Jeremiah 15

Then the Lord said to me, “Even if Moses and Samuel stood before me pleading for
The words “pleading for” have been supplied in the translation to explain the idiom (a metonymy). For parallel usage see BDB 763 s.v. עָמַד Qal.1.a and compare usage in Gen 19:27, Deut 4:10.
Moses and Samuel were well-known for their successful intercession on behalf of Israel. See Ps 99:6–8 and see, e.g., Exod 32:11–14, 30–34; 1 Sam 7:5–9. The Lord is here rejecting Jeremiah’s intercession on behalf of the people (14:19–22).
these people, I would not feel pity for them!
Heb “my soul would not be toward them.” For the usage of “soul” presupposed here see BDB 660 s.v. נֶפֶשׁ 6 in the light of the complaints and petitions in Jeremiah’s prayer in 14:19, 21.
Get them away from me! Tell them to go away!
Heb “Send them away from my presence and let them go away.”
If they ask you, ‘Where should we go?’ tell them the Lord says this:

“Those who are destined to die of disease will go to death by disease.
Those who are destined to die in war will go to death in war.
Those who are destined to die of starvation will go to death by starvation.
Those who are destined to go into exile will go into exile.”
It is difficult to render the rhetorical force of this passage in meaningful English. The text answers the question “Where should we go?” with four brief staccato-like expressions with a play on the preposition “to”: Heb “Who to the death, to the death and who to the sword, to the sword and who to the starvation, to the starvation and who to the captivity, to the captivity.” The word “death” here is commonly understood to be a poetic substitute for “plague” because of the standard trio of sword, famine, and plague (see, e.g., 14:12 and the notes there). This is likely here and in 18:21. For further support see W. L. Holladay, Jeremiah (Hermeneia), 1:440. The nuance “starvation” rather than “famine” has been chosen in the translation because the referents here are all things that accompany war.

“I will punish them in four different ways: I will have war kill them. I will have dogs drag off their dead bodies. I will have birds and wild beasts devour and destroy their corpses.
The translation attempts to render in understandable English some rather unusual uses of terms here. The verb translated “punish” is often used that way (cf. BDB 823 s.v. פָּקַד Qal.A.3 and compare usage in Jer 11:22, 13:21). However, here it is accompanied by a direct object and a preposition meaning “over” which is usually used in the sense of appointing someone over someone (cf. BDB 823 s.v. פָּקַד Qal.B.1 and compare usage in Jer 51:27). Moreover the word translated “different ways” normally refers to “families,” “clans,” or “guilds” (cf. BDB 1046-47 s.v. מִשְׁפָּחָה for usage). Hence the four things mentioned are referred to figuratively as officers or agents into whose power the Lord consigns them. The Hebrew text reads: “I will appoint over them four guilds, the sword to kill, the dogs to drag away, the birds of the skies and the beasts of the earth to devour and to destroy.”
I will make all the people in all the kingdoms of the world horrified at what has happened to them because of what Hezekiah’s son Manasseh, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem.”
The length of this sentence runs contrary to the normal policy followed in the translation of breaking up long sentences. However, there does not seem any way to break it up here without losing the connections.
For similar statements see 2 Kgs 23:26; 24:3–4 and for a description of what Manasseh did see 2 Kgs 21:1–16. Manasseh was the leader, but they willingly followed (cf. 2 Kgs 21:9).

The Lord cried out,
The words “The Lord cried out” are not in the text. However, they are necessary to show the shift in address between speaking to Jeremiah in vv. 1–4 about the people and addressing Jerusalem in vv. 5–6 and the shift back to the address to Jeremiah in vv. 7–9. The words “oracle of the Lord” are, moreover, found at the beginning of v. 6.

“Who in the world
The words, “in the world” are not in the text but are the translator’s way of trying to indicate that this rhetorical question expects a negative answer.
will have pity on you, Jerusalem?
Who will grieve over you?
Who will stop long enough
Heb “turn aside.”

to inquire about how you are doing?
Or “about your well-being”; Heb “about your welfare” (שָׁלוֹם, shalom).

I, the Lord, say:
Heb “oracle of the Lord.” In the original text this phrase is found between “you have deserted me” and “you keep turning your back on me.” It is put at the beginning and converted to first person for sake of English style and clarity.
‘You people have deserted me!
You keep turning your back on me.’
Heb “you are going backward.” This is the only occurrence of this adverb with this verb. It is often used with another verb meaning “turn backward” (= abandon; Heb סוּג [sug] in the Niphal). For examples see Jer 38:22; 46:5. The only other occurrence in Jeremiah has been in the unusual idiom in 7:24 where it was translated “they got worse and worse instead of better.” That is how J. Bright (Jeremiah [AB], 109) translates it here. However it is translated, it has connotations of apostasy.

So I have unleashed my power against you
Heb “stretched out my hand against you.” For this idiom see notes on 6:12.
and have begun to destroy you.
There is a difference of opinion on how the verbs here and in the following verses are to be rendered, whether past or future. KJV, NASB, NIV for example render them as future. ASV, RSV, TEV render them as past. NJPS has past here and future in vv. 7–9. This is perhaps the best solution. The imperfect + vav consecutive here responds to the perfect in the first line. The imperfects + vav consecutives followed by perfects in vv. 7–9 and concluded by an imperfect in v. 9 pick up the perfects + vav (ו) consecutives in vv. 3–4. Verses 7–9 are further development of the theme in vv. 1–4. Verses 5–6 have been an apostrophe or a turning aside to address Jerusalem directly. For a somewhat similar alternation of the tenses see Isa 5:14–17 and consult GKC 329-30 #111.w. One could of course argue that the imperfects + vav consecutive in vv. 7–9 continue the imperfect + vav consecutive here. In this case, vv. 7–9 are not a continuation of the oracle of doom but another lament by God (cf. 14:1–6, 17–18).

I have grown tired of feeling sorry for you!”
It is difficult to be sure what intertextual connections are intended by the author in his use of vocabulary. The Hebrew word translated “grown tired” is not very common. It has been used twice before. In 9:5–6b where it refers to the people being unable to repent and in 6:11 where it refers to Jeremiah being tired or unable to hold back his anger because of that inability. Now God too has worn out his patience with them (cf. Isa 7:13).

The Lord continued,
The words “The Lord continued” are not in the text. They have been supplied in the translation to show the shift back to talking about the people instead of addressing them. The obvious speaker is the Lord; the likely listener is Jeremiah as in vv. 1–4.

“In every town in the land I will purge them
like straw blown away by the wind.
Heb “I have winnowed them with a winnowing fork in the gates of the land.” The word “gates” is here being used figuratively for the cities, the part for the whole. See 14:2 and the notes there.
Like straw blown away by the wind. A figurative use of the process of winnowing is referred to here. Winnowing was the process whereby a mixture of grain and straw was thrown up into the wind to separate the grain from the straw and the husks. The best description of the major steps in threshing and winnowing grain in the Bible is seen in another figurative passage in Isa 41:15–16.

I will destroy my people.
I will kill off their children.
I will do so because they did not change their behavior.
Or “did not repent of their wicked ways”; Heb “They did not turn back from their ways.” There is no casual particle here (either כִּי [ki], which is more formally casual, or וְ [ve], which sometimes introduces casual circumstantial clauses). The causal idea is furnished by the connection of ideas. If the verbs throughout this section are treated as pasts and this section seen as a lament, then the clause could be sequential: “but they still did not turn…”

Their widows will become in my sight more numerous
Heb “to me.” BDB 513 s.v. ל 5.a(d) compares the usage of the preposition “to” here to that in Jonah 3:3, “Nineveh was a very great city to God [in God’s estimation].” The NEB/REB interpret as though it were the agent after a passive verb, “I have made widows more numerous.” Most English versions ignore it. The present translation follows BDB though the emphasis on God’s agency has been strong in the passage.

than the grains of sand on the seashores.
At noontime I will bring a destroyer
against the mothers of their young men.
The translation of this line is a little uncertain because of the double prepositional phrase which is not represented in this translation or most of the others. The Hebrew text reads: “I will bring in to them, against mother of young men, a destroyer at noon time.” Many commentaries delete the phrase with the Greek text. If the preposition read “against” like the following one this would be a case of apposition of nearer definition. There is some evidence of that in the Targum and the Syriac according to BHS. Both nouns “mothers” and “young men” are translated as plural here though they are singular; they are treated by most as collectives. It would be tempting to translate these two lines “In broad daylight I have brought destroyers against the mothers of her fallen young men.” But this may be too interpretive. In the light of 6:4, noontime was a good time to attack. NJPS has “I will bring against them – young men and mothers together – ….” In this case “mother” and “young men” would be a case of asyndetic coordination.

