PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS
(The parentheses represent poetic literary units)
|Message to the Exiles||Jeremiah's Letter to the Captives||Jeremiah's Letters to Babylon||Jeremiah's Letter to the Jews in Babylonia||The Letter to the Exiles|
|The Letter of Shemaiah||Prophecy Against Shemaiah|
READING CYCLE THREE (see introductory section)
FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL
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
A. This is a rare example of personal correspondence during the period of the fall of the kingdom of Judah. This represents letters between the Jewish exiles in Babylon and the Jews in Jerusalem. There were two previous deportations by Nebuchadnezzar (605 and 597 b.c.) before the city was completely destroyed in 586 b.c.
B. There is some conjecture as to how many letters are combined in this chapter. The theories are:
1. there is only one letter
2. there are two letters: 29:1-14 and 29:15-32
3. there are three letters: 29:1-15; 29:21-23; 29:31-32
4. there are four letters: 29:1-14; 29:15-20; 29:21-23; 29:31-32
It seems to me that there are probably four pieces of correspondence either being alluded to or comprising this chapter.
C. Some see the date of this chapter as around 594 b.c. for the following reasons.
1. We know from secular literature (i.e., Babylonian Chronicles) that there were internal problems within the Babylonian Empire.
2. Some prophets among the Jewish exiles seem to have been killed because they advocated rebellion, 29:21-22.
3. This is the year that Zedekiah was required to show loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar and this may be reflected in the coming of the officials to Babylon, 29:3.
D. King Jeconiah, mentioned in v. 2, is really King Jehoiachin. His father, King Jehoiakim, had paid tribute to Nebuchadnezzar for three years and then had rebelled. Before Nebuchadnezzar could come militarily, Jehoiakim died. His son replaced him and apparently ruled with the help of his queen-mother. Nebuchadnezzar arrived and exiled him to captivity after he had reigned only three months. He was replaced by another relative (uncle) of Josiah, Zedekiah.
E. This chapter clearly presents YHWH's sovereignty in the actions of history. Notice the string of "I have. . ." or "I will . .." statements.
1. I have sent into exile, vv. 4,14,18,20
2. I have not sent them (i.e., the false prophets in Babylon), v. 9
3. I will visit you (i.e., in Babylon), v. 10
4. I will fulfill My good word (i.e., to bring you back to Palestine), v. 10
5. I have plans for you (two emphatic "I's"), v. 11
6. I will listen to you (see note at vv. 11-14), v. 12
7. I will restore your fortunes, v. 14
8. I will gather you from all the nations. . .where I have driven you, v. 14
9. I will send upon them the sword, famine, and pestilence (i.e., the Jews still in Judah), v. 17
10. I will make them like rotten fruit (i.e., the Jews still in Judah), v. 17
11. I will pursue them with the sword, v. 18
12. I sent to them again and again My servants (i.e., the prophets), v. 19
13. I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar (i.e., false prophets killed in Babylon), v. 21
14. I did not command them (i.e., the false prophets to speak), v. 23
15. I am He who knows and am a witness, v. 23
16. I am about to punish Shemaiah (i.e., false prophet), v. 32
17. I am about to do (good) to My people (i.e., the Jews in Babylon), v. 32
YHWH, unlike the lifeless idols, is active in the lives of His people for His larger redemptive purposes!
WORD AND PHRASE STUDY
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 29:1-9
1Now these are the words of the letter which Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the rest of the elders of the exile, the priests, the prophets and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2(This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the court officials, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem.) 3The letter was sent 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, 4"Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, 5'Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. 6Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. 7Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.' 8For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, 'Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream. 9For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,' declares the Lord.
29:1 "to the rest of the elders of the exile" The term "rest" (BDB 451 #1,2) can mean "remnant" or "residue," but also "preeminence" (#3, cf. Gen. 49:3). Some believe that many of the elders or leaders of the Jewish community had already been killed by Nebuchadnezzar because of their treasonous activity, along with prophets (cf. vv. 21-23).
29:2 The NASB and NKJV show v. 2 as a parenthesis, probably related in II Kgs. 24:12-16. The JPSOA has a dash separating v. 1 from v. 4. This may be an editorial addition to specify the exact historical setting.
The group of exiled leadership would match the exile of 596 b.c. (cf. II Kgs. 24:10-17).
1. King Jeconiah (i.e., Jehoiachin)
2. the queen mother (i.e., Nehushta, cf. II Kgs. 24:8)
3. court officials
4. children of Jeconiah (possibly 605 b.c., cf. Dan. 1:3)
5. children of powerful families in Jerusalem (possibly 605 b.c., cf. Dan. 1:3)
6. craftsmen (possibly taken in 605 b.c.)
7. smiths (possibly taken in 605 b.c.)
▣ "the court officials" This literally is "eunuchs." It is an Akkadian word which means "the one at the head." Usually this refers to those who had been castrated and put into public service. But, since Potiphar (Gen. 39:1) was married and has this same title, this term may have come to mean simply "a government official."
▣ "the craftsmen and the smiths" It is obvious that the first term means "craftsmen" or "artisan," but the second term in Hebrew is very uncertain (see note at 24:1). There is no unanimity about its meaning or origin. We know that this exile occurred in 597 b.c. (II Kgs. 2:14) and is alluded to in Jer. 52:28. The number of the exiles is somewhat different in these two passages and scholars are not exactly sure why.
29:3 "Elasah the son of Shaphan" This is probably Ahikam's brother of 26:24 who helped Jeremiah during the reaction to his temple sermon. The father mentioned here was probably the scribe of Josiah (cf. II Kgs. 22:8).
▣ "Gemariah the son of Hilkiah" Although we know nothing about this man, his father may have been the high priest who is referred to in II Kings 24, but this is only conjecture.
▣ "whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon" The purpose for this may have been (1) to pay tribute or (2) to assure Nebuchadnezzar of Zedekiah's loyalty. These two men are supportive of Jeremiah and willingly, enthusiastically brought his letter to the exiles.
This verb "send" (BDB 1018, KB 1511) is used an unusual number of times in this chapter.
1. letter sent, v. 1
2. people sent, v. 3
3. prophets YHWH did not send, vv. 9,25,31
4. YHWH sends the sword, famine, and pestilence, v. 17
5. YHWH's word sent by His prophets, vv. 19 (twice), 28,31
It is a common verb but its repetition shows the problem-who speaks for God?
29:4 "whom I have sent into exile" Again, throughout the account of this period God claims to be in control of history (i.e., Isa. 10:5). The exile is His judgment on Judah in order to bring His people back to personal faith in Him (cf. v. 7).
29:5-8 "build houses. . .plant gardens. . .take wives" Jeremiah's advice is to settle down and make life as normal as possible. Apparently the Jews were living in makeshift houses and some were even refusing to unpack. Jeremiah advises them to settle down for a long wait. This very message is referred to in the letter by Shemaiah, a false prophet mentioned in v. 28. It must have seemed like treason to the Jewish leaders.
Notice the commands in Jeremiah's letter (i.e., vv. 5-8; also note v. 28).
1. build houses - BDB 124, KB 139, Qal imperative
2. live in them - BDB 442, KB 444, Qal imperative
3. plant gardens - BDB 642, KB 694, Qal imperative
4. eat their produce - BDB 37, KB 46, Qal imperative
5. take wives - BDB 542, KB 534, Qal imperative
6. beget (i.e., have children) - BDB 408, KB 441, Hiphil imperative
7. take wives for your sons - same as #5
8. give your daughters - BDB 678, KB 733, Qal imperative
9. that they may bear - BDB 408, KB 441, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense
10. multiply there - BDB 915, KB 1176, Qal imperative
11. do not decrease - BDB 589, KB 611, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense
12. seek the welfare of the city - BDB 205, KB 233, Qal imperative
13. pray to the Lord on its behalf - BDB 813, KB 933, Hithpael imperative
14. do not let your prophets. . .deceive you - BDB 674, KB 728, Hiphil imperfect used in a jussive sense
15. do not listen to the dreams - BDB 1033, KB 150, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense
The whole point is, resume a normal as possible life. You will not be back in Judah until the 70 year prophecy (cf. v. 10) is fulfilled.
29:7 "seek the welfare of the city. . .and pray to the Lord on its behalf" This is the only example in the OT of praying for one's enemies, particularly a Gentile city(s) of exile. Some have said that this is the beginning of the belief that prayers can substitute for sacrifice or that this refers to prayer at the local synagogue, which would be the beginning of this institution during the exilic period. Or, this may form the basis of the rabbinical admonition, followed by the NT, of praying for civil government (cf. Matt. 22:21; Rom. 13:1).
29:8 "let your prophets. . .your diviners. . .the dreams which they dream" This is referring to false prophets among the exiles. Most of the letters recorded in this chapter are either about false prophets or are from false prophets. The list of what the prophets were doing is condemned in Lev. 19:26,31; 20:6; Deut. 18:9-13 (cf. Jer. 27:9-10). It is important to note the biblical material on how to test a true prophet (cf. Deut. 13:1-5; 18:14-22; Matt. 7:15-27; I John 4:1-3).
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 29:10-14
10"For thus says the Lord, 'When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. 11For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. 12Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 14I will be found by you,' declares the Lord, 'and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,' declares the Lord, 'and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.'"
29:10 "When seventy years have been completed for Babylon" This same round number is mentioned in Jer. 25:11,12. Some see the time span
1. from the fall of Nineveh, the capital of Syria in 612 b.c. to the fall of the capital of Babylon in 539 b.c.
2. from the destruction of the first temple in 586 b.c. to the construction of the second temple in 516 b.c.
3. from Nebuchadnezzar becoming king in 605 b.c. to the fall of Babylon in 539 b.c.
The truth of the matter is that there is no literal seventy year period about which scholars are unanimous. This seems to be a round number which refers to several generations or the normal life span of one individual. See Special Topic: Symbolic Numbers in Scripture at 15:9.
▣ "I will visit you" This visit may be the vision of Ezekiel 1 and 10. YHWH leaves the temple because of its idolatry (Ezekiel 8) and comes to the exiles.
▣ "fulfill My good" This is described later in v. 10 as restoration to the land of promise (cf. 24:6-7).
29:11-14 This beautiful passage is an affirmation that the covenant has not been totally revoked. God would fulfill His Deuteronomic agreement with His people after this period of judgment (cf. Deuteronomy 27-28,30; Leviticus 26). The emphasis here is that His people must return to Him. Only a spiritually renewed remnant will return and be blessed.
Notice the conditions of blessing.
1. you call upon Me - BDB 894, KB 1128, Qal perfect
2. come to Me - BDB 229, KB 246, Qal perfect, cf. 33:3; Isa. 55:6
3. pray to Me - BDB 813, KB 933, Hithpael perfect
4. seek me - BDB 134, KB 152, Piel perfect, cf. Deut. 4:29
5. search for Me with all your heart - BDB 205, KB 233, Qal imperfect, cf. Deut. 4:29; Jer. 24:7
All of these denote a worship experience that has become a lifestyle relationship.
Notice how YHWH responds (possible allusion to Deut. 30:3-5).
1. I will listen to you, v. 12 - BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal perfect, cf. 33:3; Deut. 4:30
2. you will find Me, v. 13 - BDB 592, KB 619, Qal perfect, cf. Deut. 4:29
3. I will be found by you, v. 14 - BDB 592, KB 619, Niphal perfect
4. I will restore your fortunes - BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal perfect(term often used of repenting)
5. I will gather you from all the nations - BDB 867, KB 1062, Piel perfect, cf. 23:3; 31:8
6. I will bring you back (i.e., to Palestine) - BDB 996, KB 1427 (see #4), Hiphil perfect
29:11 The pronoun "I" (יכנא, BDB 59) is repeated twice for emphasis. YHWH will bring about His plans and purposes for His people (see Special Topic at 1:5).
YHWH's plan of restoration is clarified
1. for welfare (BDB 1022, see Special Topic at 6:14)
2. not for calamity (BDB 449, such a common word in Jeremiah)
3. give you a future
a. a people's existence, cf. Num. 24:20
b. posterity, cf. Pro. 23:18; esp. 24:14
4. give you a hope, cf. Pro. 23:18; 24:14; Ezek. 37:11
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 29:15-20
15"Because you have said, 'The Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon'- 16for thus says the Lord concerning the king who sits on the throne of David, and concerning all the people who dwell in this city, your brothers who did not go with you into exile-17thus says the Lord of hosts, 'Behold, I am sending upon them the sword, famine and pestilence, and I will make them like split-open figs that cannot be eaten due to rottenness. 18I will pursue them with the sword, with famine and with pestilence; and I will make them a terror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse and a horror and a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them, 19because they have not listened to My words,' declares the Lord, 'which I sent to them again and again by My servants the prophets; but you did not listen,' declares the Lord. 20You, therefore, hear the word of the Lord, all you exiles, whom I have sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon.
29:15-23 These verses seem to involve a second letter. It is interesting that vv. 16-20 are not found in the LXX, which is the Greek translation of the OT (but are in all Hebrew MSS). This section seems to break the sequences between vv. 15 and 21. Possibly these ancient Jewish translators saw this section simply as a repeat of 24:8-10. There are many repetitious passages in Jeremiah because it is obviously an book edited around themes, not chronological sequence (an anthology).
29:17 "the sword, famine, and pestilence" This is the threefold horror of ancient warfare (see note at 14:12). It is extremely significant that God's favor rest swith the Jews in exile and not the Jews remaining in Jerusalem. At this time apparently the Jews in Jerusalem were claiming spiritual superiority because they had been spared captivity, but in reality the opposite was true.
This adjective (BDB 1045) has several meanings (KB 1613-1615). The NASB gets its translation from KB 1614 II, Syrian "to split" or Arabic "to break open." This adjective is found only here in the OT.
The same three consonants are found in the word for "horrible thing" (BDB 1045) in 5:30; 18:13; 23:14, but it is uncertain if it is related etymologically.
As with so many of these rare words, the context is clear even if the word is not. Meaning is not affected!
29:18 See notes at 24:9.
29:19 Here is the recurrent problem. Humans, even covenant humans, do not listen and obey YHWH's words/message/covenant (cf. 6:19)! Obedience is a marker of devotion (cf. Luke 6:46).
Notice that the same series of words beginning with ש is found in 25:4 (BDB 1018, 1014, 1033).
Also see the note at 7:13 for the Hebrew idiom "again and again."
29:20 "hear the word of the Lord" This verb (BDB 1033, KB 1570) can be translated (examples from NIV):
1. hear - 2:4; 5:21; 6:19; 7:2; 10:1; 13:15; 17:20; 19:3; 21:11; 22:2; 31:30; 42:15; 44:24,26; 49:20; 50:45
2. obey - 7:23; 11:4,7; 35:13; 38:20
3. listen - 11:2,6
4. proclaim - 4:5,16; 5:20; 46:14 (twice); 50:2
5. summon - 50:29; 51:27
This is the crucial covenant issue!
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 29:21-23
21"Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab the son of Kolaiah and concerning Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying to you falsely in My name, 'Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he will slay them before your eyes. 22Because of them a curse will be used by all the exiles from Judah who are in Babylon, saying, "May the Lord make you like Zedekiah and like Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire, 23because they have acted foolishly in Israel, and have committed adultery with their neighbors' wives and have spoken words in My name falsely, which I did not command them; and I am He who knows and am a witness," declares the Lord.'"
29:21 "Lord of hosts" See Special Topic at 15:15-18.
▣ "Ahab. . .Zedekiah" These were false prophets who were in Babylon and who apparently would be publicly executed by Nebuchadnezzar. We learn from Ezekiel 13 that there were other false prophets in exile also. This entire literary unit, chapters 26-29, seems to be related by the theme of false prophets.
The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 556 and the NASB Study Bible, p. 1103, make the interesting comment that there is a purposeful word play between
1. Kolaiah - BDB 877, קוליה
2. curse - BDB 887, קללה
3. roast - BDB 885 I, קלה
29:22 "May the Lord make you like" This verse reflects an ancient proverb and curse formula.
▣ "roasted in fire" We have learned from the Code of Hammurabi that this was a common public means of execution (cf. Section 25:110,157). These prophets betrayed themselves by their lifestyle (cf. v. 23; 7:15-23; Matt. 7:15-27).
This noun (BDB 615, KB 663) obviously has a wide semantic field, but it denotes some kind of evil thought or act. It denotes someone who acts inappropriately either mentally or morally (cf. Gen. 34:7; Deut. 22:21; Josh. 7:15; Jdgs. 19:23-24; 20:6,10; I Sam. 25:25; II Sam. 13:12; Job 42:8; Isa. 9:17; 32:6). In this context of Jer. 29:23 (only use in Jeremiah) it describes the actions of two false prophets.
