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Jeremiah 21:11-14

Context
Warnings to the Royal Court

21:11 The Lord told me to say 1  to the royal court 2  of Judah,

“Listen to what the Lord says,

21:12 O royal family descended from David. 3 

The Lord says:

‘See to it that people each day 4  are judged fairly. 5 

Deliver those who have been robbed from those 6  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. 7 

21:13 Listen, you 8  who sit enthroned above the valley on a rocky plateau.

I am opposed to you,’ 9  says the Lord. 10 

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

No one can penetrate into our places of refuge.” 11 

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

says the Lord. 12 

‘I will set fire to your palace;

it will burn up everything around it.’” 13 

1 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.

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

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

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

5 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.

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

7 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.”

8 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.

9 tn Heb “I am against you.”

10 tn Heb “oracle of the Lord.”

11 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).

12 tn Heb “oracle of the Lord.”

13 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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