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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 8

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Jeremiah 8:0


(The parentheses represent poetic literary units)

Jeremiah 7:32-3Jeremiah 7:30-3Jeremiah 7:30-3Jeremiah 7:30-3
The Sin and Treachery of Judah
Jeremiah 8:1-3The Peril of False TeachingMiscellaneous OraclesSin and PunishmentThreats, Laments, Advice, Israel's Perversity
Jeremiah 8:4-7(vv. Jeremiah 8:4-7)Jeremiah 8:4-7(vv. Jeremiah 8:4-6)(vv. Jeremiah 8:7)Jeremiah 8:4-7(vv. Jeremiah 8:4-7)Jeremiah 8:4-12Jeremiah 8:4-7(vv. Jeremiah 8:4-7)
The Law As Administered By the Priests
Jeremiah 8:8-12(vv. Jeremiah 8:8-12)Jeremiah 8:8-12(vv. Jeremiah 8:8-12)Jeremiah 8:8-13(vv. Jeremiah 8:8-13)Jeremiah 8:8-9(vv. Jeremiah 8:8-9)
Repetition of An Earlier Threat
Jeremiah 8:10-12(vv. Jeremiah 8:10-12)
Threats Against Judah the Vine
Jeremiah 8:13-17(vv. Jeremiah 8:13-17)Jeremiah 8:13-17(vv. Jeremiah 8:13)(vv. Jeremiah 8:14)(vv. Jeremiah 8:15-16)(vv. Jeremiah 8:17)Jeremiah 8:13Jeremiah 8:13-17(vv. Jeremiah 8:13-17)
Jeremiah 8:14-15(vv. Jeremiah 8:14-15)Jeremiah 8:14-16
Jeremiah 8:16-17(vv. Jeremiah 8:16-17)
Jeremiah 8:17
The Prophet Mourns For the PeopleJeremiah's Sorrow For His PeopleA Lament Of the Prophet During A Famine
Jeremiah 8:18-22(vv. Jeremiah 8:18-22)Jeremiah 8:18-22(vv. Jeremiah 8:18-19a)(vv. Jeremiah 8:19b)(vv. Jeremiah 8:20-22)Jeremiah 8:18-21(vv. Jeremiah 8:18-21)Jeremiah 8:18-22(vv. Jeremiah 8:18-20)(vv. Jeremiah 8:21-22)8:18-23(vv. 18-23)[v. 2Jeremiah 8:3 is 9:1]
Jeremiah 8:22(vv. Jeremiah 8:22)

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. Jer. 7-10 seems to form a literary unit describing the idolatry of the people of Judah in Jeremiah's day.

1. Chapter 7 is Jeremiah's famous temple sermon where he confronts the idolatrous people of God at the center of the worship of YHWH. Some believe this sermon extends through Jeremiah 8:3.

2. Chapters 8 and 9 form a series of warnings to the people of Jerusalem and Judah which is connected to their abrogation of YHWH's covenant.

3. Chapter 10 is similar to the sarcastic descriptions of idolatry found in Isaiah 2:20; Isaiah 31:7; Isaiah 40:18-20; Isaiah 41:7; Isaiah 44:9-20; Isaiah 45:16; Isaiah 46:5-7.

B. As in all of Jeremiah's writings there is a strong Deuteronomic flavor. This can probably be explained by the fact that the prophets went to the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants as a basis for the covenant relationship with YHWH. To this legal and ritual format they emphasized the personal motive and attitude aspect.

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jeremiah 8:1-3 1”At that time,” declares the LORD, “they will bring out the bones of the kings of Judah and the bones of its princes, and the bones of the priests and the bones of the prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem from their graves. 2They will spread them out to the sun, the moon and to all the host of heaven, which they have loved and which they have served, and which they have gone after and which they have sought, and which they have worshiped. They will not be gathered or buried; they will be as dung on the face of the ground. 3And death will be chosen rather than life by all the remnant that remains of this evil family, that remains in all the places to which I have driven them,” declares the LORD of hosts.

Jeremiah 8:1 “they will bring out the bones” Notice how the entire population is mentioned by a series of different groups.

1. kings of Judah

2. its princes

3. priests

4. the prophets

5. the inhabitants of Jerusalem

This act of bringing out the bones of buried Judeans has the following symbolic meaning:

1. the invaders were looking for buried valuables

2. it is connected with the astral worship of Babylon (cf. Jeremiah 8:2)

3. it was a cultural act of hatred and contempt for conquered Judah (cf. Amos 2:1)

Jeremiah 8:2 “They will spread them out to the sun, the moon and to all the host of heaven” Verse Jeremiah 8:2 shows how involved the Judeans were in astral worship. The VERBS (series of Qal PERFECTS) tell the whole story.

