Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
The Figures of the Potter's Clay and of the Earthen Pitcher - Jeremiah 18-20
These three chapters have the title common to all Jeremiah's discourses of the earlier period: The word which came to Jeremiah from Jahveh (Jeremiah 18:1). In them, bodied forth in two symbolical actions, are to discourses which are very closely related to one another in form and substance, and which may be regarded as one single prophecy set forth in words and actions. In them we find discussed Judah's ripeness for the judgment, the destruction of the kingdom, and the speediness with which that judgment was to befall. The subject-matter of this discourse-compilation falls into two parts: Jeremiah 18 and Jeremiah 19:1-15 and 20; that is, into the accounts of two symbolical actions, together with the interpretation of them and their application to the people (Jeremiah 18:1-17 and Jeremiah 19:1-13), followed immediately by notices as to the reception which these announcements met on the part of the people and their rulers (Jeremiah 18:18-23, and Jeremiah 19:14-20:18). In the first discourse, that illustrated by the figure of a potter who remodels a misshapen vessel, Jeremiah 18, the prophet inculcates on the people the truth that the Lord has power to do according to His good-will, seeking in this to make another appeal to them to turn from their evil ways; and the people replies to this appeal by scheming against the life of the austere preacher of repentance. As the consequence of this obdurate impenitency, he, in Jeremiah 19:1-15, by breaking an earthen pitcher bought of the potter, predicts to the elders of the people and the priests, in the valley of Benhinnom, the breaking up of the kingdom and the demolition of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 18:1-13). For this he is put in the stocks by Pashur, the ward of the temple; and when freed from this imprisonment, he tells him that he and all Judah shall be carried off to Babylon and be put to death by the sword (19:14-20:6). As a conclusion we have, as in Jeremiah 18, complaint at the sufferings that attend his calling (Jeremiah 20:7-18).
As to the time of these two symbolical actions and announcements, we can determine only thus much with certainty, that they both belong to the period before the fourth year of the reign of Jehoiakim, and that they were not far separated in time from one another. The first assumes still the possibility of the people's repentance, whence we may safely conclude that the first chastisement at the hands of the Chaldeans was not yet ready to be inflicted; in the second, that judgment is threatened as inevitably on the approach, while still there is nothing here either to show that the catastrophe was immediately at hand. Ng. tries to make out that Jeremiah 18 falls before the critical epoch of the battle at Carchemish, Jeremiah 19:1-15 and 20 after it; but his arguments are worthless. For there is not ground whatever for the assertion that Jeremiah did not, until after that decisive battle, give warning of the deliverance of all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon, and that not till the prophecies after that time do we find the phrase: Jeremiah the prophet, as in Jeremiah 20:2. The contents of the three chapters do not even point us assuredly to the first year of Jehoiakim's reign. There is no hint that Judah had become tributary to Egypt; so that we might even assign both prophecies to the last year of Josiah. For it might have happened even under Josiah that the upper warden of the temple should have kept the prophet in custody for one night.
The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,The Emblem of the Clay and the Potter and the Complaint of the Prophet against his Adversaries. - The figure of the potter who remodels a misshapen vessel (Jeremiah 18:2-4). The interpretation of this (Jeremiah 18:5-10), and its application to degenerate Israel (Jeremiah 18:11-17). The reception of the discourse by the people, and Jeremiah's cry to the Lord (Jeremiah 18:18-23).
Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words.The emblem and its interpretation. - Jeremiah 18:2. "Arise and go down into the potter's house; there will I cause thee to hear my words. Jeremiah 18:3. And I went down into the potter's house; and, behold, he wrought on the wheels. Jeremiah 18:4. And the vessel was marred, that he wrought in clay, in the hand of the potter; then he made again another vessel of it, as seemed good to the potter to make. Jeremiah 18:5. Then came the word of Jahveh to me, saying: Jeremiah 18:6. Cannot I do with you as this potter, house of Israel? saith Jahveh. Behold, as the clay in the hand of the potter, so are ye in mine hand, house of Israel. Jeremiah 18:7. Now I speak concerning a people and kingdom, to root it out and pluck up and destroy it. Jeremiah 18:8. But if that people turns from its wickedness, against which I spake, the it repents me of the evil which I thought to do it. Jeremiah 18:9. And now I speak concerning a people and a kingdom, to build and to plant it. Jeremiah 18:10. If it do that which is evil in mine eyes, so that it hearkens not unto my voice, then it repents me of the good which I said I would do unto it."
By God's command Jeremiah is to go and see the potter's treatment of the clay, and to receive thereafter God's interpretation of the same. Here he has set before his eyes that which suggests a comparison of man to the clay and of God to the potter, a comparison that frequently occurred to the Hebrews, and which had been made to appear in the first formation of man (cf. Job 10:9; Job 33:6; Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 45:9; Isaiah 64:7). This is done that he may forcibly represent to the people, by means of the emblem, the power of the Lord to do according to His will with all nations, and so with Israel too. From the "go down," we gather that the potteries of Jerusalem lay in a valley near the city. האבנים are the round frames by means of which the potter moulded his vessels. This sig. of the word is well approved here; but in Exodus 1:16, where too it is found, the meaning is doubtful, and it is a question whether the derivation is from אבן or from אופן, wheel. The perfecta consec. ונשׁחת and ושׁב designate, taken in connection with the participle עשׂה, actions that were possibly repeated: "and if the vessel was spoilt, he made it over again;" cf. Ew. 342, b. עשׂה , working in clay, of the material in which men work in order to make something of it; cf. Exodus 31:4.
(Note: Instead of בּחמר several codd. and editt. have כּחמר, as in Jeremiah 18:6, to which Ew. and Hitz. both take objection, so that they delete כחמר (Ew.) or כּחמר בּיד היּוצר (Hitz.) as being glosses, since the words are not in the lxx. The attempts of Umbr. and Nag. to obtain a sense for כּחמר are truly of such a kind as only to strengthen the suspicion of spuriousness. Umbr., who is followed by Graf, expounds: "as the clay in the hand of the potter does;" whereto Hitz. justly replies: "but is then the (failure) solely its own doing?" Ng. will have כ to be the כ verit.: the vessel was marred, as clay in the hand of the potter, in which case the כחמר still interrupts. But the failure of the attempts to make a good sense of כחמר does in no respect justify the uncritical procedure of Ew. and Hitz. in deleting the word without considering that the reading is by no means established, since not only do the most important and correct editions and a great number of codd. read בּחמר, but Aquila, Theodot., the Chald, and Syr. give this reading; Norzi and Houbig. call it lectio accuratiorum codicum, and the Masora on Jeremiah 18:6 and Job 10:9 confirms it. Cf. de Rossi variae lectt. ad h. l. and the critical remarks in the Biblia Hal. by J. H. Michaelis, according to which כחמר plainly made its way into the present verse from Jeremiah 18:6 by the error of a copyist; and it can only be from his prejudice in favour of the lxx that Hitz. pronounces כחמר original, as being "the reading traditionally in use.")
Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels.
And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.
Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.In Jeremiah 18:6-10 the Lord discloses to the prophet the truth lying in the potter's treatment of the clay. The power the potter has over the clay to remould, according to his pleasure, the vessel he had formed from it if it went wrong; the same power God possesses over the people of Israel. This unlimited power of God over mankind is exercised according to man's conduct, not according to a decretum absolutum or unchangeable determination. If he pronounces a people's overthrow or ruin, and if that people turn from its wickedness, He repeals His decree (Jeremiah 18:7.); and conversely, if He promises a people welfare and prosperity, and if that people turn away from Him to wickedness, then too He changes His resolve to do good to it (Jeremiah 18:9.). Inasmuch as He is even now making His decree known by the mouth of the prophet, it follows that the accomplishment of Jeremiah's last utterances is conditioned by the impression God's word makes on men. רגע, adv., in the moment, forthwith, and when repeated equals now...now, now...again. Ng. maintains that the arrangement here is paratactic, so that the רגע does not belong to the nearest verb, but to the main idea, i.e., to the apodosis in this case. The remark is just; but the word does not mean suddenly, but immediately, and the sense is: when I have spoken against a people, and this people repents, then immediately I let it repent me. נחם על as in Joel 2:13, etc. With "to pluck up," etc., "to build," etc., cf. Jeremiah 1:10. "Against which I spake," Jeremiah 18:8, belongs to "that people," and seems as if it might be dispensed with; but is not therefore spurious because the lxx have omitted it. For הרעה the Keri has הרע, the most usual form, Jeremiah 7:30, Numbers 32:13; Judges 2:11, etc.; but the Chet. is called for by the following הטּובה and מרעתו. להיטיב הטּובה, to show kindness, cf. Numbers 10:32.
The emblematical interpretation of the potter with the clay lays a foundation for the prophecy that follows, Jeremiah 18:11-17, in which the people are told that it is only by reason of their stiffnecked persistency in wickedness that they render threatened judgment certain, whereas by return to their God they might prevent the ruin of the kingdom.
At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it;
If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.
And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it;
If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.
Now therefore go to, speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good.Application of the emblem to Judah. - Jeremiah 18:11. "And now speak to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying: Thus hath Jahveh said: Behold, I frame against you evil and devise against you a device. Return ye, now, each from his evil way, and better your ways and your doings. Jeremiah 18:12. But they say: There is no use! For our imaginations will we follow, and each do the stubbornness of his evil heart. Jeremiah 18:13. Therefore thus hath Jahveh said: Ask now among the heathen! who hath heard the like? A very horrible thing hath the virgin of Israel done! Jeremiah 18:14. Does the snow of Lebanon cease from the rock of the field? or do strange, cold trickling waters dry up? Jeremiah 18:15. For my people hath forgotten me; to the vanity they offer odours; they have made them to stumble upon their ways, the everlasting paths, to walk in by-paths, a way not cast up. Jeremiah 18:16. To make their land a dismay, a perpetual hissing, every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished and shake his head. Jeremiah 18:17. Like the east wind I will scatter them before the enemy; with the back and not with the face will I look upon them in the day of their ruin."
In Jeremiah 18:11 and Jeremiah 18:12 what was said at Jeremiah 18:6. is applied to Judah. יצר, from in sense of prepare (cf. Isaiah 22:11; Isaiah 37:26), is chosen with special reference to the potter (יוצר). מחשׁבה, the thought, design, here in virtue of the parallelism: evil plot, as often both with and without רעה; cf. Esther 8:3, Esther 8:5; Esther 9:25; Ezekiel 38:10. The call to repentance runs much as do Jeremiah 35:15 and Jeremiah 7:3. - But this call the people reject disdainfully, replying that they are resolved to abide by their evil courses. ואמרוּ, not: they said, but: they say; the perf. consec. of the action repeating itself at the present time; cf. Ew. 342, b. 1. נואשׁ as in Jeremiah 2:25; on "stubbornness of their evil heart," cf. Jeremiah 3:17. By this answer the prophet makes them condemn themselves out of their own mouth; cf. Isaiah 28:15; Isaiah 30:10.
And they said, There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart.
Therefore thus saith the LORD; Ask ye now among the heathen, who hath heard such things: the virgin of Israel hath done a very horrible thing.Such obduracy is unheard of amongst the peoples; cf. a like idea in Jeremiah 2:10. שׁעררת equals שׁערוּרה, Jeremiah 5:30. מאד belongs to the verb: horrible things hath Israel very much done equals very horrible things have they done. The idea is strengthened by Israel's being designated a virgin (see on Jeremiah 14:17). One could hardly believe that a virgin could be guilty of such barefaced and determined wickedness. In Jeremiah 18:14. the public conduct is further described; and first, it is illustrated by a picture drawn from natural history, designed to fill the people with shame for their unnatural conduct. But the significance of the picture is disputed. The questions have a negative force: does it forsake? equals it does not forsake. The force of the first question is conditioned by the view taken of מצּוּר ; and שׂדי may be either genitive to צוּר, or it may be the accusative of the object, and be either a poetic form for שׂדה, or plural c. suff. 1. pers. (my fields). Chr. B. Mich., Schur., Ros., Maur., Neum. translate according to the latter view: Does the snow of Lebanon descending from the rock forsake my fields? i.e., does it ever cease, flowing down from the rock, to water my fields, the fields of my people? To this view, however, it is to be opposed, a. that "from the rock" thus appears superfluous, at least not in its proper place, since, according to the sense given, it would belong to "snow of Lebanon;" b. that the figure contains no real illustrative truth. The watering of the fields of God's people, i.e., of Palestine or Judah, by the snow of Lebanon could be brought about only by the water from the melting snow of Lebanon soaking into the ground, and so feeding the springs of the country. But this view of the supply for the springs that watered the land cannot be supposed to be a fact of natural history so well known that the prophet could found an argument on it. Most recent commentators therefore join מצּוּר שׂדי, and translate: does the snow of Lebanon cease from the rock of the field (does it disappear)? The use of עזב with מן is unexampled, but is analogous to עזב חסד מעם, Genesis 24:27, where, however, עזב is used transitively.
But even when translated as above, "rock of the field" is variously understood. Hitz. will have it to be Mount Zion, which in Jeremiah 17:3 is called my mountain in the field, and Jeremiah 21:13, rock of the plain; and says the trickling waters are the waters of Gihon, these being the only never-drying water of Jerusalem, the origin of which has never been known, and may have been commonly held to be from the snow of Lebanon. Graf and Ng., again, have justly objected that the connection between the snow of Lebanon and the water-springs of Zion is of too doubtful a kind, and does not become probable by appeal to Psalm 133:3, where the dew of Hermon is said to descend on the mountains of Zion. For it is perfectly possible that a heavy dew after warm days might be carried to Jerusalem by means of the cool current of air coming down from the north over Hermon (cf. Del. on Psalm 133:3); but not that the water of the springs of Jerusalem should have come from Lebanon. Like Ew., Umbr., Graf, and Ng., we therefore understand the rock of the field to be Lebanon itself. But it is not so called as being a detached, commanding rocky mountain, for this is not involved in the sig. of שׂדי (see on Jeremiah 17:3); nor as bulwark of the field (Ng.), for צוּר does not mean bulwark, and the change of מצּוּר into מצור, from מצור, a hemming in, siege, would give a most unsuitable figure. We hold the "field" to be the land of Israel, whence seen, the summit of Lebanon, and especially the peak of Hermon covered with eternal snows might very well be called the rock of the field.
(Note: "Hermon is not a conical mountain like Tabor, with a single lofty peak and a well-defined base, but a whole mountain mass of many days' journey in circuit, with a broad crest of summits. The highest of these lie within the Holy Land, and, according to the measurements of the English engineers, Majors Scott and Robe (1840), rise to a height of 9376 English feet - summits encompassed by far-stretching mountain ridges, from whose deep gloomy valleys the chief rivers of the country take their rise.... Behind the dark green foremost range (that having valleys clothed with pine and oak forests) high mountains raise their domes aloft; there is a fir wood sprinkled with snow as with silver, a marvellous mingling of bright and dark; and behind these rises the broad central ridge with its peaks covered with a deep and all but everlasting snows." - Van de Velde, Reise, i. S. 96f. Therewith cf. Robins. Phys. Geogr. p. 315: "In the ravines round about the highest of the two peaks, snow, or rather ice, lies the whole year round. In summer this gives the mountain, when seen from a distance, the appearance of being surrounded with radiant stripes descending from its crown.")
Observe the omission of the article before Lebanon, whereby it comes about that the name is joined appellatively to "snow:" the Lebanon-snow. And accordingly we regard the waters as those which trickle down from Hermon. The wealth of springs in Lebanon is well known, and the trickling water of Lebanon is used as an illustration in Sol 4:15. ינּתשׁוּ, are rooted up, strikes us as singular, since "root up" seems suitable neither for the drying up of springs, nor for: to be checked in their course. Dav. Kimchi thought, therefore, it stood for ,ינּתשׁוּomittuntur; but this word has not this signification. Probably a transposition has taken place, so that we have ינתשׁו for ינּשׁתוּ, since for נשׁת in Niph. the sig. dry up is certified by Isaiah 19:5. The predicate, too, זרים is singular. Strange waters are in 2 Kings 19:24 waters belonging to others; but this will not do here. So Ew. derives זר from זרר, press, urge, and correspondingly, קרים from קוּר, spring, well up: waters pouring forth with fierce pressure. In this case, however, the following נוזלים would be superfluous, or at least feeble. Then, מים קרים, Proverbs 25:25, is cold water; and besides, זרר means constinxit, compressit, of which root-meaning the sig. to press forth is a contradiction. There is therefore nothing for it but to keep to the sig. strange for זרים; strange waters equals waters coming from afar, whose springs are not known, so that they could be stopped up. The predicate cold is quite in keeping, for cold waters do not readily dry up, the coldness being a protection against evaporation. Such, then, will be the meaning of the verse: As the Lebanon-snow does not forsake the rock, so the waters trickling thence do not dry up. From the application of this general idea, that in inanimate nature faithfulness and constancy are found, to Israel's bearing towards God arises a deeper significance, which shows why this figure was chosen. The rock in the field points to the Rock of Israel as the everlasting rock, rock of ages (Isaiah 30:29 and Isaiah 26:4), and the cold, i.e., refreshing waters, which trickle from the rock of the field, point to Jahveh, the fountain of living water, Jeremiah 2:13 and Jeremiah 17:13. Although the snow does not forsake Lebanon, Israel has forgotten the fountain of living water from which water of life flows to it; cf. Jeremiah 2:13.
Will a man leave the snow of Lebanon which cometh from the rock of the field? or shall the cold flowing waters that come from another place be forsaken?
Because my people hath forgotten me, they have burned incense to vanity, and they have caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in paths, in a way not cast up;The application at Jeremiah 18:15 is introduced by a causal כּי. Ew. wrongly translates: that my people forgot me. כּי means for; and the causal import is founded on the main idea of Jeremiah 18:13 : A very horrible thing hath Israel done; for it hath done that which is unheard of in the natural world, it hath forsaken me, the rock of safety; cf. Jeremiah 2:32. They burn odours, i.e., kindle sacrifices, to the vanity, i.e., the null gods, cf. Psalm 31:7, i.e., to Baal, Jeremiah 7:9; Jeremiah 11:13, Jeremiah 11:17. The subject to יכשׁלוּם may be most simply supplied from the idea of "the vanity:" the null gods made them to stumble; cf. for this idea 2 Chronicles 28:23. This seems more natural than to leave the subject indefinite, in which case the false prophets (cf. Jeremiah 23:27) or the priests, or other seducers, would be the moving spirits. "The ancient paths" is apposition to "their ways:" upon their ways, the paths of the old time, i.e., not, however, the good old believing times, from whose ways the Israelites have but recently diverged. For עולם never denotes the time not very long passed away, but always old, immemorial time, here