Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, June 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 38

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

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,

All this was subsequent to his imprisonment in Jonathan's house, and his release on his interview with Zedekiah (Jeremiah 37:15; Jeremiah 37:21). The latter occurred before the return of the Chaldeans to the siege; the similar events in this chapter occurred after it.

Jucal - Jehucal (Jeremiah 37:3).

Pashur - (Jeremiah 21:1: cf. Jeremiah 21:9 with Jeremiah 38:2); the deputation in Jeremiah 21:1, to whom Jeremiah gave this reply, if not identical with the hearers of Jeremiah in Jeremiah 38:1, must have been sent just before the latter "heard" him speaking the same words. Zephaniah is not mentioned here as in Jeremiah 21:1, but is so in Jeremiah 37:3. Jucal is mentioned here and in the previous deputation (Jeremiah 37:3), but not in Jeremiah 21:1. Shephatiah and Gedaliah here do not occur either in Jeremiah 21:1 or Jeremiah 37:3. The identity of his words in both cases is natural, when uttered at a very short interval, and one of the hearers (Pashur) being present on both occasions.

Unto all the people. They had free access to him in the court of the prison (Jeremiah 32:12).

Verse 2

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.

He that goeth forth to the Chaldeans ... shall have his life for a prey - he shall escape with his life; though losing all else, as in a shipwreck, he shall carry off his life as his gain, saved by his going over to the Chaldeans (note, Jeremiah 21:9).

Verse 3

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

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 4

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.

Let this man be put to death; for ... he weakeneth the hands of the men of war ... in speaking such words. Had Jeremiah not had a divine commission, he might justly have been accused of treason; but having one, which made the result of the siege certain, he acted humanely, as interpreter of God's will under the theocracy, in advising surrender (cf. Jeremiah 26:11).

Verse 5

Then Zedekiah the king said, Behold, he is in your hand: for the king is not he that can do any thing against you.

The king is not he that can do anything against you. Zedekiah was a weak prince, and now in his straits afraid to oppose his princes. He hides his dislike of their overweening power, which prevented him shielding Jeremiah as he would have wished, under complimentary speeches. 'It is not right that the king should deny aught to such faithful and wise statesmen;' the king is not such a one as to deny you your wishes (Jerome).

Verse 6

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.

Then took they Jeremiah, and cast him into the dungeon - literally, the cistern of Malchiah. It was not a subterranean prison, as was that in Jonathan's house (Jeremiah 37:15), but a pit or cistern which had been full of water, but was emptied of it during the siege, so that only "mire" remained. Such empty cisterns were often used as prisons (Zechariah 9:11, "By the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water"); the depth forbade hope of escape.

Malchiah the son of Hammelech - (see note, Jeremiah 36:26). Like Jerahmeel his brother, Malchiah, who was also "the son of Hammelech," was a ready tool for evil.

So Jeremiah sunk in the mire. Jeremiah herein was a type of Messiah, (Psalms 69:2; Psalms 69:14, "I sink in deep mire," etc.)

Verse 7

Now when Ebed-melech 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;

Ebed-melech. This was the Hebrew designation given to this Ethiopian, meaning king's servant. Already, even at this early time, God wished to show what good reason there was for calling the Gentiles to salvation. An Ethiopian stranger saves the prophet whom his own countrymen, the Jews, tried to destroy. So the Gentiles believed in Christ, whereas the Jews, his own countrymen, crucified Him; and Ethiopians were among the earliest converts (Acts 2:10; Acts 2:41; "A man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship," was one of the first Gentile proselytes to Judaism who was brought to Christ through Philip's evangelical exposition of the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, Acts 8:27-39). Ebed-melech probably was keeper of the royal harem, and so had private access to the king. The eunuchs over harems in the present day are mostly from Nubia or Abyssinia.

Verse 8

Ebed-melech went forth out of the king's house, and spake to the king, saying,

Ebed-melech went forth ... and spake to the king - not privately, but in public; a proof of fearless magnanimity.

