Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The Word Concerning the Droughts - Jeremiah 14-17
The distress arising from a lengthened drought (Jer 14:2-6) gives the prophet occasion for urgent prayer on behalf of his people (Jer 14:7-9 and Jer 14:19-22); but the Lord rejects all intercession, and gives the people notice, for their apostasy from Him, of their coming destruction by sword, famine, and pestilence (Jer 14:10-18 and Jer 15:1-9). Next, the prophet complains of the persecution he has to endure, and is corrected by the Lord and comforted (Jer 15:10-21). Then he has his course of conduct for the future prescribed to him, since Judah is, for its sins, to be cast forth into banishment, but is again to be restored (16:1-17:4). And the discourse concludes with general considerations upon the roots of the mischief, together with prayers for the prophet's safety, and statements as to the way by which judgment may be turned aside.
This prophetic word, though it had its origin in a special period of distress, does not contain any single discourse such as may have been delivered by Jeremiah before the people upon occasion of this calamity, but is, like the former sections, a summary of addresses and utterances concerning the corruption of the people, and the bitter experiences to which his office exposes the prophet. For these matters the special event above mentioned serves as a starting-point, inasmuch as the deep moral degradation of Judah, which must draw after it yet sorer judgments, is displayed in the relation assumed by the people to the judgment sent on them at that time. - The favourite attempts of recent commentators to dissect the passage into single portions, and to assign these to special points of time and to refer them to particular historical occurrences, have proved an entire failure, as Graf himself admits. The whole discourse moves in the same region of thought and adheres to the same aspect of affairs as the preceding ones, without suggesting special historical relations. And there is an advance made in the prophetic declaration, only in so far as here the whole substance of the discourse culminates in the thought that, because of Judah's being hardened in sin, the judgment of rejection can no in no way be turned aside, not even by the intercession of those whose prayers would have the greatest weight.
The Uselessness of Prayer on behalf of the People. - The title in Jer 14:1 specifies the occasion for the following discourse: What came a word of Jahveh to Jeremiah concerning the drought. - Besides here, אשׁר היה is made to precede the דבר יהוה in Jer 46:1; Jer 47:1; Jer 49:34; and so, by a kind of attraction, the prophecy which follows receivers an outward connection with that which precedes. Concerning the matters of the droughts. בּצּרות, plur. of בּצּרה, Psa 9:10; Psa 10:1, might mean harassments, troubles in general. But the description of a great drought, with which the prophecy begins, taken along with Jer 17:8, where בּצּרת occurs, meaning drought, lit., cutting off, restraint of rain, shows that the plural here is to be referred to the sing. בּצּרת (cf. עשׁתּרות from עשׁתּרת), and that it means the withholding of rain or drought (as freq. in Chald.). We must note the plur., which is not to be taken as intensive of a great drought, but points to repeated droughts. Withdrawal of rain was threatened as a judgment against the despisers of God's word (Lev 26:19.; Deu 11:17; Deu 28:23); and this chastisement has at various times been inflicted on the sinful people; cf. Jer 3:3; Jer 12:4; Jer 23:10; Hag 1:10. As the occasion of the present prophecy, we have therefore to regard not a single great drought, but a succession of droughts. Hence we cannot fix the time at which the discourse was composed, since we have no historical notices as to the particular times at which God was then punishing His people by withdrawing the rain.
Description of the distress arising from the drought. - Jer 14:2. Judah mourneth, and the gates thereof languish, like mourning on the ground, and the cry of Jerusalem goeth up. Jer 14:3. Their nobles send their mean ones for water: they come to the wells, find no water, return with empty pitchers, are ashamed and confounded and cover their head. Jer 14:4. For the ground, which is confounded, because no rain is fallen upon the earth, the husbandmen are ashamed, cover their head. Jer 14:5. Yea, the hind also in the field, she beareth and forsaketh it, because there is no grass. Jer 14:6. And the wild asses stand on the bare-topped heights, gasp for air like the jackals; their eyes fail because there is no herb."
