Jeremiah 5:1-31

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YHWH directed that a search be made. The plural imperatives seemingly represent Jeremiah as part of a group of searchers who were to go about “in the streets of Jerusalem” and the squares of the city for the purpose of seeing whether they could find a “man” or anyone who was just in his dealings and was “seeking faithfulness” or who endeavored to be trustworthy and devoted to YHWH. In case they could locate such a person among the general population (not including the few who were known to YHWH as upright), YHWH promised to forgive Jerusalem or to spare the inhabitants of the city from suffering punishment for their lawlessness and unfaithfulness to him. According to the Septuagint rendering, however, only persons doing what is just or right and seeking faithfulness are the ones to whom God would be gracious. As evident from the words that follow, the mass of the city’s inhabitants was corrupt, making it impossible for any searchers to find an upright person. (5:1)

Even if the people of Jerusalem were to swear in YHWH’s name, saying, “As YHWH lives,” they would be swearing to falsehood. Their use of God’s name did not mean that they were devoted to him nor did it restrain them from lying or concealing their deception by means of an oath. Their oath-bound words could not be trusted. (5:2)

The rhetorical question about YHWH’s “eyes” being directed toward faithfulness appears to imply that he is looking for it among the people and will not tolerate unfaithfulness. He had acted against the lawless people with means of his choosing, including letting them experience military invasions and defeat. Although he had thus “struck” them, the inflicted wounds did not bring them to their senses. They remained in their corrupt state as if the striking had not wounded them or made them sick. From the standpoint of their numbers having been greatly diminished, often through defeats in warfare, YHWH had put an end to them. This did not bring them to repentance. They refused to accept the severe discipline. The people “made their faces harder than a crag,” remaining stubbornly defiant in pursuing God-dishonoring practices. They refused to turn back from their wayward course. (5:3)

In view of what he observed, Jeremiah thought that the lawless ones were only the poor or persons in the lower class of society who might have some excuse for their ignorance. He did note, however, that they had “no sense,” behaving in foolish or divinely disapproved ways. They did not know the “way of YHWH, the judgment of their God.” Their not knowing was evident from their failure to pursue a way of life that was in harmony with what he had decreed to be just or right. (5:4)

Disappointed with the lower class of society, Jeremiah decided to go to the “great ones,” the prominent or leading members of the nation, and to speak to them. He concluded that they surely must “know the way of YHWH, the judgment of their God.” This, however, was not apparent from their conduct. They also had “broken the yoke” and “torn the bonds.” These prominent ones among the people had refused to submit to the requirements of the covenant YHWH had concluded with his people in the wilderness of Sinai. They rebelled against his commands as if breaking a yoke and tearing the bands or straps that held the yoke in place. (5:5)

Military forces that brought and continued to bring ruin for the people of the kingdom of Judah are likened to predators. The people had rebelled against YHWH and his commands. “Therefore, a lion out of a forest struck them; a wolf of the steppes will despoil them [a wolf destroyed them (clear) to the houses (LXX)]; a leopard is watching [to pounce] at their cities.” Everyone going out from the cities “will be torn to pieces [will be hunted (LXX)],” for the “transgressions” of the people are “many,” and their “apostasies” or backslidings are numerous. According to the Septuagint, the people “multiplied their impieties” or their godless actions; “they prevailed in their backslidings.” (5:6)

The question raised is how YHWH could possibly forgive her (“you” in the Hebrew text) or Jerusalem for the many transgressions or apostasies. Apparently the singular “you” in the feminine gender designates the city as representing the people of the kingdom of Judah. In the Septuagint, the question is, “For which of these [impieties or backslidings] should I become gracious to you?” The words that follow indicate that no basis for forgiveness or for graciousness or kindness existed. The “sons” or people of Jerusalem (as representing the kingdom of Judah) had forsaken YHWH, and they were swearing (yissabe‘u [form of shava‘]) by nonexistent gods. Although YHWH had satisfied (’asbea‘ [form of sava‘]) the people, providing them with everything they needed, they committed adultery. Their unfaithfulness, which included the veneration of nonexistent deities, was adultery, for it violated their covenant relationship that bound them to YHWH as is a wife to her husband. Shamelessly, as a “troop” or a group, men frequented a whorehouse. The Septuagint says that “they would lodge in the houses of prostitutes.” (5:7; see the Notes section.)

