(1) The first chapter had given the narrative of the call which had impressed itself indelibly on the prophet’s mind. The next five run on as one continuous whole, and, looking to the fact that the original record of his prophetic work during the reign of Josiah had been destroyed by Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 36:23), and was afterwards re-written from memory, it is probable that we have a kind of précis of what was then destroyed, with some additions (Jeremiah 36:32), and possibly some omissions. In Jeremiah 3:6 we have the name of Josiah definitely mentioned.
I remember thee.—Literally, I have remembered for thee.
The love of thine espousals.—The imagery was one derived, as we find so often in Jeremiah’s writings, from the older prophets. It was implied in the “jealous God” of Exodus 20:5, illustrated by an actual history, which was also a parable, in Hosea 1-3, and after its use by Jeremiah, expanded more fully by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 16). The “espousals” are thought of as coinciding with the great covenant of Exodus 24:8, when the people solemnly entered into the relation to which God called them. Then the bride was ready to follow her lord and husband even in an “unsown land”—the “waste howling wilderness” of Deuteronomy 32:10. The faithfulness of the past is contrasted with the unfaithfulness of the present.
When thou wentest after me.—Literally, thy going after me.
All that devour him shall offend.—The imagery of the firstfruits is continued. The Hebrew for the word “offend” is used for transgressions against the ceremonial law in Leviticus 5:5; Leviticus 5:19; Numbers 5:7. Here, however, it is probably better rendered, shall be condemned, or shall be made to suffer, as in Psalm 34:21-22, where the Authorised version has “shall be desolate.” Those who devour Israel—the enemies and invaders, the tyrants and oppressors—are guilty as of a sacrilege that will not remain unpunished.
When ye entered.—The words point to the rapid degeneracy of Israel after the settlement in Canaan, as seen in the false worship and foul crimes of Judges 17-21. So in Psalm 78:56-58. Instead of being the pattern nation, the firstfruits of mankind, they sank to the level, or below the level, of the heathen.
The priests said not, Where is the Lord?—The same failure to seek as that condemned in Jeremiah 2:6. To them, too, all was a routine. Jehovah was absent from their thoughts even in the very act of worship.
They that handle the law.—These, probably, were also of the priestly order, to whom this function was assigned in Deuteronomy 33:10. The order of non-priestly scribes, in the sense of interpreters of the law, does not appear till after the captivity. Their sin was that they “dealt with the law” as interpreters and judges, and forgot Jehovah who had given it.
The pastors.—Better, shepherds, the English “pastors” having gained a too definitely religious connotation. The Hebrew word was general in its significance, but in its Old Testament use was applied chiefly to civil rulers, as in Psalm 78:71; 1 Kings 22:17. Even in Ezekiel 34, where the spiritual aspect of rule is most prominent, the contrast between the false shepherds and the one true shepherd of the house of David (Jeremiah 2:23) shows that the kingly, not the priestly, office was in the prophet’s mind.
The prophets prophesied by Baal.—The precise form of the sin described was probably connected with the oracular power ascribed to Baal-zebub, as in 2 Kings 1:2. The evil was of long standing. It was one of the sins of the people in Isaiah’s time that they were “soothsayers like the Philistines” (Isaiah 2:6). When Ahab first introduced the Phœnician worship, it was by the prophets rather than the priests of Baal that the new cultus was propagated (1 Kings 18:19; 1 Kings 22:6).
Things that do not profit.—The word had acquired an almost proverbial force as applied to idols (1 Samuel 12:21; Isaiah 44:9). So the phrase is repeated in Jeremiah 2:11.
Are burned.—Better, levelled with the ground.
Have broken.—More accurately, shall feed on, lay waste, depasture, so as to produce baldness. Baldness among the Jews, as with other -Eastern nations, was a shame and reproach (Isaiah 3:24; Isaiah 15:2; Isaiah 22:12; 2 Kings 2:23), and was therefore a natural symbol of the ignominy and ruin of a people.
Thou saidst, I will not transgress—Perhaps, following a various reading adopted by the LXX., Vulg., and Luther, I will not serve. The words so taken paint vividly the wilful defiance of the rebellious nation. It threw off its allegiance. If we retain the Authorised version rendering, it would be better to take the verb in the present, I transgress not, as expressing a like defiance.
When.—Better, for, as giving an illustration of the rebellious temper. The “high hill” and the “green tree” point to the localities of idol-worship—the “high places” that meet us so frequently in 1 and 2 Kings, the “tops of the mountains,” and the “oaks and poplars and elms” of Hosea 4:13. Tree-worship in Judæa, as elsewhere, appears to have exercised a wonderful power of fascination, and though the word translated “grove” (Asherah) has not that meaning, it was probably connected with the same cultus.
Playing the harlot.—Literally, laying thyself down. The idolatrous prostration was as an act of spiritual prostitution, often, as in the orgiastic worship of Baal and Ashtaroth, united with actual impurity.
Wholly a right seed.—Literally, a seed of truth, parallel with the “good seed” in the Parable of the Tares. Here, however, as in Isaiah 5:1-7, which Jeremiah seems to have in his mind, stress is laid not on the mingling of the evil with the good, but on the degeneration which had changed the character of that which God had planted.
Art thou turned . . .?—Better, hast thou changed thyself . . .?
Sope.—Not the compounds of alkali and oil or fat now known by the name, but the potash or alkali, obtained from the ashes of plants, which was used by itself as a powerful detergent. The thought is the same as that of Job 9:30, and, we may add, as that of Macbeth, Acts 2, sc. 2 :—
“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.”
The guilt was too strongly “marked,” too “deep-dyed in grain” to be removed by any outward palliatives.
A swift dromedary.—Better, she-camel, the Hebrew word not pointing to any specific difference. The words paint with an almost terrible vividness the eager, restless state of the daughter of Zion in its harlot-like lust for the false gods of the heathen. The female camel, in the uncontrollable violence of its brute passion, moving to and fro with panting eagerness—that was now the fit image for her who had once been the betrothed of Jehovah.
That snuffeth up the wind at her pleasure.—Better, in the desire of her heart, as it bears to her the scent that draws her on. The “occasion” and the “month” are, of course, the season when the stimulus of animal desire is strongest. There is no need for the stallion to seek her with a weary search, she presents herself and pursues him. So there was in Israel what we should describe as a mania for the hateful worship of the heathen.
Thou saidst, There is no hope: no.—Here also we find a parallel to the thought and language of Hosea. There the one effectual remedy for the evil into which the apostate wife had fallen was to speak to her heart, and to open the door of hope (Hosea 2:14-15). Now the malignity of the evil is shown by the loss of all hope of recovery in returning to Jehovah:—
“Small sins the heart first desecrate,
At last despair persuades to great.”
Like Gomer, she will go after her “lovers,” though they are “strangers,” as if they were her only protectors. It would seem, from the recurrence of the phrase in Jeremiah 18:12, as if it were the formula of a despairing fatalism, like the proverb of the fathers eating sour grapes (Jeremiah 31:29-30; Ezekiel 18:2).
To a stock, Thou art my father.—Literally, to a tree. The words seem as if they were an actual quotation from the hymns of the idolatrous ritual.
In the time of their trouble.—So in Hosea (Hosea 2, 3) it is the discipline of suffering that leads the adulterous wife to repentance. In times of trouble and dismay those who had before turned their backs on Jehovah shall seek Him with outstretched hands, and the cry for help. The prophet half implies that then it maybe too late till chastisement has done its perfect work.
We are lords.—Better, We rove at will, as in Genesis 27:40, where, however, the Authorised version gives “when thou shalt have the dominion.” The sense is practically the same. Israel claims the power to do as she likes.
Hast thou also taught the wicked ones thy ways.—Better, hast thou also taught thy ways wickednesses. The professed change for the better was really for the worse.
Thine hands upon thine head.—The outward sign of depression and despair (2 Samuel 13:19).
Thy confidences.—i.e., the grounds or objects of thy confidence.