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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 38

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 3415. B.C. 589.

This chapter contains the last transaction in which Jeremiah was prophetically concerned before the taking of Jerusalem.

(1,) The princes of Judah, offended with Jeremiah for repeating to the people, who visited him in the court of the prison, the message he was charged with, chap. Jeremiah 21:9-10 , caused him to be cast into a deep and miry dungeon, Jeremiah 38:1-6 .

(2,) Ebed-melech obtains an order from the king, and takes him out of it, Jeremiah 38:7-13 .

(3,) The king consults with him in private; he seeks to persuade the king to give himself up to the king of Babylon’s officers, as the only means of safety to himself, and of preserving the city from destruction, Jeremiah 38:14-23 .

(4,) The king assures to him his life, but requires him not to divulge the secret of his conference to the princes, who inquire about it, but receive an evasive answer; and Jeremiah remains in the court of the prison, Jeremiah 38:24-28 .

Verse 1

Jeremiah 38:1. Then Shephaliah, &c. Here are four of the great men, counsellors or chief officers to Zedekiah, named, of whom we have no further mention in holy writ; nor do they deserve to have much inquiry made after them. Some of them were sent by Zedekiah to Jeremiah to inquire concerning the event of the siege, Jeremiah 37:3; Jeremiah 21:1-9. “The answer which Jeremiah returned by them to the king, he afterward published to the people; which was the occasion of the new troubles recorded in this chapter.” Lowth. The fact seems to have been, that, as he was now removed into a little freer air than he had been in, his friends, or such as had a desire to see him, came to him, and being inquisitive concerning the issue of the siege, he could not but tell them what he knew of the mind of God, and advise them the best way he could for their safety. Some of them, it is likely, went to these princes, and informed them of what they had heard from the prophet.

Verses 2-5

Jeremiah 38:2-5. Thus saith the Lord, He that goeth forth to the Chaldeans shall live This had been the constant tenor of this prophet’s prophecies. The crime of which he was now accused, seems to lie in this, that in such a time of danger he should repeat this prophecy, and also advise the people to leave the city, and go out to the Chaldeans, telling them that if they did so, though the city would be lost, yet they should save their lives, which might induce some to desert their posts. This they interpret to be not seeking the welfare of the people, but their hurt; though, indeed, their welfare was that alone which he sought, knowing that there was no other way for them to save their lives, but by submitting to the Chaldeans. The great men, however, would not believe it; for they would not form their judgments on the revelations which God had been pleased to make of his will, but were determined to judge of their safety from what they wished. Hence, for any one not to be of their opinion was to be an enemy to the state. Therefore the princes said unto the king See Jeremiah 36:12; Jeremiah 36:21; We beseech thee, let this man be put to death His crime deserves no less a punishment; for he weakeneth the hands of the men of war By making them despair of success. Then the king said, Behold he is in your hand At your disposal; I give him up into your power. Though Zedekiah was convinced that Jeremiah was a prophet sent of God, yet he had not courage to own this conviction, but weakly yielded to the violence of his persecutors. For the king is not he that can do any thing against you He speaks as one who did not dare, in such difficult times, to contradict the great men about him. Blaney renders the clause, “For the king can carry no point in competition with you;” observing, “The king evidently speaks this in disgust with the princes for endeavouring to frustrate his clemency. He had once rescued Jeremiah out of their hands, and taken him under his royal protection. But his prerogative, he tells them, was likely to avail but little when opposed by their obstinate and repeated importunities. The power was in reality theirs and not his.”

Verse 6

Jeremiah 38:6. Then they took Jeremiah and cast him into the dungeon of Malchiah A place of much the same nature with that mentioned Jeremiah 37:16, but in another prison. And they let down Jeremiah with cords It seems there was no passage into this dungeon by stairs, and, as it was deep, they were obliged to let him down in this manner. So Jeremiah sunk in the mire Which was in the bottom of this pit. Josephus asserts that he sunk up to his neck in it, and adds, that their intention in putting him into so foul a place was, that he might perish in it, Antiq, lib. 9. cap. 10. It has been thought by some, that during his abode in this loathsome place he composed the melancholy meditations contained in the third chapter of his Lamentations; but this seems highly improbable.

Verses 7-9

Jeremiah 38:7-9. Now when Ebed-melech the Ethiopian Or Cushite, as the Hebrew is. His country seems to be mentioned to let us know that this prophet of the Lord found more kindness from a stranger, who was a native heathen, than from his own countrymen; one of the eunuchs which was in the king’s house That is, one of the court officers. It is probable that the princes had put Jeremiah into this miserable place privately, but by some means the report of what they had done providentially reached this officer’s ears. The king then sitting in the gate of Benjamin Namely, to hear the complaints of the people, and to administer justice; the courts for that purpose being usually held in the gates of the city. Ebed-melech went forth and spake to the king The zeal as well as courage of this good officer was very remarkable. He did not stay till the king returned to his house: but went to him as he was sitting in the gate administering justice, where doubtless he was not alone, but was probably attended by some of those very princes who had thrown Jeremiah into the dungeon: Ebed- melech, however, was not afraid of them, but complains openly to the king of their cruelty to Jeremiah, saying, My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they have done to Jeremiah They deal unjustly with him, for he had not deserved any punishment at all, and they deal barbarously with him, so as they used not to deal with the vilest malefactors. And he is like to die Hebrew, וימת תחתיו , he will die upon the spot; for hunger, for there is no bread That is, as some interpret the clause, “There was no need for those who desired his death to put him into so filthy and loathsome a place; since, if he had continued in the court of the prison, he must have died through the famine which threatens the city. The words, however, are more literally rendered, When there is no longer any bread in the city. Ebed-melech supposed with reason that when the bread failed, Jeremiah must perish with hunger in the dungeon; for he would be of course neglected, and not have it in his power to make those shifts for subsistence which persons at liberty might avail themselves of. Such was the compassion which the stranger had for the Lord’s prophet, whom his own countrymen would have destroyed! And God, who put these sentiments of pity and benevolence into Ebed-melech’s heart, afterward recompensed him by delivering him from death when the city was taken, Jeremiah 39:15-16. But how remarkable it is, that in the whole city of Jerusalem no person was found, save this Ethiopian, to appear publicly, as the friend and advocate of the prophet in his distress! Thus is the justice of God vindicated in giving up this people into the hands of their enemies, when there was not a single person of their nation willing to hazard his life or character in the cause of God, to save the life of one who had been known among them for a true prophet between twenty and thirty years.

Verses 10-13

Jeremiah 38:10-13 . Then the king commanded, &c. The king, who a little while ago durst do nothing against the princes, has now his heart wonderfully and suddenly changed, and will have Jeremiah released in defiance of them; ordering no fewer than thirty men, and those probably of the life-guard, to be employed in fetching him out of the dungeon, lest the princes should raise a party to oppose it. So Ebed-melech took the men He lost no time, but immediately went about this good work, and used as much tenderness as despatch in accomplishing it; going into the king’s house and fetching thence old soft rags and pieces of cloth, to be put under the prophet’s arm-holes, to prevent the cords, wherewith he was to be drawn up, from hurting him. This circumstance, trivial as it may appear, is here particularly noticed and recorded to the honour of this pious Gentile; for God is not unrighteous to forget any work or labour of love which is shown to his people or ministers; no, nor any circumstance thereof, Hebrews 6:10. Observe, reader, those that are in distress should not only be relieved, but relieved with compassion and marks of respect, all which things will be remembered, and will be found to a good account, in the day of final recompense.

Verse 14

Jeremiah 38:14. Then Zedekiah sent, &c. Here we have an account of the honour which the king did the prophet after he was fetched out of the dungeon: he sent for him to advise with him privately what measures it would be best to take in the present calamitous state of public affairs. The interview took place in the third entry in, or leading toward, or adjoining to, the house of the Lord. Dr. Lightfoot explains this of the third passage or gate which lay between the king’s palace, where the prison was, and the temple, whither the king now retreated for fear of the Chaldean army. And the king said, I will ask thee a thing Hebrew, שׁאל אני דבר , I am asking thee a word, namely, of prediction, counsel, or comfort, a word from the Lord, Jeremiah 37:17. Whatever word thou hast for me, hide it not from me Let me know the worst. He had been plainly told what would be the issue of the measures they were pursuing; but, like Balaam, he asks again, in hopes to get a more pleasing answer; as if God, who is in one mind, were altogether such a one as himself, who was in many minds.

Verse 15

Jeremiah 38:15. Then Jeremiah said, If I declare it unto thee, wilt thou not surely put me to death? “The prophet had so much experience of the unsteadiness of the king’s temper, of his backwardness in following good counsel, and want of courage to stand by those that durst advise him well, that he might, with good reason, resolve not to venture his life to serve a man that was in a manner incapable of being directed. And although God had showed him what would be the effect of his advice, if it were followed, (Jeremiah 38:17,) yet it doth not appear that he had commanded him to make this known to Zedekiah.” Lowth. And if I give thee counsel, wilt thou not hearken unto me? Rather, wilt thou hearken unto me? Which is undoubtedly the sense intended, unless we translate the words, as some do, without an interrogation, thou wilt not hearken unto me. So Jeremiah might well conclude from the king’s former behaviour, for he had often been advised by him, but would never take his advice, and the prophet knew the same would be the case still, that the king would be overruled by a corrupt court and his own aversion to change his state as a king to the state of a prisoner.

Verse 16

Jeremiah 38:16. The king sware, As the Lord liveth, that made this soul That is, who gave me my life and thee thine, and who, as he is the author, so he is the preserver, of our life and being: who may uphold or take them away as and when he pleases. I will not put thee to death, &c. Zedekiah says nothing to the prophet as to obeying his counsel, but he gives him the security of his oath that he would neither himself slay him, by giving an immediate command from himself for his being slain, nor surrender him up into the hands of those princes who, he perceived, sought his life.

Verses 17-18

Jeremiah 38:17-18. Then said Jeremiah, Thus saith the Lord Here we have the good advice which Jeremiah gave him, with the reasons why the king ought to take it; reasons drawn, not from any prudence or politics of his own, but in the name of the Lord, the God of hosts, and God of Israel. If thou wilt assuredly go forth unto the king of Babylon’s princes Those mentioned Jeremiah 39:3, and submit thyself to them; then thy soul shall live That is, thou shalt live; and this city shall not be burned, &c. Thou shalt save the city from destruction by fire, and thy wives and children from suffering a violent death. It must be observed that Nebuchadnezzar was not now in person at the siege of Jerusalem, but at Riblah in Syria, Jeremiah 39:5; Jeremiah 39:9. His army was commanded by his generals; and it is to them, here termed princes, that Jeremiah counsels Zedekiah to go forth, and through them to submit himself to the king, by whom he had been established on the throne. But if thou wilt not go forth, &c. As he had before used exhortations and promises, so here he uses warnings and threatenings to prevail with the king to take that course by which alone he could preserve Jerusalem, and himself, and family from ruin.

