The prophecies of Jeremiah are arranged, it must be remembered, in an order which is not chronological, and that which we have now reached belongs to a later date than many that follow. Comparing the notes of time in the writings of the prophet with those in the history, we get the following as the probable sequence of events. In the early years of Jehoiakim the prophet’s preaching so provoked the priests and nobles that they sought his life (Jeremiah 26:15). Then came the burning of the roll (Jeremiah 36:23), which Jeremiah had not ventured to read in person. This was in the fourth year of that king’s reign (Jeremiah 36:1). During the seven years that followed we hear little or nothing of the prophet’s work. Then came the short three months’ reign of Jehoiachin, and he re-appears on the scene with the prophecy in this chapter. The date is fixed by the reference, in Jeremiah 13:18, to the queen (i.e., as the Hebrew word implies, the queen-mother) Nehushta (2 Kings 24:8), who seems to have exercised sovereign power in conjunction with her son. During this interval, probably towards its close, we must place the journey to the Euphrates now recorded. There are absolutely no grounds whatever for looking upon it as a vision or a parable, any more than there are for so looking on the symbolic use of the “potter’s earthen bottle” (Jeremiah 19:1) or the “bonds and yokes” (Jeremiah 27:2), or on Isaiah’s walking “naked and barefoot” (Isaiah 20:2). It may be added that the special command given by Nebuchadnezzar in Jeremiah’s favour (Jeremiah 39:11) implies some previous knowledge which may reasonably be connected with this visit.
Put it not in water.—The work of the priest as a rule necessarily involved frequent washings both of flesh and garments. The command in this case was therefore exceptional. The unwashed girdle was to represent the guilt of the people unpurified by any real contact with the “clean water” of repentance (Ezekiel 36:25). In the “filthy garments” of Joshua, in Zechariah 3:3, we have a like symbolism. This seems a much more natural interpretation than that which starts from the idea that water would spoil the girdle, and sees in the command the symbol of God’s care for His people.
A hole of the rock.—Better, cleft. In the lower part of its course the Euphrates flows through an alluvial plain, and the words point therefore to some part of its upper course above Pylæ, where its course is through a valley more or less rocky.
Shall even be as this girdle.—The same thought is reproduced in the imagery of the potter’s vessel in Jeremiah 18:4. On the other hand there is a partial reversal of the sentence in Jeremiah 24:5, where the “good figs” represent the exiles who learnt repentance from their sufferings, and the “bad” those who still remained at Jerusalem under Zedekiah.
Which is good for nothing.—Better, profitable for nothing, the Hebrew verse being the same as in Jeremiah 13:7.
With drunkenness.—The intoxication of the “strong drink”—here, probably, palm-wine—rather than that of the juice of the grape, involving more confusion and loss of power.
Before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains.—Literally, the mountains of twilight, the word used being employed exclusively first of the coolness and then of the gathering gloom of evening twilight, and never of the dawn. (Compare its use in Job 3:9; Job 24:15; Proverbs 7:9.) The fact that the shadows are deepening is obviously one of the vivid touches of the figurative language used. The “gloaming” of the dusk is to pass on into the midnight darkness of the “shadow of death.” The same thought is found in Isaiah 59:10, and (probably with some reference to this very passage) in our Lord’s words, “If a man walk in the night he stumbleth” (John 11:10; John 12:35).
Your principalities.—Literally, as in the margin, your head-tires, i.e., the diadems which were signs of kingly state. The word is used nowhere else, and may have been coined by the prophet or taken from the court vocabulary of the time.
Shall be shut up . . . shall be carried away.—Both verbs should be in the present tense, are shut up, is carried away.
Them that come from the north.—These are, of course, as in Jeremiah 1:14 and elsewhere, the invading army of the Chaldeans, and probably also their Scythian allies.
Thy heels made bare.—Better, outraged, or disgraced, made to walk barefoot, like menial slaves; possibly, like the outcast harlot. Compare Isaiah’s walking “naked and barefoot” as the symbol of the coming degradation of his people (Isaiah 20:2-4).
The wind of the wilderness.—i.e., the simoom blowing from the Arabian desert (Jeremiah 4:11; Job 1:19).
In falsehood.—Better, perhaps, in a lie, i.e., in the worship of false gods that were no gods.
Wilt thou not be made clean?—Better, thou wilt not be cleansed; after how long yet? Sad as the last words are, they in some measure soften the idea of irretrievable finality, “Will the time ever come, and if so, when?” Like the cry addressed to God, “How long, O Lord . . .” (Revelation 6:10), it implies a hope, though only just short of despair.