Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart, and upon the horns of your altars;
Jer 17:1-27. The Jews' Inveterate Love of Idolatry.
The the Septuagint omits the first four verses, but other Greek versions have them.
1. The first of the four clauses relates to the third, the second to the fourth, by alternate parallelism. The sense is: They are as keen after idols as if their propensity was "graven with an iron pen (Job 19:24) on their hearts," or as if it were sanctioned by a law "inscribed with a diamond point" on their altars. The names of their gods used to be written on "the horns of the altars" (Ac 17:23). As the clause "on their hearts" refers to their inward propensity, so "on … altars," the outward exhibition of it. Others refer "on the horns of … altars" to their staining them with the blood of victims, in imitation of the Levitical precept (Ex 29:12; Le 4:7, 18), but "written … graven," would thus be inappropriate.
table of … heart—which God intended to be inscribed very differently, namely, with His truths (Pr 3:3; 2Co 3:3).
your—Though "their" preceded, He directly addresses them to charge the guilt home to them in particular.
Whilst their children remember their altars and their groves by the green trees upon the high hills.
2. children remember—Instead of forsaking the idolatries of their fathers, they keep them up (Jer 7:18). This is given as proof that their sin is "graven upon … altars" (Jer 17:1), that is, is not merely temporary. They corrupt their posterity after them. Castalio less probably translates, "They remember their altars as (fondly as) they do their children."
groves—rather, "images of Astarte," the goddess of the heavenly hosts, represented as a sacred tree, such as is seen in the Assyrian sculptures (2Ki 21:7; 2Ch 24:18). "Image of the grove." The Hebrew for "grove" is Asherah, that is, Assarak, Astarte, or Ashtaroth.
by the green trees—that is, near them: the sacred trees (idol symbols) of Astarte being placed in the midst of natural trees: "green trees" is thus distinguished from "groves," artificial trees. Henderson, to avoid taking the same Hebrew particle in the same sentence differently, "by … upon" translates "images of Astarte on the green trees." But it is not probable that images, in the form of a sacred tree, should be hung on trees, rather than near them.
O my mountain in the field, I will give thy substance and all thy treasures to the spoil, and thy high places for sin, throughout all thy borders.
3. mountain—Jerusalem, and especially Zion and the temple.
in the field—As Jerusalem was surrounded by mountains (Ps 125:2), the sense probably is, Ye rely on your mountainous position (Jer 3:23), but I will make "My mountain" to become as if it were in a plain (field), so as to give thy substance an easy prey to the enemy [Calvin]. "Field" may, however, mean all Judea; it and "My mountain" will thus express the country and its capital. (Gesenius translates, "together with," instead of "in"; as the Hebrew is translated in Jer 11:19; Ho 5:6; but this is not absolutely needed), "the substance" of both of which God "will give to the spoil."
thy high places—corresponding in parallelism to "My mountain" (compare Isa 11:9), as "all thy borders," to "the field" (which confirms the view that "field" means all Judea).
for sin—connected with high places" in English Version, namely, frequented for sin, that is, for idolatrous sacrifices. But Jer 15:13 makes the rendering probable, "I will give thy substance … to … spoil … on account of thy sin throughout all thy borders."
And thou, even thyself, shalt discontinue from thine heritage that I gave thee; and I will cause thee to serve thine enemies in the land which thou knowest not: for ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn for ever.
4. even thyself—rather, "owing to thyself," that is, by thy own fault (Jer 15:13).
discontinue from—be dispossessed of. Not only thy substance, but thyself shall be carried off to a strange land (Jer 15:14).
Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD.
5. Referring to the Jews' proneness to rely on Egypt, in its fear of Assyria and Babylon (Isa 31:1, 3).
trusteth—This word is emphatic. We may expect help from men, so far as God enables them to help us, but we must rest our trust in God alone (Ps 62:5).
For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited.
6. heath—In Ps 102:17; Isa 32:11; Hab 3:9, the Hebrew is translated, "bare," "naked," "destitute"; but as the parallel in Jer 17:8 is "tree," some plant must be meant of which this is the characteristic epithet (Jer 48:6, Margin), "a naked tree." Robinson translates, "the juniper tree," found in the Arabah or Great Valley, here called "the desert," south of the Dead Sea. The "heath" was one of the plants, according to Pliny (13.21; 16.26), excluded from religious uses, because it has neither fruit nor seed, and is neither sown nor planted.
not see … good—(Job 20:17).
salt land—(De 29:23), barren ground.
Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is.
7. (Ps 34:8; Pr 16:20; Isa 30:18). Jeremiah first removed the weeds (false trusts), so that there might be room for the good grain [Calvin].
For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.
8. (Ps 1:3).
shall not see—that is, feel. Answering to Jer 17:6; whereas the unbelievers "shall not see (even) when good cometh," the believer "shall not see (so as to be overwhelmed by it even) when heat (fiery trial) cometh." Trials shall come upon him as on all, nay, upon him especially (Heb 12:6); but he shall not sink under them, because the Lord is his secret strength, just as the "roots spread out by a river" (or, "water-course") draw hidden support from it (2Co 4:8-11).
careful—anxious, as one desponding (Lu 12:29; 1Pe 5:7).
drought—literally, "withholding," namely, of rain (Jer 14:1); he here probably alludes to the drought which had prevailed, but makes it the type of all kinds of distress.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
9. deceitful—from a root, "supplanting," "tripping up insidiously by the heel," from which Jacob (Ho 12:3) took his name. In speaking of the Jews' deceit of heart, he appropriately uses a term alluding to their forefather, whose deceit, but not whose faith, they followed. His "supplanting" was in order to obtain Jehovah's blessing. They plant Jehovah for "trust in man" (Jer 17:5), and then think to deceive God, as if it could escape His notice, that it is in man, not in Him, they trust.
desperately wicked—"incurable" [Horsley], (Mic 1:9). Trust in one's own heart is as foolish as in our fellow man (Pr 28:26).
I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.
10. Lest any should infer from Jer 17:9, "who can know it?" that even the Lord does not know, and therefore cannot punish, the hidden treachery of the heart, He says, "I the Lord search the heart," &c. (1Ch 28:9; Ps 7:9; Pr 17:3; Re 2:23).
even to give—and that in order that I may give (Jer 32:19).
As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not; so he that getteth riches, and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at his end shall be a fool.
11. partridge—(1Sa 26:20). Hebrew, korea, from a root, "to call," alluding to its cry; a name still applied to a bustard by the Arabs. Its nest is liable, being on the ground, to be trodden under foot, or robbed by carnivorous animals, notwithstanding all the beautiful manoeuvres of the parent birds to save the brood. The translation, "sitteth on eggs which it has not laid," alludes to the ancient notion that she stole the eggs of other birds and hatched them as her own; and that the young birds when grown left her for the true mother. It is not needful to make Scripture allude to an exploded notion, as if it were true. Maurer thinks the reference is to Jehoiakim's grasping cupidity (Jer 22:13-17). Probably the sense is more general; as previously He condemned trust in man (Jer 17:5), He now condemns another object of the deceitful hearts' trust, unjustly gotten riches (Ps 39:6; 49:16, 17; 55:23).
fool—(Pr 23:5; Lu 12:20); "their folly" (Ps 49:13). He himself, and all, shall at last perceive he was not the wise man he thought he was.
A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary.
12. throne—the temple of Jerusalem, the throne of Jehovah. Having condemned false objects of trust, "high places for sin" (Jer 17:3), and an "arm of flesh," he next sets forth Jehovah, and His temple, which was ever open to the Jews, as the true object of confidence, and sanctuary to flee to. Henderson makes Jehovah, in Jer 17:13, the subject, and this verse predicate, "A throne of glory, high from the beginning, the place of our sanctuary, the hope of Israel is Jehovah." "Throne" is thus used for Him who sits on it; compare thrones (Col 1:16). He is called a "sanctuary" to His people (Isa 8:14; Eze 11:16). So Syriac and Arabic.
O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.
13. me—"Jehovah." Though "Thee" precedes. This sudden transition is usual in the prophetic style, owing to the prophet's continual realization of Jehovah's presence.
all that forsake thee—(Ps 73:27; Isa 1:28).
written in the earth—in the dust, that is, shall be consigned to oblivion. So Jesus' significant writing "on the ground (probably the accusers' names)" (Joh 8:6). Names written in the dust are obliterated by a very slight wind. Their hopes and celebrity are wholly in the earth, not in the heavenly book of life (Re 13:8; 20:12, 15). The Jews, though boasting that they were the people of God, had no portion in heaven, no status before God and His angels. Contrast "written in heaven," that is, in the muster-roll of its blessed citizens (Lu 10:20). Also, contrast "written in a book," and "in the rock for ever" (Job 19:23, 24).
living waters—(Jer 2:13).
Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise.
14-18. Prayer of the prophet for deliverance from the enemies whom he excited by his faithful denunciations.
Heal … save—not only make me whole (as to the evils of soul as well as body which I am exposed to by contact with ungodly foes, Jer 15:18), but keep me so.
my praise—He whom I have to praise for past favors, and therefore to whom alone I look for the time to come.
Behold, they say unto me, Where is the word of the LORD? let it come now.
15. Where is the word?—(Isa 5:19; Am 5:18). Where is the fulfilment of the threats which thou didst utter as from God? A characteristic of the last stage of apostasy (2Pe 3:4).
