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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 38

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-28

CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Chronological Notes as on preceding chapter.

Personal Allusions. Jeremiah 38:1. “Shephatiah,” never elsewhere mentioned. “Gedaliah,” possibly son of “Pashur” the violent (chap. Jeremiah 20:1-3). “Jucal,” called Jehucal (Jeremiah 37:3). “Pashur,” son of Malchiah, same as mentioned Jeremiah 21:1.

Jeremiah 38:6. “Malchiah son of Hammelech” (see on Jeremiah 36:26).

Jeremiah 38:7. “Ebed-melech the Ethiopian.” Mutilation to a Hebrew was forbidden by the Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 23:1); and Ethiopians were not infrequently selected for service in the royal harem (Daniel 11:43).

Literary Criticisms. Jeremiah 38:1. “Words Jeremiah had spoken:” was speaking. Jeremiah 38:4. “For thus he weakeneth:” i.e. since or because. Jeremiah 38:6. “Into the dungeon:” lit. pit or cistern (see note on Jeremiah 37:16). “Sank in the mire:” so that it was a muddy pit. Subterranean cisterns under the houses became miry pits when the water was exhausted from them. Jeremiah 38:10.

“Thirty men.” Ewald, Hitzig, Graf, &c., thinking שְׁלשִׁים, “thirty,” too many, would read שְׁלשָׁה, three: but this overlooks the resistance which the king’s counsellors might perchance offer. Jeremiah 38:11. “Old cast clouts and old rotten rags:” from סחב, to drag, rend; therefore here, shreds, tatters; and next הַמְּלָחִים, from מָלִח, to rub away; hence soft or smooth rags. Jeremiah 38:15.“Wilt thou not hearken?” The interrogation point is an error: “Thou wilt not,” &c.

Jeremiah 38:22. “Those women shall say, Thy friends,” &c. This “saying” of the king’s women is in the poetic form, making a distich—a jeering refrain—

“Thy friends have urged thee on, and have prevailed with thee:
Thy feet are sunk in the mire: they are turned away back!”

The words, “they are turned away back,” refer not to the king’s feet, but to the friends who, having lured him on, desert him in his difficulties.

Jeremiah 38:28. “He was there when Jerusalem was taken:” a confused sentence. Omit the italic word “there” from the verse; and read, “And it was when Jerusalem was taken;” i.e. “It came to pass when Jerusalem was taken”—then continue next chapter; for these words should stand at the head of chap. 39.


Jeremiah’s slanderous enemies (Jeremiah 38:1-4).

God’s prophet, a prisoner (Jeremiah 38:6).

A gracious and courageous Ethiopian (Jeremiah 38:7-13).

Jeremiah’s experiences typical of Christ’s (Jeremiah 38:1-13).

Obedience (Jeremiah 38:20).

Sinners the cause of their own sufferings (Jeremiah 38:17-18).

Timidity (Jeremiah 38:19).

Equivocation (Jeremiah 38:27).

Topic: JEREMIAH’S SLANDEROUS ENEMIES. (Jeremiah 38:1-4.)

Jeremiah was no arch-traitor, as these “princes” would imply, but the truest patriot in all the land. This he proved by his courage and faithfulness, in repeating counsel which cost him so much malignity and persecution.

Certainly his opponents regarded him as the most dangerous man among the people, because he thwarted their counsels and designs; just as Ahab accused Elijah of troubling Israel (1 Kings 18:18); Azariah, Amos (Amos 7:10); and the Jews, Paul (Acts 16:20).

I. Calumny and slander assail even the best of men. “The worthiest people are frequently attacked by slander, as we usually find it to be the best fruit which birds peck at.”—Bacon.

“The world with calumny abounds,
The whitest virtue slander wounds;
There are whose joy is, night and day,
To take a character away.
Eager from rout to rout they haste
To blast the generous and the chaste;
And, hunting reputation down,
Proclaim their triumph through the town.”—Pope.

“Soft buzzing slander: silky moths, that eat
An honest name.”—Thomson.

“The tongue of the slanderer is a devouring fire, which tarnishes whatever it touches; which exercises its fury on the good grain, equally as on the chaff; on the sacred as on the profane; which, wherever it pleases, leaves only desolation and ruin; turns into vile ashes what only a moment before had appeared to us so precious and brilliant; acts with more violence than ever in the time when it was apparently almost smothered up and extinct; which blackens when it cannot consume, and sometimes sparkles and delights before it destroys.”—Massillon.

“Virtue itself ’scapes not calumnious strokes.”—Shakespeare.

II. Calumny and slander base their attacks upon misrendered truths. Jeremiah’s words were quoted as if proving him unpatriotic; whereas his full words are earnest with love and solicitude for his people (comp. Jeremiah 21:8-9).

