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Lowell Brueckner

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Left to Die in a Miry Cistern


                             Chapter 38


Jeremiah left to the fate of evil princes

       1.      Now Shephatiah the son of Mattan, Gedaliah the son of Pashhur, Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur the son of Malchiah heard the words that Jeremiah had spoken to all the people, saying, 

          2.      "Thus says the LORD: 'He who remains in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but he who goes over to the Chaldeans shall live; his life shall be as a prize to him, and he shall live.' 

 3.      Thus says the LORD: 'This city shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon's army, which shall take it.' " 

 4.      Therefore the princes said to the king, "Please, let this man be put to death, for thus he weakens the hands of the men of war who remain in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man does not seek the welfare of this people, but their harm." 

 5.      Then Zedekiah the king said, "Look, he is in your hand. For the king can do nothing against you." 

 6.      So they took Jeremiah and cast him into the dungeon of Malchiah the king's son, which was in the court of the prison, and they let Jeremiah down with ropes. And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire. So Jeremiah sank in the mire. 

 Both Jehucal and Pashhur rejected the word of the Lord, which Jeremiah delivered. Jehucal was sent by Zedekiah in chapter 37:3 and Pashhur in 21:1 to counsel with the prophet. Gedaliah, the son of Pashhur, is not the Gedaliah, son of Shaphan, who is Jeremiah’s friend, and later appointed by the emperor to be governor of the land. This Gedaliah may be the son of the Pashhur of 21:1, as well as in this verse. We have no certainty, as to who is Shephatiah (1).

Jeremiah was commissioned by the Lord to give an option to the people, openly and publicly, for their benefit… the one benefit that they can expect in this crisis. They can continue to live, and that is all. Otherwise, the three means of death… by sword, by famine, and by pestilence… mentioned several times by Jeremiah, will surely be their end.

 God knows that there is no deliverance from the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. It is not a time to rise up to battle the enemy army, because God Himself will fight against them in wrath. Resistance is futile and, in fact, deadly, so the kindest advice to give the people is that they should surrender willingly. We read the same advice that we have in verse 2, also in chapter 21:8-9.  


 We learn time and again that God, for disciplinary purposes, is giving Jerusalem into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand (3). This is not the word that the princes want to hear and they oppose it vehemently, demanding a death sentence to the prophet (4). They see his message as treasonous, discouraging the local army, as well as the general populace. Rejecting God’s word, they obviously cannot sense His mercy in the message.

 We saw in the last chapter that Zedekiah is a weak king, controlled by godless princes in his government. Again, as in the last chapter, I think of Pilate’s position before the Jewish leaders. He was persuaded of Jesus’ innocence and words that Jesus said to him, as well as the urging of his wife, put fear into him. Pilate wanted to release him, but political expediency made him resort to giving the opposite verdict. He said, “You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him” (Jn.19:6).   

 Similarly, King Zedekiah puts Jeremiah’s fate in the princes’ hands: “Look, he is in your hand. For the king can do nothing against you” (5). Christians should expect no help from world leaders at any time. They dropped Jeremiah with ropes into a deep cistern, expecting him to die there of starvation, or perhaps, by sinking over his head in the mire, because the cistern had no water, but mire. The historian, Josephus, said that he sunk to his neck (6).

 It is very possible that it is because of this experience that Jeremiah later wrote: “They silenced my life in the pit… I called on Your name, O Lord, from the lowest pit…. You drew near on the day I called on You, and said, ‘Do not fear!’” (Lam.3:53-57).


Jeremiah rescued by a slave, who is a eunuch

 7.      Now Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, one of the eunuchs, who was in the king's house, heard that they had put Jeremiah in the dungeon. When the king was sitting at the Gate of Benjamin, 

 8.      Ebed-Melech went out of the king's house and spoke to the king, saying: 

 9.      "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 likely to die from hunger in the place where he is. For there is no more bread in the city." 

 10.  Then the king commanded Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, saying, "Take from here thirty men with you, and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the dungeon before he dies." 

 11.  So Ebed-Melech took the men with him and went into the house of the king under the treasury, and took from there old clothes and old rags, and let them down by ropes into the dungeon to Jeremiah. 

 12.  Then Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, "Please put these old clothes and rags under your armpits, under the ropes." And Jeremiah did so

 13.  So they pulled Jeremiah up with ropes and lifted him out of the dungeon. And Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison. 

 Where is the citizen of Jerusalem, such as Abiham, who stood up for Jeremíah in Chapter 26, verse 24? “The hand of Ahikam the son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah, so that they should not give him into the hand of the people to put him to death.” There is no one anymore, who has the fear of God in Him. It´s another sign that Judah has fallen to a more putrid decay, worse even than the time of Jehoiakim, and it draws very near to its day of destruction.

 Though no fellow-citizen comes to Jeremiah’s aid, God, Who is always faithful to his servants, will use whatever means available to rescue him. He will use someone from outside Judah, an Ethiopian, whose manhood has been taken from him. He is a slave, a eunuch in the house of the king. This man, living without a form of human dignity, has more sense and decency than the sophisticated nobles in Jerusalem. He may be a secret believer, who has heard God´s word, which has already reached the palace through Jeremiah, and he could have been attending the king during the prophet's visit (7).

 However, as the king´s slave, he has an audience with Zedekiah (8). This is another factor in God´s way of functioning among men. Every detail is taken into account and the Spirit of God moves in the heart of the man, who is willing and able to do something about the prophet´s dilemma. The man goes from his position in the king´s house to the place, where authorities conducted business in Bible times, which was in the gates of the city.

The situation brings to mind another Ethiopian eunuch, to whom God sent a Jew by the name of Philip. He went all the way from Samaria to intercept him on the road between Jerusalem and Gaza. He was a man of great importance, who served Candace, the queen of the Ethiopians. The Holy Spirit has set this man apart to worship the true God, and he comes from Jerusalem, the only place where non-Jews, hungry for truth and righteousness, knew to go, prior to the gospel age.

 Any evangelist, used to preach to multitudes, will gladly go a long way to reach an individual. He knows, that God deals with all people individually to bring them to salvation.  Warren Wiersbe tells this little story about D. L. Moody, asking a man about the condition of his soul. He replied, “It’s none of your business!” “Oh yes, it is my business!” Moody replied. The man immediately responded, “Then you must be D. L. Moody!” It brought tears to my eyes, thinking to be known as someone who cares for one lost soul. 

 This eunuch has become a proselyte, almost certainly returning from a feast day, not having received that, for which his heart yearns. But he has not given up the quest and God brings him to His word, similarly as He did for King Josiah, who sought the Lord for a decade, before the Book of the Law was discovered. The Ethiopian is only three chapters away from a passage directed to him two-fold… as a foreigner and as a eunuch: “Do not let the son of the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD speak, saying, ‘The LORD has utterly separated me from His people’; nor let the eunuch say, ‘Here I am, a dry tree.’  For thus says the LORD: ‘To the eunuchs who… choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant, even to them I will give in My house and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name That shall not be cut off’” (Is.56:3-5). What an inheritance!

 We already know that the king turned Jeremiah over to the princes and probably wants to wash his hands over his fate. He may not care to hear what they did to him. The slave is not afraid to inform him, whether he wants to know or not, and is bold to speak against the evil of the officials. There is always a need for boldness in the service of the King of Kings. The disciples gathered for prayer to express their need to have “all boldness that they may speak your word” (Ac.4:29).

 Jeremiah´s life is in immediate danger in the dungeon, but the entire city faces starvation, because the bread supply has come to an end (9). Now that Zedekiah has heard and knows that the prophet is fighting for his life in the mire, his conscience brings him to action, a strong move that should have already been made. He puts Ebed-Melech, his slave, in charge of 30 men, not only to lift Jeremiah out of the dungeon… it would only take a couple to do that… but to defend against any interference (10).

 Now we learn that the dungeon is under the treasury in the king’s house and the eunuch takes full advantage of his position as the king’s slave. He gathered old clothes and rags stored in the treasury, for whatever use the kingdom might make of them, and sent them down with ropes, needed to pull Jeremiah to the surface (11). He instructs the prophet to put them under his armpits, to soften the roughness of the ropes - the kind slave uses care to protect him from skin burn (12). 

 Now Jeremiah is in the court of the prison, better protected from enemies without. Add this to God’s faithfulness in watching over his servant and then go back over the story and see how He has done this. The highest authority in the land, did not have the moral or political strength to defend the prophet, the leading officials wanted to kill him, therefore the Lord works through a eunuch, who is a slave, to deliver His servant from powerful enemies (13). Will we not trust in Him, Who is always faithful and Who always finds a way to rescue us from danger?


Another meeting with the king

 14.  Then Zedekiah the king sent and had Jeremiah the prophet brought to him at the third entrance of the house of the LORD. And the king said to Jeremiah, "I will ask you something. Hide nothing from me." 

 15.  Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, "If I declare it to you, will you not surely put me to death? And if I give you advice, you will not listen to me." 

 16.  So Zedekiah the king swore secretly to Jeremiah, saying, "As the LORD lives, who made our very souls, I will not put you to death, nor will I give you into the hand of these men who seek your life." 

 17.  Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, "Thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: 'If you surely surrender to the king of Babylon's princes, then your soul shall live; this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live. 

 18.  But if you do not surrender to the king of Babylon's princes, then this city shall be given into the hand of the Chaldeans; they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hand.' " 

 19.  And Zedekiah the king said to Jeremiah, "I am afraid of the Jews who have defected to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hand, and they abuse me." 

 20.  But Jeremiah said, "They shall not deliver you. Please, obey the voice of the LORD which I speak to you. So it shall be well with you, and your soul shall live. 

 21.  But if you refuse to surrender, this is the word that the LORD has shown me: 

 22.  'Now behold, all the women who are left in the king of Judah's house shall be surrendered to the king of Babylon's princes, and those women shall say: "Your close friends have set upon you And prevailed against you; Your feet have sunk in the mire, And they have turned away again." 

 23.  'So they shall surrender all your wives and children to the Chaldeans. You shall not escape from their hand, but shall be taken by the hand of the king of Babylon. And you shall cause this city to be burned with fire.' " 

 24.  Then Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, "Let no one know of these words, and you shall not die. 

 25.  But if the princes hear that I have talked with you, and they come to you and say to you, 'Declare to us now what you have said to the king, and also what the king said to you; do not hide it from us, and we will not put you to death,' 

 26.  then you shall say to them, 'I presented my request before the king, that he would not make me return to Jonathan's house to die there.' " 

 27.  Then all the princes came to Jeremiah and asked him. And he told them according to all these words that the king had commanded. So they stopped speaking with him, for the conversation had not been heard. 

 28.  Now Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison until the day that Jerusalem was taken. And he was there when Jerusalem was taken. 

 There is no trustworthy ambassador that the king might send for a message from the prophet, so now he brings him to consult personally with him. I do not understand why he decides to meet with him at an entrance of the temple, except that, possibly, he wants to impress the Lord with a religious gesture in a superstitious manner. In any case, Zedekiah has a question and, apparently wants a straight answer (14).

 Jeremiah tells the king to his face, how he expects him to respond, if he delivers the word of the Lord to him: 1) He will become angry and kill him, or 2) he simply will not take his advice.  It has been characteristic of this king, to seek a word from God and then, refuse to obey it. Nothing changed throughout his reign, and nothing will change until he falls defeated into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand (15). Jeremiah reads him correctly.

 Probably, Zedekiah does not intend personally, at all, to put the prophet to death, but he has already turned him over to evil men, so that is how he could carry out the first option. He might put him to death through their hands.  He denies the first possibility and swears, “As the Lord lives, who made our very souls.” He does not deny the second possibility, which is the one he will fulfill (16).

 No matter when or how many times God answers Zedekiah’s petition, His reply is absolutely consistent. It would have been extremely advantageous for the king to take the advice given and surrender to Nebuchadnezzar. As in the case of his nephew, Jehoiachin, the outcome would not have been so violent.  I do not have the age of the king, when he died in Babylon, but Jehoiachin was deposed and taken to Babylon, when Zedekiah was put on the throne at 21 years of age. Jehoiachin was released after 37 years of prison and treated with respect. Zedekiah would have been 58 years old at the time. It is likely that Jerusalem would not have burned, his sons´ lives would have been spared and that he would have been with his nephew in prison in Babylon. True, he would be there for many years, but the fate would have been much better than seeing his sons killed before his eyes, and then having his eyes removed (17).

 His actual destiny is prophesied in verse 18 and this became the history of the king, Jerusalem and Judah. Whether they consciously followed Jeremiah’s advice or not, there was a party of Jews, now in Babylon, who defected to the Chaldean army. To do so, was to defy the policy of the king, therefore he considered them his enemies. When he is stripped of his kingship, they will be on an equal level with him, so he is afraid that the Chaldeans will put him in their hands, and they would take revenge on him for his resistance against the emperor (19).

  Jeremiah assures him that this will not happen and guarantees a positive outcome in surrendering to Nebuchadnezzar. What an advantage there is in having a man at his disposal, who hears from God and sees exactly what the future will bring! We have these same holy men that spoke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Israel’s history, who continue to speak to us today in the Bible. The time that has elapsed since their earthly existence, does not change the inerrant word that they gave. God has not changed and the same consistency, with which He spoke at different times to Zedekiah, is found in Scripture today. So it shall be well with us and our soul shall live (20).

 The consequences of disobedience to the sovereign Lord are always extremely tragic. Disobedience is provoked by unbelief and through unbelief, in practice, we make God a liar, regardless of the issue, in which we refuse to accept His word. The apostle John addresses one of them, which is aimed at Christians, who do not recognize their sinfulness: “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1Jn.1:10). Zedekiah is plagued with a refusal to trust God and act upon His truth.

 Jeremiah gives the king details as to what will take place and it bears a certain similarity to his fears. Not the defecting men, but the women of his harem, his concubines, are and will continue to defect to the men of Babylon, and will try to please them by taunting Zedekiah for his shameful defeat, comparing that defeat as something akin to Jeremiah´s experience in the miry cistern (22)… that is, the consequences of his disobedience will hold him in an inescapable predicament.  The king´s wives, as well, not willingly like the concubines, but taken by force, will become the property of the Chaldeans. All his children will be taken away, and he himself will be captured. He will be responsible for the city´s burning (23).

 The king wants this to be a confidential meeting, as between a counselor and a counselee, so that nothing discussed will become public. He reaffirms his pledge not to harm the prophet, if he will hold to the condition of secrecy (24). However, he is aware that the nation’s nobility will try to extract the truth from Jeremiah, if they are informed of the meeting. They will use blackmail, threatening, at the cost of his life, if he refuses to divulge the conversation (25).

 There would be more than an element of truth in Zedekiah´s suggestion, that Jeremiah, in answering the princes, would tell them that he requested that the king would not allow for him to be returned to prison. Having an opportunity of meeting with him personally, it would be totally legitimate to assume that he make that request.  He had certainly requested previously, in a conversation with the king, that he would not return him to the house of Jonathan (37:20). In this visit, due to his recent extraction from the cistern, he had more reason to ask him (26).

 The princes did have knowledge of the conversation and asked the prophet, what had transpired. He followed the suggestion of the king and the princes apparently were satisfied. First of all, there was no way to contradict, because no one was privy to the matter discussed and they had no need to further demean a king, who was already under their control. Because this was true, there was no longer any need to dispose of Jeremiah (27). The prophet remains in relative safety and comfort in the court of the prison. That is where he remained, until the Chaldeans penetrated the city (28).








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