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"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." It was also told them that he had declared, "Thus saith the Lord: This city shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon's army, which shall take it" (Jeremiah 38:1-3).
As we know, these prophecies had indeed been uttered. Almost the identical words are recorded in Jeremiah 21:9, when Pashur, the son of Malchiah (or Melchiah, as he is there called), was one of the messengers sent to him by king Zedekiah. He is now one of Jeremiah's accusers, with three others, Shephatiah, Gedaliah (the son of another Pashur), and Jucal.
Again and again, on divers occasions, the fall of Jerusalem had been clearly foretold. Like his Lord, Jeremiah could say, "In secret have I said nothing." (John 18:20) Openly, in the presence of the populace, nobles, priests, and the king, had he faithfully declared the truth of GOD regarding the doomed city. For this he was hated. His words seemed to put a premium upon what to the nobles and captains looked like treachery.
Burning with indignation against the man who so solemnly declared the utter futility of all their schemes and devices, they accused Jeremiah before the king, and urged that he be executed as a traitor.
"We beseech thee," they pleaded, "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" (Jeremiah 38:4).
How little can worldly men understand that true love for the people leads one faithfully to show them their sins and their danger!
Little indeed could these four accusers enter into the deep sorrows and anguish of heart that the "weeping prophet" had experienced on their account. Like Paul, the more abundantly he loved them, the less he was loved in return. It is one of the hardest trials a devoted servant has to bear when his good is thus evil spoken of, and his very affection mistaken for malice, because it makes it impossible for him to hold his peace and to permit the people to sleep on in their sins without lifting a warning voice. Yet, in some measure, such has been the cup that every truly godly soul has had to drink; and none ever tasted it so deeply and frequently as our blessed Lord Himself. It is of the false prophets that the world speaks well. The true are accounted as the offscouring of the earth.
In this case Zedekiah, ever a weakling, succumbs to the demands of his ministers. He consents to the death of Jeremiah in words that well betray his impotency, but which, like Pilate's, in no sense lessen his guilt. "Behold, he is in your hand: for the king is not he that can do anything against you" (Jeremiah 38:5).
Having obtained the royal consent, the four conspirators took Jeremiah and cast him into the dungeon of Malchiah, which was in the court of the prison, letting him down with cords - a filthy pit, with no water, but offensive mire, in which Jeremiah sank, and was heartlessly left in this wretched plight. The object, doubtless, was to let him die, unknown to the populace, who might have had superstitious or conscientious scruples about making away with the man who professed to speak in the name of the Lord. Shephatiah and his associates would allow him to starve to death, alone and unsought, in this abominable, miry dungeon.
GOD had other thoughts, however, and would not thus permit His servant's martyrdom.
The suffering and shame were all part of the discipline His love saw to be necessary, and He would not allow him to be spared the humiliation and anguish they entailed; but, like Job, his life was inviolable.
In the prophet's hour of need a friend is raised up of whom otherwise we might never have heard. He is a servant in the king's household, an Ethiopian eunuch, Ebed-melech - perhaps nameless, so far as our narrative is concerned; for Ebed-melech, translated, is simply "servant of the king," and may not be a proper name at all. In this servant's heart glowed a pity and a sympathy, as well as a recognition of the divine office of Jeremiah, to which the four accusers were strangers.
Like the young man in Acts 23:16 used for Paul's deliverance, here also GOD had prepared this His servant for Jeremiah's deliverance. Hearing that the prophet had been left to perish in the filthy pit of the prison court, this Ethiopian went boldly to entreat the king's favor, who was "then sitting in the gate of Benjamin" (Jeremiah 38:7) - the professed representative of the law, in the gate to dispense justice, when this inexcusable injustice had been perpetrated with his consent (Jeremiah 38:7-8). Earnestly and faithfully the eunuch presents the cause of the man of GOD: "My lord the king," he pleads, "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" (Jeremiah 38:9).
Again, Zedekiah, a typical changeling, whose mind is controlled by the last man who gains his ear, reverses his judgment. Ebedmelech is commanded, "Take from hence thirty men with thee, and take up Jeremiah the prophet out of the dungeon, before he die" (Jeremiah 38:10).
The king makes no confession of sin in thus having treated the Lord's messenger; nor is there a word of apology to the prophet for the indignities so unrighteously heaped upon him after his pledged word as to provision for his comfort!
