The Prophet in Prison

Posted: August 28, 2014 in Jeremiah

Jeremiah 37-38, “The Prophet in Prison”

Some people get a prison ministry by getting the right credentials and walking in & out the doors.  Other people get a prison ministry by being thrown there.  That’s what happened with Jeremiah.  Like many believers around the world, Jeremiah was wrongly accused of crimes and unjustly thrown in jail.  His only threat was faithfully preaching the word of God, and it was something from which he would not back down.

People knew he preached the truth – even his enemies.  They just didn’t like what he preached, and tried to shut him down.  It wouldn’t work.  The word of God would go out, no matter what resistance – and the word of God would prove itself true, no matter what the circumstance.

The only real question was how people were going to respond to the word of God.

Jeremiah 37

  • No hope for escape (vss. 1-10)

1 Now King Zedekiah the son of Josiah reigned instead of Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made king in the land of Judah. 2 But neither he nor his servants nor the people of the land gave heed to the words of the LORD which He spoke by the prophet Jeremiah.

  • Remember that the text of Jeremiah does not always follow a strict chronological sequence.  The last chapter was a record of “the 4th year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah” (36:1), at least 8 years earlier.  God had commanded Jeremiah to compose a book (a scroll) containing all of the prophecies that God had given him to that point.  Once Jeremiah had quoted the prophecies to Baruch (who recorded them via dictation), Baruch went at his earliest opportunity to read it to the Jews.  The princes of Judah heard the teaching, and took the scroll to Jehoiakim, who promptly and systematically destroyed it as it was read to him.  At that point, God commanded Jeremiah to write it all over again.  God’s judgment would not be so easily avoided, nor would His word ever be destroyed out of history.  God also pronounced a curse upon Jehoiakim, stating that no one from his lineage would sit on the throne of David (36:30), which ultimately proved true through Jehoiakim’s son Coniah, who reigned for less than 100 days.  Now the narrative of Jeremiah picks up again, showing the completion of the curse.  Jehoiakim is gone – his son is dead – now a new king from a different lineage (Jehoiakim’s uncle) sits on the throne.  Everything had taken place exactly as God said that it would.
  • Unfortunately, Zedekiah was little better than Jehoiakim.  Although Jehoiakim openly despised the word of God, Zedekiah showed no more respect for it.  Zedekiah may not have destroyed the written word; he just ignored the spoken word.  Throughout the years, God had repeatedly reached out to the people and kings of Judah, and neither King Zedekiah “nor his servants nor the people of the land gave heed to the words of the LORD which He spoke by the prophet Jeremiah.”  They thought they could simply ignore God’s word and pronouncements, and things would simply go away.  They couldn’t have been more wrong.  By this point in Judah’s history, much of what God had proclaimed through Jeremiah had already begun to come true.  The Chaldeans (Babylon) had conquered the entire Middle East, and had already taken the first wave of captives from Jerusalem.  The very reason Zedekiah sat on the throne was because Nebuchadnezzar had imprisoned Coniah (Jehoiachin) and personally installed Zedekiah in his place.  If there was ANY time to start paying attention to the word of God, it would be the time during which you see it coming true all around you!
    • We could easily say the same thing about today.  It doesn’t take a theological academic or someone with multiple PhD’s to see the prophecies of the Bible coming true all around us.  The nation of Israel is once again in existence, as the Bible promised would happen (Eze 37).  Among the Church, we see some departing from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Tim 4:1).  We see men as loves of themselves and money (2 Tim 3:2).  Among the world, we are already seeing the very beginnings of the things that Jesus pointed to: false Christs, nations rising against nations, famines, earthquakes in various places, and much more (Mt 24:4-8).  There ought to be no doubt that what the Bible says is true…much of it is coming true right before our very eyes.
    • So what?  So don’t ignore it!  It cannot be ignored. When you come to a realization of what the Bible is saying, we have to take “heed.”

3 And Zedekiah the king sent Jehucal the son of Shelemiah, and Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah, the priest, to the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “Pray now to the LORD our God for us.”

