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Jeremiah’s grief over Jerusalem 8:18-9:1
Jeremiah loved his people so much that he wished he had more tears to shed for those of them that had died (cf. 2 Samuel 18:33; Matthew 23:37; Luke 19:41-44; Romans 9:1-5; Romans 10:1). His empathy with his people’s sufferings earned him the nickname "the weeping prophet" (cf. Jeremiah 13:17; Jeremiah 14:17). This is the last verse of chapter 8 in the Hebrew Bible.
"It’s unusual today to find tears either in the pulpit or the pews; the emphasis seems to be on enjoyment." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 90.]
Jeremiah longed for a place of retreat in the wilderness where he could go to get away from his fellow countrymen. Their spiritual adultery and treachery repulsed him. A few recent commentators take the first five verses of this pericope to be the words of God rather than Jeremiah’s. [Note: E.g., Page H. Kelley, Jeremiah 1-25, pp. 143-45. Kelley wrote the commentary on 8:4-16:21 in this volume of the Word Biblical Commentary, which appears in the bibliography of these notes after Craigie, the writer of the first part of the book.]
Judah’s depravity 9:2-9
The Lord added that they assassinated people with their words, which they used as arrows. They spoke falsehood more than the truth. They went from one evil thing to another, giving evidence of no acquaintance with Yahweh (cf. Romans 1:28).
The Lord advised His people to be on guard against their neighbors, and not to trust their fellow Israelites, because they all dealt deceitfully and slandered one another. The word translated "craftily" comes from the same Hebrew root as "Jacob," ya’qob. The people were behaving like Jacob at his worst. This was civil unrest at its worst.
They intentionally deceived their neighbors, cultivated the skill of lying, and pursued iniquity so strenuously that it wore them out.
"Deceit" so typified their environment that it prevented them from having much of a relationship with Yahweh. Note the recurrence of "deceit" and its synonyms in this pericope. They did not know God (Jeremiah 9:3), and they refused to know Him. Even while they devotedly studied deception (Jeremiah 9:5), they refused to "know" Him.
"The verb yada’, ’know,’ denotes much more than intellectual knowledge but rather that deep intimate knowledge that follows on the personal commitment of one life to another, which is at its deepest in the commitment of a man to God [cf. Amos 3:2]." [Note: Thompson, p. 310.]
The sovereign Lord promised to put the Judean sinners through a refining process and to assay their value, because the current "dear" generation of His people was so wicked (cf. Jeremiah 6:27-30; Malachi 3:3). He could do nothing else.
The tongue of this "daughter" was as deadly as an arrow (cf. Jeremiah 9:3). Her words appeared to be peaceful, but she was really setting a trap for her neighbors. People greeted their neighbors amicably on the streets, but in their hearts they intended to harm them.
Yahweh asked, rhetorically, if He should not punish such a nation for their deceits. His nation had become like all the other nations (cf. Jeremiah 9:24-25). Should He not avenge Himself by punishing Judah for violating His covenant commands?
"The grief of God is caused not only by what the people have done to him but more especially by what they have done to each other." [Note: Kelley, p. 145.]
The Lord took up a lamentation on behalf of the land that suffered because of His people’s sin. The coming invasion would leave the land deserted-even by cattle and birds. The rest of this message indicates that the invasion had not yet taken place. Jeremiah was describing a future event as though it had already past.
Jerusalem’s ruin 9:10-16
The Lord would make Jerusalem a wasteland where jackals (or wolves) would prowl freely without fear of human interference (cf. Jeremiah 10:22; Jeremiah 49:33; Jeremiah 51:37). He would also make the other cities of Judah uninhabited desolations. Jeremiah might have wanted to flee from Jerusalem to the wilderness (Jeremiah 9:2), but God would turn the city into a wilderness.
Yahweh called for some wise person to step forward, someone who could explain the reason for the land’s coming desolate condition.
The Lord Himself provided the answer to His own question. The land would lay desolate because His people had abandoned His covenant with them, had not walked in its commandments, and had not paid attention to His messages to them. The Israelites had promised to do these things at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:4-8).
Instead the people had followed their own desires and the Baals, just like their ancestors. "Stubbornness" was one of their chief sins (cf. Deuteronomy 29:18; Psalms 81:13).
"The threat of ’stubbornness’ still exists today. It has been described as ’atrophy of the will.’ When people stubbornly refuse to do right, the time comes when they cannot do right. Judgment then comes in the form of living in the prison you have erected for yourself." [Note: Ibid., p. 148.]
Because the people were stubborn, the Lord promised to feed them with wormwood (instead of honey), and to give them poisoned water ("gall" AV, instead of milk) to drink (cf. Jeremiah 8:14; Jeremiah 23:15; Deuteronomy 29:18; Matthew 27:34). "Wormwood" was a plant with a very bitter taste.
He would also scatter them among nations that would be unfamiliar to them and their forefathers. Violence would follow them until the Lord had annihilated them. This would be the fate of many ungodly Judahites, not the whole nation (cf. Jeremiah 4:27; Jeremiah 5:18; Jeremiah 30:11).
The Lord instructed Jeremiah to summon the professional mourners (Heb. meqonenoth) to come forward.
