The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,
Hear ye the words of this covenant, and speak unto the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem;
Verse 2. - Hear ye... and speak. To whom is this addressed? To Jeremiah and his disciples. The Septuagint, indeed, followed by Hitzig and Graf, read (instead of "speak ye"), "Thou shalt speak unto them," adopting one different vowel-point. But this involves an inconsistency with the first verb, and is not at all necessary, for why should we suppose Jeremiah to have been completely isolated? If the prophet had well-wishers even among the princes, it stands to reason that he must have had more pronounced adherents in the classes less influenced by the prejudices of society.
And say thou unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel; Cursed be the man that obeyeth not the words of this covenant,
Verse 3. - Here begins a series of direct references to Deuteronomy, determining the date of the discourse. Cursed be the man, etc.; alluding to Deuteronomy 27:26 (which has, however, not "obeyeth," but "confirmeth," i.e. ratifieth as his own personal rule of conduct. The words of this covenant; rather, the words of this ordinance. The rendering "covenant," however, is not so much erroneous as unsuitable in this context; it is a secondary meaning of the Hebrew b'rith, the original sense being rather "authoritative appointment" (from barah, to cut, hence to decide). Nothing, perhaps, is so injurious to a correct understanding of the Scriptures as persistently rendering a Hebrew or Greek word by the same supposed equivalent. "Covenant" is no doubt appropriate in some passages (e.g. Joshua 9:6; 1 Samuel 18:3), because an "appointment" between men, if equals, involves "giving and taking;" but is inadequate when the parties are not equals, and most of all when the superior party is the Divine Being. In these cases we must clearly recur to the original meaning of" appointment" or "ordinance;" and we have one such case here (see also Hosea 6:7; 2 Kings 11:4; Job 31:1; Psalm 105:10; but not Genesis 17:9). Διαθήκη (1, an arrangement; 2, a will or testament; 3, a covenant) is to some extent parallel (see Cremer's 'Biblico-Theological Lexicon of New Testament Greek,' s.v.).
Which I commanded your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Obey my voice, and do them, according to all which I command you: so shall ye be my people, and I will be your God:
Verse 4. - From the iron furnace; rather, out of the iron furnace. It is Egypt which is thus described (comp. Deuteronomy 4:20; 1 Kings 8:51). The oppression in Egypt was like the furnace in which iron is rendered malleable by heat (so Isaiah 48:10, "I have tested thee in the furnace of affliction").
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.
Verse 5. - The oath which I have sworn (so Deuteronomy 7:8; comp. 8:18). As it is this day; a Deuteronomic formula (see e.g. Deuteronomy 2:30; Deuteronomy 4:20), appealing to the test of experience. So be it, O Lord. The-Hebrew has "Amen, Jehovah." "Amen" equivalent to "true, faithful, trustworthy;" or used in this way as a formula of asseveration, "may it be verified by facts" (the Septuagint has γένοιτο); comp. Jeremiah 28:6.
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.
Verse 6. - Proclaim all these words, etc. This command probably points to a missionary circuit of Jeremiah, as suggested above. Others render, "read aloud" (comp. 2 Kings 22:8, Hebrew); but Jeremiah receives the direction to "proclaim" or "cry" elsewhere (Jeremiah 2:2; Jeremiah 3:12, etc.). So Gabriel, in the Koran, directs Mohammed to "cry," i.e. to proclaim or preach (Sura 96:1).
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.
Verses 7, 8. - A condensation of Jeremiah 7:23-26. Imagination; rather, stubbornness (see on Jeremiah 3:17). I will bring; rather, I brought. All the words. "Word" sometimes means "thing spoken of;" here, for instance, the curses specified in Deuteronomy 28.
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.
And the LORD said unto me, A conspiracy is found among the men of Judah, and among the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
Verse 9. - A conspiracy. The language is figurative. Jehovah is the King of Israel; to commit sin is "to rebel against" him (Authorized Version sometimes weakens this into "transgress'); and to encourage one another in wickedness is "to conspire against" God. We need not suppose any open combination against spiritual religion; it is enough if" the spirit of the time" was directly contrary to it.
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.
Verse 10. - Their forefathers. The Hebrew has "their fathers, the former ones." The allusion is to the sins of the Israelites in the wilderness, and in Canaan under the judges. The prophets are constantly pointing their hearers back to those early times, either for warning (as here) or for encouragement (Jeremiah 2:1; Hosea 2:15; Isaiah 1:26; Isaiah 63:11, 13). And they went after; rather and they (themselves) have gone after. The pronoun is expressed in the Hebrew, to indicate that the prophet's contemporaries are now the subject.
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.
Verses 11-13. - A summary of Jeremiah's usual prophecies (comp. Jeremiah 4:6; Jeremiah 6:19; Jeremiah 19:3; and especially Jeremiah 2:28; 7:17).
Then shall the cities of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem go, and cry unto the gods unto whom they offer incense: but they shall not save them at all in the time of their trouble.
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.
Verse 13. - That shameful thing; rather, the shame. The name Baal is changed, to mark the abhorrence of the speaker, into Bosheth (see Jeremiah 3:24). Manasseh, we are told, "raised up altars for Baal" (2 Kings 21:3).
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.
Verse 14. - Therefore pray not thou, etc. First Jehovah declares that even the intercession of the prophet will be of no avail (see on Jeremiah 7:16), and then that the belated supplications of the people themselves will be ineffectual to avert the calamity. For their trouble. The four most ancient versions, and some of the extant Hebrew manuscripts, read "in the time of their trouble" (as in Ver. 12). The confusion between the two readings is easy, and the reading of the versions is to be preferred.
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.
Verse 15. - What hath my beloved to do in mine house? "My beloved" is evidently the Jewish people, who in Jeremiah 12:7 is called "the dearly beloved of my soul." The Divine Speaker expresses surprise that one who has now so poor a claim to the title of "my beloved" should appear in his holy house. It is spoken in the spirit of that earlier revelation of Isaiah, "When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to trample my courts?" (Isaiah 1:12). The Jews, it would seem, came to the temple to pray, but their prayer is not accepted, because it is associated with unholy practices. They thought by formal prayers and sacrifices to pay off their debt to the Deity, and so be free to go on with their old devices (as in Jeremiah 7:15). This seems the best view of the difficult words which follow, but it implies a correction of the certainly ungrammatical rendering of the Authorized Version - seeing she hath wrought lewdness - into to work the wicked device. But here begins the most obscure part of the verse. With many cannot be right; for "with" has nothing corresponding to it in the Hebrew; the word in the original simply means "the many," and as it is immediately followed by a noun in the singular with "and," and a verb in the plural, it is plain that it must (if correctly read) be part of the subject of the latter. The Septuagint, however, has a different reading, which may very well be correct, and out of which the received Hebrew reading may easily have grown - "Can vows and holy [i.e. hallowed] flesh remove from thee thy wickedness [or perhaps, 'thy calamity']?" The connection thus becomes easy. "Vows and holy flesh" (i.e. the flesh of sacrifices, Haggai 2:12), naturally go together; the only other possible way of taking the passage (assuming the correctness of the 'received text) - " the great ones and the holy flesh shall pass away from thee" - is obviously inadmissible. "Vows and sacrifices," however, precisely express the true association of ideas. A man made a vow, and he generally paid it in the form of a sacrifice. But, inquires Jehovah, "Can such vows and such Victims please God, and expiate thy wickedness [or, 'avert thy calamity']? Then thou mightest rejoice." The latter words are not, indeed, more exact than those of the Authorized Version, but are in accordance with grammar, and suit the preceding question. It is not certain, however, that the text is right here; the Septuagint has η} τούτοις διαφεύξῃ. (Notice that Keil, conservative to a fault in matters affecting the received text, agrees with the above correction, which is also adopted by Ewald, Hitzig, and Graf.)
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.
Verse 16. - A green olive tree. The olive tree is "one of the most thriving, hardy, and productive trees in the East" (it was the first tree elected king in the parable, Judges 9:8), and with its "foliage of a deep, perennial green," furnishes a striking symbol of healthful beauty. A psalmist, speaking in the character of the typical righteous man, compares himself to a "green olive tree in the house of God' (Psalm 52:8). The word rendered "green "is one of those which are the despair of translators (see on Jeremiah 2:20). It gives a picture in itself. We seem to see a flourishing, sappy tree, with abundance of pliant, gracefully moving, perennially green branches. With the noise of a great tumult. Either the tumult of the melee of battle is meant (the same uncommon word is used with such a reference in Ezekiel 1:24) or the crashing of thunder. "With a rushing mighty sound" would be a more forcible rendering. (For the concluding figure, comp. Ezekiel 31:12.) He hath kindled fire, etc. There is no occasion to explain this as merely the perfect of prophetic certitude. It was literally true that the fire of war had already devastated the fairest portion of the Holy Land. Israel (expressly referred to in Ver. 17) had already been carried into captivity, and Judah was, to the prophetic eye, as good as destroyed. Here, no doubt, that wonderful perfect of faith does come in.
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.
Verse 17. - The Lord of hosts, that planted thee; He who "planted" Israel (comp. Jeremiah 2:21) could also uproot it; and though, for the sake of his covenant with Abraham, he would not destroy it utterly, yet he could not but interpose as Judge to punish its manifold transgressions. Israel and Judah are mentioned together; for the prophets, so far as we know them from their works, did not recognize the separation of the two kingdoms. Against themselves; rather, for themselves; i.e. to please themselves.
And the LORD hath given me knowledge of it, and I know it: then thou shewedst me their doings.
Verse 18. - Here, as Naegelsbaeh puts it, begins the second stage of the "conspiracy." Hath given me knowledge, etc.; rather, gave me knowledge, and I knew it. Then; i.e. when I was in utter unconsciousness. Jeremiah had no presentiment of the murderous purpose of his townsmen, till by some "special providence" it came to his knowledge.
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.
Verse 19. - Like a lamb or an ox; rather, as a mild lamb (as one of the old translations has it), equivalent to quasi agaus mansuetus (Vulgate). Jeremiah says that he was as unsuspicious as a tame lamb which has grown up with its master's family (2 Samuel 12:3). The Arabs use the very same adjective in a slightly different form as an epithet of such tame lambs (Bochart, 'Hierozoicon,' 1:520-522, edit. 1663). It is impossible to help thinking of that "Servant of Jehovah," of whom Jeremiah was a type, who is said, in prophetic vision, to have been "brought as a lamb to the slaughter," and "not to have opened his mouth "(Isaiah 53:7). The tree with the fruit thereof; apparently a proverbial expression. Giving the words their ordinary meaning, the rendering would be, the tree with its bread (b'lakhmo). Our translators appear to have thought that the transition from "bread" to "fruit" was as justifiable in Hebrew as it is in Arabic (in which 'uklu means properly "food" in general, but also "date fruit"). Fruit, however, was not such an important article of food with the Israelites as with the Arabs; and we must either, with Hitzig, suppose a letter to have intruded into the text, and render (from a corrected reading b'lekho), with its sap (comp. Deuteronomy 34:7, Hebrew), or else appeal to the etymology of lekhem (commonly "bread"), which is "firm, consistent," and render, the tree with its pith (Hence lahmu in Arabic means "flesh," and luhmatu, "a woof"). It is no credit to St. Jerome that he followed the absurd version of the Septuagint, "Let us put wood into his bread."
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.
Verse 20. - (Parallel passage, Jeremiah 20:12.) Unto thee have I revealed my cause. This is the literal rendering, but a comparison of Psalm 22:8 and Proverbs 16:3, suggests that the In meaning is Upon thee have I rolled my cause." This expression is certainly not only more forcible, but more appropriate than the other. Jeremiah's cause was not a secret which needed to be "revealed" to Jehovah, but a burden too heavy for so finely strung a nature to bear alone. Grammatically, the preferred meaning is quite justifiable, though less obvious, as there are other instances of an interchange of meanings between two classes of verbs (see on Jeremiah 33:6).
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:
Verse 21. - Prophesy not, etc. The men of Anathoth tried first of all to effect their object by threatening. In the name of the Lord should be rather, by the name, etc. The phrase is exactly parallel to Psalm 55:1, "Save me, O God, by thy Name, and judge me by thy strength." The Name of God is equivalent to his revealed presence or personality. Baal's prophets prophesied "by Baal" (Jeremiah 2:8), i.e. by an impulse thought to proceed from Baal; Jehovah's by the consciousness of his revealed presence.
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:
Verse 22. - Their sons and their daughters, etc. The lot of the weaker sex and of the male children under the military age is contrasted with that of the young warriors.
And there shall be no remnant of them: for I will bring evil upon the men of Anathoth, even the year of their visitation.
Verse 23. - Even the year, etc.; better, in the year of their visitation (or, punishment), taking the accusative as that of time.