Jeremiah 8
Pulpit Commentary
At that time, saith the LORD, they shall bring out the bones of the kings of Judah, and the bones of his princes, and the bones of the priests, and the bones of the prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, out of their graves:
Verses 1-3. - Punishment will even overtake the sinners who have long since been deceased. Verse 1. - They shall bring out the bones. Not only shall many of the dead bodies remain unburied, but the sepulchers of those who have till now "lain in honor, each one in his house" (Isaiah 14:18), shall be violated. The inhabitants of Jerusalem meant are evidently those of the upper class, for the others were buried, with but little regard to the security of the corpses, in the valley of Kedron (2 Kings 23:6). According to some, the motive of this invasion of the chambers of the dead is avarice (comp. Herod., 1:187, Darius at the tomb of Nitocris); but the context, without excluding this view, rather suggests malice and contempt. Thus "the wrath of man" was to "praise" Jehovah (Psalm 76:10).
And they shall spread them before the sun, and the moon, and all the host of heaven, whom they have loved, and whom they have served, and after whom they have walked, and whom they have sought, and whom they have worshipped: they shall not be gathered, nor be buried; they shall be for dung upon the face of the earth.
Verse 2. - And they shall spread them, etc. Not as an act of solemn mockery, for the agents are idolaters themselves, but God so overrules the passions of his unconscious instruments that no more effective ceremonial could have been devised. Whom they have loved, etc. The prophet is designedly diffuse in his description. With all their misspent zeal, these unhappy idolaters cannot even find tombs.
And death shall be chosen rather than life by all the residue of them that remain of this evil family, which remain in all the places whither I have driven them, saith the LORD of hosts.
Verse 3. - Which remain. The words are certainly to be omitted in the second place where they occur. In the Hebrew they stand after in all the places, and the word for "places" is feminine, whereas the participle, "the remaining," is masculine. The Septuagint and Peshito have nothing corresponding. There is a clerical error in the Hebrew.
Moreover thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD; Shall they fall, and not arise? shall he turn away, and not return?
Verse 4 - Jeremiah 9:1. - The incorrigible wickedness of the people, and the awfulness of the judgment. Verse 4. - Moreover thou shalt say, etc.; literally, and thou shalt say. The section is introduced by a formula which connects it with Jeremiah 7:2, 28. Shall they fall, etc.? rather, Do men fall... doth a man turn away? One of those appeals to common sense in which the prophets delight. Who ever sees a fallen man stay quietly on the ground without attempting to rise? or a man who has wandered out of the path persist in going in the wrong direction?
Why then is this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? they hold fast deceit, they refuse to return.
Verse 5. - Slidden back... backsliding. The verb is the same verb (in another conjugation) as in Ver. 4, and the noun is a derivative from it. The Authorized Version, therefore, has slightly weakened the force of the argument. They hold fast deceit. They cling to a false view of their relation to their God (comp. Jeremiah 4:2; Jeremiah 5:2).
I hearkened and heard, but they spake not aright: no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? every one turned to his course, as the horse rusheth into the battle.
Verse 6. - I hearkened and heard. The Divine Judge condescends to speak after the manner of men. He will be his own witness; for it is his own people, Jeshurun, which is on its trial. Not aright. It is a compound expression, equivalent to "insincerely," "untruly" (comp. Isaiah 16:6). Repented... turned; rather, repenteth... turneth (or, returneth). To his course. The Hebrew text, sometimes represented as having a different reading ("courses," in the plural) from the margin, really gives the same reading with one letter misplaced. The singular stands in the parallel passage, Jeremiah 23:19, and offers no difficulty. As the horse rusheth; literally, over-floweth. Both the Authorized Version and the Vulgate (impetu vadens) efface the second metaphor. The uncontrollable passion of both people and war-horse is compared to the all-subduing course of a winter stream or torrent.
Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the judgment of the LORD.
Verse 7. - The appeal to the regularity of animal instincts reminds us of Isaiah 1:3. Yea, the stork, etc. The minatory birds obey their instinct with the most unfailing regularity. Those referred to are:

(1) the stork, whose "regular and sudden return is one of the most interesting natural sights of Palestine. The expression 'stork in the heavens' refers to the immense height at which they fly during migration" (Tristram);

(2) the turtle, or turtle-dove, whose return is the sure sign of spring (Song of Solomon 2:11);

(3 and 4) the crane and the swallow, or rather, "the swift and the crane." These birds are again mentioned together in Isaiah 38:14 (the psalm of Hezekiah), where special reference is made to the penetrating quality of their note. "The whooping or trumpeting of the crane rings through the night air in spring, and the vast flocks which we noticed passing north near Beersheba were a wonderful sight." The introduction of the swallow in the Authorized Version is misleading, as that bird is not a regular migrant in Palestine. The note of the swift is a shrill scream. "No bird is more conspicuous by the suddenness of its return than the swift," is the remark of Canon Tristram, who saw large flocks passing northwards over Jerusalem, on the 12th of February ('Nat. Hist. of Bible,' p. 208). It is an interesting fact that the swift bears the same name (sus) in the vernacular Arabic as in the Hebrew of Jeremiah. The judgment; better, the law (see on Jeremiah 5:4).
How do ye say, We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us? Lo, certainly in vain made he it; the pen of the scribes is in vain.
Verse 8. - How do ye say, We are wise? Jeremiah is evidently addressing the priests and the prophets, whom he so constantly described as among the chief causes of Judah's ruin (comp. Ver. 10; Jeremiah 2:8, 26; Jeremiah 4:9; Jeremiah 5:31), and who, in Isaiah's day, regarded it as an unwarrantable assumption on the part of that prophet to pretend to instruct them in their duty (Isaiah 28:9). The law of the Lord is with us. "With us;" i.e. in our hands and mouths. (comp. Psalm 1:16). The word torah, commonly rendered" Law," is ambiguous, and a difference of opinion as to the meaning of this verse is inevitable. Some think these self-styled "wise" men reject Jeremiah's counsels on the ground that they already have the divinely given Law in a written form (comp. Romans 2:17-20), and that the Divine revelation is complete. Others that torah here, as often elsewhere in the prophets (e.g. Isaiah 1:10; Isaiah 8:16; Isaiah 42:4), simply means "instruction," or "direction," and describes the authoritative counsel given orally by the priests (Deuteronomy 17:11) and prophets to those who consulted them on points of ritual and practice respectively. The usage of Jeremiah himself favors the latter view (see Jeremiah 2:8; Jeremiah 18:18; and especially Jeremiah 26:4, 5, where "to walk in my Torah" is parallel to "to hearken to the words of my servants the prophets." The context equally points in this direction. The most natural interpretation, then, is this: The opponents of Jeremiah bade him keep his exhortations to himself, seeing that they themselves were wise and the divinely appointed teachers of the people. To this Jeremiah replies, not (as the Authorized Version renders) Lo, certainly in vain made he it, etc.; but, Yea, behold I for a lie hath it wrought - the lying pen of the scribes (so Authorized Version, margin). Soferim (scribes) is the term proper to all those who practiced the art of writing (sefer); it included, therefore, presumably at least, most, if not all, of the priests and prophets of whom Jeremiah speaks. There are indications enough that the Hebrew literature was not entirely confined to those whom we look up to as the inspired writers, and it is perfectly credible that the formalist priests and false prophets should have availed themselves of the pen as a means of giving greater currency to their teaching. Jeremiah warns his hearers to distrust a literature which is in the set-vice of false religious principles - a warning which prophets in the wider sense of the term ('The Liberty of Prophesyings') still have but too much occasion to repeat, tit is right, however, to mention another grammatically possible rendering, which is adopted by those who suppose torah in the preceding clause to mean the Mosaic Law: "Yea, behold, the lying pen of the scribes hath made (it) into a lie;" i.e. the professional interpreters of the Scriptures called scribes have, by their groundless comments and inferences, made the Scriptures (especially the noblest part, the Law) into a lie, so that it has ceased to represent the Divine will and teaching. The objections to this are:

(1) the necessity of supplying an object to the verb - the object would hardly have been omitted where its emission renders the meaning of the clause so doubtful;

(2) that this view attributes to the word soferim a meaning which only became prevalent in the time of Ezra (comp. Ezra 7:6, 11).]
The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken: lo, they have rejected the word of the LORD; and what wisdom is in them?
Verse 9. - The wise men are ashamed. It is the perfect of prophetic certitude, equivalent to "the wise men shall certainly be ashamed." And why? Evidently because they have not foreseen the calamities impending ever their nation. They have preached, "Peace, peace; when there was no peace" (Ver. 11); and hence they find themselves "taken" in the grip of a relentless power from which there is no escape. What wisdom; literally, wisdom of what? i.e. in respect of what?
Therefore will I give their wives unto others, and their fields to them that shall inherit them: for every one from the least even unto the greatest is given to covetousness, from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely.
Verses 10-12. - These verses are almost the same as Jeremiah 6:12-15; the differences are in Ver. 10. They are omitted in the Septuagint, and Hitzig regards them as an interpolation, at any rate from the point where the present passage coincides verbally with its parallel. His grounds are:

(1) that Ver. 13 follows more naturally on Ver. 10 ("... them that shall inherit them") than on Ver. 12;

(2) that Ver. 10 is deficient in symmetry; and

(3) that the deviations from Jeremiah 6:13-15 sometimes loosen the connection of the clauses, sometimes sink into the colloquial style. The arguments seem to be inconclusive. Jeremiah is apt to repeat himself (Graf refers to Ver. 14 = Jeremiah 4:5; Ver. 15 - Jeremiah 14:19; Jeremiah 5:9 = 5:29, 9:8; Jeremiah 7:16 = 11:14; Jeremiah 50:41-43 = 6:22-24; Jeremiah 1:44 - 46 = 49:19-21); and the element which is common to this paragraph and to oh: 6:12-15 seems equally appropriate in both connections. It should be added, however, that the cautious and reverent block has come to the same conclusion as Hitzig. To them that shall inherit them; rather, to them that shall take possession of them, i.e. by violence.
For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.
Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among them that fall: in the time of their visitation they shall be cast down, saith the LORD.
I will surely consume them, saith the LORD: there shall be no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade; and the things that I have given them shall pass away from them.
Verse 13 - Jeremiah 9:1. - Further description of the judgment; grief of Jeremiah. Verse 13. - There shall be no grapes, etc.; rather, there are no grapes... and the leaf is faded. It is the actual condition of things which the prophet describes. Elsewhere Judah is compared to a vine with bad grapes (Jeremiah 2:21); here the vine does not even pretend to bear fruit. Another figure is that of a barren fig tree (comp. Matthew 21:19). And the things that I have given them, etc.; rather, and I gave them that which they transgress (viz. laws). The construction, however, which this rendering implies is not perfectly natural, though supported by most of the ancient versions (except the Septuagint, which omits the words), and it is better to alter a single vowel-point, and render "And I will give them to those who shall pass over them." The phrase to pass away is constantly used of an invading host; e.g. Isaiah 8:7; Daniel 11:10, 40.
Why do we sit still? assemble yourselves, and let us enter into the defenced cities, and let us be silent there: for the LORD our God hath put us to silence, and given us water of gall to drink, because we have sinned against the LORD.
Verse 14. - Why do we sit still? The prophet transports us by a stroke of his pen into the midst of the fulfillment of his prophecy. The people of the country districts are represented as urging each other to flight. True, it is the resource of despair. No defensed cities can defend them against the judgment of Jehovah. Let us be silent; rather, let us perish; literally, let us be put to silence. Hath put us to silence; rather, hath caused us to perish; i.e. hath decreed our destruction. Water of gall; a phrase characteristic of our prophet (see Jeremiah 9:14; Jeremiah 23:15). It is a little difficult to find a rendering which shall suit all the passages in which rosh (gall) is mentioned. In Deuteronomy 32:33 (and so Job 20:16) it is clearly used for "venom" in general; and yet in Ver. 32 of the same chapter it obviously means a plant. Another general application of the term seems to have been to bitterness in general, the ideas of bitterness and poisonousness being taken as interchangeable. The Authorized Version may therefore stand.
We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of health, and behold trouble!
Verse 15. - Health; rather, healing. Another rendering is tranquility (same sense as in Ecclesiastes 10:4). Trouble; rather, terror.
The snorting of his horses was heard from Dan: the whole land trembled at the sound of the neighing of his strong ones; for they are come, and have devoured the land, and all that is in it; the city, and those that dwell therein.
Verse 16. - The invader is introduced with the same mysterious indefiniteness as in Jeremiah 4:13. From Dan; i.e. from the northern frontier (see on Jeremiah 4:15). Trembled; rather, quaked (so Jeremiah 49:21). His strong ones. The phrase "strong ones" generally denotes oxen, but here (as in Jeremiah 47:3; Jeremiah 50:11) horses.
For, behold, I will send serpents, cockatrices, among you, which will not be charmed, and they shall bite you, saith the LORD.
Verse 17. - A new image to intensify the impression of dreadfulness. Serpents, cockatrices; rather, serpents (even) basilisks. The second noun is in apposition to the more general "serpents." "Basilisks" (Serpentes regulos) are the renderings of Aquila and the Vulgate. Some species of highly venomous serpent is clearly intended; more than this we cannot say. The root probably means "to hiss." Canon Tristram thinks of "a very beautifully marked yellow serpent, and the largest of the vipers found in the Holy Land," called the Daboia xantheina. He adds that it is one of the most dangerous ('Nat. Hist. of Palestine,' p. 275).
