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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 13

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-27



Jeremiah 13:1-27

THIS discourse is a sort of appendix to the preceding; as is indicated by its abrupt and brief beginning with the words "Thus said Iahvah unto me," without the addition of any mark of time, or other determining circumstance. It predicts captivity, in retribution for the pride and ingratitude of the people; and thus suitably follows the closing section of the last address, which announces the coming deportation of Judah and her evil neighbours. The recurrence here (Jeremiah 13:9) of the peculiar term rendered "swelling" or "pride" in our English versions, {Jeremiah 12:5} points to the same conclusion. We may subdivide it thus: It presents us with

(1) a symbolical action, or acted parable, with its moral and application (Jeremiah 13:1-11);

(2) a parabolic saying and its interpretation, which leads up to a pathetic appeal for penitence (Jeremiah 13:12-17);

(3) a message to the sovereigns (Jeremiah 13:18-19); and

(4) a closing apostrophe to Jerusalem-the gay and guilty capital, so soon to be made desolate for her abounding sins (Jeremiah 13:20-27).

In the first of these four sections, we are told how the prophet was bidden of God to buy a linen girdle, and after wearing it for a time, to bury it in a cleft of the rock at a place whose very name might be taken to symbolise the doom awaiting his people. A long while afterwards he was ordered to go and dig it up again, and found it altogether spoiled and useless. The significance of these proceedings is clearly enough explained. The relation between Israel and the God of Israel had been of the closest kind. Iahvah had chosen this people, and bound it to Himself by a covenant, as a man might bind a girdle about his body; and as the girdle is an ornament of dress, so had the Lord intended Israel to display His glory among men (Jeremiah 13:11). But now the girdle is rotten; and like that rotten girdle will He cause the pride of Judah to rot and perish (Jeremiah 13:9-10).

It is natural to ask whether Jeremiah really did as he relates; or whether the narrative about the girdle be simply a literary device intended to carry a lesson home to the dullest apprehension. If the prophet’s activity had been confined to the pen; if he had not been wont to labour by word and deed for the attainment of his purposes; the latter alternative might be accepted. For mere readers, a parabolic narrative might suffice to enforce his meaning. But Jeremiah, who was all his life a man of action, probably did the thing he professes to have done, not in thought, nor in word only, but in deed and to the knowledge of certain competent witnesses. There was nothing novel in this method of attracting attention, and giving greater force and impressiveness to his prediction. The older prophets had often done the same kind of things, on the principle that deeds may be more effective than words. What could have conveyed a more vivid sense of the Divine intention, than the simple act of Ahijah the Shilonite, when he suddenly caught away the new mantle of Solomon’s officer, and rent it into twelve pieces, and said to the astonished courtier, "Take thee ten pieces! for thus saith Iahvah, the God of Israel, Behold I am about to rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and will give the ten tribes to thee?" {1 Kings 11:29 sqq.} in like manner when Ahab and Jehoshaphat, dressed in their robes of state, sat enthroned in the gateway of Samaria, and "all the prophets were prophesying before them" about the issue of their joint expedition to Ramoth-gilead, Zedekiah, the son of a Canaanitess-as the writer is careful to add of this false prophet-"made him horns of iron, and said, Thus said Iahvah, With these shalt thou butt the Arameans, until thou make an end of them." {1 Kings 22:11} Isaiah, Hosea, and Ezekiel, record similar actions of symbolical import. Isaiah for a time walked half-clad and bare foot, as a sign that the Egyptians and Ethiopians, upon whom Judah was inclined to lean, would be led away captive, in this comfortless guise, by the king of Assyria. {Isaiah 20:1-6} Such actions may be regarded as a further development of those significant gestures, with which men in what is called a state of nature are wont to give emphasis and precision to their spoken ideas. They may also be compared with the symbolism of ancient law. "An ancient conveyance," we are told, "was not written but acted. Gestures and words took the place of written technical phraseology, and any formula mispronounced, or symbolical act omitted, would have vitiated the proceeding as fatally as a material mistake in stating the uses or setting out the remainders would, two hundred years ago, have vitiated an English deed" (Maine, "Ancient Law," p. 276) Actions of a purely symbolical nature surprise us, when we first encounter them in Religion or Law, but that is only because they are survivals. In the ages when they originated, they were familiar occurrences in all transactions between man and man. And this general consideration tends to prove that those expositors are wrong who maintain that the prophets did not really perform the symbolical actions of which they speak. Just as it is argued that the visions which they describe are merely a literary device; so the reality of these symbolical actions has needlessly enough been called in question. The learned Jews Abenezra and Maimonides in the twelfth century, and David Kimehi in the thirteenth, were the first to affirm this opinion. Maimonides held that all such actions passed in vision before the prophets; a view which has found a modern advocate in Hengstenberg: and Staudlin, in the last century, affirmed that they had neither an objective nor a subjective reality, but were simply a "literary device." This, however, is only true, if true at all, of the declining period of prophecy, as in the case of the visions. In the earlier period, while the prophets were still accustomed to an oral delivery of their discourses, we may be quite sure that they suited the action to the word in the way that they have themselves recorded; in order to stir the popular imagination, and to create a more vivid and lasting impression. The narratives of the historical books leave no doubt about the matter. But in later times, when spoken addresses had for the most part become a thing of the past, and when prophets published their convictions in manuscript, it is possible that they were content with the description of symbolical doings, as a sort of parable, without any actual performance of them. Jeremiah’s hiding his girdle in a cleft of the rock at "Euphrates" has been regarded by some writers as an instance of such purely ideal symbolism. And certainly it is difficult to suppose that the prophet made the long and arduous journey from Jerusalem to the Great River for such a purpose. It is, however, a highly probable conjecture that the place whither he was directed to repair was much nearer home; the addition of a single letter to the name rendered "Euphrates" gives the far preferable reading "Ephrath," that is to say. Bethlehem in Judah. {Genesis 48:7} Jeremiah may very well have buried his girdle at Bethlehem, a place only five miles or so to the south of Jerusalem; a place, moreover, where he would have no trouble in finding a "cleft of the rock," which would hardly be the case upon the alluvial banks of the Euphrates. If not accidental, the difference may be due to the intentional employment of an unusual form of the name, by way of hinting at the source whence the ruin of Judah was to flow. The enemy "from the north" (Jeremiah 13:20) is of course the Chaldeans.

