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The indictment against Judah for her deeply ingrained sins was written permanently on the people’s hearts (cf. Job 19:24). It stood etched there and, also figuratively, on their most prominent places of worship, the pagan altars throughout the land. Sins engraved on the heart pictures the chief characteristic that marked the inner life of the people, which was indelible sin. When Yahweh had given Israel the covenant at Mount Sinai, He inscribed it on tablets of stone (Exodus 24:12; Exodus 31:18). But now, what was authoritative for the people was sin, that they had inscribed on tablets of flesh.
Rather than blood, on the horns of the brazen altar in the temple courtyard, testifying to the people’s commitment to Him, the Lord saw their sins staining the horns of their pagan altars (cf. Jeremiah 7:21-26; Amos 4:4-5). The brazen altar was a place of sacrifice where their sins could be removed, but the horns of their altars had become places of sacrilege where their sins stood recorded.
". . . the people’s heart has guilt not only written all over it but etched into it, engraved . . . beyond erasure." [Note: Kidner, p. 71.]
In the future, God promised to write His law on His people’s hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34), but until then their sins were what marked their hearts. Then He would remember their sins no more, but now they remained recorded and unforgiven.
Judah’s indelible sin and sin’s deceitfulness 17:1-18
The next five sections (Jeremiah 17:1-18) continue the theme of Judah’s guilt from the previous chapter. These pericopes have obvious connections with one another, but they were evidently originally separate prophecies. Jeremiah 17:1-4 are particularly ironic.
The people of Judah thought of their idols as frequently and as lovingly as they thought of their children. Another interpretation, reflected in the NIV, understands the verse to be saying that the parents had so steeped their children in idolatry, that their yearning for it would emerge at the slightest provocation. They mixed the worship of pagan deities with their worship of Yahweh, and even gave those gods credit for what belonged to the Lord. Instead of worshipping on high hills where pagan altars stood, the Judahites were to worship on the holy hill where the temple stood.
Jerusalem, or Mount Zion, stood like a mountain surrounded by countryside. Normally a city on such a site would be secure from invaders. But Yahweh would turn over His people’s wealth and treasures, and their pagan places of worship (really sin), to their enemy (cf. Jeremiah 15:13). The idolaters thought the places where their shrines stood belonged to the gods they worshipped there, but Yahweh really owned them, and would turn them over to Judah’s invader.
The Judeans would voluntarily let the inheritance that God had given them, namely, their land, drop into their enemy’s hands (cf. Jeremiah 15:14; 2 Kings 25:13-17). They would serve this enemy in a strange land because they had aroused the Lord’s anger by their sin.
"The irony is clear: Judah has forsaken or abandoned her covenantal inheritance. Therefore Yahweh will abandon Judah to her enemies, and she will find herself exiled from her inheritance in a land that she had not known." [Note: Joel F. Drinkard Jr., Jeremiah 1-25, p. 224. Drinkard wrote the commentary on chapters 17-25 in this volume of the Word Biblical Commentary, which is listed under Craigie, et al., in the bibliography.]
Jeremiah 17:5-8 seem to be proverbs (or psalm verses), that the writer cited and grouped to make his own point. They contrast the wickedness of trusting man with the blessedness of trusting God.
Yahweh announced a curse on anyone who trusts in flesh (humanity in its frailty) rather than in Him (cf. Jeremiah 2:18; Isaiah 31:3). While this announcement has universal scope, in this context Jeremiah applied it to the covenant people especially. Judah had trusted in people rather than in Yahweh. Turning away from Him (abandoning His covenant) brought His curse.
The person who would trust in man rather than in God would experience a dry, unproductive, and lonely existence (cf. Psalms 1:4), like the dwarf juniper of the desert. Salty land lacked fertility and life, as is observable to this day around the Dead Sea. Of course, such people may flourish for a season (cf. Jeremiah 12:1-2), but over a lifetime they normally wither.
The Lord also announced a blessing on anyone who trusts in Him, namely, all who acknowledge Him as their Lord and surrender to Him.
Such a person would experience a constantly growing and fruitful life. He or she would enjoy stability, confidence, mental health, freedom from anxiety even in trying times, and a consistently radiant testimony before others (cf. Psalms 1:3). An essential difference between a bush and a tree is its root system. A tree can outlast a drought, and continue to bear fruit, whereas a bush cannot (cf. Matthew 13:6; Matthew 13:21).
"These verses are a reflection of Jeremiah’s own experience. He had known the drought experience when Yahweh seemed to him like a deceitful brook, like waters that failed when sought by a thirsty man (Jeremiah 15:18). . . . In Jeremiah 17:5-8 we see a man who has repented from foolish thoughts of despair and consternation before the powerful pressure of public opinion. He had learned to trust Yahweh rather than the opinions of men. The present passage is to be understood as his personal affirmation that he has survived his dry period. Indeed these verses constitute a response to Yahweh’s call to repentance in Jeremiah 15:19-21." [Note: Thompson, pp. 420-21.]
Jeremiah 17:9-11 appear to have been well-known proverbs that Jeremiah used for his own purposes. Many scholars classify this passage as one of Jeremiah’s "confessions."
"If there is such blessing in trusting God, then why do people so generally depend on their fellow humans? Why is it that the blessed are not more numerous than the cursed? The answer lies in the innate depravity of the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9)." [Note: Feinberg, p. 486.]
The Old Testament frequently uses "heart" (Heb. leb) to identify the source of a person’s thinking and acting. It describes the root of unconscious as well as conscious motivation.
The human heart is deceptive; we may think we know why we do something, but really we may be doing it for another reason. It is naturally incurably sick, really totally depraved, and in need of healing. No one really understands his or her own corrupt heart, nor do we understand why our hearts behave as they do.
"Unregenerate human nature is in a desperate condition without divine grace . . ." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 106.]
Even though we cannot understand our hearts, the Lord searches them and knows our inner thoughts and motives. "Heart" and "mind" (lit. kidneys, from the Heb. kelayoth, meaning "hidden depths") are not that distinct in Old Testament psychology; they are virtually synonymous here and in many other places. Together these terms cover the range of hidden elements in human character and personality.
God gives to each person what he or she actually deserves. He judges on the basis of works because what we do reflects what we truly value, the condition of our hearts.
It is possible to earn a fortune unjustly, like a partridge (or grouse, Heb. qore’) that incubates the eggs of another bird. [Note: Another translation has the partridge brooding over eggs that will not hatch. They become the object of some tragedy that strikes the eggs, such as a predator. See Drinkard, pp. 228-29.] But such a fortune is fleeting (cf. Proverbs 23:4-5), and such a person is really a fool. The adopted baby bird will fly away when it eventually learns that it is different from its foster parent. Similarly, ill-gotten wealth normally leaves the one who does not earn it, and the person who tries to claim that he did earn it, ends up looking like a fool (cf. Luke 12:20-21).
Dwelling on the sinfulness of people and the deceitfulness of the heart needs balancing with even greater attention to the glory of God Himself. Jeremiah changed his perspective and so avoided more discouragement.
The true place of worship for God’s people since Solomon’s time had always been the temple in Jerusalem. The ancients regarded this temple as Yahweh’s throne on earth.
This had been true because Yahweh Himself was the hope of His people (cf. Jeremiah 14:8; Jeremiah 50:7). Consequently all who break covenant and forsake Him, the Fountain of Living Water (Jeremiah 2:13), will suffer humiliation and will become the objects of His judgment. The Lord keeps a record of those who turn away from Him (cf. Jeremiah 17:1).
Jeremiah 17:14-18 are another of Jeremiah’s "confessions." The guilt of Judah is prominent in the first part of this chapter, but now the innocence of Jeremiah presents a contrast.
The prophet prayed to Yahweh, the One he praised, for healing and deliverance. Earlier he had spoken of his pain that refused healing (Jeremiah 15:18).
The Judahites kept asking Jeremiah for evidence that what he was predicting would happen. They implied that because his prophecies had not yet materialized, they would not.
Jeremiah vindicated himself by citing three things. He knew that the Lord understood that he was not eager to escape his calling (most of the time), he did not enjoy announcing judgment, and his messages had not come from his own mind but from the Lord (cf. 2 Peter 1:21).
Since Yahweh was Jeremiah’s refuge from criticism and discouragement, the prophet asked Him not to frighten him (by appearing to desert him). Jeremiah was not always so trusting (cf. Jeremiah 20:7-12).
He prayed for God to humiliate his persecutors but not to humiliate him (cf. Jeremiah 1:17). He asked that the Lord would punish them severely for their apostasy (cf. Jeremiah 17:4; Jeremiah 16:18; Jeremiah 20:12; Psalms 17:1-8).
"The experience Jeremiah had had in his calling seemed to contradict the truth, that trust in the Lord brings blessing (Jeremiah 17:7 ff.); for his preaching of God’s word had brought him nothing but persecution and suffering. Therefore he prays the Lord to remove this contradiction and to verify that truth in his case also." [Note: Keil, 1:285-86.]
The Lord commanded Jeremiah to station himself at the gates of Jerusalem, where the king and the people passed by. It seems impossible to determine which of the gates of Jerusalem was the so-called public gate. It may even have been an entrance into the outer court of the temple. [Note: Ibid., 1:289.] The prophet was to call the kings and people to listen to the Lord’s message that he had for them. If chapter 7 records Jeremiah’s Temple Sermon, one might regard this as his Gate Sermon.
The importance of Sabbath observance 17:19-27
This section contains one of Jeremiah’s sermons. Notice its introduction, proclamation of the Law, promise of blessing for the obedient, and threat of judgment for the disobedient.
The Lord commanded His people to observe the Sabbath Day as the Mosaic Covenant specified. They were to refrain from carrying loads in and out of their houses or the city, or doing any work (Exodus 20:8-11; Exodus 23:12; Exodus 31:13-17; Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Nehemiah 13:15-22; Amos 8:5).
The Judahites’ forefathers had not obeyed this commandment, but had become obstinate, and refused to listen to the Lord and to take correction. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day went to the other extreme and permitted almost no activity on the Sabbath Day, for which He rebuked them.
The Lord promised that if the people of Jeremiah’s day obeyed, He would give them more Davidic kings and officials, who would inhabit Jerusalem and be strong leaders of the people. The city would then enjoy inhabitants forever, rather than experiencing total abandonment by the Lord (cf. Isaiah 58:1-14; Zechariah 2:2-12; Zechariah 8:3; Zechariah 8:15; Zechariah 14:11). Security depended on obedience, and repentance was still possible when Jeremiah delivered this message.
The Judahites would then return to Jerusalem from all parts of the country. They would bring many different sacrifices to offer to the Lord at the temple.
However, if the people did not observe the Sabbath Day to keep it holy (different from other days), the Lord would consume Jerusalem with unquenchable fire. Notice the prominence in these promises and threats, of: the throne of David, the temple, and the city of Jerusalem. These comprised the basic elements of the national and religious life of the covenant people.
It was not just the fourth commandment that the people were responsible to keep, of course. Jeremiah might have chosen to preach on any of the other nine commandments, and he may have done so at other times. This message is probably representative of many similar sermons that the prophet delivered-calling the people back to obedience to the covenant. It was repentance that would postpone judgment, not just obedience to the fourth commandment. Yet the fourth commandment had special significance. Sabbath observance recognized Yahweh as Creator and Redeemer, and so witnessed against idolatry. It guaranteed God’s people rest, which they could not obtain from idols. And it was one of the unique features of Israel’s religion, because it signified the special covenant relationship between Yahweh and Israel.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 17". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20