"The same kind of argument," thought Jeremiah, as he listened attentively to the speaker. "They always fail to grasp the vital things that God demands of them." In his rejoinder, therefore, Jeremiah came back forcibly:
"How do ye say, 'We are wise and the law of the Lord is with us!' But, behold, the false pen of the scribes hath made falsehood of it. The wise men are put to shame. Lo, they have rejected the word of the Lord.
"And what manner of wisdom is in them? Every one, from the least even unto the greatest, is given to covetousness; from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely.
"And they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace."
Instantly there came to Jeremiah's mind the story of the Kingdom of Israel with its deceitful priests and false prophets, who, at Bethel and Shiloh, taught and preached untruths about God—and the sad end of them all. They, too, had thought everything was well with them and their sanctuary and the peace of the land. So Jeremiah continued:
"Then go now to my sanctuary which is in Shiloh, where I caused my name to dwell at first and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel.
"And now because ye have done all these deeds, and although I spoke to you insistently, ye have not heeded, and although I called you, ye have not answered, therefore I will do to the house, which ye call by My name, in which ye trust, and to the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh."
This speech started several commotions in different parts of the crowd. From the extreme edge, to the right of the speakers, one man began to come forward, shouting:
The cry was taken up all around him. From various directions men, throwing their arms in the air and yelling at the top of their voices, made their way with difficulty toward the speakers, crying:
Jeremiah, at first, could not understand the commotion. What had he said, what had he done, that was blasphemous? Then, as the cry became general and the surging mob became threatening, the thought came to him that the people had been taught by the priests and prophets in Jerusalem that the Temple was inviolable, that no matter what the political fortunes of Judah might be, God would never permit "the House which is called by His name" to be destroyed.
Now Jeremiah understood and he was helpless. His simile of the sanctuary at Shiloh suggested the destruction and ruin of the Temple in Jerusalem—and that was blasphemy.
He did not know, however, that his opponents had purposely planted men in various sections of the assembly to wait and watch for any blasphemous hint in his argument and to raise the cry against him.
"Blasphemy! Blasphemy!" The cry was now general. And the leader who started it, when he came within reach of Jeremiah, grasped his mantle and shouted:
"You must die!"
The Temple guard rushed to the prophet's assistance. Blasphemy was punishable by death, but the punishment must come in the regular, legal way and not by the hands of the mob.
Under protection of the guard, therefore, Jeremiah was led to the new gate, built by King Josiah, where the princes sat as judges. At his heels was the threatening, gesticulating crowd, goaded on by Jeremiah's enemies, demanding his life.
The trial was opened without delay. Here were thousands of witnesses who had heard the man and there seemed little hope for him to escape being stoned to death. One of the prophets opened the case for the prosecution, addressing himself to the judges:
"This man is worthy of death; for he hath prophesied against this city in the name of God, saying, 'This house shall be like Shiloh. This city shall be deserted, without an inhabitant.'"
Turning dramatically to the crowd, he swept his arm over their heads, adding for the purpose of affirmation:
"As ye have heard with your ears."
"Aye, aye," many responded.
"Blasphemy! Blasphemy!" shouted others.
And still others demanded, "He must die! He must die!"
When a semblance of quiet was restored, Jeremiah stepped forward from between the two guards who had him in charge, faced the accusing people, and said, very calmly and humbly:
"It was the Lord who sent me to prophesy against this Temple and against this city all the words that you have heard."
"Bah!" jeered the leaders of the opposition, and many took up the signal and joined in the jeering. Jeremiah did not permit the jeers to interrupt him:
"Now therefore reform your ways and your acts and obey the voice of the Lord your God; and the Lord will repent of the evil that he has pronounced upon you."
"Hear him! Hear him!" arose from all directions. "He blasphemes! He blasphemes!" Jeremiah paid no attention to these outcries, but turned to the judges and concluded his defense:
"But as for me, see, I am in your hand; do with me as appears to you to be good and right.
"Only be assured that, if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and upon its inhabitants, for verily the Lord hath sent me to you to speak all these things in your ears."
Jeremiah ceased. He walked back to his place between the two guards to await his sentence. The mob was rather taken by surprise at the prisoner's defense. He made no arguments for release, no pleas for his life, but stated his belief in his work and his faith in God, trusting for the rest in the justness of his cause.
From out among the princes arose Ahikam, the eldest son of Shaphan, who was the Royal Scribe for Jehoiakim, as his father had been for Josiah. Ahikam and Jeremiah had been close friends as young men, even as their fathers had been all their lives. Recently, however, they had not seen much of each other. Jeremiah was busy about his business and Ahikam was permanently stationed in Jerusalem, at the palace.
Jeremiah hardly recognized Ahikam when he began to address the judges. His interest in the speaker was greatly stirred, however, when he heard Ahikam say that he had no apology to offer for the position he was taking, nor for his friendship and love for the man who was accused of the crime of blasphemy. He said that he believed that his and Jeremiah's fathers were of the greatest service to King Josiah in the prosperity that attended his reign, and that, though the priests and prophets of Jerusalem might not understand it, Jeremiah wanted the peace and prosperity of the nation and of the capital, not their doom.
Then, rising to a pitch of oratorical flight, he cried:
"This man is not worthy of death, for he hath spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God."
Up jumped Pashhur, the chief officer of the Temple, and told the story of Uriah, the son of Shemaiah, who also had prophesied in the Temple in the name of God. Pashhur continued:
"And he prophesied against the city and against this land according to all the words of Jeremiah; and when Jehoiakim, the king, with all his mighty men and all the princes, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death; but when Uriah heard it, he was afraid, and fled and went into Egypt.
"And Jehoiakim, the king, sent men into Egypt, and they fetched forth Uriah out of Egypt, and brought him unto Jehoiakim, the king, who slew him with the sword, and cast his dead body into the graves of the common people."
But Ahikam, who, like his father, was acquainted with the history of his people, arose and answered Pashhur:
"Micah the Moreshtite, prophesied in the days of Hezekiah, king of Judah, and he spake to all the people of Judah, saying, 'Thus saith the Lord of Hosts: "Zion shall be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps and the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest."'
"Did Hezekiah, king of Judah, and all Judah put him to death? Did he not fear the Lord and entreat the favor of the Lord so that the Lord repented him of the evil which he had pronounced against them? But we are on the point of doing great injustice to ourselves."
To the surprise of the priests and the prophets Ahikam's argument prevailed with the princes who sat in judgment, and with the people themselves. They dispersed without further ado, but they continued discussing the situation among themselves.
No punishment was visited upon Jeremiah, but he had a narrow escape.
Jeremiah and Ahikam left the gate arm in arm. They were happy at the renewal of their friendship, even if it took place in the shadow of death.
Ahikam warned his friend to be more careful, when they parted. Jeremiah left him with much to think about. It was the first time that he had been attacked and his life threatened. In addition, though Jeremiah did not hear of it that day, Pashhur had sworn to corner Jeremiah yet, so that he could not escape.
A Taste of Martyrdom.
Jeremiah returned home a very sad man, but not a wiser one from the point of view of his safety. He kept much to himself in the city of Anathoth and devoted his time to teaching a group of young men with whom he had surrounded himself.
Among them was Baruch, son of Neriah, of a distinguished Jerusalem family, whose members had always stood high in the counsels of the kings. Baruch was not only a disciple of Jeremiah, but also acted as his secretary when writing was to be done.
Baruch was intimate with Jeremiah's family in Anathoth, and he informed Jeremiah that his cousins did not approve of his actions in the Temple. They did not like the notoriety it brought them and hoped he would hold his peace.
These cousins did not have the courage to speak their mind to Jeremiah face to face, and so he did not trouble about them, their likes or dislikes, their approval or disapproval. He had on his mind a very troublesome problem when it began to be rumored that Jehoiakim was about to re-introduce human sacrifices in Ge-Hinnom.
Ge-Hinnom was the "valley of the son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the gate of potsherds, called Tophet." The southwestern gate of the City of Jerusalem overlooked this valley where an altar had been erected for the atrocious Moloch-worship, but which was destroyed by Josiah during the Reformation.
Jeremiah had but to hear of the king's proposal to re-establish the Moloch-rites, to act.
He went to Jerusalem, despite the pleading of Baruch not to go, gathered a number of the Elders who had been his father's and Josiah's friends and co-workers, and asked them to accompany him to Tophet.
They proceeded through the southwestern gate, "the gate of the valley," followed by a number of idlers, the curious who keep at a distance to see what will happen.
Arrived at the ruins of the altar of Moloch, Jeremiah drew from under his mantle a potter's earthen bottle, and, without giving a hint of what he was about to do, broke it on one of the altar stones. Turning to the Elders, he said:
"Thus said the Lord of Hosts: 'Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter's vessel, that cannot be made whole again.'"
That was all! He had portrayed more vividly than he could ever have done in a long speech what would be the consequences if the king persisted in bringing back the horrible worship of Moloch.
Returning to the city, Jeremiah stopped at the Temple. He had not been in Jerusalem since he narrowly escaped stoning at the hands of the mob. As soon as he was recognized—and the word of his coming had been spread by the onlookers, who had returned from Tophet ahead of him—the crowd gathered about him, anxious to hear what he would have to say.
He told them a story first. He had been down at a potter's house that morning, watching the potter at work. The vessel the potter made didn't suit him, so he destroyed it while the clay was yet soft and pliable. Then he made another vessel out of that same clay, "as seemed good to the potter to make it." This story he followed up with a passionate plea to the people:
"'O house of Israel cannot I do with you as this potter?' saith the Lord. 'Behold, as the clay in the potter's hand, so are ye in my hand, O house of Israel.'
"'At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up and to break down and to destroy it; if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if they do that which is evil in my sight, that they obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.'
"'Now, therefore,' thus saith the Lord: 'Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you. Return ye now every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.'"
