Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, May 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 2

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes



The first series of prophetic announcements, reflections, and incidents that comprise this part of the book deals with Jeremiah’s ministry to his own people. Though Jeremiah ministered to the surviving Southern Kingdom of Judah (after the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians), he frequently referred to his nation as Israel, as did other prophets. This reflects the fact that the Southern Kingdom, under Davidic kings, was the true Israel and that the Northern Kingdom was an apostate offshoot. The second main division of the book contains oracles against foreign nations (chs. 46-51).

A. Warnings of judgment on Judah and Jerusalem chs. 2-25

Chapters 2-25 contain warnings and appeals to the Judahites in view of their sins and the inevitable consequences of those sins.

1. Warnings of coming punishment because of Judah’s guilt chs. 2-6

Most of the material in this section consists of prophetic oracles that are poetic in form: so-called "type A" material. There are three messages: the first indicting Judah for her evil (ch. 2), the second pleading for repentance (Jeremiah 3:1 to Jeremiah 4:4), and the third declaring divine judgment (Jeremiah 4:5 to Jeremiah 6:30).

". . . it is possible that at an early stage in the development of the book, this collection of prophetic oracles was brought together as a kind of summary of the prophet’s early ministry." [Note: Craigie, p. 19. Compare chapters 1-5 of Isaiah, which serve a similar function.]

"The major themes in these five chapters are (1) God’s indignation against moral and social sin, (2) his love for his people and land, (3) the certainty of doom on the unrepentant nation, and (4) salvation for the believing." [Note: Feinberg, p. 386.]

Yahweh’s indictment of His people for their sins ch. 2

"The whole chapter has strong reminiscences of a legal form which was well known in the secular world, the so-called rib pattern. When lesser kings offended their overlords in some act of rebellion, the overlord sent a written message by the hands of a messenger. Several of these documents are extant today. It seems clear that there was a proper legal form in which to lay a charge against a rebel. The shape was as follows: (i) an appeal to the vassal to pay heed, and a summons to the earth and the sky to act as witnesses; (ii) a series of questions each of which carried an implied accusation; (iii) a recollection of past benefits bestowed on the vassal with some statement of the offenses by which he had broken his treaty (covenant); (iv) a reference to the futility of ritual compensations, recourse to foreign cults, or other kinds of aid; (v) a declaration of culpability and a threat of judgment." [Note: Thompson, pp. 159-60. Micah 6:1-8 is a very clear biblical example of a rib oracle.]

Chapter 2 reads like one of these documents in that it contains the basic elements. However, this was not a formal legal document that Yahweh sent to His people but a spoken message through His prophet. The form of the message undoubtedly reminded the original hearers of these rib (lawsuit) documents and highlighted the position of the people as Yahweh’s unfaithful vassals who had broken His covenant and were, therefore, in trouble with Him.

"This chapter is a powerful sermon dealing with apostasy, and was delivered with all the zeal of an evangelist, as is evident from the power and vitality of the language." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., pp. 53-54.]

Verses 1-2

The Lord spoke to Jeremiah and instructed him to proclaim a message to the people of Jerusalem-a message from Yahweh. [Note: Other verses that refer to Jeremiah receiving a word from the Lord begin other sections of speeches, namely, 7:1; 11:1; 13:1; and 18:1.]

Verses 1-3

Yahweh’s remembrance of Israel’s past 2:1-3

Verse 2

The Lord recalled how His people used to love (Heb. hesed) Him devotedly when they were following Him through the wilderness from Egypt to the Promised Land. Those were the days of Israel’s betrothal as a youth, before she settled down with the Lord in the land (cf. Hosea 1-3). Even though the Israelites were not completely faithful to the Lord in the wilderness, their commitment to Him then was much stronger then than it was in Jeremiah’s day. Their error then was mainly lack of faith (unbelief), whereas in Jeremiah’s day it was departure from Him (apostasy).

Verse 3

In those days Israel was set apart to the Lord in a way that she had not been since she entered the land and began to worship idols (cf. Exodus 19:6; Exodus 22:31). She was His firstfruits among the nations that He would bless (cf. Genesis 12:1-3; Leviticus 23:10; Leviticus 23:17; Deuteronomy 26:1-11). The Lord punished peoples who tried to devour the Israelites then (e.g., the Egyptians and the Amalekites), just as He punished those who ate His firstfruits offerings without divine authorization (Leviticus 22:10; Leviticus 22:16).

Verse 4

Jeremiah appealed to all the Israelites in his audience to hear what God had to say to them. Some scholars believe that attention-getting devices such as this one, and other clues in the text, indicate the beginning of a new oracle. [Note: Craigie, pp. 20-21, for example, found evidence of six separate oracles in chapter 2.] These students of the sources of our present canonical text believe that Jeremiah, or some other editor, arranged a number of shorter oracles into the sermon we have in chapter 2 for literary purposes. This is possible, I think, but not absolutely certain.

Verses 4-8

Yahweh’s claims to having dealt justly with His people 2:4-8

The general flow of thought in this early part of Jeremiah’s message is: from Israel’s early devotion to Yahweh (Jeremiah 2:2-3), to her departure from Him (Jeremiah 2:4-13), to the tragic results of her unfaithfulness (Jeremiah 2:14-19). In this second pericope, the irrationality of Israel’s apostasy stands out.

Verse 5

The Lord wanted to know what He had done to provoke His people to leave Him and pursue other gods that left them empty. The Hebrew word hahebel, translated "emptiness," may be wordplay with the name Baal.

Verse 6

The Israelites had not even asked themselves where the Lord-who had redeemed them in the Exodus and preserved them through the wilderness-was. They totally disregarded Him.

Verse 7

The Lord had brought His people into a fruitful land and had given them its produce and wealth, but they had defiled His land with their sins and made it an abomination with their idolatry.

Verse 8

The leaders of the people were no better than the ordinary Israelites. The priests, rulers, and (false) prophets all failed to direct the people to Yahweh and, instead, led them away from Him into unprofitable pursuits. One writer suggested that another wordplay with the name Baal may be lo’ yo’ilu, translated "things that did not profit." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., pp. 56-57.] A similar phrase, belo yo’il, occurs at the end of Jeremiah 2:11 and is translated "that which does not profit."

The priests should have encouraged the people to be faithful to the covenant and should have kept the sacrificial system pure. The governmental rulers (lit. shepherds) should have directed the people to the Lord rather than away from Him. And many professing prophets, instead of bringing messages from the Lord, brought alleged directions from Baal and followed vain pursuits.

"The reference to Baal here and elsewhere in the prophecy is to idols in general." [Note: Feinberg, p. 389.]

"Surely this has something to do with the message we must speak to our post-Christian world. We must treat men with love, we must treat them and talk to them humanly. But we must not tone down our message: the religious leaders of our day too are leading people astray." [Note: Schaeffer, p. 53.]

Verse 9

Because of their unparalleled idolatry, the Lord promised to contest His people. Even their grandchildren would experience His discipline because of their forefathers’ sins. That is, they would have to live with the consequences of their forefathers’ sins.

". . . Scripture often stresses the solidarity of one generation with another, endorsing our sense of pride or shame over our collective past." [Note: Kidner, p. 34.]

Verses 9-13

Yahweh’s promise to contend with His people 2:9-13

Verses 10-11

The Lord challenged His people to look to other nations to see if any of them had done what they had done. None of their neighbor nations had ever forsaken gods whom they thought had blessed them in the past. This was true of them all, from Kittim (Cyprus), to Israel’s northwest, to Kedar (in the Arabian Desert), to the southeast (cf. Genesis 10:4; Genesis 25:13). Yet the Israelites had forsaken the only true God, who had made them a glorious people, for gods that did not give them anything.

Verse 12

Yahweh called the heavens as witnesses to Israel’s folly (cf. Deuteronomy 32:1; Isaiah 1:2; Micah 6:1; et al.). These witnesses could only be appalled and shudder at such foolishness and feel desolate over such apostasy.

"Man, created by God and for God, cannot live without God. If he forsakes the living God, he passes in spite of himself into the service of dead, unreal gods." [Note: Keil, 1:58.]

Verse 13

The Israelites had committed two evils: one a sin of omission, and the other a sin of commission. They had forsaken Yahweh who, like a fountain, had provided for their deepest needs (cf. Psalms 36:9; John 4:10-14; Revelation 21:6). And they had pursued idols who, like broken cisterns, could not even hold water-much less provide it. The most reliable source of water in Israel was a natural spring, and the least reliable was a cistern.

"The best cisterns, even those in solid rock, are strangely liable to crack, and are a most unreliable source of supply of that absolutely indispensable article, water; and if, by constant care, they are made to hold, yet the water, collected from clay roofs or from marly soil, has the color of weak soapsuds, the taste of the earth or the stable, is full of worms, and in the hour of greatest need it utterly fails. Who but a fool positive, or one gone mad in love of filth, would exchange the sweet, wholesome stream of a living fountain for such an uncertain compound of nastiness and vermin!" [Note: W. H. Thomson, The Land and the Book, 1:443.]

Verses 14-15

Israel was Yahweh’s "firstborn son," not a slave or even a homeborn servant. People paid to purchase slaves for a period of service in Israel, but homeborn servants belonged to their masters as personal possessions (Exodus 21:1-6). [Note: See The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., s.v. "Slave, Slavery," by Kenneth A. Kitchen.] As a firstborn son, Israel enjoyed the special care and provisions of the Lord. Then why had he become a prey to enemies? Enemy rulers, like young lions, had threatened and devoured Israel’s land and destroyed its cities. The lion was a symbol of both Assyria and Babylonia. The Northern Kingdom had gone into captivity in 722 B.C. After that captivity, lions multiplied in the land and became a threat to the people who lived there (cf. 2 Kings 17:25). The Assyrians attacked the Israelites like voracious lions many times.

"Israel, in the metaphor, had not only become a slave, but after a generation or more had become a household servant, one for whom even the memory of freedom had been lost. But the statement of Israel’s slavery in the form of two questions implies that slavery should never have come to pass. Israel, in its covenant, had been granted freedom." [Note: Craigie, p. 32.]

Verses 14-19

Israel’s perverse conduct 2:14-19

Perverse conduct was the consequence of Israel’s apostasy and infidelity, and it led to slavery.

Verse 16

The Egyptians had cropped Israel’s glory. Jeremiah personified Israel as a woman (fem. suffix). In the ancient world long hair was a glorious thing (cf. 2 Samuel 14:26). Perhaps Pharaoh Shishak’s invasion of Judah in 925 B.C. is in view here (1 Kings 14:25-26). A more likely possibility is the slaying of King Josiah at Megiddo, when Pharaoh Neco took the crown (king) from the nation’s head in 609 B.C. (2 Kings 23:29). In both instances Egypt had shorn Israel.

Memphis (Heb. Noph) was the ancient capital of Lower (Northern) Egypt, about 13 miles south of modern Cairo. Tahpanhes (Gr. Daphne) stood near Lake Manzaleh in northeastern Egypt. It was the first significant Egyptian town that travelers came to on a land journey from Judah to Egypt. It was about 150 miles across the desert from Gaza. Later, Jeremiah and other Hebrew refugees settled there (Jeremiah 43:7-9).

Verse 17

Now comes the answer to the question posed in Jeremiah 2:14. The Israelites had brought these calamities on themselves by forsaking Yahweh, their God, who had led them so competently in the earlier years of their history.

Verse 18

God’s people had turned to Egypt and Assyria for refreshment, instead of to Him (cf. Isaiah 30:1-5). In Jeremiah’s day there was a pro-Egyptian party and a pro-Assyrian party. [Note: Feinberg, p. 392; Graybill, p. 661.] The designation of the Nile River as the shihor (lit. blackness) may have been a way of denigrating the river, which was one of Egypt’s primary gods. The Nile was muddy, and that may be the reason it was called "black."

This reference to the Judahites seeking help from Egypt and Assyria probably dates this sermon sometime before the decline of Assyrian supremacy in the ancient Near East, namely, before 612 B.C., when Nineveh fell (cf. 2 Kings 15:19; 2 Kings 16:7; 2 Kings 17:3; Hosea 5:13; Hosea 7:11; Hosea 8:9).

Verse 19

The consequences of the people’s own wickedness and apostasies would come back on them and plague them. This should teach them that it was morally evil and experientially bitter for them to abandon Yahweh their God. All these bad things happened to them because they did not fear the Lord.

"The greatest judgment God can send to disobedient people is to let them have their own way and reap the sad, painful consequences of their sins." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 80. Cf. Romans 1:24.]

"One may turn to or away from Yahweh, and one may turn to and away from other allegiances. No book in the OT contains so many nuances of this idea as Jeremiah." [Note: Thompson, p. 175.]

Verse 20

The Lord had broken the yoke of Egypt off His people at the Exodus and had set them free, but, being ungrateful, they refused to yield to Him in covenant faithfulness. [Note: The Septuagint and Vulgate translations have "you" instead of "I broke your yoke." The translators interpreted this verse to mean that Israel had long ago thrown off all restraint. But the Hebrew text is probably correct here.] Rather, the Israelites had prostituted themselves to the gods of Canaan, worshipping idols at their hilltop and grove shrines.

". . . the ’sexual revolution’ introduced in the 1960s is not only permissive: it has its own propaganda to create a view of sex as virtually life’s chief concern and most authoritative voice-certainly one that can override the voice of God." [Note: Kidner, p. 33.]

Verses 20-25

Evidences of Israel’s ingratitude 2:20-25

Baal worship fascinated the Israelites, but it was futile.

Verse 21

Yahweh had planted Israel in the Promised Land as a choice vine, as His faithful seed, but Israel had grown up as a degenerate vine that bore the marks of foreign stock (cf. Isaiah 5:1-7; Ezekiel 15; Matthew 21:33-46). "Choice vine" is literally a sorek vine, a vine that thrived between Jerusalem and the Mediterranean Sea-especially in the Sorek Valley-and bore high-quality grapes.

Verse 22

Israel could not cleanse herself of her iniquity. Ritual ablutions and sacrifices would not do the job (cf. 1 John 1:7). "Lye" was a mineral alkali cleanser, and "soap" was a vegetable alkali cleanser.

Verse 23

Neither could Israel deny that she had gone after Canaanite idols, though the people tried to. The Judahites worshipped Baal and Molech in the Hinnom Valley just south of Jerusalem (cf. Jeremiah 7:31-32; 2 Kings 23:10). All Judah had to do was examine her experiences, and she would see that she was all tangled up, like a young camel that got tangled up in its ropes from thrashing around where it did not belong.

Verse 24

Israel was also like "a wild donkey" that followed the scent that appealed to it, rather than following its master. Like a wild female donkey in heat, Israel had done things that were unnatural (cf. Genesis 16:12; Job 11:12). Enemies pursued Israel and found her, just like male donkeys find female donkeys that are in heat.

"She [the female donkey] sniffs the path in front of her trying to pick up the scent of a male (from his urine). Then she races down the road in search of the male. One Arab proverb runs, ’She is intoxicated with the urine of the male.’ Under such circumstances the males need not weary themselves chasing the she-ass, because she is bent on chasing them." [Note: Thompson, p. 179.]

The camel illustrates unreliability, and the donkey lust-based passion, in this instance. [Note: See K. E. Bailey and W. L. Holladay, "The ’Young Camel’ and ’Wild Ass’ in Jeremiah 2:23-25," Vetus Testamentum 18 (1968):256-60.] The people had worn out their sandals and fainted from thirst in their pursuit of idols.

Verse 25

Israel should guard herself from living like a wild animal and therefore suffering from thirst. But Israel had said that it was hopeless to live like a domesticated animal. Like many an alcoholic or drug addict, she believed it was impossible for her to submit to and serve her Master faithfully. She had let her heart go after strangers and had decided to follow them instead of Yahweh.

Verse 26

Yahweh had uncovered Israel’s sins and had shamed her, as when someone exposes a thief. "The house of Israel" probably refers to all of Israel collectively, not just the 10 northern tribes. [Note: Keil, 1:69.] All her leaders were objects of shame because they led the people in apostasy (cf. Jeremiah 2:8).

Verses 26-28

Israel’s shame because of her apostasy 2:26-28

Verse 27

The leaders had advocated worshipping the creation, rather than the Creator, and had promoted the worship of Asherah poles and stone pillars. These were phallic symbols in Canaanite religion that represented the powers of creativity and fertility. [Note: Craigie, p. 39.] Instead of looking to the Lord, they had turned their backs on Him. Still, when trouble came, they would cry out to Yahweh to save them.

Verse 28

"Let your idols save you, then," the Lord responded. Obviously the idols could not save the people, since the people had "created" the so-called "gods," the idols; the gods had not made the people and therefore could not help them. Wood and stone cannot arise to save, and neither can the idols made from these materials. The number of idols in Judah in Jeremiah’s day was the same as the number of her cities. This is a hyperbolic way of saying that idolatry was rampant throughout the land.

Verse 29

The Lord wanted to know why His people were angry with Him. The difficulties they were experiencing were the result of their transgressions of His law.

Verses 29-37

Israel’s hardness of heart 2:29-37

Israel deserved judgment, and this pericope shows why. Jeremiah presented a series of pictures of the nation’s irresponsibility and corruption.

Verse 30

But the Lord’s discipline had not produced repentance (cf. Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34; Acts 7:52). Even the younger generation refused to learn from their chastening. If this oracle dates from the time of Josiah, as seems probable, the younger generation-of which Jeremiah was a part-would have seen the fruit of King Manasseh’s apostasy, and should have turned from it.

"In the secular realm when a great king visited an erring vassal with some kind of punishment the vassal would come to heel, at least in the normal case. But in the case of Israel the divine visitation in some form of judgment was in vain. The people would not accept correction. Rather, they turned on Yahweh’s representatives and spokesmen, the prophets, and destroyed them [cf. Jeremiah 26:20-23; 2 Kings 21:16; Nehemiah 9:26]." [Note: Thompson, pp. 182-83.]

Verse 31

The Lord called all the people then alive in Judah, to pay attention to, and to take to heart, His message to them (cf. Matthew 3:7; Matthew 21:43; Matthew 23:33; Luke 3:7). He had not been as ungiving as a wilderness or as unenlightening as darkness to them. They had no reason to feel free to abandon Him.

Verse 32

Young girls rarely forget their first jewelry, and brides hardly ever forget what their wedding dress (lit. sash) looked like. But God’s people had forgotten their greatest treasure-and their Glory-long ago (cf. Deuteronomy 8:11; Deuteronomy 8:19; Deuteronomy 32:18; Psalms 78:11; Psalms 106:13; Psalms 106:21; Isaiah 17:10).

Verse 33

Ironically, like an unfaithful wife, Israel had "prepared" herself to seek a new lover. Her behavior had given ideas of unfaithfulness to other nations that did not even know the Lord. As a prostitute, Israel could teach even the heathen harlots a few tricks.

". . . it was true then as now, that the pagan has nothing to teach the hardened apostate, nor the outright unbeliever the religious double-thinker." [Note: Kidner, p. 34.]

Verse 34

In her unfaithfulness, Israel had gone so far as putting innocent people to death (cf. Jeremiah 26:20-23; 1 Kings 21:16; Nehemiah 9:26). If these people had done something worthy of death, such as breaking into a house, such bloodshed would have been excusable (cf. Exodus 22:2-3)

"Wicked behaviour always involves innocent people to some extent, as Christ demonstrated in bearing the sins of humanity (cf. 1 Peter 2:20-24)." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 62.]

Verses 34-35

In spite of all this guilt, Israel still claimed to be "innocent"-and hoped that Yahweh’s anger against her would subside. But the Lord promised to bring her to judgment because she falsely claimed to be "not guilty."

Verse 36

Israel was wrong to change her ways-from following the Lord faithfully, to pursuing idols-so often. The Lord would bring the hopes of the pro-Egyptian party to nothing. He had already used Assyria, which other Judeans trusted in, to overrun and take captive the Northern Kingdom (in 722 B.C.).

Verse 37

From Jerusalem (cf. Jeremiah 2:2) God’s people would depart in grief and captivity, with their hands on their heads, because Yahweh had rejected the nations in whom Israel trusted, and by whom she hoped to prosper (cf. 2 Samuel 13:19). He wanted them to trust and prosper in Him.

"It is perfectly possibly [sic] that the taking of Manasseh a captive to Babylon by Assyrian generals may have shaken the confidence in Assyria of the idolatrous people of Judah, and that, their thoughts turning to Egypt, steps may have been taken for paving the way towards an alliance with this great power, even although the godly king Josiah took no part in these proceedings." [Note: Keil, 1:76.]

Throughout this oracle, Jeremiah presented Israel’s covenant unfaithfulness to God from two perspectives: religious and political. Yahweh’s people had abandoned exclusive faith in their covenant God, and had committed spiritual adultery by participating in the Baal fertility cult. Nationally, they had ceased to recognize Yahweh’s sovereignty over them, and had turned to Egypt and Assyria for security. [Note: Craigie, p. 45.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/jeremiah-2.html. 2012.
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