Jeremiah – Chapter 38

A Pit Full of Mud

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Some of Tzidkiyahu’s officers heard Jeremiah prophesying. Jeremiah was saying that those who stayed in Jerusalem would perish in the siege and its aftermath, but those who gave themselves up to the Kasdim (Chaldeans) would survive. The officers considered this treasonous and reported him to the king. Tzidkiyahu’s reaction is not 100% clear, but it appears to be an exasperated, “Do what you want.” So the officers arrested Jeremiah and had him tossed into a pit of mud.

An Ethiopian named Eved-Melech, a member of the king’s court, heard about this and went to see the king. (Rashi quotes a Midrash that Eved-Melech was actually Jeremiah’s student, the prophet Baruch, but we’ll continue to call him Eved-Melech here.) Eved-Melech complained to the king about the officers casting Jeremiah into the muddy pit; if he had been left alone, he would have died in the famine, but they have hastened his death. The king told Eved-Melech to get thirty men to pull Jeremiah out of the pit. (Why so many? Either to avoid resistance from Jeremiah’s detractors, who would be outnumbered by Eved-Melech’s group, or because everyone was weakened from the famine.) Eved-Melech gathered the group and went to Jeremiah in the pit. They threw him worn-out clothes to put under his arms, so that he wouldn’t be hurt by the ropes when they pulled him up. So, Jeremiah was saved from the pit, but he did remain in jail.

King Tzidkiyahu sent for Jeremiah. He asked the prophet to speak freely and tell him of any prophecies he had received. Jeremiah balked because experience told him that the king wouldn’t listen – if anything, he would seek to execute the prophet! Tzidikayu swore that he would neither harm Jeremiah, nor hand him over to his enemies. So Jeremiah told the king that if he surrendered to Babylonia, he would live and the city would not be burned. However, if they resisted, the city would be burned and Tzidkiyahu would not escape. The king replied that he was afraid to fall into the hands of the Jews who had already defected to the Kasdim, that they would torture him. Jeremiah assured him that this would not happen. If the king gives himself up, he will live. If he resists, the women of his court will end up being taken by the officers of Babylonia. These captive women will say that the false prophets, who predicted peace, hated Tzidkiyahu and tricked him into making destructive choices. Tzidkiyahu’s wives and sons will be captives and the king himself would be captured and brought before Nebuchadnezzar. Finally, Jerusalem will burn.

Tzidkiyahu charged Jeremiah with revealing this conversation to no one. When the king’s officers asked what transpired, Jeremiah was only to tell them that he asked not to be returned to the harsher “maximum security” prison. Sure enough, the officers asked Jeremiah what happened and he replied as he had been instructed. Jeremiah was returned to his less-harsh prison conditions, where he was to remain until Jerusalem fell.

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