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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 16

Kingcomments on the Whole BibleKingcomments

Verses 1-9


In the section that now demands our attention, we no longer hear the seer’s meek plea in favor of Judah. He has pleaded tirelessly when there seemed to be hope of averting the impending disaster. But there is no repentance on the part of the people.

The holiness of God demands that sin in those who are so closely associated with His Name should not be lightly passed over. This section is a serious indictment on His part, showing why His hand must be against them, however much His heart goes out to them even now.

The Solitude of Jeremiah

The word of the LORD comes to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 16:1). The LORD tells him not to marry, which also means that he will not have sons and daughters (Jeremiah 16:2). By “this place” is meant Jerusalem. Such a command or prohibition is extraordinary. Marriage – and directly related to it, having children – is part of God’s plan for life (Genesis 1:28; Genesis 2:18; Deuteronomy 7:14). The command not to marry or the desire not to marry is exceptional. It is not comparable to Paul’s advice that it is better not to marry, for that advice he gives in view of “the present distress” in which the people of the world find themselves (Matthew 19:12; 1 Corinthians 7:26).

The personal lives of the prophets are in the service of the LORD (cf. Isaiah 8:18; Ezekiel 24:15-Daniel :; Hosea 1:2-Leviticus :). The prophets preached to the people not only through their words, but also through their personal circumstances. Normally a man marries. The fact that Jeremiah is not allowed to marry carries the message to the people of Jerusalem that judgment will come and therefore it is pointless for him to start a family. It indicates the end of the connection between the people and the LORD. That he will have no children points to the total desolation of the city as the result of the severing of the connection between the LORD and Jerusalem.

What the LORD says to Jeremiah is not a general call to all who are God-fearing not to marry. Nor is it advice to believers in countries where there is a chance that their children will be raised by the state, as was the case with Moses, for example. Nor is it an exhortation not to marry and not to have children in times of war in order to spare oneself or any children the difficulties that these things bring at such a time. Jeremiah’s personal circumstances serve as a sign to the people.

It is a mercy of the LORD that He spares Jeremiah the suffering that would come upon his descendants (cf. Luke 23:29). The sons and daughters who do give birth in Jerusalem will perish, along with the mothers who gave birth to them and the fathers who conceived them (Jeremiah 16:3). The married ones and their children will die of deadly diseases (Jeremiah 16:4).

No mourning will be done about them. There will be no burial ceremony where mourning can be expressed. For they shall not be buried, but shall be dung upon on the surface of the ground. Others will perish by the sword and still others by hunger. Their bodies will be food for the carrion birds and the wild animals. This is quite a dramatic ending to a marriage and the children born of it.

The prophet is also not allowed to attend funerals (Jeremiah 16:5). He may not unite with the mourning of the people because the LORD has taken away from them His “peace …, lovingkindness and compassion”. It is precisely these features of God that are so necessary for life in an end time, in which we too live. We may and should wish these features for one another (cf. 1 Timothy 1:2). If they are taken away, we are irretrievably lost. We see that here. God’s judgment rests on them and Jeremiah must accept that. If the LORD no longer shows compassion, he may not show it either. If he were to unite with their mourning, it would render his message powerless.

The whole land will become one great mourning center (Jeremiah 16:6). “Great men and small”, that is, the people of distinction and the people of low rank, will die, but not be buried. There will be no, permissible, lament over the dead. But neither will there be, unlawful, heathen expressions of grief. gashing the body and making oneself bald are heathen practices and forbidden to God’s people (Leviticus 19:28; Leviticus 21:5; Deuteronomy 14:1). However, these practices are found among God’s people (Jeremiah 41:5; Jeremiah 47:5; Ezekiel 7:18: Amos 8:10; Micah 1:16).

The usual mourning customs will not take place (Jeremiah 16:7). It is customary to take food to the family of the deceased, eat the meal with them and comfort them in their grief. In this case it will not happen because there is no one to comfort. Also, there is no one to give the cup of comfort because of the death of one’s father or mother.

Breaking bread and drinking from the cup to remember a dead person we see also at the institution of the Supper by the Lord Jesus. On that occasion the Lord gives this old custom a new, unique meaning and connects it with new truths (Matthew 26:26-Hosea :; 1 Corinthians 10:16). He connects this custom to the Passover, for then He institutes the Lord’s Supper. Of the Passover we know that it speaks of Him and of the work of redemption that He has done (1 Corinthians 5:7).

Jeremiah is also no longer allowed to attend festive occasions such as weddings (Jeremiah 16:8). That he is no longer allowed to fulfill his social obligations, such as visiting those who mourn or those who celebrate, will have made him all the more an object of contempt. He will feel even more lonely than he already feels. What it must have been like for Jeremiah, always being negative, always announcing judgment. He did have an especially hard service.

When asked about his ‘anti-social’ behavior, he must answer that “the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel”, will cause all joy to cease from Jerusalem (Jeremiah 16:9). Jeremiah will be an eyewitness to it, for the LORD will do it before his eyes. When Jerusalem is surrendered into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, there is no longer a voice of joy. All the voices of joy are summed up in “the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride”.

The joy that is present at a wedding is the highest joy that can be found on earth. That joy, which God Himself gave because He Himself instituted marriage, is now being taken away by Himself. Because of the judgment He is executing, there will be no more marriages, because of the lack of people.

