Jeremiah 17 – The Folly of Misplaced Trust
A. The depth of Judah’s sin.
1. (1-4) Pen and paper for Judah’s sin.
“The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron;
With the point of a diamond it is engraved
On the tablet of their heart,
And on the horns of your altars,
While their children remember
Their altars and their wooden images
By the green trees on the high hills.
O My mountain in the field,
I will give as plunder your wealth, all your treasures,
And your high places of sin within all your borders.
And you, even yourself,
Shall let go of your heritage which I gave you;
And I will cause you to serve your enemies
In the land which you do not know;
For you have kindled a fire in My anger which shall burn forever.”
a. The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron: As prophet the begins to describe the character and extent of Judah’s sin, he starts with a figure that emphasizes the hardness and strength of Judah’s rebellion against God. Their sins were engraved deeply upon them, as if written with an iron pen, and with the point of a diamond. There was nothing superficial about their sinful state.
i. “A ‘pen of iron’ was used for cutting inscriptions in rock or stone. The point of the metaphors is not the hardness of the materials used, but the indelible nature of what is written.” (Cundall)
b. On the tablet of their heart, and on the horns of your altars: Both the heart and the religious works of the people were deeply etched with sin. These bore the indelible marks of Judah’s determined rebellion.
i. “The people’s heart has guilt not only written all over it but etched into it, engraved beyond erasure.” (Kidner)
ii. “Only when God wrote his law on his people’s heart could obedience replace rebellion.” (Thompson)
iii. “The reference to ‘the horns of their altars’ may be to the altars of Baal.” (Feinberg)
c. While their children remember: Engraving upon a stone tablet lasts for generations, and so would the etching of sin upon the heart and the altars set a sinful course for coming generations. Their sin was written so deep and in such places that it would be read for generations.
d. I will cause you to serve your enemies: For all this deeply ingrained sin – especially idolatry with wooden images upon the high hills – God promised to bring His judgment upon Judah.
2. (5-8) The folly of trusting in man.
Thus says the LORD:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the LORD.
For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
And whose hope is the LORD.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.
a. Cursed is the man who trusts in man: One might say that this curse does not require the special activity of God; this curse is simply associated with trust placed on failing and fallible man. This is especially true because one cannot make flesh his strength without also the heart departing from the LORD.
b. He shall be like a shrub in the desert: Jeremiah pictured a weak, dry shrub in the desert about to die from drought. This is the picture of the one (believer or not) who trusts in man instead of the LORD; they are dry and unsustainable.
i. “The ‘shrub’ of Jeremiah 17:6 could be the dwarf juniper, stunted and barely alive in an area of low rainfall and poor soil.” (Cundall)
ii. Like a shrub in the desert: “According to Nogah Hareuveni, an expert on plants of the Bible, in Hebrew the name of this tree is called the Arar, which sounds similar to the word for cursed (arur) and is part of a wordplay which is central to this poem.” (Tverberg)
iii. “The Bedouin call this tree the ‘Cursed Lemon’ or ‘Sodom Apple’ because it grows in the desert salt lands that surround the Dead Sea where Sodom and Gomorrah once were. According to their legends, when God destroyed Sodom, he cursed the fruit of this tree also…. When opened, the fruit makes a ‘pssst’ sound, and is hollow and filled with webs and dust and a dry pit.” (Tverberg)
iv. “Interestingly, the cursed tree looks very healthy and abundant, as if it has survived even in hard times and still has done well in life.” (Tverberg)
c. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD: In contrast, the one who trusts in the LORD will be like a tree planted by the waters, whose leaf will be green. Jeremiah drew on the images of Psalm 1, where the blessed man is the one who delights in God’s word (Psalm 1:1-3). In some sense, Jeremiah thought trusting in the LORD to be the same as delighting in His word.
i. “Since Jeremiah offers two variations on the theme of Psalm 1, here in 17:5-8 and also in 12:1-2, it seems possible that Psalm 1 was available to the prophet.” (Thompson)
3. (9-10) The folly of trusting one’s own heart.
“The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?
I, the LORD, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give every man according to his ways,
According to the fruit of his doings.
a. The heart is deceitful above all things: Trusting the heart is just another way of trusting in man. To this point, the Prophet Jeremiah has given some reason to be cautious about the inclinations and direction of the heart. He noted how the evil heart of the people of Judah had led them astray.
· Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone followed the dictates of his evil heart. (Jeremiah 11:8)
· They prophesy to you a false vision, divination, a worthless thing, and the deceit of their heart. (Jeremiah 14:14)
· Each one follows the dictates of his own evil heart, so that no one listens to Me. (Jeremiah 16:12)
b. The heart is deceitful above all things: Our hearts often deceive us, presenting heart-fulfillment as the key to happiness. What we desire is often not what we need. The advice “be true to your heart” fails when the heart is deceitful above all things.
i. “In the OT usage the heart signifies the total inner being and includes reason. From the heart come action and will.” (Feinberg)
ii. “The pravity and perversity of the man’s heart, full of harlotry and creature confidence, deceiving and being deceived, is here plainly and plentifully described; and oh that it were duly and deeply considered.” (Trapp)
c. And desperately wicked: The heart is not only deceitful, but also wicked – and desperately so. Many have been led to rebellion, disobedience, and great sorrow by following their heart, without challenging their heart and judging it by the measure of God’s truth. “Follow your heart” is poor advice when the heart is desperately wicked.
i. The sense of the Hebrew for desperately wicked seems to have sickness more than depravity in mind. “Unregenerate human nature is in a desperate condition without divine grace, described by the term gravely ill in verse 9 (RSV desperately corrupt, NEB desperately sick).” (Harrison)
ii. For the believer under the New Covenant, we have a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26), are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), and a new man patterned after Jesus (Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 3:10). Still, there is an element of sin and flesh that remains in the believer. Since Jeremiah used the term heart in a general sense, we can say that our identity is not deceitful and desperately wicked; yet we still have to deal with an element of inward deceit and wickedness.
d. Who can know it: The heart’s deceit and wickedness are advanced enough that even the individual may not know or understand their own heart, and outsiders have even more difficulty in discerning the heart of others.
e. I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind: Though knowing the heart of one’s self or others is difficult and sometimes impossible, God searches, tests, and knows the heart and mind. It is wise to trust what God says about us more than what we think or feel about ourselves.
i. I test the mind: “A second word is here set in parallel to heart, literally, ‘kidneys’, hidden depths. These, Yahweh assays or ‘tests’…the two terms ‘heart’ and ‘kidneys’ cover the range of hidden elements in man’s character and personality. Nothing is hidden from Yahweh.” (Thomspon)
ii. “The Lord is called by his apostles, Acts 1:24, kardiognōstēs, the Knower of the heart. To him alone can this epithet be applied; and it is from him alone that we can derive that instruction by which we can in any measure know ourselves.” (Clarke)
f. Even to give to every man according to his ways: Because God perfectly knows the heart and mind of man, His judgment is true. God knows to what extent the heart either justifies or condemns the doings of a man or woman.
4. (11) The folly of trusting in riches.
“As a partridge that broods but does not hatch,
So is he who gets riches, but not by right;
It will leave him in the midst of his days,
And at his end he will be a fool.”
a. As a partridge that broods but does not hatch, so is he who gets riches, but not by right: Jeremiah just spoke to the folly of trusting one’s heart. Now, he states a proverb meant to show the foolishness of trusting in riches. Not all riches are condemned; only those gained not by right.
i. “Thus many a rich wretch spinneth a fair thread to strangle himself, both temporally and eternally.” (Trapp)
b. It will leave him in the midst of his days: According to the ancient proverb, a partridge sits upon the eggs of other birds. When they do hatch, the chicks leave the partridge because they don’t really belong to that bird. Even so, riches will leave a man when he stands before God in judgment. In the end, he will be shown to be a fool for trusting in his ill-gotten gains.
i. “Ill-gotten gain is, like a bird with young she has not hatched, soon lost.” (Feinberg)
ii. “The reference to the partridge is to the popular belief that it would hatch the eggs of other birds. Just as the fledglings soon realize the false nature of the mother and depart from the nest, so riches unjustly acquired all disappear just when the owner is counting on them for security.” (Harrison)
5. (12-13) The folly of failing to trust in the God of all glory.
A glorious high throne from the beginning
Is the place of our sanctuary.
O LORD, the hope of Israel,
All who forsake You shall be ashamed.
“Those who depart from Me
Shall be written in the earth,
Because they have forsaken the LORD,
The fountain of living waters.”
a. A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary: Jeremiah has shown the folly of trusting in anything other than the Lord; now he will show by contrast the greatness of trusting God, who was symbolically enthroned at the temple in Jerusalem (the place of our sanctuary).
i. “The phrase throne of glory (or glorious throne) is a reference to the temple where Yahweh’s presence was known among his people.” (Thompson)
ii. A glorious high throne: “This may be described as one of the greatest words of the Old Testament. It expresses the deepest secret of life; the discovery of which gives the soul perpetual peace and poise and power, whatever may be the circumstances of the passing hour.” (Morgan)
iii. “The throne is sanctuary; in the authority, the executive action, the government of that throne, man finds the place of safety and refuge from all the forces which are against him.” (Morgan)
iv. “As he is cursed who trusts in man, so he is blessed who trusts in GOD. He is here represented as on a throne in his temple; to him in the means of grace all should resort. He is the support, and a glorious support, of all them that trust in him.” (Clarke)
b. O LORD, the hope of Israel: Yahweh was the true and confident hope of Israel, even if many turned away from Him. Those who did turn from Him would be noted and recorded (shall be written in the earth) and would come to shame for foolishly rejecting Him.
B. Jeremiah’s prayer for deliverance.
1. (14-17) A prayer for deliverance and defense.
Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed;
Save me, and I shall be saved,
For You are my praise.
Indeed they say to me,
“Where is the word of the LORD?
Let it come now!”
As for me, I have not hurried away from being a shepherd who follows You,
Nor have I desired the woeful day;
You know what came out of my lips;
It was right there before You.
Do not be a terror to me;
You are my hope in the day of doom.
a. Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: In contrast to the foolish people of Judah who trusted in man, in their own heart, or in riches, Jeremiah looked to Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel. Jeremiah was confident that healing or salvation from the LORD would be true healing, true rescue.
i. It’s hard to say if the healing Jeremiah cried out for was literal or spiritual in nature, and in the bigger picture it doesn’t really matter. Either need is real, and God’s ability to heal both our physical and spiritual need is true and proven.
b. You are my praise: Even in his need of healing and salvation, Jeremiah could praise God, even making God Himself his praise. Though in pride others demanded an immediate revelation of God and His power, Jeremiah was willing to wait and trust in the LORD.
c. As for me: In a series of brief statements, Jeremiah defended and justified his ministry before God. He did this to contrast himself with those who demanded God bring immediate revelation and resolution.
· I have not hurried away from being a shepherd that follows You: Jeremiah was confident in his pursuit of God’s call on his life.
· Nor have I desired the woeful day: Jeremiah spoke much of the judgment to come, but he did not desire it. It was a painful message for him to deliver.
· You know what came out of my lips: Jeremiah could appeal to God as the One who heard and judged his message, seeing that it really was faithful to the voice and the heart of God.
· You are my hope in the day of doom: Jeremiah proclaimed his trust and hope in God alone, not in the folly of most of the people of Judah.
i. “The word ‘shepherd’ usually refers to a king, but here it refers to Jeremiah as a leader of the people.” (Feinberg)
2. (18) A prayer for the justification of God’s prophet.
Let them be ashamed who persecute me,
But do not let me be put to shame;
Let them be dismayed,
But do not let me be dismayed.
Bring on them the day of doom,
And destroy them with double destruction!
a. Let them be ashamed who persecute me: Jeremiah was part of a long tradition of prophets and men of God in Israel who cried out to God for defense. This was a prayer of vengeance, but a prayer that left vengeance in the hands of God.
b. But do not let me be put to shame: Because he could defend and justify his work before God, Jeremiah confidently prayed that God would defend and justify him and bring his enemies and persecutors to shame, dismay, doom, and destruction.
C. An example of Judah’s disobedience: breaking the Sabbath.
1. (19-23) Jeremiah delivers a message to the people: obey God’s command of the Sabbath.
Thus the LORD said to me: “Go and stand in the gate of the children of the people, by which the kings of Judah come in and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem; and say to them, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, you kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who enter by these gates. Thus says the LORD: “Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; nor carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day, nor do any work, but hallow the Sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers. But they did not obey nor incline their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear nor receive instruction.”
a. Hear the word of the LORD, you kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem: At God’s direction, Jeremiah brought a strong and public word to all of Judah and Jerusalem, kings and commoners. Their response to this word would measure their surrender or rebellion to God.
i. The gate of the children of the people: “The Benjamin Gate or the Gate of the Laity (MT sons of my people) is of uncertain location, but was apparently used by persons other than priests and Levites.” (Harrison)
b. Bear no burden on the Sabbath day: Jeremiah simply repeated the Sabbath commands Israel originally agreed to as part of the Sinai Covenant (Exodus 20:8-11). He reminded them that this was as I commanded your fathers.
i. “Several of the phrases in these verses are strongly reminiscent of phrases in the Decalog where the Sabbath law is formulated.” (Thompson)
c. But they did not obey nor incline their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear nor receive instruction: Jeremiah delivered a clear message, rooted in prior revelation. Yet the kings and commoners rejected the word of the LORD and continued to treat the Sabbath as if it were any other day.
2. (24-27) A promised blessing for obedience and curse for disobedience.
“And it shall be, if you heed Me carefully,” says the LORD, “to bring no burden through the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but hallow the Sabbath day, to do no work in it, then shall enter the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, accompanied by the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city shall remain forever. And they shall come from the cities of Judah and from the places around Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin and from the lowland, from the mountains and from the South, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings and incense, bringing sacrifices of praise to the house of the LORD. But if you will not heed Me to hallow the Sabbath day, such as not carrying a burden when entering the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.”
a. If you heed Me carefully: Jeremiah spoke for the LORD and promised the people of Jerusalem and Judah that if they radically obeyed even this one command, God would preserve their city and their kingdom (kings and princes sitting on the throne of David).
i. It wasn’t as if the Sabbath was the only command important to God; this offer to Jerusalem and Judah was simply a testing point. If they were willing to radically obey God in this one point, it would indicate a true repentance and submission to God that would extend to all points. This one point of obedience or disobedience would stand for all others, just as the eating of forbidden fruit would stand for all obedience or disobedience for Adam in the Garden of Eden.
ii. “The several regions of Judah are mentioned (v. 26); these were still possessed by Judah and Benjamin. The land of Benjamin was north of Judah. The lowland or Shephelah (NIV, ‘western foothills’) was the low hills stretching toward the Philistine maritime plain, west and southwest of Judah, and was the center of agriculture. The hill country was the central region, with the wilderness of Judah stretching down to the Dead Sea. The Negev was the arid South (cf. Joshua 15:21-32).” (Feinberg)
b. But if you will not heed Me to hallow the Sabbath…. then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem: The promise for obedience was great; the promise for disobedience was also significant. God would allow their obedience or disobedience on this one point to stand for all.
i. Obviously – and tragically – Judah and Jerusalem did not return to the Sabbath at Jeremiah’s word, and they faced the severe judgment of God.
ii. When God told them to hallow the Sabbath, He told them to hallow the rest. “The term ‘Sabbath’ is derived from the Hebrew verb ‘to rest or cease from work.’” (Kaiser) The most important purpose of the Sabbath was to serve as a preview picture of the rest we have in Jesus.
iii. Like everything in the Bible, we understand this with the perspective of the whole Bible, not this single passage. With this understanding, we see that there is a real sense in which Jesus fulfilled the purpose and plan of the Sabbath for us and in us (Hebrews 4:9-11). He is our rest; when we remember His finished work we hallow the Sabbath, we hallow the rest.
iv. Therefore, the whole of Scripture makes it clear that under the New Covenant, no one is under obligation to observe a Sabbath day (Colossians 2:16-17 and Galatians 4:9-11). Galatians 4:10 tells us that Christians are not bound to observe days and months and seasons and years. The rest we enter into as Christians is something to experience every day, not just one day a week – the rest of knowing we don’t have to work to save ourselves, but our salvation is accomplished in Jesus (Hebrews 4:9-10).
v. The Sabbath commanded here and observed by Israel was a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ (Colossians 2:16-17). In the New Covenant, the idea isn’t that there is no Sabbath, but that every day is a day of Sabbath rest in the finished work of God. Since the shadow of the Sabbath is fulfilled in Jesus, we are free to keep any particular day – or no day – as a Sabbath after the custom of ancient Israel.
vi. Yet we dare not ignore the importance of a day of rest – God has built us so that we need one. Like a car that needs regular maintenance, we need regular rest – or we will not wear well. Some people are like high-mileage cars that haven’t been maintained well, and it shows.
vii. Some Christians are also dogmatic about observing Saturday as the Sabbath as opposed to Sunday, but because we are free to regard all days as given by God, it makes no difference. But in some ways, Sunday is more appropriate; being the day Jesus rose from the dead (Mark 16:9), and first met with His disciples (John 20:19), and a day when Christians gathered for fellowship (Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2). Under Law, men worked towards God’s rest; but after Jesus’ finished work on the cross, the believer enters into rest and goes from that rest out to work.