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(1) Pashur the son of Immer.—The description must be remembered as distinguishing him from the son of Melchiah of the same name in Jeremiah 21:1. We may probably identify him with the father of the Gedaliah named in Jeremiah 38:1 as among the “princes” that at a later date opposed the prophet’s work, and with the section of the priesthood, the sixteenth, named in 1 Chronicles 24:14, as headed in the time of David by Immer. The name here (like that of “the sons of Korah”) may indicate simply the fact that he belonged to this section; or, possibly, the name of the patriarch (so to speak) who gave its name to it may have re-appeared from time to time in the line of his descendants. The name of Pashur appears again, after the Captivity, in Ezra 2:37-38.
Chief governor.—Better, deputy-governor. The word for governor is Nâgid, and this office was assigned to the high priest as the “ruler of the house of God” (1 Chronicles 9:11; 2 Chronicles 31:13). In the case of Zephaniah, who appears as Nâgid in Jeremiah 29:26, it was given to him as the “second priest” (2 Kings 25:18; Jeremiah 52:14). Next in order to him was the Pakid, the deputy, or, perhaps, better, superintendent. Here Pashur is described by the combination of the two titles, possibly as implying that he was invested, though a “deputy,” with the full powers of the “governor.” By some commentators, however, the relation of the two words is inverted, the Nâgid being added to the Pakid, to imply that Pashur was the chief warden or overseer. As such, on either view, the act and the words of Jeremiah came under his official notice. That such words should be spoken in the court of the Temple to the multitude assembled there was, we must believe, something new, and Pashur was resolved at any cost to prevent its repetition.
(2) Then Pashur smote Jeremiah the prophet.—It is the first time that he has been so described, the office to which he was called being apparently named to emphasise the outrage which had been inflicted on him. Other prophets had, under Ahab or Manasseh, been slain with the sword, but none, so far as we know (with the one exception of Hanani the seer in 2 Chronicles 16:10), had ever before been subjected to an ignominious punishment such as this. It was so far analogous to the outrage against which St. Paul protested in Acts 23:2-3. The word “smote” implies a blow struck with the priest’s own hands rather than the infliction of the legal punishment of forty stripes save one (Deuteronomy 25:3). The English word “stocks” expresses adequately enough the instrument of torture which, like the nervus of Roman punishment, kept the body (as in Acts 16:24) in a crooked and painful position. The word here used occurs in the Hebrew of 2 Chronicles 16:10, as above, and in Jeremiah 29:26, but the A. V. there renders it as “prison-house.” In that humiliating position the prophet was left for the whole night in one of the most conspicuous places of the city, the temple-gate of Benjamin (the upper gate) on the northern side of the inner court, probably the higher or northern gate of Ezekiel 8:3; Ezekiel 8:5; Ezekiel 9:2.
(3) Magor-missabib.—The words are a quotation from Psalms 31:13, and are rightly rendered, “Fear is round about;” they had already been used by the prophet in Jeremiah 6:25. We may venture to think that the Psalm had been his comfort in those night-watches of suffering, and that he now uttered the words which described the bitterness of the Psalmist’s sorrow, as at last feeling sure that they belonged to his persecutor rather than to himself. It is scarcely necessary to seek a special significance in the name of Pashur as contrasted with this new nomen et omen; but Hebrew scholars, according to various, and it must be owned, conjectural etymologies, have found in it the ideas of wide-spread joy, “joy round about,” or else of freedom and deliverance. The prophet repeats the combination in Jeremiah 46:5; Jeremiah 49:29; Lamentations 2:22, and it had evidently become a kind of “burden” in both senses of the word, weighing on the prophet’s thoughts and finding frequent utterance. The word that stands for “fear” is a rare one, and outside the passages now referred to is found only in Isaiah 31:9.
(4) I will make thee a terror to thyself, and to all thy friends.—We should have looked for a different explanation, indicating that terrors from without should gather round the cruel and relentless persecutor, but the prophet’s words go deeper. He should be an object of self-loathing, outer fears intensifying his inward terror and acting through him on others. He is the centre from which terrors radiate as well as that to which they converge.
(5) All the strength.—i.e., the treasure or “substance” of the city.
(6) Thou shalt come to Babylon . . .—The sons of Immer, the section of priests to which Pashur belonged, were found in large numbers at Babylon (Ezra 2:37-38), and it lies in the nature of the case that he, as a high official, would be among the captives when Nebuchadnezzar carried into exile all but the “poorer sort of the people of the land.”
To whom thou hast prophesied lies.—The special predictions in question are not recorded, but we may infer that Pashur was one of those who encouraged the people to fight against the Chaldaeans, and to despise Jeremiah’s warnings by holding out the hope that an alliance with Egypt would avert the threatened danger (Jeremiah 14:13; Jeremiah 23:17).
(7) O Lord, thou hast deceived me.—There is an obvious break between Jeremiah 20:6-7. The narrative ends, and a psalm of passionate complaint begins. Its position probably indicates that the compiler of the prophecies in their present form looked on the complaints as belonging to this period of the prophet’s work, representing the thoughts of that night of shame which was, as it were, the extremest point of apparent failure. This then was the end of his prophetic calling, this the fulfilment of the promise which told him that he was set over the nations, and that his enemies should not prevail against him (Jeremiah 1:8-10). Some touches of this feeling we have heard already in Jeremiah 15:18. Now it is more dominant and continuous.
Thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed.—Better, thou hast laid hold on me. Jehovah now appears to the prophet as a hard taskmaster who had forced him, against his will (Jeremiah 17:16), to enter on a work from which he shrank, and who gave him scorn and derision as his only wage. He felt, in St. Paul’s language, that “a necessity was laid upon” him (1 Corinthians 9:16); or in Isaiah’s, that the “strong hand” of the Lord was on him (Isaiah 8:11).
Daily.—Literally, all the day.
(8) I cried out, I cried.—The two Hebrew words are not, as in the English, alike, the first being the cry of complaint, the second of protest: When I speak (the tense implies from the beginning of his work till now), I complain; I call out (against) violence and spoil. They had formed the burden of his discourses, he had borne his witness against them, and yet “the word of Jehovah” so proclaimed by him had exposed him simply to derision. He had been the champion of the people’s rights, and yet they mocked and scorned him.
(9) Then I said . . .—The sense of a hopeless work, destined to fail, weighed on the prophet’s soul, and he would fain have withdrawn from it; but it (the words in italics, though they do not spoil the sense, are hardly needed) burnt like fire within him, and would not be restrained.
I could not stay.—Better, I prevailed not. Here again the interpolated word is needless, and in part spoils the emphasis. The “I could” is the same word as the “prevailed” of Jeremiah 20:7. God had prevailed against him, compelled him to undertake a work against his will, but he could not prevail against God. Like so much of Jeremiah’s language this also came from the hymns of Israel (Psalms 39:3).
(10) The defaming of many.—Another quotation from the Psalms (Psalms 31:13), where the Authorised Version has “the slander of many.”
Fear on every side.—The Magor-missabib still rings in the prophet’s ears, and, for himself as for others, is the burden of his cry. It may be noted that this also comes from the same verse of the psalm just quoted.
Report, say they, and we will report it.—Better, do you report. The words are not spoken as to the prophet, but are those with which his persecutors encouraged each other to inform against him. (Comp. Jeremiah 11:19; Jeremiah 18:18.)
All my familiars.—Literally, every man of my peace, i.e., the men who used to greet him with the wonted “Peace be with thee.” The same phrase is used in the “familiar friends” of Psalms 41:9, but it does not in itself describe the intimacy of friendship, but rather the courtesy and good-will of acquaintances who thus salute each other.
Watched for my halting.—Comp. Psalms 35:15 (where the same word is rendered “adversity”) and Psalms 38:17.
He will be enticed.—The same word as the “deceived” of Jeremiah 20:7. They were on the look-out for some rash and hasty word spoken in prophetic zeal, and the prophet, in the bitterness of his soul, looked on their work and that of Jehovah as tending to the same result. Compare the conduct of the Scribes and Pharisees towards our Lord (Matthew 12:10; Matthew 22:15; Mark 12:13).
(11) But the Lord is with me.—As in Psalms 22:0 and other like utterances, the prophet, though perplexed. is yet not in despair (2 Corinthians 4:8). He passes through the deep waters, but struggles out of them to the rock of refuge. The word “terrible” was used with a special significance. Jehovah had promised to deliver the prophet from the “terrible” ones (Jeremiah 15:21). He, the mighty God (Isaiah 9:6) would now show that He was more terrible than the prophet’s foes, that it was better to come under their wrath than His (Isaiah 8:12-13).
For they shall not prosper.—Better, because they have not dealt wisely. The word is the same as in Jeremiah 10:21, where see Note.
Their everlasting confusion.—Better, as carrying on the structure of the previous clause, with an everlasting confusion that shall never be forgotten.
(12) But, O Lord of hosts . . .—The verse is almost verbally identical with Jeremiah 11:20, where see Note.
(13) Sing unto the Lord . . .—It was as though heaviness had endured for a night, and joy had come in the morning. As with so many of the Psalms (Psalms 22:22 is, perhaps, the most striking parallel), what began in a cry De profundis ends in a Hallelujah.
(14) Cursed be the day wherein I was born . . .—The apparent strangeness of this relapse from the confidence of the two previous verses into a despair yet deeper than before is best explained by the supposition that it is in no sense part of the same poem or meditation, but a distinct fragment belonging to the same period, and placed in its present position by Jeremiah himself, or by the first editor of his prophecies. By some, indeed, it has been thought that we have here an accidental dislocation, and that Jeremiah 20:14-18 should stand before Jeremiah 20:7. The prophet utters a cry of anguish yet keener than that which now precedes it, and borrows the language of that cry from the book of Job (Jeremiah 3:3). The prophet turned in the depth of his suffering to the words in which the great representative of sufferers had “cursed his day.” The question whether we are to blame or to palliate such utterances, how far they harmonise with Christian feeling, is one on which we need not dwell long. It is enough to note (1) that, while we cannot make for them the half-evasive apology which sees in Jeremiah’s prayers against his enemies, and in the imprecatory psalms, prophecies rather than prayers, they indicate the same temper as those psalms and prayers indicate when taken in their natural sense, and so help us to understand them; and (2) that in such cases, while we give thanks that we have the blessing of a higher law and the example of a higher life, we are not called upon to apportion praise or blame. It is enough to reverence, to sympathise, to be silent.
(15) Making him very glad.—The memory, or rather the thought of that day, the joy of father and another when their child was born (John 16:21) was wanted, as in the irony of destiny, to add the keenest pang to the misery of the present. The “sorrow’s crown of sorrow” was found in remembering happier days. We note the same tenderness turned to bitterness as in Jeremiah 15:10. The day of his birth was to him a day of darkness and not of light.
(16) The cities which the Lord overthrew.—The verb is the same as that used in Genesis 19:29, and the reference is clearly to the “cities of the plain,” whose destruction is there described. The reference to them in Deuteronomy 32:32; Isaiah 1:9-10, shows that they had already become familiar to men as the great representative instances both of evil and its punishment.
The cry . . . the shouting.—The former word describes the wail of lamentation, the latter the shout of an invading army.
(17) Because he slew me not . . .—The wish that he had never been born is uttered by the prophet in strange, bold language. It would have been better that the messenger that told that he was born had slain him before his birth, that his mother’s womb had been his grave, that she had never had strength to bring him forth. Thought, structure, even grammar are, in their abruptness and irregularities, alike significant of intense emotion.
(18) Wherefore came I forth . . .?—Like the preceding verse, this is in its tone, almost in its words, an echo of Job 3:11-12; Job 3:20.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 20". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter