Babylon’s army comes back to Jerusalem, just as Jeremiah has said. They lay siege to it for a year and a half before breaking through the wall and taking over. King Zedekiah of Judah and all his soldiers flee in the night, trying to get away, but they’re overtaken, 39:1-4. Elsewhere we learn that he’s left his wives and daughters behind, 41:10. 16.
Jeremiah had said that Zedekiah would be spared and “it will go well with you” if he surrendered to his enemies. But if he didn’t, his wives and children would be harmed, and he would be captured and the city burned. As is typical of Zedekiah, he doesn’t take Jeremiah’s words to heart and runs away instead, 38:20-22.
When he’s captured, he’s taken to Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar, who slaughters his sons and nobles before his eyes, and then blinds him and puts him in shackles to take him to Babylon, 39:5-9. His wives and daughters are later gathered up by a band of marauders who have staged a coup to kill everyone left in Jerusalem, including the Babylonian soldiers stationed there, 41:1-3, 10. God’s kind offer of life to Zedekiah if he surrendered to the Babylonians (in yesterday’s reading) was tossed aside with disastrous consequences.
I can’t help but compare King Zedekiah’s treatment with that of the outcast prophet, Jeremiah. Nebuchadnezzar gave specific orders to his commander, Nebuzaradan, regarding Jeremiah, “Take him and look after him; don’t harm him but do for him whatever he asks.” While this same invading king has brutalized Zedekiah, he has given special orders to show kindness to the last person in Jerusalem that anyone respects, 39:11-14.
Jeremiah is released from his prison cell in the palace courtyard, but somehow gets mixed up with the captives and is bound in chains again to be sent off to Babylon. Nebuzaradan finds him, frees him a second time, and offers him a choice: Jeremiah can come with him to Babylon where Nebuzaradan will look after him, or he can stay in his own land and live where he likes. The honor of this offer isn’t lost on me and wouldn’t have been lost on Jeremiah or the other captives with him either, who are still in their chains and bound for Babylon, 39:14, 40:1-5.
Jeremiah is an old man now. He’s spoken God’s words and wept over God’s hardhearted people for 40 years. The book of Lamentations records those tears and the details of the events that have caused them. After so long a time, faithfully extending God’s warnings in love to them and being rejected and oppressed in return, I’m thinking Jeremiah would opt for a cushy retirement in Babylon, where he’s offered VIP treatment by the king’s right hand man, away from these hateful people.
But Jeremiah chooses to stay in his own land with them instead. It’s only the very poor who are left behind to work and provide oil and wine for Babylon. They’re among those who have despised not only Jeremiah, but God himself. That Jeremiah chooses to remain with them is astonishing to me. It’s a faithfulness that reminds me of Jesus, faithful to folks who mocked as he bled for them.
Why does Jeremiah stay?
I’m guessing for the same reason he remained faithful for all those 40 years of ministry: because God had called him, and Jeremiah wasn’t done yet. He was still breathing. After so long a time in God’s service, after so long a time living in God’s presence, the good life offered in Babylon looked like tinsel and tidily winks by comparison.
Staying in Judah meant continuing to be in God’s service to God’s people, vital and useful. It would not be an easy retirement life. But Jeremiah knows he hasn’t been missing out on “the good life” in God’s service up to now. He’s been living life to the full. He’s been God’s man in a pivotal time. He’s heard God’s voice. He’s seen God’s power. And like God, he dearly loves God’s people. He’s not about to miss the next chapter of their story or the stamp he might have on it. I love this good, wise man.
Nebuzaradan has words for Jeremiah when he finds him, but I’m guessing every other captive within earshot is straining to hear what this commander of Babylon’s army has to say, “The Lord your God decreed this disaster for this place. And now the Lord has brought it about; he has done just as he said he would. All this happened because you people sinned against the Lord and did not obey him,” 40:2-3.
These words would have been sweet vindication in Jeremiah’s ears. With everyone listening now to what they wouldn’t hear before, Nebuzaradan proclaims Jeremiah as God’s prophet by repeating his words that have come true. What’s just gone down with Babylon’s victory wasn’t a coincidence; even the enemy knows that God Almighty is the one who gave it to them.
It’s extraordinary to me that Nebuzaradan gives God the glory for something he’s no doubt worked very hard to achieve. This isn’t a God fearing man, but God’s hand is all over him, and I think it’s for Jeremiah’s benefit. This is God’s “attaboy” for his faithful prophet, and it’s spoken right in front of his countrymen.
As if this validation weren’t enough, Nebuzaradan then gives Jeremiah provisions and a goody bag and sends him on his way, saying if he chooses, he can live with the new governor, Gedaliah, and be provided for. God spares nothing to care for Jeremiah, 40:5-6.
The contrast between how he and Zedekiah are treated by the Babylonians couldn’t be more striking. Honor for Jeremiah, dishonor for Zedekiah. Freedom for Jeremiah, shackles for Zedekiah. Vision for the future for Jeremiah, blindness for Zedekiah. While God allowed Jeremiah quite a lot of dishonor, imprisonment, and dark nights of the soul during his 40 year ministry before Babylon’s conquest, he lavished him with favor, freedom, and renewed purpose afterwards.
But more valuable than these accolades was God’s presence with Jeremiah throughout his life. God was the one who was “with him like a mighty warrior,” who fought for him so that Jeremiah trusted and wasn’t afraid, 20:11-12. He often praised, knowing that God had his back despite those who hunted his life. Jeremiah learned a lot, no doubt, during his long career as “the weeping prophet,” but I’m guessing the best lesson was that the only life worth living is the one that’s lived with God.
I’m inspired by Jeremiah, but completely in awe of you in these chapters, God. I see how you checked all the boxes for Jeremiah when Jerusalem is shackled up and shipped out: the king’s own right arm seeks him out and says in front of the crowd, “You’re the man here. You got it right. Here’s your freedom, here’s gold and a goody bag to help you get started. And oh, by the way, the governor is expecting you. May your God bless.”
Oh boy. How you blessed!
The hard times we go through are designed by you for our good. Surely Jeremiah learned this, since he chose to stick with your calling in the end. He had no idea what was ahead for him. But he knew that life with you was “the life that is truly life,” 1 Timothy 6:19.
I want to stick, too, God, even though my life feels hard. But the gifts of your presence and praise, and the springs you give in the desert–the honey from the rock, the scattered fountains and oases–they keep me going. They are sweet tastes of the life to come. I’d rather have one day with you than a thousand without.
Thanks for Jeremiah’s journey, for recording it for us to read, and for teaching me more of who you are in it today. Jeremiah’s choice to continue his life in your service says more to me of his deep love and satisfaction in you than anything else he might say. I love how you took such good care of him all his life, but especially how you honored him before the rabble that day Nebuzaradan spoke.
You always surprise me. I didn’t know you give goody bags.
2 Timothy 1
“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace,” 7-9.
These verses remind me of Darlene’s words to our writer’s group Monday night. Darlene Brock is an author and the co-founder of Grit & Grace, the online women’s ministry (thegritandgraceproject.org). She was zooming with us, saying we should write with confidence, getting the messages that God lays on our hearts out there for others to read. “We have a powerful God and a vital message of his goodness and grace for everyone who wants it. And everyone needs it!”
She said in so many words just what Paul said to Timothy. I was so inspired by her, that I got off my duff the next morning and began publishing my Bible journal here on this blog, something I’d been thinking (and being afraid) of doing for more than two years.
What snags me this morning is Paul’s phrase, “not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” The calling we have from God to testify about him isn’t something we believers have cooked up. It’s not because of our strategizing or because of our goodness that we’re called to testify about him.
It’s because it’s God’s plan that his people experience his goodness and share it freely. It’s a privilege to be the ones who are lavished with his love and get to turn and lavish it on everyone else. This is God’s purpose for us. This is his grace for us and for the world.
Who are we to get to do this?
Who are we to withhold it?
Paul says to Timothy, basically, “Step up! Live into God’s power that saved you and calls you to a new life. It’s not because we’re deserving that we get to do this. It’s because God’s graciously chosen to use us. He’s got plans for us and for the rest of the world through us. Let’s go!”
I’m inspired by Paul and Darlene, God. I feel your tugging through them. Thank you for your plans for me and your purposes that are good for the rest of the world, too. Give me courage to say what you lay on my heart. Thank you for the “spirit of power and love and self discipline” you give. Show me what you have for me to do, and help me to do it fearlessly.
This prayer of Moses reminds me of God as my source of love. This verse resonates especially:
“May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us;
establish the work of our hands for us–
yes, establish the work of our hands,” 17.
I learn that..
*God’s favor (blessing, kindness, goodness) is something to desire and ask for
*God’s favor rests on us (like a cozy blanket, soft and warm, weighty; it’s felt)
*God is the one who establishes our work (confirms, affirms, validates, gives it value, and makes it last)
*God is the one we ask to establish it (not others, not self, not circumstances)
*The “us” is God’s people, those Moses wrote for and called, “your servants,” 16 (me!)
Yes, God. I want your goodness in my life, your favor like a weighted blanket I can feel, that wraps me up in you. I want you to be the one who makes the work I do worth doing, who establishes the work of my hands for me, regardless of what anyone else thinks of it, myself included. Thank you for this verse, like a cherry on top of all the rest of the words from you today. Help me to rest my hands and all that I do in yours.
My take away today is your favor, your affirmation. I’ve seen how it rested on Jeremiah, how he hung onto it rather than trading it in for Pina coladas in Babylon. Clearly, you established the work of Jeremiah’s hands. Even though others didn’t listen to him, I can.
I’ve felt inspired by your words from Paul to Timothy, to testify without timidity for the good news about Jesus. Surely your favor rested on Paul, too. You established the work of his hands in countless lives ever since, my own faith being just one of the results of his written words.
Moses says that your favor is linked to establishing our work. Will you establish the work that I do? I’d love to think I’d work for you without the favor attached, that I’d be that motivated. But I’m glad your blessings are a part of it. I’m glad you’re a generous boss.
Keep me from the trap of valuing the affirmation of others over yours. You are the one who establishes the work of my hands. You are the one who validates me. With the examples today of Jeremiah and Paul writing from prison, I’m guessing the writer’s life isn’t necessarily an easy one, but I’m counting on your cozy favor-I-can-feel to come through.
As far as goody bags go, I feel overloaded already. Thank you for more blessings than I can count.
Surprise my eyes and heart with more of you today.