In the previous chapter we saw how difficult it was for Jeremiah to cope with the pressure of being God’s spokesman. The message he had to deliver was outrageously difficult and the response he received was not for the faint hearted. Jeremiah had complained bitterly to the Lord and reached such a low that he virtually accused the Lord of being a liar! Through this experience Jeremiah re-discovered his devotion to the Lord and recalled that it was his trust in God’s words that brought him joy and delight. The work of God’s prophet is however relentless! In this 16th chapter we will see more exacting work for Jeremiah and more pain, but there is hope, great hope too.
1. Do not….
We live in a world that is seriously damaged by sin. The impact of the curse of sin is far reaching and not only has brought pain and suffering but has impacted social well-being. In spite of this, God has provided a framework in which society can function for our benefit. Marriage is part of this framework – it provides stability, comfort and joy. Sadly marriage has come under increasing attack in our times. It seems fewer and fewer people get married. I once referred to one of my colleagues ‘other half’ as her husband and was somewhat embarrassed to be told that he was not her husband – I asked if she had never thought of marrying (they have a young child) and she said that she had never really thought about it. That’s a shame, but is a reflection of the misinformation and anti-marriage propaganda incessantly put out by our media. Even worse, we now have marriage between men and men and women and women instituted by the state and a set of accompanying laws that will persecute anyone who dares to say that they disagree. I heard a discussion the other day on the BBC world service about ‘pre-nuptials.’ The views expressed basically stated that it was a good idea to agree how a marriage should end before it had started! Sin not only brings pain and sorrow but it brings absurdity too. Israel was to be a light for the world and to set a standard for other nations to learn from, and whilst they failed miserably in this task, they did not do so entirely. Marriage was of central importance in Israel’s society, not only did it bring to its participants the comfort and love of a wife or husband, it brought the stability and joy of a family. Marriage was (and remains) a God-given institution and children were considered a gift from God. The system of marriage and family life also had the practical benefit of dealing with inheritance rights.
What has all this got to do with Jeremiah? God gave him a specific instruction: ‘You must not marry and have sons or daughters in this place.’ Since all young men in Jeremiah’s day would be married probably in their late teens or earlier, Jeremiah’s failure to marry would inevitably invite questions: ‘why have you not married Jeremiah?’ God was going to use Jeremiah’s non-married state to emphasise the dreadful curses that would come on Judah as judgment for their sin. Jeremiah’s response to questions about his marital status was truly shocking – 3For this is what the Lord says about the sons and daughters born in this land and about the women who are their mothers and the men who are their fathers: 4“They will die of deadly diseases. They will not be mourned or buried but will be like refuse lying on the ground. They will perish by sword and famine, and their dead bodies will become food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth.” Terrible judgment was coming.
Jeremiah had two more things that he was not to do! He was next told: ‘Do not enter a house where there is a funeral meal; do not go to mourn or show sympathy.’ That seems rather strange! Why not Jeremiah? The answer is again shocking: ‘6Both high and low will die in this land. They will not be buried or mourned, and no one will cut himself or shave his head for them. 7No one will offer food to comfort those who mourn for the dead-not even for a father or a mother-nor will anyone give them a drink to console them.’ The message is clear, when the judgment comes it will be so intense and devastating that there will neither be the opportunity nor the inclination to bury the dead with and dignity or consolation.
Finally, Jeremiah is told not to participate in celebrations. Imagine if Jeremiah was invited to a wedding and refused to attend the reception or was invited to a Christmas party but would not go. Why won’t you come Jeremiah? Again another sobering and shocking response: ‘9For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Before your eyes and in your days I will bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in this place.’ Jeremiah would not participate in a feast because the days of feasting, joy and gladness will soon be a thing of the past!
Jeremiah’s public actions were designed to get a response! It is no surprise that Jeremiah’s fellow countrymen wanted an explanation! Why would the God of Israel do such dreadful things to us? ‘What wrong have we done? What sin have we committed against the Lord our God? (verse 10b).’ The real surprise in this was that the people needed an explanation! Surely knew that it was their wilful and persistent rejection of the God of Israel and his instructions that brought them to this place of judgment? The trouble with such persistent sin is that it seems to cause a lack of awareness of sin. The church in Laodicea is described in Revelation 3 as being in a bad place, they were described as being lukewarm and yet despite this they thought that they were not lacking anything: they were ‘wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked’! Of all the churches described in Revelation the church of our day seems to correlate most closely with the church in Laodicea.
Jeremiah was to give the Judeans the reason for the judgment: ‘It is because your ancestors forsook me….and followed other gods and served and worshipped them. They forsook me and did not keep my law (verse 11).’ This presumably is a another reference to Manasseh’s sinful leadership, but if the current generation felt that it was harsh to be judged on the basis of their ancestor’s sins Jeremiah was about to disabuse them of that notion: ‘12 But you have behaved more wickedly than your ancestors. See how all of you are following the stubbornness of your evil hearts instead of obeying me.’ The Judeans were worse than their forefathers. The outcome of this is that God would give them what they wanted. They would end up serving other gods day and night (verse 13), but they would no longer defile the promised land as they did so, they would be thrown out of the land to a foreign place. The verb used is the same verb used to describe Jonah being thrown out of the boat to face the jaws of the whale! The time of God’s favourable treatment would come to an end.
