The Book of Jeremiah

When the Lord's Wife Becomes a Harlot

May 4, 2020 Series: by Chris Strevel

There is actually a third woman in Scripture. The first and most beautiful is the Lamb’s Bride, his blood-purchased church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. She is weak and despised in the world, but God’s dwelling place by the Spirit, with a destiny of everlasting life. The second woman is the strange woman of the Proverbs, the woman of the world. She does not call to men to seek wisdom but advocates pleasure without consequences. She is the queen of all that is impure and godless. There is a third woman. She was once part of the true wife of the Lord, at least outwardly, but then turned from him. The Scripture calls her a harlot, which designation is reserved normally for a faithless wife. The Lord here calls Jeremiah to expose and indict her, to show that she has no defense for her treachery, for the Lord had been very kind to her. The faithful are hereby warned to remain committed to the Lord, for there are harlot-churches in the world that have turned away from the Lord and his gospel. There are harlot men and women, who once professed to love the Lord, but who turned away from him and seek many lovers in the world. We should be shocked when confronted with such brazen infidelity – shocked into the arms of our Savior, so that we walk more closely with him, “take heed lest we fall,” and hold fast to the truths of the everlasting gospel.

The Unfaithful Wife Exposed (vv. 1-19)

1 Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 2 "Go and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem, saying, 'Thus says the LORD: "I remember you, The kindness of your youth, The love of your betrothal, When you went after Me in the wilderness, In a land not sown. 3 Israel was holiness to the LORD, The firstfruits of His increase. All that devour him will offend; Disaster will come upon them," says the LORD.' " 4 Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob and all the families of the house of Israel. 5 Thus says the LORD: "What injustice have your fathers found in Me, That they have gone far from Me, Have followed idols, And have become idolaters? 6 Neither did they say, 'Where is the LORD, Who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, Who led us through the wilderness, Through a land of deserts and pits, Through a land of drought and the shadow of death, Through a land that no one crossed And where no one dwelt?' 7 I brought you into a bountiful country, To eat its fruit and its goodness. But when you entered, you defiled My land And made My heritage an abomination. 8 The priests did not say, 'Where is the LORD?' And those who handle the law did not know Me; The rulers also transgressed against Me; The prophets prophesied by Baal, And walked after things that do not profit. 9 " Therefore I will yet bring charges against you," says the LORD, "And against your children's children I will bring charges. 10 For pass beyond the coasts of Cyprus and see, Send to Kedar and consider diligently, And see if there has been such a thing. 11 Has a nation changed its gods, Which are not gods? But My people have changed their Glory For what does not profit. 12 Be astonished, O heavens, at this, And be horribly afraid; Be very desolate," says the LORD. 13 "For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, And hewn themselves cisterns -- broken cisterns that can hold no water. 14 " Is Israel a servant? Is he a homeborn slave? Why is he plundered? 15 The young lions roared at him, and growled; They made his land waste; His cities are burned, without inhabitant. 16 Also the people of Noph and Tahpanhes Have broken the crown of your head. 17 Have you not brought this on yourself, In that you have forsaken the LORD your God When He led you in the way? 18 And now why take the road to Egypt, To drink the waters of Sihor? Or why take the road to Assyria, To drink the waters of the River? 19 Your own wickedness will correct you, And your backslidings will rebuke you. Know therefore and see that it is an evil and bitter thing That you have forsaken the LORD your God, And the fear of Me is not in you," Says the Lord GOD of hosts.

 

First Love Forsaken (vv. 1-3)

If this was Jeremiah’s first public sermon, as some have suggested, it laid the groundwork and set a biting edge for his entire future ministry. But he had to proclaim it, for when the Lord’s word comes to us, we must speak (vv. 1-2; Acts 4:20; 2 Cor. 4:13). Jeremiah had an indictment to deliver from the Lord, and Judah, his faithless wife, must hear it. She used to love the Lord. He remembered the early days of her declarations of love and pledges to faithfulness. She followed the Lord into the wilderness. Yes, she complained, but she still followed the Lord – what a tender lover he is, that he does not even mention her weakness but only that she followed him. Let this encourage us that our Savior views us tenderly, not looking at our failings but at our heart’s desire to follow him. In those days, Jeremiah began, Israel was set apart to the Lord (v. 3). The Lord was her inheritance, and she was his. Whoever tried to devour his wife, the Lord in his wrath devoured him – remember Egypt and the Canaanites. Their destruction was the fruit of the Lord’s protecting love for his people. Of course God’s enemies complain about genocide; God’s people marvel at sovereign grace. It is grace that makes the difference; the rest are blinded.

The Lord’s Indictment (vv. 4-13)

This is an indictment, but it is a lover’s indictment. What happened? Why did you stop loving me? Why are you gone away from me? You once followed me into the wilderness, but now you walk after vanity and are become vain, which means light, frivolous, worthless. You do not even ask for me (v. 6). Do you not remember how I led you through that howling wilderness, fed you with angel’s bread, and followed you with water from the rock? I brought you into this beautiful land, my wife, but as soon as you entered, you defiled it. The holy nation for whom I rebuked and destroyed kings and nations turned this land into an abomination. Like people (v. 6), so priest (v. 8), none asked, “Where is the Lord?” No one stopped to ask, “What is wrong here? What is going on? Why have all these things happened to us?” Pastors and priests alike rebelled against me. Instead of speaking my word, they spoke Baal’s. Some of the old fertility cults have entered the church again, or are threatening to do so. Instead of speaking God’s word against impurity of every kind, pastors and priests are speaking Baal’s word of pleasure and indulgence. Once we turn from loving God, we shall love what is base and impure; when we stop following him, we shall walk after the lusts of our own hearts. Sin eithers kill us and all that is good, or we must kill it by God’s power (Col. 3:5).

But the Lord has not quite given up; he will plead more (v. 9), and with your grandchildren, which looks ahead to the years of captivity. One generation’s doom may be sealed, but the Lord does not forget his covenant and mercies. Has any nation – look to the east or to the west – changed its gods for no-gods (v. 10)? Most people have followed the gods of their fathers, for good or for ill. But Israel exchanged their glory for nothing (v. 11). Think about this carefully, the Lord woos his unfaithful wife. He looks up to heaven – be astonished! This is unparalleled. Men and nations have turned from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thess. 1:9), but not the reverse. Be horribly afraid of this, he calls the heavens to bear witness to this astonishing apostasy. Moses called heaven and earth to witness the original covenanting (Deut. 4:26; 30:19), and now the Lord summons those witnesses. Look at what my people have done. They have forsaken me, “the fountain of living waters” (v. 13) – the waters of grace and mercy that led me to call and save your father, Abraham, remember your fathers languishing in Egyptian slavery, bring you into this land, and even plead with you now. I am the living and true God; in my presence is fullness of joy; rivers of water of life flow from my throne. But you have forsaken these refreshing waters, and you have dug broken pits that can hold no water. Idolatry will never satisfy. Adultery will never satisfy. Nothing will satisfy you but me. He says the same to us, and his true church loves him back for these living waters that flow to us from Jesus Christ (John 7:37-38). She comes with the Samaritan woman and craves this living water from his hand. The thought of turning from him is appalling in the extreme to her. How can you know if you are the Lamb’s wife? Has he satisfied your heart, or are you sticking your feet in the filthy waters of this world?

The High Cost of Not Fearing the Lord (vv. 14-19)

Unfaithfulness comes at a high cost, a cost we cannot pay or bear. In New Testament terms, the warnings against pride and presumption are therefore constant, as are the encouragements to work out our salvation soberly. There is much at stake in the decision to remain faithful to the Lord and in the countless little decisions that constitute faithfulness. And when one reads our Lord’s warnings and encouragements to the seven churches of Asia Minor (Rev. 2-3), he gives a new covenant Jeremiah – hold fast; do not compromise; guard against Jezebels in your midst; the unfaithful will be cut off. There is greater urgency now that our Savior has risen and reigns, for Satan is filled with malice against the church and tries to devour the unwary (Rev. 12:17; 1 Pet. 5:8). Since we are God’s children (v. 14), he chastens us when we wander away from him (v. 15; Rev. 3:19). In Judah’s case, did they not consider that all the spoiling and invasions they increasingly endured were the unbearable consequence of their rebellion (v. 16)? They brought these miseries upon themselves because they turned away from the Lord (v. 17). His grace – O, how men still today cheapen it, but look at the cross! He does not draw us to himself and then smile when we walk in rebellion against him. When we forsake our Shepherd, we wander into bleak and deadly paths. The old enemies roar again, as Egypt did, then Assyria, when we forsake the Lord (v. 18). Sin brings its own correction (v. 19).

Righteousness is peace; sin brings and actually is punishment. It is evil and bitter to depart from the Lord. Pause and feel the pathos of the Lord’s plea. My wife, you exchanged me, your true God and faithful Husband and powerful Redeemer, for gods which are no gods at all. Do you not remember how I defeated all those “no-gods” for you? And the pleasure you sought in playing the harlot with others gods and your filthy pleasures, what did it buy for you but sheer misery? Egypt has arisen to plague you again, just as I swore to you in the beginning (Deut. 28:68), and worse enemies in the Assyrians. And you wonder why all these calamities have happened to you? Your territory is shrunk to nothing; your northern brethren are already scattered to the wind. My fear was not in you; you have forsaken me (v. 19). Evil and bitter will be your way. And it is always horrible for those who once pledged to follow the Lord, but who turn away from him. See those once strong denominations of Christians who listened to the sirens of higher criticism of the Scriptures and ethical pluralism and cultural polytheism. Their buildings and lineage are wonderful, but they are like tombs, reminders of better days, witnesses against present apostasy. God takes our pledges to be his faithful wife very seriously. There is nothing worse, there is no uglier woman in the world than a professing church of the Lord Jesus Christ, or a professing Christian, who forsakes the Lord and leaves off fearing him. God reserves his worst judgments for those who turn from him. Do not swerve, therefore, an inch. If you love the Lord, remember your first love, the first works, as Jesus tells us to do (Rev. 2:5), and turn back to him, hold fast to him, and sow unto righteousness. Learn here, learn cheaply, learn without having to experience it yourself, the bitterness of turning away from the Lord, so that your giddy heart will never stray from him, but at the first warning of the world’s encroachments and sin’s resurgence, you will cry out to the Lord for help and salvation.

