1 No Prayer for Judah
1 Then the LORD said to me, “Even though Moses and Samuel were to stand before Me, My heart would not be with this people; send them away from My presence and let them go!
Here comes the LORD’s answer to the previous ‘why-question’ (Jer 14:19). It is again a hard answer (verse 1). The prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much, but in this case intercession by the most influential men of God, men of prayer, will not avail for a people who have deviated so much from the LORD. Moses and Samuel both pleaded with God for the people (Exo 32:6,11-14; 1Sam 7:9; 12:23) and He answered their prayers (Psa 99:6-8). But with such a people as they are today, He cannot have anything to do with.
The LORD tells Jeremiah that instead of praying for them that He will accept them, He must send them away from His presence. Instead of bringing them in prayer before God He doesn’t want to see them anymore, they have to go. When God does not want to see someone anymore, it is a terrible judgment. Such a person is given over to death.
2 - 9 The Punishment Determined
2 And it shall be that when they say to you, ‘Where should we go?’ then you are to tell them, ‘Thus says the LORD:
“Those [destined] for death, to death;
And those [destined] for the sword, to the sword;
And those [destined] for famine, to famine;
And those [destined] for captivity, to captivity.”‘
3 I will appoint over them four kinds [of doom]”, declares the LORD: “the sword to slay, the dogs to drag off, and the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy. 4 I will make them an object of horror among all the kingdoms of the earth because of Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah, the king of Judah, for what he did in Jerusalem.
5 “Indeed, who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem,
Or who will mourn for you,
Or who will turn aside to ask about your welfare?
6 “You who have forsaken Me”, declares the LORD,
“You keep going backward.
So I will stretch out My hand against you and destroy you;
I am tired of relenting!
7 “I will winnow them with a winnowing fork
At the gates of the land;
I will bereave [them] of children, I will destroy My people;
They did not repent of their ways.
8 “Their widows will be more numerous before Me
Than the sand of the seas;
I will bring against them, against the mother of a young man,
A destroyer at noonday;
I will suddenly bring down on her
Anguish and dismay.
9 “She who bore seven [sons] pines away;
Her breathing is labored.
Her sun has set while it was yet day;
She has been shamed and humiliated.
So I will give over their survivors to the sword
Before their enemies”, declares the LORD.
The LORD is preparing Jeremiah to receive the question from the people as to where they should go (verse 2). That question is closely related to verse 1 where the LORD has said that they cannot go to Him and that He does not want to see them again. The answer Jeremiah has to give is not that they can decide for themselves where they will go, but that they are on their way to their self-chosen destination: to death, by which is possibly meant pestilence, the sword, famine, and prison.
In verse 3 the LORD says what means He will use to punish them. The sword will cause death. The dead will not be given an honorable burial, but the corpses will be dragged away by the dogs, while they tear them up and are devoured by the birds of the sky and the wild beasts. It is the greatest conceivable humiliation for a Jew if his dead body is not buried and then becomes food for the beasts.
This will make them an object of horror among all the kingdoms of the earth. The punishments come because of Manasseh, for what he has done in Jerusalem (verse 4; 2Kgs 21:1-16; 2Chr 33:1-11). Manasseh not only overturned all the reforms of his God-fearing father Hezekiah, but he deliberately introduced idolatry and demon worship to defy the LORD. That Manasseh is emphatically called “the son of Hezekiah” here is because of the contrast between such a God-fearing father and such a wicked son. Manasseh’s actions took place some time ago. However, if a sin has not been properly confessed and removed, the consequences remain. The LORD always points to the origin of sin and judgment.
In verse 5, three questions are asked of Jerusalem. The questions are about who will pity them, who will mourn for them, and who will ask about their welfare. The answer is included in the question. There will be no one who pities on them or mourns for them or asks about their welfare. The comfort that lies in the pity of others will not be there for Jerusalem. No one will bother to deviate from his path for a moment to ask how she is doing.
They have to blame themselves, for they have forsaken the LORD, the One Who has always had compassion on them and cared for them (verse 6). But they did not want His care and they went backwards. Therefore the hand of the LORD is stretched out against them in judgment to bring them down. It is over and done with His repentance for the evil He will do to them. He has delayed it so many times and for so long now, but now it must come. He is “tired of relenting”.
The LORD will judge by a winnowing fork the wicked of His people in the gates of the land where justice is done (verse 7). The winnowing fork is used to separate the chaff from the wheat. The chaff are the wicked. They are blown away by the winnowing fork of judgment (Mt 3:12). By doing so, He will rob His people of children and thereby make the continued existence of the wicked impossible. Once again the reason is given, namely, that they continue in their sinful ways and have not returned from it to Him.
There will also be a great number of widows, which means that many men will die (verse 8; cf. 2Chr 28:6). The LORD brings judgment upon “the mother”, that is the people, (not “of”, but) by “a young man”, that is the young power Babylon, “the destroyer at noonday”. At the same time, the LORD says that He Himself will bring judgment on the people. What Babylon is doing is nothing more than carrying out His will. The sudden terror that overtakes the people when the enemy comes is caused by Him.
The fertile woman who gave birth to seven represents Israel under the LORD’s perfect blessing (Deu 28:4a). Of that fertility, nothing remains because of their disobedience (Deu 28:18a). The woman, the people, are languishing, withering away, and will breathe their last (verse 9). While the sun is still shining, the sun of God’s mercy, it becomes night for her because of her sins. What is left of people and goods will be taken away by the enemies.
10 - 11 The Complaint of Jeremiah
10 Woe to me, my mother, that you have borne me
[As] a man of strife and a man of contention to all the land!
I have not lent, nor have men lent money to me,
[Yet] everyone curses me.
11 The LORD said, “Surely I will set you free for [purposes of] good;
Surely I will cause the enemy to make supplication to you
In a time of disaster and a time of distress.
The announcement of the nothing sparing judgment seizes Jeremiah again (verse 10). Here he turns to his mother and expresses woe over her having given birth to him (Jer 20:14; cf. Job 3:3-10). The woe does not concern his mother, but his birth and therefore the LORD. He has wished her a different kind of son than the son he is. She has not been able to take pleasure in him, for his whole life is an affliction.
His complaint does not concern what will come upon the land, but what will come upon himself. Because no one agrees with him and everyone opposes his preaching, he begins to doubt the meaning of his life and service. He sees that people hate him because of his judgments. Everywhere he goes and preaches, what he says becomes cause for division and strife. We too can sometimes feel like being the cause of strife and discord. What a comfort it is that then, when we stand well, the Lord stands up for us.
The cause is not his behavior with regard to greed, for there is nothing to be said about that. For example, he did not lend something, nor did men lend money to him, which could be a cause of discord and lopsidedness (Pro 22:7; Neh 5:1-13).
In His answer to the complaint, the LORD reminds Jeremiah with a powerful “surely” that He has taken care of him for good (verse 11). He has stood up for him against his enemies, no matter how those enemies stirred. In every time of calamity and every time of distress, the LORD has been there for him. That Jeremiah would meet opposition, He already told him when He called him (Jer 1:19a). He also promised that He would be with him (Jer 1:19b). This is how the LORD encouraged him.
12 - 14 The Inevitable Judgment
12 “Can anyone smash iron,
Iron from the north, or bronze?
13 “Your wealth and your treasures
I will give for booty without cost,
Even for all your sins
And within all your borders.
14 “Then I will cause your enemies to bring [it]
Into a land you do not know;
For a fire has been kindled in My anger,
It will burn upon you.”
Judgment comes from the north (verse 12). Just as iron and bronze cannot be broken with bare hands, so the people of Judah will not be able to break the power of the Babylonian army. All the wealth and all the treasures will be given to the enemy as booty, without them having to pay anything for it (verse 13). This is the consequence of their sins. The inhabitants will be taken away to an unknown land (verse 14). This fire of judgment that will burn against them has been kindled by the anger of the LORD.
15 - 18 Jeremiah Doubts the LORD
15 You who know, O LORD,
Remember me, take notice of me,
And take vengeance for me on my persecutors.
Do not, in view of Your patience, take me away;
Know that for Your sake I endure reproach.
16 Your words were found and I ate them,
And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart;
For I have been called by Your name,
O LORD God of hosts.
17 I did not sit in the circle of merrymakers,
Nor did I exult.
Because of Your hand [upon me] I sat alone,
For You filled me with indignation.
18 Why has my pain been perpetual
And my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?
Will You indeed be to me like a deceptive [stream]
With water that is unreliable?
Jeremiah again turns to the LORD (verse 15). It all becomes too much for him. He asks the LORD to remember him and take notice of him. He knows his innocence, doesn’t he? So why does he have to suffer like this? Jeremiah calls upon the LORD to take avenge for him on his persecutors, the people who make his life so difficult. Let the LORD have patience with him, because for His sake he is suffering reproach. Jeremiah pours out his heart before the LORD. He is accustomed to His presence and speaks confidentially to Him about his distress.
The words of the LORD were food for him (verse 16). As soon as he had found them – meaning that his heart went out to them – and heard them, he ate them up, absorbed them intensely, unlike the people who rejected God’s words (Jer 8:9b). We can also think of the finding of God’s Word in the temple during the reign of Josiah (2Kgs 22:13; 23:2).
Eating the words of God symbolizes identifying with the revealed truth of the Word of God (Eze 3:1-3; 2:8-10; Rev 10:9). Jeremiah is a prophet to the max. His greatest joy is found in the Word of God. That is his food and drink (cf. Jn 4:34). When he hears God’s words, it makes him completely happy in his heart. He gladly listens to those words (Psa 19:10; 119:103,111), for they come from the mouth of Him Who has proclaimed His Name over him (Jer 14:9). He is the LORD God of hosts, the Almighty, also for Jeremiah.
As a great contrast to the great joy he finds in the Word, he says he has not been in the circle of the merrymakers (verse 17; Psa 1:1-3). He has not joined in the flat fun of people who mock God’s Word. He has sat alone, not to exult on his own, but because he has felt the hand of the LORD press heavily upon him and His indignation has filled him in his innermost being.
Nor did he in the mind of the Pharisee separate himself in pride. This is evident in the question that torments him why – the fourth ‘why-question’ (Jer 12:1; 14:9,19) – he must always suffer, why there is no healing (verse 18). Is his cry to Him in vain then? Is He not listening? Is He then after all a deceiver, that although He promises that He is there for him and helps him, He does not do what He says (cf. Job 6:15)?
This ‘why-question’ is actually not a question, but an indictment. Jeremiah accuses the LORD of being like a deceptive stream to him, a stream that promises refreshment but does not give it. These are the ‘why-questions’ of Job. Moses, Joshua and Habakkuk also expressed to the LORD their doubts about His ways, as did the Lord’s disciples (Num 11:11; Jos 7:7; Hab 1:2-3; Mk 4:38).
19 - 21 Rebuke of God and Encouragement
19 Therefore, thus says the LORD,
“If you return, then I will restore you—
Before Me you will stand;
And if you extract the precious from the worthless,
You will become My spokesman.
They for their part may turn to you,
But as for you, you must not turn to them.
20 “Then I will make you to this people
A fortified wall of bronze;
And though they fight against you,
They will not prevail over you;
For I am with you to save you
And deliver you”, declares the LORD.
21 “So I will deliver you from the hand of the wicked,
And I will redeem you from the grasp of the violent.”
The LORD answers Jeremiah’s complaint that he must return to Him if he has lost his trust in Him to any degree. Jeremiah needs to repent. Here we see the conversion of someone who is already converted. If a believer deviates from the path of trusting in the Lord, he must repent of his error and return to the Lord.
The LORD’s response is again a correction to Jeremiah’s attitude. Jeremiah must return for else the LORD cannot continue with him. If he returns, that is, longs to trust the LORD again, He will let Jeremiah to return to Himself. He says to him He will help him. Then he will stand before Him again.
In God’s presence, Jeremiah can extract the precious from the worthless and have the proper sense of right and wrong. By “the precious” are meant the words spoken by the LORD. By “the worthless” are meant the words he spoke reproachfully to the LORD as a weak man. When he knows again what is precious, he will be able to be the spokesman of the LORD.
The application is that we must always separate the good from the evil, the precious from the worthless. Satan will always try to mix that up. And how has he succeeded in Christianity. The believer, through the Spirit of God, can know what is precious, what is in accordance with God’s Word, and engage in that.
As for the people, they must join Jeremiah and also stand before the LORD. Jeremiah must not under any circumstances return to the people, that is, express and behave as they do and what he has just done in his reproach. We should not blame Jeremiah too much. He is a tormented man by all that he sees around him, while also perceiving the total unwillingness of the people to even listen to his message. The people are insensitive and just continue their evil practices. As a result, he has lost his way for a while and therefore he must return to the LORD and start speaking His words again.
Once with the LORD, in His presence and service, there must be no turning back to the unfaithful and no adapting to the wayward desires of a people disobedient to God’s Word. The faithful are to be called to separate themselves from that people and also to come into the presence of the LORD. We also see here that the faithful do not despise the unfaithful people, but feel in their hearts the pain of the position in which the unfaithful people find themselves.
The LORD repeats His promise that He made to Jeremiah at his calling (verse 20; Jer 1:18-19). He encourages him that He will make him an impregnable fortress. Every battle against him will be futile, for the LORD is with him, to deliver and save him. He rescues from the hand of evildoers and redeems from the grasp of the violent (verse 21). All of Jeremiah’s enemies are powerless against the LORD of hosts.