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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 20

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



This brings us near the end of Jeremiah’s tragic ministry to Apostate Judah at a time nearing the very end of that ministry of warning and vain calls for the repentance and reform of the people. There are two division of the chapter. First, there is the episode of Jeremiah’s imprisonment and the symbolical name that God fastened upon his oppressor (Jeremiah 20:1-6), and then there is the fifth and final one of the so-called Confessions or Personal Laments of Jeremiah. Ash and others see two laments in these verses, giving six in all; but, to this writer, it appears that the two actually constitute only one lament, there being no valid reason for dividing them. Keil and many of the older commentators also see the passage as a single paragraph (Jeremiah 20:7-18).

Verses 1-6


“Now Pashhur, the son of Immer the priest, who was chief officer in the house of Jehovah, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things. Then Pashhur smote Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper gate of Benjamin, which was in the house of Jehovah. And it came to pass on the morrow, that Pashhur brought forth Jeremiah out of the stocks. Then said Jeremiah unto him, Jehovah hath not called thy name Pashhur, but Magor-missabib. For thus saith Jehovah, Behold, I will make thee a terror to thyself, and to all thy friends; and they shall fall by the sword of their enemies, and thine eyes shall behold it; and I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall carry them captive to Babylon, and shall slay them with the sword. Moreover I will give all the riches of this city, and all the gains thereof, and all the precious things thereof, yea, and all the treasures of the kings of Judah will I give into the hands of their enemies; and they shall make them a prey, and take them, and carry them to Babylon. And thou, Pashhur, and all that dwell in thy house shall go into captivity: and thou shalt come to Babylon, and there thou shalt die, and there shalt thou be buried, thou, and all thy friends, to whom thou hast prophesied falsely.”

“Pashhur, the son of Immer... chief officer” Many scholars including Dummelow and Barnes believed that Pashhur was the father of Gedaliah (Jeremiah 38:1).(F1) There was another Pashhur (Jeremiah 21:1), but he belonged to the fifth course (shift) of priests belonging to the sons of Melchiah; this Pashhur belonged to the sixteenth course and was the son of Immer. Both of these families were strongly represented in the returnees from Babylon (Ezra 2:27; Ezra 2:38).(F2)

There were a number of priests who held the office of “an overseer” of the temple; but the Pashhur mentioned here was “the chief officer,” meaning that he had charge of all the overseers. The man was of high authority, the deputy High Priest in fact, an office that made him second only to the governor of the temple. He was evidently pro-Egyptian, believing that an alliance with Egypt would provide the security Israel so desperately needed at that time. Jeremiah’s stern prophecies were a threat to Pashhur’s position; and the drastic action against Jeremiah was designed to support Pashhur’s evil policy which, of course, he backed up with false prophecies (Jeremiah 20:6).

Since Pashhur’s false prophecies of peace and security were contradicted by the warnings of Jeremiah, Ash’s speculation that, “Jeremiah was thrown into prison as a false prophet,”(F3) is probably correct.

“Pashhur smote Jeremiah the prophet… put him in the stocks… in the upper gate of Benjamin” The NIV renders part of these words as, “had Jeremiah beaten.” “Many expositors think that Pashhur ordered Jeremiah to be beaten with `forty stripes save one,’ as in Deuteronomy 25:3.”(F4)

“And put him in the stocks” “The terrible instrument of punishment identified in these words “was designed for torture, not merely for restraint,”(F5) and their function was to inflict cruel and inhuman torture upon the hapless victim.

“In the upper gate of Benjamin” Some have described this gate as probably the most frequented gate in the city. “It is here called the upper gate to distinguish it from another gate of the same name in the city wall, which opened toward the tribe of Benjamin in the North.”(F6)

“Pashhur smote Jeremiah the prophet” The words “Jeremiah the prophet” have not appeared previously in this whole prophecy: and, “The words are thus used here to indicate that Pashhur’s conduct was a violation of the respect due the prophetic office.”(F7) This is one of the saddest scenes in the Old Testament. We have this crooked false prophet Pashhur, beating and torturing God’s true prophet.

Halley described the stocks into which Jeremiah was cast as, “A wooden frame in which the feet, neck and hands were fastened so as to hold the body in a cramped and painful position. It was this torture that drew from Jeremiah his outburst of remonstrance with God in Jeremiah 20:7-18.”(F8)

“Magor-missabib” If Pashhur had thought to silence Jeremiah, he quickly learned better. With his first breath after release, Jeremiah announced the new name that God had named upon Pashhur, i.e., “Terror on Every Side.”(F9) Furthermore, the name was backed up with specific prophecies revealing, for the first time in Jeremiah, the name of the kingdom where the captivity would take place, the prophecy that many would be slain, that the king and his household, along with Pashhur and his household, would be among the captives deported to Babylon, and that they would die there and be buffed there. In due time, all of this was literally and circumstantially fulfilled. Indeed, Pashhur, who was destined to live with his false prophecies must have been hated and despised by all of his intimates and close friends. Pashhur was one who prophesied falsely (cf. Jeremiah 14:14) that famine and sword would never overtake Judah. “Jeremiah revealed that for such lies he would now be punished.”(F10)

Wiseman evidently believed that Pashhur was a prophet, stating that “He was (a) a priest and (b) a prophet.”(F11) However, we do not believe that he was ever a legitimate prophet.

“Thou hast prophesied falsely” “From these words it is evident that Pashhur assumed prophetic functions. Most probably, he and his friends formed a political party in Jerusalem clamoring for an alliance with Egypt.”(F12) Yes indeed, Pashhur claimed to be a prophet; “But he had falsely assumed the prophetic office; and for that he was worthy of death.”(F13)

Verses 7-10


Some find two confessions or laments in this passage, but we can discover only one. The only basis for making two out of it is the unexpected appearance of the reassuring verses (Jeremiah 20:11-13), but we believe the latter verses (Jeremiah 20:14-18) are also built around and related to Jeremiah 20:11-13, giving only one confession and lament in this chapter. We shall assign further reasons for this understanding of the chapter in the discussion under Jeremiah 20:13-14.

“O Jehovah, thou has persuaded me, and I was persuaded; thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am become a laughing-stock all the day, everyone mocketh me. For as often as I speak, I cry out; I cry, Violence and destruction! because the word of Jehovah is made a reproach unto me, and a derision all the day. And if I say, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name, then there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with forbearing, and I cannot contain. For I have heard the defaming of many, terror on every side. Denounce, and we will denounce him, say all my familiar friends, they that watch for my fall; peradventure he will be persuaded, and we shall prevail against him, and we shall take our revenge on him.”

This is indeed a pitiful complaint on the part of Jeremiah. All of his close neighbors and friends preferred to believe the false prophets such as Pashhur rather than the terrible warnings of Jeremiah; and it appears here that they confidently expected him to be destroyed rather than themselves and their city. How wrong they were!

“This paragraph reveals at what terrible personal cost God’s word was faithfully delivered by Jeremiah.”(F14) Note that Jeremiah, on occasion, had tried to refrain from delivering such sorrowful news to his beloved people and their city; but he had found it impossible to hide God’s message, unpopular as it surely was.

“The word of Jehovah is made a reproach unto me” Several things had contributed to this. The message was not one of blessing, but of punishment and destruction. Furthermore, the years had slipped away, and the false prophets were screaming that the true prophecies of men like Isaiah and Jeremiah were false. No destruction had yet come upon Jerusalem; and they were shouting that the prophecies were false because they had not yet come to pass. The people, who strongly preferred to put their trust in the false prophets, took up all of the cries of violence and destruction, of terror on every side, etc., and affixed them to Jeremiah as a nickname. “Here comes old `Violence and Destruction’; here comes old `’Terror on Every Side’“!

Jeremiah here responds to his situation with words that are little short of blasphemy. He accused God of “persuading him.” “The literal Hebrew word here is `deceived,’ and it actually means `to seduce,’ as a virgin is seduced (Exodus 22:16).”(F15) Jeremiah was saying that, “He was unwilling to take the prophetic office at first, but that God had over-persuaded him with promises, as in Jeremiah 1:8; Jeremiah 1:17-18. However, Jeremiah had simply misunderstood the promises, for God had promised no immunity from persecution and hatred of men, but that Jeremiah would prevail.”(F16) God certainly knew his man; because despite Jeremiah’s bitter lament, he did indeed prevail.

The whole paragraph here, “Depicts a man loudly complaining about his lot in life, yet showing that he is still submissive, loyal and obedient to God’s will.”(F17)

Verses 11-13


“But Jehovah is with me as a mighty one and a terrible: therefore my persecutors shall stumble, and they shall not prevail; they shall be utterly put to shame, because they have not dealt wisely, even with an everlasting dishonor which shall never be forgotten. But, O Jehovah of hosts, that triest the righteous, that seest the heart and the mind, let me see thy vengeance on them; for unto thee have I revealed my cause. Sing unto Jehovah, praise ye Jehovah; for he hath delivered the soul of the needy from the hand of evil doers.”

The appearance of this remarkable expression of faith and trust in Jehovah and a repeated call for men to sing God’s praise beautifully expresses the attitude with which Jeremiah came through the terrible sorrows depicted in this chapter; nor can the subsequent verses of the chapter cast any reflection against such a conclusion. Let it be noted that there were no more complaints or laments by Jeremiah. After the conclusion of this chapter, the attitude expressed in Jeremiah 20:11-13 ever afterward prevailed as the true faith and attitude of the great prophet. We believe that the very fact of there being no more complaints proves this to be true. “In later times when the prophet had still more afflictions to endure, we no longer read of his trembling or bewailing the sufferings connected with his calling.”(F18)

Verses 14-18


“Cursed be the day wherein I was born: let not the day wherein my mother bare me be blessed. Cursed be the man who brought tidings to my father, saying, A man-child is born unto thee; making him very glad. And let that man be as the cities which Jehovah overthrew, and repented not: and let him hear a cry in the morning, and shouting at noontime; because he slew me not from the womb; and so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb always great. Wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labor and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?”

The words of this final paragraph of the chapter are so radically different from the trust and confidence expressed in the previous verses that scholars are at a total loss to understand how they should be interpreted.


(1) The boldest and most radical solution was proposed a long while ago by Ewald. “He simply moved this bottom paragraph and placed it between Jeremiah 20:6 and Jeremiah 20:7.”(F19) That, of course, would solve the problem completely. Opposed to this is the fact that the arrangement of the verses as in this chapter is likewise found, “In all the ancient manuscripts of the Hebrew text.”(F20)

(2) “Some have rejected Jeremiah 20:11-13 as a late doxology interpolated into the text”;(F21) but the same scholar rejected the idea as absolutely “unnecessary.”

(3) Some have even attempted to identify Jeremiah 20:14-18 as the words of Pashhur; “But such an hypothesis has little to commend it.”(F22)

(4) Still others think that the final paragraph reflects the psychological condition of Jeremiah, “That he could at one time burst into a hymn of praise to God, and then drop into a severe mood of depression.” That this is not the true explanation is evident because, if Jeremiah had dropped into such a mood after the exultant words of Jeremiah 20:11-13, God would most assuredly have answered him, as God did upon the occasion of Jeremiah’s similar depression in Jeremiah 11:20. Also, if these allegedly alternate moods of depression and exultation were indeed characteristic of this prophet, how could the fact of there never again being a lament be explained? Certainly the conditions for Judah grew worse and worse; and there were far more bitter oppositions to Jeremiah yet to come. No! There has to be another explanation.

Still another explanation, suggested by Green, and also found in the writings of many older scholars is that, “Jeremiah 20:14-18 was spoken before the words of Jeremiah 20:7-13.”(F23)

Of course, we are already aware that it is not safe to date statements in Jeremiah by their location in this book. Green backed up his conclusion with three arguments, which we believe to be valid: (1) There were no more laments by Jeremiah. This surely indicates that Jeremiah received an answer; and that answer clearly lies in verses Jeremiah 20:11-13. (2) Following this chapter, Jeremiah remained centered in God. (3) Jeremiah’s portrayals of the future became brighter and brighter as the situation around him grew blacker and blacker.

Jeremiah 20:11-13 cannot be denied to the prophet Jeremiah, because the vocabulary and style “argue for the originality of the passage.”(F24)

Matthew Henry, an older scholar, and a man of incredibly extensive reading and understanding stated that Jeremiah 20:14-18, “Seems to be Jeremiah’s relation of his thoughts while he was in the ferment he had experienced in the stocks, and out of which his faith and hope had rescued him, rather than a new temptation into which he later fell.”(F25) He also cited another scripture where a similar thing occurs. “David said in Psalms 31:22, `I said in my grief’ I am cut off.”(F26) Perhaps we should understand of Jeremiah 20:14-18, that they relate what Jeremiah said to himself while in the torture of the stocks.

As Keil noted, “The bitterness of these last verses, rising at last to the cursing of the day of his birth is only intelligible as a consequence of the ill-usage Pashhur had inflicted upon him.”(F27)

It was against the Mosaic Law for one to curse one’s parents; and Jeremiah carefully avoided such a capital offense. He did not curse his mother, but the day he was born. He did not curse his father, but the man who brought news of his birth to his father (Leviticus 20:9; Leviticus 24:10-16).

The explanation which we have here proposed for the mention of such awful curses almost in the same breath with Jeremiah 20:11-13 goes all the way back to John Calvin. “The explanation of Calvin was that Jeremiah here related what went through his mind while he was confined by Pashhur and that explanation is plausible, and has been adopted by Grotius, Henry, and others.”(F28)

Payne Smith pointed out that, “The public ministry of Jeremiah was now, for a time to cease; and, afterward, there would be a long and ominous silence.”(F29)

Looking back on his long life of preaching and pleading with Judah to repent and turn to the Lord, it was clear enough to the prophet that, in one sense, his life had been totally wasted; and it was that sense of failure that no doubted caused his feelings of despondency when he contemplated it.

It was in this very trait that Jeremiah fell short of being “The Suffering Servant” foretold by Isaiah, Our Lord alone attaining the perfection foretold in Isaiah. That might have been one of the reasons that the Divine Inspiration retained and recorded for our benefit Jeremiah’s understandable but nevertheless sinful language of this chapter.

We shall add one more approving witness to the adequacy of the explanation we have adopted here for the appearance of these last five verses in such close proximity to the shout of praise and deliverance in Jeremiah 20:11-13. Jamieson has the following. The contrast between the spirit of this passage and the preceding thanksgiving is to be explained thus. In order to show how great was his deliverance, he subjoins a picture of what his wounded spirit had been previous to his deliverance.(F30)

We are aware that this explanation does not answer all of the questions; but it surely comes nearer to doing so than any other explanation this writer has encountered.

That Jeremiah indeed, during his torture at the hands of Pashhur, felt deserted even by God Himself could not be called a sin; for the Holy Christ himself cried from the Cross, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? But the solemn imprecations and curses leveled against the day he was born, which was a blessing, and a day of rejoicing, must fall into the category of sinful words which every thoughtful person must deplore. Still, we are sure that God forgave him.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Jeremiah 20". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/jeremiah-20.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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