Jeremiah's Letter to the Exiles and Its Consequences.
The Contents of the Letter.
Just as certain false prophets in Jerusalem had tried to arouse and maintain false hopes in the inhabitants of the capital, thus also certain men of the same type were active among the exiles who had been taken to Babylon at the time of Jeconiah. The result was that a spirit of discontent and restlessness took hold of the Jews, which not only increased the bitterness of their affliction, but also tended to break down all moral restraint. Jeremiah therefore, by God's command, sent a letter to the exiled Jews, in which he gives them some excellent rules of behavior in the midst of the trying circumstances in which they found themselves.
v. 1. Now, these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem unto the residue of the elders, to those who had survived the hardships of the exile up to that time, which were carried away captives, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon, to the congregation of the exiled Jews, disorganized as it was in the conditions of the exile,
v. 2. (after that Jeconiah, the king, and the queen, Nehushta, the dowager, daughter of Einathan, 2Ki_24:8-15, and the eunuchs, the courtiers or chamberlains, high court officers, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, and the carpenters, and the smiths, all the artisans and craftsmen of the city, 2Ki_24:16, were departed from Jerusalem,)
v. 3. 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, nothing further being known of the message carried by this embassy, except that Zedekiah ruled only by the pleasure of the Babylonian king and was bound to use the highest diplomacy to hold his position), saying, the actual wording of Jeremiah's letter now being given,
v. 4. Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, His exact words being given in the message, as throughout the book, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon, the fact that they were suffering the just punishment of their transgressions being made fundamental in this address, as preparing the way for repentance:
v. 5. Build ye houses and dwell in them, thereby preparing for a long stay in the land of their captivity, against the advice of the false prophets who were trying to mislead them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them, altogether in agreement with the idea that their homes would, for some time, be in the strange country;
v. 6. take ye wives and beget sons and daughters, thereby establishing families; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, for the giving in marriage is essentially a function of the parents, a duty which they dared not disregard, that they may bear sons and daughters, that ye may be increased there and not diminished, for the nation was not to die out during the period of the Babylonian Exile.
v. 7. And seek the peace, the welfare, of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, striving with all their might to promote its best interests, and pray unto the Lord for it, such intercessions being commanded by God even in the case of a heathenish government; for true religion teaches patient submission to the government in all things which are not in conflict with God's Word; for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace, the Lord blessing a country for the sake of the believers among its citizens, and they, in turn, being benefited by the blessings which the Lord grants their country.
v. 8. For thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Let not your prophets and your diviners that be in the midst of you, whose business nourished because of the willing credulity of the people, deceive you, neither hearken to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed, for it was the attitude of the people themselves, in encouraging prophecies of this kind, which gave them false hopes, that was at the bottom of the whole situation.
v. 9. For they prophesy falsely unto you, with a lie they posed as prophets, in My name, adorning their base deceptions with the name of the Lord, insisting that He had sent them; I have not sent them, saith the Lord, their claims being utterly unfounded. Over against their deceitful promises, therefore, He tells them the plain truth concerning the length of their captivity.
v. 10. For thus saith the Lord, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon, counting from the time the first exiles were taken to Babylon with their King Jeconiah, I will visit you, turn to them in merciful kindness, and perform My good word toward you, cause His promise to them to be fulfilled, in causing you to return to this place, to Jerusalem and Judah, the home of their fathers.
v. 11. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, He would still accomplish His merciful purposes with regard to them, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end, literally, "future and hope," that is, the end which they desired, but which could be theirs only on condition of their showing true repentance. The Lord shows in just what manner the Jews would continue in their course: first, in vain confidence, relying upon the empty promises of the false prophets; then, in deepest despondency, believing that they were doomed. to extermination; but finally, in true repentance, when they would be accepted by the Lord.
v. 12. Then shall ye call upon Me, in a realization of their sinfulness and guilt, and ye shall go and pray unto Me, and I will hearken unto you, turning to them in the grace and mercy which He much prefers to exercise.
v. 13. And ye shall seek Me and find Me, when ye shall search for Me with all your heart, if their repentance proved to be sincere, of the right kind. Cf Lev_26:40-45.
v. 14. And I will be found of you, saith the Lord, Isa_55:6; and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the Lord, for the Jews were finally dispersed throughout the various countries of the world empire; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive. Cf Deu_4:29-30; Deu_30:3-5. The return from exile was only the beginning of the fulfilment of our prophecy, which clearly has Messianic significance.
v. 15. Because ye have said, The Lord hath raised us up prophets in Babylon, literally, "as far as Babylon," the people of Judah insisting that the ministry of the prophets extended far beyond the confines of the Holy Land, and that therefore the threatening prophecy had no effect upon them,
v. 16. know that thus saith the Lord of the king that sitteth upon the throne of David, in this case Zedekiah, and of all the people that dwelleth in this city, those remaining after the first company of exiles had left, and of your brethren that are not gone forth with you into captivity:
v. 17. thus saith the Lord of hosts, Behold, I will send upon them the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, the dreaded scourges which are the worst punishments of nations, and will make them like vile figs, 24:8, that cannot be eaten, they are so evil.
v. 18. And I will persecute them with the sword, with the famine, and with the pestilence and will deliver them to be removed to all the kingdoms of the earth, scattered throughout the kingdoms which belonged to the great world empire, to be a curse, an object of execration, and an astonishment, and an hissing, and a reproach, to be jeered at and treated with contempt on every side, among all the nations whither I have driven them,
v. 19. because they have not hearkened to My words, saith the Lord, which I sent unto them by My servants, the prophets, rising up early and sending them, in eager zeal for the welfare of their souls; but ye would not hear, saith the Lord. Note that the change from the third to the second person places the exiled Jews into the same class with those who were still in Judah, for all were alike guilty.
v. 20. Hear ye therefore the Word of the Lord, all ye of the captivity whom I have sent from Jerusalem to Babylon, for the Chaldeans, in this instance, were only the instruments in the hands of the Lord:
v. 21. Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, of Ahab, the son of Kolaiah, and of Zedekiah, the son of Maaseiah, two men who are otherwise unknown, which prophesy a lie unto you in My name, since they were evidently the leaders of the false prophets, Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar, king of Babylon, and he shall slay them before your eyes, this execution evidently taking place because the king feared their exciting and rebellious preaching,
v. 22. and of them shall be taken up a curse by all the captivity of Judah which are in Babylon, that is, the exiles made this event a proverb, a formula of imprecation, saying, The Lord make thee like Zedekiah and like Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire, a Chaldean form of punishment in general use at that time, Cf Dan_3:6,
v. 23. because they have committed villainy in Israel, a deed of shame, a sinful folly, and have committed adultery with their neighbors' wives, acts of gross immorality often being associated with false teaching, and have spoken lying words in My name, which I have not commanded them; even I know and am a Witness, saith the Lord. Jehovah is not only intimately acquainted with the truth, but also brings it to light and testifies of it before men.
The Doom of Shemaiah Foretold
Jeremiah's letter to the men in exile had evidently caused a great stir among the false prophets in Babylon, who had predicted a speedy termination of the exile. Accordingly, one of their number promptly sent letters to Jerusalem, in the endeavor to stir up the inhabitants of the capital against Jeremiah. But the Lord, in turn, gave His servant the command to proclaim His punishment upon the man who interfered with His commands.
v. 24. Thus shalt thou also speak to Shemaiah, the Nehelamite, a false prophet not mentioned elsewhere, saying,
v. 25. Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, saying, Because thou hast sent letters in thy name, without any authority from the Lord, unto all the people that are at Jerusalem, and to Zephaniah, the son of Maaseiah, the priest, the so-called "second priest," or substitute for the high priest, and to all the priests, saying,
v. 26. The Lord hath made thee priest in the stead of Jehoiada, the priest, who was then in exile in Babylon, that ye should be officers in the house of the Lord, men charged with keeping order throughout the Temple-grounds and buildings, for every man that is mad, the inspired prophets often being charged by their enemies with being possessed with a spirit of madness, and maketh himself a prophet, that thou shouldest put him in prison, and in the stocks, as Pashur had done with Jeremiah in his day, 20:2.
v. 27. Now, therefore, why hast thou not reproved Jeremiah of Anathoth, which maketh himself a prophet to you? He boldly accuses Zephaniah of a gross neglect of duty in not arresting Jeremiah and making it impossible for him to commit further damage.
v. 28. For therefore he sent unto us in Babylon, saying, This captivity is long; build ye houses and dwell in them; and plant gardens and eat the fruit of them. Cf v. 5.
v. 29. And Zephaniah, the priest, read this letter in the ears of Jeremiah, the prophet, probably with the object of making him acquainted with the machinations of the false prophets in Babylon.
v. 30. Then came the word of the Lord unto Jeremiah, saying,
v. 31. Send to all them of the captivity, to counteract the activity of Shemaiah, saying. Thus saith the Lord concerning Shemaiah, the Nehelamite, Because that Shemaiah hath prophesied unto you, and I sent him not, and he caused you to trust in a lie, his message being a falsehood from beginning to end, without the slightest foundation of divine truth,
v. 32. therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will punish Shemaiah, the Nehela-mite, and his seed, his children. He shall not have a man to dwell among this people, his family was to die out very soon, neither shall he behold the good that I will do for My people, saith the Lord, namely, when, at His word, they would repent of their wicked ways, because he hath taught rebellion against the Lord. False teachers not only bring condemnation upon their own souls by their false teaching, but they also transgress against the honor of the true God, who, therefore, will not let them go unpunished.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Jeremiah 29". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany