The Father William Most Collection
Commentary on Jeremiah
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
Jeremiah naturally follows after Isaiah. Isaiah before 700 BC predicted the fall of Jerusalem. Jeremiah was there for it. Then Ezekiel was actually in the exile.
There is a difference between the Hebrew text of Jeremiah and that of the Greek Septuagint. The Greek is about 1/8 shorter than the Hebrew.
We follow here the Hebrew text. At one point, as we shall see later, the King had the text read to him, and as it was being read, he cut off parts of the scroll and threw them into the fire. But Jeremiah dictated the text again to his secretary Baruch. Also the messages were given at many times, and written down later.
Jeremiah's personality: Isaiah showed virility and serenity. Jeremiah is a man of affectivity, even timid in facing situations much more critical than Isaiah. He had to preach submission to Babylon, and so appeared as a traitor So at times he even protested before God for having given him a burden greater than his strength. At times he wanted to pray for his people- but God forbad it:14. 11. He would have liked to keep his thoughts against Jerusalem to himself, but he said they were like a fire within him: 20. 7-9. He was a sign of contradiction. He would have liked to flee to the desert, but God compelled him not to go. He even boldly said God had deceived him---promised he would be a wall of bronze, and yet was being crushed. and ridiculed. He said to himself: I will no longer speak in God's name, but it as like a fire within him: 20:7-9. The Fathers as a result saw him as a type of the suffering Christ. In no other prophet was his call to be a prophet so clear as to Jeremiah. God ordered him not to marry: 16. 3ff.
Theological teaching: He feels the fact that God penetrates the most intimate hearts of men. God is transcendent, He is master of the elements and of human life. God is omniscient and all-powerful. After the exile, God will make a new covenant, written on hearts, which can never be broken--unlike the old. Individual responsibility is specially stressed. He protested the practically superstitious reliance on the temple, even when their hearts were not with God. So he called for circumcision of hearts. --Not much of individual messianic ideas. But he did have a firm hope in the messianic destiny of the people as such: 23. 8; 31. 2-6. . The new king will be as it were a reincarnation of David:23. 6.
Chapter 1: God calls Jeremiah, son of Hilkiah, a priest from Anathoth, of the tribe of Benjamin. Anathoth was one of 13 levitical cities NE of Jerusalem. There is a modern city Anata, not likely to be the biblical Anathoth.
Jeremiah's call as a prophet came in 627 BC. This was before the discovery of the book of the Law in the temple, which led to the reforms by King Josiah. Jeremiah says little of it, probably felt the reform was mostly externalism. Assyria became weaker after the death of King Asshurbanipal in 626. So Josiah was able to assert independence from Assyria--which had forced worship of the Assyrian god Ashur even in Jerusalem. Most of the events of Jeremiah's life come after King Josiah fell in the battle of Megiddo in 609.
Josiah's son and successor was Jehoaz, who ruled only 3 months before he was deposed by Pharaoh Neco and taken to Egypt. Neco installed Jehoiakim son of Josiah. But he abandoned most of his father' reforms. The Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar routed Neco at Carchemish in 605. Jehoiakim noted that the Babylonians failed to subjugate Egypt in 601 and tried for independence. But Nebuchadnezzar in 598 laid siege to Jerusalem, captured the city, looted the temple and exiled Jehoiakin son of Jehoiakim, and many nobles. The Babylonians named Zedekiah as king. But he bowed to his advisors urging him to join an Egyptian coalition against Babylon. But then Nebuchadnezzar invaded again and in 586 destroyed the temple and city of Jerusalem. the Babylonians deported the king and most of the people, and appointed Gedaliah as governor. When Gedaliah was assassinated many of the Jews, including Jeremiah, fled to Egypt. But Jeremiah bought the estate of his cousin Hanamel (in cap. 32) to show his firm confidence God would restore the city.
God calls Jeremiah to be a prophet. He has planned that before Jeremiah was born. When God calld Isaiah, he voluntarily offered to be sent. But Jeremiah tried to argue he was unfit. But God insists, and by interior supernatural grace leads Jeremiah ahead. The first task for such a grace is to cause the person to see something as good, and then to give power to his will. God did all that for Jeremiah. In the call of Isaiah, one of the serapahim touched his lips with a coal from the altar. In this call of Jeremiah God stretched out His hand, and touched Jeremiah's mouth saying: "I put my words into your mouth." When He called Ezekiel, God told Ezekiel to eat a scroll. Even with a full jar of Taco sauce that would have been just about impossible, without a miracle. But it was a symbolic action meaning: God puts His words into E's mouth. The real sense is this: God fills Jeremiah, with His own attitudes and thoughts, causing Jeremiah to see things God's way. As a result often thereafter Jeremiah could say: "Thus says the Lord" even if he had not received a particular revelation at the time. At times , as in chapter 42 the remnant asked Jeremiah to consult God as to His will, which Jeremiah did-and they rejected it and took him unwillingly to Egypt. (In passing, the large law which Moses wrote, in addition to the ten commandments, is likely to have been given to Moses interiorly in this way--as we gather from particular similarities in those laws to some laws of Hammurabi.)
God added that He was setting Jeremiah over nations and kingdoms to build up and to uproot.
God then sent Jeremiah two symbolic visions. In one, Jeremiah sees a watching tree, i. e, an almond (first to bud in spring), to signify God will watch over His word, and it will come true. He also sees a boiling cauldron appearing from the north: standing for a coming invasion from the north. Israel has forsaken God, her husband, hence the sin is called harlotry or adultery. The north is the direction from which invasions by Assyria and Babylon came--the armies came around the top of the fertile crescent- - to cross the desert straight over from the East would be too fearsome.
God assures Jeremiah He will make him strong like a wall of bronze and protect him. Later we will see how Jeremiah did not fully understand it. He thought he would always be victorious over his enemies. God had different plans, still in line with this promise.
Chapter 2: He must tell unfaithful Israel: Once she was like a new bride, but now she goes after other lovers, idols.
Commentators see a problem here. They think of the repeated rebellions of Israel in the 40 years in the desert. But a distinction will help. It is true, they were rebellious. But they did not at that period make an alliance with pagan nations, as they would later do with Assyria, which was going to order the worship of Ashur even in Jerusalem. It is interesting to compare the prophet Hosea (esp. 2. 14-22) on this point, who loves to speak of a spousal relation of Israel to God.
Hear the word of the Lord: What wrong did your fathers find in me, so that they went after nothing-- that is, idols who are nothing? Nothing here is hebel, vanity, the word used so often in Qoheleth.
Even the priests and prophets prophesied by Baal.
Therefore I will have a lawsuit (rib) with you: look to the east (Kedar) or to the west (Kittim - at first Kittim meant a Phoenician colony in Cyprus and then came to mean all the islands and all the west) -- no other people has changed its gods. They cling even to false Gods. (If we know Vergil, he speaks of carrying the conquered gods from burning Troy.) But Israel has turned away from the true God. They want to get help from Egypt or Assyria: but the Egyptians will despoil them and shave their heads (sign of disgrace). Assyria will shame them.
The image of a lawsuit occurs quite a few times in the OT, e. g, Hosea 41ff, and Ps 50. 4ff. God insists on His righteousness, His care for all that Holiness calls for--in contrast to the people. In Rom 3.4 the image is of God Himself being judged to see if He observes what goodness calls for: "so you may win when you are judged," (In Rom 1.17 dikaiosyne refers to God's Holiness in observing all that is right--to reward good, and to punish. For that word does not mean, as Luther simply imagined, salvific activity on God's part). The good Friday Liturgy has a beautiful instance of a lawsuit, during the veneration of the cross: "My people, what have I done to you ? How have I offended you? Answer me. I led you out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom but you led your Savior to the cross... . For forty years I led you safely through the desert, I fed you with manna from heaven, and brought you to a land of plenty, but you led your Savior to the cross.... for your sake I scourged your captors and their firstborn sons, but you brought scourges down on me. My people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me!"
My people have committed two evils-- they have left me the font of living waters, and have dug out for themselves broken cisterns, which do not hold water.
Under every tree Israel became a harlot, i.e., went in for idol worship, which often involved sexual immorality. You cannot scour this sin away with strong soap or lye. Israel has acted like a camel or donkey in heat (wanting sex) which sniffs the air, hunting for a male. Israel has said to a tree, you are my father; and to a stone: you gave me birth. Your gods are as numerous as your cities (pagans had a god for each city. and activity. If the city was powerful in war, the god was considered powerful). But they cannot help you. On your clothing is the lifeblood of the innocent, whom you oppress.
God adds, continuing the lawsuit: I will bring you to judgment for saying: I have not sinned. In Romans 1. 31 St. Paul complains of those who not only sin but call sin good -- the utmost depth of evil.
Insert on Election: In view of the manifold and repeated infidelities of Israel, we ask: Why did God choose Israel to be His specially favored people?
St. Paul in Romans 9 makes clear that God does not give the special favor of full membership in the People of God for merits. For what reason does He give it?
In Ezek 3. 5-7: God is giving Ezekiel his appointment as a prophet. He told Ezekiel: "I am not sending you to a people with obscure speech and difficult language... If I were to send you to these they would listen to you. But the house of Israel will refuse to listen to you, for they will not listen to me. For the whole house of Israel is hard of brow and obstinate in heart." Ezekiel 5:6 adds: "She [Jerusalem] has changed my judgments into wickedness more than the gentiles, and my statutes more than the countries around her."
Jonah was sent to preach repentance to the Assyrians in Nineveh. The Assyrians were considered the world's worst people, because of calculated cruelty in war. When Jonah went into Nineveh, they at once did penance in sackcloth and ashes. But when a prophet went to the holy People of God he might not get out alive. A Mekilta, a later Jewish document, completed in 4th century AD, represented Jonah as saying: "Since the gentiles are more inclined to repent, I might be causing Israel to be condemned [by going]" (Mekilta, tr. Jacob Lauterbach, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1. 7)
1n the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10. 30-37 two officials of the People of God pass the wounded man cold. But a Samaritan, not a member of the People of God, helps remarkably.
Luke 17.11-19 tells of the cure of ten lepers When they saw they were healed, only one, not of the People of God, came back to say thanks.
In Matthew 11. 21 Jesus says: "If the wonders done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes."
So it seems the reason for election was not that Israel was better, but that it was not. In other words, it needed special care. God's fatherly goodness would provide it. We might think of a family with several children. All but one has normal health, but that one is sickly. He gets a lot of added care.
To return to the reason for Israel's special favor: In Dt 7. 6-8 God told Israel they were a people holy to the Lord. He chose them for His own possession, because He loved them. -- This could be misunderstood, and it was. First of all, to love means to will good to another for the other's sake. God willed good to them, and that is the same as saying He loved them. He said they were holy--it does not mean high moral perfection, the sense is that of Hebrew, qadosh, set aside for God. There is no implication of high moral perfection.
St. Paul on one of his missionary expeditions wanted to go into the Romanr Province of Asia, but the Holy Spirit told him not to go: Acts 16. 6. Why the prohibition? An image will help.
God wills all men to be saved-- he said it explicitly in 1Tim 2. 4, though a few theologians have said He did not mean it. But He did and does, for to love as we said is to will good to another for the other's sake. So when He wills salvation, eternal happiness, that is love. To say He does not will it is to say He does not love! Actually, the Father accepted the infinite price of redemption. So He owes it to Himself to make available an infinite treasury of forgiveness and grace without any limit other than what humans set by resistance to His grace.
Let us imagine before the beginning of the ages He looked at a huge checkerboard, Class one squares have the Mass and all Sacraments. Class two has a few Sacraments. Class 3 has no sacraments. There is a square for each human of all times. He notices that there are 3 kinds of squares.
Why the three kinds? The founder of a heresy most likely sins gravely. But children born into later families hardly are guilty. It takes much to get them to even suspect they should investigate. So unless God would multiply miracles everywhere, there will be the three kinds of squares.
He, clearly, wants to assign people to squares in such a way that no one will be lost because of the kind of square.
Then he notices that the resistance to grace varies much. Some are so resistant to grace that no matter where He puts them, they will be lost. So He does not waste the class 1 on them--He saves them for those who can profit. Others are resistant to such an extent that unless they get the higher kinds of squares, they will be lost. So He gives class one to those most in need, then class 2 to those who can make it with less help.
Perhaps he has a still better way of handling the matter. But we have shown that there is at least one way in which He can arrange the best for all. So He told Paul not to go into the province of Asia at that time--though later on he could.
Obviously, Israel got the top squares in the OT time. And we, Catholics get them now (no compliment to us, if we realize!) Again, it is like the family with one sickly child--he gets more care. So Israel got more, and we do too. Israel would still have that had they not rejected His plan. When Solomon finished dedicating the first Temple, God told him: If you are faithful, I will keep my presence here forever. But if you are not, I will scatter Israel over the face of the earth and destroy this temple. He has done that. In Jeremiah 7 He made the same warning. Before the end He will finally bring the remnant of Israel back into His people. Those who are unfaithful now are what He told Hosea (1.8-11) were lo-ammi, not my people. Then the veil of which St. Paul spoke (2 Cor3. 14) will finally be lifted when they accept the Messiah which He had promised as the culmination and fulfillment of the covenant (cf. Romans 11--at the start Paul says God has not rejected His people, i.e., His call is still open. But later in chapter 11 we find that many branches have fallen off the tame olive, the people of God, by infidelity. But 11. 25-26 speaks of their final conversion.).
We must stand in admiration at the real humility shown in the words of Jonah in the Mekilta, cited above, and in Ezek 5. 6.
Yet there is a strange ambivalence, which appears in a number of documents on merit. cf. A. Marmorstein, The Doctrine of Merits in Old Rabbinical Literature (Ktgav, N.Y. 1968). on p. 43: 'In the school of R. Ishmael they discussed the question, 'for whose merit does the world exist?' And they taught, 'for the merits of the righteous. '"(citing Midrash hagaddol, Genesis 3. a).
Incidentally, 2 Timothy 3.1 ff says that in the last days dangerous times will come-- people will be... and it gives a frightening litany of their dreadful qualities. In Rev/Apoc. 22. 10 the thought seems about the same. It may well be that many of those who are so resistant to grace that they cannot be saved in any class of helps, will, in large measure be kept to be revealed in that last period. Then they will really "fill up the measure of their sins": cf. 2 Mac. 6. 13-16 and 1. Thes. 2. 16 and Mt. 24. 12.
End of Insert. Resume Commentary. Chapter 3: When a man divorces a wife and she marries another, he cannot take her back. Yet God is willing to take Israel back in spite of her infidelities. The rains have failed because of your harlotry. Judah saw all the adulteries of Israel, her sister, the northern kingdom and what happened to it, how Samaria fell in 722. But Judah has not reformed. has become less faithful than Israel.
Yet God pleads: Reform, for I am merciful. He will take a remnant-- one from her, two from there-- and appoint good shepherds over her. The days will come when they will not need to depend on the ark of the covenant, but all nations will come to Jerusalem. This sounds like the prediction in Jer 31. 1ff, which we shall see presently. And the time period looks to the future note the words "in those days" in 3. 17), as does the promise of Isaiah 2 f all nations coming to Jerusalem. --The ark of the covenant is not mentioned again after the end of the great exile. In 2 Mc 4. 2-6 we read that after the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah took the ark and hid it. Later his followers came to seek it, but Jeremiah told them: It must remain hidden until God shows mercy and gathers His people together again. --The flaw is that 2 Mc states the author found this in secular records. Hence inspiration does not guarantee it. But it is inherently plausible. And, Daniel 12. 7 said all the foretold things would happen when the shattering of the power of the holy people would come to an end. Likewise in Lk 21. 24 Jesus says Jerusalem will be a gentile city until the times of the gentiles are fulfilled. Today, in 1997, there are unconfirmed reports of an excavation in Jerusalem in which the ark has been found.
In 3.24 "the shameful things" seem to mean Baal. It has devoured their wealth, and probably their children in sacrifice.
Chapter 4. If you want to return, Israel, put away the detestable things, your idols, and your immorality. But God is bringing in evil from the north, the lion of Babylon, the destroyer of nations. It comes like a storm cloud. His horses are swifter than eagles. Ruin after ruin is reported: the whole earth is laid waste. The garden land has become a desert before the blazing wrath of the Lord.
Chapter 5: Roam the streets of Jerusalem to find even one upright man Perhaps this is semitic exaggeration though we remember the time when Abraham bargained with God for Sodom. He tries first with the poor, and they may say "As the lord lives..." But it is all empty. Then he turns to the more educated, and finds nothing better. They have made their faces harder than stone. Later, as we shall see, in chapter7, God will say He cannot forgive them. Now His mercy is infinite, but even so, if people make themselves hard through long repeated sinning, they reach a point at which grace tries in vain to suggest good to them. To clarify: think of a man who has never been drunk before, but now he does get very drunk at night. The next morning he will have guilt feelings--a clash between his moral beliefs and his actions. In time, something will give: he will either stop drinking or his ability to see it is wrong will slowly disappear. If we spoke to a confirmed drunk and told him he should not do that, he would say: A guy has got to have shum fun! Now all moral truths are interconnected, and so the man can lose the ability to see other moral truths. And he can even lose the ability to see doctrinal things. In 1993 when Pope John Paul II went to Denver, Dignity, the group who insist homosexuality is all right, published a statement saying: The Pope is only the titular head of the Church. WE ARE the Church.
The most dangerous sin is pride. Jesus was very kind to all sorts of sinners, but had scathing words for the proud. Pride implies the person knows better than God--like Eve and the apple. So Jesus on one occasion said that the tax collectors and harlots were entering his kingdom before these proud men (Mt. 21. 31). The sexual sinners knew they were wrong - the proud did not. And so were incapable of being healed, they could not register the first movement of actual grace trying to get them to move to what good God wanted.
And the Israelites of that day were also superstitious. They thought as long as they had the temple and sacrifices, no enemy could hurt them. As we shall see in 7. 4 they even said -- Jeremiah repeats it graphically -- "It is the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord!"
So we will soon read (in 7. 16) that God told Jeremiah not to pray for them. God is infinitely merciful, always glad to forgive - but when a person makes himself hard and blind--as we pictured above--he will be unable to take in what God offers. So there is no use to pray for them - God indeed does want to forgive, but they make it impossible, for their hardness prevents His grace from getting inside them. . therefore God will even tell Jeremiah: Do not pray for them--they are impossible. God will bring a nation, whose tongue they do not understand.
And of course they also went in for extensive sexual sins. So Jeremiah said: They have gone in troops to the houses of harlots.
So God will bring on them a cruel nation to avenge Himself. We note that avenge in some versions is a poor translation. God's judgement will visit them (paqad). Yet even then God will not completely destroy them -He will leave a remnant. But now, prophets prophesy falsely, and priests teach as they wish, because people want it so.
Chapter 6: He tells them to flee from Jerusalem for safety, for shepherds, that is foreign rulers will come, and start a siege, for the city must be punished. As a well keeps water fresh, so does this city keep its wickedness fresh. Their ears are closed, they cannot hear.
