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the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 4

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-2




Jeremiah 3:6-25; Jeremiah 4:1-2

THE first address of our prophet was throughout of a sombre cast, and the darkness of its close was not relieved by a single ray of hope. It was essentially a comminatory discourse, the purpose of it being to rouse a sinful nation to the sense of its peril, by a faithful picture of its actual condition, which was so different from what it was popularly supposed to be. The veil is torn aside; the real relations between Israel and his God are exposed to view; and it is seen that the inevitable goal of persistence in the course which has brought partial disasters in the past, is certain destruction in the imminent future. It is implied, but not said, that the only thing that can save the nation is a complete reversal of policies hitherto pursued, in Church and State and private life; and it is apparently taken for granted that the thing implied is no longer possible. The last word of the discourse was: "Thou hast purposed and performed the evils, and thou hast conquered." {Jeremiah 3:5} The address before us forms a striking contrast to this dark picture. It opens a door of hope for the penitent. The heart of the prophet cannot rest in the thought of the utter rejection of his people; the harsh and dreary announcement that his people’s woes are self-caused cannot be his last word. "His anger was only love provoked to distraction; here it has come to itself again," and holds out an offer of grace first to that part of the whole nation which needs it most, the fallen kingdom of Ephraim, and then to the entire people. The all Israel of the former discourse is here divided into its two sections, which are contrasted with each other, and then again considered as a united nation. This feature distinguishes the piece from that which begins Jeremiah 4:3, and which is addressed to Judah and Jerusalem rather than to Israel and Judah, like the one before us. An outline of the discourse may be given thus. It is shown that Judah has not taken warning by Iahvah’s rejection of the sister kingdom (Jeremiah 3:6-10); and that Ephraim may be pronounced less guilty than Judah, seeing that she had witnessed no such signal example of the Divine vengeance on hardened apostasy. She is, therefore, invited to repent and return to her alienated God, which will involve a return from exile to her own land; and the promise is given of the reunion of the two peoples in a restored theocracy, having its centre in Mount Zion (Jeremiah 3:11-19). All Israel has rebelled against God; but the prophet hears the cry of universal penitence and supplication ascending to heaven; and Iahvah’s gracious answer of acceptance. {Jeremiah 3:20-25; Jeremiah 4:1-2}

The opening section depicts the sin which had brought ruin on Israel, and Judah’s readiness in following her example, and refusal to take warning by her fate. This twofold sin is aggravated by an insincere repentance. "And Iahvah said unto me, in the days of Josiah the king, Sawest thou what the Turncoat or Recreant Israel did? she would go up every high hill, and under every evergreen tree, and play the harlot there. And me thought that after doing all this she would return to Me; but she returned not; and the Traitress, her sister Judah saw it." And I saw that when for the very reason that she, the Turncoat Israel, had committed adultery, I had put her away, and given her her bill of divorce, the Traitress Judah, her sister, was not afraid, but she too went off and played the harlot. And so, through the cry {cf. Genesis 4:10; Genesis 18:20 sq.} of her harlotry (or defect through her manifold or abounding harlotry) she polluted the land (Jeremiah 3:2), in that she committed adultery with the Stone and with the Stock. And yet though she was involved in all this guilt (lit. and even in all this.) Perhaps the sin and the penalties of it are identified; and the meaning is: "And yet for all this liability," cf. {Isaiah 5:25} the Traitress Judah returned not unto Me with all her heart (with a whole or undivided heart, with entire sincerity) but in falsehood, saith Iahvah. "The example of the northern kingdom is represented as a powerful influence for evil upon Judah. This was only natural; for although from the point of view of religious development Judah is incomparably the more important of the sister kingdoms; the exact contrary is the case as regards political power and predominance. Under strong kings like Omri and Ahab, or again, Jeroboam II, Ephraim was able to assert itself as a first-rate power among the surrounding principalities; and in the case of Athaliah, we have a conspicuous instance of the manner in which Canaanite idolatry might be propagated from Israel to Judah. The prophet declares that the sin of Judah was aggravated by the fact that she had witnessed the ruin of Israel, and yet persisted in the same evil courses of which that ruin was the result. She sinned against light. The fall of Ephraim had verified the predictions of her prophets; yet she was not afraid," but went on adding to the score of her own offences, and polluting the land with her unfaithfulness to her Divine Spouse. The idea that the very soil of her country was defiled by Judah’s idolatry may be illustrated by reference to the well known words of Psalms 106:38: "They shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and their daughters whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan; and the land was defiled with the bloodshed." We may also remember Elohim’s words to Cain: "The voice of thy brother’s blood is crying unto Me from the ground!" {Genesis 4:10} As Iahvah’s special dwelling place, moreover, the land of Israel was holy; and foreign rites desecrated and profaned it. and made it offensive in His sight. The pollution of it cried to heaven for vengeance on those who had caused it. To such a state had Judah brought her own land, and the very city of the sanctuary; and yet in all this amid this accumulation of sins and liabilities she turned not to her Lord with her whole heart. The reforms set on foot in the twelfth year of Josiah were but superficial and halfhearted; the people merely acquiesced in them, at the dictation of the court, and gave no sign of any inward change or deep-wrought repentance. The semblance without the reality of sorrow for sin is but a mockery of heaven, and a heinous aggravation of guilt. Hence the sin of Judah was of a deeper dye than that which had destroyed Israel. And Iahvah said unto me, The Turncoat or Recreant Israel hath proven herself more righteous than the Traitress Judah. Who could doubt it, considering that almost all the prophets had borne their witness in Judah; and that, in imitating her sister’s idolatry, she had resolutely closed her eyes to the light of truth and reason? On this ground, that Israel has sinned less and suffered more, the prophet is bidden to hold out to her the hope of Divine mercy. The greatness of her ruin, as well as the lapse of years since the fatal catastrophe, might tend to diminish in the prophet’s mind the impression of her guilt; and his patriotic yearning for the restoration of the banished Ten Tribes, who, after all, were the near kindred of Judah, as well as the thought that they had borne their punishment, and thus atoned for their sin, {Isaiah 11:2} might cooperate with the desire of kindling in his own countrymen a noble rivalry of repentance, in moving the prophet to obey the impulse which urged him to address himself to Israel. Go thou, and cry these words northward (toward the desolate land of Ephraim), and say: Return, Turncoat or Recreant Israel, saith Iahvah; I will not let My countenance fall at the sight of you; {lit. against you, cf. Genesis 4:5} for I am loving, saith Iahvah, I keep not anger forever. Only recognise thy guilt, that thou hast rebelled against Iahvah thy God, and hast scattered {or lavished: Psalms 112:9} thy ways to the strangers hast gone now in this direction, now in that, worshipping first one idol and then another; cf. Jeremiah 2:23; and so, as it were, dividing up and dispersing thy devotion under every evergreen tree; "but My voice ye have not obeyed, saith Iahvah." The invitation, "Return Apostate Israel!"-contains a play of words which seems to suggest that the exile of the Ten Tribes was voluntary, or self-imposed; as if, when they turned their backs upon their true God, they had deliberately made choice of the inevitable consequence of that rebellion, and made up their minds to abandon their native land. So close is the connection, in the prophet’s view, between the misfortunes of his people and their sins.

"Return, ye apostate children" (again there is a play on words-"Turn back, ye back-turning sons," or "ye sons that turn the back to Me) saith Iahvah; for it was I that wedded you" (Jeremiah 3:14), and am, therefore, your proper lord. The expression is not stranger than that which the great prophet of the Return addresses to Zion: "Thy sons shall marry thee." But perhaps we should rather compare another passage of the Book of Isaiah, where it is said: "Iahvah, our God! other lords beside Thee have had dominion over us," {Isaiah 26:13} and render: "For it is I that will be your lord"; or perhaps, "For it is I that have mastered you," and put down your rebellion by chastisements; "and I will take you, one of a city and two of a clan, and will bring you to Zion." As a "city" is elsewhere spoken of as a "thousand," {Micah 5:1} and a "thousand" is synonymous with a "clan," as providing a thousand warriors in the national militia, it is clear that the promise is that one or two representatives of each township in Israel shall be restored from exile to the land of their fathers. In other words, we have here Isaiah’s doctrine of the remnant, which he calls a "tenth," {Isaiah 6:13} and of which he declared that "the survivors of the house of Judah that remain, shall again take root downwards, and bear fruit upwards." {Isaiah 37:31} And as Zion is the goal of the returning exiles, we may see, as doubtless the prophets saw, a kind of anticipation and foreshadowing of the future in the few scattered members of the northern tribes of Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun, who "humbled themselves," and accepted Hezekiah’s invitation to the passover; {2 Chronicles 30:11; 2 Chronicles 30:18} and, again, in the authority which Josiah is said to have exercised in the land of the Ten Tribes (2 Chronicles 34:6; 2 Chronicles 34:9). We must bear in mind that the prophets do not contemplate the restoration of every individual of the entire nation; but rather the return of a chosen few, a kind of "firstfruits" of Israel, who are to be a "holy seed," {Isaiah 6:13} from which the power of the Supreme will again build up the entire people according to its ancient divisions. So the holy Apostle in the Revelation hears that twelve thousand of each tribe are sealed as servants of God. {Revelation 7:1-17}

The happy time of restoration will also be a time of reunion. The estranged tribes will return to their old allegiance. This is implied by the promise, "I will bring you to Zion," and by that of the next verse: "And I will give you shepherds after My own heart; and they shall shepherd you with knowledge and wisdom." Obviously, kings of the house of David are meant; the good shepherds of the future are contrasted with the "rebellious" ones of the Jeremiah 2:8. It is the promise of Isaiah: {Isaiah 1:26} "And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning." In this connection, we may recall the fact that the original schism in Israel was brought about by the folly of evil shepherds. The coming King will resemble not Rehoboam but David. Nor is this all; for "It shall come to pass, when ye multiply and become fruitful in the land, in those days, saith Iahvah, men shall not say any more, The ark of the covenant of Iahvah," or, as LXX, "of the Holy One of Israel; nor shall it" (the ark) "come to mind; nor shall men remember it, nor miss it; nor shall it be made any more" (although the verb may be impersonal.) I do not understand why Hitzig asserts "Man wird keine andere machen" (Movers) oder; "sic wird nicht wieder gemacht" (Ew., Graf) "als ware nicht von der geschichtlichen Lade die Rede, sondern von ihr begrifflich, konnen die Worte nicht bedeuten." But cf. Exodus 25:10; Genesis 6:14; where the same verb is used. Perhaps, however, the rendering of C.B. Michaelis, which he prefers, is more in accordance with what precedes: "nor shall all that be done any more," Genesis 29:26; Genesis 41:34. But it does not mean "nachforschen." {cf. 1 Samuel 20:6; 1 Samuel 25:15} "In that time men will call Jerusalem the throne of Iahvah; and all the nations will gather into it," {Genesis 1:9} "for the name of Iahvah" (at Jerusalem: LXX om.); "and they" (the heathen) "will no longer follow the stubbornness of their evil heart." {Jeremiah 7:24; Deuteronomy 29:19}

In the new Theocracy, the true kingdom of God, the ancient symbol of the Divine presence will be forgotten in the realisation of that presence. The institution of the New Covenant will be characterised by an immediate and personal knowledge of Iahvah in the hearts of all His people. {Jeremiah 31:31 sq.} The small object in which past generations had loved to recognise the earthly throne of the God of Israel, will be replaced by Jerusalem itself, the Holy City, not merely of Judah, nor of Judah and Israel, but of the world. Thither will all the nations resort "to the name of Iahvah"; ceasing henceforth "to follow the hardness (or callousness) of their own evil heart." That the more degraded kinds of heathenism have a hardening effect upon the heart; and that the cruel and impure worships of Canaan especially tended to blunt the finer sensibilities, to enfeeble the natural instincts of humanity and justice, and to confuse the sense of right and wrong, is beyond question. Only a heart rendered callous by custom, and stubbornly deaf to the pleadings of natural pity, could find genuine pleasures in the merciless rites of the Molech worship; and they who ceased to follow these inhuman superstitions, and sought light and guidance from the God of Israel, might well be said to have ceased "to walk after the hardness of their own evil heart." The more repulsive features of heathenism chime in too well with the worst and most savage impulses of our nature; they exhibit too close a conformity with the suggestions and demands of selfish appetite; they humour and encourage the darkest passions far too directly and decidedly, to allow us to regard as plausible any theory of their origin and permanence which does not recognise in them at once a cause and an effect of human depravity. {cf. Romans 1:1-32}

The repulsiveness of much that was associated with the heathenism with which they were best acquainted, did not hinder the prophets of Israel from taking a deep spiritual interest in those who practised and were enslaved by it. Indeed, what has been called the universalism of the Hebrew seers-their emancipation in this respect from all local and national limits and prejudices-is one of the clearest proofs of their divine mission. Jeremiah only reiterates what Micah and Isaiah had preached before him; that "in the latter days the mountain of Iahvah’s House shall be established as the chief of mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all the nations will flow unto it". {Isaiah 2:2} In Jeremiah 16:19 sq. our prophet thus expresses himself upon the same topic. "Iahvah, my strength and my stronghold, and my refuge in the day of distress! unto Thee shall nations come from the ends of the earth, and shall say: Our forefathers inherited naught but a lie, vanity, and things among which is no helper. Shall a man make him gods, when they are no gods?" How largely this particular aspiration of the prophets of the seventh and eighth centuries B.C. has since been fulfilled in the course of the ages is a matter of history. The religion which was theirs has, in the new shape given it by our Lord and His Apostles, become the religion of one heathen people after another, until at this day it is the faith professed, not only in the land of its origin, but by the leading nations of the world. So mighty a fulfilment of hopes, which at the time of their first conception and utterance could only be regarded as the dreams of enthusiastic visionaries, justifies those who behold and realise it in the joyful belief that the progress of true religion has not been maintained for six and twenty centuries to be arrested now; and that these old world aspirations are destined to receive a fulness of illustration in the triumphs of the future, in the light of which the brightest glories of the past will pale and fade away.

