Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
JEREMIAH CHAPTER 29
JEREMIAH'S LETTER TO THE EXILES IN BABYLON
In the previous chapter (Jer. 28) we saw how the false prophet Hananyah ben Azoor was prophesying that the large contingent of exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar had deported to Babylon with King Yeho-yachin would speedily be restored to Jerusalem WITHIN TWO YEARS. Their deportation had surely been a nasty shock, but with Babylon still at the beginning of its ascendancy - they were deported in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar's reign, eighteen years prior to the destruction of the Temple - the recalcitrant establishment priests and false prophets in Jerusalem were able to persuade themselves that the rise of the new superpower would be very short-lived.
Hananyah was by no means the only one broadcasting this message and encouraging Judah to resist the Babylonians. The present chapter (v 8) indicates that numerous sorcerers and diviners among the exiles in Babylon itself were saying the same thing, and three false prophets there are cited by name (vv 21ff and v 24).
Jeremiah's message to the exiles was the direct opposite. V 5: "Build houses and dwell in them, and plant gardens and eat their fruits." Jeremiah advised the exiles to come to terms with the fact that the exile in Babylon would last no less than SEVENTY YEARS, as he prophesied in ch 25 vv 11-12 and repeats in the present chapter v 10. [Many living today in the comfortable pastures of the Diaspora act as if Jeremiah's instruction to dig in for a long exile still applies in our times. However, the fact is that outstanding leaders of modern times, such as the Baal Shem Tov and the Gaon of Vilna, urged their followers to go to live in the Holy Land .]
V 7: "Pray for the peace of the city to which I have exiled you and pray on its behalf". Jeremiah here lays down one of the fundamental principles of Jewish life in exile, that although living in a country that is not their own, they should still pray for its welfare. This is reflected in the practice of reciting a special prayer during the Sabbath morning service in Diaspora synagogues for the welfare of the host country.
Vv 11: "For I know the thoughts I am thinking about you, says HaShem, thoughts of PEACE." Jeremiah wants the exiles to understand why they must submit with resignation to their exile. This is because its purpose is to atone for their sins and prepare them for the good end that God has in mind for them. They can only be restored after they have been chastened by exile and have learned to repent and search out God with all their hearts.
Vv 16ff: "For thus says HaShem to the king who sits on the throne of David and to all the people that dwell in this city [ Jerusalem ]. I shall make them like detestable figs." In Jeremiah's vision of the Two Baskets of Figs (chapter 24), he had contrasted the "good figs" - those members of Judah who submitted to the decree of exile and went with Yeho-yachin to Babylon - with the "bad figs", the recalcitrant rebels who defiantly remained in Jerusalem . Our present chapter supplements that vision, explaining its implications in greater detail.
V 21: The rabbis tell that the false prophets Ahab son of Kolayah and Tzedekikah son of Ma'aseyah each privately approached Nebuchadnezzar's daughter informing her that he had received divine prophecy instructing her to submit to the advances of his colleague. When she went and told this to her father, he exclaimed, "But their God hates immorality!" He had her send them to him and told them that he had asked Daniel's companions, Hananyah, Mishael and Azariah, who told him that such an suggestion was forbidden. They said that they had received prophecy while those three had not. Nebuchadnezzar replied that if so, Ahab and Tzedekiah should be tested as those three had been by being thrown into the furnace, but they retorted that Daniel's companions were three in number while they were only two, which might be insufficient for a miracle. The king asked them to choose someone else to be thrown in with them, and they chose Yehoshua the High Priest (see Zechariah 3:2) hoping they would be saved through his merits. But while Yehoshua was saved from the fire, they were burned to death! (Sanhedrin 93a).
Vv 24ff: The denunciation of Jeremiah by Shemaya the Nehelamite. It is clear from this passage that members of the community of exiles in Babylon were busy trying to influence the factions in Jerusalem and were in correspondence with them. It is also apparent that the episode in which Pashhur the priest had Jeremiah confined to prison and literally put in the pillory for his views (chapter 20) was not isolated but part of a sustained campaign against him.
V 2: "Write all the things I have spoken to you in a book." God's instruction to Jeremiah to commit his prophecies to writing was in order that future generations would be able to gain instruction from the events of the past as interpreted by the prophet in order to apply the lessons to themselves. It states explicitly in the present chapter that "in the end of days you will contemplate/understand it" (v 24).
Lest we become disheartened by Jeremiah's repeated prophecies of dire calamity and protracted exile, the present chapter is a prophecy of comfort promising that in the end God will return the captivity of His people and restore them to the Land promised to their fathers (v 3). This prophecy is explicitly directed equally towards Israel (=the Ten Tribes) and Judah (vv 3 & 4). The rabbinic commentators are in agreement that it refers to the War of Gog and Magog and the future redemption (Rashi and Metzudas David on v 3; RaDaK on v 7).
The ructions of this war will be so frightening that even the men will have their hands on their loins like a woman wracked by the pain of childbirth (v 6).
V 7: "Woe! For great is that day with none to compare with it, and it will be a time of trouble for Jacob!" Likewise Daniel (12:1) said, "It will be a time of trouble such as has never been since the time they became a nation". But "HE WILL BE SAVED FROM IT!!!" (Jeremiah 30:7).
V 10: "And you, do not fear, O My servant Jacob!" In the words of Rabbi Nachman, "The whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the main thing is NOT TO BE AFRAID!!!"
Vv 12ff evoke the dire situation of Israel at the end of days, without a true champion to stand up for them and heal their wounds (v 13), abandoned by those they trusted to help them (v 14). The main lesson that Israel must learn is that their suffering is not arbitrary but has been sent by God to atone for their sins (v 15) and that He alone can save them.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
© AZAMRA INSTITUTE 5767 - 2006-7 All rights reserved