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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 21

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



The major difference to be found in this second major division of Jeremiah is the fact of so many of the episodes recorded being specifically connected with names and dates. In this sub-division (Jeremiah 21-24), Frost suggested that a good title of it would be “Comments on the Kings.”(F1) It is generally agreed by scholars that the date was very near the onset of Nebuchadnezzar’s final siege of Jerusalem in 588 B.C.(F2)

There is a skip of twenty years between Jeremiah 20 and Jeremiah 21, and a great deal had happened. Jehoiachim, a protege of Egypt, came to the throne and reigned eleven years, wavering between the necessity of paying tribute to Nebuchadnezzar and rebelling against Babylon, contrary to Jeremiah’s advice. Following his death Jehoiachin came to the throne for a brief three-months; but, in the meanwhile, Nebuchadnezzar had finally and completely defeated Egypt; so he carried Jehoiachin to Babylon, along with many of the captive nobility, including Daniel and others; at that same time Nebuchadnezzar placed Zedekiah, a king of his own choice, on the throne of Israel. The new king was an uncle of Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah was the name given him by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24:17). Of course, he swore fealty and perpetual loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar. These events took place about the year 597 B.C.

Jehoiachim’s death was inglorious (2 Kings 24:6; Jeremiah 22:18-19). His son, Jehoiachin’s three month reign ended when he surrendered the city to Nebuchadnezzar on the 9th of Adar, 597 B.C.(F3)

Zedekiah defaulted on his promises to Nebuchadnezzar, and did evil in God’s sight, according to all the evil that Jehoiachim had done; some ten years later, we come to the events of this chapter. Some eleven years after coming to the throne Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar who moved to destroy Jerusalem: At first, he mopped up the cities surrounding Jerusalem, and it was during this early phase of the siege that the events of this chapter happened.

Zedekiah ignored Jeremiah’s prophetic warning and held out against the Babylonians for a year and a half, enduring the horrors of a terrible siege. But, on the ninth day of Ab in 588 B.C., Zedekiah and his nobles tried to flee the city but were captured on the plains of Jericho. He was terribly punished by Nebuchadnezzar.(F4)

The account of Zedekiah’s punishment is recorded in 2 Kings 25:1-7. “They slew his sons before his eyes and then put out his eyes and carried him to Babylon in chains.”

Verses 1-2


“The word which came unto Jeremiah from Jehovah, when king Zedekiah sent unto him Pashhur the son of Malchijah, and Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah, the priest, saying, Inquire, I pray thee, of Jehovah for us; for Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon maketh war against us: peradventure Jehovah will deal with us according to all his wondrous works, that he may go up from us.”

Zedekiah evidently expected Jehovah to lift the siege against Jerusalem by some tremendous miracle similar to that in which God destroyed 185,000 soldiers of Sennacherib’s army and lifted the siege against Jerusalem in the days of Isaiah. The ancient Jews never learned the lesson that God’s promises are all conditional, even those of his everlasting love and blessing. They were the ancient practitioners of salvation by faith only. Sure, they believed all right; but they did not propose to do any of the things God commanded.

Notice how the status of Jeremiah has changed. Ten years earlier, those terrible warnings Jeremiah had been prophesying throughout his ministry had begun to be fulfilled; and now, he receives an honored delegation from the king himself requesting his prayers upon their behalf. Characteristically, they paid no attention whatever to his warning, his prophetic advice, and to his instruction as to how some life could be saved.

In the second siege and destruction of Jerusalem, not even the temple was spared; and even the sacred golden vessels were carried away to Babylon as booty.

“Pashhur the son of Malchijah” This was not the same as the Pashhur of the previous chapter. One was the son of Immer, and the other the son of Malchijah.

Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah” This man was the successor of Jehoida the priest (Jeremiah 29:25-26; Jeremiah 37:3 and Jeremiah 52:24). “He ranked second to the High Priest, was slain by Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah; and both he and Pashhur opposed Jeremiah’s views.”(F5) They were probably the ones who persuaded Zedekiah to go on with his resistance rather than surrender the city as Jeremiah had advocated.

It should be noted that there is a similar account of the warning that Jerusalem will fall in Jeremiah 37:3-10; but, “These are not a doublet. It deals with a temporary raising of the siege by the Egyptians, only to be resumed later on with greater intensity. Here we have the siege in its initial phases.”(F6)

These first two verses reveal Jeremiah in a new role. He now stands much higher in the opinion of the people. “The strong confirmation of his preaching by the captivity of 597 B.C. has made him a national figure whom the king now consults in the hour of crisis.”(F7)

Many scholars make a big to-do about what they claim is the correct way to spell Nebuchadnezzar, most of them favoring Nebuchadrezzar. There is no doubt that the correct spelling from the Babylonian viewpoint is the latter method; but our viewpoint is by no means the Babylonian viewpoint; and, as the Dean of Canterbury put it, “The common method of spelling it, i.e., Nebuchadnezzar, became finally the current form among the Jews. Jeremiah used it in Jeremiah 34:1 and Jeremiah 39:5; and even Daniel used it.”(F8) Therefore, we shall stay with the common spelling, since our viewpoint is more that of the people of God than it is that of the ancient Babylonians. No well-informed person should find any difficulty with this. All of us are familiar with the variations in spelling as we move from one racial culture to another. Pablo and Paul; Juan and John, or Johannes; Matthew and Mateo; Mark and Marcos; James and Santiago; etc. are examples. Jeremiah himself used the spellings interchangeably. In Jeremiah’s writings, “The Jewish spelling is used ten times, and the Babylonian spelling is used twenty-six times.”(F9)

It is significant that in this petition for Jeremiah to pray for God’s intervention on behalf of Zedekiah and the citizens of Jerusalem, “There was no suggestion of repentance or humiliation for the gross sins of the whole nation that had brought upon them the horrible destruction then impending.”(F10) The message was simply, “Look God, we’re in trouble; save us!”

Verses 3-7


“Then said Jeremiah unto them, Thus shall ye say to Zedekiah: Thus saith Jehovah, the 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 that besiege you, without the walls; and I will gather them into the midst of the city. And I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm, even in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation. And I will smite the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast: they shall die of a great pestilence. And afterward, saith Jehovah, I will deliver Zedekiah king of Judah, and his servants, and the people, even such as are left in this city from the pestilence, from the sword, and from the famine, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of those who 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.”

“The weapons of war that are in your hands” The prophecy here meant that the soldiers and their weapons of war which were fighting against Nebuchadnezzar would not be able to resist the Babylonian army, but would have to withdraw within the wails of the city

“I myself will fight against you” Jeremiah even foretold exactly how God would do this. He would bring .a terrible pestilence upon the city. The severe overcrowding of people and animals into the city during the later stages of the siege would become a severe strain upon the sanitary facilities of the city; and the resulting epidemic would wipe out vast numbers of the people. At the time of this delegations coming to Jeremiah, “The siege had just begun, and the Jews were still trying to hinder the enemy from taking a position closer to the city and the resulting tighter blockade.”(F11)

The terrible news for Zedekiah was that God, far from putting a hook in the nose of Nebuchadnezzar, and dragging him back to his homeland, as he had surely done to Sennacherib a hundred years earlier, God would actually help the invaders to accomplish their purpose of the total destruction of the city.

“From the pestilence, from the sword, and from the famine” not a great many of the inhabitants would escape; and of them who were the fortunate survivors, many would be deported to Babylon as captives.

Verses 8-10


“And unto this people thou shalt say, Thus saith Jehovah: Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. He that abideth in the city shall die by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence; but he that goeth out and passeth over to the Chaldeans that besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be unto him a prey. For I have set my face upon this city for evil, and not for good, saith Jehovah: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.”

God had decreed the inevitable destruction of Jerusalem because of the total apostasy and gross wickedness of the people; and the terrible destruction impending was nothing but what the people themselves had ordered by their rejection of God’s will and their utter reprobacy. It was very appropriate that the words in these three verses should be taken almost verbatim from Deuteronomy 30:15-20. Countless warnings the people had received, but they would not hear. Some terrible inability to respond to God’s warnings seems to have taken hold of the hearts of the people. Like a bird charmed by a snake, they simply sat still until the blow fell.

Even when such inability in the face of certain death is witnessed in the natural creation around us, it is sad indeed, but in no manner as sad as when it is seen among human beings whom God has endowed with the gift of intelligence.

It is said that sometimes in the late fall of the year in the Cornwall area of England, the migratory waterfowl are trapped by an early freeze, resulting in the death of large numbers of them. They are tempted to feast a little too long on the apples that lie rotting on the ground.


“Beneath the Cornwall apple trees,
The migratory fowl delay
Their flight from Winter’s chilling breeze
And feast their day of grace away.
Spread ripe and rotting on the ground,
The banquet seems to have no end.
The warning trumpet does not sound
Within, or, sounding, fails to send
Their strong wings on the Southward path.
The noble fowl remains too long,
All heedless of the Winter’s wrath,
Unmindful of the even-song...
Until they’re trapped beneath the trees
In misty sheets of freezing rain.
Feet locked to earth by bitter freeze;
The call to rise and fly is vain.
Also, for me, Life’s banquet calls;
Its pleasures drown all doubts and fears.
The soul’s high purpose dims, and falls
Unrealized despite the tears.
At last, the summons from On High
Strikes through the heart. Shall I
Too find that hope has passed me by?
Or shall I rise, in time and fly?”
- James Burton Coffman

The dreadful alternative of life or death was here presented in the words of Deuteronomy; but there was a significant difference. When Moses thus addressed the people, “The choice was between a life lived under the blessing and favor of God, and a life of sin and death; but here it is the miserable alternative of a life saved by desertion to the enemy with its resulting captivity, and certain death sure to come to all who remained in the city by sword, by pestilence, or by famine.”(F12)

Jeremiah was indeed a type of Jesus Christ in some particulars; and one of them is evident here. Both Jeremiah and Christ commanded the true followers of God to abandon the city of Jerusalem. Christ did so in Matthew 24:16 at the time of the Roman siege in A.D. 70. In that instance, however, the Christians would be fleeing to a place of safety at Pella.

Verses 11-14


“And touching the house of the king of Judah, hear ye the word of Jehovah: O house of David, thus saith Jehovah, Execute justice in the morning, and deliver him that is robbed out of the hand of the oppressor, let my wrath go forth like fire, and burn so that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings. Behold, I am against thee, O inhabitant of the valley, and of the rock of the plain, saith Jehovah; you that say, Who shall come down against us? or who shall enter into our habitations? And I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings, saith Jehovah; and I will kindle a fire in her forest, and it shall destroy all that is round about her.”

Some of the scholars affirm that the end of the message to Zedekiah came in Jeremiah 21:10 and that this is a prophecy regarding the House of David, being a part of a number of similar prophecies in this sub-group of four chapters (Jeremiah 21-24). We do not deny this; but we also believe that the words here were also quite appropriate when understood as a continuation of the message to Zedekiah. Certainly, the burning of Jerusalem mentioned in Jeremiah 21:14 was appropriately spoken to Zedekiah, because that would occur within eighteen months of Jeremiah’s response to the delegation from the king. Besides that, Jeremiah 21:12 relates that all of the punishment to come upon Jerusalem would be “because of the evil of your doings.” Was not this appropriate for Zedekiah? His wickedness is seen even in this chapter where he repudiated the prophetic warnings of God’s prophet.

Even the verses regarding the king’s duty to dispense justice were not inappropriate, because, as Harrison noted, “Along with the false prophets and the immoral cultic-priests, the monarchy itself must take its place and its share of the responsibility for the moral and social degradation of the people,”(F13) with the resulting divine punishment that fell upon them.

“I will kindle a fire in her forest” Thompson complained that, “In Jerusalem itself, there was no forest.”(F14) But the same scholar tells us that, “The royal palace itself was called the `House of the Forest of Lebanon’ (1 Kings 7:2).”(F15) This supports the opinion of Keil that “The city itself was a forest of houses.”(F16) Others have supposed that many of the houses of the ancient city were constructed from cedars brought down from the forest of Lebanon. In any case, there is no doubt that the reference is to Jerusalem. Bright especially thought that the words here spoke of “Jerusalem’s great buildings of cedar.”(F17) Payne Smith stated that, “The commentators have made a difficulty here, simply by not remembering the delight which the Jews took in trees.”(F18)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Jeremiah 21". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/jeremiah-21.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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