Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. Jeremiah 29:1-32. Jeremiah’s letter of warning to the exiles. The case of Shemaiah
The section may be subdivided as follows. (i) Jeremiah 29:1-3. Heading. (ii) Jeremiah 29:4-9. The exiles are bidden to settle down in Babylon and give no heed to the false prophets. (iii) Jeremiah 29:10-14. Not till after seventy years shall they return. (iv) Jeremiah 29:15-19. Zedekiah and his people shall be visited for their sins with permanent captivity. (v) Jeremiah 29:20-23. The lying prophets in Babylon shall be punished. (vi) Jeremiah 29:24-32. Shemaiah the Nehelamite is denounced. For the general characteristics of the ch. see introductory notes to chs. 27–29. We may gather from the style, as well as from its use of the Books of Kings, that it has been augmented, especially in the later part (after Jeremiah 29:13), from other sources, and mostly, perhaps, by contributions from the hand of Baruch, by whom also it is very probable that Jeremiah’s letter forming the earlier part of the ch. was supplied. Thus that letter may safely be reckoned as genuine, at least in the somewhat shorter form in which the LXX give it.
The date of the letter is somewhat earlier than that of chs. 27, 28, as it will probably have preceded Zedekiah’s own visit to Babylon (Jeremiah 51:59) in his 4th year (b.c. 594). It is the earliest surviving example from O.T. times of an epistle. See interesting remarks in Deissmann’s Bible Studies, p. 40 (Eng. ed., Edinburgh, 1901), relating to its bearing upon the Apocryphal “Epistle of Jeremiah.”
Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem unto the residue of the elders which were carried away captives, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon;1. Now these are the words of the letter] The exiles in Babylon were subjected to the same danger from false prophets predicting a speedy return (cp. Ezekiel 13), as were their fellow countrymen who remained at home. Jeremiah earnestly deprecates such a belief, and insists that the punishment would last for seventy years.
the residue] The reference of the word is obscure, but it may allude (so Du.) to some disaster, well known at the time. LXX omit the word, and so Gi.
and to the priests … to Babylon] Du. omits all these words, holding that Jeremiah addressed the letter to the elders alone. Co. agrees. Gi. now (2nd ed.) rejects the latter part (“whom … to Babylon”), which is absent from LXX. Moreover, he and others consider the whole or the greater part of Jeremiah 29:2 to be an expansion.
(After that Jeconiah the king, and the queen, and the eunuchs, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, and the carpenters, and the smiths, were departed from Jerusalem;)2. The letter appears to have been later than ch. 24, to which it plainly alludes more than once. Cp. Jeremiah 29:17 with Jeremiah 24:2; Jeremiah 24:8, and Jeremiah 29:18 with Jeremiah 24:9.
the queen-mother] Nehushta. See on ch. Jeremiah 13:18.
the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, and the craftsmen, and the smiths] Cp. ch. Jeremiah 24:1, with note on “smiths.”
were departed] not merely, had surrendered, as the same verb in the Heb. means in the parallel passage, 2 Kings 24:12, but, as the amplification “the craftsmen and the smiths” here indicates, had gone into exile.
By the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan, and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, (whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent unto Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon) saying,3. Elasah] As the son of Shaphan he was probably brother of Ahikam (Jeremiah 26:24) who, taking Jeremiah’s side in political matters, would be well received at Babylon.
Gemariah] Perhaps his father was identical with the chief priest (2 Kings 22:4).
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon;4–9. See introd. note to section. Instead of looking for an immediate return to Palestine, which would cause the exiles to sit loose to the country where they found themselves, they were to be interested in its welfare and to make homes for themselves. Otherwise they would not only fail to obtain any influence, but would soon dwindle away.
Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them;
Take ye 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; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished.
And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.7. seek the peace of the city] probably referring not to Babylon only, but to any city in which a body of exiles might be planted. LXX have the land, as in Jeremiah 4:29 (see note), perhaps reading here, as they probably did there, the equivalent Hebrew.
For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Let not your prophets and your diviners, that be in the midst of you, deceive you, neither hearken to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed.8. cause to be dreamed] mg. dream. The MT., as it stands, gives the sense as in the text, but its form is Aramaic rather than Hebrew and the causative sense is not wanted. The apparent error has arisen from the accidental repetition of one letter in the original. Co., however, would read they dream, because in Jeremiah 23:25; Jeremiah 23:27 f. it is the false prophets who use dreams as the vehicle of their prophecies. Du. considers Jeremiah 29:8-10 to be from a later hand, and Co. is disposed to agree with him as to 8 and 9.
For they prophesy falsely unto you in my name: I have not sent them, saith the LORD.
For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.10. After seventy years] See on Jeremiah 25:11.
for Babylon] The announcement has respect to the duration of the empire of Nebuchadnezzar and his successors, and only secondarily to the consequent limitation of the captivity.
my good word] My gracious promise. See Jeremiah 24:4-7.
10–14. Not till after seventy years shall they return.
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.11. For I know] an assurance on Jehovah’s part that He forgets them not, even though they be far from their proper land.
the thoughts that I think] i.e. My purposes.
hope in your latter end] For mg. a latter end and hope cp. Proverbs 23:18; Proverbs 24:14; Proverbs 24:20.
Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.12. The MT. is awkward, as it stands. The LXX have merely “and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.”
And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive.14. The LXX have only “And I will be found of you” (lit. “I will appear to you”). The remaining words are evidently a later addition, relating to a general dispersion, and thus unsuitable to the present context.
turn again your captivity] The Hebrew expression here and elsewhere probably means simply to restore the fortunes. See C.B. Psalm 14:7.
Because ye have said, The LORD hath raised us up prophets in Babylon;15. This v. naturally links with Jeremiah 29:21 ff., while the intervening vv. make an apparent severance in the logical connexion, and are absent from LXX, except in a certain recension (Lucianic), where, however, they precede Jeremiah 29:15. With this transposition, as at least modifying the objection arising from the break of logical connexion, Gi. agrees, maintaining, as he does, their genuineness. Co. (and so Du.) refuses to consider the vv. as belonging to the original letter, making Jeremiah 29:16-18 to be in substance a reproduction of Jeremiah 24:8 f., Jeremiah 29:19 to have its origin in Jeremiah 24:4 ff. and parallel passages, and Jeremiah 29:20 to be taking up the line of thought anew from Jeremiah 29:16. Dr. suggests that, as the passage seems out of place in a letter to the Jews in Babylonia, dealing as it does with the fate of the Jerusalem Jews, it belongs only to the recension of that letter which subsequently was incorporated in this Book. If we are to abide by the MT. in the matter, the sense appears to be this: One of the difficulties raised by the exiles when the prospect of seventy years’ captivity was held out to them would be, We have prophets here at Babylon who tell us just the reverse of all this. Which shall we believe? To this the reply of Jeremiah is twofold. (i) These prophets’ teaching shall soon be disproved. The king and the remnants of the kingdom, upon whose continued existence at Jerusalem they lay such stress, will soon pass away. Ye shall not soon be restored to your brethren, but they shall be exiles and scattered like to you. (ii) The false prophets, who thus delude you, shall themselves miserably perish and become a proverb and by-word.
For] rather, Because, connecting this v. directly with Jeremiah 29:21. “Because ye congratulate yourselves on having prophets in your exile, I tell you how soon ye shall discover that they are valueless.”
15–19. The impending fate of Zedekiah and his people. Cp. Jeremiah 24:8-10.
Know that thus saith the LORD of the king that sitteth upon the throne of David, and of all the people that dwelleth in this city, and of your brethren that are not gone forth with you into captivity;16. the king] Zedekiah. See Jeremiah 28:1. See note on Jeremiah 29:24.
Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Behold, I will send upon them the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and will make them like vile figs, that cannot be eaten, they are so evil.17. vile figs] Cp. Jeremiah 24:2-8.
And I will persecute them with the sword, with the famine, and with the pestilence, and will deliver them to be removed to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse, and an astonishment, and an hissing, and a reproach, among all the nations whither I have driven them:18. For the general sense and language of the v. cp. Jeremiah 19:8, Jeremiah 24:9, Jeremiah 25:18, Jeremiah 42:18.
tossed to and fro] mg. a terror unto. See on Jeremiah 15:4, where the Heb. verb is the same.
Because they have not hearkened to my words, saith the LORD, which I sent unto them by my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them; but ye would not hear, saith the LORD.
Hear ye therefore the word of the LORD, all ye of the captivity, whom I have sent from Jerusalem to Babylon:20. This v. is an insertion, to connect the preceding interpolation with what follows.
20–23. The prophets in Babylonia, of whom the exiles speak in Jeremiah 29:15, shall perish by a cruel death.
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, of Ahab the son of Kolaiah, and of Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, which prophesy a lie unto you in my name; Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon; and he shall slay them before your eyes;21. Of these two prophets nothing further is known. The LXX omit the fathers’ names, and the words “which prophesy … name.” Co. denies, while Du. and Gi. admit, the historical accuracy of the story, Du. pointing out that, had the prediction not been fulfilled, the passage would not have appeared in the Book.
Kolaiah, curse (kĕlâlâh) and roasted (kâlâh) are three such similar words that a play on them as used in these verses seems intended. The son of Kolaiah was to be called Kĕlâlâh (a curse) because the king of Babylon kâlâh (roasted) him in the fire. It may have been for sedition or for an attack on Babylonian worship that the two met their end.
And of them shall be taken up a curse by all the captivity of Judah which are in Babylon, saying, The LORD make thee like Zedekiah and like Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire;
Because they have committed villany in Israel, and have committed adultery with their neighbours' wives, and have spoken lying words in my name, which I have not commanded them; even I know, and am a witness, saith the LORD.23. folly] The Hebrew denotes more than this, viz. “a state of mind or an action, marked by utter disregard of moral or spiritual feeling.” Dr. who illustrates the kind of immorality here referred to in the word by its use in Genesis 34:7; 2 Samuel 13:12. See further in his Parallel Psalter, p. 457. The punishment inflicted, while really the penalty for transgressions against Jehovah, was doubtless ostensibly for breaches of the religious or civil law of Babylon.
falsely] not in LXX, and probably introduced from Jeremiah 29:21.
he that knoweth, and am witness] The Hebrew as it stands is awkward. Probably “he that knoweth” (absent from LXX) is a gloss.
Thus shalt thou also speak to Shemaiah the Nehelamite, saying,24. concerning] mg. unto. Cp. Jeremiah 29:31.
the Nehelamite] The place or family referred to is not otherwise known.
24–32. Shemaiah the Nehelamite rebuked and threatened.
On the arrival at Babylon of Jeremiah’s letter, which ends with Jeremiah 29:23, there is much indignation on the part of the false prophets, and one of them, Shemaiah by name, writes to Zephaniah the acting high-priest, urging upon him that he should take severe measures to silence Jeremiah as a madman. This suggestion, however, Zephaniah is so far from following that he shews the letter to the prophet, who writes again to Babylon, this time for the purpose of condemning Shemaiah’s conduct in the severest terms, and announcing its penalty.
