Jeremiah 15 – The Painful Prayer of the Prophet
A. The inevitable destiny of Judah: four forms of destruction.
1. (1) The uselessness of intercession for rebellious Judah.
Then the LORD said to me, “Even if Moses and Samuel stood before Me, My mind would not be favorable toward this people. Cast them out of My sight, and let them go forth.”
a. Even if Moses and Samuel stood before Me: Several times before, God had told Jeremiah to not pray for the people, because their fate of judgment and exile was already certain (Jeremiah 7:16, 11:14, and 14:11). Adding to that previous thought, God said that even if two of the giants of the Old Testament – Moses and Samuel – were to intercede for Judah, it would not change their fate.
i. Moses and Samuel were both known to be great men of intercession (Psalm 99:6-8). Moses seemed to change the destined judgment of Israel through his prayer (Exodus 32). Samuel prayed and the people were rescued from what seemed certain destruction (1 Samuel 7).
ii. “Those two were famous in their generations for hearty love to, and prayers for, that rebellious people, and did much for them.” (Trapp)
b. My mind would not be favorable toward this people: By this Jeremiah understood that it wasn’t as if he were a greater man of faith or prayer, the catastrophe could be avoided. Even if Moses and Samuel were present to pray for Israel, it would not be more effective than the prayers of Jeremiah.
c. Cast them out of My sight, and let them go forth: Judah will face its appointed and righteous exile out of the land.
2. (2-4) The four forms of destruction.
“And it shall be, if they say to you, ‘Where should we go?’ then you shall tell them, ‘Thus says the LORD:
“Such as are for death, to death;
And such as are for the sword, to the sword;
And such as are for the famine, to the famine;
And such as are for the captivity, to the captivity.”’
“And I will appoint over them four forms of destruction,” says the LORD: “the sword to slay, the dogs to drag, the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy. I will hand them over to trouble, to all kingdoms of the earth, because of Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, for what he did in Jerusalem.
a. Where should we go: God promised in the previous verse that Judah would be cast out of His sight and would be sent forth. Now God anticipated the question, “Where should we go?”
b. Death… sword… famine… captivity: Some will go to death (actually, plague or pestilence), some will die in battle by the sword, some will perish through famine, and the remaining will go to the captivity. There would be no good ways to die.
i. “Some shall be destroyed by the pestilence, here termed death. See Jeremiah 18:21.” (Clarke)
c. Four forms of destruction: Additionally (and poetically speaking), there would be four ways a corpse could be dishonored after death. It could come through the sword, through dogs, through the birds of the heavens or through the beasts of the earth. It would seem as if all creation had gathered against judgment-ripe Judah to not only slay them, but to dishonor their dead bodies.
i. “When slain, the corpses will undergo further humiliation from dogs, carrion birds, and other predators.” (Harrison)
ii. “For the corpse of a man to be dragged on the ground and then become carrion for bird and beast was too horrendous for an Israelite to contemplate. It was the ultimate in desecration of the dead.” (Feinberg)
d. Because of Manasseh the son of Hezekiah: There were sinful kings in Judah before and after Manasseh, and the people themselves did not obey and seek God. Yet there was something so horrific about the sin and rebellion of Manasseh that made judgment inevitable, irreversible.
i. The history of Judah tells the story of Manasseh’s great sin (2 Kings 21:9-17). 2 Kings 21:16 summarized it as so: Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another, besides his sin by which he made Judah sin, in doing evil in the sight of the LORD.
ii. The evil Manasseh was the son of Hezekiah – generally a good and godly king. “He was therefore the worse, because he should have been better; and yet the worse again, because he was a ringleader of rebellion to others.” (Trapp)
iii. Yet, strangely, “The monstrous Manasseh found personal forgiveness (2 Chronicles 33:12-13), but his legacy remained, both in the unrequired crimes of his regime against the innocent, and in the sins he had taught his people to embrace.” (Kidner)
iv. I will hand them over to trouble, to all kingdoms of the earth: “Never was there a prophecy more literally fulfilled; and it is still a standing monument of Divine truth. Let infidelity cast its eyes on the scattered Jews whom it may meet with in every civilized nation of the world; and then let it deny the truth of this prophecy, if it can. The Jews are scattered through every nation, and yet are not a nation; nor do they form even a colony on any part of the face of the earth. Behold the truth and the justice of God!” (Clarke, 1830)
B. After judgment, mercy on the remnant.
1. (5-9) Woe upon the widows.
