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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Jeremiah 8

 

 

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 4-13

YHWH Expresses Amazement At The Unwillingness of His People To Return To Him, And Their Complete Disregard For His Requirements, And Warns Them That As A Consequence They Will Lose Everything (Jeremiah 8:4-13).

YHWH now declares that the behaviour of the people reveals them for what they are. They are so dead set on sin that nothing will turn them aside from it or cause them to stop and think. While birds observe their proper times, His people ignore them and do what they will. And yet they claim to be wise. But their wisdom will revealed to be folly, because they have rejected the word of YHWH. Indeed they have become so sinful that they can no longer blush. That is why they will be utterly consumed and will lose everything.

Why Are His People So Obdurate?

Jeremiah 8:4-5

‘Moreover you shall say to them,

“Thus says YHWH,

Will men fall, and not rise up again?

Will one turn away, and not return?”

‘Why then is this people of Jerusalem turned back,

By a perpetual turning back?

They hold fast deceit,

They refuse to return.”

YHWH expresses His surprise that His people are not following the normal pattern pursued by men. When men fall, do they not get up again? When a man takes the wrong road, does he not usually, as soon as he is aware of it, turn back to the right road? Why then is this not true of His people? Why when they slide back do they allow it to be permanent, so that they are guilty of permanent backsliding? And His conclusion is that it is because their choice of the wrong way was blatantly deliberate. It was because they deliberately held fast to the way of deceit and refused to return.

Jeremiah 8:6

“I listened and heard,

But they did not speak aright,

No man repents himself of his wickedness,

Saying, ‘What have I done?’

Every one turns to his course,

As a horse which rushes headlong in the battle.”

It was not that YHWH did not care, indeed He had been ‘listening in’. He had overheard their conversations and observed their attitudes, hoping to hear something positive only to discover that when they discussed things they had no thought of the fact that they were doing wrong, nor did they show any sign of repentance for their wickedness. They did not allow themselves to be pulled up short, saying, ‘What have I done?’ They were in the sad state of being oblivious to sin. Rather they chose their own course and carried on pursuing their own way with the same determination as a horse charging into battle, with the bit firmly gripped in its mouth, looking neither right nor left, and not pausing to think. This is also the state of the world in which we ourselves live.

Jeremiah 8:7

“Yes, the stork in the heavens knows her appointed times, and the turtle-dove and the swallow, and the crane observe the time of their coming, but my people do not know the judgment (just ways) of YHWH.”

By their behaviour they reveal that they do not take notice of the time that is coming. Storks know their appointed times, turtle-doves, swallows and cranes come precisely on time, but God’s people do not recognise when the time of YHWH’s judgment has come, (or that it is the time for observing His just ways).

Thinking Themselves To Be Wise They Have Been Deceived.

Jeremiah 8:8

“How do you say, ‘We are wise, and the instruction (torah, law) of YHWH is with us?’ But, behold, the false pen of the scribes has wrought falsely.”

Yet they think that they are wise. They even claim to have the Instruction of YHWH (His Torah). But what they have is a distorted word, produced and deliberately distorted by those who manipulate what is in the ancient texts. This is not speaking of false copying ,but of what they wrote down after supposedly considering what they had read.

Jeremiah 8:9

“The wise men are put to shame,

They are dismayed and taken,

Lo, they have rejected the word of YHWH,

And what manner of wisdom is in them?”

Even the wise men of the kingdom will be caught out (compare Proverbs 25:1), so that when judgment comes they will be taken by surprise and, as they are carried off, will be totally dismayed. Their wisdom will not save them, and it will be because they have rejected the word of YHWH. So what kind of wisdom do they have?

In Consequence They Will Lose Everything Whilst Their Prophets Prophesy Falsely.

Jeremiah 8:10

“Therefore will I give their wives to others,

And their fields to those who shall possess them,

For every one from the least even to the greatest,

Is given to covetousness,

From the prophet even to the priest,

Every one deals falsely.”

And the consequence for all His people will be that their wives will be snatched from them and given to others, and their fields handed over to the ones who will take possession of them. And this will be because all are involved in their sin, from the least to the greatest, for they are all prone to coveting what belongs to others, and obtaining it by whatever method that they can, while from the prophet to the priest, all their religious ‘guides’ deal falsely.

Jeremiah 8:11

“ And they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.”

These very ‘guides’ have pretended that they could heal the hurt of the people, and have sought to do it glibly and smoothly by saying ‘peace, peace’ where there was no peace. This may signify peace in terms of freedom from outside interference, or peace in the sense of well-being generally. In other words they have promised the people that they have nothing to fear, and that ‘all is well’, when in fact things were far from well. They were like many today who are ready to dismiss the idea that God is so serious about sin that He does not forgive it lightly.

Because They Have Forgotten How To Blush They Will Be Consumed.

Jeremiah 8:12

“ Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? no, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush, therefore will they fall among those who fall, in the time of their visitation they will be cast down, says YHWH.”

The final evidence of their depravity was that when they had committed abominations they were not ashamed. They did not even blush. And that is why they will ‘fall among those who fall’, and in the time when YHWH visits in judgment they will be hurled down. It will be noted that these words are a repetition of Jeremiah 6:15. It was clearly a thought that had struck Jeremiah deeply.

We live in a day when many have ‘forgotten how to blush’. The anonymity of the internet enables people to do what they would never do in daily life, and seemingly get away with it. They should, however, remember that one day all the secrets of the internet will be revealed, for God knows all our nicknames and passwords. ‘That which is secret will be made known’ (Matthew 10:26). And meanwhile even in daily life we have become more brazen, and purity and genuine honesty are becoming less and less valued.

Jeremiah 8:13

“I will utterly consume them, the word of YHWH, there will be no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig-tree, and the leaf will fade; and what I have given to them will pass away from them.”

And so YHWH warns them that they will be utterly consumed (‘consuming I will consume’), and that on ‘the word of YHWH’. The result will be that there will be no grapes on the vine, no figs on the fig-tree, even the leaf will fade, and all that YHWH has given them will pass away from them.

This will happen both literally and spiritually. YHWH’s Vine would produce no grapes (Jeremiah 2:21; Isaiah 5:1-7), YHWH’s fig tree would produce no figs, even their leaves would be withered. Both were elsewhere symbols of Judah (Jeremiah 2:21; Isaiah 5:1-7; Micah 7:1; Jeremiah 24; Matthew 21:19 and parallels). His people would be unfruitful and morally and spiritually dead just as His land would literally be unfruitful and dying. Jesus Christ said that it would be the same with Himself as the true Vine. There would always be professing believers who would produce no fruit and would have to be cut off and burned (John 15:1-6).


Verses 14-17

Jeremiah Calls On The People To Enter Their Fortified Cities Because The Invaders Are Coming And There Will Be No Peace Terms Accepted Or Healing Of Their Rebellion, For YHWH Is Sending Among Them Serpents Which Cannot Be Charmed, Adders Which Will Bite Them Without Ceasing (Jeremiah 8:14-17)..

In vivid terms Jeremiah calls on the people to barricade themselves inside their fortified cities. But it was not to be in hope of deliverance. Once there they were to be silent, because YHWH had put them to silence by the thought of what was coming on them. They would be given bitter water to drink, because they had sinned against Him. For this time there would be no peace terms and no healing of the rift. The invaders would not be coming in a merciful mood, but in order to obtain vengeance. They were like snakes which could not be charmed, which would bite them without stinting. And this was ‘the infallible word of YHWH’.

Jeremiah 8:14

“Why do we sit still? Assemble yourselves,

And let us enter into the fortified cities,

And let us be silent there,

For YHWH our God has put us to silence,

And given us water of gall to drink,

Because we have sinned against YHWH.”

Jeremiah now calls the people to action. It is not a time for sitting still but for assembling themselves and entering into their fortified cities because the enemy is almost upon them. But it should not be with the hope of deliverance. Rather, once there, they were to be in silence, knowing that YHWH their God had put them to silence and given them bitter and even poisonous water to drink, And this was because of the grievousness of their sin before Him.

It is tempting to see in the reference to ‘waters of gall’ a parallel with the water drunk by a wife accused of adultery, which is called ‘the water of bitterness that brings the curse’ (Numbers 5:18; Numbers 5:24), but there is no suggestion that that was waters of gall. Indeed it was holy water mingled with dust from the Tabernacle, and if that was meant why was it not called ‘waters of bitterness’? More likely is a reference to Deuteronomy 32:32-33, ‘For their vine comes from the vine of Sodom and of the fields of Gomorrah, their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter, their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel gall of asps.’ That makes it a mixture of bitterness and poison which will bring about their end because their sins paralleled those of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Jeremiah 8:15

“We looked for peace,

But no good came,

For a time of healing,

And, behold, dismay!”

