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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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JEREMIAH 16

FAMILY, FUNERALS, AND FESTIVITIES -- FORBIDDEN TO JEREMIAH

The following chapter divisions were suggested by Henderson:F1 (1) Jeremiah forbidden to marry and have a family (Jeremiah 16:1-2); (2) God's explanation for this prohibition (Jeremiah 16:2-4); (3) funeral celebrations also forbidden (Jeremiah 16:5-7); (4) festival celebrations likewise prohibited (Jeremiah 16:8-9); (5) God's further elaboration of the reasons for such penalties (Jeremiah 16:10-13); (6) a prophecy of Israel's restoration (Jeremiah 16:14-15); (7) the metaphor of the hunters and the fishers (Jeremiah 16:16-18); (8) prophecy of the conversion of the Gentiles (Jeremiah 16:19-20); (9) a reiteration of the certainty of impending doom for Judah (Jeremiah 16:21).

First, we wish to notice a classical example of the critical fembu which radical critics offer instead of an exposition of this chapter.

John Philip Hyatt wrote:

"The Deuteronomic editor of this chapter lived about 550 B.C.; he could look back upon the events which culminated in the Babylonian exile and interpret the prophet's celibacy and austerity as a sign to the people of the coming destruction. It is doubtful if this was the prophet's own motive for his manner of living. The true explanation is perhaps Jeremiah's wholehearted devotion to his prophetic mission that did not leave him room for devotion to wife and family.F2

"There is not a single word of truth in such a comment. There was no Deuteronomic editor of this chapter; the introduction of such a fictitious, imaginative character is merely a convenient manner the radical critics have of saying that Jeremiah never wrote a word of the chapter, but that it was written a whole generation after Jeremiah died! If a scholar does not believe this is God's Word, why does he bother us with any comments on it? If it is not God's Word, it deserves no comment whatever.

"Note also the arrogant conceit of any person who will tell us what "the true" reason for Jeremiah's not having a family actually was, thus denying what the scriptures flatly declare, namely, that he refrained from having a family because Jehovah had so commanded him. Now, who should believe such a comment as that of Mount Hyatt? The unequivocal answer which we wish to give to that question is: "Only those who prefer to accept that writer as God's spokesman, instead of the sacred writers of the Holy Scriptures. This writer is unwilling to accept the Interpreter's Bible as a substitute for Jeremiah; and we would have to know a lot more about Mount Hyatt than we know, before we could credit him with any credibility whatever in such extravagant and untruthful remarks."

The date when Jeremiah wrote the chapter is not definitely known; but Payne Smith suggested that, "It probably was written near the end of the reign of Jehoiachim."F3

Kuist mentioned the "patchwork construction of the chapter which puzzles readers and interpreters";F4 but this is no reflection whatever against the integrity and authenticity of what is written here. We have repeatedly noted that Biblical books are simply not organized after the patterns followed in our generation.

Jer. 16:1-2

GOD'S FORBIDDING MARRIAGE AND A FAMILY FOR JEREMIAH


 
Verses 1, 2
The word of Jehovah came also unto me, saying, Thou shalt not take thee a wife, neither shalt thou have sons or daughters, in this place.

"Undoubtedly the Lord's command for Jeremiah not to marry was an emotional shock to him."F5 Note that this very recent scholar acknowledges the scriptural truth that the Lord did command Jeremiah to "Behave in an eccentric manner to illustrate his message."F6 This is exactly in keeping with God's orders for Hosea to take "a wife of whoredoms", and for Isaiah to name one of his sons, "a remnant shall return." Thus in all three instances, the prophet's life was enlisted as an additional proof of the truth of what he prophesied.

"Marriage was obligatory among the Jews; and the prohibition of it to Jeremiah was a sign that the impending calamity was so great as to override all ordinary duties."F7

God at once gave the reasons for such an unusual order to Jeremiah.

GOD'S EXPLANATION OF THIS PROHIBITION


 
Verses 3, 4
For thus saith Jehovah concerning the sons and concerning the daughters that are born in this place, and concerning their mothers that bare them, and concerning their fathers that begat them in this land: They shall die grievous deaths: they shall not be lamented, neither shall they be buried; they shall be as dung upon the face of the ground; and they shall be consumed by the sword, and by famine; and their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the heavens, and for the beasts of the earth.

A warning such as this would have been appropriate before the invasion and captivity; but can any intelligent person suggest why some "Deuteronomic editor" could possibly have written such a message a whole generation after the invasion and captivity had already happened? There could have been no point whatever in such an endeavor.

Notice also that the text plainly declares that God Himself gave these reasons for his forbidding Jeremiah to marry.

Halley paraphrased these verses thus: "What's the use of raising a family just to be butchered in the frightful carnage about to be loosed upon the inhabitants of Judah?"F8

In this place. in this land ..…
(Jeremiah 16:3). This is not a reference to Anathoth nor to Jerusalem, but to the whole land of Judah.F9

FUNERAL CELEBRATIONS ALSO FORBIDDEN


 
Verses 5-7
For thus saith Jehovah, Enter not into the house of mourning, neither go to lament, neither bemoan them; for I have taken away my peace from this people, saith Jehovah, even lovingkindness and tender mercies. Both great and small shall die in this land; they shall not be buried, neither shall men lament for them, nor cut themselves, nor make themselves bald for them; neither shall men break [bread] for them in mourning, to comfort them for the dead; neither shall men give them the cup of consolation to drink for their father or for their mother.

I have taken away my peace…
(Jeremiah 16:5). It is a serious and terrible thing indeed for God to remove his peace from any person or from any nation. Keil stated that, The consequences of the withdrawal of this peace is the death of great and small in such multitudes that they could neither be buried nor mourned for.F10

The natural emotion of pity and regret rises in the heart as one contemplates such terrible disasters in Judah; but, in this connection, one should recall the terrible manner in which God instructed Joshua to destroy in the most ruthless and complete manner the entire populations of ancient Canaan, which were thus displaced to make room for Israel. Now that Israel had become worse than Sodom and Gomorrah, the eternal justice required their removal also.

Nor cut themselves. nor make themselves bald ..…
(Jeremiah 16:6). This is a reference to pagan customs which were strictly forbidden in Israel (Lev. 19:28; 2:5; Deut. 14:1). However, it appears that such practices were widely prevalent anyway (Jer. 41:5; 47:5; Ezek. 7:18; Amos 8:10; and Micah 1:16). But there would be no time for such behavior in the approaching calamity; and the very numbers of the dead would simply forbid it.

Neither... break bread for them…
(Jeremiah 16:7). This is a reference to a very ancient custom that is still followed by Christian people, namely, that of providing food upon the occasion of a funeral. Some commentators relate the custom of taking food to the bereaved after a funeral to the ritual uncleanness of a house after one died in it, making it improper to prepare food in such a house until it had been freed of the uncleanness.F11

The cup of consolation…
(Jeremiah 16:7). The cup of consolation was given to the mourners on the completion of their fast; and the significance of the statement here is that not even for father or mother were such rituals to be observed. In later Judaism, the consoling cup was a special cup of wine drank by the chief mourner.F12

FESTIVAL CELEBRATIONS FORBIDDEN


 
Verses 8, 9
And thou shalt not go into the house of feasting to sit with them, to eat and to drink. For thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will cause to cease out of this place, before your eyes and in your days, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.

The significant thing about these prohibitions is that they removed practically all of the social duties that pertained to Jeremiah, emphatically denying Hyatt's foolish explanation (discussed at the head of this chapter) of Jeremiah's celibacy as being in any manner a result of his being "too busy" to marry and rear a family!

The voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride…
(Jeremiah 16:9). The cessation of such joyful sounds as these not only marked God's judgment of the First Israel, as indicated here; but the same thing shall also mark the termination of the day of probation for the Spiritual Israel (See Rev. 18:23).

Before your eyes and in your days…
(Jeremiah 16:9). The people were here warned to expect the termination of their nation in the near future, within their own times. As stated earlier, God was weary of repenting!

