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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Jeremiah 5

 

 

Introduction

Jeremiah 1 - chapters 1 to 10.

A (Very) Brief History Of The Time Of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah began his ministry prior to the discovery of the Law Book in the Temple in the reign of the godly king Josiah, and he continued his ministry throughout the remainder of Josiah’s life, until that life was sadly cut short when Josiah sought to prevent the Egyptian forces under Pharaoh Necho from going to the aid of a dying Assyria in 609 BC. During that period Judah had enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity with their enemies being too preoccupied elsewhere to trouble them, and with fervent religious reform taking place at the centre in Jerusalem, a reform which, however, as Jeremiah knew, had not reached the hearts of the people, for they still hankered after the old Canaanite syncretism of YHWH with Baal. Conformity was thus outward, not inward, and the old hill top sanctuaries did not remain unused, even though that use had to be in secret.

Assyria indeed, which had for a hundred years and more been the dominating force in the area, was by this time fighting a rearguard action for its very life against the combined forces of Babylonia and the Medes (Nineveh had fallen in 612 BC), and was on its last legs. Indeed Josiah’s intervention may well have been the final nail in their coffin, delaying the Egyptian forces long enough to prevent them aiding Assyria in time, thus ensuring Assyria’s final defeat. (Egypt had seen the threat that would follow that defeat). But, in spite of Josiah’s reforms, religiously speaking things had not been going well in the heartland of Judah, for idolatry and disobedience to the covenant had become too well engrained among the people to be easily removed and was still flourishing, so that Jeremiah had constantly to be engaged in seeking to bring the people back to a response to the Law and to the true worship of YHWH (chapters 1-20), warning them of invaders who would be coming from the north (either the Scythians or the Babylonians, or both) if they did not. He respected Josiah greatly and mourned his death (2 Chronicles 35:25).

The fall of Assyria left a power vacuum in which a resurgent Egypt sought to establish its control over Palestine, Syria and beyond, establishing a base at Carchemish, and becoming initially determinant of who would rule Judah, removing Jehoahaz and replacing him with his brother Jehoiakim. After the freedom enjoyed under Josiah this was a bitter blow for Judah, and, along with the fact of Josiah’s untimely death, appeared to many to indicate that what Josiah had sought to achieve had failed.

But Egypt was not to be triumphant for long. They had not reckoned with the power of Babylon and its allies, and four years after the death of Josiah they were decisively beaten by the Babylonian army at Carchemish, and then at Hamath. As a result the Pharaoh retired behind his own borders licking his wounds. Meanwhile Babylon took over the jurisdiction of Judah, and Jehoiakim had to submit to Nebuchadnezzar. The first part of Jeremiah’s work covers this whole period, initially of Josiah’s successful reign, tainted by the stubbornness of the people, and then of the reign of Jehoiakim who took Judah back to the old evil ways of syncretism and Baal worship.

Jeremiah continued to prophesy during the reign of Zedekiah, and even afterwards, and he thus ministered during the period described in 2 Kings 21-25 and 2 Chronicles 33-36. Contemporary with him were the prophets Zephaniah and Habakkuk before the Exile, and Ezekiel and Daniel subsequently.

The First Judean Exile To Babylon Including Daniel (c.605 BC).

As a result of Josiah’s intervention and death the Egyptians on their return journey took control of Judah, and Jehoahaz, who had reigned for a mere three months, was carried off to Egypt, being replaced by the weak Jehoiakim, who in spite of the heavy tribute required by Egypt, squandered money needlessly on a new palace complex, built by forced labour, for which he was castigated by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 22:13-19). He was no doubt trying to prove how grand he was, as weak men will. At the same time the religious reforms, such as they were, were falling by the wayside, and even the Temple itself was being affected (Jeremiah 7:16-18; Jeremiah 11:9-13; etc., compare Ezekiel 8). Judah had become disillusioned with YHWH, partly as a result of the death of Josiah, with the result that the prophets who did speak up against the decline were harassed, or even put to death (Jeremiah 26:23).

As we have seen, for a while it appeared that Judah would continue to be tributaries of a resurgent Egypt. But in a decisive battle in 605 BC at Carchemish, followed by another at Hamath, the Egyptians were badly mauled by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar, with the result that Babylon took control of Judah and Jerusalem, and on the surrender of the latter without resistance, deported the first load of exiles to Babylon, including Daniel and his three friends. Judah was now firmly in Babylonian hands.

Judah’s Folly In The Face Of Jeremiah’s Warnings.