 

The Harlot Unredeemable (vv. 20-28)

20 "For of old I have broken your yoke and burst your bonds; And you said, 'I will not transgress,' When on every high hill and under every green tree You lay down, playing the harlot. 21 Yet I had planted you a noble vine, a seed of highest quality. How then have you turned before Me Into the degenerate plant of an alien vine? 22 For though you wash yourself with lye, and use much soap, Yet your iniquity is marked before Me," says the Lord GOD. 23 "How can you say, 'I am not polluted, I have not gone after the Baals'? See your way in the valley; Know what you have done: You are a swift dromedary breaking loose in her ways, 24 A wild donkey used to the wilderness, That sniffs at the wind in her desire; In her time of mating, who can turn her away? All those who seek her will not weary themselves; In her month they will find her. 25 Withhold your foot from being unshod, and your throat from thirst. But you said, 'There is no hope. No! For I have loved aliens, and after them I will go.' 26 " As the thief is ashamed when he is found out, So is the house of Israel ashamed; They and their kings and their princes, and their priests and their prophets, 27 Saying to a tree, 'You are my father,' And to a stone, 'You gave birth to me.' For they have turned their back to Me, and not their face. But in the time of their trouble They will say, 'Arise and save us.' 28 But where are your gods that you have made for yourselves? Let them arise, If they can save you in the time of your trouble; For according to the number of your cities Are your gods, O Judah.

Notorious Guilt: The Unclean Harlot (vv. 20-22)

Although the Lord pleads for his people to listen and sent Jeremiah to them at the eleventh hour, Judah is so unfaithful that she has become irredeemable. Her guilt is notorious. The Lord broken the yoke of her slavery, and pledged to be faithful, but she has “played the harlot under every green tree” (v. 20). This is stock prophetic language for the sexual perversion and cult prostitution that took place in Baal’s groves. What happened to you, my wife? I planted you as a noble vine – think of our Lord’s later parables about vines and branches and vineyards. You were mine and I cultivated you – why have you turned into a strange vine (v. 21)? There is nothing you can do to wash this filth away. Soda and lye soap will not wash away your stains (v. 22). Did Judah commit the unpardonable sin? Yes. Apostasy is knowing, willful, stubborn rebellion against the Lord, coupled with renunciation of his authority and word over us. Judah had committed this – not everyone in Judah, for there was a faithful daughter of Zion, left like a “hut in a cucumber field” (Isa. 1:8) – but the leaders and bulk of the people had apostatized from the Lord. Deny the Lord and reject his word, and there remains no more sacrifice for sins.

Brazen Rebellion: I Am Not Polluted (vv. 23-25)

The sin of apostasy always involves a stubborn resistance to God’s truth and unwillingness to repent. Judah took it one step further, as the worst and most hardened sinners always do. She continued to profess her innocence: “I am not polluted” (v. 23). But how could she say this, when Baal worship dominated her existence? She had become like a camel – wandering and unreliable. But she was also like a she-ass, wholly consumed with violent lust, chasing after her lovers (v. 24). It is a grotesque picture of the very degeneration the apostle outlines in Romans 1. When men will not retain God in their knowledge, when they worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator, God gives them over to vile affections – sodomy and lesbianism. These blind, vile lusts are his judgment upon those who will not worship and serve him. Even though all this chasing after lovers had made Judah thirsty, she did not give up pursuing them: “after them I will go” (v. 25). The filthy waters of sin allure and will not readily give up their captors. Think of the drunk who keeps drinking, the drug addict who continues shooting up and smoking, and the immoral who keep returning to the pig sty of sin. Perhaps this time, I shall be satisfied. No, never. Only the Lord can give us life and satisfy our hearts. All the world’s delights leave empty and broken. Only regeneration can free us from these broken cisterns.

