Jeremiah 8
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Chs. 7–10. Address delivered by Jeremiah at the gate of the Temple

The first question to be answered in regard to these chapters as a whole is the date to which they are to be referred, whether to the reign of Josiah or Jehoiakim. This seems to be answered by ch. 26, for while its Jeremiah 7:1-6 have a marked resemblance to these, it is expressly stated (Jeremiah 7:1) to have been delivered in the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim (b.c. 608–7). Others (e.g. Wellhausen and Marti) place it as early as the crisis brought about by the death of Josiah at Megiddo (b.c. 608), but accepting the date in Jeremiah 26:1, we may conclude that the two are respectively a longer and shorter summary of the same discourse, while the latter adds (Jeremiah 26:7-24) the danger which resulted to the prophet and his rescue. The announcement that the fate of the Temple should be that which had befallen Shiloh (Jeremiah 7:8 ff., Jeremiah 26:4 ff.), while helping to identify the two discourses, accounts sufficiently for their hostile reception. Irregularities in metre or its absence in Jeremiah 7:4 to Jeremiah 8:3, compel Du. with his rigid metrical theories to make most of this section to be post-Jeremianic, while he also holds that there are considerable interpolations in the whole section. As Co. points out, however, we can hardly suppose that Jeremiah spoke, as well as wrote, in metre, and we may well nave here in substance his oral prophecy, not yet put into metrical form. It accords with the later date that (a) Jeremiah seems to be now dwelling not at Anathoth but at Jerusalem, since he is told not as in Jeremiah 2:2 to “go and cry,” etc. but simply (Jeremiah 7:2) to “stand in the gate of the Lord’s house,” etc.; (b) idolatry is represented as practised openly in the streets of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 7:17 f.) and in the Temple itself (Jeremiah 7:30); (c) children are burned in the valley of Topheth in honour of Molech (Jeremiah 7:31).

The discourse has five natural divisions. (a) Jeremiah 7:1 to Jeremiah 8:3, Denunciation for shameless idolatry and pollution of the very Temple. (b) Jeremiah 8:4 to Jeremiah 9:1, Forecast of punishment as the result of sin. (c) Jeremiah 9:2-26, Judah’s corruption described. Her consequent sufferings. The recognition of Jehovah alone secures the weal of any nation. (d) Jeremiah 10:1-16, The folly of idolatry. (e) Jeremiah 10:17-25, Exile is at hand. Appeal to Jehovah even in punishing to remember mercy.

Chs. Jeremiah 7:1 to Jeremiah 8:3. Contrast between real and false grounds for confidence. Warning of approaching judgements

This section may be broken up as follows. (i) Jeremiah 7:1-2. Introduction. (ii) Jeremiah 7:3-7. The guarantee for Judah’s security is not, as she imagines, the existence of the Temple, but loyalty to Jehovah. (iii) Jeremiah 7:8-11. Can it be that occasional worship of Him in the intervals of profligacy suffices to give them a sense of security? (iv) Jeremiah 7:12-15. Let them take warning from the fate of Shiloh and the northern kingdom. (v) Jeremiah 7:16-20. The people are past interceding for: their idolatry is too gross. (vi) Jeremiah 7:21-28. They have never realised that from the first God’s demands were not for sacrifices but for holiness of life. (vii) Jeremiah 7:29 to Jeremiah 8:3. Topheth, the scene of idolatrous excesses, shall also be that of terrible retribution.

At that time, saith the LORD, they shall bring out the bones of the kings of Judah, and the bones of his princes, and the bones of the priests, and the bones of the prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, out of their graves:
Jeremiah 8:1. they shall bring out] Not, apparently, with the hope of finding spoil, treasures and ornaments of value being often buried with the dead (cp. Darius’s fruitless visit to the tomb of Nitocris, Herod. I. 187), but that the objects of their former devotion might look down on the indignities to which those who had served them were subject, as a cause of painful disquiet to their shades in the unseen world.

And they shall spread them before the sun, and the moon, and all the host of heaven, whom they have loved, and whom they have served, and after whom they have walked, and whom they have sought, and whom they have worshipped: they shall not be gathered, nor be buried; they shall be for dung upon the face of the earth.
2. host of heaven] Such worship was frequent, as we see from 2 Kings 17:16; 2 Kings 21:3; Zephaniah 1:5, in the time of the later kings. Cp. Jeremiah 19:13; Ezekiel 8:16.

And death shall be chosen rather than life by all the residue of them that remain of this evil family, which remain in all the places whither I have driven them, saith the LORD of hosts.
3. The thoughts correspond closely with Leviticus 26:36 ff.; Deuteronomy 28:65 ff.

family] See on Jeremiah 3:14.

which remain] repeated in MT. by the error of a copyist.

Moreover thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD; Shall they fall, and not arise? shall he turn away, and not return?
4. We have had (chs. Jeremiah 7:29 to Jeremiah 8:3) a kind of parenthesis, setting forth the nature of the coming punishment. Jeremiah now returns to the subject of the conduct which has procured it.

Chs. Jeremiah 8:4 to Jeremiah 9:1. Forecast of punishment as the result of sin

The section may be thus summarized.

(i) Jeremiah 8:4-9. Human fortunes and conduct are as a rule liable to change, but Israel pursues a steady course of disobedience. Migratory birds obeying unerringly their instincts compare favourably with the men who have intellect to understand Jehovah’s teaching, yet falsify or ignore it. (ii) Jeremiah 8:10-12. Even prophets and priests are covetous, insincere, foolishly optimistic, and unblushingly wicked. They must suffer the penalty. Their wives and lands shall be given to others. (iii) Jeremiah 8:13-17. They are as a tree without fruit or leaf. It remains only in despair to take refuge within walls. The northern foes’ approach can be already heard. They devastate city and country alike. No charm can avert this serpent-like attack. (iv) Jeremiah 8:18 to Jeremiah 9:1. There sounds from afar the cry of dismay from those who have moved Jehovah to anger. The time for deliverance has gone by. Is there indeed no remedy? No, none. Would that my tears were as limitless as the calamity which calls them forth.

Why then is this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? they hold fast deceit, they refuse to return.
5. slidden back … backsliding … return] All three expressions are from the same root; “turn back … backturning … to return.”

I hearkened and heard, but they spake not aright: no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? every one turned to his course, as the horse rusheth into the battle.
6. I] Jeremiah or Jehovah through him.

hearkened and heard] implying an anxiety to give every chance of amendment.

turneth to] better, as mg., turneth away in.

rusheth headlong] lit. overfloweth, used figuratively of an invading army in Jeremiah 47:2.

Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the judgment of the LORD.
7. Instinct renders migratory birds punctual in departure and arrival. How much more should man’s reason and conscience exercise over him an effective control. Cp. Isaiah 1:3.

stork] There are two species found in Palestine, the white and the black, the former dispersed generally in pairs over the whole country, the latter living in the deserts and in large flocks.

in the heaven] at the time of their migration they fly high. (See HDB. and Tristram, Nat. Hist. of Bible, 205, 219, 246.)

turtle] There are three species of turtle dove in Palestine.

swallow] better, swift, or martin. All three are common in Palestine. The swift has a harsh cry, constantly repeated.

crane] perhaps a species of bird akin to that preceding. It may very possibly be the swallow, but no clear indication can be got from any sense of the root in Hebrew or cognate languages.

ordinance] though it is thus recognised by the lower animals.

How do ye say, We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us? Lo, certainly in vain made he it; the pen of the scribes is in vain.
8. the law] The reply of the priests such as the two Pashhurs (Jeremiah 20:1, Jeremiah 21:1) and prophets such as Shemaiah (Jeremiah 29:24) was, We do know the Law and have it in writing.

But, behold, the false pen … falsely] or (as mg.) hath made of it falsehood. Jeremiah has been thought by Du., Co. and others (not so Gi.) to refer here to the newly-discovered book supposed to be in a large degree identical with Deuteronomy as we now have it (2 Kings 22:8). We may indeed well believe that the prophet laid but little stress on the ritual portions of the law, there set forth (see Jeremiah 7:22 with notes), as compared with the rest of the Book. But with the moral tone of that Book he was in full sympathy, as is shewn by his frequent use of its words and phrases, and persistent enforcement of its general teaching. See on Jeremiah 11:1, etc. Thus it is far more likely that he here refers to the traditional directions, already committed to writing, which the priesthood claimed to possess for guidance in ritual. These had been perverted in some way to us unknown, so as to sanction iniquitous observances. This was “a peril specially likely to arise, when but few copies of ‘the law’ existed, and when the authority of the written law was not fully recognised,” Ryle, Canon of the O.T., p. 67. Cp. Jeremiah 2:8; Zephaniah 3:4; see also Deuteronomy 24:8 (“teach,” i.e. give directions for action); Haggai 2:11 ff. The Hebrew word for “law” means literally pointing out, direction. See further in C.B. Joel and Amos, pp. 230 f.

scribes] a class of men who devoted themselves to the study and development of the law. See 2 Chronicles 34:13. This laid the foundation for the mass of Rabbinical exposition which belonged to later times.

The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken: lo, they have rejected the word of the LORD; and what wisdom is in them?
Therefore will I give their wives unto others, and their fields to them that shall inherit them: for every one from the least even unto the greatest is given to covetousness, from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely.
10–12. See summary at commencement of section. These verses are omitted by LXX and are almost identical with ch. Jeremiah 6:12-15 above. See notes there.

