Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The Broken Pitcher. - Jer 19:1. "Thus said Jahveh: Go and buy a potter's vessel, and take of the elders of the people and of the elders of the priests, Jer 19:2. And go forth into the valley of Benhinnom, which is before the gate Harsuth, and proclaim there the words which I shall speak unto thee, Jer 19:3. And say: Hear the word of Jahveh, ye kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus hath said Jahveh of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I bring evil upon this place, the which whosoever heareth his ears shall tingle. Jer 19:4. Because they have forsaken me, and disowned this place, and burnt incense in it to other gods whom they knew not, they, and their fathers, and the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents, Jer 19:5. And have built high places for Baal, to burn their sons in the fire as burnt-offerings to Baal, which I have neither commanded nor spoken, nor came it into my heart. Jer 19:6. Therefore, behold, days come, saith Jahve, that this place shall no longer be called Tophet and Valley of Benhinnom, but Valley of Slaughter. Jer 19:7. And I make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place, and cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies and by the hand of them that seek their lives, and give their carcases to be food for the fowls of the heaven and the beast of the earth. Jer 19:8. And make this city a dismay and a scoffing; every one that passeth thereby shall be dismayed and hiss because of all her strokes; Jer 19:9. And make them eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and each shall eat his neighbour's flesh in the siege and straitness wherewith their enemies and they that seek after their lives shall straiten them. - Jer 19:10. And break the pitcher before the eyes of the men that go with thee, Jer 19:11. And say to them: Thus hath Jahve of hosts said: Even so will I break this people and this city as one breaketh this potter's vessel, that it cannot be made whole again; and in Tophet shall they bury them, because there is no room to bury. Jer 19:12. Thus will I do unto this place, saith Jahveh, and its inhabitants, to make this city as Tophet. Jer 19:13. And the houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah shall become, as the place Tophet, unclean, all the houses upon whose roofs they have burnt incense to the whole host of heaven and poured out drink-offerings to other gods."
The purpose for which Jeremiah was to buy the earthen jar is told in Jer 19:10, and the meaning of breaking it in the valley of Benhinnom is shown in Jer 19:11-13. בּקבּק, from בּקק, to pour out, is a jar with a narrow neck, so called from the sound heard when liquid is poured out of it, although the vessel was used for storing honey, Kg1 14:3. The appellation יוצר, former of earthen vessels, i.e., potter, is given to denote the jar as one which, on being broken, would shiver into many fragments. Before "of the elders of the people" a verb seems to be awanting, for which cause many supply ולקחתּ (according to Jer 41:12; Jer 43:10, etc.), rightly so far as sense is concerned; but we are hardly entitled to assume a lacuna in the text. That assumption is opposed by the ו before מזּקני; for we cannot straightway presume that this ו was put in after the verb had dropped out of the text. In that case the whole word would have been restored. We have here rather, as Schnur. saw, a bold constructio praegnans, the verb "buy" being also joined in zeugma with "of the elders:" buy a jar and (take) certain of the elders; cf. similar, only less bold, zeugmatic constr. in Job 4:10; Job 10:12; Isa 58:5. "Elders of the priests," as in Kg2 19:2, probably identical with the "princes (שׂרי) of the priests," Ch2 36:14, are doubtless virtually the same as the "heads (ראשׁי) of the priests," Neh 12:7, the priests highest in esteem, not merely for their age, but also in virtue of their rank; just as the "elders of the people" were a permanent representation of the people, consisting of the heads of tribes, houses or septs, and families; cf. Kg1 8:1-3, and my Bibl. Archol. ii. S. 218. Jeremiah was to take elders of the people and of the priesthood, because it was most readily to be expected of them that the word of God to be proclaimed would find a hearing amongst them. As to the valley of Benhinnom, see on Jer 7:31. שׁער החרסוּת, not Sun-gate (after חרס, Job 9:7; Jdg 8:13), but Pottery or Sherd-gate, from חרס = חרשׂ, in rabbin. חרסית, potter's clay. The Chet. חרסוּת is the ancient form, not the modern (Hitz.), for the Keri is adapted to the rabbinical form. The clause, "which is before the Harsuth-gate," is not meant to describe more particularly the locality, sufficiently well known in Jerusalem, but has reference to the act to be performed there. The name, gate of חרסוּת, which nowhere else occurs, points no doubt to the breaking to shivers of the jar. Hence we are rather to translate Sherd-gate than Pottery-gate, the name having probably arisen amongst the people from the broken fragments which lay about this gate. Comm. are not at one as to which of the known city gates is meant. Hitz. and Kimchi are wrong in thinking of a gate of the court of the temple - the southern one. The context demands one of the city gates, two of which led into the Benhinnom valley: the Spring-or Fountain-gate at the south-east corner, and the Dung-gate on the south-west side of Zion; see on Neh 3:13-15. One of these two must be meant, but which of them it cannot be decided. there Jeremiah is to cry aloud the words which follow, Jer 19:3-8, and which bear on the kings of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. "Kings" in the plural, as in Jer 13:13, because the matter concerned not the reigning king only, but his successors too, who had been guilty of the sins to be punished.
In Jer 19:3-5 the threatening is summarily set forth. Horrible evil will the Lord bring on this place, i.e., Jerusalem. The ears of every one that hears it will tingle, so utterly stunning will the news of it turn out to be; cf. Kg2 21:12 and Sa1 3:11, where we find תּצלּינה; cf. Ew. 197, a. This they have brought on themselves by their dreadful sins. They have forsaken Jahveh, disowned this place; נכּר , prop. find strange, Deu 32:27, then treat as strange, deny, Job 21:29. In substance: they have not treated Jerusalem as the city of the sanctuary of their God, but, as it mentioned after, they have burnt incense in it to other (strange) gods. The words: they and their fathers, and the kings of Judah, are not the subject to "knew not," as is "they and their," etc., in Jer 9:15; Jer 16:13, but to the preceding verb of the principal clause. "And have filled the city with the blood of innocents." This Grot. and others understand by the blood of the children slain for Moloch; and for this, appeal is made to Psa 106:37., where the pouring out of innocent blood is explained to be that of sons and daughters offered to idols. But this passage cannot be the standard for the present one, neither can the statement that here we have to deal with idolatry alone. This latter is petitio principii. If shedding the blood of innocents had been said of offerings to Moloch, then Jer 19:5 must be taken as epexegesis. But in opposition to this we have not only the parallelism of the clauses, but also and especially the circumstance, that not till Jer 19:5 is mention made of altars on which to offer children of Moloch. We therefore understand the filling of Jerusalem with the blood of innocents, according to Jer 7:6, cf. Jer 2:34 and Jer 22:3, Jer 22:17, of judicial murder or of bloody persecution of the godly; and on two grounds: 1. because alongside of idolatry we always find mentioned as the chief sin the perversion of justice to the shedding of innocent blood (cf. the passages cited), so that this sin would not likely be omitted here, as one cause of the dreadful judgment about to pass on Jerusalem; 2. because our passage recalls the very wording of Kg2 21:16, where, after mentioning his idolatry, it is said of Manasseh: Also innocent blood hath he shed, until he made Jerusalem full (מלּא) to the brink.
The climax in the enumeration of sins in these verses is accordingly this: 1. The disowning of the holiness of Jerusalem as the abode of the Lord by the public practice of idolatry; 2. the shedding of innocent blood as extremity of injustice and godless judicial practices; 3. as worst of all abominations, the building of altars for burning their own children to Moloch. That the Moloch-sacrifices are mentioned last, as being worst of all, is shown by the three relative clauses: which I have not commanded, etc., which by an impassioned gradation of phrases mark God's abomination of these horrors. On this subject cf. Jer 7:31 and Jer 32:35.
In Jer 19:6-13 the threatened punishment is given again at large, and that in two strophes or series of ideas, which explain the emblematical act with the pitcher. The first series, Jer 19:6-9, is introduced by בּקּותי, which intimates the meaning of the pitcher; and the other, Jer 19:10-13, is bound up with the breaking of the pitcher. But both series are, Jer 19:6, opened by the mention of the locality of the act. As Jer 19:5 was but an expansion of Jer 7:31, so Jer 19:6 is a literal repetition of Jer 7:32. The valley of Benhinnom, with its places for abominable sacrifices (תּפת, see on Jer 7:32), shall in the future be called Valley of Slaughter; i.e., at the judgment on Jerusalem it will be the place where the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah will be slain by the enemy. There God will make void (בּקּותי, playing on בּקבּק), i.e., bring to nothing; for what is poured out comes to nothing; cf. Isa 19:3. There they shall fall by the sword in such numbers that their corpses shall be food for the beasts of prey (cf. Jer 7:33), and the city of Jerusalem shall be frightfully ravaged (Jer 19:8, cf. Jer 18:16; Jer 25:9, etc.). מכּתה (plural form of suffix without Jod; cf. Ew. 258, a), the wounds she has received. - In Jer 19:9 is added yet another item to complete the awful picture, the terrible famine during the siege, partly taken from the words of Deu 28:53. and Lev 26:29. That this appalling misery did actually come about during the last siege by the Chaldeans, we learn from Lam 4:10. - The second series, Jer 19:10-13, is introduced by the act of breaking the pitcher. This happens before the eyes of the elders who have accompanied Jeremiah thither: to them the explanatory word of the Lord is addressed. As the earthen pitcher, so shall Jerusalem - people and city - be broken to pieces; and that irremediably. This is implied in: as one breaks a potter's vessel, etc. (הרפה for הרפא). The next clause: and in Tophet they shall bury, etc., is omitted by the lxx as a repetition from Jer 7:32, and is object to by Ew., Hitz., and Graf, as not being in keeping with its context. Ew. proposes to insert it before "as one breaketh;" but this transposition only obscures the meaning of the clause. It connects very suitably with the idea of the incurable breaking in sunder. Because the breaking up of Jerusalem and its inhabitants shall be incurable, shall be like the breaking of a pitcher dashed into countless fragments, therefore there will be lack of room in Jerusalem to bury the dead, and the unclean places of Tophet will need to be used for that purpose. With this the further thought of Jer 19:12 and Jer 19:13 connects simply and suitably. Thus (as had been said at Jer 19:11) will I do unto this place and its inhabitants, ולתת, and that to make the city as Tophet, i.e., not "a mass of sherds and rubbish, as Tophet now is" (Graf); for neither was Tophet then a rubbish-heap, nor did it so become by the breaking of the pitcher. But Josiah had turned all the place of Tophet in the valley of Benhinnom into an unclean region (Kg2 23:10). All Jerusalem shall become an unclean place like Tophet. This is put in so many words in Jer 19:13 : The houses of Jerusalem shall become unclean like the place Tophet, namely, all houses on whose roofs idolatry has been practised. The construction of הטּמאים causes some difficulty. The position of the word at the end disfavours our connecting it with the subject בּתּי, and so does the article, which does not countenance its being taken as predicate. To get rid of the article, J. D. Mich. and Ew. sought to change the reading into תּפתּה טמאים, after Isa 30:33. But תּפתּה means a Tophet-like place, not Tophet itself, and so gives no meaning to the purpose. No other course is open than to join the word with "the place Tophet:" like the place Tophet, which is unclean. The plural would then be explained less from the collective force of מקום than from regard to the plural subject. "All the houses" opens a supplementary definition of the subject: as concerning all houses; cf. Ew. 310, a. On the worship of the stars by sacrifice on the housetops, transplanted by Manasseh to Jerusalem, see the expos. of Zep 1:5 and Kg2 21:3. 'והסּך, coinciding literally with Jer 7:18; the inf. absol. being attached to the verb. finit. of the former clause (Ew. 351, c.). - Thus far the word of the Lord to Jeremiah, which he was to proclaim in the valley of Benhinnom. - The execution of the divine commission is, as being a matter of course, not expressly recounted, but is implied in Jer 19:14 as having taken place.
The Prophet Jeremiah and the Temple-Warden Pashur. - Jer 19:14. When Jeremiah, having performed the divine command, returned from Tophet to the city, he went into the court of the house of God and spoke to the people assembled there, v. 15: "Thus hath said Jahveh of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I bring upon this city, and all its cities, all the evil that I have pronounced against it, because they stiffened their necks not to hear my words." "All the people" is the people present in the court of the temple as distinguished from the men who had accompanied Jeremiah into the valley of Benhinnom (Jer 19:10). מבי, the א having dropped off, as in Jer 39:16; Kg1 21:21, Kg1 21:29; Sa2 5:2, and often. "All its cities" are the towns that belonged to Jerusalem, were subject to it (Jer 34:1); in other words, the cities of Judah, Jer 1:15; Jer 9:10, etc. All the evil that I have pronounced against it, not merely in the valley of Benhinnom (Jer 19:3-13), but generally up till this time, by the mouth of Jeremiah. If we limit the reference of this view to the prophecy in Tophet, we must assume, with Ng., that Jeremiah repeated the substance of it here; and besides, that prophecy is not in keeping with "all its cities," inasmuch as it (Jer 19:3-13) deals with Jerusalem alone. Apparently Jeremiah must have said more than is written in the verse, and described the evil somewhat more closely; so that the new matter spoken by him here consists in the "Behold I bring," etc., i.e., in his forewarning them of the speedy fulfilment of the threatenings against Jerusalem and Judah, as was the case with the prophecy in the valley of Benhinnom, which also, Jer 19:3, begins with הנני מביא. On "they stiffened their necks," etc., cf. Jer 17:23; Jer 7:26.