Jeremiah Finally Freed (2 Kings 25:22; Jeremiah 39:11-40:6) December 18-19
Jeremiah's experience provides a wonderful lesson for all Christians. No matter what we face in life, we can count on God seeing us through—sometimes in the most unexpected of ways.
After decades of living under constant threat to his life and having just spent the past two years in prison, Jeremiah is at last set free—by the Babylonians of all people. While God was ultimately behind this, it nevertheless makes sense politically on a human level. In its note on Jeremiah 39:11-14, The Expositor's Bible Commentary explains: "Undoubtedly the Babylonians had favorable information about Jeremiah and probably considered him a sympathizer. Besides, those who had deserted Judah in the siege gave a report of him. Jeremiah's advice about submitting to Babylon even during the siege had been proclaimed over so long a time that it could not have escaped the attention of the Babylonian authorities. They realized that he was no threat to them. Paradoxically he was treated better by foreign invaders than by his own countrymen whom he so dearly loved (v. 12)."
Moreover, "Prophets whose words were deemed verified were generally treated well by peoples of the ancient Middle East" (Nelson Study Bible, note on 40:2-3). In any case, "word was passed along (v. 13) to release Jeremiah from the courtyard of the guard and entrust him to Gedaliah, the appointed governor, with whom he was to remain (v. 14). Gedaliah was the son of Ahikam, who had been active in saving Jeremiah's life [during Jehoiakim's reign] (cf. 26:24). For three generations [Gedaliah's] family had been true to the word of the Lord that came through his prophets" (Expositor's, note on Jeremiah 39:11-14). Gedaliah's father Ahikam and his father Shaphan had both served as important officials during Josiah's reign (see 2 Kings 22:12; Chronicles 34:20).
"Since Nebuchadnezzar was fond of Jeremiah, Gedaliah's [well-known] relationship with the prophet could have influenced Nebuchadnezzar's choice of him as governor of Judah" (Mastering the Old Testament, Vol. 9: 1, 2 Kings by Russell Dilday, 1987). Moreover, "of the prominent men of Jerusalem, only Jeremiah and Gedaliah were left behind ([2 Kings 25] v. 22; cf. Jer 39:11-14)... Accordingly Gedaliah, who probably had the needed training, seemed the logical choice to be Babylon's governor designate over the newly formed district" (Expositor's, note on 2 Kings 25:22-24).
Remarkably, archaeology has confirmed Gedaliah's importance: "A clay seal-impression found at Lachish reads: 'Belonging to Gedaliah, who is over the house.' The title 'who is over the house' was reserved for the highest office at the royal court next to the king. In the Bible, this title was held by Shebna, under king Hezekiah, until Shebna was reduced in rank to a scribe (Isa. 22:15-7; 36:3; 2 Kings 18:18)" (Walter Kaiser Jr., A History of Israel, 1988, pp. 405-406).
Jeremiah 39:11-14 and 40:1-6 give us two accounts of Jeremiah's release, and some have seen a contradiction between them. "But," notes Expositor's, "the passages may be harmonized in this way: (1) at the command of Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah was released from prison and committed to the care of Gedaliah; (2) while captives were being transferred to Babylon, Jeremiah mingled with the people (cf. 39:14) to comfort and instruct them in their new life (3) in the confusion of the mass deportation, Jeremiah was not recognized by the soldiers who placed him in chains with the others; and (4) at Ramah [about five miles north of Jerusalem] he was recognized by officials and released (40:1)...Perhaps the situation was that those who had not borne arms, among them Jeremiah, were taken by the Babylonians to Ramah as prisoners until Nebuchadnezzar decided their fate. Later, when Nebuzaradan came to Jerusalem to carry out the king's commands regarding the city, at the special order of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuzaradan sent for Jeremiah from the prisoners taken to Ramah, freed him, and allowed him to choose his residence. In a condensed account, Jeremiah's release from his imprisonment might be spoken of as a sending for him out of prison, even though at the exact time of his liberation he was not in the courtyard of the palace guard in Jerusalem but had already been carried away to Ramah as an exile" (note on 39:11-14).
Nebuzaradan recognizes that Judah's fall is the result of the Jews' sin against their God. "Consider the irony of a foreigner stating the truth concerning the reason for Jerusalem's destruction" (Nelson Study Bible, note on 40:2-3). Releasing God's prophet, Nebuzaradan gives him the choice of where to go. Apparently God told Jeremiah what to do or the mention of the "word...from the LORD" in verse 1 seems out of context. (Perhaps verse 1 should properly read, as in the NIV, "The word came..." rather than the NKJV rendering, "The word that came...")
The prophet goes to the new provincial capital of Mizpah to serve under Gedaliah, "staying with his people not far from his hometown [of Anathoth] and the property he had purchased while in the court of the prison (32:1-15). Mizpah was about eight miles north of Jerusalem," and thus just a few miles north of Ramah (Nelson Study Bible, note on 40:6).
But before leaving, Jeremiah has a message to relay that God had given him while he was still in prison. During Jeremiah's terrible ordeal in the prison dungeon or cistern, a lone voice had cried out to rescue him—the voice of an Ethiopian eunuch for whom we don't even have a real name. He is simply referred to as Ebed-Melech, meaning "the king's servant." For reasons that are not explained, Zedekiah made an uncharacteristic decision and Jeremiah was taken out of the cistern. Notice, too, that Ebed-Melech's faith was a key element in this story (39:18). Being a foreigner didn't exempt him from God's grace and care. As the apostle Peter would later come to understand, "God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him" (Acts 10:34-35).
The contrast between most of the Jews at that time and Ebed-Melech illustrates an important principle—that loyalty to God is ultimately an individual matter, not a collective one. A Christian's salvation depends on his own dedication to, and personal reliance on, God—not a particular nationality at that time or membership in a specific church organization today (compare Philippians 2:12). God had promised the Israelites that if they obeyed Him, they would be blessed. But He also promised that foreigners who lived in Israel would share in Israel's blessings if they, too, followed Him (Exodus 12:49; Leviticus 19:34; 25:35). He chose Israel in the first place not to make them an exclusive race, but rather to make them into a model people whereby all nations could learn of His ways and receive His benefits.
Like Jeremiah's faith, Ebed-Melech's was rewarded by God—as our own faith will be if we put our trust in Him.