Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The account of what befell Jeremiah and what he did during the last siege of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans, until the taking of the city, is introduced, Jer 37:1 and Jer 37:2, with the general remark that Zedekiah - whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had made king in the land of Judah in place of Coniah (on which name see on Jer 22:24) - when he became king, did not listen to the words of the Lord through Jeremiah, neither himself, nor his servants (officers), nor the people of the land (the population of Judah). Then follows, Jer 37:3-10, a declaration of the prophet regarding the issue of the siege, which he sent to the king by the messengers who were to beseech him for his intercession with the Lord. Jer 37:3-5. The occasion of this declaration was the following: Zedekiah sent to Jeremiah two of his chief officers, Jehucal the son of Shelemiah (see on Jer 38:1), and Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah, the priest (see Jer 21:1 and Jer 29:25), with this charge: "Pray now for us to Jahveh our God." This message was sent to Jeremiah while he still went in and out among the people, and had not yet been put in prison (כּליא, Jer 37:4 and Jer 52:31, an unusual form for כּלא, Jer 37:15 and Jer 37:18, for which the Qeri would have us in both instances read כּלוּא); the army of Pharaoh (Hophra, Jer 44:30), too, had marched out of Egypt to oppose the Chaldeans; and the latter, when they heard the report of them (שׁמעם, the news of their approach), had withdrawn from Jerusalem (עלה מעל, see on Jer 21:2), viz., in order to repulse the Egyptians. Both of these circumstances are mentioned for the purpose of giving a clear view of the state of things: (a) Jeremiah's freedom to go in and out, not to prepare us for his imprisonment afterwards, but to explain the reason why the king sent two chief officers of the realm to him, whereas, after his imprisonment, he caused him to be brought (cf. Jer 37:17 with Jer 38:14); and (b) the approach of the Egyptians joined with the raising of the siege, because this event seemed to afford some hope that the city would be saved. - This occurrence, consequently, falls within a later period than that mentioned in Jer 21:1-14.
Then came the word of the Lord to this effect: Jer 37:7. "Thus saith Jahveh, the God of Israel: Thus shall ye say to the king of Judah who hath sent you to me to ask at me, Behold, the army of Pharaoh, which marched out to your help, will return to Egypt, their own land. Jer 37:8. And the Chaldeans shall return and fight against this city, and take it, and burn it with fire. Jer 37:9. Thus saith Jahveh: Do not deceive yourselves by thinking, The Chaldeans will quite withdraw from us; for they will not withdraw. Jer 37:10. For, even though he had beaten the whole army of the Chaldeans who are fighting with you, and there remained of them only some who had been pierced through and through, yet they would rise up, every man in his tent, and burn this city with fire." In order to cut off every hope, the prophet announces that the Egyptians will bring no help, but withdraw to their own land before the Chaldeans who went out to meet them, without having accomplished their object; but then the Chaldeans will return, continue the siege, take the city and burn it. To assure them of this, he adds: "Ye must not deceive yourselves with the vain hope that the Chaldeans may possibly be defeated and driven back by the Egyptians. The destruction of Jerusalem is so certain that, even supposing you were actually to defeat and repulse the Chaldeans, and only some few grievously wounded ones remained in the tents, these would rise up and burn the city." In הלוך ילכוּ the inf. abs. is to be observed, as strengthening the idea contained in the verb: "to depart wholly or completely;" הלך is here to "depart, withdraw." אנשׁים in contrast with חיל are separate individuals. מדקּר, pierced through by sword or lance, i.e., grievously, mortally wounded.
The imprisonment of Jeremiah. - During the time when the Chaldeans, on account of the advancing army of pharaoh, had withdrawn from Jerusalem and raised the siege, "Jeremiah went out of the city to go to the land of Benjamin, in order to bring thence his portion among the people." והיה, in accordance with later usage, for ויהי, as in Jer 3:9; cf. Ewald, 345, b. לחלק is explained in various ways. לחלק for להחליק can scarcely have any other meaning than to share, receive a share; and in connection with משּׁם, "to receive a portion thence," not, to receive an inheritance (Syr., Chald., Vulg.), for משּׁם does not suit this meaning. The lxx render τοῦ ἀγοράσαι ἐκεῖθεν, which Theodoret explains by πρίασθαι ἄρτους. All other explanations have still less in their favour. We must connect בּתוך העם with 'ללכת וגו, since it is unsuitable for לחלק משּׁם.
When he was entering the gate of Benjamin, where Jeriah the son of Shelemiah kept watch, the latter seized him, saying, "Thou desirest to go over to the Chaldeans" (נפל אל־, see on Jer 21:9). The gate of Benjamin (Jer 38:7; Jer 14:10) was the north gate of the city, through which ran the road to Benjamin and Ephraim; hence it was also called the gate of Ephraim, Kg2 14:13; Neh 8:16. בּעל, "holder of the oversight," he who kept the watch, or commander of the watch at the gate. "The accusation was founded on the well-known views and opinions of Jeremiah (Jer 21:9); but it was mere sophistry, for the simple reason that the Chaldeans were no longer lying before the city" (Hitzig).
Jeremiah replied: "A lie [= not true; cf. Kg2 9:12]; I am not going over to the Chaldeans. But he gave no heed to him; so Jeriah seized Jeremiah, and brought him to the princes. Jer 37:15. And the princes were angry against Jeremiah, and smote him, and put him in prison, in the house of Jonathan the scribe; for they had made it the prison," - probably because it contained apartments suitable for the purpose. From Jer 37:16 we perceive that they were subterranean prisons and vaults into which the prisoners were thrust; and from v. 28 and Jer 38:26, it is clear that Jeremiah was in a confinement much more severe and dangerous to his life. There he sat many days, i.e., a pretty long time.
Examination of the prophet by the king, and alleviation of his confinement. - Jer 37:16. "When Jeremiah had got into the dungeon and into the vaults, and had sat there many days, then Zedekiah the king sent and fetched him, and questioned him in his own house (palace) secretly," etc. Jer 37:16 is by most interpreters joined with the foregoing, but the words כּי בּא do not properly permit of this. For if we take the verse as a further confirmation of ויּקצפוּ השׂרים, "the princes vented their wrath on Jeremiah, beat him," etc., "for Jeremiah came...," then it must be acknowledged that the account would be very long and lumbering. כּי בּא is too widely separated from יקצפוּ. But the passages, Sa1 2:21, where כּי פּקד is supposed to stand for ויּפקד, and Isa 39:1, where ויּשׁמע is thought to have arisen out of כּי, Kg2 20:12, are not very strong proofs, since there, as here, no error in writing is marked. The Vulgate has itaque ingressus; many therefore would change כּי into כּן; but this also is quite arbitrary. Accordingly, with Rosenmller, we connect Jer 37:16 with the following, and take כּי as a temporal particle; in this, the most we miss is ו copulative, or ויהי. In the preceding sentence the prison of the prophet is somewhat minutely described, in order to prepare us for the request that follows in Jer 37:20. Jeremiah was in a בּית־בּור, "house of a pit," cf. Exo 12:29, i.e., a subterranean prison, and in החניּות. This word only occurs here; but in the kindred dialects it means vaults, stalls, shops; hence it possibly signifies here subterranean prison-cells, so that אל־החניּות more exactly determines what בּית־הבּור is. This meaning of the word is, at any rate, more certain than that given by Eb. Scheid in Rosenmller, who renders חניות by flexa, curvata; then, supplying ligna, he thinks of the stocks to which the prisoners were fastened. - The king questioned him בּסּתר, "in secret," namely, through fear of his ministers and court-officers, who were prejudiced against the prophet, perhaps also in the hope of receiving in a private interview a message from God of more favourable import. To the question of the king, "Is there any word from Jahveh?" Jeremiah replies in the affirmative; but the word of God is this, "Thou shalt be given into the hand of the king of Babylon," just as Jeremiah had previously announced to him; cf. Jer 32:4; Jer 34:3. - Jeremiah took this opportunity of complaining about his imprisonment, saying, Jer 37:18, "In what have I sinned against thee, or against thy servants, or against this people, that ye have put me in prison? Jer 37:19. And where are your prophets, who prophesied to you, The king of Babylon shall not come against you, nor against this land?" Jeremiah appeals to his perfect innocence (Jer 37:18), and to the confirmation of his prediction by its event. The interview with the king took place when the Chaldeans, after driving the Egyptians out of the country, had recommenced the siege of Jerusalem, and, as is evident from Jer 37:21, were pressing the city very hard. The Kethib איו is to be read איּו, formed from איּה with the suffix וׁ; the idea of the suffix has gradually become obscured, so that it stands here before a noun in the plural. The Qeri requires איּה. The question, Where are your prophets? means, Let these prophets come forward and vindicate their lying prophecies. Not what these men had prophesied, but what Jeremiah had declared had come to pass; his imprisonment, accordingly, was unjust. - Besides thus appealing to his innocence, Jeremiah, Jer 37:20, entreats the king, "Let my supplication come before thee, and do not send me back into the house of Jonathan the scribe, that I may not die there." For 'תּפּל־נא ת see on Jer 36:7. The king granted this request. "He commanded, and they put Jeremiah into the court of the watch [of the royal palace, see on Jer 32:2], and gave him a loaf of bread daily out of the bakers' street, till all the bread in the city was consumed;" cf. Jer 52:6. The king did not give him his liberty, because Jeremiah held to his views, that were so distasteful to the king (see on Jer 32:3). "So Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard."