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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Jeremiah 15



Verses 1-9

YHWH’s Response To Jeremiah’s Plea Is Of The Absolute Certainty And Awfulness Of The Coming Judgment (Jeremiah 15:1-9).

In the face of Jeremiah’s plea YHWH now makes clear that nothing can now stop His judgment from coming. Even though those two great intercessors Moses and Samuel were to pray for them it would be of no avail. (Compare for this Exodus 32:11-13; Numbers 14:13-20; 1 Samuel 7:8-9; 1 Samuel 12:23). Whatever is their allotted end must now come upon them, with the result that Judah will be ‘tossed to and fro among all the kingdoms of the earth’ as though they were a ball being tossed around in training. And all this was because of what Manasseh did in Jerusalem. It must not, however be thought that it was all because of one man. The point is rather that the nation had responded to Manasseh gladly, following his lead assiduously. It was what resulted from the people as a result of what Manasseh did that was the root cause of the problem. Had Manasseh been alone in his sin the situation would not have arisen. That is why Jeremiah then makes clear that it is the people as a whole who have rejected YHWH, and because of whom this judgment is necessary. For as YHWH explains, although He had made every effort to bring them back to Himself by various methods, all had failed. Whatever He had done to them they had not returned from their ways. That is why wholesale death and captivity was the only possible answer.

Jeremiah 15:1

‘Then YHWH said to me,

“Though Moses and Samuel stood before me,

Yet my mind would not be toward this people,

Cast them out of my sight,

And let them go forth.”

YHWH has twice told Jeremiah not to pray for good for Judah any more (Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 14:11). Now He explains that even if Moses and Samuel were to intercede for them in His very Dwellingplace (to stand before God’ was to approach Him in His Dwelling place, either the Tabernacle or the Temple) His mind would not turn favourably towards His people. Jeremiah was thus, as it were, to cast them out of His sight (out of the Temple where they were no longer welcome), and to cause them to go forth from the land.

Moses and Samuel were seen as the two great intercessors who had prevailed in prayer for God’s people when they had least deserved it (see Psalms 99:6):

· Moses at the time of the worship of the golden calf when YHWH had proposed destroying the people and beginning again (Exodus 32:11-13) and then when the people had rejected the advice of the two scouts, Joshua and Caleb, about obeying YHWH and going ahead with the invasion of Canaan, when His proposal had been the same.

· Samuel in the face of the invasion by the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:8-9), and then when the people had rejected YHWH as their King because they wanted a human being to fight their battles for them (1 Samuel 12, especially Jeremiah 15:19-21).

But even these great intercessors could not have helped Judah in their present predicament. Their corporate sin was a sin too far. YHWH’s mind had thus turned away from them and He wanted them cast out, both from the Temple and from the land, as He had warned would be the case in Numbers 18:25; Numbers 18:28.

Jeremiah 15:2

“And it will come about that, when they say to you, ‘Where shall we go forth?’, then you will tell them,”

“Thus says YHWH,

Such as are for death, to death,

And such as are for the sword, to the sword,

And such as are for the famine, to the famine,

And such as are for captivity, to captivity.”

Nor was their casting out to be a pleasant experience, for it was intended to teach them a salutary lesson. Thus when they asked, ‘where will we go forth’ the reply was not in respect of their geographical destination, but in terms of the fates that awaited them. Those destined for a quick death through some means, would die. Probably pestilence was mainly in mind for pestilence, sword and famine are regularly mentioned together (Jeremiah 14:12; Jeremiah 21:6-7; Jeremiah 21:9; Jeremiah 24:10; and often. See also Job 27:15). Those who were destined to die by the sword would die by the sword. Those who were destined to waste away in the famine, would waste away in the famine. And those who were destined for captivity would go into captivity.

Jeremiah 15:3

“And I will appoint over them four kinds, the word of YHWH,

The sword to slay, and the dogs to tear,

And the birds of the heavens, and the beasts of the earth,

To devour and to destroy.”

