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

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,”


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, and shall live.”


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.”


What Jeremiah had proclaimed was what the Lord had commanded him to say; but instead of accepting the prophet’s words as being from God, the four princes mentioned here rejected them, having chosen to believe the words of the false prophets instead, even though their prophesies thus far had proved to be wrong.


“... shall have his life for a prey” means that every man who did as Jeremiah advised would save his life.


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 of this people, but the hurt.”


With defeat and death staring them in the face, the four princes still clung stubbornly to the false belief that somehow they would be delivered out of the hand of the Babylonians; and today’s equally doomed world clings tenaciously to the false belief that somehow man is going to overcome all difficulties, and by his own efforts bring in a golden age of peace and plenty, even though everything points to the truth that the world is tottering on the very brink of the catastrophe foretold by God.  And like those four foolish princes, the men of the world hate those who proclaim the truth, and would similarly wish to kill them.


God’s way was, Surrender and save yourselves, and it still remains His way.  Only those who confess their hopeless estate and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, will save their souls; but man’s way is, Don’t surrender.  Cling to the belief that man is not a doomed ruined creature in need of a Savior, and work your way to heaven by good deeds.  All such will meet the same sad end as did those four princes and the fools who heeded their advice, see 13:6.


38:5.  “Then Zedekiah the king said, Behold, he is in your hands: for the king is not he that can do anything against you.”


The weak vacillating king didn’t even make an attempt to save Jeremiah, for like many another, he feared men more than he did God, and thereby damned his own soul, as do all who are governed by the same fear.


38:6.  “Then took they Jeremiah, and cast him into the dungeon of Malchiah the son of Hammelech, that was in the court of the prison: and they let Jeremiah down with cords.  And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire: so Jeremiah sunk in the mire.”


Only spiritually blind eyes will fail to see in what happened to the prophet an adumbration of Christ’s experience at the hand of His enemies, and as anticipated by the Psalmist, “I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing .... Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink,” Ps 69:2,14.


The word “dungeon” is literally cistern, and refers to a hole or pit used to catch water during the wet season, November to April, for use during the dry months.  Even when empty, the bottom of such a pit was full of mire.  It was a horrible place in which to imprison a person.


38:7.  “Now when Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, one of the eunuchs which was in the king’s house, heard that they had put Jeremiah in the dungeon; the king then sitting in the gate of Benjamin;”


38:8.  “Ebed-melech went forth out of the king’s house, and spake to the king, saying,”


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.”


The great men, the princes, would destroy the Lord’s prophet, but a servant had compassion on him, and so was it with Christ.  The great men mocked, despised, and hated the Lord, and wouldn’t be content until they had killed Him; but the poor “unlearned and ignorant men” Ac 4:13, loved him; nor has anything changed over the years: believers, for the most part, are earth’s lowly ones, as it is written, “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called; but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are; that no flesh should glory in his presence,” 1 Cor 1:26-29.


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


It is generally agreed that Ebed-melech was to take with him three men, not thirty.  And again the weak, vacillating character of the king is revealed: one day at the urging of the princes, he hands Jeremiah over to their will; the next, he delivers him out of their hands.


38:11.  “So Ebed-melech took the men with him, and went into the house of the king under the treasury, and took thence old cast clouts and old rotten rags, and let them down by cords into the dungeon to Jeremiah.”


38:12.  “And Ebed-melech the Ethiopian said unto Jeremiah, Put now these old cast clouts and rotten rags under thine armholes under the cords.  And Jeremiah did so.”


The gracious, compassionate character of Ebed-melech is disclosed in the care he took to see that Jeremiah should suffer no more discomfort than was absolutely necessary when being lifted up out of the dungeon.  Most men would have considered it enough that he was being delivered.


A practical lesson is being taught in this.  Believers are at best weak and fallible, and any of us may become one of those needing to be lifted up.  Love and grace should govern the words and conduct of those whose privilege it is to restore an erring brother, as it is written, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted,” Ga 6:1; and again relative to the restoration of the sinning Corinthian brother, it is written, “Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted by many.  So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.  Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him,” 2 Cor 2:6-8.


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.”


