Jeremiah Is Charged with Treason and Put in a Cistern to Die1 Now Shephatiah son of Mattan, Gedaliah son of Pashhur, Jehucal ▼ ▼ son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur ▼ son of Malkijah had heard ▼
▼ J. Bright (Jeremiah [AB], 226, 30) is probably correct in translating the verbs here as pluperfects and in explaining that these words are prophecies that Jeremiah uttered before his arrest not prophecies that were being delivered to the people through intermediaries sent by Jeremiah who was confined in the courtyard of the guardhouse. For the use of the vav consecutive + imperfect to denote the pluperfect see the discussion and examples in IBHS 552–53 #33.2.3a and see the usage in Exod 4:19. The words that are cited in v. 2 are those recorded in 21:9 on the occasion of the first delegation and those in v. 3 are those recorded in 21:10; 34:2; 37:8; 32:28 all except the last delivered before Jeremiah was confined in the courtyard of the guardhouse.the things that Jeremiah had been telling the people. They had heard him say, 2 “The Lord says, ‘Those who stay in this city will die in battle or of starvation or disease. ▼
▼ Heb “by sword, by starvation, or by disease.”Those who leave the city and surrender to the Babylonians ▼ will live. They will escape with their lives.’” ▼ ▼ 3 They had also heard him say, ▼
▼ The words “They had also heard him say,” are not in the Hebrew text. They are supplied in the translation for clarity so as to avoid any possible confusion that might be created by saying merely “And the Lord says,” without any introduction.“The Lord says, ‘This city will certainly be handed over to the army of the king of Babylon. They will capture it.’” ▼ 4 So these officials said to the king, “This man must be put to death. For he is demoralizing ▼ the soldiers who are left in the city as well as all the other people there by these things he is saying. ▼
▼ Heb “by saying these things.”This ▼
▼ The Hebrew particle כִּי (ki) has not been rendered here because it is introducing a parallel causal clause to the preceding one. To render “For” might be misunderstood as a grounds for the preceding statement. To render “And” or “Moreover” sounds a little odd here. If it must be represented, “Moreover” is perhaps the best rendering.man is not seeking to help these people but is trying to harm them.” ▼
▼ Or “is not looking out for these people’s best interests but is really trying to do them harm”; Heb “is not seeking the welfare [or “well-being”; Hebrew shalom] of this people but [their] harm [more literally, evil].”5 King Zedekiah said to them, “Very well, you can do what you want with him. ▼
▼ Heb “Behold, he is in your hands [= power/control].”For I cannot do anything to stop you.” ▼
▼ Heb “For the king cannot do a thing with/against you.” The personal pronoun “I” is substituted in the English translation due to differences in style; Hebrew style often uses the third person or the title in speaking of oneself but English rarely if ever does. Compare the common paraphrasis of “your servant” for “I” in Hebrew (cf. BDB 714 s.v. עֶבֶד 6 and usage in 1 Sam 20:7, 8) and compare the usage in Pss 63:11 (63:12 HT); 61:6 (61:7 HT) where the king is praying for himself. For the meaning of יָכֹל (yakhol) as “to be able to do anything,” see BDB 407 s.v. יָכֹל 1.g.6 So the officials ▼
▼ Heb “they.”took Jeremiah and put him in the cistern ▼
▼ A cistern was a pear-shaped pit with a narrow opening. Cisterns were cut or dug in the limestone rock and lined with plaster to prevent seepage. They were used to collect and store rain water or water carried up from a spring.of Malkijah, one of the royal princes, ▼ that was in the courtyard of the guardhouse. There was no water in the cistern, only mud. So when they lowered Jeremiah into the cistern with ropes he sank in the mud. ▼
▼ Heb “And they let Jeremiah down with ropes and in the cistern there was no water, only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud.” The clauses have been reordered and restructured to create a more natural and smoother order in English.
An Ethiopian Official Rescues Jeremiah from the Cistern7 An Ethiopian, Ebed Melech, ▼ a court official in the royal palace, heard that Jeremiah had been put ▼
▼ Heb “Ebed Melech, the Cushite, a man, an eunuch/official, and he was [= who was; a circumstantial clause] in the house of the king, heard that they had put Jeremiah…” The passive construction “Jeremiah had been put” has been used to avoid the indefinite subject “they” or the addition of “the officials.” For the translation of סָרִיס (saris) as “official” here rather than “eunuch” see the translator’s note on 29:2 and see also the usage in 34:19. For the translation of “Cushite” as Ethiopian see the study note on 13:23.in the cistern. While the king was holding court ▼
▼ Heb “And the king was sitting in the Benjamin Gate.” This clause is circumstantial to the following clause; thus “while the king was…” Most commentators agree that the reference to sitting in the gate here likely refers to the same kind of judicial context that has been posited for 26:10 (see the translator’s note there for further references). Hence the translation uses “sitting” with the more technical “holding court” to better reflect the probable situation.at the Benjamin Gate, 8 Ebed Melech departed the palace and went to speak to the king. He said to him, 9 “Your royal Majesty, those men have been very wicked in all that they have done to the prophet Jeremiah. They have thrown him into a cistern and he is sure to die of starvation there because there is no food left in the city. ▼
▼ Heb “Those men have made evil all they have done to the prophet Jeremiah in that they have thrown him into the cistern and he will die of starvation in the place where he is because there is no more food in the city.” The particle אֵת (’et) before “they have thrown” (אֵת אֲשֶׁר הִשְׁלִיכוּ, ’et ’asher hishlikhu) is explanatory or further definition of “all they have done to” (i.e., the particle is repeated for apposition). The verb form “and he is sure to die” is an unusual use of the vav (ו) consecutive + imperfect that the grammars see as giving a logical consequence without a past nuance (cf. GKC 328 #111.l and IBHS 557–58 #33.3.1f).▼
▼ “Because there isn’t any food left in the city” is rhetorical exaggeration; the food did not run out until just before the city fell. Perhaps the intent is to refer to the fact that there was no food in the city for people so confined (i.e., in solitary confinement).10 Then the king gave Ebed Melech the Ethiopian the following order: “Take thirty ▼
▼ Some modern English versions (e.g., NRSV, REB, TEV) and commentaries read “three” on the basis that thirty men would not be necessary for the task (cf. J. Bright, Jeremiah [AB], 231). Though the difference in “three” and “thirty” involves minimal emendation (שְׁלֹשָׁה [shelosha] for שְׁלֹשִׁים [sheloshim]) there is no textual or versional evidence for it except for one Hebrew ms. Perhaps the number was large to prevent the officials from hindering Ebed Melech from accomplishing the task.men with you from here and go pull the prophet Jeremiah out of the cistern before he dies.” 11 So Ebed Melech took the men with him and went to a room under the treasure room in the palace. ▼
▼ Heb “went into the palace in under the treasury.” Several of the commentaries (e.g., J. Bright, Jeremiah [AB], 227; J. A. Thompson, Jeremiah [NICOT], 639, n. 6) emend the prepositional phrase “in under” (אֶל־תַּחַת, ’el-takhat) to the noun “wardrobe” plus the preposition “to” (אֶל־מֶלְתַחַת, ’el-meltakhat). This is a plausible emendation which would involve dropping out מֶל (mel) due to its similarity with the אֶל (’el) which precedes it. However, there is no textual or versional evidence for such a reading and the compound preposition is not in itself objectionable (cf. BDB 1066 s.v. תַּחַת III.1.a). The Greek version reads “the part underground” (representing a Hebrew Vorlage of אֶל תַּחַת הָאָרֶץ, ’el takhat ha’arets) in place of אֶל תַּחַת הָאוֹצָר (’el takhat ha’otsar). The translation follows the Hebrew text but adds the word “room” for the sake of English style.He got some worn-out clothes and old rags ▼
▼ Heb “worn-out clothes and worn-out rags.”from there and let them down by ropes to Jeremiah in the cistern. 12 Ebed Melech ▼ called down to Jeremiah, “Put these rags and worn-out clothes under your armpits to pad the ropes. ▼
▼ Heb “under the joints of your arms under the ropes.” The two uses of “under” have different orientations and are best reflected by “between your armpits and the ropes” or “under your armpits to pad the ropes.”Jeremiah did as Ebed Melech instructed. ▼
▼ Or “Jeremiah did so.” The alternate translation is what the text reads literally.13 So they pulled Jeremiah up from the cistern with ropes. Jeremiah, however, still remained confined ▼
▼ Heb “Jeremiah remained/stayed in the courtyard of the guardhouse.” The translation is meant to better reflect the situation; i.e., Jeremiah was released from the cistern but still had to stay in the courtyard of the guardhouse.to the courtyard of the guardhouse.
Jeremiah Responds to Zedekiah’s Request for Secret Advice14 Some time later ▼
▼ The words “Some time later” are not in the text but are a way of translating the conjunction “And” or “Then” that introduces this narrative.Zedekiah sent and had Jeremiah brought to him at the third entrance ▼ of the Lord’s temple. The king said to Jeremiah, “I would like to ask you a question. Do not hide anything from me when you answer.” ▼
▼ The words “when you answer” are not in the text but are implicit in the connection. They are supplied in the translation for the sake of clarity and smoothness of style.15 Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “If I answer you, you will certainly kill me. ▼
▼ Or “you will most certainly kill me, won’t you?” Heb “Will you not certainly kill me?” The question is rhetorical and expects a positive answer. In situations like this BDB s.v. לֹא 4.b(β) says that הֲלֹא (halo’) “has a tendency to become little more than an affirmative particle, declaring with some rhetorical emphasis what is, or might be, well known.” The idea of certainty is emphasized here by the addition of the infinitive absolute before the finite verb (Joüon 2:422 #123.e).If I give you advice, you will not listen to me.” 16 So King Zedekiah made a secret promise to Jeremiah and sealed it with an oath. He promised, ▼
▼ Heb “So King Zedekiah secretly swore an oath to Jeremiah, saying.”“As surely as the Lord lives who has given us life and breath, ▼
▼ Heb “who has made this life/soul/ breath [נֶפֶשׁ, nefesh] for us.” The Hebrew term נֶפֶשׁ refers to the living, breathing substance of a person which constitutes his very life (cf. BDB 659 s.v. נֶפֶשׁ 1; 3).I promise you this: I will not kill you or hand you over to those men who want to kill you.” ▼
▼ Heb “who are seeking your life.”
17 Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “The Lord, the God who rules over all, the God of Israel, ▼ says, ‘You must surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon. If you do, your life will be spared ▼
▼ Heb “Your life/soul will live.” The quote is a long condition-consequence sentence with compound consequential clauses. It reads, “If you will only go out to the officers of the king of Babylon, your soul [= you yourself; BDB 660 s.v. נֶפֶשׁ 4.a] will live and this city will not be burned with fire and you and your household will live.” The sentence has been broken down and restructured to better conform with contemporary English style. The infinitive absolute in the condition emphasizes the one condition, i.e., going out or surrendering (cf. Joüon 2:423 #123.g, and compare usage in Exod 15:26). For the idiom “go out to” = “surrender to” see the full idiom in 21:9 “go out and fall over to” which is condensed in 38:2 to “go out to.” The expression here is the same as in 38:2.and this city will not be burned down. Indeed, you and your whole family will be spared. 18 But if you do not surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, this city will be handed over to the Babylonians ▼ and they will burn it down. You yourself will not escape from them.’” ▼
▼ Heb “will not escape from their hand.”▼ 19 Then King Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “I am afraid of the Judeans who have deserted to the Babylonians. ▼ The Babylonians might hand me over to them and they will torture me.” ▼ 20 Then Jeremiah answered, “You will not be handed over to them. Please obey the Lord by doing what I have been telling you. ▼
▼ Heb “Please listen to the voice of the Lord with regard to what I have been telling you.” For the idiom “listen to the voice” = “obey” see BDB 1034 s.v. שָׁמַע 1.m. Obedience here is expressed by following the advice in the qualifying clause, i.e., what I have been telling you.Then all will go well with you and your life will be spared. ▼ 21 But if you refuse to surrender, the Lord has shown me a vision of what will happen. Here is what I saw: 22 All the women who are left in the royal palace of Judah will be led out to the officers of the king of Babylon. They will taunt you saying, ▼
▼ Heb “And they will say.” The words “taunt you” are supplied in the translation to give the flavor of the words that follow.
‘Your trusted friends misled you;
they have gotten the best of you.
Now that your feet are stuck in the mud,
they have turned their backs on you.’ ▼
▼ Heb “The men of your friendship incited you and prevailed over you. Your feet are sunk in the mud. They turned backward.” The term “men of your friendship” (cf. BDB 1023 s.v. שָׁלוֹם 5.a) is used to refer to Jeremiah’s “so-called friends” in 20:10, to the trusted friend who deserted the psalmist in Ps 41:10, and to the allies of Edom in Obad 7. According to most commentators it refers here to the false prophets and counselors who urged the king to rebel against Nebuchadnezzar. The verb translated “misled” is a verb that often refers to inciting or instigating someone to do something, often with negative connotations (so BDB 694 s.v. סוּת Hiph.2). It is generally translated “deceive” or “mislead” in 2 Kgs 18:32; 2 Chr 32:11, 15. Here it refers to the fact that his pro-Egyptian counselors induced him to rebel. They have proven too powerful for him and prevailed on him (יָכֹל לְ, yakhol le; see BDB 408 s.v. יָכֹל 2.b) to follow a policy which will prove detrimental to him, his family, and the city. The phrase “your feet are sunk in the mud” is figurative for being entangled in great difficulties (so BDB 371 s.v. טָבַע Hoph and compare the usage in the highly figurative description of trouble in Ps 69:2 [69:3 HT]).▼
▼ The taunt song here refers to the fact that Zedekiah had been incited into rebellion by pro-Egyptian nobles in his court who prevailed on him to seek aid from the new Egyptian Pharaoh in 589 b.c. and withhold tribute from Nebuchadnezzar. This led to the downfall of the city which is depicted in Jeremiah’s vision from the standpoint of its effects on the king himself and his family.
23 “All your wives and your children will be turned over to the Babylonians. ▼ You yourself will not escape from them but will be captured by the ▼
▼ Heb “you yourself will not escape from their hand but will be seized by [caught in] the hand of the king of Babylon.” Neither use of “hand” is natural to the English idiom.king of Babylon. This city will be burned down.” ▼
▼ This translation follows the reading of the Greek version and a few Hebrew mss. The majority of the Hebrew mss read “and you will burn down this city.” This reading is accepted by the majority of modern commentaries and English versions. Few of the commentaries, however, bother to explain the fact that the particle אֶת (’et), which normally marks the accusative object, is functioning here as the subject. For this point of grammar see BDB 85 s.v. I אֵת 1.b. Or this may be another case where אֵת introduces a new subject (see BDB 85 s.v. אֵת 3.α and see usage in 27:8; 36:22).
24 Then Zedekiah told Jeremiah, “Do not let anyone know about the conversation we have had. ▼
▼ Heb “about these words.”If you do, you will die. ▼ ▼ 25 The officials may hear that I have talked with you. They may come to you and say, ‘Tell us what you said to the king and what the king said to you. ▼
▼ The phrase “and what the king said to you” is actually at the end of the verse, but most commentators see it as also under the governance of “tell us” and many commentaries and English versions move the clause forward for the sake of English style as has been done here.Do not hide anything from us. If you do, we will kill you.’ ▼ 26 If they do this, tell ▼
▼ Verses 25–26 form a long compound, complex conditional sentence. The condition is found in v. 25 and contains a long quote. The consequence is found in v. 26 and contains another long quote. The Hebrew sentence literally reads: “And if the officials hear that I have talked with you and come to you and say to you, ‘Please tell us what you said to the king. Do not hide from us and we will not kill you [so that we will not kill you] and [tell us] what the king said to you,’ then tell them.” The sentence has been broken up to better conform with contemporary English style.them, ‘I was pleading with the king not to send me back to die in the dungeon of Jonathan’s house.’” ▼
▼ Heb “I was causing to fall [= presenting] my petition before the king not to send me back to Jonathan’s house to die there.” The word “dungeon of” is supplied in the translation to help the reader connect this petition with Jeremiah’s earlier place of imprisonment where the officials had put him with every intention of letting him die there (37:15–16, 20).▼ 27 All the officials did indeed come and question Jeremiah. ▼
▼ Heb “All the officials came to Jeremiah and questioned him.”He told them exactly what the king had instructed him to say. ▼
▼ Heb “And he reported to them according to all these words which the king had commanded.”They stopped questioning him any further because no one had actually heard their conversation. ▼
▼ Heb “And they were silent from him because the word/matter [i.e., the conversation between Jeremiah and the king] had not been heard.” According to BDB 578 s.v. מִן 1.a the preposition “from” is significant in this construction, implying a verb of motion. I.e., “they were [fell] silent [and turned away] from him.”28 So Jeremiah remained confined ▼
▼ Heb “And Jeremiah stayed/remained in the courtyard of the guardhouse…” The translation once again intends to reflect the situation. Jeremiah had a secret meeting with the king at the third entrance to the temple (v. 14). He was returned to the courtyard of the guardhouse (cf. v. 13) after the conversation with the king where the officials came to question him (v. 27). He was not sent back to the dungeon in Jonathan’s house as he feared, but was left confined in the courtyard of the guardhouse.in the courtyard of the guardhouse until the day Jerusalem ▼ was captured.
The Fall of Jerusalem and Its AftermathThe following events occurred when Jerusalem ▼ was captured. ▼
▼ The precise meaning of this line and its relation to the context are somewhat uncertain. This line is missing from the Greek and Syriac versions and from a few Hebrew mss. Some English versions and commentaries omit it as a double writing of the final words of the preceding line (see, e.g., REB; W. L. Holladay, Jeremiah [Hermeneia], 2:268). Others see it as misplaced from the beginning of 39:3 (see, e.g., NRSV, TEV, J. Bright, Jeremiah [AB], 245). The clause probably does belong syntactically with 39:3 (i.e., כַּאֲשֶׁר [ka’asher] introduces a temporal clause which is resumed by the vav consecutive on וַיָּבֹאוּ (vayyavo’u; see BDB 455 s.v. כַּאֲשֶׁר 3), but it should not be moved there because there is no textual evidence for doing so. The intervening verses are to be interpreted as parenthetical, giving the background for the events that follow (see, e.g., the translation in D. Barthélemy, ed., Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 4:280). The chapter is not so much concerned with describing how Jerusalem fell as it is with contrasting the fate of Zedekiah who disregarded the word of the Lord with the fate of Jeremiah and that of Jeremiah’s benefactor Ebed Melech. The best way to treat the line without actually moving it before 39:3a is to treat it as a heading as has been done here.
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