“As ye Sow, So Shall Ye Reap,” Old Testament Student Manual Kings-Malachi (1982), 235–43
“Chapter 23,” Old Testament Student Manual Kings-Malachi, 235–43
It was Jeremiah’s privilege (or burden) to predict and then live through the fall of Judah to Babylon. One of the first things the Lord told Jeremiah was, “I will hasten my word to perform it” (Jeremiah 1:12). Jeremiah, like Mormon, was called to labor among a people for whom there was no hope because they refused to repent, and “the day of grace was passed with them, both temporally and spiritually” (Mormon 2:15). Mormon, after witnessing the destruction of the Nephite nation, cried out for his people (see Mormon 6:17–19). Here was a righteous man, one of the best, lamenting over his people who were so blind, so foolish, so spiritually dead. Jeremiah, too, mourned his people’s wickedness. You may think of Jeremiah as a harsh man as you read his scorching denunciations of the Jewish people and the lives they were living, but he was not. His motivation, like Mormon’s, was love.
A prophet does not select where and when he serves. God chooses when and to whom a prophet is sent. One may be an Enoch and build Zion, or a David O. McKay and preside over the Church in times of peace and prosperity. Another may be a Mormon or a Jeremiah and try in vain to save a rebellious and backsliding people. Each has his calling. Each has his time. Each has his lesson for you to learn. Look for Jeremiah’s lesson as you study this great prophet.
Jeremiah, a Levite, came from Anathoth, a town of the priests that lay a few miles northeast of Jerusalem in the tribal territory of Benjamin. He labored in his prophetic calling during the reign of at least four kings of Judah: Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. He began his labors as a youth in approximately 627 B.C. and was the leading prophet in Jerusalem, serving with Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Lehi, and others (see 1 Nephi 1:4). Since Lehi and Nephi refer to Jeremiah’s prophecies, it is safe to assume that some of them were recorded on the brass plates (see 1 Nephi 5:14).
“With the exception of Josiah, all of the kings of Judah during Jeremiah’s ministry were unworthy men under whom the country suffered severely. Even during the reign of an earlier king, the wicked Manasseh, the Baal cult was restored among the Jews, and there was introduced the worship of the heavenly planets in accordance with the dictates of the Assyro-Babylonian religion. Jeremiah therefore found idolatry, hill-worship, and heathen religious practices rampant among his people. Heathen idols stood in the temple [Jeremiah 32:34], children were sacrificed to Baal-Moloch (7:31; 19:5; 32:35), and Baal was especially invoked as the usual heathen deity. The worship of the ‘queen of Heaven’ ought also to be mentioned. (7:18; 44:19) The corruption of the nation’s religious worship was, of course, accompanied by all manner of immorality and unrighteousness, against which the prophet had continually to testify. The poor were forgotten. Jeremiah was surrounded on all sides by almost total apostasy. But professional prophets there were aplenty. Says Dr. H. L. Willett:
“‘He was surrounded by plenty of prophets, but they were the smooth, easy-going, popular, professional preachers whose words awakened no conscience, and who assured the people that the nation was safe in the protecting care of God. This was a true message in Isaiah’s day, but that time was long since past, and Jerusalem was destined for captivity. Thus Jeremiah was doomed to preach an unwelcome message, while the false prophets persuaded the people that he was unpatriotic, uninspired, and pessimistic. (14:13, 14).’” (Sidney B. Sperry, The Voice of Israel’s Prophets, p. 153.)
Jeremiah 1:4–5is a powerful proof of our premortal existence as individuals. The Lord certified to Jeremiah that his calling to a mission as a prophet unto the nations antedated his birth. The phrase “I knew thee” (Jeremiah 1:5) means more than a casual acquaintance. The Hebrew word yada, which is translated knew, connotes a very personal, intimate relationship. (See J. A. Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, p. 145.) Indeed, Jeremiah’s premortal appointment consisted of being foreordained, sanctified, and sent forth (compare Abraham 3:23).
Jeremiah, like others called by the Lord to such heavy and humbling assignments, expressed his feelings of inadequacy. Compare Jeremiah’s feelings with those of such others as Enoch (see Moses 6:31), Moses (see Exodus 4:10), and Gideon (see Judges 6:15).
In Jeremiah 1:9the role of a prophet is succinctly set forth. A prophet does not necessarily say what he wants to say, for the Lord puts His own words into the mouth of the prophet. That is why it does not matter whether the word comes direct from God or through His servant: “it is the same” (D&C 1:38).
Jeremiah’s first vision was of a branch of an almond tree (see Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel [religion 301, 2003], p. 207, for the significance of Aaron’s rod being an almond branch). An almond branch was evidently chosen because it is the first tree to bud in spring. As the almond tree hastens to come into blossom, so would the word of the Lord through Jeremiah hasten to fulfillment.
Next, the vision of a “seething pot” was shown to Jeremiah, symbolizing the disaster and pain which, like the contents of a boiling cauldron, would spill over and run down the kingdoms of the north to overwhelm Judah (see C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, 8:1:43–44).
The burning of incense (see Jeremiah 1:16) is a symbol of prayer (see Revelation 5:8; 8:3). Far more is implied in the Lord’s accusation than just a ritual of burning incense to false gods. The people were seeking help and guidance from the false gods rather than from the Lord.
Jeremiah was told to stand stout and strong, to brace himself, and to declare the Lord’s word without fear of man. The Lord likened him to an invincible city, preparing Jeremiah to stand firm against the onslaught that would pour out on him on every hand once he started his ministry and condemned the people’s sins.
The sequence of Israel’s spiritual development is outlined in Jeremiah, chapter 2:
Israel’s early devotion and righteousness (see vv. 2–3).
Israel’s apostasy (see vv. 4–13). The Lord asked what fault the people found in Him that justified their turning away from Him.
In verse 13 the two evils committed by Judah are told in figurative terms: They have forsaken the fountain (Jehovah) of living water (life), and they have hewn out broken cisterns (gods) which can hold no water (life). Then the image is changed, and the Lord states that Israel had partaken of the waters of “Sihor” (the Nile) and of “the river” (v. 18) (the Euphrates). In other words, they drank the spiritual waters of Egypt and Babylon and were filled with the lifeless water of idolatry.
Verse 19 teaches the important truth that one is punished by as well as for one’s transgressions. The phrase “my fear is not in thee” (v. 19) refers to the fear of God. Fear in the Hebrew denotes a sense of reverent awe and profound respect. If the Jews had this fear in them, they would not need to learn through the consequences of their transgressions.
Jeremiah used vivid imagery in denouncing Judah:
“Broken thy yoke and burst thy bands” (v. 20). The Lord had delivered them from the bondage of Egypt.
“Playing the harlot” (v. 20). Judah had committed idolatry, or spiritual adultery, with false gods as well as actually engaging in unchaste practices.
“The degenerate plant of a strange vine” (v. 21). This wild vine brought forth poisonous berries, or evil works.
“Wash thee with nitre [lye], and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked” (v. 22). The most powerful means of purification could not cleanse Judah’s sins.
“A swift dromedary traversing her ways; a wild ass … that snuffeth up the wind at her pleasure” (vv. 23–24). The imagery indicates that as a camel or a wild ass in heat runs back and forth during the mating season, so did Israel run after false gods.
“Withhold thy foot from being shod and thy throat from thirst” (v. 25). In their anxiety to follow after the peoples of the world and worship false gods, they ran out of the house barefoot and would not even stop to slake their thirst.
“Saying to a stock, Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth” (v. 27). Israel worshiped images of wood and stone as the gods to whom they owed life and being.
“Where are thy gods?” (v. 28). The Lord challenged Judah to find help from the false idols now that destruction threatened her.
“In vain have I smitten your children” (v. 30). Even the judgments of the past, such as the fall of the Northern Kingdom and the siege of Judah by Assyria, were not enough to bring the people to repentance.
“Your own sword hath devoured your prophets” (v. 30). The people killed the prophets sent by God to warn them.
“Can a maid forget her ornaments?” (v. 32; see also vv. 33–34). Unlike the bride who adorns herself with chastity and faithfulness to her husband, this bride of Judah was found with soiled skirts, which were so obvious that a search was not required to find them. Israel had become so skilled in doing evil that she could teach even the experienced harlots of idolatry (see v. 33).
