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Jeremiah 1:0 - chapters 1 to 10.
A (Very) Brief History Of The Time Of Jeremiah.
Jeremiah began his ministry prior to the discovery of the Law Book in the Temple in the reign of the godly king Josiah, and he continued his ministry throughout the remainder of Josiah’s life, until that life was sadly cut short when Josiah sought to prevent the Egyptian forces under Pharaoh Necho from going to the aid of a dying Assyria in 609 BC. During that period Judah had enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity with their enemies being too preoccupied elsewhere to trouble them, and with fervent religious reform taking place at the centre in Jerusalem, a reform which, however, as Jeremiah knew, had not reached the hearts of the people, for they still hankered after the old Canaanite syncretism of YHWH with Baal. Conformity was thus outward, not inward, and the old hill top sanctuaries did not remain unused, even though that use had to be in secret.
Assyria indeed, which had for a hundred years and more been the dominating force in the area, was by this time fighting a rearguard action for its very life against the combined forces of Babylonia and the Medes (Nineveh had fallen in 612 BC), and was on its last legs. Indeed Josiah’s intervention may well have been the final nail in their coffin, delaying the Egyptian forces long enough to prevent them aiding Assyria in time, thus ensuring Assyria’s final defeat. (Egypt had seen the threat that would follow that defeat). But, in spite of Josiah’s reforms, religiously speaking things had not been going well in the heartland of Judah, for idolatry and disobedience to the covenant had become too well engrained among the people to be easily removed and was still flourishing, so that Jeremiah had constantly to be engaged in seeking to bring the people back to a response to the Law and to the true worship of YHWH (chapters 1-20), warning them of invaders who would be coming from the north (either the Scythians or the Babylonians, or both) if they did not. He respected Josiah greatly and mourned his death (2 Chronicles 35:25).
The fall of Assyria left a power vacuum in which a resurgent Egypt sought to establish its control over Palestine, Syria and beyond, establishing a base at Carchemish, and becoming initially determinant of who would rule Judah, removing Jehoahaz and replacing him with his brother Jehoiakim. After the freedom enjoyed under Josiah this was a bitter blow for Judah, and, along with the fact of Josiah’s untimely death, appeared to many to indicate that what Josiah had sought to achieve had failed.
But Egypt was not to be triumphant for long. They had not reckoned with the power of Babylon and its allies, and four years after the death of Josiah they were decisively beaten by the Babylonian army at Carchemish, and then at Hamath. As a result the Pharaoh retired behind his own borders licking his wounds. Meanwhile Babylon took over the jurisdiction of Judah, and Jehoiakim had to submit to Nebuchadnezzar. The first part of Jeremiah’s work covers this whole period, initially of Josiah’s successful reign, tainted by the stubbornness of the people, and then of the reign of Jehoiakim who took Judah back to the old evil ways of syncretism and Baal worship.
Jeremiah continued to prophesy during the reign of Zedekiah, and even afterwards, and he thus ministered during the period described in 2 Kings 21-25 and 2 Chronicles 33-36. Contemporary with him were the prophets Zephaniah and Habakkuk before the Exile, and Ezekiel and Daniel subsequently.
The First Judean Exile To Babylon Including Daniel (c.605 BC).
As a result of Josiah’s intervention and death the Egyptians on their return journey took control of Judah, and Jehoahaz, who had reigned for a mere three months, was carried off to Egypt, being replaced by the weak Jehoiakim, who in spite of the heavy tribute required by Egypt, squandered money needlessly on a new palace complex, built by forced labour, for which he was castigated by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 22:13-19). He was no doubt trying to prove how grand he was, as weak men will. At the same time the religious reforms, such as they were, were falling by the wayside, and even the Temple itself was being affected (Jeremiah 7:16-18; Jeremiah 11:9-13; etc., compare Ezekiel 8:0). Judah had become disillusioned with YHWH, partly as a result of the death of Josiah, with the result that the prophets who did speak up against the decline were harassed, or even put to death (Jeremiah 26:23).
As we have seen, for a while it appeared that Judah would continue to be tributaries of a resurgent Egypt. But in a decisive battle in 605 BC at Carchemish, followed by another at Hamath, the Egyptians were badly mauled by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar, with the result that Babylon took control of Judah and Jerusalem, and on the surrender of the latter without resistance, deported the first load of exiles to Babylon, including Daniel and his three friends. Judah was now firmly in Babylonian hands.
Judah’s Folly In The Face Of Jeremiah’s Warnings.
It is perhaps understandable, however, that the leaders of Judah were not too happy about paying tribute to Babylon. They had after all hoped that the defeat of Assyria would cause their problems from the north to cease, and they had no real awareness of the might of the Babylonians. Furthermore, in spite of Judean backsliding with regard to the covenant (chapter 26), the belief had grown that the Temple of YHWH was inviolate and that YHWH would never allow it to be destroyed, a belief fostered by its earlier deliverance under Hezekiah (a belief flatly rejected by Jeremiah - Jeremiah 7:9; Jeremiah 26:6). Had it not after all survived when the other great religious centres in Israel and Syria had collapsed and been destroyed? They felt that in worshipping YHWH alongside Baal, they had got the balance right. Thus, in spite of the sacking of Ashkelon (which shook Judah deeply - Jeremiah 47:5-7), and with the encouragement of false prophets, and the political influence of an Egypt which had by then stopped the advance of the Babylonians before they reached the borders of Egypt, inflicting heavy losses on them in a ‘drawn’ battle, and causing Nebuchadnezzar to withdraw to Babylon, Jehoiakim finally withheld tribute, very much against the advice of Jeremiah (chapter Jeremiah 25:9-11; Jeremiah 27:8; Jeremiah 27:11). Jeremiah was consequently looked on as a traitor. Humanly speaking we can understand Jehoiakim’s decision. It must have appeared to everyone as though Egypt had demonstrated their equality with, if not their superiority over, Babylon. Babylon would surely be more careful in future.
Jeremiah Puts His Prophecies On Record.
It was during this period that a rejected Jeremiah, with the assistance of Baruch his ‘secretary’ (whose name has been found on a seal as ‘belonging to Berek-yahu, son of Neri-yahu (Neriah), the scribe’), first gathered his prophecies into a book-roll (Jeremiah 36:2-4), but on these being read to the people by Baruch (Jeremiah 36:5-10) they were seized and cut up by Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 36:23), who thereby showed his contempt for them. As a result Jeremiah and Baruch had to go into hiding (Jeremiah 36:26). Nothing daunted Jeremiah then wrote down a longer version (Jeremiah 36:28 ff), and meanwhile his efforts to turn the nation to YHWH in the face of persecution were unceasing (sections of chapters 21-49, see e.g. 25-26, 35-36, 45).
The Second Judean Exile, Including The New King Jehoiachin (c. 597 BC).
Inevitably the powerful Babylonians, having recuperated, once again arrived at the gates of Jerusalem, determined to take revenge on Jehoiakim, and Jehoiakim apparently gave himself up, along with some of the Temple treasure, probably thereby hoping to preserve his son’s life. Nebuchadnezzar’s intention was to carry him off in fetters to Babylon, but although this intention is stated it is never actually said to have been fulfilled (2 Chronicles 36:6 ff.; Daniel 1:1-2). Jeremiah may in fact be seen as suggesting otherwise (Jeremiah 22:19). Meanwhile his eighteen year old son Jehoiachin had become king in a city under siege and only reigned for three months, during which time frantic negotiations would have been taking place with the Babylonians. When he did surrender to them he was carried off to Babylon, along with the influential queen mother and further exiles, and even more Temple treasure. He was replaced, at the instigation of Nebuchadnezzar, by Zedekiah, his uncle. (This had no doubt all been part of the agreement reached).
The Third And Final Judean Exile And The Destruction Of The Temple (587 BC).
The reign of Zedekiah was one of continual intrigue, and in the face of it Jeremiah made himself unpopular by constantly warning of the folly of rebelling against the Babylonians (Jeremiah 27:12-22), only to be seen once again as a traitor and to be harshly dealt with. No one would listen to him as negotiations continued with Egypt, and inevitably, when Zedekiah withheld tribute the Babylonians once again surrounded Jerusalem. After a failed attempt by Egypt to intervene Jerusalem was taken and Zedekiah, his sons having been slain before his eyes, was blinded and carried off to Babylon, along with what was left of the paraphernalia of the Temple. Jerusalem itself was sacked. All that Jeremiah had prophesied had come true (these prophecies are intermingled in chapters 21-49, see e.g. Jeremiah 21:1 to Jeremiah 22:30; Jeremiah 23-24, Jeremiah 23:28-34, Jeremiah 23:37-39).
Nebuchadnezzar then appointed Gedaliah as governor of what remained of Judah, giving Jeremiah (whom he saw as loyal) the option of remaining in Judah or going with him to Babylon. Jeremiah chose to remain in Judah. (See chapters 40-42). But within a short period Gedaliah had been assassinated by ruthless opponents (Jeremiah 41:1-2), and the remnants of the people, fearful of repercussions from Nebuchadnezzar, and against the advice of Jeremiah (chapter 41-42), fled to Egypt, taking Jeremiah with them (Jeremiah 43:8-13; Jeremiah 44:0), rejecting YHWH’s offer of the restoration of the covenant. There Jeremiah prophesied the conquest of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 43:8 ff.). He probably died in Egypt. There are two traditions concerning what did happen to him, but neither of them can be seen as reliable. The first was that that he was stoned to death by the people at Tahpanhes in Egypt (so Tertullian, Jerome, and Epiphanius), and the second, in accordance with an alternative Jewish tradition, was that he was finally carried off with Baruch to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar at the time of the conquest of Egypt, in the 27th year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. We have no way of knowing whether either have any truth in them.
The Message Of The Book For Our Day.
At first sight it might appear that much of Jeremiah’s prophecy has little to do with us. It appears to be directed at a rebellious Judah which was about to suffer awful consequences as a result of their sins, and we may even begin to find the emphasis as almost tedious and unnecessary. Why preserve writings which were so repetitive and emphasised a judgment long past?
The first reason is because they proved true. Jeremiah’s writings were preserved because in the end they provided an explanation of what had happened to Judah. He had proved to be right after all. Thus his promises of hope also became a basis for the future.
The second reason is because they reveal to us the nature of God. They bring out His holiness and the awe in which He should be held. It is true that God is merciful. But only to those who put their trust in Him and walk with Him. For all others He will one day be their judge.
