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JEREMIAH WAS TRIED ON CAPITAL CHARGES
This chapter is dated "early in the reign of Jehoiachim," which is supposed to be a technical term indicating the time between his accession to the throne and the New Year following that event. Some dispute this; and there are several opinions held by various scholars regarding the date, which seems certainly to have been at some point in the reign of Jehoiachim. "Most of the present-day expositors date the chapter in 609-608 B.C."
Another disputed interpretation relates this chapter to chapter 7, in which is recorded the prophecy of God's forthcoming destruction of Jerusalem; of course, the same prophecy, or another one much like it, is in Jeremiah 25 (immediately preceding). Some have supposed that the specific prophecy of the seventy years captivity in Jeremiah 25 was what actually precipitated the death-threatening procedure against Jeremiah. Of course, Keil and others do not agree with the alleged connection between Jeremiah 7 and Jeremiah 25; but as Feinberg noted, "The affinities between the chapters are too many and too minute for them not to relate to the same address."
Barnes understood that, "This chapter is a narrative of the danger to which Jeremiah was exposed by reason of his prophecy in Jeremiah 7. Jeremiah 26:6-7 here contain a summary of that prophecy; and that, again, is only an outline of what was a long address."
The violation of all conceptions of chronological order is a phenomenon of Biblical literature; and, as Cheyne declared, "It is only natural to expect it in Jeremiah."
Cawley and Millard began their final division of the Book of Jeremiah with this chapter, lumping the rest of the book (Jeremiah 26-52) into a single division entitled "Historical Narratives." This treatment of the Book of Jeremiah appeals to this writer. However, those who prefer further divisions may find Ash's system satisfactory. He divided the rest of the book as follows:
V. Jeremiah and the False Prophets (Jeremiah 26-29).
VI. The book of Consolation (Jeremiah 30-33).
VII. In the Days of Jehoiachim, Zedekiah (Jeremiah 35-39).
VIII. After the Fall of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 40-45).
IX. Oracles Concerning the Nations (Jeremiah 46-51).
X. An Historical Appendix (Jeremiah 52).
The divisions of this chapter suggested by Henderson are: Jeremiah announces the doom of Jerusalem as God commanded him (Jeremiah 26:1-6); the false prophets and the priests at once accuse him of blasphemy and declare him to be worthy of death (Jeremiah 26:7-11); Jeremiah pleads his innocence (Jeremiah 26:12-15); the elders and princes decide in favor of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26:16-19); the execution of Uriah (Jeremiah 26:20-23); and Ahikam rescues and protects Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26:24).
The uncertainty which exists regarding the connection between the various chapters in this part of Jeremiah was noted by Smith who pointed out that, "Ewald considered these next three chapters as a historical supplement regarding the distinction between true and false prophecy; Havernick thought that the purpose of Jeremiah 26 was to prove that the Jews had rejected the prophets; Keil related it to the vindication of the truth of the prophecy that the captivity would last seventy years. All this is unsatisfactory; it is better to treat the chapter as a unit, complete in itself, and as connected with Jeremiah 7."
"In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiachim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, came this word from Jehovah, saying. Thus saith Jehovah: Stand in the court of Jehovah's house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in Jehovah's house, all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word. It may be they will hearken, and turn every man from his evil way; that I may repent me of the evil which I purposed to do unto them because of the evil of their doings. And thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith Jehovah: If ye will not hearken to me, to walk in my law, which I have set before you, to hearken to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I send unto you, even rising up early and sending them, but ye have not hearkened; then will I make this house like Shiloh, and will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth. And the priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of Jehovah."
"Stand in the court of Jehovah's house ..." (Jeremiah 26:4). This location enabled Jeremiah to preach to the greatest number of the throngs of people from all the cities of Judah, who were gathering upon some national feast-day.
"And turn every man from his evil way ..." (Jeremiah 26:3). Feinberg stressed two things of singular importance in this passage: "(1) The kind of repentance which God demands is always an individual matter; and (2) promises of divine judgment are always conditional."
"Walk in my law ... hearken to the words of my servants the prophets ..." (Jeremiah 26:4-5). God's condemnation did not result from their refusal to hearken to Jeremiah, merely; but it was the consequence of their rejection of all of God's prophets, reaching all the way back to Moses and the sacred terms of the Old Sinaitic Covenant itself, all of this instruction being evident right here in this passage.
The great things that stand out in this paragraph are: (1) the necessity of obeying God's law, if the forthcoming destruction is to be averted; (2) the terrible nature of the doom awaiting them if they did not repent; (3) Shiloh was cited as an example of the destruction that awaited Jerusalem and the temple.
The significance of the citation of Shiloh derived from the fact of its having been the very first place where the ark of the Lord rested after Israel's entry into the promised land.
The Bible makes no specific reference to the occasion of Shiloh's destruction, and critics once disputed it; but "The Danish expedition uncovered pottery and other evidence demonstrating that the destruction of Shiloh occurred, by the hands of the Philistines about 1050 B.C." The mention of this fact here was intended to refute the arrogant confidence of those Israelites who supposed that the existence of a mere building was their guarantee of safety no matter what they did, a guarantee which they erroneously ascribed to the existence of the temple.
As this narrative proceeds, it will be evident that "all the people" were a very fickle and undependable element discernible in this shameful trial of Jeremiah.
"The priests, and the prophets, and all the people ..." (Jeremiah 26:7). These were the enemies of Jeremiah. It should not be thought that the "prophets" were in any sense true prophets. These characters are mentioned in Jeremiah 26:7,8,11,16; and the LXX designates them as "pseudo-prophets." That irresponsible and fickle Jerusalem mob, designated here as "all the people," that is, the majority, started yelling for the death of the holy Prophet. They were fit ancestors indeed of the mob in that same city centuries afterward who would cry, Crucify Him! Crucify Him!
"And it came to pass that when Jeremiah had made an end of speaking all that Jehovah had commanded him to speak unto all the people, that the priests, and the prophets, and all the people laid hold on him saying, Thou shalt surely die. Why hast thou prophesied in the name of Jehovah, saying, This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant? And all the people were gathered unto Jeremiah in the house of Jehovah."
The scene here is one of darkness and evil. The crooked prophets and false priests were in control of the sadistic, thoughtless mob called "all the people." It is exactly what took place again when the Jerusalem mob cried, "Crucify Him"!
The cunning crooked priests and prophets placed in the mouth of the mob the essentials of two capital charges; (1) that Jeremiah had spoken "in the name of Jehovah" without authority, and (2) that he had prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple, both of which events they falsely claimed had been promised absolute and complete immunity from destruction by God Himself. The Law of Moses gave the death penalty as punishment for blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16); and the same Law gave the death penalty for the speaking of a false prophecy (Deuteronomy 18:20). We should not overlook the proof that these charges by the crooked priests and prophets were based upon the provisions of the Sinaitic covenant as revealed in the Pentateuch; and that the Jews of Jeremiah's day were thoroughly familiar with every word of it! We believe that the crooked King Jehoiachim was a party to this attack on Jeremiah, a fact clearly indicated by the kings subsequent conduct.
"All the people were gathered together unto Jeremiah ..." (Jeremiah 26:9). According to Barnes, this meant that the people had come together for the purpose of constituting themselves as an impromptu court to try Jeremiah. If it had been allowed to proceed as the crooked prosecutors of these charges had planned, it would probably have resulted in the same kind of trial and stoning to death that later marked the trial and death of Stephen in Acts 7th chapter. Fortunately, someone evidently summoned the elders and princes of the nation to come and take part in the trial, which they at once did.
"And when the princes of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king's house unto the house of Jehovah; and they sat in the entry of the new gate of Jehovah's house. Then spake the priests and prophets unto the princes and unto all the people, saying, This man is worthy of death; for he hath prophesied against this city, as ye have heard with your ears."
"When the princes of Judah heard these things ..." (Jeremiah 26:10). This refers to their hearing of the commotion raised in the temple, which precipitated their prompt investigation.
"As ye have heard with your ears ..." (Jeremiah 26:11). It was not true that the princes and elders had indeed heard the alleged blasphemy of Jeremiah; and these words were directed to the bloodthirsty mob as their cue to join in the demand for Jeremiah's death. There was nothing fair about the charges of the priests and the prophets; they announced the verdict of death before they even mentioned the charges.
"The princes of Judah ..." (Jeremiah 26:10). "These, along with the elders, included all the branches of the royal family who acted as judges, and the heads of substantial families of Israel. Without these men, Jeremiah would have had only a mock-trial." In our opinion, the arrival of the princes and elders was totally providential and unexpected by Jeremiah's enemies.
JEREMIAH'S COURAGEOUS DEFENSE
"Then spake Jeremiah unto all the princes and to all the people, saying, Jehovah sent me to prophesy against this house and against this city all the words that ye have heard. Now therefore amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of your God; and Jehovah will repent him of the evil that he hath pronounced against you. But as for me, behold, I am in your hands: do with me as is good and right in your eyes. Only know ye for certain that, if ye put me to death, ye will bring innocent blood upon yourselves, and upon this city, and upon the inhabitants thereof; for of a truth Jehovah hath sent me unto you to speak all these words in your ears."
