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In this chapter we see Jeremiah in his public ministry. He has been dealing with God in secret in the previous chapter. Now he is ready to face the people openly. His first – recorded – speech to his people is certainly a very remarkable speech for one who has said: “I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth” (Jeremiah 1:6). It is difficult to find a portion of Scripture that surpasses this speech in sincere fervor and at the same time delicacy and eloquence.
His first message to the people is that covenant breaking is adultery. In this we hear the earnest plea of the offended and forgotten LORD. We hear His mercy for and compassion for a guilty nation mixed with serious warnings of the terrible day that will come if they do not return to Him wholeheartedly. All together it is a speech that would set even the stones in motion. But alas, we read of no response on the part of hardened, unwilling Judah.
Remembrance of the LORD
The word of the LORD comes to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 2:1). He is instructed to go to Jerusalem and preach to its inhabitants (Jeremiah 2:2). What he is to say is to be spoken clearly and not in a muffled voice, so that everyone will hear what he says. He is to begin with the penetrating words “thus says the LORD”. The words he preaches come from Him; they are not his own words. It is not only important to know to be sent, but also to know what is to be said. God determines both the mission and the content of the message.
The LORD does not begin with reproach. He begins by reminding His people that they loved Him at the beginning of their existence as a people. They demonstrated this by following Him in the wilderness after their deliverance from Egypt. The LORD calls that period of time when they follow Him “the love of your betrothals”. They are days when everything is still so new and fresh (cf. Hosea 11:1; Ezekiel 16:8). They follow Him on the way to the promised land. It is also reminiscent of Rebekah, who follows Abraham’s servant through the wilderness on the way to Isaac, her bridegroom (Genesis 24:61).
The LORD here ignores the unfaithfulness they also showed during their journey through the wilderness. It is with it as with the words of the Lord Jesus to His disciples, when He says to them: “You are those who have stood by Me in My trials” (Luke 22:28). He says this, despite the fact that they also showed their failure and He had to rebuke them several times.
It is “a land not sown”. It draws the barrenness of the land, which yields nothing to live on. In the spiritual application, we see that for one who has come to repentance, the world has become like a wilderness where there is no spiritual food for faith. For the people, it means that they are completely dependent on the LORD and are sustained by Him. They do not have to sow nor wait for the seed to come up. He provides their food every day, for He rains manna from heaven into the camp every day (Exodus 16:13-Ecclesiastes :).
This is how the LORD first thinks back to them and puts it before them. He can see His people in this way because He has made them a “holy” people, that is, He has set them apart from the other nations, to be to Him His own people (Jeremiah 2:3). This was particularly expressed through the service in the tabernacle in the midst of their camp. Jeremiah reminds the people here, as it were, that they began in the Spirit, while they are in the process of finishing in the flesh (Galatians 3:3).
This people is “the first of His harvest”, meaning that they are His special property above the other nations who are also all His property. They are the first people to worship the true God (cf. Exodus 19:5-Joshua :). They are “the distinguished men of the foremost of nations” (Amos 6:1). In the realm of peace, He will also be in connection with all the nations – indeed through Israel – all of whom will also worship Him.
With Israel He has a special relationship. When other nations want to feast on His people, He stands up for His people and brings calamity upon them. We see this, for example, when Joshua defeats Amalek, while Moses makes intercession on the mountain (Exodus 17:8-Nehemiah :). The first fruits are the special portion for the LORD; others may not eat of them. Those who do so violate their souls. Mischief will befall them.
We, believers of the church, are called “first fruits among His creatures” (James 1:18). This is because we already partake of the new life, which all who partake of the re-creation of heaven and earth will possess (Isaiah 65:17), which is the realm of peace.
The remembrance of their past, where they are in that early love relationship with the LORD and He cares for them in an impressive way, is the starting point. That should make Jerusalem’s heart soft and receptive to the coming admonitions and threats (cf. Jude 1:5). The Lord also repeatedly has remind us of our first love, because our love for Him regularly fades or even disappears (2 Corinthians 11:2-Leviticus :; Revelation 2:4-Deuteronomy :).
Jeremiah speaks the word of the LORD to the “house of Jacob and all the families of the house of Israel” (Jeremiah 2:4). This addresses the entire people. Also, we see in this form of address that families are also addressed. Families are the basis of the entire existence of the people and determine the spiritual condition of the people as a whole.
The indictment begins by asking questions that should awaken the conscience. The remembrance of history, of what their fathers did, should speak to them (Jeremiah 2:5). They are not better than their fathers, but just like them. There must be acknowledgment. It is poignant to have to read that the LORD puts before them the question of what injustice their fathers found in Him. The surprised response might be that this is not the case at all.
But then the LORD makes it clear that their whole attitude shows that they are accusing Him of unfaithfulness. Otherwise they would not have kept Him far from them, would they? Surely this shows that they distrust Him, isn’t it? Otherwise, instead of following Him, they would not have gone after idols, which, by the way, also made them equal to those idols? What they worship does not exist for the LORD (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:4). How foolish it is to turn to and expect something from something that is nothing.
In Jeremiah 2:5 it says what the people did do. In Jeremiah 2:6 it says what they did not do. They have not considered what the LORD has done in their deliverance from slavery in Egypt and their keeping during the wilderness journey. He led them out of Egypt “by an outstretched arm and by great terrors” (Deuteronomy 4:34) and led them through the wilderness with a gentle hand. That they forgot all this shows the utmost ingratitude. It is a culpable forgetting.
The horrors of the wilderness are widely reported. The wilderness through which they have passed is a land of deserts and pits, of drought and of deep darkness, an extremely lonely, uninhabitable place. There is no passable road and no place of rest. The only thing the wilderness can serve for is as a burial ground.
This representation is done to make it clear to the people that they would never have made it through on their own. It is only due to the faithful care and guidance of the LORD that they reached the promised land in which they now live. We too must be aware of the inhospitality of the world and that death reigns there. This will help us to entrust ourselves completely to the care and guidance of the Lord to get through it safely.
After the wilderness journey, He brought them, as He promised, into His land. Jeremiah speaks of “a fruitful land”, full of fruit and “the good things” to eat (Jeremiah 2:7; Deuteronomy 8:7-1 Samuel :). The contrast with the area he describes in the previous verse is enormous. But instead of being thankful to Him for the extraordinary fruitfulness after so much deadness, they have defiled His land and made His property an abomination, something abominable. They have done this by introducing idolatry.
The four classes mentioned in Jeremiah 2:8 – priests, those who handle the law, rulers [literally shepherds] and prophets – should have been like pillars in the people, teaching them God’s commandments and teaching them to keep them. However, they led the people away from the LORD:
1. “The priests did not say, ‘Where is the LORD’?” Those who are called to be in His presence with sacrifices on behalf of the people do not ask about Him at all. The reproach to the priests is that they do not ask this question. Asking it would have led the people down the road to the place the LORD has chosen for His Name to dwell.
2. “Those who handled the law [the Levites] did not know Me.“ Those who are to explain the law to the people (Deuteronomy 33:10; Malachi 2:7), lack the knowledge of Him Who is central to the law.
3. “The rulers”, literally shepherds, who are to care for the flock on behalf of the LORD, appropriate that flock and “transgressed” against the LORD (cf. Ezekiel 34:1-Joshua :).
4. “The prophets”, who are to call God’s people to return to Him on behalf of the LORD, “prophesied by Baal.”
The concluding comment of Jeremiah 2:8 expresses the result. They did not go after the LORD, but “walked after things that did not profit”. The leaders, who are deceivers, led the people down the path of idolatry. Idols do not give any blessing, not temporary and even less spiritual. What a shocking and disconcerting situation among the leaders of God’s people and what an appalling departure from the LORD they have wrought among the people!
The LORD will bring them to justice and call them to account for their behavior of unparalleled apostasy (Jeremiah 2:9). This applies not only to the generation to whom Jeremiah addresses the word, but even to their grandchildren. God’s standards do not change and remain the same for every generation. In His assessment of evil, He is absolutely just.
As for their idolatry, they can learn from the pagan nations (Jeremiah 2:10). Let them take the trouble to go and see the coastlands of Kittim, that is Cyprus, on the west; and let them go and observe closely Kedar, an Arabian wilderness tribe, on the east. The people are obliged, as it were, to look from west to east, that is, everywhere.
Then they should pay close attention to how those nations treat their idols. They will notice that those nations do not exchange their gods for other gods, but remain faithful to them, though of course they are no more than wooden and stone gods (Jeremiah 2:11). Idolaters are often more devoted to what is useless than God’s people are to the truth. God’s people give up the truth, idolaters hold on to the lie. This is also true of our time.
