September 14, 2015
Scripture and Commentary, September 13-18
Jer. 22, Lk. 2:40-52
Jer. 23, Rom. 14
The prophet enters into a series of denunciations of the kings of Judah. He begins with a wonderful summary of the task of government. “Execute ye judgement and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled [oppressed] out of the hand of the oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place” (3). We can summarise this into three points. First, do justice. Make the laws of the land just and equitable. Defend the rights of the people. Protect the poor and the weak from those who would deceive and oppress them. The Deuteronomic code, with its principles of punishment and restitution is the standard, and the legal code of Israel. Second, make the courts enforce the laws. Make the criminals bear the consequences of their crimes. Do not pervert justice in favour of those who can benefit you with their money or influence. Third, do no wrong. Do not join with those who oppress the poor, or gain wealth by taking advantage of others, instead, make them answer for their crimes. Do not use your position or power for personal gain. Use it for the good of the people and the glory of God.
But the kings have not ruled justly. Verse 17 recalls their actions. “But thine eyes and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness, and for the shedding of innocent blood, and for oppression, and for violence to do it.” Not only have the kings not enforced justice and protected the rights of the law abiding citizens, they have actually joined forces with the criminals and the oppressors against the innocent. They have stolen the property and spilled the blood of the innocent. The have become enemies of the righteous, not defenders of them.
Therefore, they will feel the wrath of the Lord, the True King of Judah. His Law is absolute righteousness, and His verdicts are absolute justice. God will give them into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar (25) and cast them out of Jerusalem into another country (Babylon), “and there shall ye die” (26).
A short note on the kings of the era may be helpful. Josiah (ca. 640-609 B.C.) is remembered as a good king. He died in battle fighting the Egyptians, who wanted to pass through Judah to battle the Babylonians. Josiah’s youngest son, Jehoahaz, became king, but was taken by the Pharaoh and imprisoned in Egypt. The Pharaoh had control of Israel at this time, due to his defeat of Josiah, and he forced the Jews to make the eldest son of Josiah, Jehoiakim, king. When the Babylonians defeated Egypt’s ally, Assyria in 605, Egypt lost control of Judah, and Babylon gained control. Nebuchadnezzar attacked Jerusalem and forced the city to surrender the king, who was taken in chains to Babylon, along with Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
Jehoiachin, also called Coniah, then became king. Refusing to heed Jeremiah’s warnings, Jehoiachin resisted the Babylonians, so Nebuchadnezzar again besieged Jerusalem, and took Jehoiachin and about 10,000 others to Babylon. Jehoiachin died in Babylon, as Jeremiah predicted (Jer. 22:26).
The Babylonians forced the Judeans to crown Zedekiah as the new king. At first he acquiesced to the powerful Babylonians. But when a new Pharaoh was crowned in Egypt, Zedekiah attempted an alliance with Egypt, hoping to escape Babylonian control. Angered at Zedehiah’s actions, the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem. Egypt sent an army to help the Jews, which was defeated, giving the Babylonians the opportunity to begin a long and deadly siege of Jerusalem. The city fell in 586 B.C. The buildings were burned and destroyed, and the surrendered Jews were murdered by the thousands. Zedekiah was forced to watch the murder of his sons and 70 other people, after which his eyes were burned out with a hot iron. He, and most of the surviving Jews were taken on a death march to Babylon, where they lived as aliens and captives for the next 70 years.
Most of Jeremiah’s message has been of punishment and suffering, but here God gives him a message of hope. Though woe is pronounced against the shepherds (religious and civil authorities) that spiritually starved and scattered the flock of Israel, leading to the devastation of the Babylonian conquest, God will give them shepherds who will feed them, meaning to lead them into the knowledge of and loving obedience to the scriptures. This passage refers first to the return of the Jews from Babylon, begun in 536 B.C. In its fuller sense, it refers to Jesus Christ, who is the Good Shepherd and the righteous Branch of David (Jer. 23:5, see also Rev. 22:16). In His first advent, Christ begins the age of fulfilment, when all of the prophecies and promises of the Old Testament begin to be understood and accomplished. It is His atoning sacrifice that buys our pardon. It is His Holy Gospel which calls His people from the diaspora of sin and brings us into the New Jerusalem to live in peace and harmony with Him and each other. But even this age of the Church, or age of the end times, is not the complete fulfilment of His work. He will return from the Father to fully establish His Kingdom of justice and righteousness. All things will be made new, and even death will be no more for His people.
Jeremiah is led of the Lord to lament the current state of his city, with its false prophets and profane priests. Just as the civil government becomes corrupt and abusive when the Biblical principles of justice are ignored, the Church becomes corrupt when its leaders abandon the Bible for the traditions of men. And, just as a corrupt civil government leads to crime, oppression, and poverty, corrupt Church leaders bring false doctrine, sin, and hypocrisy into the Church. Such pastors commit adultery, walk in lies, and strengthen the hand of evil doers by blessing sin and condemning holiness, and by reducing the faith to a feeling or a show. When the pastors do such things, the people are not told the truth or called to faith and obedience to God’s will. Therefore, they do not return from their wickedness. Instead they are hardened in it, even to the point of believing their sin is righteousness.
The people may love such preachers ( 2 Tim. 4:3, 4) but God’s attitude toward them is revealed in verses 31 and 32; “Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the Lord, that use their tongues, and say, He saith. Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, saith the Lord, and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness.”
Jer. 24, Lk. 3
Jer. 25, Rom. 15
This short chapter gives the prophet a vision of two baskets of figs. One contains good figs, and represents the people God will bring back to Jerusalem out of Babylon, Egypt, and other places where they have been taken. The other contains spoiled figs, but the Bible does not use that word. It calls them naughty, evil, and very evil, which are moral terms rather than agricultural terms. They represent Zedekiah, false prophets and priests, and impenitent Jews who will be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth. This is done by God “for their hurt” (9). As they have left the Covenant, so they will not be allowed to dwell the Covenant land. Instead they will be a reproach and a curse in all the places to which they are driven. Those who remain in Judah after the conquest will still not be safe. They will continue to suffer the sword, famine and pestilence.
Verses 1-14 contain a specific prediction of the length of Israel’s time in Babylon. Among the reasons for their punishment, God reveals that they will be in Babylon for 70 years (12).
It is noteworthy that God proclaims judgement against the Babylonians for their violence against Israel (12, 13). Even though God allowed the Babylonians to conquer and afflict His people, the actions of the Babylonians were still grievous sins against God and humanity. They were prompted by greed and arrogance. Their empire was forged in blood, in the massacre of unknown numbers of innocent people, whose lands they invaded, whose property they stole, and whose lives they took.
Verses 15-37 show that God’s wrath expands to all nations and peoples who have captured and harmed Israel. They will all drink the cup of His wrath, and having drunk and become drunken with it, they will “spew, and fall, and rise no more, because I will send the sword among you” (27).
Jer. 26, Lk. 4
Jer. 27, Rom. 16
Jehoiakim was the eldest son of Josiah, and was king of Judah from about 609 to 598 B.C. (see the notes on the kings of this era in comments for September 13). During this time Egypt held the power in the area, and Jehoiakim ruled only as a servant of the Pharaoh. The message in this chapter was given to Jeremiah in the beginning of Jehoiakim’s reign, which would be sometime in the year 609-607 B.C. The prophet is commanded to go to the inner court of the Temple and preach a call to repent and be saved from the approaching Babylonians. This is the second time Jeremiah is sent to the Temple, and the message is very similar to the first on preached there (Jer. 7). After his sermon, the priests, and false prophets and people take him by force with the intent of executing him (8). The civil authorities come to the Temple, probably to see why the people are shouting and threatening death to a man in the Temple (10). This gives Jeremiah another chance to speak (12-14).
A discussion among the people and leaders follows 16-20). One group cites another prophet who prophesied against Jerusalem a hundred years earlier. Not only was the prophet, Micah (not the one in the book of Micah), not put to death for his preaching, but the people repented of their sin and were spared from the wrath of God (19). This reference is intended to induce the princes to let Jeremiah go free until it is seen whether his predictions come to pass or not. Their words prevail, and Jeremiah is released.
A second prophet is not so fortunate. Urijah, a contemporary of Jeremiah, preached a message similar to that of Jeremiah. The good princes of Judah were so angry at his words, they intended to kill him, but he fled to Egypt, where he was safe for a while. But Jehoiakim sent Elnathan, whose name means “Gift of God,” into Egypt to bring Urijah back to Jerusalem. Elnathan was successful, and Urijah arrived in Jerusalem, probably nearly dead from harsh treatment by Elnathan. Jehoiakim immediately killed the prophet and cast his body into the graves of the common people (23) which was intended to be a terrible insult to the prophet.
Some readers are confused at finding two kings mentioned in regards to the bonds and yokes in verse 1. The difficulty is removed when we realise that some of the yokes and bonds are delivered in Jehoiakim’s reign (609-598), and some are delivered in Zedekiah’s reign (597-586), when the kings of the peoples named attempt to form alliances with Judah against Babylon. God’s message to them is that all their lands have been given into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, whom the Lord calls His servant (6). He will even punish those kingdoms that resist Babylon (8). The kings and peoples, therefore, must not listen to those who claim to speak from supernatural revelation saying, “Ye shall not serve the king of Babylon” (9). “For they prophesy a lie” (10).
