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‘Now these are the words of the letter which Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the residue of the elders of the captivity, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon, (after that Jeconiah the king, and the queen-mother, and the eunuchs, and the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, and the craftsmen, and the smiths, were departed from Jerusalem),’
The introduction informs us that this chapter contains words which Jeremiah wrote to the exiles in Babylon. ‘The residue (or remnant) of the elders’ may indicate that many had been executed, possibly because their especially rebellious attitude was known to Nebuchadnezzar with the result that he had determined to get rid of the hardliners. Nebuchadnezzar had no doubt had his spies in Jerusalem and the elders would certainly have borne the brunt of the blame for Jehoiakim’s rebellion. Nebuchadnezzar was not noted for his clemency (see 2 Kings 25:18-12.25.20). Alternately ‘residue’ may be intended to be read in throughout (although not made clear in the text) simply indicating those who had survived the siege and its aftermath. The priests and prophets would include among them Ezekiel.
The exile in mind is that under Jehoiachin when Jerusalem had had to submit to Nebuchadnezzar (c.597 BC). Along with Jehoiachin had gone the queen mother (a figure of great authority in Judah), the high officials (the word, used of the married Potiphar in Genesis, doe not necessarily strictly mean eunuch), the ‘princes’ of the tribes (the order of precedence would seem to indicate that it was not blood princes who were in mind), along with all the skilled craftsmen and smiths, and so on. They represented the cream of the nation (the good figs, not because they were better than the essentially others, but because of what God was going to make of them - Jeremiah 24:5).
‘By the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan, and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, (whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon), saying,’
His letter was sent by the hand of messengers who were going in Zedekiah’s name to Nebuchadnezzar, no doubt with other more official correspondence. It is very probable that part of the aim was to renew Zedekiah’s submission and assure Nebuchadnezzar of his loyalty, no doubt also delivering tribute. These would be prominent men, and may even have been the sons of Shaphan the Scribe (2 Kings 22:8), and Hilkiah the High Priest (2 Kings 22:4), although this is not certain. Elasah may have been brother to Ahikam who had aided Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26:24). This probably took place not long after the exile had begun in c.597 BC, at a time when Zedekiah had no thought of rebellion, and thus earlier than the previous chapter.
The Call For The Exiles To Settle Down In Babylon And Pay No Heed To The False Prophets (Jeremiah 29:4-24.29.9 ).
“Thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the captivity, whom I have caused to be carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon,’
The letter is written as from YHWH, giving His full title as found elsewhere. Notice the deliberate implication that the exile is YHWH’s doing. The indication is that they must not rebel against what He has brought about. It would appear from what follows that many had high hopes of a quick return to Judah. This was partly because among them were some prophets who were proclaiming such a return, possibly connected with stirrings of trouble in Babylonia, and partly resulting from man’s eternal optimism, especially as concerning their conviction that YHWH must, at some stage, step in as their God, just as He had delivered them from Egypt so long ago. How could He allow His house to continue to be denuded because of the vessels stolen by Nebuchadnezzar, they would have asked, and how could he allow the true ‘son of David’ not to be on the throne in Jerusalem? The thought would therefore be that ‘God had to act’.
“Build you houses, and dwell in them, and plant gardens, and eat the fruit from them.”
But Jeremiah assures them that there would be no quick return. Thus they are to make the best of the situation, building permanent houses, living in them with a sense of permanency, planting gardens and eating the resultant fruit (which in some cases would not be available for four years). There is an indication here that, having suffered the undoubted hardship of the journey to Babylon, conditions there were not too bad for them. Indeed they were good enough for many not to want to return home when the opportunity arose (Ezra 8:15). They appear to have been free to do whatever they desired, apart from return to Judah. Compare the similar picture presented in Ezekiel of an established and relatively free community (Daniel was presumably still governing Babylonia - Daniel 2:48-27.2.49).
“Take you wives, and beget sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters, and multiply yourselves there, and do not be diminished.”
They were to make their home in Babylonia with the longer term future in mind, marrying, having children who would also marry, and ensuring that rather than their numbers diminishing they multiplied. (He might have added, just as they had in Egypt so long ago. There is a genuine parallel between the two situations which would not go unnoticed).
“And seek the peace of the city to which I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to YHWH for it, for in its peace you will have peace.”
And they were also to pray to YHWH for the peace and well-being of Babylon, so that thereby they too would enjoy peace. This remarkable command, unparalleled elsewhere in the Old Testament, demonstrated quite clearly that His favour and blessing were not to be seen as tied to ‘the promised land’. The hunger for them to return would not be His, but theirs. He was content for them to worship Him in Babylonia and to pray for peace and wellbeing for Babylon.
