Jeremiah 16 – Commentary

Jer. 16:1–9. The course to be pursued by the prophet with reference to the approaching judgment.—V. 1. “And the word of Jahveh came to me, saying: V. 2. Thou shalt not take thee a wife, neither shalt thou have sons or daughters in this place. V. 3. For thus hath Jahveh said concerning the sons and the daughters that are born in this place, and concerning their mothers that bear them, and concerning their fathers that beget them in this land: V. 4. By deadly suffering shall they die, be neither lamented or buried; dung upon the field shall they become; and by sword and by famine shall they be consumed, and their carcases shall be meat for the fowls of the heavens and the beasts of the field. V. 5. For thus hath Jahveh said: Come not into the house of mourning, and go not to lament, and bemoan them not; for I have taken away my peace from this people, saith Jahveh, grace and mercies. V. 6. And great and small shall die in this land, not be buried; they shall not lament them, nor cut themselves, nor make themselves bald for them. V. 7. And they shall not break bread for them in their mourning, to comfort one for the dead; nor shall they give to any the cup of comfort for his father and his mother. V. 8. And into the house of feasting go not, to sit by them, to eat and to drink. V. 9. For thus hath spoken Jahveh of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I cause to cease out of this place before your eyes, and in your days, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.”

What the prophet is here bidden to do and to forbear is closely bound up with the proclamation enjoined on him of judgment to come on sinful Judah. This connection is brought prominently forward in the reasons given for these commands. He is neither to take a wife nor to beget children, because all the inhabitants of the land, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, are to perish by sickness, the sword, and famine (vv. 3 and 4). He is both to abstain from the customary usages of mourning for the dead, and to keep away from mirthful feasts, in order to give the people to understand that, by reason of the multitude of the dead, customary mourning will have to be given up, and that all opportunity for merry-making will disappear (vv. 5–9). Adapting thus his actions to help to convey his message, he will approve himself to be the mouth of the Lord, and then the promised divine protection will not fail. Thus closely is this passage connected with the preceding complaint and reproof of the prophet (Jer. 15:10–21), while it at the same time further continues the threatening of judgment in 15:1–9.—With the prohibition to take a wife, cf. the apostle’s counsel, 1 Cor. 7:26. “This place” alternates with “this land,” and so must not be limited to Jerusalem, but bears on Judah at large. יִלֹּדִים, adject. verbale, as in Ex. 1:18. The form מְמֹותֵי is found, besides here, only in Ezek. 28:8, where it takes the place of מֹותֵי, v. 10. מְמֹותֵי תַחֲלֻאִים, lit., deaths of sicknesses or sufferings, i.e., deaths by all kinds of sufferings, since תחלאים is not to be confined to disease, but in 14:18 is used of pining away by famine. With “they shall not be lamented,” cf. 25:33; 8:2; 14:16; 7:33.

Jer. 16:5ff. The command not to go into a house of mourning (מַרְזֵחַ, loud crying, cry of lament for one dead, see on Am. 6:7), not to show sympathy with the survivors, is explained by the Lord in the fearfully solemn saying: I withdraw from this people my peace, grace, and mercy. שָׁלֹום is not “the inviolateness of the relation between me and my people” (Graf), but the pace of God which rested on Judah, the source of its well-being, of its life and prosperity, and which showed itself to the sinful race in the extension to them of grace and mercy. The consequence of the withdrawal of this peace is the death of great and small in such multitudes that they can neither be buried nor mourned for (v. 6). הִתְגֹּדֵד, but one’s self, is used in Deut. 14:1 for נָתַן שֶׂרֶט, to make cuts in the body, Lev. 19:28; and קָרַח, Niph., to crop one’s self bald, acc. to Deut. 14:1, to shave a bare place on the front part of the head above the eyes. These are two modes of expressing passionate mourning for the dead which were forbidden to the Israelites in the law, yet which remained in use among the people, see on Lev. 19:28 and Deut. 14:1. לָהֶם, for them, in honour of the dead.

Jer. 16:7. פָּרַס, as in Isa. 58:7, for פָּרַשׂ, Lam. 4:4, break, sc. the bread (cf. Isa. l.c.) for mourning, and to give to drink the cup of comfort, does not refer to the meals which were held in the house of mourning upon occasion of a death after the interment, for this custom cannot be proved of the Israelites in Old Testament times, and is not strictly demanded by the words of the verse. To break bread to any one does not mean to hold a feast with him, but to bestow a gift of bread upon him; cf. Isa. 58:7. Correspondingly, to give to drink, does not here mean to drink to one’s health at a feast, but only to present with wine to drink. The words refer to the custom of sending bread and wine for refreshment into the house of the surviving relatives of one dead, to comfort them in their sorrow; cf. 2 Sam. 3:35; 12:16ff., and the remarks on Ezek. 24:17. The singular suffixes on לְנַחֲמֹו, אָבִיו, and אִמֹּו, alongside of the plurals לָהֶם and אֹותָם, are to be taken distributively of every one who is to be comforted upon occasion of a death in his house; and לָהֶם is not to be changed, as by J. D. Mich. and Hitz., into לֶחֶם.

Jer. 16:8f. The prophet is to withdraw from all participation in mirthful meals and feasts, in token that God will take away all joy from the people. בֵּית־מִשְׁתֶּה, house in which a feast is given. אֹותָם, for אִתָּם, refers, taken ad sensum, to the others who take part in the feast. On v. 9, cf. 7:34.

Jer. 16:10–15. “And when thou showest this people all these things, and they say unto thee, Wherefore hath Jahveh pronounced all this great evil against us, and what is our transgression, and what our sin that we have committed against Jahveh our God? V. 11. Then say thou to them, Because your fathers have forsaken me, saith Jahveh, and have walked after other gods, and served them, and worshipped them, and have forsaken me, and not kept my law; V. 12. And ye did yet worse than your fathers; and behold, ye walk each after the stubbornness of his evil heart, hearkening not unto me. V. 13. Therefore I cast you out of this land into the land which he know not, neither ye nor your fathers, and there may ye serve other gods day and night, because I will show you no favour. V. 14. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith Jahveh, that it shall no more be said, By the life of Jahveh, that brought up the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt, V. 15. But, By the life of Jahveh, that brought the sons of Israel out of the land of the north, and out of all the lands whither I had driven them, and I bring them again into their land that I gave to their fathers.”

The turn of the discourse in vv. 10 and 11 is like that in 5:19. With v. 11 cf. 11:8, 10; 7:24; with “ye did yet worse,” etc., cf. 1 Kings 14:9; and on “after the stubbornness,” cf. on 3; 17. The apodosis begins with “therefore I cast you out.” On this head cf. 7:15; 9:15, and 22:26. The article in עַל־הָאָרֶץ, Graf quite unnecessarily insists on having cancelled, as out of place. It is explained sufficiently by the fact, that the land, of which mention has so often been made, is looked on as a specific one, and is characterized by the following relative clause, as one unknown to the people. Besides, the “ye know not” is not meant of geographical ignorance, but, as is often the case with יָדַע, the knowledge is that obtained by direct experience. They know not the land, because they have never been there. “There ye may serve them,” Ros. justly characterizes as concessio cum ironia: there ye may serve, as long as ye will, the gods whom ye have so longed after. The irony is especially marked in the “day and night.” Here Jeremiah has in mind Deut. 4:28; 28:36, 63. אֲשֶׁר is causal, giving the grounds of the threat, “I cast you out.” The form חֲנִינָה is ἁπ. λεγ.—In vv. 14 and 15 the prophet opens to the people a view of ultimate redemption from the affliction amidst the heathen, into which, for their sin, they will be cast. By and by men will swear no more by Jahveh who redeemed them out of Egypt, but by Jahveh who has brought them again from the land of the north and the other lands into which they have been thrust forth. In this is implied that this second deliverance will be a blessing which shall outshine the former blessing of redemption from Egypt. But just as this deliverance will excel the earlier one, so much the greater will the affliction of Israel in the northern land be than the Egyptian bondage had been. On this point Ros. throws especial weight, remarking that the aim of these verses is not so much to give promise of coming salvation, as to announce instare illis atrocius malum, quam illud Aegyptiacum, eamque quam mox sint subituri servitutem multo fore duriorem, quam olim Aegyptiaca fuerit. But though this idea does lie implicite in the words, yet we must not fail to be sure that the prospect held out of a future deliverance of Israel from the lands into which it is soon to be scattered, and of its restoration again to the land of its fathers, has, in the first and foremost place, a comforting import, and that it is intended to preserve the godly from despair under the catastrophe which is now awaiting them.22 לָכֵן is not nevertheless, but, as universally, therefore; and the train of thought is as follows: Because the Lord will, for their idolatry, cast forth His people into the lands of the heathen, just for that very reason will their redemption from exile not fail to follow, and this deliverance surpass in gloriousness the greatest of all former deeds of blessing, the rescue of Israel from Egypt. The prospect of future redemption given amidst announcements of judgment cannot be surprising in Jeremiah, who elsewhere also interweaves the like happy forecastings with his most solemn threatenings; cf. 4:27; 5:10, 18, with 3:14f., 23:3ff., etc. “This ray of light, falling suddenly into the darkness, does not take us more by surprise than ‘I will not make a full end,’ 4:27. There is therefore no reason for regarding these two verses as interpolations from 23:7, 8” (Graf).

Jer. 16:16–21. Further account of the punishment foretold, with the reasons for the same.—V. 16. “Behold, I send for many fishers, saith Jahve, who shall fish them, and after will I send for many hunters, who shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rock. V. 17. For mine eyes are upon all their ways, they are not hidden from me, neither is their iniquity concealed from mine eyes. V. 18. And first, I requite double their iniquity and their sin, because they defiled my land with the carcases of their detestables, and with their abominations they have filled mine inheritance. V. 19. Jahveh, my strength and my fortress, and my refuge in the day of trouble! Unto Thee shall the peoples come from the ends of the earth and say: But lies have our fathers inherited, vanity, and amidst them none profiteth at all. V. 20. Shall a man make gods to himself, which are yet no gods? V. 21. Therefore, behold, I make them to know this once, I make them to know my hand and my might, and they shall know that my name is Jahveh.”

Jer. 16:16–18. Vv. 16–18 are a continuation of the threatening in v. 13, that Judah is to be cast out, but are directly connected with v. 15b, and elucidate the expulsion into many lands there foretold. The figures of the fishers and hunters do not bespeak the gathering again and restoration of the scattered people, as Ven. would make out, but the carrying of Judah captive out of his land. This is clear from the second of the figures, for the hunter does not gather the animals together, but kills them; and the reference of the verses is put beyond a doubt by vv. 17 and 18, and is consequently admitted by all other comm. The two figures signify various kinds of treatment at the hands of enemies. The fishers represent the enemies that gather the inhabitants of the land as in a net, and carry them wholesale into captivity (cf. Am. 4:2, Hab. 1:15). The hunters, again, are those who drive out from their hiding-places, and slay or carry captive such as have escaped from the cities, and have taken refuge in the mountains and ravines; cf. 4:29, Judg. 6:2 1 Sam. 13:6. In this the idea is visibly set forth that none shall escape the enemy. שָׁלַח c. לְ pers., send for one, cause him to come, as in 14:3 (send for water), so that there is no call to take לְ according to the Aram. usage as sign of the accusative, for which we can cite in Jeremiah only the case in 40:2. The form דַּוּגִים (Chet.) agrees with Ezek. 47:10, while the Keri, דַּיָּגִים, is a formation similar to צַיָּדִים. In the second clause רַבִּים is, like the numerals, made to precede the noun; cf. Prov. 31:29, Ps. 89:51.—For the Lord knows their doings and dealings, and their transgressions are not hid from Him; cf. 23:24; 32:19. עַל for אֶל, indicating the direction. Their ways are not the ways of flight, but their course of action.