1. adultery (cf. 23:14)
2. spoken falsely in YHWH's name (cf. 2:8; 23:13)
▣ "in Israel" This does not speak so much of geographical Israel as genealogical Israel. For the name "Israel" see Special Topic at 2:3.
▣ "I am He who knows, and am a witness" This is the affirmation that God judges the heart as well as the deeds (cf. Jer. 7:11; 16:17; 17:10; 32:19; Pro. 5:21; I Cor. 4:5; Heb. 4:13). This should be a warning to all those who claim to speak for God!
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 29:24-28
24To Shemaiah the Nehelamite you shall speak, saying, 25"Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, 'Because you have sent letters in your own name to all the people who are in Jerusalem, and to Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah, the priest, and to all the priests, saying, 26"The Lord has made you priest instead of Jehoiada the priest, to be the overseer in the house of the Lord over every madman who prophesies, to put him in the stocks and in the iron collar, 27now then, why have you not rebuked Jeremiah of Anathoth who prophesies to you? 28For he has sent to us in Babylon, saying, 'The exile will be long; build houses and live in them and plant gardens and eat their produce.'"'"
29:24 "Shemaiah" This is a reference to another false prophet in exile who apparently wrote letters to the priestly leaders in Jerusalem encouraging them to judge and punish Jeremiah for his treasonous statements (cf. v. 27).
▣ "the Nehelamite" This refers either to the name of a city whose site is unknown or it is a form of the root "to dream" (Niphal participle), which may refer to his being a prophet.
29:25 "Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah, the priest" This man is referred to in Jer. 1:1; 37:3).
29:26 "Jehoiada" This is possibly the person left in charge of the temple police (cf. II Kings 11).
▣ "every madman" The term "madman," alluding to Jeremiah, BDB 993, was originally used of animal sounds (i.e., pigeon, camel), but came to denote humans in a deranged sense of howling or anger. It is true that the prophets of the older sections of the OT had these kinds of actions (i.e., I Sam. 10:9-13). It was used of prophets in
1. II Kgs. 9:11
2. Hosea 9:7
It was a slur to discredit the actions and words of a speaker for YHWH, here Jeremiah (i.e., in stocks in 20:2). It disregarded the message because of the way in which it was delivered. Even though part of Jeremiah's prophecy had come true, the vast majority of the leaders of Judah still thought that Jeremiah was a treasonous, insane person.
29:28 This is a reference to Jeremiah's message recorded in vv. 5-6
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 29:29-32
29Zephaniah the priest read this letter to Jeremiah the prophet. 30Then came the word of the Lord to Jeremiah, saying, 31"Send to all the exiles, saying, 'Thus says the Lord concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite, "Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, although I did not send him, and he has made you trust in a lie," 32therefore thus says the Lord, "Behold, I am about to punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite and his descendants; he will not have anyone living among this people, and he will not see the good that I am about to do to My people," declares the Lord, "because he has preached rebellion against the Lord"'"
29:31 "he has made you trust in a lie" This same phrase is used in 28:15. It is referring to the messages of peace and rapid restoration coming from the false prophets in both the Jewish community in Babylon and the Judean capital of Jerusalem. Ezekiel well describes these false prophets in Ezek. 13:2-3, 22; 22:28.
The concept of "lie" (BDB 1044) can denote
1. idols (cf. 10:14; 13:25; 51:17)
2. false messages (cf. 14:14; 18:8; 20:6; 23:5,6; 27:10,14,16; 28:15; 29:9)
3. false testimony (cf. 5:2; 37:14)
4. unbelief (cf. I John)
5. rejecting YHWH's message/messenger (cf. 28:16)
29:32 "he shall not have anyone living among this people" Jeremiah pronounces judgment on this false prophet in the total eradication of all of his relatives and descendants. To a Jew this was a horrifying prospect.
▣ "because he has preached rebellion against the Lord" Notice that the rejection of God's prophet is the rejection of God.
This is a study guide commentary, whichmeans 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.
These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.
1. How many letters seems to be involved or mentioned in this chapter?
2. Explain the historical background of chapter 29.
3. Why were Jeremiah's words believed to be treasonous?
4. What are the implications of v. 7?
5. Is seventy years meant to be a symbolic or literal figure?
6. How do you know a false prophet?
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