The fatal consequences of the idolatry of the Jews. (1-4) The happiness of the man that trusts in God; the end of the opposite character. (5-11) The malice of the prophet's enemies. (12-18) The observance of the sabbath. (19-27)
Verses 1-4 The sins which men commit make little impression on their minds, yet every sin is marked in the book of God; they are all so graven upon the table of the heart, that they will all be remembered by the conscience. That which is graven in the heart will become plain in the life; men's actions show the desires and purposes of their hearts. What need we have to humble ourselves before God, who are so vile in his sight! How should we depend on his mercy and grace, begging of God to search and prove us; not to suffer us to be deceived by our own hearts, but to create in us a clean and holy nature by his Spirit!
Verses 5-11 He who puts confidence in man, shall be like the heath in a desert, a naked tree, a sorry shrub, the product of barren ground, useless and worthless. Those who trust to their own righteousness and strength, and think they can do without Christ, make flesh their arm, and their souls cannot prosper in graces or comforts. Those who make God their Hope, shall flourish like a tree always green, whose leaf does not wither. They shall be fixed in peace and satisfaction of mind; they shall not be anxious in a year of drought. Those who make God their Hope, have enough in him to make up the want of all creature-comforts. They shall not cease from yielding fruit in holiness and good works. The heart, the conscience of man, in his corrupt and fallen state, is deceitful above all things. It calls evil good, and good evil; and cries peace to those to whom it does not belong. Herein the heart is desperately wicked; it is deadly, it is desperate. The case is bad indeed, if the conscience, which should set right the errors of other faculties, is a leader in the delusion. We cannot know our own hearts, nor what they will do in an hour of temptation. Who can understand his errors? Much less can we know the hearts of others, or depend upon them. He that believes God's testimony in this matter, and learns to watch his own heart, will find this is a correct, though a sad picture, and learns many lessons to direct his conduct. But much in our own hearts and in the hearts of others, will remain unknown. Yet whatever wickedness there is in the heart, God sees it. Men may be imposed upon, but God cannot be deceived. He that gets riches, and not by right, though he may make them his hope, never shall have joy of them. This shows what vexation it is to a worldly man at death, that he must leave his riches behind; but though the wealth will not follow to another world, guilt will, and everlasting torment. The rich man takes pains to get an estate, and sits brooding upon it, but never has any satisfaction in it; by sinful courses it comes to nothing. Let us be wise in time; what we get, let us get it honestly; and what we have, use it charitably, that we may be wise for eternity.
Verses 12-18 The prophet acknowledges the favour of God in setting up religion. There is fulness of comfort in God, overflowing, ever-flowing fulness, like a fountain. It is always fresh and clear, like spring-water, while the pleasures of sin are puddle-waters. He prays to God for healing, saving mercy. He appeals to God concerning his faithful discharge of the office to which he was called. He humbly begs that God would own and protect him in the work to which he had plainly called him. Whatever wounds or diseases we find to be in our hearts and consciences, let us apply to the Lord to heal us, to save us, that our souls may praise his name. His hands can bind up the troubled conscience, and heal the broken heart; he can cure the worst diseases of our nature.
Verses 19-27 The prophet was to lay before the rulers and the people of Judah, the command to keep holy the sabbath day. Let them strictly observe the fourth command. If they obeyed this word, their prosperity should be restored. It is a day of rest, and must not be made a day of labour, unless in cases of necessity. Take heed, watch against the profanation of the sabbath. Let not the soul be burdened with the cares of this world on sabbath days. The streams of religion run deep or shallow, according as the banks of the sabbath are kept up or neglected. The degree of strictness with which this ordinance is observed, or the neglect shown towards it, is a good test to find the state of spiritual religion in any land. Let all; by their own example, by attention to their families, strive to check this evil, that national prosperity may be preserved, and, above all, that souls may be saved.
Jeremiah 17:1-27 . THE JEWS' INVETERATE LOVE OF IDOLATRY.
The the Septuagint omits the first four verses, but other Greek versions have them.
1. The first of the four clauses relates to the third, the second to the fourth, by alternate parallelism. The sense is: They are as keen after idols as if their propensity was "graven with an iron pen ( Job 19:24 ) on their hearts," or as if it were sanctioned by a law "inscribed with a diamond point" on their altars. The names of their gods used to be written on "the horns of the altars" ( Acts 17:23 ). As the clause "on their hearts" refers to their inward propensity, so "on . . . altars," the outward exhibition of it. Others refer "on the horns of . . . altars" to their staining them with the blood of victims, in imitation of the Levitical precept ( Exodus 29:12 , Leviticus 4:7 Leviticus 4:18 ), but "written . . . graven," would thus be inappropriate.
table of . . . heart--which God intended to be inscribed very differently, namely, with His truths ( Proverbs 3:3 , 2 Corinthians 3:3 ).
your--Though "their" preceded, He directly addresses them to charge the guilt home to them in particular.
2. children remember--Instead of forsaking the idolatries of their fathers, they keep them up ( Jeremiah 7:18 ). This is given as proof that their sin is "graven upon . . . altars" ( Jeremiah 17:1 ), that is, is not merely temporary. They corrupt their posterity after them. CASTALIO less probably translates, "They remember their altars as (fondly as) they do their children."
groves--rather, "images of Astarte," the goddess of the heavenly hosts, represented as a sacred tree, such as is seen in the Assyrian sculptures ( 2 Kings 21:7 , 2 Chronicles 24:18 ). "Image of the grove." The Hebrew for "grove" is Asherah, that is, Assarak, Astarte, or Ashtaroth.
by the green trees--that is, near them: the sacred trees (idol symbols) of Astarte being placed in the midst of natural trees: "green trees" is thus distinguished from "groves," artificial trees. HENDERSON, to avoid taking the same Hebrew particle in the same sentence differently, "by . . . upon" translates "images of Astarte on the green trees." But it is not probable that images, in the form of a sacred tree, should be hung on trees, rather than near them.
3. mountain--Jerusalem, and especially Zion and the temple.
in the field--As Jerusalem was surrounded by mountains ( Psalms 125:2 ), the sense probably is, Ye rely on your mountainous position ( Jeremiah 3:23 ), but I will make "My mountain" to become as if it were in a plain (field), so as to give thy substance an easy prey to the enemy [CALVIN]. "Field" may, however, mean all Judea; it and "My mountain" will thus express the country and its capital. (GESENIUS translates, "together with," instead of "in"; as the Hebrew is translated in Jeremiah 11:19 , Hosea 5:6 ; but this is not absolutely needed), "the substance" of both of which God "will give to the spoil."
thy high places--corresponding in parallelism to "My mountain" (compare Isaiah 11:9 ), as "all thy borders," to "the field" (which confirms the view that "field" means all Judea).
for sin--connected with high places" in English Version, namely, frequented for sin, that is, for idolatrous sacrifices. But Jeremiah 15:13 makes the rendering probable, "I will give thy substance . . . to . . . spoil . . . on account of thy sin throughout all thy borders."
4. even thyself--rather, "owing to thyself," that is, by thy own fault ( Jeremiah 15:13 ).
discontinue from--be dispossessed of. Not only thy substance, but thyself shall be carried off to a strange land ( Jeremiah 15:14 ).
5. Referring to the Jews' proneness to rely on Egypt, in its fear of Assyria and Babylon ( Isaiah 31:1 Isaiah 31:3 ).
trusteth--This word is emphatic. We may expect help from men, so far as God enables them to help us, but we must rest our trust in God alone ( Psalms 62:5 ).
6. heath--In Psalms 102:17 , Isaiah 32:11 , Habakkuk 3:9 , the Hebrew is translated, "bare," "naked," "destitute"; but as the parallel in Jeremiah 17:8 is "tree," some plant must be meant of which this is the characteristic epithet ( Jeremiah 48:6 , Margin), "a naked tree." ROBINSON translates, "the juniper tree," found in the Arabah or Great Valley, here called "the desert," south of the Dead Sea. The "heath" was one of the plants, according to PLINY (13.21; 16.26), excluded from religious uses, because it has neither fruit nor seed, and is neither sown nor planted.
not see . . . good--( Job 20:17 ).
salt land--( Deuteronomy 29:23 ), barren ground.
7. ( Psalms 34:8 , Proverbs 16:20 , Isaiah 30:18 ). Jeremiah first removed the weeds (false trusts), so that there might be room for the good grain [CALVIN].
8. ( Psalms 1:3 ).
shall not see--that is, feel. Answering to Jeremiah 17:6 ; whereas the unbelievers "shall not see (even) when good cometh," the believer "shall not see (so as to be overwhelmed by it even) when heat (fiery trial) cometh." Trials shall come upon him as on all, nay, upon him especially ( Hebrews 12:6 ); but he shall not sink under them, because the Lord is his secret strength, just as the "roots spread out by a river" (or, "water-course") draw hidden support from it ( 2 Corinthians 4:8-11 ).
careful--anxious, as one desponding ( Luke 12:29 , 1 Peter 5:7 ).
drought--literally, "withholding," namely, of rain ( Jeremiah 14:1 ); he here probably alludes to the drought which had prevailed, but makes it the type of all kinds of distress.
9. deceitful--from a root, "supplanting," "tripping up insidiously by the heel," from which Jacob ( Hosea 12:3 ) took his name. In speaking of the Jews' deceit of heart, he appropriately uses a term alluding to their forefather, whose deceit, but not whose faith, they followed. His "supplanting" was in order to obtain Jehovah's blessing. They plant Jehovah for "trust in man" ( Jeremiah 17:5 ), and then think to deceive God, as if it could escape His notice, that it is in man, not in Him, they trust.
desperately wicked--"incurable" [HORSLEY], ( Micah 1:9 ). Trust in one's own heart is as foolish as in our fellow man ( Proverbs 28:26 ).
10. Lest any should infer from Jeremiah 17:9 , "who can know it?" that even the Lord does not know, and therefore cannot punish, the hidden treachery of the heart, He says, "I the Lord search the heart," &c. ( 1 Chronicles 28:9 , Psalms 7:9 , Proverbs 17:3 , Revelation 2:23 ).
even to give--and that in order that I may give ( Jeremiah 32:19 ).
11. partridge--( 1 Samuel 26:20 ). Hebrew, korea, from a root, "to call," alluding to its cry; a name still applied to a bustard by the Arabs. Its nest is liable, being on the ground, to be trodden under foot, or robbed by carnivorous animals, notwithstanding all the beautiful manoeuvres of the parent birds to save the brood. The translation, "sitteth on eggs which it has not laid," alludes to the ancient notion that she stole the eggs of other birds and hatched them as her own; and that the young birds when grown left her for the true mother. It is not needful to make Scripture allude to an exploded notion, as if it were true. MAURER thinks the reference is to Jehoiakim's grasping cupidity ( Jeremiah 22:13-17 ). Probably the sense is more general; as previously He condemned trust in man ( Jeremiah 17:5 ), He now condemns another object of the deceitful hearts' trust, unjustly gotten riches ( Psalms 39:6 , Psalms 49:16 Psalms 49:17 , 55:23 ).
fool--( Proverbs 23:5 , Luke 12:20 ); "their folly" ( Psalms 49:13 ). He himself, and all, shall at last perceive he was not the wise man he thought he was.
12. throne--the temple of Jerusalem, the throne of Jehovah. Having condemned false objects of trust, "high places for sin" ( Jeremiah 17:3 ), and an "arm of flesh," he next sets forth Jehovah, and His temple, which was ever open to the Jews, as the true object of confidence, and sanctuary to flee to. HENDERSON makes Jehovah, in Jeremiah 17:13 , the subject, and this verse predicate, "A throne of glory, high from the beginning, the place of our sanctuary, the hope of Israel is Jehovah." "Throne" is thus used for Him who sits on it; compare thrones ( Colossians 1:16 ). He is called a "sanctuary" to His people ( Isaiah 8:14 , Ezekiel 11:16 ). So Syriac and Arabic.
13. me--"Jehovah." Though "Thee" precedes. This sudden transition is usual in the prophetic style, owing to the prophet's continual realization of Jehovah's presence.
all that forsake thee--( Psalms 73:27 , Isaiah 1:28 ).
written in the earth--in the dust, that is, shall be consigned to oblivion. So Jesus' significant writing "on the ground (probably the accusers' names)" ( John 8:6 ). Names written in the dust are obliterated by a very slight wind. Their hopes and celebrity are wholly in the earth, not in the heavenly book of life ( Revelation 13:8 , Revelation 20:12 Revelation 20:15 ). The Jews, though boasting that they were the people of God, had no portion in heaven, no status before God and His angels. Contrast "written in heaven," that is, in the muster-roll of its blessed citizens ( Luke 10:20 ). Also, contrast "written in a book," and "in the rock for ever" ( Job 19:23 Job 19:24 ).
living waters--( Jeremiah 2:13 ).
14-18. Prayer of the prophet for deliverance from the enemies whom he excited by his faithful denunciations.
Heal . . . save--not only make me whole (as to the evils of soul as well as body which I am exposed to by contact with ungodly foes, Jeremiah 15:18 ), but keep me so.
my praise--He whom I have to praise for past favors, and therefore to whom alone I look for the time to come.
15. Where is the word?--( Isaiah 5:19 , Amos 5:18 ). Where is the fulfilment of the threats which thou didst utter as from God? A characteristic of the last stage of apostasy ( 2 Peter 3:4 ).
16. I have not refused Thy call of me to be a prophet ( Jonah 1:3 ), however painful to me it was to utter what would be sure to irritate the hearers ( Jeremiah 1:4 , &c.).; therefore Thou shouldest not forsake me ( Jeremiah 15:15 , &c.).
to follow thee--literally, "after thee"; as an under-pastor following Thee, the Chief Shepherd ( Ecclesiastes 12:11 , 1 Peter 5:4 ).
neither . . . desired--I have not wished for the day of calamity, though I foretell it as about to come on my countrymen; therefore they have no reason for persecuting me.
thou knowest--I appeal to Thee for the truth of what I assert.
that which came out of my lips--my words ( Deuteronomy 23:23 ).
right before thee--rather, "was before Thee"; was known to Thee--( Proverbs 5:21 ).
17. a terror--namely, by deserting me: all I fear is Thine abandoning me; if Thou art with me, I have no fear of evil from enemies.
18. destroy . . . destruction--"break them with a double breach," Hebrew ( Jeremiah 14:17 ). On "double,"
19-27. Delivered in the reign of Jehoiakim, who undid the good effected by Josiah's reformation, especially as to the observance of the Sabbath [EICHORN].
gate of . . . children of . . . people--The gate next the king's palace, called the gate of David, and the gate of the people, from its being the principal thoroughfare: now the Jaffa gate. It is probably the same as "the gate of the fountain" at the foot of Zion, near which were the king's garden and pool ( Jeremiah 39:4 , 2 Kings 25:4 , Nehemiah 2:14 , 3:15 , 12:37 ).
20. kings--He begins with the kings, as they ought to have repressed such a glaring profanation.
21. Take heed to yourselves--literally, "to your souls." MAURER explains, "as ye love your lives"; a phrase used here to give the greater weight to the command.
sabbath--The non-observance of it was a chief cause of the captivity, the number of years of the latter, seventy, being exactly made to agree with the number of Sabbaths which elapsed during the four hundred ninety years of their possession of Canaan from Saul to their removal ( Leviticus 26:34 Leviticus 26:35 , 2 Chronicles 36:21 ). On the restoration, therefore, stress was especially laid on Sabbath observance ( Nehemiah 13:19 ).
Jerusalem--It would have been scandalous anywhere; but in the capital, Jerusalem, it was an open insult to God. Sabbath-hallowing is intended as a symbol of holiness in general ( Ezekiel 20:12 ); therefore much stress is laid on it; the Jews' gross impiety is manifested in their setting God's will at naught, in the case of such an easy and positive command.
23. ( Jeremiah 7:24 Jeremiah 7:26 ).
24. A part put for the whole, "If ye keep the Sabbath and My other laws."
25. kings . . . in chariots--The kingdom at this time had been brought so low that this promise here was a special favor.
remain--Hebrew, "be inhabited" ( Jeremiah 17:6 , Isaiah 13:20 ).
26. plain mountains . . . south--( Joshua 15:1-4 ). The southern border had extended to the river of Egypt, but was now much curtailed by Egyptian invasions ( 2 Chronicles 35:20 , 2 Chronicles 36:3 2 Chronicles 36:4 ). The Hebrew for "south" means dry; the arid desert south of Judea is meant. The enumeration of all the parts of Judea, city, country, plain, hill, and desert, implies that no longer shall there be aught wanting of the integrity of the Jewish land ( Zechariah 7:7 ).
sacrifices--As in Jeremiah 17:22 , one constituent of Judea's prosperity is mentioned, namely, its kings on David's throne, the pledge of God being its guardian; so in this verse another constituent, namely, its priests, a pledge of God being propitious to it ( Psalms 107:22 ).
27. burden . . . in . . . gates . . . fire in the gates--retribution answering to the sin. The scene of their sin shall be the scene of their punishment ( Jeremiah 52:13 , 2 Kings 25:9 ).