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Jeremiah 17:1-4


17:1 1 The sin of Judah is engraved with an iron chisel

on their stone-hard 2  hearts.

It is inscribed with a diamond 3  point

on the horns of their altars. 4 

17:2 Their children are always thinking about 5  their 6  altars

and their sacred poles dedicated to the goddess Asherah, 7 

set up beside the green trees on the high hills

17:3 and on the mountains and in the fields. 8 

I will give your wealth and all your treasures away as plunder.

I will give it away as the price 9  for the sins you have committed throughout your land.

17:4 You will lose your hold on the land 10 

which I gave to you as a permanent possession.

I will make you serve your enemies in a land that you know nothing about.

For you have made my anger burn like a fire that will never be put out.” 11 

1 tn The chapter division which was not a part of the original text but was added in the middle ages obscures the fact that there is no new speech here. The division may have resulted from the faulty identification of the “them” in the preceding verse. See the translator’s note on that verse.

2 tn The adjective “stone-hard” is not in the Hebrew text. It is implicit in the metaphor and is supplied in the translation for clarity. Cf. Ezek 11:19; 36:26; and Job 19:24 for the figure.

3 tn Heb “adamant.” The word “diamond” is an accommodation to modern times. There is no evidence that diamond was known in ancient times. This hard stone (perhaps emery) became metaphorical for hardness; see Ezek 3:9 and Zech 7:12. For discussion see W. E. Staples, “Adamant,” IDB 1:45.

4 tn This verse has been restructured for the sake of the English poetry: Heb “The sin of Judah is engraved [or written] with an iron pen, inscribed with a point of a diamond [or adamant] upon the tablet of their hearts and on the horns of their altars.”

sn There is biting sarcasm involved in the use of the figures here. The law was inscribed on the tablets of stone by the “finger” of God (Exod 31:18; 32:16). Later under the new covenant it would be written on their hearts (Jer 31:33). Blood was to be applied to the horns of the altar in offering the sin offering (cf., e.g., Lev 4:7, 18, 25, 20) and on the bronze altar to cleanse it from sin on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:18). Here their sins are engraved (permanently written, cf. Job 19:24) on their hearts (i.e., control their thoughts and actions) and on their altars (permanently polluting them).

5 tn It is difficult to convey in good English style the connection between this verse and the preceding. The text does not have a finite verb but a temporal preposition with an infinitive: Heb “while their children remember their altars…” It is also difficult to translate the verb “literally.” (i.e., what does “remember” their altars mean?). Hence it has been rendered “always think about.” Another possibility would be “have their altars…on their minds.”

sn There is possibly a sarcastic irony involved here as well. The Israelites were to remember the Lord and what he had done and were to commemorate certain days, e.g., the Passover and the Sabbath which recalled their deliverance. Instead they resorted to the pagan altars and kept them in mind.

6 tc This reading follows many Hebrew mss and ancient versions. Many other Hebrew mss read “your” [masc. pl.].

7 sn Sacred poles dedicated to…Asherah. A leading deity of the Canaanite pantheon was Asherah, wife/sister of El and goddess of fertility. She was commonly worshiped at shrines in or near groves of evergreen trees, or, failing that, at places marked by wooden poles (Hebrew אֲשֵׁרִים [’asherim], plural). They were to be burned or cut down (Deut 7:5; 12:3; 16:21; Judg 6:25, 28, 30; 2 Kgs 18:4).

8 tc This reading follows some of the ancient versions. The MT reads, “hills. My mountain in the open field [alluding to Jerusalem] and your wealth…I will give.” The vocalization of the noun plus pronoun and the unusual form of the expression to allude to Jerusalem calls into question the originality of the MT. The MT reads הֲרָרִי (harari) which combines the suffix for a singular noun with a pointing of the noun in the plural, a form which would be without parallel (compare the forms in Ps 30:8 for the singular noun with suffix and Deut 8:9 for the plural noun with suffix). Likewise, Jerusalem was not “in the open field.” For a similar expression compare Jer 13:27.

9 tc Or “I will give away your wealth, all your treasures, and your places of worship…” The translation follows the emendation suggested in the footnote in BHS, reading בִּמְחִיר (bimkhir) in place of בָּמֹתֶיךָ (bamotekha). The forms are graphically very close and one could explain the origin of either from the other. The parallel in 15:13-14 reads לֹא בִּמְחִיר (lobimkhir). The text here may be a deliberate play on that one. The emended text makes decidedly better sense contextually than the MT unless some sardonic reference to their idolatry is intended.

10 tc Or “Through your own fault you will lose the land…” As W. McKane (Jeremiah [ICC], 1:386) notes the ancient versions do not appear to be reading וּבְךָ (uvÿkha) as in the MT but possibly לְבַדְּךָ (lÿvaddÿkha; see BHS fn). The translation follows the suggestion in BHS fn that יָדְךָ (yadÿkha, literally “your hand”) be read for MT וּבְךָ. This has the advantage of fitting the idiom of this verb with “hand” in Deut 15:2 (see also v. 3 there). The Hebrew text thus reads “You will release your hand from your heritage.”

11 tc A few Hebrew mss and two Greek mss read “a fire is kindled in my anger” (reading קָדְחָה, qodkha) as in 15:14 in place of “you have kindled a fire in my anger” (reading קָדַחְתֶּם, qadakhtem) in the majority of Hebrew mss and versions. The variant may be explained on the basis of harmonization with the parallel passage.

tn Heb “you have started a fire in my anger which will burn forever.”

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