New English Translation
The Lord Will Hand Jerusalem over to Enemies
21 The Lord spoke to Jeremiah[a] when King Zedekiah[b] sent to him Pashhur son of Malkijah and the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah.[c] Zedekiah sent them to Jeremiah to ask,[d] 2 “Please ask the Lord to come and help us,[e] because King Nebuchadnezzar[f] of Babylon is attacking us. Maybe the Lord will perform one of his miracles as in times past and make him stop attacking us and leave.”[g] 3 Jeremiah answered them, “Tell Zedekiah 4 that the Lord, the God of Israel, says,[h] ‘The forces at your disposal[i] are now outside the walls fighting against King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and the Babylonians[j] who have you under siege. I will gather those forces back inside the city.[k] 5 In anger, in fury, and in wrath I myself will fight against you with my mighty power and great strength.[l] 6 I will kill everything living in Jerusalem, people and animals alike. They will die from terrible diseases. 7 Then[m] I, the Lord, promise that[n] I will hand over King Zedekiah of Judah, his officials, and any of the people who survive the war, starvation, and disease. I will hand them over to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and to their enemies who want to kill them. He will slaughter them with the sword. He will not show them any mercy, compassion, or pity.’
8 “But[o] tell the people of Jerusalem[p] that the Lord says, ‘I will give you a choice between two courses of action. One will result in life; the other will result in death.[q] 9 Those who stay in this city will die in battle or of starvation or disease. Those who leave the city and surrender to the Babylonians who are besieging it will live. They will escape with their lives.[r] 10 For I, the Lord, say that[s] I am determined not to deliver this city but to bring disaster on it.[t] It will be handed over to the king of Babylon and he will destroy it with fire.’”[u]
Warnings to the Royal Court
“Listen to the Lord’s message,
12 O royal family descended from David.[x]
The Lord says:
‘See to it that people each day[y] are judged fairly.[z]
Deliver those who have been robbed from those[aa] who oppress them.
Otherwise, my wrath will blaze out against you.
It will burn like a fire that cannot be put out
because of the evil that you have done.[ab]
13 Listen, you[ac] who sit enthroned above the valley on a rocky plateau.
I am opposed to you,’[ad] says the Lord.[ae]
‘You boast, “No one can swoop down on us.
No one can penetrate into our places of refuge.”[af]
14 But I will punish you as your deeds deserve,’
says the Lord.[ag]
‘I will set fire to your palace;
it will burn up everything around it.’”[ah]
- Jeremiah 21:1 tn Heb “The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord.”
- Jeremiah 21:1 sn Zedekiah was the last king of Judah. He ruled from 597 b.c., when he was placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kgs 24:17), until the fall of Jerusalem in 587/6 b.c. He acquiesced to some of his anti-Babylonian counselors, rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, and sought help from the Egyptians (Ezek 17:12-15). This brought Nebuchadnezzar against the city in 588 b.c. This is the first of two delegations to Jeremiah. The later one was sent after Nebuchadnezzar withdrew to take care of the Egyptian threat (cf. Jer 37:1-9).
- Jeremiah 21:1 sn The Pashhur son of Malkijah referred to here is not the same as the Pashhur referred to in 20:1-6, who was the son of Immer. This Pashhur is referred to later in 38:1. The Zephaniah referred to here was the chief of security referred to later in Jer 29:25-26. He appears to have been favorably disposed toward Jeremiah.
- Jeremiah 21:1 tn Heb “sent to him…Maaseiah, saying,….”
- Jeremiah 21:2 tn The verb used here is often used of seeking information through a prophet (e.g., 2 Kgs 1:16; 8:8), and hence many translate, “inquire of the Lord for us.” However, it is obvious from the following that they were not seeking information but help. The word is also used for that in Pss 34:4 (34:5 HT); 77:2 (77:3 HT).
- Jeremiah 21:2 tn The dominant spelling of this name is actually Nebuchadrezzar, which is closer to his Babylonian name Nabû kuddurī uṣur. An alternate spelling, which is found 6 times in the book of Jeremiah and 17 times elsewhere, is Nebuchadnezzar, which is the form of the name that is usually used in English versions.sn Nebuchadnezzar was the second and greatest king of Babylon in the Neo-Babylonian Empire (626-539 b.c.). He is known in the Bible both for his two conquests of Jerusalem in 597 b.c. (2 Kgs 24:10-17) and 587 b.c. (2 Kgs 25:1-7), and for his having built Babylon the Great (Dan 4:28-30).
- Jeremiah 21:2 tn Heb “Perhaps the Lord will do according to his miracles that he may go up from against us.”sn The miracles that they may have had in mind would have included the Exodus, the conquest of Jericho, the deliverance of Jehoshaphat (2 Chr 20:1-30), etc., but predominant in their minds was probably the deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib in the times of Hezekiah (Isa 37:33-38).
