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Saturday, May 18th, 2024
Eve of Pentacost
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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 17

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart, and upon the horns of your altars;

The Septuagint omit the first four verses, but other Greek versions have them.

The first of the four clauses relates to the third, the second to the fourth, by alternate parallelism. The sense is, they are, as keen after idols as if their propensity was "graven with an iron pen (Job 19:24) on their hearts;" or as if it were sactioned by a law 'inscribed with a diamond point' on their altars. The names of their gods used to be written on "the horns, of the altars" (Acts 17:23). As the clause "on their hearts" refers to their inward propensity, so "upon ... altars," the outward exhibition of it. Others refer "on the horns of ... altars" to their staining them with the blood of victims, in imitation of the Levitical precept (Exodus 29:12; Leviticus 4:7; Leviticus 4:18); but "written ... graven" would thus be inappropriate.

The sin of Judah written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart - which God intended to be inscribed very differently-namely, with His truths (Proverbs 3:3, "Write them (mercy and truth) upon the table of thine heart;" 2 Corinthians 3:3, "The letter of God, not written with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God: not in tables of stone (whereon the decalogue was, written), but the ink, but with the Spirit of the living God: not in tables of stone (whereon the decalogue was, written), but the fleshly tables of the heart").

Your - though "their" preceded, he directly addresses them, to charge the guilt home to them in particular: "your altars."

Verse 2

Whilst their children remember their altars and their groves by the green trees upon the high hills.

Whilst their children remember their altars and their groves - instead of forsaking the idolatries of their fathers they keep them up (Jeremiah 7:18). This is given as proof that their sin is "graven upon ... altars" (Jeremiah 17:1),

i.e., is not merely temporary. They corrupt their posterity, after them Castalio, less probably translates, 'They remember their altars as (fondly as) they do their children.'

Groves - rather, images of Astarte, the goddess of the heavenly hosts, represented as a sacred tree, such as is seen in the Assyrian sculptures (2 Kings 21:7, "Image of the grove;" 2 Chronicles 24:18). The Hebrew for "grove" is Asheerah, i:e., Assarak, Astarte, or Ashtaroth.

By the green trees - i:e., near them; the sacred trees (idol symbols) of Astarte being placed in the midst of natural trees: 'green trees' is thus distinguished from "groves," artificial trees. Henderson, to avoid taking the same Hebrew particle [ `al (H5921)] in the same sentence differently, "by ... upon," translates, 'images of Astarte on the green trees. But it is not probable that images in the form of a sacred tree should be hung on trees rather than near them.

Verse 3

O my mountain in the field, I will give thy substance and all thy treasures to the spoil, and thy high places for sin, throughout all thy borders.

My mountain - Jerusalem, and especially Zion and the temple.

In the field. Since Jerusalem was surrounded by mountains (Psalms 125:2), the sense probably is, Ye rely on your mountainous position (Jeremiah 3:23); but I will make "my mountain" to become as if it were in a plain ("field"), so as to give thy substance an easy prey to the enemy (Calvin). "Field" may, however, mean all Judea; it and "my mountain" will thus express the country and its capital (Gesenius translates, 'together with,' instead of "in," as the Hebrew [bª-] is translated Jeremiah 11:19; Hosea 5:6; but, this is not absolutely needed), "the substance" of both of which God "will give to the spoil."

Thy high places - corresponding in parallelism to "my mountain" (cf. Isaiah 11:9, "All my holy mountain"), as "all thy borders," to "the field" (which confirms the view that "field." means all, Judea).

For sin - connected with "high places" in the English version; namely, frequented for sin - i:e., for idolatrous sacrifice. But Jeremiah 15:13 makes the rendering probable, 'I will give thy substance ... to ... spoil ... on account of thy sin throughout all thy borders.

Verse 4

And thou, even thyself, shalt discontinue from thine heritage that I gave thee; and I will cause thee to serve thine enemies in the land which thou knowest not: for ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn for ever.

Even thyself, [uwbªkaah] - rather, 'and that, too, owing to thyself,' - i:e., by thy own fault (Jeremiah 15:13).

Shalt discontinue from - be dispossessed of "thine heritage." Not only thy substance but thyself shall be carried off to a strange land (Jeremiah 15:14).

Verse 5

Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD.

Cursed be the man that trusteth in man - referring to the Jews' proneness to rely on Egypt, in its fear of Assyria and Babylon. (Isaiah 31:1-3).

Trusteth - this word is emphatic. We may expect help from men, so far as God enables them to help us, but we must rest our TRUST in God alone (Psalms 62:5).

Verse 6

For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited.

Heath - [kª`ar`ar, from `aaraah (H6168), to bare]. In Psalms 102:17; Isaiah 32:11; Habakkuk 3:9, the Hebrew is translated, "bare," "naked," "destitute;" but as the parallel in Jeremiah 17:8 is "tree," some plant must be meant of which this is the characteristic epithet (see Jeremiah 48:6, margin, 'a naked tree'). Robinson translates, 'the juniper tree,' found in the Arabah or Great Valley, here called "the desert," south of the Dead Sea. The "heath" was one of the plants, according to Pliny (13: 21.; 16: 26), excluded from religious uses, because it has neither fruit nor seed, and is neither sown nor planted.

Shall not see when good cometh - (Job 20:17, "He shall not see (for himself, so as to enjoy) the rivers, the brooks of honey and butter").

In a salt land - (Deuteronomy 29:23), barren ground.

Verse 7

Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is.

Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord - (Psalms 34:8; Proverbs 16:20; Isaiah 30:18, "Blessed are all they that wait for him"). Jeremiah first removed the weeds (false trusts), so that there might be room for the good grain (trust in the Lord) (Calvin).

Verse 8

For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.

He shall be as a tree planted by the waters - (Psalms 1:3).

Shall not see - i:e., feel. Answering to Jeremiah 17:6; whereas the unbelievers "shall not see (even) when good cometh;" the believer "shall not see (so as to be overwhelmed by it, even) when heat (fiery trial) cometh." Trials shall come upon him as on all, nay, upon him especially (Hebrews 12:6); but he shall not sink under them, because the Lord is his secret, strength, just as the 'roots spread out by a river' (or 'water-course') draw hidden support from it (2 Corinthians 4:8-11).

Shall not be careful - anxious, as one desponding (Luke 12:29; 1 Peter 5:7).

Drought - literally, withholding, namely, of rain (Jeremiah 14:1, note): he here probably alludes to the drought which had prevailed, but makes it the type of all kinds of distress.

Verse 9

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

The heart is deceitful - from a root [ `aaqab (H6117)], 'supplanting,' 'tripping up insidiously by the heel,' from which Jacob (Hosea 12:3) took his name. In speaking of the Jews' deceit of heart, he appropriately uses a term alluding to their forefather, whose deceit, but not whose faith, they followed. His 'supplanting' was in order to obtain Yahweh's blessing. They supplant Yahweh for "trust in man" (Jeremiah 17:5), and then think to deceive God, as if it could escape His notice, that it is in man, not in Him, they trust.

Desperately wicked - [ wª'aanush (H605)] dangerously sick, 'incurable' (Horsley). (Micah 1:9.) Trust in one's own heart is as foolish as in our fellow-man (Jer. 17:50; Proverbs 28:26).

Verse 10

I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.

Lest any should infer from Jeremiah 17:9, "who can how it?" that even the Lord does not know, and therefore cannot punish, the hidden treachery of the heart, He saith, "I the Lord search the heart," etc. (1 Chronicles 28:9; Psalms 7:9; Proverbs 17:3; Revelation 2:23).

Even to give - and that in order that I may give (Jeremiah 32:19).

Verse 11

As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not; so he that getteth riches, and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at his end shall be a fool.

Partridge - (1 Samuel 26:20). Hebrew [koree'] 'Korea,' from a root [ qaaraa' (H7121)] to call, alluding to its cry: a name still applied to a bustard by the Arabs.

Sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not - does not succeed in bringing forth to the light the eggs which she has sat on. Its nest is liable, being on the ground, to be trodden under foot, or robbed by carnivorous animals, notwithstanding all the beautiful maneuvers of the parent-birds to save the brood. The translation of Henderson and others, 'sitteth on eggs which it has not laid,' alludes to the ancient notion that she stole the eggs of other birds and hatched them as her own, and that the young birds when grown left her for the true mother. It is not needful to make Scripture allude to an exploded notion, as if it were true. I prefer the English version. The partridge sits on eggs, and yet does not succeed in bringing them forth to the light [ yaalaad (H3205)] Maurer thinks the reference is to Jehoiakim's grasping cupidity (Jeremiah 22:13-17), which appropriated his neighbour's goods. Probably the sense is more general; as previously he condemned trust in man (Jeremiah 17:5), he now condemns another object of the deceitful hearts' trust; unjustly gotten riches (Psalms 39:6; Psalms 49:16-17; Psalms 55:23; Proverbs 23:5).

At his end shall be a fool - (Luke 12:20; "This their way is their folly," Psalms 49:13). Himself, and all, shall at last perceive he was not the wise man he thought he was.

Verse 12

A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary.

A glorious high throne - the temple of Jerusalem, the throne of Yahweh. Having condemned false objects, of trust, "high places for sin" (Jeremiah 17:3), and an "arm of flesh," he next sets forth Yahweh, and His temple, which was ever open to the Jews, as the true object of confidence and sanctuary to flee to. Henderson makes Yahweh, in Jeremiah 17:13, the subject, and this verse predicate, 'A throne of glory, high from the beginning, the place of our sanctuary, the hope of Israel is Yahweh.' Throne is thus used for Him who sits on it (cf. thrones, Colossians 1:16). He is called a "sanctuary" to His people (Isaiah 8:14; Ezekiel 11:16). So Syriac and Arabic.

Verse 13

O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.

All that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me - Yahweh-though thee precedes. This sudden transition is usual in the prophetic style, owing to the prophet's continual realization of Yahweh's presence.

All that forsake thee - (Psalms 73:27; Isaiah 1:28).

Shall be written in the earth - in the dust, i:e., shall be consigned to oblivion. So Jesus' significant writing "on the ground" - probably the accusers' names (John 8:6). Names written in the dust are obliterated by a very slight wind. Their hopes and celebrity are wholly in the earth, not in the heavenly book of life (Revelation 13:8; Revelation 20:12; Revelation 20:15). The Jews, though boasting that they were the people of God, had no portion in heaven, no status before God and His angels. Contrast "written in heaven," i:e., in the muster-roll of its blessed citizens (Luke 10:20). Also contrast the expression for perpetual remembrance, "written in a book," and "in the rock forever" (Job 19:23-24).

The fountain of living waters - (Jeremiah 2:13).

Verses 14-18

Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise.

Prayer of the prophet for deliverance from the enemies whom he excited by his faithful denunciations.

Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved - not only make me whole (as to the evils of soul as well as body which I am exposed to by contact with ungodly foes, and which to the eye of man, seem "incurable," and "refusing to be healed," Jeremiah 15:18), but keep me so.

Thou art my praise - He whom I have to praise for past favours, and therefore to whom alone I look for the time to come.

Verse 15. They say ... Where is the word of the Lord? - (Isaiah 5:19, "They say (in taunting mockery), Let him make speed, and hasten His work, that we may see it," etc.; Amos 5:18). Where is the fulfillment of the threats which thou didst utter as from God? A characteristic of the last stage of apostasy (2 Peter 3:4, "Saying, Where is the promise of his coming?")

Verse 16. I have not hastened from being a pastor - I have not refused thy call of me to be a prophet (Jonah 1:3), however painful to me it was to utter what would be sure to irritate the hearers (Jeremiah 1:4; Jeremiah 1:8, etc.); therefore thou shouldest not forsake me, (Jeremiah 15:15, etc.) to follow thee-literally after thee; as an under-pastor following thee, "the Chief Shepherd" (Ecclesiastes 12:11; 1 Peter 5:4).

Neither have I desired the woeful day - I have not wished for the day of calamity, though I foretell it as about to come on my countrymen; therefore they have no reason for persecuting me.

Thou knowest - I appeal to thee for the truth of what I assert.

That which came out of my lips - my words (Deuteronomy 23:23), a phrase which implies the duty of "setting a watch before the mouth, and keeping the door of the lips" (Psalms 141:3).

Right before thee - rather, 'was before thee;' was known to thee (Proverbs 5:21).

Verse 17. Be not a terror unto me - namely, by deserting me; all I fear is thine abandoning me: if thou art with me I have no fear of evil from enemies.

Verse 18. Destroy them with double destruction - `break them with a double breach,' Hebrew (cf. Jeremiah 14:17). On "double," i:e., overwhelming, see note, Jeremiah 16:18.

Verses 19-27

Thus said the LORD unto me; Go and stand in the gate of the children of the people, whereby the kings of Judah come in, and by the which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem;

Delivered in the reign of Jehoiakim, who undid the good effected by Josiah's reformation, especially as to the observance of the Sabbath (Eichorn).

Stand in the gate of the children of the people - the gate next the king's palace, called the gate of David, and the gate of the people, from its being the principal thoroughfare: now the Jaffa gate. It is probably the same as "the gate of the fountain" at the foot of Zion, near which were the king's garden and pool (Jeremiah 39:4; 2 Kings 25:4; Nehemiah 2:14; Nehemiah 3:15; Nehemiah 12:37).

Verse 20. Hear ye the word of the Lord, ye kings of Judah - he begins with the kings, as they ought to have repressed such a glaring profanation.

Verse 21. Take heed to yourselves - literally, to your souls. Maurer explains, 'as ye love your lives;' a phrase used here to give the greater weight to the command.

Sabbath - the non-observance of it was a chief cause of the captivity, the number of years of the latter, seventy, being exactly made to agree with the number of Sabbaths which elapsed during the 490 years of their possession of Canaan from Saul to their removal (Leviticus 26:34-35; exactly fulfilled according to 2 Chronicles 36:21). On the restoration, therefore, stress was especially laid on Sabbath observance, and for this purpose Nehemiah ordered "the gates of Jerusalem" to be kept closed during the Sabbath, to prevent Sabbath traffic, the very sin reprobated by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 17:21), (Nehemiah 13:19).

Bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem - it would have been scandalous anywhere, but in the capital, Jerusalem, it was an open insult to God. Sabbath-hallowing is intended as a symbol of holiness in general (Ezekiel 20:12, "I gave them my sabbaths to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them."), therefore such stress is laid on it; the Jews' gross impiety is manifested in their setting God's will at nought in the case of such an easy and positive command.

Verse 23. They obeyed not, neither inclined their ear - (Jeremiah 7:24; Jeremiah 7:26).

Verse 24. If ye hallow the sabbath - a part put for the whole, 'If ye keep the Sabbath and my other laws.'

Verse 25. Then shall there enter into the gates ... kings ... in chariots. The kingdom at this time had been brought so low that this promise here was a special favour. The reward exactly corresponded to the obedience. If they would bring in no burden through the city gates on the Sabbath, then God would cause kings of David's line to enter in through the city gates with princely pomp!

And this city shall remain forever - Hebrew, be inhabited (Jeremiah 17:6; Isaiah 13:20).

Verse 26. From the plain, and from the mountains, and from the south (Joshua 15:1-4). The southern border had extended to the river of Egypt, but was now much curtailed by Egyptian invasions. (2 Chronicles 35:20; 2 Chronicles 36:3-4). The Hebrew for "south" means dry: the arid desert south of Judea is meant. The enumeration of all the parts of Judea-city, country plain, hill, and desert-implies that no longer shall there be aught wanting of the integrity of the Jewish land (Zechariah 7:7).

Sacrifices - as in Jeremiah 17:25, one constituent of Judea's prosperity is mentioned-namely, its kings on David's throne, the pledge of God being its guardian; so in this verse another constituent-namely, its priests, and the sacrifices brought into the house of the Lord from all quarters of the land, a pledge of God being propitious to it (Psalms 107:22).

Verse 27. But if ye will not hearken unto me, to hallow the sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched - retribution answering to the sin; the scene of their sin shall be the scene of their punishment, fulfilled under Nebuzar-adan, Nebuchadnezzar's captain, who "burned the king's house-and all the houses of the great men," at Jerusalem (Jeremiah 52:13; 2 Kings 25:9).


(1) God would have His law of love to be "written upon the tables of our hearts, with a pen of iron and with the point of a diamond" (Jeremiah 17:1); but, instead of this, sin is what is naturally graven there, until God's grace obliterates Satan's writing and substitutes the Gospel law, "written with the Spirit of the living God." Even "children" (Jeremiah 17:2) early enter Satan's service, and, instead of forsaking the sin of their fathers, keenly follow it up. The inevitable consequence must be the fathers and children, guilty alike, "kindle a fire in God's anger, which shall burn forever" (Jeremiah 17:4).

(2) The Jews' proneness to rely at one time on Egypt, at another time on Assyria or Babylon, is only a sample of the universal tendency of fallen man "to trust in man, and make flesh his arm, and in heart to depart from the Lord" (Jeremiah 17:5). Like the heath in the desert, man isolated from God is bare, barren, and alone, removed far from all that is truly "good," and inheriting as his portion "parched places" and eternal desolation and barrenness (Jeremiah 17:6).

(3) We must first learn to renounce creature-trust, and next to 'make the Lord our trust and hope.' Like "a tree that is planted by the waters, and whose roots spread out by the rivers" (Jeremiah 17:8), the believer has in the Lord a never-failing source of spiritual freshness and vigour. This it is which constitutes his Blessedness, as it is departure from the Creator to the creature which constitutes the backslider's curse and misery; even as Asa "in his disease sought not to the Lord, but to the physician" (2 Chronicles 16:12). Trials may and do come upon the believer; but he need not be fretfully "careful" concerning them, because the Lord careth for him, and therefore on the Lord he casts all his care (1 Peter 5:7). Not only does he "not cease from yielding fruit" in the season of adversity, but his very "leaf" continues "green:" even then he retains, in his minutest words, tones, and bearing, something of the beauty which the presence of the Lord abiding in one is sure to impart.

(4) The heart of every man in its natural state is "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9) - incurably diseased, so far as man is concerned, because he cannot even fathom its depths of deceit much less heal this corrupt fountain. But its deceit and corruption are thoroughly "known" to God, who is the heart-searcher (Jeremiah 17:10), and who "gives to every man according to his ways;" not merely judging the outward acts, but the inward motives. How earnestly, then, we should pray, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; renew a right spirit within me" (Psalms 51:10); "Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved" (Jeremiah 17:14); "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting"! (Psalms 139:23-24.) (5) Among the self-deceiving workings of the heart, none is more common or more fatal to the soul than men's keen pursuit of "riches, and not by right" (Jeremiah 17:11). God often shows openly that these self-wise and world-wise, men are after all but "fools," by cutting them off "in the midst of their days:" then of what avail to them are the riches so anxiously and unscrupulously acquired? (see Luke 12:13-21.) But the believer who makes "Yahweh, the hope of Israel," his hope, has in Him a "glorious high throne" and an inviolable "sanctuary" (Jeremiah 17:12-13), affording true riches and secure confidence, from which not even death can separate him (Romans 8:35-39). He has enough in Yahweh at the worst times to make up for the absence of all creature-comforts. Whosoever, on the contrary, forsakes Him forsakes "the fountain of living waters," and has his name "written," not in the heavenly book of life, but "in the earth," as being of the earth, and doomed to perish with the earth (Jeremiah 17:13). The unbeliever may mockingly ask now, "Where is the word of the Lord?" (Jeremiah 17:15:) show us any sign of the accomplishment of the threats of the Lord, to be executed at His second coming. But their very scoff is fulfilling one of the signs foreto ld as about to characterize "the last days," just before His coming (2 Peter 3:3-4), and so is a pledge to assure us that His coming itself draweth nigh.

(6) The Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between Yahweh and His people and the degree in which its sanctity is observed forms a good test of the state of spiritual religion in a nation, a family, and an individual. It is well said, 'The streams of religion run deep or shallow according as the banks of the Sabbath are kept up or neglected.' While we observe the letter of "bearing no burden on the Sabbath" (Jeremiah 17:21), let us obey the Sabbath ordinance in the spirit also, by being "in the Spirit on the Lord's day" (Revelation 1:10); laying aside every burden of earthly care (Jeremiah 17:26) and "bringing our sacrifices of praise unto the house of the Lord, "and worshipping Him," who is a Spirit, in spirit and truth."

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Jeremiah 17". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/jeremiah-17.html. 1871-8.
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