For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2003 James Melough

37:1.  “And king Zedekiah the son of Josiah reigned instead of Coniah (Jehoiakin) the son of Jehoiakim, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made king in the land of Judah.”


Following the death of the good king Josiah, the people made Jehoahaz his son king, but after a brief and evil three-month reign he was deposed by Pharaoh-nechoh, who appointed Eliakim, brother of Jehoahaz, as king, changing his name to Jehoiakim, the change of name signifying that he was the vassal of Pharaoh-nechoh, to whom he paid the tribute which the Pharaoh had imposed upon the land.


The political scene, however, was changing, with Babylon emerging as the major power, so that Jehoiakim became vassal to Nebuchadnezzar for three years, at the end of which time he rebelled, with the result that the Babylonians again invaded the land, and Jehoiakim, after an eleven-year reign, died, his son Jehoiakin (Coniah) succeeding him, and who, after a brief three-month reign was taken to Babylon where he was imprisoned for thirty-seven years, after which he died without ever returning to Canaan, Nebuchadnezzar having made Jehoiakin’s uncle Mattaniah king and changing his name to Zedekiah, the king now being discussed, and being the last king of Judah.


37:2.  “But neither he, nor his servants, nor the people of the land, did hearken unto the words of the Lord, which he spake by the prophet Jeremiah.”


(The writer here continues to be Baruch, Jeremiah’s amanuensis).


Zedekiah and all the people rejected the word of God given through Jeremiah, as God had foreknown they would.


37:3.  “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 unto the Lord our God for us”


At this time the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem had been temporarily lifted while Nebuchadnezzar went to deal with the Egyptians who had come to assist Judah.  It seems to have been Judah’s expectation, or at least hope, that the Egyptians would be successful in the conflict with the Babylonians, hence the seeming humility of Zedekiah in asking for the help of the One he now called “the Lord our God,” but Whom he had refused to obey when things seemed to be going well for him; and no one will have difficulty seeing in this the pattern of the conduct of virtually all men.  The God Who is acknowledged only in adversity, is ignored the rest of the time, raising the question, How can men have the audacity to seek the help of the One they have not only flagrantly disobeyed, but also despised and mocked, when they foolishly imagined that they had no need of Him?


“Pray now ... for us.”  What Jeremiah was to pray for isn’t disclosed, but presumably it was that Egypt would emerge the victor in the conflict with Babylon, and prove to be a more tolerant master.  This is typical of men everywhere and in all ages.  They are concerned primarily with earthly things rather than spiritual.  Zedekiah’s primary concern should have been for the salvation of his soul, and the souls of his people, for unknown to him, Babylon was to be the victor, and he himself, together with multitudes of the people, soon to die by Nebuchadnezzar’s command, while the survivors of the slaughter would be carried captive to Babylon.


37:4.  “Now Jeremiah came in and went out among the people: for they had not put him into prison.”


Toward the end of the siege Jeremiah was imprisoned, but at this stage he still had his liberty.


37:5.  “Then Pharaoh’s army was come forth out of Egypt: and when the Chaldeans that besieged Jerusalem heard tidings of them, they departed from Jerusalem.”


The siege was lifted only briefly while the Babylonians went to do battle with the approaching Egyptians who had come to aid Judah.


37:6.  “Then came the word of the Lord unto the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “


37:7.  “Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel; Thus shall ye say to the king of Judah, that sent you unto me to inquire of me; Behold, Pharaoh’s army, which is come forth to help you, shall return to Egypt into their own land.”


The Egyptians upon whom Zedekiah had pinned his hopes, were to prove to be a “broken stick.”  They would return to Egypt, defeated by the Babylonians.


Egypt, however, represents the world of business and pleasure living in careless independence of God, and here Zedekiah’s dependence upon it portrays the false confidence men have in the things of this world to meet all their need, forgetting that that same world can do nothing to meet their greatest need: the salvation of their souls.  The departure of defeated Egypt, leaving Judah to perish at the hand of Babylon, points symbolically to a reality concerning life: in the final analysis men find that as they draw near to the end of life, the world can offer them no hope for what lies beyond the grave.


37:8.  “And the Chaldeans shall come again, and fight against this city, and take it, and burn it with fire.”


37:9.  “Thus saith the Lord; Deceive not yourselves, saying, The Chaldeans shall surely depart from us: for they shall not depart.”


God thus declared the victory of Babylon, and the destruction of Judah.  And again the literal language is but the vehicle by which God conveys spiritual truth relative to man’s spiritual need.  Babylon, as discussed already, represents the world of false religion, as much the enemy of God and men as is what is represented by Egypt.


As dying Judah was left to face destruction at the hand of Babylon, so are unconverted men left also to face eternal destruction at the hand of the false religion portrayed by Babylon, and upon which men foolishly rest all their hopes for eternity.  That same religion which promises eternal life by a means other than faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, will prove to be an even more deadly foe than did Babylon to Judah.  While in the dim light of earth it seems to be the way to heaven, it will prove to be instead the way to hell, and the eventual eternal torment of the lake of fire.


As Judah’s national existence was destroyed by the sword of Babylon, so will the expectation of every man who expects to escape hell and enter heaven by means of religion, instead of faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. 


More delusive, but just as deadly, is the equally common belief that religion plus faith in Christ is the formula for salvation.


That combination is the deadly potion presented by Satan, and gulped down greedily by countless multitudes who awake from their stupor to find themselves, not in the heaven they had anticipated, but in the hell they thought they were escaping.  Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ takes men to heaven.  Faith plus religion, morality, church membership, baptism, confirmation, or anything else, takes them to hell and the eternal torment of the lake of fire; for to add anything to faith as a means of salvation is to declare the inadequacy of Christ’s vicarious sin-atoning death, and therefore to make God a liar.


37:10.  “For though ye had smitten the whole army of the Chaldeans that fight against you, and there remained but wounded men among them, yet should they rise up every man in his tent, and burn this city with fire.”


What foolish Judah failed to understand was that they had crossed the invisible line that separates God’s mercy from His wrath: they had refused to repent within God’s time, and now they were to be destroyed, there being nothing that could avert that dread decree.  And so is it with every man who also refuses to repent within God’s acceptable time: though he may live for many years after crossing that fatal line, he is just as sure of hell and the lake of fire as though he were already there.


37:11.  “And it came to pass, that when the army of the Chaldeans was broken up from Jerusalem for fear of Pharaoh’s army,”


37:12.  “Then Jeremiah went forth out of Jerusalem to go into the land of Benjamin, to separate himself thence in the midst of the people.”


As already discussed, the Babylonians had lifted the siege only temporarily while they dealt with the Egyptians who had come with the intention of helping Judah.


Other translations of the latter part of this verse make it clear that the prophet was returning to his own place to attend to some matters concerning his property there, e.g., “to take possession of the property that belonged to him among the people there,” ATT; “with the purpose of taking up his heritage there” BAS; “to take part with his family in a division of an inheritance,” NAB; “to divide his property,” JERUS; “to see the property he had bought,” TAYLOR; “take possession of his patrimony,” NEB.


The meaning of “separate” as used here confirms these translations, for it is connected with the thought of dividing, apportioning, distributing, etc.  The Bible Knowledge Commentary makes it clear that this had nothing to do with his purchase of the field in Anathoth, “This land transaction probably does not relate to his purchase in chapter 32.  By the time of the purchase in chapter 32 Jeremiah had already been arrested and confined to the courtyard of the guard (cf. 32:2).  When he started toward Anathoth (chap. 37) he had not yet been arrested (cf. 37:4,21; 38:13, 28).  Therefore the events of chapter 37 took place before the events of chapter 32.”


37:13.  “And when he was in the gate of Benjamin, a captain of the ward was there, whose name was Irijah, the son of Shelemiah, the son of Hananiah; and he took Jeremiah the prophet, saying, Thou fallest away to the Chaldeans.”


As Jeremiah was leaving Jerusalem by way of the Benjamin gate, during the brief period when the Babylonians had lifted the siege in order to deal with the Egyptians, Irijah, a commander of the guard, and about whom nothing else is known, arrested him on the false charge of deserting to the Chaldeans (Babylonians).


37:14.  “Then said Jeremiah, It is false; I fall not away to the Chaldeans.  But he hearkened not to him: so Irijah took Jeremiah, and brought him to the princes.”


Rejecting Jeremiah’s protest of innocence, Irijah brought him before the city officials.”


37:15.  “Wherefore the princes were wroth with Jeremiah, and smote him, and put him in prison in the house of Jonathan the scribe: for they had made that the prison.”


Believing Irijah’s false charge, the enraged officials had Jeremiah flogged and thrown into prison.”


37:16.  “When Jeremiah was entered into the dungeon, and into the cabins, and Jeremiah had remained there many days;”


37:17.  “Then Zedekiah the king sent, and took him out: and the king asked him secretly in his house, and said, Is there any word from the Lord?  And Jeremiah said, There is: for, said he, thou shalt be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon.”


A cabin was a vault, or arch-roofed cell, so that Jeremiah was lowered down into the dungeon as into a well, indicating that his place of imprisonment was dreadful in the extreme: dark, cold, wet: a place in fact more conducive to death than to life.  It must have sorely tried his faith in God, not only by its condition, but by the fact that he had to remain there “many day,” yet there is no record of his having voiced any complaint.


Deliverance came when a fearful Zedekiah, desperately seeking to know whether the prophet had had any communication from God, had him brought up into the palace where he himself questioned him.

True servant that he was, realizing that the delivery of bad news was very likely to result in his being returned to the dungeon, Jeremiah nevertheless delivered the dread message God had given him: Zedekiah was a doomed man destined to be delivered into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar.


37:18.  “Moreover Jeremiah said unto king Zedekiah, What have I offended against thee, or against thy servants, or against this people, that ye have put me in prison?”


All the offence was on their part.  By rejecting the message God had had His servant deliver, they were demonstrating their rebellion against God Himself; and their unjust brutal treatment of the prophet was therefore vicariously tantamount to the treatment they would also have meted out to Him, for relative to the treatment of His servants, God has declared through the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,” Mt 25:40.


37:19.  “Where are now your prophets which prophesied unto you, saying, The king of Babylon shall not come against you, nor against this land?”


Jeremiah’s speech and conduct reveal that he had implicit trust in God, for neither by word nor deed did he attempt to placate Zedekiah who was very likely to be incensed by what the prophet said.  He didn’t hesitate to declare to the king the folly of having heeded the words of the false prophets, when that was the last thing Zedekiah needed to hear: he had learned by bitter experience just how foolish he had been.


37:20.  “Therefore hear now, I pray thee, O my lord the king: let my supplication, I pray thee, be accepted before thee; that thou cause me not to return to the house of Jonathan the scribe, lest I die there.”


He presented his personal petition only after he had faithfully declared to the king what was very unwelcome truth that was little likely to elicit a favorable response.  It is clear that however much he wished to be delivered from having to return to the dungeon, he would not solicit the king’s favor by any minimizing of his, Zedekiah’s, guilt in the sight of God.


His words “lest I die there” confirm the terrible nature of the place of his long imprisonment.


37:21.  “Then Zedekiah the king commanded that they should commit Jeremiah into the court of the prison, and that they should give him daily a piece (loaf) of bread out of the bakers’ street, until all the bread in the city were spent.  Thus Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.”


The king apparently had philosophically accepted his fate, having learned too late the folly of having listened to the lies of the false prophets, and having no rancor against Jeremiah whose words he ought to have heeded from the beginning.  Nor is their anything to indicate that his kindness to the prophet was anything but altruistic.  He appears, in fact, a pathetic figure, reconciled to his sad fate, realizing the justice of his punishment, and accepting it without bitterness against God or man.


The “court of the prison” to which Jeremiah was then transferred was a courtyard in the royal palace.

[Jeremiah 38]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough