THE BOOK OF JEREMIAH
Part I: Oracles Against Jerusalem and Judah
Warnings to Prepare for the Invasion
Lord of Holiness and Truth,
Help us to remember Your many acts of generosity so that we are moved to appeal to You in confidence. Like the faithful of old, we have walked the ancient paths with You when we read about the events of salvation history recorded in the pages of Sacred Scripture, just as we continue to walk with You through the events in our daily lives. We know that You see our needs and answer them with divine wisdom and almighty power that goes beyond our desires and petitions. Send Your Holy Spirit to guide us as we relive the events of Jeremiah's ministry when You used Your divine judgment as the instrument to bring Your covenant people to repentance and restoration. Protect Your people of the New Covenant Church so that they persevere in holiness motivated by their love for You and also out of a spiritually healthy fear of the justice of Your divine retribution. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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The fool has said in his heart, "There
is no God." Their deeds are corrupt and vile, not one of them does right.
Yahweh looks down from heaven at the children of Adam. To see if a single one
is wise, a single one seeks God. All have turned away, all alike turned sour,
not one of them does right, not a single one.
As we continue the story of Jeremiah's divine mission to Judah and Jerusalem, do not think of the recorded events only in the context of the distant past. Enlarge the scope of your vision to see Jeremiah's condemnation of the sins of his people in the lives of your nation and the failure of your people who profess faith and love of Yahweh but continue to fall into sin without fear of divine retribution.
In Chapter 5, Yahweh adds three additional charges to the initial covenant lawsuit indictment of idol worship and contamination of legitimate worship:
God places responsibility for these abuses on the failures of the ruling classes (verse 5), on the prophets and the priests (verses 13, 31).
Jeremiah 5:1-9 ~ The Universal Depravity of Judah and Jerusalem
1 "Rove the streets of Jerusalem, now look and enquire, see in her squares if you can find an individual, one individual who does right and seeks the truth, and I will pardon her," Yahweh says. 2 Although they say, As Yahweh lives,' they are, in fact, swearing a false oath. "3 Yahweh, do your eyes not look for truth? You have struck them; they have not felt it. You have annihilated them, for they ignored the lesson. They have set their faces harder than rock, they have refused to repent." 4 I thought, "These are only the poor! They behave stupidly since they do not know Yahweh's way or the ruling of their God. 5 I shall approach the great men and speak to them, for these will know Yahweh's way and the ruling of their God." But these, too, have broken the yoke, have burst the bonds. 6 And so, a lion from the forest will slaughter them, a wolf from the plains will despoil them, a leopard will be lurking round their towns: anyone who goes out will be torn to pieces "because of their many crimes, their countless infidelities. "7 Why should I pardon you? Your sons have abandoned me, to swear by gods that are not gods at all. I fed them full, and they became adulterers, they hurried to the brothel. 8 They are well-fed, roving stallions, each neighing for his neighbor's wife. 9 Shall I fail to punish this, Yahweh demands, or on such a nation to exact vengeance?"
This passage reminds us that Jeremiah is not just mindlessly repeating the oracles he receives from God. He is emotionally and intellectually involved in the message, and at times he questions both God and the message, as in 4:19-21 when he expressed his anguish over the oracle and its vision of destruction.
The nine verses of this oracle poem divide into five stanzas in which Yahweh and Jeremiah alternate as speakers:
In the previous oracle, people were fleeing from the coming disaster, only the citizens of Jerusalem, the harlot city, were staying. Jerusalem is overestimating her ability to resist the invasion. The background of the present oracle is repeated throughout history when people stayed in a wicked city and were destroyed.
Yahweh's appeal in verse 1 for a search party to find at
least one righteous person is reminiscent of Abraham's petition to Yahweh to
spare the city of Sodom if God's emissaries could find ten righteous men (Gen 18:16-33). The Sodom and Gomorrah story in Genesis chapters 18-19 becomes the
backdrop for this oracle.
Question: What happened in the case of Abraham's petition for Sodom's pardon, and what happens in this case in the possible pardon God offers? See Gen 18:32; 9:1 and 12-13.
Answer: God agreed to spare Sodom if only ten righteous men were found, but in the case of Jerusalem, He will settle for one righteous man. In Sodom as in the case of Jerusalem, the requirement to fulfill God's pardon is not found.
In Scripture, Sodom became the symbol for the proverbial city of wickedness. The prophet Ezekiel, a contemporary of Jeremiah, said that Jerusalem was far worse than Sodom (Ez 16:46-52).
Question: Six centuries later, what did Jesus say
using the example of Sodom? See Mt 11:23-24 and Mt 10:15; Lk 10:12.
Answer: Jesus said it will be more tolerable on the Day of Judgment for Sodom than for Capernaum (Mt 11:23-24), or for any city that does not welcome His missionaries (Mt 10:15; Lk 10:12).
2 Although they
say, As Yahweh lives,' they are, in fact, swearing a false oath. 3 Yahweh, do your eyes not look for truth? You
have struck them; they have not felt it. You have annihilated them, for they
ignored the lesson.
Question: What is the problem with the people's profession of faith in Yahweh in verse 2? What is their sin?
Answer: Their profession of faith is insincere because they have no faith in God. In their pride, they only have faith in themselves to form their destiny. This rejection of God is the sin of atheism.
Question: Which of the Ten Commandments forbids
making a false oath in God's name? See Ex 20:7; Dt 5:11; 6:13; also see Lev 19:11.
Answer: The second commandment forbids making false oaths in God's name. To take an oath or swearing in God's name is to make God the witness to the affirmation. It is to invoke divine truthfulness as a pledge of one's truthfulness by engaging the Lord's name, and it is a sin for which one is held accountable.
They have set their faces harder than rock, they have
refused to repent.
In verses 2-3, Jeremiah speaks to Yahweh, expressing his concern that even though God has chastised the people, in their pride and obstinacy, they still refuse to repent. In this Age of the Kingdom of the Messiah, when both blessings and punishments are eternal, the Church warns us of the consequences of such obstinacy: "There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy through repentance and restoration of fellowship with God rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss" (CCC 1864).
4 I thought,
These are only the poor! They behave stupidly since they do not know Yahweh's
way or the ruling of their God. 5 I
shall approach the great men and speak to them, for these will know Yahweh's
way and the ruling of their God.'
Jeremiah thinks to himself in verse 4-5b, offering the possible excuse for the people's lack of willingness to repent their sins since they are uneducated in the ways of Yahweh. Of course, if that were the case, the fault would lie with the clergy. The Temple's twice daily liturgy offered not only worship of Yahweh and the intimacy of a relationship with Him but also instruction in the Law. Jeremiah thinks that he might approach the people's leaders who can give the common people an example of true repentance.
However, Jeremiah speaking to Yahweh again says, But
these, too, have broken the yoke, have burst the bonds. He realizes that
the failure of the people is in both "the small and the great."
Question: What does Jeremiah discover about the people's leaders and what symbolic imagery does he use?
Answer: Jeremiah discovers that the great and the small have broken the yoke, have burst the bonds, using the imagery of domesticated animals that have broken the yoke of the divine Master's Law and have gone their way.
The answer is that all the people, from the poor and uneducated to the wealthy classes, have defied Yahweh's call to repentance:
The result of their obduracy:
6 And so, a lion from the forest will slaughter them, a wolf from the plains will despoil them, a leopard will be lurking round their towns: anyone who goes out will be torn to pieces "because of their many crimes, their countless infidelities.
The predatory animals are images of the army from the north and their allies. The lion probably represents Babylon (mentioned previously in 4:7), the wolf from the plains (probably more accurately translated "from the steppes") is likely the Scythians, and the leopard may represent the Medes. The covenant people's "countless infidelities" are idol worship.
7 Why should I
pardon you? Your sons have abandoned me, to swear by gods that are not gods at
all. I fed them full, and they became adulterers, they hurried to the
brothel. 8 They are well-fed,
roving stallions, each neighing for his neighbor's wife. 9 Shall I fail to punish this, Yahweh demands,
or on such a nation to exact vengeance? "
Yahweh speaks to the people in verses 7-9. He offered them a pardon if He could fine one righteous man, but finding none He asks the rhetorical questions why should He pardon them? Answering His question Himelf, Yahweh places the pronouncement of coming retribution entirely on the citizen of Jerusalem and Judah because of their idolatry and their sexual immorality. However, in this case, the imagery is not an unfaithful wife but animal lust in the form of prostitution and the sin of coveting in lust a neighbor's wife
Jeremiah 5:10-13 ~ Strip the Vineyard that is Jerusalem!
10 Scale her terraces! Destroy! But do not annihilate her completely! Strip off her branches, for Yahweh does not own them! 11 How treacherously they have treated me, the House of Israel and the House of Judah! Yahweh declares. 12 They have denied Yahweh, they have said, He is nothing: no evil will overtake us, we shall not see sword or famine. 13 And the prophets? Nothing but wind; the word is not in them; let those very things happen to them!'"
10 Scale her
terraces! Destroy! But do not annihilate her completely! Strip off her
branches, for Yahweh does not own them!
Jerusalem, built across the peaks of mountains, cultivated its vines on terraces. Jeremiah uses the vineyard imagery in the removal of the "branches" of the covenant people from their connection to Yahweh. The enemy will destroy Jerusalem, but they will not be allowed to destroy the people completely. The promise of the preservation of a remnant is a repeated in 5:19.
In verses 10-11, Yahweh restates the reasons for the covenant lawsuit, and in verses 12-13 Jeremiah gives his response; taken together this forms another dialogue between God and his prophet.
Question: In verses 12-13, using the symbolic
Vineyard imagery, Jeremiah says the detractors have denied Yahweh in what three
In the dialogue between God and Jeremiah, there is also a third voice that Jeremiah brings in. It is the voice of the detractors who deny that Yahweh exists, that He is capable of bringing such a judgment, and they deny the judgment message. The people have not only abandoned their God and His covenant with them, but they have denied His power to punish them. They even claim that His divine Word is ineffective and not spoken through His prophets.
Jeremiah 5:14-17 ~ Yahweh's Consuming Words Foretell a Nation Consumed
14 Because of this, Yahweh, God Sabaoth, says this, "Since you have said such things, now I shall make my words a fire in your mouth and make this people wood for the fire to devour. 15 Now [Look] I shall bring on you a nation from afar, House of Israel, Yahweh declares, an enduring nation, an ancient nation, a nation whose language you do not know, nor can you grasp what they say. 16 Their quiver a gaping tomb, they are all of them fighters. 17 They will devour your harvest and your food, devour your sons and daughters, devour your flocks and herds, devour your vines and fig trees, and demolish your fortified towns in which you trust with the sword!"
The "Because of this" in verse 14 is what the detractors have denied about Yahweh and His sovereignty over them. Verse 14 recalls Moses' words in Deuteronomy 32:22, Yes a fire has blazed from my anger, it will burn right down to the depths of Sheol; it will devour the earth and all its produce...
Question: How does Yahweh list the consequences of
their judgment in verses 14-17?
Jeremiah 5:18-19 ~ A Lesson to be drawn from the Punishment
18 "Yet even in those days, Yahweh declares, I shall not annihilate you completely. 19 And when you ask, Why has Yahweh our God done all this to us?' you will give them this answer, As you abandon me to serve alien gods in your own country, so you must serve aliens in a country not your own.'"
The narrative moves back to prose in these two verses. Despite the declaration of the inevitability of the coming judgment delivered by the armies of the northern nation, again, as in verse 10, Yahweh gives the promise that He will not utterly annihilate the covenant people. When everything Jeremiah predicted in Yahweh's name comes to pass, the people will again refer to Yahweh as "our God" and will ask Jeremiah why Yahweh has done this to His people. When that time comes, Jeremiah is to give the answer God provides in verse 19b.
Question: Then, Yahweh says, when you (plural,
referring to the people) ask why had Yahweh done this, what is the answer He
Answer: Since they had abandoned Yahweh to serve the gods of foreign peoples, their just punishment is that they will be taken into exile to serve foreign people: "As you ... serve alien gods so you must serve aliens."
Serving a foreign conqueror is the fulfillment of the warning Moses gave in Deuteronomy 29:21-27. In verse 25, at the end of the warning of exile, Moses said this would happen ... because they went and served other gods and worshipped them, gods hitherto unknown to them, gods that were no part of their heritage from him: this is why Yahweh's anger has blazed against this country, afflicting it with all the curses written in this book. In anger, in fury, in fierce wrath, Yahweh has torn them from their own country and flung them into another country... (Dt 29:25-27; also see Dt 28:47-48).
Jeremiah 5:20-25 ~ Stupid People who do not Fear God
20 "Announce this in the House of Jacob, proclaim it in Judah, and say, 21 Now listen to this, stupid, brainless [heartless] people who have eyes and do not see, who have ears and do not hear! 22 Have you no fear of me? Yahweh demands. Will you not tremble before me who set the sand as limit to the sea, an everlasting barrier it cannot pass? Its waves may toss but not prevail; they may roar but cannot pass beyond. 23 But this people has a rebellious, unruly heart; they have rebelled and gone! 24 Nor do they say to themselves: Now we ought to fear Yahweh our God who gives the rain, of autumn and spring, at the right season, and reserves us the weeks appointed for harvest. 25 Your misdeeds have upset all this, your sins have deprived you of these blessings." [...] literal Hebrew translation, IBHE vol. IV, page 1748; NJB note g page 1305.
This part of the oracle returns to the poetic form and is
a continuation of verse 17. Yahweh begins by calling to a people who are
stupid, without good sense, and without good hearts who cannot see the signs of
the coming disaster or hear the warning of His prophet.
Question: What is the connection between how God reproaches the people in verses 21-24, Moses' reproach in Deuteronomy 32:6, and what God told the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 6:9-10?
Answer: Moses accused the people of being brainless and unwise because they did not recognize the power of the God who created them. Yahweh warned Isaiah that his audience would find the message of his preaching incomprehensible because they could not appreciate the authority of his mission or the power of his God.
Question: What reference did Jesus make to the
same verse from Isaiah in Matthew 13:13-17?
Answer: Jesus quoted the same passage from Isaiah when His disciples asked why He spoke in parables. He explained to His Apostles that it was so the people who were unrepentant sinners would fail to understand His preaching, but those who had open hearts, and therefore open ears and minds, would be granted the ability to hear, and see, and understand.
The people have become like the idols they worship who can neither hear, nor see, nor understand. It is an obvious condition of idols with which the people are familiar since they sang about idols being incapable of seeing or hearing or breathing in the liturgy of Temple worship when they sang Psalm 135:15-18.
25 Your misdeeds
have upset all this, your sins have deprived you of these blessings.
The "all this" refers to the loss of the blessings of rain in the right season, a good harvest, and freedom from the fear of foreign invasion that were part of God's promised temporal blessings for covenant obedience in Leviticus 26:3-13 and Deuteronomy 28:1-14 (for the blessing of rain specifically see Lev 26:4 and Dt 28:12, also Ps 85:13).
Jeremiah 5:26-31 ~ Returning to the Theme of the People's Wickedness
26 "Yes, there are wicked men among my people who watch like fowlers on the alert; they set traps and they catch human beings. 27 Like a cage full of birds so are their houses full of loot; they have grown rich and powerful because of it, 28 they are fat, they are sleek, in wickedness they go to any lengths: they have no respect for rights, for orphans' rights, and yet they succeed! They have not upheld the cause of the needy. 29 Shall I fail to punish this," Yahweh demands, "or on such a nation to exact vengeance? 30 Horrible, disgusting things are happening in the land: 31 the prophets prophesy falsely and the priests exploit the people. And my people love it! But when the end comes, what will you do?"
Yahweh is the speaker in this passage (confirmed in verse 29), and He addresses the people through His prophet. God begins the oracle by focusing on social injustice committed by wicked criminals who stalk the people (their prey) like fowlers netting birds. They prey on the weakest members of society like the orphans. The criminals succeed because no one cares enough to stop the abuse (verse 28b). The priests and the false prophets are just as bad in exploiting the people and in doing nothing to right wrongs (verse 30). Yahweh ends the oracle with two questions, addressing the people in verse 29: Shall I fail to punish this ... or on such a nation to exact vengeance? and again in the second person in verse 30b, But when the end comes, what will you do?"
Question: What is the purpose of the second question in verse 30b?
Answer: Jeremiah's audience must ponder a question that they have not thought to ask: Have they thought about the end which is the result of traveling a path of evil in a society where there are no controls on behavior? All levels of society are living according to individual wants and desires apart from any restrictions. What will happen if God does not put a stop to such wickedness?
Question: When you compare this oracle to the
previous one, what is the contrast between the restless sea in 5:22 and the
people of Jerusalem in 5:28?
Answer: God, in His wisdom has set the seas within boundaries (5:22). This boundary in the natural order is in contrast with a people that go beyond all boundaries even in committing evil (5:28). They cannot see that God's boundaries in the natural world and in His divine Law are to their benefit and not to impede their freedom.
Jeremiah 6:1-9 ~ Prepare for the Invasion
1 Flee in a body, Benjaminites, right away from Jerusalem! Sound the trumpet in Tekoa! Light the beacon on Beth-ha-cherem! For disaster lowers from the north, an immense calamity. 2 Beautiful, delicate as she is, 3 I shall destroy the daughter of Zion! Shepherds are advancing on her with their flocks. They have pitched their tents all round her, each grazes his part. 4 Prepare for holy war against her! To arms! We shall attack at noon! Disaster for us! The light is fading, the evening shadows lengthen. 5 To arms! We shall attack at night and destroy her palaces. 6 For Yahweh Sabaoth says this, "Cut down trees, throw up an earthwork outside Jerusalem: this is the city to be punished, with nothing but oppression in her. 7 As a well keeps its water fresh so she keeps her wickedness fresh. Violence and ruin are what you hear in her, wounds and blows always forced on my attention. 8 Reform, Jerusalem, or I shall turn my attention away from you and reduce you to a desert, a land without people." 9 Yahweh Sabaoth says this, "They will glean, glean what is left of Israel like a vine. Like a grape-picker, pass your hand again over the branches."
1 Flee in a body,
Benjaminites, right away from Jerusalem! Sound the trumpet in Tekoa! Light
the beacon on Beth-ha-cherem! For disaster lowers from the north, an immense
There is no time marker to date this oracle. The land of the tribe of Benjamin included Jerusalem and also lands to the north and east of the city. It was one of the two tribes (the other being the tribe of Judah) that made up the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Tekoa was the home of the prophet Amos and was 5 miles (8 km) south of Bethlehem, David's city that was about 5 miles south of Jerusalem. The location of Beth-ha-cherem, "house/place of the destruction" also mentioned in Nehemiah 3:14, is an unknown site, but since the movement is from the south to the north it may be associated with Ramath Rabel, about 3 miles (5 km) south of Jerusalem
2 Beautiful, delicate as
she is, 3 I shall destroy
the daughter of Zion! Shepherds are advancing on her with their flocks. They
have pitched their tents all round her, each grazes his part. 4 Prepare for holy war against her! To
The "she," "the daughter of Zion," is Jerusalem. The "shepherds" are commanders of the advancing army who have put the city under siege. It is a "holy war" either because the aggressors feel they have a just cause in attacking Jerusalem (because the king of Judah has abandoned his treaty with the Babylonians), or because God is using the aggressors as His instrument of judgment, as is suggested in verses 6-9.
