Jeremiah 14:1-22

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The “word” or message Jeremiah received from YHWH pertained to the “droughts” (“drought” [LXX]) that affected the territory of the kingdom of Judah. In the case of the Hebrew text, the plural noun for “droughts” could designate successive seasons without rain or a long period of severe drought. (14:1)

“Judah,” or the entire land of the kingdom of Judah, is referred to as mourning. This was because the land had a sad appearance, with the drought having dried up all vegetation. The “gates” of the cities “languished,” perhaps meaning that they appeared forlorn. During prosperous times, there would have been a flurry of activity, with people coming and going through the gates, but this would have ceased. The gates personified became dark or seemed to be in a state of gloom or lamentation “on the ground” or as if sitting on the ground like a mourner. A cry of distress for relief went up from Jerusalem or from the city’s inhabitants. (14:2)

The “nobles” (“their nobles” [Hebrew text]; “her [the city’s] nobles”) or prominent residents of Jerusalem sent their lowly ones or servants to obtain water. They arrived at the “cisterns” (or “ditches”) and found no water. If, in this case, the meaning of the Hebrew word is “ditches,” the reference could be to a desperate attempt to locate water. The servants returned with empty vessels. Having failed in fulfilling the errand on which they had been sent, they were ashamed and humiliated. In expression of their grief, they covered their heads. (14:3; see the Notes section.)

On account of the lack of rain, the land was “shattered,” probably meaning that the soil was completely dried out and cracked. According to the Septuagint, the “works of the land failed,” suggesting that the labors in cultivating the land produced no harvests. Farmers would have been ashamed on account of what they experienced and witnessed, including the suffering of animals. Stricken with grief, they covered their heads. (14:4)

A doe would usually give birth in a secluded spot. During the severe drought, the animal is portrayed as giving birth “in the field,” out in the open, and then leaving or abandoning the fawn contrary to the usual attachment to her offspring. This was because there was no grass on which to feed, and necessity drove her to find something she could eat. (14:5)

Wild donkeys or onagers are hardy animals that can survive on the sparse vegetation growing in arid and semiarid regions. Even they suffered greatly during the long periods of drought. On bare or treeless heights (in a ravine of thickets or in a dry stream bed [LXX]), they stood, “snuffing up” the wind or air “like jackals.” This may indicate that the wild donkeys were gasping for breath and at a point near death. Without vegetation, they could not get the needed nutrients, causing their eyes to “fail” or to become blind. (14:6; see the Notes section.)

The extreme conditions that resulted from the rainless seasons prompted Jeremiah to plead with YHWH. “Though our iniquities testify against us, O YHWH, act for the sake of your name, for our revolts are many. We have sinned against you.” The people did not merit having YHWH’s favorable attention or aid, for they had repeatedly proved unfaithful to him. Therefore, Jeremiah made his appeal on the basis of God’s name, or his reputation as the one who could help them, not letting his inaction make it appear to observers that he was powerless to aid his own people. (14:7; see the Notes section.)

In his prayer, Jeremiah referred to YHWH as the “hope of Israel” and the “Savior of him in the time of trouble.” YHWH is the one who could fulfill the people’s hope for the betterment of their difficult circumstances and could save them from distress or bring them relief from their dire straits. He, however, was not delivering them from trouble. Therefore, Jeremiah raised a number of rhetorical questions. “Why have you become like a resident alien in the land and like a traveler who turns aside to stay for the night?” The compound question implied that YHWH had conducted himself like a stranger who had no concern for the native residents in the land. He was like a traveler passing through an area and spending the night there but taking no interest in the inhabitants or their welfare. (14:8) Jeremiah continued with his questions, “Why do you become like a man astounded [sleeping (LXX)], like a mighty man who cannot save?” YHWH’s refraining from coming to the aid of his people made it appear as if he were astounded or confused, not knowing what to do and, therefore, doing nothing. He was like a mighty man or warrior (a “man” [LXX]) who could rightly be expected to function in the role of a deliverer but who was unable to fulfill this role. Including himself among the people, Jeremiah prayed, “And you, YHWH, are in our midst, and your name has been called upon us [or we belong to you]. Do not leave [forget (LXX)] us. (14:9)

YHWH’s response to Jeremiah’s prayer revealed why he had not granted favorable attention to his people. “They have loved to wander,” choosing to stray from the course of devotion and obedience to him and pursuing the veneration of nonexistent deities. They did not restrain “their feet” from following a path of abominable idolatrous practices. Therefore, YHWH was not pleased with them. He determined to “remember their guilt” and to punish them for “their sins.” (14:10; see the Notes section.)

YHWH commanded Jeremiah not to “pray for this [unfaithful] people for good” or for their well-being. (14:11) When they fasted, YHWH did not “hear” or become responsive to “their cry” (“their supplication” [LXX]) for aid. Though they presented holocausts and grain offerings at the temple, he was not pleased with them (or he rejected their sacrifices). His judgment against the people was that he would bring them to their end “by the sword” [military operations] and by famine [resulting from enemy invasion and siege] and by pestilence [death (LXX)].” During the military campaign against the kingdom of Judah, the people would suffer from infectious disease on account of lack of food and potable water and the accompanying unsanitary conditions. (14:12)

Jeremiah responded with the words, “Ah, YHWH [O, you the One Who Is, O Lord (LXX)]! Look the prophets are saying to [the people], You will not see a sword, and famine will not come to you.” These prophets even assured the people that YHWH would give them “true peace” (“truth and peace” [LXX] “in this place,” likely meaning in the land. The Septuagint says, “in the land and in this place,” probably referring to the territory of the kingdom of Judah and Jerusalem. While Jeremiah was proclaiming a message about punitive judgment to come upon the wayward people, false prophets were lulling them into a false sense of security. (14:13)

YHWH made it clear to Jeremiah that lies were what the other prophets were prophesying in his name, falsely claiming that he was the source of their utterances. He had not sent them, commanded them, or spoken to them. What the false prophets said prophetically had its basis in a “lying vision and divination” (“lying visions and divinations and omens” [LXX] and the “deceit [preferences or resolves (LXX)] of their heart” (or their self-delusion that all would go well for the people because they were God’s people and his temple was in their midst). (14:14)

The following was YHWH’s message to the prophets who prophesied in his name, whom he had not sent, and who said that “sword and famine” would “not come upon the land”: “By the sword and by famine those prophets will come to an end” or perish. (“By a death from disease, they will die; and by famine, the prophets will come to an end.” [LXX]) (14:15) On account of sword and famine, the corpses of the people to whom the false prophets prophesied would be tossed into the streets of Jerusalem. There would be no one to bury them, for none of the people would be spared. The men’s wives, sons, and daughters would experience the same fate. YHWH determined to “pour out their evil upon them,” meaning either the consequences of their badness or the calamity they merited. (14:16)

According to the Hebrew text, YHWH directed Jeremiah to tell the people how he would be affected by the calamity that was sure to come. “Day and night,” tears were to flow from his eyes. His weeping was not to cease, because the “virgin daughter of [his] people” would be “shattered with a great shattering,” with an “exceedingly painful blow.” The “virgin daughter” may here be a designation for Jerusalem, the city that had not yet experienced being violated like a virgin or been reduced to the shameful state of complete ruin. In the Septuagint, the people are the ones told to weep. “Let tears run down from your eyes day and night, and let them not stop, for by destruction the daughter of my people was destroyed and by an exceedingly painful blow.” (14:17)

If after the calamity, Jeremiah were to “go out into the field,” he would would see those “slain by the sword.” Were he to enter the city, he would see “diseases of famine [misery or distress of famine (LXX)],” or people afflicted with infectious diseases because of the famine conditions that deprived them of essential nutrition and weakened them. The reference to “prophet and priest” going around to a land they did not know (literally, “to a land and they did not know”) may point to their being taken as captives into exile to a foreign land. This is the specific meaning the Septuagint rendering apparently conveys. “For priest and prophet went to a land which they did not know.” In view of a measure of obscurity in the Hebrew text, other meanings are found in modern translations. “For both prophet and priest ply their trade throughout the land, and have no knowledge.” (NRSV) “Prophet and priest alike wander without rest in the land.” (REB) “But the prophets and priests go about their business, without understanding what has happened.” (CEV) “Even prophets and priests roam the country at their wits’ end.” (NJB) (14:18)

Jeremiah asked whether YHWH had completely rejected (literally, “rejecting, have you rejected”) Judah (or the people from the realm of the kingdom of Judah) or whether his “soul” or he himself had come to loathe Zion or Jerusalem. This compound question was based on the deplorable situation in which the people found themselves. Jeremiah continued, “Why have you struck us, and no healing exists for us? We waited for peace, and no good came, and for a time of healing — and look, terror [disturbance or trouble (LXX)].” There was no betterment in the distressing situation the people faced. Instead of healing or relief, the people experienced developments that gave rise to great fear. There was an intensification in the severity of their hardships. (14:19)

Speaking for the people, Jeremiah said, “O YHWH, we acknowledge our wickedness, the guilt of our fathers [forefathers], for we have sinned against you.” It was not just the then-existing generation that had sinned against YHWH, disobeying his commands and engaging in idolatrous practices. Their forefathers were also guilty of the same transgressions. (14:20)

Jeremiah pleaded, “For your name’s sake, do not spurn [us]. Do not dishonor your glorious throne. Remember, do not break your covenant with us.” Jeremiah’s people had proved to be unfaithful to YHWH, but the peoples of other nations would have looked upon them as being a people who had him as their God. Therefore, in the minds of foreign peoples, the distressing circumstances of his people suggested to them that their God could not help them, and this reflected unfavorably on his name or on him. For YHWH to come to the aid of his people would have served to remove this reproach from his name or from him. The temple in Jerusalem, particularly the Most Holy, was YHWH’s representative place of dwelling, the location from which he representatively ruled as King. For this reason, it could be designated as his “glorious throne.” For Jerusalem and the temple to be reduced to ruins would have come to be regarded by observers as an act that dishonored YHWH’s glorious throne. The plea for YHWH to “remember” probably has the covenant promises made to the forefathers as the object of the remembering. For the people of the kingdom of Judah to remain YHWH’s people was based on the covenant concluded with their forefathers at Mount Sinai. The appeal for YHWH not to break his covenant with them constituted a plea for him not to reject them as his people. (14:21)

In his plea, Jeremiah focused on what the idols of nonexistent deities (literally, the nothings or worthless things) could not do. “Among the nothings [or worthless things] of the nations, can any bring rain? Or can the heavens give showers?” The implied answer is that nonexistent gods and goddesses and the images that were made to represent them could not bring rain, and that the “heavens” of themselves are not the agents in control of the rain. Possibly, in this context, the word “heavens” designates the deities that their worshipers associated with the heavens. Nonexistent gods, idols, and the heavens of themselves cannot bring an end to serious drought. YHWH is the one who can, and this is emphasized in question form. “Are you not the One, YHWH our God? And we are hoping in you, for you have done all these things [the very things (bringing rain and showers) that the deities of the nations cannot do].” (14:22)


In verse 3, the Septuagint rendering contains fewer words. “And the great ones sent their boys [or servants] for water. They arrived at the cisterns and did not find water, and they returned — their vessels empty.”

Verse 6 of the Septuagint rendering contains no reference to jackals.

The wording of verse 7 in the Septuagint is somewhat different than in the Hebrew text, but the thought is basically the same. “If our sins stood against us, O Lord, act for us for your sake, because many are our sins before you, because we have sinned against you.”

In the Septuagint, verse 10 reads, “Thus says the Lord to [or regarding] this people, They loved to move their feet, and did not spare [or restrain them], and God had no pleasure in them. Now he will remember their injustices.”