186 - Jerusalem Goes Up in Flames
Jeremiah prophesied that the only way the Jews could leave the besieged city of Jerusalem alive was to surrender to the Babylonian army (see #185 - July 4). This upset the king’s officials. They demanded that King Zedekiah put the prophet to death. “He is a traitor,” they argued. “He is trying to discourage the soldiers who are fighting for us and the people who are trapped in this city.” Zedekiah gave them permission to do whatever they wanted to Jeremiah. So, they lowered him with ropes into an empty well. Although there was no water in the well, the bottom was filled with mud, and Jeremiah sank into it. Ebed-Melek, a servant of the king, heard what had happened to the prophet. He knew that Jeremiah would slowly starve to death in the pit, so he reported it to the king. Even though he had given the officials permission to do whatever they wanted to Jeremiah, King Zedekiah was not happy with this form of punishment. He ordered Ebed-Melek to take 30 men and pull him out. They hoisted him up with a rope and placed him under guard in the courtyard. Soon King Zedekiah called Jeremiah to the palace for a private meeting. He admitted that he was afraid to surrender to the Babylonians—not because he was afraid of what the Babylonians would do to him. He was afraid of what the Jewish people who had become traitors and joined the Babylonian army would do to him. Jeremiah repeated God’s message: “If you surrender to the Babylonians, God will protect you. If you don’t, your feet will be the ones sinking in the mud!” The king ordered Jeremiah not to tell anyone about their conversation, and he sent Jeremiah back to the courtyard. Finally, after a siege that lasted two and a half years, the Babylonians broke through the walls of Jerusalem and stormed the city. When Zedekiah and his soldiers heard what had happened, they fled. They left the city at night sneaking out through a gate in the king’s garden. But the next day the Babylonian army caught up and captured them. They made Zedekiah watch as they killed his sons. This was the last thing he ever saw— because they gouged out his eyes! They put him in chains and led him to Babylon. The Babylonians totally destroyed Jerusalem. They broke down the walls. They burned the Temple as well as the palace and all the houses. They gathered the people who remained in the city, together with those who had previously surrendered, and led them to Babylon. They left only a few people behind to care for the land. Nebuchadnezzar had heard stories about Jeremiah. He told the commander of his guards to find him and make sure he was okay. The commander undid Jeremiah’s chains and told him, “You are free to go. If you come to Babylon with us, we will take care of you. But you may stay in Judah if you prefer. Jeremiah chose to stay in his own land. God also allowed Ebed-Melek (who freed Jeremiah from the well) and Baruch (the scribe who had written and boldly read Jeremiah’s words—see #183 - July 2) to stay in Judah.
It isn’t always the people we know best who treat us kindly. Jeremiah was put in a pit and chained in a courtyard by his own countrymen. It was the people he knew the least who set him free—the Babylonians. God always knows where we are and what we need, and He sometimes sends unlikely people to bless us!