Jeremiah 37
Benson Commentary
And king Zedekiah the son of Josiah reigned instead of Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, whom Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon made king in the land of Judah.
Jeremiah 37:1-2. Zedekiah, whom Nebuchadrezzar made king — See 2 Kings 24:17; 2 Chronicles 36:10, where is related the history of Zedekiah’s succession. He was but a tributary king, having taken an oath of homage to the king of Babylon. He was a feeble and irresolute prince, and although not so bad as many of his predecessors, yet he had but little true piety or virtue. Neither he nor his servants, &c., did hearken unto the words of the Lord — Though they saw in his predecessor the fatal consequences of contemning the word of God, and though it had already begun to be fulfilled, yet they did not take warning, nor give any more heed to it than others had done before them.

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.
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.
Jeremiah 37:3-5. Zedekiah sent Jehucal the son of Shelemiah — This man came in the place of Pashur, who, together with Zephaniah, brought the former message from Zedekiah; saying, Pray now unto the Lord our God for us — Wicked men of all ranks are desirous, in their distresses, of the prayers of those whose counsels and admonitions they never regard while they are in prosperity, which is a plain evidence of their acting contrary to the convictions of their own consciences. Now Jeremiah came in and went out among the people — That is, he was not yet put in prison as he afterward was: see Jeremiah 37:15; Jeremiah 32:2. Jerusalem also, for the present, was at liberty, for Pharaoh’s army was come forth out of Egypt, &c. — “Zedekiah, contrary to the oath that he had given to Nebuchadnezzar, made an alliance with the king of Egypt, and contracted with him for assistance against the king of Babylon; whereupon the king of Egypt sent an army to his relief: see Ezekiel 17:15; which obliged the Chaldeans to raise the siege of Jerusalem, that they might go and fight this army.” — Lowth. During this time, it seems, it was that Zedekiah sent to desire the prophet to pray for them.

Now Jeremiah came in and went out among the people: for they had not put him into prison.
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.
Then came the word of the LORD unto the prophet Jeremiah, saying,
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.
Jeremiah 37:7-10. Pharaoh’s army, which is come forth to help you, shall return — They shall be discomfited by the Chaldeans, and forced to retreat without affording you any assistance: see 2 Kings 24:7. And the Chaldeans shall come again — They shall return, renew the siege, and prosecute it with more vigour than ever. And take it and burn it with fire — The sentence passed upon Jerusalem shall be executed, and they shall be the executioners: see Jeremiah 34:22. Deceive not yourselves, &c. —

In vain did the Jews rejoice in Pharaoh’s coming to help them: in vain did they flatter themselves that the army of the Chaldeans would be routed; for, (as God was against them,) had this even been the case, had they smitten, as God here tells them, the whole army of the Chaldeans, so that there remained but wounded men among them, yet would they have been sufficient to have taken and laid low the proud city of Jerusalem. For, when God will take away, who shall rescue? — In vain, therefore, if God be our enemy, is all our power and policy; in vain do we endeavour to strengthen ourselves by riches and great friends, and to build our nest on high; for we can never be safe, but in the favour, and under the protection of the Almighty. And we may observe further, that whatever instruments God has determined to make use of, in any service for him, whether of mercy or judgment, they shall accomplish that for which they are designed, whatever incapacity they may lie under, or be reduced to.

And the Chaldeans shall come again, and fight against this city, and take it, and burn it with fire.
Thus saith the LORD; Deceive not yourselves, saying, The Chaldeans shall surely depart from us: for they shall not depart.
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.
And it came to pass, that when the army of the Chaldeans was broken up from Jerusalem for fear of Pharaoh's army,
Then Jeremiah went forth out of Jerusalem to go into the land of Benjamin, to separate himself thence in the midst of the people.
Jeremiah 37:12. Then Jeremiah went forth, &c., to go into the land of Benjamin — Jeremiah, having no further revelation from God to communicate, and knowing the city would soon be taken, resolves to go to his own country to Anathoth. To separate himself thence, &c. — The Hebrew, בתוךְ העם

לחלק משׁם, is rendered by Houbigant, “That he might have there a possession for himself with the people;” by Dr. Waterland, “To take rents from thence,” &c.; and by Blaney, “To receive a portion thereof among the people.” “This,” says the last-mentioned critic, “seems a more natural interpretation of the words, than to understand them, as our translators seem to have done, of the prophet’s withdrawing himself, or slipping away, (as it is expressed in the margin,) for fear of being shut up again in the city, on the renewal of the blockade. For the case appears to have been this, Jeremiah had been cut off from his patrimony in the land of Benjamin, by the Chaldeans having been masters there. But, upon their retreat, he meant to return, with a view of coming in for a share of the produce of the land with the rest of his neighbours. For that he was likely to want some means for his support is evident from his having been obliged to be subsisted in prison afterward upon a public allowance.”

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.
Jeremiah 37:13-14. When he was in the gate of Benjamin — The gate leading toward the country of Benjamin; Irijah, the son of Hananiah — Probably of that Hananiah whose death Jeremiah had foretold, Jeremiah 28:17; took Jeremiah the prophet — Apprehended him as one who was about to desert the city, and fall off to the Chaldeans; the ground of which accusation was the prophet’s having foretold that the Chaldeans should take the city, and exhorted the Jews to submit to them. Then said Jeremiah, It is false — Though, as the Lord’s prophet, he had faithfully revealed his will, and foretold the calamity that was about to come upon the nation, by means of the Chaldeans, this did not prove that he took their part, for at the same time he gave advice both to the king and people how they might, in some measure at least, escape the judgments he had denounced against them; nor had he now any design to flee to the Chaldeans; so far from it, that, when the city was taken, and the captain of the guard gave him his choice, either to go along with him to Babylon, or to go back to Gedaliah, whom the king of Babylon had left as deputy governor in Judea, he chose rather to go and live under Gedaliah’s government in a poor condition, than to enjoy protection and plenty in an idolatrous country. But he hearkened not unto him — The captain of the ward would not believe him, but carried him before the princes.

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.
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.
Jeremiah 37:15. Wherefore the princes were wroth — These princes seem to have been much more hostile to the prophet than those that were in the time of Jehoiakim, (see Jeremiah 36:19,) for they proceed here merely upon the captain’s information, and, treating him as guilty, without any proof, cruelly cause him to be beaten, though entirely innocent, and put into a most miserable dungeon. In the house of Jonathan the scribe — “There is nothing extraordinary,” says Blaney, “in making the dwelling- house of a great man a prison, according to either the ancient or modern manners of the East: see Genesis 39:20; even in the royal palace itself we find there was a prison, chap. Jeremiah 32:2.” Mr. Harmer (chap. 8. obs. 37) quotes the following passage from a MS. of Sir John Chardin: — “The eastern prisons are not public buildings erected for that purpose; but a part of the house in which their criminal judges dwell. As the governor and provost of a town, or the captain of the watch, imprison such as are accused in their own houses, they set apart a canton of them for that purpose, when they are put into these offices, and choose for the jailer the most proper person they can find of their domestics.” Thus Mr. Harmer thinks that Jonathan’s house became a prison in consequence of his being a royal scribe, or, as we should term him, secretary of state.

When Jeremiah was entered into the dungeon, and into the cabins, and Jeremiah had remained there many days;
Jeremiah 37:16. When Jeremiah was entered into the dungeon — Hebrew אל בית הבור, into the house of the pit, ditch, or lake; and into the cabins — Or, cells, as החניות signifies. “From comparing this place with chap. Jeremiah 38:6, it seems likely that this dungeon was a deep pit, sunk perpendicularly like a well, in the middle court or quadrangle, around which the great houses were built; and that in the sides of it, near the bottom, were scooped niches, like the cabins of a ship, for the separate lodgment of the unfortunate persons who were let down there. Hence also it may be, that the same word here rendered dungeon is frequently put for the grave; the ancient repositories of the dead being often constructed with niches, in the same manner in which the bodies were placed, separately. Accordingly we read, Isaiah 14:15, Yet thou shalt be brought down to the grave, to the sides of the pit, אל ירכתי בור. How long Jeremiah was forced to remain in this miserable place is not said, but it seems from Jeremiah 37:19. that it was until the Chaldean army was returned to the siege.

