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Jeremiah 11:1-13

Context
The People Have Violated Their Covenant with God

11:1 The Lord said to Jeremiah: 1  11:2 “Hear 2  the terms of the covenant 3  I made with Israel 4  and pass them on 5  to the people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem. 6  11:3 Tell them that the Lord, the God of Israel, says, ‘Anyone who does not keep the terms of the covenant will be under a curse. 7  11:4 Those are the terms that I charged your ancestors 8  to keep 9  when I brought them out of Egypt, that place which was like an iron-smelting furnace. 10  I said at that time, 11  “Obey me and carry out the terms of the agreement 12  exactly as I commanded you. If you do, 13  you will be my people and I will be your God. 14  11:5 Then I will keep the promise I swore on oath to your ancestors to give them a land flowing with milk and honey.” 15  That is the very land that you still live in today.’” 16  And I responded, “Amen! Let it be so, 17  Lord!”

11:6 The Lord said to me, “Announce all the following words in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: ‘Listen to the terms of my covenant with you 18  and carry them out! 11:7 For I solemnly warned your ancestors to obey me. 19  I warned them again and again, 20  ever since I delivered them out of Egypt until this very day. 11:8 But they did not listen to me or pay any attention to me! Each one of them followed the stubborn inclinations of his own wicked heart. So I brought on them all the punishments threatened in the covenant because they did not carry out its terms as I commanded them to do.’” 21 

11:9 The Lord said to me, “The people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem have plotted rebellion against me! 22  11:10 They have gone back to the evil ways 23  of their ancestors of old who refused to obey what I told them. They, too, have paid allegiance to 24  other gods and worshiped them. Both the nation of Israel and the nation of Judah 25  have violated the covenant I made with their ancestors. 11:11 So I, the Lord, say this: 26  ‘I will soon bring disaster on them which they will not be able to escape! When they cry out to me for help, I will not listen to them. 11:12 Then those living in the towns of Judah and in Jerusalem will 27  go and cry out for help to the gods to whom they have been sacrificing. However, those gods will by no means 28  be able to save them when disaster strikes them. 11:13 This is in spite of the fact that 29  the people of Judah have as many gods as they have towns 30  and the citizens of Jerusalem have set up as many altars to sacrifice to that disgusting god, Baal, as they have streets in the city!’ 31 

1 tn Heb “The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying.” The proposed translation is more in keeping with contemporary English idiom. Cf. 1:2 and 7:1 and footnotes there.

2 tn The form is a second masculine plural which is followed in the MT of vv. 2-3 by second masculine singulars. This plus the fact that the whole clause “listen to the terms of this covenant” is nearly repeated at the end of v. 3 has led many modern scholars to delete the whole clause (cf., e.g. W. McKane, Jeremiah [ICC], 1:236-37). However, this only leads to further adjustments in the rest of the verse which are difficult to justify. The form has also led to a good deal of speculation about who these others were that are initially addressed here. The juxtaposition of second plural and singular forms has a precedent in Deuteronomy, where the nation is sometimes addressed with the plural and at other times with a collective singular.

3 sn The covenant I made with Israel. Apart from the legal profession and Jewish and Christian tradition the term “covenant” may not be too familiar. There were essentially three kinds of “covenants” that were referred to under the Hebrew term used here: (1) “Parity treaties” or “covenants” between equals in which each party pledged itself to certain agreed upon stipulations and took an oath to it in the name of their god or gods (cf. Gen 31:44-54); (2) “Suzerain-vassal treaties” or “covenants” in which a great king pledged himself to protect the vassal’s realm and his right to rule over his own domain in exchange for sovereignty over the vassal, including the rendering of absolute loyalty and submission to the great king’s demands spelled out in detailed stipulations; (3) “Covenants of grant” in which a great king granted to a loyal servant or vassal king permanent title to a piece of land or dominion over a specified realm in recognition of past service. It is generally recognized that the Mosaic covenant which is being referred to here is of the second type and that it resembles in kind the ancient Near Eastern suzerain-vassal treaties. These treaties typically contained the following elements: (1) a preamble identifying the great king (cf. Exod 20:2a; Deut 1:1-4); (2) a historical prologue summarizing the great king’s past benefactions as motivation for future loyalty (cf. Exod 20:2b; Deut 1:5–4:43); (3) the primary stipulation of absolute and unconditional loyalty (cf. Exod 20:3-8; Deut 5:111:32); (4) specific stipulations governing future relations between the vassal and the great king and the vassal’s relation to other vassals (cf. Exod 20:22–23:33; Deut 12:126:15); (5) the invoking of curses on the vassal for disloyalty and the pronouncing of blessing on him for loyalty (cf. Lev 26; Deut 27-28); (6) the invoking of witnesses to the covenant, often the great king’s and the vassal’s gods (cf. Deut 30:19; 31:28 where the reference is to the “heavens and the earth” as enduring witnesses). It is also generally agreed that the majority of the threats of punishment by the prophets refer to the invocation of these covenant curses for disloyalty to the basic stipulation, that of absolute loyalty.

4 tn Heb “this covenant.” The referent of “this” is left dangling until it is further defined in vv. 3-4. Leaving it undefined in the translation may lead to confusion hence the anticipatory nature of the demonstrative is spelled out explicitly in the translation.

5 tn Heb “and speak/tell them.” However, the translation chosen is more appropriate to modern idiom.

6 tn Or “those living in Jerusalem”; Heb “inhabitants of.”

map For location see Map5 B1; Map6 F3; Map7 E2; Map8 F2; Map10 B3; JP1 F4; JP2 F4; JP3 F4; JP4 F4.

7 tn Heb “Cursed is the person who does not listen to the terms of this covenant.” “This covenant” is further qualified in the following verse by a relative clause. The form of the sentence and the qualification “my” before covenant were chosen for better English idiom and to break up a long sentence which really extends to the middle of v. 5.

8 tn Heb “fathers” (also in vv. 5, 7, 10).

9 tn Heb “does not listen…this covenant which I commanded your fathers.” The sentence is broken up this way in conformity with contemporary English style.

10 tn Heb “out of the land of Egypt, out of the iron-smelting furnace.”

11 tn In place of the words “I said at that time” the Hebrew text has “saying.” The sentence is again being restructured in English to avoid the long, confusing style of the Hebrew original.

12 tn Heb “Obey me and carry them out.” The “them” refers back to the terms of the covenant which they were charged to keep according to the preceding. The referent is made specific to avoid ambiguity.

13 tn The words, “If you do” are not in the text. They have been supplied in the translation to break up a long sentence consisting of an imperative followed by a consequential sentence.

14 sn Obey me and carry out the terms of the agreement…and I will be your God. This refers to the Mosaic law which was instituted at Sinai and renewed on the Plains of Moab before Israel entered into the land. The words “the terms of the covenant” are explicitly used for the Ten Commandments in Exod 34:28 and for the additional legislation given in Deut 28:69; 29:8. The formulation here is reminiscent of Deut 29:9-14 (29:10-15 HT). The book of Deuteronomy is similar in its structure and function to an ancient Near Eastern treaty. In these the great king reminded his vassal of past benefits that he had given to him, charged him with obligations (the terms or stipulations of the covenant) chief among which was absolute loyalty and sole allegiance, promised him future benefits for obeying the stipulations (the blessings), and placed him under a curse for disobeying them. Any disobedience was met with stern warnings of punishment in the form of destruction and exile. Those who had witnessed the covenant were called in to confirm the continuing goodness of the great king and the disloyalty of the vassal. The vassal was then charged with a list of particular infringements of the stipulations and warned to change his actions or suffer the consequences. This is the background for Jer 11:1-9. Jeremiah is here functioning as a messenger from the Lord, Israel’s great king, and charging both the fathers and the children with breach of covenant.