The chapter closes with very pointed warnings to Jerusalem and Zedekiah, who will be king at the time of the Babylonian invasion that levels Jerusalem. The word of the lord is that Zedekiah and Jerusalem should surrender to Nebuchadnezzar without a fight. Do not listen to prophets and priests who say God will deliver you from Babylon. Do not count on alliances with other nations. If they resist, they will be destroyed. Even the Temple, in which they place so much hope, will be destroyed, and its treasures will be taken as booty to Babylon.
Jer. 28, Lk. 5
Jer. 29, 1 Corinthians 1
The events of this chapter occur in the fourth year of the reign of king Zedediah, or 593 B.C. Hannaniah is a false prophet who breaks the wooden yoke Jeremiah wears around his neck. His action is symbolic. It is a dramatic expression of his words in verses 2 and 3, which predict the fall of Nebuchadnezzar and the return of the Jewish captives and property now held in Babylon. This will be accomplished within two years (3), he says.
Jeremiah does not refute these words at first. His, “Amen,” in verse 6, shows his desire that God would actually accomplish this. But he knows this will not happen. Hannaniah has prophesied lies, and this is how the people will know it. If the words of Hannaniah come to pass, it will prove that he is a true prophet. But if the words of Jeremiah come to pass, it is he who speaks the word of the Lord. Jeremiah's message has two parts. First, the Babylonians will come and they will conquer Israel and the surrounding nations (14). Within seven years the Babylonians completely conquer the area, and Jerusalem is sacked and burned. Second, Hannaniah will die because his message teaches rebellion against the Lord (16). Two months later, Hannaniah is dead.
Jeconiah, also called Jehoiachin, is king of Judah for a few short months before Jerusalem is was defeated by the Babylonians. This defeat is not the sack and destruction of Jerusalem in 586. It is the result of an earlier battle between the Babylonians and the combined forces of Assyrian and Egypt in 605. Jeconiah had sided with the Egyptians, so the Babylonians surround Jerusalem until it surrenders. Jeconiah is taken in chains to Babylon, and the Babylonians coronate Zedekiah, to serve as a vassal of King Nebuchadnezzar. Many others are taken to Babylon with Jeconiah (2-4), including Daniel, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego. As part of his duties to Nebuchadnezzar, Zedekiah sends a message to him by way of a messenger named, Elasah (3). Jeremiah is able to send a message to the Jews in captivity in Babylon by the same messenger.
Jeremiah's message does not tell the captives they will be home in two years. Instead it tells them to make homes for themselves in Babylon (5-7), for they will dwell there for seventy years (10). In the meantime, those who remain in Jerusalem will suffer famine, pestilence, conquest by the sword (17), and will be scattered throughout many nations (18). The lying prophets of Jerusalem will also be destroyed, along with Zedekiah and others who led the people to sin against God (21-32).
Jer. 30, Lk. 6:1-19
Jer. 31, 1 Cor. 2
The Lord now changes the tone of His message. Though the Jews have shown no inclination or desire to repent, God knows their bitter, conquest and bondage will tempt them to abandon even the nominal faith they now have. Therefore, He shows them their suffering will not continue forever. He will chastise them, but He will also have mercy upon them, as a nation, and will return them to their homeland again. He tells Jeremiah to write the words of this prophecy in a book (2). It will go with the people to Babylon, where it will remind them of their sins, and the reason for their suffering. It will return with them to Jerusalem where it will remind them to return to the Covenant and the God of the Covenant, and not just to a place. God does not need the land. He can bless His people wherever they may be. But He has called them to be one people, and to dwell together, and to love Him, and to be blessed by Him, as one people. Therefore He has given them a place where they can do this, though, for a while, they will be removed from it.
While in Babylon, it will seem to the Jews that the hope of dwelling in Jerusalem as one people united in the Covenant of God, is gone forever. It will seem as though God has taken that calling and blessing from them, forever. Some will realise that He would be right and justified to do so. Though God has been faithful, and patient with their sins, Israel, as a people, has broken every vow and every obligation of the Covenant. They have offended against every aspect of their obligation, both in letter and spirit. Since they have broken the Covenant, God is no longer obligated to them. If He abandons them, and leaves them in perpetual punishment, forever banned from His blessings and graces, it would be no more than they deserve. It will indeed appear to them that this is exactly what God has done, and returning to Judah, and the Covenant, is impossible.
But God will bring them home. “Therefore, fear thou not, O my servant Jacob, saith the Lord; neither be dismayed, O Israel: for, lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity” (10). It is their enemies who are without hope (12-16).
No one familiar with the Biblical story can read this chapter without seeing the Messianic Hope depicted in it. It is especially clear in verse 9, “But they shall serve the Lord their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up.” In its fullest sense, this refers to Jesus Christ, the righteous Branch of David (23:5) to reign and execute justice in the earth.
The restoration is not for Judah alone. In fact, the first 22 verses of this chapter refer to the 10 northern tribes, known collectively as Israel. They are already in the bonds of cruel defeat, even as Jeremiah writes these words. “[T]hey shall come and sing in the height of Zion… and their soul shall be as a watered garden; they shall not sorrow any more” (12). [T]hy children shall come again to their own border” (17).
Israel divided into two kingdoms after Solomon died. The northern tribes were called Israel, and existed, more or less independently until conquered by the Assyrians (722 B.C.) and becoming assimilated into the Assyrian culture. The Israelites, who had been guilty of the same sins as Judah, were scattered among the Gentile nations. Some left Israel as refugees from the war devastated land. Others were forced to move by the Assyrians (2 Kings 17:5,6). Those allowed to remain in Israel were later known as Samaritans. Here God promises to bring them home again. Israel and Judah will be reunited as one people.
Verse 23 begins to tell of the restoration of Judah. After the 10 northern tribes left to establish their own kingdom (ca. 950 B.C.), the two remaining tribes of Benjamin and Judah eventually merged and became known as Judah. This kingdom also existed more or less independently until conquered and sacked by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The Babylonians murdered thousands of the surrendered Jews, sacked and burned their cities and towns, and moved tens of thousands of the survivors to Babylon. Verses 23-28 foretell the return and restoration of Judah.
Verse 29 begins to talk about a new Covenant. By their sin, Israel and Judah have nullified the former Covenant. The conquest and deportation of the people, and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the destruction of the House of the Lord in Israel, are very important symbols of the fact that God has recognised that Israel and Judah have failed to keep their Covenant obligations, thereby making the Covenant null and void. Therefore, God is released from His Covenant duties. He is no longer the God of Israel, or the God of Judah, so the places where the people gathered to “meet” Him are not needed. Their destruction graphically portrays the end of the Covenant. It is important to remember here that the Covenant with Israel was conditional. God promised to do specific things, such as giving Canaan to the descendants of Abraham. They also promised to obey God and be His people. If they, or their descendants ever stopped keeping their Covenant obligations, God had the right to end the Covenant and be released from His Covenant obligations. Even the land that He gave them will be taken from them (Dt. 28:63-68).
But God will make a new Covenant with the people. It will be a personal, rather than a national Covenant. This means it will be with individual people who accept and live by it. This Covenant is a spiritual Covenant, and the Covenant people will be a spiritual people, an Israel within Israel. The New Covenant is the Covenant in Christ’s blood, and the spiritual Israel consists of those who enter by faith in Christ (Heb 8:1-9:28).
Obviously, then, much of the language in Jeremiah 31:31-40 is spiritual language. The vast majority of the Jews did not return to Israel when Cyrus of Persia freed them for Babylon. They preferred their new homes in foreign lands. Even today, most Jews remain outside of the modern nation of Israel. But a spiritual reunion, gathered around the righteous Branch of David, has already begun. The Church of God is no longer limited to one country, one nation, or one ethnic group. In the righteous Branch, the Church has embraced believers from every race, nation, and tongue.
Jer. 32, Lk. 6:20-49
Jer. 33, 1 Cor. 3
In the tenth year of Zedekiah’s reign (ca. 588 B.C.), The Babylonian army arrives at Jerusalem again. This time it begins a siege that will cause disease and starvation, and will end in almost complete destruction of the city and the people. During this time, Jeremiah continues to foretell the destruction of the city and the captivity of the people. Angered and desperate, the king, Zedekiah, imprisons the prophet. A nephew comes to the prison and asks Jeremiah to buy a field in Anathoth, Jeremiah’s home town.
Why does the nephew ask this of Jeremiah? Maybe he wants to use the money to try to escape from Jerusalem. Maybe he thinks the Babylonians will change their minds and negotiate peace, which will end the siege. Maybe he is just trying to keep the law of inheritance. But God tells Jeremiah to buy the field. Jeremiah buys the field and has the deed sealed in an air tight and water proof vessel that will preserve the document for many years. Why does the prophet buy land in a country he knows will soon be conquered and devastated? Because he knows God will bring the people back to Jerusalem. “Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land” (15).
Jeremiah’s prayer seems to suggest that God’s command to buy the field is foolish. He probably expects to die in the war, or be killed by the king as a last act of revenge and defiance before the city falls, or be taken to Babylon to die there. In either case, the field will be useless to him. But God uses the field to show the reality of His promise. Just as His threat to destroy the city is being fulfilled, His promise to restore it will also be fulfilled. “I will cause their captivity to return, saith the Lord” (44).
Amid a moving account of the mercy of God in returning the captives comes another word about a king in the line of David. The line of David will be established on the throne again. This means Israel will have some form of independence, with its own king again. Along with this the priesthood, with its services and functions will be established again in Jerusalem. Ultimately these functions will be fulfilled in Jesus Christ, as we have seen in other passages of Jeremiah.