Jeremiah 19 Commentary: We’re in the second lesson in a section that consists of Jeremiah 18, 19, and 20.
Jeremiah 18 was about a potter. That chapter described how God was like a potter and that Israel was like the clay in his hands. He could destroy the clay or build it up as he wished. And he would do that to Israel.
Well, Israel didn’t want to hear that message. And they disliked that concept of God’s sovereign dealings with them so much so that they made plans to kill Jeremiah. So, we ended Jeremiah 18 with the prophet letting the people go to God’s judgement. It was almost as if Jeremiah washed his hands of the people for whom he prayed so much previously.
Jeremiah 19 Commentary: The Pot
Well, that brings us to Jeremiah 19. We’ve seen the action centered around a Potter in the previous chapter. Now in this chapter we’ll see the action centered around a Pot.
In the last chapter, the clay was moldable. In this chapter, it’s going to be irreversibly broken.
So, the chapter begins with the Lord responding to Jeremiah’s abandoning of his people to their fate.
KJV Jeremiah 19:1 ¶ Thus saith the LORD,
Jeremiah 19 Commentary: What to Bring
God starts by telling Jeremiah to get or bring several things in the rest of Jeremiah 19:1.
Go and [get/buy] a potter's [earthen bottle/earthenware jar/clay jar],
and take of the [ancients/elders/leaders] of the people,
and of the [ancients/senior/leaders] of the priests;
So, Jeremiah was to get a jar and bring some of the leading people and leading priests.
Jeremiah 19 Commentary: Where to Go
Well, where is he taking them? That’s spelled out in Jeremiah 19:2.
2 And go forth unto the [i.e., part of the] valley of [the son of Hinnom/Ben-hinnom],
which is by the entry of the [east/Postherd] gate,
and proclaim there the words that I shall tell thee,
So, Jeremiah is to go to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom by the Potsherd Gate. This is the place that’s behind the concept of “Gehenna” in the New Testament. It’s the city’s trash dump, located on the southern slope of Jerusalem. Trash would be burned there, which would burn pretty regularly, apparently. This is why the Lord Jesus uses this place as a picture of eternal fire in hell.
The Potsherd Gate was probably a place where the people of Jerusalem would discard old pottery. There was no doubt quite a large amount of shards or fragments of pots in that location, since pottery doesn’t decompose.
But, this is where the prophet is commanded to take some of the leaders of the lay people as well as the priests.
Jeremiah 19 Commentary: What to Say
Well, now, what is Jeremiah to say to them there? Three things in Jeremiah 19:3-9.
Jeremiah 19 Commentary: Disaster Promised
First, in Jeremiah 19:3, God is promising disaster for Judah.
3 And say,
Hear ye the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah, and inhabitants of Jerusalem;
Thus saith the LORD [of hosts/who rules over all], the God of Israel;
Behold, I will bring [evil/calamity/disaster] upon this place, [the/at] which whosoever heareth, his ears shall [tingle/ring].
This tingling- or ringing- or reverberating- or quivering-ear situation has been promised a few other times in Israel’s history. So, let’s consider a few passages where this phrase is found to get a better idea of what it means.
Jeremiah 19 Commentary: 1 Samuel 3:11-14
God had a message for the boy Samuel which would give this affect to all Israel. Let me read 1 Samuel 3:11-14.
KJV 1 Samuel 3:11 And the LORD said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle. 12 In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end. 13 For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not. 14 And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever.
So, the tingling ears in 1 Samuel 3 is caused by a message of judgement for sin.
Jeremiah 19 Commentary: 2 Kings 21:10-16
The second and last passage I’ll reference and read is concerning the judgement God promised to send to Israel due to King Manasseh’s grave sin in 2 Kings 21:10-16.
KJV 2 Kings 21:10 ¶ And the LORD spake by his servants the prophets, saying, 11 Because Manasseh king of Judah hath done these abominations, and hath done wickedly above all that the Amorites did, which were before him, and hath made Judah also to sin with his idols: 12 Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Behold, I am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever heareth of it, both his ears shall tingle. 13 And I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria, and the plummet of the house of Ahab: and I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down. 14 And I will forsake the remnant of mine inheritance, and deliver them into the hand of their enemies; and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies; 15 Because they have done that which was evil in my sight, and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came forth out of Egypt, even unto this day. 16 ¶ Moreover Manasseh shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another; beside his sin wherewith he made Judah to sin, in doing that which was evil in the sight of the LORD.
