Jeremiah 37 - 38 - Outline of Jeremiah (MENU page)
Zedekiah: the king bound in unbelief; Jeremiah: the prisoner consistent in godly counsel --
Chapters 37 and 38 are a summary of Zedekiah's reign, from the time that Nebuchadnezzar installed him as king in Jerusalem, to the time that he deposed him and destroyed the city. The tragedy of Zedekiah's unbelief is highlighted by the consistent godly counsel which he received from Jeremiah. The story is told from the perspective of the prophet, who suffered multiple imprisonments because of his unwavering witness to the Truth. Chapter 39 describes the fall of Jerusalem, the fate of the king and of the populace, including Jeremiah.
I. Zedekiah's reign prior to Jeremiah's first imprisonment. (37:1-10) -
  1. Zedekiah's enthronement (v.1) - cp. 2Kin 24:17; 2Chr 36:10
  2. Zedekiah's disregard for God's Word (v.2) - cp. 2Chr 36:12,14
    This, despite repeated warnings concerning the consequences of such disregard. (eg., ch.34 - 36)
  3. Zedekiah's request for prayer (v.3) -
    Isn't it strange that those unwilling to heed God's Word, think God should be ready to hear their prayers?
         We read earlier of a similar embassage to Jeremiah, in ch. 21:1,2. However, these are separate incidents, as shown by the different names of the messengers and by the different requests and circumstances.
  4. Zedekiah's reason for requesting prayer (v.5) -
    The occasion of this prayer request was the approach of Pharaoh's armies to deliver Jerusalem which was under siege by Nebuchadnezzar, because of Zedekiah's breach of covenant with him (2Kin 24:20; 2Chr 36:13; Eze 17:15,17). Zedekiah hoped that God would want to preserve His holy city. Wasn't there reason for optimism when a world power like Egypt had taken up the cause? Surely God would be pleased to favor them.
         The occasion, in ch.21, was much different: Egypt's armies had been defeated. Nebuchadnezzar had returned to establish the final siege. Rather than asking Jeremiah to "pray for us," Zedekiah asks him to "enquire of the Lord" as to whether Nebuchadnezzar would again go away.
         On both occasions, the Lord's Word through Jeremiah is constant with judgment. Yet, unbelief clings to an unreasonable optimism.
  5. The Lord's answer (v.6-10) -
    Compare this with the answer received after the return of the temporarily departed Chaldeans (Babylonians) in 21:3-14.
II. Jeremiah imprisoned in the house of Jonathan (v.11-21) -
  1. The occasion: the temporary cessation of the siege. (v.11-15) -
    • Jeremiah was falsely accused of desertion, as he attempted to leave the city toward the north. His accuser, Irijah, was grandson to Hananiah, a false prophet, whom God slew in fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy (ch. 28). The contest was over but Irijah may have seen an opportunity for revenge.
    • No doubt, Jeremiah intended to visit Anathoth, his home town, to learn how his family and neighbors had fared during the recent occupation by enemy armies. Some suggest that he was going to inspect the land that he had purchased from his cousin (32:6-15). However, that purchase was yet future, since it took place in the court of the prison (32:1,2) during the final siege of the city. Up to this time, Jeremiah had not been imprisoned (37:4). Once incarcerated, Jeremiah would remain in prison for the duration of the siege, although he would be moved between several prison settings, including two stints in the court of the prison (37:21; 38:13).
    • The location: in prison in the house of Jonathan... the dungeon and cabins {ie., cells}...
  2. Zedekiah calls Jeremiah from prison (v.16-21) -
    1. The time and place:
      • after many days- For some time, while Jeremiah languished forgotten in prison, life had returned to normal in Jerusalem, for the enemy troops had retreated. But now, Nebuchadnezzar had returned to press the final siege, as God's prophet had foretold. Zedekiah was at a crisis point again.
      • secretly in his house- To associate with the man of God would have been politically dangerous.
    2. The enquiry: Is there any word from the Lord? (v.16)-
      Zedekiah has not digested the Lord's clear Word, and seems to be reasoning optimistically: Surely the Lord will not allow His holy city to fall.
    3. Jeremiah's answer:
      • There is... (v.17) - The message had not changed.
      • What have I offended? Where are now your prophets? (v.18,19)- The current state of affairs confirmed that Jeremiah had consistently spoken God's truth, in contrast to the false prophets and counsellors favored by the king.
    4. Jeremiah's appeal (v.20): Jeremiah feared for his life.
      Yet, he did not moderate his message to please the king. Rather, his appeal was based upon the faithfulness of his unpopular witness to the truth.
           Zedekiah, weak and wavering, was in pitiful contrast to the man of God, whose life was in his hand. Although the king's attitude and actions were less than honorable, Jeremiah addressed him with the respect due his office (v.20; cp. Acts 26:25; Rom 13:7; John 18:37,38).