specially the time of the patriarchs, who walked on the right paths of faithfulness to God, as in Jeremiah 6:16. Hitz. and Graf have taken "the ancient paths" as subject: the old paths have made the Israelites to stumble on their ways, which gives a most unnatural idea, while the "paths of the earliest time" is weakened into "the example of their ancestors;" and besides, the parallelism is destroyed. As "by-paths" is defined by the apposition "a way not cast up," so is "on their ways" by "the ancient paths." The Chet. שׁבוּלי is found only here; the Keri is formed after Psalm 77:20. A way not cast up is one on which one cannot advance, reach the goal, or on which one suffers hurt and perishes. - In Jeremiah 18:16 the consequences of these doings are spoken of as having been wrought out by themselves, in order thus to bring out the God-ordained causal nexus between actions and their consequences. To make their land an object of horror to all that set foot on it. שׁרוּקות occurs only here, while the Keri שׁריקות is found only in Judges 5:16 for the piping of shepherds, from שׁרק, to hiss, to pipe. In connection with שׁמּה as expression of horror or amazement, Jeremiah elsewhere uses only שׁרקה, cf. Jeremiah 19:8; Jeremiah 25:9, Jeremiah 25:18; Jeremiah 29:18; Jeremiah 51:37, so that here the vowelling should perhaps be שׁרוּקת. The word does not here denote the hissing equals hissing down or against one, by way of contempt, but the sound midway between hissing and whistling which escapes one when one looks on something appalling. On "every one that passeth by shall be dismayed," cf. 1 Kings 9:8. הניע בּראשׁו only here equals הניע ראשׁ, to move the head to and fro, shake the head; a gesture of malicious amazement, cf. Psalm 22:8; Psalm 109:25, like מנוד ראשׁ, Psalm 44:15. - In Jeremiah 18:17 the Lord discloses the coming punishment. Like an east wind, i.e., a violent storm-wind (cf. Psalm 48:8), will I scatter them, cf. Jeremiah 13:24. Because they have turned to Him the back and not the face (cf. Jeremiah 2:27), so will He turn His back on them in the day of their ruin, cf. Ezekiel 35:5.
To make their land desolate, and a perpetual hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished, and wag his head.
I will scatter them as with an east wind before the enemy; I will shew them the back, and not the face, in the day of their calamity.
Then said they, Come, and let us devise devices against Jeremiah; for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, and let us smite him with the tongue, and let us not give heed to any of his words.Enmity displayed against the prophet by the people for this discourse, and prayer for protection from his enemies. - Jeremiah 18:18. "Then said they: Come and let us plot schemes against Jeremiah; for law shall not be lost to the priest, and counsel to the wise, and speech to the prophet. Come and let us smite him with the tongue and not give heed to all his speeches. Jeremiah 18:19. Give heed to me, Jahveh, and hearken to the voice of them that contend with me! Jeremiah 18:20. Shall evil be repaid for good, that they dig a pit for my soul? Remember how I stood before Thee to speak good for them, to turn away Thy wrath from them! Jeremiah 18:21. Therefore give their sons to the famine and deliver them to the sword, that their wives become childless and widows, and their men slaughtered by death, their young men smitten by the sword in battle. Jeremiah 18:22. Let a cry be heard from their houses, when Thou bringest troops upon them suddenly; for they have digged a pit to take me and laid snares for my feet. Jeremiah 18:23. But Thou Jahveh knowest all their counsels against me for death: forgive not their iniquity and blot not out their sin from before Thy face, that they be overthrown before Thee; in the time of Thine anger deal with them."
Even the solemn words (Jeremiah 18:15-17) of the prophet were in vain. Instead of examining themselves and reforming their lives, the blinded sinners resolve to put the troublesome preacher of repentance out of the way by means of false charges. The subject of "and they said" is those who had heard the above discourse; not all, of course, but the infatuated leaders of the people who had. They call on the multitude to plot schemes against him, cf. Jeremiah 11:18. For they have, as they think, priests, wise men, and prophets to give them instruction out of the law, counsel, and word, i.e., prophecy - namely, according to their idea, such as advise, teach, and preach otherwise than Jeremiah, who speaks only of repentance and judgment. Recent scholars render תּורה doctrine, which is right etymologically, but not so when judged by the constant usage, which regards the Torah, the law, as containing the substance of all the doctrine needed by man to tell him how to bear himself towards God, or to make his life happy. The Mosaic law is the foundation of all prophetic preaching; and that the speakers mean תּורה in this sense is clear from their claiming the knowledge of the Torah as belonging to the priests; the law was committed to the keeping and administration of the priests. The "counsel" is that needed for the conduct of the state in difficult circumstances, and in Ezekiel 7:26 it is attributed to the elders; and "speech" or word is the declarations of the prophets. On that subject, cf. Jeremiah 8:8-10. To smite with the tongue is to ruin by slanders and malicious charges, cf. Jeremiah 9:2, Jeremiah 9:4,Jeremiah 9:7, where the tongue is compared to a lying bow and deadly arrow, Psalm 64:4., Psalm 59:8, etc. That they had the prophet's death in view appears from Jeremiah 18:23; although their further speech: We will not give heed to his words, shows that in the discourse against which they were so enraged, he had said "nothing that, according to their ideas, was directly and immediately punishable with death" (Hitz.); cf. Jeremiah 26:6, Jeremiah 26:11. Against these schemes Jeremiah cries to God in Jeremiah 18:19 for help and protection. While his adversaries are saying: People should give no heed to his speeches, he prays the Lord to give heed to him and to listen to the sayings of his enemies. "My contenders," who contend against me, cf. Jeremiah 35:1; Isaiah 49:25. - In support of his prayer he says in Jeremiah 18:20 : Shall evil be repaid for good? cf. Psalm 35:12. In his discourses he had in view nothing but the good of the people, and he appeals to the prayers he had presented to the Lord to turn away God's anger from the people, cf. Jeremiah 14:7., Jeremiah 18:19-22. (On "my standing before Thee," cf. Jeremiah 15:1.) This good they seek to repay with ill, by lying charges to dig a pit for his soul, i.e., for his life, into which pit he may fall; cf. Psalm 57:7, where, however, instead of שׁוּחה (Jeremiah 2:6; Proverbs 22:14; Proverbs 23:27), we have שׁיחה, as in Jeremiah 18:22, Chet. - He prays the Lord to requite them for this wickedness by bringing on the people that which Jeremiah had sought to avert, by destroying them with famine, sword, and disease. The various kinds of death are, Jeremiah 18:21, distributed rhetorically amongst the different classes of the people. The sons, i.e., children, are to be given up to the famine, the men to the sword, the young men to the sword in war. The suffix on הגּרם refers to the people, of which the children are mentioned before, the men and women after. On הגּר על ידי ח, cf. Ezekiel 35:5; Psalm 63:11. "Death," mentioned alongside of sword and famine, is death by disease and pestilence, as in Jeremiah 15:2.
Give heed to me, O LORD, and hearken to the voice of them that contend with me.
Shall evil be recompensed for good? for they have digged a pit for my soul. Remember that I stood before thee to speak good for them, and to turn away thy wrath from them.
Therefore deliver up their children to the famine, and pour out their blood by the force of the sword; and let their wives be bereaved of their children, and be widows; and let their men be put to death; let their young men be slain by the sword in battle.
Let a cry be heard from their houses, when thou shalt bring a troop suddenly upon them: for they have digged a pit to take me, and hid snares for my feet.To the terrors of the war and the siege is to be added the cry rising from all the houses into which hostile troops have burst, plundering and massacring. To lay snares, as in Psalm 140:6; Psalm 142:4. פּח is the spring of the bird-catcher.
Yet, LORD, thou knowest all their counsel against me to slay me: forgive not their iniquity, neither blot out their sin from thy sight, but let them be overthrown before thee; deal thus with them in the time of thine anger.Comprehensive summing up of the whole prayer. As the Lord knows their design against him for his death, he prays Him not to forgive their sin, but to punish it. The form תּמחי instead of תּמח (Nehemiah 13:14) is the Aramaic form for תּמחה, like תּזני, Jeremiah 3:6; cf. Ew. 224, c. The Chet. והיוּ is the regular continuation of the imperative: and let them be cast down before Thee. The Keri ויהיוּ would be: that they may be cast down before Thee. Hitz. wrongly expounds the Chet.: but let them be fallen before Thee (in Thine eyes), i.e., morally degraded sinners; for the question is not here one of moral degradation, but of the punishment of sinners. In the time of Thine anger, i.e., when Thou lettest loose Thy wrath, causest Thy judgments to come down, deal with them, i.e., with their transgressions. On עשׂה ב, cf. Daniel 11:7.
