Jeremiah 20
Barnes' Notes
The breaking of the bottle Jeremiah 20 had been done so solemnly before witnesses of such high position, and its meaning had been so unmistakeably proclaimed in the temple, that those in authority could endure such proceedings no longer. Roused therefore to anger by the sight of the listening crowds, Pashur, the deputy high priest, caused Jeremiah to be arrested, inflicted upon him the legal 40 stripes except one, and made him pass a night in the stocks, exposed to the jeers of the scoffers, at the most public gate of the temple. Apparently, it was Jeremiah's last public prophecy in Jehoiakim's reign, and was the cause why in the fourth year of that king it was no longer safe for him to go to the house of Yahweh Jeremiah 36:5. It is probable also that Jehoiakim's scroll ended with the prophecy of the potter's vessel, and the account of the contumelies to which the prophet had in consequence been exposed. One prophecy, however, at least in our present book, is of a later date, that of the linen girdle Jeremiah 13.

Now Pashur the son of Immer the priest, who was also chief governor in the house of the LORD, heard that Jeremiah prophesied these things.
Pashur, the father probably of the Gedaliah mentioned in Jeremiah 38:1, was the head of the 16th course (shift) of priests (marginal reference); the other Pashur Jeremiah 21:1 belonged to the fifth course, the sons of Melchiah. Both these houses returned in great strength from the exile. See Ezra 2:37-38.

Chief governor - Or, "deputy governor." The Nagid or governer of the temple was the high priest 1 Chronicles 9:11, and Pashur was his Pakid, i. e., deputy (see Jeremiah 1:10 note). Zephaniah held this office Jeremiah 29:26, and his relation to the high priest is exactly defined 2 Kings 25:18; Jeremiah 52:24. The Nagid at this time was Seraiah the high priest, the grandson of Hilkiah, or (possibly) Azariah, Hilkiah's son and Jeremiah's brother 1 Chronicles 6:13, Ezra 7:1.

Then Pashur smote Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the high gate of Benjamin, which was by the house of the LORD.
Jeremiah the prophet - Jeremiah is nowhere so called in the first 19 chapters. In this place he thus characterizes himself, because Pashur's conduct was a violation of the respect due to the prophetic office.

The stocks - This instrument of torture comes from a root signifying to "twist." It thus implies that the body was kept in a distorted position. Compare Acts 16:24.

The high gate ... - Rather, "the upper gate of Benjamin in the house of Yahweh (compare 2 Kings 15:35);" to be distinguished from the city gate of Benjamin leading toward the north.

And it came to pass on the morrow, that Pashur brought forth Jeremiah out of the stocks. Then said Jeremiah unto him, The LORD hath not called thy name Pashur, but Magormissabib.
Magor-missabib - See Jeremiah 6:25 note. Jeremiah uses it no less than five times, having probably adopted it as his watchword from Psalm 31:13.

For thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will make thee a terror to thyself, and to all thy friends: and they shall fall by the sword of their enemies, and thine eyes shall behold it: and I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall carry them captive into Babylon, and shall slay them with the sword.
A terror to thyself, and to all thy friends - Jeremiah plays upon the meaning of Magormissabib saying that Pusbur would be a terror to all around. It is remarkable that he prophesies no evil of Pashur Jeremiah 20:6. His was to be the milder fate of being carried into captivity with Jehoiachin, and dying peaceably at Babylon Jeremiah 20:6, whereas his successor Zephaniah was put to death at Riblah Jeremiah 52:24, Jeremiah 52:27. His punishment probably consisted in this. He had prophesied "lies." When then he saw the dreadful slaughter of his countrymen, Jehoiakim put to death, his young son dragged into captivity, and the land stripped of all that was best, his conscience so condemned him as the guilty cause of such great misery that in the agonies of remorse he became a terror to himself and his friends.

