Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
A Letter from Jeremiah to the Captives in Babylon, together with Threatenings against their False Prophets. - As in Jerusalem, so too in Babylon the predictions of the false prophets fostered a lively hope that the domination of Nebuchadnezzar would not last long, and that the return of the exiles to their fatherland would soon come about. The spirit of discontent thus excited must have exercised an injurious influence on the fortunes of the captives, and could not fail to frustrate the aim which the chastisement inflicted by God was designed to work out, namely, the moral advancement of the people. Therefore Jeremiah makes use of an opportunity furnished by an embassy sent by King Zedekiah to Babel, to address a letter to the exiles, exhorting them to yield with submission to the lot God had assigned to them. He counsels them to prepare, by establishing their households there, for a long sojourn in Babel, and to seek the welfare of that country as the necessary condition of their own. They must not let themselves be deceived by the false prophets' idle promises of a speedy return, since God will not bring them back and fulfil His glorious promises till after seventy years have passed (Jer 29:4-14). Then he tells them that sore judgments are yet in store for King Zedekiah and such as have been left in the land (Jer 29:15-20); and declares that some of their false prophets shall perish miserably (Jer 29:21-32).
Heading and Introduction. - The following circular is connected, in point of outward form, with the preceding discourses against the false prophets in Jerusalem by means of the words: "And these are the words of the letter," etc. The words of the letter, i.e., the main contents of the letter, since it was not transcribed, but given in substance. "Which the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem unto the residue of the elders of the captives, and to the priests and prophets, and to the whole people, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon." "The residue of the elders," Hitz. and Graf understand of those elders who were not at the same time priests or prophets. On this Ng. pronounces: "It is impossible that they can be right, for then 'the residue of the elders of the captivity' must have stood after the priests and prophets." And though we hear of elders of the priests, there is no trace in the O.T. of elders of the prophets. Besides, the elders, whenever they are mentioned along with the priests, are universally the elders of the people. Thus must we understand the expression here also. "The residue of the elders" can only be the remaining, i.e., still surviving, elders of the exiles, as יתר is used also in Jer 39:9 for those still in life. But there is no foundation for the assumption by means of which Gr. seeks to support his interpretation, namely, that the place of elders that died was immediately filled by new appointments, so that the council of the elders must always have been regarded as a whole, and could not come to be a residue or remnant. Jeremiah could not possibly have assumed the existence of such an organized governing authority, since in this very letter he exhorts them to set about the establishment of regular system in their affairs. The date given in Jer 29:2 : "after that Jechoniah the king, and the sovereign lady, and the courtiers, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, the workmen and smiths, were gone away from Jerusalem," points to the beginning of Zedekiah's reign, to the first or second year of it. With this the advice given to the captives in the letter harmonizes well, namely, the counsel to build houses, plant gardens, etc.; since this makes it clear that they had not been long there. The despatch of this letter is usually referred to the fourth year of Zedekiah's reign, because in Jer 28:1 this year is specified. But the connection in point of matter between the present chapter and Jer 28 does not necessarily imply their contemporaneousness, although that is perfectly possible; and the fact that, according to Jer 51:59, Zedekiah himself undertook a journey to Babylon in the fourth year of his reign, does not exclude the possibility of an embassy thither in the same year. The going away from Jerusalem is the emigration to Babylon; cf. Jer 24:1, Kg2 24:15. הגּבירה, the queen-mother, see on Jer 13:18. סריסים are the officials of the court; not necessarily eunuchs. Both words are joined to the king, because these stood in closest relations to him. Then follows without copula the second class of emigrants, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, i.e., the heads of the tribes, septs, and families of the nation. The artisans form the third class. This disposes of the objections raised by Mov. and Hitz. against the genuineness of the words "princes of Judah and Jerusalem," their objections being based on the false assumption that these words were an exposition of "courtiers." Cf. against this, Kg2 24:15, where along with the סריסים the heads of tribes and families are comprehended under the head of אוּלי הארץ. Jer 29:3. "By the hand" of Elasah is dependent on "sent," Jer 29:1. The men by whom Jeremiah sent the letter to Babylon are not further known. Shaphan is perhaps the same who is mentioned in Jer 26:24. We have no information as to the aim of the embassy.