On this prayer of the prophet to God to exterminate his enemies Hitz. remarks: "The various curses which in his bitter indignation he directs against his enemies are at bottom but the expression of the thought: Now may all that befall them which I sought to avert from them." The Hirschberg Bible takes a deeper grasp of the matter: "It is no prayer of carnal vengeance against those that hated him, Jeremiah 18:18, Jeremiah 18:23, Psalm 9:18; Psalm 55:16; but as God had commanded him to desist (Jeremiah 14:11, Jeremiah 14:12) from the prayers he had frequently made for them, Jeremiah 18:20, and as they themselves could not endure these prayers, Jeremiah 18:18, he leaves them to God's judgments which he had been already compelled to predict to them, Jeremiah 11:22; Jeremiah 14:12, Jeremiah 14:16, without any longer resisting with his entreaties, Luke 13:9; 2 Timothy 4:14." In this observation that clause only is wrong which says Jeremiah merely leaves the wicked to God's judgments, since he, on the other hand, gives them up thereto, prays God to carry out judgment on them with the utmost severity. In this respect the present passage resembles the so-called cursing psalms (Psalm 35:4-10; Psalm 109:6-20; Psalm 59:14-16; Psalm 69:26-29, etc.); nor can we say with Calvin: hanc vehementiam, quoniam dictata fuit a spiritu sancto, non posse damnari, sed non debere trahi in exemplum, quia hoc singulare fuit in propheta. For the prophet's prayer is no inspired דבר יהוה, but the wish and utterance of his heart, for the fulfilment of which he cries to God; just as in the psalms cited. On these imprecations, cf. Del. on Psalm 35 and 109; as also the solid investigation of this point by Kurtz: Zur Theologie der Ps. IV. die Fluch-und Rachepsalmen in the Dorpat Ztschr. f. Theol. u. Kirche, vii. (1865), S. 359ff. All these curses are not the outcome and effusions of personal vengeance against enemies, but flow from the pure spring of a zeal, not self-regarding at all, for the glory of God. The enemies are God's enemies, despisers of His salvation. Their hostility against David and against Jeremiah was rooted in their hostility against God and the kingdom of God. The advancement of the kingdom of God, the fulfilment of the divine scheme of salvation, required the fall of the ungodly who seek the lives of God's servants. In this way we would seek to defend such words of cursing by appealing to the legal spirit of the Old Testament, and would not oppose them to the words of Christ, Luke 9:55. For Christ tells us why He blamed the Elias-like zeal of His disciples in the words: "The Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." In keeping with this, the peculiar end of Christ's coming on earth, we find no curses from Him against His enemies and the enemies of the kingdom of God. But just as the word, "I am not come," etc. (Luke 9:56), does not exclude the truth that the Father hath given all judgment to Him, so, as Kurtz very justly remarks, "from our hearing no word of cursing from the mouth of Christ during His life on earth we cannot infer the absolute inadmissibleness of all such; still less can we infer that Christ's apostles and disciples could not at all be justified in using any words of cursing." And the apostles have indeed uttered curses against obdurate enemies: so Peter against Simon the Magian, Acts 8:20; Paul against the high priest Ananias, Acts 23:3, against the Jewish false teachers, Galatians 1:9 and Galatians 5:12, and against Alexander the coppersmith, 2 Timothy 4:14. But these cases do not annihilate the distinction between the Old and the New Testaments. Since grace and truth have been revealed in Christ, the Old Testament standpoint of retribution according to the rigour of the law cannot be for us the standard of our bearing even towards the enemies of Christ and His kingdom.