Here is an overall look at chapter 38 of Jeremiah. More detailed discussion will follow these four briefs.
38:1-13 Jeremiah was cast into a miry dungeon because he advised the people to leave the city and turn themselves over to the Babylonians. Zedekiah openly expressed his weakness: he could not thwart the will of the princes by protecting the prophet. An Ethiopian eunuch succeeded in having him pulled out if the cistern prison with ropes, old clothes and rags thenhe was returned to the court of the prison.
38:14-20 When King Zedekiah sought advice from Jeremiah, promising him immunity, he was told to surrender to the invaders and was assured that the Jews who had defected would not abuse him.
38:21-23 If Zedekiah refused to go over to the invaders, the palace women would taunt him in the presence of their Babylonian captors, reminding him how his close friends had misled him, then had forsaken him. Also the king’s wives, children, and the king himself would be taken captive by the invaders, Jerusalem would be burned, and they personally would never return.
38:24-28 Zedekiah asked Jeremiah not to tell what had been discussed asking him to simply say that he had requested not to go back to the dungeon of Jonathan. The princes did come and ask, and Jeremiah answered as Zedekiah had directed. Obviously there is a question here concerning the ethics of Jeremiah’s reply. Was it the truth, a half-truth or a complete falsehood? What he said was probably true, but he did not feel obligated to tell all that he knew. Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison until the fall of Jerusalem. He was then released by the Babylonians somewhat as an ally.
Now for some insights:
Some supposed theologians and commentaries want to us believe that this chapter is discussing the same imprisonment of Jeremiah as in chapter 37. Why s/he would wish to deceive is beyond me when these two trips to prison are individually identified. Jeremiah himself in chapter 37 asked King Zedekiah to not send him back to the dungeons at the House of Jonathan in 37:20. Miry dungeon does not fit the descriptions of the palace prisons. The fact that it was not a prison but an unused and deep well tells us so.
Jeremiah actually had three imprisonments. Jeremiah 20 records him being held in stocks after being beaten; Jeremiah 21 tells us of prison in Pashur; Jeremiah 32 finds him in two different prisons but only to go from one to the other with no release time between them.
We might be wise to return to Jeremiah 21:8 “And to this people you shall say: ‘Thus says the LORD: Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death.” Jeremiah’s warning is in a similar fashion found in the New Testament; path of life and one of a second death. Jeremiah is telling the people that there is but two choices in life. To stay put is certain judgement and death. In End Time the people of Israel/Judah will be told to run and to run quickly for the enemy is at the gate. Flee to the mountains of refuge (Matthew 24:16). Verse 2 of Jeremiah 38 also parallels End Time Prophecies for Jerusalem:
Mat 24:16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
Mat 24:17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house,
Mat 24:18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak.
Mat 24:19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days!
Just as a warning is heeded by some in our times, the officials of the King’s Court worried about the prophecies of Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s prophecies were not simple warnings. However, what he was saying had an effect on the soldiers and population of Judah. Their ranks were thinning. We find this in verse 4…”Let this man be put to death for he is weakening the will of the soldiers who still remain in the city and the populace” (Paraphrased: some must have already left). In this case, the royal court and princes were correct. Some were beginning to believe Jeremiah after 20 plus (626 B.C. to 606 B.C.; the first Babylonian attack on Jerusalem) years of prophesying the same things. This is especially so when they saw Babylonian forces at their gates.
Coffman’s Commentary puts it this way. “Let this man be put to death …” (Jeremiah 38:4). From the ordinary viewpoint, this delegation appears to have been justified in their demand for the execution of Jeremiah; because, certainly, they were accurately reporting exactly what Jeremiah had prophesied; and there cannot be any doubt that such prophecies had destroyed the morale of the whole population, including that of the soldiers.
We find here that King Zedekiah is limited in both his powers and respect from and for the princes. Jeremiah 38:5 is similar to the trial of Jesus when Pilot “washed his hands of the deal.” He had the power to thwart the demands of the princes but opted to simply back out. It is no wonder Zedekiah was consider a weak king of Judah. Jeremiah was cast into an old cistern with a bottom of mud. No longer was it a place of water reserves. Verse 6 tells us that he sank deep into the mud.
Now, as it periodically so states in the Bible, we have an Ethiopian to the rescue. His name is Ebed-melech. Jumping ahead to Jeremiah 39:18, we find what God rewards this one man who desired to rescue Jeremiah. He is never mentioned again in scripture.
“For I will surely save you, and you shall not fall by the sword, but you shall have your life as a prize of war, because you have put your trust in me, declares the LORD.”
It appears that the only one other than Jeremiah who has a living faith and trust in God is NOT even a Judean (Israeli). JIV: Ethiopians are mentioned here and there in the bible. We could do a study on this and ask ourselves why is this so? However, what 400 years earlier King Solomon began with Ethiopia and the Queen of Sheba gave rise to a God fearing and loving people outside of the descendants of Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham. Amazing study, but not here. We will revisit this topic once we begin our study of “Noah’s DNA; Which Way Did They Go.”
Ebed-melech is told by this constantly shifting of positions King of Judah to “take 30 men with him and go lift Jeremiah out of the cistern.” Why take 30 men? Simply accepted, one would expect a eunuch of the king to not be able to stand against the princes of the royal court.
We have an interesting detail in Jeremiah’s rescue. Ebed-melech collected some old clothing to take with him to the cistern rescue. WHY? He knew that the tugging and pulling to get Jeremiah out of the suction and grips of the cistern mud would require significant force. Ebed-melech told Jeremiah to use the old cloth and clothing as arm-pit cushions.
Once again in the next few verses we find this wishy-washing king seeking Jeremiah’s counsel. Again we find it is in secret. Zedekiah wants to again know his options. 38:17, 18 gives us Jeremiah’s reply.
Jeremiah 38:17 Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “Thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: If you will surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then your life shall be spared, and this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live.
Jeremiah 38:18 But if you do not surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then this city shall be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hand.”
Same song; just another verse. Jeremiah has told Zedekiah and the previous three kings the same thing over a twenty, perhaps 40 year period of time. Now comes some true confession. Zedekiah tells Jeremiah that he fears his own people, especially those who have already deserted to the Babylonians. Recall that Jeremiah was accused of desertion too, but now we find out that he was not the only one siding with the Babylonians. Correction! Jeremiah never sided with the Babylonians but he did do as God said to prophecy.
Jeremiah tells Zedekiah to surrender to the enemy and be spared his life and that of his family. Zedekiah believes in a shallow sort of way what Jeremiah tells him. Then he swears Jeremiah to a secret. He tells Jeremiah to not confess to the reason for the meeting between him and Jeremiah. He says to tell inquiring minds that he pleaded with the king to not send him back to the house of Jonathan. In a sense this is true, but this was what Jeremiah requested of the king back in one chapter in 37:20. This was found in the previous chapter; Jeremiah 37:20.
The final verse in chapter 38 tells us that Jeremiah remained in the custody of the king until the Babylonians overthrew the city. The next chapter tells us of what happens after three years of a Jerusalem siege. It becomes a game of flee, flee, flee, but it is too late.