Jeremiah 6
Pulpit Commentary
O ye children of Benjamin, gather yourselves to flee out of the midst of Jerusalem, and blow the trumpet in Tekoa, and set up a sign of fire in Bethhaccerem: for evil appeareth out of the north, and great destruction.
Verses 1-8. - Arrival of a hostile army from the north, and summons to flee from the doomed city. Verse 1. - O ye children of Benjamin. The political rank of Jerusalem, as the capital of the kingdom of Judah, makes it difficult to realize that Jerusalem was not locally a city of Judah at all. It belonged, strictly speaking, to the tribe of Benjamin, a tribe whose insignificance, in comparison with Judah, seems to have led to the adoption of a form of expression not literally accurate (see Psalm 128:68). The true state of the case is evident from an examination of the two parallel passages, Joshua 15:7, 8, and Joshua 18:16, 17. As Mr. Fergusson points out, "The boundary between Judah and Benjamin... ran at the foot of the hill on which the city stands, so that the city itself was actually in Benjamin, while, by crossing the narrow ravine of Hinnom, you set foot on the territory of Judah" (Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible,' 1:983). It is merely a specimen of the unnatural method of early harmonists when Jewish writers tell us that the altars and the sanctuary were in Benjamin, and the courts of the temple in Judah. The words of "the blessing of Moses" are clear (Deuteronomy 33:12): "The beloved of the Lord! he shall dwell in safety by him, sheltering him continually, and between his shoulders he dwelleth;" i.e. Benjamin is specially protected, the sanctuary being on Benjamite soil. And yet these highly favored "children of Benjamin" are divinely warned to flee from their sacred homes (see Jeremiah 7:4-7). Gather yourselves to flee; more strictly, save your goods by flight. In Jeremiah 4:6 the same advice was given to the inhabitants of the country districts. There, Jerusalem was represented as the only safe refuge; here, the capital being no longer tenable, the wild pasture-land to the south (the foe being expected from the north) becomes the goal of the fugitives of Jerusalem. In Tokoa. Tokoa was a town in the wild hill-county to the south of Judah, the birthplace of the prophet Amos. It is partly mentioned because its name seems to connect it with the verb rendered blow the trumpet. Such paronomasiae are favorite oratorical instruments of the prophets, and especially in connections like the present (comp. Isaiah 10:30; Micah 1:10-15). A sign of fire in Beth-hakkerem; rather, a signal on Beth-hakkerem. The rendering of Authorized Version was suggested by Judges 20:38, 40; but there is nothing in the present context (as there is in that passage) to favor the view that a fiery beacon is intended. Beth-hakkerem lay, according to St. Jerome, on an eminence between Jerusalem and Tekoa; i.e. probably the hill known as the Frank Mountain, the Arabic name of which (Djebel el-Furaidis, Little Paradise Mountain) is a not unsuitable equivalent for the Hebrew (Vineyard-house). The "district of Beth-hakkerem" is mentioned in Nehemiah 3:14. The choice of the locality for the signal was a perfect one. "There is no other tell," remarks Dr. Thomson, "of equal height and size in Palestine." Appeareth; rather, bendeth forward, as if it were ready to fall.
I have likened the daughter of Zion to a comely and delicate woman.
Verse 2. - I have likened... a comely and delicate woman. This passage is one of the most difficult in the book, and if there is corruption of the text anywhere, it is here. The most generally adopted rendering is, "The comely and delicate one will I destroy, even the daughter of Zion," giving the verb the same sense as in Hosea 4:5 (literally it is, I have brought to silence, or perfect of prophetic certitude). The context, however, seems to favor the rendering "pasturage" (including the idea of a nomad settlement), instead of "comely;" but how to make this fit in with the remainder of the existing text is far from clear. The true and original reading probably only survives in fragments. Ver. 3 - The shepherds with their flocks, etc.; rather, To her came shepherds with their flocks; they have pitched their tents round about her; they have pastured each at his side. The best commentary on the last clause is furnished by Numbers 22:4, "Now shall this company lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licketh up the grass of the field."
The shepherds with their flocks shall come unto her; they shall pitch their tents against her round about; they shall feed every one in his place.
Prepare ye war against her; arise, and let us go up at noon. Woe unto us! for the day goeth away, for the shadows of the evening are stretched out.
Verse 4. - Prepare ye war; literally, sanctify (or, consecrate) war. The foes are dramatically described as urging each other on at the different stages of the campaign. The war is to be opened with sacrifices (comp. Isaiah 13:3 with 1 Samuel 13:9); next there is a forced march, so as to take the city by storm, when the vigilance of its defenders is relaxed in the fierce noontide heat (comp. Jeremiah 15:8); evening surprises the foe still on the way, but they press steadily on, to do their work of destruction by night. The rapidity of the marches of the Chaldeans impressed another prophet of the reign of Josiah - Habakkuk (see Habakkuk 1:6, 8). Woe unto us! for the day goeth away; rather, Alas for us! for the day hath turned.
Arise, and let us go by night, and let us destroy her palaces.
Verse 5. - Let us go; rather, let us go up. "To go up" is the technical term for the movements of armies, whether advancing (as here and Isaiah 7:1) or retreating (as Jeremiah 21:2; Jeremiah 34:21; Jeremiah 37:5, 11).
For thus hath the LORD of hosts said, Hew ye down trees, and cast a mount against Jerusalem: this is the city to be visited; she is wholly oppression in the midst of her.
Verse 6. - Hew ye down trees; rather, her trees. Hewing down trees was an ordinary feature of Assyrian and Babylonian expeditions. Thus, Assurnacirpal "caused the forests of all (his enemies) to fall" ('Records of the Past,' 3:40, 77), and Shalmaneser calls himself "the trampler on the heads of mountains and all forests "(Ibid. p. 83; comp. p. 90). The timber was partly required for their palaces and fleets, but also, as the context here suggests, for warlike operations. "Trees," as Professor Rawlinson remarks, "were sometimes cut down and built into the mound" (see next note); they would also be used for the "bulwarks" or siege instruments spoken of in Deuteronomy 20:20. Cast a mount; literally, pour a mount (or "bank," as it is elsewhere rendered), with reference to the emptying of the baskets of earth required for building up the "mount" (mound). Habakkuk (Habakkuk 1:10) says of the Chaldeans, "He laugheth at every stronghold, and heapeth up earth, and taketh it" (comp, also 2 Samuel 20:15; Isaiah 37:33). The intention of the mound was not so much to bring the besiegers on a level with the top of the walls as to enable them to work the battering-rams to better advantage (Rawlinson, 'Ancient Monarchies,' 1:472). She is wholly oppression, etc.; rather, she is the city that is punished; wholly oppression is in the midst of her.
As a fountain casteth out her waters, so she casteth out her wickedness: violence and spoil is heard in her; before me continually is grief and wounds.
Verse 7. - As a fountain casteth out; rather, as a cistern keepeth fresh (literally, cool). The wickedness of Jerusalem is so thoroughly ingrained that it seems to pass into act by a law of nature, just as a cistern cannot help always yielding a supply of cool, fresh water. Violence and spoil; rather, injustice and violence (so Jeremiah 20:8; Amos 3:10; Habakkuk 1:3). Before me, etc.; rather, before my face continually is sickness and wounding. The ear is constantly dinned with the sounds of oppression, and the eye pained with the sight of the bodily sufferings of the victims. The word for" sickness" is applicable to any kind of infirmity (see Isaiah 53:3, 4), but the context clearly limits it here to bodily trouble.
Be thou instructed, O Jerusalem, lest my soul depart from thee; lest I make thee desolate, a land not inhabited.
Verse 8. - Be thou instructed; rather, Let thyself be corrected (Authorized Version misses the sense, a very important one, of the conjugation, which is Nifal tolerativum (comp. Psalm 2:10; Isaiah 53:12). The phrase equivalent to "receive correction" (Jeremiah 2:30; Jeremiah 5:3), and means to accept the warning conveyed in the Divine chastisement. Lest my soul, etc.; rather, lest my soul be rent from thee (Authorized Version renders the same verb in Ezekiel 23:17, "be alienated").
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall throughly glean the remnant of Israel as a vine: turn back thine hand as a grapegatherer into the baskets.
Verses 9-15. - It is an all but complete Judgment, which Jehovah foreshows. Unwilling as the people are to hear it, the disclosure must be made. Verse 9. - They shall thoroughly glean, etc. "Israel" has already been reduced to a "remnant;" the ten tribes have lost their independence, and Judah alone remains (Jeremiah 5:15). Even Judah shall undergo a severe sifting process, which is likened to a gleaning (comp. Isaiah 24:13; Obadiah 1:5; Jeremiah 49:9). The prospect is dark, but believers in God's promises would remember that a few grapes were always left after the gathering (comp. Isaiah 17:6). Turn back thine hand. If the text is correct, the speaker here addresses the leader of the gleaners. Keil thinks this change of construction is to emphasize the certainty of the predicted destruction. But it is much more natural (and in perfect harmony with many other similar phenomena of the received text) to suppose, with Hitzig, that the letter represented in the Authorized Version By "thine" has arisen by a mistaken repetition of the first letter of the following word, and (the verbal form being the same for the infinitive and the imperative) to render turning again the hand. In this case the clause will be dependent on the preceding statement as to the "gleaning" of Judah. Into the baskets; rather, unto the shoots. The gleaners will do their work with a stern thoroughness, laying the hand of destruction again and again upon the vine-shoots.
To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of the LORD is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it.
Verse 10. - Their ear is uncircumcised; covered as it were with a foreskin, which prevents the prophetic message from finding admittance. Elsewhere it is the heart (Leviticus 26:41; Ezekiel 44:7), or the lips (Exodus 6:12) which are said to be "circumcised;" a passage in Stephen's speech applies the epithet both to the heart and to the ears (Acts 7:51).
Therefore I am full of the fury of the LORD; I am weary with holding in: I will pour it out upon the children abroad, and upon the assembly of young men together: for even the husband with the wife shall be taken, the aged with him that is full of days.
Verse 11. - Therefore I am full; rather, But I am full. I will pour it out. The text has "pour it out." The sudden transition to the imperative is certainly harsh, and excuses the conjectural emendation which underlies the rendering of the Authorized Version. If we retain the imperative, we must explain it with reference to Jeremiah's inner experience. There are, we must remember, two selves in the prophet (comp. Isaiah 21:6), and the higher prophetic self here addresses the lower or human self, and calls upon it no longer to withhold the divinely communicated burden. All classes, as the sequel announces, are to share in the dread calamity. Upon the children abroad; literally, upon the child in the street (comp. Zechariah 8:5). The assembly of young men. It is a social assembly which is meant (comp. Jeremiah 15:17, "the assembly of the laughers").
And their houses shall be turned unto others, with their fields and wives together: for I will stretch out my hand upon the inhabitants of the land, saith the LORD.
Verse 12. - Shall be turned; i.e. transferred. Their fields and wives. Wives are regarded as a property, as in Exodus 20:17 (comp. Deuteronomy 5:21).
For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely.
Verse 13. - Given to covetousness; literally, gaineth gain; but the word here rendered "gain" implies that it is unrighteous gain (the root means "to tear"), Unjust gain and murder are repeatedly singled out in the Old Testament as representative sins (comp. Ezekiel 33:31; Psalm 119:36; Isaiah 1:15; Jeremiah 2:34; and see my note on Isaiah 57:17). There is a special reason for the selection of "covetousness" here. Land was the object of a high-born Jew's ambition, and expulsion from his land was his appropriate punishment (comp. Isaiah 5:8, 9).
They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.
Verse 14. - They have healed, etc. The full force of the verb is, "they have busied themselves about healing" (so Jeremiah 8:11; Jeremiah 51:9). Of the daughter. Our translators evidently had before them a text which omitted these words, in accordance with many Hebrew manuscripts and the Septuagint; Van der Hooght's text, however, contains them, as also does the parallel passage (Jeremiah 8:11). Slightly; or, lightly; Septuagint, ἐξουθενοῦντες. Saying, Peace, peace. Always the burden of the mere professional prophets, who, as one of a higher order - the bold, uncompromising Micah - fittingly characterizes them," bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace;" i.e. draw flattering pictures of the state and prospects of their country, in order to "line their own pockets" (Micah 3:5).
Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore they shall fall among them that fall: at the time that I visit them they shall be cast down, saith the LORD.
Verse 15. - Were they ashamed? The Authorized Version certainly meets the requirements of the context; there seems to be an implied interrogation. Most, however, render, "They are brought to shame;" in which ease it seems best to take the verb as a perfect of prophetic certitude, equivalent to "they shall surely be brought to shame." When; rather, because. Nay, they were not at all ashamed; rather, nevertheless they feel no shame (i.e. at present). They shall be cast down; rather, they shall stumble.
Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.
Verses 16-21. - Without hearty repentance, there is no hope of escape. But hitherto Judah has rejected all admonitions. What availeth mere ceremonial punctuality? Verse 16. - Stand ye in the ways; literally, station yourselves on (or, by) roads, i.e. at the meeting-point of different roads. There (as the following words state) the Jews are to make inquiry as to the old paths. Antiquity gives a presumption of rightness; the ancients were nearer to the days when God spoke with man; they had the guidance of God's two mighty "shepherds" (Isaiah 63:11); they knew, far better than we, who "are but of yesterday, and know nothing" (Job 8:9), the way of happiness. For though there are many pretended "ways," there is but "one way" (Jeremiah 32:39) which has Jehovah's blessing (Psalm 25:8, 9).
Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken.
Verse 17. - Also I set; rather, and I kept raising up (the frequentative perfect). Watchmen; i.e. prophets (Ezekiel 3:17, and part of Isaiah 52:8; Isaiah 56:10). Hearken, etc. probably the words of Jehovah. Standing on their high watch-tower (Habakkuk 2:1), the prophets scrutinize the horizon for the first appearance of danger, and give warning of it by (metaphorically) blowing a trumpet (so Amos 3:6).
Therefore hear, ye nations, and know, O congregation, what is among them.
Verse 18. - Therefore hear, etc. Remonstrance being useless, the sentence upon Israel can no longer be delayed, and Jehovah summons the nations of the earth as witnesses (comp. Micah 1:2; Isaiah 18:3; Psalm 49:1). O congregation, what is among them. The passage is obscure. "Congregation" can only refer to the foreign nations mentioned in the first clause; for Israel could not be called upon to hear the judgment "upon this people" (ver. 19). There is, however, no other passage in which the word has this reference. The words rendered "what is among them," or "what (shall happen) in them," seem unnaturally laconic, and not as weighty as one would expect after the solemn introduction. If correct, they must of course refer to the Israelites. But Graf's conjecture that the text is corrupt lies near at hand. The least alteration which will remove the difficulties of the passage is that presupposed by the rendering of Aquila (not Symmachus, as St. Jerome says; see Field's 'Hexapla') and J. D. Michaelis, "the testimony which is against them."
Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto my words, nor to my law, but rejected it.
Verse 19. - The fruit of their thoughts. That punishment is the ripe fruit of sin, is the doctrine of the Old (Isaiah 3:10; Psalm 58:11, margin) as well as of the New Testament (James 1:15).
To what purpose cometh there to me incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from a far country? your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet unto me.
Verse 20. - To what purpose... incense from Sheba? This is the answer to an implied objection on the part of the Jews, that they have faithfully fulfilled their core-menial obligations. "To obey is better than sacrifice" (1 Samuel 15:22); "And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (Micah 6:8; comp. Isaiah 1:11; Amos 5:21-24; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8). All these passages must be read in the light of the prophets' circumstances. A purely formal, petrified religion compelled them to attack the existing priesthood, and a holy indignation cannot stop to measure its language. Incense from Sheba; frankincense from south-west Arabia. This was required for the holy incense (Exodus 30:34), and as an addition to the minkhah, or "meal offering." Sweet cane. The "sweet calamus" of Exodus 30:23, which was imported from India. It was an ingredient in the holy anointing oil (Exodus, loc. cit.). Not to be confounded with the sugar-cane.
Therefore thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will lay stumblingblocks before this people, and the fathers and the sons together shall fall upon them; the neighbour and his friend shall perish.
Verse 21. - I will lay stumbling-blocks, etc, Of the regenerate Israel of the future it is prophesied (Isaiah 54:15) that his enemies shall "fall upon him [or, 'by reason of him']." Of the unregenerate Israel of the present, that he shall "fall" (i.e. come to ruin) upon the "stumbling-blocks" presented, not without God's appointment, by the terrible northern invader.
Thus saith the LORD, Behold, a people cometh from the north country, and a great nation shall be raised from the sides of the earth.
Verses 22-30. - The enemy described; the terror consequent on his arrival; a rumored declaration of the moral cause of the judgment. Verse 22. - From the north country (so Jeremiah 1:14 (see note); 4:6). Shall be raised; rather, shall be aroused. The sides of the earth; rather, "the recesses (i.e. furthest parts) of the earth" (so Jeremiah 35:32; Isaiah 14:13).
They shall lay hold on bow and spear; they are cruel, and have no mercy; their voice roareth like the sea; and they ride upon horses, set in array as men for war against thee, O daughter of Zion.
Verse 23. - Spear; rather, javelin (or, lance). They are cruel. The cruelty of the Assyrians and Babylonians seems to have spread general dismay. Nahum calls Nineveh "the city of bloodshed" (Nahum 3:1); Habakkuk styles the Chaldeans "bitter and vehement, terrible and dreadful" (Habakkuk 1:6, 7). The customs brought out into view m the monuments justify this most amply, though Professor Rawlinson thinks we cannot call the Assyrians (with whom the Babylonians may of course be coupled) naturally hard. hearted. "The Assyrian listens to the enemy who asks for quarter; he prefers making prisoners go slaying.; he is very terrible in the battle and the assault, but afterwards he forgives and spares" ('Ancient Monarchies,' 1:243). Their voice roareth. The horrid roar of the advancing hosts seems to have greatly struck the Jews (comp. Isaiah 5:30; Isaiah 17:12, 13).
We have heard the fame thereof: our hands wax feeble: anguish hath taken hold of us, and pain, as of a woman in travail.
Verse 24. - We have heard the fame thereof. The prophet identifies himself (comp., for the same phenomenon, Jeremiah 4:19-21; Jeremiah 10:19, 20) with his people, and expresses the general feeling of anxiety and pain. The phraseology of the closing lines reminds us of Isaiah 13:7, 8.
Go not forth into the field, nor walk by the way; for the sword of the enemy and fear is on every side.
Verse 25. - Go not forth into the field. The "daughter of Zion" (i.e. the personific population of Jerusalem) is cautioned against venturing outside the walls. The sword of the enemy; rather, the enemy hath a sword. Fear is on every side; Hebrew, magor missa-bib; one of Jeremiah's favorite expressions (see Jeremiah 20:3, 10; Jeremiah 46:5; Jeremiah 49:29; and comp. Psalm 31:13 [14].). Naturally of a timid, retiring character, the prophet cannot help feeling the anxious and alarming situation into which at the Divine command he has ventured.
O daughter of my people, gird thee with sackcloth, and wallow thyself in ashes: make thee mourning, as for an only son, most bitter lamentation: for the spoiler shall suddenly come upon us.
Verse 26. - Wallow thyself in ashes; rather, sprinkle thyself with ashes, a sign of mourning (2 Samuel 13:19; so Micah 1:10). Mourning, as for an only son. The Septuagint renders πένθος ἀγαπητοῦ (comp. Genesis 22:2, where in like manner the Septuagint renders, not "thine only son," but "thy beloved son"). Possibly this was to avoid a supposition which might have occurred to some readers (it has, in fact, occurred to several modern critics) that the "only son" was Adonis, who was certainly "mourned for" by some of the Israelites under the name of Thammuz (Ezekiel 8:14), and whose Phoenician name is given by Philo of Byblus as Ἰεούδ (i.e. probably Yakhidh, only begotten, the word used by Jeremiah; comp. Βηρούθ, equivalent to Berith). M. Renan found a vestige of the ancient festival of Adonis at Djebeil (the Phoenician Gebal) even at the present day. There would be nothing singular in the adoption of a common popular phrase by the prophet, in spite of its reference to a heathen custom (comp. Job 3:8), and the view in question gives additional force to the passage. But the ordinary explanation is perfectly tenable and more obvious. The phrase, "mourning [or, 'lamentation'] for an only begotten one," occurs again in Amos 8:10; Zechariah 12:10. In the last-mentioned passage it is parallel with "bitter weeping for a firstborn."
I have set thee for a tower and a fortress among my people, that thou mayest know and try their way.
Verse 27. - I have set thee, etc.; literally, as an assayer have I set thee among my people, a fortress. Various attempts have been made to avoid giving the last word its natural rendering, "a fortress." Ewald, for instance, would alter the points, and render "a separator [of metals]," thus making the word synonymous with that translated "an assayer;" but this is against Hebrew usage. Hitzig, assuming a doubtful interpretation of Job 22:24, renders "... among my people without gold," i.e. "without there being any gold there for thee to essay" (a very awkward form of expression). These are the two most plausible views, and yet neither of them is satisfactory. Nothing remains but the very simple conjecture, supported by not a few similar phenomena, that mibhcar, a fortress, has been inserted by mistake from the margin, where an early glossator had written the word, to remind of the parallel passage (Jeremiah 1:18, "I have made thee this day a fortress-city," 'it mibhcar). In this and the following verses metallurgic phraseology is employed with a moral application (comp. Isaiah 1:22, 25).
They are all grievous revolters, walking with slanders: they are brass and iron; they are all corrupters.
Verse 28. - Grievous revolters; literally, rebels of rebels. Walking; rather, going about, as a peddler with his wares (so Proverbs 11:13; Proverbs 20:19; Leviticus 19:16). Jeremiah had good reason to specify this characteristic of his enemies (see Jeremiah 18:18). Brass and Iron; rather, copper and iron, in short, base metal,
The bellows are burned, the lead is consumed of the fire; the founder melteth in vain: for the wicked are not plucked away.
Verse 29. - The bellows are burned. The objection to this rendering is that the burning of the bellows would involve the interruption of the process of assaying. We might, indeed, translate "are scorched" (on the authority of Ezekiel 15:4), and attach the word rendered "of the fire" to the first clause; the half-verse would then run: "The bellows are scorched through the fire; the lead is consumed," i.e. the bellows are even scorched through the heat of the furnace, and the lead has become entirely oxydized. But this requires us to alter the verb from the masculine to the feminine form of third sing. perf. (reading tammah). It is better, therefore, to give the verb (which will be Kal, if the nun be radical) the sense of "snorting," which it has in Aramaic and in Arabic, and which the corresponding noun has in Hebrew (Jeremiah 8:16; Job 39:20; Job 41:12). The masculine form of the verb rendered "is consumed" is still a difficulty; but we have a better right to suppose that the first letter of tittom was dropped, owing to its identity with the second letter, than to append (as the first view would require us) an entirely different letter at the end. This being done, the whole passage becomes clear: "The bellows puff, (that) the lead may be consumed of the fire." In any case, the general meaning is obvious. The assayer has spared no trouble, all the rules of his art have been obeyed, but no silver appears as the result of the process. Lead is mentioned, because, before quicksilver was known, it was employed as a flux in the operation of smelting, Plucked away; rather, separated, like the dross from the silver.
Reprobate silver shall men call them, because the LORD hath rejected them.
Verse 30. - Reprobate silver... rejected them; rather, refuse silver (as the margin)... refused them. The verbal root is the same.

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