Matthew Poole's Commentary
Thus saith the LORD, Go and get a potter's earthen bottle, and take of the ancients of the people, and of the ancients of the priests;Under the type of breaking a potter’s vessel is foreshown the desolation of the Jews for their sins committed in the valley of Hinnom and elsewhere.
Critics dispute the figure and fashion of this
bottle; ( see the English Annotations, and Mr. Pool’s Latin Synopsis;) but that is not much material, for God’s design was only to show the fragility of this people, how easily he could break them, and how certainly he would break them in pieces. For the more public notice of this typical action, Jeremiah is commanded to take for witnesses some of the gravest of the people and of the priests; whether they were members of the Sanhedrim (which was made up of these two sorts) or not, the Scripture saith not.
And go forth unto the valley of the son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the east gate, and proclaim there the words that I shall tell thee,Go forth unto the valley of the son of Hinnom: we shall hereafter hear why God commanded Jeremiah to go thither, rather than to another place, to break this earthen pot. This valley was a place very near unto Jerusalem, of which one Hinnom was owner in Joshua’s time, Joshua 15:8 18:16. The valley is in Scripture sometimes called Ge-hinnom, from whence came the Greek word Gehenna, used by our Saviour for hell, Matthew 5:22, eid thn geennan, because of the hellish torments they there put their children to when they sacrificed them, and of the hellish cries they made.
The east gate; in the Hebrew it is, the sun gate, supposed to be so called, because the sun riseth in the east. This valley is said to have lain very near to this gate; thither Jeremiah is commanded to go, and there to proclaim the following words.
And say, Hear ye the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah, and inhabitants of Jerusalem; Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, the which whosoever heareth, his ears shall tingle.That is, a very great evil; it is a Hebrew way of expression, which we also find 1 Samuel 3:11 2 Kings 21:12. As a very great glaring light affects our eyes, and blindeth them, so a very great sound affecteth the ear, and makes it tingle, and for some time deaf. This God commandeth the prophet to proclaim, as particularly directed to all, both high and low, as well the
kings of Judah as the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and have burned incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents;Because they have forsaken me; the laws, statutes, and ordinances which God had given them, to direct them both in their religious behaviour towards him, and in their civil conversations.
Have estranged this place; either this city, or this temple, (which stood very nigh to this valley,) or this particular valley, which they had turned to a use quite contrary to the end for which God gave it them; for in it they had paid a religious homage to idols, strange idols, which their fathers knew not, and had filled that place with the blood of such as had not deserved death, either innocent men, or children, that they had there sacrificed to idols; of which he afterward speaketh more particularly.
They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind:This and the following verse contain another great sin of this people, with the punishment which God proportioneth to it. The sin in the general was idolatry, but a most barbarous species of it, mentioned also Jeremiah 7:31 32:35, where it is said they made their sons and their daughters pass through the fire to Molech; the place where they did it is called Tophet, Jeremiah 19:6, of which also mention is made Isaiah 30:33 Jeremiah 7:31-33. For the opening of this text, as also of those other texts that mention this idolatry, we must open what is meant by Baal, Moloch, Tophet, and the valley of the son of Hinnom. There is no doubt but Baal and Molech, or Moloch, signify the same thing; Baal signifieth a lord, Molech a king. They ordinarily called their idols by these names; as also Malcham, Zephaniah 1:5; upon which account God would not be called Baal, Hosea 2:16, though he was called Jehovah, Elohim, and Adonai, all which signified lord, as Baal did. Both Baal and Molech seem common names to all idols. There was more than one idol in the house of Baal, 2 Kings 10:26. The Ammonites called their principal idol Milcom and Molech, as appears from 1 Kings 11:5 2 Kings 23:13. To this idol they sacrificed their children. It was a very ancient idolatry, as appeareth by the very early law of God against it, Leviticus 20:3-5. Some say it was derived from Saturn, whom they make contemporary with Deborah and Barak, who, to appease the gods in an imminent danger, sacrificed his son. Others say it began in the time of Serug, the father of Nahor, of whom we read Genesis 11:20, and that it had its original