Jeremiah 37
Pulpit 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.
Verse 1. - Coniah; i.e. Jehoiachin (see on Jeremiah 22:24). Whom Nebuchadrezzar... made king. Zedekiah, not Jehoiachin, is referred to (see 2 Kings 24:17).
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.
Verse 3. - And Zedekiah the king sent. This was Zedekiah's second embassy to Jeremiah. His request on the former occasion bad been for a prophecy; on the present it was for an "effectual fervent prayer," such as Hezekiah's embassy asked of Isaiah (Isaiah 37:6). But the issue was to be very different from that in the case of Sennacherib's invasion! Jehucal. The same man appears in Jeremiah 38. l, among those who brought about the imprisonment of Jeremiah. Zephaniah. The high priest's deputy, mentioned again in Jeremiah 21:1; Jeremiah 29:25; Jeremiah 52:24.
Now Jeremiah came in and went out among the people: for they had not put him into prison.
Verse 4. - Now Jeremiah came in and went out, etc. Had he been a prisoner, an embassy of high officials could not, with propriety, have been sent to him (comp. ver. 17; Jeremiah 38:14).
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.
Verse 5. - Then Pharaoh's army, etc.; rather, And Pharaoh's army had, etc.; as a further description of the circumstances under which the embassy was sent. The withdrawal of the Chaldeans seemed to offer a gleam of hope. The Pharaoh referred to was the Hophra of the Jews, the Apries of Herodotus, the Uah-ab-ra of the monuments. His interference was useless; indeed, Hophra was one of the most unfortunate of the Egyptian kings (see Jeremiah 44:30).
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.
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.
Verse 10. - Even if the Jews had defeated the whole Chaldean army, and there remained but a group of sorely wounded men, these in their weakness would be enabled to carry out God's sure purpose. But wounded men hardly brings out the force of the Hebrew; the word rendered "men" is emphatic, and expresses paucity of numbers, and that rendered "wounded" is, literally, pierced through.
And it came to pass, that when the army of the Chaldeans was broken up from Jerusalem for fear of Pharaoh's army,
Verse 11. - For fear of, etc.; rather, because of.
Then Jeremiah went forth out of Jerusalem to go into the land of Benjamin, to separate himself thence in the midst of the people.
Verse 12. - As soon as communication with the outside world was possible, Jeremiah took the opportunity of going to his native country, to obtain something or other which he could only obtain "thence." The Authorized Version says that his object was to separate himself thence. But

(1) the rendering is linguistically untenable; and

(2) the assumed object is incongruous with the circumstances and Character of Jeremiah, who was neither inclined to seek safety in isolation nor had any motive at present for doing so. The only safe rendering is, to claim his share thence. Whether there was just then a reallotment of communal lands must be left undecided; this would, however, be the most plausible hypothesis, if we could be sure that the present was a sabbatical year. The additional words, in the midst of the people, would then acquire a special significance. The "people" would be the representatives of families who had an equal right to allotments with Jeremiah.
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.
Verse 13. - The gate of Benjamin; i.e. the gate looking northwards towards Benjamin (comp. Jeremiah 20:2; Jeremiah 38:7; Zechariah 14:10). It appears to be the same as the gate of Ephraim (2 Kings 14:13; Nehemiah 8:16). Thou fallest away, etc. Perhaps an allusion to Jeremiah's declaration (Jeremiah 21:9) that "he that falleth away to the Chaldeans... he shall live,"
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.
Verse 15. - The princes were wroth with Jeremiah. As Graf has pointed out, the princes, who had evinced their respect for Jeremiah on former occasions (ch. 26, 36.) had probably shared the captivity of Jehoiachin; Zedekiah's "princes" would be of a lower origin and type, and ready (like the judges in the French "terror") to accept any charge against an unpopular person without proper examination. The house of Jonathan the scribe. "Scribe," i.e. one of the secretaries of state. The house of Jonathan seems to have been specially adapted for a prison, as the next verse shows. Chardin, the old traveller, remarks, "The Eastern prisons are not public buildings erected for that purpose, but a part of the house in which the 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 jailor the most proper person they can find of their domestics" (Chardin).
When Jeremiah was entered into the dungeon, and into the cabins, and Jeremiah had remained there many days;
Verse 16. - Into the dungeon, and into the cabins. The former word undoubtedly implies an underground excavation. The latter is of more uncertain signification. It most probably means "vaults;" but it may mean "curved posts" - something analogous to stocks (see on Jeremiah 20:2).
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.
Verse 17. - Meantime the Chaldean army has returned, and reinvested the city. Zedekiah, in his anxiety, sends for Jeremiah privately to his palace. Thou shalt be delivered, etc. (comp. Jeremiah 32:3, 4; Jeremiah 34:2, 3).
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?
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.
Verse 21. - Court of the prison; rather, court of the watch (as Jeremiah 32:2). A piece of bread; literally, a circle (i.e. round cake) of bread. This is mentioned elsewhere in descriptions of poverty (1 Samuel 2:36; Proverbs 6:26); but as the ancient Oriental bread was not our delicate white bread, it was a real "staff of life." The Syrian peasants still eat cakes of coarse meal, of about the thickness of parchment, and equal in size to a large plate (Orelli's 'Travels'). The bakers' street. Probably the several trades were confined to special quarters and streets. In Cairo each trade has still its own bazaar (saddlers, carpets, hardware, goldsmiths, sweetmeats, etc.).

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