As for me, I have not hastened from being a pastor to follow thee: neither have I desired the woeful day; thou knowest: that which came out of my lips was right before thee.
16. I have not refused Thy call of me to be a prophet (Jon 1:3), however painful to me it was to utter what would be sure to irritate the hearers (Jer 1:4, &c.).; therefore Thou shouldest not forsake me (Jer 15:15, &c.).
to follow thee—literally, "after thee"; as an under-pastor following Thee, the Chief Shepherd (Ec 12:11; 1Pe 5:4).
neither … desired—I have not wished for the day of calamity, though I foretell it as about to come on my countrymen; therefore they have no reason for persecuting me.
thou knowest—I appeal to Thee for the truth of what I assert.
that which came out of my lips—my words (De 23:23).
right before thee—rather, "was before Thee"; was known to Thee—(Pr 5:21).
Be not a terror unto me: thou art my hope in the day of evil.
17. a terror—namely, by deserting me: all I fear is Thine abandoning me; if Thou art with me, I have no fear of evil from enemies.
Let them be confounded that persecute me, but let not me be confounded: let them be dismayed, but let not me be dismayed: bring upon them the day of evil, and destroy them with double destruction.
18. destroy … destruction—"break them with a double breach," Hebrew (Jer 14:17). On "double," see on Jer 16:18.
Thus said the LORD unto me; Go and stand in the gate of the children of the people, whereby the kings of Judah come in, and by the which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem;
19-27. Delivered in the reign of Jehoiakim, who undid the good effected by Josiah's reformation, especially as to the observance of the Sabbath [Eichorn].
gate of … children of … people—The gate next the king's palace, called the gate of David, and the gate of the people, from its being the principal thoroughfare: now the Jaffa gate. It is probably the same as "the gate of the fountain" at the foot of Zion, near which were the king's garden and pool (Jer 39:4; 2Ki 25:4; Ne 2:14; 3:15; 12:37).
And say unto them, Hear ye the word of the LORD, ye kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that enter in by these gates:
20. kings—He begins with the kings, as they ought to have repressed such a glaring profanation.
Thus saith the LORD; Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem;
21. Take heed to yourselves—literally, "to your souls." Maurer explains, "as ye love your lives"; a phrase used here to give the greater weight to the command.
sabbath—The non-observance of it was a chief cause of the captivity, the number of years of the latter, seventy, being exactly made to agree with the number of Sabbaths which elapsed during the four hundred ninety years of their possession of Canaan from Saul to their removal (Le 26:34, 35; 2Ch 36:21). On the restoration, therefore, stress was especially laid on Sabbath observance (Ne 13:19).
Jerusalem—It would have been scandalous anywhere; but in the capital, Jerusalem, it was an open insult to God. Sabbath-hallowing is intended as a symbol of holiness in general (Eze 20:12); therefore much stress is laid on it; the Jews' gross impiety is manifested in their setting God's will at naught, in the case of such an easy and positive command.
Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers.
But they obeyed not, neither inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear, nor receive instruction.
23. (Jer 7:24, 26).
And it shall come to pass, if ye diligently hearken unto me, saith the LORD, to bring in no burden through the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but hallow the sabbath day, to do no work therein;
24. A part put for the whole, "If ye keep the Sabbath and My other laws."
Then shall there enter into the gates of this city kings and princes sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they, and their princes, the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: and this city shall remain for ever.
25. kings … in chariots—The kingdom at this time had been brought so low that this promise here was a special favor.
remain—Hebrew, "be inhabited" (Jer 17:6; Isa 13:20).
And they shall come from the cities of Judah, and from the places about Jerusalem, and from the land of Benjamin, and from the plain, and from the mountains, and from the south, bringing burnt offerings, and sacrifices, and meat offerings, and incense, and bringing sacrifices of praise, unto the house of the LORD.
26. plain mountains … south—(Jos 15:1-4). The southern border had extended to the river of Egypt, but was now much curtailed by Egyptian invasions (2Ch 35:20; 36:3, 4). The Hebrew for "south" means dry; the arid desert south of Judea is meant. The enumeration of all the parts of Judea, city, country, plain, hill, and desert, implies that no longer shall there be aught wanting of the integrity of the Jewish land (Zec 7:7).
sacrifices—As in Jer 17:22, one constituent of Judea's prosperity is mentioned, namely, its kings on David's throne, the pledge of God being its guardian; so in this verse another constituent, namely, its priests, a pledge of God being propitious to it (Ps 107:22).
But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.
27. burden … in … gates … fire in the gates—retribution answering to the sin. The scene of their sin shall be the scene of their punishment (Jer 52:13; 2Ki 25:9).