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Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles in Babylon


These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2This was after King Jeconiah, and the queen mother, the court officials, the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the artisans, and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem. 3The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah son of Shaphan and Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom King Zedekiah of Judah sent to Babylon to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. It said: 4Thus says the L ord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the L ord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8For thus says the L ord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the L ord.

10 For thus says the L ord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the L ord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14I will let you find me, says the L ord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the L ord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

15 Because you have said, “The L ord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,”— 16Thus says the L ord concerning the king who sits on the throne of David, and concerning all the people who live in this city, your kinsfolk who did not go out with you into exile: 17Thus says the L ord of hosts, I am going to let loose on them sword, famine, and pestilence, and I will make them like rotten figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten. 18I will pursue them with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, and will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be an object of cursing, and horror, and hissing, and a derision among all the nations where I have driven them, 19because they did not heed my words, says the L ord, when I persistently sent to you my servants the prophets, but they would not listen, says the L ord. 20But now, all you exiles whom I sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon, hear the word of the L ord: 21Thus says the L ord of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying a lie to you in my name: I am going to deliver them into the hand of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, and he shall kill them before your eyes. 22And on account of them this curse shall be used by all the exiles from Judah in Babylon: “The L ord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire,” 23because they have perpetrated outrage in Israel and have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives, and have spoken in my name lying words that I did not command them; I am the one who knows and bears witness, says the L ord.

The Letter of Shemaiah

24 To Shemaiah of Nehelam you shall say: 25Thus says the L ord of hosts, the God of Israel: In your own name you sent a letter to all the people who are in Jerusalem, and to the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah, and to all the priests, saying, 26The L ord himself has made you priest instead of the priest Jehoiada, so that there may be officers in the house of the L ord to control any madman who plays the prophet, to put him in the stocks and the collar. 27So now why have you not rebuked Jeremiah of Anathoth who plays the prophet for you? 28For he has actually sent to us in Babylon, saying, “It will be a long time; build houses and live in them, and plant gardens and eat what they produce.”

29 The priest Zephaniah read this letter in the hearing of the prophet Jeremiah. 30Then the word of the L ord came to Jeremiah: 31Send to all the exiles, saying, Thus says the L ord concerning Shemaiah of Nehelam: Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, though I did not send him, and has led you to trust in a lie, 32therefore thus says the L ord: I am going to punish Shemaiah of Nehelam and his descendants; he shall not have anyone living among this people to see the good that I am going to do to my people, says the L ord, for he has spoken rebellion against the L ord.


Here the Prophet begins a new discourse, even that he not only cried out constantly at Jerusalem, that the Jews who still remained there should repent, but that he also mitigated the grief of the exiles, and exhorted them to entertain the hope of returning, provided they patiently endured the chastisement allotted to them. The design of the Prophet was at the same time twofold; for he not only intended to mitigate by comfort the sorrow of the exiles, but designed also to break down the obstinacy of his own nation, so that they who still remained at Jerusalem and in Judea might know that nothing would be better for them than to join themselves to their other brethren. The Jews, as it has already appeared, and as we shall hereafter in many places see, had set their minds on an unreasonable deliverance; God had fixed on seventy years, but they wished immediately to break through and extricate themselves from the yoke laid on them. Hence Jeremiah, in writing to the captives and exiles, intended to accommodate what he said to the Jews who still remained at Jerusalem, and who thought their case very fortunate, because they were not driven away with their king and the rest of the multitude. But at the same time his object was to benefit also the miserable exiles, who might have been overwhelmed with despair, had not their grief been in some measure mitigated. The Prophet, as we shall see, bids them to look forward to the end of their captivity, and in the meantime exhorts them to patience, and desires them to be quiet and peaceable, and not to raise tumults, until the hand of God was put forth for their deliverance.

he says that he wrote a book 201201     So it is rendered by the Sept., Vulg., and Targ.; but “epistle,” or letter, by the Syr. The word properly means a narrative; but as that is included in a book or in a letter, it is often used for both. It is rendered “book” in our version in Exodus 24:7; and “letter” in 2 Samuel 11:14. — Ed. to the remaining elders; 202202     Rather, “old men;” literally it is, “to the remainder of the aged of the transmigration.” Age, and not authority, seems to be intended, though Grotins thinks they were the members of the Sanhedrim. The word commonly rendered “captivity,” and when a verb, “to lead captive,” means properly to be removed, to migrate, and transitively, to remove, to carry away, to transfer, to translate. The idea of captivity is not included in it, though sometimes implied. — Ed. for many of that age had died; as nature requires, the old who approach near the goal of life, die first, he then says that he wrote to them who still remained alive. We hence conclude that his prophecy was designed for them all; and yet he afterwards says, “Take wives and propagate;” but this, as we shall see, is to be confined to those who were at that time in a fit age for marriage. He did not however wish to exclude the aged from the comfort of which God designed them to be partakers, and that by knowing that there would be a happy end to their captivity, provided they retained resignation of mind and patiently bore the punishment of God justly due to them for having so often and in such various ways provoked him. Then he adds, the priests, and the prophets, and then the whole people. 203203     Here in the original ends the preceding Lecture; but as this chapter has no connection with the foregoing, the prayer which occurs here has been removed to the end of the last chapter. — Ed.

