(1) At that time.—There is, it is obvious, no break in the discourse, and the time is therefore that of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldæans, and of the burial of the slain. Not even the dead should sleep in peace. With an awful re-iteration of the word, so as to give the emphasis as of the toll of a funeral bell, the prophet heaps clause upon clause, “the bones of the kings,” “the bones of the princes,” and so on. The motives of this desecration of the sepulchres might be either the wanton ferocity of barbarian conquerors, bent, after the manner of savage warfare, on the mutilation of the dead, or the greed of gain and the expectation of finding concealed treasures. So Hyrcanus, to the great scandal of the Jews, broke open the sepulchre of David (Joseph., Ant. vii. 15).
I hearkened and heard.
Rusheth.—The word is primarily used of the rushing of a torrent (Isaiah 8:8; Isaiah 10:22; Isaiah 28:17), and is applied to the frantic impetuosity with which Israel was rushing into evil, and therefore into the misery that followed it.
The crane and the swallow.—In the judgment of Tristram and other modern naturalists, the words should change places, and perhaps “swift” take the place of swallow. The word for “swallow” in Psalm 84:3 is different. The same combination meets us in Isaiah 38:14.
Judgment.—Better, perhaps, ordinance, the appointed rule of life which brute creatures obey and man transgresses.
Lo, certainly . . .—Better, Verily, lo! the lying pen of the scribes hath made it (i.e., the Law) as a lie. The pen was the iron stylus made for engraving on stone or metal. The meaning of the clause is clear. The sophistry of men was turning the truth of God into a lie, and emptying it of its noblest meaning. Already, as in other things, so here, in his protest against the teaching of the scribes, with their traditional and misleading casuistry, Jeremiah appears as foreshadowing the prophet of Nazareth (Matthew 5:20-48; Matthew 23:2-26).
There shall be.—These words are not in the Hebrew, and the verse describes, not the judgment of Jehovah on the state of Israel, but that state itself. There are no grapes on the vine, no figs on the fig-tree, the leaf fadeth. The words are figurative rather than literal, after the manner of Jeremiah 2:21; Isaiah 5:2. Israel is a degenerate vine, a barren fig-tree. Here, again, we find an echo of the teaching of Jeremiah in that of Jesus (Matthew 21:19; Luke 13:6-9). In Micah 7:1 we have another example of the same figurative language.
The things that I have given them . . .—The words have been differently rendered, (1) I gave them that which they transgress—i.e., the divine law of righteousness; and (2) therefore I will appoint those that shall pass over them—i.e., the invaders who shall overrun their country. The former seems on the whole best suited to the context.
Water of gall.—The idea implied is that of poison as well as bitterness. It is uncertain what the “gall-plant” was; possibly, from its connection with “grapes” or “clusters,” as in Deuteronomy 32:32, belladonna or colocynth is meant. Others have suggested the poppy, and this is in part confirmed by the narcotic properties implied in Matthew 27:34. In Deuteronomy 29:18 it is joined with “wormwood.”
Which will not be charmed.—The figure is that of Psalm 58:4-5. The “deaf adder” that “refuseth to hear the voice of the charmer” represents an implacable enemy waging a pitiless war. Serpent-charming, as in the case of the Egyptian sorcerers (Exodus 7:11), seems to have been from a very early time, as it is now, both in Egypt and India, one of the most prominent features of the natural magic of the East.
Summer.—In Isaiah 16:9; Jeremiah 40:10, and elsewhere, the word is rendered by “summer fruits.” “The summer” (better, the fruit-gathering) is ended, and yet they are not saved from misery and death. All has failed alike. The whole formula had probably become proverbial for extremest misery. It is well to remember that the barley-harvest coincided with the Passover, the wheat-harvest with Pentecost, the fruit-gathering with the autumn Feast of Tabernacles.