Hopeless Ruin: I Will Look to My Idols (vv. 26-28)

Hardened sin creates despair. Have you not heard someone say, “Well, there is really nothing I can do. I started out in this way, and getting out of it would be too hard.” Few aspects of Judah’s rebellion reveal its apostasy as the course of ruin it determined to follow to the end, whatever the outcome. There may have been a certain amount of shame that Israel felt when confronted with its idolatry. Everyone who worships rock and stone, statuary and pictures, should be mightily ashamed by their impudence. But once Judah began this course, it would not turn back. They called wooden images their father, and stones their mother. In the time of trouble, they will say to the Lord, “Arise and save us” (v. 27), but the Lord will not hear. He will direct them back to their sticks and stones. Let them save you. You have as many gods as you have cities (v. 28). The Lord may well be saying to us, “Let your bureaucrats and printing presses and government save you." We broke our original covenants with God long ago, but we confirm our national rebellion by multiplying our gods, making a virtue of promiscuity, and celebrating idolatrous diversity and perversion. All the while, we sacrifice our children upon the altar of our lusts, as they did to Molech and make a religion out of sexual license, as they did with Baal. There are clear similarities, and our national ruin may be as fixed as Judah’s. But there is a difference. The true church in our land rejects the national rebellion against the Lord. The remnant faithful in Jeremiah’s day suffered along with their countrymen but endured and overcame by faith and repentance. Let us do the same. The more we see God judging our land for many of the same sins that finally destroyed Judah, the more we should turn to the Lord, judge ourselves (1 Cor. 11:31), denounce the sins of our age, and shine by the light of Jesus Christ in the midst of this crooked and perverse nation (Phil. 2:15).

She Has No Defense (vv. 29-37)

29 " Why will you plead with Me? You all have transgressed against Me," says the LORD. 30 "In vain I have chastened your children; They received no correction. Your sword has devoured your prophets Like a destroying lion. 31 "O generation, see the word of the LORD! Have I been a wilderness to Israel, Or a land of darkness? Why do My people say, 'We are lords; We will come no more to You'? 32 Can a virgin forget her ornaments, Or a bride her attire? Yet My people have forgotten Me days without number.        33 "Why do you beautify your way to seek love? Therefore you have also taught The wicked women your ways. 34 Also on your skirts is found The blood of the lives of the poor innocents. I have not found it by secret search, But plainly on all these things. 35 Yet you say, 'Because I am innocent, Surely His anger shall turn from me.' Behold, I will plead My case against you, Because you say, 'I have not sinned.' 36 Why do you gad about so much to change your way? Also you shall be ashamed of Egypt as you were ashamed of Assyria. 37 Indeed you will go forth from him With your hands on your head; For the LORD has rejected your trusted allies, And you will not prosper by them.

Further Correction Useless (vv. 29-31)

What a horrible thing for the Lord to say, “There is no point in correcting you any more.” If you have ever had to say that to an older children, I pity you, but the Lord understands, for he had to say that to Judah. You are fighting against me (v. 29), pleading with me that my charges and judgments are unjust, but you have not received my correction. I have sent my servants the prophets to you again and again. You have my word, my covenant, my sacrifices, my promises of life and salvation through Jesus Christ. But you have killed all the prophets I have sent to you (Matt. 23:35). You will now see the word of my judgment come to pass. I have been so good to you, but now you say, “We are lords.” We do not need you any more (v. 31). This is dreadful, and I weep as I think on these things. The whole history of God’s love to his people, all his deliverances, all the judges he raised up, the kings he gave them, the miraculous provision and protection, all up in flames. It is not that God’s word had no power; they did not believe (Heb. 4:2); unbelief laid a veil of blindness over their hearts (2 Cor. 3:14-15). Now, they will feel the double-edged sword of God’s word working death (1 Cor. 2:16). Sin can bring a horrible veil upon our minds and consciences. We cannot see the truth; we can believe we are in the right. God must heal our blindness. It can be taken away only by the power of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3:16). He truly is the light of the world (John 8:32). Apart from him, all is darkness and blindness under the evil one (1 John 5:19).

You Have Forgotten and Are Lost to Me (vv. 32-33)

Are these lines the last lover of a grieving God and Savior, or the divorce papers that seal the doom of a harlot-wife? Both are true. A bride does not forget her wedding dress and all the little beautiful trinkets that marked the day of her wedding, but you have forgotten me “days without number” (v 32). By this, he expresses his true love for his people and that he delights for us to draw near to him. When we forget him, do not call upon him, do not worship and love him, do not remember his grace and love like a bride remembers her wedding day, he is grieved, as God and Maker. But it is pointless for you to seek love elsewhere (v. 33). You have taught others your whoring ways. You are a confirmed harlot. May the Lord never say this to us! Each one of us knows how easily we forget the Lord, do not pray, read his word, or crave his fellowship and consolation. That he has not forgotten us but keeps calling us back reveals his loving and longsuffering heart. Let us not receive such grace in vain but seeing how miserably Judah turned into a faithless wife, repent and reject our idols, resolve to remember the Lord daily, hourly, and never weary of seeking his face and love. See how much he loved his people of old? Let his love melt your heart. See his love now signed and sealed at Calvary, with the blood of the Son of God incarnate spilled our salvation. See and adore. See and believe. See and love.

Splattered with Blood but Unrepentant (vv. 34-37)

Jeremiah’s first salvo now concludes with additional testimony that her harlotry is inexcusable. In the words of a courtroom, she has no defense. Her skirts are splattered with blood – of her children sacrificed, of the prophets slain (v. 34). And yet she pleads her innocence (v. 35)! Even now, she thinks the Lord will help her against the rising Babylonian threat. Even now, she says, “I have not sinned.” If we did not live every day with such brazenness in our land, it would be too incredible believe that things were really this bad in Judah. But they were, and the Lord pled with his people. Is there a small glimmer of hope? Perhaps. But why are you looking to Egypt to help you (v. 36)? You will be as ashamed of looking to Egypt as previous generations were of looking to Assyria. All your confidence in men will be frustrated, so that you walk away with your hands on your head, wondering what has happened. There is no help for you but in me, but you have turned from me.

And so today, we hear in our land, which in some ways has enjoyed more light than Judah, for the gospel of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed here for nearly four centuries, that we should trust men to bail us out, save us from pestilence, cure ignorance and poverty, and save the environment. But all these miseries have come upon us because we have forsaken the Lord. Our only hope of deliverance lies in returning to the God whom we have forsaken. Let us repent and believe ourselves. Let us urge men to repent and turn to the Lord. They have no power to repent, but God’s word raises the dead. Let us give him no rest until he restores his church and makes her the light of the world, our Savior’s beautiful bride.

 

 

The Calling of Jeremiah the Prophet

April 20, 2020 Series: by Chris Strevel

Men do not like to be confronted with their sins. Therefore, the Jewish leaders and many of the people hated Jeremiah. God called him to confront their sins and to explain that their national calamities were the result of their rebellion against God. This message is just as valid and important today, and it is no more appreciated. Even among Christians, there is decided hostility to preaching that warns and exposes sin. We want a God who is all mercy, all grace, all the time. While God is abundant in loving kindness and tender mercy, never treats us as our sins deserve, and is always willing to forgive, to say that this is everything about him is bad and dangerous theology. He is also just, in that he will not leave the guilty unpunished (Ex. 34:6). He is “angry with the wicked every day” (Ps. 7:11). God did not cease being holy and just after he sent his Son into the world. If you do not believe in him, you will be condemned (John 3:17); if you are a believer but walk in sin, he chastens and warns you to repent (Rev. 3:19-20). And since we are each called to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, Jeremiah helps us understand clearly the sins of which we must repent and how important it is that we open our hearts completely to God to be examined in the light of his word. He also shows us that national calamity is usually to be traced to national rebellion against God – or the collective consequences for a people who refuse to bow the knee to Jesus Christ and lovingly keep his commandments.

The book of Jeremiah is the longest of the Prophet literature of the Old Testament. Most Jeremiah scholars believe that the first twenty chapters are written records of the sermons Jeremiah preached in Jerusalem after the reforms of Josiah did not result in sincere national repentance. Jerusalem’s judgment destiny was then set in stone, but Jeremiah explains this to them so that none can plead ignorance. As the years passed and the Judean political situation deteriorated, Jeremiah became a very unwelcome person, for he encouraged surrender to the Babylonians as the only way God’s people could avoid useless bloodshed. They must fall into the hands of God’s instruments of judgment. Such an action was unthinkable, as nationalism ran hot in the Jews’ veins, but what does it matter if we defend our nation to the death if God has determined to destroy it? Jeremiah lived through these turbulent times, saw the final destruction of Jerusalem, and was finally taken forcibly to Egypt with a group of the captives. According to tradition, he died at the hands of the Egyptians for prophesying against their national sins.

God’s Word and Its Messengers (vv. 1-10)

1 The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin: 2 To whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. 3 It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month. 4 Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou came forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. 6 Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. 7 But the LORD said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. 8 Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD. 9 Then the LORD put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. 10 See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.

 

The Life and Times of Jeremiah the Prophet (vv. 1-3)

The old world empires were in their dotage as Jeremiah began his prophetic ministry in the “thirteenth year of Josiah’s reign,” or 627 B.C. Assyria was in serious decline, and Nineveh, its capital, would soon fall to the rising power of the north, the Babylonians. Brighter days seemed on the horizon for Judah, which had suffered depredations from the warring nations that surrounded them: Syria and Philistia in the east, Egypt in the south, and Assyrian in the north. When Josiah came to the throne in 640 B.C., he saw that the winds of political power were changing and began to labor for Jewish independence from Assyria. Part of this was the necessary religious reform, for he had seen the corruption to the Lord’s worship that had followed whenever the kings of Judah made political alliances with ungodly nations. Then, soon after he began temple repairs and other reforms to Jewish society, the temple workers found a copy of Deuteronomy in the walls, likely hidden there in the days of his grandfather. He read the law, and his heart was broken. He understood the reason why all the calamities had fallen upon Judah and Jerusalem – they had broken covenant with God. Worship and social reforms were pursued with greater fervency; evil and perverse men were ejected from the land. Idols and groves were burned to powder, and their priests were executed.

But it was not enough to stem the hand of the Lord. The sins of Manasseh and Amon were too grievous, and the idolatry too engrained among the Jews. Josiah might with force of arms prohibit public displays and demand a return to God’s law, but the people’s heart remained unchanged. They turned their back to the Lord, not their faces, as Jeremiah frequently cried out against them. It was at this time that Jeremiah began his ministry. He saw that Josiah’s reforms, while good and necessary, were not eradicating the root of perversion and idolatry from the peoples’ hearts. Judgment was still marching toward them. This became evident upon Josiah’s untimely death in a skirmish against the Egyptians. Johoiakim, who reigns from 609-598 B.C., immediately reverted to idolatry. Jeremiah’s voice suddenly became very unwelcome but all the more necessary, for blind and wicked men “do not know at what they stumble” (Prov. 4:19). Jeremiah told them. They hated him for it, but God’s word spoken through him was explaining these times. He was more reliable than any newspaper. Until the carrying away of the captives in 587 B.C., Jeremiah told them every step of the way the reason for all their miseries. They had turned away from God. Until they repented, deeply, truly, sincerely confessed their wickedness, forsook it, and turned back to God, he would not lift his hand of judgment from upon his people. They had broken covenant with him, and now they would feel its curses.

The Calling of Jeremiah: Known, Set Apart, Appointed (vv. 4-5)

What a time to be called to be a preaching of truth! But how merciful the Lord was to give his people his word during this time – if he is silent to us, we might as well be dead and in the grave, for his voice and word are our life (Ps. 28:1). For the word of the Lord to come to Jeremiah (vv. 2,4) means that God gave him understanding of his truth and commissioned him to proclaim that word to his people. This is what makes a true prophet of God, even as it makes a truly called preacher – that God calls and sends them to proclaim only his word – not their experiences of God, what message they dream up or believe necessary, but what God has said. Preachers are not inspired in the same sense as the Old Testament prophets were, but as long as they speak God’s word in Scripture, rightly divide it and faithfully apply it, they are speaking God’s word to us, and we must listen to them, whether we like them personally. To have God’s word proclaimed to us is the greatest earthly treasure, for it opens the door to heaven. Let us not be like the men in Jeremiah’s day, who were so wedded to their own ways that they would not be corrected by God’s word spoken through his lowly, weeping servant. Instead, let us receive God’s word with meekness, as James teaches us, for it will save our souls (James 1:21).

Jeremiah needed the strongest, almost infallible sense of calling if he was to enter the wolf’s den to proclaim God’s word. The Lord gave it to him. The Lord said to him, “I KNEW you:” before you were formed in your mother’s womb (v. 5). Before you were born, you were mine, and I loved you, which “know” often implies. I was bound to you, and you to me, even before I knit together your unformed parts (Ps. 139:15). Nothing can give us more courage and a greater sense of purpose and peace than to know that our Maker knows us. Each of us must think on this often. I exist for God, and he knows me. I was his before I was born. I live to serve his purposes. To this the Lord added that he had sanctified or set apart Jeremiah to proclaim his word. As hard as the next forty years will be, Jeremiah, I have formed and appointed you to be the sword of my mouth in Jerusalem. All of this was said to encourage Jeremiah. It is relayed to us so that we receive the Lord’s word through Jeremiah as readily as if it the prophet stood in our midst. In one sense, he does, for God’s word is living and powerful because he is the living, speaking God. Since he has sent his living and eternal Word into the world, Jesus Christ our Lord, all of the Scriptures come to us with constant freshness, and we must pray for the illumination of the Spirit so that we receive God’s word ready to trust and obey all that the Lord says to us.

God Silences Jeremiah’s Objections (vv. 6-10)

At the time, Jeremiah was none too happy about this calling. He was from a little village not far from Jerusalem, born into a priestly family, and happily removed from the immediate scenes of intrigue. He objected to the call, alleging his inability to speak and his youth (v. 6). Perhaps Jeremiah was simply too young in his own mind, too inexperienced to receive and fulfill such a call. At one level, he was wise to be reticent, for too many push themselves forward and believe they are the “right man for the job.” Not Jeremiah. He knew something of the times in which he lived and felt the weight of such a call. He did not believe he could speak persuasively. Who would listen to him? But the Lord rebuked him. It is fine for the Lord to tell us to stop hesitating! Observe carefully the Lord’s answer. I will send you, and you will speak whatever I command you to say (v. 7). It would be one thing if Jeremiah spoke his own message; he did not. He did not need to have a political and social theory ready to proclaim, or a solution to Judah’s problems that everyone would accept. He needed to speak God’s word that God would put into his mouth. The Lord touched Jeremiah’s mouth to symbolize the bestowal of all required authority, wisdom, and unction (v. 9).

The command not to be afraid (v. 8) is directly related to the Lord’s calling and touching of Jeremiah’s mouth. When God sends prophets and preachers, they only need to preach God’s word. They must preach it. This is lacking in many calls then and now – the divine bestowal of the authority and power and unction that only the inward eating of God’s word can give. If men try to find a message that men will like to hear, then they cannot speak for God. We cannot please men and be servants of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:10). All courage, therefore, comes from the inward persuasion that even if men howl and persecute, God has given us his word, and we must proclaim it at our own peril. If they do not respond in faith and repentance, we have fulfilled our commission from the Lord. If men do not repent and are condemned, the judgment is their own fault (Ezek. 3:19-21). But they must be warned, for God’s word is over all nations and kingdoms (v. 10). Jeremiah was not only a preacher for Jerusalem but for the world. And God’s word pulls down and destroys, builds and plants. It must have startled Jeremiah to think, then and later, that men would be judged by the word he spoke. The apostle Paul spoke with the same conviction (Rom. 2:16). If today’s preachers would recover this, they would quickly lose concern for how men respond to what they say, other than laboring and praying for their sincere faith and repentance. Far more important would be what the Lord thinks, whether or not his word is being faithfully proclaimed, and where the sword of our Savior’s mouth might be directed to build up the church and pull down every thought raised in opposition to Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Nothing is more powerful than God’s word preached (Heb. 4:12). Pray for those who preach it, that they may not fear men and be used by God to build up his kingdom and pull down Satan’s.

The Fruitful Word of God (vv. 11-16)

11 Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said, I see a rod of an almond tree. 12 Then said the LORD unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it. 13 And the word of the LORD came unto me the second time, saying, What seest thou? And I said, I see a seething pot; and the face thereof is toward the north. 14 Then the LORD said unto me, Out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land. 15 For, lo, I will call all the families of the kingdoms of the north, saith the LORD; and they shall come, and they shall set every one his throne at the entering of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all the walls thereof round about, and against all the cities of Judah. 16 And I will utter my judgments against them touching all their wickedness, who have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands.

Two Confirming Signs: An Almond Rod and a Seething Pot (vv. 11-15)

Even the strongest must faint under the weight of such a calling, unless the Lord upholds them every moment. The apostle has taught all of God’s servants that their sufficiency is of Christ (2 Cor. 3:5). To confirm his calling, the Lord gave Jeremiah two signs. The first was an almond tree, which sprouted first in the spring and whose Hebrew name means “haste.” The Lord will perform his word in short order (v. 12), which he did, for at the time of Jeremiah’s call, the first wave of the Babylonian invasion was only about 15 years away. A second sign was a seething pot, which symbolizes Jerusalem – the city of God boiling in the fires of judgment. The pot was facing the north, the direction from which the attack would come (v. 14). This was the rising Babylonian power. Bow before the Lord’s sovereignty in these signs, child of God. Notice how the Lord will call all the families of the north together, and they will gather against the gates of Jerusalem and the walls of Judah. Whenever there is any public calamity, most see only what men are doing, and the Lord does identify the particular men who will be the instruments of His judgment. This is the critical point. God is not simply sovereign over his own people, nor does his working providence include only them, but even in the lives of his enemies, his is the power, the kingdom, and the energy by which they attempt and do all his holy will. This does not excuse them for their wickedness, but the Lord is the governor of the nations. We are too often like dogs barking at rocks that strike us. Rarely do we look up and see who threw them – the Lord of hosts!

The Sins for Which National Judgment Comes (v. 16)

Israel was in covenant with God to be his people. This covenant was an extension of God’s mercy and grace to a sinful people. The main promise of this covenant was life and salvation through the promised Messiah, whose person and work were prefigured through the priests and sacrifices set forth in the law, as well as by direct promise. There was also a national side to this covenant, by which Israel was bound to worship and serve only the Lord, to reject idolatry, and to be regulated by his commands. Their national obedience to God’s law was far superior to the nations around them, who were in some ways to look to Israel as a model (Deut. 4:4-6). Sadly, Israel gave a very bad example. The northern tribes had already been scattered like chaff before the wind by the Assyrians. Now, the last two remaining tribes, Judah and Benjamin, would suffer the same fate. And why would all these calamities come? Because they forsook the Lord, burned incense to other gods, and worshipped the work of their own hands – the multitude of idols they had fabricated. There is no worse national sin than idolatry, which in a national context, means that each nation is to have and worship only the Lord God who made all things. Toleration of false religions may sound like a national virtue, but it is in fact the surest sign that national judgment is coming. All the nations must confess and serve Jesus Christ, for he is the Prince of the kings of the earth. Kings had better bring their gifts, and judges submit to be taught his wisdom, or he will crush with his royal scepter for the sake of his church (Rev. 2:27).

I Am with You (vv. 17-19)

17 Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them. 18 For, behold, I have made thee this day a defensed city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land. 19 And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the LORD, to deliver thee.

Go, Speak, and Do Not Be Afraid (v. 17)

“Gird up your loins, Jeremiah.” This is old language for get ready and get moving. Be courageous and faithful, for I have called you to this task. You have in me all the resources that you need. Whatever wisdom you need, I will give it to you. All you must do is speak everything that I command you, which means that Jeremiah is not to get sidetracked with other issues and themes. He is to speak God’s holy word and leave it to the Lord to accomplish his holy purposes in that word. Too many of us want to meddle a little bit – how can we say this more attractively, or perhaps we should tone down a little the Bible’s teaching on faith and repentance, worshipping God alone, and maintaining a holy, intelligent separation from the world’s sins. But the Lord says to us, “Leave my word alone. It should be a sufficient privilege to you to be called to speak my word. You be faithful to me and leave the results in my hand.”

Then, when we have this conviction that we are speaking for the Lord and doing his will, we can be very bold in the face of the most determined enemies. This is God’s word. Yes, the many so-called experts may deny it, and those who want a different message will scowl and let you know how displeased they are with you when you preach the everlasting gospel of a crucified Savior. But see God and his word as far more terrible than the faces of men. Warn those men to repent; God’s word is able to break the hardest heart. If you stare at men and wonder what will please them, you will be tempted to alter God’s word, and then he will make you terrified before men. This is the meaning of “confound:” to be filled with dismay, which by implication means to lose one’s confidence that he speaks for God. This is where fearing men will take you. Those who would be faithful ministers of the word must seek the Lord’s face above all other faces and endeavor to please him so completely that the most determined human dissatisfaction can be stared down with the authority of God’s word and a sincere concern for the perishing. Prophets and preachers must live so completely before the face of God that he is their fear and dread above even the fear of the Lord that all believers share together. Nothing must be worse than for his face to frown or his word to be altered. Let us not interfere with his word and purposes but simply proclaim it, and leave all the results, tearing down, and building up to him.

 

You Are a Defended City (v. 18)

The Lord Jesus knows the heart of each of his servants, where he is weak and needs special support for his particular responsibility. Jeremiah was sensitive to the plight of God’s people. He could thunder, but he could also cry and weep bitterly, as his Lamentations make clear. Such a sensitive soul needed to know that the Lord would protect him. The Lord described Jeremiah as a defensed city – I am your protection. You are a wall of bronze – hard and impenetrable – because you speak my word and carry my authority with you as you speak. The whole land of Judah, with its kings and princes will be aligned against you, but I am with you. It is hard to hear that the whole world is against you. Even now after so many centuries of victory and expansion for the gospel, we still cringe a little when we are reminded that the world hates us because it hates our Master. And how many stumble when placed before the choice of man’s approval or God’s! The only way even one of God’s servants can be faithful to him is if we are persuaded that God has protected us and that our protection lies in our faithfulness to what he has called us to do. Then, we do not have to seek out clever ways to secure man’s good opinion of us, but we need only obey God. This is all. Obey God. Speak his truth. Trust his protection. Behind every frowning face of men see the glorious and lovely face of the holy God, encouraging, protecting, and calling us to faithfulness so that we may receive the crown of life.

The Ungodly Will Fight You, But They Will Not Prevail (v. 19)

But how can we have such courage? It is not only the great ones who need strength not to be afraid of men but even in our families we need courage, for the gospel divides here also, and many parents do not speak as boldly as they should to their children for fear of displeasing them. First, we must simply accept that the world hates God and his word until God changes the world’s heart. Satan and sin-enslaved men are going to fight against the church and God’s trust (2 Tim. 2:26; Rev. 12:17). Jesus is always honest with us about the cost of discipleship, and growing love for him should make us willing to pay it! Second, we have his promise that the world may assemble against God’s truth, with Satan waving his fiery banner of death before the hordes of wretch men, but still God’s word is able to prevail. Remember the apostles! Remember Ambrose and Augustine! Remember Athanasius! Remember Anselm! Remember Luther and Calvin and Zwingle! Remember today’s pastors who speak the truth against the rising tides of statism and lawlessness in our world! God’s truth cannot be overcome. “One little word will fell Satan.”

That little word is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It may look for a time as if Satan will prevail and if there really are more that are against us than are for us, but faith sees a different alignment and outcome. One lone prophet, Jeremiah, speaking God’s unvarnished truth, is more powerful than all the kings of Judah, the walls of Jerusalem, and even the temple with all its holy worship. Nothing is more powerful than the God who speaks, and before him, let all the kings of the earth keep silent. He will deliver his faithful servants. He will vindicate them, now and hereafter, but faith must keep looking at God’s promise. Then, we can overcome all the displeasure and threats of men.

 

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