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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 38

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary



Jeremiah, by a false suggestion, is put into the dungeon of Malchiah. Ebed-melech, by suit, getteth him some enlargement. Upon secret conference he counselleth the king by yielding to save his life. By the king's instructions, he concealeth the conference from the princes.

Before Christ 589.

Verse 2

Jeremiah 38:2. He shall have his life for a prey As a spoil gained from the enemy; snatched out of the flames, and saved from the carnage. The beginning of the next verse should be rendered, For thus saith the Lord; which keeps up the connection.

Verse 5

Jeremiah 38:5. For the king is not he, &c.— Nor is it proper for the king to deny you any thing. Houbigant. Nothing can give a higher idea of the weakness and pusillanimity of Zedekiah than this passage.

Verse 6

Jeremiah 38:6. Then took they Jeremiah It is commonly thought that Jeremiah, during his abode in this loathsome place, composed the melancholy meditations inserted in the third chapter of his Lamentations. See Lamentations 3:53; Lamentations 3:55. Josephus asserts, that he sunk up to his neck in the mire; and adds, that their intention in putting him into so noisome a place was, that he might perish in it. See Antiq. lib. 9: cap. 10 and Calmet. This account of the dungeon accords with what was mentioned in the note on ch. Jeremiah 37:16. For if the dungeon was in the open court, and left open like a well at top, there being no other way of giving it air and light, the falling of rain mixing with the earth below would occasion mud in a place where the sun's rays could not reach to dry up the moisture.

Verse 7

Jeremiah 38:7. Ebed-melech, &c.— Ebed-melech the Cushite, &c. It may be supposed, that God intended to give some distant hints of his justice in calling the Gentiles to embrace the gospel; for this Ethiopian or Cushite preserves the prophet, whom the Jews would have destroyed; and again the Gentiles believed in Christ, whereas the Jews crucified him. The Lord, who put these sentiments of compassion for Jeremiah into the heart of this officer, afterwards recompensed him, by delivering him from death at the siege of Jerusalem. See chap. Jeremiah 39:15-16., and Calmet.

Verse 9

Jeremiah 38:9. And he is like to die for hunger, &c.— Particularly when he would have died by hunger where he was, if bread was wanting in the city. As much as to say, "There was no need for those who desired his death to put him into so filthy and loathsome a place;" since, if he had continued in the court of the prison, he must have died through the famine which threatens the city, if there were no bread. See Houbigant.

Verse 15

Jeremiah 38:15. If I declare it unto thee, &c.— The prophet had so often experienced the unsteadiness of the king's temper, his backwardness to follow good counsel, and his want of courage to support those who dared to give him proper advice, that he might very reasonably determine not to venture his life to serve a man who was in some measure incapable of being directed: and, although God had shewn the prophet what would be the effect of this advice if it were followed, yet it does not appear that he had commanded him to make it known to Zedekiah. See Lowth. Instead of Wilt thou not hearken? Houbigant reads, Thou wilt not hearken.

Verse 16

Jeremiah 38:16. That made us this soul Who hath given us this time to breathe; that is to say, "this intermission from the siege, by the absence of the Chaldeans."

Verse 17

Jeremiah 38:17. If thou wilt assuredly go forth Nebuchadrezzar was not in person at the siege of Jerusalem. He was at Riblah in Syria, chap. Jeremiah 39:5-6. His army was commanded by his generals; it is to these generals or princes that Jeremiah counsels Zedekiah to return, and to submit himself to the king, by whom he had been established on the throne.

Verse 22

Jeremiah 38:22. And, behold, all the women, &c.— Behold, all the women who are left in the king of Judah's house, go forth to the king of Babylon's princes: lo, they say of thee, His friends deceive and delude him, they have placed his feet in the mire, and have turned away from him; Jeremiah 38:23. Lo, all thy wives and thy children shall go forth to the Chaldeans, neither shalt thou escape their hands; for thou shalt be taken by the king of Babylon, and this city shall be burned with fire. Jeremiah in the 21st verse says, This is the word which the Lord hath shewed me; namely, what follows in the two next verses; in the first of which he speaks of what passed before his eyes in the present tense; and in the 23rd, explaining what he had seen, he speaks in the future. Houbigant.

Verse 27

Jeremiah 38:27. He told them according to all these words Jeremiah evidently had besought the king not to suffer his being remanded to his former prison, and had thanked him for the favour he had shewn him in drawing him thence; for otherwise, how could he have truly told them that he had made his remonstrances, as in Jeremiah 38:26. I presented my supplication, &c. It is certainly allowable, in various cases, not to tell all one knows, and to conceal the truth; but it is not permitted to speak falsely, or to intermix falsehood with truth, or to deny one part of the truth by affirming another part, on any occasion. All this is an offence against veracity, and cannot be exculpated. See Calmet.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, Jeremiah's troubles are not yet ended. We have,

1. A fresh accusation brought against him by the princes. Though he was a prisoner, many came to him, whom he failed not faithfully to admonish of the determined destruction of Jerusalem, and to counsel them, as the only way of securing their lives, to cast themselves on the mercy of the Chaldeans, who would certainly spare all that surrendered; while those who persisted in a fruitless defence would miserably perish by famine, pestilence, and the sword. Such discourse the princes regarded as highly treasonable, tending to weaken the hands of the people, and betray the city: fain, therefore, would they have the king put him to death as a public enemy, who sought not the welfare of the people, but their hurt. Note; (1.) It is a mercy, in times of calamity, if but our lives be given us for a prey. (2.) The enemies of God's faithful ministers often paint them as traitors and troublers of the state, when, in truth, all their warnings and advice are designed purely for the lengthening of the nation's prosperity.

2. Jeremiah is, by the king's permission put into the dungeon. Unable to resist the authority of the princes in the present distracted state of things, or willing to gratify them, though at the expence of sacrificing a man whom he knew in be innocent, and a prophet of the Lord, he is given up to their hands, and from them he must expect no mercy. They drag the prophet from the court of the prison unto another, over which Malchiah presided; and, intending secretly to destroy him, which they dared not publicly do, they let him down with cords into a deep and noisome dungeon, where was no water, but mire, into which he sunk, says Josephus, up to the neck; and there left him, not doubting but hunger, cold, the damp and the loathsomeness of the place, would soon put an end to his life; and then he would appear to have died a natural death. Here he is supposed to have offered the prayer recorded, Lamentations 3:55-57.

3. God yet remembers him, and raises him up a friend at court, when his case appeared desperate. Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian by birth, but possessed of more humanity and piety than any native Israelite; a great man in office, yet a good man in the worst of times and most corrupted court; not ashamed to own the suffering cause of God and truth, he no sooner heard of the prophet's miserable situation, than he immediately sought the king, who was now sitting in the gate of Benjamin, hearing causes, or holding some council of war or state; and boldly, in the presence of all his nobles, and many of the princes who were probably the authors of Jeremiah's suffering, charges them with a most unjust and cruel procedure, and that the consequence must necessarily be the prophet's death, famished with hunger, unless speedily relieved. Note; Zeal for God makes men bold as lions.

4. Zedekiah gives Ebed-melech orders immediately to draw the prophet from his dungeon, and a guard of soldiers to assist him, if any dared attempt to oppose his release; and, with the greatest humanity and tenderness, he took care to bring some soft rags to put under Jeremiah's arms, that the cords which drew him up might not hurt him: and now, once more brought forth from the dark and dismal pit, he is re-conveyed to the court of the prison. Probably Ebed-melech thought that safer for the prophet than his discharge, as he would be there sheltered from danger, and fed from the king's stores. Note; (1.) When we dare be faithful, we shall frequently find more favour than we expected. (2.) The least circumstances which bespeak the tenderness and humanity of a charitable heart, shall be remembered and recompensed at the resurrection of the just.

2nd, Severe struggles, no doubt, passed in the bosom of this unhappy monarch, halting between two opinions, divided between the fear of man and the fear of God, and perplexed with the warnings of conscience and the strivings of corruption.
1. He seeks another interview with the prophet; appoints the place of meeting, for secresy probably, at the third entry or gate, as it is supposed, of the ascent which went up from the king's house to the temple; and, having ordered the prophet thither, he came to him, earnestly adjuring him to tell him if he had any farther word from the Lord; in hopes, perhaps, that there might be some comfort yet in store for him. Vain expectation! while his heart continued impenitent and unhumbled.

2. Before he answers the king's question, he begs a solemn assurance from him, that he will not put him to death for speaking the truth; and, what was as much his concern as his own preservation, that he would follow the advice he gave him. Note; (1.) Readiness to die in the cause of truth is not at all inconsistent with every prudent precaution to preserve our lives. (2.) True ministers have the most earnest solicitude, that sinners should hear and comply with the advice on which their life, their eternal life, depends.

3. The king solemnly swears to save him harmless; as the Lord liveth, that made us this soul, may he take my life, if ever I attempt to destroy thee. He will not himself put him to death, nor suffer the princes to hurt him. As to obeying the advice, he is silent, designing to follow it only so far it pleased him.

4. Jeremiah fairly sets before him the only step which yet remained to be taken, in order to preserve himself and the city. By an immediate surrender, and casting himself on the clemency of the king of Babylon, the city should be preserved from ruin, himself be permitted to live in peace, if not in splendor, and his family be preserved: but, if he refused, there was no hope; the Chaldeans would infallibly force their way into the city, and burn it with fire; and, though he might attempt to escape, he should certainly be seized. Note; There is but one way in which sinners can be safe, and that is by an entire submission to the righteousness of God, and casting their souls on the mercy of God revealed in the gospel. They who refuse to do this must perish.

5. Zedekiah hesitates, and suggests his fears of the ignominy to which he should be exposed, if the Chaldeans delivered him up to the Jews that had fallen to them, who would now treat him with contempt, or revenge themselves on him for the threatenings that he had uttered against them for deserting him: fears in themselves indeed groundless, and especially when, in obedience to a divine command, he cast himself on the Lord's protection. Note; (1.) When our foolish reasoning is heard, in opposition to God's word, we are sure to act wrong. (2.) For fear of being laughed at, many dare not seek to be saved. (3.) Many terrify themselves with groundless apprehensions of danger, when the path of duty is the only path of safety.

6. Jeremiah silences the objection, with an assurance that his fears were without foundation. They shall not deliver thee up, but treat thee with respect and kindness: it shall be well unto thee, and thy soul shall live. But, as each moment of delay was dangerous, he urges him to an immediate compliance with the voice of the Lord; otherwise, the reproach that he feared would come more bitterly upon him from his own house, who would upbraid his folly for hearkening to the false prophets, those pretended friends, but real enemies, to his peace, when he might have prevented their ruin and his own by hearkening to Jeremiah; for the city shall be taken, his wives and children dragged forth to the tents of the Chaldeans, himself unable to escape, and made prisoner by the king of Babylon; and he will cause Jerusalem to be burnt with fire through his folly and obstinacy. Note; (1.) They who seek by sin to avoid shame, will but expose themselves more bitterly to the reproach which they desire to shun. (2.) Wicked rulers are chargeable with all the evils that they bring upon their unhappy subjects.

7. They part hereupon; Zedekiah not being persuaded to yield to his advice, and, for the sake of his reputation, willing to keep the subject of this conference a secret from the princes, who would probably hear of it, and be curious to know what passed: he therefore confirms his promise of protecting him, if he concealed the conversation; but charges him not to divulge to them any thing that he said, except his request not to be sent back again to Jonathan's house, to die there; which request, no doubt, the prophet had made: and when the princes came to Jeremiah, with this he easily put them off, and thus abode in safety in the court of the prison till Jerusalem was taken. Note; (1.) Many testify greater concern for their worldly reputation than for their salvation. (2.) We are not always obliged to tell all that we know to every impertinent inquirer. Though we must never utter an untruth, we may safely conceal what others have no right to know, and it would be dangerous to ourselves to discover. The wisdom of the serpent is commendable, when joined to the harmlessness of the dove.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Jeremiah 38". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/jeremiah-38.html. 1801-1803.
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