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Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles
1 The prophet Jeremiah sent a letter to the exiles Nebuchadnezzar had carried off from Jerusalem#map For location see Map5-B1; Map6-F3; Map7-E2; Map8-F2; Map10-B3; JP1-F4; JP2-F4; JP3-F4; JP4-F4. to Babylon. It was addressed to the elders who were left among the exiles, to the priests, to the prophets, and to all the other people who were exiled in Babylon.#tn Jer 29:1-3 are all one long sentence in Hebrew containing a parenthetical insertion. The text reads “These are the words of the letter which the prophet Jeremiah sent to the elders…people whom Nebuchadnezzar had exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon after King Jeconiah…had gone from Jerusalem by the hand of Elasah…whom Zedekiah sent…saying, ‘Thus says the Lord…’” The sentence has been broken up for the sake of contemporary English style and clarity. 2 He sent it after King Jeconiah, the queen mother, the palace officials,#tn This term is often mistakenly understood to refer to a “eunuch.” It is clear, however, in Gen 39:1 that “eunuchs” could be married. On the other hand it is clear from Isa 59:3-5 that some who bore this title could not have children. In this period, it is possible that the persons who bore this title were high officials like the rab saris who was a high official in the Babylonian court (cf. Jer 39:3, 13; 52:25). For further references see HALOT 727 s.v. סָרִיס 1.c. the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had been exiled from Jerusalem.#sn See 2 Kgs 24:14-16 and compare the study note on Jer 24:1. 3 He sent it with Elasah son of Shaphan#sn Elasah son of Shaphan may have been the brother of Ahikam, who supported Jeremiah when the priests and the prophets in Jerusalem sought to kill Jeremiah for preaching that the temple and the city would be destroyed (cf. 26:24). and Gemariah son of Hilkiah.#sn This individual is not the same as the Gemariah mentioned in 36:10, 11, 12, 25 who was one of the officials who sought to have the first scroll of Jeremiah’s prophecies preserved. He may, however, have been a son or grandson of the High Priest who discovered the book of the law during the reign of Josiah (cf., e.g., 2 Kgs 22:8, 10) which was so instrumental in Josiah’s reforms. King Zedekiah of Judah had sent these men to Babylon to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.#sn It is unclear whether this incident preceded or followed those in the preceding chapter. It is known from 52:59 that Zedekiah himself had made a trip to Babylon in the same year mentioned in 28:1 and that Jeremiah had used that occasion to address a prophecy of disaster to Babylon. It is not impossible that Jeremiah sent two such disparate messages at the same time (see Jer 25:8-11, 12-14, 17-18, 26). The letter said:
4 “The Lord God of Israel who rules over all#tn Heb “Yahweh of armies, the God of Israel.”sn See study notes on 2:19 and 7:3 for the explanation of this title. says to all those he sent#tn Heb “I sent.” This sentence exhibits a rapid switch in person, here from the third person to the first. Such switches are common to Hebrew poetry and prophecy (cf. GKC 462 §144.p). Contemporary English, however, does not exhibit such rapid switches and it creates confusion for the careful reader. Such switches have regularly been avoided in the translation.sn Elsewhere Nebuchadnezzar is seen as the one who carried them into exile (cf. 27:20; 29:1). Here and in v. 14 the Lord is seen as the one who sends them into exile. The Lord is the ultimate cause and Nebuchadnezzar is his agent or servant (cf. 25:9; 27:6 and notes). into exile to Babylon from Jerusalem,#map For location see Map5-B1; Map6-F3; Map7-E2; Map8-F2; Map10-B3; JP1-F4; JP2-F4; JP3-F4; JP4-F4. 5 ‘Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters. Find wives for your sons and allow your daughters get married so that they too can have sons and daughters. Grow in number; do not dwindle away. 7 Work to see that the city where I sent you as exiles enjoys peace and prosperity. Pray to the Lord for it. For as it prospers you will prosper.’
8 “For the Lord God of Israel who rules over all#tn Heb “Yahweh of armies, the God of Israel.”sn See study notes on 2:19 and 7:3 for the explanation of this title. says, ‘Do not let the prophets or those among you who claim to be able to predict the future by divination#sn See the study notes on 27:9 for this term. deceive you. And do not pay any attention to the dreams that you are encouraging them to dream. 9 They are prophesying lies to you and claiming my authority to do so.#tn Heb “prophesying lies to you in my name.”sn For the significance of “in my name” see the study notes on 14:14 and 23:27. But I did not send them. I, the Lord, affirm it!’#tn Heb “Oracle of the Lord.”
10 “For the Lord says, ‘Only when the seventy years of Babylonian rule#sn See the study note on Jer 25:11 for the reckoning of the seventy years. are over will I again take up consideration for you.#tn See the translator’s note on Jer 27:22 for this term. Then I will fulfill my gracious promise to you and restore#tn Verse 10 is all one long sentence in the Hebrew original: “According to the fullness of Babylon seventy years I will take thought of you and I will establish my gracious word to you by bringing you back to this place.” The sentence has been broken up to conform better to contemporary English style. you to your homeland.#tn Heb “this place.” The text has probably been influenced by the parallel passage in 27:22. The term appears fifteen times in Jeremiah and is invariably a reference to Jerusalem or Judah.sn See Jer 27:22 for this promise. 11 For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord.#tn Heb “Oracle of the Lord.” ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you#tn Heb “I know the plans that I am planning for you, oracle of the Lord, plans of well-being and not for harm to give to you….” a future filled with hope.#tn Or “the future you hope for”; Heb “a future and a hope.” This is a good example of hendiadys where two formally coordinated nouns (adjectives, verbs) convey a single idea where one of the terms functions as a qualifier of the other. For this figure see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 658-72. This example is discussed on p. 661. 12 When you call out to me and come to me in prayer,#tn Heb “come and pray to me.” This is an example of verbal hendiadys where two verb formally joined by “and” convey a main concept with the second verb functioning as an adverbial qualifier. I will hear your prayers.#tn Or “You will call out to me and come to me in prayer and I will hear your prayers.” The verbs are vav consecutive perfects and can be taken either as unconditional futures or as contingent futures. See GKC 337 §112.kk and 494 §159.g and compare the usage in Gen 44:22 for the use of the vav consecutive perfects in contingent futures. The conditional clause in the middle of 29:13 and the deuteronomic theology reflected in both Deut 30:1-5 and 1 Kgs 8:46-48 suggest that the verbs are continent futures here. For the same demand for wholehearted seeking in these contexts which presuppose exile see especially Deut 30:2, 1 Kgs 8:48. 13 When you seek me in prayer and worship, you will find me available to you. If you seek me with all your heart and soul,#tn Or “If you wholeheartedly seek me”; Heb “You will seek me and find [me] because you will seek me with all your heart.” The translation attempts to reflect the theological nuances of “seeking” and “finding” and the psychological significance of “heart” which refers more to intellectual and volitional concerns in the OT than to emotional ones. 14 I will make myself available to you,’#tn Heb “I will let myself be found by you.” For this nuance of the verb see BDB 594 s.v. מָצָא Niph.1.f and compare the usage in Isa 65:1; 2 Chr 15:2. The Greek version already noted that nuance when it translated the phrase “I will manifest myself to you.” says the Lord.#tn Heb “Oracle of the Lord.” ‘Then I will reverse your plight#tn Heb “restore your fortune.” Alternately, “I will bring you back from exile.” This idiom occurs twenty-six times in the OT and in several cases it is clearly not referring to return from exile but restoration of fortunes (e.g., Job 42:10; Hos 6:11–7:1; Jer 33:11). It is often followed as here by “regather” or “bring back” (e.g., Jer 30:3; Ezek 29:14) so it is often misunderstood as “bringing back the exiles.” The versions (LXX, Vulg., Tg., Pesh.) often translate the idiom as “to go away into captivity,” deriving the noun from שְׁבִי (shÿvi, “captivity”). However, the use of this expression in Old Aramaic documents of Sefire parallels the biblical idiom: “the gods restored the fortunes of the house of my father again” (J. A. Fitzmyer, The Aramaic Inscriptions of Sefire [BibOr], 100-101, 119-20). The idiom means “to turn someone's fortune, bring about change” or “to reestablish as it was” (HALOT 1386 s.v. 3.c). In Ezek 16:53 it is paralleled by the expression “to restore the situation which prevailed earlier.” This amounts to restitutio in integrum, which is applicable to the circumstances surrounding the return of the exiles. and will regather you from all the nations and all the places where I have exiled you,’ says the Lord.#tn Heb “Oracle of the Lord.” ‘I will bring you back to the place from which I exiled you.’