The mention of the queen mother (Jeremiah 13:18) along with the king appears to point unmistakably to the reign of Jehoiachin or Jechoniah. The allusion is compared with the threat of Jeremiah 22:26: "I will cast thee out, and thy mother that bare thee into another country." Like Josiah, this king was but eight years old when he began to reign (2 Chronicles 36:9, after 2 Kings 24:8 must be corrected); and he had enjoyed the name of king only for the brief period of three months, when the thunderbolt fell, and Nebuchadrezzar began his first siege of Jerusalem. The boy-king can hardly have had much to do with the issue of affairs, when "he and his mother and his servants and his princes and his eunuchs" surrendered the city, and were deported to Babylon, with ten thousand of the principal inhabitants. {2 Kings 24:12 sqq.} The date of our discourse will thus be the beginning of the year B.C. 599, which was the eighth year of Nebuchadrezzar. {2 Kings 24:12}

It is asserted, indeed, that the difficult Jeremiah 13:21 refers to the revolt from Babylon as an accomplished fact; but this is by no means clear from the verse itself. "What wilt thou say (demands the prophet) when He shall appoint over thee-albeit, thou thyself hast instructed them against thyself; -lovers to be thy head?" The term "lovers" or "lemans" applies best to the foreign idols, who will one day repay the foolish attachment of Iahvah’s people by enslaving it; {cf. Jeremiah 3:4, where Iahvah Himself is called the "lover" of Judah’s youthful days} and this question might as well have been asked in the days of Josiah, as at any later period. At various times in the past Israel and Judah had courted the favour of foreign deities. Ahaz had introduced Aramean and Assyrian novelties; Manasseh and Amon had revived and aggravated his apostasy. Even Hezekiah had had friendly dealings with Babylon, and we must remember that in those times friendly intercourse with a foreign people implied some recognition of their gods, which is probably the true account of Solomon’s chapels for Tyrian and other deities.

The queen of Jeremiah 13:18 might conceivably be Jedidah, the mother of Josiah, for that king was only eight at his accession, and only thirty-nine at his 2 Kings 22:1. And the message to the sovereigns (Jeremiah 13:18) is not couched in terms of disrespect nor of reproach: it simply declares the imminence of overwhelming disaster, and bids them lay aside their royal pomp, and behave as mourners for the coming woe. Such words might perhaps have been addressed to Josiah and his mother, by way of deepening the impression produced by the Book of the Law, and the rumoured invasion of the Scythians. But the threat against "the kings that sit on David’s throne" (Jeremiah 13:13) is hardly suitable on this supposition; and the ruthless tone of this part of the address-"I will dash them in pieces, one against another, both the fathers and the sons together: I will not pity, nor spare, nor relent from destroying them"-considered along with the emphatic prediction of an utter and entire captivity (Jeremiah 13:19), seems to indicate a later period of the prophet’s ministry, when the obduracy of the people had revealed more fully the hopelessness of his enterprise for their salvation. The mention of the enemy "from the north" will then be a reference to present circumstances of peril, as triumphantly vindicating the prophet’s former menaces of destruction from that quarter. The carnage of conquest and the certainty of exile are here threatened in the plainest and most direct style; but nothing is said by way of heightening the popular terror of the coming destroyer. The prophet seems to take it for granted that the nature of the evil which hangs over their heads is well known to the people, and does not need to be dwelt upon or amplified with the lyric fervour of former utterances (see Jeremiah 4:1-31, Jeremiah 5:15 sqq., Jeremiah 6:22 sqq.). This appears quite natural, if we suppose that the first invasion of the Chaldeans was now a thing of the past; and that the nation was awaiting in trembling uncertainty the consequences of Jehoiakim’s breach of faith with his Babylonian suzerain. {2 Kings 24:10} The prophecy may therefore be assigned with some confidence to the short reign of Jehoiachin, to which perhaps the short section, Jeremiah 10:17-25, also belongs; a date which harmonises better than any other with the play on the name Euphrates in the opening of the chapter. It agrees, too, with the emphatic "Iahvah hath spoken!" (Jeremiah 13:15), which seems to be more than a mere assertion of the speaker’s veracity, and to point rather to the fact that the course of events had reached a crisis; that something had occurred in the political world which suggested imminent danger; that a black cloud was looming up on the national horizon, and signalling most unmistakably to the prophet’s eye the intention of Iahvah. What other view so well explains the solemn tone of warning, the vivid apprehension of danger, the beseeching tenderness, that give so peculiar a stamp to the three verses in which the address passes from narrative and parable to direct appeal? "Hear ye and give ear: be not proud: for Iahvah hath spoken! Give glory to Iahvah your God"-the glory of confession, of avowing your own guilt and His perfect righteousness; {Joshua 7:19; St. John 9:24} of recognising the due reward of your deeds in the destruction that threatens you; the glory involved in the cry, "God be merciful to me a sinner!"-"Give glory to Iahvah your God before the darkness fall, and before your feet stumble upon the twilight mountains; and ye wait for dawn, and He make it deepest gloom, He turn it to utter darkness." The day was declining; the evening shadows were descending and deepening; soon the hapless people would be wandering bewildered in the twilight, and lost in the darkness, unless, ere it had become too late, they would yield their pride, and throw themselves upon the pity of Him who "maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the deepest gloom into morning". {Amos 5:8}

The verbal allusiveness of the opening section does not, according to Oriental taste, diminish the solemnity of the speaker; on the contrary, it tends to deepen the impression produced by his words. And perhaps there is a psychological reason for the fact, beyond the peculiar partiality of Oriental peoples for such displays of ingenuity. It is, at all events, remarkable that the greatest of all masters of human feeling has not hesitated to make a dying prince express his bitter and desponding thoughts in what may seem an artificial toying and trifling with the suggestiveness of his own familiar name: and when the king asks: "Can sick men play so nicely with their names?" the answer is: "No; misery makes sport to mock itself" (Rich. #II, Acts 2:1-47, Sc. 1:72 sqq.). The Greek tragedian, too, in the earnestness of bitter sport, can find a prophecy in a name. "Who was for naming her thus, with truth so entire? (Was it One whom we see not, wielding tongue happily with full foresight of what was to be?) the Bride of Battles, fiercely contested Helen: seeing that, in full accord with her name, haler of ships, haler of men, haler of cities, forth of the soft and precious tapestries away she sailed, under the gale of the giant West" (AEsch., "Ag.," 68, sqq.). And so, to Jeremiah’s ear, Ephrath is prophetic of Euphrates, upon whose distant banks the glory of his people is to languish and decay. "I to Ephrath, and you to Phrath!" is his melancholy cry. Their doom is as certain as if it were the mere fulfilment of an old world prophecy, crystallised long ages ago in a familiar name; a word of destiny fixed in this strange form, and bearing its solemn witness from the outset of their history until now concerning the inevitable goal.

There is nothing so very surprising, as Ewald seems to have thought, in the suggestion that the Perath of the Hebrew text may be the same as Ephrath. But perhaps the valley and spring now called Furah (or Furat) which lies at about the same distance N.E. of Jerusalem, is the place intended by the prophet. The name, which means fresh or sweet water, is identical with the Arabic name of the Euphrates (Furat), which again is philologically identical with the Hebrew Perath. It is obvious that this place would suit the requirements of the text quite as well as the other, while the coincidence of name enables us to dispense with the supposition of an unusual form or even a corruption of the original; but Furat or Forah is not mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament. The old versions send the prophet to the river Euphrates, which Jeremiah calls simply "The River" in one place, {Jeremiah 2:18} and "The river of Perath" in three others; {Jeremiah 46:2; Jeremiah 46:6; Jeremiah 46:10} while the rare "Perath," without any addition, is only found in the second account of the Creation, {Genesis 2:14} in 2 Chronicles 35:20, and in a passage of this book which does not belong, nor profess to belong, to Jeremiah. {Jeremiah 51:63} We may, therefore, conclude that "Perath" in the present passage means not the great river of that name, but a place near Jerusalem, although that place was probably chosen with the intention, as above explained, of alluding to the Euphrates.

I cannot assent to the opinion which regards this narrative of the spoiled girdle as founded upon some accidental experience of the prophet’s life, in which he afterwards recognised a Divine lesson. The precision of statement, and the nice adaptation of the details of the story to the moral which the prophet wished to convey, rather indicate a symbolical course of action, or what may be called an acted parable. The whole proceeding appears to have been carefully thought out beforehand. The intimate connection between Iahvah and Israel is well symbolised by a girdle-that part of an Easter dress which "cleaves to the loins of a man," that is, fits closest to the body, and is most securely attached thereto. And if the nations be represented by the rest of the apparel, as the girdle secures and keeps that in its place, we may see an implication that Israel was intended to be the chain that bound mankind to God. The girdle was of linen, the material of the priestly dress, not only because Jeremiah was a priest, but because Israel was called to be "a kingdom of priests," or the Priest among nations. {Exodus 19:6} The significance of the command to wear the girdle, but not to put it into water, seems to be clear enough. The unwashed garment which the prophet continues to wear for a time represents the foulness of Israel; just as the order to bury it at Perath indicates what Iahvah is about to do with His polluted people.

1. The exposition begins with the words, "Thus will I mar the great pride of Judah and of Jerusalem!" The spiritual uncleanness of the nation consisted in the proud selfwill which turned a deaf ear to the warnings of Iahvah’s prophets, and obstinately persisted in idolatry (Jeremiah 13:10). It continues: "For as the girdle cleaveth to the loins of a man, so made I the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah to cleave unto Me, saith Iahvah; that they might become to Me for a people, and for a name, and for a praise, and for an ornament". {Exodus 28:2} Then their becoming morally unclean, through the defilements of sin, is briefly implied in the words, "And they obeyed not" (Jeremiah 13:11).

It is not the pride of the tyrant king Jehoiakim that is here threatened with destruction. It is the national pride which had all along evinced itself in rebellion against its heavenly King "the great pride of Judah and Jerusalem"; and this pride, inasmuch as it "trusted in man and made flesh its arm," {Jeremiah 17:5} and boasted in a carnal wisdom, and material strength and riches, {Jeremiah 9:23; Jeremiah 21:13} was to be brought low by the complete extinction of the national autonomy, and the reduction of a high-spirited and haughty race to the status of humble dependents upon a heathen power.

2. A parabolic saying follows, with its interpretation. "And say thou unto them this word: Thus saith Iahvah, the God of Israel: Every jar is wont to be filled (or shall be filled) with wine. And if they say unto thee, Are we really not aware that every jar is wont to be filled with wine? say thou unto them, Thus saith Iahvah, Lo, I am about to fill all the inhabitants of this land, and the kings that sit for David upon his throne, and the priests and the prophets, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, with drunkenness; and I will dash them in pieces against one another, and the fathers and the sons together, saith Iahvah: I will not forbear nor spare nor pity, so as not to mar them" (cf. Jeremiah 13:7, Jeremiah 13:9).

The individual members of the nation, of all ranks and classes, are compared to earthenware jars, not "skins," as the LXX gives it, for they are to be "dashed in pieces," "like a potter’s vessel" (Psalms 2:9; cf. Jeremiah 13:14). Regarding them all as ripe for destruction, Jeremiah exclaims, "Every jar is filled with wine," in the ordinary course of things; that is its destiny. His hearers answer with the mocking question, "Do you suppose that we don’t know that?" They would, of course, be aware that a prophet’s figure, however homely, covered an inner meaning of serious import; but derision was their favourite retort against unpopular truths. {Jeremiah 17:15; Jeremiah 20:7-8} They would take it for granted that the thing suggested was unfavourable, from their past experience of Jeremiah. Their ill-timed banter is met by the instant application of the figure. They, and the kings then sitting on David’s throne, i.e., the young Jehoiachin and the queen mother Nehushta (who probably had all the authority if not the title of a regent), and the priests and prophets who fatally misled them by false teachings and false counsels, are the wine jars intended, and the wine that is to fill them is the wine of the wrath of God. {Psalms 75:8; Jeremiah 25:15; cf. Jeremiah 51:7; Revelation 16:19; Isaiah 19:14-15} The effect is intoxication-a fatal bewilderment, a helpless lack of decision, an utter confusion and stupefaction of the faculties of wisdom and foresight, in the very moment of supreme peril. {cf. Isaiah 28:7; Psalms 60:5} Like drunkards, they will reel against and overthrow each other. The strong term, "I will dash them in pieces," is used to indicate the deadly nature of their fall, and because the prophet has still in his mind the figure of the wine jars, which were probably amphorae, pointed at the end, like those depicted in Egyptian mural paintings so that they could not stand upright without support. By their fall they are to be utterly "marred" (the term used of the girdle, Jeremiah 13:9).

But even yet one way of escape lies open. It is to sacrifice their pride, and yield to the will of Iahvah. "Hear ye and give ear, be not haughty! for Iahvah hath spoken: give ye to Iahvah your God the glory, before it grow dark (or He cause darkness), and before your feet stumble upon mountains of twilight; and ye wait for the dawn, and He make it gloom, turning it to cloudiness!". {Isaiah 5:30; Isaiah 8:20; Isaiah 8:22; Amos 8:9} It is very remarkable that even now, when the Chaldeans are actually in the country, and blockading the strong places of southern Judah (Jeremiah 13:19), which was the usual preliminary to an advance upon Jerusalem itself, {2 Chronicles 12:4; 2 Chronicles 32:9; Isaiah 36:1-2} Jeremiah should still speak thus; assuring his fellow citizens that confession and self-humiliation before their offended God might yet deliver them from the bitterest consequences of past misdoing. Iahvah had indeed spoken audibly enough, as it seemed to the prophet, in the calamities that had already befallen the country; these were an indication of more and worse to follow, unless they should prove efficacious in leading the people to repentance. If they failed, nothing would be left for the prophet but to mourn in solitude over his country’s ruin (Jeremiah 13:17). But Jeremiah was fully persuaded that the Hand that had stricken could heal; the Power that had brought the invaders into Judah, could cause them to "return by the way that they had come". {Isaiah 37:34} Of course such a view was unintelligible from the standpoint of unbelief; but then the standpoint of the prophets is faith.

3. After this general appeal for penitence, the discourse turns to the two exalted persons whose position and interest in the country were the highest of all: the youthful king, and the empress or queen mother. They are addressed in a tone which, though not disrespectful, is certainly despairing. They are called upon, not so much to set the example of penitence, {cf. Jonah 3:6} as to take up the attitude of mourners {Job 2:13; Isaiah 3:26; Lamentations 2:10; Ezekiel 26:16} in presence of the public disasters. "Say thou to the king and to the empress, Sit ye low on the ground! (lit. make low your seat; cf. Isaiah 7:1-25 for the construction) for it is fallen from your heads-your beautiful crown! {Lamentations 5:16} The cities of the south are shut fast, and there is none that openeth: {Joshua 6:1} Judah is carried away captive all of her, she is wholly carried away." There is no hope; it is in vain to expect help; nothing is left but to bemoan the irreparable. The siege of the great fortresses of the south country and the sweeping away of the rural population were sure signs of what was coming upon Jerusalem. The embattled cities themselves may be suggested by the fallen crown of beauty; Isaiah calls Samaria "the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim," {Isaiah 28:1} and cities are commonly represented in ancient art by female figures wearing mural crowns. In that case, both verses are addressed to the sovereigns, and the second is exegetical of the first.

As already observed, there is here no censure, but only sorrowful despair over the dark outlook. In the same way, Jeremiah’s utterance {Jeremiah 22:20 sqq.} about the fate of Jehoiachin is less a malediction than a lament. And when we further consider his favourable judgment of the first body of exiles, who were carried away with this monarch soon after the time of the present oracle (chapter 24), we may perhaps see reason to conclude that the surrender of Jerusalem to the Chaldeans on this occasion was partly due to his advice. The narrative of Kings, however, is too brief to enable us to come to any certain decision about the circumstances of Jehoiachin’s submission. {2 Kings 24:10-12}

4. From the sovereigns the prophet turns to Jerusalem. "Lift up thine eyes (O Jerusalem), and behold them that came from the north! Where is the flock that was given to thee, thy beautiful sheep? What wilt thou say when He shall appoint over thee-nay, thou thyself hast spurred them against thyself!-lovers {Jeremiah 3:4; Jeremiah 11:19} for head? Will not pangs take thee, as a woman in travail?" Jerusalem sits upon her hills, as a beautiful shepherdess. The country towns and unwalled villages lay about her, like a fair flock of sheep and goats entrusted to her care and keeping. But now these have been destroyed and their pastures are made a silent solitude, and the destroyer is advancing against herself. What pangs of shame and terror will be hers, when she recognises in the enemy triumphing over her grievous downfall the heathen "friends" whose love she had courted so long! Her sin is to be her scourge. She shall be made the thrall of her foreign lovers. Iahvah will "appoint them over her"; {Jeremiah 15:3; Jeremiah 51:27} they will become the "head," and she the "tail." {Deuteronomy 28:44} Yet this will, in truth, be her own doing, not Iahvah’s; she has herself "accustomed them to herself," {Jeremiah 10:2} or "instructed" or "spurred them on" against herself. {Jeremiah 2:33; Jeremiah 4:18} The revolt of Jehoiakim, his wicked breach of faith with Nebuchadrezzar, had turned friends to enemies. {Jeremiah 4:30} But the chief reference seems to be more general-the continual craving of Judah for foreign alliances and foreign worships. "And if thou say in thine heart, ‘Wherefore did these things befall me?’ through the greatness of thy guilt were thy skirts uncovered, thine heels violated {Nahum 3:5} or exposed. Will a Cushite change his skin, or a leopard his spots? ye, too, are ye able to do good, O ye that are wont to do evil? If, amid the sharp throes of suffering, Jerusalem should still fail to recognise the moral cause of them, {Jeremiah 5:19} she may be assured beforehand that her unspeakable dishonour is the reward of her sins; that is why "the virgin daughter of Sion" is surprised and ravished by the foe (a common figure: Isaiah 47:1-3). Sin has become so ingrained in her that it can no more be eradicated than the blackness of an African skin, or the spots of a leopard’s hide. The habit of sinning has become a second nature," and, like nature, is not to be expelled. {cf. Jeremiah 8:4-7}