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.
Jeremiah 37:17. Then Zedekiah the king sent and took him out — When the vain hopes with which they had fed themselves, and on the ground of which they had re-enslaved their servants, were all vanished away, then they were in a greater consternation than ever: and then the king sent, in all haste, for the prophet, to see if he could give him any hope of their deliverance. When the Chaldeans were withdrawn, he only sent to desire the prophet to pray for him, but now, the city being again invested, he sent for him to consult him: thus gracious will men be when pangs come upon them! He asked him secretly in his house — Being ashamed to be seen in his company: Is there any word from the Lord? — That is, Hath God revealed any thing to thee concerning what will be the issue of the return of the Chaldean army to the siege of the city? Canst thou give us any hopes that they will again retire? What need had Zedekiah to make this inquiry, when God, by this prophet, had so often revealed his will to him in this matter? Observe, reader, those that will not hearken to God’s admonitions when they are in prosperity, would be glad of his consolations when they are in adversity; and expect that his ministers should then speak words of peace to them. But how can they expect it? what have they to do with peace? Jeremiah said, There is, for thou shalt be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon — Here we have an instance of that freedom and firmness of mind which belong to them who truly live in the fear of God, and put their trust in him. Jeremiah’s life and comfort are in Zedekiah’s hands, and he has now an important petition to present to him; and yet, having this opportunity, he tells him plainly that there is a word from the Lord, but no word of comfort to him, or his people; but that destruction awaits them: see the difference between his spirit and that of Zedekiah. Though a king, Zedekiah dares not run the risk of offending his courtiers, who were his subjects and servants, while the prophet dares denounce the king’s ruin to himself not knowing but such integrity might cost him his life. If he had consulted with flesh and blood, he would have given the king a plausible answer, and not have told him the worst at this time, especially as he had so often told it him before. But Jeremiah was one that had obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful, and would not, to obtain mercy of man, be unfaithful either to God, or to his prince, or to his people; he therefore tells him the truth, and the whole truth, which to know would be a kindness to the king, in order that, being forewarned of the approaching calamity, he might be the better prepared for it.

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?
Jeremiah 37:18-21. Moreover Jeremiah said, What have I offended against thee — What law have I broken? What injury have I done to thee, or thy people, or government, that ye have put me in prison — Have put me into the pit or dungeon, as a malefactor of the worst kind? Where are now your prophets — That is, your false prophets? Surely the event has now convinced you, how much they have deceived you: for you see the siege renewed, and the city in imminent danger of being taken. Here we see Jeremiah’s confinement in the dungeon had not broken his spirit, or diminished either his zeal or courage in delivering God’s message: he still speaks with the greatest boldness, and as one having authority. No doubt he would have been willing, had God called him to it, to seal his testimony with his blood: nevertheless, having so fair an opportunity to obtain relief, he thought it his duty to embrace it, and therefore, with great humility and submissiveness, and in a most respectful manner, presents his supplication, not indeed for an entire deliverance from restraint, which, however, it would not have been unreasonable to ask, but for a less cruel treatment. Then Zedekiah commanded that they should commit Jeremiah into the court of the prison — A more agreeable place of confinement; and that they should give him daily a piece of bread, &c. — Namely, out of the public stock, (for the prison was within the precincts of the court,) in order that he might not die for want. Until all the bread of the city was spent

Till the famine forced the city to surrender, Jeremiah 52:6. This was the king’s first order, but afterward it was reversed, by the importunity of the princes and great men, Jeremiah 38:6, when Jeremiah was again thrown into the dungeon. Though after that he was released from that place, and returned to his former confinement, ibid. Jeremiah 38:28.

Where are now your prophets which prophesied unto you, saying, The king of Babylon shall not come against you, nor against this land?
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.
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 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.
Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

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