretistic, blending banned religious practices with legitimate offerings to God.  Their dead bodies are thrown into a cistern originally constructed under the leadership of a godly king for protection; now it is defiled and turned into a mass grave.  Jeremiah’s account is evidence of his earlier prediction that the remnant left in the land of Israel would be “bad figs” (Jer. 24).

When Johanan hears the news about Ishmael’s treachery, he leads a group of military officers and troops to hunt Ishmael down.  Ishmael has taken captives from Mizpah and is headed towards Ammon and Johanan catches up to him near Gibeon (a few miles south of Mizpah).  The captives break free and run towards Johanan; Ishmael, with eight of his men, escapes and returns to Ammon.

The whole episode is bleak and unsatisfying.  Gedaliah is needlessly killed.  The Babylonians are provoked.  The villainous Ishmael gets away with murder.  The remnant is further diminished and decimated.  Yet all this is a partial fulfillment of the prophetic word through Jeremiah about the destruction of those remaining in the land—the ones God compares to “bad figs”(Jeremiah 24).  The Lord had said He would make them “abhorrent . . . to all the kingdoms of the earth” (24:9) and send the “sword” against them (24:10).  Here the sword of Ammon is used against them, cutting down the leader and officials who sought to take care of them. The judgment that came with the destruction of Jerusalem continues to shadow and reduce the remnant in the land.

Johanan and the people he rescued now find themselves in a deeper dilemma.  Jeremiah’s account reveals their fear:  “They were afraid of them [the Babylonians] because Ishmael son of Nethaniah had killed Gedaliah son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon had appointed as governor over the land” (41:17).  They are terrified that Nebuchadnezzar, after hearing of the assassination of his appointed governor, will send troops to punish them further.  Traumatized and terrified, they decide their best option is to flee.  So from Gibeon, they head south to Egypt, stopping to camp near Bethlehem (roughly 10 miles south of Gibeon).  So now the whole remnant—military officials led by Johanan, court officials, king’s daughters, men, women and children—head out on a long journey towards Egypt.

traumaIt’s hard to imagine the trauma they have experienced and the fear that grips them.  They have lived through the carnage of the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of many of their friends and countrymen.  They had barely begun to try and rebuild their lives when Ishmael brought further death and captivity.  They want to run away, to get as far from the sound of battle and war as possible.  Egypt seems to offer some stability so they decide to head south.  While such a trek will be dangerous and difficult, they have concluded that staying put in Israel will mean certain death at the hands of the Babylonians.

As we will see in the following chapter, their faith is at a low ebb at this point as well.  Their confidence in God’s protection of them and their temple (7:4) has been rocked or even shattered.  They feel orphaned, on their own.  Sadly, it soon becomes apparent they have lost their trust in the Lord and will rely on their own understanding to get them through life (contra Proverbs 3:5-6).

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Prayer Update (February 15, 2019)

iceIt’s been quite a week for us in Cambridge.  Like much of the province, we’ve had our share of winter weather; classes at Heritage had to be cancelled on Tuesday due to freezing rain and ice.  In the midst of it all, the warmth of God’s love has been shining through.  Linda and I hosted an Alpha Bible study in our home on Sunday evening.  What a joy to see a number of these friends warm up spiritually and begin a new life with Christ.  There is rejoicing in heaven and in our hearts.

debtI’ve also been greatly encouraged by our Heritage Board members.  You may recall that Heritage has been carrying institutional debt for decades.  Over the past few years, we’ve seen God’s amazing provision help us lower the debt.  Where the debt was once over 3.5 million dollars, it has come down to $250,000.  At our January Board meeting, the men and women on the Heritage Board of Directors made a faith commitment to completely demolish the remaining debt over the coming months.  Through the generous gifts of these Board members and their contacts, we are moving closer to being debt free as a school.  This will be a year of Jubilee!

Here are some prayer requests for the coming week.

  • Linda speaks at a women’s gathering in Woodstock, Ontario this Saturday. Please pray that God would use her message on “love” to encourage and challenge the women who attend.
  • Next week is Reading Week at Heritage. Students get a break from classes and have time to rest and catch up on their studies.  Please pray that students would be refreshed and also make progress in their studies.abhe
  • Next week, Linda and I are traveling to a conference put on by ABHE (Association for Biblical Higher Education). Please pray for safe travels and a profitable time at this national conference.
  • Ask the Lord to enable Heritage to finish eliminating the remaining debt. (If you would like to help us with this historic push to be debt free, you can donate here).

