In this post we will survey the content of Jeremiah 16-23 by paragraph. Together with the previous posts we will have seen all of the laments or confessions, as they are commonly called, of Jeremiah. The next post will show the pattern of those confessions. Remember that all of these chapters, in the chiasm of the whole book, are oracles against Judah.
So far we have seen that Jeremiah was persecuted by his own people, from his own town, from his own family. He was persecuted by the religious leadership – the priests. He was hated by the false prophets. And the kings were not big fans either. God would not allow him to marry (Jeremiah 16:2).
The message of Jeremiah has been similar to those in Kings and Isaiah. He tells Judah that they are sinners, they have broken covenant, they will go into exile and “serve other gods day and night” (Jeremiah 16:13).
But also says that there will be a day when YHWH is no longer known so much for the original Exodus event as He will be known for the New Exodus (Jeremiah 16:14-15). And this New Exodus has the same purpose as the old one: “I will make them know my power and my might, and they shall know that my name is YHWH” (21).
Jeremiah 17 begins in an interesting way: “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart, and on the horns of their altars, while their children remember their altars and their Asherim, beside every green tree and on the high hills, on the mountains in the open country” (Jeremiah 17:1-3a).
What is needed? Heart circumcision is the answer.
The next paragraph begins, “Thus says YHWH:” It consists of a “Cursed is…” and “Blessed is…” poem. “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from YHWH. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land” (Jeremiah 17:5-6). “Blessed is the man who trusts in YHWH, whose trust is YHWH. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8). These “Cursed is…” and “Blessed is…” poetic statements are wounderfully parallel. The latter sounds like Psalm 1. We have seen that statements of cursing and blessing in the Bible are almost always poems. I recommend putting the text for the one next to the other for comparison as follows:
The poem continues: “’The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I YHWH search the heart and test the mind, to give to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.’ Like the partridge that gathers a brood that she did not hatch, so is he who gets riches but not by justice; in the midst of his days they will leave him, and at his end he will be a fool” (Jeremiah 17:10-11). Then this part ends: “A glorious throne set on high from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary. O YHWH, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you shall be put to shame; those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken YHWH, the fountain of living water” (Jeremiah 17:12-13). This echoes Jeremiah 2:13.
The second half of the poem then gets autobiographical: “Heal me, O YHWH, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise. Behold, they say to me, ‘Where is the word of YHWH? Let it come.’ I have not run away from being your shepherd, nor have I desired the day of sickness. You know what came out of my lips; it was before your face. Be not a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster” (Jeremiah 17:14-17). Concluding: “Let those be put to shame who persecute me, but let me not be put to shame; Let them be dismayed, but let me not be dismayed; Bring upon them the day of disaster; destroy them with double destruction” (Jeremiah 17:18).
Set apart from the forgoing text by a double “Thus says YHWH” – the rest of the chapter is prose. It is all about Sabbath keeping. The stress is on carrying a burden on the Sabbath.
With a third person introduction marker we move into a new section. Jeremiah 18 is a famous chapter for the potter and clay theme. Jeremiah went to a potter’s house and saw the potter working at the wheel. “And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do” (Jeremiah 18:4).
Jeremiah 18:5 begins a new paragraph where YHWH explains that He can do with Israel just as the potter did with the clay.
The chapter repeats the build and pluck up theme. This time in reverse order: “If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I intended to do to it” (Jeremiah 18:7-10). “’Thus says YHWH, behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’ But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart’” (Jeremiah 18:11-12).
The next paragraph begins, “Therefore thus says YHWH:” and it is a poem. The conversation continues with Jeremiah 18:18. Then they said, ‘Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah, for the law (Torah) shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come let us strike him with the tongue, and let us not pay attention to any of his words’” (Jeremiah 18:18).
Torah for priests to teach; Counsel for the wisdom teachers to give; The Word of YHWH for the prophet to speak. Of course we know that prophecy would cease. The rest of the chapter is a poem where Jeremiah pleads with YHWH concerning his plight.
A new paragraph begins with Jeremiah 19:1, “Thus says YHWH…you shall say, ‘Hear the word of YHWH, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel:”
The valley of the Son of Hinnom was associated with the practice of child sacrifice. Thus the charge: “Because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind” (Jeremiah 19:4c-5).
