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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Jeremiah 9

Verse 1


(1) Oh, that my head were waters . . .!—Literally, Who will give my head waters . . .? The form of a question was, in Hebrew idiom as in Latin, the natural utterance of desire. In the Hebrew text this verse comes as the last in Jeremiah 8:0. It is, of course, very closely connected with what precedes; but, on the other hand, it is even more closely connected with what follows. Strictly speaking, there ought to be no break at all, and the discourse should flow on continuously.

A fountain.—Here, as in Jeremiah 2:13; Jeremiah 17:13, and elsewhere, the Hebrew word makor is a tank or réservoir rather than a spring.

Verse 2

(2) Oh, that I had . . .!—Literally, as before, Who will give . . .?

A lodging place of wayfaring men.—i.e., a place of shelter, a khan or caravanserai, such as were built for travellers, such, e.g., as the “inn” of Genesis 42:27, the “habitation” of Chimham (Jeremiah 41:17), which the son of Barzillai had erected near Bethlehem, as an act of munificent gratitude to his adopted country (2 Samuel 19:40). In some such shelter, far from the cities of Judah, the prophet, with a feeling like that of the Psalmist (Psalms 55:6-8) would fain find refuge from his treacherous enemies—“adulterers,” alike spiritually and literally (Jeremiah 5:8).

Verse 3

(3) Like their bow for lies.—The inserted words turn the boldness of the metaphor into a comparatively tame simile. They bend their tongue to be their bow of lies. The same figure meets us in Psalms 57:4; Psalms 58:7; Psalms 64:3.

They are not valiant for the truth upon the earth.—Better, they are not mighty for truth, i.e., faithfulness, in the landi.e., they do not rule faithfully. It is not without some regret that we part with a phrase which has gained something of a proverbial character as applied to the champions of speculative truth or abstract right, but the above gives the true meaning of the Hebrew.

They know not me.—“Know” in the sense of acknowledging and obeying (1 Samuel 2:12; Job 18:21). This was the root evil from which all other evils issued.

Verse 4

(4) Take ye heed . . .—The extreme bitterness of the prophet’s words is explained in part by what we read afterwards of his personal history (Jeremiah 12:6; Jeremiah 18:18). Then, as at other times, a man’s foes were those of his own household (Matthew 10:36).

Every brother will utterly supplant.—The word is that which gave the patriarch his significant name of Jacob, the supplanter (Genesis 25:26; Genesis 27:36). Jeremiah seems to say that the people have forfeited their claims to the name of the true Israel. Every brother Israelite is found to be a thorough-paced Jacob. The adverb “utterly” expresses the force of the Hebrew reduplication of the verb.

Will walk with slanders.—Better, walketh a slanderer.

Verse 5

(5) Deceive.—The word is commonly translated, as in the margin, mock. (So in 1 Kings 18:27; Judges 16:10; Judges 16:13; Judges 16:15.) The context here shows, however, that the kind of mockery is that which at once deludes and derides; and as the former meaning is predominant, the text of the English version had better stand as it is.

To commit iniquity.—Literally, to go crookedly, or, in the strict sense of the word, to do wrong.

Verse 6

(6) Thine habitation . . .—The words may be an individualised, and therefore more emphatic, reproduction of the general warning of Jeremiah 9:4. It is, however, better to take them as spoken by Jehovah to the prophet individually. The LXX., following a different reading and punctuation, translates “usury upon usury, deceit upon deceit; they refuse to know Me, saith the Lord.” And this has been adopted by Ewald, among recent commentators.

Verse 7

(7) I will melt them, and try them.—The prophet, speaking in the name of Jehovah, falls back upon the imagery of Jeremiah 6:28-30; Isaiah 48:10. The evil has come to such a pass that nothing is left but the melting of the fiery furnace of affliction. How else could He act for the daughter of His people? The phrase throws us back upon Jeremiah 8:21-22. The balm of Gilead had proved ineffectual. The disease required a severer remedy.

Verse 8

(8) An arrow shot out.—Better, an arrow that pierceth, or slayeth.

In heart.—More literally, inwardly.

Verse 9

(9) Shall I not visit . . .?—The previous use of the same warning in Jeremiah 5:9; Jeremiah 5:29 gives these words also the emphasis of iteration.

Verse 10

(10) For the mountains . . .—The Hebrew preposition means both “upon” and “on account of,” and probably both meanings were implied. The prophet sees himself upon the mountains, taking up the lamentation for them because they are “burned up.”

The habitations.—Better, as in the margin, pastures. The wilderness is simply the wild open country.

So that none can pass . . . neither can men hear.—Better, with none to pass through them . . . neither do men hear.

Both the fowl . . .—The Hebrew is more emphatic; from the fowl of the heavens to the beast . . . they are fled.

Verse 11

(11) A den of dragons.—Better, here and in Jeremiah 10:22; Isaiah 13:22, jackals. The word means, literally, a howler. The English version follows the LXX. and Vulgate versions; but even taking “dragons” in its non-mythical sense as applied to some species of serpent, there is nothing in the word to lead us to assign this meaning. The mistake has probably arisen from the likeness of the word to those translated “serpent” in Exodus 7:9-10; Exodus 7:12, “whale” in Genesis 1:21 and Job 7:12, and “dragons” in Psalms 74:13; Psalms 91:13.

Verse 12

(12) Who is the wise man . . .?—Sage (comp. Jeremiah 8:9) and prophet are alike called on to state why the misery of which Jeremiah speaks is to come upon the people. But they are asked in vain, and Jehovah, through the prophet, makes answer to Himself.

That none passeth through.—The English is ambiguous. “That” stands either for a relative with “wilderness” as its antecedent, or as a conjunction equivalent to “so that.” Better, and none there is that passeth through.

Verse 14

(14) Imagination.—Stubbornness, as in Jeremiah 3:17.

Baalim.—The generic name for false gods of all kinds, and therefore used in the plural. (Comp. Jeremiah 2:8; Jeremiah 2:23.)

Verse 15

(15) Wormwood.—As a plant, probably a species of Artemisia, four species of which are found in Palestine. In Deuteronomy 29:18 it appears as the symbol of moral evil, here of the bitterness of calamity.

Water of gall.—See Note on Jeremiah 8:14.

Verse 17

(17) Mourning women . . . cunning women.—Eastern funerals were, and are, attended by mourners, chiefly women, hired for the purpose. Wailing was reduced to an art, and they who practised it were cunning. There are the “mourners” that “go about the streets” (Ecclesiastes 12:5), those that “are skilful of lamentation” (Amos 5:16), those that mourned for Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 22:18), those that “wept and wailed greatly” in the house of Jairus (Mark 5:38). They are summoned as to the funeral, not of a friend or neighbour, but of the nation.

Verse 18

(18) Take up a wailing for us.—There is in all such figures of speech an inevitable blending of metaphors. The mourners wail for the dead nation, and yet the members of the nation are sharers in the obsequies, and their eyes run down with tears.

Verse 19

(19) We have forsaken.—Better, we have left. The English version suggests a voluntary abandonment, which is not involved in the Hebrew.

Verse 20

(20) Teach your daughters wailing.—The thought of Jeremiah 9:9 is continued. The words rest upon the idea that wailing was an art, its cries and tones skilfully adapted to the special sorrows of which it was in theory the expression. They perhaps imply also that death would do its work so terribly that the demand for mourners would be greater than the supply, and that supernumeraries must be trained to meet it. Looking to the many other coincidences between our Lord’s teaching and that of Jeremiah, it is not too much to see in His words to the daughter of Jerusalem, “Weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:27-28), a parallel to what we read here.

Verse 21

(21) Death is come up into our windows.—“Death” stands here, as in Jeremiah 15:2, specifically for the pestilence, which is to add its horrors to those of the famine and the sword, and which creeps in with its fatal taint at the windows, even though the invader is for a time kept at bay, and cuts off the children who else would play “without,” sc., in the court-yard of the house, and the “young men” who else would gather, as were their wont, in the streets or the open places of the city. The Hebrew word rehoboth (comp. Genesis 26:22) answers to “piazza,” “square,” “market-place,” rather than to our street.

Verse 22

(22) Speak, Thus saith the Lord.—The abrupt opening indicates a new prediction, coming to him unbidden, which he is constrained to utter as a message from Jehovah.

As the handful.—The reaper gathered into swathes, or small sheaves, what he could hold in his left hand, as he went on cutting with his sickle. These he threw down as they became too big to hold, and they were left strewn on the field till he returned to gather them up into larger sheaves. So should the bodies of the dead be strewn, the prophet says, on the open field, but there should be none to take them up and bury them.

Verse 23

(23) Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom.—The long prophecy of judgment had reached its climax. Now there comes the conclusion of the whole matter—that the one way of salvation is to renounce all reliance on the wisdom, greatness, wealth of the world, and to glory only in knowing Jehovah. The “wise man” is, as before in Jeremiah 8:9, and Jeremiah 9:12, the scribe, or recognised teacher of the people

Verse 24

(24) Let him that glorieth glory in this . . .—The passage is interesting as having clearly been present to the mind of St. Paul in writing 1 Corinthians 1:31; 2 Corinthians 10:17. He had learnt from it to estimate the wisdom and the greatness on which the Corinthians prided themselves at their true value. We may find a parallel even in the higher words which teach us that “eternal life is to know God” (John 17:3), to understand those attributes, love, judgment, righteousness, which we associate with our thoughts of Him, as indeed they are in their infinite perfection, and which when we know them as we ought to know, we must needs strive to reproduce.

Verse 25

(25) I will punish all them which are circumcised with the uncircumcised.—The passage is difficult, but the English verse is misleading. Better, I will punish all those that are circumcised in uncircumcision—all, i.e., who have the outward sign, but not the inward purity of which it was the symbol. In the day of God’s judgments (this being the connecting link with the preceding verse) there would be no difference between the Jew and other races who like him practised circumcision on the one hand, and the outlying heathen world on the other. Here, again, Jeremiah anticipated St. Paul, “To the Jew first, and also to the Gentile; for there is no respect of persons with God” (Romans 2:9). The true circumcision is that which is “in the spirit, not in the letter” (Romans 2:29).

Verse 26

(26) Egypt, and Judah . . .—The nations enumerated were all alike, the Egyptians certainly (Herod. ii. 36, 37), and the others, as belonging to the same race as Judah, probably, in the fact of circumcision, and are apparently brought together not without some touch of scornful humour. How could Israel pride itself in that which it had in common with some of the nations that it most abhorred. The later Idumaeans seem to have abandoned the practice till it was forced upon them by John Hyrcanus (Joseph., Ant. xi. 9, 15:7). Jerome (in loc.) affirms that the nations named practised circumcision in his time, and its adoption by Islam indicates its prevalence among the Arabs in that of Mahomet.

All that are in the utmost corners.—Better, all that have the corners (of their temples) shorn. The epithet, like our “cross-eared” or “round-head,” was obviously one of scorn, and was applied (as again in Jeremiah 25:23; Jeremiah 49:32) to a wild Arabian tribe who, as described by Herodotus (3:8), shaved their temples and let their hair grow long behind. The “wilderness” is the Arabian desert to the east of Palestine, inhabited by the Ishmaelites and other kindred races. As if to complete the contempt which he pours on circumcision, the prophet speaks of the barbarous people, whose customs were specially forbidden to Israel (Leviticus 19:27), as in this respect standing on the same level with Israel. If circumcision by itself were enough to secure immunity from judgment, they too, as practising a rite analogous though not identical, might claim it.

All these nations are uncircumcised.—The English Version makes the prophet say exactly the opposite of what he really said. All the heathen (not “these nations”) are in God’s sight as uncircumcised, whether they practise the outward rite or not—and the state of Israel was not a whit better than theirs, for she too was uncircumcised in heart. Once again Jeremiah is the forerunner of St. Paul’s Romans 2:25-29. It may be noted that the same nations are enumerated afterwards as coming under Nebuchadnezzar’s conquests (Jeremiah 25:23).

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 9". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.