Avraham ben Yaakov
JEREMIAH CHAPTER 39
The narrative now reaches its climax with the story of the flight and capture of King Tzedekiah and the exile of Judah to Babylon . A parallel account of the capture of Jerusalem is also found in the closing chapter of Jeremiah (ch 52), which after many intervening chapters about later events then rounds off the book with that event in order to show God's justice in punishing the nation with destruction for failing to heed the warnings of His prophets. However, the purpose of the narrative in our present chapter and those that follow is not so much to recount the details of the destruction as to trace what happened to those who survived, among whom Jeremiah played as active a role as the one he played in Jerusalem before its capture.
V 4: "And they fled and went out at night from the city by way of the king's garden through the gate between the walls and he went out on the way to the Aravah." The Aravah is the Jordan valley. Having inhabited Jerusalem for many hundreds of years, the kings of Judah had had ample time to prepare for various contingencies, and they had evidently had the foresight to prepare the long tunnel which - according to tradition - Tzedekiah used from Jerusalem to the plains of Jericho in the hope of making his escape. However, precisely as he was about to emerge from the cave, God sent a deer which the Babylonian forces sighted and pursued. The deer entered the cave and the Babylonians went after it - and saw Tzedekiah coming out, and captured him (Tanchuma Numbers #9). This was in fulfillment of the prophecy of Ezekiel: "I have spread out My net against him" (Ezekiel 12:13; see Rashi on Jer. 39:4).
V 7: "And he blinded Tzedekiah's eyes." - "Rava asked Rabbah bar Meri, Surely this contradicts what was prophesied of Tzedekiah, that 'you shall die in peace' (Jer. 34:5). He replied in the name of Rabbi Yohanan that the latter prophecy was fulfilled because Nebuchadnezzar died in his lifetime" (Mo'ed Katan 28b).
V 10: "But some of the poor people who owned nothing Nevuzaradan left in the land of Judah ." The Babylonians exiled the upper classes of Judah in order to destroy their aspirations for independence, but there were not bent on destroying Judea and its agriculture completely.
V 11: "And Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon gave instructions concerning Jeremiah." Nebuchadnezzar understood better than the rulers of Judah that Jeremiah was a true prophet, and treated him with great respect, as he did Daniel and his companions.
V 14: From a careful analysis of the texts (cf. Jer. 40:1), RaDaK infers that initially Jeremiah was taken by junior Babylonian officers from the "Courtyard of Confinement" (the king's prison) together with the other exiles and like them put in chains to be taken to Babylon. Only afterwards did these officers learn that Nebuchadnezzar's chief officer, Nebuzaradan, had received special instructions from the king to leave Jeremiah free to choose what he wanted to do, and they then took him to Gedaliah son of Ahikam.
According to Rashi and Metzudas David, prior to the capture of Jerusalem Gedaliah had gone over and submitted to the Babylonians on the instructions of Jeremiah, and when the city was captured, Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah as governor over the remaining inhabitants of Judea.
V 1: "The word that came to Jeremiah. after Nevuzaradan sent him off from Ramah. when he was bound in chains among all the exile of Judah and Jerusalem ." The Midrash tells that Jeremiah wanted to accompany the exiles on the road to Babylon and of his own volition stuck his own neck in among convoys of chained exiles in order to empathize with them and encourage them (cf. Rashi on this verse). According to the Midrash, the "word" that now came to Jeremiah was that he was to stay in Judea and join Gedaliah - this teaching is derived from a careful analysis of verse 5 of the present chapter, "He had not yet turned back [when he was told], Turn back (VE-SHUVAH) to Gedaliah." However, according to the simple, non-midrashic meaning of V 1, the "word" that came to Jeremiah is the prophecy that will be recounted below in Chapter 42 vv 7ff.
V 3: ".and HaShem brought it about and did as He said." Coming from the mouth of Nebuchadnezzar's chief officer, this shows that the destruction of Jerusalem was not only a message for the Jews but a sanctification of God's name in the eyes of all the nations.
Vv 6ff: Jeremiah joined Gedaliah at Mitzpah, where the latter now had his headquarters as governor of the remaining poor farmers of Judea . The officers of the forces who were "in the field" (v 7) were the Judean officers who had fled from Jerusalem in the face of the Babylonians. They now gathered around Gedaliah, who swore to them that as long as they submitted to the king of Babylon he would act as a loyal intermediary with the Babylonians on their behalf and protect them from any acts of vengeance. They were then joined by more Judeans who had fled from the Babylonians to the surrounding territories of Moab , Ammon and Edom etc. Had the surviving Judean officers been willing to heed Gedaliah and Jeremiah, a remnant of Judah could have remained living peaceably in their land. But the tragic assassination of Gedaliah and the survivors' refusal to heed Jeremiah led to the final collapse of all vestiges of Judean independence.
Vv 13ff: Yohanan ben Kare'ach and the other officers of Judah warn Gedaliah that Ishma'el ben Netanyahu had been planted in their midst by the king of Ammon in order to assassinate him. Ishma'el was "from the seed of the kingship" (Jer. 41:1) - i.e. from the royal family of Judah . According to the rabbis, he was the twenty-fourth generation descendant of King David's son Yerahmi-el from his wive Atara, a convert woman of royal origins (see I Chronicles 2:26). Ishma'el was jealous of Gedaliah because of his appointment by the Babylonians as governor of Judea .
V 16: "And Gedaliah said. you are speaking falsely about Ishma'el." Gedaliah rejected what today would be called "credible intelligence" because he was unwilling to accept LASHON HARA, an "evil report" about Ishma'el. This might seem meritorious, but Gedaliah made a mistake that proved to be literally fatal, trying to be more virtuous than the actual Halachah. The prohibition of ACCEPTING an "evil report" about someone means that we should not necessarily BELIEVE what people may tell us about that individual. However, we are still entitled, and indeed duty bound, to take all due precautions IN CASE what they say turns out to be true. Thus the sages said, "Show him respect, but consider him suspect" (KABDEIHU VE-CHASHDEIHU).
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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