It is against this background that they must now consider their own behavior. How is it then that they not only become unfaithful to their “Glory” but exchange Him for what are not gods (Psalms 106:20). They replace the glory of the imperishable God with images from creation (Romans 1:23). It is terrible when a woman commits adultery, but she does so, in general, with one man. But Israel commits adultery with many, many idols. That the people committed adultery is bad enough, but she also does so with so many and such horrible idols.
They exchanged the living God for terrible idols. Exchanging or replacing gods is something that does not happen even in the pagan world. When God’s people sin, it is usually to a worse degree than when people of the world do (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1). God’s people exchange their Glory, which is the LORD Himself, for what is of no use, which are the idols.
How foolish God’s people can be! Jeremiah, on behalf of the LORD, calls upon the heavens – where we can think of the angels – to be appalled, to shudder, and to be very desolate over this (Jeremiah 2:12). On earth the LORD is not taken into account by His people. Heaven sees the unfaithfulness and cannot regard it unmoved (Deuteronomy 32:1; Isaiah 1:2).
The LORD holds up to Judah their two-fold sin, “two evil” (Jeremiah 2:13). They have
1. forsaken Him, the fountain of living waters, that is, they have rejected the truth and
2. hewed cisterns “Broken cisterns that can hold no water” that is, they have accepted the lie.
The LORD calls Himself “fountain of living waters”, the fountain of life (cf. Psalms 36:9). Whoever leaves the fountain of living waters, the Lord Jesus Himself (John 4:10-2 Chronicles :; John 7:37-Malachi :), starts tapping his own sources. Those who tap into sources of their own to learn the true meaning of life will perish of thirst. Only the LORD can quench the thirst of His people. “Broken cistern”, cistern that do not hold water, resources that do not quench thirst, are Egypt and Assyria (Jeremiah 2:18). As an application for us, we can think, for example, of science, philosophy, and the pursuit of possession and power. Everything that is expected from these leaks away.
Sin inevitably brings its own punishment. Through two powerful questions, the LORD emphasizes the consequences of their disobedience (Jeremiah 2:14). Israel was originally neither slave nor prey (Jeremiah 2:3), but has become slave and prey through their unfaithfulness. The LORD calls Israel “My Son, My firstborn” (Exodus 4:22). They are not destined to serve in slavery, but to rule in freedom. Israel, however, has turned away from the LORD and denied his relationship to Him as a son. He became an idolater and a slave to his lusts. “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin“ (John 8:34). Because of sin, enemies have come to rule over them and they have become slaves (Nehemiah 9:36).
Israel has become a prey of young lions (Jeremiah 2:15). The fruits of the land have become the prey of other nations because of their idolatry. By the young lions are meant Assyria and Egypt, the instruments of God’s judgment, and this while Israel has taken refuge in them. Egypt has robbed the people of their honor (Jeremiah 2:16). They have themselves to blame for this, because they have departed from the LORD Who wants to lead them in the right way (Jeremiah 2:17).
With great courage, Jeremiah points out the cause of the impending judgment. The responsibility for this lies entirely with the people. They will have to live with the fruit of their evil ways. Evil is not only something that is directed against God, but also against man himself.
In the days of Jeremiah, there are two main political movements. There is an Egyptian-minded party and an Assyrian-minded party. But what help can wicked nations offer Judah? Jeremiah points out their fickle behavior. The people seek support from Assyria at one time and from Egypt at another, according to how the situation requires it in their estimation (Jeremiah 2:18; cf. Hosea 7:11; Isaiah 30:1-Exodus :; Isaiah 31:1; Ezekiel 23:3; Ezekiel 23:5). These are the cistern they hewed for themselves, the broken cistern, which hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13). These cistern have provided them with nothing even remotely reminiscent of refreshment. Have they then learned nothing of its futility and deception?
Forsaking the LORD is an evil that punishes itself (Jeremiah 2:19) because sin finally makes one miserable and does not give one the joy it initially seemed to give. We see this with the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-Psalms :). Repentance comes when it starts to sink in “that it is evil and bitter” to forsake the LORD God and that it has been action because there is no fear of the LORD, of Him Who is the Lord, the LORD of hosts. Sin is evil in itself and bitter in its effects. What folly and great sin it is to forsake Him and turn against Him.
