Jeremiah 5
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Run ye to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and see now, and know, and seek in the broad places thereof, if ye can find a man, if there be any that executeth judgment, that seeketh the truth; and I will pardon it.

(1) Run ye to and fro.—The dark shades of the picture seem at first hardly to belong to the reign of Josiah, which is brought before us in 2 Kings 22, 23; 2 Chronicles 34, 35, as one of thorough reformation. It is, of course, possible that parts of the picture may have been worked up when the prophecies were rewritten under Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 36:32); but, on the other hand, it is equally possible that the prophet may have seen even at the time how hollow and incomplete that reformation was. The form in which he utters his conviction reminds one of the old story of the Greek sage, Diogenes, appearing in the streets of Athens with a lantern, searching for an honest man. In the thought that the pardon of the city depended on its containing some elements of good which might make reformation possible, we find an echo of Genesis 18:25; but the picture is of a state more utterly hopeless. There were not ten righteous men found in Sodom (Genesis 18:32); in Jerusalem there was not one.

And though they say, The LORD liveth; surely they swear falsely.
(2) The Lord liveth.—The words imply that a distinction between the binding powers of different formulæ of adjuration, like that of the later scribes (Matthew 23:16), was already in some degree prevalent. The guilt of the men of Jerusalem was that they took the most solemn formula of all, “Jehovah liveth,” and yet were guilty of perjury. In Jeremiah 5:7 we find traces of the practice of swearing by other gods, with which this “oath of Jehovah” is apparently contrasted.

Falsely.—Literally, upon falsehood.

O LORD, are not thine eyes upon the truth? thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return.
(3) Upon the truth.—The Hebrew word, which has no article, implies truth in the inward parts, faithfulness, as well as truth in words. The “eyes” of God looked for this, and He found the temper that hardens itself against discipline, and refuses to repent.

Therefore I said, Surely these are poor; they are foolish: for they know not the way of the LORD, nor the judgment of their God.
(4) Therefore.—Literally, And. The prophet makes for the poor the half-pitying plea of ignorance. Looking upon the masses that toil for bread, those whom the Scribes afterwards called the “people of earth,” it was not strange that they who had been left untaught should have learnt so little. The thought finds a parallel in our Lord’s compassion for the multitude who were as “sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36), for the servant who “knew not his Lord’s will” (Luke 12:48).

The way of the Lord.—That which He approves, that which leads to Him, as in Genesis 18:19; Deuteronomy 31:29.

I will get me unto the great men, and will speak unto them; for they have known the way of the LORD, and the judgment of their God: but these have altogether broken the yoke, and burst the bonds.
(5) I will get me.—The prophet turns from the masses to the few, from the poor to the great, repeating, as with a grave, indignant irony, the words that describe the true wisdom which he has not found in the former, but hopes to find in the latter.

But these.—Better, as less ambiguous, Surely they too. The clause begins with the same word as that in Jeremiah 5:4. What is meant is that the great as well as the poor, the learned as well as the ignorant, are altogether evil, the former even more defiant in breaking through all conventional constraints than the latter.

Wherefore a lion out of the forest shall slay them, and a wolf of the evenings shall spoil them, a leopard shall watch over their cities: every one that goeth out thence shall be torn in pieces: because their transgressions are many, and their backslidings are increased.
(6) A lion out of the forest.—The imagery is vivid in itself. The three forms of animal ferocity, lion, wolf, leopard—representing, perhaps, the three phases of simple fierceness, ravenousness, and cunning; possibly even three oppressors in whom those attributes were to be impersonated—are brought together to embody the cruelty of the invader. The three animals were all common in Palestine, but it seems a weak rendering of the prophet’s words to take them literally as simply predicting that the land would be ravaged by the beasts of prey.

A wolf of the evenings.—Better, as in the margin, of the deserts; but the term “evening,” as applied to the habits of the beast of prey prowling in the darkness, is supported by Habakkuk 1:8; Zephaniah 3:3. The same three animals appear in the symbolism of the first canto of Dante’s Inferno, and the coincidence can hardly be thought of as accidental.

A leopard shall watch . . .—There is no adequate reason for substituting “panther.” The leopard finds its place in the Fauna of Syria (Hosea 13:7; Habakkuk 1:8). The “watching” is that of the crouching beast making ready for its spring.

How shall I pardon thee for this? thy children have forsaken me, and sworn by them that are no gods: when I had fed them to the full, they then committed adultery, and assembled themselves by troops in the harlots' houses.
(7) When I had fed them to the full.—The reading of the Hebrew text gives, though I had bound them by oath, sc., by the covenant, as of marriage; and this, as heightening the enormity of the sin that follows, gives a better sense than the English version, which follows the marginal reading of the Hebrew. The latter finds its parallel in Deuteronomy 32:15; Hosea 13:6. There is probably an implied reference to the covenant to which the people had sworn in the time of Josiah.

Houses.—Literally, house. The singular is, perhaps, used because the prophet thinks primarily of the idol’s temple as the scene of the adulteress’s guilt, which here, as elsewhere, is the symbol of national apostasy.

They were as fed horses in the morning: every one neighed after his neighbour's wife.
(8) They were as fed horses in the morning.—Better, As fed stallion horses they rove about. The animal passion is taken, as in Ezekiel 23:20, (1) as answering to the same passion in man; (2) as symbolical of the lust for idolatrous ritual. (Comp. Jeremiah 2:24.)

Go ye up upon her walls, and destroy; but make not a full end: take away her battlements; for they are not the LORD'S.
(10) Walls.—Better, her palm-trees. The Hebrew word is found in Ezekiel 27:25, though not in the English Version, in the sense of “mast,” and here, apparently, means the tall, stately trunk of the palmtree. So, for “battlements” it is better to read branches (as in Isaiah 18:5), as carrying on the same imagery, and indicating the limits of the destruction, that is not to make a “full end.” The rendering “walls,” still adopted by some commentators, may refer to the “walls” of a vineyard, but the second word would in that case be the tendrils of the vine. Both the palm-tree and the vine appear on Maccabean coins as symbols of Judah, and the latter had been treated as such in Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:8-16.

They have belied the LORD, and said, It is not he; neither shall evil come upon us; neither shall we see sword nor famine:
(12) It is not he.i.e., It is not Jehovah who speaks. They listened to the prophet’s warnings as if they came from himself only, and brought with them no certainty of the “sword” or “famine” which they foretold. Perhaps, however, the words refer also to the denial that Jehovah was working in the sufferings that fell upon the people, or even to a more entire denial, like that of the fool in Psalm 14:1.

And the prophets shall become wind, and the word is not in them: thus shall it be done unto them.
(13) The word.—Literally, He who speaketh, i.e., Jehovah, as the speaker.

Thus shall it be done unto them.—Better, as a wish, may it so happen to them; may the evils the prophets foretell fall on their own heads. The speech comes from the lips of the unbelieving mockers.

Wherefore thus saith the LORD God of hosts, Because ye speak this word, behold, I will make my words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them.
(14) The Lord God of hosts.—The solemn name (Jehovah Elohim Zebaoth) used for the second time in Jeremiah’s teaching (Jeremiah 2:19). The message is partly to the people—“Because ye speak this word,” partly to the prophet who was sent to bear his witness against them—“I will make my words in thy mouth.”

Lo, I will bring a nation upon you from far, O house of Israel, saith the LORD: it is a mighty nation, it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language thou knowest not, neither understandest what they say.
(15) O house of Israel.—Apparently, as there is no contrast with Judah, in its wider sense, as including the whole body of the twelve tribes.

A mighty nation.—The strict force of the adjective is that of “lasting, enduring,” as of mountains (Micah 6:2) and rivers (Amos 5:24; Psalm 74:15).

Whose language thou knowest not.—To the Jew, as to the Greek, the thought of being subject to a people of alien speech, a “barbarian,” added a new element of bitterness. Compare Isaiah 28:11; Deuteronomy 28:49.

Their quiver is as an open sepulchre, they are all mighty men.
(16) An open sepulchre.—Every arrow in the quivers of the Chaldæan bowmen was to be as a messenger of death, a blast or pestilence from the grave.

And they shall eat up thine harvest, and thy bread, which thy sons and thy daughters should eat: they shall eat up thy flocks and thine herds: they shall eat up thy vines and thy fig trees: they shall impoverish thy fenced cities, wherein thou trustedst, with the sword.
(17) Which thy sons and thy daughters should eat.—There is no relative pronoun in the Hebrew, and the clause stands parallel with the others, they shall eat (i.e., destroy) thy sons and thy daughters, and is so translated in all the older versions. In the other clauses the verb is in the singular, “it (i.e., the invading army) shall eat.”

Impoverish.—Better, break down, or shatter. The “sword” is used, as in Ezekiel 26:9, for “battle-axes” and other weapons used in attacking cities.

Nevertheless in those days, saith the LORD, I will not make a full end with you.
(18) I will not make a full end.—As before, in Jeremiah 4:27, and in this chapter, Jeremiah 5:10, what seems the extremest sentence is tempered by the assurance that it is not absolutely final. It is intended to be reformatory, and not merely penal.

And it shall come to pass, when ye shall say, Wherefore doeth the LORD our God all these things unto us? then shalt thou answer them, Like as ye have forsaken me, and served strange gods in your land, so shall ye serve strangers in a land that is not yours.
(19) When ye shall say.—The implied promise in Jeremiah 5:18 is explained. Then there shall come the backward glance at the past, which brings with it questionings and repentance.

Strange gods.—Stronger than the “other gods” of Jeremiah 1:16, “gods of an alien race.” The threats that they should “serve strangers” in a “land” that was not theirs points to the Chaldæan rather than to the Scythian invasion. With this ends the section which began in Jeremiah 5:14.

Declare this in the house of Jacob, and publish it in Judah, saying,
(20) Declarepublish.—The words indicate, as in Jeremiah 4:5; Jeremiah 4:16, the beginning of a fresh section of the prophecy, though no definitely new topic is introduced. The command is given by Jehovah, not to the prophet only, but to his disciples.

Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not:
(21) Which have eyes, and see not.—An almost verbal reproduction from Isaiah 6:10.

Fear ye not me? saith the LORD: will ye not tremble at my presence, which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it: and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet can they not prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it?
(22) Which have placed the sand . . .—The greatness of Jehovah is shown by the majesty of His work in nature. As in Job 38:8-11, so, probably, here also there is something of the wonder of one to whom, as dwelling in an inland village, the billows breaking on the shore was an unfamiliar sight. Here was the token that even the forces which seem wildest and least restrained are subject to an overruling law. Even the sand which seems so shifting keeps in the surging waters.

But this people hath a revolting and a rebellious heart; they are revolted and gone.
(23) But this people . . .—The contrast seems to lie in the fact that the elements are subject to God’s will, but that man’s rebellious will, with its fatal gift of freedom, has the power to resist it. The two adjectives “revolting” and “rebellious” (the negative and positive aspects of apostasy) are joined together, as in Deuteronomy 21:18; Deuteronomy 21:20.

Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the LORD our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: he reserveth unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest.
(24) The Lord our God, that giveth rain . . .—In the climate of Palestine, as it is now, there are not two distinct rainy seasons. The whole period from October to March has that character. The “early” rains are those that come in autumn, the latter those which close the season in spring. The former argument in what we may call the prophet’s natural theology had been drawn from the presence of law in the midst of what seemed the lawless elements of nature. Now he urges that drawn from regularity of succession. Compare Genesis 8:22; Psalm 148:8; Acts 14:17.

Rain, both the former and the latter.—Again a Deuteronomic phrase (Deuteronomy 11:14). Compare also James 5:7; Proverbs 16:15.

The appointed weeks of the harvest.—Literally, the weeks, the statutes, or ordinances, of the harvest, the seven weeks included between the beginning of the barley harvest at the Passover and the completion of the wheat harvest at Pentecost.

Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withholden good things from you.
(25) These things.—i.e., the rain and the harvest which, from the prophet’s point of view, had been withheld in consequence of the sins of the people.

For among my people are found wicked men: they lay wait, as he that setteth snares; they set a trap, they catch men.
(26) They lay wait.—Literally, he lieth in wait (used of the leopard in Hosea 13:7), as in the crouching down of fowlers: they have set the snare. The indefinite singular in the first clause brings before us the picture of isolated guilt, the plural that of confederate evil.

As a cage is full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit: therefore they are become great, and waxen rich.
(27) A cage.—The large wicker basket (Amos 8:1-2) in which the fowler kept the birds he had caught, or, possibly, used for decoy-birds.

They are waxen fat, they shine: yea, they overpass the deeds of the wicked: they judge not the cause, the cause of the fatherless, yet they prosper; and the right of the needy do they not judge.
(28) They overpass the deeds of the wicked.—Better (the English being ambiguous), they exceed in deeds (literally, words or things) of wickedness. The prophet dwells not only on the prosperity of the wicked, but on their callous indifference to the well-being of the poor.

Yet they prosper.—Better, so that they (the fatherless) may prosper. They do not judge with a view to that result. The words admit, however, in Hebrew as in English, of the sense that they (the wicked themselves) may prosper. That was all they aimed at or cared for.

A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land;
(30) Wonderful.—Better, terrible.

Is committed.—Better, has come to pass.

The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?
(31) Prophesy falsely.—Literally, with a lie, so in Jeremiah 20:6; Jeremiah 29:9.

Bear rule by their means.—Better, move at their hands, i.e., according to their direction (as in 1Chronicles 25:2; 2Chronicles 23:18. The Vulg. and LXX. translate The priests applauded with their hands. So taken, the words of Jeremiah make the priests follow the prophets, not the prophets the instruments of the priests. In Isaiah 9:15 the prophets are as “the tail,” the basest element in the nation.

My people love to have it . . .—The words imply more than an acquiescence in evil, and describe an ethical condition like that of Romans 1:32. The final question implies that the people were running into a destruction which they would nave no power to avert.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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