Jeremiah 39:1-18 (46:1-18, LXX)

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When King Zedekiah rebelled against him and allied himself with Egypt for military aid (Ezekiel 17:15), King Nebuchadnezzar initiated punitive action. His military force started the siege of Jerusalem “in the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month” (mid-December to mid-January). According to 2 Kings 25:1, it was the “tenth day” of the month. There is no general agreement about the exact date this siege began. One view that has gained a measure of acceptance is January 588 BCE. (39:1 [46:1, LXX])

It was in the “eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month [mid-June to mid-July],” on the “ninth day of the month” that the Babylonian military force breached the wall of Jerusalem. The commonly suggested years are either 586 or 587 BCE. According to Josephus (Antiquities, X, vii, 4), the siege lasted 18 months. Possibly Josephus included only the period of the actual siege, not counting the time that the Babylonian military force lifted it. (39:2 [46:2, LXX])

Nebuchadnezzar was then at Riblah (39:6) and his high ranking officers (“all the princes [rulers or leaders (LXX)] of the king of Babylon”) entered Jerusalem and seated themselves at the Middle Gate, probably to indicate their triumph and to render decisions regarding the conquered populace. This gate has been variously identified with the Gate of the Old City (on the northwest part of Jerusalem, west of the temple complex, and south of the Fish Gate), the Gate of Ephraim (a short distance to the west of the Gate of the Old City), and the Fish Gate (at the northernmost wall and northwest of the temple complex). In the listing of the names of certain high-ranking officers, Rabsaris and Rabmag are titles, but there is uncertainty about the official function of the men who bore these titles. Even the names may be rendered differently, depending on how the Hebrew words are divided. In the Septuagint, the names are Nargalasar, Samagoth, Nabousachar, Nabousaris, Nagargasnaser-Rabamag. Modern translations either leave the titles Rabsaris and Rabmag untranslated or render them in different ways (“Nergal-sarezer, Samgar-nebo, Sarsechim the Rab-saris, Nergal-sarezer the Rab-mag” [Tanakh (JPS, 1985 edition]; “Nergal-sharezer of Samgar, and Nebo-sarsekim, a chief officer, and Nergal-sharezer, the king’s adviser” [NLT]; “Nergalsarezer of Simmagir, Nebusarsekim the chief eunuch, Nergalsarezer the commander of the frontier troops” [REB]; “Nergal-Sharezer, Samgar-Nebo, Sar-Sechim a high dignitary of state, Nergal-Sharezer the chief astrologer” [NJB]). Apparently two men had the same name (Nergal-sharezer). The first one mentioned may be the same as the Nergal-shar-usur mentioned in Babylonian inscriptions and who is thought to have been the successor of Nebuchadnezzar’s son Evil-merodach (Amil-Marduk, Awil-marduk). The successor of Evil-merodach is also known by the Greek name Neriglissar. After the listing of the names, the text continues, “and all the rest of the princes [rulers or leaders (LXX)] of the king of Babylon.” (39:3 [46:3, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

When King Zedekiah “saw” or came to know that the Babylonians had entered Jerusalem, he and the defenders of the city fled, leaving the “city by night, by way of the garden of the king, through the gate between the two walls, and headed “toward the Arabah” (the arid section of the Jordan Valley north of the Dead Sea). The “garden of the king” probably was located in the southeastern part of Jerusalem, possibly near the Fountain Gate. One of the two walls likely was built during the reign of Hezekiah when the Assyrians threatened to conquer Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 32:2-5) It is uncertain whether Zedekiah, members of his family and the royal court, and warriors departed through the Fountain Gate. The “gate between the two walls” could have been another gate, one that provided a secret passage for escape. (39:4; see the Notes section.)

The Chaldean military pursued those who had fled, overtaking Zedekiah “in the plains of Jericho” (the arid region south of Jericho). According to Josephus (Antiquities, X, viii, 2), persons who had deserted to the Chaldeans were the ones who informed them about the flight of Zedekiah. After being captured, Zedekiah was taken to King Nebuchadnezzar at “Riblah in the land of Hamath.” The city lay a considerable distance north of the former territory of the kingdom of Israel and has been identified with ruins near Ribleh on the east bank of the Orontes River. It was at Riblah that King Nebuchadnezzar pronounced judgments against Zedekiah. (39:5) He killed the sons of King Zedekiah, probably directing that they be slain, before the eyes of the Judean king. These sons would have been young children, for Zedekiah was then only about 32 years old. (2 Kings 24:18) King Nebuchadnezzar also slew (or commanded to be killed) “all the nobles of Judah.” (39:6) After witnessing the gruesome slaughter of his sons, Zedekiah was blinded. Then, subsequent to being bound with copper or bronze fetters or chains, he was taken to Babylon. (39:7)

In conquered Jerusalem, the Chaldeans burned the “house” or palace of the king and the “house of the people” (probably referring collectively to the residences in the city [52:13]). They also broke down the city walls. The destruction by fire and the demolition of the walls did not take place until Nebuzaradan entered Jerusalem about one month after the city wall had been breached. (39:8; compare 52:6, 7, 12-14; 2 Kings 25:3, 4, 8-10.)

“Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard” (more literally, “chief of the slaughterers”) took the surviving remnant of the people in Jerusalem as captives to Babylon. The ones who had deserted to the Chaldeans were also taken to Babylon along with the rest of the surviving people. (39:9) Nebuzaradan, however, did not take the poor who had nothing, leaving them in the “land of Judah” and giving them “vineyards and fields” to cultivate and tend “in that day” or at that time of deliverance for them. According to Josephus (Antiquities, X, ix, 1), those who cultivated the ground were also to “pay an appointed tribute to the king.” (39:10)

King Nebuchadnezzar gave instructions regarding Jeremiah to (literally, “in the hand of”) “Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard” (more literally, the “chief of the slaughterers”). It may have been that the king learned about Jeremiah and his prophesying at the time he took King Jehoiachin, members of the royal family and of the court, other prominent persons, warriors, and skilled craftsmen into exile about eleven years earlier. (2 Kings 24:12, 15, 16; Jeremiah 25:1-11; 26:4-6) Years later, possibly from men who had deserted to the Chaldeans, Nebuchadnezzar may have heard that Jeremiah proclaimed that he should not be resisted and that all who wanted to preserve their lives should go out to the Chaldeans from besieged Jerusalem. (39:11; see 27:12-14 and 38:2, 3.)

King Nebuchadnezzar told Nebuzaradan to take Jeremiah and to “set his eyes upon him,” or to look after his welfare, and not to do anything bad to him, but to act toward him in keeping with whatever he might request. (39:12) In compliance with what Nebuchadnezzar had commanded him to do, “Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard sent”; “Nebushazban the Rabsaris and Nergal-sharezer the Rabmag and all the chief officers of the king of Babylon”— “they sent ….” It may be that Nebushazban the Rabsaris is the same high-ranking officer that was known as either Sarsechim or Nebo-Sarsechim the Rabsaris. (39:3) Another possibility is that two officers bore the title Rabsaris. According to verses 2 and 3, “Nergal-sharezer the Rabmag” was one of the officers who entered Jerusalem after the city was breached. (39:13; see the Notes section regarding the singular and plural verbs for “sent.”)

After Jeremiah was released from the “court of the guard,” he was handed over or entrusted to “Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan to be taken to his house, and he resided among the people” (among others who were allowed to continue living in the territory of the conquered kingdom of Judah). According to chapter 40, however, Jeremiah found himself in chains at Ramah among the captives to be taken to Babylon. Therefore, the narration in chapter 39 appears to be a condensed version of what happened to Jeremiah, with the developments at Ramah having been omitted. Another possibility is that Chaldean warriors seized Jeremiah while he was on his way to Gedaliah at Mizpah and took him to nearby Ramah, where he came to be in chains like other captives of war. (39:14 [46:14, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

Earlier, while Jeremiah was still confined “in the court of the guard,” the “word of YHWH” came to him regarding Ebed-melech. (39:15 [46:15, LXX]) The message was, “Go, and speak to Ebed-melech the Cushite [Ethiopian (LXX)], saying, Thus says YHWH of hosts [the God with hosts of angels in his service (the Lord [LXX])], the God of Israel, Look, I will fulfill my words against this city [Jerusalem] for evil [or calamity] and not for good, and they will be accomplished before you [literally, before your face] in that day.” It would be “in that day” or at that time when YHWH’s judgment would be expressed against Jerusalem through the agency of the Chaldean military force that Ebed-melech would see the “words” fulfilled with his own eyes. (39:16 [46:16; see the Notes section.)

YHWH’s promise to Ebed-melech was, “And I will deliver you in that day, … and you will not be given into the hand of the men before [literally, before the faces of] whom you are afraid.” (39:17 [46:17, LXX]) “I will indeed deliver [literally, to deliver, I will deliver] you, and by the sword [of war] you will not fall, and your soul [or life] will be as booty [like the spoils of war] for you, because you put your trust in me.” The assurance of deliverance was expressed in five ways, leaving no doubt that Ebed-melech would not perish. When acting courageously to save YHWH’s prophet Jeremiah from certain death in the cistern, he demonstrated his trust in YHWH. Ebed-melech was fully aware of the hatred that the princes had for Jeremiah and for the message he proclaimed in the name of YHWH, but fear of what they might do to him did not deter him from acting in faith to take the right course, a course to which they would have been violently opposed. (39:18 (46:18, LXX])


In the Septuagint, another listing of the names of verse 3 is, Nargalsarasar, Samagoth, Nabousarsachar, Nabousaris, Nargalsaraser, and Rabamag. The text of verses 4 through 13 is not included in the Septuagint.

Regarding the attempted escape (verse 4), Josephus (Antiquities, X, viii, 2) wrote that, when he became aware that the generals of the enemy had “entered into the temple,” Zedekiah “took his wives and his children, and his captains and friends, and with them fled out of the city.”

The Hebrew verb for “sent” in verse 13 is singular but is plural in verse 14. This has given rise to different views about who was sent. Numerous modern translations omit the singular verb “sent”; others represent Nebuzaradan as sending the other officers to get Jeremiah or as sending still other men for this purpose. “So Nebuzaradan captain of the guard sent Nebushazban the chief eunuch, Nergalsarezer the commander of the frontier troops, and all the chief officers of the king of Babylon, and they fetched Jeremiah from the court of the guardhouse.” (REB) “So Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard; Nebushazban, a chief officer; Nergal-sharerzer, the king’s adviser; and the other officers of Babylon’s king sent messengers to bring Jeremiah out of the prison.” (NLT) “So Nebuzaradan the commander of the guard, Nebushazban a chief officer, Nergal-Sharezer a high official and all the other officers of the king of Babylon sent and had Jeremiah taken out of the courtyard of the guard.” (NIV) “He entrusted this mission to (Nebuzaradan commander of the guard), Nebushazban the high dignitary of state, Nergal-Sharezer the chief astrologer and all the king of Babylon’s other officials. These despatched men to take Jeremiah from the Court of the Guard.” (NJB)

In the Septuagint, the omission of verses 4 through 13 results in a different meaning for the text of verse 14. The rulers or leaders to whom reference is made in verse 3 are the ones who “sent and took Jeremiah from the court of the guard and gave him to Godolias [Gedaliah].”

In the Septuagint, the text of verse 16 ends with the words, “and not for good.”