Jeremiah 9:1-26 (8:23-9:25)

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In the Hebrew text, there is no verb that links the word “head” to “waters.” The Septuagint includes the future tense verb for “give.” Overcome with great sadness, Jeremiah appears to have wished that his head could be transformed into “waters” (or a large body of water) and that his eyes become a “fountain of tears.” He would then be able to give full expression to his sorrow, weeping “day and night for the slain ones of the daughter of [his] people,” or the slain ones for whom he had tender feelings. In the Septuagint, the thought is expressed in question form. “Who will give my head water and my eyes a fountain of tears, and I shall weep for this my people day and night, for the slain ones of the daughter of my people?” (9:1 [8:23])

Even though he was overwhelmed with sorrow when contemplating the horrors his people would face, with many being slain, Jeremiah was also greatly distressed on account of the deplorable moral condition that existed among them. He would have liked to escape from being in the midst of the corrupt people. His preference would have been to have a shelter like one a traveler might find in the wilderness or, according to the Septuagint, a remote lodging place (one far away from human habitation). Jeremiah would then leave his people and “go away from them,” for he found all of them to be “adulterers, a company of persons dealing treacherously.” Besides committing adultery with the wives of others, the men commonly engaged in ceremonial prostitution at numerous cultic sites. Their unfaithfulness to YHWH would also have constituted adultery, as it violated their covenant obligations to him. In their dealings, the people were treacherous, deceitful, and corrupt. (9:2 [9:1])

The initial “and” suggests that Jeremiah’s description of the lawless ones among his people continues. They would “bend their tongues like their bow,” always ready to propel falsehoods from their mouths like injurious arrows. Apparently by means of corrupt dealings and lies, they became “mighty” [prominent and influential] in the land,” but their strength was not for “truth,” trustworthiness, or faithfulness. The Septuagint says, “Falsehood, and not trustworthiness, became strong in the land.” (9:3 [9:2])

The concluding phrase of this verse indicates that Jeremiah is not the one who is expressing himself. “For from evil to evil [the people] progressed,” becoming increasingly more corrupt, “and me they did not know, says YHWH.” Their not knowing YHWH was evident from their lawless conduct and their refusal to heed his commands. (9:3 [9:2])

No one could be trusted. A person had to be on guard against his own associate so as not to be victimized. Not even a brother could be trusted, for every brother would do supplanting. In the Hebrew text, there is a play on words (‘aqov ya‘qov [to supplant, supplant), with the possible allusion being to Jacob (ya‘qov) supplanting Esau when obtaining his birthright and the blessing of his father Isaac. (Compare Genesis 27:35, 36.) Every neighbor went about as a slanderer, telling lies about his companion to gain some benefit for himself. (9:4 [9:3]; see the Notes section.)

Among the lawless people, each one resorted to deceiving, tricking, or mocking his companion or friend. No one spoke the truth. The people were so habituated to lying that they could be referred to as having “taught their tongue to speak falsehood.” According to the Septuagint, “their tongue has learned to speak falsely.” So excessive were their acts of iniquity that they tired themselves out with their wrongdoing. (9:5 [9:4]; see the Notes section.)

The words “your sitting in the midst of deceit” may be understood to indicate that Jeremiah found himself in an environment where deception was the norm. These words are then followed by the phrase, “In deceit, they refuse to know me, says YHWH.” Possibly the thought is that their life of deception made it impossible for the lawless people to acknowledge YHWH as their God whose commands they were obligated to obey. (9:6 [9:5]; see the Notes section.)

The lawlessness of his people left YHWH with no other option than to have them experience great suffering that would have a refining effect. “Therefore, thus says YHWH of hosts [the God with hosts of angels in his service], Look, I will smelt them and test them. For what else can I do because of the daughter of my people [the people who had been as dear to him as a daughter but who had become completely corrupt]?” (9:7 [9:6]; see the Notes section.)

The “tongue” of the corrupt people was comparable to a lethal arrow, harming others with deceitful and slanderous words. To catch his companion off guard, a man would “speak peace with his mouth,” feigning friendship and concern for him. In his “heart” or his inner self and thoughts, however, he would plan to do his companion injury, waiting for a good opportunity to ambush him, or taking advantage of him when he would least expect to be harmed. The Septuagint says that the individual speaks “peaceably,” but has “hatred in himself.” He would pretend to be a friend and thus hide his hostility. (9:8 [9:7])

YHWH is quoted as raising rhetorical questions. “Should I not hold an accounting” with the people for “these things” (their deceptive and corrupt dealings and their unfaithfulness to him)? “Should not my soul [I myself] take vengeance on a nation like this” (a nation that acts lawlessly)? (9:9 [9:8])

It appears that the rhetorical questions reaffirmed to Jeremiah that his people would experience calamity, and this would also affect their land. The invading forces would cause widespread devastation. To obtain wood for siegeworks, warriors would fell trees on mountain slopes, leaving behind devastation. As the military forces continued with their campaign of conquest, pastureland would be laid waste. Apparently this is why Jeremiah is the one who said that he would weep and lament for the mountains and that he would take up a “dirge for the pastures of the wilderness.” Pastures that were distant from human habitation would be scorched. No man would be passing through them and no sound of any livestock would be heard there. So great would the devastation be that it would appear as if the birds and animals had all fled. (9:10 [9:9]; see the Notes section.)

YHWH is represented as saying that he would make Jerusalem a pile of ruins (“give Jerusalem for deportation” [LXX], or let the surviving inhabitants of the city be exiled). The city would become a place where jackals (“dragons” [LXX]) would dwell. As scavengers, jackals are well-adapted for surviving in deserted areas. YHWH would also make the other “cities of Judah” desolate places without any inhabitants. (9:11 [9:10])

The rhetorical questions apparently serve to focus attention on the reason for what would befall Jerusalem and the other cities in the realm of the kingdom of Judah. Who is the man with the wisdom to understand this, the one to whom the “mouth of YHWH has spoken” (one who would be in a position to tell it or to explain it)? Why should the land (or the territory of the kingdom of Judah) be reduced to a desolate state and come to resemble a barren wilderness through which no one would pass? (9:12 [9:11])

YHWH is quoted as answering the rhetorical question about the reason for the devastation of Jerusalem and the entire territory of the kingdom of Judah. The people “have forsaken my law that I set before them, and they have not listened to [or obeyed] my voice and have not walked in it.” They had not conducted themselves according to what YHWH commanded them and had not heeded the messages he conveyed to them through his prophets. (9:13 [9:12])

The wayward people walked or conducted themselves “after the stubbornness of their heart.” They refused to do God’s will and persisted in their defiant determination to pursue what they wanted. The Septuagint says that they went “after the things pleasing to their evil heart” or their corrupt inner self, thought, or inclination. They did not remain exclusively devoted to YHWH but went “after the Baals [idols (LXX)].” These “Baals” were the local Baals associated with various locations. The idolatrous course is what their “fathers” or ancestors had taught the people. Like their forefathers, they venerated the nonexistent deity Baal at cultic sites located throughout the land. (9:14 [9:13])

“Therefore” (on account of the unfaithfulness of his people), “YHWH of hosts” (the One with hosts of angels in his service [the Lord (LXX)]), the “God of Israel,” declared that he would make the people “eat wormwood” (“distresses” [LXX]) and give them “poisonous water to drink.” The punishment to come upon the lawless people would be comparable to their having to eat intensely bitter wormwood and to drink polluted water that would sicken them. (9:15 [9:14])

YHWH would disperse the people among the nations that were unknown both to them and to their “fathers” or ancestors. He would let them be conquered and the survivors be exiled to distant lands. Even in the locations of their exile, the people would not be secure, for YHWH would “send the sword after them” until he had “consumed them.” Wherever they might come to dwell, warfare would continue to affect them. (9:16 [915])

The calamity that would befall all who resided in the realm of the kingdom of Judah, including Jerusalem, would occasion great mourning and wailing. Therefore, “YHWH of hosts (the God with hosts of angels in his service for carrying out his will) is quoted as saying, “Give heed and call for the mourning women to come, and send for the skillful women to come.” The verb here rendered “give heed” basically means “discern.” In this context, it could signify to give attention to the directive or to make preparations for carrying it out. The Septuagint does not include a corresponding word for the Hebrew verb. Modern translations have variously rendered it, including “consider” (NRSV), “attention” (NAB), “listen” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]), and “prepare” (NJB). “Mourning women” were professional mourners who wailed loudly for the deceased and received payment for this. The “skillful” or “wise” women were the best among them, wailing in an especially impressive manner. (9:17 [9:16]; see the Notes section.)

The professional women mourners should come quickly and “raise a lament” over the people. In their great distress, the suffering people would also weep. Tears would flow from their eyes, and waters would stream from their “eyelids.” (9:18 [9:17]; see the Notes section.)

The calamity is represented as already having come upon Zion or Jerusalem, with the “voice of wailing” being heard. “How we are ruined! [How we have fallen into misery! (LXX)] We are greatly disgraced, for we have left the land, for they [the triumphant warriors] have cast away our dwellings [and we have cast away (abandoned) our dwellings (LXX)].” The people would lament their having been conquered, humiliated, and exiled from their land. In this context, the Hebrew verb for “cast away” could mean to overthrow or to empty out. Modern translations have variously rendered the concluding phrases. “We must leave the land, give up our homes!” (NAB) “We must leave the land because our houses are in ruins.” (NIV) “We have left our land, our houses have been overthrown.” (REB) “Our homes have been destroyed, and we must leave our land.” (CEV) “For we must leave the country, our homes have been knocked down!” (NJB) “Ah, we must leave our land, abandon our dwellings!” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “We are utterly shamed, because we have left the land, because they have cast down our dwellings.” (NRSV) (9:19 [9:18])

The calamity to come upon the people would be so great that the lamenting and wailing of the professional mourners would be insufficient to express the extent of the misery and suffering. Therefore, the women are called upon to hear the “word of YHWH,” giving ear to the “word of his mouth” regarding what they needed to do. They were to teach their daughters a lament, and each woman was to teach a dirge to her companion. All could then participate in the wailing, intensifying it in a manner that would indicate just how great the distress would be. (9:20 [9:19])