"In the Middle East even today, on the occasion of deaths or calamities, mourning is carried out by professional women who follow the funeral bier uttering a high-pitched shriek. Some of the Egyptian tomb paintings depict boatloads of professional mourners with their hair and garments disheveled accompanying a corpse on its way to a burial." [Note: Thompson, p. 316.]
A dirge over Jerusalem 9:17-22
What follows is a brilliant prophetic elegy. It contains two pronouncements from the Lord (Jeremiah 9:17-22).
The Lord wanted these women to come quickly and mourn on His behalf, wailing and shedding many tears.
The reason for this mourning was that the residents of Zion would bewail their ruin and shame, in having to leave the land as captives, with their homes destroyed. In Jeremiah, "Zion" is primarily Jerusalem seen as the dwelling place of God (cf. Jeremiah 8:19).
Jeremiah instructed the professional mourners, on the Lord’s behalf, to teach their daughters how to wail, and to teach their neighbors a dirge.
Death had invaded the city like a plague. It had entered homes and palaces, and it was cutting off children and youths from the public places. It is possible that Jeremiah borrowed the figure of Death entering through a window, from Canaanite or Babylonian mythology, but this is impossible to prove. [Note: See J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, pp. 134-35, for the Canaanite use of the figure, and S. M. Paul, "Cuneiform Light on Jeremiah 9, 20," Biblica 49 (1968):373-76, for discussion of the Babylonian use. ] One commentator believed Jeremiah viewed Death as a thief in the night, coming suddenly and in an unexpected way (cf. Joel 2:9). [Note: Keil, 1:190.]
Men too would die, in the open fields, and lie there uncared for, like dung or like scraps of wheat left after a harvest.
"Here we see Death as the Grim Reaper. The custom was for a reaper to hold in his arm what a few strokes of his sickle had cut. Then he put it down, and behind him another laborer then gathered it into bundles and bound it into a sheaf. So death was to cover the ground with corpses, but the carcasses would lie there unburied because of the paucity of survivors and the great number of dead." [Note: Feinberg, p. 444. Cf. Romans 6:23.]
The Lord commanded that the wise and strong and rich should not take pride in their wisdom and strength and wealth. One writer argued that Jeremiah ministered at a time when conventional wisdom was being challenged, and that this fact accounts for much of the opposition that he faced. [Note: Walter A. Brueggemann, "The Epistemological Crisis of Israel’s Two Histories (Jeremiah 9:22-23)," in Israelite Wisdom: Theological and Literary Essays in Honor of Samuel Terrien, pp. 85-105.]
Proper grounds for boasting 9:23-24
This reflection on the nature of true wisdom contrasts strongly with the preceding dirge. In such crucial days, Judah’s only hope lay in her relationship with God. The thematic connection with the context is judgment.
Instead, the person who felt satisfied should "boast" because he or she understood and knew Yahweh as a God who loves and practices loyal love (loyalty, lovingkindness, steadfast love, unfailing devotion, merciful love, Heb. hesed), justice (Heb. mishpat), and righteousness (right, integrity, deliverance, salvation, Heb. sedaqa) on the earth. Truly knowing the Lord in this way implies participating with Him in valuing and practicing these essential covenant virtues. The standard is not social custom or community consensus, but the character and will of Yahweh (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:31; 2 Corinthians 10:17; James 1:9).
". . . true religion consists in a personal and existential knowledge of God, and in a commitment to those qualities displayed by Yahweh himself-unfailing loyalty, justice, and right dealing." [Note: Thompson, p. 318.]
This verse is a concise summary of Israel’s religion at its highest (cf. Micah 6:8). For Israel, true religion consisted of acknowledging the sovereignty of God over all of life, and allowing Him to produce the qualities that distinguish Him in the lives of all His people.
"It is not reliance on one’s own wisdom and strength that brings well-being, but the knowledge of the Lord and of His dealings in grace and justice (ix. 22-25)." [Note: Keil, 1:190.]
The Lord promised to punish those "circumcised" in one way but not in another in the future. Jeremiah used an oxymoron to describe the Jews: the "uncircumcised (in heart) circumcised (in body)."
The worthlessness of circumcision 9:25-26
Trust in religious ritual (Jeremiah 9:25-26) is just as wrong as trust in human achievements (Jeremiah 9:23-24).
"Just as the knowledge of God is more important than wisdom, power, or might, even so faith that springs from the heart is more important than any outward show of religion." [Note: Kelley, p. 154.]
This would include the Gentile nations that practiced circumcision as well as Israel. There was no essential difference between these nations and Israel, since they all practiced the superficial requirement of the Mosaic Law, but had not really devoted themselves to the Lord wholeheartedly (cf. Genesis 17:9-14). They were the circumcised of body but not of heart (cf. Jeremiah 4:4; Jeremiah 6:10; Leviticus 26:41; Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6; Romans 2:25-29). It was only what circumcision symbolized that Yahweh accepted, not just the practice of the rite by itself. Certain Arab tribes trimmed their hair away from their temples (cf. Jeremiah 25:23; Jeremiah 49:32), which the Law prohibited the Israelites from doing (Leviticus 19:27), but they did practice circumcision. Thus, Judah was no better than her neighbors, and could expect punishment, just as the pagan nations could.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 9". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20