Their false prophets had promised peace and healing and well being, but it had not come. Furthermore all efforts at appeasing the enemy would fail. They would look in vain for peace, but no good would come. They would seek a time of healing, but instead they would face dismay, for they had offended both God and men. No peace terms would be offered. No mercy would be available. It was the end of the road.

Jeremiah 8:16

“The snorting of his horses is heard from Dan,

At the sound of the neighing of his strong ones the whole land trembles,

For they are come, and have devoured the land and all that is in it,

The city and those who dwell in it.”

Prophetically Jeremiah hears the snorting of the invader’s horses at Dan, on the borders of God’s inheritance. The enemy are coming and even now, as it were, the sound of the snorting of their horses can be heard! It is as near as that. And at that sound of the neighing of the powerful horses of the enemy the whole land will tremble. In his foresight he sees the invading forces coming and devouring the land, and all that is in it. And they will devour the cities, in spite of their fortifications, and all who dwell in them. There will be no escape from the avenging forces of Babylon. It is already happening before his prophetic eyes.

Jeremiah 8:17

“For, behold, I will send serpents,

Adders, among you,

Which will not be charmed,

And they will bite you,

The word of YHWH.”

For those who are coming are like serpents, like adders come among them. Once again, just as He had previously, God is visiting His people with a judgment of ‘serpents’. In mind here is almost certainly the incident when YHWH previously sent serpents among the people of Israel when they were rebellious, although in that case it had caused the people to repent (compare Numbers 21:6-9). No attempts at charming them will succeed. There will be no intervention by YHWH. The serpents will be deaf to all attempts to win them over (compare Psalms 58:4-5). Instead they will bite all the people of the land. And this is the unfailing ‘word of YHWH’.

The picture of the charmer, at first confident, and then desperately seeking to bring the serpents under control, only in the end to succumb to their bites, is a vivid one. It was an indication that all negotiations with their enemies would fail.


Verse 18

Jeremiah’s/YHWH’s Heart Cry At What Is To Happen To His People Because They Have Refused To Know YHWH And Are So Filled With Deceit And Falsehood (Jeremiah 8:18 to Jeremiah 9:11).

There are two ways of seeing this passage depending on whether we see YHWH as speaking throughout, or on whether we see Jeremiah as intermingling his own comments with those of YHWH. It is, for example, possible to see Jeremiah 8:18-19 a (and a number of the other verses) as being the words of Jeremiah, with on the other hand Jeremiah 8:19 b; Jeremiah 9:3 b, 6-9, 11 certainly being the words of YHWH, but it is equally possible that we are to see the whole as being in the words of YHWH apart from when we hear the cry of the people. We must not, however, over-emphasise the difference for we already know that Jeremiah was revealing the heart of YHWH.

Note the references to ‘the daughter of my people.’ While Jeremiah could himself have used this phrase previous references to ‘the daughter of My people’ have been in contexts where they were clearly from the mouth of YHWH (Jeremiah 6:14; Jeremiah 6:26; Jeremiah 8:11; see also Jeremiah 9:7 in context). This would heavily support these verses as coming directly from the mouth of YHWH through the mouth of Jeremiah

Interpretation based on many of the words being Jeremiah’s.

On this interpretation Jeremiah, as YHWH’s spokesman, begins by declaring his constraint at what is happening to YHWH’s people. He then looks outward and takes note of the bewilderment of those in exile, with whom he was in communication (chapter 29), as they asked themselves from their distant outposts whether, in view of what was now happening to Judah, it demonstrated that YHWH was no longer king in Zion. YHWH’s response was firm and to the point. The situation in which His people found themselves was not to be seen as a sign that He was not King in Zion but rather as a sign that He was, which was why He was carrying out His judgment on His people. The real problem lay in the fact that by their behaviour they had provoked Him to anger, which explained why they had experienced no salvation. In other words their situation arose precisely because He WAS king in Zion and could therefore control what happened there.

