Jeremiah 1 - chapters 1 to 10.
A (Very) Brief History Of The Time Of Jeremiah.
Jeremiah began his ministry prior to the discovery of the Law Book in the Temple in the reign of the godly king Josiah, and he continued his ministry throughout the remainder of Josiah’s life, until that life was sadly cut short when Josiah sought to prevent the Egyptian forces under Pharaoh Necho from going to the aid of a dying Assyria in 609 BC. During that period Judah had enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity with their enemies being too preoccupied elsewhere to trouble them, and with fervent religious reform taking place at the centre in Jerusalem, a reform which, however, as Jeremiah knew, had not reached the hearts of the people, for they still hankered after the old Canaanite syncretism of YHWH with Baal. Conformity was thus outward, not inward, and the old hill top sanctuaries did not remain unused, even though that use had to be in secret.
Assyria indeed, which had for a hundred years and more been the dominating force in the area, was by this time fighting a rearguard action for its very life against the combined forces of Babylonia and the Medes (Nineveh had fallen in 612 BC), and was on its last legs. Indeed Josiah’s intervention may well have been the final nail in their coffin, delaying the Egyptian forces long enough to prevent them aiding Assyria in time, thus ensuring Assyria’s final defeat. (Egypt had seen the threat that would follow that defeat). But, in spite of Josiah’s reforms, religiously speaking things had not been going well in the heartland of Judah, for idolatry and disobedience to the covenant had become too well engrained among the people to be easily removed and was still flourishing, so that Jeremiah had constantly to be engaged in seeking to bring the people back to a response to the Law and to the true worship of YHWH (chapters 1-20), warning them of invaders who would be coming from the north (either the Scythians or the Babylonians, or both) if they did not. He respected Josiah greatly and mourned his death (2 Chronicles 35:25).
The fall of Assyria left a power vacuum in which a resurgent Egypt sought to establish its control over Palestine, Syria and beyond, establishing a base at Carchemish, and becoming initially determinant of who would rule Judah, removing Jehoahaz and replacing him with his brother Jehoiakim. After the freedom enjoyed under Josiah this was a bitter blow for Judah, and, along with the fact of Josiah’s untimely death, appeared to many to indicate that what Josiah had sought to achieve had failed.
But Egypt was not to be triumphant for long. They had not reckoned with the power of Babylon and its allies, and four years after the death of Josiah they were decisively beaten by the Babylonian army at Carchemish, and then at Hamath. As a result the Pharaoh retired behind his own borders licking his wounds. Meanwhile Babylon took over the jurisdiction of Judah, and Jehoiakim had to submit to Nebuchadnezzar. The first part of Jeremiah’s work covers this whole period, initially of Josiah’s successful reign, tainted by the stubbornness of the people, and then of the reign of Jehoiakim who took Judah back to the old evil ways of syncretism and Baal worship.
Jeremiah continued to prophesy during the reign of Zedekiah, and even afterwards, and he thus ministered during the period described in 2 Kings 21-25 and 2 Chronicles 33-36. Contemporary with him were the prophets Zephaniah and Habakkuk before the Exile, and Ezekiel and Daniel subsequently.
The First Judean Exile To Babylon Including Daniel (c.605 BC).
As a result of Josiah’s intervention and death the Egyptians on their return journey took control of Judah, and Jehoahaz, who had reigned for a mere three months, was carried off to Egypt, being replaced by the weak Jehoiakim, who in spite of the heavy tribute required by Egypt, squandered money needlessly on a new palace complex, built by forced labour, for which he was castigated by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 22:13-19). He was no doubt trying to prove how grand he was, as weak men will. At the same time the religious reforms, such as they were, were falling by the wayside, and even the Temple itself was being affected (Jeremiah 7:16-18; Jeremiah 11:9-13; etc., compare Ezekiel 8). Judah had become disillusioned with YHWH, partly as a result of the death of Josiah, with the result that the prophets who did speak up against the decline were harassed, or even put to death (Jeremiah 26:23).
As we have seen, for a while it appeared that Judah would continue to be tributaries of a resurgent Egypt. But in a decisive battle in 605 BC at Carchemish, followed by another at Hamath, the Egyptians were badly mauled by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar, with the result that Babylon took control of Judah and Jerusalem, and on the surrender of the latter without resistance, deported the first load of exiles to Babylon, including Daniel and his three friends. Judah was now firmly in Babylonian hands.
Judah’s Folly In The Face Of Jeremiah’s Warnings.
It is perhaps understandable, however, that the leaders of Judah were not too happy about paying tribute to Babylon. They had after all hoped that the defeat of Assyria would cause their problems from the north to cease, and they had no real awareness of the might of the Babylonians. Furthermore, in spite of Judean backsliding with regard to the covenant (chapter 26), the belief had grown that the Temple of YHWH was inviolate and that YHWH would never allow it to be destroyed, a belief fostered by its earlier deliverance under Hezekiah (a belief flatly rejected by Jeremiah - Jeremiah 7:9; Jeremiah 26:6). Had it not after all survived when the other great religious centres in Israel and Syria had collapsed and been destroyed? They felt that in worshipping YHWH alongside Baal, they had got the balance right. Thus, in spite of the sacking of Ashkelon (which shook Judah deeply - Jeremiah 47:5-7), and with the encouragement of false prophets, and the political influence of an Egypt which had by then stopped the advance of the Babylonians before they reached the borders of Egypt, inflicting heavy losses on them in a ‘drawn’ battle, and causing Nebuchadnezzar to withdraw to Babylon, Jehoiakim finally withheld tribute, very much against the advice of Jeremiah (chapter Jeremiah 25:9-11; Jeremiah 27:8; Jeremiah 27:11). Jeremiah was consequently looked on as a traitor. Humanly speaking we can understand Jehoiakim’s decision. It must have appeared to everyone as though Egypt had demonstrated their equality with, if not their superiority over, Babylon. Babylon would surely be more careful in future.
Jeremiah Puts His Prophecies On Record.
It was during this period that a rejected Jeremiah, with the assistance of Baruch his ‘secretary’ (whose name has been found on a seal as ‘belonging to Berek-yahu, son of Neri-yahu (Neriah), the scribe’), first gathered his prophecies into a book-roll (Jeremiah 36:2-4), but on these being read to the people by Baruch (Jeremiah 36:5-10) they were seized and cut up by Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 36:23), who thereby showed his contempt for them. As a result Jeremiah and Baruch had to go into hiding (Jeremiah 36:26). Nothing daunted Jeremiah then wrote down a longer version (Jeremiah 36:28 ff), and meanwhile his efforts to turn the nation to YHWH in the face of persecution were unceasing (sections of chapters 21-49, see e.g. 25-26, 35-36, 45).
The Second Judean Exile, Including The New King Jehoiachin (c. 597 BC).
