Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentJEREMIAH 9
SORROWFUL LAMENT FOR FALLEN ISRAEL
The theme of this whole chapter is given here in Jer. 9:1, which in the Hebrew Bible concludes Jer. 8, to which it also is appropriate.
The pitifully wicked and immoral behavior of God's Once Chosen People had at last reached its terminal extent; and the horrible punishment which their apostasy so richly deserved was soon to be executed upon the degenerate, reprobate nation. The lament expressed here was not only applicable to the fallen condition of ancient Israel; but the words are just as appropriate today for the millions of people who have forsaken their first love, and have chosen to wallow in the sensuous pleasures of sin for a season, rather than to live by the true standards of God's Word.
Halley's thumbnail summary of this chapter is as good as any we have seen.
"Jeremiah, a man of sorrows, in the midst of a people abandoned to everything vile (Jeremiah 9:2-9), weeping day and night at the thought of impending retribution, moved about among them, begging, pleading, persuading, threatening, entreating, imploring that they turn from their wickedness. But in vain."
Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!
Jeremiah had already wept over the condition of Israel as much as it was possible for him to weep; and here he expressed a wish for the ability to weep even more. Henry pointed out that in Hebrew the same word signifies "both the eye and a fountain, as if in this land of sorrows our eyes were designed rather for weeping than for seeing. And while we find our hearts such fountains of sin, it is fit that our eyes should be fountains of tears."F2
Verses 2, 3
Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging-place of wayfaring men; that I might leave my people, and go from them! for they are all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men. And they bend their tongue, [as it were] their bow, for falsehood; and they are grown strong in the land, but not for truth: for they proceed from evil to evil, and they know not me, saith Jehovah.
"The blatant sins Jeremiah described here are literal; society was shot through and through with wickedness. The first sin mentioned in this indictment was universal adultery. This is called `spiritual adultery,' or the worshipping of idols; but in that worship gross immoralities were practiced."F3
The speech of the people was loaded with falsehood, slander, and every evil; and Jeremiah here used the metaphor of a bow with arrows to describe it. The bow and arrow, of course, were weapons of warfare in that age. As Keil noted, "It was neither the tongue nor the bow which was lying, but that false speech which they shot with their tongue, as with a bow."F4
There existed in that society at that time, "An utter want of upright dealing between man and man."F5
Take ye heed every one of his neighbor, and trust ye not in any brother; for every brother will utterly supplant, and every neighbor will go about with slanders. And they will deceive every one his neighbor, and will not speak the truth: they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves to commit iniquity. Thy habitation is in the midst of deceit; through deceit they refuse to know me, saith Jehovah.
Trust ye not in any brother
(Jeremiah 9:4). Some have been critical of advice such as this, pointing out such passages as 1 Cor. 13:7, where the true man of God is represented as one who believeth all things! However, as Haley pointed out, There is no `command' here regarding the trust of a brother, but `advice,' equivalent to saying, Such is the state of public morals that if you trust any man you shall be deceived and betrayed.F6 The explanation of this advice is given in Jer. 9:6, where the whole society is referred to as a habitation in the midst of deceit.
Every brother will utterly supplant
(Jeremiah 9:4). The Hebrew here is a punning reference to Jacob (Genesis 27:36). God had transformed Jacob into Israel; but his descendants insisted on living the life of the unregenerate.F7 Cheyne did not accept this interpretation, affirming that, There is nothing in the context so suggest an allusion to Gen. 27:36, or to Jacob;F8 but, in our view, the only thing needed to suggest that connection is the word supplanter.
They weary themselves to commit iniquity
(Jeremiah 9:5). Lying, deceit, treachery, adultery, and idolatry were everyday sins in Judah, and the people had literally worn themselves out with perversions.F9 The gross indulgence of physical passions can and does result in the debilitation and weakening of the body.
Therefore thus saith Jehovah of hosts, Behold, I will melt them, and try them; for how [else] should I do, because of the daughter of my people? Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaketh deceit: one speaketh peaceably to his neighbor with his mouth, but in his heart he layeth wait for him. Shall I not visit them for these things? saith Jehovah; shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?
Shall I not. shall not my soul ..
(Jeremiah 9:9)? The very raising of such questions, Points up the legal aspects of breach of covenant.F10 The Jews of that period were just like the rest of humanity, no better, and no worse. Why, then, was God so outraged and disgusted with Judah? It all hinged upon the privileges of their covenant relationship with God! God had given them the Law of Moses; he had taught them the principles of truth and morality as carefully expounded in that Law; and God had every right to have expected a far better response to the privileges and blessings already conferred upon the nation than the indifference and disobedience which he actually received. It is impossible to understand anything in this prophecy without the perception of the breach of the holy covenant that was accomplished in the behavior of the Chosen People. Without that conception, God's severe punishment of Israel amounted to no more than a capricious punishment of an unfortunate nation that was no worse than a dozen other peoples living in all directions from Israel!
Back in Jer. 9:6, the prophet had revealed that "through deceit, the people refused to know the Lord"; and as Matthew Henry stated it, "Those who would not know the Lord as their lawgiver, would be compelled to know him as their judge!"F11
Verses 10, 11
For the mountains will I take up a weeping and wailing, and for the pastures of the wilderness a lamentation, because they are burned up, so that none passeth through; neither can men hear the voice of the cattle; both the birds of the heavens and the beasts are fled, they are gone. And I will make Jerusalem heaps, a dwelling-place of jackals; and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation, without inhabitant.
The weeping and the wailing here are because of the forthcoming desolation upon Jerusalem and Judaea. The mountains, which once teemed with life, and the pasture lands (here called `wilderness') which once supported numerous herds of sheep and cattle, all of this is to be destroyed; even the Holy City itself shall be without inhabitant, deserted, a den of jackals! The answer as to why it is necessary for God to bring such destruction against the land of his people is in the following verses.
Who is the wise man, that may understand this? and [who is] he to whom the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken, that he may declare it? wherefore is the land perished and burned up like a wilderness, so that none passeth through? And Jehovah saith, Because they have forsaken my law which I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice, neither walked therein, but have walked after the stubbornness of their own heart, and after the Baalim, which their fathers taught them; therefore thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, Behold, I will feed them, even this people, with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink. I will scatter them also among the nations, whom neither they nor their fathers have known; and I will send the sword after them, till I have consumed them.
These verses "are often referred to as the work of Deuteronomic editors";F12 but this critical fembu is unworthy of any attention. All of the redactors and editors of the radical critics are shadowy creatures of imagination, for whom there exists no dependable evidence whatever. They are the self-made crutches upon which unbelievers lean in their vain efforts to cast doubt upon the Word of God.
The purpose of this paragraph is clearly that of giving God's reasons that required his severe punitive action against the remainder of Israel. The answer is specific and sufficient: (1) they had revolted against their legitimate sovereign, a great truth that denies the non-existence of the Mosaic Law at that time; (2) they had not only withdrawn their obedience from God, but they had also taken up arms against him; (3) they were worshipping the idols which their own hands had manufactured; (4) they were worshipping the fertility cults of the various Baalim, wallowing in the vulgar, sensuous rites of that orgiastic religion. It was for all of these things that God would destroy the nation and send the remnant of it into captivity, from which the vast majority would never return.
"The King of Kings never made war against his own subjects except when they had treacherously rebelled against him and had made such punishment necessary."F13
Who is the wise man, that may understand this
(Jeremiah 9:12)? Keil tells us that this question is given in the negative form, indicating that There is no wise manF14 who was either able or willing to tell them the Word of God; and that the word `wherefore' in this same verse makes that the fundamental reason behind God's punishment of his people.
They have forsaken my law which I set before them
(Jeremiah 9:13). The law mentioned here is the complete Law of Moses, not some small fragment of it found in the temple. Note also that God had set this law before the people, not Hilkiah who found that copy of it. It was the basic constitution of the nation of Israel; and their rebellion against the Covenant of God which was built into and around that law was the reason for the punishment coming upon them.
