Jeremiah 15:1-21

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YHWH had commanded Jeremiah not to pray for the people. Although centuries earlier Moses had interceded for the disobedient people (Exodus 32:31-34) and Samuel did so at a much later time (1 Samuel 12:20-25) and both of them received a favorable hearing, this would not have been the case respecting the then-existing generation. Even if Moses and Samuel were standing before YHWH (literally, his “face”), his “soul” or he himself would not have been inclined toward his people (literally, “this people”). With apparent reference to the disobedient people, the command of YHWH would be, “Send [them] away from my face [out of my sight or from my presence], and let them go out.” The Septuagint rendering is more specific in identifying the people as the ones to be sent away. “Send this people away, and let them go out.” (15:1)

After Jeremiah related the message to the people, they would be prompted to ask, “To where shall we go out?” He was then to tell them. “Thus says YHWH, For one [appointed] for death [pestilence], to death [pestilence]; and for one for the sword, to the sword; and for one for famine, to the famine; and for one for captivity, to captivity.” Those who did not perish from pestilence, from being slain during the military campaign, or from serious lack of food would be taken as captives into exile to a foreign land. (15:2)

YHWH is quoted as saying that he would appoint over them “four families” (“four forms” [LXX], probably meaning four kinds of punishment) to carry out punitive judgment — the “sword to slay,” scavenger “dogs to drag [for tearing (LXX)]” (to drag away the corpses of the slain to feed upon), the “birds of the heavens and the beasts of the earth to devour and to destroy.” Scavenger birds such as vultures and predators and carrion-eating animals would consume the dead bodies. (15:3)

During his long reign, the Judean king Manasseh the son of Hezekiah was responsible for plunging his subjects to the lowest level of abominable idolatrous practices and injustices in the history of the realm. His and their actions proved to be worse than those of the Canaanites whom their ancestors had dispossessed from the land. (2 Kings 21:2-16) On account of what Manasseh had done in Jerusalem, YHWH determined that the unfaithful people who were heirs to the detestable legacy would become a “horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.” The slaughter of the people of the kingdom of Judah, the exile of survivors, the destruction of their towns and cities, and the desolation of the entire land would give rise to horror among all the peoples of the various kingdoms who would come to know about these developments. According to the Septuagint rendering, God would hand the people over to “distresses to all the kingdoms of the earth.” (15:4)

The callous attitude others would have regarding the calamity to befall Jerusalem (or the people of the kingdom of Judah) is emphasized with rhetorical questions. “Who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem, and who will show grief for you? And who will turn aside to ask about your peace [well-being]?” No expressions of compassion or comfort would come from anywhere or anyone. (15:5; see the Notes section.)

The reason for the punitive judgment to come upon the people of the kingdom of Judah (Jerusalem personified) was their having abandoned YHWH and pursued the veneration of nonexistent deities, particularly Baal. Instead of moving forward in the right direction in the way they conducted themselves, they went backward, turning their backs on YHWH. Therefore, he resolved to stretch out his hand against them and to bring them to ruin. He was weary of feeling regret, holding back from executing the merited judgment against them. The Septuagint rendering may be translated, “I will no longer spare them.” (15:6)

As if they were harvested grain, YHWH determined to “winnow [the people] with a fork in the gates [the city gates] of the land.” (“And I will scatter them in a scattering” [LXX], suggesting a dispersion of survivors of the military campaign who would be taken into exile.) The implication may be that the winnowing would only leave worthless chaff behind, for YHWH is represented as causing bereavement and destroying his people. This was because “they did not turn from their [bad] ways.” The Septuagint rendering may be punctuated to convey a different meaning. “In the gates of my people, they were made childless, and they destroyed [the invading military forces destroyed] my people because of their evils.” (15:7)

During the military campaign, many young men and women perished, greatly increasing the number of widows (“more in number than the sand of the seas” [a hyperbolic expression]). Upon the mother of a young man, YHWH resolved to bring a destroyer (“misery” [LXX]) “at midday,” or at an unexpected time. He would cause to “fall suddenly upon her upheaval and terrors [trembling and haste (LXX)].” The mother would experience inner upheaval or trembling from foreboding and sorrow, and she would be terrified by threats to her well-being and security. (15:8)