So, we see from these two additional references in Scripture that the kind of news that would cause ears to tingle always involved coming judgement.
Judgement for Eli and his house for their overlooked sin.
Judgement for all Judah because of Manasseh’s sin and their own.
Jeremiah 19 Commentary: God’s Reasons for Bringing Disaster
And as we’ve seen in those two other passages outside of Jeremiah, the Lord typically gives the reason for sending the judgement. And it’s not different here in Jeremiah where in Jeremiah 19:4-5 the Lord gives his reasons for bringing this promised disaster on his people.
4 Because they have forsaken me,
and have [estranged/made alien/defiled] this place,
and have burned incense in it unto other gods,
whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah,
and have filled this place with the blood of [innocents/innocent children];
Can we have a little more specificity regarding the identity of these “innocents”? Whose blood is Jerusalem filling itself with?
5 They have built also [the high places of/places to worship] Baal,
to burn their sons [with/in the] fire for burnt offerings unto Baal,
which I commanded not,
nor spake it,
neither came it into my mind:
Child sacrifice. That’s what God is calling out here.
There is nothing quite so loathsome as a person who is strong taking advantage of someone who is helpless. And maybe the worst outworking of this kind of situation is child abuse.
And I suppose that there are ranges and types of child abuse and that you could probably place each form on a scale of badness and distastefulness and evil. And on such a scale, surely child sacrifice to false gods has to be the worst.
But that’s just what Judah was doing. Sacrificing their own children to gods who didn’t exist.
Let me briefly give a history of child sacrifices in Israel. In particular, we’ll look at where the term “pass through the fire” occurs in this context.
Jeremiah 19 Commentary: God Forbid Child Sacrifice
To begin, God expressly forbids this practice of sacrificing one’s children to false gods by burning them alive. Deuteronomy 18:10 has God as saying, “There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.” So, when God says in Jeremiah here that he didn’t command this practice or speak it and that it didn’t even come to his mind as something that should be done, this is the start of that. He commanded against this wicked practice.
Jeremiah 19 Commentary: Ahaz Sacrificed Children
Evil King Ahaz of Judah sacrificed his children to demons in this way. 2 Kings 16:3 relates, “But he [Ahaz] walked in the way of the kings of Israel, yea, and made his son to pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out from before the children of Israel.”
Jeremiah 19 Commentary: Northern Israel Sacrificed Children
Going chronologically through Scripture, right after the mention of Ahaz in Kings the author of that book describes the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel. And he gives reasons for why God had to exile them. One of those reasons is this kind of child sacrifice that was happening in those days. 2 Kings 17:17 says, “And they [Israel] caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.”
Jeremiah 19 Commentary: Manasseh Sacrificed Children
Now, back to Judah. We saw already that King Ahaz did this abominable practice.
Then Ahaz had a son named Hezekiah. He was righteous.
But then Hezekiah bore a son who turned out to be the worst king ever over Judah. His name was Manasseh. In 2 Kings 21:6 we’re told that Manasseh practiced child sacrifice as well.
Jeremiah 19 Commentary: Josiah Stops Child Sacrifice
Manasseh’s son, Josiah, who was a very godly king, put an end to this practice. In fact, he did everything he could to defile this place in the Valley of Ben Hinnom called Topheth where this wicked practice was carried out, so that it would happen no more.
Jeremiah 19 Commentary: Child Sacrifice Continues After Josiah
And yet, despite the good that Josiah did in this regard as well as others, the people returned to this evil practice. That’s what’s indicated here in our text in Jeremiah. Something similar is communicated in the writings of the prophet Ezekiel, who was roughly contemporary with Jeremiah.
The point is that this was a problem for a while with the Jews. It had been more or less prevalent depending on who was ruling Judah. And yet, it was something that these people were drawn to – so much so that even righteous king Josiah couldn’t put a permanent end to the practice. And so, God would need to do that for them.
Jeremiah 19 Commentary: Results of the Coming Disaster
So then, in Jeremiah 19:6-9 the Lord gives the people the certain results of this coming disaster that he’s planning to bring on them. And we’ll see some bitter irony involved in the Lord’s plans.
6 Therefore, behold, the [days/time will soon] come, saith the LORD, that this place shall no more be called Tophet, nor The valley of [the son of/Ben-] Hinnom, but The valley of slaughter.
