Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
JEREMIAH CHAPTER 37
V 1: "And King Tzedekiah son of Josiah ruled." Episodes and prophecies of Jeremiah from the latter years of the reign of King Tzedekiah have already appeared in earlier chapters (chs 28, 32-34). However, the last two chapters (35 & 36) are not in chronological sequence since they go back in time to the reign of Tzedekiah's older brother, Yeho-yakim. The latter reigned for eleven years, after which he was succeeded by his son Yeho-yachin, who ruled for only 3 months before being exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, who then appointed his uncle, Tzedekiah, as king of Judah in his place.
The last chapter (36) showed the depths to which the royal house of Judah had sunk in depicting Yeho-yakim tearing the true prophet's scroll of rebuke to shreds and casting them into the fire. He was literally burning the Torah! After this depiction of depravity, Rashi comments on our present verse (37:1): "Now the prophet comes to relate how the punishments he had been prophesying until now were actually fulfilled. With the arrival of the appointed time for his words to be fulfilled, he tells how a new king ruled over Judah in place of Yeho-yachin son of Yeho-yakim".
Vv 2-3: Tzedekiah's equivocal nature is brought out in these verses, which tell us that he and his servants and the people would not heed God's words to Jeremiah, yet the king still sent to the prophet asking him to pray for them.
V 5: "And the army of Pharaoh had left Egypt , and the Chaldeans who were besieging Jerusalem heard the news about them and went up from Jerusalem ." Tzedekiah and his ministers clearly hoped that the Egyptian king was coming to help them by advancing against the Babylonians. They may have believed that the Babylonian withdrawal from Jerusalem was the harbinger of new miracles of an order similar to the miracle performed in the time of King Hezekiah, when Sennacherib and the Assyrian army suddenly withdrew from their siege of Jerusalem and turned tail.
Vv 6-11: Jeremiah tells the king of Judah not to let the people deceive themselves, for no such miracle was going to take place since Jerusalem was doomed to be taken by the Babylonians and burned.
V 12: Jeremiah was in a most dangerous position in Jerusalem because of his resolute defiance of the prevailing "political correctness" among the king's ministers. At the time of the above prophecy Jeremiah was not in prison (see v 4), but he very likely feared that he would soon be detained, and this may be why he wanted to "slip out" (LA-HALEEK) of the city among the people and go to his home town of Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin (RaDaK). Targum Yonasan and Midrash darshen the word LA-HALEEK as suggesting that he wanted to divide his ancestral possessions among the people and/or to collect his share of gifts to the priests.
V 13: The officer at the gate who detained Jeremiah was none other than the grandson of the false prophet Hananyah ben Azoor (see Jer. ch 28), who before his death left instructions to his offspring to do everything in their power to ensnare Jeremiah (Rashi). The officer accuses Jeremiah of seeking to desert to the Babylonians and betray his own people.
V 15: "The officers (SARIM) were enraged with Jeremiah and struck him." These officers were the king's ministers of state. As the ensuing narrative shows, the power politics in Jerusalem on the eve of its capture were such that the faction that favored rebellion and resistance against Babylon had the upper hand and apparently had the power to intimidate the king himself.
V 17: When King Tzedekiah wanted to speak to Jeremiah, he had to do so in secrecy. Tzedekiah seems to have understood very well how stubborn his ministers were, and he knew that they were likely to take extreme measures to silence the prophet. When he asked Jeremiah, "Is there word from HaShem?" it seems as if he still hoped that the inexorable message of doom would somehow change. But the message remained exactly the same: Jerusalem would fall and Tzedekiah would be captured by the Babylonians. Even when in prison and in mortal danger, Jeremiah did not flinch from telling the truth.
Vv 1ff: Jeremiah's known line that the resistance would end in disaster and that the people would be best advised to submit to the Babylonians enraged the dominant faction in Jerusalem , who now call upon Tzedekiah to put the prophet to death because he was demoralizing the people and weakening their will to resist.
V 5: "And King Tzedekiah said, Behold he is in your hands." Tzedekiah appears to have had a softer heart than his ministers, but he felt powerless to defy them. The rabbis considered Tzedekiah to be a Tzaddik except that he did not stand up against the wicked people in his generation (Sanhedrin 103a; cf. Rashi on II Chronicles 36:12).
V 6: Jeremiah was lowered into the pit with ropes because the pit was so deep.
V 7: "And Eved-Melech the Cushite, a senior officer in the king's house, heard." The apparent meaning of the text is that the officer in question was called by the name Eved-Melech ("servant of a king"), and that he was black (=KUSHI). However, here, as in a number of other places where the word KUSHI appears in the Biblical text (Numbers 12:1, Psalms 7:1, Amos 9:7), the rabbis darshened that a word considered to have a somewhat pejorative connotation is intentionally used of something very good and precious in order to deflect the evil eye (see Talmud, Mo'ed Katan 16b). Thus the rabbis stated that in our verse, the "Cushite" alludes to Tzedekiah, who was really a Tzaddik, and that the "servant of the king" was in fact Jeremiah's disciple, Baruch ben Neriyah (see RaDaK on our verse). The Midrash states that in reward for this act of heroism in saving Jeremiah's life (risking the vengeance of the king's ministers), Eved-Melech the Cushite merited to be one of the nine people who went into the Garden of Eden alive (Yalkut Shimoni on Genesis 5 #42).
V 10: It needed THIRTY men to pull up Jeremiah from the pit because they were all so weakened by the famine caused by the Babylonian siege (Rashi).
Vv 14ff: "And King Tzedekiah sent and took Jeremiah." Again, Tzedekiah is anxious to hear what the prophet has to say, and he swears not to harm him or hand him over to his enemies. Yet he is unable to heed the prophet's warnings and submit to the Babylonians for fear that he would be handed over to those Judeans who had already surrendered and then get lynched. Despite Jeremiah's reassurances, Tzedekiah still would not heed the prophet's warnings for fear of his own ministers. The king knew very well what they would do to Jeremiah if they discovered that he had the king's ear, and he advised him to hide the contents of their discussions from them.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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