Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon gave command concerning Jeremiah through Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, saying, “Take him, look after him well, and do him no harm, but deal with him as he tells you.” So Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, Nebushazban the Rab-saris, Nergal-sar-ezer the Rab-mag, and all the chief officers of the king of Babylon sent and took Jeremiah from the court of the guard. They entrusted him to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, that he should take him home. So he lived among the people.
The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah while he was shut up in the court of the guard: “Go, and say to Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will fulfill my words against this city for harm and not for good, and they shall be accomplished before you on that day. But I will deliver you on that day, declares the Lord, and you shall not be given into the hand of the men of whom you are afraid. For I will surely save you, and you shall not fall by the sword, but you shall have your life as a prize of war, because you have put your trust in me, declares the Lord.’”
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord after Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had let him go from Ramah, when he took him bound in chains along with all the captives of Jerusalem and Judah who were being exiled to Babylon. The captain of the guard took Jeremiah and said to him, “The Lord your God pronounced this disaster against this place. The Lord has brought it about, and has done as he said. Because you sinned against the Lord and did not obey his voice, this thing has come upon you. Now, behold, I release you today from the chains on your hands. If it seems good to you to come with me to Babylon, come, and I will look after you well, but if it seems wrong to you to come with me to Babylon, do not come. See, the whole land is before you; go wherever you think it good and right to go. If you remain, then return to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon appointed governor of the cities of Judah, and dwell with him among the people. Or go wherever you think it right to go.” So the captain of the guard gave him an allowance of food and a present, and let him go. Then Jeremiah went to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, at Mizpah, and lived with him among the people who were left in the land. – Jeremiah 39:11-40:6 ESV
For nearly two decades, Jeremiah had lived as an outcast among his own people. He was greatly disliked by the people, hated by the king and his officials, and treated like a social pariah. He had been given the unenviable task of speaking as God’s prophet, delivering His call to repentance and warnings of pending judgment. Little, if anything, Jeremiah had to say to the people was well-received. They despised his constant calls to repent. He was a like corporate conscience, convicting the people of their rebellion against God and reminding them of their need to return to Him in humility. But that is not something they wanted to do. And being reminded of their sins day in and day out was not something they particularly enjoyed. Jeremiah got on their nerves. He caused them to feel guilty over all their guilty pleasures. They wished him nothing but ill will. They had even demanded that he be put to death. Even the king had given permission to have Jeremiah thrown in an empty cistern or well, where he would die a slow, agonizing death. But God had rescued Jeremiah and it had been Zedekiah, the king, who was forced to watch his sons killed right in front of him and then had his eyes gouged out.
But Jeremiah, the social outcast, was to enjoy a different outcome to this story. When the Babylonians finally invaded Jerusalem, ransacking, pillaging and taking thousands of its citizens captive, Jeremiah was treated with dignity and respect. The Babylonian officials released him from his confinement in the court of the guard, where King Zedekiah had left him. Jeremiah was placed in the custody of Gedaliah. This man is carefully described as “son of Ahikam and grandson of Shaphan” (Jeremiah 39:14 NLT). This designation is important, because Anikam was the official in the court of Jehoiakim the king, who had spoken up for Jeremiah after he had been accused of being a false prophet. He had played a major role in helping to spare Jeremiah’s life. And Shaphan, Gedaliah’s grandfather, was the official who had brought to the attention of King Josiah the discovery of the book of the law. This had led to Josiah instituting reforms in Judah, attempting to call the people back to the worship of Yahweh alone. This family would continue to play a significant part in Jeremiah’s life and God would reward them for their efforts on the prophet’s behalf, with Gedaliah eventually being made the governor of Judah by King Nebuchadnezzar.
God’s hand was on Jeremiah. He had been faithful to God, delivering the words given to him by God and standing up to the forces aligned against him. Now, God was going to reward Jeremiah for his efforts. When he found himself in chains along with the others who had been selected to be taken as captives to Babylon, Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, delivered a surprising message to Jeremiah.
“The Lord your God has brought this disaster on this land, just as he said he would. For these people have sinned against the Lord and disobeyed him. That is why it happened. But I am going to take off your chains and let you go. If you want to come with me to Babylon, you are welcome. I will see that you are well cared for. But if you don’t want to come, you may stay here. The whole land is before you—go wherever you like. If you decide to stay, then return to Gedaliah son of Ahikam and grandson of Shaphan. He has been appointed governor of Judah by the king of Babylon. Stay there with the people he rules. But it’s up to you; go wherever you like.” – Jeremiah 40:2-5 NLT
It’s important to keep in mind that this is a pagan from the court of the king of Babylon. He was not a worshiper of Yahweh and yet, he knew that the fall of Judah had been the work of God. He knew that it had been God who had brought disaster upon the people of Judah and he also knew why. Because they had disobeyed God. This pagan, who had his own gods he worshiped and revered, was well aware that the fall of Judah was because they had been unfaithful to their God. And recognizing Jeremiah as a prophet, he offered him a choice of either returning with him to Babylon or remaining in the land of Judah. Jeremiah was being offered a chance to escape the destruction and devastation of Judah and return to Babylon where Nebuzaradan promised to care for him, or he could remain in Judah under the care of Gedaliah. It was up to him. But before Jeremiah could make his decision, Nebuzaradan made it for him, encouraging him to remain in Judah. Then he “gave Jeremiah some food and money and let him go” (Jeremiah 40:5 NLT).
It is interesting to note that Jeremiah was treated with dignity and respect by the conquering armies of Babylon. And in the midst of this section of the story, we are given a glimpse into Jeremiah’s treatment of Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, who had rescued Jeremiah out of the cistern. While Jeremiah had still been confined to the court of the guard, God had given him a message concerning Ebed-melech.
“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: I will do to this city everything I have threatened. I will send disaster, not prosperity. You will see its destruction, but I will rescue you from those you fear so much. Because you trusted me, I will give you your life as a reward. I will rescue you and keep you safe. I, the Lord, have spoken!’” – Jeremiah 39:16-18 NLT
God was taking care of His own. He protected Gedaliah because of his family’s treatment of Jeremiah. He rewarded Ebed-melech for risking his life to plead for the release of Jeremiah. And He gave Jeremiah his freedom by speaking through a royal official of the Babylonian court. While Jerusalem smoldered and thousands of its citizens were being led away in chains, God was sparing a remnant. Jeremiah, Gedaliah, and Ebed-melech would join “the few who were still left in the land” (Jeremiah 40:6 NLT). They would remain behind, while the rest of their fellow citizens were deported to Babylon. Jeremiah would live among the people. Why? Because his job was not yet done. He still had work to do.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.