For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.
Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among them that fall: in the time of their visitation they shall be cast down, saith the LORD.
I will surely consume them, saith the LORD: there shall be no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade; and the things that I have given them shall pass away from them.
13. there shall be] better, there are. The people in their present state are likened to a lifeless vine or fig tree. We are reminded of the comparison of the righteous man, Jeremiah 17:8; Psalm 1:1 ff. The last clause can scarcely bear the sense given it either in the text or mg. (I have appointed them those that shall pass over them), and it is not in LXX. As it stands it is perhaps the corruption of an interpolation. There is, however, some reason for conjecturing, if it be genuine, that its original form ran, I will not give them their produce (i.e. the yield of the ground).

13–17. See summary at commencement of section.

Why do we sit still? assemble yourselves, and let us enter into the defenced cities, and let us be silent there: for the LORD our God hath put us to silence, and given us water of gall to drink, because we have sinned against the LORD.
14. be silent … put us to silence] better, as mg. perish … caused us to perish. Cp. 1 Samuel 2:9.

water of gall] a plant yielding some bitter flavour reminding of gall. It is mentioned also Jeremiah 9:15, Jeremiah 23:15; Deuteronomy 29:18 (Matthew 17), Jeremiah 32:32; Psalm 69:21; Lamentations 3:5; Lamentations 3:19; Hosea 10:4 (“hemlock”). It cannot be identified with any certainty.

14, 15. The people in their straits address one another. Cp. Jeremiah 4:5.

We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of health, and behold trouble!
15. See on Jeremiah 14:19.

The snorting of his horses was heard from Dan: the whole land trembled at the sound of the neighing of his strong ones; for they are come, and have devoured the land, and all that is in it; the city, and those that dwell therein.
16. Dan] See Jeremiah 4:15.

strong ones] i.e. war-horses. The same epithet is used as a substitute for the noun, chs. Jeremiah 47:3 (“strong ones”), Jeremiah 50:11 (“strong horses”). The horse was the embodiment of strength. See Job 39:19; Psalm 33:17; Psalm 147:10.

land] or, earth.

For, behold, I will send serpents, cockatrices, among you, which will not be charmed, and they shall bite you, saith the LORD.
17. basilisks] better (mg.) adders, for the basilisk was only fabulous. The creature here meant cannot be identified with certainty. See conjectures in Dr., pp. 351 f. No art of the charmer will avail against the foe here figured. The serpent-charming art is still kept up in the East. It is supposed that the sharp shrill sounds which the charmers produce by their voice or an instrument are the means by which the desired result is reached. They also “repeatedly breathe strongly into the face of the serpent and occasionally blow spittle, or some medicated composition upon them.” Thomson, op. cit. p. 154.

18–9:1. See summary at commencement of section.

When I would comfort myself against sorrow, my heart is faint in me.
18. Oh that I could comfort myself] lit. brighten myself. The Hebrew verb occurs here only, but is found in Arabic in this sense. See further in Dr., p. 352.

Behold the voice of the cry of the daughter of my people because of them that dwell in a far country: Is not the LORD in Zion? is not her king in her? Why have they provoked me to anger with their graven images, and with strange vanities?
19. from (mg. because of) a land that is very far off] There is no need to suspect the genuineness of the clause. Jeremiah is in thought anticipating the captivity, and the distressful cries of the exiles in the direction of their home.

Is not … in her?] the words of the exiles.

Why have they, etc.] This is the Lord’s reply.

strange] foreign.

The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.
20. The harvest lasted from April to June; later came “the summer,” better (mg.), ingathering of summer fruits. As when the harvest was bad, there remained yet hopes from the yield of grapes, figs, olives, etc., and till these hopes had failed to be realised, men did not despair; so the people had lost one chance after another, and were now without any hope. It is probably a proverbial saying applied by the prophet.

For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold on me.
21. the hurt] lit. the breach, and so the verb that follows.

black] mg. mourning (as to garb). Cp. on Jeremiah 4:28.

Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?
22. balm] For balsam (balm) as a product of Gilead, see Genesis 37:25 and cp. Genesis 43:11; Ezekiel 27:17. As, however, some doubt has been thrown on Gilead as a place producing balsam, it has been suggested (so Pe.) that the meaning is mastic tree resin, which was obtained there.

Gilead] a mountainous part of Palestine, east of the Jordan, south of Bashan, and north of Moab.

is there no physician there?] Is there no priest or prophet, who can heal the sin of Israel or apply a remedy?

the health … recovered] rather, the fresh flesh of the daughter of my people come up (upon her), i.e. gradually forming by cicatrisation over a wound. See Dr., p. 352.

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