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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : 2. Oracles on the Scythians. (With some others: IV. 5-VI. 29.)

Jeremiah by William Smith

2. Oracles on the Scythians. (With some others: IV. 5-VI. 29.)

The invasion of Western Asia by the Scythians happened some time between 627 and 620 B.C.(203) The following series of brief poems unfold the panic actually caused, or to the Prophet's imagination likely to be caused, in Judah by the advance of these marauding hordes, and clearly reflect their appearance and manner of raiding. It is indeed doubtful that Judah was visited by the Scythians, who appear to have swept only the maritime plain of Palestine. And once more we must remember that when the Prophet dictated his early Oracles to Baruch for the second time in 604, and added to them many more like words,(204) the impending enemy from the North was no longer the Scythians but Nebuchadrezzar and his Chaldeans; for this will explain features of the poems that are not suited to the Scythians and their peculiar warfare, which avoided the siege of fortified towns but kept to the open country and the ruin of its villages and fields. Jeremiah does not give the feared invaders a name. The Scythians were utterly new to his world; yet their name may have occurred in the poems as originally delivered and have been removed in 604, when the Scythians were no longer a force to be reckoned with.(205)

1. As it has reached us, the First Scythian Song, Ch. IV.5-8, opens with the general formula --

Proclaim in Judah and Jerusalem,
Make heard and say!

which may be the addition of a later hand, but is as probably Jeremiah's own; for the capital, though not likely to be besieged by the Scythians, was just as concerned with their threatened invasion as the country folk, to whom, in the first place, the lines are addressed. The trump or horn of the first line was the signal of alarm, kept ready by the watchman of every village, as Amos and Joel indicate.(206)

Strike up the trump through the land, IV.5b
Call with full voice,
And say, Sweep together and into
The fortified towns.
Hoist the signal towards Sion, 6
Pack off and stay not!
For evil I bring from the North
And ruin immense.
The Lion is up from his thicket, 7
Mauler of nations;
He is off and forth from his place,
Thy land(207) to lay waste;
That thy townships be burned
With none to inhabit!
Gird ye with sackcloth for this, 8
Howl and lament,
For the glow of the wrath of the Lord
Turns not from us.

These lines are followed by a verse with an introduction to itself, and therefore too separate from the context, and indeed too general to have belonged to so vivid a song: --

9. And it shall be in that day -- Rede of the Lord --

The heart of the king shall perish,
And the heart of the princes,
And the priests shall be aghast
And the prophets dismayed!

And this is followed by one of the sudden protests to God, which are characteristic of Jeremiah: --

10. And I said, Ah Lord God, surely Thou hast wholly deceived this people and Jerusalem saying, |Peace shall be yours,| while the sword strikes through to the life!

2. The Second Scythian Song is like the first, prefaced by a double address, which there is no reason to deny to Jeremiah. Jerusalem is named twice in the song, and naturally, since the whole land is threatened with waste and the raiders come up to the suburbs of the capital. The Prophet speaks, but as so often the Voice of the Lord breaks through his own and calls directly to the city and people (though the last line of verse 12 may be a later addition). On the other hand, the Prophet melts into his people; their panic and pangs become his. This is one of the earliest instances of Jeremiah's bearing of the sins of his people and of their punishment.

IV.11. At that time it was said to this people and to Jerusalem,

A wind off the blaze of the bare desert heights,
Straight on the Daughter of my people,
Neither to winnow nor to sift,
In full blast it meets me. 12
[Now will I speak My judgments upon them]
Lo, like the clouds he is mounting, 13
Like the whirlwind his cars!
Swifter than vultures his horses,
Woe, we are undone!
Jerusalem, cleanse thou thy heart,(208) 14
That thou be saved!
How long shalt thou harbour within thee
Thy guilty devices.
For hark! They signal from Dan, 15
Mount Ephraim echoes disaster.
Warn the folk, |They are come!|(209) 16
Make heard o'er Jerusalem.
Behold,(210) beleaguerers (?) coming
From a land far away;
They give out their voice on the townships of Judah; Like the guards on her fields 17
They are round and upon her,
For Me she defied!(211)
Thy ways and thy deeds have done 18
These things to thee.
This evil of thine how bitter!
It strikes to the heart.
O my bowels! My bowels, I writhe! 19
O walls of my heart!
My heart is in storm upon me,
I cannot keep silence.(212)
For the sound of the trump thou hast heard,
O my soul,
The uproar of battle.
Ruin upon ruin is summoned, 20
The land is undone!
Suddenly undone my tents,
In a moment my curtains!
How long must I look for the signal 21
And hark for the sound of the trump!
[Yea, fools are My people 22
Nor Me do they fear.(213)
Children besotted are they,
Void of discretion.
Clever they are to do evil,
To do good they know not.

