The Word Made Fresh
1Shephatiah son of Mattan, Gedaliah son of Pashhur, Jucal son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur son of Malchiah heard that Jeremiah was telling the people, 2“The LORD says those who stay in the city shall die by sword, famine and pestilence, but those who go out to the Babylonians shall live. They shall have their lives as a prize of war, and they shall live. 3The LORD says this city shall be taken over by the armies of the king of Babylon.”
4Then Shephatiah and the others told the king, “This man ought to be executed. He is discouraging the troops remaining in the city and the people as well, saying such things to them. He is not talking about the welfare of the people at all, but only their harm.”
5The king said, “Take him; he’s yours. I don’t have the power to stop you.”
6Then they took Jeremiah and threw him into the well of Malchiah, the king’s son, lowering him down by ropes. There was no water in the well, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down in it.
7Ebed-Melech, an Ethiopian eunuch in the king’s palace, heard that they had cast Jeremiah into the well. He heard that the king was sitting at the Benjamin Gate, 8so he left the palace and went to speak to the king. 9“My lord the king,” he said, “these men have done a wicked thing to the prophet Jeremiah, throwing him into the open well to die there of hunger. They know that bread has become very scarce in the city.” 10The king said, “Take three men with you and pull the prophet Jeremiah up from the well before he dies.” 11Ebed-Melech took men with him and went to the king’s palace, and in a wardrobe under the house they took old rags and worn clothes and let them down with ropes to Jeremiah. 12Ebed-Melech called out, “Put the rags and clothes under your armpits to cushion the ropes.” When Jeremiah had done that, 13they pulled him up out of the well, and Jeremiah was taken to the court of the guard and remained there.
14King Zedekiah sent for Jeremiah and met him at the third entrance of the temple of the LORD. He said, “I have something to ask you. Don’t keep anything back from me.”
15Jeremiah replied, “If I answer you, won’t you have me killed? And if I give you any advice, you won’t listen to me.”
16Then Zedekiah swore a secret oath to Jeremiah. He said, “As the LORD who gave us life lives, I will not put you to death nor hand you over to those men who want you dead.”
17Then Jeremiah told king Zedekiah, “The LORD God Almighty, the God of Israel, says that if you only surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, your life will be spared and this city won’t be burned to the ground and you and your family shall live. 18But if you refuse to surrender to the Babylonians this city will fall into their hands. They will burn it to the ground, and you will not escape them.”
19King Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “I am afraid of the Judeans who have deserted to the enemy. If I am handed over tothem, they will punish me.”
20Jeremiah said, “That won’t happen. Obey the LORD’s words that I have said to you, and it will go well with you; your life will be spared. 21But if you refuse to surrender, the LORD has shown me 22a vision of all the women in the family of the king of Judah being led out to the officials of the king of Babylon, who will say to them,
‘Those friends you trusted have seduced you and forced you;
now that your feet are trapped in the mud, they are deserting you.’
23“All your wives and all your children will be taken to the Babylonians. Nor will you escape their hands. You will be seized by the king of Babylon and this city will be burned down.”
24Then Zedekiah told Jeremiah, “Don’t let anyone else know of this conversation we have had, or you will surely die. 25If the government officials here find out that I have spoken to you, they will come and ask you, ‘Tell us what you said to the king; if you withhold anything from us, we will kill you.’ 26Say this to them: ‘I pleaded with the king not to send me back to the house of Jonathan to die there.’”
27All the government officials did come to Jeremiah to question him. He told them what the king had ordered him to tell them. They didn’t push him further, for they hadn’t heard the actual conversation between Zedekiah and Jeremiah.
28Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard until the day Jerusalem was taken.
1-7: The men named in verse 1 are government functionaries. Pashhur had Jeremiah arrested once before and put in the stocks overnight (20:2). Now his son Gedaliah, whom Nebuchadnezzar later appoints as governor (see 40:5), is among those who accuse Jeremiah to the king and demand that he be punished. At this point in the siege, it is apparent that Zedekiah’s authority is tenuous at best; he admits that he is powerless to stop them. They take Jeremiah and put him in a muddy cistern that belongs to the king’s son Malchiah — I wonder what might be brewing there between these official thugs and the king’s son, given the predilection of these princes to knock off their parents in order to ascend to the throne more quickly.
8-13: A palace eunuch saves the day. His name is Ebed-Melech, which means “servant of the king.” He tells Zedekiah about Jeremiah’s plight, and the king gives him leave to take some men and pull Jeremiah out of the cistern. He is then kept in the courtyard of the palace guards.
14-23: Zedekiah has a grudging respect for Jeremiah, though, and obviously believes that he can hear the word of God. He sends for Jeremiah and asks him what God is saying. After receiving some assurances that Zedekiah won’t kill him, Jeremiah tells him that the only way out is to surrender to the Babylonians. Zedekiah is constrained by political fears, however — much like political leaders today — and balks at the suggestion. Jeremiah tells him that if he doesn’t surrender, he will seal the doom of the city.
24-28: Zedekiah instructs Jeremiah in what to say if the court officials question him. He is obviously afraid of them, and the only conclusion I can reach is that he sits on a shaky throne. The officials do question him, and Jeremiah tells them the lie the king told him to tell. Jeremiah will be under guard until the day Jerusalem falls.
We are wading through the intrigues of power-hungry officials who are trying to use Jeremiah as their pawn. Jeremiah remains faithful to God. When we are being used, abused, threatened, or condemned, it may well be that we are being honored by God who trusts us to fall into the hands of wicked people where we can be used in ways we would never have imagined, and probably never would have volunteered for! People of faith accept whatever befalls them as an opportunity to surrender themselves in service to the LORD.