The book of Jeremiah details the prophecies and ministry of the prophet Jeremiah in the years leading up to and during the Babylonian exile of Judah. Chapter 39 focuses on the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 BC and the fate of King Zedekiah. This was the climax of Jeremiah’s prophetic warnings about God’s impending judgment on Judah for its idolatry and injustice.
Key Takeaways from Jeremiah Chapter 39
- The fall of Jerusalem fulfills Jeremiah’s consistent prophecies that the city would be conquered as divine punishment.
- Zedekiah attempts to flee but is captured, blinded, and taken captive to Babylon – a fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecies about his fate.
- The Babylonians destroy Jerusalem’s walls, palace, and many houses, plundering the city’s wealth.
- Jeremiah is freed by the Babylonians when Nebuchadnezzar had ordered his protection.
- Ebed-Melek the Cushite is also spared, fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy that he would be rescued for his faith in God.
- The remnant of people left in Judah are left as vinedressers and farmers.
In this chapter we see the weighty fulfillment of Jeremiah’s difficult ministry and message. God’s justice and judgment came to pass, even as His prophet had declared. Yet there was also mercy for Jeremiah and those like Ebed-Melek who trusted in the Lord. As Jerusalem fell, God was still sovereign over the nations and working out His purposes.
Commentary on Jeremiah Chapter 39
39:1-2 – The Fall of Jerusalem
In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army came against Jerusalem and besieged it. In the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, on the ninth day of the month, the city was penetrated. (Jeremiah 39:1-2 NKJV)
After nearly two decades of prophecy, Jeremiah’s predictions finally came true. The Babylonians conquered Jerusalem after a long siege, just as Jeremiah had said they would (Jeremiah 32:3-5). God had spoken through His prophet about the future, and now it unfolded exactly according to His sovereign plan.
This was a grim vindication for Jeremiah. He had preached repentance to Judah for years, warning that Babylon would come if the people did not turn from their idolatry and wickedness. Sadly his message went unheeded by kings and common people alike. Now the day of reckoning had arrived.
Nebuchadnezzar’s forces penetrated the seemingly impenetrable city walls after months of siege. Famine and disease had weakened the city’s defenders (Jeremiah 38:2-3). Jeremiah’s words to King Hezekiah years earlier had proven true: “Behold, the days are coming…when all that is in your house, and what your fathers have accumulated until this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left” (Jeremiah 20:5 NKJV). Judgment had come.
39:3-7 – Zedekiah’s Failed Escape and Capture
Then all the princes of the king of Babylon came in and sat in the Middle Gate: Nergal-Sharezer, Samgar-Nebo, Sarsechim the Rab-saris, Nergal-Sarezer the Rab-mag, with all the rest of the princes of the king of Babylon. So it was, when Zedekiah the king of Judah and all the men of war saw them, that they fled and went out of the city at night by way of the king’s garden, by the gate between the two walls. And he went out by way of the plain. But the Chaldean army pursued them and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho. And when they had captured him, they brought him up to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, to Riblah in the land of Hamath, where he pronounced judgment on him. Then the king of Babylon killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes in Riblah; the king of Babylon also killed all the nobles of Judah. Moreover he put out Zedekiah’s eyes, and bound him with bronze fetters to carry him off to Babylon. (Jeremiah 39:3-7 NKJV)
As Jerusalem fell, King Zedekiah attempted to escape under the cover of night. Earlier Jeremiah had prophesied that Zedekiah would be captured trying to flee and would be taken to Babylon, though he would not see the city (Jeremiah 32:4-5, 34:3). Now Zedekiah realized the prophecy was coming true and tried to run away, but God’s word could not be undone.
Nebuchadnezzar’s forces caught the fleeing king and brought him in chains to Riblah. There the king of Babylon coldly slaughtered Zedekiah’s sons before his eyes, probably to eliminate potential claimants to his throne. Then Nebuchadnezzar blinded Zedekiah so that the last thing he saw was the death of his heirs. Jeremiah’s prediction that he would never see Babylon but die there had come to pass (Jeremiah 34:3).
This was the tragic end for Judah’s final king. Zedekiah was a weak and indecisive ruler who disregarded Jeremiah’s counsel (Jeremiah 38:5). His 11-year reign ended in calamity because neither he nor his people repented at God’s call. The judgment for their sin was complete. Now Zedekiah would languish as an imprisoned blind man – a pitiful example of those who oppose the word of the Lord.
39:8-10 – The Destruction of Jerusalem
And the Chaldeans burned the king’s house and the houses of the people with fire, and broke down the walls of Jerusalem. Then Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive to Babylon the remnant of the people who remained in the city and those who defected to him, with the rest of the people who remained. But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left in the land of Judah the poor people, who had nothing, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time. (Jeremiah 39:8-10 NKJV)
The invading forces tore down Jerusalem’s mighty walls, burned important buildings, looted the city’s wealth, and carried away most of the inhabitants as captives. For generations Jerusalem’s walls seemed an impenetrable defense, but now they lay in ruins as Jeremiah had predicted (Jeremiah 1:13-15). The illusion of security apart from God was exposed.
Among the captives were survivors who had surrendered to the Babylonians. Interestingly, the commander Nebuzaradan chose to leave the “poor people, who had nothing” in Judah to tend the vineyards and fields (Jeremiah 39:10). Perhaps they were spared because they were not considered a threat, while the wealthy, educated elite were exiled to reduce chances of revolution. Their poverty spared them from deportation.
Jerusalem, once the thriving capital of a prosperous nation, now lay largely in ashes – its princes executed, temple treasures plundered, and people marched to a foreign land. None could claim that the catastrophe was undeserved in light of their chronic sin, injustice, and idolatry. The Lord had spoken clearly through Jeremiah for decades, but they did not listen. Now all Jeremiah’s prophecies had come to pass.
39:11-14 – Jeremiah Freed by the Babylonians
Now Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon gave charge concerning Jeremiah to Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, saying, “Take him and look after him, and do him no harm; but do to him just as he says to you.” And Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, Nebushasban, Rab-saris, Nergal-Sharezer, Rab-mag, and all the king of Babylon’s chief officers sent and took Jeremiah from the court of the prison, and committed him to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, that he should take him home. So he dwelt among the people. (Jeremiah 39:11-14 NKJV)
In the midst of judgment, God’s mercies continued for those who trusted in Him. Jeremiah was protected and freed by the Babylonians, probably because of his prophecies about their success against Jerusalem. What seemed to be a national disaster proved to be this faithful prophet’s personal deliverance.
Back in Jeremiah 38, King Zedekiah had imprisoned the prophet for speaking the truth. But when Jerusalem fell, Nebuchadnezzar gave orders to “do him no harm” (Jeremiah 39:12). So the Babylonian officers released Jeremiah and protected him. One of Nebuchadnezzar’s aides, Nebuzaradan, entrusted Jeremiah to Gedaliah the governor of occupied Judah (Jeremiah 40:5). So while his dire prophecies came true all around him, Jeremiah remained safe in God’s care.
This demonstrates God’s faithfulness to those who obey Him even through difficult circumstances. Jeremiah fulfilled his mission of proclaiming the truth, regardless of threats against his life. When judgment finally came, the Lord preserved His servant. Likewise, we can trust God to care for us when we speak and live for Him against all opposition.
39:15-18 – A Promise Kept to Ebed-Melek
Now the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, while he was shut up in the court of the prison, saying, “Go and speak to Ebed-Melek the Ethiopian, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Behold, I will bring My words upon this city for adversity and not for good, and they shall be performed in that day before you. But I will deliver you in that day,” says the Lord, “and you shall not be given into the hand of the men of whom you are afraid. For I will surely deliver you, and you shall not fall by the sword; but your life shall be as a prize to you, because you have put your trust in Me,” says the Lord.’” (Jeremiah 39:15-18 NKJV)
Earlier in his imprisonment, Jeremiah received a prophecy about an Ethiopian named Ebed-Melek who had helped rescue him from a muddy cistern (Jeremiah 38:7-13). The Lord promised to spare Ebed-Melek’s life when calamity came on Jerusalem “because you have put your trust in Me” (Jeremiah 39:18). Though he was a foreigner, Ebed-Melek believed Jeremiah’s words and acted to save the prophet’s life.
Now that prophecy was fulfilled. While judgment descended on Jerusalem’s inhabitants, the Lord preserved Ebed-Melek’s life as promised. His faith in Jeremiah’s message from God protected him, even though he was an outsider to the covenant nation. This demonstrated that ethnicity does not determine a person’s standing before God – faith does. Ebed-Melek “put his trust in the Lord” and was rewarded (Jeremiah 39:18), while the people of Jerusalem ignored God’s word through Jeremiah and suffered calamity.
The fulfillment of this promise to Ebed-Melek reminds us that God honors those who trust Him, regardless of background. Saving faith is not limited by race, class, or family ties. As with Abraham, it is “accounted to him for righteousness” (Galatians 3:6). God will preserve the faithful.
The sobering events of Jeremiah 39 marked the fulfillment of this prophet’s often unwelcome ministry. The people of Judah had rejected his messages of repentance for decades. Now Babylon’s armies invaded just as Jeremiah had foretold, destroying Jerusalem and taking captive those who survived. Even the final king, Zedekiah, saw his efforts to resist God’s word fail utterly in the end.
Yet amid the rubble of Jerusalem, glimmers of hope appeared. A faithful foreigner like Ebed-Melek was preserved through the crisis. And Jeremiah, though imprisoned for speaking truth, was freed to continue his prophetic mission. God remained just and merciful despite the people’s stubbornness.
The book of Jeremiah reminds us that judgment comes to those who continually reject God’s gracious warnings. But it also reassures that He protects the faithful who believe His word against all odds. Those who trust the Lord, not earthly power, stand secure.