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Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith » the Lord; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown. Israel was holi- 3 ness unto the Lord, and the firstfruits of his increase: all
ones are, but rather given as the gist of the prophet's teaching during all those early years of his ministry. Once more, in these chapters so far from there being references to matters of later date than Josiah, such as abound in the subsequent parts (e.g. invasion by the Babylonians, &c.), there is no allusion to any contemporary events.
It has been held on the other hand that the mention of Egypt (ii. 16, 18, 36) compels us to consider these prophecies as spoken later. We are reminded that Josiah was slain in fighting against the Egyptian king. How then, it is asked, could the Jewish nation in his reign have sought to ally themselves with that country? It does not however follow that there may not have been then, as at other times, a large and influential number who desired to connect themselves with Egypt, and it was against them that Jeremiah directed his words of warning. Another but an extremely improbable way of understanding the references to Egypt in these chapters is a sort of compromise between the two views, and consists in the supposition that Jeremiah, or Baruch at his dictation, wrote down what was in substance at least his discourses to the people in the days of Josiah, but modified them in accordance with the more recent tenor of his words and of events.
The whole prophecy then (chaps, ii. 1—iii. 5) is the first recorded utterance of Jeremiah after his Call, and consists of expostulation with Israel for their idolatry.
2. the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals] This has been taken as meaning, the kindness and love a) of Israel towards God, or b) of God towards Israel. In favour of b) is urged that Israel as a matter of fact was ever in past time also straying from God. But on the whole a) is more probable, (i) as being the more natural sense of the words themselves, (ii) in that the'kindness'and 'love' spoken of evidently refer to the past, while God's attitude of grace towards Israel is the same still that it has ever been, (iii) in that even in past time Israel as a rule followed God. The exceptions from their very nature would form the history and so fix themselves in the mind, just as the brief reign of Queen Mary, and again the temporary overthrow of the House of Stuart (1649—1660), in English History are more conspicuous than many long periods of tranquillity and peace.
3. Israel was holiness unto the Lord, and the firstfruits of his increase] Israel is as something set apart from ordinary uses, dedicated to God. He is as the most precious part of the harvest, that part which is consecrated as God's portion. The notion was familiar to the people's minds through the yearly custom, prescribed Lev. xxiii. 10—14, that a measure of the firstfruits should be waved by the priest before
that devour him shall offend; evil shall come upon them,
4 saith the Lord. Hear ye the word of the Lord, O house
5 of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel: Thus saith the Lord, What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after
6 vanity, and are become vain? Neither said they, Where is the Lord that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, that led us through the wilderness, through a land of deserts
the Lord, and that none of the harvest should be enjoyed till this rite had been fulfilled.
all that devour him shall offend] The priest and his family alone were to eat of the firstfruits. No stranger was allowed to partake. See Lev. xxii. io, 16. If any unhallowed person profaned the firstfruits by taking of them, he bore the iniquity of trespass in his eating. The word used there for trespass is from the same root as that which in this passage is rendered 'shall offend.' Thus the sense is that "Heathen, i.e. unconsecrated, nations, must not meddle with Israel, because it is the nation consecrated to God. If they do, they will bring such guilt upon themselves as those incur who eat the firstfruits." (Speaker's Comm.)
4. all the families of the house of Israel] addressed not to the ten tribes, but to the nation as a whole.
5. have walked after vanity] 'vanity'is here used in the same sense as in i Kings xvi. 13, "provoking the Lord God of Israel to anger with their vanities." The Jews regarded idols simply as unsubstantial, unreal, a breath. Hence vanity (emptiness) expresses their view. Compare "we know that an idol is nothing in the world" (1 Cor. viii. 4) and note on chap. i. 16. A further stage is reached in ver. 8, "things that do not profit" (compare ver. 11). Chap. x. 10 contrasts God as "the true God," "the living God; while the notions of the unreal and the positively injurious are combined in xvi. 19, "Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit."
and are become vain] a want of reality and of sense are the qualities which naturally become the marks of those who follow the empty and unprofitable. Compare Rom. i. 21—23, they "became vain in their imaginations...they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man, and to birds and fourfooted beasts and creeping things."
6. The prophet brings their thanklessness into bolder relief by depicting in the strongest colours the care lavished upon them of old. Utter forgetfulness is their return for the deliverance from Egyptian bondage, the preservation from the various dangers of the wilderness, and the bestowal of Canaan.
the wilderness] not in the sense which the word conveys to our ears. The expression in the original means merely the land not occupied and of pits, through a land of drought, and of the shadow of death, through a land that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt? And I brought you into a plentiful 7 country, to eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof;
by any settled inhabitants. It by no means excludes the notion of abundant pasturage for cattle, just as it is described (xxiii. 10) as having its "pleasant places," but is yet liable as is there shewn to become a desert at any time through the drying up of the springs and rivers on which its vegetation was dependent. deserts] really barren.
pits] one of the difficulties and dangers of travellers consisted in the rifts or clefts which had to be crossed or avoided by a circuitous route.
drought] hence perhaps the Rabbinic story that a rock followed the Israelites through the wilderness, to supply their thirst. St Paul, without in any way taking the story under his protection, applies it in the way of spiritual adaptation; "They drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ" (1 Cor. x. 4).
shadow of death] the Hebrew word may mean nothing beyond darkness, but the other rendering is the more probable one, and denotes the gloom which the traveller must feel in passing through a region, where the supply of the necessaries of life is so precarious.
that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt] the two words for 'man' differ in the original. The first means man in the strength, either of natural vigour, as here, or of rank or riches; the second denotes man as a member of the human race, and is equivalent to 'human being.' We have the same contrast elsewhere in the Hebrew, where however the English rendering differs; (Psalm xlix. 2), "High and low, rich and poor, one with another;" and (Is. ii. 9), "The mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself." Compare St John vi. 10, where "men" on its first occurrence means simply persons.
7. a plentiful country] Literally, a country of the Carmel. The word Carmel properly means a piece of ground fertile and well cultivated, but was commonly used as the actual name of one such spot of Palestine, which, as the only promontory that the sea-board of the country possesses, juts out into the Mediterranean, and bounds the great plain of Esdraelon. It was the scene of the testing of the true God proposed by Elijah to the followers of Baal (1 Kings xviii.). This application of terms wholly or partly descriptive of natural features to denote an individual place which answers to such a description seems common in all languages. To it we owe in English such names as Newhaven, Newport, New Forest, Sandwich (= a sandy bay), Chelsea (= a shingle island) and Fairfield, the last being a good counterpart to the Hebrew name in the present case. Compare also as names for country houses 'The Woodlands,' 'The Plantations,' &c.
but when ye entered, ye defiled my land, and made mine 8 heritage an abomination. The priests said not, Where z's the Lord? and they that handle the law knew me not:
defiled] with (i) idolatry, (ii) sacrifices of their children; so Ps. cvi. 37, "they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils." And as the land had been thus defiled by God's own people, the possessors of it, so now the heathen were about to obtain permission to do the like. Compare Ps. Ixxix. i, "O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled."
mine heritage] Elsewhere it is generally Israel itself that goes by this name; e. g. "For the Lord's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance" (Deut. xxxii. 9). Compare 1 Sam. x. 1; 1 Kings viii. 51; Ps. xxviii. 9, lxxviii. 71; Is. xix. 25; Jer. x. 16.
8. The wickedness of the people is matched and encouraged by that of the chief men both in Church and State. Three classes of persons are spoken of.
(1) (this class is subdivided into two) the priests. The duty of the tribe of Levi was not only to minister at the altar, but to handle the law; i.e. to instruct the people in its precepts. Compare the words of "the blessing wherewith Moses the man of God blessed Israel before his death" (Deut. xxxiii.). He there says of Levi, "They shall teach Jacob thy judgments and Israel thy law" (ver. 10).
(2) the pastors, meaning, not ordained ministers according to the familiar application of the word in modern times, but, as elsewhere in the Old Testament, temporal rulers, kings, compare iii. 15. So in 1 Kings xxii. 17, when Micaiah the prophet desired to express to king Ahab his sense of his worthlessness as a ruler, he said, "I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd." The same is the sense in Ezek. xxxiv. 2, "Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?" So in Homer the kings are "shepherds of the people."
(3) the prophets, whose duty it was to declare the will of God from time to time, and urge upon the people reformation and a religious life. Jeremiah felt most keenly the wickedness of both priest and prophet, since in his own person he represented both orders, and "by a singularly tragical fate he lived precisely at that age at which both of those great institutions seemed to have reached the utmost point of degradation and corruption" (Stanley's Jewish Church, Vol. II. p. 439, 440). "He who by each of his callings was naturally led to sympathise with both, was the doomed antagonist of both, victim of one of the strongest of human passions, the hatred of Priests against a Priest who attacks his own order, the hatred of Prophets against a Prophet who ventures to have a voice and a will of his own (Ibid.).
said not, Where is the Lord?] i.e. they were indifferent to God's will, and thought of nothing less than consulting Him.
they that handle the law] In addition to the remarks above made
the pastors also transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit. Wherefore I will yet plead with you, saith the Lord, 9 and with your children's children will I plead. For pass 10 over the isles of Chittim, and see; and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there be such a thing.
on these words compare for the priest's share in the interpretation of the Jaw chap. xviii. 18; Ezek. vii. 26.
Baal] The chief male object of worship on the part of the Phoenician nations. His worship prevailed at an early date among the Moabites (Numb. xxii. 41). Among the Jews that worship was celebrated with much pomp, and cruel rites frequently accompanied it, the priests cutting themselves with knives, and human sacrifices being sometimes offered. The word entered much into Phoenician (Carthaginian) proper names, Hannibal, Hasdrubal, Adherbal, etc. Some consider Baal to have been represented to his worshippers by the planet Jupiter, while others with more probability take him to be the sun-god, and so to be coupled with Ashtoreth, the moon-goddess, the chief female object of worship on the part of the same nations.
9. with your children's children will I plead] Even though it be necessary to continue the remonstrance to future generations, God will not fail to carry out His part, but will plead His cause still against those who desert Him.
10. the isles of Chittim] The Chittim ("Kittim") are mentioned as descendants of Javan in Gen. x. 4. Josephus identifies the original seat of the tribe with the town of Citium in Cyprus. Gradually the name seems to have been extended, so as to include not only the neighbouring islands, but even Macedonia (which word Ma-<r«/-onia may have been fancifully believed to be connected with Chittim) and Italy.
Kedar] As Chittim represented the parts of the world that lay to the westward of Palestine, so Kedar represented those which lay to the eastward. Kedar was the second son of Ishmael (Gen. xxv. 13) and seems from the many subsequent notices of his tribe in the Bible to have been destined to be in his posterity the most distinguished of the twelve brethren, princes, given in the genealogy. They dwelt on the north-west of Arabia, and extended to the borders of Palestine. Kedar occurs among the ancestry of Mohammed. In Psalm cxx. 5 ("Woe is me...that I dwell in the tents of Kedar") they are spoken of as a barbarous tribe, to dwell amongst whom was to be utterly cut off from the worship, of the true God. Even they however, the Lord declares, do not furnish a parallel for the baseness which appertains to the Jews.