Jeremiah Is Set Free A Second Time1 The Lord spoke to Jeremiah ▼
▼ Heb “The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord.” This phrase regularly introduces the Lord’s directions to Jeremiah which immediately follow (cf. 7:1; 11:1; 18:1; 30:1; 34:1; 35:1). In 21:1; 44:1 it introduces a word of the Lord that Jeremiah communicates to others. However, no directions to Jeremiah follow here nor does any oracle that Jeremiah passes on to the people. Some commentators explain this as a heading parallel to that in 1:1–3 (which refers to messages and incidents in the life of Jeremiah up to the fall of Jerusalem) introducing the oracles that Jeremiah delivered after the fall of Jerusalem. However, no oracles follow until 42:9. It is possible that the intervening material supply background material for the oracle that is introduced in 42:7. An analogy to this structure but in a much shorter form may be found in 34:8–12. Another possible explanation is that the words of the captain of the guard in vv. 2–3 are to be seen as the word of the Lord to Jeremiah. In this case, it is a rather ironical confirmation of what Jeremiah had been saying all along. If it is thought strange that a pagan soldier would have said these words, it should be remembered that foreign soldiers knew through their intelligence sources what kings and prophets were saying (cf. Isa 36:7), and it is not unusual for God to speak through pagan prophets (cf. Balaam’s oracles, e.g. Num 23:7–10) or even a dumb animal (e.g., Balaam’s donkey [Num 22:28, 30]). Given the penchant for the use of irony in the book of Jeremiah, this is the most likely explanation. For further discussion on this view see G. L. Keown, P. J. Scalise, T. G. Smothers, Jeremiah 26–52 (WBC), 235–36.after Nebuzaradan the captain of the royal guard had set him free at Ramah. ▼
▼ Some commentators see the account of Jeremiah’s release here in 40:1–6 as an alternate and contradictory account to that of Jeremiah’s release in 39:11–14. However, most commentators see them as complementary and sequential. Jeremiah had been released from the courtyard of the guardhouse on orders of the military tribunal there shortly after Nebuzaradan got to Jerusalem and passed on Nebuchadnezzar’s orders to them. He had been released to the custody of Gedaliah who was to take him back to the governor’s residence and look after him there. However, Jeremiah remained in Jerusalem among the people there. He was mistakenly rounded up with them and led off as a prisoner to be deported with the rest of the exiles. However, when he got to Ramah which was a staging area for deportees, Nebuzaradan recognized him among the prisoners and released him a second time.He had taken him there in chains ▼
▼ Heb “when he took him and he was in chains.” The subject is probably Nebuzaradan or the indefinite third singular (GKC 460 #144.d). The Kethib of the word for בָּאזִקִּים (ba’ziqqim) is to be explained as a secondary formation with prosthetic א (aleph) from the normal word for “fetter” (זֵק, zeq) according to HALOT 27 s.v. אֲזִקִּים (see GKC 70 #19.m and 235–36 #85.b for the phenomenon).along with all the people from Jerusalem ▼ and Judah who were being carried off to exile to Babylon. 2 The captain of the royal guard took Jeremiah aside and said to him, “The Lord your God threatened this place with this disaster. 3 Now he has brought it about. The Lord has done just as he threatened to do. This disaster has happened because you people sinned against the Lord and did not obey him. ▼
▼ Heb “Because you [masc. pl.] sinned against the Lord and did not hearken to his voice [a common idiom for “obey him”], this thing has happened to you [masc. pl.].”4 But now, Jeremiah, today I will set you free ▼
▼ The verb here is an example of the perfect of resolve where the speaker announces his intention to do something according to IBHS 488–89 #30.5.1d. The word “Jeremiah” is supplied in the translation to avoid the possible misunderstanding that the you is still plural.from the chains on your wrists. If you would like to come to Babylon with me, come along and I will take care of you. ▼ But if you prefer not to come to Babylon with me, you are not required to do so. ▼ You are free to go anywhere in the land you want to go. ▼ Go wherever you choose.” ▼
▼ Heb “Unto the good and the right in your eyes to go, go there.”5 Before Jeremiah could turn to leave, the captain of the guard added, “Go back ▼
▼ Or “Before Jeremiah could answer, the captain of the guard added.” Or “But if you remain, then go back.” The meaning of the first part of v. 5 is uncertain. The text is either very cryptic here or is corrupt, perhaps beyond restoration. The Hebrew text reads, “and he was not yet turning and return to Gedaliah” (וְעוֹדֶנּוּ לֹא־יָשׁוּב וְשֻׁבָה אֶל־גְּדַלְיָה) which is very cryptic. The Greek version lacks everything in v. 4 after “I will look out for you” and begins v. 5 with “But if not, run, return to Gedaliah” (= וְאִם לֹא רוּץ וְשֻׁבָה אֶל־גְּדַלְיָה). The Latin version reads the same as the Hebrew in v. 4 but reads “and don’t come with me but stay with Gedaliah” (= a possible Hebrew text of וְעִמָּדִי לֹא תָּשׁוּב וְשֵׁבָה אֶת־גְּדַלְיָה). The Syriac version reads “But if you are remaining then return to Gedaliah” (reading a possible Hebrew text of יֹשֵׁב וְשֻׁבָה אֶל־גְּדַלְיָה וְעוֹדְךָ לֻא with an abnormal writing of a conditional particle normally written לוּ [lu] and normally introducing conditions assumed to be untrue or reading וְעוֹדְךָ לְיֹשֵׁב וְשֻׁבָה אֶל־גְּדַלְיָה with an emphatic לְ [le, see IBHS 211–12 #11.2.10i] and an informally introduced condition). NRSV does not explain the Hebrew base for its reading but accepts the Syriac as the original. It does appear to be the most likely alternative if the Hebrew is not accepted. However, the fact that none of the versions agree and all appear to be smoother than the Hebrew text suggests that they were dealing with an awkward original that they were trying to smooth out. Hence it is perhaps best to retain the Hebrew and make the best sense possible out of it. The most common reading of the Hebrew text as it stands is “and while he was not yet turning [= but before he was able to turn (to go)] [Nebuzaradan continued], ‘Go back to Gedaliah.’” (The imperfect in this case is an imperfect of capability [see IBHS 507 #31.4c, examples 2, 4, 5].) That is the reading that is adopted here. REB and TEV appear to accept a minor emendation of the verb “turn to leave” (יָשׁוּב, yashuv, a Qal imperfect) to “answer” (יָשִׁיב, yashiv, a Hiphil imperfect with an elided object [see BDB 999 s.v. שׁוּב Hiph.3 and compare 2 Chr 10:16]). All of this shows that the meaning of the text at this point is very uncertain.to Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam and grandson of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon appointed to govern ▼ the towns of Judah. Go back and live with him ▼
▼ Heb “Go back to Gedaliah…and live with him among the people.” The long Hebrew sentence has been restructured to better conform with contemporary English style.among the people. Or go wherever else you choose.” Then the captain of the guard gave Jeremiah some food and a present and let him go. 6 So Jeremiah went to Gedaliah son of Ahikam at Mizpah ▼
▼ Mizpah. It is generally agreed that this is the Mizpah that was on the border between Benjamin and Judah. It was located approximately eight miles north of Jerusalem and had been an important military and religious center from the time of the judges on (cf., e.g., Judg 20:1–3; 1 Sam 7:5–14; 1 Sam 10:17; 1 Kgs 15:22). It was not far from Ramah which was approximately four miles north of Jerusalem.and lived there with him. He stayed there to live among the people who had been left in the land of Judah. ▼
▼ Heb “So Jeremiah went to Gedaliah…and lived with him among the people who had been left in the land.” The long Hebrew sentence has been divided in two to better conform with contemporary English style.
A Small Judean Province is Established at Mizpah7 Now some of the officers of the Judean army and their troops had been hiding in the countryside. They heard that the king of Babylon had appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam to govern ▼ the country. They also heard that he had been put in charge over the men, women, and children from the poorer classes of the land who had not been carried off into exile in Babylon. ▼ 8 So ▼
▼ Verse 6 consists of a very long conditional clause whose main clause is found in v. 7. The text reads literally “When all the officers of the forces who were in the countryside heard, they and their men, that the king of Babylon had appointed Gedaliah…over the land and that he had committed to him men, women, and children, even from the poorest of the land from those who had not been carried off into exile to Babylon, they came.” The sentence has been broken up to better conform with contemporary English style. The phrase “the forces who were in the countryside” has been translated to reflect the probable situation, i.e., they had escaped and were hiding in the hills surrounding Jerusalem waiting for the Babylonians to leave (cf. Judg 6:2).all these officers and their troops came to Gedaliah at Mizpah. The officers who came were Ishmael son of Nethaniah, Johanan and Jonathan the sons of Kareah, Seraiah son of Tanhumeth, the sons of Ephai the Netophathite, and Jezaniah son of the Maacathite. ▼
▼ The name of these officers is given here because some of them become important to the plot of the subsequent narrative, in particular, Ishmael and Johanan. Ishmael was a member of the royal family (41:1). He formed an alliance with the king of Ammon, assassinated Gedaliah, killed the soldiers stationed at Mizpah and many of Gedaliah’s followers, and attempted to carry off the rest of the people left at Mizpah to Ammon (40:13; 41:1–3, 10). Johanan was the leading officer who sought to stop Ishmael from killing Gedaliah (40:13–16) and who rescued the Jews that Ishmael was trying to carry off to Ammon (41:11–15). He along with another man named Jezaniah and these other officers were the leaders of the Jews who asked for Jeremiah’s advice about what they should do after Ishmael had killed Gedaliah (43:1–7).9 Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam and grandson of Shaphan, took an oath so as to give them and their troops some assurance of safety. ▼
▼ The words “so as to give them some assurance of safety” are not in the text but are generally understood by all commentators. This would be a case of substitution of cause for effect, the oath, put for the effect, the assurance of safety (NJPS translates directly “reassured them”).“Do not be afraid to submit to the Babylonians. ▼ Settle down in the land and submit to the king of Babylon. Then things will go well for you. 10 I for my part will stay at Mizpah to represent you before the Babylonians ▼ whenever they come to us. You for your part go ahead and harvest the wine, the dates, the figs, ▼
▼ Heb “summer fruit.” “Summer fruit” is meaningless to most modern readers; dates and figs are what is involved.and the olive oil, and store them in jars. Go ahead and settle down in the towns that you have taken over.” ▼
▼ This plus “Things will go well with you” is in essence the substance of the oath. The pronouns are emphatic, “And I, behold I will stay…and you, you may gather.” The imperatives in the second half of the verse are more a form of permission than of command or advice (cf. NJPS, REB, TEV and compare the usage in 40:4 and the references in the translator’s note there).11 Moreover, all the Judeans who were in Moab, Ammon, Edom, and all the other countries heard what had happened. They heard that the king of Babylon had allowed some people to stay in Judah and that he had appointed Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam and grandson of Shaphan, to govern them. 12 So all these Judeans returned to the land of Judah from the places where they had been scattered. They came to Gedaliah at Mizpah. Thus they harvested a large amount of wine and dates and figs. ▼
▼ Heb “summer fruit.” “Summer fruit” is meaningless to most modern readers; dates and figs are what is involved.
Ishmael Murders Gedaliah and Carries the Judeans at Mizpah off as Captives13 Johanan and all the officers of the troops that had been hiding in the open country came to Gedaliah at Mizpah. 14 They said to him, “Are you at all aware ▼
▼ The translation is intended to reflect the emphasizing infinitive absolute before the finite verb.that King Baalis of Ammon has sent Ishmael son of Nethaniah to kill you?” But Gedaliah son of Ahikam would not believe them. 15 Then Johanan son of Kareah spoke privately to Gedaliah there at Mizpah, “Let me go and kill Ishmael the son of Nethaniah before anyone knows about it. Otherwise he will kill you ▼
▼ Heb “Why should he kill you?” However, this is one of those cases listed in BDB 554 s.v. מָה 4.d(b) where it introduces a question introducing rhetorically the reason why something should not be done. In cases like this BDB notes that it approximates the meaning “lest” and is translated in Greek by μήποτε (mēpote) or μή (mē) as the Greek version does here. Hence it is separated from the preceding and translated “otherwise” for the sake of English style.and all the Judeans who have rallied around you will be scattered. Then what remains of Judah will disappear.” 16 But Gedaliah son of Ahikam said to Johanan son of Kareah, “Do not do that ▼
▼ Heb “this thing.”because what you are saying about Ishmael is not true.” ▼
▼ Heb “is false” or “is a lie.”
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