  • This is truly curious.  Verse 2 makes it clear that the Jewish leadership plainly and consistently ignored the word of God, and yet verse 3 shows them basically asking for it.  Why would the king send servants to Jeremiah asking the prophet to pray for them?  If they are just going to ignore what God has to say, why bother praying to Him at all? 
  • Was this repentance on the part of the king?  Doubtful.  It’s most likely a superficial show of religion.  It’s a hypocritical half-hearted attempt to appear doing the right thing.  It’s their way to invoke God to “bless their mess,” rather than seeking the heart of God in the first place.  The context is going to show the political environment appearing to change, that perhaps things are becoming more favorable towards Jerusalem & less favorable towards the Babylonians.  What the king is doing is asking Jeremiah to intercede for them, to ensure that the tide really is starting to go Judah’s way.  The king is still ignoring everything else Jeremiah has proclaimed up to that point, proven by the fact that he’s asking Jeremiah to pray for them (something that the Lord told Jeremiah not to do – 7:16, 11:14, 14:11).  If Zedekiah had been desiring to truly obey God, he would have proclaimed a national repentance, and acknowledged what God had already declared about Jerusalem’s destruction.  Instead, he pretends as if that word had never existed & instead he throws up a veneer of religion.
    • God is not impressed by hypocritical displays of supposed spirituality.  Someone can give an eloquent prayer that moves the hearts of men, but if it isn’t born out of true humility and faith, it’s never going to be heard by God.

4 Now Jeremiah was coming and going among the people, for they had not yet put him in prison. 5 Then Pharaoh’s army came up from Egypt; and when the Chaldeans who were besieging Jerusalem heard news of them, they departed from Jerusalem.

  • Vs. 4 is a bit of preview of what is still to come.  Jeremiah was about to be put in prison (multiple times), but it hadn’t happened yet.  But “yet” is a key word!  That is all coming…
  • Vs. 5 gives the political context for Zedekiah’s hope.  What was it that made Zedekiah believe the tides were changing?  Apparently there had been one last major effort of the armies of Egypt against Babylon.  Egypt had been defeated earlier by Babylon in the days of Jehoiakim, and they defeat had been fairly decisive.  Seemingly as time passed, they regained a bit of strength and came out once again.  When they did, the armies of Babylon temporarily stopped their siege of Jerusalem to deal with the Egyptians.  In the face of Babylonian withdrawal, things appeared to be somewhat promising for Jerusalem and King Zedekiah.  In his mind, he was likely thinking back to all the false prophecies given by the false prophets (one of whom was one of the servants sent to Jeremiah), and wondering if what they said happened to be true.  He turns now to Jeremiah to give confirmation of this, hoping for a pat on the back & to breathe a sigh of relief that everything was now over.  It wasn’t.  See vs. 6…

6 Then the word of the LORD came to the prophet Jeremiah, saying, 7 “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Thus you shall say to the king of Judah, who sent you to Me to inquire of Me: “Behold, Pharaoh’s army which has come up to help you will return to Egypt, to their own land. 8 And the Chaldeans shall come back and fight against this city, and take it and burn it with fire.” ’

  • To paraphrase: “Don’t get your hopes up.”  Yes, Egypt had come up – but they wouldn’t stay.  Ultimately, the Egyptians would not be able to defeat the Babylonians, and they would eventually turn tail and go back to Egypt.  The Babylonians would return, and they would complete the job they had initially begun.  Jerusalem would be “[burned] with fire,” exactly as God had proclaimed many times earlier.
  • Just in case they didn’t get it, God says it a second time for confirmation…

9 Thus says the LORD: ‘Do not deceive yourselves, saying, “The Chaldeans will surely depart from us,” for they will not depart. 10 For though you had defeated the whole army of the Chaldeans who fight against you, and there remained only wounded men among them, they would rise up, every man in his tent, and burn the city with fire.’ ”

  • The Jews may have wanted the Babylonians to “depart,” but it wasn’t going to happen.  Their momentary departure was merely temporary.  The destruction of Jerusalem was absolutely assured.  To press the point even further, God basically tells them that even if the whole Babylonians army seemed to be wounded & defeated, the wounded would stillrise up…and burn the city with fire.”  IOW, there is no getting around this.  God said the city would be burned by Chaldeans, and no doubt Chaldeans would burn it.  It wouldn’t matter how unlikely it may seem at the time; once God declared it, it was assured.
  • People can still deceive themselves through our temporary circumstances.  We buy into the lie of thinking that if we got away with something once, that we can get away with it always.  We think that since God never disciplined me for the first sin, He obviously won’t do anything in the future when I do it again.  Be careful!  As Paul wrote to the Galatians: Galatians 6:7–8, "(7) Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. (8) For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life." []  God WILL bring His discipline upon those who are His children, and He will bring His judgment upon non-believers.  There is no way to avoid the righteous judgment of God.  The only thing we CAN do is to submit ourselves to His hand and receive the forgiveness offered us by Christ Jesus.
  • False accusations and prison (vss. 11-21)

11 And it happened, when the army of the Chaldeans left the siege of Jerusalem for fear of Pharaoh’s army, 12 that Jeremiah went out of Jerusalem to go into the land of Benjamin to claim his property there among the people.

  • Apparently this is one section that does flow chronologically with what was written before.  Zedekiah had been encouraged by the departure of the Babylonians as they went to go fight the Egyptians, and that’s when he sent the delegation to Jeremiah, hoping for a positive word from the Lord (which he did not receive).  That said, the Babylonians did indeed depart for a time, and Jeremiah took advantage of the opportunity.  While Jerusalem was under siege, it was impossible for anyone to travel anywhere outside the city, and Jeremiah’s family lands were located in Anathoth, to the north.  Now that the Babylonians were gone, Jeremiah could finally go north to check on his personal business and “claim his property.
  • Some have wondered if this is the same property referenced in Ch 32, when God commanded Jeremiah to exercise his right of redemption over some land, demonstrating that God still had future plans for the people of Israel to come back and dwell in the land He had given them.  It’s possible that this is the same property, though it would be an earlier timeframe.  In Ch 32, Jeremiah was in prison in Jerusalem when commanded by God to redeem the land; here in Ch 37, he is able to personally travel there.  It’s possible that the events in Ch 37 are what set up the events in Ch 32.
  • In any case, this is all normal, innocent, personal business.  Unfortunately for Jeremiah, it wasn’t viewed that way by others.  See vs. 13…

13 And when he was in the Gate of Benjamin, a captain of the guard was there whose name was Irijah the son of Shelemiah, the son of Hananiah; and he seized Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “You are defecting to the Chaldeans!” 14 Then Jeremiah said, “False! I am not defecting to the Chaldeans.” But he did not listen to him. So Irijah seized Jeremiah and brought him to the princes.

  • So while Jeremiah is on his way out of town, he gets an unpleasant surprise from the captain of the guard (who seems to be the grandson of a false prophet confronted by Jeremiah and condemned by God in Ch 28).  Irijah accuses Jeremiah of defecting to the Chaldeans – a charge which isn’t even logical considering the circumstances.  No doubt, Jeremiah had taught that it would be easier on the Jews if they surrendered to the Babylonians, but at the time being, there were no Babylonians to be found.  Who exactly would Jeremiah be defecting to, now that the Babylonians had withdrawn to fight the Egyptians?  Did people expect Jeremiah to walk all the way to Babylon?  The charges were obviously false, and most likely more than a little political payback from Irijah.  Jeremiah’s enemies found an opportunity to bring accusations against the prophet, and they took it.
  • If it happened to past saints of God, we can expect the same thing today.  Jeremiah hadn’t done anything wrong; his actions were innocent – yet they were easily taken out of context and used against him.  We need to beware that we can encounter the same thing.  We do our best to live our lives above reproach, but even the best things we do can be taken out of context and used against us.  It doesn’t make it right, but it shouldn’t be a surprise to us, either.

15 Therefore the princes were angry with Jeremiah, and they struck him and put him in prison in the house of Jonathan the scribe. For they had made that the prison.