Furthermore YHWH had appointed four kinds of executioners, the sword to slay, the dogs to tear at the carcasses (as they had that of Jezebel - 2 Kings 9:35-36), the scavenger birds to peck at the remains, and the beastly scavengers to finish off what was left. Nothing was seen as worse by people of that time than to have one’s body a prey to scavengers after death (see 2 Samuel 21:10; Ezekiel 39:17-20; compare 1 Samuel 31:12), but that was to be the fate of Judah.

Jeremiah 15:4

“And I will cause them to be tossed to and fro among all the kingdoms of the earth, because of Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, for what he did in Jerusalem.”

Those who survived would also find themselves in trouble. They would be ‘tossed to and fro’ among the kingdoms of the earth. No one would want them (compare Deuteronomy 28:25 where they were to be ‘a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth’). And it would be because of the wholesale idolatry that Manasseh had introduced in Jerusalem. But the thought is not that they were being punished for the sins of Manasseh, but that they were being punished because they had connived with Manasseh in his sins. Hezekiah had sought to purify Jerusalem and Judah, but the people had been only too glad when Manasseh had led them back into the old ways. They had cooperated fully.

Jeremiah 15:5

“For who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem? Or who will bemoan you? Or who will turn aside to ask after your welfare?”

In consequence no one will have pity on Jerusalem Their future isolation is emphasised threefold. None will have pity on Jerusalem and its people. None will be sad because of their fate. None would be concerned about their welfare. They would be ‘on their own’ with no one caring for them.

Jeremiah 15:6

“You have rejected me, the word of YHWH, you are gone backwards, therefore have I stretched out my hand against you, and destroyed you. I am weary with repenting.”

And this was because of what they had done. They had rejected YHWH, that was ‘the verdict of YHWH’. And they had gone backwards, deserting His covenant. That was why He was stretching out His hand against them, and would destroy them. he was tired of changing His mind about judging them, only for them to re-sin again and again.

Jeremiah 15:7

“And I have winnowed them with a winnowing fork in the gates of the land, I have bereaved them of children, I have destroyed my people, they did not return from their ways.”

It was not that He had made no attempt to get them to alter their ways. He had sought to remove their chaff (winnowed them with a winnowing fork, tossing them as it were as grain into the air for the wind to remove the chaff) either by seeking to ensure justice in the gates of the land (where the local courts of justice would meet), or possibly by enemies attacking their cities where the gates would be the prime target. He had allowed their children (whether young or old) to die in differing ways, hoping that this would wake them up to their sins. (Nothing brings men closer to considering God than a death in the family). He had brought destruction on them hoping that when His judgments were in the land the people would learn righteousness (Isaiah 26:9). But it had all been in vain. They had not returned from their ways. They had not sought to renew the covenant.

Jeremiah 15:8

“Their widows are increased to me above the sand of the seas, I have brought on them against the mother of the young men a destroyer at noonday, I have caused anguish and terrors to fall on her suddenly.”

Such is to be the slaughter that the number of widows in the land will multiply ‘above the sands of the sea’, a reversal of the promise made by God to Abraham that He would multiply his seed as the sand of the sea (Genesis 22:17). Mothers will see their sons of whom they were so proud destroyed by the destroyer ‘at noonday’ (thus so remorseless that they come at the most unexpected time, in the heat of the sun), and will recognise that it is also coming on themselves. They will be filled with anguish and terror. And all this will happen suddenly and unexpectedly. (Alternately the ‘mother of the young men’ may be Judah itself).

Jeremiah 15:9

“She who has borne seven languishes, she has given up the spirit; her sun is gone down while it was yet day; she has been put to shame and confounded, and the residue of them will I deliver to the sword before their enemies, the word of YHWH.”

The woman who had borne seven sons (a full complement) should have been able to have confidence that at least some would survive, but even she will mourn and languish, because all her sons will have been taken. Her giving up of the spirit probably signifies hopelessness or fainting. She will have given up any hope of their survival. Her sun going down while it was yet day signifies that all brightness will have been removed from her life because of the death of her whole family. Her sons would have gone forth to battle with such great hopes, and supported by the pride of their mother at the thought of their success, only for her to be ashamed and confounded at the terrible news of defeat and death. And any who did survive would only survive in order to become further battle fodder for the sword. It was death all round of the bravest and the best. This was the assured word of YHWH.

