Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Jer 1:1-3 contain the heading to the whole book of the prophecies of Jeremiah. The heading runs thus: "Sayings of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests at Anathoth, in the land of Benjamin, to whom befell the word of Jahveh in the days of Josiah the son of Amon king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign, and in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah king of Judah, until the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month." The period mentioned in these verses includes the time of Jeremiah's principal labours, while no reference is here made to the work he at a later time wrought amidst the ruins of Judah and in Egypt; this being held to be of but subordinate importance for the theocracy. Similarly, when the names of the kings under whom he laboured are given, the brief reigns of Jehoahaz and of Jehoiachin are omitted, neither reign having lasted over three months. His prophecies are called דברים, words or speeches, as in Jer 36:10; so with the prophecies of Amos, Amo 1:1. More complete information as to the person of the prophet is given by the mention made of his father and of his extraction. The name ירמיהוּ, "Jahveh throws," was in very common use, and is found as the name of many persons; cf. Ch1 5:24; Ch1 12:4, Ch1 12:10, Ch1 12:13; Kg2 23:31; Jer 35:3; Neh 10:3; Neh 12:1. Hence we are hardly entitled to explain the name with Hengstb. by Exo 15:1, to the effect that whoever bore it was consecrated to the God who with almighty hand dashes to the ground all His foes, so that in his name the nature of our prophet's mission would be held to be set forth. His father Hilkiah is taken by Clem. Alex., Jerome, and some Rabbins, for the high priest of that name who is mentioned in Ch2 22:4; but without sufficient grounds. For Hilkiah, too, is a name that often occurs; and the high priest is sure to have had his home not in Anathoth, but in Jerusalem. But Jeremiah and his father belonged to the priests who lived in Anathoth, now called Anta, a town of the priests, lying 1 1/4 hours north of Jerusalem (see on Jos 21:18), in the land, i.e., the tribal territory, of Benjamin. In Jer 1:2 אליו belongs to אשׁר: "to whom befell (to whom came) the word of Jahveh in the days of Josiah,...in the thirteenth year of his reign." This same year is named by Jeremiah in Jer 25:3 as the beginning of his prophetic labours. ויהי in Jer 1:3 is the continuation of היה in Jer 1:2, and its subject is דבר יהוה: and then (further) it came (to him) in the days of Jehoiakim,...to the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah, etc. In the fifth month of the year named, the eleventh of the reign of Zedekiah, Jerusalem was reduced to ashes by Nebuzar-adan, and its inhabitants carried away to Babylon; cf. Jer 52:12., Kg2 25:8. Shortly before, King Zedekiah, captured when in flight from the Chaldeans during the siege of Jerusalem, had been deprived of eyesight at Riblah and carried to Babylon in chains. And thus his kingship was at an end, thought the eleventh year of his reign might not be yet quite completed.
The Call and Consecration of Jeremiah to be a Prophet of the Lord. - The investiture of Jeremiah with the prophetic office follows in four acts: the call on the part of the Lord, Jer 1:4-8; Jeremiah's consecration for his calling in Jer 1:9-10; and in two signs, by means of which the Lord assures him of certain success in his work and of powerful support in the exercise of his office (Jer 1:11-19). The call was given by a word of the Lord which came to him in this form: Jer 1:5. "Before I formed thee in the womb I have known thee, and before thou wentest forth from the belly have I consecrated thee, to be prophet to the nations have I set thee. Jer 1:6. Then said I, Ah, Lord Jahveh! behold, I know not how to speak; for I am too young. Jer 1:7. Then said Jahveh to me, Say not, I am too young; but to all to whom I send thee shalt thou go, and all that I command thee shalt thou speak. Jer 1:8. Fear not before them: for I am with thee, to save thee, saith Jahveh. This word came to Jeremiah by means of inspiration, and is neither the product of a reflective musing as to what his calling was to be, nor the outcome of an irresistible impulse, felt within him, to come forward as a prophet. It was a supernatural divine revelation vouchsafed to him, which raised his spiritual life to a state of ecstasy, so that he both recognised the voice of God and felt his lips touched by the hand of God (Jer 1:9). Further, he saw in spirit, one after another, two visions which God interpreted to him as confirmatory tokens of his divine commission (Jer 1:11-19). Jeremiah's appointment to be a prophet for the nations follows upon a decree of God's, fixed before he was conceived or born. God in His counsel has not only foreordained our life and being, but has predetermined before our birth what is to be our calling upon this earth; and He has accordingly so influenced our origin and our growth in the womb, as to prepare us for what we are to become, and for what we are to accomplish on behalf of His kingdom. This is true of all men, but very especially of those who have been chosen by God to be the extraordinary instruments of His grace, whom He has appointed to be instruments for the carrying out of the redemptive schemes of His kingdom; cf. Jer 44:2, Jer 44:24; Jer 49:5; Gal 1:15. Thus Samson was appointed to be a Nazarite from the womb, this having been revealed to his mother before he was conceived, Jdg 13:3. To other men of God such divine predestination was made known for the first time when they were called to that office to which God had chosen them. So was it with our prophet Jeremiah. In such a case a reminder by God of the divine counsel of grace, of old time ordained and provided with means for its accomplishment, should be accepted as an encouragement willingly to take upon one the allotted calling. For the man God has chosen before his birth to a special office in His kingdom He equips with the gifts and graces needed for the exercise of his functions. The three clauses of Jer 1:5 give the three moments whereof the choosing consists: God has chosen him, has consecrated him, and has installed him as prophet. The reference of the words "I have known thee," Calvin limited to the office, quasi diceret, priusquam te formarem in utero, destinavi te in hunc usum, nempe ut subires docendi munus in populo meo. Divine knowing is at the same time a singling out; and of this, choosing is the immediate consequence. But the choosing takes place by means of הקדישׁ, sanctifying, i.e., setting apart and consecrating for a special calling, and is completed by institution to the office. "To be prophet for the nations have I set thee" (נתן, ponere, not only appoint, but install). The sense has been briefly put by Calv. thus: (Jer.) fuisse hac lege creatum hominem, ut suo tempore manifestaretur propheta. לנוים, to the nations = for the nations; not for Judah alone, but for the heathen peoples too; cf. Jer 1:10, Jer 25:9, 46ff. The Chethibh אצורך should apparently be read אצוּרך, from צוּר, equivalent to יצר; the root-form צוּר, being warranted by Exo 32:4; Kg1 7:15, and being often found in Aramaic. It is, however, possible that the Chet. may be only scriptio plena of אצר, a radice יצר, since the scriptio pl. is found elsewhere, e.g., Hos 8:12; Jer 44:17; Eze 21:28, etc.
The divine call throws Jeremiah into terror. Knowing well his too great weakness for such an office, he exclaims: Ah, Lord Jahveh! I know not how to speak; for I am נער, i.e., young and inexperienced; cf. Kg1 3:7. This excuse shows that לא יד means something else than לא אישׁ דברים, by which Moses sought to repel God's summons. Moses was not ready of speech, he lacked the gift of utterance; Jeremiah, on the other hand, only thinks himself not yet equal to the task by reason of his youth and want of experience.
This excuse God holds of no account. As prophet to the nations, Jeremiah was not to make known his own thoughts or human wisdom, but the will and counsel of God which were to be revealed to him. This is signified by the clauses: for to all to whom I send thee, etc. The על belonging to תלך stands for אל, and does not indicate a hostile advance against any one. כל after על is not neuter, but refers to persons, or rather peoples; since to the relative אשׁר in this connection, עליהם is quite a natural completion; cf. Isa 8:12, and Ew. 331, c. Only to those men or peoples is he to go to whom God sends him; and to them he is to declare only what God commands him. And so he needs be in no anxiety on this head, that, as a youth, he has no experience in the matter of speaking.
Just as little needs youthful bashfulness or shy unwillingness to speak before high and mighty personages stand as a hindrance in the way of his accepting God's call. The Lord will be with him, so that he needs have no fear for any man. The suffix in מפניהם refers to all to whom God sends him (Jer 1:7). These, enraged by the threatenings of punishment which he must proclaim to them, will seek to persecute him and put him to death (cf. Jer 1:19); but God promises to rescue him from every distress and danger which the fulfilment of his duties can bring upon him. Yet God does not let the matter cease with this pledge; but, further, He consecrates him to his calling.
The Consecration. - Jer 1:9. "And Jahveh stretched forth His hand, and touched my mouth, and Jahveh said to me, Behold, I put my words into thy mouth. Jer 1:10. Behold, I set thee this day over the nations, and over the kingdoms, to root up and to ruin, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant." In order to assure him by overt act of His support, the Lord gives him a palpable pledge. He stretches out His hand and causes it to touch his mouth (cf. Isa 6:7); while, as explanation of this symbolical act, He adds: I have put my words in thy mouth. The hand is the instrument of making and doing; the touching of Jeremiah's mouth by the hand of God is consequently an emblematical token that God frames in his mouth what he is to speak. It is a tangible pledge of ἔμπνευσις, inspiratio, embodiment of that influence exercised on the human spirit, by means of which the holy men of God speak, being moved by the Holy Ghost, Pe2 1:21 (Nδgelsb.). The act is a real occurrence, taking place not indeed in the earthly, corporeal sphere, but experienced in spirit, and of the nature of ecstasy. By means of it God has consecrated him to be His prophet, and endowed him for the discharge of his duties; He may now entrust him with His commission to the peoples and kingdoms, and set him over them as His prophet who proclaims to them His word. The contents of this proclaiming are indicated in the following infinitive clauses. With the words of the Lord he is to destroy and to build up peoples and kingdoms. The word of God is a power that carries out His will, and accomplishes that whereto He sends it, Isa 55:10. Against this power nothing earthly can stand; it is a hammer that breaks rocks in pieces, Jer 23:29. What is here said of the word of Jahveh to be preached by Jeremiah is said of Jahveh Himself in Jer 31:28. Its power is to show itself in two ways, in destroying and in building up. The destroying is not set down as a mere preliminary, but is expressed by means of four different words, whereas the building is given only in two words, and these standing after the four; in order, doubtless, to indicate that the labours of Jeremiah should consist, in the first place and for the most part, in proclaiming judgment upon the nations. The assonant verbs נתשׁ and נתץ are joined to heighten the sense; for the same reason להרוס is added to להאביד, and in the antithesis לנטוע is joined with לבנות.
(Note: The lxx have omitted להרוסa, and hence Hitz. infers the spuriousness of this word. But in the parallel passage, Jer 31:28, the lxx have rendered all the four words by the one καθαιρεῖν; and Hitz. does not then pronounce the other three spurious.)
The Confirmatory Tokens. - The first is given in Jer 1:11 and Jer 1:12 : "And there came to me the word of Jahveh, saying, What seest thou, Jeremiah? And I said, I see an almond rod. Then Jahveh said to me, Thou hast seen aright: for I will keep watch over my word to fulfil it." With the consecration of the prophet to his office are associated two visions, to give him a surety of the divine promise regarding the discharge of the duties imposed on him. First, Jeremiah sees in spirit a rod or twig of an almond tree. God calls his attention to this vision, and interprets it to him as a symbol of the swift fulfilment of His word. The choice of this symbol for the purpose given is suggested by the Hebrew name for the almond tree, שׁקד, the wakeful, the vigilant; because this tree begins to blossom and expand its leaves in January, when the other trees are still in their winter's sleep (florat omnium prima mense Januario, Martio vero poma maturat. Plin. h. n. xvi. 42, and Von Schubert, Reise iii. S. 14), and so of all trees awakes earliest to new life. Without any sufficient reason Graf has combated this meaning for שׁקד, proposing to change שׁקד into שׁקד, and, with Aquil., Sym., and Jerome, to translate מקּל שׁקד watchful twig, virga vigilans, i.e., a twig whose eyes are open, whose buds have opened, burst; but he has not even attempted to give any authority for the use of the verb שׁקד for the bursting of buds, much less justified it. In the explanation of this symbol between the words, thou hast seen aright, and the grounding clause, for I will keep watch, there is omitted the intermediate thought: it is indeed a שׁקד. The twig thou hast seen is an emblem of what I shall do; for I will keep watch over my word, will be watchful to fulfil it. This interpretation of the symbol shows besides that מקּל is not here to be taken, as by Kimchi, Vatabl., Seb. Schmidt, Ngelsb., and others, for a stick to beat with, or as a threatening rod of correction. The reasons alleged by Ngelsb. for this view are utterly inconclusive. For his assertion, that מקּל always means a stick, and never a fresh, leafy branch, is proved to be false by Gen 30:37; and the supposed climax found by ancient expositors in the two symbols: rod-boiling caldron, put thus by Jerome: qui noluerint percutiente virga emendari, mittentur in ollam aeneam atque succensam, is forced into the text by a false interpretation of the figure of the seething pot. The figure of the almond rod was meant only to afford to the prophet surety for the speedy and certain fulfilment of the word of God proclaimed by him. It is the second emblem alone that has anything to do with the contents of his preaching.
The Seething Pot. - Jer 1:13. "And there came to me the word of Jahveh for the second time, saying, What seest thou? And I said: I see a seething-pot; and it looketh hither from the north. Jer 1:14. Then said Jahveh to me: From the north will trouble break forth upon all inhabitants of the land. Jer 1:15. For, behold, I call to all families of the kingdoms towards the north, saith Jahveh; that they come and set each his throne before the gates of Jerusalem, and against all her walls round about, and against all cities of Judah. Jer 1:16. And I will pronounce judgment against them for all their wickedness, in that they have forsaken me, and have offered odours to other gods, and worshipped the work of their hands." סיר is a large pot or caldron in which can be cooked vegetables or meat for many persons at once; cf. Kg2 4:38., Eze 24:3. נפוּח, fanned, blown upon, used of fire, Ezek. 21:36; Eze 22:20.; then by transference, seething, steaming, since the caldron under which fire is fanned steams, its contents boil; cf. Job 41:12. The פּנים of the pot is the side turned to the spectator (the prophet), the side towards the front. This is turned from the north this way, i.e., set so that its contents will run thence this way. צפונה, properly: towards the north; then, that which lies towards the north, or the northerly direction. In the interpretation of this symbol in Jer 1:14, תּפּתח, assonant to נפוּח, is introduced, just as in Amo 8:2 קיץ is explained by קץ; so that there was no occasion for the conjecture of Houbig. and Graf: תּפּח, it is fanned up; and against this we have Hitzig's objection that the Hophal of נפח never occurs. Equally uncalled for is Hitzig's own conjecture, xaw%pt@f, it will steam, fume, be kindled; while against this we have the fact, that as to xpanf no evidence can be given for the meaning be kindled, and that we have no cases of such a mode of speaking as: the trouble is fuming, steaming up. The Arabian poetical saying: their pot steams or boils, i.e., a war is being prepared by them, is not sufficient to justify such a figure. We hold then תּפּתח for the correct reading, and decline to be led astray by the paraphrastic ἐκκαυθήσεται of the lxx, since תּפּתח gives a suitable sense. It is true, indeed, that פּתח usually means open; but an opening of the caldron by the removal of the lid is not (with Graf) to be thought of. But, again, פּתח has the derived sig. let loose, let off (cf. ,פּתח בּי Isa 14:17), from which there can be no difficulty in inferring for the Niph. the sig. be let loose, and in the case of trouble, calamity: break forth. That which is in the pot runs over as the heat increases, and pours itself on the hearth or ground. If the seething contents of the pot represent disaster, their running over will point to its being let loose, its breaking out. are the inhabitants of the land of Judah, as the interpretation in Jer 1:15 shows. In Jer 1:15 reference to the figure is given up, and the further meaning is given in direct statement. The Lord will call to all families of the kingdoms of the north, and they will come (= that they are to come). The kingdoms of the north are not merely the kingdoms of Syria, but in general those of Upper Asia; since all armies marching from the Euphrates towards Palestine entered the land from the north. משׁפּחות, families, are the separate races of nations, hence often used in parallelism with גּוים; cf. Jer 10:25; Nah 3:4. We must not conclude from this explanation of the vision seen that the seething pot symbolizes the Chaldeans themselves or the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar; such a figure would be too unnatural. The seething pot, whose contents boil over, symbolizes the disaster and ruin which the families of the kingdoms of the north will pour out on Judah.
Jer 1:15 is not the precise interpretation of the picture seen, but a direct statement of the afflictions about to fall on the inhabitants of Judah. "They will set each his throne." The representatives of the kingdoms are meant, the kings and generals. To set one's throne (נתן or שׂוּם; cf. Jer 43:10; Jer 49:38) is a figure for the establishing of sovereignty. כּסא, seat or throne, is not the seat of judgment, but the throne of the sovereign; cf. the expression: set the throne upon these stones, Jer 43:10; where a passing of judgment on the stones being out of the question, the only idea is the setting up of dominion, as is put beyond doubt by the parallel clause; to spread out his state carpet upon the stones. "Before the gates of Jerusalem:" not merely in order to besiege the city and occupy the outlets from it (Jerome and others), but to lord it over the city and its inhabitants. If we take the figurative expression in this sense, the further statement fits well into it, and we have no need to take refuge in Hitzig's unnatural view that these clauses are not dependent on נתנוּ וגו' but on וּבאוּ. For the words: they set up their dominion against the calls of Jerusalem, and against all cities of Judah, give the suitable sense, that they will use violence against the walls and cities.
God holds judgment upon the inhabitants of Judah in this very way, viz., by bringing these nations and permitting them to set up their lordship before the gates of Jerusalem, and against all cities of Judah. The suffix in אותם refers to ישׁבי, Jer 1:14, and אותם stands by later usage for אתּם, as frequently in Jer.; cf. Ew. 264, b. 'דּבּר משׁפּטים את־פ, speak judgment, properly, have a lawsuit with one, an expression peculiar to Jeremiah - cf. Jer 4:12; Jer 12:1; Jer 39:5; Jer 52:9, and Kg2 25:6 - is in substance equivalent to נשׁפּט את, plead with one, cf. Jer 12:1 with Jer 2:35, Eze 20:35., and signifies not only remonstrating against wrong doing, but also the passing of condemnation, and so comprehends trial and sentencing; cf. Jer 39:5; Jer 42:9. "All their wickedness" is more exactly defined in the following relative clauses; it consists in their apostasy from God, and their worship of heathen gods and idols made by themselves; cf. Jer 19:4, Kg1 11:33, Kg2 22:17. קטּר, offer odours, cause to rise in smoke, used not of the burning of incense alone, but of all offerings upon the altar, bloody offerings and meat-offerings; hence frequently in parallelism with זבח; cf. Hos 4:13; Hos 11:2, etc. In the Pentateuch the Hiphil is used for this sense. Instead of the plural מעשׂי, many MSS give the singular מעשׂה as the ordinary expression for the productions of the hand, handiwork; cf. Jer 25:6-7, Jer 25:14; Jer 32:30; Kg2 22:17, etc.; but the plural too is found in Jer 44:8; Ch2 34:25, and is approved by these passages. The sense is no way affected by this variation.
The interpretation of the symbols is followed by a charge to Jeremiah to address himself stoutly to his duties, and to discharge them fearlessly, together with still further and fuller assurance of powerful divine assistance.
"But thou, gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak to them all that I command thee: be not dismayed before them, lest I dismay thee before them. Jer 1:18. And I, behold I make thee this day a strong city, an iron pillar, a brazen wall against the whole land, the kings of Judah its princes, its priests, and the people of the land. Jer 1:19. They shall strive against thee, but not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith Jahveh, to save thee." To gird up the loins, i.e., to fasten or tuck up with the girdle the long wide garment, in order to make oneself fit and ready for labour, for a journey, or a race (Exo 12:11; Kg1 18:46; Kg2 4:29; Kg2 9:1), or for battle (Job 38:3; Job 40:7). Meaning: equip thyself and arise to preach my words to the inhabitants of the land. In 'אל־תּחת and ' אחתּך לthere is a play on words. The Niph. sig. broken in spirit by terror and anxiety; the Hiph. to throw into terror and anguish. If Jeremiah appears before his adversaries in terror, then he will have cause to be terrified for them; only if by unshaken confidence in the power of the word he preaches in the name of the Lord, will he be able to accomplish anything. Such confidence he has reason to cherish, for God will furnish him with the strength necessary for making a stand, will make him strong and not to be vanquished. This is the meaning of the pictorial statement in Jer 1:18. A strong city resists the assaults of the foes; the storm cannot shatter an iron pillar; and walls of brass defy the enemy's missiles. Instead of the plural חמות, the parallel passage Jer 15:20 has the sing. חומת, the plural being used as frequently as the singular to indicate the wall encircling the city; cf. Kg2 25:10 with Kg1 3:1; Neh 2:13; Neh 4:1 with Neh 1:3, and Neh 2:17; Neh 4:10. With such invincible power will God equip His prophet "against the whole land," i.e., so that he will be able to hold his own against the whole land. The mention of the component parts of "all the land," i.e., the several classes of the population, is introduced by למלכי, so that "the kings," etc., is to be taken as an apposition to "against all the land." Kings in the plural are mentioned, because the prophet's labours are to extend over several reigns. שׂרים are the chiefs of the people, the heads of families and clans, and officers, civil and military. "The people of the land" is the rest of the population not included in these three classes, elsewhere called men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Jer 17:25; Jer 32:32, and frequently. אליך for עליך; so in Jer 15:20, and often. With the promise in Jer 15:19, cf. Jer 1:8.