The LORD reminds His people that He has broken the yoke of slavery under which they have groaned in Egypt (Jeremiah 2:20). He has also broken their bonds by which they have been held captive. In this way He has set them free. However, this is not to let them go their own way now, but so that they will serve Him as His people. The people, however, do not want to serve the LORD They also say that. They choose to go after idols and play the harlot.
They have not only come to adultery, but to harlotry; they have come to behave like a harlot. They have broken the yoke of marriage to the LORD, because it is too heavy for them; they have come to see it as slavery. This is also how many people today see marriage. They want to be free and connect with whomever they want. With that freedom does not fit that they submit to God's statutes. They refuse to do so, just as Israel refuses to do so here.
The LORD has planted them as a choice vine (Jeremiah 2:21). He has been confident that they are “a completely faithful seed”, that is, a sees that would produce fruit abundantly, that is, they would gladden His heart. This expectation is justified, for He has cared for them very well (cf. Isaiah 5:1-Judges :).
But things have been very different. They have been transformed into the opposite. They have become “degenerate shoots of a foreign vine” (cf. Deuteronomy 32:32). That is, they are now out to bring pleasure to others instead of the LORD. He expresses it as an astonished question, how that is even possible. How is that with us? Do we want to be a joy to the heart of God or are we also out to please ourselves or others?
They have corrupted themselves so deeply that it is impossible to undo their iniquity themselves (Jeremiah 2:22). No matter what they try to do to be pleasing to God, it is in vain. All the possible cleaning supplies they would use to wash off their iniquities do not work a cleansing for Him. They serve only to purify the outside, while the inside, where sin dwells, remains dirty.
He seeks truth in the innermost being and not cleanliness on the outside. Being concerned only with the outside does not remove the “stain” of their “iniquity” from before Him. Only through repentance and conversion can God wash away and forgive their sins so that He sees them no more (1 John 1:9). If they do not repent, He will have to cleanse away the “stain” of their “iniquity” from before Him by judgment.
We can compare “lye” and “soap” to all kinds of re-education programs and teaching social skills to change people. But nothing that man devises to bring him to a “socially responsible” behavior can change man inside. Only the blood of Christ and the Word of God cleanse from sins.
The people insist that they have not defiled themselves (Jeremiah 2:23; cf. Proverbs 30:20). The brutal, glass-hard denial is mind-boggling! What love and patience we see in the LORD that He still wants to have something to do with such people. He points out to them their ways, “look at your way in the valley”, which show undeniably that they have most certainly defiled themselves. For example, they sacrificed their children to Molech in the valley of Hinnom (Jeremiah 7:31). Their own ways condemn them. Then the LORD’s call sounds: “Know what you have done!” With acknowledging begins the path to blessing.
The LORD compares them unflatteringly, but aptly, to a restless running to and fro, “swift young camel”. They are like the untamed, “wild donkey” (Jeremiah 2:24) living in wild freedom (cf. Genesis 16:12). In following her urge to mate, she cannot be stopped when she is near a donkey. “In her month” relates to the fertile period of this donkey woman. We can think here of the word “when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin” resulting in death (James 1:15).
Thus they are unstoppable in their desire for harlotry. One who seeks a harlot need not make any effort to do so, for he will easily find in God’s people what he seeks (cf. Proverbs 7:6-Isaiah :). The issue here is the urge of the people to seek their salvation and protection from the nations around them and the gods of those nations. Those nations are eager to draught them to pluck this people. It cannot but result in the death of God’s people.
The people are quick to commit harlotry, just as a man can walk faster when he takes off his shoes (Jeremiah 2:25). They have taken the shoes off their feet in their thirst for harlotry. Every attempt to put a brake, prevention, on the conduct of the people, every warning, is in vain. The people want to go that way. There is a deep longing for the strangers. It is completely addicted to harlotry.
Let Israel’s Idols Redeem Them
The time will come when the people will be shamed because of the conduct of their political and spiritual leaders (Jeremiah 2:26). It is compared to a thief who is caught. Someone who breaks in somewhere and is then caught is deeply shamed. In the same way, the house of Israel will be shamed when they will be confronted with their repulsive behavior. It is not shame for their shameless behavior, but because they have been discovered.
They rely on wood and stone as their conceivers and caretakers (Jeremiah 2:27). Attributing life-giving and life-sustaining properties to inanimate matter goes one step further than idolatry itself. The latter is a setting of a creature above the Creator. On top of that ascribe to those dead idols their origin is an unprecedented contempt of the LORD. They thereby turn their backs on Him as a symbol of the proud stubbornness with which they put Him aside and serve the idols.
However, when times of distress come, they cry out to the LORD, if only He will arise and deliver them. But then He will refer them to their own gods (Jeremiah 2:28; cf. Judges 10:14). They will have to deliver them. They have such a good relationship with them, they take such good care of them, don’t they? And they are not a few either. They can be found throughout the land. The land is full of them, so to speak. Surely these countless gods must be able to help them.
The people turn things around by calling God to account (Jeremiah 2:29). As if He had not done something right! After all, it is they who have rebelled against Him. Therefore He has disciplined them (Jeremiah 2:30). But it is in vain. They even killed with the sword the prophets He sent to them (1 Kings 19:4; cf. Matthew 23:37; Acts 7:52). They have raged against them like a lion. Thus they have brought destruction upon themselves. The prophets, who are such a great blessing of God to the people, have been treated by them as if they were a great plague.
The LORD asks His people to listen to Him again (Jeremiah 2:31), for He has something to say to them that is irrefutable. He is speaking to the generation living at that time. He asks if He has sometimes been a wilderness to them or perhaps a land of thick darkness. Is there with Him no refreshment and provision for their needs? Is there no light with Him on the way they must go? They cannot deny this. But the attitude of the people does not at all show that they acknowledge it.
Glumly, they say they will no longer come to Him. They want to be unbound, free. To submit to Him is a reprehensible thought to them. They refuse to submit to Him. That is what the LORD presents to them, whom He calls “My people” here. He may expect so much else from them precisely because they are His people.
Instead of being a wilderness without life and a land without light, He has been their ornament and they have been to Him a virgin and a bride (Jeremiah 2:32). However, they have acted in complete opposition and have forgotten Him, and have done so for so long. He does not see that time as a specific period, but counts in days. Every day that they forget Him counts for Him. He can no longer count the days, so hard is it for Him that His people just ignore Him day after day. This goes even further than the refusal to come to Him of the previous verse. We hear the great sorrow of God Who is rejected by the people He loves so much and for whom He has done so much.
That they have forgotten God is not because they don’t know the way to get to Him. It is because they do not want to go that way, and that in turn is because they are going another way, a way of fornication. That way they want to go and how well they know that way (Jeremiah 2:33)! They know this evil way so well that they teach it with the greatest of ease to other people who live in sin.
At the nadir of their deviance, they have also become murderers. In their path of fornication, they stop at nothing. On their hands is the blood of poor innocent souls (Jeremiah 2:34) whom they have put out of the way because they have stood in their way. There is no reason for it, as, for example, the killing of a burglar (Exodus 22:2). What they do, beats everything.
Who commits adultery shows a total lack of respect for life. Harlotry and murder belong together. David is first a fornicator and then also becomes a murderer (2 Samuel 11:2-Deuteronomy :; 2 Samuel 11:14-Esther :). This is also true today. In the wake of a completely derailed sexual morality, abortion and euthanasia follow.
The people to whom Jeremiah addresses the word are playing the murdered innocent. They act as if they have done nothing wrong (Jeremiah 2:35). They believe that the LORD has no reason to become angry toward them. Even today in Christianity, sin is being condoned. There is no longer any sense of what is right before God. God’s Word is twisted to such an extent that the most heinous sins can be committed with an appeal to God’s Word. But the LORD cannot and will not accept this. He will have a trial with them and convince them of their guilt precisely because they say they are innocent. This self-justification is abominable in God’s eyes.
Time and again they go out to seek salvation somewhere else (Jeremiah 2:36). First it is Assyria (2 Kings 15:19), now it is Egypt again. But they will come out as ashamed with Egypt as they did before with Assyria (2 Chronicles 28:20). This going back and forth, this constantly changing their path, this constantly choosing a new tactic to hedge against evil or to secure benefits separately from the LORD, is useless. They will be taken away as captives and have no prosperity, for the LORD breaks everything on which they rely (Jeremiah 2:37). With their hands on their heads, which means in great disgrace, they will go out (cf. 2 Samuel 13:19).
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Jeremiah 2". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany