Jeremiah 8:13-17

13 “‘I will take away their harvest,
declares the Lord.
    There will be no grapes on the vine.
There will be no figs on the tree,
    and their leaves will wither.
What I have given them
    will be taken from them.’”

14 Why are we sitting here?
    Gather together!
Let us flee to the fortified cities
    and perish there!
For the Lord our God has doomed us to perish
    and given us poisoned water to drink,
    because we have sinned against him.
15 We hoped for peace
    but no good has come,
for a time of healing
    but there is only terror.
16 The snorting of the enemy’s horses
    is heard from Dan;
at the neighing of their stallions
    the whole land trembles.
They have come to devour
    the land and everything in it,
    the city and all who live there.

17 “See, I will send venomous snakes among you,
    vipers that cannot be charmed,
    and they will bite you,”
declares the Lord.
(Jeremiah 8:13-17 NIV)

In yesterday’s passage, we began a new section of the Lord’s word to His people. This section extends through the end of chapter 10.  Yesterday’s verses outlined Judah and Jerusalem’s complacent behavior toward the Lord.  They were on a fast track to ruin but failed to acknowledge their plight or take any action to repent and return to the Lord.

Today’s passage is a combination of comments from the Lord and the people of Judah.  The Lord’s comments encapsulate the passage (verses 13 and 17), while the people’s comments are sandwiched in between (verses 14 through 16).

Verse 13 is the Lord’s opening statement.  The Lord went to enjoy the fruit of His work among His people, but there was nothing.  Remember the progression of the vine so far?

  • The Lord planted some choice vines, known for making great grapes for both eating and making wine (2:21)
  • The vine grew wild and did not produce any fruit.  Even the gleaners (those who inspected the vine after the main harvest) could not find any fruit (6:9)
  • Now the vine is fruitless, and the leaves have withered.  The vine is not dead, but under severe distress (8:13)

The Lord promised a fruitful harvest if the people of Judah and Jerusalem would abide in Him and obey His commands.  If the people abandoned His covenant relationship and tried to transplant themselves, they were on their own, and the results were disastrous.

In verses 14 – 16, the people finally realize that they are under God’s discipline, and panic ensues.  Their first response is to run to a fortified city (Jerusalem) for safety.  But there would be no refuge there.  The Lord had already said there would be no shelter from His discipline, either fighting against the enemy in the city or as a group of unarmed refugees out in the open (6:25).  Terror was everywhere.

The reference to poisoned water (v. 14) is a reference to the people of Judah disobeying the Lord.  Back in chapter 2 verse 13, the Lord accused the people of digging leaky cisterns to capture rainwater (“dead water”) rather than rely on the Lord’s fresh water (“living water”).  Again, this calamity was of the peoples’ own doing, from their disobedience.

The priests’ false claims of peace and safety (8:11) are now called out.  Those who were supposed to know and tell the people but were lying for their self-interests now admit that their proclamations were wishful thinking, not reality (v. 15).

Verse 16 references the city of Dan.  Geographically, Dan was on the northern-most border of Judah.  As the Lord had already said the enemy would come from the North, this is an explicit reference to the enemy’s attack strategy.  The time of the invasion was drawing very near.

Verse 17 closes with the words from the Lord again.  The references to poisonous snakes were to the enemies from the north who would invade Judah.  There would be no “charming” the enemies this time.  There would be no cooperation or making of treaties or deals.  Judah and Jerusalem could not seduce their enemies. Their captors were coming with a vengeance (4:30).

The reference to poisonous snakes also recalled the experience of the Israelites in the desert with Moses (Numbers 21:6-9).  The people were disobedient to the Lord, and He sent in poisonous snakes that bit people.  The Israelites confessed their sin, and the Lord gave Moses an antidote for the snakebite so that the people could live.  In today’s passage, there is no repentance and no antidote.

May the Lord’s promise to Solomon many centuries ago be our prayer in our lands today:

 If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
(2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV)