Jeremiah 15:12
Shall iron break the northern iron and the steel?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(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.

Jeremiah 15:12. Shall iron break the northern iron? — The northern iron is the hardest of any. “It is here,” says Blaney, “justly supposed to denote, in a primary sense, that species of hardened iron, or steel, called in Greek χαλυψ, from the Chalybes, a people bordering on the Euxine sea, and consequently lying to the north of Judea, by whom the art of tempering steel is said to have been discovered. Strabo speaks of this people as known in former times by the name of Chalybes, but afterward called Chaldæi, and mentions their iron mines, lib. 12. p. 549. These, however, were a different people from the Chaldeans who were united with the Babylonians.” “The words, if applied to Jeremiah, import thus much, that, as common iron cannot contend for hardness with the northern iron, or with steel, so the opposition which the Jews made against him should be easily vanquished and disappointed, because the Lord was with him to save him, Jeremiah 15:20. If the words relate to the Jews, as the following verses plainly do, the sense is, that the Chaldeans coming from the north would be as much too hard for them to engage with, as the northern iron was superior in strength to the common metal of that kind.” — Lowth. But perhaps the expression is not merely metaphorical: it is not unlikely that the Babylonians had their armour from the Chalybes, and that therefore it was made of iron much harder, and of much better proof, than that of which the armour of the Jews was formed.15:10-14 Jeremiah met with much contempt and reproach, when they ought to have blessed him, and God for him. It is a great and sufficient support to the people of God, that however troublesome their way may be, it shall be well with them in their latter end. God turns to the people. Shall the most hardy and vigorous of their efforts be able to contend with the counsel of God, or with the army of the Chaldeans? Let them hear their doom. The enemy will treat the prophet well. But the people who had great estates would be used hardly. All parts of the country had added to the national guilt; and let each take shame to itself.The steel - "brass," i. e., bronze. By the "iron" is meant Jeremiah's intercession; but this cannot alter the divine purpose to send Judah into exile, which is firm as steel and brass. For "brass" see Exodus 25:3 note. The alloy of copper and zinc now called brass was entirely unknown to the ancients. 12. steel—rather, brass or copper, which mixed with "iron" (by the Chalybes near the Euxine Pontus, far north of Palestine), formed the hardest metal, like our steel. Can the Jews, hardy like common iron though they be, break the still hardier Chaldees of the north (Jer 1:14), who resemble the Chalybian iron hardened with copper? Certainly not [Calvin]. Henderson translates. "Can one break iron, (even) the northern iron, and brass," on the ground that English Version makes ordinary iron not so hard as brass. But it is not brass, but a particular mixture of iron and brass, which is represented as harder than common iron, which was probably then of inferior texture, owing to ignorance of modern modes of preparation. There is a great variety among interpreters as to this verse also, some interpreting this as a prophecy that none should break the prophet, whom God would make

as the northern iron and steel, which was the hardest of all iron, the Chalybes (from whom steel had its name Chalybs) being northern people, and the most famous of any then known in the world for tempering iron to make it hard and tough; others interpreting it, as denying that there should ever be an agreement betwixt the Jews and the Chaldeans: but to me the words of the next verse seem to give us the sense, that the Jews should certainly be overrun and conquered by the Babylonians; for as the northern iron and steel is the hardest, and no iron could break that, so God having edged and hardened their enemies the Chaldeans, all their opposition to them would signify nothing. Shall iron break the northern iron and the steel? Can iron break iron, especially that which comes from the north, which was harder than the common iron; or steel, the hardest of all? though the Jews were hard as iron, they could not prevail against and overcome Jeremiah, who was made an iron pillar and brasen walls against them, Jeremiah 1:18, and so these words are spoken for his comfort and encouragement: or they may respect the Jews and the Chaldeans; and the sense be, that the Jews, as mighty and as strong as they fancied themselves to be, and boasted that they were, they could not find themselves a match for the Chaldean army, which came out of the north; and may be said to be as hard as the northern iron, which came from the Chalybes, a people in the north, near Pontus, from whom steel has its name in the Latin tongue; and this sense agrees with what follows. Shall {n} iron break the northern iron and the steel?

(n) As for the people, though they seemed strong as iron, yet they would not be able to resist the hard iron of Babylon, but would be led captives.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
12. Also very difficult. No satisfactory emendation has been proposed. If, which is very doubtful, the v. is to be retained as it stands, the speaker is either (a) Jehovah, declaring that the Chaldaean foe shall prevail, or (b) better, Jeremiah, as mg. Can iron break iron from, etc., i.e. can my strength be a match for the overwhelming force of my enemies? “The point of reference to iron from the North is that the best and hardest iron came from the Black Sea.” Pe.Verse 12. - Shall iron break, etc.? Again an enigmatical saying. The rendering of the Authorized Version assumes that by the northern iron Jeremiah means the Babylonian empire. But the "breaking" of the Babylonian empire was not a subject which lay within the thoughts of the prophet. It was not the fate of Babylon, but his own troubled existence, and the possibility that his foes would ultimately succeed in crushing him, which disquieted this conscientious but timid spokesman of Jehovah. The Divine interlocutor has reminded him in the preceding verse of the mercy which has been already extended to him, and now recalls to his recollection the encouraging assurances given him in his inaugural vision (Jeremiah h 18, 19). Render, therefore, Can one break iron, northern iron, and bronze? The steel of the Authorized Version is evidently a slip. The Hebrew word is n'khosheth, which means sometimes (e.g. Jeremiah 6:28; Deuteronomy 8:9; Deuteronomy 33:25; Job 28:2) copper, but more commonly bronze, since "copper unalloyed seems to have been but rarely used after its alloys with tin became known" (Professor Maskelyne). "Steel" would have been more fitly introduced as the second of the three names of metals. "Northern iron" at once suggests the Chalybes, famous in antiquity for their skill in hardening iron, and, according to classical authors (e.g. Stephanus the geographer), the neighbors of the Tibareni, in the country adjoining the Euxine Sea, the Tibareni being, of course, the people of Tubal, whom Ezekiel mentions (Ezekiel 27:13) as trafficking in vessels of bronze. Any Jew, familiar with the wares of the bazaar, would at once appreciate the force of such a question as this. Even if iron could be broken, yet surely not steel nor bronze. Thus the verse simply reaffirms the original promises to Jeremiah, and prepares the way for Vers. 20, 21. The reason of this treatment: because Jerusalem has dishonoured and rejected its God, therefore He now stretched out His hand to destroy it. To go backwards, instead of following the Lord, cf. Jeremiah 7:24. This determination the Lord will not change, for He is weary of repenting. הנּחם frequently of the withdrawal, in grace and pity, of a divine decree to punish, cf. Jeremiah 4:28, Genesis 6:6., Joel 2:14, etc.
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