A. The yoke of the king of Babylon.
1. (1-3) The command to make bonds and yokes.
In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, “Thus says the LORD to me: ‘Make for yourselves bonds and yokes, and put them on your neck, and send them to the king of Edom, the king of Moab, the king of the Ammonites, the king of Tyre, and the king of Sidon, by the hand of the messengers who come to Jerusalem to Zedekiah king of Judah.
a. In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim: The reference to Jehoiakim is a problem, because it isn’t in many manuscripts and doesn’t match with the rest of the chapter, which seems clearly to speak to the time of Zedekiah, not Jehoiakim. This is a likely scribal error.
i. “The first verse is omitted by LXX. Some Hebrew MSS and the Peshitta substituted Zedekiah for Jehoiakim, which is obviously correct chronologically (cf. Jeremiah 28:1). The mistake probably arose from a miscopying of 26:1.” (Harrison)
ii. “There can be no doubt that the marginal reading of 27:1 must be adopted, and the word ‘Zedekiah’ substituted for ‘Jehoiakim.’” (Morgan)
b. Make for yourselves bonds and yokes: God wanted Jeremiah to use visual aids in his prophetic work. He was to make bonds – leather straps used to secure yokes. A yoke was wood that went under and above the neck of a large animal so the beast could pull a plow.
i. “He made use here of the ox yoke, a wooden bar or bars tied by leather thongs to the animal’s neck.” (Thompson)
ii. “It is clear that Jeremiah actually wore the yoke in public, because Hananiah broke it (Jeremiah 28:10-11).” (Feinbeg)
iii. The yoke said, “I’m the boss. You work for me. I regard you as a beast of burden.”
c. Send them to the king of Edom, the king of Moab: Most commentators believe that God told Jeremiah to speak to a gathering of messengers from the kings of the surrounding kingdoms (Edom, Moab, the Ammonites, Tyre, and Sidon). They came to meet with King Zedekiah of Judah to plot a revolt against Nebuchadnezzar’s rule over them. Jeremiah probably spoke before them wearing the bonds and yokes, giving them a vivid message to take back to their kings.
i. Thompson explains that because of attacks from Elam and a revolt in Syria, “They were troubled times for Nebuchadnezzar, and small states in the west thought they saw an opportunity to revolt and throw off the yoke of Babylon.” (Thompson)
ii. “It is clear that the envoys of the nations had assembled in Jerusalem to hatch a scheme for rebellion against Babylon. In Jeremiah 51:59 we discover that Zedekiah was summoned to Babylon in this same year, probably to give an account of his part in this plot which came to nothing.” (Cundall)
iii. “Jeremiah required great courage to stand against these envoys as well as his own countrymen, but Jeremiah was exercising his commission as a prophet to the nations (cf. Jeremiah 1:10).” (Feinberg)
iv. “One LXX MS omits the enclitic mem (‘them’), implying that only one yoke, work by Jeremiah, was actually made, and that news of this was to be sent to those nations plotting revolt. Most probably this is what actually happened.” (Harrison)
2. (4-8) The message associated with the bonds and yokes.
And command them to say to their masters, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel—thus you shall say to your masters: ‘I have made the earth, the man and the beast that are on the ground, by My great power and by My outstretched arm, and have given it to whom it seemed proper to Me. And now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant; and the beasts of the field I have also given him to serve him. So all nations shall serve him and his son and his son’s son, until the time of his land comes; and then many nations and great kings shall make him serve them. And it shall be, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and which will not put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation I will punish,’ says the LORD, ‘with the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand.
a. I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar: The messengers were to bring this word from Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel, back to their masters. God wanted them to know that rebellion against Babylon was senseless, because Nebuchadnezzar would remain in power over them, and he would do it because God gave it to him.
i. My servant: “It is a most condescending way to speak about the most powerful man on the face of the earth: ‘my servant Nebuchadnezzar’ (cf. Jeremiah 25:9; 43:10). It is the kind of language an ancient king would use to describe one of his vassals.” (Ryken)
ii. Shall serve him and his son and his son’s son: “And all nations shall serve him, (Nebuchadnezzar,) and his son, (Evil-Merodach, Jer. 52:31,) and his son’s son, (Belshazzar, Dan. 5:11.) All which was literally fulfilled.” (Clarke)
b. The nation and kingdom which will not serve Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon… that nation I will punish: Through Jeremiah and his messengers, God warned the kings of the region that they should submit to the domination of the King of Babylon. If they did not, God Himself would punish them with the sword, the famine, and the pestilence through the hand of Nebuchadnezzar.
3. (9-11) Do not believe the lying prophets.
Therefore do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your soothsayers, or your sorcerers, who speak to you, saying, “You shall not serve the king of Babylon.” For they prophesy a lie to you, to remove you far from your land; and I will drive you out, and you will perish. But the nations that bring their necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will let them remain in their own land,’ says the LORD, ‘and they shall till it and dwell in it.’
a. Do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your soothsayers, or your sorcerers: Just like the kings of Judah, the kings of the surrounding nations had prophets and such who told them that Babylon would be turned back and would not conquer them. God warned the kings, do not listen to them, for they prophesy a lie to you.
i. Diviners: “To presage or prognosticate. Persons who guessed at futurity by certain signs in the animate or inanimate creation.” (Clarke)
ii. Dreamers: “Dream-interpreters, who, from these broken shreds patch up a meaning by their own interpolations.” (Clarke)
iii. Soothsayers: “Cloud-mongers. Diviners by the flight, colour, density, rarity, and shape of clouds.” (Clarke)
iv. Sorcerers: “The discoverers, the finders out of hidden things, stolen goods, etc. Persons also who use incantations, and either by spells or drugs pretend to find out mysteries, or produce supernatural effects.” (Clarke)
v. “In a time of national crisis, religious fakers always flourish because many people want to hear only comforting messages, which may often be untrue.” (Feinberg)
b. The nations that bring their necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will let them remain in their own land: God promised that if they did respond to the message of the bonds and the yokes, God would allow them to escape the forced exile that the Babylonians often imposed.
i. It is often best for us to submit to a difficult yoke imposed upon us. “Learn from these striking words that your best attitude is one of humble and reverent submission. Put your neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon…Accept the deserved chastisement, remembering that ‘whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth’ Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God.” (Meyer)
ii. One aspect of the good news of the New Covenant is that we have a different yoke, a better one: Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
4. (12-15) The message to King Zedekiah.
I also spoke to Zedekiah king of Judah according to all these words, saying, “Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live! Why will you die, you and your people, by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence, as the LORD has spoken against the nation that will not serve the king of Babylon? Therefore do not listen to the words of the prophets who speak to you, saying, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon,’ for they prophesy a lie to you; for I have not sent them,” says the LORD, “yet they prophesy a lie in My name, that I may drive you out, and that you may perish, you and the prophets who prophesy to you.”
a. Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live: God wanted the kings of the surrounding nations to know that this was the same message that He brought to the king of Judah. They should serve the king of Babylon in order to avoid an even worse fate.
b. Yet they prophesy a lie in My name, that I may drive you out, and that you may perish, you and the prophets who prophesy to you: God did not send these false prophets, yet He also did not stop them. He allowed them so that the people and rulers of Judah would have a genuine choice between the false and the true. If they chose the false, God would use it to drive them out of the land and to perish – both the people and the prophets.
B. About the temple vessels.
1. (16-17) What the lying prophets said about the temple vessels.
Also I spoke to the priests and to all this people, saying, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Do not listen to the words of your prophets who prophesy to you, saying, “Behold, the vessels of the LORD’s house will now shortly be brought back from Babylon”; for they prophesy a lie to you. Do not listen to them; serve the king of Babylon, and live! Why should this city be laid waste?
a. Behold, the vessels of the LORD’s house will now shortly be brought back from Babylon: This was the falsely optimistic message of the lying prophets of Jeremiah’s time. They said that the temple vessels that Nebuchadnezzar carried away in earlier invasions would soon be brought back to the temple.
i. Nebuchadnezzar also carried off some of the articles from the house of the LORD to Babylon, and put them in his temple at Babylon. (2 Chronicles 26:7)
ii. “Normally a conqueror would take the idols of the countries he defeated and place them in the sanctuary of his own god, but as Judah’s faith was imageless the Temple vessels had been taken in lieu.” (Cundall)
b. Do not listen to them; serve the king of Babylon, and live: Their optimism was a lie, even if it came as prophecy. Instead of hoping for deliverance from the Babylonians, they would do much better if they simply surrendered to the judgment of God that they brought. Failing to do this would only bring worse judgment on Jerusalem (why should this city be laid waste).
2. (18) The test of the prophets regarding the temple vessels.
But if they are prophets, and if the word of the LORD is with them, let them now make intercession to the LORD of hosts, that the vessels which are left in the house of the LORD, in the house of the king of Judah, and at Jerusalem, do not go to Babylon.’
a. But if they are prophets, and if the word of the LORD is with them: Those who claimed to be prophets could and should be tested. What they said should not be blindly accepted.
b. Let them now make intercession: God proposed a simple test for the lying prophets. They should pray asking that the remaining vessels stay in Jerusalem and do not go to Babylon. This was the same kind of test Elijah brought to the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18.
i. The vessels which are left in the house of the LORD: “Some had been left behind in 597 BC and no doubt others had been made to replace important items used in the regular worship of the temple.” (Thompson)
3. (19-22) The fate of the temple vessels.
“For thus says the LORD of hosts concerning the pillars, concerning the Sea, concerning the carts, and concerning the remainder of the vessels that remain in this city, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon did not take, when he carried away captive Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, from Jerusalem to Babylon, and all the nobles of Judah and Jerusalem— yes, thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning the vessels that remain in the house of the LORD, and in the house of the king of Judah and of Jerusalem: ‘They shall be carried to Babylon, and there they shall be until the day that I visit them,’ says the LORD. ‘Then I will bring them up and restore them to this place.’”
a. Concerning the pillars, concerning the Sea, concerning the carts, and concerning the remainder of the vessels that remain in this city: These were among the valuables associated with the temple that Nebuchadnezzar had not yet taken. At the time of Jeremiah’s prophecy, they still remained in or at the temple.
i. “According to Jeremiah 52:17 the bronze pillars were damaged and taken to Babylon in 587 BC.” (Harrison)
ii. There is no mention made of the ark of the covenant. Some think that it had already been carried away by Nebuchadnezzar in one of his early invasions of Jerusalem, with other temple treasures (2 Chronicles 26:7). Other Jewish legends say that Jeremiah hid the ark of the covenant before it could be captured by the Babylonians. Others think that God brought it to heaven because John the Apostle saw the ark there (Revelation 11:19).
b. When he carried away captive Jeconiah: This happened in 598 BC, in the second of Nebuchadnezzar’s three invasions of Jerusalem. The king of Babylon took all the nobles of Judah and Jerusalem but left some of the temple treasures behind.
c. They shall be carried to Babylon, and there they shall be until the day that I visit them: God promised that the remaining vessels would be carried away from the temple and brought to Babylon. In time, God would restore them to the temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:7-11, 7:19).