So they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the king’s son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.
Jeremiah 38:6 (NIV)
Being the victim of a siege exacts a huge toll on a person. Even in modern conflicts like the current war in Ukraine, the devastating effects of long-term isolation, starvation, anxiety, fear, and boredom are well-documented. Janine di Giovanni, author and senior fellow at the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs wrote of the siege of Aleppo, “Sieges destroy the body, but… what’s far more damaging is the annihilation of the soul.”
It starts with shock and disorientation, followed by depression and increased rates of suicide. As a siege drags on, apathy and alcoholism are common and eventually give way to breakdown of social structures.
Today’s chapter has all the signs that the Babylonians’ 30 month siege of Jerusalem had exacted the desired toll on the residents inside. Depressed and bored, four young men get tired of Jeremiah’s constant proclamations of death and destruction. They petition King Zedekiah to let them kill Jeremiah. The king apathetically grants their wish. Inside the court of the guard where Jeremiah is confined there is a deep water cistern. Because of the siege, it’s empty. All the water has been consumed leaving nothing but muddy sediment at the bottom. Jeremiah is thrown in and he sinks into the mud.
Fortunately for Jeremiah, he has at least one friend left. A young African eunuch serving the King hears of Jeremiah’s plight and petitions King Z to let him rescue the prophet. The apathetic King Z grants the petition, telling the eunuch to take 30 guards with him (presumably as protection against the men who wanted to kill Jeremiah in the first place).
After Jeremiah is rescued, King Z summons Jeremiah. It would appear that Z realizes that Jeremiah’s prophetic messages were true and he wants to know the truth of what will happen to him. In a private heart-to-heart, Z shares his fears with the prophet. Jeremiah tells the king to surrender. The king, realizing that there are still those who want Jeremiah dead, instructs the prophet what to say if he’s confronted and questioned.
In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but think about what it must have been like for Jeremiah to witness all that he had prophesied coming true. He had been proclaiming this fate for decades, and now he is suffering that same fate along with those who refused to listen and railed against him the entire time. He suffered rebuke, rejection, and retribution before the siege, now he is suffering the effects of the siege along with those who never believed him. Sometimes, it sucks to be right.
Once again, I am struck by my human need for a prophet in my life. King Z has never been a friend to Jeremiah, but as events close in on their climactic end, he realizes that the prophet is perhaps the only one he can trust to speak the truth to him. There are moments along life’s road when life feels like I am being besieged on all sides by circumstances I don’t control. It comes with this earthly journey through a fallen world, and it can exact a tremendous toll.
That is the truth. And, it’s in those moments I need a friend who is a prophet.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.