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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Jeremiah 11

 

 

Verses 1-15

YHWH Calls On His People To Hear The Word Of His Covenant And Reminds Them Of The Covenant Curse Which Falls On All Who Fail To Observe It, But Then Draws Attention To Their Failure To Observe It, Indicating That The Resulting Consequences Are Therefore Inevitable (Jeremiah 11:1-15).

These words may well have been spoken after the discovery of the Book of the Law in the Temple in the days of Josiah (2 Kings 22) as YHWH sought to reinforce what Josiah was doing. This is suggested by the fact that ‘the covenant’ is mentioned five times in the passage, and not previously in Jeremiah (apart from in a reference to the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH in Jeremiah 3:16. Similar clusters will appear again in chapters 31-34). But the emphasis here is especially on the curse which is a part of that covenant (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28), in order to bring out the reason why YHWH is now about to visit them with inescapable judgment in view of their continual apostasy.

Jeremiah 11:1-2

‘The word that came to Jeremiah from YHWH, saying, “Hear you the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem,”

Once again it is emphasised that Jeremiah receives ‘the word of YHWH’. And His word was not only for him but for all his fellow genuine prophets (like Huldah, Uriah and Barak). This is brought out by the use of the plural ‘YOU’ which indicates that having heard it they are to proclaim it to Judah. And as we shall see this ‘word’ was in the nature of a reminder to Judah of the curses of the covenant.

Note the continual distinction that is made between the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was regularly looked on as a separate city, standing on its own, being not strictly a city of Judah but the city of David (the same was also true in New Testament times. See Mark 1:5).

YHWH’s Curse On Those Who Have Broken His Covenant.

Jeremiah 11:3-5

“And say you to them, Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel,”

“Cursed be the man,

Who does not hear the words of this covenant,

Which I commanded your fathers,

In the day that I brought them forth,

Out of the land of Egypt,

Out of the iron-smelting furnace,

Saying, Obey my voice, and do them,

According to all which I command you,

So will you be my people,

And I will be your God,”

That I may establish the oath,

Which I swore to your fathers,

To give them a land flowing with milk and honey,

As at this day.”

The word that was now to be emphasised to Judah and Jerusalem was the curse that backed up and underlined the covenant, referred to in Deuteronomy 27:16-26, and expanded on in Deuteronomy 28:15 ff. ‘Cursed be the man --’ specifically reflects Deuteronomy 27:16. The basic idea is thus to draw attention to Deuteronomy 27:16-26, especially Deuteronomy 27:26 which is the catch all verse following the detail, something which parallels the idea here.

The words in question were a solemn curse against those who were disobedient to the sacred words of the covenant, and were accepted by the people saying ‘Amen’ (see Deuteronomy 27:16-26 and note Jeremiah 11:5 b below). And the aim of its mention here was to bring out the fact that this curse was now coming into effect. Such curses were a regular feature of covenants, and indeed of many aspects of life.

It is made clear that it was ‘commanded to your fathers’ at the time when they were redeemed from Egypt, with the consequence being that ‘they would be His people and He would be their God’. That had been God’s intention. But it is now being made clear that they had forfeited it by their behaviour (compare Hosea 1:9). This redemption out of Egypt, underlined at Sinai, lay (in the best times and in the hearts of the true remnant at all times) at the very heart of Israel/Judah’s psyche as the Psalms especially bring out. They were to be seen as His people because He had demonstrated that He was their God by redeeming them from Egypt. For the idea ‘So will you be my people, and I will be your God,” see especially Leviticus 26:12, another passage having the curses of the covenant in mind and linked with the redemption from Egypt. Compare also for the idea Jeremiah 7:23; Jeremiah 30:22; Hosea 1:9 and see Deuteronomy 29:15; Leviticus 19:5-6. If this was spoken around the time of the discovery of the Law Book in the Temple both Deuteronomy 27-28 and Leviticus 26 would appear to have been included in it.

The hardship of the conditions in Egypt is brought out by the words, ‘out of the land of Egypt, out of the iron-smelting furnace’ (i.e. a furnace hot enough to smelt iron). Life had not been easy there. Reference to ‘out of the iron-smelting furnace’, linked with ‘out of Egypt’ is found in Deuteronomy 4:20, but the phrases are the other way round, and ‘land of’ is omitted. It is not therefore to be seen as a direct citation.

The consequence of the covenant was that they should obey His voice and do all that He had commanded them, and their being His people is seen as depending on that fact. This would then result in His ‘establishing His oath’ (compare for the phrase Genesis 26:3) which He had sworn to their fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey (two natural basic ingredients of life promised regularly from Exodus 3:8 on, in Exodus to Deuteronomy). That He had kept that promise is indicated by the words ‘as at this day’.

