Bible Study, Commentary

Jeremiah 38 – Solitary Man

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Jeremiah 38

Febuary 14, 2024 2:27 PM
Solitary Man

Jer 38:1 Then Shephatiah the son of Mattan, and Gedaliah the son of Pashur, and Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashur the son of Malchiah, heard the words that Jeremiah had spoken unto all the people, saying,

It is conjectured that releasing Jeremiah from the innermost prison allowed his latest message to disseminate to a wider audience. This would of caused great alarm and anger amongst the cabal of Judah’s day. Nothing scares the cabal more than truth. Truth is the greatest weapon we have against the unending lies in our age.

Nothing more is known of Shephatiah. His name does appear in several places in the history of Israel, most notably as the name of one of David’s sons (2 Sam 3:4). 1 Chr 27:16 states that a fellow of this name was once ruler of the Simeonites. This Gedaliah was not the same as the Gedaliah the son of Ahikam (Jer 26:24, 40:5), who was his protector, unlike this one who was one of his foes.

Jucal, or Jehucal, had been used by the king as an emissary previously in Jer 37:3. Pashur had also been sent previously by the king to inquire of the prophet (Jer 21:1). Now all 4 will reveal their true colors by their response to this latest word. People tend to flock together who are of the same mind.

Note how often Jeremiah names the villians by name. We have, and will continue to see, the response he receives. Jeremiah was not afraid to call out the wicked. It is not some sort of superior moral charcater. to never expose the wicked by name. In most cases, it is simply fear and cowardice. However if you are led to expose individuals, be prepared for an unpleasant response.

Few enough preachers today call out evil in general terms anymore. Very, very few name names. One famous pastor in Calgary loves to name the politicians and prosecutors that have persecuted him unlawfully. Because he never backs down from exposing these creatures, he is singled out for extra special harassment. No one likes to be exposed. A true godly man will find repentance. Everyone else will be looking for revenge.

Jer 38:2 Thus saith the LORD, He that remaineth in this city shall die by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence: but he that goeth forth to the Chaldeans shall live; for he shall have his life for a prey (booty, spoil), and shall live.
Jer 38:3 Thus saith the LORD, This city shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon’s army, which shall take it.

The message of Jeremiah is summarized here. The gist of the pronouncement has not changed. No matter how much judgment they had experienced thus far, God was not relenting, because he saw no change in the people.

Jer 38:4 Therefore the princes said unto the king, We beseech thee, let this man be put to death: for thus he weakeneth the hands of the men of war that remain in this city, and the hands of all the people, in speaking such words unto them: for this man seeketh not the welfare (shalom) of this people, but the hurt (rah).

That is always the answer of the tyrant. The one who cannot win a debate based on sound reasoning. Kill the opposition. Instead of dealing with the actual facts, let’s just get rid of the one who brings us the facts. This is our world today. No more debates. No more alternate points of view. Only one point of view. Any others must be eliminated and made to disappear.

They play the patriot card. We will not listen to those who speak of God’s judgment. That God is against us, and that we have no hope of winning. That is defeatist talk. We don’t care if he speaks for God, we categorically reject that message. Don’t you know we’re the Christian nation? How could God be on the other side?

We need to be careful of the freedom fighters out there. Some want to fight at all costs, and have no time for the intercessors who are trying to lay the crucial foundation of repentance and humility before any resistance is done. Some mock the people of prayer. They say the time to fight is now. We must never be like Saul, who could not wait for the word of the Lord, but was always led by the nose by circumstance (1 Sam 14:19).

Note also how they redefine words. They said Jeremiah does not bring shalom, only evil. While technically true, it is said in such a way as to twist the intent of those 2 words. Of course, everyone wants peace. Everyone wants evil to go away. Since Jeremiah’s message says that God is taking away peace and bringing evil, that is not how we were taught. God is not like that. Because we refuse to let go of our incorrect understanding of God and his ways with men, we cannot accept this seemingly contradictory word from him. How the doctrines of men have led to our destruction! How can we possibly hear the true word of the Lord if our preconceived notions make it impossible to accept what he is saying? This is why false teachers are such a serious business. Why all the apostles had such strong words to the churches, warning them again and again. Why Jesus himself, writing to the 7 churches in Revelation, warned several times of heretical doctrines.

