Jeremiah 37


This chapter, and the next, record events in Jeremiah’s life during the final days of the siege of Jerusalem. It seems that Zedekiah had requested help from Egypt at this time. So, for a short time only, Nebuchadnezzar turned his attention away from Jerusalem and toward Egypt.

Some scholars believe that the Egyptians were defeated by the Babylonians, others believe that the Egyptians withdrew from the battle. Either way, this was a disaster for Zedekiah.

During the short period that Nebuchadnezzar’s attention was drawn to the Egyptians, the events of this chapter occurred. We have already seen in Jeremiah 34, when the temporary siege had been lifted, that the staves were freed and then taken back into slavery again because God’s people thought the war was over. This chapter is about the same time as Jeremiah 34.

‘Zedekiah son of Josiah was made king of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; he reigned in place of Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim. Neither he nor his attendants nor the people of the land paid any attention to the words the LORD had spoken through Jeremiah the prophet. King Zedekiah, however, sent Jehukal son of Shelemiah with the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah to Jeremiah the prophet with this message: ‘Please pray to the LORD our God for us.’ Now Jeremiah was free to come and go among the people, for he had not yet been put in prison. Pharaoh’s army had marched out of Egypt, and when the Babylonians who were besieging Jerusalem heard the report about them, they withdrew from Jerusalem.’ Jeremiah 37:1-5

Here we have a brief history of the past 11 years. And here again, we see how hard it is to fit chapters into their rightful places, we also note that Jehoiachin’s three months reign is left out. This is the same year that the Egyptian and Babylonian armies met in battle, and Jerusalem is having a reprieve.

The king here is Zedekiah. The term ‘king’ is unusual here because Zedekiah was nothing more than a puppet for Babylon, chosen by Nebuchadnezzar and not by God.

Zedekiah asks Jeremiah to intercede with God on behalf of the people. His intention was to get the temporary reprieve to be made permanent. The men sent to Jeremiah were not his greatest friends. Jehukal was opposed to him, and was one of the officials that said in Jeremiah 38:4, ‘This man should be put to death.’

Zephaniah had been to Jeremiah on an earlier occasion, Jeremiah 21:1-2, and didn’t receive any ear-tickling words then. The Pharaoh mentioned in verse 5 was Hophra, who reigned from 589-570 B.B. He made a rather rash decision when he decided to march northwards to assist Jerusalem, Ezekiel 17:11-21. The result of Hophra’s intervention only resulted in temporary relief for Jerusalem.

We note from verse 4 that Jeremiah had not yet been put into prison.

‘Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet: ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of me, ‘Pharaoh’s army, which has marched out to support you, will go back to its own land, to Egypt. Then the Babylonians will return and attack this city; they will capture it and burn it down.’ ‘This is what the LORD says: Do not deceive yourselves, thinking, ‘The Babylonians will surely leave us.’ They will not! Even if you were to defeat the entire Babylonian army that is attacking you and only wounded men were left in their tents, they would come out and burn this city down.’ Jeremiah 37:6-10

Zedekiah is told not to count his chickens before they are hatched. They would be deceiving themselves if they thought that the danger was over. Even this brief spell of freedom hadn’t caused them to change their lifestyles. The Babylonians were to come back with a vengeance. Verse 10 says that even if they were to come back as wounded men, the Babylonians would still be too strong for God’s people. Jerusalem is going to fall.

‘After the Babylonian army had withdrawn from Jerusalem because of Pharaoh’s army, Jeremiah started to leave the city to go to the territory of Benjamin to get his share of the property among the people there. But when he reached the Benjamin Gate, the captain of the guard, whose name was Irijah son of Shelemiah, the son of Hananiah, arrested him and said, ‘You are deserting to the Babylonians!’ ‘That’s not true!’ Jeremiah said. ‘I am not deserting to the Babylonians.’ But Irijah would not listen to him; instead, he arrested Jeremiah and brought him to the officials. They were angry with Jeremiah and had him beaten and imprisoned in the house of Jonathan the secretary, which they had made into a prison. Jeremiah was put into a vaulted cell in a dungeon, where he remained a long time. Then King Zedekiah sent for him and had him brought to the palace, where he asked him privately, ‘Is there any word from the LORD?’ ‘Yes,’ Jeremiah replied, ‘you will be delivered into the hands of the king of Babylon.’ Then Jeremiah said to King Zedekiah, ‘What crime have I committed against you or your attendants or this people, that you have put me in prison? Where are your prophets who prophesied to you, ‘The king of Babylon will not attack you or this land’? But now, my lord the king, please listen. Let me bring my petition before you: Do not send me back to the house of Jonathan the secretary, or I will die there.’ King Zedekiah then gave orders for Jeremiah to be placed in the courtyard of the guard and given a loaf of bread from the street of the bakers each day until all the bread in the city was gone. So, Jeremiah remained in the courtyard of the guard.’ Jeremiah 37:11-21

Jeremiah’s home was in Anathoth, in the territory of Benjamin, just a short distance from Jerusalem. God’s word doesn’t tell us why Jeremiah was on his way out of the city. Perhaps it was to inspect the land that he had recently bought from his cousin. But his intentions were misinterpreted, and he was arrested as a deserter, and as a pro-Babylonian traitor.

The prophet was interred in a temporary prison, in the secretary of state’s house. He was probably kept in solitary confinement. Verse 13 tells us that the captain of the guard, whose name was Irijah, accused him of deserting to the Babylonians. This was a false allegation because he had no evidence of this.

The charge was vicious, and some scholars believe that this was for revenge against Jeremiah for predicting the death of his grandfather, Hananiah in Jeremiah 28:16.

The prison mentioned in verse 16 was no more than a dungeon, a huge cistern-like excavation under the house of Jonathan. It would have had no light or ventilation. Jeremiah seemed to survive for many days, even though prisoners in such a place would be expected to die from such treatment.

The siege was now underway again, after the brief respite period, and Zedekiah had not believed Jeremiah’s first message. He requests the prophet’s help again and receives the same answer as before. Jeremiah then pleads his own case, just as a solicitor would do.

‘What is my offence’? You’ve got nothing against me. So why am I in prison? Zedekiah eased up a little bit and Jeremiah was translated to a place in the courtyard of the guard, which was a much better prison This was probably as much for his own protection as anything else because Jeremiah felt that he would die if he was to stay where he was.

But notice how weak and easily influenced Zedekiah was. He went to Jeremiah secretly, for fear that his underlings would find him out. Because he feared the opinions of his officials, he had ‘given in’ to the advice of the false prophets, even though he knew the truth.

And we will see when we come to the next chapter, Jeremiah 38, that he will ‘give in’ to an appeal made by a foreigner that Jeremiah’s life is taken. He said he would not oppose them when they wanted to throw Jeremiah into a cistern to die. What a miserable life? What a miserable, weak, leader this king was.

I like what Jeremiah says to the king in verse 19, ‘where are your prophets who prophesied to you. The king of Babylon will not attack you or this land’.

What a powerful argument this is! You are under siege, you are under attack, so, where are these prophets who told you it wouldn’t happen? You put people who told the truth into prison, and you let liars go free. Having laid the foundation, Jeremiah then skilfully presents a plea for mercy.

Go To Jeremiah 38



"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us."