Jeremiah 38

DateVersionReading Plan
@July 31, 2023ESV (2016)ESV Prophets Plan 2023


  • Jeremiah Cast Into the Cistern
  • Jeremiah Rescued from the Cistern
  • Jeremiah Warns Zedekiah Again


The chapter opens with hearing of Jeremiah’s prophecy by three men, Mattan, Jucal and Pashur, that those who remain in the land “shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence” but those who go out to the Chaldeans “shall have his life as a prize for war” (Jer. 38:2). The men sought Jeremiah’s death in the presence of king Zedekiah who told them that “he is in your hands” (Jer. 38:5). The men then cast Jeremiah into an empty cistern.

In Jer. 38:7-13, an Ethiopian eunuch and Cushite official, Ebed-Melech, heard of Jeremiah’s desperate situation, and told king Zedekiah who then ordered him to be rescued from the cistern. Ebed-Melech was told to take thirty men for the task (Jer. 38:10), some of which would likely be for protection while the others pulled Jeremiah out of the cistern. They used a rope fashioned from old rags and worn out clothes (Jer. 38:11-12). Jeremiah was lifted out and “remained in the court of the guard.” (Jer. 38:13).

In Jer. 38:14-16, king Zedekiah quietly requisitioned Jeremiah to hear a word from the LORD at “the third entrance of the temple of the LORD” (Jer. 38:14). This entrance was either infrequently used or a secret entrance used only by the king where their conversation would not be overheard.

In Jer. 38:17-23, Jeremiah gives the word of the LORD to Zedekiah that his surrender to the Babylonians will lead to preserved life while remaining in the city will lead to death. Zedekiah expresses his fear of the Judeans (Jer. 38:19), but Jeremiah assures him that he will “not be given to them” (Jer. 38:20). Zedekiah is to obey the voice of the LORD, for in doing so his life “shall be spared” (Jer. 38:20). Jer. 38:21-23 describe the consequences if he refuses to surrender: Zedekiah’s wives will be led out to the Chaldeans, he will not escape from their hands and the city will be burned with fire.

Jer. 38:24-28 are of a promise given to Jeremiah by Zedekiah that his life will be spared if he does not repeat the prophetic word he had spoken to anyone else (Jer. 38:24). Zedekiah instructs Jeremiah on how to respond to officials if they ask him what was discussed. Jeremiah was to tell them that he had made a “humble plea to the king” to not be sent back to the house of Jonathan (Jer. 38:26). This reply, while technically true, is of somewhat questionable integrity since it omits much of the details of their discussion.

In the final verses (Jer. 38:27-28), the officials question Jeremiah about his meeting with Zedekiah who responds in the manner he was instructed. They believe him since they had not overheard what was said and Jeremiah was left to stay “in the court of the guard until the day that Jerusalem was taken.” (Jer. 38:28)


So much of this chapter surrounds the unpopularity and opposition of divine truth. The word that the LORD gave Jeremiah had him placed into an empty cistern to die and was later the cause for secrecy around his meeting with Zedekiah. Those of a weaker constitution might have stopped speaking about such things by this point, but Jeremiah was committed to carry on his appointment as God’s mouthpiece.

The questions for us are thus begged, “Would I have the courage of Jeremiah?” and “Do I have the boldness today to share gospel of Christ?” The answer to these questions come down to whether you are willing to operate with the safety net of faith over worldly protection. We are called to trust in the unseen rather than seen, to proclaim the gospel and let come what may, resting on the promise that our Lord is mighty to save.

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