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TITLE: The heart in Jeremiah
By David McArdle

Feel free
Choose one theological theme in the message of Jeremiah and explore this through the whole book.


The heart.

In this article, I have chosen to compare and contrast, God’s heart, alongside that of the nation of Judah, and, very importantly, Jeremiah’s heart, as he was inextricably linked with Judah. Secondly, what God experienced or expressed had an echoing effect in the life of His messenger. Finally, when we, if God deems it necessary, have adopted His word of reproof, and conformed our commitment to his, then we will all be able to cement our relationship with God at a deeper level.

Definition of heart

“Heart, in its abstract meaning … it became the richest biblical term for the totality of man’s inner or immaterial nature … By far the majority of the usages of ‘heart’ refer … to one of the three traditional personality functions of man, emotions, thought, or, will … the ‘heart’ expresses the totality of man’s nature and character … the whole spectrum of emotion is attributed to the heart … God’s regret at creating man is centred in God’s heart (Gen. 6.6) … thought functions may be attributed to the heart. In such cases it is likely to be translated as ‘mind’ or ‘understanding’ … creative thought is a heart function. Wicked devices originate in the heart (Gen. 6.5) … wisdom and understanding are seated in the heart (1 Kings 3.12) … as the seat of thought and intellect, the heart can be deluded (Isaiah 44.20) …the heart is the seat of the will … removal of the decision making capacity is described as hardening the heart (Ex. 10.1). Closely connected to the preceding is the heart as the seat of moral responsibility … “ 1

Prior to the finding of the law 2.1-6.30

At the commencement of his ministry, Jeremiah stressed the doctrine of repentance (3.1, 6-8, 10-12, 14, 22; 4.1). When the people failed to repent, God was not waiting to condemn them. Jeremiah’s message was that he had taught the people that repentance would lead to restoration, whereas non-repentance will certainly result in ruin.

“God’s “hand” was the pressure that God’s word fostered in the prophet (see Isaiah 8.11; Ezekiel 1.3; 3.14). That it was a heavy hand meant, not that he was forced into this posture, but that the message he was called to bring was one of divine anger and wrath issuing in devastation for Israel. The weight of this kind of message meant that Jeremiah became isolated within his community.” 2

"Yet in spite of all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, but rather in deception," declares the Lord. (3.10 NASB)

God asked Jeremiah to consider the northern tribe as “Faithless Israel” (3.6). These words have been accurately defined as meaning, “apostasy Israel. Signifying Israel as the personification of apostasy.” 3

Running parallel with this interpretation and application is the truth that God regards sin in the life of believer very seriously indeed. It is not to be regarded as an insignificant act that we can take or leave at a moments notice. Once we permit entrance, it will move with incredible rapidity, from the physical into the seat of the emotions. Once there, havoc ensues.

In (3.7) “God thought” that Israel would have returned to Him with all her heart, from the damaging effects of a fractured relationship and would have left behind the strong cords of iniquity that entangle those who deliberately err from godly living.

Divine foreknowledge and the will of God

“God’s soliloquies in (3.7) and (3.19) are unusual that they suggest that God was actually uncertain as to how the people would respond in a given situation. God is depicted as thinking that the people would respond positively to their initial election or that they would return after a time of straying. But events proved that God’s outlook on these futures was too optimistic. The people did not respond as God ‘thought’ they would. What God ‘thought’ would happen did not occur. This suggests that God’s knowledge of future human action is limited to some degree. God’s future is depicted as somewhat open-ended in relationship with human beings. God speaks of a past divine thought regarding Israel’s future; one might say that, regarding such matters, God thinks in terms of possibilities or probabilities, not absolute certainty … There are several other texts in Jeremiah that assume such a divine understanding of the future. These are the ‘either-or’ texts (see at 22.1-5). Generally, it may be said that God knows what God will do in the future, but in these terms there are alternative futures presented, and God’s future action is specifically said to be dependent upon decisions that the people make … Texts such as these do not call divine omniscience into question only an understanding of divine foreknowledge as absolute. God knows all there is to know (omniscience), but there are future human contingencies that are not yet available for knowing absolutely, even for God. The philosophical issue of whether absolute foreknowledge does or does not entail predestination (an issue that is undecidable, at least at present), does not come into play. The issue is not an abstract notion, but specific texts wherein specific divine words are spoken the future. That God shares such words with the prophet, who proclaims them publicly, maybe intended to counteract any notion on the part of the exiles that God knew all along that, say, judgement would happen and didn’t inform them about it, and hence the calls to repentance were unreal. … From another angle, one might think of these statements in (3.7) and (3.19-20) as revealing of God’s will for Israel. But God’s will does not get done. God wills a faithful relationship with the people, but that have resisted that will of God and become faithless. The will of God is resistible, and Israel has succeeded in doing just that. The only other interpretive option with this material would be to say that Israel’s infidelity (or sin more generally) is the will of God. But, if so, then God’s uncompromising condemnation of Israel’s action is out of order. It is best to understand that Israel’s sin has been against the will of God; as a consequence, God’s hopes for Israel have been dashed, and God’s will for their positive future has been frustrated.” 4

It was in 627 when Jeremiah started out on his prophetic ministry. In Jeremiah’s life, there is no progress without pain. Isolation and consecration marked out Jeremiah’s message as radically different from the plethora of false prophets who prophesied lies. He was exclusively God’s man.

It was approximately 100 years before Jeremiah’s call that Israel went into Samaria in 722. Judah, however, had not learned from God’s judgement on her sister. Outwardly, the people of Judah were good examples of Godliness, but inwardly they had been taken captive with idolatry and spiritual immorality.

Jeremiah encountered this situation at the commencement of his calling. However, God’s forgiveness, coupled with man’s repentance, was still possible.

In the Old Testament, a genuine prophet was also called “a seer” (1 Sam. 9.9). When he started to prophesy, he could “see” the judgement of God in the exile and consequently, the return (3.17-18). Even though he had prophetic foresight, it was not a fait accompli; Judah still had a part to play in its fulfilment. God’s warnings or promises were conditional and not yet inscribed in stone.

"At that time they will call Jerusalem 'The Throne of the Lord,' and all the nations will be gathered to it, to Jerusalem, for the name of the Lord; nor will they walk anymore after the stubbornness of their evil heart. (3.17)

There are parts of the book of Jeremiah, in which it seems that the spiritual light has been dimmed down; and then, there are other parts, such as here, where "We have a brief but beautiful poem in which God speaks. It is a continuation of (3.1-5). In a tender and touching lament, God states that He had it in His mind to treat Israel as ‘sons’ (Numb. 27.1-8) … one catches the plaintive tone and the note of heartbreak as the contrast is drawn between the way God has treated His people and the way they have treated and are treating Him.” 5

Robert Chisholm has also caught the beautiful thread, that "The mixing of metaphors (God is both father and husband) heightens the pathos of the speech and helps one empathize with God in his disappointment and emotional pain." 6

The possibility of God being disappointed, by those He loves, and actually experiencing pain as a result of their actions, is not currently in vogue. Here, we have been given one of the keys to understanding Jeremiah’s extreme behaviour, we can wound God.

There is a spiritual connection between earth and heaven. The consequences of the people’s decision had deeply affected God and His feelings were being relayed to His messenger on earth. They were both working to the same spiritual timescale and temperature. God’s emotions had been deeply affected and in (3.21-22), Jeremiah heard “In his mind, a kind of weeping antiphony in the north, of the penitent children crying and the forgiving, healing God, soothing in turn.” 7

"Circumcise yourselves to the Lord and remove the foreskins of your heart, men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or else My wrath will go forth like fire and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds." (4.4)

“Their false relation to God and their failure to obey Him have destroyed in the people the power to return and to lay hold of that which is better.” 8

As we progress through this book, we will see this truth being highlighted again and again. Sin grows, and the longer this process continues the deeper the roots and the more abundant the fruit. Prior to the final deportation from Jerusalem to Babylon, only a handful of people were spiritually receptive, the remainder were intransigent. Therefore, from “Out of the north the evil will break forth on all the inhabitants of the land”. This enemy is mentioned eight times in (4.5-10; 4.11-18; 4.19-22; 4.23-28; 4.29-31; 5.15-19; 6.1-8; 6.22-28)

"It shall come about in that day," declares the Lord, "that the heart of the king and the heart of the princes will fail; and the priests will be appalled and the prophets will be astounded." (4.9)

“In the face of the catastrophe, the leaders of the land will stand horrified and helpless. They will protest to God that He has deceived them through assuring them of the inviolability of Jerusalem and the indestructibility of the elect (4.9-10).” 9

“Wash your heart from evil, O Jerusalem, that you may be saved. How long will your wicked thoughts lodge within you?” (4.14)

Both the cause and the cure of sin lie within the range of their free will. But such is their spiritual apathy that they will do nothing and once again, slip into apostasy, clueless as to what finally awaits them.

"Your ways and your deeds have brought these things to you this is your evil How bitter! How it has touched your heart!" (4.18)

Jeremiah’s genuine identification with his people is exemplified here. He knew, externally and internally, how much they had suffered and the pain and regret that always accompanies disobedience.

“ … By vocation Jeremiah was called upon to announce destruction and judgement (1.9-10), but by nature he had a deep love for his own people. His whole life was therefore a painful paradox. Little wonder that at times he burst into such anguished utterances … the prophet was clearly in a very disturbed condition due to an emotional shock. He knew that before long the whole nation would share his anguish. But for Jeremiah the pressures were such that he could not remain silent (20.9) … a deep sense of defencelessness possessed the prophet … he was isolated and swallowed up in the storm, which he had called upon the land in God’s name. He wondered how much longer he could stand the emotional strain of it all, witnessing the standard of the enemy raised high and hearing the sound of the trumpet blasts.” 10

"How it has touched your heart!” “More literally the Hebrew could be rendered, ‘Oh my bowels, my bowels! I writhe!” The Hebrews located different psychological experiences in different parts of the body. The bowels were regarded as the seat of powerful emotions; (see Isaiah 16.11) where the Hebrew would literally be rendered ‘my bowels rumble’ … ‘my heart throbs.’” 11

4.23-26 “The prophet is human, yet he employs notes one octave too high for our ears. He experiences moments that defy our understanding. He is neither ‘a singing saint’ nor ‘a moralising poet,’ but an assaulter of the mind. Often his words begin to burn where conscience ends.” 12

'But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; they have turned aside and departed. They do not say in their heart, "Let us now fear the Lord our God, who gives rain in its season, both the autumn rain and the spring rain, who keeps for us the appointed weeks of the harvest." (5.23-24)

“The infinite power of God arouses neither fear or gratitude on the part of Israel, and the fact that His control of the seasons could affect their welfare materially seems of no consequence. Indeed. His richest blessings have already been prevented from reaching the people because of their sin.” 13

Pertinent to the finding of the law 7.1-9.26

"Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward.” (7.24)

“A further historical memory is brought to the argument. The people did not obey Yahweh despite their declaration at Sinai, but they followed their own counsels and their own stubborn wills. As a result ‘they went backward and not forward’, that is, they grew worse instead of better. Deliberate rejection of the covenant obligations by one who rejects the covenant and the Lord of the covenant inevitably leads to deterioration.” 14

“The outpouring of grief and anguish in (8.18-9.1) contains some of the most poignant and memorable of the prophet’s utterances. Certain phrases by which he expresses his own intense personal involvement in the foretold events reveal a measure of division within Jeremiah’s own mind. On the one hand he felt his own helplessness to do more to strike a sense of the inevitability of coming catastrophe. Alongside this he was deeply aware that he would be personally caught up himself in the very aspect of the suffering inflicted upon his people.” 15

“They did not listen” appears on (7.24, 26, 27, 28). The alternative to listening is autonomy … Israel organised its life for self-serving and self-sufficiency, thereby denying its character as a people bound in covenant with this One who is sovereign.” 16

“My sorrow is beyond healing, My heart is faint within me!” (8.18)

8.18-9.22 “In this deeply moving passage the prophet reflects in his own heart the anguish of God, as he shares his people’s grief (8.18-22), grieves over their sin (9.1-6), , and calls them to lament in the face of inevitable judgement (9.7-22).” 17

8.18-9.3 “This poetic unit is one of the most powerful in the Jeremiah tradition. It is also one of the most pathos-filled. Its central images are sharply contrasted to the preceding ones in 8.4-17 … The pathos of God (or of the poet) in (8.18-19a, 21) is a heart-sickness of a betrayed lover or a yearning parent. One sees the trouble of a lover or child … Now it is not threat and terror, but dread, sickness, and sadness. The poet asserts that this people are “sick to death.” The poetry also probably asserts Yahweh’s “sickness to death” over the terminal illness of this beloved people … It is likely that the pathos of God and of the poet are distinguishable. With the formula attributing the poem to Yahweh, the pathos cannot belong only to Jeremiah. This is poetry that penetrates God’s heart. That heart is marked by God’s deep grief. God’s anger is audible here, but it is largely subordinated to the hurt God experiences in the unnecessary death of God’s people. God would not have it so, but the waywardness of Israel has taken away every alternative response away from Yahweh.” 18

8.18-9.1 “The prophet hears echoing through the land two incredulous questions:

"Is the Lord not in Zion?
Is her King not within her?"

”The implications of Jeremiah’s unpopular temple sermon (7.1-15) are beginning to sink in … but he takes no pleasure in what is happening. He is filled with an unbearable sadness … his people’s agony is his agony, their wound is his wound, their grief is his grief … Jeremiah cold only weep bitter, solitary tears. These tears tell us as much about Jeremiah as the stern, uncompromising realism of his preaching.” 19

“The unit in (9.10-26) is a composite containing two clear and unequivocal declarations of the destruction which Jeremiah foresaw as about to come upon Jerusalem (9.10-11; 9.17-22) combined with two reflections upon the divine reasons and the necessity for this catastrophe (9.12-16; 9.23-26).” 20

“The two positives in (9.14) assert that not listening leads on the one hand to autonomy (stubborn heart) and on the other hand to idolatry (serving Baals). The two are equated: self-reference and idolatry are two forms of an alternative to covenant with Yahweh, two forms of escaping obedience to the torah, two choices that cannot bring life.” 21

“ … but have walked after the stubbornness of their heart and after the Baals, as their fathers taught them," (9.14)

“Jeremiah has already called for circumcision of heart (4.4). He has said that the ears of the people are uncircumcised (6.20). He now states that, like the pagans, they are uncircumcised in their hearts as well (9.26). Because of this, they, like all others in a similar state, will experience divine judgement.” 22

“Egypt and Judah, and Edom and the sons of Ammon, and Moab and all those inhabiting the desert who clip the hair on their temples; for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart." (9.26)

“This verse would include the Gentile nations that practiced circumcision as well as Israel. There was no essential difference between these nations and Israel since they all practiced the superficial requirement of the Mosaic Law but had not really devoted themselves to the Lord wholeheartedly … They were the circumcised of body but not of heart … It was only what circumcision symbolized that Yahweh accepted, not just the practice of the rite by itself. Certain Arab tribes trimmed their hair away from their temples, which the Law forbade the Israelites from doing (Lev. 19:27), but they did practice circumcision. Thus Judah was no better than her neighbors and could expect punishment just as the pagan nations could.” 23

“In the verses that follow (9.25-26), a verdict is given on Israel’s choices. Verses 9.23-24 presented the choices Israel was called to make. Verses 9.25-26 review the choice that was made and the destiny received.” 24

Pursuant to the finding of the law 10.1-12.17

'Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked, each one, in the stubbornness of his evil heart; therefore I brought on them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not.'" (11.8)

“The prophet is told more specifically to go through the city and country, impressing upon the people God’s requirement of obedience, their refusal in the past to obey, and the retribution, which followed that disobedience.” 25

11.6-8 “These verses provide the historical retrospect, Jeremiah is once again commissioned. His mandate is in the context of a historical memory. The old community was summoned to listen, but it did not. It had a very long history of not listening. Because the community did not listen, the covenant curses are implemented … Yahweh reminds Jeremiah that the old generation of Sinai and wilderness was judged for its disobedience (Numb 14). The ancient memory of the Sinai covenant is structured as indictment (“did not listen”) and sentence (“I brought covenant words on them”). The retrospect to Sinai serves to create a context for the immediacy of Jeremiah’s present proclamation of broken covenant.” 26

11.18-23 “This description of plots against Jeremiah by the folk of his home town is introduced abruptly. In this short paragraph there are three scenes: in the first the people speak (11.19); in the second the prophet speaks (11.20); and in the third God speaks (11.21-23).” 27

“In (11.18-20) Jeremiah records the hostile intent of enemies among his immediate own circle, including possibly even some from within his own family. They had resorted to planning attempts upon the prophet’s life and understandably his sense of shock and bitterness leads to an outburst in which he calls upon God to exact vengeance on his behalf 11.20.” 28

“But, O Lord of hosts, who judges righteously, who tries the feelings and the heart, Let me see Your vengeance on them, for to You have I committed my cause.” (11,20)

Jesus said, “A man’s enemies will be the members of his household.” (Matt. 10.36). “Jeremiah was not to be deterred from prophesying, however, being assured that none of the conspirators would survive. According to Ezra 2.23, 128 men of Anathoth returned to post-exilic Judea.” 29

“If others are against him, what about God? He turns in confidence to the Lord as to a fair-minded judge who must give right decisions, who examines the hidden thoughts and intentions of men, and who can be depended upon to acquit His servant and thwart his accusers.” 30

During days of increasing rejection 13.1-45.5

'This wicked people, who refuse to listen to My words, who walk in the stubbornness of their hearts and have gone after other gods to serve them and to bow down to them, let them be just like this waistband which is totally worthless.” (13.10)

“Just what was God saying through His servant in this bit of acted out symbolism? … The loincloth symbolises Israel, Israel was God’s treasured possession, His covenant people … but that relationship had been corrupted by pagan influences which began to pour into Israel and Judah from the land between the rivers as early as the 8th century … “ 31

"If you say in your heart, 'why have these things happened to me?' Because of the magnitude of your iniquity your skirts have been removed and your heels have been exposed.” (13.22)

15,1-2 “This short prophecy concerning the impossibility of intercession for Judah offers nothing specifically new. It reaffirms the fourfold possibilities of death and disaster awaiting the citizens of Judah and Jerusalem: disease, death by the sword, famine or a life in exile.” 32

“The date of the final portion of this complex is probably 605, shortly after the battle of Carchemish. The prophecy is addressed to a woman, personified as a woman … in it Jeremiah calls upon the lady shepherdess to give account of her stewardship of the flock entrusted to her, as she gazes upon the foe approaching from the north (14.20). He asks her what she will say and feel when her former friends become her rulers (14.21). He tells her that the reason for her fate is her apostasy (14.22).” 33

“This (verse) is a final reminder that punishment would be the inevitable consequence of wilful continuance in sin.” 34

15.10-21 The people of Israel do not repent, does this mean that the prophet is not successful in what he has been called to do? Jeremiah’s personal suffering is not only occasioned by overt persecution. He suffers because of the apparent lack of success that his word has among the people. I say “apparent” because, in the absence of a positive response from the people, the word of God is successful in another respect: the word of judgement goes forth and does accomplish its purpose. In response to his message the unfaithful people become even more hardened in their rejection of the word of God and it is this continued resistance that finally brings the word of judgement to fruition. And so the people’s refusal to repent constitutes a form of success! Neither God nor prophet is desirous of this fulfilment (see 26.2-3; 38.2-3), and both agonise over the prospect that the judgemental word entails. It is entirely natural that it would take longer for the prophet to be oriented to this kind of “success,” not least because of the horrendous toll it takes on his emotional and physical life, let alone the community to which he belongs. But what happens to Israel demonstrates the efficacy of the word that Jeremiah spoke. Measuring one’s success as a preacher or prophet gets to be a very subtle matter: success may in fact entail resistance, rejection, and “ failure.” 35

15.16-17 “Jeremiah reviews his recent experience: first, his personal delight in assimilating God’s word, and his sense of God’s identification with him in giving him His name; the distasteful alienation from men because increasingly he became the voice of the divine indignation.” 36

“You too have done evil, even more than your forefathers; for behold, you are each one walking according to the stubbornness of his own evil heart, without listening to Me.” (16.12)

“Jeremiah is told that when the people inquire – as inquire they will – as to why such a horrible calamity is coming upon them, he is to tell them that the reason is their sin, apostasy and idolatry.” 37

Jeremiah 16.10-13 … is another opportunity to state the reasons for the judgement under which Jeremiah stands. Perhaps the threefold enquiry of 16.10 is ironic. The threefold ‘why, what, what’ surely did not need an answer, because the reasons are obvious. Jeremiah’s contemporaries are so detached from the claims of Yahweh, however, that they are unable to recognise the realities that the prophet regards as perfectly obvious.” 38

Jeremiah comforts Yahweh

Daniel Berrigan’s reflections on (16.19-21) are striking. “Thus Jeremiah has a prophecy of his own, offered to comfort Yahweh one day, the idolatries of all ages will come to a halt. And more, the devotees will confess and repent and arrive at a better heart, converted to the true God: “Nations will come to You from the ends of the earth.” We might have expected such words, but proceeding only from Yahweh. No, they are Jeremiah’s, his daring. In a Godlike moment of clairvoyance (and tact!) he takes visionary words to himself. It is exactly what needs saying – exactly one thinks, what Yahweh longs to hear … and to all intents, Yahweh agrees. One imagines the Deific One nodding approval. And growing calm, in the assurance of Jeremiah, Yahweh remains, despite all pretenders to the throne, Yahweh. “I am going to make them know My strength and might.” 39

“The sin of Judah is written down with an iron stylus; with diamond point it is engraved upon the tablet of their heart and on the horns of their altars … “ (17.1)

“The sin of Judah is deep-seated … It is indelibly inscribed on the tablet of her heart (the citadel of personality) and upon the horns of her altars (symbolic of the whole system of her ceremony and sacrifice), that is, at the very centre of her being and in the cult which she is observing.” 40

“”Judah’s … bill of indictment (that is, the record of guilt) is permanently engraved so that it is irreversible, not to be changed, denied, or forgotten. It is written on the ultimate places of memory, on the heart and on the altar. This record on the heart is the very antithesis of the torah on the heart (31.33).” 41

Thus says the Lord, "Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord. (17.5)

“The prophet here shows that Judah’s apostasy is very deeply engrained in the national character. It can only be atoned for by true repentance, but the corrupt minds of the people stand in the way of contrition and forgiveness. Judah will therefore have to bear the consequences of her continued rebellion against covenant love. “ 42

"The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.” (17.9-10)

“The prophet is gripped by the agonising conviction that his people are increasingly set in their sins and are therefore set for catastrophe. But what is the explanation? Surely there must be something radically wrong with man? … We see Jeremiah peering into the depths of the heart – his heart, the heart of Judah, and the human heart. He is appalled at what he beholds. He then lays bare in a single sentence the secret of the human predicament, the source of the world’s woe: the heart is deceitful and desperately diseased. Only God can fully know and understand it … the prophet has several times spoken of the fact that his countrymen followed the stubborn, inclinations of their evil hearts. Here he sums it all up as he declares that the root of a problem is a deceitful, diseased heart, defiant of God’s control … we have here a striking anticipation of the discovery of modern depth psychology and the emphasis of certain contemporary writers and theologians. The human heart seeks to cover up its real problems and motivations, suffers from a fatal sickness, and, in living in revolt against God, becomes the centre of conflict, which, if not resolved, means disaster … So all roads, for Jeremiah lead to the same end. Judah is headed for ruin because her heart is not right.” 43

Are God’s promises good for all time?

18.9-10 In response to Jeremiah, Hananiah might have cited Isaiah, who had prophesied peace, namely, the deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrians (Isaiah 31.4-5; 37.33-35). He may in fact have had Isaiah’s promise of deliverance in mind. Inasmuch as Isaiah, a true prophet, had articulated the promises if God that Jerusalem would be delivered. Would not a promise from God be considered valid across the generations? Would not Hananiah have been in the company of true prophets in claiming that Isaiah’s prophecy was still in order? Even more, did not God’s promises to dynasty and people as articulated by Isaiah make Jerusalem invulnerable to destruction? More generally, given Jeremiah’s refusal to honour this point of view, do readers in every generation have to wonder whether God keeps promises? This probable perception regarding God’s promises on the part of Hananiah may well be refuted by (Jer. 18.9-10). In that text we learn that God may cut off God’s own promises regarding specific matters. “If any nation or kingdom does evil in (God’s) sight.” Jeremiah claims that Israel has in fact done so. So, interpreters need to make some kind of distinction among God’s promises, those that will not be set apart by God come what may (see Jer. 31.35-37; 33.14-26) and those that are related to a specific historical situation (such as Isaiah 31.5-6). Hananiah collapsed these promises into a single fabric, believing that the Davidic promises entailed a promise regarding the continued existence of Jerusalem and its temple.” 44

But they will say, “It's hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.” (18.12)

“This personal experience of Jeremiah is one of the most interesting and important in the Bible … Here the Bible takes us into its confidence and indicates how God caused a truth to be born in a prophet’s brain … Strangely enough, the revelation did not come in the prayer closet or a sanctuary but through an ordinary occurrence in a common workshop. When the prophet, under inspiration, put the revelation in words which the people could understand and which would fit their situation … God is sovereign, but He works with free men. Man is free, but only to choose the response he will make to God … to make is the property of God, but to be made that of man … The experience of Jeremiah at the potter’s house is important, too, because it teaches God’s patience and love … God in His sovereign grace was giving the people another chance to rise to His purpose … This experience constitutes a turning pointy in the prophet’s career. He was now convinced that the nation was doomed, but this did not mean the absolute end. Through the discipline of captivity God would fashion another vessel which He could use for the carrying forward of His work in the world. Beyond the judgement that must come upon Judah there lay a future of hope … from this time forward he began “to build and to plant.” 45

“18.12 … the prophet dismisses all of the freedom Israel seemed to have in 18.8-11. Now Israel’s chance to change is nullified. The clay now can take no action free of the potter. There is no more time for turning. Judah has waited too long. Judah, of course, had had freedom of choice. But their freedom has now been forfeited through sustained resistance and stubbornness. The text is not interested in a theoretical question of free will. Rather, it addresses the pastoral reality that resistance to God practiced so long eventually nullifies the capacity to choose life. Israel’s long-term resistance left it no longer able to choose life. Jeremiah’s judgement is sealed because Judah has been too stubborn. Judah rejects God’s plan which is for covenant obedience and chooses its own alternative plan that opts for autonomy and disobedience.” 46

“But if I say, "I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name," then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it.” (20.9)

“This final, most pathos-filled complaint of Jeremiah now is placed to follow the prophet's extraordinary challenge to established religion (20.1-6). In (18:1-20:6) Jeremiah speaks a massive word of judgment. He does it boldly and unflinchingly, full of confidence, certain that he speaks the very truth God has entrusted to him. Such speech is costly, however, not only because of the external hostility and resistance that his word evoked (20:1-6), but also because of the intense, personal toll of speaking against the very reality that must have been his own spiritual home. In announcing this harsh judgment of Yahweh, Jeremiah is not speaking only against the world of "the others" who are his adversaries, but against the very symbolic world he himself inhabits. The cost of such a harsh judgment is that the prophet predictably arrives at pathos, hurt, and despair … The new rhetorical unit that begins in (20.7) stands in stark contrast to the preceding. Jeremiah is unflinching in his public speech (20.3-6). But after this defiant proclamation, we are permitted access to his conversation with Yahweh, which has a quite different tone. Now he joins issue with Yahweh over the cost of his public work. This poetic struggle with God is divided in two distinct parts – (20.7-12) and (20.14-18). Between them comes a curious doxological break in (20.13).” 47

20.9 “Listen to the words of a radical Roman Catholic priest … refusing to accept its teaching on contraception … how do I know that my conscience is trustworthy, that I am not muddled in my thinking and blind through my own sinfulness … I had theoretical answers to all these questions, but they did not dispel the self-doubt … such self-doubt must have been there in Jeremiah, and it was so intense that, shaken by opposition and indifference, obsessed by the apparent failure of his ministry … to go on was difficult, but not to go on was impossible … there were ruthless, powerful enemies plotting his downfall … but the Lord was at his side as a dread (or ruthless) warrior.” (20.11).” 48

“Yet, O Lord of hosts, You who test the righteous, who see the mind and the heart; let me se Your vengeance on them; for to You I have set forth my cause.” (20.12)

“Despite all opposition he is evidently emboldened by realising that God fights on his side as a mighty champion (20.11), and this gives him the assurance of ultimate vindication. 20.12 are very similar in content to (11.20), reflecting the prophet’s indignation of Judah’s rejection of her God. In (20.13) a brief note of hope and joy pervades the gloom of the section as a whole.” 49

"But your eyes and your heart are intent only upon your own dishonest gain, and on shedding innocent blood and on practicing oppression and extortion." (22.17)

“Josiah is represented as a person of true piety and genuine integrity, a man who enjoyed life but also took responsibilities as ruler seriously. He faithfully executed the covenant stipulations in his dealings with his subjects. This, says Jeremiah, is what a king ought to be and do. This in fact, is what it means to know God. “ 50

“As for the prophets: my heart is broken within me, all my bones tremble; I have become like a drunken man, even like a man overcome with wine, because of the Lord and because of His holy words.” (23.9)

“Because of his holy words”. “Jeremiah’s starting point is the holiness of the Lord, and it is the contrasting moral character of these alleged servants of God which shatters him at his heart.” 51

"They keep saying to those who despise Me, 'the Lord has said, "You will have peace"'; and as for everyone who walks in the stubbornness of his own heart, they say, 'Calamity will not come upon you.'” (23.17)

23.16-17 “These verses give more specificity to the conflict over the claims of the prophets. Jeremiah's opponents give assurance of shalom ("It shall be well with you"), and assert that no evil can come upon Jerusalem. These opponents are to be credited with some sophistication. They are surely not simply liars, or indifferent to moral matters. They may be quite conscientious, but are able to perceive reality only through the lens of Jerusalem ideology. Their commitment to divine sovereignty and moral sensitivity is filtered through a deep conviction about God's enduring commitment to king and temple. They trusted God's unconditional commitment to the Jerusalem enterprise. Jeremiah, however, dismissed their religious posturing as self-serving ideology, which perverts reality and mocks God's truth. Jeremiah sees that Israel's faith is distorted to be a rationale for a particular political claim.” 52

“Hence it is the word of man and not the word of God. It originates in the human cranium – or subconscious – and not in the council of the Lord.” 53

“They keep saying” introduces the new topic: what these man has been shown, and now we are told what they say. Their message is characterised as unfounded optimism, humanistic (that is, lacking a basis in divine revelation), and encouraging to those who despise the whole idea of revelation on their insistence on their own wisdom.” 54

The council of the Lord

23.18-22 “These verses reiterate the contention that the establishment prophets speak their own self-serving, uncritical message, unauthorized by Yahweh. These verses appeal to the "council of the gods," which meets to decide their will for the earth. That council is presided over by Yahweh. When a decision is reached, the council dispatches a messenger (sometimes a prophet) to announce the decision of the gods on earth (1 Kings 22:19-23; Isa. 6:6-8). The messenger who is dispatched has no freedom to give his own opinion, but can only give the verdict reached by the government in heaven … Jeremiah claims to have stood in that council and been present when the decision about Jerusalem was made (Jer. 23:18). His message, authorized from heaven, is that Jerusalem will be destroyed (23.19-20). His claim of authority is expressed in the formula that is repeated throughout the tradition, "Thus says the Lord" … The opponents of Jeremiah cannot legitimately say, "Thus says the Lord," because they have not been given a heavenly message, have not been present when the decree on Jerusalem was announced, have not been authorized or dispatched (23.21). They have invented their own word and their own authority for the word (23.22). Thus the dispute is … about the authority that lies behind and justifies those competing announcements. The contrast between Jeremiah and the other prophets can be traced back to the initial statement of Jeremiah's call. The words of 1:7 evoke the image of the messenger dispatched by the divine council: “To all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. (1:7).” These claims about Jeremiah's vocation are precisely contrasted with the dismissal of his opponents: “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. (23:21) … Jeremiah is sent. They are not. Jeremiah is commanded. They are not … Against this background of the divine council, the final adjudication among these various voices is made on the actual substance of the message. The verdict of the council is negative concerning Jerusalem … therefore, it is a fantasy to announce well-being when the real verdict is judgment, wrath, and death. God decides God's own mind ("heart"; 23.20), which is in contrast to the mind (heart) of the false prophets (23.16) … Beyond the dismissal of the false messengers who do not tell the truth because they have had no access to the truth, this unit makes three additional assertions. First, the judgment against Jerusalem has now been mobilized and will not be deterred (23.20). Second … genuine prophetic announcement should have wrought a change. … the prophetic summons to repent is always a previous summons that is no longer possible. The previous summons is characteristically referred to in order to set a context for the present articulation of judgment … The poem presents a play on the theme of "turn." In (23.20) the anger of the Lord will not turn; in (23.22) people "would have turned." But now there will be no turning, either on the part of God or on the part of his people … Third, in (23.20) the poet places a most ominous and dread-filled assurance at the centre of this unity: "in the latter days." Presumably the latter days are after the destruction, perhaps in exile. Because the prophets have not had a true word, they have not turned Judah from evil. Because they have not turned Judah, God's judgment will not be averted. The awesome reality of God's sovereign rule will be evident as God's anger is implemented. The future of Judah, deathly as it is, is linked to the failure of prophecy.” 55

29.10-14 “The third oracle in the letter is a proclamation of salvation, a bitter-sweet promise of long-term hope over against short-term optimism. It presents Yahweh’s positive purposes for the deported community. Yahweh’s response to the issue of return was not “no” but “not yet.” God’s own way … is with utter freedom and, in the end, with caring fidelity.” 56

"But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the Lord, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (31.33)

“What, then, will the Lord do? He must either reduce His demands until they are within the range of human powers, or else He must change the heart of men. It is to the latter that He commits Himself. My law. The law reflects the nature of God, and therefore is unchanging. God cannot reduce His standards without ceasing to be Himself, but now the whole inner constitution of men, their hearts, is to be fashioned by God to match the requirements of His law, and in this way the great covenant promise, “I will be their God, and they shall be My people, will be fulfilled.” 57

“ … I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good and for the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me. I will rejoice over them to do them good and will faithfully plant them in this land with all My heart and with all My soul.” (32.39-41)

“In these verses, we look beyond judgement to the renewal of God’s covenant with His people. This is to be ‘an everlasting covenant’ in which rebellion will be a thing of the past in a community which will truly worship God and experience His goodness and dependability.” 58

To the neighbours of Judah 46.1-51.64

"Therefore My heart wails for Moab like flutes; My heart also wails like flutes for the men of Kir-heres therefore they have lost the abundance it produced.” (48.36)

“Jeremiah was not vindictive, the downfall of Moab touched his sensitive mind, however right it was.” 59

"As for the terror of you, the arrogance of your heart has deceived you, O you who live in the clefts of the rock, who occupy the height of the hill though you make your nest as high as an eagle's, I will bring you down from there," declares the Lord. (49.16)

“When the present writer served as preacher for the Christian leadership training conferences at Berchtesgaden, Germany, in June 1965, he met each morning for prayer and briefing at 0800 with other programme personnel in the room in which Hitler wrote part of Mein Kampf. During the week he often gazed up at ‘the eagle’s nest’ and thought of (Jer. 49.16; Obad. 1-4). It kept ringing in his ears: what an irony of history! The place from which Hitler planned to rule the world, now a place for religious retreats!” 60

"Now so that your heart does not grow faint, and you are not afraid at the report that will be heard in the land - for the report will come one year, and after that another report in another year, and violence will be in the land with ruler against ruler – “ (51.46)

“Now the abused exiles are addresses as ‘My people’ (51.45-46). The exiles are nor admonished to depart the empire. Yahweh is about to execute fierce anger against the empire. That ‘fierce anger’ is now aimed at the Israelite exiles, but they must leave Babylon to avoid the general destruction that is to come. The admonition to flee the general description is not unlike the rescue of Lot in the face of the destruction of Sodom (Gen. 19.15-23). The exiles are beset by endless ‘rumours’ … concerning the empire, its violence, its instability, and its pattern of intrigue. The exiles are tempted to get caught up in such turmoil, paying heed to such gossip, however, can only compromise and weaken the resolve of the exilic community. Thus these imperatives urge the exiles to become involved in no imperial games, to remember their own identity, and to act only in response to the initiative of Yahweh. The mandate from Yahweh is to ‘go out,’ a word already used for the Exodus (Isa. 49.9; 52…11-12).” 61


Brueggemann. W. Exile and homecoming. William B Eerdmans, Grand Rapids. 1998.

Brueggemann, W. To pluck up, to tear down. William B Eerdmans, Grand Rapids. 1988

Brueggemann, W. To build, to plant. William B Eerdmans, Grand Rapids. 1988.

Brueggemann W. Theology of the Old Testament. Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 1997.

Brueggemann, W. Old Testament Theology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2007.

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Davidson R. Jeremiah. Volume 1. The Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh, 1983.

Davidson R. Jeremiah and Lamentations. Volume 2. The Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh, 1983.

Herschel, A J The prophets volume 1. Harper and Row London 1955.

Kitamori, Kazoh, Theology of the pain of God (John Knox Press, Richmond, Virginia. 1965).

Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1980). Volume 8.

J A Thompson, The book of Jeremiah. William B Eerdmans, Grand Rapids. 1980

Goldingay J. God’s prophet, God’s servant. Paternoster Press, Exeter 1984.

Bright. J. Jeremiah. Doubleday. London. 1965

Clements. R E. Jeremiah. Interpretation. John Knox Press. Atlanta. 1988

Allen. L. Jeremiah. John Knox Press. London 2008

Theological wordbook of the Old Testament. Volume 1.


1 Theological wordbook of the Old Testament. Volume 1. Page 466
2 Terence E. Fretheim. Pages 237-238
3 New Bible Commentary. Page 630
4 Terence E. Fretheim, Pages 90-91
5 James Leo Green. The Broadman Bible Commentary. Volume 6. Pages 44-45)
6 www.studylight/constable/Jeremiah 3
7 New Bible Commentary. Page 631
8 A C Welch. The Broadman Bible Commentary. Volume 6. Page 46
9 James L Green. Page 48
10 J A Thompson. The book of Jeremiah. Page 228
11 Robert Davidson. Volume 1 page 51
12 Abraham Heschel, The prophets. New York, Harper, 1962, page 10
13 R K Harrison. Jeremiah and Lamentations. Page 78
14 J A Thompson. Page 289
15 R E Clements. Page 59
16 Walter Brueggemmann. To pluck up, to tear down. Volume 1 page 79
17 NBC. Page 634
18 Walter Brueggemann. Volume 1 page 87
19 Robert Davidson. Volume 1 pages 84-85
20 R E Clements. Page 63
21 Walter Brueggemann. Volume 1 page 92
22 James L Green. Page 72
23 www.soniclight/constable/Jeremiah 9
24 Walter Brueggemann. Volume 1 page 96
25 (James L Green. Page 78)
26 (Walter Brueggemann. Volume 1 pages 105-106)
27 NBC. Page 636
28 R E Clements. Page 80
29 R K Harrison. Page 97
30 Robert Davidson. Volume 1 page 105
31 James L Green. Page 86
32 R E Clements. Page 94
33 James L Green. Page 88
34 R K Harrison page 100
35 Terence E. Fretheim. Page 244
36 NBC. Page 638
37 James L Green. Page 97
38 Walter Brueggemann. Volume 1 page 146
39 Daniel Berrigan, Jeremiah, the world, the wound of God. Page 252
40 James L Green. Page 89
41 Walter Brueggemann. Volume 1 page 150
42 R K Harrison. Page 105
43 James L Green. Page 100
44 Fretheim Terence E. Pages 391-397
45 James L Green. Pages 104-105
46 Walter Brueggemann. Volume 1 pages 161-162
47 Walter Brueggemann. Page 173
48 Robert Davidson. Volume 1 pages 161-162
49 R K Harrison. Page 114
50 James L Green. Page 118
51 NBC. Page 641
52 Walter Brueggemann. Volume 1. Pages 202-203
53 James L Green. Page 124
54 NBC. Page 641
55 Walter Brueggemann. Volume 1 pages 203-205
56 Leslie Allen. Page 325
57 NBC. Page 645
58 Robert Davidson. Volume 2 page 97
59 NBC. Page 654
60 James L Green. Page 193
61 Walter Brueggemann. Volume two. Page 278

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