Several of the Jerusalem prophets, upon Jeremiah's coming to the Temple, gathered quickly in Pashhur's chambers to talk the matter over. They had thought that the charge of blasphemy had frightened Jeremiah so that he would not return; but here he was again, as persistent in his course as ever. Not one was willing to admit that there was some truth in Jeremiah's pleadings and threats, but all of them came to this conclusion:
"Come and let us devise devices against Jeremiah; for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, and let us smite him with the tongue, and let us not give heed to any of his words."
Pashhur listened to all their talk with amusemsnt. Jeremiah had been a nuisance around the Temple, of which he was chief officer, long enough. Here was his chance to fix him, he thought.
"Come, and let us smite him with the tongue?" he asked, with a jeering laugh. He told them that they were fools to argue with the pest. He would show them how to deal with him.
Pashhur buckled up his mantle, gritting his teeth. He fairly ran to the open place where Jeremiah was speaking. He burst through the crowd with curses upon them all. Facing Jeremiah, he shouted:
"Thou—" but his anger and hate overcame him. He almost foamed at the mouth with rage and could not speak a word.
Before Jeremiah understood what the matter was, Pashhur slapped him on both cheeks with his hands. Then he struck him square on the jaw with his right fist—and Jeremiah dropped to the slabbed marble of the courtyard, where he had been standing.
The crowd was startled and amazed at what had happened. But Pashhur gave no opportunity for remonstrance. A number of the Temple guards, who had come up with their chief, dispersed the people with curses and blows.
Pashhur stood over the prostrate body of Jeremiah, like the victor over his defeated adversary—waiting for him to show signs of rising that he might strike him again. When Jeremiah regained consciousness, however, the brutal Pashhur had thought better of it. Another such blow and he would have killed the prophet—and Pashhur knew the law on shedding innocent blood.
Therefore, when Jeremiah had fully recovered and had once more risen to his feet, Pashhur arrested him and had him led to the upper Temple gate, which is the gate of Benjamin. There he put him into the stocks with his own hands.
That whole day and that whole night Jeremiah remained pilloried. Hundreds of people passed him. Some, urged on by the priests and the false prophets, mocked at him; some, pitying him from the depths of their hearts, sympathized with him; some spat upon him.
Near the pillory, all that day and night, there hovered a gray-haired Ethiopian who longed to speak a word of cheer and comfort to the unfortunate prophet and to give him water to drink and food to eat, but he dared not because of the guard that Pashhur had placed over him.
During all the terrible agony and shame, Jeremiah did not utter a loud word of complaint or condemnation.
On the following morning Pashhur ordered Jeremiah to be brought to his chamber. There twenty-one stripes were administered to him; and after warning him never to enter Jerusalem again, Pashhur ordered him to leave the city and be thankful he wasn't carried out of it a corpse.
Before going, however, Jeremiah turned on Pashhur and said to him:
"The Lord hath not called thy name Pashhur, but Magor (Terror), for thus saith the Lord: 'Behold I am about to make thee a terror to thyself and to all thy friends; and they shall fall by the sword of your enemy before your very eyes. But thee and all Judah will I give into the hands of the King of Babylon, and he will carry them into captivity and slay them with the sword.
"'Moreover, I will give all the riches of this city and all its possessions and all the treasures of the king of Judah into the hands of their enemies, and they shall carry them away to Babylon; and thou and all that dwell in thy house shall go into captivity, and thou shalt die at Babylon and be buried there, together with all thy friends to whom thou hast prophesied falsely.'"
Here, for the first time, Jeremiah spoke of Babylon as the source from which all the evil impending over Judah was to come. For, one of the Elders who had accompanied him to Tophet, the day before, had whispered to him that Jehoiakim was preparing for a revolt from Nebuchadrezzar.
The reason why such a dangerous idea had entered the mind of Jehoiakim was that Nebuchadrezzar had received word, while yet at Riblah, that his father, Nabopolassar, had died. Without delay, and before having subdued the Palestinian states to his entire satisfaction, he marched to Babylon to be crowned and to establish himself firmly upon his throne.
Jehoiakim thought he saw an opportunity here to regain his independence. Jeremiah knew how foolhardy and impossible this undertaking would be. He so informed Pashhur, therefore, and received a kick and a cuff for his pains, as a farewell from that worthy officer upon leaving Jerusalem.
The Woe of the Prophet.
"What now?" Jeremiah asked himself.
Without an idea as to what his next move should be or where he should now turn, he took the road leading to Anathoth.
A day and a night in the stocks and the smarting lashes at Pashhur's hands, had given him a taste of martyrdom, and left him sick of heart and soul. He wanted to go home! Yes, he would go home where he would find, among his relatives and those dear to him, the shelter and comfort and rest that he longed for so much. His heart yearned for love and his soul for peace.
He turned northward. Head bent, spirit crushed, wounded in mind and in body, he approached the town of his birth, where he had spent the happy days of his youth, where he had received his call to prophesy, that ended now in humiliation and disgrace.
The painful, bitter thoughts that passed through his mind were suddenly disturbed by the noise of someone running toward him and calling his name. Jeremiah looked up to see young Baruch, all out of breath, coming toward him, both his arms waving in the air as if giving a warning.
"Flee, master, flee!" Baruch cried, looking back in fear lest some one was pursuing him or would overhear him.
"Baruch!" exclaimed Jeremiah, stretching out his arms in welcome. The sight of the young man was the first moment of joy he had had since his encounter with Pashhur.
Baruch did not hear the joyous note in his master's greeting. His face was pale and he was trembling from head to foot. Mechanically he ran into Jeremiah's embrace, but did not return it. Facing Anathoth and pointing toward it, he whispered, rapidly, "They have devised devices against thee, saying, 'Let us destroy the tree with the fruit thereof; let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name may be no more remembered.'"
Jeremiah finally succeeded in calming Baruch and drew out of him the fact that his cousins had conspired to kill him, and that, to save himself, he must not enter Anathoth.
Jeremiah's family had been poor but respectable citizens of Anathoth for many generations. They traced their ancestry back to Eli and to the high priest, Abiathar, who served in the Temple during the time of David, but whom Solomon banished to the suburb.
His relatives had always looked upon Jeremiah as the black sheep of the family. Now, in addition to their poverty, he had cast ridicule upon them by his actions, and contempt by his punishment in the stocks. So they decided to put him out of the way and be rid of him, once for all.
By this time the two men had reached the gray, barren hillside from which the Jordan valley and the Dead Sea can be seen in the distance. It was here where Jeremiah received his call and commission to be a prophet to his people. With deep emotion did he now bewail his lot:
"Ah! I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter and I knew it not."
The injustice and the unrighteousness of it all came to him more forcibly at this place of sacred memories, and he cried:
"Oh, Lord God of Hosts, who judgest righteously, who triest the heart and the mind, I shall see thy vengeance on them; for unto thee have I revealed my cause."
In the bitterness of his spirit he could no longer restrain his woe. Outcast and disgraced, persecuted in Jerusalem and his life sought for by his own family, Jeremiah cursed the very day of his birth:
"Cursed be the day in which I was born. Let not the day wherein my mother bore me be blessed. Cursed be the man who brought joyful tidings to my father, saying, 'A man child is born to thee,' making him very glad. Let that man be as the cities which the Lord pitilessly overthrew, Because he did not let me die. Why was I born to see labor and sorrow, That my days should be consumed with shame?"
Baruch did not break in upon the grief and anguish of Jeremiah. He turned away, sat down quietly at the foot of a tree and listened, with a fast-beating beating heart, to the sobs that were racking the very frame of his beloved teacher.
For a long time the two sat there, each engrossed in his own thoughts. The tree-clad hills of Gilead, to the northeast of them, were now bathed in the deep shadows cast by the rapidly setting sun. Baruch walked over to Jeremiah and laid a light hand upon his shoulder. Jeremiah felt his presence but did not raise his head.
"Master!" Baruch called softly.
Jeremiah looked up into a tear-stained face in which he read sympathy, love and sincere devotion. He arose slowly. The lines of a faint smile of appreciation played about his mouth. He grasped the young man in his embrace and clung to him as if he were his only remaining hope.
"Baruch! Baruch!" he cried, in a tear-choked voice, and held him tight and stroked his head and kissed his forehead. The boy melted into tears in the man's almost crushing embrace, and his very soul went out to him in sympathy and love.
There in the twilight, the bond of friendship had been established between Jeremiah and Baruch, to be broken only in death!
Baruch attempted to comfort his friend, but he at once saw the hopelessness of the task.
Then he suggested to Jeremiah that they run away, that they go to Babylonia, to Egypt, anywhere, to escape the horror of it all at home. But Jeremiah showed him the uselessness of trying to run away from duty's call:
"And if I say, I will not think of it nor speak any more in His name, Then there is in mine heart, as it were, a burning fire shut up in my bones."
There was a fire burning within the heart of Jeremiah, impelling him to prophesy. He could not help himself! He would not escape it!
And, what is more, that day of woe and trial, and the night that followed, bound up Baruch's destiny with that of Jeremiah.
Teacher and Pupil.
Wonderful is the love of teacher and pupil! There is no blood relationship to fuse that love. No selfishness enters into it. There is only the common interest of the spirit upon which it feeds and grows. It is, therefore, a love of the purest type.
Such a love was that of Jeremiah and his pupil, Baruch. Just as the friendship between Josiah and Jeremiah was lasting, because as boys they passed through the same danger at the time of the death of Josiah's father, and just as the friendship between David and Jonathan before them was knit closely together at the time when David was in flight before the anger of King Saul, so Jeremiah and Baruch were closely bound together in friendship and love from the very first night that they spent outside of Anathoth together, when the pupil saved his teacher's life from the conspiracy of his relatives.
Who knows what would have happened to the despondent, disgraced, heart-broken old man that day had not Baruch warned him of the fate that awaited him in his home town!
