Then said the LORD unto me, Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be toward this people: cast them out of my sight, and let them go forth.
Verses 1-9. - Second rejection of Jeremiah's intercession; awfulness of the impending judgment. Verse 1. - Though Moses and Samuel, etc. It is a mere supposition which is here made; there is no allusion to any popular view of the intercession of saints (see my note on Isaiah 63:16). If even a Moses or a Samuel would intercede in vain, the case of the Judahites must indeed be desperate. For these were the nearest of all the prophets to Jehovah, and repeatedly prayed their people out of grievous calamity (comp. Psalm 99:6). Jeremiah had already sought to intercede for his people (see on Jeremiah 7:16). Cast them out of my sight; rather, Dismiss them from my presence. The people are represented as praying or sacrificing in the fore courts of the temple.
And it shall come to pass, if they say unto thee, Whither shall we go forth? then thou shalt tell them, Thus saith the LORD; Such as are for death, to death; and such as are for the sword, to the sword; and such as are for the famine, to the famine; and such as are for the captivity, to the captivity.
Verse 2. - Such as are for death, etc.; a sternly ironical answer. Death, sword, famine, captivity, lie in wait for them in every possible road. "Death" here means "pestilence" (comp. "the black death" in the Middle Ages), as in Jeremiah 18:21; Job 27:15. Similar combinations of evils occur in Jeremiah 43:11; Ezekiel 14:21; Ezekiel 33:27.
And I will appoint over them four kinds, saith the LORD: the sword to slay, and the dogs to tear, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the earth, to devour and destroy.
Verse 3. - Appoint; i.e. give full power to them as my vicegerents (Jeremiah 1:10). Four kinds; literally, families; i.e. kinds of things. The first-mentioned has reference to the living; the remaining ones to the unburied corpses (Jeremiah 14:16; Jeremiah 19:7; Jeremiah 34:20). To tear; rather, to drag along.
And I will cause them to be removed into all kingdoms of the earth, because of Manasseh the son of Hezekiah king of Judah, for that which he did in Jerusalem.
Verse 4. - Cause them to be removed into; rather, make them a shuddering unto. So in the Deuteronomic curses for disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:25).
For who shall have pity upon thee, O Jerusalem? or who shall bemoan thee? or who shall go aside to ask how thou doest?
Verse 5. - For who shall have pity? or, for who can have pity, etc.? (the imperfect in its potential sense). The horror which will seize upon the spectators will effectually preclude pity. Who shall go aside? As one turns aside to call at a house. So Genesis 19:2 (literally, turn aside, not "turn in").
Thou hast forsaken me, saith the LORD, thou art gone backward: therefore will I stretch out my hand against thee, and destroy thee; I am weary with repenting.
Verse 6. - Will I stretch; literally, I stretched - the perfect of prophetic certitude (so in next verse). I am weary with repenting; i.e. with recalling my (conditional) sentence of punishment (see on Jeremiah 18:1-10).
And I will fan them with a fan in the gates of the land; I will bereave them of children, I will destroy my people, since they return not from their ways.
Verse 7. - The gates of the land. The phrase might mean either the cities in general (comp. Micah 5:5; Isaiah 3:26) or the fortresses commanding the entrance into the land (comp. Nahum 3:13). The context decides in favor of the latter view. Ewald's explanation, "borders of the earth" (i.e. the most distant countries), seems less natural. I will bereave them, etc. The proper object of the verb is my people (personified as a mother). The population are to fall in war (comp. the same figure in Ezekiel 5:17). The tense is the perfect of prophetic certitude; literally, I have bereaved, etc.
Their widows are increased to me above the sand of the seas: I have brought upon them against the mother of the young men a spoiler at noonday: I have caused him to fall upon it suddenly, and terrors upon the city.
Verse 8. - To me; i.e. at my bidding. It is the dative of cause. Against the mother of the young men; rather, upon... young man. The widow has lost her husband, the mother her son, so that no human power can repel the barbarous foe. The word rendered "young man" is specially used for "young warriors," e.g., Jeremiah 18:21; 49:26; 51:3. Others following Rashi, take "mother" in the sense of "metropolis," or "chief city" (see Authorized Version, margin), in which case "young man" must be connected with the participle rendered "a spoiler;" but though the word has this sense in 2 Samuel 20:19, it is there coupled with "city," so that no doubt can exist. Hero the prophet would certainly not have used the word in so unusual a sense without giving some guide to his meaning. The rendering adopted above has the support of Ewald, Hitzig, and Dr. Payne Smith. At noonday; at the most unlooked-for moment (see on Jeremiah 6:4). I have caused him, etc.; rather, I have caused pangs and terrors to fall upon her suddenly.
She that hath borne seven languisheth: she hath given up the ghost; her sun is gone down while it was yet day: she hath been ashamed and confounded: and the residue of them will I deliver to the sword before their enemies, saith the LORD.
Verse 9. - That hath borne seven; a proverbial expression (comp. 1 Samuel 2:5; Ruth 4:15). Her sun is gone down, etc. The figure is that of an eclipse (comp. Amos 9:9). She hath been ashamed, etc.; rather, she ashamed, etc. Ewald supposes the sun, which is sometimes feminine in Hebrew, to be the subject (comp. Isaiah 24:23); but the view of the Authorized Version is more probable. The shame of childlessness is repeatedly referred to (comp. Jeremiah 1:12; Isaiah 54:4; Genesis 16:4; Genesis 30:1, 23).
Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth! I have neither lent on usury, nor men have lent to me on usury; yet every one of them doth curse me.
Verses 10-21. - These verses come in very unexpectedly, and are certainly not to be regarded as a continuation of the preceding discourse. They describe some deeply pathetic moment of the prophet's inner life, and in all probability belong to a later period of the history of Judah. At any rate, the appreciation of the next chapter will be facilitated by reading it in close connection with Ver. 9 of the present chapter. But the section before us is too impressive to be east adrift without an attempt to find a place for it in the life of the prophet. The attempt has been made with some plausibility by a Jewish scholar, Dr. Gratz, who considers the background of these verses to be the sojourn of Jeremiah at Ramah, referred to in Jeremiah 40:1, and groups them, therefore, with another prophecy (Jeremiah 31:15-17), in which Ramah is mentioned by name as the temporary abode of the Jewish captives. We are told in Jeremiah 40:4, 5, that Jeremiah had the choice given him of either going to Babylon with the exiles, or dwelling with the Jews who were allowed to remain under Gedaliah the governor. He chose, as the narrative in Jeremiah 40. tells us, to stay with Gedaliah; but the narrative could not, in accordance with the reserve which characterizes the inspired writers, reveal the state of mind in which this difficult choice was made. This omission is supplied in the paragraph before us. Jeremiah, with that lyric tendency peculiar to him among the prophets, gives a vent to his emotion in these impassioned verses. He tells his friends that the resolution to go to Gedaliah may cost him a severe struggle. He longs for rest, and in Babylon he would have more chance of a quiet life than among the turbulent Jews at home. But he has looked up to God for guidance, and, however painful to the flesh, God's will must be obeyed. He gives us the substance of the revelation which he received. The Divine counselor points out that he has already interposed in the most striking manner for Jeremiah, and declares that if he will devote himself to the Jews under Gedaliah, a new and fruitful field will be open to him, in which, moreover, by Divine appointment, no harm can happen to him. Whether this is really the background of the paragraph must remain uncertain. In a case of this kind, we are obliged to call in the help of the imagination, if the words of the prophet are to be realized with any degree of vividness. There are some great difficulties in the text, and apparently one interpolation (Vers. 13, 14 being in all probability an incorrect copy of Jeremiah 17:3, 4). Verse 10. - Woe is me, my mother! This is one of those passages (comp. Introduction) which illustrate the sensitive and shrinking character of our prophet.