The whole position is then confirmed by those of Judah still present in the land who complain that in spite of the time having passed they have not been delivered (either from famine or from invasion or from both). This leads on to Jeremiah asking ‘why not?’. His question about the lack of balm in Gilead may be seen as a sarcastic one bringing out the failure of their gods. Did these gods not know that there was a balm in Gilead, famous for its healing balms, why then have they not healed the people’s predicament? Or it may be one of genuine puzzlement as to why YHWH has not acted to heal His people in the same way as He had been their physician by supplying a balm in Gilead.

What follows probably in fact supports the former suggestion, for Jeremiah is now very much in line with YHWH at the thought of the sinfulness of the people. Even while he wept for them he had to point out that the truth was that they were still adulterers and treacherous. In consequence the desire of his faithful heart was to get away from them, away from the defilement of their sinfulness, to a place of refuge, thus expressing the fact that he wanted nothing more to do with them and had had enough of them and their ways. They had proved continually false, and while they claimed to have grown strong, it was certainly not strong for truth, something which was evidenced by the fact that they continued on from evil to evil and from deceit to deceit and continually refused to know YHWH.

Interpretation based on all the words being YHWH’s.

Now it is YHWH Who declares his grief and constraint at what is happening to His people (Jeremiah 8:18), and takes note of the bewilderment of those in exile, as they asked themselves from their distant outposts whether, in view of what was happening to in the land to Judah, it demonstrated that YHWH was no longer king in Zion (Jeremiah 8:19 a). His immediate response was to point out that the situation in which His people Judah found themselves was not a sign that He was not King in Zion but was rather a sign that He was, and that that was why He was carrying out His judgment on His people (Jeremiah 8:19 b). In other words the real problem arose, not from His inadequacy, but from the fact that they had provoked Him to anger by their extremes of sinfulness, which was the reason why they had experienced no salvation (Jeremiah 8:20).

This position is then portrayed as confirmed by Judah themselves complaining that in spite of the time having passed they had not been delivered. Their should have been a summer harvest, and their had not (Jeremiah 8:20). This backs up the truth of what YHWH has been saying. It is noteworthy that YHWH is not portrayed as complacent about this, or as standing aloof. Rather we are to see that His heart was breaking because of the situation of His people (Jeremiah 8:21). On the other hand He recognises that He has no alternative but to chasten them. This then leads Him on to ask why they have not been saved in view of the fact that there is a well known balm in Gilead, provided by Him. Is He not the provider of healing? Why then have they not been healed? And the answer is because they have sinned so grievously that there is no healing. Alternately we may see the question as partly a sarcastic one suggesting amazement at the failure of their gods (only partly because He knows what the real solution to their problem is, and that it has to do with the God of Gilead). Do these gods not know that there is a balm in Gilead, famous for its healing balms, why then have they not healed the people’s predicament as He could have done? It is subtly bringing out that these gods have failed to heal and pointing out that they were clearly therefore unaware of the God-given healing properties available in Gilead to which they could have resorted.

This then leads on to the fact that while YHWH felt deeply for His people and had indeed wept for them, He knew that He had to face up to the truth about them. They were still unchanged, incorrigible adulterers and traitors, so that all that He could desire at this stage was to get away from them to a place of refuge, leaving them to their fate. This was because they were continually false, for while they may claim that they had grown strong it was certainly not strong for truth, something which was evidenced by the fact that they continued on from evil to evil and from deceit to deceit and continually refused to know Him.

The passage may be analysed as follows:

· The prophet/YHWH seek consolation over what is coming on the people (Jeremiah 8:18).

· A cry comes from YHWH’s far off exiled people (either Israel or the initial exiles of Judah) as to what is happening and bewailing the fact that they themselves have not been delivered as they had expected (their prophets were very optimistic), or alternatively expressing astonishment because those in the land of Judah have not been delivered (Jeremiah 8:19 a). If we see Jeremiah as involved then in the light of what follows the second alternative appears the most likely, for his change of attitude from tears to a desire to leave them to their deserts, requires a process which brings about his change of thought which does not involve the exiles.

· To this YHWH replies giving His reasons. It is either because of their sins (if they are querying their own failure to be delivered) or because of the sins of Judah (if they are asking why Judah have not been delivered) (Jeremiah 8:19 b).

· The people of Judah (or possibly the exiles of Israel, continuing their questioning) then also cry out, declaring that they have not been delivered (Jeremiah 8:20), emphasising the fact of YHWH’s judgment.

· The prophet then either joins in the questioning and decries the fact that his people are still unhealed in spite of the presence of the Healer of Gilead, praying for help by his weeping for them, or alternatively he sarcastically asks the people of Judah why their gods have not been able to heal them (Jeremiah 8:21 to Jeremiah 9:1). Alternatively YHWH asks why it is that they are not healed when their God is the healing God of Gilead. The answer, of course, is because they have sinned so deeply against Him and have refused His illumination.

· Having considered YHWH’s defence Jeremiah’s attitude alters abruptly and he desires to go into a lonely refuge in the wilderness to get away from such an adulterous and treacherous people. If the speaker of YHWH it is the point at which He finally leaves His people to their own deserts (Jeremiah 9:2).

· He points out that their bent tongue is like a bent bow firing off falsehood and deceit, and feelingly describes their deceitful behaviour towards each other (Jeremiah 9:3-5).

· The prophet himself (or YHWH) dwells among a deceitful people who refuse to know YHWH and who will thus consequently be melted down and tried by Him in order that He might test them out (Jeremiah 9:6-7).

· This is necessary because their tongue is like a deadly arrow towards their neighbours (Jeremiah 9:8).

· The consequence is that YHWH will visit them in judgment and obtain His recompense (Jeremiah 9:9).

· This is followed by YHWH weeping over Judah because of what He is having to do to them (Jeremiah 9:10-11).

Jeremiah (Or YHWH) Seeks Consolation.

Jeremiah 8:18

“Oh that I could comfort myself against sorrow!

My heart is faint within me.”

Jeremiah (or YHWH) did not find this judgment on His people pleasant or easy to take. It was causing great sorrow in his heart, a sorrow which resulted in faintness and a refusal to be comforted. On this interpretation the thought is that however much he sought comfort his heart was faint within him at what he was having to do.

There is, however, a translation problem here so that other meanings are possible. The meaning of the word(s) mabliygiyth (found only here) is uncertain. It may indicate a desire for recovery of some kind, e.g. a desire for ‘comfort, or strengthening’, or alternatively it may relate to a similar word in Arabic meaning ‘shine, illuminate’ indicating a desire for an illumination which could bring comfort (or otherwise). Another suggested alternative which does not alter the consonantal text (the inspired text) is to repoint and read as mibbeliy giythi (possibly meaning ‘without healing’), translating as ‘sorrow within me is without healing, my heart within me is faint ’.

The Hebrew is:

mabliygiyth·i------------‘al-i---------------yagon------‘al-i--------leb-i-----------------dawy

Which translates literally as:

illumination-of me-----on/within me---affliction---on me----heart-of-me----languishing.

On this basis we have the translation ‘My illumination within me is sorrow/affliction, within me my heart is faint (the Hebrew leaves the ‘is’ to be assumed in both phrases). This would indicate that the only illumination that he has is that of affliction so that his mind and heart are languishing and are faint.

Another alternative suggestion is to translate as, ‘My strength! Within me is sorrow, within me is my heart faint,’ indicating that his strength is failing him because his sorrow is so overwhelming.

Meanwhile The Exiles of Israel (or the Earliest Exiles of Judah) Are Puzzled At What Is Happening.

Jeremiah 8:19

“Behold, the voice of the cry of the daughter of my people,

From a land which is very far off,

‘Is not YHWH in Zion?

Is not her King in her?’ ”

Meanwhile even the far off exiles (the daughter of my people) were puzzled at what was happening to Zion. Their cry came from a land very far off (Assyria/Babylon), asking bemusedly ‘Is not YHWH in Zion? Is not her King in her?’ ” As they surveyed the scene they could not comprehend how, if YHWH was King in Zion He could allow what was happening to happen.

Others see the questions as being asked because they could not understand why they themselves had not been delivered and restored as their false prophets had promised, which would tie in with the later complaint ‘we are not saved’ (Jeremiah 8:20).

YHWH’s Defence.

Jeremiah 8:19

“Why have they provoked me to anger,

With their graven images, and with foreign vanities?”

YHWH offers His defence. He says that the question should rather be, ‘Why had they provoked Him to anger with their graven images and with the foreign no-gods (vanities, breaths of wind)’ to which they had turned. This was why as King He was acting against them in judgment, because they were traitors all. All therefore needed to be punished. They had put themselves beyond the pale.

The People’s Despair.

This may be the cry of the exiles bewailing the fact that nothing had happened. Another year has passed without their deliverance by YHWH. (But in that case why separate it from Jeremiah 8:19 a by means of Jeremiah 8:19 b)? Or it may be the cry of the people living in Judah in despair over the continuing failure of the harvest at a time of drought, or of their failure to be saved from invasion, or of both (Invasion necessarily interrupted the harvests). They may be blaming their gods for the failure, or they may be blaming YHWH. We are not told. If we take Jeremiah 8:19-20 together we may see a pattern emerging as follows:

· The exiles complaint - why is YHWH allowing this to happen (Jeremiah 8:19 a)?

· YHWH’s complaint - it is because of the utterly evil behaviour of His people (Jeremiah 8:19 b).

· Judah’s complaint - we have been waiting to be delivered and it has not happened (Jeremiah 8:20).

If this is the case we may see Judah as by it bewailing the failure of their false gods. Or it may be that they are rather expressing their displeasure because YHWH had not saved them, on the grounds that, in spite of what He had said, they had thought that He would. Now suddenly they were being brought face to face with the fact that they were wrong.

Jeremiah 8:20

“The harvest is past, the summer is ended,

And we are not saved.”

This may be in the words of Jeremiah speaking on behalf of the people, or the words of the people in the land of Judah as they cried out in their distress. It may even have been a common proverb used when expectations were not fulfilled. But the essential idea is the same. (Alternatively it might be the cry of the exiles).

The question that arises is as to who is seen as having failed to do the saving. Is it their false gods, or is it YHWH?

· Either the thought is that it was those no-gods who were supposed to have provided Judah with a good harvest and to have ensured her safety. Were they not nature gods? Was it not their responsibility to produce a harvest? Surely then they should have saved them. On this scenario the false gods are seen as having failed. The harvest was past, the summer was ended, but there had been no deliverance from either famine or the invader, or both. It may have reference to the great drought of Jeremiah 14:1, or to a time when they were shut up in their cities by invaders so that the harvest went to waste because the invader still possessed the land outside the cities. Either way there was no benefit from the harvest for His people, or deliverance from their peril, thus indicating that their no-gods had utterly failed them.

· Or the thought may be that they were grumbling because YHWH had not saved them. This may have been their response to the question of the exiles, or their direct grumble against the God from Whom they had expected response in view of the fact that they had maintained the Temple ritual

Others see the thought as being that it was the cry of Israel/Judah from exile (compare Jeremiah 8:19 a).

Whichever way it was, it was emphasising the fact that no deliverance had taken place. This helps to explain the prophet’s (or YHWH’s) own distress. To one who loved his people it was one thing to prophesy what was going to happen to them, it was quite another to see it actually happening.

The Prophet (Or YHWH) Suffers With His People.

Jeremiah 8:21

“For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt.

I mourn, dismay has taken hold on me.”

Jeremiah (or YHWH) did not see it as easy to stand aside and watch what was happening. He was deeply hurt because of the hurt of the daughter of his people, and he (He) mourned over it, and was filled with dismay at it.

As we have already seen previous references to ‘the daughter of My people’ have been from the mouth of YHWH (Jeremiah 6:14; Jeremiah 6:26; Jeremiah 8:11; see also Jeremiah 9:7) which would heavily support these verses as coming directly from the mouth of YHWH through the mouth of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 8:22

“Is there no balm in Gilead?

Is there no physician there?

Why then is the health of the daughter of my people,

Not recovered?”

The chapter has contained a number of references to recovery from sickness. The false prophets had healed their hurt all too glibly (Jeremiah 8:11). They had looked for a time of healing but it had not come (Jeremiah 8:15). Instead they would be bitten by deadly snakes (Jeremiah 8:17). Healing had possibly been lacking in Jeremiah 8:18. Now the prophet longs for some means of recovery, and looks for it to the recognised centre for healing, or rather to the healing God Who was the source of the benefits found at Gilead.

The balm of Gilead was probably the resin or gum of the storax tree. It was used medicinally and was well known for its healing virtues (compare Jeremiah 46:11, and see Genesis 37:25). Gilead was seemingly also known for its physicians who would apply the balm. So if the question is regarding the failure of the false gods to heal Jeremiah (or YHWH) is seen as expressing sarcastic or yearning surprise at the fact that the people had not recovered. After all the people had rejected YHWH, electing rather for self-help and their no-gods. Why then had these not provided a means for them to heal themselves by utilising such resources as those at Gilead? Why had they not healed themselves.

But the question may be centring on the question as to why YHWH Who had provided the famed balm of Gilead, had now failed to act as Physician for His people. The balm of Gilead showed what He could do. Why then had He not healed them? Why were they not healed? This might then be seen as leading on to the fact that the failure was only due to the intransigence of His people, so that that was why He had not been willing to cure them.

The Prophet Despairs Of His People Because of What Is Coming, And Because They Are So Sinful.

Jeremiah 9:1

“Oh that my head were waters,

And my eyes a fountain of tears,

that I might weep day and night,

For the slain of the daughter of my people!

The prayer is an indication of the numbers who were dying. It indicates that Jeremiah (or YHWH) was distraught as he looked out in prophetic foresight on the masses of the slain among his people, (or already actually saw them before him) and that he longed that his head and eyes might be a gushing spring so that he could continue on weeping for his people day and night. The fact that he weeps for the slain (not for the living - compare Jeremiah 7:16) may be an indication of the judgment that had already come upon them, or it may be visionary, having the future in mind. He is forbidden to pray for the living, but he can weep (not pray) over those who are dead.

Jeremiah 9:2

“Oh that I had in the wilderness ,

A lodging-place of wayfaring men,

That I might leave my people,

And go from them!

For they are all adulterers,

An assembly of treacherous men.

It is all too much for him. Here we learn that he (He) also longed to get away from those who were still in Judah living because of what they were. He desired a lodging-place for travellers ( a khan or primitive inn) somewhere in the wilderness so that he could go there away from his people. It would be very basic, but it would at least supply him with solitude, and would remove him from the midst of the evil by which he was surrounded. And the reason for his longing was that they were all adulterers (both spiritually and literally), and were a gathering of treacherous people. he could no longer stand their physical presence and the atmosphere that they produced. Note that if it is Jeremiah speaking he has no blame for YHWH. He recognises that the people are receiving what they deserve.

Jeremiah 9:3

And they bend their tongue,

Their bow, for falsehood,

And they are grown strong in the land,

But not for truth,

For they proceed from evil to evil,

And they do not know me,

The word of YHWH.”

For their tongues, which should have spoken truth, were like bows which they bent in order to project falsehood. Thus while they claimed that they had grown strong in the land it had certainly not been ‘for truth’, and this was especially so of their leaders who had risen among them. (This may well have been spoken after the cream of their leaders had been carried off into captivity in the initial exile). Indeed by their lives they denied and rejected all that was true and righteous, and proceeded from evil to evil. And this, said YHWH, was because ‘they do not know Me’ (i.e. know Him in His essential Being). For if they had truly known Him (although they no doubt claimed to know Him) they would have been worshipping Him only and would have been observing the requirements of His covenant. As He had openly declared to them, ‘You will worship YHWH your God, and Him only will you serve’.

The judgment that is coming on them is therefore seen as fully deserved, even though it was a heavy burden for Jeremiah (and for YHWH). Note that the hopelessness of their situation is now constantly being made clear, and that it was not only man hurting God, but also man hurting man.

Their Combined Sin Is Such That None Can Trust Another.

Jeremiah 9:4

‘Beware every one of his neighbour,

And do not trust in any brother,

For every brother will utterly supplant,

And every neighbour will go about with slanders.’

The idea of their deceit and falsehood is now taken up. They are so false that no one can trust anyone else. Every man has to beware of his neighbour, no brother can be trusted. For every brother will seek to get one over on his brother, and every neighbour spreads slanders and lies. This is the direction in which our modern society is going, and has already gone in relation, for example, to business ethics. The days when a man’s word was his bond have mainly gone. (Note the chiastic structure - neighbour, brother, brother, neighbour).

‘Every brother will utterly supplant (‘aqab).’ Possibly a reference using Jacob (Ya ‘aqob) the supplanter (‘aqab) of his brother as an example (Genesis 27:36).

Jeremiah 9:5

‘And they will deceive every one his neighbour,

And will not speak the truth,

They have taught their tongue to speak lies,

They weary themselves to commit iniquity.’

The situation is such that everyone deceives everyone else. No one’s word can be relied on. They have all trained themselves to speak falsely and unreliably, and they are so full of sin that they wear themselves out in their eagerness to practise it.

Jeremiah 9:6

‘Your dwelling is in the midst of deceit,

Through deceit they refuse to know me,

The word of YHWH.’

Indeed Jeremiah should recognise that his own dwelling is in the midst of deceit, and that he himself is surrounded on all sides by untrustworthiness (which was why he had desired to go to a refuge in the wilderness - Jeremiah 8:2). It is this very ingrained falsehood that results in his people not genuinely knowing YHWH in their hearts, and is the explanation as to why they haverefusedto know Him. It is not that they are unaware of Him. It is rather that they have specifically and deliberately rejected Him.

Here the ‘Your’ is singular indicating Jeremiah. Note how their sin is growing. In Jeremiah 8:3 they did not know YHWH, now they have set their hearts against knowing Him. In other words they are becoming so impervious to sin and rebellion that they are in danger of blaspheming against the Spirit of Truth manifested through the words of YHWH which were being proclaimed through Jeremiah. And this is ‘the solemn prophetic word of YHWH’. Such is the consequence of allowing deceit and falsehood to take possession of the heart.

YHWH Will Test His People Out.

Jeremiah 9:7

‘Therefore thus says YHWH of hosts,

“Behold, I will melt them, and try them,

For how should I do otherwise,

Because of the daughter of my people?”

As a result of their continuing in their deceitful and untrustworthy ways, YHWH of hosts (controller of all the hosts of men as well as of the heavens) will melt them in the refiner’s fire and put them to the test in order to reveal the truth about their lack of quality and purity (compare Jeremiah 6:27-30). For how could He as a holy God do otherwise as a result of what His people had become?

This extreme of chastisement was necessary because all else had failed. There was no future in going on with things as they were. Israel had had six hundred years in which to sought themselves out and had failed to do so (just as God had given the Canaanites/Amorites a further four hundred years in Genesis 15:16). Going on like that was pointless. Now it was a time for melting down so as to obtain the good from among the bad.

But All It Reveals Is Folly And Disobedience Deserving of Judgment.

Jeremiah 9:8

‘Their tongue is a deadly arrow,

It speaks deceit,

One speaks peaceably to his neighbour with his mouth,

But in his heart he lays wait for him.’

Their continuing deceitfulness is then emphasised and expounded on. Their tongue is like a deadly arrow, speeding from the bow of their bent tongues (Jeremiah 8:3), and speaking lies and deceit. They put on a pretence of friendship and neighbourliness towards their fellow-citizens, while in their hearts they are waiting to ambush them. The whole nation has become a mass of deceit and untrustworthiness.

Jeremiah 9:9

“Shall I not visit them for these things?” The word of YHWH.

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

In view of this how could YHWH, the holy One (Isaiah 57:15), not visit them with judgment and chastening because of what they had become? How could He fail to call their sin into account, and bring on them the vengeance warned about in the covenant? See in this regard Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28. The answer, of course, is that He could not fail to do either, because of what He is. And that that is ‘the sure and certain word of YHWH’ (neum YHWH).

A Vision Of What In Consequence Will Happen To Judah.

Jeremiah 9:10

‘For the mountains will I take up a weeping and wailing,

And for the pastures of the steppeland a lamentation,

Because they are burned up, so that no one passes through,

Nor can men hear the voice of the cattle,

From the birds of the heavens to the beasts they are fled,

They are gone.’

The coming judgment and visitation is now graphically and prophetically described in terms of God’s lament for the mountains, in which they had lived and worked and worshipped, and the pasturelands on which they had grazed their animals. For He sees prophetically how they have all been burned up, first by the invaders, and then by the burning sun, and as a result have become desolate so that no one passes through. Consequently there would be no sound of the lowing or bleating of cows, sheep and goats; no birdsong; no growling or roaring of wild animals. All would be silent. For the land would be deserted and empty, and all such would have departed. Compare Jeremiah 4:23-26.

Jeremiah 9:11

“And I will make Jerusalem heaps,

A dwelling-place of jackals,

And I will make the cities of Judah,

A desolation, without inhabitant.”

For His intention was to turn Jerusalem into heaps of ruins, a place where jackals (literally ‘howlers’) would make their dens (compare Jeremiah 10:22, this is one of Jeremiah’s regular descriptions of desolation, see Jeremiah 49:33; Jeremiah 51:37), and to make the cities of Judah totally bare of inhabitants. In other words His judgment would come on the whole land without exception.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 8:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/jeremiah-8.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, June 4th, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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