FAITHFUL TESTIMONY DOESN’T DEVIATE IN THE FACE OF POWERFUL PRESSURE
Jeremiah provides us a supreme example of faithful preaching in pressure situations. He had to deal with the political intrigue of officials who favored Egypt over Babylon and who were strong enough to manipulate the actions of their king. He was the lone voice who refused to bring a message of peace and safety that would tickle the ears and gain him favor in the sight of men. When he was cast into the mud pit and left to die a slow death of thirst and starvation, he still refused to compromise God’s Word. When he was lifted out of the pit by an unlikely hero and given a second chance to bring a pleasant word to the king, he stuck to his guns. Nothing was going to force him to be disloyal in his prophetic ministry.
FAITHFUL TESTIMONY DOESN’T DEVIATE IN THE FACE OF POWERFUL PRESSURE
I. (:1-13) JEREMIAH’S OFFENSE, IMPRISONMENT AND RESCUE
1) The Word Stirs the Pot
A. (:1-3) Offense of Jeremiah – God’s Word of Judgment Stirs Opposition
1. (:1) Jeremiah’s Audience of Opposition = Specific Chief Officials
“Now Shephatiah the son of Mattan, and Gedaliah the son of Pashhur, and Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur the son of Malchijah heard the words that Jeremiah was speaking to all the people, saying,”
Longman: We may assume that they are all members of a pro-Egyptian political party, one that looked to Egypt for hope against the Babylonian threat. These men are deeply disturbed by Jeremiah’s preaching. He sounds like an agent of the Babylonians, telling the people that they will survive only if they surrender.
Constable: Gedaliah may have been the son of the Pashhur who beat Jeremiah and placed him in the stocks (Jeremiah 20:1-6). “Jucal” was probably the Jehucal who visited Jeremiah during the temporary withdrawal of the Babylonians (Jeremiah 37:3). Pashhur ben Malchijah also visited Jeremiah at the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem in 588 B.C. (Jeremiah 21:1).
2. (:2) Jeremiah’s Prophecy of God’s Judgment = Doom and Gloom
“Thus says the LORD, ‘He who stays in this city will die by the sword and by famine and by pestilence, but he who goes out to the Chaldeans will live and have his own life as booty and stay alive.’”
No great choices here at this point in their rejection of God; but at least there is an option that saves their lives
Mackay: The Lord’s message has been consistent throughout. Of course, by saying that continued resistance was futile and by urging the people to align themselves with the enemy forces, Jeremiah was uttering what the officials could interpret only as high treason. But Jeremiah’s message was not born out of a lack of patriotism, or out of fear for his personal safety, or for some personal advantage. He was the loyal spokesman of the Lord, and he had a deep concern for the well-being of his people. They could not escape the impending catastrophe, but they could rescue their own lives by prompt surrender to the Babylonians. Whatever would then happen to them would not be glorious or grand, but it would be better than the horrors of life in a city under prolonged siege or the massacre that would ensue when the city fell.
3. (:3) Jeremiah’s Guarantee of the Capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians
“Thus says the LORD, ‘This city will certainly be given into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon and he will capture it.’”
2) The Prophet Ends Up in the Pit
B. (:4-6) Imprisonment of Jeremiah
1. (:4) False Charge Against Jeremiah = Dangerous Treason
“Then the officials said to the king, ‘Now let this man be put to death, inasmuch as he is discouraging the men of war who are left in this city and all the people, by speaking such words to them; for this man is not seeking the well-being of this people but rather their harm.’”
Constable: These nobles complained to Zedekiah that Jeremiah was weakening the morale of the soldiers and discouraging the people from resisting the enemy. They accused the prophet of desiring to harm the people, rather than seeking their well-being. This was a seditious thing to do, and Jeremiah could have been put to death if his accusers proved him guilty of treason.
Kidner: It was ironical … that the leaders who had played the traitor against Babylon, their overlord, were such sticklers for internal loyalty, and that they should profess concern for the peace and welfare (shalom,Jeremiah 38:4 b) of the citizens whom they insisted on sacrificing.
2. (:5) Feckless Condoning of Jeremiah’s Punishment by King Zedekiah
“So King Zedekiah said, ‘Behold, he is in your hands; for the king can do nothing against you.’”
Constable: Zedekiah turned Jeremiah over to the nobles. He claimed he could not overrule their will. Obviously he should have stood up for Jeremiah, but he feared his state officials (cf. Jeremiah 38:25-27). He was an early-day Pontius Pilate who washed his hands of his responsibility (cf. Matthew 27:24).
