Jeremiah 37:11 - 38:18.
 Truth Without Compromise

Copyright © 2008, American Journal of Biblical Theology   Scripture quotes from KJV

One of the important issues facing the church as well as individual Christians today is the necessity of maintaining the truth of the gospel against a culture that summarily rejects it.  This perennial conflict draws out and defines the very character of the church.  To hold fast to the uncompromised truth is to stand firmly against the prevailing philosophies of world culture.  Consequently, the world perceives an uncompromised and opposing position as ignorant, unenlightened, and intolerant.  Historically, those who have stood against opposition from both the world and the organized church are remembered as martyrs.  Though rarely reported by an unsympathetic ungodly media, martyrdom is more widespread today than in any time in history.  More Christians have been killed for their faith in the last 100 years than in the previous 1900. 

When we think of the persecution of Christians for their faith, our thought probably turn to instances where that persecution comes at the hands of those who reject the faith.  However, for many centuries people have found far more persecution at the hands of a dogmatic church than from a disinterested pagan world.  For centuries persecution was characterized by the church's killing of faithful Christians, branded as "heretics," those who disagreed with church authority and dogma.  Thankfully, the cultural climate has changed somewhat in that regard.  The organized church is less dogmatic, and may no longer burn heretics at the stake.  Still, church policy and practice often discourages evangelistic fervor, tolerating evangelistic efforts by a few, but existing more to serve the social needs of its member..  Also, the church and many Christians are willing to compromise in order to be accepted by this pagan world, and by so doing avoid persecution.

Examples of all of these characteristics of the modern church were demonstrated in the history of ancient Judah.  The church today is not that much different from the ancient Judean Jews.  Unlike the ancient kingdom of Israel, the ancient kingdom of Judah always had a remnant of the faithful who put their trust in God.  Occasionally the kings of Judea sought to bring the nation to obedience to God.  However, this influence from the throne ended with the death of Josiah.  By the time that Zedekiah was placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, Josiah's influence had waned, replaced by a godless administration that persecuted any who criticized it.  When Jeremiah was first called by God to bring His word to the people, the princes and the king, he received little respect.  He did not fit the prophetic model that the Judeans expected and his testimony was unpopular.  Now over 20 years later under the reign of Zedekiah, the truth of Jeremiah's prophecies have garnered him access to the Judean leadership.

However, the apostasy of the nation was at this point irreversible.  The Judean leadership had come to totally disregard the covenant of obedience to God and are about to lose their possession of the "promised land."  Jeremiah has spent these 20+ years telling the people that the only way to avoid destruction is to turn to God in obedience and show respect for Babylon whom God is using for His purposes in the lives of the Jewish people.  At the time there are three foreign nations who are being used by God to complete His purpose:  the Babylonians, the Egyptians, and the Chaldeans.  Each wanted control of Judah since it stood at a crossroads between continents.  The Babylonians have already overrun Judah, but are currently distracted by their wars with Egypt, so the control of Babylon over Judea is rather loose.  Nebuchadnezzar has conscripted the Chaldeans to continue the pressure on Judah.  However, the threat to Babylon from Egypt drew away even the Chaldeans, leaving Judah with a very short-lived period of peace.

Jeremiah 37:11-12.

And it came to pass, that when the army of the Chaldeans was broken up from Jerusalem for fear of Pharaohís army, 12Then Jeremiah went forth out of Jerusalem to go into the land of Benjamin, to separate himself thence in the midst of the people.

This period of quiet brought a temporary break in the siege of Jerusalem and offered Jeremiah an opportunity to return home to Anathoth.  His home village is of the tribe of Benjamin, one of the tribes that remained with Judah when the nation split, and not far from Jerusalem.  There were many who hated Jeremiah for the content of his statements.  He advocated obedience to Babylon, so he was considered a traitor by some, and sympathetic to Babylon by most.  He directly opposed the false prophets (such as Hananiah) who continued to preach resistance to Babylon and that God would end the period of conflict and restore the temple.  Jeremiah met an enemy on his way to Anathoth.

