GOD MUST PUNISH THOSE WHO FORSAKE HIM AND REFUSE TO REPENT
Here we see clearly that the proper recompense for forsaking God is divine judgment. It is a sad situation when God cannot find a single person in Jerusalem who is characterized by truth and social justice. This despite all of God’s efforts to graciously choose, cultivate and prosper His covenant people. Their treachery goes beyond even the depravity of surrounding pagan cultures because they were gifted with much more opportunity to know God and His ways. Despite divine discipline, they persisted in their stubborn rebellion and left God no choice but to avenge Himself against their apostasy.
Mackay: The chapter is therefore by way of theodicy, justifying God’s sweeping action against his own people.
Kidner: There is a straight line from apostasy to disaster, from sin to death.
GOD MUST PUNISH THOSE WHO FORSAKE HIM AND REFUSE TO REPENT
I. (:1-6) ANALYSIS OF APOSTASY
A. (:1-3) Description of Apostasy
1. (:1-3a) Systemic Corruption — No Truth to Be Found
a. Search for Truth – Can one righteous person be found?
“Roam to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, And look now, and take note. And seek in her open squares, If you can find a man, If there is one who does justice, who seeks truth, Then I will pardon her.”
Thompson: Comparison with Gen. 18:23-32 indicates that whereas in the days of Abraham God would have spared Sodom for ten men, he offers easier terms by far to Jerusalem even though Jerusalem’s sins exceeded those of Sodom (cf. 15:1-4; Ezek. 16:48). . . “Justice” and “truth” are two terms that often appear together in the prophetic literature of the Old Testament. They are covenant qualities that govern relations between people and God and between people and other people.
What does apostasy look like today?
Who is standing in the gap for the cause of righteousness?
David Guzik: One may also say that God today still searches and looks for one man who executes judgment and who seeks the truth – and finds only the One Man, Jesus Christ. He is the One Man who can save any city or individual from judgment.
b. Swearing Loyalty is False
“And although they say, ‘As the LORD lives,’ Surely they swear falsely.”
Calvin: This is added by way of anticipation; for the Jews, as it is well known, thought that they had a cover for all their vices, inasmuch as they had God’s name continually in their mouths. Since then they professed to worship the God of Abraham, they thought that this pretext was sufficient to cover all their wickedness. The Prophet obviates this objection, and shews that this disguise was of no avail, because in thus using God’s name, they profaned it: and he goes still further; for he shews that the Jews, not only in common practice, were wholly destitute of the fear of God, but that when anything of a religious kind appeared among them, it was sacrilegious; and this is far worse than when God’s name is forgotten, and wretched men allow themselves a full license in sinning, as though they could not conceal their wickedness: for when they openly provoke God, and as it were dishonor him to his face, how detestable and how monstrous is their impiety!
c. Standard is Truth = Faithful Covenant Loyalty
“O LORD, do not Thine eyes look for truth?”
2. (:3b) Stubborn Rebellion — No Right Response to Corrective Discipline
“Thou hast smitten them, But they did not weaken; Thou hast consumed them, But they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; They have refused to repent.”
B. (:4-5) Degree of Apostasy – Across All Strata of Society
1. (:4) Low Status (Common) People Have Broken God’s Covenant
“Then I said, ‘They are only the poor, They are foolish; For they do not know the way of the LORD Or the ordinance of their God.’”
The poor – probably in status in society – the common people
2. (:5) High Status (Leaders) People Have Broken God’s Covenant
“I will go to the great And will speak to them, For they know the way of the LORD, And the ordinance of their God. But they too, with one accord, have broken the yoke And burst the bonds.”
The great are the leaders – the men of high standing in the society; men of high station
C. (:6) Danger of Apostasy
“Therefore a lion from the forest shall slay them,
A wolf of the deserts shall destroy them,
A leopard is watching their cities.
Everyone who goes out of them shall be torn in pieces,
– Because their transgressions are many,
– Their apostasies are numerous.”
MacArthur: Three animals which tear and eat their victims represented the invader: the lion, the wolf, and the leopard, picturing vicious judgment on both poor (v.4) and great (v.5).
Feinberg: The lion represents strength, the desert wolf ravenousness, and the leopard swiftness – all traits of the Babylonians.
II. (:7-13) JUSTIFICATION FOR JUDGMENT
A. (:7-8) Blatant Spiritual Adultery
“Why should I pardon you? Your sons have forsaken Me And sworn by those who are not gods. When I had fed them to the full, They committed adultery And trooped to the harlot’s house. They were well-fed lusty horses, Each one neighing after his neighbor’s wife.”
Thompson: The picture in vv. 7 and 8 is of men who began with irregular sexual relationships in the harlot’s house and then moved on to adultery. Jeremiah was depicting a crumbling society in open revolt against both the commandments of Yahweh and the fundamental laws of conscience.
Goodness of God should have led them to repentance; but instead fed their spiritual complacency and hubris
Feinberg: God’s bounty to the people evoked not gratitude but a greater desire for idolatry. Material blessings only made them feel secure in their sins.
Calvin: Now this passage teaches us, that they who go astray, when allured by God’s paternal kindness and bounty, are on that account the more unworthy of pardon. When men grow wanton against God, while he is kindly indulging them, they no doubt treasure up for themselves wrath against the day of wrath, as Paul tells us in Romans 2:5. Let us then take heed, lest we indulge ourselves, while God is, as it were, indulging us; and lest prosperity should lead us to wantonness: but let us learn to submit ourselves willingly to him, even because he thus kindly and sweetly invites us to himself; and when he shews himself so loving, let us learn to love him.
B. (:9-10) But Leave a Remnant
“’Shall I not punish these people,’ declares the LORD, ‘And on a nation such as this Shall I not avenge Myself? Go up through her vine rows and destroy, But do not execute a complete destruction; Strip away her branches, For they are not the LORD’s.’”
Longman: Here we have another reference to the remnant theme (see 3:12-18; 4:27-28). God’s people will not be totally eradicated in this judgment.
C. (:11-13) Blind Denial of Accountability
“’For the house of Israel and the house of Judah Have dealt very treacherously with Me,’ declares the LORD. ‘They have lied about the LORD And said, Not He; Misfortune will not come on us; And we will not see sword or famine. And the prophets are as wind, And the word is not in them. Thus it will be done to them!’”
Ryken: These poor people were in spiritual denial. They doubted that God judges sin or rules in history. For all their religious talk, they refused to follow God. Their worship was false because they did not give glory to God in their hearts.
Thompson: Here was blind complacency. The people, forgetful that breach of covenant would result in the operation of the curses of the covenant, that is, divine judgment, and stressing rather the privileges of covenant membership than its obligations, had deluded themselves into thinking that somehow the God of the covenant would overlook breaches of the covenant.
David Guzik: Several commentators believe the phrase the prophets have become windrefers to how the people regarded the true prophets of God – regarding them only as windbags.
Feinberg: they deny God’s intervention and even his interest in their ways. They were practical atheists.
III. (:14-17) DECREE OF DESTRUCTION
A. (:14) Powerful Prophecy of Destruction
“Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, ‘Because you have spoken this word, Behold, I am making My words in your mouth fire And this people wood, and it will consume them.’”
Mackay: Jeremiah as the Lord’s spokesman is reassured that his message is genuine and will be backed up by a display of divine power.
Calvin: This passage ought to be carefully observed by us, lest by our ingratitude we shall so provoke God’s wrath against us, as that his word, which is destined for our food, shall be turned to be a fire to us. For why has God appointed the ministers of his gospel, except to invite us to become partakers of his salvation, and thus sweetly to restore and refresh our souls? And thus the word of God is to us like water to revive our hearts: it is also a fire, but for our good, a cleansing, and not a consuming fire: but if we obstinately reject this fire, it will surely turn to answer another end, even to devour us, and wholly to consume us.
B. (:15-17) Powerful People (Instrument) of Destruction
1. (:15-16) Description of the Mighty Enemy
“’Behold, I am bringing a nation against you from afar, O house of Israel,’ declares the LORD. ‘It is an enduring nation, It is an ancient nation, A nation whose language you do not know, Nor can you understand what they say. Their quiver is like an open grave, All of them are mighty men.’”
Feinberg: The description of the foe is both accurate and detailed. Five of their characteristics are given:
(4) Unintelligible in speech
(5) Deadly in war
2. (:17) Destruction by the Mighty Enemy
“And they will devour your harvest and your food;
They will devour your sons and your daughters;
They will devour your flocks and your herds;
They will devour your vines and your fig trees;
They will demolish with the sword your fortified cities in which you trust.”
Repeated use of word “devour” to show the extent of the coming destruction.
IV. (:18-30) REFLECTION ON DIVINE RECKONING
A. (:18) Left Behind (Remnant) Theology
“’Yet even in those days,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will not make you a complete destruction.’”
B. (:19) Legacy Instruction
“And it shall come about when they say, ‘Why has the LORD our God done all these things to us?’ then you shall say to them, ‘As you have forsaken Me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve strangers in a land that is not yours.’”
Feinberg: There is a direct relation between the nation’s sin and its punishment – viz., recompense in kind, lex talionis (Deut 28:47-48).
C. (:20-24) Lack of Fear of God
1. (:20-22) First Argument from Nature
“Declare this in the house of Jacob And proclaim it in Judah, saying, ‘Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, Who have eyes, but see not; Who have ears, but hear not. Do you not fear Me?’ declares the LORD. ‘Do you not tremble in My presence? For I have placed the sand as a boundary for the sea, An eternal decree, so it cannot cross over it. Though the waves toss, yet they cannot prevail; Though they roar, yet they cannot cross over it.’”
Mackay: The people have become like the idols of the alien gods whom they have been serving. (Is. 6:9-10; Ps. 94:7-9)
MacArthur: God’s providential acts in the natural world such as
1) Creating the seashore to prevent flooding,
2) Giving rain at the appropriate times (v.24), and
3) Providing time for harvest (v.24)
are witness enough to the Lord’s reality and grace. As the nation turns away from God, He will take these unappreciated gifts away (v.25).
Feinberg: The language is purposely blunt to awaken the people to their dangerous condition. How can they be so obtuse concerning the truth that God is Creator, Provider, and Judge?
2. (:23-24) Second Argument from Nature
“But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; They have turned aside and departed. They do not say in their heart, ‘Let us now fear the LORD our God, Who gives rain in its season, Both the autumn rain and the spring rain, Who keeps for us The appointed weeks of the harvest.’”
Longman: Jeremiah denounces the people since they do not treat the Lord with the proper awe. Jeremiah now invokes creation themes in order to support this idea. God is the one who bounded the sea with the sand in order to make the dry land. The sea represents the power of chaos, but God firmly pushes back chaos to allow the order of creation to exist. Further, God is the provider of the life-giving rains (v. 24). This reference is particularly germane, since the people of God are tempted to worship a god like Baal who is a storm deity. Their sins have deprived them of good, like the crops.
D. (:25-28) Leeches Pursue Wickedness for Profit and Exploit the Vulnerable
“Your iniquities have turned these away, And your sins have withheld good from you. For wicked men are found among My people, They watch like fowlers lying in wait; They set a trap, They catch men. Like a cage full of birds, So their houses are full of deceit; Therefore they have become great and rich. They are fat, they are sleek, They also excel in deeds of wickedness; They do not plead the cause, The cause of the orphan, that they may prosper; And they do not defend the rights of the poor.”
Mackay: It is significant that the arguments presented here are not from the word and promise of God, or his past deeds of salvation, but from his natural power (over the sea) and goodness (harvest). This is testimony that is available even to those without special revelation (Rom. 1:20). Its use here indicates that because of their spiritual immaturity the covenant people have to be approached by the prophet at a very elementary level.
Longman: Wicked men exist among God’s people who catch people in their traps as a fowler traps birds. They use deceit, just as bird traps, hidden in the environment, catch birds unaware. Those caught are killed and used for the profit of the fowler. These wicked men have become very rich and powerful through their evil behavior.
Exploitation like hunters snaring bird
E. (:29-30) Last Word
“’Shall I not punish these people?’ declares the LORD, ‘On a nation such as this Shall I not avenge Myself?’ An appalling and horrible thing Has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule on their own authority; And My people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?’”
Mackay: Matters would not always continue as they had done. The people are being called on to reflect on the culmination of their present course of conduct. “If only they were wise and would understand this and discern what their end will be!” (Deut. 32:29). “What will you do in the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar?” (Isa. 10:3).
Constable: The Lord announced that an appalling and horrible thing had happened in Judah. The prophets did not deliver the Lord’s messages, but instead preached what the people wanted to hear. Also, the priests conducted worship as they thought best, rather than as the Lord had specified. But instead of revolting against these misleaders, the people loved their apostate behavior. Yet, the Lord asked, what would they do in the end?
Woodrow Kroll: That was God’s warning to Israel. They were being misled by those who were responsible for their spiritual welfare. The prophets and priests were telling the people only what they wanted to hear, which was fine with them. They didn’t want to be confronted with their sins. They loved the sugarcoated messages and the false assurances. But God inquired, “What will you do in the end?” What will you do when reality knocks on the door and you no longer can continue to deny the truth? Everything that begins has an end…and then what will you do?
Feinberg: So the chapter closes with the tragic statement that those entrusted with the spiritual welfare of the nation were unworthy of their positions. Worse yet, the people were so unaware of the issues that they acquiesced in all that their leaders did. The rampant evil did not trouble the people, who had come to accept it and favor it. They preferred indulgent leaders who made few, if any, moral demands. The people had lost all sense of moral values and did not realize they were being duped. They cherished their false security. But the final question is, In the time of retribution, when the calamity would strike, then what would they do? Then where would their hope and confidence be?
Consider your end!