Chapter four brings Jeremiah back to describing the state of Jerusalem. Gold and jewels, which were once valuable, were worthless (Lamentations 4:1). There was no food or water or shelter; cannibalism had become normal (Lamentations 4:4-5, 9-10). Disease was rampant (Lamentations 4:8), and no one was willing to help them (Lamentations 4:14-16).
In a slight departure from chapters one and two, where Jerusalem was personified, now the inhabitants of Jerusalem spoke (Lamentations 4:17-20). Recalling the fateful days when Nebuchadnezzar was at their door, they remembered looking for help that did not come and running until there was nowhere else to go. Even the one they thought could save them – their “very life breath” – their king was unable to do anything.
The last two verses of the chapter seem out-of-place in this book about Jerusalem’s ruin. Jeremiah turned his attention to Edom (Esau’s descendants), who had been mentioned only briefly in his prophecies (Jeremiah 25:21; 27:3; 49:7-22). Essentially, he said, “Laugh now, Edom, because your turn is coming!” Israel would be restored, but Edom would be annihilated forever.
Chapter twelve finishes the message of chapter eleven about Israel’s deliverance. In the Messianic kingdom, Israel’s attitude of arrogance will be turned to humility and trust in God (Isaiah 12:1-2). They will acknowledge the punishment that they were due, thank Jehovah for his deliverance, and finally show their complete reliance on him. They will draw their life from their relationship with him, and they will share that with the Gentile nations, calling on them to worship Jehovah as well (Isaiah 12:3-6).
The title “the Holy One of Israel” is a favorite phrase of Isaiah, occurring 19 times in this book. It is found only three other times in the entire Old Testament (2 Kings 19:22; Psalm 71:22; Jeremiah 50:29). This fits Isaiah’s overall theme of Jehovah’s salvation and may be linked back to his commissioning in chapter six, when he heard the seraphim chanting “holy, holy, holy.”
Chapter eleven continues the theme of Israel’s restoration. Picking up on the analogy of Assyria as a great tree to be cut down, Isaiah pointed to the coming Messiah as “a shoot…out of Jesse’s root stock, a bud…from his roots” (Isaiah 11:1). Like his father, David, this king will have God’s Spirit on him, helping him make wise and godly decisions over God’s people. He will execute perfect justice and righteousness, which will characterize his reign (Isaiah 11:2-5). During his kingdom, the curse on creation will be lifted (Genesis 9:2, 5; Romans 8:19-22), and his kingdom will cover the entire earth.
Messiah’s rule will not be over Israel only but over all the nations (Isaiah 11:10-16). One of the key indicators that it is truly Messiah’s kingdom will be the return of the remnant to the land of Israel from all the nations where they will be. None of the other returns to date (Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1948), or even in the Tribulation, can be the fulfillment, because Messiah is not in Jerusalem yet. Additionally, there will be topographical changes as well, including the drying up of the Euphrates River before their return (Revelation 16:12). This return will be an event reminiscent of, but much greater than, the exodus from Egypt (see Jeremiah 16:14-15).
Chapters fifty and fifty-one, appropriately, deal with Babylon, the great empire of that time. Although they were considered invincible in Jeremiah’s day, God promised that they, too, would face invasion, captivity, and humiliation at the hands of another nation. The “nation from the north” (Jeremiah 50:3) was Medo-Persia, which executed a surprise attack in 539 B.C. during Belshazzar’s great feast and captured the city in one night (Daniel 5:29-31). God promised that this would be the catalyst so “the people of Israel and Judah will return to the land together. They will come back with tears of repentance as they seek the LORD their God” (Jeremiah 50:4). Exactly as prophesied, the Persians allowed the Jews to return to Israel. This took place in three waves under the leadership of Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah (read the story in Ezra and Nehemiah).