Jeremiah 3:1, 6, 9, 14, and 20show that the children of Israel had broken their vows to the Lord and had “played the harlot” (v. 1) with other gods. Northern Israel (the ten tribes), Judah’s sister, had also committed adultery (idolatry) with false gods, and the Lord had given her a bill of divorcement and sent her out of the land (she was taken captive by the Assyrians).
In the midst of condemning Judah for their apostasy, Jeremiah turned to the future when Israel will again become a faithful wife and be reclaimed. The Lord reminded Israel that He is merciful and that all they need do to be reclaimed is to turn back to Him. The Lord’s promises include the following:
Missionary work and gathering to Zion (see v. 14).
Knowledge and understanding taught by faithful pastors (church leaders) (see v. 15).
The fulfillment of the old covenant and the establishment of a new covenant (see v. 16).
The restoration of Jerusalem to righteousness (see v. 17).
The gathering of Israel, including the return of the lost tribes from the north and the reuniting of the children of Judah in the lands of their inheritance (see vv. 18–19; see also Isaiah 11:16; 35:8–10; 51:9–11; D&C 133:26–35).
Circumcision was a token given to Abraham as a sign that a child was born into the covenant and was not accountable for sin until he was eight years old (see JST, Genesis 17:3–12). The Lord taught in numerous places in the scriptures that the true circumcision after a person is accountable is that of the heart (see Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Jeremiah 9:25–26; Romans 2:25–29). One must accept the covenant in his heart and become sinless through faith, repentance, and baptism.
The Lord used various figurative images in Jeremiah 4:5–31to foretell the catastrophe that was about to befall Judah.
“The lion” (v. 7). Renowned for its destructive killing power, the lion, Babylon, was about to come out of the thicket where it stayed hidden until it sallied forth on the hunt.
The “dry wind” (v. 11). The scorching desert winds were devastating in the Holy Land if they blew very long or hard, for they sucked the moisture from plants, animals, and people with terrible effect. This wind was not the gentle breeze used to fan away the chaff while winnowing grain, but a full, hard wind (see v. 13).
“Clouds” and a “whirlwind” (v. 13). Babylon’s troops would be like a huge thundercloud covering the sky, and its effect would be that of a tornado.
Clothed “in crimson” (v. 30). In her extremity, like a harlot rejected by her former lovers, Judah would seek for help from her false gods in an ever more desperate search for relief, but she would find none.
Jerusalem had reached the point of no return. In an offer similar to the one He made to Abraham for the deliverance of Sodom and Gomorrah (see Genesis 18:23–33), the Lord promised to spare Judah if anyone could be found who lived justly or sought the truth (see Jeremiah 5:1).
But in a searing condemnation of Judah, Jeremiah showed that there were none such. Instead of doing righteous works, the people swore falsely (see v. 2); their faces were as hard as rock—they showed no repentance or compassion (see v. 3); they turned to the houses of prostitution in troops (see v. 7); like horses in the mating season, they neighed wildly for their neighbor’s wife (see v. 8); they had “a revolting and a rebellious heart” (v. 23); like those who trap birds, the people laid snares for other men and grew fat with the illegal gains (see vv. 26–28).
Nephi, a contemporary of Jeremiah, taught that the Canaanites in the time of Moses “had rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity; … and the Lord did curse the land against them … unto their destruction.” He used similar language to describe the children of Israel: “They have become wicked, yea, nearly unto ripeness, ” and warned that they too faced destruction (1 Nephi 17:35, 43; emphasis added). It was bad enough that the society of Judah was filled with corrupt prophets and priests, but the real national tragedy, described in Jeremiah’s summary comment, was: “my people love to have it so” (Jeremiah 5:31). Further, in Jeremiah 8:10, the prophet said: “Every one from the least even unto the greatest is given to covetousness, from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely.”
Is it any wonder Judah had no hope? Is it surprising that Jeremiah was so scathing in his denunciation?
Speaking of Jeremiah’s time, one scholar said: “The prophets and priests of the day dressed the nation’s wounds, but skin-deep only. Nor did they have any sense of shame for the loathsome deeds they perpetrated. They neither felt shame nor did they know how to blush. They had become completely insensitive to the evils in which they and their nation were immersed. But continued active involvement in evil has a way of dulling the conscience until a point is reached when all awareness of evil is lost. Thereafter leaders fall with the rest of those who fall. In the day of divine reckoning they too would go down, for it would be the day of their own doom.” (Thompson, Book of Jeremiah, p. 258.)
The boldness of Jeremiah’s statement can be realized only when one recalls the importance given to the temple by the reforms of Josiah in 621 B.C. Josiah had made it the sole place of sacrificial worship of Jehovah for all Jews in an attempt to stamp out idol worship. The temple and its priests thus had acquired by this time greater importance than ever before. Then, in the name of Jehovah, Jeremiah issued a challenge that struck at the very existence of the temple. He plainly told the Jews that if they would mend their ways and become righteous, they would be spared; otherwise, not even the temple would save them, because they had made the temple a “den of robbers” (v. 11). Because of the great reverence the people had for the temple, though it was a false reverence, it is not surprising that Jeremiah was quickly arrested and imprisoned (see Jeremiah 26).
After the Israelites under Joshua conquered the land of Canaan, the tabernacle, the equivalent of the temple, was set up at Shiloh. Eventually Israel became so wicked that they set up graven images and worshiped them in direct competition with the tabernacle (see Judges 18:30–31). A short time later the Philistines attacked the Israelites and defeated them. They overran Shiloh and took the ark of the covenant in the battle (see 1 Samuel 4:10–12).
The parallel between Israel and Judah should have been evident. For the wicked to look to the temple as a source of protection was foolish. Jeremiah 7:21–23reminded the people that obedience is more critical to God than the outward rituals of sacrifice performed in the temple.
“For their sins the people must take up a lament. The cutting off of the hair was a symbol of grief (Job 1:20; Mic. 1:16). The Hebrew text reads literally ‘Cut off your crown (nezer). ’ The hair was looked on as, in a sense, a diadem. To cut off the hair was to bring down Israel’s pride. But there may be here an overtone of something else. The long hair of the Nazirite was a sign of his consecration to Yahweh [Jehovah] (Num. 6:2–8). The removal of the hair signified an abandonment of his consecration (Judg. 16:15–22). In Jeremiah’s view, Israel, now represented only by Judah and Jerusalem, had abandoned her consecration to Yahweh and was not worthy to wear the crown of her long hair.” (Thompson, Book of Jeremiah, p. 293.)
“In order to pour the utmost contempt upon the land, the victorious enemies dragged out of their graves, caves, and sepulchers, the bones of kings, princes, prophets, priests, and the principal inhabitants, and exposed them in the open air; so that they became, in the order of God’s judgments, a reproach to them in the vain confidence they had in the sun, moon, and the host of heaven —all the planets and stars, whose worship they had set up in opposition to that of Jehovah. This custom of raising the bodies of the dead, and scattering their bones about, seems to have been general. It was the highest expression of hatred and contempt.” (Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible … with a Commentary and Critical Notes, 4:276.)
Gilead was famous for its healing ointment (see Genesis 37:25). Nevertheless, no healing ointment, or medication, was available for rebellious Israel. The balm of salvation could be administered only through Israel’s Savior, Jehovah, whom they had rejected.
Except, perhaps, for David’s cry over his son Absalom (see 2 Samuel 18:33), or Jesus’ prophetic lament over Jerusalem (see Matthew 23:37), or the lament of Mormon over the destroyed Nephite nation (see Mormon 6:16–22), few passages lamenting the results of sin in the scriptures are as moving as Jeremiah 9.
In Jeremiah 9:17–22, the Lord referred to the custom in ancient Israel of hiring professional mourners, women who were paid to wail and lament for long periods of time at someone’s death. Jeremiah was told to hire professional mourners to lament over Judah.
To be consumed does not mean to become extinct. Being consumed and destroyed, in the context of the prophecies of the scattering of Israel, meant to be utterly disorganized and disbanded so that Israel’s power, influence, and cohesiveness as a nation was gone. Moses, in Deuteronomy 4:26, told all Israel that they would “utterly be destroyed.” Yet the verses following show that Israel still existed as homeless individuals.
In a profound and yet simple chain of reasoning, Jeremiah showed the stupidity and sheer illogic of worshiping an idol. People take such materials as wood and precious metals which they work and shape at their own will, making all kinds of objects of service. Then they take those same materials, make them into an idol by the work of their own hands, and suddenly expect the idol to be filled with supernatural power and be able to provide miraculous aid for the person who made it.
Jeremiah 11:1–14refers to the covenant the Lord made with the house of Israel at the time of the Exodus. “I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God” (Exodus 6:7). Even as the Jews’ forefathers broke the covenant, so had their children in Judah (see Jeremiah 11:10). Therefore, none would escape the punishment decreed, nor would the prayers of Jeremiah or those of the people help (see vv. 11–14).
Sperry wrote: “Jeremiah’s warning was in vain. The Lord pointed out to him that there was a conspiracy among the Jews and that they had turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers. Their gods were as numerous as their cities, and the number of altars set up to Baal was according to the number of streets in Jerusalem. But, warned the Lord, their gods would not save them in the time of their trouble. In view of their spiritual condition the prophet was commanded not to pray for the people. Nor would the Lord hear their cries unto Him. (11:9–14).” (Voice of Israel’s Prophets, pp. 165–66; emphasis added.)
Jeremiah raised age-old questions: Why do the wicked sometimes prosper while the righteous do not? (see Jeremiah 12:1). How much time will pass before their wickedness will be punished? (see v. 4; Malachi 3:13–18).
“The enmity experienced by Jeremiah at the hands of his countrymen at Anathoth excites his displeasure at the prosperity of the wicked, who thrive and live with immunity. He therefore begins to expostulate with God, and demands from God’s righteousness that they be cut off out of the land (vers. 1–4); whereupon the Lord reproves him for this outburst of ill-nature and impatience by telling him that he must patiently endure still worse.—This section, the connection of which with the preceding is unmistakable, shows by a concrete instance the utter corruptness of the people; and it has been included in the prophecies because it sets before us the greatness of God’s long-suffering towards a people ripe for destruction.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 8:1:219.)
To Jeremiah’s question about why the wicked prosper, the Lord gave a vivid answer that has helped many to build up their courage. Clarke wrote: “If the smallest evils to which thou art exposed cause thee to make so many bitter complaints, how wilt thou feel when, in the course of thy prophetic ministry, thou shalt be exposed to much greater, from enemies much more powerful? Footmen may here be the symbol of common evil events; horsemen, of evils much more terrible. If thou have sunk under small difficulties, what wilt thou do when great ones come?
“I believe the meaning is this, ‘If in a country now enjoying peace thou scarcely thinkest thyself in safety, what wilt thou do in the swellings of Jordan? in the time when the enemy, like an overflowing torrent, shall deluge every part of the land?’
“The overflowing of Jordan, which generally happened in harvest, drove the lions and other beasts of prey from their coverts among the bushes that lined its banks; who, spreading themselves through the country, made terrible havoc, slaying men, and carrying off the cattle.” (Commentary, 4:287.)
Thompson explained the symbol of the speckled bird in this way:
“Israel with her proud plumage has attracted the attention of birds of prey (enemies) who move in to attack her. An alternative translation arises from rendering sabua as a noun, ‘hyena,’ which is possible. This understanding of the word combined with the [Septuagint] substitution of the word ‘cave’ for ‘bird of prey’ leads to the translation:
“‘Is this land of mine a hyena’s lair
“‘With birds of prey hovering all around it? (NEB)’
“The picture that results is of a hyena’s lair with vultures hovering around waiting to swoop down on what is left of a carcass after the hyena has eaten. In either case the people and land are under attack from foes. There is a feast prepared for all the wild beasts (lit. ‘beasts of the field’). The destruction of Judah will provide pickings for all.” (Book of Jeremiah, p. 358.)
“The spoilers of the Lord’s heritage are also to be carried off out of their land; but after they, like Judah, have been punished, the Lord will have pity on them, and will bring them back one and all into their own land. And if the heathen, who now seduce the people of God to idolatry, learn the ways of God’s people and be converted to the Lord, they shall receive citizenship amongst God’s people and be built up amongst them; but if they will not do so, they shall be extirpated [pulled out by the roots; wiped out]. Thus will the Lord manifest Himself before the whole earth as righteous judge, and through judgment secure the weal [health or prosperity] not only of Israel, but of the heathen peoples too. By this discovery of His world-plan the Lord makes so complete a reply to the prophet’s murmuring concerning the prosperity of the ungodly (vers. 1–6), that from it may clearly be seen the justice of God’s government on earth.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 8:1:228.)
The linen girdle represents the priestly nation of Judea, since linen was used for priestly garments (see Leviticus 16:4). Sperry wrote: “The parable, so it seems to me, should not be pressed too far by logical Westerners. Its general outlines and explanation, however, seem reasonably clear. The girdle represents the whole house of Israel, including Judah. ‘For as the girdle cleaveth to the loins of a man, so have I caused to cleave unto Me the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah, saith the Lord, …’ (13:11) By reason of the iniquities of the Lord’s people (in this case the Jews), they will become separated from Him. The coming Captivity into Babylon could well be represented by the hiding of the girdle near the Euphrates. The fact that the girdle was ‘marred’ in its hiding place simply indicates that the close relationship between God and the Jews had been strained to the breaking point.” (Voice of Israel’s Prophets, p. 167.)
Skin color, like a leopard’s spots, cannot be changed. But what of Israel’s sins?
“So inured in this corrupt behavior have the people become that they are hopelessly fixed in it. They are no more capable of changing their ways than an Ethiopian could change his skin or a leopard his spots. Therefore they will be scattered, because they forgot the Lord and ‘relied on what was false’ (Moffatt).
“It is hardly necessary to point out that Jeremiah is not speaking in vs. 23 of ‘natural evil’ or of any ‘radical defect in human nature.’ He is not saying that men are so necessarily sinners that they are like the Ethiopian or the leopard and can do nothing about it. He is, however, saying that whether totally black or only spotted the perspective of evil in the people is so fixed that they will do nothing about it. The cause of it is the foundation cause: they have forgotten the Lord. Therefore the disasters come.” (The Interpreter’s Bible, 5:928.)
Jeremiah 14–15presents a discussion between Jeremiah and the Lord concerning a great drought and the effects attending it. Both people and animals were affected greatly, as Keil and Delitzsch wrote: “The distress arising from a lengthened drought [Jeremiah 14:2–6] gives the prophet occasion for urgent prayer on behalf of his people [Jeremiah 14:7–9, 19–22]; but the Lord rejects all intercession, and gives the people notice, for their apostasy from Him, of their coming destruction by sword, famine, and pestilence [Jeremiah 14:10–18; 15:1–9]. Next, the prophet complains of the persecution he has to endure, and is corrected by the Lord and comforted [Jeremiah 15:10–21]. Then he has his course of conduct for the future prescribed to him, since Judah is, for its sins, to be cast forth into banishment, but is again to be restored [Jeremiah 16:1–17:4]. And the discourse concludes with general considerations upon the roots of the mischief, together with prayers for the prophet’s safety, and statements as to the way by which judgment may be turned aside.” (Commentary, 8:1:242–43.)
Everyone, even the wealthy, was affected by the drought, a calamity to which Judah was often subject. Ordinarily Judah’s summers are dry, for little rain falls from April to the middle of October. This scanty rainfall leaves the rivers low, or even dry, and grass is scarce.
Speaking of the drought of Jeremiah’s day, Keil and Delitzsch wrote that “the country and the city, the distinguished and the mean, the field and the husbandmen, are thrown into deep mourning, and the beasts of the field pine away because neither grass nor herb grows. This description gives a touching picture of the distress into which the land and its inhabitants have fallen for lack of rain. Judah is the kingdom or the country with its inhabitants; the gates as used poetically for the cities with the citizens. Not mankind only, but the land itself mourns and pines away, with all the creatures that live on it; cf. v. 4, where the ground is said to be dismayed along with the tillers of it.” (Commentary, 8:1:244.)
Jeremiah besought God to turn His wrath aside, if only “for thy name’s sake” (Jeremiah 14:7). The Lord refused to do that and instructed Jeremiah to “pray not for this people for their good” (v. 11). But Jeremiah refused to desist because false prophets had lulled the people into sin by assuring them of peace (see v. 13). The Lord rejected the excuse for the people’s sins. Nothing, it seemed, would turn His wrath aside (see vv. 14–18). Still, Jeremiah persisted (see vv. 19–22). Compare Jeremiah’s enduring love for his rebellious people with that of Moses (see Exodus 32:31–32) and Mormon (see Mormon 2:10–14).
Plainly, Judah had reached the point at which the Lord would no longer forgive them. Jeremiah represented the Lord as saying, “I am weary with repenting” (Jeremiah 15:6), that is, with repeatedly relenting and giving Israel another chance. Nothing God did had worked; further delay was useless.
The phrase “mother of the young men” (v. 8) is either a reference to the mother city, Jerusalem (see Clarke, Commentary, 4:295), or to the mothers of the youth or young warriors (see Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 8:1:257).
Even Jeremiah himself would be carried “into a land which [he] knowest not” (Jeremiah 15:14).
Jeremiah then began to plead for himself. He, at least, had been faithful, even if Judah had not. “I sat not in the assembly of the mockers” (Jeremiah 15:17), he reminded the Lord. The Lord sustained His prophet: “I will deliver thee out of the hand of the wicked” (v. 21). As it happened, Jeremiah was not taken into Babylon but went into Egypt and probably died there a few years later. The Lord’s promise, however, was more likely a promise of spiritual deliverance, a promise of an eternal reward for his faithfulness, since Jeremiah was taken into Egypt against his will.
Jeremiah’s day was a sad one for Judah. To symbolize that truth, the Lord told His prophet three things that he was not to do:
He was not to marry or father children (see Jeremiah 16:2). So universal was the calamity bearing down upon the people that God did not want children to suffer its outrage. This commandment, like the one to Hosea to take a wife of whoredoms (see Hosea 10), may not have been a literal one. Perhaps the meaning is that Jeremiah was not to expect that his people would marry themselves to the covenant again, nor was he to expect to get spiritual children (converts) from his ministry.
He was not to lament those in Judah who died by the sword or famine (see Jeremiah 16:5), since they brought these judgments upon themselves.
He was not to feast or eat with friends in Jerusalem (see v. 8), since feasting was a sign of celebration and eating together a symbol of fellowship.
In addition, Jeremiah was commanded to explain clearly to the people the reasons for his actions as well as the reasons for their coming punishment.
In a general conference address Elder LeGrand Richards commented on these verses:
“Just contemplate that statement [vv. 14–15] for a few moments. Think how the Jews and the Christians all through these past centuries have praised the Lord for his great hand of deliverance under the hands of Moses when he led Israel out of captivity, and yet here comes Jeremiah with this word of the holy prophet, telling us that in the latter days they shall no more remember that, but how God has gathered scattered Israel from the lands whither he had driven them.
“And Jeremiah saw the day when the Lord would do this very thing, when he would call for many fishers and many hunters, ‘and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks.’ (Jer. 16:16.) Where do you find those fishers and hunters that we read about in this great prophecy of Jeremiah? They are these 14,000 missionaries of this church, and those who have preceded them from the time that the Prophet Joseph Smith received the truth and sent the messengers out to share it with the world. Thus have they gone out, fishing and hunting, and gathering them from the hills and the mountains, and the holes in the rocks. I think that is more literal than some of us think!” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1971, p. 143; or Ensign, June 1971, pp. 98–99.)
This chapter is full of metaphors and similes with which the prophet Jeremiah illustrated Judah’s fallen state.
Their sin is written “with a pen of iron and with the point of a diamond” (Jeremiah 17:1). These metaphors speak of how deeply sin was imbedded in Judah’s consciousness.
“O my mountain in the field” (v. 3) is likely a reference to Jerusalem, which is nestled in the hill country of Judea.
The focus of one’s trust determines whether he is cursed or blessed (see vv. 5, 7).
“The heath in the desert” (v. 6) represents Judah as a withered tree without moisture or sustenance.
The Lord searches the heart and tries the reins (the inner self) to determine directions (see v. 10).
Like a bird (partridge) that sits on eggs that will not hatch, so those of Judah who get rich by dishonest means will leave empty-handed (see v. 11).
Jesus Christ (Jehovah in the Old Testament) is the very “hope of Israel,” the “fountain of living waters” (v. 13; see also John 4:9–14). Jesus is the Good Shepherd, a Pastor to those who follow Him (see v. 16; see also John 10:14; Psalm 23:1).
“Living as we do in an age when the spirit of Sabbath observance is so flagrantly violated, it may be well for us to observe the remarkable importance attached by Jeremiah to keeping this day holy. Not only did the prophet command the people to hallow the day and not do any work therein, but he went so far as to promise that the city of Jerusalem would remain or be inhabited forever: …
“This teaching of Jeremiah’s … gives a strong indication of how important the Lord considers Sabbath observance to be. (Cf. D. & C. 59:9–24) Not only does one have a good opportunity on the Sabbath to meditate on God and His goodness, but also to worship Him and rest both mentally and physically. Moreover, the Sabbath gives men the opportunity of building up love in their own households and of kindling a good spirit in their neighbors. Probably Jeremiah thought that if his people would observe the spirit of the Sabbath they could eventually be turned from their wicked course and be worthy of the promises the Lord made.” (Sperry, Voice of Israel’s Prophets, pp. 172–73.)
“Elder Heber C. Kimball preached at the house of President Joseph Smith, on the parable in the 18th chapter of Jeremiah, of the clay in the hands of the potter, that when it marred in the hands of the potter it was cut off the wheel and then thrown back again into the mill, to go in to the next batch, and was a vessel of dishonor; but all clay that formed well in the hands of the potter, and was pliable, was a vessel of honor; and thus it was with the human family, and ever will be: all that are pliable in the hands of God and are obedient to His commands, are vessels of honor, and God will receive them.
“President Joseph arose and said—’Brother Kimball has given you a true explanation of the parable.’” (History of the Church, 4:478.)
Because of Jeremiah’s boldness, the people entered into a league to punish the prophet. The phrase “let us smite him with the tongue” (v. 18) is better translated “smite him on the tongue.” “Lying and false testimony are punished in the eastern countries … by smiting the person on the mouth with a strong piece of leather like the sole of a shoe.” (Clarke, Commentary, 4:303.)
Jeremiah’s discourse in 19:1–15 was delivered during the reign of Jehoiakim. By the breaking of a potter’s bottle or jar, Jeremiah represented the sacking and captivity of Judah. Once broken, the bottle “cannot be made whole again.” Although the Jews did return from Babylonian captivity at the end of 70 years, nearly 1,900 years have elapsed since Jerusalem was destroyed and its inhabitants scattered by the Romans, and Israel is only now finally being gathered back into the covenant.
In his last address before his departure, Moses set before the children of Israel both a blessing and a curse: “If thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments … the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth. … But … if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments … the Lord shall send upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke.” (Deuteronomy 28:1, 15, 20.)
The Lord’s word through Jeremiah is the same as that given through other prophets to God’s people throughout history. It holds the promise of doom or destiny, punishment or prosperity, all dependent upon faithfulness to those laws irrevocably decreed by God (see D&C 130:19–20).
Then read the words of a modern prophet to his own people:
“The growing permissiveness in modern society gravely concerns us. Certainly our Heavenly Father is distressed with the increasing inroads among his children of such insidious sins as adultery and fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, abortions, pornography, population control, alcoholism, cruelty expressed in wife-beating and child-abuse, dishonesty, vandalism, violence, and crime generally, including the sin of living together without marriage.
“We call upon our Church members everywhere to renew their efforts to strengthen the home and to honor their parents, and to build better communications between parent and child.
“Important as it is, building stronger homes is not enough in the fight against rising permissiveness. We therefore urge Church members as citizens to lift their voices, to join others in unceasingly combating, in their communities and beyond, the inroads of pornography and the general flaunting of permissiveness. Let us vigorously oppose the shocking developments which encourage the old sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, and which defile the human body as the temple of God. …
“God will not be mocked. His laws are immutable. True repentance is rewarded by forgiveness, but sin brings the sting of death. …
“As we think back upon the experiences of Nineveh, Babylon, Sodom and Gomorrah, we wonder—will history repeat itself? What of our world today? Are we forgetting in our great nations the high and lofty principles which can preserve the nations? …
“… There are among us those same vices which we have seen wreck empires, and we see them becoming flagrant in all nations. Shall we, like Belshazzar, sow the wind and reap the whirlwind? Shall we permit the home to deteriorate and marriage to become a mockery? Shall we continue to curse God, hate our enemies, and defile our bodies in adulterous and sensuous practices? And when the patience of the Lord with us is exhausted, shall we stand trembling while destruction comes upon us? Or shall we wisely see the handwriting on the wall and profit by the sad experience of the past and return unto the Lord and serve him?” (Spencer W. Kimball, in Conference Report, Oct. 1977, pp. 5–7; or Ensign, Nov. 1977, pp. 5–6.)