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Israel’s Indelible Sin
Jeremiah uses strong language to put before the people their iniquity (Jer 17:1). “The sin of Judah” is in the singular. It is the sin of idolatry. All those idols and all the tributes to them are summed up in this singular designation. That “the sin of Judah” is engraved in their hearts means that they love sin and that it is completely integrated into their lives, is completely intertwined with it. Sin is more than a wrong action, it is the condition of the heart.
What is engraved is written indelibly (Job 19:24), in this case as an everlasting indictment, a monument of sin. It is engraved like the inscription on a tombstone. It was done with an iron stylus, with a diamond point. With a diamond point, the hardest stone can be worked. Their sin is engraved in their hearts, where the law should be written (Jer 31:33; cf. Heb 8:10; 2Cor 3:3; Pro 3:3; Pro 7:3).
Their sin is also written on the horns of their altars. These are their idol altars. A horn speaks of strength and here means that they are powerful in committing sin. These altars have nothing to do with the altar of burnt offering in the temple, on which the blood of atonement is put (Lev 4:7; 18). The LORD does not see the blood that speaks of the sacrifice of His beloved Son, but He sees the sin of guilty Israel engraved on their hearts and on the horns of their idol altars. God’s judgment on their sin is therefore as inevitable and inescapable as their sin is indelible.
The people of Judah think of their idols as often and with as much love as they do of their children (Jer 17:2). Children and altars are the objects of their love and they link them together. They train their children to commit idolatry and bring them “by green trees on the high hills” which are mentioned here as the usual places of idolatry (Eze 6:13).
Many Christian parents are intent on telling their children a lot about great names in the world, sports heroes or thinkers honored in the world, while teaching them nothing about great names in Scripture. They bask in the knowledge of those impressive names like sitting in the shade of a leafy tree. They also revere those names by praising them, which is like taking a seat on a high hill.
“Mountain of Mine in the countryside” (Jer 17:3) represents Zion or Jerusalem or the temple (Mic 3:12). It is a picture of Israel in the world as the people who have strayed from God. Therefore, He will abandon His people and carry them away into exile where they will serve their enemies. The idolaters think that Jerusalem or the temple is theirs, but the LORD never gives up His ownership. It is because it is His property and they have misused it that He gives it for booty to the enemy whom He sends against them. He will also give over for booty all their wealth and treasures, for which they worship their idols as if they had received it from them.
The people will be forced to let go of the land, which had been given to them as an inheritance, but which they have so defiled with their idolatry (Jer 17:4). This speaks of the rest of the sabbath years that the people have not given the land, against the LORD’s command (Exo 23:10-11; Lev 25:4-5). This will happen when the LORD brings enemies upon them who will subdue them, remove them from their land, and whom they will have to serve.
The land they do not know is Babylon. That they will be there, they have themselves to blame. They have taunted the LORD to the extreme with their idolatry. Now His anger has been kindled in all its intensity, with no way to extinguish it. His anger has been kindled by them because they persist in sin. His anger will burn for all eternity, like the fire in hell. God’s anger against sin is always for eternity. His anger only comes to an end when sin is confessed and hands are laid in faith on the atoning work of Christ.
The Way of Curse and Blessing
In these verses Jeremiah compares the way of the wicked with the way of the God-fearing. He contrasts curse and blessing – and thus death and life. Judah turned to false gods and sought protection from foreign powers (Jer 17:5). Here it is about putting their trust in alliances with Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt (Isa 31:1-3), as the situation demands. Judah is “the man who trusts in mankind”, that is, the weak, perishable, mortal man (Isa 40:6). He is also one who “makes flesh his strength”, that is, seeks his strength from the creature and not from the Maker (cf. Psa 56:4). This happens because their heart has turned away from the LORD. Their heart is not set on Him.
If our heart is not set on the Lord, we too will fall into the trap of ‘human expectations’. This happens when we put our trust in people and not in the Lord when faced with problems. This can be, for example, with illness, financial worries, marriage problems, forms of addiction, unemployment. Jeremiah calls this trap a curse and a departure from the LORD. The bad feature of the trap of human expectations is that it shuts God out of our thinking.
Whoever sets his expectation on men and not on the Lord will be blind to the good that is coming (Jer 17:6). Nothing goes out from him and there is nothing that brings him to fruition. His condition is barren and hopeless. Because the heart is deceitful (Jer 17:9), man chooses to dwell like a barren bush in the driest places, believing that it is good to be there. But it is impossible to produce fruit and see goodness apart from the source of living water. The deceitful heart takes the mirage of the world for reality.
The man who trusts in the LORD (Jer 17:7a), yes, what is more, whose trust is the LORD Himself (Jer 17:7b), is in a totally different condition. He is at the Source and from Him receives his strength to grow (Jer 17:8; Psa 1:3). He does not notice when evil comes, for it does not bother him. He continues to radiate freshness and bear fruit even if a period of drought comes, because the roots are still connected to the Source.
There is a remarkable similarity in the use of words in Jer 17:6 and Jer 17:8 that is at the same time a sharp contrast. The expressions “will not see” (Jer 17:6) and “will not fear” (Jer 17:8) are the same word. In the context in which these words are used, we see that those who forsake the LORD are insensitive to good, and those who trust in the LORD are insensitive to heat and drought because they extend their roots by a stream.
The Deceitfulness of the Human Heart
If the way of blessing and the way of curse are so clearly presented in the verses above, why does a man still choose the way of sin? The reason lies in his heart. The source of all the trouble a man brings upon himself is his heart (Jer 17:9; Mt 15:19). Hence we are called to “watch” over our hearts “with all diligence, for from it [flow] the springs of life” (Pro 4:23). The heart means the total inner man, including his thinking. From the heart come the will and actions. The heart is also desperately sick. No one can fully fathom his own heart (cf. Psa 64:6).
The question of Jer 17:9 is answered in Jer 17:10. Man does not know his own heart, but the LORD knows and searches it perfectly (Heb 4:12-13; Psa 7:9b; Psa 139:2-6; Jn 2:25). With that knowledge, He can also make a perfect judgment in accordance with the fruit of his deeds, which come from the deliberations of his heart. By the fruit of his deeds the tree, man, is known (Mt 12:33-35). To the believer this is an encouragement and to the unbeliever a threat.
The example of the partridge hatching eggs it did not lay shows that the young she wants to show off are not her own (Jer 17:11). So it is with wealth that has not been honestly obtained. This hypocrisy comes from the deceitful heart. The time will come when this becomes clear and then he will lose everything and become known as a fool himself (cf. Lk 12:20; 1Sam 25:25; Pro 23:5).
Opposite all the appearances and uncertainty of the previous verse, there is one certainty for the believer and that is the glorious throne of God on high (Jer 17:12). Opposite the riches that are lost like that, there is the eternal throne of God. That is the place of the believer’s sanctuary. Therefore, we must seek the things that are above (Col 3:1).
There is the “hope of Israel” (Jer 17:13). Those who turn away from Jeremiah, who speaks God’s Word and calls for repentance, have only the firmness of the earth and that is no firmness. Those who are written in the earth will soon be erased and forgotten, as wind and rain do to what is written in the dust of the earth. It clearly draws the impermanence of man. Only the LORD, the source of living water (Jer 2:13), gives safety and security. Those who forsake Him are lost. ‘Being written down on earth’ is contrasted with ‘being written in the book of life’ (Exo 32:32; Lk 10:20; Rev 20:12; Rev 21:27).
Jeremiah’s Plea for Justification
Jeremiah knows where to find healing: with the LORD (Jer 17:14). He also knows where salvation can be found: also with the LORD. It is about support and protection. He wants to be healed of his doubts and despondency and tendency to give up his service. He is wounded in his spirit by the constant opposition and rejection of his preaching. The salvation he asks for has to do with being rescued from the power of enemies and their plans to kill him and be preserved for God’s kingdom. From this prayer his trust in the LORD speaks, for he knows that only the LORD can do what he asks (cf. 2Tim 4:18).
He bases his prayer on the fact that the LORD is his praise. His sickness and misery seem to be caused by the mockery of the people that God’s Word, which he has been preaching for 22 years now, is not coming true after all (Jer 17:15; cf. Isa 5:19; Amos 6:3). That can start to gnaw, because scoffers don’t know when to stop. And it will continue for another 18 years. The false prophets have been right until now, and so have the mockers. Those scoffers have not been stopped from speaking although the word of Jeremiah has come true. Mockers do not know how to stop nor are they persuaded by the clearest evidence of the truth of God’s Word. Mockers will always be there, they are also there today (2Pet 3:3-4).
Jeremiah appeals to his sincerity, that surely he has not done otherwise than the LORD has said to him and that it was in accordance with His heart (Jer 17:16). He has been the shepherd that the LORD has wanted him to be and has gone after Him for that. This means that a shepherd does not have to find the way himself, but is content to follow the great Shepherd of the sheep. We then see the beautiful picture of the great Shepherd with shepherds following behind Him and with behind them again the sheep.
Love for his people has always been his motive in preaching about the coming judgment. There has been no joy in announcing that day of doom. Everything he has spoken, he has spoken in the consciousness of God’s presence. What passed from his lips came from the presence of God and therefore agreed completely with what he heard from the LORD. We also see this with Paul (2Cor 2:17).
Anything may be a terror to Jeremiah and anyone may be against him, provided it is not the LORD (Jer 17:17; cf. Job 6:4). It would be a terror to him if the LORD would forsake him or hid Himself from him. That would be intolerable. After all, the LORD is his refuge in a day of disaster.
He asks that what he does not wish for himself will happen to his persecutors: shame and dismay (Jer 17:18). His persecutors do not reckon with the LORD, he does. Therefore, he asks for God’s intervention, that He may judge them. This fits the time in which Jeremiah lives. The double severance Jeremiah asks for means so much as asking that the LORD root out the enemies and that this prospect already confuses them and renders them powerless.
Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy
The LORD listens to our complaints, but also wants that we continue to work for Him. For this He also gives the necessary strength. Jeremiah, in response to his complaints, is given a new assignment that centers on the sabbath commandment. He is to go to the public gate – through which kings enter and exit – and also to the other gates (Jer 17:19). Jeremiah has prophesied under five kings and possibly every time another king comes in, he passes his message there.
It may seem at first glance that the verses of this section have a quite different subject from what has been before us in the previous verses. But it is not. Keeping the sabbath day holy, the fourth commandment of the ten commandments of the law, has a special significance. The keeping of the sabbath day means the weekly acknowledgment of the LORD as Creator and Redeemer and is thus a testimony against idols. It guarantees God’s people rest, which the idols cannot give. It is also one of the special features of Israel’s religion because it shows the special covenant relationship that exists between the LORD and them.
The attitude of the people toward the sabbath day reflects the attitude of the people toward the LORD. If for them keeping the sabbath day holy is a joy, it is evidence that their heart is faithful to the LORD. If they do what they please on that day, it makes clear their abandonment of the LORD. The sabbath day is the great touchstone that God presents to the people, by which they can show that they are obedient to His Word (Exo 20:8-11; Exo 31:13; Eze 20:12).
The word Jeremiah is to preach is not only to the kings, but also to all the people (Jer 17:20). He is to say to all: “Listen to the word of the LORD.” In this word the people are warned concerning their conduct on the sabbath day, for their life is at stake (Jer 17:21). They are instructed that they shall not carry a load on the sabbath day to bring it into Jerusalem. Nor are they to take any load out of their homes. They must not even do any work (Jer 17:22). The constant pressure of materialism on their life makes keeping this commandment a real test.
If one trades or works in spite of the prohibitions, it cannot be done other than for one’s own interest, for greed. It is to trade and make a profit (Neh 13:19; Amos 8:5). The LORD has already given to their fathers the commandment to keep the sabbath day holy (Deu 5:12-15). From the earliest days of their existence as a people, He wanted that day to be set apart from all other days as a day to serve not themselves, but Him. This is not about keeping the commandment outwardly, but about making visible an inner mind toward the LORD.
Sadly, it is clear how they are toward the LORD. In Jer 17:23, the LORD shows how averse they have been:
1. “Yet they did not listen
2. or incline their ears,
3. but stiffened their necks
4. in order not to listen
5. or take correction.”
This observation does not stop there. The LORD, in His great mercy, adds the invitation to repent (Jer 17:24). The people are given another opportunity to avert judgment, the curse, which will happen if they “listen attentively” to Him. The word “attentively” shows that the LORD is not waiting for lip-language, for fancy words alone. He is looking for truth in the innermost being followed by action. In this case, the people can show that they are listening to Him and doing what He has said regarding the sabbath day.
The blessing that follows obedience to the sabbath commandment is broadly expressed (Jer 17:25). The throne of David will not be empty. Someone from the lineage of David will always reign. And “this city [Jerusalem] will be inhabited forever”, meaning that it will not be depopulated. Instead of being depopulated, people will flock to the city from all sides (Jer 17:26). All these people will offer their various sacrifices there in “the house of the LORD”. That is God’s purpose when He populates a city. That is also God’s purpose with the gathering of the local church. He wants sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, spiritual sacrifices, to be offered there, in the place where the Lord Jesus now dwells.
This promise of blessing upon obedience is followed by the dark flip side (Jer 17:27). If they do not keep the sabbath day holy, but use it for themselves, the LORD will kindle the fire of judgment in the gates of Jerusalem. In the place where the transgression is most visible and where God’s Word has sounded strongly against it, the word of warning will be fulfilled. That fire will reduce their beautiful dwellings to ashes, without any chance of quenching the fire. This actually happened by the armies of Babylon (Jer 52:12-13).
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Jeremiah 17". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19