A woman who “bore seven” (or as many sons as would have been considered a complete number) “languished” (“was emptied” [LXX]) or deprived of all strength. Her “soul” or she herself gave out her breath (experienced misfortune [LXX]). The implied thought may be that the woman lost all her sons and, overcome with grief, either fainted or died. Everything had become dark or gloomy for her, as if “her sun” had set while it was still day (“even in the middle of the day” [LXX]). Childless, she would be “ashamed and disgraced.” As for the remaining ones of his people, YHWH determined to “give them to the sword before their enemies.” (15:9)

Jeremiah considered his own lot since his call to be YHWH’s prophet. “Woe to me, my mother, for you bore me.” The hostility and unresponsiveness he faced among the people disheartened him. He lamented having come into existence and that his mother had endured the pain of giving birth to him. “With all the earth,” or everywhere and to everyone his prophetic activity reached, he had become the object of contention and dispute. This was not because of personal conduct, for he had not be responsible for the kind of disputing and bad feelings to which lending and borrowing can give rise. He had neither made nor received a loan. Yet he was the object of repeated cursing. According to the Septuagint, he was not indebted to anyone nor was anyone indebted to him. His “strength failed among the ones cursing” him. (15:10)

The Hebrew text may be understood as being YHWH’s assurance to Jeremiah that he would be there for him in his times of discouragement and affliction. “Have I not set you free for good?” If rendered as a question, it could be understood to mean, Have I not delivered you, not permitting your enemies to succeed in their plots against you? A possible way to render the next phrase could be, “Have I not made the enemy suppliant for you in time of evil [trouble or calamity] and in time of distress?” This may imply that YHWH had interposed for Jeremiah by frustrating the efforts of his enemies to harm him. (15:11; see the Notes section.)

YHWH had previously promised to make Jeremiah like an iron pillar and copper or bronze walls. (1:18) Therefore, the rhetorical question (“Can one break iron, iron from the north, and copper [or bronze]?”) may be understood to imply that his enemies would not succeed against him. “Iron from the north” could refer to very strong high-quality iron from a northern location. The Septuagint rendering is somewhat different. “Can iron be known?” This could mean whether the strength of iron can be known or tested. Then, with reference to Jeremiah, the text continues, “And a copper [or bronze] covering [is] your strength.” (15:12)

To punish his disobedient people, YHWH determined to give the wealth and treasures of the kingdom of Judah as spoils but not for any price or gain for him. He would do so “for all the sins” the people had committed in all the territories of the realm. The Septuagint says, “And of your treasures, I will give as plunder in exchange for all your sins, and in all your boundaries.” (15:13)

In the Masoretic Text, what or who would be passing over is not specified. It could be that YHWH would make the people (or their wealth and treasures) “pass over with [their] enemies into a land [they] did not know” or a foreign land. The Septuagint says, “And I will enslave you round about to your enemies in the land that you have not known.” In his anger, YHWH kindled a fire, and that fire would blaze against his disobedient people. (15:14)

On account of the hostility he faced and the serious threats to his life, Jeremiah made his plea to YHWH. “You have known” (me and my suffering), “O YHWH; remember me and visit me [grant me your attention], and take vengeance for me on my persecutors. In your slowness to anger, do not take me away [or do not let me perish at the hands of my enemies by delaying action against them]. Know [that it is] for your sake I am bearing reproach.” (15:15)

Regarding his response to “words” from YHWH, Jeremiah said, “Your words were found, and I ate them.” Although he had originally felt that he was too young to serve as YHWH’s prophet (1:6), he did experience joy and satisfaction in having “found” his words or being the one to whom his words were conveyed. Jeremiah accepted them into his very being as if they were nourishing food. To his “heart” or his inmost self, these words or messages were a source of exultation and rejoicing. This may be because they established the special relationship he had with YHWH. As one upon whom God’s name had been called, Jeremiah belonged to YHWH of hosts (the “Lord Almighty” [LXX]), the God with hosts of angels in his service, as his prophet or chosen messenger. (15:16; see the Notes section.)

Jeremiah did not sit in the company of those who had a good time with their companions and did not exult. On account of YHWH’s “hand,” perhaps referring to the hand that put the words in Jeremiah’s mouth (1:9), he sat alone. YHWH had filled Jeremiah with indignation, for the messages he was commissioned to proclaim to the unfaithful people revealed that YHWH was angry with them and determined to punish them for their disobedience. According to the Septuagint, Jeremiah spoke of having been cautious before the hand of the Lord and having been filled with “bitterness.” (15:17)

Jeremiah had no relief from his “pain,” and the “blow” he experienced proved to be incurable. The “pain” and hurtful blow may refer to the hatred and plots directed against him to bring about his ruin. He asked rhetorically, “Why is my pain perpetual and my blow incurable? It resists to be healed.” (“Why do the ones paining me prevail over me? My blow [or wound] is serious. How will I be healed?” [LXX]) In his disheartened state, Jeremiah said of YHWH, “You have become to me like something deceitful [or disappointing], waters [that are] not faithful” (unreliable like a stream that dries up during the hot summer months). He apparently felt that YHWH did not always come to his aid but let him suffer hateful treatment from those who were hostile to the message he proclaimed. (15:18; see the Notes section.)

Jeremiah’s bitter complaint about his painful lot was like that of persons in an alienated state from YHWH. Instead of rejecting him for his expressions, YHWH gave his discouraged prophet the opportunity to change his attitude and assured him of his full support upon his doing so. “If you will come back, I will let you come back. Before me you will stand. And if you bring forth [or speak] precious instead of worthless [things], you will be like my mouth. They [the people] will come back to you, and you will not come back to them.” If Jeremiah ceased to take offense for what he perceived as failure on YHWH’s part toward him, he would be fully restored to his position as YHWH’s prophet, standing before him as approved. He had expressed worthless things when making his complaint and needed to declare YHWH’s word in an unadulterated form as one who trusted him fully. He would then be able to serve as YHWH’s mouth, the appointed instrument for proclaiming his word or message. The people would then have to come to him as YHWH’s prophet if they wanted to know the word of YHWH. He would not return to them, coming down to their level as when he made his bitter complaint. (15:19)

YHWH repeated the assurance that he had given to Jeremiah at the time he commissioned him as his prophet. (1:18, 19) “I do make you to this people into a fortified wall of copper [or bronze]. And they will fight against you, and they will not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and to deliver you.” With YHWH’s support and aid, Jeremiah would remain unconquerable like a strong metal wall. All the efforts of his enemies would fail. They would not be able to triumph over him, for YHWH would rescue him. (15:20) YHWH’s promise to Jeremiah continued, “And I will deliver you from the hand [or power] of the wicked, and I will redeem you from the palm [or the grasp] of ruthless ones [pestilent ones (LXX)].” (15:21)


In verse 5, the wording of the Septuagint differs somewhat from that of the Hebrew text. “Who will be sparing over you, O Jerusalem, and who will be timid over you? Or who will turn back to you for peace?”

The Hebrew wording of verse 11 is obscure, and this is the reason translations contain a variety of interpretive renderings. “Surely I will deliver you for a good purpose; surely I will make your enemies plead with you in times of disaster and times of distress.” (NIV) “Surely I have intervened in your life for good, surely I have imposed enemies on you in a time of trouble and in a time of distress.” (NRSV) “Tell me, LORD, have I not served you for their good? Have I not interceded with you in the time of misfortune and anguish?” (NAB) “Have I not genuinely done my best to serve you, Yahweh? Have I not interceded with you in time of disaster and distress!” (NJB) “The LORD said: Have I not utterly dismissed you? Shall I not bring the enemy against you in a time of trouble and distress?” (REB) “I promise to protect you, and when disaster comes, even your enemies will beg you for help.” (CEV) The Septuagint rendering attributes the words to Jeremiah, “May it be, Master, of their prospering; surely I stood before you [as an intercessor] in a time of their calamities and in the time of their distress for good against the enemy.”

The initial part of verse 16 in the Septuagint conveys a meaning that differs from that of the extant Hebrew text. Those reproaching Jeremiah are identified as those disregarding the words of the Lord. This is followed by the prophet’s petition, “Bring them to [their] end, and your word will be to me for gladness and joy of my heart.” In the case of the Hebrew text, the reference to YHWH’s words being “found” could refer to the time during the reign of Josiah when the high priest Hilkiah found the “book of the law.” (2 Kings 22:8) If this is the application, the words of YHWH contained therein proved to be a source of great joy to Jeremiah.

The Septuagint rendering of verse 18 seems to indicate that the translator was uncomfortable about what Jeremiah is quoted as saying about God. This appears to be the reason that the point about false or deceitful water is applied to the blow or wound that Jeremiah experienced (“it became to me like false water not having trust” [like an unreliable source of water]).