Jeremiah 40:1-16 (47:1-16, LXX)

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At Ramah, a city in the tribal territory of Benjamin and located north of Jerusalem, Jeremiah found himself bound in chains among “all the captives” from Jerusalem and the territory of the kingdom of Judah. The captives were to be taken to live as exiles in Babylon. It was there at Ramah that Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard (more literally, the “chief of the slaughterers”) released Jeremiah. After being released, the prophet received a message from YHWH. (40:1 [47:1, LXX]; see the Notes section and the comments on 39:14.)

It may be that Nebuzaradan learned from Judeans who were about to be led to Babylon as captives about the message that Jeremiah had been proclaiming as a prophet whom YHWH had commissioned. Nebuzaradan’s words revealed that he knew about the prophetic activity of Jeremiah. He said to him, “YHWH your God pronounced this evil [or calamity] against this place [Jerusalem].” (40:2 [47:2, LXX]) “And YHWH brought it [the evil or calamity] about as he had said, because you [people] sinned against YHWH and did not listen to [or obey] his voice, and this thing [or calamity] has come upon you.” (40:3 [47:3, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

Speaking directly to Jeremiah, Nebuzaradan continued, “And now, look, I have released you today from the manacles on your hands [or wrists]. If it seems good in your eyes [or good to you] to come with me to Babylon, come, and I will look after you [literally, I will keep my eye upon you (as one concerned about his welfare)]. And if it seems bad in your eyes [or less desirable to you] to come with me to Babylon, forbear [or do not come]. Look, all the land [is] before you [literally, before your face]. Wherever [it is] good and right in your eyes to go, go there. (40:4 [47:4, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

Although Jeremiah had been given choices, he “still did not turn.” He may just have remained standing before Nebuzaradan without saying anything. Seemingly, for this reason, Nebuzaradan made the choice for him not to accompany him to Babylon, telling him, “Go back to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan whom the king of Babylon appointed over the cities of Judah, and reside with him among the people, or [to wherever] it is right in your eyes to go, go.” Nebuzaradan “the captain of the guard” gave Jeremiah an “allowance” of food and a “portion” or gift and then let him go. Gedaliah apparently was from a prominent family that had been favorable to Jeremiah. The men used their influence to uphold justice. During the reign of Jehoiakim, Gedaliah’s father Ahikam came to the defense of Jeremiah, preventing his being given into the “hand [or power] of the people” to have him killed. (26:24) Shaphan, Gedaliah’s grandfather, served as the royal secretary during the reign of Jehoiakim’s father Josiah, and he and his son Ahikam and three other men were sent to the prophetess Huldah to inquire of YHWH regarding the judgments recorded in the recently discovered scroll that contained the law. (2 Kings 22:12-14; 2 Chronicles 34:20-22) According to Josephus (Antiquities, X, ix, 1), Gedaliah was a man of “gentle and righteous disposition.” (40:5 [47:5, LXX]) “Jeremiah went to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam at Mizpah” (Massepha [LXX]), a city in the tribal territory of Benjamin north of Jerusalem, “and he resided with him among the people” who were left remaining in the land of the conquered kingdom of Judah. (40:6 [47:6, LXX])

All the Judean captains (literally, princes of the forces [or troops]) and the warriors who had escaped being captured during the conflict with the Chaldeans heard that King Nebuchadnezzar had made Gedaliah the son of Ahikam governor in the land and had granted him authority over men, women, children, and the poor (“men and their wives” [LXX]) who had not been taken as captives to Babylon. (40:7 [47:7, LXX]) The captains and their men decided to go to Gedaliah at Mizpah. Those who came included Ishmael the son of Nethaniah (a man of royal descent [“of the seed of the kingdom” (2 Kings 25:25)] who may already have been plotting to assassinate Gedaliah), Johanan (who later asked Gedaliah for permission to kill Ishmael to prevent the carrying out of the assassination plot) and Jonathan the sons of Kareah, Seraiah the son of Tanhumeth, the sons of Ephai the Netophathite (a resident from Netophah, a village near Bethlehem), and Jezaniah (also known as Jaazaniah [2 Kings 25:23]) the son of the Maacathite (a foreigner from Maacah, a region on the border of Bashan). (40:8 [47:8, LXX]; see the Notes section.) “Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan swore to the [captains] and their men, saying, ‘Do not be afraid to serve the Chaldeans. Reside in the land, and serve the king of Babylon, and it will go well with you.” They would enjoy security and prosper. (40:9 [47:9, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

Gedaliah said that he would be residing at Mizpah and “stand before [literally, before the face of] the Chaldeans” who would be coming to the people. His words indicated that he would be acting in the interests of the people as their representative when handling matters with the Chaldeans. Gedaliah advised the people to “gather wine and summer fruits and oil,” and store what they collected in vessels. He continued, “and reside in your cities [in the cities (LXX)] that you have taken [as your own].” Literally, wine and oil cannot be harvested. The meaning may be that the people could collect the wine, dried fruits, and olive oil from storage places that their occupants had been forced to leave behind when they were taken as captives to Babylon. It is also possible that the reference is to the gathering of grapes that would be made into wine and the harvesting of olives that would be pressed out for oil. Josephus (Antiquities, X, ix, 2) wrote that Gedaliah admonished the people “that they should make preparation, while the season lasted, of grain, and wine, and oil,” that they might have food to eat “during the winter.” Regarding their taking up residence in cities, Josephus stated, Gedaliah “also advised them to dwell in any city, as everyone of them pleased; … and rebuild their houses upon the old foundations, and dwell there.” It may well have been that many houses were still in livable condition, providing suitable homes for those who chose to reside in various villages and towns in the land of Judah. (40:10 [47:10, LXX])

During the Chaldean invasion and campaign of conquest, many people took refuge outside the territory of the kingdom of Judah. “All the Judeans who were in Moab and among the sons of Ammon [the Ammonites] and in Edom [Idumea (LXX)] and in all the [other] lands [to which they had fled] heard that the king of Babylon had left a remnant in Judah and had appointed Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan over them.” (40:11 [47:11, LXX]) All of these Judeans then departed “from all the places to which they had been scattered” and came back “to the land of Judah to Gedaliah at Mizpah.” In the land, “they gathered wine and summer fruit in great abundance.” If the reference is to gathering grapes that would be made into wine and harvesting summer fruits, including olives, dates, pomegranates, and figs, there would have been considerable produce in vineyards and on fruit-bearing trees for the greatly reduced population in the land. It is also likely that the people could have found considerable quantities of stored-up food supplies. (40:12 [47:12, LXX]; compare 41:8.)

Apparently news reached “Johanan the son of Kareah and all the [other] captains (princes or leaders) of the forces” who were then “in the open country” that a plot was being hatched to kill Gedaliah. Therefore, they came to him at Mizpah (40:13 [47:13, LXX]) “and said to him, ‘Do you know that Baalis [Belisa (LXX)] the king of the sons of Ammon [the Ammonites] has sent Ishmael the son of Nethaniah to strike you to the soul [or to kill you]?’” “Gedaliah the son of Ahikam did not believe them.” (40:14 [47:14, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

Johanan the son of Kareah spoke secretly to Gedaliah at Mizpah, requesting his consent to kill Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, with no one coming to know about it. Johanan added as his reason, “Why should [Ishmael] strike you to the soul [or take your life] and all the Judeans” who have gathered around you be scattered and the remaining ones of Judah [from the former kingdom of Judah] perish?” In his view, the assassination of Gedaliah would lead to serious punitive action from the Chaldeans. (40:15 [47:15, LXX]; compare 43:2-7.) Gedaliah the son of Ahikam refused to grant permission to Johanan the son of Kareah to kill Ishmael, but said to him, “Do not do this thing, for falsehood you are speaking of Ishmael.” Josephus (Antiquities, X, ix, 3) wrote that Gedaliah did not believe that Ishmael would be guilty of this kind of treachery as he had treated him well and thought that it was improbable that one “should be found so wicked and ungrateful toward his benefactor.” If what Johanan had said about Ishmael was true, Gedaliah reasoned that it would be better for himself to be slain than to “destroy a man who had fled to him for refuge, entrusted his own safety to him, and committed himself to his disposal.” (40:16 [47:16, LXX])

Notes

It appears that the Septuagint translator misread the Hebrew text of verse 1 and referred to Nebuzaradan (Nabouzardan) as being from Daman. Fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, however, does say Rama.

In verse 3 of chapter 47, the Septuagint does not include the phrase, “and this thing has come upon you.”

In verse 8 of chapter 47, the Septuagint refers to Jezaniah the Maacathite as “Jezonias [Iezonias] son of the Mochati [Moochati].” In the parallel passage of 4 Kings 25:23 (2 Kings 25:23), he is called the “son of the Machathi.” The Septuagint, in verse 8 and 4 Kings 25:23 (2 Kings 25:23), does not list two sons of Kareah (Karee) but only one son, Joanan (Ioanan, Johanan).

Regarding Ishmael (verse 9) , Josephus (Antiquities, X, ix, 3) indicates that the aim of the treacherous act was so that “he might have the dominion over the Israelites, as being of the royal family.”

A seal impression that was found in Jordan in the year 1984 contains the name Ba‛alyish‛a and may be the Baalis mentioned in verse 14. The Ammonites did not submit to the Babylonians. (Compare Ezekiel 21:19, 20, 28-32.) Therefore, Baalis the king of Ammon would not have wanted as a neighbor an appointee of the king of Babylon and an accompanying Chaldean presence. He desired that Gedaliah be assassinated, and he found a willing tool in the person of Ishmael.