15 tn The phrase “a land flowing with milk and honey” is very familiar to readers in the Jewish and Christian traditions as a proverbial description of the agricultural and pastoral abundance of the land of Israel. However, it may not mean too much to readers outside those traditions; an equivalent expression would be “a land of fertile fields and fine pastures.” E. W. Bullinger (Figures of Speech, 626) identifies this as a figure of speech called synecdoche where the species is put for the genus, “a region…abounding with pasture and fruits of all kinds.”

16 tn Heb “‘a land flowing with milk and honey,’ as at this day.” However, the literal reading is too elliptical and would lead to confusion.

17 tn The words “Let it be so” are not in the text; they are an explanation of the significance of the term “Amen” for those who may not be part of the Christian or Jewish tradition.

sn The word amen is found at the end of each of the curses in Deut 27 where the people express their agreement with the appropriateness of the curse for the offense mentioned.

18 tn Heb “the terms of this covenant.” However, this was a separate message and the ambiguity of “this” could still cause some confusion.

19 tn Heb “warned them…saying, ‘Obey me.’” However, it allows the long sentence to be broken up easier if the indirect quote is used.

20 tn For the explanation for this rendering see the note on 7:13.

21 tn Heb “So I brought on them all the terms of this covenant which I commanded to do and they did not do.” There is an interesting polarity that is being exploited by two different nuances implicit in the use of the word “terms” (דִּבְרֵי [divre], literally “words”), i.e., what the Lord “brings on” them, namely, the curses that are the penalty for disobedience and the stipulations that they are “to do,” that is, to carry out. The sentence is broken up this way in keeping with contemporary English style to avoid the long and complicated style of the original.

22 tn Heb “Conspiracy [a plot to rebel] is found [or exists] among the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”

23 tn Or “They have repeated the evil actions of….”

24 tn Heb “have walked/followed after.” See the translator’s note at 2:5 for the idiom.

25 tn Heb “house of Israel and house of Judah.”

26 tn Heb “Therefore, thus, says the Lord.” The person has been shifted in the translation in accordance with the difference between Hebrew and English style.

27 tn Heb “Then the towns of Judah and those living in Jerusalem will…”

28 tn The Hebrew construction is emphatic involving the use of an infinitive of the verb before the verb itself (Heb “saving they will not save”). For this construction to give emphasis to an antithesis, cf. GKC 343 §113.p.

29 tn This is again an attempt to render the Hebrew particle כִּי (ki) contextually. The nuance is a little hard to establish due to the nature of the rhetoric of the passage which utilizes the figure of apostrophe where the Lord turns from talking about Judah to addressing her directly, probably in condemnatory tones. Something like “the very idea that you should…” might best represent the mood. The כִּי is probably asseverative or intensive (cf. BDB 472 s.v. כִּי 1.e).

30 sn Cf. Jer 2:28.

31 tn Heb “For [or Indeed] the number of your [sing.] cities are your [sing.] gods, Judah, and the number of the streets of Jerusalem [or perhaps (your) streets, Jerusalem] you [plur.] have set up altars to the shameful thing, altars to sacrifice to Baal.” This passage involves a figure of speech where the speaker turns from describing something about someone to addressing him/her directly (a figure called apostrophe). This figure is not common in contemporary English literature or conversation and translating literally would lead to confusion on the part of some readers. Hence, the translation retains the third person in keeping with the rest of the context. The shift from singular “your cities” to plural “you have set up” is interpreted contextually to refer to a shift in addressing Judah to addressing the citizens of Jerusalem whose streets are being talked about. The appositional clause, “altars to sacrifice to Baal” has been collapsed with the preceding clause to better identify what the shameful thing is and to eliminate a complex construction. The length of this sentence runs contrary to the usual practice of breaking up long complex sentences in Hebrew into shorter equivalent ones in English. However, breaking up this sentence and possibly losing the connecting link with the preceding used to introduce it might lead to misunderstanding.



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