"If his meek spirit erred, opprest
That God denied repose,
What sin is ours, to whom Heaven's rest
Is pledged to heal earth's woes?"
(Cardinal Newman, in 'Lyra Apostolica,' 88.). I have neither lent on usury, etc.; a speaking figure to men of the ancient world, to whom, as Dr. Payne Smith remarks, "the relations between the money-lender and the debtor were the most fruitful source of lawsuits and quarrellings."
The LORD said, Verily it shall be well with thy remnant; verily I will cause the enemy to entreat thee well in the time of evil and in the time of affliction.
Verse 11. - The Lord said. The prophets are usually so tenacious of the same formulae that even their slight deviations are noteworthy. "The Lord said," for "Thus saith the Lord," occurs only here and in Jeremiah 46:25 (where, however, the phrase has possibly been detached by mistake from the preceding verse). It shall be well with thy remnant; rather, I have loosed thee for (thy) good, or, thy loosing (shall be) for (thy good), according as we adopt the reading of the Hebrew text or that of the margin, which differs in form as slightly as it is possible to do. If we accept the historical setting proposed by Gratz for this paragraph, the reference will be to the "loosing" of Jeremiah from his chains mentioned in Jeremiah 40:4. The rendering given here is, however, only a probable one; it is in conformity with the Aramaic usage of the verb (the Targum uses it in this sense in Jeremiah 40:4), and is supported by its suitability to the context and, philologically, by the fact of the growing influence of Aramaic upon Hebrew. Gesenius, in his anxiety to keep close to the native use of the root, produces a rendering (of the Hebrew marginal reading) which does not suit the context, viz. "I afflict thee for (thy) good." Jeremiah does not complain of being afflicted by God, but that all the world is against him; Ewald, comparing a different Aramaic verb to that appealed to above, renders, "I strengthen thee," etc., which is adopted by Keil, but does not accord with the second half of the verse so well as the rendering adopted. The Authorized Version follows the Targum, the Vulgate, Aquila, Symmachus, Rashi, and Kimchi, assuming that sherith is contracted from sh'erith (as in 1 Chronicles 12:38), and that "remnant" is equivalent to "remnant of life." But, though the sense is not unacceptable (comp. Vers. 20, 21), the form of expression is unnatural; we should have expected akharith'ka, "thy latter end" (comp. Job 8:7). I will cause the enemy to entreat thee well. This expression is as difficult as the preceding, and our rendering of it will depend entirely on our view of the context. If "the enemy" means the Chaldeans, the Authorized Version will be substantially correct. Rashi has already mentioned the view that the phrase alludes to Nebnzar-adan's respectful inquiry as to the wishes of Jeremiah in Jeremiah 40:2-5. In this case, the literal rendering is, I will cause the enemy to meet thee (as a friend); comp. Isaiah 47:3; Isaiah 64:4. But if "the enemy" means the Jews, then we must render, 1 grill cause the enemy to supplicate thee, and illustrate the phrase by the repeated applications of Zedekiah to the prophet (Jeremiah 21:1, 2; Jeremiah 37:3; Jeremiah 38:14), and the similar appeal of the "captains of the forces," in Jeremiah 42:1-3.
Shall iron break the northern iron and the steel?
Verse 12. - Shall iron break, etc.? Again an enigmatical saying. The rendering of the Authorized Version assumes that by the northern iron Jeremiah means the Babylonian empire. But the "breaking" of the Babylonian empire was not a subject which lay within the thoughts of the prophet. It was not the fate of Babylon, but his own troubled existence, and the possibility that his foes would ultimately succeed in crushing him, which disquieted this conscientious but timid spokesman of Jehovah. The Divine interlocutor has reminded him in the preceding verse of the mercy which has been already extended to him, and now recalls to his recollection the encouraging assurances given him in his inaugural vision (Jeremiah h 18, 19). Render, therefore, Can one break iron, northern iron, and bronze? The steel of the Authorized Version is evidently a slip. The Hebrew word is n'khosheth, which means sometimes (e.g. Jeremiah 6:28; Deuteronomy 8:9; Deuteronomy 33:25; Job 28:2) copper, but more commonly bronze, since "copper unalloyed seems to have been but rarely used after its alloys with tin became known" (Professor Maskelyne). "Steel" would have been more fitly introduced as the second of the three names of metals. "Northern iron" at once suggests the Chalybes, famous in antiquity for their skill in hardening iron, and, according to classical authors (e.g. Stephanus the geographer), the neighbors of the Tibareni, in the country adjoining the Euxine Sea, the Tibareni being, of course, the people of Tubal, whom Ezekiel mentions (Ezekiel 27:13) as trafficking in vessels of bronze. Any Jew, familiar with the wares of the bazaar, would at once appreciate the force of such a question as this. Even if iron could be broken, yet surely not steel nor bronze. Thus the verse simply reaffirms the original promises to Jeremiah, and prepares the way for Vers. 20, 21.
Thy substance and thy treasures will I give to the spoil without price, and that for all thy sins, even in all thy borders.
Verses 13, 14. - Thy substance, etc. These verses form an unlooked-for digression. The prophet has been in a state of profound melancholy, and the object of Jehovah is to rouse him from it. In Vers. 11, 12, the most encouraging assurances have been given him. Suddenly comes the overwhelming declaration contained in Vers. 13, 14. And when we look closely at these verses, two points strike us, which make it difficult to conceive that Jeremiah intended them to stand here. First, their contents are not at all adapted to Jeremiah, and clearly belong to the people of Judah; and next, they are repeated, with some variations, in Jeremiah 17:3, 4. It should also be observed that the Septuagint (which omits Jeremiah 17:1-4) only gives them here, which seems to indicate an early opinion that the passage only ought to occur once in the Book of Jeremiah, though the Septuagint translator failed to choose the right position for it. Without price; literally, not for a price. In the parallel passage there is another reading, "thy high places," which forms part of the next clause. Hitzig and Graf suppose this to be the original reading, the Hebrew letters having been partly effaced and then misread, after which "not" was prefixed to make sense. However this may be, the present reading is unintelligible, if we compare Isaiah 52:3, where Jehovah declares that his people were sold for nothing, i.e. were given up entirely to the enemy, without any compensating advantage to Jehovah. And that for all thy sins, even, etc.; literally, and in all thy sins and in all thy borders. The text is certainly difficult. Externally a parallelism exists between the two halves of the clause, and one is therefore tempted to render literally. As this will not make sense, however, we are forced either to render as the Authorized Version, or to suppose that the text is not accurately preserved. The parallel passage has a different but not a more intelligible reading. Ewald omits "and" in both halves of the clause, which slightly diminishes the awkwardness. And I will make thee to pass, etc. The natural rendering of the Hebrew is, "And I will make thine enemies to pass," etc., which clearly cannot be the prophet's meaning. The parallel passage (Jeremiah 17:4) has, "And I will make thee to serve thine enemies," etc.; and so the Septuagint, the Syriac, the Targum, and many manuscripts here. For a fire is kindled in mine anger; a reminiscence of Deuteronomy 32:22, suggesting that the judgment described in the Song of Moses is about to fall upon Judah.
And I will make thee to pass with thine enemies into a land which thou knowest not: for a fire is kindled in mine anger, which shall burn upon you.
O LORD, thou knowest: remember me, and visit me, and revenge me of my persecutors; take me not away in thy longsuffering: know that for thy sake I have suffered rebuke.
Verse 15. - O Lord, thou knowest, etc. The prophet renews his complaints. God's omniscience is the thought which comforts him (comp. Jeremiah 17:6; Jeremiah 18:23; Psalm 69:19). But he desires some visible proof of God's continued care for his servant. Visit me, equivalent to "be attentive to my wants "-an anthropomorphic expression for the operation of Providence. Take me not away in thy long-suffering; i.e. "suffer not my persecutors to destroy me through the long-suffering which thou displayest towards them." "Take away," viz. my life (comp. Ezekiel 33:4, "If the sword come and take him away"). Rebuke; rather, reproach; cutup. Psalm 69:7 (Psalm 69. is in the style of Jeremiah, and, as Delitzsch remarks, suits his circumstances better than those of David).
Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts.
Verse 16. - Thy words were found. Jeremiah here describes his first reception of a Divine revelation. Truth is like "treasure hid in a field;" he alone who seeks it with an unprejudiced mind can "find" it. But there are some things which no "searching" of the intellect can "find" (Job 11:7; Job 37:23; Ecclesiastes 3:11; Ecclesiastes 8:17); yet by a special revelation they may be "found" by God's "spokesmen," or prophets. This is the train of thought which underlies Jeremiah's expression here. The "words," or revelations, of Jehovah are regarded as having an objective existence in the ideal world of which God is the light, and as "descending" from thence (comp. Isaiah 9:8) into the consciousness of the prophet. So Ezekiel 3:1, "Eat that thou findest." I did eat them; I assimilated them, as it were (comp. Ezekiel 2:8; Ezekiel 3:3). I am called by thy name; literally, thy name hath been (or, had been) called upon me; i.e. I have (or, had) been specially dedicated to thy service. The phrase is often used of Israel (see on Jeremiah 14:9), and, as here applied, intimates that a faithful prophet was, as it were, the embodied ideal of an Israelite.
I sat not in the assembly of the mockers, nor rejoiced; I sat alone because of thy hand: for thou hast filled me with indignation.
Verse 17. - In the assembly of the mockers; rather, of the laughers. The serious thoughts arising out of his sacred office restrained him from taking part in the festive meetings to which his youth would naturally incline him (comp. on Jeremiah 16:2). Because of thy hand. The Hand of Jehovah is a figurative expression for the self-revealing and irresistible power of Jehovah; it is, therefore, equivalent to the Arm of Jehovah (Isaiah 53:1), but is used in preference with regard to the divinely ordained actions and words of the prophets. Thus we are told, in the accounts of Elijah and Elisha, that "the hand of the Lord came upon" them (1 Kings 18:46; 2 Kings 3:15). Such a phrase was probably at first descriptive of a completely passive ecstatic state, and was retained when ecstasies had become rare, with a somewhat laxer meaning. Isaiah uses a similar expression but once (Isaiah 8:11); Ezekiel, however, who appears to have been unusually rifled with the overpowering thought of the supernatural world, is constantly mentioning "the hand of Jehovah" (see Ezekiel 1:3; Ezekiel 3:22; Ezekiel 37:1; and especially Ezekiel 3:14; 8:3). We may infer from this variation in the practice of inspired writers that, though symbolical, anthropomorphic language is not always equally necessary in speaking of Divine things, yet it cannot be entirely dispensed with, even by the most gifted and spiritual teachers. Thou hast filled me with indignation; rather, thou hadst filled me. Jeremiah was too full of his Divine message to indulge in impracticable sentimentalities. There was no thought of self when Jeremiah received his mission, nor any bitterness towards those who up-posed him. His "indignation" was that of Jehovah, whose simple instrument he was (comp. Jeremiah 6:11, "I am full of the fury of the Lord").
Why is my pain perpetual, and my wound incurable, which refuseth to be healed? wilt thou be altogether unto me as a liar, and as waters that fail?
Verse 18. - Why is my pain perpetual? One who could honestly speak of himself in terms such as those of Vers. 16, 17, seemed to have a special claim on the Divine protection. But Jeremiah's hopes have been disappointed. His vexation is perpetual, and his wounded spirit finds no comfort. As a liar; rather, as a deceitful stream. The word "stream" has to be understood as in Micah 1:14. Many of the water courses of Palestine are filled with a rushing torrent in the winter, but dry in summer. Hence the pathetic complaint of Job (Job 6:15). The opposite phrase to that used by Jeremiah is "a perennial stream" (Amos 5:24). The force of the passage is increased if we read it in the light of Dr. Gratz's hypothesis.
