Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Then said the LORD unto me, Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be toward this people: cast them out of my sight, and let them go forth.XV.
(1) Then said the Lord unto me.—With a bold and terrible anthropomorphism, the prophet again speaks as if he heard the voice of Jehovah rejecting all intercession for the apostate people. The passage reminds us of the mention of Noah, Daniel, and Job, in Ezekiel 14:14, as “able to deliver their own souls only by their righteousness.” Here Moses (Exodus 32:11; Numbers 14:13-20) and Samuel (1Samuel 7:9; 1Samuel 12:23) are named as having been conspicuous examples of the power of the prayer of intercession.
Cast them out of my sight.—i.e., from my presence, from the courts of the Temple which they profane. That would be the answer of Jehovah, even if Moses and Samuel “stood before Him” (the phrase, as in Jeremiah 35:19, has a distinctly liturgical meaning), ministering in the Courts of the Temple.
And it shall come to pass, if they say unto thee, Whither shall we go forth? then thou shalt tell them, Thus saith the LORD; Such as are for death, to death; and such as are for the sword, to the sword; and such as are for the famine, to the famine; and such as are for the captivity, to the captivity.(2) Such as are for death . . .—The difference between the first two forms of punishment is that the first points possibly to being led out to execution as criminals, as in Deuteronomy 19:6, but more probably to death from pestilence, as in Job 27:15; the second, to falling in a vain and hopeless conflict.
And I will appoint over them four kinds, saith the LORD: the sword to slay, and the dogs to tear, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the earth, to devour and destroy.(3) Four kinds.—The sword, as the direct instrument of death, is followed by those that follow up its work, the beasts and birds of prey that feed on the corpses of the slain. The latter feature has naturally been from the earliest stages of human history the crowning horror of defeat. So Homer, Il. i. 4 :—
“And many mighty souls of heroes sent
To Hades, and their bodies made a prey
To dogs and to all birds.”
And I will cause them to be removed into all kingdoms of the earth, because of Manasseh the son of Hezekiah king of Judah, for that which he did in Jerusalem.(4) Manasseh the son of Hezekiah.—The horror of that long and evil reign still lingered in the minds of men, and the prophet saw in it the beginning of the evils from which his people were now suffering. The name of Hezekiah may have been inserted as an aggravation of the guilt of his successor.
For who shall have pity upon thee, O Jerusalem? or who shall bemoan thee? or who shall go aside to ask how thou doest?(5) To ask how thou doest?—This is a fair paraphrase of the original, but it wants the Oriental colouring of the more literal to ask after thy peace. As “Peace be with thee” was the usual formula of salutation, sc.,” Is it peace?” was the equivalent for our more prosaic question, “How do you do?” (Genesis 43:27; Judges 18:15). The same phrase meets us in Exodus 18:7, “They asked each other of their welfare,” literally, of their peace.
Thou hast forsaken me, saith the LORD, thou art gone backward: therefore will I stretch out my hand against thee, and destroy thee; I am weary with repenting.(6) Thou hast forsaken me.—The Hebrew word has the stronger sense of rejecting or repudiating as well as simply leaving, and gives the reason for a like rejection on the part of Jehovah.
I am weary with repenting.—The long-suffering of God is described, as before, in anthropomorphic language (comp. 1Samuel 15:35). He had “repented,” i.e., changed His purpose of punishing, but patience was now exhausted, and justice was weary of the delay, and must take its course. Perhaps, however, I am weary of pitying or of relenting would be a better rendering.
And I will fan them with a fan in the gates of the land; I will bereave them of children, I will destroy my people, since they return not from their ways.(7) I will fan them with a fan.—The image is, of course, the familiar one of the threshing-floor and the winnowing-fan or shovel (Psalm 1:4; Psalm 35:5; Matthew 3:12). The tenses should be past in both clauses—I have winnowed . . . I have bereaved . . . I have destroyed.
In the gates of the land . . .—Possibly the “gates” stand for the fortified cities of Judah, the chief part being taken for the whole, more probably for the “approaches” of the land. So the Greeks spoke of the passes of the Taurus as the Cilician gates, and so we speak of the Khyber and Bolam passes as “the gates of India.”
Since they return not.—The insertion of the conjunction, which has nothing corresponding to it in the original, weakens the vigour of the abruptness of the clause, and probably suggests a wrong sequence of thought. Jehovah had chastened them, but it was in vain. They returned not from their ways. Yet, as in the Vulgate, rather than “since,” is the implied conjunction.
Their widows are increased to me above the sand of the seas: I have brought upon them against the mother of the young men a spoiler at noonday: I have caused him to fall upon it suddenly, and terrors upon the city.(8) I have brought . . .—Better, I have brought upon them, even upon the mother of the young warrior (i.e., upon the woman who rejoices most in her son’s heroism), a spoiler at noon-day, i.e., coming, when least expected, at the hour when most armies rested. (See Note on Jeremiah 6:4.)
I have caused him to fall upon it suddenly . . .—Better, I have brought suddenly upon her (the “mother” of the previous sentence) travail-pangs (as in Isaiah 13:8) and dismay. The Aramaic word for the anguish of childbirth is also the Hebrew word for “city,” and this has misled translators. The LXX. gives the true meaning.
She that hath borne seven languisheth: she hath given up the ghost; her sun is gone down while it was yet day: she hath been ashamed and confounded: and the residue of them will I deliver to the sword before their enemies, saith the LORD.(9) She that hath borne seven.—In the picture of the previous verse the glory of the mother was found in the valour of her son, here in the number of her children. “Seven,” as the perfect number, represented, as in 1Samuel 2:5, Ruth 4:15, the typical completeness of the family.
Her sun is gone down while it was yet day.—The image of this eclipse of all joy and brightness may possibly have been suggested by the actual eclipse of the sun (total in Palestine), Sept. 30; B.C. 610, the year of the battle of Megiddo, just as the earthquake in the reign of Uzziah suggested much of the imagery of Isaiah and Amos (Isaiah 2:19; Amos 1:1-2; Amos 4:11; Zechariah 14:5). A like image meets us in Amos 8:9.
Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth! I have neither lent on usury, nor men have lent to me on usury; yet every one of them doth curse me.(10) Woe is me . . .—The abruptness of the transition suggests the thought that we have a distinct fragment which has been merged in the artificial continuity of the chapter. Possibly, as some have thought, Jeremiah 15:10-11 have been misplaced in transcription, and should come after Jeremiah 15:14, where they fit in admirably with the context. The sequence of thought may, however, be that the picture of the sorrowing mother in the previous verses suggests the reflection that there may be other causes for a mother’s sorrow than that of which he has spoken, and so he bursts out into the cry, “Woe is me, my mother!” The prophet feels more than ever the awfulness of his calling as a vessel of God’s truth. He, too, found that he had come “not to send peace on earth, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). His days were as full of strife as the life of the usurer, whose quarrels with his debtors had become the proverbial type of endless litigation. As examples of the working of the law of debt, see Exodus 22:25; 2Kings 4:1; Proverbs 6:1-5; Isaiah 24:2; Psalm 15:5; Psalm 109:11.
We note, as characteristic of the pathetic tenderness of the prophet’s character, the address to his mother. We may think of her probably as still living, and the thought of her suffering embitters her son’s grief. The sword was piercing through her soul also (Luke 2:35). There, too, there was a Mater dolorosa.
The LORD said, Verily it shall be well with thy remnant; verily I will cause the enemy to entreat thee well in the time of evil and in the time of affliction.(11) Verily it shall be well with thy remnant.—The passage is obscure, and the reading uncertain; (1) Thy freedom shall be for good, or (2) I afflict thee for thy good, or (3) I strengthen thee for thy good, have been proposed as better renderings. The second seems to give the meaning most in harmony with the context. Jehovah comforts the despairing prophet by the promise that in due time there shall be a deliverance from the discords of his life, and that “all things shall work together for his good.”
I will cause the enemy to entreat thee well.—The final adverb, which is not found in the Hebrew, obscures the sense, suggesting the English phrase of “treating well.” Better, I will cause the enemy to be a suppliant to thee in time of evil. Partial fulfilments of the promise are found in Jeremiah 21:1; Jeremiah 37:3; Jeremiah 42:2.
Shall iron break the northern iron and the steel?(12) Shall iron break . . .?—The abruptness of the question and the boldness of the imagery make the interpretation difficult. That which most harmonises with the context (assuming this verse to carry on the thought of Jeremiah 15:1-9, after the interruption, possibly the interpolation, of Jeremiah 15:10-11) is, that the prayer of the prophet, strong though it may be, cannot change the inflexible purpose of Jehovah to chastise His people’s sins. Some have, however, taken the words as declaring (1) the powerlessness of Judah to resist the titanic strength of the Chaldaeans, or (2) the impotence of the prophet’s enemies to deter him from his work, or (3) the prophet’s want of power against the obdurate evil of the people, or (4) the weakness of Pharaoh-nechoh as compared with Nebuchadnezzar. Of these (3) has a show of plausibility from Jeremiah 1:18; Jeremiah 15:20, but does not harmonise so well with what precedes and follows. The “northern iron” is probably that of the Chalybes of Pontus, mentioned as the “artificers in iron” by Æschylus (Prom. Bound, 733), as the coast of the Euxine is called by him the land which is “the mother of iron” (Ibid. 309), famous for being harder than all others. For “steel” we should read bronze. The word is commonly translated “brass,” but that compound, in its modern sense, was unknown to the metallurgy of Israel.
Thy substance and thy treasures will I give to the spoil without price, and that for all thy sins, even in all thy borders.(13) Thy substance and thy treasures . . .—Assuming the words to stand in their right place, we must look on them as addressed to Jeremiah as the intercessor, and therefore the representative, of his people. If we admit a dislocation, of which there seem many signs, we may connect them with Jeremiah 15:5-6, and then they are spoken to Jerusalem. The recurrence of the words in Jeremiah 17:3-4, as addressed to the mountain of the plain, i.e., Zion, makes this probable.
Without price.—As in Psalm 44:12; Isaiah 52:3, this implies the extremest abandonment. The enemies of Israel were to have an easy victory, for which they would not have to pay the usual price of blood; nor did God, on His side, demand from them any payment for the victory He bestowed. He gave away His people as men give that which they count worthless.
And I will make thee to pass with thine enemies into a land which thou knowest not: for a fire is kindled in mine anger, which shall burn upon you.(14) I will make thee to pass with thine enemies . . .—The Hebrew text is probably corrupt, and a slight variation of the reading of one word brings the verse into harmony with the parallel passage of Jeremiah 17:4, and gives a better meaning, I will make thee serve thine enemies in a land thou dost not know. As it stands without the pronoun “thee” in the Hebrew we may take it, with some commentators, as meaning, I will make them (the “treasures” of Jeremiah 15:13) pass with thine enemies . . .
A fire is kindled in mine anger.—Another quotation from Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 32:22).
O LORD, thou knowest: remember me, and visit me, and revenge me of my persecutors; take me not away in thy longsuffering: know that for thy sake I have suffered rebuke.(15) O Lord, thou knowest . . .—The prophet continues in the bitterness of his spirit the complaint that had begun in Jeremiah 15:10. The words remind us of the imprecations of the so-called vindictive psalms (such, e.g., as Psalms 69, 109), and may help us to understand the genesis of the emotions which they express. Not even the promise of Jeremiah 15:11 has given rest to his soul. He craves to see the righteous retribution for the sufferings which men have wrongfully inflicted on him.
Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts.(16) Thy words were found . . .—The words go back to the mission of Jeremiah 1, and paint, with a wonderful power, the beginning of a prophet’s work, the new-born intensity of joy in the sense of communion with the Eternal. The soul feeds on the words that come to it (see the same figure in a bolder form in Ezekiel 2:8; Ezekiel 3:1-3; Revelation 10:9). They are “sweeter than honey and the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10). They are incorporated with its life, are “the rejoicing of its heart.” He is called by the Name of “the Lord God of hosts,” or, more literally, that Name is called upon him. As the witness of his special consecration, he becomes, like other prophets, “a man of God” (1Kings 13:1; 2Kings 7:2; 1Timothy 6:11).
I sat not in the assembly of the mockers, nor rejoiced; I sat alone because of thy hand: for thou hast filled me with indignation.(17) In the assembly of the mockers.—Rather, of the mirthful. The word, which is the same as that found in Isaac (= laughter), does not necessarily imply an evil or cynical mirth, like that of the “scorner” of Psalm 1:1. What is meant is, that from the time of his consecration to his office the prophet’s life had not been as the life of other men, but had been marked by a strange loneliness, filled with the consuming wrath of Jehovah against the evils that surrounded him. The “hand” of Jehovah is used here, as in Ezekiel 1:3; Ezekiel 3:22; Ezekiel 8:1, for the special overpowering consciousness of the fulness of inspiration.
Why is my pain perpetual, and my wound incurable, which refuseth to be healed? wilt thou be altogether unto me as a liar, and as waters that fail?(18) Wilt thou be altogether unto me as a liar . . .?—The words express a bitter sense of failure and disappointment. God had not prospered the mission of His servant as He had promised. The Hebrew, however, is not so startlingly bold as the English, and is satisfied by the rendering, wilt thou be unto me as a winter torrent, i.e., as in Job 6:15, like one which flows only in that season, and is dried up and parched in summer. See the play upon the word achzib (= a lie) in Micah 1:14.
Therefore thus saith the LORD, If thou return, then will I bring thee again, and thou shalt stand before me: and if thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth: let them return unto thee; but return not thou unto them.(19) Therefore thus saith the Lord . . .—The Divine voice within makes answer to the passionate complaint. The prophet also needs, not less than the people, to “return” to his true mind, to repent of his murmurings and distrust. Upon that condition only can he again “stand before” the Lord in the full sense of that word, and minister to Him as a prophet-priest (comp. 1Kings 17:1; 1Kings 18:15; 2Kings 3:14). He has to distinguish between “the precious and the vile,” between the gold and the dross, between a righteous zeal and the despondent bitterness which is its spurious counterfeit, not in the people only to whom he speaks but in himself. Above all he must beware of being tempted by his sense of failure, to return to the people in the temper of one who tunes his voice according to the time. Rather must they “return” to him and rise to his level, both “returning” to Jehovah.
And I will make thee unto this people a fenced brasen wall: and they shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee: for I am with thee to save thee and to deliver thee, saith the LORD.(20) I will make thee unto this people . . .—It is significant that the promise reproduced the very words which the prophet had heard when he was first summoned to his work (see Note on Jeremiah 1:18-19). Jehovah had not been unfaithful to His word, but, like all promises, it depended on implied conditions, and these the faint-hearted, desponding prophet had but imperfectly fulfilled. Let him “return” to the temper of trust, and there should be an abundant deliverance for him.