Jeremiah was a faithful prophet. He preached the Word no matter the cost to himself. Even though the LORD had promised “Then I will make you to this people A fortified wall of bronze; And though they fight against you, They will not prevail over you; For I am with you to save you And deliver you,” declares the LORD” (Jer 15:20) it still could not have been easy for Jeremiah to go through all the things he went through. One day, he was preaching (again) in advance of the coming Babylonians, and the princes of King Zedekiah had had enough. They conspired to throw Jeremiah into a pit and they brought their petition to the King, who, though knowing Jeremiah was a prophet, did not stand for truth when push came to shove. The king said essentially, “go ahead, do what you will’ sort of like Pilate did later on.
So the princes took Jeremiah and threw him into what was probably an oubliette but is called a cistern in the NASB.
“Then the officials said to the king, “Now let this man be put to death, inasmuch as he is discouraging the men of war who are left in this city and all the people, by speaking such words to them; for this man is not seeking the well-being of this people but rather their harm.” So King Zedekiah said, “Behold, he is in your hands; for the king can do nothing against you.” Then they took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchijah the king’s son, which was in the court of the guardhouse; and they let Jeremiah down with ropes. Now in the cistern there was no water but only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud.” (Jer 38:4-6).
An oubliette is from the French meaning forgotten place and is a derivative of oublier, “to forget”. We also get the English word ‘oblivion’ from oublier. Prisoners whom their captors wish to forget were thrown into an oublier, which was deep with a hole and a grate over the top. The prisoner had no way of escaping. Some oubliers were bottle shaped so the prisoner could not sit down nor even turn around. One famous oublier had no grate but prisoners were simply hustled along a dark tunnel at sword-point until they fell into the hole, shocked and stunned at their sudden descent. In the illustration, notice the man in the right-oubliette (or cistern) with upraised hands.
Whether it was a cistern being used for prisoners or was a purposely built dungeon, the pit was a terrible place. Full of garbage, decay, and rats, being in the lower most parts of the castle, the pit was usually filled with water that seeped up from the earthen floor, making survival almost impossible. Which was the point.
I notice that though the princes hated Jeremiah’s words, they were careful not to toss him but carefully lowered him by ropes. However, once lowered, he sunk way down, (Josephus said that Jeremiah sunk in up to his neck) and then Jeremiah began his lamentation.
They tried to end my life in a pit
and threw stones at me;
the waters closed over my head,
and I thought I was about to be cut off.
I called on your name, O Lord,
from the depths of the pit.
You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears
to my cry for relief.”
You came near when I called you,
and you said, “Do not fear.”
Louis Ginzberg’s Legends of the Jews says of the scene: “Hardly out of prison, he again advised the people to surrender, and the nobility seized him and cast him into a lime pit filled with water, where they hoped he would drown. But a miracle happened. The water sank to the bottom, and the mud rose to the surface, and supported the prophet above the water. Help came to him from Ebed-melech, a “white raven,” the only pious man at court. Ebed-melech hastened to the king and spoke: “Know, if Jeremiah perishes in the lime pit, Jerusalem will surely be captured.” With the permission of the king, Ebed-melech went to the pit, and cried out aloud several times, “O my lord Jeremiah,” but no answer came. Jeremiah feared the words were spoken by his former jailer Jonathan, who had not given up his practice of mocking at the prophet. He would come to the edge of the pit and call down jeeringly: “Do not rest thy head on the mud, and take a little sleep, Jeremiah.” To such sneers Jeremiah made no reply, and hence it was that Ebed-melech was left unanswered. Thinking the prophet dead, he began to lament and tear his clothes. Then Jeremiah, realizing that it was a friend, and not Jonathan, asked: “Who is it that is calling my name and weeps therewith?” and he received the assurance that Ebed-melech had come to rescue him from his perilous position.”
I am guessing that the first thing they did for him was give him a bath and clean him up. Gave him some clean robes to wear.
In thinking about the mire, I can’t help but wonder what bible symbol mire is used for in this case. Since bible interprets bible, I find Isaiah 57:20 -“But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud.” The sea is the wicked and what they toss up is mire, muck, and dirt. The mire is the “fruit” of the wicked. Moreover, the picture of the pit is one that has a soft bottom. Jeremiah didn’t land with a thud, he landed with a plop. Then sunk more and more and more, like we do in sin. We cannot get out of the pit by ourselves and indeed all our vain efforts will only succeed in getting us in deeper. But He will lift us out!
Psalm 40:2 – He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
NO ONE needs to be in the pit, ever. Jesus died so that He could lift us out of our sins of the pit would be washed away. If we ask Him, He establishes us on the rock and from which no one, not even the gates of hell, can toss us off. But you have to ask.
Jeremiah was cast into the mire, but Jesus volunteered to leave His heavenly abode and to not only spend three and a half wearying years among sinful humans, but He hung on the cross and BECAME sin. He allowed Himself to succumb to the mire and sink below it … for our sakes.
“Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing; I have come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is dry; my eyes fail while I wait for my God.” (Psalm 69:1-3)
Imagine His horror, as He became miry sin for us all and the Father turned away … “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Psalm 22:1). For the first time since eternity began, Jesus was separated from the Father … His own throat dry and His own eyes not seeing His glory…but only mire.
Jesus was alone in sin, AS sin, but He does not leave us alone in it. We sink, but if we call out He raises us up out of the mire. As this old world becomes more and more sinful, does it feel to you, Christian, that we are up to our noses in mire? This entire essay began last night as a plea to Jesus to release me and all Christians and children from the sin so prevalent that feels like it is up to my nose. I can barely breathe because of the odor of sulfurous sin from all around, enveloping me. Suddenly the picture of Jeremiah came to me and how he was up to his nose in mire.
Do you feel the sins of the world are so high it strains the neck to stay above it? True repentance means hating the stench of sin, and realizing that all our actions are as nothing to wash away that smell. Only Jesus can wash it away. Well, blessings, He will raise us up! He will snatch us away and take us to the clean place and give us clean robes to wear. “And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (These are not the tribulation saints but the Church Age saints snatched out of the Tribulation, out of from the Greek word ‘ek’ meaning away from the time, place, and cause) Soon and very soon! Out of the mire, out from the fire, into clean garments and washed by His blood! And remember, though sins pile up all around us, Jesus sunk below that awful mire. He was alone in the universe, apart from the Father, and for that, we sing “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev 5:9)