Jeremiah 19

An Object Lesson from a Broken Clay Jar

The Lord told Jeremiah,
The word “Jeremiah” is not in the text. Some Hebrew mss and some of the versions have “to me.” This section, 19:1–20:6 appears to be one of the biographical sections of the book of Jeremiah where incidents in his life are reported in third person. See clearly 9:14 and 20:1–3. The mss and versions do not represent a more original text but are translational or interpretive attempts to fill in a text which had no referent. They are like the translational addition that has been supplied on the basis of contextual indicators.
“Go and buy a clay jar from a potter.
Heb “an earthenware jar of the potter.”
The word translated “clay” here refers to a clay which has been baked or fired in a kiln. In Jer 18 the clay was still soft and pliable, capable of being formed into different kinds of vessels. Here the clay is set, just as Israel is set in its ways. The word for jar refers probably to a water jug or decanter and is onomatopoeic, baqbuq, referring to the gurgling sound made by pouring out the water.
Take with you
The words “Take with you” follow the reading of the Syriac version and to a certain extent the reading of the Greek version (the latter does not have “with you”). The Hebrew text does not have these words but they are undoubtedly implicit.
some of the leaders of the people and some of the leaders
Heb “elders” both here and before “of the people.”
The civil and religious leaders are referred to here. They were to be witnesses of the symbolic act and of the message that Jeremiah proclaimed to the leaders of Jerusalem and its citizens (see v. 3).
of the priests.
Go out to the part of the Hinnom Valley which is near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate.
The exact location of the Potsherd Gate is unknown since it is nowhere else mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. It is sometimes identified with the Dung Gate mentioned in Neh 2:13; 3:13–14; 12:31 on the basis of the Jerusalem Targum. It is probably called “Potsherd Gate” because that is where the potter threw out the broken pieces of pottery which were no longer of use to him. The Valley of Ben Hinnom has already been mentioned in 7:31–32 in connection with the illicit religious practices, including child sacrifice, which took place there. The Valley of Ben Hinnom (or sometimes Valley of Hinnom) runs along the west and south sides of Jerusalem.
Announce there what I tell you.
Heb “the words that I will speak to you.”
Say, ‘Listen to what the Lord says, you kings of Judah and citizens of Jerusalem! The Lord God of Israel who rules over all
Heb “Yahweh of armies, the God of Israel.”
See the study notes on 2:19 and 7:3 for explanation of this title.
says, “I will bring a disaster on this place
Careful comparison of the use of this term throughout this passage and comparison with 7:31–33 which is parallel to several verses in this passage will show that the reference is to the Valley of Ben Hinnom which will become a Valley of Slaughter (see v. 6 and 7:32).
that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it ring!
Heb “which everyone who hears it [or about it] his ears will ring.” This is proverbial for a tremendous disaster. See 1 Sam 3:11; 2 Kgs 21:12 for similar prophecies.
I will do so because these people
The text merely has “they.” But since a reference is made later to “they” and “their ancestors,” the referent must be to the people that the leaders of the people and leaders of the priests represent.
have rejected me and have defiled
Heb “have made this city foreign.” The verb here is one that is built off of the noun and adjective which relate to foreign nations. Comparison may be made to Jer 2:21 where the adjective refers to the strange, wild vine as opposed to the choice vine the Lord planted and to 5:19 and 8:19 where the noun is used of worshiping foreign gods. Israel through its false worship has “denationalized” itself in its relation to God.
this place. They have offered sacrifices in it to other gods which neither they nor their ancestors
Heb “fathers.”
nor the kings of Judah knew anything about. They have filled it with the blood of innocent children.
Heb “the blood of innocent ones.” This must be a reference to child sacrifice as explained in the next verse. Some have seen a reference to the sins of social injustice alluded to in 2 Kgs 21:16 and 24:4 but those are connected with the city itself. Hence the word children is supplied in the translation to make the referent explicit.
They have built places here
The word “here” is not in the text. However, it is implicit from the rest of the context. It is supplied in the translation for clarity.
for worship of the god Baal so that they could sacrifice their children as burnt offerings to him in the fire. Such sacrifices
The words “such sacrifices” are not in the text. The text merely says “to burn their children in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal which I did not command.” The command obviously refers not to the qualification “to Baal” but to burning the children in the fire as burnt offerings. The words are supplied in the translation to avoid a possible confusion that the reference is to sacrifices to Baal. Likewise the words should not be translated so literally that they leave the impression that God never said anything about sacrificing their children to other gods. The fact is he did. See Lev 18:21; Deut 12:30; 18:10.
are something I never commanded them to make! They are something I never told them to do! Indeed, such a thing never even entered my mind!
So I, the Lord, say:
This phrase (Heb “Oracle of the Lord”) has been handled this way on several occasions when it occurs within first person addresses where the Lord is the speaker. See, e.g., 16:16; 17:24; 18:6.
“The time will soon come that people will no longer call this place Topheth or the Hinnom Valley. But they will call this valley
Heb “it will no longer be called to this place Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom but the Valley of Slaughter.”
See Jer 7:31–32 for an almost word for word repetition of vv. 5–6.
the Valley of Slaughter!
In this place I will thwart
There is perhaps a two-fold wordplay in the use of this word. One involves the sound play with the word for “jar,” which has been explained as a water decanter. The word here is בַקֹּתִי (vaqqoti). The word for jar in v. 1 is בַקְבֻּק (vaqbuq). There may also be a play on the literal use of this word to refer to the laying waste or destruction of a land (see Isa 24:3; Nah 2:3). Many modern commentaries think that at this point Jeremiah emptied out the contents of the jar, symbolizing the “emptying” out of their plans.
the plans of the people of Judah and Jerusalem. I will deliver them over to the power of their enemies who are seeking to kill them. They will die by the sword
This refers to the fact that they will die in battle. The sword would be only one of the weapons that strikes them down. It is one of the trio of “sword,” “starvation,” and “disease” which were the concomitants of war referred to so often in the book of Jeremiah. Starvation is referred to in v. 9.
at the hands of their enemies.
Heb “I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies and in the hand of those who seek their soul [= life].” In this context the two are meant as obvious qualifications of one entity, not two. Some rearrangement of the qualifiers had to be made in the English translation to convey this.
I will make their dead bodies food for the birds and wild beasts to eat.
I will make this city an object of horror, a thing to be hissed at. All who pass by it will be filled with horror and will hiss out their scorn
See 18:16 and the study note there.
because of all the disasters that have happened to it.
Heb “all its smitings.” This word has been used several times for the metaphorical “wounds” that Israel has suffered as a result of the blows from its enemies. See, e.g., 14:17. It is used in the Hebrew Bible of scourging, both literally and metaphorically (cf. Deut 25:3; Isa 10:26), and of slaughter and defeat (1 Sam 4:10; Josh 10:20). Here it refers to the results of the crushing blows at the hands of her enemies which has made her the object of scorn.
I will reduce the people of this city to desperate straits during the siege imposed on it by their enemies who are seeking to kill them. I will make them so desperate that they will eat the flesh of their own sons and daughters and the flesh of one another.”’”
This verse has been restructured to try to bring out the proper thought and subordinations reflected in the verse without making the sentence too long and complex in English: Heb “I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters. And they will eat one another’s flesh in the siege and in the straits which their enemies who are seeking their lives reduce them to.” This also shows the agency through which God’s causation was effected, i.e., the siege.
Cannibalism is one of the penalties for disobedience to their covenant with the Lord effected through the Mosaic covenant. See Deut 28:53, 55, 57. For examples of this being carried out see 2 Kgs 6:28–29; Lam 4:10.


10  The Lord continued,
The words “And the Lord continued” are not in the text. However, they are necessary to take us clearly back to the flow of the narrative begun in vv. 1–2 and interrupted by the long speech in vv. 3–9.
“Now break the jar in front of those who have come here with you.
11 Tell them the Lord who rules over all says,
Heb “Thus says Yahweh of armies.” For this title see the study note on 2:19. The translation attempts to avoid the confusion of embedding quotes within quotes by reducing this one to an indirect quote.
‘I will do just as Jeremiah has done.
The adverb “Thus” or “Like this” normally points back to something previously mentioned. See, e.g., Exod 29:35; Num 11:15; 15:11; Deut 25:9.
I will smash this nation and this city as though it were a potter’s vessel which is broken beyond repair.
Heb “Like this I will break this people and this city, just as one breaks the vessel of a potter which is not able to be repaired.”
The dead will be buried here in Topheth until there is no more room to bury them.’
See Jer 7:22–23 for parallels.
12 I, the Lord, say:
This phrase (Heb “Oracle of the Lord”) has been handled this way on several occasions when it occurs within first person addresses where the Lord is the speaker. See, e.g., 16:16; 17:24; 18:6.
‘That is how I will deal with this city and its citizens. I will make it like Topheth.
13 The houses in Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah will be defiled by dead bodies
The words “by dead bodies” is not in the text but is implicit from the context. They are supplied in the translation for clarity.
just like this place, Topheth. For they offered sacrifice to the stars
Heb “the host of heaven.”
and poured out drink offerings to other gods on the roofs of those houses.’”

14  Then Jeremiah left Topheth where the Lord had sent him to give that prophecy. He went to the Lord’s temple and stood
Heb “And Jeremiah entered from Topheth where the Lord had sent him to prophesy and he stood in the courtyard of the Lord’s temple.”
in its courtyard and called out to all the people.
15 “The Lord God of Israel who rules over all
Heb “Yahweh of armies, the God of Israel.”
See the study notes on 2:19 and 7:3 for explanation of this title.
says, ‘I will soon bring on this city and all the towns surrounding it
Heb “all its towns.”
all the disaster I threatened to do to it. I will do so because they have stubbornly refused
Heb “They hardened [or made stiff] their neck so as not to.”
to pay any attention to what I have said!’”

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