The prophet remained a prisoner, but the conditions of his imprisonment were vastly improved, for the difference between the dank, dark dungeon, and the palace guard house, was as great as that between night and day.  God doesn’t always deliver us from trial, but He tempers it to what He knows we are able to bear, and comforts us with His promise, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (age)” Mt 28:20, and, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” Heb 13:5.  He didn’t deliver Daniel’s three friends out of the furnace, but He walked with them in it, Dan 3:25.


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.”


The “third entry” was the door at the side of the Temple reserved for the use of the king, and it was there that Zedekiah met with Jeremiah to inquire further of him relative to his own fate and that of the city.


38:15.  “Then Jeremiah said unto Zedekiah, If I declare it unto thee, wilt thou not surely put me to death? and if I give thee counsel, wilt thou not hearken unto me?”


Jeremiah responded by telling the king that the tidings he had to deliver were evil, and would result in his being put to death for declaring them, and that any advice he might give the king would just be ignored, so why bother to declare what God had revealed to him concerning the fate of Zedekiah and of Jerusalem?


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.”


Zedekiah, however, swore that he himself would neither kill the prophet, nor hand him over to those who desired to kill him.


“... that made us this soul” means simply “who has given us our life.”


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:”


The very thing against which the princes advised was what God declared to be the only means of salvation for Zedekiah and for the city: surrender to the Babylonians; nor has time changed anything: man still rejects God’s way of salvation, which is to confess ourselves sinners, and cast ourselves on His mercy by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.


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.”


Rejection of God’s way would bring utter destruction to king and city alike; and so is it still.  The man who refuses to confess himself a sinner, and who refuses to trust in Christ as Savior, will perish eternally; as will also the Christ-rejecting world, represented here by rebellious Jerusalem.


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 me.”


The king rejected the prophet’s advice because he was afraid that the Babylonians would hand him over to the Jews who had already defected, and who would mock and abuse him.  Fear of man cost the foolish king his life, as it does multitudes today.  Many refuse to trust in Christ simply because they are afraid of being laughed at by others, thus damning their souls to eternal torment, a torment that will be shared by the very same foolish men whose laughter they had feared on earth.  There is no laughter in that dreadful place to which the fear of man consigns multitudes, a fear in regard to which God warns, “The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe,” Pr 29:25.


38:20.  “But Jeremiah said, They shall not deliver thee, Obey, I beseech thee, the voice of the Lord, which I speak unto thee, and thy soul shall live.”


Jeremiah gave absolute assurance of safety, and used every possible persuasion, as has many another servant of God since then, but to no avail.  The fear of man, and rejection of God’s word carried the foolish king to his doom, as they have countless others since then, and continue to do today.


38:21.  “But if thou refuse to go forth, this is the word that the Lord hath shewed me:”


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 have set thee on, and have prevailed against thee, thy feet are sunk in the mire, and they are turned away back.”


There was a terrible alternative to accepting God’s word: death; that dreadful alternative being the same today. 


As Zedekiah’s wives and women servants were led out to the Babylonians, they would repeat to the foolish king the same truth as had been given him by the prophet, that is, Your friends have prevailed against you; they have set your feet on the path to destruction, and now with your feet sunk in the mire, those false friends have forsaken you.  So will it be with all who allow false friends to turn them away from Christ.


38:23.  “So they shall bring 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.”


Not only would Zedekiah himself perish, but his folly would bring ruin on all his family, and on the city, which the Babylonians would burn.


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


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:”


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.”


This man’s folly is unbelievable.  Having been told how to save himself and the city, he not only rejected the advice, but would kill God’s messenger if he told others of the interview.  Many, however, have aped his folly down through the years.  They not only reject the Gospel themselves, but would kill those who would proclaim it to others.


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.”


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.”


An obvious question presents itself here.  Why did Jeremiah not ignore the king’s command, and tell those men the truth?  It was certainly not fear that kept him silent, for all that is written concerning him reveals him to have been a man who fearlessly delivered the truth given him by God.  The answer appears to be that he knew the futility of giving them further warning.  They had sealed their ears and hearts against the truth, and were now abandoned by God to perish.  The same terrible possibility faces all who persistently reject the Gospel, as it is written, “My spirit shall not always strive with man,” Gen 6:3; “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy,” Pr 29:1.

[Jeremiah 39]


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