Inevitably the powerful Babylonians, having recuperated, once again arrived at the gates of Jerusalem, determined to take revenge on Jehoiakim, and Jehoiakim apparently gave himself up, along with some of the Temple treasure, probably thereby hoping to preserve his son’s life. Nebuchadnezzar’s intention was to carry him off in fetters to Babylon, but although this intention is stated it is never actually said to have been fulfilled (2 Chronicles 36:6 ff.; Daniel 1:1-2). Jeremiah may in fact be seen as suggesting otherwise (Jeremiah 22:19). Meanwhile his eighteen year old son Jehoiachin had become king in a city under siege and only reigned for three months, during which time frantic negotiations would have been taking place with the Babylonians. When he did surrender to them he was carried off to Babylon, along with the influential queen mother and further exiles, and even more Temple treasure. He was replaced, at the instigation of Nebuchadnezzar, by Zedekiah, his uncle. (This had no doubt all been part of the agreement reached).
The Third And Final Judean Exile And The Destruction Of The Temple (587 BC).
The reign of Zedekiah was one of continual intrigue, and in the face of it Jeremiah made himself unpopular by constantly warning of the folly of rebelling against the Babylonians (Jeremiah 27:12-22), only to be seen once again as a traitor and to be harshly dealt with. No one would listen to him as negotiations continued with Egypt, and inevitably, when Zedekiah withheld tribute the Babylonians once again surrounded Jerusalem. After a failed attempt by Egypt to intervene Jerusalem was taken and Zedekiah, his sons having been slain before his eyes, was blinded and carried off to Babylon, along with what was left of the paraphernalia of the Temple. Jerusalem itself was sacked. All that Jeremiah had prophesied had come true (these prophecies are intermingled in chapters 21-49, see e.g. Jeremiah 21:1 to Jeremiah 22:30; Jeremiah 23-24, 28-34, 37-39).
Nebuchadnezzar then appointed Gedaliah as governor of what remained of Judah, giving Jeremiah (whom he saw as loyal) the option of remaining in Judah or going with him to Babylon. Jeremiah chose to remain in Judah. (See chapters 40-42). But within a short period Gedaliah had been assassinated by ruthless opponents (Jeremiah 41:1-2), and the remnants of the people, fearful of repercussions from Nebuchadnezzar, and against the advice of Jeremiah (chapter 41-42), fled to Egypt, taking Jeremiah with them (Jeremiah 43:8-13; Jeremiah 44), rejecting YHWH’s offer of the restoration of the covenant. There Jeremiah prophesied the conquest of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 43:8 ff.). He probably died in Egypt. There are two traditions concerning what did happen to him, but neither of them can be seen as reliable. The first was that that he was stoned to death by the people at Tahpanhes in Egypt (so Tertullian, Jerome, and Epiphanius), and the second, in accordance with an alternative Jewish tradition, was that he was finally carried off with Baruch to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar at the time of the conquest of Egypt, in the 27th year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. We have no way of knowing whether either have any truth in them.
The Message Of The Book For Our Day.
At first sight it might appear that much of Jeremiah’s prophecy has little to do with us. It appears to be directed at a rebellious Judah which was about to suffer awful consequences as a result of their sins, and we may even begin to find the emphasis as almost tedious and unnecessary. Why preserve writings which were so repetitive and emphasised a judgment long past?
The first reason is because they proved true. Jeremiah’s writings were preserved because in the end they provided an explanation of what had happened to Judah. He had proved to be right after all. Thus his promises of hope also became a basis for the future.
The second reason is because they reveal to us the nature of God. They bring out His holiness and the awe in which He should be held. It is true that God is merciful. But only to those who put their trust in Him and walk with Him. For all others He will one day be their judge.
Thus there is also a third reason why we should recognise the book as important and that is because we are in a similar position today. We may not have hanging over us the threat of Babylonian supremacy, but we do certainly have hanging over us the threat of God’s judgment in one way or another. Whether this will come (somewhat ironically) in the form of an Islamic revival or in the form of the effects of climate change or even finally in the form of the second coming of Christ, it is a certainty for the future. And we therefore also need to listen to the warnings of Jeremiah in order to be ready for what is coming on us. It is the same attitude of mind which brought judgment on Judah that is widespread in society today. Our idols may take a different form, but they have equally replaced God as the objects of our worship, and the immorality and unacceptability of many of our lives is clearly reflected in his prophecies. Every chapter should therefore come home to us as a warning to be ready for what is coming, for come it surely will.
(The idea that there will be a second chance after His second coming is based on false exegesis of Scripture and is not to be relied on. The truth is that His coming will call time on any opportunity to repent. Then men and women who have not responded to Him will face only a judgment which will be far worse than anything that came on Judah).
A General Overview Of The Book.
The prophecies of Jeremiah are not presented in strict chronological order, even though those which came in the time of Josiah do appear to come in the first part of the book. The first twenty chapters contain prophecies given partly in the time of Josiah and partly in the time of Jehoiakim, for the message to the people under both kings was very much the same (even though the kings themselves were very different), ‘turn from your idols, and begin to walk in accordance with the covenant, or disaster will come on you’. These chapters may well have made up a good part of the book of prophecies put together by Jeremiah, which was cut up by Jehoiakim, and re-written and expanded by Jeremiah through Barak his amanuensis and assistant (Jeremiah 36:4 ff). There is no good reason for doubting that all the prophecies which are in the book are genuinely his prophecies. As will be apparent he prophesied over a long period of time, and faced severe difficulties because his message was unpopular, and it is because of those difficulties, emphasised in chapters 26-45, that we know more about him than any other prophet after Moses.
Much of Jeremiah’s prophecy is in ‘Hebrew verse’ (as with the Sermon on the Mount and with most of the prophets), but we must beware of just seeing it as poetry. The purpose of Hebrew verse was in order to aid memory, and provide emphasis by means of repetition. It did not detract from the seriousness or validity of what was said. It was spoken very directly to the heart.
As will be apparent in the commentary Jeremiah was familiar both with the Law of Moses and the early historical books, which reflect that Law. As a popular presentation of the Law, Deuteronomy, with its emphatic emphasis on blessing and cursing, appears to have been especially influential. But it would be a mistake to ignore the influence of the remainder of the Law of Moses, and especially of Leviticus 26 with its parallel warnings similar to those of Deuteronomy 28. Jeremiah was familiar with the whole Law.
With the above in mind the book can be divided into three main Sections, which are found inserted between an introduction and a conclusion:
1. INTRODUCTION. Introductory opening chapter, which describes Jeremiah’s call by YHWH (Chapter 1).
2. SECTION 1. A number of general prophecies against Judah in the days of Josiah and Jehoiakim, including, in the final chapters, words spoken to Zedekiah (chapters 2-25).
3. SECTION 2. Biographical details from the life of the prophet and details of how he coped with his maltreatment, leading up to the fall of Jerusalem and its aftermath in the rejection of the offer of a new covenant (chapters 26-45).
4. SECTION 3. Prophecies against foreign nations (chapters 46-51).
5. CONCLUSION. Concluding appendix (chapter 52).
YHWH Is Seeking To Call His People Back To Their First-Love (Jeremiah 2:1-3).
YHWH now sums up His purpose for calling Jeremiah in terms of a restoration of His people to their wilderness first-love. He reminds them of those first heady days after their deliverance from bondage in Egypt and through the Reed Sea when they had sought Him enthusiastically, and had been holy to YHWH. At that stage YHWH had also promised them that He would regard them as His firstfruits, and see them as therefore untouchable by the nations.
We cannot agree with those who make these three verses introductory to what follows (we should rather see the whole call from Jeremiah 1:4 to Jeremiah 2:3 as introductory). Rather they complete what was involved with Jeremiah’s call. This is made clear by the repeated ‘the word of YHWH came to me saying’ for the fourth time (compare Jeremiah 1:4; Jeremiah 1:11; Jeremiah 1:13). The section Jeremiah 2:4 onwards commences with ‘Hear you the word of YHWH O house of Jacob’, the first of six such introductory phrases (see below on Jeremiah 2:4).
‘And the word of YHWH came to me, saying,’
Jeremiah commences by pointing out once again for the fourth time that what he is describing is the very ‘word of YHWH’. He wants them to recognise that he is not speaking from his own wisdom but as the mouthpiece of God.
“Go, and cry in the ears of Jerusalem,
Saying, Thus says YHWH,
I remember for you the kindness of your youth,
The love of your espousals,
How you went after me in the wilderness,
“In a land that was not sown.”
He points out that YHWH has commanded him to go and proclaim the word of YHWH in the ears of the people of Jerusalem. And what was that word? It was that YHWH looked back and remembered what they (ideally) had been. He remembered how after the rebirth of the nation they had for a time sought YHWH as a young maiden in love seeks her lover, full of kind thoughts and love towards Him, and how in spite of the fact that they were in a barren infertile wilderness where it was not possible to grow crops, they had ‘gone after Him’, following Him and desiring to maintain their relationship with Him. This mainly has in mind their ‘engagement period’ between leaving Egypt and arriving at Sinai, where their marriage covenant with YHWH would be finally sealed. During that period, in spite of a few hiccups resulting from the new hardships that they were then facing in the semi-desert, they had sought Him with all their hearts as they rejoiced in their new found freedom, so that as they approached Sinai it was with a while-hearted commitment as summed up in Exodus 19:5-6. And even later, in spite of many further hiccups, the time in the wilderness had been a time of seeking YHWH, for although they had often gone astray, falling out with Him as wives will, they had always returned and come back to Him in loving submission (through necessity if not through inclination). They had thus initially arrived on the borders of Canaan relatively free from idolatry.
This is a reminder that the wilderness period, especially the early part, was always looked back on as the time of an especially close relationship between YHWH and His people, a time before they became caught up in the sophistication of Canaan. It is also a reminder to us that for us also it is often the ‘wilderness experience’ that renews our faltering love for God at times when the attractions of the world have caused us to stumble and turn from Him to other things. And it is also a reminder of how important it is for us to maintain the flame of our first-love, lest we become like the Ephesian church which, having lost its first love, would have its lamp of witness removed from its place (Revelation 2:4).
“Israel was holiness to YHWH,
The first-fruits of his increase,
All who devour him will be held guilty,
Evil will come on them,
The word of YHWH (neum YHWH).”
During that period in the wilderness up to Sinai Israel had been seen by YHWH as ‘holy to Him’, as His own special people (Exodus 19:5-6) who were separated off to Him for His own purposes, and as His firstfruits of the blessing that was to come, for His plan was that through Israel the whole world would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). They were His initial people and His treasured possession (Exodus 19:5-6), and He had watched over them, determined to bring evil on any who sought to harm them, holding such as guilty before Him. This had been ‘neum YHWH’, the word of YHWH that accomplishes what He pleases (Isaiah 55:10-13), in other words His firm and assured fixed determination clearly enunciated.
‘Holiness unto YHWH.’ In the words of Exodus 19:6 they were His ‘holy nation’, a holiness which was exemplified on the head piece of the High Priest as the representative of Israel (Exodus 28:36; Exodus 39:30). They were ‘the people of His holiness’ (Isaiah 63:18), the people set apart by Himself in order that they too might be holy and separated off to Him (Leviticus 11:44-45; Leviticus 19:2; Leviticus 20:26).
‘The firstfruits of His increase.’ The firstfruits were the first produce of the soil or yield from the land and belonged exclusively to YHWH (Exodus 23:19; Numbers 8:8, etc.). It was His treasured possession. YHWH was thus in the future looking for a good harvest of righteous people (‘His increase’), and saw in primitive Israel their beginnings (‘the firstfruits’). For anyone to partake of the firstfruits who was not a sanctified priest was to commit blasphemy. Thus in the same way, those who offended against (devoured) YHWH’s firstfruits would become guilty, and evil would come on them. It had been a guarantee of their safety, which they had subsequently forfeited as a result of their idolatry, which was why they were now in their present position.
So the call of Jeremiah had been determined by God before His birth, was in order to bring His word to Israel and confirm that it would be successful, included one of judgment if they continued to refuse to listen to His words, and was to seek to bring the people back to their first-love. YHWH yearned over those who had once been His. Compare His tender words in Hosea 2:14-23; Hosea 11:1; Hosea 11:3-4.
Subsection 1. YHWH’s Complaint Against His People (Jeremiah 2:4 to Jeremiah 3:5).
YHWH commences by presenting His complaint against Israel/Judah. This was because, having responded avidly to the love and faithfulness that He had demonstrated to them in the arid wilderness, where they had earnestly sought Him, they had afterwards, once He had brought them into a fruitful land, turned against Him (Jeremiah 2:4-8). He then continues by expressing bafflement and horror at the way that they have rejected Him as the well-spring of living water, preferring broken waterless cisterns which can hold no water, and have become a degenerate vine, incapable of being cleansed. This was in consequence of their having followed the pathway of idolatry, rejecting His prophets and cosying up to foreign nations, something which He points out could only result in their own destruction (Jeremiah 2:9-37). And He finishes by pointing out that that is why they have had no rain and calls on them to repent and look to Him, with the assurance that if they do He will receive them (Jeremiah 3:1-5).
This is not necessarily to be seen as one address, but as covering the main elements of Jeremiah’s teaching during the reigns of Josiah and Jehoiakim. That the latter’s reign is included is suggested by the apparent references to Josiah’s death and Judah’s subjection to Egypt.
YHWH Reminds Them Of Their Salvation History And Brings Out The Ingratitude Of Their Response (Jeremiah 2:4-8).
YHWH’s initial complaint is that in spite of all that He has done for them in delivering them from Egypt and guiding them through the wilderness to a pleasant and fruitful land, they have turned away from Him. They had once loved Him, but now it seemed that incomprehensibly they had forgotten Him, so that even His appointed priests, rulers and prophets had gone astray after idolatry.
“Hear you the word of YHWH, O house of Jacob,
And all the families of the house of Israel,
Thus says YHWH,
‘What unrighteousness have your fathers found in me,
That they are gone far from me,
And have walked after vanity,
And are become vain?’ ”
In this initial opening to the main message of the book Jeremiah calls on the whole of Israel (‘the house of Jacob, even all the families of the house of Israel’), to consider what He was now saying. This reminds us that neither God nor the prophets ever lost sight of Israel as a whole, and in truth the ‘people of Judah’ included many Israelites who had come to live among them, fleeing from the north as it had faced different invasions.
