Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart, and upon the horns of your altars;1. a pen of iron] used for making permanent marks on a hard surface, e.g. on rocks (Job 19:24).
diamond] as used now by glaziers on account of its extreme hardness. Pliny tells us (Hist. Nat. Jeremiah 37:15) that the ancients were well acquainted with the cutting powers of the diamond, and used to set it in iron. Judah’s guilt is, as it were, indelibly engraved upon their utterly hard hearts.
the table of their heart] their inward nature. Cp. Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 7:3.
horns] probably metal projections from the corners (Exodus 27:2).
your] better read, as in mg. (with LXX) their.
Jeremiah 17:1-4. See introd. summary to section.
The vv. are omitted in LXX, either (as St Jerome suggests) from unwillingness that the lasting condemnation here expressed should be put on permanent record against them, or because a translator’s eye accidentally wandered from the last word of Jeremiah 16:21 to the same (“the Lord”) in Jeremiah 17:5. Jeremiah 17:3 f. are repeated from Jeremiah 15:13 f., where the LXX rendering exists. The passage is doubtless genuine, though the text is difficult and probably not free from corruption.
Whilst their children remember their altars and their groves by the green trees upon the high hills.2, 3. The text is difficult, and pretty certainly contains some error. Du. and Co. omit from “whilst their” to “Asherim,” as a gloss, introduced to shew how indelible was Judah’s guilt, to be remembered by future generations. If this change be adopted, the passage will stand thus:
“The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron,
With the point of a diamond is it graven upon the table of their heart,
Upon the horns of their altars, upon [every] spreading tree,
Upon the high hills, the mountains in the field.” (Dr. in notes.) Gi. suggests, with the change of one letter in MT., “so that their children will remember,” but prefers “for a remembrance before me,” omitting the rest of the v. as a gloss. He thus obtains Ḳinah measure for the passage.
Asherim] The Asherah was a rough hewn post, probably representing a sacred tree, and placed alongside of an altar. As having associations with heathenism, it was forbidden to worshippers of Jehovah. See Exodus 34:13 (and mg.); Deuteronomy 12:3, etc. It may have been connected with devotions paid to a goddess Asherah or Ashrat.
O my mountain in the field, I will give thy substance and all thy treasures to the spoil, and thy high places for sin, throughout all thy borders.3. See on Jeremiah 17:2 for amended reading, which is adopted by Du. and Co. The rendering in the text makes the “mountain” to apply to Jerusalem. But as a designation for the city it has a strange appearance, and Jeremiah 21:13, quoted in its support, is precarious.
thy substance … (Jeremiah 17:4) for ever] See on Jeremiah 15:13 f. where the greater part of this passage has occurred in a form somewhat less well preserved.
And thou, even thyself, shalt discontinue from thine heritage that I gave thee; and I will cause thee to serve thine enemies in the land which thou knowest not: for ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn for ever.4. and thou, even of thyself, shalt discontinue] i.e. shalt cease to retain a hold upon thy country. We should rather read, and thou shalt let thine hand fall, adopting J. D. Michaelis’s emendation, suggested by Deuteronomy 15:3, where the same Hebrew verb in immediate connexion with “thy hand” is used to indicate the cancelling of a debt. Du. and Co. needlessly reject this part of the v., for metrical reasons and as prosaic in expression.
I will cause thee to serve thine enemies] So in all probability we should read in Jeremiah 15:14, according to the second of the alternative margins there.
Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD.5–8. See introd. summary to section. The antithesis in these verses is sharply defined, the two courses of human conduct making the men who practise them respectively to fade and to flourish. Cp. Psalm 1:3 f. The passage is pretty clearly an insertion, but almost as certainly is to be ascribed to Jeremiah. Co. suggests as the reason for its being placed here that, as Jeremiah 17:4 was held to refer to the exile, “the man, etc.” was thought to be Zedekiah, who, having relied on the fleshly arm of Egypt, and refusing to listen to God’s warnings through Jeremiah, was deprived of his children, blinded, and imprisoned at Babylon, where he was to pine in solitude.
For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited.6. the heath] mg. a tamarisk. The Hebrew substantive occurs again in Jeremiah 48:9 and means in both cases a juniper tree, probably of the dwarf variety (so Tristram, Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 358), often cropped by the wild goats of the desert and thus stripped and desolate. In Psalm 102:17 (its only remaining occurrence), it means “destitute,” referring there also to Israel in exile.
Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is.7. hope] lit. as mg. trust.
For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.8. fear] to be preferred, as is shewn by the parallelism, “shall not be careful,” to the mg. see, which is the reading proposed in MT. mg. The latter was doubtless suggested to the Mass. by “see” in Jeremiah 17:6.
shall not be careful in the year of drought] because, as planted by the waterside, it is independent of rain.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?9, 10. Du. (so too Co.) suggests that these vv. link on closely to Jeremiah 17:14. In Jeremiah 17:9, according to him, the prophet is confessing his personal consciousness of sin, discovered by probing beneath the fair exterior to the hidden depths of his heart. In Jeremiah 17:10 the Lord replies, that the intricacies and subtleties of the human heart are open to His gaze. In Jeremiah 17:14 accordingly the prophet prays the great Physician, who can so fully diagnose the disease, to exercise His healing power. Whether Du.’s suggestion be accepted or not, the vv. have no close connexion with what precedes or immediately follows.
9–13. See introd. summary to section. This sub-section is made up of three isolated pieces, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13; the metres also varying.
I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.10. search … reins] See on Jeremiah 11:20.
even to give, etc.] found also Jeremiah 32:19.
As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not; so he that getteth riches, and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at his end shall be a fool.11. As the partridge, etc.] mg. sitteth on eggs which she hath not laid. We need not take the statement to indicate more than a popular belief of that day, of which the prophet availed himself by way of an illustration. (Woods, however [see Woods and Powell, The Hebrew Prophets, II. 104 f., quoted by Pe.], maintains that the partridge does act in accordance with both text and mg.) “The young birds soon forsake their false mother, and so does wealth its unjust possessor. Or perhaps the words should be rendered, that heapeth together (eggs), but doth not bring forth (young)—with allusion to the large number of eggs laid by the partridge, which are eagerly sought for by the Arabs as food, so that the bird often hatches no young.” Dr. who quotes Tristram, Nat. Hist. of the Bible, pp. 224 f.
they shall leave him] mg. (and A.V.), better, he shall leave them.
a fool] Heb. nâbhâl. “The fault of the nâbhâl was not weakness of reason, but moral and religious insensibility, an invincible lack of sense, or perception, for the claims of either God or man.” Dr. Parallel Psalter, p. 457. See Isaiah 32:5 f. and cp. for an example 1 Samuel 25:25.
A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary.12, 13. These verses, the third of the small group of isolated pieces (see above) which compose this sub-section, are probably to be taken in close connexion, the whole of Jeremiah 17:12 being in form an invocation of the Temple as the scene of God’s visible glory, but in reality an address to Himself. O Lord, throne of glory, exalted from the beginning, the place of our sanctuary, hope of Israel, all that forsake thee, etc. In Jeremiah 17:13, ch. Jeremiah 14:8 supplies the beginning, and ch. Jeremiah 2:13 the end, while the v. also reminds us of Isaiah 1:28 f. The two vv. may be safely held to be an insertion by an editor of the Book.
O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.13. shall be written in the earth] Their names shall be blotted out, unlike those engraved in some enduring material. Ewald restores the parallelism with “shall be ashamed” of the previous clause by an emendation which gives “they that depart from thee in the land shall be put to confusion.” Gi., amending differently, “shall be cut off from the earth.” Cp. Psalm 34:16.
the fountain] See on ch. Jeremiah 2:13.
Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise.14. See introd. note on Jeremiah 17:9-10. Jeremiah prays that God’s character for faithfulness may be vindicated in his own case.
14–18. See introd. summary to section.
