Jeremiah 21 – Speaking to King Zedekiah
A. Message to Zedekiah: Coming judgment.
1. (1-2) The messenger from King Zedekiah.
The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD when King Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur the son of Melchiah, and Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah, the priest, saying, “Please inquire of the LORD for us, for Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon makes war against us. Perhaps the LORD will deal with us according to all His wonderful works, that the king may go away from us.”
a. The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD: The Book of Jeremiah is not arranged chronologically. There is a substantial jump from the end of Jeremiah 20 to the start of Jeremiah 21. Jeremiah 20 ended in the reign of Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah, who reigned for 11 years. Jeremiah 21 fast-forwards about 20 years, to the time when Babylonian armies are in Judah and Jerusalem is besieged.
i. “The episode, c. 588, transports us suddenly to the final siege of Jerusalem, some 20 years after the events of chapter 20.” (Kidner) In this period, Judah and Jerusalem did not fall in one decisive battle; it happened in stages.
·About 17 years before this, Nebuchadnezzar first came to Jerusalem in the reign of King Jehoiakim and subjugated the city and took captives from the best and the brightest of Judah, such as Daniel (about 605 BC).
·About 10 years before this, Nebuchadnezzar came again in the reign of King Jehoiachin and carried away the treasures of Jerusalem taking more captives (such as Ezekiel), and he deposed King Jehoiachin (about 598 BC). He then put Zedekiah on the throne as a puppet king.
·By the time of Jeremiah 21, King Zedekiah’s reign was almost over; Nebuchadnezzar returned a third time to destroy the city of Jerusalem and carry away the remaining people of Judah (about 586 BC).
ii. Zedekiah was the third son of King Josiah. His older brothers Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim (and his nephew Jehoiachin) reigned before him.
b. When King Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur the son of Melchiah: This was not the same Pashhur son of Immer who struck Jeremiah and put him in the stocks (Jeremiah 20:1-2) 20 years before.
c. Perhaps the LORD will deal with us according to all His wonderful works, that the king may go away from us: King Zedekiah sent Pashhur to ask Jeremiah for a favorable word from the Lord. It was as if they never heard what Jeremiah preached before.
i. “It was during the last extremity of the siege that Zedekiah sent this message to Jeremiah. His people and he had postponed their compliance with the warnings and invitations of God’s love until the last possible hour, and now they were more eager for immunity from the consequences of their sins than to repent and return to God.” (Meyer)
ii. According to all His wonderful works: King Zedekiah probably remembered the miracle of deliverance for Jerusalem in the days of Hezekiah, when the Assyrian armies, led by Sennacherib, surrounded the city (2 Kings 18-19). He hoped God might send a miracle again.
iii. According to all His wonderful works: “Jehovah will deal with men according to His wondrous works; but that, not in order to deliver rebellious souls from the just punishment of their iniquity, but rather to hand them over to that punishment in spite of all the cleverness of their policies.” (Morgan)
2. (3-6) The message to Zedekiah about Jerusalem’s coming conquest.
Then Jeremiah said to them, “Thus you shall say to Zedekiah, ‘Thus says the LORD God of Israel: “Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands, with which you fight against the king of Babylon and the Chaldeans who besiege you outside the walls; and I will assemble them in the midst of this city. I Myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm, even in anger and fury and great wrath. I will strike the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast; they shall die of a great pestilence.”
a. Thus you shall say to Zedekiah: We admire the boldness of Jeremiah, speaking so plainly and boldly to a king who had reigned ten years already.
i. “He answereth them modestly, and without insultation; but freely and boldly, as a man of a heroic spirit, and the messenger of the King of kings.” (Trapp)
b. Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands: The prophecy of Jeremiah was right to the point. God would not do a “wonderful work” (Jeremiah 21:2) to rescue them from the coming Babylonian invasion. Their effort at defense would be unsuccessful.
c. I will assemble them in the midst of this city: The Babylonians would not only besiege Jerusalem, they would breach the walls and be in the midst of the city.
d. I Myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm: Judah would not only have to fight against the Babylonians, they would also have to fight against Yahweh Himself. He would fight against them, even in anger and fury and great wrath.
e. I will strike the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast; they shall die of a great pestilence: War would not be the only cause of death in the devastation to come. Many would also die under disease and pestilence.
3. (7) The message to Zedekiah about his own terrible fate.
“And afterward,” says the LORD, “I will deliver Zedekiah king of Judah, his servants and the people, and such as are left in this city from the pestilence and the sword and the famine, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of those who seek their life; and he shall strike them with the edge of the sword. He shall not spare them, or have pity or mercy.”‘
a. Into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon: Those fortunate enough to survive the pestilence and the sword and the famine would not find deliverance. They would be taken as exiles out of Jerusalem and Judah and to the land of Babylon.
i. Soon after this prophecy, the Babylonians captured Zedekiah. Then they killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, put out the eyes of Zedekiah, bound him with bronze fetters, and took him to Babylon (2 Kings 25:7) He died there in misery and grief.
b. He shall not spare them, or have pity or mercy: They could expect no mercy from Nebuchadnezzar in the coming war and exile.
i. Strike them with the edge of the sword: “The idiom ‘put them to the sword’ means to slay ruthlessly, mercilessly, without quarter.” (Feinberg)
ii. The Puritan commentator John Trapp noticed this about Jeremiah 21:7: “This is noted by the Hebrew critics for a very long verse – as having in it two-and-forty words, which consists of one hundred and threescore letters – and it sounds very heavily all along.” (Trapp)
4. (8-10) The message to Jerusalem in light of the coming conquest.