Verses 19-20

Jeremiah 38:19-20 . Zedekiah said, I am afraid of the Jews, &c. The sense seems to be, that he was afraid lest the Chaldeans, when he had given himself up to them, should deliver him into the hands of those Jews who had fallen to them, and they should insult over and deride him, as being obliged at last to do what he had blamed, and, if he had been able, would have punished them for doing. Thus the Vulgate, Solicitus sum propter Judæos, qui transfugerunt ad Chaldæs: ne forte tradar in manus eorum et illudant mihi. He was conscious he had acted a base part in violating the oath of homage and fidelity which he had given to the king of Babylon, and that he was considered by many of the Jews, especially by those who had gone over to the Chaldeans, as having ruined his country by his impolitic measures. Thus he was more concerned for his honour than for his life, and the lives of his wives and children, and the safety of the whole city. And thus often great persons are more patient of death than of reproach and dishonour. But Jeremiah said, They shall not deliver thee The Chaldeans will not do so base an act, but deal with thee as with a prince. God foresees all possible events, and what would be the consequence of the several counsels men propose to themselves. Obey, I beseech thee, the voice of the Lord: so it shall be well with thee Let not thy fears, therefore, respecting the treatment thou wilt meet with, be a temptation to thee to disobey the command of God: for if thou doest as thou art advised to do, thou shalt live Though not in that splendour in which thou now livest, yet in a much more comfortable state than if the city be taken by storm.

Verses 21-23

Jeremiah 38:21-23. But if thou refuse, this is the word that the Lord hath showed me Namely, what follows in the next two verses. Behold, all the women that are left in the king of Judah’s house The king’s wives, his daughters, and the other women that belong to the king’s court and family, shall become a prey to the chief officers of the king of Babylon’s army. And those women shall say, Thy friends have set thee on, &c. They shall tell thee that, for these thy calamities, thou mayest thank thy hearkening to thy priests and false prophets; (called in the Hebrew the men of his peace, because they soothed up the king with the promises of peace;) in other words, those very women shall then reproach thee for having suffered thyself to be insnared by the ill advice of thy friends, and brought under insuperable difficulties. They will say to thee, Thy feet are sunk in the mire Thou art plunged into calamities from which thou canst not extricate thyself. And they are turned away back Even thy friends, by following whose counsel thou art brought into these snares and troubles, forsake thee in thy distress, every one shifting for himself. And thus shall a greater evil come upon thee than that which thou fearest, and the fear of which makes the unwilling to comply with the will of God concerning thee. So shall they bring out all thy wives, &c. The prophet partly repeats and partly enlarges on the argument advanced in the former verse, with a view to prevail on the king to surrender himself to the Chaldeans. He urges, that if he would not do it, not only himself but his wives and children also would fall into his enemies’ hands, and that their reflection upon him, for the misery he had brought upon them and his country, would be no small aggravation of his affliction.

Verses 24-27

Jeremiah 38:24-27. Then said Zedekiah, Let no man know of these words, &c. Keep what has passed between us secret, and I will keep my promise to thee of preserving thy life. These words sufficiently show that Zedekiah stood in fear of his courtiers. This is the righteous judgment of God, that those who will not sanctify the Lord of hosts in their hearts, and make him their fear, shall fear men, whom to fear is to be in a state of ignoble and miserable bondage. But if the princes hear, &c. It was hardly possible that Zedekiah should have this private discourse with Jeremiah, but some or other of his courtiers should come to the knowledge of it. But here we see in what a state of miserable subjection this poor prince was to them, in that he could discourse to nobody, but they must come and inquire what he had said. Thou shalt say, I presented my supplication, &c. Jeremiah had been formerly kept prisoner in Jonathan’s house, Jeremiah 37:15. But the last time he was imprisoned was in the dungeon of Hammelech, Jer 38:6 of this chapter: a place which, perhaps, might at this time be put to some other use. Then came all the princes to Jeremiah As the king suspected, so it came to pass: his private discourse with the prophet transpired, and all the princes then at court came and inquired of Jeremiah what was the substance of it. And he told them according to all that the king had commanded He told them part of the truth, but not all, concealing from them the advice which he had given to the king, with relation to the questions he had proposed to him. For a man is not bound in all cases to discover the whole truth, particularly to those who have no right to the knowledge of it, which, in this case, these princes had not. So the matter was not perceived The princes never got to know what was the principal subject of the king’s conference with the prophet.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Jeremiah 38". Benson's Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/jeremiah-38.html. 1857.
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