It is possible that the advancing army described in the oracle is that of the Egyptians in 609 BC, or the Babylonians in 605 BC, or possibly the Babylonians in 598 BC. King Josiah was killed at the Battle of Megiddo by the Egyptians in 609 BC. The account of Josiah's death appears in 2 Kings 23:29-30a: In his times, Pharaoh Necho king of Egypt was advancing to meet the king of Assyria at the River Euphrates, and King Josiah went to intercept him; but Necho killed him at Megiddo in the first encounter. His retainers carried his body from Megiddo by chariot; they brought him to Jerusalem and buried him in his own tomb (also see 2 Chr 35:20-27). While Necho II gained control of the Kingdom of Judah after the Battle of Megiddo, the combined Assyrian-Egyptian forces failed to defeat the Babylonians at the Battle of Haran the same year.
When King Josiah died, The people of the country then took Jehoahaz son of Josiah and anointed him, proclaiming him king in succession to his father (2 Kng 23:30b). Josiah's younger twenty-three-year-old son Jehoahaz was anointed king, perhaps because the king's council thought he was a better man than his brother who was two years older. However, he only reigned for three months. On his return from fighting in Mesopotamia, Necho II sent his army to capture the king, deposing him and making his brother, twenty-five-year-old Eliakim, king of Judah, and changing his name to Jehoiakim, making him an Egyptian vassal in 609 BC. Jehoahaz was taken to Egypt and was never heard from again. The Babylonians defeated the Assyrians and Egyptians at Carchemish in 605 BC.
Jehoiakim was not a righteous king. He reigned for eleven years (609-598 BC) as the Babylonians asserted their control of Syria and the Levant. In 605 BC, the Babylonians invaded Judah and Jehoiakim became a Babylonian vassal.(2) However, when he rebelled in 598 BC, the Babylonians ... sent armed bands of Chaldeans, Arameans, Moabites and Ammonites against Judah to destroy it, in accordance with the word which Yahweh had spoken through his servants the prophets. That this should happen to Judah was due entirely to Yahweh's anger; he had resolved to thrust them away from him ... (2 Kng 24:2).
When Jehoiakim died, he was succeeded by his son, Jehoiachin. He reigned for three months until the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem and replaced him with his paternal uncle Mattaniah, who the Babylonians renamed Zedekiah (2 Kng 24:1-20; 2 Chr 36:3-8-13). Jehoiachin, his mother, and his nobles were taken into exile in Babylon along with ten thousand citizens of Judah. Zedekiah was the last Davidic king of Judah from 598 until the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 BC after he made an alliance with the Egyptians.
8 Reform, Jerusalem, or
I shall turn my attention away from you and reduce you to a desert, a land
without people." 9 Yahweh
Sabaoth says this, "They will glean, glean what is left of Israel like a vine.
Like a grape-picker, pass your hand again over the branches."
The call to reform and repent is so that the suffering of the city will be minimal instead of maximum. If they do not repent, then Jerusalem, in the midst of the foreign army's attack, will be "gleaned" like a grape-picker picking the grape vines clean twice over. The "gleaning" is an image of the gathering together of the populace and their exile to Babylon that happened in three waves: 605, 597, and 587 BC.
Jeremiah 6:10-15 ~ Those Placed Under Judgment
10 "To whom should I speak, whom warn [give testimony], for them to hear? Look, their ears are uncircumcised, they cannot listen. Look, for them Yahweh's word is something to sneer at, they have no taste for it. 11 So I am full of Yahweh's wrath. I am weary of holding it in. Then pour it on the children in the streets, and on the bands of youths as well, for husband and wife will both be taken, the greybeard and the man weighed down with years. 12 Their houses will pass to other men, so will their fields and wives. Yes, I shall stretch my hand over those living in this country, Yahweh declares. 13 For, from the least to greatest, they are all greedy for gain; prophet no less than priest, all of them practice fraud. 14 Without concern they dress my people's wound, saying, Peace! Peace!' whereas there is no peace. 15 They should be ashamed of their loathsome deeds. Not they! They feel no shame, they do not even know how to blush. And so as others fall, they too will fall, will be thrown down when I come and punish them," Yahweh says.
This passage is a formal accusation, supported by the judicial "give testimony," in the literal Hebrew.
10b Look, their ears are uncircumcised, they cannot listen.
Their ears, like their uncircumcised hearts, are closed to the word of God spoken by His prophet.
Question: How will St. Stephen combine both circumcision metaphors in his indictment of Jerusalem in his trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin in Acts 7:51?
Answer: St. Stephen will accuse the Jews, saying, "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears" (NAB).
People whose stubborn nature prevents them from hearing is a common theme in Scripture (in addition to Jer 5:21 and Acts 7:51, see Is 6:9-10; Ez 2:5-7; 3:7; Mt 13:13-17; Mk 4:12; Acts 28:25-28; Rom 11:7-8).
11 So I am full of
Yahweh's wrath. I am weary of holding it in. Then pour it on the children in
the streets, and on the bands of youths as well, for husband and wife will both
be taken, the greybeard and the man weighed down with years.
Jeremiah complains to Yahweh that he is full of God's words of wrath against Jerusalem. The words are so terrible that he does not want to let them out, but he is weary of holding them in.
Question: What is Yahweh's answer in verse 11b?
Answer: Jeremiah must let out God's words of wrath upon all members of society in Jerusalem, named in four groups from the youngest to those who are so elderly they are close to death.
12 Their houses will
pass to other men, so will their fields and wives. Yes, I shall stretch my
hand over those living in this country, Yahweh declares.
It is a consequence of war that the victor takes possession of the property and loved ones of the vanquished. This is the sentence passed on Jerusalem, and it reminds us of Moses' curse judgments for future covenant disobedience in Deuteronomy 28:15-46, especially verses 30-33, Get engaged to a woman, another man will have her; build a house, you will not live in it; plant a vineyard, you will not gather its first-fruits. Your ox will be slaughtered before your eyes and you will eat none of it; your donkey will be carried off in front of you and not be returned to you; your sheep will be given to your enemies, and no one will come to your help. Your sons and daughters will be handed out to another people, and every day you will wear your eyes out watching for them, while your hands are powerless. A nation hitherto unknown to you will eat the yield of your soil and of all your hard work. You will never be anything but exploited and crushed.
"13 For, from the
least to greatest, they are all greedy for gain; prophet no less than priest,
all of them practice fraud. 14 Without
concern they dress my people's wound, saying, Peace! Peace!' whereas there is
no peace. 15 They should be
ashamed of their loathsome deeds. Not they! They feel no shame, they do not
even know how to blush. And so as others fall, they too will fall, will be
thrown down when I come and punish them," Yahweh says.
Yahweh gives the reason the people of Jerusalem will be dispossessed of what is valuable to them. It is because of their greed. Even the spiritual leaders are guilty of fraud.
Question: What is the specific fraud of the spiritual leaders? What will be their punishment?
Answer: Instead of urging the people to confess their sins and repent, their priests and prophets are complicit in covering up the people's sins. They deny the words of God's prophet by promising there will not be a war but that peace will come. The spiritual leaders are so far removed from God that they don't even feel any guilt over leading the people astray, and they will also experience God's divine wrath.
God's words in this passage are a warning to today's religious leaders, priests, and pastors who excuse divorce, pardon abortion by suggesting a woman's emotional "health" is more important than a child's life, or condone sexual immorality among unmarried young people as simply a rite of passage, 15 They should be ashamed of their loathsome deeds.
Jeremiah 6:16-19 ~ The People Ignore Yahweh's Warnings
16 Yahweh says this, "Stand at the crossroads and look, ask for the ancient paths: which was the good way? Take it and you will find rest for yourselves. But they have said, We will not take it.' 17 I posted look-outs [watchmen] on your behalf: Listen to the sound of the trumpet! But they said, We will not listen.' 18 Then hear, you nations, and know, assembly, what is going to happen to them! 19 Listen, earth! Watch, I shall bring disaster on this people: it is the fruit of the way they think, since they have not listened to my words nor to my law, but have rejected it."
Jeremiah 6:16-21 is a two-part oracle. In verses 16-19, God warns
through Jeremiah that this is the last chance to repent. Yahweh begins the
first part of this oracle by telling the people to stand at the "crossroads,"
and to find the "ancient paths" of their history. The people are standing at a The people are standing at a crossroads in salvation history, and the "ancient paths" are the choice Moses gave the people in Deuteronomy 30:15-20.
Question: What were the two paths Moses spoke of Deuteronomy 30:15-20?
Answer: If they following the path of obedience to the commandments of Yahweh, the people choose life and prosperity. The other path was to go their way in rejecting God and choosing death and disaster.
The call to return to the ancient paths" in verse 16 is to return to
genuine ethical principles of Mosaic Law and a relationship with (knowledge of)
Yahweh through the liturgy of Temple worship.
Question: Jesus will point out the one way to an eternal covenant on the path to salvation in John 14:6. How does He identify that right path?
Answer: Jesus will identify Himself as "the Way" to the "rest" of eternal salvation.
17 I posted look-outs
[watchmen] on your behalf: Listen to the sound of the trumpet! But they said,
We will not listen.'
It is a tragedy that in his ministry Jeremiah obediently preached reform and judgment and to both, the people said "No!" The "look-outs" or "watchmen" are the prophets God sent in the past and in Jeremiah's present. The trumpet or ram's horn shofar was the instrument used to alert the people to the threat of war, and in this case the warning came from the word of God through His prophets.
Question: What did Yahweh do to set His people on the right path and what was the people's response? See 6:16b-17.
Answer: God established the path of life in His divine Law, and He sent His lookouts/watchmen, the prophets, to warn the people of coming disaster, but their response was the same in both cases because they preferred to go their way and refused to listen to His prophets.
18 Then hear, you
nations, and know, assembly, what is going to happen to them! 19 Listen, earth! Watch, I shall bring
disaster on this people: it is the fruit of the way they think, since they have
not listened to my words nor to my law, but have rejected it."
Question: In a capital offense, at least two witnesses must testify to the guilt of the offending party (Num 35:30; Dt 17:6, 7; 19:15). Who are the witnesses that Yahweh calls?
Answer: He calls the nations and the earth to witness His word of judgment.
In verses 18-19 the nations and the earth are called as witnesses to the fate of Jerusalem and the nation of Judah. "My words" may refer to Yahweh's words in the book of Deuteronomy. The name of which in Hebrew is debarim, "words" (Ludlow, page 437), and where "words" is a virtual synonym with the Law in the Torah (instruction) as in Deuteronomy 1:1, 5. However, in Jeremiah 1:9 and 5:14 "my words" are God's words to Jeremiah. The reason "this people" face divine judgment is because they have rejected both Yahweh's words and His Law.
Jeremiah 6:20-21 ~ Yahweh Rejects the People's Gifts of Insincere Worship
20 What do I care about incense imported from Sheba, or fragrant cane from a distant country? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, your sacrifices do not please me. And so, Yahweh says this, 21 "In front of this people I shall now lay obstacles [stumbling blocks] for them to stumble over; father and son alike, neighbor and friend will perish." [...] = literal Hebrew translation.
This passage is part 2 of the oracle that began in verse 16. Verse 20 is a criticism of Temple worship carried out by an apostate people. The liturgy of worship that God gave His people at Mt. Sinai no longer delights Him because it is no longer sincere. They have rejected His word both written and preached. God prescribed the offering of a special mixture of incense for use in the liturgy of worship in Exodus 30:1-10, and an offering of incense is described in the heavenly Sanctuary in Revelation 5:8-10.
Question: How are the merits of the liturgy of sacrifice and
worship defined in 1 Samuel 15:22-23; Psalm 50; 51:18-19; Isaiah 1:10-17; Amos 5:21-24 and Micah 6:6-8?
Answer: Legitimate sacrifice is defined as a sacrifice of self, expressed in sincere covenant love and humble obedience.
And so, Yahweh says this, 21 "In
front of this people I shall now lay obstacles [stumbling blocks] for them to
stumble over; father and son alike, neighbor and friend will perish."
In Jeremiah 23:12, Jeremiah says Because of this, their way will prove treacherous going for them: in the darkness where they are driven, there they will fall. For I shall bring disaster on them, when the year for punishing them comes, Yahweh declares. Stumbling or the stumbling block/stone metaphor is used often in Scripture. In the Old Testament, see Is 3:8; 8:15; 28:16; 31:3; Jer 6:21; 20:11; 31:9; Ez 3:30; 7:19; 14:3, 4, 7; Hos 4:5; 5:5; 14:2. And in the New Testament the metaphor is used in Rom 9:32, 33; 11:9; 14:13; 1 Cor 1:23; 8:9; 1 Pt 2:8 and Rev 2:14. In the New Testament this metaphor is used most often for Christ: He [Christ] is the living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen by God and precious to him ... As Scripture says: "Now I am laying a stone in Zion, a chosen, precious cornerstone and no one who relies on Him will be brought to disgrace" (quoting Is 28:16). To you believers it brings honor. But for unbelievers, it is rather a "stone which the builders rejected that became a cornerstone" (quoting Ps 118:22), a stumbling stone, a rock to trip people up. They stumble over it because they do not believe in the Word; it was the fate in store for them (1 Pt 2:4-8 LXX).
Jeremiah 6:22-26 ~ The Warning that the Destroyer is Coming
22 Yahweh says this, "Look, a people is coming from the land of the north, from the far ends of the earth a great nation is rising; 23 they are armed with bow and spear, they are cruel and pitiless; their noise is like the roaring of the sea; they are riding horses, they are ready to fight against you as one man, against you, daughter of Zion. 24 We have heard the news, our hands fall limp, anguish has gripped us, pain like that of a woman in labor. 25 Do not go out into the countryside, do not venture onto the roads, for the enemy's sword is there, terror on every side. 26 Put on sackcloth, daughter of my people, roll in ashes; mourn as for an only son, a very bitter dirge. For on us suddenly the destroyer is coming.
This oracle, similar to Jeremiah 4:5-8, is another warning of the coming of the enemy from the north. The command to "Look/Behold," hinneh in Hebrew (verse 22), is common in the book of Jeremiah; it is the most frequently used beginning to Jeremiah's oracles in both the prose and poetry sections. For example, thus far in the Hebrew text (but not always in the English translation) see: 1:6, 9/10, 18; 3:5; 4:13, 16; 5:14, 15; 6:10, 22.
they are cruel and pitiless recalls the description of the enemy in Deuteronomy 32:33, ...their wine is snakes' poison, the vipers' cruel venom. The oracle must surely describe the Babylonians that had a well-trained and seasoned army composed of chariots, units of archers, spearmen, and foot soldiers. In 605 BC and again in 598 BC, the Babylonian army assaulted the city of Jerusalem, making demands, asserting their power of Judah as a vassal state, and taking away captives. The prophet Habakkuk wrote about the fierce reputation of the Babylonians in Habakkuk 1:6-11.
The "daughter" metaphor for Jerusalem in 6:23 is repeated in verse 26. Jerusalem, with her Temple, is the lovely daughter of the covenant people and representative of the nation. The people have heard the news of the advancing army, and they are terrified. Through His prophet, Yahweh advises the people to seek shelter within the walls of Jerusalem and to wear sackcloth and ashes as a sign of mourning and repentance.
Jeremiah 6:27-30 ~ Jeremiah the Tester of the People
27 "I have appointed you as tester of my people, to learn and to test how they behave. 28 All of them are total rebels, peddlers of slander, hard as bronze and iron [literally, they are hard as bronze and iron], all agents of corruption. 29 The bellows blast away to make the fire burn away the lead. In vain the smelter does his work, for the dross is not purged out. 30 Silver-reject', men call them, and indeed Yahweh has rejected them!"
Jeremiah is the appointed as Yahweh's "tester" of the people. The comparison in verses 27-30 comes from the refining of metals, specifically from the treatment of silver ore from which the silver and ore are extracted separately. However, when Judah/Jerusalem is tested in the "melting pot" of suffering, there is no pure metal to be extracted; only the impure dross is found. Compare with Isaiah 1:22, where the prophet Isaiah lamented, The faithful city, what a harlot she has become! Zion, once full of fair judgment, where saving justice used to dwell, but now assassins! Your silver has turned into dross ... (also see Ez 22:18-20 and Mal 3:2-3). Jerusalem, the place where God chose for His name to dwell (Dt 12:11-12; 1 Kng 11:36; 2 Chr 6:6), the shining jewel of His people in the Promised Land, is nothing but a tarnished trash heap of sin where not a single righteous person is found to save her from disaster.
Question for reflection or group discussion:
Jeremiah recognized the unrepentant sinful ways of both "the small and the great" in Jerusalem. History often repeats itself. Lutheran pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, recognized the failure of the ordinary people and their leaders during the early days of the success of National Socialism in Germany. He realized that the masses were intoxicated by the Nazi's hollow virtues that had been introduced by the false ideology and false theology of the Nazi leaders. He also placed blame on the "greats" in the universities who were either silent or full cooperated with the Nazi ideology. Because of his warnings against National Socialism, he was declared an enemy of the state. He was arrested and sent to a concentration camp in 1943 and then executed in 1945 at age 39.
Another voice against the evils among the "small and the great" in the years before WWII was the voice of Takeshi Fujii, a Christian poet who was called the "Jeremiah of Japan." He wrote, in his poem "Be Ruined!", "But it is impossible for me to find a true statesman who loves righteousness and acts with justice in this country. I left no stone unturned, but still I find not one soul who seeks after truth for its own sake. Young men stick to the world like chickens, forgetting eternity. Young women behave in filthy ways like pigs, treading pearls."
Question: Do you recognize the failure of "the small and the great" in your nation as Jeremiah did in his? What are the signs you have seen and what are the groups? Do they include the ordinary people, the leaders, the teachers in schools and universities, and the religious leaders as in Jeremiah's day?
1. The Babylonians and their allies, the Medes, Persians, Scythians, and Cimmerians, demolished the Assyrian capital of Nineveh and left it in ruins in 612 BC.
2. This resulted in the first deportation of citizens of Jerusalem when Daniel and other children from the ruling families were taken as captives to Babylon (2 Chr 36:5-7; Dan 1:1-7). The next deportation was in 597 BC when King Jehoiachin and ten thousand citizens, including the young priest Ezekiel, were deported. The last was in 587 BC when Jeremiah's scribe Baruch and the remaining citizens were deported (2 Kng 24:10-16; Bar 1:1-2; Ez 1:1-3). Ezekiel received his prophetic call in the fifth year of the captivity of King Jehoiachin in 593-592 BC (Ez 1:3).
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Catechism references for this lesson (* indicated that Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the catechism citation):