At Jer 29:4 the contents of the letter begin. Jeremiah warns the people to prepare for a lengthened sojourn in Babylonia, and exhorts them to settle down there. Jer 29:5. "Build houses and dwell (therein), and plant gardens and eat the fruit of them. Jer 29:6. Take wives and beget sons and daughters, and take for your sons wives and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and increase there and not diminish. Jer 29:7. And seek the safety of the city whither I have carried you captive, and pray for it to Jahveh, and in its safety shall be safety to you." The imperatives "increase and not diminish" give the consequence of what has been said just before. "The city whither I have carried you captive" is not precisely Babylon, but every place whither separate companies of the exiles have been transported. And pray for the city whither you are come, because in this you further your own welfare, instead of looking for advantage to yourselves from the fall of the Chaldean empire, from the calamity of your heathen fellow-citizens. - With this is suitably joined immediately the warning against putting trust in the delusive hopes held out by the false prophets. "For thus saith Jahve of hosts, the God of Israel: Let not your prophets, that are in the midst of you, and your soothsayers, deceive you, and hearken not to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed; for falsely they prophesy to you in my name; I have not sent them, saith Jahveh." מחלמים is somewhat singular, since we have no other example of the Hiph. of חלם in its sig. dream (in Isa 38:16 the Hiph. of the same root means to preserve in good health); but the Hiph. may here express the people's spontaneity in the matter of dreams: which ye cause to be dreamed for you (Hitz.). Thus there would be no need to alter the reading into חלמים; a precedent for the defective spelling being found in מעזרים, Ch2 28:23. What the false prophets gave out is not expressly intimated, but may be gathered from the context Jer 29:10, namely, that the yoke of Babylon would soon be broken and captivity come to an end. - This warning is justified in Jer 29:10-14, where God's decree is set forth. The deliverance will not come about till after seventy years; but then the Lord will fulfil to His people His promise of grace. Jer 29:10. "For thus saith Jahveh: When as seventy years are fulfilled for Babylon, I will visit you, and perform to you my good word, to bring you back to this place. Jer 29:11. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith Jahveh, thoughts of peace and not for evil, to give you (a) destiny and hope. Jer 29:12. And ye will call upon me, and go and pray unto me, and I will hear you. Jer 29:13. And ye will seek me, and find me, if ye search for me with all your heart. Jer 29:14. And I will let myself be found of you, saith Jahve, and will turn your captivity, and gather you out of all the peoples and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith Jahveh, and will bring you again to the place whence I have carried you away." - לפי מלאת, according to the measure of the fulfilment of seventy years for Babel. These words point back to Jer 25:11., and we must reckon from the date of that prediction. פּקד c. accus. sig. to visit in a good sense, to look favourably on one and take his part. "My good word" is expounded by the following infinitive clause. Jer 29:11. "I know my thoughts" is not to be taken, as by Jerome, J. D. Mich., etc., as in contrast with the false prophets: I know, but they do not. This antithesis is not in keeping with what follows. The meaning is rather: Although I appoint so long a term for the fulfilment of the plan of redemption, yet fear not that I have utterly rejected you; I know well what my design is in your regard. My thoughts toward you are thoughts of God, not of evil. Although now I inflict lengthened sufferings on you, yet this chastisement but serves to bring about your welfare in the future (Chr. B. Mich., Graf, etc.). - To give you אחרית, lit., last, i.e., issue or future, and hope. For this sig. cf. Job 8:7; Pro 5:4, etc. This future destiny and hope can, however, only be realized if by the sorrows of exile you permit yourselves to be brought to a knowledge of your sins, and return penitent to me. Then ye will call on me and pray, and I will hear you. "And ye will go," Jer 29:12, is not the apodosis to "ye will call," since there is no further explanation of it, and since the simple הלך can neither mean to go away satisfied nor to have success. "Go" must be taken with what follows: go to the place of prayer (Ew., Umbr., Gr. Ng.). In Jer 29:13 אתי is to be repeated after "find." Jer 29:12 and Jer 29:13 are a renewal of the promise, Deu 4:29-30; and Jer 29:14 is a brief summary of the promise, Deu 30:3-5, whence is taken the graphic expression שׁוּב את־שׁבוּת; see on that passage. - Thereafter in
Jeremiah informs the captives of the judgments that is to gall on such as are still left in the land. Jer 29:15. "If ye say: Jahveh hath raised us up prophets in Babylon - Jer 29:16. Yea, thus saith Jahveh of the king that sitteth upon the throne of David, and of all the people that dwelleth in this city, your brethren that are not gone forth with you into captivity, Jer 29:17. Thus saith Jahveh of hosts: Behold, I send amongst them the sword, famine, and pestilence, and make them like horrible figs, that cannot be eaten for badness, Jer 29:18. And hunt after them with the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and give them to be abused to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse, and an astonishment, and a hissing, and a reproach among all the peoples whither I have driven them; Jer 29:19. Inasmuch as they have not hearkened to my words, saith Jahveh, wherewith I sent to them my servants the prophets, from early morning on sending them, and ye have not hearkened, saith Jahveh. Jer 29:20. But ye, hear the word of Jahveh, all ye captives whom I have sent from Jerusalem to Babylon." - The design with which Jeremiah tells the captives of this judgment may be gathered from the terms of Jer 29:15, with which this prophecy is introduced: God had raised up to us prophets in Babel (בּבלה, lit., as far as Babel, i.e., extending His agency so far beyond the bounds of Judah). Hence it is clear that the announcement of judgment to come on those left in the land is in direct opposition to the predictions of the prophets that had appeared in Babylon. these prophesied a swift end to Chaldean domination and an immediate return of the exiles to their fatherland. So long as one of David's posterity sat on his throne in Jerusalem, and so long as the kingdom of Judah was maintained, the partial captivity of the people and removal of the plundered treasures of the temple would appear as a calamity which might soon be repaired. The false prophets in Babylon laid, therefore, great stress on the continued existence of the kingdom, with its capital and the temple, in their efforts to obtain belief amongst the exiles. As Ng. justly remarks, it was to take this ground from beneath their feet that Jeremiah predicted expulsion and destruction against the people of Jerusalem. The prophecy does indeed bear upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, "but not in the first reference; its immediate purpose was to overthrow the foundations on which the false prophets of the exile stood" (Ng.). Taken thus, these verses form and integral part of the message sent by Jeremiah to the exiles, which was of no small weight for quieting the excitement, nourished by the false prophets, which reigned amongst them. One is struck by the want of connection between Jer 29:15 and Jer 29:16. The beginning of Jer 29:16, "Yea, thus saith," comes directly after the end of Jer 29:15 without any joining link. Ng. holds the כּי to be the pleonastic כּי which often introduces a saying. But its position before the "thus saith" makes this impossible. Here it serves to strengthen the asseveration: yea, thus fitly introducing what Jahveh says to the contrary; and Jer 29:15 and Jer 29:16 are, tersely and immediately, set over against one another. "If ye say" means: as regards your saying that Jahveh hath raised you up prophets in Babylon, the answer is: Thus hath Jahveh said. This is the connection of Jer 29:16 with Jer 29:15.
(Note: By the above exposition of the connection and progress of the thought, are disposed of all the objections that have been brought by Houb., Lud. Capp., Ven., etc., against the genuineness of these verses, or, at least, against the true position for them. The fact of their being wanting in the lxx, on which Hitz. mainly grounds his charge of spuriousness, proves nothing more than that these translators were unable to understand the train of thought in the verses, especially seeing that the substance of them has several times been expressed by Jeremiah, particularly Jer 29:17 and Jer 29:18; Jer 24:9-10, cf. Jer 15:4; Jer 19:8; with Jer 29:19 cf. Jer 7:13, Jer 7:25. Against the attempts to alter the text, Graf's remarks are admirable: "It is much easier to explain how the passage was omitted as out of place by the lxx than to show how it could have been introduced as an interpolation. It is too long for a mere marginal gloss that had at a later time found its way into the text; and why it should have been placed here, would remain all the more incomprehensible if it were so wholly unconnected with the body of the text. We cannot admit that it is merely an erroneous displacement of b. 15, which originally stood before Jer 29:21; since it is less likely that Jer 29:16 could have come directly after Jer 29:14. In respect of form, Jer 29:16-20 is connected with and forms a continuation of what precedes. Jer 29:20 implies the presence of Jer 29:16 as an antithesis, and at the same time completes again the connection that had been interrupted with Jer 29:15, and leads on to Jer 29:21. Connection in thought seems to be wanting only because Jer 29:16 does not express the connecting idea, and because the contrast is so abrupt." - The other arguments adduced by Hitz. to throw suspicion on the passage, we can afford to pass over as wholly without force.)
"Your brethren that," etc., is co-ordinate with "all the people." The words: "I make them like horrible figs," make allusion to the vision in Jer 24:2., but do not imply that this vision was known to the exiles, for they are quite intelligible to him who knows nothing of Jer 24:1-10 (Ng.). The adject. שׁער is found only here, from שׁער, shudder; horrible, that on tasting which one shudders. With Jer 29:18, cf. Jer 24:9. "Wherewith I sent my servants," i.e., commissioned them. This verb construed with double accus. as in Sa2 11:22; Isa 55:11. "Ye have not hearkened," the 2nd pers. instead of the 3rd, is hardly to be explained by the fact that the prophet here cites in full an often quoted saying (Hitz., Ng., etc.). The reason is that the prophet is thinking of the exiles also as having been equal to their brethren remaining in Judah in the matter of not hearkening. Thus the way is prepared for the summons: But ye, hear, Jer 29:20.
After having set forth the divine determination, the prophet's letter addresses itself specially against the false prophets and tells them their punishment from God. Jer 29:21. "Thus saith Jahveh, the God of hosts, of Ahab the son of Kolaiah, and of Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who prophesy to you in my name falsely: Behold, I give them into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, that he may smite them before your eyes. Jer 29:22. And of them shall be taken up a curse by all the exiles of Judah that are in Babylon, saying: Jahveh make thee like Zedekiah and like Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire, Jer 29:23. Because they have done folly in Israel, and have committed adultery with their neighbours' wives, and have spoken in my name lying words which I have not commanded them. But I know it and am witness, saith Jahveh." - Beyond what is here told, we know nothing of these two pseudo-prophets. The name אחאב is written in Jer 29:20 without א; thus the Kametz comes to be under the ח, and in consequence of this the Pathach is changed into a Seghol "Smite," i.e., slay. The manner of their death is called, probably with allusion to the name Kolaiah, קלה, roast, burn in a heated furnace; a mode of execution usual in Babylon, acc. to Dan 3:6. This punishment is to fall on them because of two kinds of sin: 1. Because they have done folly in Israel, namely, committed adultery with their neighbours' wives; 2. Because they have prophesied falsely in the name of Jahveh. Except in Jos 7:15, the phrase: commit folly in Israel, is always used of the grosser sins of uncleanness; see on Gen 34:7. So here also. - The Chet. הוידע is expounded in the Keri by היּודע, according to which there has been a transposition of the letters ו and י, as in Jer 2:25; Jer 8:6, etc. Still the article here is extraordinary, since עד has none. Therefore J. D. Mich., Ew., Hitz., Graf suppose we should read הוּ ידע, the א having been dropped from הוּא in scriptio continua, as it often is, especially after י, in הביא and other words, cf. Jer 19:15; Jer 39:16, Kg1 21:29, etc. הוּא is then the copula between subject and predicate, as in Isa 43:25; cf. Ew. 297, b.
Threatening against the false prophet Shemaiah. - Jeremiah's letter to the exiles (vv. 1-23) had excited great indignation among the false prophets in Babylon, who predicted speedy restoration. One of them, named Shemaiah, wrote accordingly letters to Jerusalem addressed to the people, and especially to the priest Zephaniah, who held the highest place in the management of the temple, insisting that he should immediately take steps to punish Jeremiah and check his labours (Jer 29:24-28). When Zephaniah read this letter to Jeremiah, the latter received from God the commission to tell the pseudo-prophet of the punishment awaiting him, that and his race should perish and not survive Israel's liberation (Jer 29:29-32). - This threatening accordingly dates from a somewhat later time than the letter, vv. 1-23, since it was its arrival and influence upon the exiles that led Shemaiah to write to Jerusalem that letter, to which the threatening of the present verse is the reply. But on account of their historical connection, the letter of Jeremiah and that of Shemaiah were, at the publication of Jeremiah's prophecies, placed the one after the other. - From the introductory clause of Jer 29:24 : "And to Shemaiah the Nehelamite thou shalt speak thus," we might conclude, with Graf, that what Jeremiah had to say was not addressed by letter to Shemaiah himself; and hold it to have sufficed that he should read it, like all the exiles, in the letter which doubtless found its way to Babylon. But this is incompatible with the command of God, Jer 29:31 : Send to all the captives, saying, etc. For it was only by writing that Jeremiah could send to the exiles the sentence from God on Shemaiah that follows in Jer 29:31. The introductory clause is therefore interposed by the author of the book to form a link of connection between the two utterances regarding the pseudo-prophets at Babylon. We cannot make sure whether "the Nehelamite" refers the man to a family or to a place of which we know nothing else. Jer 29:25. Next the introduction to the divine sentence comes (from "Because thou" on) a statement of the occasion that called for it, which extends to Jer 29:28. Then in Jer 29:29-31 we are told that Zephaniah read to Jeremiah the letter he had received from Shemaiah in Babylon, and that Jeremiah was then commissioned by God to intimate to Shemaiah the punishment to be sent on him by God for his false and seducing prophecies. Then, again, attached to the preliminary statement by "therefore," the introductory phrase "Thus saith Jahveh" is repeated, and what the Lord said follows.
"Because thou hast sent in thy name (without divine commission) letters to all the people in Jerusalem, and to Sephaniah the son of Maaseiah the priest, and to all the priests, saying." ספרים may be a single letter, cf. Kg2 10:1-2; but since these were sent to the people, the priest Zephaniah, and all the people, the word doubtless means here letters in the plural. As to Zephaniah ben Maaseiah, see at Jer 21:1. - In Jer 29:26-28 follows the main substance of the letter: "Jahveh hath set thee to be priest in the stead of the priest Jehoiada, that there should be officers in the house of Jahveh for every man that is mad and prophesieth, that thou shouldest put him in the stocks and in neck-irons. Jer 29:27. And, now, why hast thou not restrained Jeremiah of Anathoth, that prophesieth to you? Jer 29:28. For therefore hath he sent to us to Babylon (a letter) to the effect: It will last long; build houses and dwell (therein), and plant gardens and eat the fruit of them." Zephaniah occupied, acc. to Jer 29:26, the post of a chief officer of the temple, was a chief warden, as Pashur had been before him, Jer 21:1, who had charge of the police regulations of the temple.
In the stead of the priest Jehoiada. These words Grot., Hitz., and Gr. refer to the high priest Jehoiada under King Joash, Kg2 11:18, who set up officers (פּקדּות) over the temple. But this view cannot be reconciled with the words of the text: "Jahveh hath set thee to be priest in Jehoiada's stead, that there should be officers;" since from these ambiguous words, Zephaniah filled the same post as Jehoiada had done, and was his successor in office. The other well-known Jehoiada was high priest, who appointed officers; Zephaniah, on the other hand was only "the second priest," and as such had charge of the temple arrangements and of public order there. Nor is there any hint here or elsewhere that Zephaniah was the immediate successor of Pashur in this office, nor any indication to make it unlikely that Jehoiada held the post after Pashur and that Zedekiah succeeded him. The plural "officers" is general: that at all times there should be officers. "For every man that is mad an prophesieth." משׁגּע, the deranged or mad person, is here closely associated with מתנבּא, him that bears himself as prophet. The former word is used in the evil sense of the apparently deranged behaviour of the man on whom the Spirit of God has laid hold, Kg2 9:11; Hos 9:7. The idea is not: for (or against) every prophet, but: for every madman that plays the prophet. The temple, i.e., the outer court of the temple, was the usual place for prophets to take their stand. Shemaiah accordingly means that it was the duty of the chief warden of the temple to repress attempts to speak in the temple on the part of pretended prophets, by putting such persons in stocks and irons. As to מהפּכת, see on Jer 20:2. צינק is ἁπ λεγ.. It certainly does not mean prison after צנק, in Samaritan = clausit; but apparently neck-irons after Arab. znâq, necklace, ring. Since both words are used together here, and since the meaning is apparently that Jeremiah should be put into both instruments at once, Hitz. conjectures that both together were needed to make the stocks complete, but that each had its own proper name, because it was possible to fix in the neck, leaving hands and feet free, or conversely, as in Jer 20:2. - גּער, rebuke, check by threats, restrain, cf. Rut 2:16; Mal 3:11, etc. "For therefore," sc. just because thou hast not restrained him from prophesying he has sent to Babylon. שׁלח with לאמר following, send to say, means: to send a message or letter as follows. לאמר ארכה היא Hitz. renders: for he thought: it (Babylon) is far away; Jeremiah's meaning being, that in Jerusalem they would know nothing about his letter he was sending to Babylon. But such a hidden purpose is utterly foreign to the character of the prophet. He had publicly predicted in Jerusalem the long seventy years' duration of the exile; and it was not likely to occur to him to wish to make a secret of the letter of like import which he sent to Babylon. Besides, Hitz.'s interpretation is forced. Since there is no לאמר before בּנוּ בתּים, the לאמר before ארכה can only be introductory to the contents of the letter. For ארך used of duration in time, cf. Sa2 3:1; Job 11:9. "Long-lasting it is," sc. your sojourn in Babylon. These words give the burden of his prophecy, that on which he founded his counsel: build houses, etc.
Zephaniah read aloud to Jeremiah the letter he had received from Babylon. With what design, we are not told; probably simply to inform him of the proceedings of the pseudo-prophets in Babylon. If we may judge by Jer 21:1 and Jer 37:3, Zephaniah seems to have been friendly to Jeremiah.
In consequence of this, Jeremiah received from the Lord the commission to predict to Shemaiah his punishment at the hand of God, and to send the prediction to all that are in Babylon in banishment. With Jer 29:31, cf. Jer 28:15. The punishment is this: Shemaiah shall have no posterity among his people, i.e., of his children none shall be left amongst the people, nor shall he see, i.e., experience, have any share in the blessings which the Lord will yet bestow upon His people. The extinction of his race and his own exclusion from the privilege of seeing the day of Israel's redemption are the punishment that is to fall on him for his rebellion against the commandment of the Lord. With 'כּי סרה cf. Jer 28:16.