Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Moreover the word of the LORD came unto Jeremiah the second time, while he was yet shut up in the court of the prison, saying,XXXIII.
(1-3) The second time, while he was yet shut up.—The discourse that follows belongs to the same period as the preceding chapter, and presents the same general characteristics. Its connexion with the operations of the siege to which Jerusalem was exposed will be traced in Jeremiah 33:4. As with other prophecies, its starting-point is found in the thought of the majesty of the attributes of God.
Great and mighty things.—The two adjectives occur in the same combination in Deuteronomy 1:28; Deuteronomy 9:1, and this fact is in favour of the rendering “mighty” rather than “hidden,” as in the margin of the A.V.
For thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the houses of this city, and concerning the houses of the kings of Judah, which are thrown down by the mounts, and by the sword;(4) Concerning the houses of this city . . .—The words point to the incident which was the occasion of the prophecy. The houses referred to had either been destroyed by the invaders, or, more probably, by the besieged, in order to erect a counter-work against the “mounts” which the Chaldæans had set against it. The “swords” (the word is translated by “axes” in Ezekiel 26:9) include tools used for breaking down walls.
They come to fight with the Chaldeans, but it is to fill them with the dead bodies of men, whom I have slain in mine anger and in my fury, and for all whose wickedness I have hid my face from this city.(5) They come to fight with the Chaldeans . . .—The Hebrew construction is participial, and has the force expressed in English by “they” used indefinitely. The prophet sees, as it were, a sortie of the besieged, but it is doomed to failure, and the houses of the city are filled with those who were slain by the sword, as well as by the “famine and pestilence” (Jeremiah 32:24).
Behold, I will bring it health and cure, and I will cure them, and will reveal unto them the abundance of peace and truth.(6) Health and cure . . .—The first word is, as in Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 30:17, the bandage, or “plaister,” which was prominent in the therapeutics of the East. It is possible that both words may have been spoken in direct contrast with the pestilence which was ravaging the city (Jeremiah 21:9; Jeremiah 27:13; Jeremiah 38:2). In any case, however, the words have a higher and figurative meaning. It was true of the city and its people that the “whole head was sick, and the whole heart faint” (Isaiah 1:5); and Jehovah promises to manifest Himself as the healer of that spiritual disease which was worse than any pestilence.
And I will cause the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel to return, and will build them, as at the first.(7, 8) I . . . will build . . . I will cleanse . . . I will pardon . . .—The vision of the return of the exiles and of a restored city, prominent in Jeremiah 31:38-40, is not allowed to overshadow the yet more glorious vision of spiritual blessings of purity and pardon.
And it shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and an honour before all the nations of the earth, which shall hear all the good that I do unto them: and they shall fear and tremble for all the goodness and for all the prosperity that I procure unto it.(9) It shall be to me a name of joy . . .—The thought presents two aspects in its bearing on the outlying nations. On the one hand, they shall sing the praises of the restored city; on the other, they shall fear and tremble before its greatness, as showing that it was under the protection of the Lord of Israel. The word for “fear” is used in Isaiah 60:5; Hosea 3:5, for the quivering, trembling emotion that accompanies great joy, and is, perhaps, used here to convey the thought that the fear would not be a mere slavish terror.
Thus saith the LORD; Again there shall be heard in this place, which ye say shall be desolate without man and without beast, even in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, that are desolate, without man, and without inhabitant, and without beast,(10) Again there shall be heard in this place.—The promise of restoration is repeated with a more local distinctness. “This place” is probably, as in Jeremiah 42:18, Jerusalem. The “streets” are, more strictly, the “open places,” the “bazaars,” or even the “outskirts” of the city, which were deserted during the progress of the siege. Now they were waste and silent. The time would come when they would once again re-echo with the sounds of jubilant exultation.
The voice of joy, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the voice of them that shall say, Praise the LORD of hosts: for the LORD is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: and of them that shall bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the LORD. For I will cause to return the captivity of the land, as at the first, saith the LORD.(11) The voice of joy, and the voice of gladness . . .—The words gain greater emphasis as being those which the prophet had himself used (Jeremiah 7:34; Jeremiah 16:9; Jeremiah 25:10) in foretelling the desolation of the city. He points, as it were, by implication to the fulfilment of the one prediction, as a guarantee that the other also will, in due season, have its fulfilment.
Praise the Lord of hosts . . .—The words were used as the ever-recurring doxology of the Temple-services (Ezra 3:11; 2Chronicles 7:6; 2Chronicles 20:21; Psalm 136:2-3; 1 Maccabees 4:24). The Courts of the Temple, now hushed in silence, should once again re-echo with the Hallelujahs of the Priests and Levites. The “sacrifice of praise” (the same phrase as in Jeremiah 17:26; Psalm 56:12) may be either “the sacrifice which consists in praise,” or the “sacrifices of thanksgiving” of Leviticus 7:12, which were offered in acknowledgment of special blessings. The ground of the thanksgiving in either case would be that the Lord had “turned again the captivity” of Jacob. The phrase was a familiar one, as in Psalm 14:7; Psalm 53:6; Deuteronomy 30:3. The words “as at the first” (literally, as at the beginning) do not refer to any previous restoration, like that of the Exodus from Egypt, but to the state before the exile.
Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Again in this place, which is desolate without man and without beast, and in all the cities thereof, shall be an habitation of shepherds causing their flocks to lie down.(12, 13) Again in this place.—The “place” includes, as in Jeremiah 33:10, “the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem.” The “habitation” for shepherds is translated sometimes by “sheepcote” (1Chronicles 17:7; 2Samuel 7:8), sometimes by “fold” (Isaiah 65:10; Ezekiel 34:14), sometimes by “dwelling” or “habitation.” It would seem here to answer to the “towns” of our old English speech, as meaning enclosed spaces, with the tower of the watchman (2Kings 17:9; Isaiah 1:8), in which, in times of average tranquillity, shepherds and their flocks found shelter, but which were abandoned when the land was overrun by an invading army. In Jeremiah 33:13 the eye of the prophet travels over such districts within the kingdom of Judah to the north and south of Jerusalem, and adds to the picture the vivid touch that the “sheep shall pass under the hands of him that telleth them,” the shepherd whose work it was to count the flock—in older English, “to tell his tale”—as it went out in the morning and returned at nightfall, should find that he had lost none of them.
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.(14, 15) Behold, the days come, saith the Lord . . .—The words are manifestly a conscious reproduction of Jeremiah 23:5-6. In “I have promised” we may indeed trace a distinct reference to that passage. Once more “the Branch of righteousness” (Isaiah 4:2; Isaiah 11:1)—the coming heir of the throne of David, the true King who is to execute judgment—is put forward, as seen in the vision of the prophet’s hopes.
In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name wherewith she shall be called, The LORD our righteousness.(16) This is the name wherewith she shall be called, The Lord our righteousness.—It will be noticed that, while this reproduces the language of Jeremiah 23:6, it does so with a remarkable difference. There the title, “The Lord our Righteousness,” is given to the future King, and the passage has accordingly been used as a proof of the full divinity of the Christ, who is that King. Here it is given to the city, and, so given, can only mean that that name will be, as it were, the motto and watchword of her being. She will be a city marked by a righteousness which will be the gift of Jehovah; He will inscribe that name on her banners, and. grave it on her portals. It is obvious that this throws light on the meaning of the title as applied to the King.
For thus saith the LORD; David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel;(17) David shall never want a man . . .—The words are hardly more than a repetition of promises like those of 2Samuel 7:16; 1Kings 2:4; Psalm 89:29; Psalm 89:36, but it is here repeated under very different circumstances. Then it had been given when the line of David was in all the freshness of its strength. Now it is uttered when that line seemed on the very point of dying out. The hope of the prophet is, however, inextinguishable. He is certain that the true King will always be of the house of David. It lay almost in the nature of the case that the words of the prophet should find a fulfilment other than that which was present to his thoughts; and that, while he pictured to himself an unbroken succession of sovereigns of David’s line, there was in fact a higher fulfilment in the continuous sovereignty of the Christ as the true Son of David. We have something like an echo of the words in the words of the Angel at the Annunciation (Luke 1:32-33), and it is an echo that interprets them.
Neither shall the priests the Levites want a man before me to offer burnt offerings, and to kindle meat offerings, and to do sacrifice continually.(18) Neither shall the priests the Levites want a man . . .—Here again we have a promise which received a fulfilment other than that which the words appeared to imply, and which doubtless was in the prophet’s thoughts. The Levitical priesthood passed away (Hebrews 7:11), but Christ was made a Priest after the order of Melchizedek; and by virtue of their union with Him, His people became a holy priesthood (Hebrews 10:19-22), offering, not the burnt-offerings and meat-offerings which were figures of the true, but the spiritual sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving (1Peter 2:5), the sacrifice of body, soul, and spirit, which alone was acceptable to God (Romans 12:1).
The special combination, “the priests the Levites,” is not found elsewhere in Jeremiah, but appears in Deuteronomy 17:9; Deuteronomy 18:1; Joshua 3:3; 2Chronicles 30:27; Ezekiel 43:19; Ezekiel 44:15; Isaiah 66:21. As far as it has any special significance, it may indicate either that the priestly character, though not the specific priestly functions, extended to the whole tribe of Levi, or, more probably, that Jeremiah speaks of the Levite-priests of Judah as contrasted with the priests of the “high places,” or such as Jeroboam had made of the lowest of the people.
To kindle meat offerings.—The meat-offering, or minchah, it will be remembered, was of meal and frankincense, not of flesh (Leviticus 2:1-15). It was burnt with fire on the altar, and the fragrant smoke was a “sweet savour unto the Lord.”
And the word of the LORD came unto Jeremiah, saying,(19-22) And the word of the Lord came unto Jeremiah, saying . . .—The new introduction here and in Jeremiah 33:23 indicates a fresh message borne in on the prophet’s mind after an interval of time. In substance it repeats the promise of Jeremiah 33:17-18, but it reproduces them with yet greater solemnity. The covenant of Jehovah with David and with the Levites the priests is placed on the same level of permanence as the ordered succession of day and night. If the old order ultimately gave way to the new, it was only because the new was the transfigured and glorified reproduction of the old. Whatever may have been the thoughts of the prophet, we are authorised in looking for the seed of David and of the Levites in those who, by virtue of their union with Christ, are made both kings and priests unto the Father (Revelation 1:6). Just as the promise to the seed of Abraham is fulfilled in those who are spiritually the children of the faith of Abraham (Romans 9:7-8), so in this sense only can it be true that the seed of David and the Levites shall out number the host of the heaven and the sand of the sea.
Considerest thou not what this people have spoken, saying, The two families which the LORD hath chosen, he hath even cast them off? thus they have despised my people, that they should be no more a nation before them.(24-26) Considerest thou not what this people have spoken . . .—The words that follow have been regarded by many commentators as the taunt of the heathen nations—Chaldæans, Egyptians, Edomites, and others—as they beheld what seemed to them the entire downfall of the kingly and the priestly orders, such as we find put into the lips of the heathen in Ezekiel 35:10; Ezekiel 36:20. The words “this people,” however, used as they are invariably of that to which the prophet himself belonged (Jeremiah 4:10; Jeremiah 5:14; Jeremiah 5:23; Jeremiah 6:19, and elsewhere), and indeed in the hundred or more passages in which the phrase occurs in the Old Testament, lead to a different conclusion. The prophet’s declaration of the steadfastness of God’s covenant was made in answer, not to the taunts of the heathen, but to the despair of Israel, such as had found utterance in the words recorded in Jeremiah 33:10 and Jeremiah 32:43. If the words “thus they have despised my people” seem to favour the former interpretation, it must be remembered that the subject of the verb is not necessarily the same as that of the previous clause, and that the scorn of other nations would be the natural outcome of the despondency into which Israel had fallen; or they might emphasise the fact that the despondency was itself, as it were, suicidal. Those who despised their own nation were despising the people of Jehovah. In contrast with this despondency, the prophet renews his assurance of the permanence of the kingly and priestly lines, and strengthens it by reference to the three great patriarchs of the race, with whom the truth of Jehovah’s promises was identified (Exodus 3:15), and by connecting it with the promise of a return from the captivity. When that return came, it would be the pledge and earnest of the yet greater blessings which were involved in the new and everlasting covenant.