Thank you for your ongoing prayers and support.  We greatly appreciate it.

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 40)

40Chapter 40 focuses on the release of Jeremiah by the Babylonian officials (summarized briefly in 39:13-14), providing significant details that validate Jeremiah’s ministry and “reward” him for his service—something the Jewish leaders had not done.  The second half of the chapter begins the account of the “rest of the story”—what happened to the remnant left behind in Judah after the destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation of most of the survivors (7-16).

Verse 1 begins with an affirmation that Jeremiah continued to be God’s messenger even after the fall of Jerusalem:  “The word came to Jeremiah from the Lord after Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard had released him at Ramah.” Jeremiah had been faithful to receive and report God’s Word before disaster hit.  Though his world was rocked by the fall of Jerusalem (see Lamentations), he continues faithful to his call.

At first glance, there appear to be differences between the report of Jeremiah’s release contained in chapter 39:13-14 and the parallel account in 40:1-6.  Chapter 39 says Jeremiah was “taken out of the courtyard of the guard” and “turned over to Gedaliah” (14).  Chapter 40 indicates he was released in Ramah, a town five miles north (1) and given the choice of whether to go to Babylon or stay with Gedaliah’s remnant in Judea (4-5).  That the two accounts harmonize is logically assumed by the fact they occur back to back; it’s foolish to think the author of the book couldn’t spot obvious discrepancies in successive chapters of his own work.  A plausible harmonization of the two would be as follows:  Jeremiah was taken from the courtyard in Jerusalem with other captives, brought to Ramah where he was identified and released to go wherever he pleased.  He chose to stay in Judah where Gedaliah was ruling.  This result is summarized in 39:14 with the words,  “They turned him over to Gedaliah.”

A fascinating feature of Jeremiah’s release is the declaration by a pagan Babylonian ruler that the fall of Jerusalem was the result of the Jew’s disobedience and the Lord’s judgment (2-3).  While there is no indication that Nebuzaradan was a follower of YHWH, this does indicate his knowledge of Jeremiah’s prophecies—the likely reason Jeremiah was freed and treated well by the Babylonians.  It may also show Nebuzaradan’s polytheism—a view that various gods were at work in the world.  His words serve as a confirmation of God’s sovereignty over the nations and His faithfulness to His prophetic promises—even the promise to bring judgment on His own people.

shacklesNebuzaradan not only grants Jeremiah freedom to go to Babylon or stay in Judah, he also gives Jeremiah “provisions and a present.”  Again, this action is an ironic rebuke to the Jewish leaders—a pagan official honours the prophet who had been mistreated by his own people.  Behind Nebuzaradan’s action is the faithfulness of God who was keeping His promise to care for Jeremiah.

The text emphasizes the freedom Jeremiah is given by the Babylonians.  He’s freed from imprisonment (“I am freeing you from the chains on your wrists”—4) and free to choose where to live (“go anywhere else you please”—5).  It seems somewhat surprising that Jeremiah chooses to stay with Gedaliah and the remnant in Judah in light of the previous vision of the “good and bad figs” (chapter 24).  In this vision, Jeremiah saw two baskets of figs; one basket had “very good figs” while the other had “very poor figs” (24:2).  The Lord revealed that the good figs represented the exiles in Babylon.  God promised to “watch over them for their good” and to “bring them back to this land” (24:6).  The poor figs stood for “Zedekiah king of Judah, his officials and the survivors from Jerusalem, whether they remain in this land or live in Egypt” (24:8).  God pledges to “send the sword, famine and plague against them until they are destroyed from the land” (24:10).