    5. The king's command (v.21) -
      • moved Jeremiah to a new, more livable, prison location. If justice had been done, Jeremiah would have been set free. But the king found that too politically difficult (cp. v.15).
      • provided Jeremiah a daily ration. A "piece" {ie., portion} of bread...
III. Jeremiah endangered in the dungeon of Malchiah (38:1-13)
  1. The occasion (v.1-3) -
    Jeremiah continued to proclaim God's Word faithfully in prison. (cp. 21:8-10)
  2. The accusation (v.4) -
    The princes {officials} had long sought to silence Jeremiah, and came close to doing so, at least once, early in Jehoiakim's reign (26:8-15). At that time, a godly priest had stood up for Jeremiah (26:24). But now, none stood with him. (cp. 2Tim 4:16)
  3. The injustice of the weak king (v.5,6) -
    Rather than ordering Jeremiah's execution, Zedekiah washed his hands of the matter, turning Jeremiah over to his enemies (cp. Mat 27:24). The princes, lacking legal authority to take his life directly, found an effective way to ensure his death.
         Trapped in the mire, Jeremiah soon would have died of starvation and thirst. Yet, the Lord had promised that he would survive the fall of the city (cp. 1:18,19; 15:19-21). Only He could deliver the forgotten prophet. But how? Jeremiah could only pray and wait (cp. Psa 40:2; 69:14).
  4. The mission of a courageous servant (v.7-13) -
    • His identity (v.7) - Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian, a eunuch...
      Here was a foreigner, of a different race (a black man), whose body had been modified for the purposes of his master (possibly to tend to the king's harem). He was nothing but a "servant of the king," which is the meaning of his name.
    • His public request (v.7b-9) -
      Ebed-melech approached the king, as he sat in the gate of Benjamin, to hear and rule on the grievances of his subjects. Because of Jeremiah's high placed enemies, the king feared public association with Jeremiah (cp. 37:17a), but the humble servant was not ashamed of the man of God.
    • His dangerous task (v.10-13) - Thirty men accompanied Eded-melech.
      Some scholars think the text should read "three." But unlike Zedekiah, they underestimate the animosity against Jeremiah. There were many enemies who would oppose this mission of mercy.
    • His gentle manner (v.12) -
      Despite the danger, Ebed-melech was not over hasty. He did his task with consideration of the damage that his help might cause... and with the available resources. "Even old clothes and rotten rags can be used in the Lord's service." [GWms]
IV. Jeremiah counsels from his final prison location (v.13b-28) -
  1. Jeremiah remained {ie., dwelled, abode} in the court of the prison (v.13, cp. 37:21; 38:28) -
  2. Zedekiah sought counsel (v.14-16) -
    • in private (v.14)- in the third entry in the house of the Lord: Probably the entry reserved for the king.
    • with hope - Hide nothing from me. (ie., The Lord must have some encouragement for me.) cp. 1Sam 3:17
    • with assurance of his sincerity and of Jeremiah's security (v.15,16)
  3. Jeremiah counselled with concern for the king (v.17-23) - He addressed:
    • The king's best interests (v.17,18) - The message of judgment had not changed.
      But even now, Zedekiah could avoid the worst by believing and obeying God's Word. "Jeremiah did not rebuke the king for his weakness, nor demand punishment of his enemies for his own mistreatment. Rather, he earnestly urged the king to save his life and theirs by obeying the Word of the Lord and surrendering to the Chaldeans." [GWms]
    • The king's worst fears (v.19,20) -
      Zedekiah feared betrayal and mockery by Jews who had already surrendered to the Babylonians.
      "They shall not deliver thee." This was a certain guarantee, in contrast to that which Zedekiah offered Jeremiah (v.16, cp. v.5). But would Zedekiah place his faith in the Guarantor?
      "Obey, I beseech thee, the voice of the Lord..."
    • The king's great disgrace (v.21-23) -
      Refusal to obey would result in greater indignity than that which he feared.
      • His wives would declare -
        1. his moral weakness, saying "Thy friends have set thee on {ie., enticed thee}..."
          Compromising truth to please all sides, his authority had been undermined.
        2. his political indecisiveness, saying "Thy feet are sunk in the mire..."
          Immobilized by unbelief, he was more a prisoner than Jeremiah ever had been.
        3. his desertion by his allies, who "turned away back" from him.
      • His wives and children would be taken by the Chaldeans.
        No doubt, his wives and daughters would be abused.
        The record shows that his sons were slain before his eyes.
      • He would not escape.
      • The city would be burned.
  4. Zedekiah sought to hide his conversation with Jeremiah from the princes (v.24-26) -
    The last recorded words of Zedekiah (v.24-26) were a cover up. (cp. Acts 24:24,25; 26:28,29)
  5. Jeremiah complied with the king's command. (v.27,28)
    His answer to the princes was truthful (v.15,16), though it did not reveal the whole story. Only Zedekiah could confess the truth which convicted him, and take appropriate action. But he was "sunk in the mire" of unbelief.

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