Jeremiah 8:1-22

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At the time when the invading military forces would be devastating the territory of the kingdom of Judah, they would desecrate the tombs. The word of YHWH indicated that the bones of the “kings of Judah” and those of princes, priests, prophets (false prophets), and inhabitants of Jerusalem would be brought out of their burial places. There is ancient evidence regarding this kind of desecration. An inscription of Assyrian monarch Ashurbanipal quotes him as saying that he devastated the tombs of the “ancient and recent kings” of Edom and exposed them to the sun. He then carried off their bones to Assyria, for the purpose of making their spirits restless by depriving them of offerings and libations. The deuterocanonical book of Baruch (2:24 [NAB]) refers to the fulfillment of the words in the book of Jeremiah. “We did not heed your voice [God’s voice], or serve the king of Babylon, and you fulfilled the threats you had made through your servants the prophets, to have the bones of our kings and the bones of our fathers brought out from their burial places.” (8:1)

While alive, certain kings of Judah, princes, priests, prophets and others in the realm had venerated the sun, moon, and stars. The triumphant warriors would spread out their bones before the sun, the moon, (“all the stars” [LXX]), and the “host of the heavens” (stars or all other heavenly bodies), thereby disgracing them before these heavenly bodies that they had loved, served, gone after, sought, and bowed down to in worship. These bones would not be gathered nor buried (“mourned” [LXX]), but would be like manure that is spread as a fertilizer on the surface of the ground. According to the Septuagint, the unburied bones would be for an “example,” apparently a warning example, “on the surface of the land.” (8:2)

In all the places where the surviving remnant of the “evil family” (God’s people who had disobeyed him) would be living as exiles, they would prefer death to life. So great would their suffering and misery be. What they would experience would be YHWH’s severe punitive judgment against them. Therefore, he (“YHWH of hosts,” the God with hosts of angels in his service) is quoted as identifying himself as the one driving them to “all the places” away from their land. (8:3)

When people fall, they usually get up again. If an individual turns away, he generally returns. The rhetorical questions that YHWH directed Jeremiah to ask the people appear to have these implied answers. (8:4; see the Notes section.)

God’s unfaithful people acted contrary to what individuals usually do. This is implied by the rhetorical question. “Why has this people, Jerusalem [or the inhabitants of the city], turned away in continuing rebellion” from YHWH? They took hold of treachery, conducting themselves in a deceitful and lawless manner, and they refused to abandon their evil course and to return to YHWH as persons exclusively devoted to him. According to the rendering of the Septuagint, the rhetorical question is, “Why has this my people turned away in an impudent turning away and were strengthened in their preference [to persist in the wrong course], and did not want to return?” This rendering suggests that the people were shameless in their turning away from their God and insisted on continuing in their rebellion against him. (8:5)

As evident from verse 7, YHWH took note of and listened to what the people were saying. But their words were not right, honest, or truthful. Not a man among them repented over his wickedness, asking himself, “What have I done?” Instead, each one went back to his usual conduct, rushing back into a lawless way of life like a horse does into battle. (8:6; see the Notes section.)

Migratory birds know instinctively when to fly to or away from their breeding grounds. The “stork in the heavens” (or while in flight), the turtledove, the swift or the swallow, and the bird referred to in the Hebrew text as the ‘agúr (possibly the crane, the thrush, or the bulbul) all “keep to the time of their coming.” Their migration does not occur at random times but can be depended upon. By contrast, God’s people, persons possessing reasoning faculties, failed to adhere dependably to the divinely approved way of life. They, by choice, did not come to know YHWH’s judgment. This was evident from their refusal to follow what he had decreed to be right and just. (8:7; see the Notes section.)

In view of their lawless conduct, how could the people who presumed to be wise honestly say, “We are wise, and the law of YHWH is with us”? Whereas they claimed to have YHWH’s law, instruction, or teaching, they did not follow it. These presumed wise ones apparently included scribes, and they were guilty of using a “false” writing implement with which they produced falsehood. They either wrote or copied words that contradicted YHWH’s law and the messages he conveyed through his prophets. Therefore, the writing implement was false or used for recording falsehood, and the written word was a lie. The Septuagint says that a “lying reed [pen] became vain [useless or worthless] to scribes.” (8:8)

In the kingdom of Judah, the wise men would have no answers for the people when the time for the execution of YHWH’s punitive judgment arrived. Therefore, they would become ashamed, be dismayed or terrified, and be caught. Their being caught could mean that the wise ones would be “caught out” as men who were helpless and unable to provide assistance or guidance to deal with the calamity the people were facing. They themselves would suffer along with the rest of the populace. The wise ones had rejected the “word of YHWH” as the prophets had faithfully made it known. So the answer to the rhetorical question (“What wisdom do they have?” [“What wisdom is in them?” (LXX)]) would be that they had no wisdom, for what they had been saying was the very opposite of what the people should have been hearing in order to escape severe punishment for their unfaithfulness to YHWH. (8:9)

The wise men would experience the dire consequences for having rejected the “word of YHWH.” Through Jeremiah, YHWH declared that he would give their wives (who were regarded as their property) to other men and their fields for others to possess. (Compare 6:12.) As for the people in the realm of the kingdom of Judah, they were corrupt. From the “least,” the lowliest or most insignificant one, to the “greatest,” the most powerful, prominent, or influential, they were all greedy for making dishonest gain. They spared no effort in using corrupt means to obtain what they wanted. “From prophet [false prophet] to priest,” every one of them dealt falsely. They were dishonest, insincere, and spoke falsehood. Instead of reproving the people for the lawless ways, these men lulled them into a false sense of security. (8:10; compare 6:13; see the Notes section.)

The false prophets and the priests did not tell the people what they needed to hear. Although the people were in a broken, wounded, or corrupt state that required healing, priests and false prophets failed to provide the kind of admonition that could have cured the deplorable condition of the people as divinely disapproved persons. Instead, “they healed [or attempted to heal] the fracture,” wound, or brokenness of the “daughter of my [YHWH’s] people lightly.” In this context, the expression “daughter of my people” refers to YHWH’s people who had been as dear to him as a daughter. Priests and false prophets provided no remedy for the broken state of the people but treated it lightly as if it did not exist and did not need to be healed. They said, “Peace, peace.” (All is well, all is well.) But there was no peace. The situation was far from well among the people. It was in desperate need of a cure. (8:11; compare 6:14.)

The God-defying people should have been ashamed for the abominable thing they had committed, but they were not at all ashamed. As people habituated to wrongdoing, “they did not know even how to feel disgraced.” For this reason, their punishment would be to fall “among those who are falling,” or to perish among them as victims of war. At the time YHWH would hold an accounting with them, they would “stumble,” experiencing a fall from which they would not recover. (8:12)

None of the unfaithful people would escape deserved punishment. As if gathering them in like a crop at harvesttime, YHWH determined to bring them to their finish. He purposed to do so by means of invading military forces. The Septuagint rendering suggests that the words which follow relate to the devastation the invaders would cause. There would be no grapes on the vine, no figs on the fig tree, and even the leaves of the fig tree would be withered (“the leaves have dropped” [LXX]). The things YHWH had given to the people, including the fruit and the produce of the field, would pass by, for everything would be gone. (8:13; see the Notes section.)

Apparently after the military invasion began, the people would ask themselves, “Why do we sit still” (just waiting without doing anything)? They would then decide to “gather together” and enter fortified cities, where they expected to be “silenced” (“cast forth” [LXX]) or to meet their end. The people would then say that YHWH had silenced or doomed them (cast them out [LXX]) and given them “poisoned water” to drink (polluted water that was unfit for consumption), acknowledging that he had done this because they had sinned against him. (8:14)

Faced with a serious threat to their very lives, the people would hope for “peace” or for the desired security on which their well-being depended, but nothing good would develop. They also would hope for a time of healing or a time of recovery from the devastation that foreign military forces would cause. There, however, would be no relief for their distressing situation, only “terror” as the invading forces would continue to be victorious. (8:15; see the Notes section.)

The military invasion would be coming from the north, and Dan was the northernmost city in the territory of the former ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. Through the use of hyperbole, the seriousness of the approaching threat to the kingdom of Judah is emphasized. The snorting of the horses of the invading military force is represented as being heard from the distant city of Dan. In view of the fear to which the invasion would give rise, just the “sound of the neighing” of the the horses is said to cause the entire land to rock, producing great turmoil and anxiety among the people. The warriors would enter the realm of the kingdom of Judah “and devour the land and everything that fills it, the city and its residents.” They would devastate the entire realm, consuming whatever crops they found as they overran the country. The “city” could be Jerusalem or all the cities collectively. Jerusalem and other fortified cities would be captured and destroyed, and many of the inhabitants would perish. (8:16; see the Notes section.)

The warriors entering the realm of the kingdom of Judah are likened to “serpents, poisonous snakes [deadly snakes (LXX)].” YHWH would be allowing this to take place and is, therefore, represented as sending these “serpents.” Against them no charming would be effective, indicating that all defense efforts would fail. The “snakes” would “bite” the people, meaning that the warriors would kill many of them during the course of the military campaign. (8:17)

Lexicographers define the initial Hebrew word mavligíth as meaning “cheerfulness,” “smiling,” and a “source of brightening.” The implication of the text appears to be that Jeremiah at one time had joy, but it came to an end. His contemplating what had been divinely revealed to him about the calamity that would befall his people because of their unfaithfulness to YHWH caused grief to come upon him. His “heart,” or he in his inmost self, felt sick. (8:18; see the Notes section.)

The expression “daughter of my people” refers to God’s people who had been dear to him like a daughter but had become unfaithful to him. They may here be represented as being in exile in a land far away from their homeland and crying out for help. Another possible meaning is that the cry is heard far and wide in the land. According to the Septuagint, the “sound” or “voice” of the “daughter of [God’s] people” came from a “distant land.” The implication is that YHWH did not respond to the cry from his representative place of dwelling (Zion or Jerusalem), and this appears to be the reason for the rhetorical questions. “Is YHWH not in Zion?” “Or is her King not in her [midst]?” Another rhetorical question reveals why YHWH did not respond to the cry of his people. “Why have they vexed me with their graven images, with their worthless foreign gods [literally, vanities of foreignness (or foreign vanities or worthless things)]?” The people had turned their backs on YHWH, refusing to be exclusively devoted to YHWH and persisting in venerating nonexistent deities that could do nothing for them. Therefore, he would not come to their aid on account of their having rejected him. (8:19)

It appears that the people came to recognize that the opportunity for deliverance from their distressing circumstances had ceased to exist. It was as though the harvest had passed and the summer had ended, with no other crops becoming available, but the people had not been saved or delivered. Their situation was comparable to that of persons who were facing starvation. (8:20)

Jeremiah referred to the people as the “daughter of my people” or as his own people who were dear to him. This was despite their refusal to pay attention to the “word of YHWH” that he faithfully proclaimed to them. Their “wound,” “fracture,” “brokenness,” or their deplorable moral condition greatly distressed Jeremiah. He felt as though his had been “broken” in pieces or deeply wounded in his inmost self. Jeremiah mourned (literally, grew black as if gloom had completely settled in), and “horror,” “appalment,” or “dismay” had taken hold of him. The Septuagint rendering could be understood to indicate that perplexity overwhelmed Jeremiah, “pains like those of a woman giving birth.” (8:21)

Gilead, a region east of the Jordan River, anciently was known for the healing properties of its balsam. This balsam is thought to have been the resinous substance obtained from a shrublike evergreen tree. Physicians often used balsam to promote the healing of wounds. The rhetorical questions suggest that a remedy did exist for the “wound” or “brokenness” of Jeremiah’s people, and that this made it difficult to understand why there had been no cure. In a literal sense, the answer to the rhetorical question (“Is there no balsam in Gilead?”) would be, Balsam could be obtained there. Similarly, the answer to the next rhetorical question (“Or is there no physician there?”) would be, There were physicians or healers in Gilead who used the balsam. In the case of the wayward people, the remedy was for them to repent and to become exclusively devoted to YHWH as their God. In view of the available remedy, Jeremiah asked, “Why then has the healing of the daughter of my people not come about?” It was not because of the absence of a remedy, but because of the refusal of the people to accept the only available cure for their “wound” or brokenness as people who had been unfaithful to YHWH. (8:22)


In verse 4, the Septuagint introduction to the rhetorical questions is shorter than that of the extant Hebrew text. “For thus says the Lord.” The wording of the Hebrew text is, “You [Jeremiah] shall say to them, Thus says YHWH.”

The opening words of the Septuagint in verse 6 differ from the extant Hebrew text. Seemingly, Jeremiah and others are being directed to give ear and to hear or listen. Would they not say that there “is not a man repenting of his wickedness” and asking himself, “What have I done”? The Septuagint then concludes with the words, “The one running halted in his race, as [does] a sweating horse [a horse exhausted from running] in his neighing.”

In the Septuagint, the Hebrew word rendered “stork” (in verse 7) is a transliteration of the Hebrew designation for this bird (asida). There is considerable uncertainty about the bird to which the Hebrew noun ‘agúr applies. The Septuagint mentions “sparrows” last. Depending on the punctuation that is adopted, the Septuagint either refers to the “sparrows of the field” as watching the “times of their comings” or to the “swallow of the field” and to the “sparrows” as watching the “times of their comings.” There is a possibility that the genitive form of the Greek word for “field” (agrou) originally may have been a transliteration of the Hebrew word ‘agúr (agour).

In verse 10, the Septuagint says that God would give the fields to “heirs,” and continues the thought respecting the heirs with words that correspond to the Hebrew text of verse 13. “Therefore, I will give their wives to others and their fields to heirs, and they will gather their crops.” The words of the Hebrew text found in verses 11 and 12 are not included in the Septuagint.

There is a measure of uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew wording in the text of verse 13. A different vowel pointing of the wording could indicate that the harvest had been gathered, with nothing left on the vine and on the fig tree. Modern translations convey a variety of different meanings in their renderings. “I will make an end of them. No grapes left on the vine, no figs on the fig tree, the leaves all withered; whatever I have given them is gone.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “I shall gather them all in, says the LORD; there will be no grapes on the vine, no figs on the fig tree; even the foliage will be withered.” (REB) “I will wipe them out. They are vines without grapes; fig trees without figs or leaves. They have not done a thing that I told them! I, the LORD, have spoken.” (CEV) “I shall put an end to them, Yahweh declares, no more grapes on the vine, no more figs on the fig tree, only withered leaves: I have found them people to trample on them!” (NJB) “When I wanted to gather them, says the LORD, there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree; even the leaves are withered, and what I gave them has passed away from them.” (NRSV) “I will take away their harvest, declares the LORD. There will be no grapes on the vine. There will be no figs on the tree, and their leaves will wither. What I have given them will be taken from them.” (NIV)

Verse 15 in the Septuagint indicates that the people “gathered together for peace,” but there were no “good things,” no betterment in their distressing circumstances. They looked for “healing” or recovery from their dire situation, but there was no relief, only anxiety on account of the military invasion.

In verse 16 of the Septuagint, the reference is to the “sound of the speed of his horses.” This could be understood to describe the sound of the fast-moving horses as the invaders progressively continued with their campaign of conquest. The “sound of the speed” could also designate a very loud noise.

Based on an emendation of the Hebrew word mavligíth, the text of verse 18 may be understood to indicate that Jeremiah’s grief was beyond healing. It persisted without any relief. In the Septuagint, the wording of verse 18 is linked to the effects from the snake bites. The thought could be that the “incurable things” resulting from the snake bites are associated with the “pain” or “grief” of the people’s “being perplexed” of “heart,” or their not knowing what they could do in their distressing situation. Another possible significance could be that the effects from the snake bites are “incurable things” on account of the people’s “grief” or “pain” of “being perplexed” of “heart.”