So Jeremiah is weary of holding in the wrath of the Lord -- by prayer and penance, to rebalance the objective order on their behalf. Everyone is greedy. They say: Peace, peace, but there is no peace.
Jeremiah advises them to look for the ancient paths, and walk on them. God has set up watchmen, prophets, to warn them, but they do not heed. So a people is coming from the north, cruel and merciless. There is terror on every side. When anyone tries to refine them like silver, his refining is in vain with this people.
Chapter 7:God orders Jeremiah to stand in the temple and tell them that if they do not mend their ways, He will destroy this temple as He did the one at Shiloh (place of worship from Joshua to Samuel). In vain do they keep on repeating: It is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord. - It is all externalism. They think if they go to the temple, without reforming, all will be well. Jeremiah tells them NO.
God has finally told Jeremiah: do not pray for this people, for I will not listen. In our comments above on chapter 6 we explained how this could be: God was still willing to forgive, but the people had made themselves so hard as to be unable to take in what God asked.
God said He did not really want the externals of sacrifice, but the interior attitude of obedience to Him (cf. Hosea 6. 6--it really means: "I want hesed, covenant obedience, rather than externals of sacrifice). They even sacrificed their children by fire, to appease the fire god Molech. The children were actually burned up. This was in the valley of Ben-hinnom (from which name we get Gehenna).
In the city, the fathers make a fire, the women knead dough to make cakes for the Queen of Heaven, Ishtar, the Assyro-Babylonian goddess of fertility. The cakes were shaped like stars, for Ishtar was identified with the planet Venus.
In 7, 29 God orders Jeremiah to cut off his hair as a symbol of His rejection of Jerusalem. Cutting off hair was a sign of great mourning.
In chapter 26 Jeremiah is almost killed for speaking as God had ordered in the temple, foretelling the fall of Jerusalem. We naturally wonder: is this event of chapter the same event? We know that the text of the book of Jeremiah is much debated. We know that in chapter 36, Baruch, Jeremiah's secretary, read the prophecies of Jeremiah before the king. The king was so angry that after each bit he cut off part of the scroll and publicly burned it. But later in chapter 36 Jeremiah dictated another copy to Baruch, with some additions.
So things are apt to be out of sequence in our copies.
Chapter 8:The bones of the kings and great ones will be spread out under the sun, not buried, in the view of the hosts of heaven, to which they offered sacrifice.
God told Jeremiah to say: People when they fall, get up again. But this people does not get up again, they continue to sin. They say: We are wise. They think just having the Law protects them. But it will not. We are reminded of Isaiah 29. 13-14: because they did not worship with true interior obedience, God will take away wisdom from the wise. In Isaiah 29. 14 God said that because the people did not give Him due worship, wisdom would perish from the wise. Here it is happening.
Already he thinks he hears the sound of the horses of the invaders, from the north, from Dan.
Jeremiah says his heart is wounded because of their sins. Is there balm in Gilead (famed for it)? But no one can cure the ache of his heart for them.
Chapter 9. He wishes his eyes were fountains of water to weep day and night for them. For they go from evil to evil. Each must beware of his neighbor, one cannot even trust a brother. While speaking pleasantly to another, they are really plotting ambushes.
After the ruin people will say: Why did God do this? God will reply: because they broke my laws and went after the Baals. So He will scatter them among the nations. -- This is frightening, it is the same threat God made long ago to Solomon after the dedication of the temple: 1 Kings 9:1-9.
Call for professional mourners, he cries: dead bodies fall like so much dung.
Let not the one who is called wise glory in his wisdom: Let a man rather glory in this, if he knows the Lord and obeys.
Chapter 10: God tells them not to learn the way of the nations, and not to be afraid of the signs, the omens, in the skies. The idols are like scarecrows, they cannot speak or walk. They have to be carried. They are just the work of craftsmen. Those gods did not make the heavens. The real God has done all that.
Again, he seems to himself to hear the noise of the army coming from the north.
Jeremiah tries to plead that men are so weak: the way of a man is not in himself. So have mercy.
Chapter 11: God spoke to Jeremiah: Cursed be the man who does not listen to the words of this covenant which I gave your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt. If they obey, I will be their God and they will be my people. But they did not obey, they walked in the stubbornness of their wicked heart. So God brought upon them everything the covenant threatened (as in Deuteronomy 30 and in the message to Solomon in 1 Kings 9).
The cities of Judah and Jerusalem will cry to their idols to whom they offer incense, gods as many as their cities. But they cannot help.
Therefore Jeremiah must not pray for them, for God will not listen to him. We recall the explanation of this thought, that Jeremiah must not pray for them, which we saw in the comments above on chapter 6.
After v. 18 to the end of the chapter we have part of what is called the "confessions" of Jeremiah (Other parts of the confessions are: 15. 10-21; 17. 12-18; 18. 18-23 and 20. 7-18). The Lord has made known to him--a vision, or interior locution? what his fellow townsmen are plotting. They are angry and embarrassed at what he foretells. So they decide to kill him. Jeremiah says, speaking of himself: I was like a lamb led to the slaughter, not knowing the schemes they made against me. So may you rectify things -- the versions commonly have him asking for vengeance, but that would be immoral. Rather, he asks for Hebrew naqam, rectification of the objective order by God. God will punish the men of his own town Anathoth. None of them shall be left,
More than once Jeremiah seems to be an image of the suffering Messiah, except of course that Jeremiah calls for punishment for them, while Jesus said: Forgive them for they know not what they do. St. Jerome and many of the Fathers so understand this passage. Jesus too desired rectification of the objective order.
Chapter 12: Jeremiah says he knows that the Lord is righteous, observes all that is moral, yet he wishes to ask: Why do the wicked prosper? They take root as if you planted them. Please rectify things, make them like the sheep for the slaughter. They have said God will not see.
Why do the wicked prosper? Jeremiah did not yet have the full revelation to come later through Jesus. God will make it all right in the world to come. Meanwhile, to suffer is to gain gold for eternity, by likeness to Jesus: Rom 8. 17: "We are heirs together with Him, provided we suffer with Him so we may also be glorified with Him." Hence as Romans 8 continues: "I judge that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." And in 2 Cor 4. 17: "That which is light and momentary in our affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison." If that is true of what is light--what of that which is heavy? If that is true of what is momentary, what of that which lasts very long?
In spite of that, God says He has forsaken His house. The whole land is desolate since there is no one who cares. Therefore God will turn the land over to the enemies of Israel. However, not forever. He will later rescue them. They need punishment to break their hardness and blindness. Afterwards he will rescue them.
Chapter 13: God told Jeremiah to buy a linen waistcloth, not let it get wet, and go and hide it in a cleft of the rock by the Euphrates river. After some days, God told him to get the garment again. It was spoiled by the moisture, and no longer good for anything.
Linen was the material for the garments of priests. The cloth was a kind of undergarment: its closeness to the body symbolized the closeness of the relationship of God to His people, spoiled by their sins. God said: Just as this waistcloth is spoiled, good for nothing, so are my people.
There is a problem about going to the River Euphrates, which was a very long distance for Jeremiah -- two round trips, really hundreds of miles for him, and for that reason, not too apt to be useful for the symbolism to his own people. Further there were no rocks on the middle or lower Euphrates. So some have said all this happened only in an imaginary vision - but then there would be no visible symbolism for the contemporaries of Jeremiah. We could say that the Hebrew Perat, the word for Euphrates really stood for Ain Farah, which is about 3 miles NE of Anathoth, Jeremiah's home town. There are rocks in that location.
This was a sort of acted out prophecy (there are several of these elsewhere in Jeremiah, e.g., in chapters 18 and 19, and 24, and in Ezekiel). The Lord said that Israel had been as close to Him as the waistcloth--but now it is good for nothing.
Next Jeremiah, perhaps at a feast, says: Every jar shall be filled with wine- an obvious fact. (A jar held about 10 gallons: cf. Is 30:14) So, says the Lord, this people will be filled with the wine of the Lord's anger, as though they are drunk.
Next Jeremiah spoke to the King and to the King's mother, foretelling their captivity. Drought and invasion were coming. Even the Negev, the rather barren southern part, far from Jerusalem, would be hit by the invasion. That fact that even the Negev was to be hit stands for the completeness of the destruction.
The Queen Mother was the gebirah, who held a position of respect, especially in view of the polygamy of the kings.
Chapter 14: God said: Nobles send servants for water: there is none, there is no rain. Even the hind in the field leaves her new calf: no grass. God said: The people have loved to wander, so the Lord does not accept them.
The Lord adds: Do not pray for this people: even if they fast I will not hear. The reason is that their hardness makes them incapable of receiving grace even if He sends it. Cf. chapter 6
Jeremiah tells the Lord: the false prophets say there will be no sword or famine. God tells him: There will be sword and famine, and the prophets will be consumed. Tell them: Let my eyes run with tears. If I go into the field, I see the slain; in the city: those dead of famine. Jeremiah asks: Have you completely rejected Zion? If I go out into the field, behold those slain by the sword. If I enter the city, behold the diseases of famine.
Chapter 15: The Lord replied: Even if Moses and Samuel (great mediators of the past) pleaded for them, I would not listen. Destroyers will be sent to them. I am weary of relenting. I will make them a horror to all kingdoms because of what Manasseh, son of Hezekiah did in Jerusalem. Hezekiah was one of the few good kings; Manasseh one of the worst.
Then Jeremiah moans: I wish my mother had not brought me forth. I have not violated the law. Please set things right (naqam) with those who persecute me. Then Jeremiah seems to have doubted God: Will you be like a deceptive brook to me? He meant like a wadi, that had water only after a downpour. But then God then said: If you return, to confidence in me, and proclaim my word, I will restore you (to your office as a prophet, lost by his complaints?--or, better, did He refer to the people in general). I will deliver you from your enemies. (Jeremiah seems to have understood that as victory over them in the temporal order. God did not mean it that way. He meant final triumph. But Jeremiah did not understand, hence later an almost bold complaint to God in 20. 7: "You have deceived me." The NAB here is quite unfortunate: "You have duped me". )
Chapter 16: Now God tells him not to take a wife -- a large sacrifice, all young men then married. God explains: both parents and children will die of deadly diseases, and not be lamented or buried. By not marrying, Jeremiah was cut off from many social occasions.
God continued: Do not go into a house of mourning. For I have taken well-being from this people. No one may cut himself for the dead or make selves bald. Leviticus 19. 27 forbade cutting selves in lamentation. Lv 21. 5 gave same order to the priests, and said they must not make bare the crown of their head or shave the edges of their beard. The origin of this cutting was idolatry. Cf. the priests of Baal: 1 Kgs 18. 28 and Galatians 5. 12.
Nor should Jeremiah go into a house of feasting for God is sending such evil.
Yet now in v. 14, Jeremiah turns to a more pleasant view in the future - recall Isaiah often made such shifts too, -- and says time will come when they will no longer speak of the Lord who brought them from Egypt, but the Lord who brought them out of captivity.
But He is sending many fishers, to hunt out the Israelites who try to escape the Babylonians. God will give double recompense to their iniquity. (The double is Hebrew mishnet, which may mean (as suggested by a tablet from Alalakh in Syria) merely "proportional," or it could be an example of the common Semitic exaggeration). Cf. also Isaiah 40 and commentary on it.
Chapter 17: The sin of Judah is written indelibly, with a pen of iron. So the Lord says: Cursed is the man who trusts in man. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.
The human heart is most deceitful: who can understand it? Yet the Lord searches all hearts, and repays.
Those who turn away from God will have their names written in the dust-- so they will not last. (We wonder: was this line in mind when Our Lord wrote in the dust as the accusers of the woman taken in adultery went away one by one?).
Jeremiah pleads with God: He has not pressed God to send evil. But let those who persecute him be put to shame.
Then God told him to stand in the Benjamin Gate and tell them not to violate the sabbath, or He will punish them. If they listen to Jeremiah, there will be a line of Davidic kings, and the city will be inhabited forever. (This reminds one of what God told Solomon in 1 Kings 9).
Chapter 18: 18. God tells Jeremiah to buy a potter's vessel. If one turns out badly, the potter reshapes it. So God could do to the house of Israel. He is shaping evil against them for their sins.
God speaks in a human way, saying He will change His mind, His plans, if the people change. If they turn to evil, He will forget His promised protection to them; if they turn from evil, He will cancel the evil. God speaks similarly in Ezekiel 18. 21-24. Interestingly, there is no word of perfect contrition: the fact that the heart of the formerly bad man has changed is enough for God to forgive. That change of heart really says: I see what I did was wrong, I will not do it again. That change appeals to the holiness and goodness and mercy of God, which are identified with His being. So it seems in a way equivalent to a repentance moved by His goodness. For goodness and holiness and mercy are identified in Him.
The people will not listen. God asks: who among the other nations has acted this way. Does snow leave Lebanon? But God's people have forgotten Him. They are making their land a horror, all who pass by the ruins that it will be will his: Why did God do this? (Cf. also in 1 Kings 9).
Far from repenting, Jeremiah's enemies decide to plot against him, and not to heed any of his words. They hate his threatening predictions, and as in Wisdom of Solomon 2. 15, the very sight of him is a reproach to them. So Jeremiah pleads with God: Hear me, O Lord. Is evil the repayment of good? I stood before you to plead for them. But they did not heed. So now deliver them up to famine. Jeremiah is not pleading for vengeance, but for rebalance of the objective order, in Hebrew naqam. In v. 21 Jeremiah even pleads that God may deliver their children to famine. The children were not guilty, yet only a miracle could exempt them when there is a general famine. And we must remember that life is a moment to moment gift: if God just stops giving, death is there. He as the absolute Lord of life can stop giving when He so wills.
The language of Jeremiah's enemies here is like that of the Wisdom of Solomon 2. 14-20. Here as in some other passages, Jeremiah himself seems like a type of the suffering Messiah.
Chapter 19: Now Jeremiah is told to buy a potter's flask, go to the Potsherd Gate, to Topeth, where they offered the sacrifice of their children in the fire, and to break it before the senior priests and to say: The people have filled the place with the blood of innocents. So God is bringing evil on them.
So Jeremiah stood in the court of the temple and said: God says He is bringing evil upon this city, such that he who hears of it will feel his ears tingle. .
Chapter 20: Then Pashur the priest, the chief officer there, hearing this prophecy of Jeremiah's, beat Jeremiah and put him in the stocks which held a man so that the body was almost doubled up. This was in a conspicuous place in the city. The next morning Pashur released Jeremiah, but Jeremiah warned him that his name would not be Pashur, but Terror on Every Side. Pashur was to go into captivity and die there.
Then Jeremiah, almost boldly, complains against God: God has deceived Jeremiah. Jeremiah thought the promise of protection included protection against physical mistreatment. But God meant spiritual triumph instead. Jeremiah prays that God will set things right (naqam - often mistranslated as vengeance). If Jeremiah is tempted to speak no more in the name of the Lord, His word is like a fire within him. His enemies as it were quote him "Terror on every side!" in derision. Yet Jeremiah praises the Lord for delivering him. He real is like the wall of bronze of which God had spoken earlier. But in his distress he even says like Job: Cursed be the day I was born.
Insert 2: a) Misinterpretation of visions by the recipient.
St. John of the Cross warns on this in Ascent II. 19. Thus St. Joan of Arc in prison had a revelation that she would be delivered by a great victory - it was her martyrdom, which she did not suspect. St. Mechtilde was asked by St. Gertrude to pray that she would get docility and patience. St. Mechtilde reported what she thought our Lord had said, namely, that the word patience comes from pax and scientia, peace and knowledge. But this is a false etymology. She would have been right to take the words to mean that patience had its source in peace and knowledge. -- St. Gertrude reported that on Easter our Lord explained the word Alleluia -- saying that all vowels are in the word except o, which stands for grief. But o can express pleasure as well as grief. - St. Peter himself (Acts 10:9ff) did not understand the vision of the linen sheet until getting to see Cornelius. - Jonah did not understand that Nineveh would be spared if it repented --St. Norbert claimed a revelation that the Antichrist would come in his own generation. - St. Vincent Ferrer spent the last 21 years of his life preaching that the end was at hand. He even brought back to life for 15 minutes a dead woman, who confirmed his prediction. But the end did not happen. Probably it was averted by wholesale conversion by the Saint's preaching.
Prophecies of punishment, and promises of special favors should be considered as conditional. E.g., the Scapular promise should not be taken to refer to mere physical wearing of the Scapular: it must be, as Pius XII said, the outward sign of consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, that is really lived. If it is used this way then even if the vision of St. Simon Stock might not be true, the promise will be fulfilled, as we explained earlier.
b) Visions of the life and death of Christ, or other historic scenes, must be understood to be approximate only. Thus some saw Jesus with three nails, some with four.
Catherine Emmerich thought Mary of Agreda took literally many pictures that should have been taken allegorically. This is true of visions of paradise, purgatory, or hell - the reality cannot be shown in any vision, so mere images are used, e.g., in the Apocalypse.
Blessed Veronica of Binasco saw the whole life of Christ, and so did St. Frances of Rome and Catherine Emmerich. The Bollandists, Jesuit experts in studying the lives of the Saints, tell us there are many historical errors in these. Again, those of St. Mechtilde and St. Bridget disagree.
Pope John XXIII, ordered The Poem of the Man God put on the index, on Dec. 16, 1960. The Index is now abolished, but Cardinal Ratzinger in a letter of Jan 31, 1985 wrote:..."The Index of forbidden books keeps all of its moral authority and therefore the distribution and recommendation of the work is considered improper when its condemnation was not made lightly but with the most serious motivation of neutralizing the harm which such publication could inflict on the more unwary faithful." So the Pontifical Imprimatur claimed for it is bogus. The message of April 28, 1947 explains that the messages do not contradict Revelation 22. 18: "with this work no addition was made to revelation, but only the gaps, brought about by natural causes and by supernatural will, were filled in." So the vision shows no understanding of Apocalyptic genre.
c) Human actions may blend with the divine action. St. Catherine Laboure foretold many things correctly, failed on others. St. Colette thought St. Anne had married three times, had several daughters, thought St. Anne appeared to her with all this family. Benedict XIV (Heroic Virtue, III. 14. 404) said: "The revelations of some holy women canonized by the Apostolic See whose sayings and writings in rapture and derived from rapture are filled with errors." Mary of Agreda thought the sky was made of crystal and said the 6 days of creation were 24 hrs. each. She said it was a sin not to believe her - so Pope Clement XIV, a Franciscan, stopped the process of her beatification on account of her book. Benedict XIV (On Heroic Virtue III. 53. #16) examines an ecstasy of 1377 of St. Catherine of Siena in which the Blessed Virgin seems to deny the Immaculate Conception. Probably result of Dominican opposition to the Immaculate Conception.
End Insert 2: return to commentary. Chapter 21: Chapter 21 moves on to the reign or Zedekiah (597-86--during whose time Jerusalem finally fell to Nebuchadnezzar). We can see the lack of chronological order here, coming from the state of the text of Jeremiah of which we spoke in the introduction. There are many references to time and place in chapters 21-45. Especially, 21-23 have messages given during the reigns of Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. Chapter 21 probably is to be dated 588 when the Babylonians were advancing on Jerusalem. Chronologically this chapter would come between chapters 37 and 38. Zedekiah was a vassal king put in power by Nebuchadnezzar (cf 2 Kings 24:17) during the first invasion of 597. Zedekiah respected Jeremiah, but was too weak to do what he knew was right. Further, the Jews still thought of Jehoiachin as the rightful king - he had been taken captive in 597, and they looked for his early return from exile.
Zedekiah sent Pashur and Malchiah to Jeremiah to ask him to inquire of the Lord for them. For Nebuchadnezzar was making war. Jeremiah told them God said He would turn back the weapons of the Jews back against them, He Himself would fight against His people because of their sins. Then afterwards God would give Zedekiah into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, and for the people who survived there would be the sword, pestilence and famine.
God told Jeremiah to say: Behold, I set before you life and death (we notice the allusion to the words of Moses in Dt. 30. 19)
He who stays in the city will die by the sword, famine and pestilence, but he who goes out and surrenders to the
Chaldeans will live. For God has set His face against the city.
Tell the house of Judah: Carry out justice, i.e. Deliver from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed--otherwise God's anger will go forth like fire, because of your evil deeds. I am against you, says the Lord. --We saw more than once before that God told Jeremiah not to pray for this people. We explained it there: God is more than willing to forgive, but these people have made themselves so hard that His grace cannot enter them at all to show them what He wills. It is not more externalism in sacrifices He wills. So He plans disaster-- then the hardships will wake them up, and make them give up their hardness. So the disaster is really mercy, for the sake of eternal salvation.
Chapter 22: God told Jeremiah: Go to the king and say: Hear the word of the Lord. If you do what is right, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor, then kings of the line of David will continue to rule here. But if not, this house shall become a desolation. and many will pass by whispering: Why did the Lord do this? Reply: "They abandoned the Lord and worshipped other gods."
God says this of Shallum (preregnal name of Jehoaz):He shall return here no more. He shall never see this land again. Woe to him who builds his house on unrighteousness. Having a house of cedar does not make a king. To know God (yada, meaning to know, obey, love) is to take up the cause of the poor and the needy. Your father did this, and it was well with him. So the Lord says of Jehoiakim: There must be no lament for Jehoiakim. He will have the burial of an ass. (Josaiah, father of Jehoiakim had been a good and holy king. But the son beautified his palace by forced, unpaid labor (forbidden by Lev. 19. 13; Dt 24. 14-15), at the very time he was paying heavy tribute to Egypt. 2 Kings 24. 6 says Jehoiakim "rested with his fathers." Perhaps he had a hurried burial during the siege and when the Chaldeans took the city his body was thrown out.
So he calls: Go up to Lebanon, Bashan, and Abarim (which stand foe the extreme parts of the land) and wail, for all your lovers are destroyed. The wind of adversity shall carry off all their leaders. So Coniah (same as Jechoniah) shall not return to this land. He is like a broken pot. None of his offspring will manage to sit on the throne of David -- really, there were no more kings of the line of David after the exile.
Chapter 23: God says woe to the false shepherds, leaders of the people, who have scattered the sheep.
In verse 3 something remarkable appears. God says: "I myself shall gather the remnant of my sheep from all the lands to which I have driven them." The RSV omits the myself, but it is there, in the emphatic pronoun ani (NRSV and NAB keep the myself). This at least seems to mean God Himself will come, as indeed He did come in the Messiah. And we add that Jer 30. 11 has: "For I am with you, says the Lord, to save you." Ezekiel 34. 11 writes that God Himself said: "For thus says the Lord God: Behold I, I will search out my sheep and seek them out." We note the repeated I here. Then, going back to Jeremiah 23 and going down to verse 5 we find: "I will raise up for David a righteous branch". So we seem to have a connection again between God Himself coming, and the Messiah. We notice the word branch, which the Targums regularly take to stand for the Messiah. The Targum Jonathan does mark this passage as Messianic. Also: we could relate these lines to Psalm 45:7-8: "Your throne O God is ever and ever." Some exegetes think this psalm was written for a royal wedding, but the Targum calls it Messianic. And of course we recall that in Isaiah 9. 5-6 the Messiah is called God the Mighty. So there are multiple indications in the OT of the divinity of the Messiah.
Then, looking ahead to that Messianic age, God says the time is coming when they will no longer use the expression: "The Lord who brought us up from Egypt", but instead: "The Lord who brought us back from exile".
After that the Lord laments: My heart is broken about the prophets -- the false prophets -- for the land is full of adulterers. Prophet and priest are ungodly, and I have found wickedness even in my own house. So their paths will be slippery in darkness. In Samaria I saw that they prophesied by Baal, and led Israel astray. Similarly the prophets of Jerusalem commit adultery. They have become like Sodom and Gomorrah. So God will feed them with the bitterness of wormwood. Hence God tells His people: Do not listen to these prophets. The storm of the Lord is coming. I did not send such prophets, they ran of their own accord.
In verse 33: When they ask: What is the massa of the Lord? The word massa had two meanings: burden and oracle. It seems the wicked were saying this in derision: What does God threaten now? They do not believe. Hence God will bring disgrace on them, and cast them out.
Chapter 24: After Jeconiah was taken into exile, a vision came to Jeremiah of two baskets of figs, good figs, and bad figs. Relatively speaking God was calling those already in exile the good figs. He did not of course mean their moral character - they had been exiled for their sins. So the word good referred to the conditions in which they lived in Babylon, in contrast to those of the survivors in Jerusalem. God promised in time to bring back the exiles. But Zedekiah who remained was to become a horror.
Chapter 25: This chapter clarifies the length of the exile. In the 4th year of Jehoiakim, that is, 605 BC, which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah said that for 23 years he had spoken to the people, but the people had not listened. So God said: In view of that He was sending "His servant" Nebuchadnezzar against the land. God called N His servant, for God willed that N should take Jerusalem and punish His people (Yet in 25. 12 God will punish Babylon for the wrong it has done, even though in making devastation Babylon was carrying out the punishment of Israel decreed by God). Similarly in Isaiah 45, God calls Cyrus His anointed one. He was to take Babylon and let Israel return.
The charge has been made that in Daniel 1. 1 we read that King N besieged Jerusalem in the third year of Jehoiakim, which seems to be 607 BC, but from the Babylonian Chronicle, the siege should have been three years later. But we need to notice two things: 1) Judah used the accession year method of counting the reigns, while Babylon, where Daniel was, used the nonaccession year (On this cf. E. R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, pp. 6-7, 17). 2) Secondly, the genre of Daniel is could be edifying narrative at this point, in which precision of timing is not important.
God said that for 70 years they would serve N. After that God would punish Babylon, for even though God used Babylon to punish His people, yet the actions of Babylon were in themselves evil, not motivated by any good purpose. Most likely the 70 years is just a round number -- they often used round numbers. For example Jonah, in the Hebrew text, told Nineveh God would destroy the city in 40 days, but in the Septuagint Greek version of the same verse, it was 3 days.
God then told Jeremiah to take the cup of His wrath and make all the nations drink. They would stagger, and be crazed because of the sword coming among them. So the Lord will roar from on high. The slain would extend from one end of the land to the other.
Chapter 26: In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim, before the fall of the city, God told Jeremiah to stand in the court of the temple, in the hope they might listen. He should tell them that if they did not repent he would make that temple like Shiloh, which was destroyed long before. The priests and the court prophets heard Jeremiah speaking, and seized Jeremiah saying: He must die. They had the vain notion that with the mere possession of the temple, with ceremonies devoid of interior obedience, they were safe. But Jeremiah knew otherwise.
So Jeremiah replied: The Lord has sent me to say these things. If you slay me, innocent blood will be upon you and upon this city. So the princes and people told the priests and prophets that Jeremiah did not deserve to die. They recalled Micah who also foretold ruin in the days of the good king Hezekiah, and was not killed for it. Hezekiah sought the favor of the Lord, and so God did relent and did not bring disaster. (The words "seek the favor of the Lord" in Hebrew [wayehal eth pene Yahweh] literally mean," stroke the face of the Lord" - a powerful anthropomorphism). So Ahikam, son of Shaphan saved Jeremiah from death at this point.
Chapter 27: In the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah, when Judah was on the verge of revolting against Babylon, God told Jeremiah to make a yoke, such as was used on oxen, and to put it on his neck. This was to symbolize that God had given Nebuchadnezzar the power to subjugate Judah, and so it was futile to resist. God said it was His power that made all things, and so he could give power to whomsoever He might will. This word was to be sent through the ambassadors of several nations. God even called N His servant- we saw this in chapter 25. That rule of N was to last through the times of his son and his grandson, that is, the time of Belshazzar, during whose rule Cyrus captured Babylon.
So Jeremiah told the King Zedekiah not to listen to the false prophets, who said Babylon would not conquer or that the vessels of the Lord taken to Babylon would soon be brought back. the Lord told Jeremiah: the vessels which are still left in the Temple, will be taken to Babylon and stay until the time He has set. That actually was to be 539 when Cyrus, also called the servant of God, would let the Jews come back.
Chapter 28: About this time a false prophet, Hananiah, spoke to Jeremiah in the temple and said God would break the yoke of Babylon, and within 2 years would bring back the captured temple vessels. Jeremiah replied: He wished it were true, but God has said otherwise. Then Hananiah took off the yoke, which Jeremiah had put on in chapter 27, and broke it, to symbolize breaking the yoke of Babylon.
So God then told Jeremiah: tell Hananiah: You have broken a wooden yoke, I will put on you an iron yoke. Hananiah would die within a year.
Chapter 29: Jeremiah wrote a letter to the exiles in Babylon, and sent it by the hands of an embassy which Zedekiah sent to Nebuchadnezzar. The letter advised the exiles: Build houses in Babylon, and plant gardens. Take wives, and give your sons and daughters in marriage. Seek the welfare of the city of your exile. And do not let false prophets deceive you saying you will soon return. When 70 years are completed, God said He would visit them and rescue them. (on the 70 years see the commentary on Daniel).
And God added He would punish the false prophet Shemaiah.
Chapter 30: Then God said: Behold better days are coming, when I will restore the fortunes of my people and bring them back. Then God will take the yoke off their neck, and they will serve the Lord, and David their king, whom He would raise up for them -- the real fulfillment of this of course came with Jesus the Messiah, son of David. The Davidic line was never restored to Judah after the exile. Yet they would serve the son of David, in fulfillment of Genesis 49:10 (which said a leader would not be lacking from Judah until the time of the Messiah). Yes God would punish their sins, but in time would bring back the dispersion. The city will be rebuilt. --here the prophet's vision telescopes the return from Babylon and the time of Jesus the Messiah.
Chapter 31: Then, in that age, God will be the God of all the families of Israel, and will rebuild Zion, even though it will be just a remnant. God said He had loved them with an everlasting love, and so has continued His faithfulness to them.
A voice is heard in Ramah, which was probably five miles north of Jerusalem (though other locations have been suggested: some uncertainty), and was the place from which they had gathered and set out for exile, and the place of the tomb of Rachel, the ancestress of the northern tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh, and of the tribe of Benjamin in the south.
In consolation, God tells them to cease their weeping. Their reward was to come, they were to return. Ephraim is a dear son, and God will surely have mercy on him.
Matthew 2:17-18 quoted the words of Jeremiah about Rachel weeping in Ramah, and made them refer to the slaughter of the innocents whom Herod killed in trying to kill the Messiah. This is best taken as a sort of multiple fulfillment-- as are also the words of Hosea 11. 1 cited by Matthew 2. 15: "Out of Egypt I have called my son." In the original setting, the son was all the whole people rescued from Egypt in the Exodus. Matthew saw another fulfillment in the return of Jesus from Egypt. (Matthew seems also to like to picture Jesus as a new Moses). And Matthew also shows another multiple fulfillment in his quotation of Isaiah 7. 14, of which we spoke in the comments on that passage in Isaiah.
Verse 22, about the woman protecting the man, has led to many proposals from interpreters. St. Jerome and many Fathers thought it could refer to the virginal conception of Jesus. But the wording is not well suited to that - the word for woman here is neqabah, without a definite article, and not apt to mean a virgin. And the word sahab "surround" does not readily suggest the idea of conceiving.
There are many other suggestions: A physically weaker partner will sustain a stronger one -- or: Israel will be so secure that women could defend it, and let the men stay with their work --or: Israel formerly weak becomes stronger than Babylonia. But really, there is no certainty.
A major teaching comes in v. 29: The proverb that the fathers have eaten sour grapes and the teeth of the children are set on edge is rejected: each one will suffer only for his own iniquity. Could it be that the exiles near the end were saying they suffered unjustly for the sins of their fathers? God said that is not the case. Those already in exile were not without their own sins! Ezekiel 18. 2-4 more strongly rejects such a proverb. Interestingly, in Exodus 20. 5-6 God had said he would reward the children of the good for a thousand generations, but punish the children of the wicked to the third and fourth generation. - We do not have a contradiction here. The sense of Exodus was this: the children of wicked parents are very apt to become wicked 1)by growing up in a wicked family: children are apt to imitate the ways of their parents; 2) Science News of August 20, 1983, p. 122-25 reported that a chemist from Argonne laboratory took hair samples of violent criminals at Stateville prison in Illinois, found highs or lows of certain trace elements tended to correlate with tendencies to violence. Similarly, Discover magazine of Oct, 1993, pp. 30-31 reported in: "Violence in the Blood" by Sarah Richardson, a perfect correlation between inclination to violence seems to relate to a defect in men on the short arm of the X chromosome, a marker known to code for an enzyme monoamine oxidase A which should break down three important neurotransmitters, including norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. Again, Discover magazine, of Aug. 1992. pp. 11-12 reported: Louis Gottschalk a neuro-psychiatrist at U of C at Irvine took hair samples of 193 rapists, murderers, armed robbers and other violent criminals - and also took samples from normal persons. "On the average violent criminals have almost five times more manganese in their hair." He had set out to reproduce an earlier study that had found elevated levels of lead, cadmium, and copper in criminal hair. Those results did not hold up, but the manganese connection did.
These findings do not mean at all that these persons lacked free will. But it did mean that a predisposition to violence was found in biochemistry, which could be inherited. Only God Himself can judge the extent of the guilt of such persons. Cf. the file on salvific will.
In verse 31 comes the great prophecy of the new Covenant. God says: I will make a new covenant, it will not be like the covenant I made with your fathers, for they broke my covenant and I was their master."
The Hebrew here in the last words is ambiguous: "and I was their Baal." The Septuagint says: "And I did not take care of them". Baal can mean husband. So some render "Even though I was their husband". But in context the idea is clear in spite of these variants: They broke the covenant, and so I was no longer a Father to them, but a master. It is like what God said through Hosea in 1. 8."You are not my people:" lo-ammi.
The text continues: "But this is the covenant: I will write my law on their hearts; I will be their God and they will be my people. - St. Paul in Romans 2. 15 quoted the words about writing the law on hearts to show that gentiles could be saved by obeying that law, for it was really the Spirit of Christ who made known to them interiorly what they needed to do morally. If they did that, then they had Pauline faith, which included:1)Belief in what God says; 2) confidence in His promises; 3) obedience to His will: cf Romans 1. 5,"the obedience of faith," that is, the obedience that faith is. Then, according to St. Paul's principle they were justified by faith. And according to St. Justin Martyr (Apology 1. 46) by following the law written on their hearts by the spirit of Christ they were Christians.
Vatican II in LG 9 says that Jesus made this New Covenant in the Upper Room on the first Holy Thursday (He pledged His obedience that evening, carried it out the next day, Friday. That obedience of His was the essential interior condition of the sacrifice, and of the covenant. Without it, His sacrifice would have been as empty as those of which Isaiah complains in chapter 1 and elsewhere, esp. 29. 13). The essential obedience of the New Covenant was Christ's: cf. LG 3 and Rm 5. 19. Did Jeremiah see this? God surely could have revealed it to Jeremiah, but we see no indication that God did so. Then Jeremiah would most likely think of the obedience as that of the people, in parallel with the Sinai Covenant: Ex 19. 5.
But Jeremiah really speaks of a great span of time, as the prophets often do: When it is that all will know interiorly what they need to do? In a sense that is true now and had been true before Jeremiah. Romans 2. 15 speaks of the Spirit of Christ as writing the law on hearts. Anthropology shows even marginal primitives commonly have a remarkable knowledge of the basic moral code. But this passage seems to run over into the messianic age. Only then will the two kingdoms be reunited.
God says if the heavens can be measured, then He will cast off all the descendants of Israel. --this is true only of those in the real messianic kingdom, in which those who follow in the footprints of Abraham are the real people of God, as Romans 4-12 says.
So God at this time appeals to the fact that He had made the heavens and the earth, as an assurance of His promise to restore Israel.
Chapter 32: The year is most likely either 588 or 587, the last part of the siege of Jerusalem. Jeremiah himself was shut up in the court of the guard by Zedekiah for foretelling the city would be taken. But Jeremiah said God had told him to buy a field in his town of Anathoth from Hanamel. This was a demonstration of the faith of Jeremiah in the promise of the Lord, to buy a field at such a time. But he did so, as God commanded. (Hanamel went to where Jeremiah was staying). Jeremiah then prayed to the Lord, but the Lord still told him the city would be taken, for the sins of the people, which included sacrificing their sons in the fire to Molech in the valley of Hinnom. But later, God said, He would bring them back from exile to this place, and so fields would be bought in the place, even as Jeremiah had just done.
God said He would make an everlasting covenant. Yes, that of which St. Paul spoke in Romans, the kingdom of those who are spiritual Semites, not those who reject the Messiah so long promised.
Chapter 33: The word of the Lord came again to Jeremiah while Jeremiah was still shut up in the court of the guard. God again told Jeremiah He would hand over the city to the Chaldeans, but later He would forgive them and bring them back. Again the voice of mirth was going to be heard there.
Further, in time, for the days were coming, God would cause a righteous branch to spring up for David. The Targums regularly recognize that word branch as standing for the Messiah. God added there would always be a king from David to sit on the throne. Now this did not happen after the exile, for the line of David was never restored to power. Yet in Christ, son of David, it was restored, and his kingship is eternal.
God further promised Levitical priests would continue. But we know that often in the OT spiritual things were promised under the imagery of temporal things, such as in the Sinai covenant, which at first referred to temporal favors, later was reinterpreted to refer to eternal salvation, cf. St. Paul, Gal 3:15-22.
Chapter 34: When the siege was still more severe, only Jerusalem and a few other cities, Lachish and Azekah still held out. But God told Zedekiah through Jeremiah that he would have to answer personally to the king of Babylon, and would die in captivity in Babylon. Spices would be burned in honor of his death. This did not mean cremation of his body, which was not usual for the Hebrews.
Then Zedekiah made a covenant with the people of Jerusalem: they were to free all their Hebrew slaves. The people at first obeyed, then went back on their word, and again enslaved Hebrews. Therefore the Lord said: since you have not proclaimed liberty, I proclaim liberty to the sword, pestilence and famine against you. God said He would make them like the calf they had cut in two - a part of the covenant ceremony, in which they passed between the halves: cf. Genesis 15. 9-17. The ceremony seems to have been a sort of curse: if one party breaks the covenant, he is to be like the animal cut in two. We notice the expression, "to cut a covenant" is related to this rite.
Chapter 35: God told Jeremiah to go to the Rechabites, take them to the temple, and offer them wine. The purpose is to contrast the remarkable obedience of the Rechabites to their ancestor, with the disobedience of Judah. The Rechabites were nomads, stemming from Jonadab (Jehonadab) who had purged the northern kingdom of Baal worship in the time of Jehu c 840 BC. Cf. 2 Kings 10. 15-23.
Wanting to go back to the nomadic life with its simplicity, they banned all sedentary living, dwelling in the southern deserts and also in northern territory. They drank no wine, as prescribed by Jonadab -- a remarkable example of obedience for so many years. The fact God sent Jeremiah to them does not mean God wanted their way of life, just their obedience as a contrast to Judah.
When Jeremiah offered them wine, they refused, saying their ancestor had told them not to do so, nor to build houses. They explained they had come into Jerusalem for fear of the invasion.
God promised them blessing for their devotedness.
Chapter 36: We move back in time a bit. In the fourth year of Jehoaikim, that is, 605 B.C. God told Jeremiah to write his prophecies on a scroll. He did so, dictating to Baruch, his secretary. Jeremiah said he was debarred from the temple -- probably because of the destruction he foretold.
Then in the 9th month of the fifth year, which was 604 BC, a time of fasting, Baruch read the scroll he had written to all the people. Then Micaiah, son of Gemariah, went to the king and the princes, and told them what had been read. Baruch was asked to come and read to the king. They all turned to one another in fear. The princes told Baruch to go to Jeremiah and both should hide. Then Jehudi took the scroll and read it to the king. A fire was burning there. When Jehudi read 3 or 4 columns, the king with a knife cut them off from the scroll, and put them into the fire. The king commanded that Jeremiah and Baruch be seized, but the Lord hid them.
The word of the Lord came, ordering Jeremiah to dictate the same words on another scroll, and say to the king that the king of Babylon would take the city. Baruch did write it again and Jeremiah added many similar words. God foretold that Jehoiakim would have no one to sit on the throne of David: Jehoiakin did rule three months after Jehoiakim, but was under siege, and not free. He was then taken captive to Babylon where he stayed for 37 years. (Many of the upper class of Judah also were sent to Babylon at this time, including the prophet Ezekiel). No other descendant of Jehoiakim ever became king. Nebuchadnezzar then put on the throne Mattaniah, uncle of Jehoiakin, and changed his name to Zedekiah. There were no more Davidic kings.
Chapter 37: This Zedekiah and his servants did not listen to the words of the Lord through Jeremiah. But Zedekiah did send to Jeremiah, asking his prayers. The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: tell Zedekiah that the army of Pharaoh which came to help him was about to return to Egypt. The Chaldeans would return, and take and burn the city.
When the Chaldean army had withdrawn from Jerusalem at the approach of the army of Pharaoh, Jeremiah went to the land of Benjamin. A sentry there accused Jeremiah of deserting, and beat and imprisoned him. After many days Zedekiah sent to Jeremiah and received him and asked if there was word from the Lord. Zedekiah had Jeremiah put in the court of the guard, and provided a loaf of bread daily for him until all the bread was gone from the city.
Chapter 38: Jeremiah said in the name of the Lord: Those who go out in surrender to the King of Babylon will be spared. But those who stay in the city will perish. The princes then told the king; Jeremiah should be put to death. The King let them have Jeremiah, and they put him into a cistern that had no water, but mire in it.
But Ebedmelech, a Eunuch of the King, learned of it, reported to the king, who had them take Jeremiah up out of the cistern. Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard.
King Zedekiah called Jeremiah and was given the same advice. The King feared the Jews who had deserted to the Chaldeans. Jeremiah said there was no cause to fear. He should go out and surrender to the Babylonians. Z did not comply, but told Jeremiah not to let the princes hear what was said. Jeremiah obeyed, and stayed in the court of the guard until the day Jerusalem fell.
Chapter 39: Finally the walls of Jerusalem were broken open. We are not sure how long the siege lasted. If we use the Babylonian New Year, which was in March, as the basis, it ran from January 588 to July 587. The fall of the city is described more fully in chapter 52.
King Zedekiah seeing this, tried to flee but was caught in the plains of Jericho. Nebuchadnezzar slew the sons and nobles of Zedekiah before him, and then put out Zedekiah's eyes, and took him in chains to Babylon. The Chaldeans burned the city. Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard for the Chaldeans left some poor landless people in the land, and gave them land there. Nebuchadnezzar gave orders to treat Jeremiah well, and took him from the court of the guard, and entrusted him to Gedeliah, who had been a prominent official in the reigns of Josiah and Jehoiakim, and who was appointed governor for the Chaldeans. Before Jeremiah left the court of the guard, God told him he would destroy the city but save Jeremiah.
Chapter 40: Jeremiah as taken to Ramah, place of assembly for the exiles to leave. But Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard was kind to Jeremiah, told him he could come to Babylon and would be cared for, or could stay in Judah, and go to Gedeliah, Chaldean governor there.
The guerilla bands of Jews from the countryside then came to Gedeliah at Mizpah -- the Chaldeans did not want to trust them in Jerusalem, and made Mizpah the seat of the governor. Gedeliah seems to have been a good ruler, who promised to represent them before Nechuchadnezzar. But many did not trust Gedeliah, even though the Chaldeans had not used a scorched earth policy, but left some produce in the land. Gedeliah told them to gather supplies, for the coming bleak winter. One of them, Johanan, warned Gedeliah that he was in danger of being killed by Ishmael son of Nethaniah. Gedeliah did not believe the warning and did not let Johanan kill Ishmael. He said he did not believe the report about Ishmael.
Chapter 41: (Narrative simply continues). In the 7th month Ishmael came with ten men to Gedeliah. While they were eating together, they killed Gedeliah and also killed the Jews who were at Mizpah and the Chaldean soldiers who were there.
The day after this, a band of 80 men from Shechem, Shiloh and Samaria came with beards shaved, clothes torn and bodies gashed, with cereal offerings and incense to present in the temple, even though it had been ruined - cf. the use of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem even today. These men even though from the northern kingdom still wanted to worship in the sacred ruins. But Ishmael and the men with him killed them and threw their bodies into a cistern. However those who had not yet been killed told Ishmael they had stores of wheat, barley, oil, and honey hidden. So he did not kill them. Ishmael then took captive all the rest of the people who were in Mizpah.
But Johanan heard of it, and came with a force against Ishmael. However Ishmael and 8 men escaped and went to the Ammonites. Johanan then planned to go to Egypt with a remnant.
Chapter 42: (Narrative continues). Johanan and others went to Jeremiah, asking him to pray to the Lord and they would obey. They even invoked God as a witness that they would obey. After ten days Jeremiah summoned them and told them that if they stayed in Judah the Lord would repent of the evil He had done to them, and He would build them up. But if they went to Egypt, the sword would find them there.
Chapter 43: (narrative continues). But they refused to listen to Jeremiah, saying God had not spoken to Jeremiah. So they went to Egypt, taking him and Baruch his secretary along. In Egypt Jeremiah at the command of God took large stones, and put them in mortar in the sight of the Jews, as a prophecy in action. Jeremiah told them the Lord would send Nebuchadnezzar his servant to put his throne there and to strike Egypt. So rhe sword would come against them even in Egypt.
Chapter 44: (narrative continues). Jeremiah rebuked the people, for they were burning incense to the gods of Egypt. Jeremiah told them they would be consumed in Egypt. The men then, knowing their wives had burned incense there, came to Jeremiah and said they approved of the action of their wives, and that they would burn incense to the Queen of Heaven. They said that when they did that in Judah they had had plenty, so they must do it now. Jeremiah told them that this idolatry was the reason why the Lord had sent the sword against Jerusalem. Most of them would be smitten with the sword, only a remnant would escape to Judah.
Jeremiah continued: the Lord would send the Chaldeans to overthrow Pharaoh Hophra, who had been the ally of Zedekiah. Hophra was overthrown by one of his own officers, Amasis, who shared rule with Hophra for about 3 years. But then in 570 Amasis rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar and was defeated in 568. Hophra was dethroned and strangled by some of his subjects.
Scripture does not tell us more about Jeremiah himself after this point in time. There are many legends, none of them certain.
Chapter 45: We now go back in time to the year 604. The Lord sent a message to Baruch, secretary of Jeremiah. God told Baruch who was weary and groaning under all the trouble. God said that He had caused the destruction that was coming. But Baruch's life would be spared, wherever he might be.
Chapter 46: All the remainder of Jeremiah, except chapter 51, is made up of prophecies against foreign nations. Some have thought a different writer added them. But there is no strong reason for saying that. These chapters 46-51 are some of the finest poetry in Scripture.
The Septuagint Greek version puts these oracles after 25. 13 and arranges them in a different order.
First, against Egypt: The text is specific, it deals with the defeat of Pharaoh Neco at Carchemish by Nebuchadnezzar in 605. Carchemish is in Syria, near the Euphrates river. The battle there was one of the great decisive battles of history. It showed Assyria, supported by Egypt, could not resist the rising power of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar pursued Neco to Egypt, but turned back at the news of the death of his father, Nabopolassar. He had to go back to be crowned king. The name Carchemish means the Fort of Chemosh, god of the Moabites: cf. 2 Kings 23. 13.
Jeremiah in words with a color of sarcasm tells of the preparation of the Egyptians, and their defeat in a panic, which seems to have been induced by the Lord.