Perhaps there were people who thought the would find a way to escape God’s judgment – they could hide from the invaders, there would be ways to avoid the coming wrath. When faced with the idea of God’s judgment we tend to think that since there has been no judgment thus far that things will not change. Perhaps the Judeans felt secure and as no serious judgment had come before then they too could escape, but there would be no escape. The Lord would send for ‘many fishermen…and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks (verse 16). Interestingly the Greek historian recorded that Persian invading armies captured some Greek islands he states that ’The Persian fleet wintered at Miletus, and putting out to sea in the next year easily subdued the islands that lie off the mainland, Chios and Lesbos and Tenedos. Whenever they took an island, the foreigners would (net) the people. (see Heroditus Book 6, chapter 31, section 1).’ They basically used a fishing technique to sweep the islands – no one could escape. Likewise for the Judeans: nothing would escape the all seeing eye of the Lord – they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes.’ This is a reminder to men of all ages that God sees and justice will ultimately be done.
3. A future hope
No escape, terrible judgment and captivity lay before the people, was there no hope? Yes there was! There would come a day when the Lord would restore the people to their land. One of the great events in Israel’s history was their rescue from slavery in Egypt: the Lord is often described as ‘the Lord who brought the Israelites out of Egypt.’ It was a miraculous event that all the world took note of and which Israel remembers to this day at Passover. In the future however, Jeremiah states that people will note a re-gathering of Israel and in a similar way they will say ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them (verse 15).’ There was hope for Israel, there would be a new Exodus! Later on in Jeremiah we will see that the Lord sets out a timeline for the exile and return: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfil my good promise to bring you back to this place (Jeremiah 29:10).’
It was during the exile in Babylon that the prophet Daniel read Jeremiah’s prophecy and understood that the time for return to the land was near, the seventy years were almost concluded. It must have been a wonderful experience for him to read about God’s plan and to believe it!
There was more good news to come in verse 19-21, here’s the prophecy in full:’ 19 Lord, my strength and my fortress, my refuge in time of distress, to you the nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, ‘Our ancestors possessed nothing but false gods, worthless idols that did them no good. 20 Do people make their own gods? Yes, but they are not gods!’ 21 ‘Therefore I will teach them – this time I will teach them my power and might. Then they will know that my name is the Lord.’ What could this mean? It speaks of a time when nations will come from all over the world to learn about the truth! At that time they will acknowledge that their false gods are nothing. They will learn about the true God; his identity and his power. This gives us a remarkable insight into Israel’s future role as a light for the Gentiles – they will be a means to bring truth to the world. You can read a bit more about this in Zechariah 14. This raises an important question, when did this happen? It has never happened. Yet.
During Israel’s exile in Babylon, Daniel read Jeremiah’s prophecy and the 70 years of exile: he realised that the 70 years were almost up and he prayed to God to help the people. He prayed that God would forgive the people for their sin and that he would restore Jerusalem to bring glory to God. God remarkably answered Daniel with some good news and some bad news! The bad news really was bad! Daniel’s prayer was all about repentance and Israel’s need to be forgiven as the 70 years of captivity came to an end, he knew that return to the land was of little value if the people remained unrepentant. Would the people properly repent, would they truly seek God’s forgiveness? The answer was provided directly from the throne room of God; Gabriel came to instruct Daniel. The people would indeed put an end to sin, but 70 years in exile would not bring them to their senses: it would be not 70 years, but it would take 70 x 7 years! That’s the bad news and it must have dismayed Daniel greatly. During that time (of 490 years) the world would be dominated by Gentile political powers – Israel would not be a place where the nations would learn of God. So how did this all play out? Daniel knew when the 490 years would begin and he knew that after 483 years the ‘anointed one would be put to death and would have nothing (Daniel 9: 26).’ Amazingly, the anointed one, the Lord Jesus did come to Jerusalem – and many shouted on that very day (when the clock reached 483 years) ‘Hosanna to the Son of David.’ But just a few days later the nation rejected their Messiah and hung him on a cross. Israel had once again made a mess of things! They had failed to repent and the outcome is that the nations do not come to them to learn of God.
God’s words do not fail. Having crucified the Messiah the Lord used this disaster to bring forgiveness to all – and we thankfully can have the sin problem dealt with as we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ – he gives eternal life to all who come to him. But what of Israel? Has God finished with them?
When it became clear that Israel would reject the Messiah, Jesus graciously taught the people of what the future would bring. There would be yet more difficult days, here’s what he said in Matthew 23: ‘ 37 ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” There will come a time when Israel will repent and then and only then will they become a light for this world and nations will come to them to learn of God.
The clock, set to run for 490 years, has been stopped with 7 years remaining! Since God’s word is true, Israel will repent, they will recognise their Messiah, but when will the clock restart? Since Israel has been set aside after their rejection of the Messiah, God has created a new agency to represent him on earth – the church. In this church age, we look forward to the next great event in God’s programme – when Jesus will come to this earth to catch us up to be with him (you can read about this in 1 Thessalonians 4), this event could come at any moment. After that great event, God’s attention will turn back to Israel, the clock will be restarted and after 7 difficult years of tribulation, Israel will repent and the king will come. For centuries people ignored God’s prophecies, how could they ever be fulfilled if Israel did not exist! But now Israel does exist: the pieces are in place for God to act.
God has revealed these things for our benefit. In the midst of great difficulty, Jeremiah was encouraged. Under the conditions of exile, Daniel was encouraged. What about us? We seem to live in days of growing intolerance to the truth and the gospel, to decreasing church attendance and state sponsored sinfulness – but Jesus is coming! He will come for his own, he will bring Israel back to himself, he will be king, he will sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem and will rein with justice and righteousness: nations really will learn the truth! But he will also come as judge. Will Jesus come to receive you as one of his own or as one to come under judgment? Are you ready? You can be: 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.