The sex-crazed men are likened to stallions, with “each one neighing for the wife of his fellow” or intending to commit adultery. There is considerable uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew words that describe the stallions to which the men are compared. One view of lexicographers is that these are portrayed as stallions “in heat” and having prominent “testicles.” The Septuagint rendering may be translated, “They became sex-crazed [or lusty] horses.” Numerous modern translations read similarly. “Each neighs after another man’s wife, like a well-fed and lusty stallion.” (REB) “They are well-fed, lusty stallions.” (NIV) “Lustful stallions they are.” (NAB) (5:8)

The rhetorical questions YHWH is represented as raising are: “Should I not call to account for these things [the immoral acts]?” “Should not my soul avenge itself [I avenge myself (or take punitive action)] on a nation such as this?” The implied answer is that he should do so, for they deserve to be punished for their vile acts. (5:9)

“Go up among her rows and destroy.” The feminine suffix (“her”) may refer either to Jerusalem or the “daughter of Judah” (the kingdom of Judah). During the course of the military campaign, the warriors would climb up the rows of grapevines that had been planted on terraces on the hillsides and ruin the vines. The context indicates that the destruction of the vines represents the conquest of the people of the kingdom of Judah, including the capital city Jerusalem. The divine direction is not to make a complete end of them, but the ruin would be extensive, for the branches are to be lopped off. This would not be a pruning but an act of destruction. With an apparent application to the unfaithful people, the text says, “for they are not YHWH’s.” He did not recognize them as his own, leaving them without his protection and aid. (5:10; see the Notes section.)

YHWH declared that both the “house of Israel” (the people of the former ten-tribe kingdom of Israel) and the “house of Judah” (the people of the kingdom of Judah) had acted treacherously with him. They defiantly acted contrary to his commands, violating the covenant that he had concluded with their ancestors at Mount Sinai. (5:11)

The way in which the unfaithful people wronged YHWH is somewhat obscure in the Hebrew text. It could be that they “denied him,” refusing to acknowledge him as their God whom they were under obligation to obey. In their stubborn refusal to submit to his will, they, in effect, said, “he is not” or he does not exist. Another possible sense is that they proved to be false to YHWH and yet claimed that this was not the case or that he would not do anything. Translations vary in their renderings. “They have lied about the LORD; they said, ‘He will do nothing!’” (NIV) “They have been false to the LORD and said: ‘It is not so!’” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “They denied the LORD, saying, ‘Not he — No evil shall befall us.’” (NAB) “They have denied the LORD, saying, ‘He does not matter.’” (REB) The Septuagint says, “They have lied to their Lord, and they said, ‘These things are not so.’” Although the people had been lawless, they imagined that “evil” or calamity would not befall them and that they would not “see sword” (or war) and “famine” (either from the food shortages resulting from the devastation of military invasions or from crop failures on account of severe droughts). Through the utterances of the false prophets, the people had been deluded into believing that they would not be punished for their God-dishonoring conduct. (5:12)

“And the prophets [our prophets (LXX)] will become [became (LXX)] wind.” The ones to whom reference is made are false prophets upon whom YHWH’s spirit did not operate. They were mere windbags whose utterances would remain unfulfilled, for the “word” (“word of the Lord” [LXX]) or the message that had YHWH as its source was “not in them.” As a consequence, the previously mentioned “evil” or calamity would befall these prophets (“thus it will be done to them”). (5:13)

YHWH is identified as the “God of hosts” (Lord Almighty [LXX]), the God with hosts of angels in his service for the accomplishment of his purpose. Apparently because the people said that no evil or calamity would come upon them, YHWH revealed that he would make the words he had put in Jeremiah’s mouth (literally, “your mouth”) a “fire.” The words foretelling calamity for the disobedient people were certain to be fulfilled. Therefore, once they had been made known, these words had destructive power like that of a conflagration. The people would then be like pieces of wood that the fire would consume. (5:14)

From far away, YHWH purposed to bring upon the “house of Israel,” or his people who had been unfaithful to him, a nation that would serve as his punitive instrument. It was an “enduring” nation, or a nation that had been firmly established for a long time. This nation had existed long ago, and the people spoke a language that members of the “house of Israel” would not be able to understand. The lack of a common language would mean that the defeated Israelites would be treated severely as foreigners with whom the conquerors had nothing in common. In the fulfillment, the distant nation proved to be the people from Chaldea or Babylon (more specifically, the military forces from there). (5:15; see the Notes section.)

