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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
In the prophecies contained in Jeremiah 2-6, we have, probably, the records of Jeremiah's earlier ministrations during the comparatively uneventful years of Josiah's reign. The great object of the prophet's mission was to urge upon the people the necessity of making use of that final opportunity of repentance then given them. If personal amendment followed upon the king's reforms Judah might yet be saved. We have then in these chapters such portions of Jeremiah's earlier teaching, published during Josiah's reign, as were deemed fit also for the Church's use in all time.
The prophecy Jeremiah 2:1-3:5 consists of three parts, of which the first Jeremiah 2:1-13 contains an appeal from God to all Israel, i. e., the whole twelve tribes, proving to them His past love, and that their desertion of Him was without ground or reason. In the second Jeremiah 2:14-28 the prophet shows that Israel's calamities were entirely the result of her apostasy. In the last Jeremiah 2:29-3:5 we see Judah imitating Samaria's sin, and hardening itself against correction.
1Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
Moreover - literally, And. Notice the connection between Jeremiah's call and first prophecy.
2Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.
Up to this time Jeremiah had lived at Anathoth, he is now to make Jerusalem the scene of his ministrations.
I remember ... - Or, I have remembered for thee the grace "of thy youth, the love of thine espousals," thy going "after me in the wilderness" in an unsown land. Jeremiah contrasts the present unfriendly relations between Yahweh and His people with their past love. Israel, as often elsewhere, is represented as a young bride Ezekiel 16:8; Hosea 2:20; Joel 1:8. The walking after God in the wilderness was an act of love on Israel's part. Israel did leave Egypt at Moses' bidding, and at Sinai was solemnly espoused to Yahweh.
3Israel was holiness unto the LORD, and the firstfruits of his increase: all that devour him shall offend; evil shall come upon them, saith the LORD.
Render: "Israel" is an offering consecrated to Yahweh, His firstfruits of increase. The firstfruits were God's consecrated property, His portion of the whole harvest. Pagan, i. e., unconsecrated, nations must not meddle with Israel, because it is the nation consecrated to God. If they do, they will bring such guilt upon themselves as those incur who eat the first-fruits Leviticus 22:10, Leviticus 22:16.
4Hear ye the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel:
5Thus saith the LORD, What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain?
6Neither said they, Where is the LORD that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, that led us through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and of pits, through a land of drought, and of the shadow of death, through a land that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt?
Modern researches have shown that this description applies only to limited portions of the route of the Israelites through the Sinaitic peninsula.
7And I brought you into a plentiful country, to eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof; but when ye entered, ye defiled my land, and made mine heritage an abomination.
A plentiful country - literally, "a land of the Carmel," a Carmel land (see 1 Kings 18:19, note; Isaiah 29:17, note).
8The priests said not, Where is the LORD? and they that handle the law knew me not: the pastors also transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit.
The guilt of this idolatry is ascribed to the four ruling classes:
(a) The accusation brought against the priests is indifference.
(b) "They that handle the law" belonged also to the priestly class Deuteronomy 33:10. Their offence was that "they knew not God." Compare Micah 3:11.
(c) The third class are "the pastors" or shepherds, that is the temporal rulers. Their crime is disobedience.
(d) The fourth class are "the prophets." It was their business to press the moral and spiritual truths of the law home to the hearts of the people: but they drew their inspiration from Baal, the Sun-god. Upon the corruption of the prophetic order at this time, see the Jeremiah 14:13 note.
Things that do not profit - Here idols, which are not merely unreal, but injurious. See 1 Samuel 12:21; Isaiah 44:9.
9Wherefore I will yet plead with you, saith the LORD, and with your children's children will I plead.
Plead - The word used by the plaintiff setting forth his accusation in a law-court (see Job 33:13 note).
With you - The present generation, who by joining in Manasseh's apostasy have openly violated Yahweh's covenant. The fathers made the nation what it now is, the children will receive it such as the present generation are now making it to be, and God will judge it according as the collective working of the past, the present, and the future tends to good or to evil.