The phrase ‘the words of this covenant’ appears in Deuteronomy 29:9. ‘Brought them forth out of the land of Egypt’ appears in Exodus 29:46; Deuteronomy 29:25. (‘broughtyouforth out of the land of Egypt’ occurs regularly in Leviticus and Deuteronomy). Jeremiah was well founded in the Scriptures.

Jeremiah 11:5

‘Then answered I, and said, “Amen, O YHWH.”

Jeremiah’s, ‘Amen, O YHWH’ reflects the response to the covenant curses in Deuteronomy 27:16-26, and indicates fervent acceptance of the terms of the covenant.

YHWH Has Called For Obedience To His Covenant But It Has Been Refused.

Jeremiah 11:6

‘And YHWH said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Hear you the words of this covenant, and do them.’ ”

Having underlined the importance of His words by reference to the covenant curses, YHWH now calls on Jeremiah to proclaim to Judah and Jerusalem that they ‘hear the words of this covenant and DO them’ (compare Deuteronomy 29:9). The emphasis is on the fact that there was no benefit to be obtained from hearing the words of the covenant if they did not DO them. This idea would later be reinforced by Jesus in his parable of the wise and foolish builders (Matthew 7:24-27). For ‘in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem’, one of Jeremiah’s stock phrases, compare Jeremiah 7:17; Jeremiah 7:34; Jeremiah 33:10; Jeremiah 44:6; Jeremiah 44:17; Jeremiah 44:21 demonstrating the unity of the book.

‘In the cities of Judah.’ Jeremiah was to engage in a peripatetic ministry, possibly initially accompanying Josiah’s men as they went out to destroy the pagan altars throughout the land

Jeremiah 11:7

“For I earnestly protested to your fathers in the day that I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, even to this day, rising early and protesting, saying, ‘Obey my voice.’ ”

YHWH then brings out the stress that He had laid on the need to OBEY His commandments. He had ‘earnestly protested’ such obedience to their fathers in the day that He had brought them up out of the land of Egypt’ (as early as Exodus 15:26), and had continued doing so to this day, ‘rising early’ and protesting, saying ‘Obey My voice’. It had been YHWH’s incessant and constant plea in order that it might not be overlooked.

For the idea of ‘rising early’ as signifying urgency compare Jeremiah 25:3-4; Jeremiah 35:14; Jeremiah 44:4. The idea is a favourite of Jeremiah’s and unique to him.

Jeremiah 11:8

“Yet they did not obey, nor did they incline their ear, but walked every one in the stubbornness of their evil heart, therefore I have brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did them not.”

But in spite of all His efforts they had not obeyed, nor had they listened. Rather they had walked in ‘the stubbornness of their own evil heart’ (compare Jeremiah 3:17; Jeremiah 7:24). That is why He was now bringing on them the curses of the covenant, because He had commanded them to DO what He said and they had not done it (compare the similar emphasis in Deuteronomy 27:26).

‘THIS covenant.’ This would appear to suggest that a copy of the covenant which was known to all was in mind, possibly the Law Book found in the Temple in Josiah’s reign and read before the people in a great covenant ceremony (2 Kings 22:8 ff.). We do not know the extent of this Law Book but it appears to have included at least parts of Deuteronomy. As it was discovered sealed in the Temple wall or foundations a number of scrolls may have been there of which only one had been selected out to be shown to the king.

Judah Are Now Seen As Conspirators Against YHWH And Will Therefore Suffer Evil Coming On Them.

Jeremiah 11:9

‘And YHWH said to me, “A conspiracy is found among the men of Judah, and among the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”

Indeed the way in which so many of the people had been involved in this disobedience indicated a kind of conspiracy. By their behaviour and attitudes they had conspired together against His covenant.

Jeremiah 11:10

“They are turned back to the iniquities of their first forefathers, who refused to hear my words, and they are gone after other gods to serve them.”

And this was confirmed by the fact that one and all had turned back to the iniquities of their first forefathers, for they also had refused to hear His words and had gone after other gods and served them, both when they had fashioned the molten calf in the wilderness (Exodus 32), and during the period of the Judges (Judges 2:12-13 and often), and the same had been regularly true at other times since.

Jeremiah 11:10

“The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant which I made with their fathers.”

Thus by constant and protracted disobedience both the house of Israel and the house of Judah, the two component parts of Israel, had broken His covenant which He had made with their fathers at Sinai to such an extent that their position was now irrevocable.

