Your life for a prey
The word prey in the Bible has 2 meanings which are very similar. It can mean the food of a predatory animal, especially a lion (Gen 49:9 & 27, Num 23:24, Job 4:11, Job 9:26). It can also mean the spoils of victory in battle (Num 14:3 & 31, Num 31, Deut 2:35, Josh 8:2 & 27). In both cases it refers to a strong one overcoming a weaker one and taking what he desires from him.
God told the Israelites from the days of Moses on that if they kept His commandments they would be blessed and be delivered from their enemies, but if they sinned their enemies would conquer them (Lev 26, Deut 28, 1Ki 8, 2Chr 7). A review of the history of Israel in the Old Testament shows a repeating cycle of them turning away from God, being overcome by the enemy, repenting, finding mercy before God, being delivered from their enemies, and the cycle starting over (Jud 2). God told them that eventually this cycle would repeat itself until they forced His judgment to the place that their nation would be destroyed and they would be dispersed into other lands. The prophet Jeremiah preached during the time this came to pass. He tried to warn them of the looming judgment of God, but they refused to take heed and repent. Therefore the Babylonians came and destroyed their land, their capital city, and their temple. Most died in the conquest, but some were taken captive to Babylon, and a few were allowed to remain in the land.
Jeremiah told the people that if they acknowledged that the Babylonian conquest was their punishment from God for their sins, and submitted to it, their life would be a prey to them and they would not die (Jer 21:9, Jer 38:2). Jeremiah also told 2 men individually that they would survive, and their lives would be a prey to them. The first was Ebed-melech the Ethiopian (Jer 39:18), who talked king Zedekiah into releasing Jeremiah from the dungeon he was in (Jer 38).
The other was Baruch the son of Neriah (Jer 45:5), Jeremiah's assistant. Baruch assisted Jeremiah with the purchase of some property (Jer 32). He also assisted Jeremiah in writing and delivering the word of God to the people (Jer 36). God promised them that for helping His prophet, their lives would be a prey to them.
At first glance, this seems like a strange way to put this promise. Who would hunt for their own life, or try to conquer their own life and take it as a spoil of war? This makes sense when we put it into context. Though the judgement of God on sin was falling on the world around them, these people who had the natural desire and hope to live would be given their lives. Like a lion desires the meat of s successful hunt to sustain his life, and like an army seeks to enjoy the spoils of success in battle, these people would enjoy the blessing of life while so many around them were dying.
As we apply this idea to ourselves, we see that the world is lost in sin (1Jn 2:2, 1Jn 5:19, Rev 12:9). The penalty for sin is death (Gen 2:17, Rom 6:23). Since all have sinned, no one is exempt (Rom 3:23). We all face the judgment of God. Yet the ultimate judgment on sin is not physical death. It is spiritual death, which is separation from God. We can be spiritually dead, yet physically alive (Mt 8:22, Rom 6-8). Adam and Eve did not drop dead physically the day they ate the forbidden fruit of self-reliance without God (Gen 3). In fact, Adam lived over 800 years after his sin in the garden (Gen 5:4). However, he was driven out of paradise geographically, and the communion of God spiritually. He passed this curse down to his descendants (Gen 5:3, Rom 5, 1Cor 15:22). Sin separates from God (Is 59:1-2). We also face eternal separation from God in the lake of fire forever (Rev 20:11-15). That is why Jesus came and died for us. He took the penalty for us so we can live spiritually in relationship and communion with God now and forever (Rev 21-22).
Sometimes people desire the things of this life more than those of the next. They want the carnal, temporal spoils of materialism and earthly power (Mt 6, Jn 4:31-38, Jn 6). The world is full of people who are walking around physically, but are dead spiritually. We have a choice. We can join them in their death march into eternity without God, or we can acknowledge our sins and the judgment we deserve, and repent. We can die TO sin instead of IN sin. Then we can be buried with Christ in water baptism in His name for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38, Rom 6:1-4, Col 2:8-12), and receive the power of the resurrection in the baptism of the Holy Ghost (Rom 8:9-11). If we continue to walk in the life He gives, we can leave this world to enter into eternal life instead of damnation (Jn 5:24-29). We can "have our lives for a prey unto us" (Mt 10:39, Mt 16:25, Jn 12:25). We can escape the judgment with our lives like the angel told Lot (Gen 19:17, Lk 21:36), or we can be destroyed like his wife (Gen 19:26, Lk 17:32). The only thing we can take out of this world is our soul, and we can help others do the same. Nothing else will matter in that day. That is what Jeremiah told Baruch when Israel was destroyed (Jer 45). That is the meaning of the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt 20:1-16). We should be thankful God is giving us the opportunity to live spiritually. That is what matters most. Every day we wake up and are not in hell is a good day. Every day we have an opportunity to know Him, to serve Him, and to be heading toward that eternal city. He gives us life for a prey to us.