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Friday, May 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 8

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



The title given here comes from Jeremiah 8:20; and it symbolizes the approach of the Chaldean invasion and the hopelessness of any deliverance of the people. All opportunities for repentance and return to God hav been spurned; and the nation is rushing headlong into destruction.

Divisions of the chapter, as made by Feinberg,(F1) are as follows; the invaders desecrate the graves (Jeremiah 8:1-3); Israel stubbornly continues in idolatry (Jeremiah 8:4-7); God describes the penalty of their apostasy (Jeremiah 8:8-13); the invaders approach (Jeremiah 8:14-17); the sorrow of the prophet is recorded (Jeremiah 8:18-22).

Verses 1-3

“At that time, saith Jehovah, they shall bring out the bones of the kings of Judah, and the bones of his princes, and the bones of the priests, and the bones of the prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, out of their graves; and they shall spread them before the sun, and the moon, and all the host of heaven, which they have loved, and which they have served, and after which they have walked, and which they have sought, and which they have worshipped; they shall not be gathered, nor be buried, they shall be for dung upon the face of the earth. And death shall be chosen rather than life by all the residents that remain of this evil family, that remain in all the places whither I have driven them, saith Jehovah of hosts.”

These verses are actually a continuation of the previous chapter and are so treated by some writers. The desecration of the graves of defeated peoples was widely practiced in antiquity; and there were excellent reasons for it in the case of Judah.

Josephus tells us that: “Solomon buried David with great wealth;… and 1,300 years afterward, Hyrcanus the high priest, when besieged by Antiochus, opened one of the rooms of David’s sepulchre and took out 3,000 talents of gold with which he bribed Antiochus to lift the siege... Also, Herod the king opened another room and took out a great deal of money... But neither of them came near the coffins of the kings themselves, for their bodies were buried under the earth so artfully, that they did not appear even to those entering their monuments.(F2)

Dummelow expressed doubts as to the genuine motivation for such wholesale desecration of the Jewish graves, supposing that it might have been, “either from pure wantonness, or in the hope of finding treasures or ornaments of value.”(F3) There was more than enough motivation either way. Since the bones of the dead were held in such reverence by the Hebrew people, the Chaldeans would have delighted in the desecration, even if merely for spite to a despised enemy.

The great thing in this paragraph, however, appears in Jeremiah 8:2, where the five-fold engagement of the Jews with “the hosts of heaven,” in their (1) loving them, (2) serving them, (3) walking after them, (4) seeking them, and (5) worshipping them is stressed. Very well, the people through their false leaders have been betrayed into paganism in this worship of the sun, moon, and stars; therefore, the bones of those worshippers are exposed to the sun, moon, and stars, which were utterly helpless to afford any prevention or assistance. Indeed, the sun would only hasten the disintegration and decay of the bones. What an exposition is this of the futility of worshipping the hosts of heaven.

Henderson’s comment on this is: “The objects of idolatrous worship are here introduced as the unconcerned spectators of the indignities offered to the bones of their worshippers!”(F4) The five-fold repetition of the word “bones” helps to add a funeral impression to the whole passage.

“Death shall be chosen rather than life” Thompson believed that, “This refers (1) either to the unbearable conditions endured in the captivity, or (2) to the memory of the last days in Judah which were too much to bear.”(F5)

“All the residue that remain of this evil family” “Jeremiah here uses the word `family’ for the whole Jewish race.”(F6)

Verses 4-7

“Moreover thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith Jehovah: Shall men fall, and not rise up again? shall one turn away, and not return? Why then is this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? they hold fast deceit, they refuse to return. I hearkened and heard, but they spake not aright: no man repenteth him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? everyone turneth to his course, as a horse that rushes headlong in the battle. Yea, the stork in the heavens knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle-dove and the swallow and the crane observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the law of Jehovah.”

“Turn away… and not return” “Five times in this and the following verse the text uses variations of the Hebrew term [~shuwb]: `turn away, return’ in Jeremiah 8:4, `turned away, backsliding, and return’ in Jeremiah 8:5.”(F7)

“Perpetual backsliding” The meaning here is that, “It is too late for Israel to repent. The nation is incorrigible in her apostasy. Judah shows no desire to repent but holds tenaciously to her deceitful idolatry.”(F8)

“The stork… the turtle-dove… crane… etc.” In these lines, the prophet appeals to the example afforded by the birds of the heavens. They know their appointed times. All migratory birds are strict observers of times and seasons, when to fly north, or south, when to leave an area, and when to return again; but Israel seemed to know nothing of the times and seasons God appointed for them, thus showing a stupidity that could not be matched, even among the sub-human creations. As Jesus expressed it, “O, if thou hadst known the time of thy visitation!”

“They spake not aright” “Not only did the people refuse to do right; they would not even so much as speak right. God could not get a single good word out of them, not a thing upon which to ground any favor to them or any hope of recovering them.”(F9)

“My people know not the Law of Jehovah” This is one of the most important statements in Jeremiah. The complaint is not that God’s people did not possess the Law of Jehovah. They had possessed that from the days of Moses and Joshua. The critical myth that there was no Law of Jehovah until the high priest discovered that book during the renovation of the temple is merely a clever, convenient falsehood which only the gullible could believe.

The problem was not the Jewish People’s lack of the Law of Jehovah, but it was their failure to know it, study it, meditate upon it, or obey it. We shall return in the next verse for a more thorough exploration of this very important revelation in Jeremiah.

Verse 8

“How do ye say, We are wise, and the law of Jehovah is with us? But, behold, the false pen of the scribes hath wrought falsely.”

The existence of the order of The Scribes in the days of Jeremiah proves conclusively that the Law of Jehovah, not a single book, such as Deuteronomy, but all of it, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, commonly referred to as the Pentateuch, did exist in those days, else there could not possibly have been such an order as that of the Scribes whose duty it was to copy, study, distribute, and expound the teachings of that very law.

Any person with ordinary intelligence needs no scholar to explain this to him. In addition to the incontrovertible evidence we have in this very chapter, there are countless references throughout Jeremiah to every single one of the man-made divisions in the Law of Moses, that law, from the beginning, not being five books but only one, the Book of Moses.

We consider the meaning of this verse to be so important that we would like to support the position which we have taken with the opinion of a number of dependable, able scholars, who are honest enough and conservative enough to point out what is really said here.

“The Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) must have existed in writing before there could have been an order of men whose special business it was to study it.(F10)… The presence of scribes demands that there must have been a law by this time, contrary to the view of some Old Testament scholars.(F11)… Behold the false pen of the scribes… (Jeremiah 8:8) The scribes studied and copied the Law; this is the first mention of them in the Bible. Already, they were beginning to make the Law of God void by their tradition (Matthew 15:6).(F12)… These verses are a strong argument in favor of the belief that the Book of the Law even at that time had well-grounded claims to antiquity.(F13)… These verses teach that “The written law is with us,” This is the Law of Jahweh recorded in the Pentateuch; and this is not to be understood as merely the outward possession of it, but also as the inwardly appropriated knowledge and mastery of it.(F14)… Jeremiah’s whole argument here depends upon the fact that there existed in his day men who claimed to be wise on account of their study of the Pentateuch; and this is utterly inconsistent with assumptions that Jeremiah wrote Deuteronomy.(F15)… Ash identified the “law” mentioned in Jeremiah 8:7 as “the Torah.”(F16)… Kuist noted that, “The scribes interpreting the Law (Torah or `instructions’) found sanctions for their actions in false interpretations.”(F17)… Even Wheeler Robinson in Peake’s Commentary, while accepting the usual critical view, which he asserted “might be correct,” he also stated that, “A strong case can be made out,” for the view which we take here.(F18)… This teaches that in the seventh century B.C. Israel possessed a written Torah which it was the ostensible duty of the scribes to study and expound.”(F19)

Verses 9-13

“The wise men are put to shame, they are dismayed and taken: lo, they have rejected the word of Jehovah; and what manner of wisdom is in them? Therefore will I give their wives to others, and their fields to them that shall possess them: for everyone from the least even unto the greatest is given to covetousness; from the prophet, even unto the priest everyone dealeth falsely. And they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace, when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they had committed abominations? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among them that fall; in the time of their visitation they shall be cast down, saith Jehovah. I will utterly consume them, saith Jehovah,: there shall be no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig-tree, and the leaf shall fade; and the things that I have given them shall pass away from them.”

“The word of Jehovah” This is a reference to the Torah, which is the subject of Jeremiah 8:7 and Jeremiah 8:8. The scribes, self-styled “wise men,” as they claimed to be, had rejected the Word of God, namely, the Law of Moses, by their false interpretations of it.

Jeremiah 8:10-12 are a repetition of what Jeremiah wrote in Jeremiah 6:12-15.”(F20) See my comment under those verses, above.

“No grapes… nor figs” The failure of all crops and agricultural benefits were common metaphors in the Old Testament, used to express God’s judgment upon sinful people. Christ himself took up the figure of the barren fig-tree, which he made a figure of apostate Israel in his cursing of the barren fig-tree (Matthew 21:19).

Verses 14-17

“Why do we sit still? assemble yourselves, and let us enter into the fortified cities, and let us be silent there; for Jehovah our God hath put us to silence, and given us water of gall to drink, because we have sinned against Jehovah. We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of healing, and behold, dismay! The snorting of the horses is heard from Dan; and the sound of the neighing of his strong ones the whole land trembleth; for they are come, and have devoured the land and all that is in it; the city and those that dwell therein. For, behold, I will send serpents, adders, among you, which will not be charmed; and they shall bite you, saith Jehovah.”

Note that in Jeremiah 8:14, the outlying communities surrounding Jerusalem have decided to flee to the fortified cities, realizing that all hope is lost and thinking, perhaps, to survive a little longer there; but even there they expect only to be “put to silence,” a euphemism for “put to death.” Note too that in this verse the betrayal of the people by their false prophets was at last recognized by the people. What has opened the eyes of the people?

“The war horses of the Chaldeans can be heard snorting already in Dan!”(F21)

“I will send serpents, adders among you” Jeremiah loved to change his metaphors; and here we have another example of it. The invading Babylonians are symbolized by poisonous serpents that could not be charmed. “The invading army, sent to execute God’s sentence, is now compared to snakes, which no charming can soothe, and the bite of which is fatal.”(F22)

Verses 18-19

“Oh that I could comfort myself against sorrow! my heart is faint within me. Behold, the voice of the cry of the daughter of my people from a land that is very far off: Is not Jehovah in Zion? is not her King in her? Why have they provoked me to anger with their graven images, and with foreign vanities?”

“The daughter of my people” Note the triple repetition of these pathetic words in these last verses of Jeremiah 8. These verses represent the people as asking why they must suffer. What has become of God? Is not their Davidic King in the city? How can they be defeated and carried away? God’s answer comes in Jeremiah 8:19 b, “Why have ye provoked me to anger”?

Verse 20

“The harvest is past, and the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”

We selected this verse as the title of the whole chapter. It simply means that the last opportunity for Israel to repent and turn to the Lord has already slipped away. The harvest mentioned here is the one that came in the early summer in the months of April through June. The summer’s being ended is a reference to the approach of autumn and the end of the final harvest of the year. There will be nothing more for another year. This stands as a metaphor for the termination of all of Israel’s lost opportunities. In the meanwhile, the winter of God’s judgment was coming swiftly upon them.

Verses 21-22

“For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt: I mourn; dismay hath taken hold on me. Is there no balm in Gilead? is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?”

From these verses, and especially from the very next verse as it appears in the KJV (Jeremiah 9:1), “A tragic misrepresentation of Jeremiah is based.”(F23) Green defended this observation as follows:

“Jeremiah has been termed “the weeping prophet.” This is one of ironies of Biblical interpretation; and one should avoid this gross error. We may call him the reluctant prophet, or the praying prophet, or the suffering prophet, or the preaching prophet, but not the weeping prophet. He never wasted time weeping when there was work to be done. He loved greatly and suffered deeply; and he was one of the greatest minds and spirits of all time.”

Jeremiah 8:22 in our American Standard Version does not reveal the meaning as does the KJV, which indicates that the Hebrew text merely has, “No balm in Gilead; no physician there!” And, the interpretation of Matthew Henry fits such a rendition. “There is no balm in Gilead that can cure the disease of sin; and there is no physician there who can heal a nation in rebellion against the Lord.”(F24) However, Matthew Henry pointed out that it is also possible to understand the verse as rendered in our version (American Standard Version), with the meaning: certainly, there is balm in Gilead, and yes, there is a true physician there; but all of the blame for Israel’s sorrows must rest upon themselves for not applying the wonderful remedy which God has provided.

It is of great interest that the “balm in Gilead” has come to stand as a metaphor of the salvation in Jesus Christ, as memorialized in many hymns and anthems. “There is a balm in Gilead, that heals the sin-sick soul. There is a balm in Gilead that makes the sinner whole”!

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Jeremiah 8". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/jeremiah-8.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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