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Today we come to the second chapter in the section we started last time. This section consists of Jeremiah 16 and 17. We covered Jeremiah 16 last time. And so now today we’ll study Jeremiah 17.
I see the big theme of this chapter as trusting the Lord. So, to summarize this chapter you could give it the title “Trust the Lord”. It’s very simple. You see this theme many places in the Scripture. And you see it here in this chapter as well.
The Lord exposes Judah’s nearly-irreversible sin in Jeremiah 17:1-4.
Jeremiah 17 Commentary | Hard Hearts Indelibly Etched with Sin
Jeremiah 17:1 ¶ The sin of Judah is [written/engraved] with a [pen/stylus/chisel] of iron,
and with the point of a diamond:
it is graven upon the [table/tablet] of their heart, [i.e., hearts hard as stone]
and upon the horns of your altars;
Now, let’s try to catch the significance of what the Lord just said here. Judah’s sin is engraved as it were with a chisel of iron and a diamond point. And that chiseling is pictured as being done upon tablets.
So, what is the Lord drawing our minds to when he mentions chiseling words on tablets? What event do you think he’s alluding to in the Old Testament? What else in Israel’s history was written on stone tablets?
The Ten Commandments. God wrote them on two stone tablets. But when the people sinned with Aaron’s golden calf, Moses smashed those tablets. But God had him write them once more after the sin had been dealt with.
So, the point is that God is wanting to bring back to Judah’s remembrance this event of the writing of his Law on these tablets of stone.
And he does that in order to really set before them the total impropriety of what they’re doing. It’s the Law that should be written on tablets. And yet, in the tablets that picturesquely represent the hearts of the people of Judah, it’s not God’s Law that’s written there. It’s sin. And that sin is written so indelibly, it’s as if it’s written with diamond and iron upon stone.
That metaphor says something about the people’s hearts, doesn’t it? Their hearts are like tablets of stone. They have stony and hard hearts.
Now, view the promise of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 33 in light of this passage.
Judah’s heart is hard. Very hard, in the time of Jeremiah. But a future time is coming when God will give them new hearts under the New Covenant.
Sin is currently written on those hard hearts of theirs, but under the New Covenant God’s own Law will be written on their hearts.
Well, we’ll hear more about that in Jeremiah 33. But right now, Judah’s sin is practically irreversible.
Jeremiah 17 Commentary | Generational Sin
And part of what makes it that way is the fact that they pass down their sin from generation to generation, as the Lord makes clear in Jeremiah 17:2.
2 [i.e., the hardness of Judah’s heart increases…] Whilst their children remember their altars and their [groves/Asherim/sacred polls dedicated to the goddess Asherah] by the green trees upon the high hills.
And it seems that what God is communicating here is that the indelible nature of Judah’s sin is only furthered by the fact that they not only commit idolatry themselves but that they actually teach their children to commit idolatry. That’s what the reference to the altars and groves means – idolatrous and pagan practices.
Now, because we’re all sinners and born that way, if we are raised in a neutral environment, we’ll go wrong. Even children raised in a godly environment can go astray. But when children are raised and taught to turn from God and commit idolatry? What hope does such a child have of ever being influenced toward the Lord? Not much.
Jeremiah 17 Commentary | Exile for Sin
And so, because of the irreversible nature of Judah’s sin that’s only made more permanent by generational unfaithfulness, God tells Judah that he’s going to need to send them out of the land he gave to them in Jeremiah 17:3-4.
3 O my mountain in the field, [i.e., Jerusalem?]
I will give thy [substance/wealth] and all thy treasures [to the/for] [spoil/booty/plunder],
and thy high places [i.e., as the price] for sin, throughout all thy borders.
4 And thou, even thyself, shalt [discontinue/let go] [from/of] thine [heritage/inheritance] that I gave thee;
and I will cause thee to serve thine enemies in the land which thou knowest not:
for ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn for ever.
Now, take note of the mention of the fire that will burn forever. We’ll see something that parallels that at the end of this chapter and really ties the whole chapter together.
In Jeremiah 17:5-8 the Lord issues a curse for those who don’t trust in him and a blessing for those who do.
Jeremiah 17 Commentary | Curse for Trusting in Man
First, the curse in Jeremiah 17:5-6.
5 Thus saith the LORD;
Cursed be the man that trusteth in man,
and maketh flesh his [arm/strength],
and whose heart departeth from the LORD.
6 For he shall be like the [heath/bush] in the desert,
and shall not see when [good/prosperity] cometh;
but shall inhabit the [parched places/stony wastes] in the wilderness,
in a salt land and not inhabited.
OK, so turning from God and then trusting instead in human strength and wisdom receives a curse from the Lord. It always has and it always will.
And the poetic description of the bush in Jeremiah 17:6 declares to us that even when things are going well as a result of trusting in human strength and wisdom – and sometimes that happens, right? Sometimes turning from God actually works!
Well, even when that happens, you’ll be like a bush, yes. But a bush in the desert. Where there’s no rain ever! Rain might fall elsewhere – but you’re not going to see and profit from it. You’ll be like that bush in a salty, arid, dry environment. Not growing and healthy and strong. Weak and spindly and suffering.
Jeremiah 17 Commentary | Blessing for Trusting the Lord
But there’s a more excellent way! God will bless you if you drop your trust in human strength and wisdom and instead trust in him, according to Jeremiah 17:7-8.
7 Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD,
and whose [hope/confidence] the LORD is.
8 For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters,
and that spreadeth out her roots by the river,
and shall not see when heat cometh,
but her leaf shall be green;
and shall not be [careful/anxious] in the year of drought,
neither shall cease from yielding fruit.
You will get everything you need if you truly trust in the Lord… Is there any doubt about that?
You’ll be like a tree that has ample access to life-giving nourishment. You will be well-provided for in every area that the Lord knows you need. You’ll be fruitful.
Now, let’s not let our American prosperity color this passage in a way that would leave you saying “Hey, this ain’t happenin’ for me!”
Of course, this passage for Jeremiah and the Jews living under the Old Covenant would have meant that trusting in the Lord instead of turning to depend on man’s strength and wisdom would yield physical and material blessings in their lives.
But we as New Testament Christians are not given those same earthly promises. Nevertheless, trusting the Lord will yield blessings in your life.
Folks, if you know Christ, you have perspectives that lost people simply don’t have. And those perspectives can really make the difference between life and death for you. You know the limits of material things and you can instead find lasting joy in the Lord. You are protected from a great amount of harm and damage by trusting God instead of deceitful and weak and – at best — mortal man. You are blessed if you trust God. You will only experience pain and sorrow if you turn from him.
At this point we get to one of the most well-known passages in the book of Jeremiah – Jeremiah 17:9.
9 The [heart/human mind] is deceitful [above/more than] [all/any] things,
and [desperately/incurably] [wicked/sick/bad]:
who can [know/understand] it?
10 I the LORD search the [heart/mind],
I [try/test/examine] the [reins/mind/hearts],
even to give every man according to his ways,
and according to the [fruit/results] of his doings.
We know what this passage means. Man’s heart is so evil. It’s beyond curing or even understanding!
But what does this mean in the context of this passage? Why does God mention this here?
I think the Lord is looking back as it were at Jeremiah 17:5 and the reference to the man whose heart departs from the Lord. It’s that very heart that departs from God and is cursed that is so wicked and deceitful and beyond a cure and beyond understanding.
Except, the wicked hearts of men don’t escape God’s scrutinizing gaze. God can see into man’s inner motives and thoughts and he will render a just verdict in every case.
In Jeremiah’s day this verdict was invasion and exile for the unrepentant sin of the people.
Jeremiah 17:11 highlights a category of sin that Judah was committing and which God will now rebuke – the unjust acquisition and hoarding of riches.
11 As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not;
so he that [getteth/gathers] riches, and [not by right/unjustly], shall leave them in the midst of his days,
and at his end shall be a fool.
So, the Lord points to a situation in which a bird sits on eggs but doesn’t hatch them. And that strikes us as strange. Why would a bird sit on eggs but not ultimately hatch them? I mean, that’s the point of a bird sitting on eggs – so that they would hatch. Right? Right.
So then, let’s compare that to the person gathering riches unjustly. And the comparison is this: nothing good will come of that kind of endeavor.
The bird sits on the eggs but doesn’t get any ultimate benefit from them because she doesn’t hatch them. Likewise, a person who gets wealth in an unrighteous way will not ultimately benefit from them. God will see to it that that’s the case. He will even today, but in Jeremiah’s day God would make sure that these people in Judah who were gaining wealth unrighteously would meet their end and have their wealth taken from them by Babylon. Jeremiah 17:3 already told these people that their wealth would be given away as a result of their sinning against the Lord. That would be true of everyone in that day, but especially of the one who unjustly got his wealth.
In Jeremiah 17:12-18 we hear from Jeremiah himself.
Jeremiah 17 Commentary | Praising God’s Character
He starts by praising the Lord in Jeremiah 17:12.
12 A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary.
Well, what is this “place of our sanctuary” that Jeremiah speaks of? He identifies it in Jeremiah 17:13.
13 O LORD, the hope of Israel,
The Lord is all that Israel could have and should have placed their confidence in. And yet, through this chapter and even the entire book we’ve seen so far that Israel was placing confidence any- and everywhere but in the Lord. In this chapter, we’ve already seen God pronouncing curses on them for doing this very thing.
Jeremiah 17 Commentary | Praising God’s Justice
And Jeremiah confirms that curse for people who don’t trust the Lord in the rest of Jeremiah 17:13.
all that forsake thee shall be ashamed,
and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth,
because they have forsaken the LORD,
the fountain of living waters.
But Jeremiah himself hasn’t forsaken the Lord. He hasn’t trusted in man. He trusts in God.
And so you’d think that he’d receive nothing but the blessings promised to those who trust in the Lord, like we saw earlier in this chapter.
Jeremiah 17 Commentary | Petition for Deliverance
But what we’re actually going to see in Jeremiah 17:14-18 is that Jeremiah was experiencing problems. Why? Well, precisely because he trusted the Lord! And his fellow-citizens who didn’t… were persecuting him.
14 [Heal/Grant relief from suffering] me, O LORD, and I shall be healed;
[save/rescue from persecution] me, and I shall be saved:
for thou art my praise.
Jeremiah 17 Commentary | Lamenting Persecutors’ Mocking
Well, why does Jeremiah need healing? What does he need to be saved from?
His persecutors, according to Jeremiah 17:15.
15 Behold, they [i.e., those persecutors] say unto me,
Where is the [word/promised threatenings] of the LORD?
let it come now.
These persecutors are mocking Jeremiah. All the threats that God has made through Jeremiah hadn’t happened at that point yet. And so, currently Jeremiah is looking foolish. He’s even looking like a false prophet! And as a result, the people are emboldened in their sinning against God’s express will.
Jeremiah 17 Commentary | Confidence in Personal Uprightness
Then in Jeremiah 17:16, the prophet calls the Lord’s attention to the fact that he’s been trying his best both to love God and to love his neighbors.
16 As for me, I have not hastened from being a [pastor/shepherd] to follow thee:
neither have I desired the woeful day [i.e., the day when Babylon would come and destroy Judah, just like the Lord had been promising];
thou knowest: that which came out of my lips was right before thee.
So, Jeremiah has been following the Lord’s commands and desires. At the same time, he isn’t looking forward to the destruction of his whole nation – though actually that destruction is well-deserved and long-delayed. But Jeremiah is trying his best to love both God and neighbor. To give the people God’s word and threats and to – at the same time – not desire their destruction.
Jeremiah 17 Commentary | Petition for Mercy
So, in light of these things, Jeremiah implores the Lord to have mercy on him in Jeremiah 17:17.
17 Be not a terror unto me:
thou art my hope in the day of [evil/disaster/trouble].
This is interesting, because Jeremiah knows that God will be with him and deliver him. God has made several verbal promises to him of this very nature. And yet, it’s not inappropriate to continually pray to the Lord for him to do something that he’s promised to do – especially when that promise seems long-delayed.
Jeremiah 17 Commentary | Petition for Justice & Deliverance
Well, even though Jeremiah has declared that he hasn’t desired for God to bring his promised punishment to his people any earlier than is absolutely necessary, we do see the prophet in Jeremiah 17:18 asking the Lord to judge those who are mocking God’s words and persecuting Jeremiah. He also asks once more for deliverance in the coming day of destruction that will indeed come to Judah even though it’s delayed.
18 Let them be [confounded/ashamed/disgraced] that persecute me,
but let not me be confounded:
let them be dismayed,
but let not me be dismayed:
bring upon them the day of [evil/disaster],
and destroy them with [double/twofold/deserved] destruction.
At this point we enter into the last section of this chapter, in Jeremiah 17:19-27. It almost seems totally unrelated to the rest of the chapter. But I think it’s best to take it with the rest of Jeremiah 17 because of how it ends. We’ll see that in a little while.
The message of this section is pretty basic: Keep the Sabbath!
Jeremiah 17 Commentary | Sabbath Command Reiterated
First we have the reiteration of the command to keep the Sabbath in Jeremiah 17:19-23
19 ¶ Thus said the LORD unto me [i.e., Jeremiah];
Go and stand in the [gate of the children of the people/People’s Gate],
whereby the kings of Judah come in,
and by the which they go out,
[and/then] in all the gates of Jerusalem;
20 And say unto them,
Hear ye the word of the LORD,
ye kings of Judah,
and all Judah,
and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that enter in by these gates:
21 Thus saith the LORD;
Take heed to yourselves,
and [bear no burden/carry any load] on the sabbath day,
nor bring it in [by/through] the gates of Jerusalem;
22 Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day,
neither do ye any work,
but hallow ye the sabbath day,
as I commanded your fathers.
23 [But/Yet] they obeyed not,
neither inclined their ear,
but made their neck stiff,
that they might not hear,
nor [receive/take] [instruction/correction].
So, that’s the command. Keep the Sabbath. Don’t carry loads of goods to buy or sell on the day we know as Saturday – the 7th day of the week. Don’t do any work on that day. That was the Lord’s command in the Old Covenant to the people whom he brought into that covenant.
We in the New Covenant aren’t commanded to keep the Sabbath. We are commanded to not forsake our assembling. We’re encouraged through example to do that assembling in particular on the first day of the week when Jesus Christ our Lord rose from the dead. I just want to make clear the distinction here between Old and New Covenant expectations and demands.
OK, so Jeremiah is given the Sabbath command to reiterate to the people. This gives us the idea that the people were not hallowing the Sabbath, which should come as little surprise in such a lawless society as was pre-exilic Judah.
So, any time God gives a command, there are really only two options that people can take. They can do it. Or they can neglect doing it.
Jeremiah 17 Commentary | Continuation for Keeping Sabbath
Jeremiah 17:24-26 gives Judah a promise if they do keep the Sabbath.
24 ¶ And it shall come to pass, if ye diligently hearken unto me, saith the LORD, to bring in no burden through the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but hallow the sabbath day, to do no work therein;
25 Then shall there enter into the gates of this city kings and princes sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they, and their princes, the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: and this city shall remain for ever.
26 And [they/people] shall come from the cities of Judah, and from the places about Jerusalem, and from the land of Benjamin, and from the plain, and from the mountains, and from the south, bringing burnt offerings, and sacrifices, and meat offerings, and incense, and bringing sacrifices of praise, unto the house of the LORD.
In other words, if the people of Judah would trust God – there’s that emphasis again that we’ve seen a few times in this chapter – if they just trust God to provide for them as they hallow the Sabbath day, well then God will delay his sending Babylon against them. They can remain a city and a nation. Kings can come and go. Nothing needs to change – IF THEY REPENT and do right!
Jeremiah 17 Commentary | Exile for Breaking the Sabbath
But if the people don’t listen to the Lord to hallow the Sabbath, Jeremiah 17:27 gives the result.
27 But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.
Remember Jeremiah 17:4? The Lord said there “ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn for ever”? That was speaking of Judah’s sin. It kindled a fire as it were of God’s anger that wouldn’t be quenched. And here at the end of the chapter – pulling the whole chapter together – is this warning that God himself would kindle a fire in the gates of Jerusalem to destroy them. And that fire – just like the one caused by Judah’s sin – wouldn’t be quenched forever.
Jeremiah 17 Commentary | Summary
So, that’s Jeremiah 17. Trust the Lord.