MORE REASONS FOR SUCH PENALTIES


 
Verses 10-13
And it shall come to pass, when thou shalt show this people all these words, and they shall say unto thee, Wherefore hath Jehovah pronounced all this great evil against us? or what is our iniquity? or what is our sin that we have committed against Jehovah our God? Then shalt thou say unto them, Because your fathers have forsaken me, saith Jehovah, and have walked after other gods, and have served them, and have worshipped them, and have forsaken me, and have not kept my law; and ye have done evil more than your fathers; for, behold, ye walk every one after the stubbornness of his evil heart, so that ye hearken not unto me: therefore will I cast you forth out of this land into the land that ye have not known, neither ye nor your fathers; and there shall ye serve other gods day and night; for I will show you no favor.

Ash noted that, "The verbs used here were part of the distinctive vocabulary used to describe the breach of the covenant."F13 Significantly, however, it was not merely the breach of that holy covenant by the forefathers of Israel that led to their deportation from Canaan; but that current generation also had sinned even beyond the outrageous behavior of their ancestors.

There shall ye serve other gods day and night…
(Jeremiah 16:13). The form of the sentence here is ironical.F14 A number of writers have attempted to convey the irony as follows: They will have the opportunity of indulging their desire for pagan worship day and night (continually), for God will ignore them.F15 There you may serve those idols you are so mad about, even to satiety, and without intermission (day and night).F16

I will cast you forth out of this land…
(Jeremiah 16:13). Green pointed out that the word here for cast out is actually hurl out, and thus a clever play upon the name of Jeremiah.F17 The kind of hurling mentioned here was that of placing a stone in a sling, releasing it after hurling it round and round. It was used here as a metaphor for the violent removal of God's Once Chosen People from Palestine.

ISRAEL'S RESTORATION PROPHESIED


 
Verses 14, 15
Therefore, behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that it shall no more be said, As Jehovah liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, As Jehovah liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the countries whither he had driven them. And I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers.

This wonderful promise of the restoration of Israel belongs right here where it stands in the Bible. We reject Ash's statement that, "There is good reason to believe that this oracle was inserted by an editor."F18 The alleged reason for this opinion was given as follows, "It is intrusive in subject matter and flow of thought";F19 but this is no sufficient reason for denying the authorship of Jeremiah in the giving of this prophecy.

As Dummelow pointed out, this device of throwing in a bright and encouraging prophecy right in the middle of very discouraging and gloomy prophecies corresponds exactly with Jeremiah's pattern of writing throughout the prophecy. "See Jer. 3:14; 4:27; 5:10; 5:18; 37:22; 30:3; and 32:27."F20

The thing that confuses some writers is the foolish critical rule that denies the authenticity of this sacred pattern; but the pattern is not only found throughout the Old Testament, but likewise in the New Testament, where Jesus prophesied heaven and hell in the same breath.

As the Dean of Canterbury put it, "There is no reason for regarding these verses as an interpolation."F21

Harrison likewise declared that it is not necessary to regard these verses as displaced. "All of the pre-exilic prophets interspersed their denunciations with expectations of a brighter future. See Joel 3:18-21; Amos 9:11-15, etc."F22

That brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north…
(Jeremiah 16:15). This implies that the second bringing up of Israel from captivity will outshine God's bringing them up from Egypt. But just as this promised deliverance will excel the earlier one, so much greater will the affliction of Israel be in the projected second captivity.F23

That something more than a mere return of captives from Babylon is meant here was discerned by Jamieson: "Although the return from Babylon is primarily meant, the `gathering from all lands' shows that the return from Babylon was the salvation of Israel in only a limited sense."F24 It appears to this writer that there are overtones in the passage of the conversion of the Gentiles. See under Jer. 16:20.

METAPHOR OF THE FISHERS AND THE HUNTERS


 
Verses 16-18
Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith Jehovah, and they shall fish them up; and afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. For mine eyes are upon all their ways; they are not hid from my face, neither is their iniquity concealed from mine eyes. And first I will recompense their iniquity and their sin double, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable things, and have filled mine inheritance with their abominations.

The fishers and hunters in this passage are metaphors used to describe the thoroughness and completeness of the Babylonian destruction of apostate Israel. All of the sinful people will be flushed out of their hiding places, and none shall escape.

THE FUTURE CONVERSION OF THE GENTILES


 
Verses 19, 20
O Jehovah, my strength, and my stronghold, and my refuge in the day of affliction, unto thee shall the nations come from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Our fathers have inherited nought but lies, [even] vanity and things wherein there is no profit. Shall a man make unto himself gods, which yet are no gods?

Here is a clear prophecy of the Gentiles coming unto the true God, and of their rejection of idolatry, clearly identifying this passage as a reference to the Messianic Age and the spread of Christianity throughout the world. We may be certain that neither Jeremiah nor the people who heard this message had any full understanding whatever of all that was prophetically revealed in such words. Adam Clarke was correct in labeling these verses, "Light in the midst of darkness."F25 This, of course, makes it a parallel prophecy to Jer. 16:14-15; and as Clarke stated, "In such dismal accounts (as this chapter) there is need of some gracious promise relative to an amended state of the world."F26 This need is, of course, exactly the reason this pattern of "light in the midst of darkness" is so generally followed throughout the Bible.

Lies... vanities. things wherein is no profit ..…
. (Jeremiah 16:19). All of these are synonyms for idols.F27

THE CERTAINTY OF IMPENDING DOOM


 
Verse 21
Therefore, behold, I will cause them to know, this once will I cause them to know my hand and my might; and they shall know that my name is Jehovah.

This final warning stresses the certainty of the destruction prophesied for Israel; and, as Jer. 16:9 stated it, that destruction was something they were to see, for it would occur in their times.

Regarding these last three verses, "They have been questioned because of the universalism."F28 That is, they have been questioned because of the promise regarding the calling of the Gentiles from "all the nations." However all such challenges are based upon a priori bias of the challenger who has already made up his mind about what Jeremiah should have said and are unsupported by any factual or textual evidence whatever. Throughout the Bible, especially in Isaiah, there are many such promises of the calling of the Gentiles. See Rom. 9--11.

It is refreshing that Green, writing in the Broadman Commentary, gave his opinion of these verses thus: The passage swarms with Jeremiahic phrases, and its poetic structure and style are quite similar to those of Jeremiah. This writer believes the passage to be authentic.F29


Footnotes for Jeremiah 16
1: E. Henderson, The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah (London: Hamilton, Adams, and Company, 1851), p. 99.
2: James P. Hyatt in the Interpreter's Bible, p. 945.
3: Scribner's Bible Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), p. 412.
4: JKP, p. 54.
5: Charles Lee Feinberg in Ezekiel (Chicago: Moody Press), p. 478.
6: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 638.
7: Barnes' Notes (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), p. 190.
8: Henry H. Halley's Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House) , p. 287.
9: E. Henderson, The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah (London: Hamilton, Adams, and Company, 1851), p. 99.
10: C. F. Keil, Keil-Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 268.
11: J. A. Thompson, The Bible and Archeology (Grand Rapid, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972) p. 406.
12: Ibid.
13: Anthony L. Ash, Psalms (Abilene, Texas: A.C.U. Press, 1987), p. 149.
14: W. Harvey Jellie, Jeremiah, in Preacher's Complete Homiletic Commentary (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company), p. 351.
15: Charles Lee Feinberg in Ezekiel (Chicago: Moody Press), p. 480.
16: Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, p. 522.
17: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), p. 97.
18: Anthony L. Ash, Psalms (Abilene, Texas: A.C.U. Press, 1987), p. 149.
19: Ibid.
20: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 467.
21: Scribner's Bible Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), p. 414.
22: R. K. Harrison, Jeremiah in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, p. 105.
23: C. F. Keil, Keil-Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 270.
24: Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, p. 522.
25: Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible (London: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1837), p. 300.
26: Ibid.
27: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 670.
28: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), p. 98.
29: Ibid.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Jeremiah 16". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=jer&chapter=016>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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