It is perhaps understandable, however, that the leaders of Judah were not too happy about paying tribute to Babylon. They had after all hoped that the defeat of Assyria would cause their problems from the north to cease, and they had no real awareness of the might of the Babylonians. Furthermore, in spite of Judean backsliding with regard to the covenant (chapter 26), the belief had grown that the Temple of YHWH was inviolate and that YHWH would never allow it to be destroyed, a belief fostered by its earlier deliverance under Hezekiah (a belief flatly rejected by Jeremiah - Jeremiah 7:9; Jeremiah 26:6). Had it not after all survived when the other great religious centres in Israel and Syria had collapsed and been destroyed? They felt that in worshipping YHWH alongside Baal, they had got the balance right. Thus, in spite of the sacking of Ashkelon (which shook Judah deeply - Jeremiah 47:5-7), and with the encouragement of false prophets, and the political influence of an Egypt which had by then stopped the advance of the Babylonians before they reached the borders of Egypt, inflicting heavy losses on them in a ‘drawn’ battle, and causing Nebuchadnezzar to withdraw to Babylon, Jehoiakim finally withheld tribute, very much against the advice of Jeremiah (chapter Jeremiah 25:9-11; Jeremiah 27:8; Jeremiah 27:11). Jeremiah was consequently looked on as a traitor. Humanly speaking we can understand Jehoiakim’s decision. It must have appeared to everyone as though Egypt had demonstrated their equality with, if not their superiority over, Babylon. Babylon would surely be more careful in future.

Jeremiah Puts His Prophecies On Record.

It was during this period that a rejected Jeremiah, with the assistance of Baruch his ‘secretary’ (whose name has been found on a seal as ‘belonging to Berek-yahu, son of Neri-yahu (Neriah), the scribe’), first gathered his prophecies into a book-roll (Jeremiah 36:2-4), but on these being read to the people by Baruch (Jeremiah 36:5-10) they were seized and cut up by Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 36:23), who thereby showed his contempt for them. As a result Jeremiah and Baruch had to go into hiding (Jeremiah 36:26). Nothing daunted Jeremiah then wrote down a longer version (Jeremiah 36:28 ff), and meanwhile his efforts to turn the nation to YHWH in the face of persecution were unceasing (sections of chapters 21-49, see e.g. 25-26, 35-36, 45).

The Second Judean Exile, Including The New King Jehoiachin (c. 597 BC).

Inevitably the powerful Babylonians, having recuperated, once again arrived at the gates of Jerusalem, determined to take revenge on Jehoiakim, and Jehoiakim apparently gave himself up, along with some of the Temple treasure, probably thereby hoping to preserve his son’s life. Nebuchadnezzar’s intention was to carry him off in fetters to Babylon, but although this intention is stated it is never actually said to have been fulfilled (2 Chronicles 36:6 ff.; Daniel 1:1-2). Jeremiah may in fact be seen as suggesting otherwise (Jeremiah 22:19). Meanwhile his eighteen year old son Jehoiachin had become king in a city under siege and only reigned for three months, during which time frantic negotiations would have been taking place with the Babylonians. When he did surrender to them he was carried off to Babylon, along with the influential queen mother and further exiles, and even more Temple treasure. He was replaced, at the instigation of Nebuchadnezzar, by Zedekiah, his uncle. (This had no doubt all been part of the agreement reached).

The Third And Final Judean Exile And The Destruction Of The Temple (587 BC).

The reign of Zedekiah was one of continual intrigue, and in the face of it Jeremiah made himself unpopular by constantly warning of the folly of rebelling against the Babylonians (Jeremiah 27:12-22), only to be seen once again as a traitor and to be harshly dealt with. No one would listen to him as negotiations continued with Egypt, and inevitably, when Zedekiah withheld tribute the Babylonians once again surrounded Jerusalem. After a failed attempt by Egypt to intervene Jerusalem was taken and Zedekiah, his sons having been slain before his eyes, was blinded and carried off to Babylon, along with what was left of the paraphernalia of the Temple. Jerusalem itself was sacked. All that Jeremiah had prophesied had come true (these prophecies are intermingled in chapters 21-49, see e.g. Jeremiah 21:1 to Jeremiah 22:30; Jeremiah 23-24, 28-34, 37-39).

The Aftermath.

Nebuchadnezzar then appointed Gedaliah as governor of what remained of Judah, giving Jeremiah (whom he saw as loyal) the option of remaining in Judah or going with him to Babylon. Jeremiah chose to remain in Judah. (See chapters 40-42). But within a short period Gedaliah had been assassinated by ruthless opponents (Jeremiah 41:1-2), and the remnants of the people, fearful of repercussions from Nebuchadnezzar, and against the advice of Jeremiah (chapter 41-42), fled to Egypt, taking Jeremiah with them (Jeremiah 43:8-13; Jeremiah 44), rejecting YHWH’s offer of the restoration of the covenant. There Jeremiah prophesied the conquest of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 43:8 ff.). He probably died in Egypt. There are two traditions concerning what did happen to him, but neither of them can be seen as reliable. The first was that that he was stoned to death by the people at Tahpanhes in Egypt (so Tertullian, Jerome, and Epiphanius), and the second, in accordance with an alternative Jewish tradition, was that he was finally carried off with Baruch to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar at the time of the conquest of Egypt, in the 27th year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. We have no way of knowing whether either have any truth in them.