Jer. 16:18. The punishment foretold is but retribution for their sins. Because they have defiled the land by idolatry, they shall be driven out of it. רִאשֹׁונָה, first, is by Jerome, Hitz., Ew., Umbr. made to refer to the salvation promised in v. 15: first, i.e., before the restoration of my favour spoken of in v. 15, I requite double. Against this Graf has objected, that on this view “first” would appear somewhat superfluous; and Näg., that the manifestly intended antithesis to מִשְׁנֶה is left out of account. There is little force in either objection. Even Näg.’s paraphrase does not do full justice to the presumed antithesis; for if we render: “For the first time the double shall be requited, in the event of repetition a severer standard shall be used,” then the antithesis to “first” would not be “double,” but the supplied repetition of the offence. There is not the slightest hint in the context to lead us to supply this idea; nor is there any antithesis between “first” and “double.” It is a mere assumption of the comm., which Rashi, Kimchi, Ros., Maur., etc., have brought into the text by the interpolation of a ו cop. before משׁנה: I requite the first of their transgressions and the repetition of them, i.e., their earlier and their repeated sins, or the sins committed by their fathers and by themselves, on a greater scale. We therefore hold the reference to v. 15 to be the only true one, and regard it as corresponding both to the words before us and the context. “The double of their iniquity,” i.e., ample measure for their sins (cf. Isa. 40:2, Job 11:6) by way of the horrors of war and the sufferings of the exile. The sins are more exactly defined by: because they defiled my land by the carcases of their detestables, i.e., their dead detestable idols. נִבְלַת שִׁקּוּצִים is formed according to פִּגְרֵי גִלּוּלִים, Lev. 26:30, and it belongs to “they defiled,” not to “they filled,” as the Masoretic accentuation puts it; for מָלֵא is construed, not with בְּ of the thing, but with double accus.; cf. Ezek. 8:17; 30:11, etc. So it is construed in the last clause: With their abominations they have filled the inheritance of Jahveh, i.e., the land of the Lord (cf. 2:7). The infin. חַלְּלָם is continued by מָלְאוּ in verbo fin., as usual.

In vv. 19–21 we have more as to the necessity of the threatened punishment. The prophet turns to the Lord as his defence and fortress in time of need, and utters the hope that even the heathen may some time turn to the Lord and confess the vanity of idolatry, since the gods which men make are no gods. To this the Lord answers in v. 21, that just therefore He must punish His idolatrous people, so that they shall feel His power and learn to know His name.

Jer. 16:19. In his cry to the Lord: My strength … in the day of trouble, which agrees closely with Ps. 28:8; 59:17; 18:3, Jeremiah utters not merely his own feelings, but those which would animate every member of his people. In the time of need the powerlessness of the idols to help, and so their vanity, becomes apparent. Trouble therefore drives to God, the Almighty Lord and Ruler of the world, and forces to bend under His power. The coming tribulation is to have this fruit not only in the case of the Israelites, but also in that of the heathen nations, so that they shall see the vanity of the idolatry they have inherited from their fathers, and be converted to the Lord, the only true God. How this knowledge is to be awakened in the heathen, Jeremiah does not disclose; but it may be gathered from v. 15, from the deliverance of Israel, there announced, out of the heathen lands into which they had been cast forth. By this deliverance the heathen will be made aware both of the almighty power of the God of Israel and of the nothingness of their own gods. On הֶבֶל cf. 2:5; and with “none that profiteth,” cf. 2:8; 14:22. In v. 20 the prophet confirms what the heathen have been saying. The question has a negative force, as is clear from the second clause. In v. 21 we have the Lord’s answer to the prophets’ confession in v. 19. Since the Jews are so blinded that they prefer vain idols to the living God, He will this time so show them His hand and His strength in that foretold chastisement, that they shall know His name, i.e., know that He alone is God in deed and in truth. Cf. Ezek. 12:15, Ex. 3:14.

22 Calvin has excellently brought out both moments, and has thus expounded the thought of the passage: “Scitis unde patres vestri exierint, nempe e fornace aenea, quemadmodum alibi loquitur (xi. 4) et quasi ex profunda morte; itaque redemptio illa debuit esse memorabilis usque ad finem mundi. Sed jam Deus conjiciet vos in abyssum, quae longe profundior erit illa Aegypti tyrannide, e qua erepti sunt patres vestri; nam si inde vos redimat, erit miraculum longe excellentius ad posteros, ut fere exstinguat vel saltem obscuret memoriam prioris illius redemptionis.”

Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (1996). Commentary on the Old Testament (Vol. 8, pp. 166–171). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.


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