7 And I will [make void the counsel/thwart the plans] of Judah and Jerusalem in this place;
and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies,
and by the hands of them that seek their lives:
Let me just break-in here and highlight something I think is very relevant for us.
If you’re like me, you look at what’s happening in our nation [reminder: the following was written in 2016...] – the kind of decisions coming down from our judicial branch – our court system, the kind of foreign and domestic policies of our executive branch – our president, the instability and inactivity of our legislative branch – our congress – and if you’re like me, you’re just stupefied. Like, how could these smart people be making such unwise decisions?! How can it be that our Supreme Court has taken it upon itself to redefine the ancient institution of marriage? How can it be that our president seems intent on creating instability all over the world and leaving the door open everywhere for radical Islam – a term which he refuses to use to identify the problem that his policies have helped to flourish? How can it be that both major political parties in this nation are so fractured?
I’ll tell you how. God is dealing with our nation like he dealt with his rebellious nation, Israel, in the Old Testament. He is making “void the counsel of” our country. History repeats itself because the same God is still sovereign and in control of past, present, and future. He hates pride and godlessness. He will humble the proud. And our nation is full of proud people.
We would do well, if we care at all about our country and about our neighbors and our children, we would do well to pray that on a wide scale people in this nation would, as the message of this book keeps hammering home, “Submit to God’s Authority”.
We see in this chapter of the book of Jeremiah that child sacrifice is something that makes the Lord really angry. Folks, we don’t have what would be termed “child sacrifice” in the United States, but what else do you call the murder of 1 million babies every year? No, parents aren’t sacrificing their children to Moloch or some other recognizable false god. But, this practice of abortion is abominable anyway. And it’s the kind of activity that calls for God’s retribution for the blood of innocents.
We could go on. Just call to mind all of the things that God has said in this book that he hates and the kind of activities that he points to as justification for sending a violent middle-eastern entity to Judah to destroy it. Idolatry. Lying. Adultery. Injustice. These are reasons that God sent Babylon to destroy and exile Judah. What stops the Lord from doing the same exact thing to this nation?
Brothers, we need to pray for massive repentance in this nation. Not massive professions. Massive repentance.
Brothers, we ourselves need to be repenting of our sins. We need to be walking with the Lord and being the salt and light that he’s called us to be.
Maybe the Lord will be merciful and answer our prayers and turn our fellow-citizens to himself. And if he doesn’t, this nation is doomed.
Well, the results of Judah’s total lack of repentance and then God’s sending Babylon to destroy them will eventually result in this…
and their carcases will I give to be meat for the fowls of the heaven,
and for the beasts of the earth.
8 And I will make this city desolate,
and an [i.e., object of] hissing;
every one that passeth thereby shall be [astonished/filled with horror] and hiss [i.e., out their scorn] because of all the [plagues/disasters] thereof.
And here’s the bitter irony of God’s punishment.
9 And I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters,
and they shall eat every one the flesh of his friend in the siege and [straitness/the distress],
wherewith their enemies, and they that seek their lives, shall [straiten/distress] them.
So, do you see the irony? These people were sacrificing some of their children to false deities. God hated that. And so he would see to it that they would find themselves in the position of having to eat the very flesh of those children – the ones that for whatever reason they hadn’t sacrificed to their false gods.
Now, God of course didn’t want them to eat their children, either. That was not his perfect or his revealed will for them. And yet, when people disobey what God has clearly stated to be his will, their punishment will oftentimes involve more things that are not God’s perfect will.
I want to apply this to the situation in Orlando as graciously and lovingly as I possibly can. And I know this could be controversial, depending on who is listening to what I’m about to say. But I think it should be said.
Last Sunday, a US-born Muslim man in his twenties of Afghan descent named Omar Mateen murdered almost 50 people in a gay night club in Orlando, Florida.
Now, is it God’s will for people to be living a homosexual lifestyle like these individuals at that night club? It is not God’s will. OK, then is it God’s will for someone to murder others like Omar Mateen did? No, it’s not God’s perfect stated will for murder to happen. And yet, and even though no one is righteous in this situation, did God use the murderer Omar Mateen to judge, in a sense, the people in that night club?
Now, I will state that if our church was in Orlando right now, we should be doing everything we could to be reaching out to the people affected by this unjust taking of lives.
And at the same time I won’t deny what I just previously stated. That Omar Mateen was an agent of punishment, not just to the people in that night club, but to our entire nation. He was a sinful man who worshipped a false and bloodthirsty god. Further, there are reports that he himself was a practicing homosexual. And at least one commentator has said that he probably killed himself and so many others so that he could make up for his sin of homosexuality and be guaranteed a place in the Muslim heaven by killing so-called infidels.
