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Judah's Faithlessness to Covenant Obligations, and the Consequences Thereof - Jeremiah 11-13
In the first part of this compilation of discourses (Jer 11:1-17) Judah is upbraided for disloyalty to the covenant, on account of which people and kingdom are threatened with sore disaster. In the second part (11:18-12:17), the murderous attempt of the people of Anathoth against the prophet's life (Jeremiah 11:18-23) gives occasion for a description of Judah's irreclaimable perverseness; while Jeremiah's expostulation with God as to the prosperity of godless men, and the reproof therefor received by him from God (Jeremiah 12:1-6), call forth an announcement that, in spite of God's long-suffering, judgment on Judah and all nations will not be for ever deferred (Jeremiah 12:7-17). Finally, in the third part, Jer 13, we have first a further account, by means of a symbolical action to be performed by the prophet, of the abasement of Judah's pride in banishment to Euphrates (Jeremiah 11:1-11); and next, an account of the judgment about to fall on Judah in the destruction of Jerusalem, and this both in figurative and in direct language (Jeremiah 11:12 -27).
From the contents of the discourses it appears unquestionable that we have here, gathered into the unity of a written record, various oral addresses of Jeremiah, together with some of the experiences that befell him in the exercise of his calling. There is no foundation for the assertion, that Jeremiah 12:7-17 is a self-complete prophetic discourse (Hitz.), or a supplement to the rest, written in the last years of Jehoiakim (Graf); nor for the assumption of several commentators, that the composition of c. 13 falls into the time of Jehoiachin - as will be shown when we come to expound the passages referred to. The discourse throughout contains nothing that might not have been spoken or have happened in the time of Josiah; nor have we here any data for determining precisely the dates of the several portions of the whole discourse.
Judah's Disloyalty to the Covenant, with the Consequences Thereof
In Jeremiah 11:2-8 is a short summary of the covenant made with the fathers; in Jeremiah 11:9-13 is an account of the breaking of this covenant by Judah, and of the calamity which results therefrom; and in Jeremiah 11:14-17 further description of this calamity.
"The word which came to Jeremiah from Jahveh, saying: Jeremiah 11:2. Hear ye the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Jeremiah 11:3. And say thou to them: Thus hath Jahve, the God of Israel, said: Cursed is the man that heareth not the words of this covenant, Jeremiah 11:4. Which I commanded your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the iron furnace, saying: Hearken to my voice, and do them according to all which I command you; so shall ye be my people, and I will be your God; Jeremiah 11:5. That I may perform the oath which I have sworn unto your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as it is this day. And I answered and said: So be it, Jahveh. Jeremiah 11:6. Then said Jahveh to me: Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, saying: Hear ye the words of this covenant and do them. Jeremiah 11:7. For I have testified to your fathers in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt unto this day, testifying from early morning on: Hearken to my voice! Jeremiah 11:8. But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked each in the stubbornness of their evil heart; and so I brought on them all the words of this covenant which I have commanded them to do, and they have not done them."
The form of address, Jeremiah 11:2: hear ye ( שׁמעוּ ), and speak ye ( דּבּרתּם ), is noteworthy since we are not told who are to hear and speak; while at Jeremiah 11:3, in ואמרתּ Jeremiah receives the commission to declare the words of the covenant to the people, and to make known in the cities of Judah, etc. (Jeremiah 11:6). The difficulty is not removed by the plan adopted by Hitz. and Graf from the lxx, of changing ודבּרתּם into ודבּרתּם , "and speak them;" for the שׁמעוּ remains to be dealt with. To whom then, is it addressed? Schleussner proposed to change it into שׁמעה - a purely arbitrary change. In Jeremiah 11:4 "hearing" is used in the sense of giving ear to, obeying. And in no other sense can it be taken in Jeremiah 11:1. "The words of this covenant" are, as is clear from the succeeding context, the words of the covenant recorded in the Pentateuch, known from the reading of the Torah. The call to hear the words thereof can only have the meaning of: to give ear to them, take them to heart. Hence Chr. B. Mich. and Schnur. have referred the words to the Jews: Listen, ye Jews and ye citizens of Jerusalem, to the words of the covenant, and make them know to one another, and exhort one another to observe them. But this paraphrase is hardly consistent with the wording of the verse. Others fancied that the priests and elders were addressed; but if so, these must necessarily have been named. Clearly it is to the prophets in general that the words are spoken, as Kimchi observed; and we must not take "hear ye" as if the covenant was unknown to the prophets, but as intended to remind the prophets of them, that they might enforce them upon the people. Taken thus, this introductory verse serves to exalt the importance of the truths mentioned, to mark them out as truths which God had commanded all the prophets to proclaim. If it be the prophets in general who are addressed in Jeremiah 11:2, the transition to "and say thou" is easily explained. Jeremiah, too, must himself do that which was the bounden duty of all the prophets, must make the men of Judah and Jerusalem call to mind the curse overhanging transgressors of the covenant. The words: Cursed is the man, etc., are taken from Deuteronomy 27:26, from the directions for the engagement to keep the covenant, which the people were to solemnise upon their entry into Canaan, and which, acc. to Joshua 8:30., they did solemnise. The quotation is made freely from memory. Instead of "that heareth not the words of this covenant," we find in Deut. l.c.: "the confirmeth not ( יקים ) the words of this law to do them." The choice there of the word יקים is suggested by its connection with the act of solemnisation enjoined. The recitation and promulgation of the law upon Mount Gerizim and Ebal (Deut 27) had no other aim than that of solemnly binding the people to keep or follow the law; and this is what Jeremiah means by "hearing." The law to be established is the law of the covenant, i.e., the covenant made by Jahveh with Israel, and spoken of in Deuteronomy 28:68 and Deuteronomy 29:8 as the "words of this covenant." This covenant, which Moses had made with the sons of Israel in the land of Moab (Deuteronomy 28:68), was but a renewal of that solemnly concluded at Sinai (Ex 24). And so Jeremiah speaks of this covenant as the one which Jahveh commanded the fathers in the day, i.e., at the time, of their leaving Egypt. "In the day that," etc., as in Jeremiah 7:22. "Out of the iron furnace:" this metaphor for the affliction endured by Israel in Egypt is taken from Deuteronomy 4:20. The words: hearken unto my voice and do them (the words of the covenant), suggest Deuteronomy 27:1-2; and the words: so shall ye be my people, suggest Deuteronomy 29:12, a passage which itself points back to ex. Jeremiah 6:7 (Jeremiah 19:5.), Leviticus 27:12; Deuteronomy 7:6, etc. That I may establish, i.e., perform, the oath which I have sworn unto your fathers, i.e., the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Deuteronomy 7:8, etc.), promising to give them a land flowing, etc. The frequently repeated description of the promised land; cf. Exodus 3:8, Exodus 3:17; Deuteronomy 6:3, etc. כּיּום , as in Deuteronomy 2:30; Deuteronomy 4:20, etc., is not: at this time, now (Graf), but: as this day, meaning: as is even now the case, sc. that ye still possess this precious land. The assenting reply of the prophet: אמן יהוה , yea, or so be it ( γένοιτο , lxx), Lord, corresponds to the אמן with which the people, acc. to Deuteronomy 27:15., were to take on themselves the curses attached to the breaking of the law, curses which they did take on themselves when the law was promulgated in Canaan. As the whole congregation did on that occasion, so here the prophet, by his "yea," expresses his adherence to the covenant, and admits that the engagement is yet in full force for the congregation of God; and at the same time indicates that he, on his part, is ready to labour for the fulfilment of the covenant, so that the people may not become liable to the curse of the law.
Having set forth the curse to which transgressors of the law are exposed, God commands the prophet to proclaim the words of the covenant to the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem, and to call upon them to do these. "All these words" are those subsequently specified, i.e., the commandments of the law (cf. Jeremiah 11:2). Jeremiah is to proclaim these, because, in spite of unremitting exhortation to hear and give heed to the voice of the Lord, the fathers had paid no regard thereto. קתא , not: read aloud (Hitz., Graf), but: proclaim, make known, as in Jeremiah 2:2; Jeremiah 3:12, etc. העיד with בּ , to testify against any one, equivalent to: solemnly to enforce on one with importunate counsel and warning; cf. Deuteronomy 30:19; Psalms 50:7, etc. On השׁכּם והעד , see at Jeremiah 7:13. - But they have not hearkened, Jeremiah 11:8, running almost literally in the words of Jeremiah 7:24. "And I brought upon them," etc., i.e., inflicted upon them the punishments with which transgressors of the law were threatened, which curses had been, in the case of the greater part of the people, the ten tribes, carried to the extreme length, i.e., to the length of their banishment from their own land into the midst of the heathen; cf. 2 Kings 17:13.
The people's breach of the covenant, and the consequences of this. - Jeremiah 11:9. "And Jahveh said unto me: Conspiracy is found among the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Jeremiah 11:10. They are turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, which refused to give ear to my words, and they are gone after other gods to serve them; the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant which I made with their fathers. Jeremiah 11:11. Behold, I bring evil upon them, from which they cannot escape; and though they cry to me, I will not hear them. Jeremiah 11:12. And the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem shall go and cry unto the gods unto whom they offer incense, but they shall not help them in the time of their trouble. Jeremiah 11:13. For as many as are thy cities, so many are thy gods become, O Judah; and as many as are the streets of Jerusalem, so many altars have ye set up to Shame, altars to offer odours to Baal."
Jeremiah is once more to enforce the words of the covenant upon the people, because they have broken the covenant, returned to the idolatry of the fathers. Conspiracy is found, is to be seen. The people's defection from Jahveh, their breach of faith towards the covenant God, is called conspiracy, because it had become as universal as if it had been initiated by a formal preconcertment. "The former fathers," forefathers of the people, are the Israelites under Moses, who broke the covenant by idolatry while still at Sinai, and those of the time of the Judges. With והמּה the subject is changed; "they" are not the forefathers, but the prophet's contemporaries. In the last clause of Jeremiah 11:10 is comprehended the apostasy of the whole people: Like Israel, Judah too has broken the covenant. Israel has been punished for this by being cast out among the heathen, the like doom awaits Judah.
Because of the covenant broken, the Lord will bring on Judah and Jerusalem evil out of which they shall not come forth, i.e., not merely, from which they shall not escape safely, but: in which they shall find no way of rescue; for it in this calamity they cry to the Lord, He will not hear them. Nor will the gods whom they serve, i.e., the false gods, help them then. As to "as many as are," etc., see on Jeremiah 2:28. "(The) Shame," i.e., Baal, as at Jeremiah 3:24.
Neither entreaty on their behalf nor their hypocritical worship will avert judgment. - Jeremiah 11:14. "But thou, pray not for this people, neither lift up for them cry or prayer; for I hear them not in the time that they cry unto me for their trouble. Jeremiah 11:15. What would my beloved in my house? they who practise guile? Shall vows and holy flesh remove they calamity from thee? then mayest thou exult. Jeremiah 11:16. A green olive, fair for its goodly fruit, Jahveh called thy name; with the noise of great tumult He set fire to it, and its branches brake. Jeremiah 11:17. And Jahveh of hosts, that planted thee, hath decreed evil against thee, for the evil of the house of Israel and of the house of Judah which they themselves have done, to provoke me, in that they have offered odours to Baal."
We have already, in Jeremiah 7:16, met with the declaration that the Lord will not accept any intercession for the covenant-breaking people (Jeremiah 11:14); the termination of this verse differs slightly in the turn to takes. - בּעד רעתם the ancient commentators have almost unanimously rendered: tempore mali eorum , as if they had read בּעת (this is, in fact, the reading of some codd.); but hardly on sufficient grounds. בּעד gives a suitable sense, with the force of the Greek ἀμφί , which, like the German um , passes into the sense of wegen , as the English about passes into that of concerning. - In Jeremiah 11:15-17 we have the reason why the Lord will hear neither the prophet's supplication nor the people's cry in their time of need. Jeremiah 11:15 is very obscure; and from the Masoretic text it is hardly possible to obtain a suitable sense. "The beloved" of Jahveh is Judah, the covenant people; cf. Deuteronomy 33:12, where Benjamin is so called, and Jeremiah 12:7, where the Lord calls His people ידידוּת נפשׁי . "What is to my beloved in my house?" i.e., what has my people to do in my house - what does it want there? "My house" is the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, as appears from the mention of holy flesh in the second clause. The main difficulty lies in the words עשׂותהּ המזמּתה הרבּים . Hitz. takes עשׂותהּ to be the subject of the clause, and makes the suffix point back to ידידי , which, as collective, is to be construed generis faem .: what should the accomplishment of his plans be to my beloved in my house? But as adverse to this we must note, a. the improbability of ידיד as used of the people being feminine; b. the fact that even if we adopt Hitz.'s change of המזמּתה into המזמּות , yet the latter word does not mean plans or designs to bring offerings. The phrase is clearly to be taken by itself as a continuation of the question; and the suffix to be regarded, with Ew., Umbr., etc., as pointing, in the Aramaic fashion, to the object following: they who practise guile. מזמּה , a thinking out, devising, usually of hurtful schemes, here guile, as in Psalms 139:20; Job 21:27. What is meant is the hypocrisy of cloaking their apostasy from God by offering sacrifices in the temple, of concealing their idolatry and passing themselves off as worshippers of Jahve. On the form מזמּתה , see Ew. §173, g, Gesen. §80, Rem. 2,f. הרבּים makes no sense. It belongs manifestly to the words which follow; for it can neither be subject to עשׂותהּ , nor can it be joined to המזמּתה as its genitive. The lxx render: μὴ εὐχαὶ καὶ κρέα ἅγια ἀφελοῦσιν ἀπὸ σοῦ τὰς κακίας σου ; and following this, Dathe, Dahl., Ew., Hitz. hold הנדרים to be the original reading. On the other hand, Maur., Graf, and Näg. think we should read הרנּים (after Psalms 32:7) or הרנּים myinirah , crying, loud supplication; on the ground of Buxtorf's hint, Anticrit. p. 661, that probably the Alexandrians had הרבּים in their text, but, changing the ב for נ , read הרנים . We must make our choice between these two conjectures; for even if הרבּים did not stand in the codex used by the Alexandrians, it cannot have been the original word. The form רנּים is, indeed, sufficiently attested by רנּי פלט , Psalms 32:7; but the meaning of exultation which it has there is here wholly out of place. And we find no case of a plural to רנּה , which means both exultation and piteous, beseeching cry (e.g., Jeremiah 7:16). So that, although רנּה is in the lxx occasionally rendered by δέησις (Jeremiah 11:14; Jeremiah 14:12, etc.) or προσευχή (1 Kings 8:28), we prefer the conjecture הנדרים ; for "vow" is in better keeping with "holy flesh," i.e., flesh of sacrifice, Haggai 2:12, since the vow was generally carried out by offering sacrifice. - Nor do the following words, ' יעברוּ מעליך וגו , convey any meaning, without some alteration. As quoted above, they may be translated: shall pass away from thee. But this can mean neither: they shall be torn from thee, nor: they shall disappoint thee. And even if this force did lie in the words, no statement can begin with the following כּי רעתכי gniwollo . If this be a protasis, the verb is wanting. We shall have to change it, after the manner of the lxx, to יעברוּ מעליכי רעתכי : shall vows and holy flesh (sacrifice) avert thine evil from thee? For the form יעברוּ as Hiph. cf. ידרכוּ , Jeremiah 9:2. "Thine evil" with the double force: thy sin and shame, and the disaster impending, i.e., sin and (judicial) suffering. There is no occasion for any further changes. אז , rendered ἤ by the lxx, and so read או by them, may be completely vindicated: then, i.e., if this were the case, if thou couldst avert calamity by sacrifice, then mightest thou exult. Thus we obtain the following as the sense of the whole verse: What mean my people in my temple with their hypocritical sacrifices? Can vows and offerings, presented by you there, avert calamity from you? If it could be so, well might you shout for joy.
This idea is carried on in Jeremiah 11:16, Jeremiah 11:17. Judah (Israel) was truly a noble planting of God's, but by defection from the Lord, its God and Creator, it has drawn down on itself this ruin. Jahveh called Judah a green olive with splendid fruit. For a comparison of Israel to an olive, cf. Hosea 14:7, Ps. 52:10; Psalms 128:3. The fruit of the tree is the nation in its individual members. The naming of the name is the representation of the state of the case, and so here: the growth and prosperity of the people. The contrasted state is introduced by לקול ה ' without adversative particle, and is thus made to seem the more abrupt and violent (Hitz.). Noise of tumult ( המלּה , occurring besides here only in Ezekiel 1:24 as equivalent to המון ), i.e., of the tumult of war, cf. Isaiah 13:4; not: roar of the thunderstorm or crash of thunder (Näg. , Graf). עליה for בּהּ (OT:871a), cf. Jeremiah 17:27; Jeremiah 21:14, etc. The suffix is regulated by the thing represented by the olive, i.e., Judah as a kingdom. Its branches brake; רעע , elsewhere only transitive, here intransitive, analogously to רצץ in Isaiah 42:4. Hitz. renders less suitably: its branches look bad, as being charred, robbed of their gay adornment. On this head cf. Ezekiel 31:12. The setting of fire to the olive tree Israel came about through its enemies, who broke up one part of the kingdom after the other, who had already destroyed the kingdom of the ten tribes, and were now about to destroy Judah next. That the words apply not to Judah only, but to Israel as well, appears from Jeremiah 11:17, where the Lord, who has planted Israel, is said to have spoken, i.e., decreed evil for the sin of the two houses, Israel and Judah. דּבּר is not directly = decree, but intimates also the utterance of the decree by the prophet. להם after עשׂוּ is dat. incomm.: the evil which they have done to their hurt; cf. Jeremiah 44:3, where the dative is wanting. Hitz. finds in להם an intimation of voluntary action, as throwing back the deed upon the subject as an act of free choice; cf. Ew. §315, a.
Evidence that Judah is Unreclaimable, and that the Sore Judgments Threatened cannot be Averted. - As a practical proof of the people's determination not to reform, we have in Jeremiah 11:18-23 an account of the designs of the inhabitants of Anathoth against the prophet's life, inasmuch as it was their ill-will towards his prophecies that led them to this crime. They are determined not to hear the word of God, chiding and punishing them for their sins, and so to put the preacher of this word out of the way. - Jeremiah 11:18. "And Jahveh gave me knowledge of it, and I knew it; then showedst Thou me their doings. Jeremiah 11:19. And I was as a tame lamb that is led to the slaughter, and knew not that they plotted designs against me: Let us destroy the three with the fruit thereof, and cut him off out of the land of the living, that his name may be no more remembered. Jeremiah 11:20. But Jahveh of hosts, that judgeth justly, trieth reins and heart-I shall see Thy vengeance on them, for to Thee have I confided my case. Jeremiah 11:21. Therefore thus hath Jahveh spoken against the men of Anathoth, that seek after thy life, saying, Thou shalt not prophesy in the name of Jahveh, that thou die not by our hand. Jeremiah 11:22. Therefore thus hath Jahveh of hosts spoken: Behold, I will punish them; the young men shall die by the sword, their sons and daughters shall die by famine. Jeremiah 11:23. And a remnant shall not remain to them; for I bring evil upon the men of Anathoth, the year of their visitation."
Jeremiah had not himself observed the designs of the people of Anathoth against his life, because the thing was carried on in secret; but the Lord made it known to him. אז , then, sc. when I knew nought of their murderous intent; cf. Jeremiah 11:19. "Their doings," i.e., those done in secret. Jeremiah 11:19. כּבשׂ , agnus mansuetus , a tame pet-lamb, such as the Arabs used to keep, such as the Hebrews too, 2 Samuel 12:3, kept; familiar with the household, reared by them in the house, that does not suspect when it is being taken to be killed. In like manner Jeremiah had no suspicion that his countrymen were harbouring evil designs against him. These designs are quoted directly without לאמר . The saying is a figurative or proverbial one: we will destroy the tree בּלחמו . This word is variously taken. The ordinary meaning, food for men and beasts, usually bread, seems not to be suitable. And so Hitz. wishes to read בּלחו , in its sap (cf. Deuteronomy 34:7; Ezekiel 21:3), because לחם may mean grain, but it does not mean fruit. Näg. justly remarks against this view: What is here essential is simply the produce of the tree, furnished for the use of man. The word of the prophet was a food which they abhorred (cf. Jeremiah 11:21). As לחם originally meant food, we here understand by it the edible product of the tree, that is, its fruit, in opposition to sap, wood, leaves. This interpretation is confirmed by the Arabic; the Arabs use both lahûmun and ukulu of the fruit of a tree, see ill. in Rosenm. Schol. ad h. l. The proverbial saying is given in plain words in the next clause. We will cut him (i.e., the prophet) off, etc.
Therefore Jeremiah calls upon the Lord, as the righteous judge and omniscient searcher of hearts, to punish his enemies. This verse is repeated almost verbally in Jeremiah 20:12, and in substance in Jeremiah 17:10. Who trieth reins and heart, and therefore knows that Jeremiah has done no evil. אראה is future as expressing certainty that God will interfere to punish; for to Him he has wholly committed his cause. גּלּיתי , Pi. of גּלה , is taken by Hitz., Ew., etc. in the sense of גּלל : on Thee have I rolled over my cause; in support of this they adduce Psalms 22:9; Psalms 37:5; Proverbs 16:3, as parallel passages. It is true that this interpretation can be vindicated grammatically, for גלל might have assumed the form of גלה (Ew. §121, a). But the passages quoted are not at all decisive, since Jeremiah very frequently gives a new sense to quotations by making slight alterations on them; and in the passage cited we read גּלל את ריב . We therefore adhere, with Grot. and Ros., to the usual meaning of גּלה ; understanding that in making known there is included the idea of entrusting, a force suggested by the construction with אל instead of ל ריב , controversy, cause. - The prophet declares God's vengeance to the instigators of the plots against his life, Jeremiah 11:21-23. The introductory formula in Jeremiah 11:21 is repeated in Jeremiah 11:22, on account of the long intervening parenthesis. "That thou diest not" is introduced by the ו of consecution. The punishment is to fall upon the entire population of Anathoth; on the young men of military age ( בּחוּרים ), a violent death in war; on the children, death by famine consequent on the siege. Even though all had not had a share in the complot, yet were they at heart just as much alienated from God and ill-disposed towards His word. "Year of their visitation" is still dependent on "bring." This construction is simpler than taking שׁנת for accus. adverb., both here and in Jeremiah 23:12.
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Jeremiah 11". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany