Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentJEREMIAH 37
JEREMIAH SCOURGED AND IMPRISONED
This chapter and the next, record events in the life of Jeremiah during the final days of the siege of Jerusalem in the closing period of the reign of Zedekiah (circa 589 B.C.), which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation of many of its inhabitants to Babylon.
In fact, "From this chapter to Jer. 44 (inclusive), we have little else than an account of events relating to the personal history of Jeremiah."F1
During this final siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, Zedekiah had evidently requested help from Pharaoh-Hophra who had come to the throne of Egypt that very year. He made a move as if to help Zedekiah and his Jerusalem defenders against the Babylonians, with the result that, for a short time only, Nebuchadnezzar lifted the siege and devoted his full attention to the forces of Pharaoh-Hophra. Some say that the Egyptian force was defeated by Nebuchadnezzar, and others suppose that Pharaoh-Hophra withdrew without a battle. Either way, the result was an unqualified disaster for Zedekiah and Jerusalem.
During that short interval, while the siege had been lifted, the events of this chapter occurred. We have already studied Jer. 34 which gives an account of the Jewish reaction to this temporary respite from the siege. They thought, "Hallelujah! The war is over"; and so they enslaved the servants whom they had just manumitted!
Verses 1, 2
And Zedekiah the son of Josiah reigned as king, instead of Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, whom Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon made king in the land of Judah. But neither he, nor his servants, nor the people of the land, did hearken unto the words of Jehovah, which he spake by the prophet Jeremiah.
This is a brief recapitulation of the history of the past eleven years. In the first capture of Jerusalem, the Babylonians had taken Coniah and carried him away to Babylon along with many other captives. Nebuchadnezzar placed Coniah's uncle Zedekiah on the throne as a sworn vassal of the king of Babylon. He reigned eleven years, and the events of this chapter were very near the end of that period. Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon, and Nebuchadnezzar returned for the final siege which is under way in this chapter.
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 Jehovah our God for us. Now Jeremiah came in and went out among the people; for they had not put him into prison. And Pharaoh's army was come forth out of Egypt; and when the Chaldeans that were besieging Jerusalem heard tidings of them, they brake up from Jerusalem.
(Jeremiah 37:5). This was Pharaoh-Hophra, the Apries of Herodotus; his intervention availed nothing.F2 Feinberg stated that the Babylonians defeated the Egyptian army;F3 but Harrison was of the opinion that the Egyptians withdrew without a battle.F4 History has no record of any battle having been fought; and the opinion of Harrison seems more likely to be correct.
The reason for Zedekiah's request for Jeremiah to pray for the city seems to have been grounded in the hope that God would again spare the city from destruction as he had done by a miraculous intervention in the death of the entire army of Sennacherib in 701 B.C. Indeed, such a thing might have happened, if Zedekiah had been the kind of man that Hezekiah was; but Jer. 37:2, above, indicates that Zedekiah and all the people were solidly committed to wickedness and rebellion against God.
Then came the word of Jehovah unto the prophet Jeremiah, saying, Thus saith Jehovah, 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 they shall take it, and burn it with fire. Thus saith Jehovah, 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, yea would they rise up every man in his tent, and burn this city with fire.
Contrary to what would most certainly have been in the prophet's own personal best interests, Jeremiah gave the same message he had already repeated to Zedekiah so often, namely, that God would destroy the city by the hand of the Chaldeans; and that this would surely come to pass, even if Judah were to kill their whole army except a few wounded men. This shows how certain was the fulfillment of what God had prophesied, and it was even a more unfavorable answer than the one Zedekiah had received in Jer. 21:4-7.
Deceive not yourselves
(Jeremiah 37:9). Satan himself, though he is the great deceiver, could not deceive us if we did not deceive ourselves. Sinners are their own destroyers, being their own deceivers, despite the fact of their being so frequently warned against it, and also having in their possession the Word of God, the great design of which is to undeceive them!F5
This expression, "Do not deceive yourselves," is a translation of a remarkable Hebrew idiom, the literal meaning of which is, "Do not cause your souls to rise (lift up)."F6
Jer. 37:10 stresses the certainty of fulfillment of God's purpose of destroying the apostate Israel, which had long ago reached a point of no return in their iniquity. The prophecy states that even if the Babylonian army itself had been practically destroyed, with only a few wounded men surviving, even to that pitiful remnant God would give the victory over Jerusalem!
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 receive his portion there, in the midst of the people. 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 laid hold on Jeremiah the prophet, saying, Thou art falling away to the Chaldeans. Then said Jeremiah, It is false; I am not falling away to the Chaldeans. But he hearkened not to him; so Irijah laid hold on Jeremiah, and brought him to the princes. And 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 went forth. to go into the land of Benjamin ..
(Jeremiah 37:12) Jeremiah's home was in Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin, only a short distance from Jerusalem; and there were many excellent reasons which might have prompted Jeremiah to make that short trip. It is impossible for men to know exactly why he attempted to do so, for God's Word does not tell us.
To receive his portion there
(Jeremiah 37:12) This is ambiguous and has been variously understood as a reference to his seeking a supply of bread, or attending to that business about buying a field, or (following the KJV) merely seeking to find a place of retirement. Able scholars have supported all of these suppositions.