“You cannot always take up a slander and detect the falsehood there; you cannot evaporate the truth in the slow process of the crucible, and then show the residuum of falsehood glittering and visible; you cannot fasten upon any word or sentence and say that it is calumny; for in order to constitute slander it is not necessary that the word spoken should be false—half truths are often more calumnious than whole falsehoods.”—F. W. Robertson.

An old writer has said that we have two eyes and two ears, but only one tongue, that we may see and hear twice as much as we say; but unhappily men generally act the reverse; for, alas! they say far more than they see or hear.

“Mingling truth with falsehood, sneers with smiles,
A thread of candour with a web of wiles.”—Byron.

III. Calumny and slander inflict the most piteous wrongs (see Jeremiah 38:6). Against slander there is no defence. It stabs with a smile. It is the poisoned arrow whose wound is incurable.

“Good name, in man and woman,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse, steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
’Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name,
Robs me of that, which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.”—Shakespeare.


“Slander meets no regard from noble minds;
Only the base believe what the base only utter.”—Bellew.

Topic: GOD’S PROPHET A PRISONER. “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” (Jeremiah 38:6).

A prophet in prison! An ambassador of the Most High God in bonds! Let us trace the history of this great crime against the Majesty of Heaven.

Jeremiah’s prison experiences began twenty years before the taking of Jerusalem by the king of Babylon. “Pashur, who was governor of the house of the Lord, heard that Jeremiah prophesied these things. Then Pashur smote Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks,” &c. (Jeremiah 20:1). And what things had Jeremiah prophesied? Only those which the Lord commanded him, saying, “Diminish not a word.” He had denounced the innumerable abominations which prevailed in the land, the oppressions which one class practised upon another, and the gross idolatries, with all their attendant cruelties and sensualities; had foretold the Divine judgments that were hastening to overwhelm the nation, and from which there was now no escape.

When Nineveh was threatened with destruction by the stranger prophet, it repented and humbled itself in sackcloth and ashes. But Jerusalem hardened itself against the Divine voice, and the chief governor of its Temple seized the prophet who had dared to foretell its doom, and “smote him.

I. It was the governor of the Lord’s house that did this great wrong.

1. It was the chief priests of the Lord’s house that led the conspiracy against the Master of prophets and apostles six hundred years later, and one of their officers rudely struck the Divine captive with the palm of his hand. Jesus repelled the wrong with calm dignity, saying, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou Me?” But Jeremiah did not bear his trial with the calmness and meekness which adorned the Master; for he addressed severe words to his persecutor: “Thou Pashur … shall go into captivity,” &c. (Jeremiah 20:6). But having delivered his message, he breaks out into complaints which have no parallel in the history of the good men of the Bible, except of Job in the hour of bitter despair. “Cursed be the day in which I was born,” &c. (Jeremiah 20:14-18). All this after his deliverance, and after saying, “Sing unto the Lord, praise ye the Lord; for He hath delivered the soul of the poor from the hand of evil-doers.”

Many a servant of God has put the ancient prophet to shame. “I found the comforts of my God in the Fleet prison exceedingly, it being the first time of my being a prisoner,” wrote a persecuted Englishman two centuries ago. Nor did the strength of this good man depart from him when he stood in the pillory and had his ears cut off by the hangman. “All the while I stood in the pillory I thought myself to be in heaven, and in a state of glory and triumph, if any such state can be on earth. I found these words of Peter verified on me in the pillory: ‘If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you, which on their part is blasphemed, but on yours glorified.’ ” Henry Burton is more of a prophet in the pillory than Jeremiah, and one wonders at the Hebrew saint that he should sink into such a slough of despond.

We must find the secret of it very much in his natural temperament. His was a task which required the firmness of a rock and the boldness of a lion—characters which were certainly not constitutional with Jeremiah. But the Lord knew his frame, and did not err in choosing him for His instrument: “I am with thee to deliver thee,” was His promise. And the vicissitudes of the prophet’s spirit are to us a precious legacy of instruction and comfort.

On his release his warfare against the sins of the nation was continued as heretofore (Jeremiah 20:11-12). In prolonged strains of Divine severity, mingled with promises of a return from Babylon, whither they were doomed to be carried into exile, and with promises of still greater blessing at a more distant period, under the reign of the Messiah, Jeremiah continued his expostulations with a degenerate people, but amid intense suffering to his own tender spirit—“Mine heart within me is broken; all my bones shake,” &c. (Jeremiah 33:9).

2. Later on we find the spiritual and the secular powers playing the parts which they have often played in other ages and countries, the one persecuting the prophet, the other protecting him; the spiritual demanding his death, the secular, with more regard to justice, covering him with the shield of his protection. The priests and prophets, and all the people, took him and said, “Thou shalt surely die.” … Then said the princes and all the people unto the priests and prophets, “This man is not worthy to die; for he hath spoken to us in the name of the Lord” (Jeremiah 26:7-16).

The secular ruler Pilate was more righteous than the spiritual rulers Annas and Caiaphas. “Behold I bring Him forth unto you, that ye may know that I find no fault in Him.” But in this case the people took part with unrighteous priests, and demanded that the innocent One should be crucified. In the case of Jeremiah, the people at first joined his persecutors in demanding that he should die. But the appeal to their reason and conscience won them to the side of justice, and they joined the princes in saving the Lord’s servant out of the hands of his enemies.

The king of Babylon’s army besieged Jerusalem about fifteen years after the first imprisonment of Jeremiah, and the prophet was instructed to say, “Though ye fight with the Chaldeans ye shall not prosper” (Jeremiah 32:5). The king was now the persecutor: “Wherefore dost thou prophesy,” said Zedekiah, “and say, Thus saith the Lord, Behold I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon?” (Jeremiah 32:2). It was the old story. “Art thou he that troubleth Israel?” said the wicked Ahab to the prophet Elijah. “I trouble not Israel,” was the memorable reply; “but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim.” Not the prophet, but the king, and such as the king, was the cause of the dark cloud which now hung over the favoured city.

II. The prison walls within which Jeremiah was shut up could not exclude the presence and the voice of the Lord.

In his solitude he received assurances not only of the inevitable catastrophe which should overwhelm the land, but of a certain recovery and restoration (Jeremiah 32:26; Jeremiah 32:42), a message which Jeremiah found means of addressing to the king and to the people. How and when he was released does not appear, but we find him soon again sent back to his place of confinement. The Chaldeans retire from the siege of the city for a time for fear of the Egyptian army, and Jeremiah tries to slip away into the land of Benjamin. He is caught in the gate in the act of departure, and charged with falling away to the Chaldeans. In vain he denies the charge; he must return to prison, and there he remains many days (Jeremiah 37:16).

The king, whose secret conscience assures him not only of Jeremiah’s innocence, but of the gravity of the message with which he is charged of God, sends for him and asks in private, “Is there any word from the Lord?” The prophet answers promptly, “There is; for thou shalt be delivered into the hands of the king of Babylon.”

Royal menace and royal clemency are alike impotent to sway the prophet from the faithful discharge of his duty. But fain would he be saved from returning to his prison-house. And one’s heart is moved by the earnestness with which he remonstrated with the king (Jeremiah 37:20). The king was so far moved that he ordered that Jeremiah should be committed not to the dungeon in Jonathan’s house, but to the court of the prison, and that a piece of bread should be supplied to him daily. Thus Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison (Jeremiah 37:21).

But the hostility of his enemies was not satisfied. The princes appealed to the king (Jeremiah 38:4). The sovereign of Judah was weak as well as wicked, and rehearsed the part of Herod, in relation to John the Baptist, centuries before Herod’s time. “Behold he is in your hand; for the king is not he that can do anything against you.” Then they took him, and not having courage to murder him outright, they put him into a dungeon where it was not possible that he should live long (Jeremiah 38:6). But his faith did not fail him. Reciting his experiences afterwards, he said, “I called upon the Lord out of the low dungeon. Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon Thee: Thou saidst, Fear not” (Lamentations 3:55-57.) This blessed “Fear not”—how often has the Voice from the excellent glory said to the hearts of sufferers and mourners, “Fear not”! “Fear not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God; I will help thee.”

The heart of an Ethiopian is moved by the pitiful condition in which wicked men have left the prophet, and he goes into the king’s presence and represents the wrong that has been done and the danger in which the prophet is. The king grants the Ethiopian’s request, and says, “Take from hence thirty men with thee, and take up Jeremiah the prophet out of the dungeon before he die” (Jeremiah 38:10). What a place that dungeon must have been! A deep pit, used as a cistern, perhaps, during part of the year, but now dry, and with a quantity of mud at the bottom, into which the prophet was so sunk that it required not only the strength but the skill of the thirty men to drag him up!

Jeremiah, thus rescued from a cruel death, was not set at liberty, but remained in the court of the prison until the city was taken by the army of Babylon.

III. The Lord’s blessing was on the head of his deliverer, Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian.

1. While Jeremiah was yet in prison there came a message from heaven to him, saying, “Go and speak to Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, and say unto him” (Jeremiah 39:15-18).

The Ethiopian’s skin was not changed in the land of his bondage, but his heart was. He found light shining in this deep night of Judaism, and was guided by it to the everlasting and ever-loving God. And while the children of the kingdom cast themselves out, this child of darkness and of the desert was brought in to share the inheritance of the faithful. He “trusted” in the Lord.

2. The message of God to the Ethiopian rebukes the vain philosophy of man, and is fraught with comfort to the obscure and despised of mankind. God is too great to concern Himself with the affairs of individuals! He may hold in His right hand the mighty suns of the great universe He has made, but what to Him are the twinkling lights of cottage homes? He may rule kings and princes, but what to Him are slaves and beggars? The philosophy which is capable of being popularised into such questions as these must be vain. Mungo Park, faint and perishing, observes a single tuft of grass in the waste African desert, when he thought there was nothing left for him but to die, and his heart argued with the rapidity of lightning, that the Creator of that tuft of grass could not be unobservant of him, His child; and strengthened by the thought he persevered and was saved. And now Jehovah singled out an Ethiopian in the court of Zedekiah, and sent to him a message of His divine and fatherly love. To God the small and the great are alike (Isaiah 40:26; Isaiah 40:29). If He telleth the number of the stars, and calleth them by their names, He likewise gathereth together the outcasts of Israel; He healeth the broken in heart and bindeth up their wounds (Psalms 147:3-4).

IV. Jeremiah’s after ministry.
Jeremiah was still in prison when the armies of Babylon took Jerusalem. He was found in chains and carried with other captives on the way to Babylon, but was released at Ramah, six miles from Jerusalem. Thus ended the prison life of Jeremiah, but not his ministry.
1. How long the prophet was in prison it is difficult to determine—probably for years. His first imprisonment so stunned him as for the moment to overthrow faith and patience. But his later experience was more worthy of the man of God; and his grief was far less for himself than for the people whose day of grace was coming to an end. The words (Jeremiah 8:21 to Jeremiah 9:1) may have been written in prison; if not, they were recalled there and oft recited by the bleeding heart of the sorrowing prophet. The matter of the Lamentations which he wrote after the destruction of Jerusalem must have been his frequent meditation in the house of his prison.

2. He was permitted even in his prison to exercise his ministry. The word of the Lord was not bound. It came to him and went from him. Prison bars and fetters could not separate him from his God, and happily it did not separate him even from his people. Their conscience and their fears together made them listen to the words which were given to him from God to speak to them.

It may be likewise that his imprisonment was cheered, for some time at least, by the companionship of his faithful friend and amanuensis, Baruch. Tradition says that Baruch was his fellow-prisoner when the prison door was opened by the victorious arms of Babylon. The apostle Paul was comforted in his prison by the coming of Titus. Baruch must have been as an angel of God to Jeremiah in his solitude. Often would they commune together of the hour drawing nearer every day, when sword and famine and pestilence should fill the streets and homes of Jerusalem with horrors unutterable, and the thought of it was more than these prisoners could bear. But their darkness was not unmingled. There was light beyond.

“Behold the days come, saith the Lord,” &c. (Jeremiah 23:5-8, and Jeremiah 33:14-15).

The prophet and his fellow-prisoner could not understand these promises so clearly and fully as we do now. But they saw enough in them to lighten their burden and cheer their spirits. Through present gloom the eye of faith penetrated into a glorious future.
3. Jeremiah must likewise have written some portion of his prophecies within prison walls. The thirty-second, thirty-third, and thirty-fourth chapters were doubtless written there, perhaps much besides—perhaps by the hand of the skilful and faithful penman, Baruch.

Again are we reminded of the great apostle of the Gentiles. Four, at least, of the epistles which bear his name were written in his Roman prison. And many books, which the world would not willingly let die, have been written in like circumstances.
Who that has read the “Pilgrim’s Progress” can forget its opening sentence?—“As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den, and laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept I dreamed a dream.” The den wherein John Bunyan dreamed his immortal dream was Bedford Jail, which was the good man’s home for twelve years. With his Bible and Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs” as his constant companions, he wrote his allegory, not witting nor dreaming of its wonderful history in ages after his death. As the composition advanced he read it, part by part, to his fellow-prisoners, to their no small amusement as well as instruction. But so doubtful was he of the value of his prison-work, and so various were the counsels which he received on the subject of its publication, that he did not put it into the printer’s hands for some years after his liberation. To-day it is read in more languages of the earth, probably, than any other book, except the Word of God.

Jeremiah is the first prison author that we know of. The last has not yet written. For the conflict foretold when sin entered the world is not yet ended: “I will put enmity between thee (the serpent) and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed.” And so long as this enmity lasts, and the conflict between good and evil is waged on earth, we shall find battles fought and prisons built and stakes erected.

Be it so. The words of Christ cannot be broken, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Let them call upon their God out of their low dungeon, as did the Jewish prophet, and the Divine voice which cheered his prison will cheer theirs. “Fear not.” It is enough. It is enough. God says it. Martyrs, rejoice!—your God is with you. If your night be long, He will not forsake you. If it end in the flames of a cruel death, these flames will be as Elijah’s chariot to carry you from earth to heaven.—Rev. John Kennedy, D.D., London: From “Christian World Pulpit,” 1872.


All the king’s counsellors were hostile to God’s prophet; “his foes were they of his own household.” Ebed-melech the Ethiopian was a stranger, an alien; yet he befriended this servant of Jehovah. So with the misused Jewish traveller: the Levite and priest passed him by in his wounded and perishing state, but the Samaritan pitied and helped him. Consider—

I. The graciousness of his spirit. He was—

1. Deeply affected by the miseries of God’s servant (Jeremiah 38:7). To hear of what was done troubled him. He had “a heart at leisure for itself to soothe and sympathise.”

2. Impelled by pity to attempt his help (Jeremiah 38:8). Not passive sympathy only; he set himself to aid his deliverance. “A little help is worth a deal of pity.”

3. Saw the wickedness of the cruelty shown to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 38:9). The inhumanity was shocking to his kind nature; but the sin of it was equally evident, for abuse of God’s messenger was defiance of God!

4. Dealt very tenderly with him in rescuing him (Jeremiah 38:12). His gentleness is touching. He realised how sick and weak the prophet must be through the horrors of his imprisonment, and from being deprived of food. A tender heart makes the hand gentle.

II. The courage of his conduct.

1. He was alone in this act of pity. Others may have felt pity, but feared to show it; he had the courage to avow his commiseration and sympathy with Jeremiah.

2. By his practical sympathy he openly condemned the cruelty and guiltiness of the king’s courtiers. Thus braving their malevolence.

3. Fearless of all consequences, he even presses his appeal upon the king. Even as Esther: “So will I go in unto the king; and if I perish, I perish.”

4. He bravely denounces the king’s own counsellors. Thus carrying judgment against “those men” (mark its vehement scorn) into the king’s presence; and thereby implying that the king was himself wrong in having such men about him, and in conniving at their conduct.

5. He honoured Jeremiah as being the prophet of Jehovah. Others ridiculed Jeremiah, refused to own him God’s messenger; but Ebed-melech calls him “the prophet” (Jeremiah 38:9), and then insinuates the impiety of all, king and people, for disregarding his messages.

III. The success of his intervention (Jeremiah 38:10). This is remarkable; for the king had only just before owned himself afraid to act against his “princes,” and helpless to check them (Jeremiah 38:5). How explain the king’s compliance?

1. The right conduct of one man will start right convictions in another. Zedekiah could not look at this brave Ethiopian, so courageously and fearlessly and touchingly pleading for the prophet, without feeling condemned for his own supineness and cowardice; and impelled to better purposes. Even a lowly man, acting in fear of God, may awaken the conscience and move the heart of a king! This encourages the humblest to a fearless piety: it must work good results.

2. Courageous conduct should be regulated by prudence. Armed with “thirty men,” he arranged for Jeremiah’s rescue. The king saw he would need such a band of helpers. But he knew himself that if Jeremiah was to be drawn up alive, the work must be done tenderly; so he provided himself with “old cast clouts,” which would be needed to prevent injury to the prophet, for the force needed to draw him up out of the mire would be great.

3. Befriending care followed his act of rescue (Jeremiah 38:13). For only there would the prophet be safe from the fury of the princes; and, providentially, he was there within reach of the king, to give him counsel (Jeremiah 38:14).

Here, then, is—
i. Encouragement to good men to appear in a good cause and act vigorously for God, notwithstanding they are alone and menaced by dangers and difficulties.

ii. Noble deeds done by despised Ethiopians find record in God’s book, to assure us that He honours whosoever fears Him. So it is recorded of Joseph of Arimathea, that he went in boldly to Pilate to beg the body of Jesus.

iii. Though the Ethiopian cannot “change his skin,” his heart can be changed. This man showed himself to be a true child of God. Such an instance as that of the Candacian eunuch predicts the future when “Ethiopia shall lift up her hands unto God.”

See homily on chap. Jeremiah 39:15-18 : “A LONELY HERO OF FAITH.”


i. Charged with political treachery. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 38:1-4); Jesus (Luke 23:1-5).

ii. Abandoned by the chief magistrate of the nation to his malignant foes. Jeremiah by the king (Jeremiah 38:5); Jesus by Pilate (Luke 23:24).

iii. The awful profounds of his sufferings suggestive of Christ’s. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 38:6, “pit,” &c.); Christ’s (Psalms 69:2; Psalms 69:15). Jeremiah “sank in the mire,” up to the neck, says Josephus, and so, “I sink in the mire” (Psalms 69:2).

iv. Though rejected and maltreated by his own nation, yet cherished by a Gentile alien. So Christ was believed in by Gentiles while Israel despised Him, and Ethiopians were among the earliest converts (Acts 2:10; Acts 2:41; Acts 8:27-39).

v. In Jeremiah’s being raised up alive from the pit, we have Christ’s resurrection from the dead prefigured and portrayed.

vi. The Ethiopian’s plea to rescue Jeremiah reminds us of a like act by Joseph of Arimathea (see Jeremiah 38:8-9, and comp. Luke 23:52).

Note.—It is remarked by Ambrose, “Jeremiah was cast into the pit; and no one was found among the Jews to draw him out of the deep dungeon. But Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian convert, he did it. Here is a beautiful figure. The Prophetic Word was cast by the Jews into the mire; but we of the Gentiles, who were formerly darkened, like Ethiopians, with stains of sin (comp. Jeremiah 13:23), and were unfruitful, have raised up that Word out of the mire. As it is said by the psalmist, ‘Ethiopia shall stretch out her hands unto God’ (Psalms 68:31).”

Topic: OBEDIENCE. “Obey, I beseech thee, the voice of the Lord, when I speak unto thee: so it shall be well with thee, and thy soul shall live” (Jeremiah 38:20).

I. Safety lies in obedience to the Divine Will. There is scarcely a loss sustained by an intelligent creature, but may be traced to disobedience to the Divine Will. Angels’ loss of heaven. Adam’s loss of Eden. Israelites who lost their lives in the wilderness from Egypt to Canaan. Jews’ loss of their country in captivity. Ananias and Sapphira who lost life. The captain who lost his ship through not heeding Paul. Equally it is through disobeying the Divine Will that health is lost, reputation is lost, the soul is lost.

II. Causes actuating to disobedience of the Divine Will.

1. The first cause of the first act of disobedience is an insoluble mystery. God alone understands the origin of sin. It is a mystery unfathomable that holy and intelligent creatures, as “the angels that sinned,” should, without being tempted, fall into temptation.

2. The second act of disobedience, that of our first parents, is less mysterious: the tempter, by lies and insinuations, allured them to disobedience. Fallen angels had no tempter; fallen men had.

3. Since the fall of angels and of our first parents two causes have operated leading to universal disobedience—Satanic agency and man’s depravity. Hence the mystery of sin lessens as we discover the causes leading thereto. Yet these causes do not justify acts of disobedience.

III. Love is the one moving, prompting cause of all obedience.

Love prompts the angels to fulfil the Divine behests: “They do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word.”

Love prompts “the spirits of the just made perfect;” they are “ministers of His, to do His pleasure.”

Love prompted the Apostles to obey the Divine commission, “Go ye into all the world;” “The love of Christ constraineth us.”

Love prompted the martyrs to be “faithful unto death.”

Of all forces there is none so great as the power of love. Law, with all its penalties; judgments, with all their terror; morality, with all its advantages; are feeble impulses to obedience compared with love. “Love is strong as death.”

IV. Consider the pleasures of obedience to the Divine Will.
1. There is a present pleasure arising from the testimony and approbation of conscience.

2. A reflective pleasure arising from the consciousness of having obeyed the Divine Voice. Paul felt this, on review of life, when he said, “I have fought a good fight,” &c. This was Christ’s pleasure: “I have glorified Thee on the earth,” &c.

3. An anticipatory pleasure; looking for the Divine approval—“Well done, good and faithful servant,” &c.

And as there is a threefold pleasure in obedience, so there is a threefold pain in disobedience

1. Present: the pain of an accusing conscience. 2. Reflective: the memory of wasted life. 3. Anticipatory: dreading hearing the words, “I never knew you; depart from Me,” &c.

V. The importance of obedience of the Divine Will. “It shall be well unto thee.”

Let the sinner obey the voice of Jesus, and “it shall be well unto him;” not die, but live.

Let the believer obey the voice of his Lord and Master, and he shall enjoy Divine favour and live and reign with Him for ever.

“Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven.”

Yet obedience will not save the soul. Obedience is no ground of merit nor basis of hope. It avails nothing for a sinner’s justification; and yet, without obedience, the soul will be cast away. Obedience is the sign of faith and manifestation of love.

Topic: SINNERS THE CAUSE OF THEIR OWN SUFFERING. “If thou wilt not go forth … thou shait not escape out of their hands” (Jeremiah 38:17-18; comp. Jeremiah 39:7 : “Moreover he put out Zedekiah’s eyes”).

Zedekiah illustrates the non-acceptance of chastisements. We may attribute his sufferings (chap. Jeremiah 39:7) to Nebuchadnezzar’s cruelty. But they came from something underlying that. Nebuchadnezzar was not cruel to Zedekiah till Zedekiah had been cruel to himself. He brought it upon himself, compelled God to be thus severe to him. He would not accept the less severe chastisement God had prepared (Jeremiah 38:17). God proves too strong for rebellious man.

The sure consequence of non-acceptance of chastisements is increased sorrow.

I. Chastisements announced (Jeremiah 38:17-18). Here consider—

1. The proper course of action when chastisement or discipline is announced. God is speaking from the midst of clouds and darkness; go into the secret place and see God Himself. It is His will that we should see Him; see that there is One who works behind the chances and changes of life. The first thing is to believe God is in it; not to lose time in groping about for Him in the darkness.

2. A common mistake as to the designs of sorrow and joy: that joy is intended to draw us to God; sorrow the reverse. This is our error.

3. The co-existence of trouble and alleviation. Along with chastisement God promises circumstances of gracious dealing (Jeremiah 38:17). We think of the trouble only, and ask its removal, ignoring the alleviation which God places side by side with it.

What are the speakings to us of the word “Moreover” (Jeremiah 39:7)?

(1.) Bounded chastisements are not to be rejected.
(2.) God’s omnipotence is to be realised.
(3.) The sad effects of the rejection of God’s chastisements on memory—nothing left to Zedekiah but bitter reflections.
(4.) Chastisements are always the lightest possible under the circumstances.

(5.) God’s terrible reverses of chastisements (chap. Jeremiah 42:6).

(6.) God’s care of His people under chastisements—He remembers mercy.
(7.) The “moreover” of what might have been; and some of the mercies which are bestowed.

(8.) The need of keeping ourselves within the line of God’s action (2 Samuel 24:14). We may pass from the bounded line of God’s action to the unbounded line of man’s! This is to go we know not whither.

(9.) We may always go into troubles with the certainty of alleviation. Try and find how many lighteners to our trials are vouchsafed. God will never crush a man except so far as he makes it downright necessary that he should be crushed.

II. Chastisements rejected. Not because he wished daringly to defy God; but because of personal humiliation and suffering (Jeremiah 38:19). How powerful this motive was is evident from his overcoming such tremendous considerations as those of Jeremiah 38:18!

1. When God is appointing chastisement and we accept it, we may be sure it is bounded. As with Job—“Only not upon himself;” “only save his life.”

2. Enter trouble with the consciousness of limitation. He who refuses God’s cross makes a heavier one for himself (Jeremiah 38:21-22).

3. God’s grace in meeting our fears with assurances. “They shall not deliver thee” (Jeremiah 38:20). “Obey the voice of the Lord, and it shall be well with thee,” &c. (Jeremiah 38:20).

III. Chastisements inflicted with increase (Jeremiah 39:7). A terrible “moreover” is this! Sightless henceforth; yet what a scene the last he witnessed! Zedekiah refused to put himself into the hands of God; and now he “fell into the hands of man.” It counsels—

1. Immediately chastisements come, go to God. Thus, all the affliction needed to reduce to obedience and to attention to God’s voice will not be inflicted.

2. Be not too curious in examining a discipline. The good effects will be revealed after endurance.

3. By a too close inspection of our troubles and brooding over them, God will recede from our view; the affliction will also assume an exaggerated importance.

4. Beware lest a dark dispensation so overwhelm you as to prevent your appreciating the alleviations.

5. In all our trial let us consider not only what has been, but what is left. God would have left Zedekiah a great deal if he had yielded. God is great in healing as well as in inflicting wounds.

Heaven-made crosses are lighter than earth-made ones. The troubles which He sends will always be less than what you bring.—Constructed and condensed from “Breviates,” by Rev. P. B. Power, M.A.


See on Section 1–7, chap. 34. p. 558.

Topic: TIMIDITY. “I am afraid” (Jeremiah 38:19).

A craven king! Pitiable. His case explained thus: he knew his duty, but disliked it; so was continually “halting between two opinions;” wishing to know God’s messages, yet reluctant to obey them. His mind was harassed with divided attention; he was afraid of men, yet also troubled with a dread of God. It is thus that “conscience doth make cowards” of compromising and craven souls.

I. Fear of men creates instability of character and conduct. Zedekiah knew he did well to ask counsel of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 38:14), yet feared to follow it (Jeremiah 38:19). Such timidity—

1. Paralyses the will; 2. Fosters duplicity; 3. Confuses the clear voice of conscience; 4. Enfeebles the power with which God’s word should sway the life.

“Fear is the tax that conscience pays to guilt.”—Sewell.

II. Fear of men degrades the noblest nature into servility. Here was a monarch reduced to a miserable schemer, afraid to have his subjects know what he did! Its natural fruits are—

1. Secret transactions (Jeremiah 38:14); 2. Cringing cowardice (Jeremiah 38:24); 3. Lying subterfuges (Jeremiah 38:25-26).

“Cowards die many times before their deaths,
The valiant never taste of death but once.”—Shakespeare.

III. Fear of men entails inevitable derision and disaster. All Zedekiah’s scheming to keep out of difficulties—the difficulties of honesty and piety—would only lead to ills far more serious.

1. The scorn of observers. “The Jews will mock me” (Jeremiah 38:19), and “the women” will make me their jeering song (Jeremiah 38:22). 2. Desertion by false friends (Jeremiah 38:22, “They are turned away back”). 3. Dire judgments from God (Jeremiah 38:23).

IV. Fear of men alienates God’s protection and favour. His selfish plottings left him miserable alternatives. His life would be spared if he took one course (Jeremiah 38:17), although it would be spared only for suffering and degradation at the hands of his conqueror; whereas the other course would entail utter ruin (Jeremiah 38:18). To this dilemma had all his contrivances reduced him. And all our schemings in which we entrench ourselves will end fatally. Honest obedience of God, regardless of consequences and of human threatenings, will ensure us the Divine overshadowing; but this impiety and timidity will—

1. Leave us friendless in our extremity; and 2. Deprive us of all Divine hiding and succour when enemies prevail.

“Fear or guilt attends the deeds of darkness:

The virtuous breast ne’er knows it.”—Havard.

Hence—(a.) Obey God’s voice; for in His favour is life. “It shall be well unto thee, and thy soul shall live” (Jeremiah 38:20).

(b.) Trust not in friends whose attachment can be preserved only by disobeying Divine counsels (Jeremiah 38:19).

(c.) Shun duplicity; it degrades to contemptible insincerity (Jeremiah 38:25). “The fear of man worketh a snare.”

(d.) Righteousness makes courageous. For in God’s friendship the soul becomes confident. “The righteous is bold as a lion.”

Topic: EQUIVOCATION. “So they left off speaking with him; for the matter was not perceived” (Jeremiah 38:27).

The plain meaning of such words is that Jeremiah hoodwinked them. He did not lie to them certainly; but he did not tell the full truth, and left them with a false impression. It comes very near to deception; it was evasion, and certainly was not an honest act. It seems an oblique lie.

I. By what prudential considerations has this act of equivocation been extenuated? Let us hear the pleas of his defenders.

1. “It does not appear that he said what was untrue.”—Bishop Wordsworth.

2. “No one is bound to reveal all he knows—to enemies who seek his life.”—Bishop Wordsworth.

3. This reservation of part of the truth “was necessary to prevent an open rupture between the king and his generals.”—Dr. Payne Smith.

4. He did not tell them “what they wanted to know” because “he was ordered to be silent by one to whom obedience was due.”—Dr. Payne Smith.

5. “The princes were not questioning him in due course of law, but by a power which, they had usurped.”—Dr. Payne Smith.

6. “Had the issue only concerned the prophet himself, it might have been his duty to have spoken the whole truth; but the princes had no right to question him as to the king’s conduct.”—Dr. Payne Smith.

Put these six pleas into common English, and they mean—
(a.) Suppression of part of the truth is not a falsehood. But, on the contrary, it most frequently is; for a half-truth is often the worst of lies.

(b.) Discretion should teach us to save our own skin rather than be frank and fearless! But this is contemptible cowardice, and is opposed to our Lord’s words: “He that will save his life shall lose it.”

(c.) Preserve good feeling between men, even though prevarication be the only way to effect it! But what had Jeremiah to do with “preventing a rupture,” &c.? If peace is thus to be purchased at any price, then farewell to honesty and honour.

(d.) Obey a king’s command even when his order is contrary to strict truthfulness! But who is a king, forsooth, that he should regulate conduct in matters of conscience? We should “obey God rather than man.”

(e.) Throw dust in the eyes of enemies. Well, if “all is fair in love and war,” this may pass; but craftiness is not placed among the Christian virtues.

(f.) It is right to do for another what would be wrong if done for yourself. But no! wrong can never be made right. If Jeremiah suppressed the truth for the king’s sake, it was as much a piece of deception as if he had done it for himself.

II. On what sacred principles should this act of equivocation be condemned?

1. Fear of consequences should not sway conscience from its fidelity. “Be just, and fear not.” But fear now drove Jeremiah to equivocate (comp. Genesis 20:2).

2. Guileless speech should distinguish the godly character (Psalms 34:13). Christians should be “children of light,” “sincere and without offence.”

3. Honesty in God’s messengers is imperative. A witness for Jehovah should certainly not accommodate himself to the convenience of a godless potentate.

4. Truth suffers in the hands of compromising men. It brings discredit upon truth in general, if professedly holy men are discovered to tamper with it by equivocation. Souls in whom God’s Light shines should never emit dim rays.

5. Our Saviour’s example was ever on the side of outspoken honesty even before adversaries. “If I have spoken evil, bear witness,” &c.; “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth.”

6. Life is safe in God’s keeping, therefore we should never dissimulate for the sake of our own safety (1 Peter 2:21-23).

“The man of pure and simple heart
Through life disdains a double part;
He never needs the screen of lies
His inward bosom to disguise.”—Gay.

“His words are bonds, his oaths are oracles;
His love sincere, his thoughts imuaculate;
His tears, pure messengers sent from his heart;
His heart as far from fraud as heaven from earth.”—Shakespeare.

“Honesty, even by itself, though making many adversaries
Whom prudence might have set aside, or charity have softened,
Evermore will prosper at the last, and gain a man great honour.
Yet there are others that will truckle to a lie, selling honesty for interest,
And do they gain! They gain but loss; a little cash, with scorn.
Behold! sorrowful change wrought upon a fallen nature:
He hath lost his own esteem and other men’s respect.
For the buoyancy of upright faith, he is clothed in the heaviness of cringing;
For plain truth, where none could err, he hath chosen tortuous paths;
In lieu of his majesty of countenance, the timorous glances of servility;
Instead of Freedom’s honest pride, the spirit of a slave.”—Tupper.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Jeremiah 38". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/jeremiah-38.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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