The oracle about Ebed-melech (Jer 39:15-39:18)

“The word of Yahweh

Came to Jeremiah

While he was confined

In the court of the guard.

‘Go!

Say to Ebed-melech,

The Ethiopian.

Thus says Yahweh of hosts!

The God of Israel!

‘I am going to fulfill my words

Against this city

For evil,

Not for good.

They shall be accomplished

In your presence

On that day.

But I will save you

On that day.’

Says Yahweh.

‘You shall not be

Handed over

To those whom you dread.

I will surely save you.

You shall not fall

By the sword.

But you shall have

Your life

As a prize of war.

Because you have trusted

In me.’

Says Yahweh.”

Perhaps this oracle should have been at the end of chapter 38, but it is here. Jeremiah is still in the royal prison as he gets this oracle about the Ethiopian eunuch Ebed-melech, who had saved him from starvation and death in the cistern well. Jeremiah was to go to Ebed-melech to tell him what Yahweh had told him. Yahweh was going to destroy Jerusalem because of its evil ways, in the sight of this Ethiopian. However, the God of Israel was going to save him as he would not be handed over to the Babylonians to die by the sword. Ebed-melech was going to save his life as a prize of war. This usually meant that he would be taken into captivity with the king of Judah. His life would be saved because he trusted in Yahweh.

Jeremiah is sent to Gedaliah (Jer 39:13-39:14)

“So Nebuzaradan,

The captain of the guard,

Nebu-shazban the Rabsaris,

Nergal-sharezer the Rabmag,

With all the chief officers

Of the king of Babylon

Sent for Jeremiah.

They took him

From the court of the guard.

They entrusted him

To Gedaliah,

The son of Ahikam,

The son of Shaphan.

They brought him home.

So he stayed

With his own people.”

Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, and presumably the man in charge on the ground in Jerusalem, gathered the other Babylonian officials together. Two are named here. One is the same as mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, Nergal-sharezer the Rabmag, who was in charge of the Assyrian priests or religious element of Babylon. On the other hand, Nebu-shazban the Rabsaris has the same title as Sarsechim, Rabsaris, earlier in this chapter. The Rabsaris was in charge of the eunuchs, but the name is different here. Are they the same people with different names or two different people? Anyway, they take Jeremiah from the royal prison, presumably before they burn the royal palace down. They hand him over to Gedaliah. His father and grandfather, Ahikam and Shaphan had been loyal to the various prophets. Shaphan went back to the days of King Josiah (640-609 BCE) and his religious reform. Ahikam had protected Jeremiah during the reign of King Jehoiakim (609-598 BCE) as in chapter 26 of this book. His brother Gemariah had helped Jeremiah in chapter 36. Thus Ahikam’s son Gedaliah seemed like the right person to protect Jeremiah.

Jeremiah back in prison (Jer 38:27-38:28)

“All the officials did come

To Jeremiah.

They questioned him.

He answered them

In the very words

That the king had commanded.

So they stopped

Questioning him.

The conversation

Had not been overheard.

Jeremiah remained

In the court of the guard

Until the day

That Jerusalem was taken.”

Just as King Zedekiah had expected, these royal officials came to Jeremiah in his prison to question him. However, Jeremiah answered them as the king had requested him to do. He told them the conversation with the king was about what prison he should live in. With that, the officials stopped questioning him. They never asked him how he got out of the cistern well. Thus the conversation between the king and Jeremiah was safe, since no one had heard the conversation. Both sides of this discussion had agreed what to say about their secret chat. Nevertheless, Jeremiah remained in the royal prison until Jerusalem was taken by the Babylonians.

The meeting of King Zedekiah and Jeremiah (Jer 38:14-38:14)

“King Zedekiah sent

For the prophet Jeremiah.

He received him

At the third entrance

Of the temple of Yahweh.

The king said to Jeremiah.

‘I have something to ask you.

Do not hide anything from me!’”

Now that Jeremiah was back in the royal prison, King Zedekiah sent for him. He then received him at the 3rd entrance to the Temple, but it is not clear where this was. The king then told Jeremiah that he had something to ask him, but he did not want Jeremiah to hold or hide anything back in his answer.

Jeremiah in the muddy cistern (Jer 38:6-38:6)

“Thus the officials

Took Jeremiah.

They threw him

Into the cistern of Malchiah,

The king’s son.

This was

In the court of the guard.

They let Jeremiah down

By ropes.

There was no water

In the cistern,

But only mud.

Thus Jeremiah sank

In the mud.”

These officials, with the blessing of the king, went and took Jeremiah. They threw him down into a well or cistern that was called Malchiah, after the name of some king’s son. There is no indication that it was the son of King Zedekiah. However, this well was in the court of the guard, or where this royal prison was. They then let Jeremiah down into the cistern with ropes, instead of throwing him down. This indicates that there were no steps or ladder to get up. They probably meant for him to starve to death. This is somewhat reminiscent of the brothers of Joseph who wanted to throw him into a well in Genesis, chapter 37, so that they would not have his blood on their hands. This well, however, had very little if any water. It really was a mud hole that Jeremiah sank into.

Second oracle in prison (Jer 33:1-33:1)

“The word of Yahweh

Came to Jeremiah

A second time,

While he was still confined

In the court of the guard.”

As in the preceding chapter, King Zedekiah (598-587 BCE) has confined Jeremiah to the royal prison. Here, Jeremiah receives a second oracle from Yahweh. Like the preceding chapter, this is a different numbered chapter in the Greek translation of the Septuagint, chapter 40, not chapter 33 as here.

Baruch gets the deed (Jer 32:12-32:12)

“I gave the deed of purchase

To Baruch,

The son of Neriah,

The son of Mahseiah.

This was done

In the presence

Of my cousin Hanamel,

As well as in the presence

Of the witnesses who signed

The deed of purchase.

This was also done

In the presence

Of all the Judeans

Who were sitting

In the court of the guard.”

Jeremiah gave the deed to Baruch, a disciple and friend of Jeremiah. Baruch also was his secretary or scribe who may have written down most of the oracles of Jeremiah. He has been considered the writer of the Book of Baruch, one of the lesser prophets. Baruch was the son of Neriah, whose father was Mahseiah. Somehow he had some relationship with the reigning King Zedekiah of Judah. Watching Jeremiah hand over the deed was his cousin Hanamel, the witnesses who had signed the deed, and all those other people of Judah who were sitting near the royal prison, where Jeremiah was being held.