Like the Blessed Saviour himself, Jeremiah submitted to the powers of the government, but warned them of the consequences. The words of the prophet were fully truthful and convincing. No person unmotivated with a hatred of God's Word could deny the righteous defense of this godly prophet; and the princes and elders promptly defiled that any death penalty was deserved.
"Then said the princes and all the people unto the priests and the prophets: This man is not worthy of death; for he hath spoken unto us in the name of Jehovah our God!"
"Then said the princes and all the people ..." (Jeremiah 26:16). Notice that "all the people" have dramatically switched sides. They here stand with the princes and elders against the crooked priests and prophets. What a fickle and changeful thing is a mob of people! (I commented at length on this phenomenon in Vol. I of my New Testament Series, p. 470.)
ARGUMENT OF SOME OF THE ELDERS
"Then rose up certain of the elders of the land, and spake to all the assembly of the people, saying, Micah the Morashtite prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah; and he spake to all the people of Judah, saying, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: Zion shall be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest. Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him to death? did he not fear Jehovah, and entreat the favor of Jehovah, and Jehovah repented him of the evil which he had pronounced against them? Thus should we commit great evil against our own souls."
"Zion shall be plowed as a field ..." (Jeremiah 26:18). This whole quotation is a verbatim account of what is written in Micah 3:12. There is hardly another instance of this same kind of an appeal anywhere else in the Old Testament. Again, we have convincing evidence of the existence of the whole corpus of Hebrew scriptures and of the knowledge of the Hebrew people of exactly what those scriptures taught; and all of this on the very eve of the captivity.
The elders who made this appeal were evidently familiar with God's Word and were of a noble and pious character.
"Thus should we commit great evil against our own souls ..." (Jeremiah 26:19). This means that by putting Jeremiah to death great guilt would accrue to their souls. Their counsel won the day for Jeremiah.
ARREST AND EXECUTION OF URIAH
"And there was also a man that prophesied in the name of Jehovah, Uriah the son of Shemaiah of Kiriath-jearim: and he prophesied against this city and against this land according to all the words of Jeremiah. And when Jehoiachim the king, with all his mighty men, and all the princes heard his words, the king sought to put him to death; but when Uriah heard it, he was afraid, and fled, and went into Egypt. And Jehoiachim the king sent men into Egypt, namely, Elnathan the son of Achbor, and certain men with him, into Egypt; and they fetched forth Uriah out of Egypt, and brought him unto Jehoiachim the king, who slew him with the sword, and cast his dead body into the graves of the common people."
"Uriah ..." (Jeremiah 26:20). This prophet's name is spelled Urijah in the older versions. Why did not God spare his life also? We do not know; but it could have been because of his fear, and his flight into Egypt, from which place he would no longer be able to prophesy against Judah as God had commanded him.
It is clear enough, as Graybill stated it, that, "This account of how Jehoiachim vented his spleen upon a lesser adversary suggests his intense hatred of Jeremiah, and gives us reason to believe that he was behind Jeremiah's persecution here."
"Elnathan ..." (Jeremiah 26:22). This man was probably the king's father-in-law (2 Kings 24:8), making the delegation to extradite Uriah from Egypt an impressive one. The circumstance that favored the success of their mission derived from the fact that Jehoiachim himself was a vassal of the king of Egypt and thus was likely to have enjoyed the advantage of the right to extradite wanted persons from Egypt.
"Uriah ..." (Jeremiah 26:23). Nothing is known of this individual except what is revealed in this tragic account of his death. "Kiriath-jearim, with which Uriah's name was connected, was located nine miles west of Jerusalem on the road to Jaffa. The ark of the covenant was once deposited there for a period of twenty years."
"The graves of the common people ..." (Jeremiah 26:23). The king Jehoiachim dishonored the corpse of Uriah by denying it the honor due to the bodies of true prophets in order to keep the people from regarding him as a true prophet. "The prophets had a separate cemetery, as indicated in Matthew 23:29." Jehoiachim was busy doing those things that would earn for him "the burial of an ass." (Jeremiah 22:19).
"But the hand of Ahikam the son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah, that they should not give him into the hand of the people to put him to death."
This powerful citizen protected Jeremiah and refused to turn him over to the king and his followers, knowing full well what the results would have been if he had done so. He was indeed a powerful man in that period of Jewish history. His son Gedaliah later become governor of Judah; and "He is mentioned again in circumstances that reflect great credit upon him and his religion in 2 Kings 22:12-14." What a wonderful service he provided here for the true faith by his faithful protection of the true prophet Jeremiah!
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Jeremiah 26". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27