Verse 10

Jeremiah Grieves Over His Unhappy Situation And The Effect That It Is Having On His Mother (Jeremiah 15:10).

Jeremiah 15:10

‘Woe is me, my mother, that you have borne me,

A man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth!

I have not lent, neither have men lent to me,

Every one of them curses me.’

The ‘woe is me’ or ‘alas’ is wrung from him as he thinks about the mothers who will have lost their sons in Jeremiah 15:9, for he grieves over what his own mother has to bear. He recognises that while his own mother may not have lost him to death she has lost him in another way. She has had to look on with grief in her heart as all men curse him and call him ‘traitor’ and she suffers the affliction of seeing every man’s hand turned against him, even that of his own family. And that is in spite of the fact that he has given them no reason to hate him apart from by his acting as YHWH’s mouthpiece. For he has lent no money, thus making men wary of him, nor does he owe money, causing dissension through not paying it back (see Deuteronomy 23:19; Psalms 15:5). He is not involved in anything that is the usual cause of dissension between men. As far as he is aware there is nothing in his personal life that should cause them to hate him. But they do.

The reference to lending and borrowing brings out how much such activity was despised in Judah if it was connected with obtaining gain by doing so. This was in fact in accordance with the covenant which forbade lending for interest, apart from to foreigners (Deuteronomy 23:19-20; Deuteronomy 15:2-3). Any loans to fellow Israelites had to be made in goodwill without any hope of gain (Deuteronomy 15:7-11).

Verses 10-14

Jeremiah Too Feels That He Has Been Born To Affliction And Strife But Is Comforted By YHWH As He Outlines The Future That Lies Ahead, Including The Invasion From The North (Jeremiah 15:10-14).

The thought of the mothers who have borne their sons only for them to die turns Jeremiah’s thoughts to his own situation, equally terrible in his eyes. Is his mother any better off? She may not have physically lost him but she has borne him only for him to cause strife and contention worldwide, and even in his own family (Jeremiah 12:6), with the result that in spite of the fact that he has not become involved with debt or with lending (in other words not with anything of a doubtful nature) all men curse him, something that he is finding difficult to bear, and something which must have been a great grief and affliction to her. She too had cause to ‘give up the spirit’ and be ashamed and confounded (Jeremiah 15:9).

Verse 11

YHWH Responds By Assuring Him That He Is Watching Over Him For Good For He And His Remnant Are The Hope Of The Future (Jeremiah 15:11).

YHWH’s response is to encourage him by pointing out what He is doing through him, and what the future holds for him. He will act on his behalf ‘for good’. There is a difficulty in translating the word shrwthch. The natural translation would be to take it as a shortened form for ‘your remnant, those of you who remain’. Then we would read ‘Truly your remnant will be for good’. This, however, appears difficult to most (including the Masoretes) and causes them to seek an alternative which involves alterations in the text, a number of which have been suggested including, ‘I will serve/strengthen/afflict/ deliver you for good’. The Qere has here ‘I will deliver you --.’ The Hebrew srr produces ‘I will afflict you --.’. The Aramaic sra produces ‘I will strengthen you --.’ The use of srh produces ‘I have served you --.’ The general meaning is, however, clear, that YHWH will act on his behalf and watch over him.

Jeremiah 15:11

‘YHWH said,

“Truly those of you who remain will be for good.

Truly I will cause the enemy to make supplication to you,

In the time of evil,

And in the time of affliction.”

Accepting the MT ‘those who remain (faithful to YHWH)’, YHWH’s response to Jeremiah’s despair is to assure him that while it may not appear like it, He is using him and his disciples (those who remain loyal) ‘for good’. They are the one bright spot in the gathering darkness. As with Elijah before him God has those set apart who have not bowed the knee to Baal, and they would be the foundation for the future.