Yes! At fifty Jeremiah was an old man. His beard was gray, his hair white, his shoulders prematurely bent. Deep wrinkles, lines of care and woe, were furrowed in his face. Only at times, when he delivered his fiery addresses to the people or when he courageously faced an enemy like Pashhur, would he straighten up to his full height and show a semblance of his gaunt form and strong physique.
Teacher and pupil passed many days and nights together in the foothills, undecided on the next step for Jeremiah to take. Just then he dared go neither to Anathoth nor to Jerusalem—and Baruch would not leave him.
Fortunately, for both of them, old Ebed-melech, who had followed Jeremiah from the pillory to Pashhur's chamber and from there, at a distance, when he started for Anathoth, brought them food and drink late that first night of their hiding, and continued to do so every night.
For the present Jeremiah had little hope of returning to his task in Jerusalem. He, therefore, often prayed to God in behalf of his people; but always the answer came back to him:
"Seest thou not what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? Therefore pray not thou for these people, Neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, Neither make intercession to me, For I will not hear thee."
But the effect of prayer is mightier upon the persons who pray than upon those prayed for. While Jeremiah's prayers could not bring back the people of Judah to just and righteous lives without effort on their own part, and while Jeremiah knew well enough that God could not save these people simply because he prayed for them, yet the very act of praying brought comfort and consolation to the distracted and despondent prophet and to his loving pupil who clung to him.
After some days spent in discussing various plans for returning to Jerusalem, an inspiration came to Jeremiah. He would write out the addresses he had previously delivered in Judah and Jerusalem and add such new thoughts as occurred to him, exactly as the Prophet Amos had done when he was driven out of Bethel to Tekoah!
Many weeks were then spent by Jeremiah in dictating, and by Baruch in writing down the prophecies. At last, when the scroll was completed and Baruch looked up into Jeremiah's face, as if to ask "What now?" Jeremiah took the young man by the shoulders and looking straight into his eyes, said to him:
"I cannot go into the house of the Lord; therefore, go thou, and read in the roll, which thou hast written from my mouth, the words of the Lord in the ears of the people, in the Lord's house upon the fast-day; and thou also shalt read them in the ears of all Judah that come out of their cities.
"It may be they will present their supplication, before the Lord, and will return every one from his evil way; for great is the anger and the wrath that the Lord hath pronounced against this people.
"It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the evil which purpose to do unto them; that they may return every man from his evil way; that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin."
This suggestion, or rather command, for the moment stunned Baruch. He was not prepared to devote his life to the work of God in behalf of his people, as his master had done. The son and heir of Neriah, Baruch had a splendid future before him. He was a young man, full of hope that his country's trouble would end, and full of ambition to become a great man in Judah's history; but he knew that if he accepted the mission that the prophet was entrusting to him, he might as well give up all thought of such a future. The same fate that had overtaken Jeremiah would probably overtake him, too.
All this Baruch had told Jeremiah with hesitation and a trembling voice. Jeremiah, both his hands resting on the young man's shoulders, listened very sympathetically. He knew that the great ambitions of his pupil could never be realized. The country was doomed to destruction, unless a great religious and moral revolution should change the character and the lives of the people.
For a moment Jeremiah looked straight into Baruch's eyes with the tenderness of a mother. Then, embracing him tightly in his arms, he pressed him to his heart and said:
"O Baruch! Thou didst say, Woe is me now! for the Lord hath added sorrow to my pain; I am weary with my groaning—and I find no rest. Thus shalt thou say unto him, Thus saith the Lord: 'Behold, that which I have built will I break down and that which I have planted I will pluck up; and this in the whole land.'
"'And seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not; for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh,' saith the Lord; 'but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest.'"
For a long time Baruch's head was buried in Jeremiah's arms. Neither spoke a word. Finally, when Jeremiah released Baruch from his embrace, the young man's knees were shaking and he would have dropped to the ground but for the support of Jeremiah's hands.
Tears streamed down his face. Baruch kissed his master's hands again and again and cried out that he would go, that he would do Jeremiah's bidding, which was God's bidding. "And Baruch, the son of Neriah, did according to all that Jeremiah, the prophet, commanded him," and he went down to Jerusalem and "read in the book, the words of the Lord, in the Lord's house."
Baruch's First Venture.
It was the year after, that is 603, the fifth year of the reign of Jehoiakim, and the ninth month, that Baruch took the completed scroll and went down to Jerusalem.
He had timed his coming so as to arrive at the Temple on a great fast-day, when many people were in the Temple courts attending to their sacrifices.
The young man met very few whom he knew and was practically lost in the crowd. Standing at the new gate in the upper court of the Temple, the one built by Josiah, Baruch was wondering what to do. The day was rather cold and everyone was hurrying about his duties, personal or religious, or else seeking a place of warmth and shelter.
Baruch could see no chance of gathering a crowd, to whom to read from his scroll. Like every young man who is about to attempt a big and unusual thing, Baruch hesitated. Then he decided to give up for the present and try again some other time. He tucked the scroll under his arm and prepared to go down from the Temple Mount into the city.
Just as he turned to pass through the gate, however, he ran into no less a prominent personage than Gemariah, son of Shaphan and brother of Ahikam, who had defended Jeremiah during his trial at this very gate.
Gemariah knew Baruch and greeted him most kindly. Baruch, too, was delighted to find someone he knew. After Gemariah had inquired about Anathoth and Baruch's family, he asked "What is that scroll?" Baruch replied that it was something he desired to read to the people assembled in the Temple.
Gemariah laughed affectionately, slapped the young man heartily on the shoulder and asked whether it was some new poem or tale of adventure that he had written. Baruch replied simply that it was something he desired to read in the hearing of the assembled people. Gemariah laughed again and very generously offered him one of the chambers above the new gate for his purpose. Then he actually sent out a crier to assemble a crowd for the young author. With expressions of good wishes Gemariah left Baruch and proceeded to the place of the king, where, in the chambers of the chief scribe, a meeting of the king's counselors had been called to discuss Jehoiakim's proposed revolt from Nebuchadrezzar.
Before long, Gemariah's chamber was overflowing and Baruch was reading from the scroll. His voice was clear and strong. He was evidently very well acquainted with his text, for he emphasized and enthused over particular passages with all the power of an orator:
Thus saith the Lord:
"Cursed is the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord. For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh, but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, a salt land and not inhabited.
"Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord and whose trust the Lord is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, that spreadeth out its roots by the river, and shall not fear when heat cometh, but its leaf shall be green; and shall not be anxious in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit."
Then Baruch turned to a passage of a different character. He was following a pre-arranged program. He aimed at interesting his audience first with selections of poetic charm and beauty. So he read:
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt; who can know it? I, the Lord, search the mind, I try the heart, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doing. As the partridge that sitteth on eggs that she hath not laid, so is he that getteth riches, and not by right; in the midst of his days they shall leave him, and at his end he shall be a fool."
These beautiful figures of speech brought Baruch a round of applause. He now had his audience; so he proceeded, and, with the fire and fervor of a Jeremiah, delivered the following:
"The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: It is graven upon the tablet of your heart, and upon the horns of your altar.
"Thus saith the Lord of hosts:
"'Because ye have not heard my words, behold I will send and take all the families of the north,' saith the Lord, 'and I will send unto you Nebuchadrezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about; and I will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and a hissing, and perpetual desolations.
"'Moreover, I will take from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones, and the light of the lamp. And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon.'"
Ah! The young man, then, was a prophet! This was evident to everyone. He was speaking as did the Prophet Uriah, whom the king had put to death, and as spoke the Prophet Jeremiah who, last year, had been pilloried and driven out of Jerusalem!
Murmurs of astonishment and of pity arose from the audience. Men whispered to each other about the brilliant young man's probable arrest, punishment and, perhaps, death. Baruch felt instinctively the drift of the conversations, and smiled. With a well-selected passage he brought the talkers back to attention by the power and forcefulness of his oratory. He was a transformed man, cool, collected, eyes ablaze and peering at the very souls of his hearers. He held them and swayed them and finally moved many to tears and to ask, "Wherefore hath the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us?" "What is our iniquity?" "What is our sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?"
Now Baruch told them who he was and whose the addresses were. And in answer to the questions put to him he quoted from Jeremiah:
"Because your fathers have forsaken me, saith the Lord, and have walked after other gods, and have served them, and have worshiped them, and have forsaken me, and have not kept my law; and ye have done evil more than your fathers; for, behold, ye walk every one after the stubbornness of his evil heart, so that ye hearken not unto me; therefore will I cast you forth out of this land, into the land that ye have not known, neither ye nor your fathers."
It was, indeed, fortunate for Baruch that none of the Temple prophets happened to be in the audience. There was present, however, a young man who was at first amused at Baruch's poetic fancies, then interested, then outraged when he discovered that he was listening to Jeremiah's prophesies. This young man was Micaiah, son of Gemariah, in whose chamber Baruch was speaking.
Now, Micaiah, grandson of the illustrious Shaphan, was growing up to be a different type from his noble ancestor. He was proud of his father's position at court and in the temple. He moved in the choicest royal circles and was a devoted court follower.
When Baruch had finished his answer to the questioners, Macaiah had had enough. Without a word he made his way through the crowd and ran all the way to the palace where, he knew, his father was at the counsel of the princes.
Post-haste and out of breath, he entered the scribe's chamber and repeated, as best he could, the words he had heard Baruch read out of the book to the people.
Here was a very awkward situation. The princes admitted Jeremiah's cleverness and Baruch's courage; but just at this time, when the king was contemplating rebellion from Babylonia, such preaching was treasonable and would prove injurious to the cause.
They held a hurried conference. Some were for the immediate arrest of Baruch; some were for his immediate death; some, who were opposed to rebellion, were for hearing the book read to them. Among the latter was Gemariah. One of their number, therefore, Jehudi by name, was despatched to the Temple with orders to bring Baruch and his scroll to the palace.
The King Hears and Acts.
Jehudi arrived in Gemariah's chamber to hear Baruch finish this:
"Thus saith the Lord:
"'Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom; neither let the mighty man glory in his might. Let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth, glory in this, that he hath understanding, and knoweth me, that I am the Lord who exerciseth loving-kindness, justice and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.'"
Jehudi pushed his way roughly through the crowd to Baruch. He laid his hand upon the speaker's shoulder and ordered him, in the name of the princes, to accompany him.
Baruch did not hesitate. His mind had been made up to face any consequences that might result from his mission. His heart, therefore, was strong and he accompanied Jehudi without protest.
Some of the princes marveled at the youth of Baruch, when they beheld him. He felt much reassured when Gemariah stepped forward, smiled at him and took the scroll from his hands. The son of Shaphan glanced at several columns of the scroll, returned it to Baruch and said:
"Sit down, now, and read it in our ears."
While selecting his passages, Baruch thought very quickly. Why not select prophecies that these princes would repeat to the king? Nothing could please his master more than that Jehoiakim should hear; perhaps, at last, he would understand. Therefore Baruch chose the following, addressed to the "King of Judah that sittest upon the throne of David, thou and thy servants and thy people".
"Execute ye justice and righteousness and deliver him that is robbed out of the hand of the oppressor; and do no wrong, do no violence, to the sojourner, the fatherless, nor the widow; neither shed innocent blood in this place.
"For if ye do this thing, indeed, then shall there enter in by the gates of this house kings sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, he, and his servants and his people. But if ye will not hear these words, I swear by myself, saith the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation."
As Baruch proceeded, he noted the restlessness of the princes under the thunderbolt denunciations contained in his master's words. So, he selected for his concluding passage this warning:
"For thus saith the Lord concerning the house of the king of Judah:
"'Thou art Gilead unto me, and the head of Lebanon; yet surely I will make thee a wilderness, and cities which are not inhabited.
"'And I will prepare destroyers against thee, every one with his weapons; and they shall cut down thy choice cedars, and cast them into the fire.
"'And many nations shall pass by this city, and they shall say every man to his neighbor, "Wherefore hath the Lord done thus unto this great city?" Then they shall answer, "Because they forsook the covenant of the Lord their God, and worshiped other gods, and served them."'"
Upon hearing this, the princes "turned in fear one toward another," and the spokesman said, "We will surely tell the king of all these words."
Baruch was happy. His first venture upon his mission had proved more successful than even Jeremiah could have hoped. He handed the scroll to Jehudi, expressed his thanks for the courtesy shown him, made his adieus and prepared to leave. Gemariah stopped him at the entrance, however, and said to him, warningly and with emphasis:
"Go, hide thee, thou and Jeremiah, and let no man know where ye are."
Baruch left the palace completely satisfied. Not only had he read the prophecies to the people, but also to the princes; and now the princes themselves were to read them to the king. On his way to Jeremiah's hiding place, however, some of the joy in his heart left him, because, thinking of Gemariah's suggestion, he feared lest the anger of the king should be aroused and a search be sent out for Jeremiah with the purpose of arresting him.
The winter palace was one of the achievements upon which Jehoiakim always congratulated himself because of its structure and beauty. Gemariah and the princes found the king in the sun parlor. Though the day was bright and clear, it was unusually cold. A charcoal fire in an Assyrian-wrought brass brazier, provided warmth for Jehoiakim who, at this time, was by no means a well man.
The king was greatly amused by Gemariah's story of the incidents at the Temple gate and in the scribe's chamber. He laughed heartily at the fact that Neriah's son was turning prophet.
Jehoiakim asked to see the scroll. Gemariah, not knowing what the king's attitude would be, had left it behind. Jehudi was sent for it. Jehoiakim seated himself comfortably in front of the brazier, while the princes were standing, and ordered Jehudi to read to him.
Jehudi had read but three or four columns when the king, to the amazement of the princes, rose and in anger snatched it out of his hands.
He glanced through parts of the papyrus, and, with an amused smile, took a penknife out of his robe and began to slice the scroll into pieces.
Several of the princes appealed to the king not to destroy it. In reply, Jehoiakim walked up and down the chamber, cursing and swearing that such things should be in his kingdom. He punctuated his remarks by throwing piece after piece of the scroll into the brazier until it was all consumed. Then he dismissed the princes, called them back and ordered that the army prepare for rebellion, dismissed them again, once more called them back and gave command that Jeremiah and Baruch be found and brought before him, dead or alive.
Beginning of the End.
Jeremiah waited eagerly for the return of Baruch and listened most attentively to the story of his adventure at the Temple and in the palace of the king. His pupil's bravery and courage in trying moments pleased the master greatly, and he complimented Baruch on his achievements thus far. The question of the restoration of the scroll never entered Jeremiah's mind at all, on account of his gladness in having had his discourses brought home to the king.
Three days later, however, Ebed-melech brought with the provisions the news that Jehoiakim had burned the scroll. Upon hearing this, all the spirit of hopefulness left Jeremiah. He lost his temper and, at once, dictated the following prophecy against Jehoiakim:
"Concerning Jehoiakim, king of Judah, thou shalt say," Thus saith the Lord:
"'Thou has burned this roll, saying "Why hast thou written therein saying, The king of Babylon shall certainly come and destroy this land, and shall cause to cease from thence man and beast?"'
"Therefore, thus saith the Lord concerning Jehoiakim, king of Judah:
"'He shall have none to sit upon the throne of David; and his dead body shall be cast out in the day to the heat, and in the night to the frost. And I will punish him and his seed and his servants for their iniquity; and I will bring upon them, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and upon the men of Judah, all the evil that I have pronounced against them.'"
Then Jeremiah took another papyrus and began once more the laborious task of dictating his discourses to Baruch.
Those were indeed days of pain and sorrow for Jeremiah and Baruch. They were not troubled so much by Jehoiakim's designs upon their lives—for Ebed-melech kept them well informed on the progress of the search—as they were by the preparations for rebellion. They knew that this was the beginning of the end.
At one time the faithful, old Ethiopian warned them that the search party was near at hand. They were forced to hide in a cave for two days. It was then that Jeremiah cried:
"Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth."
This danger past, Jeremiah and Baruch continued their laborious task of finishing the new scroll of prophecies. Then came Spring, and with it Jehoiakim's rebellion.
Nebuchadrezzar had not yet fully established himself on his throne in Babylon. He was too busy to deal with the rebellious Judean, himself. So he ordered a guerrilla warfare to be carried on by detached troops in all parts of Judah. It was only a question of time, however, when Nebuchadrezzar would invade Judah with his entire army and crush Jehoiakim like a snail under foot. No wonder that Jeremiah asked:
"Who will have pity on thee, O Jerusalem? Or who will bemoan thee? Or who will turn aside to ask for thy welfare!"
His grief was not alone for the great and glorious city and for its people, but for himself as well, that he should have to witness what he knew was inevitable:
"Oh, that I could comfort myself against sorrow! My heart is faint within me. The harvest is past, the summer is ended and we are not saved. For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt. I mourn; dismay hath taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why, then, is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?
"Oh, that my head were waters and mine eyes a fountain of tears, That I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people. Oh, that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men; That I might leave my people and go from them."
This despondency and hopelessness did not last long, however. As Nebuchadrezzar's guerrillas continued their cruel and merciless warfare, destroying crops and whole villages, Jeremiah determined that he must once more return to Jerusalem. He was ready and willing to pay for his efforts in behalf of his country with his life, if need be.
A comforting and encouraging message came to him from God, at this time:
"I will make thee unto this people a fortified, brazen wall; and they shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee, for I am with thee to save thee and to deliver thee.
"And I will deliver thee out of the hand of the wicked, and I will redeem thee out of the hand of the terrible."
But Baruch and Ebed-melech counseled against undue risks. They had heard that the Rechabites, that tribe of wandering nomads, which, because of the vow their ancestor, Jonadab, son of Rechab, had taken never to settle permanently in any definite place and never to follow agricultural pursuits, had been driven south by the marauding guerrillas and were making their way toward Jerusalem. Jeremiah and Baruch fell in with them and came, unobserved, into the city.
Many strange stories had been told about these nomads and the whole population turned out to gape and wonder at them. Jeremiah directed them to the Temple, and hundreds of people followed them.
At the Temple, Jeremiah ordered bowls of wine and cups and invited the Rechabites to refresh themselves with drink.
Jazaniah, their leader, arose in his place and, with a courteous bow to Jeremiah, replied:
"We drink no wine. For, Jonadab, our father, commanded us: 'Ye shall never drink wine, neither ye nor your sons. And we have obediently done just as Jonadab, our forefather, commanded us.'"
This incident gave Jeremiah the opportunity once more to pen his artillery against the people of Judah and Jerusalem.
"Thus saith the Lord:
"'Will he not learn instruction as to how one should heed my words? For, while the sons of Jonadab, the son of Rechab, have performed the command of their forefather, this people hath not hearkened unto me.'
"Therefore, thus saith the Lord: 'Behold I am about to bring upon Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the evil that I have pronounced against them.'"
Jeremiah thus revealed dramatically the meaning of all his preaching. Just as the Rechabites had remained faithful to the ancient vow of their ancestors, so must Judah remain faithful to the covenant between them and their God, if the country was to be saved from the hands of the Babylonians.
Yet, this proved to be but one more act in the hopeless part that Jeremiah was playing in the drama of Judah. Hopeless, indeed, it was now. As Jeremiah himself expressed it:
"Can the Ethiopian change his skin, Or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good That are taught to do evil."
The very next year, the year 597, Nebuchadrezzar gathered his full army at Riblah and prepared to march on Jerusalem.
The First Deportation.
Poor, miserable Jehoiakim! He was not even given an opportunity to meet Nebuchadrezzar on the battlefield in a single engagement. The Babylonian had hardly entered Judean territory when Jehoiakim died and was buried with his ancestors.
Of course, Jeremiah's prophecy, at the moment of his anger, that Jehoiakim's body would be thrown to the dogs, did not come true; but the king's death did not in any way put off the calamity that was to befall Jerusalem and its people. Upon hearing of Jehoiakim's death, Nebuchadrezzar, at Riblah, hastened his preparations to besiege Jerusalem.
An eighteen-year-old boy, Coniah, also known as Jehoiachin, succeeded his incapable father to the throne.
Jeremiah's advice to the young king was to submit to Nebuchadrezzar and remain in peace. The policy of Nebuchadrezzar, with regard to his dependencies, was that of peace. As long as they did not rebel and paid their tribute, he left them entirely undisturbed to work out their own futures.
So Jeremiah hoped that if Jehoiachin would at once show his willingness to be honest with Nebuchadrezzar, there would still be a chance for the country. Therefore he sent this message to the king:
"Say to the king and to the queen mother, 'Sit ye down low, For from the head hath fallen your fair crown.'"
Urged on by the queen mother and his father's counselors, however, Jehoiachin proposed to hold out against the Babylonian siege. Jeremiah, therefore, delivered the following oration in Jerusalem:
"As I live, saith the Lord, though Coniah (Jehoiachin), the son of Jehioakim, wore the signet ring upon my right hand, I would pluck him thence. And I will give thee into the hand of them that seek thy life, whom thou dreadest, into the hands of the Chaldeans, and I will hurl thee forth, and thy mother who bore thee, into a land where ye were not born, and there ye shall die. But to the land for which they long they shall not return.
"Is Coniah despised as a broken vessel and thrown forth into a land which he knoweth not? O land, land, hear the word of the Lord! Write down this man as childless! For no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David and ruling any more in Judah."
But Jehoiachin continued his stubborn defense until, driven by the horrors of famine, he
"together with his mother and his servants, his princes and his chamberlains went to meet Nebuchadrezzar."
On this unconditional surrender, Nebuchadrezzar determined never again to be troubled by stiff-necked, rebellious Judah. To that end he thoroughly ransacked the treasuries of the Temple and of the royal palace. He took away all the gold vessels that belonged to the worship of the Temple and, in addition, carried away
"as captives, all Jerusalem and all the princes and all the mighty warriors, even ten thousand, and all the craftsmen and the smiths; none remained, except the poorest people of the land.
"And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon; and the king's mother and the king's wives, and his chamberlains, and the chief men of the land he carried into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon.
"And all the men of ability, even seven thousand, and the craftsmen and the smiths, a thousand, all of them strong and ready for war; these the king of Babylon took captive to Babylon."
This was the first great deportation, in the year 597. The pride and strength of the country were taken away and led captive to a strange land.
Now he did not glory in the fact that all that he had spoken had finally come true.
He wept bitterly. He mourned as if every one of the exiles had been his brothers and sisters. He could not be consoled.
But when his first grief had worn off and the Prophet had a chance to study the conditions and to consider the future, God vouchsafed to him a new message for his people—a message of hope and of promise.
In Exile and in the Homeland.
Stripped of all its best people the country was in a sorry plight when, in the year 596, Nebuchadrezzar, on departing for Babylon, raised Zedekiah to the throne of Judah.
Zedekiah was an uncle of the ill-fated Jehoiachin. He was the third son of Josiah, and, like his brothers, Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim, he was to see the fortunes of Judah ebb to their lowest point, and finally to witness the destruction of the capital and the end of Judah.
The king had to surround himself with a vulgar, arrogant and uncouth set of people. All of the princes and leading Judeans who were taken to Babylon had been forced to sell their estates and properties at whatever price they would bring. These were bought up by anyone that came along and created a class of newly-rich that the country had never had before.
The court was now, therefore, composed of these newly-rich, who knew nothing about affairs of state, but who prided themselves on the fact that because they were spared in Judah, they were the choice remnant of God.
Zedekiah himself was feeble, slow to make up his mind and to come to a decision. He went to everybody for suggestions and help, including Jeremiah and the horde of false prophets that swarmed in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, he always took the wrong advice.
Notwithstanding these unpromising conditions, Jeremiah was filled with new hope for his land and people. He believed that now they would understand his position regarding them and the meaning of his constant preaching and teaching.
One day he was walking through a fig orchard near Anathoth. It was harvest time and everywhere there were baskets laden with figs. Under a particularly fine tree he noticed two baskets. One was filled with very good figs; the other with very bad ones. Immediately he saw in them a symbol for his people.
He compared Zedekiah, his upstart courtiers and the remnant in Jerusalem to the basket of bad figs. The princes, elders, mechanics and artisans, whom Nebuchadrezzar had carried away, he compared to the basket of good figs. There was no message of hope in the "bad figs" now ruling the country; there was hope, however, in the exiles. Therefore Jeremiah sent the following letter to the Jews in Babylonia:
"Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens and eat the fruit of them. Take ye wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply ye there, and be not diminished.
"And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray unto the Lord for it; for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.
"For, thus saith the Lord: 'After seventy years are accomplished for Babylon, I will visit you and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,' saith the Lord, 'thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you hope in your latter end.
"'And ye shall call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
"'And I will be found of you,' saith the Lord, 'and I will turn again your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you,' saith the Lord; 'and I will bring you again unto the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive.'"
Jerusalem, however, swarmed with false prophets who took themselves seriously. They prophesied the immediate fall of Babylonia; they promised the people that within two years the very Temple vessels that Nebuchadrezzar had carried away would be restored and Judah rejuvenated in its ancient glory.
Politicians, too, became active. Zedekiah, urged on by them, was making alliances with the little countries about Judah, with Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon, for the purpose of rebellion against Babylon; and behind them all was Pharaoh Hophrah, who came to the throne of Egypt in 589, and who immediately turned his eyes to Babylon, hoping to accomplish what Pharaoh Necho had failed to do.
Jeremiah denounced both prophets and politicians most bitterly. When ambassadors from the neighboring states came to Jerusalem, to consult with Zedekiah and to receive a message from the Egyptian king that he was ready to send an army to assist them against Babylon, Jeremiah appeared in the Market Place with thongs and yokes around his neck and on his arms. He sent a yoke to each of the foreign ambassadors, with a message to all of them advising that they permit the yoke of Babylon to remain around their necks, resting assured that the rebellion was doomed to failure.
In the Market Place Jeremiah was met by Hananiah, one of the false prophets. Hananiah tore the yoke from Jeremiah's neck, broke it over his knee and exclaimed:
"Thus saith the Lord:
"'So will I break the yoke of the king of Babylon from the neck of all the nations.'"
"Thus saith the Lord:
"'Thou hast broken the yoke of wood, but I will make a yoke of iron. I will put a yoke of iron on the necks of all these peoples that they may serve the king of Babylon.'"
And to Zedekiah he sent the following message:
"Bring your neck into his yoke and serve the king of Babylon; for these prophets prophesy a lie to you. 'I have not sent them,' saith the Lord, 'and they prophesy in My name falsely, that they might drive you out, and that ye might perish, together with the prophets who have prophesied falsely to you.'"
But Jeremiah's efforts were all in vain. That same year, 589, the rebellion broke out. Nebuchadrezzar did not delay long. He poured his trained veterans into Palestine. They marched through the country with the ease and assurance of a brook running along in its smooth course. Within a few months they were before Jerusalem and, in 588, besieged it.
A Friend in Need.
Zedekiah sent messenger after messenger into Egypt, urging, pleading, begging Hophrah to come to his assistance.
Jeremiah cried that it was too late; that Hophrah would not come.
"Pharaoh, king of Egypt, is but a noise; he hath let the appointed time pass by."
Hophrah, however, did finally bestir himself. Word came to Jerusalem, and it reached the besieging forces, that a vast army of Egyptians was on the march northward. To the surprise of all, Nebuchadrezzar withdrew from Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem prophets were jubilant. They saw their hopeful forecasts all fulfilled and Judah once more independent. But Jeremiah knew better. He held out no such false hopes:
"Behold, Pharaoh's army, which has come out to help you, shall return to Egypt. Then the Chaldeans shall come back and fight against the city and shall take it and burn it with fire.
"Do not deceive yourselves with the idea that the Chaldeans will depart from you; for they shall not depart. For though ye had smitten the whole army of the Chaldeans that fight against you, and there remained but wounded men, yet would these arise up each in his tent, and burn this city with fire."
Although this sounds like a trumpet call of doom, Jeremiah was not without hope. The course of events, as he saw it, included the fall of Judah at the hands of Nebuchadrezzar; but he hoped also for a later rehabilitation of the land and rebuilding of the capital.
Jeremiah pinned his faith on the exiles in Babylonia and the certainty of their return to Judah. To picture his hope vividly, he determined to purchase his family estate in Anathoth. While Jerusalem was celebrating the withdrawal of the Babylonian troops and awaiting the coming of Hophrah's army, Jeremiah, with this in mind, started for Anathoth.
At the gates of the town, however, he was arrested and brought back to Jerusalem in chains. He was accused of high treason, of having spied out Jerusalem, and of attempting to escape to the Babylonians with the secrets. Without trial he was sentenced to prison and jailed in the guard house of the Temple garrison.
But this was not sufficient for the princes who had trumped up this charge against Jeremiah. They came to Zedekiah and charged that, by his speeches and actions, he was undermining discipline in the army and weakening the spirit of the people. They demanded that he be put to death.
Zedekiah, always weak and uncertain, replied, "Behold, he is in your hands." But they dared not kill Jeremiah outright.
"Then took they Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern that was in the Court of the Guard; and they let down Jeremiah with cords. And in the cistern there was no water, but mire; and Jeremiah sank in the mire."
There was one person in the Court of the Guard who might have drawn Jeremiah right up out of the cistern where he had been left to die, had he not feared the wrath of the princes. It was Ebed-melech, the old, faithful friend. The Ethiopian was not afraid to die; but he felt that it would be useless to attempt to spirit Jeremiah away, for both would surely be caught. He cast about for some other means to save him whom he loved only as he had loved Josiah, the friend of his youth.
Had Ebed-melech known, however, that Jeremiah was sunk thigh-deep in mud, and that he had given himself up to die, he would have acted more quickly. It was on the second evening that he stole quietly out of the palace and up to the Court of the Guards. With great care, so as not to be discovered, he crawled to the cistern prison and leaned his gray head on the rim to listen. Jeremiah was praying:
"O Lord, Thou knowest. Remember me and visit me. Know that for Thy sake I have suffered reproach. Thy words were found, and I did eat them, And Thy words were unto me a joy and the rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Thy name. O Lord, God of hosts, why is my pain perpetual?"
Yes! There was no mistake about it—Jeremiah wanted to die! Hot tears coursed down Ebed-melech's cheeks as he listened. Then he whispered a hurried word of hope to the prisoner and was off for the palace as fast as his old legs could carry him.
Twice he was stopped by the guards, but each time quickly released. Everyone knew Ebed-melech, his story of Josiah's escape, his privileges in the palace. He was a fixture at the court, and people said that he would never die.
Arrived at the palace, he demanded to see the king. Brought into the presence of Zedekiah he asked to speak to him alone. When both were left alone, he fell at Zedekiah's feet. Pointing to the door through which several princes had just gone out, he said:
"My Lord, the King!
"These men have done evil in all that they have done to Jeremiah, the prophet, whom they have cast into the pit. He is like to die in the place where he is."
Raising his head and looking straight into the king's eyes, he pleaded for the life of Jeremiah. He spoke very fast, his grey head shaking and his lips trembling. At last he finished his impassioned speech, prostrated himself before Zedekiah and kissed the hem of his robe.
Zedekiah graciously yielded to Ebed-melech's pleading and sent three men with him to raise Jeremiah out of the cistern. More dead than alive, Jeremiah was again taken to the guard house. Ebed-melech was given free access to his cell at all times.
A few days later Zedekiah requested Ebed-melech to bring Jeremiah to him, secretly. Rumor had it that Pharaoh Hophrah had halted in his march northward, because the Babylonians had lifted the siege, and was returning to Egypt. Zedekiah, therefore, wanted to know from Jeremiah:
"Is there any word from the Lord? Conceal nothing from me."
Jeremiah answered him:
"If I declare it to you, will you promise not to put me to death? And if I give you counsel, you will not hearken to me."
But Zedekiah wanted to hear. Vacillating as he was, he hoped that perhaps this time Jeremiah would bring him a message of assurance. So, he swore to him, saying:
"As the Lord liveth, who hath given us this life, I will not put you to death; neither will I give you into the hands of these men."
Thereupon Jeremiah fearlessly delivered his final message to the king:
"They have betrayed thee; they have overcome thee, thy familiar friends! They have caused thy feet to sink in the mire; they turn back! They shall also bring out all your sons to the Chaldeans. You yourself shall not escape out of their hands, But shall be taken by the hand of the king of Babylon; And this city shall be burned."
Zedekiah did not tear and rage as his brother, Jehoiakim, would have done at such a message. He did not possess enough energy or determination for that. In a hopeless sort of voice he simply sent Jeremiah back to the guard house, where Ebed-melech continued looking after him.
Once more Jeremiah proceeded to give practical evidence of his faith in the future of Judah, if the country would only submit to Babylonian rule; or, if king and princes and false prophets persisted in pushing the country to its fall, of his faith in the Babylonian exiles, who, he truly believed, would return and build up Judah again.
Therefore, with the assistance of Ebed-melech and Baruch, who was a frequent visitor to his master, Jeremiah arranged for and purchased the family property near Anathoth from his uncle, Hananel, and turning the deed over to Baruch, said to him:
"Take this purchase deed and put it in an earthen vessel, that it may remain for years to come. For, thus saith the lord, 'Houses and fields and vineyards shall yet again be bought in this land.'"
Events that followed, however, seemed to mock his enthusiasm and his hope. The rumor of Hophrah's return to Egypt was verified—and Nebuchadrezzar was still encamped at Riblah.
In the Midst of Despair.
The year 586!
What a terrible year it was for Jerusalem and Judah—and Jeremiah!
Oh, the famine, the misery, the horrors within Jerusalem when the Babylonians besieged the city for the second time.
Oh, the carnage, the massacre, the hopeless destruction when the Babylonians finally captured Jerusalem and burned the Temple!
On the ninth day of the fourth month the first breach was made in the outer walls of Jerusalem by Nebuzaradan, the commander of Nebuchadrezzar's body guard, who led the besieging forces.
True to his character of weakling, Zedekiah, with his nobles, at this first sign of danger to the city, fled from Jerusalem through the king's gardens and the south gate, by night. When the news of the king's departure reached the Babylonians, Nebuzaradan, with a chosen troop, followed immediately in hot pursuit. The whole renegade lot were captured in the plains of Jericho. Thrown into chains, they were sent to Riblah, to Nebuchadrezzar, while Nebuzaradan returned to his command, to push the final capture of Jerusalem with an energy equal to that with which his master had destroyed Nineveh.
Two terrible tragedies were being enacted at about the same time, in Jerusalem and at Riblah. Nebuchadrezzar timed his performances at Riblah with the news that was brought to him from the doomed Jerusalem.
On the day when the report of the capture of the second defenses reached Riblah, Nebuchadrezzar gathered all his court in the market place, which had been transformed into a festive arena. Zedekiah, his sons and the Judean princes of the blood, in full regalia, were enthroned on platforms, on one side of the arena. Nebuchadrezzar and his courtiers were enthroned in full state on the other.
Zedekiah and his people, who had heard no news from the besieged capital, were greatly astonished at this whole procedure. They were soon to understand, however. At a given signal heralds entered and announced the report from the front. Following this came Nebuchadrezzar's body guard leading the lesser Judean nobles in chains; and, at a command given by a Babylonian officer from Nebuchadrezzar's platform, these were slaughtered before the eyes of Zedekiah, and of his sons and princes, in cold blood.
When the news was brought that Jerusalem had finally fallen, a second festival was held in Riblah in the same way. To all appearances, Zedekiah and his sons were the royal guests of the royal Nebuchadrezzar at a great royal celebration. It was noticeable, however, that the Judean princes of the blood were missing from the side of their king and his sons.
At the proper time the heralds announced the tidings from before Jerusalem, the Judean princes were marched into the center of the festive throng—and beheaded.
Finally, on the eighth day of the fifth month, the month of Ab, news came to Riblah that on the day before, the seventh of Ab, the destruction of the city had begun. The report stated that the little garrison in the Temple was holding out, but that Nebuzaradan hoped to finish up his work and burn the Temple on the day after; that is, on the ninth day of Ab.
Nebuchadrezzar took it for granted that Nebuzaradan's estimate of events was correct. Just at about the time, therefore, that Nebuchadrezzar calculated the Temple ought to be burning, on the ninth day of Ab, the final horror in Riblah began.
This time Zedekiah sat alone on his platform, a hopeless, shrunken figure, the mockery of a king. His heart told him the tragedy that he was about to behold; but he did not know what terrible thing the Babylonian had prepared for the climax.
Zedekiah's sons, mere boys, were brought into the open space before Nebuchadrezzar. Rings had been pierced through their noses and they were led by chains, like animals. A loud fanfare announced their coming. The trumpet notes were like so many sword points in Zedekiah's heart.
The young princes, too, knew what awaited them. Innocent of any crime, they marched bravely to their fate. One after another they laid their heads on the block, brave descendants of King David.
Zedekiah saw the executioner's axe rise—and fall; and again; and again!
His heart stopped beating. His brain was numb. His body was without feeling. He never knew just when he was led from his mock throne, nor by whom, nor where he was led to. He did not hear the jeers and howling of the blood-infuriated Chaldeans, nor the commands given him by his captors, nor the words addressed to him by Nebuchadrezzar himself.
All at once he felt a severe pain in his head, a shock through his entire nervous system, a red-fire-like blur before his eyes—and he was blind forever. The eyes that, for the last time, had looked upon the writhing bodies of his headless children had been pierced out by the royal spear in Nebuchadrezzar's hand!
In Jerusalem the tragedy was less studied and, therefore, the carnage was much greater. Imprisoned in the guard house, Jeremiah did not know the worst; but he surmised it.
He had not seen Ebed-melech or Baruch for several days. He did not know what progress the siege was making. No one had time to stop and speak with him. Even food was no longer brought to him. In his loneliness and helplessness, he turned to God:
"There is none like unto Thee, O Lord! Thou art great and Thy name is great in might. Who should not fear Thee, O King of the nations? The Lord is the true God. He is the living God and an everlasting King. He hath made the earth by His power; He hath established the world by His wisdom; By His understanding hath He stretched out the heavens. O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. O Lord God, correct me, but in judgment, Not in Thine anger, lest Thou bring me to nothing."
Finally came the seventh day, and then the ninth day of Ab! He heard the shouts and the clang of hand-to-hand fighting. The thick prison walls could not shut out the curses of hating, contending men, the shrieks of the wounded, the prayers and moans of the dying.
On the night of the seventh day of Ab he knew that the Babylonian had entered Jerusalem. The red sky told him that the city was burning. On the next day, he judged from the noises and commands within the garrison that preparations were being made for the last stand.
All that day and all that night long he heard the fighting on the Temple Mount. He pictured to himself every step of the retreating, beaten Judeans and the oncoming, victorious Babylonians.