The prophecy of what would happen there was quite graphic – cannibalism because they are starving during the seige. The climax of the chapter then is the breaking of the flask (a potter’s vessel) as a prophetic sign of what would happen to the people and city of Jerusalem. It is a prophetic sign akin to the breaking of the bread pointing forward to the death of Christ on the cross.
Chapter 20 is a narrative that speaks of the prophet in the third person. It opens, “Now Pashhur the priest, the son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of YHWH, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things. Then Pashhur beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of YHWH” (Jeremiah 20:1-2). Jeremiah tells him that YHWH does not call him Passhur but instead “Terror on Every Side” and that YHWH will make him a terror to himself and all his friends. “They shall fall by the sword of their enemies while you look on” (Jeremiah 20:4). And Passhur would go into exile to Babylon where he would die and be buried.
The rest of the chapter Jeremiah breaks out into poetry calling out to YHWH because of the way he is being treated for saying YHWH’s word. Verse 9 puts it well: “If I say, ‘I will not mention Him, Or speak any more in His name,’ There is in my heart as it were a burning fire Shut up in my bones, And I am weary with holding it in, And I cannot.” Jeremiah has to speak YHWH’s word.
Jeremiah’s lament ends: “Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, ‘A son is born to you,’ making him very glad. Let that man be like the cities that YHWH overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon, because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb forever great. Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow and spend my days in shame? (Jer 20:14-18).
Jeremiah 21 begins back in the 3rd person for Jeremiah. It again mentions Passhur the priest. King Zedekiah had sent Passhur to inquire of YHWH as to the war that Nebuchadnezzar (spelled more correctly in this case as Nebuchadrezzar) was waging against Judah. God has Jeremiah tell the priest that God Himself will fight against Jerusalem and He will give Zedekiah and the survivors of the pestilence over to Nebuchadnezzar. The choice is one of life or death (recall Deuteronomy) – he who stays in the city will die but he who surrenders to the Chaldeans will live.
The last paragraph of the chapter is a poem. The introduction to the poem goes like this: “And to the house of the king of Judah, say, ‘Hear the word of YHWH, O house of David! Thus says YHWH:” The poem makes clear that God will punish the house of David for their evil deeds unless they repent.
Jeremiah 22 also begins a new paragraph written for the same audience: “Thus says YHWH: ‘Go down to the house of the king of Judah and speak there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of YHWH, O king of Judah, who sits on the throne of David, you, and your servants, and your people who enter these gates. Thus says YHWH:””
The double “Thus says YHWH” indicates a new major section. And the content of what YHWH says is “Do justice and righteousness” (the same call of the previous poem, but this time in prose with a couple short poems).
The theme of doing justice and righteousness continues in the next sections. One is addressed to “Shallum the son of Josiah, king of Judah, who reigned instead of Josiah his father, and who went away from his place” (Jeremiah 22:11). Shallum was the king we know as Jehoahaz who went into exile in Egypt shortly after he became king. The message to him was that he would die as a captive and never come back to the land again.
The next is addressed to “Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah” (Jeremiah 22:18). He prophesies that Jehoiakim’s son will die childless.Jeremiah 22Thus Jeremiah 22 gives us the prophecies of Jeremiah that we saw fulfilled in the text of Kings.
Jeremiah 23 is a well known chapter because of the discussion of the righteous Branch that refers to Jesus Christ. He begins by uttering a “Woe” against the shepherds of Israel and then says this: “Behold, the days are coming, declares YHWH, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘YHWH is our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:5-6).
The very next words echo an earlier text: “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares YHWH, when they shall no longer say, ‘As YHWH lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As YHWH lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land” (Jeremiah 23:7-8, almost identical to Jeremiah 16:14-15).
The rest of the chapter picks back up with Jeremiah’s favorite issue of ungodly prophets and priests. It also shows how much worse things were in Judah than Israel: “In the prophets of Samaria I saw an unsavory thing: they prophesied by Baal and led my people Israel astray. But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil; all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah” (Jeremiah 23:13-14).
Again the main message of the false prophets was that it would go well with you and no disaster will come upon you. We might say, ‘Don’t worry about your sins, everything is going to be just fine. You have nothing to worry about.’