Ye have. walked after the Baalim ..
(Jeremiah 9:14). Many of the Ugaritic texts regarded the fertility god Baal as the actual head of the Canaanite pantheon,F15 and so is he regarded in this commentary. There is absolutely nothing in the Holy Bible that supports the notion advocated by some that a certain [~'El] was that head. It was Baal. This is proved by the fact that Baal's name is linked with dozens of lesser gods, often associated with various local areas as in, Baal-hazor, Baal-peor, Baal-sidon, Baal-lebanon, Baal-haram, Baal-berith; it is clear from the Ugaritic texts that many of the cultic practices associated with the Baal fertility cults were heavily oriented toward sexual immorality.F16 This shameful worship was exceedingly attractive to the Jewish people, beginning with the tragic conduct of the whole nation at Baal-peor (Num. 24--26).
Wormwood... water of gall
(Jeremiah 9:15). Wormwood is a plant having a very bitter juice, and gall was a poisonous bitter herb. The terms were often used together to indicate bitter afflictions.F17
I will scatter them also among the nations
(Jeremiah 9:16). This verse comes from Lev. 26:33.F18 If, as some critics assert, the Pentateuch as we know it did not then exist, where on earth does one suppose that Jeremiah came up with this? Remember that our chapter here has already stated that God had given Israel his Law (the whole Pentateuch), a fact proved by this verse.
The Dean of Canterbury's comment on this is, "The captivity of Israel and the scattering of them among the heathen (the nations) was a fulfillment of this passage in Leviticus as the appointed determinate penalty for the violation of God's covenant; and this is one of the most remarkable facts in proof that prophecy was something more than human foresight."F19
Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, Consider ye, and call for the mourning women, that they may come; and send for the skilful women, that they may come: and let them make haste, and take up a wailing for us, that our eyes may run down with tears, and our eyelids gush out with waters. For a voice of wailing is heard out of Zion, How are we ruined! we are greatly confounded, because we have forsaken the land, because they have cast down our dwellings. Yet hear the word of Jehovah, O ye women, and let your ear receive the word of his mouth; and teach your daughters wailing, and every one her neighbor lamentation.
This is a dramatic picture of the horrible destruction coming upon Jerusalem at the hands of the invaders. It is represented to readers of the Holy Bible as a destruction yet future at the time Jeremiah penned this prophecy; and we have no respect at all for the "scholars" who would like to make it a description " after the event." Like many another prophecy, this one carries its own imprimature of truth. The thought here is that the people should enlist the aid of the weeping women, not just any weeping women, but "the skilled women," that is, the women who were experts in providing the type of weeping and wailing which the Jews customarily employed upon the occasion of funerals. This custom prevailed down until the times of Christ, as indicated by the hired mourners who were bewailing the death of the daughter of Jairus (Luke 8:40-56). The thought in this paragraph is (1) that a terrible calamity of death and destruction is approaching for Israel, and (2) that the supply of skilled mourners will be insufficient properly to bewail the tragedy; therefore, enlist the skilled mourners and let everyone teach her neighbor in order to help supply the mourners that would be needed!
Now was this an event that had already happened, or was it something Jeremiah prophesied for the future? Suppose, as some of the critics would have us believe, that he was talking about an event that had already happened. Can any intelligent person believe for a moment that, if it had already happened, God's prophet would have been crying so vehemently for the people to train mourners to mourn it? To ask that question is to know the answer! We learned in the minor prophets, especially in Micah, that these great predictive prophecies of the Old Testament carry their own built-in proof of authenticity; and this is another example of the same thing.
Green, quoting Skinner, in the Broadman Commentary, identified this passage as, "Perhaps the most brilliant example of a prophetic elegy which the Old Testament contains!"F20
Verses 21, 22
For death is come up into our windows, it is entered into our palaces; to cut off the children from without, [and] the young men from the streets. Speak, Thus saith Jehovah, The dead bodies of men shall fall as dung upon the open field, and as the handful after the harvestman; and none shall gather [them].
This is a continuation of the prophetic elegy, the saddest element of it being the wanton destruction of the children. This was the usual thing to be expected in the ancient conquest of a city as indicated in Nahum 3:10; Luke 19:44, etc. There also seems to be an echo here of Eve's acceptance of Satan's lie that, "Ye shall not surely die!" Death comes inexorably upon old men, young men, all men, little children, cities, cultures, generations and races of men. Men may bar their doors, but it comes in the windows; none can escape it. What a block-buster of a lie Satan persuaded Eve to believe!
This tragic truth of the ravages of death upon the entire race of Adam seems to have triggered the next paragraph in which the sacred author attempted to turn men's thoughts to eternal values instead of trusting in the things men generally love to trust.
Verses 23, 24
Thus saith Jehovah, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he hath understanding, and knoweth me, that I am Jehovah who exerciseth lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith Jehovah.
The knowledge of God and his way of salvation is greatly to be preferred above all the honors, power, riches, and achievements of mankind.
Loving-kindness, justice, and righteousness
(Jeremiah 9:24). As Green noted, These are covenant words. As we have repeatedly emphasized, it is impossible to understand God's punishment of the Jews apart from its relation to the Mosaic covenant which the Jews had possessed for many generations, and which they had so wantonly violated.
The only proper ground for anyone's glorying is in the right relationship with God; this is the thing that supremely matters.
Verses 25, 26
Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will punish all them that are circumcised in [their] uncircumcision: Egypt, and Judah, and Edom, and the children of Ammon, and Moab, and all that have the corners [of their hair] cut off, that dwell in the wilderness; for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart.
Due to certain ambiguities in the Hebrew text, some have challenged the implication here that all of the nations mentioned actually practiced circumcision. "The KJV asserts that circumcision was not practiced by any of these nations; whereas, all we can affirm is, that, except for a small class (of priests) in Egypt, there is no proof of the general acceptance of circumcision by the list of nations mentioned here."F21 We prefer the KJV rendition, because, generally, the translators who gave us that version of the scriptures believed they were translating the "Word of God," whereas, it is evident that some more recent translators prefer to give us what they believe the prophet meant, or what they think he should have said, instead of what is written. With this view of the text, we agree with Robinson that, "Israel is here degraded to the level of other uncircumcised nations."F22 "The passage also teaches the glory of Israel's religion, and the futility of physical without spiritual circumcision."F23
Uncircumcised in heart
(Jeremiah 9:26). This meant that physical circumcision alone, without the devoted and obedient heart that was supposed to accompany such a sign of the covenant, was worthless.
Footnotes for Jeremiah 9
1: Henry H. Halley's Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House) , p. 286.
2: Matthew Henry's Commentary, p. 464.
3: Charles Lee Feinberg in Ezekiel (Chicago: Moody Press), p. 440.
4: C. F. Keil, Keil-Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 183.
5: Scribner's Bible Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), p. 382.
6: John W. Haley, Examination of Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible (Nashville, Tennessee: B. C. Goodpasture, 1951), p. 262.
7: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 634.
8: T. K. Cheyne, Jeremiah in the Pulpit Commentary, p. 24.
9: R. K. Harrison, Jeremiah in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, p. 91.
10: J. A. Thompson, The Bible and Archeology (Grand Rapid, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972) p. 310.
11: Matthew Henry's Commentary, p. 467.
12: J. A. Thompson, The Bible and Archeology (Grand Rapid, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972) p. 312.
13: Matthew Henry's Commentary, p. 468.
14: C. F. Keil, Keil-Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 186.
15: R. K. Harrison, Jeremiah in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, p. 91.
16: J. A. Thompson, The Bible and Archeology (Grand Rapid, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972) p. 314.
17: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 666.
18: Scribner's Bible Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), p. 384.
19: (This note was missing.)
20: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), p. 71.
21: Scribner's Bible Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), p. 386.
22: WR, p. 481.