- Jeremiah 21:4 tn Heb “Tell Zedekiah, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel.’” Using the indirect quote eliminates one level of embedded quotation and makes it easier for the reader to follow.
- Jeremiah 21:4 tn Heb “the weapons that are in your hand.” Weapons stands here by substitution for the soldiers who wield them.
- Jeremiah 21:4 sn The Babylonians (Heb “the Chaldeans”). The Chaldeans were a group of people in the country south of Babylon from which Nebuchadnezzar came. The Chaldean dynasty his father established became the name by which the Babylonians are regularly referred to in the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s contemporary Ezekiel uses both terms.
- Jeremiah 21:4 tn The structure of the Hebrew sentence of this verse is long and complex and has led to a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding. There are two primary points of confusion: 1) the relation of the phrase “outside the walls,” and 2) the antecedent of “them” in the last clause of the verse, which reads in Hebrew, “I will gather them back into the midst of the city.” Most take the phrase “outside the walls” with “the Babylonians….” Some take it with “turn back/bring back” to mean “from outside….” However, the preposition “from” is part of the idiom for “outside….” The phrase goes with “fighting,” as J. Bright (Jeremiah [AB], 215) notes and as NJPS suggests. The antecedent of “them” has sometimes been taken mistakenly to refer to the Babylonians. It refers rather to “the forces at your disposal,” which is literally, “the weapons which are in your hands.” This latter phrase is a figure involving substitution (called metonymy), as Bright also correctly notes. The whole sentence reads in Hebrew, “I will bring back the weapons of war that are in your hand, with which you are fighting Nebuchadrezzar, the King of Babylon, and the Chaldeans who are besieging you outside your wall, and I will gather them into the midst of the city.” The sentence has been restructured to better reflect the proper relationships and to make the sentence conform more to contemporary English style.
- Jeremiah 21:5 tn Heb “with outstretched hand and with strong arm.” These are, of course, figurative of God’s power and might. He does not literally have hands and arms.sn The phrases in this order are unique, but a very similar phrase, “by strong hand and outstretched arm,” is found several times with reference to God’s mighty power unleashed against Egypt at the exodus (cf., Deut 4:34; 5:15; 26:8; Jer 32:21; Ps 136:12). Instead of being directed at Israel’s enemies, it will now be directed against her.
- Jeremiah 21:7 tn Heb “And afterward.”
- Jeremiah 21:7 tn Heb “oracle of the Lord.”
- Jeremiah 21:8 tn Heb “And/But unto this people you shall say…” “But” is suggested here by the unusual word order, which offsets what they are to say to Zedekiah (v. 3).
- Jeremiah 21:8 tn Heb “these people.”
- Jeremiah 21:8 tn Heb “Behold, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death.”
- Jeremiah 21:9 tn Heb “his life will be to him for spoil.”sn Spoil was what was carried off by the victor (see, e.g., Judg 5:30). Those who surrendered to the Babylonians would lose their property, their freedom, and their citizenship but would at least escape with their lives. Jeremiah was branded a traitor for this counsel (cf. 38:4), but it was the way of wisdom since the Lord was firmly determined to destroy the city (cf. v. 10).
- Jeremiah 21:10 tn Heb “oracle of the Lord.”
- Jeremiah 21:10 tn Heb “I have set my face against this city for evil [i.e., disaster] and not for good [i.e., well-being].” For the use of the idiom “set one’s face against/toward” see, e.g., 1 Kgs 2:15; 2 Kgs 2:17; Jer 42:15, 17, and note the interesting interplay of usage in Jer 44:11-12.
- Jeremiah 21:10 tn Heb “he will burn it with fire.”
- Jeremiah 21:11 tn The words “The Lord told me to say” are not in the text. They have been supplied in the translation for clarity. This text has been treated in two very different ways depending upon how one views the connection of the words “and to/concerning the household of the King of Judah, ‘Hear the word of the Lord:…’” with the preceding and following. Some treat the words that follow as a continuation of Jeremiah’s response to the delegation sent by Zedekiah (cf. vv. 3, 8). Others treat this as introducing a new set of oracles parallel to those in 23:9-40, which are introduced by the heading “to/concerning the prophets.” There are three reasons why the latter is the more probable connection: (1) there is parallelism in expression with 23:9; (2) the other introductions in vv. 3, 8 use the preposition אֶל (ʾel) instead of ל (lamed) used here, and they have the formal introduction “you shall say…”; (3) the warning or challenge here would mitigate the judgment pronounced on the king and the city in vv. 4-7. Verses 8-9 are different. They are not a mitigation but an offer of escape for those who surrender. Hence, these words are a title “Now concerning the royal court.” (The vav [ו] that introduces this is disjunctive = “Now.”) However, since the imperative that follows is masculine plural and addressed to the royal house, something needs to be added to introduce it. Hence the translation supplies “The Lord told me to say” to avoid confusion or mistakenly connecting it with the preceding.
- Jeremiah 21:11 tn Heb “house” or “household.” It is clear from 22:1-6 that this involved the king, the royal family, and the court officials.
- Jeremiah 21:12 tn Heb “house of David.” This is essentially equivalent to the royal court in v. 11.
- Jeremiah 21:12 tn Heb “to the morning” = “morning by morning” or “each morning.” See Isa 33:2 and Amos 4:4 for parallel usage.
- Jeremiah 21:12 sn The kings of Israel and Judah were responsible for justice. See Pss 122:5. The king himself was the final court of appeals judging from the incident of David with the wise woman of Tekoa (2 Sam 14), Solomon’s adjudication of two prostitutes (1 Kgs 3:16-28), and Absalom’s attempts to win the hearts of the people of Israel by interfering with due process (2 Sam 15:2-4). How the system was designed to operate may be seen from 2 Chr 19:4-11.
- Jeremiah 21:12 tn Heb “from the hand [or power] of.”
- Jeremiah 21:12 tn Heb “Lest my wrath go out like fire and burn with no one to put it out because of the evil of your deeds.”
- Jeremiah 21:13 tn Or “Listen, Jerusalem, you…”; Heb text of v. 21a-b reads, “Behold I am against you [fem. sg.], O inhabitant [fem. sg.] of the valley [and of] the rock of the plain, oracle of the Lord, who are saying [masc. pl.].” Verses 13-14 are generally treated as a separate oracle addressed to Jerusalem. The basis for this is (1) the appropriateness of the description here to the city of Jerusalem; (2) the rather similar reference to Jerusalem smugly living in her buildings made from cedars of Lebanon in 22:23; (3) the use of the second feminine singular pronoun “you” in other places in reference to Jerusalem (cf. clearly in 4:14; 6:8; 13:20; 15:5-6); and (4) the use of the feminine singular participle to refer to personified Jerusalem in 10:17 as well as 20:23. However, the description in 21:13 is equally appropriate to the royal household that the Lord has been addressing; the palace stood on the Ophel, or fill between the northern and southern hill just south of the temple, and overlooked the Kidron valley. Moreover, the word “enthroned” is even more fitting to the royal household than to Jerusalem. The phrase “enthroned above the valley” is literally “inhabitant of the valley.” But since the literal is inappropriate for either Jerusalem or the royal palace, the phrase is regularly interpreted after the parallel phrase referring to the Lord “enthroned above the cherubim.” The royal house was “enthroned” more literally than Jerusalem was. Taking this to refer to the royal court rather than Jerusalem also introduces one less unintroduced entity by the shift in pronoun in vv. 11-14, as well as eliminating the introduction of an otherwise unintroduced oracle. The “you” of “you boast” is actually the masculine plural participle (Heb “who say”) that modifies the feminine singular participle “you who sit enthroned” and goes back to the masculine plural imperatives in v. 12 rather than introducing a new entity, the people of the city. The participle “you who sit enthroned” is to be interpreted as a collective referring to the royal court, not a personification of the city of Jerusalem (cf. GKC 394 §122.s and see, e.g., Isa 12:6; Mic 1:11). Moreover, taking the referent to be the royal court makes the reference to the word translated “palace” much more natural. The word is literally “forest” and is often seen to be an allusion to the armory that was called the “Forest of Lebanon” (1 Kgs 7:2; 10:17; 10:21; Isa 22:8, and see also Ezek 17:3 in an allegory [17:2-18] that may have been contemporary with this oracle). Taking the oracle to refer to the royal court also makes this oracle more parallel with the one that follows, where destruction of the palace leads also to the destruction of the city.
- Jeremiah 21:13 tn Heb “I am against you.”
- Jeremiah 21:13 tn Heb “oracle of the Lord.”
- Jeremiah 21:13 tn Heb “Who can swoop…Who can penetrate…?” The questions are rhetorical and expect a negative answer. They are rendered as negative affirmations for clarity.sn What is being expressed here is the belief in the inviolability of Zion/Jerusalem carried to its extreme. Signal deliverances of Jerusalem, such as those experienced under Jehoshaphat (2 Chr 20) and Hezekiah (Isa 37:36-37), in the context of promises to protect it (Isa 31:4-5; 37:33-35; 38:6) led to a belief that Zion was unconquerable. This belief found expression in several of Israel’s psalms (Pss 46, 48, 76) and led to the mistaken assumption that God would protect it regardless of how the people treated God or one another. Micah and Jeremiah both deny that (cf. Mic 3:8-12; Jer 21:13-14).
- Jeremiah 21:14 tn Heb “oracle of the Lord.”
- Jeremiah 21:14 tn Heb “I will set fire in its forest, and it will devour its surroundings.” The pronouns are actually third feminine singular, going back to the participle “you who sit enthroned above the valley.” However, this is another example of those rapid shifts in pronouns typical of the biblical Hebrew style but uncommon in English. They have regularly been leveled to the same person throughout in the translation to avoid possible confusion for the English reader.