Our reading begins today with Judah’s broken covenant. These 17 verses find the Lord reminding Jeremiah of several messages that had been the basis for the relationship between the Lord and Israel over several centuries. Because Judah was all that remained from all the promised land, her people were the defendants in the upcoming trial before the Lord. This most likely happened during Jehoiakim’s reign. The Lord authorized Jeremiah to present the legal charges against the people of Judah and Jerusalem. Here the Lord brought forward the terms of the covenant pertaining to the curses that would come with their disobedience. The Egyptians knew how to smelt iron but the iron smelting furnace the Lord had rescued His people from there was a metaphor for Israel’s slavery. Exodus 6:7 tells us that God promised to be uniquely theirs if they would be uniquely His. God wanted very much to bless Israel with all the best He had to offer. Jeremiah’s instructions were to broadcast this message to as many people as he could, in as many places as he could. But we have read through the books of Numbers, Judges, Samuel, and Kings and all the way up to Jeremiah how the people had violated the covenant. Judah and Jerusalem would no longer worship the Redeemer God, but they would give themselves to worshiping other gods. All of God’s people had broken His covenant. Now, calamity was approaching, and no prayers could prevent it. God’s people prayed and worshiped in their time of trouble but not to the Lord. Instead, they prayed to their idols of wood and stone. Once again Jeremiah was instructed not to pray for the people because God would not listen. Anything they might have said would be a charade. God had shut His ears. Idolatry was so rampant there was not a town or street that didn’t have an idol present. The Lord remembered that at the time of the exodus He saw Israel as a thriving olive tree. Not so much anymore.
Chapter 11 ends with the Lord warning Jeremiah about plots against him. Jeremiah prayed and the Lord promised to rescue him. At the time of his commissioning, the Lord warned Jeremiah that opposition would threaten his life. He saw himself as being like a lamb being led to slaughter with no power to resist, and Jeremiah asked the Lord to punish his enemies since the Lord knew their deepest thoughts and secrets. As events unfolded Jeremiah discovered that the Lord had his own way of dealing with his foes. The worst part for Jeremiah was that some of those foes were members of his own family, and relatives in Anathoth. And Jeremiah had been grieving over their fate. They demanded that Jeremiah should stop prophesying in the Lord’s name, but God told him that even the families of his foes, including children would lose their lives when their time of punishment came.
Jeremiah questioned the Lord’s justice. He wondered aloud why God didn’t punish the wicked immediately. He couldn’t stand the continued wickedness, but he also couldn’t quit grieving for the human suffering he saw coming. Jeremiah affirmed the Lord’s justice when dealing with him in the past, but since he was obedient and faithful, he didn’t understand why his life was in danger. In contrast, the wicked seemed to be prospering and happy. It made no sense to Jeremiah, and he was irked the Lord allowed the wicked to prosper. Jeremiah was angry enough that he demanded his enemies suffer the same fate they had planned for him. He asked that they be butchered like helpless sheep. Jeremiah didn’t even seem to desire their forgiveness or their return to the Lord. He felt helpless and what the Lord had decreed for the land felt excessive. He also didn’t seem to recognize the evil of the people’s sneering claim that the Lord could not see the future. The Lord rebuked his messenger and responded with questions of His own. Verses 5-13 are the Lord’s response to Jeremiah.
His racing against mere men was the conflict he faced with his family and friends, and it couldn’t be compared to a race against horses. That would happen when the foreign army arrived. The coming war would be as severe as finding one’s way through the thickets near the Jordan River. Jeremiah’s family was a microcosm of Judah. They would plot behind his back while speaking pleasantly to his face. They really wanted to convince him that the Lord would not let the Babylonians harm the people of Judah and Jerusalem. However, even though God called the people His vineyard they had become hostile to Him, and they had to be punished. The people would soon become prey to birds who ate corpses, and the animals would pick their bones clean. The rulers were corrupt, leading the people farther and farther into sin. The land was already desolate, and sorrow already gripped the Lord as He looked at the empty wasteland. He was punishing the people, but it gave Him no satisfaction. Worse yet, no one other than God even cared. The invading armies were the sword the Lord sent to destroy the land. There was no joy in this either, but the people’s apostasy merited the fierce anger of the Lord.
The Lord gave Jeremiah a message for Israel’s neighbors as well. No evil nation would receive protection from God’s punishment. He would uproot them as well, along with Judah. But in an interesting turn of events, God also promised that after the desolation, He would restore other nations, even as wicked as they had been. However, for this to happen these nations had to convert from idolatry to worshiping the one true Lord. They needed to learn the ways of God’s people. It would require public submission to the terms of the Sinai covenant that included the words, as surely as the Lord lives. They would also have to reject any oaths made to Baal or any other pagan god. Refusal to obey would result in their being uprooted and destroyed.
Next the Lord told Jeremiah to act out a parable. This is not uncommon for God to ask something like this of the prophets. This parable joins action with words to reinforce and illustrate special aspects of the Lord’s response to Judah’s rebellion. Jeremiah was to buy a linen sash. This was an article of clothing like a short skirt or kilt worn by men. Some translate this as loincloth. Jeremiah was to wear it but not wash it. This symbolized Judah’s unrighteousness. After a time, the Lord instructed Jeremiah to travel to Perath, somewhere near the Euphrates River. This would have been about a 600-mile round trip. Jeremiah would have joined a travel caravan for safety to complete this task. He didn’t know the purpose for this, but he was obedient. The safest time to travel was during the dry season, from June to September, and the most likely time for the cloth to rot was the wet/rainy season, October to May. It was most likely 10ish months before Jeremiah went back to retrieve the cloth. And it was rotting and ruined. This parable was the Lord’s way of expressing just how disgusting the people’s pride was and how He was letting the consequences of their sin unfold. The rotten cloth represented the people of both Israel and Judah, whose wicked rebellion had corrupted them and made them worthless. Despite all of this the people still assumed God would bless them as always. However, the wine was not a sign of blessing this time. The drunkenness symbolized God’s wrath. Jeremiah begged the people to change, to listen and not be arrogant, because if they didn’t, a terrible darkness would overtake the whole land. The Lord would take them all away into exile and that filled Jeremiah with grief.
The king and queen mentioned here are most likely Jehoiachin, who was crowned in 597 B.C. and his mother, Nehushta. He was 18 years old and reigned for three months. Not only would the kings crown be taken by the Babylonians but so would all of the treasures from the temple. While the Babylonians were taking over Judah and Jerusalem, the southern neighbors would take over the towns of the Negev. Jehoiachin was not concerned with the well-being of his flock and as a result, the people of Judah suffered great abuse at the hands of their supposed allies. Jehoiachin had many sins. Verse 23 is interesting. Just as people have no choice of skin color and animals do not pick their coats, so too were God’s people who were born trapped in evil. They had no way to change on their own and they refused to allow the Lord to change them. God is the divine judge and He had decreed condemnation. Chaff is worthless and now God has promised to scatter His people like chaff. The people could not escape this punishment. God allowed the Babylonians to strip Judah of all her treasures and take the people captive.
Chapter 14 is a three-way conversation between the Lord, Jeremiah, and the people. It was sparked by a severe drought that affected the whole land. No crops were grown to be sold and the previous crops would not last long so the people were threatened with starvation. Cisterns normally used to collect water dried up and there was no water for drinking or cooking. Both people and animals suffered. Farmers covered their heads in shame and mourning. The people confessed their sins but refused to turn from their wickedness. They tried to browbeat God into answering but He had already turned a deaf ear. His ultimate answer cut right to the heart of the issue. It was the result of their wickedness and idol worship that caused them to be in their current state. And for the third time God told Jeremiah not to pray for the people of Judah and Jerusalem. God would pay no attention. Sacrifices and burnt offerings would be wasted because He would not accept them. Instead, He would respond with war, and famine.
The government of Judah supported a Corp of prophets who promoted the religious views of the king. The Lord often condemned them along with the priests and officials, and here He exposed them as imposters. God also described what would happen to them and to the people to whom they prophesied. Verses 17-18 are a short poem where God expressed His grief. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Interestingly enough, Jeremiah prayed for the people anyway. And he acknowledged that only the Lord could save them from disaster. The pagans’ idols were useless for anything.
The first nine verses of chapter 15 Is the Lord’s reply to Jeremiah’s prayer that Judah’s destruction was inevitable. The Lord mentions both Moses and Samuel, men who often prayed for their rebellious people and the Lord withdrew His punishment. Even their intervention a would have been ineffective this time. The people had no place to go, and their apostasy could be tracked back to Manasseh, son of Hezekiah. He reigned from 697-642 B.C. No one will feel sorry for Judah or Jerusalem. The people had heard the charges against them before but continued to turn their back on God. Now it would be too late. Both young and old would die. Jeremiah bared his heart to God over the harsh treatment he was receiving from the people and in response God promised to protect him. People’s treatment of him grieved Jeremiah. He knew that when the darkness fell the people would ask him to plead on their behalf. The Lord promised to make Jeremiah strong enough to withstand the people. Verses 13-14 are unclear as to whether God was speaking of the people’s future or Jeremiah’s future. If it was Jeremiah’s this prediction was fulfilled after the fall of Jerusalem when Jeremiah and Baruch were taken to Egypt against their will. If this referred to Jerusalem this was fulfilled in the fall of Jerusalem and the exile.
Jeremiah’s prayer sheds light on a crucial moment in his relationship with the Lord when persecution had shattered his strength. It is possible Jeremiah had begun to let his thinking be influenced by the people of Judah. Jeremiah was glad to declare God’s Word even though it meant he could not participate in the merry feasts of his sinful people. He asked two rhetorical questions that seemed to indicate he shouldn’t have to suffer so much. The Lord confronted Jeremiah with the need to make a decision. If he decided to return to a disposition of service and submission, the Lord would restore him to further usefulness. If he took care to utter words of submission, faith, and obedience, and reject worthless one like the false prophets spoke, Jeremiah could continue to be the Lord’s spokesman. And then God reaffirmed the promise He made to Jeremiah when He called him to be a prophet.
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W.