Tag Archives: Jeremiah

Part 3: Who is speaking in Jeremiah 10:19-20?

As part of a thesis discussing the representative role of Jeremiah the prophet, I looked at how various passages in Jeremiah allow for ambiguity in who is speaking in the text. Below is a short discussion on Jeremiah 10:19-20.

Another section that shows further the ambiguity between the feelings of Jeremiah and the people of Judah is Jeremiah 10:19-20.10 It is questionable who is speaking here, Jeremiah or the people of Judah. According to Polk, more commentators claim that the people of Judah are speaking in these verses.11 Since verse 18 speaks of the destruction coming on the people of Judah, the people would be the most logical recipients of this message of destruction, and they are thus the ones most likely to respond. Since verse 21 refers to the people of Judah in the third person as “my people,” it is less likely that the people of Judah are speaking here.

Furthermore, the use of the first person singular possessive pronoun here suggests instead a completely different speaker: one who has a claim on the people of Judah, a claim held primarily by God. Yet, it does not seem that the LORD is speaking here, which implies that Jeremiah has taken over that claim. Moreover, it is fairly clear that Jeremiah is speaking in verse 23, so he could easily be the one speaking in verses 19-20.

Thus the one expressing the grief found in verses 19-20 is somewhat ambiguous, blurring the distinction between the feelings of Jeremiah and the people of Israel. In the midst of this blurring, the step towards seeing a representational nature to the feelings is easier to make.


10 Jeremiah 10:18-21 (NIV): 18 For this is what the LORD says: “At this time I will hurl out those who live in this land; I will bring distress on them so that they may be captured.” 19 Woe to me because of my injury! My wound is incurable! Yet I said to myself, “This is my sickness, and I must endure it.” 20 My tent is destroyed; all its ropes are snapped. My children are gone from me and are no more; no one is left now to pitch my tent or to set up my shelter. 21 The shepherds are senseless and do not inquire of the LORD; so they do not prosper and all their flock is scattered.

11 Timothy Polk, Prophetic Persona: Jeremiah and the Language of Self (JSOTSup 32; 1984), 61.

Part 2: Who is speaking in Jeremiah 8:18-9:2?

As part of a thesis discussing the representative role of Jeremiah the prophet, I looked at how various passages in Jeremiah allow for ambiguity in who is speaking in the text. Below is a short discussion on Jeremiah 8:18-9:2 (8:18-9:1 in the Masoretic text, where the verse numbering is slightly different, with 9:1 in the English versions being labeled as 8:23 in the Masoretic text, 9:2 as 9:1 and so on).

Jeremiah 8:18-9:2 [9:1]1 is another example that many give to show the ambiguity with regard to which participant is being referred to in the text. In answer to the question of who has provoked him to anger, the LORD is clearly speaking in verses 17 and 19c, but it is unclear whether he is also speaking in verses 18-19a. In 8:18 the speaker bemoans a heart that is faint and full of sorrow, an emotional state that suggests that Jeremiah is speaking as opposed to the LORD. Yet, the ambiguity found in verses 18-19 links the sorrow of Jeremiah with the people’s denying the LORD, an action that clearly causes the LORD pain and sorrow. Alongside of Jeremiah and the LORD, one cannot forget the involvement of the people of Judah in this section.

Fretheim highlights the ambiguity given by the voices in this text, suggesting that this cacophony helps in portraying the message: “It seems best to understand the mourning of God and prophet as so symbiotic that in everything we hear the anguish of both. The admixture of speakers, including the people, seems to portray a cacophony of mourning. All involved are caught up in expressing their dismay over what has happened. At the least, Jeremiah’s mourning is an embodiment of the anguish of God, showing forth to the people the genuine pain God feels over the hurt that his people are experiencing.”2 The ambiguity points to a fading of the boundaries between the feelings of the LORD and Jeremiah. In either case, it states very clearly grief.



1 Jeremiah 8:18-9:2 (NIV): 18 You who are my Comforter in sorrow, my heart is faint within me. 19 Listen to the cry of my people from a land far away: “Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King no longer there?” “Why have they aroused my anger with their images, with their worthless foreign idols?” 20 “The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.” 21 Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. 22 Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? 9:1 Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people. 2 Oh, that I had in the desert a lodging place for travelers, so that I might leave my people and go away from them; for they are all adulterers, a crowd of unfaithful people.

2 Terence E. Fretheim, The Suffering of God (1984), 161.

Part 1: Who is speaking in Jeremiah 4:19-21?

As part of a thesis discussing the representative role of Jeremiah the prophet, I looked at how various passages in Jeremiah allow for ambiguity in who is speaking in the text. Below is a discussion on Jeremiah 4:19-21, and forthcoming are short discussions on Jeremiah 8:19-9:2 and 10:19-20.

Jeremiah 4:19-211 is one text in which there is ambiguity about whether the agent of the feelings is the LORD or Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 4, the personal pronoun spilling over into all the verses causes the identification of the participants, most especially the “I” figure, to be not entirely obvious. Ward explains the problem of identification: “The obvious conclusion would be to take the “I” of the two parts as one and the same, were it not for the vivid pathos described in the first part. Commentators therefore have concluded that the prophet was speaking for himself here, but it seems to me that there is an intentional confusion of speakers. The prophet is not conveying his own private response to the tragedy of Judah, but the response of a messenger of YHWH—one who is YHWH’s mouth. It is not too much to say that in his mind, his own pathos is also the pathos of God.”6 Ward’s comments here illustrate how the ambiguity can be an effective part of the prophetic message: Through the ambiguity, Jeremiah is able to speak for God.

Yet, identifying the speaker in vv. 19-21 is not easy. The LORD is speaking in verse 22, as he brings up that the people of Judah do not know him. The previous verses could also be his speech, and the tents would symbolize the temple. However, the anguish in verse 19 sounds more like an emotion caused as a reaction to the alarm of war and is thus not an expected affection belonging to the LORD, even if the LORD is the one speaking in verse 18. Thus, in my opinion, the one speaking in verse 19 is most likely Jeremiah,2 with the tents being symbolic of the property of the people of Israel and the anguish belonging to those facing coming disaster.

Korpel, however, argues that the speaker of verses 19-21 is actually Zion.In her article on who is speaking in Jeremiah 4:19-22, she highlights the various scholarly arguments3 before indicating how textual markings help to make the speaker less ambiguous. She argues that the speaker of verses 19-21 is Zion, based on the coherence of the text of Jeremiah 4:9-18 and the link of concatenation: lbk (4:18aC) || lby (4:19aA, 19aB).4 She goes on to argue that verse 22 is the beginning of a new unit, as “both the phrase ‘wty l’yd’w in v. 22 and the fourfold r’yty of vv. 23-26 can hardly have been spoken by anyone else but God.”5

Although I appreciate Korpel’s argument that the verses prior to v. 22 are most likely not spoken by the LORD, I would argue that the Zion figure has been somewhat superimposed on the text. The people of Israel, identifying themselves as Zion, are somewhat more clearly present here in the text as they are the ones hearing the text. Jeremiah as the speaker is also clearly present. Yet, the only definite conclusion that can be made here is that the verses are then divided into the former being the words of Jeremiah or Zion and the latter being those of the LORD.

Even if Jeremiah is the speaker of verses 19-21, it is not completely clear that his anguish is his alone, especially as it could be shared with the people of Israel who would be identified with Zion. The ambiguity7 allows the anguish still to be that of the LORD, a connection not necessarily expected by the reader even though the cause for such anguish is given in verse 22.



1 Jeremiah 4:18-22 18 (NIV): “Your own conduct and actions have brought this on you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is! How it pierces to the heart!” 19 Oh, my anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain. Oh, the agony of my heart! My heart pounds within me, I cannot keep silent. For I have heard the sound of the trumpet; I have heard the battle cry. 20 Disaster follows disaster; the whole land lies in ruins. In an instant my tents are destroyed, my shelter in a moment. 21 How long must I see the battle standard and hear the sound of the trumpet? 22 “My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.”

2 As the tents would refer to the property of all of the people of Judah, the reference could refer to the people of Judah. However, it is more likely to refer only to Jeremiah instead of Jeremiah and his community since Jeremiah is the one who had been talking previously in the text. Jeremiah is simply identifying himself as one of the people of Israel.

3 Korpel, M.C.A. (2009). Who Is Speaking in Jeremiah 4:19-22? The Contribution of Unit Delimitation to an Old Problem. Vetus testamentum, 59(1), 88-98. The quote is from pages 92-93. Korpel notes that “several authors have defended the view that in Jer 4:19-21 the person lamenting is Zion or Judah.” She gives the examples of F. Giesebrecht, P. Volz, F. Nötscher, Carroll F. W Dobbs-Allsopp. Furthermore, “Christl Maier, on the basis of comparison with Jer 10:20, suggests that it is Zion who is weeping here [Ch. Maier, “Die Klage der Tochter Zion’, BThZ 15 (1998), pp. 176-189].” Korpel, “Jeremiah 4:19-22,” 93.

4 Korpel, “Jeremiah 4:19-22,” 97. More specifically, with regard to the structure of Jeremiah 4, it appears that “Jer 4:19-22 is part of a larger composition (canto) that starts at 4:9 and ends at 4:31. This canto consists of a diptych of two sub-cantos which from a structural point of view mirror each other [Namely 2+3 | 2+3 || 3+2 | 3+2 strophes ] if—in accordance with ancient manuscripts of the Septuagint and the Vulgate—v. 22 is indeed seen as a separate unit, a later addition which was possibly meant to explain that the disasters bemoaned in w. 19-21 were fully deserved. In this case unit delimitation criticism supports redaction criticism.” Korpel, “Jeremiah 4:19-22,” 98.

5 Korpel, “Jeremiah 4:19-22,” 97. The possibility of verse 22 being a later addition only confirms her position: “If v. 22 is a later addition, the possibility that YHWH is the speaker of w. 19-21 becomes less likely. As we have seen, many commentators doubt the originality of v. 22 and the connection with the previous verse seems to be rather loose.” Korpel, “Jeremiah 4:19-22,” 97.

6 James Ward, Thus Says the Lord: the message of the prophets (1991), 131.

7 Although Korpel argues that the speaker in verses 19-21 are most likely Zion, she does note that an argument for the words being from God does result in some intriguing conclusions: “Most intriguing is the view of Jimmy Roberts who states that the weeping figure in the Book of Jeremiah is ‘better understood as the figure of God’. This would emphasise ‘God’s passionate involvement in the fate of his people’. [J. J. M. Roberts, “The Motif of the Weeping God in Jeremiah and its Background in the Lament Tradition of the Ancient Near East”, OTEs 5 (1992), pp. 361-374 (361).] Roberts’ argument is that the prophet makes significant use of the public lament traditions of the ancient Near East, e.g. in Jer 14:7-9 and Jer 9:16-19 where skilled mourning women are summoned to lead and teach the laments. That God could be physically compassionate with his people also occurs in Hos 11:8, where God complains, ‘My heart recoils within me, my organs of heat are aroused’ and in Isa 42:14 where he utters cries of anguish like a woman in travail.” Korpel, “Jeremiah 4:19-22,” 92.