3. (:6) Forcible Casting Jeremiah Into the Depths of the Muddy Cistern
“Then they took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchijah the king’s son, which was in the court of the guardhouse; and they let Jeremiah down with ropes. Now in the cistern there was no water but only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud.”
Cf. treatment of Joseph by his brothers in Gen. 37
Thompson: The final intention of the officials was to bring about Jeremiah’s death without bloodshed.
Ryken: A cistern, of course, is an underground cavity for storing rainwater. . . The cisterns of Jeremiah’s day were usually bottle-shaped, with a narrow opening at the top and a large round cavern underneath. They were often fifteen feet deep or more. This cistern must have been a deep one, because Jeremiah needed to be lowered into it by ropes.
3) Deliverance Can Be Surprising
C. (:7-13) Rescue of Jeremiah
1. (:7-9) Courageous Intervention by Gentile = Ebed-Melech
“But Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, a eunuch, while he was in the king’s palace, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern. Now the king was sitting in the Gate of Benjamin; and Ebed-melech went out from the king’s palace and spoke to the king, saying, ‘My lord the king, these men have acted wickedly in all that they have done to Jeremiah the prophet whom they have cast into the cistern; and he will die right where he is because of the famine, for there is no more bread in the city.’”
Ryken: Ebed-Melech was a nobody. He was a Cushite, to being with. Cushites were Gentiles, black Africans from Ethiopia or Sudan. So Ebed-Melech was an alien in Judah. Plus, he was a eunuch in the royal palace. Perhaps he was in charge of Zedekiah’s harem, but in any case he as a slave, and very likely an emasculated slave. We may not even know his name, for “Ebed-Melech” simply means “servant of the king.” It was not much of a name. Even if it was the man’s proper name, it shows that he had not identity of his own. His status as a human being was completely defined by his relationship to his owner.
2. (:10-13) Commanding Instructions by the King to Release Jeremiah
“Then the king commanded Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, saying, ‘Take thirty men from here under your authority and bring up Jeremiah the prophet from the cistern before he dies.’ So Ebed-melech took the men under his authority and went into the king’s palace to a place beneath the storeroom and took from there worn-out clothes and worn-out rags and let them down by ropes into the cistern to Jeremiah. Then Ebed- melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, ‘Now put these worn-out clothes and rags under your armpits under the ropes’; and Jeremiah did so. So they pulled Jeremiah up with the ropes and lifted him out of the cistern, and Jeremiah stayed in the court of the guardhouse.”
Feinberg: Granted that all thirty men would not have been needed to lift Jeremiah from the cistern, they would have been a sufficient guard to discourage the officials from intervening. Apparently the king expected some opposition from them.
Parunak: (:1-13) This section shows us in stark detail just how weak and spineless Zed is. There are two paragraphs, each following exactly the same structure. Someone “hears” something concerning Jer; speaks with the king about him, and as a result changes Jer’s status. Throughout the episode, Jer is a silent, uncomplaining prop, serving to contrast the agents in the two paragraphs: the wicked princes who wish to destroy him, and a nameless foreign slave who saves his life. . .
What boldness from a servant, to oppose the plotting of the nobles! Reminiscent of the Israelite slave of Naaman’s wife who directed her master to Elisha (2 Kings 5), not only for the healing of his leprosy, but also for faith in Yahweh (2 Kings 5:17).
II. (:14-28) JEREMIAH’S INTERACTION WITH KING ZEDEKIAH
4) The Truth Can Be Unpleasant
A. (:14-16) Secret Interrogation – Asking for Honest Disclosure of God’s Word
1. (:14) Plea for Honest Disclosure
“Then King Zedekiah sent and had Jeremiah the prophet brought to him at the third entrance that is in the house of the LORD; and the king said to Jeremiah, ‘I am going to ask you something; do not hide anything from me.’”
Parunak: Zed sends for Jer to speak with him. Note the place of the rendezvous: “the third entry of the house of the Lord,” some obscure back door to the temple. This is not a public audience in the throne room, but a clandestine consultation in a back alley. Zed doesn’t want anyone to know what he is talking to Jer about.
MacArthur: God’s Word was surrender, and His answer for rejection was calamity for Jerusalem, capture of the king, and tragedy for his family plus others of the palace.
Feinberg: This was Zedekiah’s last meeting with Jeremiah. It is not a duplicate of 37:17-21 because of differences of time and circumstance.
2. (:15) Barriers to Honest Disclosure
a. (:15a) Fear of Reprisal
“Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, ‘If I tell you, will you not certainly put me to death?’”
b. (:15b) Frustration at Expected Rejection
“Besides, if I give you advice, you will not listen to me.’”
Parunak: These are the two great concerns that probably keep most of us silent concerning the things of God: fear for what others will think of or do to us, and frustration and discouragement over lack of response when we do speak.
3. (:16) Promise of Protection
“But King Zedekiah swore to Jeremiah in secret saying, ‘As the LORD lives, who made this life for us, surely I will not put you to death nor will I give you over to the hand of these men who are seeking your life.’”
5) The Options Can Be Unpopular
B. (:17-18) Unpopular Options
1. (:17) Option #1 = Surrender and Live
“Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, ‘Thus says the LORD God of hosts, the God of Israel, If you will indeed go out to the officers of the king of Babylon, then you will live, this city will not be burned with fire, and you and your household will survive.’”
Mackay: If he complies with the divine word, he is given three divine guarantees: his own life would be spared, his family would be spared, and the city would escape conflagration. None of these were automatic consequences of his surrender. On the contrary those who rebelled against an overlord such as Nebuchadnezzar would normally be subject to harsh and humiliating treatment, especially when they had held out against him for a long time. Subject kings were frequently mutilated and then killed to discourage others from rebelling. The Lord promises to intervene to modify the Babylonian treatment of Zed3kiah and Jerusalem, but it would take faith in the word Jeremiah has brought for the king to venture on that promise.
2. (:18) Option #2 = Resist and Die
“But if you will not go out to the officers of the king of Babylon, then this city will be given over to the hand of the Chaldeans; and they will burn it with fire, and you yourself will not escape from their hand.”
6) The Arguments Must Be Evaluated
C. (:19-23) Persuasive Arguments to Obey the Lord
1. (:19-20) Dealing with Fears of Reprisal Associated with Obedience
“Then King Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, ‘I dread the Jews who have gone over to the Chaldeans, for they may give me over into their hand and they will abuse me.’ But Jeremiah said, ‘They will not give you over. Please obey the LORD in what I am saying to you, that it may go well with you and you may live.’”
2. (:21-23) Describing Severe Consequences of Disobedience
“But if you keep refusing to go out, this is the word which the LORD has shown me: Then behold, all of the women who have been left in the palace of the king of Judah are going to be brought out to the officers of the king of Babylon; and those women will say, ‘Your close friends have misled and overpowered you; While your feet were sunk in the mire, they turned back.’ They will also bring out all your wives and your sons to the Chaldeans, and you yourself will not escape from their hand, but will be seized by the hand of the king of Babylon, and this city will be burned with fire.”
Parunak: Your women will mock you. You are afraid of mockery from the surrendered Jews. How will you feel when your own harem scolds your for how your “friends,” the princes who urge resistance, have misled you and left you in the lurch?
Wiersbe: Jeremiah assured the king that if he obeyed the Word of the Lord, God would protect him and the city. But if he disobeyed, even the women in the palace would taunt him before the Babylonians (:21-23).
7) Strange Bedfellows Can Keep a Secret
D. (:24-27) Sworn to Secrecy
1. (:24) Cutting a Deal
“Then Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, ‘Let no man know about these words and you will not die.’”
2. (:25-26) Coaching Jeremiah How to Respond to the Opposing Officials
“But if the officials hear that I have talked with you and come to you and say to you, ‘Tell us now what you said to the king and what the king said to you; do not hide it from us and we will not put you to death,’ then you are to say to them, ‘I was presenting my petition before the king, not to make me return to the house of Jonathan to die there.’”
3. (:27) Carrying Out the Deception
“Then all the officials came to Jeremiah and questioned him. So he reported to them in accordance with all these words which the king had commanded; and they ceased speaking with him, since the conversation had not been overheard.”
Thompson: The officials heard of the visit of Jeremiah to Zedekiah and were told the one part of the total conversation which did not concern them greatly. In fact, Jeremiah had made a strong pleas to be removed (37:20). This silenced the officials, and the more sensitive part of the interview as not reported. Jeremiah was allowed to remain in the court of the guard till Jerusalem fell, and Zedekiah returned to the palace to suffer the anguish of knowing what was right to do but lacking the courage to do it.
(:28) Epilogue = Fate of Jeremiah
“So Jeremiah stayed in the court of the guardhouse until the day that Jerusalem was captured.”