Jeremiah 38:1-28 (45:1-28, LXX)

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“Shephatiah the son of Mattan,” “Gedaliah the son of Pashhur,” “Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur the son of Malchiah [Malchijah]” (“Saphatias the son of Mathan,” “Godolias the son of Paschor, and Joachal the son of Selemias” [LXX]) “heard the words that Jeremiah was speaking to all the people.” Aside from this reference to Shephatiah and Gedaliah in chapter 38 of Jeremiah, nothing else is known about these men. “Jucal” is the abbreviated form of the name “Jehucal.” On an earlier occasion, Zedekiah sent Jucal or Jehucal, a prince or royal official, and “Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah the priest” to ask Jeremiah to pray for the people of the kingdom of Judah. (37:3) At the time Nebuchadnezzar was warring against the kingdom of Judah, Passhur the son of Malchiah (Malchijah) was sent along with Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah to Jeremiah to have him inquire of YHWH whether he would act in a wondrous way to cause the Babylonian monarch to withdraw. (21:1, 2) This Passhur appears to be the same as the one mentioned in 1 Chronicles 9:12 and Nehemiah 11:12, indicating that he was both a prince or royal official and a priest. He may have been the priest from whom the priestly “sons of Passhur” (Ezra 2:36-38) descended and who are mentioned as returning from Babylonian exile. (38:1 [45:1, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

The message from YHWH that Jeremiah proclaimed revealed that all who remained inside Jerusalem would be putting their lives in jeopardy. They could become victims of the “sword” of warfare, perish from “famine” when the food supply would run out on account of the siege, or die from pestilence or infectious disease that would spread among the famished inhabitants who would have to live in the unsanitary conditions of besieged Jerusalem. The individual who would not remain in the city but would go out to the Chaldeans would live. He would have his “soul” or life as booty (or like spoils of war [“for gain” (LXX]). (38:2 [45:2, LXX]) Jerusalem would be “given into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon,” and he would capture it. (38:3 [45:3, LXX])

The princes objected strongly to the message Jeremiah proclaimed. They requested that Zedekiah put him to death because his words were “weakening the hands of,” or demoralizing, the warriors who remained inside Jerusalem and weakening the “hands of all the people” in the city. The princes claimed that Jeremiah was not seeking the “peace” or welfare of the people but their injury or a calamitous end for them. (38:4 [45:4, LXX])

King Zedekiah weakly yielded to the princes, saying to them regarding Jeremiah, “Look, he is in your hand [or power], for the king can do nothing against you.” His words indicated that he was powerless to stop their intention regarding the prophet and that he left it up to the princes to carry out their judgment against him. (38:5 [45:5, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

The princes “took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchiah [Malchijah] the son of the king. Considering that he was about 32 years of age at the time Jerusalem fell (2 Kings 24:18), Zedekiah would have been too young to have had an adult son. Therefore, “son of the king” could designate a member of the royal family (perhaps a son of Zedekiah’s brother Jehoiakim or of his father Josiah). Another possibility is that “son” here means “servant,” a man in the service of the king. The “cistern of Malchiah” was located in the “court of the guard.” To get Jeremiah to the bottom of the cistern, the princes (or servants at their command) let him down by ropes, probably doing so roughly. As there was no water in the cistern but only mire at the bottom, Jeremiah “sank into the mire.” Although the princes did not directly execute Jeremiah, they apparently had determined to let him die in the cistern without any provision for food and water. (38:6 [45:6, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

“Ebed-melech the Cushite [Ethiopian (LXX)],” a eunuch or court official who was then “in the house [or palace complex] of the king” heard that the princes had cast Jeremiah into the cistern. He recognized this as a grave injustice and courageously and publicly approached King Zedekiah, who was seated “in the Gate of Benjamin” or in the open area near that gate in the northern part of Jerusalem. This gate may well have been a major point of attack for the besieging Babylonian warriors on the other side of the city wall. (38:7 [45:7, LXX]) Ebed-melech left the “house of the king” to speak out for Jeremiah to Zedekiah, saying to him (38:8 [45:8, LXX]), “My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they did to Jeremiah by casting him into the cistern, and he will die there of famine [or hunger], for no bread is left in the city.” (38:9; 45:9, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

King Zedekiah responded favorably to Ebed-melech’s appeal for justice in the case of Jeremiah, ordering him to take with him (literally, “in [his] hand,” or under his authority) 30 men and to pull “Jeremiah the prophet out of the cistern before he dies [that he may not die (LXX)].” It would not have taken 30 men to pull Jeremiah out of the cistern, but the presence of so many men would have deterred any attempts to prevent the rescue. The directive to have 30 men accompany Ebed-melech suggests that Zedekiah wanted the rescue to succeed. (38:10 [45:10, LXX])

The men who lowered Jeremiah into the cistern would not have had any concern about injuring him. Ebed-melech, however, compassionately did what he could to minimize any discomfort for him when effecting the rescue. After getting 30 men and taking them with him (literally, “in [his] hand”), he entered the “house” or palace of the king and went to a lower storeroom (literally, “to under the treasury” [or storehouse]) where old rags and worn-out clothes were kept. Ebed-melech then took enough old rags and worn-out clothing for use in cushioning the effect of pulling Jeremiah out of the cistern. By means of ropes, the items were lowered to Jeremiah in the cistern. (38:11 [45:11, LXX]) “Ebed-melech the Cushite” (Ethiopian) told Jeremiah to place the rags and the old clothes between his armpits and the ropes [under the ropes (LXX)], and he did so. (38:12 [45:12, LXX]) The men with Ebed-melech who shared in the effort to rescue Jeremiah pulled him out of the cistern with these ropes. Thereafter Jeremiah remained in the “court of the guard.” (38:13 [45:13, LXX])

After “Jeremiah the prophet” had been rescued from certain death, King Zedekiah sent for him to come to him at the “third entrance of the house [or temple] of YHWH [the house of Aselisi that (is) in the house of the Lord (LXX)].” The “third entrance” probably led into the court of the temple from the south, for the palace complex lay south of the temple. Likely Zedekiah chose this location because it was suitable for a private conversation with Jeremiah. The king told him that he wanted to ask him about something and did not want him to conceal a “word” from him. (38:14 [45:14, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

Jeremiah’s prior interactions with Zedekiah gave him little hope that he would be responsive to a message from YHWH. Therefore, he said to the king, “If I tell you, will you not surely put me to death [literally, put me to death with death]? And if I give you counsel, you will not listen to me.” (38:15 [45:15, LXX])

King Zedekiah secretly swore to Jeremiah, saying, “As YHWH lives, who made this soul for us [or who gave us our life], I will not put you to death, and I will not deliver you into the hand of these men who seek your soul” or life (apparently the princes who wanted him to be killed). (38:16 [45:16, LXX])

Jeremiah revealed to Zedekiah the message from “YHWH the God of hosts [the God with hosts of angels in his service], the God of Israel,” “If you will go out [or surrender] to the princes of the king of Babylon, then your soul [or life] will be spared, and this city will not be burned with fire, and you and your house [or household] will live.” At the time, King Nebuchadnezzar was at Riblah (52:26) and, therefore, Zedekiah was told to surrender to his princes. (38:17 [45:17, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

Jeremiah said to Zedekiah that, if he did not surrender “to the princes of the king of Babylon,” Jerusalem would be given “into the hand of the Chaldeans” and be burned and that he would “not escape from their hand.” (38:18 [45:18, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

King Zedekiah expressed his fear that the Chaldeans would hand him over to the Judeans who had deserted to them, and that these Judeans would then abuse him, mocking him and subjecting him to other indignities. (38:19 [45:19, LXX]) Jeremiah assured Zedekiah that the Chaldeans would not hand him over to the Judeans and urged him to heed the “voice of YHWH” or the words of YHWH that he had made known to him. If Zedekiah did so, it would go well with him and his “soul” or life would be spared. (38:20 [45:20, LXX])

Jeremiah next related the vision that YHWH had shown him about what would happen if Zedekiah refused to “go out” to the Chaldeans. (38:21 [45:21, LXX]) In the vision, the women are portrayed as being led out as captives to the princes of King Nebuchadnezzar and then as speaking somewhat mockingly about the fate of Zedekiah. “The men of your peace [or your trusted men] have deceived you and overcome you. Your feet are sunk in the mire. They [the trusted men] turn [their] back [on you].” These women probably were the women who had not gone into exile when King Jehoiachin and other members of the royal household were taken as captives to Babylon. As was the ancient practice, such women would have remained in the palace complex in the role of concubines to the new king, Zedekiah. They would not have had the same loyalty toward him as did his wives who are mentioned later. (38:23) The men whom Zedekiah trusted or who were the “men of [his] peace,” assuring his peace or security, were likely his warriors or guards. They would deceive him when abandoning him and, by not protecting him, would let him be overcome. Zedekiah’s helpless state would be comparable to having his feet sink in the mire as did the feet of Jeremiah when he was lowered into the cistern. His time of great need and helplessness came when he fled from Jerusalem. His trusted men did then desert him and scatter. According to Josephus (Antiquities, X, viii, 2), “friends and captains” fled with Zedekiah out of Jerusalem. “When they saw their enemies near them, they left him and dispersed themselves, some one way and some another, and every one resolved to save himself; so the enemy took Zedekiah alive, when he was deserted by all but a few, with his children and his wives.” (38:22 [45:22, LXX]; see 2 Kings 25:5.)

Jeremiah continued to tell Zedekiah what would befall him and his household. “All your wives and your sons will be led out to the Chaldeans, and you yourself will not escape from their hand.” He would be “seized by the hand of the king of Babylon,” coming into his power, and Jerusalem would be “burned with fire.” (38:23 [45:23, LXX]) Zedekiah told Jeremiah that, provided he did not let anyone know the words he had spoken to him, he would not die. (38:24 [45:24, LXX])

Zedekiah apparently was aware of the probability that the princes (rulers [LXX]) would hear that he had talked with Jeremiah and what they would say to the prophet. The princes would request that Jeremiah tell them everything he had said to the king, adding, “Hide nothing from us, and we will not put you to death.” Also tell us “what the king said to you.” (38:25 [45:25, LXX]) Zedekiah instructed Jeremiah to answer, “I presented my supplication before the king [literally, before the face of the king], that he would not send me back to the house of Jonathan to die there.” (38:26 [45:26, LXX])

“All the princes” did come to Jeremiah and questioned him. He responded according to all the words that King Zedekiah had commanded him. The princes did not continue to speak to Jeremiah, for the matter relating to his private conversation was not heard. According to the Septuagint, “they were silent, for the word of the Lord was not heard.” (38:27 [45:27, LXX]) Jeremiah remained in the “court of the guard” until Jerusalem was captured. (38:28 [45:28, LXX])


In verse 1 of chapter 45, the Septuagint does not include “Passhur the son of Malchiah.”

In his Antiquities (X, vii, 5), Josephus commented about Zedekiah and what happened to Jeremiah. (Verses 5 and 6) “He [Zedekiah] was not at all irritated against Jeremiah, such was his gentle and righteous disposition; yet, that he might not be engaged in a quarrel with those rulers at such a time, by opposing what they intended, he let them do with the prophet whatsoever they would: whereupon, when the king had granted them such a permission, they presently came into the prison and took him, and let him down with a cord into a pit full of mire, that he might be suffocated, and die of himself. So he stood up to the neck in the mire, which was all about him, and so continued.”

According to the Septuagint rendering of verse 9 of chapter 45, Ebed-melech placed the responsibility for what had happened to Jeremiah on King Zedekiah. “You have acted wickedly in what you have done to kill this man by hunger [literally, from the face of famine], for there are no longer bread loaves in the city.”

In verse 14 of chapter 45, the designation “Aselisi” in the Septuagint appears to be a transliteration of the Hebrew word for “third.”

In verse 17 of chapter 45, the Septuagint has a shorter introduction than does the Hebrew text to the words attributed to God (“thus said the Lord”).

In verse 18 of chapter 45, the Septuagint concludes with the words, “and you will by no means be saved.” The rendering “by no means” preserves the emphatic sense of the two Greek words for “not.”