So why would Jeremiah stay with the remnant, the poor figs, who would be judged by God?  Perhaps the answer comes in the first verse of chapter 40:  “The word came to Jeremiah from the Lord after Nebuzaradan . . . released him at Ramah” (1).  No specific prophetic message is recorded in this chapter.  In fact, it’s not until 42:7 that we hear Jeremiah giving a message from God to the people.  One possible interpretation of 40:1 is that this verse is a general statement that God was still speaking to and through Jeremiah after the fall of Jerusalem.  In this reading, Jeremiah exercised his own choice to stay in Judah, even though he knew he would be staying with the “poor figs.” However, it may be that the word from the Lord referenced in 40:1 included God’s message to Jeremiah to remain with the remnant in Judah.  They would need him even though they would not listen to him.  God sometimes calls His servants to remain in difficult ministry situations.

The second half of the chapter begins the sad saga of Gedaliah, the army officers and the remnant in Judah (7-16).  Gedaliah, who was appointed governor by Nebuchadnezzar, was from good stock.  His father had helped Jeremiah when others wanted to kill him (26:24).  His grandfather has been a faithful secretary to good king Josiah. Gedaliah sets up shop in Mizpah, a city several miles north of Jerusalem.  The scattered army officers come to him (8) as do Jews from surrounding countries (11).  Gedaliah encourages them to glean what they can from the vineyards and olive groves (10), to settle down in the land and submit to the Babylonians (9, the same command given to the exiles—29:5).  Gedaliah promises to represent them to the Babylonian officials who come to check up on them (10).

Johanan, one of the army officers, privately tells the governor that another officer—Ishmael son of Nethaniah—is a deadly threat.  Johanan alleges that Ishmael is working for Baalis (king of the Ammonites) and plans to assassinate him (14).  Johanan offers to quietly take Ishmael out, killing him before he can kill the governor.

Gedaliah may have been a good man but he was a poor judge of character. Johanan turns out to be spiritually weak but he has street smarts.  Gedaliah won’t listen to Johanan’s warning; twice he dismisses his concerns as misguided (14, 16). There is no record that Gedaliah sought to investigate Johanan’s charges or asked Jeremiah for help.  Gedaliah’s naïve trust in Ishmael proves to be a fatal mistake (41:1-4).  Here is a cautionary tale about being too trusting and dismissing warnings.

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Prayer Update February 8, 2019

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This past week we hosted our annual missions conference at Heritage.  It’s one of the highlights of the year. The conference is student-run, with some wise input from our faculty and staff.  We cancel classes for two days and invite a number of missions representatives to come on campus, meet with students and present a variety of seminars on global mission. (Some of these missionaries even choose to stay in the residence halls with students!  Brave!).

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Missions Bazaar

In addition to plenary sessions and seminars, there is a Missions Bazaar where missionaries/agencies give out literature and tasty treats from countries around the globe.

One of my favourite parts of the conference is the missions dinner and cake auction.  Students, staff, and faculty bake and decorate various cakes.  Table groups pool their money and make bids.  The students/staff at the highest bidding table win the cake and immediately start to eat it (I guess you can have your cake and eat it too!).

I’m always amazed at the amount of money bid for various cakes. Cakes sell for hundreds of dollars.  The cake Linda brought was sold for $450.  Over the course of the evening, over $4,000 dollars was raised.

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Linda’s $450 cake

 

Why do Heritage students save up their money, pool it with others, and spend so much to buy cakes?  The reason everyone is so generous is that all the money goes to support Heritage students headed out on a short-term mission this summer to Thailand or Portugal. It’s a sweet deal!

Can I ask you to pray for the continuing impact of this year’s missions conference?

1  Pray that the Lord would move many Heritage students to consider a cross-cultural missions trip.  We believe these trips can be life-changing.

2  Pray for the students headed to Thailand and Portugal.  Ask the Lord to prepare them to serve well.  Ask the Lord to provide for their financial needs–both to go out and also to cover their school costs next year. (If you would like to help support Heritage summer missions, you can donate here.  Indicate “Summer Missions” in the comment box).

3  Pray that all our students would gain a greater heart for bringing the gospel to people locally (through our Love Hespeler Initiative) and globally (through summer missions).

