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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 40

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



This and the following five chapters deal principally with the history of Jeremiah’s life after the fall of Jerusalem.

It seems to distress some commentators that this chapter begins with a statement that applies to all six of these chapters, “The word which came to Jeremiah from Jehovah” (Jeremiah 40:1) Thompson stated that. “These words normally precede an oracle, but none follows.”(F1) He labeled the formula as a parenthesis. Cheyne expressed his disapproval of the words here thus: “The formula seems to announce a prophecy, but no prophecy follows!”(F2)

Such comments spring from the ignorance of writers who have never learned that, in the holy Bible, the history written by God’s prophets is just as divinely inspired as are the oracles, or predictive prophecies. “The formula `thus saith Jehovah’ is appropriate, not merely for a prediction of the future, but to an account of the past, if written by an inspired prophet!”(F3)

The Dean of Canterbury was speaking the high truth when he wrote the above quotation; because, in the Bible, there is no special classification of “historical books,” such being a merely human and inaccurate classification. The Son of God Himself classified all of the so-called “historical books” as actually belonging to the Nebhiim, a division endorsed by Jesus himself in Luke 24:44, in which passage Jesus quoted the classical division of the Old Testament into its three, and only three, divisions, (1) The Torah, (2) The Psalms (inclusive of the poetical books), and (3) The Prophets. Jesus used the words, “The Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets”; but these three divisions were called by the Jews, (1) The Torah, (2) The Kethubhim, and the Nebhiim.(F4)

Thus, the appearance in this historical narrative of the words, “Thus saith Jehovah” should most certainly have been expected.

Regarding the length of Gedaliah’s reign, “Barnes placed it at less than two months”;(F5) Halley said, “It was less than three months,”(F6) and Green admitted that, “How long it lasted, we cannot tell.”(F7)

Gedaliah, as judged from his auspicious beginning, would surely have been an efficient and successful governor; but the Jewish cup of iniquity was not yet full. A descendant of the House of David treacherously murdered the new governor while partaking of his hospitality, as related in the next chapter.

Verses 1-4


“The word which came to Jeremiah from Jehovah, after that Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had let him go from Ramah, when he had taken him being bound in chains among all the captives of Jerusalem and Judah, that were carried away captive unto Babylon. And the captain of the guard took Jeremiah, and said unto him, Jehovah thy God pronounced this evil upon this place; and Jehovah hath brought it, and done according as he spake: because ye have sinned against Jehovah, and have not obeyed his voice, therefore this thing is come upon you. And now, behold, I loose you this day from the chains which are upon thy hand. If it seem good unto thee to come with me into Babylon, come, and I will look well unto thee; but if it seem ill unto thee to come with me into Babylon, forbear: behold, all the land is before thee; whither it seemeth good and right unto thee, thither go.”

“The captain” let him go from Ramah (Jeremiah 40:1). Many writers have difficulty discussing what is written in the Bible, being continually troubled with what they call “difficulties!” Graybill wrote: “It is difficult to reconcile the statement here that Jeremiah was released after being held a prisoner at Ramah with the inference of the previous chapter (Jeremiah 39:13-14) that the Babylonian princes freed him from the Jerusalem prison.”(F8) The simple answer is that Jeremiah was released twice. Could there be any wonder that something like that occurred in the confusion and disordered bedlam of the siege and destruction of a great city? See our more complete discussion of this under Jeremiah 39:14. It is high time that men stopped criticizing the Bible and started reading it!

Another alleged “difficulty” concerns Jeremiah 40:2-3, in which the captain of the guard uses the very language of Jeremiah in describing what happened to Jerusalem. “Some believe that such a quotation is incongruous in the mouth of a Babylonian”;(F9) and from this false judgment deny the integrity of the passage. Such an error again springs from the lack of information on the part of the critics. They should know that both the Assyrians and the Babylonians were familiar with the religion of conquered peoples; and they were skilled in the use of all those religions in their psychological warfare.

A startling example of using the religion of opponents against them is that of Rabshakeh (2 Kings 18:19-25), in which event Rabshakeh pointed out that Hezekiah had destroyed the high places of Jehovah all over Judaea, and claimed that Jehovah had sent him (his master Sennacherib) to attack and destroy Jerusalem!

In addition to all this, Nebuzaradan had without doubt spent much time with Gedaliah (about to be appointed governor), and from him had learned all about Jeremiah’s life-long campaign to persuade Israel to submit to Babylon, and the reasons that underlay God’s decision to destroy the nation of Judah. Upon what other basis, may it be supposed, would the Babylonians have released Jeremiah?

Thus, as Feinberg noted, “Nebuzaradan knew of Jeremiah’s preaching and was merely quoting it in Jeremiah 40:2-3, upon an appropriate occasion.”(F10)

“Because ye have sinned against Jehovah” The word “ye” here is plural, referring not to Jeremiah, but to the whole nation.”

In addition to the familiarity with Gedaliah, there were countless deserters to the Babylonians who most certainly would have told them about Jeremiah’s preaching.

Verses 5-6

“Now while he was not yet gone back, Go back then, said he, to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon hath made governor over the cities of Judah, and dwell with him among the people; or go whithersoever it seemeth right unto thee to go. So the captain of the guard gave him victuals and a present, and let him go. Then went Jeremiah unto Gedaliah the son of Ahikam to Mizpah, and dwelt with him among the people that were left in the land.”

“Now while he was not yet gone back” The Revised Standard Version noted that the Hebrew text here is obscure, rendering it, “If you remain, then return to Gedaliah,… etc.”

In this abbreviated account, Jeremiah’s answer is not recorded, but his choice was obvious enough. He elected to remain in poverty and hardship with the poor remnant of the people left behind to make a new beginning in Judah.

“Jeremiah went with Gedaliah… to Mizpah” There were several places called Mizpah, but this one was, “a Benjaminite town near Gibeon and Ramah a few miles northwest of Jerusalem.”(F11)

Verses 7-9


“Now when all the captains of the forces that were in the fields, even they and their men, heard that the king of Babylon had made Gedaliah the son of Ahikam governor in the land, and had committed unto him men, and women, and children, and the poorest of the land, of them that were not carried away captive to Babylon; then they came to Gedaliah to Mizpah, to wit, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and Johanan and Jonathan the sons of Kareah, and Seraiah the son of Tanhumeth, and the sons of Ephai the Netophathite, and Jezuniah the son of the Maacathite, they and their men. And Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan sware unto them and to their men, saying, Fear not to serve the Chaldeans: dwell in the land, and serve the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you.”

“The forces that were in the fields” These were straggling remainders of the defenders of Jerusalem. There were only seven of these “captains” of small groups; and they had not been considered important enough for Nebuzaradan to bother with “mopping them up.”

“Dwell in the land and serve the king of Babylon” Gedaliah’s message was one of peace and encouragement. As representative of the king of Babylon, Gedaliah assured them that there would be no reprisals. Those persons against whom Nebuchadnezzar sought revenge were already dead or on their way into captivity; and all that remained for the pitiful remnant of a once proud nation to do was to settle down in peace and submission to their new masters.

Verses 10-12


“As for me, behold, I will dwell at Mizpah, to stand before the Chaldeans that shall come unto us: but ye, gather ye wine and summer fruits and oil, and put them in your vessels, and dwell in your cities which ye have taken. Likewise when all the Jews that were in Moab, and among the children of Ammon, and in Edom, and that were in all the countries, heard that the king of Babylon had left a remnant of Judah, and that he had set over them Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan; then all the Jews returned out of all places whither they were driven, and came to the land of Judah, to Gedaliah, unto Mizpah, and gathered wine and summer fruits very much.”

“I will dwell at Mizpah… to stand before the Chaldeans” Mizpah was probably chosen as the headquarters of Gedaliah because it was apparently spared of any devastation during the war. Archaeologists have found no evidence of its destruction.

“Gather ye wine and summer fruits” The city had fallen in July; winter was coming on with spring and part of the summer gone; and Gedaliah here urged the people to concern themselves with the food problem. They were confronted with the necessity of survival largely upon dried fruits and vegetables; and there was also the prospect of an olive harvest.

“In your cities which ye have taken” This means: (1) in the cities which you have adopted as residences, or (2) in the cities you have taken over following the end of the war.

“Out of all the places whither they were driven” Many of the Jews during the siege of Jerusalem had fled to surrounding places of refuge; but now they returned from throughout the whole region.

Verses 13-16


“Moreover Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces that were in the fields, came to Gedaliah to Mizpah, and said unto him, Dost thou know that Baalis the king of the children of Ammon hath sent Ishmael the son of Nethaniah to take thy life? But Gedaliah the son of Ahikam believed them not. Then Johanan the son of Kareah spake to Gedaliah in Mizpah secretly, saying, Let me go, I pray thee, and I will slay Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and no man shall know it: wherefore should he take thy life, that all the Jews that are gathered unto thee should be scattered, and the remnant of Judah perish? But Gedaliah the son of Ahikam said unto Johanan the son of Kareah, Thou shalt not do this thing: for thou speakest falsely of Ishmael.”

“Baalis king of Ammon hath sent Ishmael to take they life” It seems incredible that Gedaliah should have disbelieved a rumor like this, which was backed up by “all the forces in the fields.” It seems that everybody knew about it.

Why did Baalis desire to remove Gedaliah? Gedaliah as a friend of Jeremiah had opposed the coalition proposed by Ammon and other nations, of which we read back in Jeremiah 27. Also, by the device of fishing in troubled waters, he probably hoped to make himself the master of the land of Judah.

His enlistment in the plot of Ishmael, who was of royal blood of the House of David, was probably easy enough. Ishmael, of royal descent probably fancied himself superior in every way to Gedaliah, and avidly desired vengeance against him, hoping to replace him.

What a tragedy Gedaliah became! He was a man of integrity and ability but totally lacking in the skill of evaluating men and their veracity. He might also have been overconfident.

In any case, the fears which Johanan expressed concerning the scattering of the people in the event of Gedaliah’s death were soon confirmed. The tenure of Gedaliah which began with such hope perished miserably in the thrust of the sword of Ishmael. (See the next chapter). The Jews who had begun to gather in Judaea were again scattered.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Jeremiah 40". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/jeremiah-40.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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