The events in Jeremiah 39 are bleak to say the least. Jerusalem, and hence the nation of Judah, finally falls to Babylon, Zedekiah meets his fate, and the people are taken into exile. But the story is not all about endings. The second half of the chapter tells the stories of two people God spared and the care he showed them in the midst of a nightmare.
The first comes as no surprise; God spares Jeremiah in dramatic fashion. It is not the case that Jeremiah happens to slip through the nets of the Babylonians to live out his days in his homeland. The command to protect Jeremiah and allow him to stay in Judah comes directly from the top of the Babylonian empire.
“Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon gave command concerning Jeremiah…’Take him, look after him well, and do him no harm.’” (vs. 11, 12)
How is it Jeremiah receives this attention? It is entirely possible that Nebuchadnezzar has heard of Jeremiah through the Judeans who have already fled the city and surrendered to them (39:9). It is also possible that Nebuchadnezzar has already been influenced by another one of God’s people who has been in his court for a couple of years now. Daniel has already caught Nebuchadnezzar’s attention and respect, and it is possible that by now he has an admiration for God’s true prophets. Daniel’s exile not only serves God’s purposes for Daniel and his immediate surroundings, it quite possibly saves the life of Jeremiah a couple of years later in a land hundreds of miles away.
The second character saved is Ebed-Melech. We first read of him in chapter 38 when he saves Jeremiah’s life. It is a great story of courage and faithfulness as this Ethiopian slave confronts the Judean king to receive permission to pull Jeremiah out of the cistern where he was left to die. Then here, in chapter 39, God reassures him that even though he sees the nation crumbling around him his life would be saved. In fact, God repeats that assurance in five consecutive, nearly synonymous, phrases (vs. 17-18).
The keystone to this chapter is why God saved Ebed-Melech. He is a great character because of what he does to honor God and save Jeremiah. But when God tells him why he is being saved, he says, “I will surely save you…because you have put your trust in me.” (vs. 18) God does not save Ebed for what he did, but for whom he trusted.
Ebed put his trust in God. In a time of great distress he did not trust king Zedekiah, the armies of Judah or his own craftiness to save his life. My trust in God should not be left on a fuzzy, uncommitted level, but should be as specific and tangible as Ebed’s was. Do I trust God financially? Do I consider my work and my savings to be what will take care of me as time goes on, or is God my only source? Do I trust God emotionally? Do I lay unreasonable burdens on other people in my life to be my constant harbor in a storm, or is God my final source of emotional strength? Do I trust God spiritually? Do I put the unreasonable burden on a few people to be the perfect example of Christ in this world, or are my eyes on Christ alone? When I fail to trust God in these kinds of tangible ways, bad things happen and I can find myself growing bitter against God and his church when it was me who was untrusting all along.
It is always safe to trust in God—even when the world is crumbling around you, God is great enough and good enough to keep you secure in the midst of all things.