16 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 2 “You must not marry and have sons or daughters in this place.” 3 For this is what the Lord says about the sons and daughters born in this land and about the women who are their mothers and the men who are their fathers: 4 “They will die of deadly diseases. They will not be mourned or buried but will be like dung lying on the ground. They will perish by sword and famine, and their dead bodies will become food for the birds and the wild animals.”
5 For this is what the Lord says: “Do not enter a house where there is a funeral meal; do not go to mourn or show sympathy, because I have withdrawn my blessing, my love and my pity from this people,” declares the Lord. 6 “Both high and low will die in this land. They will not be buried or mourned, and no one will cut themselves or shave their head for the dead. 7 No one will offer food to comfort those who mourn for the dead—not even for a father or a mother—nor will anyone give them a drink to console them.
8 “And do not enter a house where there is feasting and sit down to eat and drink. 9 For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Before your eyes and in your days I will bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in this place.
10 “When you tell these people all this and they ask you, ‘Why has the Lord decreed such a great disaster against us? What wrong have we done? What sin have we committed against the Lord our God?’ 11 then say to them, ‘It is because your ancestors forsook me,’ declares theLord, ‘and followed other gods and served and worshiped them. They forsook me and did not keep my law. 12 But you have behaved more wickedly than your ancestors. See how all of you are following the stubbornness of your evil hearts instead of obeying me. 13 So I will throw you out of this land into a land neither you nor your ancestors have known, and there you will serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.’
(Jeremiah 16:1-13 NIV)
As we move into Chapter 16, we gain some insight into Jeremiah’s complaints in chapter 15 (vv. 10 and 15-18). The Lord gives Jeremiah three clear and distinct commands, thus using his life as an illustration and witness to the people of Judah (vv. 1 – 9). The Lord knows the people of Judah will clearly see these life examples and will ask the “why” question; the Lord then gives Jeremiah the answer and the related life lesson he is to share (vv. 10 – 13).
What were these three commands?
- Don’t marry and have children
- No mourning
- No feasting/celebrations
For Jeremiah to remain single (v. 2) in a land of arranged marriages and expectation of offspring, this would seem an extreme oddity by the citizens of Judah. For Jeremiah to not participate in community events such as mourning deaths (v. 5) and celebrating weddings (v. 8) was perceived as downright disrespectful and antisocial.
In a land and culture with such rich community interaction, these three behaviors would be seen as overtly misanthropic. For our tender-hearted author and prophet who loved his country and fellow citizens, nothing could be further than the truth. Having to remove himself intentionally from such traditional community activities would (and did) push Jeremiah to the breaking point, as evidenced in 15:10, 15-18.
While verses 2 – 9 are written in English as prose, their Hebrew counterparts are recorded in more of a poetic pattern. Each command is given to Jeremiah, followed by two implications for the people of Judah. The Lord’s use of Jeremiah as an object lesson in verses 2 – 9 was sure to generate many questions. When Jeremiah shared the Lord’s responses, the people of Judah were shocked and hurt by the Lord’s implications behind each of Jeremiah’s commanded behaviors.
In verse 10, the Lord summarizes the peoples’ responses:
- Why has the Lord decreed such a great disaster against us?
- What wrong have we done?
- What sin have we committed against the Lord our God?
The people of Judah were shocked and hurt that the Lord would call them out like this. As far as they were concerned, they were living a good religious life. They seemed to be in good stead with the other Canaanite gods; why was the Hebrew God mad at them? They were obeying all the commands; they were a righteous nation, by their standards.
Yes, they were participating in many religious activities, but they had forgotten the first and foremost command – to love the Lord and serve Him only. This sin was the same sin as their forefathers, and the Lord said the current generation was even more wicked than their ancestors (vv. 11 – 12). Therefore, the judgment on the people remained (v. 13).
Listen to the words of one author as he comments on today’s passage:
“… to be amazed at her [Judah’s] tolerance of other gods is to be no less amazed at a generation – our own – which prides itself on religious pluralism and is embarrassed at the exclusive claims of Christianity.”
(“Jeremiah” Commentary, Derek Kidner, InterVarsity Press, 1987, pp. 70 – 71, bracketed text mine, added for context)
May we say with the Apostle Paul:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.
(Romans 1:16 NIV)