But we must notice that he not only exhorts the people to patience, but also the priests and the prophets. And though, as we shall hereafter see, there were among them impostors, who falsely boasted that they were prophets, 204204     The Targ. has “scribes;” the Sept. and Syr., “false prophets;” and the Vulg., “prophets.” They were probably teachers, and not those higher prophets who were favored with visions, and sent forth by God to deliver special messages. — Ed. it is yet probable that they are also included here who were endued with God’s Spirit, either because the spirit was languid in them, or because God did not always grant to them the knowledge of everything. It might then be that the prophets, to whom God had not made known this, or whose minds were oppressed with evils, were to be taught.

As to the priests, we hence conclude that they had from the beginning neglected their office, for they would have been God’s prophets, had they faithfully performed their sacerdotal office; and it was, as it were, an extraordinary thing when God chose other prophets, and not without reproach to the priests; for they must have become degenerated and idle or deceptive, when they gloried in the name alone, when they were destitute of the truth. This then was the reason why they were to be taught in common with the people. It now follows, —

Jeremiah 29:2

2. (After that Jeconiah the king, and the queen, and the eunuchs, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, and the carpenters, and the smiths, were departed from Jerusalem;)

2. Postquam egressus fuerat Jechaniah rex et domina (id est, regina, mater ejus,) et proceres, principes Jehudah et Jerusalem, et artifex et sculptor ex Jerusalem;


He mentions the time when the book was sent, even after the calamity which had happened, when King Jeconiah and his mother were driven into exile, and Zedekiah, his successor, was made governor in his place, as we shall presently see. It was then during these beginnings of a change that Jeremiah wrote. All things were then in such a ferment, that some feared more than what was necessary, and others entertained vain hopes, as the case usually is in a disordered state of things. It was then after this fresh calamity that Jeremiah wrote, as his words most especially shew. He might indeed, as in other instances, have mentioned the year; but as he plainly declares that this happened after the departure of Jeconiah, his purpose is sufficiently evident, even that he wished in due time to give some relief to their sorrow, who might have succumbed under it, had not God in a manner stretched forth his hand to them. For we know that fresh grief is difficult to be borne; and hence it is that it is called a bitter grief; for it was a grievous novelty, when they were violently and suddenly dragged out of their quiet nests. It was then Jeremiah’s object at that time to give them some comfort; he also saw that those who were left in Judea were greatly disturbed and continually agitating new schemes; for Zedekiah’s kingdom was not as yet established, and they despised him and were ever looking for their own king. As, then, things were thus in disorder at home, and as the miserable exiles especially, were at first very grievously afflicted, Jeremiah set before them a seasonable remedy. This then is the reason why he points out the time.

The mother of Jeconiah, we know, was led away with him into captivity; and she is called, הגבירה, egebire; 205205     Rendered “governess” or lady — “domina,” by the Vulg.; but “queen” by the Sept., the Syr., and the Targ. It was a title most commonly given to the queen-mother. — Ed. for though she was not properly the queen, she yet ruled in connection with her son. Some render סריסים, sarisim, eunuchs; 206206     The Versions have “eunuchs,” but the Targ., “princes.” The word means an officer or an attendant on a sovereign. It is rendered “officer” in Genesis 37:36; and “chamberlain” in Esther 2:3. That such officers were often eunuchs there can be no doubt, but the word does not designate such a thing. — Ed. but I prefer the word “chiefs;” and hence is added the word שרי, shari, princes, that is, the courtiers, who governed the people, not only in Jerusalem, but through the whole of Judea. He also adds the artificers and sculptors, 207207     See note on Chapter 24:1 for Nebuchadnezzar had chosen the best of them; he had deprived the city of its nobles, that there might be none of authority among the Jews to venture on any new attempt; and then he had taken away those who were useful and ingenious, so that he left them no sculptors nor artificers. It now follows, —

This is the substance of the message, which the Prophet, no doubt, explained to them at large; but here he touches but briefly on what he wrote to the captives, even that they were patiently to endure their exile until the time of their deliverance, which was not to be such as many imagined, but such as God had fixed. Well known indeed at that time was Jeremiah’s prophecy, not only in Judea, but also to the captives, that their exile could not be completed in a shorter time than seventy years.