The overarching reason for God’s judgment on Babylon was their treatment of the Jewish people, specifically their invasion of Israel and looting of God’s temple (Jeremiah 50:11, 17, 29). Although he used Babylon to punish Israel (Habakkuk 1:5-11), that was already in their hearts, and God was required to punish them as well (Jeremiah 50:7), because of his promise to Abraham, whom he told that he would curse whoever looked on Abraham (extended to Israel) with even the slightest contempt (Genesis 12:3). Like Edom and Arabia, Babylon will ultimately be left dry and desolate with no hope of restoration (Jeremiah 50:38-40).
Chapters thirty-nine through forty-four contain many details about the third and final invasion that Nebuchadnezzar inflicted on Jerusalem. After six months of besieging Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar “broke through the city walls,” burned down the palace and Temple, and broke down the outside walls (Jeremiah 39:1-10). Although they did not try to fight, Zedekiah and his men did not surrender immediately either; instead, they tried to escape, but they were captured and brought to Nebuchadnezzar. He had them all executed, except Zedekiah, who was forced to watch the executions (including his sons), then had his eyes gouged out.
We are not told how Nebuchadnezzar knew directly of Jeremiah, but he made sure that Jeremiah was left unharmed (Jeremiah 39:11-14). He was turned over to Gedaliah, and he remained in Judah with others that Nebuchadnezzar left behind to keep the agriculture going. God also showed grace on Ebed Melech for his protection of Jeremiah and trust in God (Jeremiah 39:15-18). God promised that, although Ebed Melech would see the invasion, he would not be harmed by it but would survive.
Chapter thirty-eight demonstrates the increasing animosity the Jewish officials had toward Jeremiah, especially as the time came closer to when Nebuchadnezzar overtook Jerusalem. Although Zedekiah had Jeremiah confined to the Temple courtyard, others still insisted that he be executed because of his messages of impending disaster, so they approached the king with their desire (Jeremiah 38:1-6). Zedekiah was a weak-willed man, who seemed to cave into whoever was in front of him. Although he had already spared Jeremiah’s life, he quickly told the officials they could do whatever they wanted, so they put Jeremiah into a cistern. It was empty, but the bottom had a muddy sludge that Jeremiah sunk into.
An Ethiopian named Ebed Melech (Hebrew for “servant of the king”) discovered what they had done and asked Zedekiah if he could release Jeremiah (Jeremiah 38:7-13). The king gave him 30 men to rescue Jeremiah, which he did by making a rope of old rags and pulling Jeremiah out. Still, the king confined Jeremiah to the courtyard in the Temple.
Although Zedekiah did not believe or heed Jeremiah’s warning messages, he still somehow respected Jeremiah enough to meet with him in secret in order to get a message from God (showing his cowardice and fear of other people, much like King Saul; Jeremiah 38:14-28). The only message that Jeremiah would give him was the same one that he had always preached: fight and die or surrender and live. Zedekiah was rightly worried that, if he surrendered, his fellow Jewish captives would kill him. Jeremiah promised that would not be the case because God would protect him, and Zedekiah seemed satisfied with that. In an interesting point of detail, Zedekiah told Jeremiah to keep the content of this meeting a secret, especially if asked about it by the officials, and Jeremiah complied.
Chapter thirty-five contains an account set up as a contrary example of chapter thirty-four. It is possible that “Jonadab son of Rechab” is the same as “Jehonadab, son of Rekab” in 2 Kings 10. Jehonadab was a godly man who helped Jehu eliminate Baal worship in Israel. The Rechabite community was a tribe of nomads who followed the laws established by Jonadab. If this is the same man from 2 Kings 10, these families had been following his laws for about 240 years. When Jeremiah offered them wine in the Temple, they refused, citing Jonadab.
God used this situation to set up a message to the covenant-breakers of chapter thirty-four. “You must learn a lesson from this about obeying what I say!” (Jeremiah 35:13) God pointed to the Rechabites as an example of two centuries of obedience to a man who gave laws about not building homes, planting vineyards, or drinking wine. All of these were nothing compared to the laws God gave his people, yet they violated them consistently. Because of their disobedience, God promised that they would suffer at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. However, because of the Rechabites’ faithfulness, God promised that someone from their family would always “stand before” him. This could refer to a specific ministry in the Temple.