1 - 2 The Complaint of the Prophet
1 Oh that my head were waters
And my eyes a fountain of tears,
That I might weep day and night
For the slain of the daughter of my people!
2 Oh that I had in the desert
A wayfarers’ lodging place;
That I might leave my people
And go from them!
For all of them are adulterers,
An assembly of treacherous men.
Jeremiah’s soul struggle continues here. He is deeply concerned with the condition of his people and the disasters that are coming upon them. He suffers greatly that they have not listened (verse 1). He has an intense love for God’s people to whom he belongs with heart and soul. He wishes he had more tears to express his sorrow for all those who have perished and will perish as a result of God’s discipline (Jer 13:17; 14:17).
What is written here has earned him the nickname “the weeping prophet’. He resembles the Lord Jesus here, Who also wept over the city (Lk 19:41). It is also reminiscent of Paul’s sorrow for his brothers after the flesh (Rom 9:1-5; 10:1). Do we also weep for the condition of God’s people, both generally and in the local church where we are? Or do we avoid these feelings and prefer to indulge in the ‘fun’ aspects of being a Christian? Do we prefer to be entertained rather than exhorted?
Most of all, Jeremiah would now have nothing at all to do with this people (verse 2; cf. Psa 55:6-8). They are all, each and every one, “adulterers”. The whole is “an assembly of treacherous men”. There will have been exceptions, but this is the characteristic of the whole that is observed by all who see it. Jeremiah does not only observe it. What he sees torments his soul and he expresses it.
In this he also aligns his feelings with those of God, Who’s eyes also “are too pure to approve evil” (Hab 1:13a). This is opposite verse 1, but does not contradict it. There he carries the people on his heart. Here he sees their sins. He loves the people, but he hates their sins. He wants to get away from such an adulterous and treacherous troop, that he may not have to see their sins any longer. The fact that his preaching does not seem to have any effect may also play a role in this desire. What is the point of continuing to preach? Such a desire can arise in anyone who does a work for the Lord, where the result only seems to be even more unfaithfulness.
Going to live in “wayfarers’ lodging place”, by the way, will not give the coveted peace. We can compare it to retiring to a monastery. It is not an option anyway for a believer, one of whose tasks is to witness to his Savior in his daily life. We must also remember that in a monastery we take ourselves with us. Learning how to live to the glory of the Lord in accordance with the truth in an ungodly world and an apostate Christianity, we can only do in the practice of daily life in dealing with Him.
3 - 9 The Deceitfulness of the tongue
3 “They bend their tongue [like] their bow;
Lies and not truth prevail in the land;
For they proceed from evil to evil,
And they do not know Me”, declares the LORD.
4 “Let everyone be on guard against his neighbor,
And do not trust any brother;
Because every brother deals craftily,
And every neighbor goes about as a slanderer.
5 “Everyone deceives his neighbor
And does not speak the truth,
They have taught their tongue to speak lies;
They weary themselves committing iniquity.
6 “Your dwelling is in the midst of deceit;
Through deceit they refuse to know Me”, declares the LORD.
7 Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts,
“Behold, I will refine them and assay them;
For what [else] can I do, because of the daughter of My people?
8 “Their tongue is a deadly arrow;
It speaks deceit;
With his mouth one speaks peace to his neighbor,
But inwardly he sets an ambush for him.
9 “Shall I not punish them for these things?” declares the LORD.
“On a nation such as this
Shall I not avenge Myself?
The people believe that they have become strong through their tongue, through the use of falsehood (verse 3). The tongue here is the bow and the lie is the arrow (Psa 64:3-4). The sin of the tongue is a great and widespread evil (Psa 12:2-4; Jam 3:1-12). The LORD contrasts the power of their lie with “trustworthiness”. The contrast is great.
They go their way of wickedness because they do not know the LORD. Their way is so full of wickedness that He says of them: “They proceed from evil to evil.” That is diametrically opposed to those who seek their strength from the LORD. Of them He says: “They go from strength to strength, [Every one of them] appears before God in Zion” (Psa 84:7).
Sin not only brings separation between God and man, but also between people (verse 4). Here we hear the warning not to trust the neighbor and even the friend (Mic 7:5-6). When society is dominated by distrust, cohesion is gone. It destroys the unity of the people from within. If friendship and blood relations, both of which are such sacred things in the East, are no longer a guarantee of loyalty, then all cohesion is gone from society.
Lying is the sin that caused the fall into sin. The tongue that is supposed to confess God lies about God. The tongue is used to spread lies and not the truth (verse 5). In fact, the teaching is to teach the tongue to speak lies, so that lying has become their second nature, so to speak. They can no longer do anything but lie. Subsequently, they tire themselves out with doing injustice, with putting into practice the wrong that has been taught. With the new man it is different (Eph 4:25,28).
Jeremiah is told that he dwells in the midst of deceit (verse 6). The same is true of us (cf. Rev 2:13). Everything that is said is meant to prevent people from knowing the LORD. This is also true today. In verse 3 it still says that they do not know the LORD, but in verse 6 it says that they refuse to know Him. This is because of their deceit. They don’t want to stop lying and cheating because there is no love for the truth.
The LORD is still out to refine them, not to destroy them (verse 7; cf. Mal 3:3a; Eze 22:18-22). He is left with no choice but to judge, He cannot act otherwise, but His goal is their restoration. He speaks of them as “the daughter of My people”. This shows His love for them.
He is going to punish the use of the tongue, which is a wonderful gift from Him, because they use it like a deadly arrow (verse 8). What is professed with the tongue may sound beautiful, but the thoughts behind it can be compared to an ambush. Behind or beneath their beautiful words, in their inner being, are greed and murderousness. They want to charm the other with their pretty talk to such an extent that they become easy prey. They are out to kill others because they see advantage in it.
Such things the LORD cannot leave unpunished (verse 9), He must repay them. The conduct of His people touches Him in His soul and affects Him deeply. He cannot ignore it and must avenge this sinful behavior of them, of those who are named after His name, to whom He has committed Himself with heart and soul.
10 - 16 The Impending Judgment
10 “For the mountains I will take up a weeping and wailing,
And for the pastures of the wilderness a dirge,
Because they are laid waste so that no one passes through,
And the lowing of the cattle is not heard;
Both the birds of the sky and the beasts have fled; they are gone.
11 “I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins,
A haunt of jackals;
And I will make the cities of Judah a desolation, without inhabitant.”
12 Who is the wise man that may understand this? And [who is] he to whom the mouth of the LORD has spoken, that he may declare it? Why is the land ruined, laid waste like a desert, so that no one passes through? 13 The LORD said, “Because they have forsaken My law which I set before them, and have not obeyed My voice nor walked according to it, 14 but have walked after the stubbornness of their heart and after the Baals, as their fathers taught them”, 15 therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, “behold, I will feed them, this people, with wormwood and give them poisoned water to drink. 16 I will scatter them among the nations, whom neither they nor their fathers have known; and I will send the sword after them until I have annihilated them.”
Jeremiah sees the results of God’s judgments. He weeps over them and raises a lament over them (verse 10). All around him the ground is blackened. The road is impassable to people, and for the cattle there is nothing on the pastures, because everything laid waste, i.e. has been burned. All the birds and animals have disappeared, fled. As a result, no sound of beasts will be heard. In Jerusalem there will be no more inhabitants (verse 11). Those who live there will be the jackals. The cities of Judah will also be judged, so that no one lives there anymore.
The wise one is he who draws the lesson from everything that only the fear of the LORD gives rest and peace (verse 12). Such a person understands God’s intentions in His actions and will come to know God’s heart and be able to make that known to others. But there are no such wise men. Therefore, the LORD Himself gives the answer and says that the cause of all misery is that they have forsaken His law (verse 13). Instead of listening to the LORD they have gone after the stubbornness of their heart and after the Baals (verse 14). They learned this not from the LORD, but from their fathers.
For this they cannot blame their fathers, but it is their own fault, for they have “walked after the stubbornness of their heart”. A thief will not get a reduction of punishment from the judge if he tells him that his father taught him the “thieves’ trade” and that he became a thief as a result. The origin of their sinful ways and actions lies in their stubborn hearts. Here also lies the difference between the wise and the fool.
The LORD will therefore make them bear the consequences of their own actions. He will feed them, “this people”, who are now there, “with wormwood and give them poisoned water to drink” (verse 15). This recalls Moses’ warning (Deu 29:18; Jer 8:14; Rev 8:11). Wormwood is a plant with a very bitter juice; gall water comes from a poisonous, bitter herb. They represent the bitter suffering of the fall of the kingdom. If they should have been obedience, they would have had honey to eat and milk to drink in abundance.
But this does not end the suffering. The LORD says He will also scatter them among the nations (verse 16). They will be carried away from their land. This judgment has already been announced by Moses (Lev 26:33; Deu 28:64). In the land of their exile, they are not yet at the end of their suffering either. The LORD will send the sword after them and only then will the end come for them. This extermination concerns the wicked members of the people.
17 - 22 The General Dirge
17 Thus says the LORD of hosts,
“Consider and call for the mourning women, that they may come;
And send for the wailing women, that they may come!
18 “Let them make haste and take up a wailing for us,
That our eyes may shed tears
And our eyelids flow with water.
19 “For a voice of wailing is heard from Zion,
‘How are we ruined!
We are put to great shame,
For we have left the land,
Because they have cast down our dwellings.’”
20 Now hear the word of the LORD, O you women,
And let your ear receive the word of His mouth;
Teach your daughters wailing,
And everyone her neighbor a dirge.
21 For death has come up through our windows;
It has entered our palaces
To cut off the children from the streets,
The young men from the town squares.
22 Speak, “Thus says the LORD,
‘The corpses of men will fall like dung on the open field,
And like the sheaf after the reaper,
But no one will gather [them].’”
The LORD calls for mourning (verse 17). Mourning women are called to come and wail. Judah is thereby likened to a death house. Death has also entered there in all its horrors, causing tremendous grief. More people need to come and help express their sorrow so that tears flow (verse 18). They want to unite with the mourning of Zion that mourns because she has been destroyed (verse 19). The occasion of the mourning is not the sin, but the consequences it must bear, such as the abandonment of the land and the overturning of their dwellings. When we mourn, we must not deceive ourselves and know the real reason for our sorrow.
The women, along with the children, suffer the most from the effects of sin (verse 20). To them comes the word of the LORD and the call to listen to it. The suffering is so great – and therefore the need for mourning women – that they must tell the cause of the suffering to their daughters and girlfriends, so that they will also mourn. They must tell what has happened in their palaces, their well-timbered dwellings, and to their little children and their young men (verse 21).
The LORD tells them to paint the results of sin in all their horror (verse 22). They are not to paint it more beautifully than it is. Nor is it so much the judgment of God as it is the results of their own actions. Death is presented here as a grim reaper who reaps ears from the field, binds them into sheaves and lays them on the ground. The corpses lie in the field like sheaves, and then not to be buried later, but as dung.
All the horrors that have befallen humanity in world wars have left many millions dead and countless physically and mentally crippled. There have also been economic losses of astronomical proportions. What is the result? Does man learn from it? We see that the love of wealth and pleasure has only increased and that God has been pushed further than ever from society.
23 - 24 Boasting of Evil or of Good
23 Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things”, declares the LORD.
Man boasts more than ever of “his wisdom”, “his might”, and “his riches” (verse 23). The LORD warns against doing that. What is said here sums up the whole world:
1. Wisdom, science without God, fills the world. Everything is reasoned by the so-called wise. This wisdom pervades our whole society, a wisdom that boasts.
2. Might, power, violence, is the second of which the world is full. The “mighty” determine with a game of power and politics what should be done.
3. The third, riches, money, possession, is also what the whole world pursues. Whoever has money has power and influence.
Of these three things man boasts, while the believer is also inclined to attach value to them. But none of these things can avert judgment and displeasure from the LORD. The wisdom of men is not like the wisdom of God (Psa 111:10; Pro 1:7; 9:10). Their might is not the spiritual strength of righteousness. Their wealth is not the spiritual wealth that is immune from thief or destruction. Then as now, the student, the athlete, the warrior, and the financier are highly valued. Such persons tend to rely on their own resources.
Man has learned nothing from the past, how these things have worked. He is blind to the fact that they have brought nothing good, but only misery. The LORD in His grace holds out to man what true boasting is and that is boasting in understanding and knowing Him (verse 24). That is the key to all true wisdom, might and riches. Then the heart is turned to Him Who “exercises lovingkindness” and proves it, and Who does “justice and righteousness on earth”. In these things the LORD finds His delight (cf. Mic 6:8). We see that lovingkindness comes first, but it will not be proven at the expense of justice and righteousness.
Our highest good is to know God, not merely intellectually or philosophically, but in spirit and in His true features. To know means to have fellowship of life with Him, to have an intimate, personal relationship with Him. This is true and abiding wisdom. The source of the highest Christian blessing is the knowledge of the Father and of Jesus Christ, Who was sent by the Father. To know the Father and the Son is eternal life (Jn 17:3; 1Jn 5:20).
Paul quotes these verses from Jeremiah to make it clear that nothing of man, but only the cross of Christ can save people (1Cor 1:30-31; 2Cor 10:17). Man’s wisdom is utterly reprehensible and cannot provide a solution in a person’s deepest need: his sins. The wisdom of God is evidenced by the redemption brought about by Christ for everyone who believes. In this may be boasted, not in anything of man.
25 - 26 Israel Is Uncircumcised of Heart
25 “Behold, the days are coming”, declares the LORD, “that I will punish all who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised— 26 Egypt and Judah, and Edom and the sons of Ammon, and Moab and all those inhabiting the desert who clip the hair on their temples; for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart.”
Verses 23-24 are a warning against trusting in human abilities. Verses 25-26 condemn reliance on religious prerogatives. Just as the knowledge of the LORD is more important than wisdom, might and wealth, so faith in the heart is more important than any outward form of religion. Judgment comes both on all who bear only the outward sign that they belong to God’s people and on those who do not have that sign, the nations (verse 25). They are all equal before God because they all do not reckon with Him (Rom 2:12).
Judah is mentioned in the same breath as the nations (verse 26) because they behave like the nations. Shaving away the hair at the temples is a heathen custom and forbidden by the LORD for His people (Lev 19:27). Judah is far more guilty than the nations, for they have the outward sign that they are God’s people, but they behave like the nations. They are ‘uncircumcised circumcised’ people, circumcised in the body, but uncircumcised in heart. What is true of Judah is true of all the house of Israel: they are all physically circumcised, but uncircumcised of heart. The true circumcision before God is that of the heart (Rom 2:29).