Jeremiah 37:1-2 king Zedekiah the son of Josiah reigned instead of Coniah
Our goal has been to study Jeremiah chronologically even though the chapters are all jumbled up. This chapter is a good example. It starts by introducing Zedekiah’s reign as if it had just started then begins to tell us about Jeremiah’s imprisonment which occurred in the last half of Zedekiah’s reign. The writer is probably a different scribe than previous chapters (speaking chronologically). So it appears we have more than one scribe writing for Jeremiah. We have heard already of the scribe Baruch and have seen that Jeremiah received a specific revelation for him (Jer. 45). Someone else, it seems, takes up the pen to tell part of the story. The introduction begins, as in the book of Kings and the book of Chronicles, placing events within the specific time frame of Zedekiah’s reign.
Another element is very common in the books of Kings and Chronicles. The king is introduced and then the writer immediately declares whether he was a righteous king or a wicked one. For instance, “Jotham was twenty and five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem… And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Chron. 27:1-2). This chapter of Jeremiah begins the same way, introducing the reign of king Zedekiah and then declaring, “neither he, nor his servants, nor the people of the land, did hearken unto the words of the Lord.”
Jeremiah 37:5 Then Pharaoh’s army was come forth out of Egypt
(Psamtik II, Pharaoh of Egypt, statue from the Louvre)
Pharaoh Necho II (610-595 BC) and his successor Psamtik II (595-589 BC) reigned in Egypt during Jeremiah’s ministry. Although we can’t be sure, it was probably Psamtik II that ventured into Palestine during Zedekiah’s reign. “In 591 BC, during the fourth year of his reign, Psamtik II launched an expedition into Palestine ‘to foment a general Levantine revolt against the Babylonians’ that involved, among other, Zedekiah of the Kingdom of Judah.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psamtik_II) Historically, Egypt was the superpower and Babylon was the newcomer. History was on Egypt’s side but destiny was on Babylon’s side.
Zedekiah hopes that Egyptian military prowess will protect him from Nebuchadnezzar. Ironically, Zedekiah is a vassal king, placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar himself (2 Chron. 36:10)! But who wants to be a vassal king? He wants to be the real deal, an independent king of an independent nation. He rests his hopes on the Egyptians—big mistake. Zedekiah’s study of recent history would have included large chapters about Egyptian dominance. For thousands of years, the Egyptians were the most powerful force in the region. Now, this upstart nation of Babylonians comes on the scene and Zedekiah wants to get out from under them.
Jeremiah 37:5 when the Chaldeans that besieged Jerusalem heard tidings of them, they departed from Jerusalem
The Chaldeans, or Babylonians, had little reason to fear Pharaoh’s army. The reason that the Babylonians departed from Jerusalem was not out of fear of Pharaoh but to attack him in battle. Josephus wrote, “when the king of Egypt heard what circumstances Zedekiah his ally was in, he took a great army with him, and came into Judea, as if he would raise the siege; upon which the king of Babylon departed from Jerusalem, and met the Egyptians, and joined battle with them, and beat them; and when he had put them to flight, he pursued them, and drove them out of all Syria. Now as soon as the king of Babylon was departed from Jerusalem, the false prophets deceived Zedekiah, and said, that the king of Babylon would not any more make war against him or his people.” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book X, 7:3)
Instead of listening to the voice of the prophet Jeremiah, Zedekiah took false hope in Egyptian military power. This was a terrible mistake. While Zedekiah’s history books recounted Egyptian glory, the prophets had taught a different lesson. As Isaiah declared, “Lo, thou trustest in the staff of this broken reed, on Egypt; whereon if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it: so is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all that trust in him.” (Isaiah 36:6)
The prophets’ message to the kings: “Don’t trust in the Egyptians! Of all the nations of the earth, don’t trust in them!”
“Zedekiah, the brother of Jehoiakim and the grandson of righteous King Josiah, was only twenty-one years old when he began his reign. Nebuchadnezzar was not a brutal conqueror and was willing to give Jerusalem every opportunity to prove their loyalty to his empire. (See F. J. Foakes and D. D. Jackson, The Biblical History of the Jews, Cambridge: W. Heffe and Son L.T.D., 1917, p. 322.) But Zedekiah was a weak leader, constantly influenced by anti-Babylonian factions in Jerusalem. These nationalistic leaders seemed to have made only a superficial covenant with Nebuchadnezzar, for in 593 B.C., shortly after the Babylonian armies had departed, ambassadors from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Tyre, and Sidon came to Jerusalem to plan a rebellion against Babylon. Zedekiah listened to these ill-informed friends and attempted to rebel against Babylon in 588 B.C.