Therefore thus saith the LORD, If thou return, then will I bring thee again, and thou shalt stand before me: and if thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth: let them return unto thee; but return not thou unto them.
Verse 19. - If thou return, etc. Most commentators regard these words as containing a gentle rebuke to Jeremiah for his doubts respecting God's care of him. It may be questioned, however, whether such passing doubts could be described as a turning away from Jehovah. If the word "return" is to be interpreted in a spiritual sense, we must surely conclude that the people is addressed (comp. Jeremiah 3:12; Jeremiah 4:1). But this does not agree with the context. Hence Gratz's view seems very plausible, that the reference is to the proposal that Jeremiah should place himself under the protection of Gedaliah (comp. Jeremiah 40:5, "Go back also to Gedaliah," etc.). Then will I bring thee again; viz. into the right relation to me, so as to be my minister (Keil). But by altering one of the vowel-points (which form no part of the text), on the authority of the Septuagint, we get a more satisfactory sense, I will give thee a settled place. The verb must in any case be coupled with the following one. Jeremiah longs for a quiet home, only as supplying the conditions of prophetic activity. Thou shalt stand before me. The phrase is taken from the wont of slaves to stand in their masters' presence, waiting for commands. It is also applied to courtiers (Proverbs 22:29) and royal councilors (1 Kings 12:6), to angels (Luke 1:19) and to prophets (1 Kings 17:1; 2 Kings 3:14). Jeremiah was by God's will to find a new and important mission to the Jews with Gedaliah. If thou take forth the precious from the vile, etc. The metaphor is derived from metallurgy (comp. Jeremiah 6:27-30). The prophet is compared to a smelter. By the fervor of his inspired exhortations, he seeks to draw away from the mass of unbelievers all those who are spiritually capable of better things. The "vine-dressers and husbandmen," whom Nebuzar-adan had left after the capture of Jerusalem, though outwardly "the poor of the laud," might yet be ennobled by the word and example of Jeremiah. [Some explain "the precious" and "the vile" differently, taking the former to be the pure Word of God (comp. Psalm 12:6; Proverbs 30:5), the latter the base, human elements which are apt to be mixed with the Divine message (comp. Jeremiah 23:28). But was it not the very fidelity of Jeremiah which exposed him to the persecutions of which he has been complaining? Others suppose an inward purification of Jeremiah himself to be intended, "the vile" being those human infirmities of which he had just given evidence, as opposed to "the precious," i.e. the spiritual impulses which come from above. But is not such an explanation too evangelical, too Pauline, for this context?] Thou shalt be as my mouth. For devoting himself to this possible "mustard seed" of a better and holier people, the prophet should be rewarded
(1) by close prophetic intercourse with his God, and
(2), as the next clause states, by a moral victory over his opponents. "Mouth" for "prophet," as Exodus 4:16 (comp. Exodus 7:1). Let them return unto thee, etc.; rather, they shall return unto thee, but thou shalt not return unto them. They shall come over to thy side, and thou shalt not need to make humiliating advances to them.
And I will make thee unto this people a fenced brasen wall: and they shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee: for I am with thee to save thee and to deliver thee, saith the LORD.
Verse 20. - And I will make thee, etc.; a solemn confirmation of the promises in Jeremiah 1:18, 19.
And I will deliver thee out of the hand of the wicked, and I will redeem thee out of the hand of the terrible.
Verse 21. - Out of the hand of the wicked, etc. The "wicked" (literally, evil) and the "terrible" may be the banditti, composed of desperate patriots, who ultimately assassinated Gedaliah (Jeremiah 41:1-3).