Jeremiah 6:1-30

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Earlier, residents in the territory of the kingdom of Judah were advised to take refuge within the protective walls of fortified cities, including Jerusalem. (4:5, 6) Meanwhile the circumstances had changed on account of the advance of the invading military forces under the command of Nebuchadnezzar. Fortified cities would be besieged, making it advisable to seek a place of safety elsewhere. Benjamites (“sons of Benjamin” or descendants of Jacob’s son Benjamin) from their tribal territory that bordered Jerusalem must have taken refuge in the city. Therefore, they are admonished to flee for safety “from the midst of Jerusalem.” The Septuagint, however, expresses a different thought. The “sons of Benjamin” are called upon to gather new strength in the midst of the city. (6:1; see the Notes section.)

The blowing of the shofar (a ram’s-horn trumpet) in Tekoa (commonly identified with a site about 10 miles [c. 16 kilometers] south of Jerusalem) would have served to warn the inhabitants about an imminent siege. Beth-haccherem was a suitable location for raising a “signal” that could be seen from a distance and which would have warned people about the advance of invading military forces. The city probably lay south of Jerusalem, but there is uncertainty about the exact location of the ancient site. Warriors would be coming from the north, and so, from the north, calamity would descend upon the cities of the kingdom of Judah, including Jerusalem. The attacking forces would cause a “great crash” or ruin. (6:1)

The expression “daughter of Zion” represents Zion or Jerusalem as a woman. She is described as “beautiful and delicately bred,” suggesting that she was not accustomed to being reduced to a humiliated and desperate state that would force her to take indelicate measures. During the siege of Jerusalem, those inside the city would run out of food, impelling them to undertake indelicate deeds. According to the Septuagint, the “loftiness” or haughtiness of the “daughter of Zion” would be taken away. (6:2; compare Deuteronomy 28:54-57.)

It appears that Nebuchadnezzar and his commanders are likened to “shepherds” and their “flocks” to the warriors serving under them. The “shepherds” and their “flocks” are portrayed as having come to Jerusalem, with tents being pitched all around the city to launch the attack against her. Like grazing flocks of sheep or goats, the warriors would partake of the mature crops they found in the vicinity of Jerusalem. Therefore, they are referred to as “grazing” or pasturing each “man at his side [literally, hand (each one with his hand [LXX])]” or at his place. (6:3)

The warriors are represented as being called upon to “sanctify war” (“prepare for war” [LXX]) against Jerusalem, invoking their deities to grant them victory. To the military forces, warring was a sacred act, for it was regarded as the will of the deities to whom they ascribed their triumphs. Those about to launch the attack against Jerusalem are quoted as saying, “Arise, and let us go up at midday.” Usually, noon would not have been regarded as the opportune time for beginning a siege. Therefore, these words could indicate the eagerness of the warriors to start the campaign and that the time of the day made no difference to them. (6:4)

The defenders of Jerusalem apparently are the ones being quoted as saying, “Woe to us,” for it is unlikely that confident aggressors would have expressed themselves in this manner. The subsequent words suggest that the warriors feared having to defend the city when daylight ended. The lengthening of the shadows indicated that darkness would soon set in, and mounting a successful defense would then become very difficult, if not impossible. (6:4)

The invaders are portrayed as having no hesitation about warring at night. They are quoted as saying, “Arise, and let us go up by night and destroy the [city’s] fortresses [foundations (LXX)].” (6:5)

As if the warriors were already in position at Jerusalem, YHWH of hosts (the God with hosts of angels in his service; the “Lord” [LXX]) is represented as commanding them, “Cut down trees [literally, “wood”; “her trees” (LXX)]; cast up a siege rampart against Jerusalem.” On account of oppression existing in the midst of Jerusalem, punitive action was to be taken against the city and the inhabitants. The invading military forces were the means YHWH would use for calling Jerusalem to account, leaving the unfaithful people without his help and protection. In the Septuagint, the reference is to pouring out strength against Jerusalem, and Jerusalem is called a “false city,” one that proved to be false to God. (6:6)

A cistern keeps water “cool,” fresh, or potable, preserving a supply of water for drinking and other purposes. Similarly, Jerusalem (the city’s population) kept her “badness cool,” preserving it and overflowing in corrupt practices. Within the city could be heard the results from violence (impiety [LXX]) and despoiling (trouble or misery [LXX]), or from assault, oppression, and robbery. Constantly, “sickness and blow” were before YHWH’s “face,” or in his full view. “Sickness” may refer to moral corruption, and “blow” to any kind of injurious act. There was no letup in corrupt and violent deeds. According to the Septuagint, impiety and trouble would be heard before the “face” of Jerusalem always. (6:7; see the Notes section.)

Despite the wayward course of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah, YHWH was willing to spare them, provided they repented. The imperative directed to them was, “Let yourself be chastened, O Jerusalem [the city’s populace], that my soul [I myself] not be alienated from you, that I may not make you a desolate waste [an untrodden land (LXX), one through which no one passed], an uninhabited land.” (6:8)

If the people failed to repent, the declaration of YHWH of hosts (the “Lord” [LXX]), the God with hosts of angels in his service, would then apply. “They will thoroughly glean [literally, to glean they will glean] the remnant [remnants (LXX)] of Israel like a vine.” In the Septuagint, the imperative is, “Glean, glean.” Both the Hebrew text and the rendering of the Septuagint seem to indicate that, after the calamity that would befall Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah, the survivors would not be spared punishment. They would be sought out, being gleaned like the grapes left on a vine after the harvest. It may be that the corporate instrument YHWH would use to accomplish the gleaning is told, “Like one gathering grapes, pass your hand again over the branches” of the vine. According to the Septuagint, those doing the gleaning were to return as does a grape gatherer to “his basket” in order to fill it. (6:9)

Jeremiah encountered unresponsiveness among the people when he proclaimed the word of YHWH to them. This prompted him to ask, “To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear” (may listen and act according to the message directed to them)? The prophet found that the people were “uncircumcised” of ear, or as if the ear was blocked by an obstruction that made it impossible for them to pay attention to what he said and to heed his words. To them, the “word of YHWH” was an object of scorn. They took no delight in it, but abhorred the message and did not want to hear it. (6:10)

The wayward people angered YHWH, and their unresponsiveness appears to have filled Jeremiah with like wrath. Accordingly, he spoke of being full of the “wrath of YHWH.” Jeremiah tried to restrain himself from expressing this wrath and became weary of holding it in. The word of YHWH to Jeremiah indicated that he was not to hold in this wrath but to pour it out, making known that it would spare no one. YHWH’s wrath would affect even the small child playing in the street, young men gathered together in a group, both a man and his wife, an old man and one who had reached the end of his life (literally, one “full of days”) (6:11; see the Notes section.) The houses of the people would come into the possession of others. Their fields together with their wives (who were regarded as owned by their husbands) would cease to belong to them. YHWH would “stretch out” his “hand against the inhabitants of the land,” withdrawing his protection from them and letting them be conquered. (6:12)

From the least, the lowliest, or most insignificant one among the people to the greatest, the most powerful and influential one, all of them were greedy for making dishonest gain (“completed lawless deeds” [LXX]). They were determined to use whatever unworthy means available to them to acquire what they wanted. From prophet [false prophet (LXX)] to priest, each one of them dealt falsely (“formulated lies” [LXX]). They were insincere and did not speak the truth. They failed to tell the people what they needed to hear in order to have YHWH’s approval. (6:13) Prophets and priests tried to “heal the fracture,” wound, brokenness, or the deplorable condition of the people lightly or with no concern for them. They would say, “Peace, peace,” or all is well, all is well. In reality, there was no peace. The situation was anything but well among the people. In the Septuagint, the concluding thought is a question, “Where is peace?” (6:14)

The lawless people should have felt shame for the abhorrent thing they had committed, but they were so accustomed to acting corruptly that they were absolutely not ashamed. They were at a point where they “did not know even how to feel dishonorable.” Therefore, their punishment would be that of falling “among those who are falling,” or perishing among them in war. At the time YHWH would hold an accounting with them, they would “stumble,” experiencing a fall from which they would not recover. According to the Septuagint, they would perish “at the time of their visitation,” or when divine judgment would be visited upon them. (6:15; see the Notes section.)

People would stand by the roads to determine which way to travel. In this case, the choice relates to the pursuit of the right course in life. The people are admonished to look and to make inquiry about the ancient paths, where they could find the “good way.” The ancient paths may designate the ones the Israelites followed in the wilderness at YHWH’s direction and which, therefore, were the right paths, and the “good way” would be the course of life that was in harmony with his commands and will. This is the way in which the people should have walked or the manner in which they should have conducted themselves. The literal reading of “good way” is “way of the good,” and could also mean “way of the Good One,” YHWH. In this “way” or while pursuing this course, the people would find rest (“purification” [LXX]) for their “souls” or themselves. This rest would be comparable to times of respite and refreshment that travelers enjoy. The wayward people had no desire to pursue the right course. They expressed themselves as persons determined not to walk or not to conduct themselves in this noble way. (6:16)

The watchmen that YHWH raised up for the people were the prophets who warned the people of the punitive judgment to come if they did not abandon their wrong course of life. Often the punishment proved to be military defeats, and the prophets warned the people that they would be facing war and not have YHWH’s aid and protection if they continued defiantly disobeying his commands. From this standpoint, the prophets urged the people to pay attention to the sound of a shophar (a ram’s-horn trumpet) that warned of war. They, however, resolved not to pay attention, giving no heed to the proclamation regarding coming attacks and triumphs by invading forces if they continued in the pursuit of their lawless course. (6:17)

“Therefore,” in view of the failure of the disobedient people to heed the admonition to change their ways, the nations were directed to “hear” and the “assembly” to “know” what would happen. The “assembly” or “congregation” may refer to the nations collectively, and the people of those nations would be witnesses to the punitive judgment that YHWH determined to bring upon his wayward people. (6:18; see the Notes section.) The earth was also called upon to hear what YHWH would do. He is quoted as saying, “See, I am bringing evil [or calamity] upon this people, the fruit of their schemes [their turning away (from their God) (LXX)], for they have not given heed to my words, and they have rejected my law.” The people would experience the dire consequences for defiantly refusing to act on YHWH’s words that were conveyed to them through his prophets and for disregarding his commands, choosing to act in a lawless manner. (6:19)

The Hebrew word rendered “frankincense” (levohnáh) is drawn from a root that means “to be white” and apparently refers to the whitish color of this fragrant gum resin. Frankincense is obtained from trees or bushes of the genus Boswellia. It was one of the ingredients of the incense designated for sanctuary service (Exodus 30:34-38) and was used in connection with grain offerings ((Leviticus 2:1, 2, 15, 16; 6:15) and the showbread (Leviticus 24:7). Sheba (Saba [LXX]), the source of the frankincense, is thought to have been located in the southwestern part of the Arabian Peninsula. “Sweet cane” (literally, “cane, the good [one]”; “cinnamon” [LXX]) came from a distant land. It was one of the ingredients of the holy anointing oil. (Exodus 30:23-25) Although having a sacred use, frankincense and sweet cane or calamus meant nothing to YHWH when limited to ceremonial use in the absence of genuine devotion to him. The people continued to bring their burnt offerings and other sacrifices to the temple, but YHWH did not regard them as acceptable or pleasing to him. Their offering of sacrifices proved to be just empty ritual and was not a reflection of any loyal attachment to him as their God. (6:20)

To punish his disobedient people, YHWH purposed to lay “stumbling blocks” before them. This indicated that they would experience serious falls or calamities. No one would be exempted from the hurtful effects. “Fathers and sons” would stumble together, and a “neighbor and his companion.” All of them would perish. (6:21)

The calamitous development that YHWH made known through Jeremiah was a military invasion from the “land of the north.” In the fulfillment, this land was Babylon, Babylonia, or Chaldea. It is referred to as the “land of the north” because the warriors would be coming into the territory of the kingdom of Judah from the north. The land was a distant land in relation to the kingdom of Judah. Therefore, the “great nation [nations (LXX), Babylon and its allies],” more particularly its mighty military force, would be rousing or stirring from the “remote parts of the earth.” (6:22)

The warriors would lay hold on “bow and spear.” They are described as cruel and without mercy. In view of their large number, the sound of the warriors is likened to the roaring of the sea. They would make their advance on horses. “As a man,” or in one unified formation, the warriors would array themselves against the “daughter of Zion” or Jerusalem. According to the Septuagint, the attacking warriors would be “on horses and chariots,” arraying themselves “like a fire” for war. (6:23)

The inhabitants of Jerusalem and the other residents in the realm of the kingdom of Judah had heard the report about the merciless nation, people, or warriors that would be coming. That report had a terrifying impact. As if deprived of all strength, the hands of the people dropped helplessly. Distress seized them, as did the pain comparable to that of a woman in labor. (6:24)

Once the invading forces had entered into the territory of the kingdom of Judah, any place outside the walls of fortified cities would prove to be too dangerous. Therefore, the people were told not to go forth “into the field” and not to walk “on the road.” This would be because the “sword” of the enemy force would be wielded, giving rise to “fright all around.” (6:25)

The calamity to befall YHWH’s rebellious people would occasion mourning and bitter lamentation. As though they were to prepare for this, the word of YHWH through Jeremiah directed them (the “daughter of [YHWH’s] people”) to put on sackcloth (a coarse cloth made from goats’ hair) over the bare skin of their loins and to “roll in ashes” in a state of great distress. According to the Septuagint, the reference appears to be to strewing ashes upon themselves. The mourning of the people was to be intense like that for the loss of an only son and to be accompanied by very bitter lamentation. This would be because “the devastator” (“misery” [LXX]) would come upon the people. (6:26)

Among his people, YHWH had made Jeremiah an “assayer” or one who would test them, revealing what their conduct exposed them to be. In his role as a “tester,” Jeremiah would “know and assay their way.” He would recognize their way or their course of conduct as divinely disapproved, and this would be evident from his testing. According to the Septuagint, the Lord had “given” or appointed Jeremiah as a “tester among tested peoples.” On the basis of the Lord’s testing of the “way” of the people, or of their course in life, Jeremiah would “know” him. His knowing God here would relate to knowing to a greater extent what he approved and what he disapproved. (6:27; see the Notes section.)

Among “stubborn ones,” all of the people were “stubborn” or exceedingly stubborn or rebellious. According to the Septuagint, they were unresponsive or disobedient. They went about as “slanderers,” using their tongues in malicious ways to harm others. Their lawless deeds revealed all of them to be persons of little worth or like base metals — copper and iron (not like precious metals — silver and gold). All of the people acted ruinously, dealing corruptly and corrupting others. The Septuagint refers to all of them as “corrupted.” (6:28)

According to one view, the Hebrew verb linked to “bellows” is a form of charár, defined as “scorched” or “burned.” This significance suggests that the bellows fanned the flames so intensely that the fire scorched them. Another view, based on Syriac and Arabic, represents the bellows as making a sound comparable to snoring. The thought regarding the bellow could then be that they are made to blow hard. A number of modern translations convey this basic significance. “The bellows blow fiercely.” (NIV, NRSV) “The bellows blast away.” (NJB) “The bellows puff.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “The bellows roars.” (NAB) In the Septuagint, the bellows are referred to as failing, suggesting that the effort to use the implement in the refining process proved to be in vain. The Septuagint then says that the “lead failed.” This could be understood to mean that the lead could not be separated from silver, for silver did not exist in the ore being refined. The Hebrew text indicates that the fire consumes the lead or burns it away from the ore. Accordingly, the purpose of blasting away with the bellows was to achieve this so that the silver might be left. In the case of the people of the kingdom of Judah, however, the refining process was in vain or accomplished nothing. The wicked could not be removed or drawn off, for the whole mass of the people was comparable to useless ore that contained no valuable metal. (6:29)

The God-dishonoring conduct of the people reduced them to a worthless state. Apparently Jeremiah and others who were involved in the process that was comparable to refining the people called them “rejected silver” or refuse, for YHWH had rejected them. (6:30; see the Notes section.)

Notes

The Hebrew text of verse 1 contains a number of wordplays (benei [sons] and binyamin [Benjamin]; teqoh‘a [Tekoa] and tiq‘u [blow]; se’u [raise] and mas’eth [fire signal]).

In verse 7, the concluding words in the Septuagint begin a sentence that is completed in verse 8. The thought is that Jerusalem or her inhabitants would be disciplined with “trouble” or “misery” and “whip.”

The Septuagint (in verse 11) represents God as the speaker. He is the One who is filled with anger, but he held back and did not bring the people to a complete end.

In verse 15, the Septuagint rendering differs somewhat from the extant Hebrew text. It indicates that the people were shamed because they failed (probably meaning that they failed to conduct themselves uprightly). They, however, did not feel shame as they should have, “and they did not recognize their dishonor. Therefore, they will fall in their downfall, and at the time of their visitation they will perish.”

There is a measure of uncertainty about the Hebrew text of verse 18, and a number of translations have adopted a rendering that emends the Hebrew word for “assembly” or “congregation.” “Therefore hear, O nations; observe, O witnesses, what will happen to them.” (NIV) “Therefore hear, you nations, and all who witness it take note of the plight of this people.” The Septuagint says, “Therefore, the nations heard, and the ones shepherding their flocks.” The ones doing the shepherding could designate the rulers of the nations.

In verse 27 of the Hebrew text, the rendering “tester” is based on a change in vowel pointing. The Masoretic Text contains the vowel points for the word that may be translated “fortification.”

In the Septuagint, the initial phrase of verse 30 is an imperative. “Call them rejected silver.”