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Jeremiah Is Held Prisoner in a Dry Well

38 One day, Shephatiah, Gedaliah, Jehucal,[a] and Pashhur[b] heard me tell the people of Judah 2-3 that the Lord had said, “If you stay here in Jerusalem, you will die in battle or from disease or hunger, and the Babylonian army will capture the city anyway. But if you surrender to the Babylonians, they will let you live.”

So the four of them went to the king and said, “You should put Jeremiah to death, because he is making the soldiers and everyone else lose hope. He isn't trying to help our people; he's trying to harm them.”

Zedekiah replied, “Do what you want with him. I can't stop you.”

Then they took me back to the courtyard of the palace guards and let me down with ropes into the well that belonged to Malchiah, the king's son. There was no water in the well, but I sank down in the mud.

7-8 Ebedmelech from Ethiopia[c] was an official at the palace, and he heard what they had done to me. So he went to speak with King Zedekiah, who was holding court at Benjamin Gate. Ebedmelech said, “Your Majesty, Jeremiah is a prophet, and those men were wrong to throw him into a well. And when Jerusalem runs out of food, Jeremiah will starve to death down there.”

10 Zedekiah answered, “Take 30[d] of my soldiers and pull Jeremiah out before he dies.”

11 Ebedmelech and the soldiers went to the palace and got some rags from the room under the treasury. He used ropes to lower them into the well. 12 Then he said, “Put these rags under your arms so the ropes won't hurt you.” After I did, 13 the men pulled me out. And from then on, I was kept in the courtyard of the palace guards.

King Zedekiah Questions Jeremiah

14 King Zedekiah[e] had me brought to his private entrance[f] to the temple, and he said, “I'm going to ask you something, and I want to know the truth.”

15 “Why?” I replied. “You won't listen, and you might even have me killed!”

16 He said, “I swear in the name of the living Lord our Creator that I won't have you killed. No one else can hear what we say, and I won't let anyone kill you.”

17 Then I told him that the Lord had said: “Zedekiah, I am the Lord God All-Powerful, the God of Israel. I promise that if you surrender to King Nebuchadnezzar's[g] officers, you and your family won't be killed, and Jerusalem won't be burned down. 18 But if you don't surrender, I will let the Babylonian army capture Jerusalem and burn it down, and you will be taken prisoner.”

19 Zedekiah answered, “I can't surrender to the Babylonians. I'm too afraid of the people of Judah who have already joined them. The Babylonians might hand me over to them, and they would torture me.”

20 I said, “If you will just obey the Lord, the Babylonians won't hand you over to those Jews. You will be allowed to live, and all will go well for you. 21 But the Lord has shown me that if you refuse to obey, 22 then the women of your palace will be taken prisoner by Nebuchadnezzar's officials. And those women will say to you:

Friends you trusted led you astray.
    Now you're trapped in mud,
and those friends you trusted
    have all turned away.

23 The Babylonian army will take your wives and children captive, you will be taken as a prisoner to the King of Babylonia, and Jerusalem will be burned down.”[h]

24 Zedekiah said, “Jeremiah, if you tell anyone what we have talked about, you might lose your life. 25 And I'm sure that if my officials hear about our meeting, they will ask you what we said to each other. They might even threaten to kill you if you don't tell them. 26 So if they question you, tell them you were begging me not to send you back to the prison at Jonathan's house, because going back there would kill you.”

27 The officials did come and question me about my meeting with the king, and I told them exactly what he had ordered me to say. They never spoke to me about the meeting again, since no one had heard us talking.

28 (A) I was held in the courtyard of the palace guards until the day Jerusalem was captured.

Jerusalem Is Captured by the Babylonians

(Jeremiah 52.4-16; 2 Kings 25.1-12)

39 1-3 In the tenth month[i] of the ninth year that Zedekiah[j] was king of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar[k] and the Babylonian army began their attack on Jerusalem. They kept the city surrounded for a year and a half. Then, on the ninth day of the fourth month[l] of the eleventh year that Zedekiah was king, they broke through the city walls.

After Jerusalem was captured,[m] Nebuchadnezzar's highest officials,[n] including Nebo Sarsechim[o] and Nergal Sharezer from Simmagir,[p] took their places at Middle Gate to show they were in control of the city.[q]

When King Zedekiah and his troops saw that Jerusalem had been captured, they tried to escape from the city that same night. They went to the king's garden, where they slipped through the gate between the two city walls[r] and headed toward the Jordan River valley. But the Babylonian troops caught up with them near Jericho. They arrested Zedekiah and took him to the town of Riblah in the land of Hamath, where Nebuchadnezzar put him on trial, then found him guilty, and gave orders for him to be punished. Zedekiah's sons were killed there in front of him, and so were the leaders of Judah's ruling families. Then his eyes were poked out, and he was put in chains, so he could be dragged off to Babylonia.

