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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
With the last verse of Jeremiah 20 ended the scroll of Jehoiakim: with the first verse of Jeremiah 21:1-14 begins a digest of various prophecies Jeremiah 21-24 addressed to Zedekiah in his ninth year, and called Zedekiah's scroll. The occasion of this prophecy was the embassy sent by Zedekiah to Jeremiah, asking his prayers when the Chaldaean army was advancing upon Jerusalem. So clearly did the prophet foresee the result that he could give the king no hope. His answer, contained in the scroll, divides itself into two parts, in the first Jeremiah 20-22, the prophet reviews the conduct of the royal house: in the second Jeremiah 23:9-40, that of the priests and prophets; closing with a vision Jeremiah 24:1-10 in which he shows the pitiable condition of Zedekiah and his people.
1The word which came unto Jeremiah from the LORD, when king Zedekiah sent unto him Pashur the son of Melchiah, and Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah the priest, saying,
By sending this embassy Zedekiah acknowledged that Jeremiah held the same position in the kingdom which Isaiah had held under Hezekiah 2 Kings 19:2. Pashur and Zephaniah belonged to the party who were for resisting Nebuchadnezzar by force of arms.
2Inquire, I pray thee, of the LORD for us; for Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon maketh war against us; if so be that the LORD will deal with us according to all his wondrous works, that he may go up from us.
Nebuchadrezzar - A more correct way of spelling the name than Nebuchadnezzar.
According to all his wondrous works - The king and his envoys expected some such answer as Isaiah had given on a former occasion Isaiah 37:6.
3Then said Jeremiah unto them, Thus shall ye say to Zedekiah:
4Thus saith the LORD God of Israel; Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands, wherewith ye fight against the king of Babylon, and against the Chaldeans, which besiege you without the walls, and I will assemble them into the midst of this city.
Without the walls - These words are to be joined to wherewith ye fight.
5And I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm, even in anger, and in fury, and in great wrath.
6And I will smite the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast: they shall die of a great pestilence.
A great pestilence - As the result of the excessive crowding of men and animals in a confined space with all sanitary regulations utterly neglected.
7And afterward, saith the LORD, I will deliver Zedekiah king of Judah, and his servants, and the people, and such as are left in this city from the pestilence, from the sword, and from the famine, into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, and into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of those that seek their life: and he shall smite them with the edge of the sword; he shall not spare them, neither have pity, nor have mercy.
8And unto this people thou shalt say, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I set before you the way of life, and the way of death.
Compare the marginal reference; but here the alternative is a life saved by desertion to the enemy, or a death by famine, pestilence, and the sword within the walls.
9He that abideth in this city shall die by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence: but he that goeth out, and falleth to the Chaldeans that besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be unto him for a prey.
He that ... falleth to the Chaldeans - This was to counsel desertion, and would have been treason in an ordinary man: but the prophets Spoke with an authority above that even of the king, and constantly interfered in political matters with summary decisiveness. Compare Matthew 24:16-18.
A prey - Something not a man's own, upon which he seizes in the midst of danger, and hurries away with it. So must the Jews hurry away with their lives as something more than they had a right to, and place them in the Chaldaean camp as in a place of safety.
10For I have set my face against this city for evil, and not for good, saith the LORD: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.
11And touching the house of the king of Judah, say, Hear ye the word of the LORD;
Rather, And as to the royal house of Judah, Hear ye. Omit say. The words are no command to the prophet, but form his introduction to the discourse which extends to the end of Jeremiah 23:8. The king and his officers are to hear the gist of all the messages sent to the royal house since the accession of Jehoiakim.
12O house of David, thus saith the LORD; Execute judgment in the morning, and deliver him that is spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor, lest my fury go out like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.
Execute judgment - As the administration of justice was performed in old time in person, the weal of the people depended to a great degree upon the personal qualities of the king (see 2 Samuel 15:4). And as "the oppressor" was generally some powerful noble, it was especially the king's duty to see that the weaker members of the community were not wronged.
13Behold, I am against thee, O inhabitant of the valley, and rock of the plain, saith the LORD; which say, Who shall come down against us? or who shall enter into our habitations?
Inhabitant - is feminine, the population of Jerusalem being always personified as a woman, the daughter of Zion. Omit and. Jerusalem is at once a valley and a rock Jeremiah 17:3. The people are described as priding themselves on the impregnability of their city.
14But I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings, saith the LORD: and I will kindle a fire in the forest thereof, and it shall devour all things round about it.
The forest - This suggested to the Jew the idea of everything grand and stately.