I will cause anguish
This word is used only here and in Hos 11:9. It is related to the root meaning “to rouse” (so BDB 735 s.v. I עִיר). Here it refers to the excitement or agitation caused by terror. In Hos 11:9 it refers to the excitement or arousal of anger.
and terror
to fall suddenly upon them.
The “them” in the Hebrew text is feminine referring to the mothers.

The mother who had seven children
Heb “who gave birth to seven.”
To have seven children was considered a blessing and a source of pride and honor (Ruth 4:15; 1 Sam 2:5).
will grow faint.
All the breath will go out of her.
The meaning of this line is debated. Some understand this line to mean “she has breathed out her life” (cf., e.g., BDB 656 s.v. נָפַח and 656 s.v. ֶנפֶשׁ 1.c). However, as several commentaries have noted (e.g., W. McKane, Jeremiah [ICC], 1:341; J. Bright, Jeremiah [AB], 109) it makes little sense to talk about her suffering shame and embarrassment if she has breathed her last. Both the Greek and Latin versions understand “soul” not as the object but as the subject and the idea being one of fainting under despair. This idea seems likely in light of the parallelism. Bright suggests the phrase means either “she gasped out her breath” or “her throat gasped.” The former is more likely. One might also render “she fainted dead away,” but that idiom might not be familiar to all readers.

Her pride and joy will be taken from her in the prime of their life.
It will seem as if the sun had set while it was still day.
Heb “Her sun went down while it was still day.”
The sun was the source of light and hence has associations with life, prosperity, health, and blessing. The premature setting of the sun which brought these seems apropos as metaphor for the loss of her children which were not only a source of joy, help, and honor. Two references where “sun” is used figuratively, Ps 84:11 (84:12 HT) and Mal 4:2, may be helpful here.

She will suffer shame and humiliation.
She has lost her position of honor and the source of her pride. For the concepts here see 1 Sam 2:5.

I will cause any of them who are still left alive
to be killed in war by the onslaughts of their enemies,”
Heb “I will deliver those of them that survive to the sword before their enemies.” The referent of “them” is ambiguous. Does it refer to the children of the widow (nearer context) or the people themselves (more remote context, v. 7)? Perhaps it was meant to include both. Verse seven spoke of the destruction of the people and the killing off of the children.

says the Lord.

Jeremiah Complains about His Lot and The Lord Responds

10  I said,
The words “I said” are not in the text. They are supplied in the translation for clarity to mark a shift in the speaker.

“Oh, mother, how I regret
Heb “Woe to me, my mother.” See the comments on 4:13 and 10:19.
that you ever gave birth to me!
I am always starting arguments and quarrels with the people of this land.
Heb “A man of strife and a man of contention with all the land.” The “of” relationship (Hebrew and Greek genitive) can convey either subjective or objective relationships, i.e., he instigates strife and contention or he is the object of it. A study of usage elsewhere, e.g., Isa 41:11; Job 31:35; Prov 12:19; 25:24; 26:21; 27:15, is convincing that it is subjective. In his role as God’s covenant messenger charging people with wrong doing he has instigated counterarguments and stirred about strife and contention against him.

I have not lent money to anyone and I have not borrowed from anyone.
Yet all of these people are treating me with contempt.”
The translation follows the almost universally agreed upon correction of the MT. Instead of reading כֻּלֹּה מְקַלְלַונִי (kulloh meqallavni, “all of him is cursing me”) as the Masoretes proposed (Qere) one should read קִלְלוּנִי (qilluni) with the written text (Kethib) and redivide and repoint with the suggestion in BHS כֻּלְּהֶם (qullehem, “all of them are cursing me”).

11  The Lord said,

The word “Jerusalem” is not in the text. It is supplied in the translation for clarity to identify the referent of “you.” A comparison of three or four English versions will show how difficult this verse is to interpret. The primary difficulty is with the meaning of the verb rendered here as “I will surely send you out [שֵׁרִותִךָ, sherivtikha].” The text and the meaning of the word are debated (for a rather full discussion see W. L. Holladay, Jeremiah [Hermeneia], 1:446–47, n. b-b). Tied up with that is the meaning of the verb in the second line and the identification of who the speaker and addressee are. One of two approaches are usually followed. Some follow the Greek version which has Jeremiah speaking and supporting his complaint that he has been faithful. In this case the word “said” is left out, the difficult verb is taken to mean “I have served you” (שֵׁרַתִּיךָ [sheratikha] from שָׁרַת [sharat; BDB 1058 s.v. שָׁרַת]) and the parallel verb means “I have made intercession for my enemies.” The second tack is to suppose that God is speaking and is promising Jeremiah deliverance from his detractors. In this case the troublesome word is taken to mean “deliver” (cf. BDB 1056 s.v. I שָׁרָה), “strengthen” (see BDB’s discussion) or read as a noun “remnant” (שֵׁרִיתְךָ = שְׁאֵרִיתְךָ [sheritekha = sheeritekha]; again see BDB’s discussion). In this case the parallel verb is taken to mean “I will cause your enemies to entreat you,” a meaning it has nowhere else. Both of these approaches are probably wrong. The Greek text is the only evidence for leaving out “said.” The problem with making Jeremiah the addressee is twofold. First, the word “enemy” is never used in the book of Jeremiah’s foes, always of political enemies. Second, and more troublesome, one must assume a shift in the addressee between v. 11 and vv.13–14 or assume that the whole is addressed. The latter would be odd if he is promised deliverance from his detractors only to be delivered to captivity. If, however, one assumes that the whole is addressed to Jerusalem, there is no such problem. A check of earlier chapters will show that the second masculine pronoun is used for Judah/Jerusalem in 2:28–29; 4:1–2; 5:17–18; 11:13. In 2:28–28 and 4:1–2 the same shift from second singular to second plural takes place as does here in vv. 13–14. Moreover, vv. 13–14 continue much of the same vocabulary and is addressed to Jerusalem. The approach followed here is similar to that taken in REB except “for good” is taken in the way it is always used rather to mean “utterly.” The nuance suggested by BDB 1056 s.v. I שָׁרָה is assumed and the meaning of the parallel verb is assumed to be similar to that in Isa 53:6 (see BDB 803 s.v. פָּגַע Hiph.1). The MT is retained with demonstrable meanings. For the concept of “for good” see Jer 24:5–6. This assumes that the ultimate goal of God’s discipline is here announced.
The Lord interrupts Jeremiah’s complaint with a word for Jerusalem. Compare a similar interruption in discussion with Jeremiah in vv. 5–6.
I will surely send you away for your own good.
I will surely
“Surely” represents a construct in Hebrew that indicates a strong oath of affirmation. Cf. BDB 50 s.v. אִם 1.b(2) and compare usage in 2 Kgs 9:26.
bring the enemy upon you in a time of trouble and distress.
12  Can you people who are like iron and bronze
break that iron fist from the north?
Or “Can iron and bronze break iron from the north?” The question is rhetorical and expects a negative answer. The translation and meaning of this verse are debated. See note for further details. The two main difficulties here involve the relation of words to one another and the obscure allusion to iron from the north. To translate “literally” is difficult since one does not know whether “iron” is subject of “break” or object of an impersonal verb. Likewise, the dangling “and bronze” fits poorly with either understanding. Options: “Can iron break iron from the north and bronze?” Or “Can one break iron, even iron from the north and bronze.” This last is commonly opted for by translators and interpreters, but why add “and bronze” at the end? And what does “iron from the north” refer to? A long history of interpretation relates it to the foe from the north (see already 1:14; 4:6; 6:1; 13:20). The translation follows the lead of NRSV and takes “and bronze” as a compound subject. I have no ready parallels for this syntax but the reference to “from the north” and the comparison to the stubbornness of the unrepentant people to bronze and iron in 6:28 suggests a possible figurative allusion. There is no evidence in the Bible that Israel knew about a special kind of steel like iron from the Black Sea mentioned in later Greek sources. The word “fist” is supplied in the translation to try to give some hint that it refers to a hostile force.
Compare Isa 10:5–6 for the idea here.

