Jeremiah 37 – The King Asks for Prayer and for A Secret Word
A. Despite the release from siege, the Babylonians will conquer Jerusalem.
1. (1-2) The new King Zedekiah fails in the same way as the previous king.
Now King Zedekiah the son of Josiah reigned instead of Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made king in the land of Judah. But neither he nor his servants nor the people of the land gave heed to the words of the LORD which He spoke by the prophet Jeremiah.
a. King Zedekiah the son of Josiah reigned instead of Coniah: The reign of Coniah (also known as Jehoiachin) was short, lasting only a few months of 598 BC His reign ended so quickly because Nebuchadnezzar came for a second time to subject Jerusalem under his control.
i. “Zedekiah was a small man on a great stage, a weakling set to face circumstances that would have taxed the strongest.” (Maclaren)
ii. In taking the throne, Zedekiah was pledged to obey Nebuchadnezzar. Nevertheless, “Because of Egyptian influence at court, which he could not resist, Zedekiah decided to break his pledge. This was the immediate cause of the final siege of Jerusalem.” (Feinberg)
b. Whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made king: When Nebuchadnezzar deposed Coniah, he then put Coniah’s uncle Zedekiah in power. Yet Zedekiah did not use his position to listen to God or His Prophet Jeremiah.
i. Specifically, Jeremiah told them that the Babylonians would completely conquer Judah and Jerusalem and resistance was futile. They would be better off surrendering to the Babylonians and submitting to God’s correction.
2. (3-5) Zedekiah asks Jeremiah to pray, and Jerusalem seems to be rescued.
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 to the LORD our God for us.” Now Jeremiah was coming and going among the people, for they had not yet put him in prison. Then Pharaoh’s army came up from Egypt; and when the Chaldeans who were besieging Jerusalem heard news of them, they departed from Jerusalem.
a. Pray now to the LORD our God for us: When Zedekiah asked this, the Babylonian army threatened Jerusalem. Things were so bad that even the king who would not listen to God asked for prayer and referred to the LORD as our God. Desperation drove him to ask for this prayer.
i. “This king would seem to have some more goodness in him than his brother and predecessor Jehoiakim; but he played the hypocrite exceedingly, as in other things, so in this, that he begged the prophet’s prayers, but would not obey his preaching.” (Trapp)
b. They had not yet put him in prison: Jeremiah’s imprisonment in this period is described in Jeremiah 32:1 and following.
c. Pharaoh’s army came up from Egypt: When the Babylonians left Jerusalem and went south to meet the Egyptian army, it seemed like a miracle and answer to prayer to King Zedekiah. The Babylonian siege was broken, and Jerusalem seemed to be rescued by the Egyptians.
i. “The pharaoh mentioned in verse 5 was Hophra (cf. Jeremiah 44:30), who reigned from 589 to 570 BC, and who rashly marched to support Zedekiah in his revolt against Babylon (Ezekiel 17:11-21). However, he retreated before actually joining battle, leaving Jerusalem to fall to the Babylonians in 587 BC.” (Harrison)
3. (6-10) The certainty that the Babylonians will conquer Jerusalem.
Then the word of the LORD came to the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Thus you shall say to the king of Judah, who sent you to Me to inquire of Me: “Behold, Pharaoh’s army which has come up to help you will return to Egypt, to their own land. And the Chaldeans shall come back and fight against this city, and take it and burn it with fire.”‘ Thus says the LORD: ‘Do not deceive yourselves, saying, “The Chaldeans will surely depart from us,” for they will not depart. For though you had defeated the whole army of the Chaldeans who fight against you, and there remained only wounded men among them, they would rise up, every man in his tent, and burn the city with fire.’”
a. Pharaoh’s army which has come up to help you will return to Egypt: Through the Prophet Jeremiah, God told Zedekiah that the Egyptians would not stand in battle against the Babylonians. Pharaoh’s army would return to Egypt before ever engaging the Babylonians. The hope of help from the Egyptians was empty.
b. The Chaldeans shall come back and fight against this city: The Egyptians would return to Egypt and the Babylonians would return to Jerusalem. They would conquer it (take it) and burn it with fire.
c. There remained only wounded men among them, they would rise up: God emphasized that there was no way the Babylonians would fail to conquer Jerusalem. Even if their army were reduced to only wounded men, even they would conquer the city and burn the city with fire.
B. Jeremiah arrest and secret message to the king.
1. (11-15) Jeremiah seized and imprisoned as a defector to the Babylonians.
And it happened, when the army of the Chaldeans left the siege of Jerusalem for fear of Pharaoh’s army, that Jeremiah went out of Jerusalem to go into the land of Benjamin to claim his property there among the people. And when he was in the Gate of Benjamin, a captain of the guard was there whose name was Irijah the son of Shelemiah, the son of Hananiah; and he seized Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “You are defecting to the Chaldeans!” Then Jeremiah said, “False! I am not defecting to the Chaldeans.” But he did not listen to him. So Irijah seized Jeremiah and brought him to the princes. Therefore the princes were angry with Jeremiah, and they struck him and put him in prison in the house of Jonathan the scribe. For they had made that the prison.
a. Jeremiah went out of Jerusalem to go into the land of Benjamin to claim his property: Jeremiah 32:6-12 describes the property that Jeremiah purchased as a testimony of God’s promise of restoration to Judah. With the siege temporarily broken, Jeremiah could see the property he bought from prison.
i. To claim his property there among the people: “The Hebrew expression is obscure and its precise force is not clear — ‘to divide from there among the people’. It may be that the whole question of the patrimony of Jeremiah’s family was under discussion because of the Babylonian invasion and a family meeting had been convened to decide about the division. Jeremiah set out to attend this meeting but was arrested.” (Thompson)
b. You are defecting to the Chaldeans: Because he said that it was futile for the people of Judah to resist the Babylonians, Jeremiah was suspected of being a sympathizer with the Babylonians and maybe even their spy. Here a captain of the guard seized the prophet with this accusation.
i. “Jeremiah had urged others to desert (Jeremiah 21:9; 38:2) and in fact a number of Judeans did defect to the enemy (Jeremiah 38:19; 52:15). Further, Jeremiah’s message of certain victory for the Babylonians was well known. Hence Irijah’s accusation was understandable if mistaken.” (Thompson)
c. They struck him and put him in prison: Jeremiah was beaten and again imprisoned. He paid a significant price for remaining faithful to God and the message God gave him to deliver.
i. “Without any proof of the alleged treachery, without any form of justice.” (Clarke)
ii. This was some fifteen years after the sympathetic princes of Judah described in Jeremiah 36:11-19. A new generation and new conditions brought forth leaders with no sympathy to Jeremiah or his message.
iii. “Temporary arrangements had been made to incarcerate Jeremiah in the house of the Secretary of State. In situations of this kind cisterns were sometimes used to imprison persons arrested, and such an experience could be extremely unpleasant (Jeremiah 38:6, 13).” (Harrison)
iv. “The home of Jonathan the secretary was made the prophet’s prison, perhaps because he was just one of many deserters and political prisoners.” (Feinberg)
v. The verses to follow (Jeremiah 37:20-21) show that the conditions of the prison in the house of Jonathan were much worse than those in the court of the prison (Jeremiah 32:1-2).
2. (16-17) Delivered from prison, Jeremiah delivers a message to King Zedekiah.
When Jeremiah entered the dungeon and the cells, and Jeremiah had remained there many days, then Zedekiah the king sent and took him out. The king asked him secretly in his house, and said, “Is there any word from the LORD?” And Jeremiah said, “There is.” Then he said, “You shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon!”
a. Jeremiah had remained there many days: This was a further price the prophet had to pay for his faithfulness. There weren’t any false prophets in that prison, because they gave a message that pleased the rulers and the people.
i. The dungeon:“Hebrew, Into a place or house of the pit or hole, where the prophet could neither walk nor handsomely lie down.” (Trapp)
ii. Many days: “Did the king hope that the ordeal of many days would have broken his spirit by the time he sent for him? Certainly Jeremiah was dreading a return to this place of slow death (Jeremiah 37:20), but his prophetic voice was unwavering.” (Kidner)
b. The king asked him secretly: Zedekiah wanted to know if there was any word from the LORD but didn’t want to ask the prophet publicly. The king did not want it known that he doubted the words of the false prophets that opposed Jeremiah and prophesied only good news.
i. “That the king asked his question secretly goes to show that it was a question of fear; fear growing out of the fact that, in spite of all this man’s weakness and wickedness, he knew the power of God.” (Morgan)
ii. One commentator pictured Zedekiah, “anxiously watching the lips of the martyr for a favorable word for himself, whispering secretly with the man whom his officials imprisoned for treason, weak, a poor creature but not evil, a king much more bound than the prisoner who stands before him.” (Duhm, cited in Thompson)
c. You shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon: This was the word of the LORD to Zedekiah. God’s message did not change whether it was delivered privately or publicly.
i. Zedekiah made the mistake of thinking there was a personal, secret word for him from God different from what had already been revealed in God’s word, even His written word from Jeremiah. The “secret” word was completely consistent with the written word.
ii. God may bring a personal word to an individual. But a secret word should not be sought. Seek God in His written word.
iii. “A prophet who had faithfully proclaimed the word of God, in the face of intense antagonism, for forty years, was not likely to crack under this kind of pressure. His message was as uncompromising as before.” (Cundall)
3. (18-21) Jeremiah appeals to King Zedekiah.
Moreover Jeremiah said to King Zedekiah, “What offense have I committed against you, against your servants, or against this people, that you have put me in prison? Where now are your prophets who prophesied to you, saying, ‘The king of Babylon will not come against you or against this land’? Therefore please hear now, O my lord the king. Please, let my petition be accepted before you, and do not make me return to the house of Jonathan the scribe, lest I die there.” Then Zedekiah the king commanded that they should commit Jeremiah to the court of the prison, and that they should give him daily a piece of bread from the bakers’ street, until all the bread in the city was gone. Thus Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.
a. What offense have I committed against you: Jeremiah appealed to Zedekiah in consideration of the failure of his favored prophets who said, “The king of Babylon will not come against you or against this land.” Their failure made it clear that the only supposed offense of Jeremiah was to faithfully tell the truth to the king and the people.
i. “If one really preaches the word of God to a post-Christian world, he must understand that he is likely to end up like Jeremiah.” (Schaeffer, cited in Ryken)
b. Do not make me return to the house of Jonathan the scribe, lest I die there: Jeremiah made an earnest appeal (please hear now…Please, let my petition be accepted) to be spared the terrible conditions of the prison in the house of Jonathan.
c. Zedekiah the king commanded that they should commit Jeremiah to the court of the prison: Zedekiah didn’t seem to like Jeremiah or his message, but he respected the prophet as a man who faithfully told the truth even when it cost him something. He granted the request for Jeremiah to be in the more humane prison and even commanded daily a piece of bread be given to the prophet.
i. Jeremiah asked that his lot, even in persecution, be made better. In a time of persecution, the persecuted one and others can and should do all they can to make their condition better, even if the persecution or imprisonment continues. There is no command to endure and embrace the worst conditions without appeal.
ii. “Why did he do so much, and not do more? He knew that Jeremiah was innocent, and that his word was God’s; and what he should have done was to have shaken off his masterful ‘servants,’ followed his conscience, and obeyed God. Why did he not? Because he was a coward, infirm of purpose.” (Maclaren)
iii. “For whatever reasons in addition to compassion (and Zedekiah’s motives will have been as mixed as most of ours), the king did not want the death of this man of God on his hands.” (Kidner)
iv. There was a small blessing for Zedekiah in his kindness to Jeremiah. “For this courtesy of his to the prophet, God granted him a natural death, and an honourable burial in Babylon.” (Trapp)