Jeremiah 17
Pulpit Commentary
The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart, and upon the horns of your altars;
Verse 1. - The sin of Judah, etc. "Judah's sin" is not merely their tendency to sin, but their sinful practices - their idolatry. This is said to be graven upon the table of their heart, for it is no mere form, but carried on with passionate earnestness, and as indelible as if engraved with an iron pen. How unlike, however, is this record to that of which the same expression is used in Job 19:24! With the point of a diamond; or, with a point of adamant (harder than flint, as Ezekiel 3:9 says). Fragments of adamant, says Pliny ('Hist. Nat.,' 37:15), are sought out by engravers and enclosed in iron; they easily overcome every hardness. Upon the horns of your altars. First of all, what altars are referred to? Those erected for the worship of idols or the two in the temple of Jehovah, which had been defiled by idolatry? And why is the sin of Judah said to be engraved upon the horns of the altars? Probably because the "horns," i.e. the projections at the four upper corners (Exodus 28:2) were smeared with the blood of the victims. The direction in Exodus 29:12 and Leviticus 4:7 was doubtless not peculiar to the ritual of the Law.
Whilst their children remember their altars and their groves by the green trees upon the high hills.
Verse 2. - Whilst their children remember, etc. The connection of this with the preceding verse is rather obscure. Probably it is intended as an exemplification of the "sin of Judah," the inveterateness of which is shown by their thoughts spontaneously turning to the altars and symbols of the false gods whenever they are near a leafy tree or a high hill (probably "under the green trees" is the right reading; comp. 1 Kings 14:23; so Targum). To make "their sons" the accusative (with Hitzig and Keil), rendering, "As they remember their children, [even so they remember their altars]," seems unnatural; why should "children" and "altars" be associated in idea? Groves; rather, idols of Asherah, the Canaanitish goddess.
O my mountain in the field, I will give thy substance and all thy treasures to the spoil, and thy high places for sin, throughout all thy borders.
Verse 3. - O my mountain in the field; a still more obscure passage. The question is whether "my mountain in the field" is a vocative or an accusative dependent on "I will give." If the former, then the phrase will mean Jerusalem (comp. "rock of the plain," Jeremiah 21:13). This, however, does not suit with the second half of the verse ("thy high places," etch), and still less with ver. 4, which evidently refers to the people of Judah. Added to this, if Jerusalem were here addressed we should certainly expect feminine suffixes. It remains to take "my mountain," etc., as an accusative. It describes, not Jerusalem, but Mount Zion as the site of the temple, the mountain of the house of Jehovah (Isaiah 2:3; Zechariah 8:3; Psalm 24:3). Render, therefore, my mountain in the field will I give. The prophet magnifies Zion into a mountain with a widely extended prospect (comp. ver. 12 and Jeremiah 21:13). Thy substance and all thy treasures; i.e. these of the people. The part of the verse which begins here is almost the same as Jeremiah 15:13 (see note). And thy high places for sin. Keil explains, Jehovah declares that he will, on account of the sinful practices upon them, deliver up the high places throughout the land. Gesenius, "He will deliver up the high places with the sin attaching to them;" Hitzig, "as a sin offering." There is a question, however, whether there is not a corruption in the text, and whether we should not read, with Ewald, "without price for thy sins" (as in the parallel passage, Jeremiah 15:13).
And thou, even thyself, shalt discontinue from thine heritage that I gave thee; and I will cause thee to serve thine enemies in the land which thou knowest not: for ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn for ever.
Verse 4. - (Comp. Jeremiah 15:14.) Even thyself; literally, even with thyself, i.e. with thy bare life (if the text, which is here evidently rather out of order, is correct). Shalt discontinue. The word involves an allusion to the Law in Exodus 23:11 and (especially) Deuteronomy 15:2 (see the Hebrew). The latter passage suggests a correction of the difficult "even with thyself," just preceding, into "thy hand." Thus we get for the opening of this verse, "And thou shalt let loose thy hand" (i.e. as Authorized Version, "shalt discontinue").
Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD.
Verses 5-11. - In the higher gnomic or proverbial style. God and man, flesh and spirit, are natural antitheses (comp. Isaiah 31:3; Psalm 56:4). The prayer of the believer is, "Be thou (O Jehovah) their arm every morning;" not Egypt, not Assyria, not any "arm of flesh."
