Jeremiah 16 – Living Signs of Coming Judgment
A. Jeremiah’s call to live as a sign of coming judgment.
1. (1-4) Jeremiah commanded to not take a wife or to father children.
The word of the LORD also came to me, saying, “You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place.” For thus says the LORD concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning their mothers who bore them and their fathers who begot them in this land: “They shall die gruesome deaths; they shall not be lamented nor shall they be buried, but they shall be like refuse on the face of the earth. They shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, and their corpses shall be meat for the birds of heaven and for the beasts of the earth.”
a. You shall not take a wife: God gave Jeremiah a unique command, one that went against the general will of God for His people and against the strong cultural traditions of the Jewish people. Jeremiah was commanded to neither take a wife nor to have sons or daughters.
i. In ancient Jewish culture (and among many observant Jews today) it was a shame and a dishonor to be single and childless. Marriage and childbearing were expected. Jeremiah’s obedience to God’s command would attract attention.
· “Since marriage was the normal state of life for a healthy adult Hebrew male, abstinence for the reasons given would furnish a powerful object-lesson.” (Harrison)
· “Celibacy was unusual, not only in Israel, but throughout the Near East.” (Feinberg)
· “Biblical Hebrew does not even have a word for ‘bachelor.’” (Ryken)
ii. We should suppose that like most others, Jeremiah looked for the blessings and benefits of marriage and parenthood. These were legitimate desires for him to have; yet in order to fulfill the call of God upon his life, he may need to deny such things to pursue the higher call. Jesus would later explain that His followers must be willing to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23). According to the will of God for the individual believer, this may mean giving up otherwise legitimate pursuits.
iii. Under the New Covenant and among Christians, marriage and childbearing are still honored and one might say expected. Nevertheless, the New Testament gives specific honor and status to the unmarried, telling them to regard their state as a calling from God, even as Jeremiah (1 Corinthians 7:7-9; 7:26-35).
b. They shall die gruesome deaths: This was God’s reason for the unusual command to Jeremiah. The present time was so filled with distress and coming crisis that it was wise for Jeremiah not to marry or have children.
i. This was much the same reasoning Paul used in advising contentment with the unmarried state in 1 Corinthians 7:26-35 – that they could find contentment in light of the present distress (1 Corinthians 7:26).
ii. “His being denied a wife and children would be a warning that the family life of the nation was to be disrupted.” (Feinberg)
2. (5-7) Jeremiah commanded not to mourn with others.
For thus says the LORD: “Do not enter the house of mourning, nor go to lament or bemoan them; for I have taken away My peace from this people,” says the LORD, “lovingkindness and mercies. Both the great and the small shall die in this land. They shall not be buried; neither shall men lament for them, cut themselves, nor make themselves bald for them. Nor shall men break bread in mourning for them, to comfort them for the dead; nor shall men give them the cup of consolation to drink for their father or their mother.
a. Do not enter the house of mourning, nor go to lament: It was and is normal to mourn and lament with others in the time of death. Yet because God had taken away His peace from this people, Jeremiah was not to join with others in their formal expressions of mourning.
i. “Not to show grief was abnormal and was cause for criticism. The rituals for the bereaved – even for those who lost a father or mother – would not be permitted. So Jeremiah would be denied the blessing of serving the sorrowing.” (Feinberg)
b. Both the great and the small shall die in this land: Jeremiah was to stay away from occasions of mourning with others as a sign of the great calamity to come upon Judah, when death would be so widespread that the dead shall not be buried; neither shall men lament for them.
c. Cut themselves, nor make themselves bald for them: When the coming judgment struck Judah, none of the mourning practices would be observed. Not those that were culturally accepted (break bread in mourning for them) nor those that were disobedient imitations of pagan rituals for the dead (cut themselves).
i. Cut themselves: “These are rites of self-mutilation, in which the mourners cut or gashed themselves and shaved the head and the beard. They seem to have been widely practiced in Israel (Jeremiah 41:45; 47:5; 48:37; Isaiah 15:2-3; 22:12; Ezekiel 7:18; Micah 1:16, etc.) even though they were forbidden.” (Thompson)
3. (8-9) Jeremiah commanded not to feast with others.
“Also you shall not go into the house of feasting to sit with them, to eat and drink.” For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Behold, I will cause to cease from this place, before your eyes and in your days, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.”
a. Also you shall not go into the house of feasting to sit with them: Just as Jeremiah was commanded to detach himself from normal family relationships and expressions of public mourning, so he was also to detach himself from public celebrations. All these were done as signs of the coming judgment.
i. “What this meant to a heart as exquisitely tender as Jeremiah’s can only be imagined. In the tight-knit community of Judah it was tantamount to a self-imposed excommunication.” (Cundall)
b. I will cause to cease from this place…the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness: When the crisis of judgment came upon Judah there would be no gladness or wedding celebrations. As a sign, Jeremiah was to live in his present day as if that judgment had already come.
B. Alternating words of judgment and restoration.
1. (10-13) Explaining God’s judgment to the people of Judah.
“And it shall be, when you show this people all these words, and they say to you, ‘Why has the LORD pronounced all this great disaster against us? Or what is our iniquity? Or what is our sin that we have committed against the LORD our God?’ then you shall say to them, ‘Because your fathers have forsaken Me,’ says the LORD; ‘they have walked after other gods and have served them and worshiped them, and have forsaken Me and not kept My law. And you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, each one follows the dictates of his own evil heart, so that no one listens to Me. Therefore I will cast you out of this land into a land that you do not know, neither you nor your fathers; and there you shall serve other gods day and night, where I will not show you favor.’”
a. Why has the LORD pronounced all this great disaster against us: Several times in the Book of Jeremiah, the LORD anticipated this question from the people and leaders of Judah and was concerned to answer it. It was important to God that they did not regard the calamity as misfortune or bad luck; they needed to see that it was a just response to their sin and rebellion.
b. Because your fathers have forsaken Me: This coming conquest and exile of Judah was not due to the sin of only one generation. It was hardened rebellion over several generations that brought Judah to their soon-to-come judgment.
c. And you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, each one follows the dictates of his own evil heart: The sins of their fathers were enough to make them liable for judgment, but beyond that they added their own guilt. To the sins of their fathers (idolatry and rejection of the LORD’s ways), they also worshipped self in a significant way.
d. I will cast you out of this land into a land you do not know: Because of the collective guilt of their fathers and their own generation, conquest and exile were sure to come.
i. There you shall serve other gods day and night: “There Jeremiah ironically assures them that they will have the opportunity of indulging their desire for pagan worship day and night.” (Feinberg)
2. (14-15) The wonderful promise of restoration from exile.
“Therefore behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “that it shall no more be said, ‘The LORD lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt,’ but, ‘The LORD lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north and from all the lands where He had driven them.’ For I will bring them back into their land which I gave to their fathers.”
a. Therefore behold the days are coming: The previous word from Jeremiah was about as dark as could be, with God promising I will not show you favor in the land of their coming exile. Yet as if God could not help Himself, that word of despair is immediately followed by a wonderful and gracious promise.
b. No more shall it be said, “The LORD lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt”: God’s deliverance of His people from Egypt was the central act of redemption in the Old Testament. Through the Passover celebration and in many other ways, God constantly reminded Israel of this great work.
c. But, “The LORD lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north and from all the lands where He had driven them”: God made a remarkable promise – that there would be a new measure of His greatness and redemptive power. The new measure would be the return from captivity when God would bring them back into their land.
i. “The reference to ‘all the countries’ shows that the prophet was predicting a restoration from a general dispersion after the Exile.” (Feinberg)
ii. There is a valuable spiritual analogy here. The initial work of redemption in the life of a believer is great; but the restoring work of the believer – when God brings a chastened child of His out of a metaphorical exile and back into His favor and promise – this work may sometimes be regarded as even greater. This is the principle God revealed to Jeremiah.
3. (16-18) The zeal of God in pursing the people ripe for judgment.
“Behold, I will send for many fishermen,” says the LORD, “and they shall fish them; and afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks. For My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from My face, nor is their iniquity hidden from My eyes. And first I will repay double for their iniquity and their sin, because they have defiled My land; they have filled My inheritance with the carcasses of their detestable and abominable idols.”
a. I will send for many fishermen: These were fishers of men, but in a negative sense. God would send metaphorical fishermen and hunters upon His rebellious people to capture them for the promised judgment and exile. They could not hide from the God whose eyes were on all their ways.
i. “Howbeit, some by fishers understand the Egyptians, who lived much by fishing, and by hunters the Chaldeans (as Genesis 10:8,9).” (Trapp)
ii. “The ‘fishers’ would first net the big haul, presumably a reference to deportation, to be followed by ‘hunters’, who would ferret out the individual survivors.” (Cundall)
iii. I will repay double: “Perhaps a better translation goes like this: ‘I will repay them exactly what they deserve for their wickedness and their sin.’ Their punishment was not so much double as it was proportional. The punishment fit the crime.” (Ryken)
b. Because they have defiled My land: This explained one reason why exile was an appropriate answer to Judah’s deeply sinful condition. Because they defiled the LORD’s land, they would be cast out of that land for a season.
i. The carcasses of their detestable and abominable idols: “Either meaning the idols themselves, which were only carcasses without life; or the sacrifices which were made to them.” (Clarke)
ii. “But to be amazed at her tolerance of other gods is to be no less amazed at a generation – our own – which prides itself on religious pluralism and is embarrassed at the exclusive claims of Christianity.” (Kidner)
4. (19-21) Yahweh glorified among the Gentiles.
O LORD, my strength and my fortress,
My refuge in the day of affliction,
The Gentiles shall come to You
From the ends of the earth and say,
“Surely our fathers have inherited lies,
Worthlessness and unprofitable things.”
Will a man make gods for himself,
Which are not gods?
“Therefore behold, I will this once cause them to know,
I will cause them to know
My hand and My might;
And they shall know that My name is the LORD.
a. O LORD, my strength and my fortress, my refuge in the day of affliction: Despite the gloom of Judah’s condition and their impending judgment, Jeremiah still found strength and refuge in the LORD.
b. The Gentiles shall come to You: Not only would God fulfill the promise to restore His own people from their exile, but He would also do an even greater work. God promised to draw the Gentiles unto Himself, drawing them from the ends of the earth.
c. Surely our fathers have inherited lies, worthless and unprofitable things: This would be the repentant testimony of the Gentiles drawn to the LORD. They would see the vanity of their idols and unprofitable things.
i. “The thought of God’s proven reality, over against the phantom gods of heathenism, opens Jeremiah’s eyes to foresee the day when far-flung peoples will realize the hollowness of their religions and turn to the Lord.” (Kidner)
ii. Will a man make gods for himself, which are not gods? “Can any be so silly, and so preposterously absurd? Yes, fallen man is capable of any thing that is base, mean, vile, and wicked, till influenced and converted by the grace of Christ.” (Clarke)
d. I will cause them to know My hand and My might: God promised a mighty revelation of His power and greatness to the Gentiles. This promise was fulfilled in the display of God’s power and love through the work of Jesus and the ongoing presentation of that message.
i. They shall know that My name is the LORD: “In that way the nations would come to know that his name was Yahweh. But a name denoted one’s character, and the very name Yahweh denoted a wide range of attributes not least of which as his power to save.” (Thompson)
ii. “Expositors are divided as to whether the Jews or the Gentiles are meant here. Actually, what is said will apply to both; there is no need to exclude either one (cf. Ezekiel 36:23; 37:14).” (Feinberg)