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Jeremiah Is Set Free A Second Time

40 The Lord spoke to Jeremiah[a] after Nebuzaradan the captain of the royal guard had set him free at Ramah.[b] He had taken him there in chains[c] along with all the people from Jerusalem and Judah who were being carried off to exile to Babylon. The captain of the royal guard took Jeremiah aside and said to him, “The Lord your God threatened this place with this disaster. Now he has brought it about. The Lord has done just as he threatened to do. This disaster has happened because you people sinned against the Lord and did not obey him.[d] But now, Jeremiah, today I will set you free[e] from the chains on your wrists. If you would like to come to Babylon with me, come along and I will take care of you.[f] But if you prefer not to come to Babylon with me, you are not required to do so.[g] You are free to go anywhere in the land you want to go.[h] Go wherever you choose.”[i] Before Jeremiah could turn to leave, the captain of the guard added, “Go back[j] to Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam and grandson of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon appointed to govern[k] the towns of Judah. Go back and live with him[l] among the people. Or go wherever else you choose.” Then the captain of the guard gave Jeremiah some food and a present and let him go. So Jeremiah went to Gedaliah son of Ahikam at Mizpah[m] and lived there with him. He stayed there to live among the people who had been left in the land of Judah.[n]

A Small Judean Province is Established at Mizpah

Now some of the officers of the Judean army and their troops had been hiding in the countryside. They heard that the king of Babylon had appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam to govern[o] the country. They also heard that he had been put in charge over the men, women, and children from the poorer classes of the land who had not been carried off into exile in Babylon.[p] So[q] all these officers and their troops came to Gedaliah at Mizpah. The officers who came were Ishmael son of Nethaniah, Johanan and Jonathan the sons of Kareah, Seraiah son of Tanhumeth, the sons of Ephai the Netophathite, and Jezaniah son of the Maacathite.[r] Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam and grandson of Shaphan, took an oath so as to give them and their troops some assurance of safety.[s] “Do not be afraid to submit to the Babylonians.[t] Settle down in the land and submit to the king of Babylon. Then things will go well for you. 10 I for my part will stay at Mizpah to represent you before the Babylonians[u] whenever they come to us. You for your part go ahead and harvest the wine, the dates, the figs,[v] and the olive oil, and store them in jars. Go ahead and settle down in the towns that you have taken over.”[w] 11 Moreover, all the Judeans who were in Moab, Ammon, Edom, and all the other countries heard what had happened. They heard that the king of Babylon had allowed some people to stay in Judah and that he had appointed Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam and grandson of Shaphan, to govern them. 12 So all these Judeans returned to the land of Judah from the places where they had been scattered. They came to Gedaliah at Mizpah. Thus they harvested a large amount of wine and dates and figs.[x]

Ishmael Murders Gedaliah and Carries Off the Judeans at Mizpah as Captives

13 Johanan, son of Kareah, and all the officers of the troops that had been hiding in the open country came to Gedaliah at Mizpah. 14 They said to him, “Are you at all aware[y] that King Baalis of Ammon has sent Ishmael son of Nethaniah to kill you?” But Gedaliah son of Ahikam would not believe them. 15 Then Johanan son of Kareah spoke privately to Gedaliah there at Mizpah, “Let me go and kill Ishmael the son of Nethaniah before anyone knows about it. Otherwise he will kill you[z] and all the Judeans who have rallied around you will be scattered. Then what remains of Judah will disappear.” 16 But Gedaliah son of Ahikam said to Johanan son of Kareah, “Do not do that[aa] because what you are saying about Ishmael is not true.”[ab]


  1. Jeremiah 40:1 tn Heb “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord.” This phrase regularly introduces the Lord’s directions to Jeremiah that immediately follow (cf. 7:1; 11:1; 18:1; 30:1; 34:1; 35:1). In 21:1 and 44:1 it introduces a word of the Lord that Jeremiah communicates to others. However, no directions to Jeremiah follow here, nor does any oracle that Jeremiah passes on to the people. Some commentators explain this as a heading parallel to that in 1:1-3 (which refers to messages and incidents in the life of Jeremiah up to the fall of Jerusalem), introducing the oracles that Jeremiah delivered after the fall of Jerusalem. However, no oracles follow until 42:9. It is possible that the intervening material supplies background data for the oracle that is introduced in 42:7. An analogy to this structure, but in a much shorter form, may be found in 34:8-12. Another possible explanation is that the words of the captain of the guard in vv. 2-3 are to be seen as the word of the Lord to Jeremiah. In that case, it would be a rather ironical confirmation of what Jeremiah had been saying all along. If it seems strange that a pagan soldier would say these words, it should be remembered that foreign soldiers knew through their intelligence sources what kings and prophets were saying (cf. Isa 36:7), and it is not unusual for God to speak through pagan prophets (cf. Balaam’s oracles, e.g. Num 23:7-10) or even a dumb animal (e.g., Balaam’s donkey [Num 22:28, 30]). Given the penchant for the use of irony in the book of Jeremiah, this is the most likely explanation. For further discussion on this view see G. L. Keown, P. J. Scalise, T. G. Smothers, Jeremiah 26-52 (WBC), 235-36.
  2. Jeremiah 40:1 sn Some commentators see the account of Jeremiah’s release here in 40:1-6 as an alternate and contradictory account to that of Jeremiah’s release in 39:11-14. However, most commentators see them as complementary and sequential. Jeremiah had been released from the courtyard of the guardhouse on orders of the military tribunal there shortly after Nebuzaradan got to Jerusalem and passed on Nebuchadnezzar’s orders to them. He had been released to the custody of Gedaliah, who was to take him back to the governor’s residence and look after him there. However, Jeremiah remained in Jerusalem among the people. He was mistakenly rounded up with them and led off as a prisoner to be deported with the rest of the exiles. However, when he got to Ramah, which was a staging area for deportees, Nebuzaradan recognized him among the prisoners and released him a second time.
  3. Jeremiah 40:1 tn Heb “when he took him and he was in chains.” The subject is probably Nebuzaradan or the indefinite third singular (GKC 460 §144.d). The Kethib of the word for בָּאזִקִּים (baʾziqqim) is to be explained as a secondary formation with prosthetic א (alef) from the normal word for “fetter” (זֵק, zeq) according to HALOT 27 s.v. אֲזִקִּים (see GKC 70 §19.m and 235-36 §85.b for the phenomenon).
  4. Jeremiah 40:3 tn Heb “Because you [masc. pl.] sinned against the Lord and did not hearken to his voice [a common idiom for “obey him”], this thing has happened to you [masc. pl.].”
  5. Jeremiah 40:4 tn The verb here is an example of the perfect of resolve, where the speaker announces his intention to do something, according to IBHS 488-89 §30.5.1d. The word “Jeremiah” is supplied in the translation to avoid the possible misunderstanding that the you is still plural.
  6. Jeremiah 40:4 tn Or “look out for you.” See 39:12 and the translator’s note there.
  7. Jeremiah 40:4 tn Or “Stay here”; Heb “Forbear.” The imperative is used in a permissive sense: “you may forbear.” See GKC 324 §110.b and compare usage in Gen 50:6.
  8. Jeremiah 40:4 tn Heb “See, all the land [or the whole land] is before you.” For this idiom see BDB 817 s.v. פָּנֶה II.4.a(f) and compare the usage in Gen 20:15; 47:6.
  9. Jeremiah 40:4 tn Heb “Unto good and the right in your eyes to go there, go.”
  10. Jeremiah 40:5 tc Or “Before Jeremiah could answer, the captain of the guard added.” Or “But if you remain, then go back.” The meaning of the first part of v. 5 is uncertain. The text is either very cryptic here or needs emendation. The Hebrew text reads, “and he was not yet turning. ‘Or return [imperative] to Gedaliah’” (וְעוֹדֶנּוּ לֹא־יָשׁוּב וְשֻׁבָה אֶל־גְּדַלְיָה), which is very cryptic. The Greek version lacks everything in v. 4 after “I will look out for you” and begins v. 5 with, “But if not, run and return to Gedaliah” (= וְאִם לֹא רוּץ וְשֻׁבָה אֶל־גְּדַלְיָה). The Latin version reads the same as the Hebrew in v. 4 but reads, “and don’t come with me but stay with Gedaliah” (= a possible Hebrew text of וְעִמָּדִי לֹא תָּשׁוּב וְשֵׁבָה אֶת־גְּדַלְיָה). The Syriac version reads, “But if you are remaining, then return to Gedaliah” (reading a possible Hebrew text of וְעוֺדְךָ לֻא יֹשֵׁב וְשֻׁבָה אֶל־גְּדַלְיָה, with an abnormal writing of a conditional particle normally written לוּ [lu] and normally introducing conditions assumed to be untrue, or reading וְעוֹדְךָ לְיֹשֵׁב וְשֻׁבָה אֶל־גְּדַלְיָה, with an emphatic ל [lamed, see IBHS 211-12 §11.2.10i] and an informally introduced condition). NRSV does not explain the Hebrew base for its reading but accepts the Syriac as the original. It does appear to be the most likely alternative if the Hebrew is not accepted. However, the fact that none of the versions agree and all appear to be smoother than the Hebrew text suggests that they were dealing with an awkward original that they were trying to smooth out. Hence it is perhaps best to retain the Hebrew and make the best sense possible out of it. The most common reading of the Hebrew text as it stands is, “and while he was not yet turning [= but before he was able to turn (to go)] [Nebuzaradan continued], ‘Go back to Gedaliah.’” (The imperfect in this case would be an imperfect of capability [see IBHS 507 §31.4c, examples 2, 4, 5].) That is the reading adopted here. REB and TEV appear to accept a minor emendation of the verb “turn to leave” (יָשׁוּב, yashuv, a Qal imperfect) to “answer” (יָשִׁיב, yashiv, a Hiphil imperfect with an elided object [see BDB 999 s.v. שׁוּב Hiph.3 and compare 2 Chr 10:16]). All of this shows that the meaning of the text at this point is very uncertain.
  11. Jeremiah 40:5 tn Heb “set him over/made him overseer over.” See BDB 823-24 s.v. פָּקִיד Hiph.1 and compare usage in Gen 39:4-5.
  12. Jeremiah 40:5 tn Heb “Go back to Gedaliah…and live with him among the people.” The long Hebrew sentence has been restructured to better conform with contemporary English style.
  13. Jeremiah 40:6 sn Mizpah. It is generally agreed that this is the Mizpah that was on the border between Benjamin and Judah. It was located approximately eight miles north of Jerusalem and had been an important military and religious center from the time of the judges (cf., e.g., Judg 20:1-3; 1 Sam 7:5-14; 1 Sam 10:17; 1 Kgs 15:22). It was not far from Ramah, which was approximately four miles north of Jerusalem.
  14. Jeremiah 40:6 tn Heb “So Jeremiah went to Gedaliah…and lived with him among the people who had been left in the land.” The long Hebrew sentence has been divided in two to better conform with contemporary English style.
  15. Jeremiah 40:7 tn Heb “set him over/made him overseer over.” See BDB 823-24 s.v. פָּקִיד Hiph.1 and compare usage in Gen 39:4-5.
  16. Jeremiah 40:7 sn Cf. Jer 39:10.
  17. Jeremiah 40:8 tn Verse 7 consists of a very long conditional clause whose main clause is found in v. 8. The text reads literally, “When all the officers of the forces who were in the countryside heard, they and their men, that the king of Babylon had appointed Gedaliah…over the land and that he had committed to him men, women, and children, even from the poorest of the land, from those who had not been carried off into exile to Babylon, they came.” The sentence has been broken up to better conform with contemporary English style. The phrase “the forces who were in the countryside” has been translated to reflect the probable situation, i.e., they had escaped and were hiding in the hills surrounding Jerusalem, waiting for the Babylonians to leave (cf. Judg 6:2).
  18. Jeremiah 40:8 sn The name of these officers is given here because some of them become important to the plot of the subsequent narrative, in particular, Ishmael and Johanan. Ishmael was a member of the royal family (41:1). He formed an alliance with the king of Ammon, assassinated Gedaliah, killed the soldiers stationed at Mizpah and many of Gedaliah’s followers, and attempted to carry off the rest of the people left at Mizpah to Ammon (40:13; 41:1-3, 10). Johanan was the leading officer who sought to stop Ishmael from killing Gedaliah (40:13-16) and who rescued the Jews that Ishmael was trying to carry off to Ammon (41:11-15). He along with another man named Jezaniah and these other officers were the leaders of the Jews who asked for Jeremiah’s advice about what they should do after Ishmael had killed Gedaliah (43:1-7).
  19. Jeremiah 40:9 tn The words “so as to give…some assurance of safety” are not in the text but are generally understood by all commentators. This would be a case of substitution of cause for effect, the oath, put for the effect, the assurance of safety (NJPS translates directly “reassured them”).
  20. Jeremiah 40:9 tn Heb “Chaldeans.” See the study note on 21:4 for explanation.
  21. Jeremiah 40:10 tn Heb “Chaldeans.” See the study note on 21:4 for explanation.
  22. Jeremiah 40:10 tn Heb “summer fruit.” “Summer fruit” is meaningless to most modern readers; dates and figs are what is involved.
  23. Jeremiah 40:10 tn This plus “Things will go well with you” is in essence the substance of the oath. The pronouns are emphatic: “And I, behold I will stay…and you, you may gather.” The imperatives in the second half of the verse are more a form of permission than of command or advice (cf. NJPS, REB, TEV and compare the usage in 40:4 and the references in the translator’s note there).
  24. Jeremiah 40:12 tn Heb “summer fruit.” “Summer fruit” is meaningless to most modern readers; dates and figs are what is involved.
  25. Jeremiah 40:14 tn The translation is intended to reflect the emphasizing infinitive absolute before the finite verb.
  26. Jeremiah 40:15 tn Heb “Why should he kill you?” However, this is one of those cases listed in BDB 554 s.v. מָה 4.d(b) where מָה begins a question introducing rhetorically the reason why something should be done. In cases like this BDB notes that it approximates the meaning “lest” and is translated in Greek by μήποτε (mēpote) or μή (), as the Greek version does here. Hence it is separated from the preceding and translated “otherwise” for the sake of English style.
  27. Jeremiah 40:16 tn Heb “this thing.”
  28. Jeremiah 40:16 tn Heb “is false” or “is a lie.”

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