Heart of the Story: Nebuzaradan, the commander of Nebuchadnezzar’s imperial guard, was given the assignment of destroying Jerusalem and rescuing Jeremiah.
Story Line: In 589 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar assigned the commander of his imperial guard, Nebuzaradan, the job of destroying Jerusalem. On August 14, 586 B.C., Nebuzaradan arrived in Jerusalem. He set fire to Solomon’s Temple, the royal palace, and all the houses in Jerusalem; every important building in Jerusalem was burnt down. The imperial guard broke down the walls around Jerusalem. The city was looted. All gold, silver, and bronze was carried to Babylon.
Nebuzaradan took high level Temple priests and government officials to King Nebuchadnezzar in Riblah where they were executed. Nebuzaradan took the people who defected to the Babylonians along with those who remained in Jerusalem to Babylon as captives. The only people left in Judah were the poorest people who owned nothing. Nebuzaradin gave the vineyards and field to them.
Nebuchadnezzar gave orders to Nebuzaradin and other senior officials that Jeremiah should be freed and that they should do what Jeremiah asked of them. When the leaders found Jeremiah in the courtyards of the guards where Zedekiah confined him, they gave him to Gedaliah, the Nebuchadnezzar-appointed governor of Judea.
Apparently, a mix-up occurred. Somehow Jeremiah was swept up with the other Jewish captives. Jeremiah was shackled and started on his way to Babylon. Nebuzaradan found Jeremiah at Ramah (five miles north of Jerusalem) and released him. Nebuzaradan knew of Jeremiah’s prophecies because he summarized them to Jeremiah when he said “God decreed this disaster” and “all of this happened because you people sinned against the Lord and did not obey him” (Jeremiah 40:3, ESV, p. 1262). Then Nebuzaradan told Jeremiah that he could travel to Babylon with him and he would look after Jeremiah or Jeremiah could go wherever he pleased in the whole country.
Analysis of Nebuzaradan’s actions: Nebuzaradan was the commander of the Babylonian imperial guard which was an elite cohort of soldiers answerable only to King Nebuchadnezzar. He was one of the greatest commanders of his day. He followed Nebuchadnezzar’s commands explicitly, thoroughly destroying Jerusalem.
The extent of Nebuzaradan’s brutality is an open question. When the Babylonian breeched the walls of Jerusalem and entered the city, they inflicted the worst atrocities imaginable on Jerusalem citizens, e.g., rape, cutting babies out of mothers’ stomachs and bashing their heads against stone walls. Nebuzaradan could have been one of these commanders or he may have remained with Nebuchadnezzar in Ribah guarding King Nebuchadnezzar.
At the same time, there is no indication that Nebuzaradan was a brutal when he returned to destroy the buildings in Jerusalem. A brutal commander would have treated the Jerusalemites as slaves and made them tear down the city buildings and walls. Instead the Babylonian army completed the destruction themselves (2 Kings 25:10, 13).
Not only was Nebuzaradan knowledgeable about Jeremiah’s prophecies, but went the second mile in caring for him. He had freed Jeremiah from confinement in the courtyard of the guards and sent him to Gedaliah so Jeremiah would have food and shelter. When he learned that Jeremiah was not with Gedaliah, Nebuzaradan retrieved him from a captive train headed for Babylon. Consistent with Jeremiah’s wishes, Nebuzaradan sent him to Gedaliah with provisions and a present. Likely, Nebuzaradan also gave Jeremiah some sort of written document so Jeremiah would not again be taken in a captive train to Babylon.
Conclusion: Nebuzaradan was a successful Babylonian war commander. Given his treatment of Jeremiah, he may have been a more humane than some of his contemporaries.
Copyright: August 23, 2015: Carolyn A. Roth