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 39)

39This is the first of two recounting of the fall of Jerusalem; the final chapter in the book (52) gives a more detailed version of the same events.  Chapter 39 tells the grim news in chronological sequence with the surrounding chapters.  Chapter 52 concludes the book with a rehearsal of God’s promise through Jeremiah to bring judgment on his stubbornly rebellious people.  Both chapters end with a reminder that God is not finished with His people:  chapter 39 ends with the promise of rescue to Ebed-Melech; chapter 52 ends with the kindness shown to Jehoiachin. In this way, the book ends with hope.  Amidst the devastation, God’s mercies are still new every morning; great is His faithfulness (Lamentations 3:23).fall of j

As with other epic events (JFK’s assignation; 9/11), the exact timing of them stays frozen in our collective memory.  So both chapter 39 and 52 record when the final siege of Jerusalem began (10th day, 10th month, 9th year of Zedekiah’s reign) and when the city was overrun (9th day, 4th month, 11th year).

The Babylonian officials and officers enter the city and “took seats in the Middle Gate” (3), symbolically showing they were now ruling the city.  Zedekiah, who had been told by Jeremiah that surrendering the city would spare life and property, now realizes that all is lost.  With some of his select soldiers, Zedekiah tries to flee, leaving the city by way of the king’s garden at night and heading east towards the Jordan valley (“the Arabah”—4).  Again, as Jeremiah had promised (34:3), he does not escape but is captured and brought before Nebuchadnezzar near “Riblah in the land of Hamath” (5), a city located on the Orontes River in what is now Syria.  There the lights go out for Zedekiah:  his eyes are put out after he watches his sons and officials slaughtered by the Babylonians.  He is chained and forced to walk with the rest of the exiles on the long road to Babylon—the blind, leading the blind.  Had Zedekiah trusted God and obeyed His Word through Jeremiah, the city would not have been destroyed and his sons would not have been killed (38:17).  Here is a cautionary tale reminding us that disobedience ultimately brings disaster.

Another difference in emphasis is how chapter 39 and 52 retell the capture and destruction of Jerusalem is the emphasis on what happens to the Temple.  While chapter 52 goes into considerable detail (17-23), chapter 39 does not even mention the Temple.  Instead, chapter 39 only highlights the burning of the “royal palace”, the houses of the people and the tearing down of the city walls (8).  This may be because chapter 39 is showing the damage Zedekiah’s disobedience had on him, his place and the city he ruled.  When we choose to disobey, we get burned.

devineBy contrast, this chapter highlights the protection God afforded Jeremiah.  Amidst the carnage and chaos, God keeps his promise to preserve Jeremiah’s life (15:20-21).  Zedekiah runs from the captured city, but can’t get away.  Jeremiah is confined in a burning city but is kept safe.  While the rest of the people are put into chains (“bronze shackles”—7), Jeremiah has his removed (11-14).  Where Zedekiah and the Jewish captives were forced into exile, Jeremiah is free to choose where he will live.  Where others have no say in their future, Jeremiah is given “whatever he asks” (12).  Where Nebuchadnezzar pronounces harsh judgment on Zedekiah (5), he commands that Jeremiah be treated well (“Take him and look after him; don’t harm him but do for him whatever he asks”—12).  The chapter is emphasizing, through contrast, God’s judgment on a faithless king and His protection of a faithful servant.

One of the great ironies of the book is seen in this chapter:  Jeremiah is honoured, respected and protected by Nebuchadnezzar, the pagan king of Babylon.  Throughout his ministry, Jeremiah had been ignored, oppressed and imprisoned by the final kings of Israel (Josiah’s sons).  Jehoiakim actively attacked him; Zedekiah passively abandoned him.  But when Jerusalem falls, the conquering Babylonian king makes sure that Jeremiah is given safety and freedom.  Nebuchadnezzar’s treatment of Zedekiah, his sons, and the palace officials shows that he could be ruthless and severe.  Yet, he gives a royal command to Nebuzaradan, the commander of the imperial guard, to take good care of Jeremiah (11-12).

Nebuchadnezzar had obviously heard of Jeremiah and his predictions of Babylonian success.  Likely, his familiarity came from the reports of the Jews who had “gone over” to the Babylonians (9).  Beyond that, God had worked in Nebuchadnezzar’s heart (“my servant”—25:9) to move him to be favourably inclined towards Jeremiah.  “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases” (Proverbs 21:1).  In this way, God elevated Jeremiah in the eyes of the Babylonian leaders (13).  God also kept His promise to protect him from the “grasp of the cruel”—whether the cruel kings of Judah or the king of Babylon (15:20-21).

The chapter ends with a flashback to a message God sent through Jeremiah to Ebed-Melech in the final days of the siege of Jerusalem (15-18).  Ebed-Melech, who is always identified as a Cushite (a Gentile), was a court official who had courageously spoken up for Jeremiah when other officials had lowered him into a mire-filled cistern (38:7-13).  His actions saved Jeremiah’s life; now God has a life-saving message to him in the face of impending death and destruction:  “I will rescue you . . . I will save you; you will not fall by the sword but will escape with your life” (17-18).

The reason given for God’s saving intervention is Ebed-Melech’s reliance on God (“because you trust in me”—18).  This trust in God had been shown by his willingness to speak up for Jeremiah, risking the king’s rejection and the retaliation of his fellow officials.  His trust was seen as genuine though he, like others in the city, was afraid of the enemies at the gate (“those you fear”—17).  His trust in God would not keep him from seeing the coming devastation (“before your eyes”—16) but would allow him to escape with his life (18).  As 2 Peter 2:9 says, “the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials.”  Jeremiah and Ebed-Melech would be living proof.

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Prayer Update February 1, 2019

hIt’s weather outside has been frigid this week; but inside Heritage, the spiritual climate inside has been warm and inviting.  Over the past week, I’ve (Rick) enjoyed teaching a pastoral leadership course as well as a preaching course to sharp young seminary students.  Linda and I also had the joy of speaking on marriage and ministry to a gathering of pastors and ministry leaders.

Last week, we had our annual Heritage Board retreat.  I thank the Lord for Board members who are committed to the mission God has given Heritage.  We had a tender time as we reflected on God’s faithfulness in the past and as we prayerfully envisioned what God might have for the school in the future. Exciting times.

Here are some prayer requests I’d ask you to remember in the coming week.

map1Missions Conference:   Next Monday through Wednesday is our annual Missions Conference—one of the highlights of the year at Heritage.  We cancel classes for several days to focus on God’s heart for the world and our part in sharing gospel locally and globally.  Please ask God to work through the Conference to send out workers into His harvest field (Luke 10:2).

Marketing Director:  We are currently interviewing for the position of Marketing Director at Heritage.  We are looking for a person with a vibrant faith in Christ and a passion to help us get the word out about Heritage.  (If you know someone who should apply, let me know).

mapESL Outreach:  Linda works with Heritage students to offer several ESL (English as a Second Language) classes each week.  One class meets in the local library and the other on our campus.  It’s been a joy to meet the new Canadians who come to the classes.  Pray for the friendship outreach that takes place through these classes.

Thank you for your interest and intercession!

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 38)

38Chapter 38 continues the narrative begun in the previous chapter by telling us what transpired after Jeremiah was accused of desertion and imprisoned in the courtyard of the guard.  Things go from bad to worse for Jeremiah and for king Zedekiah.  Yet in the midst of the mire, there are glimmers of God’s grace in the way God preserves the life of his faithful, suffering prophet.  There are also glimpses of the inner workings of Zedekiah’s heart, especially the dynamics that keep him from trusting and obeying God.

Though under arrest and imprisoned in the courtyard, Jeremiah is not silenced.  Evidently, he continues to proclaim a message of impending destruction for the city, encouraging people to surrender to the Babylonians (“whoever goes over to the Babylonians will live”—2).  This message doesn’t sit well with some of the king’s officials; they complain to the king that Jeremiah is “discouraging the soldiers . . . as well as the people by the things he is saying to them” (4).  Jeremiah is branded as a traitor, one who aids the agenda of the adversary.  The officials contend he is “not seeking the good (שָׁלוֹם) of these people but their ruin” (4).  Actually, the reverse is true.

Four officials are mentioned as petitioning the king to put Jeremiah to death for what they see as treasonous words.  One of the men (Gedaliah) may have been the son of the Pashhur who had earlier punished Jeremiah (20:1-6).  The king’s response to their request reveals his pattern of weak, unprincipled leadership.  “‘He is in your hands,’ Zedekiah answered.  ‘The king can do nothing to oppose you’” (5).  He abdicates his role as leader; like Pilate, he washes his hands and claims to be innocent of the outcome.

jeremiahliftedGod’s grace and fidelity to His promise to protect Jeremiah’s life (1:18-19) are seen in what happens next.  First, the officials do not kill Jeremiah (though evidently given tacit permission to do so); instead, they lower him, Joseph-like, into a pit.  Second, another court official, Ebed-Melech, takes it on himself to approach the king, accuse the other officials of acting “wickedly” (9), and plead for Jeremiah’s removal from the cistern.  A third evidence of God’s preserving grace is seen in Zedekiah’s response:  he uses his rediscovered royal authority to have Jeremiah extricated from the cistern and held (once again) in the courtyard of the guard (10-13).  Fourth, he grants Jeremiah favour with the vacillating king so that Zedekiah uses his power to protect Jeremiah from the officials who are still seeking his life (16).

This chapter presents a contrast between Jeremiah and Zedekiah.  Both are confined:  Jeremiah in a courtyard; Zedekiah in a besieged city.  Both have enemies who are (or at least may be) seeking to kill them:  for Jeremiah, it’s some of the royal officials (4, 16); for Zedekiah, it’s (at least in his mind) some of the Jews who surrendered to the Babylonians (19).  Both receive the word of the Lord: Jeremiah through revelation; Zedekiah through proclamation.  The big difference between the two is their response to God’s word:  Jeremiah trusts and obeys it; Zedekiah does not (20). For his courageous faith in God’s word, Jeremiah was lowered into a cistern and literally “sank down into the mud” (6).  For his fearful disobedience to God’s word, Zedekiah would figuratively have his “feet . . . sunk in the mud” (22).  Jeremiah would be lifted out of the “mud and mire” (Psalm 40:2), where Zedekiah would remain mired in a terrible situation.  He would be captured, his city burned, his “trusted friends” would desert him (22) and his family killed before his eyes.

Zedekiah’s fear of man (“I am afraid of the Jews who have gone over to the Babylonians, for the Babylonians may hand me over to them and they will mistreat me”—19) trumps his fear of God.  He swears by God’s name (16) but won’t trust and obey God’s word.  He wants to hear what Jeremiah has to say (14) but won’t commit to doing what he hears.  He leans on his “trusted friends” (“men of peace”—22) instead of trusting in the Lord.  When faced with a binary choice to obey or disobey, he chooses to disobey by choosing not to obey.  Sadly, his disobedience as a leader proves terribly costly, both for him and those he leads.  The city, which could have been spared (17), is demolished.  His family members, who could have lived (17), are killed before his eyes (39:6).  Where Jeremiah is pulled out of the mud, Zedekiah and his people sink into it.

ebedOne touching aspect of this episode is the courageous action taken by Ebed-Melech to rescue Jeremiah from death in the cistern (7-13).  Ebed-Melech (“servant of the king”) is one of the king’s officials (perhaps a eunuch) and was a foreigner (a Cushite—person of colour from the Upper Nile region). He approaches the king as he is “sitting in the Benjamin Gate” (7).  Authorities often administered justice in the city gates, so perhaps Zedekiah was judging internal matters that day.  Ebed-Melech publically accuses his fellow officials of “acting wickedly in all they have done to Jeremiah the prophet” (8).  The king orders Ebed-Melech to take thirty men (perhaps expecting resistance) and pull Jeremiah out of the pit (in spite of his earlier decision to allow the officials to punish Jeremiah—5).

Ebed-Melech is the Old Testament equivalent of the Good Samaritan, a foreigner who shows compassion when others will not.  God uses an unlikely hero to fulfill His promise of protecting Jeremiah’s life.  Because of Ebed-Melech’s courageous support of Jeremiah and his “trust” in the Lord (39:17), God promises to protect his life when the city falls (39:15-17).  Here is another example that those from any nation who trust in the Lord and take action to live out their faith (in spite of the personal risk) are noticed and blessed by “the Lord Almighty” (39:16).  God is no respecter of persons and desires to bless all who trust in Him.

One interesting side note relates to how Jeremiah answers the officials who want to know about his conversation with the king (24-27).  Zedekiah tells Jeremiah to hide some of their private conversation from the officials for his safety’s sake.  Jeremiah complies:  “he told them everything the king had ordered him to say” (27)  Though he regularly and fearlessly proclaims God’s message, he uses discretion as well.

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