In the midst of the people
(Jeremiah 37:12). Does this refer to the people in the midst of whom Jeremiah would receive his portion, or to the throng of people in the gate of Benjamin rushing out into the country during the intermission in the siege of the city in order to procure supplies to last through the siege? Again, no one can be sure of the meaning; but Dummelow's comment seems to be fully justified. There was naturally a rush to get out of the city on account of the confinement as well as the scarcity of provisions.F7
Thou art falling away to the Chaldeans
(Jeremiah 37:13). This charge of Irijah was a fabrication of his own evil mind, there being no evidence whatever to support his false allegation. The charge was vicious and nonsensical; and some have suggested that Irijah's charge was motivated by his desire for revenge against Jeremiah for predicting the death of his grandfather Hananiah (Jeremiah 28:16).F8
Irijah... brought him to the princes
(Jeremiah 37:14). And what a dishonorable reprobate gang of princes these proved to be! Without mercy, reason, or honor, they scourged and imprisoned the man of God! They were a different group altogether from those princes who, at an earlier time, had treated Jeremiah with favor upon the occasion of Jehoiachim's having the scroll read to him and then cutting it in pieces and burning it.
When Jeremiah was come into the dungeon-house, and into the cells, and Jeremiah had remained there many days; Then Zedekiah the king sent, and fetched him: and the king asked him secretly in his house, and said, Is there any word from Jehovah? And Jeremiah said, There is. He said also, Thou shalt be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon. Moreover Jeremiah said unto king Zedekiah, Wherein have I sinned against thee, or against thy servants, or against this people, that ye have put me in prison? Where now are your prophets that prophesied unto you, saying, The king of Babylon shall not come against you, nor against this land?
The dungeon-house, and the cells
(Jeremiah 37:16). The prison mentioned here was a huge cistern-like excavation beneath the house of Jonathan, with cells excavated into the side of it, having no light or ventilation. Inmates were expected to die from such treatment; and yet Jeremiah survived it many days.
The king asked him secretly in his house
(Jeremiah 37:17). Zedekiah's secrecy was due to his fear of his ministers who hated Jeremiah and who urgently desired to murder him; but the king's conscience no doubt drove him to arrange this secret interview. Also, the conceited arrogance of the whole Jewish nation continued right down to the very day the city fell and Nebuchadnezzar removed the survivors to Babylon. Despite their consummate wickedness, they still believed Jerusalem and the temple were invulnerable and that God would yet spare them. Therefore Zedekiah asked, Is there any word from Jehovah?
Wherein have I sinned against thee, etc.
(Jeremiah 37:18). It should be noted that Jeremiah here accused the king of being responsible for his imprisonment, pressing, at the same time, his plea of innocence from any wrong-doing.
Where now are your prophets that prophesied, saying, The king of Babylon shall not come against you
(Jeremiah 37:19)? What a powerful argument is this! The implication is, `Why should a truth-teller be in jail, and the tellers of lies be free'?F19 Having laid such a foundation for it, Jeremiah skillfully presented his plea for mercy.
Verses 20, 21
And now hear, I pray thee, O my lord the king: let my supplication, I pray thee, be presented 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, and they committed Jeremiah into the court of the guard; and they gave him daily a loaf of bread out of the bakers' street, until all the bread in the city was spent. Thus Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard.
Lest I die there
(Jeremiah 37:20). This was no remote possibility but a practical certainty if Jeremiah had been returned to that evil dungeon in the house of Jonathan.
The king commanded
(Jeremiah 37:21). Jeremiah had not asked to be released, recognizing the practical impossibility of it, due to the murderous hatred of Zedekiah's ministers and advisers; and to the credit of the king he honored Jeremiah's request for a less intolerable confinement.
The bakers' street
(Jeremiah 37:21). This is the only place in Scripture where the name of a street in Jerusalem appears. It was a Near Eastern custom to name streets after those who worked in them.F10 We see the same phenomenon in New York City and other large cities where industries and professions tend to proliferate on certain streets. The garment district, the floral district, and the millinery streets, and the financial district are the result.
This change for Jeremiah, placing him in the house of the guard, was fortunate indeed for mankind, because, as Payne Smith pointed out, "That was the place and the time during which Jeremiah wrote the cheerful prophecies contained in Jer. 30--33."F11 These included the magnificent prophecy of the New Covenant in Jer. 31.
Footnotes for Jeremiah 37
1: E. Henderson, The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah (London: Hamilton, Adams, and Company, 1851), p. 199.
2: Scribner's Bible Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), p. 502.
3: Charles Lee Feinberg in Ezekiel (Chicago: Moody Press), p. 610.
4: R. K. Harrison, Jeremiah in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, p. 253.
5: Matthew Henry's Commentary, p. 637.
6: J. A. Thompson, The Bible and Archeology (Grand Rapid, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972) p. 632.
7: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. p476.
8: Charles Lee Feinberg in Ezekiel (Chicago: Moody Press), p. 612.
9: Anthony L. Ash, Psalms (Abilene, Texas: A.C.U. Press, 1987), p. 360.
10: Charles Lee Feinberg in Ezekiel (Chicago: Moody Press), p. 614.
11: Scribner's Bible Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), p. 504.