A. The continued lament over Judah in exile.
1. (1-2) Not enough tears.
Oh, that my head were waters,
And my eyes a fountain of tears,
That I might weep day and night
For the slain of the daughter of my people!
Oh, that I had in the wilderness
A lodging place for travelers;
That I might leave my people,
And go from them!
For they are all adulterers,
An assembly of treacherous men.
a. Oh, that my head were waters: In the close of the previous chapter, Jeremiah lamented Judah, as he prophetically saw them conquered and exiled. Continuing that thought, he poetically expressed the idea that he didn’t have enough tears or time to adequately express his grief over the slain of the daughter of my people.
i. Because there was something tender and sympathetic about Jeremiah’s tears, they were good. “Such waters will be turned into wine, at the wedding-day of the Lamb; for which purpose also they are kept safe in God’s bottle (Psalm 56:8).” (Trapp)
b. Oh, that I had in the wilderness a lodging place for travelers; that I might leave my people, and go from them! Jeremiah was filled with sorrow over the coming judgment upon Judah, but he was also filled with a sense of disgust over their sin. He wanted to leave his people and get away from the corruptions of Jerusalem and Judah.
i. “From the image of continuous weeping like a perennial spring, Jeremiah passes to that of a person anxious to escape the corruption. For him the wilderness is preferable to the degradation of city life.” (Harrison)
ii. “Even a lonely lodging in the desert was preferable to the soul anguish he experienced in the midst of his people.” (Feinberg)
iii. An assembly of treacherous men: This was something like saying, a congregation of treacherous men. “The Hebrew word seret (‘crowd’) is used for solemn assemblies on pilgrimage feasts.” (Feinberg)
2. (3-6) Judah given over to deception and lies.
“And like their bow they have bent their tongues for lies.
They are not valiant for the truth on the earth.
For they proceed from evil to evil,
And they do not know Me,” says the LORD.
“Everyone take heed to his neighbor,
And do not trust any brother;
For every brother will utterly supplant,
And every neighbor will walk with slanderers.
Everyone will deceive his neighbor,
And will not speak the truth;
They have taught their tongue to speak lies;
They weary themselves to commit iniquity.
Your dwelling place is in the midst of deceit;
Through deceit they refuse to know Me,” says the LORD.
a. Like their bow they have bent their tongues for lies: Jeremiah vividly described how given to deception the leaders and people of Judah were. They lied with forethought, with skill, with power, with intent. Their bent tongues sent forth arrows of lies.
i. It is significant to remember that this comes at the conclusion of a section where Jeremiah desperately lamented the fall and exile of Judah (Jeremiah 8:18-9:6). In the depth of his grief, he still could not forget they deserved this calamity. Their rejection of God and devotion to the lie made all that came upon them deserved.
b. For they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me: This explains why Judah’s leaders and people could lie so easily. They were mired in evil and far from real relationship with God. They did not know Him in a true, relational, honoring way.
i. They do not know Me: “The verb yada, ‘know,’ denotes much more than intellectual knowledge but rather that deep intimate knowledge that follows the personal commitment of one life to another.” (Thompson)
ii. For every brother will utterly supplant: “Judah’s treachery and unfaithfulness towards God made Jeremiah realize that everyone was a Jacob or supplanter…a pun on the name of Jacob.” (Harrison)
iii. They weary themselves to commit iniquity: “O, what a drudgery is sin! And how much labour must a man take in order to get to hell!” (Clarke)
c. Everyone will deceive his neighbor, and will not speak the truth: Jeremiah observed how deep and how wide the sin of lying and deception was among the leaders and people of Judah. It was a culture given over to deception, far from truth in either daily matters or in broader concepts.
i. Jeremiah’s dark description of Judah also describes today’s culture. We live in an age when the very idea of absolute or objective truth is commonly rejected. When truth is not valued, societies crumble.
ii. Many intractable problems in today’s world are actually problems of truth. In the Arab-Israeli conflict, horrific lies about the Jews are officially promoted and widely believed in the Arab world. If the Arab world only heard and believed the truth about Israel and the Jews, their supposed reasons for hatred would largely vanish.
d. Through deceit they refuse to know Me, says the LORD: This is the greatest cost of embracing and promoting deception. Since God is a God of truth, those who love the lie have a fundamental distance from Him.
B. The coming judgment, and how to prepare for it.
1. (7-11) The fact, reason, and result of coming judgment.
Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts:
“Behold, I will refine them and try them;
For how shall I deal with the daughter of My people?
Their tongue is an arrow shot out;
It speaks deceit;
One speaks peaceably to his neighbor with his mouth,
But in his heart he lies in wait.
Shall I not punish them for these things?” says the LORD.
“Shall I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this?”
I will take up a weeping and wailing for the mountains,
And for the dwelling places of the wilderness a lamentation,
Because they are burned up,
So that no one can pass through;
Nor can men hear the voice of the cattle.
Both the birds of the heavens and the beasts have fled;
They are gone.
“I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a den of jackals.
I will make the cities of Judah desolate, without an inhabitant.”
a. I will refine and try them: Remembering the picture of the metal refiner (Jeremiah 6:27-30), God again told Judah that He would refine them. The heat and melting to come were certain. Yet the purpose was also certain – not to destroy, but to refine and ultimately to purify.
i. This statement – “I will refine and try them” – comes as the answer to God’s question, “how shall I deal with the daughter of My people?” “In order that we may understand something of the workings of the divine mind, he represents himself as brought to a non-plus, and saying, in the words of our text, ‘How shall I do for the daughter of my people?’” (Spurgeon)
ii. I will refine and try them: “The Lord is so resolved to save his people, that he will use the sternest possible means rather than lose any of those whom he loves.” (Spurgeon)
b. Their tongue is an arrow shot out; it speaks deceit: Using images from the previous verse, God explained one reason why Judah was a certain target of His judgment. The ingrained and institutionalized deception among the leaders and people of Judah invited His strong correction.
i. Such a nation as this: “The use of the term goy for Israel may represent the transfer to Israel of a term which was regularly used of non-Israelite peoples. Its use here suggests that Jeremiah had come to regard the people as no different in their behavior from the goyim, the peoples outside the covenant.” (Thompson)
c. They are burned up, so that no one can pass through: With a prophet’s vision of the future, Jeremiah saw the destroyed and burned cities and villages of Judah. There was no civilization, only a heap of ruins. There were no more livestock and farm animals, only a den of jackals. All this would be the result of the coming Babylonian invasion.
i. Divine justice sets the fire of indignation burning. Nothing excites God’s wrath more than continued falsehood and deceit, unkindness, unbrotherly conduct, and unholiness of life. Put all these evils together, and you have more than enough God-provoking sins calling for an avenging visitation.” (Spurgeon)
2. (12-16) The cause and result of judgment summarized.
Who is the wise man who may understand this? And who is he to whom the mouth of the LORD has spoken, that he may declare it? Why does the land perish and burn up like a wilderness, so that no one can pass through? And the LORD said, “Because they have forsaken My law which I set before them, and have not obeyed My voice, nor walked according to it, but they have walked according to the dictates of their own hearts and after the Baals, which their fathers taught them,” therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Behold, I will feed them, this people, with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink. I will scatter them also among the Gentiles, whom neither they nor their fathers have known. And I will send a sword after them until I have consumed them.”
a. Because they have forsaken My law…have not obeyed My voice, nor walked according to it: God told Israel in His word what they should believe and how they should live. Yet the leaders and people of Judah rejected His word and disregarded God’s law.
b. But they have walked according to the dictates of their own hearts and after the Baals: In rejecting the word and guidance of God, Judah did not stop believing and serving something. Instead they lifted their own hearts to the place of God in their life, and they served the pagan gods of the surrounding culture (the Baals).
i. It could be said that God designed us to be worshipful, obedient beings. If those instincts for worship and obedience are not directed toward the living God and His word, they will be directed somewhere else. In Judah’s case, they were directed toward self and cultural gods.
ii. Harrison on Baal worship: “This lewd, orgiastic cult had proved attractive to many generations of Israelites.”
iii. “It is clear from a reading of the religious and legendary texts of Ugarit that many of the cultic practices associated with Baal and the fertility cult were heavily orientated toward sexual activity.” (Thompson)
c. I will feed them, this people, with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink. I will scatter them also among the Gentiles: God would not ignore the disobedience and idolatry of Judah. He promised to answer it with bitter judgment and exile.
3. (17-21) Calling for the mourning women.
Thus says the LORD of hosts:
“Consider and call for the mourning women,
That they may come;
And send for skillful wailing women,
That they may come.
Let them make haste
And take up a wailing for us,
That our eyes may run with tears,
And our eyelids gush with water.
For a voice of wailing is heard from Zion:
‘How we are plundered!
We are greatly ashamed,
Because we have forsaken the land,
Because we have been cast out of our dwellings.’”
Yet hear the word of the LORD, O women,
And let your ear receive the word of His mouth;
Teach your daughters wailing,
And everyone her neighbor a lamentation.
For death has come through our windows,
Has entered our palaces,
To kill off the children—no longer to be outside!
And the young men—no longer on the streets!
a. Consider and call for the mourning women: As he thought about the great calamity that was to come upon disobedient and idolatrous Judah, Jeremiah prophetically did something logical. He called for the mourning women to be ready to do their job, because there would be a lot of mourning to do.
i. “The ‘wailing women’ were professionals employed to arouse relatives and others at funerals to outward display of their grief. They used plaintive cries, baring their breasts, flailing their arms, throwing dust on their heads, and disheveling their hair (2 Chronicles 35:25; Ecclesiastes 12:5; Amos 5:16; Matthew 9:23).” (Feinberg)
ii. “But it is not merely that the professional mourners are called upon to sing their dirge and their lament. They are to teach their tragic refrain to their daughters and their friends, for the days will be tragic enough to demand a multitude of mourners.” (Thompson)
b. We are greatly ashamed, because we have forsaken the land, because we have been cast out of our dwellings: This was the mournful complaint of those fortunate enough to survive the terrors of the Babylonian invasion. They would lose everything and be taken as forced refugees to another land.
c. For death has come through our windows, has entered our palaces: Not all would be so “fortunate” as to face exile. Many would die as the Babylonians invaded, including children and young men.
i. Jeremiah somewhat personified death in these verses.
4. (22) A vivid description of judgment.
Speak, “Thus says the LORD:
‘Even the carcasses of men shall fall as refuse on the open field,
Like cuttings after the harvester,
And no one shall gather them.’”
a. Even the carcasses of the men shall fall as refuse on the open field, like cuttings after the harvester: Jeremiah thought of those slain by the invading Babylonians, and how their dead bodies lay in the fields of battle and destruction like cuttings after the harvester.
i. “The custom was for a reaper to hold in his arm what a few strokes of his sickle had cut. Then he put it down, and behind him another laborer then gathered it into bundles and bound it into a sheaf. So death was to cover the ground with corpses, but the carcasses would lie there unburied because of the paucity of survivors and the great number of dead.” (Feinberg)
b. And no one shall gather them: This was a double disgrace. To the mind of the ancient Hebrew, death was bad; but the desecration of the dead body through failing to care for and bury the corpse was a kind of double death.
5. (23-24) How to prepare for the coming calamity: a true knowledge of God.
Thus says the LORD:
“Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,
Let not the mighty man glory in his might,
Nor let the rich man glory in his riches;
But let him who glories glory in this,
That he understands and knows Me,
That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.
For in these I delight,” says the LORD.
a. Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom: Speaking on behalf of Yahweh, Jeremiah described the things that men normally glory in – wisdom, might, riches. Perhaps for a modern age, Jeremiah would have added fame as a fourth thing that men take glory in by nature.
i. To glory in something is to celebrate it, and to proclaim it as the source of one’s happiness and satisfaction. We think of a champion athlete glorying in the trophy just won. As they hold the trophy high, they proclaim – through their actions, words, facial expressions, everything – this was my goal, this is my satisfaction, my happiness, and I celebrate it now.
b. But let him who glories glory in this: God did not rebuke man’s instinct to look for glory; instead, God guided that instinct to its proper destination. The problem with man is not that he longs to glory in something; the problem is that he generally glories in the wrong things, leading to his own hurt, the hurt of others, and most seriously, to offend his Creator.
i. “There is a contrast between the three fading glories of verse 23 and the three unfading ones of verse 24: the faithful love, justice, and righteousness which are God’s gifts to us before ever they are his expectations from us.” (Kidner)
c. Let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me: God says, “Direct your desire to glory in something in the right place – toward Me.” We can take true glory, even the greatest glory in the understanding and knowledge of God.
i. Kidner on understands and knows: “There is a nuance of practical good sense in the Hebrew here for understand, while to ‘know’ God means life itself, even to eternity.”
ii. The false things men take glory in – wisdom, might, riches, fame – are not only misguided, they are lower. The greatest glory, the highest aspirations, the greatest exultation are fulfilled in God and our true understanding and knowledge of Him.
iii. One way to state the problem of humanity is that it constantly allows itself to be satisfied with these lower and lesser glories. In the understanding and knowledge of God are greater wisdom, might, and riches than can be known merely among men.
d. That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth: This understanding and knowledge of God has specific characteristics. It isn’t an unspeakable mystical experience; it is:
· An encounter with His lovingkindness, the hesed or covenant-love of God to His people.
· An encounter with His judgment, His discerning between what is right and wrong.
· An encounter with His righteousness, His absolute goodness and purity of moral character.
i. “Under such conditions of crisis the only rest which the wise can know is in the mercy (hesed) and the righteousness of God…. Hesed is commonly used in the Old Testament of covenant love, hence God is emphasizing His own moral consistency as against the infidelity of His people.” (Harrison)
e. For in these I delight: God delights in the display of His nature, His character; and when it is known and understood by humanity. It makes Him happy when people know Him as He really is.
6. (25-26) A warning to those who reject the knowledge of the LORD.
“Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “that I will punish all who are circumcised with the uncircumcised— Egypt, Judah, Edom, the people of Ammon, Moab, and all who are in the farthest corners, who dwell in the wilderness. For all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart.”
a. I will punish all who are circumcised with the uncircumcised: In the day of God’s judgment, the religious ritual of circumcision will not matter. God will judge on the basis of those who truly understand and know Him, as reflected in their lives.
i. The phrase all who are in the farthest corners is translated differently by some. The ESV has, who cut the corners of their hair, and the NASB has who clip the hair on their temples. The two different senses come from slight variations in the text.
ii. “Trimming the hair away from the temples (cf. Jeremiah 49:32) was forbidden in the Law (Leviticus 19:27), and the reference here may be to certain Arab tribes who did this to honour Bacchus (Herodotus iii. 18).” (Harrison)
iii. “The first renderings (so all the ancient versions) see here a reference to a certain style of hair. The Hebrew may be rendered ‘corner-clipped’ (cf. Jeremiah 25:23, 49:32). Certain Arab tribes practiced this cutting of the hair of their temples in honor of Bacchus, the god of wine.” (Feinberg)
b. For as all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart: The covenant people of God may have performed the ritual of circumcision, but spiritually speaking they were just as the uncircumcised nations.
i. “You see that Judah is sandwiched in between Egypt and Edom. Those who were the people of God are put in the same category with the accursed nation, because they had forsaken him, and mixed up with them.” (Spurgeon)