11 After the Babylonian army had withdrawn from Jerusalem because of Pharaoh’s army, 12 Jeremiah started to leave the city to go to the territory of Benjamin to get his share of the property among the people there. 13 But when he reached the Benjamin Gate, the captain of the guard, whose name was Irijah son of Shelemiah, the son of Hananiah, arrested him and said, “You are deserting to the Babylonians!”
14 “That’s not true!” Jeremiah said. “I am not deserting to the Babylonians.” But Irijah would not listen to him; instead, he arrested Jeremiah and brought him to the officials. 15 They were angry with Jeremiah and had him beaten and imprisoned in the house of Jonathan the secretary, which they had made into a prison.
16 Jeremiah was put into a vaulted cell in a dungeon, where he remained a long time. 17 Then King Zedekiah sent for him and had him brought to the palace, where he asked him privately, “Is there any word from the Lord?”
“Yes,” Jeremiah replied, “you will be delivered into the hands of the king of Babylon.”
18 Then Jeremiah said to King Zedekiah, “What crime have I committed against you or your attendants or this people, that you have put me in prison? 19 Where are your prophets who prophesied to you, ‘The king of Babylon will not attack you or this land’? 20 But now, my lord the king, please listen. Let me bring my petition before you: Do not send me back to the house of Jonathan the secretary, or I will die there.”
21 King Zedekiah then gave orders for Jeremiah to be placed in the courtyard of the guard and given a loaf of bread from the street of the bakers each day until all the bread in the city was gone. So Jeremiah remained in the courtyard of the guard.
(Jeremiah 37:11-21 NIV)
As we continue the narrative from yesterday, King Zedekiah is ruler over Judah and Jerusalem. The Babylonian army has been attacking the city but has temporarily retreated to deal with the encroaching Egyptians. The king inquires to see if there is a word from the Lord, a last-minute reprieve from the impending doom. Jeremiah asks of the Lord, and the answer is the same: the Babylonians will return to take over the land and burn Jerusalem to the ground.
In today’s passage, Jeremiah tries to leave Jerusalem to attend to family business back in Anathoth, his hometown. One of the guards recognizes Jeremiah, accuses him of desertion, and arrests him. While Jeremiah’s objective was clear, the guard did not believe him, and understandably so. The directions to Anathoth and Babylon were both north, and Jeremiah was leaving via the North gate of the city.
So what was Jeremiah’s family business back in Anathoth? While the text does not say, it was likely tied to the family estate and the dividing up of the land. This event probably preceded the visit from Jeremiah’s cousin, as recorded in Chapter 32. At the time of Jeremiah’s cousin’s visit, Jeremiah was under “house arrest”, which corresponds to Jeremiah’s situation at the end of this chapter. News of Jeremiah’s arrest likely made it back to Anathoth, so his cousin came to Jerusalem to close the land deal.
The guard brings Jeremiah to the government officials, who mistreat him, beat him, and throw him into a cistern “prison” cell. This prison cell is solitary confinement, having no contact with others and likely no access to sunlight or fresh air.
Note that Jeremiah is not given due process of law according to God’s Word; he is a political prisoner in the hands of angry government officials. Considering the message that Jeremiah had been preaching for years, one would think that the officials would be glad to be rid of Jeremiah and kick him out of the city and country. Instead, the officials took their anger and frustration out on Jeremiah, abusing and incarcerating him.
In verses 16 – 17, King Zedekiah sends for Jeremiah again. Jeremiah is pulled from the cistern prison cell and meets privately with the king. The king inquires if there is any word from the Lord; Jeremiah responds that there is no new word. Jeremiah does not give the king a great “thus says the Lord”; beaten and weak, he humbly answers the king’s question in four Hebrew words.
Notice Jeremiah’s answer; the king is only concerned about his well-being, not that of the nation or the city. The king has an irrational connection with Jeremiah; he despises Jeremiah for his message and is unconcerned for his welfare, but still keeps Jeremiah around and inquires to see if he has a word from the Lord.
In verses 18 – 20, Jeremiah uses his audience with the king to question his treatment. He reminds the king that he has faithfully told the truth from the Lord and has been mistreated and imprisoned for it, while the other prophets who lied and should have been put to death are still free to go about as they please. Jeremiah pleads with the king to not be placed back in the cistern prison cell, as he knows he will die there.
In verse 21, the king orders Jeremiah to be kept under house arrest, where he will at least be given a ration of food as long as the food supply lasts. It is here under house arrest that Jeremiah’s cousin finds Jeremiah to make the land deal in Chapter 32.
May we keep our eyes focused on the Lord in faith, and not on those who would harm or abuse us physically, emotionally, relationally, or spiritually. May we learn a lesson from Jeremiah and treat people with integrity and respect, even when they mistreat us.