Behold, they say unto me, Where is the word of the LORD? let it come now.15. The scoffs of his enemies suggested to him thoughts of such faithlessness as would never otherwise have occurred to him. For their derision of his predictions cp. Isaiah 5:19. The v. shews that the time is, at any rate, before the capture of Jerusalem at the end of Jehoiakim’s reign. If that event had occurred, the people would not, as here, challenge the prophet to point out a fulfilment of his prophecies of woe.
now] not denoting time, but in the sense of we pray thee.
As for me, I have not hastened from being a pastor to follow thee: neither have I desired the woeful day; thou knowest: that which came out of my lips was right before thee.16. I have not hastened from being a shepherd after thee] The word “shepherd” is not used elsewhere of prophets. Moreover the whole expression is an awkward one. LXX, who seem to have read the Hebrew as it is vocalised in MT., render somewhat vaguely, as though puzzled. On the other hand Aquila and Syr., with much improvement to the parallelism, read (with different vowels) the (one) Hebrew word, rendered here “from being a shepherd,” because of evil, i.e. I have not pursued thee with persistent supplication to bring calamity on my foes (see ch. Jeremiah 2:8, with note).
the woeful day] LXX, as mg. the (judgement) day of man.
thou knowest] He appeals to God to confirm his protest and support his cause.
was before thy face] was plainly to be seen by Thee.
Be not a terror unto me: thou art my hope in the day of evil.17. terror] a cause of dismay. See ch. Jeremiah 1:17, with note. The root occurs as a verb (dismayed) twice in the next v.
Let them be confounded that persecute me, but let not me be confounded: let them be dismayed, but let not me be dismayed: bring upon them the day of evil, and destroy them with double destruction.18. destroy them with double destruction] lit. as mg. break them with a double breach. Cp. Jeremiah 4:6. This may mean a literally twofold punishment, the one part for their apostasy as a nation, the other for their treatment of Jeremiah. It seems more likely however that double is merely equivalent to utter, complete.
Co. with Du. holds that the imprecation, as in direct opposition to Jeremiah 17:16, stamps this part of the v., or according to him, the whole v. as unauthentic (but see Jeremiah 11:20). For metrical reasons also he rejects the v., but considers that it has taken the place of a genuine ending to the passage, now lost.
Thus said the LORD unto me; Go and stand in the gate of the children of the people, whereby the kings of Judah come in, and by the which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem;19. the gate of the children of the people] (mg. the common people. See ch. Jeremiah 26:23.) The expression is very difficult and probably corrupt. Du. suggests that the gate is one within the city and leading to the palace, thus accounting for its use by both the rulers, and those who sought an audience from them. It is better, however, to take “gate” in its ordinary application to a city gate. Peake suggests, by a slight change in MT., to read (as in Jeremiah 37:13, Jeremiah 38:7) in the gate of Benjamin (on the N. side of the city). The mention of kings as using it has reference to Jeremiah 17:25. He further suggests that “in all the gates of Jerusalem” may be a gloss. Dr. makes “the gate” to be “apparently (see Ezekiel 44:1; Ezekiel 44:3 b, Jeremiah 46:1 a, 2) either the outer or inner gate on the east, by which the kings of Judah entered and left the Temple.”
Ch. Jeremiah 17:19-27. An exhortation on the observance of the Sabbath
This section is unconnected with the preceding, and, as it considers that the doom pronounced on Judah may be averted on condition of Sabbath observance, while the previous section has declared that that doom is inevitable, it has been placed by some, e.g. Orelli, as early as the time of Josiah’s reformation (see introd. note on Jeremiah 1:1 to Jeremiah 12:6), and by others (Stade, Kuenen, Gi., Du., Co.) held to be a piece belonging to the times of Ezra and Nehemiah (cp. Nehemiah 13:15-22). See also on Jeremiah 17:20. The style, however, has much in common with Jeremiah, though this may be asserted to be due to imitation. It is argued that the general tone of the passage, and in particular the appreciation of sacrifice (Jeremiah 17:26) are not what we should expect. On the other hand “although no doubt Jeremiah speaks disparagingly of sacrifice offered by impure hands (Jeremiah 6:19 f., Jeremiah 7:9 f., 21–26, Jeremiah 14:10-12), it may be questioned whether he would have rejected it when (as is the case explicitly in Jeremiah 17:26) it is conceived as the expression of a right heart (cp. Jeremiah 33:11; also Deuteronomy 12:11; Isaiah 56:7; Isaiah 60:7).” Dr. LOT. p. 258. At any rate, as we see from the Puritans, strong sabbatarianism need not be inconsistent with depreciation of the ceremonial side of worship.
