We were told, in the close of the foregoing chapter, that Jeremiah abode patiently in the court of the prison, until the day that Jerusalem was taken. He gave the princes no further disturbance by his prophesying, nor they him by their persecutions; for he had no more to say than what he had said, and, the siege being carried on briskly, God found them other work to do. See here what it came to.
I. The city is at length taken by storm; for how could it hold out when God himself fought against it? Nebuchadnezzar’s army sat down before it in the ninth year of Zedekiah, in the tenth month (Jer. 39:1), in the depth of winter. Nebuchadnezzar himself soon after retired to take his pleasure, and left his generals to carry on the siege: they intermitted it awhile, but soon renewed it with redoubled force and vigour. At length, in the eleventh year, in the fourth month, about midsummer, they entered the city, the soldiers being so weakened by famine, and all their provisions being now spent, that they were not able to make any resistance, Jer. 39:2. Jerusalem was so strong a place that nobody would have believed the enemy could ever enter its gates, Lam. 4:12. But sin had provoked God to withdraw his protection, and then, like Samson when his hair was cut, it was weak as other cities.
II. The princes of the king of Babylon take possession of the middle gate, Jer. 39:3. Some think that this was the same with that which is called the second gate (Zeph. 1:10), which is supposed to be in the middle wall that divided between one part of the city and the other. Here they cautiously made a half, and durst not go forward into so large a city, among men that perhaps would sell their lives as dearly as they could, until they had given directions for the searching of all places, that they might not be surprised by any ambush. They sat in the middle gate, thence to take a view of the city and give orders. The princes are here named, rough and uncouth names they are, to intimate what a sad change sin had made; there, where Eliakim and Hilkiah, who bore the name of the God of Israel, used to sit, now sit Nergal-sharezer, and Samgar-nebo, etc., who bore the names of the heathen gods. Rab-saris and Rab-mag are supposed to be not the names of distinct persons, but the titles of those whose names go before. Sarsechim was Rab-saris, that is, captain of the guard; and Nergal-sharezer, to distinguish him from the other of the same name that is put first, is called Ram-mag—camp-master, either muster-master or quarter-master: these and the other great generals sat in the gate. And now was fulfilled what Jeremiah prophesied long since (Jer. 1:15), that the families of the kingdoms of the north should set every one his throne at the entering of the gates of Jerusalem. Justly do the princes of the heathen set up themselves there, where the gods of the heathen had been so often set up.
III. Zedekiah, having in disguise perhaps seen the princes of the king of Babylon take possession of one of the gates of the city, thought it high time to shift for his own safety, and, loaded with guilt and fear, he went out of the city, under no other protection but that of the night (Jer. 39:4), which soon failed him, for he was discovered, pursued, and overtaken. Though he made the best of his way, he could make nothing of it, could not get forward, but in the plains of Jericho fell into the hands of the pursuers, Jer. 39:5. Thence he was brought prisoner to Riblah, where the king of Babylon passed sentence upon him as a rebel, not sentence of death, but, one many almost say, a worse thing. For, 1. He slew his sons before his eyes, and they must all be little, some of them infants, for Zedekiah himself was now but thirty-two years of age. The death of these sweet babes must needs be so many deaths to himself, especially when he considered that his own obstinacy was the cause of it, for he was particularly told of this thing: They shall bring forth thy wives and children to the Chaldeans, Jer. 38:23. 2. He slew all the nobles of Judah (Jer. 39:6), probably not those princes of Jerusalem who had advised him to this desperate course (it would be a satisfaction to him to see them cut off), but the great men of the country, who were innocent of the matter. 3. He ordered Zedekiah to have his eyes put out (Jer. 39:7), so condemning him to darkness for life who had shut his eyes against the clear light of God’s word, and was of those princes who will not understand, but walk on in darkness, Ps. 82:5. 4. He bound him with two brazen chains or fetters (so the margin reads it), to carry him away to Babylon, there to spend the rest of his days in misery. All this sad story we had before, 2 Kgs. 25:4
IV. Some time afterwards the city was burnt, temple and palace and all, and the wall of it broken down, Jer. 39:8. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! this comes of killing the prophets, and stoning those that were sent to thee. O Zedekiah, Zedekiah! this thou mightest have prevented if thou wouldst but have taken God’s counsel, and yielded in time.”
V. The people that were left were all carried away captives to Babylon, Jer. 39:9. Now they must bid a final farewell to the land of their nativity, that pleasant land, and to all their possessions and enjoyments in it, must be driven some hundreds of miles, like beasts, before the conquerors, that were now their cruel masters, must lie at their mercy in a strange land, and be servants to those who would be sure to rule them with rigour. The word tyrant is originally a Chaldee word, and is often used for lords by the Chaldee paraphrast, as if the Chaldeans, when they were lords, tyrannized more than any other: we have reason to think that the poor Jews had reason to say so. Some few were left behind, but they were the poor of the people, that had nothing to lose, and therefore never made any resistance. And they not only had their liberty, and were left to tarry at home, but the captain of the guard gave them vineyards and fields at the same time, such as they were never masters of before, Jer. 39:10. Observe here, 1. The wonderful changes of Providence. Some are abased, others advanced, 1 Sam. 2:5. The hungry are filled with good things, and the rich sent empty away. The ruin of some proves the rise of others. Let us therefore in our abundance rejoice as though we rejoiced not, and in our distresses weep as though we wept not. 2. The just retributions or Providence. The rich had been proud oppressors, and now they were justly punished for their injustice; the poor had been patient sufferers, and now they were graciously rewarded for their patience and amends made them for all their losses; for verily there is a God that judges in the earth, even in this world, much more in the other.