Thus there is also a third reason why we should recognise the book as important and that is because we are in a similar position today. We may not have hanging over us the threat of Babylonian supremacy, but we do certainly have hanging over us the threat of God’s judgment in one way or another. Whether this will come (somewhat ironically) in the form of an Islamic revival or in the form of the effects of climate change or even finally in the form of the second coming of Christ, it is a certainty for the future. And we therefore also need to listen to the warnings of Jeremiah in order to be ready for what is coming on us. It is the same attitude of mind which brought judgment on Judah that is widespread in society today. Our idols may take a different form, but they have equally replaced God as the objects of our worship, and the immorality and unacceptability of many of our lives is clearly reflected in his prophecies. Every chapter should therefore come home to us as a warning to be ready for what is coming, for come it surely will.
(The idea that there will be a second chance after His second coming is based on false exegesis of Scripture and is not to be relied on. The truth is that His coming will call time on any opportunity to repent. Then men and women who have not responded to Him will face only a judgment which will be far worse than anything that came on Judah).
A General Overview Of The Book.
The prophecies of Jeremiah are not presented in strict chronological order, even though those which came in the time of Josiah do appear to come in the first part of the book. The first twenty chapters contain prophecies given partly in the time of Josiah and partly in the time of Jehoiakim, for the message to the people under both kings was very much the same (even though the kings themselves were very different), ‘turn from your idols, and begin to walk in accordance with the covenant, or disaster will come on you’. These chapters may well have made up a good part of the book of prophecies put together by Jeremiah, which was cut up by Jehoiakim, and re-written and expanded by Jeremiah through Barak his amanuensis and assistant (Jeremiah 36:4 ff). There is no good reason for doubting that all the prophecies which are in the book are genuinely his prophecies. As will be apparent he prophesied over a long period of time, and faced severe difficulties because his message was unpopular, and it is because of those difficulties, emphasised in chapters 26-45, that we know more about him than any other prophet after Moses.
Much of Jeremiah’s prophecy is in ‘Hebrew verse’ (as with the Sermon on the Mount and with most of the prophets), but we must beware of just seeing it as poetry. The purpose of Hebrew verse was in order to aid memory, and provide emphasis by means of repetition. It did not detract from the seriousness or validity of what was said. It was spoken very directly to the heart.
As will be apparent in the commentary Jeremiah was familiar both with the Law of Moses and the early historical books, which reflect that Law. As a popular presentation of the Law, Deuteronomy, with its emphatic emphasis on blessing and cursing, appears to have been especially influential. But it would be a mistake to ignore the influence of the remainder of the Law of Moses, and especially of Leviticus 26:0 with its parallel warnings similar to those of Deuteronomy 28:0. Jeremiah was familiar with the whole Law.
With the above in mind the book can be divided into three main Sections, which are found inserted between an introduction and a conclusion:
1. INTRODUCTION. Introductory opening chapter, which describes Jeremiah’s call by YHWH (Chapter 1).
2. SECTION 1. A number of general prophecies against Judah in the days of Josiah and Jehoiakim, including, in the final chapters, words spoken to Zedekiah (chapters 2-25).
3. SECTION 2. Biographical details from the life of the prophet and details of how he coped with his maltreatment, leading up to the fall of Jerusalem and its aftermath in the rejection of the offer of a new covenant (chapters 26-45).
4. SECTION 3. Prophecies against foreign nations (chapters 46-51).
5. CONCLUSION. Concluding appendix (chapter 52).
His People Are To Prepare For Action Because The Invasion Is Upon Them (Jeremiah 6:1-8 ).
As the enemy approached from the north the tribe of Benjamin (his own tribe), who were to the north of Jerusalem, had fled for refuge to Jerusalem, and to help to defend the city. But now they are commanded to leave Jerusalem because its case is hopeless, and continue their southward journey in order to bring the southern cities to a state of readiness. Benjamin were well known as doughty fighters, and their skills would be needed there. And all this was because Jerusalem was no longer a safe place to be. She had prided herself on being ‘the comely and delicate one’ but now she was to be cut off without mercy.
As a result the call then goes out to prepare for war, because the approaching enemy are filled with an eagerness that brooks no delay. This eagerness is because it is YHWH Who has ordered them into action, as a result of the corruption and waywardness of His people. But there is a touch of mercy here also, as He calls His people to learn and repent, lest this desolation come upon them. It is apparent that if only they will receive His instruction they may yet be saved.
“Flee for safety, you children of Benjamin,
Out of the midst of Jerusalem,
And blow the ram’s horn in Tekoa,
And raise up a signal on Beth-haccherem,
For evil looks down from the north,
And a great destruction.”
The children of Benjamin, having come southwards seeking refuge in Jerusalem are now advised to move on for safety’s sake. Jerusalem is no longer a safe place to be. But it will not be an act of cowardice, for the point is made that it will be their duty to warn and help the southern cities to prepare for what is coming. The Benjaminites were renowned fighters.
Thus in Teqo‘a, (a city sixteen or so kilometres (ten miles) south of Jerusalem) they are to tiqe‘u the ram’s horn. Note the wordplay. The name is simply chosen for its assonance, not because Tekoa was of special importance. And in Beth-haccherem (the house of the vineyard) they are to set up the war signal, indicating that war has come to YHWH’s vineyard. The fact that evil ‘looks down’ from the north may indicate that the enemy have taken over a high point overlooking the doomed city, so that its ‘great destruction’ is about to take place.
Some relate the mention of Benjamin to the fact that Jeremiah was a Benjaminite, with the thought being that he would feel more at home addressing his own tribe who would be more to receive his words in a friendly spirit, but the mention of safety makes our first suggestion more likely.
“The comely and delicate one, the daughter of Zion, will I cut off,
Shepherds with their flocks will come to her,
They will pitch their tents against her round about,
They will feed every one in his place.”
‘The comely and delicate one.’ YHWH is possibly here citing Jerusalem’s verdict on itself as ‘the comely and delicate one, the daughter of Zion’ (note the contrast with Jeremiah 4:31 where she is the destitute mother with child). This may well have been their view of themselves in terms of the Song of Solomon (Jeremiah 1:5; Jeremiah 1:8-10; Jeremiah 1:15-16; Jeremiah 2:14; Jeremiah 6:4; Jeremiah 7:1-6). Note especially Jeremiah 6:4, ‘comely as Jerusalem’. The idea then is that her view of herself will not save her, for she is to be cut off (compare Isaiah 1:8; Lamentations 1:6) to such an extent that she will become a pasturage for sheep. Her lovers have evidently turned against her. (She will, however, one day be restored (Isaiah 52:2), but that is not in mind here). In Deuteronomy 28:56 the woman suffering under siege was also described as ‘tender and delicate’, and this may be in mind here, linking the coming destruction with the curses in Deuteronomy.
Others, however, see this instead as YHWH’s benevolent view of Jerusalem, which would tie in with the description of Judah/Israel as His ‘beloved’ in Jeremiah 11:15; Jeremiah 12:7, and the thought that she was once His lover (Jeremiah 2:1-3). But unless it is meant at least partially sarcastically (compare how her being called YHWH’s ‘beloved’ in Jeremiah 11:15 is also probably partially sarcastic), it is incompatible with the descriptions that have already been given of her and also with the judgment immediately described. Jerusalem has in fact been revealed as far from tender and delicate.
“Shepherds with their flocks will come to her; they will pitch their tents against her round about; they will feed every one in his place.” This may be seen as a follow up of the ‘great destruction’ in Jeremiah 6:1, being seen as a picture of what would follow her ‘great destruction’. She would become so desolated that she would no longer be inhabited, shepherds would feed their flocks there, and pitch their tents around her, and each would feed his flock in his chosen place (compare Jeremiah 33:12-13). This would provide a vivid contrast with Jeremiah 6:2. “Having been ‘cut off’ ‘the comely and delicate one’ will become a ruined waste”.
Alternately it may be seeing the commanders of the invading army as shepherds over their sheep, pitching their war tents around Jerusalem expecting to partake of her spoils. But while elsewhere invaders are sometimes likened to shepherds, they are nowhere spoken of in terms of sheep (see Jeremiah 12:10; Isaiah 31:4; Isaiah 44:28; Micah 5:5; Nahum 3:18). Invaders are more thought of in terms of lions. This fact in itself would appear to support the first suggestion.
“Prepare you war against her,
Arise, and let us go up at noon.
Woe to us! for the day declines,
For the shadows of the evening are stretched out.
Arise, and let us go up by night,
And let us destroy her palaces.”
In rather slick phrases Jeremiah conveys the idea of the invaders being ready to act by both day and night. It is made clear that nothing will be allowed to hold them back or delay them. They attack during the heat of the day, and then again at nightfall, even though a night raid of such a type during a siege would normally be unlikely, for they see the declining of the day as tragic because it might hinder their activity. They are so determined that nothing can be allowed to stop them that even the approach of night does not matter. No delay can be countenanced.
The word for ‘prepare’ means ‘sanctify, make holy’. War was looked on very much as a religious venture. The omens would be consulted (Ezekiel 21:21), the gods would be called on (Isaiah 36:10), the priests would pray over the army, the guidance of astrologers would be sought to see if the portents were good. It is intended to be ironic that it was the enemies of Jerusalem, and not ‘God’s people’, who ‘made themselves holy’, and who were so eager to obey their gods.
‘For thus has YHWH of hosts said,
“Hew you down trees,
And cast up a mound against Jerusalem,
This is the city to be visited,
She is wholly oppression in the midst of her.”
And the reason for their haste is that they are acting under YHWH’s orders. It is YHWH Who has told them to hew down the trees and cast up a siege mound against Jerusalem, seeking to bring the attackers on a level with the defenders, because this is the city that He desires to visit in judgment, and that because she is so full of oppression. Note that the whole city is in fact seen by Him as filled with oppression. The judgment is not arbitrary. She is being ‘visited’ by design. The detailed description of the siege tallies with what is depicted in inscriptions
“As a cistern (pit) casts forth its waters,
So does she cast forth her wickedness,
Violence and destruction is heard in her,
Before me continually is sickness and wounds.”
Indeed just as a cistern (compare Genesis 37:24; Leviticus 13:36) pours forth its somewhat soiled water (the rare verb indicates water obtained by digging - 2 Kings 19:24), so does Jerusalem pour forth iniquity, in terms of wickedness, violence and destruction. Evil has so taken over the city that as YHWH surveys it, all He can see continually is sickness and wounds. The city as a whole is like a sick and wounded man. Compare for this idea Isaiah 1:5-6.
“Be you instructed, O Jerusalem,
Lest my soul be alienated from you,
Lest I make you a desolation,
A land not inhabited.”
But even in spite of Judah’s continued wickedness God would not give them up unless there was no alternative. So He calls on them to let Him instruct them and teach them so that they might return to Him and seek His face. He does not want to be permanently alienated from them. And one reason for this (apart from His great love and compassion) is that if that alienation takes place then they will become a desolation and their land will become uninhabited. So once again at the end of a message of judgment we find a message of hope, an appeal to Judah to respond, something which could solve all their problems, with the alternative being total desolation.
Subsection 2). YHWH’s Solemn Warning To Judah In The Days Of Josiah (Jeremiah 3:6 to Jeremiah 6:30 ).
This section can be divided into four parts:
· Jeremiah 3:6 to Jeremiah 4:2. Israel is held up as an example to Judah, both of faithlessness and of hope for the future. For because of what they had done Israel were in exile, and were ashamed of their ways, but if only they would turn to Him in their exile they would be restored. For them there was hope. It was very different with ‘treacherous Judah’. They were without shame and without repentance.
· Jeremiah 4:3-31. YHWH warns Judah that if they will not repent invasion by a fierce adversary is threatening and will undoubtedly come because of their sins, something which calls to mind the vision of a world returned to its original unformed condition, and a nation in anguish.
· Jeremiah 5:1-31. YHWH presents the reasons why the invasion is necessary. It is because there are no righteous people in Jerusalem, and they are full of adultery (both spiritual and physical), and have grown fat and sleek, whilst they also appear to be unaware of Who He is, and their prophets and priests are untrustworthy.
· Jeremiah 6:1-30. YHWH stresses the imminence of the invasion which will be violent and complete, because He has rejected His people.
YHWH now gives a solemn warning to Judah based on what had happened to the northern tribes (‘the ten tribes’) as a result of their behaviour towards YHWH, thereby facing Judah up to the certainty of coming judgment if they do not amend their ways, a judgment that would come in the form of a ravaged land and exile for its people (Jeremiah 3:6 to Jeremiah 6:30). Included, however, within this warning, almost as an appetiser, is a brief glimpse of the everlasting kingdom, which was being offered to Israel, when YHWH will be seated on His throne, and all His people will look to Him as Father (Jeremiah 3:12-18). Like Hosea, Isaiah, and other prophets before him Jeremiah balances his message of doom with promises of future blessing. Whatever Israel and Judah did, he knew that God’s purposes would not fail in the end.
In the words found in Jeremiah 3:6 to Jeremiah 6:30 we have now come to the only passage in chapters 1-20 which is specifically said to have been a revelation given, at least in part, during the days of a particular king, and in this case it is in the days of King Josiah. This is probably intended to underline the fact that Jeremiah’s early teaching, while giving an overall coverage, includes words spoken during that reign, and it is thus of prime importance as continually stressing that even during Josiah’s reign things were not well in Judah.
Jeremiah Is Called Once More To Sift Jerusalem For Righteous Men And His Response Demonstrates That He Is Despairing Of Ever Finding One As He Sums Up Their Fallen State And Calls On YHWH To Fulfil His Judgment On Them (Jeremiah 6:9-15 ).
In view of the coming thorough gleaning of the remnant of Israel, the gathering up by the invaders of the remains of what was once a fruitful vine, the call comes to Jeremiah from YHWH to check out the grapes in the baskets, presumably to take out those which belong to Him. But Jeremiah discovers that there are none who will hear, none who delight in the word of YHWH. And the discovery fills him with ‘the wrath of YHWH’ as he begins to appreciate how God feels about His wayward people, so much so that he can no longer hold in his feelings but calls on Him to pour out His wrath (His revealed antipathy against sin) and carry out His judgment on them all. YHWH then confirms that their houses will be handed over to others, together with their fields and their wives, because of the total corruptness that is among them.
‘Thus says YHWH of hosts, “They will thoroughly glean the remnant of Israel as a vine, turn again your hand as a grape-gatherer into the baskets (or ‘to the twigs’).”
Once again Israel/Judah are depicted as a vine (compare Jeremiah 2:21; Jeremiah 5:10), but this time as one which has so little fruit remaining on it that it is open to the gleaners, those who seek what remains once the main harvest has been gathered. The gleaners here are the final invaders, picking what remains of the remnant of Israel after others have first harvested it. The ‘remnant of Israel’ are a depleted Judah after the northern kingdom had been destroyed and after what it has itself already suffered at the hands of its enemies. But among them may be some of YHWH’s own and so Jeremiah is called on to put his hands into the gleaners’ baskets to see if he can find any. This can be seen as tying in with YHWH’s previous command to search the streets and squares of Jerusalem to see if there were any righteous (see Jeremiah 5:1).
Others see ‘turn again your hand as a grape-gatherer to the twigs’ as a comment made by the invaders to each other as they encourage each other in the work of gleaning. The branches having been gleaned it is now the turn of the furthest twigs. But the general picture is clear. Israel/Judah is to be thoroughly gleaned.
‘To whom shall I speak and testify,
That they may hear?
Behold, their ear is uncircumcised,
And they cannot listen,
Behold, the word of YHWH is become to them a reproach,
They have no delight in it.’
Jeremiah’s response is basically to ask which grapes he can gather. Who are there to whom he can testify and speak who would be willing to hear? For they all have uncircumcised ears (they have flaps over their ears) so that they cannot listen. This may be an indication that their ears are simply like those of foreign (uncircumcised) nations, or that they have a flap of unbelief over their ears which needs to be removed. It is a reminder that physical circumcision without a responsive heart is nullified. And he then points out that the word of YHWH has become a reproach to this people so that they had no delight in it. They did not want to hear preaching about their own sins and failures. They wanted to be told that all was well with them.
‘Therefore I am full of the wrath of YHWH,
I am weary with holding in,
Pour it out on the children in the street,
And on the assembly of young men together,
For even the man with the woman will be taken,
The aged with him who is full of days.’
As a result of his vain efforts to face men up with the word of YHWH Jeremiah has reached the end of his patience. From youngest to oldest none would listen. He thus felt that he could no longer hold in the wrath of YHWH. And so he calls on Him to pour it out on ‘the children in the street’ and on ‘the young men as they collect together’. These would be some of the many whom he had found in the streets and squares who had refused to listen to him (Jeremiah 5:1). Nor would women be excluded, for what he said applied to both men and women, including the aged, and those in the prime of life. All were to lose out in the coming visitation.
‘And their houses will be turned to others,
Their fields and their womenfolk together
For I will stretch out my hand on the inhabitants of the land,
The word of YHWH (neum YHWH).’
And the consequence of the coming invasion will be that their houses will be possessed by others, together with their fields and their womenfolk (compare Deuteronomy 8:12-20; it is the converse of Deuteronomy 6:10-11). And this is because YHWH will stretch out His hand on them in order to punish them. This is the certain and sure word of YHWH, and will fulfil his previous word spoken in Deuteronomy.
‘For from the least of them even to the greatest of them,
Every one is given to covetousness (literally ‘is out to gain gain’),
And from the prophet even to the priest,
Every one deals falsely.
They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly,
Saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.’
But YHWH’s wrath is not without reason. It has arisen because of the attitudes of ALL the people towards one another, and towards Him. They are all given to the breaking of the tenth commandment, being filled with covetousness and greed, all out to do each other so that they might become wealthier. And worst of all, those responsible for their spiritual welfare rather deal with them falsely. For they make out that there is nothing to worry about and that God is not concerned over their small sins, dismissing any concerns that they might have had as though they did not matter by saying ‘peace, peace’, when in fact there is no peace, because YHWH is very displeased with them. Their cry was ‘all is certainly well’ (the repetition stressing certainty), when all was certainly not well.
‘Peace, peace.’ Compare Jeremiah 8:11. In this context this could refer either to peace between men and God (Jeremiah 16:5; Jeremiah 29:11; Psalms 85:8; Psalms 85:10; Psalms 119:165; Isaiah 26:3; Isaiah 27:5; Isaiah 53:5; Isaiah 57:19; Isaiah 57:21; Malachi 2:5-6), or to a state of well-being (Jeremiah 23:17; Jeremiah 33:6; Jeremiah 33:9; Jeremiah 38:4; Psalms 29:11; Isaiah 32:17-18; Isaiah 45:7; Isaiah 48:8; Isaiah 48:15; Isaiah 52:7), or to the prospect of peace in their relationship with other nations, suggesting that there would be no war and no invasion (Jeremiah 4:10; Jeremiah 8:11; Jeremiah 8:15; Jeremiah 12:5; Jeremiah 14:19; and often), although in many verses the meanings blend into each other. They had no peace with God, they had no hope of future well being, and they had no prospect of peace in respect of their enemies.
‘Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination?
No, they were not at all ashamed, nor could they blush,
Therefore they will fall among those who fall,
At the time that I visit them they will be cast down,
Worst of all, however, was their lack of shame. Were they ashamed at their idolatry (abomination) and their sin? No, they were not ashamed, such things did not even make them blush. And once people can no longer blush it is a sign of how brazen they have become in sin. That is why they will fall among those who fall, and will be cast down at the visitation of YHWH. And this is what YHWH Himself says.
YHWH Now Describes The Total Intransigence Of His People And Dismisses Their Attempts To Pacify Him By Religious Ritual And Offerings, Confirming To Them The Judgment That Is Inevitably Coming On Them Because Of Their Sins (Jeremiah 6:16-26 ).
The intransigence of the people is now brought out by their response to YHWH’s pleading. When He calls on them to walk in the old paths, they adamantly refuse. When He gives them watchmen in order to warn them of the consequences of their present behaviour they close their ears. It is not that they have not heard, it is because they have refused to listen. And that is why YHWH calls on the nations and the whole earth to witness the fact that He is bringing on them ‘evil, the fruit of their thoughts’. Because they have adamantly refused to listen to His words and have rejected His Instruction, they will reap what they have sown.
It is not that they have failed in the niceties of religious ritual. They still give the impression of desiring to worship Him by what they bring to His house. But it is all in vain if with it they are disobedient, for it reveals that they do not really know Him. That is why they will stumble and fall and a terrible enemy will come against them causing great grief and wailing, so that it will not even be safe to go outside the city walls. And the passage closes with Jeremiah’s call on his people to mourn because of the destroyer who will suddenly come upon them.
Judah’s Blatant Refusal To Obey YHWH.
‘Thus says YHWH, “Stand you in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk within it, and you will find rest for your souls.” But they said, “We will not walk in it.”
Had the people been willing to respond they could still have escaped the coming judgments, for YHWH was still calling on them to take their stance in the ways, and seek the old paths where the good way is, being established in the good way, so that they could walk in it (thus fulfilling the requirements of the covenant, God’s Law). And indeed He promised that if they did so they would find rest to their souls (true peace). But their only answer was to blatantly refuse, saying ‘we will not walk in it’. Their hearts were totally set against the requirements of the covenant.
This is the Old Testament equivalent of ‘take My yoke on you and learn of me -- and you will find rest to your souls’ (Matthew 11:29), except that here in Jeremiah the idea is possibly more on physical well-being. The idea of ‘walking in the ways of YHWH’ is a common one in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 5:33; Deuteronomy 8:6; Deuteronomy 10:12; Deuteronomy 11:22; Deuteronomy 19:9; Deuteronomy 26:17; Deuteronomy 28:9; Deuteronomy 30:16) and regularly linked with the idea of loving God. The two go together. We cannot claim to love God and refuse to walk in His ways.
‘And I set watchmen over you, saying, “Listen to the sound of the ram’s horn,” but they said, “We will not listen.”
YHWH had then set watchmen over them, His true prophets, who had, as it were, sounded the warning on the ram’s horn. But they had closed their ears saying, ‘we will not listen to your warnings’. So it was not that His people had not had every opportunity, it was that they had simply turned their backs on them.
The Inevitable Consequences Which Must Follow.
‘Therefore hear, you nations, and know, O congregation, what is among them. Hear, O earth. Behold, I will bring evil on this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not listened to my words, and as for my law, they have rejected it.’
The seriousness and solemnity of the situation is brought out by God’s wide appeal to witnesses as to what He is going to do, and why He is going to do it. He calls on the nations as witnesses, and on ‘the congregation’. And then He calls on the earth itself. The ‘congregation’ is a word commonly used to represent the whole of Israel, but it cannot mean that here, unless it refers to the congregation in exile, for they are to be witnesses of what is among the people of Judah. It is possible therefore that the appeal is to the congregation of God that stands in judgment (Psalms 82:1). This would tie in with the contrast with ‘earth’. Alternatively it could be seen as referring to the righteous remnant (Christ would build His congregation on the righteous remnant - Matthew 16:18).
What is to be witnessed is ‘what is among them’, their sin and its consequences. For He is bringing evil on this people, as the ‘fruit of their thoughts’. What they have sown in their thoughts, so will they reap. It will be the consequence of their having set their minds against Him by saying, ‘we will not walk in it’ and ‘we will not listen’ (Jeremiah 6:16-17). It is because they have not listened to His words and warnings, and because they have rejected His Instruction (torah, law, instruction), in other words have rejected His covenant, that evil and judgment must come on them.
God Cannot Be ‘Buttered Up’.
‘To what purpose comes frankincense to me from Sheba,
And the sweet cane from a far country?
Your burnt-offerings are not acceptable,
Nor your sacrifices pleasing to me.
And in view of their rejection of the requirements of the covenant, and of His Law, there is little purpose in their bringing to Him expensive gifts. Frankincense from Sheba, and sweet cane from a far country may be all very well. But they do not replace good, old-fashioned obedience. Nor in those circumstances are offerings and sacrifices pleasing to Him. We have here the constantly repeated assertion by the prophets that ritual offerings are not sufficient in themselves, unless they are accompanied by love and obedience (compare 1 Samuel 15:22; Isaiah 1:11-18; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21-22).
Sheba was in Arabia to the east, and a source of perfumes and scents. Frankincense was required for the preparation of the holy incense (Exodus 30:34) and the holy anointing oil, while the ‘far country’ is probably India from where would come the aromatic calamus that was also required.
‘Therefore thus says YHWH, “Behold, I will lay stumbling-blocks before this people, and the fathers and the sons together will stumble against them, the neighbour and his friend will perish.”
Having called on His witnesses YHWH now gives His verdict. He is going to fill their way with grave difficulties which will cause ‘this people’, who have sinned so greatly, to stumble totally against them, and they will all, both father and son, and the friend with his neighbour, perish together. They all got along together, and now they would all perish together.
The Invaders From The North.
‘Thus says YHWH, “Behold, a people come from the north country, and a great nation will be stirred up from the uttermost parts of the earth. They lay hold on bow and spear, they are cruel, and have no mercy, their voice roars like the sea, and they ride on horses, every one set in array, as a man to the battle, against you, O daughter of Zion.”
The nature of the cause of stumbling is then described. YHWH will call from the north a people, a great nation (compare Jeremiah 5:15; Jeremiah 50:41), from the uttermost parts of the earth. Opinion is divided as to whether this refers to the Scythian hordes mentioned by Herodotus or to the Babylonians, or indeed to both for they sometimes operated together. They are described as laying hold of bow and spear, as cruel, as merciless, as advancing with loud war-cries (roaring like the sea), while riding on horses, and as well armed, all in all presenting a fearsome picture. And these fearsome warriors have banded together against the comely and delicate daughter of Zion, Jerusalem.
Whilst they either came from the Black Sea area or from Babylon, or from both, to most of the people of Judah this was the ‘uttermost parts of the earth’ for their knowledge of the world was very limited and these nations were at the furthest horizons of their world.
‘Cruel.’ The harshness of the Assyrians and Babylonians is well attested. It made the Palestinian nations, whose bloodthirstiness appals us, look like angels. They were pitiless and merciless, a trait brought out by Nebuchadnezzar’s later treatment of Zedekiah when he first slew his sons before his eyes and then gouged out his eyes. They would cut off hands and noses, put out eyes, flay their victims alive, and cast them alive into furnaces (compare Daniel 3:11).
Judah’s Fearful And Mournful Response To Their Advance.
‘We have heard the report of them,
Our hands grow feeble,
Anguish has taken hold of us,
Birth-pains as of a woman in labour.”
The reaction of Judah to this news is then described. They were filled with fear, and anguish, and, in modern parlance, they went weak at the knees. Their hands began to shake and they lost their strength, anguish seized hold of them. They felt themselves as being like a woman undergoing her labour pains in expectancy of what was to come. The pictures vividly bring out the panic that takes hold of a nation in the face of an invincible and cruel enemy.
‘Do not go forth into the field,
Nor walk by the way,
For the sword of the enemy,
Terror is on every side (magor misabib).’
So desperate will the situation be, and so close the enemy, that it will no be longer safe to go out into the countryside, or walk along local roads outside the shelter of the cities, because the sword, and their enemy, and terror will be everywhere. This would at times be a repeated experience during the reigns of Jehoiakim and Zedekiah, but would come to finalisation at the end of Zedekiah’s reign.
‘Terror is on every side.’ This became a watchword to Jeremiah, so much so that he would even give this appellation to his bitter enemy (Jeremiah 20:3), and would have it thrown at him by the people (Jeremiah 20:10). See also Jeremiah 46:5; Jeremiah 49:29.
‘O daughter of my people, gird yourself with sackcloth, and wallow yourself in ashes, make you mourning, as for an only son, most bitter lamentation, for the destroyer will suddenly come upon us.’
The passage ends with a lament by Jeremiah, and a call to the people to go into serious mourning ‘as for an only son’, because the Destroyer is soon to come among them. They are not only to put on ashes but are to wallow in them. The wearing of sackcloth and pouring on the head of ashes was a regular evidence of grief and mourning, and here it was to be with ‘most bitter lamentation’. What greater grief indeed than that for an only son, who was the perpetuator of the family name, the heir to the inheritance and the one to whom the whole family would in future look for protection and provision. His death would be a devastating loss.
Jeremiah Learns That YHWH Has Established Him As An Assayer Of His People, As Well As Their Fortress, Although All That He Will Discover Will Be That They Are A Mixture Of Base Metal And Dross (Jeremiah 6:27-30 ).
YHWH declares that He has made Jeremiah both a metal assayer and a fortress to His people, in order that he may test their ways so as to discover what they are made of. And what he will discover when he does this is that they are grievous rebels (‘revolters of the revolters’, rebels above all rebels) who continually indulge in slanders and deal corruptly. Rather than being silver and gold they are discovered to be merely bronze and iron, and even then all attempts at refinement could only fail, because all are wicked and it is thus not possible to separate the wicked out from among the good. Men will therefore call them ‘refuse silver’, ore which has so little silver in it that it is not worth bothering about (we might say ‘fool’s gold’), because they will see that YHWH has rejected them.
“A tester I have made you,
A fortress among my people,
That you may know,
And try their way.”
Jeremiah has been appointed for two purposes. On the one hand he is to test out the metal of the people, and on the other he is to be a fortress for believers. For he is called on to know their ways and to test them out. Thus God is making provision for all His supposed people. Through Jeremiah He will uphold the righteous, and through him He will sift out the wicked.
Alternately some would repoint mibtser (fortress) as mebatser (tester of metals) to produce, ‘An assayer I made you among my people, a tester of metal --.’
‘They are all grievous rebels,
Going about with slanders,
They are bronze and iron,
They all of them deal corruptly.’
And what he will discover about the vast majority is that they are grievous rebels (‘rebels of the rebels’), and that rather than being silver and gold they are bronze and iron. They are of inferior quality, something evidenced by the fact that they go about destroying other people’s reputations falsely (compare Leviticus 19:16), and are unreliable in their dealings.
‘The bellows blow fiercely,
The lead is consumed by the fire,
In vain do they go on refining,
For the wicked are not plucked away.’
Indeed they are so all so evil that there is no way of refining them. The fiercely blowing bellows will heat up the furnace to such an extent that the lead being used for refining is burned up (during refining lead is placed in a crucible with the silver ore and heated, and when the lead becomes oxidized it serves as a flux to collect impurities), but even such heat will not be sufficient to refine His people because when the attempt is made the wicked are not removed, simply because all are wicked.
‘Men will call them refuse (reject) silver,
Because YHWH has rejected them.’
Thus because they have been tested and rejected by YHWH men will call them ‘refuse silver’, poor quality silver ore which is thrown away because it is unrefinable. In other words it will be seen that there is no good in them.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 6". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13