Jeremiah is cast into a dungeon, from whence he is delivered by an Ethiopian. (1-13) He advises the king to surrender to the Chaldeans. (14-28)
Verses 1-13 Jeremiah went on in his plain preaching. The princes went on in their malice. It is common for wicked people to look upon God's faithful ministers as enemies, because they show what enemies the wicked are to themselves while impenitent. Jeremiah was put into a dungeon. Many of God's faithful witnesses have been privately made away in prisons. Ebed-melech was an Ethiopian; yet he spoke to the king faithfully, These men have done ill in all they have done to Jeremiah. See how God can raise up friends for his people in distress. Orders were given for the prophet's release, and Ebed-melech saw him drawn up. Let this encourage us to appear boldly for God. Special notice is taken of his tenderness for Jeremiah. What do we behold in the different characters then, but the same we behold in the different characters now, that the Lord's children are conformed to his example, and the children of Satan to their master?
Verses 14-28 Jeremiah was not forward to repeat the warnings, which seemed only to endanger his own life, and to add to the king's guilt, but asked whether he feared to do the will of God. The less men fear God, the more they fear men; often they dare not act according to their own judgments and consciences.
Jeremiah 38:1-28 . JEREMIAH PREDICTS THE CAPTURE OF JERUSALEM, FOR WHICH HE IS CAST INTO A DUNGEON, BUT IS TRANSFERRED TO THE PRISON COURT ON THE INTERCESSION OF EBED-MELECH, AND HAS A SECRET INTERVIEW WITH ZEDEKIAH.
All this was subsequent to his imprisonment in Jonathan's house, and his release on his interview with Zedekiah. The latter occurred before the return of the Chaldeans to the siege; the similar events in this chapter occurred after it.
1. Jucal--Jehucal ( Jeremiah 37:3 ).
Pashur--( Jeremiah 21:1 ; compare Jeremiah 21:9 with Jeremiah 38:2 ). The deputation in Jeremiah 21:1 , to whom Jeremiah gave this reply, if not identical with the hearers of Jeremiah ( Jeremiah 38:1 ), must have been sent just before the latter "heard" him speaking the same words. Zephaniah is not mentioned here as in Jeremiah 21:1 , but is so in Jeremiah 37:3 . Jucal is mentioned here and in the previous deputation ( Jeremiah 37:3 ), but not in Jeremiah 21:1 . Shephatiah and Gedaliah here do not occur either in Jeremiah 21:1 or Jeremiah 37:3 . The identity of his words in both cases is natural, when uttered, at a very short interval, and one of the hearers (Pashur) being present on both occasions.
unto all the people--They had free access to him in the court of the prison ( Jeremiah 32:12 ).
2. life . . . a prey--He shall escape with his life; though losing all else in a shipwreck, he shall carry off his life as his gain, saved by his going over to the Chaldeans.
4. Had Jeremiah not had a divine commission, he might justly have been accused of treason; but having one, which made the result of the siege certain, he acted humanely as interpreter of God's will under the theocracy, in advising surrender (compare Jeremiah 26:11 ).
5. the king is not he--Zedekiah was a weak prince, and now in his straits afraid to oppose his princes. He hides his dislike of their overweening power, which prevented him shielding Jeremiah as he would have wished, under complimentary speeches. "It is not right that the king should deny aught to such faithful and wise statesmen"; the king is not such a one as to deny you your wishes [JEROME].
6. dungeon--literally, the "cistern." It was not a subterranean prison as that in Jonathan's house ( Jeremiah 37:15 ), but a pit or cistern, which had been full of water, but was emptied of it during the siege, so that only "mire" remained. Such empty cisterns were often used as prisons ( Zechariah 9:11 ); the depth forbade hope of escape.
Hammelech--( Jeremiah 36:26 ). His son followed in the father's steps, a ready tool for evil.
sunk in the mire--Jeremiah herein was a type of Messiah ( Psalms 69:2 Psalms 69:14 ). "I sink in deep mire," &c.
7. Ebed-melech--The Hebrew designation given this Ethiopian, meaning "king's servant." Already, even at this early time, God wished to show what good reason there was for calling the Gentiles to salvation. An Ethiopian stranger saves the prophet whom his own countrymen, the Jews, tried to destroy. So the Gentiles believed in Christ whom the Jews crucified, and Ethiopians were among the earliest converts ( Acts 2:10 Acts 2:41 , 8:27-39 ). Ebed-melech probably was keeper of the royal harem, and so had private access to the king. The eunuchs over harems in the present day are mostly from Nubia or Abyssinia.
8. went forth . . . and spake--not privately, but in public; a proof of fearless magnanimity.
