Jeremiah 9:17
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Consider ye, and call for the mourning women, that they may come; and send for cunning women, that they may come:
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(17) Mourning women . . . cunning women.—Eastern funerals were, and are, attended by mourners, chiefly women, hired for the purpose. Wailing was reduced to an art, and they who practised it were cunning. There are the “mourners” that “go about the streets” (Ecclesiastes 12:5), those that “are skilful of lamentation” (Amos 5:16), those that mourned for Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 22:18), those that “wept and wailed greatly” in the house of Jairus (Mark 5:38). They are summoned as to the funeral, not of a friend or neighbour, but of the nation.

Jeremiah 9:17. Consider ye, and call for the mourning women — Consider the evil circumstances you are in, which call for mourning and lamentation: and since you yourselves are not sufficiently affected with the dangers that threaten you, send for those women whose profession it is to mourn at funerals, and upon other sorrowful occasions, and let their lamentations excite true sorrow in you. The prophet seems here to compare the Jewish state to a person dead, and going to be buried, and therefore calls upon the people to send for those who used to be hired to make lamentations and wailings at funerals. The reader will observe, “it was an ancient custom of the Hebrews, at funerals, and on other like occasions, to make use of hired mourners, whose profession it was to exhibit in public all the signs and gestures of immoderate and frantic grief, and by their loud outcries and doleful songs to excite a real passion of sorrow in others. Women were generally employed in this office, either because it was an office more suitable to the softness of a female mind, or because the more tender passions being predominant in that sex, they succeeded better in their parts; nor were there ever wanting those artists well instructed in the discipline of mourning, and ready to hire out their lamentations and tears on any emergency. It was the chief excellence of other arts to imitate nature; it was likewise esteemed so in this; their funeral dirges, therefore, were composed in imitation of those which had been poured forth by genuine and sincere grief. Their sentences were short, querulous, pathetic, simple, and unadorned; somewhat laboured indeed, because they were composed in metre, and to be sung to the pipe, as we learn from Matthew 9:23; and from Homer,” where, speaking of Hector’s funeral, he says, — — Παρα δεισαν αοιδους,

Θρηνων εξαρχους, οιτε σονοεσσαν αοιδην,

Οι μεν αρεθρηνεον, επι δε σεναχοντο γυναικες. ILIAD, Ω. 720.

A melancholy choir attend around, With plaintive sighs, and music’s solemn sound; Alternately they sing, alternate flow Th’ obedient tears, melodious in their wo. See POPE’S IL., book 24. ver. 900.

Jerome tells us, in his comment on this verse, that the practice was continued in Judea down to his days; “That women, at funerals, with dishevelled hair, and naked breasts, endeavoured, in a modulated voice, to unite others in lamentation with them.” Frequent allusions to this custom are to be met with in Scripture, particularly 2 Chronicles 35:25, where the singing men and singing women are said to have made it a constant rule, after King Josiah’s death, to commemorate that excellent prince in all their future dirges or lamentations, as one in whom the public in general had sustained an irreparable loss. Such were the mourners, mentioned Ecclesiastes 12:5, and said to go about the streets; and those whom Amos calls, יודעי נהי, skilful of lamentation; Amos 5:16. And such no doubt were the minstrels and the people making a noise; οχλον θορυβουμενον, whom our Saviour found in the house of the ruler of the synagogue, whose daughter was just dead; who, St. Mark says, wept and wailed greatly, κλαιοντας και αλαλαζοντας πολλα, Mark 5:38. There are especially several traces of this custom to be met with in the prophets, who frequently delivered their predictions of approaching calamities in the form of funeral dirges. The poem before us, from Jeremiah 9:19-22, is both an illustration and confirmation of this, and worthy of the reader’s frequent perusal, on account of its affecting pathos, moral sentiments, and fine images; particularly in Jeremiah 9:21, where death is described in as animated a prosopopœia as can be conceived. See Lowth’s Prelec., Calmet, and Blaney.

