The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,
Verses 1-7. - The Divine requirements and the corresponding promise.
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.
Verse 2. - Stand in the gate; i.e. not an outer gate (for the outer court would be filled with the people whom Jeremiah was to address), but one of the three gates which led from the inner court to the outer. Probably it was the gate where Baruch recited the prophecies of Jeremiah at a later period, and which is designated "the new gate of the Lord's house," and said to have been situated in the "upper" i.e. inner court (Jeremiah 36:10; comp. Jeremiah 26:10). We may conjecture that either one of the three great festivals or some extraordinary fast had brought a large number of people together at the temple.
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.
Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these.
Verse 4. - The temple of the Lord. Notice the iteration of the phrase, as if its very sound were a charm against evil. It reminds us of the performances of the howling dervishes at Cairo, who "sometimes remain for hours, incessantly shouting the Muslim confession of faith (la ilaha, etc.)" (Dr. Ebers, in Badeker's 'Egypt,' p. 150). The phrase is repeated three times to express earnestness of the speakers (comp. Jeremiah 22:29, "O earth, earth, earth"). These false prophets evidently retained a large amount of the old materialistic faith of the Semitic nations (to whom the Israelites belonged by race), which localized the presence and the power of the divinity. The temple was, in fact, their palladium, and as long as it stood, the national independence appeared to them to be secured. They faithfully handed on the teaching of those prophets of the last generation, who, as Micah tells us (Micah 3:11), were wont to "lean upon the Lord, and say, Is not the Lord among us? none evil can come upon us." How Isaiah met this error we may collect from Isaiah 28:16 (see my Commentary). Are these; i.e. these buildings (comp. 2 Chronicles 8:11, where for "the places" the Hebrew has "these").
For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour;
Verse 5. - If ye thoroughly amend, etc.; a development of the ides of ver. 3. The true palladium of Judah would be the faithful performance of Jehovah's moral laws, especially those referring to the conduct of the rulers. Observe the stress which all the prophets lay on the virtues of civil life.
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:
Verse 6. - The stranger, the fatherless, and the widow; specially commended to the care of the Israelites (Exodus 22:21, 22 - a passage belonging to one of the most evidently primitive portions of the Pentateuch; Deuteronomy 24:17, 19, 21; Deuteronomy 27:19; comp. Isaiah 1:17, 23; Isaiah 10:2; Ezekiel 22:7). In plus; i.e. specially in Jerusalem, but not altogether excluding the rest of the kingdom (see vers. 3, 7).
Then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever.
Verse 7. -Forever and ever. It is doubtful, both here and in Jeremiah 25:5, whether these words should be joined to "gave" or "cause you to dwell." Still, the latter connection is both in itself the more probable one, and that suggested first of all by the accentuation (this, however, is not here decisive). It was not the extent of the original premise, but that of the enjoyment of the gift, which was in question. A more exact rendering of the prophet's formula is that of the Septuagint ἐξ αἰῶνος καὶ ἕως αἰῶνος: i.e. from the most remote antiquity to the most distant future.
Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit.
Verses 8-15. The formalism of Jewish religion exposed. The lesson of Shiloh. Verse 8. - Lying words; such as those quoted in ver. 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;
Verse 9. - Will ye steal, etc.? rather, What I stealing, murdering, etc.? The construction is formed by a series of infinitives, preceded by an interrogative expressing extreme surprise, equivalent to "Is this your way of life - a course of theft, and so forth?"
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?
Verse 10. - And come, etc.; rather, and then ye come, etc. We are delivered to do, etc.; rather, we have escaped, in order to do, etc. To make the concluding words of the verse a part of the speech seems hardly fair to the Jews, who would certainly not proclaim that they had made their escape from the threatened judgment with the object of prosecuting abominable acts. Such a view, moreover, greatly weakens the force of the emphatic "We have escaped." "In order to do," etc., are the words of the prophet, who thus lays bare the secret intentions of these formal worshippers.
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.
Verse 11. - Even I have seen it; understand, "and I will therefore destroy the house which gives shelter to evil-doers."
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.
Verse 12. - But go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh. Jeremiah attacks this false confidence in the temple of Jerusalem, by pointing to the destruction of an earlier sanctuary, of which very little is known, indeed only so much as to give an edge to our desire for more. It is certain, from Joshua 18:1 and 1 Samuel 4:3, that the tabernacle and the ark found a resting-place at Shiloh (an Ephraimitish town to the north of Bethel), nearly the whole of the period of the judges, or more exactly between the latter days of Joshua (Joshua 18:1) and the death of Eli (1 Samuel 4:3). Manifestly, then, there must have been some sort of "house," i.e. temple, at Shiloh; a mere tent would not have been sufficient for so long a period. This presumption is confirmed by the language of Jeremiah, and by the expressions of the narrative books. The fate which the prophet is bidden to announce for the existing temple is analogous to that which fell upon "Jehovah's place in Shiloh." The latter was, therefore, not merely a deportation of the ark, such as is referred to in 1 Samuel 5. And when the narrator of the times of Samuel speaks of Eli as "sitting by the door-post of the temple of Jehovah" (1 Samuel 1:9), is it more natural to suppose t the word "temple" is here applied to the tabernacle, or that there was really a house, however rude, as sacred in the eyes of the faithful as was afterwards the splendid temple at Jerusalem? The latter view is strongly confirmed by Judges 18:31, "All the time that the house of God in Shiloh existed" (Authorized Version is misleading), and Judges 19:18, where the Levite travelling to Mount Ephraim says, "I am going to the house of Jehovah." It is no doubt strange at first sight that so little information is given us as to this central sanctuary of the true religion; but are there not other omissions (especially in the history of the judges), which are equally strange as long as we look upon the Old Testament as primarily an historical document? We do know something, however, and more than is generally suspected; for when the right translation is restored in Judges 18:31, it follows, from a comparison of this and the preceding verse, that the temple of Shiloh was destroyed simultaneously with the captivity of the northern tribes. The impression produced by this emphatic announcement of Jeremiah is revealed to us by a later passage in his book (see Jeremiah 26.).
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;
Verse 13. - Rising up early and speaking; i.e. speaking zealously and continually (so ver. 25; Jeremiah 25:4; Jeremiah 26:5; Jeremiah 29:19). It is an expression peculiar to Jeremiah.
Therefore will I do unto this house, which is called by my name, wherein ye trust, and unto the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh.
Verse 14. - To Shiloh. Shiloh and the temple of Shiloh are interchanged, precisely as Jerusalem and the temple of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 26:9; Micah 3:12).
And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim.
Verse 15. - I will cast you out of my sight; viz. into a foreign land (see Deuteronomy 29:28). The land of Israel was in a special sense "Jehovah's land" (Hosea 9:3; Leviticus 25:23). Ephraim; here used for the northern tribes collectively, as Isaiah 7:2; Hosea 4:17; Hosea 5:9; Hosea 12:1.
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.
Verses 16-20. - The hypocrisy of the worship of Jehovah proved; its punishment. Verse 16. - Pray not thou for this people. Abraham prayed for Sodom (Genesis 18:23-32); Moses and Samuel for Israel (Exodus 32:11-14; Exodus 17:11; Numbers 14:13-20; Psalm 106:23; 1 Samuel 7:9, 10; 1 Samuel 12:17, 18, 23); and Jeremiah would fain perform the same pious duty to his people. We have a specimen of his intercession in Jeremiah 14:19-22 (comp. Jeremiah 18:20), followed immediately by a rejection of his prayer, parallel in thought to the present passage. Verbal parallels are Jeremiah 11:14; Jeremiah 14:11. Cry; i.e. cry for help (see on Jeremiah 14:12); parallel with "prayer," as Jeremiah 11:14; Psalm 17:1 61:1.
Seest thou not what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem?
Verse 17. - In the streets. A climax. Them is no sense of shame left.
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.
Verse 18. - The children... the fathers... the women. All ages were represented in this idolatrous act, thus justifying the sweeping character of the judgment as described in Jeremiah 6:11. Cakes (comp. Jeremiah 44:19). The word is peculiar (kavvanim), and perhaps entered Palestine together with the foreign rite to which the cakes belonged. Various conjectures have been offered as to their nature, but without any demonstrable ground. Sacrificial cakes were not uncommon. Hosea refers to the luscious raisin-cakes used by idolaters (Hosea 3:1). To the queen of heaven. This title of a divinity only occurs in Jeremiah (here and in Jeremiah 44:17-19, 25). It reminds us, first, of titles (such as "queen of the gods") of the Babylonic-Assyrian goddesses, Bilat (Beltis) and Istar, who, though divided in later times, were "originally but two forms of the same goddess" (Sayce, Transactions of Society of Biblical Archaeology, 3:169). It is, however, perhaps an objection to the view that Bilat or Istar is intended, that neither here nor in Jeremiah 44. is there any allusion to that characteristic lascivious custom which was connected in Babylonia with the worship of Istar (Herod., 1:199). The phrase has, however, another association. It reminds us, in the second place, of the Egyptian goddess Neith, "the mother of the gods." The first mention of "the queen of heaven" in Jeremiah occurs in the reign of Jehoiakim, who was placed on the throne by Pharaoh-Necho, one of the Saite dynasty (Says was the seat of the worship of Neith). If the "queen of heaven" were a Babylonic-Assyrian goddess, we should have looked for the introduction of her cultus at an earlier period (e.g. under Ahaz). But it was in accordance with the principles of polytheism (and the mass of the Jews had an irresistible tendency to polytheism), to adopt the patron-deity of the suzerain. Subsequently Judah became the subject of Nebuchadnezzar; thus it was equally natural to give up the worship of an Egyptian deity. Jewish colonists in Migdol would as naturally revert to the cultus of the Egyptian "mother of the gods" (see Gratz, 'Monatsschrift,' Breslau, 1874, pp. 349-351). The form of the word rendered "queen" being very uncommon, another reading, pronounced in the same way, obtained currency. This should be rendered, not "frame," or "workmanship" (as Authorized Version, margin), but "service." The context, however, evidently requires a person.
Do they provoke me to anger? saith the LORD: do they not provoke themselves to the confusion of their own faces?
Verse 19. - Do they provoke me, etc.? literally, Is it me that they provoke (or, vex)? Is it not themselves
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.
Verse 20. - Upon man, and upon beast. That all creation shares in the curse of man is repeatedly affirmed in the Old Testament as well as the New. Inferentially, this doctrine appears from the narrative of the Fall, and still more clearly from Isaiah's description of Paradise regained (11.). Hosea speaks of sufferings of the animals arising out of the guilt of Israel (Hosea 4:3), and a consciousness of the "solidarity" of all living creatures is ascribed to a Ninevite king in the Book of Jonah (Jonah 3:7, 8). In general, the origin of this community of suffering is left mysterious, but in Genesis 6:12 it is expressly stated as the cause of the Deluge, that "all flesh [i.e. both man and beast.] had corrupted its way upon the earth;" i.e. apparently, that contact with man had led to a corruption of the original innocence of the lower animals. It is a common experience that intercourse between Christianized (not to say civilized) man and the domestic animals produces a sometimes pathetic change in the psychic phenomena of the latter. Is the reverse process utterly inconceivable?
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Put your burnt offerings unto your sacrifices, and eat flesh.
Verses 21-28. - Jeremiah dispels the illusion that God's claims are satisfied by a merely formal service. Verse 21. - Put your burnt offerings, etc. Throw all your sacrifices into a mass, and eat them at your pleasure. Ye have my perfect permission, for they are of no religions value. According to the Law, the burnt offerings were to be entirely consumed by fire, while the other sacrifices were mostly eaten by the offerers and by their friends. There is a touch of contempt in the phrase, eat flesh; they are merely pieces of flesh, and ye may eat them.
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:
Verse 22. - I spake not unto your fathers, etc. An important and much-disputed passage, from which Graf, Colenso, and Kuenen derive one of their chief subsidiary arguments for the post-Exile date of the Levitical legislation. The prophet here appears to deny in tote that Jehovah at Mount Sinai had given any injunctions on the subject of sacrifice. But the prophet must at any rate be consistent with himself; he cannot utter anything by Divine command which is fundamentally at variance with other equally authoritative declarations. Do the statements of Jeremiah elsewhere justify us in accepting the words in their literal, superficial meaning? There are three other passages which have a claim to be considered. In Jeremiah 17:26 the prophet draws a picture of the happy condition in which the Jews might be, were they only obedient. One of the features of this picture is that the Jews would still bring all the various kinds of sacrifices to the house of Jehovah. In Jeremiah 31:14 a similar description is closed with the promise to "satiate the soul of the priests with fatness," implying that there would be a great abundance of thank offerings in regenerate Israel. In Jeremiah 33:11, among other blessings of the future, the prophet mentions the praiseful exclamations of those who would bring the sacrifice of thanksgiving. These passages do not contain any statement respecting the origin of the sacrificial system; but they do expressly assert that Jehovah contemplates that system with pleasure, and apparently that he designs it to be permanent among his people Israel. Let us now turn to Jeremiah 33:17-24. Here the prophet, in the Name of Jehovah, declares that there is a Divine covenant "with the Levites, the priests," who shall never "want a man before me... to do sacrifice continually." A covenant with the priests implies a covenant with the people, the priests being the representatives of the people. This passage, therefore, is more distinct than those previously quoted; it does appear to maintain that the range of the Sinaitic covenant included the duties of the priesthood, i.e. sacrifices. On the other hand, it should be observed that the genuineness of this latter passage is not beyond dispute, the whole section in which it occurs (Jeremiah 33:14-26) being omitted in the Septuagint. We have now to inquire, Is there a real discrepancy between the words of Jeremiah (strictly speaking, of Jehovah) in the verse now before us, interpreted literally, and the passages adduced above? Are they more inconsistent than such an utterance as Jeremiah 6:20 (first half of verse), which appears to deny the utility of sacrifices altogether? If the latter may be explained as a forcible oratorical exaggeration, why not also the present passage? Jeremiah sees the people attaching a pernicious importance to the opus operatum of sacrifice. On one occasion he tells them that Jehovah cares not for sacrifices; he means, as the context shows, the sacrifices of men without spiritual sensibilities. On another, that Jehovah never commanded their fathers to sacrifice; he means (may we not presume?) the mere outward forms of the ritual, divorced from the sentiment and practice of piety, which, as Hosea tells us (Hosea 6:6), Jehovah "delights in and not [equivalent to 'more than'] sacrifice." There is, therefore, no fundamental inconsistency between the passage before us and the three passages first quoted, and if so there can be no real discrepancy with the last-mentioned passage, for the priests (as was remarked) perform their functions on behalf of the people, and the permanence of Jehovah's covenant with the priests depended on the spiritual life of the people they represented (read Jeremiah 33, as a whole). This view seems less arbitrary than that of Ewald, who thinks that the sacrifices spoken of in our passage are merely the free-will offerings of the rich; and than that of Dahler, who interprets, "My chief care was not to prescribe rules for holocausts and sacrifices, but this is what I commanded thee above all," viz. moral obedience. According to it, the prophet's denial is not absolute, but relative - relative, that is, to the notion of sacrifices entertained by the Jews whom he addresses. Of course, Graf's view, that the denial is absolute, will equally well suit the context. The people were surprised at Jeremiah's objurgations, because they thought they had fulfilled the claims of the covenant. Jeremiah's purpose is equally well fulfilled whether his denial is qualified or unqualified, absolute or relative. Our object has been to separate the exegesis of our passage from a still doubtful controversy, and to offer a tenable view of it, based upon grounds purely internal to Jeremiah. It may be suggested, however, to the student of Leviticus, that even if the Levitical legislation in its present form were proved to be of a pest-Exile date, it would still be doubtful whether any believing temple-worshipper could help assuming that Jehovah had, from the first existence of the nation, given his direct sanction to the offering of sacrifices. If so, it is comparatively unimportant (except with regard to the progressive revelation of the strictness of the law of truth) whether the Levitical code was given to Moses at Mount Sinai in its present form or not.
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.
Verse 23. - But this thing... Obey my voice, etc. Comp. Deuteronomy 6:3, "Hear [the verb rendered here 'obey'] therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with thee," etc. The words, I will be your God; rather, to you a God, etc., occur in Leviticus 26:12 (comp. Exodus 6:7; Deuteronomy 29:13). Walk ye in all the ways, etc., is not a citation, but reminds us of passages like Deuteronomy 9:12, 16; Deuteronomy 11:28; Deuteronomy 31:29. That it may be well unto you is a characteristic phrase of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 43:6; Jeremiah 38:20; Jeremiah 40:9); but is also frequent in Deuteronomy (comp., besides the passage quoted above, Deuteronomy 4:40; Deuteronomy 5:16; Deuteronomy 6:18; Deuteronomy 12:25).
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.
Verse 24. - Imagination; rather, stubbornness (see on Jeremiah 3:17). Went backward, and not forward; rather, turned their back, and not their face (literally, became backwards, and not forwards).
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:
Yet they hearkened not unto me, nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck: they did worse than their fathers.
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.
Verse 27. - Therefore thou shalt speak etc. rather, and though thou speak... yet will they not, etc.; and though thou call unto them, yet will they 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.
Verse 28. - But thou shalt say; rather, thou shalt therefore say. A nation; rather, the nation. "What one nation in the earth is like thy people, even like Israel, whom God went to redeem for a people to him-serf?" (2 Samuel 7:23). And yet "this is the nation that have not hearkened," etc. Truth; rather, good faith (as Jeremiah 5:1). Is cut off from their mouth; i.e. their oaths to Jehovah are false oaths (Jeremiah 5:2).
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.
Verses 29-34. - Tophet, the greatest of all abominations; the beginning of the Divine retribution. Verse 29. - Cut off thine hair. The "daughter of Zion," i.e. the community of Jerusalem, is addressed; this appears from the verb being in the feminine. It is a choice expression which the prophet employs - literally, shear off thy crown (i.e. thy chief ornament). The act was to be a sign of mourning (see Job 1:20; Micah 1:16). Some think there is also a reference to the vow of the Nazarite (the word for "crown" being here nezer, which is also the word rendered in Authorized Version, "separation," i.e. "consecration," in the law of the Nazarite (Numbers 6.). But neither in this context nor anywhere else have we any support for the application of the term "Nazarite" to the people of Israel. On high places; rather, on (the) bare hills (see on Jeremiah 3:21). The generation of his wrath; i.e. on which his wrath is to be poured out (comp. Isaiah 10:6).
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.
Verse 30. - They have set their abominations, etc.; alluding, doubtless, to the altars which Manasseh built "for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of Jehovah," and especially to the image of the Canaanitish goddess Asherah, which he set up in the temple itself (2 Kings 21:5, 7).
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.
Verse 31. - The high places of Tophet; rather, the high places of the Topheth - (on the "high places" (Hebrew bamoth) - hero probably artificial mounds to erect the altars upon, and on "the Topheth," see Commentary on 1 Kings). In the valley of the son of Hinnom. Hitzig and others would take Hinnom as a noun meaning "groaning" (Rashi, the great Jewish commentator. had already proposed this view), which is at first sight very plausible. But this name of the valley is already found in the description of the boundaries of Judah and Benin-rain in Joshua 15:8; Joshua 18:16. To burn their sons, etc. (On the worship of Moloch (Saturn), see on Leviticus 18:21, and comp. Ezekiel 16:20, 21, from which it appears that the children were first slain before being "caused to pass through the fire.")
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.
Verse 32. - The valley of slaughter; with reference to the great slaughter reserved for the unbelieving Jews. The scene of their sin shall be that of their punishment. Till there be no place; rather, for want of room (elsewhere).
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.
Verse 33. - And the carcasses etc.; almost verbally identical with 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.
Verse 34. - The land shall be desolate; rather, shall become a waste. The curse denounced upon the disobedient people in Leviticus 26:31, 33 (for another parallel between this chapter and Leviticus 26, see ver. 23). In both passages the word for "waste" is khorbah, which, as Dr. Payne Smith remarks, is "used only of places which, having once been inhabited, have then fallen into ruin." Hebrew is rich in synonyms for the idea of "desolation."