Israel's Lack of Faithfulness
v. 1. Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me, saying, this being an introduction both to the first prophetic discourse and to the whole cycle of Jeremiah's prophetic messages,
v. 2. Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, the expression "in the ears" showing that the prophet should preach to the people living in this center of idolatry with clamoring insistence, saying, Thus 'saith the Lord: I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love which Israel bore the Lord in Egypt and at the time of the Exodus, or the merciful kindness which Israel experienced from the earliest days of its history, the love of thine espousals, at the period between the Exodus from Egypt and the formal establishment of the covenant upon Mount Sinai, when thou wentest after Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown, with no strange god in evidence in the midst of the arid desert.
v. 3. Israel was holiness unto the Lord, consecrated to Him and to His service, and the first-fruits of His increase, the people chosen by Him as the first among all nations, produced as the first in the garden of His love and mercy. All that devour him shall offend, all those who dared to prey upon Israel became guilty before the Lord; evil shall come upon them, saith the Lord. His punishment descended upon the Amalekites, the Amorites, and upon all other nations that interfered with His plans of love toward His chosen people. Such were the manifestations of Jehovah's mercy and kindness to Israel, and therefore His rebuke certainly came with good reason.
v. 4. Hear ye the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel, individually and collectively, the whole nation, all of them being in the same condemnation.
v. 5. Thus saith the Lord, What iniquity have your fathers found in Me, what wrong done to them by Jehovah, that they are gone far from Me, deserting Him for the false gods of the heathen, and have walked after vanity, the nothingnesses of their idols, and are become vain? The worshipers of idols become just as vain and worthless as their empty gods, and are therefore despised and condemned by God in the same degree. Cf Deu_7:26; Psa_115:8; 2Ki_17:15; Rom_1:21.
v. 6. Neither said they, Where is the Lord that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, that led us through the wilderness, that of Sinai, Paran, and Arabia, through a land of deserts and of pits, where chasms and sink-holes abounded, endangering the lives of man and beast, through a land of drought and of the shadow of death, as the way led under overhanging rocky precipices, through a land that no man passed through and where no man dwelt? Israel is thus pictured as having utterly forgotten the Lord's protection and blessings, wherefore the Lord asks such reproachful questions.
v. 7. And I brought you into a plentiful country, a well-cultivated and fruitful land, to eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof, to enjoy all the blessings it offered to the full; but when ye entered, ye defiled My land, namely, by becoming addicted to idolatry, and made Mine heritage an abomination, so that He was filled with loathing for the land which He had chosen for them. V. 8. The priests said not, Where is the Lord? The very ones who were supposed to expound the Law ignored the very Giver of the Law. And they that handle the Law knew Me not, the teachers who were occupied with it as the subject of their profession paid no attention to the Lord. The pastors also, the princes of the people, who were supposed to be its shepherds both in a civil and in a spiritual sense, transgressed against Me, being themselves in rebellion against the Chief Shepherd, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, in his name and by his authority, and walked after things that do not profit, that are vain and worthless beside the eternal truths of God's will.
v. 9. Wherefore I will yet plead with you, saith the Lord, by citing them before His tribunal and pronouncing judgment upon them, and with your children's children will I plead, since they follow their parents in all their wicked ways.
v. 10. For pass over the isles of Chittim, applied first of all to the island of Cyprus, but later to the entire coast of the Mediterranean, especially to Greece, and see, and send unto Kedar, the descendants of Ishmael in the Arabian Desert, and consider diligently, and see if there be such a thing. The children of Israel were bidden to search both the West and the East for an instance in which a heathen nation had become guilty of such foolish behavior as exhibited by them.
v. 11. Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? In spite of the fact that their idols were false gods, the heathen at least had the pride and the decency of clinging to their gods. But My people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit, exchanging their possession of Jehovah, the true God, for vain idols, with less consistency than that shown by the ignorant and despised heathen. In astonishment and horror the Lord cries out:
v. 12. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, at the unspeakable wickedness of their behavior, and be horribly afraid, be filled with shuddering loathing, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord, exceedingly aghast at the monstrous spectacle thus presented.
v. 13. For My people have committed two evils, thus exceeding even the heathen with their one transgression of foolish idolatry: they have forsaken Me, the Fountain of living waters, the only true and living God, and hewed them out cisterns, whose waters lack the freshness and the sparkle of spring- or well-water, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. Putting aside the one and only Source of spiritual life and power, they placed their trust in gods which belied even the outward appearance that men had given them. The same foolish and harmful course is pursued by all those who in our days deny the inspiration of the Bible, the deity of Christ, and other fundamental doctrines and turn to man-made doctrines instead.
