Jeremiah 38 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Jeremiah 38
Pulpit Commentary
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,
Verse 1. - Two Pashurs appear to be mentioned here: one probably the same who put Jeremiah in the stocks (Jeremiah 20:1, 2); the other a member of the first of Zedekiah's two embassies to the prophet (Jeremiah 21:1). On Jucal, see Jeremiah 37:3. Had spoken; rather, kept speaking.
Thus 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.
Verses 2, 3. - He that remaineth, etc. Jeremiah repeats what he had said to Zedekiah's embassy in Jeremiah 21:9, 10.
Thus saith the LORD, This city shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon's army, which shall take it.
Therefore 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.
Verse 4. - For thus; literally, for therefore; i.e. because he is left in impunity (camp. the use of the phrase in Jeremiah 29:28). He weakeneth the hands of the men of war; i.e. he dispirits them. It is important to get this "outside view" of the preaching of Jeremiah. There is evidently some excuse for the opponents of Jeremiah. It was a matter of life and death to resist the Chaldeans, and Jeremiah was, according to the politicians, playing into the hands of the enemy (see further in general Introduction). The addition of the words, that remain, shows that the bitter end of the resistance was fast approaching.
Then Zedekiah the king said, Behold, he is in your hand: for the king is not he that can do any thing against you.
Verse 5. - He is in your hand. The growing power of the "princes" (see on Jeremiah 22:4) seems to have confined the king to a merely secondary role.
Then 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.
Verse 6. - The dungeon; more literally, the cistern. "Every house in Jerusalem was supplied with a subterranean cistern, so well constructed that we never read of the city suffering in a siege from want of water" (Dr. Payne Smith). A grotto bearing the name of Jeremiah has been shown at Jerusalem since the fifteenth century. Under its floor are vast cisterns, the deepest of which professes to be the prison into which the prophet was thrown. The objection is that the sacred narrative proves that the prison was in the city, whereas "the present grotto was not included within the walls until the time of Herod Agrippa" (Thomson, 'The Land and the Book,' 1881, p. 555). The son of Hammelech; rather, a royal prince (as Jeremiah 36:26).
Now when Ebedmelech 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;
Verse 7. - Ebed-melech the Ethiopian. The name means "the king's slave." Ebers remarks that the eunuchs employed are those on whom the shameful operation has been performed by Copts in Upper Egypt. Zedekiah's harem is referred to in vers. 22, 23.
Ebedmelech went forth out of the king's house, and spake to the king, saying,
My 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.
Verse 9. - For there is no more bread in the city. It would almost seem as if the little remaining bread had been brought together by command of the magistrates, and that it was given out in rations by them (comp. Jeremiah 37:21).
Then the king commanded Ebedmelech the Ethiopian, saying, Take from hence thirty men with thee, and take up Jeremiah the prophet out of the dungeon, before he die.
Verse 10. - Thirty men. Why so many were sent is not clear. Are we to suppose that the princes would resist Jeremiah's release? But "the king is not he," etc. (ver. 5). Is it not a scribe's error for "three" (so Ewald, Hitzig, and Graf)?
So Ebedmelech 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.
Verse 11. - Under the treasury; rather, to (a room) under the treasury. Old cast clouts, etc.; literally, rags of torn garments and rags of worn-out garments.
And Ebedmelech the Ethiopian said unto Jeremiah, Put now these old cast clouts and rotten rags under thine armholes under the cords. And Jeremiah did so.
So they drew up Jeremiah with cords, and took him up out of the dungeon: and Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.
Then 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.
Verse 14. - The third entry. What this means exactly is not clear; probably the "entry" led from the palace to the temple. It must have been a private place, else it would not have been chosen for this interview. I will ask thee a thing; rather, I will ask of thee a word; i.e. a revelation from Jehovah (comp. Jeremiah 37:17).
Then 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?
Verse 15. - Wilt thou not hearken; rather, thou wilt not hearken.
So 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.
Verse 16. - That made us this soul. A very unusual formula (comp. Isaiah 57:16).
Then 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:
Verse 17. - The king of Babylon's princes. Nebuchadnezzar himself was in Riblah (Jeremiah 39:5).
But 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.
And 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.
But 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.
But if thou refuse to go forth, this is the word that the LORD hath shewed me:
And, 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.
Verse 22. - All the women that are left; i.e. probably the wives of Zedekiah's royal predecessors, who had passed into his own harem as concubines. Even Hezekiah, as Payne Smith well points out, had a numerous harem ('Records of the Past,' 1:39, where "daughters" is equivalent to "girls"). Zedekiah's own wives are spoken of in the next verse. Thy friends have set thee on, etc. The first half of this taunting song (mashal) reminds of Obadiah 1:7 (for other points of contact with Obadiah, see on Jeremiah 49:7-22). The meaning is that, after urging the weak-minded Zedekiah on to a conflict with the Chaldeans, they have left him involved in hopeless difficulties.
So 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.
Verse 23. - So they, etc.; rather, and they, etc. The women spoken of are different from those in ver. 22. Thou shalt cause this city to be burned. The literal rendering (see margin) is, Thou shalt burn this city; but the Septuagint, Peshito, and Targum have "As for this city it shall be burned," which suits the parallelism better.
Then said Zedekiah unto Jeremiah, Let no man know of these words, and thou shalt not die.
But 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:
Then 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.
Then 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.
Verse 27. - He told them according to all these words. A controversy has arisen as to whether Jeremiah was justified in concealing the truth. But is a man bound to confess the truth to a murderer?
So Jeremiah abode in the court of the prison until the day that Jerusalem was taken: and he was there when Jerusalem was taken.
Verse 28. - And he was there when, etc. The words, of which this is an incorrect version, ought to begin the first verse of the next chapter. Render (with Coverdale), And it came to pass when Jerusalem was taken (in the ninth year of Zedekiah came Nebuchadrezzar, etc.; in the eleventh year...the city was cleft open) that all the princes, etc. The correctness of the reading is, however, open to some doubt (see introduction to next chapter)

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