Moreover I will deliver all the strength of this city, and all the labours thereof, and all the precious things thereof, and all the treasures of the kings of Judah will I give into the hand of their enemies, which shall spoil them, and take them, and carry them to Babylon.
All the strength - "All the stores."

The labors - The gains of the citizens.

And thou, Pashur, and all that dwell in thine house shall go into captivity: and thou shalt come to Babylon, and there thou shalt die, and shalt be buried there, thou, and all thy friends, to whom thou hast prophesied lies.
Thou hast prophesied lies - Pushur belonged to the warlike party, whose creed it was, that Judaea by a close alliance with Egypt might resist the arms of Assyria.

O LORD, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived: thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me.
In the rest of the chapter we have an outbreak of deep emotion, of which the first part ends in a cry of hope Jeremiah 20:13, followed nevertheless by curses upon the day of his birth. Was this the result of feelings wounded by the indignities of a public scourging and a night spent in the stocks? Or was it not the mental agony of knowing that his ministry had (as it seemed) failed? He stands indeed before the multitudes with unbending strength, warning prince and people with unwavering constancy of the national ruin that would follow necessarily upon their sins. Before God he stood crushed by the thought that he had labored in vain, and spent his strength for nothing.

It is important to notice that with this outpouring of sorrow Jeremiah's ministry virtually closed. Though he appeared again at Jerusalem toward the end of Jehoiakim's reign, yet it was no longer to say that by repentance the national ruin might be averted. During the fourth year of Jehoiakim, the die was cast, and all the prophet henceforward could do, was to alleviate a punishment that was inevitable.

Jeremiah 20:7

Thou hast deceived me ... - What Jeremiah refers to is the joy with which he had accepted the prophetic office Jeremiah 15:16, occasioned perhaps by taking the promises in Jeremiah 1:18 too literally as a pledge that he would succeed.

Thou art stronger than I-- Rather, "Thou hast taken hold of me." God had taken Jeremiah in so firm a grasp that he could not escape from the necessity of prophesying. He would have resisted, but the hand of God prevailed.

I am in derision daily - literally, "I am become a laughing-stock all the day, i. e., peripetually.

For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the LORD was made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily.
Translate," For as often as I speak, I must complain; I call out, Violence and spoil."

From the time Jeremiah began to prophesy, he had had reason for nothing but lamentation. Daily with louder voice and more desperate energy he must call out "violence and spoil;" as a perpetual protest against the manner in which the laws of justice were violated by powerful men among the people.

Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.
This proves, that Jeremiah was, even under the full power of the prophetic impulse, a free and conscious agent. If he were a mere passive instrument in the hands of the Spirit, how could he determine no more to prophesy? And how could he carry this purpose into execution, as he actually did for a while? But this inquiry has been settled by the express authority of the apostle Paul. He affirms, in a manner which leaves no room to doubt, that the prophets were conscious agents, and that they had control over their own minds, when he says 1 Corinthians 14:32, "the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets"; and, on the ground of this, he requires those who were under the prophetic inspiration to utter their sentiments in such a manner as not to produce confusion and irregularity in the congregations, 1 Corinthians 14:29-31, 1 Corinthians 14:33, 1 Corinthians 14:40. How could he reprove their disorder and confusion, if they had no control over the operations of their own minds; and if they were not conscious of what they were uttering?

The truth seems to have been that they had the same control over their minds that any man has; that they were urged, or impelled by the Spirit to utter the truth, but that they had power to refuse; and that the exercise of this power was subjected to substantially the same laws as the ordinary operations of their minds. The true idea has been expressed, probably, by Lowth. "Inspiration may be regarded not as suppressing or extinguishing for a time the faculties of the human mind, but of purifying, and strengthening, and elevating them above what they would otherwise reach." Nothing can be more rational than this view; and according to this, there was an essential difference between the effect of true inspiration on the mind, and the wild and frantic ravings of the pagan priests, and the oracles of divination. Everything in the Scriptures is consistent, rational, sober, and in accordance with the laws of the animal economy; everything in the pagan idea of inspiration was wild, frantic, fevered, and absurd.