“Retribution followed swiftly. Nebuchadnezzar sent his armies against Jerusalem again. During the nineteen-month siege, Jeremiah went to Zedekiah with a promise from the Lord:
If thou wilt assuredly go forth unto the king of Babylon’s princes, then … this city shall not be burned with fire; and thou shalt live, and thine house:
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. (Jer. 38:17–18.)
“Jeremiah’s promises apparently fell on deaf ears, for Zedekiah continued to listen to his nationalistic friends.” (Garth A. Wilson, “The Mulekites,” Ensign, Mar. 1987, 62–63)
Jeremiah 37:9-10 though ye had smitten the whole army of the Chaldeans… yet should they rise up… and burn this city
There is no such thing as a zombie apocalypse, but the Lord considered bringing one upon Jerusalem. Angry with the wickedness of Jerusalem and the insolence of Zedekiah, the Lord declares that the Babylonian army, even if Zedekiah could beat them and injure every soldier, yet they would arise and burn the city. If Zedekiah’s armies had the strength to kill them, yet they would arise like an army of zombies to destroy Jerusalem—a zombie apocalypse for Jerusalem. One way or the other, Jerusalem is doomed.
Jeremiah 37:13 Thou fallest away to the Chaldeans
Jeremiah is accused of being a traitor. He is accused of being a Babylonian sympathizer. He is accused of being a pacifist, but Zedekiah was the real traitor. He was a traitor to Nebuchadnezzar who put him into power; he was a traitor to the best interest of his people; he was a traitor to the cause of righteousness.
Jeremiah 37:15 the princes were wroth with Jeremiah, and smote him, and put him in prison
The princes had previously defended Jeremiah. During the reign of Jehoiakim, when he boldly prophesied of a 70-year captivity in Babylon, the princes said, “This man is not worthy to die: for he hath spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.” (Jer. 26:16) However, with this “traitor” accusation several years later, they had lost patience.
"[When] Jeremiah went to the land of Benjamin… He was… accused of falling away to the Chaldeans and placed in prison. This incident is also attested to in the Book of Mormon. After Lehi's sons had returned to Jerusalem for the second time--the first time to get the plates of brass and the second to persuade the family of Ishmael to join them--the older brothers rebelled against Nephi and desired to return to Jerusalem. Nephi reasoned with them:
Yea, and how is it that ye have forgotten that the Lord is able to do all things according to his will, for the children of men, if it so be that they exercise faith in him? Wherefore, let us be faithful to him.
And if it so be that we are faithful to him. we shall obtain the land of promise; and ye shall know at some future periled that the word of the Lord shall be fulfilled concerning the destruction of Jerusalem; for all things which the Lord hath spoken concerning the destruction of Jerusalem must be fulfilled.
For behold, the Spirit of the Lord ceaseth soon to strive with them; for behold. they have rejected the prophets. and Jeremiah have they cast into prison. And they have sought to take away the life of my father, insomuch that they have driven him out of the land.
Now behold. I say unto you that if ye will return unto Jerusalem ye shall also perish with them. and now. if ye have choice. go up to the land. and remember the words which I speak unto you, that if ye go ye will also perish; for thus the Spirit of the Lord constraineth me that I should speak. (1 Nephi 7:12-15.)
"Apparently Jeremiah had not been in prison when Lehi and his family left Jerusalem, but by the time Lehi had sent his sons back for the plates of brass, undoubtedly several weeks later, he had been cast there." (Monte S. Nyman, The Words of Jeremiah [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 99)
Jeremiah 37:17 the king asked him secretly in his house… Is there any word from the Lord?
Prophet-killing kings have a habit of secretly believing the prophets they murder. We remember that Herod had John the Baptist imprisoned but he secretly believed his words, “For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.” (Mark 6:20) We also have the example of Noah who feared the word of Abinadi but didn’t have the courage to preserve his life, “Noah was about to release him, for he feared his word” (Mosiah 17:11).
Zedekiah falls into the same cowardly pattern of believing the prophet—at the same time punishing him and fearing the word of his princes and priests. So Zedekiah repeatedly seeks the word of the Lord from Jeremiah; he does so covertly lest his own princes find out (Jer. 37:24-28).