It is said that he sent his letter by the hand of the king’s ambassadors. It is probable that this was done by the permission of Zedekiah; for there is no doubt but that in sending his ambassadors he intended to obtain favor with King Nebuchadnezzar, by whose nod he had come to the throne; for he was not of such dignity as to be made king, though of the royal seed, had not Nebuchadnezzar thought that it would be more advantageous to himself. For had he appointed any other governor over the Jews, a sedition might have been easily raised; he therefore intended in a measure to pacify them, for he knew that they were a very refractory people. However, Zedekiah ruled only by permission, not through his own power, nor on account of his wealth, but through the good pleasure of a conqueror. He then sent his ambassadors to promise all kinds of homage, and to know what was to be done in future. As, then, he did not wish the return of Jeconiah, he permitted his ambassadors to carry the letter of Jeremiah, not indeed that he wished to obey God. It was not, then, owing to any sincere regard for religion, but because he thought that it would be advantageous to him, that the Jews should remain in Chaldea till the death of Jeconiah; for he thus hoped that his kingdom would be confirmed, for Jeconiah was, as it were, his rival. Nor is there a doubt, but that Nebuchadnezzar wished to hold Zedekiah bound by this fetter; for he could any day restore Jeconiah, who was his captive, to his former state.

Now, then, we understand why Zedekiah did not prohibit Jeremiah’s letter to be carried to the captives: he thought that it would serve to tranquilize his kingdom. But the holy Prophet had another thing in view; for his anxious object was, not to gain the favor of the king, but to shew, as God had commanded him, how long the captivity would be. Zedekiah indeed might have wished that a permission should be given to the exiles to return; for those who remained in Judea were only the dregs and offscourings of society; it was not an honorable state of things: and it may be that he had also this in view, in sending ambassadors to Nebuchadnezzar, that Jerusalem might not remain desolate, but that a portion at least of the exiles might return, and that there might also be some to cultivate the land which had been nearly stripped of its inhabitants. But Jeremiah declared what he knew was by no means acceptable to the king, that a return was in vain expected before the termination of seventy years. We hence see that he spoke nothing to gain the favor of the king; and yet the king did not regard with displeasure, that the letter was sent to allay all commotions, and to restrain all the violence of those who would have been otherwise too prone to make some new attempts. This accounts for the circumstance, that the letter was sent by the hand of Elasah and Gemariah

He adds, at the same time, that they were sent by Zedekiah to Babylon, that is, to gain the favor of King Nebuchadnezzar, or, at least, to secure his friendship. I now come to the message itself:

God commanded the captives to build houses in Chaldea, to plant vineyards, and also to marry wives, and to beget children, as though they were at home. It was not, indeed, God’s purpose that they should set their hearts on Chaldea, on the contrary, they were ever to think of their return: but until the end of the seventy years, it was God’s will that they should continue quiet, and not attempt this or that, but carry on the business of life as though they were in their own country. As to their hope, then, it was God’s will that their minds should be in a state of suspense until the time of deliverance.

At the first view these two things seemed inconsistent, — that the Jews were to live seventy years as though they were the natives of the place, and that their habitations were not to be changed, — and yet that they were ever to look forward to a return. But these two things can well agree together: it was a proof of obedience when they acknowledged that they were chastised by God’s hand, and thus became willingly submissive to the end of the seventy years. But their hope, as I have just observed, was to remain in suspense, in order that they might not be agitated with discontent, nor be led away by some violent feeling, but that they might so pass their time as to bear their exile in such a way as to please God; for there was a sure hope of return, provided they looked forward, according to God’s will, to the end of the seventy years. It is then this subject on which Jeremiah now speaks, when he says, Build houses, and dwell in them; plant vineyards, and eat of their fruit For this whole discourse is to be referred to the time of exile, he having beforehand spoken of their return; and this we shall see in its proper place.

But the Jews could not have hoped for anything good, except they were so resigned as to bear their correction, and thus really proved that they did not reject the punishment laid on them.

We now see that Jeremiah did not encourage the Jews to indulge in pleasures, nor persuade them to settle for ever in Chaldea. It was, indeed, a fertile and pleasant land; but he did not encourage them to live there in pleasure, to indulge themselves and to forget their own country; by no means: but he confined what he said to the time of the captivity, to the end of the seventy years. During that time, then, he wished them to enjoy the land of Chaldea, and all its advantages, as though they were not exiles but natives of the place. For what purpose? not that they might give themselves up to sloth, but that they might not, by raising commotions, offend God, and in a manner close up against themselves the door of his grace, for the time which he had fixed was to be expected. For when we are driven headlong by a vehement desire, we in a manner repel the favor of God; we do not then suffer him to act as it becomes him: and when we take away from him his own rights and will, it is the same as though we were unwilling to receive his grace. This would have been the case, had they not quietly and resignedly endured their calamity in Chaldea to the end of the time which had been fixed by God.

We now perceive that the Prophet’s message referred only to the time of exile; and we also perceive what was the design of it, even to render them obedient to God, that they might thus shew by their patience that they were really penitent, and that they also expected a return in no other way than through God’s favor alone.

In bidding them to take wives for their sons, and to give their daughters in marriage, he speaks according to the usual order of nature; for it would be altogether unreasonable for young men and young women to seek partners for themselves, according to their own humor and fancy. God then speaks here according to the common order of things, when he bids young men not to be otherwise joined in marriage than by the consent of parents, and that young women are not to marry but those to whom they are given.

He then adds, Be ye multiplied there and not diminished; as though he had said, that the time of exile would be so long, that except they propagated, they would soon come to nothing: and God expressed this, because it was not his will that Abraham’s seed should fail. It was indeed a kind of death, when he had driven them so far, as though he had deprived them of the inheritance which he had promised to be perpetual: he, however, administers comfort here by commanding them to propagate their kind: for they could not have been encouraged to do so, except they had their eyes directed to the hope of a return. He then afforded them some taste of his mercy when he bade them not to be diminished in Chaldea. He then adds, —

Jeremiah goes still farther, even that the Jews had been led to Babylon, on the condition of rendering willing obedience to the authority of King Nebuchadnezzar, and of testifying this by their prayers. He not only bids them patiently to endure the punishment laid on them, but also to be faithful subjects of their conqueror; he not only forbids them to be seditious, but he would have them to obey from the heart, so that God might be a witness of their willing subjection and obedience.

He says, Seek the peace of the city; this may be understood of prayers; for דרש, daresh, often means to pray: but it may suitably be taken here, as I think, in reference to the conduct of the people, as though he had said, that the Jews were to do what they could, to exert themselves to the utmost, so that no harm might happen to the Chaldean monarchy; for they are afterwards directed to pray It may indeed be, that the same thing is repeated in other words; but if any one weighs the subject more fully, he will, I think, assent to what I have stated, that in the first clause the Prophet bids them to be faithful to King Nebuchadnezzar and to his monarchy. Seek, then, the peace of the city: 208208     To, “seek the peace of the city” was, no doubt, to promote it by their efforts, to be careful in preserving it. To “seek the land,” in Deuteronomy 11:12, was to care for it; “not to seek the day,” in Job 3:4, was not to regard it. Hence, to “seek the peace of the city,” was to care for, or regard it, so as to do everything to promote it. It is said of Mordecai that he was “seeking the wealth (rather, the good) of his people.” (Esther 10:3) His whole conduct was a proof of this. To “seek one’s hurt,” as in Psalm 38:12, was not to pray for it, but to use all means to effect it. Therefore the first sense given by Calvin is the right one. — Ed. by peace, as it is well known, is to be understood prosperity.

But he was not satisfied with external efforts, but he would have them to pray to God, that all things might turn out prosperously and happily to the Babylonian king, even to the end of their exile; for we must bear in mind that the Prophet had ever that time in view. We hence learn that he exhorted the exiles to bear the yoke of the king of Babylon, during the time allotted to the captivity, for to attempt anything rashly was to fight against God, and that he thus far commanded them quietly to bear that tyrannical government.

He repeats again what he had said, (though I had passed it by,) that they had been carried away captives: for he had spoken of it, “all the captivity which,” he says, “I made to migrate,” or removed, or led captive, “from Jerusalem.” Now, again, he repeats the same thing, that he had carried them away captives, אשו הגליתי, asher egeliti; 209209     It is literally, “whom I have removed,” or transplanted; “moved from home,” is the Sept.; “transferred,” the Vulg.; “made to migrate,” the Targ. — Ed. and he said this, that they might not regard only the avarice, or the ambition, or the pride of King Nebuchadnezzar, but that they might raise up their eyes to heaven, and acknowledge Nebuchadnezzar as the scourge of God, and their exile as a chastisement for their sins. God thus testified that he was the author of their exile, that the Jews might not think that they had to do with a mortal man, but on the contrary, understand that they were kicking against the goad, if they murmured and complained, because they lived under the tyranny of a foreign king. That they might not then be agitated with vain thoughts, God comes forth and says, that the exile was imposed on them by his just judgment, in order that they might know that they would gain nothing by their perverseness, and that they might not be disturbed by an anxious disquietude, nor dare to attempt anything new, for this would be to resist God, and as it were to carry on war with heaven. I will finish here.

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