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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 21

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Jeremiah 21:0


(The parentheses represent poetic literary units)

Jeremiah's Message for ZedekiahJerusalem's Doom Is SealedOracle Against Zedekiah and JerusalemJerusalem's Defeat Is PredictedJeremiah Answers the Envoys of Zedekiah
Jeremiah 21:1-2Jeremiah 21:1-2Jeremiah 21:1-2Jeremiah 21:1-2Jeremiah 21:1-7
Jeremiah 21:3-7Jeremiah 21:3-7Jeremiah 21:3-7Jeremiah 21:3-7
Jeremiah 21:8-10Jeremiah 21:8-10Jeremiah 21:8-10Jeremiah 21:8-10Jeremiah 21:8-10
Message to the House of DavidOracles Concerning the Royal House(vv. Jeremiah 21:11-8)Judgment on the Royal House of JudahAddress to the Royal Family of Judah
Jeremiah 21:11-12(vv. Jeremiah 21:12)Jeremiah 21:11-12(vv. Jeremiah 21:12)Jeremiah 21:11-14(vv. Jeremiah 21:12-14)Jeremiah 21:11-14Jeremiah 21:11-14(vv. Jeremiah 21:12-14)
Jeremiah 21:13-14(vv. Jeremiah 21:13-14)Jeremiah 21:13-14(vv. Jeremiah 21:13-14)

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. Brief outline of messages to Judah's royal house, cf. Jeremiah 21:11-8

1. Zedekiah (Mattaniah) - Jeremiah 21:1-14

2. Jehoahaz (Shallum) - Jeremiah 22:10-12

3. Jehoiakim (Eliakim) - Jeremiah 22:13-19

4. Jehoiakim (Coniah) - Jeremiah 22:24-30

B. Zedekiah (BDB 843), another of Josiah's sons, was placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar II, King of Babylon (cf. 2 Kings 24:17). He reigned from 597-586 B.C. He was king when Jerusalem fell. He was loyal to Babylon for eight years. Then a pro-Egyptian nationalist party persuaded him to revolt. See Appendix Four: Kings of the Divided Kingdom.

C. This section of Jeremiah is much more clearly linked to its historical settings. The specifics of

1. time

2. place

3. proper names


D. The house of David had all the wonderful (“eternal”) promises of 2 Samuel 7:0, but they too were conditional!

E. Remember that Nebuchadnezzar's army captured Jerusalem several times: 605 B.C., 597 B.C., 586 B.C., and 582 B.C. They destroyed the city and temple in 586 B.C.

Verses 1-2

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jeremiah 21:1-2 1The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD when King Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur the son of Malchijah, and Zephaniah the priest, the son of Maaseiah, saying, 2”Please inquire of the LORD on our behalf, for Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is warring against us; perhaps the LORD will deal with us according to all His wonderful acts, so that the enemy will withdraw from us.”

Jeremiah 21:1 “Pashhur” This is different from the priest/false prophet by the same name in Jeremiah 20:1 (see note there).

“Zephaniah” This priest is also mentioned in Jeremiah 29:25, Jeremiah 29:29; Jeremiah 37:3; Jeremiah 52:24; 2 Kings 25:18-21. He was assistant to the High Priest.

Jeremiah 21:2 “inquire” This Qal IMPERATIVE (BDB 205, KB 233) means to petition God on behalf of another (cf. Jeremiah 37:7; Ezekiel 20:1, Ezekiel 20:3). One Aramaic Targum translates it as “pray.” Zedekiah requests that YHWH act on Judah's behalf against Babylon as He had done in the past (i.e., Isaiah 36-39). It was part of the covenant promises especially related to the conquest of Canaan in 2 Kings 18:0 from Isaiah to Hezekiah.

“Nebuchadnezzar” The spelling here is closer to the Babylonian spelling. It (BDB 613, KB 660) means “Nebo protect the boundary” or “Nebo protect the heir to the crown.” See Appendix Three: A Brief Historical Survey of the Powers of Mesopotamia. The normal Hebrew spelling with an “N” may reflect a sarcastic corruption, “Nebo protect my mule.” The Jews loved to add vowels or consonants that made a name refer to something shameful.

“wonderful acts” The king was hoping for a repeat of Isaiah 37:36-37 or the “Holy War” of the Exodus or Joshua's conquest of Canaan (cf. Jeremiah 32:16-25).


Verses 3-7

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jeremiah 21:3-7 3Then Jeremiah said to them, “You shall say to Zedekiah as follows: 4'Thus says the LORD God of Israel, “Behold, I am about to turn back the weapons of war which are in your hands, with which you are warring against the king of Babylon and the Chaldeans who are besieging you outside the wall; and I will gather them into the center of this city. 5I Myself will war against you with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm, even in anger and wrath and great indignation. 6I will also strike down the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast; they will die of a great pestilence. 7Then afterwards,” declares the LORD , “I will give over Zedekiah king of Judah and his servants and the people, even those who survive in this city from the pestilence, the sword and the famine, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and into the hand of their foes and into the hand of those who seek their lives; and he will strike them down with the edge of the sword. He will not spare them nor have pity nor compassion.”'

Jeremiah 21:4-7 This is not the answer from YHWH that Zedekiah was praying for. He wanted covenant mercy and promises without covenant faith and faithfulness!

YHWH spells out in graphic terms the “wonderful acts” He will do to faithless Judah/Jerusalem.

1. YHWH will not fight for Judah but will be with the Babylonian army (cf. Jeremiah 32:5; Jeremiah 33:5; Jeremiah 37:8-10; Jeremiah 38:2, Jeremiah 38:17, Jeremiah 38:18).

2. YHWH's actions and emotions are described as (see Special Topic: God Described As Human [anthropomorphism])

a. an outstretched hand (cf. Exodus 6:6)

b. a mighty arm (cf. Deuteronomy 4:34; Deuteronomy 5:15; Deuteronomy 7:19; Deuteronomy 11:2; Deuteronomy 26:8)

c. angry

d. full of wrath

e. greatly indignant

f. setting His face against Jerusalem, Jeremiah 21:10

g. for harm and not for good, Jeremiah 21:10

h. giving Jerusalem to the king of Babylon to burn, Jeremiah 21:10

3. Like “Holy War” (cf. Joshua 6:0), all that breathes, human and animal, will die.

4. The Davidic seed, Zedekiah, and his house and the survivors of the siege will be exiled.

5. Nebuchadnezzar will act as YHWH's representative in judgment.

a. will not spare

b. will not have pity

c. will not have compassion (cf. Jeremiah 13:14; Jeremiah 16:5)

This is what the covenant people could not comprehend. YHWH, their God, fighting against them and His own temple! They had missed the key ingredients of

1. faith

2. faithfulness

The wonderful covenant with Abraham had conditions (cf. Leviticus 26:0; Deuteronomy 27-28) and consequences!

Jeremiah 21:4 “Chaldeans” This was the racial identity of southern Babylon; later the term became the title of the entire nation.

Herodotus (450 B.C.), Hist. I, uses this term to refer to an ethnic group (cf. 2 Kings 24:1-4; Daniel 5:30) as well as a priestly class (cf. Daniel 2:2; Daniel 3:8; Daniel 4:7; Daniel 5:7, Daniel 5:11) whose usage goes back to Cyrus II. Even before this Assyrian records used the term (BDB 505) in an ethnic sense (cf. R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 1113). Also read the good discussion of the possibility of a confusion of two similar terms (i.e., Kal-du vs. Kasdu) in The Expositors Bible Commentary, vol. 7, pp. 14-15 or Robert Dick Wilson, Studies in the Book of Daniel, series 1.

Because Genesis 11:28 states that Ur of the Chaldeans was the home of Terah and his family, Chaldeans may have been ethnically Semitic (i.e., same racial group as the Hebrews).

Jeremiah 21:7 “pestilence, the sword, and the famine” These are the typical description of the results of invasion and siege warfare (cf. Jeremiah 14:12). All of the surrounding villages gathered to the walled cities. Food, water, and sanitation became compromised.

Verses 8-10

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jeremiah 21:8-10 8”You shall also say to this people, 'Thus says the LORD , “Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. 9He who dwells in this city will die by the sword and by famine and by pestilence; but he who goes out and falls away to the Chaldeans who are besieging you will live, and he will have his own life as booty. 10For I have set My face against this city for harm and not for good,” declares the LORD . “It will be given into the hand of the king of Babylon and he will burn it with fire.”'

Jeremiah 21:8-10 This describes the conditional nature of the covenant. A good parallel text is Deuteronomy 30:15-18. I have included my notes from that commentary here.