Jeremiah 37:19 Where are now your prophets which prophesied… saying, The king of Babylon shall not come
“To an unrepentant people, divine prophets must have appeared to be harbingers of doom, while false prophets must have seemed to be angels of peace and mercy… When Jeremiah cried war—sword, spear, and fire—false prophets pacified the sinful people with “Peace, peace!” (See Jer. 6:13–14, 22–29.)” (Keith H. Meservy, “Jerusalem at the Time of Lehi and Jeremiah,” Ensign, Jan. 1988, 24-25)
One such prophet was Hananiah. He had a face to face confrontation with Jeremiah in chapter 28. Hananiah prophesied, “Thus saith the Lord; Even so will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all nations within the space of two full years.” Jeremiah later approached the false prophet and told him, “The Lord hath not sent thee; but thou makest this people to trust in a lie… this year thou shalt die… So Hananiah the prophet died the same year” (Jer. 28:15-17)
So Jeremiah is asking Zedekiah, “where are you prophets now? Hananiah is dead. We don’t hear any more of your false prophets. What’s the deal?” This is an “I told you so” moment for Jeremiah.
Jeremiah 37:21 Zedekiah the king commanded that they should commit Jeremiah into the court of the prison
“Zedekiah then sent for Jeremiah and asked if the Lord had any word for him (Zedekiah). Jeremiah took this opportunity to ask why he had been imprisoned, and he asked that the king not send him back to the dungeon where he had been kept. Zedekiah commanded that Jeremiah be placed in the court of the prison and given a daily ration of bread as long as there was bread in the city. This was a big concession in light of the treatment he had received in the past. (See Jer. 37:11-12.)
“While Jeremiah was given this freedom, he still continued to prophesy. Certain princes, therefore, went to the king and said that Jeremiah was weakening their soldiers' morale and should be put to death. The spineless Zedekiah relented to their wishes, and Jeremiah was lowered into a dungeon of mire, into which he sank. While there, he had no water. Again someone interceded for Jeremiah, and the king allowed him to be confined to the court of the prison until Jerusalem was taken. The deplorable conditions of the miry dungeon are shown by the number of men employed in pulling Jeremiah out of the prison and the method they used. (See Jer. 38:4-13, Jer. 38:24-28.)” (Monte S. Nyman, The Words of Jeremiah [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 6 - 7)
Jeremiah 38:6 then took they Jeremiah, and cast him into the dungeon… so Jeremiah sunk in the mire
Mire is soggy earth, marshland, or mud. Josephus wrote, “For the king himself, he was not at all irritated against Jeremiah… yet, that he might not be engaged in a quarrel with those rulers at such a time… he let them do with the prophet whatsoever they would: whereupon, when the king had granted them such a permission, they presently came into the prison and took him, and let him down with a cord into a pit full of mire, that he might be suffocated, and die of himself. So he stood up to the neck in the mire, which was all about him.” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book X, 7:5)
Stuck in the mire, alone in the dark, Jeremiah was literally starving to death (v. 9), unable to rest or sleep without putrid filth covering his face and mouth. No wonder he became depressed. No wonder his attitude was grim.
They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon me
Waters flowed over mine head; then I said, I am cut off.
I called upon thy name, O Lord, out of the low dungeon.
Thou hast heard my voice: hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry.
Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee: thou saidst, Fear not.
O Lord, thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; thou hast redeemed my life.
O Lord, thou hast seen my wrong: judge thou my cause…
Render unto them a recompence, O Lord, according to the work of their hands.
Give them sorrow of heart, thy curse unto them.
Persecute and destroy them in anger from under the heavens of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:53-66)
Mark E. Petersen
I think it is a very serious thing when anybody raises his hand against the prophets of God. Have you read carefully the story, of Jeremiah in the Old Testament and seen there how men and women raised their hands and their voices and their heels against the prophet ( Jer. 20:1-2; Jer. 26:8-11)? I want you to know that it is just as serious for us who live today to raise our hands against these modern prophets as it was for ancient Israel to raise their hands against Jeremiah whom they put in a dungeon and whom they would have been glad to see die ( Jer. 37:15-16; Jer. 38:6-13). (Conference Report, April 1949, pp. 145)
Jeremiah 38:7-9 Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, one of the eunuchs… spake… saying, My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they have done to Jeremiah
There were plenty of Jews in Jerusalem who could have complained to the king, yet this act or righteousness, to have mercy on the Lord’s prophet, comes from an Ethiopian. The Master said to the Roman centurion, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Matt. 8:10). God’s people were upstaged by this “gentile.” Elsewhere, Jesus taught, “many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed saving Naaman the Syrian” (Lu. 4:27). Why does the faith come from outside the house of faith? In the latter example, Jesus was explaining how it is that “No prophet is accepted in his own country” (Lu. 4:24). Certainly, in mire up to his neck, Jeremiah would agree with that statement. So the Ethiopian Ebed-melech, which means by interpretation “servant of the king,” is the one who saves Jeremiah. Of him, the historical record should say, “we have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.”