10For pass over the isles of Chittim, and see; and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there be such a thing.
Kedar signifies the whole East, and the isles of Chittim (Isaiah 23:12 note) the West. If then you traverse all lands from west to east, it will be impossible to find any nation guilty of such apostasy as that committed by Israel.
11Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit.
A nation - A Gentile nation, in strong antithesis to people, the appellation of Israel.
Their glory - Though the worship of the one true God is a nation's greatest glory, yet it is irksome because it puts a constraint on human passions.
That which doth not profit - Israel had exchanged the prosperity which was God's reward of obedience for the calamities which resulted from idol-worship.
12Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the LORD.
Be astonished - The King James Version uses this word as equivalent "to be stupefied."
Desolate - Or, "be dry." In horror at Israel's conduct the heavens shrivel and dry up.
13For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.
The pagan are guilty of but one sin - idolatry; the covenant-people commit two - they abandon the true God; they serve idols.
Fountain - Not a spring or natural fountain, but a tank or reservoir dug in the ground (see Jeremiah 6:7), and chiefly intended for storing living waters, i. e., those of springs and rivulets. The cistern was used for storing up rain-water only, and therefore the quantity it contained was limited.
14Is Israel a servant? is he a homeborn slave? why is he spoiled?
It was Israel's glory to be Yahweh's servant Jeremiah 30:10, and slaves born in the house were more prized than those bought with money as being more faithful Genesis 14:14. Cannot Yahweh guard His own household? How happens it that a member of so powerful a family is spoiled? In the next verse the prophet gives the reason. Israel is a runaway slave, who has deserted the family to which he belongs by right of birth, and thereby brought upon himself trouble and misery.
15The young lions roared upon him, and yelled, and they made his land waste: his cities are burned without inhabitant.
Upon him - Rather, against him. Israel has run away from his master's house, but only to find himself exposed to the beasts of prey in the wilderness.
They made his land waste - The prophet points to the actual results of Israel's until the multiplication of wild beasts rendered human life unsafe 2 Kings 17:25, but the Assyrian invasions had reduced Judaea to almost as sad a state.
Burned - Others render, "leveled to the ground."
16Also the children of Noph and Tahapanes have broken the crown of thy head.
Noph, i. e., Napata, a town situated in the extreme south of Egypt. Some take it to be Memphis (see Isaiah 19:13 note).
Tahapanes - Daphne Pelusii, a bordertown toward Palestine.
Have broken the crown of thy head - literally, shall depasture the crown of thy head; i. e., make it bald; baldness was accounted by the Jews a sign of disgrace 2 Kings 2:23, and also a mark of mourning Isaiah 15:2; Isaiah 22:12. The Egyptians in slaying Josiah, and capturing Jerusalem, brought ruin, disgrace, and sorrow upon the Jews.
17Hast thou not procured this unto thyself, in that thou hast forsaken the LORD thy God, when he led thee by the way?
The way - Either, the journey through the wilderness, or the way of holiness.
18And now what hast thou to do in the way of Egypt, to drink the waters of Sihor? or what hast thou to do in the way of Assyria, to drink the waters of the river?
Sihor - The Nile. To lean upon Egypt was a violation of the principles of theocracy.
The two rivers are the two empires, and to drink their waters is to adopt their principles and religion. Compare also Isaiah 8:6-7.
19Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the LORD thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord GOD of hosts.
Correct thee - Or, "chastise thee." Alliances with foreign powers shall bring trouble and not safety.
20For of old time I have broken thy yoke, and burst thy bands; and thou saidst, I will not transgress; when upon every high hill and under every green tree thou wanderest, playing the harlot.
Transgress - Rather, as in marg. If the "yoke" and "bands" refer to the slavery in Egypt from which Yahweh freed Israel, the sense is - "For of old time I Yahweh broke thy yoke, I burst thy bands," not that thou mightest be free to do thy own will, but that thou mightest serve me: "and thou saidst, I will not serve."
When ... - "For ... under every leafy tree thou" layest thyself down as a harlot. The verb indicates the eagerness with which she prostrates herself before the objects of her idolatrous worship.
21Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?
A noble vine - Properly, a Sorek vine (see Isaiah 5:2), which produced a red wine Proverbs 23:31, and had a lasting reputation Genesis 49:11.
A right seed - literally, "a seed of truth," i. e., true, genuine seed, not mixed with weeds, nor with seed of an inferior quality. Compare Matthew 13:24.
How then art thou turned - Or, "How then" hast thou changed thyself "unto me" (i. e., to my hurt or vexation) "into the degenerate" branches "of a strange vine?" The stock, which was God's planting, was genuine, and of the noblest sort: the wonder was how such a stock could produce shoots of a totally different kind Deuteronomy 32:32.
22For though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord GOD.
Nitre - Or, natron, a mineral alkali, found in the Nile valley, where it effloresces upon the rocks and surfaces of the dykes, and in old time was carefully collected, and used to make lye for washing (see Proverbs 25:20).
Sope - A vegetable alkali, now called "potash," because obtained from the ashes of plants. Its combination with oils, etc., to form soap was not known to the Hebrews until long after Jeremiah's time, but they used the lye, formed by passing water through the ashes. Thus then, though Israel use both mineral and vegetable alkalies, the most powerful detergents known, yet will she be unable to wash away the stains of her apostasy.
Thine iniquity is marked - i. e., as a stain.
23How canst thou say, I am not polluted, I have not gone after Baalim? see thy way in the valley, know what thou hast done: thou art a swift dromedary traversing her ways;
In their defense of themselves (compare Jeremiah 2:35), the people probably appealed to the maintenance of the daily sacrifice, and the Mosaic ritual: and even more confidently perhaps to Josiah's splendid restoration of the temple, and to the suppression of the open worship of Baal. All such pleas availed little as long as the rites of Moloch were still privately practiced.
Thy way in the valley - i. e., of Hinnom (see 2 Kings 23:10 note). From the time of Ahaz it had been the seat of the worship of Moloch, and the prophet more than once identifies Moloch with Baal. "Way" is put metaphorically for "conduct, doings."
Traversing - Interlacing her ways. The word describes the tangled mazes of the dromedary's course, as she runs here and there in the heat of her passion.
24A wild ass used to the wilderness, that snuffeth up the wind at her pleasure; in her occasion who can turn her away? all they that seek her will not weary themselves; in her month they shall find her.
A wild donkey used to the wilderness - The type of an untamed and reckless nature.
Snuffeth up the wind - The wind brings with it the scent of the male. Israel does not wait until temptation comes of itself, but looks out for any and every incentive to idolatry.
Occasion ... month - i. e., the pairing season.
25Withhold thy foot from being unshod, and thy throat from thirst: but thou saidst, There is no hope: no; for I have loved strangers, and after them will I go.
God the true husband exhorts Israel not to run barefoot, and with parched throat, like a shameless adulteress, after strangers.
There is no hope - i. e., It is in vain.
26As the thief is ashamed when he is found, so is the house of Israel ashamed; they, their kings, their princes, and their priests, and their prophets,
27Saying to a stock, Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth: for they have turned their back unto me, and not their face: but in the time of their trouble they will say, Arise, and save us.
"Stone" being feminine in Hebrew is here represented as the mother.
Arise, and save us - Whether it be idolatry or infidelity, it satisfies only in tranquil and prosperous times. No sooner does trouble come, than the deep conviction of the existence of a God, which is the witness for Him in our heart, resumes its authority, and man prays.
28But where are thy gods that thou hast made thee? let them arise, if they can save thee in the time of thy trouble: for according to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah.
A question of bitter irony. Things are made for some use. Now is the time for thy deities to prove themselves real by being useful. When every city has its special deity, surely among so many there might be found one able to help his worshippers.
O Judah - Hereto the argument had been addressed to Israel: suddenly the prophet charges Judah with the habitual practice of idolatry, and points to the conclusion, that as Jerusalem has been guilty of Samaria's sin, it must suffer Samaria's punishment.
29Wherefore will ye plead with me? ye all have transgressed against me, saith the LORD.
30In vain have I smitten your children; they received no correction: your own sword hath devoured your prophets, like a destroying lion.
Your own sword hath detoured your prophets - An allusion probably to Manasseh 2 Kings 21:16. Death was the usual fate of the true prophet Nehemiah 9:26; Matthew 23:37.
31O generation, see ye the word of the LORD. Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? a land of darkness? wherefore say my people, We are lords; we will come no more unto thee?
Or, "O generation" that ye are! An exclamation Of indignation at their hardened resistance to God.
A land of darkness - This word is written in Hebrew with two accents, as being a compound, signifying not merely darkness, but the darkness of Yahweh, i. e., very great darkness.
We are lords - Others render it: We rove about, wander about at our will, go where we like.
32Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? yet my people have forgotten me days without number.
A bride treasures all her life the girdle, which first indicated that she was a married woman, just as brides now treasure the wedding ring; but Israel, Yahweh's bride Jeremiah 2:2, cherishes no fond memorials of past affection.
33Why trimmest thou thy way to seek love? therefore hast thou also taught the wicked ones thy ways.
Why trimmest thou thy way - literally, "Why makest thou thy way good," a phrase used here of the pains taken by the Jews to learn the idolatries of foreign nations.
The wicked ones ... - Or, "therefore thou hast taught" thy ways wickednesses."
34Also in thy skirts is found the blood of the souls of the poor innocents: I have not found it by secret search, but upon all these.
I have not found it ... - Rather, thou didst not find them breaking into thy house. The meaning is, that these poor innocents had committed no crime: they were not thieves caught in the act, whom the Law permitted men to slay Exodus 22:2, and therefore Israel in killing them was guilty of murder. The one crime here of theft is put for crime generally.
Upon all these - Or, because of all this. Thou killedst the poor innocents, not for any crime, but because of this thy lust for idolatry.
35Yet thou sayest, Because I am innocent, surely his anger shall turn from me. Behold, I will plead with thee, because thou sayest, I have not sinned.
Because I am innocent - Rather, But "I am innocent," or, "I am acquitted." Those blood-stains cannot be upon my skirts, because now, in king Josiah's days, the idolatry of Manasseh has been put away.
Shall turn from me - Or, has turned away "from me."
Plead - Or, enter into judgment.
36Why gaddest thou about so much to change thy way? thou also shalt be ashamed of Egypt, as thou wast ashamed of Assyria.
To change thy way - The rival parties at Jerusalem looked one to Assyria, the other to Egypt, for safety. As one or other for the time prevailed, the nation "changed its way," sending its embassies now eastward to Nineveh, now westward to Memphis.
Thou also ... - literally, also of Egypt "shalt thou be ashamed." This was literally fulfilled by the failure of the attempt to raise the siege of Jerusalem Jeremiah 37:5.
37Yea, thou shalt go forth from him, and thine hands upon thine head: for the LORD hath rejected thy confidences, and thou shalt not prosper in them.
From him - From it, from this Egypt, which though fem. as a land, yet as a people may be used as a masc. (compare Jeremiah 46:8). Now that Nineveh is trembling before the armies of Cyaxares and Nabopalassar, thou hastenest to Egypt, hoping to rest upon her strength: but thou shalt retrace thy steps, with thy hands clasped upon thy head, disgraced and discarded.
Confidences - Those in whom thou confidest.
In them - literally, "with respect to them."