“For who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem?
Or who will bemoan you?
Or who will turn aside to ask how you are doing?
You have forsaken Me,” says the LORD,
“You have gone backward.
Therefore I will stretch out My hand against you and destroy you;
I am weary of relenting!
And I will winnow them with a winnowing fan in the gates of the land;
I will bereave them of children;
I will destroy My people,
Since they do not return from their ways.
Their widows will be increased to Me more than the sand of the seas;
I will bring against them,
Against the mother of the young men,
A plunderer at noonday;
I will cause anguish and terror to fall on them suddenly.
“She languishes who has borne seven;
She has breathed her last;
Her sun has gone down
While it was yet day;
She has been ashamed and confounded.
And the remnant of them I will deliver to the sword
Before their enemies,” says the LORD.
a. For who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem: Speaking through the Prophet Jeremiah, Yahweh asked Jerusalem to consider if anyone else cared for them and their coming crisis. There was no other who cared, who would bemoan their tragedy or take interest in their need.
b. You have forsaken Me: Ironically, Judah rejected and rebelled against the only One who cared for them. Instead of progressing, they had gone backward. God would answer their rejection of Him with His own kind of rejection of them, giving them over to judgment and destruction.
c. I am weary of relenting: Judah was most blind to it, but God had held back His judgment against Judah for a long, long time. They presumed upon God in relenting in His own judgment against them, never considering that one day He would become weary of it and relent no more.
d. I will winnow them with a winnowing fan: The work of winnowing used wind to scatter the chaff, separating it from the valuable grain. God would soon scatter Judah and Jerusalem into exile, as if from a winnowing fan.
e. Their widows will be increased to Me more than the sand of the seas: Considering the destruction and judgment to come upon Judah, God mentioned all the widows that would come forth from those slain in battle and exile.
f. She languishes who has borne seven: Bearing seven children would normally be considered a sign of great blessing – something of a perfect family. Now even that woman suffers and perishes; she has been ashamed and confounded by the great judgment of God to come upon Judah.
i. “To have seven sons is a Hebrew picture of complete happiness, but the mother in Jeremiah 15:9 has had her happiness pass all too soon.” (Feinberg)
2. (10) Jeremiah’s personal woe.
Woe is me, my mother,
That you have borne me,
A man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth!
I have neither lent for interest,
Nor have men lent to me for interest.
Every one of them curses me.
a. Woe is me, my mother, that you have borne me: In considering the severity of his message, Jeremiah thought of the great woe he himself bore. Like Job, he wondered if it would be better if he was never born.
b. A man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth: The woe of Jeremiah lay primarily in the fact that he continually battled for the message God gave him to proclaim. His work as a prophet was filled with strife and contention that seemed to be set against the whole earth.
i. “Generally opposed and quarrelled, for my free and faithful discharge of my duty. This is the world’s wages to godly ministers, whom they usually make their butt-mark. But God be thanked, saith he with Jerome, that I am worthy whom the world should hate. Luther said of himself, Luther is fed with reproaches.” (Trapp)
c. Every one of them curses me: Jeremiah considered it remarkable that he should be so reviled by others when he had not defrauded them by either borrowing or lending to them dishonestly; nevertheless, he felt cursed and not received by all.
i. “This is one of Jeremiah’s most moving confessions. He was complaining of loneliness. His greatness lay in his sensitive nature that felt acute pain for his people and their doom. The hopelessness of the nation’s situation and his own difficulties of his position weighed on him.” (Feinberg)
ii. “One of the greatest trials to which the people of God are subject, in trying to serve their Master, is non-success. The seven lean kine, as they eat up the seven fat kine, sorely try the believer’s faith. Alas! our disappointments seldom come alone, but like Job’s messengers, follow close upon each other’s heels. When a man succeeds, he continues to succeed, as a rule; he derives encouragement from what God has already done by him, and goes from strength to strength. Probably, however, there is more grace exhibited by the Christian, who, without present success, realises the things not seen as yet, and continues still to work on. To labor is not easy, but to labor and to wait is harder far.” (Spurgeon)
3. (11-14) Promise of help, promise of exile.
