15 Jeremiah 38:1-13 Why do I get punished for doing the right thing?

by | Mar 22, 2017 | 01 Podcasts, Jeremiah

Sometimes we despair over our sinfulness and turn the Lord for mercy (Psalm 130).  But other times, we do the right thing and are punished for it.  That’s the situation we find in Jeremiah 38:1-13.  Jeremiah has spoken the message that the Lord asked him to speak and others are seeking to kill him for it.

Historical Setting

Jeremiah began his ministry as the dominant world power, the Assyrians, descended into civil war.  As the Assyrians began to lose their power,  Babylon and Egypt sought to occupy the power vacuum that the Assyrians would leave.  In the midst of this political turmoil the Lord calls Jeremiah.  His job is to predict and warn of the coming Babylonian invasion and the restoration that would follow the exile.

Date of this Event

  • While the exact date for this events in this chapter are not given, the details suggest that this incident happened about 588 BC.
  • In the spring/summer of 588 BC the Egyptian army moved into Palestine and Babylon abandoned the siege of to deal with the Egyptian threat (Jeremiah 37:4-5).
  • When the siege lifts, Jeremiah attempts to leave the city is arrested (Jeremiah 37:11-15)).

2 arrests or 1?

Was Jeremiah arrested twice (once in the event recorded in chapter 37 and a second time as recorded in chapter 38)? OR was Jeremiah arrested once, meaning Jeremiah 38 retells the same event as Jeremiah 37. There is evidence on both sides.


  • In both chapters Jeremiah is charged with treason and placed in a pit.
  • In both chapters, Jeremiah is handed over state officials in both (37:14-15; 38:1-4). In chapter 37:14-15 we are told that the officials beat him and put him in jail.  In 38:1-4 the officials quote his preaching as traitorous, throw him in jail and ask the king for the death penalty.
  • Both chapters tell of Jeremiah’s release and then having a private meeting with the King (37:17; 38:14). The conversation in this meeting is substantially the same in both chapters.
  • In both accounts after his release, Jeremiah is kept in the court of the guard (37:21; 38:28)


  • 37:16 calls the place he was held a dungeon and 38:6 calls the place he was held a cistern. However, both those terms could refer to the same place, as the empty cistern could have been converted to a dungeon.
  • 37:15-16 tells us the cistern house is located in the home of Jonathan the secretary. In 38:6 it is called the cistern of Prince Malchijah and is located in the court of the guard.  However, both these houses make be located in the same place.

The Punishment

1Now Shephatiah the son of Mattan, and Gedaliah the son of Pashhur, and Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur the son of Malchijah heard the words that Jeremiah was speaking to all the people, saying, 2″Thus says the LORD, ‘He who stays in this city will die by the sword and by famine and by pestilence, but he who goes out to the Chaldeans will live and have his own life as booty and stay alive.’  3″Thus says the LORD, ‘This city will certainly be given into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon and he will capture it.'”  4Then the officials said to the king, “Now let this man be put to death, inasmuch as he is discouraging the men of war who are left in this city and all the people, by speaking such words to them; for this man is not seeking the well-being of this people but rather their harm.”  5So King Zedekiah said, “Behold, he is in your hands; for the king can do nothing against you.”  6Then they took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchijah the king’s son, which was in the court of the guardhouse; and they let Jeremiah down with ropes. Now in the cistern there was no water but only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud.  – Jeremiah 38:1-6
  • Pashur is named as the son of Malchijah (38:1) and Malchijah is the king’s son (38:6), making Pashur the king’s grandson and potentially an heir to the throne.  Given that pedigree, it’s quite likely that these 4 are part of the ruling authority in  Jerusalem.
  • As God’s anointed King, Zedekiah should protect God’s anointed prophet.  But he doesn’t.

12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  13But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  15But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. – 1 Peter 4:12-16

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:11-2

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.- James 1:12

The Rescue

7But Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, a eunuch, while he was in the king’s palace, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern. Now the king was sitting in the Gate of Benjamin;  8and Ebed-melech went out from the king’s palace and spoke to the king, saying,  9″My lord the king, these men have acted wickedly in all that they have done to Jeremiah the prophet whom they have cast into the cistern; and he will die right where he is because of the famine, for there is no more bread in the city.”  10Then the king commanded Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, saying, “Take thirty men from here under your authority and bring up Jeremiah the prophet from the cistern before he dies.”  11So Ebed-melech took the men under his authority and went into the king’s palace to a place beneath the storeroom and took from there worn-out clothes and worn-out rags and let them down by ropes into the cistern to Jeremiah.  12Then Ebed-melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, “Now put these worn-out clothes and rags under your armpits under the ropes”; and Jeremiah did so.  13So they pulled Jeremiah up with the ropes and lifted him out of the cistern, and Jeremiah stayed in the court of the guardhouse. – Jeremiah 38:7-13
  • Ebed-Melech is an ordinary servant.  He’s a foreigner serving in the king’s court.
  • “Ebed-Melech” is a title for “servant of the king” so he’s not really given a name.
  • He is one of many unnamed heroes in Scripture who quietly save the day.
  • The details suggest extraordinary tender care in the rescue.
  • God often acts in unexpected ways to bring about our rescue.


  1. We should expect that good deeds will sometimes be punished.
  2. Yet suffering is not the end of the story.
  3. God has a plan that involves suffering and trials and which leads to redemption and salvation.
  4. Our job is to hope, wait and trust.

For more detail and explanation, please listen to the podcast.

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Scripture quotes are from the New American Standard Version of the Bible.

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