Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah came this word from the LORD, saying,XXVI.
(1) In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim.—The section which follows is among the earlier fragments of the book, some three years before that of the preceding chapter. It will be noted that there is no mention of the Chaldaeans, and that Jehoiakim is on friendly terms with Egypt (Jeremiah 26:22). This points to the very earliest period of his reign. The chapter that follows, though referred to the same period in the present Hebrew text, really belongs to the reign of Zedekiah. (See Note on Jeremiah 27:1.) The common element that led the compiler of the book to bring the narratives together is the conflict of Jeremiah with the false prophets.
Thus saith the LORD; Stand in the court of the LORD'S house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the LORD'S house, all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word:(2) Stand in the court of the Lord’s house.—The occasion was probably one of the Feasts, and drew worshippers from all parts of the kingdom. As in Jeremiah 7:1, the prophet had to stand in the crowded court of the Temple and utter his warning. Some critics have supposed, indeed, that in Jeremiah 7-11 we have the full text of the discourse, while here there is only an epitome of the discourse itself, and a narrative of the circumstances connected with it. The command, “diminish not a word,” reminds us of Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 12:32; Revelation 22:19. There was something in the message that the prophet felt himself called to deliver from which he would naturally have shrunk.
If so be they will hearken, and turn every man from his evil way, that I may repent me of the evil, which I purpose to do unto them because of the evil of their doings.(3) If so be they will hearken . . .—The threat that follows in Jeremiah 26:6 is a very terrible one, but it is uttered in order that it may not be realised. So in the same spirit St. Paul warns men of his power to inflict a supernatural punishment, yet prays that he may have no occasion to use it (2Corinthians 13:3-10).
And thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD; If ye will not hearken to me, to walk in my law, which I have set before you,(4, 5) To walk in my law, which I have set before you.—The words present more vividly than in the parallels of Jeremiah 7:25; Jeremiah 25:4 the relation of the Law as the groundwork of the teaching of the Prophets, their office being that of preachers and expounders, making men feel that the commandment was “exceeding broad.” The “Law and the Prophets” are already coupled together, as in Matthew 5:17; Matthew 22:40, as making up God’s revelation of His will to Israel.
Then will I make this house like Shiloh, and will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth.(6) I will make this house like Shiloh.—See Notes on Jeremiah 7:14. The surprise and anger with which the announcement was received indicate that it was now heard for the first time, and so far confirms the view that we have here a summary of the discourse given in extenso, and probably edited, as it were, with many additions, in Jeremiah 7-10
So the priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the LORD.(7) The priests and the prophets.—The mention of the latter is significant. Jeremiah had to separate himself from both the orders to which he belonged, in the one case, by birth, in the other, by a special vocation. His bitterest foes were found among those who claimed to speak as he did, in the name of the Lord, but who tuned their voice according to the time, and prophesied deceits. See Notes on Jeremiah 23:9-40.
Now it came to pass, when Jeremiah had made an end of speaking all that the LORD had commanded him to speak unto all the people, that the priests and the prophets and all the people took him, saying, Thou shalt surely die.(8) Thou shalt surely die.—Better, as expressing the Hebrew emphasis of reduplication, Thou shalt die the death. The phrase is the same as in Genesis 2:17. The threat of the men of Anathoth (Jeremiah 11:21) is repeated by the priests and prophets of Jerusalem. They look on Jeremiah as one who has incurred the condemnation of Deuteronomy 18:20.
Why hast thou prophesied in the name of the LORD, saying, This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate without an inhabitant? And all the people were gathered against Jeremiah in the house of the LORD.(9) Why hast thou prophesied in the name of the Lord . . .?—The threat that the house in which they gloried should be as the old sanctuary of Ephraim, over whose fall they had exulted, was as the last drop that made the cup of wrath and bitterness run over. They had chanted their psalms, which told how that God “forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, even the tent which He had pitched among men” (Psalm 78:60). They could not bear to hear that a like fate was impending over them.
