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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Jeremiah 2

 

 

Verse 1

INTRODUCTORY, Jeremiah 2:1-3.

1. Moreover — In the original simply and, thus showing the close connexion between this first of the prophetic discourses and the preceding account of the prophet’s call.


Verse 2

2. In the ears of Jerusalem — The very headquarters of the theocracy. But it by no means follows, as has been too hastily assumed, that the prophet at that time left Anathoth to reside at Jerusalem, or that the latter was exclusively the sphere of his labours. The contrary seems to be implied in Jeremiah 11:21-23.

Remember thee — The very words contain an implication of a lost joy — that the old love of the people had given place to alienation and infidelity. “Thee” — better, as the margin, for thy sake, literally, for thee, on thy account; an expression which is elsewhere used, sometimes in a good sense, to reward, as in Nehemiah 5:19; Psalms 106:45, etc.; and also in a bad sense, to repay with evil, as in Nehemiah 6:14; Psalms 79:8, etc. Here the remembrance is clearly used in the former sense. The kindness of thy youth, may mean the love of God for Israel, or the love of Israel for God, but the latter is evidently the sense demanded by the connexion. The same thought is carried forward into more novel and emphatic expression in the love of thine espousals; thy courtship-time, more fully described as the time of the sojourning in the wilderness. As the wife leaves her old associations and cleaves to her husband, so Israel forsook all and followed God into the parched and barren “wilderness.” God remembers tenderly this expression of loyal love, even as a husband remembers the pure and trustful days of an alienated or fallen wife. In spite of her murmurings and rebellions, her apostasy and idolatry, God still recognises Israel as the nation which he admitted to special covenant with himself, and therefore can never be to him as any other people.


Verse 3

3. Holiness unto the Lord — Their national motto, worn by the highpriest on his breastplate. Israel was the sanctuary of the nations; and those who should lay violent hands on her would bring upon themselves Jehovah’s curse as certainly as they who defile the sanctuary or seize the gift from the consecrated altar. “He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye.”

Firstfruits — God’s portion of the harvest — a specimen and a pledge of the general ingathering. And so if Israel is the “firstfruits,” there is in this an implication that all the nations shall ultimately be the Lord’s. So are Christians the firstfruits of a redeemed universe. Romans 8:23.


Verse 4

JEHOVAH’S FAITHFULNESS AND ISRAEL’S APOSTASY, Jeremiah 2:4-13.

4. Hear… O house of Jacob — God’s reproof for their ungrateful and wicked apostasy is directed against the whole nation.

All the families of the house of Israel — Though the kingdoms of Judah and Israel were separated and alienated from each other, they are joined in a direful unity of apostasy and ruin.


Verse 5

5. Have walked after vanity — The original of “vanity” is, in the historical books, used in the sense of idols or false gods, as in Deuteronomy 32:21; 1 Kings 16:13; 1 Kings 16:26, etc.; but in Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and some of the Psalms, it is used in a more general or abstract sense. In this book it is used in its earlier import, and this is one of many indications of the affinity of this book in thought and language with the formative period of Hebrew life. The precise words of this text occur in 2 Kings 17:15, where they are applied to the ten tribes. They involve the universally recognised law that the worshipper will be as the worshipped. The deity enshrined in the soul will, of necessity, be the dominant force in the life and character. God will be first of all — Creator in his own realm.


Verse 6

6. Neither said they — God is not in all their thoughts — there is total forgetfulness of him. That led us… through a land of deserts, etc. — This description of the desert of the Exodus is graphic and truthful, and may be taken as a fitting illustration of the verisimilitude of Scripture. It is described as a wilderness, that is, a region comparatively uninhabited; a land of deserts, a region of waste country;… of pits,… of drought,… of the shadow of death, without inhabitant and without traveller! (See Robinson, Stanley, and especially PALMER’S Desert of the Exodus.)


Verse 7

7. I brought you into a plentiful country — The original is Carmel, ( כרמל) garden land, as opposed to the “wilderness.” The fruits of this “Carmel” are enumerated in Deuteronomy 8:7-9; “a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig-trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness; thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass.” In order rightly to appreciate this description we must bear in mind that its background is the peninsula of Sinai and the South Country, and also that the contrast was intensified and heightened by the hardships and privations of the forty years’ wandering in this region of silence and desolation. As the traveller of to-day emerges from the wilderness of the wandering into the land of promise he exchanges gloom, sterility, solitude, and monotony for beauty, variety, and the exhilaration of life.

Ye defiled my land — It should have been, in all its length and breadth, a sanctuary; ye have made it an abomination. Its high hills have become altars of lust; its green trees coverts of uncleanness; and even its sacred temple is filled with pollutions.


Verse 8

8. This verse is doubly climacteric. Its subjects are —

1. Priests in general — The priests.

2. Teaching priests — They that handle the law.

3. Kings and princes — Pastors.

4. Inspired men — Prophets. Its predicates are —

1. Indifference — Said not, Where is the Lord?

2. Ignorance — Knew me not.

3. Rebellion — Transgressed against me.

4. Sacrilege — Prophesied by Baal.

Note, also, the adjustment of predicate to subject. The prophet charges the priests, whose office was to serve in holy things and thus to quicken the religious sensibilities of the people, with being themselves insensible. He charges those who should be teachers, with ignorance. He charges those selected to wield and exercise authority, with being themselves rebels. And finally, he charges those who profess to speak under the inspiration of God with going to the extreme of becoming prophets of Baal. Never was a more fearful indictment brought against the leaders of the people.


Verse 9

9. Plead — Better. contend. It is the term used of the plaintiff making accusation in court. It covers all means, corrective or punitive, which would tend to establish the right.

Children’s children — The fathers are mentioned in Jeremiah 2:5, the present generation in Jeremiah 2:7; Jeremiah 2:9, and here, their descendants. In all, a fundamental moral unity is assumed. They are one in sin, and so will be one in punishment.


Verse 10

10. Isles of Chittim — The islands and coastlands of the west, as Kedar is representative of the east. The plain meaning is, that the sin of Israel is unparalleled. Similar is the terrible indictment of Christ in Matthew 11:20-24.


Verse 11

11. Changed הימיר. It is best to regard this as from an ayin-vav root, and not as identical in its root with “boast yourselves,” in Isaiah 61:1.

Gods — Our Authorized Version misses the full force of the original.

Hath a nation changed… gods, which are yet no gods — What so extraordinary as to change gods? And yet the matter is not fairly illustrated by an appeal to experience, for the gods of the nations are not gods. The prophet opposes to glory not its exact antithesis, shame, but that which doth not profit, perhaps as pointing the contrast more sharply.


Verse 12

12. Be astonished, O ye heavens — Still further to suggest that which is essentially unspeakable, the prophet employs an apostrophe. He calls upon the “heavens” to “be astonished” at the fearfulness of this crime. Not (as Keil) because here the glory of God is most reflected, nor (as Nagelsbach) because “they can behold and compare all that takes place;” but because they are most beyond the reach of earthly changes, and hence, if they express astonishment, it is the most emphatic expression possible. The terms employed show the struggle of the writer for emphasis. Be astonished,… be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate.


Verse 13

13. My people have committed two evils — As against the one sin of the heathen. A twofold contrast is implied in the language used: 1) Between a living fountain and a cistern; 2) Between a suitable cistern and a worthless one.


Verse 14

ISRAEL’S PUNISHMENT, Jeremiah 2:14-19.

14. Is Israel a servant… a home-born — Some, as Nagelsbach, make the interrogator in this place to be the prophet, but it is better to regard this as a continuation of the word of God. “Servant” and “homeborn” (slave) are used in a bad sense, and not, as R. Payne Smith and others hold, to call attention to his membership in Jehovah’s family, though in a low sense, which would involve a claim to protection and safety. The meaning is, Is Israel a servant? If not, why is he treated as though he were? Why is he spoiled?


