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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 21

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Verses 1-14

Jer 21:1-14

Jeremiah 21:1-2


The word which came unto Jeremiah from Jehovah, when king Zedekiah sent unto him Pashhur the son of Malchijah, and Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah, the priest, saying, Inquire, I pray thee, of Jehovah for us; for Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon maketh war against us: peradventure Jehovah will deal with us according to all his wondrous works, that he may go up from us.

Zedekiah evidently expected Jehovah to lift the siege against Jerusalem by some tremendous miracle similar to that in which God destroyed 185,000 soldiers of Sennacherib’s army and lifted the siege against Jerusalem in the days of Isaiah. The ancient Jews never learned the lesson that God’s promises are all conditional, even those of his everlasting love and blessing. They were the ancient practitioners of salvation by faith only. Sure, they believed all right; but they did not propose to do any of the things God commanded.

Notice how the status of Jeremiah has changed. Ten years earlier, those terrible warnings Jeremiah had been prophesying throughout his ministry had begun to be fulfilled; and now, he receives an honored delegation from the king himself requesting his prayers upon their behalf. Characteristically, they paid no attention whatever to his warning, his prophetic advice, and to his instruction as to how some life could be saved.

In the second siege and destruction of Jerusalem, not even the temple was spared; and even the sacred golden vessels were carried away to Babylon as booty.

Pashhur the son of Malchijah...

(Jeremiah 21:1) This was not the same as the Pashhur of the previous chapter. One was the son of Immer, and the other the son of Malchijah.

Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah...

(Jeremiah 21:1). This man was the successor of Jehoida the priest (Jeremiah 29:25-26; Jeremiah 37:3 and Jeremiah 52:24). He ranked second to the High Priest, was slain by Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah; and both he and Pashhur opposed Jeremiah’s views. They were probably the ones who persuaded Zedekiah to go on with his resistance rather than surrender the city as Jeremiah had advocated.

It should be noted that there is a similar account of the warning that Jerusalem will fall in Jeremiah 37:3-10; but, "These are not a doublet. It deals with a temporary raising of the siege by the Egyptians, only to be resumed later on with greater intensity. Here we have the siege in its initial phases."

These first two verses reveal Jeremiah in a new role. He now stands much higher in the opinion of the people. "The strong confirmation of his preaching by the captivity of 597 B.C. has made him a national figure whom the king now consults in the hour of crisis."

Many scholars make a big to-do about what they claim is the correct way to spell Nebuchadnezzar, most of them favoring Nebuchadrezzar. There is no doubt that the correct spelling from the Babylonian viewpoint is the latter method; but our viewpoint is by no means the Babylonian viewpoint; and, as the Dean of Canterbury put it, "The common method of spelling it, i.e., Nebuchadnezzar, became finally the current form among the Jews. Jeremiah used it in Jeremiah 34:1 and Jeremiah 39:5; and even Daniel used it." Therefore, we shall stay with the common spelling, since our viewpoint is more that of the people of God than it is that of the ancient Babylonians. No well-informed person should find any difficulty with this. All of us are familiar with the variations in spelling as we move from one racial culture to another. Pablo and Paul; Juan and John, or Johannes; Matthew and Mateo; Mark and Marcos; James and Santiago; etc. are examples. Jeremiah himself used the spellings interchangeably. In Jeremiah’s writings, "The Jewish spelling is used ten times, and the Babylonian spelling is used twenty-six times."

It is significant that in this petition for Jeremiah to pray for God’s intervention on behalf of Zedekiah and the citizens of Jerusalem, "There was no suggestion of repentance or humiliation for the gross sins of the whole nation that had brought upon them the horrible destruction then impending." F10 The message was simply, "Look God, we’re in trouble; save us!"

Jeremiah 21:3-7


Then said Jeremiah unto them, Thus shall ye say to Zedekiah: Thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands, wherewith ye fight against the king of Babylon, and against the Chaldeans that besiege you, without the walls; and I will gather them into the midst of this city. And I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm, even in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation. And I will smite the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast: they shall die of a great pestilence. And afterward, saith Jehovah, I will deliver Zedekiah king of Judah, and his servants, and the people, even such as are left in this city from the pestilence, from the sword, and from the famine, into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, and into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of those that seek their life: and he shall smite them with the edge of the sword; he shall not spare them, neither have pity, nor have mercy.

The weapons of war that are in your hands...

(Jeremiah 21:4). The prophecy here meant that the soldiers and their weapons of war which were fighting against Nebuchadnezzar would not be able to resist the Babylonian army, but would have to withdraw within the wails of the city

I myself will fight against you...

(Jeremiah 21:5) Jeremiah even foretold exactly how God would do this. He would bring .a terrible pestilence upon the city. The severe overcrowding of people and animals into the city during the later stages of the siege would become a severe strain upon the sanitary facilities of the city; and the resulting epidemic would wipe out vast numbers of the people. At the time of this delegations coming to Jeremiah, The siege had just begun, and the Jews were still trying to hinder the enemy from taking a position closer to the city and the resulting tighter blockade.

The terrible news for Zedekiah was that God, far from putting a hook in the nose of Nebuchadnezzar, and dragging him back to his homeland, as he had surely done to Sennacherib a hundred years earlier, God would actually help the invaders to accomplish their purpose of the total destruction of the city.

From the pestilence, from the sword, and from the famine...

(Jeremiah 21:7) not a great many of the inhabitants would escape; and of them who were the fortunate survivors, many would be deported to Babylon as captives.

Jeremiah 21:8-10


And unto this people thou shalt say, Thus saith Jehovah: Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. He that abideth in this city shall die by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence; but he that goeth out, and passeth over to the Chaldeans that besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be unto him for a prey. For I have set my face upon this city for evil, and not for good, saith Jehovah: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.

God had decreed the inevitable destruction of Jerusalem because of the total apostasy and gross wickedness of the people; and the terrible destruction impending was nothing but what the people themselves had ordered by their rejection of God’s will and their utter reprobacy. It was very appropriate that the words in these three verses should be taken almost verbatim from Deuteronomy 30:15-20. Countless warnings the people had received, but they would not hear. Some terrible inability to respond to God’s warnings seems to have taken hold of the hearts of the people. Like a bird charmed by a snake, they simply sat still until the blow fell.

Even when such inability in the face of certain death is witnessed in the natural creation around us, it is sad indeed, but in no manner as sad as when it is seen among human beings whom God has endowed with the gift of intelligence.

It is said that sometimes in the late fall of the year in the Cornwall area of England, the migratory waterfowl are trapped by an early freeze, resulting in the death of large numbers of them. They are tempted to feast a little too long on the apples that lie rotting on the ground.


"Beneath the Cornwall apple trees,

The migratory fowl delay

Their flight from Winter’s chilling breeze

And feast their day of grace away.

Spread ripe and rotting on the ground,

The banquet seems to have no end.

The warning trumpet does not sound

Within, or, sounding, fails to send

Their strong wings on the Southward path.

The noble fowl remains too long,

All heedless of the Winter’s wrath,

Unmindful of the even-song...

Until they’re trapped beneath the trees

In misty sheets of freezing rain.

Feet locked to earth by bitter freeze;

The call to rise and fly is vain.

Also, for me, Life’s banquet calls;

Its pleasures drown all doubts and fears.

The soul’s high purpose dims, and falls

Unrealized despite the tears.

At last, the summons from On High

Strikes through the heart. Shall I

Too find that hope has passed me by?

Or shall I rise, in time and fly?"

-- James Burton Coffman

The dreadful alternative of life or death was here presented in the words of Deuteronomy; but there was a significant difference. When Moses thus addressed the people, "The choice was between a life lived under the blessing and favor of God, and a life of sin and death; but here it is the miserable alternative of a life saved by desertion to the enemy with its resulting captivity, and certain death sure to come to all who remained in the city by sword, by pestilence, or by famine."

Jeremiah was indeed a type of Jesus Christ in some particulars; and one of them is evident here. Both Jeremiah and Christ commanded the true followers of God to abandon the city of Jerusalem. Christ did so in Matthew 24:16 at the time of the Roman siege in A.D. 70. In that instance, however, the Christians would be fleeing to a place of safety at Pella.

Jeremiah 21:11-14


And touching the house of the king of Judah, hear ye the word of Jehovah: O house of David, thus saith Jehovah, Execute justice in the morning, and deliver him that is robbed out of the hand of the oppressor, lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn so that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings. Behold, I am against thee, O inhabitant of the valley, [and] of the rock of the plain, saith Jehovah; you that say, Who shall come down against us? or who shall enter into our habitations? And I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings, saith Jehovah; and I will kindle a fire in her forest, and it shall devour all that is round about her.

Some of the scholars affirm that the end of the message to Zedekiah came in Jeremiah 21:10 and that this is a prophecy regarding the House of David, being a part of a number of similar prophecies in this sub-group of four chapters (Jer. 21--24). We do not deny this; but we also believe that the words here were also quite appropriate when understood as a continuation of the message to Zedekiah. Certainly, the burning of Jerusalem mentioned in Jeremiah 21:14 was appropriately spoken to Zedekiah, because that would occur within eighteen months of Jeremiah’s response to the delegation from the king. Besides that, Jeremiah 21:12 relates that all of the punishment to come upon Jerusalem would be "because of the evil of your doings." Was not this appropriate for Zedekiah? His wickedness is seen even in this chapter where he repudiated the prophetic warnings of God’s prophet.

Even the verses regarding the king’s duty to dispense justice were not inappropriate, because, as Harrison noted, "Along with the false prophets and the immoral cultic-priests, the monarchy itself must take its place and its share of the responsibility for the moral and social degradation of the people," with the resulting divine punishment that fell upon them.

I will kindle a fire in her forest...

(Jeremiah 21:14) Thompson complained that, In Jerusalem itself, there was no forest. But the same scholar tells us that, The royal palace itself was called the ’House of the Forest of Lebanon’ (1 Kings 7:2). This supports the opinion of Keil that The city itself was a forest of houses. Others have supposed that many of the houses of the ancient city were constructed from cedars brought down from the forest of Lebanon. In any case, there is no doubt that the reference is to Jerusalem. Bright especially thought that the words here spoke of Jerusalem’s great buildings of cedar. Payne Smith stated that, The commentators have made a difficulty here, simply by not remembering the delight which the Jews took in trees.


Jeremiah 21:1 to Jeremiah 25:38

The oracles in chapters 21–25 are concerned mainly with political matters. These materials come from the reigns of three kings and may be arranged chronologically according to the following scheme:

1. From the reign of Jehoiakim

a) Jeremiah 22:1-23

b) Jeremiah 25:1-38

2. From the reign of Jehoiachin

a) Jeremiah 22:24-30

3. From the reign of Zedekiah

a) Jeremiah 24:1-10

b) Jeremiah 21:1-14

C) Jeremiah 23:1-40

In addition to these oracles, other literary elements are clearly present in this section including narrative (Jeremiah 21:1-2; Jeremiah 25:1-2), autobiography (Jeremiah 23:9), vision (Jeremiah 24:1-2) and action parable (Jeremiah 25:15-29). Topically this section of the book can be divided into two subdivisions: (1) God and the leaders of Judah (Jeremiah 21:1 to Jeremiah 24:10); and (2) God and the World Order (Jeremiah 25:1-38).


Jeremiah 21:1 to Jeremiah 24:10

Chapters 21–24 contain mainly oracles addressed to the leaders of Judah particularly the kings and the prophets. The material is not in chronological order as already noted. The section begins with a reply to king Zedekiah (Jeremiah 21:1-14) which is followed by general remarks directed to the royal house (Jeremiah 22:1-9). Standing next are three oracles directed to Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin (Jeremiah 22:10-30). chapter 23 begins with the promise of an ideal ruler who is to come (Jeremiah 23:1-8) and continues with a lengthy condemnation of the false prophets (Jeremiah 23:9-15). The section closes with a vision and the interpretation thereof (Jeremiah 24:1-10).

A Reply to King Zedekiah Jeremiah 21:1-14

The time is 588 B.C. A new Pharaoh had taken the throne, Pharaoh Hophra (588–569 B.C.), known in secular literature as Apries. Hoping to re-establish Egypt as a world power, he at once challenged the Babylonian supremacy. By means of lavish promises Hophra secured the support of a number of leaders in Jerusalem. Zedekiah eventually gave in to the political pressure to rebel against Babylon. This act of indiscretion brought on the invasion of the great Nebuchadnezzar. City after city in Judah was falling to the Chaldeans. Having no one to whom to turn except the man of God, Zedekiah sent a delegation to Jeremiah. The present paragraph contains (1) the appeal of the king (Jeremiah 21:1-2), (2) the answer of the prophet (Jeremiah 21:3-7), (3) advice to the people (Jeremiah 21:8-10), and (4) the alternatives for the royal house (Jeremiah 21:11-14).

1. The appeal of the king (Jeremiah 21:1-2)

Zedekiah selected two men to form his delegation to the prophet. Representing the civil authority was Pashur the son of Malchiah. This is not the same Pashur who appeared in Jeremiah 20:1 as a high ranking priest and false prophet. Representing the ecclesiastical authority was Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah who is mentioned again in Jeremiah 29:25 and Jeremiah 37:3. He was second in rank to the high priest (Jeremiah 52:24). Since Jeremiah had been for so long public enemy number one to the leaders in Jerusalem, it must have been very embarrassing for them to now seek him out for counsel and guidance.

The delegation was in no position to make demands. Rather they humbly petition the prophet to inquire of the Lord for them. The word “inquire” here is a technical word in the Hebrew which means to seek an oracle. They were seeking a revelation from God. These men do not come as penitent sinners casting themselves on the mercy of God. They say nothing in their conversation about forgiveness or repentance. They seem to be expecting some positive response on the part of God. No doubt they fully expected Him to intervene on behalf of Jerusalem in the present crisis even as He had done many years before when Sennacherib the Assyrian had besieged the city (2 Kings 19:35). Zedekiah and his counselors and court theologians could not believe that God had abandoned them. They seem to have forgotten all that Jeremiah had been saying throughout his ministry.

The spelling of the name of the Chaldean king in this verse should be noted. This is the spelling which predominates in Jeremiah and Daniel and is the only form in Ezekiel. Actually this form of the name is closer to the Babylonian original Nabukudurri-uzur. In the Bible the spelling Nebuchadnezzar is also found.

2. The answer of the prophet (Jeremiah 21:3-7)

Jeremiah was not impressed or flattered by the coming of this royal delegation. He does not hesitate a moment to fire back an oracle to the king. Those soldiers who are attempting to defend the walls of Jerusalem will not be successful. God Himself will “turn back” i.e., render ineffective or inoperative, the defensive weapons of the armies of Judah. God will actually gather the Chaldean soldiers into the walls of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 21:4). Far from intervening on behalf of Judah the Lord will actually be fighting against them, His outstretched hand and strong arm which had on so many occasions in the past been directed against the enemies of the nation (e.g., Deuteronomy 26:8) are now turned against Judah. He who was the Captain of the host of Israel is now leading the charge of the Chaldean enemy. He is still the God of might and miracle but He is now using that power in His wrath against His apostate people (Jeremiah 21:5).

Not only is God directing the Chaldean attack against Jerusalem, He is about to unleash from his arsenal the weapons of plague and pestilence against His people (Jeremiah 21:6). A city under siege in antiquity was especially vulnerable to the outbreak of death-dealing pestilence since the food, water and sanitary facilities of the city were cut off by the enemy. Furthermore many rural folks would flock to the city during the time of attack thus swelling the population and placing an extra strain upon the community resources. Those who survive the terrible siege with its bloody assaults, its plague and famine the Lord will give into the ruthless hands of Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah the king and the royal household are specifically included in this threat. The Chaldean will have no mercy or compassion upon those who fall into his hands (Jeremiah 21:7).

3. The advice to the people (Jeremiah 21:8-10)

To the gloomy message for king Zedekiah Jeremiah adds an oracle addressed to the people in general. Using the solemn language of Deuteronomy 30:15 ff. God places before His people the alternatives of life and death (Jeremiah 21:8). While it is clear that Jeremiah is referring to the Deuteronomy passage, he is using the word “life” in a more restricted sense. In Deuteronomy the word “life” meant prosperous existence whereas here the word “life” means escape from death. The way of death is to remain in the besieged city of Jerusalem; the way of life is surrender to the enemy (Jeremiah 21:9). Jeremiah gave this same advice on other occasions (e.g., Jeremiah 38:1; Jeremiah 38:17). It would appear that not a few Jews followed this advice (Jeremiah 38:19; Jeremiah 39:9; Jeremiah 12:15). Those who surrender (literally, fall away) to the enemy will be rewarded only by the preservation of their lives. They will be like the soldier who goes into battle expecting to be enriched from the spoils of the enemy but who in the end is happy to return without the loss of his life. Resistance is useless for God has set His face against the city of Jerusalem for evil i.e., to destroy it, rather than for good i.e., to deliver the place. By continuing the struggle the fanatical defenders of the city are in reality fighting against God. He will deliver Jerusalem into the hand of the king of Babylon. The torch will be put to the holy city (Jeremiah 21:10). While there may be hope for individuals if they surrender, the doom of the city as a whole is sealed.

4. The alternatives for the royal house (Jeremiah 21:11-14)

The third brief oracle which comes as a response to the inquiry of Zedekiah is a last ditch appeal to the royal house (Jeremiah 21:11). They can still save their city if they are willing to make a radical change in the national policy, Two things are required: First, they might be able to escape the unquenchable fire of divine wrath if they will immediately—”in the morning”—begin to practice and encourage social justice. The king and his administration must judge with justice and deliver the oppressed from the hand of the oppressor (Jeremiah 21:12). The word “oppressed” comes from a root which means to take by force, tear away, seize. The “oppressed,” then are those who have had their rights or properties taken away by force, i.e., by crooked justice. The Old Testament prophets had much to say in the area of social ethics. They were ahead of their times. Many Christians do not seem to have caught up with them in concern for the unfortunate and downtrodden.

The second thing that the royal house must do if disaster is to be averted is to cease their insane and irrational confidence in the inviolability of Jerusalem. In Jeremiah 21:13 God declares that he is against Jerusalem, “the valley and rock of the plain.” Jerusalem and Mt. Zion rise abruptly out of the surrounding valleys. Hence Jerusalem is the inhabitant of the valley. The city is like an impregnable rock which juts up from a plain. The word plain does not necessarily mean a level place but a plateau, either level or hilly. Because of the superior defenses of the city the Jewish defenders were confident of their ability to withstand the invader. “Who shall come into our habitation”? they boasted. Such boasts would suggest that the siege was in its early stages at the time Zedekiah sent the delegation to meet with Jeremiah. The confidence manifested by the Jerusalem leadership was ill-founded in view of the fact that God was punishing His people. “According to the fruit of your deeds” points to the fact that the punishment would correspond to the sins committed against God and man. Because of all of her crimes God will kindle a fire in the forest of Jerusalem i.e., in the houses of the city, and that fire will consume everything. (Jeremiah 21:14).

God Rejects Zedekiah’s Request - Jeremiah 21:1-14

Open It

1. What would you do if forced to choose between immediate death and life without any possessions or freedom?

2. What do you think is the worst thing for a human being to lose?

3. What, for you, represents security?

Explore It

4. Why did King Zedekiah send messengers to Jeremiah? (Jeremiah 21:1-2)

5. What did the king hope God would do for Judah, as He had done in the past? (Jeremiah 21:2)

6. What was God’s answer concerning the outward enemy facing Jerusalem? (Jeremiah 21:3-4)

7. Rather than intervening to save Judah, what did God promise to do? (Jeremiah 21:5-7)

8. What, specifically, did Jeremiah say would become of the king who ruled in Jerusalem? (Jeremiah 21:7)

9. What choice was God offering to the people of Jerusalem? (Jeremiah 21:8)

10. Why did God say that surrender would be a preferable option to staying in the city of Jerusalem? (Jeremiah 21:9-10)

11. What did God require from the descendants of David? Why? (Jeremiah 21:11-12)

12. Where were the people of Jerusalem placing their confidence for the city’s security? (Jeremiah 21:13)

13. To what did God compare the wrath deserved by the people of Judah? (Jeremiah 21:14)

Get It

14. Why was Jeremiah a logical go-between when the people sought God’s help against an enemy?

15. If the choice were yours, would you choose God’s anger or that of a human enemy? Why?

16. Why don’t more people choose life when they realize the spiritual choice before them?

17. In what are the people around you trusting for their security?

18. What does it mean to find our security in God?

Apply It

19. The next time you are faced with only undesirable choices, how will you remember that one of them might actually be God’s provision for you?

20. In what area of your life do you need to let God be your primary source of security?

Questions On Jeremiah Chapter Twenty-One

By Brent Kercheville

1 Why does Zedekiah ask Jeremiah to inquire the Lord (Jeremiah 21:1-2)?

2 What is God’s frst response (Jeremiah 21:3-7)?

3 What is God’s second response (Jeremiah 21:8-10)?

4 What is the message to the house of David (Jeremiah 21:11-14)?

5 What lessons was God teaching through these messages of doom?


How does this relationship change your relationship with God?

What did you learn about him?

What will you do differently in your life?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Jeremiah 21". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/jeremiah-21.html.
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