Jeremiah says that day was a day of naqam, God's setting things right (not vengeance as versions often have it. That is immoral). Jeremiah tells Neco to get balm in Gilead, famous for balm, even though Egypt itself was famed in that time for its physicians. It was from Egypt and India that the knowledge of medicine came to Europe: cf. Herodotus 2. 116.
Jeremiah asks: Why has Apis fled? Apis was the sacred bull of Egypt, the incarnation of Osiris. But the gods of Egypt could not stand up. So the mercenary troops of Neco called him a braggart, "a loud noise" (v. 17).
Jeremiah speaks of Egypt as a beautiful heifer, the gadfly from the north is Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah says Egypt will hiss like a serpent-- the Pharaoh had an image of a Uraeus serpent on his crown. They thought it could strike people dead if they came too close.
God is bringing punishment on Amon, chief god of Thebes in Egypt. But the Lord said that Egypt would later be restored.
But the Lord promises to save His people even from a distant place.
Chapter 47: Jeremiah speaks of the Pharaoh smiting Gaza, a Philistine city. There could be any of several historical incidents: Neco conquered Gaza (2 Kings 23. 29-30) about the time he defeated Josiah at Megiddo. Or on his return from the battle of Carchemish Neco may have struck Gaza. Or it could be Pharaoh Hophra who took Gaza in his campaign against Tyre and Sidon.
The waters rising out of the north stand for Babylon. Limp hands indicated paralysis from fear. The mention of Caphtor recalls that Crete, once called Caphtor was the original home of the Philistines before their entrance into Palestine: cf. Dt. 2. 23.
Baldness of Gaza means they shaved their heads as signs of deep mourning. Ashkelon is another Philistine city on the coast. V. 5 in RSV speaks of the remnant of the Anakim, which seems to mean the tall people, living near Hebron in prehistoric times:. cf Joshua 11. 21-22.
Chapter 48: Against Moab: The people of Moab were descended from Lot (Gen 19. 37). They lived east of the Dead Sea, were often in conflict with Israel. When Israel was coming back from Egypt they wanted to pass through Moab, but the Amorite King Sihon, who had conquered Moab, refused them permission, even though God had told them not to harass Moab (Dt 2. 8-9). Later on, King Balak of Moab hired a pagan seer, Balaam, to curse Israel, but God forced Balaam to bless them instead. He foretold that a star, the Messiah, would arise from them: Numbers 24. 17. It was from Mt. Nebo in Moab that Moses saw the promised land, which God ordered him not to enter. They joined Nebuchadnezzar as marauding bands against Israel in 602 after the revolt by Jehoiakim. Early in the reign of Zedekiah they joined in a plot to revolt against Babylon. They were conquered by Nebuchadnezzar, and disappeared as a nation. Yet at the end of this chapter Jeremiah says God will eventually restore them, in the final age.
We meet a series of woes against more than twenty cities. We do not know even the location of some of them. Nor is it helpful for us to determine the places of many of the others.
Jeremiah says that Chemosh will go into exile. He was the chief god of Moab. He was mentioned on the Moabite stone, which celebrated the victory of King Mesha of Moab over Israel in the 9th century. Idols were often taken into captivity with their conquered worshippers.
The valley would be the part of the Jordan valley which touched Moab on the west. Most Moabite cities were located on a high plateau, 3000 ft above sea level.
Moab has been at rest for long in that while it was made a tributary by Assyria and Babylon, it was not exiled. But days are coming when men will pour from jars and they will pour her oil, empty her jars, and smash them. Then they will be ashamed of their idol Chemosh, who did not help them, just as Israel was later ashamed of Bethel where Israel had worshipped a bull.
Jeremiah says there will be shaved heads, beards cut off, and gashes on the body - signs of mourning at funerals.
Yet God shows pity even to Moab. In v 36 He says his heart moans for Moab, and in v 47 He says eventually He will restore Moab, in the last days.
In verse 9 he says: Put salt on Moab. That was sometimes done in ancient times to ruin the soil, so nothing would grow there.
Chapter 49: Oracles against several nations:
a) Against Ammon: These people were descended from Ben-Ammi, son of Lot(Gen 19:38), and lived north of Moab. It seems they first occupied the land in which the tribe of Gad settled after the fall of Sihon. When Tiglath Pileser III in 733 conquered the Transjordanian tribes, Ammonites encroached on the territory of Gad, which was east of the Jordan. They were often in conflict with Israel. They joined in the invasion of Judah in 602. It as probably Nebuchadnezzar who destroyed Ammon.
Molech [the root is same as in Hebrew melech, king] was their chief god. Rabbah was the chief city of the Ammonites, now Amman, capital of the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan. Hesbon was under control of the Ammonite king Sihon, and later it came under Moabite control. The Ai mentioned here is not the one conquered by Joshua (Joshua 8. 1-29). They lived in a country with mountains on three sides, and so felt safe from invasion. Josephus (Antiquities 10. 181 [9. 7] says Nebuchadnezzar defeated Ammon in the 5th year after the fall of Jerusalem. Even after the Exile the Ammonites opposed Israel. During the time of the Maccabees they were forced to accept the Jewish religion. God promised later restoration to them.
b) Against Edom: The relations of the Edomites with Israel were always poor. They descended from Esau (Gen 36. 1-19) twin brother of Jacob. Their land was in a mountainous region south of the Dead Sea until the Nabateans displaced them. They were proud and had violent hatred of Israel. There was no prophecy given here for the future restoration of Edom.
c) Against Damascus: We are not sure of which historical event is spoken of here. The chief cities in Syria were Hamath, Zobah and Damascus. Damascus was seat of a powerful dynasty that of Ben-Hadah - which was also the name of some individual kings (cf. 1 Kings 15:18; 2 Kings 13:24). Hamath is on the Orontes river, modern Hama, and is about 110 miles north of Damascus. Arpad is about 95 miles north of Hamath.
All three cities were conquered by Assyria (cf. Isaiah 10;9). Damascus was also conquered by Nebuchadnezzar in 605.
d) Against Kedar and Hazor: Kedar was an Ishmaelite desert tribe, but rich in livestock, and good at archery. Yet Nebuchadnezzar conquered them. Hazor is not the Hazor mentioned in Joshua 11. 1-13, for this one is in a desert region -- not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible.
e) Against Elam: This oracle comes from the early part of the reign of Zedekiah, c 598 BC. Elam was an ancient kingdom 200 miles east of Babylon and west of the Tigris River. It had been an important power, but was conquered about 640 BC. Its capital, Susa, became the residence of Darius Hystaspes of Persia. Elamites were famed for skill in archery. Yet invaders would overwhelm them from all sides and scatter them. In the last days Elam will be restored.
50-51. Oracle Against Babylon: We have already seen the words of Isaiah on the destruction of Babylon, it is good to review them now.
Jeremiah says: Bel and Merodach (=Marduk), gods of Babylon are put to shame. A nation shall come out of the north, the Medes and Persians, and will take Babylon. Israel and Judah together will turn back to the Lord, seeking an everlasting covenant. Their shepherds had led them astray. Their enemies saw that
God had turned them over to the enemies. So Jeremiah advises them to flee from Babylon, for it was to be destroyed. There will be complete desolation. This is the naqam of the Lord (not vengeance).
God will restore Israel and will pardon their iniquity. In v. 12 Merathim ("twice bitter") and Pekod ("punishment" stand for Babylon. Babylon is called the hammer of the whole earth, but now it will be repaid. The naqam of the Lord (not vengeance) comes. It is true, God had used the agency of the Babylonians to carry out His punishment of His people. Yet what they did was at the same time objectively wrong, and their intention too was wrong: so they must face punishment now.
In v. 34 the Lord is called the redeemer (goel) of Israel, the kinsman who has the right and duty to rescue them when they are in dire straits.
In v. 38 Babylon is called a land of images, mad over idols.
At its fall, the earth will tremble -- we recall the apocalyptic language of Isaiah 13. 10 on this subject.
So they will fall in the streets at the time of the Lord's naqam. It is He who set up the earth by His power. Men are stupid to put their trust in the idols that their smiths make. Babylon will be a perpetual waste.
Ararat, Minni and Ashkenaz, nations north of Babylon, conquered by Medes early in 6th century, are called on to strike Babylon. God will make the princes of Babylon like drunks.
Jeremiah told Neriah the staff officer who went to Babylon with Zedekiah to read his prophetic scroll in Babylon, and then to tie the scroll to a rock, and throw it into the Euphrates, as a symbol of the way Babylon was going to sink.
51.64: The last words of this chapter read: "Thus far the words of Jeremiah". This would seem to imply that chapter 52 was an addition by another writer, who would be inspired too.
Herodotus in 1. 191 said that Cyrus conquered Babylon by diverting the water of the Euphrates into a trench. The Persian attack was so sudden and unexpected that when the outer areas of the city were taken, those in the center did not realize they were captured. Herodotus also, in 1. 178 ff. said Babylon was surrounded by a double wall which allowed four chariots to run abreast.
Chapter 52: This chapter is a sort of historical supplement to the book of Jeremiah. It is almost identical with 2 Kings 24. 18 - 25. 30.
The number of those deported in this chapter, at 52. 28-29, is somewhat smaller than that given in 2 Kings. It seems both writers were using different perspectives. The smaller figure may include only adult males, and the larger number may give the total of all persons. Perhaps the one figure covers only those from Judah, the other is more inclusive.
52. 31-34 tells how in 561 BC Evil- Merodach, King of Babylon released King Jehoiakin of Judah from prison, gave him a seat of honor, and a place at the king's table. The cuneiform tablets from Babylon confirm this point. Jewish tradition says that Evil-Merodach was imprisoned by his father during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. In prison, Evil-Merodach became a friend of Jehoiachin.