13  I will give away your wealth and your treasures as plunder.
I will give it away free of charge for the sins you have committed throughout your land.
14  I will make you serve your enemies
This reading follows the Greek and Syriac versions and several Hebrew mss. Other Hebrew mss read “I will cause the enemy to pass through a land.” The difference in the reading is between one Hebrew letter, a dalet (ד) and a resh (ר).
in a land that you know nothing about.
For my anger is like a fire that will burn against you.”
15  I said,
The words “I said” are not in the text. They are supplied in the translation for clarity to mark the shift from the Lord speaking to Jerusalem, to Jeremiah speaking to God.

Lord, you know how I suffer.
The words “how I suffer” are not in the text but are implicit from the continuation. They are supplied in the translation for clarity. Jeremiah is not saying “you are all knowing.”

Take thought of me and care for me.
Pay back for me those who have been persecuting me.
Do not be so patient with them that you allow them to kill me.
Be mindful of how I have put up with their insults for your sake.
16  As your words came to me I drank them in,
Heb “Your words were found and I ate them.” This along with Ezek 2:8–3:3 is a poetic picture of inspiration. The prophet accepted them, assimilated them, and made them such a part of himself that he spoke with complete assurance what he knew were God’s words.

and they filled my heart with joy and happiness
because I belong to you.
Heb “Your name is called upon me.”
See Jer 14:9 where this idiom is applied to Israel as a whole and Jer 7:10 where it is applied to the temple. For discussion cf. notes on 7:10.

17  I did not spend my time in the company of other people,
laughing and having a good time.
I stayed to myself because I felt obligated to you
Heb “because of your hand.”

and because I was filled with anger at what they had done.
18  Why must I continually suffer such painful anguish?
Why must I endure the sting of their insults like an incurable wound?
Will you let me down when I need you
like a brook one goes to for water, but that cannot be relied on?”
Heb “Will you be to me like a deceptive (brook), like waters which do not last [or are not reliable].”
Jeremiah is speaking of the stream beds or wadis which fill with water after the spring rains but often dry up in the summer time. A fuller picture is painted in Job 6:14–21. This contrasts with the earlier metaphor that God had used of himself in Jer 2:13.

19  Because of this, the Lord said,
Heb “So the Lord said thus.”

“You must repent of such words and thoughts!
If you do, I will restore you to the privilege of serving me.
Heb “If you return [ = repent], I will restore [more literally, ‘cause you to return’] that you may stand before me.” For the idiom of “standing before” in the sense of serving see BDB 764 s.v. עָמַד Qal.1.e and compare the usage in 1 Kgs 10:8; 12:8; 17:1; Deut 10:8.

If you say what is worthwhile instead of what is worthless,
I will again allow you to be my spokesman.
Heb “you shall be as my mouth.”
For the classic statement of the prophet as God’s “mouth/mouthpiece,” = “spokesman,” see Exod 4:15–16; 7:1–2.

They must become as you have been.
You must not become like them.
Heb “They must turn/return to you and you must not turn/return to them.”
Once again the root “return” (שׁוּב, shuv) is being played on as in 3:1–4:4. See the threefold call to repentance in 3:12, 14, 22. The verb is used here four times “repent,” “restore,” and “become” twice. He is to serve as a model of repentance, not an imitator of their apostasy. In accusing God of being unreliable he was coming dangerously close to their kind of behavior.

20  I will make you as strong as a wall to these people,
a fortified wall of bronze.
They will attack you,
but they will not be able to overcome you.
For I will be with you to rescue you and deliver you,”
See 1:18. The Lord renews his promise of protection and reiterates his call to Jeremiah.

says the Lord.
21  “I will deliver you from the power of the wicked.
I will free you from the clutches of violent people.”
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