Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
O ye children of Benjamin, gather yourselves to flee out of the midst of Jerusalem, and blow the trumpet in Tekoa, and set up a sign of fire in Bethhaccerem: for evil appeareth out of the north, and great destruction.VI.
(1) The new discourse, or section of a discourse, deals more locally with the coming desolation of Jerusalem.
O ye children of Benjamin.—The city, though claimed as belonging to Judah, was actually on the border of the two tribes, the boundary running through the valley of Ben-Hinnom (Joshua 15:8; Joshua 18:16), and its northern walls were in that of Benjamin. It was natural that the prophet of Anathoth should think and speak of it as connected with his own people.
Blow the trumpet in Tekoa.—i.e., “give the signal for the fugitives to halt, but not till they have reached the southernmost boundary of Judah.” Tekoa was about twelve miles south of Jerusalem (2Chronicles 11:6). The Hebrew presents a play upon the name Tekoa, as nearly identical with its sound is the verb “blow,” and the town is probably mentioned for that reason. The play upon the name is analogous to those that meet us in Micah 1:10-16.
Sign of fire.—Better, signal. The word, though applied to a fire or smoke signal in Judges 20:38; Judges 20:40, does not necessarily imply it. Such signals were, however, in common use in all ancient warfare.
Beth-haccerem.—i.e., the house of the vineyard, halfway on the road from Jerusalem to Tekoa. There, too, the signal was to be raised that the fugitives might gather round it. Jerome states (Comm. on Jeremiah 6) that it was on a mountain, and was known in his time as Bethacharma. It has been identified with the modern Jebel Fureidis, or “Hill of the Franks.”
Evil appeareth out of the north.—Literally, is bending over us, as looking down on its prey. The word is that used of “righteousness looking down from heaven” in Psalm 85:11.
I have likened the daughter of Zion to a comely and delicate woman.(2) To a comely and delicate woman.—“Woman” is not in the Hebrew, and the word translated “comely” is elsewhere (Isaiah 65:10; Jeremiah 23:3; Exodus 15:13) rendered “fold” or “habitation;” and the passage should probably stand thus, I have likened the daughter of Zion to a fair pasturage, thus suggesting the imagery which is developed in the next verse. The clause is, however, rendered by some scholars as the fair and delicate one (or, the fair pasturage), the daughter of Zion, I have destroyed.
The shepherds with their flocks shall come unto her; they shall pitch their tents against her round about; they shall feed every one in his place.(3) Shall come unto her.—Better, Unto it (sc., the pasture) shall come shepherds with their flocks—i.e., the leaders and the armies of the invaders. The other verbs are in the past tense, the future being seen, as it were realised, They have pitched, they have pastured.
Every one in his place.—Literally, each on his hand, or perhaps, “they shall feed, each his hand,” i.e., shall let it rove in plunder at will by the side of his own tent. The work of plunder was to go on everywhere. The imagery is drawn from the attack of a nomadic tribe on a richly-cultivated plain.
Prepare ye war against her; arise, and let us go up at noon. Woe unto us! for the day goeth away, for the shadows of the evening are stretched out.(4) Prepare ye war.—Literally, Sanctify. The opening of the battle was accompanied by sacrifices, divinations, and prayers. Compare Deuteronomy 20:1-3 for the practice of the Israelites, and Ezekiel 21:20-22 for that of the Chaldæans, which was, of course, present to Jeremiah’s mind. The cry thus given with dramatic force comes from the soldiers of the invading army impatient for the fight. They are so eager that, instead of resting at noon, as usual, for their mid-day meal, they would fain press on for the assault. Their orders are against this, and, as the shadows lengthen, they raise their cry of complaint, “Alas for us, the day declines . . .” Then, impatient still, unwilling to wait, as their commanders bid them, for an attack at day-break, they shout, “Let us go by night.”
For thus hath the LORD of hosts said, Hew ye down trees, and cast a mount against Jerusalem: this is the city to be visited; she is wholly oppression in the midst of her.(6) Hew ye down trees, and cast a mount.—The words describe graphically the process of an Eastern siege as seen in the Assyrian bas-reliefs (Layard, Mon. of Nineveh, i. 73-76). Compare 2Samuel 20:15; Job 19:12; Isaiah 29:3; Ezekiel 4:2. First the neighbouring country is cleared by cutting down the trees; next, either by piling earth on these as a timber framework, or using the earth alone, a “mount” (or, in later English, a mound) was raised till it reached the level of the wall of the besieged city; and then the assault was made. The law of Israel forbade, it may be noted, this destruction, but apparently only in the case of fruit-trees (Deuteronomy 20:19-20). There is no adequate ground for the marginal rendering, “pour out the engine of shot.”
Is . . . to be visited.—Literally, is visited, in the sense of “punished,” but Hebrew usage gives to the verb so employed a gerundive force. The words admit, however, of the rendering, this is the city; it is proved that wholly oppression is in the midst of her.
As a fountain casteth out her waters, so she casteth out her wickedness: violence and spoil is heard in her; before me continually is grief and wounds.(7) As a fountain casteth out her waters.—The English is plain enough, but the Hebrew presents two difficulties: (1) The word rendered “fountain” (better, cistern) is not spelt with the usual vowels, and the etymology of the verb is quite uncertain. It has been rendered, As a cistern “gathers” or “keeps in,” or “keeps its waters cool,” or “lets them flow.” The general meaning is probably given by the Authorised Version. Jerusalem was literally “overflowing” with wickedness.
Grief.—Better, sickness. The word and the imagery are the same as in Isaiah 1:5.
Be thou instructed, O Jerusalem, lest my soul depart from thee; lest I make thee desolate, a land not inhabited.(8) Be thou instructed.—Better, Be thou corrected, or, chastened. Comp. Psalm 2:10; Leviticus 26:23 (where we have “reformed”); and Proverbs 29:19.
Lest my soul.—As in Jeremiah 4:19, the Hebrew formula for emphasised personality. The word for “depart” may be better rendered tear itself away.
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall throughly glean the remnant of Israel as a vine: turn back thine hand as a grapegatherer into the baskets.(9) Turn back thine hand.—The image of the grape-gatherer carrying on his work to the last grape or tendril was a natural parable of unsparing desolation. The command is addressed to the minister of destruction, Nebuchadnezzar, or, it may be, to the angel of death.
Into the baskets.—The noun is found here only, and probably means, like a kindred word in Isaiah 18:5, the tendrils of the vine upon which the hand of the gatherer was to be turned.
To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of the LORD is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it.(10) To whom shall I speak . . .?—The prophet, who now speaks in his own name, has heard the message from the Lord of Hosts; but what avails it? who will listen? As elsewhere the lips (Exodus 6:30) and the heart (Leviticus 26:41; Ezekiel 44:7), so here the ear of Israel was uncircumcised, as though it had never been brought into covenant with Jehovah or consecrated to His service.
A reproach.—i.e., the object of their scorn.
Therefore I am full of the fury of the LORD; I am weary with holding in: I will pour it out upon the children abroad, and upon the assembly of young men together: for even the husband with the wife shall be taken, the aged with him that is full of days.(11) I am full of the fury . . .—The prophet feels himself filled, frail vessel as he is, with the righteous wrath of Jehovah. It will not be controlled.
I will pour it out.—Better, as the command coming from the mouth of Jehovah, Pour it out. The words that follow describe the several stages of man’s life, upon all of which that torrent of wrath is to flow forth—the children abroad, i.e., playing in the streets (as in Zechariah 8:5); the assembly, or gathering of young men, whether in their natural mirth (Jeremiah 15:17) or for secret plans (Proverbs 15:22); the husband and wife in full maturity; the “aged,” i.e., the elder, still active as well as venerable; lastly, the man “full of days,” whose time is nearly over and his sand run out.
For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely.(13) Is given to covetousness.—Literally, gained gain. The Hebrew word (as in Genesis 37:26; Job 22:2) does not necessarily involve the idea of dishonest gain, though this (as in Proverbs 1:19; Habakkuk 2:9) is often implied. What the prophet condemns is the universal desire of gain (rem . . . rem . . . quocunque modo rem), sure to lead, as in the second clause, to a gratification of it by fair means or foul.
From the prophet even unto the priest . . .—The two orders that ought to have checked the evil are noted as having been foremost in promoting it. (Comp. Note on Jeremiah 5:31.)
Dealeth falsely.—Literally, worketh a lie, in the sense of “dishonesty.”
They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.(14) They have healed . . . slightly.—Literally, as a thing of nought, a light matter. The words “of the daughter” are in italics, as indicating that the marginal reading of the Hebrew omits them. They are found, however, in the present text.
Peace, peace.—The word is taken almost in the sense of “health,” as in Genesis 43:27-28, and elsewhere. The false prophets were as physicians who told the man suffering from a fatal disease that he was in full health. As the previous words show, the prophet has in his mind the false encouragements given by those who should have been the true guides of the people. Looking at Josiah’s reformation as sufficient to win the favour of Jehovah, they met Jeremiah’s warnings of coming evil by the assurance that all was well, and that invasion and conquest were far-off dangers.
Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore they shall fall among them that fall: at the time that I visit them they shall be cast down, saith the LORD.(15) Were they ashamed . . .?—The Hebrew gives an assertion, not a question—They are brought to shame (as in Jeremiah 2:26), because they have committed abominations. And yet, the prophet adds, “they were not ashamed” (the verb is in a different voice). There was no inward feeling of shame even when they were covered with ignominy and confusion. They had lost the power to blush, and were callous and insensible. This was then, as always, the most hopeless of all states. To “fall among them that fall” was its inevitable sequel.
Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.(16) Stand ye in the ways.—In the prophet’s mind the people were as a traveller who has taken a self-chosen path, and finds that it leads him to a place of peril. Is it not well that they should stop and ask where the old paths (literally, the eternal paths; the words going, as in Jeremiah 18:15, beyond the mere antiquity of the nation’s life) were, on which their fathers had travelled safely. Of these old paths they were to choose that which was most distinctly “the good way,” the way of righteousness, and therefore of peace and health also. The call, however, was in vain. The people chose to travel still in the broad way that led them to destruction.
Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken.(17) Watchmen.—i.e., the sentinels of the army, as in 1Samuel 14:16, giving the signal in this case, not for advance but for retreat (comp. Jeremiah 6:1, and Amos 3:6). The watchmen are, of course (as in Isaiah 52:8; Isaiah 56:10; Ezekiel 3:17; Habakkuk 2:1), the prophets blowing the trumpet of alarm, proclaiming, as in Jeremiah 6:1, the nearness of the invader, and calling on them to flee from the wrath of Jehovah. They call, however, in vain. The people refuse to hearken.
Therefore hear, ye nations, and know, O congregation, what is among them.(18) Therefore hear, ye nations . . .—The obstinate refusal with which the people met the summons of the prophet leads him once more to a solemn appeal (1) to the heathen nations, then (2) to the “congregation” of Israel (as in Exodus and Numbers passim), or, possibly, of mankind collectively, (3) to earth as the witness of the judgments of Jehovah.
What is among them.—Better, what comes to pass for them, i.e., for the sinful people.
To what purpose cometh there to me incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from a far country? your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet unto me.(20) Incense from Sheba.—The land that had a proverbial fame both for gold and frankincense (Isaiah 60:6; Ezekiel 27:22), the thus Sabæum of Virg., Æn. i. 416, 417. So Milton, Par. Lost, 4—
“Sabæan odours from the spicy shores
Of Araby the blest.”
So the Queen of Sheba brought spices and gold (1Kings 10:10).
The sweet cane.—Literally, the good cane, or, as in Exodus 30:23, sweet calamus (comp. Isaiah 43:24; Song of Solomon 4:14), numbered among the ingredients of the Temple incense. The LXX. renders it by “cinnamon.” It came from the “far country” of India The whole passage is a reproduction of the thought of Isaiah 1:11-13.
Therefore thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will lay stumblingblocks before this people, and the fathers and the sons together shall fall upon them; the neighbour and his friend shall perish.(21) And the fathers and the sons together . . .—Better, I give unto this people stumbling blocks, and they shall stumble over them: fathers and sons together, neighbour and his friend, shall perish.
Thus saith the LORD, Behold, a people cometh from the north country, and a great nation shall be raised from the sides of the earth.(22) From the north country . . .—The words point, as in Jeremiah 1:13-15, to the Chaldæan, perhaps, also, to the Scythian, invasion. So the “north quarters” are used in Ezekiel 38:6; Ezekiel 38:15; Ezekiel 39:2 of the home of Gog as the representative of the Scythian tribes.
Shall be raised.—Literally, shall be roused, or awakened.
The sides of the earth.—sc., its ends, or far-off regions.
They shall lay hold on bow and spear; they are cruel, and have no mercy; their voice roareth like the sea; and they ride upon horses, set in array as men for war against thee, O daughter of Zion.(23) Bow and spear.—As before (Jeremiah 5:16), the special weapons of the Chaldæans. The “spear” was a javelin, shot or hurled against the enemy.
Cruel.—The ferocity of the Chaldæans seems to have been exceptional. Prisoners impaled, or flayed alive, or burnt in the furnace (Jeremiah 29:22; Daniel 3:11), were among the common incidents of their wars and sieges.
They ride upon horses.—This appears to have been a novelty to the Israelites, accustomed to the war-chariots of Egypt and their own kings rather than to actual cavalry. (Comp. Jeremiah 8:16; Job 39:21-25; Habakkuk 1:8; Isaiah 30:16.) Both archers and horsemen appear as prominent in the armies of Gog and Magog, i.e., of the Scythians, in Ezekiel 38:4; Ezekiel 39:3.
Set in array . . .—The Hebrew is singular, and implies a new clause. It (the army of bowmen and riders) is set in array as a warrior, for war against thee.
We have heard the fame thereof: our hands wax feeble: anguish hath taken hold of us, and pain, as of a woman in travail.(24) We have heard the fame.—Another dramatic impersonation of the cry of terror from the dwellers in Jerusalem, when they shall hear of the approach of the army. The imagery of the woman in travail is reproduced from Jeremiah 4:31.
Go not forth into the field, nor walk by the way; for the sword of the enemy and fear is on every side.(25) The field.—i.e., the open country. To pass beyond the walls of the beleaguered city would be full of danger. The warning has its parallel in Matthew 24:17-18. In the same chapter we find also an echo of the prophet’s reference to the pangs of childbirth (Matthew 24:8).
Fear is on every side.—The words are more notable than they seem. They impressed themselves on the prophet’s mind, and became to him as a watchword. So, in Jeremiah 20:3, he gives them as a name (Magor-missabib) to Pashur, and apparently (as in Jeremiah 20:10) it was used as a cry of derision against himself.
O daughter of my people, gird thee with sackcloth, and wallow thyself in ashes: make thee mourning, as for an only son, most bitter lamentation: for the spoiler shall suddenly come upon us.(26) Wallow thyself in ashes.—So in Jeremiah 25:34; Ezekiel 27:30. The ordinary sign of mourning was to sprinkle dust or ashes on the head (2Samuel 1:2; 2Samuel 13:19; Joshua 7:6). This, as in Jeremiah 25:34; Micah 1:10; Job 2:8, indicated more utter wretchedness and prostration. The English verb belongs to the class of those which were once used reflexively, and have now come to be intransitive. “Endeavour” supplies another example.
I have set thee for a tower and a fortress among my people, that thou mayest know and try their way.(27) I have set thee . . .—The verse is difficult, as containing words in the Hebrew which are not found elsewhere, and have therefore to be guessed at. The following rendering is given on the authority of the most recent commentators, and has the merit of being in harmony with the metallurgic imagery of the following verses. As a prover of ore I have set thee among my people, and thou shalt know and try their way. The words are spoken by Jehovah to the prophet, and describe his work. By others, the first part of the sentence is rendered as follows: As a prover of ore I have set thee like a fortress, as if with a reference to Jeremiah 1:18, where the same word is used.
They are all grievous revolters, walking with slanders: they are brass and iron; they are all corrupters.(28) Grievous revolters . . .—Literally, rebels of rebels, as a Hebraism for the worst type of rebellion.
Walking with slanders.—The phrase was a common one (Leviticus 19:16; Proverbs 11:13; Proverbs 20:19), and pointed to the restless eagerness of the tale-bearer to spread his falsehoods. (Comp. 1Timothy 5:13, “wandering about . . . idle tattlers.”)
Brass and iron.—Base metals serving for vile uses, no gold or silver in them. The imagery, which carries on the thought of the previous verse, had been made familiar by Isaiah (Isaiah 1:22; Isaiah 1:25), and was reproduced afterwards by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 22:18-22) and Malachi (Malachi 3:3).
Corrupters.—Better, workers of destruction.
The bellows are burned, the lead is consumed of the fire; the founder melteth in vain: for the wicked are not plucked away.(29) The bellows are burned.—Better, burn, or glow. In the interpretation of the parable the “bellows” answer to the life of the prophet as filled with the breath or spirit of Jehovah. He is, as it were, consumed with that fiery blast, and yet his work is faulty.
The lead is consumed . . .—Better, from their fire is lead only. A different punctuation gives, The bellows burn with fire; yet lead is the only outcome. The point lies in the fact that lead was used as a flux in smelting silver ore. The founder in the case supposed went on with his work till the lead was melted, but he found no silver after all.
Plucked away.—Better, separated or purified, as in keeping with the metaphor.
Reprobate silver shall men call them, because the LORD hath rejected them.(30) Reprobate silver.—Better, as in the margin, refuse silver; the dross and not the metal; so worthless that even Jehovah, as the great refiner, rejects it utterly, as yielding nothing. The adjective and the verb have in the Hebrew the emphasis of being formed from the same root, Refuse silver . . . because Jehovals had refused them.