When the princes of Judah heard these things, then they came up from the king's house unto the house of the LORD, and sat down in the entry of the new gate of the LORD'S house.(10) When the princes of Judah heard these things . . .—The princes appear not to have been present when the words were spoken. The report was carried to them as they sat in council with the king, and they came down to the Temple and took their place, to watch and listen what would come next. They went apparently by what was known as the king’s entry into the Temple (2Kings 16:18), the high gate which had been built by Jotham (2Chronicles 27:3), from which they could command a view of the crowds in the Temple court. (See Note on Jeremiah 22:2). One of them, in all probability, was Ahikam, the son of Shaphan (Jeremiah 26:24). As in Jeremiah 36:19; Jeremiah 36:25, the princes are less bitterly hostile than the priests.
Then spake the priests and the prophets unto the princes and to all the people, saying, This man is worthy to die; for he hath prophesied against this city, as ye have heard with your ears.(11) This man is worthy to die.—Literally, A judgment of death for this man. The phrase seems to have been in current forensic use. (See Deuteronomy 19:6; Deuteronomy 21:22.) Among the accusers we may think of Pashur, the son of Immer (Jeremiah 20:1). Personal rancour mingles with the class feeling which animates the whole body of the priesthood. They appeal to what, in later language, would be known as the secular arm, to be the instrument of their vindictiveness against the heretic and blasphemer.
Then spake Jeremiah unto all the princes and to all the people, saying, The LORD sent me to prophesy against this house and against this city all the words that ye have heard.(12) The Lord sent me to prophesy . . .—The answer of the accused is that of all true prophets and preachers of the word, “The Lord God hath spoken, and he can but prophesy” (Amos 3:8). He must “obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29). And in this instance the prophet has nothing in the way of credentials but the message itself. He worked no signs or wonders.
Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the LORD your God; and the LORD will repent him of the evil that he hath pronounced against you.(13) Therefore now amend your ways . . .—The prophet’s apologia consists in repeating the substance of his message. He had not denounced an irreversible doom. He had held out the assurance of pardon on repentance. He had threatened only to bring about repentance. The whole history reminds us of the accusation brought against One greater than Jeremiah. He had foretold a destruction of the Second Temple as complete as that of Shiloh (Luke 19:44). He, too, was accused of having said that He would destroy the Temple (Matthew 26:61). And He, foreseeing that the people would not repent, had pronounced, though not publicly, a sentence on the Temple which succeeded that against which Jeremiah had prophesied, which was irrevocable (Matthew 24:2; Mark 13:2; Luke 19:44).
As for me, behold, I am in your hand: do with me as seemeth good and meet unto you.(14) As for me, behold . . .—Literally, And I, behold, I am in your hands; and for “as seemeth good and meet unto you,” read in your eyes. The prophet feels himself powerless in the presence of his accusers and judges, and can but appeal to the Judge of all.
But know ye for certain, that if ye put me to death, ye shall surely bring innocent blood upon yourselves, and upon this city, and upon the inhabitants thereof: for of a truth the LORD hath sent me unto you to speak all these words in your ears.(15) But know ye for certain.—Literally, with the Hebrew emphasis of reduplication, Knowing, know ye. The appeal is addressed, it will be remembered, to the lay judges, the princes, and the people, not to the priests and prophets who accused him. He believes that they at least would shrink from shedding innocent blood. And he solemnly protests that he is innocent of any wilful attack upon what his countrymen revered. He has spoken, but it has been by a constraint above his own will. A “necessity has been laid upon him” (1Corinthians 9:16).
Then said the princes and all the people unto the priests and to the prophets; This man is not worthy to die: for he hath spoken to us in the name of the LORD our God.(16) This man is not worthy to die.—Literally, as before in Jeremiah 26:11, There is no judgment of death for this man. Here again the later parallel comes unbidden to our memory. The lay-rulers are in favour of the true prophet, whom the priests and false prophets would have condemned. Pilate declares, in presence of priests and scribes, and the clamouring multitude, “I find no fault in this man” (Luke 23:4). Here, however, as yet the people are with the true prophet, and against the priests, as they were when they shouted their Hosannas to the prophet’s great antitype.
Then rose up certain of the elders of the land, and spake to all the assembly of the people, saying,(17) Certain of the elders of the land.—The word is probably to be taken rather in the literal than in an official sense—or, if officially, then as including the literal meaning also. The elders speaking in the time of Jehoiakim (cir. B.C. 608) remembered the tradition of what had passed, a century or so before, in the reign of Hezekiah (B.C. 726-698), and could appeal to it as a precedent in favour of the prophet. The word for “assembly” (elsewhere rendered “congregation”) corresponds to the Ecclesia of a Greek city.
Micah the Morasthite prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and spake to all the people of Judah, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Zion shall be plowed like a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest.(18) Micah the Morasthite.—On the general history and work of this prophet, see Introduction to Micah. The Hebrew text gives Micaiah, the two forms being (as in Judges 17:1; Judges 17:4, compared with 5, 12), in the Hebrew interchangeable. The epithet indicated his birth in Moresheth-gath in Philistia (Micah 1:14). As Micah had prophesied under Jotham and Ahaz (Micah 1:1), the prediction here referred to must have been delivered towards the close of his ministry. The words cited are from Micah 3:12, and immediately precede the prediction of an ultimate restoration of Judah in the last days in Micah 4:1-2, which we find in identical terms in Isaiah 2:2-3. Here, then, was a case, is the implied argument of the elders, in which a threat did its work, and therefore was not fulfilled. It did good, and not evil. The phrase “mountain of the house” is not found elsewhere in Jeremiah as a description of the Temple.
Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him at all to death? did he not fear the LORD, and besought the LORD, and the LORD repented him of the evil which he had pronounced against them? Thus might we procure great evil against our souls.(19) Did Hezekiah . . . put him at all to death?—Literally, make him die the death, the same phrase as in Jeremiah 26:8. There is no special record of the repentance thus referred to, but it is quite in accord with Hezekiah’s general character, as seen in 2Chronicles 29:6-10 (which may be the occasion referred to) and 2Chronicles 32:26. The whole tone of the advice of “old experience,” approximating to something like “prophetic strain,” in this case, reminds us of the counsels of Gamaliel in Acts 5:35-39. The closing words, “Thus might we procure great evil to our souls,” present an exact parallel to “lest haply we be found even to fight against God.” The result of the counsel thus given is left to be inferred. It obviously left the prophet free to continue his work as a preacher, though probably under a kind of police surveillance, like that implied in Jeremiah 36:1-5. The favourable result is attributed in Jeremiah 26:24 to the influence of Ahikam.
And there was also a man that prophesied in the name of the LORD, Urijah the son of Shemaiah of Kirjathjearim, who prophesied against this city and against this land according to all the words of Jeremiah:(20) And there was also a man that prophesied . . .—The verses that follow, seeing that they state a fact which tends in the opposite direction, cannot be regarded as part of the argument of the “elders” of Jeremiah 26:17. Nor is there any sufficient reason for supposing, in the absence of any statement to that effect, that the case of Urijah was alleged in a counter-argument by the priests and prophets. Jeremiah 26:24 shows rather that Jeremiah, or the compiler of the book, wished to record the fact that he did not stand absolutely alone, and that at least one prophet had been, as an Abdiel,—“faithful found among the faithless,”—who had courage to follow his example. He took up the strain of Jeremiah, and reproduced it. Of this Urijah we know nothing beyond what is here recorded. It is, perhaps, worth noting that the history of his native place may in some measure have influenced his thoughts, as presenting, like Shiloh, the history of a sacred place that had lost its sanctity (1Samuel 7:1; 2Samuel 6:2), and that its position on the border of the tribe of Benjamin may have brought him into contact with the prophet of Anathoth. The distance between the two towns was but a short day’s journey.
And when Jehoiakim the king, with all his mighty men, and all the princes, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death: but when Urijah heard it, he was afraid, and fled, and went into Egypt;(21) And when Jehoiakim the king . . .—The fact that the princes of Judah, who defended Jeremiah, were against Urijah, suggests the inference either that his words were more vehemently denunciatory, or that he was less fortunate in finding a personal friend and protector like Ahikam. The flight into Egypt presents a parallel to that of Jeroboam 1Kings 11:40), Hadad (1Kings 11:18), and Joseph and Mary (Matthew 2:13-15). Egypt was at all times the natural asylum for political refugees from Judæa. The presence of the deposed Jehoahaz and of other Jews in Egypt may possibly have been an attraction (2Chronicles 36:4; Jeremiah 24:8; Jeremiah 44:1).
And Jehoiakim the king sent men into Egypt, namely, Elnathan the son of Achbor, and certain men with him into Egypt.(22) And Jehoiakim the king sent men into Egypt.—It will be remembered that the king had been appointed by Pharaoh-necho, and rested therefore on his alliance. Elnathan, the envoy employed on this mission, was the king’s father-in-law (2Kings 24:8). His father, Achbor, had taken a prominent part, together with Shaphan, the father of Ahikam, in the work of reformation under Josiah, and was sent by the king to the prophetess Huldah (2Kings 22:12). Elnathan appears again in the list of princes in Jeremiah 36:12 as favourable to Jeremiah.
And they fetched forth Urijah out of Egypt, and brought him unto Jehoiakim the king; who slew him with the sword, and cast his dead body into the graves of the common people.(23) And they fetched forth Urijah out of Egypt.—The martyr-death of the prophet had its parallels in the earlier history of Judah. So Jezebel had slain the prophets of Jehovah with the edge of the sword (1Kings 18:4; 1Kings 19:10; 1Kings 19:14), and Zechariah the son of Jehoiada had been stoned to death at the command of Joash (2Chronicles 24:21), and Isaiah, as the Jewish tradition runs, had been sawn asunder (Hebrews 11:37). The fact now recorded was to Jewish feeling an act of brutal outrage. The body of the prophet was not allowed to rest in the sepulchre of his fathers, with the due honour of embalmment, but flung into the loathsome pits of “the sons of the people,” in the Kidron valley (2Kings 23:6). It is not without interest to those who believe in a special as well as righteous retribution, to note the fact that the king who thus added brutality to cruelty was himself afterwards “buried with the burial of an ass,” without honours or lamentations (Jeremiah 22:18-19). For the phrase, “children of the people,” see Note on Jeremiah 17:19. The circumstances are apparently narrated in detail either by the prophet himself or by the compiler of his prophecies, to show how narrow his escape had been.
Nevertheless the hand of Ahikam the son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah, that they should not give him into the hand of the people to put him to death.(24) Nevertheless the hand of Ahikam . . .—The family to whom the prophet’s protector belonged played a conspicuous part in the history of this period, and may be said to have furnished examples of three generations of Jewish patriotism. Shaphan, the father, was prominent as a scribe in the reformation of Josiah (cir. A.D. 624). He superintended the restoration of the Temple (2Chronicles 34:8). To him Hilkiah the priest gave the book of the Law which had been found in the house of the Lord, and Shaphan took it to the king. He took his son Ahikam with him when he was sent to consult the prophetess Huldah (2Kings 22:12; 2Chronicles 34:20). Here the son meets us, true to the early lessons of his life, as the protector of the prophet, whose work rested so largely on the impression made by the Book of the Law thus discovered. A brother of Ahikam, Gemariah, appears in a like character in Jeremiah 36:12; Jeremiah 36:25. After the conquest of the land by Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah finds refuge with Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam (Jeremiah 40:6), who had been made, apparently through the prophet’s influence, satrap, or governor, of the lands under the Chaldæan king; and he, after a fruitless warning, falls a victim to the conspiracy of the princes of the royal house (Jeremiah 41:1-2). Here stress is laid on the fact of Ahikam’s protection, as showing how it was that Jeremiah escaped the fate which fell on Urijah.