Jeremiah 8:8
How do ye say, We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us? Lo, certainly in vain made he it; the pen of the scribes is in vain.
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(8) How do ye say . . .?—The question is put to priests and prophets, who were the recognised expounders of the Law, but not to them only. The order of scribes, which became so dominant during the exile, was already rising into notice. Shaphan, to whom Hilkiah gave the re-found Book of the Law, belonged to it (2Chronicles 34:15), and the discovery of that book would naturally give a fresh impetus to their work. They were boasting of their position as the recognised instructors of the people.

Lo, certainly . . .—Better, Verily, lo! the lying pen of the scribes hath made it (i.e., the Law) as a lie. The pen was the iron stylus made for engraving on stone or metal. The meaning of the clause is clear. The sophistry of men was turning the truth of God into a lie, and emptying it of its noblest meaning. Already, as in other things, so here, in his protest against the teaching of the scribes, with their traditional and misleading casuistry, Jeremiah appears as foreshadowing the prophet of Nazareth (Matthew 5:20-48; Matthew 23:2-26).

Jeremiah 8:8. How do ye say, We are wise? — As if he had said, These things considered, where is your wisdom? you see the very fowls of the air are not so stupid as you are. He speaks not merely to the princes and priests, but to the whole body of the people. And the law of the Lord is with us — They were wont to boast much of the law, as well as of the temple, Jeremiah 18:18; Romans 2:17-23. Lo, certainly in vain made he it — For any use you make of it, you might as well have been without it. As if he had said, It is to no purpose for you to boast of your wisdom and skill in the knowledge of God’s law, if you do not govern your lives by its directions; otherwise it was written and delivered to you in vain. The pen of the scribes is vain — Neither need it ever have been copied out by the scribes. “The title of scribe, as applied to the skill of transcribing or interpreting the law, is first given,” in the Scriptures, “to Ezra, (Ezra 7:6,) who was not merely a copier of the law, but likewise an explainer of the difficulties of it, Nehemiah 8:1-13; and it is likely none made it their business to write copies of the law but those who were well versed in the study of it, which would best secure them from committing mistakes in their copies; hence the word, in the New Testament, signifies those who were learned in explaining the law, and answering the difficulties arising concerning the sense of it.” — Lowth.

8:4-13 What brought this ruin? 1. The people would not attend to reason; they would not act in the affairs of their souls with common prudence. Sin is backsliding; it is going back from the way that leads to life, to that which leads to destruction. 2. They would not attend to the warning of conscience. They did not take the first step towards repentance: true repentance begins in serious inquiry as to what we have done, from conviction that we have done amiss. 3. They would not attend to the ways of providence, nor understand the voice of God in them, ver. 7. They know not how to improve the seasons of grace, which God affords. Many boast of their religious knowledge, yet, unless taught by the Spirit of God, the instinct of brutes is a more sure guide than their supposed wisdom. 4. They would not attend to the written word. Many enjoy abundance of the means of grace, have Bibles and ministers, but they have them in vain. They will soon be ashamed of their devices. The pretenders to wisdom were the priests and the false prophets. They flattered people in sin, and so flattered them into destruction, silencing their fears and complaints with, All is well. Selfish teachers may promise peace when there is no peace; and thus men encourage each other in committing evil; but in the day of visitation they will have no refuge to flee unto.The law of the Lord - The "Torah," or written law, the possession of which made the priests and prophets so boastfully exclaim, "We are wise."

Lo, certainly ... - Rather, Verily, lo! the lying pen "of the scribes" hath made it - the Law - into a lie. The mention of "scribes" in this place is a crucial point in the argument whether or not the Pentateuch or Torah is the old law-book of the Jews, or a fabrication which gradually grew up, but was not received as authoritative until after the return from the captivity. It is not until the time of Josiah 2 Chronicles 34:13 that "scribes" are mentioned except as political officers; here, however, they are students of the Torah. The Torah must have existed in writing before there could have been an order of men whose special business it was to study it; and therefore to explain this verse by saying that perhaps the scribes were writers of false prophecies written in imitation of the true, is to lose the whole gist of the passage. What the scribes turned into a lie was that Law of which they had just boasted that they were the possessors. Moreover, the scribes undeniably became possessed of preponderating influence during the exile: and on the return from Babylon were powerful enough to prevent the restoration of the kingly office. That there should be along with the priests and Levites men who devoted themselves to the study of the written Law, and who in the time of Josiah had acquired such influence as to be recognized as a distinct class - is just what we should expect from the rapid progress of learning, which began with Elisha's active management of the schools of the prophets, and culminated in the days of Hezekiah. Jeremiah's whole argument depends upon the fact that there were in his days men who claimed to be "wise" or "learned" men because of their study of the Pentateuch, and is entirely inconsistent with the assumptions that Jeremiah wrote the book of Deuteronomy, and that Ezra wrote parts of Exodus and the whole of Leviticus.

8. law … with us—(Ro 2:17). Possessing the law, on which they prided themselves, the Jews might have become the wisest of nations; but by their neglecting its precepts, the law became given "in vain," as far as they were concerned.

scribes—copyists. "In vain" copies were multiplied. Maurer translates, "The false pen of the scribes hath converted it [the law] into a lie." See Margin, which agrees with Vulgate.

How do ye say, We are wise? q. d. These things considered, where is your wisdom, when you see the very fowls of the air are not so stupid as you are? he speaks either to princes and priests, or to the whole body of the people.

The law of the Lord is with us: this may be understood either more general of all, or may have a more special eye to the priests, with whom it was intrusted, Deu 33:10 Malachi 2:7. They were wont to boast much of the law, as well as of the temple, Jeremiah 18:18 Romans 2:17,23.

In vain made he it: q.d. For any use they made of it, they had as good have been without it; God needed not to have given them a law, Hosea 8:12.

The pen of the scribes is in vain; neither need it ever have been copied out, divulged, and conveyed down to them by the scribe, Deu 17:18; or the prevarications and collusions these lawyers used in the false interpretation of the law, wherein they sided with the false prophets, should be in vain. A scribe was a teacher, one well versed in the in the Scripture, or esteemed so.

How do ye say, we are wise,.... Which they were continually boasting of, though they were ignorant of the judgment of the Lord, and were more stupid than the stork, turtle, crane, and swallow:

and the law of the Lord is with us? this was the foundation of their boast, because the law was given to them, and not to the nations of the world, which knew not God, and therefore they must be a wise and understanding people; and this law continued with them, they had it in their synagogues, and in their houses, and read it, and heard, or at least they might and ought to have heard and read it, and in this they trusted; of this character and cast were the Jews in the times of Christ and his apostles, Romans 2:17 to which agrees the Targum,

"how say ye, we are wise, and in the law of the Lord we trust?''

Lo, certainly in vain made he it; either the law, which was made or given in vain by the Lord to this people, since they made no better use of it, and valued themselves upon having it, without acting according to it; or the pen of the scribe, which was made by him in vain to write it, as follows:

the pen of the scribes is in vain; in vain, and to no purpose, were the scribes employed in writing out copies of the law, when either it was not heard or read, or however the things it enjoined were not put in practice; or the pen of the scribes was in vain, when employed in writing out false copies of the law, or false glosses and interpretations of it, such as were made by the Scribes and Pharisees in Christ's time, and the fathers before them, by whose traditions the word of God was made of none effect: and so the Targum,

"therefore, lo, in vain the scribe hath made the lying pen to falsify;''

that is, the Scriptures. The words may be rendered,

"verily, behold, with a lie he wrought; the pen: is the lie of the scribes (h).''

(h) "utique ecce, mendacio operatus est; stylus mendacium scribarum est", Schmidt. Approved by Reinbeck. De Accent. Heb. p. 435.

How do ye say, We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us? Lo, certainly in vain he hath made it; {f} the pen of the scribes is in vain.

(f) The law does not profit you neither need it to have been written for all that you have learned by it.

8. the law] The reply of the priests such as the two Pashhurs (Jeremiah 20:1, Jeremiah 21:1) and prophets such as Shemaiah (Jeremiah 29:24) was, We do know the Law and have it in writing.

But, behold, the false pen … falsely] or (as mg.) hath made of it falsehood. Jeremiah has been thought by Du., Co. and others (not so Gi.) to refer here to the newly-discovered book supposed to be in a large degree identical with Deuteronomy as we now have it (2 Kings 22:8). We may indeed well believe that the prophet laid but little stress on the ritual portions of the law, there set forth (see Jeremiah 7:22 with notes), as compared with the rest of the Book. But with the moral tone of that Book he was in full sympathy, as is shewn by his frequent use of its words and phrases, and persistent enforcement of its general teaching. See on Jeremiah 11:1, etc. Thus it is far more likely that he here refers to the traditional directions, already committed to writing, which the priesthood claimed to possess for guidance in ritual. These had been perverted in some way to us unknown, so as to sanction iniquitous observances. This was “a peril specially likely to arise, when but few copies of ‘the law’ existed, and when the authority of the written law was not fully recognised,” Ryle, Canon of the O.T., p. 67. Cp. Jeremiah 2:8; Zephaniah 3:4; see also Deuteronomy 24:8 (“teach,” i.e. give directions for action); Haggai 2:11 ff. The Hebrew word for “law” means literally pointing out, direction. See further in C.B. Joel and Amos, pp. 230 f.

scribes] a class of men who devoted themselves to the study and development of the law. See 2 Chronicles 34:13. This laid the foundation for the mass of Rabbinical exposition which belonged to later times.

Verse 8. - How do ye say, We are wise? Jeremiah is evidently addressing the priests and the prophets, whom he so constantly described as among the chief causes of Judah's ruin (comp. Ver. 10; Jeremiah 2:8, 26; Jeremiah 4:9; Jeremiah 5:31), and who, in Isaiah's day, regarded it as an unwarrantable assumption on the part of that prophet to pretend to instruct them in their duty (Isaiah 28:9). The law of the Lord is with us. "With us;" i.e. in our hands and mouths. (comp. Psalm 1:16). The word torah, commonly rendered" Law," is ambiguous, and a difference of opinion as to the meaning of this verse is inevitable. Some think these self-styled "wise" men reject Jeremiah's counsels on the ground that they already have the divinely given Law in a written form (comp. Romans 2:17-20), and that the Divine revelation is complete. Others that torah here, as often elsewhere in the prophets (e.g. Isaiah 1:10; Isaiah 8:16; Isaiah 42:4), simply means "instruction," or "direction," and describes the authoritative counsel given orally by the priests (Deuteronomy 17:11) and prophets to those who consulted them on points of ritual and practice respectively. The usage of Jeremiah himself favors the latter view (see Jeremiah 2:8; Jeremiah 18:18; and especially Jeremiah 26:4, 5, where "to walk in my Torah" is parallel to "to hearken to the words of my servants the prophets." The context equally points in this direction. The most natural interpretation, then, is this: The opponents of Jeremiah bade him keep his exhortations to himself, seeing that they themselves were wise and the divinely appointed teachers of the people. To this Jeremiah replies, not (as the Authorized Version renders) Lo, certainly in vain made he it, etc.; but, Yea, behold I for a lie hath it wrought - the lying pen of the scribes (so Authorized Version, margin). Soferim (scribes) is the term proper to all those who practiced the art of writing (sefer); it included, therefore, presumably at least, most, if not all, of the priests and prophets of whom Jeremiah speaks. There are indications enough that the Hebrew literature was not entirely confined to those whom we look up to as the inspired writers, and it is perfectly credible that the formalist priests and false prophets should have availed themselves of the pen as a means of giving greater currency to their teaching. Jeremiah warns his hearers to distrust a literature which is in the set-vice of false religious principles - a warning which prophets in the wider sense of the term ('The Liberty of Prophesyings') still have but too much occasion to repeat, tit is right, however, to mention another grammatically possible rendering, which is adopted by those who suppose torah in the preceding clause to mean the Mosaic Law: "Yea, behold, the lying pen of the scribes hath made (it) into a lie;" i.e. the professional interpreters of the Scriptures called scribes have, by their groundless comments and inferences, made the Scriptures (especially the noblest part, the Law) into a lie, so that it has ceased to represent the Divine will and teaching. The objections to this are:

(1) the necessity of supplying an object to the verb - the object would hardly have been omitted where its emission renders the meaning of the clause so doubtful;

(2) that this view attributes to the word soferim a meaning which only became prevalent in the time of Ezra (comp. Ezra 7:6, 11).] Jeremiah 8:8In spite of this heedlessness of the statutes, the judgment of God, they vainly boast in their knowledge and possession of God's law. Those who said, We are wise, are mainly the priests and false prophets; cf. Jeremiah 8:10, Jeremiah 2:8; Jeremiah 5:31. The wisdom these people claimed for themselves is, as the following clause shows, the knowledge of the law. They prided themselves on possessing the law, from which they conceived themselves to have drawn their wisdom. The second clause, as Hitz. observed, shows that it is the written law that is meant. The law is with us. This is not to be understood merely of the outward possession of it, but the inward, appropriated knowledge, the mastery of the law. The law of Jahveh, recorded in the Pentateuch, teaches not only the bearing towards God due by man, but the bearing of God towards His people. The knowledge of this law begets the wisdom for ruling one's life, tells how God is to be worshipped, how His favour is to be procured and His anger appeased.

As against all this, Jeremiah declares: Assuredly the lying pen (style) of the scribes hath made it a lie. Ew., Hitz., Graf, translate ספרים, authors, writers; and the two latter of them take עשׂה equals labour: "for a lie (or for deception) hath the lying style (pen) of the writers laboured." This transl. is feasible; but it seems simpler to supply 'תּורת יי: hath made it (the law); and there is no good reason for confining סופר to the original composers of works. The words are not to be limited in their reference to the efforts of the false prophets, who spread their delusive prophecies by means of writings: they refer equally to the work of the priests, whose duty it was to train the people in the law, and who, by false teaching as to its demands, led the people astray, seduced them from the way of truth, and deceived them as to the future. The labours both of the false prophets and of the wicked priests consisted not merely in authorship, in composing and circulating writings, but to a very great extent in the oral teaching of the people, partly by prophetic announcements, partly by instruction in the law; only in so far as it was necessary was it their duty to set down in writing and circulate their prophecies and interpretations of the law. But this work by word and writing was founded on the existing written law, the Torah of Moses; just as the true prophets sought to influence the people chiefly by preaching the law to them, by examining their deeds and habits by the rule of the divine will as revealed in the Torah, and by applying to their times the law's promises and threatenings. For this work with the law, and application of it to life, Jer. uses the expression "style of the Shoferim," because the interpretation of the law, if it was to have valid authority as the rule of life, must be fixed by writing. Yet he did not in this speak only of authors, composers, but meant such as busied themselves about the book of the law, made it the object of their study. But inasmuch as such persons, by false interpretation and application, perverted the truth of the law into a lie, he calls their work the work of the lying style (pen).

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