We come to the end of our little series on Jeremiah with a look at the last chapter of the book. This chapter was not written by Jeremiah since the previous chapter (51) ends with the statement ‘The words of Jeremiah end here’. Rather what we have is an historical appendix. In fact Ch.52 is substantially the same as 2 Kings 24:18-25:30. But it makes sense for the book of Jeremiah to end on this note - for it shows that for all that Jeremiah’s warnings had been a long time in being fulfilled - they did come to pass.
1 - The awful suffering
The events described here are indeed horrific. Fist, there was a massive long siege of Jerusalem (from the ninth to the eleventh year of Zedekiah - vv4-5). Jerusalem was built in a strong position. It was on the edge of a spur of a mountain range, with the ground falling away sharply on three sides. It was thus difficult to capture, an attacking army had to climb a steep hill and the people on the top are dropping boulders on the soldiers heads. But the prolonged siege took its effects, slowly the food ran out (v.6). The book of Lamentations describes some of the horrors of this time, Lam. 2:2 tells us that women were reduced to eating the flesh of their own children. People must have found themselves asking whether Nebuchadnezzar could do worse to them by capturing them than he had done by besieging them. Finally the gates were opened and the army rode in (v.7). King Zedekiah took flight, but was captured and blinded, although he before that he was made to watch the execution of his sons. Zedekiah would have been about 40. His sons therefore will have been little boys or teenagers. But from the Babylonian point of view they were potential successors to the Jewish throne. The remainder of the chapter describes the sack of Jerusalem itself. The temple, the palace, and the housing generally were set on fire, and the walls of Jerusalem were demolished. The vessels of the temple were appropriated. The chief priest and some other people were killed, and thousands of others were taken off to Babylon.
2 - What’s the point of telling us all this?
Why does the Bible contain such passages? One reason may be that it reflects the Bible’s recognition of the tragic side to human existence. It acknowledges that human life is characterised by disaster and death, by calamity and grief, by misfortune and loss. Now, of course, we do not need the Bible to tell us about such things; we know them too well without it. But we may note nevertheless that the Bible does describe this kind of world. Christianity is not a religion that hides from the realities of life; it faces up to them. Sometimes Christians have hidden from these realities, or behaved as if tragedy and calamity were nothing to do with God, who is only concerned with prayer and the church. But the world is God’s world, and the Bible recognises that there is about human life this element of the tragic; and it says that God is involved in it.
Thus the story of the fall of Jerusalem presupposes that history is in the control of the God of Israel. Even in this tragedy, with its human mistakes and its sin and its evil, his purpose is being worked out. This is quite clear from v.3 ‘It was because of the Lord’s anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence.’ This, of course, was the basic message of Jeremiah. That may well be why the book ends at this point, rather than telling us about what happened afterwards to Jeremiah. The book of Jeremiah is not fundamentally about Jeremiah, but about the message or word of God. It is about the word that God gave Jeremiah to proclaim, it tells of the reaction of different people to God’s word and, in the end, the word of God is proved right. Even though Jeremiah is not mentioned in this chapter it is the vindication of his ministry.
3 - A new hope
But if that is the case. If Jeremiah got it right about judgment. If God’s word’s of warning proved to be sincere, then, in fact, at the end of it all, there is hope. For Jeremiah also brought a message of hope, there is taste of it even in this last chapter with the announcement of the release of Jehoiachin, but more profoundly we are reminded of Jeremiah’s announcement of a new covenant and of restoration. And if God was so much in control that what happened in world history could fulfil his purposes of judgement, then he is also so much in control of world history that he can fulfil his purposes of salvation. And, of course, that is precisely the case with Christmas and the birth of Jesus. The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, it was a Roman census that made that possible. So the ultimate message of Jeremiah is one of hope. We have seen along the way that God cannot be mocked. If his people are sinful then he will bring punishment, but we have seen that he works to his own timetable, and that can make life hard for his spokesmen. But God is ultimately a God of mercy and salvation, who will take away from his people their heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh - warm, responsive and obedient to him.