Israel's Punishment and its Cause
v. 14. Is Israel a servant? Is he a home-born slave? Why is he spoiled? The question, whether asked by the prophet or directly by God, expresses surprise that the nation which was once God's favorite should now be left at the mercy of the enemy like a worthless slave. Whence this change in fortunes? Whence this unhappy condition?
v. 15. The young lions roared upon him and yelled, raising their voices in a roar of triumph, and they made his land waste; his cities are burned without inhabitant. This is the condition of Israel which the prophet sees in spirit, the picture of the devastation wrought by beasts of prey being particularly fitting to describe the desolation of the land of Israel after the overthrow by the Chaldeans.
v. 16. Also the children of Noph, of Memphis, the capital of Lower Egypt at that time, and Tahapanes, of Daphne, a city on the frontier of Egypt toward Palestine, have broken the crown of thy head. The Egyptians also took the opportunity of spoiling Judah when the nation had become weak under the reign of Jehoiakim; for the taking away of the natural covering of the hair, to which reference is here made, was symbolic of an entire sweeping away of the people.
v. 17. Hast thou not procured this unto thyself, the Israelites having brought this calamity upon themselves, in that thou hast forsaken the Lord, thy God, when He led thee by the way? on the good path of His will, on the road of righteousness.
v. 18. And now, what hast thou to do in the way of Egypt to drink the waters of Sihor? For Israel had sent to Egypt for help against Assyria and Babylon. Or what hast thou to do in the way of Assyria to drink the waters of the river, Euphrates? in endeavoring, at times, to enter into a league with this heathen nation. This reliance upon the power of men was a mark of decay, of a lack of trust in God, of a denial of Jehovah.
v. 19. Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, their sin bearing with it its own punishment, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee, for the very allies whose help they sought became the instruments of Israel's destruction. Know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter that thou hast forsaken the Lord, thy God, this they were to find out to their cost, and that My fear, the reverence which the nation as such should have had toward Jehovah, is not in thee, saith the Lord God of hosts. Wherever the fear of God does not guide and direct the conduct of men, they are bound to pay for their defection and apostasy sooner or later.
The Sin of Idolatry
v. 20. For of old time I have broken thy yoke and burst thy bands, rather, "For from ancient times thou hast broken thy yoke and burst thy bands," namely, the laws and ordinances of God; and thou saidst, I will not transgress, literally, "I will not serve," thus obstinately refusing obedience to the Lord, when upon every high hill and under every green tree thou wanderest, where the sanctuaries of idolatry were always found, playing the harlot, the act of adultery, as practiced in connection with heathen rites, being figurative of shameless idolatry.
v. 21. Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, the finest and most fruitful of the Holy Land, wholly a right seed, Cf Deu_32:32; Psa_80:8-9; Isa_5:1; how, then, art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto Me? After all the pains which the Lord had taken with Israel it certainly was a matter which could not be laid to His charge that Israel had turned out so badly.
v. 22. For though thou wash thee with niter, an alkali having the properties of lye, used for washing, and take thee much soap, the potash which, mixed with oil, was used for washing clothes, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, is a stain before the eyes of the Lord, saith the Lord God. All the efforts of men are not sufficient to purge away the ugly spots of sin on their hearts.
v. 23. How canst thou say, I am not polluted, denying the guilt of her wickedness, I have not gone after Baalim? the plural being used to characterize the many forms which this god took among the various nations. See thy way in the valley, considering the course which she had followed, know what thou hast done. Thou art a swift dromedary, a young she-camel, traversing her ways, literally, "braiding (or twisting) her ways," doubling and turning back and forth in her lust;
v. 24. a wild ass used to the wilderness, not to be tamed, that snuffeth up the wind at her pleasure, both to cool her ardor and to direct her way; in her occasion, her anxiety to accomplish her purpose, who can turn her away? All they that seek her will not weary themselves, have no need to tire themselves out in finding her; in her month, at the season of the year when this impulse is strongest, they shall find her, for she will readily be found, since she acts under the uncontrollable impulse of her instinct. With the same fierceness and disregard of consequences Israel was addicted to her idolatry.
v. 25. Withhold thy foot from being unshod, in running so violently after idolatry as to wear out her shoes, and thy throat from thirst, as a result of her excessive exertion in seeking strangers and their idolatrous customs; but thou saidst, There is no hope, no; it is useless to argue, since she is firmly resolved to go on on her sinful course; for I have loved strangers, strange gods in place of the one true God, and after them will I go, determined to persist in her wickedness.
v. 26. As the thief is ashamed when he is found, put to shame by the evidences of his guilt, so is the house of Israel ashamed; they, their kings, their princes, and their priests, and their prophets, leaders and people in the same condemnation,
v. 27. saying to a stock, to a tree or log. Thou art my father, hailing the dead creature as god; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth; for they have turned their back unto Me and not their face, that is their transgression; but in the time of their trouble they will say, Arise and save us. When affliction and trouble bring them to their senses, then they will turn to Jehovah for help. Cf Luk_15:16-18. Over against this insulting behavior the Lord tells them:
v. 28. But where are thy gods that thou hast made thee? Let them arise it they can save thee in the time of thy trouble; for according to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah! Idolaters of all times and places have had the same experience, namely, that idols of every kind cannot deliver from trouble, no matter how great their number.
The Guilt Established
v. 29. Wherefore will ye plead with Me? contending with the Lord as though He had no right to punish them. Ye all have transgressed against Me, saith the Lord, forsaking Him in rebellious wickedness.
v. 30. In vain have I smitten your children, in endeavoring to bring them to their senses; they received no correction, they would not permit themselves to be guided on the right path; your own sword hath devoured your prophets like a destroying lion. Cf 2Ch_36:16; Neh_9:26; Mat_23:29-31.
v. 31. O generation! Children of perverseness now living! See ye the word of the Lord, which is hereby brought before them with the demand that they regard it. Have I been a wilderness unto Israel, where all the necessaries of life are wanting, a land of darkness? so that they would seem to be under the shadow of death when in His care. Wherefore say My people, We are lords, proudly strutting about as though they were their own masters; we will come no more unto Thee? fatuously boasting that they no longer were in need of Him.
v. 32. Can a maid forget her ornaments or a bride her attire? the precious girdle with which she adorned herself on her wedding-day. Yet My people have forgotten Me days without number. Israel should have clung to her God, her highest and most precious Ornament and Possession, by whom she had been so richly blessed. Instead of that she forsook Jehovah, not only once, in an unguarded moment, but continually.
v. 33. Why trimmest thou thy way to seek love? Israel decking herself like a harlot to accomplish her ends. Therefore hast thou also taught the wicked ones thy ways. As wicked as the Gentiles were in themselves, Israel was able to give them instruction in wickedness.
v. 34. Also in thy skirts is found the blood of the souls of the poor innocents, of holy men and prophets who dared to reprove Israel for her sins. I have not found it by secret search, such a careful scrutiny was not necessary in this case, but upon all these, on account of the sin of idolatry, which finally led to the murder of the Lord's servants.
v. 35. Yet thou sayest, with brazen boldness. Because I am innocent, surely His anger shall turn from me. Behold, I will plead with thee, citing Israel before the tribunal of His judgment, because thou sayest, I have not sinned, in a self-righteous denial of her guilt.
v. 36. Why gaddest thou about so much to change thy way? in forming alliances with her heathen neighbors. Thou also shall be ashamed of Egypt, whose vassal Israel was for a while, as thou wast ashamed of Assyria, after King Ahaz had sent there for help, 2Ch_28:16-21.
v. 37. Yea, thou shalt go forth from him, from all heathen allies, and thine hands upon thine head, as a sign of deep mourning; for the Lord hath rejected thy confidences, the heathen nations in whom Israel trusted, and thou shalt not prosper in them, have no success in the stays on which she relied. All such as are Christians in name only and rely upon the enemies of the Lord will finally find themselves forsaken by their supposed friends and subject to the punishments of the Lord.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Jeremiah 2". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany