There was a permanent record of the “sin of Judah” or of the people in the realm of the kingdom of Judah. It was indelible, as if written on a hard surface with an iron stylus. So habituated to sin were the people that the “tablet of their heart,” or their inner self, was so hard that the stylus for engraving their sin on it required a stylus with a diamond point or a point of the hardest stone. As idolaters, the evidence of their sin was attached to the altars as if written on the “horns” or the projections at the four corners thereof. (17:1; see the Notes section.)
Idolatry had long existed among the unfaithful people so that even their “sons” or children remembered “their altars and their Asherahs [probably the wooden poles that represented the goddess Asherah]” that were located alongside every flourishing tree and on the “high hills” (17:2) and “mountains of the field” or the mountains rising far above the land below. (17:3) Sites for the worship of foreign gods and goddesses could be found on hills and mountains throughout the realm of the kingdom of Judah.
YHWH determined to give the “wealth,” all the treasures, as plunder to military invaders. This would be because of the “sin” associated with the “high places,” the sites for idolatrous worship that existed throughout all the territories of the kingdom of Judah. (17:3; see the Notes section.)
The wayward people would themselves be responsible for being deprived of their land, releasing their grip on the inheritance that YHWH had given them. Upon being taken as captives away from their land, the people, as YHWH had willed, would serve their enemies in a land they did not know. With their abominable idolatrous practices, the people had incurred YHWH’s anger and thereby kindled a destructive fire against themselves (literally, “for a fire you have kindled in my anger”). This fire would continue to burn, bringing ruin to them. (17:4)
YHWH is quoted as pronouncing a curse on the man who trusts in another earthling and “makes flesh his arm” (or relies fully on human strength or ability) and whose “heart” (or inner self and thinking and reasoning faculty) “turns away from YHWH,” refusing to recognize his need and dependence on him. Regarding the man who puts his hope in another man, the Septuagint says that he supports the “flesh of his arm on him,” not on God but on the man in whom he puts his hope or trust. (17:5)
The man who turns away from YHWH will become like a scrubby tree or shrub (“the tamarisk” [LXX]) in the wilderness (or the Arabah), not like a flourishing tree amply supplied with water. He will not see or experience when “good comes” (“good things come” [LXX]). His circumstances will be comparable to residing in “scorched places [in salt places and (LXX)] in the wilderness, in a salt land” without inhabitant, or a completely barren wasteland. (17:6)
The man who is “blessed” is the man who trusts in YHWH, the man for whom YHWH is the only God on whom he fully relies. Such a man does not put his trust in mere earthlings and is blessed as a person who enjoys YHWH’s approval, aid, and guidance. (17:7) He is “like a tree planted by waters” and the roots of which reach the unfailing water source. The godly man does not see or experience (“fear” [according to another reading]) when “heat” comes in the form of distress. His situation will be like that of a tree which continues to have flourishing leafage. The Septuagint refers to this tree as having bushy branches (literally, “trunks of the woods”). Amply supplied with water, the tree to which the godly man is likened “will not be anxious [or will not fear] in the “year of drought” and will not stop producing fruit. (17:8)
“The heart [is] deceitful” or treacherous “beyond everything” and “sick itself” or “incurable.” “Who can know it?” The “heart,” or the inner self and the source of desire and thought, is seriously flawed and can prompt corrupt deeds and deceitful words for personal gain. It is incurably sick. No human can determine what resides in the human “heart” or the inner self, including the motivation, reasoning, and thinking of the inner person. (17:9; see the Notes section.)
The One who does know the human heart is quoted as saying, “I YHWH search the heart, examining” or “testing” the kidneys.” He alone knows what the “heart” or inner self of every person truly is and can penetrate to the deepest part, the “kidneys,” or the inmost feelings and emotions. Based on this, YHWH will give to every man “according to his ways [or conduct], according to the fruit of his doings.” Therefore, YHWH’s judgment is always just, for he is never deceived by outward appearances. He will render to humans what they individually have proved themselves to be in their inmost selves and by their attitude, thoughts, words, and deeds. (17:10)
The Hebrew word for “partridge” (a bird that resembles a chicken and is smaller than a pheasant) is masculine gender, but can designate either the male or the female. There is a measure of uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew verbs (dagár and yalád) that are linked to the partridge. Dagár may refer to incubating the eggs or gathering the hatched chicks together as a brood. Depending on whether the male or the female partridge is intended, yalád may apply to laying the eggs or bringing forth chicks. It is known that both the male and the female partridge incubate eggs and care for the hatched chicks. If the male partridge fails to tend properly to the incubation and the hatched chicks, loss will result from the eggs he did not lay. Another possible meaning is based on the role of the female. Two females may lay eggs in the same nest, and thereafter one of them establishes her dominance, driving the other partridge away. With her body being too small, the partridge cannot keep all the eggs warm and those that are not properly incubated will not hatch. Moreover, the eggs are laid in a nest that is out in the open and unprotected, making them especially vulnerable to predators. The basic thought appears to be that there is loss from eggs that were not laid. According to the Septuagint, a “partridge cried aloud, gathering together what it did not bring forth.” (17:11)
Like the partridge that does not gain from eggs it did not lay, the man who acquired riches through unjust means will suffer loss. “In the midst of his days,” or prematurely, he will die, leaving his ill-gotten riches behind. At his end, “he will be a fool,” for he will die as a man who chose to be corrupt and then had to part prematurely with all that he acquired unjustly or dishonestly. A noteworthy example from the time of Jeremiah was unjust king Jehoiakim who met his untimely end as a dishonorable person when he was about 36 years old. (17:11; 2 Kings 23:36-24:4; Jeremiah 22:13-19)
The “throne of glory on high from the beginning” apparently designates YHWH’s magnificent position in the exalted heavenly realm. From the very start, YHWH as the Supreme Sovereign has occupied this glorious position. The heavenly realm is also called the “place of our sanctuary.” (17:12)
In prayer, Jeremiah called YHWH the “hope of Israel,” the source of hope and the only God who can bring about the fulfillment of the hope of all his people who rely fully on him. Jeremiah recognized that those who abandon YHWH, turning away from him and pursuing the veneration of false gods and goddesses, would be put to shame, for the foreign deities could do nothing to fulfill the hope of those who trusted in them. The words that follow are YHWH’s response. “Those who turn away from me will be written down in the earth, for they have forsaken a fountain of living waters [fountain of life (LXX)], YHWH.” Those turning their backs on YHWH seemingly are written down in the earth as persons whose life ends, with all memory of them quickly disappearing as would names that are written down on bare ground. Having rejected YHWH as the “fountain of living waters,” or as the unfailing source of all blessings, they would perish without any hope. (17:13)
Earlier, Jeremiah had identified himself with his people as requiring healing and also personally as needing healing from the wounding he had experienced. (14:19; 15:18) In this verse, his petition is worded in the first person. “Heal me, YHWH, and I will be healed. Save me, and I will be saved; for you are my praise [boast (LXX)].” Jeremiah was confident that YHWH could both heal him from the pain he had to endure and could deliver him from those who were determined to harm him. For Jeremiah, YHWH was the only God whom he praised. (17:14)
The unresponsive people tauntingly said to Jeremiah, “Where is the word of YHWH? Let it come.” Their taunt implied that Jeremiah’s proclamations of the “word of YHWH” about the coming of judgment against them had not been fulfilled and would never be. Being confident that the threat would never materialize, they, in effect, said, let the fulfillment come. (17:15)
Regarding himself, Jeremiah may be understood as having said, “And I have not hastened from shepherding after you.” This literal reading could mean that he did not hurry away from fulfilling the role of a shepherd in the service of YHWH. (Compare Zechariah 11:7-17.) His proclaiming the word of YHWH provided sound guidance for the people to follow, just like sheep follow a shepherd. Other lexical meanings for the Hebrew verb (’uts) that may be translated “hasten” include “urge,” “insist upon,” and “press.” According to another reading of the Hebrew text, the words “from shepherding” may be translated “from evil” or calamity. Therefore, modern translations contain a variety of renderings for Jeremiah’s words that are directed to YHWH. “But I have not run away from being a shepherd in your service.” (NRSV) “But I have not evaded being a shepherd in your service.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “Yet I did not press you to send calamity.” (NAB) “It is not the prospect of disaster that makes me press after you.” (REB) “Yet I have never urged you to send disaster.” (NJB) The Septuagint rendering is, “I did not tire following after you.” Jeremiah did not desire the “day of disaster [form of ’anásh],” wanting it to come upon the people. He never expressed himself to this effect. Jeremiah is quoted as saying to YHWH, “You know what came from my lips.” All that he said was before YHWH’s “face.” Nothing was concealed from him. (17:16; see the Notes section.)
It appears that Jeremiah was aware of the reality that the coming day of reckoning for the disobedient people would also threaten his life, for invading military forces would be the means that YHWH would use to punish his wayward people. Apparently for this reason, he made his plea to YHWH, “Do not be a terror [or ruin (for alienation [LXX])] to me.” Recognizing that YHWH alone could deliver him, Jeremiah continued, “You are my refuge in a day of evil” or calamity. According to the Septuagint, Jeremiah asked to be spared. (17:17)
Jeremiah prayed that his persecutors, not he, be put to shame and dismayed or struck with terror. This relates to the time YHWH’s judgment would be executed against them. Jeremiah’s proclamations would then be fulfilled, vindicating him as a true prophet. Moreover, his being spared would mean that he, unlike his persecutors, did not experience shame, and he was not dismayed or terrified when the day of reckoning came. Jeremiah’s concluding petition was, “Bring upon them [his persecutors] a day of evil [or calamity]. Break [or destroy] them with double breaking [or destruction].” The words “double breaking” or “double destruction” could signify complete ruin. (17:18; see the Notes section.)
YHWH instructed Jeremiah to go and to station himself “in the gate of the sons of the people [your people (LXX)] by which the kings [rulers or leaders] of Judah enter” and exit, “and in all the gates of Jerusalem.” This suggests that Jeremiah was to reach as many people as possible with the message YHWH commissioned him to proclaim. The open areas near all the city gates would have been the locations through which the inhabitants of Jerusalem and others from outside the city regularly passed. (17:19)
Jeremiah was to call upon everyone entering the gates of Jerusalem to “hear” or listen to the “word of YHWH.” There were to be no exceptions. The “kings [rulers or leaders] of Judah [the kingdom of Judah], and all Judah [all the people living in the realm of the kingdom of Judah outside the capital city], and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem” were to pay attention. (17:20; see the Notes section.)
The message directed to all the people was to “watch out” for their “souls.” This could mean that they should be on guard for the sake of their lives or were to pay attention to themselves regarding their adherence to God’s law. The people were not to profane the Sabbath, but to observe it as a day of rest and cessation from labor. Therefore, they were commanded not to carry any “load” (such as merchandise or produce for sale) through the city gates when entering Jerusalem (17:21) nor were they to carry any load when leaving their houses on the Sabbath. The people were not to perform any work. Just as YHWH had commanded their “fathers” or forefathers, the people were to sanctify the Sabbath, treating the day as holy according to his requirements respecting it. (17:22)
The forefathers of the Israelites did not listen nor incline their ear to heed YHWH’s command regarding the Sabbath. They “hardened their neck [more than their fathers (or forefathers) (LXX)],” obstinately refusing to listen to or to obey YHWH and to accept his discipline, correction, or instruction. (17:23; see the Notes section.)
Obedience to YHWH’s commands would result in security for the people in the realm of the kingdom of Judah. If they did not bring any loads through the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath and sanctified this day, setting it apart as holy by not performing any work (17:24), “kings and princes (sitting on the throne of David, riding in a chariot and on horses),” “men of Judah [people living outside the capital city], and inhabitants of Jerusalem” would continue to enter the gates of Jerusalem. As members of the royal line of David, the kings are the ones who would be sitting on the “throne of David,” and the royal dynasty would continue to exist without any interruption. Also Jerusalem would remain an inhabited city for limitless time to come (“into the age” [LXX]). (17:25)
People from the “cities of Judah,” the region around Jerusalem, the tribal territory of Benjamin, the Shephelah (“the plain” [LXX], a region of low hills situated between the central mountain range of the former kingdom of Judah and the coastal plains of Philistia), the mountainous region, and the Negeb (“south” [LXX], the semiarid region south of the mountains of the former kingdom of Judah) would be coming to Jerusalem, “bringing holocaust and sacrifice, and grain offering [manaa (LXX), a transliteration of the Hebrew word for grain offering], and frankincense, and bringing thank offering to the house [or temple] of YHWH.” (17:26)
If the people refused to obey YHWH, continuing to profane the Sabbath and to carry loads through the gates of Jerusalem on that day, YHWH decreed that he would set the city gates on fire. This fire would consume the strongholds (sections [of houses] [LXX]) of Jerusalem, and it would not be extinguished. (17:27)
The Septuagint does not include a corresponding text for the Hebrew wording in verses 1 through 4.
The Hebrew text in verse 3 reads, “you wealth,” “your treasures,” “your high places,” and “your territories.” In all these occurrences, the Hebrew suffix that means “your” is singular and apparently is a collective singular that applies to the people. Verse 4 initially continues with the the singular suffix but then changes to the plural verb (“you have kindled”).
In the context of verse 9, lexicographers commonly define the Hebrew word ’anásh as “incurable.” The Septuagint translator read the word as ’enóhsh (“man” or “mortal”), and rendered the verse accordingly. “The heart is deep beyond all things, and man is. And who shall know him?”
The Septuagint translator read the form of the Hebrew word ’anásh as ’enóhsh (“man” or “mortal”). This accounts for the rendering “day of man” in verse 16.
In verse 18, the Hebrew text contains a wordplay with the words “break” and “breaking” (literally, “with double breaking [shibbarohn], break [shavrem] them.”
The plural word “kings” (verse 20) may apply to the then-reigning monarch and other members of the royal family who would rule as kings in the future.
Verse 23 begins with the words that may be rendered, “And they did not listen.” The antecedent in the phrase that precedes this verse is “fathers” or forefathers. Based on the Septuagint rendering, it is possible that the words “they did not listen” introduce a new thought that is not to be linked to the previous verse, with the application being to Jeremiah’s contemporaries who “hardened their neck more than their fathers” or ancestors.