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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 16

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-2

The Lord commanded His prophet never (Heb. lo’) to marry and rear children. In contrast, God commanded Hosea to marry and have children (Hosea 1:2). This difference reflects God’s sovereignty over His servants. His will for one may not be the same as His will for another in amoral matters.

The Israelites and ancient Near Easterners in general regarded the unmarried state and childlessness as divine curses (cf. Matthew 24:19; 1 Corinthians 7:26), but here God overruled what was normal (cf. Genesis 1:28; Genesis 2:18; Deuteronomy 7:14) for a special reason. Bachelors were so rare in Israel that there is no word for "bachelor" in the Hebrew language. As an unmarried man, Jeremiah would have been the object of much derision and scorn.

Verses 1-13

The special conditions of Jeremiah’s life 16:1-13

Sometimes God used the events in the lives of His prophets to speak to the people, in addition to their messages.

"Hosea’s unhappy marriage (Hosea 1-3), Isaiah’s family (Isaiah 7-8), the death of Ezekiel’s wife (Ezekiel 24:15-27), and Jeremiah’s call to remain unmarried are all examples of the proclamation of the word through family events." [Note: Thompson, p. 403. See also Isaiah 20.]

Verses 3-4

The reason for this command was that the people living in Judah then were soon going to die horrible deaths. The exile was imminent.

"Jeremiah married no one, signifying the end of the relationship between the people and the Lord, and had no children, signifying the resulting destitution." [Note: Kelley, p. 216.]

Perhaps the Lord also wanted to spare Jeremiah the sorrow of seeing his wife and children die horrible deaths. The sorrow and grief connected with the Babylonian invasion would be much greater than the joys of family life if he were to marry and father children.

Verse 5

The Lord also instructed Jeremiah not to visit those who were mourning over the death of a loved one. [Note: Ezekiel was not even to mourn when his wife died. Ezekiel 24:15-27.] He was not to comfort them, because the Lord had withdrawn His lovingkindness and compassion from His people. Jeremiah’s life was to remind the people of God’s withdrawal from them.

"Not to show grief was abnormal and was cause for criticism." [Note: Feinberg, p. 479.]

Verses 6-7

In the coming invasion, all classes of people would die and no one would bury them or lament their passing in traditional ways. Even though cutting themselves and making themselves bald were contrary to the Mosaic Law (Leviticus 19:28; Leviticus 21:5; Deuteronomy 14:1), the Israelites practiced these customs (cf. Jeremiah 41:5; Jeremiah 47:5; Ezekiel 7:18; Amos 8:10; Micah 1:16). Another tradition was eating a meal that friends of the mourners provided after the funeral (cf. 2 Samuel 3:35; Ezekiel 24:17; Hosea 9:4). [Note: See de Vaux, 1:59-61, for funeral customs.]

"A consoling cup in later Judaism was a special cup of wine drunk by the chief mourner. This practice is not mentioned elsewhere in Scripture." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 105.]

Verse 8

Neither was Jeremiah to attend joyful celebrations or eat and drink with merrymakers. This would have included participating in wedding celebrations (cf. Jeremiah 7:34; Jeremiah 25:10; Jeremiah 33:11). Jeremiah’s failure to fulfill social obligations, such as attending weddings and funerals, would have made him even more an object of social disgrace.

Verse 9

The reason for this antisocial behavior, Almighty Yahweh, Israel’s God explained, was that He would soon end all rejoicing in the land. Jeremiah was to reflect the attitudes of His God in all these situations. His withdrawal from village life pictured Yahweh’s withdrawal from His people.

"It is one thing to grow eloquent over a dire prospect for a wicked nation; quite another thing to taste the medicine itself. To ask this of Jeremiah, denying him the cherished gift of wife and children (an almost unthinkable vocation at the time), and then to isolate him from sharing the occasions of sorrow and joy around him (5, 8), was the measure of God’s intense concern to get the message across." [Note: Kidner, p. 70.]

Verse 10

The Lord prepared Jeremiah for questions that the people would ask him. They would wonder what they had done to deserve the great calamity that the prophet predicted. They had become blind to the sinfulness of their ways (cf. Malachi 1:6-7; Malachi 2:17; Malachi 3:7-8; Malachi 3:13).

Verse 11

He was to explain that the coming judgment was due to the accumulated sins of their forefathers, in forsaking the Lord and His covenant, and in practicing idolatry. Sin has a cumulative effect in that it results in conditions that affect the behavior of others, including later generations.

Verse 12

The punishment was also for their own sins, which were worse than those of their forefathers. They had been stubborn in their hearts and had not responded to the Lord’s Word.

Verse 13

Therefore the Lord would hurl (Heb. tul) them out of the land and into a land that they and their forefathers had not known before. There they would have their fill of idolatry, and the Lord would show them no mercy. Obviously Abraham knew Mesopotamia, but none of the more recent ancestors of Jeremiah’s generation had lived there.

Verse 14

The Lord announced that the time would come when the chosen people would no longer look back on the Exodus as the great demonstration of His preservation and deliverance.

Verses 14-21

Future blessings following imminent judgment 16:14-21

The following three pericopes bracket the assurance of imminent judgment for Judah with promises of distant blessing for Israel and the nations. This passage promises deliverance from the captivity for the Israelites. It appears again later in Jeremiah almost verbatim (Jeremiah 23:7-8).

Verse 15

Instead, they would look back on their second exodus, from Babylon and all the other countries to which He had banished them. The Lord promised to bring His people back into the Promised Land that He had given their fathers, after He had disciplined them in those other countries (cf. Genesis 12:7; Isaiah 43:16-20; Isaiah 48:20-21; Isaiah 51:9-11).

The returns from Babylonian exile, therefore, were only part of the fulfillment of this promise. There must still be a return of the Chosen People to the Promised Land "which I gave to their fathers" from all over the world. This will be a return after the Jews have repented (cf. Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 18:7; Isaiah 19:19-25; Zechariah 8:20-23; Zechariah 14:16; Malachi 1:11). [Note: See Kaiser, p. 108.] Therefore the present return of multitudes of Jews from all over the world to Palestine does not fulfill what God promised here.

Even though there would be deliverance for Israel in the distant future, she could count on thorough judgment in the near future (Jeremiah 16:16-18).

Verse 16

The Lord was going to summon fishermen (cf. Ezekiel 12:13; Ezekiel 29:4-5; Amos 4:2; Habakkuk 1:14-17) and hunters (cf. Amos 9:1-4) to round up His people and take them as prey, even those who were in hiding. These agents would be the Babylonian invaders.

"When Jesus used the metaphor of fishermen to describe the mission of his disciples (see Mark 1:17; Matthew 4:19), he was reversing its meaning from that intended by Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s fishers caught men for judgment; Jesus’ fishers caught them for salvation." [Note: Kelley, p. 219.]

Verse 17

The Lord saw everyone and everything. His people were not able to hide from Him even though many of them tried to do so.

Verse 18

Yahweh would pay them back double for polluting His land (cf. Isaiah 40:2)-which He had given them as an inheritance-with their iniquities and sins, and with the dead bodies of their idols and abominable objects of worship. "Paying back double" may be an expression indicating proportionate payment, making the punishment equivalent to the crime, or it may be hyperbole for full payment (cf. Job 11:6; Isaiah 40:2). [Note: See The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., s.v. "Archaeology," by D. J. Wiseman.]

The next pericope returns to the note of hope in the distant future (Jeremiah 16:14-15), but it promises blessing for the nations as well as Israel then (Jeremiah 16:19-21).

Verse 19

Jeremiah composed a song to the Lord. He addressed Him as his "strength," his "stronghold," and his "refuge" in a time (the day) of distress (cf. Psalms 18:2). He foretold that the nations would come to the Lord from the ends of the earth, confessing the futility of their lives and the lives of their forefathers (cf. Jeremiah 4:2; Genesis 12:1-3; Psalms 2; Isaiah 2:1-3; Isaiah 42:4; Isaiah 49:6; Zechariah 8:20-23; Zechariah 14:16-17).

Verse 20

Rhetorically the prophet asked if humans can make gods for themselves. They can, but what they make are not really gods, because there is only one God.

Verse 21

The Lord announced that in the future, when the nations sought Him out, He would convince them of His power and might, that they might know that Yahweh is the only true God (cf. Ezekiel 36:22-23). He did not explain how He would do that here, but later revelation tells us that Messiah’s second advent will involve such a demonstration of power that multitudes of people will turn to the Lord (Zechariah 12:10).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 16". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/jeremiah-16.html. 2012.
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