FALSE CONFIDENCE IN COVENANT IDENTITY PUNCTURED BY THE DESOLATION RESULTING FROM APOSTASY
Pride and self-sufficiency are like a big balloon of hot air. Once punctured, the air quickly pours out and you are left with a deflated, worthless skin with no substance. That is how Jeremiah perceived the false boasting of the Jews of his day. They were so secure in their covenant identity as the chosen people of God – an identity marked out by the physical sign of circumcision in their bodies and the religious rites and sacrifices they performed at the temple in Jerusalem. But Jeremiah wept over their apostasy and the multitude of their iniquities. He saw that at their core they were defined by lying and exploitation rather than truth and love for their neighbor.
FALSE CONFIDENCE IN COVENANT IDENTITY PUNCTURED BY THE DESOLATION RESULTING FROM APOSTASY
I. (:1-6) APOSTASY REFLECTED IN LITANY OF INIQUITY –
CULTURE OF INIQUITY INCONSISTENT WITH COVENANT IDENTITY
A. (:1-3) Fundamental Problem = Apostasy Clothed in Lying and Deceit
1. (:1-2a) Lamentation and Revulsion
a. (:1) Image of Lamentation – Weeping Over the Desolation
“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!”
this verse ties to what came before as well; some commentators don’t like the current chapter division at this point
b. (:2a) Image of Revulsion – Retreat to Hide
“O that I had in the desert a wayfarers’ lodging place;
that I might leave my people, and go from them!”
Feinberg: Two strong emotions gripped Jeremiah: great sympathy for his people and utter revulsion against their many sins. The life of the people was so corrupt as to make it impossible for Jeremiah to live among them.
MacArthur: Simple square buildings with an open court were built in remote areas to accommodate caravans. Though it would be lonely and filthy in the wilderness, Jeremiah preferred it to Jerusalem so as to be removed from the moral pollution of the people, which he described in vv. 3-8.
Mackay: There is still a basic identification with the people. They are “my people”, but his spirit is so grieved by their behavior that he wants to abandon them, that is, his prophetic ministry to them. Of course, he did not.
2. (:2b-3) Litany of Iniquity
a. (:2b) Loyalty Issue – Spiritual Adultery
“For all of them are adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men.”
b. (:3a) Crooked Speech
“And they bend their tongue like their bow;”
Paul Rendall: bows were strung by putting your leg over the bow itself and bending the bow down, to bring the looped string to the notch at the top of the bow.
Refusal to shoot straight
c. (:3b) Characteristic Sin: Lying
“Lies and not truth prevail in the land;”
d. (:3c) Progressive Wickedness
“For they proceed from evil to evil,”
e. (:3d) Root Issue: No Personal Relationship with God
“’And they do not know Me,’ declares the LORD.”
Mackay: This lack of knowledge is not at a formal, intellectual level, but at the level of inner commitment to the Lord and consequent willingness to live by the expressed standards of his covenant.
B. (:4-6) Fractured Relationships Characterized by Lying and Rejection of God
1. (:4a) No Trust
“Let everyone be on guard against his neighbor,
and do not trust any brother;”
2. (:4b-5a) No Truth
“Because every brother deals craftily,
and every neighbor goes about as a slanderer.
And everyone deceives his neighbor,
and does not speak the truth,”
3. (:5b-6) No Transparency
“They have taught their tongue to speak lies;
They weary themselves committing iniquity.
‘Your dwelling is in the midst of deceit;
Through deceit they refuse to know Me,’ declares the LORD.”
Thompson: In Judah’s wanton rejection of Yahweh as the Lord of the covenant and the One who once took her from Egypt to lead her to a fair land, Jeremiah too saw the seeds of judgment, and like Amos made use of the verb paqad, “call to account” (v. 9). The breach of the covenant was the occasion for the operation of the curses of the covenant.
Feinberg: To show the unnaturalness of their wickedness, Jeremiah says that the people trained their tongues contrary to their proper function (v.5b). Lying takes more effort than speaking the truth, but they were willing to endure the drudgery of sin. They persisted in wrongdoing.
II. (:7-16) APOSTASY REWARDED WITH DESERVED JUDGMENTS –
CULTURE OF WRATH INCONSISTENT WITH COVENANT IDENTITY
A. (:7-9) Judgments Required by the Jealous Nature of God
1. (:7) Divine Refining Required
“Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Behold, I will refine them and assay them; For what else can I do, because of the daughter of My people?’”
These are God’s children who have rejected Him and turned to other gods; process of divine refining is needed; maybe there is something that can be salvaged
2. (:8) Deceitful Speech
“Their tongue is a deadly arrow; It speaks deceit; With his mouth one speaks peace to his neighbor, But inwardly he sets an ambush for him.”
3. (:9) Deserving of Judgment
“’Shall I not punish them for these things?’ declares the LORD. ‘On a nation such as this shall I not avenge Myself?’”
Thompson: 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. Certainly, whatever they might claim, there was nothing about them to suggest that their covenant with Yahweh had produced in them ethical responses which would mark them out from others around them.
B. (:10-11) Judgments Described in Images of Desolation
1. (:10) Desolation of the Land — Land Laid Waste
“For the mountains I will take up a weeping and wailing, and for the pastures of the wilderness a dirge, Because they are laid waste, so that no one passes through, And the lowing of the cattle is not heard; Both the birds of the sky and the beasts have fled; they are gone.”
2. (:11) Desolation of the Cities — Cities Laid Waste
“And I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, A haunt of jackals; And I will make the cities of Judah a desolation, without inhabitant.”
Mackay: implies the devastation is so complete that there is no possibility of rebuilding and living in the ruins. Such an outcome had long been threatened if the terms of the covenant were not observed (Lev. 26:33; Deut. 28:64).
Feinberg: So complete will the devastation be that only scavengers will remain (v. 11).
Ryken: Jackals were the wild scavengers of ancient Israel. They prowled in the remote places, living off leftovers, scraps, and carcasses. “A haunt of jackals” is an uninhabitable place of darkness, death, and destruction, fit only for beasts, not for humans.
C. (:12-16) Judgments Executed According to the Severity of the Apostasy
1. (:12) Discernment of God’s Ways Hidden From the Apostates
a. (:12a) Who Can Explain This Judgment?
“Who is the wise man that may understand this?
And who is he to whom the mouth of the LORD has spoken, that he may declare it?”
b. (:12b) Why This Judgment?
“Why is the land ruined, laid waste like a desert, so that no one passes through?”
2. (:13-14) Direction of the Apostates is Perverted
a. (:13) Rebellion
“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,’”
b. (:14) Realignment
“but have walked after the stubbornness of their heart
and after the Baals, as their fathers taught them,”
3. (:15-16) Destruction of Apostates Worked Out in Various Forms of Judgment
a. (:15) Bitter Poison
“therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘behold, I will feed them, this people, with wormwood and give them poisoned water to drink.’”
b. (:16a) Unsettling Dislocation
“And I will scatter them among the nations, whom neither they nor their fathers have known;”
c. (:16b) Violent Destruction
“and I will send the sword after them until I have annihilated them.”
III. (:17-22) APOSTASY REGRETTED IN FUNERAL DIRGE MOURNING –
CULTURE OF DEATH INCONSISTENT WITH COVENANT IDENTITY
A. (:17-19) Funeral Dirge Appropriate for Apostates
1. (:17-18) Pervasive Wailing
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Consider and call for the mourning women, that they may come; And send for the wailing women, that they may come! And let them make haste, and take up a wailing for us, That our eyes may shed tears, And our eyelids flow with water.’”
2. (:19) Pervasive Desolation
“For a voice of wailing is heard from Zion, ‘How are we ruined! We are put to great shame, For we have left the land, Because they have cast down our dwellings.’”
B. (:20-22) Funeral Dirge Appropriate for Apostates
1. (:20) Pervasive Wailing
“Now hear the word of the LORD, O you women, And let your ear receive the word of His mouth; Teach your daughters wailing, And everyone her neighbor a dirge.”
Mackay: The catastrophe about to engulf the nation is so extensive that all must be trained to take part in the lamentation. (cf. Luke 23:28-29)
2. (:21-22) Pervasive Death
“For death has come up through our windows; It has entered our palaces To cut off the children from the streets, The young men from the town squares. Speak, ‘Thus declares the LORD, The corpses of men will fall like dung on the open field, And like the sheaf after the reaper, But no one will gather them.’”
Ryken: According to Jeremiah, Death is the prowler who comes by night, the stalker who peeks in the window, the intruder who climbs into the house to commit murder. Death is the stealthy assassin who penetrates the defenses and slips into the fortified castle. Or Death is a body snatcher: “It has cut off our children from the streets and the young men from the public squares” (v. 21b). Death even grabs kids off the city playground. There is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. Worse still, Death treats the dead like so much garbage, denying them a proper burial.
Mackay: When the reaper put his sickle into the crop, he gathered it in his arm until there was too much to hold, when he put it down in a heap for another to come and gather them up and tie it into a sheaf. But here what is envisaged is a scene with not one to gather them. The wheat lies wasting on the ground because there is no one left to bind the sheaves. It is a picture of a devastating disaster.
IV. (:23-26) APPLICATION: APOSTASY REVERSED BY BOASTING IN THE LORD –
INDICTMENT OF FALSE CONFIDENCE IN COVENANT IDENTITY
A. (:23-24) False Confidence in the Flesh vs. Confidence in the Lord
1. (:23) False Confidence
“Thus says the LORD, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not
the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches;’”
2. (:24) True Confidence
“’but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows
Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and
righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the LORD.”
Quoted in 1 Cor. 1:31; 2 Cor. 10:17
Thompson: In this brief statement therefore we have a succinct summary of the religion of Israel at its highest. Wisdom, strength, and riches, however valuable they may be when properly used, are altogether subordinate to the knowledge of God. True religion consists in acknowledging the complete sovereignty of God in life and allowing him to fill life with those qualities of steadfast faithfulness, justice, and righteousness which he possesses, in which he delights, and which he desires to find in his people.
John Shearouse: The Lord tells us not to glory in these things. He is telling them not glory in them because His judgement is coming, and when it does,
– The self-sufficient wise man will be a fool… – all his counsel will be lost…
– The self-sufficient mighty man will be weak… – he will be helpless to defend his people—perhaps even dead on the battlefield…
– The self-sufficient rich man will be poor… – all his riches will go to another
Henry Mahan: Now what do we mean by glory? That’s important here . . . it means to honor; it means to honor and exalt a thing or a person. It is to rejoice in something and take great pride in it. And it is even to worship that person or thing and give it the place; here’s the key, of preeminence in our lives. That’s what it means to glory in something.
Cooper: The knowledge of God, here meant, is a knowledge of Him in His true character and perfections. It is a knowledge of Him as being at once a merciful Father and a righteous Judge; a just God, and yet a Saviour; abounding in mercy, love, and truth; and at the same time hating iniquity, and who will by no means clear the guilty. The knowledge spoken of in the text is an inward, heartfelt, experimental knowledge of Him. It is such a belief of Him in our hearts, as leads us to fear and love Him, to rely on and confide in Him. It is a knowledge founded on trial and experience.
B. (:25-26) False Confidence in Religious Formalism Leads to Judgment
“’Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘that I will punish all who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised– Egypt, and Judah, and Edom, and the sons of Ammon, and Moab, and all those inhabiting the desert who clip the hair on their temples; for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart.’”
Outward circumcision will not exempt one from judgment for a lack of inner righteousness. You cannot trust in religious formalism. Apart from confidence and faithfulness in God you are no different than the pagan nations.
Longman: The people of God may have practiced complete circumcision, but they were not really circumcised because it was not reflected in their life and behavior.