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Jeremiah 21

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The Lord Will Hand Jerusalem over to Enemies

21:1 The Lord spoke to Jeremiah 1  when King Zedekiah 2  sent to him Pashhur son of Malkijah and the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah. 3  Zedekiah sent them to Jeremiah to ask, 4  21:2 “Please ask the Lord to come and help us, 5  because King Nebuchadnezzar 6  of Babylon is attacking us. Maybe the Lord will perform one of his miracles as in times past and make him stop attacking us and leave.” 7  21:3 Jeremiah answered them, “Tell Zedekiah 21:4 that the Lord, the God of Israel, says, 8  ‘The forces at your disposal 9  are now outside the walls fighting against King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and the Babylonians 10  who have you under siege. I will gather those forces back inside the city. 11  21:5 In anger, in fury, and in wrath I myself will fight against you with my mighty power and great strength! 12  21:6 I will kill everything living in Jerusalem, 13  people and animals alike! They will die from terrible diseases. 21:7 Then 14  I, the Lord, promise that 15  I will hand over King Zedekiah of Judah, his officials, and any of the people who survive the war, starvation, and disease. I will hand them over to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and to their enemies who want to kill them. He will slaughter them with the sword. He will not show them any mercy, compassion, or pity.’

21:8 “But 16  tell the people of Jerusalem 17  that the Lord says, ‘I will give you a choice between two courses of action. One will result in life; the other will result in death. 18  21:9 Those who stay in this city will die in battle or of starvation or disease. Those who leave the city and surrender to the Babylonians who are besieging it will live. They will escape with their lives. 19  21:10 For I, the Lord, say that 20  I am determined not to deliver this city but to bring disaster on it. 21  It will be handed over to the king of Babylon and he will destroy it with fire.’” 22 

Warnings to the Royal Court

21:11 The Lord told me to say 23  to the royal court 24  of Judah,

“Listen to what the Lord says,

21:12 O royal family descended from David. 25 

The Lord says:

‘See to it that people each day 26  are judged fairly. 27 

Deliver those who have been robbed from those 28  who oppress them.

Otherwise, my wrath will blaze out against you.

It will burn like a fire that cannot be put out

because of the evil that you have done. 29 

21:13 Listen, you 30  who sit enthroned above the valley on a rocky plateau.

I am opposed to you,’ 31  says the Lord. 32 

‘You boast, “No one can swoop down on us.

No one can penetrate into our places of refuge.” 33 

21:14 But I will punish you as your deeds deserve,’

says the Lord. 34 

‘I will set fire to your palace;

it will burn up everything around it.’” 35 

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1 tn Heb “The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord.”

2 sn Zedekiah was the last king of Judah. He ruled from 597 b.c. when he was placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kgs 24:17) until the fall of Jerusalem in 587/6 b.c. He acquiesced to some of his anti-Babylonian counselors, rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, and sought help from the Egyptians (Ezek 17:12-15). This brought Nebuchadnezzar against the city in 588 b.c. This is the first of two delegations to Jeremiah. The later one was sent after Nebuchadnezzar withdrew to take care of the Egyptian threat (cf. Jer 37:1-9).

3 sn The Pashhur son of Malkijah referred to here is not the same as the Pashhur referred to in 20:1-6 who was the son of Immer. This Pashhur is referred to later in 38:1. The Zephaniah referred to here was the chief of security referred to later in Jer 29:25-26. He appears to have been favorably disposed toward Jeremiah.

4 tn Heb “sent to him…Maaseiah, saying,….”

5 tn The verb used here is often used of seeking information through a prophet (e.g., 2 Kgs 1:16; 8:8) and hence many translate “inquire of the Lord for us.” However, it is obvious from the following that they were not seeking information but help. The word is also used for that in Pss 34:4 (34:5 HT); 77:2 (77:3 HT).

6 tn The dominant spelling of this name is actually Nebuchadrezzar which is closer to his Babylonian name Nebu kudduri uzzur. An alternate spelling which is found 6 times in the book of Jeremiah and 17 times elsewhere is Nebuchadnezzar which is the form of the name that is usually used in English versions.

sn Nebuchadnezzar was the second and greatest king of Babylon. He is known in the Bible both for his two conquests of Jerusalem in 597 b.c. (2 Kgs 24:10-17) and 587 b.c. (2 Kgs 25:1-7) and for his having built Babylon the Great (Dan 4:28-30).

7 tn Heb “Perhaps the Lord will do according to his miracles that he may go up from against us.”

sn The miracles that they may have had in mind would have included the Exodus, the conquest of Jericho, the deliverance of Jehoshaphat (2 Chr 20:1-30), etc., but predominant in their minds was probably the deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib in the times of Hezekiah (Isa 37:33-38).

8 tn Heb “Tell Zedekiah, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel.’” Using the indirect quote eliminates one level of embedded quotation and makes it easier for the reader to follow.

9 tn Heb “the weapons which are in your hand.” Weapons stands here by substitution for the soldiers who wield them.

10 sn The Babylonians (Heb “the Chaldeans”). The Chaldeans were a group of people in the country south of Babylon from which Nebuchadnezzar came. The Chaldean dynasty his father established became the name by which the Babylonians are regularly referred to in the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s contemporary Ezekiel uses both terms.

11 tn The structure of the Hebrew sentence of this verse is long and complex and has led to a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding. There are two primary points of confusion: 1) the relation of the phrase “outside the walls,” and 2) the antecedent of “them” in the last clause of the verse that reads in Hebrew: “I will gather them back into the midst of the city.” Most take the phrase “outside the walls” with “the Babylonians….” Some take it with “turn back/bring back” to mean “from outside….” However, the preposition “from” is part of the idiom for “outside….” The phrase goes with “fighting” as J. Bright (Jeremiah [AB], 215) notes and as NJPS suggests. The antecedent of “them” has sometimes been taken mistakenly to refer to the Babylonians. It refers rather to “the forces at your disposal” which is literally “the weapons which are in your hands.” This latter phrase is a figure involving substitution (called metonymy) as Bright also correctly notes. The whole sentence reads in Hebrew: “I will bring back the weapons of war which are in your hand with which you are fighting Nebuchadrezzar the King of Babylon and the Chaldeans who are besieging you outside your wall and I will gather them into the midst of the city.” The sentence has been restructured to better reflect the proper relationships and to make the sentence conform more to contemporary English style.

12 tn Heb “with outstretched hand and with strong arm.” These are, of course, figurative of God’s power and might. He does not literally have hands and arms.

sn The phrases in this order are unique but a very similar phrase “by strong hand and outstretched arm” are found several times with reference to God’s mighty power unleashed against Egypt at the exodus (cf., Deut 4:34; 5:15; 26:8; Jer 32:21; Ps 136:12). Instead of being directed at Israel’s enemies it will now be directed against her.

13 map For location see Map5 B1; Map6 F3; Map7 E2; Map8 F2; Map10 B3; JP1 F4; JP2 F4; JP3 F4; JP4 F4.

14 tn Heb “And afterward.”

15 tn Heb “oracle of the Lord.”

16 tn Heb “And/But unto this people you shall say…” “But” is suggested here by the unusual word order which offsets what they are to say to Zedekiah (v. 3).

17 tn Heb “these people.”

18 tn Heb “Behold I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death.”

19 tn Heb “his life will be to him for spoil.”

sn Spoil was what was carried off by the victor (see, e.g., Judg 5:30). Those who surrendered to the Babylonians would lose their property, their freedom, and their citizenship but would at least escape with their lives. Jeremiah was branded a traitor for this counsel (cf. 38:4) but it was the way of wisdom since the Lord was firmly determined to destroy the city (cf. v. 10).

20 tn Heb “oracle of the Lord.”

21 tn Heb “I have set my face against this city for evil [i.e., disaster] and not for good [i.e., well-being].” For the use of the idiom “set one’s face against/toward” see, e.g., usage in 1 Kgs 2:15; 2 Kgs 2:17; Jer 42:15, 17 and note the interesting interplay of usage in Jer 44:11-12.

22 tn Heb “he will burn it with fire.”

23 tn The words “The Lord told me to say” are not in the text. They have been supplied in the translation for clarity. This text has been treated in two very different ways depending upon how one views the connection of the words “and to/concerning the household of the King of Judah, ‘Hear the word of the Lord:…’” with the preceding and following. Some treat the words that follow as a continuation of Jeremiah’s response to the delegation sent by Zedekiah (cf. vv. 3, 8). Others treat this as introducing a new set of oracles parallel to those in 23:9-40 which are introduced by the heading “to/concerning the prophets.” There are three reasons why this is the more probable connection: (1) the parallelism in expression with 23:9; (2) the other introductions in vv. 3, 8 use the preposition אֶל (’el) instead of לְ (lÿ) used here, and they have the formal introduction “you shall say…”; (3) the warning or challenge here would mitigate the judgment pronounced on the king and the city in vv. 4-7. Verses 8-9 are different. They are not a mitigation but an offer of escape for those who surrender. Hence, these words are a title “Now concerning the royal court.” (The vav [ו] that introduces this is disjunctive = “Now.”) However, since the imperative that follows is masculine plural and addressed to the royal house, something needs to be added to introduce it. Hence the translation supplies “The Lord told me to say” to avoid confusion or mistakenly connecting it with the preceding.