Deuteronomy 30:15 “I have set before you today life and prosperity or death and adversity” Even covenant Israel had to choose! This is referring to the blessing and cursing (cf. Deuteronomy 27-28). Remember the choice is set in a covenant of grace. This is very similar to Wisdom Literature's idiom of the “two ways” (cf. Proverbs 4:10-19; Deuteronomy 30:8; Matthew 7:13-14). Our choices show who we are! How we respond to life's inexplicable “in and outs” reveals our spiritual orientation!

Deuteronomy 30:16-18 These verses are a summary of covenant conditions and consequences:

1. the responsibility (cf. Jeremiah 8:6; Jeremiah 19:9; Jeremiah 26:17; Jeremiah 28:9)

a. “to love the Lord,”Deuteronomy 30:16; Deuteronomy 30:16 (BDB 12, KB 17, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT)

b. “walk in His ways,” Deuteronomy 30:16 (BDB 229, KB 246, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT)

c. “keep His commandments,” Deuteronomy 30:16 (BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal INFINITIVE)

2. the consequences of obedience

a. “you may live,” Deuteronomy 30:16 (BDB 310, KB 309, Qal PERFECT)

b. “you may multiply,” Deuteronomy 30:16 (BDB 915, KB 1156, Qal PERFECT)

c. “your God may bless you,” Deuteronomy 30:16 (BDB 138, KB 159, Piel PERFECT)

3. the conditions and consequences of disobedience

a. if your heart turns away,” Deuteronomy 30:17 (BDB 815, KB 937, Qal IMPERFECT)

b. “if you will not obey,”Deuteronomy 30:17; Deuteronomy 30:17; (BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal IMPERFECT)

c. idolatry

(1) drawn away (BDB 623, KB 673, Niphil PERFECT)

(2) worship (BDB 1005, KB 295, Hishtaphel PERFECT)

(3) serve (BDB 712, KB 773, Qal PERFECT)

d. “you shall surely perish,”Deuteronomy 30:18; Deuteronomy 30:18 (BDB 1, KB 2, Qal INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and Qal IMPERFECT, which expresses intensity)

e. “you shall not prolong your days,”Deuteronomy 30:18; Deuteronomy 30:18 (BDB 73, KB 88, Hiphil IMPERFECT)

Notice how Deuteronomy 30:20 reinforces these covenant responsibilities so that the Patriarchal blessing can be fulfilled! This terminology is characteristic of Deuteronomy.

In this context the term “life” refers to physical deliverance from death at the hands of the Babylonian army. The Deuteronomy passage refers to the blessings of the obeyed covenant of Leviticus 26:0 and Deuteronomy 27-29.

Jeremiah 21:9 “he who goes out. . .will live” Jeremiah is asserting YHWH's promise that if they surrender (cf. Jeremiah 38:2; Jeremiah 39:18; Jeremiah 45:5) they will be exiled but will live.

Verses 11-12

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jeremiah 21:11-12 11”Then say to the household of the king of Judah, 'Hear the word of the LORD, 12O house of David, thus says the LORD: “Administer justice every morning; And deliver the person who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor, That My wrath may not go forth like fire And burn with none to extinguish it, Because of the evil of their deeds.

Jeremiah 21:11-14 These are words to the royal Davidic house. Some English translations have one strophe, some two. The reason this information is important is that each strophe, like each paragraph, has one main truth/point. Outlining by strophe/paragraph an interpreter can find the intent of the original author more clearly.

Jeremiah 21:12 YHWH seems still to hold open the chance that Judah's leadership may repent, as seen in their actions.

1. administer justice every morning (BDB 192, KB 220, Qal IMPERATIVE, cf. Jeremiah 7:5; Jeremiah 22:3; probably at the city gate, early each day)

2. deliver the person who has been robbed from the power of the oppressor (BDB 664, KB 717, Hiphil IMPERATIVE)

If they change (cf. 1 Kings 6:12-13) then YHWH will relent of the judgment He plans to send but if not, “wrath. . .fire” (cf. Jeremiah 4:4).

Verses 13-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jeremiah 21:13-14 13”Behold, I am against you, O valley dweller, O rocky plain,” declares the LORD, “You men who say, 'Who will come down against us? Or who will enter into our habitations?' 14But I will punish you according to the results of your deeds,” declares the LORD, “And I will kindle a fire in its forest That it may devour all its environs.”'“

Jeremiah 21:13-14 These two verses address those Judeans who live in the hills and remote valleys of Judah. They thought they would be safe, but not so!

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Jeremiah 21". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/jeremiah-21.html. 2021.
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