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JEREMIAH'S LETTER TO THE EXILES
The date of this chapter is some time after the first wave of captives had been carried to Babylon following the first Babylonian capture of the city in 597 B.C. Jehoiachin was deposed after a very brief three months on the throne; and the puppet king Zedekiah, an uncle of his, had been installed as the vassal king of his overlord the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar.
The false prophets were busy spreading the falsehood that the captivity would shortly end; Jehoiachin (Jeconiah) would be restored, and all the vessels of the temple would be restored to Jerusalem. This was the message of Hananiah (of the preceding chapter) who had promised all of these wonderful things would take place in a mere couple of years.
The crowd of false prophets similar to Hananiah were circulating the same falsehoods in Babylon; and the letter in this chapter was written by Jeremiah in order to counteract and frustrate the evil campaign of the false prophets.
It was simply not the will of God that Israel's captivity should be over within so short a time as the false prophets were saying. Yet it is easy to understand why the false prophets believed that the captivity would soon end. There still remained in the person of Zedekiah a representative of the house of David on the throne in Jerusalem; the temple still stood, despite the robbing of many of its treasures; and upon these grounds, the false prophets imagined that the complete independence of Judah might soon be restored.
God had ordained and commanded the captivity of Judah as a punishment upon the rebellious, apostate nation; it was God's intention to humble and discipline his people, and bring them at last to an acceptable relationship to Himself; and, if their captivity had been nothing but an extended intrigue against their captors, the purpose of God would surely have been frustrated. The captivity would not be short, but long, (Jeremiah 29:4); it would last into the third generation; and the vast majority of the captives would never see Jerusalem again! Jeremiah's letter was for the purpose of destroying the campaign of the false prophets.
This chapter is somewhat complex; and some scholars find as many as "four separate letters" in it; some would follow the LXX and remove most of the chapter; others would make the prophecy of the further destruction of Judah a separate letter that somehow became incorporated into this chapter, basing their postulation upon the premise that Zedekiah would not have allowed a prophecy like that to go to Babylon, etc., etc.
There are not four letters here. The first words of the chapter state that, "These are the words of THE LETTER" that Jeremiah wrote to the captives from Jerusalem. It was a delegation from Zedekiah that bore the letter to Babylon, and there is no need to suppose that Zedekiah ever saw Jeremiah's letter. Besides that, even if he had seen it, the primary thrust of it was clearly in line with Zedekiah's own kingly interests. If some kind of a rebellion in Babylon had resulted in the restoration of Jehoiachin to his throne, it would have meant the fall of Zedekiah.
"Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem unto the residue of the elders of the captivity, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon (after that Jeconiah the king, and the queen-mother, and the eunuchs, and the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, and the craftsmen, and the smiths, were deported from Jerusalem), by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan, and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah (whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent unto Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon), saying, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all the captivity, whom I have caused to be carried away captive from Jerusalem unto Babylon."
"The queen-mother, and the eunuchs, and the princes ..." (Jeremiah 29:2). The queen-mother's name was Nehushta the daughter of Elnathan (2 Kings 24:8); and in the Jewish system she was a very important person who seems to have worn a crown and occupied a throne adjacent to that of the king.
Scholars have a lot of trouble with the word "eunuchs" in this passage; and Cheyne even called it a gloss; but the Bible fully explains it. The princes of Judah and Jerusalem had already been captured and carried away to Babylon, among whom were Daniel and his friends; and they had been emasculated, given new names, and given into the charge of Nebuchadnezzar's "prince of the eunuchs" (Daniel 1:7). Therefore, the word "eunuchs" in this place is absolutely appropriate. As Thompson said, "The essential historicity of this material cannot be doubted."
"The craftsmen and the smiths ..." (Jeremiah 29:2). It was the policy of Nebuchadnezzar to bring skilled artisans and persons with technical knowledge into Babylon in order to help him, "build and beautify the city." God later identified Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom as "the head of gold," as it pertained to lesser kingdoms which would follow his; and this was surely one of the reasons for that preference. Nebuchadnezzar did not import young women to satisfy his lust, but skilled workers to help him build and beautify.