9. die for hunger in the place where he is; for . . . no . . . bread in . . . city--(Compare Jeremiah 37:21 ). He had heretofore got a piece of bread supplied to him. "Seeing that there is the utmost want of bread in the city, so that even if he were at large, there could no more be regularly supplied to him, much less now in a place where none remember or pity him, so that he is likely to die for hunger." "No more bread," that is, no more left of the public store in the city ( Jeremiah 37:21 ); or, all but no bread left anywhere [MAURER].
10. with thee--Hebrew, "in thine hand," that is, at "thy disposal" ( 1 Samuel 16:2 ). "From hence," that is, from the gate of Benjamin where the king was sitting ( Jeremiah 38:7 ).
thirty men--not merely to draw up Jeremiah, but to guard Ebed-melech against any opposition on the part of the princes ( Jeremiah 38:1-4 ), in executing the king's command. Ebed-melech was rewarded for his faith, love, and courage, exhibited at a time when he might well fear the wrath of the princes, to which even the king had to yield ( Jeremiah 39:16-18 ).
11. cast clouts--"torn clothes" [HENDERSON].
rotten rags--"worn-out garments." God can make the meanest things His instruments of goodness to His people ( 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 ).
under . . . armholes--"under the joints of thine hands," that is, where the fingers join the hand, the clothes being in order that the hands should not be cut by the cords [MAURER].
13. court of . . . prison--Ebed-melech prudently put him there to be out of the way of his enemies.
14. third entry--The Hebrews in determining the position of places faced the east, which they termed "that which is in front"; the south was thus called "that which is on the right hand"; the north, "that which is on the left hand"; the west, "that which is behind." So beginning with the east they might term it the first or principal entry; the south the second entry; the north the "third entry" of the outer or inner court [MAURER]. The third gate of the temple facing the palace; for through it the entrance lay from the palace into the temple ( 1 Kings 10:5 1 Kings 10:12 ). It was westward ( 1 Chronicles 26:16 1 Chronicles 26:18 , 2 Chronicles 9:11 ) [GROTIUS]. But in the future temple it is eastward ( Ezekiel 46:1 Ezekiel 46:2 Ezekiel 46:8 ).
15. wilt thou not hearken unto me--Zedekiah does not answer this last query; the former one he replies to in Jeremiah 38:16 . Rather translate, "Thou wilt not hearken to me." Jeremiah judges so from the past conduct of the king. Compare Jeremiah 38:17 with Jeremiah 38:19 .
16. Lord . . . made us this soul--( Isaiah 57:16 ). Implying, "may my life (soul) be forfeited if I deceive thee" [CALVIN].
17. princes--( Jeremiah 39:3 ). He does not say "to the king himself," for he was at Riblah, in Hamath ( Jeremiah 39:5 , 2 Kings 25:6 ). "If thou go forth" (namely, to surrender; 2 Kings 24:12 , Isaiah 36:16 ), God foreknows future conditional contingencies, and ordains not only the end, but also the means to the end.
19. afraid of the Jews--more than of God ( Proverbs 29:25 , John 9:22 , 12:43 ).
mock me--treat me injuriously ( 1 Samuel 31:4 ).
22. women--The very evil which Zedekiah wished to escape by disobeying the command to go forth shall befall him in its worst form thereby. Not merely the Jewish deserters shall "mock" him ( Jeremiah 38:19 ), but the very "women" of his own palace and harem, to gratify their new lords, will taunt him. A noble king in sooth, to suffer thyself to be so imposed on!
Thy friends--Hebrew, "men of thy peace" (see Jeremiah 20:10 , Psalms 41:9 , Margin). The king's ministers and the false prophets who misled him.
sunk in . . . mire--proverbial for, Thou art involved by "thy friends'" counsels in inextricable difficulties. The phrase perhaps alludes to Jeremiah 38:6 ; a just retribution for the treatment of Jeremiah, who literally "sank in the mire."
they are turned . . . back--Having involved thee in the calamity, they themselves shall provide for their own safety by deserting to the Chaldeans ( Jeremiah 38:19 ).
23. children--( Jeremiah 39:6 , 41:10 ). "wives . . . children . . . thou"; an ascending climax.
24. Let no man know--If thou wilt not tell this to the people, I will engage thy safety.
25. Kings are often such only in title; they are really under the power of their subjects.
26. presented--literally, "made my supplication to fall"; implying supplication with humble prostration
Jonathan's house--( Jeremiah 37:15 ), different from Malchiah's dungeon ( Jeremiah 38:6 ). This statement was true, though not the whole truth; the princes had no right to the information; no sanction is given by Scripture here to Jeremiah's representation of this being the cause of his having come to the king. Fear drove him to it. Compare Genesis 20:2 Genesis 20:12 ; on the other hand, 1 Samuel 16:2 1 Samuel 16:5 .
left off speaking with--Hebrew, "were silent from him," that is, withdrawing from him they left him quiet ( 1 Samuel 7:8 , Margin).
28. he was there when Jerusalem was taken--These words are made the beginning of the thirty-ninth chapter by many; but the accents and sense support English Version.