Jeremiah 8:17
For, behold, I will send serpents, cockatrices, among you, which will not be charmed, and they shall bite you, saith the LORD.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(17) Serpents, cockatrices.—There is a sudden change of figure, one new image of terror starting from the history of the fiery serpents of Numbers 21:6, or, possibly, from the connection of Dan with the “serpent” and “adder” in Genesis 49:17. It is not easy to identify the genus and species of the serpents of the Bible. Here the two words are in apposition. “Cockatrice,” however, cannot be right, that name belonging, as an English word, to legendary zoology. The Vulg. gives “basilisk.” In Proverbs 23:32 it is translated by “adder.” In any case it implies a hissing venomous snake (probably the cerastes or serpens regulus), and the symbolism which identified it with the Assyrian or Chaldæan power had already appeared in Isaiah 14:29.

Which will not be charmed.—The figure is that of Psalm 58:4-5. The “deaf adder” that “refuseth to hear the voice of the charmer” represents an implacable enemy waging a pitiless war. Serpent-charming, as in the case of the Egyptian sorcerers (Exodus 7:11), seems to have been from a very early time, as it is now, both in Egypt and India, one of the most prominent features of the natural magic of the East.

Jeremiah 8:17. For behold, I send serpents, &c., which shall not be charmed — Such enemies as you shall not be able to soften by any entreaties you can use. That some persons possessed the faculty of rendering serpents harmless, is a fact too well attested by historians and travellers to admit of contradiction: but by what means this effect was produced is not quite so clear. Pliny speaks of certain herbs which, being carried about, prevented the bite of serpents, Nat. Hist., lib. 20. sec. 16, lib. 22. sec. 25. Others tell surprising, but not altogether incredible stories, of the influence of musical sounds. See Shaw’s Travels, p. 429; and Sir John Chardin’s MS., cited by Harmer, chap. Jeremiah 8:14. In this same MS. the author remarks, that “those who know how to tame serpents by their charms are wont commonly to break out their teeth; and supposes this to be alluded to, Psalm 58:6, Break their teeth, O God, in their mouths.” But whatever were the methods commonly practised to charm serpents, the enemies of the Jews are here compared to such serpents as were not to be mollified nor disarmed by any of those means. They shall bite you, saith the Lord — See Blaney, and note on Psalm 58:5.

8:14-22 At length they begin to see the hand of God lifted up. And when God appears against us, every thing that is against us appears formidable. As salvation only can be found in the Lord, so the present moment should be seized. Is there no medicine proper for a sick and dying kingdom? Is there no skilful, faithful hand to apply the medicine? Yes, God is able to help and to heal them. If sinners die of their wounds, their blood is upon their own heads. The blood of Christ is balm in Gilead, his Spirit is the Physician there, all-sufficient; so that the people may be healed, but will not. Thus men die unpardoned and unchanged, for they will not come to Christ to be saved.I will send - Or, am sending. No prophet changes his metaphors so suddenly as Jeremiah. The invading army is now compared to snakes, whom no charming can soothe, and whose bite is fatal. Compare Numbers 21:5-6.

Cockatrices - "Vipers." See Isaiah 11:8 note.

17. I—Jehovah.

cockatrices—basilisks (Isa 11:8), that is, enemies whose destructive power no means, by persuasion or otherwise, can counteract. Serpent-charmers in the East entice serpents by music, and by a particular pressure on the neck render them incapable of darting (Ps 58:4, 5).

He proceeds in increasing of their terror: q.d. There will be no appeasing or allaying of their fury by any art or method; therefore represented by the cockatrice, called in Latin regulus, or king of serpents, as putting to flight all other serpents; but by apposition to

serpents, showing what kind of serpent they shall be, a sort that cannot be charmed, viz. such an enemy as by no entreaty can be made exorable: see on Isaiah 11:8. LXX. deadly serpents. They shall bite you; they shall afflict you with sore punishments, not only stings in their tails, as scorpions, but in their teeth, whereby they shall devour you, Jeremiah 8:16.

For, behold, I will send serpents, cockatrices, among you,.... The Chaldeans, comparable to these noxious and hurtful creatures, because of the mischief they should do unto them. The Targum is,

"for, lo, I will raise up against you people that kill as the destroying serpents.''

These were raised up by the Lord, and sent by him, just as he sent fiery serpents among the Israelites in the wilderness, when they sinned against him; there literally, here metaphorically.

Which will not be charmed: Jarchi says, at the end of seventy years a serpent becomes a cockatrice, and stops its ear, that it will not hearken to the voice of the charmer, according to Psalm 58:4, the meaning is, that these Chaldeans would not be diverted from their purposes in destroying of the Jews by any arts or methods whatever; as not by force of arms, so not by good words and entreaties, or any way that could be devised.

And they shall bite you, saith the Lord; that is, kill them, as the Targum interprets it; for the bite of a serpent is deadly.

For, behold, I will {m} send serpents, cockatrices, among you, which will not be charmed, and they shall bite you, saith the LORD.

(m) God threatens to send the Babylonians among them who will utterly destroy them in such sort, as by no means they will escape.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
17. basilisks] better (mg.) adders, for the basilisk was only fabulous. The creature here meant cannot be identified with certainty. See conjectures in Dr., pp. 351 f. No art of the charmer will avail against the foe here figured. The serpent-charming art is still kept up in the East. It is supposed that the sharp shrill sounds which the charmers produce by their voice or an instrument are the means by which the desired result is reached. They also “repeatedly breathe strongly into the face of the serpent and occasionally blow spittle, or some medicated composition upon them.” Thomson, op. cit. p. 154.

18–9:1. See summary at commencement of section.

Verse 17. - A new image to intensify the impression of dreadfulness. Serpents, cockatrices; rather, serpents (even) basilisks. The second noun is in apposition to the more general "serpents." "Basilisks" (Serpentes regulos) are the renderings of Aquila and the Vulgate. Some species of highly venomous serpent is clearly intended; more than this we cannot say. The root probably means "to hiss." Canon Tristram thinks of "a very beautifully marked yellow serpent, and the largest of the vipers found in the Holy Land," called the Daboia xantheina. He adds that it is one of the most dangerous ('Nat. Hist. of Palestine,' p. 275). Jeremiah 8:17The terribleness of these enemies is heightened by a new figure. They are compared to snakes of the most venomous description, which cannot be made innocuous by any charming, whose sting is fatal. "Vipers" is in apposition to "serpents;" serpents, namely basilisks. צפעני is, acc. to Aq. and Vulg. on Isaiah 11:8, serpens regulus, the basilisk, a small and very venomous species of viper, of which there is no charming. Cf. for the figure, Cant. 10:11; and fore the enemies' cruelty thereby expressed, cf. Jeremiah 6:23; Isaiah 13:18.
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