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CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES.—1. Chronology of the Chapter. Beginning of Zedekiah’s reign. Vide Notes, and especially Personal Allusions to chap. 1. Usher dates the chapter B.C. 589; Hales B.C. 587.
2. Contemporary Scriptures.—2 Kings 24:17 to 2 Kings 25:2. Daniel had been prophesying at Babylon from the time of the first captivity of Judah under Jehoiakim, and his book runs on over to the reign of Zedekiah. Ezekiel also appears as a prophet (at Babylon) when he sat among the captives by the river Chebar (Ezekiel 1:1).
3. National Affairs.—Jehoiachin, son of Jehoiakim, was deposed by the Chaldean king after three months’ reign. Mattaniah (named by Nebuchadnezzar Zedekiah), the brother of Jehoiakim, had been placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar as his vassal. Against this Chaldean power Zedekiah early revolted in favour of Egypt, then growing into a first-class power. Nebuchadnezzar thereupon sends invaders against Jerusalem; and apprehending this attack, Zedekiah sends the embassy to Jeremiah recorded in this chapter.
4. Contemporary History.—Pharaoh-Hophra reigned in Egypt: Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon: Solon at Athens. At this time Jehoiachin (his other names were Jeconiah and Coniah), with his queen-mother Nehushia, and the highest families of Judah, pined in captivity in Babylon. It is not wonderful, therefore, that Zedekiah, led by his nobles, revolted against the Chaldean power which now dominated from Babylon the centre of the Chaldean sway.
5. Geographical References.—Jeremiah 21:4. “Babylon and Chaldeans.” Chaldea is properly only the southerly division of Babylonia; but the Chaldea over which Nebuchadnezzar was king comprised the entire tract of country which lay between the Euphrates and the Tigris, and an equal breadth of country on the Arabian desert side of the Euphrates capable of irrigation from that river, and extending along the course of the Euphrates for over 400 miles, and measuring in average breadth 100 miles. Jeremiah 21:13. “Valley and plain:” Vide the note in loc. on chap. Jeremiah 17:3. The valley means that which ran between Mount Zion and Mount Moriah; and the rock, Mount Zion itself.
6. Personal Allusions.—Jeremiah 21:1. “Zedekiah:” Vide note above, under National Affairs, and also Personal Allusions to chap. 1. “Pashur the son of Melchiah:” this was the fifth order of the priesthood, and Pashur was the head of this order (1 Chronicles 24:9-14). [This is not the Pashur mentioned in previous chapter]. “Zephaniah,” &c., connected with the twenty-fourth priestly family (1 Chronicles 24:18). This Zephaniah was afterwards put to death by Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah (Jeremiah 52:24). Jeremiah 21:2. “Nebuchadrezzar.” This is more nearly the Chaldean spelling of his name than Nebuchadnezzar. He was the son of Nabopolassar, and led the army against Egypt and conquered it at Charchemish. See further in Literary Criticisms below. Jeremiah 21:4. “Chaldeans.” Vide Geog. Ref., supra.
7. Natural History.—Jeremiah 21:14. “The forest thereof.” “A city is a forest of houses.”—Keil. A reference here to the dense mass of residences and edifices built of the cedar trees from Lebanon (comp. Jeremiah 22:7 with Jeremiah 52:13, and 2 Kings 25:9).
8. Manners and Customs.—Jeremiah 21:12. “Execute judgment in the morning.” Kings sat in judgment at this time of the day. (Comp. 2 Samuel 4:5; Job 20:27; Psalms 101:8). See Lit. Crit. below.
9. Literary Criticisms.—Jeremiah 21:2. “Nebuchadrezzar:” a noticeable spelling: with ר instead of נ. Jeremiah uses this form twenty-six times; but the form with נ ten times. Jeremiah used the more correct Chaldean form of the name until current usage among the Jews settled the spelling with the נ instead of with the ר. The LXX. write the name thus, Ναβουχοδονόσορ; and Berosus thus, Ναβουχοδονόσορος; the recently discovered Assyrian cylinders thus, Nabu-Rudurri-uzur. Professor Rawlinson interprets this last to mean Nebo protects the landmarks; and Schrader, Nebo, protect thou the crown. The name, interpreted from Persian roots, had been supposed to mean, Nebo deorum princeps, or Nebo deus ignis.
Jeremiah 21:4. “I will assemble them,” &c. The antecedent of them is doubtful, whether “weapons” or “Chaldeans;” but the latter is the nearer and more probable antecedent.
Jeremiah 21:7. “And such as are left:” וְאֵת; the Vaw may be regarded as explicative—even such as are left, namely, of the people.
Jeremiah 21:9. “His life for a prey:” i.e., shall make his escape with it.
Jeremiah 21:12. “In the morning.” לַבֹּקֶר Keil regards as a distributive adverb, every morning; while Henderson regards it as here used idiomatically, as in Psalms 90:14; Psalms 143:8, where בַּבֹּקר means early, soon, quickly: implying urgency; for the opportunity would quickly end.
SECTIONAL SUMMARY OF CHAPTER 21
GOD’S FINAL OFFER OF DELIVERANCE
The siege of Jerusalem had begun. Zedekiah in alarm sent to ask of Jeremiah respecting the event.
I. Times of distress drive men to seek God’s servants whom amid their prosperity they despised.
1. Apprehensive of evil, they crave counsel and prayers (Jeremiah 21:2). Zedekiah sent two of the priests who were in highest office to ask Jeremiah’s interposition with Jehovah! What a humbling of their arrogant disregard of this hitherto reviled prophet!
2. Yet they crave counsels and prayers only to avert punishment (Jeremiah 21:2). Their sole desire was that Jeremiah’s prayers would prevail with God to thwart Nebuchadnezzar. There was no humiliation for the sin which brought this visitation on the nation.
See Addenda: SEEKING COUNSEL.
II. Messages of wrath will meet those who refuse to seek God except in times of distress.
1. Professors of religion may presume upon their outward privileges until God be angered and wholly alienated. These priests, this king, and indeed the whole nation, had so presumed upon their being God’s people; but their presumption would now be checked (Jeremiah 21:5).
2. Resources of self-reliance will be rendered powerless in the day of adversity (Jeremiah 21:4).
3. Overwhelming disaster shall avenge the iniquities which have long called for Divine punishment. God had been slow to anger and of great kindness, but the time for mercy was now irrecoverably past (Jeremiah 21:6-7).
The messenger of God has woful messages to declare against such as despise His gracious warnings and weary out His longsuffering.
III. A way of mercy is still opened to such as will regard Divine counsels. The king and princes would not surrender to Nebuchadnezzar: they trusted their own counsels, and would not heed God’s; but some among the people might be found ready to heed God’s word and thereby secure immunity from imminent ruin.
1. Even to the latest hour salvation is offered (Jeremiah 21:8); although the enemy was at the very gates.
2. The way of life consists in trustfully submitting to God’s directions (Jeremiah 21:9). It required prompt obedience, and the performance of a part which would be humiliating and seemed painful—“falleth to the Chaldeans,” whom they hated.
God leaves no sinner on earth without “a way of escape;” but it depends on his implicit surrender to His counsels whether he be saved. Happily now we may find a more gracious salvation than was offered to those people.
IV. To those eminent in sin God sends special warnings of doom.
1. God recognises the circumstances which aggravate individual disobedience. There was special heinousness in the conduct of “the king of Judah” (Jeremiah 21:11), since he belonged to the “house of David” (Jeremiah 21:12).
2. A final appeal is made to even greatest transgressors (Jeremiah 21:12).
3. Yet God will show no further mercy when His warnings are rejected with self-confident pride. The reply of the king (Jeremiah 21:13) virtually was, “We have a strong city,” we dwell in “the rock of the plain:” he boasted in his security. Further, he despised the forces of destruction which were gathering—“Who shall come down against us? who shall enter into our habitation?” But God was against the king of Judah; and therefore no hope of safety was left.