It was also a reminder that their presence there was His doing and His will. It was He, not Nebuchadnezzar, Who had ‘caused you to be carried away captive’. They should therefore not rebel against His will, but rather pray along with it. He wanted them ‘in whatever state they were, to be content’. They would remain there until they had learned their lesson, and until their idolatrous attitudes had been purged from them. (Many would continue in idolatry. For them there would be no return).
“For thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, Do not let your prophets who are in the midst of you, and your diviners, deceive you, nor listen you to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed.”
In consequence of this, on the word of YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, they were not to pay any heed to any prophets, diviners/fortune-tellers, or dreamers who stated anything else. ‘Dreams which you cause to be dreamed’ indicates that they expected their prophets to ‘dream’ on their behalf, and encouraged them to do so, listening eagerly to the results of what were probably drug-induced dreams.
“For they prophesy falsely to you in my name. I have not sent them, the word of YHWH.”
And YHWH gave them His solemn guarantee (neum YHWH) that such prophets were prophesying falsely in His Name and that He had not sent them.
YHWH Promises That Once Seventy Years Have Passed His People Will Have The Opportunity To Return To Their Own Land (Jeremiah 29:10-24.29.14 ).
“For thus says YHWH, After seventy years are accomplished for Babylon, I will visit you, and perform my good word towards you, in causing you to return to this place.”
For the true situation was that Babylon had been granted seventy years of rule by YHWH, and that time had to be accomplished (Jeremiah 25:11-24.25.12). However, once that seventy years was accomplished, and only then, He would visit them again, and fulfil His promise to them that they would return to ‘this place’ (Jerusalem, Judah). He would perform ‘His good word’ (the word that promised what they sought, the word of hope) towards them.
We should note that ‘seventy years’ was not only to be seen as a time note, but also as an indication that it would happen within YHWH’s ‘divinely perfect time’ (seven intensified). Everything would happen within God’s chosen timing. It would not come to an end on the basis of the calendar, but on the basis of God’s purposes. It was not a prognosticator’s forecast, but YHWH’s determination.
In the event we may see it as beginning in c. 605 BC, when Egypt were decisively beaten by Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar gained control of Palestine (or 609 BC when the Assyrian yoke was broken and Babylon finally ruled an empire) and ending in 539 BC when Cyrus conquered Babylon, or a year or two later when the exiles actually began to return. As the period covered both the period of Babylonian supremacy (609 BC to 539 BC) and the period of exile (605 BC for the first exiles, to a year or two after 539 BC) it has to be seen as flexible.
“For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, the word of YHWH, thoughts of wellbeing, and not of evil, to give you hope and a latter end (a future).”
But the important implication was of what it revealed about YHWH’s purpose towards them. His thoughts towards them (and this was on the sure word of YHWH) were thoughts of wellbeing (shalom - peace, wellbeing) and not of evil. His aim was to give them ‘hope and a latter end’, that is, once they had passed through the sufficient period of their captivity, and had truly repented.
“And you will call on me, and you will go and pray to me, and I will listen to you.”
And then they would ‘call on Him, and go, and pray to Him’ (the common threefold pattern) and He would listen to them’. Note that there could be no return without repentance and a seeking of His face as a repentant people, which were essential elements in their return.
(How different was the return of Jews to Israel in 20th century AD. Then it was in the arrogance of nationhood, not in repentance and seeking after God. It was of a nation still in unbelief. It was man-determined, not God-determined. It was the very opposite of what is in mind here).
“And you will seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart.”
For one purpose of their exile was so that they might learn to ‘seek Him, and find Him, and search for Him with all their hearts’. All idolatry would be thrust away. All rivals to His complete pre-eminence would be cast aside. All hindrances to His supremacy would be dealt with. He would be all in all to them. These were all pre-conditions to their return.
“And I will be found of you, the word of YHWH, and I will turn again your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places where I have driven you, the word of YHWH, and I will bring you again to the place from which I caused you to be carried away captive.”