The effect of use and wont in the moral sphere could hardly be expressed more forcibly, and Jeremiah’s comparison has become a proverb. Custom binds us all in every department of life; it is only by enlisting this strange influence upon the side of virtue, that we become virtuous. Neither virtue nor vice can be pronounced perfect, until the habit of either has become fixed and invariable. It is the tendency of habitual action of any kind to become automatic, and it is certain that sin may attain such a mastery over the active powers of a man that its indulgence may become almost an unconserous exercise of his will, and quite a matter of course. But this fearful result of evil habits does not excuse them at the bar of common sense, much less at the tribunal of God. The inveterate sinner, the man totally devoid of scruple, whose conscience is, as it were, "seared with a hot iron," is not on that account excused by the common judgment of his kind; the feeling he excites is not forbearance, but abhorrence; he is regarded not as a poor victim of circumstances over which he has no control, but as a monster of iniquity. And justly so; for if he has lost control of his passions, if he is no longer master of himself, but the slave of vice, he is responsible for the long course of self-indulgence which has made him what he is. The prophet’s comparison cannot be applied in support of a doctrine of immoral fatalism. The very fact that he makes use of it, implies that he did not intend to be understood in such a sense. "Will a Cushite change his skin, or a leopard his spots? Ye also (supposing such a change as that) will be able to do good, O ye that are taught (trained, accustomed) to do evil!" (perhaps the preferable rendering).

Not only must we abstain from treating a rhetorical figure as a colourless and rigorous proposition of mathematical science; not only must we allow for the irony and the exaggeration of the preacher: we must also remember his object, which is, if possible, to shock his hearers into a sense of their condition, and to awaken remorse and repentance even at the eleventh hour. His last words (Jeremiah 13:27) prove that he did not believe this result, improbable as it was, to be altogether impossible. Unless some sense of sin had survived in their hearts, unless the terms "good" and "evil," had still retained a meaning for his countrymen, Jeremiah would hardly have laboured still so strenuously to convince them of their sins.

For the present, when retribution is already at the doors, when already the Divine wrath has visibly broken forth, his prevailing purpose is not so much to suggest a way of escape as to bring home to the heart and conscience of the nation the true meaning of the public calamities. They are the consequence of habitual rebellion against God. "And I will scatter them like stubble passing away to before: {cf. Jeremiah 19:10} the wind of the wilderness. This is thy lot (fem. thine, O Jerusalem), the portion of thy measures (others: lap) from Me, saith Iahvah; because thou forgattest Me, and didst trust in the Lie. And I also-I will surely strip thy skirts to thy face, and thy shame shall be seen! {Nahum 3:5} Thine adulteries and thy neighings, the foulness of thy fornications upon the hills in the field {Jeremiah 3:2-6}-I have seen thine abominations. For the construction, compare Isaiah 1:13. Woe unto thee, O Jerusalem! After how long yet wilt thou not become clean?". {2 Kings 5:12-13} That which lies before the citizens in the near future is not deliverance, but dispersion in foreign lands. The onset of the foe will sweep them away, as the blast from the desert drives before it the dry stubble of the cornfields. {Jeremiah 4:11-12} This is no chance calamity, but a recompense allotted and meted out by Iahvah to the city that forgot Him and "trusted in the Lie" of Baal worship and the associated superstitions. The city that dealt shamefully in departing from her God, and dallying with foul idols, shall be put to shame by Him before all the world (Jeremiah 13:26 recurring to the thought of Jeremiah 13:22, but ascribing the exposure directly to Iahvah). Woe-certain woe-awaits Jerusalem; and it is but a faint and far off glimmer of hope that is reflected in the final question, which is like a weary sigh: "After how long yet wilt thou not become clean?" How long must the fiery process of cleansing go on, ere thou be purged of thine inveterate sins? It is a recognition that the punishment will not be exterminative; that God’s chastisements of His people can no more fail at last than His promises; that the triumph of a heathen power and the disappearance of Iahvah’s Israel from under His heaven cannot be the final phase of that long eventful history which begins with the call of Abraham.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Jeremiah 13". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/jeremiah-13.html.
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