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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 20

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 3399. B.C. 605.

We have in this chapter, which is a continuation of the foregoing,

(1,) An account of Jeremiah’s being beaten and imprisoned by Pashur, captain of the temple; against whom, on his release, he pronounces a terrible sentence, and also against his friends, foretelling their being carried away captives with all Judah unto Babylon, where Pashur, and all that belonged to him, should die in exile, Jeremiah 20:1-6 .

(2,) The prophet complains of the mockery of his enemies, and their malicious attempts to hurt him; but professes his trust, that God would still defeat their purposes and avenge his wrongs; and celebrates his deliverance with a song of praise, Jeremiah 20:7-13 .

(3,) He bitterly laments his being born to a life of so much sorrow and disquietude, Jeremiah 20:14-18 .

Verse 1

Jeremiah 20:1. Pashur the son of Immer Pashur was not the immediate son of Immer, but of Melchiah, as is expressly mentioned 1 Chronicles 9:12, and hereafter, Jeremiah 21:1. Immer was one of his predecessors, and head of the sixteenth sacerdotal class, 1 Chronicles 24:14. Pashur was not high-priest, as some of the ancients have thought, but only captain, or overseer of the temple. In this capacity he had power to arrest and put in prison the false prophets, and those who caused any disturbance in the temple. This matter is further explained, by Blaney, thus: “The priests being distributed, by David, into twenty-four courses, under as many heads of families, and each of these courses officiating by turns in the temple service; the heads of each course were governors of the sanctuary; or, according to our translation, of the house of God. The meaning then will be, that these heads of the courses had not only the chief ordering of the service of the sanctuary, but were invested also with authority, at least within the precincts of the temple, to maintain peace and good order there. These persons I consider as being the same with those who in the New Testament are styled αρχιερεις , chief priests, being next in dignity and power to the high-priest. Pashur, it seems, was the head of the course of Immer. So that, if the course of Immer was at that time upon duty, Pashur was at the same time the acting ruler or commander in the temple. And this I conceive to be implied in the words here used, נגיד , implying his authority to command, and פקיד , that he was then in the exercise of it; and by virtue of that authority he took upon him to punish Jeremiah as a disturber of the peace. I have given this officer, or magistrate,” (namely, in his translation,) “the military title of commanding officer, because it was usual to consider the temple as a kind of garrison, held by high-priests under military subordination. And for this reason, no doubt, we find him called by the name of στρατηγος του ιερου , captain of the temple, Acts 4:1; Acts 5:24; Acts 5:26. In Luke 22:52, captains, στρατηγοι , are spoken of, in the plural number; which may perhaps be thus accounted for. As on the great festivals, not only the priests of the ordinary course, but the whole body of priests, were called upon to assist in the sacrifices; so on account of the multitudes that flocked to the temple at these times, the guards were also necessarily doubled, and, of course, a greater number of captains were on constant duty; and many, if not all these, came to assist in apprehending Jesus, as on a service which might be esteemed hazardous, on account of the number of his disciples.”

Verse 2

Jeremiah 20:2. Then Pashur smote Jeremiah, &c. He thought, no doubt, that Jeremiah’s speaking so plainly of the overthrow of Jerusalem, and of the miseries which should befall it, deserved that he should be arrested and put in confinement, to prevent his speaking thus freely: and accordingly he treats him as they treated, or rather, ought to have treated, the false prophets. And put him in the stocks The word המהפכת , here translated the stocks, is rendered the prison by Houbigant, and the house of correction by Blaney. It occurs twice besides, namely, Jeremiah 29:26, and 2 Chronicles 16:10, in both which places it is rendered simply a prison, and is mentioned as a punishment due to, or inflicted on, one who assumed the character of a prophet, without a proper call, or was presumed to have behaved unbecomingly as such. The word which properly signifies the stocks, is סד : see Job 13:27; Job 33:11. It is very natural to understand here that Pashur, having caused Jeremiah to be beaten, or scourged, ordered him into confinement afterward; from whence he released him the next day.

Verses 3-5

Jeremiah 20:3-5. Jeremiah said, The Lord hath not called Rather, doth not call thy name Pashur; but Magor-missabib That is, Terror on every side, or, Terror to all around, as the name is explained in the next verse. God’s giving him this name: signifies his changing the circumstances or condition of the person so named, agreeably to the meaning of the name given him, or that he would render him such as he called him. So when God called Abram by the new name of Abraham, he assigns the reason, “For a father of many nations have I made thee,” Genesis 17:5. I will deliver all the strength of this city All its wealth, the word חסן , here used, being frequently translated treasures: see Proverbs 15:6; Ezekiel 22:25. It may also include whatever strengthened and defended it, especially the men of war; and all the labours thereof Or, all the workmanship thereof; that is, all the fruit of the people’s labours; all their fine buildings, or whatever its artificers had erected with labour and cost; and all the precious things thereof Whatever was valuable in the eyes of the greatest persons among them; will I give into the hands of their enemies The Babylonians shall spoil and make a prey of them all.

Verse 7

Jeremiah 20:7. O Lord, thou hast deceived me, &c. This is a very harsh and improper translation of the prophet’s words, פתיתני ואפת , which properly and literally signify, Thou hast persuaded me, and I was persuaded. Some, to make the sense more clear, supply a few words, and make the whole sentence stand thus; O Lord, thou hast persuaded me to carry thy commands to thy people, and I was persuaded: thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed That is, “It was sore against my will, that I undertook the prophetic office, which I would gladly have declined, chap. Jeremiah 1:6. But thy commands and inspiration did, in a manner, constrain me to it.” The occasion of the words was this: “The prophet had met with a large share of ill usage, from an ungrateful people, in return for the faithful discharge of his prophetic office. Under these his calamitous circumstances he looks up to God, and appeals to him, the searcher of hearts, as his witness, that it was not through any ambition of his own that he had entered upon that invidious office; nor had he taken upon him, of his own accord, to reprove his countrymen: but he had done all in pure obedience to the divine command. He would gladly have declined the office, but God would not suffer him: wherefore, hereupon he says, speaking to the Almighty, Thou hast persuaded me, &c. The passage carries in it a lively idea of the prophet’s great modesty, and profound humility, in not affecting high things or shining offices; but submitting, however, to the burden of them, in obedience to the will of God.” See Waterland’s Script. Vind., part 3. page 84.

Verses 8-9

Jeremiah 20:8-9. For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil Or, rather, as Houbigant renders it, For since I spake, and cried against iniquity, and denounced desolation, the word of the Lord, &c. Blaney’s translation is nearly to the same sense: For as often as I speak, whether I cry out against injustice or proclaim devastation, the word of Jehovah is turned against me into matter of reproach and derision continually. The prophet means that, upon account of declaring what God had revealed to him, he was reckoned an enemy to his country, and a false prophet. Then I said Namely, within myself, for he did not speak this to any one; I will not make mention of him Or, of it, namely, the word of God, or the message God had appointed him to deliver; nor speak any more in his name I resolved no more to declare what God had revealed to me concerning the calamities which he was about to bring on Judah and Jerusalem. But his word was in my heart as a burning fire It glowed inwardly, and must have vent: I found myself so pressed in spirit, felt such a burning ardour within my breast, such an immediate and powerful impulse of the prophetic spirit constraining me to speak, that I could no more be easy without executing God’s commands, than if a burning fire had been shut up in my bones. The conviction of his own mind that he ought to speak, his zeal for the glory of God, his indignation at the sins of the people, and his compassion for their souls, would not suffer him to rest, or allow him to forbear declaring God’s message.

Verses 10-11

Jeremiah 20:10-11. For I heard the defaming of many The slanderous, injurious reports that were raised concerning me; fear on every side Hebrew, magor-missabib; as if he had said, The name given to Pashur would have suited me; fear, or cause for fear, was on every side of me. These words are found verbatim in the original, (Psalms 31:13,) where the sense of them seems to be exactly the same as here, namely, from the slanderous reports raised upon him, he had reason to apprehend some evil design against his life, as well from treacherous friends as from open enemies. Report, say they, &c. This seems to be spoken of the enemies of the prophet, exciting one another to accuse him of being in the interest of the Babylonians against his country. Blaney joins this clause with the preceding, thus: Report ye terror all around, and we will report it: all my familiar friends watch for my halting; perhaps, say they, he may be drawn aside, so that we may prevail against him, and we may take our revenge of him. But, &c. The prophet, having given vent to his painful apprehensions in the preceding gloomy reflections, begins here to rise above his fears, and to encourage himself in his God. The Lord is with me Is on my side, to take my part against my enemies, and to defend me from their malicious designs upon me; as a mighty and terrible one Mighty to defend, support, and save me, and terrible to confound and avenge me of them! The Lord had said to him, when he first undertook the prophetic office, (Jeremiah 1:8,) Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee. This promise he now recollects, and confiding in the power, love, and faithfulness of God to make it good, he concludes that though he had many enemies who pursued after his life, he should be protected, and they should fail of accomplishing their wicked purpose. Therefore my persecutors shall stumble In their ways of violence, and not prevail against me. They shall be greatly ashamed Of what they have done, or shall be brought to shame for it. Their everlasting confusion That is, their ignominy and disgrace; shall never be forgotten They shall not forget it themselves, but it shall be to them a constant and lasting vexation whenever they think of it; and others shall not forget it, but it shall leave upon them an indelible reproach.

Verses 12-13

Jeremiah 20:12-13. But, O Lord, that triest the righteous That triest their faith and patience, in order to the farther purification of their souls, and the increase of these and all their other graces; or, who takest cognizance of them, and of every cause in which they are interested; and who dost not judge in their favour with partiality, but searchest the reins and the heart; let me see thy vengeance on them See note on Jeremiah 11:20. For unto thee have I opened my cause As to a just judge, who wilt not fail to do me justice. Sing unto the Lord The prophet here rises higher, from prayer to praise. The clouds of darkness and doubt which enveloped his mind are dispersed, and his complaints silenced and turned into thanksgivings. He has now an entire confidence in that God whom ( Jer 20:7 ) he was distrusting, and stirs up himself to praise that name which he had almost resolved ( Jer 20:9 ) no more to make mention of. And it was the lively exercise of faith in the word and promise of God that made this happy change in his mind, that scattered the gloom which surrounded it, and turned his sorrow into joy. For he hath delivered the soul of the poor, &c. He means especially himself, his own poor soul: he hath delivered me formerly when I was in distress, and now of late out of the hand of Pashur; and he will continue to deliver, 2 Corinthians 1:10; from the hand of evil-doers So that they have not yet gained, and will not be able to gain, their ends.

Verse 14

Jeremiah 20:14. Cursed be the day, &c. If the reader be surprised at this sudden change of the prophet’s discourse, from joyful thanks for deliverance to bitter complaints, he must observe that the order of time is not strictly observed in the prophetic writings, nor does the discourse always go on in a regular series. Therefore, though these complaints are placed immediately following a thanksgiving, it does not follow that they were pronounced immediately after it. In the following chapters of Jeremiah, it is very evident the order of time is not kept; and it is not unlikely that these words of complaint were uttered before the foregoing, which are expressive of confidence in God and gratitude for deliverance; namely, at a time when his sense of present evils, or his prospect of those just at hand, produced in his mind the most pungent grief and the greatest perturbation. They represent, it seems, the melancholy thoughts which oppressed him while he was struggling with the malice of his enemies, and, as Lowth justly observes, are to be considered, not as expressions of indignation and malice, but rather of mourning and sorrow; or, as a lamentation written in a poetical strain, like a Lessus, Nænia, or mournful ditty, such as the mourning women used to sing, (see note on chap. Jeremiah 9:17,) wherein strong poetical figures were wont to be used, and all the circumstances brought in, which were calculated to raise the passions, but which it would be extremely wrong to interpret in a strict and literal sense. The expressions here used are so similar to those in Job 3:0., that they seem to have been borrowed from thence; and the reader is referred to the notes on that chapter for our views of them. Bishop Lowth has cited other similar instances of grief, discharging itself in invectives and bitter wishes against objects equally blameless and undeserving with those which our prophet has singled out. Among the rest is the following exclamation in David’s celebrated lamentation over Saul and Jonathan, 2 Samuel 1:21, “Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither rain upon you, nor fields of offering.” Upon which the bishop thus descants: “All which if you were to bring to the standard of cool and dispassionate reason, what could appear more absurd? But, if you have an eye to nature, and the ordinary flow of the passions, what more genuine, more exact? The falling upon a wrong cause, instead of the right, though a fault in logic, is sometimes an excellence in poetry; because the leading principle in the former is right reason, in the latter it is passion.” De Sacr. Poes. Hebrews Prælect. 23. Let not the day, wherein my mother bare me be blessed Let it not be celebrated with those good wishes and expressions of joy which are wont to be used on birthdays.

Verses 15-18

Jeremiah 20:15-18 . Cursed be the man, &c. As in the forms of rejoicing upon a birth-day they blessed every person and thing concerned in the birth, and said, Blessed be the womb that bare thee, and the like, and he that brought the joyful news was always rewarded, so in the forms of sorrow for the miserable they used quite the contrary expressions. Let that man be as the cities, &c. Namely, Sodom and Gomorrah; let him be looked upon as a sad spectacle. Let him hear the cry in the morning, &c. By these expressions he means the cries, shouts, and noises that enemies make when they break in upon a place in a hostile manner. Because he slew me not, &c. Or, because I was not slain; from the womb. Wherefore came I forth to see That is, to experience; labour and sorrow?

Seeing being frequently put to express any sensation. As if the prophet had said, “I speak thus in the bitterness of my soul; when I consider how much better it would have been that I had never been born, or that I had given up the ghost immediately on my birth, than to lead a life of continual sorrow and misery.” These various expressions show us to what a height the tide of perturbation swelled at this time in this good man’s heart, and what need we have to pray to be delivered from the power of our own passions.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Jeremiah 20". Benson's Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/jeremiah-20.html. 1857.
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