The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. Jeremiah 1:1-2
You might recall from 2 Kings that Josiah reigned near the end of Judah’s term. Jeremiah’s parents would have remembered the treacherous days of Manasseh, when the LORD had promised by His servants the prophets, “Because Manasseh…has done more evil than all the Amorites did… Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle… And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the hand of their enemies.”
Jeremiah would see this promise fulfilled, as evidenced by the first paragraph of this book. In fact, it appears that Jeremiah’s calling coincides with the start of a countdown, around 40 years before the ultimate fall of Jerusalem. In Jeremiah’s first vision Jeremiah is let in on this secret: “Out of the north disaster shall be let loose on all the inhabitants of the land. For behold, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north… and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem… and I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me.”
The remainder of this oracle is encouragement for Jeremiah. In fact, listen as the LORD promises to build defenses, but not for Judah! “To all to whom I send you,” declares the LORD, …whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you.” Pay attention throughout this book to Jeremiah’s emotions and the LORD’s encouragement – and consider the times in which Jeremiah lived.
In the final two-thirds of today’s reading Jeremiah presents the LORD’s case against His people. The LORD laments over Israel’s covenantal failure: “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was holy to the LORD, the firstfruits of His harvest.” One metaphor of note is that of infidelity – especially marital infidelity. This surfaced sparingly in Isaiah, but becomes a strong image in these opening chapters of Jeremiah. This is how seriously the LORD takes His covenant with them, and He wants them to know why they are being judged.
Our verse for this week is Acts 1:8: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
Jeremiah 1 through 3. Now let’s read it!
Jeremiah 1 - 3
1:1 The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month.
Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the LORD said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the LORD.”
Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me,
“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.” Then the LORD said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.”
The word of the LORD came to me a second time, saying, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see a boiling pot, facing away from the north.” Then the LORD said to me, “Out of the north disaster shall be let loose upon all the inhabitants of the land. For behold, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, declares the LORD, and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls all around and against all the cities of Judah. And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands. But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you.”
2:1 The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the LORD,
“I remember the devotion of your youth,
your love as a bride,
how you followed me in the wilderness,
in a land not sown.
Israel was holy to the LORD,
the firstfruits of his harvest.
All who ate of it incurred guilt;
disaster came upon them,
declares the LORD.”
Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, and all the clans of the house of Israel. Thus says the LORD:
“What wrong did your fathers find in me
that they went far from me,
and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?
They did not say, ‘Where is the LORD
who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness,
in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness,
in a land that none passes through,
where no man dwells?’
And I brought you into a plentiful land
to enjoy its fruits and its good things.
But when you came in, you defiled my land
and made my heritage an abomination.
The priests did not say, ‘Where is the LORD?’
Those who handle the law did not know me;
the shepherds transgressed against me;
the prophets prophesied by Baal
and went after things that do not profit.
“Therefore I still contend with you,
declares the LORD,
and with your children's children I will contend.
For cross to the coasts of Cyprus and see,
or send to Kedar and examine with care;
see if there has been such a thing.
Has a nation changed its gods,
even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
for that which does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the LORD,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.
“Is Israel a slave? Is he a homeborn servant?
Why then has he become a prey?
The lions have roared against him;
they have roared loudly.
They have made his land a waste;
his cities are in ruins, without inhabitant.
Moreover, the men of Memphis and Tahpanhes
have shaved the crown of your head.
Have you not brought this upon yourself
by forsaking the LORD your God,
when he led you in the way?
And now what do you gain by going to Egypt
to drink the waters of the Nile?
Or what do you gain by going to Assyria
to drink the waters of the Euphrates?
Your evil will chastise you,
and your apostasy will reprove you.
Know and see that it is evil and bitter
for you to forsake the LORD your God;
the fear of me is not in you,
declares the Lord GOD of hosts.
“For long ago I broke your yoke
and burst your bonds;
but you said, ‘I will not serve.’
Yes, on every high hill
and under every green tree
you bowed down like a whore.
Yet I planted you a choice vine,
wholly of pure seed.
How then have you turned degenerate
and become a wild vine?
Though you wash yourself with lye
and use much soap,
the stain of your guilt is still before me,
declares the Lord GOD.
How can you say, ‘I am not unclean,
I have not gone after the Baals’?
Look at your way in the valley;
know what you have done—
a restless young camel running here and there,
a wild donkey used to the wilderness,
in her heat sniffing the wind!
Who can restrain her lust?
None who seek her need weary themselves;
in her month they will find her.
Keep your feet from going unshod
and your throat from thirst.
But you said, ‘It is hopeless,
for I have loved foreigners,
and after them I will go.’
“As a thief is shamed when caught,
so the house of Israel shall be shamed:
they, their kings, their officials,
their priests, and their prophets,
who say to a tree, ‘You are my father,’
and to a stone, ‘You gave me birth.’
For they have turned their back to me,
and not their face.
But in the time of their trouble they say,
‘Arise and save us!’
But where are your gods
that you made for yourself?
Let them arise, if they can save you,
in your time of trouble;
for as many as your cities
are your gods, O Judah.
“Why do you contend with me?
You have all transgressed against me,
declares the LORD.
In vain have I struck your children;
they took no correction;
your own sword devoured your prophets
like a ravening lion.
And you, O generation, behold the word of the LORD.
Have I been a wilderness to Israel,
or a land of thick darkness?
Why then do my people say, ‘We are free,
we will come no more to you’?
Can a virgin forget her ornaments,
or a bride her attire?
Yet my people have forgotten me
days without number.
“How well you direct your course
to seek love!
So that even to wicked women
you have taught your ways.
Also on your skirts is found
the lifeblood of the guiltless poor;
you did not find them breaking in.
Yet in spite of all these things
you say, ‘I am innocent;
surely his anger has turned from me.’
Behold, I will bring you to judgment
for saying, ‘I have not sinned.’
How much you go about,
changing your way!
You shall be put to shame by Egypt
as you were put to shame by Assyria.
From it too you will come away
with your hands on your head,
for the LORD has rejected those in whom you trust,
and you will not prosper by them.
3:1 “If a man divorces his wife
and she goes from him
and becomes another man's wife,
will he return to her?
Would not that land be greatly polluted?
You have played the whore with many lovers;
and would you return to me?
declares the LORD.
Lift up your eyes to the bare heights, and see!
Where have you not been ravished?
By the waysides you have sat awaiting lovers
like an Arab in the wilderness.
You have polluted the land
with your vile whoredom.
Therefore the showers have been withheld,
and the spring rain has not come;
yet you have the forehead of a whore;
you refuse to be ashamed.
Have you not just now called to me,
‘My father, you are the friend of my youth—
will he be angry forever,
will he be indignant to the end?’
Behold, you have spoken,
but you have done all the evil that you could.”
The LORD said to me in the days of King Josiah: “Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the LORD.”
And the LORD said to me, “Faithless Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah. Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say,
“‘Return, faithless Israel,
declares the LORD.
I will not look on you in anger,
for I am merciful,
declares the LORD;
I will not be angry forever.
Only acknowledge your guilt,
that you rebelled against the LORD your God
and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree,
and that you have not obeyed my voice,
declares the LORD.
Return, O faithless children,
declares the LORD;
for I am your master;
I will take you, one from a city and two from a family,
and I will bring you to Zion.
“‘And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. And when you have multiplied and been fruitful in the land, in those days, declares the LORD, they shall no more say, “The ark of the covenant of the LORD.” It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again. At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the LORD, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the LORD in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart. In those days the house of Judah shall join the house of Israel, and together they shall come from the land of the north to the land that I gave your fathers for a heritage.
How I would set you among my sons,
and give you a pleasant land,
a heritage most beautiful of all nations.
And I thought you would call me, My Father,
and would not turn from following me.
Surely, as a treacherous wife leaves her husband,
so have you been treacherous to me, O house of Israel,
declares the LORD.’”
A voice on the bare heights is heard,
the weeping and pleading of Israel's sons
because they have perverted their way;
they have forgotten the LORD their God.
“Return, O faithless sons;
I will heal your faithlessness.”
“Behold, we come to you,
for you are the LORD our God.
Truly the hills are a delusion,
the orgies on the mountains.
Truly in the LORD our God
is the salvation of Israel.
“But from our youth the shameful thing has devoured all for which our fathers labored, their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters. Let us lie down in our shame, and let our dishonor cover us. For we have sinned against the LORD our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even to this day, and we have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God.”