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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Jeremiah 9

 

 


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 12-26

Those Who Are Truly Wise Will Know The Truth About God And Will Thus Understand Why He Acts Like He Does In Bringing Final Judgment On Judah (Jeremiah 9:12-26).

The passage commences by asking who the true wise man is, the one who will understand why YHWH will do what He is about to do in devastating the land and sending His people into exile where they will be pursued by the sword until they are consumed. And the question is answered as it being the one who understands and knows YHWH for What He is, the One Who practises covenant love, justice and righteousness throughout the earth. Once that is understood all else falls into place. Meanwhile YHWH calls on the mourning women to lament in unison with Zion over their ruin, and ends with the warning that His judgment will not only be visited on Judah but on all the nations round about (something expanded on in chapters 46-49).

There is a clear chiastic pattern to this part of the narrative, as follows:

a The call to the wise man and the prophet to explain YHWH’s actions and YHWH’s response to their silence (Jeremiah 9:12-14).

b The warning of what will happen to Judah as a result (Jeremiah 9:15-16).

c YHWH’s call to the mourning women to raise up a lament over Judah (Jeremiah 9:17-18).

d The people as a whole mourn because of their desolation and ruin (Jeremiah 9:19).

c YHWH’s further call to the women to raise up a lament over Judah (Jeremiah 9:20-21).

b A further warning of what will happen to Judah (Jeremiah 9:22).

a The call to the wise and the mighty and the wealthy calling on them to recognise What YHWH is, and what He will do to the nations (Jeremiah 9:23-26).

Jeremiah 9:12

‘Who is the wise man who may understand this?

And he to whom the mouth of YHWH has spoken, that he may declare it?

Why is the land perished and burned up like a wilderness,

So that no one passes through?’

Jeremiah turns in his questioning to the two kinds of people who strictly speaking should be able to understand and declare the truth, the wise man who claims understanding and the prophet who claims that YHWH has spoken through him. But the clear implication is that both are lacking, and that, despite what they may claim about themselves, there are no wise men or prophets in Jerusalem who can cope with his query. We will learn later that this is because they do not have true understanding, that is, they do not truly know YHWH for What He is (Jeremiah 9:24). And the question now put to them is this, “Why is the land perished and burned up like a wilderness, so that no one passes through?”

Jeremiah 9:13-14

‘And YHWH says,

“Because they have forsaken my law,

Which I set before them,

And have not obeyed my voice,

Nor walked in it,

But have walked after the stubbornness of their own heart,

And after the Baalim, which their fathers taught them,”

Because they can give no answer to the question YHWH Himself provides the answer. It is because they have forsaken His Instruction (Torah, Law) which He had set before them, and because they have not obeyed His voice or walked in accordance with it. Rather they have walked in accordance with the stubbornness of their own hearts, and after the Baalim (‘lords’, indicating all false gods and especially those involved in Baal and Asherah worship) concerning which their fathers taught them. Thus they have listened to their own stubborn hearts rather than obeying the voice of YHWH, and they have followed after their false gods, listening to their fathers, rather than following after and listening to YHWH.

Jeremiah 9:15-16

“Therefore thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel,

Behold, I will feed them, even this people, with wormwood,

And give them water of gall to drink.”

“I will scatter them also among the nations,

Whom neither they nor their fathers have known,

And I will send the sword after them,

Until I have consumed them.”

And the consequence of their failure will be that ‘YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel’ will feed them with wormwood and give them gall to drink. Both wormwood and gall have the same characteristic, that they are very bitter, and even poisonous, and both regularly symbolise awful judgment (see for the wormwood varieties of plant Amos 5:7; Amos 6:12; Proverbs 5:4; Lamentation Jeremiah 3:15. For the gall plant see Jeremiah 8:14; Hosea 10:14; Deuteronomy 29:18; Amos 6:12; Lamentations 3:19. Drinking gall probably has in mind an extract from the colocynth gourd fruit). The awful judgment is then spelled out, He will scatter them among the nations (Leviticus 26:33; Deuteronomy 28:64) who were unknown to either them or their fathers (compare Deuteronomy 28:49), and He will send a sword after them in order to further consume them (compare Leviticus 26:36-37). Their cosy life in Canaan is over. There will be no rest from their troubles, and it will be away from the promised land. Compare the very descriptive words in Deuteronomy 28:65-67. In other words they will be subjected to the curses of the covenant.

There is an interesting contrast here with Jeremiah’s desire to leave the land for a khan in the wilderness. He wanted to get away from their corruption. They will be removed because they have made the land corrupt.

‘YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel.’ This is a title found regularly throughout Jeremiah. It occurred previously in Jeremiah 7:3 where YHWH had said, “Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place, ” thus associating it with the offered continuation of the covenant. And it occurred in Jeremiah 7:21 where YHWH said, “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat flesh” thereby indicating that He no longer saw their sacrifices as being the ones that He had ordained (of which the burnt offering could not be eaten), and thus indicating that He no longer saw them as within the covenant. There could, however, be no greater evidence of their ceasing to be within the covenant than that of being expelled from the land and scattered among the nations as here (compare Leviticus 18:28-29).

Jeremiah 9:17-18

‘Thus says YHWH of hosts,

“Consider you, and call for the mourning women,

That they may come,

And send for the skilful (wise) women,

That they may come,”

‘And let them make haste,

And take up a wailing for us,

That our eyes may run down with tears,

And our eyelids gush out with waters.’

YHWH now calls on the nation to in turn call on the mourning women and the skilful singing women to come in haste and take up a wailing and lamentation for the people so that they may learn how to weep more profusely. Judah’s funeral is at hand and it is a time for deep mourning, with the result that the women who are skilled in the art are called on to lead it with a view to all then partaking in it. This practise of using professional mourners recognised that those most deeply affected often did not always feel like expressing themselves fully or might be somewhat shy of calling attention to themselves. Thus the presence of professionals enable them to express their grief more fully. (In Judah, as elsewhere, mourning was a skilled art exercised by professionals who were called on at funerals and times of dire need. See Jeremiah 22:18; Ecclesiastes 12:5; Amos 5:16; Ezekiel 27:32; Mark 5:38. Certain Egyptian tomb paintings also depict boatloads of professional mourners, with their hair and clothing suitably dishevelled, accompanying a dead body on its way to burial).

A deliberate play on ‘wise’ may be intended in comparison with Jeremiah 9:12 with the idea being that ‘the truly wise who understand’ will be weeping and wailing at what is coming..

Jeremiah 9:19

‘For a voice of wailing is heard out of Zion,

How we are ruined! we are greatly confounded,

Because we have had to leave the land,

Because they have cast down our dwellings.’

And the reason for the call is because a wailing is coming out of Zion, which needs supplementing by others because of the dire situation. It is the cry of those who have been cast out of the land and whose dwellings have been destroyed. Thus they see themselves as ruined, and as greatly confounded. It is a prophetic foretaste of the coming judgment, and is the central theme of the passage.

Jeremiah 9:20

‘Yet hear the word of YHWH, O you women,

And let your ear receive the word of his mouth,

And teach your daughters wailing,

And every one her neighbour lamentation.’

YHWH’s call is now expanded from the professional women mourners to all the women of Judah. They are to hear what He is saying and to teach their daughters how to wail, and their neighbours how to lament. For the whole land is to be filled with mourning.

Jeremiah 9:21

‘For death is come up into our windows,

It is entered into our palaces,

To cut off the children from outdoors,

The young men from the streets.’

The reason for the mourning is made clear. Death has taken over the whole of their society. It has come through their windows (like paid assassins), and entered their palaces (like ravagers in search of spoil), and it has cut off the children playing in the streets, and the young men gathered there (compare Jeremiah 6:11). All are involved. This can only be either pestilence, which can spread and strike anywhere, or invaders who are irresistible once the city has fallen. This is presumably the slaughter over which the prophet (or YHWH) had wept in Jeremiah 9:1.

Some see the idea of death (maweth) coming in through the window as rooted in Canaanite and Babylonian mythology. In the Baal myths we find Baal refusing to have windows in his palace lest Moth (death) climb in and seize members of his family

Jeremiah 9:22

“Speak!” the word of YHWH, “The dead bodies of men will fall as dung on the open field, and as the handful after the harvester, and none will gather them.”

YHWH then abruptly calls on Jeremiah to ‘speak out’ because ‘His word’ is concerning the dead bodies which will fall on the open fields, lying there rotting until they become dung, and deserted there like the gleanings which lie in the fields once the harvesters have passed by. And there will be none to gather the gleanings for those who normally did so (the body gatherers in the case of the dead) would all themselves be dead. For this picture of many left unburied compare Jeremiah 7:33.

All present would have seen dung covered fields as farmers flung dung on them as they sought to renew their small patches of land, and would bring to mind the fields temporarily filled with small sheaves of grain cast aside by the reaper as he emptied his hand so that he could begin again to fashion another sheaf, with the intention of collecting up all the small sheaves when he had finished. In the same way would dead bodies be scattered over the fields, but with none to gather them.

Jeremiah 9:23

‘Thus says YHWH, “Let not the wise glory in his wisdom, nor let the mighty glory in his might, let not the rich glory in his riches, but let him who glories glory in this, that he has understanding, and knows me, that I am YHWH who exercises covenant love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, the word of YHWH.”

Reflecting back on Jeremiah 9:12 where the wise man and the prophet failed to be able to discern why YHWH did what He did, and on Jeremiah 9:17 where the wise were mourners, YHWH now tells us what ‘the wise --- the mighty -- and the wealthy’ are not to glory in, (their own wisdom, their own might and their own riches), and what they are to glory in, (‘having understanding and knowing YHWH’). Whilst Jeremiah 9:12 had concentrated on supposedly ‘illuminated’ men, (the ‘wise man’ (Ha ish hechacam) and the prophet), this verse extends the idea to all who saw themselves as ‘wise (chacam) and great’. And it underlines that what is of vital importance to all is to have true understanding and to truly know YHWH in all that He essentially is. It is being emphasised that that was what men should ‘glory’ in, not the failing attainments of this world. And ‘What He is’ is then summed up in terms of the exercise of three attributes, covenant love, justice and righteousness throughout the whole earth, which are the things in which YHWH delights as confirmed by His sure word. ‘What does YHWH require of you but to fulfil justice, to show covenant love and to walk humbly with your God?’ (Micah 6:8).

Indeed had they understood and known YHWH they would not have been puzzled as to why He was about to do what He was about to do (Jeremiah 9:12-14). They would have recognised that it was perfectly in accordance with what He was revealed to be. He was strong on covenant love, but they had broken the covenant, had tossed it away and had failed to love YHWH. He was strong on justice, but they had made a mockery of justice. He was strong on righteousness, but they were totally unrighteous (not walking in His righteous ways as laid out in His Instruction). The contrasts are also interesting. Covenant love, involving close association with God’s wisdom, contrasts with men being ‘wise’ in their own eyes. True justice contrasts with ‘the mighty’, who all too often sought to override justice for its own ends. Righteousness contrasts with ‘the rich’ and with wealth, which tends to divert men from the way of righteousness (compare Proverbs 30:8-9; Matthew 19:23).

It was because of the essential nature of God in contrast with Judah’s dependence on earthly wisdom, might and wealth, that judgment was coming on Judah. They had followed their own ways, ignoring the covenant, they had looked to their own might, ignoring justice for the helpless and needy, and they had gloried in their own wealth, spurning righteousness and the need to hear the cry of the poor. All these things revealed a lack of understanding, and of ‘knowing YHWH’ essentially, something which was a mark of true believers. No wonder then that YHWH had had to act.

This is a remarkable equivalent to ‘flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father in Heaven’ (Matthew 16:17), and ‘You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and have revealed them to babes’ (Matthew 11:25), for the only ones here who can be seen as having understanding and glorying in what YHWH is are Jeremiah’s adherents.

It is a salutary thought that today men and women certainly boast in how clever they are, how strong they are, and how wealthy they are. It is such people who are feted. But those who reveal ‘covenant love’ (a true and humble following of Jesus Christ), true concern for the rights of others, and true righteousness as they walk in the ways of God are often thrust into the background and even vilified.

His Punishment Must Also Come On All Their Neighbours.

Jeremiah 9:25-26

“Behold, the days come,” says YHWH, “that I will punish all those who are circumcised in their uncircumcision, Egypt, and Judah, and Edom, and the children of Ammon, and Moab, and all who have the corners of their hair cut off, who dwell in the wilderness, for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart.”

And it is because He is Lord of the whole earth that He now calls all nations into account for how they have responded to His covenant love (a covenant love openly offered to all men - Exodus 12:48), to His demand for true justice, and to His righteousness. The nations described are those who practised circumcision in one way or another, in contrast with ‘the uncircumcised Philistines’ (e.g. Judges 14:3; 1 Samuel 17:26), whose description as ‘uncircumcised’ indicates that they were seen as ‘the odd man out’ in the area, although it would appear that the Midianites connected with Moses in the Sinai peninsula also did not practise it, unless they did it at puberty (Exodus 4:24-26), which is when the Egyptians appear to have practised it. But the Midianites were desert tribesmen, and may, of course, have been among those who ‘had the corners of their hair cut off’. The omission of the Philistines here (they are included in 45-51) confirms that here God is dealing with nations which practised circumcision or the equivalent, something which, even if unintentionally, was seen as bringing them into responsibility towards the covenant. But like Judah, because of their failure to respond to the covenant all these nations were ‘circumcised in their uncircumcision’, that is, were physically circumcised while being uncircumcised in heart (see Jeremiah 4:4; Jeremiah 6:10; Leviticus 26:41; Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6; Romans 2:25-29).

Included in the condemnation were those who ‘have the corners of their hair cut off who dwell in the wilderness’. This was a practise known among certain Arab tribes in the desert (compare Jeremiah 25:23; Jeremiah 49:28; Jeremiah 49:32) and was seemingly seen by God as similar to circumcision, because it indicated a parallel kind of commitment. It was a practise forbidden to Israel (Leviticus 19:27).

“For all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart.” In these words YHWH was now considering the wider aspect of nations. ‘All nations were uncircumcised’ because even those already mentioned which practised circumcision in one way or another were seen by Him as uncircumcised because of their behaviour and attitude, something which was now seen as also true of ‘the whole house of Israel’.

This indicated two important lessons. The first was that Judah’s circumcision meant nothing more than that of other nations unless it was accompanied by covenant obedience, and secondly that YHWH did see the other nations as having a duty towards Him, because He was Lord of the whole earth. True circumcision had always been seen as given only to those who ‘walked before Him and were blameless’ (Genesis 17:1).

Egypt is mentioned first as being the foremost nation in the area, but it does serve to emphasise that because of their sinfulness Judah were being seen as one among many.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 9:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/jeremiah-9.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 24th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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