JEREMIAH CHAPTER 38
Jeremiah prophesieth; is by the princes, with the king’s permission, cast into a dungeon; but is by Ebed-melech, with the king’s consent, taken out again, Jeremiah 38:1-13. He hath a secret conference with the king, in which he counselleth him by yielding to save his life, Jeremiah 38:14-23. By the king’s command he concealeth the conference from the princes, Jeremiah 38:24-27. He abideth in prison till Jerusalem is taken, Jeremiah 38:28.
Vers. 1. Here are four of the great men, counsellors, or great officers to Zedekiah, named, of whom we have no further mention in holy writ, nor are they worthy of much inquiry after. Jeremiah being now removed into a little freer air, where his friends, or such as had a desire to see him, came to him, and it is very likely were inquisitive to know what God would do with the city, he could not but tell them what he knew of the mind of God in the case, and advise them the best he could. Some of them go to these princes, and inform them of what they had heard from the prophet.
As to what is Jeremiah 38:3, it is no more than had for some time been the constant tenor of this prophet’s prophecies. The crime seemeth to lie in this, that in such a time of extreme danger he should repeat this prophecy, and also advise the people to leave the city, and shift for themselves, by going out to the Chaldeans, telling them that if they did so, though the city would be lost, and their estates in it lost, yet they should save their lives, which words might encourage many of low and cowardly spirits to desert their posts; which indeed had been crime sufficient in an ordinary time, and under ordinary circumstances, but was no crime now that God had revealed his will to the king, princes, and people that the city should be lost; there lay now no further duty upon any to contribute to its defence, but they were obliged to make as good provisions for themselves as they could; but these wicked princes believed no such thing, therefore they make this a great charge.
The prophet now seemeth under sad circumstances, the princes seek his life, though for delivering no other doctrine than he had been preaching for twenty years; their pretence was, his discouraging and weakening the military part of the city, letting them know that they laboured in vain, for the city was not defensible. This they interpret a seeking not 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 any of them to save their lives but by submitting to the Chaldeans; though the great men (being persons God had determined to ruin) would not believe it, and would have the welfare and hurt of the place determined by their opinions.
He is in your hand; that is, in your power, either by the established law against false prophets, or else I yield up my power to you, I surrender him into your hands. But neither of these seemeth very probable, for here is no mention of the sitting of the sanhedrim to judge him as a false prophet, nor of any judicial proceedings of that nature: and it should seem by Zedekiah’s relieving of him soon after from the dungeon, into which they threw him, that he had not surrendered Jeremiah so into their hands, but he to himself a superintendency upon them to correct their too severe dealings with him. The meaning seems rather to be, If you will do any such thing, I shall not oppose you, but I will not be the author of it.
For the king is not he that can do any thing against you; I see I am as it were no king, I can do nothing against you, you will do what you please. I incline to this sense from the consideration of the favour showed him by Zedekiah, both before and after this.
Cast him into the dungeon of Malchiah the son of Hammelech, that was in the court of the prison; a place much of the same nature with that of which we read Jeremiah 37:16, but in another prison. It should seem there was no passage into it by stairs, so as they were forced to let him down with cords. And in the bottom was nothing but mire, into which the prophet sank, in respect of which circumstances it was a much worse place than the dungeon in the prison in Jonathan’s house appeared to be, though Jeremiah feared that he should die there. It is probable these princes thrust him into this place, designing he should die in this hole a miserable death, but God otherwise provided for him.
Ebed-melech was unquestionably the name of the person, though some interpret it appellatively a servant of the king. It is particularly noted that he was an Ethiopian or a Cushite, to let us know that this prophet of the Lord found more kindness from a stranger, that was a native heathen, than from his own countrymen. Princes were wont to keep eunuchs in their houses in those countries, 2 Kings 9:32 Daniel 1:9 Acts 8:27. It should seem the princes had privately put Jeremiah into this miserable place, but yet the noise of it came to Ebed-melech’s ear, who was attending in the court. The gates of the city were places where princes were wont to sit to execute justice, and to receive petitions, and give answers, 2Sa xix, 8 Pr 31:23, &c.
The courage of this good eunuch was very remarkable; he did not stay till the king came in, but went to the king, as he was sitting in the gate of Benjamin, administering justice, or receiving and answering petitions, where doubtless he was not alone, and probably was attended there by some of those princes who had thrown Jeremiah into this miserable place. Ebed-melech was not afraid of them, but openly complains of their cruelty to the king, and tells him that Jeremiah would be starved to death: those who were alive in the city could not long subsist, for the stores were almost all spent, and though the king had appointed the prophet an allowance, yet being in such a hole, and there being so little bread left in the city, it was not likely there would be much care taken of him.
There are several guesses why the king commandeth Ebed-melech to take
thirty men for the doing of that for which three or four were sufficient. I think they judge best who think it was to guard him against any opposition. Things were now in a great disorder, the city being upon the matter taken, and the king himself was much in the government of his princes, and, as may easily be judged by what went before, and what we shall hereafter meet with, could not rule them, but was in some fear of them, and he did not know but some of the most boisterous of them might oppose the execution of this command of his. This king in his whole story seemeth to have been of a much better humour than his predecessors, and to have had a kindness for the prophet, though he suffered himself to be miserably overruled by his courtiers, who were of a much fiercer temper, and worse affected to the prophet.
The sense of these verses is obvious. Ebed-melech having received a commission from the king, presently puts it in execution, only because the dungeon was deep, and full of mire, and the prophet possibly not over-well clothed, he prudently takes some old clouts and rags, and lets them down with cords, that Jeremiah, to prevent the galling and macerating his flesh, might put them under the cords, by which they drew him up: thus he was restored to the court of the prison, where he was before this suggestion of the princes, and where he did abide until the city was taken. The rest of the chapter is spent in a private conference betwixt king Zedekiah and the prophet, after he was restored to the court of the prison.
That is in the house of the Lord: some think that this were better translated, that is near the house of the Lord, and that this third entry, or principal entry, was that ascent out of the king’s house into the temple mentioned 1 Kings 10:5, which was one of the things the queen of Sheba admired; for it is hardly probable that Jeremiah being in a prison within the compass of the king’s house, the king should, especially at such a time, go out of his house to so public a place as the temple, for a private conference with the prophet. The king desires him faithfully to tell him what he knew in a business he should inquire of him.
Jeremiah had reason to caution with the king for his life, considering the easy answer of the king to the princes, moving for his death, Jeremiah 38:4,5. We must imagine Jeremiah at this time under no Divine command to reveal God’s will in this case unto the king.
Wilt thou not? is here as much as thou wilt not hearken unto me. Zedekiah had often been advised by the prophet, but would never take his advice, and the prophet knew it would be the same case still, that the king would be overruled by a corrupt court, and his own aversion, to change his state, as a king, for the state of a prisoner.
Zedekiah saith nothing to the latter part of Jeremiah’s speech, promising nothing as to his hearing and obeying his counsel: as to the former, he gives him the security of his oath, that he would neither himself slay him, by giving any immediate command from himself, nor surrender him up into the hands of those malicious princes who he perceived sought his life. The form of his oath is what was usual,
As the Lord liveth, with an addition, the Lord that gave me my life: If I put thee to death, and if I deliver thee; which form carrieth with it a concealed imprecation, Let the Lord do so to me, and more also; or, Let the Lord that gave me this soul take it from me, if I do either of these things. Thus he secures Jeremiah, as to any hard measure for his telling him the truth, though it should be what might be interpreted a capital crime to publish.
Thy soul shall live; that is, thou shalt live.
And this city shall not be burned with fire; and thou shalt live, and thine house; and thou shalt save the city from being burned with fire, and thy wives and children from death. God did certainly know that Zedekiah would not do this, though it was in his power to do it, yet he doth not judge it vain for him, to exhort him to it, and to annex such a promise; for thereby he was left inexcusable, in his not saving the city and his relations’ lives.
As he before had used exhortations and promises, so here he useth threatenings, to persuade him to that which indeed was in his power to do, but God infallibly knew that he would not do; the end of God in which could be no other than to leave him without excuse, in not obeying what God commanded.
But if Zedekiah went out according to the prophet’s advice, and delivered himself, what needed he to fear his subjects (that had deserted the city) delivering of him? It seems rather therefore to be the sense, lest the Chaldeans, when I have yielded myself to them, should deliver me into the hands of those Jews which have fallen to them, and they should mock me: so as he seems to be more concerned for his honour than for his own life, and his family’s, and the whole city: thus often great persons are more patient of death than of reproach and dishonour.
The Chaldeans shall not do so base an act, but deal with thee as with a prince. Let not this therefore be a temptation to thee to disobey the command of God, which if thou doest, thou shalt live, though not in that splendour in which thou now livest, yet in a much more comfortable state than thou wilt do if they take the city by storming.
Thou that art afraid of the insultings of men that are thy subjects shalt fall under the insultings and taunts of the women: either the court ladies who were left when Jehoiachin was carried away, or the women belonging to thine own court, shall be taken and brought forth to the king of Babylon’s princes, to be disposed of at their pleasure; and these women shall deride thee, and tell thee, for this thou mayst thank thy hearkening to thy priests and false prophets, called, in the Hebrew, the men of thy peace, because they soothed up the king with the promises of peace.
Thy feet are sunk in the mire: now they have left thee in evils out of which thou canst not escape.
And they are turned away back; and as for them whom thou believedst and trustedst to, and by whose words thou art brought into these snares, they have forsaken thee, every one shifting for himself.
This is no more than what was said before, only here repeated, as an argument to persuade his obedience in surrendering himself, if not for the city’s sake, yet for his own sake, and for his children’s sake; for he assures the king that not himself only, but his wives and children also, would otherwise fall into the hands of the Babylonians, and their reflections upon him for the misery he had brought upon them would be no small aggravation of his affliction.
These words sufficiently let us know that Zedekiah stood in awe of his courtiers, and we might probably think, that had it not been for them, he would have done better. This is the righteous judgment of God; those that will not sanctify the Lord of hosts, and make him their fear, shall fear men, whom to fear is much more base and ignoble.
It could hardly be imagined that Zedekiah should have this private discourse with Jeremiah, but some or other of his courtiers would take notice of it; but yet it argues that this poor prince was in a miserable subjection to them, that he could discourse with nobody but they must come and inquire what he said.
The king instructs the prophet, in case the princes should be inquisitive to know what discourse passed betwixt the king and him, to tell them that he petitioned him that he might be sent no more to the prison in the house of Jonathan, of which he complained, and petitioned the king to be freed from it, Jeremiah 37:20.
As the king suspected, so it came to pass; the king’s private discourse with the prophet took wind, and all the princes then at court came and inquired of Jeremiah what was the substance of his discourse. Jeremiah answered them according as the king had directed. A man is not bound in all cases to speak the whole truth, much less to those who have nothing to do to inquire of us, which these princes had not. By this means the princes never knew the matter of this discourse.
Thus God hath several ways to hide his people in an evil day; he hid Josiah from it in the grave; he hid Noah in an ark, Lot in Zoar, Jeremiah in a prison, which in probability was a safer place for him than the land of Benjamin, whither he would have gone had not Irijah stopped him, Jeremiah 37:12,13. Conquerors have commonly the greatest kindness for those whom they find under the frowns of the conquered, especially when that which hath made them so hath been something spoken or done in the favour of the conquerors.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Jeremiah 38". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26