A. Warnings of judgment.
1. (1-5) Disaster from the north.
“O you children of Benjamin,
Gather yourselves to flee from the midst of Jerusalem!
Blow the trumpet in Tekoa,
And set up a signal-fire in Beth Haccerem;
For disaster appears out of the north,
And great destruction.
I have likened the daughter of Zion
To a lovely and delicate woman.
The shepherds with their flocks shall come to her.
They shall pitch their tents against her all around.
Each one shall pasture in his own place.”
“Prepare war against her;
Arise, and let us go up at noon.
Woe to us, for the day goes away,
For the shadows of the evening are lengthening.
Arise, and let us go by night,
And let us destroy her palaces.”
a. O you children of Benjamin: The southern kingdom of Judah began when the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained faithful to the line of David in the days of Rehoboam and Jeroboam (1 Kings 12). Because of the place of the tribe of Benjamin in the southern kingdom, God sometimes referred to it as Benjamin.
i. “The reason the people of Benjamin are mentioned is that geographically Jerusalem belonged to the territory of Benjamin…Moreover, Jeremiah was a Benjaminite and had strong ties with his own tribesmen.” (Feinberg)
b. Gather yourselves to flee from the midst of Jerusalem: The idea was that a siege army would come to the capital of the southern kingdom, and those wise enough to see it would flee the city before the siege army surrounded and conquered Jerusalem.
i. The signal-fire was specifically mentioned in the Lachish Letters, which documented the eventual Babylonian invasion. “The use of such signals was an ancient Mesopotamian method of military communication.” (Harrison)
c. I have likened the daughter of Zion to a lovely and delicate woman: Judah liked to think of themselves as beautiful and refined. Yet a lovely and delicate woman can’t stand before an invading army. They would be terribly mismatched in the coming invasion.
i. “To the pasture of Zion the shepherds (for this description of the invaders see Jeremiah 12:10) drive their flocks of soldiers, eager to feed upon the richness of the area. ” (Harrison)
ii. Prepare war against her: “The Hebrew verb for Prepare (qaddesu) may suggest the religious rituals preceding a battle in the ancient institution of the holy war.” (Thompson)
d. Woe to us, for the day goes away, for the shadows of the evening are lengthening: God reminded Judah that time was running out. Even though this judgment would not come for many years, the tipping point that made it certain was much closer than they thought. Soon, the army of Babylon would come to Jerusalem to destroy her palaces.
e. Arise, and let us go by night: The coming invaders were so urgent they would attack at night, not even waiting for day.
2. (6-8) A siege against Jerusalem.
For thus has the LORD of hosts said:
“Cut down trees,
And build a mound against Jerusalem.
This is the city to be punished.
She is full of oppression in her midst.
As a fountain wells up with water,
So she wells up with her wickedness.
Violence and plundering are heard in her.
Before Me continually are grief and wounds.
Be instructed, O Jerusalem,
Lest My soul depart from you;
Lest I make you desolate,
A land not inhabited.”
a. For thus has the LORD of hosts said: “Cut down the trees, and build a mound against Jerusalem”: Jeremiah understood and explained that the coming siege against Jerusalem was God’s work. Though they were the strange instruments of God’s work, one could not simply blame it on the Babylonians as if God had nothing to do it.
b. She is full of oppression in her midst: Jerusalem’s lack of love for God was demonstrated by a lack of care and concern for their fellow man. Being full of oppression was both a horizontal (from man to man) and a vertical (from man to God) phenomenon.
i. She wells up with her wickedness: “Jerusalem is Sin City. There is always a fresh supply of evil welling up like poison within her and overflowing into her streets.” (Ryken)
c. Be instructed, O Jerusalem: Even within the announcement of judgment is the inherent invitation to receive the wisdom of God and avoid the threatened calamity. It was an invitation that Judah would not properly receive.
3. (9-12) The fullness of the fury of the LORD.
Thus says the LORD of hosts:
“They shall thoroughly glean as a vine the remnant of Israel;
As a grape-gatherer, put your hand back into the branches.”
To whom shall I speak and give warning,
That they may hear?
Indeed their ear is uncircumcised,
And they cannot give heed.
Behold, the word of the LORD is a reproach to them;
They have no delight in it.
Therefore I am full of the fury of the LORD.
I am weary of holding it in.