Meanwhile, the Babylonian army had burned the houses in Jerusalem, including[s] the royal palace, and they had broken down the city walls. Nebuzaradan, the Babylonian officer in charge of the guards, led away everyone from the city as prisoners, even those who had deserted to Nebuchadnezzar. 10 Only the poorest people who owned no land were left behind in Judah, and Nebuzaradan gave them fields and vineyards.

11 Nebuchadnezzar had given the following orders to Nebuzaradan: 12 “Find Jeremiah and keep him safe. Take good care of him and do whatever he asks.”

13 Nebuzaradan, Nebushazban, Nergal Sharezer, and the other officers of King Nebuchadnezzar 14 sent some of their troops to bring me from the courtyard of the royal palace guards. They put me in the care of Gedaliah son of Ahikam[t] and told him to take me to my home. And so I was allowed to stay with the people who remained in Judah.

The Lord Promises To Protect Ebedmelech

15 While I was a prisoner in the courtyard of the palace guard, the Lord told me to say 16 to Ebedmelech from Ethiopia:[u]

I am the Lord All-Powerful, the God of Israel. I warned everyone that I would bring disaster, not prosperity, to this city. Now very soon I will do what I said, and you will see it happen. 17-18 But because you trusted me,[v] I will protect you from the officials of Judah, and when Judah is struck by disaster, I will rescue you and keep you alive. I, the Lord, have spoken.

Jeremiah Is Set Free

40 I was led away in chains along with the people of Judah and Jerusalem who were being taken to Babylonia. Nebuzaradan was the officer in charge of the guard, and while we were stopped at Ramah, the Lord caused him to set me free. Nebuzaradan said:

Jeremiah, the Lord your God warned your people that he would bring disaster on this land. But they continued to rebel against him, and now he has punished them just as he threatened.

Today I am taking the chains off your wrists and setting you free! If you want to, you can come with me to Babylonia, and I will see that you are taken care of. Or if you decide to stay here, you can go wherever you wish. King Nebuchadnezzar[w] has chosen Gedaliah to rule Judah. You can live near Gedaliah, and he will provide for you, or you can live anywhere else you choose.

Nebuzaradan gave me a supply of food, then let me leave. I decided to stay with the people of Judah, and I went to live near Gedaliah in Mizpah.

The Harvest Is Brought In

7-8 (B) Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, together with Johanan and Jonathan, the two sons of Kareah, had been officers in Judah's army. And so had Seraiah the son of Tanhumeth, the sons of Ephai the Netophathite, and Jezaniah from Maacah. They and their troops had been stationed outside Jerusalem and had not been captured. They heard that Gedaliah had been chosen to rule Judah, and that the poorest men, women, and children had not been taken away to Babylonia. So they went to Mizpah and met with their new ruler.

Gedaliah told them, “There's no need to be afraid of the Babylonians. Everything will be fine, if we live peacefully and obey King Nebuchadnezzar.[x] 10 I will stay here at Mizpah and meet with the Babylonian officials on each of their visits. But you must go back to your towns and bring in the harvest, then store the wine, olive oil, and dried fruit.”

11-12 Earlier, when the Babylonians had invaded Judah, many of the Jews escaped to Moab, Ammon, Edom, and several other countries. But these Jews heard that the king of Babylonia had appointed Gedaliah as ruler of Judah, and that only a few people were left there. So the Jews in these other countries came back to Judah and helped with the grape and fruit harvest, which was especially large that year.

Gedaliah Is Murdered

13 One day, Johanan got together with some of the other men who had been army officers, and they came to Mizpah and met with Gedaliah. 14 They said, “Gedaliah, we came to warn you that King Baalis of Ammon hired Ishmael to murder you!”

Gedaliah refused to believe them, 15 so Johanan went to Gedaliah privately and said, “Let me kill Ishmael. No one will find out who did it. There are only a few people left in Judah, but they are depending on you. And if you are murdered, they will be scattered or killed.”

16 Gedaliah answered, “Don't kill Ishmael! What you've said about him can't be true.”

41 (C) But in the seventh month,[y] Ishmael[z] came to Mizpah with ten of his soldiers. He had been one of the king's officials and was a member of the royal family. Ishmael and his men were invited to eat with Gedaliah. During the meal, Ishmael and his soldiers killed Gedaliah, the man chosen as ruler of Judah by the king of Babylonia. Then they killed the Jews who were with Gedaliah, and they also killed the Babylonian soldiers who were there.

The next day, the murders had still not been discovered, when 80 men came down the road toward Mizpah from the towns of Shechem, Shiloh, and Samaria. They were on their way to the temple to offer gifts of grain and incense to the Lord. They had shaved off their beards, torn their clothes, and cut themselves, because they were mourning.

Ishmael went out the town gate to meet them. He pretended to be weeping, and he asked them to come into Mizpah to meet with Gedaliah, the ruler of Judah. But after they were inside the town, Ishmael ordered his soldiers to kill them and throw their bodies into a well. He let ten of the men live, because they offered to give him supplies of wheat, barley, olive oil, and honey they had hidden in a field. The well that he filled with bodies[aa] had been dug by King Asa[ab] of Judah to store rainwater, because he was afraid that King Baasha[ac] of Israel might surround Mizpah and keep the people from getting to their water supply.

10 Nebuzaradan, King Nebuchadnezzar's[ad] officer in charge of the guard, had left King Zedekiah's[ae] daughters and many other people at Mizpah, and he had put Gedaliah in charge of them. But now Ishmael took them all prisoner and led them toward Ammon, on the other side of the Jordan River.

11 Johanan and the other army officers heard what Ishmael had done. 12 So they and their troops chased Ishmael and caught up with him at the large pit at Gibeon. 13 When Ishmael's prisoners saw Johanan and the officers, they were happy 14 and turned around and ran toward Johanan. 15 But Ishmael and eight of his men escaped and went to Ammon.

Johanan Decides To Take the People to Egypt

16 Johanan and the officers had rescued the women, children, and royal officials that Ishmael had taken prisoner after killing Gedaliah. Johanan led the people from Gibeon 17-18 toward Egypt. They wanted to go there, because they were afraid of what the Babylonians would do when they found out that Ishmael had killed Gedaliah, the ruler appointed by King Nebuchadnezzar.[af]

The People Ask Jeremiah To Pray for Them

On the way to Egypt, we[ag] stopped at the town of Geruth Chimham near Bethlehem.


  1. 38.1 Jehucal: The Hebrew text has “Jucal,” another form of the name.
  2. 38.1 Shephatiah, Gedaliah, Jehucal, and Pashhur: Hebrew “Shephatiah son of Mattan, Gedaliah son of Pashhur, Jucal son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur son of Malchiah.”
  3. 38.7,8 Ethiopia: The Hebrew text has “Cush,” a region south of Egypt that included parts of the present countries of Ethiopia and Sudan.
  4. 38.10 30: Most Hebrew manuscripts; one Hebrew manuscript “three.”
  5. 38.14 Zedekiah: See the note at 1.3.
  6. 38.14 his private entrance: One possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text.
  7. 38.17 Nebuchadnezzar's: See the note at 21.2.
  8. 38.23 Jerusalem will be burned down: A few Hebrew manuscripts and three ancient translations; most Hebrew manuscripts “you will burn Jerusalem down”; one ancient translation “he will burn Jerusalem down.”
  9. 39.1-3 the tenth month: Tebeth, the tenth month of the Hebrew calendar, from about mid-December to mid-January.
  10. 39.1-3 Zedekiah: See the note at 1.3.
  11. 39.1-3 Nebuchadnezzar: See the note at 21.2.
  12. 39.1-3 fourth month: Tammuz, the fourth month of the Hebrew calendar, from about mid-June to mid-July.
  13. 39.1-3 After Jerusalem was captured: This phrase is from 38.28.
  14. 39.1-3 highest officials: The Hebrew text gives Nergal Sharezer's title as “the Rabmag,” and Nebo Sarsechim's title as “the Rabsaris,” but the exact meaning of the titles and the duties of these offices are not known.
  15. 39.1-3 Nebo Sarsechim: Probably another form of the name Nebushazban (see verse 13).
  16. 39.1-3 Nergal Sharezer from Simmagir: One possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text. Probably Nebuchadnezzar's son-in-law, who was king of Babylonia 560–556 b.c. It is also possible that the Hebrew text mentions a second official named Nergal Sharezer.
  17. 39.1-3 took their places … control of the city: The rulers and leaders often sat in the broad open area at the gate of a city to take care of official business and hold trials.
  18. 39.4 the gate between the two city walls: The construction of the city walls at this point is not known.
  19. 39.8 the houses in Jerusalem, including: Or “the temple and.”
  20. 39.14 son of Ahikam: Hebrew “son of Ahikam and grandson of Shaphan.”
  21. 39.16 Ethiopia: See the note at 38.7,8.
  22. 39.17,18 you trusted me: See 38.7-13, where Ebedmelech helped Jeremiah.
  23. 40.5 Nebuchadnezzar: See the note at 21.2.
  24. 40.9 Nebuchadnezzar: See the note at 21.2.
  25. 41.1 seventh month: Tishri, also called Ethanim, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, from about mid-September to mid-October.
  26. 41.1 Ishmael: Hebrew “Ishmael son of Nethaniah and grandson of Elishama.”
  27. 41.9 with bodies: One ancient translation; Hebrew “with bodies of those killed by Gedaliah.”
  28. 41.9 Asa: Ruled 911–870 b.c.
  29. 41.9 Baasha: Ruled 909–886 b.c.
  30. 41.10 Nebuchadnezzar's: See the note at 21.2.
  31. 41.10 Zedekiah's: See the note at 1.3.
  32. 41.17,18 Nebuchadnezzar: See the note at 21.2.
  33. 41.17,18 we: The group of people included Jeremiah, since he had been staying with Gedaliah near Mizpah (see 40.6).

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