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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 20

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 10-18

A collection of Jeremiah’s personal trials and sayings 15:10-20:18

This section of text is highly autobiographical. It contains, among other things, most of Jeremiah’s so-called "confessions" (Jeremiah 15:10-12; Jeremiah 15:15-21; Jeremiah 17:9-11; Jeremiah 17:14-18; Jeremiah 18:18-23; Jeremiah 20:7-18). This section can be a great help and encouragement to modern servants of the Lord.

Verses 1-6

The broken jar object lesson 19:1-20:6

This message to the people involved another symbolic act (cf. Jeremiah 13:1-11). This incident may have occurred between 609 and 605 B.C.

"In ch. 18 God explains to Jeremiah that sovereign grace is able to take the marred vessel (Israel) and remake it a vessel of usefulness (Jeremiah 19:4). But to the elders, in ch. 19, the prophet declares that their generation will be irreparably destroyed like a smashed fragile vessel, and the fragments taken to Babylon. That generation of the nation was not restored to the land (Jeremiah 19:10-13)." [Note: The New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 789.]

Verses 1-2

When Pashhur, who was the leading priest responsible for the oversight of the temple, heard Jeremiah’s words, he ordered him beaten and imprisoned in stocks that stood near the Benjamin Gate. This gate was evidently the new gate into the inner temple courtyard that King Jotham had constructed (cf. 2 Kings 15:35). It provided an entrance from the north, in which direction the tribal territory of Benjamin lay. Consequently many people would have seen Jeremiah there.

"The ’stocks,’ where the prophet was confined, were intended not only for restraint but also for torture. The stocks, which were used for false prophets (cf. 2 Chronicles 16:10), held the feet, hands, and neck so that the body was almost doubled up (cf. Jeremiah 29:26). The Hebrew word for ’stocks’ (mahpeketh) means ’causing distortion.’" [Note: Feinberg, p. 500. See also The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. "Stocks," by M. Greenberg.]

Ironically, this overseer in God’s temple, evidently the man in charge of preserving order in the courtyard, was taking action against God’s overseer of the nations, Jeremiah (cf. Jeremiah 1:10). This is the first recorded act of violence done to Jeremiah. It reminds us of the captain of the temple guard who, years later, similarly imprisoned Peter and John (Acts 4:1-3).

Verse 3

Jeremiah’s confinement only lasted one day. Following his release, the prophet gave Pashhur a new name that had prophetic significance: Magomassibib, meaning "terror on every side" (cf. Jeremiah 6:25; Psalms 31:13). His old name means either "ease" or "tranquility." Perhaps this name reflected his natural disposition.

Verse 4

The Lord announced through Jeremiah that Pashhur would become a terror to others, his friends, and even himself, and he would feel terror when he saw the coming invader slaughter his loved ones. The Lord promised to deliver all of Judah over to the Babylonian king, who would take many of the people captive to Babylon and slay them with the sword. This is the first explicit reference to the place of exile in the book (cf. Jeremiah 1:13; Jeremiah 15:14).

Verse 5

Likewise, the enemy would take all the wealth and even the royal treasures of Jerusalem to Babylon. In other words, the enemy would plunder the temple and the royal palaces.

Verse 6

Pashhur himself, as well as his loved ones, would end up in Babylon as exiles. Evidently he went into captivity in 597 B.C. since another man, Zephaniah, occupied his office after that date (cf. Jeremiah 29:24; Jeremiah 29:26; Jeremiah 29:29). Pashhur, and all who had gathered around him as his disciples, would die and be buried there because he had prophesied falsely concerning the coming invasion. Like Jeremiah, Pashhur was officially both a priest and a prophet, albeit a false one. Jeremiah, as far as we know, never served or functioned as a priest, however.

"Pashhur, who would terrorize Jeremiah for the message he proclaimed, will be terrorized and will become a terror for all to witness, as will all Judah (Jeremiah 20:4-5). Just as the people of Jerusalem and Judah would die at the hands of their enemies (Jeremiah 19:7), so Pashhur would die. Only he would die and be buried in a foreign land." [Note: Drinkard, p. 268.]

Verse 7

The prophet complained that the Lord had deceived him (cf. Exodus 20:16; 1 Kings 22:20-22) and had overcome him. He had made Jeremiah a laughingstock and an object of constant mockery by his people. Evidently Jeremiah hoped that the people would repent at his preaching, and when they did not, he felt betrayed by the Lord.

Verses 7-13

Jeremiah’s struggle with his calling 20:7-13

This section is another of Jeremiah’s autobiographical "confessions." In literary form it is another individual lament, like many of the psalms (cf. Psalms 6). It is one of Jeremiah’s most significant self-disclosures. The section has two parts: God the antagonist (Jeremiah 20:7-10), and God the protagonist (Jeremiah 20:11-13).

Verse 8

Jeremiah felt that he was always shouting messages of impending disaster, and these announcements had resulted in people criticizing and ridiculing him constantly.

Verse 9

When Jeremiah became so tired of the opposition he faced that he decided to stop delivering his messages, the Lord’s Word burned within him as a fire. Finally he could contain himself no longer and spoke again. One writer used this apt description of the prophet’s feelings as the title of his book on Jeremiah: Fire in My Bones. [Note: I.e., Fred M. Wood.]

Verse 10

The prophet knew that the people were complaining that all he ever talked about was coming terror. He had become a "Magomassibib" (terror on every side) of sorts himself (cf. Jeremiah 20:3), and the people may well have applied this nickname to him. They felt someone should denounce him for speaking so pessimistically and harshly about their nation. Even his trusted friends had turned against him and were hoping that he would make some mistake so they could discredit him for his words. The Lord Jesus Christ suffered similar opposition (cf. Mark 3:2; Mark 14:58; Luke 6:7; Luke 14:1; Luke 20:20).

Verse 11

Yet Jeremiah was confident that the Lord would remain with him and defend him like a powerful bodyguard (cf. Jeremiah 1:18; Jeremiah 15:20). Consequently his persecutors among the people of Judah would not succeed. They were the ones who would stumble, feel ashamed, and experience everlasting disgrace-not him (cf. Jeremiah 20:10).

Verse 12

The prophet asked the Lord to allow him to witness the humiliation of his critics, since he was entrusting "vengeance" to Him, and not taking it himself. Yahweh knew the hearts and minds of both Jeremiah and his persecutors, so the Lord knew who was right and who was wrong (cf. Jeremiah 11:20).

Verse 13

The prophet closed this lament with a call to praise the Lord in song because He had delivered Jeremiah from those who wanted to do him evil.

Verse 14

Again Jeremiah cursed the day of his birth; he felt bitterly sorry that he had ever been born (cf. Jeremiah 15:10; Job 3:3-6). Cursing one’s parents or God was a capital offense under the Mosaic Law (Leviticus 20:9; Leviticus 24:10-16), but Jeremiah did not do that. He meant that his birth occurred on a day that God had cursed, and that accounted for his misfortune.

Verses 14-18

Jeremiah’s deep despair 20:14-18

This is another autobiographical "confession." It is a personal lament, or curse poem, concerning the sorrow Jeremiah had experienced for most of his life resulting from the calling that the Lord had laid on him.

"In these verses Jeremiah plumbed the depths of bitterness and despair, revealing a depth of misery and agony surpassing any other cry of anguish recorded among his lamentations." [Note: Thompson, p. 463.]

Verse 15

Jeremiah felt that it would have been better if his father had never received the news that he had a baby boy. Normally the birth of a male child was the best news a man could receive, since the birth of a boy usually guaranteed support for the family and the perpetuation of the family line. Jeremiah was similar to that messenger, in that he thought he was bringing good news of escape-through divine deliverance-to the nation, but it turned out to be bad news of distress and battle cries. [Note: Drinkard, p. 279.]

Verses 16-17

The messenger of Jeremiah’s birth would have been better off, from the prophet’s perspective, if he had been slain by the Lord, as when the Lord overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). He would have been well advised to run for cover on that day. That messenger was the object of Jeremiah’s curse, because the prophet wished the Lord had slain him in his mother’s womb rather than bringing him to birth.

Verse 18

Jeremiah bewailed the fact that he ever came out of his mother’s womb, since his life had been so full of trouble, sorrow, and shame. Jeremiah 20:17-18 are another indication that human life exists in a mother’s womb before birth. Jeremiah existed as a person in his mother’s womb.

"What these curses convey . . . is a state of mind, not a prosaic plea. The heightened language is not there to be analysed [sic]: it is there to bowl us over. Together with other tortured cries from him and his fellow sufferers, these raw wounds in Scripture remain lest we forget the sharpness of the age-long struggle, or the frailty of the finest overcomers." [Note: Kidner, p. 81.]

"Jeremiah was discouraged because he was a man standing against a flood. And I want to say to you that nobody who is fighting the battle in our own generation can float on a Beauty Rest mattress. If you love God and love men and have compassion for them, you will pay a real price psychologically. . . .

"But what does God expect of Jeremiah? What does God expect of every man who preaches into a lost age like ours? I’ll tell you what God expects. He simply expects a man to go right on. He doesn’t scold a man for being tired, but neither does He expect him to stop his message because people are against him." [Note: Schaeffer, pp. 69-70.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 20". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/jeremiah-20.html. 2012.
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