Explaining the Book

Bible Study Guide

Jeremiah

Jeremiah 37 Commentary

…continuation of “the bitter end” from 36-45…

KJV Jeremiah 37:1 ¶ And king Zedekiah the son of Josiah reigned instead of Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, whom [that is, Zed. …] Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon made king in the land of Judah.

Just to give us the context of what we’re seeing here, I wanted to read an extended quote from the Old Testament book of 2 Kings.

2 Kings 24:8-25:2 – …

KJV 2 Kings 24:8 ¶ Jehoiachin [a.k.a., Coniah; This is the son of Jehoiakim, whom we saw in the last chapter burn the scroll with God’s message on it…] was eighteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months. And his mother’s name was Nehushta, the daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem. 9 And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father [Jehoiakim…] had done.

 10 ¶ At that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up against Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. 11 And Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came against the city, and his servants did besiege it. 12 And Jehoiachin the king of Judah went out to the king of Babylon, he, and his mother, and his servants, and his princes, and his officers: and the king of Babylon took him in the eighth year of his [Nebuchadnezzar’s…] reign. 13 And he carried out thence all the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold which Solomon king of Israel had made in the temple of the LORD, as the LORD had said. 14 And he carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty men of valour, even ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths: none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land [This is what would be left to the next king of Judah…]. 15 And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon, and the king’s mother, and the king’s wives, and his officers, and the mighty of the land, those carried he into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. 16 And all the men of might, even seven thousand, and craftsmen and smiths a thousand, all that were strong and apt for war, even them the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon.

And here’s where King Zedekiah comes into the picture…

 17 And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah his [Jehoicahin’s…] father’s brother king in his stead, and changed his name to Zedekiah. 18 ¶ Zedekiah was twenty and one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Hamutal, the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. 19 And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that Jehoiakim had done. 20 ¶ For through the anger of the LORD it came to pass in Jerusalem and Judah, until he had cast them out from his presence, that Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.

And because Zedekiah rebelled against the world power of that time…

 25:1 And it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he, and all his host, against Jerusalem, and pitched against it; and they built forts against it round about. 2 And the city was besieged unto the eleventh year of king Zedekiah.

We’ll stop there. That gives us a good idea of the context of this chapter. Jehoiakim – whom we saw in chapter 36 died. He was replaced by his son Jehoiachin. But Babylon apparently did not approve of that transition of power and so they attacked Jehoiachin and he surrendered. And in his place, Nebuchadnezzar installed his uncle – or Jehoiakim’s brother – or Josiah’s son – on the throne.

And you do feel bad for this man, whose name ended up being Zedekiah, because he inherits a really weakened country. Only the poorest and least skilled and capable of the land are left.

And yet, we can’t feel too badly for him, because as we’ve already seen testified to – he was evil in God’s eyes. And actually, more is said of the evil of him and his people in verse 2…

2 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.

So, Zedekiah is a new king. But he’s only going to perpetuate what the wicked kings who preceded him committed.

And even though that was the case – even though he didn’t care at all to listen to God’s instructions and commands, we’re going to see this evil king seek God’s blessings from the prophet Jeremiah starting in verse 3…

3 ¶ And Zedekiah the king sent [21:2…]
Jehucal [38:1-4…] the son of Shelemiah and
Zephaniah [21:2; 29:25-26…] the son of Maaseiah the priest

to the prophet Jeremiah, saying,

Pray [now/please] unto the LORD our God for us.

Now, this is not the first time that Zedekiah sent a message like this to Jeremiah. Jeremiah chapter 21 starts like this:

“The word which came unto Jeremiah from the LORD, when king Zedekiah sent unto him Pashur the son of Melchiah, and Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah the priest, saying, 2 Enquire, I pray thee, of the LORD for us; for Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon maketh war against us; if so be that the LORD will deal with us according to all his wondrous works, that he may go up from us.”

