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Jeremiah 2:4-8

Context
The Lord Reminds Them of the Unfaithfulness of Their Ancestors

2:4 Now listen to what the Lord has to say, you descendants 1  of Jacob,

all you family groups from the nation 2  of Israel.

2:5 This is what the Lord says:

“What fault could your ancestors 3  have possibly found in me

that they strayed so far from me? 4 

They paid allegiance to 5  worthless idols, and so became worthless to me. 6 

2:6 They did not ask:

‘Where is the Lord who delivered us out of Egypt,

who brought us through the wilderness,

through a land of desert sands and rift valleys,

through a land of drought and deep darkness, 7 

through a land in which no one travels,

and where no one lives?’ 8 

2:7 I brought you 9  into a fertile land

so you could enjoy 10  its fruits and its rich bounty.

But when you entered my land, you defiled it; 11 

you made the land I call my own 12  loathsome to me.

2:8 Your priests 13  did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord?’ 14 

Those responsible for teaching my law 15  did not really know me. 16 

Your rulers rebelled against me.

Your prophets prophesied in the name of the god Baal. 17 

They all worshiped idols that could not help them. 18 

1 tn Heb “house.”

2 tn Heb “house.”

3 tn Heb “fathers.”

4 tn Or “I did not wrong your ancestors in any way. Yet they went far astray from me.” Both translations are an attempt to render the rhetorical question which demands a negative answer.

5 tn Heb “They went/followed after.” This idiom is found most often in Deuteronomy or covenant contexts. It refers to loyalty to God and to his covenant or his commandments (e.g., 1 Kgs 14:8; 2 Chr 34:31) with the metaphor of a path or way underlying it (e.g., Deut 11:28; 28:14). To “follow other gods” was to abandon this way and this loyalty (i.e., to “abandon” or “forget” God, Judg 2:12; Hos 2:13) and to follow the customs or religious traditions of the pagan nations (e.g., 2 Kgs 17:15). The classic text on “following” God or another god is 1 Kgs 18:18, 21 where Elijah taunts the people with “halting between two opinions” whether the Lord was the true God or Baal was. The idiom is often found followed by “to serve and to worship” or “they served and worshiped” such and such a god or entity (see, e.g., Jer 8:2; 11:10; 13:10; 16:11; 25:6; 35:15).

6 tn The words “to me” are not in the Hebrew text but are implicit from the context: Heb “they followed after the worthless thing/things and became worthless.” There is an obvious wordplay on the verb “became worthless” and the noun “worthless thing,” which is probably to be understood collectively and to refer to idols as it does in Jer 8:19; 10:8; 14:22; Jonah 2:8.

7 tn This word is erroneously rendered “shadow of death” in most older English versions; that translation is based on a faulty etymology. Contextual studies and comparative Semitic linguistics have demonstrated that the word is merely another word for darkness. It is confined to poetic texts and often carries connotations of danger and distress. It is associated in poetic texts with the darkness of a prison (Ps 107:10, 14), a mine (Job 28:3), and a ravine (Ps 23:4). Here it is associated with the darkness of the wasteland and ravines of the Sinai desert.

8 sn The context suggests that the question is related to a lament where the people turn to God in their troubles, asking him for help and reminding him of his past benefactions. See for example Isa 63:11-19 and Ps 44. It is an implicit prayer for his intervention, cf. 2 Kgs 2:14.

9 sn Note how contemporary Israel is again identified with her early ancestors. See the study note on 2:2.

10 tn Heb “eat.”

11 sn I.e., made it ceremonially unclean. See Lev 18:19-30; Num 35:34; Deut 21:23.

12 tn Heb “my inheritance.” Or “the land [i.e., inheritance] I gave you,” reading the pronoun as indicating source rather than possession. The parallelism and the common use in Jeremiah of the term to refer to the land or people as the Lord’s (e.g., 12:7, 8, 9; 16:18; 50:11) make the possessive use more likely here.

sn The land belonged to the Lord; it was given to the Israelites in trust (or usufruct) as their heritage. See Lev 25:23.

13 tn Heb “The priests…the ones who grasp my law…the shepherds…the prophets…they…”

14 sn See the study note on 2:6.

15 tn Heb “those who handle my law.”

sn The reference is likely to the priests and Levites who were responsible for teaching the law (so Jer 18:18; cf. Deut 33:10). According to Jer 8:8 it could possibly refer to the scribes who copied the law.

16 tn Or “were not committed to me.” The Hebrew verb rendered “know” refers to more than mere intellectual knowledge. It carries also the ideas of emotional and volitional commitment as well intimacy. See for example its use in contexts like Hos 4:1; 6:6.

17 tn Heb “by Baal.”

18 tn Heb “and they followed after those things [the word is plural] which do not profit.” The poetic structure of the verse, four lines in which a distinct subject appears at the beginning followed by a fifth line beginning with a prepositional phrase and no distinct subject, argues that this line is climactic and refers to all four classes enumerated in the preceding lines. See W. L. Holladay, Jeremiah (Hermeneia), 1:88-89. There may be a play or pun in the Hebrew text on the name for the god Baal (בַּעַל, baal) and the verb “cannot help you” (Heb “do not profit”) which is spelled יַעַל (yaal).



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