Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
This chapter contains the substance of two letters sent by the prophet to the captives in Babylon. In the first he recommends to them patience and composure under their present circumstances, which were to endure for seventy years, Jer 29:1-14; in which, however, they should fare better than their brethren who remained behind, Jer 29:15-19. But, finding little credit given to this message, on account of the suggestions of the false prophets, Ahab the son of Kolaiah, and Zedekiah, the son of Maaseiah, who flattered them with the hopes of a speedy end to their captivity, he sends a second, in which he denounces heavy judgments against those false prophets that deceived them, Jer 29:20-23; as he did afterwards against Shemaiah the Nehelamite, who had sent a letter of complaint against Jeremiah, in consequence of his message, Jer 29:24-32.
Now these are the words of the letter - This transaction took place in the first or second year of Zedekiah. It appears that the prophet had been informed that the Jews who had already been carried into captivity had, through the instigations of false prophets, been led to believe that they were to be brought out of their captivity speedily. Jeremiah, fearing that this delusion might induce them to take some hasty steps, ill comporting with their present state, wrote a letter to them, which he entrusted to an embassy which Zedekiah had sent on some political concerns to Nebuchadnezzar. The letter was directed to the elders, priests, prophets, and people who had been carried away captives to Babylon.
Thus saith the Lord of hosts - This was the commencement of the letter.
Build ye houses - Prepare for a long continuance in your present captivity. Provide yourselves with the necessaries of life, and multiply in the land, that ye may become a powerful people.
Seek the peace of the city - Endeavor to promote, as far as you can, the prosperity of the places in which ye sojourn. Let no disaffection appear in word or act. Nothing can be more reasonable than this. Wherever a man lives and has his nourishment and support, that is his country as long as he resides in it. If things go well with that country, his interest is promoted by the general prosperity, he lives at comparative ease, and has the necessaries of life cheaper; and unless he is in a state of cruel servitude, which does not appear to have been the case with those Israelites to whom the prophet writes, (those of the first captivity), they must be nearly, if not altogether, in as good a state as if they had been in the country that gave them birth. And in this case they were much better off than their brethren now in Judea, who had to contend with famine and war, and scarcely any thing before them but God's curse and extermination.
Neither hearken to your dreams - Rather, dreamers; for it appears there was a class of such persons, who not only had acquired a facility of dreaming themselves, but who undertook to interpret the dreams of others.
For thus saith the Lord - It has been supposed that a very serious transposition of verses has taken place here; and it has been proposed to read after Jer 29:9 the sixteenth to the nineteenth inclusive; then the tenth, and on to the fourteenth inclusive; then the twentieth, the fifteenth, the twenty-first, and the rest regularly to the end.
That after seventy years be accomplished - לפי מלאת lephi meloth, "at the mouth of the accomplishment," or "fill to the mouth." Seventy years is the measure which must be filled; - fill this to the brim; - complete this measure, and then you shall be visited and released. The whole seventy must be completed; expect no enlargement before that time.
Thoughts of peace - Here God gives them to understand,
1. That his love was moved towards them.
2. That he would perform his good word, his promises often repeated, to them.
3. That for the fulfillment of these they must pray, seek, and search.
4. That he would hearken, and they should find him; provided,
5. They sought him with their whole heart, Jer 29:10-13.
I will gather you from all the nations - A quotation from Deu 30:3, and see also Deu 4:7.
Because ye have said - The Septuagint very properly insert this verse between the twentieth and the twenty-first, and thus the connection here is not disturbed, and the connection below completed.
Behold, I will send upon them the sword - Do not envy the state of Zedekiah who sits on the throne of David, nor that of the people who are now in the land whence ye have been carried captive, (Jer 29:16), for "I will send the sword, the pestilence, and the famine upon them;" and afterwards shall cause them to be carried into a miserable captivity in all nations, (Jer 29:18); but ye see the worst of your own case, and you have God's promise of enlargement when the proper time is come. The reader will not forget that the prophet is addressing the captives in Babylon.
Hear ye therefore the word - Dr. Blayney thinks there were two letters written by the prophet to the captives in Babylon, and that the first ends with this verse. That having heard, on the return of the embassy (Elasah and Gemariah, whom Zedekiah had sent to Babylon, and to whom the prophet entrusted the above letter, Jer 29:3), that the captives had not received his advises favourably, because they were deceived by false prophets among them, who promised them a speedier deliverance, he therefore wrote a second letter, beginning with the fifteenth verse, and going on with the twenty-first, etc., in which he denounces God's judgments on three of the chief of those, Ahab, Zedekiah, and Shemaiah.
He shall slay them before your eyes - Nebuchadnezzar would be led by political reasons to punish these pretended prophets, as their predictions tended to make his Israelitish subjects uneasy and disaffected, and might excite them to rebellion. He therefore slew them; two of them, it appears, he burnt alive, viz., Ahab and Zedekiah, who are supposed by the rabbins to be the two elders who endeavored to seduce Susanna, see Jer 29:23. Burning alive was a Chaldean punishment, Dan 3:6, and Amo 2:1. From them other nations borrowed it.
Have committed adultery with their neighbors' wives - This is supposed to refer to the case of Susanna. See above.
Speak to Shemaiah - Zephaniah was the second priest, sagan, or chief priest's deputy, and Seraiah, high priest, when Jerusalem was taken. See Jer 52:24. Shemaiah directs his letter to the former, and tells him that God had appointed him to supply the place of the high priest, who was probably then absent. His name was either Azariah or Seraiah his son, but called Jehoiada from the remarkable zeal and courage of that pontiff. See the passages in the margin. - Dodd. After the taking of Jerusalem, Zephaniah was put to death by Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah, see Jer 37:3. The history of Jehoiada may be seen Kg2 11:3, etc.
For every man that is mad, and maketh himself a prophet - Mad, משגע meshugga, in ecstatic rapture; such as appeared in the prophets, whether true or false, when under the influence, the one of God, the other of a demon. See Kg2 9:11; Hos 9:7.
I will punish Shemaiah -
1. He shall have no posterity to succeed him.
2. His family, i.e., relations, etc., shall not be found among those whom I shall bring back from captivity.
3. Nor shall he himself see the good that I shall do for my people.
And all this shall come upon him and his because he hath taught rebellion against the Lord. He excited the people to reject Jeremiah, and to receive the lying words of the false prophets; and these led them to rebel.