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Jeremiah Cast into a Pit
v. 1. Then Shephatiah, the son of Mattan, and Gedaliah, the son of Pashur, the latter being of priestly descent, but full of enmity toward the prophet, and Jucal, the son of Shelemiah, and Pashur, the son of Malchiah, 21:1, heard the words that Jeremiah had spoken unto all the people, saying,
v. 2. Thus saith the Lord, He that remaineth in this city shall die by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence, 21:9; but he that goeth forth to the Chaldeans shall live, since Jehovah had now definitely decided that they should possess the land of Judah; for he shall have his life for a prey and shall live. Though all his goods might perish, the life of every such person would be spared.
v. 3. Thus saith the Lord, This city shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon's army, which shall take it. Sayings of this kind were the gist of Jeremiah's proclamation to the soldiers and to all members of the nation who happened to come into the court of the prison. Although he was under suspicion as favoring the enemy's cause and even of playing traitor to his own nation, Jeremiah was not deterred from his course of action as the Lord's messenger. This fact, however, filled the leaders of the people with the greatest bitterness.
v. 4. Therefore the princes said unto the king, We beseech thee, let this man be put to death; for thus he weakeneth the hands of the men of war that remain in this city, and the hands of all the people, in speaking such words unto them, he caused their hands to hang down helplessly, he discouraged them utterly; for this man seeketh not the welfare of this people, but the hurt. So far as outward appearances were concerned, there was some foundation for the complaint of the rulers, for the words of Jeremiah certainly tended to discourage any attempts at defending the city. At the same time, Jeremiah was the best of patriots, having the true welfare of his people in view, for the spirit exhibited by the rulers was not a confidence founded on the divine will, but a carnal obstinacy, which was bound to lead to destruction.
v. 5. Then Zedekiah, the king, weakly yielding to the demand of his counselors, especially since he seems to have harbored a secret grudge against the prophet on his own account, said, Behold, he is in your hand; for the king is not he that can do anything against you. It was a complimentary speech, but at the same time a confession both of weakness of character and of weakness of authority.
v. 6. Then took they Jeremiah and cast him into the dungeon, a pit formerly used as a cistern, of Malchiah, the son of Hammelech, that was in the court of the prison; and they let down Jeremiah with cords, there being no direct way of access to the bottom of the pit. And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire, the mud and settlings that remained after the water had been drawn out; so Jeremiah sunk in the mire. The act shows the hatred of the princes. They did not have Jeremiah executed with the sword, as they might have done; but they deliberately chose this method of letting the prophet die under the most distressing circumstances, while they, at the same time, could quiet the voice of their conscience by declaring that they had not shed Jeremiah's blood.
v. 7. Now, when Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian, one of the eunuchs which was in the king's house, probably the chief officer of the king's harem, heard that they had put Jeremiah in the dungeon, the king then sitting in the Gate of Benjamin, one of the northern gates of the city, where he may have been superintending some work connected with the defense of the city,
v. 8. Ebed-melech went forth out of the king's house and spake to the king, not secretly, but openly, fearlessly championing the cause of the persecuted prophet and risking the displeasure of the capricious king, saying,
v. 9. My lord the king, these men, who had ordered this cruelty to be performed against Jeremiah, have done evil in all that they have done to Jeremiah, the prophet, whom they have cast into the dungeon; and he is like to die for hunger in the place where he is, where he would be most likely to be overlooked; for there is no more bread in the city. Jeremiah had formerly received a daily allowance of bread, 37:21, but now either the public store of bread was exhausted, or there was practically no bread left anywhere.
v. 10. Then the king commanded Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian, saying, Take from hence thirty men with thee, a sufficiently large squad under his command to protect Jeremiah in case some of the princes or their retainers should attempt to interfere with the work of rescuing the prophet, and take up Jeremiah, the prophet, out of the dungeon before he die. The remonstrance of Ebed-melech had had at least this much effect upon Zedekiah, that he determined to prevent outright murder.
v. 11. So Ebed-melech took the men with him and went into the house of the king under the treasury, to a room which was evidently used for storage purposes, and took thence old cast clouts and old rotten rags, remnants of cast-off and worn-out garments of every description, and let them down by cords into the dungeon to Jeremiah. Ebed-melech evidently possessed both presence of mind and resourcefulness, for he lost no time in beginning his work of rescuing the prophet.
v. 12. And Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian, whose nationality is clearly mentioned time and again with the object of making his behavior stand out favorably by way of contrast with that of the Jews, said unto Jeremiah, Put now these old cast clouts and rotten rags under thine armholes under the cords, to prevent them from cutting into the flesh as they drew him out of the pit. And Jeremiah did so.
v. 13. So they drew up Jeremiah with cords and took him up out of the dungeon; and Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison, still under arrest, but no longer in danger of slow death by starvation. God makes use even of the poor and lowly as instruments of His goodness in protecting His children.