Then He would be found of them (the guaranteed word of YHWH) and He would restore their captivity, and would gather them from all nations, and from all the place where He had driven them, (the guaranteed word of YHWH), and He would bring them again to the place from which He had caused them to be carried away captive. (Compare Deuteronomy 30:2-5.30.3)
So the order is clear. First exile, then repentance, then a seeking of Him with all their hearts, then a return in belief and obedience, and this not only for those in Babylon but for those around the world. And this was undoubtedly what happened during the inter-testamental years, for by the time of Jesus people of all tribes (and of none) had returned to Palestine and settled once again in the land, both north and south, Galilee and Judea. We know only a little of the history of that return, mainly as portrayed in Ezra-Nehemiah, and the later prophets, but that was only a small part of the future, the initial movement. It was like the seed growing secretly. Through the years those of His people who had been purged and who believed came from all parts and were once again planted in the land. Judah/Israel was restored, and at one time even became an independent nation.
They Are Therefore Not To Listen To The False Prophets As, Rather Than Experiencing Quick Restoration, Zedekiah And Jerusalem Are Doomed Because They Have Not Listened To YHWH’s Words (Jeremiah 29:15-24.29.19 ).
“Because you have said, ‘YHWH has raised us up prophets in Babylon,”
Men must always have some hope to cling on to, and there are always those who will seek to profit by it. So in this case prophets had arisen among the exiles in Babylon, and this had enthused the people. It had made them feel that YHWH had perhaps not after all deserted them. Some were good prophets like Ezekiel, and it was they who rebuilt the broken nation. But others were chancers who were more politically minded and seized the opportunity to proclaim ‘instant deliverance’, a message which would have been eagerly seized on. They promised a quick return of the exiles to their brothers and sisters in Judah. This no doubt partly arose because there was an awareness of rumblings in Babylon which would always arise among peoples constrained there against their will. What they overlooked was that such rumblings rarely actually came to anything.
“Thus says YHWH concerning the king who sits on the throne of David, and concerning all the people who dwell in this city, your brothers who have not gone forth with you into captivity,”
But they did seem to have significance to those who believed that their own king ‘sat on the throne of David’, the David who had ruled such a great empire The words used here would suggest that the false prophets were laying a great emphasis on ‘the king who sat on David’s throne’. It must be remembered that even after their experiences with Babylonian troops their knowledge of the power and size of the Babylonian empire was limited. There were no countrywide, or even local, newspapers, no roving reporters, no radio, no television. They only knew what they themselves had seen, and what was learned from passing travellers. And one set of troops seemed very like another. Thus their hopes lay in the king appointed by YHWH, ‘His firstborn, ruler of the kings of the earth’ (Psalms 89:27) who would one day ‘chastise the nations with a rod of iron’ (Psalms 2:9). They had sung about it in the Temple. Now was the time to believe in it.
But Jeremiah dampens their enthusiasm. This king in whom they were pinning such hopes, and this city to which they looked with such longing, and their brothers who had been left behind, were themselves facing judgments, judgments from YHWH which would remove all hope from them.
“Thus says YHWH of hosts, Behold, I will send on them the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and will make them like vile figs, which cannot be eaten, they are so bad.”
For YHWH of hosts was about to send on them sword, and famine and pestilence to such an extent that it would make Jerusalem and Judah not a good place to be. They were to become like rotten, loathsome, inedible figs (compare Jeremiah 24:3; Jeremiah 24:8, although the word for vile here is different and signifies utterly loathsome), which turn men off and have nothing to offer them. Thus any idea of the current throne of David being a succour to them should be immediately dismissed..
“And I will pursue after them with the sword, with the famine, and with the pestilence, and will deliver them to be tossed to and fro among all the kingdoms of the earth, to be an execration, and an astonishment, and a hissing, and a reproach, among all the nations where I have driven them,”
And not only would they experience the sword, and famine, and pestilence, but these things would continue to pursue them wherever they went, and they would be tossed to and from among all the kingdoms of the earth (compare Jeremiah 15:4; Jeremiah 24:9), to become an execration, and an astonishment, and a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations to which YHWH would send them (compare Jeremiah 24:9). The idea would appear to be that they would not participate in the coming restoration at the end of the seventy years because they were so perverted but would become a permanent spectacle to the nations who would simply despise them.
“Because they have not listened to my words, the word of YHWH, with which I sent to them my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, but you would not hear, the word of YHWH,”
And this would happen to them because of their continual refusal to listen to His words as spoken by Jeremiah (this was the assured prophetic word of YHWH), and by previous prophets, words which He had, in terms of the usual Jeremaic expression (rising up early, etc. - Jeremiah 7:13, Jeremiah 25:0: Jeremiah 26:5; Jeremiah 32:33; Jeremiah 35:15), been at great pains to deliver to them.
But at this stage He now also includes those to whom Jeremiah is writing, for He deliberately changes from ‘them’ to ‘you’. The exiles must not be allowed to think that somehow they are not equally to blame for what has happened.
A Warning Not To Listen To The False Prophets Who Are Already Doomed Because Of Their False Prophecies And Equally False Ways (Jeremiah 29:20-24.29.23 ).
“Hear you therefore the word of YHWH, all you of the captivity, whom I have sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon.”
Having explained why what the prophets were declaring was hopelessly wrong, Jeremiah now calls on all who are in captivity, despatched by YHWH from Jerusalem to Babylon, to hear the word of YHWH concerning the prophets themselves.
“Thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab the son of Kolaiah, and concerning Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who prophesy a lie to you in my name, ‘Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, and he will slay them before your eyes, and of them shall be taken up a curse by all the captives of Judah who are in Babylon, saying, YHWH make you like Zedekiah and like Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire, because they have wrought folly in Israel, and have committed adultery with their neighbours’ wives, and have spoken words in my name falsely, which I did not command them, and I am he who knows, and am witness, the word of YHWH.”
It would appear that the two named prophets were actively conspiring against Nebuchadrezzar along with other dissidents in Babylon, as well as seeking to arouse the exiles to join in their conspiracy. That would be why they were picked out for special attention. Their names are otherwise unknown to us, but they were clearly known to Nebuchadrezzar. (The change back to Nebuchadrezzar from Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 29:1; Jeremiah 29:3) was because the former was how it was spelled in the letter, an incidental confirmation of the accuracy of the narrative). The fact that Jeremiah knew of them confirms that he was in close touch with what was happening among the exiles, and that regular correspondence went to and fro. Thus he was able to declare what would happen to them when he learned of their activities. YHWH would cause them to be arrested and brought before Nebuchadrezzar and sentenced to burning in a furnace, which was seemingly a regular punishment meted out by Nebuchadrezzar (Daniel 3:11; Daniel 3:15; Daniel 3:20-27.3.21). And this would be done before the eyes of the exiles as a warning to them of what happened to those who engaged in treasonable activity.
But the wider reason for the judgment brought on them as far as YHWH was concerned was that they had not only told lies in His Name, but had also ‘wrought folly in Israel’, a phrase which regularly indicates adultery and always a gross sin worthy of death (compare Genesis 34:7; Deuteronomy 22:21; Joshua 7:15; Judges 20:6). For they had committed adultery with their neighbours’ wives, possibly when being officially consulted by them. As YHWH’s prophets this brought deep shame on His Name. And on top of this were the lies that they told in His Name, which He had not commanded. Thus they were doubly worthy of death, and a death so shocking that it would be used as a curse among the Jewish exiles in Babylon in the future. That this occurred we need not doubt. That is why it is recorded.
‘And I am he who knows, and am witness, the word of YHWH.’ These words are probably YHWH’s although they could be Jeremiah’s. For He is the One Who knows all things, and was therefore witness to their transgression. Either way they were a distinct reminder that YHWH knew exactly what was going on in Babylon. They should all be aware that they could not escape from His scrutiny just because they were there and not in Jerusalem.
Postscript Concerning The Request From Shemaiah The Prophet In Babylon Calling For Jeremiah To Be Severely Disciplined As A False Prophet Because Of His Declarations That Deliverance Would Be Delayed, And What Resulted From It (Jeremiah 29:24-24.29.32 ).
This may be a postscript to the letter described above (in which case Jeremiah must have written previously), or more likely an indication of a later letter sent to Babylon once Shemaiah had written in response to this letter. It is interesting for a number of reasons:
· Firstly it indicates that regular correspondence took place between Jerusalem and Babylon with a view to affecting affairs in both places.
· Secondly it indicates that a prophet among the community in Babylon seriously expected to be able to affect affairs in Jerusalem, even to the extent of writing in his own name and rebuking a major figure in the Temple.
· Thirdly it suggests the almost full unanimity between the prophets within Babylon itself. As we know Ezekiel was ministering away from Babylon and was clearly out of tune with the other prophets in the capital, his continual message being that Jerusalem must be destroyed.
· Fourthly it brings out what authority the prophets saw themselves as having, and, at least in Shemaiah’s case, that he saw himself as a genuine prophet with prophetic authority from YHWH. Nor does Shemaiah appear to have seen himself as a minor functionary, but as a major player who had a right to be listened to at the highest level (almost on a par with Jeremiah himself).
“And concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite you shall speak, saying,”
We know nothing further about Shemaiah other than what we learn here, nor do we know what the fact that he was a Nehemalite specifically indicated. The old idea that it signified ‘dreamer’ is now rejected because of its ending which probably indicates that he was from Nehemal, an unknown town or clan in Judah.
“Thus speaks YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, saying, Because you have sent letters in your own name to all the people who are at Jerusalem, and to Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah, the priest, and to all the priests, saying,”
Jeremiah’s words are scathing. Shemaiah would almost certainly have written in the Name of YHWH, but Jeremiah writes off his claims and makes clear to all that really he had ‘written in his own name’. In other words that he was not a genuine prophet of YHWH. Shemaiah, however, had such a high opinion of himself and his own authority that he had written to all the people of Jerusalem, Zephaniah, possibly as acting High Priest, (‘the Priest’ usually means the High Priest, but Zephaniah was the second priest) and the whole priesthood. Fortunately his opinion of himself does not appear to have been shared by Zephaniah.
It would appear that at this stage Zephaniah was standing in for the then High Priest Jehoiada, who may have been rendered unsuitable for some reason. Zephaniah was strictly the second priest, and was so at the time of the fall of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 52:24; 2 Kings 25:18; compare Jeremiah 21:1; Jeremiah 37:3), and possibly responsible for the oversight of prophets.
“YHWH has made you priest in the place of Jehoiada the priest, that there may be officers in the house of YHWH, for every man who is mad, and makes himself a prophet, that you should put him in the stocks and in shackles, now therefore, why have you not rebuked Jeremiah of Anathoth, who makes himself a prophet to you, forasmuch as he has sent to us in Babylon, saying, ‘It is long, Build yourselves houses, and dwell in them, and plant gardens, and eat the fruit from them’?”
“YHWH has made you priest in the place of Jehoiada the priest .” This may simply mean ‘appointed as second priest with specific responsibility for prophets’, but if so, in view of the wide nature of those addressed, why would Shemaiah have omitted also addressing the High Priest? Thus Zephaniah may actually have been temporarily standing in for the High Priest, possibly for political reasons, or because Jehoiada had for some reason been rendered incapable of acting, with Seraiah, the later High Priest (Jeremiah 52:24), not yet of age.
Shemaiah’s point was that it was Zephaniah’s responsibility to control the prophets and that he should therefore be acting against false prophets (depicted as ‘mad’ on the grounds that only a madman would ‘make himself a prophet’. Thereby, without realising it, he was condemning himself). He should have been putting such madmen in the stocks and in shackles (the treatment for mad people). Why then had he not disciplined Jeremiah who had clearly ‘made himself a prophet’, as was evident from the fact that he disagreed with all the prophets of YHWH in Babylon? YHWH could not speak in two voices at once. His complaint was that Jeremiah had sent a letter to Babylon (presumably the letter described above) telling the exiles that their exile would last for a long time, and that they should therefore build permanent houses, dwell in them, plant gardens and eat their fruit (Jeremiah 29:5). In other words he was denying that the prophecies of the prophets in Babylon were true.
‘And Zephaniah the priest read this letter in the ears of Jeremiah the prophet.’
Shemaiah had rather overestimated his own authority, for Zephaniah does not appear to have taken his letter too seriously. He appears to have been on reasonable terms with Jeremiah (Jeremiah 21:1; Jeremiah 37:3) and thus showed him the letter. Had the intent not been good we would have expected that he would be rebuked by YHWH along with Shemaiah. He may have intended Jeremiah to take warning from it, or may simply have done it out of interest, and so that Jeremiah might be aware of the opposition. But there is no suggestion that he followed up on the letter or had any vindictive idea in mind.
‘Then came the word of YHWH to Jeremiah, saying, “Send to all those of the captivity, saying, Thus says YHWH concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite. Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, and I did not send him, and he has caused you to trust in a lie, therefore thus says YHWH, Behold, I will punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite, and his seed. He will not have a man to dwell among this people, nor will he behold the good that I will do to my people, the word of YHWH, because he has spoken rebellion against YHWH.”
YHWH provided Jeremiah with a reply to Shemaiah’s letter which was to be addressed to all the exiles who were apparently living together in a community. It informed the community that Shemaiah was a false prophet. Although he had prophesied he had not been sent by YHWH, and he had made them trust in a lie. Therefore YHWH would punish both him and his family. Any men in his close family would die, no more sons would be born to him, and he himself would not survive until the restoration. Thus basically his name would be blotted out of Israel. And this was on the sure prophetic word of YHWH. And the reason was because of his rebellion against YHWH. Thus while not suffering to the same extent as the previous two prophets, and as Hananiah in Jerusalem, he was to suffer in the long run.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 29". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany