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THE APOSTASY OF ISRAEL
"In this chapter, `Israel' refers to the whole nation, but in Jeremiah 3 the reference is to the Northern Israel." Keil's summary of the chapter notes these divisions: Israel had indeed loved God at first during the days of their delivery from Egypt (Jeremiah 2:1-3); but Israel had fallen away from the love of God and had taken up the worship of idols (Jeremiah 2:4-8); therefore God will punish Israel for her shameful conduct (Jeremiah 2:9-19). From of old, Israel had been renegade, and by their pursuit of idols had contracted terrible guilt, not even God's punishments leading them to repentance (Jeremiah 2:2-30); and therefore God will severely punish them (Jeremiah 2:31-37).
In our study of the Pentateuch, especially in Deuteronomy, we learned the importance of the old fifteenth century B.C. suzerainty treaties executed during that mid-second millennium B.C. period between overlords and their vassals, that being the form followed by the author of Deuteronomy and establishing the near-certainty of a very early date for Deuteronomy in the vicinity of 1,500 B.C. A full discussion of this is given by Meredith G. Kline in the Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, pp. 156ff.
That the Book of the Law discovered by Hilkiah (2 Kings 22:8) was indeed a mid-second millennium document, and not a recent invention of Jewish priests is certified here in Jeremiah by the fact that the pattern of those old treaties is found right here in this chapter. Furthermore, this part of Jeremiah honored the very procedures that were required under those old treaties.
When lesser kings offended their overlords in some act of rebellion, the overlord sent a written message by the hands of a messenger. There was a proper legal way to do this: (1) There was an appeal to the vassal to pay heed, and a summons to the earth and sky to act as witnesses. (2) There was a series of questions, each of which carried an implied accusation. (3) There was an enumeration of past benefits conferred upon the vassal by the overlord. (4) There was a refutation of the notion that ritual compensations would do any good toward healing the breach; and (5) there was a declaration of the vassal's guilt and culpability and a stern threat of judgment against the offender.
This pattern is clearly visible in this chapter, despite the fact of its being somewhat concealed by the particular style of Jeremiah's writing. This prophecy, therefore, has the element of being a legal compliance with what was required to bring an offending vassal in to judgment and punishment.
From this, it is clearly evident that Jeremiah had before him the Book of Deuteronomy, in which this pattern appears; but by no means does this mean that he did not have also the entire Book of the Law. It is unfair the way some scholars neglect to stress this. For example, Cheyne cited a dozen references from Deuteronomy which are reflected in this chapter; but he failed to notice that there are far more passages from the other portions of the Pentateuch that should also be cited. A careful study will reveal that Jeremiah used material or made references more frequently from the books other than Deuteronomy in the Pentateuch than he did from Deuteronomy alone.
The Cross-Reference Bible, which we have as our text in this study, has the following references to that Book of the Law that Hilkiah found in the temple. This 2chapter has twenty-two references to Genesis, eighteen to Exodus, ten to Leviticus, five to Numbers, and seventeen to Deuteronomy! This is a fair sample of the way it is throughout this prophecy of Jeremiah. This is the only proof that is needed to demonstrate that it was not merely the Book of Deuteronomy that was found in the temple by Hilkiah, but that it was, as the Bible flatly declares, "The Book of Law" namely, those first five books of the Bible usually called the Pentateuch. This cannot mean Deuteronomy only!
"And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying Thus saith Jehovah, I remember thee for the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals; how thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown. Israel was holiness unto Jehovah, the first-fruits of his increase: all that devour him shall be found guilty; evil shall come upon them, saith Jehovah."
"The word of the Lord ..." (Jeremiah 2:1,2,3). Notice the triple declaration that the words of this chapter came from Jehovah. This truth is reiterated no less than a dozen times in this chapter.
"The love of thine espousals ..." (Jeremiah 2:2). "The word `love' in this passage is a reference to Israel's love as a bride for God her husband." The NIV renders this, "your love as a bride;" and Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 edition) translated it, "your bridal love."
Such expressions of Israel's devotion to the Lord are quite generous on the part of Jehovah, because the record reveals their countless murmurings and rebellions against God's will. Still, in a relative sense, compared with the gross idolatries which later corrupted the Chosen People, the words are appropriate.
The period when Israel loved God was in that era when he sent the plagues upon Egypt, delivered Israel from slavery, and ratified the covenant with them at Sinai.
The very next passage begins the recitation of Israel's apostasy; and despite this chapter's being usually assigned to the earliest years of Jeremiah's ministry, we do not believe that it is necessary to suppose that it was necessarily delivered before the great reforms of Josiah that followed the discovery of the Book of the Law. Many respected scholars, Ash, for example, so understand it; but we believe it probably came concurrently with Josiah's reforms. Why?
As this chapter surely reveals, Judah's reforms under Josiah were external only and did not at all touch the heart of the people who went right on delighting in the sexual orgies of their shameless love of the old Canaan fertility gods. "The valley" mentioned later in the chapter (v. 23) indicates the sacrifice of their children to Molech at the very time of their brazen claim of innocence. If the reform under Josiah had truly resulted in the repentance of Israel and their return to the God of their fathers, the Lord would most certainly have postponed their terminal judgment in the captivity.
One of the great benefits bestowed upon Israel by their great Benefactor God was that he made them secure against all foreign enemies (Jeremiah 2:3).
"Hear ye the word of Jehovah, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel: Thus saith Jehovah, What unrighteousness have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain? Neither said they, Where is Jehovah that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, that led us through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and pits, through a land of drought and of the shadow of death, through a land that none passed through, and where no man dwelt? And I brought you into a plentiful land, to eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof; but when ye entered, ye defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination. The priests said not, Where is Jehovah? and they that handle the law knew me not: the rulers also transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit."
The gross stupidity and sinfulness of the whole nation are dramatically stated here. Israel, once the Chosen People, enjoying the exalted position as the wife of Jehovah himself, protected from every enemy, and moved into Canaan to replace its ancient pagan inhabitants, had themselves become worse than the people they replaced, and had "walked after worthlessness." RKH tells us that the word "worthlessness," through a play on words (paronomasia) is a reference to Baal. He also stated that, in those Near Eastern international treaties, `To go after' (or walk after) meant to serve as a vassal."
In Israel's pursuit of worthlessness in their going after Baal, they had themselves become worthless, because men invariably become like what they love and worship. This immortal truth was allegorized by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his Legend of the Great Stone Face.
"Land of deserts and pits ... etc." (Jeremiah 2:6).
"The desert between Mount Sinai and Palestine abounds in chasms and pits, in which beasts of burden may sink down to their knees. `Shadow of death' refers to the darkness of the caverns amidst the rocky precipices (Deuteronomy 8:15)."
God indeed had tenderly led Israel safely through countless difficulties and dangers; so what had gone wrong? Jeremiah 2:8 cites four classes of the leadership of the nation as extremely culpable, these being, (1) the priests, (2) the Levites, (3) the rulers (shepherds), and (4) the prophets.
The priests were complacent and indifferent; the Levites knew not God; the shepherds (rulers) were disobedient; and the prophets were working for Baal rather than for the Lord, money and sensual indulgence probably being the inducements that took them away from their duty. The text states that they walked after things that do not profit. Ash tells us that, "The Hebrew word rendered `do not profit' comes from the same root as `worthlessness' in Jeremiah 2:5," and it is therefore connected with Baal. This is a terrible summary of the incompetence and inability of Israel's leadership. They were a stupid group of blind, selfish, and apostate leaders. With that type of leadership, the people hardly had a chance. As Jesus stated it, "They were as sheep not having a shepherd" (Mark 6:34).
"Wherefore I will yet contend with you, saith Jehovah, and with your children's children will I contend. For pass over to the isles of Kittim, and see; and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently; and see if there hath been such a thing. Hath a nation changed its gods, which yet are no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be ye horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith Jehovah. For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water."
Jeremiah 2:13 is the climax of this paragraph. The first verse (Jeremiah 2:9) uses legal terms that represent God as pressing a lawsuit against his people for doing a totally unheard of thing, namely, they had deserted the true God and gone after Baal. Furthermore, in all history it was never even heard of that even a pagan nation would forsake its ancestral gods!
Perhaps the reason why pagan nations had so generally clung to their ancient "no gods" was rooted in the fact that the worship of such nonentities was rooted in and designed to satisfy basic instincts and passions; whereas the higher religion of the true God was designed to lift man to a far more spiritual and exalted level.
"Kittim ... and Kedar ..." (Jeremiah 2:10). Kittim (Chittim in some versions) is the same as Cyprus. "Cyprus represents the West; Kedar (in N. Arabia) represents the East. Taken together they stand for the whole pagan world."
"My people have committed two evils ..." (Jeremiah 2:13). Whereas the pagan nations were guilty of the one evil of worshipping their "no-gods," Israel was guilty of two evils: (1) forsaking the true God, and (2) going after worthlessness.
The foolishness and stupidity of Israel's dual crime is illustrated here by the imaginary action of a rancher or farmer stopping up a flowing spring of water and constructing cisterns in place of it. The cisterns soon cracked and could hold no water.
Sermons sometimes stress the stagnant waters of a cistern compared with spring waters; but the text states that such cisterns "could hold no water," not even stagnant water. This is indeed an apt illustration of the folly of men who turn away from the saving religion of God to build instead of it their own worthless systems of religion.
"Is Israel a servant? is he a home-born slave? why is he become a slave? The young lions have roared upon him, and yelled; and they have made his land waste: his cities are burned up, without inhabitant. The children also of Memphis and Tahpanhes have broken the crown of thy head. Hast thou not procured this unto thyself, in that thou hast forsaken Jehovah thy God, when he led thee by the way? And now what hast thou to do in the way to Egypt, to drink the waters of the Shihor? or what hast thou to do in the way to Assyria, to drink the waters of the River? Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and a bitter, that thou hast forsaken Jehovah thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord, Jehovah of hosts."
"Why is he become a slave ..." (Jeremiah 2:14)? There are two ways of looking at this. One is to suppose that Israel is here depicted as a home-born slave of Jehovah; and the question, according to Cook, means: "How does it happen that the member of so powerful a family is spoiled?" The other view considers the first two of the three questions here as stressing the fact that Israel is not a slave, but the wife of God; and how, then, is it possible for him to be mined?
"The young lions have roared upon him ..." (Jeremiah 2:15). These words make it certain that the passage applies to the Northern Israel particularly, because since 722 B.C., when the Samaritan Israel had fallen to Assyria, the young lions (definitely identifying Assyria. See Nahum 2:11-13), had indeed been feeding upon the rains of the Northern Israel. The significance of "the young lions" is that they remained in the den where they fed upon the prey brought to them by the adult lions. What an appropriate picture, because the Northern Israel had already been taken as a prey to Assyria.
"They have made his land waste ... etc." (Jeremiah 2:15). "Not only had Israel been wasted, till the multiplication of wild beasts rendered human life unsafe (2 Kings 17:25), but the Assyrian invasions had also reduced Judaea to a state almost as sad." The argument here is: Israel, look at what has already happened to your sister nation because of her apostasy!
"Egypt ... and Assyria ..." (Jeremiah 2:16). The mention of Egypt here is surprising; but it is due to the fact of their fighting against Jerusalem, taking it, and murdering the good king Josiah. Jeremiah, being familiar (from history) with the fall of Samaria and personally with the events around the death of Josiah mentioned both together as Judea's suffering from the nation's apostasy.
"Tahpanhes ..." (Jeremiah 2:16). "This is the Greek Daphnae, modern Tell Defennch, on the eastern border of the Egyptian Delta."
"Hast thou not procured this unto thyself ..." (Jeremiah 2:17)? This through Jeremiah 2:19 stresses the lesson that Judaea should be willing to learn: "Know therefore, and see that it is an evil thing, and a bitter, that thou hast forsaken Jehovah thy God!" As the subsequent verses of the chapter reveal, Judaea would not learn, having fallen completely in love with the Baalim and their licentious worship. These words do not take account of the "righteous remnant," of whom, of course, was Jeremiah.
"What hast thou to do in the way to Egypt... or in the way to Assyria ..." (Jeremiah 2:18)?. In full keeping with Jeremiah's constant opposition to all kinds of alliances and intrigues with foreign nations, these words stress the warning that traversing such ways by Israel will lead only to disaster. "To lean on Egypt, or any foreign power, was a violation of the principles of the theocracy, which required God's people to be an independent power, firmly closed against all foreign influences."
"For of old time I have broken thy yoke and burst thy bonds; and thou saidst, I will not serve; for upon every high hill and under every green tree thou didst bow thyself, playing the harlot. Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate branches of a foreign vine unto me? For though thou wash thee with lye, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord Jehovah. How canst thou say, I am not defiled, I have not gone after the Baalim? see thy way in the valley, know what thou hast done: thou art a swift dromedary traversing her ways; a wild ass used to the wilderness, that snuffeth up the wind in her desire; in her occasion, who can turn her away? all they that seek her will not weary themselves; in her month they shall find her. Withhold thy foot from being unshod, and thy throat from thirst. But thou saidst, It is in vain; no, for I have loved strangers, and after them I will go."
The change to the first person in Jeremiah 2:20 should not be confusing. This type of abrupt change of persons is common in most of the Biblical writings. The Anchor Bible gives the true meaning of the passage thus:
"Long ago you snapped your yoke,
Shook off your lines.
And said, "I will not serve!"
Nay, on every high hill,
Under every green tree,
There you sprawled a-whoring."
Even more explicit is the rendition of Thompson who rendered the last two lines here as:
"And under every green tree
You sprawled in sexual vice."
All are familiar with the usual scholarly emphasis that harlotry and adultery in the Bible are actually metaphors for turning from the worship of God to any form of false worship; but the raw facts of human lust and depravity were basic factors involved in such "spiritual adultery". "The reference in Jeremiah 2:20 is to the fertility cults of ancient Canaan, whose rites included so-called sacred prostitution and the ritual self-dedication of young women to the god of fertility."
As Feinberg put it, "It must not be forgotten that sexual immorality of the lowest order was always a part of this so-called worship." There can be no doubt whatever that the basic attraction to the Hebrews of the Baalim cults was precisely this: they provided abundant gratification of sexual lust upon the payment of the usual fee of a cake of raisins. As Ash expressed it, "The harlotry, or whoredom, was both literal in the sexually oriented worship of Baal, and spiritual in the people's abandonment of Jehovah for other gods."
These verses, and through Jeremiah 2:29, furnish a list of seven similes illustrating Israel's apostasy: (1) She is like an ox that throws off the yoke and refuses to work; (2) She is like a prostitute. (3) She is like the choice grapevine that became a corrupt vine yielding poisonous berries. (4) Israel's guilt is a stain that neither lye nor soap can remove. (5) She is like a she-camel in @@rut, running around in all directions seeking a mate. (6) She is like a she-ass in heat, crazed by desire, seeking a male partner. (7) The shame of Israel is like that of a thief who has been caught. All of these analogies are developed by Hyatt.
Jeremiah 2:21 gives Jeremiah's version of the "corrupt vine" a passage with the same essential message as that of Isaiah 5:1-7. The message is that the promising nation of Israel had degenerated beyond all hope of its being preserved. "The noble or choice vine which God planted, in the Hebrew is literally `Sorek vine,' a high-quality red grape grown between Jerusalem and the Mediterranean."
Jeremiah 2:22 points out that Israel's uncleanness was of a type that soap and water, even with lye, could in no manner cleanse. This is the fourth simile describing the wickedness of the Once Chosen People: (1) the ox that threw off her yoke, (2) the unfaithful wife who became a whore, (3) the noble vine that degenerated into a corrupt plant; and (4) their person so filthy that lye and soap were powerless to cleanse her!
"How canst thou say, I am not defiled ..." (Jeremiah 2:23)? Keil identified the "valley" mentioned here as "Ben-Hinnom, to the south of Jerusalem, where children were offered to Molech, ... and taken in connection with what follows, the words certainly imply the continued existence of practices of that sort."
In Jeremiah 2:23-24, we have two more of the similes regarding Israel's guilt, (5) that of the young camel filly and (6) that of the she-ass, the behavior of either of them in heat being regarded as a description of the crazed, lustful search of Israel for illegal lovers. Those particular animals, when their time is upon them, search frantically for the male counterpart, not waiting to be sought by them. This was the manner of Israel's shameless pursuit of gratification in the shrines and "high places" of the pagan cults.
"Withhold thy foot from being unshod ..." (Jeremiah 2:25). This is a plea by the prophet that Israel should stop running barefooted after lovers, forcing herself into a state of thirst, in her mad, lustful pursuit of false lovers, "Like a shameless adulteress, running after strangers."
"As the thief is ashamed when he is found, so is the house of Israel ashamed; they, their kings, their princes, and their priests, and their prophets; who say to a stock, Thou art my father, and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth: for they have turned their back unto me, and not their face; but in the time of their trouble they will say, Arise and save us. But where are thy gods which thou hast made thee? let them arise, if they can save thee in the time of thy trouble: for according to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah."
"As the thief is ashamed when he is found ..." (Jeremiah 2:26). This is the last of the seven similes developed in this chapter, concluding a totally devastating account of Israel's gross apostasy. Also, this paragraph has a sarcastic admonition to the apostate people that instead of asking the true God to save them every time they run into trouble, maybe they should appeal to some of the gods they have made for themselves, especially since there are so many of them, one in every single city of the whole nation!
This had long been the strategy of the Chosen People. Regardless of the extent of their apostasy, when troubles came, they invariably turned to the True God with pleas for their deliverance; but like the little boy who cried "Wolf" once too often, the time came soon enough, when God exacted the full price of their shameless rejecti.on of Him who had redeemed them.
"Wherefore will ye contend with me? ye all have transgressed against me, saith Jehovah. In vain have I smitten your children; they received no correction: your own sword hath devoured the prophets, like a destroying lion. O generation, see ye the word of Jehovah. Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? or a land of thick darkness? wherefore say my people, We are broken loose; we will come no more unto thee? Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? yet my people have forgotten me days without number. How trimmest thou thy way to seek love! therefore even the wicked women hast thou taught thy ways. Also in thy skirts is found the blood of the souls of the innocent poor. Thou didst not find them breaking in; but it is because of all these things. Yet thou saidst, I am innocent; surely his anger is turned away from me. Behold, I will enter into judgment with thee, because thou sayest, I have not sinned. Why gaddest thou about so much to change thy way? thou shalt be ashamed of Egypt also, as thou wast ashamed of Assyria. From thence also shalt thou go forth, with thy hands upon thy head: for Jehovah hath rejected those in whom thou trustest, and thou shalt not prosper with them."
"Wherefore will ye contend with me ..." (Jeremiah 2:29)? "Here again we have the legal terminology of a lawsuit, this time a suit of Israel against God; but no grounds are specified." God's answer to such a ridiculous lawsuit is given in the same breath, "Ye all have transgressed against me."
"Your own sword hath devoured the prophets ..." (Jeremiah 2:30). The constant description of Israel throughout her history was cited by Jesus when he wept over the city, saying, "O Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee!" It seems that only an unqualified miracle spared Jeremiah for such a long ministry; and even in the end he was (as tradition affirms) stoned to death in Egypt.
"Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire ..." (Jeremiah 2:32)? Cook tells us that ancient Hebrew women always treasured the particular girdle that indicated her status as a married woman, "just as brides now cherish their wedding ring." Nevertheless, Israel treasured no fond memories of their God, but simply forgot him "days without number!"
"How trimmest thou thy way to seek love! therefore even the wicked women thou hast taught thy ways ..." (Jeremiah 2:33). Seeking love in this verse is a reference to erotic love and refers to the embellishments and refinements that the Chosen People had learned through their countless adulteries, which they are here said to have taught even to prostitutes regarding how to make their services more tempting, seductive and satisfying. Feinberg pointed out that:
"Israel could even teach wicked women new methods of seduction, and that she used all kinds of artifices to make herself desirable to her lovers and that she cared nothing at all for the love of God."
Harrison also had a word on this: "The immoral pursuit of Baal worship by Israel enabled them to become thoroughly proficient in iniquitous ways; and now they had become so skilled that they could instruct experienced professional prostitutes in the techniques of their nefarious trade.
"The blood of the souls of the innocent poor ..." (Jeremiah 2:34). Had the Jews murdered the poor for "breaking in?" No, "It was not for any crime, but because of this thy lust after idolatry." The text does not explain exactly how such murders contributed to the gratification of their passion for idolatry.
"I am innocent ..." (Jeremiah 2:35). It appears from this that the most aggravated element of the Chosen People's wickedness was simply that of their stubborn protestations of innocence in spite of the wretched profusion of their sins. This verse states categorically that it was because of this that God hailed them into the severe judgment about to fall upon them.
"From thence also shalt thou go forth ..." (Jeremiah 2:37). This was a final sentence, The judgment was captivity at the hands of the Babylonians; and the meaning of it is that just as the Northern Israel had gone away into captivity, so also would Judah, there being also this difference, that in the case of Judah a "righteous remnant" would return.
These last words regarding "whom thou trustest" "apply equally to Egypt and to Assyria," and to any other earthly power upon whom Israel might seek to rely. Her only hope was in God, and that she had stubbornly refused to seek.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Jeremiah 2". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent