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(1) The word of the Lord came also unto me.—The formula introduces a new and distinct message, extending to Jeremiah 17:18, and it is one even more terrible in its threatenings than any that have preceded it. There is nothing in its contents to fix the date with any certainty, but we may think of it as probably about the close of the reign of Jehoiakim, when that king was trusting in an alliance with Egypt (Jeremiah 17:13), and the people taunted the prophet with the non-fulfilment of his predictions (Jeremiah 17:15).
(2) Thou shalt not take thee a wife . . .—The words came to an Israelite and to a priest with a force which we can hardly understand. With them marriage, and the hopes which it involved, was not only a happiness but a duty, and to be cut off from it was to renounce both, because the evil that was coming on the nation was such as to turn both into a curse. We may compare cur Lord’s words in Matthew 24:19 and those spoken to the daughters of Jerusalem (Luke 23:29), and what, in part at least, entered into St. Paul’s motives for a like abstinence on account of “the present distress” (1 Corinthians 7:26).
(4) Of grievous deaths.—Literally, deaths from diseases, including, perhaps, famine (as in Jeremiah 14:18), as contrasted with the more immediate work of the sword.
They shall not be lamented.—Among a people who attached such importance to the due observance of funeral obsequies as the Jews did, the neglect of those obsequies was, of course, here, as in Jeremiah 22:18, a symptom of extremest misery. Like features have presented themselves in the pestilences or sieges of other cities and other times, as in the description in Lucretius (vi. 1278) :—
“Nec mos ille sepulturæ remanebat in urbe,
Quo pius hic populus semper consuerat humari.”
“No more the customed rites of sepulture
Were practised in the city, such as wont
Of old to tend the dead with reverent care.”
Compare the account of the plague at Athens in Thucydides (ii. 52).
(5) The house of mourning.—Better, mourning-feast. The word is found only here and in Amos 6:7, where it is translated “banquet.” So the Vulg. gives here domus convivii, and the LXX. the Greek word for a “drinking party.” The word literally means a “shout,” and is so far applicable to either joy or sorrow. The context seems decisive in favour of the latter meaning, but the idea of the “feast” or “social gathering” should be, at least, recognised. Not to go into the house of mirth would be a light matter as compared with abstaining even from visits of sympathy and condolence. In Ecclesiastes 7:4 the Hebrew gives a different word.
My peace.—The word is used in its highest power, as including all other blessings. It is Jehovah’s peace: that which He once had given, but which He now withholds (comp. John 14:27). Men were to accept that withdrawal in silent awe, not with the conventional routine of customary sorrow.
(6) Nor cut themselves, nor make themselves bald.—Both practices were forbidden by the Law (Leviticus 19:28; Leviticus 21:5; Deuteronomy 14:1), probably in order to draw a line of demarcation between Israel and the nations round, among whom such practices prevailed (1 Kings 18:28). Both, however, seem to have been common, and probably had gained in frequency under Ahaz and Manasseh (Jeremiah 7:29; Jeremiah 41:5; Ezekiel 7:18; Amos 8:10; Micah 1:16). The “baldness” (i.e., shaving the crown of the head) seems to have been the more common of the two.
(7) Neither shall men tear themselves.—The marginal reading, “Neither shall men break bread for them,” as in Isaiah 58:7; Lamentations 4:4, gives the true meaning. We are entering upon another region of funeral customs, reminding us of some of the practices connected with the “wakes” of old English life. After the first burst of sorrow and of fasting, as the sign of sorrow (2 Samuel 1:12; 2 Samuel 3:35; 2 Samuel 12:16-17), friends came to the mourner to comfort him. A feast was prepared for them, consisting of “the bread of mourners” (Hosea 9:4; Ezekiel 24:17) and the “cup of consolation,” as for those of a heavy heart (Proverbs 31:6). It is probable that some reference to this practice was implied in our Lord’s solemn benediction of the bread and of the cup at the Last Supper. As His body had been “anointed for the burial” (Matthew 26:12), so, in giving the symbols of His death, He was, as it were, keeping with His disciples His own funeral feast. The thought of the dead lying unburied, or buried without honour, is contemplated in all its horrors.
(8) Into the house of feasting.—Literally, the house of drinking, i.e., in this case, as interpreted by the next verse, of festive and mirthful gathering. This prohibition follows à fortiori from the other. If it was unmeet for the prophet to enter into the house of mourning, much more was he to hold himself aloof from mirth. He was to stand apart, in the awful consciousness of his solitary mission. The words of Ecclesiastes 7:2 come to our thoughts as teaching that it was better even so.
(9) The voice of mirth . . .—The words had been used once before (Jeremiah 7:34), and will meet us yet again (Jeremiah 25:10; Jeremiah 33:11), but they gain rather than lose in their solemnity by this verbal iteration.
(10) What is our iniquity? . . .—Now, as before (Jeremiah 5:19), the threatenings of judgment are met with words of real or affected wonder. “What have we done to call for all this? In what are we worse than our fathers, or than other nations?” All prophets had more or less to encounter the same hardness. It reaches its highest form in the reiterated questions of the same type in Malachi 1:2.
(12) Imagination.—Better, as before, stubbornness.
(13) There shall ye serve other gods day and night.—The words are spoken in the bitterness of irony: “You have chosen to serve the gods of other nations here in your own land; therefore, by a righteous retribution, you shall serve them in another sense, as being in bondage to their worshippers, and neither night nor day shall give you respite.”
Where I will not shew you favour.—Better, since, or for, I will not shew you favour.
(14, 15) Behold, the days come . . .—Judgment and mercy are tempered in the promise. Here the former is predominant. Afterwards, in Jeremiah 23:5-8, where it is connected with the hope of a personal Deliverer, the latter gains the ascendant. As yet the main thought is that the Egyptian bondage shall be as a light thing compared with that which the people will endure in the “land of the north,” i.e., in that of the Chaldæans; so that, when they return, their minds will turn to their deliverance from it, rather than to the Exodus from Egypt, as an example of the mercy and might of Jehovah. Then once again, and in a yet higher degree, it should be seen that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.
(16) I will send for many fishers . . .—The words refer to the threat, not to the promise. The “fishers,” as in Amos 4:2; Habakkuk 1:15, are the invading nations, surrounding Judah and Jerusalem as with a drag-net, and allowing none to escape. The process is described under this very name of “drag-netting” the country by Herodotus (iii. 149, 6:31), as applied by the army of Xerxes to Samos, Chios, Tenedos, and other islands. The application of the words either to the gathering of the people after their dispersion or to the later work of the preachers of the Gospel is an after-thought, having its source in our Lord’s words, “I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). It is, of course, possible enough that those words may have been suggested by Jeremiah’s, the same image being used, as in the parable of Matthew 13:47, to describe the blessing which had before presented its darker aspect of punishment.
Hunters.—Another aspect of the same thought, pointing, so far as we can trace the distinction between the two, to the work of the irregular skirmisher as the former image did to that of the main body of the army: men might take refuge, as hunted beasts might do, in the caves of the rocks, but they should be driven forth even from these.
(17) Mine eyes are upon all their ways.—The context shows that here also the thought is presented on its severer side. The sins of Israel have not escaped the all-seeing eye of Jehovah.
(18) I will recompense their iniquity and their sin double.—A restitution, or fine, to double the amount of the wrong done was almost the normal standard of punishment under the Law of Moses (Exodus 22:4; Exodus 22:7). The words threaten accordingly a full punishment according to the utmost rigour. In Isaiah 40:2 the same thought is presented in its brighter aspect. Israel has received “double for all her sins,” and therefore, having paid, as it were, “the uttermost farthing” (Matthew 5:26), she may now hope for mercy.
The carcases . . .—The word may be used in scorn of the lifeless form of the dumb idols which the people worshipped, to touch which was to be polluted, as by contact with a corpse (Numbers 19:11); but it more probably points to the dead bodies of the victims that had been sacrificed to them. The phrase occurs also in a like context in Leviticus 26:30. It would appear from Isaiah 65:4 that these often included animals which by the Law were unclean: “swine’s flesh and broth of abominable things.”
(19) O Lord, my strength, and my fortress.—The words speak of a returning confidence in the prophet’s mind, and find utterance in what is practically (though the Hebrew words are not the same) an echo of Psalms 18:2, or more closely of Psalms 28:1; Psalms 28:8; Psalms 59:17; 2 Samuel 22:3.
The Gentiles shall come unto thee.—The sin and folly of Israel are painted in contrast with the prophet’s vision of the future. Then, in that far-off time of which other prophets had spoken (Micah 4:1; Isaiah 2:2), the Gentiles should come to Jerusalem, turning from the “vanities” they had inherited; and yet Israel, who had inherited a truer faith, was now abasing herself even to their level or below it. Israel had answered in the affirmative the question which seemed to admit only of an answer in the negative: “Shall a man make gods unto himself, and they are no gods?”
(21) I will this once cause them to know . . .—The warning comes with all the emphasis of iteration, this once. As in a way without a parallel, once for all, they should learn that the name of the God they had rejected was Jehovah, the Eternal (Exodus 3:14), unchangeable in His righteousness. The thought is parallel to that of Ezekiel 12:15.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 16". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany