II. Prophecies about Judah and Its Fall (Jeremiah 2:1–45:5)


II. Prophecies about Judah and Its Fall (2:1–45:5)

A. Judah’s Sin and Faithlessness (2:1–3:5)

2:1-3 That the word of the Lord came (2:1) is an all-important statement occurring many times throughout the prophetic books. Jeremiah was the recorder and deliverer of what he would share, but this opening denunciation of Judah’s people came directly from God’s mouth. Like the betrayed husband of a wayward bride, God recalls the days when his people were faithful. Israel (meaning the entire nation, not merely the northern kingdom) was holy to the Lord (2:3). Of all the nations of the world, Israel was set apart by God to be his chosen people.

2:4-8 But that was then, and so the Lord’s indictment begins. And it isn’t pretty. His people had turned away from the one who had delivered them from slavery and taken them through the wilderness and to the promised land (2:6-7). Everyone who should have known better was guilty of this betrayal: the priests, experts in the law, rulers, and prophets (2:8). To whom did they turn when they rejected God? Worthless . . . useless idols (2:5, 8). And this wasn’t because God had somehow let them down (2:5).

2:9-13 God knew the people had no good answer for their behavior, so here he presents his indictment against Judah (2:9). Even pagan nations did not switch out their idol gods for others (2:10-11), yet God’s people have exchanged their Glory for useless idols (2:11). The Lord describes this ridiculous exchange as a double evil—they had abandoned God, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves—cracked cisterns that cannot hold water (2:13). Thirsty people trading a flowing fountain for empty holes. It doesn’t get much more absurd than that.

2:14-25 Because of these apostasies (2:19), Judah had gone from freedom to slavery. And they brought it on themselves (2:17). Their so-called solution to the problem was not to turn back to the Lord, however, but to turn to Egypt and Assyria to fix the mess by playing the game of political intrigue and power brokering (2:18).

God considered Judah’s idolatry with foreign gods to be spiritual adultery. She acted like a prostitute, offering sacrifices to idols on every high hill (2:20). She was like a wild donkey . . . in the heat of her desire (2:24). She had God for a husband, but instead Judah said, I love strangers (2:25).

2:27-37 When disaster struck, the people begged God to save them (2:27), but he pointed them to their false gods so they could see whether their idols of wood and stone could help (2:28). The people were so spiritually hardened that they actually thought they could bring a case against God (2:29). They were hopelessly mired in sin with no intention of repenting. Judah refused to accept God’s discipline (2:30) and declared instead, I have not sinned (2:35). To deny your sin, though, is to call God a liar (see 1 John 1:10).

3:1-5 The Lord closes this first indictment by saying he cannot take Judah back because she left him to marry another. Actually, it was worse than that. She had prostituted herself with many partners (3:1)! What a picture of Judah’s spiritual wickedness, forsaking her position as the Lord’s bride to be a brazen . . . prostitute (3:3).

B. Call to Repentance in Light of Coming Judgment (3:6–6:30)

3:6-10 Jeremiah begins his next message by speaking of the northern kingdom of Israel, which had already been taken into captivity by the Assyrians. When Israel was judged for her spiritual adulteries (3:6), Judah should have taken note and avoided her ways. But Judah proved to be even more treacherous than her sister Israel (3:7-8)! And while Judah made a pretense of repenting, God saw right through it (3:10). We should take care because it’s possible to show up at church on Sunday and sing praises to the Lord—but have a heart that is rock hard.

3:11-25 God issued a call to Israel to repent and be restored, an invitation to return and acknowledge [her] guilt (3:12-13). What follows is an ideal picture of a united nation (Israel and Judah) returning to the true worship of God; it would be so glorious that even the ark of the Lord’s covenant would not be missed (3:14-18). God longs to welcome back his wayward people (3:19). He thus repeats his invitation to repentance (3:22), and Jeremiah pictures the nation weeping and begging for mercy (3:21). But such a turnaround would not happen in the days of Jeremiah. Rather, what we see here is a picture of Israel’s future repentance when her Messiah Jesus Christ returns for his millennial kingdom. The salvation of Israel is only in the Lord our God (3:23).

4:1-4 Using a metaphor from farming, God calls Judah to repentance: Break up the unplowed ground; do not sow among the thorns (4:3). You need to cultivate good soil if you expect to grow a crop. While the Jews were circumcised in body, they were not set apart in their hearts. And unless something changed, God’s wrath was going to break out on them like a fire that no one could extinguish (4:4). Tragically, though, they refused to heed God’s warning; they rejected his invitation to be forgiven. So, in 4:5–6:30, Jeremiah focuses on the coming judgment—the Babylonian invasion.

4:5-9 God makes it clear that he is using Babylon to accomplish his purposes: I am bringing disaster from the north (4:6). The picture he paints of the coming invasion leaves no doubt about the terror in store for Judah. Even the king and the officials will lose their courage. The priests will tremble in fear, and the prophets will be scared speechless (4:9). In other words, the leaders from every sphere, who should have led the people to the Lord, will be incapable of leading. This is a perfect illustration of the chaos that ensues when a nation’s religious, political, and civil leaders are not following God’s kingdom agenda. With both Judah’s governmental and spiritual leadership in a mess, the people had little hope of repairing their lives and homes.

4:10 Jeremiah’s anguish and horror at the destruction coming upon his nation and people is one of the central themes of the book. In response to God’s declaration of judgment, he cries, Oh no, Lord God, you have certainly deceived this people and Jerusalem, by announcing, “You will have peace,” while a sword is at our throats.

The best way to understand this is to see it as Jeremiah’s complaint that God had allowed the false prophets of Judah to prophesy peace and prosperity when catastrophe was at the door. But we need to remember that God does not deceive or lie; that is contrary to his nature. His apparent deception only comes to people who have already welcomed deception and refuse to repent. God’s hard work of judgment in this case was a confirming act to the hard-hearted, not a con of the innocent.

4:11-18 The Babylonian army would sweep across the land like the harsh desert wind, which blew so hard that it parched and cracked the ground. The advancing horses and chariots of Nebuchadnezzar’s hordes would stir up clouds like those in a coming storm (4:13). But in spite of the people’s anguish at the terrifying invaders, God leaves no doubt that they had brought this bitter judgment on themselves (4:18).

4:19-22 The prophet can taste the same bitterness: My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in agony! Oh, the pain in my heart! (4:19). He thus calls the people of Judah fools for ignoring God’s warnings. They walked headlong into disaster like a bunch of children who play in the midst of danger. They were skilled in doing what is evil, but they [did] not know how to do what is good (4:22). Experts at wickedness; novices at righteousness. This is the exact opposite of God’s will for his children, as Paul writes, “I want you to be wise about what is good, and yet innocent about what is evil” (Rom 16:19).

4:23-26 Jeremiah was so distraught that the only way he could adequately describe what he was hearing was by comparing Judah’s judgment to a reversal of God’s work in creation (4:23-26). Jeremiah describes the earth as formless and empty (4:23) to compare Judah’s situation to the condition of the world before God began shaping and filling it (see Gen 1:2). Instead of putting light in the heavens, God had turned it off (4:23). The humans and animals God had created were gone (4:25). All that remained was a wilderness because of his burning anger (4:26). Creation was being undone.

4:27-31 Knowing the grief of his prophet, God adds a gracious promise. Although the land would experience desolation, he would not finish it off (4:27). He lets Jeremiah know that there would be a future hope. But for the people of Judah in Jeremiah’s day, God would not turn back from his punishment (4:28). Judah’s lovers—the foreign nations she had relied upon for aid—would reject her (4:30). And like a woman in labor, Judah would cry in anguish when the murderous Babylonians got hold of her (4:31). Normally the cries of a woman about to give birth signal that there is joy ahead, despite the pain. But for the people of Judah, labor would end in a spiritual miscarriage.

5:1 In chapter 5, Jeremiah shines the spotlight on the reasons for Jerusalem’s judgment. To open the section, the Lord gives Jeremiah what would seem like an easy assignment: If you find one person, any who acts justly, who pursues faithfulness, then I will forgive Jerusalem. Now, that’s a better deal than God granted to Abraham, who received God’s promise that Sodom would not be destroyed if there were ten righteous people in it (see Gen 18:32). But Jeremiah couldn’t dig up even one person in the streets of Jerusalem who followed the Lord. The holy city, then, was worse than Sodom!

5:2-9 Jeremiah was so upset by the thought of his nation’s utter destruction that he became convinced the problem was that he was looking on the wrong side of town. He had gone to the poor on the other side of the tracks (5:4) and then decided to go to the powerful, to the leaders. Surely they know the way of the Lord (5:5). But Judah’s leaders were no better. Although God had satisfied their needs, the people gashed themselves—cutting their bodies in pagan rituals (see 1 Kgs 18:28). They committed spiritual adultery against the Lord and behaved like prostitutes with idols (5:7).

5:10-11 The house of Israel and the house of Judah were God’s vineyard (see Isa 5:1-7), but the people had become so unfaithful that God decrees its branches are to be cut back. Yet even in severe judgment, God plants another seed of future hope by saying do not finish them off (5:10). The nation would survive in Babylon and eventually be replanted in the land, but that was a long way off.

5:12-19 The false prophets gave the people false hope: Harm won’t come to us; we won’t see sword or famine (5:12-13). It was all a lie. The Babylonian army was going to destroy everyone and everything in Judah (5:14-17). The devastation would be so great that God had to issue another assurance that he would not wipe his people completely off the map (5:18). Their judgment, however, matched their sin: Just as you abandoned me and served foreign gods in your land, so will you serve strangers in a land that is not yours (5:19). If you choose to serve the devil, God will let you do it. But it won’t provide the pleasure and freedom you’re expecting.

5:20-31 Although God is the Creator of land and sea (5:22), and he provided seasonal rains to guarantee the harvest (5:24), the people had stubborn and rebellious hearts (5:23). They didn’t fear the Lord (5:22)—that is, they didn’t take him seriously. The powerful and rich became even more so at the expense of others (5:26-27). They failed to defend the fatherless and the needy (5:28). And where were the spiritual leaders? Verse 31 answers that mystery: The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own authority. Jeremiah is right; the situation was appalling (5:30). But it gets even worse: My people love it like this (5:31). A culture cannot long stand when worship has become corrupted and the worshipers love the corruption.

6:1-12 Fearsome judgment was certain. It was so sure that the only hope of escape was to get out of Jerusalem (6:1), which meant running into the arms of the Babylonians. Jeremiah would eventually tell King Zedekiah to do just that, in fact—surrender to the Babylonians so that they might survive (38:17-18). But the king and the people would refuse to listen: The word of the Lord has become contemptible to them (6:10). They hated God’s Word, which promised them life and blessing. And in rejecting it, they’d run headlong into his wrath (6:11).

6:13-15 From prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely (6:13) tells us that if the people were sinning, the religious leaders were giving them the example to follow. Those responsible to proclaim God’s word and offer sacrifices for sins were leading the way in wickedness! They dealt superficially with the brokenness of God’s people, claiming, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace (6:14). They had abdicated their responsibilities and were sugar-coating Judah’s situation. Yet they were unashamed (6:15). We can’t ignore problems or dance around them. Sin must be confronted.

6:16-30 The people of Judah hadn’t merely stumbled into disobedience. They’d boldly protested, “We won’t listen!” (6:17), and they paid no attention to God’s words (6:19). Therefore, God pronounced their sacrifices unacceptable (6:20). As the prophet Samuel had told Israel’s first king years before, “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam 15:22) because when offered from sin-stained hands, offerings to the Lord are detestable. Given Judah’s stubborn refusal to repent, the cruel Babylonians were coming, and they would show no mercy (6:23). God’s people are called rejected silver (6:30) because they had become corrupted with impurities and could no longer be refined to be of any real worth.

C. Jeremiah’s Temple Sermon (7:1–10:25)

7:1-4 The title of this section comes from God’s puncturing the balloon of the people’s vain trust in the temple to spare them from judgment. It wasn’t that the people weren’t worshiping in the Jerusalem temple; rather, they were engaging in hypocritical worship there (7:2). They assumed that the mere presence of the temple in their nation would keep them safe. They even chanted about the temple of the Lord (7:4), showing that it was little more than a good-luck charm to them. Therefore, God told Jeremiah to stand in the gate of his house to announce his judgment (7:2).

7:5-10 God was into true repentance, not magical chants. He thus commanded the people through Jeremiah: Correct your ways and your actions (7:5). But he didn’t leave that open to interpretation; he gave examples of what he expected. They were not to oppress the weak, shed innocent blood . . . or follow other gods (7:6). But Jeremiah’s exhortations fell on deaf ears. The people just continued to arrogantly break every one of God’s commands and then march into the temple with straight faces, saying, We are rescued, so we can continue doing all these detestable acts (7:10). They were like children playing tag, treating the temple like a base where they would be safe from harm.

7:11 In essence, God’s response was, “Are you serious? You think you can act like that and then come before me for blessing as if I don’t know what you’re doing?” God’s people had so corrupted themselves that they had turned his holy temple into a den of robbers (7:11). Later, Jesus took up Jeremiah’s words against the people of Israel in his own day; they were also guilty of desecrating God’s “house of prayer” (see Matt 21:13).

7:12-15 The Lord then gave Judah a history lesson. The tabernacle was first set up at Shiloh (7:12; see Josh 18:1) and remained there for years (see Judg 21:19; 1 Sam 4:3). The Bible doesn’t describe what eventually happened to Shiloh (though see Ps 78:60), but archaeological evidence suggests that the Philistines destroyed it in about 1050 BC. The presence of the tabernacle, then, did not save Shiloh from God’s judgment (7:12). What happened there would happen in Jeremiah’s day: What I did to Shiloh I will do to the house that bears my name (7:14). And as he had banished . . . the descendants of Ephraim (that is, Israel) through the Assyr-ians, so God would banish Judah through the Babylonians.

7:16-26 God’s wrath was so certain that he even told Jeremiah not to waste his breath praying for Judah (7:16). All of the people, from children to parents, eagerly worshiped the queen of heaven (7:18), probably the Assyrian-Babylonian goddess Ishtar who represented love and fertility. Their idolatry provoked God to fierce anger, but this was nothing new. All the way back to the exodus from Egypt and their birth as a nation, Israel had been rebellious and stubborn. God had given them one basic command: Obey me, and then I will be your God, and you will be my people (7:23). Yet they followed their own advice (7:24).

7:27-34 There was nothing left but to take up a lament for Judah. Jeremiah was ordered to cut off [his] hair and sing a funeral dirge for the terrible destruction that was coming (7:29). The people had built high places to worship false gods and burn their sons and daughters in the fire as a sacrifice. Not only had God not commanded this, but he never entertained the thought (7:31). Such horrific crimes against children would not go unpunished.

8:1-7 God’s judgment on Judah would be so complete that even the dead would not escape. Their bones would be dug up and left to parch, exposed to the sun, the moon, and all the stars in the sky, which they have loved, served, followed, consulted, and worshiped (8:1-2). Things would not be any better for the living, who would prefer death to life as captives (8:3). Even birds know where to go during various seasons (8:7), but the people of Judah had no sense to turn around when they had gone the wrong way (8:4-5). They lacked the sense to repent of their evil.

8:8-13 Once again, God pointed to the false security of those who thought they were wise simply because they had his law (8:8). God’s word was corrupted by the lying pen of scribes (8:8) and the false claims of prophet and priest (8:10). No one among God’s servants charged with teaching his word was speaking the truth. Jeremiah 8:10-12 repeats 6:13-15.

8:14-17 Their refusal to acknowledge what was coming would be rudely interrupted when the reality of the Babylonian invasion could no longer be denied. The people would realize their sin and repent, but it would be too late. Their hopes for peace would turn to terror (8:15) as the sound of the Babylonians’ horses coming from Dan in the north echoed (8:16). Their doom was certain, and lest anyone misunderstand the source, Jeremiah made it clear: This is the Lord’s declaration (8:17). The destruction coming upon them was the judgment God had warned them about through his prophets for years.

8:18-22 Jeremiah’s intense pain over the suffering of his people led him into another lament. He asks God to listen to the cry of his people in captivity who wondered if God was still there (8:19). Their suffering was the result of their sin, but Jeremiah was still broken by the brokenness of his countrymen (8:21) and longed for God to apply the healing balm in Gilead to their wounds (8:22). May the church of Jesus Christ have the same concern and compassion for the suffering among God’s people.

9:1-11 Jeremiah’s declaration here shows why he is known as “the weeping prophet”: If my head were a flowing spring, my eyes a fountain of tears, I would weep day and night over the slain of my dear people (9:1). But Jeremiah was not oblivious to the reason for Judah’s judgment. In fact, his righteous soul was offended by their sin, so much so that he wanted to get away from them. They were all adulterers, a solemn assembly of treacherous folks (9:2). In a society where lying was commonplace, nobody could trust anyone—not even family (9:3-6). God had every right to judge these people, as Jeremiah well knew (9:9), but that didn’t stop the prophet from weeping over the land he loved (9:10).

9:17-24 God calls upon professional mourners, who could teach the exiles of Judah to lament their fate, too (9:17-19). The picture he gives of the severe massacre of the people of Judah (9:21) is followed by two of the most well-known verses in Scripture: The wise person should not boast in his wisdom; the strong should not boast in his strength; the wealthy should not boast in his wealth. But the one who boasts should boast in this: that he understands and knows me—that I am the Lord, showing faithful love, justice, and righteousness on the earth, for I delight in these things (9:23-24).

These are timeless, universal truths—but they take on extra power for us when we see that this invitation from God to know him intimately, and reap the blessings of his cov-enant faithfulness, was made to a people who called themselves by God’s name but refused to surrender their pride and bow before him. It’s amazing what we tend to brag about: educational achievements, employment accomplishments, financial successes, physical prowess, and the list goes on. But God says here, “If you’re going to brag, if you really want something to shout about, brag that you know me. If you can’t talk about that, you don’t have much to boast about.” We need this lesson today. To know God (not merely to know about God) in intimate fellowship is the most meaningful pursuit of life.

9:25-26 Judah refused God’s offer to brag on him instead of themselves, so their doom was sealed. The Jews trusted in their special place in God’s sight by their confidence in the covenant sign of circumcision. They considered it as another good-luck charm or “get out of jail free” card, protecting them from God’s wrath. But God reminds them that circumcision was to be an outward sign of an inner reality: a heart that loved God. He declares that the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart (9:26), which in the end is the only circumcision that really counts. In the words of the apostle Paul, “A person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart—by the Spirit, not the letter” (Rom 2:29).

10:1-5 These verses offer a powerful contrast between the God of Israel and worthless idols (10:3). Where does an idol come from? If made from wood, it’s carved from a tree, decorated with silver and gold, and held together with nails (10:3-4). The futility of worshiping such a thing is unmistakable since those who worship them made them in the first place! Idols are as lifeless as scarecrows in a cucumber patch. They can’t even move unless someone carries them. So why would anyone be afraid of them (10:5)? Idols are to be mocked, not feared!

10:6-10 In contrast to useless idols, Jeremiah declares, Lord, there is no one like you. You are great; your name is great in power (10:6). This is the God whom people should fear—the King of the nations who created all things, not an idol created and even dressed by human hands (10:7-10). Scripture teaches that those who make idols and trust in them “are just like them” (Pss 115:8; 135:18). Jeremiah would’ve agreed. To be instructed by worthless idols is to be both stupid and foolish (10:8).

10:11 Interestingly, Jeremiah 10:11 is written in Aramaic (a language similar to Hebrew), and is the only such verse in the book. Aramaic was the trade language of Jeremiah’s day. So the verse is probably in this language so that the craftsmen and goldsmiths who made the idols (10:9, 14) could understand that the gods that did not make the heavens and the earth will perish . . . from under these heavens.

10:12-22 In contrast, the God of Israel is the Creator and Judge of the earth who is nothing like the false gods of the nations (10:12-13). Here God calls himself Jacob’s Portion (10:16), a name that had to encourage Jeremiah. It was a reminder that God would not wipe out Israel forever. But in the immediate future, terrible destruction was ahead for Judah. God’s announcement of judgment (10:17-18) again sent Jeremiah into grief and lament on behalf of Judah (10:19-22).

10:23-25 As the prophet’s temple sermon concludes, he prays. Speaking as one who identifies with his people, Jeremiah acknowledges that he is not his own (10:23). He is a creature in the hands of his Creator; God’s agenda, then, is Jeremiah’s agenda. He also asks for the Lord to discipline him—but not in anger (10:24). God’s discipline is for our good, if we are willing to receive it. It may be painful. But for those who are trained by it, “it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb 12:11). Finally, Jeremiah asks that God would pour out [his] wrath on the nations who don’t acknowledge the Lord and who have consumed his people (10:25).

D. Judah’s Covenant Violations (11:1–13:27)

11:1-5 We are reminded that this is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord (11:1). It can be easy to skip over such statements, but this is here because we need the reminder. God is speaking to Jeremiah and, through Jeremiah, to us. In this case, God’s message was a restatement of the basic terms of the Mosaic covenant. These were not hard to understand: obey God and be blessed, or disobey him and be cursed (11:2-5).

11:6-10 Judah was following an obvious path, so the Lord gave them another history lesson. Their ancestors whom God delivered out of Egypt were given the same commands and the same warning (11:7). Yet they would not obey, so God unleashed on them all the curses of this covenant (11:8). In spite of hundreds of years of history showing what happened when the Israelites disobeyed God, the people of Judah plunged headlong into idolatry and other sins (11:9-10), bringing to mind the old cliché, “like father like son.” And this wasn’t an innocent oversight or mere childish foolishness. The people of Judah had conspired to disobey God (11:9)—that is, they were very deliberate in their sin.

11:11-23 Your gods are indeed as numerous as your cities, Judah. That’s quite an accusation! They had altars to Baal everywhere (11:13). God was so angry that, once again, he told Jeremiah not to bother praying for Judah to be spared (11:14). The people had shoved Baal worship in God’s face, so to speak, and he wasn’t going to put up with them anymore. Their reaction to Jeremiah was a classic sinful response: We don’t like the message, so let’s kill the messenger (11:18-23). Shockingly, the conspirators were the people of Anathoth, Jeremiah’s home boys (11:21, 23; see 1:1). But God assured the prophet their plot would fail.

12:1-4 This news apparently shook Jeremiah because he responded by complaining about what appeared to him to be the prosperity of the wicked (12:1). Jeremiah isn’t accusing God of being unjust here, but at the same time he was upset about the way God was handling things. Why wicked people prosper is an age-old question (see Ps 73), but God didn’t try to explain himself to Jeremiah because he doesn’t have to defend his righteousness or the wisdom of his ways.

12:5-6 Instead, God asked Jeremiah two rhetorical questions (12:5). His point was this: If Jeremiah couldn’t handle the present, he’d really have a tough time in the days ahead. There was no one Jeremiah could trust—no one but God.

12:7-17 While Jeremiah was absorbing that warning, God continued pronouncing doom on Judah (12:7-13). The reader of Jeremiah is familiar by now with God’s use of a variety of illustrations to describe both the wicked nature of his people and the judgment he intends for them. One of the most powerful is his description of the invading Babylonians as a sword [of the Lord] that devours so completely that no one can escape (12:12). This chapter ends with a promise of judgment and restoration—not for Israel this time, but for any Gentile nation that will turn from its rebellion and follow the Lord (12:14-17). This will be fulfilled during Jesus Christ’s millennial kingdom.

13:1-5 Judah wasn’t responding to Jeremiah’s message, so God turned to two object lessons to get his point across. He first ordered Jeremiah to buy a linen undergarment (13:1) and wear it. Then the prophet was to go to the Euphrates and hide it in a rocky crevice (13:4). The reference here is probably not to the Euphrates River, which would have required a 700-mile round trip for Jeremiah. More likely, it refers to another place a few miles from the prophet’s home of Anathoth. In Hebrew, “Euphrates” is spelled “Perath.” The site near Anathoth was spelled the same way.

13:6-11 When Jeremiah returned and dug up the garment, it was ruined—of no use at all (13:7). Similarly, God would ruin the great pride of Judah and Jerusalem (13:9). Because of their stubbornness and their worship of other gods, God’s people were now of no use at all to him (13:10). They were like a tattered and rotted undergarment. God wanted to “wear” his people close to himself, but they wouldn’t have it (13:11). Judah preferred a hole in the ground.

13:12-14 Jeremiah’s second object lesson was to point to a jar . . . filled with wine (13:12). What was normally a sign of blessing and meant for refreshment thus became a symbol of God’s curse on Judah. The people would stagger around like drunks when the Babylonians came. They would smash into each other in confusion and terror. But nothing would prevent the Lord from bringing judgment: I will allow no mercy (13:14).

13:15-20 The Lord’s judgment is pictured here as darkness and darkest gloom (13:16), and Jeremiah continues to weep over the destruction of his people (13:17). He was told to speak judgment to the eighteen-year-old king, Jehoiachin (Jeconiah), and the queen mother, Nahushta (13:18; see 2 Kgs 24:8). Jehoiachin reigned in Jerusalem for only three months before the Babylonian captivity. They were exhorted to humble themselves in light of the coming invasion, but they did not.

13:21-27 Jeremiah delivers yet another prophecy of certain doom against a people who were so proud and defiant in their sin. To set up a comparison, he makes a proverbial observation by asking, Can the Cushite change his skin, or a leopard his spots? (13:23). In this, Jeremiah was saying that black skin color was as basic to the Cushite /Ethiopian as unrighteous behavior was to the nation of Israel. In other words, it was a permanent characteristic. These people were experts at sinning because it’s all they knew. They were like a prostitute who gave herself to anyone who solicited her. But instead of receiving favors and rewards from her “partners,” the prostitute Judah would be exposed in shame. The only thing left to say was, Woe to you, Jerusalem! (13:26-27).

E. Judah’s Drought and Jeremiah’s Response (14:1–15:21)

14:1-9 One of the covenant curses God sent upon the rebellious people of Judah was drought (14:1; see Deut 28:22-24)—so severe that both man and animal alike were in severe distress (14:2-6). The people moaned in thirst and pain, the cisterns were empty, and the ground was cracked from lack of moisture (14:2-4). The people began to cry out to God in their suffering and expressed what sounded like genuine repentance (14:7-9). They admitted that they had been very sinful and rebellious, and called God the Hope of Israel and their Savior (14:8). They reminded God that they carried his name (14:9) and pled with him to save them on that basis if for no other reason.

14:10-12 God responded to this apparent confession by saying, in effect, “I hear what these people are saying, but it’s all a sham. They are still wandering away from me as fast as their feet will carry them. So I will judge them.” He was determined to finish them off by sword, famine, and plague (14:12). Those who survived these horrors would go into captivity (see 15:2).

14:13-16 Jeremiah was greatly distressed because the lying prophets of Judah were prophesying relief and peace instead of calling on the people to repent (14:13, 15). God denied that any of these prophets spoke on his behalf. Rather than prophesying from a divine perspective, they proclaimed the deceit of their own minds (14:14). Therefore, God had determined their fate. Any prophet who denied the approaching sword and famine would himself die by sword and famine (14:15). This is a warning that if you refuse to get on board with God’s kingdom agenda, you’ll be swallowed up by it.

14:17-22 Jeremiah’s pain burst out again as he saw the ravages of war and famine around him (14:17-18). The people of Judah then spoke again, confessing their sins and pleading with God to forgive and restore them (14:19-22). Ironically, they became the ones referring to God’s covenant with Israel, asking him to keep it, and freely admitting that the false gods they worshiped were worthless idols that had no power (14:21-22). Again, this sounds like a broken and contrite people who were ready to return to the Lord who was their true and only hope, but their pleadings were too little, too late. They were trying to make a foxhole deal with God so that he would get them out of their mess.

15:1 God’s next answer was even more firm in slamming the door on Judah’s insincere repentance. God chose two of the greatest intercessors in Israel’s history, Moses and Samuel, to illustrate the impossibility of anyone changing his mind about his judgment of Judah (15:1). Moses had interceded for Israel after their idolatry with the golden calf (see Exod 32-33). Samuel interceded when they were being threatened by the Philistines (see 1 Sam 7:5-11) and again when the people sinned by asking for a human king (see 1 Sam 12:19-25).

15:2-4 It was too late to intercede on Judah’s behalf. Her people were already destined for death, sword, famine, and captivity (15:2). The Lord had spoken. To make sure the message was not missed, God added gruesome detail to his pronouncement by saying that the bodies of the Jews who were killed by the invading Babylonians would be devoured by birds and wild animals (15:3). Because of the horrific acts committed by King Manasseh of Judah during his fifty-five-year reign that plunged Judah into the grossest sins imaginable (see 2 Kgs 21:1-16), God was not turning back (15:4).

15:5-7 Then God asked Jerusalem a painful and pointed question: Who will have pity on you? Historically, the Lord was the only one who had showed them sympathy and was concerned for their well-being (15:5). Time and again, though, they had turned [their] back on him (15:5-6). So who was left to mourn their pain? Answer: no one.

If human beings show you no concern or pity when you’re suffering, you’ve got a problem. But if God becomes tired of showing compassion to you (15:6), you are without hope! That’s why the good news of the gospel is so good. In it, God shows his overflowing compassion. Those who repent of their sin and trust in Jesus Christ have the sure hope of forgiveness and eternal life.

15:8-9 This was Judah’s situation—and when God began unleashing his judgment, there was no place to hide. As a result of Judah’s men being killed in battle, widows would become more numerous than the sand of the seas (15:8). A mother of seven was usually considered greatly blessed, but not in Judah, because her children were gone (15:9).

15:10-14 Here Jeremiah sinks further into despair: Woe is me, my mother, that you gave birth to me. In other words, he wishes he had never been born. It’s hard to sink lower than that. He lamented his birth because he was the object of Judah’s scorn, even though he had done nothing wrong and had been faithful in delivering God’s message. That he did not lend or borrow means he had engaged in no activity that would give him an opportunity to take financial advantage of others (15:10). Yet, in spite of this, Judah’s coming destruction and captivity were inevitable (15:12-14).

15:15-18 Jeremiah returns the conversation to his troubles: I suffer disgrace for your honor (15:15). God’s words were a delight to him—he considered them his food (15:16). The prophet had also separated himself from the band of revelers (15:17) who were polluting Judah and Jerusalem with their sins. He sat alone, without friends or anyone to comfort him in his pain. God had become like a mirage to him (15:17-18).

15:19 But it seems the prophet went too far in his self-pity, because the chapter closes with God telling Jeremiah to repent so that he might continue serving God. Rather than sinking to the level of the people and their worthless words, which may refer to their worthless statements of false repentance, Jeremiah was recommissioned to speak the pure words of God. But he warned Jeremiah again not to expect to receive the “Citizen of the Year” award from the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce for his faithful service. If Jeremiah served God faithfully, he would inevitably be hated by those who hated God.

15:20-21 The people of Judah would continue to fight against God’s prophet but would not overcome him. God would make him a fortified wall of bronze against their attacks (15:20). Greater suffering was ahead for Jeremiah; however, he would endure—not because of his strength or will power—but because the Lord would rescue and redeem him (15:21).

Christian, take note. The power of evil people is not ultimate. It is nothing compared to the strong arm of God. Trust him with all your heart and remember his words: I am with you to save you and rescue you (15:20).

F. Jeremiah’s Restrictions and Judah’s Sins (16:1–17:27)

16:1-4 Next, God called Jeremiah to celibacy. He could not marry or have sons or daughters (16:2). Prohibiting the prophet from taking a wife and having children had a purpose. Like the prophet Hosea’s marriage to the prostitute Gomer (see Hos 1:2-3), Jeremiah’s home situation was to be a sign to Judah—a sign of judgment upon God’s people. The absence of children in Jeremiah’s house was a warning that any children born in the land would die from deadly diseases or be finished off by sword and famine (16:3-4).

16:5-9 Jeremiah was also strictly prohibited from having any personal or social interaction with the people of Judah, whether they were mourning the loss of a loved one or feasting at an occasion for celebration (16:5, 8). Between having no family and not participating in social gatherings, Jeremiah would be a social pariah.

The reason for God’s command was important, though: He had so given up on this rebellious and hard-hearted people that he had disowned them. He would no longer lament or rejoice with them, so Jeremiah couldn’t either. This was another sign to Judah that the normal activities of life would soon end. The Lord had removed [his] peace . . . as well as [his] faithful love and compassion (16:5). The sound of joy and gladness was being eliminated (16:9).

16:10-13 God told Jeremiah that Judah’s spiritually blind people would look him in the face and ask, Why has the Lord declared all this terrible disaster against us? What is our iniquity? What is our sin that we have committed against the Lord our God? (16:10). They were like a child standing over a broken jar with a cookie in each hand, asking his mother, “What cookies?” God told Jeremiah how to answer them (16:11-13). Not only had Judah failed to learn from their stubborn and idolatrous ancestors, but the current generation was even worse: You did more evil than your fathers (16:12). Often the reason we have to repeat history is because we weren’t listening the first time.

16:14-15 Once again, even in his severe wrath, God remembered mercy. After announcing his people’s impending exile, he added that one day there would be a second exodus. The defining moment in the history of the Jewish nation was exodus from Egypt, but God promised that in the future he would be known—not as the one who brought them out of Egypt—but as the one who brought the Israelites from the land of the north and from all the other lands where he had banished them (16:15). Although many Jews would eventually return to their homeland from Babylon, this regathering will be fully realized when Jesus Christ returns to establish his millennial kingdom.

16:16-20 In the meantime, Judah was still doomed to exile for her sins (16:16-18). Since they had filled God’s land with the carcasses of their sacrificial offerings to detestable idols, the Lord would repay them double for their iniquity (16:18). The people’s wickedness is contrasted with God’s kingdom man, Jeremiah, who proclaims the Lord as his strength, stronghold, and refuge. He knows that one day—not only will Israel abandon her idols—but the nations will too (16:19).

17:1-4 Judah’s people were such hard-hearted idolaters that even their children participated in false worship using Asherah poles, idols set up to the Canaanite goddess of fertility (17:2). These evil symbols appeared and disappeared at various times throughout Israel’s history. The low point probably came when King Manasseh erected one in the temple, although he later removed it (see 2 Kgs 21:7; 2 Chr 33:15). This was significant because, as we saw above (15:4), God laid a large part of the blame for Judah’s pitiful spiritual condition at Manasseh’s feet. But as God said, the people of Jeremiah’s day had far outdone their ancestors in their disobedience. They had set God’s anger on fire (17:4). That’s a blaze you don’t want to be caught in.

17:5-8 Judah was facing the consuming fire of God when her people could have been experiencing his cool refreshment. These verses reveal the stark contrast between two ways of life—either to trust in the strength of mankind and be cursed, or to trust in the Lord and be blessed (17:5, 7). The picture of a bush in the Arabah, the desert portion of Israel, brings to mind the ultimate in dryness and scorching heat; it’s a salt land where no one lives (17:6). This is probably a reference to the area around the Dead Sea, which is filled with salt and so many other minerals that nothing can survive in it. But the person who trusts the Lord will be like a tree planted by water (17:8), which is language reminiscent of the blessed man of Psalm 1.

17:9 One of the most famous verses in Jeremiah comes in this context of people who could sin greatly while asking naïvely, “What sins are we committing?” So God states, The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it? Our human capacity to deceive ourselves and to function in rebellion against God is endless. We don’t know ourselves as well as we think we do.

17:10-13 But 17:9 also has an important context on the other side. If our only hope for understanding the human heart is other humans, we’re in big trouble. So here God adds that he examines the mind and tests the heart (17:10). This explains why people testify that when they read the Bible, they feel as if it is looking into the deepest recesses of their minds and hearts. They feel this because God’s Word is alive and powerful, constantly probing us. It’s a good thing to be probed and exposed by the incision that God makes in our lives by his Word (see Heb 4:12), because that’s when we really deal with deep-rooted sin and begin to grow. The God who tests and knows the heart is also able to give sinners what they deserve—judgment for abandoning the Lord, the fountain of living water (17:13).

17:14-18 Jeremiah ends this message with another plea for God to protect and vindicate him as a faithful spokesman who neither ran from his tough assignment nor wished ill on Judah. And yet he had generated bitter opposition and persecution (17:14-17). Jeremiah prayed that his tormenters would be put to shame (17:18)—not out of personal bitterness or revenge but because they had scorned the Lord and his word.

17:19-27 The prophet was then sent on another assignment with a specific message, this one to be delivered to the people face-to-face as they entered the gates of Jerusalem (17:19). This word was a warning not to violate the Lord’s Sabbath as their ancestors had done (17:21-23). But there was a promise in the midst of the warning: If God’s people would keep his Sabbath, Israel would enjoy untold blessing, peace, and prosperity (17:24-26). Refusal to obey, however, would result in fire consuming the gates and the citadels of Jerusalem (17:27).

G. The Potter’s Jar and Jeremiah’s Persecution (18:1–20:18)

18:1-4 God sent Jeremiah to the potter’s house to watch him form pottery from clay. God intended to reveal [his] words to Jeremiah through another object lesson (18:2). As the potter molded the clay into a jar, it became flawed. So he remade the jar, as it seemed right for him to do (18:4). This illustrated the message of judgment and restoration that Jeremiah was to take to God’s people.

18:5-10 God’s message to Judah was inextricably clear. Just as a potter has freedom to make what he chooses from his clay, so the sovereign Lord has freedom to save or destroy any nation based on its response to his pronouncement of doom or blessing. Nineveh comes to mind as an example of God relenting in judgment when the Ninevites humbled themselves with repentance in response to Jonah’s preaching (see Jonah 3:5-10). The people of Jesus’s day were an example of rejecting God’s word—in this case the incarnate Word—and turning blessing into cursing (see Matt 12:41).

18:11-12 Jeremiah was to deliver the message and spell out the options (12:11), but God warned him ahead of time what the people’s response would be (12:12). They would continue following their stubborn hearts as long as possible.

18:13-17 Judah’s rebellion against God was so shocking that even those in the nations around her had never heard of such a thing as a people refusing to worship and follow their god (18:13). Judah’s wanderings had made her people stumble on the well-marked path of obedience to God (18:15). His destruction of Judah would be so complete that any traveler who passed by would be horrified and shake his head (18:16). Worst of all, God would turn his back and not his face to his people (18:17). Punishment is one thing; the absence of God’s presence is everything.

18:18 Yet in spite of God’s warnings and in spite of Jeremiah’s weeping for them, certain people conspired against the prophet: Come, let’s make plans against Jeremiah. . . . Come, let’s denounce him and pay no attention to all his words. The prophet’s enemies launched a slander campaign against him, hoping to smear Jeremiah’s reputation so that no one would take his message seriously.

18:19-23 Here the prophet offers a prayer for God’s vengeance on his enemies. They had repaid good with evil (18:20), and it was time for judgment. Jeremiah had heard God say time and again that Judah was beyond redemption in terms of warding off the coming invasion and captivity. Here he steps back, so to speak, and says, “God, pour out your judgment on my enemies, who are also your enemies. I’ve done all I can for them. Judge them as their sins deserve.”

19:1-2 The Lord sent Jeremiah shopping for a potter’s clay jar. The jar became another object lesson of God’s determination to break Judah. To make the message even more emphatic, Jeremiah delivered it to a group of Judah’s civil leaders and priests by leading them out to the Hinnom Valley near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate (19:1-2). The gate was so named because it was the passage through which potters took their potsherds (broken pieces of pottery) to be discarded. The valley mentioned was where the Judeans had previously sacrificed their children to idols (see 7:31). So if ever there was an unholy place, this was it.

19:3-9 Jeremiah delivered another in his series of condemnations on Judah. The people had burned incense in Jerusalem to false gods and even offered their children in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a pagan worship practice so abhorrent to God that he said such things had never entered his mind (19:4-5). As a result of these disgusting practices, God said Hinnom would be called Slaughter Valley because the dead bodies of Judah’s slain people would pile up and become food for the birds and wild animals (19:6-7). The nations would gasp in horror at Jerusalem and ridicule its people because of the terrible judgment Judah had brought upon itself (19:8). And in a chilling prophecy, God also warned that the people would resort to cannibalism as the siege by the Babylo-nians cut off Jerusalem’s food supply (19:9).

19:10-15 While Jeremiah’s listeners were absorbing this grim message, the prophet was to smash the clay jar to drive home his point. As one shatters pottery, so the Lord would shatter the people and the city (19:10-11). Jeremiah delivered his message at Topheth (19:14), the place in the Hinnom Valley where the people had built high places and offered their child sacrifices (see 7:31). God vowed that they would bury their dead in that impure place (19:11-13). The pieces of the shattered jar lay at Jeremiah’s feet as he left Topheth and went back into the city to deliver the same message of disaster to all the people (19:14-15).

20:1-6 Jeremiah had been ridiculed and persecuted previously because of his message, but this time it got physical. He was ordered beaten by a man named Pashhur the priest, the chief official in the temple (20:1-2). Pashhur also put Jeremiah in stocks at one of the gates of the temple to publicly humiliate him (20:3).

Jeremiah was let out the next day, but the flogging didn’t dampen his commitment to share God’s message. He even told Pashhur that the Lord had decided on a new name for him: Terror Is on Every Side (20:3), a reference to what this man and his family would experience when God handed Judah over to the king of Babylon (20:4). Pashhur and his family would be deported to Babylon and die there, in part because Pashhur had prophesied lies of his own—perhaps in an attempt to discredit Jeremiah’s message (20:6).

20:7-10 The remainder of the chapter records Jeremiah’s reaction to these events. It starts with complaint against his enemies. Jeremiah had never been shy about expressing his emotions, and he also complains that God had deceived him by calling him into a ministry in which he experienced so much abuse and emotional pain (20:7). But Jeremiah is not charging God with being unfair or dishonest. He knew his message was from the Lord, and even when he tried to hold it back, God’s word was like a fire burning in Jeremiah’s heart that couldn’t be contained (20:9). He had no choice but to speak what God gave him—even though everyone sought vengeance on him (20:10).

20:11-13 Then the prophet looked upward and broke out in praise to the God who was like a violent warrior on his side, able to bring down on the heads of Jeremiah’s enemies the vengeance they had planned for him (20:11-12). Even though he was probably still in pain from his beating (20:2), Jeremiah found his voice to offer a song of praise to the Lord (20:13). This calls to mind Paul and Silas praying and singing praises to God in the Philippian jail after being beaten and put in stocks (see Acts 16:22-25).

20:14-18 In spite of his song of praise, Jeremiah’s lament here is as strong as anything he wrote even at his worst times. He wishes he had never been born rather than to witness the destruction around him (20:14, 18). This is like the prayers of Job who suffered as much as any person ever has. Clearly Jeremiah’s emotions are fluctuating in the midst of his distress—as anyone’s would.

H. Final Messages of Judah’s Judgment (21:1–25:38)

In 21:1-7, Jeremiah has a response for King Zedekiah, the last king of Judah before the nation’s fall to Babylon. Chapter 22, however, addresses the three kings who immediately preceded Zedekiah. This demonstrates that Jeremiah’s book does not always follow a neat chronological order.

21:1-2 With the Babylonian armies besieging Jerusalem, King Zedekiah was hoping for a word of deliverance from God. So he sent to Jeremiah two of his officials, Pashhur (not the Pashhur of 20:1) and Zephaniah (21:1). The king wanted the Lord to perform . . . something like all his past wondrous works so that Nebuchadnezzar would withdraw (21:2). Zedekiah was probably referring to the days of King Hezekiah, when the Lord supernaturally routed the Assyrians (see 2 Kgs 18–19).

21:3-7 But that was then, and this is now. Jeremiah had no such message of rescue for Zedekiah—and this evil king should not have expected one. Instead of delivering the city, God himself would fight against it with a strong arm—a metaphorical way of referring to his omnipotent power (21:5). Many would die from the plague, the sword, and the famine (21:7). Zedekiah himself, in fact, would be handed over to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon who would not show pity or compassion (21:7). While that wasn’t the response Zedekiah was looking for, it’s a reminder that God acts in accordance with his agenda, not ours. We are to conform to his kingdom plans, not expect him to bless our programs.

21:8-10 This message of doom to Judah’s leaders was followed by a plea to the people of Jerusalem to choose life or death (21:8). Through Jeremiah, God spelled out the consequences of each choice in the clearest terms. He had already decreed that Jerusalem would be handed over to the Babylonians and destroyed, in spite of futile hopes of deliverance or military victory. Those who held out in Jerusalem would die by God’s three familiar forms of judgment: the sword, famine, and plague. Those who surrendered to the Babylonians (Chaldeans) would save their lives—although they’d be led into captivity (21:9). Because anyone who went over to the enemy was considered a traitor, this was not an easy choice to make. But the Lord of heaven and earth insisted there was no other hope.

21:11-14 The rest of the chapter makes clear that a large portion of the blame for Judah’s sins could be laid at the foot of the throne in Jerusalem, where the kings had failed in the spiritual leadership role. The kings of Judah were part of no ordinary royal house; they were the descendants of David, the one through whom Messiah would come. If any kings should have practiced righteousness and justice, then, it was the kings of the House of David (21:12).

David was “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Sam 13:14), so it must have been painful for God to address such a sorry bunch as Zed-ekiah and his predecessors as part of the Davidic line. If Zedekiah thought that being David’s successor gave him an insider advantage with God, he was sorely mistaken. Being David’s descendent gave one no advantage unless it was accompanied by obedience. The Lord’s message was, Beware! I am against you (21:13). The Babylonian siege ramps being built outside the walls of Jerusalem should have driven Zedekiah and his officials to their knees.

22:1-9 Jeremiah was told to take a message from God to the king of Judah (22:1). God’s demand was straightforward: Administer justice and righteousness (22:3). Such was the burden on the shoulders of the Lord’s king. This included treating fairly those who were being oppressed, such as the resident alien, the fatherless, [and] the widow (22:3). Obedience to God’s commands would bring blessing and the continuance of David’s line ruling in Jerusalem, but disobedience from the house of the king of Judah would turn Judah and its cities into a wilderness (22:6). The people of other nations would ask how that could happen to such a great city as Jerusalem (22:8), and those who had been their pagan neighbors would answer: God’s people abandoned the covenant of the Lord their God and bowed in worship to other gods and served them (22:9). Make no mistake: your spiritual commitments have significant consequences for you and for those around you.

22:10-12 In the rest of the chapter, the Lord addressed Zedekiah’s three predecessors: Shallum (Jehoahaz), Jehoiakim, and Coniah (Jehoiachin). The actions of these kings, and their corresponding judgment by the Lord, should have served as object lessons for Zedekiah not to follow their destructive and evil ways. But the lessons were lost on Judah’s final king. The first of these three rulers was Shallum (22:11), also known as Jehoahaz. He was a son of good King Josiah. God didn’t have much to say to Shallum. He was doomed to die in Egypt and never return to the Holy Land (22:11-12). Shallum’s reign had lasted only three months before Pharaoh Neco deposed him and took him into captivity in Egypt.

22:13-17 Jehoiakim succeeded Shallum on the throne in Jerusalem, but he was spiritually bankrupt. He was a puppet king installed by the Egyptians and was so self-serving and corrupt that he made his subjects work for him without pay to build him a massive palace of cedar (22:13-14). Tragically, he too was a son of Josiah, one of Judah’s most righteous kings who led a much-needed revival and cared deeply about his people. Josiah administered justice and righteousness and took up the case of the poor and needy (22:15-16). But his son only cared about making dishonest profit. Moreover, he was not above shedding innocent blood and committing extortion and oppression (22:17) to get what he wanted.

22:18-23 Jehoiakim was so despised that no one would mourn for him at his death; instead, his body would be dragged off and thrown outside Jerusalem’s gates (22:18-19). Meanwhile, the people of Jerusalem would wail and lament when their captivity came. Like a woman in labor, they would groan in pain (22:23).

22:24-30 The third king addressed in Jeremiah’s series of messages was Jehoiachin, also known as Coniah or Jeconiah (22:24; see Matt 1:11). God’s word to this man was filled with judgment and even contempt, calling him a despised, shattered pot (22:28). Coniah was so useless to the Lord that he placed a severe curse on this king and his family, saying none of Coniah’s descendants would sit on the throne of David (22:30).

This curse has serious messianic implications, for the Messiah was to come from David’s line. And surprisingly, Coniah appears in Jesus’s genealogy in Matthew (as Jeconiah; see Matt 1:11). Had Jesus been Joseph’s biological son, then, he would have been prevented from sitting on the throne of David by this curse. But of course, Jesus was not conceived by Joseph but by the Holy Spirit. So since Joseph was Jesus’s legal father, but not his biological father, Jesus was not contaminated by the curse on Jeconiah’s descendants.

The Messiah, though, still had to have a biological tie to David, which Jesus had—as demonstrated in Luke’s genealogy (see Luke 3:23-38). Luke traced Jesus’s lineage back to David through Solomon’s son Nathan, in what many commentators agree was the genealogical line of Mary, who was Jesus’s biological mother.

23:1-4 The Lord declared woe on the shepherds who had destroyed and scattered the sheep of [his] pasture (23:1). These uncaring, faithless leaders of Judah would be destroyed and the people would go into exile. But the day will come when God will regather his flock and raise up shepherds over them who will tend them (23:4). In those days, his people will be cared for and have nothing to fear.

23:5-8 If 23:3-4 sounded good to Jeremiah’s first readers, they hadn’t heard anything yet. Through his prophet, the Lord here declares that he will raise up a Righteous Branch for David—signaling new growth from the Davidic tree (23:5; see 33:15; Isa 11:1; Zech 3:8). Unlike Zedekiah and his predecessors, this king will administer justice and righteousness (23:5). During his reign, Judah . . . and Israel will dwell securely. Who is this king? What is his name? He will be called: The Lord Is Our Righteousness (23:6). God is predicting the coming of his Son, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will rule in righteousness for a thousand years in his millennial kingdom. And he will have the nation of Israel to govern, when God gathers the Jews and returns them to the land of Israel from all the countries where they had been banished (23:8).

23:9-14 But in the immediate context of Jeremiah’s day, God still had false prophets to deal with. These were the liars who denied Jeremiah’s message and lulled the people of Judah into a false security even as the Babylonians marched toward Jerusalem: Both prophet and priest are ungodly, even in my house I have found their evil (23:11). They polluted the temple with their sins and idolatry. The false prophets preached peace to the people, and the priests led them in serving their idols. Just as the prophets of Samaria in the northern kingdom led . . . Israel astray (23:13), so the prophets of Judah were so gross in their immorality that the Lord compared them to Sodom and Gomorrah (23:14). Their judgment was certain.

23:15-32 God’s counsel to the people of Judah and Jerusalem was simple: Do not listen to the words of the prophets because their visions come from their own minds, not from [my] mouth (23:16). In other words, God had not sent them; they had not stood in his presence; they were not communicating his word; he, in fact, was against them (23:21-22, 31-32). God couldn’t have spoken more clearly.

The prophets’ assurances of peace and safety to Judah were diametrically opposed to God’s commands to repent (25:17-18). If God’s Word clearly condemns your actions and someone assures you that no harm will come to you (23:17), you’d better find a new counselor. Otherwise, prepare to meet the wrath and anger of God (23:19-20). His word is like fire; it’s like a hammer that pulverizes rock (23:29). If you play a game of chicken with God’s Word on any matter, there’s only one possible outcome for you: getting pulverized.

23:33-40 It’s also clear that God was tired of hearing the lying prophets try to authenticate their messages by saying, The burden of the Lord (23:34), as if it were a magic formula. God holds his Word in high esteem. David said of the Lord, “You have exalted your name and your promise above everything else” (Ps 138:2). So it’s not surprising that God told the false prophets of Judah to quit misusing his name and pretending to speak on his behalf. Those who disobeyed faced everlasting disgrace and humiliation (23:40).

24:1-10 Jeremiah’s next prophecy to the rebellious leaders and people of Judah began with a vision that once again turned the false prophecies of the false prophets on their heads. This vision was given after Nebuchadnezzar had sent Jeconiah (Jehoiachin), his officials, and Judah’s craftsmen and metalsmiths to Babylon. The two baskets of figs Jeremiah saw couldn’t have differed from one another more: there were ripe, edible figs and rotten, disgusting ones (24:1-2). They represented two groups of people: those who had gone into captivity and those who stayed in Judah or fled to Egypt (24:5, 8).

One might think the exiles were the bad figs and the latter were the good figs, but not so. The exiles who went to Babylon actually were sent away by the Lord (24:5). They went with his promise of restoration once their hearts had turned fully back to him (24:6-7). “Seventy years” in exile would finally get their attention (see 25:1-14).

King Zedekiah, Judah’s final king, and those with him were the bad figs (24:8). They continued to disobey God and would experience his curse (24:9-10). Jeremiah warned Zedekiah to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar, but he wouldn’t listen (see 38:14-28). He also advised those who rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar not to flee to Egypt, but they rejected his counsel (see 42:1–44:14). Therefore, God condemned them to be an object of scorn, ridicule, and cursing (24:9). Those who are determined to act like rotten fruit can’t complain when they’re treated like rotten fruit.

25:1-7 Chapter 25 marks the end of Jeremiah’s prophecies of doom for Judah as far as the arrangement of the book is concerned. The date for this chapter places it even earlier than the previous message, around 604 BC, at the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (25:1). But the topical way the book is arranged makes this message the climax of Jeremiah’s warnings to Judah. God’s faithful prophet had been at it for twenty-three years (25:3), and more suffering lay ahead.

I don’t know any pastor who would have wanted the flock Jeremiah oversaw. After all those years of delivering God’s word to them, Jeremiah could probably have counted his “converts” on one hand, with fingers left over. He himself said, I have spoken to you time and time again, but you have not obeyed . . . or even paid attention (25:3-4). As a result, God declared that the people of Judah had brought disaster on themselves (25:7).

25:8-14 Because of this disobedience, there would be seventy years of captivity in Babylon (25:11). But God immediately added that when he was finished using Babylon as his instrument of judgment, he would punish the king of Babylon and that nation and make it a ruin forever (25:12). The prophet Daniel was probably reading this portion of Jeremiah’s prophecy when he realized that “the number of years for the desolation of Jerusalem would be seventy” and prayed for God to end the exile and restore his people to their land (Dan 9:2-3).

The number “seventy” wasn’t chosen out of thin air. Over the years, Israel had failed to obey the law of Sabbath rest for the land, which required it to lie fallow every seventh year (see Lev 25:1-7). The people hadn’t failed to do this once or twice—but for 490 years! That equates to a total of seventy missed Sabbath years. God would see to it that his land received its rest—with his people’s obedience or without it. According to the Chronicler, the seventy-year exile “fulfilled the word of the Lord through Jeremiah, and the land enjoyed its Sabbath rest . . . until seventy years were fulfilled” (2 Chr 36:21). The Lord is “slow to anger” (Exod 34:6), but that doesn’t mean he forgets.

25:15-26 The cup of the wine of [God’s] wrath (25:15) is a familiar biblical image for the stored-up judgment of a holy God against sin. Jeremiah was to make many nations drink from it (25:15, 17). Sadly, Jerusalem and the other cities of Judah were to be the first ones to do so (25:18). But all the surrounding nations and cities that had provoked the Lord to anger were also ripe for judgment (25:18-26).

25:27-29 An important principle of biblical justice is embedded in this prophecy. If God was going to righteously judge the people and the city that were called by his name (25:29), then those who did not acknowledge him could not expect to avoid judgment for their sins. And one of the sins for which Judah was repeatedly condemned was mistreatment of the poor and defenseless among her people. Also, one of the things that angered God most about the nations mentioned earlier in the chapter is that even though they were Israel’s relatives, they harassed the Jews on their journey to the promised land and picked off the weak and defenseless.

Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah regularly condemned the people of Israel for their social injustices as well as their idolatry. Injustices were not merely viewed as secular affronts to communities, but also as a spiritual affront to God (see Zech 7:9-12). God’s people were specifically instructed to seek the welfare of the secular city in which they were living and to pray for its well-being so that it would become a better place to live, work, and raise their families—as we will see in Jeremiah 29.

Therefore, the role of the church today, and of believers who comprise the church, is to execute divine justice on behalf of the defenseless, poor, and oppressed. Scripture relates biblical justice distinctly to these groups as a primary concern because they most often bear the brunt of injustices. We are not to mistreat the poor (see Jas 2:15-16) or have class and racial prejudice (see Gal 2:11-14). Rather, the church is commissioned to meet the physical needs of the “have nots” within it and in society.

This is not, however, to be confused with subsidizing irresponsibility, which the Bible strictly prohibits (see Prov 6:9-11; 10:4; 13:18; 24:30-34; 2 Thess 3:10). Even in the biblical practice of gleaning—leaving behind portions of a harvest for the poor to collect—the poor needed to exercise responsibility in gathering what had been left behind (see Lev 23:22). The amount of work that was put forth resulted in the amount of food obtained. The church is to work for conditions under which all people have the same opportunity to provide for themselves and their families. That’s also the job of our governmental leaders in their spheres of responsibility.

25:30-38 Jeremiah was commanded to relay the Lord’s judgment against the nations. Like a lion ready to pounce, God roars against them (25:30). The nations of Jeremiah’s day were cruel and oppressive, so fierce judgment was coming that would bring disaster (25:32). The leaders of the nations were warned: The lion has left his den. The Lord’s burning anger would not be quenched (25:36-38).

This is where the prophetic section of Jeremiah comes to an end. He had warned and pled for repentance, but Judah would have none of the Lord’s fatherly discipline. The only thing left was to experience his righteous wrath.

I. Jeremiah’s Conflict with Judah (26:1–29:32)

26:1-6 The message recorded here was actually delivered earlier, at the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah (26:1), probably in 609–608 BC. It contained the same warning of God’s judgment and offer to spare Judah if the people repented that Jeremiah proclaimed throughout his ministry. But this time the response to it was recorded.

26:7-11 Who responded? The priests, the prophets, and all the people (26:7-8). And rather than repenting, they were so furious at Jeremiah for his prophecy of doom for the temple and Jerusalem that they wanted to kill him (26:8-9). They even grabbed the prophet and dragged him to the temple for a trial! The city officials gathered at the New Gate of the Lord’s temple, where the priests and prophets themselves called for the death penalty on God’s spokesman—another indication of how far Judah had sunk into sin (26:10-11).

26:12-15 Jeremiah’s defense was simple but powerful. He had not spoken on his own, but God had sent him to prophesy all the words he had shared (26:12). In fact, Jeremiah began and ended his defense with a plea to God’s authority on him and his message (26:12, 15). Remember, then, that when you faithfully proclaim God’s truth, it’s backed by his authority, not yours.

Jeremiah also reminded the court that even though his word from the Lord contained a message of judgment on Judah, there was also the offer of forgiveness. In other words, Jeremiah was not simply bashing his people or giving them no chance to turn away God’s wrath. God was willing to relent concerning the disaster he had pronounced (26:13). However, if these rulers put God’s prophet to death, they would bring innocent blood upon their own heads and upon the city (26:15).

26:16 Wiser heads prevailed, and Jeremiah was spared execution. Interestingly, all the people, the same crowd that had helped drag him away to trial in the first place, changed their minds. They agreed with the officials and told the priest and prophets, “This man doesn’t deserve the death sentence, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God!” The wicked priests and prophets, however, obviously didn’t agree (26:7-8)—which made for a sorry picture of Judah’s spiritual condition.

Here we see the kingdom agenda in reverse. The secular officials and the people did what the nation’s spiritual leaders should have done—that is, recognize and authenticate God’s true word spoken by his true prophet, and then lead the way in repentance.

26:17-24 Some of the wisest elders of the land cited a precedent for listening to, rather than executing, Jeremiah: the case of the prophet Micah, who brought a similar message during the reign of Hezekiah (26:17-18). That king listened to God’s prophet and led Judah in repentance that delayed God’s hand of judgment (26:19). Their input helped Jeremiah win his release (26:24).

The text includes a historical note about an otherwise unknown prophet of Jeremiah’s time named Uriah son of Shemaiah (26:20). His message of judgment so infuriated the evil King Jehoiakim that he sent men to Egypt to extradite Uriah back to Judah after he had fled for his life. Uriah was executed (26:21-23), so Jeremiah had plenty of cause to be on edge.

27:1-11 Jehoiakim’s successor Zedekiah, the last king of Judah before its fall, learned nothing from the experiences of his predecessors when it came to obeying God’s word. Through Jeremiah, the Lord told Zedekiah to submit to Nebuchadnezzar and live, rather than resist and be crushed. But Zedekiah refused (see 38:14-28).

The kings of five other nations sent messengers (27:3) to Jerusalem asking Zedekiah to join them in a rebellion against Babylon, but Jeremiah was waiting for these envoys with a stark message of the futility of their plans. The prophet went to the court in Jerusalem with chains and yoke bars hanging around his neck as a warning not to try what they were planning, but to allow Nebuchadnezzar to put his yoke on them and take them away to Babylon (27:2-7).

Since these representatives were from pagan countries, it was time to identify the true God—the Lord of Armies, the God of Israel (27:4). There was no time for messing around. Jeremiah’s word to them came from the Creator of the universe, who held all the nations in his hands and could do with them whatever he pleased (27:5). God had decreed that all lands would have to submit to Babylon until that great kingdom’s own time of judgment and collapse came (27:6-7). Any nation that rejected the Lord’s command, then, would be devastated by his threefold messengers of suffering: sword, famine, and plague (27:8). God also added a warning for these pagan envoys: You should not listen to your prophets, diviners, dreamers, fortune-tellers, or sorcerers who say to you, “Don’t serve the king of Babylon!” They are prophesying a lie (27:9-10).

27:12-15 The sad thing is that God had to give Zedekiah the same warning through Jeremiah about the lying prophets of Judah (27:12, 14). The king was putting his hopes in these false preachers who were assuring him Judah would never be taken (27:14-15)! However, Zedekiah desperately needed to understand that submitting to Babylon was the only hope he and the people had if they wanted to live.

27:16-22 Then Jeremiah spoke to the priests and . . . people with the same warning not to believe their false prophets (27:16). Here we learn one specific way in which they were lying. When Nebuchadnezzar deported the first exiles from Judah in about 609 BC, including Daniel and his three friends, he took some of the “vessels” from the temple to Babylon (see Dan 1:1-7). Now it was about sixteen years past that time (the message of chapter 27 was probably given about 593 BC, judging by the time stamp of 28:1). Those temple articles were still in Babylon, but the false prophets boldly predicted that these items would be soon returned (27:16). According to Jeremiah, though, not only would the stolen articles remain in Babylon, but even the items currently in the temple would be carried off (27:17-22).

28:1-4 One of the false prophets who continually preached a prosperity gospel of success and restoration for Judah was Hananiah (28:1). He insisted that the nation’s trouble with Babylon was just a two-year problem, not a seventy-year captivity (28:3). All would soon be resolved. Hananiah wasn’t bashful about his lies either, spouting them to Jeremiah in the temple in front of the priests and all the people (28:1). His prophecy announced the return of the exiled king Jeconiah, the exiles, and the temple treasures to Jerusalem (28:3-4). Hananiah even stole Jeremiah’s signature phrase: This is the Lord’s declaration (28:4). Speaking lies is one thing; putting them in the mouth of the Lord is a whole other matter. Such audacity would cost Hananiah his life.

28:5-9 Surprisingly, Jeremiah declared, Amen! May the Lord do that. He did this not because Hananiah’s words were true but because Jeremiah wished that this optimistic message could be true (28:6). Unfortunately, it was contrary to what God had revealed to Jeremiah and other true prophets in times past (28:8). Then Jeremiah stated the test of a true prophet: Only when the word of the prophet comes true will the prophet be recognized as one the Lord has truly sent (28:9; see Deut 18:20-22). Hananiah’s prophecy wouldn’t meet the standard.

28:10-17 This all happened as Jeremiah was still wearing the yoke God had commanded him to make as an object lesson (28:10; see 27:2). Hananiah dramatically snatched the yoke from Jeremiah’s neck, broke it, and repeated his false prophecy about Babylon’s doom (28:10-11). But God was not impressed. He simply issued a new word through Jeremiah to Hananiah: I have put an iron yoke on the neck of all these nations that they might serve King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (28:14). And as for Hananiah, he died the same year (18:15-17).

Hananiah’s lying and strutting were pointless. The Lord God, the King of the universe, is sovereign. Any attempt to oppose his agenda will fail. He will always accomplish his purposes—with or without you. Will you join his kingdom work and experience blessing, then, or oppose him and be put to shame?

29:1-3 Chapter 29 includes the text of the letter that Jeremiah sent to those deported from Jerusalem to Babylon (29:1). As a result of the damaging lies spread by false prophets like Hananiah, the exiles had been encouraged to become passive in their captivity, sitting around waiting for a quick release that wasn’t coming (see 29:8-9). Jeremiah’s letter offered a reliable ray of light to them, but it also includes a critically important message for believers today. It teaches the foundational principle that society is transformed when God’s people execute his agenda in history. Through Jeremiah, God laid out his strategy for the Israelites in Babylon, explaining how to live and prosper in a pagan land.

29:4 The first thing the exiles needed to learn was that the Babylonians were not to blame for their captivity. In the grand scheme of things, God had deported them to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar was merely the instrument God used to punish them for their sins. God’s message through Jeremiah here was essentially this: “You’re in this mess because I sent you there. And I sent you there because you forgot me.” It was their failure to be God’s distinct people who worshiped him alone that caused God to judge them.

29:5-6 God’s agenda for the exiles covered everything from their employment to building their families. Hananiah had led the people to believe they would return home soon (28:11), as if they didn’t need to do anything. But God told them, Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce. Find wives for yourselves, and have sons and daughters. Find wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage so that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there; do not decrease.

As it was with the Babylonian exiles, so it is with Christians today. We need to prepare to do life because we might be here for a while. God wanted his people to establish a kingdom presence in exile. Building houses and planting gardens suggests ownership, a key element of a kingdom economic strategy. And ownership always requires some sort of investment. God told the exiles that while they were waiting for a better tomorrow, they were to be industrious today.

The exiles of Judah needed to understand that the Babylonians were not their problem; God was. And if God is your problem, then God is your only solution. It doesn’t matter whom we elect or what programs we start if we lose our spiritual perspective. We have to see that God put us here for a reason. Earth is not merely a place to wait for a ride to heaven. It’s where we live out God’s kingdom agenda in history.

29:7-9 Pursue the well-being of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it thrives, you will thrive implies that God didn’t want the Jews to build walls around their homes and create a Jewish subculture within Babylon to shield themselves from the pagans. One reason the wheels are coming off of our culture morally, in fact, is that for too many years, Christians have secluded themselves within their churches. We have abandoned the culture to Satan. But God’s message is to pursue the good of the culture in which we live—not necessarily the so-called good that the culture wants but the good it needs. We are to pursue the social and spiritual wellbeing of the community where we live, work, and raise families, which will result in improved lives for us.

29:10-14 God promised to restore his people when the seventy years of captivity ended (29:14, 10). Many Christians are familiar with Jeremiah 29:11, but they don’t know its context. For I know the plans I have for you . . . plans for your well-being, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope (29:11). This is God’s promise to bless his people in the midst of a pagan culture. And it takes on greater significance when it’s seen in the context of exile with no apparent hope (29:11).

Notice, though, that this promise was conditioned on God’s people seeking him in a new way: You will . . . find me when you search for me with all your heart (29:13). The economic titans and power brokers of the world can’t help us like God can, but enjoying this kind of blessing requires seeking God wholeheartedly. This demands more than attending church on Sunday, tapping our feet to the music, hearing a sermon, and saying, “Amen.” Unless we commit our hearts to the Lord 24/7, we will be no different twelve months from now. But when we worship and obey the Lord through our day-to-day walk with him, he’s ready to communicate with us and even reverse our circumstances.

29:15-19 Despite God’s strategy and promises for the welfare of his people in exile, they were deceived initially by false prophets telling them not to unpack their bags in Babylon (see 29:8-9). They had begun to listen to these fake messengers and longed to be back in Jerusalem. But the Lord reveals through Jeremiah what awaits those in Jerusalem—from the king sitting on David’s throne to all the people in the city (29:16). They will meet with sword, famine, and plague (29:17-18).

29:20-32 Jeremiah’s letter punctured the fantasy spread by the false prophets. God even called out several of them by name, including Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zed-ekiah son of Maaseiah (29:21). Not only had they spoken lies in God’s name, but they had also committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives—a reminder that wicked theology is often accompanied by a wicked lifestyle (29:23). What price did they pay for their wickedness? The king of Babylon roasted [them] in the fire (29:22). God also condemned Shemaiah, another false prophet who wrote letters to the people and the priests that they should confine Jeremiah in the stocks and an iron collar for being a madman who acts like a prophet (29:24-26). God assured the exiles that Shemaiah would be wiped out for his rebellion (29:32).

J. Judah’s Hope of Future Restoration (30:1–33:26)

30:1-3 These chapters illustrate a common biblical prophetic technique in which a prophet speaks of two events—events that may be widely separated in fulfillment—as if they immediately followed each other. It’s as if the prophet were seeing and describing two distant mountain peaks—one behind the other—without describing the long valley between them. Often, in fact, the prophet himself didn’t see the valley because God didn’t reveal all the details to him. The most obvious examples of such prophecies are those that speak of Christ’s first and second coming in the same breath, as in Isaiah 61:1-3. Some of Jeremiah’s prophecies of Judah’s restoration occurred in history, while others can only be accomplished when Christ returns.

God promises that the days are coming . . . when [he] will restore the fortunes of . . . Israel and Judah (30:3). This looks forward to the end of time, because the northern kingdom of Israel was not impacted by Judah’s captivity, having gone into captivity itself well over a century earlier. This promise gave hope to the people of Judah, who were on the verge of defeat and captivity at the hands of the Babylonians. And there was hope for Israel too, as God prophesied a day when the two kingdoms would again join together as one in the promised land.

30:4-7 But first, the nation would have to undergo intense suffering: a time of trouble for Jacob (30:7). The language here is so strong that it seems to go beyond Judah’s defeat by Babylon—as terrifying and destructive as that was. The Hebrew phrase translated “time of trouble” is the same phrase translated in Daniel 12:1 as “time of distress.” Both passages speak of this time period as worse than any the world has ever seen: There will be no other like it (30:7); “such as never has occurred since nations came into being until that time” (Dan 12:1).

This is a picture of the coming seven-year great tribulation immediately preceding Christ’s return. Matthew describes it in language similar to that of the Old Testament prophets: “For at that time there will be great distress, the kind that hasn’t taken place from the beginning of the world until now and never will again” (Matt 24:21; see commentary on Dan 9:24-27; Matt 24). It will be a time of unparalleled suffering for Israel until Jesus appears to judge her enemies and rescue her. Jeremiah compared this time of dread to the pain experienced by a woman in labor (30:6). Matthew also described these end time events as “labor pains” (Matt 24:8).

30:8-11 The promise of Israel’s deliverance at the end of 30:7 leads to a further prophecy of blessing and restoration. Strangers will never again enslave Israel, and God will raise up David their king (30:8-9) to rule over them. Christ, the Messiah from the line of David, will rescue and restore his people. In the meantime, they had no reason to be afraid because he promised to save them, return them from captivity, and bring destruction on their enemies (30:10-11).

30:12-17 This led to a restatement of Judah’s current desperate, sinful condition that left the nation with gaping wounds that no one could heal (30:12-15). Yet, “what is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27). The Lord would intervene. Judah’s enemies would be devoured, and God would heal her wounds (30:16-17).

30:18-24 This promise included a glorious restoration of the people in the promised land (30:18). Even though Israel has been back in her territory since the rebirth of the nation in 1948, most of the Jewish people continue to disbelieve the gospel of Jesus Christ. In that day, Israel’s leader will be one of them (30:21), instead of a foreign tyrant like Nebuchadnezzar. When many Jews embrace Jesus as their Messiah during his millennial kingdom (see Rom 11:25-27), God will again gladly identify with Israel (30:22). Until then, however, the Lord’s burning anger would not be quenched until he had finished his hard work of judgment. But in time to come, they will understand (30:24).

31:1-30 Jeremiah 31 is one of the greatest mountain peaks of the Old Testament, encompassing both the glorious restoration of Israel under Jesus her Messiah and the prophecy of the new covenant that was inaugurated in his death and resurrection. The bulk of the chapter (31:1-30) is a beautiful prophecy of God’s Father-love for Israel and his tenderness in restoring the nation both to her land and to himself. Jeremiah received this prophecy as he slept (31:26).

Israel will be rebuilt and praise the Lord their God (31:4-6). He will gather them from the nations (31:8, 10), and they will be filled with joy (31:12-13). As the Lord was the one to uproot and to tear them down, so he will be the one to build and to plant them (31:28). Jeremiah depicts Rachel, the wife of Jacob (see Gen 29:28), weeping for her children, the people of Israel who had gone into exile. But God promises future joy, for the children will return. . . . There is hope (31:15-17). Similarly, Matthew sees “Rachel weeping” at Herod’s massacre of the children as he sought to slay the young Jesus (see Matt 2:16-18). But, again, this grief will one day turn to joy when many Jewish people receive their Messiah during his millennial reign (see Rom 11:25-27).

31:31-34 This section includes the glorious promise of the new covenant. This new covenant that God will make with the house of Israel and the house of Judah will be unlike the one he made with their ancestors, a reference to the Mosaic covenant (31:31-32). The blessings of the Mosaic covenant were conditioned on Israel’s obedience, but Israel failed to keep its side of the agreement: they broke the covenant (32:32). Therefore, God brought down curses on the people.

But under the new covenant, God will put his teaching within them and write it on their hearts (31:33). Israel broke God’s law—not because there was something wrong with the law—but because there was something wrong with their hearts. The law revealed their sinfulness and their inability to keep it. It showed their desperate need to have renewed hearts. God promised a new relationship with him that was so rich and dynamic that the people wouldn’t need to have his law written on stone tablets. It will be inscribed on their hearts.

The church partakes of the benefits of the new covenant. The author of Hebrews quotes this passage from Jeremiah and points to its fulfillment in Christ (see Heb 8:7-13). On the night he was betrayed, Jesus gave the cup to his disciples and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20). The cup represented his blood, poured out on the cross, for the forgiveness of sins. By means of Jesus’s sacrifice, God is able to say, I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin (31:34). In the Communion ceremony, Christians are told to partake of the cup “in remembrance of” Christ and the new covenant instituted by his atoning death (see 1 Cor 11:25-26).

We as believers are living under the new covenant. But the day is coming when the people of Israel will also follow their Messiah, Jesus Christ (see 31:31). From their standpoint, the provisions of this covenant are still future, to be fulfilled when Jesus returns. When he comes to rule on David’s throne in his millennial kingdom, their hearts will turn to him (see Rom 11:25-27).

31:35-40 The Lord is the one who established the sun, the moon, and stars. Only if their fixed order can be undone will Israel’s descendants cease to be a nation before him (31:35-36). This covenant is unilateral, depending only on God, and is therefore unbreakable. It also includes the establishment of a new Jerusalem that will stand as the throne of Christ in his millennial reign (31:38-40).

32:1-5 Chapter 32 begins by telling us that it was the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah and the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar (32:1)—about a year before Jerusalem fell. Jerusalem was under siege by Babylon, and Zedekiah had imprisoned Jeremiah for prophesying that God would give over the city and its king to Nebuchadnezzar (32:2-5). The clueless Zedekiah demanded, Why are you prophesying as you do? (32:3). He couldn’t understand why Jeremiah would predict disaster on his own people and king. He felt the prophet was a traitor! It never occurred to him that Jeremiah might actually be speaking on behalf of the Lord—serving as a true prophet.

32:6-15 Once again, however, God remembered mercy in the midst of wrath and gave Jeremiah another vivid object lesson of his assurance that he would not destroy his people completely. Even with the Babylonians at the gates of Jerusalem, God told Jeremiah to redeem a plot of his family’s land in his hometown of Anathoth (32:6-12; see Lev 25:25-28), which was already under Babylonian control. God knew Jeremiah wouldn’t buy the field on his own initiative. Who would? It would be like buying a car that the owner no longer possessed because it had been stolen! So God revealed ahead of time to Jeremiah that his cousin Hanamel would ask him to do this unusual thing (32:8).

Jeremiah obeyed God and bought the land, although it seemed to make about as much sense as arranging deck chairs on the sinking Titanic. But he duly recorded the deed and had his secretary Baruch put the two copies in a jar where they would last a long time (32:14). Then Jeremiah learned from the Lord of Armies, the God of Israel what this meant: Houses, fields, and vineyards will again be bought in this land (32:15). God’s people would one day return home.

32:16-25 Jeremiah then prayed, expressing his faith and confidence in God—and his perplexity at how God was working out his plan. Jeremiah had a very high view of God’s greatness (32:16-19). He affirmed the Lord’s mighty works in bringing Israel from bondage in Egypt into their own land—where, tragically, they failed to obey him (32:20-23). Jeremiah knew God’s sovereignty and his people’s history. He knew that God had handed over Jerusalem to the Chaldeans (the Babylonians) because of Judah’s sins (32:24). But Jeremiah still expressed bewilderment at what God was doing. Why tell him to buy a piece of land in a country that was about to be overrun and its inhabitants deported? (32:25).

32:26-44 In his response to Jeremiah’s prayer, God first established some ground rules: I am the Lord, the God over every creature. Is anything too difficult for me? (32:27). Jeremiah himself had declared that nothing is too difficult for the Lord (32:17), so he knew this was not a multiple-choice question. Why, then, did God profess his omnipotence? Because he was about to tell Jeremiah that after Judah’s punishment was complete (32:28-35), God would bring the nation back to its land and the people would enjoy prosperity again (32:36-44). Jeremiah’s redemption of the field (32:6-15) was meaningful. It was a promise that God hadn’t abandoned his people. This is the Lord’s declaration (32:44) implies that you can count on it.

33:1-13 Chapter 33 contains further details about the ultimate restoration of God’s people after the devastating judgment of the Babylonian captivity. Neither Jeremiah nor anyone else could ever have put these two things together on his own. They had to be revealed by the God who said, Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and incomprehensible things you do not know (33:3). Those things included Judah’s imminent judgment, but also the coming of the day when God will restore the fortunes of Judah and of Israel and will rebuild them as in former times (33:7). The picture that followed of a restored people in a restored land where there was joy and gladness (33:11) must have been an encouragement to Jeremiah as he heard the clanging of the Babylonians’ tools as they built siege ramps against Jerusalem’s walls.

33:14-16 As in 23:5-6 and 30:8-9, God reaffirms the Davidic covenant with its promise that a descendant of David will rule on his throne forever (33:15; see 2 Sam 7:12-17). The prophets often use tree imagery to speak of this Messiah who rises from the family of David. For instance, Isaiah says, “A shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse [the father of David]” (Isa 11:1). In other words, although God has chopped down the Davidic family tree—the royal dynasty of David—because of its sin, a new growth will sprout up from it. Isaiah calls him, “the Branch of the Lord” and “the root of Jesse” (Isa 4:2; 11:10). Zechariah refers to him as “the Branch” (Zech 3:8). In Revelation he is the “root of David” (see Rev 5:5; 22:16).

Using this same language, Jeremiah calls the coming king a Righteous Branch (33:15) whose reign would be so great that even Jerusalem herself will be named: The Lord Is Our Righteousness (33:16). The Davidic covenant did not promise an unbroken monarchy because the exiles who returned from Babylon did not reestablish Israel’s monarchy. Instead, God promised that a righteous king would arise from David’s line to rule. Jesus fulfilled this promise, as we see in the genealogies of Matthew and Luke (see Matt 1:1-16; Luke 3:23-38).

33:17-22 God further promised that David would not fail to have a man sitting on the throne and that the Levitical priests would not fail to have a man always before [the Lord] (33:17-22). This is all fulfilled in Jesus Christ who is both king and priest (Ps 110:1, 4). In Old Testament Israel, these offices were kept distinct, but the New Testament reveals that they come together in Christ. Jesus is the true heir to the throne of David. He is also the true priest—not a Levitical priest—but a superior one, “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 5:6; 6:20; 7:17; see commentary on Heb 7:1-28). In Christ, the great priest-king, God’s promise through Jeremiah has become a reality.

33:23-26 But some still questioned either God’s ability or willingness to save his people, or maybe both. So the Lord gave Jeremiah a further reassurance regarding his promises: If I do not keep my covenant with the day and with the night, and if I fail to establish the fixed order of heaven and earth, then I might also reject the descendants of Jacob (33:25-26). Earlier he said that if “day and night cease to come at their regular time,” then his covenant with David “may be broken” (33:20-21). So in other words, God says, “Bank on me coming through as promised.” God has tied himself to his promises; the only way they can fail is if he ceases to be God.

K. Events Surrounding the Fall of Jerusalem (34:1–45:5)

34:1-7 Much of the book of Jeremiah focuses on the events surrounding the reign of King Zedekiah (34:2), ruler of Judah when Jerusalem fell, the temple was burned, and the people were led into captivity. He was a stubborn, rebellious leader who desperately clung to his futile hope that somehow he could escape defeat by the Babylonians. But through Jeremiah, God continually warned Zedekiah to stop resisting and accept God’s severe discipline of his sinful children (34:1-3).

It’s interesting that God said Zedekiah would meet the king of Babylon eye to eye (34:3), given that when they did meet, Nebuchadnezzar had Zedekiah blinded (see 52:11). But there was also grace for the king of Judah in God’s promise that he would die peacefully, suggesting a full life, and be honored at death (34:5). Zedekiah should have obeyed.

34:8-16 But Zedekiah was desperately looking for any edge. So he reached back into the Mosaic law and revived the stipulation that any Jew who was enslaved to a fellow Jew in a form of indentured service was to be freed after six years (34:8-10, 13-14; see Exod 21:2). The people had not been obeying this statute, but Zedekiah called the entire city of Jerusalem together to make a covenant before the Lord, releasing all their slaves (34:8, 14-15). All the officials and people who entered into covenant to let their male and female slaves go free . . . obeyed and let them go (34:10).

Yet afterward they changed their minds and reenslaved their fellow Jews (34:11, 16)! Why? Apparently because the Babylonians had suddenly withdrawn from the siege of Jerusalem to deal with the Egyptian army that had marched out to engage them (see 34:21; 37:5). In other words, with things seemingly back to normal, they saw no need to become so spiritual. These actions demonstrated the insincerity of their pledge to the Lord. The people of Judah took the Babylonian withdrawal as a sign that their scheme had worked and that God had delivered Jerusalem, but their false spirituality simply increased the Lord’s anger. Their actions initially pleased him, but reneging on their covenant profaned [his] name (34:15-16).

34:17-22 Thus, God had a bitterly ironic form of “freedom” in store for Judah: I hereby proclaim freedom for you . . . to the sword, to plague, and to famine! (34:17). All the people had ratified the slave-releasing covenant by passing between the two halves of the sacrificial animal—so God said their corpses would be treated in the same way (34:18-20). As for the withdrawal of the Babylonian army, that was only temporary. God assured them: I will bring them back to Jerusalem to fight against . . . capture . . . and burn it (34:22). Zedekiah and the people could run, but they couldn’t hide. As Paul told the Galatians, “God is not mocked. For whatever a person sows he will also reap” (Gal 6:7).

35:1-5 Previously, God sent the prophet to visit a Jewish clan called the Rechabites, nomads who were forced to move to Jerusalem when the Babylonians marched into Judah. The story in this chapter is actually a flashback to the years before Zedekiah came to the throne and faced the siege. Jeremiah was instructed by God to invite several Rechabite leaders to a side room in the temple and offer them wine (35:2). Jeremiah obeyed the Lord and encouraged them to drink up (35:3-5).

35:6-11 But the Rechabites’ leaders kindly rejected the offer. They were under a long-standing family covenant not to drink wine or even live in permanent homes. Jonadab, son of [their] ancestor Rechab, had given them this command, and they were determined to keep it—they and their entire families (3:6-10).

35:12-16 Therein was the lesson God wanted Jeremiah to deliver to Judah. For generations, the Rechabites had remained faithful to their promises, although there was nothing inherently spiritual about living as they did. But the point was not the particular prohibition they had chosen to obey, but their unswerving faithfulness to their covenant.

In this instance God used an argument from “the lesser to the greater”—that which is true in a small matter is surely true in a similar, more significant matter. The Rechabites had obeyed Jonadab their ancestor even though he was a mere man. If these nomads could be so obedient to a man’s words, why could the people of Judah not bring themselves to obey the word of the Lord of Armies, the God of Israel (35:13)? We don’t know the reasons behind Jonadab’s commands, yet the Rechabites heeded him. God commanded his people time and time again for their own good—so they could live and enjoy his blessing—but they did not pay attention to him (35:15-16).

35:17-19 The outcome for Judah and Jerusalem, therefore, was inevitable: Disaster. Why? Because I have spoken to them, but they have not obeyed (35:17). Meanwhile, the Rechabites were rewarded for their obedience. The Lord promised them a continuing line of descendants to stand before him (35:19). Make no mistake: Rebellion against God has consequences. But so does a life of faithfulness.

36:1-3 Jeremiah turned from being a speaking prophet to becoming a writing prophet when God commanded him to take a scroll and record all of his prophecies from the time he first spoke to him during Josiah’s reign until that day (36:2). Perhaps if these warnings and judgments were read to the leaders and people of Judah, they would come back to the Lord, be forgiven, and be spared the fate that awaited them (36:3).

36:4-8 While Jeremiah dictated, his secretary Baruch faithfully wrote down all the words the Lord had spoken to him (36:4). However, Jeremiah was restricted from entering the temple (36:5). Imagine that. Jeremiah had been faithful to God’s word, but the spiritual leaders who rejected it barred this prophet from God’s house of worship. So he sent Bar-uch to read from the scroll to the people at the temple and to all the Judeans who are coming from their cities (36:6).

36:9-20 In the fifth year of Jehoiakim the king, Baruch read the scroll in the temple (36:9-10). Listening to Baruch was Micaiah. He reported what he heard to a group of officials who invited Baruch to read it to them (36:10-15). So, for the second time that day, he read God’s words through Jeremiah, this time to some of Jerusalem’s top officials (36:15). When he finished, they turned to each other in fear. Jerusalem was doomed. They knew they must tell the king (36:16). Yet the officials also knew King Jehoiakim was not likely to be happy about this news condemning Judah, its king, and its people. So they told Baruch and Jeremiah to hide while they approached him about the scroll (36:19-20).

36:21-26 When Jehoiakim requested that the scroll be read, the officials knew their fears were justified. The king revealed his lack of concern for God’s word and Judah’s sin. Piece by piece, he sliced up the scroll with a knife and tossed it into a fire until it was consumed (36:22-23). His officials begged him not to do it, but the king refused to listen (36:25). His heart was so calloused that neither he nor his servants were terrified or [tore] their clothes upon hearing God’s words of judgment (36:24). Then he ordered Jeremiah and Baruch arrested. But the Lord hid them away safely (36:26).

36:27-32 Jehoiakim’s actions did nothing to stop God’s program. If you receive an eviction notice, burning it won’t keep you from being evicted. The judgment of God continued to roll unhindered toward Judah. The Lord told Jeremiah to dictate everything to Baruch again (36:27-28). But this time God added specific judgments against Jehoiakim: He will have no one to sit on David’s throne (36:30). His son Jehoiachin would rule for only three months before the Babylonians carried him into exile. In addition, Jehoiakim’s corpse [would] be thrown out to be exposed to the heat of day and the frost of night (36:30; see 22:18-19). This was the price Jehoiakim paid for rejecting the Lord.

37:1-2 The events of chapters 37–39 are in chronological order, focusing on the final days of King Zedekiah and Judah before it fell to the Babylonians. Like his predecessors, Zedekiah paid no heed to the Lord’s warnings through Jeremiah. Zedekiah was a puppet king put on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar. Still, if he had listened to the Lord, he could have prevented disaster. But Zedekiah rebelled. Therefore, Nebuchadnezzar would swoop in for the final blow.

37:3-10 There was a deceptive lull in the siege of Jerusalem when the Babylonian army (the Chaldeans) temporarily withdrew to fight the armies of Pharaoh coming up from Egypt (37:5). The king asked Jeremiah to pray—probably for a victory by Egypt, so that the Babylonians would leave Judah standing (37:3). But it was not to be. God told Jeremiah to tell Zedekiah in no uncertain terms that Babylon would destroy Judah (37:6-9). It didn’t depend on human ability but on God’s sovereign judgment. Even if the invaders had only badly wounded men left, God was determined to see the wicked city burnt to the ground (37:10).

37:11-16 When the Babylonian army withdrew, the pressure on Jerusalem eased, for a while at least. So Jeremiah tried to leave the city to go to his home in the land of Benjamin on family business (37:11-12). But at the gate, the prophet was grabbed by an officer of the guard named Irijah (37:13), who accused him of deserting to the enemy. Despite the prophet’s protests, Irijah took him to the officials, who beat Jeremiah and tossed him into a dungeon where he languished for many days (37:14-16).

37:17-21 Zedekiah weakly allowed the prophet to be mistreated. This was typical of the king’s wishy-washy nature, which would be on display again with regard to Jeremiah in 38:5. But the king seemed to know in his heart that Jeremiah was speaking a true word from the Lord, so he sent for the prophet to see what God’s latest word was.

Unfortunately for Zedekiah, the message had not changed: You will be handed over to the king of Babylon (37:17). Jeremiah knew this was not what Zedekiah wanted to hear, but he also knew that he had a case when it came to pleading for better treatment. The false prophets who had told Judah that Babylon was no threat were suddenly nowhere to be found, while Jeremiah had fearlessly and faithfully stood his ground (37:18-20). The king saw the point, and brought the aging Jeremiah to a place where he could care for him (37:21). This helped spare Jeremiah undue suffering in the dungeon, but it did not mean his enemies had gone away or given up on their desire to kill him.

38:1-6 Jeremiah had a powerful array of enemies, government officials in the court of the puppet king Zedekiah who pulled his strings. They didn’t like that the prophet was urging the people to avoid death by surrendering to the enemy (38:1-3). To them, Jeremiah’s words were treason. So the leaders told the king that Jeremiah ought to die because he was weakening the morale of the warriors . . . and of all the people (38:4). Zedekiah’s sniveling reply was pathetic: Here he is; he’s in your hands since [I] can’t do anything against you (38:5). That’s all they needed to hear. They lowered Jeremiah into a deep cistern filled with mud. You may sometimes feel like your life is so bad that you’re metaphorically “sinking in mud,” but for Jeremiah, this was reality (38:6).

38:7-13 But, by God’s grace, Jeremiah had friends too. The bravest of them was an African named Ebed-melech, a Cushite court official in the king’s palace (38:7). This man obviously feared God, so he courageously approached Zedekiah and told him what Jeremiah’s enemies had done to him (38:8-9). Zedekiah gave Ebed-melech permission to rescue Jeremiah from the pit, although he went back to being under house arrest (38:10-13).

38:14-16 Jeremiah was summoned by King Zedekiah (38:14). The king’s vacillation was really on display as he arranged a secret meeting for fear of his own officials. He wanted to hear what Jeremiah had to say, but he lacked the courage and spiritual commitment to make the right call. Jeremiah was wary of speaking to Zedekiah; he knew his life was hanging by a thread. But the prophet didn’t pull any punches: If I give you advice, you won’t listen to me (38:15). The king, desperate to hear from the prophet, promised to keep him safe (38:16).

38:17-28 Jeremiah delivered God’s message to the king: surrender. Only by submitting to defeat at the hands of Babylon would the king and the city survive (38:17-18). Then Zedekiah revealed the real reason he was afraid to follow Jeremiah’s advice. The king was worried about the Judeans who have defected to the Chaldeans. They may hand me over to the Judeans to abuse me (38:19). Jeremiah assured the king this would not happen if he would only obey the Lord (38:20). Refusal to obey, however, would result in mocking, capture, and destruction (38:22-23). Zedekiah warned Jeremiah to say nothing of their conversation (38:24-26) and still couldn’t find the courage to do what was right. Jeremiah was kept in custody until the day Jerusalem fell (38:28).

39:1-10 The bottom fell out for Judah when the Babylonians breached Jerusalem’s walls and entered the city in 587–586 BC (39:1-2). The officials of Babylon sat at the Middle Gate to demonstrate that they were now in charge and to judge those still in the city who had resisted them (39:3). Zedekiah attempted to escape, but it was not to be. He was brought before Nebuchadnezzar (39:4-5). Judah’s king was made to watch the execution of his own sons and Judah’s nobles. Then he was blinded and led in chains to Bab-ylon (see 39:6-7). The southern kingdom had fallen, with only a handful of poor people permitted to stay behind (39:10).

39:11-18 But God had his eye on Jeremiah. Nebuchadnezzar gave orders for Jeremiah to be treated kindly (39:11-12). The prophet was entrusted to the care of a man named Gedaliah (39:14), whom the Babylonians had appointed as governor of the few people who were left behind in Judah (40:5, 7). Gedaliah took Jeremiah back to his home, which must have seemed a little surreal to the prophet with his nation in ruins. The Lord also preserved the life of Ebed-melech (39:15-18), the brave man who had saved Jeremiah’s life (see 38:7-13).

40:1-6 In a crowning ironic rebuke to Judah, the Babylonian captain of the guards named Nebuzaradan (40:1) repeated God’s judgment against Judah and verified its truth (40:1-3). Under orders from Nebuchadnezzar himself, Nebuzaradan gave Jeremiah the choice to come with him to Babylon or stay in Judah. Jeremiah’s desire must have been reflected in his face, because even before he turned to go back to his people, the Bab-ylonian advised him to go to the new governor Gedaliah for protection and provision (40:5-6). Knowing how many enemies he used to have in Judah, Jeremiah went to join Gedaliah in Mizpah (40:6), a town a few miles north of Jerusalem, which became the new administrative center following the total destruction of Jerusalem.

40:7-10 Yet even amid the devastation, rebellion still lingered in some of the Jews left behind. The commanders of the armies that were in the countryside that had survived the Babylonian invasion heard about Gedaliah’s appointment. These men and their leaders, most notably Ishmael (40:7-8), who was a relative of Zedekiah (see 41:1), came to Gedaliah at Mizpah to find out what was going on. The governor gave them the ground rules the Babylonians had established. They needed to serve the king of Babylon—which is what God had been telling the people of Judah to do for years. Then it would go well for everyone (40:9). Gedaliah also assured his visitors that he would represent them to the Babylonians (40:10).

40:11-14 The news of this arrangement spread quickly, and Jews who had fled to neighboring lands started pouring into Judah (40:11-12). These refugees helped bring in a great harvest (40:12), and things seemed to be looking up. But trouble was brewing. The army commanders, led by Johanan came to Gedaliah with disturbing news that Ishmael’s earlier visit was part of a plot against the governor and the new government in Judah, masterminded by Baalis, king of the Ammonites (40:13-14).

There were political reasons for this scheme—good ones, from Ammon’s point of view. Ammon was on Nebuchadnezzar’s list of places to conquer, so it may be that this plot against Gedaliah was concocted to keep the Babylonians occupied with Judah and to preserve Ammon. It’s also likely that Ishmael and his followers didn’t want to submit to the Babylonians.

40:15-16 Whatever the reasons for this assassination plot, Gedaliah dismissed it. Joha-nan privately offered to kill Ishmael to avoid having the Babylonians come down on the people of Judah again (40:15). But the governor was indignant: Don’t do that! What you’re saying about Ishmael is a lie! (40:16). Although Gedaliah may have been a good man, he was blind to the danger ahead.

41:1-10 Gedaliah’s naïve approach to the danger around him cost him his life and the lives of many others. Ishmael and his men killed the new governor, as well as the Judeans and the Chaldean soldiers at Mizpah (41:2-3). The news of the assassination had not yet gotten out when eighty men came from Shechem, Shiloh, and Samaria—that is, from what had been the northern kingdom of Israel. They had come grieving, hoping to make offerings to the Lord at the temple (41:5). Inexplicably, Ishmael lured them to Mizpah and almost killed them all (41:6-7)! However, ten men bribed him with supplies, so Ishmael let them live (41:8). As if this mass murder wasn’t bad enough, Ishmael took captive all the rest of the people of Mizpah and fled to the Ammonites (41:10), where they would presumably be out of the Babylonians’ reach.

We are not told Ishmael’s motives for his actions. Perhaps in his twisted mind, Ishmael thought he was rescuing his people from the “Babylonian collaborator” Gedaliah and his accomplices. All we know is that Ishmael was a brutal murderer who made a difficult situation much worse. What happens in the upcoming chapters must be weighed against the Lord’s repeated warning to those who survived the destruction of Jerusalem to submit to the Babylonians and be protected.

41:11-18 Johanan, the army commander who had warned Gedaliah about the danger Ishmael posed, heard the news, rallied his troops, and pursued him (41:11-12). Johanan and his men liberated the captives, but Ishmael escaped to Ammon (41:13-15). If the freed people had returned to Mizpah and resumed their lives, they might have been fine, despite the expected reprisals from Babylon. God had promised them his overseeing care. But fear dominated them. They were convinced that the Babylonians would return and slaughter them for Ishmael’s deeds. They decided to make their way into Egypt (41:17), determined to put as many miles between themselves and Babylon as possible.

God had warned his people not to trust in the Egyptians, but these survivors had witnessed the horror of Jerusalem’s destruction and the slaughter of thousands of Jews. That’s all they could see in their own future since Ishmael had messed everything up. But the people of Judah were looking in the wrong direction. Instead of looking north for the next attack from Nebuchadnezzar, or looking south for deliverance from Egypt, they should have been looking up to God for deliverance.

42:1-6 This straggly band of Israelites got together and decided it would be a good idea to get God’s rubber stamp of approval for their plans, so they went en masse to Jeremiah with a very pious-sounding request. They wanted the prophet to inquire of the Lord about the best course of action (42:1-3). Jeremiah had heard empty statements like theirs before; nevertheless, he promised to pray and tell them every word God revealed to him (42:4). In response, the people promised that whether the news was good or bad, they would certainly obey the Lord (42:5-6).

42:7-12 It took ten days, but the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah (42:7). It included both blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. If the people would stay in [their] land, God assured them of their welfare. He promised to rebuild and plant them after the disaster of Jerusalem’s destruction and the captivity (42:9-10). God even said, I relent concerning the disaster that I have brought on you (42:10). Part of that relenting included giving Nebuchadnezzar compassion (42:12) so that he wouldn’t take reprisals on them because of Ishmael’s murders. Now that was quite a deal God was offering: recovery and prosperity in their own land and protection from their feared enemy! All the people had to do was stay home and enjoy God’s blessings.

42:13-17 But Johanan and the people also needed to know the consequences of failing to obey the Lord. God knew exactly what they were thinking: “If we stay here, we’ve got a ravaged country to try and rebuild. And even if we get crops in the ground, we’ll live in constant fear of an attack from Babylon in punishment for what Ishmael did. Besides, we’ve seen enough of war, hunger, and all that mess.” And sure enough, the people made their decision: No, instead we’ll go to . . . Egypt (42:14). This was the equivalent of saying, “Thanks for your advice, God. But we’ve got a better plan.” Besides, they thought, their stay in Egypt would only be for a while (42:17). Once the coast was clear, they could return to Judah. But, through Jeremiah, God declared that everything they feared—sword, famine, and plague—would follow them to Egypt. There they would die (42:16-17).

42:18-22 Don’t go to Egypt (42:19) indicated that escape wasn’t God’s will for his people. Their plan to lie low there until things cooled off in Judah would backfire. God warned them that if they persisted in their plan, You will never see this place (Judah) again (42:18). If they abandoned their homeland, it would be for the last time. Jeremiah knew what the people’s reaction would be, which is why he told them, You have gone astray at the cost of your lives (42:20). While they’d claimed that they wanted the truth from God, in reality they had no intention of obeying him (42:20-21). If they were to return to Egypt, they’d be dead people walking. Don’t presume to ask for the King’s direction in your life if you aren’t truly prepared to follow in obedience.

43:1-7 Neither the Lord’s promise nor his warning could convince this band of survivors to stay in Judah and enjoy God’s blessings. In their arrogance, they claimed Jeremiah was a liar (43:2). They even went so far as to accuse Baruch, Jeremiah’s secretary, of inciting Jeremiah against them to hand [them] over to the Chaldeans (43:3). So Johanan and his fellow commanders (43:4) led the people on a trek down to Egypt—it included Jeremiah and Baruch, who must have been taken against their will (43:4-7). Interestingly, Tahpanhes (43:7) means “palace of the Negro.”

43:8-13 Once the group arrived in Egypt, God sent Jeremiah with a sign for the men of Judah, another object lesson of judgment for his disobedient people. Jeremiah told them he had a word from the Lord of Armies (43:10), one of the prophet’s favorite names for God. Frequently in the book of Jeremiah, in fact, God is either summoning or defeating great armies. The rebellious people of Judah—who feared the Babylonian army and ran to the Egyptian army for protection—needed to know that they had not outrun the reach of the God who controlled all the forces of earth.

Jeremiah’s sign was simple. He embedded some stones in the pavement leading to Pharaoh’s palace at Tahpanhes in northern Egypt (43:9-10). In this place where the people of Judah must have been feeling safe, Jeremiah then prophesied that they would see the Babylonian army invade Egypt to do there what they’d done in Judah (43:10-13). Where Jeremiah had placed the stones, Nebuchadnezzar would set up his headquarters (43:10)! A few hundred miles and a national border would be no problem for God to overcome when he stretched out his hand of judgment.

44:1-6 A popular proverb goes something like this: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” In other words, if you fail to learn from the mistakes of those who failed in the past, be prepared to follow in their footsteps. This seems to be God’s message to the people of Judah who had disobediently run off to Egypt. Through Jeremiah, the Lord reminds the Jews of the idolatry of Judah and the disaster that resulted (44:2-6). It’s unavoidable: Serving false gods and rejecting God is a sure path to ruin. The history of Israel and Judah demonstrates this vividly.

44:7-10 In light of the disastrous results of Judah’s sin, God asked the Jews in Egypt, Why are you doing such terrible harm to yourselves? (44:7). The people refused to heed God’s command to remain in Judah and receive his blessing. And not only did they flee to Egypt but—incredibly!—they angered God by burning incense to other gods there (44:8). Could they not anticipate what would happen? This is called a self-inflicted wound! They had forgotten the evils that they, their ancestors, and their kings had committed (44:9). They had learned nothing. They [had] not become humble (44:10).

When God takes a swat at your pride, it’s meant to lead you to repentance and humility. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jas 4:6). One of the purposes for Jeremiah’s book was to teach subsequent generations the lessons about faithfulness to God that the Jews of his day failed to learn—and the price they paid.

44:11-19 The lessons of history were lost on the Jews who defiantly fled to Egypt. So Jeremiah repeated God’s words of judgment against them for their foolishness (44:11-14; see 42:15-22). In defiance, the people proclaimed, We are not going to listen to you! (44:16). The depths of their depravity became even more clear when they claimed that their problems began when they ceased to burn incense to the queen of heaven (44:18). This means they actually credited a pagan goddess with the prosperity and blessings they had enjoyed in Judah! The unspoken assumption was that worshiping the Lord had gotten them nowhere. Serving him instead of their idols, they reasoned, was the reason for their disaster. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

44:20-25 This blasphemy was so incredible that God essentially said, “Enough!” Jeremiah first corrected their twisted view of their history and the disastrous loyalty to pagan gods as the source of their well-being (44:20-23). Then God pulled down the curtain on this crowd. He had endured enough of their arrogance. If lies and destruction was what they demanded, lies and destruction is what they would receive: Go ahead, confirm your vows! Keep your vows! (44:25)—that is, “Have it your way. Worship and plead with the queen of heaven. See where that gets you.”

44:26-30 Then God made an even more ominous statement: My name will never again be invoked by anyone of Judah in all the land of Egypt. . . . I am watching over them for disaster and not for good . . . until they are finished off (44:26-27). God also said he would confirm his word of disaster and death by handing over Pharaoh Hophra, Egypt’s king, to his enemies (44:30). The leader to whom the Jews fled for protection, then, wouldn’t even be able to protect himself. This was fulfilled in 570–569 BC when Hophra was deposed in an army coup and eventually assassinated. When these things came to pass, the rebellious Jews would finally see, although it would be too late: [They] will know whose word stands, mine or theirs! (44:28).

45:1-5 As with other portions of the book of Jeremiah, the events of this chapter are out of sequence historically, since they occurred around 604 BC, years before Judah fell. Chapter 45 provides a short record of how God ministered through Jeremiah to the prophet’s faithful secretary, Baruch. The event that triggered Baruch’s lament (45:3) was writing Jeremiah’s words on a scroll—only to have King Jehoiakim cut it into pieces, burn it, and swear out a warrant for the arrest of the prophet and his scribe (45:1; see 36:1-26).

Baruch took a cue from his master in pouring out his grief and complaint to God (45:3). Apparently, Baruch thought serving alongside a great prophet like Jeremiah would bring him great things, like prominence and respect (45:5). But God made it clear to Baruch that his dream of the bright lights would go unfulfilled. By the time God finished destroying Judah, there wouldn’t be any nation left in which Baruch could realize his hopes of greatness (45:4). Instead, God gave him the best gift he could ask for in the midst of the destruction around him: his life (45:5).