Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The princes of Judah, taking offense at Jeremiah on account of his predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Chaldeans, cause him to be cast into a deep and miry dungeon, Jer 38:1-6. Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian, gets the king's permission to take him out, Jer 38:7-13. Jeremiah advises the king, who consulted him privately, to surrender to the Chaldeans, Jer 38:14-23. The king promises the prophet that he will not put him to death, and requires him not to reveal what had passed to the princes; to whom he accordingly gives an evasive answer, telling them only so much of the conference as related to his request for his life, Jer 38:24-28.
Then Shephatiah - This was the faction - what Dahler terms the Antitheocratic faction - who were enemies to Jeremiah, and sought his life.
This city shall surely be given - This was a testimony that be constantly bore: he had the authority of God for it. He knew it was true, and he never wavered nor equivocated.
Let this man be put to death - And they gave their reasons plain enough: but the proof was wanting.
He is in your hand - Ye have power to do as you please; I must act by your counsel. Poor weak prince! you respect the prophet, you fear the cabal, and you sacrifice an innocent man to your own weakness and their malice!
So Jeremiah sunk in the mire - Their obvious design was, that he might be stifled in that place.
Ebed-melech - The servant of the king one of the eunuchs who belonged to the palace. Perhaps it should be read, "Now, a servant of the king, a Cushite, one of the eunuchs," etc.
The king then sitting in the gate of Benjamin - To give audience, and to administer justice. We have often seen that the gates of cities were the places of public judicature.
My lord the king, these men have done evil - He must have been much in the king's confidence, and a humane and noble spirited man, thus to have raised his voice against the powerful cabal already mentioned.
There is no more bread in the city - They had defended it to the last extremity; and it appears that bread had been afforded to the prophet according to the king's commandment, as long as there was any remaining. See Jer 36:21.
Take from hence thirty men - The king was determined that he should be rescued by force, if the princes opposed.
Went into the house of the king - and took thence - The eastern kings had their wardrobes always well furnished; as garments were a usual present to ambassadors, etc. I cannot think that, in the proper acceptation of the words, these were in any part of the king's house.
Old cast clouts, and old rotten rags - The fact seems to be this: there were several garments that had been used, and would not be used again; and there were others which, through continuing long there, had by insects, etc., been rendered useless. These he took, tied to the cord, let down to the prophet, that he might roll them round the ropes, and place them under his arm-pits, so that in being hauled up he might not suffer injury from the ropes, which in this case must sustain the whole weight of his body.
Into the third entry - A place to enter which two others must be passed through.
As the Lord liveth, that made us this soul - He is the living God, and he is the Author of that life which each of us possesses; and as sure as he lives, and we live by him, I will not put thee to death, nor give thee into the hands of those men who seek thy life. A very solemn oath; and the first instance on record of the profane custom of swearing by the soul.
Wilt assuredly go - On the king's obedience to the advice of the prophet the safety of the city depended.
Unto the king of Babylon's princes - The generals of the army then returning to the siege from the defeat of the Egyptians; for Nebuchadnezzar himself was then at Riblah, in Syria, Jer 39:5, Jer 39:6.
They mock me - Insult me, and exhibit me in triumph.
All the women - brought forth - I think this place speaks of a kind of defection among the women of the harem; many of whom had already gone forth privately to the principal officers of the Chaldean army, and made the report mentioned in the end of this verse. These were the concubines or women of the second rank.
They shall bring out all thy wives and thy children - These were the women of the first rank, by whom the king had children. These had no temptation to go out to the Chaldeans, nor would they have been made welcome; but the others being young, and without children, would be well received by the Chaldean princes.
I presented my supplication - This was telling the truth, and nothing but the truth, but not the whole truth. The king did not wish him to defile his conscience, nor did he propose any thing that was not consistent with the truth.
The matter was not perceived - They did not question him farther; and the king's commandment to remove him from the house of Jonathan being well known, they took for granted that they had all the information that they sought. And he was most certainly not obliged to relate any thing that might embroil this weak king with his factious but powerful princes, or affect his own life. He related simply what was necessary, and no more.