Jeremiah 37:13-15.

And when he was in the gate of Benjamin, a captain of the ward was there, whose name was Irijah, the son of Shelemiah, the son of Hananiah; and he took Jeremiah the prophet, saying, Thou fallest away to the Chaldeans. 14Then said Jeremiah, It is false; I fall not away to the Chaldeans. But he hearkened not to him: so Irijah took Jeremiah, and brought him to the princes. 15Wherefore the princes were wroth with Jeremiah, and smote him, and put him in prison in the house of Jonathan the scribe: for they had made that the prison.

Irijah was the grandson of Hananiah, the false prophet who's conflict with Jeremiah is recorded in Chapter 28.  Hananiah was the "prophet" who was respected by the king, princes, and the people.  However, Hananiah publicly opposed Jeremiah's prophecy of impending calamity, leading Judah in rebellion against God.  Jeremiah's final prophecy concerning Hananiah was to declare the impending death of this false prophet.  Two months after Jeremiah's prophecy, Hananiah died.  Consequently, Jeremiah was not particularly favored by Hananiah's family.  They saw this event as a humiliation of Hananiah and their family.  Consequently, they looked for any opportunity to discredit Jeremiah.  Upon entering the gate of Benjamin the grandson of Hananiah saw an opportunity.  Because of the Chaldean presence, people tended to stay off the roads.  Jeremiah's presence on those roads gave Irijah an idea.  Taking Jeremiah prisoner, Irijah declared that Jeremiah's safety on the roads was proof that he defected to the Chaldeans.  Jeremiah defended himself, declaring that the charge was ridiculous.  However, when confronted by irrational hatred, rational arguments rarely work.

When Irijah brought Jeremiah back to Jerusalem and accused him of treachery against the throne, the princes saw an opportunity to take vengeance upon the man they were forced to tolerate.  Jeremiah was beaten and imprisoned without the direct command of the puppet king, Zedekiah..

Standing for the truth both promotes and requires a life of integrity.  Paul describes this integrity as a "breastplate of righteousness" (Eph. 6:12 ff) that deflects the fiery darts of the devil.  Jeremiah's opponents could not find charges to bring against him because of his uncompromised personal and spiritual integrity.  Consequently, his enemies took advantage of an innocent trip home to Anathoth and declared it as defection to the Chaldeans.  The charges were lies.

When one lives a life of integrity, the only way one can be discredited by a persecutor is with misunderstandings and outright lies. 

Jeremiah 37:16-17.

When Jeremiah was entered into the dungeon, and into the cabins, and Jeremiah had remained there many days; 17Then Zedekiah the king sent, and took him out: and the king asked him secretly in his house, and said, Is there any word from the LORD? And Jeremiah said, There is: for, said he, thou shalt be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon.

Jeremiah's unswerving dedication to uncompromised truth is evident when he is brought before the king.  Zedekiah had seen Jeremiah's prophecies come to fulfillment, particularly his prophecy of Hananiah's death.  Still however, Zedekiah would not accept Jeremiah's prophecy concerning the impending doom of a nation that has turned against God.  Zedekiah simply cannot see his own apostasy, still thinking he is righteous under the law and by his heritage that traces back to Abraham.  Jeremiah could have used this encounter as an opportunity to get out of prison.  Jeremiah could have told the king what he wanted to hear, and by so doing be released from the ire of the administration.  If Jeremiah backed off of his prophecies, he would no longer be considered an enemy of the state.

However, Jeremiah could not compromise.  The word of the LORD does not change, and Jeremiah repeats the same prophecy he has been declaring for over 20 years.  However, this time the prophecy becomes very personal.  Now Jeremiah points to Zedekiah himself as the king who will be on the throne when Judah is taken.  The Hebrew word that is rendered "delivered" refers to a violent and utter defeat in battle.  Indeed, Zedekiah's rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar would prove to bring a particularly violent end to the Judean presence in Jerusalem, and particularly gruesome personal treatment of king Zedekiah. 

Much of the message of the church today has been compromised by the church's desire for acceptance in the culture, both at a corporate and at a personal level.  Rather than take a stand for uncompromised truth, the church is divided among those branded as "fundamentalists" or "conservatives" who try to hold firmly to the basic truths, and "liberals" who are open to changes that reflect the "needs" of modern culture.  In the middle of these is the large mass of Christians who do not take a stand at all.  We have seen some of that conflict recently in the election of a new Pope where a liberal arm of Catholic bishops hoped to elect a more "enlightened" Pope who would relax some of the church's doctrinal positions. 

  One of many examples of such compromise is the pressure on the church to accept homosexuality as an acceptable and even laudable lifestyle.  Some have given in to this pressure in order to attain acceptance.  We have seen this in the ordination of Christian pastors and bishops who openly live this sinful lifestyle.  Others still hold firmly to the biblical treatment of homosexuality as sin.  Though the issue itself is complex, the acceptance of sin is not.  Despite the predictable response of the king, Jeremiah maintained his integrity and told the king the truth.

Jeremiah 37:18-19.

Moreover Jeremiah said unto king Zedekiah, What have I offended against thee, or against thy servants, or against this people, that ye have put me in prison? 19Where are now your prophets which prophesied unto you, saying, The king of Babylon shall not come against you, nor against this land?

Though Zedekiah was ungodly, he was not irrational.  The prophets whom Zedekiah embraced were those with messages he wanted to hear.  Even today, the priests and pastors who are popular are those who bring a popular message.  Most of those who preach over television networks bring messages that tickle people's ears in a hope that it also tickles their pocketbooks.  Because of the vocational nature of many pastorates today, it is very difficult for a pastor to preach the truth when it is not what the congregation wants.  Many congregations are run by its members, members who will immediately call for the resignation of a pastor with an unpopular message.  Those false prophets whom Zedekiah kept around himself helped him to lead the nation in the direction of his own choosing, the wrong direction as they promoted the disobedience of Nebuchadnezzar and rebellion against God's plan.  They also set the king at odds with the one person who could bring him the truth: Jeremiah.  Now, accused of treachery and imprisoned without food or water, Jeremiah hopes, if not for the kings repentance, at least for his own relief.

Jeremiah 37:20-21.

Therefore hear now, I pray thee, O my LORD the king: let my supplication, I pray thee, be accepted before thee; that thou cause me not to return to the house of Jonathan the scribe, lest I die there. 21Then Zedekiah the king commanded that they should commit Jeremiah into the court of the prison, and that they should give him daily a piece of bread out of the bakersí street, until all the bread in the city were spent. Thus Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.

The king did not release Jeremiah from prison.  However, he did improve the situation for Jeremiah as he removed him from the dungeon and brought him to the outer part of the prison where he would receive daily bread and water.  Note the desperate situation that Jerusalem is in:  Jeremiah was promised bread until the bread in the city was spent.  We should not forget that Jerusalem is under siege, currently by the Chaldeans, and it has been difficult to bring any supplies in.  Jeremiah's venture to Benjamin can be better understood within this context when his passage through occupied territory was interpreted as a conspiracy with its occupiers, the Chaldeans.

Jeremiah remained imprisoned for the false charge of a crime that he did not commit.  This is a recurrent pattern among those who are persecuted by the dogmatic Jewish leadership.  Another classic example is the imprisonment of Paul for the charge of brining a gentile into the temple.  The "gentile" was Timothy, a member of the circumcision, the son of a godly Jewish mother.  It was this charge that would carry him to the Roman prison and his probable death at the hands of the Roman Caesar.  Of course, it was this same pattern of rebellion against God that led the Jewish leadership to place Jesus on Calvary's cross.

There is little question that it takes courage to stand for the truth against those who would oppose it, and the most violent of opponents are often found in the context of the church.  Like Jesus, Jeremiah, the other prophets; Paul, as well as the other apostles, they found the great majority of their opponents in the family of the Children of Abraham, the Jews. 