“I will pour it out on the children outside,
And on the assembly of young men together;
For even the husband shall be taken with the wife,
The aged with him who is full of days.
And their houses shall be turned over to others,
Fields and wives together;
For I will stretch out My hand
Against the inhabitants of the land,” says the LORD.
a. They shall thoroughly glean as a vine the remnant of Israel: God warned Judah that they would be picked clean by the Babylonians, even as those who gleaned the remaining grapes from a vine took everything they could.
b. To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? We sense the frustration of the prophet; he speaks, but no one listens. Their ears are not spiritual, as if their ears were uncircumcised – and they regard God’s word as a reproach, something to be ashamed of and avoided.
i. Indeed their ear is uncircumcised: The Old Testament speaks many times of uncircumcised hearts and lips, but this is the only mention of the uncircumcised ear. Stephen used this figure of speech in speaking to the Jewish council (Acts 7:51).
ii. The word of the LORD is a reproach to them: “It is an object of derision; they despise it.” (Clarke)
c. They have no delight in it: Their low regard for the word of the LORD was evident in this. The word of the LORD was of no delight to them; they took no pleasure in it or found no sweetness in it. This was an indication that the people of God were ripe for judgment.
d. Therefore I am full of the fury of the LORD: Because God’s people were full of oppression and wickedness and would not listen to the word of the Lord, God was full of fury against them – and was weary of holding it in.
e. For I will stretch out My hand against the inhabitants of the land: The judgment to come upon Judah would impact everyone. It would affect the children, the young men, and the aged; both the husband and the wife, and even the fields would feel it.
4. (13-15) The sins of prophets and priests.
“Because from the least of them even to the greatest of them,
Everyone is given to covetousness;
And from the prophet even to the priest,
Everyone deals falsely.
They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly,
Saying, ‘Peace, peace!’
When there is no peace.
Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination?
No! They were not at all ashamed;
Nor did they know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
At the time I punish them,
They shall be cast down,” says the LORD.
a. Everyone is given to covetousness…everyone deals falsely: God looked at the culture of the Kingdom of Judah and saw how thoroughly greedy and corrupt it was. Even – or perhaps especially – the prophet and the priest were part of the greed and corruption.
b. They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly: God not only condemned the more obvious sins of covetousness and corruption, but also the subtle sins of the prophets who used smooth words to comfort and calm the people when they should be alarmed and provoked to repentance.
i. Healed the hurt of my people slightly has the sense, “they dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious.” (Feinberg) “As men use to cure the slight hurts of their children by blowing on them only, or stroking them over.” (Trapp)
ii. “In our dealings with God let us…ask that He will not spare us, or give us anything less than the best. The process may be painful and protracted, but it will be sure.” (Meyer)
c. Saying, “Peace, peace!” When there is no peace: These were the smooth words of the false prophets, assuring Judah that everything was fine when in fact it was not.
i. Peace, peace is a wonderful message to bring, and one that most people want to hear. The problem is that sometimes it isn’t true. Sometimes there is war and conflict that we must deal with, whether we would like to or not. Most significantly, there are times when God’s word to His people is not peace, but “repent” and “prepare for judgment.”
ii. “They may be saying peace, peace, when there is no peace, in many ways. They may do it, by silence, refusing to refer to evil practices. They may do it by speaking of evil as though it were only the under-side of good, and inevitable thing. They may even do it in denying that there is any such thing as evil.” (Morgan)
iii. In a sermon titled A Blast of the Trumpet Against False Peace, Charles Spurgeon suggested a few ways that many people receive a false peace.
· Some have peace because they live for entertainment and excitement, distracting them from higher things.
· Some have peace because they tell themselves there is no God and therefore no accountability before Him.
· Some have peace because they are ignorant of the things of God and need to be told the truth of their responsibility.
· Some have peace because they intend to do better later in life and such future wishes are enough to make them right.
d. They were not at all ashamed: For all of Judah’s many sins, they were not genuinely ashamed at all; nor did they know how to blush. It was as if the normal workings of the conscience were damaged or burned over, and they were not ashamed over what they should be.
i. G. Campbell Morgan considered the work of Jeremiah to be like the work of every faithful preacher: “His business is to create a sense of shame in the souls of men, so to place their corruption before them as to compel the hot blush to their faces.”
B. Wisdom available and wisdom rejected.
1. (16-17) The opportunity for wisdom.
Thus says the LORD:
“Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where the good way is,
And walk in it;
Then you will find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
Also, I set watchmen over you, saying,
‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’
But they said, ‘We will not listen.’
a. Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is: Even though they were in such a bad place, there was wisdom available for Judah. One place they would find wisdom was in the old paths – looking to their history and forefathers, to learn from what God had done in and through them before.
i. “The people have been urged to follow the ancient paths of Mosaic tradition, which will be the best because they are tried and true.” (Harrison)
ii. “The ancient paths and the good way are the same; they are the way of repentance, reconciliation, fear, and love of God. They were the ways of the Mosaic tradition.” (Feinberg)
iii. Many despise the old paths. Perhaps they seem old fashioned or terribly un-cool. Yet there is wisdom – life saving wisdom – in the old paths of God’s word and work in days gone by.
· To benefit from the old paths, God told them to position themselves (stand in the ways).
· To benefit from the old paths, God told them to look for them (see).
· To benefit from the old paths, God told them to ask for them, to desire them.
· To benefit from the old paths, God told them to see them as the good way.
· To benefit from the old paths, God told them to walk in it – to actually obey and follow God as indicated by His word and work in days gone by.
b. Then you will find rest for your souls: This is the rich reward for seeking, seeing, and walking in the old paths. This is a reward that can’t be matched by anything.
i. “Let us observe the metaphor. A traveller is going to a particular city; he comes to a place where the road divides into several paths, he is afraid of going astray; he stops short, endeavours to find out the right path: he cannot fix his choice. At last he sees another traveller; he inquires of him, gets proper directions-proceeds on his journey-arrives at the desired place-and reposes after his fatigue.” (Clarke)
ii. Jesus likely quoted Jeremiah 6:16 (rest for your souls) in Matthew 11:29: Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
c. But they said, “We will not walk in it”: Despite God’s instruction and invitation, Judah rejected the wisdom of the old paths. Even though watchmen called attention to them, as if blowing the sound of the trumpet, yet they said, “We will not listen.”
i. A phenomenon of the modern age – especially through the internet – there are many who consider themselves watchmen, feeling they have a word, instruction, or rebuke for the people of God that can be ignored only at great cost. It may be true that God sends His people watchmen; yet there is a great difference between those who are set by God and those who are self-appointed. The difference can often be seen in the manner and heart of those who consider themselves watchmen.
2. (18-20) God tells the whole world the result of Judah’s rejection of wisdom.
Therefore hear, you nations,
And know, O congregation, what is among them.
Hear, O earth!
Behold, I will certainly bring calamity on this people—
The fruit of their thoughts,
Because they have not heeded My words
Nor My law, but rejected it.
For what purpose to Me
Comes frankincense from Sheba,
And sweet cane from a far country?
Your burnt offerings are not acceptable,
Nor your sacrifices sweet to Me.”
a. Hear, O earth! God spoke to both the nations, warning them of the calamity to come upon His people.
i. “Ordinarily edah (‘congregation.’ KJV, RSV) refers in the OT to Israel, but here it must mean the Gentiles…The Gentiles are being alerted to what is to happen to Judah.” (Feinberg)
b. I will certainly bring calamity on this people – the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not heeded My words: This was an important aspect of the guilt of God’s people. They did not heed the word of God, and therefore became corrupt in their thinking. The coming calamity was the fruit of their thoughts.
c. Your burnt offerings are not acceptable: The people of God continued bringing offerings and sacrifices to God, even expensive frankincense from Sheba. Yet because they did not heed God’s words or accept His law, the sacrifices were not acceptable. Religious ceremony – even sweet-smelling sacrifices – could not cover over their basic rejection of God’s word and ways.
C. The judgment to come again described.
1. (21) The stumbling blocks.
Therefore thus says the LORD:
“Behold, I will lay stumbling blocks before this people,
And the fathers and the sons together shall fall on them.
The neighbor and his friend shall perish.”
a. I will lay stumbling blocks before this people: God would deal with His people directly. The coming judgment was not an accident of the expansion of the Babylonian Empire or geopolitics between Babylon and Egypt. The LORD set this stumbling block.
i. The stumbling blocks were the Babylonians, and instruments of God’s judgment and correction against Judah.
ii. Jeremiah’s context is different, but we naturally connect this with the idea that Messiah is the cornerstone and those who reject Him stumble over it (1 Peter 2:7).
b. The fathers and sons together shall fall on them: God again tells of the universal character of this judgment coming against Judah. None would escape it; both the fathers and sons together, the neighbor and his friends shall perish.
2. (22-26) The terror of the coming judgment.
Thus says the LORD:
“Behold, a people comes from the north country,
And a great nation will be raised from the farthest parts of the earth.
They will lay hold on bow and spear;
They are cruel and have no mercy;
Their voice roars like the sea;
And they ride on horses,
As men of war set in array against you, O daughter of Zion.”
We have heard the report of it;
Our hands grow feeble.
Anguish has taken hold of us,
Pain as of a woman in labor.
Do not go out into the field,
Nor walk by the way.
Because of the sword of the enemy,
Fear is on every side.
O daughter of my people,
Dress in sackcloth
And roll about in ashes!
Make mourning as for an only son, most bitter lamentation;
For the plunderer will suddenly come upon us.
a. A people comes from the north country, and a nation will be raised from the farthest parts of the earth: God again warned Judah that the Babylonians would come to be the messengers of God’s judgment against them.
b. They are cruel and have no mercy: The coming Babylonian army would bring terrible misery, and Judah would react with anguish, pain, fear, and mourning.
i. “Judah was unequal to the encounter as a weak, defenseless woman in the pangs of childbirth before a powerful, fully equipped soldier.” (Thompson)
3. (27-30) God’s people judged as metals are tested.
“I have set you as an assayer and a fortress among My people,
That you may know and test their way.
They are all stubborn rebels, walking as slanderers.
They are bronze and iron,
They are all corrupters;
The bellows blow fiercely,
The lead is consumed by the fire;
The smelter refines in vain,
For the wicked are not drawn off.
People will call them rejected silver,
Because the LORD has rejected them.”
a. I have set you as an assayer and a fortress among My people, that you may know and test their way: God sent Jeremiah to assess the spiritual condition of God’s people and to do it from a position of strength (a fortress). Figuratively, the work of the prophet was like metal working – one who tested and refined precious metals.
i. Fortress: “The word mibsar (EVV ‘fortress’) presents difficulties, but if vocalized as mebasser, with RSV, it could be rendered ‘assessor’, thus constituting a gloss on assayer.” (Harrison)
ii. The picture used at the end of Jeremiah 6 works something like this:
· Judah was like the metal, claiming to be precious (such as gold or silver).
· Like a precious metal, Judah was tested and refined with fire.
· Lead was put in to act as flux, to draw the impurities to itself.
· The Prophet Jeremiah was like the bellows, used to create an intense heat.
· Yet Israel – the supposed precious metal – was so hard and impure that the refining work was useless.
b. They are bronze and iron, they are all corrupters: The people of God were not like a soft metal that could be refined and purified (like silver or gold). Instead, they were hard like bronze and iron.
i. Stubborn rebels: “Hebrew, Revolters of revolters.” (Trapp) “Using a superlative, Jeremiah evaluates them as the rebellious of the rebellious.” (Feinberg)
c. The bellows blow fiercely, the lead is consumed: The fire was as hot as the bellows could make it and the refining agent (lead) was consumed – yet the supposedly precious metal was not refined.
d. The smelter refines in vain, for the wicked are not drawn off: Despite the best efforts of the smelter – God’s prophets such as Jeremiah – the wicked among God’s people did not repent and thereby be drawn off in the sense of making a purer people of God.
i. “Jeremiah felt that his task was similar to that of a silver-refiner (cf. Malachi 3:3), but it is now clear that his prophetic ‘fire’ has been unable to remove the impurities from the natural ‘silver’.” (Harrison)
ii. “Using the picture of a refiner of precious metals, He shows that the normal processes had been completely inefficacious, the dross still remained, contaminating the whole mass of metal. It was, therefore fit only for the scrap-heap.” (Cundall)
e. People will call them rejected silver, because the LORD has rejected them: At the end of it all, everyone knew that Judah was disapproved by God and in the sense of sparing them from judgment, the LORD has rejected them.
i. “This picture of the prophet’s words as a refiner’s fire makes its point not only by its vivid detail but by its tragic outcome. For it emerges that the people of Judah are not, so to speak, precious metal marred by some impurities, but base metal from which nothing of worth can be extracted.” (Kidner)