Vv 1-15: Allegory of the Flask and its meaning:

Further to the allegory of the potter in Ch 18 vv 1ff, Jeremiah is now instructed to carry out another highly public demonstration through the purchase of an earthenware flask or bottle that he was later to smash, symbolizing how God would break the people of Jerusalem because of their rebellion. This demonstration was to be held in the presence of the elders of the people and the elders of the priests. These surely included the outwardly pious bulwarks of the establishment who were the most entrenched in their bad habits and the most resistant to Jeremiah's rebukes and who were sure to find his present demonstration most provocative.

The demonstration was to be carried out at one of the greatest abominations in Jerusalem, the "Valley of the son of Hinnom", which has given its name to the Torah concept of "hell", and which in late First Temple times was the center of the Molech cult involving child sacrifice, as indicated in v 5 of our present text. This valley was immediately outside the "Dung Gate" of Jerusalem (Rashi), where the inhabitants of the city would throw their broken pottery shards (for earthenware pots, which are easily broken, were the "disposable crockery" of those times).

It was the Molech abomination that would be requited with the coming calamity, which would bring a famine so severe that parents would eat the flesh of their own children (v 9).

Jeremiah was to ceremonially smash the flask that he had purchased in order to symbolize how God would smash the city and its inhabitants because of their idolatry.

Vv 14-15: Having carried out his demonstration, Jeremiah returned to the city and entered the Temple , where he publicly spelled out the message of doom.


V 1: "And Pashhur son of Immer the Cohen heard." This Pashhur is called by Targum SAGAN, indicating that he was the deputy High Priest. He was clearly one of the main pillars of the recalcitrant establishment and considered himself a prophet, while perceiving Jeremiah as a fifth columnist whose prophesies of doom were sure to discourage the common people from resisting the Babylonians. The establishment priests and leaders were convinced that they could succeed in their resistance as long as the public did not become demoralized. It would not have been difficult to portray Jeremiah as a traitor since when Sennacherib laid siege to Jerusalem in the generation of King Hezekiah, the prophet Isaiah had told the king not to surrender despite Ravshakeh's attempts to demoralize the people (II Kings 19:6).

V 2: After beating Jeremiah, Pashhur had him put in "prison" (AL HA-MAHPECHES). RaDaK explains that this was a kind of stocks or pillory in which the necks of the prisoners were locked between timber beams. This was a gross assault on the person of God's prophet.

V 3: On his release on the following day, Jeremiah fearlessly rebukes PASHHUR, making a play on his name. Its positive connotations are PASH (Aramaic=great) and HUR, "free" (as in BEN HORIN), but Jeremiah "changes the connotations around" (cf. MAHPECHES, "turn around"), for the root PASHAH means "split asunder", while SHAHOR means dark. SAHOR in Aramaic means "round about": thus a multitude (PASH) of gathered (MAGOR) troops will surround Jerusalem round about (MI-SAVIV) (Rashi, Metzudas David).

Jeremiah prophesies that Pashhur and all his household and friends will die in exile in Babylon .

Vv 7ff: "You persuaded me, HaShem, and I was persuaded." Jeremiah's prophecies were laden with rebuke and doom. He surely did not want to be the bearer of such evil tidings, yet God "persuaded him" to prophecy, and the prophet was "persuaded". He was unable to hold back the fire that burned within him - he simply could not contain it. He had to speak, even though his one-time "friends" were now against him, waiting to pounce.

V 12: Jeremiah takes strength in the fact that God knows the truth and will vindicate him and take vengeance on his enemies.

V 14: Even so, Jeremiah laments the day on which he was conceived. In doing so, he was like Job, who also wished he had never been born (Job 3:3). "Said Jeremiah: I am like a priest to whose lot it has fallen to administer the bitter waters to a certain woman suspected of infidelity (SOTAH). When they bring the woman to him and remove her veil, he takes the cup and lifts it to her and looks in her face and realizes it is his own mother! He starts screaming, 'Woe is me! This is my mother, that I always tried to honor and now I am disgracing her.' So too I face my mother, Zion , about whom I hoped I could prophesy goodness and comfort, but now I have to prophesy punishments" (Midrash).

The verse specifies that Jeremiah was conceived BY DAY, which is unusual since in normal circumstances a Talmid Chacham is forbidden to have relations with his wife by day. The rabbis taught that Jeremiah's father, Hilkiah, was forced to flee from King Menasheh, who sought to kill all the prophets. Just before leaving, he went into his wife, despite the fact that it was day, because in these extenuating circumstances this was the only way to ensure that he would have progeny (Rashi on v 14).



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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