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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Jeremiah 21

A collection of Jeremiah’s denunciations of Judah’s kings and false prophets chs. 21-23

This section of the book contains some of Jeremiah’s messages concerning Judah’s kings (Jeremiah 21:1 to Jeremiah 23:8) and false prophets (Jeremiah 23:9-40) that he delivered closer to the time of Jerusalem’s invasion than the previous chapters. [Note: See the chart and discussion of Judah’s last five kings under the historical background comments in the Introduction section of these notes.] Beginning with chapter 21, there are many more specific references to people, places, and time than we find in chapters 1-20. The prophecies announcing judgments on the kings (chs. 21-22) close with a message of hope concerning the future (Jeremiah 23:1-8).

Verse 1

This is a message that Yahweh gave Jeremiah after King Zedekiah sent messengers to him with a question. The messengers were Pashhur (cf. Jeremiah 38:1-13; 1 Chronicles 9:21; not the man in charge of preserving order in the temple courtyard mentioned in Jeremiah 20:1-6) and Zephaniah, a leading priest (cf. Jeremiah 29:25-26; Jeremiah 29:29; Jeremiah 37:3; Jeremiah 52:24; 2 Kings 25:18-21).

Verses 1-10

Zedekiah’s request and Jeremiah’s response 21:1-10

This passage probably dates from the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem in 588-586 B.C. (Jeremiah 21:2; Jeremiah 21:4; cf. 2 Kings 25). King Zedekiah sought advice from Jeremiah more than once (cf. Jeremiah 37:3-10; Jeremiah 37:17-21; Jeremiah 38:14-28). This passage consists of two oracles (Jeremiah 21:1-10).

Verse 2

Zedekiah asked Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord whether He would give Judah deliverance from Nebuchadnezzar as He had delivered His people in the past. King Hezekiah had sent a similar group to Isaiah inquiring about the approaching Assyrian army (2 Kings 19:2; Isaiah 37:2). Nebuchadnezzar, sometimes referred to as Nebuchadrezzar (the spelling nearer to the Babylonian form of his name), ruled Babylon from 605 to 562 B.C. He succeeded his father, Nabopolassar, the first king of the Neo-Babylonian empire, who ruled from 626 to 605 B.C. This is the first reference to Nebuchadnezzar in Jeremiah.

Zedekiah may have been hoping for a miraculous deliverance such as Jehoshaphat experienced from the Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites (2 Chronicles 20). Hezekiah had also experienced supernatural deliverance when Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem (2 Kings 19; Isaiah 37).

Verses 3-4

Jeremiah sent a message from the Lord back to the king through his messengers. The weapons of the defenders of Jerusalem would be ineffective. The Chaldean soldiers who were then besieging the city’s walls would penetrate it and enter the center of Jerusalem.

"The Babylonians (Chaldeans) were originally a seminomadic tribe living between northern Arabia and the Persian Gulf. In the tenth century B.C., the Assyrians gave the name Kaldu to the area formerly known as the ’Sea-Land’ [i.e., Mesopotamia]. . . Later, ’Chaldea’ was used to include Babylonia as a whole (cf. Ezekiel 23:23; Daniel 3:8)." [Note: Feinberg, p. 507. See also The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., s.v. "Chaldaea, Chaldeans," by D. J. Wiseman.]

Verses 5-6

The Lord promised that not only the Babylonians but He, too, would fight against the city. He would bring His strong arm against Jerusalem in anger and would strike down its inhabitants (cf. Deuteronomy 4:34; et al.). Normally the Divine Warrior fought for His people, but now He would fight against them. Humans and animals would die from the sword and from diseases, a curse for breaking covenant (cf. Jeremiah 14:12; Jeremiah 32:24; Exodus 5:3; Exodus 9:15; Numbers 14:12).

Verse 7

Nebuchadnezzar would also slay King Zedekiah, his servants, and the people who survived the war and its accompanying horrors. The Babylonian king would show no mercy or compassion. Zedekiah did indeed die in Babylon, some time after the Babylonians killed his sons as he watched, and then blinded him (Jeremiah 34:4; Jeremiah 52:11; 2 Kings 25:6-7; Ezekiel 12:13).

Jeremiah directed this second oracle against the people of Jerusalem.

Verse 8

The prophet also received another message from the Lord. Yahweh was going to give the people the choice of living or dying (cf. Deuteronomy 30:15; Deuteronomy 30:19; Matthew 7:13-14).

Verse 9

If the residents of Jerusalem stayed in the city and resisted the enemy, they would die. But if they surrendered to the Babylonians, they would live.

Verse 10

The Lord’s purpose for the city was firm: He would turn it over to the Babylonian army to destroy it by fire. This was something the people could not change by their actions or their prayers.

Messages about the duties of the kings of Judah 21:11-22:9

This group of prophecies begins and ends with oracles concerning the kings’ duties (Jeremiah 21:11-12; Jeremiah 22:1-9). In the middle is an oracle against Jerusalem (Jeremiah 21:13-14).

Verses 11-12

Jeremiah was to tell the king of Judah and his administrators to be careful to dispense justice every day, particularly with the poor and powerless. If they did not, the Lord’s wrath would burn against them as an inextinguishable fire (cf. Jeremiah 4:4; Jeremiah 17:4; Jeremiah 17:27; Jeremiah 21:12; Jeremiah 21:14; Jeremiah 43:12; Jeremiah 49:27). Normally court convened in the morning to avoid the heat of the day (cf. 2 Samuel 4:5).

"The administration of justice was one of the main duties of kings all over the Near East. The king was the guardian of justice [cf. 2 Samuel 15:4; 1 Kings 3:9; 1 Kings 3:16-28; 1 Kings 8:32]." [Note: Thompson, pp. 470-71.]

The Lord also sent a message to the residents of Jerusalem.

Verse 13

Yahweh was against the people who lived in Jerusalem. Jerusalem stood enthroned on a hilltop, with valleys on three of its sides (cf. Psalms 125:2; Isaiah 22:1). It stood on a rocky plateau of sorts. Jerusalem’s physical location had led its inhabitants to feel secure.

Verse 14

Nevertheless, the Lord promised to punish the residents for their evil deeds (cf. Jeremiah 21:5). He would kindle a fire in its forest, perhaps a reference to the House of the Forest of Lebanon, one of the palace complex buildings (1 Kings 7:2). The fire would spread to other buildings in Jerusalem.

"Not only will the Divine Warrior fight against them, but also their Dwelling Place will destroy their dwelling places!" [Note: Drinkard, p. 294.]

"All her surroundings, how much more than the city itself!" [Note: Keil, 1:332.]

The subject of the next oracle is, again, a Davidic king of Judah, but which one is unknown.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 21". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.