The prophet does not say, with a prophet of the New Covenant, that "all Israel shall be saved". {Romans 11:26} We may, however, fairly interpret the latter of the true Israel, "the remnant according to the election of grace," rather than of "Israel according to the flesh," and so both will be at one, and both at variance with the unspiritual doctrine of the Talmud, that "All Israel," irrespective of moral qualifications, will have "a portion in the world to come," on account of the surpassing merits of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and even of Abraham alone. {cf. St. Matthew 3:9; St. John 8:33}

The reference to the ark of the covenant in the sixteenth verse is remarkable upon several grounds. This sacred symbol is not mentioned among the spoils which Nebuzaradan (Nabuziriddin) took from the temple; {Jeremiah 52:17 sqq.} nor is it specified among the treasures appropriated by Nebuchadrezzar at the surrender of Jehoiachin. The words of Jeremiah prove that it cannot be included among "the vessels of gold" which the Babylonian conqueror "cut in pieces". {2 Kings 24:13} We learn two facts about the ark from the present passage: (1) that it no longer existed in the days of the prophet; (2) that people remembered it with regret, though they did not venture to replace the lost original by a new substitute. It may well have been destroyed by Manasseh, the king who did his utmost to abolish the religion of Iahvah. However that may be, the point of the prophet’s allusion consists in the thought that in the glorious times of Messianic rule the idea of holiness will cease to be attached to things, for it will be realised in persons; the symbol will become obsolete, and its name and memory will disappear from the minds and affections of men, because the fact symbolised will be universally felt and perceived to be a present and self-evident truth. In that great epoch of Israel’s reconciliation, all nations will recognise in Jerusalem "the throne of Iahvah," the centre of light and source of spiritual truth; the Holy City of the world. Is it the earthly or the heavenly Jerusalem that is meant? It would seem, the former only was present to the consciousness of the prophet, for he concludes his beautiful interlude of promise with the words: "In those days will the house of Judah walk beside the house of Israel; and they will come together from the land of the North" ("and from all the lands": LXX add. cf. Jeremiah 16:15) "unto the land that I caused your fathers to possess." Like Isaiah {Isaiah 11:12 sqq.} and other prophets his predecessors, Jeremiah forecasts for the whole repentant and united nation a reinstatement in their ancient temporal rights, in the pleasant land from which they had been so cruelly banished for so many weary years.

"The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." If, when we look at the whole course of subsequent events, when we review the history of the Return and of the narrow religious commonwealth which was at last, after many bitter struggles, established on mount Sion; when we consider the form which the religion of Iahvah assumed in the hands of the priestly caste, and the half-religious, half-political sects, whose intrigues and conflicts for power constitute almost all we know of their period; when we reflect upon the character of the entire post-exilic age down to the time of the birth of Christ, with its worldly ideals, its fierce fanaticisms, its superstitious trust in rites and ceremonies; if, when we look at all this, we hesitate to claim that the prophetic visions of a great restoration found fulfilment in the erection of this petty state, this paltry edifice, upon the ruins of David’s capital; shall we lay ourselves open to the accusation that we recognise no element of truth in the glorious aspirations of the prophets? I think not.

After all, it is clear from the entire context that these hopes of a golden time to come are not independent of the attitude of the people towards Iahvah. They will only be realised, if the nation shall truly repent of the past, and turn to Him with the whole heart. The expressions "at that time," "in those days" (Jeremiah 3:17-18), are only conditionally determinate; they mean the happy time of Israel’s repentance, "if such a time should ever come." From this glimpse of glorious possibilities, the prophet turns abruptly to the dark page of Israel’s actual history. He has, so to speak, portrayed in characters of light the development as it might have been; he now depicts the course it actually followed. He restates Iahvah’s original claim upon Israel’s grateful devotion, {Jeremiah 2:2} putting these words into the mouth of the Divine Speaker: "And I indeed thought, How will I set thee among the sons" (of the Divine household), "and give thee a lovely land, a heritage the fairest among the nations! And me thought, thou wouldst call Me ‘My Father,’ and wouldst not turn back from following Me." Iahvah had at the outset adopted Israel, and called him from the status of a groaning bondsman to the dignity of a son and heir. When Israel was a child, He had loved him, and called His son out of Egypt, {Hosea 11:1} to give him a place and a heritage among nations. It was Iahvah, indeed, who originally assigned their holdings to all the nations, and separated the various tribes of mankind, "fixing the territories of peoples, according to the number of the sons of God". {Deuteronomy 32:8 Sept.} If He had brought up Israel from Egypt, He had also brought up the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Arameans from Kir. {Amos 9:7} But He had adopted Israel in a more special sense, which may be expressed in St. Paul’s words, who makes it the chief advantage of Israel above the nations that "unto them were committed the oracles of God". {Romans 3:2} What nobler distinction could have been conferred upon any race of men than that they should have been thus chosen, as Israel actually was chosen, not merely in the aspirations of prophets, but as a matter of fact in the divinely directed evolution of human history, to become the heralds of a higher truth, the hierophants of spiritual knowledge, the universally recognised interpreters of God? Such a calling might have been expected to elicit a response of the warmest gratitude, the most enthusiastic loyalty and unswerving devotion. But Israel as a nation did not rise to the level of these lofty prophetic views of its vocation; it knew itself to be the people of Iahvah, but it failed to realise the moral significance of that privilege, and the moral and spiritual responsibilities which it involved. It failed to adore Iahvah as the Father, in the only proper and acceptable sense of that honourable name, the sense which restricts its application to one sole Being. Heathenism is blind and irrational as well as profane and sinful; and so it does not scruple to confer such absolutely individual titles as "God" and "Father" upon a multitude of imaginary powers.

"Methought thou wouldst call Me ‘My Father,’ and wouldst not turn back from following Me. But" {Zephaniah 3:7} "a woman is false to her fere; so were ye false to Me, O house of Israel, saith Iahvah." The Divine intention toward Israel, God’s gracious design for her everlasting good, God’s expectation of a return for His favour, and how that design was thwarted so far as man could thwart it, and that expectation disappointed hitherto; such is the import of the last two verses (Jeremiah 3:19-20). Speaking in the name of God, Jeremiah represents Israel’s past as it appears to God. He now proceeds to show dramatically, or as in a picture, how the expectation may yet be fulfilled, and the design realised. Having exposed the national guilt, he supposes his remonstrance to have done its work, and he overhears the penitent people pouring out its heart before God. Then a kind of dialogue ensues between the Deity and His suppliants. "Hark! upon the bare hills is heard the weeping of the supplications of the sons of Israel, that they perverted their way, forgot Iahvah their God." The treeless hill tops had been the scene of heathen orgies miscalled worship. There the rites of Canaan performed by Israelites had insulted the God of heaven (Jeremiah 3:2 and Jeremiah 3:6). Now the very places which witnessed the sin, witness the national remorse and confession. The ‘high places’ are not condemned even by Jeremiah as places of worship, but only as places of heathen and illicit worships. The solitude and quiet and purer air of the hill tops, their unobstructed view of heaven and suggestive nearness thereto, have always made them natural sanctuaries both for public rites and private prayer and meditation: cf. 2 Samuel 15:32; and especially St. Luke 6:12.

In this closing section of the piece {Jeremiah 3:19-25; Jeremiah 4:1-2} "Israel" means not the entire people, but the northern kingdom only, which is spoken of separately also in Jeremiah 3:6-18, with the object of throwing into higher relief the heinousness of Judah’s guilt. Israel-the northern kingdom-was less guilty than Judah, for she had no warning example, no beacon light upon her path, such as her own fall afforded to the southern kingdom; and therefore the Divine compassion is more likely to be extended to her, even after a century of ruin and banishment, than to her callous, impenitent sister. Whether at the time Jeremiah was in communication with survivors of the northern Exile, who were faithful to the God of their fathers, and looked wistfully toward Jerusalem as the centre of the best traditions and the sole hope of Israelite nationality, cannot now be determined. The thing is not unlikely, considering the interest which the prophet afterwards took in the Judean exiles who were taken to Babylon with Jehoiachin (chapter 29) and his active correspondence with their leaders. We may also remember that "divers of Asher and Manasseh and Zebulun humbled themselves" and came to keep passover with king Hezekiah at Jerusalem. It cannot, certainly, be supposed, with any show of reason, that the Assyrians either carried away the entire population of the northern kingdom, or exterminated all whom they did not carry away. The words of the Chronicler who speaks of "a remnant escaped out of the hand of the kings of Assyria," are themselves perfectly agreeable to reason and the nature of the case, apart from the consideration that he had special historical sources at his command. {2 Chronicles 30:6; 2 Chronicles 30:11} We know that in the Maccabean and Roman wars the rocky fastnesses of the country were a refuge to numbers of the people, and the history of David shows that this had been the case from time immemorial. {cf. Judges 6:2} Doubtless in this way not a few survived the Assyrian invasions and the destruction of Samaria (B.C. 721). But to return to the text. After the confession of the nation that they have "perverted their way" (that is, their mode of worship, by adoring visible symbols of Iahvah, and associating with Him as His compeers a multitude of imaginary gods, especially the local Baalim, Jeremiah 2:23, and Ashtaroth), the prophet hears another voice, a voice of Divine invitation and gracious promise, responsive to penitence and prayer: "Return, ye apostate sons, let Me heal your apostasies!" or "If ye return, ye apostate sons, I will heal your apostasies!" It is an echo of the tenderness of an older prophet. {Hosea 14:1; Hosea 14:4} And the answer of the penitents quickly follows: "Behold us, we are come unto Thee, for Thou art Iahvah our God." The voice that now calls us, we know by its tender tones of entreaty, compassion, and love to be the voice of Iahvah our own God; not the voice of sensual Chemosh, tempting to guilty pleasures and foul impurities, not the harsh cry of a cruel Molech, calling for savage rites of pitiless bloodshed. Thou, Iahvah-not these nor their fellows-art our true and only God.

"Surely, in vain" (for naught, bootlessly, 1 Samuel 25:21; Jeremiah 5:2; Jeremiah 16:19) "on the hills did we raise a din" (lit. "hath one raised";) surely in Iahvah our God is the safety of Israel! The Hebrew cannot be original as it now stands in the Masoretic text, for it is ungrammatical. The changes I have made will be seen to be very slight, and the sense obtained is much the same as Ewald’s "Surely in vain from the hills is the noise, from the mountains" (where every reader must feel that "from the mountains" is a forcible feeble addition which adds nothing to the sense). We might also perhaps detach the mem from the term for "hills," and connect it with the preceding word, thus getting the meaning: "Surely, for Lies are the hills, the uproar of the mountains!" that is to say, the high places are devoted to delusive nonentities, who can do nothing in return for the wild orgiastic worship bestowed on them; a thought which contrasts very well with the second half of the verse: "Surely, in Iahvah our God is the safety of Israel!"

The confession continues: "And as for the Shame"-the shameful idol, the Baal whose worship involved shameful rites, {Jeremiah 11:13; Hosea 9:10} and who put his worshippers to shame, by disappointing them of help in the hour of their need {Jeremiah 2:8; Jeremiah 2:26-27} -"as for the Shame"-in contrast with Iahvah, the Safety of Israel, who gives all, and requires little or nothing of this kind in return-"it devoured the labour of our fathers from our youth, their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters." The allusion is to the insatiable greed of the idol priests, and the lavish expense of perpetually recurring feasts and sacrifices, which constituted a serious drain upon the resources of a pastoral and agricultural community; and to the bloody rites which, not content with animal offerings, demanded human victims for the altars of an appalling superstition. "Let us lie down in our shame, and let our infamy cover us! for toward Iahvah our God we trespassed, we and our fathers, from our youth even unto this day, and obeyed not the voice of Iahvah our God." A more complete acknowledgment of sin could hardly be conceived; no palliating circumstances are alleged, no excuses devised, of the kind with which men usually seek to soothe a disturbed conscience. The strong seductions of Canaanite worship, the temptation to join in the joyful merriment of idol festivals, the invitation of friends and neighbours, the contagion of example, -all these extenuating facts must have been at least as well known to the prophet as to modern critics, but he is expressively silent on the point of mitigating circumstances in the case of a nation to whom such light and guidance had come as came to Israel. No, he could discern no ground of hope for his people except in a full and unreserved admission of guilt, an agony of shame and contrition before God, a heartfelt recognition of the truth that from the outset of their national existence to the passing day they had continually sinned against Iahvah their God and resisted His holy Will.

Finally, to this cry of penitents humbled in the dust, and owning that they have no refuge from the consequences of their sin but in the Divine Mercy, comes the firm yet loving answer: "If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith Iahvah, unto Me wilt return, and if thou wilt put away thine Abominations" ("out of thy mouth and," LXX) "out of My Presence, and sway not to" and 1 Kings 14:15, "but wilt swear ‘By the Life of Iahvah!’ in good faith, justice, and righteousness; then shall the nations bless themselves by Him, and in Him shall they glory." {Jeremiah 4:1-2} Such is the close of this ideal dialogue between God and man. It is promised that if the nation’s repentance be sincere-not half-hearted like that of Judah {Jeremiah 3:10; 2 Chronicles 34:33} -and if the fact be demonstrated by a resolute and unwavering rejection of idol worship, evinced by the disuse of their names in oaths, and the expulsion of their symbols "from the Presence," that is, out of the sanctuaries and domain of Iahvah, and by adhering to the Name of the God of Israel in oaths and compacts of all kinds, and by a scrupulous loyalty to such engagements; {Psalms 15:4 Isaiah 48:1} then the ancient oracle of blessing will be fulfilled, and Israel will become a proverb of felicity, the pride and boast of mankind, the glorious ideal of perfect virtue and perfect happiness. {Genesis 12:3; Isaiah 65:16} Then, "all the nations will gather together unto Jerusalem for the Name of Iahvah"; {Jeremiah 3:17} they will recognise in the religion of Iahvah the answer to their highest longings and spiritual necessities, and will take Israel for what Iahvah intended him to be, their example and priest and prophet.

Jeremiah could hardly have chosen a more extreme instance for pointing the lesson he had to teach than the long since ruined and depopulated kingdom of the Ten Tribes. Hopeless as their actual condition must have seemed at the time, he assures his own countrymen in Judah and Jerusalem that even yet, if only the moral requirements of the case were fulfilled, and the heart of the poor remnant and of the survivors in banishment aroused to a genuine and permanent repentance, the Divine promises would be accomplished in a people whose sun had apparently set in darkness forever. And so he passes on to address his own people directly in tones of warning, reproof, and menace of approaching wrath. {Jeremiah 4:3 - Jeremiah 6:30}

Verses 1-31

{e-Sword Note: In the printed edition, this material appeared near the end of 2 Kings.}


Jereremiah 1:1 - Jeremiah 5:31

"Count me o’er earth’s chosen heroes-they were souls that stood alone, While the men they agonized for hurled the contumelious stone; Stood serene, and down the future saw the golden beam incline To the side of perfect justice, mastered by their faith divine, By one man’s plain truth to manhood and to God’s supreme design."


TRULY Jeremiah was a prophet of evil. The king might have addressed him in the words with which Agamemnon reproaches Kalchas.

"Augur accursed! denouncing mischief still:

Prophet of plagues, forever boding ill!

Still must that tongue some wounding message bring,

And still thy priestly pride provoke thy king."

Never was there a sadder man. Like Phocion, he believed in the enemies of his country more than he believed in his own people. He saw "Too late" written upon everything. "He saw himself all but universally execrated as a coward, as a traitor, as one who weakened the nerves and damped the courage of those who were fighting against fearful odds for their wives and children, the ashes of their fathers, their altars, and their hearths. It had become his fixed conviction that any prophets-and there were a multitude of them-who prophesied peace were false prophets, and ipso facto proved themselves conspirators against the true well-being of the land Jeremiah 6:14; Jeremiah 8:11 Ezekiel 13:10. In point of fact, Jeremiah lived to witness the death struggle of the idea of religion in its predominantly national character. {; Jeremiah 7:8-16; Jeremiah 6:8} The continuity of the national faith refused to be bound up with the continuance of the nation. When the nation is dissolved into individual elements, the continuity and ultimate victory of the true faith depends on the relations of Jehovah to individual souls out of which the nation shall be bound up."

And now a sad misfortune happened to Jeremiah. His home was not at Jerusalem, but at Anathoth, though he had long been driven from his native village by the murderous plots of his own kindred, and of those who had been infuriated by his incessant prophecies of doom. When the Chaldaeans retired from Jerusalem to encounter Pharaoh, he left the distressed city for the land of Benjamin, "to receive his portion from thence in the midst of the people"-apparently, for the sense is doubtful, to claim his dues of maintenance as a priest. But at the city gate he was arrested by Irijah, the son of Shelemiah, the captain of the watch, who charged him with the intention of deserting to the Chaldaeans. Jeremiah pronounced the charge to be a lie; but Irijah took him before the princes, who hated him, and consigned him to dreary and dangerous imprisonment in the house of Jonathan the scribe. In the vaults of this house of the pit he continued many days. {Jeremiah 37:11-15} The king sympathized with him: he would gladly have delivered him, if he could, from the rage of the princes; but he did not dare. Meanwhile, the siege went on, and the people never forgot the anguish of despair with which they waited the re-investiture of the city. Ever since that day it has been kept as a fast-the fast of Tebeth. Zedekiah, yearning for some advice, or comfort-if comfort were to be had-from the only man whom he really trusted, sent for Jeremiah to the palace, and asked him in despicable secrecy, "Is there any word from the Lord?" The answer was the old one: "Yes! Thou shalt be delivered into the hands of the King of Babylon." Jeremiah gave it without quailing, but seized the opportunity to ask on what plea he was imprisoned. Was he not a prophet? Had he not prophesied the return of the Chaldaean host? Where now were all the prophets who had prophesied peace? Would not the king at least save him from the detestable prison in which he was dying by inches? The king heard his petition, and he was removed to a better prison in the court of the watch where he received his daily piece of bread out of the bakers’ street until all the bread in the city was spent. For now utter famine came upon the wretched Jews, to add to the horrors and accidents of the siege. If we would know what that famine was in its appalling intensity, we must turn to the Book of Lamentations. Those elegies, so unutterably plaintive, may not be by the prophet himself, but only by his school but they show us what was the frightful condition of the people of Jerusalem before and during the last six months of the siege. "The sword of the wilderness"-the roving and plundering Bedouin-made it impossible to get out of the city in any direction. Things were as dreadfully hopeless as they had been in Samaria when it was besieged by Benhadad. {; Lamentations 5:4} Hunger and thirst reduce human nature to its most animal conditions. They obliterate the merest elements of morality. They make men like beasts, and reveal the ferocity which is never quite dead in any but the purest and loftiest souls. They arouse the least human instincts of the aboriginal animal. The day came when there was no more bread left in Jerusalem. {Jeremiah 37:21; Jeremiah 38:9; Jeremiah 52:6} The fair and ruddyNazarites, who had been purer than snow, whiter than milk, more ruddy than corals, lovely as sapphires, became like withered boughs, {; Lamentations 4:7-8} and even their friends did not recognize them in those ghastly and emaciated figures which crept about the streets. The daughters of Zion, more cruel in their hunger than the very jackals, lost the instincts of pity and motherhood. Mothers and fathers devoured their own little unweaned children. There was parricide as well as infanticide in the horrible houses. They seemed to plead that none could blame them, since the lives of many had become an intolerable anguish, and no man had bread for his little ones, and their tongues cleaved to the roof of their mouth. All that happened six centuries later, during the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, happened now. Then Martha, the daughter of Nicodemus ben-Gorion, once a lady of enormous wealth, was seen picking the grains of corn from the offal of the streets; now the women who had fed delicately and been brought up in scarlet were seen sitting desolate on heaps of dung. And Jehovah did not raise His hand to save His guilty and dying people. It was too late!

And as is always the case in such extremities, there were men who stood defiant and selfish amid the universal misery. Murder, oppression, and luxury continued to prevail. The godless nobles did not intermit the building of their luxurious houses, asserting to themselves and others that, after all, the final catastrophe was not near at hand. The sudden death of one of them-Pelatiah, the son of Benaiah-while Ezekiel was prophesying, terrified the prophet so much that he flung himself on his face and cried with a loud voice, "Ah, Lord God! wilt Thou make a full end of the remnant of Israel?" But on the others this death by the visitation of God seems to have produced no effect; and the glory of God left the city, borne away upon its cherubim-chariot. {Ezekiel 11:22}

Even under the stress of these dreadful circumstances the Jews held out with that desperate tenacity which has often been shown by nations fighting behind strong walls for their very existence, but by no nation more decidedly than by the Jews. And if the rebel-party, and the lying prophets who had brought the city to this pass, still entertained any hopes either of a diversion caused by Pharaoh Hophrah, or of some miraculous deliverance such as that which had saved the city from Sennacherib years earlier, it is not unnatural that they should have regarded Jeremiah with positive fury. For he still continued to prophesy the captivity. What specially angered them was his message to the people that all who remained in Jerusalem should die by the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, but that those who deserted to the Chaldaeans should live. It was on the ground of his having said this that they had imprisoned him as a deserter; and when Pashur and his son Gedaliah heard that he was still saying this, they and the other princes entreated Zedekiah to put him to death as a pernicious traitor, who weakened the hands of the patriot soldiers. Jeremiah was not guilty of the lack of patriotism with which they charged him. The day of independence had passed forever, and Babylon, not Egypt, was the appointed suzerain. The counseling of submission-as many a victorious chieftain has been forced at last to counsel it, from the days of Hannibal to those of Thiers-is often the true and the only possible patriotism in doomed and decadent nations. Zedekiah timidly abandoned the prophet to the rage of his enemies; but being afraid to murder him openly as Urijah had been murdered, they flung him into a well in the dungeon of Mal-chiah, the king’s son. Into the mire of this pit he sank up to the arms, and there they purposely left him to starve and rot. But if no Israelite pitied him, his condition moved the compassion of Ebed-Melech, an Ethiopian, one of the king’s eunuch-chamberlains. He hurried to the king in a storm of pity and indignation. He found him sitting, as a king should do, at the post of danger in the gate of Benjamin; for Zedekiah was not a physical, though he was a moral, coward. Ebed-Melech told the king that Jeremiah was dying of starvation, and Zedekiah bade him take three men with him and rescue the dying man. The faithful Ethiopian hurried to a cellar under the treasury, took with him some old, worn fragments of robes, and, letting them down by cords, called to Jeremiah to put them under his arm-pits. He did so, and they drew him up into the light of day, though he still remained in prison.

It seems to have been at this time that, in spite of his grim vaticination of immediate retribution, Jeremiah showed his serene confidence in the ultimate future by accepting the proposal of his cousin Hanameel to buy some of the paternal fields at Anathoth, though at that very moment they were in the hands of the Chaldaeans. Such an act, publicly performed, must have caused some consolation to the besieged, just as did the courage of the Roman senator who gave a good price for the estate outside the walls of Rome on which Hannibal was actually encamped.

Then Zedekiah once more secretly sent for him, and implored him to tell the unvarnished truth. "If I do, " said the prophet, "will you not kill me? and will you in any case hearken to me?" Zedekiah swore not to betray him to his enemies; and Jeremiah told him that, even at that eleventh hour, if he would go out and make submission to the Babylonians, the city should not be burnt, and he should save the lives of himself and of his family. Zedekiah believed him, but pleaded that he was afraid of the mockery of the deserters to whom he might be delivered. Jeremiah assured him that he should not be so delivered, and, that, if he refused to obey, nothing remained for the city, and for him and his wives and children, but final ruin. The king was too weak to follow what he must now have felt to be the last chance which God had opened out for him. He could only "attain to half-believe." He entrusted the result to chance, with miserable vacillation of purpose; and the door of hope was closed upon him. His one desire was to conceal the interview; and if it came to the ears of the princes-of whom he was shamefully afraid-he begged Jeremiah to say that he had only entreated the king not to send him back to die in Jonathan’s prison.

As he had suspected, it became known that Jeremiah had been summoned to an interview with the king. They questioned the prophet in prison. He told them the story which the king had suggested to him, and the truth remained undiscovered. For this deflection from exact truth it is tolerably certain that, in the state of men’s consciences upon the subject of veracity in those days, the prophet’s moral sense did not for a moment reproach him. He remained in his prison, guarded probably by the faithful Ebed-Melech, until Jerusalem was taken.

Let us pity the dreadful plight of Zedekiah, aggravated as it was by his weak temperament. "He stands at the head of a people determined to defend itself, but is himself without either hope or courage."

Verses 3-31

; Jeremiah 5:1-31; Jeremiah 6:1-30



Jeremiah 4:3 - Jeremiah 6:30

IF we would understand what is written here and elsewhere in the pages of prophecy, two things would seem to be requisite. We must prepare ourselves with some knowledge of the circumstances of the time, and we must form some general conception of the ideas and aims of the inspired writer, both in themselves, and in their relation to passing events. Of the former, a partial and fragmentary knowledge may suffice, provided it be true so far as it goes; minuteness of detail is not necessary to general accuracy. Of the latter, a very full and complete conception may be gathered from a careful study of the prophetic discourses.

The chapters before us were obviously composed in the presence of a grave national danger; and what that danger was is not left uncertain, as the discourse proceeds. An invasion of the country appeared to be imminent; the rumour of approaching war had already made itself heard in the capital; and all classes were terror stricken at the tidings.

As usual in such times of peril, the country people were already abandoning the unwalled towns and villages, to seek refuge in the strong places of the land, and, above all, in Jerusalem, which was at once the capital and the principal fortress of the kingdom. The evil news had spread far and near; the trumpet signal of alarm was heard everywhere; the cry was, "Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the fenced cities!" {Jeremiah 4:5}

The ground of this universal terror is thus declared: "The lion is gone up from his thicket, and the destroyer of nations is on his way, is gone forth from his place; to make thy land a desolation, that thy cities be laid waste, without inhabitant" (Jeremiah 4:7). "A hot blast over the bare hills in the wilderness, on the road to the daughter of my people, not for winnowing, nor for cleansing; a full blast from those hills cometh at My beck" (Jeremiah 4:11). "Lo, like clouds he cometh up, and, like the whirlwind, his chariots; swifter than vultures are his horses. Woe unto us! We are verily destroyed" (Jeremiah 4:13). "Besiegers" {lit. "watchmen," Isaiah 1:8} "are coming from the remotest land, and they utter their cry against the cities of Judah. Like keepers of a field become they against her on every side" (Jeremiah 4:16-17). At the same time, the invasion is still only a matter of report; the blow has not yet fallen upon the trembling people. "Behold, I am about to bring upon you a nation from afar, O house of Israel, saith Iahvah; an inexhaustible nation it is, a nation of old time it is, a nation whose tongue thou knowest not, nor understandest (lit. ‘hearest’) what it speaketh. Its quiver is like an opened grave; they all are heroes. And it will eat up thine harvest and thy bread, which thy sons and thy daughters should eat; it will eat up thy flock and thine herd; it will eat up thy vine and thy fig tree; it will shatter thine embattled cities, wherein thou art trusting, with the sword." {Jeremiah 5:15-17} "Thus hath Iahvah said: Lo, a people cometh from a northern land, and a great nation is awaking from the uttermost parts of earth. Bow and lance they hold; savage it is, and pitiless; the sound of them is like the sea, when it roareth; and on horses they ride; he is arrayed as a man for battle, against thee, O daughter of Zion. We have heard the report of him; our hands droop; anguish hath taken hold of us, throes, like hers that travaileth". {Jeremiah 6:22 sq.} With the graphic force of a keen observer, who is also a poet, the priest of Anathoth has thus depicted for all time the collapse of terror which befell his contemporaries, on the rumoured approach of the Scythians in the reign of Josiah. And his lyric fervour carries him beyond this; it enables him to see with the utmost distinctness the havoc wrought by these hordes of savages; the surprise of cities, the looting of houses, the flight of citizens to the woods and the hills at the approach of the enemy; the desertion of the country towns, the devastation of fields and vineyards, confusion and desolation everywhere, as though primeval chaos had returned; and he tells it all with the passion and intensity of one who is relating an actual personal experience. "In my vitals, my vitals, I quake, in the walls of my heart! My heart is murmuring to me; I cannot hold my peace; for my soul is listening to the trumpet blast, the alarm of war! Ruin on ruin is cried, for all the land is ravaged; suddenly are my tents ravaged, my pavilions in a moment! How long must I see the standards, must I listen to the trumpet blast?" {Jeremiah 4:19-21} "I look at the earth, and lo, ‘tis chaos: at the heavens, and their light is no more. I look at the mountains, and lo, they rock, and all the hills sway to and fro. I look, and lo, man is no more, and the birds of the air are gone. I look, and 1o, the fruitful soil is wilderness, and all the cities of it are overthrown". {Jeremiah 4:23-26} "At the noise of horseman and archer all the city is in flight! They are gone into the thickets, and up the rocks they have clomb: all the city is deserted" (Jeremiah 4:29). His eye follows the course of devastation until it reaches Jerusalem: Jerusalem, the proud, luxurious capital, now isolated on her hills, bereft of all her daughter cities, abandoned, even betrayed, by her foreign allies. "And thou, that art doomed to destruction, what canst thou do? Though thou clothe thee in scarlet, though thou deck thee with decking of gold, though thou broaden thine eyes with henna, in vain dost thou make thyself fair; the lovers have scorned thee, thy life are they seeking." The "lovers"-the false foreigners-have turned against her in the time of her need; and the strange gods, with whom she dallied in the days of prosperity, can bring her no help. And now, while she witnesses, but cannot avert the slaughter of her children, her shrieks ring in the prophet’s ear: "A cry, as of one in travail, do I hear; pangs as of her that beareth her firstborn; the cry of the daughter of Zion, that panteth, that. spreadeth out her hands: Woe’s me! my soul swooneth for the slayers!" (Jeremiah 4:30-31)

Even the strong walls of Jerusalem are no sure defence; there is no safety but in flight. "Remove your goods, ye sons of Benjamin, from within Jerusalem! And in Tekoah" (as if Blaston or Blowick or Trumpington) "blow a trumpet blast and upon Bethhakkerem raise a signal (or ‘beacon’)! for evil hath looked forth from the north, and mighty ruin". {Jeremiah 6:1-2} The two towns mark the route of the fugitives, making for the wilderness of the south; and the trumpet call, and the beacon light, muster the scattered companies at these rallying points or halting places. "The beautiful and the pampered one will I destroy-the daughter of Sion." (Perhaps: "The beautiful and the pampered woman art thou like, O daughter of Sion!" 3d fem. sing. in i.) "To her come the shepherds and their flocks; they pitch the tents upon her round about; they graze each at his own side" (i.e., on the ground nearest him). The figure changes, with lyric abruptness, from the fair woman, enervated by luxury (Jeremiah 6:2) to the fair pasture land, on which the nomad shepherds encamp, whose flocks soon eat the herbage down, and leave the soil stripped bare (Jeremiah 6:3); and then, again, to an army beleaguering the fated city, whose cries of mutual cheer, and of impatience at all delay, the poet-prophet hears and rehearses. "Hallow ye war against her! Arise ye, let us go up" (to the assault) "at noontide! Unhappy we! the day hath turned; the shadows of eventide begin to lengthen! Arise ye, and let us go up in the night, to destroy her palaces!" (Jeremiah 6:4-5).

As a fine example of poetical expression, the discourse obviously has its own intrinsic value. The author’s power to sketch with a few bold strokes the magical effect of a disquieting rumour; the vivid force with which he realises the possibilities of ravage and ruin which are wrapped up in those vague, uncertain tidings; the pathos and passion of his lament over his stricken country, stricken as yet to his perception only; the tenderness of feeling; the subtle sweetness of language; the variety of metaphor; the light of imagination illuminating the whole with its indefinable charm; all these characteristics indicate the presence and power of a master singer. But with Jeremiah, as with his predecessors, the poetic expression of feeling is far from being an end in itself. He writes with a purpose to which all the endowments of his gifted nature are freely and resolutely subordinated. He values his powers as a poet and orator solely as instruments which conduce to an efficient utterance of the will of Iahvah. He is hardly conscious of these gifts as such. He exists to. "declare in the house of Jacob and to publish in Judah" the word of the Lord.

It is in this capacity that he now comes forward, and addresses his terrified countrymen, in terms not calculated to allay their fears with soothing suggestions of comfort and reassurance, but rather deliberately chosen with a view to heightening those fears, and deepening them to a sense of approaching judgment. For, after all, it is not the rumoured coming of the Scythian hordes that impels him to break silence. It is his consuming sense of the moral degeneracy, the spiritual degradation of his countrymen, which flames forth into burning utterance. "Whom shall I address and adjure, that they may hear? Lo, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken; lo, the word of Iahvah hath become to them a reproach; they delight not therein. And of the fury of Iahvah I am full; I am weary of holding it in." Then the other voice in his heart answers: "Pour thou it forth upon the child in the street, and upon the company of young men together!". {Jeremiah 6:10-11} It is the righteous indignation of an offended God that wells up from his heart, and overflows at his lips, and cries woe, irremediable woe, upon the land he loves better than his own life.

He begins with encouragement and persuasion, but his tone soon changes to denunciation and despair. {Jeremiah 4:3 sq.} "Thus hath Iahvah said to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem, Break you up the fallows, and sow not into thorns! Circumcise yourselves to Iahvah, and remove the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem! lest My fury come forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your doings." Clothed with the Spirit, as Semitic speech might express it, his whole soul enveloped in a garment of heavenly light-a magical garment whose virtues impart new force as well as new light-the prophet sees straight to the heart of things, and estimates with God-given certainty the real state of his people, and the moral worth of their seeming repentance. The first measures of Josiah’s reforming zeal have been inaugurated; at least within the limits of the capital, idolatry in its coarser and more repellent forms has been suppressed; there is a show of return to the God of Israel. But the popular heart is still wedded to the old sanctuaries, and the old sensuous rites of Canaan; and, worse than this, the priests and prophets, whose centre of influence was the one great sanctuary of the Book of the Law, the temple at Jerusalem, have simply taken advantage of the religious reformation for their own purposes of selfish aggrandisement. "From the youngest to the oldest of them, they all ply the trade of greed; and from prophet to priest, they all practise lying. And they have repaired the ruin of (the daughter) of my people in light fashion, saying, It is well, it is well! though it be not well". {Jeremiah 6:13-14} The doctrine of the one legitimate sanctuary, taught with disinterested earnestness by the disciples of Isaiah, and enforced by that logic of events which had demonstrated the feebleness of the local holy places before the Assyrian destroyers, had now come to be recognised as a convenient buttress of the private gains of the Jerusalem priesthood and the venal prophets who supported their authority. The strong current of national reform had been utilised for the driving of their private machinery; and the sole outcome of the self-denying efforts and sufferings of the past appeared to be the enrichment of these grasping and unscrupulous worldlings who sat, like an incubus, upon the heart of the national church. So long as money flowed steadily into their coffers, they were eager enough to reassure the doubting, and to dispel all misgivings by their deceitful oracle that all was well. So long as trading in things Divine, to the utter neglect of the higher obligations of the moral law, was simply appalling to the sensitive conscience of the true prophet of that degenerate age. "A strange and a startling thing it is, that is come to pass in the land. The prophets, they have prophesied in the Lie, and the priests, they tyrannise under their direction; and My people, they love it thus; and what will ye do for the issue thereof?". {Jeremiah 5:30-31} For such facts must have an issue; and the present moral and spiritual ruin of the nation points with certainty to impending ruin in the material and political sphere. The two things go together; you cannot have a decline of faith, a decay of true religion, and permanent outward prosperity; that issue is incompatible with the eternal laws which regulate the life and progress of humanity. One sits in the heavens, over all things from the beginning, to whom all stated worship is a hideous offence when accompanied by hypocrisy and impurity and fraud and violence in the ordinary relations of life. "What good to me is incense that cometh from Sheba, and the choice calamus from a far country? your burnt offerings" (holocausts) "are not acceptable, and your sacrifices are not sweet unto Me." Instead of purchasing safety, they will ensure perdition: "Therefore thus hath Iahvah said: Lo, I am about to lay for this people stumbling blocks, and they shall stumble upon them, fathers and sons together, a neighbour and his friend; and they shall perish." {Jeremiah 6:20 sq.}

In the early days of reform, indeed, Jeremiah himself appears to have shared in the sanguine views associated with a revival of suspended orthodoxy. The tidings of imminent danger were a surprise to him, as to the zealous worshippers who thronged the courts of the temple. So then, after all, "the burning anger of Iahvah was not turned away" by the outward tokens of penitence, by the lavish gifts of devotion; this unexpected and terrifying rumour was a call for the resumption of the garb of mourning and for the renewal of those public fasts which had marked the initial stages of reformation. {Jeremiah 4:8} The astonishment and the disappointment of the man assert themselves against the inspiration of the prophet, when, contemplating the helpless bewilderment of kings and princes, and the stupefaction of priests and prophets in face of the national calamities, he breaks out into remonstrances with God. "And I said, Alas, O Lord Iahvah! of a truth, Thou hast utterly beguiled this people and Jerusalem, saying, It shall be well with you; whereas the sword will reach to the life." The allusion is to the promises contained in the Book of the Law, the reading of which had so powerfully conduced to the movement for reform. That book had been the text of the prophet preachers, who were most active in that work; and the influence of its ideas and language upon Jeremiah himself is apparent in all his early discourses.

The prophet’s faith, however, was too deeply rooted to be more than momentarily shaken; and it soon told him that the evil tidings were evidence not of unfaithfulness or caprice in Iahvah, but of the hypocrisy and corruption of Israel. With this conviction upon him he implores the populace of the capital to substitute an inward and real for an outward and delusive purification. "Break up the fallows!" Do not dream that any adequate reformation can be superinduced upon the mere surface of life: "Sow not among thorns!" Do not for one moment believe that the word of God can take root and bear fruit in the hard soil of a heart that desires only to be secured in the possession of present enjoyments, in immunity for self indulgence, covetousness, and oppression of the poor. "Wash thine heart from wickedness, O Jerusalem! that thou mayst be saved. How long shall the schemings of thy folly lodge within thee? For hark! one declareth from Dan, and proclaimeth folly from the hills of Ephraim". {Jeremiah 4:14 sq.} The "folly" (‘awen) is the foolish hankering after the gods which are nothing in the world but a reflection of the diseased fancy of their worshippers; for it is always true that man makes his god in his own image, when he does make him, and does not receive the knowledge of him by revelation. It was a folly inveterate and, as it would seem, hereditary in Israel, going back to the times of the Judges, . and recalling the story of Micah the Ephraimite and the Danites who stole his images. That ancient sin still cried to heaven for vengeance; for the apostatising tendency, which it exemplified, was still active in the heart of Israel. The nation had "rebelled against" the Lord, for it was foolish and had never really known Him; the people were silly children, and lacked insight; skilled only in doing wrong, and ignorant of the way to do right. {Jeremiah 4:22} Like the things they worshipped, they had eyes, but saw not; they had ears, but heard not. Enslaved to the empty terrors of their own imaginations, they, who cowered before dumb idols, stood untrembling in the awful presence of Him whose laws restrained the ocean within due limits, and upon whose sovereign will the fall of the rain and increase of the field depended. {Jeremiah 5:21-24} The popular blindness to the claims of the true religion, to the inalienable rights of the God of Israel, involved a corresponding and ever-increasing blindness to the claims of universal morality, to the rights of man. Competent observers have often called attention to the remarkable influence exercised by the lower forms of heathenism in blunting the moral sense; and this influence was fully illustrated in the case of Jeremiah’s contemporaries. So complete, so universal was the national decline that it seemed impossible to find one good man within the bounds of the capital. Every aim in life found illustration in those gay, crowded streets, in the bazaars, in the palaces, in the places by the gate where law was administered, except the aim of just and righteous and merciful dealing with one’s neighbour. God was ignored or misconceived of, and therefore man was wronged and oppressed. Perjury, even in the Name of the God of Israel, whose eyes regard faithfulness and sincerity, and whose favour is not to be won by professions and presents; a self-hardening against both Divine chastisement and prophetic admonition; a fatal inclination to the seductions of Canaanite worship and the violations of the moral law, which that worship permitted and even encouraged as pleasing to the gods; these vices characterised the entire population of Jerusalem in that dark period. "Run ye to and fro in the streets of Jerusalem, and see now, and know, and seek ye in the broad places thereof, if ye can find a man, if indeed there be one that doeth justice, that seeketh sincerity; that I may pardon her. And if they say, By the life of Iahvah! Even so they swear falsely. Iahvah, are not thine eyes toward sincerity? Thou smotest them, and they trembled not; Thou consumedst them, they refused to receive instruction; they made their faces harder than a rock, they refused to repent. And for me, I said" (me thought), "These are but poor folk; they behave foolishly, because they know not the way of Iahvah, the justice" (Jeremiah 5:1) "of their God: let me betake myself to the great, and speak with them; for they at least know the way of Iahvah, the justice of their God: but these with one consent had broken the yoke, had burst the bonds in sunder". {Jeremiah 5:1-5}

Then, as now, the debasement of the standard of life among the ruling classes was a far more threatening symptom of danger to the commonwealth than laxity of principle among the masses, who had never enjoyed the higher knowledge and more thorough training which wealth and rank, as a matter of course, confer. If the crew turn drunken and mutinous, the ship is in unquestionable peril; but if they who have the guidance of the vessel in their hands follow the vices of those whom they should command and control, wreck and ruin are assured.

The profligacy allowed by heathenism, against which the prophets cried in vain, is forcibly depicted in the words: "Why should I pardon thee? Thy sons have forsaken Me, and have sworn by them that are no gods: though I had bound them" (to Me) "by oath, they committed" (spiritual) "adultery, and into the house of the Fornicatress" (the idol’s temple, where the harlot priestess sat for hire) "they would flock. Stallions roaming at large were they; neighing each to his neighbour’s wife. Shall I not punish such offences, saith Iahvah; and shall not My soul avenge herself on such a nation as this?" The cynical contempt of justice, the fraud and violence of those who were in haste to become rich, are set forth in the following: "Among My people are found godless men; one watcheth, as birdcatchers lurk; they have set the trap, they catch men. Like a cage filled with birds, so are their houses filled with fraud: therefore they are become great, and have amassed wealth. They are become fat, they are sleek; also they pass {Isaiah 40:27} cases {Exodus 22:9; Exodus 24:14; cf. also 1 Samuel 10:2} of wickedness-neglect to judge heinous crimes; the cause they judge not, the cause of the fatherless, to make it succeed; and the right of the needy they vindicate not". {Jeremiah 5:26-28}

"She is the city doomed to be punished! she is all oppression within. As a spring poureth forth its waters, so she poureth forth her wickedness; violence and oppression resound in her; before Me continually is sickness and wounds". {Jeremiah 6:6-7} There would seem to be no hope for such a people and such a city. The prophet, indeed, cannot forget the claims of kindred, the thousand ties of blood and feeling that bind him to this perverse and sinful nation. Thrice, even in this dark forecast of destruction, he mitigates severity with the promise, "yet will I not make a full end." The door is still left open, on the chance that some at least may be won to penitence. But the chance was small. The difficulty was, and the prophet’s yearning tenderness towards his people could not blind him to the fact that all the lessons of God’s providence were lost upon this reprobate race: "They have belied the Lord, and said, it is not He; neither shall evil come upon us; neither shall we see sword and famine." The prophets, they insisted, were wrong both in the significance which they attributed to occasional calamities, and in the disasters which they announced as imminent: "The prophets will become wind, and the Word of God is not in them; so will it turn out with them." It was, therefore, wholly futile to appeal to their better judgment against themselves: "Thus said Iahvah, Stop on the ways, and consider, and ask after the eternal paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and find rest for your soul: and they said, We will not walk therein. And I will set over you watchmen" (the prophets); "hearken ye to the call of the trumpet!" (the warning note of prophecy) "and they said We will not hearken." For such wilful hardness and impenitence, disdaining correction and despising reproof, God appeals to the heathen themselves, and to the dumb earth, to attest the justice of His sentence of destruction against this people: "Therefore, hear, O ye nations, and know, and testify what is among them! Hear, O earth! Lo, I am about to bring evil upon this people, the fruit of their own devisings; for unto My words they have not hearkened, and as for Mine instruction, they have rejected it." Their doom was inevitable, for it was the natural and necessary consequence of their own doings: "Thine own way and thine own deeds have brought about these evils for thee; this is thine own evil; verily, it is bitter, verily, it reacheth unto thine heart." The discourse ends with a despairing glance at the moral reprobation of Israel. "An assayer did I make thee among My people, a refiner," {reading mecaref, Malachi 3:2-3} "that thou mightest know and assay their kind" (lit. way). Jeremiah’s call had been to "sit as a refiner and purifier of silver" in the name of his God: in other words, to separate the good elements from the bad in Israel, and to gather around himself the nucleus of a people "prepared for Iahvah." But his work had been vain. In vain had the prophetic fire burnt within him; in vain had the vehemency of the spirit fanned the flame; the Divine word-that solvent of hearts-had been expended in vain; no good metal could come of an ore so utterly base. "They are all the worst" {1 Kings 20:43} "of rebels" (or, "deserters to the rebels"), "going about with slander; they are brass and iron; they all deal corruptly. The bellows blow; the lead" (used for fining the ore) "is consumed by the fire; in vain do they go on refining" (or, "does the refiner refine"); "and the wicked are not separated. Refuse silver are they called, for Iahvah hath refused them."

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Jeremiah 4". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/jeremiah-4.html.
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