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Jeremiah 38:9-17

Context
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. 1  38:10 Then the king gave Ebed Melech the Ethiopian the following order: “Take thirty 2  men with you from here and go pull the prophet Jeremiah out of the cistern before he dies.” 38:11 So Ebed Melech took the men with him and went to a room under the treasure room in the palace. 3  He got some worn-out clothes and old rags 4  from there and let them down by ropes to Jeremiah in the cistern. 38:12 Ebed Melech 5  called down to Jeremiah, “Put these rags and worn-out clothes under your armpits to pad the ropes. 6  Jeremiah did as Ebed Melech instructed. 7  38:13 So they pulled Jeremiah up from the cistern with ropes. Jeremiah, however, still remained confined 8  to the courtyard of the guardhouse.

Jeremiah Responds to Zedekiah’s Request for Secret Advice

38:14 Some time later 9  Zedekiah sent and had Jeremiah brought to him at the third entrance 10  of the Lord’s temple. The king said to Jeremiah, “I would like to ask you a question. Do not hide anything from me when you answer.” 11  38:15 Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “If I answer you, you will certainly kill me. 12  If I give you advice, you will not listen to me.” 38:16 So King Zedekiah made a secret promise to Jeremiah and sealed it with an oath. He promised, 13  “As surely as the Lord lives who has given us life and breath, 14  I promise you this: I will not kill you or hand you over to those men who want to kill you.” 15 

38:17 Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “The Lord, the God who rules over all, the God of Israel, 16  says, ‘You must surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon. If you do, your life will be spared 17  and this city will not be burned down. Indeed, you and your whole family will be spared.

1 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, ’etasher 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).

2 tc Some modern English versions (e.g., NRSV, REB, TEV) and commentaries read “three” on the basis that thirty men would not be necessary for the task (cf. J. Bright, Jeremiah [AB], 231). Though the difference in “three” and “thirty” involves minimal emendation (שְׁלֹשָׁה [shÿlosha] for שְׁלֹשִׁים [shÿloshim]) there is no textual or versional evidence for it except for one Hebrew ms. Perhaps the number was large to prevent the officials from hindering Ebed Melech from accomplishing the task.

3 tn Heb “went into the palace in under the treasury.” Several of the commentaries (e.g., J. Bright, Jeremiah [AB], 227; J. A. Thompson, Jeremiah [NICOT], 639, n. 6) emend the prepositional phrase “in under” (אֶל־תַּחַת, ’el-takhat) to the noun “wardrobe” plus the preposition “to” (אֶל־מֶלְתַחַת, ’el-meltakhat). This is a plausible emendation which would involve dropping out מֶל (mel) due to its similarity with the אֶל (’el) which precedes it. However, there is no textual or versional evidence for such a reading and the compound preposition is not in itself objectionable (cf. BDB 1066 s.v. תַּחַת III.1.a). The Greek version reads “the part underground” (representing a Hebrew Vorlage of אֶל תַּחַת הָאָרֶץ, ’el takhat haarets) in place of אֶל תַּחַת הָאוֹצָר (’el takhat haotsar). The translation follows the Hebrew text but adds the word “room” for the sake of English style.

4 tn Heb “worn-out clothes and worn-out rags.”

5 tn Heb “Ebed Melech the Ethiopian.” The words “the Ethiopian” are unnecessary and are not repeated in the translation because he has already been identified as such in vv. 7, 10.

6 tn Heb “under the joints of your arms under the ropes.” The two uses of “under” have different orientations and are best reflected by “between your armpits and the ropes” or “under your armpits to pad the ropes.”

7 tn Or “Jeremiah did so.” The alternate translation is what the text reads literally.

8 tn Heb “Jeremiah remained/stayed in the courtyard of the guardhouse.” The translation is meant to better reflect the situation; i.e., Jeremiah was released from the cistern but still had to stay in the courtyard of the guardhouse.

9 tn The words “Some time later” are not in the text but are a way of translating the conjunction “And” or “Then” that introduces this narrative.

10 sn The precise location of this entrance is unknown since it is mentioned nowhere else in the OT. Many commentators equate this with the “king’s outer entry” (mentioned in 2 Kgs 16:18) which appears to have been a private entryway between the temple and the palace.

11 tn The words “when you answer” are not in the text but are implicit in the connection. They are supplied in the translation for the sake of clarity and smoothness of style.

12 tn Or “you will most certainly kill me, won’t you?” Heb “Will you not certainly kill me?” The question is rhetorical and expects a positive answer. In situations like this BDB s.v. לֹא 4.b(β) says that הֲלֹא (halo’) “has a tendency to become little more than an affirmative particle, declaring with some rhetorical emphasis what is, or might be, well known.” The idea of certainty is emphasized here by the addition of the infinitive absolute before the finite verb (Joüon 2:422 §123.e).

13 tn Heb “So King Zedekiah secretly swore an oath to Jeremiah, saying.”

14 tn Heb “who has made this life/soul/ breath [נֶפֶשׁ, nefesh] for us.” The Hebrew term נֶפֶשׁ refers to the living, breathing substance of a person which constitutes his very life (cf. BDB 659 s.v. נֶפֶשׁ 1; 3).

15 tn Heb “who are seeking your life.”

16 tn Heb “Yahweh, the God of armies, the God of Israel.” Compare 7:3 and 35:17 and see the study note on 2:19.

17 tn Heb “Your life/soul will live.” The quote is a long condition-consequence sentence with compound consequential clauses. It reads, “If you will only go out to the officers of the king of Babylon, your soul [= you yourself; BDB 660 s.v. נֶפֶשׁ 4.a] will live and this city will not be burned with fire and you and your household will live.” The sentence has been broken down and restructured to better conform with contemporary English style. The infinitive absolute in the condition emphasizes the one condition, i.e., going out or surrendering (cf. Joüon 2:423 §123.g, and compare usage in Exod 15:26). For the idiom “go out to” = “surrender to” see the full idiom in 21:9 “go out and fall over to” which is condensed in 38:2 to “go out to.” The expression here is the same as in 38:2.



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