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Jeremiah 17:5-11

Context
Individuals Are Challenged to Put Their Trust in the Lord 1 

17:5 The Lord says,

“I will put a curse on people

who trust in mere human beings,

who depend on mere flesh and blood for their strength, 2 

and whose hearts 3  have turned away from the Lord.

17:6 They will be like a shrub 4  in the desert.

They will not experience good things even when they happen.

It will be as though they were growing in the desert,

in a salt land where no one can live.

17:7 My blessing is on those people who trust in me,

who put their confidence in me. 5 

17:8 They will be like a tree planted near a stream

whose roots spread out toward the water.

It has nothing to fear when the heat comes.

Its leaves are always green.

It has no need to be concerned in a year of drought.

It does not stop bearing fruit.

17:9 The human mind is more deceitful than anything else.

It is incurably bad. 6  Who can understand it?

17:10 I, the Lord, probe into people’s minds.

I examine people’s hearts. 7 

I deal with each person according to how he has behaved.

I give them what they deserve based on what they have done.

17:11 The person who gathers wealth by unjust means

is like the partridge that broods over eggs but does not hatch them. 8 

Before his life is half over he will lose his ill-gotten gains. 9 

At the end of his life it will be clear he was a fool.” 10 

1 sn Verses 5-11 are a collection of wisdom-like sayings (cf. Ps 1) which set forth the theme of the two ways and their consequences. It has as its background the blessings and the curses of Deut 28 and the challenge to faith in Deut 29-30 which climaxes in Deut 30:15-20. The nation is sinful and God is weary of showing them patience. However, there is hope for individuals within the nation if they will trust in him.

2 tn Heb “who make flesh their arm.” The “arm” is the symbol of strength and the flesh is the symbol of mortal man in relation to the omnipotent God. The translation “mere flesh and blood” reflects this.

3 sn In the psychology of ancient Hebrew thought the heart was the center not only of the emotions but of the thoughts and motivations. It was also the seat of moral conduct (cf. its placement in the middle of the discussion of moral conduct in Prov 4:20-27, i.e., in v. 23).

4 tn This word occurs only here and in Jer 48:6. It has been identified as a kind of juniper, which is a short shrub with minute leaves that look like scales. For a picture and more discussion see Fauna and Flora of the Bible, 131.

5 tn Heb “Blessed is the person who trusts in the Lord, and whose confidence is in the Lord.” However, because this is a statement of the Lord and the translation chooses to show that the blessing comes from him, the first person is substituted for the divine name.

6 tn Or “incurably deceitful”; Heb “It is incurable.” For the word “deceitful” compare the usage of the verb in Gen 27:36 and a related noun in 2 Kgs 10:19. For the adjective “incurable” compare the usage in Jer 15:18. It is most commonly used with reference to wounds or of pain. In Jer 17:16 it is used metaphorically for a “woeful day” (i.e., day of irreparable devastation).

sn The background for this verse is Deut 29:18-19 (29:17-18 HT) and Deut 30:17.

7 tn The term rendered “mind” here and in the previous verse is actually the Hebrew word for “heart.” However, in combination with the word rendered “heart” in the next line, which is the Hebrew for “kidneys,” it is best rendered “mind” because the “heart” was considered the center of intellect, conscience, and will and the “kidneys” the center of emotions.

sn For an earlier reference to this motif see Jer 11:20. For a later reference see Jer 20:12. See also Ps 17:2-3.

8 tn The meaning of this line is somewhat uncertain. The word translated “broods over” occurs only here and Isa 34:15. It is often defined on the basis of an Aramaic cognate which means “to gather” with an extended meaning of “to gather together under her to hatch.” Many commentators go back to a Rabbinic explanation that the partridge steals the eggs of other birds and hatches them out only to see the birds depart when they recognize that she is not the mother. Modern studies question the validity of this zoologically. Moreover, W. L. Holladay contests the validity on the basis of the wording “and she does hatch them” (Heb “bring them to birth”). See W. L. Holladay, Jeremiah (Hermeneia), 1:498, and see also P. C. Craigie, P. H. Kelley, J. F. Drinkard, Jeremiah 1-25 (WBC), 229. The point of the comparison is that the rich gather their wealth but they do not get to see the fruits of it.

9 tn The Hebrew text merely says “it.” But the antecedent might be ambiguous in English so the reference to wealth gained by unjust means is here reiterated for clarity.

10 tn Heb “he will be [= prove to be] a fool.”



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