“Now you shall say to this people, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. He who remains in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but he who goes out and defects to the Chaldeans who besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be as a prize to him. For I have set My face against this city for adversity and not for good,” says the LORD. “It shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.”’
a. Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death: Jeremiah spoke now to the people of Jerusalem, calling them to decision. Several times in Israel’s history God set this choice before them.
· See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. (Deuteronomy 30:15)
· And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. (Joshua 24:15)
· How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him. (1 Kings 18:21)
b. He who remains in this city shall die… but he who goes out and defects to the Chaldeans who besiege you, he shall live: Jeremiah told them that their only hope was in surrender. The leaders of Judah hoped to inspire the people to defend with courage and tenacity; Jeremiah told them that since God was against them, their only hope was surrender.
i. Jeremiah did not say this because he was pro-Babylonian, though he was accused of being a traitor. He said this because he was pro-Yahweh. “When Jeremiah counseled surrender he called the nation to accept God’s judgment, which was the first step toward future renewal.” (Thompson)
ii. This is a paradox of spiritual life with God, much more clearly expressed in the New Testament: we gain life by surrendering it. “This surely is the exact counterpoint of the words which our Lord is recorded as having spoken on four different occasions: ‘He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake, the same shall save it.’” (Meyer)
iii. If the battle was only against the Chaldeans, perhaps Jeremiah would urge the people on to courage and sacrifice, but that was not the case. God said, I have set My face against this city for adversity and not for good. With God opposing them, continuing the battle was foolish.
iv. This is an enduring spiritual principle: When we struggle against God, our only hope of success is in surrender.
B. God’s word to the House of David.
1. (11-12) A call to repent.
“And concerning the house of the king of Judah, say, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, O house of David! Thus says the LORD:
“Execute judgment in the morning;
And deliver him who is plundered
Out of the hand of the oppressor,
Lest My fury go forth like fire
And burn so that no one can quench it,
Because of the evil of your doings.”
a. O house of David: God established the house of David as an enduring royal line until it was fulfilled in the Messiah (2 Samuel 7:12-16). God had a special interest in this royal line, and here He spoke to them through Jeremiah.
i. Because this section (Jeremiah 21:11-14) holds some hope for restoration if there is repentance, some think that it is from a previous time – before the crisis point of Zedekiah’s reign. There was also a sense of confidence (Jeremiah 21:13) that likely did not exist once Nebuchadnezzar started to attack Jerusalem.
ii. “This message, directed to the royal house, relates to a time when there was still a possibility of escape through repentance and righteous living.” (Feinberg)
b. Execute judgment in the morning; and deliver him who is plundered: God called the house of David – the king and royal family of Judah – to faithfully do their job in leading the kingdom. One of the basic responsibilities God has appointed to civil government is the application and execution of justice (Romans 13:1-7). God commanded them to fulfill their responsibility – with the strong implication that they had not done so.
i. Execute judgment in the morning: “Probably the time for dispensing judgment was the morning, when the people were going to their work; but the words may mean, Do justice promptly, do not delay. Let justice be administered as soon as required.” (Clarke)
c. Lest My fury go forth like fire and burn so that no one can quench it: If they did not radically repent, judgment was certain – and would come like fire.
i. “Jeremiah still held out hope – fruitlessly, as events later proved – that swift reformation of public and private life in accordance with the covenant ideals would avert imminent disaster.” (Harrison)
2. (13-14) The devouring fire.
“Behold, I am against you, O inhabitant of the valley,
And rock of the plain,” says the LORD,
“Who say, ‘Who shall come down against us?
Or who shall enter our dwellings?’
But I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings,” says the LORD;
“I will kindle a fire in its forest,
And it shall devour all things around it.”’”
a. Who shall come down against us: God said He was against those who felt safe and secure despite the coming judgment. Though they felt safe and secure as a rock of the plain, judgment was coming.
i. O inhabitant of the valley: “The inhabitant of the valley was Jerusalem, which had valleys on three sides.” (Harrison)
ii. “The addressee here is undoubtedly Jerusalem, since the feminine gender is used.” (Feinberg)
b. But I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings: Despite their sense of safety, judgment like fire would come upon them – unless they radically repented.
i. A fire in its forest: “Some commentators have proposed that the reference is to the royal palace, which is called in 1 Kings 7:2 the ‘House of the Forest of Lebanon’ because of the considerable quantity of cedar used in its construction.” (Thompson)