The section may be subdivided as follows.
(i) Jeremiah 17:19-23. Jehovah tells the prophet to stand at the gate and forbid carriage of goods into and out of the city or houses on the Sabbath. The day is to be hallowed as He has commanded. The people refuse obedience. (ii) Jeremiah 17:24-27. If they will conform, then they and their rulers shall be immune and permanently secure, and offerings be brought from all the neighbouring parts of Palestine to the Temple. If not, then Jerusalem shall be overthrown.
And say unto them, Hear ye the word of the LORD, ye kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that enter in by these gates:20. kings] The plural is certainly strange. Cp. the sing, in Jeremiah 22:2. As Co. says, we have here not a concrete situation but a model and abstraction.
Thus saith the LORD; Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem;21. to yourselves] rather as mg. for your life’s sake, Heb. in your souls; we should say, As you value your lives.
Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers.
But they obeyed not, neither inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear, nor receive instruction.23. Substantially the same as ch. Jeremiah 7:26.
instruction] correction. See on Jeremiah 6:8.
And it shall come to pass, if ye diligently hearken unto me, saith the LORD, to bring in no burden through the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but hallow the sabbath day, to do no work therein;24–27. See introd. summary to section.
Then shall there enter into the gates of this city kings and princes sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they, and their princes, the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: and this city shall remain for ever.25. then shall there enter] Prosperity, permanence, and religious devotion shall be the three characteristic features of the Jewish State, if only they will hallow the Sabbath.
and princes] a virtually certain example of a pre-Septuagintal insertion. Its spuriousness is shewn by the words “their princes,” which follow. The insertion has been suggested doubtless by parallel passages (Jeremiah 2:26, Jeremiah 25:18, Jeremiah 32:32, Jeremiah 44:17; Jeremiah 44:21). Cp. on the other hand (for absence of the addition) Jeremiah 13:13, Jeremiah 22:4.
And they shall come from the cities of Judah, and from the places about Jerusalem, and from the land of Benjamin, and from the plain, and from the mountains, and from the south, bringing burnt offerings, and sacrifices, and meat offerings, and incense, and bringing sacrifices of praise, unto the house of the LORD.26. Cp. for this kind of enumeration Jeremiah 32:44, Jeremiah 33:13.
the land of Benjamin] lying north of Judah.
the lowland] the low hills and flat valley-land stretching down towards the Philistine plain on the W. and S.W. of Judah.
the mountains] the loftier part S. of Jerusalem in the neighbourhood of Hebron.
the South] See on Jeremiah 13:19. The cities in these three districts are enumerated in Joshua , 15, viz. 33–44; 48–60; 21–32.
burnt offerings, and sacrifices, and oblations, and frankincense] Three sorts of offerings are here mentioned, two bloody and one unbloody. The “oblations” (mg. “meal offerings”) consisted of flour and oil, and had (Leviticus 2:1) frankincense (see on Jeremiah 6:20) strewn upon them.
sacrifices of thanksgiving] thanksgiving. The word “sacrifices,” omitted here and in Jeremiah 33:11, is supplied in the directions given in Leviticus 7:12.
But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.27. will I kindle … Jerusalem] These words are based on the refrain Amos 1:3 to Amos 2:5, where they occur seven times. They are found three times later in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 21:14, Jeremiah 49:27, Jeremiah 50:32). Cp. Hosea 8:14.
palaces] See on Jeremiah 6:5.