Jeremiah 5
Pulpit Commentary
Run ye to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and see now, and know, and seek in the broad places thereof, if ye can find a man, if there be any that executeth judgment, that seeketh the truth; and I will pardon it.
Verses 1-9. - Gladly would Jehovah pardon, if his people showed but a gleam of sound morality. But they are all deaf to the warning voice - the Law of God is flagrantly violated. In particular the marriage tie, as well the typical one between man and woman as the anti-typical between the people and its God, is openly disregarded (comp. Hosea 4:1; Micah 7:2; Isaiah 64:6, 7; Psalm 14:3). Verse 1. - If ye can find a man. "A man" is explained by the following clauses. It is a man whose practice and whose aims are right, of whom Jeremiah, like Diogenes with his lantern, is in search. (It is evident that the prophet speaks rhetorically, for himself and his disciples, however few, were doubtless "men" in the prophetic sense of the word.) Judgment... the truth; rather, justice... good faith, the primary virtues of civil society.
And though they say, The LORD liveth; surely they swear falsely.
Verse 2. - And though they say, The Lord liveth. Though they asseverate by the most solemn of all oaths (contrast Jeremiah 4:1, 2). Surely. So the Syriac. This rendering, however, involves an emendation of one letter in the text. The ordinary reading is literally therefore, but may etymologically be taken to mean "for all this," "nevertheless."
O LORD, are not thine eyes upon the truth? thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return.
Verse 3. - Are not thine eyes upon the truth? rather, surely thine eyes are upon (equivalent to thou lookest for and demandest) good faith, alluding to ver. 1.
Therefore I said, Surely these are poor; they are foolish: for they know not the way of the LORD, nor the judgment of their God.
Verse 4. - Therefore I said; rather, and as for me, I said. They are foolish; rather, they act foolishly (as Numbers 12:11). For; rather, because. Their want of religious instruction is the cause of their faulty conduct. In fact, it was only after the return from Babylon that any popular schools were founded in Judaea, and not till shortly before the destruction of the temple that the elementary instruction attained the regularity of a system (Edersheim, 'Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Time of Christ,' pp. 134, 135). The judgment of their God. A similar phrase occurs in Jeremiah 8:7. "Judgment (mishpat) here (as in some other passages) has acquired a technical sense. This may be illustrated by the corresponding word in Arabic (din), which means

(1) obedience,

(2) a religion,

(3) a statute or ordinance,

(4) a system of usages, rites, and ceremonies" (Lane's 'Lexicon,' s.v.). Judgment is, therefore, here equivalent to "religious law," and "law" is a preferable rendering.
I will get me unto the great men, and will speak unto them; for they have known the way of the LORD, and the judgment of their God: but these have altogether broken the yoke, and burst the bonds.
Verse 5. - The bonds are the thongs by which the yoke was secured to the neck (comp. Isaiah 58:6). In Jeremiah 2:20 the word is rendered "bands."
Wherefore a lion out of the forest shall slay them, and a wolf of the evenings shall spoil them, a leopard shall watch over their cities: every one that goeth out thence shall be torn in pieces: because their transgressions are many, and their backslidings are increased.
Verse 6. - This verse reminds us of a famous passage in the first canto of Dante's 'Commedia,' in which Dante the pilgrim is successively opposed by three wild beasts - a panther, a lion, and a she-wolf. That the poet had Jeremiah in his mind cannot be doubted. The deep knowledge of the Scriptures possessed by medieval theologians (and such was Dante) may put many Protestants to shame. Curiously enough, whereas the early commentators on Dante interpret these wild beasts of vices, the moderns find historical references to nations. On the other hand, while modern expositors explain Jeremiah's wild beasts as symbols of calamities, Rashi and St. Jerome understand them of the Chaldeans, Persians, and Greeks. A lion out of the forest. The first of a series of figures for the cruel invaders of Judah (comp. Jeremiah 4:7). The frequent references (see also Jeremiah 12:8; Jeremiah 25:38; Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 50:4) show how common the lion was in the hills and valleys of the land of Israel. A wolf of the evenings; i.e. a wolf which goes out to seek for prey in the evening. So the Peshito, Targum, Vulgate (comp. "wolves of the evening," Habakkuk 1:8; Zephaniah 3:3). But there is no evidence that 'erebh, evening, has for its plural 'arabhoth, which is, in fact, the regular plural of arabah, desert. Render, therefore, a wolf of the deserts, i.e. one which has its den in the deserts, and falls upon the cultivated parts when it is hungry. Luther, "the wolf out of the desert." A leopard; rather, a panther. The Chaldeans are compared to this animal, on account of its swiftness, in Habakkuk 1:8.
