Devastation, Preservation, and Renewal

Jeremiah 2-6

Tom J. Nettles


In drawing relevance from Israel’s decline and God’s call to repentance and real threat of judgment, we must be careful not to make parallel Israel and America, or any country, population center, or people group in particular. We must not say, “This promise of judgment should be a warning to America, that if we don’t return to God etc.” America as a nation has never been the people of God to be dealt with in the way that God dealt with the covenant children of Abraham. In one sense, there is no parallel to Israel as it existed in this condition of apostasy. The church is parallel only to the remnant within Israel that were truly faithful and who were circumcised of heart. Their election of God as a nation was to the particular purpose of being a vehicle for the reception and preservation of divine revelation, the oracles of God. From them would come the Messiah, identified clearly through a stream of prophecy more and more finely tuned so that no argument against the identification of Jesus as that Messiah could be sustained with certitude. The evidence was such that Paul could argue convincingly in the synagogues of the first century that Jesus was the Christ. Israel had within it the offices of prophet, priest and king that would be combined in perfection in Jesus, the Christ, and it provided the matrix of genealogy through which, in the fullness of time, Christ would be born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law. Israel does serve to show the perversity of the sinful human heart and how in its unrenewed state it rebels against the clearest and most vigorously revealed truths of God. If we can despise such privileges, what must our sin be; “If the light within us be darkness, how great is that darkness.” If a parallel is to be drawn, one might point to Saul of Tarsus as the embodiment of such privilege and such blindness [Galatians 1:13, 14; 1 Timothy 1:12-16; Philippians 3:4-8]. If God finds a way to be merciful to this kind of sinfulness, then all people everywhere have hope.


I.                    Chronicle of Privileges abandoned chapter 2

  1. They abandoned their original sense of gratitude and love and did not seek their redeemer 1-8

1. They forgot their early sense of gratitude and privilege and dependence, and their amazement at how God destroyed those that sought to destroy them.

2.  What could have prompted them to seek another protector? How could they be blind to the the divine hand that protected and led them? 4-7

3. Priest and Scribes, and Prophets all lead them astray - 8

  1. They have devoted themselves to gods that have not sought them and cannot help them 9-13. “Fountains of living waters” should remind us that Jesus lays claim to be this very one that provides such water—John 4:10, 14. In John 7:38 Jesus promised a constant stream of living water for those that believe on him, that is the indwelling presence and operations of the Holy Spirit. The desperateness of sin is seen in how utterly irrational we become in our preference of our own way to that of God. Given a fountain of living water, we prefer to dig cisterns that can hold no water.
  2. They have lost their fear of Jehovah [19], meaning that their hearts do not regard Him with reverence, gratitude, and love, and sought the gods of their enemies 14-19. In forsaking God, they have become slaves to others. Note the reference again to water now sought from the Nile or the Euphrates rather than from the unending and pure fountain of Jehovah.
  3. Their gods are as numerous as the objects of nature [trees and stones] and each city has its own brand of abomination:  their spiritual whoredom comes from their desire for physical whoredom; in accordance with the religion of the Baals, they have given themselves to the immediate impulses of lust like camels or donkeys. Though made in God’s image, they imitate beasts that are amoral and non-rational, wholly driven by instinct. 20-28. This demonstrates the utter perversity and corruption of sin in that it reverses that unfallen naturalness of our original status to be characterized by suitableness, a sense of divine provision, beauty and excellence, commitment, and no cause for shame [Genesis 2:18-25]
  4. They refuse to be corrected [30] and their immorality pushes them to brutal injustice; They refuse to see their susceptibility to judgment [35-37]

II.                 Call to and contemplation of repentance 3:1 – 4:4

  1. Perverse loyalties with pious words 3:1-5 – They still manifest “God-talk” with no regard for the commandments of God. How much pious palaver in our lives and among the people of our generation masks a disregard for God’s holiness and seeks to put a fair appearance on our love for the world and all that is in it. Cf. 1 John 2:15-17
  2. The example of Israel did not deter Judah  6-10. That idolatry, ungodly alliances, and immorality had brought judgment on Israel did not serve as an effectual warning to Judah to repent and return to God. Instead they imitated and surpassed the worst features of Israel’s rebellion. Can they expect a judgment less severe?
  3. Call to Israel for repentance, showing the continuing patience of Jehovah  11-14 – He tells Jeremiah to call toward Israel with a word of acceptance upon repentance and with a word of grace toward a small remnant (14b)
  4. A promise of a future of true worship when ceremonial worship has passed 15-18 cf. 2 Chron 30:17-20 – This is an anticipation of the promise of a new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31. The gathered people will included the remnant of Israel and Judah and those that God gathers from all nations.
  5. The delight of God in restoring on the basis of heartfelt repentance  3:19-4:4

1.      call to repentance 3;19-22a – God reminds them of the perversity of their rebellion and that it will lead to distress of soul. The Lord calls to repentance.

2.      the content of true repentance 3:22b-25 – Note that the passage focuses on the deep sense of shame and blame that fills the heart of one that discovers the  ugly depths of sin. That which give repentance its most profound outflow of grief is the realization the “Truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel.”

3.      summary of genuine repentance and consequences of its failure 4:1-4. Note that these same aspects of repentance are recounted in 5:20-25 in the context of Judah’s refusal to engage in it. Repentance involces removing those things that are sinful offenses against a Holy God, a recognition of his intrinsic purity, truth, and loveliness, all flowing frm a moral change that cannot be reversed, the circumcision of the heart. Notice that 5:23 points to that perverse heart as the problem againanticipating the necessity of God’s sovereign action in the new covenant.

III.               The Certainty of Judgment  4:5-31

A.     Jeremiah’s incredulity at God’ proclamation of his fierce anger 5-10 – at this time he seems to have thought that the false prophets had been speaking truthfully [10]

  1. Thoroughness of the devastation  11-18;23-31

IV.              Thoroughness of Judah’s corruption 5:1-31

  1. No just person [1-3] – God challenges Jeremiah to look throughout Jerusalem to find one just person, enough to warrant a pardon for the city. Religious language will no qualify for their use of the name of the Lord is falsely and multiplies their sin for it is an infraction of the third commandment. God’s chastening has merely made them harder in heart, self-reliant, and averse to repentance.
  2. Jeremiah says it is only the ignorant [5:4-5a] – Jeremiah seemed to think that conditions of poverty and ignorance made people insensitive to the realities of divine revelation, holiness, justice, and mercy. In 5b, he found that even the rich, great and privileged were just as hard and insensitive to God as the poor and ignorant.
  3. God pursues, therefore, his determination to punish and demonstrates the saturation of rebellion  Images of punishment include a lion, a wolf, a leopard, and an ancient nation that has refined its cruelty to an art (15-17)
  4. Sin is rampant and displayed in massive variety – The people are greedy, idolatrous, adulterous, unjust, and oppressive to the weak, the fatherless. Their hearts are hard and they do not thank God even for common mercies (24). Prophets prophesy falsely and priests follow their own devised patterns of ministration.
  5.  The people don’t believe they are susceptible – 5:12
  6. Hope for the chosen remnant – 10a, 18 Even with their desert of absolute destruction God still says to the destroyer “Make not a full end,” and gives a personal promise “I will not make a full end of you.”

V.                 Consistent Failure to respond to chastisement means Certain Judgment

  1. They will be pursued with a vengeance 6:1-9
  2. Failure to listen to the word brings  wrath, failure, and deception 10-15
  3. Failure to respond and perversion of worship – God issues a call and they say “We will not walk in it.” (16)
  4. Jeremiah’s ministry will demonstrate that they have no soundness at all – 6:27ff It is impossible for the dross to be removed in order that the true metal will appear, for all of it is dross. Nothing is there to be refined.

VI.              Redemptive Focus

  1. God maintains and clearly reveals his purpose to maintain a remnant. It is clear that this in only a matter of grace and sovereign divine purpose. Utter corruption calls for utter destruction, but yet God will preserve a remnant.
  2. Human capacity for self-deception is immense [3:1, 4] The casual attitude they maintained of their sin and their idea of  claiming the blessings of God showed that, as Anselm so pungently pointed out, ‘You have not yet  considered what a great thing sin is.”
  3. Hypocrisy is endemic to fallen human nature:  Conscience witnesses to what we should do and say but our affections and actions lie elsewhere
  4. God will effect a great conversion and will have a united people. If he relies on any intrinsic goodness, any remnant of unperverse will in humanity, the hope will fail utterly. He will accomplish this in the basis of sovereign grace.