Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The liberation of Jeremiah by Nebuzaradan, the chief of the body-guards. - The superscription, "The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, after that Nebuzaradan, the captain of the body-guard, had let him go from Ramah," does not seem to be appropriate; for in what follows there is no word of God declared by Jeremiah, but first, Jer 1:2-6, we are told that Jeremiah was liberated and given in charge to Gedaliah; then is told, Jer 40:7-41:18, the story of the murder of Gedaliah the governor by Ishmael, together with its consequences; and not till Jer 42:7. is there communicated a word of God, which Jeremiah uttered regarding the Jews who wished to flee to Egypt, and had besought him for some revelation from God (Jer 42:1-6). The heading of our verse cannot refer to this prophecy, not merely for the reason that it is too far removed, but still more because it has a historical notice introducing it, Jer 42:1-6. Our superscription rather refers to Jer 1:1-3; and דּבר here, as well as there, means, not a single prophecy, but a number of prophecies. Just as דבר in Jer 1:2 forms the heading for all the prophecies uttered by Jeremiah from the thirteenth year of Josiah till the destruction of Jerusalem and the carrying away of the people in the eleventh year of Zedekiah, so the words 'הדּבר אשׁר וגו of this verse form the superscription for the prophecies which Jeremiah uttered after the destruction of Jerusalem, i.e., to the section formed by Jer 40-45, although Jer 44; Jer 45:1-5 have headings of their own; these, however, are subordinate to the heading of this chapter, in the same way as the titles in Jer 7:1; Jer 11:11; Jer 14:1, etc. fall under the general title given in Jer 1:2-3. - Regarding Nebuzaradan and the discharge of Jeremiah at Ramah (i.e., er Rm, see on Jer 31:15), cf. the explanations given on Jer 39:13 (p. 335 of this volume). In what follows, from בּקחתּו onwards, further details are given regarding Jeremiah's liberation. "When he (Nebuzaradan) sent for him, he (Jeremiah), bound with fetters, was among all the captives of Jerusalem and Judah who were being carried away to Babylon." Those who were to be carried away had been gathered together to Ramah, which lies about five miles north from Jerusalem; thence they were to set out for Babylon. אזקּים (= זקּים, Job 36:8; Isa 45:14), "fetters," - here, according to Jer 40:4, "manacles," by which, perhaps, two or more prisoners were fastened to one another.
When Jeremiah had been brought, the commander of the guards said to him, "The Lord thy God hath declared this evil against this place, and the Lord hath brought it on (brought it to pass), and hath done as He spake; for ye have sinned against the Lord, and have not hearkened to His voice: thus hath this thing happened to you." The mode of expression is that of Jeremiah; but Nebuzaradan may have expressed the thought, that now there had been fulfilled what Jeremiah had predicted in the name of God, because the people, by their rebellion, had broken the oath they had sworn before their God (cf. Eze 17:13.), and had thereby sinned against Him. The article before דּבר, required by the Qeri, is unnecessary; cf. Ewald, 293, a; Gesenius, 112, 2, a.
Nebuzaradan then declared him free: "And now, behold, I free thee this day from the shackles on thine hands. If it please thee to come with me to Babylon, then come, and I will set mine eye upon thee (i.e., take thee under my protection, cf. Jer 39:12). But if it please thee not to come with me to Babylon, then let it be so. See, the whole country is before thee (cf. Gen 13:9; Gen 20:5, etc.); whithersoever it pleases thee, and seems right to thee to go, go." Jer 40:5. And because Jeremiah had not yet returned, he said, "Go back to Gedaliah,...whom the king of Babylon hath set over the cities of Judah, and remain with him among the people; or go wherever it seemeth right to thee to go." And the commander of the guard gave him what provisions he required and a present, and sent him away; thereafter Jeremiah went to Gedaliah to Mizpah, and remained there among the people who had been left behind in the land (Jer 40:6). The words ועדנּוּ were certainly misunderstood by the old translators, who made various conjectures as to their meaning; even yet, Dahler, Movers, Graf, and Nהgelsbach are of opinion that "it is impossible to understand" this sentence, and that the text is plainly corrupt. Luther renders: "for no one will any longer return thither." Hitzig considers this translation substantially correct, and only requiring to be a little more exactly rendered: "but there, no one returns home again." Apart, however, from the consideration that on this view עדנּוּ, which stands at the head of the sentence, does not get full justice paid to it, the thought does not accord with what precedes, and the reference of the suffix to the indefinite "person" or "one" is extremely forced. According to what goes before, in which Nebuzaradan gives the prophet full liberty of choosing whether he would go with him to Babylon or remain in the country, in whatever part he likes, and from the following advice which he gives him, "Go, or return, to Gedaliah," the words עדנּוּ לא ישׁוּב, on account of the third person (ישׁוּב), cannot certainly be an address of the chief captain to Jeremiah, and as little can they contain a remark about going to Babylon. The words are evidently, both as to their form and their contents, a circumstantial clause, containing a statement regarding the relation of Jeremiah to the proposal of the chief captain (and this is the view taken long ago by Kimchi), i.e., a parenthetical remark of the narrator, according to which Nebuzaradan demands that he shall remain with Gedaliah, in the sense, "and yet he was not going back," or, still better, on account of the imperfect ישׁוּב, "because he was still unwilling to go back," namely, to this or that place indefinitely; then Nebuzaradan further said, "Return, then, to Gedaliah." If we supply ויּאמר before 'ושׁוּבה וגו, with which Nebuzaradan brings the matter to a close, the meaning is quite clear. It is evident from Jer 40:4 that Nebuzaradan stopped a little in order to let Jeremiah decide; but since the prophet did not return, i.e., neither decided in the one way nor the other, he adds 'ושׁוּבה וגו, and thereby puts an end to the indecision. ארחה means a portion of food, or victuals; cf. Jer 52:34 and Pro 15:17. Mizpah, where Gedaliah had taken up his position, is the Mizpah of the tribe of Benjamin, where Samuel judged the people and chose Saul to be king (Sa1 7:15., Jer 10:17); doubtless the modern Neby Samwil, five miles north-west from Jerusalem, a short distance south-west from Ramah; see on Jos 18:26.
Return of those who had been dispersed: they gather round Gedaliah. - Whilst the country and its capital were being conquered, many of the men of war had dispersed here and there through the land, and fled for refuge to regions difficult of access, where they could not be reached by the Chaldeans; others had even escaped into the territory of the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites. When these heard that now, after the destruction of Jerusalem and the carrying away of the captives, the king of Babylon had appointed Gedaliah as governor over the few people who had been left behind in the country, they returned from their several places of refuge, and came to Mizpah to Gedaliah, who promised them protection and safety, on condition that they would recognise the authority of the king of Babylon and peaceably cultivate the soil. שׂרי חילים, "leaders of the forces, captains." בּשׂדה, "in the country," as opposed to the city; שׂדה, "fields," as in Jer 17:3. אנשׁיהם, "their men," the troops under the captains. כּי הפקיד אתּו, "that he had committed to his oversight and care." "Men," viz., old, weak, infirm men; "women and children," whose husbands and fathers had perished; "and some of the poor of the country, of those who had not been carried captive to Babylon" (מן partitive), i.e., the poor and mean people whom the Chaldeans had left behind in the country (Jer 39:10).
These captains came to Mizpah, namely (ו explicative), Ishmael the son of Nethaniah (according to Jer 41:1, the grandson of Elishama, and of royal blood), Johanan and Jonathan the sons of Kareah (cf. Jer 40:13 and Jer 41:11, Jer 41:16; Jer 42:1.; the name Jonathan is omitted in Kg2 25:23; see on this passage), Seraiah the son of Tanhumeth, and the sons of Ephai the Netophathite (from Netophah in the vicinity of Bethlehem, Ch1 2:54; Ezr 2:22), Jezaniah (יזניהוּ; but in Kg2 25:23 יאזניהוּ), the Maachathite, from Maachah, a district in Syria near Hermon, Deu 3:14; Jos 12:5. These men, who had borne arms against the Chaldeans, were concerned for their safety when they returned into the country. Gedaliah sware to them, i.e., promised them on oath, "Be not afraid to serve the Chaldeans; remain in the country and serve the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you. And as for me, behold, I shall remain at Mizpah to stand before the Chaldeans who will come to us," i.e., as lieutenant of the king of Babylon, to represent you before the Chaldean officers and armies, to maintain your rights and interests, so that you may be able to settle down where you choose, without anxiety, and cultivate the land. "And as for yourselves, father ye wine and fruit (קיץ, see on Sa2 16:1) and oil, and put them in your vessels." אסף is used of the ingathering of the fruits of the ground. It was during the fifth or sixth month (Kg2 25:8), the end of July or beginning of August, that grapes, figs, and olives became ripe; and these had grown so plentifully in comparison with the small number of those who had returned, that they could gather sufficient for their wants. "And dwell in your cities, cities which ye seize," i.e., which you shall take possession of. Jer 40:11. Those Jews also who had fled, during the war, into the neighbouring countries of Moab, Ammon, Edom, etc., returned to Judah when they learned that the king of Babylon had left a remnant, and placed Gedaliah over them; they came to Mizpah and Gedaliah, who appointed them places to dwell in, and they gathered much wine and fruit, i.e., made a rich vintage and fruit harvest. נתן שׁארית, "to give a remainder," as it were to leave a remainder ('הותיר שׁ'( redniamer, Jer 44:7, or 'שׂוּם שׁ, Gen 45:7).
Gedaliah is forewarned of Ishmael's intention to murder him. - After the return of those who had taken refuge in Moab, etc., Johanan the son of Kareah, together with the rest of the captains who were scattered here and there through the country, came to Gedaliah at Mizpah, to say to him: "Dost thou know indeed that Baalis the king of the Ammonites hath sent Ishmael the son of Nethaniah to take thy life?" The words "that were in the country" are neither a gloss, nor a thoughtless repetition by some scribe from Jer 40:7 (as Hitzig and Graf suppose), but they are repeated for the purpose of distinguishing plainly between the captains with their men from the Jews who had returned out of Moab, Ammon, and Edom. הכּות, "to strike the soul, life" = to kill; cf. Gen 37:21; Deu 19:6. What induced the king of Ammon to think of assassination - whether it was personal hostility towards Gedaliah, or the hope of destroying the only remaining support of the Jews, and thereby perhaps putting himself in possession of the country, - cannot be determined. That he employed Ishmael for the accomplishment of his purpose, may have been owing to the fact that this man had a personal envy of Gedaliah; for Ishmael, being sprung from the royal family (Jer 40:1), probably could not endure being subordinate to Gedaliah. - The plot had become known, and Gedaliah was secretly informed of it by Johanan; but the former did not believe the rumour. Johanan then secretly offered to slay Ishmael, taking care that no one should know who did it, and urged compliance in the following terms: "Why should he slay thee, and all the Jews who have gathered themselves round thee be scattered, and the remnant of Judah perish?" Johanan thus called his attention to the evil consequences which would result to the remnant left in the land were he killed; but Gedaliah replied, "Do not this thing, for thou speakest a lie against Ishmael." The Qeri needlessly changes אל־תּעשׂ into אל־תּעשׂה; cf. Jer 39:12.