Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Way We Should Go

Week 42 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 42


King Josiah of Judah dies at the Battle of Megiddo in 609 BC, while fighting against Pharaoh Neco of Egypt. Egypt soon finds themselves in a power struggle with Babylon. Before Nebuchadnezzar captures Jerusalem, King Zedekiah tries to negotiate help from Egypt. In Jeremiah 37 Pharaoh Hophra’s army attempts to come to Jerusalem, even though Jeremiah discourages Zedekiah from making an alliance with Egypt. The Babylonian army sends the Egyptians home defeated. When Jerusalem falls to Babylon, those poorest remaining Jews are sent to Mizpah and find themselves struggling with loyalty between Babylon and Egypt.

Egypt’s ancient history is long and full of influence and wealth. Found in the fertile soil along the Nile River, Egypt is known for its agriculture and cultivates a legacy in engineering, building, mathematics, and literature. The era of 1549-1069 BC marks Egypt’s more prosperous era, both in wealth and military power. As the Assyrians rise to power and after they conquer Israel/Northern Kingdom (721 BC), Assyria occupies Memphis in Egypt. After some attempts in battle with the Persians in 5th Century BC fail, Egypt is never able to defeat them.

Egypt does not seem to be God’s plan for Israel. The Hebrew people are rescued after 400 years of Egyptian slavery some 900 years before this. Old habits may be hard to break. Abraham flees to Egypt during a famine, in disobedience. After God frees the Israelites, they whine to Moses how they would rather go back to Egypt. “During the final years of the kingdom of Judah, there was a strong pro-Egyptian party in the government, because Egypt seemed to be the closest and strongest ally.”[1] In less than twenty years after the fall of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar enters Egypt (568-567BC). God chooses the best for His people.

“For almost 30 centuries—from its unification around 3100 B.C. to its conquest by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.—ancient Egypt was the preeminent civilization in the Mediterranean world.”[2] From Alexander the Great to Cleopatra to the Roman Empire, many changes occur over these thousands of years. Today, Islam is the dominate culture and religion.


Johanan and other leadership consider their destiny, and ask Jeremiah for advice and suggesting a desire to follow what God says. “The LORD be a true and faithful witness between us.” We will obey. Jeremiah seeks God’s will and waits for ten days (v7).

God says stay in Judah, and do not fear the Babylonians. If you remain in the land, God will build you up and plant you. “For I relent concerning the disaster. Do not be afraid… for I am with you, to save and deliver you.” (v10-12) Or, if you leave in disobedience, if you go to Egypt, you will find war and famine and pandemic. These are the consequences of disobedience, famine in Egypt and death to all who go. All will perish. God’s promises and consequences of disobedience are clear.

“O remnant of Judah, do not go to Egypt.” Pleadings from God’s will go ignored. Jeremiah says they are hypocrites, saying to ask God and we will obey, but their hearts are not really wanting to obey. If you go to Egypt, you will die!



Today you are about to cross the Jordan River to occupy the land belonging to nations much greater and more powerful than you. . . I will say it again: The LORD your God is not giving you this good land because you are righteous, for you are not - you are a stubborn people.

The Promised Land lay before the Israelites but to enter would require obedience. Once before they stood on the threshold of this God-offered possibility, but refused to go forward. Andrew Murray writes, “The land of promise that has been set before us is the blessed life of obedience. We have heard God's call to us to go out and to dwell there . . . We have heard the promise of Christ to bring us there and to give us possession of the land. . . But do we desire that all our life and work be lifted to the level of a holy and joyful obedience?”[3]

A desire to be obedient is not the same as being obedient. Murray continues with this response to how we must embrace obedience, “It can only be reached by an inflow of the power of the Holy Spirit. By a faith that grasps a new vision and lays hold of the powers. . . which are secured to us in Christ.”[4] How does Abraham respond when God first gives the promise? By faith Abraham obeyed . . . And he went out, not knowing where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8)Through faith, we find obedience that grasps a new vision. Our ability to be obedient comes from Christ, the Bread of Life.

Lord, You call us to new hope within a world of old doubt. You offer the Bread of Life to a starving people. You secure our faith through the living Christ. And what do You ask of us? To love You with obedient hearts. Forgive our greed for the land of promise held tightly by selfish desires. Open our hearts, reveal our stubbornness, so we can embrace the blessed life of obedience. Amen.



Chapter 42 suggests these “leftover” ones from Judah want God’s guidance but do not truly want to be illuminated by God’s vision for them. So often we are just like them.

Do you go to God with your own agenda? How often do we ‘ask’ God as we offer our own answers?

How open am I to God’s vision? What if it is different than what I want?

Donna Oswalt

[1] Be Decisive Wiersbe, Warren, p158

[2] “Ancient Egypt”

[3] A Life of Obedience, Murray, Andrew; p 69-70

[4] Ibid

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Betrayal and Murder

Week 41 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 41


Known by his fellow countrymen as a wise, kind, and humble, Gedaliah is as governor by Nebuchadnezzar. Gedaliah, a righteous Jewish leader, welcomes the Jewish refugees of Jerusalem to Mizpah, the last of Judah’s people, those left after the exiles, those who had fled during the Babylonian invasion and are now seeking community and security. Keeping with Jeremiah’s prophecy, Gedaliah proclaims their loyalty to the king of Babylon. In return, they receive an abundant harvest and protection.

“From a prominent family in Jerusalem, [Gedaliah’s] grandfather was a scribe during Josiah’s rule (2 Kg. 22:3) and a member of th team sent to inquire of the prophetess Huldah (Jeremiah 22:11).”[1] In Jeremiah Chapter 26::24, he protects Jeremiah. Respected by the Jewish people, Gedaliah gives wise advice to concede to Babylonian rule.

Some commentaries suggest Gedaliah would have been a better leader if he had listened to others, like Johanan who warns the governor of Ishmael’s threats. “Being of a true and generous nature”[2]  Gedaliah does not believe the rumors. Does his sense of fairness contribute to his murder? Is Gedaliah just naïve? Maybe, wicked jealousy creates an unnecessary tragedy. Ishmael betrays and murders his own people and leader. As if the destruction and burning of Jerusalem is not problem enough, these refugees now become prisoners of one of their own countrymen. Betrayal brings multilayered consequences.

“In memory of the assassination of Gedaliah and the tragedy that it brought upon our brethren in those days, so soon after the destruction of the Holy Temple, we fast on the third day of Tishrei, the Fast of Gedaliah.”[3] Tishrei on the Hebrew calendar falls during September-October, which also includes Sukkot, and the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The Fast of Gedaliah commemorates the “governor of the First Commonwealth in the Holy Land”.[4] With his death, Jewish independence comes to an end, “the last embers of Jewish sovereignty.”[5] The Hebrew letters of Gedaliah’s name mean “God is great.”



Some scholars suggest the details of Chapter 41 occur about two months after Nebuchadnezzar torches Jerusalem. Ishmael, of the royal lineage of David and one of the officers of Zedekiah, comes to Gedaliah with ten of his men to join him in a meal. During the meal, Ishmael, and the men murder Gedaliah, who the king of Babylonia appointed governor over the land. The Jews with Gedaliah are also killed, along with the Chaldean soldiers present. Ishmael’s jealousy over Gedaliah’s appointment or some political power play creates the ultimate betrayal.

A group of eighty men arrive from Shechem, Shiloh, and Samaria, all clean-shaven with torn clothing and obvious wounds (likely self-inflicted). They come bearing offerings for Yahweh, but they do not know about the recent murders. Ishmael greets them, invites them to meet Gedaliah, and then kills them, too. Ten of these eighty men beg for mercy, offering good and goods they have hidden in a field. Ishmael spares them but fills a large cistern with the seventy slain men. Turning against the Chaldeans is contrary to Jeremiah’s message. “Without a king, with no law and no loyalty to God, Judah was subject to complete anarchy.”[6]

“The areas of Shechem, Shiloh,  and Samaria had been worship centers in the north after the northern kingdom was destroyed in 722/721 BC. Many Israelites made periodic pilgrimages to Jerusalem.”[7] The ten pilgrim survivors, as well as “the rest of the people of Mizpah, including the daughters of the king” become prisoners of Ishmael. Ishmael takes his new captives, to include some of his own people, and sets out toward the Ammonites. These eighty men are likely planning to give offerings to Yahweh. “Even though the temple itself was in ruins, the site was still considered holy.”[8]

Outraged, Johanan takes his army and marched out to find the evil Ishmael and engage him in battle. Reaching the great pool in Gideon, all the people taken prisoner by Ishmael join  with Johanan. Unfortunately, Ishmael an eight of his men escape, fleeing to the Ammonites. Leaving behind the drama, Johanan and all the “soldiers, women, children, and court officials” Ishmael had taken captive gather. They plan to head to Egypt, to escape. “The function of the assassination narrative is to set up the fateful choice that the remnant will make.”[9]



Judas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, betrays Him to authorities for thirty pieces of silver. As for the motivation of Judas, one can suppose evil ambitions or simple greed. Whatever his intention, Judas brings the authorities to the Gethsemane, as he knows this place to be somewhere Jesus and the disciples frequently gather. Usually a quiet place for prayer and reflection, Gethsemane becomes a place of betrayal.


Betrayal robs more than loyalty; it robs the soul. As life hurries along, sometimes it is easier to be lost in a moment, enticed with the crowd, and controlled by the money, safer than admitting weakness, confessing insecurity, or expressing need. Jesus, when I forget Your goodness and ignore Your peace, when I hurry pass Your joy and overlook Your Grace, I betray You again and again. You give a greater grace.



When chaos interrupts us, when betrayal weakens us, when uncertainty pauses us – we question life: what do we do, where do we go, how do we move forward? The better solution might not come in the form of a question, rather it is the “Who” we seek. Just seek God!

Remember: God is our Help, God is our Keeper, God is our Protector. Remember God, who always goes before us also walks beside us, comforts us, weeps with us. Read Psalm 121 and ponder Who God is for us!

Donna Oswalt


[1] Blackaby Study Bible, Character Study Gedaliah

[2], Gedaliah; The Fast of Gedaliah

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Chronological Living Application Study Bible notes of Jeremiah Chapter 41

[7] Archaeological Study Bible, Jeremiah Chapter 41

[8] Ibid

[9] ESV Literary Study Bible notes

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

The Refugees

Week 40 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 40


Mizpah, located about 4 miles NW of Jerusalem, sits “on the highest hill in the region, six hundred feet about the plain of Gideon.”[1] Old Testament people like Samuel and Saul and Nehemiah are familiar with Mizpah with recognizable stories of conquering the Philistines, placing an Ebenezer, making Saul the first king of Israel, and rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. Mizpah, mentioned in Judges 20:1-3 and 1 Samuel 7:5-7, 12-14, 10:17 and other Scriptures, historically marks a place of battle and worship and protection.

“Mizpah meaning watchtower or lookout was called such because it was from that location that travelers from the north would first see Jerusalem.”[2] In 1926, Dr. William Badè begins excavations finding pottery, tombs, grain pits, and cisterns, “however the chief discovery was the city’s defenses. The ancient city had two sets of walls: a smaller inner wall and a large outer wall.”[3] This outer wall is taller and stronger and greater than any other of the military citadels. “Some of the largest stones were so heavy, three or four workmen could not budge them.”[4] This hugely critical outpost serves as a massive defense for Judah.

There is some discrepancy among researchers if modern day locations Tell en-Nasbeh or Nebi Samwil is Mizpah. While the distances of these locations are so close, the geography debate continues. “When examining the evidence from the two sites, the sheer amount of archaeological discoveries from Tell en-Nasbeh that correspond with the biblical accounts strongly suggest that Tell en-Nasbeh is Mizpah.”[5]

Centuries after this area has been a part of Judah’s history, archeologists search for evidence reveal some interesting finds. Two specific findings relate to people in Jeremiah Chapter 40. In 1935, “in the layer of ashes left by Nebuchadnezzar’s fire when he burned Lachish, a seal was among the Lachish Letters bearing this inscription: “Belonging to Gedaliah, the one who is over the house.”[6] Another seal found in 1932 mentions “Jaazaniah (also, Jezaniah, son of the Maacathite, in Jeremiah 40:8; 2 Kings 25:23) who is an army captain with Gedaliah. This seal, found “in the ruins of Mizpah, the seat of Gedaliah’s government (Jeremiah 40:6) [is] an exquisite agate seal” that is inscribed, Belonging to Jaazaniah, servant of the king.[7]

Today, research and excavation continue to search for historical artifacts. The Alexandria Archive Institute, a non-profit, digital museum (, together with Open Context is digitizing thousands of objects that are part of the Tell en-Nasbeh Collection and many other sites. Their goal is to assist research and scholarship. From the ancient Judean hills to 21st Century virtual museums, God’s story continues to be revealed and revisited.



“Chapters 40-41 record the tragic story of the first attempt a governance after the departure of Zedekiah.”[8] In the Ramah refugee camp, Jeremiah is found, waiting like the other Hebrew people for deportation. Rescued from the group being exiled to Babylon, Jeremiah’s rescuer is Nebuzaradan, captain of the Babylonian guard. With notable certainty, Nebuzaradan proclaims, “The LORD your God promised this calamity against this place, and the LORD has brought it on and done just as He promised.” (v2-3) It is possible to believe that Nebuzaradan recognizes the truth in Jeremiah’s prophecy. Freed by the captain, Jeremiah chooses to return to those “left in the land” and reunites with Gedaliah, now appointed governor.

Political controversy soon shows its face among the remains soldiers in Judah. Concern rises that Gedaliah is now the governor and “in charge of the men, women, and children, those of the poorest of the land who had not been exile to Babylon.” (v7) Mizpah, 4-5 miles NW of Jerusalem, becomes the location of the summit between Gedaliah and the Judean soldiers. Ishmael and Johanan, and Jonathan, and others are among these soldiers. Nothing new is offered as Jeremiah’s prophecy is simply repeated by Gedaliah. To stay and serve the Chaldeans does not satisfy these men. Nebuchadnezzar leaves behind an abundant harvest in Judah, and many of the Jews who fled or hid during the invasion return.

While in Mizpah, Johanan privately conveys to Gedaliah that Ishmael is plotting to kill him. Gedaliah does not believe Ishmael will harm him. Since Ishmael is part of David’s royal lineage, he “may have been angry that he had been passed over for leadership”[9] Political chaos reigns during this time as no one knows what to believe or who to trust.



“And the name of the city from that time on will be THE LORD IS THERE.”  Ezekiel 48:35 NIV

While living in Babylon in a refugee settlement among the exiled Israelites, the prophet Ezekiel encounters “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it I fell face down, and I heard the voice of one speaking”. Through visions to Ezekiel, God reveals His warnings to an unrepentant Jerusalem, judgments on all nations, hope for Israel, and a New Jerusalem. Most refuse to listen to Ezekiel. Forty-eight chapters and over twenty years later, Ezekiel records as the Sovereign LORD declares, ”And the name of the city from that time on will be: THE LORD IS THERE.” Jehovah Shammah, Hebrew for ‘The LORD is there,” describes the New Jerusalem, the same city in Revelation 21:3 where God will dwell with His people.


Although idol-worshiping Babylon seems an unlikely place for Israel to find God, He is there. After Christ returns and all Believers live in the New Jerusalem, God will be there, too. God desires to dwell among His people. God’s presence exceeds our finite boundaries of time, location, and circumstance. Lord, I come acknowledging my infinite dependence on Christ. Whisper the hope of THE LORD IS THERE into my brokenness, into my disappointment, into my weakness, into my silence, into my vanity, into my prayers. Count me alive in Christ. Jehovah Shammah!  Amen 



In thinking about the Babylonian army captain, Nebuzaradan, and how he seemed to voice God’s truth, we do not know if he is repeating something he hears and circumstance seems to confirm, or he uses this as rhetoric since the Babylonians are obviously destroying Judah, or perhaps he is simply acknowledging that this so-called-prophecy is true. What is NOT clear, does he have faith in the One True God?

  • Some people will say that they believe God exists and even proclaim that they believe God does miracles, yet they do not have a personal relationship with Him. Knowing about God and being known by God are two different things. Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus? Are you known by the One True God? Can others see your faith?

Donna Oswalt

[1] Blackaby Study Bible notes Jeremiah Chapter 40

[2] Uncovering the Bible’s Buried Cities: Mizpah

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Halleys Bible Handbook Archaeological note: Jeremiah Chapters 40-41

[7] Ibid

[8] Exalting Jesus in Jeremiah and Lamentations: Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary, Smith, Steven

[9] Life Application Study Bible notes on Jeremiah 40

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Fall

Week 39 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 39; 2 Kings 25


Called the Holy City and the City of David, Jerusalem rests in the mountainous region of Judah between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea. Considered one of the oldest cities in the world, Jerusalem is holy to three major religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all having root in Abraham’s ancestry. God plans for Jerusalem to be a city of righteousness but many times over it becomes a city of oppression. 

Jerusalem becomes the Capital City of the Kingdom of Israel and residence of the King of Israel when David reigns. The initial inhabitants, the Jebusites, are defeated, and David captures Zion, calling it the City of David. (1 Chronicles 11:4-9) When Solomon, David’s son, is king, he would build a Temple for the Lord, which is estimated to be around 1010 BC. Soon Jerusalem becomes the central city, a place for religious festivals, a place for governmental affairs. At the end of Solomon’s reign, the kingdom divides into the Northern and Southern kingdoms. Jerusalem become the hub of the tribes of Benjamin and Judah. In 586 BC, Jerusalem is conquered, destroyed, and burned by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon.

Jerusalem, known as Yerushalayim in Hebrew, is traditionally called the city of peace. Jeremiah 6:16 God says, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask about the ancient paths. Which one is the good way? Take it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah brings a prophecy that a great army will destroy Jerusalem unless they turn from their wicked ways. This truth evolves, and ultimately the Hebrew people are exiled to Babylon for 70 years. Then, Jerusalem begins a period of restoration. Old Testament books Ezra and Nehemiah tell of the rebuilding of Jerusalem – the walls, the city, the Temple. From 536 BC until 70 AD, Jerusalem thrives but remains under foreign rulers, like the Persians, Greeks, and Romans. The Romans destroy and burn the city, for a second time, in 70 AD.

Today, Jerusalem, after centuries of excavations of many religious sites, hosts tourists from around the world. The lines of today’s city and the ancient city vary. Only a portion of the ancient Temple’s Western Wall remains, a sacred place of prayer and meditation. Since the Arab-Israelite War in 1948, Jerusalem has been divided into West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem. Beginning in 1967, the ancient city of Jerusalem is officially called the capital of the state of Israel. Definitive boundaries remain in dispute between East and West Jerusalem, between Palestine and Israel. Jerusalem, destroyed twice and enduring multiple attacks and battles, still stands after some 5,000 years. With a population just under a million, it remains a city of diversity, historical significance, and religious importance.