Jeremiah's Advice to the King
v. 14. Then Zedekiah, the king, sent and took Jeremiah, the prophet, unto him into the third entry that is in the house of the Lord, very likely the vaulted north gate of the Temple court, which faced the palace; and the king said unto Jeremiah, I will ask thee a thing; hide nothing from me. The very attitude of the prophet, together with the definiteness of his message, filled the king with apprehension and a foreboding of evil for himself.
v. 15. Then Jeremiah said unto Zedekiah, If I declare it unto thee, telling him the plain truth as it had been revealed by the Lord, wilt thou not surely put me to death? And if I give thee counsel, namely, concerning the manner in which he was to proceed in this emergency, wilt thou not hearken unto me? It is plain that Jeremiah trusted the king neither with regard to the safety of his own person nor concerning the acceptance of any advice which he might give.
v. 16. So Zedekiah, the king, sware secretly unto Jeremiah, saying, As the Lord liveth, that made us this soul, a most solemn oath by the God of life and by his own life, I will not put thee to death, neither will I give thee into the hand of these men that seek thy life. It was a most emphatic assurance that he would safeguard the prophet's life.
v. 17. Then said Jeremiah unto Zedekiah, in reliance upon the king's promise. Thus saith the Lord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: If thou wilt assuredly go forth unto the king of Babylon's princes, voluntarily surrendering to the Chaldean generals in charge of the siege, then thy soul shall live, and this city shall not be burned with fire; and thou shalt live and thine house, their lives would be spared;
v. 18. but if thou wilt not go forth to the king of Babylon's princes, then shall this city be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and thou shalt not escape out of their hand, an emphatic way of saying that he would be taken captive. Cf. Jeremiah 34:2-5; Jeremiah 32:4; Jeremiah 21:4-10.
v. 19. And Zedekiah, the king, whose weakness of character appears here once more, said unto Jeremiah, I am afraid of the Jews that are fallen to the Chaldeans, he dreaded the insults of his fugitive subjects, lest they deliver me into their hand and they mock me. It was not merely ridicule that he feared, but actual physical abuse as well.
v. 20. But Jeremiah said, They shall not deliver thee. Obey, I beseech thee, the voice of the Lord, which I speak unto thee; so it shall be well unto thee, and thy soul shall live.
v. 21. But if thou refuse to go forth, this is the word that the Lord hath showed me, the alternative to the mockery of the fugitive Jews:
v. 22. and, behold, all the women that are left in the king of Judah's house, all the members of his harem, including also the wives of former kings who remained in his care, shall be brought forth to the king of Babylon's princes, as captives of the Chaldean generals, and those women shall say, in a satirical song of mockery upon Zedekiah, Thy friends have set thee on, the king's ministers and his false prophets had misled him, and have prevailed against thee, getting the better of him with their evil counsel; thy feet are sunk in the mire, and they are turned away back, slipping in the uncertain footing of the mud into which he had been led by his alleged advisers.
v. 23. So they shall bring out all thy wives and thy children to the Chaldeans; and thou shalt not escape out of their hand, but shalt be taken by the hand of the king of Babylon, and thou shall cause this city to be burned with fire, that is, Zedekiah's weakness, vacillation, and disobedience would bring the guilt of its destruction upon his head.
v. 24. Then said Zedekiah unto Jeremiah, still with the same lack of firmness and decision which was characteristic of him throughout, Let no man know of these words, and thou shalt not die, he should feel sure of the king's protection.
v. 25. But if the princes hear that I have talked with thee, and they come unto thee and say unto thee, Declare unto us now what thou hast said unto the king, hide it not from us, and we will not put thee to death, the words which the princes would probably use in threatening him, also what the king said unto thee,
v. 26. then thou shalt say unto them, I presented my supplication before the king that he would not cause me to return to Jonathan's house, 37:15, to die there.
v. 27. Then came all the princes unto Jeremiah, just as the king had expected that they would, and asked him; and he told them according to all these words that the king had commanded. So they left off speaking with him, literally, "they kept their silence away from him," that is, they went away in silence and ceased to bother him; for the matter was not perceived, the explanation given by Jeremiah seemed altogether plausible.
v. 28. So Jeremiah abode in the court of the prison until the day that Jerusalem was taken; and he was there when Jerusalem was taken. The Lord has ways and means of protecting and delivering His children from all evil, even when there seems to be no way of escape.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Jeremiah 38". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19