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The Lord challenged Jeremiah to search Jerusalem for a man who was just and sought the truth. [Note: According to later Greek literature, Diogenes similarly searched Athens for an honest man.] If he could find even one, on his "scavenger hunt," [Note: Dyer, "Jeremiah," p. 1137.] the Lord promised to pardon the city (cf. Genesis 18:23-32).
"Obviously some godly people like Josiah, Baruch, Zephaniah, and Jeremiah himself were living in Jerusalem. But the words certainly applied to the mass of the populace. In short, corruption was so widespread that exceptions were not significant (cf. Psalms 14)." [Note: Feinberg, p. 412.]
"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. [Note: Thompson, p. 236.]
The depth of Judah’s sin 5:1-9
God gave His people reasons for the coming judgment. He stressed social and personal sins particularly.
"Jeremiah now appreciates the moral necessity for God’s judgment of His people, as he sees clearly with his own eyes the iniquity, selfishness and depravity of life in Jerusalem." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 74.]
The Jerusalemites used the Lord’s name to swear by, but then they showed no respect for Him-by breaking their promises made in His name. When a person swore by Yahweh’s name, he or she called on the Lord to punish him or her, if the person swearing later violated the terms of the oath.
Jeremiah acknowledged that even though the people of Jerusalem did not seek truth (Jeremiah 5:1), the Lord did. The prophet knew that Yahweh’s discipline of the people had not yielded repentance. They had hardened themselves against Him and had refused to repent (Heb. shub).
"Jerusalem was to fall at the hands of the political enemy from without because of the spiritual enemies of God working from within." [Note: Jensen, p. 31.]
Jeremiah, as he searched for righteous people in the city, initially concluded that only the ignorant and foolish ordinary citizens were blind to God’s ways and laws. But as he continued to investigate, he discovered that the informed leaders among the people had also rebelled against the Lord.
Therefore, the people of Judah would become prey for their savage, animal-like enemies (cf. Jeremiah 2:15; Jeremiah 4:7; Hosea 13:7-8; Habakkuk 1:8; Zephaniah 3:3).
"The lion represents strength, the desert wolf ravenousness, and the leopard swiftness-all traits of the Babylonians." [Note: Feinberg, p. 413.]
When the Judahites later tried to flee their towns, the foe would devour them. The reason was, they had transgressed Yahweh’s covenant greatly and had departed from Him many times (cf. Leviticus 26:22; Ezekiel 14:15). The eighth-century B.C. Sefire Treaties contain references to lions and leopards ravaging people in fulfillment of a treaty curse. [Note: See T. Wittstruck, "The Influence of Treaty Curse Imagery on the Beast Imagery of Daniel 7," Journal of Biblical Literature 97 (1978):100-102.] The Judahites were familiar with wild beasts attacking and killing humans outside their cities (cf. 2 Kings 17:25).
Yahweh asked the people why He should pardon them. Their sons, for whom the older generation was responsible, had forsaken Him and trusted in idols. As payment for the blessings He had sent them, they continued to commit adultery with the Canaanite gods and their human representatives.
They were like well-fed stallions that used their strength to pursue illegitimate mates-even their neighbors’ wives. Spiritual adultery led to physical adultery.
"They used their affluence for sin. Does that sound familiar? Consider modern dramas, novels, movies, painting, sculpture. In the midst of the affluent society often the artist’s answer is a call to the hedonistic life." [Note: Schaeffer, p. 40.]
Was it not just for Yahweh to punish such a people and to take vengeance on them for their sins (cf. Jeremiah 5:7)? It certainly was just, as Jeremiah 5:7-8 amply demonstrated (cf. Ephesians 5:5; Hebrews 13:4). Questions frame Jeremiah 5:7-9.
Speaking to the invading soldiers that He would use to judge Judah, the Lord instructed them to prune His vine (cf. Isaiah 5:1-7). However, they were to leave a remnant (cf. Jeremiah 5:18). They were to take many branches away because they were not His, namely, not faithful to Him (cf. John 15:1-6; Romans 11:17-24).
Judah’s false security 5:10-19
Both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms had behaved treacherously toward the Lord. They had lied about Him, saying that He would not judge them by sending misfortune, war, or famine to touch them. They denied God and His warnings about judgment (cf. Genesis 3:4). They were blind due to complacency.
There were many prophets in both kingdoms whose alleged prophecies were nothing more than hot air (wind, Heb. ruah, also translated "spirit"). They did not utter the Lord’s words. God indeed would bring judgment on His people.
"The essence of true prophecy was the spirit of God, but such was their blindness, or willful ignorance, that they could not discern between wind and the true spirit of prophecy." [Note: Craigie, p. 92.]
Yahweh, the ultimate power and authority in the universe, promised to make the messages that He had put in Jeremiah’s mouth for the people like "fire," not just hot air. His words would consume them in the sense that they would result in the people’s destruction-if repentance did not follow.
The Lord promised His people, called Israel here, that He would bring destruction against them by burning them up with Jeremiah’s fiery words. The destroyer would come from a distant nation whose language they did not understand; it would not come from some nearby nation (cf. Deuteronomy 28:49; Isaiah 28:11).