1. loved

2. served

3. gone after

4. sought

5. worshiped

The term “host of heaven” (BDB 838 CONSTRUCT 1029) is used for the worship of the stars, planets, moon, and sun (cf. Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 17:2-20; 2 Kings 23:4, 2 Kings 23:5, 2 Kings 23:11; Zephaniah 1:5; Jeremiah 19:13; Jeremiah 32:29).

“They will not be gathered or buried; they will be as dung on the face of the ground” This obviously refers to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. This is one reason why many see the context as running from Jeremiah 8:1 through 8:3. It was a horror to the Jews to remain unburied. They somehow thought that their afterlife was affected by a proper burial (see IVP Bible Background Commentary, p. 649). The metaphor “they will be as dung on the face of the ground” is a very striking allusion to their bodies becoming (1) fertilizer or (2) food for animals.

Jeremiah 8:3 “And death will be chosen rather than life by all the remnant that remains of this evil family” Something of the pain of exile can be seen in this hyperbole and in Psalms 137:0.

For the term “remnant” see Special Topic: The Remnant, Three Senses.

“all the places to which I have driven them” YHWH is the one who allowed, even instigated, Judah's exile!

“the LORD of hosts” This is probably a play on the phrase the “host of heaven,” found in Jeremiah 8:2. It was YHWH, not the planets and stars, who was the creator, sustainer, and guider of the universe (cf. Psalms 19:1-6; Nehemiah 9:6). See Special Topic: NAMES FOR DEITY.

Verses 4-7

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jeremiah 8:4-7 4”You shall say to them, 'Thus says the LORD, “Do men fall and not get up again? Does one turn away and not repent? 5”Why then has this people, Jerusalem, Turned away in continual apostasy? They hold fast to deceit, They refuse to return. 6”I have listened and heard, They have spoken what is not right; No man repented of his wickedness, Saying, 'What have I done?' Everyone turned to his course, Like a horse charging into the battle. 7”Even the stork in the sky Knows her seasons; And the turtledove and the swift and the thrush Observe the time of their migration; But My people do not know The ordinance of the LORD.”

Jeremiah 8:4 “Does one turn away and not repent” There is a play on the phrase “turn back” (BDB 996, KB 1427), found in Jeremiah 8:4-6 (four times). The exact wording of Jeremiah 8:4 is somewhat in dispute.

1. Kimchi translates it as “if a man turns from evil, will not YHWH turn from judgment”

2. Moore translates it as “if a man repents, He will not repent” (cf. Isaiah 55:6)

This seems to be the first allusion to the major theme of Jeremiah 7-10, which is a call to the people of God to turn back to Him. However, Jeremiah knows that at this time their character has already been set and that it is rebellion.

Jeremiah 8:5-7 YHWH describes the refusal of His people to repent, see Special Topic: Repentance in the Old Testament

1. they turned away and did not repent, Jeremiah 8:4

2. they turned away in continued apostasy, Jeremiah 8:5

3. they held fast to deceit, Jeremiah 8:5

4. they refused to return, Jeremiah 8:5

5. they heard the truth but spoke what was not right, Jeremiah 8:6

6. no man repented of his wickedness, Jeremiah 8:6

7. they refused to take any responsibility, Jeremiah 8:6

8. every one turned to his course, Jeremiah 8:6

9. they did not “know” YHWH or His ordinance, Jeremiah 8:7

Jeremiah 8:5 “apostasy” For the term see Special Topic: Apostasy (aphistçmi).

“They hold fast to deceit” “Hold fast” is the Hebrew phrase, “to cling” (BDB 304, KB 302, Hiphil PERFECT) and is used in Genesis 2:24 for the marriage relationship. The allusion to marriage is often used for the relationship between YHWH and His people. This imagery becomes “awhoring after other gods” when used of the fertility cults. See Special Topic: Fertility Worship of the Ancient Near East.

“They refuse to return” The main VERB “refuse” (BDB 549, KB 540) is a Piel PERFECT which denotes a settled attitude!

Jeremiah 8:6 “I have listened and heard” The Septuagint (LXX) translates this phrase as two IMPERATIVES. The NASB implies that it is God speaking through the prophet, while the Septuagint implies it is God speaking to the people.

“No man repented of his wickedness” This is a different Hebrew word (BDB 636, KB 688) from the word for repent and turn away, which is used four times in Jeremiah 8:4-6 (BDB 996, KB 1427). However, it is a synonym which also refers to repentance but through the metaphor of grief.

“What have I done” This is the big problem! Judah does not even recognize the problem. She is so blind, yet she thinks she sees clearly! One cannot repent of that which they refuse to see or acknowledge.

“Like a horse charging into the battle” War horses were trained to charge and fulfill their training. The people of God were trained to love YHWH, but they had totally reverted from their training and were now running with the same intensity toward non-existent idols.

Jeremiah 8:7 “Even the stork. . .turtledove. . .swift. . .thrush” Birds have a natural instinct to migrate at certain times to certain places. This is similar to the animal imagery in Isaiah 1:3. However, the people of God had gone totally away from that which was natural and had gone after the fertility gods.

“But My people do not know” There is a play on the word “know” throughout Jeremiah. We learn from Genesis 4:1 that the word “know” can refer to intimate personal relationships such as that between a husband and wife. Again, here is the metaphor of God as husband and Israel as wife. However, they had metaphorically lost their intimate relationship. Although the temples may have been full with religious activity, there was no personal relationship with YHWH. They were worshiping the fertility gods of Canaan in YHWH's name! See Special Topic: Know.

“ordinance” See Special Topic: Terms for God's Revelation.

Verses 8-12

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jeremiah 8:8-12 8”How can you say, 'We are wise, And the law of the LORD is with us'? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes Has made it into a lie. 9The wise men are put to shame, They are dismayed and caught; Behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD, And what kind of wisdom do they have? 10Therefore I will give their wives to others, Their fields to new owners; Because from the least even to the greatest Everyone is greedy for gain; From the prophet even to the priest Everyone practices deceit. 11They heal the brokenness of the daughter of My people superficially, Saying, 'Peace, peace,' But there is no peace. 12Were they ashamed because of the abomination they had done? They certainly were not ashamed, And they did not know how to blush; Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; At the time of their punishment they shall be brought down,” Says the LORD .

Jeremiah 8:8-12 This is a literary unit which describes the religious leaders. This is the first extended mention of a group known as the “scribes” (BDB 707). We learn from 1 Chronicles 2:55 that scribes developed into families. They do not serve a major function in Israel's faith until after the exile. They seem to have been developed by Ezra into the synagogue system and rabbinical Judaism. They were basically interpreters of the Mosaic law to local people for specific questions regarding the Torah.

If the leaders are blind, how dark is the darkness? They think they are “wise” and that they “know” the Law of the LORD (cf. Jeremiah 8:9).

NASB, NRSV“the lying pen of the scribes” NKJV, NJB“the false pen of the scribes” TEV“the laws have been changed by dishonest scribes” LXX“a false pen has become of no use to scribes” JPSOA“assuredly, for naught has the pen labored” REB“when scribes with their lying pens have falsified it”

This issue is who is being condemned?

1. the scribes (i.e., equal to “wise men” of Jeremiah 8:9)

2. the people (Jeremiah 8:10)

3. other religious leaders (Jeremiah 8:9)

The problem is not the scribes' work (i.e., copying the Law and/or explaining it), but the people's rejecting both the prophetic word and the covenant obligations.

“Has made it into a lie” There is a Hebrew word play between “lying pen” (BDB 1055) and “lie” (BDB 1055). There is often an allusion to Ba'al worship as being “the lie.” There may be an allusion here.

Jeremiah 8:9 “they have rejected the word of the LORD” They did this at the very time they thought they were upholding the word of the Lord. It would be good to remember Philippians 2:12.

Jeremiah 8:10-12 These verses are omitted in the Septuagint (LXX) because of their striking resemblance to Jeremiah 6:12-15. It seems that the book of Jeremiah is a composite book which was edited according to themes, either by Jeremiah, Baruch, or someone later in history. Therefore, there is considerable repetition in the book. See Special Topic: Scribes.

Jeremiah 8:10 “I will give their wives to others

Their fields to new owners” This refers to the experience of invasion and exile. Notice that wives were listed with a man's property, which was characteristic of ANE patriarchal soceity.

Jeremiah 8:11 “They heal the brokenness of the daughter of My people superficially” The religious leaders seem to bring that which will give life, but in reality their message of false hope brings death (i.e., Lamentations 2:14). The major truth in this verse is found in the latter part in the false prophets' words, “All is well, all is well” (cf. Jeremiah 6:14; Jeremiah 14:13, Jeremiah 14:14). The problem was that there was no peace, but impending invasion. Many commentators believe that these false prophets were quoting Isaiah 36-39, referring to God's promises to Hezekiah and the safety of the city of Jerusalem against the invasion of Sennacherib. But, Jeremiah is emphasizing the truth that the covenant has two aspects: God's promises and His covenant people's faith response. Judah had totally abrogated the covenant!

Jeremiah 8:12 The question of line 1 is answered in an intensified way (i.e., the Qal INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and Qal IMPERFECT VERB of the same root, BDB 101, KB 116) in line 2.

“they shall fall among those who fall” This may be another reference to the previous exile of the northern tribes.

“the time of their punishment” The Neo-Babylonian army took captives from Judah in 605, 597, 586, and 582 B.C. The major deportation was 586 B.C. when the temple and Jerusalem were destroyed.

Verses 13-17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jeremiah 8:13-17 13”I will surely snatch them away,” declares the LORD; “There will be no grapes on the vine And no figs on the fig tree, And the leaf will wither; And what I have given them will pass away.” 14Why are we sitting still? Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the fortified cities And let us perish there, Because the LORD our God has doomed us And given us poisoned water to drink, For we have sinned against the LORD. 15We waited for peace, but no good came; For a time of healing, but behold, terror! 16From Dan is heard the snorting of his horses; At the sound of the neighing of his stallions The whole land quakes; For they come and devour the land and its fullness, The city and its inhabitants. 17For behold, I am sending serpents against you, Adders, for which there is no charm, And they will bite you,” declares the LORD.

Jeremiah 8:13 “'I will surely snatch them away,' declares the LORD

“'There will be no grapes on the vine'“ Verse Jeremiah 8:13, by means of two agricultural metaphors, one referring to grapes and the other to figs, implies that no one will be left in the Promised Land and that all will be taken into captivity. Not even a remnant will be left according to this shockingly hyperbolic passage. Palestine was YHWH's special garden but there was no spiritual fruit (cf. Isaiah 5:0). This is basically the fulfillment of the curses of Deuteronomy 27:0 and 28.

The first line of the MT can be understood in several ways.

NKJV, PESHITTA“I will surely consume them” TEV“I wanted to gather my people, as a farmer gathers a harvest” JPSOA“I will make an end of them” NET Bible“I will take away their harvest” LXX“they will gather their produce” (i.e., the invaders)

Remember, this is highly emotional poetry! This line can be (1) positive (i.e., YHWH wants to gather His people to Himself, i.e., repentance) or (2) negative (others will reap their harvest, cf. Jeremiah 8:12).

NASB“And what I have given them will pass away” NRSV“I have found them people to trample on them” TEV“therefore, I have allowed outsiders to take over the land” LXX, REB -omitted - JPSOA“Whatever I have given them is gone”

The UBS Text Project (p. 200) interprets this ambiguous Hebrew phrase in two ways.

1. “and I gave them (things which) escape them (i.e., fruits of the earth)”

2. “and I gave them (precepts which) they have trespassed”

The first option is based on Jeremiah 8:13, lines 1-4. The second option is related to Jeremiah 8:8 and refers to the Law (i.e., that which was found in the temple under Josiah's reform and remodeling, cf. 2 Kings 22:8).

Jeremiah 8:14 “Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the fortified cities” In the ancient world, in times of crisis or invasion, the people of the surrounding areas fled into the walled cities. However, the overcrowding exacerbated the problems of food, water, and sanitation. We learn from later history that the siege experience of the people of Judah was so bad that even after the exile they had to cast lots to see who would live in the reconstructed Jerusalem (cf. Nehemiah 11:1).

YHWH's message of judgment is expressed in three commands.

1. “assemble yourselves” - BDB 62, KB 74, Niphal IMPERATIVE

2. “let us go into the fortified cities” - BDB 97, KB 112, Qal IMPERFECT used in a COHORTATIVE sense

3. “let us perish” - BDB 198, KB 226, Qal CHOHORTATIVE

“Because the LORD our God has doomed us. . . For we have sinned against the Lord” This is the key to understanding God's actions against His own people. God chose them to be a kingdom of priests so that all the world would know Him, Genesis 12:3; Exodus 19:5, Exodus 19:6 (see Special Topic: Know), but the light coming from God's people was anything but complimentary to God! The covenant made with Abraham, and further elaborated at Sinai, was based on the assumption that Israel's life and worship would reveal YHWH to the world. The only way to correct their false message was radical surgery (cf. Ezekiel 36:22-38).

“poisoned water” This (BDB 912 II) is an allusion to “wormwood” or “gall.” Many times in the OT “gall” or “wormwood” is mentioned (cf. Jeremiah 9:15; Jeremiah 23:15; Deuteronomy 29:18; Psalms 69:21; Lamentations 3:19; and Matthew 27:34 in the NT)

Jeremiah 8:15 This verse, like Jeremiah 8:0:6d,8,11, shows that Judah expected “peace” and was surprised at invasion and exile. This phrase is repeated in Jeremiah 14:19 and is similar to Job 30:26.

Jeremiah 8:16 “From Dan is heard the snorting of his horses” We learn that the tribe of Dan moved from its tribal allocation by Joshua in the south to the north (cf. Judges 18:0). Its capital city became the metaphor for describing the upper limits of the Promised Land (cf. Jeremiah 4:15). Invading Mesopotamian armies came from the north, therefore, when Dan heard the snorting horses it meant the troops from Babylon were entering Palestine.

Jeremiah 8:17 “I am sending serpents against you” This may be (1) an allusion to Numbers 21:0 when God sent serpents to judge His people or (2) simply another kind of poison as in Jeremiah 8:14. Whichever is true, both metaphors (i.e., poison, snakes) combine to show that there is no hope for the people of God. Here “snakes” refers to the Babylonian army!

The first line of Jeremiah 8:18 may go with Jeremiah 8:17 and be understood as an idiom that the snake bites were fatal (lit. “beyond recovery”). The LXX translated it as “incurable.”

Verses 18-22

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jeremiah 8:18-22 18My sorrow is beyond healing, My heart is faint within me! 19Behold, listen! The cry of the daughter of my people from a distant land: “Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King not within her?” “Why have they provoked Me with their graven images, with foreign idols?” 20”Harvest is past, summer is ended, And we are not saved.” 21For the brokenness of the daughter of my people I am broken; I mourn, dismay has taken hold of me. 22Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has not the health of the daughter of my people been restored?

Jeremiah 8:18-22 There has been much discussion among commentators as to who is speaking here. Some say that it is the prophet grieving over his people, but it seems, in context, to be God grieving over His people. It is true that God speaks through His prophet throughout this book and it is sometimes difficult to differentiate. However, because of Hosea 11:8, Hosea 11:9 and because of the specific references found in Jeremiah 9:3, Jeremiah 9:6, Jeremiah 9:9, Jeremiah 9:10, Jeremiah 9:11, it seems to me that this is a very significant passage on the heart of God (i.e., Jeremiah 8:21). Though God was forced to judge His people, it broke His heart to do so. A good way to compare the love and anger of God is by comparing Deuteronomy 5:9 with Deuteronomy 7:9.

Jeremiah 8:19-20 All of the VERBS are PERFECTS, reflecting settled conditions.

Jeremiah 8:19 By means of a series of questions, the tragedy of Judah's invasion, destruction, and exile are highlighted. Idolatry and rebellion have consequences. This is still true (cf. Jeremiah 17:10; Galatians 6:7).

The TEV expressed the thought of the verse best.

1. the people cry out

a. “Is the LORD not in Zion?”

b. “Is her King not within her?”

2. YHWH answers in line 3 (cf. Jeremiah 7:30-34)

The NASB, “from a distant land,” is an incorrect translation. The MT has “from the length and breadth of the land” (cf. NRSV). The people of Judah are speaking; those who remain from the Assyrian exile also. The question, “Where is YHWH?” rang out as the Babylonian army approached (cf. Jeremiah 8:16).

Jeremiah 8:20 “Harvest is past, summer is ended

And we are not saved” This is a reference to the seasons when crops and fruit ripened. When the harvest has passed, there is nothing left!

Jeremiah 8:22 “Is there no balm in Gilead” Gilead was famous for its healing ointment (cf. Genesis 37:25), but as there was no way to stop the poisoning of Jeremiah 8:14, no way to heal the serpent's bite of Jeremiah 8:17, no cessation of the hunger of Jeremiah 8:20, there was no doctor's help in Jeremiah 8:22. The people of God stand judged even though it had not yet happened historically (i.e., Babylonian invasions).

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Jeremiah 8". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/jeremiah-8.html. 2021.
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