Furthermore Judah was now a multinational society, not only made up of many from all the tribes of Israel, but also from many from all nations, who had come to live among them and had been circumcised into the covenant. This had been so right from the very beginning, for initially the foreign servants of the households of the patriarchs had become a part of ‘Israel’ (Genesis 17:11-13; Genesis 17:23), and then the mixed multitude of Exodus 12:43, had all come to be seen as ‘children of Abraham’, a situation sealed at Sinai. (The myth that all Jews are literally descended from Abraham is wishful thinking and totally inaccurate. Anyone could become a genuine Israelite by submitting to YHWH’s covenant and being circumcised. This would also be true when Jesus Christ as the true Vine (the true Israel) formed the new remnant of Israel, with whom Gentiles united by submitting to the new covenant and being circumcised in the circumcision of Christ through being united with Him in His crucifixion - Colossians 2:11).
So YHWH now challenged Israel by asking them to explain in what way He had failed them. They had initially been so eager to follow Him. What unrighteousness then had their fathers found in Him that they had gone so far from Him and had become caught up in vain and useless things? How had He failed them? Let them produce their defence. Let them explain their ways. Let them give an explanation as to why their love for Him had ceased? It appeared to be inexplicable. But the answer was really quite clear. It was because of the wickedness of their hearts.
This is a question that we must all face up to when our love for God and for our Lord Jesus Christ begins to grow dim. When we think of what He has done for us what positive reason can we have for not loving Him and following Him with all our hearts?
‘Have walked after vanity.’ ‘Vanity’ is literally ‘breath, puff of wind’, indicating emptiness and hollowness. The word is found as early as Deuteronomy 32:21, as indicating that false gods were mere nonentities. But here the idea is rather of the groundless worship of them which brings no return to their devotees, but instead makes them ‘vain’, that is, foolish and useless in thought and deed. They become like what they worship.
“Nor did they say,
‘Where is YHWH who brought us up out of the land of Egypt,
Who led us through the wilderness,
Through a land of deserts and of pits,
Through a land of drought and of the shadow of death,
Through a land which none passed through,
And where no man dwelt?’ ”
In pursuing false gods they had so far forgotten Him that they had failed to ask, ‘Where is YHWH who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, Who led us through the wilderness’ with all its problems and difficulties? He had done so much for them, but they had forgotten it. Here then was a reminder that it was YHWH, and YHWH alone, Who had delivered them from bondage in Egypt, and had seen them safely through the wilderness with all its difficulties and pitfalls. The description of the wilderness is vivid. It was a land of deserts and pits. It was a land of drought. It was a land where death lurked. It was a land which no one passed through. It was a land where no one dwelt. In the words of Deuteronomy 32:10 it was a ‘waste, howling wilderness’. And yet YHWH had brought the whole people safely through it all. How was it then that they had forgotten Him and had gone after other gods? This was YHWH’s complaint against the people of Jeremiah’s day. It is often His complaint concerning many of us today. When the good times come we virtually forget the One Who led us through the dark times.
“And I brought you into a plentiful land,
To eat its fruit and its goodness,
But when you entered, you defiled my land,
And made my heritage an abomination.
The list of complaints continues. He had brought Israel into a plentiful land, so that they were able to eat of its fruit and its goodness. And what had they done? Having entered the land they had defiled it by breaking the covenant and ignoring its requirements, by indulging in false religion, and by setting up false gods. Note that this had been done to ‘My land’ and ‘My heritage’, which they had from Him under sufferance, which was why He was now considering ejecting them. It had been a direct insult in the face of YHWH. And it had begun early on, almost as soon as they were settled in the land. ‘The children of Israel did what was evil in the eyes of YHWH, and served the Baalim. They forsook YHWH the God of their fathers, Who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, the gods of the peoples round about them, and bowed themselves down to them, and provoked YHWH to anger’ (Judges 2:11-12). And the people in Jeremiah’s day were no different.
“The priests did not say, Where is YHWH?
And those who handle the law did not know me,
The rulers also transgressed against me,
And the prophets prophesied by Baal,
And walked after things which do not profit.”
Even the priests, rulers and prophets, those who should have known better, had failed Him. The Priests, who were supposed to be ‘handlers of the Law’ (Deuteronomy 33:10), ensuring commitment to the covenant, had not sought YHWH by genuinely seeking His face, and they had failed to acknowledge (‘know’) Him by true worship and by responding to His known will through the covenant. We can compare how some of Jesus’ strongest opponents were those who claimed to be experts in the Law. The Rulers (literally ‘the shepherds’, compare Psalms 78:70-71; 1 Kings 22:17), who were appointed to prevent transgressions of the Law, had themselves been transgressors against Him. (It is evident from inscriptions that many great rulers depicted themselves as shepherds of their people). The Prophets, who should have prophesied in the Name of YHWH, were instead doing it ‘by Baal’. And they were all following after things which were of no value to His people and did not benefit them. This then was the catalogue of Judah’s awful failure.
SECTION 1. An Overall Description Of Jeremiah’s Teaching Given In A Series Of Accumulated, Mainly Undated, Prophecies, Concluding With Jeremiah’s Own Summary Of His Ministry (Jeremiah 2:4 to Jeremiah 25:38).
From this point onwards up to chapter 25 we have a new major section (a section in which MT and LXX are mainly similar) which records the overall teaching of Jeremiah, probably given mainly during the reigns of Josiah (Jeremiah 3:6) and Jehoiakim, although leading up to the days of Zedekiah (Jeremiah 21:1). While there are good reasons for not seeing these chapters as containing a series of specific discourses as some have suggested, nevertheless they can safely be seen as giving a general overall view of Jeremiah’s teaching over that period, and as having on the whole been put together earlier rather than later. The whole commences with the statement, ‘Hear you the word of YHWH O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel, thus says YHWH ---.’ It is therefore directed to Israel as a whole, mainly as now contained in the land of Judah to which many northerners had fled for refuge. We may divide up the main subsections as follows, based partly on content, and partly on the opening introductory phrases:
1. ‘Hear you the word of YHWH, O house of Jacob and all the families of the house of Israel ---’ (Jeremiah 2:4). YHWH commences by presenting His complaint against Israel/Judah because they have failed to continue to respond to the love and faithfulness that He had demonstrated to them in the wilderness and in the years that followed, resulting by their fervent addiction to idolatry in their losing the water of life in exchange for empty cisterns. It ends with a plea for them to turn back to Him like an unfaithful wife returning to her husband. This would appear to be mainly his initial teaching in his earliest days, indicating even at that stage how far, in spite of Josiah’s reformation, the people as a whole were from truly obeying the covenant, but it also appears to contain teaching given in the days of Jehoiakim, for which see commentary (Jeremiah 2:4 to Jeremiah 3:5).
