The account of the fall of Jerusalem to the army of Nebuchadnezzer (ch. 39) includes a graphic description of the tragic fate of Zedekiah who refused to listen to the prophetic word. At the same time, the Babylonian king, the enemy of all Judeans, extended cordial treatment to Jeremiah (v. 12). This theme of the reward for the faithful is further illustrated in 39:15-18. Ebed-Melech, the Gentile, received the promise of salvation in the midst of Yahweh's judgment of his chosen nation. The basis of his salvation is clear: “I will save you . . . because you trust in me” (v. 18). Peter's words remind us that “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” as the message of the Gospel of “Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all” (Acts 10:34-36).
Even the pagans knew that the destruction of Jerusalem was decreed and carried out by Yahweh just as he said he would (40:2-3). Judgment disclosed not only Yahweh's sovereignty but also the sinfulness and disobedience of the people of God (v. 3). What the people of God have refused to acknowledge is made public through historical events. Again, the Babylonians recognized Jeremiah as an authentic spokesman of Yahweh and treated him with respect and honor, which was denied to him by his own countrymen (see Mt 13:57).
Jer 40:7-43:7 describes the disobedience of the poorest in the land who were left in Judah by Babylon. Babylon left them in the land because they were not a threat to Babylon. Theologically speaking, Yahweh allowed them to remain in the land because they played no part in the disobedience of the ruling and the wealthy citizens of Jerusalem that led to the destruction of the city and the captivity of Judah. But this remnant too cannot have a future without demonstrating their obedience and dependence on Yahweh.
Gedaliah's plan was to bring stability through servitude to the Babylonians (40:9-10). The fact that he was killed by one of his trusted men shows the element of greed and treachery that continued to exist even in the midst of the calamity that came upon the whole nation. Out of fear and anxiety, the loyalists approached Jeremiah for his counsel (42:2-3) and promised to obey Yahweh's word whether it is favorable or unfavorable (vv. 5-6). It is apparent from their later response that they were simply seeking Yahweh's approval of what they had already decided to do, namely, to escape to Egypt. Jeremiah spoke to them of Yahweh's plan to build and to plant them in their own land (v. 10). They do not need to live in fear of the king of Babylon because Yahweh is with them to save and deliver them. They are the objects of Yahweh's compassion; therefore their enemy also will have compassion on them and restore them in their land (vv. 11-12). The consequence of their disobedience and decision to abandon the Promised Land will be disastrous. Yahweh's judgment will follow them into the land of Egypt where they hope to find peace and security (vv. 13-22). Even though the people promise to obey Yahweh's word, they regard Yahweh's messenger as a liar and a traitor (43:1-7). Self-centeredness and lack of trust in God continue to exist even among those who have been spared of destruction. They seek God's will, but their intention is to follow their own will.
Jer 43:8-44:30 contains a series of oracles addressed to the Jews who have settled down in Egypt. Those who have escaped the power of Babylon will soon find themselves surrounded by their enemy in the land of their refuge (43:8-13). Death is the destiny of those (1) who lack humility before Yahweh, (2) who are disrespectful and disobedient to his law, and (3) who think that their idolatry will lead them to peace and prosperity (44:10, 15-18). Yahweh is watching over the Jews in Egypt, not to protect them, but to carry out his judgment upon them (v. 27).
Baruch, Jeremiah's trusted friend and scribe, is in agony because he is aware of the reality of the coming judgment, the distress of which will affect even the faithful like himself (45:3). Yahweh's word to him through Jeremiah implies that Yahweh also is in pain because what he plans to uproot is what he has planted (v. 4). When Yahweh executes his judgment, it is not a time for the faithful to seek great things for themselves or to worry about their own lives. Yahweh's command, “Seek them not,” conversely is a call to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (v. 5; cf. Mt 6:33). The only reward Yahweh promises to Baruch is the preservation of his life in the midst of death and destruction of the wicked (v. 5), which indeed is the greatest gift of God to those who are faithful to him.
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