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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Jeremiah 16

 

 

Verses 1-13

Jeremiah Was Not To Take A Wife Or Have Sons And Daughters, Attend Funerals, Or Participate in Feasting, As A Sign Of The Devastation That Was Coming On Judah Which Would Transform Life For All Its Inhabitants Who Survived (Jeremiah 16:1-13).

In powerful words YHWH now tells Jeremiah that he is to demonstrate to Judah what is coming on them in three distinct ways, each of which was to do with things central to Judah’s way of life: firstly by himself not taking a wife or having children, secondly by refraining from attendance at funerals, and thirdly by not taking part in celebratory feasting. And he was to make it clear that in doing so he was conveying to the people the words of YHWH. Abstaining from marriage and not having children would be a sign of what was coming on Judah in that his restraint would indicate that they, their wives and their children were to die in disgrace. Abstaining from attendance at funerals would indicate that well-being had been taken from them and that death had become so much a part of life that mourning could be ignored. Abstaining from feasting would indicate the dark times that were coming when there would be nothing to celebrate, not even marriage. For YHWH was taking away their ‘shalom’, their shalom (peace, well-being) from them.

Furthermore he had to make these words very clear to the people, and when they asked why this evil was coming on them, and what sin they had committed that rendered it necessary, he was to point out that it was because of the way in which they had forsaken YHWH and had turned to other gods and had not obeyed His Instruction (Torah, Law). It would happen because they were walking in the stubbornness of heir own hearts and were refusing to listen to YHWH. That was why they would be cast out of the land to serve other gods in other lands in which they would be strangers. It would be because He had withdrawn His favour from them.

In some ways we today are called on to deliver a similar message, For while we are urgently to seek to bring people under the sound of the Gospel, it is to be with the recognition that for the large majority of people only judgment awaits. And it is a judgment that could come at any time, for ‘at such an hour as you think not, the Son of Man will come’ (Matthew 24:44). So the message is that at any time judgment could descend on this (or a future) generation. That is why we need to have the same urgency and concern as Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 16:1

‘The word of YHWH came also to me, saying,’

Jeremiah emphasises that everything that he says and does is because YHWH has spoken to him, and His word has come to him. And this time it has come in order that by his own self-sacrifice he might bring home to the people the important lesson, that their futures were in future to be so troubled that what was usually central in their lives would through wholesale death become non-existent.

There is a reminder in these words that receiving the word of the Lord should be what is centrally important in all our lives.


Verses 2-4

The First Sign: Abstention From Marriage And Childbearing (Jeremiah 16:2-4).

Jeremiah’s abstention from marriage and childbearing was in order to underline the awful future that waited those who were married, along with their wives, sons and daughters.

Jeremiah 16:2-4

“You shall not take for yourself a wife,

Nor shall you have sons or daughters, in this place.

For thus says YHWH concerning the sons,

And concerning the daughters who are born in this place,

And concerning their mothers who bore them,

And concerning their fathers who begat them in this land,”

They will die grievous deaths (deaths from diseases),

They will not be lamented, nor will they be buried.

They will be as dung on the face of the ground,

And they will be consumed by the sword, and by famine,

And their dead bodies will be food for the birds of the heavens,

And for the beasts of the earth.”

The first sign that was to be given by Jeremiah was that of abstention from marrying and having children. To us that might not be seen as so unusual, but it was very different for men in Israel in those days. For every Israelite adult male saw marriage and bearing children as being his most important basic duty and as being the most necessary requirement of life. By it he was seen as not only fulfilling his own destiny (‘be fruitful and multiply’ - Genesis 1:28), but as also perpetuating his name, and ensuring the passing on of his inheritance through the family. Marriage was considered to form the very basis of society. And it was not only for his own sake. It was in order that he and his successors might provide security for the whole family. It was seen as the very foundation of family life, providing stability for all, and ensuring its continual growth and prosperity. Not to marry was greatly frowned on, and almost unknown, and not to have children was seen as an especially great grief, and a catastrophe for the family, which was one reason why dual marriage was allowed

So when Jeremiah was told by God not to take a wife for himself and have sons and daughters, he was being asked to go against the very tenets of society, to forego a basic right, and to be willing to face up to the opprobrium that would almost certainly follow. But the reason for the abstention was clearly laid out. It was in order to get over the fact that, in view of Judah’s future prospects, not being married and not having sons and daughters would be seen as a great advantage, because death would be so rampant. Fathers, mothers, sons and daughters would all die grievous deaths through diseases, and they would die in such circumstances that they would not be lamented because those deaths would be so much a part of what was happening around them that there would be no opportunity for mourning, and no one to do the mourning. Their dead bodies would lie unburied, lying scattered like manure on the fields, and sword and famine would continue to contribute to their numbers with the result that they would become the prey of scavenger birds (vultures, etc.) and the dinner of equally unpleasant scavengers in the animal world. And that was only something which could happen because death had claimed the whole family so that none was left to fulfil the crucial burial duties (compare Jeremiah 9:22 and see the piteous example in 2 Samuel 21:10). To be left unburied and to be eaten by scavengers was seen by Israelites as the most terrible of deaths.

The intention behind his abstinence from marriage was in order to cause people to ask him why he was not married, at which point he would explain the reasons so as to bring home YHWH’s warnings.


Verses 5-7

The Second Sign: Abstention From Mourning (Jeremiah 16:5-7).

The second sign was to be seen as the abstention from mourning and from attendance at funerals. Proper mourning for the dead was again seen as an essential part of life. Not to do so would have been severely frowned on, for true mourning was seen as contributing to the well-being and continuity of the whole family. It ensured proper farewells, and proper succession, enabled release of emotions, and demonstrated proper respect for the one who had passed on. But death was to become so commonplace that there would be no time for such activities. Any who remained alive would be concentrating on their own near kin, and would have no time for mourning others.

Jeremiah 16:5

“For thus says YHWH,

“Do not enter into the house of mourning,

Nor go to lament, nor bemoan them,

For I have taken away my peace from this people, the word of YHWH,

Even covenant love and tender mercies.”

Jeremiah was called on not to partake in mourning, especially a mourning-feast, which would be partly celebratory of the deceased, because mourning was connected with comfort and commiseration, and in the future that was coming there would be no comfort or commiseration for His people. And this was because YHWH had removed what was essential for the people’s well-being, ‘even covenant love and tender mercies’. In other words He no longer had regard for them because they had rejected His covenant and would therefore leave them to face the worst and would offer them no comfort.

Jeremiah 16:6-7

“Both great and small will die in this land,

They will not be buried,

Nor will men lament for them, nor cut themselves,

Nor make themselves bald for them,

Nor will men break bread for them in mourning,

To comfort them for the dead,

Nor will men give them the cup of consolation to drink,

For their father or for their mother.”

His abstention was intended to indicate that death would have no favourites. Both great and small would die equally. And none would be buried or mourned for. No one would undergo religious ritual on the behalf of others (cutting themselves and self-inflicted baldness were seen as signs of great emotional intensity and of contact with the gods, compare here Leviticus 19:28; Deuteronomy 14:1; 1 Kings 18:28. Thus the people are also seen as being unfaithful to their false gods). No one would participate in a wake in their memory. There would be no bread or wine offered in consolation to the households of the dead. The cup of consolation would appear to have been offered when a parent had died. For no one would indulge in mourning of any kind because circumstances would be so devastating.

So Jeremiah’s abstention from everything connected with mourning would draw attention to the intensity of the desolation that was coming on the land, and would again raise questions in people’s minds, enabling Jeremiah to press home his message.

For the custom of giving food and wine to the family of the bereaved compare Hosea 9:4; Ezekiel 24:17; Proverbs 31:6.


Verse 8-9

The Third Sign - Non-Participation In Celebratory Feasts (Jeremiah 16:8-9).

The third sign was to absent himself from all celebratory feasts, as an indication that the future was so black that there was nothing to celebrate. It was a sign that soon all merriment would cease in the land. Nothing would attract attention more than someone who refused to partake in celebratory meals in a day when there was little other recreation and such feasts were the highlight of their lives. This above all would cause people to ask him questions.

Jeremiah 16:8

“And you shall not go into the house of feasting,

To sit with them, to eat and to drink.”

Feasts were of many kinds but the aim of all of them was celebration and to have a good time. Thus Jeremiah’s refusal of all invitations would draw comment. Did he not believe in having a good time? And it would give him the opportunity to explain his reasons. His attitude was evidence of the fact that there would soon be nothing to celebrate.

Jeremiah 16:9

For thus says YHWH of hosts,

The God of Israel,

Behold, I will cause to cease out of this place,

Before your eyes and in your days,

The voice of mirth and the voice of gladness,

The voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.”

When they questioned his behaviour he would be able to point out that soon God would be causing all mirth and merriment to cease, and that it was to happen before their very eyes and in their own day. Thus those who were questioning him would soon see it for themselves. And things would be so bad that even marriage celebrations would cease because of the vicissitudes of the times.


Verses 10-18

What Jeremiah Is To Answer Once He Has Given His Explanation As To Why He Is Abstaining From Marriage And Family Life, From All Forms Of Mourning, And From All Celebratory Feasts (Jeremiah 16:10-18).

With Jeremiah having brought home to the people the significance of his signs, i.e. that they are indications of great desolation ahead, they are then moved to ask him why YHWH has pronounced this great evil on them (Jeremiah 16:10). In view of their claim that ‘they had done nothing wrong’ we may assume that their questions were indignant rather than fearful. It reveals that they were so hardened in their disobedience that they could not understand why Jeremiah was suggesting that God was angry with them. To them it seemed preposterous. As with so many people in the present day they were so blind spiritually that they were confident that there was nothing in their lives that really displeased God. Conviction of sin has always been one of the most difficult things to bring about in men’s lives, and they were unable to see that it was their whole attitude of heart that was wrong (compare John 16:8-11 where it is made clear that to bring such conviction is the work of the Spirit of God).

Jeremiah’s response is to bring out that in fact their sin is so serious (Jeremiah 16:11-12) that what is to happen to them will alter their whole view of history. For after what is in the future to happen to them in ‘the land of the North’, they will no longer see the deliverance from ‘the land of Egypt’ as the great past event of their history but will date their renewed nationhood from the time of their deliverance from ‘the land of the North (Jeremiah 16:14-15). And that is because they are to receive double payment for their sins (Jeremiah 16:18).

Jeremiah 16:10

“And it will come to about when you shall show this people all these words,

And they will say to you,

Why has YHWH pronounced all this great evil against us?

Or what is our iniquity?

Or what is our sin,

That we have committed against YHWH our God?

When Jeremiah tells the people the significance of his signs they are unable to believe what they are hearing. They were fully confident that they and their way of life were satisfactory to God. Were they not maintaining the Temple ritual in the way that was required? Why then should God be displeased? Had they not always given Him His due? Let Jeremiah now explain in what way they had fallen short.

Jeremiah 16:11-12

“Then you will say to them,

Because your fathers have forsaken me,

The word of YHWH,

And have walked after other gods,

And have served them,

And have worshipped them,

And have forsaken me,

And have not kept my law,

And you have done evil more than your fathers,

For, behold, you walk every one after the stubbornness of his evil heart,

So that you do not listen to me,”

YHWH’s reply was straight and to the point. It was because He was no longer the centre of their lives. It was because they had failed to live in accordance with His Instruction (Law). It was because they had forsaken Him and in their daily personal worship had walked after the ways of other gods, and served them and worshipped them. It was because He was no longer the One to Whom they listened. It was because they stubbornly walked in their own ways and in accordance with their own ideas. Central to all was that they were not responding to God’s word.

Jeremiah 16:13

“Therefore will I cast you forth out of this land,

Into the land that you have not known, neither you nor your fathers,

And there you will serve other gods day and night,

For I will show you no favour”.

So if they wanted other gods they could have them. He was casting them forth out of the land as He had warned He would do from the beginning if they went after other gods and walked in their ways (Leviticus 18:25; Leviticus 18:28; Leviticus 20:22; Deuteronomy 7:4; Deuteronomy 8:19; Deuteronomy 11:28; Deuteronomy 28:14 ff.). And it would not be onto familiar ground but into a land they had never known or experienced, and there they would serve other gods both day and night (indicating their total commitment). And all this would happen to them because His favour had been withdrawn.

Jeremiah 16:14-15

“Therefore, behold, the days come, the word of YHWH,

That it will no more be said,

‘As YHWH lives, who brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’

But, ‘As YHWH lives, who brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north,

And from all the countries to which he had driven them.’

And I will bring them again into their land that I gave to their fathers.”

Jeremiah’s confidence that YHWH would one day restore His people to the land (something which is a feature of Jeremiah, compare Jeremiah 3:14-19; Jeremiah 4:27; Jeremiah 5:10; Jeremiah 5:18; Jeremiah 23:3 ff., Jeremiah 25:11-12; Jeremiah 29:10; Jeremiah 30-33 and indeed of all the prophets) comes out here, but that is not the main emphasis of the verses. The main emphasis, continuing the theme of this passage, is that just as so long ago they had suffered so dreadfully in ‘the land of Egypt’, so now would they suffer even more dreadfully in ‘the land of the North’. Indeed so dreadful would be the things that they were about to experience that the awfulness of Egypt would be forgotten. This emphasis is brought out by the ‘therefore’ (as with the ‘therefore in Jeremiah 16:13) and by the whole tenor of the verses. It is an explanation of the consequences of their sins.

A great deal of the worship in the Temple was based on the fact of the deliverance from Egypt, and many of the Psalms emphasised the thought. It was seen as the very basis of the nation’s existence. But so horrifying would be what they were about to experience that that emphasis would in the end change into how God had delivered them from their awful exiles among the nations in the North.

Nevertheless having said that, the verses do also bring out Jeremiah’s confidence that in the end God would once again deliver His people, so much so that all their gratitude would in future be levelled at that fact. For this time the deliverance would not just be of one people in one place, but of people in many places who would return back to God and be brought back to the land which God had given them, something fulfilled in the return of the people after the Babylonian exile and onwards, which resulted in the establishment of an independent Jewish Kingdom composed of people from all the tribes of Israel, a return which prepared the way for the coming of Jesus Christ (it does not therefore await fulfilment).

It is an indication of how deeply rooted it was in Jeremiah’s thinking that God would one day restore His people that he is able to treat it here as an obvious assumption.

Jeremiah 16:16

“Behold, I will send for many fishers, the word of YHWH,

And they will fish them up,

And afterward I will send for many hunters,

And they will hunt them from every mountain,

And from every hill,

And out of the clefts of the rocks.”

There would be no way of escape from their fate. Their enemy would come down on them with the same urgency as that shown by fishermen when they were seeking to catch their fish, and would take them up in their net. And they would follow this up, chasing down the survivors with the same urgency and thoroughness with which hunters pursue their prey. There will be no place of refuge. They will be hunted from every mountain, from every hill and from the very clefts of the rocks. None will escape.

Jeremiah 16:17

“For my eyes are on all their ways,

They are not hid from my face,

Nor is their iniquity,

Concealed from my eyes.”

And this thoroughness would be because YHWH was aware of all their ways, and of all their iniquity. His eyes were upon them and He saw everything. They could not hide from His face. And what He saw was disobedience (their disobedient ways) and iniquity.

Jeremiah 16:18

“And first I will recompense their iniquity,

And their sin double,

Because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable things,

And have filled my inheritance with their abominations.

The consequence was therefore to be that He would recompense them double for all their sins (compare Isaiah 40:1, and see Exodus 22:4; Exodus 22:7), in other words He would demand from them the full measure required. And this was because they had polluted His land, which belonged to Him and which He had given to them, by filling it with idols and false gods, and with the behaviour that resulted from such worship. The ‘carcasses of their detestable things’ may refer to the sacrifices offered to the idols which were to be seen as an affront to YHWH, and may include the idea that among other things swine and other unclean things were offered (Isaiah 65:4). But the reference to the carcasses of idols in Leviticus 26:30 may simply suggest that that is what is in mind.

‘First.’ That is, first before anything else. YHWH sees it as His most urgent task. Deliverance may follow, but it is first necessary that there be a full measure of judgment.


Verse 19-20

The Sin Of Judah Is Especially Heinous In The Light Of The Fact That One Day The Nations Will Recognise The Folly Of Their Idolatry. This Make Judah’s Turning To Idols Totally Reprehensible (Jeremiah 16:19-20).

The encouraging idea that one day the nations would turn from their idols and seek YHWH is prominent in a number of the prophets (compare Jeremiah 4:2; Genesis 12:1-3; Psalms 2; Isaiah 2:1-3; Isaiah 11:9; Isaiah 42:4; Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 56:6-7; Isaiah 60:3-7; Isaiah 66:19-20; Amos 9:11-12; Micah 4:2; Zechariah 8:20-23; Zechariah 14:16-17), and is taken up by Jeremiah here in order to underline the heinousness of Judah’s own behaviour. In the light of this fact their behaviour is seen to be totally reprehensible.

Jeremiah 16:19

“O YHWH, my strength, and my stronghold,

And my refuge in the day of affliction,

To you will the nations come,

From the ends of the earth, and will say,

Our fathers have inherited nothing but lies,

Vanity and things in which there is no profit.”

Jeremiah’s confidence in YHWH has been restored so that he can now speak of Him as his strength and stronghold, and as his refuge in the day of affliction. The ideas are taken from Psalms 28:8; Psalms 59:17; Psalms 18:3. And in the light of this he exults in his certainty that, as the prophets had promised (see above), one day the nations would come to seek YHWH, admitting the folly of their previous idolatry. They would come from the ends of the earth and would declare that what they had previously believed in had been lies, merely a puff of wind (hebel - empty air), and profitless.

Jeremiah 16:20

“Will a man make to himself gods,

Which yet are no gods?

Therefore, behold, I will cause them to know,

This once will I cause them to know,

My hand and my might,

And they will know that my name is YHWH.”

The fact that the nations would one day recognise the folly of their idolatry made it all the more reprehensible that Judah had chosen to make himself gods of what were no-gods. Would anyone do such a foolish thing? The answer is ‘yes, for Judah have already done it. That was especially why they had to be taught a sharp lesson. By it He would cause them to know His power and His might. The fact that He would ‘cause them to know’ is emphasised twice, and the fact that they would ‘know’ is emphasised three times. And by it YHWH would bring home to them once and for all the power of His hand and of His might, and cause them to know that His Name was truly YHWH, ‘the One Who is whatever He wants to be’. It was a lesson that in future they would never forget, and prepared the way for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ Who made known His Name as never before, first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles.

Some, however, interpret this verse as referring to the conversion of the Gentiles, and it can equally apply to that for it is a general statement. But the emphasis and the context suggest that the first interpretation is paramount.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 16:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/jeremiah-16.html. 2013.

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Monday, September 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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