At the time King Zedekiah sent Pashhur the son of Malchiah and the priest Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah to him, Jeremiah received a “word” or message from YHWH. Pashhur the son of Malchiah (or Malchijah) appears to have been both a prince and a priest. He was later among the princes who requested that Zedekiah have Jeremiah executed for weakening the warriors who were defending Jerusalem. Pashhur thereafter shared responsibility for having Jeremiah thrown into the miry cistern of Malchijah so that he would die there. (38:1, 4-6) Descendants of Pashhur the son of Malchijah were among the priests returning from Babylonian exile. (1 Chronicles 9:10-12; Nehemiah 11:10-12) On another occasion, Zedekiah sent Zephaniah with Jehucal to Jeremiah, requesting that the prophet pray for the people. (37:3) Zephaniah seemingly was more favorably inclined toward Jeremiah than was Pashhur, for he did not comply with a request to rebuke him. (29:24-32) After Jerusalem fell, Zephaniah was taken as a captive to Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah and was slain there. (21:1; see 2 Kings 25:18, 20, 21; Jeremiah 52:24, 26, 27.)
King Zedekiah sent Pashhur and Zephaniah to Jeremiah so that he might inquire of YHWH. Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had been warring against the kingdom of Judah and begun the siege of Jerusalem. Zedekiah’s question was whether YHWH would perhaps deal with the people “according to all his wonderful [or astonishing] works” forcing King Nebuchadnezzar to withdraw from them and not to proceed with his conquest of Jerusalem. Zedekiah probably had in mind the marvelous deliverance of Jerusalem in the time of King Hezekiah. According to 2 Kings 19:35, 36, and Isaiah 37:36, 37, Assyrian king Sennacherib terminated his military campaign against the kingdom of Judah when the angel of YHWH struck down 185,000 of the Assyrian host, saving Jerusalem from being captured. (21:2; see also 2 Chronicles 32:21 and the Notes section.)
Jeremiah responded to Zedekiah’s inquiry through Pashhur and Zephaniah with the message that they were to relate to him. (21:3) “This is what YHWH the God of Israel has said, Look, I am turning back the weapons of war that are in your hand, with which you are fighting against the king of Babylon and against the Chaldeans who are besieging you outside the wall [of Jerusalem], and I will bring them [the attacking warriors] together into the midst of this city.” Although the Babylonian warriors were then outside Jerusalem, they would breach the wall and enter the city. (21:4) Defeat was certain, for YHWH is quoted as declaring, “And I myself will fight against you with outstretched hand and a strong arm and in anger and in fury and in great wrath.” Through the agency of the Babylonian forces, YHWH would direct his wrath against his wayward people as if personally using his hand and powerful arm to strike them. (21:5) The word of YHWH continued, “And I will strike the residents of this city, both man and beast. They will die of great pestilence [great death (LXX)].” All inside Jerusalem would suffer, including animals. With the population under siege and without essential nourishment and in unsanitary conditions, infectious disease would spread, and many would die. (21:6)
Regarding developments after the Babylonian warriors under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar would end their successful siege and enter Jerusalem, YHWH is quoted as saying, “I will give Zedekiah the king of Judah and his servants and the people surviving in this city from pestilence [death (LXX)], sword, and famine into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon and into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those seeking their soul [or life]. And he [Nebuchadnezzar] will strike them with the edge [literally, mouth] of the sword. He will not pity them, nor spare them, nor have compassion.” The Septuagint attributes the concluding words to God. “I will not spare them and by no means show compassion for them.” (See the Notes section.) The words about what King Nebuchadnezzar would do are apparently to be understood in a general sense and not as indicating what the fate of each individual would be. This is also suggested by the absence of any mention of exile. King Nebuchadnezzar did slay many survivors, but Zedekiah was blinded after he saw his sons slaughtered, and he was taken as a captive to Babylon, where he died. (21:7; 52:6-11)
Jeremiah was to tell the people the choice that YHWH was setting before them. They could decide to select the “way of life” or the “way of death.” The “way of life” was the course they could take to preserve their life, and the course that would lead to losing their life was the “way of death.” (21:8) Those who decided on remaining (literally, “sitting”) in Jerusalem would jeopardize their lives, with the likelihood being that they would die by the sword, by famine, or from pestilence or infectious disease. Individuals who would leave the city, surrendering to the Chaldeans, would continue to live. All those doing so would have their “soul” or life as their “spoil” or gain. (21:9)
YHWH had “set [his] face” against Jerusalem “for evil [or calamity] and not for good.” He was focused on punishing the people for their lawless ways, bringing calamity upon them and not acting to do good for them as a deliverer. Jerusalem would be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, and he would burn the city. (21:10)
The directive to “hear” or listen to the “word of YHWH” was addressed to the “house of the king of Judah,” or all the members of the royal house, especially those functioning in official capacity. (21:11) This royal house had its start with King David and is also called the “house of David.” The word or message from YHWH that Jeremiah made known to the “house of David” was, “Administer justice in the morning and deliver the one being robbed [or defrauded] from the hand [or power] of the oppressor.” At the start of the day, the king and other officials should have been occupied in rendering just decisions. This included upholding the rights of persons who were robbed, defrauded, oppressed, or victims of any form of injustice. The king and officials in the realm had failed in fulfilling their obligations as judges. Therefore, they were warned that, unless corruption stopped, YHWH’s wrath would go forth like fire and burn, with no one able to do any extinguishing because of the “evil” or unjust practices being committed. (21:12)
Jerusalem is located about 2,500 feet (c. 750 meters) above sea level, and is here referred to as one “inhabiting the valley” and a “rock of the plain.” Possibly the reason for these designations is that the Mount of Olives to the east, and the hills to the south and west are higher, giving Jerusalem the appearance of being situated like a secure rock in the midst of higher hilly terrain. Apparently the king and other members of the royal house considered themselves as being in a secure position, for this is what the compound rhetorical question that follows suggests. “Who will come down against us, and who will enter our residences?” (21:13; see the Notes section.)
YHWH’s response to the compound rhetorical question was that he would hold an accounting against the royal house. That accounting would be “according to the fruit [or result] of [their] doings,” including acts of injustice and oppression and failure to uphold the rights of the innocent. YHWH determined to kindle a fire in the “forest” of Jerusalem [literally, “her forest”], this forest being the royal edifices for the construction of which cedar had been used extensively. This fire would consume everything around Jerusalem [literally, “round about her”]. (21:14)
In verse 2, the Septuagint does not mention Nebuchadnezzar by name.
The rendering “by no means” for verse 7 in the Septuagint preserves the emphatic sense of the two Greek words for “not.”
The Septuagint translator appears to have had difficulty in understanding the Hebrew wording in verse 13, for the rendering appears to relate to a location outside the realm of the kingdom of Judah. God is quoted as saying, “Look, I am against you, the one residing in the valley of Sor [possibly Tyre], the plain, and the ones saying, “Who will frighten us? Or who will enter our residence?” Another meaning of the Hebrew text could be that, from YHWH’s standpoint, Jerusalem was not secure but was comparable to an exposed rock situated in a plain. The king and the other members of the royal house, however, considered themselves as being safe.