3 EXPLANATIONS OF ISRAEL’S REFUSAL TO REPENT DESPITE PROPHETIC WARNINGS
How can one explain the refusal of God’s people to repent and turn back to faithful obedience once confronted with their rebellion? It seems like common sense on the surface of things. Why would people continue to spiral downwards on a course that leads to shame and destruction? And yet our sinfulness drives us down that incomprehensible road to hopelessness. Apart from God’s grace and the intervention of our Savior, we continue to make unwise decisions that feed our greed and desire for independence. At some point, God’s patience and forbearance expire so that we reach a point of irreversible rejection and destruction. That is why there is such urgency to repent while opportunity remains.
3 EXPLANATIONS OF ISRAEL’S REFUSAL TO REPENT DESPITE PROPHETIC WARNINGS
Themes of sin, judgment and mourning dominate chapters 8-9
I. (:4-7) CHARACTERIZATION OF AMAZING ARROGANCE –
THEIR REFUSAL TO REPENT WAS IRRATIONAL
A. (:4-5) Stubborn
“And you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD, Do men fall and not get up again? Does one turn away and not repent? Why then has this people, Jerusalem, Turned away in continual apostasy? They hold fast to deceit, They refuse to return.’”
Thompson: People in life learn from their mistakes. It would seem to be a built-in, intuitive response in many situations.
B. (:6) Headstrong (compared to war horses)
“I have listened and heard, They have spoken what is not right; No man repented of his wickedness, Saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turned to his course, Like a horse charging into the battle.”
Mackay: the impossibility of restraining horses once they have started to charge into battle. Oblivious to the dangers around them, they sweep headlong in deliberate and vigorous action which is unstoppable. . . There is no way they are going to be turned back.
Parunak: They do not speak correctly, acknowledging their error. They may mourn over the suffering that they experience, but they will not go so far as to question their own conduct.
C. (:7) Oblivious (contrasted with migratory birds)
“Even the stork in the sky Knows her seasons; And the turtledove and the swift and the thrush Observe the time of their migration; But My people do not know The ordinance of the LORD.”
Mackay: This section (:4-7) makes use of three commonsense observations (about the actions of people, vv. 4-5; horses, v. 6; migratory birds, v. 7) to bring out how unnaturally Judah was responding to its circumstances. The note of amazement at how perverse their conduct was is reminiscent of 2:10-11.
Wiersbe: God gave the birds the instinct to know the seasons and the times of their migrations, but He gave people so much more: a spirit within to hear God’s voice and understand His Law. Made in the image of God, men and women ought to be as obedient to divine instruction as birds are to natural instinct.
II. (:8-12) CATALOGUE OF PERVASIVE WICKEDNESS –
THEIR REFUSAL TO REPENT WAS IGNORANT AND SELF-SERVING
A. (:8-9) Devoid of Wisdom and Dismayed
“How can you say, ‘We are wise, And the law of the LORD is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes Has made it into a lie. The wise men are put to shame, They are dismayed and caught; Behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD, And what kind of wisdom do they have?”
Feinberg: In spite of her willful ignorance of the law of God, the nation boasts of her wisdom. The chief offenders were the priests and false prophets. Apparently they thought that having the law meant they had all the wisdom they needed. Denying God’s word by their deeds, they still boasted of its presence with them (cf. Rom 2:17-23).
Brian Bell: Possessing the scriptures is not the same as Practicing them!
B. (:10) Deceitful and Greedy
“Therefore I will give their wives to others, Their fields to new owners; Because from the least even to the greatest Everyone is greedy for gain; From the prophet even to the priest Everyone practices deceit.”
C. (:11) Deceived and Disingenuous
“And they heal the brokenness of the daughter of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace.”
D. (:12) Defiant and Destroyed
“’Were they ashamed because of the abomination they had done? They certainly were not ashamed, And they did not know how to blush; Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; At the time of their punishment they shall be brought down,’ Declares the LORD.”
They were so in love with their sins and abominations that they were no longer ashamed of them. The relished in them. They no longer had the ability to blush over their sins because they had no shame.
III. (:13-17) CATASTROPHE OF DIVINE JUDGMENT –
THEIR REFUSAL TO REPENT WAS IRREVERSIBLE
A. (:13) Prosperity Reversed – Instead Bondage
“’I will surely snatch them away,’ declares the LORD; ‘There will be no grapes on the vine, And no figs on the fig tree, And the leaf shall wither; And what I have given them shall pass away.’”
B. (:14) Poison Awaits
“Why are we sitting still? Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the fortified cities, And let us perish there, Because the LORD our God has doomed us And given us poisoned water to drink, For we have sinned against the LORD.”
C. (:15) Peace Renounced – Instead Terror
“We waited for peace, but no good came; For a time of healing, but behold, terror!”
D. (:16-17) Plundering Dispatched
1. (:16) Image of Ravaging War Horses
“From Dan is heard the snorting of his horses; At the sound of the neighing of his stallions The whole land quakes; For they come and devour the land and its fulness, The city and its inhabitants.”
2. (:17) Image of Poisonous Serpents
“’For behold, I am sending serpents against you, Adders, for which there is no charm, And they will bite you,’ declares the LORD.”
(:18-22) EPILOG — CRIES OF HOPELESS BROKENNESS
A. (:18) Broken Heart
“My sorrow is beyond healing, My heart is faint within me!”
B. (:19-20) Alternating Cries
1. People Oppressed in Bondage
“Behold, listen! The cry of the daughter of my people from a distant land:”
Wiersbe: These verses (:13-22) blend three voices: God’s voice of judgment, the people’s voice of despair, and the prophet’s voice of anguish as he contemplated the ruin of a once-great nation.
2. Jerusalem Abandoned by God
“‘Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King not within her?’”
3. God Provoked by Idolatry
“‘Why have they provoked Me with their graven images, with foreign idols?’”
4. Deliverance Prolonged Beyond Expectation
“Harvest is past, summer is ended, And we are not saved.”
Thompson: Jeremiah pictured the people of Judah as having passed by one opportunity after another to repent of their rebellious ways and so be delivered or saved from coming judgment. . . the brief poignant cry of the people gathers up two facts – the sense of being forsaken by Yahweh and the awareness that all hope of deliverance is gone.
Feinberg: Harvest of barley, wheat, and spelt came in April, May, and June; harvest of summer fruits like figs, grapes, and pomegranates came in August and September, and of olives in October. If these were not provided, no fruit was garnered for the winter.
C. (:21-22) Broken Heart
1. (:21) Anguish
“For the brokenness of the daughter of my people I am broken;
I mourn, dismay has taken hold of me.”
These are the words of Jeremiah. He says he is hurt, black, and astonished.
• He is hurt because his heart is broken.
• He is black because he is in mourning and in ashes.
• He is astonished because the people refused to turn to the LORD and are now in utter devastation.
2. (:22) Despair
“Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?
Why then has not the health of the daughter of my people been restored?”
Mackay: Gilead lay to the east of the Jordan between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. It was a rugged and wooded area (Gen. 37:25; Ezek. 27:17) that had long been associated with an aromatic resin which was used as a soothing ointment and also gave a pleasant odour (46:11; 51:8).
Adam Clarke: The people are morally diseased; they have sinned against God, and provoked him to destroy them. They are warned by the prophet to repent and turn to God: they refuse, and sin on. Destruction is come upon them. Might they not have avoided it? Yes. Was it the fault of God? No. Did he not send his prophets with the richest offers of mercy? Did he not give them time, the best instructions, and the most effectual means of returning to him? Has not mercy, the heavenly balm, been ever at hand? And has not God, the great Physician, been ever ready to apply it? Yes. Why then are they not converted and healed? Because they would not apply to the Divine Physician, nor receive the only remedy by which they could be spiritually healed. They, then, that sin against the only remedy must perish, because they might have had it, but would not. It is not because there is a deficiency of grace, nor of the means of grace, that men are not saved; but because they either make no use, or a bad use, of them. Jesus Christ, by the grace of God, has tasted death for every man; but few are saved, because they Will Not come unto him that they may have life.