The narrative forms an interesting supplement to the earlier part of the ch. Its form, it is true, leaves much to be desired, and Du. in fact describes it as exhibiting utter confusion, resulting from successive modifications. It is clearly one of the additions made by Baruch or by later hands. The charge brought by Jeremiah is introduced by the “Because” of Jeremiah 29:25, and continuing to the end of Jeremiah 29:28, remains incomplete. It is thus of the nature of the figure of speech called anacoluthon, and is taken up again by the “Because” of Jeremiah 29:31, a sentence which is carried by the “therefore, etc.” of Jeremiah 29:32 to its logical conclusion. The LXX fail, either from the defective condition of the Hebrew text or otherwise, to see that Jeremiah 29:26-28 consist of Shemaiah’s letter from Babylon. Thus for “saying … to Jerusalem” (Jeremiah 29:25) they substitute (suggested apparently by Jeremiah 29:31) “I did not send thee in my name,” as though it were a Divine utterance addressed to Shemaiah. Moreover, they are obliged in Jeremiah 29:27 both to omit the negative and to make Jeremiah speak of himself in the 3rd person. Lastly, there is in their rendering no clue to the contents of “the letter” of Jeremiah 29:29.
Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, saying, Because thou hast sent letters in thy name unto all the people that are at Jerusalem, and to Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah the priest, and to all the priests, saying,25. in thine own name] not, as Jeremiah spoke, in the name of the Lord.
unto all the people that are at Jerusalem] LXX rightly omit.
Zephaniah] See on Jeremiah 21:1 (which however belongs to a somewhat later time than this). In ch. Jeremiah 52:24 = 2 Kings 25:18 he is called “second priest,” i.e. next in rank to the high-priest.
and to all the priests] LXX rightly omit.
The LORD hath made thee priest in the stead of Jehoiada the priest, that ye should be officers in the house of the LORD, for every man that is mad, and maketh himself a prophet, that thou shouldest put him in prison, and in the stocks.26. This and the two following verses give us the words of Shemaiah’s letter to Zephaniah, as quoted in Jeremiah’s reply.
in the stead of Jehoiada] See on Jeremiah 20:1. The title “officers” here is the same in the original as the one given there to Pashhur. It is possible that the reference may be to the high-priest in the days of Joash (2 Kings 9:4 ff.), who “appointed officers over the house of the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:18). It is best here, however, with LXX, Targ. and other authorities to read “to be an officer.”
that is mad] Madness was looked on in the East as a sort of gift of prophecy perverted. Cp. “mad” (same Heb.) in 2 Kings 9:11; Hosea 9:7.
the stocks] See on ch. Jeremiah 20:2.
shackles] mg. rightly, the collar. The word is found here only in the Heb., but a cognate Arabic word indicates that it is an iron band fastened round the neck.
Now therefore why hast thou not reproved Jeremiah of Anathoth, which maketh himself a prophet to you?27. maketh himself a prophet] plays the part of a prophet, acts excitedly, like the dervishes of the present day. Cp. 1 Samuel 10:10; 1 Samuel 10:12 f., 1 Samuel 18:10, 1 Samuel 19:20 ff.
For therefore he sent unto us in Babylon, saying, This captivity is long: build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them.
And Zephaniah the priest read this letter in the ears of Jeremiah the prophet.29. read this letter, etc.] shewing thereby that he was in sympathy with the prophet.
Then came the word of the LORD unto Jeremiah, saying,
Send to all them of the captivity, saying, Thus saith the LORD concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite; Because that Shemaiah hath prophesied unto you, and I sent him not, and he caused you to trust in a lie:31. hath prophesied] the first explicit statement that Shemaiah was a prophet.
Therefore thus saith the LORD; Behold, I will punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite, and his seed: he shall not have a man to dwell among this people; neither shall he behold the good that I will do for my people, saith the LORD; because he hath taught rebellion against the LORD.32. therefore thus saith the Lord] For the construction see note on Jeremiah 29:24-32.
he shall not … the good] But Shemaiah could no more than Jeremiah himself hope to see the far distant day of return. Thus the LXX reading is to be preferred, “there shall not be a man of them” (i.e. of his descendants) “in the midst of you to see the good.”
because he … Lord] absent from LXX as in Jeremiah 28:16 (see note there). Here they have instead the words “They shall not see,” originally no doubt a marg gloss on the “behold” earlier in the v.