Jeremiah 11:11

“Therefore thus says YHWH, Behold, I will bring evil on them, which they will not be able to escape; and they will cry to me, but I will not listen to them.”

That is why YHWH had the firm intent to bring evil disasters on them (as warned about in the curses in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28), evil disasters which they would be unable to escape. And things had now gone so far that even though they cried to Him, He would not listen to them (compare Jeremiah 11:14).

Their Numerous False Gods Will Be Unable To Save Them.

Jeremiah 11:12

“Then will the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem go and cry to the gods to which they offer incense, but they will not save them at all in the time of their trouble.”

And when they discovered that YHWH would no longer listen to them they would go and cry to the gods to which they offered their incense in the high places both in the mountains and in their streets, but they would soon find that they would not save them at all in the time of trouble. They were fair-weather gods. The constant distinction between the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem may suggest that in Jeremiah’s time the distinction was being unusually emphasised.

Jeremiah 11:13

“For according to the number of your cities are your gods, O Judah, and according to the number of the streets of Jerusalem have you set up altars to the shameful thing, even altars to burn incense to Baal.”

Then He derides them for their folly with regard to their gods. They had a multiplicity of them. ‘According to the number of your cities are your gods, O Judah’ (compare Jeremiah 2:28), and yet all banded together could do nothing for them. But it was this very multiplicity of gods that brought them into certain condemnation (it provided plenty of evidence for their failure), along with the multiplicity of altars that they had in the streets of Jerusalem, where they had set up altars to burn incense to Baal, ‘the shameful thing’.

Jeremiah Is Not To Pray For A Finally Rejected People.

Jeremiah 11:14

“Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up cry nor prayer for them, for I will not hear them in the time that they cry to me because of their trouble.”

Indeed things had reached such a pass that Jeremiah was no longer to pray for them, or lift up a cry and prayer for them (compare Jeremiah 7:16) for YHWH would no longer hear them and respond in their time of trouble. They had gone beyond the point at which there could be a remedy (something already indicated by the little impact that Josiah’s reforms had clearly had on the thinking of the people). It was thus useless to pray for them. They had reached the point of no return.

Jeremiah 11:15

“What has my beloved to do in my house,

Seeing she has wrought evil devices with many,

And the holy flesh is passed from you?

When you do evil, then you rejoice.”

The reason why YHWH will not hear prayer concerning His people is now made clear. It is because ‘His beloved’ wife (for ‘My beloved’ compare Jeremiah 12:7; Deuteronomy 33:12; Isaiah 5:1; for wife (‘she’) compare Jeremiah 3:1; Jeremiah 3:20; Hosea 1-3) no longer has any genuine right of access to His house. His people have forfeited that right by their evil behaviour which was taking place even while they were partaking of the holy portions of the sacrifices, ‘the holy flesh’ (Haggai 2:12). They indulged in their spiritual and physical adultery even while they passed out the holy portions which had been offered in accordance with the Law and were passed round to those present at their joyful feasts. So even while they did evil, they rejoiced.

Later in Jeremiah 12:7 He will point out that as a result He has forsaken His house, and cast off His heritage, which is why their troubles will come upon them.


Verses 1-27

Section 4. YHWH Deprecates The Disloyalty Of His People To The Covenant, And Demonstrates From Examples Their Total Corruption, Revealing That As A Consequence Their Doom Is Irrevocably Determined, Something Then Represented By Jeremiah By Means Of Prophetic Symbolism (Jeremiah 11:1 to Jeremiah 13:27).

Commencing with the regular opening phrase ‘The word that came to Jeremiah from YHWH --’ (Jeremiah 11:1), YHWH deprecates His people’s disloyalty to the covenant, and demonstrates from examples their total corruption, making clear that as a consequence their doom is irrevocably determined. This is followed by a symbolic action by Jeremiah, together with its interpretation, which reveals the certainty of their expulsion from the land. The section then closes with a woe expressed against Jerusalem.


Verse 16

YHWH Had Planted His People As A Green Olive Tree Abundant In Fruit, But Will Now Break Off Its Branches Returning Evil Consequences On Them For Their Evil Deeds. These Words Produce A Reaction Against Jeremiah In His Home Town Of Anathoth So That They Determine To Slay Him And Consequently He Asks YHWH Why He Allows The Wicked To Continue, Only To Learn That They Will Do Even More Wicked Things Than These (Jeremiah 11:16 to Jeremiah 12:6).

The picture of Israel/Judah as a green olive tree is found elsewhere in Hosea 14:6 (note the emphasis on its branches); Psalms 52:8; Psalms 128:3; Romans 11:17-28. But he informs them that YHWH Who had planted them will now denude them of their fruitful branches and has pronounced evil against them, because of their evil behaviour.

These words infuriate the men of Anathoth, Jeremiah’s home town, who determine that they too will ‘destroy the tree with its fruit’ (Jeremiah 11:19), but in this case they are referring to Jeremiah, against whom they have devised schemes of murder. Jeremiah, taken totally by surprise by these schemes (he was after all a prophet of YHWH and should have been seen as sacrosanct, and he felt that he was only ‘doing his job’), thus sees himself as like a pet household lamb which finds itself to its total surprise unexpectedly led out to the slaughter (Jeremiah 11:19). YHWH, however, assures Jeremiah that He will in the future punish them severely for their behaviour. He is then remonstrated by Jeremiah on the very grounds that having planted them so that they have taken root and brought forth fruit, although only hypocritically, they are still being allowed by Him to continue on in their hypocrisy, bringing devastation on the land and the life within it (Jeremiah 12:2; Jeremiah 12:4). And he calls on Him to takethemout as sheep for the slaughter (Jeremiah 12:3), instead of the little pet lamb (Jeremiah 11:19). In response to these words he is called on to be patient, and is warned by YHWH that this hatred of him by his relatives is only a beginning. It is an indication that he will yet face even greater hardship than this.


Verse 16-17

Jeremiah Prophesies Against The People (Jeremiah 11:16-17).

Israel had been officially named by YHWH as Zayith-ra‘anan-yephe-peri-to’ar (an olive tree green, beautiful and with luscious fruit) when He had called them by that Name as His elect people. But such had been their behaviour that He was now setting fire to it and breaking off its branches, bringing evil on them because of their own evil behaviour. This description of Israel as the olive tree with its branches being broken off would be taken up by Paul in Romans 11:15-28.

Jeremiah 11:16

“YHWH called your name, ‘A green olive-tree,

Beautiful with goodly fruit.’

With the noise of a great tumult he has kindled fire on it,

And the branches of it are broken.”

We must not underestimate the significance of this description. There are only a few examples in Scripture when it was said, ‘YHWH called your name --’, and in all such cases it was at a moment of huge importance in His scheme of things. In Genesis 5:2, ‘YHWH called their name Man (Adam)’ which was the indication of a unique creation. In Genesis 35:10 (compare Jeremiah 32:28) ‘YHWH called his name Israel --’, an indication that Jacob was especially and uniquely set apart for YHWH in His purposes under his new name. In Jeremiah 20:3 Jeremiah in effect says of the evil Pashur, ‘YHWH has --- called your name Magor-missa-bib (terror on every side)’ as an indication of the judgment coming on his house, and on Judah. Here YHWH had called Judah/Israel’s name, Zayith-ra‘anan-yephe-peri-to’ar (an olive tree green, beautiful and with luscious fruit), presumably seen as the name given from Sinai onwards, when they were ‘planted’ (Jeremiah 11:17). Thus YHWH is seen as having given to Israel from its defining moment the name, ‘Green, beautiful, olive tree with luscious fruit’. While therefore we may think especially of the vine as the symbol of Israel’s special status, in that that idea is often referred to Israel, YHWH from the beginning saw them especially as ‘the Olive Tree’, which may well be why Paul chose it as his symbol of Israel in Romans 11:17-28.

The olive tree was very suitable for the purpose. It was famous for its beauty and its leafy branches (Hosea 14:6), and was seen as providing valuable commodities, being the source of oil for lighting, cooking, eating, medicinal purposes, and general anointing, as well as being a major source of exports (compare Hosea 12:1). It was a tree at the heart of their very lives. This description thus showed YHWH’s initial high view of Israel. The ‘goodly fruit’ may be seen as indicating the fulfilling of works in accordance with the covenant, as an Israel obedient to YHWH, or as indicating the multiplying of Israel by a multiplicity of births until they were ‘as the sand by the seashore’.

But the point being made is that that beautiful tree with its spreading branches and abundance of fruit would sadly soon be caught up in the tumult of invading forces, with its trunk set alight and its branches broken off. Judah would produce no more fruit and blessing for the world for a long time to come.

Jeremiah 11:17

“For YHWH of hosts, who planted you,

Has pronounced evil against you,

Because of the evil of the house of Israel,

And of the house of Judah,

Which they have wrought for themselves in provoking me to anger,

By offering incense to Baal.”

For YHWH, Who is over all the hosts of heaven and earth, was the One Who had planted them as a fruitful olive tree (and as a flourishing vine - Jeremiah 2:21). But now He was pronouncing evil against them because of the evil of which they were guilty. None of either Israel or Judah would be safe, for they had wrought evil in that they had provoked YHWH to anger by offering incense to Baal. For they still crept into their mountain sanctuaries, and made their offerings, even in the time of Josiah when it would often be in sanctuaries known only to those in the know. For many would be natural rock formations, and the altar of incense would be a rock. But those who knew of them saw them as wholly sacred. By the time of Jehoiakim, of course, such secrecy would no longer be required.


Verses 18-20

The Reaction Of The People Of His Hometown Anathoth Is To Seek To Warn Off Jeremiah With Threats Of Death, At Which He Appeals To YHWH (Jeremiah 11:18-20).

Jeremiah 11:18

‘And YHWH gave me knowledge of it, and I knew it,

Then you showed me their doings.’

But all this was known to Jeremiah, because YHWH had made it known to him, and had made known to him the doings of the people, which was why he in his turn spoke to the people. In fact he was so certain of his God-ordained ministry and his sanctity as a God-appointed prophet of YHWH that he did not even consider the effect that his words might have on the people. But as we now learn, they did not like it, and began to scheme his death.

Jeremiah 11:19

‘But I was like a gentle lamb,

Which is led to the slaughter,

And I did not know that they had devised schemes against me,

Saying, “Let us destroy the tree with the its fruit,

And let us cut him off from the land of the living,

That his name may be no more remembered.”

The result was that he was completely taken by surprise when he learned, possibly from a disciple or a well-wisher, that they were plotting to get rid of him. He depicts this in a touching simile. Most families had a pet lamb who lived in the house with the family, beloved of the children and feeling perfectly secure, for it was common practise (see 2 Samuel 12:3), as it would be later among the Arabs. But at some stage this little petted lamb would be taken totally by surprise and find itself being led to the slaughter as the equivalent of the fatted calf. It would never have believed that it could come to this! And it was such surprise that Jeremiah felt. He had felt that at least in his own home town he would be appreciated for what he was.

But he discovered in one way or another that many in Anathoth were in fact plotting his death. They had taken up his picture of the destroyed olive tree and applied it to him. So, they asked each other, according to Jeremiah YHWH was going to destroy them like a fruitful olive tree by an invader was He? Well, let Jeremiah have some of his own medicine. He would now in his turn be destroyed like a tree with its fruit, and be cut off from the land of the living so that his name was no more remembered (he was unmarried and without children). Let him see how he liked it..

Jeremiah 11:20

‘But, O YHWH of hosts, who judges righteously,

Who tries the heart and the mind,

I will see your vengeance on them,

For to you have I revealed my cause.’

Shaken and greatly disturbed (it is possible that this was not long after the martyrdom of Uriah - Jeremiah 26:20-24) Jeremiah was freshly awakened to just how sinful the people had become in that they would even destroy YHWH’s prophet (who were usually seen as sacrosanct in Judah), and calls on YHWH to judge the situation before Him. He ‘reveals his cause’ to Him, and calls on Him to ‘try the heart and mind’, both of himself and of the people. He knows that there can be only one verdict. The people will be found guilty, and will be suitably punished.

This verse is found repeated almost word for word (with a few slight changes) in Jeremiah 20:12. Compare also the similar ideas in Jeremiah 17:10. It is a recurrent theme.


Verses 21-23

YHWH Declares The Death Sentence Against Anathoth (Jeremiah 11:21-23).

Jeremiah 11:21-22

‘Therefore thus says YHWH concerning the men of Anathoth, who seek your life, saying, “You shall not prophesy in the name of YHWH, that you die not by our hand.” Therefore thus says YHWH of hosts,

YHWH’s response was to pronounce His verdict against the men of Anathoth who had threatened Jeremiah with death if he prophesied in the name of YHWH. The double repetition of ‘thus says YHWH’ confirms the emphasis and certainty of fulfilment of the verdict.

Jeremiah 11:22-23

“Behold, I will punish them.

The young men will die by the sword,

Their sons and their daughters will die by famine,

And there will be no remnant to them,

For I will bring evil on the men of Anathoth,

Even the year of their visitation.”

The sentence is one of death against the whole households of the would be murderers. Their young men of fighting age would die by the sword, their other young men and women would die through famine, no remnant of them would remain. For the year when YHWH would visit His judgment on the men of Anathoth was coming, and it would take the form of evil being brought on them in the form of devastating invasion. Thus the young men would die defending their homeland, and the famine would be at least partly the result of the marauding activities of the enemy, destroying them by fire after taking possession of such supplies of food as they required for their own use.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 11:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/jeremiah-11.html. 2013.

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Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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