Jeremiah 20:17
Because he slew me not from the womb; or that my mother might have been my grave, and her womb to be always great with me.
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(17) Because he slew me not . . .—The wish that he had never been born is uttered by the prophet in strange, bold language. It would have been better that the messenger that told that he was born had slain him before his birth, that his mother’s womb had been his grave, that she had never had strength to bring him forth. Thought, structure, even grammar are, in their abruptness and irregularities, alike significant of intense emotion.

20:14-18 When grace has the victory, it is good to be ashamed of our folly, to admire the goodness of God, and be warned to guard our spirits another time. See how strong the temptation was, over which the prophet got the victory by Divine assistance! He is angry that his first breath was not his last. While we remember that these wishes are not recorded for us to utter the like, we may learn good lessons from them. See how much those who think they stand, ought to take heed lest they fall, and to pray daily, Lead us not into temptation. How frail, changeable, and sinful is man! How foolish and unnatural are the thoughts and wishes of our hearts, when we yield to discontent! Let us consider Him who endured the contradiction of sinners against himself, lest we should be at any time weary and faint in our minds under our lesser trials.The cry - is the sound of the lamentation Jer 20:8; "the shouting" is the alarm of war. 17. he—"that man" (Jer 20:15, 16).

from the womb—that is, at that time while I was still in the womb.

These various expressions do only let us see to what a tide passion swelled in this good man’s heart, and teach us how much need we have to pray to be delivered from our own passions. Jeremiah’s leaving these things recorded by himself, is one instance of what is brought as a rational argument to prove that only men wrote the Scriptures by inspiration from God, they would never else have recorded their own gross failings, men commonly writing for their own honour, not to their own defamation.

Because he slew me not from the womb,.... As soon as he came out of it; that is, as soon as he was born; either because God slew him not so soon, as Kimchi; or the angel of death, as Jarchi: or rather the man that carried the tidings of his birth to his father, who is all along spoken of in the two former verses; he curses him for not doing that, which, had he done, would have been exceeding criminal in him indeed; for not committing murder, even for not murdering an innocent babe;

or that my mother might have been my grave; he wishes he had died in her womb, and had never been brought forth; and so that had been his grave, where he should have been at ease and safety:

and her womb to be always great with me; or, "her womb an everlasting conception" (m); his wish was, that she had been always conceiving, or ever big with child of him, but never bring forth; which was a more cruel and unnatural wish than the former concerning the man, the carrier of the tidings of his birth; since this was wishing a perpetual, painful, and intolerable evil to his own mother.

(m) "et ejus uterus, conceptus perpetuus", Munster; "et vulva ejus, conceptio perpetua", Pagninus, "et vulva ejus praegnans perpetuo", Vatablus.

Because he slew me not at my birth; or that my mother might have been my grave, and she had not been {k} delivered.

(k) Meaning that the fruit of it might never come to profit.

17. from] better (with LXX), as shewn by the context, in. The consonants which represent the two prepositions were written similarly in Hebrew MSS.

Jeremiah 20:17tells why the curse should fall on that man: because (אשׁר, causal) he slew me not from the womb, i.e., according to what follows: while yet in the womb, and so (ותּהי with ו consec.) my mother would have become my grave. Logically considered, the subject to מותתני can only be the man on whom the curse of Jeremiah 20:15 is pronounced. But how could the man kill the child in the mother's womb? This consideration has given occasion to various untenable renderings. Some have taken "from the womb," according to Job 3:11, in the sense: immediately after birth, simul ac ex utero exiissem (Ros.). This is grammatically fair enough, but it does not fall in with the context; for then the following Vav consec. must be taken as having the negative force "or rather," the negation being repeated in the next clause again (Ros., Graf). Both these cases are grammatically inadmissible. Others would supply "Jahveh" as subject to מותתני, or take the verb as with indefinite subject, or as passive. But to supply "Jahveh" is quite arbitrary; and against the passive construction it must be said that thus the causal nexus, indicated by אשׁר, between the man on whom the curse is to fall and the slaying of the child is done away with, and all connection for the אשׁר with what precedes would be lost. The difficulty arising from simply accepting the literal meaning is solved by the consideration, that the curse is not levelled against any one particular person. The man that was present at the birth, so as to be able to bring the father the news of it, might have killed the child in the mother's womb. Jeremiah is as little thinking how this could happen as, in the next words, he is of the possibility of everlasting pregnancy. His words must be taken rhetorically, not physiologically. That pregnancy is everlasting that has no birth at the end of it. - In Jeremiah 20:18 a reason for the curse is given, in that birth had brought him only a life of hardship and sorrow. To see hardship, i.e., experience, endure it. His days pass away, vanish in shame, i.e., shame at the discomfiture of hopes; for his life-calling produces no fruit, his prophetic work is in vain, since he cannot save his people from destruction.

The curse on the day of birth closes with a sigh at the wretchedness of life, without any hint that he again rises to new joyful faith, and without God's reprimanding him for his discontent as in Jeremiah 11:19. This difficulty the comm. have not touched upon; they have considered only the questions: how at all such a curse in the mouth of a prophet is to be defended; and whether it is in its right place in this connection, immediately after the words so full of hope as Jeremiah 20:11. (cf. Ng.). The latter question we have already discussed art the beginning of the exposition of these verses. As to the first, opinions differ. Some take the curse to be a purely rhetorical form, having no object whatsoever. For, it is said, the long past day of his birth is as little an object on which the curse could really fall, as is the man who told his father of the birth of a son - a man who in all probability never had a real existence (Ng.). To this view, ventured so early as Origen, Cor. a Lap. has justly answered: obstat, quod dies illa exstiterit fueritque creatura Dei; non licet autem maledicere alicui creaturae Dei, sive illa praesens sit sive praeterita. Others, as Calv., espied in this cursing quasi sacrilegum furorem, and try to excuse it on the ground that the principium hujus zeli was justifiable, because Jeremiah cursed the day of his birth not because of personal sufferings, sicknesses, poverty, and the like, but quoniam videret se perdere operam, quum tamen fideliter studeret eam impendere in salutem populi, deinde quum videret doctrinam Dei obnoxiam esse probris et vituperationibus, quum videret impios ita procaciter insurgere, quum videret totam pietatem ita haberi ludibrio. But the sentence passed, that the prophet gravissime peccaverit ut esset contumeliosus in Deu, is too severe one, as is also that of the Berleburg Bible, that "Jeremiah therein stands for an example of warning to all faithful witnesses for the truth, showing that they should not be impatient of the reproach, contempt, derision, and mockery that befall them on that account, if God's long-suffering bears with the mockers so long, and ever delays His judgments." For had Jeremiah sinned so grievously, God would certainly have reproached him with his wrong-doing, as in Jeremiah 15:19. Since that is not here the case, we are not entitled to make out his words to be a beacon of warning to all witnesses for the truth. Certainly this imprecation was not written fore our imitation; for it is doubtless an infirmitas, as Seb. Schm. called it - an outbreak of the striving of the flesh against the spirit. But it should be to us a source of instruction and comfort. From it we should, on the one hand, learn the full weight of the temptation, so that we may arm ourselves with prayer in faith as a weapon against the power of the tempter; on the other hand, we should see the greatness of God's grace, which raises again those that are stumbling to their fall, and does not let God's true servants succumb under the temptation, as we gather from the fact, that the Lord does not cast off His servant, but gives him the needed strength for carrying on the heavy labours of his office. - The difficulty that there is no answer from the Lord to this complaint, neither by way of reprimand nor of consolation, as in Jeremiah 12:5., Jeremiah 15:10, Jeremiah 15:19., is solved when we consider that at his former complainings the Lord had said to him all that was needed to comfort him and raise him up again. A repetition of those promises would have soothed his bitterness of spirit for a time, perhaps, but not permanently. For the latter purpose the Lord was silent, and left him time to conquer from within the temptation that was crushing him down, by recalling calmly the help from God he had so often hitherto experienced in his labours, especially as the time was now not far distant in which, by the bursting of the threatened judgment on Jerusalem and Judah, he should not only be justified before his adversaries, but also perceive that his labour had not been in vain. And that Jeremiah did indeed victoriously struggle against this temptation, we may gather from remembering that hereafter, when, especially during the siege of Jerusalem under Zedekiah, he had still sorer afflictions to endure, he no longer trembles or bewails the sufferings connected with his calling.

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