You will remember that David had several wives – and Solomon had multitudes more. More kings and wives followed until there were a lot of people of the royal house. Among them was Nethaniah who, other than being the father of Ishmael, is unmentioned in the Bible.
Not everyone was deported to Babylon. Some of the poorest sort of people were left, but they would have to be cared for and that would require a leader. Nebuchadnezzar found one in Gedaliah, son of Jeremiah’s friend and protector (Jeremiah 39:14; 40:5-16 and 41:1-18).
Gedeliah urged the people who remained to settle down and get to work. Crops had to be harvested. Repairs had to be made. Defenses against marauders had to be built. But Ishmael resented Gedaliah’s leadership and assassinated him.
Now, Israel was defenseless and afraid. When news of Gedaliah’s death reached him, he would undoubtedly see the remnants in the land as rebellious and come to crush them. The plan was laid to escape to Egypt.
Israel came to Jeremiah for direction. The direction was not whether to go to Egypt, but direction about what they should do along the way or once they got there. When God told them not to do what they wanted to do, they did it anyway – and took Jeremiah with them.
The story in chapter forty-two is a great example of folks who want God’s direction as long as it affirms the course they’ve already set. When God, however, orders a course change, they are not so willing to hear Him.
Reading Jeremiah’s confessions, we might have more than a bit of trouble seeing the prophet as a rock in which anyone of power might have confidence. And yet, that is precisely what Jeremiah was. So great a rock was he that though he was despised by many of his countrymen and mistreated, there was probably no one more respected.
Jeremiah’s notoriety reached the king of Babylon, who considered the prophet an ally. When the city of Jerusalem was overcome, Nebuchadnezzar gave orders that Jeremiah was not to be harmed, but cared for and given his freedom. That did not happen immediately. It took a while to find Jeremiah (who was eventually located bound in chains on the way to Babylon). The prophet was released and allowed to return to Mizpah in the land of Benjamin.
There is value in sticking with the Lord through thick and thin. Ebed-Melek found that out. Jeremiah did as well and their outcomes can serve as examples of the New Testament text in 1 Peter 2:12 – Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Once again in Jeremiah we are reminded that the prophet’s messages are not presented in chronological order. Chapter thirty-seven occurs not long after Zedekiah became king.
The writer is plain that Zedekiah paid no attention to Jeremiah. But that being so, you have to wonder why he sent emissaries to question him and why the king gave Jeremiah, who was considered a traitor to Judah’s cause, sanctuary in the “courtyard of the guard.”
Likely, the answer is that the king knew Jeremiah was telling the truth. He simply could not bring himself to be obedient. We are often just like him. We know better, but pride often gets in the way. We don’t want to admit we are wrong, and we don’t want anyone to see us submit to anyone else – even in the cause of truth.
If you are interested in reading Jeremiah chronologically, you might try the following order – 1:1—7:15; ch. 26; 7:16—20:18; ch. 25; chs. 46–51; 36:1–8; ch. 45; 36:9–32; ch. 35; chs. 21–24; chs. 27–31; 34:1–7; 37:1–10; 34:8–22; 37:11—38:13; 39:15–18; chs. 32–33; 38:14—39:14; 52:1–30; chs. 40–44; 52:31–34 (from the NIV Study Bible via http://www.biblica.com/niv/study-bible/jeremiah/.
Chapter thirty-four reaches back just before the events of chapters 32-33 and the basic message to Zedekiah is the same as that presented in chapter twenty-one. Nebuchadnezzar, with a formidable army, has arrived in Palestine and is making quick work of the cities and towns that could provide support to Jerusalem. At this point, he has subdued all the area except for Lachish (23 miles southwest of Jerusalem) and Azekah (18 miles southwest).
In 1935 and 1938, archeologists excavating Lachish uncovered twenty-one letters written on pottery, probably written to a military commander from a subordinate. They mention a failure to see the signal fires from Azekah – probably because Azekah had fallen.
In those desperate days, Zedekiah called on the people of Jerusalem to free their slaves. The law forbade perpetual servitude. Slaves had to be released every seven years. But like the other laws, the Jews ignored this one too. Perhaps they freed them so they wouldn’t have to feed them. Perhaps they freed them so they would help fight the Babylonians. Perhaps they freed them in repentance, hoping God would deliver them now that they had been obedient. Whatever reason, the emancipation did not last long. The wealthy took back their slaves.
