Jeremiah 2:20
For of old time I have broken your yoke, and burst your bands; and you said, I will not transgress; when on every high hill and under every green tree you wander, playing the harlot.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(20) I have broken thy yoke.—Better, with the LXX. and Vulg., thou hast broken thy yokei.e., cast off all allegiance and restraint. The Authorised Version, which follows the received Hebrew reading, may, however, be understood as referring to the deliverance of Israel from their Egyptian bondage.

Thou saidst, I will not transgress—Perhaps, following a various reading adopted by the LXX., Vulg., and Luther, I will not serve. The words so taken paint vividly the wilful defiance of the rebellious nation. It threw off its allegiance. If we retain the Authorised version rendering, it would be better to take the verb in the present, I transgress not, as expressing a like defiance.

When.—Better, for, as giving an illustration of the rebellious temper. The “high hill” and the “green tree” point to the localities of idol-worship—the “high places” that meet us so frequently in 1 and 2 Kings, the “tops of the mountains,” and the “oaks and poplars and elms” of Hosea 4:13. Tree-worship in Judæa, as elsewhere, appears to have exercised a wonderful power of fascination, and though the word translated “grove” (Asherah) has not that meaning, it was probably connected with the same cultus.

Playing the harlot.—Literally, laying thyself down. The idolatrous prostration was as an act of spiritual prostitution, often, as in the orgiastic worship of Baal and Ashtaroth, united with actual impurity.

Jeremiah 2:20-21. For of old time I have broken thy yoke — That is, I have delivered thee from the bondage and tyranny that thou wast under, of old time, in Egypt; as also divers times besides. See the book of Judges. And burst thy bands — Alluding either to the bands and fetters with which prisoners were wont to be bound, Jeremiah 40:4, or those bands wherewith yokes were usually fastened upon the necks of beasts. And thou saidst, I will not transgress — When the deliverance was fresh, thou didst form good resolutions. This translation is according to the marginal reading of the Masoretes; but in the Hebrew text, confirmed by the LXX., Syriac, and Vulgate, we read לא אעבוד, I will not serve, namely, Jehovah. According to this reading, which seems very just and unexceptionable, and is approved by Houbigant and Dr. Waterland, the meaning of the passage is, that even after the Jews had been freed, by God, from their Egyptian bondage, and admitted into an immediate covenant and alliance with him, they had been guilty of the utmost ingratitude in refusing obedience to the divine law, and particularly in respect to the prohibition of idolatry. When upon every high hill, and under every green tree, &c. — Alluding to their worshipping their idols upon the hills, and under the trees; thou wanderest, playing the harlot — Worshipping false gods. As idolatry is frequently called whoredom in the Scripture language, so the prophet describes the Israelites under the image of a strolling harlot, seeking for lovers wherever she can, without any shame. Yet I planted thee a noble vine — Hebrew, the vine of Sorek; concerning which see note on Isaiah 5:2. Israel is here compared to a shoot, or branch, taken from a generous or good vine, and transferred to another soil, where it degenerates. Wholly a right seed — Without any mixture; the offspring of those true believers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: and the laws which I gave thee, and the means of grace which I afforded thee, were sufficient to have made thee fruitful in every good work. How then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine? — That is, one which has degenerated from the nature of the vine whence it was taken, and bears worse fruit than that did. The constitution of the Israelitish government, both in church and state, was excellent; their laws righteous, and all their ordinances instructive, and very significant; and there was a generation of good men among them, when they first settled in Canaan. For we learn, Joshua 24:31, that Israel served the Lord, and kept close to him, all the days of Joshua, and of the elders that outlived Joshua. They were then wholly a right seed, likely to replenish the vineyard they were planted in with choice vines: but it proved otherwise; the very next generation knew not the Lord, nor the works that he had done, Jdg 2:10, and they grew worse and worse, till they became the degenerate plant of a strange vine — The very reverse of what they were at first. Their constitution was now quite broken, and there was nothing in them of that good which one might have expected from a people so happily formed; nothing of the purity or piety of their ancestors; but their vine was, according to Moses’s prediction, as the vine of Sodom.2:20-28 Notwithstanding all their advantages, Israel had become like the wild vine that bears poisonous fruit. Men are often as much under the power of their unbridled desires and their sinful lusts, as the brute beasts. But the Lord here warns them not to weary themselves in pursuits which could only bring distress and misery. As we must not despair of the mercy of God, but believe that to be sufficient for the pardon of our sins, so neither must we despair of the grace of God, but believe that it is able to subdue our corruptions, though ever so strong.Transgress - Rather, as in marg. If the "yoke" and "bands" refer to the slavery in Egypt from which Yahweh freed Israel, the sense is - "For of old time I Yahweh broke thy yoke, I burst thy bands," not that thou mightest be free to do thy own will, but that thou mightest serve me: "and thou saidst, I will not serve."

When ... - "For ... under every leafy tree thou" layest thyself down as a harlot. The verb indicates the eagerness with which she prostrates herself before the objects of her idolatrous worship.

20. I—the Hebrew should be pointed as the second person feminine, a form common in Jeremiah: "Thou hast broken," &c. So the Septuagint, and the sense requires it.

thy yoke … bands—the yoke and bands which I laid on thee, My laws (Jer 5:5).

transgress—so the Keri, and many manuscripts read. But the Septuagint and most authorities read, "I will not serve," that is, obey. The sense of English Version is, "I broke thy yoke (in Egypt)," &c., "and (at that time) thou saidst, I will not transgress; whereas thou hast (since then) wandered (from Me)" (Ex 19:8).

hill … green tree—the scene of idolatries (De 12:2; Isa 57:5, 7).

wanderest—rather, "thou hast bowed down thyself" (for the act of adultery: figurative of shameless idolatry, Ex 34:15, 16; compare Job 31:10).

Of old time I have broken thy yoke, i.e. the bondage and tyranny that thou wert under in old time in Egypt, as also divers times besides, as appears through the Book of Judges. The Hebrew elam, that signifies everlasting, is sometimes used for a long time to come, and also for a long time past; so here, and Genesis 6:4 Isaiah 57:11.

And burst thy bands; a double allusion, either to the bands and fetters with which prisoners are wont to be bound, Jeremiah 40:4, or those bands wherewith the ends of the yoke of beasts were wont to be bound. See Poole "Isaiah 58:6".

Thou saidst, I will not transgress; when the deliverance was fresh, thou didst put on good resolutions. Heb.

serve, i.e. serve or worship idols: the word is of the feminine gender, because God speaks of his people as of a woman promising faithfulness, but breaking covenant. Some understand thee; I will not serve time, q.d. which thou madest appear,

when upon every hill, & c. And thus he accuseth them of their ingratitude, who owed themselves to their Redeemer. But this doth not so well agree with their engagement, Exodus 19:8. When; or, notwithstanding all thy promises.

Upon every high hill: idolaters were wont to sacrifice upon the tops of high hills, because there they thought themselves nearer heaven; nay, some have esteemed high hills to be gods, as the Indians of Peru at this day.

Under every green tree: under these shades idolaters thought there lay some hidden deity, with which they conversed.

Thou wanderest, viz. changing thy way to gad after idols, as one that hast broken covenant. See on Isaiah 57:8. The word properly signifies to go from one’s place, as harlots use to do, instigated either by unbridled lust, or covetousness; i.e. making great haste from one tree to another, or from one idol to another. See Jeremiah 2:23,24. Others, thou liest down, or, thou settest thyself.

Playing the harlot; committing idolatry, which is a spiritual harlotry, Jeremiah 3:1,2. This is frequent. Some read the former part of the text otherwise, making it the daring boast of the people, Thou hast said, I have broken, &c. and saidst, I will not serve, i.e. I will not obey. But this will not suit well with the rest of the text. For of old time I have broken thy yoke, and burst thy bands,.... The yoke of the people, as the Targum expresses it, that was upon their necks, and the bands in which they were bound by them; referring to the deliverance of them of old from Egyptian bondage by the hands of Moses, and out of their several captivities among their neighbours by the means of the judges, and in their time; though the Vulgate Latin version renders it, "of old thou hast broken my yoke, and burst my bands"; or "thy yoke", and "thy bands", as the Septuagint and Arabic versions; the yoke of the law that the Lord put upon them, and the bands of statutes and ordinances which he enjoined them; but the former sense is best:

and thou saidst, I will not transgress; here is a double reading; the Cetib or writing is "I will not serve"; which is followed by the Vulgate Latin, which so renders it; and by the Septuagint version, "I will not serve thee"; and which is the sense of the Arabic version, "I will not subject myself", that is, to the law and will of God; and so the Syriac version, though to a quite different sense, "I will serve no other god any more": which agrees with the Keri or reading, which is "I will not transgress"; and this is confirmed by the Targum, which paraphrases the words thus,

"and ye said, we will not add any more to transgress thy word;''

and by Jarchi and Kimchi, who interpret it of transgressing the words and commands of God; both have one and the same sense. For whether it be read, "I will not serve"; the meaning is, as Kimchi observes, "I will not serve idols"; or no other god, as the Syriac version: or whether, "I will not transgress"; that is, the command of the Lord, by serving other gods. Hillerus (p) reconciles the writing and reading after this manner, rendering , "I will not serve", and , "I will not pass", to servitude; though, in another place (q) "I will not pass over", that is, the rivers of Tigris and Euphrates with the captives; and refers to Micah 1:11, but doubtless reference is had to the promise of obedience and service, which the Israelites made at Mount Sinai quickly after their deliverance out of Egypt, Exodus 19:8, but this promise they did not keep: "when", or "for", or "but", or "although" (r),

upon every high hill, and under every green tree, thou wanderest, playing the harlot; that is, committing spiritual whoredom or idolatry with idols, set on high hills and mountains, and under green trees, groves, and shady places; going from one idol to another, as harlots go from one stew to another; or as whoremongers go from harlot to harlot.

(p) De Arcano Kethib & Keri, p. 27, 28. (q) Ib. p. 89, 90. (r) "nam", Vatablus, Pagninus, Montanus, Cocceius; "atqui", Calvin, Gataker; "quamvis", Piscator.

For of old time I have broken thy yoke, and burst thy bands; and thou saidst, {f} I will not transgress; when upon every high hill and under every green tree thou wanderest, playing the harlot.

(f) When I delivered you out of Egypt, Ex 19:8, De 5:27, Jos 24:16, Ezr 10:12, He 8:6.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
20. I have broken thy yoke, and burst thy bands] mg. thou hast is doubtless right. So LXX and Vulg. The identity of the archaic form of the pronominal ending for the 2nd person fem. with the ordinary 1st person sing. sufficiently accounts for the error. Israel’s rebellion is of long standing.

serve] The other reading, transgress, is no doubt later and formed by a very slight change in one of the letters of the verb in the original, which was made probably in consequence of the preceding verbs being taken to be in the 1st person.

didst bow thyself] The reference is to the rendering of idolatrous worship, renouncing of allegiance to the true God Who has espoused the people to Himself, and readiness to indulge in the gross immoralities of non-Israelitish cults. The passage appears to be an echo of Hosea 4:13 f. (cp. Amos 2:7), and the charge made in the last part not to be merely a metaphor denoting unfaithfulness to their Divine Spouse. The danger involved in retaining the places of worship which the heathen inhabitants had used is indicated by the command in Deuteronomy 12:2 f.Verse 20. - Here a new section begins. I have broken... burst. This is, grammatically, a possible rendering, but inconsistent with the second person in thou saidst, unless indeed (with Ewald) we suppose that something has fallen out of the text between the first and the second clauses of the verse. The best critics, except Ewald and Dr. Payne Smith, are agreed that we should follow the Septuagint and Vulgate in rendering "thou hast broken... (and) burst." This does not, strictly speaking, imply a new reading of the text, for ti was the old form of the suffix of the 2nd pers. fem, sing.; there is a precisely similar case in Micah 4:13. It is a true description of the history of Israel before the exile. It would almost seem as if there was a fusion of two races among the Israelites, and that the smaller but nobler stock supplied all the great men in the sphere of religion; just as in Florence, most of the men who have illustrated her annals bear names of Teutonic origin. So we might argue, if we wished to explain the Biblical history from purely natural causes. But God (to apply the Caliph Omar's words) "knoweth his own." Bands (see on Jeremiah 5:5). I will not transgress. This is the translation of the marginal reading in the Hebrew Bible, which, though implied also in the Targum, is probably a conjecture of the Jewish critics. The text reading (also that of the Septuagint and the Syriac) is, "I will not serve," (equivalent to "I will not be a slave any longer"). Obviously this does not harmonize with the rendering "I have broken," etc., in the first clause (unless, with Dr. Payne Smith, we explain "I will not serve" as virtually equivalent to "I will still serve my idol-gods"); hence the Jewish critics, by just adding a κέραια (Matthew 5:18), changed "serve" into "transgress." They did not venture to alter the next clause, which, quite as much as the first, presupposes the reading "serve" (see next note). When - rather, for - upon every high hill, etc. Bare, treeless heights were favorite spots for sacrifices, especially for Baal; groves, and leafy trees, in general, for the lascivious rites of Asherah and Ashtoreth. The apparently extreme statement of the prophet is not to be minimized. Travelers still tell us of vestiges of ancient and doubtless pro-Christian idolaters worship still visible on almost every attractive spot in the open country in Palestine. Under every green tree. We have no single word to convey the "fluid" meaning of this expressive word. It combines, in fact, the senses of pliant, sappy, leafy (comp. note on Jeremiah 11:16). Thou wanderest; rather, thou wast stretching thyself out. By this double sin Israel has drawn on its own head all the evil that has befallen it. Nevertheless it will not cease its intriguing with the heathen nations. Jeremiah 2:14. "Is Israel a servant? is he a home-born slave? why is he become a booty? Jeremiah 2:15. Against him roared the young lions, let their voice be heard, and made his land a waste; his cities were burnt up void of inhabitants. Jeremiah 2:16. Also the sons of Noph and Tahpanes feed on the crown of thy head. Jeremiah 2:17. Does not this bring it upon thee, thy forsaking Jahveh thy God, at the time when He led thee on the way? Jeremiah 2:18. And now what hast thou to do with the way to Egypt, to drink the waters of the Nile? and what with the way to Assur, to drink the waters of the river? Jeremiah 2:19. Thy wickedness chastises thee, and thy backslidings punish thee; then know and see that it is evil and bitter to forsake Jahveh thy God, and to have no fear of me, saith the Lord Jahveh of hosts." The thought from Jeremiah 2:14-16 is this: Israel was plundered and abused by the nations like a slave. To characterize such a fate as in direct contradiction to its destiny is the aim of the question: Is Israel a servant? i.e., a slave or a house-born serf. עבד is he who has in any way fallen into slavery, יליד בּיתa slave born in the house of his master. The distinction between these two classes of salves does not consist in the superior value of the servant born in the house by reason of his attachment to the house. This peculiarity is not here thought of, but only the circumstance that the son of a salve, born in the house, remained a slave without any prospect of being set free; while the man who has been forced into slavery by one of the vicissitudes of life might hope again to acquire his freedom by some favourable turn of circumstances. Another failure is the attempt of Hitz. to interpret עבד as servant of Jahveh, worshipper of the true God; for this interpretation, even if we take no account of all the other arguments that make against it, is rendered impossible by .יליד That expression never means the son of the house, but by unfailing usage the slave born in the house of his master. Now the people of Israel had not been born as serf in the land of Jahveh, but had become עבד, i.e., slave, in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15); but Jahveh has redeemed it from this bondage and made it His people. The questions suppose a state of affairs that did not exist. This is shown by the next question, one expressing wonder: Why then is he it become a prey? Slaves are treated as a prey, but Israel was no slave; why then has such treatment fallen to his lot? Propheta per admirationem quasi de re nova et absurda sciscitatur. An servus est Israel? atqui erat liber prae cunctis gentibus, erat enim filius primogenitus Dei; necesse est igitur quaerere aliam causam, cur adeo miser sit (Calv.). Cf. the similar turn of the thought in Jeremiah 2:31. How Israel became a prey is shown in Jeremiah 2:15 and Jeremiah 2:16. These verses do not treat of future events, but of what has already happened, and, according to Jeremiah 2:18 and Jeremiah 2:19, will still continue. The imperff. ישׁאגוּ and ירעוּך alternate consequently with the perff. נתנוּ and נצּתה, and are governed by היה לבז, so that they are utterances regarding events of the past, which have been and are still repeated. Lions are a figure that frequently stands for enemies thirsting for plunder, who burst in upon a people or land; cf. Micah 5:7; Isaiah 5:29, etc. Roared עליו, against him, not, over him: the lion roars when he is about to rush upon his prey, Amos 3:4, Amos 3:8; Psalm 104:21; Judges 14:5; when he has pounced upon it he growls or grumbles over it; cf. Isaiah 31:4. - In Jeremiah 2:15 the figurative manner passes into plain statement. They made his land a waste; cf. Jeremiah 4:7; Jeremiah 18:16, etc., where instead of שׁית we have the more ordinary שׂוּם. The Cheth. נצּתה from יצת, not from the Ethiop. נצה (Graf, Hitz.), is to be retained; the Keri here, as in Jeremiah 22:6, is an unnecessary correction; cf. Ew. 317, a. In this delineation Jeremiah has in his eye chiefly the land of the ten tribes, which had been ravaged and depopulated by the Assyrians, even although Judah had often suffered partial devastations by enemies; cf. 1 Kings 14:25.
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