When I would comfort myself against sorrow, my heart is faint in me.
Verse 18 - Jeremiah 9. 50. - The captivity of Judah and the deep sorrow of Jeremiah. Verse 18. - When I would comfort myself, etc. The text is here extremely difficult, and if there is corruption anywhere it is in the opening of this verse. Ewald and Graf suppose an ellipsis, and render, "(Oh for) my enlivening [i.e. an enlivening for me] in trouble!" Hitzig more naturally renders in the vocative, "My enlivener in trouble" which he supposes to be in apposition to my heart. Do Dieu (1648) wavers between this and the view that it is an address to his wife, "Quae marito solatio est." (See, however, Jeremiah 16:2.)
Behold the voice of the cry of the daughter of my people because of them that dwell in a far country: Is not the LORD in Zion? is not her king in her? Why have they provoked me to anger with their graven images, and with strange vanities?
Verse 19. - Because of them that dwell in, etc. The Hebrew simply has "from them," etc. The prophet is transported in imam-nation to the time of the fulfillment of his prophecies. He hears the lamentation of his countrymen, who are languishing in captivity. Is not the Lord in Zion, etc.? is the burden of their sad complaints; "king" is a familiar synonym for "God" (comp. Isaiah 8:21; Isaiah 33:22; but not Psalm 89:18, which is certainly mistranslated in Authorized Version). But why" in Zion?" "Zion" was properly the name of the eastward hill at Jerusalem, where lay the oldest part of the city (called "the city of David"), and the highest portion of which was crowned by the temple. Why have they provoked me to anger, etc.? is the reply of Jehovah, pointing out that their sufferings were but an exact retribution for their infidelity (comp. Jeremiah 5:19).
The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.
Verse 20. - The harvest is past, etc. For "summer," read fruit-gathering (the vintage began in September). The people again becomes the speaker. The form of the speech reminds one of a proverb. When the harvest was over and the fruit-gathering ended, the husbandmen looked for a quiet time of refreshment. Judah had had its "harvest-time" and then its "fruit-gathering;" its needs had been gradually, increasing, and, on the analogy of previous deliverances (comp. Isaiah 18:4; Isaiah 33:10), it might have been expected that God would have interposed, his help being only delayed in order to be the more signally supernatural. But we are not saved (or rather, delivered).
For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold on me.
Verse 21. - For the hurt, etc.; literally, because of the breaking, etc., I am broken; comp. Jeremiah 23:9, and the phrase "broken in heart" (Isaiah 61:1, etc.). The prophet feels crushed by the sense of the utter ruin of his people. I am black; rather, I go in mourning (so Psalm 38:6; Psalm 42:9). The root means rather "foulness" or "squalor" than "blackness" (comp. Job 6:16, where "blackish," an epithet of streams, should rather be "turbid").
Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?
Verse 22. - No hope or remedy is left; again a proverbial expression. No balm in Gilead. Gilead appears to have been celebrated in early times for its balsam, which was expected by Ishmaelites to Egypt (Genesis 37:25) and by Jewish merchants to Tyro (Ezekiel 27:17). It was one of the most costly products of Palestine (Genesis 43:11), and was prized for its medicinal properties in cases of wounds (comp. Jeremiah 46:11; Jeremiah 51:8). Josephus mentions this balsam several times, but states that it only grew at Jericho ('Antiq.,' 15:4,2), Tristram searched for balsam in its ancient haunts, but in vain; he thinks Jeremiah means the Balsamodendron gileadense or opobalsamum, which in Arabia is used as a medicine both internally and externally. But if Pliny ('Hist. Nat.,' 24:22) may be followed in his wide use of the term "balsam" so as to include the exudations of the "lentisens" or mastick tree, then "balm of Gilead" is still to be found; for the mastick tree "grows commonly all over the country, excepting in the plains and the Jordan valley" ('Nat. Hist. of Bible,' p. 336). Is there no physician there? We hear but little of physicians in the Old Testament. They are only mentioned again in Genesis 1:2 (but with reference to Egypt, where medicine was much cultivated), and in 2 Chronicles 16:12; Job 13:4. From the two latter passages we may, perhaps, infer that physicians were rarely successful; and this is certainly the impression produced by Ecclus. 38:15, "He that sinneth before his Maker, let him fall into the hand of the physician." The remedies employed in the Talmudic period quite bear out this strong saying (see Lightfoot, 'Horae Hebraical,' on Mark 5:26). The physicians of Gilead, however, probably confined themselves to their one famous simple, the balsam. Is not the health... recovered? Gesenius renders, less probably, "hath no bandage been applied to the daughter of my people?"

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