38:6 So the officials 1 took Jeremiah and put him in the cistern 2 of Malkijah, one of the royal princes, 3 that was in the courtyard of the guardhouse. There was no water in the cistern, only mud. So when they lowered Jeremiah into the cistern with ropes he sank in the mud. 4
38:7 An Ethiopian, Ebed Melech, 5 a court official in the royal palace, heard that Jeremiah had been put 6 in the cistern. While the king was holding court 7 at the Benjamin Gate, 38:8 Ebed Melech departed the palace and went to speak to the king. He said to him, 38:9 “Your royal Majesty, those men have been very wicked in all that they have done to the prophet Jeremiah. They have thrown him into a cistern and he is sure to die of starvation there because there is no food left in the city. 8
1 tn Heb “they.”
2 sn A cistern was a pear-shaped pit with a narrow opening. Cisterns were cut or dug in the limestone rock and lined with plaster to prevent seepage. They were used to collect and store rain water or water carried up from a spring.
4 tn Heb “And they let Jeremiah down with ropes and in the cistern there was no water, only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud.” The clauses have been reordered and restructured to create a more natural and smoother order in English.
6 tn Heb “Ebed Melech, the Cushite, a man, an eunuch/official, and he was [= who was; a circumstantial clause] in the house of the king, heard that they had put Jeremiah…” The passive construction “Jeremiah had been put” has been used to avoid the indefinite subject “they” or the addition of “the officials.” For the translation of סָרִיס (saris) as “official” here rather than “eunuch” see the translator’s note on 29:2 and see also the usage in 34:19. For the translation of “Cushite” as Ethiopian see the study note on 13:23.
7 tn Heb “And the king was sitting in the Benjamin Gate.” This clause is circumstantial to the following clause; thus “while the king was…” Most commentators agree that the reference to sitting in the gate here likely refers to the same kind of judicial context that has been posited for 26:10 (see the translator’s note there for further references). Hence the translation uses “sitting” with the more technical “holding court” to better reflect the probable situation.
8 tn Heb “Those men have made evil all they have done to the prophet Jeremiah in that they have thrown him into the cistern and he will die of starvation in the place where he is because there is no more food in the city.” The particle אֵת (’et) before “they have thrown” (אֵת אֲשֶׁר הִשְׁלִיכוּ, ’et ’asher hishlikhu) is explanatory or further definition of “all they have done to” (i.e., the particle is repeated for apposition). The verb form “and he is sure to die” is an unusual use of the vav (ו) consecutive + imperfect that the grammars see as giving a logical consequence without a past nuance (cf. GKC 328 §111.l and IBHS 557-58 §33.3.1f).
sn “Because there isn’t any food left in the city” is rhetorical exaggeration; the food did not run out until just before the city fell. Perhaps the intent is to refer to the fact that there was no food in the city for people so confined (i.e., in solitary confinement).