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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.

The Prophet now shews that he was again dragged from the court of the prison to the inner part, which was dark, filthy, and like a grave. The cause of this he states: it was because four of the princes had heard his words. It is probable that many of the people had come there for the purpose of hearing the Prophet, and that he, having received a message, delivered it to every one that came to him. Though then he was shut up in prison, yet the word of God could not be bound, as Paul says, who gloried in the fact, that though he was in chains, yet the truth spread far and wide. (2 Timothy 2:9.) Such was the case as to Jeremiah; though he was retained as a prisoner, he yet ceased not to discharge his office; and yet there is no doubt but that the purpose of the king was in this way to restrain him. The prison was, as it were, the captivity of prophetic truth. But the king and his counselors were mistaken; for Jeremiah was not less free in the court of the prison, than if he had walked through the city all the day, nay, he had many heralds.

But the four princes mentioned here watched him, even Shephatiah, Gadaliah, Jucal, and Pashur. Then the four princes he names, having insidiously watched what he said, immediately made a commotion. They had, no doubt, contrived the ruin of the Prophet before they came to the king; for the unprincipled and wicked, we know, discuss matters together when intent on mischief, and their courtly arts must be taken to the account. As, then, the four were in authority, they must, doubtless, have influenced the greatest part of the king’s council, and led astray easy men, or such as were not of themselves bent on evil. The matter was at length brought before the king; and therefore he adds, that they came to the king But he first explains the doctrine, on account of which these unprincipled men created so much ill-will to him, and endangered his life. Hence he says that the accusation was, that he had not only threatened with ruin all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but that he had also pro-raised life to all that would go out to the Chaldeans: Every one who abides in the city shall die by the sword, famine, or pestilence; but every one who goeth out to the Chaldeans shall live This was the accusation.

We have seen elsewhere that the Prophet had before said the same; it was not, then, a new thing, for he had thirty years before that time dearly pronounced the same in the Temple, and it was then written as a prophecy and fixed to the doors of the Temple. It was, therefore, nothing new to hear all this from the mouth of Jeremiah. But as I have already said, the king and his couriers thought that he was so subdued by evils that he could hardly open his mouth. In short, they thought that the holy man had, in a manner, lost his tongue since he had been in prison. This, then, was the reason why they now accused him so gravely to the king, and declared him worthy of death. He had deserved death many years before, if he had now committed a capital offense. But as I have already stated, they regarded the Prophet as having designedly despised the king’s authority, and they were indignant because he could not be subdued, when yet he was a prisoner and might see danger at hand every hour. This, then, was the reason why they regarded as a new thing what Jeremiah said, Whosoever abides in the city shall perish, etc.

As to these threatenings, we have elsewhere said, that all those who expected help from the Egyptians were willful despisers of God; for the Prophet had often exhorted them all, quietly and submissively to bear that temporary punishment which God had resolved to inflict on them. They wished in their perverseness to drive to a distance God’s judgment, and then when they saw that God was their enemy, they deemed it enough to have the Egyptians as their friends. It was then no wonder that the Prophet allotted to them the sword, and famine, and pestilence.

He then adds, Whosoever passeth over to the Chaldeans shall live The condition, however, was very hard; his soul, he says, shall be for a prey, as though he had said, “He who flees to the Chaldeans shall only save his life, but must suffer the loss of all his property,” as when a shipwreck is dreaded, there is no one who is not ready to save his life at the loss of all his goods; and, therefore, in extreme danger the merchants are wont to cast into the sea all that they have, for they prefer to escape to the harbor empty and destitute of everything, than to perish together with their riches. It was, then, a hard condition; but the Prophet shews that they could not otherwise escape; they were to give up their own country, and all other things, and could only preserve their life. For this reason he says, that their life would be for a prey to them, as when anything is snatched from the fire, or as when one is exposed to plunder, he were content to take something away by stealth, for otherwise, if he sought to take away many things, he would have to contend with many enemies. The Prophet then intimates that the Jews could not save themselves from death in any other way than by casting away all they had, and by being solicitous only to save life. He again repeats, he shall live. By this repetition he more pressingly urged them, and with more earnestness exhorted them to save their life.

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