Verse 9

My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they have done to Jeremiah the prophet, whom they 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.

He is like to die for hunger in the place where he is, for there is no more bread in the city - (cf. Jeremiah 37:21). He had heretofore gotten a piece of bread supplied to him. What Ebed-melech means to say is, 'Seeing that there is the utmost want of bread in the city, so that even if he were at large there could no more bread be regularly supplied to him, much less can it be supplied to him now in a place where none remembers or pities him, so that he is like to die for hunger. "No more bread" - i:e., no more left of the public store in the city (Jeremiah 37:21): or, all but no bread left anywhere (Maurer).

Verse 10

Then the king commanded Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, saying, Take from hence thirty men with thee, and take up Jeremiah the prophet out of the dungeon, before he die.

Take from, hence ... with thee - Hebrew, 'in thine hand, i:e., at 'thy disposal,' (1 Samuel 16:2, margin.) From hence - i:e., from the gate of Benjamin, where the king was sitting (Jeremiah 38:7).

Thirty men - not merely to draw up Jeremiah, but to guard Ebed- melech against any opposition on the part of the princes (Jeremiah 38:1-4), in executing the king's command. Ebed-melech was rewarded for his faith, love, and courage, exhibited at a time when he might well fear the wrath of the princes, to which even the king had to yield (Jeremiah 39:16-18)

Verse 11

So Ebed-melech 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.

Cast clouts - `torn clothes' (Henderson).

Rotten rags - `worn out garments.' God can make the meanest things His instruments of goodness to his people (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).

Verse 12

And Ebed melech the Ethiopian said unto Jeremiah Put now these old cast clouts and rotten rags under And Ebed-melech the Ethiopian said unto Jeremiah, Put now these old cast clouts and rotten rags under thine armholes under the cords. And Jeremiah did so.

Under ... arm holes - `under the joints of thy hands;' i:e., where the fingers join the hand, the clothes being in order that the hands should not be cut by the cords (Maurer).

Verse 13

So they drew up Jeremiah with cords, and took him up out of the dungeon: and Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.

Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison. Ebed-melech prudently put him there, to be out of the way of his enemies.

Verse 14

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.

Zedekiah the king ... took Jeremiah ... unto him into the third entry. The Hebrews in determining the position of places faced the east, which they termed 'that which is in front;' the south was thus called 'that which is on the right hand;' the north, 'that which is on the left hand;' the west, 'that which is behind.' So, beginning with the east, they might term it the first or principal entry; the south the second entry; the north the "third entry" of the outer or inner court (Maurer) - the third gate of the temple facing the palace; for through it the entrance lay from the palace into the temple (1 Kings 10:5; 1 Kings 10:12). It was westward (1 Chronicles 26:16; 1 Chronicles 26:18; 2 Chronicles 9:11). (Grotius.) But in the future temple it is eastward (Ezekiel 46:1-2; Ezekiel 46:8.).

Verse 15

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?

If I give thee counsel, wilt thou not hearken unto me? Zedekiah does not answer this last query; the former one, "If I declare it unto thee, wilt thou not put me to death?" he replies to in Jeremiah 38:16. Rather translate, 'Thou wilt not hearken to me.' Jeremiah judges so from the past conduct of the king. Compare Jeremiah 38:17 with Jeremiah 38:19.

Verse 16

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.

As the Lord ... that made us this soul - (Isaiah 57:16). Implying, 'may my life (soul) be forfeited if I deceive thee.'

Verse 17

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:

If thou wilt ... go forth unto the king of Babylon's princes - (Jeremiah 39:3). He does not say 'to the king himself,' for he was at Riblah, in Hamath (Jeremiah 39:5; 2 Kings 25:6). How strikingly the historic accuracy of Scripture is confirmed by these minute and undesigned coincidences with matter of fact! "If thou go forth" (namely, to surrender thyself to the King of Babylon, as Jehoiakim did, 2 Kings 24:12; contrast Rabshakeh's words to the Jews on the wall "Come out to me," Isaiah 36:16). God foreknows future conditional contingencies, and ordains not only the end, but also the means to the end.

Verse 18

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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 19

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.

I am afraid of the Jews that are fallen to the Chaldeans. He was more afraid of them than of God (Proverbs 29:25, "The fear of man bringeth a snare; but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe;" John 9:22; John 12:43).

Lest they mock me - treat me injuriously, (1 Samuel 31:4, margin).

Verses 20-21

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.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 22

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.

All the women shall say, Thy friends have set thee on. The very evil which Zedekiah wished to escape by disobeying the command to go forth, shall befall him in its worst form thereby. Not merely the Jewish deserters shall "mock" him (Jeremiah 38:19), but the very "women" of his own palace and harem, to gratify their new lords, will taunt him: 'A noble king, in sooth, to suffer thyself to be so imposed on!'

Thy friends - Hebrew, 'men of thy peace' (see Jeremiah 20:10, note; Psalms 41:9, margin) - namely, the king's ministers and the false prophets who had misled him, 'setting him on' to a course which has proved fatal to him.

Thy feet are sunk in the mire. Proverbial for, Thou art involved by "thy friends'" counsels in inextricable difficulties. The phrase perhaps alludes to Jeremiah 38:6; a just retribution for the treatment of Jeremiah, who literally "sank in the mire."

And they are turned away back. Having involved thee in the calamity, they themselves provide for their own safety by deserting to the Chaldeans (Jeremiah 38:19).

Verse 23

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.

So they shall bring out all thy wives and thy children - Jeremiah 39:6; Jeremiah 41:10). "Thy wives ... thy children ... thou;" an ascending climax.

Verse 24

Then said Zedekiah unto Jeremiah, Let no man know of these words, and thou shalt not die.

Let no man know of these words, and thou shalt not die - if thou wilt not tell this to the people, I will engage thy safety.

Verse 25

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:

If the princes hear that I have talked with thee ... and say unto thee ... Kings are often such only in title; they are really under the power of their subjects.

Verse 26

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.

I presented - literally, I made my supplication to fall; implying supplication with humble prostration (note, I presented - literally, I made my supplication to fall; implying supplication with humble prostration (note, Jeremiah 36:7).

That he would not cause me to return to Jonathan's house - (Jeremiah 37:15) different from Malchiah's dungeon (Jeremiah 38:6). This statement was true, though not the whole truth; the princes had no right to the information; and, moreover, no sanction is given by Scripture here to Jeremiah's representation of this being the cause of his having come to the king. Fear drove him to it. Compare the case of Abraham's suppression of truth, and suggestion of what was false, in respect to Sarah, through fear of Abimelech (Genesis 20:2; Genesis 20:12); on the other hand, compare the Lord's direction to Samuel, when afraid of Saul, to say he was coming to sacrifice, when his chief object was to anoint David king. Still God in no way sanctioned mental reservation (1 Samuel 16:2; 1 Samuel 16:5).

Verse 27

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.

They left off speaking with him - Hebrew, 'were silent from him' - i:e., withdrawing from him, they left him quiet, (1 Samuel 7:8, margin).

Verse 28

So Jeremiah abode in the court of the prison until the day that Jerusalem was taken: and he was there when Jerusalem was taken.

He was [there] when Jerusalem was taken. These words are made the beginning of Jeremiah 39:1-18 by many; but the accents and sense support the English version.


(1) The prophet who risked character, liberty, and life in telling the salutary though unwelcome truth to his countrymen, that submission to the King of Babylon was the only way of safety, was condemned to a miry, dark, and loathsome dungeon, as though he sought not the welfare, but the hurt of the state (Jeremiah 38:4). How infatuated are sinners who mistake for enemies those who are their truest friends! The wicked are their own worst enemies so long as they are impenitent, and, therefore, they regard the servants of God as enemies because they tell them so. Until they submit their proud spirits to God's appointed and only way of salvation, there is nothing but destruction before them. The faithful minister tells them this wholesome though mortifying truth, and therefore they hate him. Yet if they would reflect a moment, they would see that, like Jeremiah, the true servant of God can have no selfish aim in telling them unpalatable truth, but can only be influenced by a sincere desire for their salvation: and that their true wisdom and happiness would be to accept salvation, while yet there is time, in God's appointed way. (2) Kingly power and state are eagerly coveted; yet the sovereign is often such only in title: he is in the hands of his princes and ministers. But this does not excuse the monarch who, like Zedekiah, through weakness and pusillanimity, suffers himself to be tempted, by pressure from without, into sanctioning an act of cruelty and injustice, such as was that perpetrated by the princes upon Jeremiah. State necessity and temporizing expediency are not pleas that will stand before Him who ought to have been feared and obeyed rather than man. Pontius Pilate in vain tried by such pleas to wash himself of the guilt of condemning the Holy and the Just One: but to all ages his name shall be handed down to infamy, as it has been for eighteen hundred years past in the Creeds and Confessions of the Church, as the unjust judge under whom the innocent Saviour suffered

(3) At a time when the wrath of the princes was much to be feared, and just after that the king himself yielded to their wishes, one was found who, with fearless magnanimity, faith, and love, braved every danger, in order to rescue the servant of God from certain death (Jeremiah 38:7-10). Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian Gentile, did that which none of Jeremiah's own Jewish countrymen attempted in his behalf, Often God raises up friends to His people from quarters whence least they could expect it. And Ebed-melech's courageous interference in behalf of Jeremiah not only brought deliverance to the prophet, but to himself also subsequently (Jeremiah 39:16). None ever loses by being bold for God. It is true, Jeremiah, like his Antitype, Christ, as the immediate result of his faithfulness, sank for a time in the deep mire (Psalms 69:2); but his God was only trying his faith, and when it was tried enough, brought him forth, as gold from the fiery trial, purified of its dross. While Ebed-melech's boldness in risking his life for God's prophet at that time was the cause of his life being saved ultimately at the time when the enemies of Jeremiah and of God were given to destruction, let us remember and act on the promise, "Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, shall in nowise lose his reward" (Matthew 10:42).

(4) God can use the most despised instrumentalities for effecting the deliverance of His servants, even as "old cast clouts, and old rotten rags" were made means in the deliverance of Jeremiah from the miry pit (Jeremiah 38:11-13). So in delivering the prisoners of Satan from the pit to which sin has doomed them from their birth, God hath "chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty, and base things of the world, and things which are despised, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are" (1 Corinthians 1:27).

(5) Zedekiah was offered safety by the imprisoned prophet, in the name of the Lord, if he would go for th and submit to the King of Babylon: if he would not, the alternative was destruction to the city by fire, and mutilation of his eyes, with captivity to himself. But he feared that, if he surrendered to the Babylonians, he should be mocked by his former Jewish subjects who had deserted to the Chaldeans. He therefore, through fear of man's sneer, set at nought the command of God and the fear of God. In righteous retribution, God brought upon him the very thing he feared, in its most galling form. By not going forth as God had commanded, through fear of the mocking of men, he, his children, and his wives, were delivered into the hands of the Babylonians; he virtually was the cause of the city being burned with fire: and the very women of his own palace, once the slaves of his will, were loudest and most bitter in their jeers at him, as a fool led into his present plight by the so-called "friends" and princes, whose puppet he was, and as one "sunk in the mire, in just retribution for his having, in his guilty fear of his princes, allowed the prophet to have been "sunk in the mire" (cf. Jeremiah 38:22-23 with Jeremiah 38:6). Let us remember, in times of fear and perplexity, the safest way in the end is that which is suggested by the fear of God rather than the fear of man.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Jeremiah 38". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/jeremiah-38.html. 1871-8.
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