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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Jeremiah Chapter 20


jer 20:0

Jer 20:1-3

When the chief overseer of the temple, Pashur, heard this prophecy, he had the prophet beaten, and put him over-night in the stocks at the upper gate of Benjamin in the temple. Pashur is by the appellation: son of Immer, distinguished from other priests of this name, e.g., Pashur, son of Malchijah, Ch1 9:12. It cannot be determined whether Immer is here the name of the 16th class of priests (Ch1 24:14) or of one of the greater priestly clans (Ezr 2:37; Neh 7:40). Pashur held the office of פּקיד נגיד, chief overseer in the house of God. נגיד is an official name attached to פּקיד to explain it. In the latter word lies the idea of overseeing, while the former denotes the official standing or rank of the overseer. The position of נגיד was a high one, as may be seen from the fact that the priest Zephaniah, who, according to Jer 29:26, held this post, is quoted in Jer 52:24 (Kg2 25:18) as next to the high priest. The compound expression without article implies that there were several נגידים of the temple. In Ch2 35:8 there are three mentioned under Josiah; which is not contradicted by Ch2 31:13; Ch1 9:11; Neh 11:11, where particular persons are called 'נגיד. As chief overseer of the temple, Pashur conceived it to be his duty to take summary magisterial steps against Jeremiah, for his public appearance in the temple. To put this procedure of the priest and temple-warden in its proper light, Jeremiah is designated by the name of his office, הנּביא.

(Note: As this official designation of Jeremiah is not found in Jer 1-19, but occurs frequently in the succeeding chapters, recent critics have taken it to be an idle addition of the editor of the later prophecies, and have laid stress on the fact as a proof of the later composition, or at least later editing, of these pieces; cf. Graf, S. xxxix. Ng., etc. This assumption is totally erroneous. The designation of Jeremiah as הנּביא occurs only where the mention of the man's official character was of importance. It is used partly in contradistinction to the false prophets, Jer 28:5-6, Jer 28:10-12, Jer 28:15, to the elders, priests, and false prophets, Jer 29:1, Jer 29:29; Jer 37:3, Jer 37:6,Jer 37:13; Jer 42:2, Jer 42:4, to the king, Jer 32:2; Jer 34:6; Jer 37:2, and partly to distinguish from persons of other conditions in life, Jer 43:6; Jer 45:1; Jer 51:59. We never find the title in the headings of the prophecies save in Jer 25:2, with reference to the fact that here, Jer 20:4, he upbraids the people for not regarding the sayings of all the prophets of the Lord; and in the oracles against foreign peoples, Jer 46:1, Jer 46:13; Jer 47:1; Jer 49:34, and Jer 50:1, where the name of his calling gave him credentials for these prophecies. - There is no further use of the name in the entire book.)

In virtue of the summary authority which belonged to him (cf. Jer 29:26), Pashur smote the prophet, i.e., caused him to be beaten with stripes, perhaps according to the precept Deu 25:3, cf. Co2 11:24, and then threw him into prison till the following day, and put him in the stocks. מהפּכת, twisting, was an instrument of torture by which the body was forced into a distorted, unnatural posture; the culprit's hands and feet were presumably bound, so as to keep the position so; see on Ch2 16:10, cf. with Act 16:24. The upper gate of Benjamin in the house of Jahveh is the northern gate at the upper, i.e., inner court of the temple, the same with the upper gate or the gate of the inner court, looking northwards, Eze 9:2 and Eze 8:3. By the designation "which is in the house," etc., it is distinguished from the city gate of like name, Jer 37:13; Jer 38:7. - When on the next day Pashur released the prophet from imprisonment, the latter made known to him the divine punishment for his misdeed: "Not Pashur will Jahveh call thy name, but Magor-Missabib" (i.e., Fear round about). The name is expressive of the thing. And so: Jahveh will call the name, is, in other words, He will make the person to be that which the name expresses; in this case, make Pashur to be an object of fear round about. Under the presumption that the name Magor-Missabib conveyed a meaning the most directly opposed to that of Pashur, comm. have in various ways attempted to interpret פּשׁחוּר. It is supposed to be composed of פּוּשׁ, Chald. augeri, and חוּר, nobilitas, with the force: abundantia claritatis (Rashi); or after Arab. fs̀, gloriatus est de nobilitate (Simonis); or from Arab. hsh, amplus fuit locus, and the Chald. סחור, circumcirca: de securitate circumcirca; or finally, by Ew., from פּשׁ from פּוּשׁ, spring, leap, rejoice (Mal 3:18), and חור = חול, joy round about. All these interpretations are arbitrary. פּוּשׁ sig. leap and gallop about, Mal 3:18 and Hab 1:8, and in Niph. Nah 3:18, to be scattered (see on Hab 1:8); and x#ap@f sig. in Lam 3:11 to tear. But the syllable chowr חור can by no means have the sig. of מסּביב claimed for it. Nor are there, indeed, sufficient grounds for assuming that Jeremiah turned the original name upside down in an etymological or philological reference. The new name given by Jeremiah to Pashur is meant to intimate the man's destiny. On "Fear round about," see on Jer 6:25. What the words of the new name signify is explained in Jer 20:4-6.

Jeremiah 20:4

jer 20:4

Jer 20:4. "For thus hath Jahveh said: Behold, I make thee a terror to thyself and to all thy friends, and they shall fall by the sword of their enemies and thine eyes behold it; and all Judah will I give into the hand of the king of Babylon, that he may carry them captive to Babylon and smite them with the sword. Jer 20:5. And I will give all the stores of this city, and all its gains, and all its splendour, and all the treasures of the kings of Judah will I give into the hand of their enemies, who shall plunder them and take and bring them to Babylon. Jer 20:6. And thou, Pashur, and all that dwell in thine house shall go into captivity, and to Babylon shalt thou come, and there die, and there be buried, thou and all thy friends, to whom thou hast prophesied lyingly." - Pashur will become a fear or terror to himself and all his friends, because of his own and his friend's fate; for he will see his friends fall by the sword of the enemy, and then he himself, with those of his house and his friends not as yet slain, will go forth into exile to Babylon and die there. So that not to himself merely, but to all about him, he will be an object of fear. Ng. wrongly translates נתנך למגור, I deliver thee up to fear, and brings into the text the contrast that Pashur is not to become the victim of death itself, but of perpetual fear of death. Along with Pashur's friends, all Judah is to be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and be partly exiled to Babylon, partly put to death with the sword. All the goods and gear of Jerusalem, together with the king's treasures, are to be plundered and carried off by the enemy. We must not press "all thy friends" in Jer 20:4 and Jer 20:6; and so we escape the apparent contradiction, that while in Jer 20:4 it is said of all the friends that they shall die by the sword, it is said of all in Jer 20:6 that they shall go into exile. The friends are those who take Pashur's side, his partisans. From the last clause of Jer 20:6 we see that Pashur was also of the number of the false prophets, who prophesied the verse of Jeremiah's prediction, namely, welfare and peace (cf. Jer 23:17; Jer 14:13). - This saying of Jeremiah was most probably fulfilled at the taking of Jerusalem under Jechoniah, Pashur and the better part of the people being carried off to Babylon.

Jeremiah 20:7

jer 20:7

The Prophet's Complaints as to the Sufferings Met with in his Calling. - This portion contains, first, a complaint addressed to the Lord regarding the persecutions which the preaching of God's word draws down on Jeremiah, but the complaint passes into a jubilant cry of hope (Jer 20:7-13); secondly, a cursing of the day of his birth (Jer 20:13-18). The first complaint runs thus:

Jer 20:7-13

"Thou hast persuaded me, Jahveh, and I let myself be persuaded; Thou hast laid hold on me and hast prevailed. I am become a laughter the whole day long, every one mocketh at me. Jer 20:8. For as often as I speak, I must call out and cry violence and spoil, for the word of Jahveh is made a reproach and a derision to me all the day. Jer 20:9. And I said, I will not more remember nor speak more in His name; then was it in my heart as burning fire, shut up in my bones, and I become weary of holding out, and cannot. Jer 20:10. For I heard the talk of many: Fear round about! Report, and let us report him! Every man of my friendship lies in wait for my downfall: Peradventure he will let himself be enticed, that we may prevail against him and take our revenge on him. Jer 20:11. But Jahveh stands by me as a mighty warrior; therefore shall my persecutors stumble and not prevail, shall be greatly put to shame, because they have not dealt wisely, with everlasting disgrace which will not be forgotten. Jer 20:12. And, Jahveh of hosts that trieth the righteous, that seeth reins and heart, let me see Thy vengeance on them, for to Thee have I committed my cause. Jer 20:13. Sing to Jahveh, praise Jahveh, for He saves the soul of the poor from the hand of the evil-doers."

This lament as to the hatred and persecution brought upon him by the preaching of the word of the Lord, is chiefly called forth by the proceedings, recounted in Jer 20:1, Jer 20:2, of the temple-warden Pashur against him. This is clear from the מגור ; for, as Nהg. truly remarks, the use of this expression against the prophet may certainly be most easily explained by the use he had so pregnantly made of it against one so distinguished as Pashur. Besides, the bitterness of the complaint, rising at last to the extent of cursing the day of his birth (Jer 20:14.), is only intelligible as a consequence of such ill-usage as Pashur had already inflicted on him. For although his enemies had schemed against his life, they had never yet ventured positively to lay hands on his person. Pashur first caused him to be beaten, and then had him kept a whole night long in the torture of the stocks. From torture like this his enemies might proceed even to taking his life, if the Lord did not miraculously shield him from their vengeance. - The complaint, Jer 20:7-13, is an outpouring of the heart to God, a prayer that begins with complaint, passes into confidence in the Lord's protection, and ends in a triumph of hope. In Jer 20:7 and Jer 20:8 Jeremiah complains of the evil consequences of his labours. God has persuaded him to undertake the office of prophet, so that he has yielded to the call of God. The words of Jer 20:7 are not an upbraiding, nor are they given in an upbraiding tone (Hitz.); for פּתּה does not mean befool, but persuade, induce by words to do a thing. חזק used transitively, but not as Kg1 16:22, overpower (Ros., Graf, etc.); for then it would not be in keeping with the following ותּוּכל, which after "overpower" would seem very feeble. It means: lay hold of; as usually in the Hiph., so here in Kal. It thus corresponds to חזקת יד, Isa 8:11, denoting the state of being laid hold of by the power of the Spirit of God in order to prophesy. תּוּכל, not: Thou hast been able, but: Thou hast prevailed, conquered. A sharp contrast to this is presented by the issue of his prophetic labours: I am become a laughing-stock all the day, i.e., incessantly. כּלּה, its (the people's) entirety = all the people. - In Jer 20:8 "call" is explained by "cry out violence and spoil:" complain of the violence and spoliation that are practised. The word of Jahveh is become a reproach and obloquy, i.e., the proclamation of it has brought him only contempt and obloquy. The two cases of כּי are co-ordinate; the two clauses give two reasons for everybody mocking at him. One is objective: so often as he speaks he can do nothing but complain of violence, so that he is ridiculed by the mass of the people; and one is subjective: his preaching brings him only disgrace. Most comm. refer "violence and spoiling" to the ill-usage the prophet experiences; but this does not exhaust the reference of the words.

Jer 20:9

After such bitter experiences, the thought arose in his soul: I will remember Him (Jahveh) no more, i.e., make no more mention of the Lord, nor speak in His name, labour as a prophet; but it was within him as burning fire. The subject is not expressed, but is, as Ros. and Hitz. rightly say, the word of Jahveh which is held back. "Shut up in my bones" is apposition to "burning fire," for אשׁ occurs elsewhere also as masc., e.g., Jer 48:45; Job 20:26; Psa 104:4. The word of God dwells in the heart; but from there outwards it acts upon his whole organism, like a fire shut up in the hollow of his bones, burning the marrow of them (Job 21:24), so that he can no longer bear to keep silence. The perfects "and I said," "and (then) it was," "and I became weary," are to be taken as preterites, expressing events that have several times been repeated, and so the final result is spoken in the imperf. I cannot.

Jer 20:10-13

Jer 20:10 gives the reason for the resolution, adopted but not carried out, of speaking no more in the name of the Lord. This was found in the reports that reached his ears of schemes against his life. The first clause is a verbal quotation from Psa 31:14, a lament of David in the time of Saul's persecutions. דּבּה, base, backbiting slander. The phrase: Fear round about, indicates, in the form of a brief popular saying, the dangerous case in which the prophet was,

(Note: Hupfeld on Psa 31:14 holds מגור מסּביב to be a proverbial expression for a harassed condition, full of terrors, since the phrase is frequently used by Jeremiah (besides the present Jer 20:3, Jer 20:4, and Jer 20:15, it is at Jer 6:25; Jer 46:5; Jer 49:29; Lam 2:22). The use made of it in v. 3 would in that case be easily understood. For we cannot infer, as Ng. would do, that Jeremiah must have formed the phrase himself, from the fact that, except in Psa 31:14, it is nowhere found but in Jeremiah.)

which his adversaries prepare for him by their repeating: Report him, we will report him.

Report: here, report to the authorities as a dangerous man. Even those who are on friendly terms with him lie in wait for his fall. This phrase too is formed of phrases from the Psalms. On "am of my peace," cf. Psa 41:10; on צלעי, Psa 35:15; Psa 38:18; and on שׁמר, watch, lie in wait for, Psa 56:7; Psa 71:10. "Peradventure" - so they said - "he may let himself be enticed," sc. to say something on which a capital charge may be founded (Graf). With "that we may prevail against him," cf. Jer 1:19; Jer 15:20. - At Jer 20:11 the lament rises into confidence in the Lord, springing from the promise given to him by God at his call. אותי (for אתּי) יהוה recalls Jer 1:19; Jer 15:20.The designation of God as גּבּור is formed after Jer 15:21. Because the Lord has promised to deliver him out of the hand of the עריצים, violent, he now calls him a hero using violence, and on this founds his assurance that his persecutors will accomplish nothing, but will come to a downfall, to shame, and be covered with never-dying, never-to-be-forgotten disgrace. Because they have dealt not wisely, i.e., foolishly, see on Jer 10:21; not: because they did not prosper, which would give a weak, superfluous idea, since their not prospering lies already in בּושׁ, spe frustrari. This disgrace will befall the persecutors, because the Lord of hosts will, as Searcher of hearts, take the part of the righteous, and will take vengeance on their foes. This is the force of Jer 20:12, which, with a few changes, is repeated from Jer 11:20. - In this trustfulness his soul rises to a firm hope of deliverance, so that in Jer 20:13 he can call on himself and all the godly to praise God, the Saviour of the poor. Cf. Psa 31:8; Psa 35:9-10, Psa 35:28, etc.

Jer 20:14-18

The day of his birth cursed. - Jer 20:14. "Cursed be the day wherein I was born! The day my mother bare me, let it not be blessed! Jer 20:15. Cursed be the man that brought the good tidings to my father, saying: A man-child is born to thee, who made him very glad. Jer 20:16. Let that man be as the cities which Jahveh overthrew without repenting; let him hear crying in the morning and a war-cry at noon-tide, Jer 20:17. Because he slew me not from the womb, and so my mother should have been my grave, and her womb should have been always great. Jer 20:18. Wherefore am I come forth out of the womb to see hardship and sorrow, and that my days should wear away in shame?"

Inasmuch as the foregoing lamentation had ended in assured hope of deliverance, and in the praise rendered to God therefor, it seems surprising that now there should follow curses on the day of his birth, without any hint to show that at the end this temptation, too, had been overcome. For this reason Ew. wishes to rearrange the two parts of the complaint, setting Jer 20:14-18 before Jer 20:7-12. This transposition he holds to be so unquestionably certain, that he speaks of the order ad numbering of the verses in the text as an example, clear as it is remarkable, of displacement. But against this hypothesis we have to consider the improbability that, if individual copyists had omitted the second portion (Jer 20:14-18) or written it on the margin, others should have introduced it into an unsuitable place. Copyists did not go to work with the biblical text in such an arbitrary and clumsy fashion. Nor is the position occupied by the piece in question so incomprehensible as Ew. imagines. The cursing of the day of his birth, or of his life, after the preceding exaltation to hopeful assurance is not psychologically inconceivable. It may well be understood, if we but think of the two parts of the lamentation as not following one another in the prophet's soul in such immediate succession as they do in the text; if we regard them as spiritual struggles, separated by an interval of time, through which the prophet must successively pass. In vanquishing the temptation that arose from the plots of his enemies against his life, Jeremiah had a strong support in the promise which the Lord gave him at his call, that those who strove against him should not prevail against him; and the deliverance out of the hand of Pashur which he had just experience, must have given him an actual proof that the Lord was fulfilling His promise. The feeling of this might fill the trembling heart with strength to conquer his temptation, and to elevate himself again, in the joyful confidence of faith, to the praising of the Lord, who delivers the soul of the poor from the hand of the ungodly. But the power of the temptation was not finally vanquished by the renewal of his confidence that the Lord will defend him against all his foes. The unsuccess of his mission might stir up sore struggles in his soul, and not only rob him of all heart to continue his labours, but excite bitter discontent with a life full or hardship and sorrow - a discontent which found vent in his cursing the day of his birth.

The curse uttered in Jer 20:14-18 against the day of his birth, while it reminds us of the verses, Jer 3:3., in which Job curses the day of his conception and of his birth, is markedly distinguished in form and substance from that dreadful utterance of Job's. Job's words are much more violent and passionate, and are turned directly against God, who has given life to him, to a man whose way is hid, whom God hath hedged round. Jeremiah, on the other hand, curses first the day of his birth (Jer 20:14), then the man that brought his father the joyful news of the birth of a son (Jer 20:15-17), because his life is passing away in hardship, trials, sorrow, and shame, without expressly blaming God as the author of that life.

Jer 20:14

The day on which I was born, let it be cursed and not blessed, sc. because life has never been a blessing to me. Job wishes that the day of his birth and the night of his conception may perish, be annihilated.

Jer 20:15

In the curse on the man that brought the father the news of the birth, the stress lies on the clause, "who made him very glad," which goes to strengthen בּשּׂר, εὐαγγελίζεσθαι, a clause which is subordinated to the principal clause without any grammatical connection (cf. Ew. 341, b). The joy that man gave the father by his news is become to the son a source of bitter grief.

Jer 20:16

He wishes the fate of Sodom (Gen 19:25), namely ruin, to befall that man. ולא נחם, and may He (Jahveh) not let it repent Him, is adverbially used: without feeling compunction for the destruction, i.e., without pity. In Jer 20:16 destruction is depicted under the figure of the terrors of a town beleaguered by enemies and suddenly taken. זעקה, the wailing cry of the afflicted townspeople; תּרוּעה, the war-cry of the enemies breaking in; cf. Jer 15:8.

Jer 20:17-18

tells why the curse should fall on that man: because (אשׁר, causal) he slew me not from the womb, i.e., according to what follows: while yet in the womb, and so (ותּהי with ו consec.) my mother would have become my grave. Logically considered, the subject to מותתני can only be the man on whom the curse of Jer 20:15 is pronounced. But how could the man kill the child in the mother's womb? This consideration has given occasion to various untenable renderings. Some have taken "from the womb," according to Job 3:11, in the sense: immediately after birth, simul ac ex utero exiissem (Ros.). This is grammatically fair enough, but it does not fall in with the context; for then the following Vav consec. must be taken as having the negative force "or rather," the negation being repeated in the next clause again (Ros., Graf). Both these cases are grammatically inadmissible. Others would supply "Jahveh" as subject to מותתני, or take the verb as with indefinite subject, or as passive. But to supply "Jahveh" is quite arbitrary; and against the passive construction it must be said that thus the causal nexus, indicated by אשׁר, between the man on whom the curse is to fall and the slaying of the child is done away with, and all connection for the אשׁר with what precedes would be lost. The difficulty arising from simply accepting the literal meaning is solved by the consideration, that the curse is not levelled against any one particular person. The man that was present at the birth, so as to be able to bring the father the news of it, might have killed the child in the mother's womb. Jeremiah is as little thinking how this could happen as, in the next words, he is of the possibility of everlasting pregnancy. His words must be taken rhetorically, not physiologically. That pregnancy is everlasting that has no birth at the end of it. - In Jer 20:18 a reason for the curse is given, in that birth had brought him only a life of hardship and sorrow. To see hardship, i.e., experience, endure it. His days pass away, vanish in shame, i.e., shame at the discomfiture of hopes; for his life-calling produces no fruit, his prophetic work is in vain, since he cannot save his people from destruction.

The curse on the day of birth closes with a sigh at the wretchedness of life, without any hint that he again rises to new joyful faith, and without God's reprimanding him for his discontent as in Jer 11:19. This difficulty the comm. have not touched upon; they have considered only the questions: how at all such a curse in the mouth of a prophet is to be defended; and whether it is in its right place in this connection, immediately after the words so full of hope as Jer 20:11. (cf. Ng.). The latter question we have already discussed art the beginning of the exposition of these verses. As to the first, opinions differ. Some take the curse to be a purely rhetorical form, having no object whatsoever. For, it is said, the long past day of his birth is as little an object on which the curse could really fall, as is the man who told his father of the birth of a son - a man who in all probability never had a real existence (Ng.). To this view, ventured so early as Origen, Cor. a Lap. has justly answered: obstat, quod dies illa exstiterit fueritque creatura Dei; non licet autem maledicere alicui creaturae Dei, sive illa praesens sit sive praeterita. Others, as Calv., espied in this cursing quasi sacrilegum furorem, and try to excuse it on the ground that the principium hujus zeli was justifiable, because Jeremiah cursed the day of his birth not because of personal sufferings, sicknesses, poverty, and the like, but quoniam videret se perdere operam, quum tamen fideliter studeret eam impendere in salutem populi, deinde quum videret doctrinam Dei obnoxiam esse probris et vituperationibus, quum videret impios ita procaciter insurgere, quum videret totam pietatem ita haberi ludibrio. But the sentence passed, that the prophet gravissime peccaverit ut esset contumeliosus in Deu, is too severe one, as is also that of the Berleburg Bible, that "Jeremiah therein stands for an example of warning to all faithful witnesses for the truth, showing that they should not be impatient of the reproach, contempt, derision, and mockery that befall them on that account, if God's long-suffering bears with the mockers so long, and ever delays His judgments." For had Jeremiah sinned so grievously, God would certainly have reproached him with his wrong-doing, as in Jer 15:19. Since that is not here the case, we are not entitled to make out his words to be a beacon of warning to all witnesses for the truth. Certainly this imprecation was not written fore our imitation; for it is doubtless an infirmitas, as Seb. Schm. called it - an outbreak of the striving of the flesh against the spirit. But it should be to us a source of instruction and comfort. From it we should, on the one hand, learn the full weight of the temptation, so that we may arm ourselves with prayer in faith as a weapon against the power of the tempter; on the other hand, we should see the greatness of God's grace, which raises again those that are stumbling to their fall, and does not let God's true servants succumb under the temptation, as we gather from the fact, that the Lord does not cast off His servant, but gives him the needed strength for carrying on the heavy labours of his office. - The difficulty that there is no answer from the Lord to this complaint, neither by way of reprimand nor of consolation, as in Jer 12:5., Jer 15:10, Jer 15:19., is solved when we consider that at his former complainings the Lord had said to him all that was needed to comfort him and raise him up again. A repetition of those promises would have soothed his bitterness of spirit for a time, perhaps, but not permanently. For the latter purpose the Lord was silent, and left him time to conquer from within the temptation that was crushing him down, by recalling calmly the help from God he had so often hitherto experienced in his labours, especially as the time was now not far distant in which, by the bursting of the threatened judgment on Jerusalem and Judah, he should not only be justified before his adversaries, but also perceive that his labour had not been in vain. And that Jeremiah did indeed victoriously struggle against this temptation, we may gather from remembering that hereafter, when, especially during the siege of Jerusalem under Zedekiah, he had still sorer afflictions to endure, he no longer trembles or bewails the sufferings connected with his calling.

Next: Jeremiah Chapter 21