And what I pointed out when we studied that chapter is that Zedekiah sought God’s blessings, but he refused the repentance that will ensure those blessings. And so, we saw back in that chapter that God will not grant blessing apart from repentance.

But the point is that Zedekiah was apparently given to this kind of sending to Jeremiah to plead for help. In Jeremiah 21, he sent Zephaniah just like he did here. But now in Jeremiah 37, Zedekiah sent also this man named Jehucal. We’ll see his name again in the next chapter next time. This man actually ends up accusing Jeremiah and attacking him. But for now in this chapter he’s going to Jeremiah to seek God’s help at Zedekiah’s request.

OK, so far we know that Zedekiah is sending two men to ask Jeremiah to pray for Judah.

But now at this point in the story, God wants us to have a little more background for what’s to follow. That’s what takes up verses 4 and 5. Verse 4 tells us about Jeremiah’s situation. And verse 5 fills us in on a situation that affects all Judah.

4 Now Jeremiah [still…] came in and went out among the people:
for they had not put him into prison.

OK, so verse 4 is written from a perspective after Jeremiah is imprisoned. But this imprisoning happens in the future from the point of view of verse 4. So, Jeremiah is free at this point. He’s going in and out among the people.

It might be helpful to collect what we know of Jeremiah’s status as either free or imprisoned as recorded throughout his book.

It’s very clear that Jeremiah was imprisoned for the last two years or so before the Babylonian exile. These would have been the last two years of Zedekiah’s reign.

Passages like Jeremiah 32 and 33, 39, and even here later on in this chapter – they all testify to the fact that Jeremiah was imprisoned in the last two years of Zedekiah’s reign.

Now, we did read something last week about Jeremiah being unable to go into the Temple. And I wanted to address that passage in greater detail for a moment.

Jeremiah 36:5 has Jeremiah saying to Baruch “I am shut up; I cannot go into the house of the LORD:” That phrase “shut up” might lead someone to think that Jeremiah was imprisoned at that point. And because of that fact, that’s why he can’t go to the Temple to deliver his message.

But I’m going to give a few reasons why I think the only time that Jeremiah was imprisoned – so far as we have it recorded for us – was those last two years of Zedekiah’s reign.

First, in chapter 36 when that message of Jeremiah’s was delivered in the Temple by Baruch, the king at that time – Jehoiakim – was not happy and he sought to seize and kill Jeremiah. If Jeremiah was imprisoned – if he was even on some sort of house arrest like the Apostle Paul, where he was chained by the wrist to a guard or something like that – there’s no way that Jeremiah could have escaped and hidden himself. And yet, Jeremiah did hide himself. That’s one reason I think that Jeremiah was free to roam for most of his ministry, save the last two years of Jerusalem’s siege by Babylon.

Second, the statement we have here in Jeremiah 37:4 is pretty clear that Jeremiah was free to come and go as he pleased. Now, that will all change later in this chapter. But for now, Jeremiah is free. Not under house arrest, as far as I can tell. Free.

And those two thoughts we’ve just reviewed are helpful. But I think we might still be curious as to the meaning of Jeremiah’s being “shut up” in Jeremiah 36:5. What does that mean if it doesn’t mean that he was imprisoned?

The Hebrew word translated “shut up” in the KJV is atsar. It’s used 50 times in the Old Testament. In Genesis 16:2 it’s used of Sarah’s inability to conceive a child. In Genesis 20:18 it’s used twice to speak of the Lord closing the wombs of the household of Abimelech. Numbers 16:48 and 50 have Moses using that word to describe how he stopped a plague from attacking the people. Numbers 25:8 use it the same way. Deuteronomy 11:17 uses that word of the heavens being prevented from sending down rain.

This is a small sampling of verses. But I think it demonstrates that there is some range to the meaning of this word.

So, I think that this word in Jeremiah 36:5 is used by Jeremiah to communicate simply that he is stopped or unable or prevented from entering into the Temple to deliver his message. I think that what is likely is that Jeremiah delivered his fiery Temple sermon just shortly before this and as a result he was banned from the Temple. Not that he was under arrest or in prison or chained to a soldier – but that he was simply restrained by some sort of ordinance from entering the Temple.

In summary then, Jeremiah is in prison for the last two years of Judah’s pre-exilic existence under Zedekiah. Jeremiah was barred from the Temple for a certain amount of time under Jehoiakim. But apparently until Zedekiah’s last two years, Jeremiah was a free man.

So, that’s verse 4. It contains some background information about Jeremiah.

Now, we move on to verse 5 which contains background information concerning what was going on with all Judah at the time.

5 Then Pharaoh’s army was come forth out of Egypt:

By the way, this is Pharaoh Hophra, who reigned 589-570 BC. He was apparently summoned by Zedekiah so that Babylon would leave Jerusalem. The events here probably happened around 588 BC. And just to remind us, Jerusalem fell in 587/6 BC. So, these are the last two years or so of Jerusalem’s existence before the exile.

And now, we see something interesting happen as a result of Pharaoh coming out of Egypt with his army.

and when the Chaldeans that besieged Jerusalem heard [tidings of/new about] them,
they departed from Jerusalem.

So, Babylon hears of Egypt’s coming. And that causes their army to stop attacking Jerusalem.

So, to put things in perspective, Zedekiah asks for Jeremiah to pray for Judah because Babylon is attacking them. And then it looks like maybe God is answering Jeremiah’s prayer – at least this may have been what it looked like from Zedekiah’s perspective.

But sometimes what we can see with our human eyes is not the ultimate reality. Sometimes things can happen that can be misinterpreted by mortal man. Zedekiah probably would have been greatly encouraged that God heard and answered Jeremiah’s prayer and that the Babylonians would leave for good now.

And that’s why the Lord needs to send his word to interpret for Zedekiah what the events just recorded mean in verses 6 through 10.

6 ¶ Then came the word of the LORD unto the prophet Jeremiah, saying,

7 Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel;

Thus shall ye say to the king of Judah, that sent you unto me to enquire of me [20:2…];

Behold, Pharaoh’s army,
which is come forth to help you,
shall return to Egypt into their own land.

8 And the Chaldeans shall come again,
and fight against this city,
and [take/capture] it,
and burn it with fire.

So, that’s God’s interpretation of the fact that Babylon had left Jerusalem to fight Egypt. Egypt – in whom you’re trusting – will lose and Babylon will return and destroy your city.

But, so often the people of Judah would not hear a message from God like we just heard. In fact, that’s why they’re in the predicament they were in at this time. God was punishing them for not listening to his messages and for disobeying him.

And because that was the case, the Lord needs to really emphasize that what he just stated was really the truth.

9 Thus saith the LORD;

Deceive not yourselves, saying,

The Chaldeans shall surely depart from us:

That was their tendency – to reject God’s message. And what else can God say except what he says next?

for they shall not depart.

And then the Lord gives them a totally ridiculous scenario that is intended to get their attention and show them how serious he was about what he was saying to them.

10 For though ye had [smitten/defeated] the whole army of the Chaldeans that fight against you,
and there remained but wounded men among them,

So, picture a battlefield where Judah just totally defeated the Chaldeans. The only men left moving from the Babylonian side were all severely wounded and lying in their tents. God says – even if that were the case…

yet should they rise up every man in his tent, and burn this city with fire.

In other words, God had determined that this destruction of Jerusalem would happen. He would use even injured soldiers lying in their tents to accomplish that promised destruction.

And really, what Judah was experiencing at this point in the book of Jeremiah is what Jeremiah for decades had been warning them about. From the beginning, the prophet was warning them to repent of their sins. If they wouldn’t, then an army from the north was coming. And that was the message back in Josiah’s day. Now, probably around 40 years later the warnings and threats are finally coming to pass.

Note two things about God from what we just said. Note his mercy and patience. He waited forty years to bring the threats to pass. But notice also God’s justice. He won’t let sin go unpunished – not even the sin of his professing people.

So, to summarize what we’ve seen so far, Zedekiah asks Jeremiah to pray. Babylon temporarily leaves their siege of Jerusalem. God wants everyone to be clear that Babylon’s leaving is temporary. And Jeremiah is the man to deliver that disappointing message.

And yet, this is just another day for Jeremiah. Delivering unpopular messages was pretty much his occupation for four decades. And so, he gives this message and then since the Babylonians were temporarily out of town, he thought he’d take the opportunity to take care of some business back home.

11 ¶ And it came to pass, that when the army of the Chaldeans [was broken up/had withdrawn] from Jerusalem for fear of Pharaoh’s army,

12 Then Jeremiah went forth out of Jerusalem to go into the land of Benjamin,

to [separate/chalak/divide/distribute] [for…] himself [land…] thence in the midst of [the/his] people.

So it seems that Jeremiah went north to Anathoth to get some land for himself amongst his people. Maybe a relative died and land was up for redistribution, according to the Old Testament rules.

And this kind of event might lead your mind to Jeremiah 32. Something similar happens there. That’s where Jeremiah’s relative comes to him in prison and tells him to buy some land from him. But in the case of Jeremiah 32, that actually happens after the events in this chapter.

Now, as we’re going to see, Jeremiah never gets to go to Benjamin for his original purpose. And so it’s possible that when Jeremiah couldn’t go to his relatives in this chapter, then his relative came to him in Jeremiah 32.

At any rate, as I’ve said, Jeremiah doesn’t make it to Benjamin. Let’s see why.

13 And when he was in the gate of Benjamin, [on the North of the city…]
a [captain of the ward/sentry/officer in charge of the guards] was there,
whose name was Irijah, [nothing else known about him…]
the son of Shelemiah,
the son of Hananiah; [probably not the false prophet…]

and he took Jeremiah the prophet, saying,

Thou [fallest away/are deserting] to the Chaldeans.

And by the way, that was exactly God’s command to the people of Judah in Jeremiah 21:9. But Jeremiah had a job to do in Jerusalem by God’s command. And so he wasn’t planning to go out to the Chaldeans. And so he protests the charge.

14 Then said Jeremiah,

It is [false/a lie];
I [fall not away/am not deserting] to the Chaldeans.

But [he/Irijah] hearkened not to him:

so Irijah [took/seized/arrested] Jeremiah,
and brought him to the [princes/officials].

This is not the same group of people as we saw in Jeremiah 36. In that chapter, the officials were favorably disposed to Jeremiah. Those individuals would have been exiled with Jeconiah in 597 BC. Jeremiah 37 happens around 10 years later – sometime around 588 BC.

And we see that these new officials are not very friendly to Jeremiah.

15 [Wherefore/And] the princes were [wroth with/enraged at/very angry at] Jeremiah,
and [smote/beat/flogged] him,
and put him in prison
in the house of Jonathan the [scribe/royal secretary]:

for they had made that the prison.

The Lord in the Old Testament Law really didn’t make any provisions for prisons. Each crime was met with a corresponding punishment. And the punishment was intended to be carried out fairly swiftly. The punishments ranged from fines to death and in between those two extremes.

But the fact that prisons were not really envisioned in God’s Law explains why the house of this scribe named Jonathan had to be converted into a prison.

16 ¶ When Jeremiah was entered into the dungeon [“house of the pit”, Gen 40-41…], and into the [cabins/cells], and Jeremiah had remained there many days;

17 Then Zedekiah the king sent, and took him out:

and the king asked him secretly in [his house/the palace], and said,

Is there any word from the LORD?

So, Zedekiah leaves Jeremiah in prison for “many days.” And we shouldn’t think that Zedekiah wouldn’t have had the power to release Jeremiah. I think everyone was pretty angry with him – Zedekiah, the officials, and that Irijah fellow. And yet, at least Zedekiah wasn’t willing to kill the prophet.

This again reflects the wavering of this king. He wants deliverance but won’t repent. He sort of wants Jeremiah to be silent – maybe even to die! – but he doesn’t want to be the one responsible for it. And yet, then we see him here asking if Jeremiah has a word from the Lord!

Now, recall that Jeremiah has been giving God’s word for decades by this point. Surely everyone knew what the Lord’s word was to them – surrender to Babylon! Repent! If you don’t, get ready for destruction!

So, this is without doubt one of the most ridiculous questions recorded in the Scripture. And yet, that’s the kind of behavior we see with Zedekiah.

And Jeremiah answers him with a little more than a hint of sarcasm.

And Jeremiah said,

There is:

[for/then], said he,

thou shalt be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon. [34:3…]

So, now that Jeremiah revealed the obvious to the king, he goes on to question why he and his officials are treating him unjustly.

18 Moreover Jeremiah said unto king Zedekiah,

What have I [offended/done wrong] against thee,
or against thy servants,
or against this people,

that ye have put me in prison?

19 Where are now your prophets which prophesied unto you, saying,

The king of Babylon shall not come against you, nor against this land?

So, the question that Jeremiah poses here is intended to force Zedekiah to acknowledge that he’s a faithful prophet. He’s the one who’s been telling the truth from the true God all along. And therefore, since Jeremiah has been giving God’s true message, it’s unjust for Zedekiah and his people to imprison him.

So based on that fact, Jeremiah says…

20 Therefore hear now, I pray thee, O my lord the king:
let my [supplication/humble plea], 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.

So, we wouldn’t have necessarily known it from the previous verses, but the makeshift prison was a pretty dangerous place. And unless this faithful prophet is all of a sudden exaggerating, then he really did believe that much more time in that prison would have eventuated in his death.

So, we see in the last verse of this chapter, Zedekiah doing something rather noble. He sees to it that Jeremiah is taken care of.

21 Then Zedekiah the king commanded that they should commit Jeremiah into the [court/courtyard] of the [prison/guardhouse],

This was apparently the place where the royal guard was housed, so it would have been a better place than the makeshift prison.

and that they should give him daily a [piece/loaf] of bread out of the bakers’ street, until all the bread in the city [were spent/was gone].

Thus Jeremiah remained in the [court/courtyard] of the [prison/guardhouse].

So, Jeremiah had a place to stay and food to eat while the battle raged around him as the city of Jerusalem would eventually fall under siege once more by Babylon.

Now, in Jeremiah 36 last time we saw the futile attempt of Jehoiakim to restrict God’s written word. In this chapter we’re seeing Zedekiah’s attempt to restrict God’s spoken word.

We’re also seeing come to pass all the threats that God had made throughout this book.

And I think most uniquely we see Zedekiah’s wavering back and forth. He at first wants Jeremiah to pray for them as if he’s some pious individual concerned for God’s will. Then he goes along with Jeremiah’s imprisonment, which could have easily resulted in the death of the prophet. Then Zedekiah goes back and asks Jeremiah again for a word from God. When he receives that word, he doesn’t respond with repentance. But at least, he ends up being fairly kind to Jeremiah.

And yet, we should note that being kind to God’s people and God’s messengers really doesn’t do a person much eternal good. God isn’t looking for lost sinners to be kind to his people. He wants lost sinners to repent.

And you and I probably have a few lost people in our lives who are not maybe directly antagonistic to us. Maybe they have inquired a few times of you about the Lord. Maybe they’ve shown some interest in spiritual things. And yet, interest without repentance does not impress the Lord. This kind of man is no closer to being accepted by the Lord than is the man who is totally opposed to the Lord and his people.

And so, that’s the kind of man Zedekiah was. Interested but ultimately rebellious and disobedient. A double-minded man who was unstable in all his ways.

And we’ll hear more about him next time, Lord-willing.

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Comments

  1. I like your detail explanation. It help me to understand that good deeds without repentance makes no sense.

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