The Message Of The Book For Our Day.

At first sight it might appear that much of Jeremiah’s prophecy has little to do with us. It appears to be directed at a rebellious Judah which was about to suffer awful consequences as a result of their sins, and we may even begin to find the emphasis as almost tedious and unnecessary. Why preserve writings which were so repetitive and emphasised a judgment long past?

The first reason is because they proved true. Jeremiah’s writings were preserved because in the end they provided an explanation of what had happened to Judah. He had proved to be right after all. Thus his promises of hope also became a basis for the future.

The second reason is because they reveal to us the nature of God. They bring out His holiness and the awe in which He should be held. It is true that God is merciful. But only to those who put their trust in Him and walk with Him. For all others He will one day be their judge.

Thus there is also a third reason why we should recognise the book as important and that is because we are in a similar position today. We may not have hanging over us the threat of Babylonian supremacy, but we do certainly have hanging over us the threat of God’s judgment in one way or another. Whether this will come (somewhat ironically) in the form of an Islamic revival or in the form of the effects of climate change or even finally in the form of the second coming of Christ, it is a certainty for the future. And we therefore also need to listen to the warnings of Jeremiah in order to be ready for what is coming on us. It is the same attitude of mind which brought judgment on Judah that is widespread in society today. Our idols may take a different form, but they have equally replaced God as the objects of our worship, and the immorality and unacceptability of many of our lives is clearly reflected in his prophecies. Every chapter should therefore come home to us as a warning to be ready for what is coming, for come it surely will.

(The idea that there will be a second chance after His second coming is based on false exegesis of Scripture and is not to be relied on. The truth is that His coming will call time on any opportunity to repent. Then men and women who have not responded to Him will face only a judgment which will be far worse than anything that came on Judah).

A General Overview Of The Book.

The prophecies of Jeremiah are not presented in strict chronological order, even though those which came in the time of Josiah do appear to come in the first part of the book. The first twenty chapters contain prophecies given partly in the time of Josiah and partly in the time of Jehoiakim, for the message to the people under both kings was very much the same (even though the kings themselves were very different), ‘turn from your idols, and begin to walk in accordance with the covenant, or disaster will come on you’. These chapters may well have made up a good part of the book of prophecies put together by Jeremiah, which was cut up by Jehoiakim, and re-written and expanded by Jeremiah through Barak his amanuensis and assistant (Jeremiah 36:4 ff). There is no good reason for doubting that all the prophecies which are in the book are genuinely his prophecies. As will be apparent he prophesied over a long period of time, and faced severe difficulties because his message was unpopular, and it is because of those difficulties, emphasised in chapters 26-45, that we know more about him than any other prophet after Moses.

Much of Jeremiah’s prophecy is in ‘Hebrew verse’ (as with the Sermon on the Mount and with most of the prophets), but we must beware of just seeing it as poetry. The purpose of Hebrew verse was in order to aid memory, and provide emphasis by means of repetition. It did not detract from the seriousness or validity of what was said. It was spoken very directly to the heart.

As will be apparent in the commentary Jeremiah was familiar both with the Law of Moses and the early historical books, which reflect that Law. As a popular presentation of the Law, Deuteronomy, with its emphatic emphasis on blessing and cursing, appears to have been especially influential. But it would be a mistake to ignore the influence of the remainder of the Law of Moses, and especially of Leviticus 26 with its parallel warnings similar to those of Deuteronomy 28. Jeremiah was familiar with the whole Law.

With the above in mind the book can be divided into three main Sections, which are found inserted between an introduction and a conclusion:

1. INTRODUCTION. Introductory opening chapter, which describes Jeremiah’s call by YHWH (Chapter 1).

2. SECTION 1. A number of general prophecies against Judah in the days of Josiah and Jehoiakim, including, in the final chapters, words spoken to Zedekiah (chapters 2-25).

3. SECTION 2. Biographical details from the life of the prophet and details of how he coped with his maltreatment, leading up to the fall of Jerusalem and its aftermath in the rejection of the offer of a new covenant (chapters 26-45).

4. SECTION 3. Prophecies against foreign nations (chapters 46-51).

5. CONCLUSION. Concluding appendix (chapter 52).


Verses 1-9

YHWH Gives His Reasons Why Jerusalem Will Not Be Pardoned And Jeremiah Makes A Vain Search For A Righteous Man (Jeremiah 5:1-9).

YHWH now vindicates His decision to bring inevitable judgment. He assures Jeremiah that if he can produce but one person in Jerusalem who does what is right and genuinely seeks truth He will pardon Jerusalem. In response Jeremiah admits that in spite of YHWH’s efforts they have all refused to respond. Then he begins his search for a righteous and true man, and finally convinced that such is not to be found among the common people he determines to look among the great men, for, he says, they surely know the way of YHWH and the Law of God. But even there he has to admit failure. As a result he recognises that it is reasonable that they be subjected to the curse of a surfeit of wild beasts (Leviticus 26:22).

YHWH then points out why He cannot pardon them. It is because they have forsaken Him and sworn by those who are no-gods, and as a result have indulged excessively in immoral behaviour. Consequently He is going to have to visit them in judgment because they are the very kind of people on Whom He must be avenged.

Jeremiah 5:1

“Run you to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem,

And see now, and know,

And seek in its broad places,

If you can find a man,

If there be any who does justly,

Who seeks truth, and I will pardon her.”

YHWH challenges Jeremiah and his small group of disciples (‘you’ - plural) to search throughout Jerusalem in order to discover whether they can find one single person, either in its narrow streets or in its town squares (its broad places), who walks in righteousness and genuinely seeks truth. And He promises that if they can find just one (presumably outside of Jeremiah’s own circle of disciples) He will pardon Jerusalem. It is being made clear that things had reached a very low ebb spiritually. It was an indication of just how very few righteous people there were I Jeremiah’s day. In Elijah’s time there had been seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18). How Jeremiah must have envied him so many. In Isaiah’s day there had been a small group of disciples (Isaiah 8:16). We can compare this with YHWH’s promise to Abraham that if he found ten righteous men in Sodom He would withhold His judgment from them (Genesis 18:32). It is a firm reminder of the prevalence of sin and unbelief in the days of Jeremiah. It would take the Exile to bring some of them to their senses, and it helps to explain why YHWH had to be so severe with Judah.

Jeremiah 5:2

“And though they say, ‘As YHWH lives’, surely they swear falsely.”

One evidence of their depravity was that they were able to swear ‘as YHWH lives’, no doubt very brazenly, while all the time they were swearing falsely and perverting justice. In other words they were treating the Name of YHWH as though He had no knowledge of what they were doing, or as if He counted for nothing.

Jeremiah 5:3

‘O YHWH, do not your eyes look on truth? You have stricken them, but they were not grieved, you have consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction, they have made their faces harder than a rock, they have refused to return.’

Jeremiah then confirmed that what YHWH set His eyes on, was also what was true, and that He was quite right in what He had said. And this had been proved with Judah by the fact that when YHWH had chastened them they were not grieved, a sign of their hardened consciences. Furthermore even when He had consumed some of their number they had refused to receive correction. In other words whatever He had done they had made their faces harder than rock, and had refused to return to Him no matter what He did.

Jeremiah 5:4

‘Then I said, “Surely these are poor, they are foolish, for they do not know the way of YHWH, nor the law of their God.”

Then Jeremiah got to thinking. Perhaps the reason why these people had not responded was because they were the ‘poor and foolish’ who did not know the way of YHWH or the Law of God. In other words that their sin and lack of response might be due to their ignorance of YHWH’s requirements.

Jeremiah 5:5

“I will get myself to the great men, and will speak to them, for they know the way of YHWH, and the law of their God.” But these with one accord have broken the yoke, and burst the bonds.’

So he decided that he would go to the great men, and speak to them. Surely they would know the way of YHWH and the Law of their God. But he found that with one accord they had deliberately taken off the yoke of YHWH, and had burst what they considered to be the bonds of the Law of their God. They had wanted to be free of any restraint, and had thrown off YHWH’s Lordship.

Jeremiah 5:6

‘For which reason a lion out of the forest will slay them, a wolf of the evenings (or ‘of the plains’) will destroy them, a leopard will watch against their cities, every one who goes out from there will be torn in pieces, because their transgressions are many, and their backslidings are increased.’

Because of their proven hardness of heart YHWH would remove His protection from them. And this would result in an infestation of the land by wild beasts, in accordance with the curse found in Leviticus 26:22, which in itself would, if they did not repent, be a preliminary to invasion, subjection to the sword, terrible siege conditions and their final exclusion from the land (Leviticus 26:23-33). This was therefore a signal of what was to come.

Wild beasts were a constant problem in Palestine in those days, as lions, wolves and leopards roved the land, something that would be especially prevalent when conditions resulted in the land being unattended (compare 2 Kings 17:25) as would often happen in turbulent times. Note how the wild beasts are to be found everywhere, in the forests (of which there were still many), in the plains (rather than ‘evenings’, as it is paralleled with ‘forests’) and lurking by the wayside. Thus because of the increase of their transgressions and backslidings (obstinacy) many would be torn by wild animals (Leviticus 26:22). But the wild beasts are but a prelude to other wild beasts consisting of human armies which will also hunt them down.

The Reason Why YHWH Cannot Pardon Them.

Jeremiah 5:7

“How can I pardon you? Your children have forsaken me, and sworn by those who are no gods.”

YHWH then takes up the conversation asking how He can possibly pardon them when their children have forsaken Him and instead of swearing ‘as YHWH lives’ have sworn by those who do not live and are no-gods.

Jeremiah 5:7

-8 “When I had fed them to the full, they committed adultery, and assembled themselves in troops at the harlots’ house. They were as fed horses roaming at large, every one neighed after his neighbour’s wife.”

Furthermore when He had given them full stomachs they committed adultery and went ‘in troops’ to frequent the houses of prostitutes, the singular representing each harlot’s house. They were like well-fed horses, roaming around at large, neighing for their neighbour’s wife. Prostitution and rampant sex were prominent parts of Canaanite religion as the idea was that by indulging in open sex before the gods they encouraged the fertility gods to give them fertile fields. But it was strictly contrary to the Law of YHWH.

Others see ‘the harlot’s house’ as having in mind what they had made of the Temple. They had turned it from being the house of YHWH into the house of Asherah with her train of cult prostitutes

Jeremiah 5:9

“Shall I not visit for these things?” says YHWH, ‘and shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?”

YHWH’s conclusion was that He had no choice but to visit them in judgment, and, with His soul stirred by their sinfulness, to be ‘avenged’ on them for their sin and unfaithfulness. Notice how this refrain is repeated again in Jeremiah 5:29, bringing out the unity of the section, and emphasising the certainty of the judgment.


Verses 1-31

YHWH Presents The Reasons Why The Invasion Is Necessary (Jeremiah 5:1-31).

Invasion is seen as necessary because there are no righteous people in Jerusalem, and they are full of adultery (both spiritual and physical), and have grown fat and sleek, whilst at the same time they also appear to be unaware of Who YHWH is. Furthermore, what is worse is that their prophets and priests, who should have guided them into the truth, are untrustworthy.


Verses 10-19

YHWH Calls On His Champion, Whose Great Might He Makes Clear, In Order That His Forces Might Denude Judah Because Of Their Treachery Towards Him (Jeremiah 5:10-19).

The instrument of YHWH’s judgment is called on to scale the wall of YHWH’s vineyard and destroy the vine by de-branching it, but not to make a full end. The stump must be left (compare Isaiah 6:13) so that it may eventually grow again. This is because they have dealt very treacherously with Him, and have even denied Him, crowing that no evil would come on them. YHWH will, therefore, respond by making their prophets windbags rather than men of the Spirit, so that they will not have YHWH’s words. In contrast His words in Jeremiah will be a fire, and the people will be wood, so that they will be devoured. For He is bringing from afar a mighty and ancient nation of foreign tongue, whose quivers are an open sepulchre (especially deadly and easy to fall into) and who are all mighty men. They will devour everything and bring down their cities. And yet even in those days YHWH will still not make a full end.

Jeremiah 5:10

‘Go you up on her walls, and destroy, but do not make a full end. Take away her branches (or ‘tendrils’), for they are not YHWH’s.’

Once again YHWH’s people are likened to a failing vine (compare Jeremiah 2:21; Jeremiah 6:9; Isaiah 5:1-7) and YHWH calls on His chosen champion (presumably Nebuchadnezzar) to climb the walls or vine terraces of His Vineyard in order to denude the vine of branches, because the branches are not YHWH’s. They are failing to produce the required fruit (compare Jeremiah 2:21 where Israel/Judah were pictured as a degenerate vine, and Jeremiah 6:9 where they are to be gleaned as a vine). But he is not to make a full end, because YHWH has future plans for His people.

The word translated ‘walls’ means something firm and strong and may here signify ‘vine terraces’.

Jeremiah 5:11

“For the house of Israel and the house of Judah have dealt very treacherously against me,” the word of YHWH.’

The reason for His call is that both Israel and Judah have dealt very treacherously against Him. Note how YHWH still has both in mind. He has not forgotten Israel. And this verdict is revealed as certain because it is ‘the word of YHWH (neum YHWH).’

Jeremiah 5:12

“They have denied YHWH, and said, ‘It is “not he”, nor will evil come upon us, nor will we see sword nor famine.’ ”

Their treachery lies in the fact that they have denied Him and said, ‘Lo hu‘.’ (‘Not He’), thereby denying His overlordship, and His power to harm them. They no longer see Him as their ‘I am’. Thus they boast that no evil will come on them, and that they will see neither sword nor famine, because YHWH is powerless to bring it about.

Jeremiah 5:13

‘And the prophets will become wind, and the word is not in them. Thus will it be done to them.’

Consequently in return YHWH promises that their prophets will become mere purveyors of wind (ruach = ‘wind, spirit, breath’), without receiving His word, rather than true men of the Spirit. For this is what YHWH will do to them.

Jeremiah 5:14

‘For which reason YHWH, the God of hosts, says, “Because you speak this word, behold, I will make my words in your mouth fire, and this people wood, and it will devour them.”

In contrast, because of this, YHWH God of Hosts (YHWH Elohe Tsebaoth, a powerful description first found in Jeremiah 2:19, with Hosts signifying all the hosts both of heaven and earth, including sun, moon and stars) will make the words of Jeremiah, who does speak His word, like a fire, and He will make the people wood, so that they may be devoured by the results of his fiery word as the judgments that he prophesies come about.

Jeremiah 5:15

“Lo, I will bring a nation on you from far, O house of Israel,” says YHWH, “it is a mighty nation, it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language you do not know, nor understand what they say.”

For the result of Jeremiah’s words will be the coming of a mighty and ancient nation from afar, speaking a strange language, in accordance with the words of Moses (compare Deuteronomy 28:49), because they have broken the covenant. Babylon was both a mighty nation and an ancient nation, and by Judah’s standards did come ‘from far’ (compare Isaiah 39:3). Note that Judah is here referred to as ‘the house of Israel’, for Judah now included many refugees from Israel. To the prophets both were one. And a similar judgment had already come on Israel, as a prototype of what would happen to Judah. Both would suffer in the same way under the name of ‘the house of Israel’, because both were guilty in the same way. (Of course by this time Judah was a mixture of the twelve tribes due both to refugees from Israel, and to those from Israel who had chosen to settle there because it housed the Temple and the Ark).

Jeremiah 5:16

“Their quiver is an open sepulchre, they are all mighty men.”

The quivers of the bowmen of YHWH’s champion (Nebuchadnezzar, His servant - Jeremiah 27:6), which have mouths wide open at the top, are likened to an open sepulchre into which a man can easily fall, never to rise again. They are an invitation to death because of the deadly arrows that they contain. Furthermore all His champion’s men are equally champions (mighty men), they are powerful warriors who will put Judah to shame.

Jeremiah 5:17

“And it will eat up your harvest and your bread, they will eat up your sons and your daughters, it will eat up your flocks and your herds, it will eat up your vines and your fig-trees, they will beat down your fortified cities, in which you trust, with the sword.”

And those mighty warriors (‘it’ signifying the whole mighty nation, they signifying the mighty warriors) would eat up their harvest and their bread, and their sons and their daughters (compare Jeremiah 3:24), and their flocks and herds (compare Jeremiah 3:24), and their vines and fig trees. All that they had laboured for would be swallowed up by strangers (Jeremiah 3:24). And with the sword these mighty warriors would beat down their fortified cities in which they trusted for refuge. For from such forces there could be no refuge.

To ‘eat up’ people was to slaughter them, partaking in their death, a similar usage being found in Psalms 14:4; Psalms 53:4; Isaiah 49:26; Micah 3:3. It was the Jewish symbolism utilised by Jesus in John 6:51-58 and in the Lord’s Supper where it indicated partaking in His death.

Jeremiah 5:18

“But even in those days,” says YHWH, “I will not make a full end with you.”

And yet even in those days YHWH would not make a full end. Devastating though the invasion and exile would be, it would not be final. For YHWH remembered His promises to their forefathers (e.g. Genesis 12:3), and His assurances given through Moses (Leviticus 26:45; Deuteronomy 30:1-10). One day Israel would rise again.

Jeremiah 5:19

‘And it will come about that when you shall say, “Why has YHWH our God done all these things unto us?” Then you will say to them, “In the same way as you have forsaken me, and served foreign gods in your land, so will you serve strangers in a land that is not yours.”

And when the people ask themselves the question, “Why has YHWH our God done all these things unto us?” The answer will be that it is because they have forsaken YHWH and have served other gods in their land, and as a consequence will now have to serve strangers (foreigners) in a land which is not theirs (which clearly indicates that here at least the Babylonians are in mind). Notice the parallel in that because in their own land they served ‘strange’ gods, in a land that is not theirs they will serve ‘strangers’ (although the comparison is in the sense, for the Hebrew root is different). If they love ‘strangers’ so much they can have them in abundance.


Verses 20-30

YHWH Asks His People Why In View Of His Clearly Revealed Power They Do Not Fear Him, And Concludes That It Is Because They Are Revolutionaries And Rebels, Caught Up In Sin (Jeremiah 5:20-30).

YHWH addresses His people as foolish and lacking in understanding, and as those who can neither see nor hear, and asks them whether or not they have considered His control of the mighty seas, and of the regular seasons. Do not these things awaken in them a reverent awe (‘fear’). Being unused to the sea it was something that most people in Israel feared, for they saw it as untamed and unreliable. And yet, YHWH points out, He is able to control it and keep it within bounds. But how different is the case with His people. Because they do not fear Him they are in contrast to the sea (which knows its Master) wholly uncontrollable and constantly stepping over their bounds. Nor do they stop and ask themselves Who controls the seasons that ensure good harvests? And this is because they are so steeped in their iniquities and their sins. But let them beware for He will not overlook what they are. He will visit them because of their openly revealed sinfulness, and will be avenged n them for their unfaithfulness.

Jeremiah 5:20

‘Declare you this in the house of Jacob,

And publish it in Judah, saying,

Jeremiah and his small band of disciples must declare His message to all YHWH’s people. The parallel of Jacob with Judah is a reminder of the fact that Judah now represents Israel, and indeed has many from the tribes of Israel living among them. In the prophet’s eyes they are all one, all God’s people. Alternately the idea of ‘house of’ may be that it has also to be published among Israel in exile.

Jeremiah 5:21

“Now hear this, O people,

Foolish and without understanding,

Who have eyes, and see not,

Who have ears, and hear not.”

He summarises the way in which He views them. They are foolish and lacking in understanding, and although they have eyes their vision is dimmed, and although they have ears their hearing is limited. That is because they have become so hardened, overlooking Who He is. This is a regular description of the unbelieving in Israel and Judah. Compare Isaiah 6:9-10; Ezekiel 12:2; Matthew 13:14. Note that He does not call them ‘My people’, for they have become strangers to Him.

Jeremiah 5:22

“Do you not fear ME?” says YHWH,

“Will you not tremble at my presence,

I who have placed the sand for the bound of the sea,

By a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it,

And though its waves toss themselves,

Yet can they not prevail,

Though they roar,

Yet can they not pass over it.”

The question as to why they do not ‘fear Him’ as they should (with ME being emphasised as being placed first) is asked twice in two different ways in terms of Himself and of His presence. Firstly it is as the controller of the mighty seas, (which did cause them to tremble), which could theoretically overwhelm them at any time, and secondly as the controller of the seasons on which their lives depended (Jeremiah 5:24). In other words they responded neither to His revealed power or His great provision. Paradoxically they trembled at the seas, but not at the Controller of the seas.

The people of Israel were unused to the sea and saw it mainly from a distance as a powerful uncontrollable force, ever seeking to break in on the land, but at the last moment always turned back. ‘Should they not then fear the One Who controls the sea, and fixes its bounds?’ He asks. ‘Should they not tremble at the Presence of the One Who establishes its boundaries however much its waves may roar and toss?’ For whatever commotion the sea may cause, it cannot pass over the limits that He puts upon it. They are unable to prevail against Him. But they should recognise the fact that were He to withdraw His hand the seas would rise and flood the land and they would all perish, as had happened so long ago in the days of Noah. It was only because of His firm covenant, guaranteed by the rainbow, that they could be sure it would not be so. Did this not give them pause for thought?

Jeremiah 5:23

“But this people have a stubborn (revolting) and a rebellious heart,

They are filled with stubbornness and gone.”

But how different it is with ‘this people’. Unlike the sea their hearts are full of stubbornness as they constantly revolt against Him and rebel (compare Deuteronomy 21:18; Deuteronomy 21:20 where the same words are used), whilst they constantly step over the boundaries that He has set by ignoring His covenant. That is why as a result of their stubbornness they have turned away and gone from Him, forgetting how much they owe Him.

Jeremiah 5:24

“Nor do they say in their heart,

‘Let us now fear YHWH our God, who gives rain,

Both the former and the latter, in its season,

Who preserves to us the appointed sevens of the harvest.’ ”

Nor does His love, revealed in His control over the benefits that they receive, move them. They do not say in their hearts, ‘Let us reverently love YHWH our God Who gives us rain in its season, and Who ensures for us the seven sevens of harvest, the period between Unleavened Bread and Pentecost (Sevens). They fail to recognise His loving provision for them and His preservation of the harvest pattern, with everything taking place in due order.

While rain came at different times in the winter months the former rains were the rains which came in October/November in order to prepare the ground for sowing, and the latter rains were those which came in March/April watering the harvest. This idea of the former and latter rains is taken from Deuteronomy 11:14. The period between the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Sevens was the period of harvesting and developing further crops. All this was necessary if they were to enjoy the full fruitfulness of the fields, and yet they had overlooked the fact that it was He Who had made such provision for them (and had instead imputed it to Baal and his wanton sister Anath).

So both His control of the raging seas, and His control of the seasons should have demonstrated to them Who and What He was, but it has not because they are blind in their sins.

Jeremiah 5:25

“Your iniquities (what is twisted) have turned away these things,

And your sins (what misses the mark) have withheld good from you.”

And the reason that they were at this time suffering poor harvests was because of their iniquities and their sins, their twistedness and their failures to come up to scratch, which had turned away God’s provision and had caused Him to withhold what was good from them.

Jeremiah 5:26-27

“For among my people are found wicked men.

He watches, as fowlers lie in wait,

They set a trap,

They catch men.

As a cage is full of birds,

So are their houses full of deceit,

That is why they are become great,

And have grown rich.”

YHWH then expands in more detail about their sins. Among His people are wicked men who set traps and snares, lying in wait like fowlers (bird-catchers), setting traps and catching out innocent people. The idea includes businessmen who overcharge, or short change, or con people into buying what they do not need; investment advisers who are thinking only of their commission; local builders who do a shabby job, or persuade people to have unnecessary work done, or who grossly overcharge; and thieves and robbers who steal what they have no right to. All are known to God Who will repay. These are just a few examples of man’s trickery and ‘inhumanity to man’. And as a result of their deceit they have become wealthy and important, for wealth buys a certain type of ‘greatness’.

‘He watches’ brings out the individual responsibility of each one, ‘they set a trap’ emphasises their combined responsibility.

The ‘cage full of birds’ is of course the result of their successful snaring, bearing evidence to what they are. But it is really a cage full, not of success but of deceit. All their possessions in their houses cry out that they are dishonest cheats and evil men.

Jeremiah 5:28

“They have grown fat, they shine,

Yes, they overpass in deeds of wickedness.

They do not plead the cause, the cause of the fatherless, that they may prosper,

And they do not judge the right of the needy.”

As a result of their activities these people grow fat and sleek, and instead of shining with goodness and good works (Matthew 5:16) they ‘shine’ with evil, their oiled locks and faces merely portraying their greed and dishonesty. They surpass each other in deeds of wickedness. They have no regard for those who have no protectors or those who are in greatest need. They are the very opposite of those whose concern is for the fatherless, and who do seek to ensure fairness and justice. The widow, and the fatherless, and the stranger were always of great concern to YHWH because of their helpless situation, and lack of compassion towards them, and especially cheating them, were always seen by Him as heinous crimes.

Jeremiah 5:29

“Shall I not visit for these things?” says YHWH,

“Shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?”

The refrain from Jeremiah 5:9 is again repeated, doubly stressing its warning note. Do they not recognise that this is why YHWH is about to visit their land in judgment? Do they not realise that YHWH will be avenged for the way in which they have broken His covenant and abused the weak and helpless? Do they really think that such a nation will be allowed to get away with how they are behaving? There is in this a warning for us all. Because God is forgiving and merciful we too can begin to think that we can get away with our failures and our hypocrisy. But we never will, for while we may be forgiven there will always be a price to pay in one way or another. We will find that we need to be chastised, and we will lose much of the reward that could have been ours.

Jeremiah 5:30

“A terrible and horrible thing,

Has come about in the land,

The prophets prophesy falsely,

And the priests bear rule by means of them,

And my people love to have it so,

And what will you do in its end?”

And these problems are not limited to a few. The whole of Judah is seen to be affected. For what seems to Jeremiah both terrible and horrible (a root used later in Jeremiah 29:17 of the state of rotting, inedible figs) is the fact that the prophets are prophesying falsely as men-pleasers (compare Jeremiah 6:14; Jeremiah 20:6; Jeremiah 23:25; Jeremiah 27:15; Jeremiah 29:9), the priests are going along with it because what the prophets are teaching is the basis on which their authority rests (compare 1 Chronicles 25:2 ff., 2 Chronicles 23:18), and the people love it because the prophets are prophesying what they want to hear (compare Amos 4:5). All are submitting to lies and ignoring the truth because in one way or another it suits them. But what they should be asking themselves is what they will do when the truth is revealed and judgment comes? That is a question that they have no answer to.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 5:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/jeremiah-5.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, December 10th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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