April 24, 2015.
Daily Reading: Jeremiah 17-21.
Background: Jeremiah 12-16.
Concepts and Connections.
1. The deceptive heart: This chapter begins with an oracle against Judah for their sin, implying that their seen had left a permanent mark on their heart, etched with diamond, so that they would not consider repenting. The main reason for this stubbornness, however, was not because they simply liked being disobedient to the Lord, but rather it would seem that they had been deceived by their own heart to think what they were doing was right. They would not listen to Jeremiah because he prophesied things that were hard to hear, and they had their own prophets that would preach good words to them. Their conscience was clear, their heart told them they were fine. But Jeremiah would go on to say that the heart is deceitful above all things, and is desperately sick, so that no one can understand it. The Lord, however, searches the heart, and knows it. He will repay each man according to his deeds. A deceptive heart was not an acceptable excuse for the sin of the people. The fact that they were “just following their heart,” did not acquit them from their transgressions. Neither will it give us an acquittal. Though intention does matter, we need to remember that our heart can easily deceive us, and thus we must always rely on the word of God and the guidance of the Spirit.
2. Persecution and an ultimatum: Jeremiah’s words were not favorable in the hearing of Judah, and the people seem to have gown very tired of his message of doom, so much so that they were actively persecuting him. In times past, Jeremiah had fervently prayed for the people, even when the Lord basically told him it was a waste of time. Now, Jeremiah is feeling the heat of the persecution, and he prays for deliverance from the Lord. He is a refuge in the day of trouble, and Jeremiah relies on His steadfast love and protection. He reminds the Almighty, though He need no reminder, of how he had boldly spoken his message to the people and had not run away from his calling. Now he asks for protection from his adversaries.
The Lord answers with another oracle, which basically gives the people of Judah an ultimatum. They were profaning the Sabbath day by doing work on it, and not keeping it holy as was written in the Law and given to their fathers. The Lord gives them a chance here to make things right once again. If they listen to the word of the Lord, and once again begin to keep the Sabbath day, then He would bless them and ensure that a king of the linage of David would always sit on the physical throne of Judah. However, if they would not listen to the voice of the Lord, then destruction would surly come on Jerusalem. Even though the people had turned their face against the Lord, He was still willing to give them a chance. Unfortunately, it would be a chance that they would not take.
1. The potter and the clay: The metaphor of the potter and the clay is used upon different occasions in scripture (see Isaiah 45:9, 64:8 and Romans 9:20-21). Here, God has Jeremiah go down to the potter’s house so that He can make the point of the potter and the clays in a clear, visual manner. As Jeremiah watches the potter, he sees a vessel that is being formed that gets spoiled and then reshaped into another vessel that is more pleasing to the potter. God tells Jeremiah that He can do the same with Judah (and with any nation, for that matter), shaping and reforming however He chooses. God is the potter, and we are the clay. However, it is very interesting that God reveals a certain characteristic about Himself here that has indeed remained constant throughout time. He lays out the idea of repentance and forgiveness (and vice versa) for any and all nations who would come to the Lord. He says that if a nation, a wicked nation, turns from the evil of its ways after the chastisement of the Lord, then He would relent of the disaster that He had planned to bring on them. A good example of this occurring elsewhere in scripture is the story of Jonah, and how God relented of the disaster that He was going to bring on the city of Nineveh after they humbled themselves before Him and repented (see Jonah 3). However, after God lays out this characteristic about Himself, He also says that the opposite is true, that if a nation in which God had blessed tuned from Him and did evil in His sight, then He would relent of the good that He was going to do for the nation. In context, God is speaking specifically to His people (though He generalizes it to all nations), as they would indeed have this ebb and flow throughout their history. Currently, they were in a time of apostasy, and the Lord called out that they might repent, but they would not listen. They had forgotten Him and fallen after other gods. Thus, calamity from the Lord was upon them.
2. Jeremiah’s complaint: Again, the people persecuted Jeremiah because of his harsh oracles that foretold of destruction and devastation for Judah. They took up plans to persecute him with their lips, for they were convinced that he was working against the Law, priests and prophets. There is much irony in this idea, as it was Jeremiah who had the true word of the Lord, and the other prophets and priests that they were listening to that were speaking falsely. This goes to show that people can be deceived into thinking their religious leaders are correct when they are not. Jeremiah here again complains to the Lord because of his persecution. He has diligently prayed for the people, that the wrath of the Lord might be turned away from them. But now, Jeremiah’s words are against his adversaries, for they are diligently persecuting him, even plotting to kill him.
The broken flask: The valley of the son of Hinnom was a narrow valley just south of Jerusalem that became a prominent figure in the minds of Jews even to the first century, where it had become a symbol for eternal punishment, as Jesus used this valley to describe hell on several occasions (see Matthew 5:29, 10:28, 23:15, Mark 9:43 and Luke 12:5). This association was due to the horrific practices that would go on there from time to time, as the people of Israel would follow after other gods and the practices of the nations around them, practicing child sacrifice in the valley (see II Chronicles 28:3, 33:6). This practice was so horrific in the sight of God that He says that it is one that never even came into His mind. The valley would indeed become an abomination, where it was said that a fire was always burning, never quenched, just as the Lord says it would become here in the analogy of the broken flask. Jeremiah was to break the flask to represent what the Lord was going to do to the people of Judah, to bring destruction that could never be mended because of their abominable deeds. Yet, they would not listen to His words.
A fire in the heart, shut up in the bones: Signifying just where the people were at spiritually, here we get a story of a priest, the chief officer in the house of the Lord, named Pashhur who took it upon himself to beat Jeremiah after he heard the prophecy that he had made against Judah. This beating did not intimidate Jeremiah, however, as afterward he continued to speak the word of the Lord as it was given him, telling Pashhur that the Lord had changed his name to “terror on every side,” signifying the fate that would come upon him and his friends for what they had done. Then he tells of the upcoming Babylonian captivity that Judah would go into, during which Pashhur himself would be taken into captivity and die in the land of Babylon.
Then Jeremiah cries out to the Lord once again in his anguish and trouble, asking Him why he must preach such an unfavorable message to the people. He has even tried to conceal the message, so that he wouldn’t have to speak it to the people, but when he did, the message burned like fire in his bones and he could not help but speak the word of the Lord. Jeremiah’s enemies were all around him, and he could hear them whispering things against him. Jeremiah is in such distress that he curses the day that he was born, born into a life of adversity and discomfort. From his youth, Jeremiah had been a prophet consecrated to the Lord (see Jeremiah 1) with a message that was not good for the people of Judah. But even in the midst of his calamity and complaint, he finds place to worship the Lord, calling for all to sing praises to Him (v. 13). The Lord is always worthy to be praised.
Babylonian captivity foretold: Though it is not necessarily clear whether this oracle came before or after the events with Pashhur in the last chapter, it is ironic that we read of Pashhur the priest (though it could be a different Pashhur, since the linage is described differently) being sent to Jeremiah by King Zedekiah to inquire of the Lord that He might deliver them from Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, who was making war against them. The message from the Lord, however, was not favorable for the king of Judah, as the Lord said that He would turn back the weapons of war on Judah, so that they would fall before Babylon. The Lord Himself would fight against Judah, for this was the captivity that He was bringing on the people for their sins. Pestilence, sword and famine would be sent on them, Jerusalem would fall, and Judah would go into captivity at the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. The people have one option from the Lord to live, and that is if they give themselves into captivity. If not, they would die in the land. The wrath of the Lord had come upon them, and His face was set against them, so that there was really nothing they could do. It was time for the judgement of the Lord to be executed.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Mark 11-12.
Prepare to meet your God.