Today we begin with Jeremiah’s life style and message. In Hebrew society Hebrew bachelors were very rare and males were expected to get married in their early 20’s. But the severe crisis of the time required Jeremiah to be a divine messenger without family obligations. As we have seen before, he needed to rely totally on the Lord. Having no children was an object lesson because there would be a time that would come soon when many children and parents would die. No one would be left to bury them or mourn for them. Jeremiah’s ban on funerals and mourning was a parable with a message for the people of Judah. Destruction would be so great and widespread that no one would remain to mourn properly or comfort others. The ban on feasts and parties isolated Jeremiah from meaningful social contact but the Lord gave it special importance. The entire nation and its social interaction would soon cease to exist. When people asked questions Jeremiah’s reply was very familiar: the people had abandoned God for idols so He would abandon them. Jeremiah’s message was two fold. Judgement does not erase eventual hope but neither does hope cancel out the certainty of judgement. However, the Lord planned to bring His people back from exile to the promised land just like He brought them out of Egypt. We continue to return to the exodus, because that was the primary event in Israel’s history that had demonstrated the reality and power of God. Fishermen and hunters referred to here were the Babylonian soldiers God used to give out His judgement, and the punishment was double…slaughter and exile…because the people of Judah had violated the two most important commandments. They did not love God and they did not love their neighbors. In response to all of this, Jeremiah worshiped the Lord for His protection in times of trouble and for His provision of salvation for people from around the world.
Chapter 17 sounds a bit like the old song; second verse same as the first, little bit louder and a little bit worse. Again Jeremiah speaks of Judah’s sin and impending punishment. The families of Judah were committed to Baal worship so the Lord listed their sins that justified punishment. Stone masons used an iron chisel or a diamond point to permanently inscribe images and texts on stones. Idol worship had so hardened the thoughts, emotions, and will of the people that it seemed impossible for the people to change. Asherah poles were cut from trees and erected near altars dedicated to Baal, the Canaanite storm god. Asherah was the Canaanite goddess who symbolized the fertility of moist ground that could produce crops. Ritual sexual acts performed near these altars caused rain to fall, seeds to sprout, and plants to grow. And the people were so depraved they encouraged their children to join them. On the other hand, the Lord’s holy mountain was the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Their wealth and treasures were stored there. Because of the people’s sin and unfaithfulness the promised land would slip from their hands as they were taken into exile. When that happened the people of Judah would be utterly helpless because they changed their trust from the Lord to idols. The people would end up like shrubs in the desert that are stunted because of lack of water. But, anyone who trusted in the Lord would be like trees planted along a River bank. They would have plenty of water to flourish and grow. Water here represents the law of the Lord. We are told that by nature the human heart is deceitful and wicked and only the Lord knows just how bad it is.
From this Jeremiah spoke of his trust in the Lord. He commended the Lord’s faithfulness to His people vs. those who did not believe. And He shared what their horrible fate would be. Those who had gotten rich by shady means would soon lose what they had stolen. And then Jeremiah told how the Lord’s faithful worshiped Him and not money. Once again Jeremiah asked God, that since he had been faithful, that the Lord would rescue him from those who persecuted him, and bring him healing, salvation, and vindication. Only the Lord can heal and save so praise is due God alone. Jeremiah had been prophesying but nothing had happened yet to the people who held him in scorn, calling him a false prophet. Jeremiah appealed to the Lord for vindication, and protection. The upcoming judgement and punishment made him fearful. He also wanted those who were plotting against him to suffer the same fate they wished for him. The people were motivated by greed, right down to violating the commandment to honor the sabbath day and keep it holy. So, the Lord sent Jeremiah to the city gate, the place where business was transacted. He was to confront the offenders face to face, beginning with the king. Remember, ministry is not for the faint of heart! The sabbath was not the day to buy and sell. People were supposed to rest on the sabbath. However, not conducting business on the sabbath meant a bigger drop in revenue and the people were not willing to lose that money. So nothing changed. God gave them another chance to repent. They could obey Him, with the picture of chariots and horses a sign of God’s blessing. IF the people repented the Lord’s blessings would extend to the towns of Judah and Benjamin, the western foothills and the Negev. If they chose not to obey, the Lord promised to set fire to the city gates, destroying commerce and leaving the people open to invaders.
Once again we are given an object lesson. What Jeremiah saw at the potter’s shop became a picture of what the Lord was about to do with Judah. Jeremiah watched as the potter formed an earthen jar. He crushed it and then started over. The Lord is the potter. He could set the standards of perfection and choose to destroy or reshape His work. The message; if a nation or kingdom rejected the One true God, He could decree that it be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed. If the nation change its evil ways, the Lord’s anger would relent and He would not destroy it. The Lord planned to deal with Judah and Jerusalem like the potter did with the clay. There was still a chance to escape disaster. Instead the people chose to continue doing as they wished. Disaster loomed closer and closer, and the Lord said He would scatter His people who had deserted Him. Again Jeremiah reminded people this this sort of disobedience just didn’t happen anyplace else. Nature was reliable but God’s people were not. The ancient highways in 18:15 represented a life of faithfulness to the covenant and the muddy path was a symbol of self serving paganism. God presented His sentence on Judah and Jerusalem. Their land would be desolate and the people scattered just like dust. God was prepared to turn His back on them and when He did, the people would no longer experience a covenant relationship with Him. Jeremiah pleaded with the people but they just hated him more. And they plotted to stop him. Once again Jeremiah reminded the Lord of the injustices directed towards him, asking for vengeance.
Chapter 19 brings us another parable for Jeremiah to act out. This one demonstrated to the leaders of Judah that the Lord would utterly destroy their idolatrous and murderous nation. When God made the covenant with His people at Mount Sinai, offering incense while worshiping was to be an act of the priests. Offering incense to idols was a huge violation of the covenant and God did not accept their offerings. Nor did He even think about child sacrifice in the fire. That too was detestable to Him. The siege of Jerusalem lasted for two and one half years and resulted in famine and despair. It would also cause people to kill and eat one another just to survive. Judah would be totally shattered, broken beyond all hope of repair. Never again would Judah be a sovereign nation with a Davidic king, and the city would de unclean like the valley of Topheth. Jeremiah gave this message at the temple where the common people could hear him too.
For being obedient, Jeremiah was whipped and put in the stocks overnight on the charge that he had blasphemed the temple. When he was released, Jeremiah gave the jailer a message of personal condemnation from the Lord. Pashhur was the head of the police who kept order in the temple area, and he was second in rank to the high priest in authority. He had heard Jeremiah and thought he should be punished. In 20:4-5 we see the name Babylon as the country who would invade Judah and take them into exile, for the first time. The Babylonians would take all of the people’s treasures, leaving Judah with no resources. Pashhur would be confronted with proof that he had been a false prophet and things would not go well for him. Chapter 20 ends with Jeremiah’s complaint. He felt misled by God. He was mocked everywhere he went. Yet he also found it impossible not to speak the words of judgment God had given him, even though his messages had turned him into a household joke. Jeremiah was so distraught he decided to refrain from declaring God’s word. But he could not hold the message inside him because it was like a fire raging in his heart and bones. Pashhur had been given the name, the man who lives in terror, and now the few friends Jeremiah had looked for ways to twist his words and trip him up. Eventually Jeremiah realized that God was like a mighty warrior standing by his side. That put everyone who was against him at a distinct disadvantage, and they failed. This brought Jeremiah great joy and relief and he remembered that the Lord had always rescued him. Still Jeremiah was sufficiently shocked by the level of persecution he endured and wished that he was already dead, or that he had never been born. Jeremiah saw no meaning to his life.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W