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Jeremiah 38-40; Psalm 74; Psalm 79   Listen Podcast

Left in a cistern to die (Jeremiah 38:1-13)

1 Now Shephatiah the son of Mattan, Gedaliah the son of Pashhur, Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur the son of Malchiah heard the words that Jeremiah had spoken to all the people, saying,
2 “Thus says the LORD: ‘He who remains in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but he who goes over to the Chaldeans shall live; his life shall be as a prize to him, and he shall live.’
3 Thus says the LORD: “This city shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon’s army, which shall take it.’ ”
4 ¶ Therefore the princes said to the king, “Please, let this man be put to death, for thus he weakens the hands of the men of war who remain in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man does not seek the welfare of this people, but their harm.”
5 ¶ Then Zedekiah the king said, “Look, he is in your hand. For the king can do nothing against you.”
6 So they took Jeremiah and cast him into the dungeon of Malchiah the king’s son, which was in the court of the prison, and they let Jeremiah down with ropes. And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire. So Jeremiah sank in the mire.
7 ¶ Now Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, one of the eunuchs, who was in the king’s house, heard that they had put Jeremiah in the dungeon. When the king was sitting at the Gate of Benjamin,
8 Ebed-melech went out of the king’s house and spoke to the king, saying:
9 “My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they have done to Jeremiah the prophet, whom they have cast into the dungeon, and he is likely to die from hunger in the place where he is. For there is no more bread in the city.”
10 Then the king commanded Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, saying, “Take from here thirty men with you, and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the dungeon before he dies.”
11 So Ebed-melech took the men with him and went into the house of the king under the treasury, and took from there old clothes and old rags, and let them down by ropes into the dungeon to Jeremiah.
12 Then Ebed-melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, “Please put these old clothes and rags under your armpits, under the ropes.” And Jeremiah did so.
13 So they pulled Jeremiah up with ropes and lifted him out of the dungeon. And Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.

Jerusalem was ruled by Zedekiah, the last king of Judah (II Kings 24:17-20, see notes). The king's leadership team was so steamed at Jeremiah's surrender-while-you-still-can prophecies that they just wanted him dead. Apparently they felt his message was interfering with morale and thus jeopardizing their defense of the city, Jerusalem. Jeremiah's audience consisted of the soldiers who were defending the city since he was imprisoned in the court of the guards back in Jeremiah 37 (see notes). They went to the king and sought permission to kill Jeremiah; Zedekiah took a Pilate-like approach to the situation and told them, basically, "I can't stop you!" Rather than just kill him, they tried to be too creative by lowering him down into a pit - a cistern without water, but it was full of mud. Jeremiah sank down into the mud, which is where we get the old saying, "Stuck in the mud." Okay, okay, maybe that's not where that saying came from, but he was.

When one of the king's servants (Ebedmelech, an Ethiopian) asked permission to rescue Jeremiah, the king consented and provided the resources to do so (what a confused king). Jeremiah was rescued and placed back under the very same court of the guards where he had been doing all of the negative prophesying. It was a grueling work day for this prophet - to near death and back.

Incidentally, you will notice the reference to the lack of food in Jerusalem in verse 9. After many months of being surrounded by the Babylonian army, food supplies had become scarce. Capturing a walled city like Jerusalem was not difficult...given enough time - just starve them out!

Zedekiah seeks a more favorable prophecy (Jeremiah 38:14-28)

14 ¶ Then Zedekiah the king sent and had Jeremiah the prophet brought to him at the third entrance of the house of the LORD. And the king said to Jeremiah, “I will ask you something. Hide nothing from me.”
15 ¶ Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “If I declare it to you, will you not surely put me to death? And if I give you advice, you will not listen to me.”
16 ¶ So Zedekiah the king swore secretly to Jeremiah, saying, “As the LORD lives, who made our very souls, I will not put you to death, nor will I give you into the hand of these men who seek your life.”
17 ¶ Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “Thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘If you surely surrender to the king of Babylon’s princes, then your soul shall live; this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live.
18 But if you do not surrender to the king of Babylon’s princes, then this city shall be given into the hand of the Chaldeans; they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hand.’ ”
19 ¶ And Zedekiah the king said to Jeremiah, “I am afraid of the Jews who have defected to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hand, and they abuse me.”
20 ¶ But Jeremiah said, “They shall not deliver you. Please, obey the voice of the LORD which I speak to you. So it shall be well with you, and your soul shall live.
21 But if you refuse to surrender, this is the word that the LORD has shown me:
22 “Now behold, all the women who are left in the king of Judah’s house shall be surrendered to the king of Babylon’s princes, and those women shall say:
‘Your close friends have set upon you
And prevailed against you;
Your feet have sunk in the mire,
And they have turned away again.”
23 ¶ “So they shall surrender all your wives and children to the Chaldeans. You shall not escape from their hand, but shall be taken by the hand of the king of Babylon. And you shall cause this city to be burned with fire.’ ”
24 ¶ Then Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “Let no one know of these words, and you shall not die.
25 But if the princes hear that I have talked with you, and they come to you and say to you, “Declare to us now what you have said to the king, and also what the king said to you; do not hide it from us, and we will not put you to death,’
26 then you shall say to them, “I presented my request before the king, that he would not make me return to Jonathan’s house to die there.’ ”
27 ¶ Then all the princes came to Jeremiah and asked him. And he told them according to all these words that the king had commanded. So they stopped speaking with him, for the conversation had not been heard.
28 Now Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison until the day that Jerusalem was taken. And he was there when Jerusalem was taken.

I guess Zedekiah (the last King of Judah) figures this mud bath should have served to recondition Jeremiah's prophetic thinking. He arranges a meeting with Jeremiah to get a second opinion. However, the prophecy didn't change from previously. He tells Zedekiah that if he goes ahead and surrenders to Nebuchadnezzar, he and his house will be spared, but if he resists, it'll be big trouble for Zedekiah. The meeting concludes, but some people had seen Jeremiah talking with the king. Inquiring minds wanted to know what they talked about. I find the cover story in verses 24-28 rather amusing. Any way you look at it, Zedekiah commands Jeremiah to lie about the content of their conversation...and Jeremiah does just as he is commanded.

Jerusalem falls (Jeremiah 39:1-10)

1 In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army came against Jerusalem, and besieged it.
2 In the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, on the ninth day of the month, the city was penetrated.
3 ¶ Then all the princes of the king of Babylon came in and sat in the Middle Gate: Nergal-sharezer, Samgar-nebo, Sarsechim, Rabsaris, Nergal-sarezer, Rabmag, with the rest of the princes of the king of Babylon.
4 ¶ So it was, when Zedekiah the king of Judah and all the men of war saw them, that they fled and went out of the city by night, by way of the king’s garden, by the gate between the two walls. And he went out by way of the plain.
5 But the Chaldean army pursued them and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho. And when they had captured him, they brought him up to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, to Riblah in the land of Hamath, where he pronounced judgment on him.
6 Then the king of Babylon killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes in Riblah; the king of Babylon also killed all the nobles of Judah.
7 Moreover he put out Zedekiah’s eyes, and bound him with bronze fetters to carry him off to Babylon.
8 And the Chaldeans burned the king’s house and the houses of the people with fire, and broke down the walls of Jerusalem.
9 Then Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive to Babylon the remnant of the people who remained in the city and those who defected to him, with the rest of the people who remained.
10 But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left in the land of Judah the poor people, who had nothing, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time.

Here's the big day in 586 B.C. we've been anticipating - the fall of Jerusalem. It took the Babylonians about 18 months to actually break through, but they finally did so (verses 1-2). Zedekiah and his officials fled through Jericho, but the Babylonians captured them. It was a long trip from Jericho to "Riblah in the land of Hamath" (located up in modern-day Syria well over 100 miles from Jericho) where Nebuchadnezzar had established his headquarters. Gruesome punishment for Zedekiah - he should have listened to Jeremiah. So the last thing that Zedekiah sees before having his eyes gouged out was the slaying of his family. Then blind Zedekiah was taken to Babylon just as Jeremiah had prophesied. The Babylonians then took the more influential inhabitants of Jerusalem into Babylon and gave the poor inhabitants of Judah their abandoned property. It was a good day in Jerusalem for the poor, who had just won the equivalent of the lottery.

Jeremiah is freed (Jeremiah 39:11-18)

11 ¶ Now Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon gave charge concerning Jeremiah to Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, saying,
12 “Take him and look after him, and do him no harm; but do to him just as he says to you.”
13 So Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard sent Nebushasban, Rabsaris, Nergal-sharezer, Rabmag, and all the king of Babylon’s chief officers;
14 then they sent someone to take Jeremiah from the court of the prison, and committed him to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, that he should take him home. So he dwelt among the people.
15 ¶ Meanwhile the word of the LORD had come to Jeremiah while he was shut up in the court of the prison, saying,
16 “Go and speak to Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I will bring My words upon this city for adversity and not for good, and they shall be performed in that day before you.
17 But I will deliver you in that day,” says the LORD, “and you shall not be given into the hand of the men of whom you are afraid.
18 For I will surely deliver you, and you shall not fall by the sword; but your life shall be as a prize to you, because you have put your trust in Me,” says the LORD.’ ”

Now that Zedekiah has left the building, Nebuchadnezzar authorizes Jeremiah's freedom and care. The Babylonians had no axe to grind with Jeremiah; he had tried to facilitate a peaceful end to Jerusalem. Then we have an addendum to this chapter regarding King Zedekiah's servant. Jeremiah prophesies concerning the king's servant, Ebedmelech, who had freed Jeremiah from the pit/cistern. Jeremiah had received this prophecy while he was still in prison, but we see it for the first time here. Jeremiah had assured Ebedmelech that his life would be spared when the Babylonians would come knocking at the doors of Jerusalem.

Incidentally, Jeremiah is entrusted to the care of Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam. This is not the same man who had sought Jeremiah's death in chapter 38 (see above). This Gedaliah (a Jew) became the governor of Jerusalem after its fall, appointed by Nebuchadnezzar himself.

Jeremiah stays in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 40)

1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD after Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had let him go from Ramah, when he had taken him bound in chains among all who were carried away captive from Jerusalem and Judah, who were carried away captive to Babylon.
2 ¶ And the captain of the guard took Jeremiah and said to him: “The LORD your God has pronounced this doom on this place.
3 Now the LORD has brought it, and has done just as He said. Because you people have sinned against the LORD, and not obeyed His voice, therefore this thing has come upon you.
4 And now look, I free you this day from the chains that were on your hand. If it seems good to you to come with me to Babylon, come, and I will look after you. But if it seems wrong for you to come with me to Babylon, remain here. See, all the land is before you; wherever it seems good and convenient for you to go, go there.”
5 ¶ Now while Jeremiah had not yet gone back, Nebuzaradan said, “Go back to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon has made governor over the cities of Judah, and dwell with him among the people. Or go wherever it seems convenient for you to go.” So the captain of the guard gave him rations and a gift and let him go.
6 Then Jeremiah went to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, to Mizpah, and dwelt with him among the people who were left in the land.
7 ¶ And when all the captains of the armies who were in the fields, they and their men, heard that the king of Babylon had made Gedaliah the son of Ahikam governor in the land, and had committed to him men, women, children, and the poorest of the land who had not been carried away captive to Babylon,
8 then they came to Gedaliah at Mizpah—Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, Johanan and Jonathan the sons of Kareah, Seraiah the son of Tanhumeth, the sons of Ephai the Netophathite, and Jezaniah the son of a Maachathite, they and their men.
9 And Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, took an oath before them and their men, saying, “Do not be afraid to serve the Chaldeans. Dwell in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you.
10 As for me, I will indeed dwell at Mizpah and serve the Chaldeans who come to us. But you, gather wine and summer fruit and oil, put them in your vessels, and dwell in your cities that you have taken.”
11 Likewise, when all the Jews who were in Moab, among the Ammonites, in Edom, and who were in all the countries, heard that the king of Babylon had left a remnant of Judah, and that he had set over them Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan,
12 then all the Jews returned out of all places where they had been driven, and came to the land of Judah, to Gedaliah at Mizpah, and gathered wine and summer fruit in abundance.
13 ¶ Moreover Johanan the son of Kareah and all the captains of the forces that were in the fields came to Gedaliah at Mizpah,
14 and said to him, “Do you certainly know that Baalis the king of the Ammonites has sent Ishmael the son of Nethaniah to murder you?” But Gedaliah the son of Ahikam did not believe them.
15 ¶ Then Johanan the son of Kareah spoke secretly to Gedaliah in Mizpah, saying, “Let me go, please, and I will kill Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and no one will know it. Why should he murder you, so that all the Jews who are gathered to you would be scattered, and the remnant in Judah perish?”
16 ¶ But Gedaliah the son of Ahikam said to Johanan the son of Kareah, “You shall not do this thing, for you speak falsely concerning Ishmael.”

