Chapter twenty-one seems to begin a new section of this book. In the first twenty chapters, the only indication of time given is in Jeremiah 1:1-3 and Jeremiah 3:6. Chapter one indicates the time span over which God spoke to Jeremiah, while chapter three specifies that the following prophecies were during the reign of Josiah (641-609 B.C.), before Nebuchadnezzar’s first captivity of Judah. Chapter twenty-one provides a new point of reference, when Zedekiah was king (597-586 B.C.), approximately 40 years after chapter three, before Nebuchadnezzar’s third and final captivity of Judah. In the first section, the Babylonian attack was imminent, so the prophecies were still warnings. In this section, Jeremiah recorded prophecies and conversations from several different times and in no chronological order.
Zedekiah sent two men to ask Jeremiah for God’s deliverance from Nebuchadnezzar’s armies outside of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 21:1-2). (This was a different Pashhur than the one mentioned in chapter twenty.) The response was not what they had hoped. God would not deliver them, but instead would let Nebuchadnezzar prevail. He did graciously give the people the choice to live or die, however. If they stayed in Jerusalem and fought, they would die. If they surrendered and went to Babylon, they would live (Jeremiah 21:3-10). Although God had already determined that Jerusalem would burn at this time, he still called the people to be faithful to God’s law while they lived there; otherwise they would receive even worse punishment (Jeremiah 21:11-14).