“Now when Jerusalem was captured in the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army came to Jerusalem and laid siege to it; in the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, in the ninth day of the month, the city wall was breached.” This opening verse for Chapter 39 is our setting and timeline for the fall of the city. For 40 years, Jeremiah’s prophecy predicts this event, and now the truth arrives.


Officials of Babylon arrive, and Zedekiah and all his men flee, leaving the city at night, heading to Arabah, a “desert valley running south from the Sea of Galilee.”[1] However, in the plains of Jericho, Zedekiah is captured and brought to Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah’s sons are killed before his eyes. Nebuchadnezzar also slaughters “all the nobles of Judah”. (V6) Blinded and bound in bronze chains, Zedekiah is taken to Babylon.


Burning the palace and the houses of Jerusalem, the Chaldeans break down the city walls. Nebuzaradan, “commander of the imperial guard”,[2] leads the remaining Hebrew people “into exile in Babylon” (v 9). The poorest people, those who had nothing to give are left behind in Judah. “The poorer, unskilled people were left to till the land. After all, somebody had to feed the soldiers who were left behind.”[3] With its walls broken down, the city lays exposed to any threat without defense. “Babylon has a shrewd foreign policy toward conquered lands. They deported the rich and powerful, leaving only the very poor in charge, making them grateful to their captors.”[4]


Regarding Jeremiah, orders to Nebuzaradan are to protect him. The leading officers of Nebuchadnezzar take Jeremiah out of the courtyard prison and charge Gedaliah, an official of Zedekiah that Nebuchadnezzar named governor, to take him to the governor’s residence.


Chapter 39 ends with an account of God’s message to Jeremiah that confirms disaster for Jerusalem, but promises to rescue Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian that had helped Jeremiah, “because you have trusted in Me.” Appearing to be out of sequence, this information is likely rearranged as the “editor may have wanted to show God could allow the enemy to destroy Jerusalem and torture the king because of Judah’s disobedience, yet He could spare Jeremiah and Ebed-melech because of their trust in Him.”[5] God is sovereign!


The fall of Jerusalem does not happen because God cannot protect it. The prophet Jeremiah’s pleas for the people to return to God have been long rejected. The prophet Ezekiel (10:18-19, 11:23) records “visions that the glory of God had departed from the temple and was no longer protecting the city.”[6] Babylon conquers Judah after God leaves Jerusalem. 


Reflection – The Goodness of God


Then Moses said, "Now show me your Glory." And the LORD said, "I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim My name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."
Exodus 33:18-19 NIV


September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month. Ten years ago, our family prayed its way through a journey of brain cancer, surgery and radiation; we asked God to heal, to strengthen, to comfort Thomas, my nephew then 9 years old. Our prayers and the countless prayers of family and friends and friends of friends also asked for encouragement and energy, for patience and peace, for calm and courage. Holy praises were offered to the Lord for joy in simple things, for small victories, and for laughter. We had not asked God like Moses, "Now show us Your Glory", but He did! God's great goodness passed in front of us! His Glory evidenced in moments and minutes and memories of His never-failing Presence during the journey.


The question of why suffering exists and who is healed or not healed will never be adequately explained or understood by earthly minds. Soon after the beginning, human weakness invited sin to stand between mankind and God. Only through Christ can we ever find a way back into a relationship with God. Even then, we will wrestle with uncertainty and chaos and questions. However, when Christ returns for His people, Certainty and Peace and Truth will reign. For now, we can find this possibility within the heavenly realms, in God, the Creator himself who has all authority. Not bound by time or distance or circumstance, God constantly remains omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. God's ways will always exceed my understanding.


Neither knowing why nor understanding His Ways, I can say for certain that we felt God's mercy and compassion, that we witnessed God's mercy and compassion, that we will continue to tell of God's mercy and compassion. As every petition would rise like incense to this Holy God, each one overflowed with thanksgiving for such undeserved, unmerited mercy and compassion. Truly the Goodness of God passed in front of us, too, during this difficult time. God's goodness and glory still surrounds us - even now in the ordinary, everyday moments of doubt or minutes of disappointment or memories of difficulty. We continue to marvel that God let His goodness pass in front of us. We choose to see God's infinite goodness embracing us each day, especially when we do not understand.



God is where goodness begins! Still, we struggle with evil vs. good, wickedness vs. goodness.

  • How is God’s goodness evidenced through you and me as we strive to live a life to honor God?
  • While just doing good things is not what God desires of us, certainly demonstrating His goodness to others is most necessary. In what ways do you share God’s goodness with others?

Donna Oswalt

[1] Strong’s Dictionary

[2] Blackaby Study Bible, Jeremiah 39:13

[3] Be Decisive, Wiersbe, Warren p 151

[4] Chronological Study Bible notes on Jeremiah Chapter 39

[5] Apologetics Study Bible Jeremiah Chapter 39

[6] Ibid

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Secret Meeting

Week 38 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 38


“The semiarid climate of the Mediterranean basin made water acquisition and storage a critical issue.”[1] Similar to wells, cisterns are large container carved out of limestone bedrock that collect water runoff. The shape has a more narrow top, to prevent evaporation. “The entire interior is coated with plaster so that every drop of water is preserved.”[2] When cisterns are dry, even though the bottom would have some muddy settlement, in ancient times they are used as prisons.

In Biblical times, the word dungeon often refers to a pit or deep cell or cistern, which infers a “more severe place of punishment.”[3] Confinement in a cistern without food or water would be a slow death.


The chapter opens with unfamiliar names of four officials that are hearing Jeremiah’s words. “Shaphatiah and Gedaliah are not known to us from other texts, but Jehucal and Pashhur are (37:3, 21:1). These men seem to be a part of the pro-Egyptian party in Judah, which is no doubt tearing Zedekiah’s cabinet apart in its conflicting advice.”[4] God’s message goes something like this: Stay in the city, if you choose, and die either by war, starvation, or pandemic, Or, if you choose to leave and go to Babylon, you will save yourselves and live. Essentially, to save your life will become “a prize of war”.[5] Jerusalem will fall to Nebuchadnezzar, and he will be the winner of this war. Of course, as usual, the officials advise the king to do away with Jeremiah the prophet, as his answers are just doom and gloom. In fact, he is “discouraging the men of war who are left in this city and all the people.” (v4) King Zedekiah said, “Behold, he is in your hands” because I am tired of you all. (v5)

Jeremiah is cast into the cistern of Malchijah the king’s son, which is in the courtyard of the guardhouse. Let down by ropes, Jeremiah sinks into the residual silt at the bottom of the empty cistern. Here we meet Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian eunuch and “high-ranking African official”[6] who works in the royal palace. Defending Jeremiah’s safety and pleading for Jeremiah’s life, he asks the king for help. Zedekiah sends him and thirty men to rescue Jeremiah out of the cistern “before he dies”. (v10)

They save Jeremiah, and he remains in the court of the guardhouse. Zedekiah then calls for Jeremiah “to be brought to the third entrance of the temple of Yahweh” and asks him for the truth. (v14) Kaiser writes, “The location of this third entrance to the temple of Yahweh is unknown” but may be a “covered walkway used exclusively by royalty”.[7] This would provide a safe and secure meeting place. Jeremiah’s narrative continues to be the same. Zedekiah expresses his fear “of the Judeans who have gone over to the Chaldeans.” (v19) Pleading to listen to God’s voice, Jeremiah tries to explain the severe consequence of not complying. Forget the ones already gone; think about the women and children still here. Jeremiah gives vivid descriptions of what will happen to the women of the royal court and reminds how they will become property of the King of Babylon.

With fear of retaliation, Zedekiah demands that Jeremiah keep their conversation confidential. Jeremiah honors the King’s request, replying only that he had been pleading his own case before the King. Here, Jeremiah remains until the day Jerusalem  is captured.

Possibly Chapter 38 gives us a more detailed account of the events in Chapter 37 or another event. Some scholars believe the chronology of events “is clearly not the central purpose of these chapters.”[8] Even though Jeremiah is “confined in the courtyard of the guard, he was allowed to have visitors and to speak freely to them.”[9] Recognizing even in prison, Jeremiah continues to share the message of Yahweh. God provides for Jeremiah by sending Ebed-melech, an often-overlooked Old Testament hero of true courage and character, a person God inspires to help his faithful prophet, Jeremiah. ”Jeremiah later had the privilege of informing his Ethiopian rescuer that God would keep him safe during the fall and destruction of Jerusalem. (39:18)”[10] Fear of the people creates an impotence of leadership for King Zedekiah, who remains uncommitted and ineffectual. Jeremiah is now in his 40th year of ministry and brings the same message. God is not changing His plan.



In John 18:33-38, Pilate, the governor of Jerusalem, finds himself face to face with Jesus, face to face with Truth. Pilate asks, "What is truth?" His rhetorical cynicism does not investigate truth or even debate truth; rather, like the philosophy of the culture of Rome, Pilate suggests there is no real truth. The answer to Pilate's question sits right in front of him but goes unrecognized.

After looking at a variety of Scripture in a search for "truth", these are the truths Christians embrace: God's word is truth. Christ is truth. Scripture testifies to truth, as does the Father. Jesus is The Truth. The Helper, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. Christ, called Faithful and True, will come again. Pope Francis writes, "Faith without truth is an illusion; truth without love is cold." Faith is believing God is Sovereign. Faith is believing the Gospel of Jesus is Grace. Faith is empty without truth! 

In Matthew 27:22-24, when Pilate sees that his efforts to free an innocent Jesus are “accomplishing nothing, but rather a riot was starting,” he decides to no longer be involved, to let the people choose. This fear of political suicide, this anxiety of rejection or rebellion by the people, is like Zedekiah in the Chapter 38 of Jeremiah. Neither leader seeks the truth or stands for the truth. Less than 650 years before Pilate and fearing retaliation, Zedekiah says, “Behold, [Jeremiah] is in your hands” because I am tired of you all. (Jeremiah 38:5) . Zedekiah’s failure to act rests on the precipice of Jerusalem’s fall, the temple’s destruction, and complete exile for the Hebrew people to Babylon in 586 BC.

Pontius Pilate would soon use his authority to condemn Jesus to the cross. Within less than 40 years, Rome would destroy the temple in Jerusalem. By the end of the first century AD, the Christian church will endure great turmoil and resistance. All the disciples except John will be martyred; yet, despite persecution, faithful believers will continue to spread the Good News. Before the end of the second century, the power of Rome will be threatened by many invasions and civil war, and the third century will be marked with countless wars. In 476 AD, the reign of the last Roman emperor marks the end of Roman rule and the beginning of the Middle Ages. History continues.



  • Does fear prevent you from serving God? Can you identify with Zedekiah, who fears negative remarks or even retaliation? Are you frequently swayed by public opinion?
  • Are you more like Zedekiah or Ebed-melech in your faithfulness to God? Do you allow God to use your abilities and gifts for His service? When you speak about your beliefs, are you bold? Trust can overcome fear.

[1] Archeological Study Bible, Wells, Cisterns, Aqueducts of the Ancient World

[2] Ibid

[3] Easton’s Bible Dictionary, dungeon

[4] Walking the Ancient Paths Commentary on Jeremiah, Kaiser, Walter C, p 439

[5] New Interpreter’s Study Bible, Jeremiah Chapter 38

[6] Chronological Study Bible Notes, Ebed-melech

[7] Ancient Paths, Kaiser, p 442

[8] New Interpreter’s Study Bible, Chapter 38

[9] Archaeological Study Bible, notes Jeremiah Chapter 38

[10] Chronological Study Bible