The LORD said:
“Surely it will be well with your remnant;
Surely I will cause the enemy to intercede with you
In the time of adversity and in the time of affliction.
Can anyone break iron,
The northern iron and the bronze?
Your wealth and your treasures
I will give as plunder without price,
Because of all your sins,
Throughout your territories.
And I will make you cross over with your enemies
Into a land which you do not know;
For a fire is kindled in My anger,
Which shall burn upon you.”
a. Surely it will be well with your remnant: God promised Jeremiah – both personally and as a representative of his people – that they would not be utterly forsaken in their exile. God would give him favor among the enemy to come (I will cause the enemy to intercede with you).
i. “Notice that there is no release from his calling: only a renewing of it.” (Kidner)
ii. “This was literally fulfilled; see Jeremiah 39:11, etc. Nebuchadnezzar had given strict charge to Nebuzar-adan, commander in chief, to look well to Jeremiah, to do him no harm, and to grant him all the privileges he was pleased to ask.” (Clarke)
b. Can anyone break iron, the northern iron and the bronze? Though God said He would take care of His Prophet Jeremiah in the coming crisis, it did not mean that the fate of Judah generally had changed. The weapons of Babylon – made with strong northern iron and the bronze – would surely come against them.
i. “The finest quality iron (northern ore) in the seventh century BC came from the Black Sea region. Clearly the armaments of Judah would be insufficient to repel the Babylonian armies.” (Harrison)
c. I will make you cross over with your enemies into a land which you do not know: Not only was the judgment and conquest of Judah certain, but they would also be exiled from their land into the unknown land of their enemies.
4. (15-18) The painful prayer of the prophet.
O LORD, You know;
Remember me and visit me,
And take vengeance for me on my persecutors.
In Your enduring patience, do not take me away.
Know that for Your sake I have suffered rebuke.
Your words were found, and I ate them,
And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart;
For I am called by Your name,
O LORD God of hosts.
I did not sit in the assembly of the mockers,
Nor did I rejoice;
I sat alone because of Your hand,
For You have filled me with indignation.
Why is my pain perpetual
And my wound incurable,
Which refuses to be healed?
Will You surely be to me like an unreliable stream,
As waters that fail?
a. Remember me and visit me, and take vengeance for me on my persecutors: Jeremiah did what other godly men in the Bible also did – he looked to God for protection and justice when persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Jeremiah could rightly say, “for Your sake I have suffered rebuke,” so he could also rightly entrust whatever vengeance was appropriate unto God’s care.
i. Remember me: “Israelite ‘remembering’ was not mere recollection. It was a recapturing of the past in a way that led to action in the present.” (Thompson)
ii. “He is alienated from his people because of his witness, yet he has no choice but to proclaim God’s word to a recalcitrant nation. He is a lonely, anxious man, yet one who rejoices that God dwells in his heart.” (Harrison)
b. Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart: As Jeremiah continued to plead his case before God, he declared to God his great love for and focus upon God’s word.
· Jeremiah first found God’s word, neither neglecting it nor taking it for granted.
· Jeremiah then ate God’s word, taking it in as food for the soul and receiving refreshment and nourishment from it.
· Jeremiah then regarded God’s word as the joy and rejoicing of his heart. He delighted upon the word of God and did so in his innermost being.
i. “I have said that Jeremiah lets us into a secret. His outer life, consisting in his perpetual faithful ministry, was to be accounted for by his inward love of the word which he preached.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “It is a very different thing from saying,‘Thy word was found, and I did admire it,’ or ‘Thy word was found, and I did criticise it,’ or ‘Thy word was found, and I did divide it and make a sermon of it.’ That is a minister’s temptation.” (Spurgeon)
c. For I am called by Your name: This interest and value placed upon God’s word seemed natural and appropriate for Jeremiah, because he knew that he was called by God’s own name. Jeremiah would think it strange that anyone called by His name would not find interest and nourishment and joy in God’s word.
d. I did not sit in the assembly of the mockers: Jeremiah pleaded his separation from those who did not value or love God’s word. He did so in wording suggestive of Psalm 1, which shows the blessing to attentiveness to God’s word.
