**From the Navarre Bible Commentary
From: Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10
Jeremiah’s and the cistern of Malchiah
 Then the princes said to the king, “Let this man be put to death, for he is weakening the hands of the soldiers who are left in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm.”  King Zedekiah said, “Behold, he is in your hands; for the king can do nothing against you.” So they took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. And there was no water in the cistern, but only mire, and Jeremiah sank in the mire.
 Ebed-melech went from the king’s house and said to the king,  “My Lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they did to Jeremiah the prophet by casting him into the cistern; and he will die there of hunger, for there is no bread left in the city.”  Then the king commanded Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian, ”Take three men with you from here, and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the cistern before he dies.”
38:1-28. Like the previous chapter, this one also contains an account concerning Jeremiah’s arrest (vv. 1-13) and a conversation that he had with the king (vv. 14-28). Jeremiah keeps on urging submission to Babylon and personal conversion; the princes, or nobles, will hear none of this. Wary, perhaps, about putting an envoy of God to death, they put him into a big water-tank, from which he is rescued by a court official, a foreigner. Having escaped in this way, the prophet manages to stay in the hall of the court guard without anyone observing him, it seems (v. 13). One ecclesiastical writer, Olympiodorus, interpreted Jeremiah’s imprisonment as a prefigurement of Jesus’ passion and death. Commenting on v. 6, he said: “The prophet becomes a figure of the mystery of Christ, who was handed over by Pilate to the Jews, descended into hell, and was raised from the dead. Jeremiah climbs out of the cistern he was cast into; Scripture often refers to hell as a cistern” (Fragmenta in Jeremiam, 38, 6).
In his conversation with the king, Jeremiah re-affirms his message (vv. 17-18); Zedekiah is afraid of what will happen if he surrenders (v. 19), but the prophet tells him he should trust in the Lord. If he fails to do so, his humiliation will be great; even the women will despise him (v. 22). Zedekiah will be stuck in the mire (v. 22) – and will suffer more than Jeremiah has suffered (v. 6).
Without saying why, the king asks the prophet not to reveal his prophecy (vv. 24-26); and so Jeremiah keeps quiet a about it when the princes interrogate him about his interview with the king (v. 27). The prophet’s response does not mean that he is deceiving them (they had no right to be party to Jeremiah’s conversation with the king) or that he fears them; we know that his courage was never in question.
These verses show how very different in attitude Zedekiah and Jeremiah were. Zedekiah used all his ingenuity and political skill to save himself and Judah from their enemies; but he lost both life and land. Jeremiah, however, preached the word of God without diluting it in any way – even though people clamoured for his death (v. 4); and when the Babylonians won the day, he was released from prison and survived (v. 28). It is very much what Jesus taught: “Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:25).
Most of this passage forms a reading in the Divine Office for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, and the response to that reading is a call to serve the Lord, no matter what trials that involves. It links some words from Judith 8:23 (Vg) with others from St Paul to do with predicaments he encountered that were similar to the prophet’s: “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments (2 Cor 6:4-5a).
Source: “The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries”. Biblical text from the
Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of
the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain.
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