Ebed-melech went forth out of the king’s house, and spake to the king, saying, 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 like to die for hunger in the place where he is: for there is no more bread in the city. — Jeremiah 38:8-9
Occasionally, God gives people an opportunity to take heroic action. Harriet Tubman was one of those. Born a slave in 1820, she was assigned to do housework when she was five years old, and then later worked in the fields. At fifteen, she was injured by a heavy weight hitting her head as she blocked an overseer who was aiming for another slave. In 1849, she escaped from Maryland to Philadelphia, thereby gaining freedom. Before long, however, Harriet went back to help some of her family members escape. At great risk to herself, she became a “conductor” on the “underground railroad,” making eighteen or nineteen more trips back to help guide slaves to freedom. This was accomplished by using secret routes and staying in “safe houses” — the homes of abolitionists. When the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, Harriet Tubman again lost her official freedom, and therefore had to operate more secretly. At one time, a reward of forty thousand dollars was offered for her capture, but no one betrayed her. She is credited with guiding more than two hundred slaves to freedom. The courageous woman was willing to repeatedly risk her life to use her opportunities to the greatest advantage.
Today’s text tells of a man who also took great personal risk for the sake of another person’s life. When Ebed-melech found out that Jeremiah had been put in the cistern and would die there, he was willing to seek out King Zedekiah and plead Jeremiah’s cause. Ebed-melech knew the hatred the court officials had for Jeremiah, so he was aware of the ramifications his actions might cause. Still, he had the courage to speak out, and then to go and rescue the prophet.
How about us? We probably have never helped lead a slave to freedom or rescued a prophet from a cistern. However, we are all called to be loyal to God and to stand for His Word and principles. At times this may involve some personal risk. Are we willing to be like Harriet Tubman and Ebed-melech and have the courage to follow our convictions? God has promised to be with us and give His grace if we will purpose in our hearts to fully follow Him. He can help us be strong in His cause.
These two chapters detail events that transpired not long before Jerusalem fell. Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, was defiant, disobedient, wicked, and a coward. He was torn between Jeremiah’s prophetic warnings, and pressure from the people and his court officials. Because of these political influences, at times the very life of Jeremiah was in danger.
In chapter 37 verse 3, King Zedekiah sent Jehucal and Zephaniah to Jeremiah, asking prayer for himself and the nation. Judah had been subject to Babylon, but then the Egyptian army under Pharaoh-hophra made advances northward. Upon hearing this news, the Chaldeans withdrew from Jerusalem (verse 5), which lured the people of Judah into a false sense of security. Jeremiah’s response to King Zedekiah remained the same. The message was that even if all the Chaldean army was wounded, Jerusalem would still be destroyed (verse 10).
Jeremiah endeavored to leave Jerusalem while the Chaldeans were temporarily gone (verse 12), but was arrested by a guard who accused him of deserting and took him to the princes. These officials detested Jeremiah, so they beat and then imprisoned him. The words dungeon and cabins could be translated “the dungeon cells.” Jeremiah was in this despicable and unsanitary prison “for many days,” which began to take a toll on his health.
Once again, King Zedekiah approached Jeremiah to see if he had any word from God concerning Judah (verse 17). It seems the king was hopeful that God had changed His mind, but the message remained the same. Zedekiah must have felt some sympathy for Jeremiah, because he had him placed into the court of the prison. In this area, Jeremiah could move about, and his friends could come to see him. Also, the king directed that he be given some food.
In the court of the prison, Jeremiah was able to continue giving his warnings. Some of the officials heard about this (chapter 38), and they requested permission from the king to put the prophet to death, accusing him of trying to weaken the people. King Zedekiah gave Jeremiah into the hands of the princes, and they put him into a cistern. Used to collect water when it rained, this cistern had only mud in the bottom. Verse 6 says, “Jeremiah sunk in the mire”; the historian Josephus says he sank up to his neck. The princes expected him to die there.
Ebed-melech, a eunuch on the king’s staff, found out about Jeremiah’s situation. He went to Zedekiah at the gate of Benjamin. After receiving permission from the king, Ebed-melech took a group and rescued the prophet from the dungeon, using rags to cushion his arms while he was pulled from the mire’s suction. He was returned to the court of the prison.
King Zedekiah again approached Jeremiah for counseling (verse 14). Jeremiah responded only after the king swore to protect him. In what was probably his last meeting with this king, Jeremiah’s message remained consistent. Zedekiah was told to surrender to the Chaldeans and survive, or disobey God and face dire consequences. Zedekiah expressed his fear of the Jews, but Jeremiah told him emphatically that it would be far better to surrender. The king wanted this interview to remain secret, and Jeremiah cooperated with his request.
Jeremiah lived in the court of the prison until the city of Jerusalem was taken.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
II. The pronouncement of judgment against Judah
D. The circumstances of the prophet
2. Jeremiah’s experiences during Jerusalem’s fall
a. The first interview with Zedekiah (37:1-10)
(1) The request for prayer (37:1-3)
(2) The advance of Egypt (37:4-5)
(3) The surety of Jerusalem’s defeat (37:6-10)
b. The imprisonment in a dungeon (37:11-16)
c. The second interview with Zedekiah (37:17-21)
d. The imprisonment in a cistern (38:1-13)
e. The third interview with Zedekiah (38:14-28)
(1) The request of Jeremiah (38:14-16)
(2) The answer of Jeremiah (38:17-23)
(3) The concealment of Jeremiah (38:24-28)
We want to be willing to stand for God in whatever situations He allows in our lives. He will give us the courage if we ask.