Jeremiah 4
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Chs. 2–6

Jeremiah’s earliest discourses, viz. from the time of his call (b.c. 626) to a date shortly after that of Josiah’s reforms (b.c. 621).

These utterances as a whole describe the condition of things at this period, setting forth the corruption of the nation and the punishment to ensue. As the discourses were not committed to writing till b.c. 604, we can scarcely take them as a verbatim report of the prophet’s utterances, of which however they no doubt faithfully record the substance with probably some colouring of the original language here and there to adapt them to the state of affairs at the later date. The metrical form which appears in a large part of this Book is well shewn in the Hebrew of these chs. Here Jeremiah 2:2-3; Jeremiah 2:14-22; Jeremiah 2:25-32 give us good examples of the Ḳinah rhythm (see Intr. ch. 5), while the other vv. yield (with occasional slight changes of the MT.) other forms of metre Jeremiah 2:5-8; Jeremiah 2:23-24, a triple beat or accented syllable in each half verse; Jeremiah 2:9-13; Jeremiah 2:33-34; Jeremiah 2:36-37, a quadruple beat in each half).

The whole may be arranged in sections, thus:

-1Jeremiah 2:1 to Jeremiah 3:5 Jehovah’s faithfulness and Israel’s unfaithfulness; (2) Jeremiah 3:6 to Jeremiah 4:4 conditional offers of restoration; (3) Jeremiah 4:5-31 impending national disaster; (4) Jeremiah 5:1-31 the foe is at hand, Jerusalem is ripe for judgement; (5) Jeremiah 6:1-30 the Doom: these last three sections giving a more definite description of the approaching punishment.

Chs. Jeremiah 2:1 to Jeremiah 3:5. Jehovah’s faithfulness and Israel’s unfaithfulness

We may divide as follows.

-1Jeremiah 2:1-13 Israel’s ingratitude in return for Jehovah’s love; (2) Jeremiah 2:14-30 her sin and obstinacy under punishment; (3) Jeremiah 2:31-37 her disregard of Jehovah’s past favours; (4) Jeremiah 3:1-5 her faithlessness towards her Divine Spouse.

If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith the LORD, return unto me: and if thou wilt put away thine abominations out of my sight, then shalt thou not remove.
1. If thou wilt return, etc.] The best rendering is perhaps as follows: If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith the Lord, yea, return unto me, continuing (with mg.), and if thou wilt put … and wilt not wander, and wilt swear … then shall the nations, etc.

abominations] detestable things, idolatrous worship, mingled, as it often was, with impure rites.

be removed] wander (from God). By a change of one Hebrew letter we get the word rendered “broken loose” in Jeremiah 2:31. This is to be preferred, as it is doubtful whether the verb in MT. can have a moral connotation.

Jeremiah 4:1-4. If Israel will sincerely repent and mend her ways, her prosperity will be the ideal for all nations. Let Judah dedicate herself in heart to Jehovah, otherwise heavy judgement shall be her portion.

In Jeremiah 4:1-4 a severer mode of address is used towards Judah (3, 4) than towards Israel (1, 2).

And thou shalt swear, The LORD liveth, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness; and the nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory.
2. shall bless themselves in him] not in Israel, but in God, i.e. they will use Jehovah’s name in invoking blessings on themselves.

For thus saith the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns.
3. Break up] The ground of their heart is hard. It needs as it were the plough and the harrow. Moreover, it is overgrown with thorns. These must be removed.

Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.
4. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord] Literal circumcision was the condition of admission to the external covenant. “Jeremiah demands an inward circumcision, a cleansing and dedication of the heart. Such a doctrine naturally points the way to his supreme contribution to religious thought, his epoch-making conception of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34).” Pe.

These two vv. prove a worthy climax to the whole section. Co. however is hardly justified in omitting Jeremiah 4:1-2 on the ground of comparative weakness.

Declare ye in Judah, and publish in Jerusalem; and say, Blow ye the trumpet in the land: cry, gather together, and say, Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the defenced cities.
5. in Jerusalem] But a proclamation that people should take refuge within cities would not be needed there. It is probable that the words should be omitted. Moreover, by a very slight change in the Hebrew, the first “and say” may be read “saith Jehovah.” Thus we may with probability emend, Declare ye in Judah, and publish, saith Jehovah, Blow, etc.

trumpet] horn, as a signal of danger.

let us go, etc.] Cp. the crowding of the inhabitants of Attica within the walls of Athens on the occasion of a Spartan invasion (Thuc. II. 52).

5–10. Flee without delay, if so be that walls can save you. The foe from the north threatens ruin to town and country alike. Terror shall seize the greatest in the land, and dismay the priests and prophets.

Ch. Jeremiah 4:5-31. Impending judgements. National disaster

This section and the two that follow it (viz. chs. 5 and 6) are somewhat later than the preceding, as presenting a more definite description of the punishment there threatened. They picture the excitement and dismay caused throughout the defenceless portions of the land by the approach of the enemy, and the hasty retreat to walled towns on the part of the country people.

No doubt as originally uttered these sections referred to the threatened invasion of Palestine by the Scythian hordes. (See Introd. i. § 3 and on Jeremiah 1:13.) On being reproduced in the Roll of b.c. 604 (ch. 36), when the Chaldaeans had become the formidable enemy, the language may have been modified here and there to suit the new political aspect of affairs. Thus “lion” and “destroyer of nations” (Jeremiah 4:7) are epithets more appropriate to an individual leader such as Nebuchadnezzar than to a hostile multitude. Neither do we know that the Scythians had “chariots” (Jeremiah 4:13).

The present section may be summarized as follows.

Set up the standard toward Zion: retire, stay not: for I will bring evil from the north, and a great destruction.
6. Set up a standard] to guide those who were seeking to attain the shelter of the walls of Jerusalem.

flee] rather, make (your households) flee. Cp. mg. in Isaiah 10:31; and Exodus 9:19 (“hasten in”).

from the north] See introd. note to the section.

destruction] For the alarm caused by the Scythians, see Introd. i. § 3.

The lion is come up from his thicket, and the destroyer of the Gentiles is on his way; he is gone forth from his place to make thy land desolate; and thy cities shall be laid waste, without an inhabitant.
7. A lion] See introd. note above.

thy land] We should perhaps read the land, and consider the rest of the v. as an insertion suggested by the parallels in Jeremiah 2:15, Jeremiah 9:11.

Du. proposes, but on insufficient grounds (viz. the use of the expression “at that day,” as though implying vagueness as to time, and a change in the character of the metre), to omit Jeremiah 4:9-11 a (… Jerusalem).

For this gird you with sackcloth, lament and howl: for the fierce anger of the LORD is not turned back from us.
And it shall come to pass at that day, saith the LORD, that the heart of the king shall perish, and the heart of the princes; and the priests shall be astonished, and the prophets shall wonder.
9. the priests shall be astonished] because of the punishment which has followed upon their idolatries.

the prophets shall wonder] because of the non-fulfilment of their prophecies.

Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! surely thou hast greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, Ye shall have peace; whereas the sword reacheth unto the soul.
10. Then said I] We should doubtless, by a slight change, read, And they shall say. The false prophets, who had foretold peace (Jeremiah 6:14, Jeremiah 14:13, Jeremiah 23:17), shall in their dismay charge God with deception. Doubtless an argument in the mouths of those prophets and their supporters had hitherto been, “Isaiah assured us (Isaiah 37:33 ff.), when the City and Temple were in danger, that Jehovah would protect His own dwelling place. His words were justified by the event. May we not have the same assurance now?”

At that time shall it be said to this people and to Jerusalem, A dry wind of the high places in the wilderness toward the daughter of my people, not to fan, nor to cleanse,
11. A hot wind] The foe comes not as a gentle wind, such as that used (see on Jeremiah 15:7) to separate wheat from chaff, but one that shall whirl away both together. Thomson (op. cit. p. 295) describes the sirocco thus: “The air becomes loaded with fine dust, which it whirls in rainless clouds hither and thither at its own wild will.… The eyes inflame, the lips blister, and the moisture of the body evaporates, under the ceaseless application of this persecuting wind”; and again (p. 536), “We have two kinds of sirocco, one accompanied with vehement wind, which fills the air with dust and fine sand.” Cp. Joel 2:30 f.

bare heights] omitted by LXX. Cp. on Jeremiah 3:2.

toward] we may understand cometh from Jeremiah 4:12.

daughter] fem. sing. in a collective sense. Cp. Jeremiah 4:30, Jeremiah 6:14, Jeremiah 8:11, etc.

11–18. As the burning sirocco, the dense clouds accompanied by the whirlwind, or the savage creatures of the air, so shall the enemy prove to be, as they descend on Judah in doom. Let her even now seek to avert it by repentance.

11–18. See summary at commencement of section.

Even a full wind from those places shall come unto me: now also will I give sentence against them.
12. a full wind from these] i.e. a violent wind from the bare heights in the wilderness. It is better, however, to render nearly as mg. a wind too strong for these things, too violent for winnowing and cleansing because it blows away the corn as well (see on Jeremiah 15:7). The LXX, it may be noted, omit “from these.”

shall come for me] at My command, or, in My service. The judgement will not be remedial but destructive.

now will I also] The pronoun is emphatic. Cp. Jeremiah 1:16.

Behold, he shall come up as clouds, and his chariots shall be as a whirlwind: his horses are swifter than eagles. Woe unto us! for we are spoiled.
13. as clouds] a further simile for the invader. Cp. Ezekiel 38:16, and Joel 2:2.

his chariots shall be as the whirlwind] Cp. Isaiah 5:28; Isaiah 66:15.

eagles] rather, griffons (gypsi fulvus), a species of vulture. Cp. ch. Jeremiah 48:40, Jeremiah 49:22; 2 Samuel 1:23; Lamentations 4:19; Habakkuk 1:8.

O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved. How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?
14. How long, etc.] Cp. Hosea 8:5.

For a voice declareth from Dan, and publisheth affliction from mount Ephraim.
15. The connexion is, It is high time to amend, for, etc.

a voice] better, Hark! one declareth.

Dan] on the northern border of Palestine. See Deuteronomy 34:1.

the hills of Ephraim] or, Mount Ephraim, the range dividing Ephraim from Judah, eight or ten miles at most from Jerusalem itself. The language thus intimates the rapid approach of the enemy. Cp. Isaiah 10:28 ff.

Make ye mention to the nations; behold, publish against Jerusalem, that watchers come from a far country, and give out their voice against the cities of Judah.
16. make ye mention to the nations] They are bidden to witness the impending judgement. Cp. Micah 1:2, and the appeal to heaven and earth in Isaiah 1:2, Micah 6:1 f.

watchers] besiegers, the Chaldaeans. But to obtain this sense we must omit the first consonant of the Hebrew word. By a change of one consonant we get the Hebrew for leopards (nĕmêrim). Cp. Jeremiah 5:6; Habakkuk 1:8.

As keepers of a field, are they against her round about; because she hath been rebellious against me, saith the LORD.
17. As keepers of a field] If the MT. stands, the point of comparison will lie in the improvised shelters put up by guardians of cattle in the open country and those put up now by the besiegers round the city. Cp. Job 27:18; 2 Samuel 11:11. But by an inconsiderable change we can translate, they (the enemy) are lying in wait on the fields round about. So Co.

Thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee; this is thy wickedness, because it is bitter, because it reacheth unto thine heart.
18. Thy way and thy doings] See on Jeremiah 7:3.

wickedness] i.e. its result, viz. calamity.

My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.
19. My bowels] considered as the seat of profound emotion. Cp. Jeremiah 31:20, Isaiah 16:11; Isaiah 63:15; Ca. Jeremiah 5:4 (R.V. mg.).

I am pained] decidedly to be preferred to mg. I will wait patiently.

at my very heart] O the walls of my heart! a separate exclamation. The “walls” are the sides of the cavity of the heart or the chest, against which it seems to beat. The prophet is speaking to some extent as a representative of the people.

is disquieted] The word in the Hebrew denotes tumultuous movement, pain, and the expression of it in sound.

thou hast heard, O my soul] better, as mg. (with different vocalisation in the Hebrew) my soul heareth. So LXX, Du. and Co. omit “my soul,” and read, with a very slight addition to the Hebrew verb, I hear.

19–22. The prophet is racked with grief at the noise of war and the thought of its horrors—and all through the mad folly of his people.

19–22. See summary at commencement of section.

Destruction upon destruction is cried; for the whole land is spoiled: suddenly are my tents spoiled, and my curtains in a moment.
20. is cried] better, one destruction (lit. breach) meeteth (followeth upon) another. The Hebrew verb is ambiguous.

curtains] tent-hangings. Cp. Jeremiah 10:20; Ca. Jeremiah 1:5; Isaiah 54:2.

How long shall I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet?
For my people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children, and they have none understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge.
22. know] have regard to. Cp. Isaiah 1:3.

I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light.
23. waste] formless, unsubstantial. Cp. Genesis 1:2. “And void” is not rendered by LXX either here or in Is., and is therefore probably a gloss from Genesis.

no light] as though a return to chaos before the creation of light. Cp. Gen. l.c.

23–28. In vision he beholds the earth a void waste, the hills reeling at the blast of God’s anger, the heavens black, all bird life fled, cities in ruins. Jehovah’s resolve is an abiding one.

23–28. See summary at commencement of section. In these vv. the Ḳinah rhythm changes to another of a more diffuse kind. Hence, and because of alleged lack of connexion with the neighbouring sections, Du. and Gi. (2nd ed.) consider the passage to be later than Jeremiah’s time; but without necessity. The prophet in this singularly powerful description rises to a sublime height. The state of things described in the History of the Creation has returned. All is chaotic. Cp. for Jeremiah 4:23 Isaiah 34:11.

I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly.
24. moved to and fro] mg. moved lightly.

I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled.
25. In spite of their vast size earth and heaven alike are bereft of the denizens which give them their aspect of life. For the disappearance of birds before God’s judgements cp. Hosea 4:3; Zephaniah 1:3.

I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the LORD, and by his fierce anger.
26. the fruitful field] mg. Heb. Carmel (see Jeremiah 2:7), but meaning here the most fruitful portions of the land in general.

For thus hath the LORD said, The whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end.
27. yet will I not make a full end] This clause is probably added by a later hand (so perhaps in Jeremiah 5:10), for not only does it interrupt the metre in the original, but it also breaks the connexion between the pronouncements of Jeremiah 4:27-28.

For this shall the earth mourn, and the heavens above be black: because I have spoken it, I have purposed it, and will not repent, neither will I turn back from it.
28. be black] be in mourning from sympathy. The following clauses should read I have spoken it and have not repented; I have purposed it, and will not turn back from it. So LXX. The verbs in the Hebrew were accidentally disarranged.

The whole city shall flee for the noise of the horsemen and bowmen; they shall go into thickets, and climb up upon the rocks: every city shall be forsaken, and not a man dwell therein.
29. The whole city] the whole land. So LXX, supported by Targ. The word “city” was introduced by mistake from the latter part of the v.

bowmen] Cp. Jeremiah 5:16. The Scythians were noted for skill in archery. See Herod. IV. 46.

they go … rocks] The original words for “thickets” and “rocks” have been held to throw some doubt on the genuineness of the two clauses. The former is in Hebrew properly dark clouds, though the root in Aramaic would yield the sense “thickets.” So “rocks” seems a “loanword” from Aramaic and occurs but once elsewhere (Job 30:6). For the first word LXX have a double rendering, caves and woods. For the former sense they seem to have connected the word with an Arabic root, to conceal. Rocks, and the caves which they contained, were often used as places of refuge in the course of Jewish history. See ch. Jeremiah 16:16; also Jdg 6:2; 1 Samuel 13:6; cp. Isaiah 2:19; Isaiah 2:21.

29–31. Embellishments of the person are of no avail. Zion cries out in vain before an implacable foe.

29–31. See summary at commencement of section.

And when thou art spoiled, what wilt thou do? Though thou clothest thyself with crimson, though thou deckest thee with ornaments of gold, though thou rentest thy face with painting, in vain shalt thou make thyself fair; thy lovers will despise thee, they will seek thy life.
30. Thy harsh captors will scorn thy feminine arts to make thyself attractive in their eyes. But the anomalous gender (masc.) of the Hebrew participle suggests that it is a gloss.

And thou, when thou art spoiled] And thou, plundered one. The fem. indicates, as often, a collective sense; so in Jeremiah 4:11, Jeremiah 7:29, Jeremiah 10:17. Cp. Jeremiah 4:31; so also Psalm 45:12.

ornaments of gold] Cp. Hosea 2:13.

enlargest (Heb. rendest) thine eyes with paint] i.e. with antimony. It was considered that the lustre and apparent size of the pupil of the eye were enhanced by this practice, which consisted of “blackening the edge of the eyelids both above and below the eye with a black powder called kohl. This is a collyrium commonly composed of the smoke black, which is produced by burning a kind of liban, an aromatic resin, a species of frankincense.… kohl is also prepared of the smoke black produced by burning the shells of almonds.… Antimony, it is said, was formerly used for painting the edges of the eyelids. The kohl is applied with a small probe of wood, ivory, or silver, tapering towards the end, but blunt; this is moistened, sometimes with rosewater, then dipped in the powder and drawn along the edges of the eyelids.… The custom of thus ornamenting the eyes prevailed among both sexes in Egypt in very ancient times: this is shewn by the sculptures and paintings in the temples and tombs of this country, and kohl-vessels with the probes and even with remains of the black powder have often been found in the ancient tombs” (Lane’s Modern Egyptians, 1. pp. 45, 46). For the custom cp. 2 Kings 9:30; Ezekiel 23:40; also Job 42:14 (Kerenhappuch = horn of eye paint).

thy lovers] those whose political alliance thou hast cultivated. This term, hardly applicable to the Scythians, is an example of the modifications of phrase which Jeremiah would introduce when the Babylonians, whose friendship had formerly been sought, had become the foes to be dreaded. See Intr. iv. § 3 (end).

For I have heard a voice as of a woman in travail, and the anguish as of her that bringeth forth her first child, the voice of the daughter of Zion, that bewaileth herself, that spreadeth her hands, saying, Woe is me now! for my soul is wearied because of murderers.
31. Thy wiles shall have no effect; for already I hear thy cries of agony and dismay.

daughter of Zion] denoting the inhabitants as a whole. Cp. Jeremiah 6:2, etc.

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