Jeremiah 11 – A Broken Covenant and a Conspiracy
A. A curse to the covenant breakers.
1. (1-5) The covenant and the curse.
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, “Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD God of Israel: “Cursed is the man who does not obey the words of this covenant which I commanded your fathers in the day I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and do according to all that I command you; so shall you be My people, and I will be your God,’ that I may establish the oath which I have sworn to your fathers, to give them ‘a land flowing with milk and honey,’ as it is this day.”’” And I answered and said, “So be it, LORD.”
a. Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah: God spoke to Judah about their failure to keep the ancient covenant Israel made with God at Mount Sinai in the days of Moses (Exodus 24:1-8).
i. In that Sinai (or Mosaic) covenant, “God promised to supply all the material and spiritual needs of the infant nation in return for undivided worship and obedience.” (Harrison)
b. Cursed is the man who does not obey the words of this covenant: When Israel made the covenant with God at Mount Sinai, there were specific curses pronounced against those who violated the covenant (Deuteronomy 27:15-26). Here, God simply promised that He would enforce the terms of the covenant made in the day I brought them out of the land of Egypt.
i. Of this covenant: “It is probable that Jeremiah, when he said this, held the book in his hand, viz., the book of Deuteronomy.” (Trapp)
c. From the iron furnace: This is the third place in the Scriptures where Israel’s agony in Egypt is described as an iron furnace (also at Deuteronomy 4:20 and 1 Kings 8:51). Some think that a part of Israel’s slave labor in Egypt was to work as slaves in literal iron furnaces.
d. To give them “a land flowing with milk and honey”: God fulfilled all His obligations of the covenant, even blessing Israel with an abundant land. It was the children of Israel who did not obey their obligations of the covenant.
i. And I answered and said, “So be it, LORD”: “When God recapitulated his promises in the heart of Jeremiah, even though they involved a curse on those who neutralized his words, there arose from it a deep response. He answered and said, Amen, O Lord. What a remarkable example for us all!” (Meyer)
ii. “There is a vast difference between the liturgical ‘Amen’ which is merely conventional, and which in the saying means nothing; and the Amen which comes out of the deep inner agreement of mind and heart and will with the purposes and methods of God.” (Morgan)
2. (6-8) The command to preach the message of the broken covenant.
Then the LORD said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, saying: ‘Hear the words of this covenant and do them. For I earnestly exhorted your fathers in the day I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, until this day, rising early and exhorting, saying, “Obey My voice.” Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone followed the dictates of his evil heart; therefore I will bring upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but which they have not done.’”
a. Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: Jeremiah’s assignment was to preach this message of the broken covenant and its consequences in Jerusalem and the other cities of Judah.
b. For I earnestly exhorted your fathers: God gave the people of Israel many warnings and encouragements to do what was right under the covenant. He wanted their obedience and did all He could to cultivate and encourage it, God even rising early and exhorting them (to use an understandable figure of speech).
c. Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone followed the dictates of his evil heart: Instead of following God’s instructions and warnings, they went their own way, followed their own heart. Therefore God said, I will bring upon them all the words of this covenant.
3. (9-10) The conspiracy of disobedience.
And the LORD said to me, “A conspiracy has been found among the men of Judah and among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers who refused to hear My words, and they have gone after other gods to serve them; the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken My covenant which I made with their fathers.”
a. A conspiracy has been found: God told Jeremiah that the men of Judah and Jerusalem were organized in a conspiracy. Perhaps on a human level they were unaware of the coordination of the conspiracy, and perhaps spiritual forces of wickedness in high places organized it. Yet it existed and mattered just the same.
i. “The term is a metaphor. There was no deep-laid plot, no secrecy behind the apostasy that Jeremiah witnessed, although religiously Judah displayed all that a carefully organized plot would achieve.” (Thompson)
ii. “So attractive were the depraved Canaanite fertility rites, and so widespread the resultant idolatry in Israel, that it appeared as though the people had deliberately plotted to renounce their covenantal obligations and espouse apostasy.” (Harrison)
b. They have turned their back to the iniquities of their forefathers who refused to hear My words: The conspiracy was a work of both breaking the commandments of God, and refusing to hear the warnings of God. It ended up being a conspiracy to break their covenant with God.
4. (11-14) The curse to come upon the covenant breakers.
Therefore thus says the LORD: “Behold, I will surely bring calamity on them which they will not be able to escape; and though they cry out to Me, I will not listen to them. Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they offer incense, but they will not save them at all in the time of their trouble. For according to the number of your cities were your gods, O Judah; and according to the number of the streets of Jerusalem you have set up altars to that shameful thing, altars to burn incense to Baal. So do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them; for I will not hear them in the time that they cry out to Me because of their trouble.”
a. I will surely bring calamity on them which they will not be able to escape: This was simply the promised consequence of disobedience under the Mosaic Covenant (Deuteronomy 27:15-26).
b. The inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they offer incense, but they will not save them at all in their time of trouble: One way the people of Judah broke the Mosaic Covenant was by their worship of the false and pagan gods of the surrounding nations. When Yahweh cursed them under the terms of that covenant, they would find no help from those gods.
c. For I will not hear them in the time that they cry out to Me: The false gods would be silent because they were nothing. The LORD God of Israel would be silent as an expression of His judgment against His people.
i. Of all the curses that might come upon a people, surely one of the most terrible is the silence of God in our time of trouble or need.
5. (15-17) The disappointment of rejected love.
“What has My beloved to do in My house,
Having done lewd deeds with many?
And the holy flesh has passed from you.
When you do evil, then you rejoice.
The LORD called your name,
Green Olive Tree, Lovely and of Good Fruit.
With the noise of a great tumult
He has kindled fire on it,
And its branches are broken.
“For the LORD of hosts, who planted you, has pronounced doom against you for the evil of the house of Israel and of the house of Judah, which they have done against themselves to provoke Me to anger in offering incense to Baal.”
a. What has My beloved to do in My house, having done lewd deeds with many? God regarded Israel as His beloved; yet they played the part of the unfaithful spouse, being unfaithful with false gods. Therefore, God appropriately asked why they were still in His house.
i. “As if a husband should say to his adulterous wife, What maketh this strumpet in my bed, since she hath so many paramours?” (Trapp)
ii. The holy flesh has passed from you: “The sacrifice sanctified by the altar shall be wholly taken away from you, together with the temple.” (Trapp)
b. When you do evil, then you rejoice: This is the description of a sin-sick society. Not only do they sin; they openly rejoice in their evil.
c. The LORD called your name, Green Olive Tree, Lovely, and of Good Fruit: This describes the expressions of love and endearment God gave to Israel. He loved them tenderly and deeply; yet they returned His love with unfaithfulness. They rejected God’s endearment and love.
d. He has kindled fire on it, and its branches are broken: Though God once held His people in such dear regard, that would not stop His appropriate judgment against them. Though He had planted them, He still pronounced doom against them for their stubborn sin and idolatry.
B. The conspiracy and threat against Jeremiah.
1. (18-19) Jeremiah’s knowledge of the threat against him.
Now the LORD gave me knowledge of it, and I know it; for You showed me their doings. But I was like a docile lamb brought to the slaughter; and I did not know that they had devised schemes against me, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name may be remembered no more.”
a. Now the LORD gave me knowledge of it, and I know it: God showed Jeremiah the doings of his enemies. By what follows (Jeremiah 11:21), we understand that these enemies were the men of Anathoth, which was Jeremiah’s home village (Jeremiah 1:1, 29:27, 32:7-9).
i. This was an example of divine protection over the prophet. The day might come when God would allow Jeremiah to lay down his life in faithfulness to the LORD; but that day was not yet.
b. But I was like a docile lamb brought to the slaughter: This was Jeremiah’s state before God warned him (I did not know that they had devised schemes against me). He was defenseless before God showed him that his enemies wanted to cut him down like a tree.
i. The phrase like a docile lamb brought to the slaughter reminds us of Jesus, who was also rejected by His own people (John 1:11). In Isaiah’s great prophecy of the Suffering Servant, he described the Messiah as a lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7, Acts 8:32). Jeremiah’s faithfulness to God built in him a growing likeness to the Messiah who perfectly represented God (John 1:18, John 14:9).
ii. “As another Lamb of God observed, a man’s foes shall be those of his own household (Matthew 10:36).” (Harrison)
2. (20) Jeremiah’s prayer and confidence.
But, O LORD of hosts,
You who judge righteously,
Testing the mind and the heart,
Let me see Your vengeance on them,
For to You I have revealed my cause.
a. But, O LORD of hosts: Knowing the threat against his life, Jeremiah did the right thing – he prayed. He began his prayer addressing God as the LORD of hosts, a title recalling that God is the commander of heavenly armies.
b. You who judge righteously, testing the mind and heart: Jeremiah prayed for protection, but not to be shielded as an evildoer. He looked for God’s protection to be given according to His righteousness and perfect wisdom.
c. Let me see Your vengeance on them, for to You I have revealed my cause: Properly, Jeremiah understood that vengeance belonged to the LORD (as in Deuteronomy 32:35 and Romans 12:19). He revealed his cause to God and would trust Him to deal with it.
i. “His fierce reaction to the plot will shock us, but God upheld it, for it asked no more than justice.” (Kidner)
3. (21-23) God’s promise to punish the ones who threatened to kill Jeremiah.
“Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the men of Anathoth who seek your life, saying, ‘Do not prophesy in the name of the LORD, lest you die by our hand’— therefore thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Behold, I will punish them. The young men shall die by the sword, their sons and their daughters shall die by famine; and there shall be no remnant of them, for I will bring catastrophe on the men of Anathoth, even the year of their punishment.’”
a. Thus says the LORD concerning the men of Anathoth who seek your life: The village of Anathoth was Jeremiah’s home (Jeremiah 1:1). It was the people of his own village who wanted to kill him.
i. Much of Jeremiah’s work was done during the days of the reforming King Josiah. One thing Josiah did was to shut down the disobedient and unauthorized sacrifices on the high places, outside the altar at the temple in Jerusalem. The local priests at Anathoth may have resented that their shrine was shut down and may have hated Jeremiah because he supported Josiah.
ii. “There would have been some strong reason why Jeremiah’s fellow citizens took such strong action against him, although such actions are not unknown even today in the Middle East. Sometimes members of a family will set out to kill a kinsman who has brought disgrace on the family.” (Thompson)
b. Do not prophesy in the name of the LORD, lest you die by our hand: This was the threat they made against Jeremiah. It was clear that what they hated was the message from God that he brought.
c. Behold, I will punish them: God promised to bring particular judgment against the men of Anathoth. Jeremiah must have had mixed feelings about this; he was happy that God defended him and would recompense his enemies, but no doubt grieved at the judgment to come upon the men of his own village.
i. “And the punishment is, Their young men shall die by the sword of the Chaldeans; and their sons and daughters shall die by the famine that shall come on the land through the desolations occasioned by the Chaldean army.” (Clarke)