Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!
Verse 1. - The Hebrew more correctly attaches this verse to Jeremiah 8. Oh that my head were waters, etc.! A quaint conceit, it may be said. But "if we have been going on pace for pace with the passion before, this sudden conversion of a strong-felt metaphor into something to be actually realized in nature, is strictly and strikingly natural." So Bishop Dearie, quoting, by way of illustration, Shakespeare's 'Richard II.,' "meditating on his own utter annihilation as to royalty:"
"Oh that I were a mockery king of snow,
To melt before the sun of Bolingbroke!" The tone of complaint continues in the following verse, though the subject is different.
Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men; that I might leave my people, and go from them! for they be all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men.
Verses 2-22. - Complaint of the treachery and folly of the people; lamentation over their consequences. Verse 2. - A lodging place of wayfaring men; a "khan" or "caravanserai," to use the terms now so familiar from Eastern travel, where "wayfaring men" could at least find shelter, and the means of preparing their provisions. Comp., besides the parallel passage in Psalm 55:6, 7, our own Cowper's fine reminiscence of Jeremiah: "Oh for a lodge in some vast wilderness!" etc. Adulterers... treacherous men (see Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:8, 9; Jeremiah 3:20; Jeremiah 5:11).
And they bend their tongues like their bow for lies: but they are not valiant for the truth upon the earth; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they know not me, saith the LORD.
Verse 3. - And they bend their tongues, etc.; rather, and they bend their tongue as their bow of falsehood, and they use not their valor in (literally, according to) good faith. There is a sad, stern irony in these words, which remind us of Isaiah's (Isaiah 5:22) "valiant men - for drinking wine" and of our own prophet's repetition of himself in Jeremiah 22:10, "Their valor is - untruth." A less pointed form of the same figurative statement is that of the psalmist in Psalm 64:3. Upon the earth; rather, in the land. The Authorized Version pays very little regard to the context in its rendering of the ambiguous word erec.
Take ye heed every one of his neighbour, and trust ye not in any brother: for every brother will utterly supplant, and every neighbour will walk with slanders.
Verse 4. - Take ye heed every one of his neighbor. Such was the result of clinging to an unprogressive religion - one which refused to be spiritualized by the prophets. Certainly, if the established religion was so inefficacious, it was self-condemned. Hero we find the prophet depicting a state of society in which the elementary bonds are already dissolved, and suspicion becomes the natural attitude even of a good man. We find a very similar picture in the last chapter of Micah - a chapter, it is true, which stands apart from the rest of the book, as it implies a greater development of wickedness than the rest of Micah and the contemporary prophecies of Isaiah would lead us to expect. Are these prophetic descriptions just and accurate? We may allow something, no doubt, for the warmth of feeling natural to every human preacher, even under the influence of inspiration; but we must not allow ourselves to explain away the obvious meaning of the prophets. The latter and their disciples were "the salt" of their country; and in proportion as their influence declined, the natural effects of a non-moral, purely ritualistic religion showed themselves on a larger scale. Every brother; i.e. every fellow-tribesman or fellow-citizen. Will utterly supplant. There is nothing in the context to suggest an allusion to Genesis 27:36 (Jacob). The verb has its common sense of deceiving. The tense should be the present, not the future, both here and in the next verse. Will walk; rather, goeth about (see Jeremiah 6:28).
And they will deceive every one his neighbour, and will not speak the truth: they have taught their tongue to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit iniquity.
Verse 5. - They have taught their tongue, etc.; again an intimation of the unnaturalness (in the higher sense) of vice (comp. on Jeremiah 2:33).
Thine habitation is in the midst of deceit; through deceit they refuse to know me, saith the LORD.
Verse 6. - Thine habitation, etc. According to St. Jerome, this is addressed to the prophet; but it is better to follow the Targum, which makes the clause refer to the Jewish people. The connection is (as Dr. Payne Smith points out)," Trust no one; for thou dwellest surrounded by deceit on every side."
Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, Behold, I will melt them, and try them; for how shall I do for the daughter of my people?
Verse 7. - I will melt them. It is the same word as that used in Malachi 3:3 of the "refiner and purifier of silver." Purification, not destruction, is the object of the judgment which is threatened! Strange that mercy should find place, after the offence of the criminal has been found so grievous l But, lest we should expect too favorable an issue, the prophet adds, in the name of Jehovah, For how shall I do? or rather, How should I act? How otherwise should I act? The continuation is a little doubtful. The Hebrew has," by reason of the daughter of my people;" but this can hardly be right. We naturally expect something to justify the preceding statement. The reading of the Septuagint answers to our anticipations by rendering ἀπὸ προσώπου πονηρίας θυγατρὸς λαοῦ μου, and this is confirmed by the parallel passage Jeremiah 7:12 (comp. Jeremiah 11:17; Jeremiah 32:32).
Their tongue is as an arrow shot out; it speaketh deceit: one speaketh peaceably to his neighbour with his mouth, but in heart he layeth his wait.
Verse 8. - (Comp. Psalm 55:21.) As an arrow shot out; rather, as a sharpened arrow; but this is based on the marginal reading, and is itself a slightly forced rendering. The Hebrew text (i.e. the consonants), and also the Septuagint and Vulgate, have "as a murderous arrow."
Shall I not visit them for these things? saith the LORD: shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?
For the mountains will I take up a weeping and wailing, and for the habitations of the wilderness a lamentation, because they are burned up, so that none can pass through them; neither can men hear the voice of the cattle; both the fowl of the heavens and the beast are fled; they are gone.
Verse 10. - This and the next six verses contain a description of the sad fate of the sinful land and people. At first the prophet speaks as if he saw it all spread out before him. Then, in the character of a surprised spectator, he inquires how this came to pass, and receives the Divine answer, that it is the doom of self-willed rebellion. The habitations should rather be pastures. The country, once covered with grazing flocks and herds, is now so utterly waste that even the birds cannot find subsistence.
And I will make Jerusalem heaps, and a den of dragons; and I will make the cities of Judah desolate, without an inhabitant.
Verse 11. - I will make, etc. Notice how the utterances of the prophets stand side by side with those of Jehovah. A true prophet has no personal views; so that whether his revelations are expressed in the one form or the other makes no difference. Dragons; rather, jackals.
Who is the wise man, that may understand this? and who is he to whom the mouth of the LORD hath spoken, that he may declare it, for what the land perisheth and is burned up like a wilderness, that none passeth through?
Verse 12. - For what the land perisheth. A closer rendering would be more forcible: Wherefore hath the land perished, is it burned up like the wilderness with none that passeth through
And the LORD saith, Because they have forsaken my law which I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice, neither walked therein;
Verse 13. - There is no answer, for the wise men are ashamed (Jeremiah 8:9); so Jehovah himself takes up his speech. My law which I set before them; not in reference to the publication of the Law on Sinai, but, as Keil rightly points out, to the oral exhibition of the Torah by the prophets. Neither walked therein; viz. in the Law. (On the precise contents of the term here rendered "Law," see note on Jeremiah 8:8.)
But have walked after the imagination of their own heart, and after Baalim, which their fathers taught them:
Verse 14. - Imagination; rather, stubbornness (see on Jeremiah 3:17). Baalim. The Hebrew has "the Baalim;" practically equivalent to "the idol-gods" (see on Jeremiah 2:8). Which their fathers taught them. "Which" refers to both clauses, i.e. to the obstinacy and the Baal-worship.
Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will feed them, even this people, with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink.
Verse 15. - I will feed them... with wormwood. A figure for the bitter privations of captivity (comp. Lamentations 3:15, "He hath filled me with bitterness, he hath made me drunken with wormwood"). Wormwood and gall - i.e., the poppy (Tristram) - are combined again in Deuteronomy 29:17.
I will scatter them also among the heathen, whom neither they nor their fathers have known: and I will send a sword after them, till I have consumed them.
Verse 16. I will scatter them also, etc. (comp. Deuteronomy 28:64; Leviticus 26:33). I will send a [the] sword after them. Even in the land of their captivity they shall have no rest. A special prophecy to the same effect was addressed to the Jewish fugitives in Egypt (Jeremiah 44:27). In both cases it is the unbelievers who are referred to; the nation as such was, through its Divine calling, indestructible.
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Consider ye, and call for the mourning women, that they may come; and send for cunning women, that they may come:
Verses 17-22. - A new scene is introduced. To give an idea of the greatness of the impending blow, all the skilled mourners are sent for to raise the cry of lamentation. But no, this is not enough. So large will be the number of the dead that all the women must take their part in the doleful office. The description of the mourning women is as true to modern as to ancient life in the East. "And, indeed," says Dr. Shaw, a thoughtful traveler and an ornament of Oxford in the dark eighteenth century, "they perform their parts with such proper sounds, gestures, and commotions, that they rarely fail to work up the assembly into some extraordinary pitch of thoughtfulness and sorrow" ('Travels in Barbary and the Levant,' 2nd edit., p. 242; comp. Amos 5:16; Ecclesiastes 12:5).
And let them make haste, and take up a wailing for us, that our eyes may run down with tears, and our eyelids gush out with waters.
Verse 18. - That our eyes may run down, etc.; a justification of this artificial system-The piercing notes of the hired mourners are to relieve the sorrow of the afflicted by forcing for it a vent.
For a voice of wailing is heard out of Zion, How are we spoiled! we are greatly confounded, because we have forsaken the land, because our dwellings have cast us out.
Verse 19. - Forsaken; rather, left. Our dwellings have cast us out; rather, they hare cast down our dwellings.
Yet hear the word of the LORD, O ye women, and let your ear receive the word of his mouth, and teach your daughters wailing, and every one her neighbour lamentation.
Verse 20. - Yet hear; rather, for hear.
For death is come up into our windows, and is entered into our palaces, to cut off the children from without, and the young men from the streets.
Verse 21. - Death is come up, etc. "Death," equivalent to "pestilence" (as Jeremiah 15:2), the most dreaded foe of a besieged population. (For the figure, comp. Joel 2:9.) The children from without. The ideal of Zechariah is that "the streets of the city should be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof" (Jeremiah 8:5). But the pitiless reaper, Death, shall cut off even "the playful child from the street" (so we might render more literally). Streets, in the parallel clause, means the "broad places" where men congregate to toll the news.
Speak, Thus saith the LORD, Even the carcases of men shall fall as dung upon the open field, and as the handful after the harvestman, and none shall gather them.
Verse 22. - Speak, Thus saith the Lord. These words are in three important respects contrary to the style of Jeremiah:
(1) such a prefix as "speak" is unique;
(2). such a phrase as כה נאם is also unique m Jeremiah;
(3) when our prophet does use the formula נאם it is not at the beginning of a verse.
They are omitted by the Septuagint translator, who presumably did not find them in his copy of the Hebrew, and the text gains greatly by their removal. The following words are mistranslated in the Authorized Version, and should run, not even, but and, the carcasses of men shall fall; etc. It is most improbable, however, that a fresh Divine revelation should begin with "and." With other points, the word rendered "speak" would mean "pestilence." Possibly the word fell out of Ver. 21, where it would find an excellent place in the second clause (as an explanatory parallel to "death," as in Psalm 78:50), which would thus obtain greater roundness and symmetry. As the handful; i.e. as thickly as one heap of corn succeeds another under the deft hand of the leaper.
Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches:
Verses 23, 24. - These two verses were hardly composed for their present position, though a connection may, of course, be thought out for them. Perhaps a comparison of Habakkuk 3:17, 18, may help us. There the prophet looks forward to a complete desolation resulting from the Chaldean invasion, and yet declares that he can even exult in his God. So here. All subjects of boasting have been proved untrustworthy; but one remains - not wisdom, not valor, not riches, but the knowledge of the revealed God.
But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.
Verse 24. - The knowledge of God relates to three leading attributes, the combination of which is very instructive. First, loving-kindness. This is not to be understood in a vague and general sense of the love of God to all mankind; the term has a special connotation with regard to the Israelitish people. God shows loving-kindness to those with whom he is in covenant; hence the combination "loving-kindness and faithfulness" (Psalm 85:10, corrected version), and as here (comp. Psalm 5:7, 8; Psalm 36:5, 6), "mercy and righteousness." Israel is weak and erring, and needs mercies of all sorts, which Jehovah, in his "loving-kindness," vouchsafes. Next, judgment, or justice. Jehovah is a King, helps the poor and weak to their right, and punishes the wrong-doer (comp. Jeremiah 21:12). Then, righteousness - a similar but wider term. This is the quality which leads its subject to adhere to a fixed rule of conduct. God's rule is his covenant; hence "righteousness" shows itself in all such acts as tend to the full realizing of the covenant with Israel, including the "plan of salvation." It is by no means to be confined to exacting penalties and conferring rewards.
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will punish all them which are circumcised with the uncircumcised;
Verses 25, 26. - A further enforcement of the doctrine that no outward privileges, if dissociated from inward moral vitality, will avail. Verse 25. - All them which are circumcised with the uncircumcised; rather, all the circumcised in uncircumcision, or, as Ewald turns it, "all the uncircumcised-circumcised." But what does this enigmatical expression signify? Hitzig, Graf, and apparently Dr. Payne Smith, think that it has a twofold meaning: that, as applied to the Jews, it means circumcised in the flesh, but not in heart, and, as applied to the heathen, simply uncircumcised (the one-half of the phrase neutralizing the other, like "a knife without the blade," "angels with horns and hoofs," etc.). The latter meaning, however, is surely very improbable, and it would only become necessary if it were proved that circumcision was practiced by none of the nations mentioned but the Jews. This is not the case. There is no doubt that the Egyptians were circumcised in very early times (see the drawing of a bas-relief in the Temple of Chunsu at Karnak, given by Dr. Ebers in his 'Egypten und die Bucher Meets'). The assertion that only the priests underwent the operation has no older evidence than that of Origen (edit. Lommatzsch, 4:138), "in whose time it is quite possible that the Egyptians, like the later Jews, sought to evade a peculiarity which exposed them to ridicule and contempt." As to the Ammonites and Moabites, we have, unfortunately, no information. With regard to the Edomites, it is true that, according to Josephus ('Antiq.,' 13:9, 1), they were compelled to accept circumcision by John Hyrcanus. But it is still quite possible that, at an earlier period, the rite was practiced, just as it was among the ancient Arabs, the evidence for which is beyond question (see the writer's article, "Circumcision," in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9th edit.). (On the statement that "all these [the] nations are uncircumcised," see below.)
Egypt, and Judah, and Edom, and the children of Ammon, and Moab, and all that are in the utmost corners, that dwell in the wilderness: for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart.
Verse 26. - All that are in the utmost corners; rather, all that are corner-clipped; i.e. that have the hair cut off about the ears and temples. Herodotus tells us, speaking of the Arabs, "Their practice is to cut the hair in a ring, away from the temples" (3:8); and among the representatives of various nations, colored figures of whom are given in the tomb of Rameses III., we find some with a square place shaved just above the temples. The hair below this shaven place was allowed to grow long, and then plaited into a leek. It is to such customs that Jeremiah alludes here and in Jeremiah 25:23; Jeremiah 49:32. A prohibition is directed against them in the Levitical Law (Leviticus 19:27; Leviticus 21:5). For all these nations are uncircumcised; rather, all the nations, etc. Another obscure expression. Does it mean (taken together with the following clause), "The Gentile peoples are uncircumcised in the flesh, and the people of Israel is equally so in heart?" But this does not agree with facts (see above, on Ver. 25). It is safer, therefore, to assume that "uncircumcised" is equivalent to "circumcised in uncircumcision" (Ver. 25). The next clause will then simply give the most conspicuous instance of this unspiritual obedience to a mere form.