15 “You say, ‘The Lord has raised up prophets of good news#tn The words “of good news” are not in the text but are implicit from the context. They are supplied in the translation for clarity. for us here in Babylon.’ 16 But just listen to what the Lord has to say about#tn Heb “But thus says the Lord about.” The words “just listen to what” are supplied in the translation to help show the connection with the preceding.sn Jeremiah answers their claims that the Lord has raised up prophets to encourage them that their stay will be short by referring to the Lord’s promise that the Lord’s plans are not for restoration but for further destruction. the king who occupies David’s throne and all your fellow countrymen who are still living in this city of Jerusalem#tn The words “of Jerusalem” are not in the text but are supplied in the translation to identify the referent and avoid the possible confusion that “this city” refers to Babylon. and were not carried off into exile with you. 17 The Lord who rules over all#tn Heb “Yahweh of armies.” See the study note on 2:19 for explanation of this title. says, ‘I will bring war,#tn Heb “the sword.” starvation, and disease on them. I will treat them like figs that are so rotten#tn The meaning of this word is somewhat uncertain. It occurs only here in the Hebrew Bible. BDB 1045 s.v. שֹׁעָר relates it to the noun “horrible thing” (translated “something shocking”) in Jer 5:30; 23:14 and defines it as “horrid, disgusting.” HALOT 1495 s.v. שֹׁעָר relates it to the same noun and define it as “rotten; corrupt.” That nuance is accepted here.sn Compare Jer 24:8-10 in its context for the figure here. they cannot be eaten. 18 I will chase after them with war,#tn Heb “with the sword.” starvation, and disease. I will make all the kingdoms of the earth horrified at what happens to them. I will make them examples of those who are cursed, objects of horror, hissing scorn, and ridicule among all the nations where I exile them. 19 For they have not paid attention to what I said to them through my servants the prophets whom I sent to them over and over again,’#tn See the translator’s note on 7:13 for an explanation of this idiom. says the Lord.#tn Heb “Oracle of the Lord.” ‘And you exiles#tn The word “exiles” is not in the text. It is supplied in the translation to clarify the referent of “you.” have not paid any attention to them either,’ says the Lord.#tn Heb “Oracle of the Lord.” 20 ‘So pay attention to what I, the Lord, have said,#tn Heb “pay attention to the word of the Lord.” However, the Lord is speaking in the words just previous to this and in the words which follow (“whom I have sent”). This is another example of the shift from third person referent to first person which is common in Hebrew poetry and prophecy but is not common in English style. The person has been adjusted in the translation to avoid confusion. all you exiles whom I have sent to Babylon from Jerusalem.’
21 “The Lord God of Israel who rules over all#tn Heb “Yahweh of armies, the God of Israel.”sn See study notes on 2:19 and 7:3 for the explanation of this title. also has something to say about Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying lies to you and claiming my authority to do so.#tn Heb “prophesying lies in my name.” For an explanation of this idiom see the study notes on 14:14 and 23:27. ‘I will hand them over to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and he will execute them before your very eyes. 22 And all the exiles of Judah who are in Babylon will use them as examples when they put a curse on anyone. They will say, “May the Lord treat you like Zedekiah and Ahab whom the king of Babylon roasted to death in the fire!”#sn Being roasted to death in the fire appears to have been a common method of execution in Babylon. See Dan 3:6, 19-21. The famous law code of the Babylonian king Hammurabi also mandated this method of execution for various crimes a thousand years earlier. There is a satirical play on words involving their fate, “roasted them to death” (קָלָם, qalam), and the fact that that fate would become a common topic of curse (קְלָלָה, qÿlalah) pronounced on others in Babylon. 23 This will happen to them because they have done what is shameful#tn It is commonly assumed that this word is explained by the two verbal actions that follow. The word (נְבָלָה, nÿvalah) is rather commonly used of sins of unchastity (cf., e.g., Gen 34:7; Judg 19:23; 2 Sam 13:12) which would fit the reference to adultery. However, the word is singular and not likely to cover both actions that follow. The word is also used of the greedy act of Achan (Josh 7:15) which threatened Israel with destruction and the churlish behavior of Nabal (1 Sam 25:25) which threatened him and his household with destruction. The word is also used of foolish talk in Isa 9:17 (9:16 HT) and Isa 32:6. It is possible that this refers to a separate act, one that would have brought the death penalty from Nebuchadnezzar, i.e., the preaching of rebellion in conformity with the message of the false prophets in Jerusalem and other nations (cf. 27:9, 13). Hence it is possible that the translation should read: “This will happen because of their vile conduct. They have propagated rebellion. They have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives. They have spoken words that I did not command them to speak. They have spoken lies while claiming my authority.” in Israel. They have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives and have spoken lies while claiming my authority.#tn Heb “prophesying lies in my name.” For an explanation of this idiom see the study notes on 14:14 and 23:27. They have spoken words that I did not command them to speak. I know what they have done. I have been a witness to it,’ says the Lord.”#tn Heb “Oracle of the Lord.”
A Response to the Letter and a Subsequent Letter
24 The Lord told Jeremiah, “Tell#tn The words “The Lord told Jeremiah” are not in the text. They are supplied in the translation here to indicate the shift in topic and the shift in addressee (the imperative “tell” is second singular). The introduction supplied in the translation here matches that in v. 30 where the words are in the text. Shemaiah the Nehelamite#tn It is unclear whether this is a family name or a place name. The word occurs nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible. 25 that the Lord God of Israel who rules over all#tn Heb “Yahweh of armies, the God of Israel.”sn See study notes on 2:19 and 7:3 for the explanation of this title. has a message for him.#tn Heb “Tell Shemaiah the Nehelamite, ‘Thus says Yahweh of armies the God of Israel….” The indirect quotation is used in the translation to avoid the complexity of embedding a quotation within a quotation. Tell him,#sn Jer 29:24-32 are concerned with Jeremiah’s interaction with a false prophet named Shemaiah. The narrative in this section is not in strict chronological order and is somewhat elliptical. It begins with a report of a message that Jeremiah appears to have delivered directly to Shemaiah and refers to a letter that Shemaiah sent to the priest Zephaniah encouraging him to reprimand Jeremiah for what Shemaiah considered treasonous words in his letter to the exiles (vv. 24-28; compare v. 28 with v. 5). However, Jeremiah is in Jerusalem and Shemaiah is in Babylon. The address must then be part of a second letter Jeremiah sent to Babylon. Following this the narrative refers to Zephaniah reading Shemaiah’s letter to Jeremiah and Jeremiah sending a further letter to the captives in Babylon (vv. 29-32). This is probably not a third letter but part of the same letter in which Jeremiah reprimands Shemaiah for sending his letter to Zephaniah (vv. 25-28; the same letter referred to in v. 29). The order of events thus is: Jeremiah sent a letter to the captives counseling them to settle down in Babylon (vv. 1-23). Shemaiah sent a letter to Zephaniah asking him to reprimand Jeremiah (vv. 26-28). After Zephaniah read that letter to Jeremiah (v. 29), Jeremiah wrote a further letter to Babylon reprimanding him (vv. 25-28, 31) and pronouncing judgment on him (v. 32). The elliptical nature of the narrative is reflected in the fact that vv. 25-27 are part of a long causal sentence which sets forth an accusation but has no corresponding main clause or announcement of judgment. This kind of construction involves a rhetorical figure (called aposiopesis) where what is begun is not finished for various rhetorical reasons. Here the sentence that is broken off is part of an announcement of judgment which is not picked up until v. 32 after a further (though related) accusation (v. 31b). ‘On your own initiative#tn Heb “In your [own] name.” See the study note on 23:27 for the significance of this idiom. you sent a letter#tn Heb “letters.” Though GKC 397 §124.b, n. 1 denies it, this is probably a case of the plural of extension. For a similar usage see Isa 37:14 where the plural “letters” is referred to later as an “it.” Even if there were other “letters,” the focus is on the letter to Zephaniah. to the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah#sn According to Jer 52:24 and 2 Kgs 25:18 Zephaniah son of Maaseiah was second in command to the high priest. He was the high ranking priest who was sent along with a civic official to inquire of the Lord’s will from Jeremiah by Zedekiah on two separate occasions (Jer 21:1; 37:3). and to all the other priests and to all the people in Jerusalem.#map For location see Map5-B1; Map6-F3; Map7-E2; Map8-F2; Map10-B3; JP1-F4; JP2-F4; JP3-F4; JP4-F4. In your letter you said to Zephaniah,#tn The words “In your letter you said to Zephaniah” are not in the text: Heb “you sent a letter to…, saying.” The sentence has been broken up to conform better to contemporary English style and these words have been supplied in the translation to make the transition to the address to Zephaniah in vv. 26-28. 26 “The Lord has made you priest in place of Jehoiada.#tn Heb “in place of Jehoiada the priest.” The word “the priest” is unnecessary to the English sentence. He has put you in charge in the Lord’s temple of controlling#tc Heb “The Lord has appointed you priest in place of the priest Jehoiada to be overseer in the house of the Lord for/over.” The translation is based on a reading presupposed by several of the versions. The Hebrew text reads “The Lord has…to be overseers [in] the house of the Lord for/over.” The reading here follows that of the Greek, Syriac, and Latin versions in reading פָּקִיד בְּבֵית (paqid bÿvet) in place of פְּקִדִים בֵּית (pÿqidim bet). There has been a confusion of the ם (mem) and בּ (bet) and a transposition of the י (yod) and ד (dalet). any lunatic#sn The Hebrew term translated lunatic applies to anyone who exhibits irrational behavior. It was used for example of David who drooled and scratched on the city gate to convince Achish not to arrest him as a politically dangerous threat (1 Sam 21:14). It was often used contemptuously of the prophets by those who wanted to play down the significance of their words (2 Kgs 9:11; Hos 9:7 and here). who pretends to be a prophet.#tn The verb here is a good example of what IBHS 431 §26.2f calls the estimative-declarative reflexive where a person presents himself in a certain light. For examples of this usage see 2 Sam 13:5; Prov 13:7. And it is your duty to put any such person in the stocks#tn See the translator’s note on 20:2 for this word which only occurs here and in 20:2-3. with an iron collar around his neck.#tn This word only occurs here in the Hebrew Bible. All the lexicons are agreed as seeing it referring to a collar placed around the neck. The basis for this definition are the cognate languages (see, e.g., HALOT 958-59 s.v. צִינֹק for the most complete discussion). 27 You should have reprimanded Jeremiah from Anathoth who is pretending to be a prophet among you!#tn Heb “So why have you not reprimanded Jeremiah…?” The rhetorical question functions as an emphatic assertion made explicit in the translation. 28 For he has even sent a message to us here in Babylon. He wrote and told us,#tn Heb “For he has sent to us in Babylon, saying….” The quote, however, is part of the earlier letter. “You will be there a long time. Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what they produce.”’”#sn See v. 5.
29 Zephaniah the priest read that letter to the prophet Jeremiah.#tn Heb “in the ears of Jeremiah the prophet.” 30 Then the Lord spoke to Jeremiah. 31 “Send a message to all the exiles in Babylon. Tell them, ‘The Lord has spoken about Shemaiah the Nehelamite. “Shemaiah has spoken to you as a prophet even though I did not send him. He is making you trust in a lie.#tn Or “is giving you false assurances.” 32 Because he has done this,”#tn Heb “Therefore.” the Lord says, “I will punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite and his whole family. There will not be any of them left to experience the good things that I will do for my people. I, the Lord, affirm it! For he counseled rebellion against the Lord.”’”#sn Compare the same charge against Hananiah in Jer 28:16 and see the note there. In this case, the false prophesy of Shemaiah is not given but it likely had the same tenor since he wants Jeremiah reprimanded for saying that the exile will be long and the people are to settle down in Babylon.
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