Jeremiah 11:1-23

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A new message for Jeremiah to proclaim is introduced with the words, “The word that came to Jeremiah from YHWH [the Lord (LXX)], saying.” (11:1) This word or message related to the covenant that YHWH had concluded with the Israelites at Mount Sinai after their liberation from Egyptian enslavement and begins with the imperative, “Hear [heed or listen to] the words of this covenant.” Jeremiah was instructed to speak these words of the covenant “to the men of Judah and the residents of Jerusalem.” (11:2) Jeremiah was commissioned to proclaim, “Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, Cursed [be] the man who does not hear [listen to or heed] the words of this covenant [11:3], that I commanded your fathers (forefathers or ancestors] in the day I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the iron furnace [or the smelter for iron].” The environment of harsh enslavement in which their ancestors found themselves in Egypt was comparable to being confined in a smelter and having to endure extreme heat, without there being any possibility of relief or escape. (11:4)

YHWH commanded the ancestors, “Hear [listen to or heed] my voice, and you must do everything that I command you.” If they did so, his promise to them was, “You will be my people, and I will be your God.” (11:4)

Obedient response on the part of the Israelites would lead to the fulfillment of the oath YHWH swore to their “fathers” or forefathers, the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that he would “give them a land flowing with milk [an abundance of milk from animals of the flock and herd] and honey” (obtained from wild bees and from fruit). The concluding words (“as in this day”) indicated that the fulfillment of the promise was still in effect and that its continuance depended on the obedience of the people. Jeremiah responded, “Amen [So be it (LXX)], YHWH,” thereby expressing his full agreement. (11:5)

Jeremiah was instructed to proclaim “all the words” that YHWH had imparted to him, doing so “in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem [outside of Jerusalem (LXX)].” He was to say [“read” (LXX)] to the people, “Hear [listen to or heed] the words of this covenant [the one concluded with their forefathers at Mount Sinai after their liberation from Egyptian enslavement] and do them,” conducting themselves in harmony with the obligations the covenant imposed on them. (11:6)

YHWH is quoted as having solemnly declared, affirmed, admonished, or warned (literally, “to testify, I testified”) the forefathers “in the day” or at the time he “brought them out of the land of Egypt.” This solemn affirmation, admonition, or warning continued in effect down to the very “day” or time of Jeremiah’s contemporaries. Through his prophets who rose early in the morning to discharge the commission entrusted to them, YHWH affirmed, admonished, or warned the people, saying to them, “Hear [listen to] my voice,” acting in harmony with the words being proclaimed to you. Apparently because the prophets rose early, YHWH is quoted as referring to himself as the one “rising early.” (11:7; see the Notes section.)

The people did not “hear,” listen to, or heed the messages made known to them. They did “not incline their ear” to be attentive. Individually, they “walked in the stubbornness of their evil heart,” defiantly conducting themselves according to the corrupt inclination of their inner selves or their minds. Therefore, YHWH brought upon the disobedient people “all the words of this covenant, which [he] commanded [them] to do, and they did not.” These “words” apparently were the curses that the covenant set forth as being certain to befall the people if they violated its terms. (11:8; see Leviticus 26:14-41; Deuteronomy 27:15-26; 28:15-68.)

YHWH revealed to Jeremiah that a “conspiracy” or plot had been “found among the men of Judah and among the residents of Jerusalem.” They conducted themselves as if they had banded together to disregard YHWH’s commands. Moreover, by scheming to harm Jeremiah, they were conspiring against YHWH who had commissioned him to proclaim his word to them. (11:9)

The people “returned to the iniquities [injustices (LXX)] of their fathers, the former ones.” These “former ones” would have been their ancestors of old or the ones who lived long before their time. Their forefathers did not “hear” (listen to or heed) YHWH’s “words,” but went “after other gods [foreign gods (LXX) to serve them,” sacrificing to them and engaging in other ceremonial rituals. Already in the wilderness after their deliverance from Egypt, the disobedient people engaged in the worship of a golden calf. Throughout the course of history, other generations of forefathers venerated nonexistent gods and goddesses. The “house of Israel” (the people in the former territory of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel) and the “house of Judah” (the people of the kingdom of Judah) were guilty of breaking the covenant that YHWH concluded with their forefathers at Mount Sinai. (11:10)

“Therefore” (on account of their unfaithfulness), YHWH determined to bring “evil” or calamity upon his people. They would not be able to escape it. The people would then cry out to him for aid, but he would not listen to them or respond to their pleas. (11:11) Residents in the “cities of Judah,” including Jerusalem, would then go and cry out to the gods to which they had burned incense, but they would not be able to “save them in the time of their calamity.” (11:12) Idolatry had become so widespread in the kingdom of Judah that the gods had become as numerous as the cities and the altars for the “shameful thing” had become as many “as the streets of Jerusalem.” The “shameful thing” was the nonexistent deity Baal. As YHWH’s people, they should have regarded Baal as something disgusting, but they burned incense to Baal on the many altars they had erected. (11:13; see the Notes section.)

“Therefore” (on account of the idolatrous practices of the people), YHWH commanded Jeremiah, “Do not pray for this people and do not lift up a cry [for help] on their behalf and a prayer.” YHWH would not listen to them, refusing to respond to them with aid when they called out to him “in the time of their calamity.” (11:14)

At this time, YHWH’s “beloved” apparently was the “house [or people] of Judah,” for the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel no longer existed and the survivors of the Assyrian conquest had been taken as captives to other regions. The question YHWH is represented as raising appears to be, “What [right] does my beloved have [to be] in my house” or my temple? The words that follow are seemingly part of this question but do not convey a readily discernible significance (“to do [or carry out] her plans, the great ones [or the many].” Translators have commonly rendered the words to indicate that the beloved engaged in corrupt practices or formulated corrupt schemes and, therefore, had no right to be in YHWH’s temple. “What right has my beloved in my house with her shameless ways?” (REB) “What is my beloved doing in my temple as she works out her evil schemes with many?” (NIV) “What right has my beloved in my house, while she prepares her plots?” (NAB) “What right has my beloved in my house, when she has done vile deeds?” (NRSV) In the Septuagint, the question is, “Why did the beloved do abomination in my house?” The concluding part of the verse is also obscure. Perhaps the question is whether “holy flesh” or sacred meat from sacrifices offered to YHWH would make it possible to escape punishment for treacherous dealing and whether doing evil would provide a basis for exultation. Another possible meaning could be that the invading forces would cause the “holy flesh” to “pass by” or cease from the people. Would they then exult? The Septuagint rendering is, “Will prayers [or vows] and holy flesh remove your evils from you, or will you escape [punishment] by these?” (11:15; see the Notes section.)

YHWH is represented as, by name, calling the nation of Israel a flourishing “olive tree,” a tree that was “beautiful with well-formed fruit” or “beautiful with fruit and in form” (an “olive tree, beautiful [and] well-shaded in appearance” [LXX]). He, however, determined to punish the disobedient nation. “With a sound” like that of a “great roaring” or a strong wind that would fan the flames, YHWH would set fire to the nation as if it were an olive tree, and the branches would be “broken” (“burned [based on an emendation]). According to the Septuagint, it was at the “sound of its pruning” (literally, “circumcision [here apparently meaning the violent lopping off of the branches]) that a “fire was lit” against the olive tree, resulting in “great distress” upon the nation (literally, “you”). As for the “branches” of the tree, they “were made useless” or worthless. (11:16)

YHWH of armies (the God with hosts of angels in his service) had planted the nation like an olive tree. On account of the evil of 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), YHWH decreed that “evil” or calamity would befall them. Their evil was the practice of idolatry, vexing YHWH by offering incense to the false god Baal. (11:17)

So that Jeremiah would know what he was facing, YHWH revealed this to him. He made it possible for Jeremiah to see the plots people were formulating against him. According to the Septuagint rendering, Jeremiah made his appeal to God. “Lord, make it known to me, and I will know. Then I perceived their designs.” (11:18)

Jeremiah had been like a lamb that had been treated as an intimate one but was being led to slaughter. Initially, he did not know that people even from his own hometown Anathoth were scheming against him. (See verse 21.) Apparently based on what YHWH had made known to him, Jeremiah expressed their murderous intent with the words, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit [literally, bread], and let us cut him off from the land of the living, and his name will be remembered no more.” In the Septuagint, the rendering of the initial phrase of the quoted words is, “Come, and let us toss wood into his bread.” (11:19)

Jeremiah recognized “YHWH of hosts” (the God with hosts of angels in his service) as “judging with righteousness,” testing the “kidneys and the heart” or examining the deepest emotions and inmost self and thought of humans. He is not deceived by outward appearances. In view of the unjustified murderous hostility people directed against him, Jeremiah appealed to YHWH as the righteous Judge with the words, “Let me see your vengeance upon them, for I have revealed my cause to you.” (11:20)

Men of Jeremiah’s own hometown, the Levite city of Anathoth, were seeking his “soul” or life. They said to him, “Do not prophesy in the name of YHWH, and you will not die by our hand [if you stop prophesying].” (11:21; see 1:1 for comments about Anathoth.) “Therefore,” YHWH of hosts (the God with hosts of angels in his service) decreed, “Look, I will visit [judgment] upon them. The young men will die by the sword. Their sons and their daughters will die by famine.” The people who would not be killed by the invading warriors would die from lack of food during the siege. (11:22) None would be left remaining from Anathoth. YHWH declared, “I will bring evil [or calamity] upon the men [residents (LXX)] of Anathoth in the year [or time] of their visitation [for punishment].” (11:23)


In verse 7, modern translations usually do not render the form of the Hebrew verb shakhám according to its basic meaning (“rise early”). Their renderings commonly are adverbs (“persistently” or “constantly”) that modify the verb “warn.” In the Septuagint, there are no corresponding words for the extant Hebrew text of verse 7, and the phrase that follows verse 6 is the concluding part in the Hebrew text of verse 8, “and they did not.”

In verse 13, the Septuagint does not include any reference to a “shameful thing.”

The obscurity of the concluding part of verse 15 has resulted in a variety of renderings in modern translations. “Can consecrated meat avert your punishment? When you engage in your wickedness, then you rejoice.” (NIV) “Can the flesh of fat offerings on the altar ward off the disaster that threatens you? Now you will feel sharp anguish.” (REB) “Can vows and sacred meat turn away your misfortune from you? Will you still be jubilant when you hear the great invasion? (NAB) “The sacral flesh will pass away from you, for you exult while performing your evil deeds.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “Can vows and consecrated meat turn disaster from you for you to be so happy?” (NJB) “The sacrifices you offer me won’t protect you from disaster, so stop celebrating.” (CEV)