"Though Judah might appeal for mercy, the language barrier would prevent her cries from being heeded because they would not be understood." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 77.]
This enemy nation was old and enduring. Babylon traced its origins back to Babel (Genesis 10:10; Genesis 11:1-9; Genesis 11:31).
The enemy soldiers’ yawning quivers would be like open graves in that their arrows would slay the Judahites and send them to other large openings: graves in the ground (cf. Psalms 5:9). All the enemy soldiers would be mighty warriors, not just citizens recruited for military duty.
These soldiers would devour and demolish everything that the Judahites owned and trusted in for security.
In spite of such a thorough destruction, the Lord promised not to wipe out His people completely (cf. Jeremiah 5:10). He would be faithful to His covenant promises, even though His people were unfaithful to their covenant responsibilities (cf. 2 Timothy 2:13).
When the people asked Jeremiah for an explanation of their circumstances, he was to tell them that: since they had forsaken serving Yahweh, and had worshipped idols in His land, the Lord was sending them to serve strangers in the land of those idols. This was only fair (recompense in kind, the lex talionis, cf. Deuteronomy 28:47-48).
Jeremiah was also to deliver another message to the Judahites. He was to command them to hear-even though they were foolish and heartless, blind and deaf to the Lord (cf. Isaiah 6:9; Matthew 13:14-15; John 12:40; Acts 28:26).
"Although we have much sympathy for a man who cannot read because his eyes are sightless, our attitude is much different toward one who has never learned to read because of laziness or stubbornness. In a country where everyone has an opportunity to learn to read and write, illiteracy is regarded as an inexcusable tragedy. Spiritual illiteracy is little different. God is not sparing in His denunciation of those who have had a chance to know Him and His salvation but have despised the opportunity." [Note: Burton L. Goddard, Meet Jeremiah: A Devotional Commentary, p. 34.]
Yahweh’s warning to His complacent people 5:20-31
There were three aspects to Judah’s failure: the people’s perversity (Jeremiah 5:20-25), their injustice (Jeremiah 5:26-29), and their leaders (Jeremiah 5:30-31). [Note: Craigie, p. 95.]
"Jeremiah rebukes the Judeans as a whole for their utter stupidity and lack of moral discernment. They have flaunted the covenant stipulations, and many ruthless individuals have prospered at the expense of the down-trodden." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 77.]
Should His people not fear Him and tremble before Him since He sovereignly controlled the untamable sea? Whatever they feared should have had no power over them, because Yahweh-their God-controlled it. He was the One who also sovereignly controlled the borders of nations. The people of Judah had not observed the sovereignly ordained borders for their behavior, spelled out in the Mosaic Law, and chaos was the result.
God’s people had proved stubborn and rebellious at heart. "They were not ignorant, but obstinate." [Note: Morgan, p. 322.] Unlike the sea, they failed to submit to Yahweh’s sovereignty (cf. Jeremiah 1:3). In their actions they had turned aside (Heb. shub), apostatized, and departed from the Lord and His covenant.
They did not acknowledge Yahweh as the source of the blessings of nature either. The Canaanites believed that Baal controlled the rains and fruitfulness of the land, and the Judahites had adopted their viewpoint. Nevertheless it was Yahweh, not Baal, who gave Israel her grain. The "weeks of the harvest" were the seven weeks between Passover and the Feast of Weeks each spring. At those two feasts the Jews celebrated the Lord’s goodness to them in giving them a good harvest (cf. Leviticus 23:10; Leviticus 23:17).
The people’s sins had resulted in God withholding the blessings of nature from them, as well as other good things. The reasons for their blindness were mainly moral rather than intellectual.
Many of the Judahites had wickedly tricked their neighbors and had accumulated wealth by deceiving them. They had put their fellow Israelites in their debt, robbed them of their freedom, and so caged them like birds (cf. Habakkuk 2:6; Habakkuk 2:8; Mark 10:19; 1 Thessalonians 4:6; Titus 2:10).
"Birds were snared with a net; men closed the net with cords when a bird came into it. Then the birds were put into a basket (. . . Micah 7:2)." [Note: Graybill, p. 664.]
These social bullies had grown fat (wealthy, cf. Deuteronomy 32:15; Psalms 92:14; Proverbs 28:2; Proverbs 28:24) at the expense of their neighbors, so expert had they become in wickedness. Instead of giving special help to the needy among them, they had withheld assistance so they could keep their money for themselves.
Again the Lord asked rhetorically if punishment for this type of conduct was not just (cf. Jeremiah 5:7; Jeremiah 5:9). Of course it was.
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? [Note: Compare the other questions in this chapter (Jeremiah 5:7; Jeremiah 5:9; Jeremiah 5:22; Jeremiah 5:25; Jeremiah 5:29).] They could not avoid His judgment in the end for their breach of covenant.
"There is a straight line from apostasy to disaster, from sin to death." [Note: Kidner, p. 45.]
"When we listen to the religion that is largely preached in our generation, we hear the same thing the unbelieving philosophers and sociologists are saying. The only difference is that theological language is used. But God says, ’It will not do. This brings you under my judgment.’" [Note: Schaeffer, p. 53.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 5". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany