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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 20

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Verses 1-6

Jer 20:1-6

Jeremiah 20:1-6

JEREMIAH IMPRISONED

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).

Jeremiah 20:1-6

JEREMIAH AND PASHHUR

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, all the treasures of the kings of Judah will I give into the hand 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...

(Jeremiah 20:1). Many scholars including Dummelow and Barnes believed that Pashhur was the father of Gedaliah (Jeremiah 38:1). 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).

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," is probably correct.

Pashhur smote Jeremiah the prophet. put him in the stocks ... in the upper gate of Benjamin .....

(Jeremiah 20:2). 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.

And put him in the stocks...

(Jeremiah 20:2). The terrible instrument of punishment identified in these words was designed for torture, not merely for restraint, and their function was to inflict cruel and inhuman torture upon the hapless victim.

In the upper gate of Benjamin...

(Jeremiah 20:2). 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.

Pashhur smote Jeremiah the prophet...

(Jeremiah 20:2). 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. 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."

Magor-missabib...

(Jeremiah 20:3). 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. 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.

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

Thou hast prophesied falsely...

(Jeremiah 20:6). 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. Yes indeed, Pashhur claimed to be a prophet; But he had falsely assumed the prophetic office; and for that he was worthy of death.

JEREMIAH’S FINAL LAMENT

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.

Verses 7-18

Jer 20:7-18

Jeremiah 20:7-10

O Jehovah, thou hast persuaded me, and I was persuaded; thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am become a laughing-stock all the day, every one 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." 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...

(Jeremiah 20:8). 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)." 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." 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."

Jeremiah 20:11-13

JEREMIAH REAFFIRMS HIS FAITH IN GOD

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."

Jeremiah 20:14-18

JEREMIAH’S THOUGHTS WHILE IN THE STOCKS

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.

PROPOSED SOLUTIONS:

(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." 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."

(2) "Some have rejected Jeremiah 20:11-13 as a late doxology interpolated into the text"; 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."

(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.

(5) 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."

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."

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." 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." 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."

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."

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."

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.

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.

HE HUMAN VESSEL Jeremiah 20:7-18

In his public confrontation with Pashur Jeremiah had remained as firm as a rock. Now in his private moments with God he breaks down completely. He looks upon his ministry not as a high privilege but as an intolerable burden. He is discouraged with his task; he is disgruntled with his God. This is the fourth personal crisis in the ministry of Jeremiah. His “confession” moves through three stages: (1) complaint (Jeremiah 20:7-10); (2) conviction (Jeremiah 20:11-13); and (3) curse (Jeremiah 20:14-18).

Complaint Jeremiah 20:7-10

In this bitter moment Jeremiah accuses God of deceiving him. The same Hebrew verb is used of seducing a maiden (Exodus 22:16) or enticing a husband (Judges 14:15; Judges 16:5). In 1 Kings 22:21 a spirit from God enticed Ahab to go up to Ramoth-gilead in order that he might meet his death. Of course this accusation against God is absolutely false, God had not deceived His prophet in the least about his mission. He had pointedly warned His prospective prophet that his mission was fraught with danger and disappointment (cf. Jeremiah 1:18). The accusation continues: “you completely overpowered me,” literally, you took hold of me and you prevailed. Jeremiah seems to be complaining that he was compelled against his own will to preach the word of God. Now because of the nature of his ministry Jeremiah has become the object of ridicule and mockery (Jeremiah 20:7). Jeremiah could face physical torture without flinching but he seems to cringe before the barbs of ridicule. He blames his plight upon the nature of his message. He must be a prophet of doom. He must constantly cry “Violence! Destruction!” This message had brought him nothing but reproach and derision (Jeremiah 20:8).

A tremendous battle rages in the heart and mind of this sensitive man of God. On the one hand he wanted to resign his ministry and retreat to the peaceful and quiet life at Anathoth. He could not bear to face the prospect of continued ridicule and opposition. He wanted to forget all about his recent unpleasant experiences and never preach another sermon again. On the other hand his heart was burdened with a sense of prophetic obligation and divine mission. The fire of God’s wrath against sin burns fiercely within him. He tries to hold it back but cannot. He becomes utterly exhausted from trying to fight his compulsion to preach. In spite of himself he must follow the divine call, he must resume his ministry (Jeremiah 20:9).

Jeremiah knows the dangers attendant upon his resumption of the prophetic ministry. He knows his enemies are plotting against him. He even seems to hear them urging one another to lay false charges against him. Even his friends (literally, all the men of my peace)—those who greeted him with familiar greetings of friendship—are watching his every move. They hope that he will take one false step so that they may take advantage of it. Perhaps, they think, the prophet can be enticed or seduced into making some mistakes or saying something on which a charge of treason can be based. These enemies will stop at nothing. They are out for revenge against the meddlesome prophet who had dared contradict their pro-Egypt policy and pronounce the doom of their nation (Jeremiah 20:10).

Conviction Jeremiah 20:11-13

The light seems to suddenly shine through Jeremiah’s personal gloom and the prophet bursts forth in expressions of joyous trust in God. He suddenly seems to realize that God is on his side after all. Perhaps he recalls the words of promise given to him at the time of his call: They shall not overcome! For I am with you to deliver you! The Lord, a fearsome warrior, will fight the battles of His prophet. Those enemies who are plotting, whispering, and watching would not succeed. On the contrary they will stumble and fall and experience eternal and unforgettable shame (Jeremiah 20:11). Jeremiah simply resolves to lay his case at the feet of the Judge of all the earth knowing that He will do right. He alone is qualified to test and judge the righteous, for He alone can observe the inward thoughts and motives. Jeremiah is confident that he will be vindicated at the judgment bar of God and that his enemies will experience the vengeance of the living God who is a consuming fire (Jeremiah 20:12). The latter part of Jeremiah 20:12 can be translated as a simple declarative: “I shall see your vengeance on them” or as a cohortative: “Let me see your vengeance on them.” So confident is Jeremiah of deliverance from his foes that he bursts forth in a song of praise to his divine deliverer (Jeremiah 20:13). Faith has been victorious over doubt!

Curse Jeremiah 20:14-18

From the mountain top of victorious faith Jeremiah plunges suddenly, unexpectedly, unexplainably into the abyss of despair and self-pity. His sights have suddenly dropped from the Righteous Judge who reigns above to the wicked men who plot against him here below. His song of praise has turned to bitter lament. Like Job (Jeremiah 3:3-12) before him he curses the day of his birth (Jeremiah 20:14). When news came that a son had been born, Jeremiah’s father rejoiced exceedingly. How ironic. The father rejoices over the birth of one who would live a life of tragedy. Cursed be the man who brought that “good news” to my father, cries the prophet (Jeremiah 20:15). He wishes that this messenger would experience the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah. He hopes that this messenger will hear the cry of the terrified inhabitants of the city when the enemy comes smashing through the walls in the morning hours of the day. He hopes that at noontime this man will hear the bloodthirsty battle cry of the invaders as they plunder the city (Jeremiah 20:16). Why such a curse on this anonymous messenger? Because he should have slain me when I was born or else simply left me in my mother’s womb (Jeremiah 20:17). Jeremiah simply could not understand why God would allow him to be born only to suffer such heartache, pain, distress and disgrace (Jeremiah 20:18).

Was it right for Jeremiah to curse the day of his birth? It is easy for one who has not experienced the persecutions of Jeremiah to condemn him. Those who have undergone similar trials can empathize with him. The experience of Jeremiah here might be compared to that of the prophet Elijah. After descending from the triumph of Mt. Carmel, Elijah sat under his juniper tree of depression (1 Kings 19:4). Both prophets had moments of being strong in the Lord; both had moments of being weak in the flesh. Both men were merely clay vessels which God was able to use for His glory.

How is it possible that such a curse could follow immediately after the joyous confidence of Jeremiah 20:13? Some would argue that Jeremiah 20:14-18 have been dislocated and do not belong here. This is hardly necessary. Nor is it necessary to postulate an interval of time between Jeremiah 20:13 and Jeremiah 20:14. Any saint who takes his eye off the Lord for even a moment may be engulfed by self-pity and despair. This passage is the brutally frank and honest revelation of a tortured soul. Such passages indicate that, of all the Old Testament prophets, Jeremiah is probably the most human and also the most heroic, Men of God shall ever be indebted to Jeremiah for recording these autobiographical lines for they set in bold relief the grace of God. Sinful, weak and frail as Jeremiah proved to be, God could forgive him and still use him. The Lord does not reject His servant because of this momentary outburst.

Jeremiah and Pashhur - Jeremiah 20:1-18

Open It

1. What kinds of crises might make a person wish he or she had never been born?

2. When was the last time you were bitterly disappointed?

3. When have you felt as if everyone were just waiting for you to make a mistake?

Explore It

4. How did the chief officer respond to Jeremiah’s prophecy in the temple? (Jeremiah 20:1-2)

5. What unlikely person had Jeremiah beaten? Why? (Jeremiah 20:1-2)

6. What future did Jeremiah foretell for Pashhur and all of Judah? (Jeremiah 20:3-6)

7. What was Jeremiah’s complaint to the Lord? (Jeremiah 20:7-8)

8. Why was Jeremiah upset with God? (Jeremiah 20:7-10)

9. What would happen if Jeremiah tried to stop speaking the word of the Lord? (Jeremiah 20:9)

10. What did Jeremiah hear the people saying about him? (Jeremiah 20:10)

11. From where did Jeremiah derive consolation for his disappointments? (Jeremiah 20:11-13)

12. What did Jeremiah believe about God’s ability to set things straight? (Jeremiah 20:11-13)

13. What was the basis for Jeremiah’s song of praise to God? (Jeremiah 20:13)

14. How had Jeremiah come to feel about life and his presumably joyful entry into it? (Jeremiah 20:14-18)

Get It

15. Why do some people try to silence those who speak God’s Word?

16. How could Jeremiah be so confident that his enemies wouldn’t have the final word?

17. Why is it encouraging to know that no human being can keep the Word of God from going forth?

18. What would motivate even Jeremiah’s friends to try to silence him?

19. What value is there in the fact that the Bible records Jeremiah’s (and other servants’ of God) discouragement?

20. What should we do whenever we feel disappointed?

Apply It

21. What servant of God do you know who is in a period of despair and in need of your words of comfort?

22. What injustice is weighing on you which you can turn over to God?

Questions On Jeremiah Chapter Twenty

By Brent Kercheville

1 What happens to Jeremiah after prophesying these messages (Jeremiah 20:1-3)?

2 What did Jeremiah prophesy after this happened to him (Jeremiah 20:3-6)?

3 What is Jeremiah’s prayer and complaint (Jeremiah 20:7-18)?

4 Why must Jeremiah continue to preach (Jeremiah 20:9)? What do we learn from this?

TRANSFORMATION:

How does this relationship change your relationship with God?

What did you learn about him?

What will you do differently in your life?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Jeremiah 20". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/jeremiah-20.html.
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