In this case, they end up accusing Jeremiah of somehow robbing God’s people of the shalom that they think rightfully belongs to them, and bringing rah (evil) that should only be reserved for their enemies.

The elites were not happy at all that some favor was extended to this one man who opposed all their plans and schemes. Once you decide to step out in public and oppose the rich and powerful, be prepared for their response.

Jer 38:5 Then Zedekiah the king said, Behold, he is in your hand: for the king is not he that can do any thing against you.

Here is the classic response of the politician. They are so quick to take your rights away when it suits them. However, when it comes to actually helping or rescuing someone, they always say their hands are tied. Let the system have its way. I cannot intervene in the legal process. Let justice play out. All they are doing is weaseling out of their moral duty, because it involves very little upside for them, so why do it?

Zedekiah was a very weak king. He did have some respect for God’s word, but it was not the highest priority in his life. He reminds me of king Saul. There was a man that had respect for Samuel and the divine words he spoke. Yet he had more respect for his political reputation. Thus, he obeyed when it was advantageous to do so. When obedience would cost these gentlemen something, they would defer.

The political man is a shallow, self centered, morally bereft man. Very few righteous men who enter politics leave the same way they came in. It takes a huge moral toll on you. You must be called and anointed and protected of God to be able to participate in that corrupt arena.

Jer 38:6 Then took they Jeremiah, and cast him into the dungeon (pit hole) of Malchiah (appointed by Jah) the son of Hammelech (or the king’s son), that was in the court of the prison (guard house): and they let down Jeremiah with cords. And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire (mud): so Jeremiah sunk in the mire (mud).

We have already dealt with the translation issue of Hammelech in Jer 36:26, so please refer to that passage for an explanation. This Malchiah seems to be another son, different from that passage. Both probably considered themselves loyalists and patriots. What God considered them to be, would be a different matter.

This cistern’s water flow may of been cut off or used up in the siege. However, there was a few feet of mud, or mire, at the bottom.

These wicked men may of had a legalistic aversion of outright murder, in case God held them accountable in the shedding of innocent blood. Instead, they were hoping hunger and/or disease would do the dirty work for them (see verse 9). It is amusing and ridiculous to watch the wicked and the religious go to great lengths to try and stamp a veneer of legality or respectability on their wicked deeds. What does it matter if they decreed an illegal mandate to take a killer jab? It does not change the fact one bit that what they are forcing on people is still first degree murder in God’s eyes. Whether or not some sort of law was passed, does not change the crime one bit.

Just because Canada passes a law legalizing suicide, does not mean that suicide is now not murder. Who cares what man decrees? Only the decree of the Lord is what should concern us.

In any event, this was most likely the lowest point in Jeremiah’s life. Lam 3:52-54 most likely refers to this time period. After spending many months in solitary confinement, he is given a reprieve by the king, and transferred to a much more comfortable situation. How hard it must of been to have his blessing cruelly taken away, and be placed in a situation that is even worse than the one he was just rescued from! How many of us would of simply lost heart at this cruel turn of events? How many of us would of still kept the faith?

Jer 38:7 Now when Ebedmelech (servant of the king) the Ethiopian, one of the eunuchs which was in the king’s house, heard (shama) that they had put Jeremiah in the dungeon; the king then sitting in the gate of Benjamin;

The Ethiopian descent of Jehudi (Jer 36:21) may of brought this fellow into the king’s sphere of influence. Eunuchs were seen as a sign of wealth and prestige, sort of an essential part of any respectable king’s court.

The gate of Benjamin was on the northernmost wall of the city, most exposed to being attacked. The king was probably there to see how the defence of the city was faring

Jer 38:8 Ebedmelech went forth out of the king’s house, and spake to the king, saying,

Here was a common god fearing man. He may of never been called to do anything out of the ordinary. Certainly not for God, especially nothing so public and potentially controversial. He felt a stirring inside him. He must of listened to Jeremiah’s prophecies, and knew that this was the true word of the Lord. When he saw what was being done to him, he felt he needed to do something. He did not just hear, but he obeyed. He moved, and went to where the king was. He was in a public place. He didn’t wait for the perfect moment, when he could accost the king in secret. He felt a stirring from God, and he acted. Let us always be ready to hear, and to obey. It doesn’t matter how inconspicuous or unimportant you see yourself, if you are a genuine child of God, you need to be ready for service at any and all moments.

Jer 38:9 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 like to die for hunger in the place where he is: for there is no more bread in the city.

Thank God for intercessors! There, God used someone in the natural to rescue his own. Here, we are to be used by God to rescue whomever he places on our hearts in the prayer closet. Stand up for the oppressed, for the mistreated. Be not afraid to boldly walk up to the king of kings and petition him for your loved ones. If an evil king like Zedekiah can be moved by by one man’s cry, how much more the king of heaven will be moved when his entire body cries out as one?

Here is an example where you never know how the relationships you form can be used by God at a future date to rescue you. Develop real friendships with God fearing people. This opens doors for the Holy Spirit to accomplish the father’s will in many different ways.

Jer 38:10 Then the king commanded Ebedmelech the Ethiopian, saying, Take from hence thirty men with thee, and take up Jeremiah the prophet out of the dungeon, before he die.

Zedekiah has no leadership qualities. He was a weak man. He seemed to give in to whomever was speaking to him. He was always looking for someone to tell him what to do next. The elite come by and tell him to silence Jeremiah for his treasonous words, and he agrees. The eunuch comes and asks that he is rescued, and he agrees. A double minded man can never please the Lord. There is just as much to learn from the weak and wicked in the bible as there is from the righteous.

Zedekiah sent 30 men in case there was opposition. He knew how strong the opposing political factions were. If there was one thing Zedekiah knew, it was politics.

I want to bring up something vital here. In one of the commentaries, some guy can’t think of a good reason why 30 men were needed for this task. So what does he conclude? That perhaps the real answer is simply eluding him? God forbid! He knows that he is super intelligent and all knowing. He therefore concludes that the text must of originally said three, though there isn’t a single manuscript that indicated that. He just concludes that the text must be wrong, because it did not make sense to him, one who is all knowing and all wise!

This is the level that biblical scholarship can sink to – even lower than the level of mud that Jeremiah was cast in to! And we wonder why the church is in such a mess.

Jer 38:11 So Ebedmelech took the men with him, and went into the house of the king under the treasury, and took thence old cast clouts (patches of cloth) and old rotten rags (garments), and let them down by cords into the dungeon (pit) to Jeremiah.

I can tell that my wife will look at this verse and see a biblical justification as to why we should never throw anything out. You never know, that old shirt may be needed to save the life of a prophet!

Jeremiah must of been quite a ways down, as they needed ropes to pull him out.

Jer 38:12 And Ebedmelech the Ethiopian said unto Jeremiah, Put now these old cast clouts and rotten rags under thine armholes under the cords. And Jeremiah did so.

Jeremiah might of been emaciated by this time, as it looked like he needed extra padding under the ropes in order not to injure him too severely as they drew him up.

Jer 38:13 So they drew up Jeremiah with cords, and took him up out of the dungeon: and Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.

Thus Ededmelech goes down in history as the man that saved one of the greatest prophets of all time. A simple man, a common man, an unremarkable man, used by God for a vital task at the perfect time.

Jeremiah was not allowed to go free, but he was probably safer in the guard house of the king, where it would be much harder for his enemies to get at him than if he was free to wander about the city.

Jer 38:14 Then Zedekiah the king sent, and took Jeremiah the prophet unto him into the third entry that is in the house of the LORD: and the king said unto Jeremiah, I will ask thee a thing; hide nothing from me.

No one can say for sure exactly where this entry was, only that it must of been a lonely, private place, as the king wanted no one to know of this clandestine meeting.

Zedekiah had a genuine longing to hear from God. But he had not developed the strength of character to unreservedly obey. He was always seen to be hedging his bets. He could never bring himself to go all out and obey God unreservedly. How many times in our own lives have we acted the same way? God, I’ll give the money you asked. Only I’ll give half of it now and the rest next month, once I see how my finances shake out. Or, God, I will read 3 chapters a day, but I’ll start next week, as you know I’ve got this crazy deadline at work.