  • It’s a brief statement, but it describes the persecution and hardships Jeremiah endured.  He was beaten by the Jewish authorities, and thrown into “prison in the house of Jonathan the scribe.”  Although it is not specifically described as a cistern here (as is the place of Ch 38), it seems to be a similar sort of situation.  This isn’t just a cell, or a room in which Jeremiah was put under house arrest; this was a dungeon (vs. 16) – a place where Jeremiah was basically left to rot.  We’re not told how long he was held there, but apparently it lasted “many days” (vs. 16).
  • Persecution was not a theoretical concept for Jeremiah; it was his reality.  There were times that God spared Jeremiah from prison and hardship, ensuring his release (26:24), but there were other times God allowed Jeremiah to enter the depths of the dungeon and suffer.  Just like Christians all over the world today, Jeremiah knew what it was like to be persecuted, physically assaulted, and imprisoned for holding fast to the truth of God.  Despite what so many others teach, what Jeremiah experienced (and other Christian brothers and sisters experience) is not the exception; it’s the norm.  We are not exempt from suffering because we belong to Christ.  We are not free from injustice because we happen to be so-called “King’s Kids,” always expecting to experience physical and material blessings.  Quite the contrary, the Bible promises us the opposite.  Jesus said that the world would hate us because it hated Him (Jn 15:18-19).  Paul wrote that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim 3:12).  Persecution IS the rule; it is the freedom from persecution that is the exception.  We cannot expect that we will always be free from it, nor should we take our current freedom for granted.  Be it praying for other believers, or preaching the gospel without fear, we need to take advantage of every opportunity that we have.

16 When Jeremiah entered the dungeon and the cells, and Jeremiah had remained there many days, 17 then Zedekiah the king sent and took him out. The king asked him secretly in his house, and said, “Is there any word from the LORD?” And Jeremiah said, “There is.” Then he said, “You shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon!”

  • Jeremiah was persecuted, but did it change his message?  Not at all!  It would have been easy (even understandable!) for Jeremiah to want to water things down a bit, and hope that he could rephrase things in a way that might help him stay out of trouble.  He was suffering in a dungeon…who wouldn’t want to do whatever it took to make things change?  Yet Jeremiah didn’t alter a word.  The king had brought the prophet secretly before him, obviously fearing the wrath of the princes, but Jeremiah had a fear of no man.  He feared God alone, and was faithful to proclaim the word that he had been given.
    • Never back down from the gospel!  No matter what comes, the truth of God is the truth of God, and in it is the power of God unto salvation.  It’s too important to change.
  • What was the message to the king?  He would “be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon.”  To date, the king had steadfastly refused to repent, and God had not changed His mind.  Yes, the Chaldeans were temporarily gone – yes, the prophet of God was put away in prison – but none of that changed the determined will of God against the nation.  The opinions and will of God cannot be so easily swayed.  The only response God wanted from Zedekiah was humility and repentance; the one thing Zedekiah was unwilling to do.
    • BTW – that’s what God wants from all the world: humility & repentance & faith.  God does not respond to bribes, nor does He respond to threats.  We cannot change God’s mind; all we can do is respond to His word.  (If you haven’t responded to the offer of God to be saved, you need to!)

18 Moreover Jeremiah said to King Zedekiah, “What offense have I committed against you, against your servants, or against this people, that you have put me in prison? 19 Where now are your prophets who prophesied to you, saying, ‘The king of Babylon will not come against you or against this land?’

  • Jeremiah did not at all back down from the word of God, but that did not stop him from pleading his own case and asking for mercy.  Don’t think that one contradicts the other.  Jeremiah could be faithful to God’s call AND also ask for help from the king.  In the NT, Paul does something similar when he referenced his rights as a Roman citizen, or appealed unto Caesar.  Obviously Paul was faithful to preach the gospel, but that never stopped him from using the processes within the government to help his case.
    • How might we do the same?  One obvious area is simply to vote.  We have ongoing opportunities to have a practical stance for godliness in the public square simply by exercising our right to vote.  We ought to use it whenever possible.
  • How did Jeremiah appeal to the king?  On irony. Jeremiah hadn’t done anything wrong – he had not injured the king nor the people.  All he had done was preach the words that God had given him to preach, which had proven to be accurate.  Jeremiah had said that the Babylonians would come, and they came.  Yet Jeremiah is the one in prison, while the false prophets who said the Babylonians would never come were the ones who were out roaming free.  According to the Mosaic law, false prophets were to be killed (Dt 18:20) – yet they were the ones with freedom while Jeremiah was rotting to death in the dungeon.  Why hadn’t the king done anything about them?  (Answer: because the king & the people liked the messages of the false prophets; they didn’t like the true word of God given through Jeremiah.)

20 Therefore please hear now, O my lord the king. Please, let my petition be accepted before you, and do not make me return to the house of Jonathan the scribe, lest I die there.” 21 Then Zedekiah the king commanded that they should commit Jeremiah to the court of the prison, and that they should give him daily a piece of bread from the bakers’ street, until all the bread in the city was gone. Thus Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.

  • Jeremiah appeals for a bit of mercy, and (surprisingly) receives it.  The king did not send the prophet back to the dungeon, and allowed him a daily ration of food while food was available.
  • Notice that Jeremiah is not out of prison; he’s just in a better situation – at least, for now.

Jeremiah 38

  • Sent to the dungeon (vss. 1-6)

1 Now Shephatiah the son of Mattan, Gedaliah the son of Pashhur, Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur the son of Malchiah heard the words that Jeremiah had spoken to all the people, saying, 2 “Thus says the LORD: ‘He who remains in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but he who goes over to the Chaldeans shall live; his life shall be as a prize to him, and he shall live.’ 3 Thus says the LORD: ‘This city shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon’s army, which shall take it.’ ”

  • We’re not familiar with all the names listed, but some of the men seem to have been long-time enemies of Jeremiah.  Specifically, Jeremiah and Pashur had some run-ins together regarding Pashur’s false prophecies (Jer 20).  Apparently the men conspired together to bring down Jeremiah, in their minds, for once and for all.  They had heard Jeremiah speaking, and they could not stand his message.  Although Jeremiah was still imprisoned, he was not removed from the people, being that he was no longer in the dungeon but in the “court of the prison” (37:21).  Just as Paul never stopped preaching the gospel or writing epistles while in prison, Jeremiah never stopped proclaiming the words given him by the Lord.  He was faithful to his calling, no matter what.
    • Don’t let anything get in the way of what God tells you to do…
  • Notice that they quote Jeremiah accurately.  These were the things that Jeremiah preached in Ch 21, and apparently his enemies paid attention to every word.  This was the truth of God, but the leaders of Judah refused to receive it as the truth.  They knew it; they just didn’t like it.
    • Again, it’s the same way with many today.  They know the truth of the gospel; they just don’t want to receive it as the truth.  They don’t want Jesus to be God; they want to be their own god and king.  The problem is that our preferences don’t change reality.  Just because we may not like something doesn’t make it untrue.  Shutting our ears to the truth does nothing to change the reality.  Jesus is REALLY the Lord God…and that’s something to which we MUST respond.

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

  • The leaders’ response to God’s word through Jeremiah?  They appeal to the king to put him to death.  They basically accuse Jeremiah of sedition – of undermining the will of the people to fight the Babylonians.  From a certain point of view, it’s a somewhat accurate charge.  God DID tell the people through Jeremiah to give up and surrender to the Babylonians.  That said, it’s not as if Jeremiah was doing this to undermine the people; he was commanded by GOD to say it.  Jeremiah certainly was not attempting to seek anyone’s harm.  The people’s best chance at survival was surrender, and that was what was commanded by God.  True sedition and treason would have been to cause the people to rebel against God (the very thing that the national leadership was doing).

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

  • Zedekiah was a truly weak king.  Completely wishy-washy.  One moment he is releasing Jeremiah from the dungeon; the next he is turning Jeremiah over to people who specifically seek his death.  Zedekiah had no convictions, or at least no courage to follow them.  He feared men rather than God – which is quite the contrast with Jeremiah the prophet.

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

  • This dungeon was worse than the last one.  This appears to have been a type of cistern – a large sealed container dug into the ground, built to capture rainwater during the wet season for irrigation use in the dry season.  All kinds of mud and muck would have collected at the bottom.  Who can say what Jeremiah was actually standing in the whole time?  Apparently he had room enough to breathe, for the moment.  The idea for the leadership was to throw Jeremiah in there & leave him there.  They didn’t necessarily need to dirty their hands with his execution; they could just let time and exposure do the job for them.
  • Although it was written hundreds of years earlier, King David penned words that surely described the heart of Jeremiah: Psalm 69:1–3, "(1) Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. (2) I sink in deep mire, Where there is no standing; I have come into deep waters, Where the floods overflow me. (3) I am weary with my crying; My throat is dry; My eyes fail while I wait for my God." []  David was the sweet psalmist of God, but he also knew the depths of deep depression.  He knew what it was like to be betrayed and overwhelmed by his circumstances.  That’s what Jeremiah was going through, though Jeremiah was sinking in literal mire.
    • Have you ever felt like that?  Have you ever been at a point that you feel completely cast off & alone, with no solid place to stand?  As if everything you touch is full of muck?  David knew it – Jeremiah knew it – even Jesus seemingly knew it when He cried out from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  Here’s the good news: we might feel alone, but as believers we never are alone.  God has promised never to leave us nor forsake us.  Jesus will be with us always, even to the end of the age.  The Holy Spirit indwells us and has sealed us with a guarantee.  The born-again believer is never truly alone!  God knows exactly what we are going through, and He has not abandoned us in the midst of it.
  • As for Jeremiah, God showed that He knew exactly where Jeremiah was & sent a rescuer to deliver him…
  • Rescued from the dungeon (vss. 7-13)

7 Now Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, one of the eunuchs, who was in the king’s house, heard that they had put Jeremiah in the dungeon. When the king was sitting at the Gate of Benjamin, 8 Ebed-Melech went out of the king’s house and spoke to the king, saying: 9 “My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they have done to Jeremiah the prophet, whom they have cast into the dungeon, and he is likely to die from hunger in the place where he is. For there is no more bread in the city.”

  • Of all the people in Jerusalem, who was the one individual that spoke up on behalf of the prophet of God?  A foreigner – a Gentile servant.  The Jewish authorities wanted Jeremiah dead – the king was indifferent to the whole situation – the people obviously did not rise up in his defense…only a Gentile raised a voice of compassion for Jeremiah.  It is a sad commentary on the state of Judah at the time!
    • It’s equally sad today when people of the world demonstrate more compassion than Christians, or act in other more ethical ways.  Christians ought to be the most diligent employees – the most honest of neighbors – the most loving of individuals, but sadly that isn’t always the case.  We ought to be the example for the world to follow; not the other way around.
  • In another bit of irony, the place where Ebed-Melech intercedes for Jeremiah is the exact place where the prophet was falsely accused and initially thrown into prison.  The king was “sitting at the Gate of Benjamin” – the gate that Jeremiah was using to go to his property.  As others have observed, it was a fitting place for someone to plead for Jeremiah; the Benjamite who was most in need of mercy from the king.

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

  • In another example of wishy-washiness, the king commands that Jeremiah’s life be saved.  Thankfully, this was for Jeremiah’s benefit, but it completely contradicts what Zedekiah had already told the princes of Jerusalem.  Could Zedekiah do nothing against them, or couldn’t he?  Again, this is a man without conviction, bent about by every wind and wave that came before him.
  • It’s interesting that he commands that “thirty men” go with Ebed-Melech.  Obviously that was far more than what was needed to lift Jeremiah out of the cistern.  Certainly the physical task could have been accomplished with just a few men.  Why the extra people?  Some have suggested that Zedekiah wanted to provide a show of force, in case the princes of Jerusalem resisted.  Others have suggested that Zedekiah was unaware how bad things had gotten, and so he does what he can to make it right.  Neither seem to fit Zedekiah’s previous lack of conviction.  This is a weak king, and doesn’t seem capable of showing forth too much force.  It’s possible that this was a sheer political move, trying to provide as many witnesses as possible to the “compassion” of the king.  In any case, the Bible never tells us why.  At the very least, the command was given to save Jeremiah’s life.

11 So Ebed-Melech took the men with him and went into the house of the king under the treasury, and took from there old clothes and old rags, and let them down by ropes into the dungeon to Jeremiah. 12 Then Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, “Please put these old clothes and rags under your armpits, under the ropes.” And Jeremiah did so.

  • Apparently Jeremiah was so far down in the pit, and so weakened from the experience that he had no strength to hang on to the ropes.  Ebed-Melech found a way to lift Jeremiah out gently with no work on Jeremiah’s part.
  • What a wonderful picture of the gospel!  WE were the ones left for dead, sinking in the disgusting mire of our sin.  We had no hope, no way of escape, no way out.  The only way we could get out is if someone came and rescued us…and Someone did!  Jesus gave us everything we needed to be lifted out of the mire – He did all of the work on our behalf.  And better than Jeremiah, we were not left in muddy clothes and a prison sentence, we were clothed in Jesus’ righteousness and made completely free.  Our deliverance is total!

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

  • As at the end of Ch 37, this also reminds us that Jeremiah is not yet out of prison.  His circumstances have improved, but he is still persecuted and suffering for the Lord God.
  • God’s last offer to Zedekiah (vss. 14-28)

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

  • In Ch 37, we were specifically told that the meeting between Zedekiah and Jeremiah was secret; in Ch 38 we can at least infer the same thing.  Scholars do not know what this “third entrance of the house of the LORD” might reference.  It’s possible that the king had his own special entrance to the temple, and that is where he commanded Jeremiah be brought to him.  In any case, the context will demonstrate that this is a secret private meeting between king and prophet.

15 Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “If I declare it to you, will you not surely put me to death? And if I give you advice, you will not listen to me.” 16 So Zedekiah the king swore secretly to Jeremiah, saying, “As the LORD lives, who made our very souls, I will not put you to death, nor will I give you into the hand of these men who seek your life.”

  • Jeremiah’s response is understandable.  Zedekiah claims to want to know the answer to a question, but Jeremiah doesn’t have any reason to give him one.  After all, the king certainly wasn’t trustworthy enough to guard his life.  No sooner was Jeremiah released from one dungeon that he was thrown into a second.  On top of that, if Jeremiah DID give the king a word from God, what good would it do?  The king had always ignored God’s words in the past.  Why should Jeremiah waste his time on the king now?
  • Although Zedekiah never promises to obey what Jeremiah tells him, he does at least promise Jeremiah’s safety.  He would do whatever he could to ensure Jeremiah lived.  What’s interesting is the foundation of the oath that Zedekiah swore: “As the LORD lives, who made our very souls…”  What does that say about Zedekiah?  He knew the truth!  He knew God is the Lord, and the One who give each of them life.  He knew the truth about God, and he obviously knew that Jeremiah taught the truth about God.  Thus he had no reason not to obey God.  Zedekiah was completely without excuse.
    • If you’ve heard the truth, you will be held responsible for what you have heard.  The facts are that ALL men are without excuse, because no matter where someone lives in the world, what can be known of God has been revealed to them through nature and moral law (Rom 1:20, 2:15).  But that said, we who have been given more will be held responsible for what we’ve been given.  The question for a non-believer in the United States today is not “What about the tribal man in South America?”, but rather “What about me and my response to the truth?”.
  • What Jeremiah actually shares with Zedekiah is pretty amazing.  See vs. 17…

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

  • After all of the declarations that God would surely bring the Babylonians to burn Jerusalem with fire, what is it that Jeremiah says?  Zedekiah has a chance to live, and Jerusalem has a chance to survive!  God had promised the burning, but the burning did not have to come.  God was extending His mercy one more time, and giving Zedekiah an opportunity to be saved.
  • What did it take?  “Surrender.”  Zedekiah had to surrender to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and ultimately as he did, he would be surrendering himself into the hands of God, trusting God’s plan for His people.  It seems so simple, but this was the most difficult choice ever presented to the king.  His instinct would be to fight, but he would only live if he surrendered.
  • The same choice is given to every man and woman on the planet.  We all face an eternity of death – it is something that is absolutely assured to us.  Yet God has extended His hand of mercy, and given us an opportunity to live.  What does it take?  Surrender.  We need to surrender ourselves over to Jesus, giving up our supposed-right to rule ourselves, and trusting Jesus’ rule in our lives.  (And the good news is that Jesus is far better than Nebuchadnezzar!  Jesus is a King who can be trusted & loved!)

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

  • The consequence for refusal: death & burning.  Everything that God had previously promised would come upon them.  There would be no escape.
  • Q: Did Jeremiah just give a “turn or burn” message?  Yes…literally!  We may not like the idea of “turn or burn,” but that is exactly the truth.  Those who do not receive the forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ will die in their sins, and be sent to the lake of fire where there is weeping & gnashing of teeth.  That will be their dwelling place for all eternity.  That’s not a message people like to hear (that’s not a message people like to preach!), but it IS the reality.  What we don’t like is the condemnation that it implies, but here’s the thing: Jesus did not come to condemn; He came to save.  God does not want us to be condemned to that fate – that is exactly the reason He offers us His mercy through Jesus.  (The question is: why would anyone want to turn it down?)

19 And Zedekiah the king said to Jeremiah, “I am afraid of the Jews who have defected to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hand, and they abuse me.” 20 But Jeremiah said, “They shall not deliver you. Please, obey the voice of the LORD which I speak to you. So it shall be well with you, and your soul shall live.

  • Once more, we see the weakness of Zedekiah.  He was afraid to surrender to the Babylonians, believing that the Jews who were already captured by Babylon would seek his death.  The fear of man was going to send Zedekiah to a terrible end.  He needed to get his eyes off man & onto God!
    • Fear kills.  Don’t give into fear – God has not given us a spirit of fear.  The moment we start listening to our fears is the moment we stop trusting the Lord by faith.  Don’t make that same mistake.  God has so much better in store for us, if we would but trust Him.
  • That’s the same appeal Jeremiah makes to the king.  Don’t fear; trust God.  Obey Him.  If the king would but obey God, God would ensure that the king would live.  God is the One in control; not the Jews in Babylon or anyone else.  When God made a promise of life, the king could trust God for it.  (Likewise with us!)

21 But if you refuse to surrender, this is the word that the LORD has shown me: 22 ‘Now behold, all the women who are left in the king of Judah’s house shall be surrendered to the king of Babylon’s princes, and those women shall say: “Your close friends have set upon you And prevailed against you; Your feet have sunk in the mire, And they have turned away again.” 23 ‘So they shall surrender all your wives and children to the Chaldeans. You shall not escape from their hand, but shall be taken by the hand of the king of Babylon. And you shall cause this city to be burned with fire.’ ”

  • Everything Zedekiah feared would be what would come true if he rejected the Lord and disobeyed God yet again.  Zedekiah feared humiliation & being turned over to torture – but that is exactly what was promised to him if he disobeyed God.  His harem would be taken by Nebuchadnezzar, and his former wives would mock him for having listened to bad counsel.  The city would be burned, and Zedekiah would face untold hardships and suffering.
  • Interestingly, the way Jeremiah describes the emotional suffering of Zedekiah came from Jeremiah’s own physical experience in the dungeon.  This time, it would be king of Judah sinking in mire with no chance of escape.

24 Then Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “Let no one know of these words, and you shall not die. 25 But if the princes hear that I have talked with you, and they come to you and say to you, ‘Declare to us now what you have said to the king, and also what the king said to you; do not hide it from us, and we will not put you to death,’ 26 then you shall say to them, ‘I presented my request before the king, that he would not make me return to Jonathan’s house to die there.’ ”

  • Remember that this was a secret meeting – Zedekiah commands Jeremiah to more secrecy.  He knew the prophet would be questioned, and he provided Jeremiah with an alibi for this private meeting with the king.  It wasn’t so much a lie as it was a partial truth.  Jeremiah DID have an earlier meeting with the king in which he asked not to return to the dungeon in Jonathan’s house (37:20).  That was to be Jeremiah’s cover story for this meeting.  Obviously Zedekiah didn’t want anyone to know of it.  If word got out that he was considering surrender, then his own life might be in danger.

27 Then all the princes came to Jeremiah and asked him. And he told them according to all these words that the king had commanded. So they stopped speaking with him, for the conversation had not been heard. 28 Now Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison until the day that Jerusalem was taken. And he was there when Jerusalem was taken.

  • Jeremiah gave the cover story that he was commanded, and he was left alone.  He was also left in prison.  He hadn’t done a thing wrong, yet he remained unjustly condemned and locked away in the prison courtyard – even staying there the very moment the city of Jerusalem was finally conquered.

How will we respond to the word of God?  How will we respond to the truths that God has given us?  We could ignore them and try to pretend they don’t exist (like the Jerusalem princes).  We could vacillate over whether or not we want to respond to them, as if the option truly exists (like Zedekiah the king).  Or we could humbly submit ourselves into the hand of our God, trusting Him to work according to His mercies. 

For the Christian, Jesus has delivered us from the pit – He has saved us from death & eternal punishment.  Those things are already assured, and we praise God as a result.  But we still have the daily option of how we walk with God.  Will we trust Him today?  Will we trust Him with the situations He has allowed in our lives?  Perhaps we’re suffering like Jeremiah – how will we respond?  Will we stay true to the gospel?  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can!

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