(c) It may be added, that this is the common view of prophecy which prevailed among the fathers of the church. Thus, Epiphanius says, 'In whatever the prophets have said, they have been accompanied with an intelligent state of mind;' Ad. Haeres. Mont. c. 4. Jerome in his Preface to Isaiah says, 'Nor indeed, as Montanus and insane women dream, did the prophets speak in an ecstasy, so that they did not know what they uttered, and, while they instructed others, did not themselves understand what they said.' Chrysostom says, 'For this is characteristic of the diviners, to be in a state of frenzy, to be impelled by necessity, to be driven by force, to be drawn like a madman. A prophet, on the contrary, is not so; but utters his communication with sober intellegence, and in a sound state of mind, knowing what he says,' Homil. xxix. in Ep. ad Cor., Bib. Repos. ii.

(4) The representation of future scenes was made known to the prophets by visions. This idea may not differ from the two former, except that it intimates that in a dream, and in the state of prophetic ecstasy, events were made known to them not by words, but by causing the scene to pass before their mind or their mental visions, as if they saw it. Thus, the entire series of the prophecies of Isaiah is described as a vision in Isaiah 1:1, and in 2 Chronicles 32:32. It is of importance to have a clear understanding of what is implied by this. The name "vision" is often elsewhere given to the prophecies, Numbers 24:4, Numbers 24:16; 1 Samuel 3:1; 2 Samuel 7:17; Proverbs 29:18; Obadiah 1:1; Isaiah 21; Isaiah 22:1, Isaiah 22:5; Jeremiah 14:14; Lamentations 2:9; Ezekiel 7:13; Daniel 2:19; Daniel 7:2; Daniel 8:1, Daniel 8:13, Daniel 8:16-17, Daniel 8:26; Daniel 9:21, Daniel 9:23-24; Daniel 10:1, Daniel 10:7-8, Daniel 10:14, Daniel 10:16; 2 Chronicles 9:29; Ezekiel 1:1. The prophets are called "Seers" ראים ro'ı̂ym; and חזים chozı̂ym, and their prophecies are designated by words which denote that which is seen, as חזיון chı̂zzâyôn, מחזה machăzeh, מראה mare'eh, חזון châzôn, etc. - all of which are words derived from the verbs rendered "to see," חזה châzâh and ראה râ'âh. It would be unnecessary to quote the numerous passages where the idea of "seeing" is expressed. A few will show their general characters. They may be "classified" according to the following arrangement:

(a) Those which relate to an open vision, a distinct and clear seeing, 1 Samuel 3:1 : 'And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision' - נפרץ חזון châzôn nı̂perâts - no vision spread abroad, common, open, public, usual. It was a rare occurrence, and hence, the divine communications were regarded as especially precious and valuable.

(b) Those which pertain to the prophetic ecstasy, or trance-- probably the more usual, and proper meaning of the word. Numbers 24:3-4 -- "the man whose eyes are open hath said; he hath said which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling, but having his eyes open.' Numbers 24:17, 'I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel." That is, I see, or have a vision of that Star, and of that Sceptre "in the distance," as if looking on a landscape, and contemplating an indistinct object in the remote part of the picture. Thus, Ezekiel 1:1, 'The heavens were opened, and I saw the visions of God;' Ezekiel 8:3; Ezekiel 40:2, 'In visions he brought me to the land of Israel,' compare Luke 1:22.

(c) Instances where it is applied to dreams: Daniel 2:19, Daniel 2:28; Daniel 4:5; Daniel 7:2; Daniel 8:1, Daniel 8:13, Daniel 8:16-17, Daniel 8:26-27; Daniel 9:21, Daniel 9:23-24; Genesis 46:2, 'God spake to Israel in visions of the night,' Job 4:13.

(d) Instances where the prophets represent themselves as standing on a "watch-tower," and looking off on a distant landscape to descry future and distant events:

I will stand upon my watch,

And will set me upon the tower,

And will watch to see what he will say unto me,

And what I shall answer when I am reproved. '

Jeremiah 20:9Seeing that his mission was useless, Jeremiah determined to withdraw from it.

I could not stay - Rather, "I prevailed not," did not succeed. See Jeremiah 20:7.

For I heard the defaming of many, fear on every side. Report, say they, and we will report it. All my familiars watched for my halting, saying, Peradventure he will be enticed, and we shall prevail against him, and we shall take our revenge on him.
The defaming - Rather, "the talking." The word refers to people whispering in twos and threes apart; in this case plotting against Jeremiah. Compare Mark 14:58.

Report ... - Rather, "Do you report, and we will report him: i. e., they encourage one another to give information against Jeremiah.

My familiars - literally, "the men of my peace" Psalm 41:9. In the East the usual salutation is "Peace be to thee:" and the answer, "And to thee peace." Thus, the phrase rather means acquaintances, than familiar friends.

Enticed - literally, "persuaded, misled," the same word as "deceived Jeremiah 20:7." Compare Mark 12:13-17.

But the LORD is with me as a mighty terrible one: therefore my persecutors shall stumble, and they shall not prevail: they shall be greatly ashamed; for they shall not prosper: their everlasting confusion shall never be forgotten.
A mighty terrible one - Rather, "a terrible warrior." The mighty One Isaiah 9:6 who is on his side is a terror to them. This change of feeling was the effect of faith, enabling him to be content with calmly doing his duty, and leaving the result to God.

For ... - Rather, "because they have not acted wisely (Jeremiah 10:21 note), with an everlasting disgrace that shall never be forgotten."

But, O LORD of hosts, that triest the righteous, and seest the reins and the heart, let me see thy vengeance on them: for unto thee have I opened my cause.
This verse is repeated almost verbatim from Jeremiah 11:20.

Sing unto the LORD, praise ye the LORD: for he hath delivered the soul of the poor from the hand of evildoers.
Sing - Jeremiah's outward circumstances remained the same, but he found peace in leaving his cause in faith to God.

Cursed be the day wherein I was born: let not the day wherein my mother bare me be blessed.
The sense of this expression in Job is plain. He wished there never had been such a day, and then he would not have been born. It is impossible to vindicate these expressions in Job and Jeremiah, unless it be on the supposition that it is highly worked poetic language, caused by sorrow so acute that it could not be expressed in prose. We are to remember, however, if this seems to us inconsistent with the existence of true piety, that Job had far less light than we have; that he lived at an early period of the world, when the views of the divine government were obscure, and that he was not sustained by the hopes and promises which the Christian possesses now. What light he had was probably that of tradition, and of the result of careful observation on the course of events. His topics of consolation must have been comparatively few. He had few or no promises to sustain him. He had not had before him, as we have, the example of the patient Redeemer. His faith was not sustained by those strong assurances which we have of the perfect rectitude of the divine government. Before we blame him too severely, we must place ourselves in imagination in his circumstances, and ask what our piety would have done under the trials which afflicted "him." Yet with all allowances, it is not possible to vindicate this language; and while we cannot but admire its force and sublimity, and its unequalled power and boldness in expressing strong passion, we at the same time feel that there was a lack of proper submission and patience. - It is the impassioned language of a man who felt that he could bear no more; and there can be no doubt that it gave to Satan the hope of his anticipated triumph.

And the night in which it was said - Dr. Good renders this, "And the night which shouted." Noyes, "And the night which said." So Gesenius and Rosenmuller, "Perish the night which said, a man child is conceived." The Vulgate renders it, "The night in which it was said;" the Septuagint, "That night in which they said." The Chaldee paraphrases the verse, "Perish the day in which I was born, and the angel who presided ever my conception." Scott, quoted by Good, translates it, "The night which hailed the new-born man." The language throughout this imprecation is that in which the night is "personified," and addressed as if it were made glad by the birth of a son. So Schultens says, "Inducitur enim "Nox illa quasi conscia mysterii, et exultans ob spem prolis virilis." Such personifications of day and night are common among the Arabs; see Schultens. It is a representation of day and night as "sympathizing with the joys and sorrows of mankind, and is in the truest vein of Oriental poetry."

There is a man child conceived - Hebrew גבר geber - "a man;" compare John 16:21. The word "conceived" Dr. Good renders "brought forth" So Herder translates it. The Septuagint, Ἰδοὺ ἄρσεν Idou arsen - "lo, a male" The common translation expresses the true sense of the original. The joy at the birth of a male in Oriental countries is much greater than that at the birth of a female. A remarkable instance of an imprecation on the day of one's birth is found in a Muslim book of modern times, in which the expressions are almost precisely the same as in Job. "Malek er Nasser Daub, prince of some tribes in Palestine, from which however he had been driven, after many adverse fortunes, died in a village near Damascus in the year 1258. When the crusaders had desolated his country, he deplored its misfortunes and his own in a poem, from which Abulfeda (Annals, p. 560) has quoted the following passage: 'O that my mother had remained unmarried all the days of her life! That God had determined no lord or consort for her! O that when he had destined her to an excellent, mild, and wise prince, she had been one of those whom he had created barren; that she might never have known the happy intelligence that she had born a man or woman! Or that when she had carried me under her heart, I had lost my life at my birth; and if I had been born, and had seen the light, that, when the congratulating people hastened on their camels, I had been gathered to my fathers.'" The Greeks and the Romans had their unlucky days (ἡμέραι ἀποφρύδες hēmerai apofrudes "dies infausti"); that is, days which were unpropitious, or in which they expected no success in any enterprise or any enjoyment. Tacitus (Annals, xiv. 12) mentions that the Roman Senate, for the purpose of flattering Nero, decreed that the birthday of Agrippina should be regarded as an accursed day; ut dies natalis Agrippinae inter nefastos esset. See Rosenmuller, All. u. neue Morgenland, "in loc" Expressions also similar to those before us, occur in Ovid, particularly in the following passage, "Epist. ad Ibin:"

Natus es infelix (ita Dii voluere), nec ulla

Commoda nascenti stella, levisve fuit.

Lux quoque natalis, ne quid nisi tristo videres,

Turpis, et inductis nubibus atra fuit.

Sedit in adverso nocturnas culmine bubo,

Funereoque graves edidit ore sonos.

We have now similar days, which by common superstition are regarded as unlucky or inauspicious. The wish of Job seems to be, that the day of his birth might be regarded as one of those days.

Jeremiah 20:14This sudden outbreak of impatience after the happy faith of Jeremiah 20:13 has led to much discussion. Possibly there was more of sorrow in the words than of impatience; sorrow that the earnest labor of a life had been in vain. Yet the form of the expression is fierce and indignant; and the impatience of Jeremiah is that part of his character which is most open to blame. He does not reach that elevation which is set before us by Him who is the perfect pattern of all righteousness. Our Lord was a prophet whose mission to the men of His generation equally failed, and His sorrow was even more deep; but it never broke forth in imprecations. See Luke 19:41-42.

Cursed be the man who brought tidings to my father, saying, A man child is born unto thee; making him very glad.
And let that man be as the cities which the LORD overthrew, and repented not: and let him hear the cry in the morning, and the shouting at noontide;
The cry - is the sound of the lamentation Jer 20:8; "the shouting" is the alarm of war.

Because he slew me not from the womb; or that my mother might have been my grave, and her womb to be always great with me.
Wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labour and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?
Notes on the Bible by Albert Barnes [1834].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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