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A SAD PORTRAYAL OF UNRELIEVED APOSTASY OF JUDAH
One would find it difficult to exaggerate the extent of Judah's wickedness. Halley gave a summary of the chapter thus: Not a single righteous person was found in the whole kingdom; there was promiscuous sexual indulgence of all the people whose behavior was compared to that of animals; the people openly scoffed at the prophetic warnings; they were continually engaged in deceit, oppression, and robbery; they were contented with wholesale corruption in both their religion and their government.
Cheyne divided the chapter into only four major divisions; but we shall break it down into smaller units.
THE SEARCH FOR AN HONEST MAN
"Run ye to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and see now, and know, and seek in the broad places thereof, if ye can find a man, if there be any that doeth justly, that seeketh truth; and I will pardon her. And though they say, As Jehovah liveth; surely they swear falsely. O Jehovah, do not thine eyes look upon truth? thou hast stricken them, but they were not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return."
We may exclaim with horror over Jeremiah's inability to find an honest man in Jerusalem; but as McGee said, "Today you would probably have the same difficulty in Los Angeles or your own town!"
Henderson proposed a solution to this difficulty, pointing out that:
"It is beyond dispute that there did live in Jerusalem at the time of the prophet such good men as Josiah, Baruch, and Zephaniah ... therefore we may suppose (1) either that the search was confined to certain classes of people (the magistrates, for example), or (2) that the pious had withdrawn into hiding or retirement."
We do not believe any such explanation is necessary. The language here is evidently hyperbole, a figure of speech in which there is a deliberate exaggeration for the purpose of emphasis. Such figures abound throughout the Bible. A New Testament example is Matthew 3:5, "Then went out Jerusalem and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan; and they were baptized of him in Jordan!" This is hyperbole, because Luke 7:30 declares that the Pharisees and lawyers were not baptized. Making full allowance for this, however, cannot conceal the terrible state of Jewish morals at that time, shortly before the fall of the nation to Babylon.
Some have suggested that the words here are the words of Jeremiah and not the words of Jehovah, "But such a distinction is merely academic; because Jeremiah was not preaching his own thoughts, but the word of Jehovah."
The purpose of these verses has been described as "a theodicy," that being, of course, an explanation of why the just and merciful God must, on occasion, severely punish and destroy sinful men. These verses fully explain why it was necessary to bring suffering and death upon God's people. It was all because of the terrible wickedness of the people.
It is of interest that the search for an honest man, recounted here, came centuries before the behavior of Diogenes, the fourth century cynic, who is supposed to have gone about with a lantern in broad open daylight, "looking for an honest man!"
"I will pardon her ..." (Jeremiah 5:1). God promised Abraham to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if ten righteous persons could be found; but here he even went beyond that, showing his great love and affection for the Chosen People.
"Run to and fro through the streets ..." (Jeremiah 5:1). "The verb here is plural; and this direction is addressed to the whole city."
"They swear falsely ..." (Jeremiah 5:2). "This does not refer to a judicial oath, but means that their professions of faith in Jehovah were insincere."
In spite of repeated punishments by the Lord and his constant pleading with them to return to him, the people continued in stubborn rebellion.
"Then I said, Surely these are poor; they are foolish; for they know not the way of Jehovah, nor the law of their God: I will get me unto the great men, and will speak unto them; for they know the way of Jehovah, and the justice of their God. But these with one accord have broken the yoke, and burst the bonds. Wherefore a lion out of the forest shall slay them, a wolf of the evenings shall destroy them, a leopard shall watch against their cities; everyone that goeth out thence shall be torn in pieces; because their transgressions are many, and their backslidings are increased."
Among other things, these verses suggest that the initial search for the honest man had not indeed included a search of the whole population, but that it was somewhat partial, hence the decision here to search among the higher echelons of society; but the results were no better.
"Once Judah had abandoned Jehovah and acknowledged some other sovereignty, it was inevitable that the curses of the covenant would follow. It was natural, therefore, that Jeremiah in this passage should have mentioned their failure to worship the Lord sincerely. As Thompson accurately noted, `Moral and religious evils are finally inseparable since they stem from a common cause.'"
"They have broken the yoke ... burst the bonds ..." (Jeremiah 5:5). "The bonds were the fastenings by which the yoke was securely fixed upon the neck of the animal." The meaning of the verse is simply that the well educated, "great men" were just as wicked as the remainder of the population.
"The lion, the wolf, the leopard ..." (Jeremiah 5:6). These wild and dangerous animals metaphorically represent the Babylonians whom the Lord was shortly to bring against Judah. Following the fall of the Northern Israel, such wild animals became a great threat to the safety of the people living in the depopulated area (See 2 Kings 17:25ff).
Although not stressed here, the message is clear enough. The ox that throws off the yoke and flees from its owner will be devoured by wild beasts. Henderson's comment stressed the aptness of choosing these three wild animals to represent the terror coming upon God's people. "The lion is the strongest, the wolf the most ravenous, and the leopard the swiftest of the wild animals."
"How can I pardon thee? thy children have forsaken me, and sworn by them that are no gods. When I had fed them to the full, they committed adultery, and assembled themselves in troops at the harlot's houses; they were as fed horses roaming at large; everyone neighed after his neighbor's wife. Shall I not visit for these things? saith Jehovah; and shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?"
The sentiment voiced in Jeremiah 5:9 here surfaces again in Jeremiah 5:29, forming a kind of recurring refrain in the prophecy.
"Committed adultery and assembled ... in harlot's houses ..." (Jeremiah 5:7). "The reference here is both to the worship of the `no-gods,' and to the literal immorality which resulted."
"Immorality always accompanied idolatry. Apostasy and adultery are a horrendous pair. Publicly and unashamedly the people thronged to the prostitute's house, that is, the idol temple (the noun here in the Hebrew is singular!). Jeremiah 5:8 proves that their sins included physical immorality."
"Only stern retribution and burning judgment were in store for such a generation, notwithstanding the word of the false prophets whose words would prove to be nothing but wind."
"Go ye up upon her walls, and destroy; but make not a full end: take away her branches; for they are not Jehovah's."
Due to its importance, we shall take a careful look at this verse. Note the figure of pruning the grapevine, "Take away her branches," the ones that do not pertain to Jehovah. The figure here is not that of destroying the vine completely, but that of pruning it severely. This is important in refuting the speculations that would delete the pledge here that God would not allow the complete destruction of Judah. Not only here, but in Jeremiah 5:18 below, and in Jeremiah 4:27 above, this pledge is given no less than three times. It is one of the most important things in Jeremiah. It meant that all of the glorious promises to the patriarchs would yet be fulfilled in that "righteous remnant" announced by Isaiah, which would indeed return from Babylon and form the nucleus of the New Israel in Jesus Christ.
We shall note together what the critics have said about this pledge of "no full end" in both Jeremiah 5:10 and Jeremiah 5:18. Robinson stated that, "Like many similar remarks, this seems to be a later insertion meant to qualify the rigor of the destruction in Jeremiah 5:17." On this expression in Jeremiah 5:10, Hyatt declaimed, "The word `not' is probably a mitigating gloss." Notice the absolute lack of evidence cited in support of these presumptuous and arrogant denials of what the Word of God says. Fortunately, this type of blatant denial has been tempered significantly by current critics, who still mention the old prejudice against these pledges, but point out reasons for rejecting them.
Feinberg, for example, mentioned the old canard about those pledges in Jeremiah 5:10,18. being "later additions or glosses"; but immediately added that, "That view lacks MS authority; furthermore the immediate context speaks of pruning not of destroying the vine." (This comment, written in 1965, shows how far we have come from the arrogant denial of Robinson in 1924). Why do not the critics ever tell us that no MS authority whatever backs up their devices against these verses but that the, "Syriac, Septuagint, and Arabic versions all agree with the words, `Destroy, but make not a full end'? (See Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible (London: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1837), p. 369). We learned long ago that the strict fairness of radical critics cannot be counted upon. We also appreciate what Ash said about this: "Some suggest that the word `not' be deleted from Jeremiah 5:10; but since the vine was not uprooted, the idea of its continued existence can be supported from the rest of the verse."
We shall be happier when Christian scholars no longer feel it is necessary to pay lip service to those old shibboleths of the radical critics. They have already been long discredited and rejected by believers.
"For the house of Israel and the house of Judah have dealt very treacherously against me, saith Jehovah, They have denied Jehovah, and said, It is not he; neither shall evil come upon us; neither shall we see sword nor famine: and the prophets shall become wind, and the word is not in them."
"It is not he ..." (Jeremiah 5:12). Ash tells us that the Hebrew expression, "It is not he," simply means that, "God will do no such thing as punish us, regardless of what any prophet says." Zephaniah accused the people of exactly that same attitude (Zephaniah 1:12).
It is strange indeed that, despite all of the specific warnings God gave to his people through Moses in such specific terms as those of the last three or four chapters of Deuteronomy, the Jewish people should have decided that, as God's Chosen People, they were blessed forever no matter what they did! Green gave an explanation of that thus:
"The people perverted the doctrine of election. Instead of regarding it as a moral act subject to moral criticism and control, they came to look upon it as an unconditional relationship, guaranteeing them national victory and glory. They made it the basis of grandiose dreams and; `It can't happen here ... not to us... God's elect!'"
"Wherefore thus saith Jehovah, the God of hosts, Because ye speak this word, behold, I will make my words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them. Lo, I will bring a nation upon you from far, O house of Israel, saith Jehovah: it is a mighty nation, it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language thou knowest not, neither understandest what they say. Their quiver is an open sepulchre, they are all mighty men. And they shall eat up thy harvest, and thy bread, which thy sons and thy daughters should eat; they shall eat up thy flocks and thy herds; they shall eat up thy vines and thy fig-trees; they shall beat down thy fortified cities, wherein thou trustest, with the sword. But even in those days, saith Jehovah, I will not make a full end with you."
In regard to the identity of that terrible nation God would bring against Judah, two clues are given here. (1) It is an ancient nation, which excludes the Scythians and points squarely at Babylon. Ash, quoting Herodotus, called the Scythians, "The youngest of the nations." (2) The other clue comes from the words "mighty nation," rendered "enduring nation" by Ash. "These words describe Babylon, not the Scythians."
Feinberg listed the earmarks of Babylonian identity here as: (1) distant, (2) ancient, (3) enduring, (4) unintelligible in speech, and (5) deadly in war, all of these being evident in this passage.
"Their quiver is an open sepulchre ..." (Jeremiah 5:16). This is an unusual metaphor indicating the deadliness of the Babylonians in waging war.
"I will not make a full end with you ..." (Jeremiah 5:18). See a full discussion of this promise under Jeremiah 5:10. This is one of the great phases of Jeremiah's prophecy, reiterating God's pledge to spare a remnant of the rebellious nation. It is a remarkable contrast with God's promise to make "a full end" of Nineveh (Nahum 8), ranking it among the most remarkable predictive prophecies of the Bible. Anyone familiar with critical writing against the scriptures has no difficulty at all of pinpointing right here the reason behind critical hostility toward this and similar passages throughout Jeremiah. "If it is undeniably a predictive prophecy," according to critical bias, "Get rid of it by any means whatsoever: (1) call it gloss; (2) ascribe it to another writer; (3) late-date it; (4) refer it to some unrelated subject; (5) delete it from the text; (6) mis-translate it; or (7) simply declare, "Of course, we must not make too much of this!"
"And it shall come to pass, when ye shall say, Wherefore hath Jehovah our God done all these things unto us? then shalt thou say unto them, Like as ye have forsaken me, and served foreign gods in your land, so shall ye serve strangers in a land that is not yours."
Here is a definite prophecy of the captivity.
"So shall ye serve strangers ..." (Jeremiah 5:19). "Serving strangers is a detail that would not fit the Scythians, who sold their prisoners as slaves." Thus we should add this to the details mentioned under Jeremiah 5:18, above.
"Declare ye this in the house of Jacob, and publish it in Judah, saying, Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; that have eyes, and see not; that have ears, and hear not; Fear ye not me? saith Jehovah: will ye not tremble at my presence, who have placed the sand for the bound of the sea, by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it? and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet they cannot prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it. But this people hath a revolting and a rebellious heart; they are revolted and gone. Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear Jehovah our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in its season; that preserveth unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest. Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withholden good from you."
"Eyes, and see not, and have ears, and hear not ..." (Jeremiah 5:21). This, of course, is a reference to the judicial hardening that had already been divinely inflicted upon the unfaithful people, as is clear enough from the following verse.
"Will ye not tremble at my presence ..." (Jeremiah 5:22)? What an incredible marvel is it when intelligent people will not fear God, the great and Almighty God who hurled the suns in space, who set the planets in their orbits, who lifted the continents above the rolling seas, and whose tenderness and concern for human beings sends the former and the latter rains! Now wonder, God Himself exclaimed, "Will ye not fear me? will ye not tremble at my presence?"
Since the sun, moon, and stars obey God's will, what incredible folly it was for Israel or for any one who ever lived, to rebel against the will of God!
"For among my people are found wicked men: they watch as fowlers lie in wait; they set a trap, they catch men. As a cage is full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit: therefore they are become great, and waxed rich. They are waxed fat, they shine; yea, they overpass in deeds of wickedness; they plead not the cause, the cause of the fatherless, that they may prosper; and the right of the needy do they not judge. Shall I not visit for these things? saith Jehovah; shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?"
In this paragraph goes a step beyond the religious failure of the nation and cites the social oppression and injustice that inevitably follow unfaithfulness in the worship of God.
"Waxed rich ... waxed fat ..." (Jeremiah 5:27,28). The intransitive verb "wax" is now obsolete; but it is an Old English word that means, "to grow, to increase" or "to become." It contrasts with its opposite, "to wane," which means "to decrease" or "to diminish."
"Shall I not visit for these things ..." (Jeremiah 5:19)? By such statements as this, Jehovah strives to convince the rebellious nation of the justice of the judgment and punishment about to fail upon them.
The whole paragraph pertains, "To three classes of people: the rich who oppress the poor, the false prophets who deceive, and the priests who also misbehave."
"A wonderful and horrible thing has come to pass in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end?"
This, in fact is an eloquent summary of the prevailing conditions in Judah in the times of Jeremiah, preceding the fall of Jerusalem and the captivity of God's people.
The cause of the trouble is the failure of the nation to honor their religious duty of praising and worshipping God. This made way for the false prophets and the reprobate priests who deceived and encouraged the people in their wickedness. With all religious restraint out of the way, the whole people at once fell into the pursuit of selfish and lustful goals. With no adequate guidance, they quickly degenerated into a nation of idolaters, oppressors, and debauchees; and "the people just loved it!" There was no genuine hope whatever of such a condition ever healing itself.
As it was in the days of the flood when every thought and imagination of men's hearts was evil, and only evil, continually, the mission of Abraham and his posterity to keep alive the knowledge and love of the true God had, at last, totally failed (except for the righteous remnant).
"What will ye do at the end thereof ..." (Jeremiah 5:31)? This was the question that not only concerned Israel, but God Himself. What would God do, now that the Chosen People had failed in one of their principal purposes?
No disaster ever took God by surprise; and we can read God's answer to the disastrous situation that surfaces here in the first two chapters of Paul's Book of Romans.
The judicial hardening of mankind was at this point complete, it was the third such emergency in God's dealings with humanity. (1) There was the condition before the flood; and God's answer then was the Great Deluge. (2) Then there was the organized wickedness that culminated in the Tower of Babel; and God's answer then was the confounding of the languages of humanity and the introduction of the device of the Chosen People; (3) Now that the whole race of Adam, Jews and Gentiles alike, had given themselves to Satan for the third time, what would God do? He sent the Blessed Saviour in his FIRST ADVENT. That is the reason God has been so careful to announce three times in the last two chapters that "this is not the end of Israel." This will be a mission of mercy. Is this hardening of all mankind ever going to happen again? The answer is yes. And what will God do then? (4) The Final Judgment will come upon Adam's rebellious race.
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Jeremiah 5". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent