Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The prophet, having described the judgments impending over his countrymen, enlarges on the corruptions which prevailed among them. Their profession of religion was all false and hypocritical, Jer 5:1, Jer 5:2. Though corrected, they were not amended, but persisted in their guilt, Jer 5:3. This was not the case with the low and ignorant only, Jer 5:4; but more egregiously so with those of the higher order, from whose knowledge and opportunities better things might have been expected, Jer 5:5. God therefore threatens them with the most cruel enemies, Jer 5:6; and appeals to themselves if they should be permitted to practice such sins unpunished, Jer 5:7-9. He then commands their enemies to raze the walls of Jerusalem, Jer 5:10; that devoted city whose inhabitants added to all their other sins the highest contempt of God's word and prophets, Jer 5:11-13. Wherefore his word, in the mouth of his prophet, shall be as fire to consume them, Jer 5:14; the Chaldean forces shall cruelly addict them, Jer 5:15-17; and farther judgments await then as the consequence of their apostasy and idolatry, Jer 5:18, Jer 5:19. The chapter closes with a most melancholy picture of the moral condition of the Jewish people at that period which immediately preceded the Babylonish captivity, Jer 5:20-31.
Broad places - Market-places, and those where there was most public resort.
If ye can find a man - A certain philosopher went through the streets of Athens with a lighted lamp in his hand; and being asked what he sought, answered, "I am seeking to find a Man." So in Jerusalem none was found, on the most diligent search, who acted worthy the character of a rational being.
I will pardon it - I will spare the city for the sake of one righteous person. So at the intercession of Abraham, God would have spared Sodom if there had been ten righteous persons found in it; Gen 18:26.
The Lord liveth - Though they profess to bind themselves by Jehovah, as if they acknowledged him their God and only Lord, yet they swore falsely; for not believing in him, they took a false oath; one by which they did not believe themselves bound, not acknowledging him as their Lord. See on Jer 4:2 (note).
These are poor - They are ignorant; they have no education; they know no better.
I will get me unto the great men - Those whose circumstances and rank in life gave them opportunities of information which the others could not have, for the reasons already given.
These have altogether broken the yoke - These have cast aside all restraint, have acted above law, and have trampled all moral obligations under their feet, and into their vortex the lower classes of the people have been swept away. Solon said, "The laws are like cobwebs; they entangle the small fry, but the great ones go through them, and carry all away with them."
Wherefore a lion - Nebuchadnezzar, according to the general opinion; who is called here a lion for his courage and violence, a bear for his rapaciousness, and a leopard for his activity. Dahler supposes the Scythians to be intended, both here and in Jer 4:7.
In the harlots' houses - In places consecrated to idolatry. In the language of the prophets, adultery generally signifies idolatry. This we have often seen.
After his neighbor's wife - This may have been literally true, as the abominations of idolatry, in which they were so deeply practiced, would necessarily produce such a state of things as that here mentioned.
Go ye up upon her walls - This is the permission and authority given to the Chaldeans to pillage Jerusalem.
Take away her battlements - Some translate נטישות netishoth, branches; others, vines. Destroy the branches, cut down the stem; but do not damage the root. Leave so many of the people that the state may be regenerated. The Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic, read, "Leave her foundations, for they are the Lord's;" and this agrees with "Destroy, but make not a full end."
They have belied the Lord - כחשו kichashu. They have denied or disavowed the Lord.
It is not he - לוא הוא lo hu, he is not; there is no such being; therefore this evil shall not come upon us. On their premises, this conclusion was just. There is no judge; therefore there shall be no judgment. Thus they denied the Lord. They were atheists at heart.
And the prophets shall become wind - What are the prophets?
Empty persons. Their words are wind; we hear the sound of their threatening but of the matter of the threatenings we shall hear no more.
And the word is not in them - There is no inspirer, but may their own predictions fall on their own heads! This seems the natural sense of this passage.
Because ye speak this word - Because ye thus treat my message, "I will make my words in thy mouth fire." They have said they are but air; but I will make them fire, and a fire too that shall devour them. And how this was to be done, and by whom, is mentioned in the next verse.
I will bring a nation - The Scythians, says Dahler; the Babylonians, whose antiquity was great, that empire being founded by Nimrod.
Whose language thou knowest not - The Chaldee, which, though a dialect of the Hebrew, is so very different in its words and construction that in hearing it spoken they could not possibly collect the meaning of what was said.
Their quiver is an open sepulcher - They are such exact archers as never to miss their mark; every arrow is sure to slay one man.
I will not make a full end - There are more evils in store for you. You shall not only be spoiled, and all your property destroyed, but ye shall be carried into captivity; and ye shall serve strangers in a land that is not yours, Jer 5:19.
Which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea - What can I not do, who confine the sea, that enormous mass of waters, and prevent it from overflowing the earth; not by immense mountains and rocks, but by the sand, no particle of which is in cohesion with another? The most tremendous waves cannot displace nor pass over this simple barrier.
They are revolted and gone - They have abandoned me, and are gone farther and farther into transgression. They are gone entirely away from truth and righteousness.
Giveth rain, both the former and the latter - See the note on Jer 3:3.
The appointed weeks of the harvest - As the early rains fell in the northern parts of Judea about the end of September, in the civil year of the Hebrews, so the latter rains fell before harvest, in the months of March and April. The appointed weeks of the harvest were those which fell between the passover and pentecost. In the southern parts the harvest was earlier than in the northern. Dr. Blayney translates, "A sufficiency of the appointed things of harvest he secureth to us."
If the word שבעת weeks, be read with a ש sin instead of a ש shin, it will signify fullness or sufficiency; and thus the Septuagint and Vulgate have read it. I think the present reading is much to be preferred. God appoints a harvest time, and in his good providence he generally gives harvest weather.
Your iniquities have turned away these things - When these appointed weeks of harvest do not come, should we not examine and see whether this be not in God's judgments? Have not our iniquities turned away these good things from us?
They lay wait, as he that setteth snares - A metaphor taken from fowlers, who, having fixed their nets, lie down and keep out of sight, that when birds come, they may be ready to draw and entangle them.
As a cage is full of birds - There is no doubt that the reference here is to a decoy or trap-cage, as Dr. Blayney has rendered it; in these the fowlers put several tame birds, which when the wild ones see, they come and light on the cage, and fall into the snare.
They judge not the cause, yet they prosper - Perhaps we might be justified in translating, "And shall they prosper?"
A wonderful and horrible thing is committed on the land - Dahler translates: "Strange crimes and horrible trespasses have been committed in the land." These have been already detailed; but this may refer to what follows.
The prophets prophesy falsely - The false prophets predict favorable things, that they may please both the princes and the people.
The priests bear rule by their means - The false prophets affording them all that their influence and power can procure, to enable them to keep their places, and feed on the riches of the Lord's house.
And my people love to have it so - Are perfectly satisfied with this state of things, because they are permitted to continue in their sins without reproof or restraint. The prophets and the priests united to deceive and ruin the people. The prophets gave out false predictions; by their means the priests got the government of the people into their own hands; and so infatuated were the people that they willingly abandoned themselves to those blind guides, and would not hearken to the voice of any reformer. In my Old Bible the words stand thus: - Stonyng and mervailis ben made in the erthe, prophets prophecieden lesing; and prestis flappiden with joye with ther bondes, and my peple lovid siche thingis. False prophets and worldly priests have been in all ages the bane of religion, and the ruin of many souls. When profligate people stand up on behalf of profligate priests, corruption must then be at its height.