The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(1) The word which came to Jeremiah.—The message that follows comes in close sequence upon that of the preceding chapter, i.e., probably before the fourth year of the reign of Jehoiakim. It has the character of a last warning to king and people, and its rejection is followed in its turn by the more decisive use of the same symbol in Jeremiah 19Jeremiah 18:1-4. The word which came to Jeremiah, &c. — We have here the beginning of a new discourse of Jeremiah, which, if introduced in its proper place, as we have reason to think it is, was probably also, as well as the foregoing, delivered in some part of the first three years of Jehoiakim’s reign. Arise, and go down to the potter’s house — Some well-known place where pots were made; and there I will cause thee to hear my words — I will further reveal my mind to thee, that thou mayest make it known to this people. God has frequently condescended to teach us his will by very familiar and striking images. Then I went, &c. — Not being disobedient to the heavenly vision. And behold he wrought a work on the wheels — Hebrew, על האבנים, literally, upon the stones. Thus also the LXX., επι των λιθων. “There can be no doubt,” says Blaney, “that the machine is intended on which the potters formed their earthen vessels; and the appellation, οι λιθοι, the stones, will appear very proper, if we consider this machine as consisting of a pair of circular stones placed one upon another like millstones; of which the lower was immoveable, but the upper one turned upon the foot of a spindle or axis, and had motion communicated to it by the feet of the potter sitting at his work; as may be learned from Sir 38:29. Upon the top of this upper stone, which was flat, the clay was placed, which the potter, having given the stone the due velocity, formed into shape with his hand.” And the vessel that he made of clay — Hebrew, כחמר, as clay, that is, while it was yet clay, was marred, was spoiled in the potter’s hand, so that he did not think fit to go on with his design, as to the form of the vessel, but turned the same clay into a vessel of another form: as he judged best. Nothing can more strongly represent the absolute dominion God has over us than this image of the potter fashioning his clay into what form or vessel he pleased.Jeremiah 18, the fate of Jerusalem was still undetermined; a long line of kings might yet reign there in splendor, and the city be inhabited forever. This was possible only so long as it was still undecided whether Josiah's efforts would end in a national reformation or not, and before Jehoiakim threw the weight of the kingly office into the opposite balance. In the present prophecy mercy is still offered to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but they reject it Jeremiah 18:11-12. They have made their final choice: and thereupon follows the third prophecy of "the broken vessel" Jeremiah 19:1-15 in which the utter overthrow of city and kingdom is foretold. We should thus place this prophecy of the potter very early in the reign of Jehoiakim; and that of the broken vessel at the commencement of his fourth year. This internal evidence is confirmed by external proof.
Jer 18:1-23. God, as the Sole Sovereign, Has an Absolute Right to Deal with Nations According to Their Conduct towards Him; Illustrated in a Tangible Form by the Potter's Moulding of Vessels from Clay.By the parable of a potter God’s absolute power in disposing of nations is set forth, Jeremiah 18:1-10. Judah’s unparalleled revolt, and her judgments, Jeremiah 18:11-17. The prophet prayeth against his conspirators, Jeremiah 18:18-23.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Verses 1-6. - The simple and familiar craft of the potter becomes a parable of religious truth (comp. Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 45:9; Isaiah 64:8; Ecclus 33:13; Romans 9:20; and the account of man's creation in Genesis 2:7, which has doubtless given rise to the figure). God has the sovereign right to do as he wills with his own handiwork; thus much can be expressed by the figure. But the moral element in Jeremiah's teaching stands outside this, viz. that the Divine action is governed, not by mere caprice, but a regard for character. "The thought is not so much the arbitrariness as the patience of God, who will bring men to be what he would have them be in the end, as the potter eventually twists the clay to the shape he originally intended, stubborn as the clay may be." But whether Jeremiah meant the lesson which Mr. Maurice deduces from his words may be gravely doubted. It is not of individuals that the prophet is thinking, but of the nation, and not of the nation as destined to be all but certainly saved, but as placed before a serious and awful decision. (For different lessons derived from the same figure, see the ' Rabbi Ben Ezra' of Browning.) Egypt and Palestine were, as it seems, at one in the extreme simplicity of the potter's art. Dr. Birch has given us an account of the Egyptian potter at his work, as he appears in the pictorial representations at Beni Hassan ('Ancient Pottery,' pp. 33-35), and Dr. Thomson has described the procedure of a potter in modern Palestine ('The Land and the Book,' p. 520). The chief difference between them seems to be that in Egypt the wheel was turned with the left hand, and the vase shaped with the right, while in modern Palestine the wheel is turned with the fool "Taking a lump in his hand," says Dr. Thomson, "he placed it on the top of the wheel (which revolves horizontally), and smoothed it into a low cone, like the upper end of a sugar-loaf; then thrusting his thumb into the top of it, he opened a hole down through the center, and this he constantly widened by pressing the edges of the revolving cone between his hands. As it enlarged and became thinner, he gave it whatever shape he pleased with the utmost ease and expedition." It should be observed that in ver. 3 the "wheels," or rather "two wheels," spoken of are simply the two round plates which formed the horizontal lathe of the potter. Jeremiah 17:19. "Thus said Jahveh unto me: Go and stand in the gate of the sons of the people, by which the kings of Judah come in and by which they go out, and in all gates of Jerusalem, Jeremiah 17:20. And say unto them: Hear the word of Jahveh, ye kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all inhabitants of Jerusalem, that go in by these gates: Jeremiah 17:21. Thus hath Jahveh said: Take heed for your souls, and bear no burden on the Sabbath-day, and bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem. Jeremiah 17:22. And carry forth no burden out of your houses on the Sabbath-day, and do no work, and hallow the Sabbath-day, as I commanded your fathers. Jeremiah 17:23. But they hearkened not, neither inclined their ear, and made their neck stiff, that they might not hear nor take instruction. Jeremiah 17:24. But if ye will really hearken unto me, saith Jahveh, to bring in no burden by the gates of the city on the Sabbath-day, and to hallow the Sabbath-day, to do no work thereon, Jeremiah 17:25. Then shall there go through the gates of the city kings and princes, who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, ad this city shall be inhabited for ever. Jeremiah 17:26. And they shall come from the cities of Judah and the outskirts of Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin and from the lowland, from the hill-country and from the south, that bring burnt-offering and slain-offering, meat-offering and incense, and that bring praise into the house of Jahveh. Jeremiah 17:27. But if ye hearken not to me, to hallow the Sabbath-day, and not to bear a burden, and to come into the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath-day, then will I kindle fire in her gates, so that it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and not be quenched."
The introduction, Jeremiah 17:19, shows that this passage has, in point of form, but a loose connection with what precedes. It is, however, not a distinct and independent prophecy; for it wants the heading, "The word of Jahveh which came," etc., proper to all the greater discourses. Besides, in point of subject-matter, it may very well be joined with the preceding general reflections as to the springs of mischief and of well-being; inasmuch as it shows how the way of safety appointed to the people lies in keeping the decalogue, as exemplified in one of its fundamental precepts. - The whole passage contains only God's command to the prophet; but the execution of it, i.e., the proclamation to the people of what was commanded, is involved in the nature of the case. Jeremiah is to proclaim this word of the Lord in all the gates of Jerusalem, that it may be obeyed in them all. The locality of the gate of the sons of the people is obscure and difficult to determine, that by which the kings of Judah go and come. בּני עם seems to stand for בּני העם, as the Keri would have it. In Jeremiah 25:23 and 2 Kings 23:6, "sons of the people" means the common people as opposed to the rich and the notables; in 2 Chronicles 35:5, 2 Chronicles 35:7., the people as opposed to the priests and Levites, that is, the laity. The first sig. of the phrase seems here to be excluded by the fact, that the kings come and go by this gate; for there is not the smallest probability that a gate so used could have borne the name of "gate of the common people." But we might well pause to weigh the second sig. of the word, if we could but assume that it was a gate of the temple that was meant. Ng. concludes that it was so, on the ground that we know of no city gate through which only the kings and the dregs of the people were free to go, or the kings and the mass of their subjects, to the exclusion of the priests. But this does not prove his point; for we are not informed as to the temple, that the