14 Then King Zedekiah sent for Jeremiah the prophet and had him brought to the third entrance to the temple of the Lord. “I am going to ask you something,” the king said to Jeremiah. “Do not hide anything from me.”
15 Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “If I give you an answer, will you not kill me? Even if I did give you counsel, you would not listen to me.”
16 But King Zedekiah swore this oath secretly to Jeremiah: “As surely as the Lord lives, who has given us breath, I will neither kill you nor hand you over to those who want to kill you.”
17 Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “This is what the Lord God Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘If you surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, your life will be spared and this city will not be burned down; you and your family will live. 18 But if you will not surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, this city will be given into the hands of the Babylonians and they will burn it down; you yourself will not escape from them.’”
19 King Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “I am afraid of the Jews who have gone over to the Babylonians, for the Babylonians may hand me over to them and they will mistreat me.”
20 “They will not hand you over,” Jeremiah replied. “Obey the Lord by doing what I tell you. Then it will go well with you, and your life will be spared. 21 But if you refuse to surrender, this is what the Lord has revealed to me: 22 All the women left in the palace of the king of Judah will be brought out to the officials of the king of Babylon. Those women will say to you:
“‘They misled you and overcame you—
those trusted friends of yours.
Your feet are sunk in the mud;
your friends have deserted you.’
23 “All your wives and children will be brought out to the Babylonians. You yourself will not escape from their hands but will be captured by the king of Babylon; and this city will be burned down.”
24 Then Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “Do not let anyone know about this conversation, or you may die. 25 If the officials hear that I talked with you, and they come to you and say, ‘Tell us what you said to the king and what the king said to you; do not hide it from us or we will kill you,’26 then tell them, ‘I was pleading with the king not to send me back to Jonathan’s house to die there.’”
27 All the officials did come to Jeremiah and question him, and he told them everything the king had ordered him to say. So they said no more to him, for no one had heard his conversation with the king.
28 And Jeremiah remained in the courtyard of the guard until the day Jerusalem was captured.
(Jeremiah 38:14-28a NIV)
From yesterday’s text, some government officials threw Jeremiah in a muddy cistern to starve and die. An Ethiopian eunuch, a servant of the king, pleaded with the king for Jeremiah’s life. The king granted the eunuch’s appeal to rescue Jeremiah and restore him to house arrest and daily rations.
In today’s passage, the king demands another secret meeting with Jeremiah. Jeremiah obliges the king, but with reservations. If their past interactions were any indicator of this conversation, nothing would change, and Jeremiah would end up on the losing end of the deal. The king assures Jeremiah that he will not kill Jeremiah or hand him over to the officials to be mistreated or killed.
The word from the Lord was clear: either way, the king was going to end up in the hands of the Babylonians. He could surrender and live, saving himself, his family, and the city. Or he could continue to fight and lose everything and everyone near and dear to him, and see the city burned to the ground.
In verse 19, Jeremiah gives us insight into the king’s irrational mind. The king is more afraid of the deserting Jews in Babylon than he is of Almighty God or even King Nebuchadnezzar, against whom he had rebelled. Jeremiah reassures the king that his fears are unfounded and that if he obeys the Lord, the Lord will spare his life and the city. Even at the bitter end, the Lord still shows Himself merciful if the king and the people will repent and turn themselves back to Him.
If the king does not obey the Lord, then even the women and children would recognize that the officials deceived him. The second half of the women’s chant indicates a reversal of roles between Jeremiah and the king. Jeremiah had been stuck in the muddy cistern and was rescued by a friend (the Ethiopian eunuch). If the king did not obey the Lord, he would be the one stuck in the mud, with no one to rescue him.
In verse 23, Jeremiah concludes his word from the Lord by appealing to the king’s duty as husband and father to protect his wives and children. If the king does not obey the Lord, then his wives will become someone else’s wife or mistress, and his children will be handed over to the Babylonians, presumably to be abused or mistreated.
King Zedekiah, still gripped by his irrational fears and focused on self-preservation, commands Jeremiah not to disclose any part of their conversation. In fact, the king gives Jeremiah an alibi for their meeting – to Jeremiah’s detriment and the king’s protection: “when the officials come and question you, tell them you were pleading your case not to go back to the cistern again.”
As expected, the officials do come and interrogate Jeremiah. When Jeremiah replays the king’s alibi, they leave Jeremiah alone under house arrest, where he remained until the fall of Jerusalem.
May we stand firm in the Lord, and not let our fears overtake us or drive our decisions and choices.
May we not be “stuck in the mud” by our fears and inability to make choices like King Zedekiah. Instead, may we choose to obey the Lord and put ourselves under His care and protection.
May we see that surrender to the Lord brings freedom. Jesus said it like this:
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.
(Matthew 16:24-25 NIV)