Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. Jeremiah 37:1-21. Incidents in Jeremiah’s history connected with the siege
For a similar incident to the one described in Jeremiah 37:1-10 see introductory note to ch. 21.
The ch. may be summarized as follows. (i) Jeremiah 37:1-2. Explanatory introduction. (ii) Jeremiah 37:3-10. In the face of imminent danger from the Chaldaeans Zedekiah sends to ask for the prayers of Jeremiah, who was not yet imprisoned. The enemy, fearing that the Egyptian army were about to take them in the rear, had raised the siege. The prophet is directed to announce that Pharaoh’s army will return to Egypt without rendering aid and that the Chaldaeans will undoubtedly recommence the investiture of the city, capture it, and destroy it by fire. (iii) Jeremiah 37:11-15. Taking the opportunity of the investing army’s absence, Jeremiah is going out of the city on business, when he is arrested on the charge of desertion to the enemy. He denies it, but is disbelieved by the princes, who confine him in a dungeon in the house of Jonathan the scribe. (iv) Jeremiah 37:16-21. After many days’ detention the king sends for him secretly to consult him. The prophet tells Zedekiah that he shall be made prisoner by the king of Babylon. He moreover protests against his own imprisonment as unjust, points to the hostile prophets’ predictions as falsified by events, and begs to be released from the dungeon. Zedekiah accordingly transfers him to the guard-court, and orders that he be provided with food as long as the siege lasts.
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.1. And Zedekiah … reigned as king] This and Jeremiah 37:2 are apparently an editorial note to indicate to the reader that the narrative now no longer relates, as did the last two chs., to the reign of Jehoiakim. The rest of the ch. we may consider to be taken substantially from Baruch’s memoirs.
Coniah] See on Jeremiah 22:24.
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.3. And Zedekiah the king sent] This mission took place later than that related in ch. Jeremiah 21:1, which was sent when Nebuchadnezzar’s army was approaching Jerusalem. In this case on the contrary the siege had begun and had been raised, and the hopes of the people were excited in consequence.
Jehucal] In ch. Jeremiah 38:4 he (“Jucal”) proposes that Jeremiah should be put to death.
Zephaniah] See chs. Jeremiah 21:1, Jeremiah 29:25.
Now Jeremiah came in and went out among the people: for they had not put him into prison.4. came in and went out] was still coming in and going out, was still free, had not suffered arrest. That was immediately to follow.
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.5. when the Chaldeans … heard tidings of them, they brake up] We do not know whether the retreat on the part of the Egyptians which followed was due to a defeat from the Chaldaeans, or not. The former is at least suggested by Ezekiel 30:21. Pharaoh Hophra (called Apries by Herodotus) reigned b.c. 590–571. For his overthrow see ch. 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.10. wounded] mg. Heb. thrust through. Cp. Lamentations 4:9 with note.
every man in his tent] Co. suggests that these words should be connected with “wounded men,” meaning “If there be but one survivor in each tent out of its several occupants.” The LXX, however, read in his place, i.e. where he lies on the field of battle.
And it came to pass, that when the army of the Chaldeans was broken up from Jerusalem for fear of Pharaoh's army,11–15. See introd. summary to ch.
Then Jeremiah went forth out of Jerusalem to go into the land of Benjamin, to separate himself thence in the midst of the people.12. the land of Benjamin] presumably to Anathoth.
to receive his portion] The Heb. is obscure, but probably his object was in some way connected with his purchase as related ch. Jeremiah 32:9 ff. Other conjectures are, to secure his share in a re-allotment of communal lands, or, to get his portion of the produce of the priests’ lands at Anathoth.
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.13. the gate of Benjamin] in the N. wall of the city, mentioned also Jeremiah 38:7; Zechariah 14:10.
a captain of the ward] lit. a master of the watch, a sentinel, charged with the duty of taking cognisance of those who passed the gate.
Thou fallest away] The views which Jeremiah was known to hold as to the propriety of yielding to the Chaldaeans (e.g. ch. Jeremiah 21:9) would give plausibility to the charge, and of this the princes in their hostility to the policy he advocated would gladly avail themselves to put him under arrest. Evidently there had been a considerable number of such departures (Jeremiah 38:19; cp. Jeremiah 52:15); but there was no real inconsistency between Jeremiah’s counselling others to withdraw, and his conviction that it was his personal duty to remain in the doomed city.
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.15. the princes were wroth with Jeremiah] These were not the princes who had looked upon the prophet with favour in the reign of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 26:16, Jeremiah 36:19). Those were now no doubt exiles, and these their successors, as thoroughly opposed to the Chaldaean rule, and sympathising with their compatriots of Babylon, had no favour to bestow upon Jeremiah. They would remember how he had likened them to evil figs (ch. 24), and had denounced their conduct towards their slaves (ch. 34).
Jonathan] Shaphan, the scribe of seventeen years before (Jeremiah 36:10), was now probably dead or among the exiles.
When Jeremiah was entered into the dungeon, and into the cabins, and Jeremiah had remained there many days;16. dungeon house] lit. as mg. house of the pit. Cp. Jeremiah 38:6.
cells] The Heb. word is found here only and seems to denote a room with a vaulted roof.
many days] during which time the Chaldaeans resumed the siege and the danger became so pressing that Zedekiah was induced to send for the prophet, and ask him for some intimation of the future.
16–21. See introd. summary to ch.
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.17. asked him secretly] This shews us that the prophet was as unpopular as ever. It also points to Zedekiah’s moral weakness, as dreading the interference of the princes in the matter. Cp. Jeremiah 38:5; Jeremiah 38:24 ff.
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?19. Where now are your prophets which prophesied unto you] Jeremiah in this v. challenges the whole people through their king (“your … you”). For the reference to these prophets cp. Jeremiah 28:2-11.
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.20. be accepted] lit. fall. See on Jeremiah 36:7.
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.21. court of the guard] See on Jeremiah 32:2.
a loaf of bread] a flat round cake, not unlike a flat stone in shape and appearance (Matthew 7:9, cp. Jeremiah 4:3), about nine inches in diameter and an inch thick. One of these cakes was considered a charity dole (1 Samuel 2:36, R.V. “loaf”).
the bakers’ street] Hosea 7:4; Hosea 7:6 shews that baking was a trade. We here see that, like other trades in the East, the bakers occupied a definite place in the bazaar.
until all the bread in the city was spent] Cp. ch. Jeremiah 52:6.