I am sure Zedekiah must of at least hoped that God would have a more favorable word, since he just had given the order to save the prophet. Of course, he wouldn’t of brought up the fact that it was his decision to allow him to be thrown in the pit in the first place. Nevertheless, he wanted to assure Jeremiah that now he was ready to hear the truth, so don’t sugarcoat the message.

Jer 38:15 Then Jeremiah said unto Zedekiah, If I declare it unto thee, wilt thou not surely put me to death (mooth mooth – die, die)? and if I give thee counsel, wilt thou not hearken (shama) unto me?

Jeremiah knew what the king’s oaths were worth. We are not to take men at their word. Especially those with a proven track record of deceit. Some think to forgive is to blithely trust the person as if they never betrayed you in the first place. God forgives and forgets our sin, but he does not automatically trust you until you have proven yourself. This greatly upsets those who have received forgiveness. They get offended if the person is wary of them. If you truly have repented, you will trust that the Lord will restore you in his time, not yours. Yes, it is hard. And yes, often the person will never trust you again. This is terribly difficult if this occurs in a broken marriage relationship. We all know what God’s perfect will is in those situations. Yet no one can decide for you if the betrayer is now trustworthy, or if the betrayed will ever truly forgive you. Only the grace of God can truly restore.

Jeremiah does not want to die. Nor does he want to waste words on this disobedient king, especially if nothing positive will come of it, and he will only heap more persecution upon himself for no good reason.

Jer 38:16 So Zedekiah the king sware secretly unto Jeremiah, saying, As the LORD liveth, that made us this soul, I will not put thee to death, neither will I give thee into the hand of these men that seek thy life.

In this verse at least, Zedekiah speaks honestly. He does not promise Jeremiah that he will hear and obey. But he does offer him a personal guarantee of protection, as far as he can. Note he says he will not kill him, nor will I hand you over to be killed. He does not say that he can guarantee that no one will harm him. For Jeremiah, that’s the best deal that he can get, so he takes it. If there is still a chance that this stubborn fool will shama the word, then let him have the opportunity to do so.

Jer 38:17 Then said Jeremiah unto Zedekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel; If thou wilt assuredly go forth unto the king of Babylon’s princes, then thy soul shall live, and this city shall not be burned with fire; and thou shalt live, and thine house:

God’s mercy and grace is amazing, even at this final hour. Just because the king is sincerely asking one more time, then one more time God is willing to partially repent and let him live. Not only him, but his household. Not only his household, but the entire city will be spared destruction. If he would just humble himself, risk the wrath of his political enemies, and for once just do exactly what God demands.

Jeremiah punctuates this prophecy by using more than one name for God, as if to provide proof of identity as to who is actually making this offer. At this late moment, there were severe consequences that must be faced. Yet you did not have to lose everything.

Because this king could not make this one choice at this moment, he would end up losing his eyes, all his sons would lose their lives, and all the city would be turned into rubble. All because of one man who couldn’t put aside the political ramifications for just one decision in his life. He couldn’t face the public humiliation (v19). He was at heart a coward, and the fear for his life always outweighed doing the right thing.

Jer 38:18 But if thou wilt not go forth to the king of Babylon’s princes, then shall this city be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and thou shalt not escape out of their hand.

God always lays it out for us. Good things if we obey, evil things if we refuse.

Jer 38:19 And Zedekiah the king said unto Jeremiah, I am afraid of the Jews that are fallen to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hand, and they mock (maltreat, abuse) me.

All this guy cared about was how things would affect him. Never mind his sons, never mind all the people in the city, or the country, never mind the city itself. I am afraid for myself. Some of the captured Jews, when they see me surrender, may mock me. What if some actually are able to attack me? What then?

The problem with fear is that it makes you lose the ability to think straight. Defeat was imminent. There was absolutely no way out, not without some supernatural help. Exactly the situation we face today. Our countries are lost. I know it’s hard to swallow, but they are lost. They may be still functioning to some degree as of this moment, but for all intents and purposes, they are gone. We may wish to cling to some fairy tale hope that some magic dust will be sprinkled upon us and poof! All is now well. Let me know how that works out for you.

If Zedekiah was thinking straight, he would of taken this deal offered by God. Instead he traded not only his future, but his country’s future for a few more days of illusory freedom. Free to starve. Free to fret. Free to watch it completely fall apart.

This reminds me of a few occasions in the past when I had owned a certain stock. Some major event caused the price to plunge. You held on, hoping that it would recover. It went down some more. Instead of cutting your losses, you continued to hold on. After all, until you sold it, it was just a paper loss. It still wasn’t real. Well, when the company was delisted and your shares were now worthless, then it was real. How we always suffer when we don’t want to face reality!

Jer 38:20 But Jeremiah said, They shall not deliver thee. Obey, I beseech thee, the voice of the LORD, which I speak unto thee: so it shall be well unto thee, and thy soul shall live.

It all came down to whether or not the king would believe what God had just said. God promised he would live. His house would live. The city would survive. Yet he wanted more. He wanted a guarantee of safe passage. He wanted an assurance no one would lay a hand on him. That no one would mock him. He was still worried about his image. Brains like this are very difficult to have an intelligent conversation with. This guy did not get it. He, and his kingdom, were devoted to destruction (haram). God was offering him a last minute deal, where he could save something. Because he was still engaging in his ‘kingdom now’, magical thinking, he must of thought there was still a better deal out there somewhere. Let me take your offer and let me shop it around and I’ll get back to you.

You can hear the pleading in Jeremiah’s voice. Oh, please take this deal! This is your very, very, very, last chance to save yourself.

I wonder how many people out there are hearing God call them for the very last time. Perhaps they’re due to ‘die suddenly’ later today. Maybe the spirit is about to depart permanently from their life. Maybe this is the last time they will hear a clear presentation of the gospel message. And yet they delay. How the heart of the Holy Spirit must break day after day, as the people reject him over, and over, and over again.

Jer 38:21 But if thou refuse to go forth, this is the word that the LORD hath shewed me:

One last time, God will describe the consequences.

Jer 38:22 And, behold, all the women that are left in the king of Judah’s house shall be brought forth to the king of Babylon’s princes, and those women shall say, Thy friends (eesh shalom) have set thee on (seduced you), and have prevailed (overcome) against thee: thy feet are sunk in the mire (mud), and they are turned away back (backslidden).

All your women will be given to your enemies. Thus your household will be emptied and given to your opponent. You are so worried that you will be humiliated in front of your peers. Well guess what? I am going to humiliate you in front of all the palace women, which is an even greater disgrace! These women will taunt you by saying ‘eesh shalom’, or, those men of peace that you so relied on, listening to their deceitful counsel, well, they have seduced you into believing all their lies. There will be no peace, because there will be no victory. Perhaps they lied to you about the strength of the military. Perhaps they lied to you about the course of the battle. They have in effect, stolen your throne, and the authority it represented. They became the law instead of you. It has led you into the pit. You are now stuck with the consequences. As far as the last phrase, it most likely means that all these false counsellors have now abandoned you, and are now looking out for their own interests. Perhaps they are now cutting deals to save themselves.

Jer 38:23 So they shall bring out (or, so shall they all go out) all thy wives and thy children to the Chaldeans: and thou shalt not escape out of their hand, but shalt be taken by the hand of the king of Babylon: and thou shalt cause this city to be burned with fire.

All of your family will be lost to the enemy. If you don’t obey God, it may not just cost you your soul, but all those in your house that God had entrusted to you to bring up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. You shall not escape. If God says you shall not escape, then there is no way out. You will be responsible for this city’s utter destruction.

Jer 38:24 Then said Zedekiah unto Jeremiah, Let no man know of these words, and thou shalt not die.

