In Justice Remember Mercy



Tom Nettles


Introduction:  This was written subsequent to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.   Chapters 1-4 are all alphabetic acrostics, chapter 3 a triple acrostic; chapter 5 has 22 verses but is not an acrostic.  Covenantal themes continue with emphasis on an unfaithful people and a faithful God.  The conditional covenant results in unremitting wrath; but because God has also made a promise not dependent on human righteousness, sinners have hope.

I                      God Afflicts Judah For Their Rebellion – Chapter 1

A       Jerusalem in a desolate condition, physically and religiously, because of the exile  1-9 – This is not described as an impersonal, amoral tragedy, but  as a revelation of Judah’s “multitude of transgression,” (5) and that she “sinned grievously” and “became filthy” (8).

B        An unclean adversary has arisen to punish – 10, 11 Those that were forbidden entrance in the Law defile the Sanctuary (10).

C        God himself is the active agent in this punishment – 5b, 12-17

D        Verse 18 is a confession of God’s right in this punishment.

E         Judah’s former “lovers” cannot come to her aid and her enemies exult in her downfall. 19, 21. Verse 20 describes the intense emotional and spiritual anguish that comes from knowing that one’s sin has brought about this abandonment to death and destruction.

F         The righteousness that brings punishment to Judah will also fall on its enemies  21b-22

II                    God as an Angry Enemy Against Judah - Chapter 2  The theme of The Lord’s active engagement against Judah intensifies.

A       God systematically dismantles every aspect of the domestic, social, military, and religious life of Judah:  Princes, kings, priests and prophets, holy days, festivals, tabernacle, altar, walls, gates, bars  1-9

B        As a body, the city cries beholds and laments the depths of the devastation and desperation 10-13. The elders, those that are supposed to be the wise sit and stare and have no advice, no answers. The young women, whose hope for family, home, and young of their own now see their place of security shattered and they bow to the ground. The observer is so sick that he vomits as he watches babies die in their mothers’ arms.

C        This has been caused by unfaithful prophets who failed to expose and reprimand the people’s sin (verse 14)

D        Enemies revile and claim their victory, but the Lord himself has done it, in accordance with his purpose and faithfulness  15-17

E         Jeremiah joins the people in crying to God for mercy to supersede judgment  18-22. In this section he points out more of the horrors of the Babylonian siege. “Should women eat the fruit of their womb, the children of their tender care?”

III                  A Sovereign God who executes his covenant is the only hope Chapter 3

A       Jeremiah laments God’s aggression toward him as a righteous one who suffers the judgment with his guilty people 1-18 –  (Compare Job and Habakkuk) God has seemed to be an invincible foe intent on blocking every path and lying in wait for him as a ferocious animal. He also has become an object of ridicule in the city.  By verse 18 he has been exhausted of both endurance and hope.

B        Participation in God’s judgment reminds Jeremiah of the promises of lovingkindness for those with a changed heart 19-38

1. In verses 19 and 20 he remembers the bitterness of the providences toward him,. Verse21 provides a transition, “But This I call to mind.”

2. God’s steadfast love never ends – compare with Jeremiah 31:3, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” One who is convinced that he is included in the covenant of grace may find hope in every situation even when most downcast.  22-24.

3.  He will know that the favor of God is better than all earthly comforts and pleasures and will never, therefore, cease seeking the Lord’s salvation. 25, 26

4.  When discipline and chastening come, the true seeker of God, the one that values the knowledge of God above all things, will accept these things without murmuring and with confidence that God’s steadfast love will finally be his portion. 26-33

5.  Verses 34 and 35 show that God hates injustice in human relationships. The insertion of this idea here means either a) that the reason for this severe judgment is that the society has become thoroughly unjust and should be destroyed, or, b) God’s infliction of punishment is a righteous judgment on his part although he does it through an instrument that uses its power for cruelty and injustice. [See James 1:12-18 for an argument that shows God’s purposes are righteous though we might turn his Providential testing into an occasion for evil.]

6.  God gives both blessing and cursing in the moral affairs of humans. He is sovereign in the granting of his mercy and irreproachable in the manifestation of judgment for sin. None should complain at chastening when we remember the depth and persistence of our sin. 37-39

C        We should resolve, in light of judgmental calamity, to examine our ways and return to the Lord. The depth of God’s punishment should inform us of the ugliness of our sin.  39-51

D        Those who have persecuted Jeremiah in the midst of his faithfulness to the call of the Lord will be pursued by God to destruction  52-66

IV                  God made the supposed glory of Judah become its shame – chapter 4

A       Gold has become like clay [metaphorically speaking as an image of Judah] 1, 2

B        Vile beasts are more compassionate than the mothers of Judah  3, 4, 10

C        Luxury has changed to pestilential despair  5-9

D        God has brought down the city that seemed impregnable; women boiled their own children for food.  10, 11, 12

E         Unfaithful prophets and priests have contributed to this  13-15

F         God has scattered the people and no one has come to give them aid

G        Edom will receive special punishment for its cruelty (21, 22) – cf. Obadiah

V                    Every aspect of Judah’s existence has oppressive difficulties

A       Jeremiah lists the grave danger and difficulty of daily life in an abandoned city 1-18

B        A final prayer built on the eternal perspective of God  19-22

1. He recognizes the eternity and unchangeableness of God

2. He wonders, in light of God’s covenant [otherwise why the words “forget” and “forsake”] why the estrangement of mercies has lasted so long.

3.He asks for a divine action of restoration, for only by such action will rebellious sinners turn. Jeremiah already had received the revelation of a new covenant [Jeremiah 31:31ff] in which God himself would write his law in the hearts of his people and they would know him, for God himself would teach them.

4.  The only reason they would not be restored eventually, is if God had utterly rejected them. In light of the promises to Abraham David and others. Paul explains why such utter abandonment is impossible in Romans 9 – 11.

VI                  Conclusion

A       God is immutably faithful to his own purposes and character  3:37

B        God’s faithfulness gives certainty to his plans of redemption; See 2 Tim. 1:9ff and Romans 8

C        Judgment within a fallen world often involves suffering for the chosen – while this is judgment to the wicked, it is sanctification to the elect – Phil 1:27-30; James 5:7-11

D        No one is free at any moment from susceptibility to divine punishment, chastening, correction, and none has reason to complain of God’s dealing with him as either harsh or unjust.

E         Infinitely more than Jeremiah, Jesus has suffered a judgment that should have fallen on others 3:52