24 tn Heb “house” or “household.” It is clear from 22:1-6 that this involved the King, the royal family, and the court officials.

25 tn Heb “house of David.” This is essentially equivalent to the royal court in v. 11.

26 tn Heb “to the morning” = “morning by morning” or “each morning.” See Isa 33:2 and Amos 4:4 for parallel usage.

27 sn The kings of Israel and Judah were responsible for justice. See Pss 122:5. The king himself was the final court of appeals judging from the incident of David with the wise woman of Tekoa (2 Sam 14), Solomon and the two prostitutes (1 Kgs 3:16-28), and Absalom’s attempts to win the hearts of the people of Israel by interfering with due process (2 Sam 15:2-4). How the system was designed to operate may be seen from 2 Chr 19:4-11.

28 tn Heb “from the hand [or power] of.”

29 tn Heb “Lest my wrath go out like fire and burn with no one to put it out because of the evil of your deeds.”

30 tn Or “Listen, Jerusalem, you…”; Heb text of v. 21a-b reads, “Behold I am against you [fem. sg.], O inhabitant [fem. sg.] of the valley [and of] the rock of the plain, oracle of the Lord, who are saying [masc. pl.].” Verses 13-14 are generally treated as a separate oracle addressed to Jerusalem. The basis for this is (1) the appropriateness of the description here to the city of Jerusalem; (2) the rather similar reference to Jerusalem smugly living in her buildings made from cedars of Lebanon in 22:23; (3) the use of the second feminine singular pronoun “you” in other places in reference to Jerusalem (cf. clearly in 4:14; 6:8; 13:20; 15:5-6); (4) the use of the feminine singular participle to refer to personified Jerusalem in 10:17 as well as 20:23. However, the description in 21:13 is equally appropriate to the royal household that the Lord has been addressing; the palace stood on the Ophel or fill between the northern and southern hill just south of the temple and overlooked the Kidron valley. Moreover, the word “enthroned” is even more fitting to the royal household than to Jerusalem. The phrase “enthroned above the valley” is literally “inhabitant of the valley.” But since the literal is inappropriate for either Jerusalem or the royal palace, the phrase is regularly interpreted after the parallel phrase referring to the Lord “enthroned above the cherubim.” The royal house was “enthroned” more literally than Jerusalem was. Taking this to refer to the royal court rather than Jerusalem also introduces one less unintroduced entity by the shift in pronoun in vv. 11-14 as well as eliminating the introduction of an otherwise unintroduced oracle. The “you” of “you boast” is actually the masculine plural participle (Heb “who say”) that modifies the feminine singular participle “you who sit enthroned” and goes back to the masculine plural imperatives in v. 12 rather than introducing a new entity, the people of the city. The participle “you who sit enthroned” is to be interpreted as a collective referring to the royal court not a personification of the city of Jerusalem (cf. GKC 394 §122.s and see, e.g., Isa 12:6; Mic 1:11). Moreover, taking the referent to be the royal court makes the reference to the word translated “palace” much more natural. The word is literally “forest” and is often seen to be an allusion to the armory which was called the “Forest of Lebanon” (1 Kgs 7:2; 10:17; 10:21; Isa 22:8 and see also Ezek 17:3 in an allegory (17:2-18) which may have been contemporary with this oracle). Taking the oracle to refer to the royal court also makes this oracle more parallel with the one that follows where destruction of the palace leads also to the destruction of the city.

31 tn Heb “I am against you.”

32 tn Heb “oracle of the Lord.”

33 tn Heb “Who can swoop…Who can penetrate…?” The questions are rhetorical and expect a negative answer. They are rendered as negative affirmations for clarity.

sn What is being expressed here is the belief in the inviolability of Zion/Jerusalem carried to its extreme. Signal deliverances of Jerusalem such as those experienced under Jehoshaphat (2 Chr 20) and Hezekiah (Isa 37:36-37) in the context of promises to protect it (Isa 31:4-5; 37:33-35; 38:6) led to a belief that Zion was unconquerable. This belief found expression in several of Israel’s psalms (Pss 46, 48, 76) and led to the mistaken assumption that God would protect it regardless of how the people treated God or one another. Micah and Jeremiah both deny that (cf. Mic 3:8-12; Jer 21:13-14).

34 tn Heb “oracle of the Lord.”

35 tn Heb “I will set fire in its forest and it will devour its surroundings.” The pronouns are actually third feminine singular going back to the participle “you who sit enthroned above the valley.” However, this is another example of those rapid shifts in pronouns typical of the biblical Hebrew style which are uncommon in English. They have regularly been leveled to the same person throughout in the translation to avoid possible confusion for the English reader.



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