On the morning of the next day, the fatal ninth of Ab, the oppressive heat told him that the Temple was on fire. Through the day, the shouting and the fighting died slowly away. Jeremiah knew that the end had come for his beloved fatherland—and for himself. His presence in the guard house had been accidentally or purposely forgotten!
At sunrise the next day, he was suddenly aroused from his aimless, mental wanderings by the noisy marching of troops. They passed his prison without stopping. He shouted, but they did not hear him. He could not see who they were, but surmised that they must be Babylonians.
Several hours passed and once more he heard the heavy steps of troops. This time he shouted at the top of his feeble voice and pounded the iron bars. They halted. Several were dispatched to the guard house. They broke open the door and brought forth a gray-headed, gray-bearded, unkempt little man, whose face and bearing showed the horrors he had been through.
The soldiers made sport of him, but the commander did not permit them to kill a helpless old man. Instead, he sent Jeremiah, through the ruins of the Temple and the city, with hundreds of others, to the prisoners' camp at Ramah, five miles north of Jerusalem.
Lamentations and a Vain Hope.
It is said that ties of true friendship are often stronger than ties of blood. Of such stuff were the ties made that bound together the families of Hilkiah, the priest, and Shaphan, the scribe. Hilkiah and Shaphan labored hand in hand with King Josiah in his reforms. Shaphan's sons, Ahikam and Gemariah, came to the assistance of Hilkiah's son, Jeremiah, when the latter was in sorest need. Now a grandson of Shaphan, Gedaliah, son of Ahikam, was to give a temporary haven to the weary Jeremiah.
The whole of the Shaphan family followed in the footsteps of their noble ancestor. Both Ahikam and Gemariah belonged to the Prophetic Party; though, unlike Jeremiah, they took the course of least resistance and continued in favor with the royal house.
Nebuchadrezzar, who kept himself informed concerning the political leanings of the leading families in Jerusalem, therefore believed that if he raised a scion of Shaphan's family to the governorship of Judah, the country would remain loyal and leave him to his peace in upbuilding Babylon.
Accordingly, Ahikam's and Gemariah's families were spared during the general slaughter in Jerusalem, and Gedaliah, Ahikam's son, was made governor of Judah when the victorious Babylonians had finished their work in the land.
There was still another person whom Nebuchadrezzar had given orders to spare—Jeremiah. Nothing would have pleased Nebuchadrezzar better than for Jehoiakim and Zedekiah to have followed the counsel of Jeremiah. Therefore, the prophet was not only to be saved from the carnage, but he was to be rewarded.
Nebuzaradan had strict orders to find Jeremiah. In fact, the troop which Jeremiah had heard in the garrison and that accidentally saved him was in search of him at the time.
Nebuzaradan knew that Jeremiah was alive, through Baruch. Baruch had been captured and thrown into chains on the seventh day of Ab. When he heard that the Babylonians were searching for Jeremiah to save him, he informed them that he was imprisoned in the garrison.
The captain of the troop had no idea that the emaciated old man was a prophet; but he thanked his stars that he had not permitted his soldiers to slay the poor fellow. He complimented himself when, at Ramah, he discovered that he had Jeremiah in his keeping and was complimented by the commander-in-chief when he brought Jeremiah to Nebuzaradan's tent.
While in the prisoners' camp, Jeremiah could not get out of his mind's eye the picture of devastation that he had beheld while passing through Jerusalem. He kept entirely away from his fellow prisoners. He wanted, and needed, to be alone. It was during these days he composed his Lamentations on Jerusalem:
"How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people? She is become as a widow, that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces is become a tributary! She weepeth sore in the night and her tears are on her cheeks; Among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her: All her friends have dealt treacherously with her; they are become her enemies. All that pass by clap their hands at thee: They hiss and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying, Is this the city that men called The perfection of beauty, The joy of the whole earth? All thine enemies have opened their mouth wide against thee: They hiss and gnash the teeth: they say, 'We have swallowed her up: Certainly this is the day that we looked for; we have found, we have seen it.'"
But Jeremiah, even in this great extremity, was not a man without hope for the future. He knew his God and understood that His anger with the worst of men or nations does not last forever:
"This I recall to my mind; therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord's loving-kindnesses that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him. It is good that a man should hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth; Let him sit alone and keep silence, because He hath laid it upon him; Let him put his mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope. Let him give his cheek to him that smiteth him; let him be filled full with reproach. For the Lord will not cast off forever."
Jeremiah was not particularly interested when he was ordered to appear before Nebuzaradan. It did not really matter to him any longer what would happen to him. He had fought a brave fight—and had lost. Life or death made no difference now. In fact, he would rather have died at the hands of the Babylonians than at the hands of his own people. So, he replied listlessly that he was ready.
Even when given clean garments and ordered to bathe and told to brighten up and be cheerful, because all would be well with him, he could not figure out what it all meant until he was in the tent of Nebuzaradan. Then, hope was born anew in his heart, as he listened to what the commander had to say to him:
"The Lord your God pronounced evil upon this place; you have sinned against the Lord and have not obeyed his voice, therefore this thing is come to you.
"And now behold, I loose you this day from the chains which are upon your hand. If it seem good to you to come with me to Babylon, come and I will look out for you. But if it seem undesirable to you to come with me to Babylon, do not come; but go back to Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon has made governor over the cities of Judah, and dwell with him among the people; or go wherever it seems right to you to go."
Jeremiah replied, shortly, that he preferred to remain in Judah. A clear look again came to his eyes; his shoulders straightened up; he carried his head erect once more; he had new work, on the old lines, to do.
He also asked a favor—that Baruch, son of Neriah, and Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian freedman of the royal house, if alive, should be permitted to remain with him.
Both his preference and his request were granted. Baruch was found among the living in Riblah and Ebed-melech at the camp in Ramah. Nebuzaradan gave Jeremiah provisions and presents and sent him, with his two companions, to Gedaliah, who had established his capital at the ancient city of Mizpah, on the dividing line between the old kingdoms of Israel and Judah.
On his departure from Judah, Nebuchadrezzar had deported with him practically the entire population that was of any consequence. He left behind only the poorest of vine dressers and farmers.
Gedaliah's position as governor, therefore, seemed to be but an empty honor. The country a wilderness, the capital in hopeless ruins, the Temple a pile of smoking and smouldering ashes—it was not a picture to bring rejoicing to a governor's heart.
But Jeremiah laid a new plan for rehabilitating the land. Neither Jerusalem nor the Temple were to be rebuilt, for the present. All efforts were to be bent toward building up a new conscience in the simple farmers and vine dressers; to fit these for entering a new covenant with their God and to make them worthy, indeed, to be God's people.
In politics the land was to stand, above all, for faithfulness and loyalty to Babylonia. That was what Nebuchadrezzar expected from Gedaliah and that was what Gedaliah proposed to do. With the religion Nebuchadrezzar never did and never would interfere. Therefore, first of all, the new governor issued this proclamation to the remnant that remained in Judah:
"Do not be afraid to serve the Chaldeans. Settle down and be subject to the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you. As for me, I will dwell at Mizpah, as your representative to receive the Chaldeans who shall come to us; but you gather for yourselves wine and fruits and oil, and put them in your vessels and dwell in your cities of which you have taken possession."
The future again looked bright. Under Gedaliah there was promise of a peaceful restoration of Judah.
Jewish refugees in Moab, Ammon and Edom began to return, because they looked for a just and benevolent rule from Shaphan's grandson; and they would not have been disappointed had not scheming selfishness and hateful treachery stepped in to shatter the last possible Judean hope.
Cowardice and Treachery.
Gedaliah had governed in Mizpah seven months when he was pleased to welcome back to his fatherland, Ishmael, son of Nethaniah, a Judean chieftain of the royal family, who had been driven to Ammon during the guerrilla warfare with Babylonia, under Jehoiakim.
A few days later, Johanan, son of Kareah, who was one of the governor's chief assistants, came to Gedaliah with the news that Ishmael was not sincere in his protestations of loyalty, that he was in the employ of Baalis, King of Ammon, and that his mission to Mizpah was to put Gedaliah out of the way. Baalis, Johanan reported, was contemplating rebellion some time in the future, and did not want in Judah a governor faithful to Babylonia. In addition, Johanan said, Ishmael was hoping, through the assistance of Baalis, to regain the throne of Judah for his family.
Gedaliah, nobleman that he was, refused to suspect Ishmael of treachery. On the contrary, a few days later he prepared a great banquet in Ishmael's honor and invited, in addition, all the Chaldean nobles whom Nebuchadrezzar had left behind in Judah to assist Gedaliah in restoring order and in establishing law and government.
Ishmael came with ten followers who had accompanied him from Ammon. At a given signal, Ishmael and his ten men fell upon the unsuspecting Gedaliah and his Chaldean guests and turned the banquet hall into a house of death.
On the next day, word came to Mizpah that eighty men from Shechem, Shiloh and Samaria, were coming to Mizpah, on their way to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices in the Temple ruins. These men had been selected by the survivors in that section of the country to express their thanks to God, in this manner, for having been spared by the Babylonians.
Ishmael went out to meet them. With tears in his eyes he told them that he was a messenger from Gedaliah to welcome them to Mizpah. Once in Mizpah, however, these eighty men were slaughtered by the ruthless and treacherous cowards from Ammon. Under Ishmael's direction, all the dead were thrown into the great reservoir that was built by King Asa of Judah at the time when he was at war with Baasha of Israel.
His work completed, Ishmael gathered his men to return to Baalis, in Ammon.
Johanan, who had warned Gedaliah of Ishmael's treachery, did not propose to let the murderer escape. He gathered up such faithful men as he could. By a quick march of two miles to the north, his little force confronted Ishmael just outside of Gibeon, on the well-traveled road leading to Beth Horon.
Before the little armies came to an engagement, Johanan sent word to Ishmael demanding surrender. Ishmael answered with a request for a parley on the next morning, which was granted.
During the night, however, Ishmael's men deserted him and went over to Johanan. Ishmael, himself, escaped to Ammon, and Johanan did not even pursue him. On the next morning all returned to Mizpah.
In Mizpah, Johanan was confronted with a new problem. What would happen when the news reached Babylon that all the Chaldean officers in Mizpah had been slain? The entire population knew what Nebuchadrezzar's vengeance meant. They feared to remain in Judah and, at a council of elders called by Johanan, it was determined to leave the fatherland altogether and emigrate to Egypt.
Before making a definite move, however, Johanan and the elders sought the advice of Jeremiah. They came to the prophet with this petition:
"Permit us to bring our petition before you that you may supplicate the Lord your God for us, even for all this remnant, for we are left but a few out of many—you yourself see us here—that the Lord your God may show us the way wherein we should walk, and the thing that we should do."
Jeremiah answered them:
"I have heard you; behold I will pray to the Lord your God according to your words, and whatever the Lord shall answer you, I will declare it to you; I will keep nothing back from you:"
To which the leaders replied:
"God be a true and faithful witness against us, if we do not according to all the word with which the Lord your God shall send you to us. Whether it be good or whether it be evil, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God, to whom we send you, that it may be well with us, when we obey the voice of the Lord our God."
Jeremiah took ten days to consider the matter. Then the message came to him from the Lord his God and he delivered it to Johanan and his chieftains:
"If ye will still abide in this land, then will I build you and not pull you down, and I will plant you and not pluck you, up; for I am sorry for the evil that I have done to you. Be not afraid of the king of Babylon, for I am with you to save you and to deliver you from his hand."
Johanan and the chieftains had hoped that Jeremiah would advise them to go to Egypt. They were disappointed. They took time, therefore, to discuss the matter further among themselves.
Jeremiah had had experience enough to know what the result would be. So he backed up his advice concerning Egypt with a public discourse, every line of which breathed hope for the future in Judah.
He tried to show that the old order of things had passed; that the old covenant between God and his people had been broken, never to be renewed again; that God would enter into a new covenant with them, a spiritual covenant, not so much with the whole nation, as with each individual. This is Jeremiah's memorable address at Mizpah:
"Behold the days are coming, That I will sow Israel and Judah with the seed of man and the seed of beast, And as once I watched over them to pluck up and to afflict, So will I be watchful over them to build and to plant.
"'Behold the days are coming,' saith the Lord, 'That I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers, In the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they themselves broke and I was displeased with them; But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel:
"'After those days,' saith the Lord, 'I will put my teaching in their breast and on their heart will I write it; And I will be to them a God and they shall be to me a people. And they shall not teach any more every man his neighbor, And every man his brother, saying, "Know the Lord," For they shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest; For I will forgive them their iniquities and remember their sins no more.'"
On the day of the meeting to settle finally the question of emigration to Egypt, another shocking surprise awaited Jeremiah.
He was accused of being a false prophet; of not having received the message against going into Egypt from God, at all. He was accused of having conspired with Baruch, who, Jeremiah was told, being of noble family, had ambitions to become King of Judah. Finally he was warned that Baruch intended to hand all the remnant over to Nebuchadrezzar. More than that! It was determined to emigrate to Egypt at once and that both Jeremiah and Baruch must accompany the self-exiled.
Jeremiah, the Martyred.
The forcing of Jeremiah into Egyptian exile with the others was the stroke that finally broke Jeremiah's heart. Against such stiff-necked perversity he could hold out no longer. He submitted, like a lamb, this time to be led, literally, to the slaughter.
Judah was destroyed, the Temple burnt, the royal family exterminated, the last of the friends of Jeremiah's family dead, the strength and nobility of the nation in Babylonian captivity, and now, the miserable remnant that was left in Judah, self-exiled to Egypt!
The destination of the emigrants was Tehaphenes, just across the boundary from Judah. There was already a small colony of Jews there. Being a frontier city on the main road to Jerusalem, Judeans often found refuge there from the many destructive armies that swept Judah.
These gave all the emigrants a hearty welcome. Jeremiah might have settled down there to pass the remaining years of his life quietly and at peace; or, he might have gone to Babylon where Nebuzaradan had promised to look after him. The course of events however, bade him remain where he now was.
Pharaoh Hophrah still had in mind the conquest of Babylon. But Jeremiah had preached all his life that Nebuchadrezzar was God's chosen servant for smiting the nations, Egypt among them. He had, many times, dared death rather than dare be untrue to God and to his mission as a prophet. Therefore, in Tehaphenes, before Pharaoh's palace, Jeremiah delivered the following oration:
"Take great stones in thine hand and hide them in the clay of the pavement which is at the entry of Pharaoh's house in Tehaphenes, in the sight of the men of Judah; and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadrezzar, the king of Babylon, My servant, and will set his throne upon these stones that I have hid; and he shall spread his royal pavilion over them. And when he cometh, he shall smite the land of Egypt."
Both the Jews and the Egyptians who heard him were thoroughly enraged. Their rage swelled into an outcry, and the outcry into an attack upon Jeremiah. The very stones of which he spoke were showered upon him by the infuriated mob.
Death, that he had often faced but escaped, now came to Jeremiah in this way—and Baruch, loving disciple and friend that he was, and Ebed-melech, faithful admirer and servant that he was, stood by Jeremiah's side to the last, sharing his fate with him.
Through no fault of his own, but as God's chosen servant, speaking naught but the word of God as it was revealed to him, Jeremiah had been despised, degraded, spat upon, made to suffer for the sins of his people and, finally, he was martyred at their hands.
It is held by some that the martyrdom of Jeremiah inspired a later prophet to write the following remarkable lines, although most Jewish scholars explain these lines as personifying the people of Israel and referring to its sufferings:
"Who would have believed what now we hear? And to whom was the Lord's arm revealed? Why, he grew up like a sapling before us, Like a shoot out of dry ground!
"He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of pain and familiar with sorrow: Yea, like one from whom men hide their faces, He was despised, and we esteemed him not.
"Surely our sufferings he himself bore, And our pains he carried; Yet we esteemed him stricken, Smitten of God and afflicted.
"But he was wounded for our transgressions, Crushed because of our iniquities; The chastisement for our well-being was upon him, And through his stripes healing came to us.
"All of us, like sheep, had gone astray, We had turned each his own way; And the Lord laid upon him, The guilt of us all.
"He was sore pressed, yet he resigned himself, And open not his mouth, As a lamb is led to the slaughter, And as a sheep that before her shearers is dumb.
"Shut out from justice he was hurried away; And as for his fate, who regarded it?— That he was cut off out of the land of the living, Stricken to death for our transgressions.
"They made his grave with the wicked, And his tomb with the ungodly, Although he had done no violence, Neither was any deceit in his mouth.
"But the Lord hath pleasure in His servant; He will deliver his soul from anguish; He will let him see and be satisfied, And will vindicate him for his woes."
[END OF VOLUME ONE.]
[Transcriber's note: the following table was presented across two pages in original text, and cannot be fit into an 80-column format. I have presented it across 160 columns. As such, it may not display properly on some screens, especially if word wrap is turned on.]
KINGDOM OF UNITED HEBREW KINGDOM OF DAMASCUS ASSYRIA EGYPT BABYLONIA PERSIA JUDAH KINGDOM ISRAEL
B.C.E. 12th and 11th Centuries, Settlement of Canaan by Children of Israel 1037 United Hebrew Kingdom Established 1037 Saul 1017 David 977 Solomon
DIVISION OF THE KINGDOM
KINGDOM OF ———937——— KINGDOM OF JUDAH ISRAEL
937 Rehoboam 937 Jeroboam 917 Asa 913 Baasha 887 Omri 876 Jehoshaphat Elijah 875 Ahab Ben Hadad II 860-839 Five 851 Jehoram 851 Jehoram Expeditions 843 Ahaziah Elisha against Damascus 842 Athaliah 842 Jehu 836 Joash 816 Hazael Defeats 814 Jehoahaz Joash 796 Amaziah 797 Jehoash 782 Uzziah (Azariah) Isaiah 781 Jereboam II 745 Tiglath-Pileser Amos III—Two Hosea Expeditions 735 Ahaz against Israel Micah 734 Hoshea 732 and Judah DESTRUCTION OF DAMASCUS BY 727 Shalmaneser IV 727 Hezekiah 722 ASSYRIA 722 Destroys DESTRUCTION OF Kingdom of KINGDOM OF Israel ISRAEL BY 686 Manasseh ASSYRIA 722 Sargon Zephaniah 711 Expedition Nahum against Judah Jeremiah Habakuk 705 Sennacherib 701 Expedition against Judah 639 Josiah and Egypt 700 Shabataka
605 Jehoiakim 681 Esarhaddon 600 Conquered by 675-71 Two Babylon Expeditions 597 Zedekiah against Judah 672 Necho 597 First Captivity and Egypt by Babylon Ezekiel 668 Ashurbanipal Obadiah Two Expeditions 663 586 against Judah EGPYT UNDER DESTRUCTION OF and Egypt ASSYRIAN RULE 626 Nabopolassar KINGDOM OF 605 Nebuchadrezzar JUDAH BY 606 BABYLON DESTRUCTION OF 600 Defeats Judah Isaiah II ASSYRIA BY in Battle 538 Cyrus Restores BABYLONIA 586 Destroys Captives to Judah Kingdom of 559 Cyrus Haggai Judah 538 Conquers Zachariah Babylonia Malachi 538 529 Cambyses 525 CONQUEST OF 445 Nehemiah EGYPT CONQUERED BAYBLONIA BY 464 Artaxerxes I Governor of BY PERSIA PERSIA Jerusalem Joel