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Jeremiah 21:4-10

Context
21:4 that the Lord, the God of Israel, says, 1  ‘The forces at your disposal 2  are now outside the walls fighting against King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and the Babylonians 3  who have you under siege. I will gather those forces back inside the city. 4  21:5 In anger, in fury, and in wrath I myself will fight against you with my mighty power and great strength! 5  21:6 I will kill everything living in Jerusalem, 6  people and animals alike! They will die from terrible diseases. 21:7 Then 7  I, the Lord, promise that 8  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 9  tell the people of Jerusalem 10  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. 11  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. 12  21:10 For I, the Lord, say that 13  I am determined not to deliver this city but to bring disaster on it. 14  It will be handed over to the king of Babylon and he will destroy it with fire.’” 15 

1 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.

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

3 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.

4 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.

5 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.

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

7 tn Heb “And afterward.”

8 tn Heb “oracle of the Lord.”

9 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).

10 tn Heb “these people.”

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

12 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).

13 tn Heb “oracle of the Lord.”

14 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.

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



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