Jeremiah 38:1-4.

Then Shephatiah the son of Mattan, and Gedaliah the son of Pashur, and Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashur the son of Malchiah, heard the words that Jeremiah had spoken unto all the people, saying, 2Thus saith the LORD, He that remaineth in this city shall die by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence: but he that goeth forth to the Chaldeans shall live; for he shall have his life for a prey, and shall live. 3Thus saith the LORD, This city shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylonís army, which shall take it. 4Therefore the princes said unto the king, We beseech thee, let this man be put to death: for thus he weakeneth the hands of the men of war that remain in this city, and the hands of all the people, in speaking such words unto them: for this man seeketh not the welfare of this people, but the hurt.

The king's decision to leave Jeremiah in the prison of the court left the court officials angry.  This setting allowed Jeremiah to continue to speak to the sins of the people and their impending judgment.  This message, shared with the jailers and prison inmates, exposed the godless policies of the administration.  Those whose names are recorded here are representative of the government leadership put in place by the Egyptians.  Pashur is mentioned as the one who placed Jeremiah in stocks (20:1 ff).  With the siege placing the city in such a critical state, Jeremiah's message did indeed oppose the direction taken by the administration, a direction that could have been averted by their obedience to God, a direction they could not see.  This is probably not the first time politicians were ignorant of the spiritual aspect of their choices. 

Declaring Jeremiah's actions as traitorous, the king's advisors called for Jeremiah to be put to death.

Jeremiah 38:5-6.

Then Zedekiah the king said, Behold, he is in your hand: for the king is not he that can do any thing against you. 6Then took they Jeremiah, and cast him into the dungeon of Malchiah the son of Hammelech, that was in the court of the prison: and they let down Jeremiah with cords. And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire: so Jeremiah sunk in the mire.

The king, when faced with this argument by his colleagues, demonstrated his own lack of integrity.  It was this king who asked Jeremiah for a "word from the LORD" (Chapter 37) and yet would condemn him to death rather than stand for the truth before his own officials.  His methods were every bit as weak as he was.  Rather than declare Jeremiah a traitor and put him to death, the king had Jeremiah put into an old well in the rear area of the prison.  This pit is where all of the water used to wash the prison would pool.  When one considers the lack of indoor plumbing, little is left to the imagination in order to recognize the nature of this pit.  Using ropes, they lowered Jeremiah into the cistern, and to his certain death from starvation and/or dehydration.

Many in the ministry have suffered abuse at the hands of their parishioners when they refused to compromise.  Few have probably ever had the deacons lower them into a cistern to die.  What was going through Jeremiah's mind at a time like this?  Certainly his faith in God was strong, yet we know from his writings that he was a very wise, but sensitive person.  When God called Jeremiah, he was given a promise by God that he would not be killed in the persecution to follow.  Jeremiah probably believed he would not die in this hole, but still, the man is human.  Jeremiah suffered, just as many Christians suffer today when their message of truth will not be accepted by those who take authority over them.

Jeremiah 38:7-9.

Now when Ebedmelech the Ethiopian, one of the eunuchs which was in the kingís house, heard that they had put Jeremiah in the dungeon; the king then sitting in the gate of Benjamin; 8Ebedmelech went forth out of the kingís house, and spake to the king, saying, 9My LORD the king, these men have done evil in all that they have done to Jeremiah the prophet, whom they have cast into the dungeon; and he is like to die for hunger in the place where he is: for there is no more bread in the city.

It may be interesting to note that it was a foreigner who was concerned about Jeremiah.  Ebedmelech's description as a eunuch garners thoughts of one who has been castrated and given care of the king's harem.  However, the term used for this office is also used to describe an official of the court, and specifically one who has responsibility for the keeping of the financial accounts.  The pit that held Jeremiah was beneath the treasury, again pointing to the likelihood that this man was an official.  Because of his access to the king, and because of the king's respect of his opinion, we may also note that this individual is probably not a keeper of a harem.  This argument also holds for the Ethiopian Eunuch whom Phillip brought to the LORD as recorded in Acts, Chapter 8.  Unlike the king and his officials, the Ethiopian was a man of integrity and was not swept up by the intrigue of the court.  The Ethiopian went to the king and accused the officials of evildoing in their treatment of Jeremiah.  We also see that the siege on the city is becoming particularly critical as he states that there is "no more bread" in the city.

Jeremiah 38:10-13.

Then the king commanded Ebedmelech the Ethiopian, saying, Take from hence thirty men with thee, and take up Jeremiah the prophet out of the dungeon, before he die. 11So Ebedmelech took the men with him, and went into the house of the king under the treasury, and took thence old cast clouts and old rotten rags, and let them down by cords into the dungeon to Jeremiah. 12And Ebedmelech the Ethiopian said unto Jeremiah, Put now these old cast clouts and rotten rags under thine armholes under the cords. And Jeremiah did so. 13So they drew up Jeremiah with cords, and took him up out of the dungeon: and Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.

Any action to remove Jeremiah would be opposed by the king's officials.  However, the plot for the feigned execution of the prophet was also now exposed to the people.  As godless as the king was, he still knew that he would not be favored as the one who killed the prophet, Jeremiah.  With the conspiracy exposed, the king's best response was to quickly remove Jeremiah from the pit before he dies.  It is evident that the king expected some opposition from the princes when he commanded the Eunuch to muster a company of 30 soldiers to accompany him.  The Eunuch would be turned away at the entrance of the dungeon, but nobody would stand in the way of a company of the king's military guard.

The gentleness of the Ethiopian is evident in his treatment of Jeremiah.  He cast old clothes and rags into the cistern to be used as padding around the ropes that would lift Jeremiah out.  With this act, Jeremiah was removed from his third imprisonment and his life was saved.  Still, however, Jeremiah would remain in the prison, but now back in the court area where he would be seen and cared for as much as would be reasonable for the circumstances.

God sent one godly person to the king on the behalf of Jeremiah, and through that person, Jeremiah was saved.  We see courage in the Ethiopian who risked an audience with the king that included his accusation of the king's officials.  Yet, the Ethiopian stood for the truth, and truth prevailed.  Jeremiah may have felt abandoned and doomed by his circumstances, but all the time that Jeremiah sat in the mire, God was working for his emancipation.  We can remember this when we think we are immersed in the "slough of despair:"  God knows our state, and is working for our deliverance. 

Jeremiah 38:14-16.

Then Zedekiah the king sent, and took Jeremiah the prophet unto him into the third entry that is in the house of the LORD: and the king said unto Jeremiah, I will ask thee a thing; hide nothing from me. 15Then Jeremiah said unto Zedekiah, If I declare it unto thee, wilt thou not surely put me to death? and if I give thee counsel, wilt thou not hearken unto me? 16So Zedekiah the king sware secretly unto Jeremiah, saying, As the LORD liveth, that made us this soul, I will not put thee to death, neither will I give thee into the hand of these men that seek thy life.

This would be the last meeting between the king and Jeremiah.  Zedekiah understood at this point that the only source of truth in his circle of relationships was this persecuted prophet of God.  Having treated Jeremiah so abusively, there would be no reason for Jeremiah to exhibit any trust in the king at all.  As far as Jeremiah knows, this meeting is to inform him of his impending execution.  Into this setting, Zedekiah again asks Jeremiah for the word from the LORD, with nothing hidden.  Every time Jeremiah has told the truth to the king, he has been more brutally persecuted. 

At this point the king promises that he will not put Jeremiah to death, and he will protect him from those who would kill him.  However, it is still evident that he will not be set free.

How would any man answer in a situation like this?  It would be easy to tell the king what he wants to hear, and by so doing, he would probably be set free.  In today's culture where rationalized sin has become the norm, it would be easy to argue, "this king is going to die anyway, he won't listen to the truth, so why bother?"  We can come up with a litany of reasons to rationalize compromise.  Truth is truth, period.  God's truth is as eternal and unchanging as God is.  The Truth is a revelation of God's character and God's purpose for us, making it as pure and holy as God is.  As soon as we mix it with any impurity, it is no longer truth, but a half-truth, and a half-truth is a lie.  Jeremiah chooses to stand on this one truth, the Word of God.  He has no choice to repeat to the king the one unchanging truth.

Jeremiah 38:17-18.

Then said Jeremiah unto Zedekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel; If thou wilt assuredly go forth unto the king of Babylonís princes, then thy soul shall live, and this city shall not be burned with fire; and thou shalt live, and thine house: 18But if thou wilt not go forth to the king of Babylonís princes, then shall this city be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and thou shalt not escape out of their hand.

Despite everything that has happened, Jeremiah's message has not changed, because God's message has not changed.  God's message and purpose is not changed by the whims and desires of mankind.  There is one truth, and it is this:  Unless Zedekiah repent from his ungodly ways and policies, and turn in obedience to God, he is doomed.  This is a tough command for Zedekiah.  The Hebrew word rendered "go forth" literally refers to unconditional surrender.  To follow God's purpose, Zedekiah must end his rebellion and fully surrender to Nebuchadnezzar, fully surrendering to God's command.  It is obvious that Zedekiah could not resolve the difference between God's plan and his own personal desires.  He refused to listen to the Truth when he heard it, and by rejecting God's leadership in this tense situation, Zedekiah took the nation into battle with Nebuchadnezzar, resulting in his utter defeat by this far superior force.  Zedekiah's refusal to submit to God's plan brought his utter doom.

The One Truth for us is the same:  all who refuse to turn to God through faith and trust in Him are likewise doomed to an eternity separated from Him.  Though God reveals His truth to us in many ways, the Holy Scriptures provide us with the most literal and clear source of that truth.  Turning to God involves trusting in His Word and His revelation of Himself and His purposes through the content and context of those Holy Scriptures.  Herein we learn that the Messiah, the Christ, who was the Creator and the Judge of all, stepped down from His position in Heaven to be born of a virgin, as a humble child who was named Jesus.  As a man, He lived all of the experiences of humanity, and as the Messiah was empowered to reveal God's perfect plan, a plan whereby even He would suffer, and pay the price for the sins of all souls who would fully place their faith in God.  It is only through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross that man finds forgiveness that is offered now to all people without regard to their state.  Because of this, it is only through Jesus that man can be saved.

This is the Truth.  If we water it down to include other gods, or declare that all gods lead to the same god, or use any other message than the message of the gospel, that message can serve only to lead people away from God.  Hananiah and the other false prophets were sincere in their prophecies.  However, because the power of God was not the source of their prophecies, they were sincerely wrong.  God stated that He would place His word in the heart of those who place their faith and trust in Him (Heb 8:10, et. al.)  One demonstrates that they know the truth only when they fully submit their lives to it.  If you refuse to submit your life to the truth, then you only know about the truth, you do not fully know it.  However, when one comes to fully submit themselves to the LORD, their lives are radically changed, transformed by the renewal of the mind (Romans 12:2).  When this happens, one can live only on the basis of God's uncompromised truth.  To compromise the truth brings tremendous conflict to the heart of one who is fully submitted to God.

As we look at the way we are presenting the Gospel to this lost world, let us not fall into the trap of making the gospel fit worldly circumstances.  Let us simply present the true and living gospel to those circumstances and let God do the work of changing people's hearts.  When standing on the truth of the gospel brings persecution we can know that God is quite aware of that circumstance and will work to bring us through.  Emboldened by the power of the Holy Spirit, and with a renewed understanding of God's purpose of salvation for all people, let us share God's love with all people, making ourselves available to God to serve as the Holy vessel He has ordained to spread the truth of the gospel to all people.  We can do this by shedding all of our pride and prejudice as we choose to love all people unconditionally.  Once we have come to love others fully, it is then easy to depend upon the Holy Spirit to lead us to opportunities to share God's love with others, and to follow that Lead as we share God's purpose for them.