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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 37

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


2. Incidents during the fall of Jerusalem chs. 37-39

The events recorded in these chapters all took place during the siege of Jerusalem (ca. 588-586 B.C.), when Zedekiah was king. They are in chronological order. Jeremiah was probably in his mid-fifties at this time.

Verse 1

Nebuchadnezzar, sovereign over Judah since Jehoiakim’s unsuccessful rebellion against him in 598 B.C., set up Zedekiah, Jehoiakim’s brother, as Judah’s king in 597 B.C. (cf. 2 Kings 24:17). Jehoiakim’s son, Jehoiachin (Coniah), had reigned for three months following his father’s deposition, but then Nebuchadnezzar deported him to Babylon (2 Kings 24:12). Jehoiachin was never the authorized king of Judah. Thus Jeremiah’s prophecy about Jehoiakim’s end had come to pass (cf. Jeremiah 36:30).

Verses 1-5

The historical situation 37:1-5

Verses 1-10

Zedekiah’s prayer request and its answer 37:1-10

This event happened about 18 years after the one recorded in chapter 36.

Verse 2

Neither Zedekiah, nor his nobles, nor the people of the land, paid any attention to Jeremiah’s prophecies to them.

Verse 3

However, Zedekiah sent two messengers to Jeremiah requesting the prophet’s prayers on the nation’s behalf. This was the second time that the king asked Jeremiah for information about the outcome of the invasion (cf. ch. 21). It is always easier to pray than to repent (cf. Isaiah 1:10-20). Perhaps Zedekiah was hoping for a last-minute deliverance such as God granted Jerusalem in Hezekiah’s days (2 Kings 19:32-37). But Jeremiah had already predicted the fates of this king and the city at the commencement of the siege (Jeremiah 34:1-7).

Zephaniah the priest was a member of the delegation that Zedekiah had sent to Jeremiah at the beginning of the siege (Jeremiah 21:1-10). He was also the recipient of a letter from the false prophet Shemaiah, who was already in Babylonian exile, demanding Jeremiah’s imprisonment (Jeremiah 29:24-32). Jehucal (also called Jucal) appears later as Jeremiah’s enemy (Jeremiah 38:1).

Verse 4

Jeremiah was at this time still free to move about the city. Later his arrest and confinement prohibited this.

Verse 5

About this time, Pharaoh Hophra’s Egyptian army moved eastward toward Judah to support Zedekiah in his revolt against Babylon (2 Kings 24:7; Ezekiel 17:11-21). This prompted the Babylonians to lift the siege of Jerusalem and prepare to fight the Egyptians (cf. Jeremiah 34:8-11).

Verses 6-7

The Lord told Jeremiah to tell Zedekiah that the Egyptian army, which had come to help him, would return home. It did, in fact, retreat before joining battle.

Verses 6-10

The Lord’s message to Zedekiah 37:6-10

Verse 8

The Babylonians would return, besiege, capture, and burn Jerusalem.

Verses 9-10

Zedekiah should not deceive himself by thinking that the Chaldeans had departed from Jerusalem permanently. Jerusalem’s destruction was so certain, that even if the Judeans defeated the entire Babylonian army, the Lord would use the wounded Chaldean soldiers to rise up and destroy the city. In other words, deliverance was out of the question.

Verses 11-12

During the lifting of the siege of Jerusalem just described (Jeremiah 37:5), Jeremiah left the city to conduct some personal business concerning the purchase of some property in the territory of Benjamin. This may have been the land in Anathoth that his cousin Hanamel later wanted him to buy (cf. Jeremiah 32:6-15).

Since Jeremiah was imprisoned in the court of the guard when Hanamel approached him about buying this property, Jeremiah may have left the city to view the land anticipating that his cousin would make the offer. The present incident closes with Jeremiah confined in the court of the guard (Jeremiah 37:21). This indicates that the present incident occurred before Hanamel’s offer, which he made when Jeremiah was confined there. Or these may be two unrelated incidents.

Verses 11-16

The reason for his arrest and imprisonment 37:11-16

Verses 11-21

Jeremiah’s arrest and imprisonment 37:11-21

The text records five steps in Jeremiah’s prison experiences. First, he was arrested in the gate and committed to a dungeon on a false charge of treason (Jeremiah 37:11-15). Second, he was released from the dungeon but restricted to the courtyard of the prison (Jeremiah 37:16-21). Third, he was imprisoned in Malchijah’s miry dungeon in the prison courtyard (Jeremiah 38:6). Fourth, he was released from this dungeon but restricted to the prison courtyard again until Jerusalem fell (Jeremiah 38:17-28). Fifth, Nebuzaradan, the captain of the Babylonian guard, took him in chains to Ramah, where he released Jeremiah (Jeremiah 40:1-4). [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 812.]

Verse 13

Jeremiah was leaving Jerusalem by the northern gate that led to the territory of Benjamin when Irijah, a captain of the guard, arrested him. [Note: Irijah’s ancestor, Hananiah, would not have been the same man who opposed Jeremiah (28:10).] He charged the prophet with defecting to the enemy. Jeremiah had urged others to submit to the Babylonians (Jeremiah 21:9; Jeremiah 38:2), and some of the people had taken his advice (Jeremiah 38:2; Jeremiah 38:19; Jeremiah 39:9; Jeremiah 52:15), so the charge was plausible.

Verse 14

Jeremiah denied the charge but to no avail. Irijah took him prisoner and brought him before the city officials.

Verses 15-16

The officials angrily beat Jeremiah and confined him in the house of a scribe named Jonathan, which they had converted into a jail. This reference begins what some scholars have referred to as "Jeremiah’s passion." Jeremiah remained in an underground dungeon for many days. The Hebrew words describing this cell are difficult to interpret. They may describe "a complex of large, underground cisterns that had been converted into a prison," [Note: Dyer, "Jeremiah," p. 1182.] or "a vaulted cell in a dungeon." [Note: Feinberg, "Jeremiah," p. 613.] Jeremiah feared for his life there (Jeremiah 37:20). The hostile attitude of Zedekiah’s officials contrasts sharply with that of Jehoiakim’s officials in the previous chapter (Jeremiah 36:11-19).

Verse 17

Zedekiah secretly sent for Jeremiah and brought him into the palace. The king feared his nobles who were "hawks" militarily and hostile to Jeremiah. Zedekiah asked the prophet if the Lord had given him any message in response to his previous praying (Jeremiah 37:3). Jeremiah replied that he did have a message from the Lord: that the king would become a prisoner of Nebuchadnezzar. The king was really the one bound in this situation, and the prisoner was the truly free man. [Note: This interview anticipates other similar ones between Jesus and Pilate and Herod, and between Paul and Felix, Festus, and Agrippa.]

Verses 17-21

The consequences of his arrest and imprisonment 37:17-21

Verses 18-19

Jeremiah then asked Zedekiah what he had done to deserve imprisonment. His prophecies had proved true, whereas the messages of the prophets who predicted that Nebuchadnezzar would not invade the land had proved false. These false prophets were evidently free, but Jeremiah was in prison.

Verse 20

Jeremiah begged the king not to send him back to prison because he would die there.

Verse 21

Zedekiah conceded and sent him to a better place of confinement, the court of the guard (cf. Jeremiah 32:2; Nehemiah 3:25). It was in this place that his cousin Hanamel visited Jeremiah (Jeremiah 34:1-15). The king also ordered that the prophet receive bread regularly as long as there was bread in the city (cf. Romans 8:28). This is the only place in Scripture where the name of a street in Jerusalem appears: Baker Street. Had Zedekiah not feared his nobles, this vacillating king might have given Jeremiah his freedom (cf., e.g., some other vacillators: Pharaoh with Moses; Herod with John the Baptist; Pilate and Herod with Jesus; Felix, Festus, and Agrippa with Paul).

"In many ways, Zedekiah is a tragic figure. It seems that he is attracted to Jeremiah and his message like iron filings to a magnet, yet he is never able to summon enough resolve to act in response to that message. While such conclusions are speculative, it is possible that Zedekiah presents a paradigm of persons whose rejection of the purposes of God through their weakness of character is every bit as damaging and damning as the aggressive rebellion of Jehoiakim." [Note: Keown, p. 218.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 37". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/jeremiah-37.html. 2012.
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