God’s Word for You
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, April 16, 2015
A Letter to the Exiles
29 This is the text of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the remnant of the elders in exile, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 (This was after Jeconiah, the queen mother, the secretaries, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen and the smiths had gone into exile from Jerusalem.) 3 The letter was carried by Elasah son of Shaphan and Gemaraiah son of Hilkiah when Zedekiah king of Judah sent them to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.
We are used to seeing letters or epistles in the New Testament, where we have two by Luke (his Gospel and the book of Acts, both addressed to Theophilus; Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-2), thirteen by Paul such as Galatians, three others evidently written to the Galatians and others nearby (1-2 Peter and Jude), one from James, a letter/sermon to the Hebrews, three from John and seven dictated to John by Jesus (Revelation 2:1-3:22).
There are also many letters recorded in the Old Testament. One is an impressive confession of faith from King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:1-37), and there are many examples of royal proclamations and correspondence from Cyrus of Persia (Ezra 1:2-4), Xerxes (Esther 8:11-13), Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:11-22; Ezra 7:11-26), Darius (Ezra 5:7-17; Ezra 6:3-12) and others (Nehemiah 6:6-8). There are letters from King David (2 Samuel 11:15), King Hyram of Tyre (2 Chronicles 2:11-16); King Jehu of Israel (2 Kings 10:6); King Sennacherib of Assyria (2 Kings 19:10-13) and even from the prophet Elijah (2 Chronicles 21:12-15). Another important letter from Jeremiah’s lifetime but not in the Bible was discovered by archaeologists in 1935. We will discuss this letter from the Jerusalem garrison commander along with Jeremiah 34:7.
The letter before us was sent by Jeremiah to the exiles in 597 or 596 BC, shortly after King Jeconiah was exiled. It is attached here because it fits topically with what we have read in chapters 27-28 and Jeremiah’s confrontation with Hananiah.
Perhaps most readers will not ponder too much about the names of the letter-carriers in verse 3. One of them will turn up again later in the book; they were men sympathetic to Jeremiah and who had important ties to the priesthood and to the king. Elasah is not mentioned again in the Bible, but his father Shaphan was secretary to King Josiah and was one of the most respected men in the kingdom in the days of Josiah’s reforms. It was Shaphan who read from the Book of the Law to the king when it was uncovered (2 Kings 22:8-10). Elasah’s brother Ahikam was the one who supported Jeremiah when the prophet’s life was in danger (Jeremiah 26:24).
There is a Gemariah who is also called a son of Shaphan (Jeremiah 26:10-12), but this Gemariah is the son of Hilkiah—Hilkiah was high priest when Shaphan was Josiah’s secretary (2 Kings 22:8,14). Could those men have had children who married and produced this Gemariah? It was usual for a baby to be named after a relative, especially a well-known relative (Luke 1:61). This brings us to another very interesting possibility. Jeremiah was the son of the priest Hilkiah (Jeremiah 1:1). Could this Gemariah have been Jeremiah’s own brother? Not necessarily. Jeremiah would probably have mentioned that this was his brother, as Nehemiah does when his brother Hanani appears in the story (Nehemiah 7:2). They might simply have had fathers with the same name.
Finally, notice that Jeremiah goes out of his way to mention the queen mother (2 Kings 24:12-15) along with her son Jeconiah. This was another nod toward the people’s opinion that Jeconiah, not Zedekiah, was the legitimate ruler of Judah, since Zedekiah had been placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24:17). Unsure of what to think, they turned to God as their guide.
This is what we must do when our lives get so messy that there is no way through a situation that does not involve sin. We’re all pretty good at tying our lives into complicated knots. So we ask God to forgive us, to give us guidance, and to be with us as he has promised.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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