It is enough for the Ethiopian that he has permission to relieve the loved prisoner's sufferings, and he hastens to deliver him. Thoughtfully and tenderly he provides from the house of the king, under the treasury, old clouts and rags, which he let down by cords into the dungeon to Jeremiah, with directions to put them under his armholes under the ropes (Jeremiah 38:11-12). Apparently a trifling thing this, but a loving heart directed it, and GOD has been pleased to place it on record where it will stand forever.
In that day when every cup of cold water given in the name of the Lord shall not fail of reward, Ebedmelech's "old cast clouts and rotten rags" (Jeremiah 38:11) used to lessen the pain of the man of GOD will be remembered and duly taken into account.
Thus protected, the weak and emaciated prophet is gently lifted out of the miry dungeon by the eunuch and his thirty helpers. Only once again is Ebedmelech mentioned, in the next chapter, for the Lord's commendation, ere he disappears from the scene until he takes his place with the host of the redeemed, when his good deeds will have their due reward.
Jerusalem's case had become desperate, and in his distress Zedekiah once more sent for Jeremiah for a secret interview. Knowing in the depths of his heart that this man, whom he had so shamefully treated, had the mind of the Lord, he said to him, "I will ask thee a thing; hide nothing from me" (Jeremiah 38:14).
Fear now makes him desire to know what GOD had revealed; but, as his previous career had manifested, there was no true bowing of heart to that word when made known. A double-minded man was he, therefore unstable in all his ways. Self and selfish interests ruled in his heart, not the glory of the GOD of Israel.
The well-merited and withering reply comes to him, "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?" (Jeremiah 38:15).
Thus boldly does the prophet answer him. Cruel treatment had in no sense filled his soul with slavish fear. As GOD's free man, he speaks to the conscience of the king.
Secretly, the guilty monarch swore neither to harm him himself, nor, as before, to give him into the hand of the men who sought his life (Jeremiah 38:16). Accepting the pledge, Jeremiah gives him the word of the Lord, saying:
"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 thy house; 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" (Jeremiah 38:17-18).
For Zedekiah to accept the advice tendered so solemnly in the name of the Lord would mean a complete and unconditional surrender. The victorious Chaldean army had once more spread its tents around Jerusalem, and was carrying on the siege with vigor; the Egyptian army having returned in discomfiture to their own land. This was in itself an evidence of the truth of Jeremiah's predictions.
When the false prophets declared that Nebuchadrezzar's power was broken, he had insisted on the overthrow of Pharaoh's forces and the early return of the Babylonians to invest the capital once more. Zedekiah evidently feared him, and in a vague, uncertain kind of way realized that GOD was with him. But he was of the number of those who cannot stand the sneers or the anger of their fellows, though they can sin against their Creator unblushingly. It is natural to fallen man to be ashamed to do what is right, if contrary to public opinion, and to do evil with a certain kind of pride. Of this stamp was the unworthy son of Josiah. He "loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12:43)
In his faltering reply to Jeremiah, he shows the smallness of his soul, as also the haughtiness of his heart. "I am afraid," he owned, "of the Jews that are fallen to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hand, and they mock me" (Jeremiah 38:19).
What gross unbelief, when the Lord had just given the word that he should be spared if he surrendered; and what wretched pride that made the thought of mockery so bitter to the already ruined man!
Faithfully, even tenderly, the prophet urged him to obedience, assuring him that they should not deliver him up as he feared. "Obey, I beseech thee," he entreated, "the voice of the Lord, which I speak unto thee: so it shall be well unto thee, and thy soul shall live" (Jeremiah 38:20).
On the other hand, he warned him solemnly that if he refused to go forth, he should be reduced to the degradation of seeing "all the women that are left in the king of Judah's house" brought forth in captivity to the princes of the king of Babylon, who should mock in their turn, and reproach him for his inglorious rebellion and its awful consequences. He, too, should be taken captive, and the city burned with fire; with himself alone to blame (Jeremiah 38:22-23).
The moody and well-nigh distraught king deigned no reply that would indicate whether he intended to bow to the authority of the Lord or not, but strictly commanded silence on the part of Jeremiah as to the purport of the conversation they had had together. If the princes importuned him as to what had taken place, he was to mention the matter of his request to be released from prison, but nothing more (Jeremiah 38:24-26).
As anticipated, the princes did seek to know the drift of the conference, but he replied discreetly, as he had been bidden - the truth, though not all the truth - and they are satisfied to leave him in the court of the prison, where he remained until the fulfilment of his prophecies regarding the siege, for "he was there when Jerusalem was taken" (Jeremiah 38:27-28).
~ end of chapter 21 ~
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Jeremiah 38". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25