i. “It was his unhappy duty to denounce the judgments of God upon a people whom he dearly loved, but whom it was impossible to save; for even his deep anguish of heart and melting pathos were powerless with them, and rather excited their ridicule than their attention.” (Spurgeon)
e. I sat alone because of Your hand: The separation from the mockers meant that there were times when the prophet sat alone, out of obedience and integrity to God and His word.
i. “The reason why Jeremiah sat alone was because of Yahweh’s hand, that is, he was under divine constraint for his special task.” (Thompson)
f. Why is my pain perpetual… will You surely be to me like an unreliable stream: Jeremiah had a true trust in God and connection to His Word, yet this did not remove the crisis. There were still times when his pain seemed perpetual and he feared God might not be faithful to him – as an unreliable stream. This was a genuine challenge to Jeremiah’s faith in God’s goodness and power.
i. “Time was when Jeremiah thought of Yahweh as a ‘fountain of living water (Jeremiah 2:13). But now he seems like waters that have failed.” (Thompson)
ii. “In his distraught state, Jeremiah charged the Lord with failure to fulfill his promises to strengthen him in his resistance against his enemies.” (Feinberg)
iii. “This was a fit of diffidence and discontent, as the best have their outbursts, and the greatest lamps have needed snuffers.” (Trapp)
5. (19-21) A promise to protect the prophet.
Therefore thus says the LORD:
“If you return,
Then I will bring you back;
You shall stand before Me;
If you take out the precious from the vile,
You shall be as My mouth.
Let them return to you,
But you must not return to them.
And I will make you to this people a fortified bronze wall;
And they will fight against you,
But they shall not prevail against you;
For I am with you to save you
And deliver you,” says the Lord.
“I will deliver you from the hand of the wicked,
And I will redeem you from the grip of the terrible.”
a. If you return, then I will bring you back: God promised Jeremiah that despite the current rejection and the coming crisis, there remained a promise of restoration. If he rejected the temptation to regard God as uncaring or unreliable and continued to take out the precious from the vile, he would continue to be a spokesman for God.
i. “In Jeremiah’s heart there were unworthy thoughts of God, and these had found expression in his utterances. Let him purge his heart of such alloy (take out the precious from the vile), and devote himself only to the true gold of truth concerning God.” (Morgan)
ii. “It is ironic that God had to tell Jeremiah to repent. For years Jeremiah had been telling the people of Israel to turn back in repentance. But he had some repenting of his own to do.” (Ryken)
b. Let them return to you, but you must not return to them: It was important for Jeremiah to remain as an unmovable prophet of God. The people of God could return to him, but he must not move from his place to accommodate them.
i. “The end of verse 19 has a play on words; ‘turn,’ ‘not turn.’ He must lift his people and not let them drag him down to their level.” (Feinberg)
c. I will make you to this people a fortified bronze wall: If Jeremiah remained steadfast in his position as God’s prophet, God would make him strong and unconquerable. God would fulfill His promise to deliver from the hand of the wicked and to redeem from the grip of the terrible.
i. “How gracious was God to His overwrought servant in the face of this querulous outburst! He did not write Jeremiah off as a failure, but showing him the worthlessness of such unfounded accusations, He indicated the way of restoration through repentance and divine strength.” (Cundall)
ii. “The promise of deliverance is expressed in three significant Old Testament verbs of deliverance…they are found in such significant passages as the Exodus story, although they have a more general application. The total picture of deliverance is many-sided and each verb provides a different emphasis.” (Thompson)
· Save: “Its related nouns lay stress on the bringing out of those under restraint into a broad place.” (Thompson)
· Deliver: “Pictures the activity of one who snatches his prey from the grasp of a powerful possessor.” (Thompson)
· Redeem: “Normally used in reference to liberation from the possession of another by the giving up of a ransom…it came to refer to acts of deliverance in daily life.” (Thompson)
iii. “The heartening promises of verses 20-21 remind Jeremiah of his opening call, almost word for word (cf. 1:18-19). They offer nothing easy. But the strength that they speak of, and the undefeated outcome, will be the glory of Jeremiah’s ministry.” (Kidner)