For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited.
Verse 6. - Like the heath in the desert; as forlorn as some well-known desert plant. But which plant? St. Jerome explains, "Et erit quasi myrice ['tamarisk'], quae Hebraice dicitur Aroer (?) sire, at interpretatus est Syrus, lignum infructuosum." The versions agree in supposing the comparison to be to a plant; and a very similar word in Arabic (ghargar) means the mountain juniper; Tristram, the dwarf juniper. Most, however, take the word to be an adjective equivalent to "destitute." Dr. Thomson tells a story of a poor destitute woman he found in the desert (comp. Jeremiah 48:6 - the form there is Aroer, here it is 'ar'ar; Psalm 102:18). Shall not see; i.e. shall not perceive, or feel any evil consequences (comp. Isaiah 44:16, "I have seen the fire," equivalent to "feel the flame"). A salt land; i.e. one entirely barren (comp. Deuteronomy 29:23).
Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is.
For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.
Verse 8. - Shall not see; rather, shall not fear - this is the reading of the Hebrew text, and of the Septuagint, Peshito, and Vulgate. The Authorized Version represents that of the margin, which is conformed to ver. 6, but is against the parallelisms.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
Verses 9, 10. - The crocked devices of the human heart, which is characterized as deceitful above all things (or, as Delitzsch, ' Biblical Psychology,' English translation, p. 340, "proud;" literally, uneven or rugged; comp. Isaiah 40:4; Habakkuk 2:4, Hebrew; Psalm 131:2, Hebrew), and desperately wicked, or rather, desperately sick (see Jeremiah 15:18, where it is explained by the words, "which refuseth to be healed"). The Septuagint reads this verse differently, "The heart is deep above all things, and it is a man."
I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.
As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not; so he that getteth riches, and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at his end shall be a fool.
Verse 11. - As the partridge... hatcheth them not; rather, as the partridge sitteth on eggs which it hath not laid; a proverbial illustration of the Divine retributive justice. The prophet assumes the truth of a popular belief respecting the partridge (still a common bird in Judaea), that it brooded upon eggs which it had not laid. As the young birds soon leave the false mother, so unjustly acquired riches soon forsake their possessors. [Canon Tristram rejects this explanation, on the ground that the statement is not true to natural history; the partridge neither steals the broods of others nor needs to do so, as it lays a very large number of eggs. But grammar requires us to translate as suggested above, and consequently excludes any other explanation-May not the unusually large number of the eggs laid by the partridge have led to the fancy that they could not be all its own?]
A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary.
Verses 12, 13. - An address to Jehovah in two parts, the first specially referring to the temple regarded as the sacramental symbol of the Divine presence (comp. Psalm 5:7), the second to Jehovah himself. It seems to us, no doubt, singular thus practically to identify, Jehovah and his temple; but the prophet s meaning is that God can only be addressed in so far as he has revealed himself. The temple was not, strictly speaking, the "Name or revelation of God, but it was "the place of the Name of Jehovah," and in the language of strong feeling might be addressed as if it were really the Divine Name. The disciples of the incarnate Name were familiar with the idea that their Master was in some sense the antitype of the temple (Matthew 12:6; John 2:19). In proposing this explanation, it has been tacitly assumed that the Authorized Version, A glorious high throne... is the place of our sanctuary, is wrong. Grammatically, indeed, it is not indefensible; but it is a weak rendering in such a context. Render, therefore, Thou throne of glory, a height from the beginning, thou place of our sanctuary, thou hope of Israel, Jehovah. The temple is called "the throne of thy glory" in Jeremiah 14:21; "height" is a common synonym for heaven (Psalm 7:8, Hebrew; Isaiah 57:15, Hebrew), but is also applied to Mount Zion (Ezekiel 17:23; Ezekiel 20:40, quoted by Keil), which is also in Isaiah 60:13 called, "the place of my sanctuary." By adding the concluding words of the address (at the opening of ver. 13), the prophet prevents the suspicion that he attached importance to the mere outward buildings of the temple, like those formalist Jews, whose words are quoted in Jeremiah 7:4.
O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.
Verse 13. - They that depart from me. The abrupt change of person is extremely harsh; the Vulgate, followed by Ewald and Olshausen, supposes that a final caph has dropped out, rendering, "they that depart from thee." Shall be written in the earth; a contrast to that which is recorded for all time "with a pen of iron" (ver. 1). The fountain, etc.; a favorite phrase of our prophet (see Jeremiah 2:13).
Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise.
Verses 14-18. - A prayer of the prophet in this his hour of need. He who makes his boast of Jehovah may reckon upon his help. This is Jeremiah's principle. He prays for healing, Heal me... and I shall be - rather, that I may be - healed. He is one of those "broken in heart," whom Jehovah alone can "heal" (Psalm 147:3).
Behold, they say unto me, Where is the word of the LORD? let it come now.
Verse 15. - The occasion of this prayer is the hostility of his neighbors, and their mocking question, Where is the word of the Lord? The prophecy seems to be floating as it were in mid-air, unable to alight (Isaiah 9:8) and fulfill itself, so that Jeremiah could be plausibly treated as a false prophet (Deuteronomy 18:22). Hence, as Keil remarks, the discourse of which this forms the conclusion must have been spoken before the first Babylonian invasion of Judah.
As for me, I have not hastened from being a pastor to follow thee: neither have I desired the woeful day; thou knowest: that which came out of my lips was right before thee.
Verse 16. - I have not hastened from being a pastor to follow thee; i.e. I have not eagerly withdrawn from following thee as a shepherd (or prophet). The prophet does not follow his own vague inclinations; he is but an under-shepherd, and waits on the will of his superior. He is, as Hosea calls him (Hosea 9:7, Hebrew), "the man of the Spirit." If God leads any one, whether people or individuals, it is through the agency of the Spirit (Isaiah 63:11, 12); and it is the characteristic of the typical prophet that his ear is "wakened morning by morning" to receive his daily lesson. Only by thus "following" the Divine Leader, can a prophet act as pastor to his people. [The construction is, however, rather simplified by the rendering - a perfectly legitimate one... from following thee as a companion.] The woeful day. The word for "woeful" is the same rendered "desperately wicked" (ver. 9); the "day" of Judah's calamity is metaphorically "sick," like the heart of man. So, other words being used, Isaiah 17:11 (end). Was right before thee; rather (since some adjective must be supplied), was manifest before thee. He appeals to the all-seeing Eye as a witness to his fidelity to his mission.
Be not a terror unto me: thou art my hope in the day of evil.
Verse 17. - Jeremiah reckons on Jehovah's protection; he therefore entreats that his God will not bring him to shame by leaving his prophecies unfulfilled. A terror is a weak rendering; a consternation would be better.
Let them be confounded that persecute me, but let not me be confounded: let them be dismayed, but let not me be dismayed: bring upon them the day of evil, and destroy them with double destruction.
Verse 18. - (On this terrible execration, with reference to Jeremiah's character, see the general Introduction.) Destroy them with double destruction. "Double" here means "amply sufficient" (comp. Revelation 18:6, and see on Jeremiah 16:18).
Thus said the LORD unto me; Go and stand in the gate of the children of the people, whereby the kings of Judah come in, and by the which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem;
Verses 19-27. - An exhortation to a more strict observance of the Sabbath. The reward held out is Jerusalem's continuance in all its old pomp, both temporal and spiritual, and the penalty the destruction of the city by fire. This passage stands in absolutely no connection with the preceding and the following prophecies; and we have just the same sense of suspicion in meeting with it here, in the midst of perfectly general exhortations, as in reading the parallel exhortations to Sabbath-keeping in Isaiah 56. and 58, surrounded as they are by the moving and almost evangelical rhetoric of the second part of Isaiah. Geiger and Dr. Rowland Williams have hence been led to conjecture that this section (or part of it) was introduced into the roll of Jeremiah's prophecies to assist the reforming movement of Ezra and Nehemiah. Certainly the regard for the Sabbath, so conspicuous in the later Judaism, dates, so far as we can see, from the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (see Nehemiah 13.), though it is credible enough that the perception of the high importance of this holy day (comp. Heine's 'Prinecssin Sabbath') began to acquire greater distinctness as the other parts of the social and religions organization were seen to be fading away (comp. art. "Sabbath" in Smith's 'Bible Dictionary'). Verse 19. - In the gate of the children of the people. It is uncertain which of the gates of Jerusalem is meant, and not perfectly clear what is the meaning of the title. Does it mean Israelites as opposed to foreigners, or laymen as distinguished from priests? Whereby the kings of Judah come in. Jeremiah appears to use the phrase "kings of Judah" in a particular sense (see on ver. 20). He may, no doubt, simply mean to say that those who are from time to time sovereigns of Judah enter by this gate. But once grant that the prophet does sometimes use the phrase in a sense of his own, and that in the very next verse, and it is very difficult to avoid interpreting it so in this passage.
And say unto them, Hear ye the word of the LORD, ye kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that enter in by these gates:
Verse 20. - Jeremiah addresses himself first of all to the kings of Judah. As it would be very unnatural for a public orator to appeal to the yet unborn members of the reigning dynasty, and as there are several indications that the "house of David" was able at this period, as also in that of Isaiah, to exercise a decisive political and civil influence, even, as appears from Jeremiah 21:11, 12, monopolizing the judicial functions, it is natural to suppose that "kings of Judah" is here used in a very special sense, via. of the members of the various branches of the royal family ("The sons of the king," Zephaniah 1:8; comp. Jeremiah 36:26, "Jerahmeel, a king's son"), and their descendants, who received the royal title by courtesy (parallels for this will be found in Gesenius's 'Hebrew Thesaurus,''lek). The queen-mother was probably the leader of this plan; "the mistress," as she was called (see on Jeremiah 13:18), and the royal princes (among whom the "house of Nathan," Zechariah 12:12, would doubtless be reckoned), constituted in fact a body almost as numerous as they did (according to Brugsch Bey) in Egypt, and politically much more influential; so much so indeed that only a king of unusual force of character, like Hezekiah or Josiah, could venture, and that timidly, to oppose them. The weak-principled Zedekiah seems to have been entirely dominated by this powerful caste, and to have been little more than a maire du palais (the same sense of the phrase is required in Jeremiah 19:8, and probably in Jeremiah 25:18).
Thus saith the LORD; Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem;
Verse 21. - Take heed to yourselves; rather, Take heed heartily, conscientiously; literally, in your souls. So in Malachi (Malachi 2:15, 16), "Take heed in your spirit" (not, "to your spirit," as Authorized Version).
Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers.
Verse 22. - Neither do ye any work; according to the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:10; Deuteronomy 5:14).
But they obeyed not, neither inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear, nor receive instruction.
Verse 23. - This verse is modeled on Jeremiah 7:26, 28.
And it shall come to pass, if ye diligently hearken unto me, saith the LORD, to bring in no burden through the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but hallow the sabbath day, to do no work therein;
Then shall there enter into the gates of this city kings and princes sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they, and their princes, the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: and this city shall remain for ever.
Verse 25. - Parallel passage, Jeremiah 22:4, where, however, we simply meet with "kings sitting upon the throne o f David," not, as hero, "kings and princes." Has the latter word come in by accident, owing to the frequent combination of kings and princes in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:18; 2:26; 25:18; 32:32; 44:17, 21)? Shall remain forever; rather, shall be inhabited forever.
And they shall come from the cities of Judah, and from the places about Jerusalem, and from the land of Benjamin, and from the plain, and from the mountains, and from the south, bringing burnt offerings, and sacrifices, and meat offerings, and incense, and bringing sacrifices of praise, unto the house of the LORD.
Verse 26. - Parallel passage for the catalogue of the districts of Judah, Jeremiah 32:44. Three divisions are mentioned.

(1) The neighborhood of Jerusalem (including the "cities of Judah");

(2) the land of Benjamin, i.e. the northern part of the kingdom; and

(3) the tribe of Judah, with its three subdivisions - the Shefela or lowland country by the Mediterranean Sea, the hill country, and the Negeb or "dry" south country (comp. Joshua 15:21-62). The sacrifices are described with equal explicitness; they fall into two classes, the bloody (burnt offerings and other sacrifices) and the unbloody (the vegetable offering or minkhah, and the incense which was strewed upon the min-khah, Leviticus 2:1). And bringing sacrifices of praise. This was, no doubt, the title of a particular variety of sacrifices (Leviticus 7:12; Leviticus 22:29); here, however, it seems as if all the preceding sacrifices were summed up under this designation. St. Paul says, "In everything give thanks;" and this seems to have been the prophet's ideal of the sacrifices of the future.

But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.
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