How shall I pardon thee for this? thy children have forsaken me, and sworn by them that are no gods: when I had fed them to the full, they then committed adultery, and assembled themselves by troops in the harlots' houses.
Verse 7. - How... for this? rather, Why should I pardon thee? Thy children; i.e. (since "the daughter of Zion" is equivalent to Zion regarded as an ideal entity) the members of the Jewish people (comp. Leviticus 19:18, "the children of thy people"). When I had fed them to the full. So Ewald, following the versions and many manuscripts (there is no marginal reading in the Hebrew Bible). This gives a good sense, and may be supported by ver. 28; Deuteronomy 32:15; Hosea 13:6. But the reading of the received Hebrew text, though somewhat more difficult, is yet perfectly capable of explanation; and, slight as the difference is in the reading adopted by Ewald (it involves a mere shade of pronunciation), it is not to be preferred to the received reading. Read, therefore, though -r made them to swear (allegiance),!let they committed adultery. The oath may be that of Sinai (Exodus 24.), or such au oath as had been recently taken by Josiah and the people (1 Kings 23:3; 2 Chronicles 34:31, 32). The "adultery" may be taken both in a literal and in a figurative sense, and so also the "harlots' houses" in the next clause. It is also well worthy of consideration whether the prophet may not be referring to certain matrimonial customs handed down from remote antiquity and arising from the ancient system of kinship through women (comp. Ezekiel 22:11).
They were as fed horses in the morning: every one neighed after his neighbour's wife.
Verse 8. - As fed horses in the morning. The rendering fed horses has considerable authority. "Lustful horses" is also possible; this represents the reading of the Hebrew margin. The following word in the Hebrew is extremely difficult. "In the morning" cannot be right, as it is against grammar; but it is not easy to furnish a substitute. Most moderns render "roving about;" Furst prefers "stallions."
Shall I not visit for these things? saith the LORD: and shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?
Go ye up upon her walls, and destroy; but make not a full end: take away her battlements; for they are not the LORD'S.
Verses 10-18. - Provoked by the open unbelief of the men of Judah, Jehovah repeats his warning of a sore judgment. Verse 10. - Her walls. There is a doubt about "walls," which should, as some think, rather be vine-rows (a change of points is involved; also of shin into sin - the slightest of all changes), or shoots, or branches (comparing the Syriac). The figure would thus gain somewhat in symmetry. However, all the ancient interpreters (whose authority, overrated by some, still counts for something) explain the word as in the Authorized Version, and, as Graf remarks, in order to destroy the vines, it' would be necessary to climb up upon the walls of the vineyard. (For the figure of the vine or the vineyard, scrap, on Jeremiah 2:21.) Take away... not the Lord's. The Septuagint and Peshito read differently, translating "leave her foundations, for they are the Lord's" (supposing the figure be taken from a building). As the text stands, it is better to change battlements into tendrils. Judah's degenerate members are to be removed, but the vine-stock, i.e., the behooving kernel of the nation, is to be left. It is the key-note of the "remnant" which Jeremiah again strikes (see Jeremiah 4:27).
For the house of Israel and the house of Judah have dealt very treacherously against me, saith the LORD.
They have belied the LORD, and said, It is not he; neither shall evil come upon us; neither shall we see sword nor famine:
Verse 12. - It is not he. Understand "who speaks by the prophets" (Payne Smith). It is hardly conceivable that any of the Jews absolutely denied the existence of Jehovah. They were practical, not speculative unbelievers, like men of the world in general.
And the prophets shall become wind, and the word is not in them: thus shall it be done unto them.
Verse 13. - And the prophets, etc. A continuation of the speech of the unbelieving Jews. The word is not in them. The Authorized Version gives a good meaning, but it involves an interference with the points. The pointed text must be rendered, he who speaketh (through the prophets, viz. Jehovah) is not in them. Thus the Jews hurl against prophets like Jeremiah the very charge which Jeremiah himself brings against the "false prophets" in Jeremiah 23:25-32. Thus shall it be done; rather, so be it done; i.e. may the sword and famine, with which they threaten us, fall upon them.
Wherefore thus saith the LORD God of hosts, Because ye speak this word, behold, I will make my words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them.
Verse 14. - My words in thy mouth fire. (See on Jeremiah 1:9, 10.)
Lo, I will bring a nation upon you from far, O house of Israel, saith the LORD: it is a mighty nation, it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language thou knowest not, neither understandest what they say.
Verse 15. - O house of Israel. After the captivity of the ten tribes, Judah became the sole representative of the people of Israel (scrap. Jeremiah 2:26). A mighty nation. The Authorized Version certainly gives apart of the meaning. The Hebrew word rendered "mighty" ('ethan), rather, "perennial," is the epithet of rocks and mountains (Numbers 24:21; Micah 6:2); of a pasture (Jeremiah 49:19); of rivers (Deuteronomy 21:4; Psalm 74:15). As applied in the present instance, it seems to describe the inexhaustible resources of a young nation. Render here, ever replenished; i.e. ever drawing anew from its central fountain of strength. Does not this aptly convey the impression which a long-civilized nation (and the Jews, who have been called "rude," were only so by comparison with the Egyptians and Assyrians) must derive from the tumultuous incursions of nomad hosts? The description-will therefore fit the Scythians; but it is not inappropriate to the Chaldeans, if we take into account the composite nature of their armies. An ancient nation; i.e. one which still occupies its primeval seat in the north (Jeremiah 6:22), undisturbed by invaders. Whose language thou knowest not. So Isaiah of the Assyrians, "(a people) of a stammering tongue, that thou canst not understand." The Jews were no philologists, and were as unlikely to notice the fundamental affinity of Hebrew and Assyrian as an ancient Greek to observe the connection between his own language and the Persian. When the combatants were to each other βάρβαροι, mercy could hardly be expected. The sequence of vers. 49 and 50 in Deuteronomy 28. speaks volumes.
Their quiver is as an open sepulchre, they are all mighty men.
Verse 16. - Their quiver. (See on Jeremiah 4:29.) As an open sepulcher; i.e. furnished with deadly arrows, "fiery darts." So the psalmist, of the "throat" of deceitful persecutors (Psalm 5:9).
And they shall eat up thine harvest, and thy bread, which thy sons and thy daughters should eat: they shall eat up thy flocks and thine herds: they shall eat up thy vines and thy fig trees: they shall impoverish thy fenced cities, wherein thou trustedst, with the sword.
Verse 17. - Which thy sons and thy daughters, etc.; rather, they shall eat that sons and thy daughters. In the other clauses of the verse the verb is in the singular, the subject being the hostile nation. They shall impoverish, etc.; rather, it shall batter... with weapons of war (so rightly Payne Smith); kherebh, commonly rendered "sword." is applied to any cutting instrument, such as a razor (Ezekiel 5:1), a mason's tool (Exodus 20:25), and, as here and Ezekiel 26:9, weapons of war in general.
Nevertheless in those days, saith the LORD, I will not make a full end with you.
And it shall come to pass, when ye shall say, Wherefore doeth the LORD our God all these things unto us? then shalt thou answer them, Like as ye have forsaken me, and served strange gods in your land, so shall ye serve strangers in a land that is not yours.
Verses 19-29. - Judah's own obstinacy and flagrant disobedience are the causes of this sore judgment. Verse 19. - Like as ye have forsaken me, etc. The law of correspondence between sin and punishment pervades Old Testament prophecy (comp. Isaiah 5.). As the Jews served foreign gods in Jehovah's land, they shall become the slaves of foreigners in a land which is not theirs.
Declare this in the house of Jacob, and publish it in Judah, saying,
Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not:
Verse 21. - Without understanding; literally, without heart. This seems at first sight inconsistent with ver. 23, where the people is described as having indeed a "heart," but one hostile to Jehovah. The explanation is that a course of deliberate sin perverts a man's moral perceptions. The prophet first of all states the result, and then the cause. So in Ezekiel 12:2, "Which have eyes and see not," etc.; "for they are a rebellions house."
Fear ye not me? saith the LORD: will ye not tremble at my presence, which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it: and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet can they not prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it?
Verse 22. - Fear ye not me? The Hebrew places "me" emphatically at the beginning of the sentence. By a perpetual decree. This is one of the evidences, few but sufficient, of the recognition of natural laws by the Biblical writers; of laws, however, which are but the description of the Divine mode of working, "covenants" (Jeremiah 33:20; comp. Genesis 9:18) made for man's good, but capable of being annulled (Isaiah 54:10). Comp. Proverbs 8:29; Job 38:8-12.
But this people hath a revolting and a rebellious heart; they are revolted and gone.
Verse 23. - A revolting and a rebellious heart. The heart is the center of the moral life virtually equivalent to "the will;" it. is "revolting" when it "turns back" (so literally here) from God's Law and service, and "rebellious" when it actively defies and opposes him.
Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the LORD our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: he reserveth unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest.
Verse 24. - That giveth rain, etc. The second appeal is to the regularity of the rains. Dr. Robinson remarks that there are not at the present day in Palestine "any particular periods of rain, or succession of showers, which might be regarded as distinct rainy seasons," and that...unless there has been some change m the climate of Palestine, the former and the latter rains seem to correspond to "the first showers of autumn, which revived the parched and thirsty earth and prepared it for the seed, and the later showers of spring, which continued to refresh and forward both the ripening crops and the vernal products of the fields" ('Biblical Researches,' 3:98). He reserveth unto us, etc.; literally, he keepeth for us the weeks - the statutes of harvest; i.e. the weeks which are the appointed conditions of harvest. The prophet means the seven weeks which elapsed from the second day of the Passover to the "Feast of Harvest," or "Feast of Weeks" (Pentecost) (Exodus 23:16; Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:9, 10).
Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withholden good things from you.
Verse 25. - Have turned away these things. "These things" are the benefits mentioned in the preceding verse (comp. Jeremiah 3:3; Jeremiah 12:4). Thus the judgment is not entirely future; a foretaste of it has already been given (comp. 1 Kings 17; Amos 4.).
For among my people are found wicked men: they lay wait, as he that setteth snares; they set a trap, they catch men.
Verse 26. - They lay wait, etc.; rather, they spy (literally, one spieth), as fowlers lie in wait. A trap; literally, a destroyer; i.e. an instrument of destruction (comp. Isaiah 54:16, where" the waster" (or destroyer) probably means the weapon referred to previously).
As a cage is full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit: therefore they are become great, and waxen rich.
Verse 27. - A cage. The Hebrew word klub is used in Amos 8:1 for a basket such as was used for fruit; it seems to be the parent of the Greek word κλωβός, used in the 'Anthology' for a bird-cage. The root means to plait or braid; hence some sort of basket-work seems to be meant. Connecting this with the preceding verse, Hitzig seems right in inferring that the "cage" was at the same time a trap (comp. Ecclus. 11:30, "Like as a partridge taken in a cage ἐν καρτάλλῳ, a peculiar kind of basket], so is the heart of the proud"). Canon Tristram suggests that there is an allusion to decoy-birds, which are still much employed in Syria, and are carefully trained for their office ('Natural History of the Bible,' p. 163), But this seems to go beyond the text. Deceit; i.e. the goods obtained by deceit.
They are waxen fat, they shine: yea, they overpass the deeds of the wicked: they judge not the cause, the cause of the fatherless, yet they prosper; and the right of the needy do they not judge.
Verse 28. - They overpass the deeds of the wicked; rather, they overpass the common measure of wickedness (literally, the cases of wickedness); or, as others, they exceed in deeds of wickedness. Yet they prosper; rather, so that they (the fatherless) might prosper; or, that they (the rich) might make it to prosper.
Shall I not visit for these things? saith the LORD: shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?
Verse 29. - A repetition of ver. 9 in the manner of a refrain.
A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land;
Verses 30, 31. - The result of the prophet's examination of the moral condition of the people. Verse 30. - A wonderful and horrible thing, etc.; rather, an appalling and horrible thins hath happened in the land. The word rendered "appalling" (or stupefying) has a peculiar force, it only occurs again in Jeremiah 23:14, though a cognate adjective is found in Jeremiah 18:13 (comp. on Jeremiah 2:11).
The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?
Verse 31. - The prophets... the priests. (See on Jeremiah 2:26.) Bear rule by their means; rather, rule at their beck. (literally, at their hands, comp. Jeremiah 33:13; 1 Chronicles 25:2, 3; 2 Chronicles 23:18). An example of this interference of the false prophets with the priestly office is given by Jeremiah himself. (Jeremiah 29:24-26). My people love to have it so. Sometimes the prophets speak as if the governing classes alone were responsible for the sins and consequent calamities of their country. But Jeremiah here expressly declares that the governed were as much to blame as their governors.

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