Jeremiah 14

A Lament over the Ravages of Drought

The form of Jer 14:1–15:9 is very striking rhetorically. It consists essentially of laments and responses to them. However, what makes it so striking is its deviation from normal form (cf. 2 Chr 20:5–17 for what would normally be expected). The descriptions of the lamentable situation come from the mouth of God not the people (cf.14:1–6, 17–18). The prophet utters the petitions with statements of trust (14:7–9, 19–22) and the Lord answers not with oracles promising deliverance but promising doom (14:10; 15:1–9). In the course of giving the first oracle of doom, the Lord commands Jeremiah not to pray for the people (14:11–12) and Jeremiah tries to provide an excuse for their actions (14:13). The Lord responds to that with an oracle of doom on the false prophets (14:14–16).
The Lord spoke to Jeremiah
Heb “That which came [as] the word of the Lord to Jeremiah.” The introductory formula here is a variation of that found in 7:1; 10:1; 11:1, i.e., “The word of the Lord which came to Jeremiah.” The relative pronoun “which” (אֲשֶׁר, ’asher) actually precedes the noun it modifies. See BDB 82 s.v. אֲשֶׁר 6.a for discussion and further examples.
about the drought.
Drought was one of the punishments for failure to adhere to the terms of their covenant with God. See Deut 28:22–24; Lev 26:18–20.

“The people of Judah are in mourning.
The people in her cities are pining away.
They lie on the ground expressing their sorrow.
Heb “Judah mourns, its gates pine away, they are in mourning on the ground.” There are several figures of speech involved here. The basic figure is that of personification where Judah and it cities are said to be in mourning. However, in the third line the figure is a little hard to sustain because “they” are in mourning on the ground. That presses the imagination of most moderns a little too far. Hence the personification has been interpreted “people of” throughout. The term “gates” here is used as part for whole for the “cities” themselves as in several other passages in the OT (cf. BDB 1045 s.v. שַׁעַר 2.b, c and see, e.g., Isa 14:31).

Cries of distress come up to me
The words “to me” are not in the text. They are implicit from the fact that the Lord is speaking. They are supplied in the translation for clarity.
from Jerusalem.
The leading men of the cities send their servants for water.
They go to the cisterns,
Though the concept of “cisterns” is probably not familiar to some readers, it would be a mistake to translate this word as “well.” Wells have continual sources of water. Cisterns were pits dug in the ground and lined with plaster to hold rain water. The drought had exhausted all the water in the cisterns.
but they do not find any water there.
They return with their containers
The word “containers” is a generic word in Hebrew = “vessels.” It would probably in this case involve water “jars” or “jugs.” But since in contemporary English one would normally associate those terms with smaller vessels, “containers” may be safer.
Disappointed and dismayed, they bury their faces in their hands.
Heb “they cover their heads.” Some of the English versions have gone wrong here because of the “normal” use of the words translated here “disappointed” and “dismayed.” They are regularly translated “ashamed” and “disgraced, humiliated, dismayed” elsewhere (see e.g., Jer 22:22); they are somewhat synonymous terms which are often parallel or combined. The key here, however, is the expression “they cover their heads” which is used in 2 Sam 15:30 for the expression of grief. Moreover, the word translated here “disappointed” (בּוֹשׁ, bosh) is used that way several times. See for example Jer 12:13 and consult examples in BDB 101 s.v. בּוֹשׁ Qal.2. A very similar context with the same figure is found in Jer 2:36–37.

They are dismayed because the ground is cracked
For the use of the verb “is cracked” here see BDB 369 s.v. חָתַת Qal.1 and compare the usage in Jer 51:56 where it refers to broken bows. The form is a relative clause without relative pronoun (cf., GKC 486-87 #155.f). The sentence as a whole is related to the preceding through a particle meaning “because of” or “on account of.” Hence the subject and verb have been repeated to make the connection.

because there has been no rain in the land.
The farmers, too, are dismayed
and bury their faces in their hands.
Even the doe abandons her newborn fawn
Heb “she gives birth and abandons.”
in the field
because there is no grass.
Wild donkeys stand on the hilltops
and pant for breath like jackals.
Their eyes are strained looking for food,
because there is none to be found.”
Heb “their eyes are strained because there is no verdure.”

Then I said,
The words “Then I said” are not in the text. However, it cannot be a continuation of the Lord’s speech and the people have consistently refused to acknowledge their sin. The fact that the prayer here and in vv. 19–22 are followed by an address from God to Jeremiah regarding prayer (cf. 4:11 and the interchanges there between God and Jeremiah and 15:1) also argues that the speaker is Jeremiah. He is again identifying with his people (cf. 8:18–9:2). Here he takes up the petition part of the lament which often contains elements of confession of sin and statements of trust. In 14:1–6 God portrays to Jeremiah the people’s lamentable plight instead of their describing it to him. Here Jeremiah prays what they should pray. The people are strangely silent throughout.

“O Lord, intervene for the honor of your name
Heb “Act for the sake of your name.” The usage of “act” in this absolute, unqualified sense cf. BDB 794 s.v. עָוֹשָׂה Qal.I.r and compare the usage, e.g., in 1 Kgs 8:32 and 39. For the nuance of “for the sake of your name” compare the usage in Isa 48:9 and Ezek 20:9, 14.

even though our sins speak out against us.
Or “bear witness against us,” or “can be used as evidence against us,” to keep the legal metaphor. Heb “testify against.”

The Hebrew particle כִּי (ki) can scarcely be causal here; it is either intensive (BDB 472 s.v. כִּי 1.e) or concessive (BDB 473 s.v. כִּי 2.c). The parallel usage in Gen 18:20 argues for the intensive force as does the fact that the concessive has already been expressed by אִם (’im).
we have turned away from you many times.
We have sinned against you.
You have been the object of Israel’s hopes.
You have saved them when they were in trouble.
Why have you become like a resident foreigner
It would be a mistake to translate this word as “stranger.” This word (גֵּר, ger) refers to a resident alien or resident foreigner who stays in a country not his own. He is accorded the privilege of protection through the common rights of hospitality but he does not have the rights of the native born or citizen. The simile here is particularly effective. The land was the Lord’s land; they were but resident foreigners and tenants on it (Lev 25:23). Jeremiah’s complaint here is particularly bold. For further information on the status of “resident foreigners” see IDB 4:397-99 s.v. “Sojourner.”
in the land?
Why have you become like a traveler who only stops in to spend the night?
Why should you be like someone who is helpless,
This is the only time this word occurs in the Hebrew Bible. The lexicons generally take it to mean “confused” or “surprised” (cf., e.g., BDB 187 s.v. דָּהַם). However, the word has been found in a letter from the seventh century in a passage where it must mean something like “be helpless”; see W. L. Holladay, Jeremiah (Hermeneia), 1:433, for discussion and bibliography of an article where this letter is dealt with.

like a champion
Heb “mighty man, warrior.” For this nuance see 1 Sam 17:51 where it parallels a technical term used of Goliath used earlier in 17:4, 23.
who cannot save anyone?
You are indeed with us,
Heb “in our midst.”

and we belong to you.
Heb “Your name is called upon us.” See Jer 7:10, 11, 14, 30 for this idiom with respect to the temple and see the notes on Jer 7:10.

Do not abandon us!”
10  Then the Lord spoke about these people.
Heb “Thus said the Lord concerning this people.”
The Lord answers indirectly, speaking neither to Jeremiah directly nor to the people. Instead of an oracle of deliverance which was hoped for (cf. 2 Chr 20:14–17; Pss 12:5 [12:6 HT]; 60:6–8 [60:8–10 HT]) there is an oracle of doom.

“They truly
It is difficult to be certain how the particle כֵּן (ken, usually used for “thus, so”) is to be rendered here. BDB 485 s.v. כֵּן 1.b says that the force sometimes has to be elicited from the general context and points back to the line of v. 9. IHBS 666 #39.3.4e states that when there is no specific comparative clause preceding a general comparison is intended. They point to Judg 5:31 as a parallel. Ps 127:2 may also be an example if כִּי (ki) is not to be read (cf. BHS fn). “Truly” seemed the best way to render this idea in contemporary English.
love to go astray.
They cannot keep from running away from me.
Heb “They do not restrain their feet.” The idea of “away from me” is implicit in the context and is supplied in the translation for clarity.

So I am not pleased with them.
I will now call to mind
Heb “remember.”
the wrongs they have done
Heb “their iniquities.”

and punish them for their sins.”

Judgment for Believing the Misleading Lies of the False Prophets

11  Then the Lord said to me, “Do not pray for good to come to these people!
Heb “on behalf of these people for benefit.”
12 Even if they fast, I will not hear their cries for help. Even if they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.
See 6:16–20 for parallels.
Instead, I will kill them through wars, famines, and plagues.”
Heb “through sword, starvation, and plague.”
These were penalties (curses) that were to be imposed on Israel for failure to keep her covenant with God (cf. Lev 26:23–26). These three occur together fourteen other times in the book of Jeremiah.

13  Then I said, “Oh, Lord God,
Heb “Lord Yahweh.” The translation follows the ancient Jewish tradition of substituting the Hebrew word for God for the proper name Yahweh.
Heb “Behold.” See the translator’s note on usage of this particle in 1:6.
The prophets are telling them that you said,
The words “that you said” are not in the text but are implicit from the first person in the affirmation that follows. They are supplied in the translation for clarity.
‘You will not experience war or suffer famine.
Heb “You will not see sword and you will not have starvation [or hunger].”
I will give you lasting peace and prosperity in this land.’”
Heb “I will give you unfailing peace in this place.” The translation opts for “peace and prosperity” here for the word שָׁלוֹם (shalom) because in the context it refers both to peace from war and security from famine and plague. The word translated “lasting” (אֱמֶת, ’emet) is a difficult to render here because it has broad uses: “truth, reliability, stability, steadfastness,” etc. “Guaranteed” or “lasting” seem to fit the context the best.

14  Then the Lord said to me, “Those prophets are prophesying lies while claiming my authority!
Heb “Falsehood those prophets are prophesying in my name.” In the OT, the “name” reflected the person’s character (cf. Gen 27:36; 1 Sam 25:25) or his reputation (Gen 11:4; 2 Sam 8:13). To speak in someone’s name was to act as his representative or carry his authority (1 Sam 25:9; 1 Kgs 21:8).
I did not send them. I did not commission them.
Heb “I did not command them.” Compare 1 Chr 22:12 for usage.
I did not speak to them. They are prophesying to these people false visions, worthless predictions,
Heb “divination and worthlessness.” The noun “worthlessness” stands as a qualifying “of” phrase (= to an adjective; an attributive genitive in Hebrew) after a noun in Zech 11:17; Job 13:4. This is an example of hendiadys where two nouns are joined by “and” with one serving as the qualifier of the other.
The word translated “predictions” here is really the word “divination.” Divination was prohibited in Israel (cf. Deut 18:10, 14). The practice of divination involved various mechanical means to try to predict the future. The word was used here for its negative connotations in a statement that is rhetorically structured to emphasize the falseness of the promises of the false prophets. It would be unnatural to contemporary English style to try to capture this emphasis in English. In the Hebrew text the last sentence reads: “False vision, divination, and worthlessness and the deceitfulness of their heart they are prophesying to them.” For the emphasis in the preceding sentence see the note there.
and the delusions of their own mind.
15 I did not send those prophets, though they claim to be prophesying in my name. They may be saying, ‘No war or famine will happen in this land.’ But I, the Lord, say this about
Heb “Thus says the Lord about.” The first person construction has been used in the translation for better English style.
them: ‘War and starvation will kill those prophets.’
Heb “Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who are prophesying in my name and I did not send them [= whom I did not send] and they are saying [= who are saying], ‘Sword and famine…’, by sword and famine those prophets will be killed.” This sentence has been restructured to conform to contemporary English style.
The rhetoric of the passage is again sustained by an emphatic word order which contrasts what they say will not happen to the land, “war and famine,” with the punishment that the Lord will inflict on them, i.e., “war and starvation [or famine].”
16 The people to whom they are prophesying will die through war and famine. Their bodies will be thrown out into the streets of Jerusalem and there will be no one to bury them. This will happen to the men and their wives, their sons, and their daughters.
Heb “And the people to whom they are prophesying will be thrown out into the streets of Jerusalem and there will not be anyone to bury them, they, their wives, and their sons and their daughters.” This sentence has been restructured to break up a long Hebrew sentence and to avoid some awkwardness due to differences in the ancient Hebrew and contemporary English styles.
For I will pour out on them the destruction they deserve.”
Heb “their evil.” Hebrew words often include within them a polarity of cause and effect. Thus the word for “evil” includes both the concept of wickedness and the punishment for it. Other words that function this way are “iniquity” = “guilt [of iniquity]” = “punishment [for iniquity].” Context determines which nuance is proper.

Lament over Present Destruction and Threat of More to Come

17  “Tell these people this, Jeremiah:
The word “Jeremiah” is not in the text but the address is to a second person singular and is a continuation of 14:14 where the quote starts. The word is supplied in the translation for clarity.

‘My eyes overflow with tears
day and night without ceasing.
Many of the English versions and commentaries render this an indirect or third person imperative, “Let my eyes overflow…” because of the particle אַל (’al) which introduces the phrase translated “without ceasing” (אַל־תִּדְמֶינָה, ’al-tidmenah). However, this is undoubtedly an example where the particle introduces an affirmation that something cannot be done (cf. GKC 322 #109.e). Clear examples of this are found in Pss 41:2 (41:3 HT); 50:3; Job 40:32 (41:8). God here is describing again a lamentable situation and giving his response to it. See 14:1–6 above.
Once again it is the Lord lamenting the plight of the people, now directed to them, not the people lamenting their plight to him. See 14:1–6 and the study notes on the introduction to this section and on 14:7.

For my people, my dear children,
Heb “virgin daughter, my people.” The last noun here is appositional to the first two (genitive of apposition). Hence it is not ‘literally’ “virgin daughter of my people.”
This is a metaphor which occurs several times with regard to Israel, Judah, Zion, and even Sidon and Babylon. It is the poetic personification of the people, the city, or the land. Like other metaphors the quality of the comparison being alluded to must be elicited from the context. This is easy in Isa 23:12 (oppressed) and Isa 47:1 (soft and delicate) but not so easy in other places. From the nature of the context the suspicion here is that the protection the virgin was normally privileged to is being referred to and there is a reminder that the people are forfeiting it by their actions. Hence God laments for them.
have suffered a crushing blow.
They have suffered a serious wound.
This is a poetic personification. To translate with the plural “serious wounds” might mislead some into thinking of literal wounds.
Compare Jer 10:19 for a similar use of this metaphor.

18  If I go out into the countryside,
I see those who have been killed in battle.
If I go into the city,
I see those who are sick because of starvation.
The word “starvation” has been translated “famine” elsewhere in this passage. It is the word which refers to hunger. The “starvation” here may be war induced and not simply that which comes from famine per se. “Starvation” will cover both.

For both prophet and priest go about their own business
in the land without having any real understanding.’”
The meaning of these last two lines is somewhat uncertain. The meaning of these two lines is debated because of the uncertainty of the meaning of the verb rendered “go about their business” (סָחַר, sakhar) and the last phrase translated here “without any real understanding.” The verb in question most commonly occurs as a participle meaning “trader” or “merchant” (cf., e.g., Ezek 27:21, 36; Prov 31:14). It occurs as a finite verb elsewhere only in Gen 34:10, 21; 42:34 and there in a literal sense of “trading,” “doing business.” While the nuance is metaphorical here it need not extend to “journeying into” (cf., e.g., BDB 695 s.v. סָחַר Qal.1) and be seen as a reference to exile as is sometimes assumed. That seems at variance with the causal particle which introduces this clause, the tense of the verb, and the surrounding context. People are dying in the land (vv. 17–18a) not because prophet and priest have gone (the verb is the Hebrew perfect or past) into exile but because prophet and priest have no true knowledge of God or the situation. The clause translated here “without having any real understanding” (Heb “and they do not know”) is using the verb in the absolute sense indicated in BDB 394 s.v. יָדַע Qal.5 and illustrated in Isa 1:3; 56:10. For a more thorough discussion of the issues one may consult W. McKane, Jeremiah (ICC), 1:330–31.
For the “business” of the prophets and priest see 2:8; 5:13; 6:13; 8:10. In the context it refers to the prophets prophesying lies (see vv. 13–15).

19  Then I said,

The words, “Then I said, ‘Lord” are not in the Hebrew text. It is obvious from the context that the Lord is addressee. The question of the identity of the speaker is the same as that raised in vv. 7–9 and the arguments set forth there are applicable here as well. Jeremiah is here identifying with the people and doing what they refuse to do, i.e., confess their sins and express their trust in him.
have you completely rejected the nation of Judah?
Do you despise
Heb “does your soul despise.” Here as in many places the word “soul” stands as part for whole for the person himself emphasizing emotional and volitional aspects of the person. However, in contemporary English one does not regularly speak of the “soul” in contexts such as this but of the person.
There is probably a subtle allusion to the curses called down on the nation for failure to keep their covenant with God. The word used here is somewhat rare (גָּעַל, gaal). It is used of Israel’s rejection of God’s stipulations and of God’s response to their rejection of him and his stipulations in Lev 26:11, 15, 30, 43–44. That the allusion is intended is probable when account is taken of the last line of v. 21.
the city of Zion?
Why have you struck us with such force
that we are beyond recovery?
Heb “Why have you struck us and there is no healing for us.” The statement involves poetic exaggeration (hyperbole) for rhetorical effect.

We hope for peace, but nothing good has come of it.
We hope for a time of relief from our troubles, but experience terror.
Heb “[We hope] for a time of healing but behold terror.”
The last two lines of this verse are repeated word for word from 8:15. There they are spoken by the people.

20  Lord, we confess that we have been wicked.
We confess that our ancestors have done wrong.
Heb “We acknowledge our wickedness [and] the iniquity of our [fore]fathers.” For the use of the word “know” to mean “confess,” “acknowledge” cf. BDB 394 s.v. יָדַע, Qal.1.f and compare the usage in Jer 3:13.
For a longer example of an individual identifying with the nation and confessing their sins and the sins of their forefathers see Ps 106.

We have indeed
This is another example of the intensive use of כִּי (ki). See BDB 472 s.v. כִּי 1.e.
sinned against you.
21  For the honor of your name,
Heb “For the sake of your name.”
do not treat Jerusalem with contempt.
Do not treat with disdain the place where your glorious throne sits.
English versions quite commonly supply “us” as an object for the verb in the first line. This is probably wrong. The Hebrew text reads: “Do not treat with contempt for the sake of your name; do not treat with disdain your glorious throne.” This is case of poetic parallelism where the object is left hanging until the second line. For an example of this see Prov 13:1 in the original and consult E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 103–4. There has also been some disagreement whether “your glorious throne” refers to the temple (as in 17:12) or Jerusalem (as in 3:17). From the beginning of the prayer in v. 19 where a similar kind of verb has been used with respect to Zion/Jerusalem it would appear that the contextual referent is Jerusalem. The absence of an object from the first line makes it possible to retain part of the metaphor in the translation and still convey some meaning.
The place of God’s glorious throne was first of all the ark of the covenant where God was said to be enthroned between the cherubim, then the temple that housed it, then the city itself. See 2 Kgs 19:14–15 in the context of Sennacherib’s attack on Jerusalem.

Be mindful of your covenant with us. Do not break it!
Heb “Remember, do not break your covenant with us.”

22  Do any of the worthless idols
The word הֶבֶל (hevel), often translated “vanities”, is a common pejorative epithet for idols or false gods. See already in 8:19 and 10:8.
of the nations cause rain to fall?
Do the skies themselves send showers?
Is it not you, O Lord our God, who does this?
Heb “Is it not you, O Lord our God?” The words “who does” are supplied in the translation for English style.

So we put our hopes in you
The rhetorical negatives are balanced by a rhetorical positive.

because you alone do all this.”
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