Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22
This reading is part of a larger unit that extends from 14:1 to 15:9. That larger unit has several sub-units.
• Verses 14:1-12 have to do with a great drought. The people are suffering terribly, and petitioning the Lord for relief.
• Verses 14:13-18 denounce false prophets who promise peace. The Lord has not authorized their prophecies, and they are part of the problem.
• Verses 14:19-22 are a plea for mercy.
• Verses 15:1-9 reflect the Lord’s judgment on the people.
JEREMIAH 14:1-6.THE WORD OF THE LORD CAME TO JEREMIAH
These verses are not included in the lectionary reading, but the preacher needs to be aware of them. They portray the terrible suffering of the people. Even wealthy people cannot find water (v. 3). Farmers are discouraged (v. 4), and wild animals are in dire straits (vv. 5-6). A drought of these proportions is a deadly matter.
JEREMIAH 14:7-9. YOU HOPE OF ISRAEL, DON’T LEAVE US
7Though our iniquities testify against us, work for your name’s sake, Yahweh; for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against you. 8You hope of Israel, its Savior in the time of trouble, why should you be as a foreigner in the land, and as a wayfaring man who turns aside to stay for a night? 9Why should you be like a scared man, as a mighty man who can’t save? Yet you, Yahweh, are in the midst of us, and we are called by your name; don’t leave us.
“Though our iniquities testify against us, work for your name’s sake, Yahweh; for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against you” (v. 7). This confession links the people’s sins to the drought mentioned in verses 1-6. God imposed the drought as punishment for the people’s sins.
“You hope of Israel, its Savior in the time of trouble” (v. 8a). The people acknowledge that the Lord is “the hope of Israel” and Israel’s “Savior in the time of trouble.” The Lord has saved Israel in the past, and surely can do so again.
I think of this as the “buttering up” stage. The people acknowledge the Lord’s great power. They also remind the Lord that he has always been there for them when they needed him. The Lord is their Savior. Perhaps by reminding the Lord of these things, they can persuade the Lord to do it again—to save them from this terrible drought.
“why should you be as a foreigner in the land, and as a wayfaring man who turns aside to stay for a night?” (v. 8b). The Lord seems to be absent. Why would that be?
I think of this as the “piling on guilt” phase—the kind of guilt trip that a Jewish mother might impose on her absent son—”Why don’t you ever come around anymore? I never get to see you! Don’t you love me? Don’t you care?”
“Why should you be like a scared man, as a mighty man who can’t save?” (v. 9a). Now they try a different tactic—asking why the Lord wanders around like a confused person—like a formerly mighty warrior who seems totally “out of it” now. It is as if they imagine they can shame the Lord into coming to their rescue.
“Yet you, Yahweh, are in the midst of us,” (v. 9b). They acknowledge that the Lord really is present with them—in the midst of them—not absent after all.
“and we are called by your name” (v. 9c). Now they throw in the clincher: “we are called by your name” (v. 9b). In that culture, people considered a person’s name to be more than a simple label to identify that person. They believed that something of the person’s identity was tied up in the name—that the name expressed something of the person’s essential character. So they remind the Lord that they are his people—known by his name. If anything bad happens to them, it will reflect on the Lord’s reputation.
“don’t leave us” (v. 9d). After all their manipulative arguments, they conclude with a plaintive plea—”don’t leave us.” That is the point. That is what they wanted to say.
JEREMIAH 14:10. YAHWEH WILL REMEMBER THEIR INIQUITY
10Thus says Yahweh to this people, Even so have they loved to wander; they have not refrained their feet: therefore Yahweh does not accept them; now he will remember their iniquity, and visit their sins.
“Thus says Yahweh to this people, Even so have they loved to wander; they have not refrained their feet” (v. 10a). Now the Lord responds. Neither their flattery nor their manipulation has had the desired result. The Lord remembers them, but what he remembers is how they “loved to wander”—how they “have not refrained their feet.” Earlier, when the Lord called them back from their wandering ways, they responded, “It is in vain. No, for I have loved strangers, and I will go after them” (2:25).
“therefore Yahweh does not accept them; now he will remember their iniquity, and visit their sins”(v. 10b). Now, because they have been so perpetually unfaithful, the Lord will not treat them as if they were deserving. The Lord will remember them, but it is their iniquity and sins that he will remember.
It might trouble us that the people have confessed their sins, but the Lord has refused to forgive them. Hasn’t the Lord promised to “forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” if we will only confess our sins? (1 John 1:9)
But their confession came too late. The Lord will give them judgment rather than forgiveness.
However, we should also note that the judgment (the Babylonian Exile) will not be the last chapter in the story of the Lord and the Lord’s people. The Lord will put these people through a fire, but it will be a refiner’s fire rather than a destroyer’s fire. Their redemption will be a long time coming, but it will come. The Lord is abandoning his people, but the abandonment will be temporary. It is the Lord’s way of acknowledging that cheap grace is no bargain—no solution. Cheap grace at this point would not help these people. It is time for Tough Love.
JEREMIAH 14:11-18. DON’T PRAY FOR THESE PEOPLE
These verses are not included in the lectionary reading, but the preacher needs to be aware of them.
The Lord tells Jeremiah, “Don’t pray for this people for their good” (v. 11). A prophet’s prayers would pull at Yahweh’s heart, but Yahweh has no intention of allowing these people to escape the judgment that he has prepared for them (v. 12).
Jeremiah has competition in the prophecy business. He complains about other prophets, who say, “You shall not see the sword, neither shall you have famine; but I will give you assured peace in this place” (v. 13). But the Lord responds by telling Jeremiah that those prophets are liars, and will be consumed by sword and famine (vv. 15) along with the people to whom they have prophesied (v. 16).
The Lord does permit Jeremiah to tell the people of his grief (the Lord’s grief or Jeremiah’s?) at the devastation that he will soon see. He pictures people dead by the sword and dead from famine (vv. 17-18). “The historical background…is possibly the first Babylonian invasion of Judah in 597 B.C. which resulted in severe destruction and partial exile” (Thompson, 385).
JEREMIAH 14:19-21. DON’T BREAK YOUR COVENANT WITH US
19Have you utterly rejected Judah? has your soul loathed Zion? why have you struck us, and there is no healing for us? We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of healing, and behold, dismay! 20We acknowledge, Yahweh, our wickedness, and the iniquity of our fathers; for we have sinned against you. 21Do not abhor us, for your name’s sake; do not disgrace the throne of your glory: remember, don’t break your covenant with us.
“Have you utterly rejected Judah? has your soul loathed Zion? why have you struck us, and there is no healing for us? We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of healing, and behold, dismay!” (v. 19). Thus begins a lament of the people as communicated by Jeremiah. It is beginning to penetrate the people’s consciousness that the Lord really has abandoned them and that they will have to face this drought and other hardships alone. They have plied the Lord with words intended to bring peace and healing, but that didn’t work. They don’t have peace, but face terror instead.
“We acknowledge, Yahweh, our wickedness, and the iniquity of our fathers; for we have sinned against you” (v. 20). The people try once again to confess their own sins and the sins of their ancestors in the hope that the Lord will finally acknowledge their confession and forgive their sins.
“Do not abhor us, for your name’s sake” (v. 21a). Once again they appeal to the Lord to help them “for your name’s sake”—for the sake of the Lord’s reputation. If the Lord persists in punishing them, their pagan neighbors will say, “Their god must not be very strong!”
“do not disgrace the throne of your glory” (v. 21b). This is probably a reference to the Jerusalem temple where these people believe that the Lord lives. Surely the Lord will not allow his glorious throne to be dishonored. Surely the Lord has too much self-respect to allow that to happen!
But the Lord isn’t concerned about reigning in the Jerusalem temple. The Lord wants to reign in these people’s hearts—and they have refused to allow that to happen. Over and over again, they have bent their knees to Baal and turned their backs on Yahweh.
“remember, don’t break your covenant with us” (v. 21c). A covenant is an agreement between two parties. God first established a covenant with Abram. Abram was to go to a land that the Lord would show him, and the Lord promised to make him a blessing to all the families of the earth (12:1-3). God renewed this covenant with Moses (Exodus 24) and Joshua (Joshua 24) and Jehoiada (2 Kings 11) and Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29:10 and Josiah (2 Kings 23:3) and David (2 Samuel 7:12-17).
The people appeal to God not to break this long-standing covenant. But a covenant has two sides—imposes responsibilities on both parties—and it is the people rather than Yahweh who have broken the covenant. They have broken it over and over and over again, but now they ask the Lord not to break it. The Lord, however, is not breaking the covenant, but is simply acknowledging its brokenness.
JEREMIAH 14:22. THEREFORE WE WILL WAIT FOR YOU
22Are there any among the vanities of the nations that can cause rain? or can the sky give showers? Aren’t you he, Yahweh our God? Therefore we will wait for you; for you have made all these things.
“Are there any among the vanities of the nations that can cause rain? or can the sky give showers? Aren’t you he, Yahweh our God?” (v. 22a). Once again there is irony here. The people acknowledge that idols have no power to bring rain. They acknowledge that only Yahweh has this power.
BUT they have been guilty of worshiping the Baals—the Canaanite weather and fertility gods. They have placed their trust in the Baals rather than in Yahweh. Now that the Baals have failed them decisively, they find themselves at the Lord’s feet, petitioning for his help.
“therefore we will wait for you; for you have made all these things” (v. 22b). Once again they conclude with a plea. They claim to have placed all their hope in the Lord. They acknowledge the Lord’s power.
JEREMIAH 15:1-9. POSTSCRIPT
These verses are not included in the lectionary reading, but the preacher needs to be aware of them.
The Lord will not hear these people, because they have shown over and over again that their words mean nothing. So the Lord will appoint destroyers to destroy them (15:3-4).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Bracke, John M., Westminster Bible Companion: Jeremiah 1-29 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000)
Clements, R. E., Interpretation Commentary: Jeremiah (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988)
Craigie, Peter C.; Kelley, Page H.; and Drinkard, Joel F. Jr., Word Biblical Commentary: Jeremiah 1–25 (Dallas: Word Books, 1991)
Fretheim, Terence, E., Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Jeremiah (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Incorporated, 2002)
Harrison, R.K., Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Jeremiah & Lamentations, Vol. 19 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973)
Huey, F. B. Jr., New American Commentary: Isaiah, Lamentations, Vol. 16 (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993)
Martens, E. A., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Jeremiah (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1986)
Miller, Patrick D., The New Interpreters Bible: Jeremiah, Vol.VI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001)
Stulman, Louis, Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries: Jeremiah (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005)
Thompson, J.A., The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Jeremiah (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980)
Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holliday, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, C (Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1994)
Copyright 2010, Richard Niell Donovan