Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 39

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament CommentaryKeil & Delitzsch

Verses 1-14

In Jeremiah 39:1-14 the events which took place at the taking of Jerusalem are summarily related, for the purpose of showing how the announcements of Jeremiah the prophet have been fulfilled.

(Note: The greater portion of the section Jeremiah 39:1-14 is set down by Movers, Hitzig, Ewald, and Graf as the interpolation of a later glosser, compiled either out of Jeremiah 52:4-16, or from 2 Kings 25. Jeremiah 39:3, Jeremiah 39:11, Jeremiah 39:12, and Jeremiah 39:14 are supposed by Hitzig to be all that are genuine, on the ground that these are the only portions containing independent statements, not derived from any other source. They treat simply of the person of the prophet, and state how, at the command of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuzaradan, the captain of the body-guard, brought Jeremiah out of the court of the prison and delivered him over to the care of Gedaliah. If we gather together the verses that are left as genuine, we find, of course, that the subject treated of in them is what occurred when Jeremiah was liberated from his confinement in the court of the prison. But neither is the difference between Jeremiah 39:14 and Jeremiah 40:1. thereby settled, nor the difficulty removed, that Nebuzaradan, the captain of the body-guard, was not present with the army when Jerusalem was taken; according to Jeremiah 52:12, it was not till a month after that event that he was sent to Jerusalem from Riblah by the king, who was staying there. Jeremiah 39:11 and Jeremiah 39:12, too, retain the appearance of being interpolations. Ewald and Graf, accordingly, consider these two verses also as later insertions. But even this view does not settle the differences and difficulties that have been raised, but only increases them; for it would represent Jeremiah as being set at liberty, not by Nebuzaradan, as is related Jeremiah 40:1., but by the Chaldean generals named in Jeremiah 39:3. - When, however, we inquire into the grounds taken as the foundation of this hypothesis, the fact that the lxx have omitted Jeremiah 39:4, Jeremiah 39:10, and Jeremiah 39:13 can prove nothing, since Jeremiah 39:1 and Jeremiah 39:2 are found in the lxx, although these also are supposed to be spurious. The only argument adduced for the attempted excision, viz., that Jeremiah 39:1, Jeremiah 39:2, Jeremiah 39:4-10 break the connection, proves absolutely nothing in itself, but merely receives importance on the supposition that the present section could only treat of the liberation of Jeremiah, and must contain nothing that is mentioned elsewhere regarding the taking of Jerusalem. But this supposition is quite unwarranted. That Jeremiah 39:1 and Jeremiah 39:2 are inserted parenthetically cannot afford any ground of suspicion as regards their genuineness; and that, in Jeremiah 39:4-10, mention is briefly made of Zedekiah's being seized and condemned, of the destruction of Jerusalem, and the carrying away of the people, except the very meanest, - this also cannot throw suspicion on the genuineness of these verses; fore these statements obviously aim at showing how the word of the Lord, which Jeremiah had proclaimed repeatedly, and once more a short time before the storming of the city, had been fulfilled. Finally, it follows from this that these statements agree with those given in Jer 52 and in 2 Kings regarding the capture and destruction of Jerusalem; but it does not follow that they have been derived from the latter as their source. The language in the disputed verses is peculiarly that of Jeremiah. The expression כּל־חרי יהוּדה is found in Jeremiah 27:20; while in Jeremiah 52:10, instead of it, we find כּל־שׂרי , and in 2 Kings the whole sentence is wanting. So, also, דּבּר משׁפּטים , Jeremiah 39:5 and Jeremiah 52:9, is an expression peculiar to Jeremiah (see on Jeremiah 1:16); in 2 Kings 25:6 it is changed to דּבּר משׁפּט . Thus we must set down as groundless and erroneous the allegation made by Hitzig and Graf, that these verses of our chapter have been derived from 2 Kings; for the form of the name Nebuchadnezzar (with n) in Jeremiah 39:5 instead of Nebuchad r ezzar, which agrees with 2 Kings, and which has been brought to bear on this question, can prove nothing, just because not only in Jeremiah 39:11 but also in Jeremiah 39:1 (which also is said to be taken from 2 Kings) we find Nebuchadrezzar.)

Jeremiah 39:1-3

"And it came to pass, when Jerusalem had been taken (in the ninth year of Zedekiah the king of Judah, in the tenth month, Nebuchadrezzar and all his army had come against Jerusalem and besieged it; in the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, on the ninth of the month, was the city broken into), then came all the princes of the king of Babylon and sat down at the middle gate, - Nergal-sharezer, Samgar-nebo, Sarsechim, chief chamberlain, Nergal-sharezer, chief magician, and all the rest of the princes of the king of Babylon." These three verses, to which the last clause of Jeremiah 38:28 belongs, form one period, broken up by a pretty long piece inserted in it, on the beginning and duration of the siege of Jerusalem; so that, after the introductory clause והיה כּאשׁר ( = ויהי as in Jeremiah 37:11), Jeremiah 38:28, the conclusion does not come till the word ויּבאוּ , Jeremiah 39:3. In the parenthesis, the length of the siege, as stated, substantially agrees with Jeremiah 52:4-7 and 2 Kings 25:1-4, only that in these passages the time when the siege began is further determined by the mention of the day of the month, לחדשׁ be בּעשׂור , which words are omitted here. The siege, then, lasted eighteen months, all but one day. After the besiegers had penetrated into the city through the breaches made in the wall, the princes, i.e., the chief generals, took up their position at "the gate of the midst." ישׁבוּ , "they sat down," i.e., took up a position, fixed their quarters. "The gate of the midst," which is mentioned only in this passage, is supposed, and perhaps rightly, to have been a gate in the wall which divided the city of Zion from the lower city; from this point, the two portions of the city, the upper and the lower city, could most easily be commanded.

With regard to the names of the Babylonian princes, it is remarkable (1) that the name Nergal-sharezer occurs twice, the first time without any designation, the second time with the official title of chief magician; (2) that the name Samgar-nebo has the name of God (Nebo or Nebu) in the second half, whereas in all other compounds of this kind that are known to us, Nebu forms the first portion of the name, as in Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuzaradan, Nebushasban (Jeremiah 39:13), Naboned, Nabonassar, Nabopolassar, etc.; (3) from this name, too, is omitted the title of office, while we find one with the following name. Moreover (4) in Jeremiah 39:13, where the Babylonian grandees are again spoken of, instead of the four names, only three are given, but every one of them with a title of office; and only the third of these, Nergal-sharezer, the chief magician, is identical with the one who is named last in Jeremiah 39:3; while Nebushasban is mentioned instead of the Sarsechim of Jeremiah 39:3 as רב־סריס , chief of the eunuchs (high chamberlain); and in place of Nergal-sharezer, Samgar-nebo, we find Nebuzaradan as the commander of the body-guards ( רב טבּחים ). On these four grounds, Hitzig infers that Jeremiah 39:3, in the passage before us, has been corrupted, and that it contained originally only the names of three persons, with their official titles. Moreover, he supposes that סמגּר is formed from the Persian jâm and the derivation-syllable kr, Pers. war , and means "he who has or holds the cup," the cup-bearer; thus corresponding to רב שׁקה o t gnidnop , Rab-shakeh, "chief cup-bearer," 2 Kings 18:17; Isaiah 36:2. He also considers שׂרסכים a Hebraizing form of רב סריס ; סכה or שׂכה , "to cut," by transposition from חצה , Arab. chtṣy , from which comes chatṣiyun, "a eunuch," = סכי , plur. סכים ; hence שׂרסכים = רב סריס , of which the former has been a marginal gloss, afterwards received into the text. This complicated combination, however, by which Hitzig certainly makes out two official titles, though he retains no more than the divine name Nebu as that of Rabsaris, is founded upon two very hazardous conjectures. Nor do these conjectures gain much support from the renewal of the attempt, made about fifty years since by the late P. von Bohlen, to explain from the Neo-Persian the names of persons and titles occurring in the Assyrian and Old-Babylonian languages, an attempt which has long since been looked upon as scientifically unwarranted. Strange as it may seem that the two persons first named are not further specified by the addition of an official title, yet the supposition that the persons named in Isaiah 36:3 are identical with those mentioned in Isaiah 36:13 is erroneous, since it stands in contradiction with Jeremiah 52:12, which even Hitzig recognises as historically reliable. According to Jeremiah 52:12, Nebuzaradan, who is the first mentioned in Jeremiah 39:13, was not present at the taking of Jerusalem, and did not reach the city till four weeks afterwards; he was ordered by Nebuchadnezzar to superintend arrangements for the destruction of Jerusalem, and also to make arrangements for the transportation of the captives to Babylon, and for the administration of the country now being laid waste. But in Jeremiah 39:3 are named the generals who, when the city had bee taken by storm, took up their position within it. - Nor do the other difficulties, mentioned above, compel us to make such harsh conjectures. If Nergal-sharezer be the name of a person, compounded of two words, the divine name, Nergal (2 Kings 17:30), and Sharezer, probably dominator tuebitur (see Delitzsch on Isaiah 37:38), then Samgar-Nebu-Sarsechim may possibly be a proper name compounded of three words. So long as we are unable with certainty to explain the words סמגּר and שׂרסכים out of the Assyrian, we can form no decisive judgment regarding them. But not even does the hypothesis of Hitzig account for the occurrence twice over of the name Nergal-sharezer. The Nergal-sharezer mentioned in the first passage was, no doubt, the commander-in-chief of the besieging army; but it could hardly be maintained, with anything like convincing power, that this officer could not bear the same name as that of the chief magician. And if it be conceded that there are really errors in the strange words סמגּר־נבוּ and שׂרסכים , we are as yet without the necessary means of correcting them, and obtaining the proper text.

Jeremiah 39:4-7

In Jeremiah 39:4-7 are narrated the flight of Zedekiah, his capture, and his condemnation, like what we find in Jeremiah 52:7-11 and 2 Kings 25:4-7. "When Zedekiah the king of Judah and all the men of war saw them (the Chaldean generals who had taken up their position at the mid-gate), they fled by night out of the city, by the way of the king's garden, by a gate between the walls, and he went out by the way to the Arabah. Jeremiah 39:5. But the army of the Chaldeans pursued after them, and overtook Zedekiah in the steppes of Jericho, and captured him, and brought him to Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, to Riblah, in the land of Hamath; and he pronounced judgment on him." Hitzig and Graf consider that the connection of these events, made by כּאשׁר ראם , is awkward, and say that the king would not have waited till the Chaldean generals took up their position at the mid-gate, nor could he see these in the night-time; that, moreover, he would hardly have waited till the city was taken before he fled. These objections are utterly worthless. If the city of Zion, in which the royal palace stood, was separated from the lower city by a wall, then the king might still be quite at ease, with his men of war, in the upper city or city of Zion, so long as the enemy, who were pushing into the lower city from the north, remained at the separating wall, near the middle gate in it; and only when he saw that the city of Zion, too, could no longer be held, did he need to betake himself to flight with the men of war around him. In actual fact, then, he might have been able to see the Chaldean generals with his own eyes, although we need not press ראם so much as to extract this meaning from it. Even at this juncture, flight was still possible through the south gate, at the king's garden, between the two walls. Thenius, on 2 Kings 25:4, takes חמתים to mean a double wall, which at the southern end of Ophel closed up the ravine between Ophel and Zion. But a double wall must also have had two gates, and Thenius, indeed, has exhibited them in his plan of Jerusalem; but the text speaks of but one gate ( שׁער ). "The two walls" are rather the walls which ran along the eastern border of Zion and the western border of Ophel. The gate between these was situated in the wall which ran across the Tyropoean valley, and united the wall of Zion and that of Ophel; it was called the horse-gate (Nehemiah 3:28), and occupied the position of the modern "dung-gate" ( Bab-el Moghâribeh ); see on Nehemiah 3:27-28. It was not the "gate of the fountain," as Thenius ( Bücher der Kön. S. 456), Nägelsbach, and others imagine, founding on the supposed existence of the double wall at the south end of Ophel. Outside this gate, where the valley of the Tyropoeon joined with the valley of the Kidron, lay the king's garden, in the vicinity of the pool of Siloam; see on Nehemiah 3:15. The words ' ויּצא וגו introduce further details as to the king's flight. In spite of the preceding plurals ויּברחוּ , the sing. יצא is quite suitable here, since the narrator wishes to give further details with regard to the flight of the king alone, without bringing into consideration the warriors who fled along with him. Nor does the following אחריהם militate against this view; for the Chaldean warriors pursued the king and his followers, not to capture these followers, but the king. Escaped from the city, the king took the direction of the ערבה , the plain of the Jordan, in order to escape over Jordan to Gilead. But the pursuing enemy overtook him in the steppes of Jericho (see Comm. on Joshua on Joshua 4:13), and thus before he had crossed the Jordan; they led him, bound, to Riblah, before the king of Babylon. "Riblah in the land of Hamath" is still called Ribleh, a wretched village about 20 miles S.S.W. from Hums (Emesa) on the river el Ahsy (Orontes), in a large fertile plain in the northern portion of the Bekâa, on the great caravan-track which passes from Palestine through Damascus, Emesa, and Hamath to Thapsacus and Carchemish on the Euphrates; see Robinson's Bibl. Res. iii. 545, and on Comm. on Kings at 2 Kings 23:33. - On דּבּר משׁפּטים , to speak judgment, pronounce sentence of punishment, see on Jeremiah 1:16. Nebuchadnezzar caused the sons of Zedekiah and all the princes of Judah ( חרים , nobles, lords, as in 27:30) to be slain before the eyes of the Jewish king; then he put out his eyes and bound him with brazen fetters, to carry him away to Babylon ( לביא for להביא ), where, according to Jeremiah 52:11, he remained in confinement till his death.

Jeremiah 39:8-10

Jeremiah 39:8-10 contain a brief notice regarding the fate of the city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants, joined on to the passage preceding, in order to prepare the way for a short account of the treatment which Jeremiah experienced at the same time. From the more detailed notice regarding the fate of the city, given in Jeremiah 52:12., 2 Kings 25:8., we see that the destruction of the city and the carrying away of the people took place one month after their fall, and that the king of Babylon had appointed Nebuzaradan, the commander of his body-guards, to go to Jerusalem for the purpose of carrying out these matters. In these verses of ours, also, Nebuzaradan is mentioned as the one who carried out the judgment that had been pronounced (Jeremiah 39:10.); but the fact of his being sent from Riblah and the date of the execution of his commission are here omitted, so that it appears as if it had all occurred immediately after the capture of the city, and as if Nebuzaradan had been always on the spot. For the writer of this chapter did not need to give a historically exact account of the separate events; it was merely necessary briefly to mention the chief points, in order to place in proper light the treatment experienced by the prophet. The Chaldeans burned the king's house (the palace) and בּית־העם . This latter expression, taken in connection with "the king's house," signifies the rest of the city apart from the king's palace; hence בּית is used in a collective sense. the temple is not mentioned, as being of no consequence for the immediate purpose of this short notice.

Jeremiah 39:9-10

"And the rest of the people that had remained in the city, and the deserters who had deserted to him, and the rest of the people that remained, Nebuzaradan, the chief of the body-guards, led captive to Babylon. Jeremiah 39:10. But of the poorest of the people, who had nothing, Nebuzaradan left some in the country, and he gave them vineyards and arable fields at the same time." עליו after נפלוּ refers, ad sensum , to the king of Babylon; his name, certainly, is not given in the immediate context, but it is readily suggested by it. In Jeremiah 52:15 we find אל־מלך בּבל instead of עליו ; yet we might also refer this last-named word to the following subject, Nebuzaradan, as the representative of the king. רב־טבּחים , properly, chief of the slayers, i.e., of the executioners, is the chief of the king's body-guard, who occupied the first place among the royal attendants; see on Genesis 37:36. By the addition of the words בּיום ההוּא , on that day, i.e., then, the more general account regarding Jerusalem and its inhabitants is concluded, for the purpose of attaching to it the notice regarding the fate of the prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah 39:11-14.

Jeremiah 39:11-14

Nebuchadnezzar gave orders regarding Jeremiah, through Nebuzaradan, the chief of the body-guards: "Take him, and set thine eyes upon him, and do him no harm; but, just as he telleth thee, so do with him." In obedience to this command, "Nebuzaradan, the chief of the body-guards, sent-and Nebushasban the head chamberlain, and Nergal-sharezer the chief magician, and all (the other) chief men of the king of Babylon-they sent and took Jeremiah out of the court of the prison, and delivered him over to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, to take him out to the house. Thus he dwelt among the people." - On the names of the Chaldean grandees, see on Jeremiah 39:3. Instead of the chief chamberlain ( רב־סריס ) Sarsechim, there is here named, as occupying this office, Nebushasban, who, it seems, along with Nebuzaradan, was not sent from Riblah till after the taking of Jerusalem, when Sarsechim was relieved.

We cannot come to any certain conclusion regarding the relation in which the two persons or names stand to one another, since Nebushasban is only mentioned in Jeremiah 39:13, just as Sarsechim is mentioned only in Jeremiah 39:3. Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the man who had already on a former occasion given protection to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26:24), was, according to Jeremiah 40:5, placed by the king of Babylon over the cities of Judah, i.e., was nominated the Chaldean governor over Judah and the Jews who were left in the land. To him, as such, Jeremiah is here (Jeremiah 39:14) delivered, that he may take him into the house. בּית is neither the temple (Hitzig) nor the palace, the king's house (Graf), but the house in which Gedaliah resided as the governor; and we find here הבּית , not בּביתו , since the house was neither the property nor the permanent dwelling-place of Gedaliah. - According to this account, Jeremiah seems to have remained in the court of the prison till Nebuchadnezzar came, to have been liberated by Nebuzaradan only at the command of the king, and to have been sent to Gedaliah the governor. But this is contradicted by the account in Jeremiah 40:1., according to which, Nebuzaradan liberated the prophet in Ramah, where he had been kept, confined by manacles, among the captives of Judah that were to be carried to Babylon: Nebuzaradan sent for him, and gave him his liberty. This contradiction has arisen simply from the intense brevity with which, in this verse, the fate of Jeremiah at the capture and destruction of Jerusalem is recorded; it is easy to settle the difference in this way: - When the city was taken, those inhabitants, especially males, who had not carried arms, were seized by the Chaldeans and carried out of the city to Ramah, where they were held prisoners till the decision of the king regarding their fate should be made known. Jeremiah shared this lot with his fellow-countrymen. When, after this, Nebuzaradan came to Jerusalem to execute the king's commands regarding the city and its inhabitants, at the special order of his monarch, he sent for Jeremiah the prophet, taking him out from among the crowd of prisoners who had been already carried away to Ramah, loosed him from his fetters, and gave him permission to choose his place of residence. This liberation of Jeremiah from his confinement might, in a summary account, be called a sending for him out of the court of the prison, even though the prophet, at the exact moment of his liberation, was no longer in the court of the prison of the palace at Jerusalem, but had been already carried away to Ramah as a captive.

Verses 15-18

Jeremiah's message of comfort to Ebedmelech. - Jeremiah 39:15. "Now to Jeremiah there had come the word of the Lord, while he remained shut up in the court of the prison, as follows: Jeremiah 39:16. Go and speak to Ebedmelech the Cushite, saying, Thus saith Jahveh of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will bring my words against this city for evil and not for good, and they shall take place before thee on that day. Jeremiah 39:17. But I will deliver thee on that day, saith Jahveh; neither shalt thou be given into the hand of the men of whom thou art afraid. Jeremiah 39:18. For I will surely save thee, neither shalt thou fall by the sword, and thine own life shall be thy spoil, because thou hast trusted me, saith Jahveh." - This word of God for Ebedmelech came to the prophet, no doubt, very soon after his deliverance from the miry pit by this pious Ethiopian; but it is not given till now, and this by way of supplement, lest its introduction previously should break the chain of events which occurred at the time of that deliverance, Jer 38:14-39:13. Hence היה , Jeremiah 39:15, is to be translated as a pluperfect. "Go and say," etc., is not inconsistent with the fact that Jeremiah, from being in confinement, could not leave the court of the prison. For Ebedmelech could come into the prison, and then Jeremiah could go to him and declare the word of God. "Behold, I will bring my words against this city," i.e., I shall cause the evil with which I have threatened Jerusalem and its inhabitants to come, or, to be accomplished ( מבי with א dropped, as in Jeremiah 19:15, and אל־ for על ). והיוּ לפּניך , "and these words are to take place before thy face," i.e., thou shalt with thine own eyes behold their fulfilment, בּיום ההוּא , i.e., at the time of their occurrence. But thou shalt be saved, not fall into the hands of the enemy and be killed, but carry away thy body out of it all as booty; cf. Jeremiah 21:9; Jeremiah 38:2. "Because thou hast trusted me;" i.e., through the aid afforded to my prophet thou hast continued thy faith in me.

Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Jeremiah 39". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.