HOMILIES AND COMMENTS ON VERSES OF CHAPTER 21
Jeremiah 21:2. Theme: WILFUL INQUIRERS SEEKING COUNSEL.
I. In what mind they came.
1. Their own counsels were determined and fixed; so that they were not in a teachable mood. This Pashur belonged to the party who counselled that Nebuchadnezzar be resisted by force of arms, for he endeavoured to persuade King Zedekiah to put Jeremiah to death as a traitor (chap. Jeremiah 38:1-4). Zephaniah likewise (from Nebuchadnezzar having slain him at Riblah, chap. Jeremiah 52:24) was manifestly hostile to any surrender to the Chaldean force. Thus they came with predetermined opinions.
2. They declared what counsels they wished to receive. Asking Jeremiah to “inquire of the Lord for them,” they yet specified the kind of reply they expected to be returned—that Nebuchadnezzar “may go up from us;” i.e., be compelled to raise the siege, and so give these inquirers the gratification they sought.
This is not inquiry; it is dictation. Such inquiry is insolent to God. All supplication for Divine leading which is prompted by predetermination and wilfulness is self-delusive in the inquirer and offensive to God.
II. In what delusion they reposed.
“If so be that the Lord will deal with us according to all His wondrous works.”
1. Their own demerits were conveniently ignored. It would almost seem that they were unconscious of their flagrant impiety and wickedness. Certainly God’s actions towards them were not to be regulated by righteousness, not to be affected by their crying iniquities, not to be swayed by their defiance of Divine pleadings and warnings, but only “according to His wondrous works.”
2. Their exclusive request was for miraculous interposition. Not that God would exert His gracious power to reform them; but that, leaving them still in their sins, and unpunished for their sins, He would exert His miraculous power to protect them. Panic prayers, such as these, are rarely inspired by sincere contrition for sin, but rather by sudden realisation of penalty.
i. Sinners often have clear recollection of God’s marvellous works. These men had. At the prayer of Isaiah God delivered Jerusalem when Sennacherib besieged it (2 Chronicles 32:20-21). And as they have clear recollections, so often they have
ii. Strange expectations of like merciful interpositions on their own behalf. Doubtless these messengers anticipated for Jeremiah a similar answer to that which Isaiah gave (Isaiah 37:6). But
iii. God always keeps vivid recognition of men’s sinful ways. And He makes a difference accordingly. So that “His wondrous works” are not repeated to men who deserved, not wondrous deliverances, but wondrous judgments.
See Addenda: SEEKING COUNSEL.
Jeremiah 21:3. Theme: INTREPID DENUNCIATIONS. “Thus shall ye say to Zedekiah.”
Since the days of Jehoiakim, under whose reign Jeremiah betrayed much fickleness, temerity, and repining; of all which the previous chapter (20) furnishes too ample proof—what a change has come upon God’s servant! How altered now is the tone of his address. Regard this reply as evidence of
I. Great personal courage. Note the circumstances:
1. He is confronted with men of highest state dignity. This embassy was chosen from among the foremost officers in the ranks of the priesthood, so that Jeremiah had to address men of pride and power.
2. He has to send a message direct to the king. His words are “to Zedekiah.” He is under special temptation therefore to be apprehensive of royal disfavour, and concerned to be conciliatory.
3. He is for the first time sought as state-adviser. Never before had he been recognised by king and princes in this special manner as God’s vicegerent and oracle. They had heretofore “derided” him (Jeremiah 20:7-8). Now he is treated with highest respect: an embassy of marked importance is sent him; he is consulted at a crucial moment on a matter of vast seriousness—would he accept the flattery, and prize the sweet gratification so highly, as to lead him to mild speech and even partial suppression of his message? (Compare Jeremiah 20:9.) No: he spoke out all God’s word, forcibly and fearlessly, and sent back these powerful messengers to the king with burning words of denunciation.
II. Grand prophetic confidence.
1. He is conscious of the Divinity of his inspiration. Had he been in any doubt that God’s Spirit moved him as he spake, he would certainly have spoken with more deference and some equivocation. But his words are decisive and authoritative. He knew that he had God’s word to utter. So as truly do preachers of Divine truth.
Here, too, let it be noted that the coming of this embassy to him was “a silent testimony and tribute to his inspiration” (Wordsworth). They accepted the fact as undoubted: and came to ask God’s word at his lips.
2. He is confident of the certainty of his prophecies. The moment was critical. The Chaldeans were at the walls, the city was besieged, the message was for that very hour. What he said would be verified or refuted forthwith. It was different when a prophecy was being uttered which related to distant days. Yet though a few hours would suffice to prove or disprove his words, Jeremiah spoke with emphasis and confidence. He risks his credit as a prophet on the assurance he sends back, that if the king would promptly execute judgment and justice, the besiegers should be thwarted (Jeremiah 21:12). We have reason to believe that had Zedekiah acted on Jeremiah’s counsel he would have been saved from the Chaldeans as Hezekiah was from the Assyrians.
i. This progress from temerity (chap. Jeremiah 1:6) to courage was the progressively of God’s promise of qualification for his work. (See chap. Jeremiah 1:17-18.) It was only progressively fulfilled, for often the prophet showed a craven spirit (Jeremiah 20:7-9); but now it was completely fulfilled. So God’s words of promise will find ultimate vindication in us.
ii. This development of courage and confidence marks the perfection of his prophetic equipment. Jeremiah’s sorest testing was at hand; in the travail and calamities which accumulated, he would need now the full confidence and fearless courage which here for the first time he evinced. God knows the hour when we need largest grace, and “as our day is, so shall our strength be.”
See Addenda: COURAGE.
Jeremiah 21:8. Theme: A PITIABLE DILEMMA. “I have set before thee the way of life and death.”
In this instance how different the circumstances amid which Jeremiah made this appeal from those amid which Moses used the same words! (Deuteronomy 30:19.) Here it is—
I. Not a gracious contrast: “Life and death.”
It was a gracious contrast that Moses proposed: a choice between
1. A life blessed with Jehovah’s favour; or
2. A death in sin and the miseries which follow disobedience.
But that propitious hour for the nation was gone for ever. The offer could not be made on those beneficent terms. “They had slighted the life” (says Henry) “which would have made them truly happy; to upbraid them with which the prophet uses the same expression.”
Note: The same offer may not mean the same when it is renewed, after it has once been rejected.
II. But a melancholy alternative.
Here the choice lay between two possibilities well-nigh equally distressing.
1. A life only saved by deserting to the enemy, and to be spent in wretched and shameful captivity; or
2. A death of famine, pestilence, and the sword within their own city’s walls.
See Addenda: OPPORTUNITY.
Theme: A FAITHFUL MINISTER’S APPEAL.
It ought to be possible for every messenger of God to say among his people that during his ministry he has persistently and faithfully “set before them life and death.”
I. This summarises the preacher’s work.
1. The alternative which God offers to men through the preacher—“life and death.”
2. The fidelity which marks the preacher’s messages to men. “I have set before you.” Not engaging you with speculative theories, but solemn truths and revealed facts.
II. This indicates the hearer’s duty.
1. A free choice is left to each (Ezekiel 33:11).
2. A wise choice is possible with each (Proverbs 8:36; Luke 10:42).
III. This narrows the sinner’s outlook.
1. There are but two possibilities before the soul: no third course.
2. There are great responsibilities upon the soul (John 15:22).
See further: NOTICEABLE TOPICS at end of chapter.
Jeremiah 21:11-12. Theme: COUNSEL TO A KING.
Because it was the king who sent the message to him, he sends a particular message to the king. He advises the king and princes to reform, and to make conscience of the duty from their place. “Execute judgment in the morning”—carefully, diligently, promptly. “Deliver him that is spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor”—if you would be delivered from the Chaldeans who distress you.
i. This intimates that it was their neglect to do their duty which brought all this desolation upon the people. The “evil of their doings” kindled the fire of God’s wrath.
ii. This directs them to take the right direction for a national reformation. The princes must begin and set the people a good example. He reminds them that they are of the “house of David,” and therefore should tread in his righteous steps.
iii. This gives them some encouragement to hope that there may yet be a lengthening of their tranquillity (Deuteronomy 4:27). If anything will recover their state from the brink of ruin, this will.—M. Henry.