There would have been a covenant ceremony for freeing slaves. It involved cutting an animal in half and walking between the halves – to be followed by a fellowship meal. The ceremony simply promised that if the covenant of freedom was violated, that the violator was willing for God to do to him as he had done to the animals. In this chapter, God says that’s precisely what He has in mind.
There is a huge premium in the Bible on telling the truth and keeping one’s word. This chapter reminds us of the importance of speaking the truth.
Chapter thirty-two occurs the year Jerusalem fell. The city was being besieged by Babylon and Jeremiah, for prophesying the downfall of the city, had been imprisoned by king Zedekiah.
Spiritually, Zedekiah had to be deaf and blind. He had absolutely no hope that he could outlast the Babylonian army – nor come close to defeating them. Yet he kept after Jeremiah asking why he kept prophesying doom and destruction.
Jeremiah answers his question half way through the chapter, but he begins with a story of promise: Jeremiah has bought a piece of land.
Why buy land when all of it is going to be taken by Nebuchadnezzar?
Because it is not going to remain Nebuchadnezzar’s. God’s people are going to experience blessing and restoration once again.
Why keep harping on the same old themes of sin and impending punishment?
Because those sins remain with us – as does the threat of punishment. For as long as the sins remain, people of God must be reminded of their seriousness. Those sins may become so ubiquitous we don’t notice them, but God always notices them and He never wants us to become so used to them that we don’t see them as He does.
Did Jeremiah know that while he was prophesying to the Jews in Jerusalem, Ezekiel was prophesying to the Jews in Babylon?
It would appear that he did not.
From chapter twenty-nine (and from Ezekiel) we know that the captives in Babylon believed their kinsmen would come rescue them. The captives believed they were being punished but those left in Jerusalem were being blessed and these lies are being promoted by false prophets in Babylon. Jeremiah heard of the situation and wrote the letter contained in chapter twenty-nine to the captives. Help was not coming soon. They needed to get on with their lives.
With regard to the false prophets, a persistent question remains to which we have repeatedly returned: how was Israel supposed to tell a false prophet from a true prophet? Given the choice between Jeremiah and Ahab and Zedekiah, how were they supposed to know who was telling the truth?
The short answer is if a prophet foretold something that didn’t happen, he was a false prophet. But since prophecies often occur over the long term, how can you know in the short term who is telling the truth and who is lying?
The real answer is much longer. First, it has to do with the long-term reliability of the messenger. Jeremiah had a reputation as a spokesman for God. The other guys were newcomers. But more importantly, Israel was sent into captivity because of her sins. The sins had not decreased. There was no basis for believing their fortunes were going to turn around.
We are, each and all, responsible for knowing the will of the Lord, and knowing when our lives are not measuring up. To tell ourselves (or others) that better times are ahead when our relationship with God because of persistent sin is unchanged is deception. It doesn’t happen.
Those entrusted with the care of God’s people are many and varied. Government leaders are among them and their job is to maintain justice in the land and protection for the people. In Jeremiah’s day priests and prophets were called to guide the spiritual development of the people. Today, Elders (or Pastors) are called to do that job. Bible teachers and preachers are called to deliver the word of the Lord. All of these people are “shepherds” of Israel.
But the bulk of chapter twenty-three has to do with prophets, what we today would call “preachers” (or perhaps Bible teachers). It was not the function of the prophet to foretell the future. It was his job to remind the people of their covenant relationship with God, what that required for their lives, and what would happen if they disobeyed.
I don’t find a lot of people really interested in Bible study these days. Oh sure, lots of people want to know the “will of the Lord” for their lives, but they prefer to seek that will everywhere but in the Bible. This was the problem in ancient Israel. There was this constant quest to “know the Lord,” but it’s a quest without a destination. It was (and is) easier to say you are interested and looking for God’s will than it is to actually do it.
There are always those people who have a variety of opinions on what the Bible says, but very few who actually know. The Christian world is full of opinions, but when it comes to “what does the text say?” few answers. It happens most of all on those thorny issues that seem to perpetually divide Christians. Folks will question the text, discount the text, and offer objections, but when you get down to “what does the Bible say?” they have no answer. All Christians are responsible for ascertaining answers, but especially preachers and Bible teachers. Those who have nothing to offer but the authority of their credentials should remember God’s warning: “I will cast you out of my presence and bring upon you everlasting disgrace.” It’s the same penalty for those who are always looking for answers with their eyes closed.
I wonder how Jeremiah cajoled some of the elders of the people and the priests into following him in chapter nineteen? After all, Jeremiah was persona non grata to most of them. However he did it, the group followed him to a potter where he bought a jar, and then, to the potsherd gate of the city.
We don’t know where this gate was. It is mentioned only here in the Bible. The King James Bible translated it “east gate,” and if it was the east gate, it was also the gate through which God traveled in Ezekiel when he abandoned Jerusalem and Israel.
They went to Ben Hinnom, which had been a valley devoted to the worship of the god Molech prior to the time of Josiah. The king desecrated the valley so that sacrifices could no longer be offered there. By Jeremiah’s time, it was a garbage dump. Through the prophet, God promises to so fill Jerusalem with the dead that they will have to resort to burying them in the land fill of Ben Hinnom and even that place will not hold them all. Jeremiah breaks the pot and casts it to the dump. It’s what you do with objects that have become worthless – as Israel has become.
The Valley of Hinnom is called Gehenna in the New Testament, often translated “hell.” It was the place where the fires of burning garbage never went out.
Why would God be so mean and cruel? He wasn’t. He was being just. The God who made heaven and earth demands total fidelity, and that not only means worshiping only Him, but worshiping Him His way. Mankind does not get to decide how to approach God, or even whether to approach Him. God is good, but He means what He says and brooks no compromise.
Jeremiah is forbidden to marry and have children. It would be pointless since their destiny is only to die in the land. Jeremiah may not go to funerals. There will be no mourning for those whose lives are so rebellious to God. He cannot go to weddings or feasts or parties of any kind. There is no excuse for joy when sin looms so large.
God’s command to Jeremiah in chapter sixteen will further alienate the prophet from the people of Israel, but once again, you should see God in Jeremiah. When Jeremiah weeps for the people, it is God weeping. When Jeremiah cries out about how the people are treating him, it is God crying out. Sometimes, it is difficult in the conversation to tell who is speaking, Jeremiah or God. But it’s meant to be that way, for in this book, Jeremiah is not just a spokesman for God, he stands for God. He is the closest thing to God in a bodily form Israel will see for centuries to come. With Jeremiah separating himself from his own people in times of joy and sadness, they should see that God is alienating Himself from them as well.
No one should imagine that no matter how we live God is always there for us. The Old Testament God is not a different God from that of the New Testament. He cannot and will not abide rebellion and persistent sinfulness. Those who take such a course, choosing to forsake the law of God will find themselves alone, with no reason to rejoice and no excuse to mourn.
In chapters 11 – 20, there are six specific “complaints” (sometimes called ‘confessions’ though they are not really confessions) Jeremiah brings against God. You can find the first two in 11:18-20 and 12:1-6. The third one is here in chapter 15 (verses 5 – 21 – note the other three in 17:14-18; 18:18-23; and 20:7-18).
This third complain reminds me of when I was a child and reached an impasse in an argument with my parents. I’d begin “But . . .” only to be cut off with “don’t talk back.”
Jeremiah objects that while God may be just in disciplining Israel, Jeremiah himself has also suffered. It isn’t fair. After all, at least in Jeremiah’s eyes, Jeremiah is innocent. He accepted God’s word and delivered it to others. He didn’t keep company with party-goers. In fact, his determination to righteousness pretty well cut him off from his community and made him a loner. And yet, his own pain is unending, his wounds incurable.
God tells him, in essence, “Don’t talk back Jeremiah, you’re not all that good. You too need to shape up” (vs. 19).
Jeremiah isn’t the first person to “talk back” to God (remember Job? Moses? David?). Nor is he the first unrighteous person to do so. And God doesn’t always rebuke a complainer. We are a created people, mortal and weak. We struggle and fail and complain and God understands. He loves us enough to listen to us and sympathize – and sometimes act in our behalf. But let no one misunderstand: though David might have demanded God deal with him according to David’s righteousness (see Psalm 7:8) and Job asked to go “toe to toe” (13:15) with God, neither David nor Job nor we are really righteous. From time to time, like children, even though the children of God, we must be reminded of our place. God is not a man. And man is not God.