Verse 15

15. Lions roared upon him — “Lions” stand for enemies thirsting for plunder. Micah 5:8; Isaiah 5:29, etc. They “roared,” not “upon,” but against, him; a symbolical statement of the calamities already experienced as well as of those yet in reserve. The last sentence in the verse sets forth in plain language the present condition of the kingdom of Israel. But while this is the foreground of the picture, the swiftly-coming calamities of Judah are also present in prophetic vision.


Verse 16

16. Noph (see Isaiah 19:13, and Ezekiel 30:13; Ezekiel 30:16) is an abbreviation of Menoph, which, in the Hebrew of Hosea 9:6, takes the other abbreviated form of Moph. This was Memphis, situated on the west bank of the Nile, south of old Cairo. It was the ancient capital of Lower Egypt, and later of the whole kingdom. Tahapanes was situated on the Pelusiac arm of the Nile. The two names taken together are made to represent Egypt.

Have broken the crown — The English version misses the sense. The verb means, not to break, but to feed on. The sense is, They shall depasture the crown of thy head; that is, they shall make it bare, leave it without a covering, a sign of disgrace and of sorrow. Jeremiah 45:5; Jeremiah 48:37.


Verse 17

17. Hast thou not procured this — This has come from forsaking the Lord thy God, when he led thee by the way — No lions are in that way. It is not a way of servitude and sorrow. It may lead into a region of drought and death-shade, but it shall also be through it. To the eye of sense it may be devious and difficult, but to the eye of faith it leads directly to the promised land.


Verse 18

18. The way of Egypt, is the way they must go to secure the aid of Egypt. What business have you going down to Egypt for help? God’s way is from Egypt, not to it. Sihor is the Nile, so called because of its black and turbid waters.

The river — The Euphrates, upon whose banks stood Nineveh, Assyria’s capital. To “drink the waters of Sihor,” or “the river,” is to lay hold of the strength of Egypt or of Assyria. Neither the Nile nor the Euphrates could take the place of “the river of God,” which is the one unfailing source of supply to his people. Such a substitution would be like that mentioned Jeremiah 2:13, “broken cisterns” for “living waters.”


Verse 19

19. Thy backslidings shall reprove thee — This verse sums up all Judah’s misdoings in one plain, comprehensive, terrible statement. All this fearful array of evils — those filling the background of the recent past and those crowding the immediate future — are self-procured. The nation had voluntarily plucked an apple of Sodom, only to find it to be “bitter and bloody dust!”


Verse 20

GROSSNESS OF ISRAEL’S IDOLATRY, Jeremiah 2:20-28.

20. Of old time — From immemorial antiquity. The exact thing implied is, that no limit comes into view, either because none is seen or because there is none. For rhetorical purposes this term, eternity, in Hebrew more than in English, is used in an accommodated sense. The text should not read, I have broken, though in this the English follows both the Chaldee and Syriac, but thou hast broken thy yoke, and burst thy bands. The term “bands” is used in the sense of commandments of God which restrain men from rushing into ruin, (see Psalms 2:3,) and so the two phrases have substantially the same import.

High hill… green tree — In these expressions there is a double allusion to the idolatrous shrines so numerous in the land, and also to terrible and common facts of individual vileness.

The union of these in this passage is probably in perfect accord with the actual facts in the case. The connexion between the sin of idolatry and of impurity has always been most intimate.


Verse 21

21. In the original, two different words in the first member of this verse are emphasized, which fact of emphasis escapes our attention in the English Version.

I had planted — The Hebrew places emphasis on the pronoun I, as if God would disclaim all responsibility for the monstrous product. The second emphatic word is wholly, which has a special force from its connexion with sorek, noble vine, preceding. God had planted Israel a “noble vine,” “wholly” a right seed, but they had changed themselves into the degenerate plant (bastards) of a strange vine.


Verse 22

22. Nitre — A mineral alkali.

Soap — A vegetable alkali. The original for wash is not the ordinary term, but the one which is used in application to the fuller. The most powerful means of purification of human devising would be ineffectual.


Verse 23-24

23, 24. I am not polluted — New and most significant imagery is employed to illustrate the insane lust of idolatry. The reckless greed of the people for the excitements of the false worship is figured by the swift dromedary traversing her ways, and the wild ass running herself weary in her heat.

Thy way in the valley — Is probably an allusion to the valley of Ben-Hinnom, to the south of Jerusalem, where the rites of Moloch were celebrated, and which had become infamous as the place where human sacrifices were offered. It was fitly a type of hell and its ever-burning fire.

Swift dromedary — Rather, camel-filly. The adjective suggests the animal heat which is the main feature of the comparison. “Traversing” — that is, crossing, or interweaving; a graphic picture of urgent, unregulated haste.

Wild ass — Emblem of unbridled licentiousness. See Job 24:5; Job 39:5.

Snuffeth up wind… occasion… her month — All these terms point to the one feature of the comparison — the passionate heat of the animal.


Verse 25

25. Withhold… from being unshod — Running so eagerly after illicit love as to go with unsandalled feet and thirsty throat.

No hope — Your warning is vain and useless: we have made our election.


Verse 27

27. In the time of… trouble — As with the prodigal when he “began to be in want,” or the sailors with Jonah in the storm. A little pressure of calamity will often develop a vivid sense of God, and most fervent appeals for mercy and help.


Verse 28

28. Where are thy gods — “I also will laugh at your calamity: I will mock when your fear cometh.” This passage of bitter irony is double-barbed. It contains a taunt of their many gods and of their powerlessness.


Verse 30

ISRAEL’S GUILT AND PUNISHMENT, Jeremiah 2:29-35.

30. Sword hath devoured — See 1 Kings 18:4; 1 Kings 18:13; 1 Kings 19:10; 2 Kings 21:16, etc.


Verse 31

31. O generation, see ye — Rather, O generation that ye are. The pronoun belongs with the appellative, and not, as in the English, with the verb, and so emphasizes God’s sorrow and indignation.

Have I been a wilderness… a land of darkness — There is a mingled sternness and tenderness in this passage which the Authorized Version does not adequately convey.

We are lords — Better, with the Chaldee, Syriac, and Vulgate, We will wander at will, that is, we will not be held in restraint.

This verb is also used in Genesis 27:40; Hosea 11:12; and Psalms 55:2; in each of which places the sense is missed in the Anglican Version.


Verse 32

32. More tenderly does God appeal to them in the comparison of this verse.

Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire — This last term means a sash or girdle which a bride puts on on her wedding-day, answering somewhat in significance and preciousness to the marriage ring.

So God is his people’s best adornment and choicest treasure, and yet they have turned away from him.


Verse 34

34. Secret search — Rather, at housebreaking. The meaning is, Thou didst not kill the poor for crime, but this is innocent blood upon thy skirts.

But upon all these — Rather, on account of all these, the wicked lusts of idolatry. But the passage is difficult, and this sense, which is favoured by Keil, Hitzig, R. Payne Smith, and others, is far from satisfactory.


Verse 35

35. Yet thou sayest, etc. — The language seems to imply some such outward phariseeism as the reformation of Josiah might have produced. It is not unlikely that this reformation may have supplied the background of this verse.


Verse 36

36. Why gaddest thou — What restlessness and inconstancy equals that of the unbeliever? From Egypt to Assyria, from Assyria to Babylon, from rationalism to spiritualism, from pantheism to atheism, from no religion to all religions — such a life is one weary go-round of fruitless toil and profitless speculation. Nothing in human history is more notable than the fickleness of infidelity.


Verse 37

37. From him — Namely, Egypt. As thou didst turn to Egypt from Assyria, so shalt thou turn from him, clasping thy head with thy hands in grief and dismay. The might of Egypt will surely be overthrown, and all who make it a covert shall be dislodged.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Jeremiah 2:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/jeremiah-2.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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