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Bible: What Does Jeremiah 16-17 Teach Us About Divine Judgment, Sin, Man's Heart, and Apostasy?

Updated on September 8, 2016



Forbidden to Marry and to Mourn

In order to spare Jeremiah from witnessing their deaths (which He knew would happen during the terrible times facing Jerusalem), Yahweh forbids the prophet from marrying a wife and having children (vv. 1-4; cf. 1 Cor. 7: 7, 8).

God also prohibits him from showing compassion to any bereaved ones, for doing so would show inconsistency with his prophetic message.

The man of God had to learn (and then teach) that divine punishment, not unmerited calamity or natural death, was going to befall Jerusalem (v. 5).

God meant for his personal example to serve as the proper way for the remnant to act at this time; unless Jeremiah had "practiced what he preached," they would not have known not to perform certain funeral rituals (listed here in vv. 6-8).

Along with all forms of mourning, God will also eliminate all joy from their midst (v. 9).

Yahweh anticipates Judah's "Why me?" by pointing out not only their fathers' apostasy, but also their own worse departure from the faith as the reasons for punishment and exile (vv. 10-13).

Prayer of Hope


The Return of the Exiles

However, He suddenly switches tracks and prophesies about a day which will see the return of the exiles: an event that will replace the Exodus as the focal point of salvation history for Israel (vv. 14-15).

God will send "fishermen" and "hunters" to gather His people from their hiding places, for He will know their location (vv. 16-17).

Nevertheless, retribution must precede restoration (v. 18; cf. Is. 40:2).

[To what return does Yahweh refer here: the post-exilic, the eschatological, or both?]

Jeremiah closes with a prayer, professing the LORD as His refuge and alluding to the conversion of the Gentiles (v. 19).

God then solemnly promises to reveal His power—a display of might that will cause them to know who He is (notice the repetitions) [vv. 20-21].

Outcome of Apostasy

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Sin and the "Heart" of Mankind

Jeremiah 17

This chapter's subject matter concerns Judah's apostasy into idolatry and its consequent punishment.

God underscores the deep, life-influencing impression that sin has inscribed on His people's mind—an impression which cannot easily be eradicated—as well as how this evil has affected Judah's children (vv. 1-2).

He addresses "My mountain in the field" (v. 3).

[Might this mountain refer to Jerusalem?]

The site will suffer plundering, its land will be seized, and its inhabitants will serve under their enemies as exiles (vv. 3-4).

Mankind's Spiritual Condition

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Trust in Man vs. Trust in Yahweh

Verses 5-8 constitute highly instructive contrasts between the man who trusts in man/flesh (apostate humanism) and the man whose trust is Yahweh (orthodoxy).

[Interestingly patterned after Psalm 1, the present chapter's “cursed man” receives "rewards" which suit themselves to a more transient lifestyle (that of a nomad), whereas the psalm's wicked ones reap agricultural vanities (See Ps. 1:4)].

The practical humanist will miss good opportunities and inherit barrenness (v. 6).

On the other hand, the godly man will exhibit a lack of fear and anxiety, and an abundance of "fruit" will appear instead (vv. 7-8; cf. Ps. 1:3).

In this passage Yahweh emphasizes the "heart":

(1) the sin of Judah is on the "tablet of their heart" (v. 1);

(2) the cursed man's heart departs from God (v. 5);

(3) "the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked" (v. 9);

(4) "I, the LORD, search the heart" (v. 10).

Man cannot understand his own mind because it is a master of deceit; however, since God can plumb its depths and know its ways, He is qualified and authorized to judge it (vv. 9-10).

[This last example of "heart" correlates well with verses five and six.

The people were not aware that they had departed from the LORD, because their heart had deceived them (cf. 16:10)].

The Fountain of Living Waters



Judah had achieved wealth illegitimately; thus, they will not be privileged to enjoy it (v. 11; cf. 17:3).

The shame of being forgotten will fall upon apostates; their sin will last permanently, but memory of their lives will cease.

They, unlike Jeremiah, have not acknowledged Yahweh as the hope of Israel, the place of their sanctuary, and the "fountain of living waters" (vv. 12-13; cf. John 7:38).

[Why does God describe Himself here as "the fountain of living waters"?

In 2:13 Jeremiah contrasted the metaphor with "broken cisterns," i.e., other gods, idols].

The prophet now prays for healing and salvation amid Judah's unbelief (vv. 14-15).

He professes his allegiance to God's mission for him, and acknowledges to Him that He knows not only what he said, but also what is in his heart (v. 16).

Jeremiah desires two outcomes in his present circumstances:

(1) that he not be put to shame, and

(2) that his enemies be destroyed (vv. 17-18).

The last section of chapter seventeen deals with the Sabbath.

Yahweh sends Jeremiah to the people to command them to keep this day holy by not carrying burdens or doing any work on it; it is another commandment that they failed to obey, thus imitating their fathers (vv. 19-23).

Here God lays down a conditional promise, seemingly as a test that He knew they would fail; nevertheless, it was still a legitimate, bonafide examination.

He says, in short, "Obey, and Jerusalem will prosper with great power forever; disobey, and the city will be destroyed" (vv. 24-27).

© 2013 glynch1


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    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thank you for your notes on these two chapters. I especially appreciate the emphasis on the heart of man, showing why only God can judge it.