3. The Third of the Scythian Songs is without introduction. Whether the waste, darkness, earthquake and emptiness described are imminent or have happened is still left uncertain, as in the previous songs. The Prophet speaks, but as before the Voice of God peals out at the end.

I looked to the earth, and lo chaos, 23
To the heavens, their light was gone.
I looked to the hills and(214) they quivered, 24
All the heights were a-shuddering.
I looked -- and behold not a man! 25
All the birds of heaven were fled.
I looked to the gardens, lo desert, 26
All the townships destroyed,
Before the face of the Lord,
The glow of His wrath.
[For thus hath the Lord said, 27
All the land shall be waste
Yet full end I make not](215)
For this let the Earth lament, 28
And black be Heaven above!
I have spoken and will not relent,
Purposed and turn not from it.(216)

4. The Fourth Scythian Song follows immediately, also without introduction. The first four couplets vividly describe the flight of the peasantry, actual or imagined, before the invaders. The rest seems addressed to the City as though being threatened she sought to reduce her foes with a woman's wiles, only to find that it was not her love but her life they were after, and so expired at their hands in despair. All this is more suitable to the Chaldean than to the Scythian invasion, and may be one of the Prophet's additions in 604 to his earlier Oracles. However we take it, the figure is of Jeremiah's boldest and most vivid. The irony is keen.

From the noise of the horse and the bowmen, IV.29 All the land(217) is in flight,
They are into the caves, huddle in thickets,(218)
Are up on the crags.
Every town of its folk is forsaken
No habitant in it.
All is up! Thou destined to ruin(?)(219) 30
What doest thou now?
That thou dressest in scarlet,
And deck'st thee in deckings of gold,
With stibium widenest thine eyes.
In vain dost thou prink!
Though satyrs they utterly loathe thee,
Thy life are they after!
For voice as of travail I hear, 31
Anguish as hers that beareth,
The voice of the daughter of Sion agasp,
he spreadeth her hands:
|Woe unto me, but it faints,
My life to the butchers!|

The next poem, Ch. V.1-13, says little of the Scythians, possibly only in verse 6, but details the moral reasons for the doom with which they threatened the people. It describes the Prophet's search through Jerusalem for an honest, God-fearing man and his failure to find one. Hence the fresh utterance of judgment. Perjury and whoredom are rife, with a callousness to chastisement already inflicted. Some have relegated Jeremiah's visit to the capital to a year after 621-20 when the deuteronomic reforms had begun and Josiah had removed the rural priests to the Temple.(220) But, as we have seen, Anathoth lay so near to Jerusalem, and intercourse between them was naturally so constant, that Jeremiah may well have gained the following experience before he left his village for residence in the city. The position of the poem among the Scythian Songs, along with the possible allusion to the Scythians in verse 6, suggests a date before 620. There is no introduction.

Range ye the streets of Jerusalem, V.1
Look now and know,
And search her broad places,
If a man ye can find --
If there be that does justice,
Aiming at honesty.
[That I may forgive them(221)]
Though they say, |As God liveth,| 2
Falsely(222) they swear
LORD, are Thine eyes upon lies(?) 3
And not on the truth(223)?
Thou hast smitten, they ail not,
Consumed them, they take not correction.
Their faces set harder than rock,
They refuse to return.
But I said, |Ah, they are the poor, 4
And therefore(224) the foolish!
|They know not the Way of the Lord,
The Rule of their God.
|To the great I will get me, 5
With them let me speak.
|For they know the Way of the Lord,
And the Rule of their God.|
Ah, together they have broken the yoke,
They have burst the bonds!
So a lion from the jungle shall smite them, 6
A wolf of the waste destroy,
The leopard shall prowl round their towns,
All faring forth shall be torn.
For many have been their rebellions,
Profuse their backslidings.
How shall I pardon thee this -- 7
Thy children have left Me,
And swear by no-gods.
I gave them their fill and they whored,
And trooped to the house of the harlot.
Rampant(225) stallions they be, 8
Neighing each for the wife of his friend.
Shall I not visit on such, 9
Rede of the Lord,
Nor on a people like this
Myself take vengeance?

Up to her vine-rows, destroy, 10
And make(226) a full end,
Away with her branches,
They are not the Lord's.
For betraying they have betrayed Me 11
Judah and Israel both [Rede of the Lord]
The Lord they have belied, 12
Saying |Not He!
Evil shall never come on us,
Nor famine nor sword shall we see.
|The prophets! they are nothing but wind 13
The Word is not with them!|(227)

14. Therefore thus hath the Lord of Hosts said, because of their speaking this word -- (228)

Behold I am setting My Word
In thy mouth for fire,
And this people for wood,
And it shall devour them.

5. The Fifth Song upon the Scythians, Ch. V.15-17, besides still leaving them nameless, emphasises their strangeness to Israel's world. There was a common language in Western Asia, Aramean, the lingua franca of traders from Nineveh to Memphis; and Jew, Assyrian and Egyptian conversed in it. But the tongue of these raiders from over the Caucasus was unintelligible. Yet how they would set their teeth into the land! Mixed with the verses which thus describe them are others which suit not them but the Chaldeans and must have been added by the Prophet in 604. A people so new to the Jews might hardly have been called by Jeremiah an ancient nation, from of old a nation, and in fact these phrases are wanting in the Greek version.

Behold, I am bringing upon you V.15
A nation from far,
[O house of Israel, Rede of the Lord
An ancient nation it is,
From of old a nation.](229)
A nation thou knowest not its tongue, 16
Nor canst hear what it says,
Its quiver an open grave,(230)
All of it stalwarts.(231)
It shall eat up thy harvest and bread, 17
Eat thy sons and thy daughters,
It shall eat up thy flocks and thy cattle,
Eat thy vines and thy figs.
It shall beat down thy fortified towns,
Wherein thou dost trust, with the sword.

The last couplet is unsuitable to the Scythians, incapable as they were of sieges and avoiding fortified towns -- though once they rushed Askalon. It is probably, therefore, another of the additions of 604 referring to the Chaldeans. The prose which follows is certainly from the Chaldean period, for it was not Scythians but Chaldeans who threatened with exile the peoples whom they overran.

V.18. Yet even in those days -- Rede of the Lord -- I will not make a full end of you.19. And it shall be when they say, For what hath the Lord our God done to us all these things? -- that thou shalt say to them, Just as ye have left Me and have served foreign gods in your own land, so shall ye serve strangers in a land not yours.

There follows a poem, verses 20-31, that has nothing to do with the Scythian series; and that with the preceding prose, with which also it has no connection, shows us what a conglomeration of Oracles the Book of Jeremiah is. It seems as though the compiler, searching for a place for it, had seen the catch-word harvest in the previous Scythian song and, this one having the same word, he had copied it in here. The Book shows signs elsewhere of the same mechanical method. But like all the Oracles this has for its theme the foolish dulness of Israel to their God and His Word, and the truth that it is their crimes which are the cause of all their afflictions yet now not in history but in Nature. There is no reason to doubt that the verses are Jeremiah's, and nothing against our dating them in the early years of his ministry.

Declare ye this in the House of Jacob, V.20
Through Judah let it be heard:(232)
Hear ye now this, people most foolish, 21
And void of sense.(233)
[They have eyes but they do not see,
Ears but they hear not.]
Fear ye not Me, Rede of the Lord, 22
Nor tremble before Me? --
Who have set the sand a bound for the sea,
An eternal decree it cannot transgress;
Though (its waters)(234) toss, they shall not prevail, And its rollers boom, they cannot break over.
Yet this people heart-hard and rebellious, 23
Have swerved and gone off;
For not with their hearts do they say, 24
|Now fear we the Lord our God,
|Who giveth the rain in its season,
The early and latter;
|And the weeks appointed for harvest
Secureth for us.|
These have your crimes deranged, 25
Your sins withholden your luck.
For scoundrels are found in My folk, 26
Who prowl with the crouch of a fowler(?)(235)
And set their traps to destroy,
'Tis men they would catch!
Like a cage that is full of birds, 27
Their houses are filled with deceit,(236)
And so they wax wealthy and great -- 28
They are fat, they are sleek! --
Overflowing with things of evil(?),
They defend not the right,
The right of the orphan to prosper,
Nor justice judge for the needy.(237)
Shall I not visit on these, 29
Rede of the Lord,
Nor on a people like this
Myself be avenged?(238)
Appalling and ghastly it is 30
That has come to pass in the land:
The prophets prophesy lies, 31
The priests bear rule at their hand,
And My people -- they love so to have it;
But what will ye do in the end?

6. In the Sixth Song on the Scythians, VI.1-5, which also is given without introduction, Jerusalem is threatened -- even Jerusalem to which in the previous songs the country-folk had been bidden to fly for shelter -- and the foes are described in the attempt to rush her, as they rushed Askalon according to Herodotus. That they are represented as faltering and no success is predicted for them, and also that they are called shepherds, are signs that it is the Scythians, though still nameless, who are meant in verses 3-5. The next three verses, separately introduced, point rather to a Chaldean invasion by their picture of besiegers throwing up a mound against the walls, and may therefore be one of the additions to his earlier Oracles made by the Prophet, when in 604 the enemy from the North was clearly seen to be Nebuchadrezzar, with the siege-trains familiar to us from the Assyrian and Babylonian monuments; upon which are represented just such a hewing of timber and heaping of mounds against a city's walls.

Pack off, O Benjamin's sons, VI.1
Out of Jerusalem!
Strike up the trump in Tekoa,(239)
O'er Beth-hakkerem lift up the signal!
For evil glowers out of the North,
And ruin immense.
O the charming (?) the pampered height(240) 2
Of the daughter of Sion!
Unto her shepherds are coming, 3
With their flocks around,(241)
They pitch against her their tents,
Each crops at his hand.
|Hallow(242) the battle against her,
Up, let us on by noon.|
|Woe unto us! The day is turning, 4
The shadows of evening stretch.|
|Up then and on by night, 5
That we ruin her palaces!|
For thus said the Lord of Hosts: 6
Hew down her(243) trees and heap
Against Jerusalem a mound;
Woe to the City of Falsehood,(244)
Nought but oppression within her!
As a well keeps its waters fresh 7
She keeps fresh her evil;
Violence and spoil are heard throughout her,
Ever before Me sickness and wounds.
Jerusalem, be thou corrected, 8
Lest from thee My soul doth break,
Lest I lay thee a desolate waste,
Uninhabited land.

Here follows another and separately introduced Oracle: --

Thus hath the Lord(245) said: 9
Glean, let them glean as a vine
Israel's remnant;
Like the grape-gleaner turn thy hand
Again to its(246) tendrils.
|To whom shall I utter myself, 10
And witness that they may hear?
|Lo, uncircumcised is their ear,
They cannot give heed.
|The Word of the Lord is their scorn,
No pleasure have they therein.
|I am full of the rage of the Lord, 11
|Weary with holding it back!
Pour(247) it out on the child in the street,
On the youths where they gather;
Both husband and wife shall be taken,
The old with the full of days.
Their homes shall be turned to others, 12
Their fields and wives together,
When I stretch forth My Hand
On those that dwell in this(248) land.
[Rede of the Lord.]
Because from the least to the greatest 13
All are greedy of gain,
Right on from prophet to priest
Every one worketh lies.
They would heal the breach of My people, 14
As though it were trifling,
Saying, |It is well, it is well| --
When -- where(249) is it well?
Were they shamed of their loathsome deeds? 15
Nay, not at all ashamed!
They know not even to blush!
So they with the fallen shall fall,
And shall reel in the time that I visit,
Rede of the Lord.

