Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, after that Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had let him go from Ramah, when he had taken him being bound in chains among all that were carried away captive of Jerusalem and Judah, which were carried away captive unto Babylon.XL.
(1) The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord.—It is noticeable that this introduction is not followed by any specific utterance of prophecy until we come to Jeremiah 42:7. It is a natural conclusion that it stands as a kind of heading to the section of the collected prophecies subsequent to the capture of the city.
Had let him go from Ramah.—The town so named was in the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 18:25), about six miles from Jerusalem, and retains its old name in the form Er-Ram. It was used on this occasion as a depot for the prisoners who were brought to it from Jerusalem, to await the orders of Nebuzaradan as to their ultimate disposal. The captain of the guard and the prophet had apparently not met before, and the latter had been brought in chains (literally, manacles, chains fastened to the wrists, Jeremiah 40:4), like the other captives.
(2–4) The Lord thy God . . .—It is significant that the Chaldæan general speaks as if recognising Jehovah as the God of Israel, and the prophet’s mission from Him. Such a recognition did not, however, imply more than the belief of the polytheist, that each nation had its own guardian deity. We find language of a like kind, though spoken with a tone of sarcasm, coming even from the lips of Rab-shakeh (2Kings 18:25). As a prophet, however, Jeremiah is treated with marked respect—in part, perhaps, due to the policy he had advocated; in part, possibly, to the influence of men like Daniel and his friends at Babylon—and offered the option of going, with the promise of honourable treatment. to that city, from which, however, it is assumed, that he would not return, or remaining in Judaea, to go where he will. The prophet obviously chooses the second alternative, but before he acts on it another plan occurs to Nebuzar-adan.
Now while he was not yet gone back, he said, Go back also to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon hath made governor over the cities of Judah, and dwell with him among the people: or go wheresoever it seemeth convenient unto thee to go. So the captain of the guard gave him victuals and a reward, and let him go.(5) Go back also to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam.—The captain of the guard seems to have felt, on second thoughts, possibly after hearing the prophet’s unrecorded answer, that he had not taken sufficient precaution for Jeremiah’s safety, and therefore consigns him once more to the care of his friend and protector. On parting with him he treats him as an honoured guest, sends him a portion of food from his own table (comp. Jeremiah 52:34)—a welcome gift, doubtless, after the privations of the siege—and an honorarium, in money as a compensation for the sufferings he had undergone as a preacher of submission to the conqueror.
Governor over the cities of Judah.—The official title is significant. Jerusalem is treated as if it had been blotted from the face of the earth, and required no superintendence. Gedaliah, the prophet’s friend, had obviously acted on his counsels, and accepted the sovereignty of Nebuchadnezzar as being for the time the ordinance of God. A true patriot might well hold it to be his duty at such a time to accept office under the conqueror, in the hope of being able to do something for the remnant of the nation that was left under his charge.
Then went Jeremiah unto Gedaliah the son of Ahikam to Mizpah; and dwelt with him among the people that were left in the land.(6) To Mizpah.—The name, which signifies “watch- tower” (Genesis 31:49), was naturally not uncommon. Of the six or seven cities that were so called, that which comes before us here was Mizpah of Benjamin (Joshua 18:25-26), prominent in the history of Samuel and Saul (1Samuel 7:5-13; 1Samuel 10:17-25), not far from Gibeah of Saul (Isaiah 10:29; Judges 19:13). It has been identified by Dr. Robinson (Bibl. Res. i. 460) with Neby-Samwil, about six miles north of Jerusalem. Dean Stanley, Mr. Grove, and Dr. Bonar, however, find it in the ridge which forms a continuation of the Mount of Olives on the north, and which Josephus (Wars, v. 2), apparently giving the Greek equivalent of the old Hebrew name, calls Skopos, or “the watch-tower.” Mizpah, it may be noted, is twice translated Skopia in the LXX. version (Hosea 5:1; 1Samuel 22:3). It will be seen that the latter identification fits in better with the narrative than the former.
Now when all the captains of the forces which were in the fields, even they and their men, heard that the king of Babylon had made Gedaliah the son of Ahikam governor in the land, and had committed unto him men, and women, and children, and of the poor of the land, of them that were not carried away captive to Babylon;(7) Now when all the captains of the forces.—A new section of the history begins, ending with the murder of Gedaliah and its sequel. in Jeremiah 41:18. The commanders of the armies that had fought against the invader in the open country found it hopeless to continue the struggle after the capture of Jerusalem. What were they to do? The king of Babylon had, by appointing Gedaliah, himself a prince of Judah, shown a disposition to treat the conquered people leniently. Could they do better than apply to him for protection?
Then they came to Gedaliah to Mizpah, even Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and Johanan and Jonathan the sons of Kareah, and Seraiah the son of Tanhumeth, and the sons of Ephai the Netophathite, and Jezaniah the son of a Maachathite, they and their men.(8) Then they came to Gedaliah.—Of the captains thus named, Ishmael, “of the seed royal” (we have no date for determining his precise position in the line of successors) (Jeremiah 41:1), is prominent in the history of the next chapter, Johanan (the Hebrew form of Joannes or John) in that of Jeremiah 42, Seraiah and Jaazaniah are named in the parallel passage of 2Kings 25:23, but nothing more is known of them. Netophah, to which the sons of Ephai belonged, was a town of Benjamin not far from Bethlehem (1Chronicles 2:54; 1Chronicles 9:16; Ezra 2:22; Nehemiah 7:26). The Maachathite, whose father is not named, was probably a naturalised alien from the small kingdom of Maachah, on the east side of the Jordan, near Argob (Deuteronomy 3:14; 2Samuel 10:6; 2Samuel 10:8) and Bashan (Joshua 12:5), not far from the modern Lejah.
And Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan sware unto them and to their men, saying, Fear not to serve the Chaldeans: dwell in the land, and serve the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you.(9) Fear not to serve the Chaldeans . . .—Gedaliah, acting as Satrap of the province, assures them that, though they had fought against the conquerors, there would be a full amnesty, and that they might therefore banish all fears of being maltreated. He will remain at his post, and they may return to their own homes.
As for me, behold, I will dwell at Mizpah to serve the Chaldeans, which will come unto us: but ye, gather ye wine, and summer fruits, and oil, and put them in your vessels, and dwell in your cities that ye have taken.(10) Gather ye wine, and summer fruits.—The words show that the application took place in the autumn. The captains and their followers were invited to help themselves freely from the fields and vineyards and olive-yards, the owners of which had been carried off to Babylon, so as to relieve their immediate wants and provide for the coming winter. The “summer fruits” would probably include figs, apples, and the like.
Likewise when all the Jews that were in Moab, and among the Ammonites, and in Edom, and that were in all the countries, heard that the king of Babylon had left a remnant of Judah, and that he had set over them Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan;(11, 12) When all the Jews that were in Moab . . .—It lay in the nature of things that many of the dwellers in Judæa fled before the march of the Chaldæan armies, and took refuge in the neighbouring regions. In Ruth 1:2, 1Samuel 22:3, Isaiah 16:4, we find analogous instances of fugitives from Judah finding shelter in the Moabite country. These, on hearing of the generous policy adopted by Gedaliah, took courage and returned in time to profit by his permission to gather the produce which otherwise would have been left to perish on the soil.
And said unto him, Dost thou certainly know that Baalis the king of the Ammonites hath sent Ishmael the son of Nethaniah to slay thee? But Gedaliah the son of Ahikam believed them not.(14) Dost thou certainly know that Baalis . . .—The king of the Ammonites so named appears from Jeremiah 27:3 to have been in alliance with Zedekiah; and Ishmael, as belonging to the royal house of Judah, seems to have been still plotting with him against the authority of the Chaldæans. Open resistance being now impossible, they have recourse to assassination. The plot becomes known, and Johanan, faithful to his new protector, warns him against it, but, as the sequel shows, in vain. Gedaliah, in the guileless trustfulness of his character, does not believe that Ishmael is capable of such a crime, and will not sanction another crime by way of precaution.