2. ‘Moreover YHWH said to me in the days of King Josiah --’ (Jeremiah 3:6). This section follows up on section 1 with later teaching given in the days of Josiah, and some apparently in the days of Jehoiakim. He gives a solemn warning to Judah based on what had happened to the northern tribes (‘the ten tribes’) as a result of their behaviour towards YHWH, facing Judah up to the certainty of similar coming judgment if they do not amend their ways, a judgment that would come in the form of a ravaged land and exile for its people. This is, however, intermingled with a promise of final blessing and further pleas for them to return to YHWH, for that in the end is YHWH’s overall purpose. But the subsection at this time ends under a threat of soon coming judgment (Jeremiah 3:6 to Jeremiah 6:30).
3. ‘The word that came to Jeremiah from YHWH --’ (Jeremiah 7:1). In this subsection Jeremiah admonishes the people about the false confidence that they have in the inviolability of the Temple, and in their sacrificial ritual, and warned that like Shiloh they could be destroyed. He accompanies his words with warnings that if they continued in their present disobedience, Judah would be dispersed and the country would be despoiled (Jeremiah 7:1 to Jeremiah 8:3). He therefore chides the people for their obstinacy in the face of all attempts at reformation (Jeremiah 8:4 to Jeremiah 9:21), and seeks to demonstrate to them what the path of true wisdom is, that they understand and know YHWH in His covenant love, justice and righteousness. In a fourfold comparison he then vividly brings out the folly of idolatry when contrasted with the greatness of YHWH. The section ends with the people knowing that they must be chastised, but hoping that YHWH’s full wrath will rather be poured out on their oppressors (Jeremiah 9:22 to Jeremiah 10:25).
4. ‘The word that came to Jeremiah from YHWH --’ (Jeremiah 11:1). He now deprecates their disloyalty to the covenant, and demonstrates from examples the total corruption of the people, revealing that as a consequence their doom is irrevocably determined (Jeremiah 11:1 to Jeremiah 12:17). The section closes with a symbolic action which reveals the certainty of their expulsion from the land (13).
5. ‘The word that came from YHWH to Jeremiah --’ (Jeremiah 14:1). “The word concerning the drought,” gives illustrative evidence confirming that the impending judgment of Judah cannot be turned aside by any prayers or entreaties, and that because of their sins Judah will be driven into exile. A promise of hope for the future when they will be restored to the land is, however, once more incorporated (Jeremiah 16:14-15) although only with a view to stressing the general judgment (Jeremiah 14:1 to Jeremiah 17:4). The passage then closes with general explanations of what is at the root of the problem, and lays out cursings and blessings and demonstrates the way by which punishment might be avoided by a full response to the covenant as evidenced by observing the Sabbath (Jeremiah 17:5-27).
6. ‘The word that came to Jeremiah from YHWH --’ (Jeremiah 18:1). Chapters 18-19 then contain two oracles from God illustrated in terms of the Potter and his handiwork, which bring out on the one hand God’s willingness to offer mercy, and on the other the judgment that is about to come on Judah because of their continuance in sin and their refusal to respond to that offer. The consequence of this for Jeremiah, in chapter 20, is severe persecution, including physical blows and harsh imprisonment. This results in him complaining to YHWH in his distress, and cursing the day of his birth.
7. ‘The word that came to Jeremiah from YHWH --’ (Jeremiah 21:1). This subsection, which is a kind of appendix to what has gone before, finally confirming the hopelessness of Jerusalem’s situation under Zedekiah. In response to an appeal from King Zedekiah concerning Judah’s hopes for the future Jeremiah warns that it is YHWH’s purpose that Judah be subject to Babylon (Jeremiah 21:1-10). Meanwhile, having sent out a general call to the house of David to rule righteously and deal with oppression, he has stressed that no hope was to be nurtured of the restoration of either Shallum, the son of Josiah who had been carried off to Egypt, nor of Jehoiachin (Coniah), the son of Jehoiakim who had been carried off to Babylon. In fact no direct heir of Jehoiachin would sit upon the throne. And the reason that this was so was because all the current sons of David had refused to respond to his call to rule with justice and to stamp down on oppression. What had been required was to put right what was wrong in Judah, and reign in accordance with the requirements of the covenant. In this had lain any hope for the continuation of the Davidic monarchy. But because they had refused to do so only judgment could await them. Note in all this the emphasis on the monarchy as ‘sons of David’ (Jeremiah 21:12; Jeremiah 22:2-3). This is preparatory to the mention of the coming glorious son of David Who would one day come and reign in righteousness (Jeremiah 23:3-8).
Jeremiah then heartily castigates the false shepherds of Judah who have brought Judah to the position that they are in and explains that for the present Judah’s sinful condition is such that all that they can expect is everlasting reproach and shame (Jeremiah 23:9 ff). The subsection then closes (chapter 24) with the parable of the good and bad figs, the good representing the righteous remnant in exile who will one day return, the bad the people who have been left in Judah to await sword, pestilence, famine and exile.
8. ‘The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah --’ (Jeremiah 25:1). This subsection contains Jeremiah’s own summary, given to the people in a sermon, describing what has gone before during the previous twenty three years of his ministry. It is also in preparation for what is to follow. He warns them that because they have not listened to YHWH’s voice the land must suffer for ‘seventy years’ in subjection to Babylon, and goes on to bring out that YHWH’s wrath will subsequently be visited on Babylon, and not only on them, but on ‘the whole world’. For YHWH will be dealing with the nations in judgment, something which will be expanded on in chapters 46-51. There is at this stage no mention of restoration, (except as hinted at in the seventy year limit to Babylon’s supremacy), and the chapter closes with a picture of the final desolation which is to come on Judah as a consequence of YHWH’s anger.
While the opening phrase ‘the word that came from YHWH to Jeremiah’ will appear again in Jeremiah 30:1; Jeremiah 32:1; Jeremiah 34:8; Jeremiah 35:1; Jeremiah 40:1 it will only be after the sequence has been broken by other introductory phrases which link the word of YHWH with the activities of a particular king (e.g. Jeremiah 25:1; Jeremiah 26:1; Jeremiah 27:1; Jeremiah 28:1) where in each case the message that follows is limited in length. See also Jeremiah 29:1 which introduces a letter from Jeremiah to the early exiles in Babylon. Looking at chapter 25 as the concluding chapter to the first part, this confirms a new approach from Jeremiah 26:1 onwards, (apparent also in its content), while at the same time demonstrating that the prophecy must be seen as an overall unity.
YHWH Expresses His Astonishment At The Incredible Way In Which They Have Behaved (Jeremiah 2:9-13).
YHWH expresses His astonishment at the behaviour of His people, and calls on the heavens to witness what they have done, firstly because, unlike all other nations, they have changed the object of their worship by seeking to strange gods, and secondly because they have turned from Himself, the well-spring of living water, to broken cisterns (false gods and false beliefs) which can hold no water.
“For which reason I will yet contend with you, says YHWH,
And with your children’s children will I contend.
For pass over to the isles of Kittim, and see,
And send to Kedar, and consider diligently,
And see if there has been such a thing,
Has a nation changed its gods,
Which yet are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory,
For that which does not profit.”