The “quiver” of the distant nation was like an open burial pit. A quiver held the arrows that could be shot with a bow, spelling death for those who were hit in a vital part of their body. As the place from which the death-dealing arrows originated, the quiver was like an open grave that was ready to receive the victims of the arrows. All the members of the nation from far away who would be part of the invading force were “mighty men” or warriors. (5:16; see the Notes section.)

The warriors from the distant nation would “devour” the harvest, food (literally, bread), sons and daughters, flocks and herds, grapevines and fig trees (fig groves and olive groves [LXX]), devastating the land and the crops in the kingdom of Judah and slaughtering the people during the campaign of conquest. The invaders would “shatter” or level the fortified cities in which the people trusted for security, and the implement for causing ruin is identified as the “sword” or as warfare. (5:17; see the Notes section.)

“And even in those days,” or at the time YHWH would permit the people of Judah to suffer for their unfaithfulness at the hands of the invaders of their land, he would not make a complete end of them, or he would not allow the attacking military forces to bring about a total annihilation of the people. (5:18; see the Notes section.)

When the people asked why YHWH had brought calamities upon them (literally, “done all these things to us”), Jeremiah was to tell them that it was because of their having forsaken YHWH and served foreign gods in their own land. In turn, they would serve “strangers in a land not [theirs].” This indicates that, as exiles in a foreign land, they would be subject to foreigners (the conquerors) and their deities. (5:19)

The message that was to be declared to the “house of Jacob,” or the people who descended from Jacob, and proclaimed “in Judah,” or in the kingdom of Judah, is set forth in the words that follow. (5:20)

The disobedient people in the kingdom of Judah were called upon to “hear” or to listen to the message. They were to be addressed as “foolish people and without heart,” as persons who acted senselessly and without understanding or a sound mind, for they pursued a course in life that would prove to be ruinous for them. They acted as if they had eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear, leading to disastrous consequences for them. It is also possible that the allusion is to their having forsaken YHWH and venerating nonexistent deities that had eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear. (5:21)

YHWH is quoted as asking the people whether they did not fear him or did not “tremble” before his “face” (in his presence or before him). He is the One who identifies himself as having established the “sand as the boundary for the sea, an eternal decree” that the sea “cannot transgress.” The waves of the sea may become more turbulent, but “they cannot prevail.” They may roar, but they cannot pass over the established limit. The implied thought appears to be that the mighty sea remains within the divinely established boundary, never passing beyond it or transgressing, but the Israelites defiantly transgressed YHWH’s commands. (5:22; see the Notes section.)

The wayward people are described as having a “stubborn (sorér [form of sarár]) and rebellious heart.” Unlike the sea that kept within its bounds, the people, in their thinking or their inmost selves, stubbornly refused to submit to YHWH’s will and rebelliously disregarded his law. They “turned aside” (sarú [form of sur] from the right course and went their own way. (5:23; see the Notes section.)

“In their heart,” or in their thoughts or within themselves, the people did not express any inclination to fear YHWH their God. It seems that it never occurred to them that he was the One who had provided them with everything they needed. YHWH is referred to as the One who gives the rain, the early rain (usually starting in October) and the late rain (in March and April), in its season, or when it is essential for the growing crops. He also keeps or guards the “appointed weeks for the harvest.” The weeks relate to the time for the barley harvest and the wheat harvest (between the time of Passover and Pentecost). During this season there usually are no downpours that could ruin crops at the time of the harvest. So the weeks are preserved as a dry period, and there are winds that serve well for winnowing the harvested grain. (5:24; see the Notes section.)

The wrongs of the people turned the usual weather conditions away, and their sins kept “good from them.” Drought during the time when rain was needed and unseasonable downpours at the time of the harvest led to food shortages. (5:25)

Among his people, YHWH found “wicked men.” They constantly looked for opportunities to ensnare others with their corrupt schemes. According to one interpretation of the difficult Hebrew text, they were like fowlers who watched from a place of concealment to spring a snare on birds. Modern translations convey this basic significance. “Among my people are wicked men who lie in wait like men who snare birds.” (NIV) “For there are among my people criminals; like fowlers they set traps.” (NAB) “For scoundrels are found among my people; they take over the goods of others. Like fowlers they set a trap.” (NRSV) “Yes, there are wicked men among my people who watch like fowlers on the alert.” (NJB) “For among My people are found wicked men, who lurk, like fowlers lying in wait.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) According to the Septuagint, impious or godless ones among God’s people “set traps to ruin men.” The Hebrew text concludes with the thought that wicked men set “destruction” or ruin for their victims, catching men or people with their schemes. (5:26)

A fowler would have a cage filled with caught birds; likewise, the houses of wicked men were “full of treachery” or the gain from dishonest, deceitful, or treacherous dealings. Through corrupt means, these individuals became “great,” or attained positions of power and influence, and they acquired riches. (5:27)

Wicked men “grew fat” and “became shiny.” They prospered. In their having benefited from sumptuous fare, their countenance appeared shiny, fully fleshed out and not gaunt as is that of persons who are malnourished and sickly. These wicked men went beyond limits in their deeds (or words) of evil. Instead of defending the fatherless and the poor, they took advantage of them to benefit themselves. They refused to deal justly. According to the Septuagint, they did not judge the case of the orphan and the case of the widow. (5:28; see the Notes section.)

In view of the corrupt practices and injustices of lawless men, the questions YHWH is represented as raising are: “Should I not call to account for these things [the unjust acts]?” “Should not my soul avenge itself [I avenge myself (or take punitive action)] on a nation such as this?” These questions repeat the wording of verse 9. (5:29)

“In the land” of God’s people, an appalling and horrible thing, something truly shocking, had occurred. (5:30) Prophets should have been directing people aright, but the prophets to whom the people listened were speaking falsehood, and the priests “ruled at their direction [literally, at their hands].” Instead of teaching God’s commands to the people and admonishing them to live accordingly, the priests exercised authority according to the direction the false prophets gave with their false proclamations. Other meanings of the Hebrew text are reflected in the renderings of modern translations. “The priests rule by their own authority.” (NIV) “The priests teach as they wish.” (NAB) “The priests exploit the people.” (NJB) “Priests are in league with them [the false prophets].” (REB) Yet the people loved things as they were, for the false prophets and corrupt priests did not exhort them to change their lawless ways. Although they themselves may have been treated unjustly, they themselves were not devoted to YHWH and were not desirous of doing his will. The verse then concludes with the question, “What will you [the people] do at the culmination of it [or when the end comes]?” The implication is that they would not escape punishment at that time for their disregard of YHWH and his commands. (5:31; see the Notes section.)


There is a wordplay in verse 7 of the Hebrew text (yissabe‘u [they have sworn]) and ’asbea‘ (I satisfied).

In verse 10, the Septuagint rendering appears to refer specifically to the siege of Jerusalem. “Go up upon her battlements and raze [them], but do not make a complete end. Leave behind her supporting structures, for they are the Lord’s.”

The shorter reading of verse 15 in the Septuagint does not include the reference to an enduring and ancient nation.

In verse 16, the Septuagint does not include any reference to a quiver. The abbreviated text reads, “All [are] strong men.”

In verse 17, the Hebrew suffix for “your” is singular (evidently a collective singular), and the Septuagint rendering is the plural pronoun for “your.”

In the Septuagint, verse 18 starts with the words, “And it will be in those days, says the Lord your God.” The next phrase of the Greek text contains two words for “not,” emphasizing that by no means would he cause a complete end or annihilation for his people.

According to verse 22, the “sand” functions as the boundary for the sea. As the waves pound against the shore, the sand yields, diffusing and dissipating the power of the waves. This is what keeps the sea in check.

In the Hebrew text of verse 23, there is a wordplay (sorér [stubborn] and sarú (“turned aside”).

The wording of the Septuagint in verse 24 does not refer to the keeping of the weeks of the harvest. It makes the application to the “time of fulfillment of the ordinance of the harvest,” and concludes with the words, “and he guarded it for us.”

In verse 28, the Septuagint contains no reference to growing fat and becoming shiny.

Verse 31 in the Septuagint (Rahlfs’ printed text) says that “the priests applaud with their hands.” Possibly the thought is that they were in full agreement with the utterances of the false prophets.