Jeremiah Is Held Prisoner
1One day, Shephatiah, Gedaliah, Jehucal, and Pashhur heard me tell the people of Judah 2-3that the Lord had said, “If you stay here in Jerusalem, you will die in battle or from disease or hunger, and the Babylonian army will capture the city anyway. But if you surrender to the Babylonians, they will let you live.”
4So the four of them went to the king and said, “You should put Jeremiah to death, because he is making the soldiers and everyone else lose hope. He isn't trying to help our people; he's trying to harm them.”
5Zedekiah replied, “Do what you want with him. I can't stop you.”
6Then they took me back to the courtyard of the palace guards and let me down with ropes into the well that belonged to Malchiah, the king's son. There was no water in the well, but I sank down in the mud.
7-8Ebedmelech from Ethiopia was an official at the palace, and he heard what they had done to me. So he went to speak with King Zedekiah, who was holding court at Benjamin Gate. 9Ebedmelech said, “Your Majesty, Jeremiah is a prophet, and those men were wrong to throw him into a well. And when Jerusalem runs out of food, Jeremiah will starve to death down there.”
10Zedekiah answered, “Take 30 of my soldiers and pull Jeremiah out before he dies.”
11Ebedmelech and the soldiers went to the palace and got some rags from the room under the treasury. He used ropes to lower them into the well. 12Then he said, “Put these rags under your arms so the ropes won't hurt you.” After I did, 13the men pulled me out. And from then on, I was kept in the courtyard of the palace guards.
14King Zedekiah had me brought to his private entrance to the temple, and he said, “I'm going to ask you something, and I want to know the truth.”
15“Why?” I replied. “You won't listen, and you might even have me killed!”
16He said, “I swear in the name of the living Lord our Creator that I won't have you killed. No one else can hear what we say, and I won't let anyone kill you.”
17Then I told him that the Lord had said: “Zedekiah, I am the Lord God All-Powerful, the God of Israel. I promise that if you surrender to King Nebuchadnezzar's officers, you and your family won't be killed, and Jerusalem won't be burned down. 18But if you don't surrender, I will let the Babylonian army capture Jerusalem and burn it down, and you will be taken prisoner.”
19Zedekiah answered, “I can't surrender to the Babylonians. I'm too afraid of the people of Judah who have already joined them. The Babylonians might hand me over to them, and they would torture me.”
20I said, “If you will just obey the Lord, the Babylonians won't hand you over to those Jews. You will be allowed to live, and all will go well for you. 21But the Lord has shown me that if you refuse to obey, 22then the women of your palace will be taken prisoner by Nebuchadnezzar's officials. And those women will say to you:
Friends you trusted led you astray.
Now you're trapped in mud,
and those friends you trusted
have all turned away.
23The Babylonian army will take your wives and children captive, you will be taken as a prisoner to the King of Babylonia, and Jerusalem will be burned down.”
24Zedekiah said, “Jeremiah, if you tell anyone what we have talked about, you might lose your life. 25And I'm sure that if my officials hear about our meeting, they will ask you what we said to each other. They might even threaten to kill you if you don't tell them. 26So if they question you, tell them you were begging me not to send you back to the prison at Jonathan's house, because going back there would kill you.”
27The officials did come and question me about my meeting with the king, and I told them exactly what he had ordered me to say. They never spoke to me about the meeting again, since no one had heard us talking.
28 I was held in the courtyard of the palace guards until the day Jerusalem was captured.
This chapter contains a mixture of material from chapters 32 and 37 that were omitted in theStory. Chapter 32 relates how Jeremiah had been encouraged to buy land at Anathoth, where he had been born, as a signal from God that the Jews, after exile, would return to their own land. From chapter 37 we learn that Jeremiah had been imprisoned in the house of someone called Jonathan, which had been made into a prison (37:15). Jeremiah’s prophecy had been unwavering: if the people of Judah surrendered to the Babylonians all would go well for them; if they resisted, the Babylonians would destroy Jerusalem and carry them into exile.
Zedekiah, another son of Josiah, had come to the throne when his nephew, Jehoiachin, had surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar and been carried off to Babylon.
At the beginning of chapter 38 Zedekiah’s officials reported Jeremiah’s prophecy to Zedekiah and urged him to put Jeremiah to death. Zedekiah did nothing, and the officials threw Jeremiah into a well. It was an Ebed-Melech, an Ethiopian in the court, that saved Jeremiah from starvation in the well when he told Zedekiah what had happened.
Zedekiah was tormented by the situation he found himself in. After talking to Jeremiah in private he knew what he ought to do, but was afraid to do so. He was paralyzed by fear and indecision. What happened to him in the end was worse than anything he imagined. Contrast Jeremiah, who fearlessly told his people what God had told him to say. It was an unwelcome message, and Jeremiah suffered for it.
“Ebed-Melech” is the Hebrew for “slave of the king.” Paul called himself “the slave of Jesus Christ.” Do you share their courage in telling others what God has shown you?
Our loving heavenly Father, we pray for courage. Like Zedekiah, we are often afraid to face the truth. Help us to understand that you love us, and that honesty, confession and obedience on our part lead us to the joy of fellowship with you. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.