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38. Jeremiah Thrown Into a Cistern
Then Shephatiah the son of Mattan, and Gedaliah the son of Pashur, and Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashur the son of Malchiah, heard the words that Jeremiah had spoken unto all the people, saying, 2Thus saith the Lord, He that remaineth in this city shall die by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence: but he that goeth forth to the Chaldeans shall live; for he shall have his life for a prey, and shall live. 3Thus saith the Lord, This city shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon’s army, which shall take it. 4Therefore 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: for this man seeketh not the welfare of this people, but the hurt. 5Then Zedekiah the king said, Behold, he is in your hand: for the king is not he that can do any thing against you. 6Then took they Jeremiah, and cast him into the dungeon of Malchiah the son of Hammelech, that was in the court of the prison: and they let down Jeremiah with cords. And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire: so Jeremiah sunk in the mire.
7Now when Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, one of the eunuchs which was in the king’s house, heard that they had put Jeremiah in the dungeon; the king then sitting in the gate of Benjamin; 8Ebed-melech went forth out of the king’s house, and spake to the king, saying, 9My lord the king, these men 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: for there is no more bread in the city. 10Then the king commanded Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, saying, Take from hence thirty men with thee, and take up Jeremiah the prophet out of the dungeon, before he die. 11So Ebed- melech took the men with him, and went into the house of the king under the treasury, and took thence old cast clouts and old rotten rags, and let them down by cords into the dungeon to Jeremiah. 12And Ebed-melech the Ethiopian said unto Jeremiah, Put now these old cast clouts and rotten rags under thine armholes under the cords. And Jeremiah did so. 13So they drew up Jeremiah with cords, and took him up out of the dungeon: and Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.
14Then Zedekiah the king sent, and took Jeremiah the prophet unto him into the third entry that is in the house of the Lord: and the king said unto Jeremiah, I will ask thee a thing; hide nothing from me. 15Then Jeremiah said unto Zedekiah, If I declare it unto thee, wilt thou not surely put me to death? and if I give thee counsel, wilt thou not hearken unto me? 16So Zedekiah the king sware secretly unto Jeremiah, saying, As the Lord liveth, that made us this soul, I will not put thee to death, neither will I give thee into the hand of these men that seek thy life. 17Then said Jeremiah unto Zedekiah, 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, then thy soul shall live, and this city shall not be burned with fire; and thou shalt live, and thine house: 18But 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. 19And Zedekiah the king said unto Jeremiah, I am afraid of the Jews that are fallen to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hand, and they mock me. 20But 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. 21But if thou refuse to go forth, this is the word that the Lord hath shewed me: 22And, behold, all the women that are left in the king of Judah’s house shall be brought forth to the king of Babylon’s princes, and those women shall say, Thy friends have set thee on, and have prevailed against thee: thy feet are sunk in the mire, and they are turned away back. 23So 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 shalt cause this city to be burned with fire.
24Then said Zedekiah unto Jeremiah, Let no man know of these words, and thou shalt not die. 25But 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; also what the king said unto thee: 26Then thou shalt say unto them, I presented my supplication before the king, that he would not cause me to return to Jonathan’s house, to die there. 27Then came all the princes unto Jeremiah, and asked him: and he told them according to all these words that the king had commanded. So they left off speaking with him; for the matter was not perceived. 28So Jeremiah abode in the court of the prison until the day that Jerusalem was taken: and he was there when Jerusalem was taken.
Jer 38:1-28. Jeremiah Predicts the Capture of Jerusalem, for Which He Is Cast into a Dungeon, but Is Transferred to the Prison Court on the Intercession of Ebed-melech, and Has a Secret Interview with Zedekiah.
All this was subsequent to his imprisonment in Jonathan's house, and his release on his interview with Zedekiah. The latter occurred before the return of the Chaldeans to the siege; the similar events in this chapter occurred after it.
1. Jucal—Jehucal (Jer 37:3).
Pashur—(Jer 21:1; compare Jer 21:9 with Jer 38:2). The deputation in Jer 21:1, to whom Jeremiah gave this reply, if not identical with the hearers of Jeremiah (Jer 38:1), must have been sent just before the latter "heard" him speaking the same words. Zephaniah is not mentioned here as in Jer 21:1, but is so in Jer 37:3. Jucal is mentioned here and in the previous deputation (Jer 37:3), but not in Jer 21:1. Shephatiah and Gedaliah here do not occur either in Jer 21:1 or Jer 37:3. The identity of his words in both cases is natural, when uttered, at a very short interval, and one of the hearers (Pashur) being present on both occasions.
unto all the people—They had free access to him in the court of the prison (Jer 32:12).
2. life … a prey—He shall escape with his life; though losing all else in a shipwreck, he shall carry off his life as his gain, saved by his going over to the Chaldeans. (See on Jer 21:9).
4. Had Jeremiah not had a divine commission, he might justly have been accused of treason; but having one, which made the result of the siege certain, he acted humanely as interpreter of God's will under the theocracy, in advising surrender (compare Jer 26:11).
5. the king is not he—Zedekiah was a weak prince, and now in his straits afraid to oppose his princes. He hides his dislike of their overweening power, which prevented him shielding Jeremiah as he would have wished, under complimentary speeches. "It is not right that the king should deny aught to such faithful and wise statesmen"; the king is not such a one as to deny you your wishes [Jerome].
6. dungeon—literally, the "cistern." It was not a subterranean prison as that in Jonathan's house (Jer 37:15), but a pit or cistern, which had been full of water, but was emptied of it during the siege, so that only "mire" remained. Such empty cisterns were often used as prisons (Zec 9:11); the depth forbade hope of escape.
Hammelech—(Jer 36:26). His son followed in the father's steps, a ready tool for evil.
7. Ebed-melech—The Hebrew designation given this Ethiopian, meaning "king's servant." Already, even at this early time, God wished to show what good reason there was for calling the Gentiles to salvation. An Ethiopian stranger saves the prophet whom his own countrymen, the Jews, tried to destroy. So the Gentiles believed in Christ whom the Jews crucified, and Ethiopians were among the earliest converts (Ac 2:10, 41; 8:27-39). Ebed-melech probably was keeper of the royal harem, and so had private access to the king. The eunuchs over harems in the present day are mostly from Nubia or Abyssinia.
8. went forth … and spake—not privately, but in public; a proof of fearless magnanimity.
9. die for hunger in the place where he is; for … no … bread in … city—(Compare Jer 37:21). He had heretofore got a piece of bread supplied to him. "Seeing that there is the utmost want of bread in the city, so that even if he were at large, there could no more be regularly supplied to him, much less now in a place where none remember or pity him, so that he is likely to die for hunger." "No more bread," that is, no more left of the public store in the city (Jer 37:21); or, all but no bread left anywhere [Maurer].
thirty men—not merely to draw up Jeremiah, but to guard Ebed-melech against any opposition on the part of the princes (Jer 38:1-4), in executing the king's command. Ebed-melech was rewarded for his faith, love, and courage, exhibited at a time when he might well fear the wrath of the princes, to which even the king had to yield (Jer 39:16-18).
11. cast clouts—"torn clothes" [Henderson].
rotten rags—"worn-out garments." God can make the meanest things His instruments of goodness to His people (1Co 1:27-29).
under … armholes—"under the joints of thine hands," that is, where the fingers join the hand, the clothes being in order that the hands should not be cut by the cords [Maurer].
13. court of … prison—Ebed-melech prudently put him there to be out of the way of his enemies.
14. third entry—The Hebrews in determining the position of places faced the east, which they termed "that which is in front"; the south was thus called "that which is on the right hand"; the north, "that which is on the left hand"; the west, "that which is behind." So beginning with the east they might term it the first or principal entry; the south the second entry; the north the "third entry" of the outer or inner court [Maurer]. The third gate of the temple facing the palace; for through it the entrance lay from the palace into the temple (1Ki 10:5, 12). It was westward (1Ch 26:16, 18; 2Ch 9:11) [Grotius]. But in the future temple it is eastward (Eze 46:1, 2, 8).
15. wilt thou not hearken unto me—Zedekiah does not answer this last query; the former one he replies to in Jer 38:16. Rather translate, "Thou wilt not hearken to me." Jeremiah judges so from the past conduct of the king. Compare Jer 38:17 with Jer 38:19.
16. Lord … made us this soul—(Isa 57:16). Implying, "may my life (soul) be forfeited if I deceive thee" [Calvin].
17. princes—(Jer 39:3). He does not say "to the king himself," for he was at Riblah, in Hamath (Jer 39:5; 2Ki 25:6). "If thou go forth" (namely, to surrender; 2Ki 24:12; Isa 36:16), God foreknows future conditional contingencies, and ordains not only the end, but also the means to the end.
mock me—treat me injuriously (1Sa 31:4).
22. women—The very evil which Zedekiah wished to escape by disobeying the command to go forth shall befall him in its worst form thereby. Not merely the Jewish deserters shall "mock" him (Jer 38:19), but the very "women" of his own palace and harem, to gratify their new lords, will taunt him. A noble king in sooth, to suffer thyself to be so imposed on!
sunk in … mire—proverbial for, Thou art involved by "thy friends'" counsels in inextricable difficulties. The phrase perhaps alludes to Jer 38:6; a just retribution for the treatment of Jeremiah, who literally "sank in the mire."
they are turned … back—Having involved thee in the calamity, they themselves shall provide for their own safety by deserting to the Chaldeans (Jer 38:19).
24. Let no man know—If thou wilt not tell this to the people, I will engage thy safety.
25. Kings are often such only in title; they are really under the power of their subjects.
26. presented—literally, "made my supplication to fall"; implying supplication with humble prostration (see on Jer 36:7).
Jonathan's house—(Jer 37:15), different from Malchiah's dungeon (Jer 38:6). This statement was true, though not the whole truth; the princes had no right to the information; no sanction is given by Scripture here to Jeremiah's representation of this being the cause of his having come to the king. Fear drove him to it. Compare Ge 20:2, 12; on the other hand, 1Sa 16:2, 5.
left off speaking with—Hebrew, "were silent from him," that is, withdrawing from him they left him quiet (1Sa 7:8, Margin).
28. he was there when Jerusalem was taken—These words are made the beginning of the thirty-ninth chapter by many; but the accents and sense support English Version.