Now why would Zedekiah need an Ethiopian eunuch? Eunuchs were men, either castrated or effeminate, who were asked to watch over the king’s treasure, often including the wives of the king. Zedekiah had more than one wife and many children, although the number is not given (Jer. 38:23, Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book X, 8:2). If you need a eunuch, apparently the best place to get one is in Ethiopia. Philip once found another Ethiopian Eunuch pondering the words of Isaiah:
…behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship,
Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet.
Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.
And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?
And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. (Acts 8:27-31)
Jeremiah 38:20 Obey, I beseech thee, the voice of the Lord… so it shall be well unto thee
“To an unrepentant people, divine prophets must have appeared to be harbingers of doom, while false prophets must have seemed to be angels of peace and mercy. Jeremiah, for example, wrote to the captives in Babylonia telling them to build homes, plant gardens, and marry off their children so that they would grow during the long years of captivity. The false prophet Hananiah, on the other hand, promised in the name of the Lord that within two years God would bring them all back to their homes in Palestine. (See Jer. 28:1–4; Jer. 29:1, 4–7.) When Jeremiah cried war—sword, spear, and fire—false prophets pacified the sinful people with ‘Peace, peace!’ (See Jer. 6:13–14, 22–29.)
“When the Babylonians finally came and surrounded the city, Jeremiah again counseled individuals that they could survive by surrendering to the Babylonians. Such advice weakened the hands of the defenders and made Jeremiah look as if he were a traitor. (Jer. 38:2–4.) Yet only God knew what was coming and could tell them how to survive.
“In the final days of the siege, Zedekiah desperately asked Jeremiah for advice. Jeremiah promised him his life and the city’s salvation if he would give himself up to the Babylonians. Otherwise, the city would be destroyed. Yet Zedekiah kept the advice secret for fear of his own people, and Jeremiah’s prophecy was fulfilled. (Jer. 38:17–27.)…
“These stories of Jeremiah and Lehi are part of the ongoing story of God’s love. They show how the Lord strives continuously to save all of his children, how he warns the wicked of his impending judgments, and how he leads to safety those who listen to his counsel.
“In our day, prophets are once again warning the world that God’s judgments will be poured out upon the wicked. The experiences of Jeremiah and Lehi encourage us to believe that, if we love the truth enough to follow the prophets and take the Holy Spirit for our guide, we will receive the promised blessings.” (Keith H. Meservy, “Jerusalem at the Time of Lehi and Jeremiah,” Ensign, Jan. 1988, 24-25)
Jeremiah 38:24 Let no man know of these words, and thou shalt not die
Zedekiah is the king but he acts like a teenager who is worried about what the cool kids will say about him, “I am afraid of the Jews that are fallen to the Chaldeans, lest they… mock me” (v. 19). Zedekiah is such a coward! He is really concerned about what the princes will think, “Let no man know of these words, and thou shalt not die.”
Robert D. Hales
It takes courage to keep the commandments. To fail to do so because of peer pressure is to have the fear of man—to be more afraid of what man thinks about us than what God thinks about us. I have never understood why someone would have a greater concern about man’s opinion than about God’s opinion…
Prophets must often warn of the consequences of violating God’s laws. They do not preach that which is popular with the world. President Ezra Taft Benson taught that “popularity is never a test of truth” (“Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,” in 1980 Devotional Speeches of the Year , 29).
Why do prophets proclaim unpopular commandments and call society to repentance for rejecting, modifying, and even ignoring the commandments? The reason is very simple. Upon receiving revelation, prophets have no choice but to proclaim and reaffirm that which God has given them to tell the world. Prophets do this knowing full well the price they may have to pay. (Ensign, May 1996, 37)
Jeremiah 38:28 so Jeremiah abode in the court of the prison until the day that Jerusalem was taken
While Jeremiah did not deserve to be in prison, at least he was protected from the effects of the siege that was soon to come. He likely abode in the court of the prison for another couple of years, the 9th through the 11th years of Zedekiah’s reign. The king’s house would be the last to run out of bread in the forced famine that would follow. Jeremiah would have something to eat as long as the food lasted. Ugly times are coming—and Jeremiah knows it.