Jeremiah 21 Commentary: First in Jeremiah 21:1-2 we start with the background that results in the delivering of those three messages.
KJV Jeremiah 21:1 ¶ The word which came unto Jeremiah from the LORD,
when king Zedekiah [597-587 BC] sent unto him
Pashur the son of Melchiah [Pashur in ch 20 was the son of Immer], and
Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah the priest,
2 Enquire, I pray thee, of the LORD for us;
for Nebuchad[r/n]ezzar king of Babylon maketh war against us;
if so be that the LORD will deal with us according to all his [wondrous/wonderful/past miraculous] [works/acts],
that he [i.e., Nebu…] may [go up/withdraw] from us.
Jeremiah 21 Commentary: Two Pashurs?
First, let’s just clear up something that could possibly be confusing to us. A man named Pashur here is said to be sent to Jeremiah with a message. We just saw a Pashur in Jeremiah 20. But these two Pashurs are different Pashurs. They’re not one in the same. Pashur in Jeremiah 20 was the son of Immer. And the Pashur here in Jeremiah 21 is the son of whom? Melchiah. So, they’re different guys with the same name.
Jeremiah 21 Commentary: Who is Zedekiah?
Next, let’s talk about the one who authorized this Pashur along with this man named Zephaniah to ask Jeremiah for help. It’s king Zedekiah. He ruled from 597-587 BC. He was the last king that Judah has ever had. This is the man whose children end up being slaughtered before his eyes before his own eyes are gouged out when Babylon finally destroys Judah. In fact, Zedekiah was installed as king over Judah by Nebuchadnezzar. But then 10 years later, Zedekiah rebels and Nebuchadnezzar comes and takes him out. And all of this information is found in biblical texts that we could go through and discover together, but we won’t right now.
Jeremiah 21 Commentary: What Does Zedekiah Want?
So, that’s the man who sent the message to Jeremiah. But let’s consider the content of Zedekiah’s message.
Zedekiah wants Jeremiah to enquire of the Lord. And really, it becomes clear that what the king really wants is for Jeremiah to ask God to send the Babylonians away from him and his country because Babylon was making war against Judah at this time. And by the way, this places this episode right around the time when Judah was exiled. Nebuchadnezzar sieged Jerusalem for probably a year or two. So, this is just about the bitter end right before the exile, chronologically.
And you know, this is exactly what the Lord had been threatening Judah with for the last twenty chapters of Jeremiah. For the several decades of Jeremiah’s ministry he kept telling them to repent or he’d have to send an enemy from the north to destroy them. And now, here it is! And they don’t like it. And so, Zedekiah wants to get out of this promised punishment.
Jeremiah 21 Commentary: Pious Words
The king even pulls out some really pious vocabulary to make his request. He wants the Lord to do to Judah “according to all his wondrous works”. That word palah would be familiar to Jews who knew their Scripture.
Genesis 18:14 uses that word in connection with God giving Sarah the ability to conceive Isaac in her old age. That was miraculous! At least, beyond what man could do.
Exodus 3:20 and Judges 6:13 use this word to describe the miraculous plagues that God would send on Egypt and his deliverance of Israel from there.
Exodus 34:10 has God telling Moses that he would perform miracles in connection with the Mosaic covenant which he was about to make.
Joshua 3:5 uses this word to describe the miraculous crossing of the Jordan by the Israelites.
And that word is used many other times. But the point is that King Zedekiah is asking for a miracle. He has some faint hope that Jeremiah will pray to God and that God will answer Jeremiah’s prayer by doing the miraculous – that is, by somehow sending Babylon away from them. Maybe he has the Hezekiah/Sennacherib story in mind.
Jeremiah 21 Commentary: Experiencing Miracles
And so the last thing I want us to consider regarding this background section in Jeremiah 21:1-2 is that a desire to experience a miracle is no indication of true spirituality or a true faith in the living God.
Herod wanted to see Jesus for this reason – to experience a miracle. And Jesus wouldn’t grant him that privilege because God isn’t in the entertainment business. He wants converts and true disciples rather than thrill seekers.
Jesus fed large crowds of people miraculously with a few scraps of food. And the crowd’s reaction for the most part was rebuked by Jesus. He told them that they didn’t perceive the miracles correctly. All they wanted was to be fed. He wanted them to believe. God wants his miracles to make believers, not beggars. He wants his miracles to fill the hearts of people with faith rather than simply filling their bellies with food.
Jeremiah 21 Commentary: God’s Response to Zedekiah’s Request
Well, king Zedekiah wants to experience a miracle. He sends a small delegation to Jeremiah around the last few years of Judah’s existence as a nation before the exile to try to get that miracle.
But God is not going to send them a miracle. Rather, he sends them a message. And it’s an extended message that lasts for the rest of this chapter and goes on through the next two chapters.
Here’s how God’s response begins.
3 ¶ Then said Jeremiah unto them,
And then in the rest of Jeremiah 21 we have three entities that God addresses.
Jeremiah 21 Commentary: The Message to Zedekiah
First God addresses Zedekiah himself directly in Jeremiah 21:3-7.
Thus shall ye say to Zedekiah:
4 Thus 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 [i.e., the weapons or the enemies] into the [midst/center] of this city.
5 And I myself will [fight/war] against you with an outstretched hand and with a [strong/mighty] arm,
even in anger, and in fury, and in great wrath.
6 And I will smite [the inhabitants of/everything living in] this city, both man and beast:
they shall die of [a great/terrible] [pestilence/diseases].
7 And afterward,
saith the LORD,
I will deliver Zedekiah king of Judah, and
his servants, and
the people, [and/even] such as are left in this city
from the [pestilence/disease],
from the sword, and
from the [famine/starvation],
into the hand of Nebuchad[r/n]ezzar king of Babylon, and
into the hand of their enemies, and
into the hand of those that seek their life:
and he shall [smite/slaughter] them with the edge of the sword;
he shall not spare them,
neither have pity,
nor have mercy.
How is that for an answer? Zedekiah sends to Jeremiah asking him to pray for God’s help. God responds through Jeremiah saying basically, Zedekiah, you’re going to lose. I’m going to make your weapons worthless. Yes, I’m sending Babylon to destroy you and exile the rest who aren’t killed – but don’t miss this – I MYSELF am the one who is waging war against you.
Jeremiah 21 Commentary: Out of Control?
No doubt Jeremiah felt his situation spiraling out of control. I mean, he’s the one who hears this really frightening news first. The enemies are there and they’re going to destroy all that he’s known. His whole life up to this point has been doom and gloom and judgement and woe. The punishment is not directed against him. But he’s in the midst of it. He’s experiencing the effects of the judgement, though he’s not a recipient of that judgement.
And I think we need to realize a parallel to our current situation here.
Just think about some events that have transpired in the last few weeks. The Islamic State bombed an airport in Turkey, killing 50 and injuring 60 more. The citizens of Great Britain voted to leave the European Union. Our president and his administration keeps pushing his agenda of advancing sexual deviancy – whether that be by allowing transgender troops into the military or declaring that national parks no longer have gender-restrictions on their bathrooms. Religious liberty is being threatened rather than upheld by the highest court in our land. And on and on.
Many of these events are marks of God’s judgement. Some of them might not be directly God’s judgement but are nonetheless a little concerning. They’re the kind of things that shake financial markets and generally contribute to worldwide instability.
And here you and I are in the midst of this. What is our reaction to these things?
There’s a real temptation to see things spiraling out of control to the point that not even God is in charge anymore. Do we look at our situation in these days and think that God is hiding himself and doesn’t care? Do we perceive that he’d really like to do something about these things but that he’s just too weak or he doesn’t know what to do?
Now, here’s something we need to take by faith – God is indeed in control and he’s got a plan.
In the eyes of Zedekiah and the people of Judah, Babylon’ arrival was something that couldn’t have possibly been God’s will or under God’s control. But it was. And actually, God was the very one fighting against Zedekiah and Judah through the means of Babylon.
Could it be that God in these days is using the Islamic State to punish western culture which has done so much to spite God and turn from him and deny him his rights? Could it be that God is giving our leaders over to utter foolishness as a way of punishing this nation that has turned from him in so many ways? Could it be that God is handing our country over to immorality as punishment for not recognizing him?
I think the answer in all these cases is yes.
Child of God – your Father is sovereign. Things around you might seem to be spinning out of control. But they’re not out of control. They’re under his control. You don’t understand every detail of what he’s doing and why. But you and I can trust him to do what’s right – even when it seems to be painful to us.
Jeremiah 21 Commentary: Message to the People of Jerusalem
Well, after God addresses Zedekiah directly, he then turns to the people of Jerusalem in Jeremiah 21:8-10.
8 ¶ And unto this people thou shalt say,
Thus saith the LORD;
Behold, I set before you the way of life, and
the way of death.
First, the way of death.
9 He that abideth in this city shall die by [the sword/battle], and
by [the famine/starvation], and
by [the pestilence/disease]:
But here’s the way of life.
but he that goeth out, and [falleth/falls away/surrenders] to the Chaldeans that besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be unto him [for a prey/as booty].
10 For I have set my face against this city for [evil/harm/disaster],
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.
Jeremiah 21 Commentary: Hope
So, God at this point had determined to destroy Jerusalem. And he could have left it at that. God could have said, Alright you folks, I have told you to repent and you haven’t done it. If you had repented, I would have let you live. But now it’s too late and all of you will die without exceptions.
No, God doesn’t leave it at that. God does need to destroy that city. But he is still being so merciful to the point that now he’s going to give the people one more chance. No, they can’t stay in the city, but they can keep their life. Their life will be very different from how they’ve lived it previously, but the point is – they can live and not die.
How? Simple. Just go out and surrender to Babylon. This is the way of life for them. The only way they’d be sure to avoid being killed.
Jeremiah 21 Commentary: Humility and Faith
But this would take two things on the part of the people. It would take humility and it would take faith.
It would take humility because, really, what strong brave man wants to give up? What proud nationalistic Israelite wants to lose to an unclean Gentile nation like Babylon? Which one of us would like to see the United States lose to Russia or China or Iran or – you name the country? To obey the Lord’s offer of life here in this situation would take humility.
And it would also take faith. Listen, these folks have been told over and over again how bloodthirsty and cruel these Babylonians are. We were just told in Jeremiah 21:7 that they won’t spare anyone or have mercy. And yet, God will see to it that these Babylonians treat the people well who surrender to them. But this would require faith of the Judeans that God would make this happen.
Jeremiah 21 Commentary: Jehoiachin Surrenders
And I just want to remind us that there’s a king who ends up doing this. Jehoiachin ends up surrendering to Babylon. And in the very last chapter of this book, we see that king being treated well by the Babylonian king. He got away with his life and was treated well because he submitted to God by surrendering to Babylon. And in that way, he demonstrated at least a faint amount of humility and faith.
Just like the message of this book teaches us – He submitted to God’s authority. And as a result he lived.
OK, so God’s response to Zedekiah’s request for help was first that Zedekiah was going to lose to Babylon and second that the people need to abandon the city of Jerusalem and surrender to Babylon.
Jeremiah 21 Commentary: God’s Message to King Zedekiah’s Household
And finally in Jeremiah 21, God lastly speaks – not just to the king himself – but to the king’s household in Jeremiah 21:11-14.
11 ¶ And touching the house of the king of Judah [or household or royal court], say,
Hear ye the word of the LORD;
12 O [house of/royal family descended from] David,
thus saith the LORD;
[Execute/Administer] [judgment/justice] [in the/every] morning [i.e., judge people fairly every day],
and deliver him that is [spoiled/robbed] [out of/from] the [hand/power] of the oppressor,
[lest/so that not] my [fury/wrath] go out like fire,
and burn that none can [quench/extinguish] it,
because of the evil of your [doings/deeds].
13 Behold, I am [against/opposed to] thee,
O inhabitant of the valley, and [rock of the/rocky] plain, [i.e., who sit enthroned above the valley on a rocky plateau]
saith the LORD;
This is probably a reference to the king’s household which was located on a rocky plateau to the north of the Kidron Valley on the southern side of Jerusalem.
Here’s one reason God is against them.
Jeremiah 21 Commentary: Pride & Injustice
Who shall come down against us? [answer: no one]
or who shall enter into our habitations?
14 But I will punish you according to the [fruit/results] of your [doings/deeds],
saith the LORD:
and I will kindle a fire in the [forest/palace?] thereof,
and it shall devour all things round about it.
So, the household of the king was proud and not enforcing justice.
They were proud – the king and his princes and officials. They were boasting as if no one could attack them and prevail. We’ll see that their proud boasting was definitely not correct.
And let’s not ignore their lack of the enforcement of justice. The king was the final authority when it came to enforcing justice in the land. And God held them responsible for being unjust and not being concerned for the carrying-out of justice.
There are people in any society that are stronger than others and intent on abusing the weaker ones.
Jeremiah 21 Commentary: Martin Shkreli
A man named Martin Shkreli comes to mind. I personally am all for capitalism and free markets and I think that kind of arrangement is probably the best system possible in this fallen world. But this guy was in charge of a company that obtained the manufacturing license for an antiparasitic drug called Daraprim. According to the BBC Daraprim is the “best treatment for a relatively rare parasitic infection called toxoplasmosis. People with weakened immune systems, such as Aids patients, have come to rely on the drug.” Shkreli raised its price by 5,556 percent (from US$13.5 to US$750 per tablet). This lead him to be referred to by media as the “most hated man in America” according to the BBC. It’s hard to be a Christian capitalist and support the kind of price hikes that this guy was involved in. Yes, the market might support his actions. Yes, maybe there’s no law that expressly forbids this kind of activity. But I can’t say that I support it at all. And in fact, it seems to be a fairly-close parallel to the kind of thing that God was giving as support of him judging the household of the king of Judah.