Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,XI.
(1) The word that came to Jeremiah.—The words indicate that we are entering on a distinct message or discourse, which goes on probably to the end of Jeremiah 12. No date is given, and we are driven to infer it from the internal evidence of the message itself. This points to an early period of Jeremiah’s work, probably in the reign of Josiah. The invasion of the Chaldeans is not so near, as in the preceding chapter. Jeremiah is still residing at Anathoth (Jeremiah 11:21). By some critics, however, it is referred to the reign of Jehoiachin.
Hear ye the words of this covenant, and speak unto the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem;(2) The words of this covenant.—The phrase had obviously acquired a definite and special sense in consequence of the discovery of the lost book of the Law under Josiah, and the covenant into which the people had then entered (comp. 2Kings 23:3). The “curse” under which the people had fallen was practically identical with that in Deuteronomy 27:26, the word “obeyeth” being substituted for “confirmeth.”
And say thou unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel; Cursed be the man that obeyeth not the words of this covenant,(3) Cursed be the man . . .—The verse is, as it were, a mosaic, so to speak, of phrases, with slight verbal changes, from the recently discovered book of Deuteronomy—the “iron furnace” from Deuteronomy 4:20; 1Kings 8:51, “Hear my voice and do them” from Deuteronomy 28:1, “Ye shall be my people” from Deuteronomy 29:13. The “iron furnace” was, of course, Egypt, the “furnace of affliction,” as in Isaiah 48:10, in which the people had endured sufferings of which that was the only adequate symbol. The word used denoted the “furnace” of the smelter, but the actual form of bondage through which the Israelites had passed, working in the brick-kiln furnaces (Exodus 1:14), had probably given a special force to the phrase.
That I may perform the oath which I have sworn unto your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as it is this day. Then answered I, and said, So be it, O LORD.(5) A land flowing with milk and honey.—The description appears for the first time in Exodus 3:8; Exodus 3:17. It rapidly became proverbial, and is prominent in Deuteronomy 6:3 and Joshua 5:6. It points primarily, it may be noticed, to the plenty of a pastoral rather than an agricultural people (see Note on Isaiah 7:22), and so far to the earlier rather than the later stages of the life of Israel.
So be it, O Lord.—The Amen of the liturgies and litanies of Israel, brought probably into fresh prominence by Deuteronomy 27:15-26, and uttered by princes and people in the solemn ceremonial of 2Kings 23:3.
Then the LORD said unto me, Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, saying, Hear ye the words of this covenant, and do them.(6) In the cities of Judah . . .—It is, at least, probable that the words are to be taken literally, and that the prophet went from city to city, doing his work as a preacher of repentance, and taking the new-found book of Deuteronomy as his text. The narrative of 2Kings 23:13-20 indicates an iconoclastic journey throughout the kingdom as made by Josiah; and the prophetic discourse now before us, enforcing the observance of the covenant just made, would have been a fit accompaniment for such a mission.
For I earnestly protested unto your fathers in the day that I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, even unto this day, rising early and protesting, saying, Obey my voice.(7) Rising early.—The phrase in its spiritual meaning, as applied to Jehovah, is almost peculiar to Jeremiah, and is used by him twelve times. In its literal sense, or as denoting only ordinary activity, it is found often, e.g., Genesis 20:8; Proverbs 27:14. (See Note on Jeremiah 7:13.)
Yet they obeyed not, nor inclined their ear, but walked every one in the imagination of their evil heart: therefore I will bring upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do; but they did them not.(8) Imagination.—Better, as before (Jeremiah 3:17), stubbornness.
Therefore I will bring upon them.—Better, I have brought upon them. The words contain not a direct prediction, but an appeal to the experience of the past as in itself foreshadowing the future.
And the LORD said unto me, A conspiracy is found among the men of Judah, and among the inhabitants of Jerusalem.(9) A conspiracy.—The words explain the rapid apostasy that followed on the death of Josiah. There had been all along, even while he was urging his reforms, an organised though secret resistance to the policy of which he was the representative.
They are turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, which refused to hear my words; and they went after other gods to serve them: the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant which I made with their fathers.(10) Their forefathers.—The Hebrew is more specific—their first fathers (as in Isaiah 43:27), with special reference to the idolatries of the forty years’ wandering and the first settlement in Canaan.
They went after other gods.—The Hebrew pronoun is emphatically repeated, as pointing back to the subject of the first clause of the verse, the men of Jeremiah’s own time—“they have gone after other gods.”
Therefore thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.(11) I will bring evil.—The Hebrew expresses immediate action, I am bringing.
For according to the number of thy cities were thy gods, O Judah; and according to the number of the streets of Jerusalem have ye set up altars to that shameful thing, even altars to burn incense unto Baal.(13) According to the number of thy cities . . .—This and Jeremiah 11:12 reproduce what we have heard already in Jeremiah 2:27-28; Jeremiah 7:17. The “shameful thing” is, as in Jeremiah 3:24, the image of Baal, which would seem to have been set up openly in some prominent place in every city of Judan, every street of Jerusalem. The reference is probably made, as before, to the formal recognition of Baal-worship in the days of Manasseh (2Kings 21:3; 2Chronicles 33:3), but the sin may have been repeated as soon as the restraint of Josiah’s reign had been removed.
Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up a cry or prayer for them: for I will not hear them in the time that they cry unto me for their trouble.(14) Therefore pray not.—The words imply, as in Jeremiah 7:16, that the prophet’s human feelings had led him to pour his soul in passionate intercession that the penalty might be averted. He is told that it is at once too early and too late for that prayer. The people have not yet been moved to repentance, and their cry is simply the wail of suffering. The discipline must do its work, and the judgment they have brought down on themselves can be stayed no longer.
What hath my beloved to do in mine house, seeing she hath wrought lewdness with many, and the holy flesh is passed from thee? when thou doest evil, then thou rejoicest.(15) My beloved.—sc., Judah—or, perhaps, Israel collectively—as the betrothed of Jehovah. What has she to do, what part or lot has she in that house of Jehovah which she pollutes?
Seeing she hath wrought lewdness with many.—The Hebrew is difficult, and probably corrupt. The most probable rendering is What hath my beloved to do in my house, to work it even evil devices? Thy many, i.e. (probably, as in Jeremiah 3:1), thy many lovers, and the holy flesh (i.e., her sacrifices), will they make it (the guilt of her devices) to pass away from thee? Keeping the present text of the Hebrew the latter clause would run, they shall pass away from thee, i.e., shall leave thee, as thou wert, unreconciled and unforgiven. A conjectural emendation, following the LXX., gives, will thy vows and the holy flesh remove thy evil from thee . . . The general sense is, however, clear. A religion of mere ritual-sacrifices and the like will not avail to save. The Hebrew for “lewdness” does not convey the idea which we now attach to the English word, but means primarily a plan of any kind, and then a “device” or “scheme” in a bad sense, as in Psalm 10:2; Psalm 21:11; Proverbs 14:17. Probably the translators, here, as in Acts 17:5; Acts 18:14, used the word in this more general sense. Primarily, indeed, “lewd” in Old English was simply the opposite of “learned.”
When thou doest evil, then thou rejoicest.—The clause is involved in the same difficulty as the rest of the verse. The English version is tenable, and gives an adequate meaning. By some commentators, however, the passage is rendered, referring evil to the previous sentence, Will they (vows, &c.) remove evil from thee? Then mightest thou rejoice.
The LORD called thy name, A green olive tree, fair, and of goodly fruit: with the noise of a great tumult he hath kindled fire upon it, and the branches of it are broken.(16) A green olive tree.—The parable is essentially the same, though a different symbol is chosen, as that of the vine of Isaiah 5:1; Jeremiah 2:21, or the fig-tree of Luke 13:6. The olive also was naturally a symbol of fertility and goodness, as in Psalm 52:8; Hosea 14:6; Zechariah 4:3; Zechariah 4:11. In the words “the Lord called thy name” we have the expression of the Divine purpose in the “calling and election” of Israel. This was what she was meant to be.
Fair, and of goodly fruit.—The words point, as before, to the ideal state of Israel. She had made no effort to attain that ideal, and therefore the thunderstorm of God’s wrath fell on it. The word for “tumult” is used in Ezekiel 1:24 for the sound of an army on its march, and is probably used as combining the literal or figurative meaning.
For the LORD of hosts, that planted thee, hath pronounced evil against thee, for the evil of the house of Israel and of the house of Judah, which they have done against themselves to provoke me to anger in offering incense unto Baal.(17) The Lord of hosts, that planted thee.—As in Jeremiah 2:21, stress is laid on the fact that Jehovah had planted the tree and bestowed on it all the conditions of fruitfulness, and that it was He who now passed the sentence of condemnation.
And the LORD hath given me knowledge of it, and I know it: then thou shewedst me their doings.(18) And the Lord hath given me knowledge.—A new section opens abruptly, and the prophet speaks no longer of the sins of Israel and Judah at large, but of the “doings” of his own townsmen, of their plots against his life. Unless this is altogether a distinct fragment, connected, possibly, with Jeremiah 9:8, the abruptness suggests the inference that the plots of the men of Anathoth against him had suddenly been brought under his notice.
But I was like a lamb or an ox that is brought to the slaughter; and I knew not that they had devised devices against me, saying, Let us destroy the tree with the fruit thereof, and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name may be no more remembered.(19) Like a lamb or an ox.—Better, as a tame lamb, i.e., one, like the ewe-lamb of Nathan’s parable (2Samuel 12:3), brought up in the home of its master. There is no “or” in the Hebrew, and the translators seem to have mistaken the adjective (tame) for a noun. The LXX., Vulg., and Luther agree in the rendering now given. Assuming the earlier date of Isaiah 53:7, the words would seem to have been an allusive reference to the sufferer there described.
The tree with the fruit thereof.—Literally, the tree with its bread, here taken for its “fruit.” Some scholars, however, render the word “sap,” or adopt a reading which gives that meaning. The phrase would seem to be proverbial for total destruction, not of the man only, but of his work. While the prophet’s life had been innocent and unsuspecting, his own townsmen were conspiring to crush him, and bury his name and work in oblivion. The sufferings of the prophet present, in this matter, a parallel to those of the Christ (Luke 4:29).
But, O LORD of hosts, that judgest righteously, that triest the reins and the heart, let me see thy vengeance on them: for unto thee have I revealed my cause.(20) Let me see thy vengeance on them.—The prayer, like that of the so-called vindictive Psalms (69, 109), belongs to the earlier stage of the religious life when righteous indignation against evil is not yet tempered by the higher law of forgiveness. As such it is not to be imitated by Christians, but neither is it to be hastily condemned. The appeal to a higher judge, the desire to leave vengeance in His hands, is in itself a victory over the impulse to take vengeance into our own hands. Through it, in most cases, the sufferer from wrong must pass before he can attain to the higher and more Christ-like temper which utters itself in the prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Unto thee have I revealed my cause.—i.e., laid it bare before thee. The thought and the phrase were characteristic of Jeremiah, and meet us again in Jeremiah 20:12.
Therefore thus saith the LORD of the men of Anathoth, that seek thy life, saying, Prophesy not in the name of the LORD, that thou die not by our hand:(21) Thus saith the Lord.—The “men of Anathoth,” it would seem, had at first tried to stop the preaching of Jeremiah by threats, as Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, had tried to stop that of Amos (Amos 7:12-13). Failing in this, after the manner of the men of Nazareth in their attack on the Christ (Luke 4:28-29), and of the later Jews in their dealings with St. Paul, they conspired against his life (Acts 9:23; Acts 9:29; Acts 14:19; Acts 23:12).
Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, Behold, I will punish them: the young men shall die by the sword; their sons and their daughters shall die by famine:(22) The young men.—As the context shows, these are the men of military age who would die fighting, while their children should perish from famine within the walls of the besieged cities.
And there shall be no remnant of them: for I will bring evil upon the men of Anathoth, even the year of their visitation.(23) There shall be no remnant of them.—In Ezra 2:23; Nehemiah 7:27 we find that 128 of Anathoth returned from exile. The words must therefore be limited either to the men who had conspired against the prophet, or to the complete deportation of its inhabitants. The situation of Anathoth, about three or four miles north-east of Jerusalem, would expose it to the full fury of the invasion. The words are apparently spoken with reference to the ever-recurring burden of Isaiah’s prophecy that “a remnant “should return (Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 6:13; Isaiah 10:21). The conspirators of Anathoth were excluded from that promise.