Verses 10-13

The Cause of Judgment

That the people are hardened is evident in their reaction, which the LORD knows in advance (Jeremiah 16:10). Amazed, as if they are not aware of any wrongdoing, they ask why the LORD is acting in this way with them. In doing so, in veiled terms, they blame Him for all the calamity that befalls them. What have they done wrong, what is their iniquity and sin with which they would have sinned against Him? Let Him tell them then. It is the haughty language of a people who imagine they are serving God, while they are fulfilling it in their own self-willed way (cf. Malachi 1:6-Judges :; Malachi 2:17Malachi 3:7-Ruth :; Malachi 3:13).

They are so hardened by sin that they do not appear to have any sense that God’s calamity is upon them because of their sins and deviation from Him. Sin is no longer felt. God’s will is not asked for. In His incomprehensible patience with this apostate people, the LORD tells Jeremiah what to answer (Jeremiah 16:11). First He points out to the people what their fathers did, how they have forsaken Him and went after other gods and served and worshiped them. His law they have not observed. They have become disobedient.

But they, their children, have not done better (Jeremiah 16:12). On the contrary, they have done even more evil than their forefathers. They are not only going after idols, but are walking according to the stubbornness of their own hardened, evil heart. They show this clearly by not listening to Him. They have not only done the same sins, but committed them with greater eagerness, while having far more cautionary examples than they. Their stubbornness and rebellion is greater than that of their fathers.

“So”, for this reason, the LORD will hurl them out of this land, in which they now dwell, into another land which they have not known, nor have their fathers known (Jeremiah 16:13). The word “hurl” indicates both the power and the contempt with which the LORD performs this act. In that foreign land they will be completely at the mercy of other gods whom they will serve “day and night”, that is, incessantly.

What they have done voluntarily in their own land, they will have to do in the land of their exile compulsorily and ceaselessly by serving the idolaters as slaves. The first, the voluntary serving of idols, is their sin; the second, the forced serving of other gods, is their punishment. They suffer this punishment “for” the LORD withholds His favor from them. The favor that serves to support persons in need will not be shown to them. From those whom they are to serve, no favor will come, nor will it come from the LORD. This will make their punishment even more severe.

Verses 14-15

Restored to the Land

When we read these two verses, we can hardly believe that what is written here is true. After the most terrible announcements of judgment, in which the people in no way show any awareness of their condition, as if out of nowhere comes this announcement of salvation. What a comfort to the tormented and afflicted prophet!

The LORD briefly interrupts His announcement of judgment to make it clear that His judgments do not mean that Israel is no longer His covenant people (Jeremiah 16:14). He points to days to come, by which He means the end times, when He returns and establishes His realm of peace. Then they will no longer look back to their exodus from Egypt as the great evidence of His preservation and deliverance. For there will be a new exodus, and it will be from the north, Babylon, and all the other lands to which He has banished His people (Jeremiah 16:15). So here we suddenly have another word of encouragement, what the LORD will do in the future for the benefit of His people.

The LORD here promises that He will bring His people back to the promised land after His discipline over them has accomplished His intended purpose. The return from the Babylonian exile is only a partial fulfillment of this promise. It involves a return of His people from all over the world. What we see today in the return of many Jews to Israel is not yet a full fulfillment of this promise. Full fulfillment requires repentance and confession of sins and these are not yet present.

Verses 16-18

Full Repay

After assuring the return to the land in the previous two verses, the LORD goes on to describe His impending judgments. He compares the Babylonians to fishermen and hunters (Jeremiah 16:16). They will catch the Jews in their nets and carry them away (cf. Ezekiel 12:13). All who have escaped from the nets they will hunt from the places where they hid, for it is impossible to hide from the LORD (Amos 9:1-Numbers :).

No one will escape judgment, for the LORD sees them everywhere, and He also sees all their ways (Jeremiah 16:17). He is omniscient and omnipresent. Who they are, where they are and what they do, everything is an open book to Him. They cannot hide themselves, but neither can they hide or cover their sinful deeds from Him.

The LORD will punish them doubly for polluting what He expressly calls “My inheritance”, which is His land (Jeremiah 16:18; cf. Isaiah 40:2). The double repayment, by which is also meant complete punishment, is for a double sin. They have polluted His property in a horrible way in a double sense. They have done so by filling His land, His property, with the dead bodies of their abominable idols – idols are dead things – and their abominations. The language used makes one feel the horror that the LORD has over their actions. He finds this terrible and totally reprehensible.

Verses 19-21

The Nations Blessed

In that situation, the LORD is very personally for Jeremiah “my strength and my fortress, my refuge” (Jeremiah 16:19). Each of these three words points to the protection that the LORD is to him. He needs that protection because it is a “day of distress” for him and for every God-fearing person.

However, Jeremiah also looks beyond the time of distress in which he lives. He tells the LORD that the nations will come to Him from the ends of the earth. They will come with a confession about the futility of idols. That will happen when Christ rules and they come to Him, Who is the LORD.

Those who yield to idols receive falsehood as an inherited possession, a possession that is not a permanent one. Everything that idols give – that is, the demons behind the idols, for idols themselves are dead things – is deception and disappointment. The conclusion, then, is to ask whether a man would make himself gods, with the immediate answer that those are not gods (Jeremiah 16:20).

When the nations, as well as God’s people, acknowledge His hand and His power, they will know Who He is (Jeremiah 16:21). The outcome of the pressure of God’s hand and the exercise of His power is that they will acknowledge that He has dealt with them, He, Whose Name is LORD. It may be that by “them” whom He causes to acknowledge His hand and His power, the Jews are meant; it may also be that by them the nations are meant. In any case, it applies to both groups (Ezekiel 36:23).

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Jeremiah 16". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/jeremiah-16.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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