9:12-22 In Zion the voice of joy and praise used to be heard, while the people kept close to God; but sin has altered the sound, it is now the voice of lamentation. Unhumbled hearts lament their calamity, but not their sin, which is the cause of it. Let the doors be shut ever so fast, death steals upon us. It enters the palaces of princes and great men, though stately, strongly built, and guarded. Nor are those more safe that are abroad; death cuts off even the children from without, and the young men from the streets. Hearken to the word of the Lord, and mourn with godly sorrow. This alone can bring true comfort; and it can turn the heaviest afflictions into precious mercies.The mourning women - Hired to attend at funerals, and by their skilled wailings aid the real mourners in giving vent to their grief. Hence, they are called "cunning," literally "wise" women, wisdom being constantly used in Scripture for anything in which people are trained.17. mourning women—hired to heighten lamentation by plaintive cries baring the breast, beating the arms, and suffering the hair to flow dishevelled (2Ch 35:25; Ec 12:5; Mt 9:23).

cunning—skilled in wailing.

Consider ye; either in how sad a condition you are, what circumstances you are under; or rather, bethink yourselves what course to take: and therefore he puts them upon mourning and bewailing their condition, intimated by the following expression.

The mourning women; a sort of persons, and principally women, as more apt for passions in this kind, which they had among them, 2 Chronicles 35:25; whose work it was, either to compose funeral elegies, or panegyrics in praise of the dead, and to act them in some mournful manner, as tearing their hair, and beating their breasts, with other mourning postures, or to sing them in some doleful tone, thereby artificially to provoke and excite both passions and expressions of grief in the friends of the deceased, rather wringing out tears than shedding them, in which probably they made greater seeming lamentations than those that did really mourn, as being most concerned; not that God calls upon them to do this as approving the formality, (though this foolish custom had obtained in most ages and countries,) any more than other customs that were made use of by way of illustration; as the Olympic games, and possibly that practice mentioned 1 Corinthians 15:29; but makes use of it, as being customary, either to excite them to and put them upon true repentance, or to convince them hereby that they were not able themselves sufficiently to bewail so great calamities as were coming upon them, intimating hereby that he would give them occasion for the most unfeigned weeping and lamentation.

Cunning women; such as are most skilful in it, Amos 5:16; wisdom being taken for skill in any arts, as Exodus 31:3, and elsewhere.

Thus saith the Lord of hosts, consider ye,.... The punishment that was just coming upon them, as Kimchi; or the words that the Lord was about to say unto them; as follows:

and call for the mourning women, that they may come; the same with the "praeficae" among the Romans; persons that were sent for, and hired by, the relations of the dead, to raise up their mourning; and who, by their dishevelled hair, naked breasts, and beatings thereon, and mournful voice, and what they said in their doleful ditties in praise of the dead, greatly moved upon the affections of the surviving relatives, and produced tears from them. This was a custom that early prevailed among the Jews, and long continued with them; and was so common, that, according to the Misnic doctors (c), the poorest man in Israel, when his wife died, never had less than two pipes, and one mourning woman; See Gill on Matthew 9:23. Now, in order to show what a calamity was coming on them, and what mourning there would be, and what occasion for it; the Lord by the prophet, not as approving, but deriding the practice, bids them call for the mourning women to assist them in their lamentations:

and send for cunning women, that they may come; such as were expert in this business, and could mimic mourning well, and had the art of moving the affections with their voice and gestures.

(c) Miss. Cetubot, c. 4. sect. 4.

Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Consider ye, and call for {n} the skilful women, that they may come; and send for skilful women, that they may come:

(n) Seeing you cannot lament your own sins, call for those foolish women, whom of a superstition you have to lament for the dead, that they by their feigned tears may provoke you to some sorrow.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
17. cunning] i.e. skilled. Cp. Genesis 25:27; 1 Samuel 16:18; 2 Chronicles 26:15.

17, 18. “There are in every city and community women exceedingly cunning in this business.… When a fresh company of sympathisers comes in, these women ‘make haste’ to ‘take up a wailing’ that the newly come may the more easily unite their tears with the mourners. They know the domestic history of each person, and immediately strike up an impromptu lamentation, in which they introduce the names of their relations who have recently died, touching some tender chord in every heart.” Thomson, p. 103, and see Jeremiah 16:5.

17–22. See summary introducing the section.

Verses 17-22. - A new scene is introduced. To give an idea of the greatness of the impending blow, all the skilled mourners are sent for to raise the cry of lamentation. But no, this is not enough. So large will be the number of the dead that all the women must take their part in the doleful office. The description of the mourning women is as true to modern as to ancient life in the East. "And, indeed," says Dr. Shaw, a thoughtful traveler and an ornament of Oxford in the dark eighteenth century, "they perform their parts with such proper sounds, gestures, and commotions, that they rarely fail to work up the assembly into some extraordinary pitch of thoughtfulness and sorrow" ('Travels in Barbary and the Levant,' 2nd edit., p. 242; comp. Amos 5:16; Ecclesiastes 12:5). Jeremiah 9:17Zion laid waste. - Jeremiah 9:16. "Thus hath Jahveh of hosts said: Give heed and call for mourning women, that they may come, and send to the wise women, that they may come, Jeremiah 9:17. And may make haste and strike up a lamentation for us, that our eyes may run down with tears and our eyelids gush out with water. Jeremiah 9:18. For loud lamentation is heard out of Zion: How are we spoiled, sore put to shame! because we have left the land, because they have thrown down our dwellings. Jeremiah 9:19. For year, ye women, the word of Jahve, and let your ear receive the word of His mouth, and teach your daughters lamentation, and let one teach the other the song of mourning! Jeremiah 9:20. For death cometh up by our windows, he entereth into our palaces, to cut off the children from the streets, the young men from the thoroughfares. Jeremiah 9:21. Speak: Thus runs the saying of Jahve: And the carcases of men shall fall as dung upon the field, and as a sheaf behind the shearer, which none gathereth."

In this strophe we have a further account of the execution of the judgment, and a poetical description of the vast harvest death is to have in Zion. The citizens of Zion are called upon to give heed to the state of affairs now in prospect, i.e., the judgment preparing, and are to assemble mourning women that they may strike up a dirge for the dead. התבּונן, to be attentive, give heed to a thing; cf. Jeremiah 2:10. Women cunning in song are to come with speed (תּמהרנה takes the place of an adverb). The form תּבואינה (Psalm 45:16; 1 Samuel 10:7) alternates with תּבואנהּ, the usual form in this verb, e.g., Genesis 30:38; 1 Kings 3:16, etc., in order to produce an alternating form of expression . "For us" Ng. understands of those who call the mourning women, and in it he finds "something unusual," because ordinarily mourners are summoned to lament for those already dead, i.e., others than those who summon them. "But here they are to raise their laments for the very persons who summon them, and for the death of these same, which has yet to happen." There is a misunderstanding at the bottom of this remark. The "for us" is not said of the callers; for these are addressed in the second person. If Ng.'s view were right, it must be "for you," not "for us." True, the lxx has εφ ̓ ὑμᾶς; but Hitz. has rejected this reading as a simplification and weakening expression, and as disturbing the plan. "For us" is used by the people taken collectively, the nation as such, which is to be so sorely afflicted and chastised by death that it is time for the mourning women to raise their dirge, that so the nation may give vent to its grief in tears. We must also take into account, that even although the lamentations were for the dead, they yet chiefly concerned the living, who had been deeply afflicted by the loss of beloved relations; it would not be the dead merely that were mourned for, but the living too, because of their loss. It is this reference that stands here in the foreground, since the purpose of the chanting of dirges is that our eyes may flow with tears, etc. Zion will lament the slain of her people (Jeremiah 8:22), and so the mourning women are to strike up dirges. תּשּׂנה for תּשּׂאנה, as in Ruth 1:14; cf. Ew. 198, b. On the use of ירד and נזל with the accus.: flow down in tears, cf. Gesen. 138, 1, Rem. 2, Ew. 281, b.

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