Houses in walled cities and strongly fortified locations would provide no protection. “Death” is represented as gaining entrance by climbing into windows and entering into fortresses. It claims small children and young men, cutting off the “child from the street” and the “young men from the squares.” The Septuagint says regarding death, “It entered into our land, to destroy infants [or little children] outside and young men from the squares.” (9:21 [9:20])

Apparently Jeremiah is told to “speak,” to make known the “utterance of YHWH.” During the military campaign against the kingdom of Judah, corpses would “fall like manure upon the face of the field” (with the manure serving as fertilizer) and like stalks of grain that a reaper has cut (literally, a “sheaf behind the one reaping” [“like grass behind the one mowing” (LXX)]). No one would gather the dead bodies to bury them. (9:22 [9:21]; see the Notes section.)

Nothing would stop the invading military forces from devastating the territory of the kingdom of Judah. Efforts on the part of the wise, the powerful, and the wealthy among the people would be to no avail. They would not even be able to save themselves from misery and suffering. This appears to be the implied thought of the word attributed to YHWH. “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, and let not the mighty man glory in his might, and let not the wealthy man glory in his wealth.” At the time YHWH’s punitive judgment is executed, the wise, the mighty, and the rich would be just as helpless as the rest of the people. Reliance on their own resources would prove to be no sound basis for glorying or boasting. (9:23 [9:22])

When the time for YHWH’s judgment arrived, a person’s having an approved relationship would be the only factor that would matter. The sole basis for boasting or glorying would be in understanding and knowing YHWH as the God who practices “kindness [mercy (LXX)], judgment [or justice], and righteousness in the earth.” It is in these qualities that he takes delight. Those who understand and know him would also be kind or compassionate, just, and upright in their dealings. (9:24 [9:23])

The initial word “look” serves to focus attention on the future time of YHWH’s judgment, a judgment that would affect peoples surrounding the territory of the kingdom of Judah. Through Jeremiah, YHWH revealed that “days” or a time would be coming when he would hold an accounting with circumcised peoples but whom he would reckon as uncircumcised. Although the men of these nations were circumcised, the mark of circumcision did not identify them as in a covenant relationship with him. Their circumcision was merely the evidence of an operation that had been performed on them and made them no different than any other men with whom YHWH had no relationship. (9:25 [9:24])

YHWH would visit judgment upon Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, and Moab. With the exception of the Egyptians, the Edomites, Ammonites, and Moabites were related to the Israelites (or the people of Judah). Esau, the forefather of the Edomites, was the grandson of Abraham and the twin brother of Jacob, the ancestor of the Israelites. The Ammonites and Moabites were descendants of Lot, the nephew of Abraham. Another people that would be affected by the coming judgment are described as having the hair of the “corners” or temples clipped (“everyone shaving round about his face” [LXX]). Possibly this means that the men cut off the hair between the ear and the eye. These men are additionally identified as dwelling in the wilderness. They may have been members of Arab tribes who had descended from Abraham’s son Ishmael. From YHWH’s standpoint, the men of all the included “nations” were “uncircumcised” (“in the flesh” [LXX]), for they had no relationship with him as his people. “All the house of Israel,” or the people whom YHWH had chosen as his own, were “uncircumcised in heart.” In the case of the house of Israel, the people were unresponsive to his will and commands. It was as if a blockage prevented their inner selves or mental faculties from wanting to conduct themselves as his devoted people. (9:26 [9:25])


The Septuagint renders the thought about supplanting according to the etymology found in Genesis 25:26. According to this etymology, the name Jacob identified the twin brother of Esau as a “heel grabber.” At his birth, the baby boy took hold of his brother’s heel. In verse 4(3) of Jeremiah 9, the Septuagint contains the phrase that may be literally translated, “every brother will heel with the heel” or will cause tripping.

In the Septuagint, the concluding sentence of verse 5(4) is, “They committed injustice and did not cease [doing so] to turn back” or to repent.

The Septuagint rendering of verse 6(5) is, “Interest upon interest, deceit upon deceit; they did not want to know me.” Contrary to the law, the people charged interest, making themselves guilty of usury, and they repeatedly engaged in deceitful practices. Therefore, they did not want an approved relationship with YHWH, as that would have required them to abandon their wrongdoing and to obey his commands.

In verse 7(6), the Septuagint says regarding the Lord, “For I will act before the face of the wickedness of the daughter of my people.” In view of the wickedness of the people, God would take action against them.

The Septuagint rendering of verse 10(9) represents what the people should do as a consequence of the devastation. “For the mountains raise a lamentation and for the paths of the wilderness a wailing.”

In verse 17(16), the Septuagint concludes with a verb that may be rendered “let them utter” (let their mournful cries or wailing be heard).

The Septuagint rendering of verse 18(17) does not include the directive for the mourning women to come quickly.

In verse 22(21), the Septuagint says that the dead would serve as an “example [a warning example] “upon the face of the plain of your land.”