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Jeremiah 20:7-18

Context
Jeremiah Complains about the Reaction to His Ministry

20:7 Lord, you coerced me into being a prophet,

and I allowed you to do it.

You overcame my resistance and prevailed over me. 1 

Now I have become a constant laughingstock.

Everyone ridicules me.

20:8 For whenever I prophesy, 2  I must cry out, 3 

“Violence and destruction are coming!” 4 

This message from the Lord 5  has made me

an object of continual insults and derision.

20:9 Sometimes I think, “I will make no mention of his message.

I will not speak as his messenger 6  any more.”

But then 7  his message becomes like a fire

locked up inside of me, burning in my heart and soul. 8 

I grow weary of trying to hold it in;

I cannot contain it.

20:10 I 9  hear many whispering words of intrigue against me.

Those who would cause me terror are everywhere! 10 

They are saying, “Come on, let’s publicly denounce him!” 11 

All my so-called friends 12  are just watching for

something that would lead to my downfall. 13 

They say, “Perhaps he can be enticed into slipping up,

so we can prevail over 14  him and get our revenge on him.

20:11 But the Lord is with me to help me like an awe-inspiring warrior. 15 

Therefore those who persecute me will fail and will not prevail over me.

They will be thoroughly disgraced because they did not succeed.

Their disgrace will never be forgotten.

20:12 O Lord who rules over all, 16  you test and prove the righteous.

You see into people’s hearts and minds. 17 

Pay them back for what they have done

because I trust you to vindicate my cause.

20:13 Sing to the Lord! Praise the Lord!

For he rescues the oppressed from the clutches of evildoers. 18 

20:14 Cursed be the day I was born!

May that day not be blessed when my mother gave birth to me. 19 

20:15 Cursed be the man

who made my father very glad

when he brought him the news

that a baby boy had been born to him! 20 

20:16 May that man be like the cities 21 

that the Lord destroyed without showing any mercy.

May he hear a cry of distress in the morning

and a battle cry at noon.

20:17 For he did not kill me before I came from the womb,

making my pregnant mother’s womb my grave forever. 22 

20:18 Why did I ever come forth from my mother’s womb?

All I experience is trouble and grief,

and I spend my days in shame. 23 

1 tn The translation is admittedly interpretive but so is every other translation that tries to capture the nuance of the verb rendered here “coerced.” Here the Hebrew text reads: “You [ – ]ed me and I let myself be [ – ]ed. You overpowered me and prevailed.” The value one assigns to [ – ] is in every case interpretive based on what one thinks the context is referring to. The word is rendered “deceived” or “tricked” by several English versions (see, e.g., KJV, NASB, TEV, ICV) as though God had misled him. It is rendered “enticed” by some (see, e.g., NRSV, NJPS) as though God had tempted him with false hopes. Some go so far as to accuse Jeremiah of accusing God of metaphorically “raping” him. It is true that the word is used of “seducing” a virgin in Exod 22:15 and that it is used in several places to refer to “deceiving” someone with false words (Prov 24:28; Ps 78:36). It is also true that it is used of “coaxing” someone to reveal something he does not want to (Judg 14:15; 16:5) and of “enticing” someone to do something on the basis of false hopes (1 Kgs 22:20-22; Prov 1:10). However, it does not always have negative connotations or associations. In Hos 2:14 (2:16 HT) God “charms” or “woos” Israel, his estranged ‘wife,’ into the wilderness where he hopes to win her back to himself. What Jeremiah is alluding to here is crucial for translating and interpreting the word. There is no indication in this passage that Jeremiah is accusing God of misleading him or raising false hopes; God informed him at the outset that he would encounter opposition (1:17-19). Rather, he is alluding to his call to be a prophet, a call which he initially resisted but was persuaded to undertake because of God’s persistence (Jer 1:7-10). The best single word to translate ‘…’ with is thus “persuaded” or “coerced.” The translation spells out the allusion explicitly so the reader is not left wondering about what is being alluded to when Jeremiah speaks of being “coerced.” The translation “I let you do it” is a way of rendering the Niphal of the same verb which must be tolerative rather than passive since the normal passive for the Piel would be the Pual (See IBHS 389-90 §23.4g for discussion and examples.). The translation “you overcame my resistance” is based on allusion to the same context (1:7-10) and the parallel use of חָזַק (khazaq) as a transitive verb with a direct object in 1 Kgs 16:22.

2 tn Heb “speak,” but the speaking is in the context of speaking as a prophet.

3 tn Heb “I cry out, I proclaim.”

4 tn Heb “Violence and destruction.”

sn The words “Violence and destruction…” are a synopsis of his messages of judgment. Jeremiah is lamenting that his ministry up to this point has been one of judgment and has brought him nothing but ridicule because the Lord has not carried out his threats. He appears in the eyes of the people to be a false prophet.

5 tn Heb “the word of the Lord.” For the use of כִּיכִּי (kiki) here in the sense of “for…and” see KBL 432 s.v. כּי 10.

6 tn Heb “speak in his name.” This idiom occurs in passages where someone functions as the messenger under the authority of another. See Exod 5:23; Deut 18:19, 29:20; Jer 14:14. The antecedent in the first line is quite commonly misidentified as being “him,” i.e., the Lord. Comparison, however, with the rest of the context, especially the consequential clause “then it becomes” (וְהָיָה, vÿhayah), and Jer 23:36 shows that it is “the word of the Lord.”

7 tn The English sentence has again been restructured for the sake of English style. The Hebrew construction involves two vav consecutive perfects in a condition and consequence relation, “If I say to myself…then it [his word] becomes.” See GKC 337 §112.kk for the construction.

8 sn Heb “It is in my heart like a burning fire, shut up in my bones.” In addition to standing as part for the whole, the “bones” for the person (e.g., Ps 35:10), the bones were associated with fear (e.g., Job 4:14) and with pain (e.g., Job 33:19, Ps 102:3 [102:4 HT]) and joy or sorrow (e.g., Ps 51:8 [51:10 HT]). As has been mentioned several times, the heart was connected with intellectual and volitional concerns.

9 tn It would be difficult to render accurately the Hebrew particle כִּי (ki) that introduces this verse without lengthening the English line unduly. It probably means something like “This is true even though I…,” i.e., the particle is concessive (cf. BDB s.v. כִּי 2.c). No other nuance seems appropriate. The particle is left out of the translation, but its presence is acknowledged here.

10 tn The phrase translated “Those who would cause me terror are everywhere” has already occurred in 6:25 in the context of the terror caused by the enemy from the north and in 20:3 in reference to the curse pronounced on Pashhur who would experience it first hand. Some have seen the phrase here not as Jeremiah’s ejaculation of terror but of his assailant’s taunts of his message or even their taunting nickname for him. But comparison of this passage with the first two lines of Ps 31:13 (31:14 HT) which are word for word the same as these two will show that it refers to the terror inspired by the plots of his enemies to do away with him. It is also clear from the context of that passage and the following context here that the “whispering of many” (the literal translation of “many whispering words of intrigue against me) refers to intrigues to take vengeance on him and do away with him.

11 tn Heb “Denounce and let us denounce him.” The verb which is translated “denounce” (נָגַד, nagad) does not take an accusative object of person as it does here very often. When it does it usually means to inform someone. The only relevant passage appears to be Job 17:5 where it means something like “denounce.” What is probably involved here are the attempts to portray Jeremiah as a traitor (Jer 26:10) and a false prophet (see his conflict with Hananiah in Jer 28).

12 tn Heb “the men of my peace [who are concerned about my welfare].” For this phrase compare Ps 41:9 (41:10 HT); Jer 38:22. It is generally agreed that irony is being invoked here, hence “so-called” is supplied in the translation to bring out the irony.

13 tn Heb “watching my stumbling [for me to stumble].” Metaphorically they were watching for some slip-up that would lead to his downfall. Compare the use in Pss 35:15 and 38:17 (38:18 HT).

14 tn All the text says literally is “Perhaps he can be enticed so that we can prevail over him.” However the word “enticed” needs some qualification. As W. McKane (Jeremiah [ICC], 1:479) notes it should probably be read in the context of the “stumbling” (= “something that would lead to my downfall”). Hence “slipping up” has been supplied as an object. It is vague enough to avoid specifics as the original text does but suggests some reference to “something that would lead to my downfall.”

sn There is an interesting ironical play on words here with the earlier use of these same Hebrew words in v. 7 to refer to the Lord coercing him into being his spokesman and overcoming his resistance. Jeremiah is lamenting that it was God’s call to speak his word which he could not (and still cannot) resist that has led ironically to his predicament, which is a source of terror to him.

15 sn This line has some interesting ties with Jer 15:20-21 where Jeremiah is assured by God that he is indeed with him as he promised him when he called him (1:8, 19) and will deliver him from the clutches of wicked and violent people. The word translated here “awe-inspiring” is the same as the word “violent people” there. Jeremiah is confident that his “awe-inspiring” warrior will overcome “violent people.” The statement of confidence here is, by the way, a common element in the psalms of petition in the Psalter. The common elements of that type of psalm are all here: invocation (v. 7), lament (vv. 7-10), confession of trust/confidence in being heard (v. 11), petition (v. 12), thanksgiving or praise (v. 13). For some examples of this type of psalm see Pss 3, 7, 26.

16 tn Heb “Yahweh of armies.”

sn See the study note on 2:19 for explanation of this title for God.

17 tn HebLord of armies, the one who tests the righteous, who sees kidneys and heart.” The sentence has been broken up to avoid a long and complex English sentence. The translation is more in keeping with contemporary English style.

sn This verse is almost an exact duplication of the petition in one of Jeremiah’s earlier prayers and complaints. See Jer 11:20 and notes there for explanation of the Hebrew psychology underlying the use of “kidneys and heart” here. For the thoughts expressed here see Ps 17.

18 sn While it may be a little confusing to modern readers to see the fluctuation in moods and the shifts in addressee in a prayer and complaint like this, it was not at all unusual for Israel where these were often offered in the temple in the conscious presence of God before fellow worshipers. For another example of these same shifts see Ps 22 which is a prayer of David in a time of deep distress.

19 sn From the heights of exaltation, Jeremiah returns to the depths of despair. For similar mood swings in the psalms of lament compare Ps 102. Verses 14-18 are similar in tone and mood to Job 3:1-10. They are very forceful rhetorical ways of Job and Jeremiah expressing the wish that they had never been born.

20 tn Heb “Cursed be the man who brought my father the news saying, ‘A son, a male, has been born to you,’ making glad his joy.” This verse has been restructured for English stylistic purposes.

sn The birth of a child was an occasion of great joy. This was especially true if the child was a boy because it meant the continuance of the family line and the right of retention of the family property. See Ruth 4:10, 13-17.

21 sn The cities alluded to are Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities of the Jordan plain which had become proverbial for their wickedness and for the destruction that the Lord brought on them because of it. See Isa 1:9-10; 13:19; Jer 23:14; 49:18.

22 tn Heb “because he did not kill me from the womb so my mother might be to me for my grave and her womb eternally pregnant.” The sentence structure has been modified and the word “womb” moved from the last line to the next to the last line for English stylistic purposes and greater clarity.

23 tn Heb “Why did I come forth from the womb to see [= so that I might see] trouble and grief and that my days might be consumed in shame.”



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