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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 2

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

Verse 1


(1) The first chapter had given the narrative of the call which had impressed itself indelibly on the prophet’s mind. The next five run on as one continuous whole, and, looking to the fact that the original record of his prophetic work during the reign of Josiah had been destroyed by Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 36:23), and was afterwards re-written from memory, it is probable that we have a kind of précis of what was then destroyed, with some additions (Jeremiah 36:32), and possibly some omissions. In Jeremiah 3:6 we have the name of Josiah definitely mentioned.

Verse 2

(2) Go and cry . . .—The scene of the call, was, we may believe, in his home at Anathoth. Now the prophet is sent to begin his work in Jerusalem.

I remember thee.—Literally, I have remembered for thee.

The love of thine espousals.—The imagery was one derived, as we find so often in Jeremiah’s writings, from the older prophets. It was implied in the “jealous God” of Exodus 20:5, illustrated by an actual history, which was also a parable, in Hosea 1-3, and after its use by Jeremiah, expanded more fully by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 16:0). The “espousals” are thought of as coinciding with the great covenant of Exodus 24:8, when the people solemnly entered into the relation to which God called them. Then the bride was ready to follow her lord and husband even in an “unsown land”—the “waste howling wilderness” of Deuteronomy 32:10. The faithfulness of the past is contrasted with the unfaithfulness of the present.

When thou wentest after me.—Literally, thy going after me.

Verse 3

(3) Holiness unto the Lord.—The thought was that expressed in the inscription on the gold plate worn on the high priest’s forehead (Exodus 28:36), and in the term “holy thing” (Leviticus 22:10; Matthew 7:6), applied to the consecrated gifts which were the portion of the priests. The prophet was taught that Israel, as a nation, had a priestly character, and was consecrated to the Lord as the “firstfruits” of the great harvest of the world. Compare the use of the same figure in James 1:18; Romans 11:16.

All that devour him shall offend.—The imagery of the firstfruits is continued. The Hebrew for the word “offend” is used for transgressions against the ceremonial law in Leviticus 5:5; Leviticus 5:19; Numbers 5:7. Here, however, it is probably better rendered, shall be condemned, or shall be made to suffer, as in Psalms 34:21-22, where the Authorised version has “shall be desolate.” Those who devour Israel—the enemies and invaders, the tyrants and oppressors—are guilty as of a sacrilege that will not remain unpunished.

Verse 5

(5) Vanity.—In the special sense, as a synonym for idol-worship (Deuteronomy 32:21; 1 Kings 16:13). As in the character of a husband wronged by his wife’s desertion Jehovah pleads with His people, and asks whether He has failed in anything.

Verse 6

(6) Neither said they.—In somewhat of the same tone as in Deuteronomy 8:15; Deuteronomy 32:10, the horrors of the wilderness are painted in vivid colours, to heighten the contrast with the land into which they had been brought. The picture was true of part, but not of the whole, of the region of the wanderings. But the people had forgotten this. There was no seeking for the Lord who had then been so gracious. The question, Where is He? never crossed their thoughts.

Verse 7

(7) A plentiful country.—Literally, a land of Carmel, that word, as meaning a vine-clad hill, having become a type of plenty. So “the forest of his Carmel,” in Isaiah 37:24; elsewhere, as in Isaiah 10:18; Isaiah 32:15, “fruitful.” The LXX. treats the word as a proper name, “I brought you unto Carmel.”

When ye entered.—The words point to the rapid degeneracy of Israel after the settlement in Canaan, as seen in the false worship and foul crimes of Judges 17-21. So in Psalms 78:56-58. Instead of being the pattern nation, the firstfruits of mankind, they sank to the level, or below the level, of the heathen.

Verse 8

(8) The priests said not . . .—As throughout the work of Jeremiah and most of the prophets of the Old Testament, that which weighed most heavily on their souls was that those who were called to be guides of the people were themselves the chief agents in the evil. The salt had lost its savour. The light had become darkness. The rebuke, we must remember, came from the lips of one who was himself a priest.

The priests said not, Where is the Lord?—The same failure to seek as that condemned in Jeremiah 2:6. To them, too, all was a routine. Jehovah was absent from their thoughts even in the very act of worship.

They that handle the law.—These, probably, were also of the priestly order, to whom this function was assigned in Deuteronomy 33:10. The order of non-priestly scribes, in the sense of interpreters of the law, does not appear till after the captivity. Their sin was that they “dealt with the law” as interpreters and judges, and forgot Jehovah who had given it.

The pastors.—Better, shepherds, the English “pastors” having gained a too definitely religious connotation. The Hebrew word was general in its significance, but in its Old Testament use was applied chiefly to civil rulers, as in Psalms 78:71; 1 Kings 22:17. Even in Ezekiel 34:0, where the spiritual aspect of rule is most prominent, the contrast between the false shepherds and the one true shepherd of the house of David (Jeremiah 2:23) shows that the kingly, not the priestly, office was in the prophet’s mind.

The prophets prophesied by Baal.—The precise form of the sin described was probably connected with the oracular power ascribed to Baal-zebub, as in 2 Kings 1:2. The evil was of long standing. It was one of the sins of the people in Isaiah’s time that they were “soothsayers like the Philistines” (Isaiah 2:6). When Ahab first introduced the Phœnician worship, it was by the prophets rather than the priests of Baal that the new cultus was propagated (1 Kings 18:19; 1 Kings 22:6).

Things that do not profit.—The word had acquired an almost proverbial force as applied to idols (1 Samuel 12:21; Isaiah 44:9). So the phrase is repeated in Jeremiah 2:11.

Verse 9

(9) I will yet plead with you.—We hear, as it were, the echo of the words of Hosea 2:2. The injured lord and husband will appear as the accuser of the faithless bride, and set forth her guilt as in an indictment.

Verse 10

(10) Pass over the isles . . .—Chittim is named as being, from the prophet’s point of view, the furthest country in the west (Genesis 10:4; Numbers 24:24), Kedar (Genesis 25:13; Psalms 120:5) in the east. The whole earth might be searched without finding a parallel to the guilt of Israel.

Verse 11

(11) Hath a nation . . .—Emphatically a heathen “nation,” as contrasted with the “people” of Jehovah. They were faithful to their false gods; Israel was unfaithful to the true. The words “changed their glory” find an echo in Romans 1:23, though here they express the thought that the worship of Jehovah was the true glory of Israel as a people, and that they had wilfully abandoned it.

Verse 12

(12) Be astonished, O ye heavens.—The adjuration had been made familiar by a like utterance in Isaiah 1:2; Deuteronomy 32:1 “Astonished”—in the old sense, “thunder-stricken,” stupefied. The whole universe is thought of as shocked and startled at the offence against its Creator.

Verse 13

(13) The fountain of living waters.—The word rendered “well,” as in Proverbs 10:11; Proverbs 18:4; “fountain,” as in Psalms 36:9, is used of water flowing from the rock. The “cistern,” on the other hand, was a tank for surface water. A word identical in sound and meaning, though differently spelt, is variously rendered by “pit,” “well,” or “cistern.”

Verse 14

(14) Is Israel a servant?—The word “servant,” we must remember, had become, through its frequent use in Isaiah (Isaiah 20:3; Isaiah 41:8, et al.), a word not of shame, but honour; and of all servants, he who was born in the house—as in the case of Eleazar (Genesis 15:3)—occupied the most honourable place, nearest to a son. The point of the question is accordingly not “Is Israel become a slave,” kidnapped, as it were, and spoiled, but rather this: “Is Israel the servant of Jehovah, as one born in His house? Why, then, is he treated as one with no master to protect him?”

Verse 15

(15) The young lions roared . . .—The real answer to the question, that Israel had forsaken its true master, is given in Jeremiah 2:17. Here it is implied in the description of what the runaway slave had suffered. Lions had attacked him; not figuratively only, as symbolising invaders, but in the most literal sense, they had made his land waste (2 Kings 17:25).

Are burned.—Better, levelled with the ground.

Verse 16

(16) Also the children of Noph . . .—We pass from the language of poetry to that of history, and the actual enemies of Israel appear on the scene, not as the threatening danger in the north, but in the far south. The words indicate that the prophet set himself from the first, as Isaiah had done (Isaiah 31:1), against the policy of an Egyptian alliance. The LXX. translators, following, we must believe, an Egyptian tradition, identify the Hebrew Noph with Memphis in northern Egypt; later critics, with Napata in the south. Its conjunction with Tahapanes, the Daphnæ of the Greeks, which was on the Pelusiac mouth of the Nile, and on the frontier, seems in favour of the former view.

Have broken.—More accurately, shall feed on, lay waste, depasture, so as to produce baldness. Baldness among the Jews, as with other -Eastern nations, was a shame and reproach (Isaiah 3:24; Isaiah 15:2; Isaiah 22:12; 2 Kings 2:23), and was therefore a natural symbol of the ignominy and ruin of a people.

Verse 17

(17) Hast thou not procured this . . .?—The secret cause of the calamities is brought to light. Jehovah was leading Israel, but Israel has chosen another path, and so has procured sorrow upon sorrow to himself. The “way” here is scarcely the literal path through the wilderness, but much rather the true way of life.

Verse 18

(18) In the way of Egypt . . .?—The rebuke becomes more and more specific. Great rivers were, in the poetry of the prophets, the natural symbols of the kingdoms through which they flowed. Sihor (= the turbid or muddy river) here, and in Isaiah 23:3 the Nile (though in Joshua 13:3 it stands for the border stream between Palestine and Egypt), represented Egypt. The “river,” or “flood,” needing no other name as pre-eminent in its greatness (comp. Joshua 24:14-15), the Euphrates, stood for Assyria (comp. Isaiah 8:7). The words point to the tendency to court the alliance now of one, now of the other of the great kingdoms of the world. The policy was no new one. Menahem in Israel, Ahaz in Judah, had courted Assyria (2 Kings 15:19; 2 Kings 16:7-8); Hezekiah, Babylon (Isaiah 39:0); Hoshea had sought help from Egypt (2 Kings 17:4). The prophet Hosea had rebuked both policies (Hosea 5:13; Hosea 7:11; Hosea 8:9). Even under Hezekiah there was a party seeking the Egyptian alliance (Isaiah 18, 19, 31. Under Manasseh and Amon that party was in power, and the very name of the latter probably bears witness to its influence. Josiah kept as far as possible the position of a neutral, but, when forced into action, and probably guided by the counsels of Hilkiah, resisted the advance of Pharaoh-nechoh (2 Kings 23:29). On his death the Egyptian party again gained ground under Jehoiakim, while Jeremiah, opposing its strength, urged the wisdom of accepting the guidance of events, and submitting to the Chaldæans (so far continuing the line of action adopted by Hezekiah), and ultimately was accused of deserting his own people and “falling away” to their oppressors (Jeremiah 37:13).

Verse 19

(19) Thine own wickedness.—The strain is now of a higher mood, and rises from what is local and temporary to the eternal law of retribution. Punishment comes as the natural consequence of sins. Our “pleasant vices” become “whips to scourge us.” The “backslidings” of Israel, in courting the favour of foreign states by adopting their creed and worship, shall involve her in ever fresh calamities.

Verse 20

(20) I have broken thy yoke.—Better, with the LXX. and Vulg., thou hast broken thy yokei.e., cast off all allegiance and restraint. The Authorised Version, which follows the received Hebrew reading, may, however, be understood as referring to the deliverance of Israel from their Egyptian bondage.

Thou saidst, I will not transgress—Perhaps, following a various reading adopted by the LXX., Vulg., and Luther, I will not serve. The words so taken paint vividly the wilful defiance of the rebellious nation. It threw off its allegiance. If we retain the Authorised version rendering, it would be better to take the verb in the present, I transgress not, as expressing a like defiance.

When.—Better, for, as giving an illustration of the rebellious temper. The “high hill” and the “green tree” point to the localities of idol-worship—the “high places” that meet us so frequently in 1 and 2 Kings, the “tops of the mountains,” and the “oaks and poplars and elms” of Hosea 4:13. Tree-worship in Judæa, as elsewhere, appears to have exercised a wonderful power of fascination, and though the word translated “grove” (Asherah) has not that meaning, it was probably connected with the same cultus.

Playing the harlot.—Literally, laying thyself down. The idolatrous prostration was as an act of spiritual prostitution, often, as in the orgiastic worship of Baal and Ashtaroth, united with actual impurity.

Verse 21

(21) A noble vine.—Literally, a Sorek vine. Elsewhere rendered choice or choicest (Genesis 49:11; Isaiah 5:2). The word “Sorek” points primarily to the dark purple of the grape, and then to the valley of Sorek, between Ascalon and Gaza (Judges 16:4).

Wholly a right seed.—Literally, a seed of truth, parallel with the “good seed” in the Parable of the Tares. Here, however, as in Isaiah 5:1-7, which Jeremiah seems to have in his mind, stress is laid not on the mingling of the evil with the good, but on the degeneration which had changed the character of that which God had planted.

Art thou turned . . .?—Better, hast thou changed thyself . . .?

Plant.—Better, branches.

Verse 22

(22) Nitre.—The mineral alkali found in the natron lakes of Egypt that took their name from it. The Hebrew word nether is the origin of the Greek and English words. (Comp. Proverbs 25:20.)

Sope.—Not the compounds of alkali and oil or fat now known by the name, but the potash or alkali, obtained from the ashes of plants, which was used by itself as a powerful detergent. The thought is the same as that of Job 9:30, and, we may add, as that of Macbeth, Acts 2:0, sc. 2 :—

“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.”

The guilt was too strongly “marked,” too “deep-dyed in grain” to be removed by any outward palliatives.

Verse 23

(23) How canst thou say . . .?—The prophet hears, as it were, the voice of the accused criminal, with its plea of “not guilty.” Had not the worship of Jehovah been restored by Josiah? Had he not, acting on Hilkiah’s counsels, suppressed Baal-worship (2 Kings 23:4-5; 2 Chronicles 34:4)? The answer to such pleas is to point to the rites that were still practised openly or in secret. In the “valley” of Ben-Hinnom, which Josiah had defiled (2 Kings 23:10), the horrid ritual of Molech (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2) was still in use (Jeremiah 7:31), reviving, we may believe, on the death of Josiah; and this, though not actually the worship of Baal, was at least as evil, and probably, in the confluence of many forms of worship which marked the last days of the monarchy of Judah, was closely associated and practically identified with it, both by the prophet and the people (Jeremiah 19:5; Jeremiah 32:35).

A swift dromedary.—Better, she-camel, the Hebrew word not pointing to any specific difference. The words paint with an almost terrible vividness the eager, restless state of the daughter of Zion in its harlot-like lust for the false gods of the heathen. The female camel, in the uncontrollable violence of its brute passion, moving to and fro with panting eagerness—that was now the fit image for her who had once been the betrothed of Jehovah.

Verse 24

(24) A wild ass . . .—One image of animal desire suggests another, and the “wild ass” appears (as in the Hebrew of Genesis 16:12; Job 11:12; Job 39:5) as even a stronger type of passion that defies control. The description is startling in its boldness, but has a parallel in that of Virgil (Georg. iii. 250).

That snuffeth up the wind at her pleasure.—Better, in the desire of her heart, as it bears to her the scent that draws her on. The “occasion” and the “monthare, of course, the season when the stimulus of animal desire is strongest. There is no need for the stallion to seek her with a weary search, she presents herself and pursues him. So there was in Israel what we should describe as a mania for the hateful worship of the heathen.

Verse 25

(25) Withhold thy foot.—From the brute types of passion the prophet passes to the human. Here he has Hosea as giving a prototype (Hosea 2:5; Hosea 2:7), perhaps also Isaiah (Isaiah 23:15-16). The picture may probably enough have been drawn from the life, but that sketched in Proverbs 7:10-23 may well have supplied the outline. Jehovah, as her true husband, bids the apostate wife to refrain for very shame from acting as the harlot, rushing barefoot into the streets, panting, as with a thirst that craves to be quenched, for the gratification of her desires. The “unshod” may possibly refer to one feature of the worship of Baal or Ashtaroth, men and women taking off their shoes when they entered into their temples, as being holy ground (Exodus 3:5), and joining in orgiastic dances.

Thou saidst, There is no hope: no.—Here also we find a parallel to the thought and language of Hosea. There the one effectual remedy for the evil into which the apostate wife had fallen was to speak to her heart, and to open the door of hope (Hosea 2:14-15). Now the malignity of the evil is shown by the loss of all hope of recovery in returning to Jehovah:—

“Small sins the heart first desecrate,
At last despair persuades to great.”

Like Gomer, she will go after her “lovers,” though they are “strangers,” as if they were her only protectors. It would seem, from the recurrence of the phrase in Jeremiah 18:12, as if it were the formula of a despairing fatalism, like the proverb of the fathers eating sour grapes (Jeremiah 31:29-30; Ezekiel 18:2).

Verse 26

(26) As the thief . . .—The words point to the sense of shame as already felt, and as therefore bringing with it the possibility of repentance. Once they gloried in their false worship; now they feel as if detected in a crime. Conscience had once again been roused into activity.

Verse 27

(27) Saying to a stock . . .—The “stock” and the “stone” represent respectively the images of wood and marble. In Hebrew the latter word is feminine, and thus determines the parts assigned to them in the figurative parentage.

To a stock, Thou art my father.—Literally, to a tree. The words seem as if they were an actual quotation from the hymns of the idolatrous ritual.

In the time of their trouble.—So in Hosea (Hosea 2:3) it is the discipline of suffering that leads the adulterous wife to repentance. In times of trouble and dismay those who had before turned their backs on Jehovah shall seek Him with outstretched hands, and the cry for help. The prophet half implies that then it maybe too late till chastisement has done its perfect work.

Verse 28

(28) Where are thy gods . . .?—The question is asked in indignant scorn. “Thou madest the gods, and yet they cannot profit thee.” Though every city had its tutelary deity, there was none found to deliver. The LXX. adds, as in Jeremiah 11:13, the words “according to the number of the streets in Jerusalem they sacrificed to Baal.”

Verse 29

(29) Wherefore will ye plead with me?—The reply of the accuser to the false pleas of the accused. The transgression was too open to be glossed over. No plea was available but that of a full confession of the guilt into which Israel had fallen.

Verse 30

(30) Your own sword hath devoured your prophets.—So in the long reign of Manasseh, the prophets who rebuked him had to do so at the risk of their lives. Isaiah, as the tradition ran, had been foremost among the sufferers. Much innocent blood had been shed from one end to another of Jerusalem (2 Kings 21:11-16).

Verse 31

(31) O generation, see ye.—The pronoun occupies a different position in the Hebrew, “O generation, you, I mean, see ye.” The prophet speaks to the men who are actually his contemporaries. They are to look to the word of the Lord. Has He been to them as a waste land, a land of thick darkness (literally, according to one interpretation, darkness of Jah, in the sense of intensity), that they are thus unmindful of Him? So in Song of Solomon 8:6 we have “flame of Jah,” as representing the Hebrew, in the margin, and “very vehement flame” in the text, of the Authorised version.

We are lords.—Better, We rove at will, as in Genesis 27:40, where, however, the Authorised version gives “when thou shalt have the dominion.” The sense is practically the same. Israel claims the power to do as she likes.

Verse 32

(32) Or a bride her attire.—The word is rendered “headbands” in Isaiah 3:20, but here it probably means the “girdle” which formed the special distinction of the wife as contrasted with the maiden. Such a girdle, like the marriage ring with us, would be treasured by the bride all her life long. Even the outward memorial of her union with her husband would be dear to her. But Israel had forgotten her lord and husband Himself.

Verse 33

(33) Why trimmest thou thy way . . .?—The verb is the same as that rendered amend” in Jeremiah 7:3; Jeremiah 7:5, and was probably often on the lips of those who made a show of reformation. Here it is used with a scornful irony, “What means this reform, this show of amendment of thy ways, which leads only to a further indulgence in adulterous love?”

Hast thou also taught the wicked ones thy ways.—Better, hast thou also taught thy ways wickednesses. The professed change for the better was really for the worse.

Verse 34

(34) Also in thy skirts . . .—The general meaning is clear, and points to the guilt of Israel in offering her children—the “poor innocents”—in horrid sacrifice to Molech; perhaps, also, to her maltreatment of the prophets. Their “blood” is on the “skirts” of her raiment; perhaps, if we take another reading, on the “palms” of her hands. The last clause is, however, obscure enough. We have to choose, according to variations of reading and construction, between (1) I have not found it as by secret search (literally, by digging, as men dig through the wall of a house in search of plunder), but under every oak or terebinth, or, more probably, as in the Authorised version, upon all thesei.e., the sin was patent, flagrant, everywhere; and (2) Thou didst not find them (those who had been put to death) in the place of breaking throughi.e., in the act of the robber that would have deserved death (Exodus 22:2; Job 24:16); but because of all thisi.e., thou didst slay them through thy passion for idolatry. Of these (1) commends itself most.

Verse 35

(35) Yet thou sayest . . .—Once again we have the equivocating plea of the accused. She takes up the word that had been used by the accuser: “You speak of the innocents; I, too, am innocent. His anger has turned away from me. Here, as in Jeremiah 2:33, there is an implied reference to the partial reformation under Josiah. The accuser retorts, and renews his pleadings against her. Confession might have led to forgiveness, but this denial of guilt excluded it, and was the token of a fatal blindness (comp. 1 John 1:8).

Verse 36

(36) Why gaddest thou . . .?—The vigorous English expresses well, perhaps even with some added force, the frequentative force of the Hebrew. What meant this perpetual change of policy, this shifting of alliances? Shame and confusion should follow from the alliance with Nechoh, as it had followed from that with Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 16:10; 2 Chronicles 28:20).

Verse 37

(37) From him.—Better, from it, sc., from Egypt as a people.

Thine hands upon thine head.—The outward sign of depression and despair (2 Samuel 13:19).

Thy confidences.i.e., the grounds or objects of thy confidence.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 2". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/jeremiah-2.html. 1905.
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