The Babylonians spring Jeremiah from jail and give him a choice of going with his people to Babylon or staying in Jerusalem under the care of the Nebuchadnezzar-appointed Jewish governor of Judah, Gedaliah. Hey! Wasn't Gedaliah one of those "princes" of Jeremiah 38:1-4 (see above) who was responsible for Jeremiah being placed in that pit/cistern to die? This is Gedaliah, son of Ahikam, NOT Gedaliah, son of Pashhur; the latter was cruel to Jeremiah. Jeremiah chooses to stay in Judah under the care of Governor Gedaliah. The captain of the guard gives Jeremiah some food and a reward. Then Gedaliah extends an invitation for those men who had dispersed leading up to the fall of Jerusalem to come home. However, there are some very bitter fighting men outside Jerusalem who are still a little upset over what has taken place. A plot is uncovered by Johanan, the son of Kareah, to assassinate Gedaliah, headed up by Ishmael the son of Nethaniah; a preemptive strike is proposed. However, Gedaliah does not believe that there is a conspiracy for his demise and forbids any action on his behalf. We'll see in Jeremiah 41 (see notes) that this turns out to be a mistake.

A prayer to God upon the destruction of the temple (Psalm 74)

A Contemplation of Asaph.
1 ¶ O God, why have You cast us off forever?
Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture?
2 Remember Your congregation, which You have purchased of old,
The tribe of Your inheritance, which You have redeemed—
This Mount Zion where You have dwelt.
3 Lift up Your feet to the perpetual desolations.
The enemy has damaged everything in the sanctuary.
4 Your enemies roar in the midst of Your meeting place;
They set up their banners for signs.
5 They seem like men who lift up
Axes among the thick trees.
6 And now they break down its carved work, all at once,
With axes and hammers.
7 They have set fire to Your sanctuary;
They have defiled the dwelling place of Your name to the ground.
8 They said in their hearts,
“Let us destroy them altogether.”
They have burned up all the meeting places of God in the land.
9 We do not see our signs;
There is no longer any prophet;
Nor is there any among us who knows how long.
10 O God, how long will the adversary reproach?
Will the enemy blaspheme Your name forever?
11 Why do You withdraw Your hand, even Your right hand?
Take it out of Your bosom and destroy them.
12 For God is my King from of old,
Working salvation in the midst of the earth.
13 You divided the sea by Your strength;
You broke the heads of the sea serpents in the waters.
14 You broke the heads of Leviathan in pieces,
And gave him as food to the people inhabiting the wilderness.
15 You broke open the fountain and the flood;
You dried up mighty rivers.
16 The day is Yours, the night also is Yours;
You have prepared the light and the sun.
17 You have set all the borders of the earth;
You have made summer and winter.
18 Remember this, that the enemy has reproached, O LORD,
And that a foolish people has blasphemed Your name.
19 Oh, do not deliver the life of Your turtledove to the wild beast!
Do not forget the life of Your poor forever.
20 Have respect to the covenant;
For the dark places of the earth are full of the haunts of cruelty.
21 Oh, do not let the oppressed return ashamed!
Let the poor and needy praise Your name.
22 Arise, O God, plead Your own cause;
Remember how the foolish man reproaches You daily.
23 Do not forget the voice of Your enemies;
The tumult of those who rise up against You increases continually.

David's music man was Asaph, but this was written around the time of the fall of Jerusalem centuries later. This is obviously a different Asaph, perhaps a descendant. For more information, see the notes below on Psalm 79.

The destruction of Jerusalem (Psalm 79)

A Psalm of Asaph.
1 ¶ O God, the nations have come into Your inheritance;
Your holy temple they have defiled;
They have laid Jerusalem in heaps.
2 The dead bodies of Your servants
They have given as food for the birds of the heavens,
The flesh of Your saints to the beasts of the earth.
3 Their blood they have shed like water all around Jerusalem,
And there was no one to bury them.
4 We have become a reproach to our neighbors,
A scorn and derision to those who are around us.
5 How long, LORD?
Will You be angry forever?
Will Your jealousy burn like fire?
6 Pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not know You,
And on the kingdoms that do not call on Your name.
7 For they have devoured Jacob,
And laid waste his dwelling place.
8 Oh, do not remember former iniquities against us!
Let Your tender mercies come speedily to meet us,
For we have been brought very low.
9 Help us, O God of our salvation,
For the glory of Your name;
And deliver us, and provide atonement for our sins,
For Your name’s sake!
10 Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Let there be known among the nations in our sight
The avenging of the blood of Your servants which has been shed.
11 Let the groaning of the prisoner come before You;
According to the greatness of Your power
Preserve those who are appointed to die;
12 And return to our neighbors sevenfold into their bosom
Their reproach with which they have reproached You, O Lord.
13 So we, Your people and sheep of Your pasture,
Will give You thanks forever;
We will show forth Your praise to all generations.

The most devastating event of their lives had taken place, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Asaph is credited with this Psalm as well - undoubtedly written after the fall of Jerusalem.

Here's a note from Adam Clarke's commentary which expresses the common view regarding the setting of this Psalm based upon the superscription bearing Asaph's name:

The title, A Psalm of Asaph , must be understood as either applying to a person of the name of Asaph who lived under the captivity; or else to the family of Asaph ; or to a band of singers still bearing the name of that Asaph who flourished in the days of David ; for most undoubtedly the Psalm was composed during the Babylonian captivity, when the city of Jerusalem lay in heaps, the temple was defiled, and the people were in a state of captivity. David could not be its author. Some think it was composed by Jeremiah ; and it is certain that the sixth and seventh verses are exactly the same with Jeremiah 10:25 : "Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know thee not, and upon the families that call not on thy name: for they have eaten up Jacob, and devoured him, and consumed him; and have made his habitation desolate."

The setting is clear from verse 1, "O God, the nations have come into Your inheritance; Your holy temple they have defiled; They have laid Jerusalem in heaps." In verse 8 he calls upon God to recognize that the they are now changed people (it's about time) when he says, "Oh, do not remember former iniquities against us!" He asks for a little revenge against their enemy (the Babylonians) when he says in verse 12, "And return to our neighbors sevenfold into their bosom Their reproach with which they have reproached You, O Lord." And finally, a little thankfulness is seen in verse 13, "So we, Your people and sheep of Your pasture, Will give You thanks forever; We will show forth Your praise to all generations."