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Jeremiah in the Cistern


Now Shephatiah son of Mattan, Gedaliah son of Pashhur, Jucal son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur son of Malchiah heard the words that Jeremiah was saying to all the people, 2Thus says the L ord, Those who stay in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but those who go out to the Chaldeans shall live; they shall have their lives as a prize of war, and live. 3Thus says the L ord, This city shall surely be handed over to the army of the king of Babylon and be taken. 4Then the officials said to the king, “This man ought to be put to death, because he is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, and all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm.” 5King Zedekiah said, “Here he is; he is in your hands; for the king is powerless against you.” 6So they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. Now there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud.

Jeremiah Is Rescued by Ebed-melech

7 Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, a eunuch in the king’s house, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern. The king happened to be sitting at the Benjamin Gate, 8So Ebed-melech left the king’s house and spoke to the king, 9“My lord king, these men have acted wickedly in all they did to the prophet Jeremiah by throwing him into the cistern to die there of hunger, for there is no bread left in the city.” 10Then the king commanded Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, “Take three men with you from here, and pull the prophet Jeremiah up from the cistern before he dies.” 11So Ebed-melech took the men with him and went to the house of the king, to a wardrobe of the storehouse, and took from there old rags and worn-out clothes, which he let down to Jeremiah in the cistern by ropes. 12Then Ebed-melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, “Just put the rags and clothes between your armpits and the ropes.” Jeremiah did so. 13Then they drew Jeremiah up by the ropes and pulled him out of the cistern. And Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard.

Zedekiah Consults Jeremiah Again

14 King Zedekiah sent for the prophet Jeremiah and received him at the third entrance of the temple of the L ord. The king said to Jeremiah, “I have something to ask you; do not hide anything from me.” 15Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “If I tell you, you will put me to death, will you not? And if I give you advice, you will not listen to me.” 16So King Zedekiah swore an oath in secret to Jeremiah, “As the L ord lives, who gave us our lives, I will not put you to death or hand you over to these men who seek your life.”

17 Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “Thus says the L ord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel, If you will only surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then your life shall be spared, and this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live. 18But if you do not surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then this city shall be handed over to the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and you yourself shall not escape from their hand.” 19King Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “I am afraid of the Judeans who have deserted to the Chaldeans, for I might be handed over to them and they would abuse me.” 20Jeremiah said, “That will not happen. Just obey the voice of the L ord in what I say to you, and it shall go well with you, and your life shall be spared. 21But if you are determined not to surrender, this is what the L ord has shown me— 22a vision of all the women remaining in the house of the king of Judah being led out to the officials of the king of Babylon and saying,

‘Your trusted friends have seduced you

and have overcome you;

Now that your feet are stuck in the mud,

they desert you.’

23 All your wives and your children shall be led out to the Chaldeans, and you yourself shall not escape from their hand, but shall be seized by the king of Babylon; and this city shall be burned with fire.”

24 Then Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “Do not let anyone else know of this conversation, or you will die. 25If the officials should hear that I have spoken with you, and they should come and say to you, ‘Just tell us what you said to the king; do not conceal it from us, or we will put you to death. What did the king say to you?’ 26then you shall say to them, ‘I was presenting my plea to the king not to send me back to the house of Jonathan to die there.’ ” 27All the officials did come to Jeremiah and questioned him; and he answered them in the very words the king had commanded. So they stopped questioning him, for the conversation had not been overheard. 28And Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard until the day that Jerusalem was taken.

Jeremiah pursues the same subject; but he sets forth at large the calamity, that the king being at least frightened with horror, might submit to a right counsel; for when we hear that death is at hand, this indeed fills us with horror; and when many evils are mentioned, we must necessarily be roused; and this, no doubt, was what the Prophet looked for. Then he says that Zedekiah would come into the hands of his enemies, hut he adds other indignities, which would bring greater bitterness, They shall draw out, he says, all thy wives and thy children, etc. Had Zedekiah been right-minded, he would have preferred to die a hundred times, and thus to have died for them all, than to have been the cause of so many evils. For we know that many have boldly exposed themselves to danger in defending the chastity of their wives; and doubtless such a reproach is far harder to be endured by ingenuous minds than a hundred deaths. We hence see what was the design of the Prophet; for he saw that Zedekiah could not be sufficiently roused by merely setting his own death before him, hence he added other circumstances, calculated to affect him still more, They shall draw out, he says, thy wives and thy children

We hence learn how conjugal fidelity was then with impunity violated. It was, we know, an ancient evil, but it had now passed into general practice, so that it was, as it were, the common law: and yet what God had once established continued unchanged, even that every man should have only his own wife. As, then, polygamy had so prevailed and had become so licentious among the Jews, we see that the fear of God was in fact extinguished and all regard to purity. More liberty was indeed allowed to kings, but they were not on that account to be excused, because their life ought to have been an example to others, a mirror of uprightness and chastity. When, therefore, they married a number of wives, it became an intolerable evil. And now when mention is made of all the wives, we conclude that the king had not only three or four wives or concubines, but a large number, that he might gratify his lust. hence then we learn how great was the corruption of that age. It is also a wonder that the king was thus given to his lusts, and not brought back to some degree of moderation when necessity itself constrained him. We hence see that he must have been extremely insensible in retaining so many concubines, when his only city was hardly safe, and the whole country in the possession of enemies. But thus perverse men despise God and his scourges. For though all confess, according to the common proverb, that necessity is a mistress whom all are forced to obey, yet the greater part struggle with necessity itself, as we see was the case with Zedekiah, who refused to bend or turn, though very poor and miserable, and who suffered nothing of his royal pomp and splendor to be diminished. Hence it was that he had a large number of wives or concubines, as mentioned here.

It then follows, This city shalt thou burn with fire It is certain that the torch was not applied by Zedekiah, nor was he the agent in the burning. But the Prophet reminded him that the cause of all the evils might justly be attributed to his obstinacy; as though he had said, that the Chaldeans would indeed be the authors of the burning, as they would with their own hands set the houses on fire, and yet that the first and the chief fault would be in Zedekiah himself, because he obstinately resisted God. 114114     And this city shall be burnt with fire,” is the rendering of the Sept., the Syriac., and the Targum. The Vulg. is, “and he (the king of Babylon) will burn this city with fire.” The first, no doubt, is the true version of the Hebrew, except the verb he in Hiphil, according to our version, and also that of Blayney; but what corresponds best with the passage is the former rendering. — Ed.

But as to the women, this brief notice must be added: other kings, indeed, had been very dissolute; but God now applied the remedy when the court was purged from all its old filth. For with Jeconiah, we know, the royal dignity ceased; and the city was exposed to plunder; and yet some concubines remained; and these passed as by hereditary right to other kings, as they succeeded to the wives as to the kingdom. But when wickedness became incorrigible, all the concubines were taken away also. It was then a sign of final destruction. It follows —

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