Still another Oracle which gives no glimpse of the Scythians, but threatens a vague disaster and once more states the moral reasons for Judah's doom. Its allusion to incense and sacrifices is no reason for dating it after the discovery of Deuteronomy.(250)

Thus hath the Lord said -- 16
Halt on the ways and look,
And ask for the ancient paths:
Where is(251) the way that is good?
Go ye in that,
And rest shall ye find to your soul,
But they -- |We go not!|
I raised up sentinels for you -- 17
Heed the sound of the trump!(252)
But they -- |We heed not!|
Therefore, O nations, hearken, 18
And own My record against them (?)(253)
Hear thou, O Earth, 19
Lo, evil I bring to this people,
The fruit of their own devices,(254)
Since they have not heeded My Word,
And My Law have despised.
To Me what is incense that cometh from Sheba, 20
Sweet-cane from a far-off land?
Your holocausts are not acceptable,
Nor your sacrifice pleasing.
Therefore thus hath the Lord said: 21
Behold I set for this people
Blocks upon which to stumble;
Fathers and children together,
Neighbour and friend shall perish.

None of the foregoing brief and separate Oracles diverts from the moral theme of all these earlier utterances of the Prophet, that Judah's afflictions, whether from Nature or from invaders, are due to her own wickedness. And this record even the foreign peoples are called to witness -- another proof that from the first Jeremiah had a sense of a mission to the nations as well as to his own countrymen.

7. There follows the Seventh, the last of the Songs which may be referred to the Scythian invasion, Ch. VI.22-26. It repeats the distance from which, in the fateful North, those hordes have been stirred to their work of judgment, their ruthlessness and terrific tumult, the panic they produce, and bitter mourning. The usual formula introduces the verses.

22. Thus hath the Lord said:

Lo, a people comes out of the North,
A nation(255) astir from the ends of the earth,
The bow and the javelin they grasp, 23
Cruel and ruthless,
The noise of them booms like the sea,
On horses they ride --
Arrayed as one man for the battle
On thee, O Daughter of Sion!
We have heard their fame, 24
Limp are our hands;
Anguish hath gripped us,
Pangs as of travail.
Fare not forth to the field, 25
Nor walk on the way,
For the sword of a foe,
Terror all round!
Daughter of My people, gird on thee sackcloth 26
And wallow in ashes!
Mourn as for an only-begotten,
Wail of the bitterest!
For of a sudden there cometh
The spoiler upon us.(256)

This is the last of Jeremiah's Oracles on the Scythians. There is little or no doubt of their date -- before 621-20. What knowledge of this new people and their warfare the Prophet displays! What conscience of the ethical purpose of the Lord of Hosts in threatening Judah with them! Yet some still refuse to credit the story of his Call, that from the first he heard himself appointed as a prophet to the nations.(257)

This section of Jeremiah's earlier Oracles concludes with one addressed to himself, Ch. VI.27-30. It describes the task assigned him during the most of his time under Josiah, whether before the discovery and promulgation of the Book of the Law in 621-20, or subsequently to this while he watched the nation's new endeavour to repent and reform. During the years from 621-20 till 608 when Josiah was defeated and slain at Megiddo, there can have been but little for him to do except to follow, as his searching eyes and detached mind alone in Israel could follow, the great venture of Judah in obedience to the Book of the Law. For this interval the outside world had ceased to threaten Israel. The Assyrian control of her was relaxed: the people of God were free, and had their first opportunity for over a century to work out their own salvation.

Assayer among My people I set thee,(258) 27
To know and assay their ways,
All of them utterly recreant, 28
Gadding about to slander.
Brass and iron are all of them(?),
Wasters they be!
Fiercely blow the bellows, 29
The lead is consumed of the fire(?)
In vain does the smelter smelt,
Their dross(259) is not drawn.
|Refuse silver| men call them,
For the Lord hath refused them.(260)

To take these lines as subsequent to the institution of Deuteronomy and expressive of the judgment of the Prophet upon the failure of the reformation under Josiah to reach the depth of a real repentance,(261) is unnecessary. The young Jeremiah had already tested his people and in his earliest Oracles reached conclusions as hopeless as that here. At least he had already been called to test the people; and in next section we shall see how he continued to fulfil his duty after the discovery of Deuteronomy, and onwards through the attempts at reformation which it inspired.

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