kings and the laity were permitted to go and come by one gate only, while the others were reserved for priests and Levites. Still it is much more likely that the principal entrance to the outer court of the temple should have obtained the name of "people's gate," or "laymen's gate," than that a city gate should have been so called; and that by that "people's gate" the kings also entered into the court of the temple, while the priests and Levites came and went by side gates which were more at hand for the court of the priests. Certainly Ng. is right when he further remarks, that the name was not one in general use, but must have been used by the priests only. On the other hand, there is nothing to support clearly the surmise that the gate יסוד, 2 Chronicles 23:5, was so called; the east gate of the outer court is much more likely. We need not be surprised at the mention of this chief gate of the temple along with the city gates; for certainly there would be always a great multitude of people to be found at this gate, even if what Ng. assumes were not the case, that by the sale and purchase of things used in the temple, this gate was the scene of a Sabbath-breaking trade. But if, with the majority of comm., we are to hold that by "people's gate" a city gate was meant, then we cannot determine which it was. Of the suppositions that it was the Benjamin-gate, or the well-gate, Nehemiah 2:14 (Maur.), or the gate of the midst which led through the northern wall of Zion from the upper city into the lower city (Hitz.), or the water-gate, Nehemiah 3:26 (Graf), each is as unfounded as another. From the plural: the kings of Judah (Jeremiah 17:20), Hitz. infers that more kings than one were then existing alongside one another, and that thus the name must denote the members of the royal family. But his idea has been arbitrarily forced into the text. The gates of the city, as well as of the temple, did not last over the reign of but one king, Jeremiah 17:21. השּׁמר בּנפשׁות, to take heed for the souls, i.e., take care of the souls, so as not to lose life (cf. Malachi 2:15), is a more pregnant construction than that with ל, Deuteronomy 4:15, although it yields the same sense. Ng. seeks erroneously to explain the phrase according to 2 Samuel 20:10 (נשׁמר בּחרב, take care against the sword) and Deuteronomy 24:8, where השּׁׁמר ought not to be joined at all with בּנגע. The bearing of burdens on the Sabbath, both into the city and out of one's house, seems to point most directly at market trade and business, cf. Nehemiah 13:15., but is used only as one instance of the citizens' occupations; hence are appended the very words of the law: to do no work, Exodus 12:16; Exodus 20:10; Deuteronomy 5:14, and: to hallow the Sabbath, namely, by cessation from all labour, cf. Jeremiah 17:24. The remark in Jeremiah 17:23, that the fathers have already transgressed God's law, is neither contrary to the aim in view, as Hitz. fancies, nor superfluous, but serves to characterize the transgression censured as an old and deeply-rooted sin, which God must at length punish unless the people cease therefrom. The description of the fathers' disobedience is a verbal repetition of Jeremiah 7:26. The Chet. שׁומע cannot be a participle, but is a clerical error for שׁמוע (infin. constr. with (scriptio plena), as in Jeremiah 11:10 and Jeremiah 19:15. See a similar error in Jeremiah 2:25 and Jeremiah 8:6. On "nor take instruction," cf. Jeremiah 2:30.
In the next verses the observance of this commandment is enforced by a representation of the blessings which the hallowing of the Sabbath will bring to the people (Jeremiah 17:24-26), and the curse upon its profanation (Jeremiah 2:27). If they keep the Sabbath holy, the glory of the dynasty of David and the prosperity of the people will acquire permanence, and Jerusalem remain continually inhabited, and the people at large will bring thank-offerings to the Lord in His temple. Hitz., Graf, and Ng. take objection to the collocation: kings and princes (Jeremiah 2:25), because princes do not sit on the throne of David, nor can they have other "princes" dependent on them, as we must assume from the "they and their princes." But although the ושׂרים be awanting in the parallel, Jeremiah 22:4, yet this passage cannot be regarded as the standard; for whereas the discourse in Jeremiah 22 is addressed to the king, the present is to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, or rather the people of Judah. The ושׂרים is subordinate to the kings, so that the sitting on the throne of David is to be referred only to the kings, the following ושׂריהם helping further to define them. "Riding" is to be joined both with "in chariots" and "on horses," since רכב means either driving or riding. The driving and riding of the kings and their princes through the gates of Jerusalem is a sign of the undiminished splendour of the rule of David's race.
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