from the devil, speaking out of the belly of some dead persons, commanding this homage, possibly in imitation of God, who, Genesis 22:2, to try Abraham’s obedience, commanded him to offer up Isaac upon the Mount Moriah. We must know there were other sacrifices they offered to Baal: they burnt incense to Baal, 2 Kings 23:5; they offered sacrifices and burnt-offerings of beasts, 1 Kings 18:26 2 Kings 10:24; only in some extraordinary straits, to show their great obedience to the devil, they offered their children. What creature they worshipped under this name is not certain, but very probably it was the sun, from 2 Kings 23:5, or some superior being, which they owned as their supreme lord and king, which they, some of them, mistook the sun, moon, and stars to be; they being glorious beings removed out of men’s knowledge, so as they had not sufficient means to understand their natures, might, considering their motions, and vast influence they had upon all other creatures, mistake them for animate and supreme beings, to which as they paid other homages, (such as swearing by them, Zephaniah 1:5, burning incense, offering beasts, praying to them,) so in imitation of the heathens, and in a pretence of high devotion and homage in some special cases and straits, they offered their children. Some think they only made them go through the fire, but did not burn them; and indeed so most of the scriptures express this abominable idolatry; but some scriptures speak it plain enough, that they actually burnt them: the psalmist, Psalm 106:37, saith, They shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood, which it could not have been by their children’s merely passing through the fire; and it is laid to their charge, Ezekiel 16:20,21, Thou hast taken thy sons and thy daughters, whom thou hast borne unto me, and those hast thou sacrificed to them to be devoured. That thou hast slain my children, and delivered them to cause them to pass through the fire for them. We read of the idolatry of Jeroboam, who worshipped the true God, but by calves set up at Dan and Beth-el. Ahab exceeded this, bringing in the terminative worship of the creatures, worshipping the sun, moon, and stars, under the name of Baal. But, the first in Judah, of whom we read that he made his son to pass through the fire, was Ahaz, the father of Hezekiah, 2 Kings 16:3. He was followed by his grandchild Manasseh, 2 Kings 21:6. Josiah, the good son of a bad father, defiled the place where this abominable idolatry was committed, 2 Kings 23:10. The place where they committed this horrible abomination was the valley of the son of Hinnom, very near the city, and the particular place was called Tophet. There was a high place built for the idol, and many think that the name Tophet ariseth from their use of a drum or tabret, with which, while the poor children were burning, they made great noises to drown the sound of the children’s yellings; though others think the word Tophet originally signifies hell, or the place of the damned, of which this place, both for the torments and roarings in it, was a lively representation. Now of this barbarous and horrible idolatry God saith, he commanded them not, neither came it into his mind. It was so far from it, that God had most severely forbid it, Leviticus 20:2-5, making it a capital crime for any to do it, and for any to conceal others that they knew did it; so that here is a meiosis, less spoken than was true fit the case; but possibly God’s expressing a thing of this nature, being an error in his worship, under these soft terms,
I commanded them not, neither did it come into my mind, giveth no small ground to considerate men to judge that we must have a command from God, though not for every individual act of our worship, nor for every circumstance of human action which we do in his worship, yet for every specifical religious act, and for any thing whereby we pay a homage to God; it being indeed the most reasonable thing imaginable, that God should have the same privilege which every prince or great man amongst men claimeth as his right, to prescribe the acts, modes, and methods for his own homage.
Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that this place shall no more be called Tophet, nor The valley of the son of Hinnom, but The valley of slaughter.For this God, by his prophet, threateneth that this place, anciently, in Joshua’s time, called
The valley of the son of Hinnom, and more lately Tophet, from the noise of drums and tabrets there, whilst children were burning, should have a new name, and be called
The valley of slaughter, from the multitude of dead bodies which upon the taking of the city should be slain and thrown into this valley. It was expounded Jeremiah 7:32,33, For they shall bury in Tophet till there be no place; and the carcasses of this people shall be meat for the fowls of the heavens, and for the beasts of the earth, and none shall fray them away.
And I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place; and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies, and by the hands of them that seek their lives: and their carcases will I give to be meat for the fowls of the heaven, and for the beasts of the earth.In this place, amongst others, I will make void all the counsels that the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem have taken to escape my righteous judgments; I will frustrate all their little arts and designs to avoid the dint of my judgments; I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies, so as there shall be no way of escape for them.
And I will make this city desolate, and an hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished and hiss because of all the plagues thereof.This is no more than we met with before, Jeremiah 18:16, and shall again meet with. Men’s honour and reputation is ordinarily very dear to them, it was especially to the Jews, who valued themselves much upon the reputation their city and their temple had, and the security they promised themselves from their right in the holy city and land. God tells them he will make them as much a scorn and reproach as ever they were for an honour or praise; as great a wonderment for the wrath and vengeance he would execute upon them, as they had been in their flourishing state for the mercies which he bestowed upon them.
And I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and they shall eat every one the flesh of his friend in the siege and straitness, wherewith their enemies, and they that seek their lives, shall straiten them.These were the miserable effects or consequents of the famine with which God had often before threatened them, the just fulfilling of God’s word threatened Leviticus 26:29 Deu 28:53, and the accomplishment of which our prophet hath recorded, Lamentations 4:10.
Then shalt thou break the bottle in the sight of the men that go with thee,The earthen bottle, which, Jeremiah 19:1, he was commanded to carry with him into the valley of the son of Hinnom, (where he now was,) in the sight of the ancients of the priests, and of the people, the men who there were appointed to go with the prophet. This symbolical or sacramental teaching by signs was much in use by the prophets.
And shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter's vessel, that cannot be made whole again: and they shall bury them in Tophet, till there be no place to bury.The Lord of hosts; a name ordinarily given to God, here very properly, to let them know that he said nothing with his lips but what he had power by his hand to accomplish, being the Captain-general of all the armies of his creatures. God, by ordering the prophet to carry no other vessel but one of earth, had a design, upon the breaking of it, not only to show them that he would bruise, wound, or endamage them greatly, but so destroy them, as there should be no present remedy. If a vessel of brass, silver, gold, &c. be broken, it may be mended, but an earthen vessel, if broken, cannot be made whole. See the like Isaiah 30:14. He tells them that this Tophet, which they had made a place of barbarous slaughter for the children, killed for idolatrous sacrifices, should continue for a slaughter-house, but of another nature, even for them that had committed such wickedness in it, who should be slain there in such plenty, that they should want ground to bury dead carcasses in.
Thus will I do unto this place, saith the LORD, and to the inhabitants thereof, and even make this city as Tophet:That is, a place of slaughter and burials, or a base, ignominious place, or where the noise of drums, and trumpets, and cryings, and yellings shall be heard, as used to be in Tophet
And the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses of the kings of Judah, shall be defiled as the place of Tophet, because of all the houses upon whose roofs they have burned incense unto all the host of heaven, and have poured out drink offerings unto other gods.Under the Judaic law, persons and places were defiled by touching dead bodies, or any unclean, filthy thing: God threateneth in this sense to defile Tophet, as it was said before it should be filled with dead bodies which should be buried or lie unburied there. He showeth that the aforementioned judgment of filling places with dead bodies should not be restrained to Tophet in the valley of Hinnom, but reach to the dwelling-houses in Jerusalem, both their kings’ houses, and the meaner subjects; the provoking cause of which should be their idolatry, which they had also brought into their dwelling-houses, for they having flat roofs, had upon them, though not burnt children in sacrifice to idols, yet poured out drink-offerings to the sun, moon, and stars, and to other idols.
Then came Jeremiah from Tophet, whither the LORD had sent him to prophesy; and he stood in the court of the LORD'S house; and said to all the people,Jeremiah had now despatched the errand upon which God had sent him to Tophet; coming back by God’s direction, he stands in the court, which was common to all people, where the most might hear.
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring upon this city and upon all her towns all the evil that I have pronounced against it, because they have hardened their necks, that they might not hear my words.He assureth the people from God that he would most certainly justify all his words, and bring to pass all his threats against that city. and that they must thank themselves for it, for hardening their heart, so as all that he had said made no impression upon them, nor found any place with them.