After Jeremiah was once again faithful to give the king all of the word of the Lord, Zedekiah adds a proviso to his oath to Jeremiah. In effect, he was breaking his word once more. He promised Jeremiah that he would not die if he simply answered the king’s question. Now he wants to add a condition. Isn’t this just like so many of us? We make a promise to God out of our distress. Then once the pressure lets up a little, and we have time to think and calculate, we add one or two provisos to our commitment. Yes Jesus, I said I would follow you with all my heart, but I really gotta take this call while I’m praying. I really gotta answer that text. My boss is after me, I’ve got to go back to the office, prayer will have to wait. We think we have the right to unilaterally modify the terms of any agreement that we have made with our master. No wonder Jesus doesn’t trust us with anything of importance. Why should he?

Jer 38:25 But if the princes hear that I have talked with thee, and they come unto thee, and say unto thee, Declare unto us now what thou hast said unto the king, hide it not from us, and we will not put thee to death; also what the king said unto thee:
Jer 38:26 Then thou shalt say unto them, I presented my supplication before the king, that he would not cause me to return to Jonathan’s house, to die there.

Zedekiah gives Jeremiah a way out, should be run across the inevitable opposition out there. Jonathan’s house may of been different from Malchiah’s dungeon. Maybe this would be a more believable story if Jeremiah was pleading that the king not send him to this other dungeon. Maybe this other dungeon was known for its awfulness. That would make the story more believable.

Jer 38:27 Then came all the princes unto Jeremiah, and asked him: and he told them according to all these words that the king had commanded. So they left off speaking with him; for the matter was not perceived (shama – heard intelligently).

Here is a possible topic of debate. Was Jeremiah being righteous in obeying the king, by withholding certain information, and shading the meaning and intent of the substance of their meeting?

God did not condemn Jeremiah for his actions. No one is under any obligation to share everything one knows with everyone that asks. You are under obligation not to wilfully lie for selfish reasons, or to harm someone else. His wicked persecutors had no business knowing what Jeremiah and the king discussed, just because they asked. Zedekiah told Jeremiah what portion of their conversation he could disclose. I am sure they did discuss the terms of Jeremiah’s confinement. I find that people who want to stick to the absolute letter of the law in every tiny decision of life are either sadly lacking in the life of the spirit, or secret ‘Hebrew roots’ adherents, or maybe a little bit of both! Loosen up a little. We love to get hung up on the little things, yet turn a blind eye to the big things, like our inability to quit worshipping at our cell phones, or our addictions to sinful habits, our lack of a real prayer life, and so on.

Note that the ability to shama (hear and obey, also to hear intelligently) is a gift from God. These men had cut themselves off from the life of the spirit. They were dead inside. They could not discern the matter.

This is in sharp contrast with those who are walking with God. Remember how you just knew right off the bat that there was something seriously screwed up with the whole covid narrative as it first came out? Yet how come we knew, but most didn’t? Because most are dead on the inside. Definitely most people in churches are dead on the inside. Covid brought to light what had been hidden in the dark.

Jesus often spoke in proportion to what his audience was able to bear. The Holy Spirit will lead us as to what to share and what not to. The wicked use this principle to destroy lives, we use it to bring light and understanding. We speak or don’t speak not just for self preservation, but to further God’s will. Whether Jeremiah did one or the other or a bit of both is left up to you to decide. Sometimes God will cause you to speak in such a way that it results in a longer imprisonment (Ac 25:10-12, 26:31-32). In this case, God had Jeremiah speak to keep him out of jail. In each instance, you must hear the word of the Lord for yourself, and act accordingly.

Jer 38:28 So Jeremiah abode in the court of the prison until the day that Jerusalem was taken: and he was there when Jerusalem was taken.

I think this last verse is best summarized by Matthew Poole’s commentary:

Thus God hath several ways to hide his people in an evil day; he hid Josiah from it in the grave; he hid Noah in an ark, Lot in Zoar, Jeremiah in a prison, which in probability was a safer place for him than the land of Benjamin, whither he would have gone had not Irijah stopped him(Jer 37:12,13). Conquerors have commonly the greatest kindness for those whom they find under the frowns of the conquered, especially when that which hath made them so hath been something spoken or done in the favour of the conquerors.

The conclusion of the matter is – fear God, learn to discern his will, obey it, and no matter what circumstance you find yourself in, trust that God has the best of intentions for you, whether bond or free, in the midst of judgment, or outside of it, even taken out of the game altogether.

Solitary Man

Photos courtesy Depositphotos


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