See Addenda: “EXECUTE JUDGMENT.”
NOTICEABLE TOPIC IN CHAPTER 21
Topic: GOD’S MESSAGE OF LIFE AND DEATH (Jeremiah 21:8).
The conduct of God towards Israel is the model of His conduct towards us: and the conduct of Israel towards God closely resembles the conduct of mankind in all subsequent ages. Here is a glass in which we may see ourselves revealed.
When Nebuchadnezzar advanced to the siege, the state dignitaries urged Jeremiah to inquire of God for them what the result would be. He did so. And this was the answer—Life in submission to the Chaldeans: death by continuance in the city. The result was—they despised the warning, they clung to their own devices—the city was destroyed.
(a.) Many learn religion’s worth amid threatening or actual calamities.
(b.) Many prize the comfort of the prayers of God’s people who never pray themselves.
I. That it is God’s prerogative to mark the path in which He would have us go for both worlds. God who knows our wants has provided for their supply.
He has “set before us life and death.”
1. In His written Word—i. By doctrinal statements. ii. By warnings and invitations.
2. By Providence and mercies: examples and instances.
The way to heaven is faith and holiness, the way to hell is unbelief and sin. Jesus says (Mark 16:16). John, bearing witness to the Divinity and Messiahship of Christ, says (John 3:36). Our Lord also declares concerning Himself in terms too plain to be misunderstood (John 14:6).
It is evident that all who receive Christ by faith—in His atoning sacrifice and sanctifying grace—are in the way of life: and all those who reject and disown Him—refuse His salvation and disobey His commands—are in the way of death.
II. That the path to life is clothed with many attractions.
Our Lord speaks of “the strait gate and narrow way,” and the “few that find it.” The difficulty arises not from the road itself, but from the nature of those who walk in it. It is
1. A plain way. The way though narrow is plain—the way to the wicket gate is straight as a line can make it. It is only difficult and perplexed to those who are reluctant to renounce the burden of their sins and the corruptions of this evil world, or would fain invent some method to reconcile the discordant claims of God and mammon, earth and heaven. But though the first entrance may be difficult to the awakened sinner, owing to the abounding evils of his heart, yet grace enables him to overcome these deep workings of corruption and to pass by true repentance and humble faith through the strait gate towards the blessed region of eternal felicity.
Both of these paths have numerous travellers—but the broad way and the green have had a fearful majority hitherto. Yet the votaries of religion have not been few in reality, though few as compared with the world—and in every age the number of these has increased, and will increase. Of the path to heaven observe
2. That it is an old way and well trodden. “Stand ye in the old way, inquire for the good paths.” From Abel’s time. “The way the holy prophets went.”
3. That it is a safe way: for though much contested it is yet divinely guarded: “No lion shall be there.” “No weapon,” &c.
4. That it is a pleasant way. “Wisdom’s ways are ways of pleasantness.” “The way of life is above to the wise,” &c.
III. That we are daily advancing in one or other of these paths.
There can be amidst the diversities of the race but two broad divisions: wise and foolish, wheat and tares.
God sees how you forget Him and your latter end, and how light you make of everlasting things: how bold you are in sin, how fearless of His threatenings—careless of your souls—doing the work of infidels in your lives while the creed of Christians is in your mouth. He sees the dreadful day near at hand when your sorrows will begin. “Behold the judge standeth.” Death will bring such an argument in favour of truth and religion as you will never be able to answer, and then you will be an unbeliever no longer. There is nothing but a slender veil of flesh between thee and that amazing sight of God and eternity which will silence your presumption for ever. But let us mark the contrast between the righteous and the wicked in present life.
A worldly man is one that has his chief treasure upon earth, while God and eternity are forgotten. Though he does not say that earth is better than heaven, and sin than holiness, he acts as if he did; and if he could have enough of earth and time he would let go heaven, and never think of being removed thither—for a holy God and a holy heaven have never been comprehended within the circle of his joys. Whereas the Christian is one who has been converted from the error of his ways—his mind has been enlightened to discern the evil of sin and the love and loveliness of Christ, and is anxious to lay up his treasure and hopes in heaven.
A worldly man is one who neglects the great salvation, who never truly valued the mystery of redemption, nor truly applied to the Physician of souls, nor thankfully entertained in his heart the great Redeemer; and though he might not object to be outwardly religious, he was never concerned to be inwardly renewed, neither seeking to be delivered from the guilt and dominion of sin, nor to be conformed to the image and likeness of God. Whereas the Christian, having been savingly convinced of his undone state by sin, and apprehending the mercy of God in Christ, thankfully entertains the glad tidings of redemption, flees to Christ for pardon and salvation—desires to experience more the daily renewal of the Holy Spirit.
To which of these do you belong? Think thus;—I am a dying creature, on the verge of an awful eternity; heaven and hell are before me, and to one of these states I am advancing every day as another day’s journey. Ask, Whither am I going? What reception shall I meet at last? What award does conscience now make? Have I believed with the heart unto righteousness? Is the life I now live in the flesh a life of faith? Will the course I am in do to die by?
IV. That the doom of the impenitent will be aggravated by weighty considerations.
1. That the path of life and death was clearly set before you, and rejected by deliberate choice. It will be eternally true that Christ was set forth crucified, that you were invited, summoned, and entreated in His name to be reconciled to God. God Himself calls
2. From the solemn Providences and warnings you have abused.
3. From the vanity and worthlessness of pursuits for which salvation was rejected.
4. From the changeless eternity of the state to which you go.
—Samuel Thodey, A.D. 1845.
ADDENDA TO CHAPTER 21: ILLUSTRATIONS AND SUGGESTIVE EXTRACTS
Jeremiah 21:2. SEEKING COUNSEL.
“Consult your friend on all things, especially on those which respect yourself.
His counsel may then be useful, where your own self-love might impair your judgment.”—Seneca.
“Good counsels observed are chains to grace.”—Fuller.
“Mid pleasure plenty, and success,
Freely we take from Him who lends:
We boas the blessings we possess,
Yet scarcely thank the One who sends.
“But let affliction pour its smart,
How soon we quail beneath the rod!
With shattered pride, and prostrate heart,
We seek the long-forgotten God.”
Jeremiah 21:3. COURAGE.
“A minister without boldness is like a smooth file, a knife without an edge, a sentinel that is afraid to let off his gun. If men will be bold in sin, ministers must be bold to reprove.”
Think of that Reformer, who, when some one said to him, “The whole world is against you,” calmly replied, “Then I am against the world.”
“This is true courage, not the brutal force
Of vulgar heroes, but the firm resolve
Of virtue and of reason.”—Whitehead.
Lies in the mind, the never-yielding purpose,
Nor owns the blind award of giddy fortune.
Jeremiah 21:8. OPPORTUNITY.
“The mill cannot grind with the water that is past.”—Proverb.
Herod—those who offered to follow Christ (Luke 9:57-62)—Felix—Agrippa—Simon Magus—how many characters seem to flash before our eyes in Scripture as having been visited with convictions and opportunities of grace, but only, it has been said, “like ships, which, when night is spread over the sea, emerge for a moment from the darkness as they cross the pathway of the moonbeams, and then are lost in utter gloom.”
Opportunities are importunities.
“There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows, and in miseries;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”—Shakespeare.
Jeremiah 21:12. EXECUTE JUDGMENT.
“What is justice? To give to every man his own.”—Aristotle.
“It often falls in course of common life,
That right sometimes is overborne of wrong;
The avarice of power, or guile, or strife,
That weakens her, and makes her party strong.
But Justice, tho’ her doom she do prolong,
Yet at the last will make her own cause rife.”—Spenser.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Jeremiah 21". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28