Indeed in the future YHWH would cause some of those who were his enemies (opposed to him) to make supplication to him, both for his prophetic guidance, and for help in their distress, when the times of evil and affliction came on them. One example of such supplication would be Zedekiah’s private consultation with Jeremiah in Jeremiah 38:14 ff.; compare also reference to enquiries in Jeremiah 21:1-2; Jeremiah 37:7; Jeremiah 37:17. Note also his request for Jeremiah’s prayers in Jeremiah 37:3.

Verses 12-14

But Jeremiah Is To Recognise That His Prayers Will Not Alter What Must Inevitably Happen And The Total Desolation Of Judah (Jeremiah 15:12-14).

Jeremiah 15:12

“Can one break iron,

Even iron from the north, and bronze?”

But their supplication to Jeremiah would be in vain, because the future was already determined and would not be altered. Nothing could break the iron coming from the north accompanied by its bronze allies. They were powerful, unbreakable, invincible, and relentless, and they were coming at YHWH’s behest. Iron was seen as the strongest of metals, especially in warfare, while bronze was somewhat inferior but was also regularly used in warfare. Both were difficult to break. Thus the reference is to the power of Babylon and its slightly inferior allies. There may also be a reference here (‘iron from the north’) to a special type of iron of particularly strong quality known to have been produced in the Black Sea area. But as ‘the north’ is constantly used in describing the source of the future invasion (Babylon) that would appear to give the most satisfactory interpretation.

Jeremiah 15:13

“Your substance and your treasures,

Will I give for a spoil without price,

And that for all your sins,

Even in all your borders.”

The words are spoken to Jeremiah as representative of the people of Judah. The iron (Babylon) coming from the north would take Judah’s substance and their treasure for spoil, at no cost to themselves. It would not be by trading or negotiation, but by expropriation. And that would be because of Judah’s widespread sins, sins committed all over Judah ‘within all her borders’. Judah had on the whole ceased to be the people of God. We have descriptions of the fulfilment of this in the carrying off of Temple treasures (and the treasures of the king’s house) in Jeremiah 52:15 ff.; 2 Kings 20:17; 2 Kings 24:13; 2 Kings 25:13 ff.; 2 Chronicles 35:7; 2 Chronicles 36:18.

The emphasis on ‘without price’ is intended to bring out the ignominy of their defeat, and in order to emphasise that they will be unable to do anything about it. They will be helpless in the hands of their enemies. We can compare Isaiah 52:3-5, another instance in which Israel had been ‘sold for nought’. But there it was with their redemption in mind, a totally different situation to this.

Jeremiah 15:14

“And I will make them to pass with your enemies,

Into a land which you do not know,

For a fire is kindled in my anger,

Which will burn on you.”

For all their treasures, including the Ark of the covenant of YHWH, as well as they themselves, will ‘pass over’ with their enemies into a land which is strange to them, an unknown land, and this was because YHWH’s anger had caused the kindling of a fire which will burn on them and their land (compare Deuteronomy 32:22). There is possibly a deliberate contrast here with the way in which Israel ‘passed over’ Jordan with the Ark of the covenant and with all their treasures when they first entered the land. Then it had been in triumph. Now that was being reversed. Judah would be passing out of the land along with the Ark of the Covenant and their other treasures. It would be to a land ‘which they do not know’. And this time they would have no Redeemer going with them (at least in the short term).

Verses 15-21

Private Dealings Between Jeremiah and YHWH (Jeremiah 15:15-21).

In this passage where he is wrestling with self-doubt Jeremiah stresses that he has been faithful to God’s word (Jeremiah 15:16) and God’s ways (Jeremiah 15:17) and reminds Him of the loneliness that he has endured in serving Him (Jeremiah 15:17). In his anguish at what ministering for Him has meant for him (Jeremiah 15:18), for it has been very costly, he calls on God and asks Him to step in on his behalf (Jeremiah 15:15). He is clearly both troubled and puzzled as to why things are as they are. He was learning that God’s ways are not men’s ways, and finding it very hard.

We must never underestimate what Jeremiah had to go through. For long periods he stood ‘alone’ against the world with almost every man’s hand against him, while he himself bore the burden of the nation’s sin. We can understand therefore why it had begun to get him down.

YHWH’s reply is intriguing for it reveals that to some extent He saw Jeremiah as faltering in his ministry (Jeremiah 15:19). But He graciously promises him that if he will but return to Him with all his heart, and seek what is pure, true and right (Jeremiah 15:19), He will give him the strength to endure and make him strong in the face of his adversaries (Jeremiah 15:20), delivering him out of their hands (Jeremiah 15:21). He will restore him to being a successful ‘man of God’.

We have a reminder in this that while God will make all provision for us as we seek to serve Him, walking with Him does not promise an easy and carefree life, nor is it a guarantee of outward success. Indeed, like Jeremiah, we might find ourselves alone against the world. For like Jeremiah, some sow and see little reward, laying the foundation for others who will follow and reap. That is God’s way. Some sow in hardship for others to reap in rejoicing (John 4:34-38). And it is such lonely sowing that requires the greatest grace from God. But what all His people are called to do, whether they sow or reap, is to receive and rejoice in His word (Jeremiah 15:16), and not to be conformed to this world, but to keep themselves separate from ‘worldliness’ and worldly attitudes (Jeremiah 15:17), by having a new and transformed mind (Romans 12:2).

Jeremiah 15:15

‘O YHWH, you know, remember me,

And visit me, and avenge me of my persecutors.

Do not take me away in your longsuffering.

Know that for your sake I have suffered reproach.’

The first thing that he stresses here, and which is a comfort to him, is that YHWH knows exactly what his position is. ‘O YHWH you know.’ In the words of Job he could say, ‘you know the way that I take, and when you have tried me I will come forth as gold’ (application of Job 23:10). So he is confident in this at least that God has not forgotten him, and that He is acquainted with all his ways. Nevertheless he calls on Him urgently to take note of those ways (‘remember me’), and prays that God will ‘visit him’ by acting on his behalf, and will avenge him on his persecutors. This cry for vengeance may initially surprise us in the light of Jesus’ later teaching, but we should note that he is not himself by this seeking to take personal vengeance but, aware that what they are doing to him is because their hearts are hardened towards God, he is following out the injunction that declares, ‘vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord (See Romans 12:19; Deuteronomy 32:35; Hebrews 10:30; compare Luke 18:7; Revelation 6:10) and calling on Him to vindicate His word. We must remember in this regard that, unlike us, he is speaking of those for whom God has forbidden him to pray because their doom is determined (Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 11:14). Thus he knows that only judgment awaits them and his desire is to survive in order that he might see the vindication of his ministry as God brings His will about and obtains vengeance on His adversaries, as indeed He had promised him when He initially called him (Jeremiah 1:14-16).

He recognises that at the present time God is showing longsuffering towards the people, giving them an opportunity, if they will, to repent, and he prays that such longsuffering may not result in his own demise. He might well have recalled that it had certainly had that result for Uriah the prophet (Jeremiah 26:20-23). So he reminds Him in this regard of the reproach that he is suffering for His sake, and indicates firmly that he does not want to be cut off in the middle of his ministry with his work left undone.

Jeremiah 15:16

‘Your words were found, and I did eat them,

And your words were to me a joy and the rejoicing of my heart,

For I am called by your name,

O YHWH, God of hosts.’

He draws attention to his faithfulness to the word of YHWH. He had, he points out, fully absorbed His words (‘eaten them’) and they had been a delight to him. The ‘finding of His words’ may refer to the discovery of the Law Book in the Temple in the days of Josiah, or it may simply signify the different ways in which YHWH’s words came to him, for God is not restricted in His methods. But he stresses what a joy those words of God had been to him, and how they had rejoiced his heart. This was because he was one of God’s true people. He was ‘called by His Name’ (or more strictly had ‘His Name called upon him’), that is, the name of YHWH, God of hosts. To be ‘called by YHWH’s name’ was to be someone who responded to and served Him, honoured Him in his life, and revealed His attributes in his own life. That is what happens to anyone who is truly ‘begotten by the word of truth’ (James 1:18; compare John 3:1-6; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 Peter 1:23). By their fruits they are known.

Jeremiah 15:17

‘I did not sit in the assembly of those who make merry,

Nor did I rejoice,

I sat alone because of your hand,

For you have filled me with indignation.’

Jeremiah points out the loneliness that he had suffered because of his concern for the truth of YHWH, and the price that he had been willing to pay. He had not joined in with those who made merry, he did not enter into the general rejoicing of men and women, he had not set out to ‘enjoy life’, rather he had ‘sat alone’ because God had had His hand on him and had filled him with indignation at the behaviour of the people, whose ways were so contrary to YHWH’s covenant. He had refused to compromise what he stood for by partaking in what was displeasing to YHWH, and this was because he was responding to the call of God. For the hand of YHWH upon him compare Jeremiah 1:9; Jeremiah 16:21; Isaiah 8:11; Ezekiel 8:1. The idea was of His irresistible power and pressure.

Jeremiah 15:18

‘Why is my pain perpetual,

And my wound incurable, which refuses to be healed?

Will you indeed be to me as a deceitful wadi,

As waters that fail?’

But such dedication to YHWH had not been easy, and he finally asks why it is that, if God is pleased with him, he is suffering such pain and anguish, unable to find healing? Why do his wounds hurt so much and continue doing so? Indeed he asks, whether God will be to him like a river that is there one moment and gone the next, a flash flood, a river that appears to be permanent and then dries up? He is referring to a wadi, a river that flows in the rainy season, giving an impression of permanence (being ‘deceitful’) but dries up in the hot summer, and he wants the assurance that God will not be like that, and will not desert him in the end. We can contrast this with his previous confident certainty that God was like an ever-flowing spring of living water, in contrast with cisterns that did dry up (Jeremiah 2:13). But the vicissitudes of life had begun to wear him down and it is clear that he senses that he is going through periods when, in the midst of his travail, he feels that God is not satisfying the needs of his soul. How treacherous such feelings are when they cause us to doubt the One Who is our Rock. But it happens to most of us, for such an experience is often that of Christians when they are being chastised or tested with a view to their refinement.

Jeremiah 15:19

‘Therefore thus says YHWH,

“If you return, then will I bring you again,

That you may stand before me,

And if you take forth the precious from the vile,

You will be as my mouth.

They will return to you,

But you will not return to them.”

YHWH’s response was to bring home to Jeremiah that the fault lay at his own door. His problem lay in the fact that he had gone astray from his own dedication, and needed to sort out his life and return to God in repentance. Then God would bring him again to the place where he could ‘stand before Him’ and his ministry would one again be powerful. To ‘stand before God’ was a technical description for effectively coming before Him as a prophet or a priest (1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 18:15; 2 Kings 3:14). But it was Jeremiah’s choice (‘if you return’) whether he did so.

And if he did truly return, seeking the pure spiritual gold and rejecting the dross, becoming righteously zealous instead of begrudgingly reluctant, speaking words of God’s truth rather than the ideas of his own mind, then his ministry would be restored, and he would once more become God’s mouthpiece, the one through whom the mouth of God would speak (compare Exodus 4:16). But he must certainly not let himself become like those against whom he spoke. They might turn to him, but he must not ‘turn to them’ and become like them.

Jeremiah 15:20-21

“And I will make you to this people a fortified bronze-covered wall,

And they will fight against you,

But they will not prevail against you,

For I am with you to save you,

And to deliver you,” the word of YHWH,

And I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,

And I will redeem you out of the hand of the terrible.”

And if he did once again turn back to God with all his heart then his prophetic calling would be restored. Once again (compare Jeremiah 1:18) He would make him like a strong city wall reinforced with bronze, (which helped to absorb the impact of the siege machines). The people would still fight against him, but they would not prevail (compare Jeremiah 1:19). And this would be because YHWH was with him to save him and to deliver him (compare Jeremiah 1:19). No matter how wicked and terrible his opponents might be, he would be delivered out of their hand as Israel had been ‘redeemed’ from the mighty Pharaoh so long ago (Exodus 20:2).


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 15:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.

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