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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Jeremiah Chapter 21


jer 21:0

II. Special Predictions of the Judgment to Be Accomplished by the Chaldeans, and of the Messianic Salvation - Jeremiah 21-33

These predictions are distinguished from the discourses of the first section, in regard to their form, by special headings assigning precisely the occasion and the date of the particular utterances; and in regard to their substance, by the minute detail with which judgment and salvation are foretold. They fall into two groups. In Jer 21-29 is set forth in detail the judgment to be executed upon Judah and the nations by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon; and in Jer 30-33 the restoration of Judah and Israel on the expiry of the period of punishment.

A. The Predictions of Judgment on Judah and the Nations - Jeremiah 21-29

Although these prophecies deal first and chiefly with the judgment which the king of Babylon is to execute on Judah, yet they at the same time intimate that a like fate is in store for the surrounding nations. And in them there is besides a foreshadowing of the judgment to come on Babylon after the expiration of the period appointed for the domination of the Chaldeans, and in brief hints, of the redemption of Israel from captivity in Babylon and other lands into which it has been scattered. They consist of three prophetic pieces, of which the middle one only, Jer 25, forms one lengthy continuous discourse, while the two others are composed of several shorter or longer utterances; the latter two being arranged around the former as a centre. In the first piece the necessity of judgment is shown by means of an exposure of the profound corruption of the leaders of the people, the kings and the false prophets, and of the people itself; this being done with a view to check the reigning depravity and to bring back Israel to the true God. In the discourse of Jer 25 the judgment is set forth with comprehensive generalness. In the third piece, Jer 26-29, the truth of this declaration is confirmed, and defended against the gainsaying of priests and prophets, by a series of utterances which crush all hopes and all attempts to avert the ruin of Jerusalem and Judah. - This gathering together of the individual utterances and addresses into longer discourse-like compositions, and the grouping of them around the central discourse Jer 25, is evidently a part of the work of editing the book but was doubtless carried out under the direction of the prophet by his assistant Baruch.

The Shepherds and Leaders of the People - Jeremiah 21-24

Under this heading may be comprehended the contents of these four chapters; for the nucleus of this compilation is formed by the prophecy concerning the shepherds of the people, the godless last kings of Judah and the false prophets, in Jer 22 and 23, while Jer 21:1-14 is to be regarded as an introduction thereto, and Jer 24:1-10 a supplement. The aim of this portion of prophetic teaching is to show how the covenant people has been brought to ruin by its corrupt temporal and spiritual rulers, that the Lord must purge it by sore judgments, presently to fall on Judah through Nebuchadnezzar's instrumentality. This is to be done in order to root out the ungodly by sword, famine, and pestilence, and so to make the survivors His true people again by means of right shepherds whom He will raise up in the true branch of David. The introduction, Jer 21:1-14, contains deliverances regarding the fate of King Zedekiah, the people, and the city, addressed by Jeremiah, at the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans, to the men sent to him from the king, in reply to the request for intercession with the Lord; the answer being to the effect that God will punish them according to the fruit of their doings. Then follow in order the discourse against the corrupt rulers, especially Kings Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, and Jechoniah, Jer 22, with a promise that the remainder of the Lord's flock will be gathered again and blessed with a righteous shepherd (Jer 23:1-8), and next threatenings against the false prophets (Jer 23:9-40); the conclusion of the whole being formed by the vision of the two baskets of figs, Jer 24:1-10, which foreshadows the fate of the people carried away to Babylon with Jehoiachin and of those that remained in the land with Zedekiah. - The several long constituent portions of this "word of God," united into a whole by the heading Jer 21:1, belong to various times. The contents of Jer 21:1-14 belong to the first period of the Chaldean siege, i.e., the ninth year of Zedekiah; the middle portion, Jer 22 and 23, dates from the reigns of Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin; the conclusion, Jer 24:1-10, is from the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah, not long after Jehoiachin and the best part of the people had been carried off to Babylon. - As to the joining of Jer 22 and 23 with Jer 21:1-14, Ewald rightly says that Jeremiah made use of the opportunity furnished by the message of the king to him of speaking plainly out regarding the future destiny of the whole kingdom, as well as in an especial way with regard to the royal house, and the great men and leaders of the people; and that he accordingly gathered into this part of the book all he had hitherto publicly uttered concerning the leaders of the people, both kings and temporal princes, and also prophets and priests. This he did in order to disclose, regardless of consequences, the causes for the destruction of the kingdom of Judah and the city Jerusalem by the Chaldean; while the brief promise of a future gathering again of the remnant of the scattered flock, introduced at Jer 23:1-8, is to show that, spite of the judgment to fall on Judah and Jerusalem, the Lord will yet not wholly cast of His people, but will at a future time admit them to favour again. For the confirmation of this truth there is added in Jer 24:1-10 the vision of the two baskets of figs.

Jeremiah 21:1

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The Taking of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans. - Jer 21:1 and Jer 21:2. The heading specifying the occasion for the following prediction. "The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah when King Zedekiah sent unto him Pashur the son of Malchiah, and Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah the priest, saying: Inquire now of Jahveh for us, for Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon maketh war against us; if so be that the Lord will deal with us according to all His wondrous works, that he may go up from us." The fighting of Nebuchadrezzar is in Jer 21:4 stated to be the besieging of the city. From this it appears that the siege had begun ere the king sent the two men to the prophet. Pashur the son of Malchiah is held by Hitz., Graf, Ng., etc., to be a distinguished priest of the class of Malchiah. But this is without sufficient reason; for he is not called a priest, as is the case with Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah, and with Pashur the son of Immer (Jer 21:1). Nor is anything proved by the circumstance that Pashur and Malchiah occur in several places as the names of priests, e.g., Ch1 9:12; for both names are also used of persons not priests, e.g., Malchiah, Ezr 10:25, Ezr 10:31, and Pashur, Jer 38:1, where this son of Gedaliah is certainly a laic. From this passage, where Pashur ben Malchiah appears again, it is clear that the four men there named, who accused Jeremiah for his speech, were government authorities or court officials, since in Jer 38:4 they are called שׂרים. Ros. is therefore right in saying of the Pashur under consideration: videtur unus ex principibus sive aulicis fuisse, cf. Jer 38:4. Only Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah is called priest; and he, acc. to Jer 29:25; Jer 37:3; Jer 52:24, held a high position in the priesthood. Inquire for us of Jahveh, i.e., ask for a revelation for us, as Kg2 22:13, cf. Gen 25:22. It is not: pray for His help on our behalf, which is expressed by התפּלּל בּעדנוּ, Jer 37:3, cf. Jer 52:2. In the request for a revelation the element of intercession is certainly not excluded, but it is not directly expressed. But it is on this that the king founds his hope: Peradventure Jahveh will do with us (אותנוּ for אתּנוּ) according to all His wondrous works, i.e., in the miraculous manner in which He has so often saved us, e.g., under Hezekiah, and also, during the blockade of the city by Sennacherib, had recourse to the prophet Isaiah and besought his intercession with the Lord, Kg2 19:2., Isa 37:2. That he (Nebuch.) may go up from us. עלה, to march against a city in order to besiege it or take it, but with מעל, to withdraw from it, cf. Jer 37:5; Kg1 15:19. As to the name Nebuchadrezzar, which corresponds more exactly than the Aramaic-Jewish Nebuchadnezzar with the Nebucadurriusur of the inscriptions (נבו כדר אצר, i.e., Nebo coronam servat), see Comm. on Daniel at Dan 1:1.

Jeremiah 21:3

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The Lord's reply through Jeremiah consists of three parts: a. The answer to the king's hope that the Lord will save Jerusalem from the Chaldeans (Jer 21:4-7); b. The counsel given to the people and the royal family as to how they may avert ruin (Jer 21:8-12); c. The prediction that Jerusalem will be punished for her sins (Jer 21:13 and Jer 21:14).

Jer 21:3-6

The answer. - Jer 21:3. "And Jeremiah said to them: Thus shall ye say to Zedekiah: Jer 21:4. Thus hath Jahveh the God of Israel said: Behold, I turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands, wherewith ye fight against the king of Babylon and the Chaldeans, which besiege you without the walls, and gather them together into the midst of this city. Jer 21:5. And I fight against you with outstretched hand and strong arm, and with anger and fury and great wrath, Jer 21:6. And smite the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast; of a great plague they shall die. Jer 21:7. And afterward, saith Jahveh, I will give Zedekiah the king of Judah, and his servants, and the people - namely, such as in this city are left of the plague, of the sword, and of the famine - into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, and into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of those that seek after their life, that he may smite them according to the sharpness of the sword, not spare them, neither have pity nor mercy." This answer is intended to disabuse the king and his servants of all hope of help from God. So far from saving them from the Chaldeans, God will fight against them, will drive back into the city its defenders that are still holding out without the walls against the enemy; consume the inhabitants by sword, pestilence, famine; deliver the king, with his servants and all that survive inside the lines of the besiegers, into the hand of the latter, and unsparingly cause them to be put to death. "I make the weapons of war turn back" is carried on and explained by "I gather them into the city." The sense is: I will bring it about that ye, who still fight without the walls against the beleaguerers, must turn back with your weapons and retreat into the city. "Without the walls" is not to be joined to מסב, because this is too remote, and מחוּץ is by usage locative, not ablative. It should go with "wherewith ye fight," etc.: wherewith ye fight without the walls against the beleaguering enemies. The siege had but just begun, so that the Jews were still trying to hinder the enemy from taking possession of stronger positions and from a closer blockade of the city. In this they will not succeed, but their weapons will be thrust back into the city.

Jer 21:7

The Lord will make known His almighty power not for the rescue but for the chastisement of Judah. The words "with outstretched hand and strong arm" are a standing figure for the miraculous manifestation of God's power at the release of Israel from Egypt, Deu 4:34; Deu 5:15; Deu 26:8. This power He will now exercise upon Israel, and execute the punishment threatened against apostasy at the renewal of the covenant by Moses in the land of Moab. The words גּדול...בּאף are from Deu 29:27. The inhabitants of Jerusalem are to perish during the siege by pestilence and disease, and the remainder, including the king and his servants, to be mercilessly massacred. "Great pestilence" alone is mentioned in Jer 21:6, but in Jer 21:7 there are sword and famine along with it. The ואת before הנּשׁארים seems superfluous and unsuitable, since besides the king, his servants and the people, there could be none others left. The lxx have therefore omitted it, and Hitz., Ew., Graf, and others propose to erase it. But the ו may be taken to be explicative: namely, such as are left, in which case ואת serves to extend the participial clause to all the persons before mentioned, while without the ואת the 'הנּשׁארים וגו could be referred only to העם. "Into the hand of their enemies" is rhetorically amplified by "into the hand of those that seek," etc., as in Jer 19:7, Jer 19:9; Jer 34:20, etc.; לפי חרב, according to the sharpness (or edge) of the sword, i.e., mercilessly (see on Gen 34:26; in Jer. only here), explained by "not spare them," etc., cf. Jer 13:14.

Jer 21:8-10

The counsel given to the people and royal family how to escape death. - Jer 21:8. "And unto the people thou shalt say: Thus hath Jahveh said: Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. Jer 21:9. He that abideth in this city shall die by sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but he that goeth out and falleth to the Chaldeans that besiege you, he shall live, and have his soul for a prey. Jer 21:10. For I have set my face on this city for evil and not for good, saith Jahveh; into the hand of the king of Babylon shall it be given, who shall burn it with fire. Jer 21:11. And to the house of the king of Judah: Hear the word of Jahveh: Jer 21:12. House of David! thus hath Jahveh said: Hold judgment every morning, and save the despoiled out of the hand of the oppressor, lest my fury break forth as fire, and burn unquenchably, because of the evil of your doings." What the prophet is here to say to the people and the royal house is not directly addressed to the king's envoy, but is closely connected with the answer he was to give to the latter, and serves to strengthen the same. We need not be hampered by the assumption that Jeremiah, immediately after that answer, communicated this advice, so that it might be made known to the people and to the royal house. The counsel given in Jer 21:8-12 to the people was during the siege repeatedly given by Jeremiah both to the king and to the people, cf. Jer 38:1., Jer 38:17., and Jer 27:11., and many of the people acted by his advice, cf. Jer 38:19; Jer 39:9; Jer 52:15. But the defenders of the city, the authorities, saw therein treason, or at least a highly dangerous discouragement to those who were fighting, and accused the prophet as a traitor, Jer 38:4., cf. Jer 37:13. Still Jeremiah, holding his duty higher than his life, remained in the city, and gave as his opinion, under conviction attained to only by divine revelation, that all resistance is useless, since God has irrevocably decreed the destruction of Jerusalem as a punishment for their sins. The idea of Jer 21:7 is clothed in words taken from Deu 30:15, cf. Deu 11:26. ישׁב , Jer 21:9, as opposed to יצא, does not mean: to dwell, but: to sit still, abide. To fall to the Chaldeans, i.e., to go over to them, cf. Jer 37:14; Jer 39:9; Kg2 25:11; על is interchanged with אל, Jer 37:13; Jer 38:19; Jer 52:15. The Chet. יחיה is right, corresponding to ימוּת; the Keri וחיה is wrong. His life shall be to him for a prey, i.e., he shall carry it thence as a prey, i.e., preserve it. Jer 21:10 gives the reason for the advice given. For I have set my face, cf. Jer 44:11, recalls Amo 9:4, only there we have עיני for פּני, as in Jer 24:6. To set the face or eye on one means: to pay special heed to him, in good (cf. Jer 39:12) or in evil sense; hence the addition, "for evil," etc.

Jer 21:11-12

(Note: According to Hitz., Gr., and Ng., the passage Jer 21:11-14 stands in no inner connection with the foregoing, and may, from the contents of it, be seen to belong to an earlier period than that of the siege which took place under Zedekiah, namely, to the time of Jehoiakim, because, a. in the period of Jer 21:1. such an exhortation and conditional threatening must have been out of place after their destruction had been quite unconditionally foretold to Zedekiah and the people in Jer 21:4-7; b. the defiant tone conveyed in Jer 21:13 is inconsistent with the cringing despondency shown by Zedekiah in Jer 21:2; c. it is contrary to what we would expect to find the house of the king addressed separately after the king had been addressed in Jer 21:3, the king being himself comprehended in his "house." But these arguments, on which Hitz. builds ingenious hypotheses, are perfectly valueless. As to a, we have to remark: In Jer 21:4-7 unconditional destruction is foretold against neither king nor people; it is only said that the Chaldeans will capture the city - that the inhabitants will be smitten with pestilence, famine, and sword - and that the king, with his servants and those that are left, will be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, who will smite them unsparingly. But in Jer 21:12 the threatening is uttered against the king, that if he does not practise righteousness, the wrath of God will be kindled unquenchably, and, Jer 21:14, that Jerusalem is to be burnt with fire. In Jer 21:4-7 there is no word of the burning of the city; it is first threatened, Jer 21:10, against the people, after the choice has been given them of escaping utter destruction. How little the burning of Jerusalem is involved in Jer 21:4-7 may be seen from the history of the siege and capture of Jerusalem under Jehoiachin, on which occasion, too, the king, with his servants and the people, was given into the hand of the king of Babylon, while the city was permitted to stand, and the deported king remained in life, and was subsequently set free from his captivity by Evil-Merodach. But that Zedekiah, by hearkening to the word of the Lord, can alleviate his doom and save Jerusalem from destruction, this Jeremiah tells him yet later in very plain terms, Jer 38:17-23, cf. Jer 34:4. Lastly, the release of Hebrew man-servants and maid-servants, recounted in Jer 34:8., shows that even during the siege there were cases of an endeavour to turn and follow the law, and consequently that an exhortation to hold by the right could not have been regarded as wholly superfluous. - The other two arguments, b and c, are totally inconclusive. How the confidence of the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the strength of its fortifications (Jer 21:13) is contradictory of the fact related in Jer 21:2, does not appear. That Zedekiah should betake himself to the prophet, desiring him to entreat the help of God, is not a specimen of cringing despondency such as excludes all confidence in any earthly means of help. Nor are defiance and despondency mutually exclusive opposites in psychological experience, but states of mind that rapidly alternate. Finally, Ng. seems to have added the last argument (c) only because he had no great confidence in the two others, which had been dwelt on by Hitz. and Graf. Why should not Jeremiah have given the king another counsel for warding off the worst, over and above that conveyed in the answer to his question (Jer 21:4-7)? - These arguments have therefore not pith enough to throw any doubt on the connection between the two passages (Jer 21:8-10, and Jer 21:11, Jer 21:12) indicated by the manner in which "and to the house (וּלבית) of the king of Judah" points back to "and unto this people thou shalt say" (Jer 21:8), or to induce us to attribute the connection so indicated to the thoughtlessness of the editor.)

The kingly house, i.e., the king and his family, under which are here comprehended not merely women and children, but also the king's companions, his servants and councillors; they are counselled to hold judgment every morning. דּין משׁפּט = דּין דּין, Jer 5:28; Jer 22:16, or שׁפט, Lam 3:59; Kg1 3:28. לבּקר distributively, every morning, as Amo 4:4. To save the despoiled out of the hand of the oppressor means: to defend his just cause against the oppressor, to defend him from being despoiled; cf. Jer 22:3. The form of address; House of David, which is by a displacement awkwardly separated from שׁמעוּ, is meant to remind the kingly house of its origin, its ancestor David, who walked in the ways of the Lord. - The second half of the verse, "lest my fury," etc., runs like Jer 4:4.

Jer 21:13-14

The chastisement of Jerusalem. - Jer 21:13. "Behold, I am against thee, inhabitress of the valley, of the rock of the plain, saith Jahveh, ye who say: Who shall come down against us, and who shall come into our dwellings? Jer 21:14. And will visit you according to the fruit of your doings, saith Jahveh, and kindle a fire in her forest, that it may devour all her surroundings." This threatening is levelled against the citizens of Jerusalem, who vaunted the impregnableness of their city. The inhabitress of the valley is the daughter of Zion, the population of Jerusalem personified. The situation of the city is spoken of as עמק, ravine between mountains, in respect that Jerusalem was encircled by mountains of greater height (Psa 125:2); and as rock of the plain, i.e., the region regarded as a level from which Mount Zion, the seat of the kingdom, rose, equivalent to rock of the field, Jer 17:3. In the "rock" we think specially of Mount Zion, and in the "valley" of the so-called lower city. The two designations are chosen to indicate the strong situation of Jerusalem. On this the inhabitants pride themselves, who say: Who shall come down against us? יחת for ינחת, from נחת; cf. Ew. 139, c. Dwellings, cf. Jer 25:30, not cities or refuge or coverts of wild animals; מעון has not this force, but can at most acquire it from the context; see Del. on Psa 26:8. The strength of the city will not shield the inhabitants from the punishment with which God will visit them. "According to the fruit," etc., cf. Jer 17:10. I kindle fire in her forest. The city is a forest of houses, and the figure is to be explained by the simile in Jer 22:6, but was not suggested by מעון = lustra ferarum (Hitz.). All her surroundings, how much more then the city itself!

Next: Jeremiah Chapter 22