The country and the city, the distinguished and the mean, the field and the husbandmen, are thrown into deep mourning, and the beasts of the field pine away because neither grass nor herb grows. This description gives a touching picture of the distress into which the land and its inhabitants have fallen for lack of rain. Judah is the kingdom or the country with its inhabitants; the gates as used poetically for the cities with the citizens. Not mankind only, but the land itself mourns and pines away, with all the creatures that live on it; cf. Jer 14:4, where the ground is said to be dismayed along with the tillers of it. The gates of the cities are mentioned as being the places where the citizens congregate. אמלל, fade away, pine, is strengthened by: are black, i.e., mourn, down to the earth; pregnant for: set themselves mourning on the ground. As frequently, Jerusalem is mentioned alongside of Judah as being its capital. Their cry of anguish rises up to heaven. This universal mourning is specialized from Jer 14:3 on. Their nobles, i.e., the distinguished men of Judah and Jerusalem, send their mean ones, i.e., their retainers or servants and maids, for water to the wells (גּבים, pits, Kg2 3:16, here cisterns). The Chet. צעור, here and in Jer 48:4, is an unusual form for צעיר, Keri. Finding no water, they return, their vessels empty, i.e., with empty pitchers, ashamed of their disappointed hope. בּשׁוּ is strengthened by the synonym הכלמוּ. Covering the head is a token of deep grief turned inwards upon itself; cf. Sa2 15:30; Sa2 19:5. האדמה is the ground generally. חתּה is a relative clause: quae consternata est. "Because no rain," etc., literally as in Kg1 17:7. - Even the beasts droop and perish. כּי is intensive: yea, even. The hind brings forth and forsakes, sc. the new-born offspring, because for want of grass she cannot sustain herself and her young. עזוב, infin. abs. set with emphasis for the temp. fin., as Gen 41:43; Exo 8:11, and often; cf. Gesen. 131, 4, a, Ew. 351, c. The hind was regarded by the ancients as tenderly caring for her young, cf. Boch. Hieroz. i. lib. 3, c. 17 (ii. p. 254, ed. Ros.) The wild asses upon the bleak mountain-tops, where these animals choose to dwell, gasp for air, because, by reason of the dreadful drought, it is not possible to get a breath of air even on the hills. Like the תּנּים, jackals, cf. Jer 9:10; Jer 10:22, etc. Vulg. has dracones, with the Aram. versions; and Hitz. and Graf are of opinion that the mention of jackals is not here in point, and that, since תּנּים does not mean dracones, the word stands here, as in Exo 29:3; Exo 32:2, for תּנּין, the monster inhabiting the water, a crocodile or some kind of whale that stretches its head out of the water to draw breath with gaping jaws. On this Ng. has well remarked: he cannot see why the gaping, panting jaws of the jackal should not serve as a figure in such a case as the present. Their eyes fail away - from exhaustion due to want of wear. עשׂב, bushes and under-shrubs, as distinguished from דּשׁא, green grass.
The prayer. - Jer 14:7. "If our iniquities testify against us, O Jahveh, deal Thou for Thy name's sake, for many are our backslidings; against Thee have we sinned. Jer 14:8. Thou hope of Israel, his Saviour in time of need, why wilt Thou be as a stranger in the land, like a wayfarer that hath put up to tarry for a night? Jer 14:9. Why wilt Thou be as a man astonied, as a mighty man that cannot help, and yet Thou art in the midst of us, Jahveh, and Thy name is named upon us - O leave us not!"
The prophet utters this prayer in the name of his people (cf. Jer 14:11). It begins with confession of sore transgression. Thus the chastisement which has befallen them they have deserved as a just punishment; but the Lord is besought to help for His name's sake, i.e., not: "for the sake of Thy honour, with which it is not consistent that contempt of Thy will should go unpunished" (Hitz.). This interpretation suits neither the idea of the name of God nor the context. The name of God is the manifestation of God's being. From Moses' time on, God, as Jahveh, has revealed Himself as the Redeemer and Saviour of the children of Israel, whom He had adopted to be His people, and as God, who is merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and of great goodness and faithfulness (Exo 34:6). As such He is besought to reveal Himself now that they confess their backsliding and sin, and seek His grace. Not for the sake of His honour in the eyes of the world, lest the heathen believe He has no power to help, as Graf holds, for all reference to the heathen nations is foreign to this connection; but He is entreated to help, not to belie the hope of His people, because Israel sets its hope in Him as Saviour in time of need (Jer 14:9). If by withholding rain He makes His land and people to pine, then He does not reveal Himself as the lord and owner of Judah, not as the God that dwells amidst His people; but He seems a stranger passing through the land, who sets up His tent there only to spend the night, who "feels no share in the weal and woe of the dwellers therein" (Hitz.). This is the meaning of the question in Jer 14:8. The ancient expositors take נטה elliptically, as in Gen 12:8 : that stretches out His tent to pass the night. Hitz., again, objects that the wayfarer does not drag a tent about with him, and, like Ew., takes this verb in the sense of swerve from the direct route, cf. Sa2 2:19, Sa2 2:21, etc. But the reason alleged is not tenable; since travellers did often carry their tents with them, and נטה, to turn oneself, is not used absolutely in the sig. to turn aside from the way, without the qualification: to the right or to the left. סוּר is in use for to turn aside to tarry, to turn in, Jer 15:5. We therefore abide by the old interpretation, since "swerve from the way" has here no suitable meaning.
The pleader makes further appeal to God's almighty power. It is impossible that Jahveh can let Himself look like a man at his wit's end or a nerveless warrior, as He would seem to be if He should not give help to His people in their present need. Since the time of A. Schultens the ἁπ. λεγ. נדהם is rendered, after the Arab. dahama, to make an unforeseen attack, by stupefactus, attonitus, one who, by reason of a sudden mischance, has lost his presence of mind and is helpless. This is in keeping with the next comparison, that with a warrior who has no strength to help. The passage closes with an appeal to the relation of grace which Jahveh sustains towards His people. ואתּה comes in adversatively: yet art Thou in our midst, i.e., present to Thy people. Thy name is named upon us, i.e., Thou hast revealed Thyself to us in Thy being as God of salvation; see on Jer 7:10. אל־תּנּחנוּ, lit., lay us not down, i.e., let us not sink.
The Lord's answer. - Jer 14:10. "Thus saith Jahveh unto this people: Thus they loved to wander, their feet they kept not back; and Jahveh hath no pleasure in them, now will He remember their iniquities and visit their sins. Jer 14:11. And Jahveh hath said unto me: Pray not for this people for their good. Jer 14:12. When they fast, I hear not their cry; and when they bring burnt-offering and meat-offering, I have no pleasure in them; but by sword, and famine, and pestilence will I consume them. Jer 14:13. Then said I: Ah Lord Jahveh, behold, the prophets say to them, Ye shall see no sword, and famine shall not befall you, but assured peace give I in this place. Jer 14:14. And Jahveh said unto me: Lies do the prophets prophesy in my name: I have not sent them, nor commanded them, nor spoken to them; lying vision, and divination, and a thing of nought, and deceit of their heart they prophesy to you. Jer 14:15. Therefore thus saith Jahveh concerning the prophets that prophesy in my name, when I have not sent them, who yet say, Sword and famine shall not be in this land: By sword and famine shall these prophets perish. Jer 14:16. And the people to whom they prophesy shall lie cast out upon the streets of Jerusalem, by reason of the famine and of the sword, and none will bury them, them and their wives, their sons and their daughters; and I pour their wickedness upon them. Jer 14:17. And thou shalt say to them this word: Let mine eyes run down with tears day and night and let them not cease; for with a great breach is broken the virgin-daughter of my people, with a very grievous blow. Jer 14:18. If I go forth into the field, behold the slain with the sword; and if I come into the city, behold them that pine with famine; for prophet and priest pass into a land and know it not."
To the prophet's prayer the Lord answers in the first place, Jer 14:10, by pointing to the backsliding of the people, for which He is now punishing them. In the "thus they love," etc., lies a backward reference to what precedes. The reference is certainly not to the vain going for water (Jer 14:3), as Chr. B. Mich. and R. Salomo Haccohen thought it was; nor is it to the description of the animals afflicted by thirst, Jer 14:5 and Jer 14:6, in which Ng. finds a description of the passionate, unbridled lust after idolatry, the real and final cause of the ruin that has befallen Israel. Where could be the likeness between the wild ass's panting for breath and the wandering of the Jews? That to which the "thus" refers must be sought for in the body of the prayer to which Jahveh makes answer, as Ros. rightly saw. Not by any means in the fact that in Jer 14:9 the Jews prided themselves on being the people of God and yet went after false gods, so that God answered: ita amant vacillare, as good as to say: ita instabiles illos esse, ut nunc ab ipso, nunc ab aliis auxilium quaerant (Ros.); for נוּע cannot here mean the waving and swaying of reeds, but only the wandering after other gods, cf. Jer 2:23, Jer 2:31. This is shown by the addition: they kept not back their feet, cf. with Jer 2:25, where in the same reference the withholding of the feet is enjoined. Graf is right in referring huts to the preceding prayer: "Thus, in the same degree as Jahveh has estranged Himself from His people (cf. Jer 14:8 and Jer 14:9), have they estranged themselves from their God." They loved to wander after strange gods, and so have brought on themselves God's displeasure. Therefore punishment comes on them. The second clause of the verse is a reminiscence of Hos 8:13. - After mentioning the reason why He punishes Judah, the Lord in Jer 14:11. rejects the prayer of the prophet, because He will not hear the people's cry to Him. Neither by means of fasts nor sacrifice will they secure God's pleasure. The prophet's prayer implies that the people will humble themselves and turn to the Lord. Hence God explains His rejection of the prayer by saying that He will give no heed to the people's fasting and sacrifices. The reason of this appears from the context - namely, because they turn to Him only in their need, while their heart still cleaves to the idols, so that their prayers are but lip-service, and their sacrifices a soulless formality. The suffix in רצם refers not to the sacrifices, but, like that in רנּתם, to the Jews who, by bringing sacrifices, seek to win God's love. כּי, but, introducing the antithesis to "have no pleasure in them." The sword in battle, famine, and pestilence, at the siege of the cities, are the three means by which God designs to destroy the backsliding people; cf. Lev 26:25.
In spite of the rejection of his prayer, the prophet endeavours yet again to entreat God's favour for the people, laying stress, Jer 14:13, on the fact that they had been deceived and confirmed in their infatuation by the delusive forecastings of the false prophets who promised peace. Peace of truth, i.e., peace that rests on God's faithfulness, and so: assured peace will I give you. Thus spoke these prophets in the name of Jahveh; cf. on this Jer 4:10; Jer 5:12. Hitz. and Graf propose to change שׁלום אמת into שׁלום ואמת, acc. to Jer 33:6 and Isa 39:8, because the lxx have ἀλήθειαν καὶ εἰρήνην. But none of the passages cited furnishes sufficient ground for this. In Jer 33:6 the lxx have rendered εἰρήνην καὶ πίστιν, in Isa 39:8, εἰρήνη καὶ δικαιοσύνη; giving thereby a clear proof that we cannot draw from their rendering any certain inferences as to the precise words of the original text. Nor do the parallels prove anything, since in them the expression often varies in detail. But there can be no doubt that in the mouth of the pseudo-prophets "assured peace" is more natural than "peace and truth." But the Lord does not allow this excuse. He has not sent the prophets that so prophesy: they prophesy lying vision, divination, falsehood, and deceit, and shall themselves be destroyed by sword and famine. The cumulation of the words, "lying vision," etc., shows God's wrath and indignation at the wicked practices of these men. Graf wants to delete ו before אליל, and to couple אליל with קסם, so as to make one idea: prophecy of nought. For this he can allege none other than the erroneous reason that קסם, taken by itself, does not sufficiently correspond to "lying vision," inasmuch as, he says, it has not always a bad sense attached to it; whereas the fact is that it is nowhere used for genuine prophecy. The Chet. אלוּל and תּרמוּת are unusual formations, for which the usual forms are substituted in the Keri. Deceit of their heart is not self-deceit, but deceit which their heart has devised; cf. Jer 23:26. But the people to whom these prophets prophesied are to perish by sword and famine, and to lie unburied in the streets of Jerusalem; cf. Jer 8:2; Jer 16:4. They are not therefore held excused because false prophets told them lies, for they have given credit to these lies, lies that flattered their sinful passions, and have not been willing to hear or take to heart the word of the true prophets, who preached repentance and return to God.
(Note: The Berleburg Bible says: "They wish to have such teachers, and even to bring it about that there shall be so many deceiving workers, because they can hardly even endure or listen to the upright ones. That is the reason why it is to go no better with them than we see it is." Calvin too has suggested the doubt: posset tamen videri parum humaniter agere Deus, quod tam duras paenas infligit miseris hominibus, qui aliunde decepti sunt, and has then given the true solution: certum est, nisi ultro mundus appeteret mendacia, non tantam fore efficaciam diaboli ad fallendum. Quod igitur ita rapiuntur homines ad imposturas, hoc fit eorum culpa, quoniam magis propensi sunt ad vanitatem, quam ut se Deo et verbo ejus subjiciant.)
To Hitz. it seems surprising that, in describing the punishment which is to fall on seducers and seduced, there should not be severer judgment, in words at least, levelled against the seducers as being those involved in the deeper guilt; whereas the very contrary is the case in the Hebrew text. Hitz. further proposes to get rid of this discrepancy by conjectures founded on the lxx, yet without clearly informing us how we are to read. But the difficulty solves itself as soon as we pay attention to the connection. The portion of the discourse before us deals with the judgment which is to burst on the godless people, in the course of which those who had seduced the people are only casually mentioned. For the purpose in hand, it was sufficient to say briefly of the seducers that they too should perish by sword and famine who affirmed that these punishments should not befall the people, whereas it was necessary to set before the people the terrors of this judgment in all their horror, in order not to fail of effect. With the reckoning of the various classes of persons: they, their wives, etc., cf. the account of their participation in idolatry, Jer 7:18. Hitz. rightly paraphrases ושׁפכתּי: and in this wise will I pour out. רעתם, not: the calamity destined for them, but: their wickedness which falls on them with its consequences, cf. Jer 2:19, Hos 9:15, for propheta videtur causam reddere, cur Deus horribile illud judicium exequi statuerit contra Judaeos, nempe quoniam digni erant tali mercede (Calv.).
The words, "and speak unto them this word," surprise us, because no word from God follows, as in Jer 13:12, but an exposition of the prophet's feelings in regard to the dreadful judgment announced. Hence Dahl. and Ew. propose to join the words in question with what goes before, while at the same time Ew. hints a suspicion that an entire sentence has been dropped after the words. But for this suspicion there is no ground, and the joining of the words with the preceding context is contrary to the unfailing usage of this by no means infrequent formula. The true explanation is found in Kimchi and Calvin. The prophet is led to exhibit to the hardened people the grief and pain he feels in contemplating the coming ruin of Judah, ut pavorem illis incuteret, si forte, cum haec audirent, resipiscerent (Kimchi). If not his words, then surely his tears; for the terrible calamity he has to announce must touch and stagger them, so that they may be persuaded to examine themselves and consider what it is that tends to their peace. To make impression on their hardened consciences, he depicts the appalling ruin, because of which his eyes run with tears day and night. On "run down," etc., cf. Jer 9:17; Jer 13:17; Lam 2:18, etc. "Let them not cease" gives emphasis: not be silent, at peace, cf. Lam 3:49, i.e., weep incessantly day and night. The appellation of the people: virgin-daughter of my people, i.e., daughter that is my people, cf. Jer 8:11, corresponds to the love revealing itself in tears. The depth of sorrow is further shown in the clause: with a blow that is very dangerous, cf. Jer 10:19. In Jer 14:18 the prophet portrays the condition of things after the fall of Jerusalem: out upon the field are those pierced with the sword; in the city תּחלוּאי , lit., suffering of famine, Deu 29:21, here abstr. pro concr. of those pining in famine; and those that remain in life depart into exile. Instead of the people Jeremiah mentions only the prophets and priests as being the flower of God's people. סחר, to wander about, in Hebr. usually in the way of commerce, here acc. to Aram. usage, possibly too with the idea of begging subjoined. In the ולא ידעוּ Graf holds the ו to be entirely out of place, while Hitz. pronounces against him. The words are variously taken; e.g., and know nothing, wander about aimless and helpless. But with this the omission of the article with ארץ is incompatible. The omission shows that "and now not" furnishes an attribute to "into a land." We therefore translate: and know it not = which they know not, since the pronominal suffix is wont to be often omitted where it can without difficulty be supplied from the preceding clause.
Renewed supplication and repeated rejection of the same. - Jer 14:19. "Hast thou then really rejected Judah? or doth thy soul loathe Zion? Why hast Thou smitten us, so that there is no healing for us? We look for peace, and there is no good; for the time of healing, and behold terror! Jer 14:20. We know, Jahveh, our wickedness, the iniquity of our fathers, for we have sinned against Thee. Jer 14:21. Abhor not, for Thy name's sake; disgrace not the throne of Thy glory; remember, break not Thy covenant with us! Jer 14:22. Are there among the vain gods of the Gentiles givers of rain, or will the heavens give showers? Art not Thou (He), Jahveh our God? and we hope in Thee, for Thou hast made all these."