And my point with all of this, is that sometimes God uses wicked men and things that are not his perfect will to punish other wicked men.
This very situation is what the prophet Habakkuk struggled with. He heard that God was going to send the Babylonians to destroy Judah. And he almost objected to God’s plan. Because, while Judah was wicked as Habakkuk acknowledged, the Babylonians were even worse!
But, again, God’s options are not limited when he finally determines to punish people for their sins.
Jeremiah 19 Commentary: What to Do
OK, back to the text.
So, with all that we’ve seen so far – the instructions to Jeremiah on what and whom to bring and where to go and what to say, now in Jeremiah 19:10 God gives Jeremiah the action he’s to take. In other word, what Jeremiah is to do.
10 ¶ Then shalt thou break the [bottle/jar] in the sight of the men [that go with/who accompany/who have come with] thee,
Jeremiah 19 Commentary: What to Say
And when Jeremiah smashes that clay vessel by the Potsherd Gate where apparently all sorts of pottery had been smashed already, he is to say the following things that God lists in Jeremiah 19:11-13.
11 And shalt say unto them,
Thus saith the LORD [of hosts/who rules over all];
[Even so/Just like Jeremiah has done] will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter's vessel, that cannot be [made whole again/repaired] [i.e., unlike the unfinished pottery in Jeremiah 18]:
and they shall bury them in Tophet, [till/because/until] there be no place to bury.
12 Thus will I do unto this place, saith the LORD,
and to the inhabitants thereof, and even make this city as Tophet:
13 And the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses of the kings of Judah, shall be defiled [i.e., by dead bodies] as the place of Tophet,
because of all the houses upon whose roofs they have burned incense unto all the host of heaven, and have poured out drink offerings unto other gods.
Jeremiah 19 Commentary: Jeremiah Obeys
And lastly in Jeremiah 19:14-15 we see Jeremiah obeying the Lord’s command.
14 ¶ Then came Jeremiah from Tophet, whither the LORD had sent him to prophesy;
and he stood in the court of the LORD'S house; and said to all the people,
15 Thus saith the LORD [of hosts/who rules over all], the God of Israel;
Behold, I will bring upon this city and upon all her towns all the [evil/calamity/disaster] that I have pronounced against it,
because they have [hardened/stiffened] their necks, that they might not hear my words.
And so there the story leaves off. And we’ll see the rest of it next time when we see how one particular man reacted to that message of judgement.
Jeremiah 19 Commentary: How We’re to be Like Jeremiah
And now, I’d like to discuss something.
I’ve already mentioned in some ways how our nation seems to be like Judah in Jeremiah’s day. And that’s helpful to some extent. But it’s not all that we need to know.
So, further, I actually want to focus in on how we as Christian ought to live in light of what we’re facing in our nation today. And I want to do this by putting up before our faces Jeremiah and his responses and activities and even his emotions.
Jeremiah was not unmoved by his people’s sin and God’s promised judgement of them. And you and I don’t need to be untouched by the plight of this nation and God’s apparent judgement on the US. Grieve with those who are touched by violence and sin. Plead with God for mercy for your family and your neighbors and our dear president and all of our rulers and our future rulers. It’s OK to struggle and wrestle with God. Jeremiah did these things and was not rebuked for doing them.
Now, there’s a way in which you and I could identify and sympathize with our fellow-citizens so much that we start to disagree with God. We could start to doubt God’s goodness. We could transfer our allegiance from God to our fellow sinful creatures. And we must not do that. Jeremiah didn’t. There’s one time so far that he started doubting the reliability of God. And that is the one time I can recall that God pretty directly rebuked him.
Jeremiah faithfully proclaimed God’s message to people he knew would hate it. He was truly on God’s side by-and-large. We need to be on God’s side. We need to proclaim his message of our utter sinfulness. We need to proclaim the worthlessness of trying to please God through formalism and works and false religion. We need to hold out the blessed gospel and the free grace of God to sinners like ourselves. We need to be unapologetic about the fact that you can have your sins forgiven by repenting and trusting Christ.
You and I are a nation of priests, brothers and sisters. We are called to call others to be reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus his Son.
So, may the Lord help us be what we need to be in these dark days. May we ourselves be submitting to God’s authority. And may we be bringing others to that same point of submission.