Because they have turned away from Him He will now contend not only with them but also with their children and their children’s children. For let them all consider the situation. Let them pass over to the isles of Kittim (the Mediterranean islands to the west) and let them send to Kedar (the Arabian encampments in the east), and let them consider diligently and see if anything quite as remarkable as this has ever happened, that a nation should change the objects of its worship! Why no other nation at all has changed its gods, even though they are no-gods, nonentities. But Judah, what have Judah done? They have changed their glory (YHWH Himself) for what is of no profit to them (the Baalim etc.). They have downgraded the object of their worship, and thereby they have downgraded themselves.
There is a reminder in this of how in the past YHWH had revealed His glory to His people when His cloud had descended on the Tabernacle (e.g. Exodus 40:34) and the Temple (e.g. 2 Chronicles 5:13-14), shielding them from His glory which was being manifested there. But now, instead of wondering at His glory, they were exchanging this for wooden images coated with gilded plate.
“Be astonished, O you heavens, at this,
And be horribly afraid,
Be you very desolate,
No wonder then that YHWH called on the heavens, and the angels, to be astonished at what was happening, and to be very much afraid because of what the consequences would be on Judah. Indeed they were to be very desolate at the thought of what was coming. For not only had Judah exchanged His glory for a wooden thing coated with earthly gold, but they had also forsaken the One Who was the very source of their spiritual lives.
Moses had called on the heavens to witness what he had to say about the glory of the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:1), but as in Isaiah 1:2, YHWH could only call on the heavens, as impartial witnesses, to witness the mess that Israel had made of their lives, and be horrified.
“For my people have committed two evils,
They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters,
And have hewed them out cisterns,
Broken cisterns which can hold no water.”
He calls the heavens to witness that His people have committed two evils. Firstly in that they have forsaken Him as the well-spring of living waters, the One Who was the very source of fruitful life, the One Who could send the life-giving rains, the One Who was the very means of spiritual blessing, and secondly in that they have instead made their own cisterns (moulded their own gods), which are broken cisterns which can hold no water, and can send no rain. They have exchanged spiritual and physical well-being for spiritual and physical bankruptcy.
When the rains came the springs poured out clean, fresh running water (living water), the rivers were full, the crops were well-watered and all could drink continually from an abundance of fresh clean water (compare John 4:10-14). Life was everywhere. And as earlier prophets had made clear this was a true picture of the spiritual blessing that God wanted for His people (Isaiah 44:1-5; Isaiah 55:10-13). But instead they had exchanged this for a hole which they had dug for themselves in the ground, which only stored limited water that was tepid and dirty, water which tasted of clay and was worm-filled, obtained from cisterns which leaked so badly that they were soon empty. All they were then left with was an extreme thirst and an empty, dank hole in the ground.
The world is full of broken cisterns which appear to offer so much but in the end leave us with the same thirst as we had before. And yet all the while, if only we will see it, there is One Who is the source of all true life and blessing, waiting for us to come and drink of Him (compare John 4:10-14). But it means leaving the broken cisterns behind.
It Is Pointed Out That It Is Because Of Their Incredible Behaviour That They Have Undergone, And Are Undergoing, Their Present Distresses (Jeremiah 2:14-19).
It is apparent from the words that follow that at the time when Jeremiah was speaking Judah had already suffered problems from invasions by their enemies, including Egypt. It may well therefore have in mind the period immediately following the death of Josiah when the Egyptians were rampant. And YHWH now brings home to them that these distresses were all due to their having forsaken Him. When He had delivered them from Egypt His intention had been to watch over them and protect them from all their enemies (Jeremiah 2:3 b), because they were His holy people, but by their behaviour they had made that impossible, and that was why, by their own choice, they were now being subjected to their enemies.
YHWH proceeded to ask three questions. The first questioned whether Israel, His firstborn (Exodus 4:22), should really be a servant and a prey to their enemies (Jeremiah 2:14). That had not originally been His intention for them. The second was rhetorical and questioned whether or not they had brought their predicament on themselves by forsaking YHWH (Jeremiah 2:17). And the third was as to why they were looking to Egypt and Assyria for help when they should have been looking to YHWH. The whole emphasis is on what they have lost by not looking to YHWH from the beginning.
“Is Israel a servant? Is he a home-born slave?
Why is he become a prey?”
Israel were the people who had been delivered by YHWH out of the house of bondage. They were His firstborn (Exodus 4:22). He had meant them to be a free people, freely worshipping their God, enjoying His bounty and living under His protection. Why then had they now become a servant, yes, a home-born slave, having no rights and bound to serve others in what should have been their own home? Why indeed had they become a prey to the roaming wild beasts, both human and beastly? (At this time there were still many savage beasts around in wilderness areas quite willing to take possession of land that became unoccupied, just as there were many human enemies only too eager to seize spoil). It was all because they had forsaken the living God, and replaced Him with useless nothings who were helpless to save them.
Others see the question as asking why the one who was YHWH’s servant, one, as it were, born in His house (see Genesis 15:3), had now lost YHWH’s protection and become a prey. Either way the thought is of honour and distinction lost.
“The young lions have roared on him, and yelled,
And they have made his land waste,
His cities are burned up,
The children also of Memphis and Tahpanhes,
Have broken the crown of your head.”
That was why the young lions (especially the Egyptians) had roared at them and entered their land, and had made their land waste and burned their cities leaving them deserted. That was why soldiers from Memphis and Tahpanhes (two leading cities in Egypt) had broken the crown of their head. The breaking of the crown of their head may refer to the death of Josiah. Alternatively it may indicate that they had rendered them bald and in mourning, or had acted like a slave-owner with a slave by shaving their heads. In other words, that the Egyptians had cropped Israel's glory. Among the people of Judah a good head of hair was seen as an evidence of well-being and blessing. To be shorn was to be shamed.
It is intended to be ironic that the very people from whom YHWH had originally delivered them (Jeremiah 2:6), were now the ones who could play fast and loose with them. Memphis (Noph) was situated on the Nile about twenty four kilometres (seventeen miles) from the apex of the Delta, in Lower (Northern) Egypt. Tahpanhes (Daphnai) was in the eastern Delta. It was where Jeremiah and the other refugees would later settle (Jeremiah 43:7-9).
“Have you not procured this for yourself,
In that you have forsaken YHWH your God,
When he led you by the way?”
And who was to blame for all this? Had they not brought it on themselves? It was because they had forsaken YHWH as He led them in the way, YHWH Who was THEIR God, but Whom they had put aside. There is a warning in this for all that if we cease walking with Him in His way we too will soon encounter pitfalls.
“And now what have you to do in the way to Egypt,
To drink the waters of the Shihor?
Or what have you to do in the way to Assyria,
To drink the waters of the River?”
He then asks them what they were doing by drinking of the waters of Shihor, in Egypt, or by drinking of the waters of the Euphrates, in Assyria? What had these rivers to do with them? What they should have been doing was drinking of the wellspring of living waters, partaking of YHWH Himself. The reference is to their vacillations between Egypt and Assyria (shortly to be replaced by Babylon), as they looked for their security first to one and then to the other, and always at tremendous cost. These rivers did not come cheap.
Here the reference to Shihor indicates the Nile, as also in Isaiah 23:3, but in Joshua 13:3 it is the border river between Palestine and Egypt. It is a case of the part most familiar to Judah being used to indicate the whole.
“Your own wickedness will correct you,
And your backslidings will reprove you,
Know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and a bitter,
That you have forsaken YHWH your God,
And that my fear is not in you,
The word of the Lord,
YHWH of hosts.”
But they could be sure that they would inevitably learn their lesson from the results of their own wickedness and from their own backslidings. The consequences of them would correct and reprove them. And they would soon learn what an evil and bitter thing it was to have forsaken YHWH their God, and to have ceased to fear Him (worship and obey Him in reverent awe). And this was the sure and certain prophetic word of ‘the Sovereign Lord, YHWH of Hosts’. Here God emphasises just Whom they have forsaken, the One Who could have been their Protector and who could have delivered them, because He was sovereign over all things and God of the hosts of heaven and earth, but Who would now bring judgment on them because He was the Lord of all the hosts of men.
The description YHWH of hosts was regularly used by Isaiah, and once by Micah, is found eighty two times in Jeremiah, a number of times in Samuel and Kings, and regularly in the later prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. It also appears in the Psalms, Nahum and Habakkuk.
They Had Broken Free From YHWH To Worship False Gods And Had Thereby Become Defiled With A Defilement And A Degeneracy That They Could Not Remove, While Still Incredibly Claiming That They Had Not Broken Free At All. But Now The Truth Was Out In The Open As A Result Of Their Behaviour And They Were Discovering That They Had Made A Poor Choice (Jeremiah 2:20-28).
In a series of vivid illustrations YHWH brings out Judah’s folly. Even though it was He Who had of old delivered them from bondage, they had rejected His service and ‘played the harlot’ (indulged in ritual sexual activities) at Baal/Asherah shrines throughout the countryside. So although He had planted them as a choice vine, they had become a degenerate wild vine with the result that all that they produced was iniquity which could not be washed away. Yet in spite of it they still looked at Him innocently and claimed that what He claimed was simply not true, when all the time they were actually acting like a female camel or ass on heat, persistently sinning and easily available, and admitting that she was unable to restrain herself from following her lovers. All were involved in this, kings, princes, priests and prophets, bowing down to trees and stones and turning their back on YHWH. They had multiplied gods, with a new one to be found in every city. Well, where were these newfangled gods in the situation in which they now found themselves?
Judah’s Rebellion Against YHWH.
“For of old time I have broken your yoke,
And burst your bonds,
And you said, ‘I will not serve,’
For on every high hill and under every green tree,
You bowed (literally ‘laid’) yourself down,
Playing the harlot.
YHWH again reminds them that it was He Who had redeemed them from bondage and had broken the heavy yoke under which they had served in Egypt, and had set them free from their bonds. And what had been their reply? They had declared that they would not serve Him. And in consequence they had instead bowed themselves down before stone pillars and images, in sanctuaries established ‘on every high hill and under very green tree’, and had there indulged in perverse sexual rites with sacred prostitutes and with each other.
Sanctuaries were erected on ‘high hills’ because high hills were seen as bringing them ‘closer to the gods’, and under ‘green trees’ because green trees were seen as containing ‘life-force’. And their aim was, by sexual activity played out before the gods, to persuade them to imitate them and supply similar fertility to their fields. We can easily see the sensual attractiveness of this new religion, which was also as old as the hills, and it was additionally attractive because it freed them from being bound by YHWH’s strict requirements. They could do what they liked and still attain their ends, but, of course, only if it worked.
Judah Have Changed From Being A Noble Vine To Being A Degenerate One And Should Be Ashamed At Their Behaviour.
“Yet I had planted you a noble vine,
Wholly a right seed,
How then are you turned into the degenerate branches,
Of a foreign vine to me?”
What a contrast this was to what YHWH had desired for them. He had planted them in the land as a choice vine, a noble vine, from precisely the right kind of seed (from the Patriarchs), with the intention of producing pure fruits, and of their being a holy people, a people with ideas like Himself, but they had become degenerate branches of a foreign, wild, uncultivated vine, producing only degeneracy and wickedness.
“For though you wash yourself with lye,
And take for yourself much soap,
Yet your iniquity is marked before me,
The word of the Lord YHWH.”
Indeed their iniquity was so marked before Him that even though they washed themselves with nitre (lye), and used a great deal of soap, they would be unable to erase it. The idea was that no kind of detergent would be of any use. And this was the word of the Sovereign Lord YHWH Himself. It is a reminder that we cannot ‘soft-soap’ God, because God sees what is underneath.
‘Nitre’ (nether) was an alkali obtainable for lakes in Egypt. ‘Soap’ was a solution of potassium carbonate and sodium carbonate (potash and soda) in water which can act as a simple detergent. These chemicals were obtained by filtering water through vegetable ashes producing various alkaline salts of which potassium carbonate was the main one.
“How can you say, ‘I am not defiled,
I have not gone after the Baalim?
See your way in the valley,
Know what you have done,
You are a swift dromedary traversing her ways,
A wild ass used to the wilderness,
Who sniffs up the wind in her desire,
In her occasion, who can turn her away?
All those who seek her will not weary themselves,
In her month they will find her.”
Yet they looked at Him innocently and claimed that they were not defiled and had not gone after the Baalim, coming to the Temple at their feasts and ‘worshipping’ as though their only desire was to please YHWH. Had not Josiah purified the cult? But YHWH was not to be deceived, and called on them to look at the way in which they behaved when they went back to their valleys, and recognise what they were really like. It was there that they really felt at home, like a dromedary (a one humped camel) in heat, going swiftly on its way, looking for a mate, and like a wild she-ass which is used to the wilderness, similarly filled with heat, and sniffing up the wind so as to find herself a mate, so determined in her quest that none can turn her away. The male asses do not need to weary themselves by seeking her out, because when it is her month it is she who will find them. And that is how Judah behaved with their gods and in their immoral worship.
“Withhold your foot from being unshod,
And your throat from thirst,
But you said, ‘It is in vain,
No, for I have loved strangers,
And after them will I go.”
He informs them that if only they would withhold themselves and look to Him He would ensure that their feet were shod, and that they were never thirsty, but their reply was that they preferred the way of the wild, uncared-for ass on heat, because they loved strange gods, and were set on following them.
Alternately the thought may be of the way in which they took their shoes off when entering a mountain shrine (compare Exodus 3:5), and thirsted after wine offerings offered to Baal, this being a command to refrain from such things.
Others have seen in it the picture of the harlot who, having enticed them into her home, and betraying her husband (Proverbs 7:10 ff.), liked nothing better than to take off her shoes and drink with her lovers (compare Hosea 2:5-7).
“As the thief is ashamed when he is found,
So is the house of Israel ashamed,
They, their kings, their princes,
And their priests, and their prophets,
Who say to a tree, ‘You are my father’,
And to a stone, ‘You have brought me forth’,
For they have turned their back to me,
And not their face,
But in the time of their trouble they will say,
‘Arise, and save us.’ ”
They are like a thief caught in the act, and desperately ashamed, and this includes their kings, princes, priests and prophets, for all are involved in the degeneracy from the greatest to the least (presumably in the time of Jehoiakim). Absurdly they claim a tree as their father, and a stone as their mother, because, having turned their backs on YHWH instead of turning their face towards Him, they are left with no alternative, for their gods are in reality precisely that, only trees and stones. And yet as soon as trouble comes they go running back to YHWH and cry, ‘Arise and save us’.
“But where are your gods that you have made for yourself?
Let them arise, if they can save you in the time of your trouble,
For according to the number of your cities are your gods,
But YHWH was having none of that. They had made gods for themselves, let those gods arise and save them (the idea is intended to be ludicrous, salvation through home-made gods!! Think how many they could have on their side). That should surely present no problem to them. Look at all the gods they had, one for every city. Surely together they would be sufficient to save them. The Canaanite pantheon included a multiplicity of gods.
YHWH Challenges His People To Explain Why They Are Behaving As They Are (Jeremiah 2:29-37).
YHWH now asks them why they are troubling Him with arguments in their favour when all they had previously done was turn away from Him and reject His admonitions and kill His prophets. In spite of His being a supplier of plenty and a giver of light to them (He has not been a desert to them or a land of gloom) they have dismissed Him and forgotten Him, seeking after lovers so assiduously that they have even taught prostitutes new ways of how to go about it, while all the time their garments were stained with innocent blood, both the blood of innocent children offered up as sacrifices (Jeremiah 19:5), and the blood of those who offended them or got in their way. And now they have come back to Him claiming to be innocent, and declaring their hope that His anger has gone away (compare Jeremiah 10:24-25), while at the same time gadding about to outsiders for help, a help which will only fail them in the end. They are totally inconsistent, and as a consequence they will be carried away as prisoners, with their hands on their heads.
“Why will you contend with me?
You have all transgressed against me,
The word of YHWH.”
YHWH now asks them why they have ludicrously come to argue their case, requiring Him to defend His position, when all that they had in reality ever done was continually transgress against His covenant by ignoring their covenant obligations. And it was true of every one of them. He wants them therefore to know that this position is ‘the fixed resolve of YHWH’ (neum YHWH). We do well to remember that we have no claim on God if we are not following Him with all our hearts. He is not there simply for our convenience.
“In vain have I smitten your children,
They received no correction,
Your own sword has devoured your prophets,
Like a destroying lion.”
He points out that in the past He had chastened them, but that it had been in vain, for their children had not accepted His correction any more than they had, but had obstinately gone on in their own ways. Indeed like a destroying lion they had risen up against His prophets and slain them with the sword. This probably mainly has reference to the death of Uriah the prophet (Jeremiah 26:23), but also brings out that it has been their behaviour towards all His prophets past and present, including Jeremiah (compare 1 Kings 19:10). No one except the wise love the one who disturbs their conscience.
“O generation, see you the word of YHWH,
Have I been a wilderness to Israel?
Or a land of thick darkness?
Why do my people say, ‘We are broken loose,
We will come to you no more?’ ”
YHWH then calls on that generation to see and consider His word. He asks in what way He had failed them that they should ‘break loose’ from Him. Had He been like a desert to them (unfruitful and unproductive)? Had He been like a land of gloom or thick darkness (leaving them in the dark and fearful)? Had He not rather provided fruitfulness in their land and fed them spiritually through the prophets, and given them light through His word and through His covenant? Why then had His people said that they ‘had broken loose from Him and would come to Him no more’? What good reason had they had for their desertion?
“Can a virgin forget her ornaments,
Or a bride her attire?
Yet my people have forgotten me,
Days without number.
Indeed their attitude was folly. What virgin would forget to wear and treasure the ornaments that added to her beauty? What bride would forget her wedding dress and jewellery, the things that made her look so delightful? Yet they had overlooked the fact that Judah’s true glory was YHWH (Jeremiah 2:11), and that their decoration was His covenant. Thus they had foolishly and incredibly forgotten Him days without number.
The bride’s ‘attire’ (headband, girdle) may refer to the treasured marital girdle given to her by her husband on her marriage, something which would be especially treasured.
How you trim your way,
To seek love!
Therefore even the wicked women,
You have taught your ways.”
For instead of wearing His beautiful ornaments, portraying to the world His glory, they had dressed themselves up revealingly, ‘trimming their ways’ to seek ‘love’ (which was really lust). Why, they were so depraved that by their ways they had even demonstrated to prostitutes how to go about their loathsome trade.
“Also in your skirts is found the blood of the souls of the innocent poor. You did not find them breaking in, but it is because of all these things.”
And they had not only demonstrated by their attire how far they had fallen into degeneracy, but had also drawn attention through it to their sinfulness in other ways. For the truth was that their skirts were stained with the blood of the innocent poor. These were not excusable killings, like the slaying of a thief who had broken into their homes, but were inexcusable violence shown towards the weak and helpless. (It would appear that violence had become rife in the days of Jehoiakim, probably largely due to his weak control, and the forced labour building activity which required violence to keep it operative. For once the government is weak all take advantage of it). So their idolatry had inevitably resulted in the ignoring of covenant requirements, and the destabilisation of normal life, that is, of life as it should have been lived, in accordance with His Law.
“Yet you said, ‘I am innocent,
Surely his anger is turned away from me.’
Behold, I will enter into judgment with you,
Because you say, ‘I have not sinned.’ ”
Yet Judah still approached YHWH in wide-eyed innocency (compare Jeremiah 2:23), not believing that YHWH could hold their ways against them. He had accused them of shedding the blood of the innocent poor, but did He not recognise that they too were innocent? Each of them cried, ‘I am innocent, surely His anger is turned away from me.’ But this was so hypocritical that it constituted a main grounds for His judgment. It demonstrated the depths to which they had fallen, in that they did not even recognise the truth about their own sin. That is why their case was almost hopeless. God could help sinners, but it was not possible to help those who were blind to their own sinfulness.
This is very like so many today who, when it is suggested that they have no claim on God are full of wide-eyed innocence because they believe that they have done nothing really wrong, and that God owes it to them to help them when they need Him (in spite of their having mainly ignored Him when things were going well). This is a reminder that God has no time for such people unless they truly repent.
“Why do you gad about so much,
To change your way?
You will be ashamed of Egypt also,
As you were ashamed of Assyria.”
He then points out that instead of genuinely coming to Him they are rather constantly changing their loyalties, first by going to Egypt and then by going to Assyria. They are incorrigible. They gad about from one to the other, and do not realise that both will let them down. For Egypt cannot cope with Babylon, and Assyria is broken. They will thus in the end be ashamed for trusting in either of them. This would appear especially to apply to the days of Jehoiakim.
“From there also will you go forth,
With your hands on your head,
For YHWH has rejected those in whom you trust,
And you will not prosper with them.”
Indeed as a result of this trust they will go from their places where they were, as prisoners (of Babylon), with their hands on their head, because YHWH has rejected both Egypt and Assyria with the result that their case will not prosper. They will be totally let down by both nations.
The hands on the head may have been in order to prevent any violent reaction by prisoners, but in 2 Samuel 13:19 the hands on the head indicated rather great distress, which may be the case here.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 2". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany