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3. Conflict with the false prophets in exile ch. 29
This chapter continues the theme of the previous three, namely: controversies about false prophets. Jeremiah also had problems with the false prophets who were taken with the 3,023 exiles who went into captivity in 597 B.C. (Jeremiah 52:28).
There are references to and citations from at least four letters that went back and forth between Jerusalem and Babylon in this narrative. Three of these letters were from Jeremiah, and one was from a false prophet in Babylon. We do not know exactly where in Babylon Jeremiah’s letters went, but the largest settlement of exiles was near Nippur, close to the Kabar Canal. [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 132.] Jeremiah 29:1-23 contain the first letter in the Bible. [Note: Feinberg, p. 551. For other letters in the Old Testament, see 2 Chronicles 21:12-15; 30:1, 6-9; 32:17; Ezra 1:2-4; 4:9-22; 5:7-16; 6:3-12; 7:12-26.]
Jeremiah wrote a letter to the exiles (Jeremiah 29:1-23). What Jeremiah sent the exiles may have been more like a booklet containing a collection of prophecies than a simple letter. [Note: Scalise, p. 65.] This letter contains several messages from Yahweh. He then wrote a letter to the false prophet Shemaiah in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:24-28), in which he referred to a previous letter that Shemaiah had written to the priest Zephaniah, who lived in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 29:26-28). Finally, Jeremiah wrote a third letter, this time to the exiles again (Jeremiah 29:31-32).
Within all this correspondence, there are two promise oracles (concerning the exiles’ immediate future, Jeremiah 29:4-7; and concerning Israel’s distant future, Jeremiah 29:10-14). There are three judgment oracles (on false prophets, Jeremiah 29:16-19; Jeremiah 29:21-23; Jeremiah 29:31-32), a warning oracle (concerning false prophets, Jeremiah 29:8-9), and an unfinished though implied judgment oracle (concerning a false prophet, Jeremiah 29:25-28).
Jeremiah sent a letter to all the Judahites who had gone into exile in Babylon with King Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) in 597 B.C. We do not know the date of its composition, but Jeremiah probably wrote it within a few years of 597 B.C. The recipients included the elders, priests, prophets, the queen mother (Nehushta), court officials, princes, craftsmen, smiths (or artisans), and other citizens. King Zedekiah sent Elasah, one of Shaphan’s sons (cf. Jeremiah 26:24), and Gemariah ben Hilkiah (Jeremiah 36:10-26; cf. 2 Kings 22:3-14) to Babylon to deliver the letter. Both of these messengers were friendly toward Jeremiah, as is clear from other references to them. It was customary for vassals, such as Zedekiah, to communicate frequently with their overlords, like Nebuchadnezzar, in the ancient Near East. [Note: S. A. Meier, The Messenger in the Ancient Semitic World, p. 131.]
Jeremiah’s first letter to the exiles 29:1-23
The letter was really a message from Yahweh Almighty, Israel’s God. The exiles needed to recognize that He had sent them to Babylon; they were not there primarily because of Nebuchadnezzar. This reminder would have assured them of His sovereign control over the affairs of their lives.
The exiles were to settle down in Babylon, and carry on life as usual, rather than to plan on returning home soon. They were to build houses, plant gardens, marry, have children, and anticipate grandchildren.
"The external circumstances are far removed from humanity’s first home in a fruitful garden, but the divine blessing and human task are remarkably similar (compare Genesis 1:28-29; Genesis 2:8-9; Genesis 2:15-16)." [Note: Scalise, p. 80.]
The exiles were also to seek the welfare of the city to which they had gone, rather than plotting its downfall. They were even to pray for Yahweh’s blessing on it (cf. Psalms 122:6; Matthew 5:43-44; Romans 12:21; Titus 2:9-11; 1 Peter 2:18). They would prosper as the city prospered. Ezekiel indicated that the exiles had their own organization of elders (Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 14:1), which explains why many of the exiles followed Jeremiah’s instructions. They were neither slaves nor prisoners in Babylon, but enjoyed considerable autonomy.
"History shows that in all the centuries of their world-wide dispersion, the Jews have tried to follow this pattern. They have identified themselves with the country of their residence, while at the same time looking toward eventual restoration to their native land." [Note: Feinberg, p. 553.]
The Lord instructed the exiles not to let the "prophets" among them deceive them into thinking that the captivity would be short. Such predictions were not from Him.
The captivity would last 70 years (cf. Jeremiah 25:11-12).
"It is remarkable that Jeremiah was able to propose that the power of Babylon would last so brief a time." [Note: Thompson, p. 547.]
At the end of that time, the Lord would again intervene in their affairs, fulfill His promise to them, and bring them back to the Promised Land. This is one indication that God wanted the exiles to return at the end of the captivity. Those who chose to remain in Babylon afterwards were acting contrary to God’s will for them (cf. Jeremiah 50:8; Jeremiah 51:6; Deuteronomy 30:1-5; Isaiah 48:20).
The Lord’s plans for His people were for their ultimate welfare, not endless calamity. They would have a future beyond the Exile, so they could have hope.
At the end of the Exile, God’s people would call out to Him in prayer (cf. Daniel 9; Ezra 9; Nehemiah 9). Yahweh promised to listen to them. They would find Him when they sought Him wholeheartedly.
Again He promised that they would find Him. He would ultimately restore their fortunes, and would gather them from all the places where He had driven them, and return them to the Promised Land.
Since the exiles did not seek the Lord wholeheartedly, and since He did not return all of them to the land at the end of the Exile, premillennialists look for a fulfillment of these promises in the future. [Note: See Kaiser, pp. 110-12; and Feinberg, p. 555.] The returns from exile under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah were only partial fulfillments of these promises. Most of the exiles chose not to return (e.g., Mordecai and Esther). Perhaps others of them could not return (e.g., Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego).
The people were concluding falsely that the Lord had raised up prophets for them in Babylon. He did indeed raise up Ezekiel and Daniel, but false prophets are in view here, as is clear from the following verses.
Jeremiah 29:16-19 are a digression that stresses the fact that the Lord would complete the judgment of Judah before any restoration would begin.
The true message from Yahweh concerning the Davidic king, Zedekiah, and the remaining Judahites who were still in the Promised Land was that they would experience war, famine, and plagues. They would be like rotten figs: good for nothing (cf. Jeremiah 24:2-3).
The Lord Himself would drive them from the land and kill them. They would become objects of horror and shame to the nations where He would drive them, because they had not listened to His servants the prophets. The Lord had sent these messengers to them repeatedly, but they would not listen.
Since the Judahites who remained in the Promised Land had not listened to God, and would therefore suffer punishment, it was important that the exiles pay attention to the Lord’s words to them.
The Lord also announced the fate of two false prophets in Babylon: Ahab ben Kolaiah and Zedekiah ben Maaseiah. Yahweh would deliver them into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand, and the Babylonian king would execute them in the sight of the exiles.
Their deaths would become a proverbial curse (Heb. qelalah) for the exiles who wanted to wish the worst type of fate on someone. They would wish that Yahweh would make the end of their enemies as terrible as that of those two false prophets. The Hammurabi Code refers to burning people alive (Heb. qalah) as a Babylonian method of execution, as does the Book of Daniel. [Note: Pritchard, ed., pp. 167, 170, 172. Daniel 3:6.] These false prophets had acted like fools, had committed adultery in violation of the covenant (Exodus 20:14), and had falsely claimed to announce messages from Yahweh. The Lord said He knew exactly what these men were doing. Nebuchadnezzar would not have executed these men for these offenses, so probably they were guilty of other political crimes as well, perhaps encouraging the exiles to revolt. [Note: W. L. Holladay, Jeremiah , 2:143.]
The Lord had a message for Shemaiah the Nehelamite, too. There are no other references to this man in the Bible. "Nehelamite" may come from the Hebrew word halam, meaning "to dream." Thus this may be a nickname for him: the dreamer (cf. Jeremiah 29:8; Jeremiah 27:9). [Note: Thompson, p. 549.] This word could also be the name of his family or birthplace, though no other families or places of that name are known.
Jeremiah’s letter to Shemaiah in Babylon 29:24-28
Jeremiah wrote another letter, this time in response to a letter that the false prophet Shemaiah in Babylon wrote to Zephaniah the priest and the Judahites still in Jerusalem. Jeremiah quoted Shemaiah’s letter, and it fills most of this section (Jeremiah 29:26-28). Shemaiah’s letter was a response to Jeremiah’s first letter to the exiles (Jeremiah 29:1-23).
This man had sent letters in his own name, not in Yahweh’s name, to Zephaniah ben Maaseiah the priest, the other priests, and the people in Jerusalem. He had told them that the Lord wanted Zephaniah to be the priest in charge of order in the temple instead of Jehoiada, the authorized priest. [Note: Zephaniah ben Maaseiah consulted Jeremiah twice for King Zedekiah (Jeremiah 21:1; Jeremiah 37:3). He was then or later became the priest who was second in command in the temple (Jeremiah 52:24). He went into captivity in 586 B.C. and suffered execution in Babylon (Jeremiah 52:24-27; 2 Kings 25:18-21). Jehoiada had evidently replaced Pashhur, who may have been taken to Babylon as an exile (cf. Jeremiah 20:1-6).] Zephaniah was to put any "mad man" who prophesied in the Lord’s name in the stocks and his neck in an iron collar (cf. Jeremiah 20:1-3). The Hebrew word translated "iron collar" occurs only here in the Old Testament. Its meaning is somewhat obscure, though it probably describes some type of restraining device.
"The irony is that Zephaniah would, according to Deuteronomy 28:34, become a madman himself when he witnessed the judgment coming upon Jerusalem." [Note: Scalise, p. 79.]
Shemaiah also reproved Zephaniah for not rebuking Jeremiah, because Jeremiah had written the exiles encouraging them to settle down in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:4-7).
This pericope does not record what the Lord said would happen to Shemaiah as punishment for what he did; Jeremiah 29:25 has no apodosis. We must assume that divine judgment would come on him. The main reason for this pericope is to expose the wicked advice Shemaiah was giving, not to explain the judgment he would receive. The next pericope tells what would happen to Shemaiah.
Zephaniah the priest read Shemaiah’s letter to Jeremiah.
Jeremiah’s second letter to the exiles 29:29-32
After Zephaniah had read Shemaiah’s letter to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:29), the Lord moved Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:30) to write a second letter to the exiles (Jeremiah 29:31-32).
Then the Lord gave a message to Jeremiah. He was to tell the exiles that because Shemaiah had prophesied falsely, Yahweh would punish Shemaiah and his descendants. The Lord would cut off his family line, and Shemaiah would not live to see the good that Yahweh would do to His people. [Note: Compare Jeremiah’s words of judgment on Hananiah (28:15-16).] Shemaiah’s prophesying constituted advocating rebellion against Yahweh.
Chapters 26-29 all record the terrible consequences of rejecting the Word of the Lord that one of His faithful servants, a true prophet, announced.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 29". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany