Now we come to the last words of the book with Jeremiah’s name. Tradition says that he also wrote the book of Lamentations (and there’s no reason to doubt it), but this is the end of the narrative. Tradition also says that he ended up in exile in Egypt, having the misfortune to see his prophecies of doom fulfilled.
Judah was in exile, the vast majority of her people either dead or taken by force to other lands within the Babylonian kingdom. Its days as a sovereign nation were no more. Everything that had built up by Joshua, David, Solomon and others was lying in dust and ashes.
The last chapter recounts the sordid story of Judah’s last days of relative freedom. King Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon, and it came down on Judah like a ton of bricks. Jerusalem lasted for some time under siege, but it finally fell. The king got to see his sons killed before his eyes, and then had those eyes put out so that would be the very last thing he would see in this world. And then he—along with the most prominent citizens and most of the population—was put in chains and carried off to Babylon.
What was left of the temple of Solomon was torn down brick by brick. It had started off as an incredible project, with gold and silver and cedar. Over the years, those had been systematically been stripped down. By the time of Jeremiah’s last days, it was a mere shadow of what Solomon had built. And then the Babylonians came. . . and took anything else worth having and burned down the rest. The temple was no more.
But then we come to the last words of the book of Jeremiah, and the Lord finishes it off with a small glimmer of hope in a dark place. King Zedekiah died in prison, but there was another king of Judah in Babylon’s custody named Jehoiachin. A new king of Babylon arose by name of Awel-Marduk. And that’s where today’s passage comes in.
Awel-Marduk dealt kindly with the king of Judah: He freed Jehoiachin from prison, spoke kindly to him, and treated him with honor, even higher honor than the other kings in custody. Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and dined at the king's table for the rest of his life.
Why is this important? For two reasons. First, there’s a bit of irony here. One of the most depressing books of the Bible ends on a note of hope. Yes, Judah was still in exile. No, she wasn’t a sovereign nation any longer, and wouldn’t be again for the rest of the Old Testament period. But these last verses are a sign and symbol that the Lord wasn't finished with Israel yet. He’s the God of Israel, and he was not relinquishing that title. No matter what Israel did or how badly he punished her, she was still his, and he was still looking out for her, providing for her, and protecting her. And her best days were not behind her, but still yet to come.
The second reason is that this last word picture in Jeremiah’s book—I believe—is also a good picture of the situation a lot of you are experiencing right now. Your life stinks. Maybe you’re having real problems paying your bills and making ends meet. Maybe your marriage is in the pits. Maybe you’re single and want to be married, but it seems like you’re going to be alone for the rest of your life. Or maybe something even worse is happening to you. And right now the Lord seems so far away, and your cries for help have seemingly gone unanswered.
Take heart. If you’re a believer, he’s not done with you yet. For every child of God, it can truly be said that the best is yet to come.
And in the meantime, look for the small mercies. Even with that huge “bad” hanging around in your life, I’m sure if you look you can find little glimmers of hope that are breaking through the darkness. He’s still here, even if you can’t feel him or hear his voice right now. Look for the small comforts in the dark places. They can carry you until your Shepherd brings you into the light again.
Lord Jesus, you’re my Shepherd. Sometimes the places you lead me into have long shadows, but your small mercies are the tokens of what lies in store. Thank you.