Jeremiah 17

Heart of darkness, never at rest.

Starts by describing the unstoppable, indelible nature of sin. It’s carved deep with sharp diamond, defacing our holiness.

Certainly we’ve spent the whole Bible, since the garden, with a relentless beat of rebellion under all the stories of the great moments and inspired leaders.

The folk religion, the idols, never stop. It’s fruit is human sacrifice, sexual exploitation. Can’t clean that stain alone.

Jeremiah writes the anti Psalm 1. Blessed is the man whose delight is in God. And cursed is the man whose trust is in men, they will wither.

Trust in idols is really trust in men for people who have had the true God revealed. If they choose another ‘god’ they are choosing their own rebellious heart.

Despair comes into Jeremiah’s awareness of the sickness and deceitfulness of his own heart, he asks God to search it. He makes an intensely felt plea for his own mercy and forgiveness. When he asks God for refuge, you sense again how hard he finds his life.

A similar point is made with treasure metaphors, heavenly treasure is like the highest throne, a kingdom of peace that lasts forever.

Those who love earthly treasure are compared the Partridge, which had the reputation of sitting on other birds eggs. Earthly wealth flys away.

Jeremiah is sent to the streets to do the crazy prophet with the sandwich board thing again. This time he is to call them to one of the 10 commandments, the Sabbath.

Why that? Hebrews expands the concept, it is God’s rest. Israel’s observing of the Sabbath is a symbol of their rest in God, the end of rebellion, the end of fighting.

There are 3 positive images in this chapter of God’s world: a beautiful tree planted by a river, a kingdom of peace above all others and rest, sweet safe rest.

But always in Jeremiah the bleak conclusion that the people won’t choose life, the message will go unheeded.


Jeremiah 16

Into the accelerating detachment from the fate of the ex-people of God, finally towards the end of this chapter shines a ray of hope.

At the start Jeremiah is told not to marry or have children. Not as a sign like Hosea so much as self protection from the pain coming. Why would you bring children into that?

He is told not to morn with mourners because God has deserted them. He’s told not to celebrate either.

He’s to detach emotionally. Once again there is the vision of bodies not buried, becoming carrion.

But then, then finally, the promise to return the captives. It will overshadow the crossing of the red sea as an act of redemption.

Even here there is an image of fishers and hunters chasing down those who have polluted the land with iniquity, but it is a selective process. A cull rather than wholesale destruction.

The big picture is teaching emphatically to the nations that there is only one God. Those you make yourself don’t count.

Jeremiah 15

God makes it abundantly clear to Jeremiah that there is no way he will forgive Israel. It’s not that Jeremiah isn’t good enough, even Moses and Samuel could not persuade him to relent.

Jeremiah’s misery over his mission reaches fever pitch. He starts to sound like Job, wishing he had never been born and cataloguing all the good he has done in his life to ask what he’s done to deserve such punishment.

God promises to be kind to him eventually, but for now he must be strong like a wall. He must absorb their rejection of the message, he must absorb their attacks on him.

You know that Jeremiah will be brave, he’s in the Bible. You know how it ends. But for us it often doesn’t end that way.

We wimp out. We change the message to fit the people. Or we divorce the message from the people, from any relationship or care. How much does Jeremiah grieve for them!

Jeremiah 14

This chapter is a dialogue of struggle between Jeremiah and God. They are talking about Israel, but to each other.

Jeremiah’s bleak message for the people rips him apart. His epic struggle to obey God is a key theme of the book, and an ironic one.

His love for the people makes it so painful for him to obey God and prophesy doom and gloom for them. Yet that obedience also contrasts so extremely with their disobedience that it helps make the case for the message.

God and Jeremiah are a bit like parents of a wayward child. They are so frustrated that they can’t reach the child, they start to turn on each other.

Here Jeremiah paints to God a vivid picture of how a series of droughts are affecting not just his people but his creatures and creation. There is a strong emotional plea, manipulation even, in it.

He doesn’t promise their repentance as such, he can’t, but he goads God to act because of his character. “Are you a stranger?” he asks, “a visitor, a confused old man? Aren’t you supposed to be a mighty warrior who loves his people?” It’s quite a way to speak to God!

“Nup, not happening” God essentially replies in quite blunt terms. “And stop praying for them.”

Jeremiah tries a different tack, arguing they have been misled by false prophets. He’s implying that it’s not their fault.

God promises the false prophets and the people will perish, and gives Jeremiah a true word to take to them, of them shattered; dead and unburied in the fields of battle, starving and sick in the cities.

Despite God’s prohibition, Jeremiah prays beautifully again for them to close the chapter.

We have a message for our world, the western part of which is experimenting with all sorts of affront to God. That includes some of the “chosen”, evangelical Christians, in my view. We can pray for them all we like, but at some point God wants us to act.

Jeremiah 13

Good for nothing.

God gets Jeremiah to act out a bit of theatre, putting on a noble priestly garment, a sash, which if he wore typical prophet attire would have apparently looked like wearing a cummerbund and a hessian sack. Quite a sight.

He went to the Euphrates, a long way, to the place the invasion would come from, and buried the sash.

Then he traveled back after a few months and dig it up. It was ruined, useless.

In my new job producing materials for churches, I find encouragement from God’s use of illustrative material. But the message is devastating.

They are good for nothing. From the chosen people to useless.

Comparisons go on to be drawn to drunks, ignorant and stupid. And the public humiliation of prostitutes.

All you can do is put it out there. You can’t force people to repent, Jeremiah should convince us of that.

But it’s also a good time to look at the hardness in my own heart. I’ve been struggling in a practical level with lollies and alcohol. I don’t have a huge problem, but do have a bit more of both than is good for me. How hard is self discipline!

Jeremiah 12

Sucker’s to be God’s messenger. Last chapter Jeremiah discovered The was a plot to kill him for speaking God’s word.

This chapter he argues with God’s over the fairness of his message. He asks why God people have to suffer. He’s the meat in the sandwich, but such is his calling I suppose.

God’s answer is a) there are a lot less good people than you think, and b) there will be a restoration and compassion after the invasion.

I’m now being paid to write about God’s work and his nature, it’s an extraordinary privilege for a believer. May I remain faithful and true like Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 11

Jeremiah has a pattern of hope to hopelessness. God starts saying how the people could fix their relationship with him, but then says they won’t.

Here its done with the covenant. He reminds them of it, says that they could still obey him, then says they never have and never will. He emphasises how long it’s been since then, and how now they have “more Gods than cities”.

Proceeding further into the heart of darkness, God reveals to Jeremiah in a poetic section a plot to take his life. For speaking God’s word! The chapter ends with dire predictions of what will become of the plotters.

It’s a chapter of God’s speaking to Jeremiah, not him to the people, except the poetic section in his voice.

Judgement isn’t a big part of theology day to day in churches. Sure is a huge theme of the old testament though.

Though it’s more like a sort a tagging of God’s direction. This book is the five minutes to midnight before Babylon takes Jerusalem – it’s tagging Babylon as God’s agents.

When AIDS hit there were Christians who tagged that as God’s judgement. And there is a way that any death can be seen that way. But we don’t get to do the tagging.

And it’s different now anyway that Jesus has come. That was just an exercise in cruelty.

Jeremiah 10

Starts with a section about idols, and not learning from other nations.

A returning theme for a few chapters now is the use of the heavens as a substitute for God . Appealing to the heavens is an idolotrous practice.

The dead, man-made nature of an idol is compared to the living God. Idols are the dumb sum of a list of materials, the earth quakes when God speaks.

He warms to the theme, describing God stretching out the heavens, stirring the waters, choosing his people. All the while their ignorance and stupidity for choosing idols is decried.

It ends with Jeremiah calling for mercy. He recognises that it is God who makes us good, we can’t do it ourselves. He calls for justice not wrath, but asks that wrath be directed at the godless nations.

As you see from this rather cold summary, I’m still not connecting with Jeremiah that well. I have my unfair dismissal conciliation today, and am in the second week of my new job at salvation army.

The experiences have affected me in ways I can’t quite process. I’m quite anxious.

The thing that has resonated best with me from the chapter is Jeremiah asking to be treated with justice not anger.

I’ve been thinking about that a bit. I rejected a monetary settlement for my unfair dismissal claim in the hope of getting some justice instead.

At the moment for me responsibility is weighing heavier on me.

My prayer is for wisdom and clarity.

Jeremiah 9

Starts with a lament of the staggering falsehood of the people. He says their tongues are like arrows they shoot at each other. No one can trust each other.

God asks rhetorical questions about whether he has any choice but to judge them. He says he’ll soon be lamenting empty mountains and fields, because the people will be gone.

But the extreme message is not about rubbing in how bad it will be, there is still the hope of repentance. He calls upon professional mourner women to reflect on earth the tears in heaven.

He calls on the people to love justice as God boast of knowing God, not earthly riches wisdom etc. To love with their heart, not though external shows. Their hearts are just as uncircumcised as any of the surrounding nations, the denial of their special chosen status.

The lifetime patterns of working with a degree of cynicism, of playing the game, are hard to break. I mean, my Christian work place is still full of sinful people, tis the nature of mankind.

But I’ve been taking a somewhat uncircumcised heart to work, I pray that I will boast in understanding the god of steadfast righteousness, love and justice.

Jeremiah 8

Argh, I’ve slowed right down. I’m finding Jeremiah hard work.

I started a new job, as a writer for the salvation army. So now I’m sort of doing this for a living.

On the downside, it’s less pay and only a six month contract. The salvos are restructuring in a major way, so it’s quite likely to be a real six month contract too.

But in the upside it’s work, and good work. I’m enjoying the stimulation of a culture change and writing about things I care about.

Each chapter pushes despair further.

Ever more extreme predictions of disaster… This kicks off with a vision of the bones of ancestors being disinterred and treated as rubbish.

Ever more bleak about the inability of the people to respond. This chapter compares animal’s natural instinct for self preservation to the people self destructive behaviour.

And it ends with Jeremiah’s personal pain. Messenger guilt.

I’m loving the practicality of the salvation armies response. Do what you can, one life at a time.