Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
In this prophecy Jer. 16:1-18, the punishment of the people is set forth in even sterner terms than in the last. The whole land is likened to a desert covered with the bodies of the dead, who lie unbemoaned and uncared for; and the prophet himself is commanded to abstain from the common usages of mankind that his motto of life, as well as his words, may warn the people of the greatness of the approaching calamity. There is, however, to be finally a return from exile, but only after the idolatry of the nation has been severely punished. The prophecy was probably written about the close of Jehoiakim's reign.
As marriage was obligatory upon the Jews, the prohibition of it to Jeremiah was a sign that the impending calamity was so great as to override all ordinary duties. Jeremiah was unmarried, but the force of the sign lay in its being an exception to the ordinary practice of the prophets.
In this place - The whole of Judaea.
The times were such that for "the present distress" it was wise for all to abstain from marriage Co1 7:26; Mat 24:19.
Cut themselves ... make themselves bald - Both these practices were strictly forbidden in the Law (marginal references) probably as being pagan customs, but they seem to have remained in common use. By "making bald" is meant shaving a bare patch on the front of the head.
Tear themselves - Better as in the margin; "break broad for them." It was customary upon the death of a relative to fast, and for the friends and neighbors after a decent delay to come and comfort the mourner, and urge food upon him Sa2 12:17; food was also distributed at funerals to the mourners, and to the poor.
Cup of consolation - Marginal reference note.
The severe sentence passed upon them is the consequence of idolatry persisted in through many generations until it has finally deepened into national apostasy.
Imaginations - Read stubbornness.
And there shall ye ... - Ironical, and "there ye may serve other gods day and night, since I will shew you no favor."
These two verses, by promising a deliverance greater than that from Egypt, implied also a chastisement more terrible than the bondage in the iron furnace there. Instead of their being placed in one land, there was to be a scattering into the north and many other countries, followed finally by a restoration.
The scattering of the people is to be like that of hunted animals, of which but few escape, the ancient method of hunting being to enclose a large space with beaters and nets, and so drive everything within it to some place where it was destroyed. The destruction of the whole male population was one of the horrible customs of ancient warfare, and the process is called in Herodotus "sweeping the country with a drag-net." The same authority tells us that this method could only be effectually carried out on an island. Literally, understood, the fishers are the main armies who, in the towns and fortresses, capture the people in crowds as in a net, while the hunters are the light-armed troops, who pursue the fugitives over the whole country, and drive them out of their hiding places as hunters track out their game.
This chastisement arises not from caprice, but is decreed upon full knowledge and examination of their doings.
First - Before the return from exile.
I will recompense their iniquity ... double - The ordinary rule of the Law (Isa 40:2 note). Sin is twofold; there is the leaving of God's will undone, and the actual wrongdoing. And every punishment is twofold: first, there is the loss of the blessing which would have followed upon obedience, and secondly, the presence of actual misery.
Because they have defiled ... - Rather, "because they have profaned My land with the carcases of their detestable things" (their lifeless and hateful idols, the very touch of which pollutes like that of a corpse, Num 19:11); "and hare filled My inheritance with their abominations."
This once - Whether we consider the greatness of the national disgrace and suffering caused by it, or its effect upon the mind of the Jews, the burning of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, followed by the captivity of the people at Babylon, stands out as the greatest manifestation of God's "hand" in all His dealings with them.