Friday, September 4, 2015

Jeremiah Imprisoned Again

Jeremiah 37:1-21

“And king Zedekiah the son of Josiah reigned instead of Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, whom Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon made king in the land of Judah.  But neither he, nor his servants, nor the people of the land, did hearken unto the words of the LORD, which he spake by the prophet Jeremiah.” (Jeremiah 37:1-2)

When King Josiah was killed in battle with the Egyptians, his son, Jehoahaz  took the throne.  There months later the Egyptians conquered Jerusalem and put his brother Eliakim on the throne, changing his name to Jehoiakim.  Eleven years later, after conquering the rest of Judah, and a three year siege of Jerusalem, the Chaldean or Babylonian army, under Nebuchadnezzar gained control of Jerusalem.  They took Jehoiakim to Babylon, making his eight year old son, Jehoiachin, who Jews knew as Coniah king.  The Jewish attitude had not changed, and when the main Chaldean force was withdrawn, they convinced Coniah to try to drive out the remainder.  This led to the main force returning and Coniah was replaced by his uncle, Zedekiah, after just three months.   Nebuchadnezzar left and occupation force to keep Judah in control. 

Josiah had served the Lord, and had managed to enforce some of god’s laws, but the people were not committed and secretly practices idolatry and other sins.  When Jehoiakim became king, there was no longer any reason to conceal the sin.  Jeremiah had started his ministry in Josiah’s day, warning the people that they were going to be defeated by Babylon because of their sin, but that if they would yield and accept it as coming from God, it would not be unbearable.  Even after having seen Jerusalem conquered twice by the Babylonians, Zedekiah and the people refused to listen to Jeremiah’s message.  They were still plotting to overthrow the Babylonians. 

“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 unto the LORD our God for us.   Now Jeremiah came in and went out among the people: for they had not put him into prison.” (Jeremiah 37:3-4)

During Jehoiakim’s reign, Jeremiah had been imprisoned, but was released when Nebuchadnezzar conquered the city. Zedekiah and the Jewish leadership had enlisted Egypt’s aid, and Zedekiah sent Jehucal and Zephaniah to Jeremiah, asking him to pray for them and the success of their rebellion.  They had managed to force the occupation forces to partially withdraw and were awaiting he arrival of the Egyptian forces to drive them out completely. 

“Then Pharaoh's army was come forth out of Egypt: and when the Chaldeans that besieged Jerusalem heard tidings of them, they departed from Jerusalem.” (Jeremiah 37:5)

When they learned that the Egyptian army was on its way, the Chaldean forces withdrew completely while they waited for reinforcements. 

“Then came the word of the LORD unto the prophet Jeremiah, saying, Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel; Thus shall ye say to the king of Judah, that sent you unto me to inquire of me; Behold, Pharaoh's army, which is come forth to help you, shall return to Egypt into their own land.  And the Chaldeans shall come again, and fight against this city, and take it, and burn it with fire.

Thus saith the LORD; Deceive not yourselves, saying, The Chaldeans shall surely depart from us: for they shall not depart.  For though ye had smitten the whole army of the Chaldeans that fight against you, and there remained but wounded men among them, yet should they rise up every man in his tent, and burn this city with fire.” (Jeremiah 37:6-10)

God told Jeremiah to tell Zedekiah’s messengers that the Egyptian army would turn around and go back home and when they did, the Chaldeans would return and burn the city.  God warned that even if they wiped out all the forces they were fighting at the moment, He would empower the survivors to come again and defeat them, burning the city with fire. 

“And it came to pass, that when the army of the Chaldeans was broken up from Jerusalem for fear of Pharaoh's army, Then Jeremiah went forth out of Jerusalem to go into the land of Benjamin, to separate himself thence in the midst of the people.  And when he was in the gate of Benjamin, a captain of the ward was there, whose name was Irijah, the son of Shelemiah, the son of Hananiah; and he took Jeremiah the prophet, saying, Thou fallest away to the Chaldeans.” (Jeremiah 37:11-13)

When the Chaldean army withdrew after learning the Egyptians were on their way, Jeremiah knew he was going to fall under suspicion and left Jerusalem to go to Benjamin.  Just as he arrived in Benjamin he was recognized by the brother of one of the messengers Zedekiah had sent to him, who was a captain in the Jewish army.  Irijah arrested Jeremiah, accusing him of being a traitor. 

“Then said Jeremiah, It is false; I fall not away to the Chaldeans. But he hearkened not to him: so Irijah took Jeremiah, and brought him to the princes.  Wherefore the princes were wroth with Jeremiah, and smote him, and put him in prison in the house of Jonathan the scribe: for they had made that the prison.” (Jeremiah 37:14-15)

Jeremiah’s protestations of innocence were ignored and he was returned to Jerusalem for a hearing and imprisoned in the quarters of the recorder, which had been converted to a prison. 

“When Jeremiah was entered into the dungeon, and into the cabins, and Jeremiah had remained there many days; Then Zedekiah the king sent, and took him out: and the king asked him secretly in his house, and said, Is there any word from the LORD?” (Jeremiah 37:16-17a)

“And Jeremiah said, There is: for, said he, thou shalt be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon. Moreover Jeremiah said unto king Zedekiah, What have I offended against thee, or against thy servants, or against this people, that ye have put me in prison?  Where are now your prophets which prophesied unto you, saying, The king of Babylon shall not come against you, nor against this land?  Therefore hear now, I pray thee, O my lord the king: let my supplication, I pray thee, be accepted before thee; that thou cause me not to return to the house of Jonathan the scribe, lest I die there.” (Jeremiah 37b-20)

Zedekiah had ignored Jeremiah’s warning but the still recognized him as a man of God.  After Jeremiah had been in prison a while, he had him brought in and asked if he had received any messages from God. 

Jeremiah asked what he had done that had caused him to be imprisoned.  Where were the prophets that had told them the Babylonians would never come and attack Jerusalem or Judah?  Clearly they had been proven wrong.  He begged Zedekiah that he not be returned to the prison for fear he would be murdered or allowed to starve there at the instigation of the other rulers.    

“Then Zedekiah the king commanded that they should commit Jeremiah into the court of the prison, and that they should give him daily a piece of bread out of the bakers' street, until all the bread in the city were spent. Thus Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.” (Jeremiah 37:21)

Zedekiah gave orders that Jeremiah was to be kept in the general population where people could see what was happening of the prison rather than in solitary confinement where he could be killed or starved with no one knowing what happened.  He also commanded that as long as there was any food available in the city, Jeremiah was to be fed.

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