Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem unto the residue of the elders which were carried away captives, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon;
Verse 1. - The residue of the elders; i.e. the surviving elders. Some may, perhaps, have died from natural causes, some by violence, some from grief.
(After that Jeconiah the king, and the queen, and the eunuchs, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, and the carpenters, and the smiths, were departed from Jerusalem;)
Verse 2. - The queen; rather, the queen, mother (see on Jeremiah 13:18) The eunuchs, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem. A marginal gloss appears to have intruded itself into the text, for there is no other passage in which the "eunuchs," or (as the word may equally well be rendered, with the margin), "chamberlains," are called "princes of Judah."
By the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan, and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, (whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent unto Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon) saying,
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon;
Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them;
Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished.
And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.
Verse 7. - Seek the peace of the city, etc. Interest yourselves in the "peace" or welfare of the city, whether Babylon or any other place where ye may be in exile, and pray for its welfare, for your own well-being is inseparable from it.
For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Let not your prophets and your diviners, that be in the midst of you, deceive you, neither hearken to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed.
Verse 8. - Let not your prophets and your diviners, etc. It seems as if the Babylonian "Jewry" were a copy of that at home. It had not only its "princes" and its "elders," but its "prophets" and its "diviners," who encouraged the same false hopes as those in Judah (comp. Jeremiah 27:9; Jeremiah 28:2). Your dreams which ye caused to be dreamed; or, which ye cause yourselves to dream (comp. Jeremiah 27:9).
For they prophesy falsely unto you in my name: I have not sent them, saith the LORD.
For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.
Verse 10. - Seventy years (see on Jeremiah 25:11). At Babylon; rather, for Babylon. A long period, such as seventy years, is appointed for Babylon "to enjoy" the fruits of her ambition; when this is over (comp. Genesis 15:13-16), God will pay heed to his people. Visit you. To "visit" frequently has the sense of "taking notice of," or "paying heed to" (e.g. Jeremiah 23:2). My good word. "Word," equivalent to "pro-raise;" the allusion is to Jeremiah 24:6.
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
Verse 11. - For I knew the thoughts, etc.; i.e. though seventy years must pass over you in exile, yet do not apprehend that I have forgotten you, for I know full well what my purpose is towards you - a purpose of restoring to you "peace" and prosperity. An expected end; rather, a future and a hope; i.e. a hopeful future (comp. Jeremiah 31:17, "There is a hope for thy future"). That unexpectant apathy which is the terrible accompaniment of so much worldly sorrow was not to be an ingredient in the lot of the Jews.
Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.
Verse 12. - And ye shall go and pray unto me. "Go," that is, to the places "where prayer is wont to be made." The clause seems to refer to common prayer for a common object. Comp. striking passages in Solomon's prayer (1 Kings 8:48), and in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 4:29, 30).
And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive.
Because ye have said, The LORD hath raised us up prophets in Babylon;
Verses 15-23. - Jeremiah's denunciation of two leading false prophets at Babylon, with a digression on the fate of Zedekiah and Jerusalem. Some eminent critics maintain that vers. 16-20 are an interpolation, and this view is certainly supported By the omission of these verses in the Septuagint. It must also in fairness be admitted that the natural connection of ver. 15 is with ver. 21, not with ver. 16. But it does not follow that vers. 16-20 are an arbitrary interpolation. They may be regarded either as a digression in the original letter, or as inserted by an after-thought when the substance of the letter was brought into its present form.
Know that thus saith the LORD of the king that sitteth upon the throne of David, and of all the people that dwelleth in this city, and of your brethren that are not gone forth with you into captivity;
Verse 16. - Know that thus saith the Lord; rather, Surely thus saith the Lord.
Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Behold, I will send upon them the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and will make them like vile figs, that cannot be eaten, they are so evil.
Verse 17. - I will send upon them, etc.; alluding to Jeremiah 24:10. Vile figs; literally, figs exciting a shudder. The figure involves an allusion to Jeremiah 24:2, 3.
And I will persecute them with the sword, with the famine, and with the pestilence, and will deliver them to be removed to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse, and an astonishment, and an hissing, and a reproach, among all the nations whither I have driven them:
Because they have not hearkened to my words, saith the LORD, which I sent unto them by my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them; but ye would not hear, saith the LORD.
Verse 19. - But ye would not hear. The prophet, by a very natural illusion, falls out of the style of letter-writer into that of the prophet. For the moment he fancies himself addressing an audience of his countrymen (comp. Jeremiah 25:3, 4, 7, 8).
Hear ye therefore the word of the LORD, all ye of the captivity, whom I have sent from Jerusalem to Babylon:
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, of Ahab the son of Kolaiah, and of Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, which prophesy a lie unto you in my name; Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon; and he shall slay them before your eyes;
Verse 21. - Zedekiah. The name is into-resting; it shows that this prophet belonged to a family which took pleasure in the thought of Jehovah and his righteousness. Doubtless, too, he did so himself; but he under-estimated the demands of that righteousness, which extended to the heart as well as to the outward conduct.
And of them shall be taken up a curse by all the captivity of Judah which are in Babylon, saying, The LORD make thee like Zedekiah and like Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire;
Verse 22. - A curse; i.e. a formula of cursing (comp. Isaiah 65:15). There is here a play upon words, such as the Biblical writers delighted in, partly with the view of assisting the memory. "A curse" is in Hebrew kelalah, and "to roast" is kalah. Roasted in the fire. "Casting into the midst of a burning fiery furnace" was a common punishment both among the Assyrians and the Babylonians, see e.g. ' Records of the Past,' vol. 9. p. 56; and comp. Daniel 3.
Because they have committed villany in Israel, and have committed adultery with their neighbours' wives, and have spoken lying words in my name, which I have not commanded them; even I know, and am a witness, saith the LORD.
Verse 23. - An important and melancholy addition to our knowledge of these false prophets. They were not only misleading prophets, but immoral men in their private capacities. Villainy; rather, folly, as the word is always rendered elsewhere. The phrase "to commit folly in Israel" is always (except Joshua 7:15) used of sins of unchastity.
Thus shalt thou also speak to Shemaiah the Nehelamite, saying,
Verses 24-32. - A threatening oracle against the false prophet Shemaiah. Great excitement had been caused among the so-called prophets in Babylon by the emphatic language of Jeremiah. Accordingly one of them, named Shemaiah, wrote letters to the Jews at home, and especially to a high official called Zephaniah (see on ver. 26) to put a stop to Jeremiah's bold agitation. Zephaniah, however, was not the man for whom Shemaiah took him, and read the letter to the intended victim. Upon this, Jeremiah received a special revelation, announcing dire punishment to Shemaiah and his family (according to the principle of the Divine government described in Exodus 20:5). Verse 24. - To Shemaiah; or, of, concerning (as the same preposition is rendered in vers. 16, 21, 31). The oracle itself speaks of Shemaiah in the third person (vers. 31, 32). The Authorized Version, however, can be defended by its accordance with ver. 25. The Nehelamite. This is evidently a patronymic, but whether of the family or the locality of the bearer cannot be decided. The analogy of "Jeremiah of Anathoth" (ver. 27), however, favors the view that it is local.
Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, saying, Because thou hast sent letters in thy name unto all the people that are at Jerusalem, and to Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah the priest, and to all the priests, saying,
The LORD hath made thee priest in the stead of Jehoiada the priest, that ye should be officers in the house of the LORD, for every man that is mad, and maketh himself a prophet, that thou shouldest put him in prison, and in the stocks.
Verse 26. - In the stead of Jehoiada the priest. Some (Grotius, Hitzig, Graf) think that this Jehoiada was the famous high priest of that name, who is said to have "appointed officers over the house of the Lord" (2 Kings 11:18; 2 Chronicles 23:18). It is true that Zephaniah was not literally the successor of Jehoiada, but he was so in the same metaphorical sense in which the scribes are said by our Lord to "sit in Moses' seat" (Matthew 23:2). It is safer, however, to suppose that another Jehoiada is meant, of whom we have no further information. It is not said that either Jehoiada or Zephaniah was high priest, and as the special object of the elevation of the latter is said to be the supervision of the temple police, it is more probable that Jehoiada and he were successively "second priests," or, to use a phrase which seems to be synonymous, "deputy governors in the house of the Lord" (Jeremiah 20:1). The passage may thus without violence be harmonized with Jeremiah 52:24; 2 Kings 25:18, where Seraiah is called "the chief priest" and Zephaniah "the second priest." It is possible that Jehoiada 'had been favorable to the better class of prophets. In this case there will be a delicate hint to Zephaniah that God had his own purpose in promoting him to honor, viz. that unruly prophets like Jeremiah might be held in with a tighter hand (Ewald). That ye should be officers; rather, that there should be officers. Zephaniah himself was an "officer" or "deputy" (see above); but he was also "chief in the house of the Lord," and had the appointment of inferior "officers," whose duty it was to preserve order in the temple. To understand the following words, we must remember that the outer court of the temple was a favorite place for prophetic teaching (comp. Jeremiah 7:2; Jeremiah 26:2). For every man that is mad, and maketh himself a prophet; i.e. to keep an eye upon "madmen" and prophetizers. The term "mad" is used in a disparaging sense (as 2 Kings 9:11; comp. Hosea 9:7), with regard to the apparently senseless behavior of those who were overpowered by the spirit of prophecy. In earlier times, no doubt, the phenomena of prophecy were more violently opposed to everyday life than in Jeremiah's time; but such symbolic acts as appearing in public with a yoke upon his neck would at least excuse the application of the epithet even to Jeremiah. It is more than probable, however, that it was not so much the abnormal actions as the contents of Jeremiah's prophecies which stirred up such vehement opposition; observe how in the next verse only the sound of these descriptive nouns is retained ("which maketh himself a prophet"). It was the making prophecy a reality which disturbed the men of routine, and Shemaiah well knew this when he made this appeal to Zephaniah. There was no harm in being nominally a "prophet," but to "make," or rather, "show one's self as a prophet," to be an energetic prophet, a prophetizer (if the word may be invented), - this was wormwood to those who cried, "Peace, peace," when there was no peace. In prison, and in the stocks; rather, in the stocks (see on Jeremiah 20:2) and in the collar. The meaning seems to be that Jeremiah was subjected to both forms of punishment at once.
Now therefore why hast thou not reproved Jeremiah of Anathoth, which maketh himself a prophet to you?
Verse 27. - Reproved; i.e. threatened with punishment.
For therefore he sent unto us in Babylon, saying, This captivity is long: build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them.
Verse 28. - For therefore, etc.; i.e. the consequence of Jeremiah's not having been kept within bounds by authority is that he has even ventured, in his fanatical zeal, to trouble the exiles in Babylon. This captivity is long; rather, It (is) long; a more forcible expression.
And Zephaniah the priest read this letter in the ears of Jeremiah the prophet.
Verse 29. - And Zephaniah the priest, etc. This should rather be printed as a parenthetical remark.
Then came the word of the LORD unto Jeremiah, saying,
Verses 30-32. - Then came the word of the Lord, etc. A fresh introduction of the Divine oracle was rendered necessary by the long description of Zephaniah's letters. The reason for Shemaiah's punishment, however, is stated here a little differently. Of course, it was equally contrary to the will of God to deliver a false prophecy and to stir up persecution against his true prophet. Taught rebellion (see on Jeremiah 28:16).
Send to all them of the captivity, saying, Thus saith the LORD concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite; Because that Shemaiah hath prophesied unto you, and I sent him not, and he caused you to trust in a lie:
Therefore thus saith the LORD; Behold, I will punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite, and his seed: he shall not have a man to dwell among this people; neither shall he behold the good that I will do for my people, saith the LORD; because he hath taught rebellion against the LORD.