Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,VII.
(1) This chapter and the three that follow form again another great prophetic sermon, delivered to the crowds that flocked to the Temple. There is nothing in the discourse which absolutely fixes its date, but the description of idolatry, as prevalent, and, possibly, the reference to the presence of the Chaldæan invader in Jeremiah 8:16; Jeremiah 10:22, fit in rather with the reign of Jehoiakim than with that of Josiah; and from the special reference to Shiloh in Jeremiah 26:6; Jeremiah 26:9, as occurring in a prophecy delivered at the beginning of that reign, it was probably this discourse, or one like it, and delivered about the same time, that drew down that king’s displeasure (see Jeremiah 7:14).
Stand in the gate of the LORD'S house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all ye of Judah, that enter in at these gates to worship the LORD.(2) The gate of the Lord’s house.—As a priest, Jeremiah would have access to all parts of the Temple. On some day when the courts were thronged with worshippers (Jeremiah 7:10), probably a fast-day specially appointed, he stands at the inner gate of one of the courts, possibly, as in Jeremiah 17:19, that by which the king entered in ceremonial state, and looking about on the multitudes that thronged it, speaks to them “the word of the Lord,” the message which he had been specially commissioned to deliver.
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place.(3) Your ways and your doings.—“Ways,” as in Zechariah 1:6, of general habits, “doings” of separate acts.
I will cause you to dwell.—The English suggests the thoughts of something new, but what Jeremiah promises is simply the continuance of the blessings they had hitherto enjoyed. I will let you dwell.
Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these.(4) Trust ye not in lying words . . .—The emphatic threefold repetition of the words thus condemned, “The temple of the Lord,” points to its having been the burden of the discourses of the false prophets, possibly to the solemn iteration of the words in the litanies of the supplicants. With no thought of the Divine Presence of which it was the symbol, they were ever harping on its greatness, identifying themselves and the people with that greatness, and predicting its perpetuity. So in Matthew 24:1 the disciples of our Lord point, as with a national pride, to the buildings of the later Temple. The plural “these” is used rather than the singular, as representing the whole complete fabric of courts and porticoes. The higher truth that the “congregation” of Israel was the living Temple (1Corinthians 3:16; 1Peter 2:5), was not likely to be in the thoughts of those whom Jeremiah rebuked.
For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour;(5) A man and his neighbour.—The Jewish idiom for the English “one man and another.”
If ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt:(6) The stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.—Grouped together, as in Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 24:19-21, as the three great representatives of the poor and helpless, standing most in need therefore of man’s justice and of the divine protection.
Then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever.(7) For ever and ever.—Literally, from eternity to eternity, or, perhaps, from age to age. The English punctuation connects these words with “I will cause you to dwell,” but the accentuation of the Hebrew with “I gave to your fathers;” the gift was to have been in perpetuity (Genesis 17:8), but the guilt of the people had brought about its forfeiture.
Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit.(8) Lying words.—With special reference to those already cited in Jeremiah 7:4.
Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not;(9) Will ye steal.—The English obscures the emphasis of the Hebrew idiom which gives the verbs as a series of infinitives, What! to steal, to murder, to burn incense to Baal . . . and then have ye come before me . . .!
And come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?(10) And come and stand.—Better, and then have ye come, and stood before me.
We are delivered.—Taking the word as it stands (a different punctuation adopted by some commentators and versions gives Deliver us, as though reproducing, with indignant scorn, the very prayer of the people), the sense seems to be this. The people tried to combine the worship of Baal and Jehovah, and passed from the one temple to the other. They went away from the fast or feast in the house of the Lord with the feeling that they were “saved,” or “delivered.” They had gone through their religious duties, and might claim their reward. The prophet seems to repeat their words in a tone of irony, They were “delivered,” not from their abominations, but as if set free to do them.
Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the LORD.(11) A den of robbers.—The words had a special force in a country like Palestine, where the limestone rocks presented many caves, which, like that of Adullam (1Samuel 22:1-2), were the refuge of outlaws and robbers. Those who now flocked to the courts of the Temple, including even priests and prophets, were as such robbers, finding shelter there, and soothing their consciences by their worship, as the brigands of Italy do by their devotions at the shrine of some favourite Madonna. It had for them no higher sanctity than “a den of robbers.” The word for “robber” implies the more violent form of lawless plunder. The words are memorable, as having re-appeared in our Lord’s rebuke of the money-changers and traffickers in the Temple (Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46); and, taken together with the reference at the last Supper to the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:31, suggest the thought that our Lord was leading His disciples to see in the prophet’s work a foreshadowing of His own relation to the evils of His time, and more than a foreshadowing of the great remedy which He was to work out for them.
But go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel.(12) My place which was in Shiloh.—The history of the past showed that a Temple dedicated to Jehovah could not be desecrated with impunity. Shiloh had been chosen for the centre of the worship of Israel after the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 18:1), and was reverenced as such through the whole period of the Judges. It had not, however, been a centre of light and purity. It had been defiled by wild dances of a half-idolatrous character; by deeds of shameless violence (Judges 21:19-21), and by the sins of the sons of Eli (1Samuel 2:22). And so the judgment came. It lost the presence of the ark (1Samuel 4:17; Psalm 78:58-64); its people were slaughtered by the Philistines; it fell into decay. It is possible, as the words “temple” (1Samuel 1:9; 1Samuel 3:3) and “house” (1Samuel 3:15; Judges 18:31) applied to it suggest, that substantial buildings may have gathered round the original tabernacle, and that those wasted ruins may have given a special force to Jeremiah’s allusion. It will be seen from Jeremiah 26:6; Jeremiah 26:9; Jeremiah 26:11, that it was this reference that more than anything else provoked the wrath of priest and people. They thought with a half-concealed exultation of the fate of the earlier sanctuary in Ephraim, which had given way to that of Judah. They forgot that like sins bring about like punishments, and were startled when they heard that as terrible a doom was impending over the Temple of which they boasted. It would appear from Jeremiah 41:5 that the ruin was not total, perhaps that it was still visited by pilgrims. Jerome describes it as a heap of ruins. It has been identified by modern travellers with the village of Seilun.
And now, because ye have done all these works, saith the LORD, and I spake unto you, rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not; and I called you, but ye answered not;(13) Rising up early and speaking.—A characteristic phrase of Jeremiah’s, and used by him only (Jeremiah 13:25, Jeremiah 25:4; Jeremiah 26:5; Jeremiah 29:19). In its bold anthropomorphism it takes the highest form of human activity, waking from sleep and beginning at the dawn of day, to represent the like activity in God.
I called you, but ye answered not.—An echo of earlier complaints from prophets and wise men (Proverbs 1:24; Isaiah 65:12; Isaiah 66:4), destined itself to be used again by One greater than the prophets (Matthew 23:37).
And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim.(15) The whole seed of Ephraim.—The fate of the tribes of the Northern kingdom, among which Ephraim had always held the leading position, was already familiar to the people. They were dwelling far off by Habor or Gozan, and the cities of the Medes (2Kings 15:29; 2Kings 17:6; 2Kings 18:11). A like exile was, they were now told, to be their own portion.
Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me: for I will not hear thee.(16) Pray not thou.—The words imply that a prayer of intercession, like that which Moses had offered of old (Exodus 32:10), was rising up in the heart of the prophet. He is told that he must check it. Judgment must have its way. The discipline must be left to do its work. A like impulse met by a like repression is found in Jeremiah 11:14; Jeremiah 14:11. It is obvious that the utterance of the conflict between his human affections and the Divine will made the sentence which he pronounced more terrible than ever.
Seest thou not what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem?(17) Seest thou not . . .?—We enter on one of the darker regions of Jewish idolatry, such as Ezekiel (Jeremiah 8) saw in vision. A foreign worship of the basest kind was practised, not only in secret, but in the open places.
The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger.(18) The queen of heaven.—The goddess thus described was a kind of Assyrian Artemis, identified with the moon, and connected with the symbolic worship of the reproductive powers of Nature. Its ritual probably resembled that of the Babylonian Aphrodite, Mylitta, the mother-goddess, in its impurities (Herod. i. 199; Bar 6:43), and thus provoked the burning indignation of the prophet here and in Jeremiah 44:19; Jeremiah 44:25. The word rendered “cakes,” and found only in connection with this worship, was clearly a technical term, and probably of foreign origin. Cakes of a like kind, made of flour and honey, round like the full moon, and known, therefore, as selence or “moons,” were offered, like the Minchah or meat-offerings in the Mosaic ritual, the Neideh in the Egyptian worship of the goddess Neith, at Athens to Artemis, and in Sicily to Hecate (Theocr., Idylls, ii. 33). The worship of Ashtoreth (Milton speaks of her as “Astarte, Queen of Heaven, with crescent horn “), though of kindred nature, was not identical with that of the Queen of Heaven, that name signifying a star, and being identified with the planet Venus. A various reading gives, as in the margin, “the frame of heaven.”
Do they provoke me to anger? saith the LORD: do they not provoke themselves to the confusion of their own faces?(19) Do they not provoke themselves . . .?—The interpolated words, though they complete the sense, mar the abrupt force of the Hebrew. Is it not themselves, to the confusion of their own faces?
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, mine anger and my fury shall be poured out upon this place, upon man, and upon beast, and upon the trees of the field, and upon the fruit of the ground; and it shall burn, and shall not be quenched.(20) Shall be poured out.—The word is used in Exodus 9:33 of the plague of rain; here, of the great shower of the fire of the wrath of Jehovah (comp. Nahum 1:6). It is significant that it had been used by Josiah on hearing of the judgments denounced in the new-found copy of the Law (2Chronicles 34:21).
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Put your burnt offerings unto your sacrifices, and eat flesh.(21) Put your burnt offerings.—i.e., “Add one kind of sacrifice to another. Offer the victim, and then partake of the sacrificial feast. All is fruitless, unless there be the true conditions of acceptance, repentance, and holiness.”
For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices:(22) I spake not . . . concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices.—“Concerning” is, literally, for, or with a view to, the matter of sacrifices. The words seem at first hard to reconcile with the multiplied rules as to sacrifices both in Exodus and Leviticus. They are, however, rightly understood, strictly in harmony with the facts. They were not the end contemplated. The first promulgation of the Law, the basis of the covenant with Israel, contemplated a spiritual, ethical religion, of which the basis was found in the ten great Words, or commandments, of Exodus 20. The ritual in connection with sacrifice was prescribed partly as a concession to the feeling which showed itself, in its evil form, in the worship of the golden calf, partly as an education. The book of Deuteronomy, representing the higher truth from which Moses started (Exodus 19:5), and upon which he at last fell back, bore its witness to the original purport of the Law (Deuteronomy 6:3; Deuteronomy 10:12). Its re-discovery under Josiah left, here as elsewhere, its impress on the mind of Jeremiah; but prophets, as in 1Samuel 15:22; Hosea 6:6; Hosea 8:11-13; Amos 5:21-27; Micah 6:6-8; Psalms 50, 51, had all along borne a like witness, even while recognising to the full the fact and the importance of a sacrificial ritual.
But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.(23) But this thing commanded I them.—The words that follow are a composite quotation, partly from the lately re-found Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 5:33), partly from the words that were strictly true of the “day” when Israel came out of Egypt (Exodus 19:5), partly from the very book which seemed to be most characterised by sacrificial ritual, Leviticus (Leviticus 26:12). The influence of Jeremiah’s teaching on later Jewish thought is shown by the fact that this very section of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:21-28) appears in the Synagogue ritual as the Haphtara, or second lesson from the prophets, after Leviticus 6-8, as the Parashah, or first lesson from the Law. The Synagogue worship, indeed, was, in the nature of the case, the result of the teaching of scribes and prophets rather than of priests, and therefore a witness for the spiritual truth symbolised in sacrifice, and not for the perpetuation of the symbol.
But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward.(24) Imagination.—Better, stubbornness, as in Jeremiah 3:17.
Went backward and not forward.—The whole sacrificial system, even at its best, to say nothing of its idolatrous corruptions, was accordingly, from Jeremiah’s point of view, a retrograde movement. The apostasy of the people in the worship of the golden calf involved a like deflection, necessary and inevitable though it might be as a process of education, from the first ideal polity, based upon the covenant made with Abraham, i.e., upon a pure and spiritual theism, the emblems and ordinances of which, though “shadows of good things to come,” were in themselves “weak and beggarly elements” (Hebrews 10:1; Galatians 4:9).
Since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day I have even sent unto you all my servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them:(25) Daily rising up.—Stress is laid on the continual succession of prophets as witnesses of the Truth from the beginning. The prophet was not tied to the actual letter of his statement, and the prominence given to Samuel, as the first who bore the name of prophet (1Samuel 9:9), seems at first against him. On the other hand, the gift of prophecy (as seen in Numbers 11:25-29) was bestowed freely even during the wilderness wanderings, and the mention of prophets (Judges 4:4; Judges 6:8) and men of God (Judges 13:6), perhaps, also, that of the “angel” or messenger of God, in Judges 5:23, as well as the honour paid to seers before the time of Samuel (1Samuel 9:8), show that, great as he was, it was that name and the organisation, rather than the gift, that were new in his ministry.
Yet they hearkened not unto me, nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck: they did worse than their fathers.(26) Worse than their fathers.—The rapid survey of the past makes it doubtful whether the comparison is made between the generations that came out of Egypt and their immediate followers, or between those followers and their successors. Probably the general thought was that the whole history of Israel had been one of progressive deterioration, reaching its climax in the generation in which Jeremiah lived. His words find a striking parallel in the complaint of the Roman historian (Livy, Præf), or of the poet :—
“Ætas parentum, pejor avis, tulit
Nos nequiores.”—Hor., Od. iii. 6.
“Our fathers’ age, more stained with crime
Than were their sires in older time,
Has brought us forth a later race
Yet more iniquitous and base.”
Therefore thou shalt speak all these words unto them; but they will not hearken to thee: thou shalt also call unto them; but they will not answer thee.(27) Therefore . . . also.—Better, in both cases, though thou shalt speak, yet they will not hearken; though thou shalt call unto them, yet they will not answer thee.
But thou shalt say unto them, This is a nation that obeyeth not the voice of the LORD their God, nor receiveth correction: truth is perished, and is cut off from their mouth.(28) But thou shalt say.—Better, And thou shalt say, with an implied “therefore.”
This is a nation.—Better, This is the nation, as pre-eminent in its sin.
Truth.—Better, as in Jeremiah 7:2, faithfulness.
Cut off thine hair, O Jerusalem, and cast it away, and take up a lamentation on high places; for the LORD hath rejected and forsaken the generation of his wrath.(29) Cut off thine hair.—Literally, as in 2Samuel 1:10; 2Kings 11:12, thy crown or diadem; but the verb determines the meaning. The word Netzer (“consecration” in the Authorised version) is applied to the unshorn locks of the Nazarite (Numbers 6:7), and from it he took his name. As the Nazarite was to shave his head if he came in contact with a corpse, as cutting the hair close was generally among Semitic races the sign of extremest sorrow (Job 1:20; Micah 1:16), so Jerusalem was to sit as a woman rejected by her husband, bereaved of her children. (Comp. the picture in Lamentations 1:1-3.) The word is applied also to the “crown” of the high priest in Exodus 29:6, the “crown” of the anointing oil in Leviticus 21:12.
O Jerusalem.—The italics show that the words are not in the Hebrew, but the insertion of some such words was rendered necessary by the fact that the verb “cut off” is in the feminine. Those who heard or read the words of the prophet, who so often spoke of “the daughter of Zion” (Jeremiah 6:2), of “the daughter of his people” (Jeremiah 6:14; Jeremiah 8:11), of “the betrothed of Jehovah” (Jeremiah 2, 3), would be at no loss to understand his meaning.
For the children of Judah have done evil in my sight, saith the LORD: they have set their abominations in the house which is called by my name, to pollute it.(30) In the house which is called by my name.—This had been done by Ahaz (2Chronicles 28:2), and after the Temple had been cleansed by Hezekiah (2Chronicles 29:5) had been repeated by Manasseh (2Kings 21:4-7; 2Chronicles 33:3-7). Josiah’s reformation again checked the tendency to idolatry (2Kings 23:4; 2Chronicles 34:3); but it is quite possible that the pendulum swung back again when his death left the idolatrous party in Judah free to act, and that this special aggravation of the evil, the desecration of the Temple of Jehovah by “abominations” of idol-worship, re-appeared together with the worship of the Queen of Heaven and the sacrifices to Molech.
And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart.(31) High places.—Not the same word as in Jeremiah 7:29, but bamoth, as in the “high places” of Baal, in Numbers 22:41; Numbers 23:3, the Bamoth-baal of Joshua 13:17. The word had become almost technical for the mounds, natural or (as in this passage) artificial, on which altars to Jehovah or to other gods were erected, and appears in 1Samuel 9:12; 1Kings 3:4; Ezekiel 20:29; Amos 7:9.
Tophet.—This appears to have been originally, not a local name, but a descriptive epithet. The word appears in Job 17:6 (“by-word” in the Authorised version) as a thing spat upon and loathed. Its use is probably therefore analogous to the scorn with which the prophets substituted bosheth, the “shameful thing,” for Baal (e.g., Jeremiah 3:24; Jeremiah 11:13). When the prediction is repeated in Jeremiah 19:5; Jeremiah 32:35, we have the “high places of Baal,” and “Tophet” here is obviously substituted for that name in indignant contempt. The word in Isaiah 30:33, though not identical in form (Tophteh, not Tophet), had probably the same meaning. Other etymologies give as the meaning of the word “a garden,” “a place of burning,” or “a place of drums,” i.e., a music grove, and so connect it more closely with the Molech ritual. Possibly the last was the original meaning of the name, for which, as said above, the prophets used the term of opprobrium.
The son of Hinnom.—Possibly the first recorded owner, or a local hero. The name is perpetuated in later Jewish language in Ge-henna = Ge-Hinnom = the vale of Hinnom. It was older than the Molech worship with which it became identified, and appears in the “Doomsday Book” of Israel (Joshua 15:8; Joshua 18:16).
To burn their sons and their daughters.—The words are important as determining the character of the act more vaguely described in Jeremiah 32:35, as “making to pass through the fire.” The children were, in some cases at least, actually burnt, though often, perhaps (see Ezekiel 16:21), slain first. Horrible as the practice seems to us, it was part of the Canaanite or Phœnician worship of Molech or Malcom (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2-5), and had been practised by Ahaz (2Kings 16:3; 2Chronicles 28:3) and Manasseh (2Kings 21:6; 2Chronicles 33:6).
Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of slaughter: for they shall bury in Tophet, till there be no place.(32) Till there be no place.—Better, because there is no room—i.e., for want of space the dead should be buried even in the spot which the worshippers of Molech looked on as sacred, and the worshippers of Jehovah as accursed, and which both therefore would willingly avoid using as a place of sepulture.
And the carcases of this people shall be meat for the fowls of the heaven, and for the beasts of the earth; and none shall fray them away.(33) None shall fray them away.—No picture could be more appalling in its horrors—streets and valleys filled with the bodies of the slain, vultures and jackals feeding on them, and not one hand raised, like that of Rizpah (2Samuel 21:10), to protect the dead from that extremest desecration. Here, again, we have an almost literal quotation from Deut. (Deuteronomy 28:26).
Then will I cause to cease from the cities of Judah, and from the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride: for the land shall be desolate.(34) Then will I cause to cease . . . the voice of mirth.—The special imagery of the picture of desolation is characteristic of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 16:9; Jeremiah 25:10; Jeremiah 33:11). No words could paint the utter break-up of the life of the nation more forcibly. Nothing is heard but wailing and lamentation, or, more terrible even than that, there is the utter silence of solitude. The capacity for joy and the occasions for rejoicing (comp. 1 Maccabees 9:39 for the bridal rejoicings of Israel) belong alike to the past.
Shall be desolate.—The same word as in the “waste places” of Isaiah 51:3; Isaiah 58:12; it is used in Ezekiel 13:4 for the haunts of the “foxes,” or rather the “jackals” of the “deserts,” but always of places that, having been once inhabited, have fallen into ruins (Leviticus 26:31).