"Elasah the son of Shaphan ..." (Jeremiah 29:3). "This man was probably a brother of Ahikam (See Jeremiah 26:24)." He was therefore a friend and protector of Jeremiah; and, if it had been necessary to shield the contents of Jeremiah's letter from the eyes of Zedekiah, Elasah was surely the person who could and would have done so.
The exact date and purpose of this embassy to Babylon is not known; but, "as Zedekiah himself went to Babylon in his fourth year," this embassy might have been preparatory to that visit.
"The captives, whom I have caused to be carried away ..." (Jeremiah 29:4). God here reveals himself as the cause of the captivity. "God Himself has brought about the exile; and, since the Lord's will was behind it, the better part of wisdom for Judah was submission."
"Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them. Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters: and multiply there, and be not diminished. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray unto Jehovah for it; for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace."
What a marvelous anticipation of New Testament teaching is in this paragraph. The wholehearted cooperation with the governmental powers under which one may chance to live is spoken as a cardinal principle of the gospel of Christ in Romans 13:1-12. Praying for authorities is specifically commanded in 1 Timothy 2:1-3. If the Jewish nation had properly received and obeyed this commandment, the Roman destruction of 70 A.D. would have been averted.
Of course, instructions such as these infuriated the false prophets.
"Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters ..." (Jeremiah 29:6). "The wives Jeremiah encouraged them to marry were Jewish wives, not foreign (Deuteronomy 7:3)."
"The Hebrew exiles in Babylon were not slaves but deportees, and free to leave about as they pleased. Some became wealthy, and some, like Daniel, attained high places in government; and the commandments of Jeremiah 29:7 were made out of regard for the welfare of Israel."
As a matter of fact, the prosperity of many of the exiles was so great that when the command finally came for them to return to the Holy Land, countless numbers of them elected to remain in Babylon. It was indeed only "a remnant" that returned to Jerusalem.
"For thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel: Let not your prophets that are in the midst of you, and your diviners, deceive you; neither hearken ye to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed. For they prophesy falsely unto you in my name: I have not sent them, saith Jehovah."
"Your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed ..." (Jeremiah 29:8) The dreams mentioned here seem to be accredited to the people themselves. We do not know if the meaning here is that, from the intense desire of the people for independence, their subconscious minds produced the dreams, or if the false prophets, knowing the longings of the people for liberty, invented the dreams to suit the wishes of the people; but we suppose the latter is intended.
Some scholars of the scissors and paste experts excise these verses; but, as Green stated it, "There is no real basis for the excision. The verses undergird what precedes and prepare for what follows."
"For thus saith Jehovah, After seventy years are accomplished for Babylon, I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith Jehovah, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you hope in your latter end. And ye shall call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith Jehovah, and I will gather you from all the nations, and I will return again your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith Jehovah; and I will bring you again unto the place whence I cause you to be carried away captive."
"After seventy years ... for Babylon ..." (Jeremiah 29:10). Yes, the captivity would end, but not until the seventy years were accomplished. Notice also that there are overtones here that reach unto the end of time. The gathering of God's people from "all the nations" is at the present time taking place in the preaching of the gospel all over the world. There is far more in these verses than the mere return of a few Jews to Jerusalem.
"The accomplishment of the seventy years for Babylon ..." (Jeremiah 29:10). "These words indicate that `the seventy years' are primarily the length of the Babylonian empire, and only in a secondary sense, the length of the Jewish exile." The actual duration of the Babylonian domination was from, "The fall of Nineveh in 612 B.C. to the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C." a period of 73 years. Counting from the accession of Nebuchadnezzar in 606 (Jewish method of reckoning) to the fall of Babylon to Cyrus, there was a period of 67 years. As far as we are concerned, there is no need to talk about "round numbers" in a prophecy as exact as this one.
"Because ye have said, Jehovah hath raised us up prophets in Babylon; Thus saith Jehovah concerning the king that sitteth upon the throne of David, and concerning all the people that dwell in this city, your brethren that are not gone forth with you into captivity; thus saith Jehovah of hosts: Behold, I will send upon them the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and will make them like vile figs, that cannot be eaten, they are so bad. And I will pursue after them with the sword, with the famine, and with the pestilence, and will deliver them to be tossed to and fro among all the kingdoms of the earth, to be an execration, and an astonishment, and a hissing, and a reproach, among all the nations whither I have driven them; because they have not hearkened unto my words, saith Jehovah, wherewith I sent unto them my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them; but ye would not hear, saith Jehovah. Hear ye therefore the word of Jehovah, all ye of the captivity, whom I have sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon."
"Jehovah hath raised us up prophets in Babylon ..." (Jeremiah 29:15). This evidently comes from some communication which Jeremiah had received from the captives themselves. Of course, such prophets were false prophets; and Jeremiah warned against the captive's being deceived by them.
Jeremiah 29:16-17 have the prophecy of the complete destruction of the remainder of Judah in Jerusalem; and we reject the idea that this prophecy does not belong in Jeremiah's letter. Oh yes, it is missing from the Septuagint (LXX), but what of that? As Smith noted, "The whole text of the Septuagint is here so brief and confused as to be practically inexplicable; but on the other hand the Hebrew text represents the original manuscript, and is especially trustworthy in the case before us." "The fact of these verses being lacking in the LXX proves nothing except that the translators of the Septuagint (LXX) were unable to understand the main thought of the passage!" It is for exactly this same reason that present-day commentators would prefer to omit the passage.
The vital relevance of this prophecy against the remainder of Judah in Jerusalem is that it was necessary to silence and destroy the campaign of the false prophets. Their whole message was, "All of us will be back home in Judah within two years." Jeremiah had already been fully verified as a true prophet of God; and this message sent to the exiles effectively killed their whole campaign. It infuriated them; but it also silenced them.
Cheyne's notion that Jeremiah 29:16-20 "are an interpolation" is therefore an unfortunate error. It is another example of a scholar claiming "an interpolation" as an explanation of something he does not understand.
Henderson understood the necessity for these verses in Jeremiah's letter, writing, "They are designed to contradict the false hopes held out to the captives that the Jewish state in Jerusalem should stand, and that they would be restored to their brethren in Judaea."
"Vile figs ..." (Jeremiah 29:17). The captives already knew about this prophecy; but Jeremiah repeated it here. See Jeremiah 24:2f. This letter had nothing in it about the destruction of Judah that was not already known by Zedekiah; and any thought that he would not have allowed a communication like this to go to Babylon is denied by the facts that Zedekiah probably did not see the letter; and that, if he had seen it, he would have allowed it anyway. He evidently believed that Jeremiah was a true prophet. His later rebellion was due solely to his weakness.
"Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab the son of Kolaiah, and concerning Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who prophesy a lie unto you in my name: Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon; and he shall slay them before your eyes; and of them shall be taken up a curse by all the captives of Judah that are in Babylon, saying, Jehovah make thee like Zedekiah and like Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire; because they have wrought folly in Israel, and have committed adultery with their neighbor's wives, and have spoken words in my name falsely, which I commanded them not; and I am he that knoweth, and am witness, saith Jehovah."
"Concerning Ahab ... and Zedekiah ..." (Jeremiah 29:21). This part of Jeremiah's letter is directed to these two men, with a message from God that they shall be put to death. This was a rather lengthy communication which Jeremiah sent to Babylon, as Cawley and Millard noted, "This letter includes messages to no less than four different groups:
(1) those already in captivity in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:10-14);
(2) those who would become captives later (Jeremiah 29:15-19);
(3) Ahab, Zedekiah and their fellow false prophets (Jeremiah 29:21-23); and
(4) to Shemaiah (Jeremiah 29:24-32)."
This extensive letter, addressed to different groups, indicates that Jeremiah's communication with the captives had been rather extensive. Shemaiah was among those who had written a letter which Jeremiah read; and there were doubtless other examples also.
"Roasted in the fire ..." (Jeremiah 29:22). The Babylonian method of putting criminals to death was by casting them alive into the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:6); "But the Babylonians would hardly have put men to death for committing adultery ... Nebuchadnezzar probably put them to death for plotting a rebellion against Babylon."
The curse mentioned here is interesting. "When the exiles would imprecate the greatest evil upon one whom they hated, the heaviest curse in the fewest words they could think of was, `The Lord make thee like Zedekiah and like Ahab.' "
Cheyne wisely commented that, "There is an important and melancholy addition to our knowledge of false prophets in Jeremiah 29:23, namely, that they committed adultery. They were not only misleading prophets, but immoral men in their private capacities." This pattern in the lives of false teachers has prevailed throughout history, and even to the present day.
"And concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite thou shalt speak, saying, Thus speaketh Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, saying, Because thou hast sent letters in thine own name unto all the people that are in Jerusalem, and to Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah, the priest, and to all the priests, saying, instead of Jehoida, that there may be officers in the house of Jehovah, for every man that is mad, and maketh himself a prophet, that thou shouldest put him in the stocks and in the shackles. Therefore, why hast not thou rebuked Jeremiah of Anathoth, who maketh himself a prophet to you, forasmuch as he hath sent unto us in Babylon, saying, The captivity is long: build ye houses, and dwell in them, and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them?"
The usual explanation of this passage is that, "These words are a second communication from Jeremiah to Babylon, sent after Shemaiah had sent Jeremiah the letter mentioned in Jeremiah 29:25." This may well be the case; and if this is right, it would indicate that the false prophets in Babylon were really infuriated by Jeremiah's letter, and that they promptly mounted a campaign to get Jeremiah silenced. In that case, this letter has been added to "the letter" mentioned in Jeremiah 29:1, because of the similarity between them.
Smith explained this and the verses to the end of the chapter as being, "Appended to Jeremiah's letter without any introduction, that it might tell its own tale, showing the effects of the letter. The Zephaniah mentioned here was the deputy high priest."
The whole account here is abbreviated, because Shemaiah's letter stated that Jeremiah had prophesied a "long captivity," but the letter as recorded here omits the word "long." In such a condensation as we evidently have here, it is impossible to fill in all the details accurately.
Smith also noted that the letter which Shemaiah wrote to the deputy High Priest was manifestly different from the one written to "all the people," indicating that Shemaiah wrote a lot of letters (note that they are mentioned in the plural); and that one of those had, in fact, triggered what is here called "the letter" and that this paragraph addressed to Shemaiah was actually a part of it. The whole question is of no major importance.
"The captivity is long ..." (Jeremiah 29:28). The literal text here is, "It is long." "The omission of the noun here is far more forcible than its inclusion would have been. What is long? God's anger is long; their punishment is long; the time necessary for their repentance is long; the exile is long; the seventy years are long; everything is indeed long for men who are homesick, and who will never live to see their native land again."
"And Zephaniah the priest read this letter in the ears of Jeremiah the prophet. Then came the word of Jehovah unto Jeremiah, saying, Send to all them of the captivity, saying, Thus saith Jehovah concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite: Because that Shemaiah hath prophesied unto you, and I sent him not, and he hath caused you to trust in a lie, therefore, thus saith Jehovah, Behold, I will punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite, and his seed; he shall not have a son to dwell among his people, neither shall he behold the good that I will do unto my people, saith Jehovah, because he hath spoken rebellion against Jehovah."
This paragraph might well indeed have been included as a fitting introduction to this whole chapter. The chronological sequence of events in Jeremiah is very difficult to know with any certainty.
"Zephaniah ... read this letter in the ears of Jeremiah ..." (Jeremiah 29:29). Evidently the deputy High Priest honored and trusted Jeremiah as the true prophet of God; and instead of placing Jeremiah in the stocks and shackles as Shemaiah had requested, he informed the prophet of all that was going on. Note that God here commanded Jeremiah to write not merely Shemaiah but, "to all of them of the captivity," (Jeremiah 29:31). Thus the words to Shemaiah were to be included in the letter to all the captives, as it appears in this chapter.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Jeremiah 29". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent