The word of the Lord came to me: “You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place. For thus says the Lord concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning the mothers who bore them and the fathers who fathered them in this land: They shall die of deadly diseases. They shall not be lamented, nor shall they be buried. They shall be as dung on the surface of the ground. They shall perish by the sword and by famine, and their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth.
“For thus says the Lord: Do not enter the house of mourning, or go to lament or grieve for them, for I have taken away my peace from this people, my steadfast love and mercy, declares the Lord. Both great and small shall die in this land. They shall not be buried, and no one shall lament for them or cut himself or make himself bald for them. No one shall break bread for the mourner, to comfort him for the dead, nor shall anyone give him the cup of consolation to drink for his father or his mother. You shall not go into the house of feasting to sit with them, to eat and drink. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will silence in this place, before your eyes and in your days, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.
“And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, ‘Why has the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?’ then you shall say to them: ‘Because your fathers have forsaken me, declares the Lord, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law, and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me. Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.’” – Jeremiah 16:1-13 ESV
Perhaps God was only sparing Jeremiah the potential pain of watching his family suffer and die before his eyes. Or it could be that God’s prohibiting of Jeremiah from getting married and having children had a more symbolic meaning behind it. As a bachelor living in Judah, Jeremiah would be an oddity. In that culture it was seen as a shame and a curse to be an able-bodied man of marrying age and still be unattached. Jeremiah would have stood out like a sore thumb and his singleness would have given the people of Judah one more reason to ridicule him. But it could be that God, who was the one who came up with the idea of marriage in the first place, was going to use Jeremiah as a living example of the end of His relationship with Judah. They would be as good as divorced from Yahweh, having to learn to live without Him. And as a single man, Jeremiah would never know the joy of having and raising children – as God would be giving up His own children to devastation and destruction. There is no doubt that marrying and raising a family with the coming invasion by the Babylonians looming over their heads would have been difficult. It was a less-than-ideal environment. And God makes it painfully clear that all those with families would suffer terribly as a result of the nation’s sin.
“They will die from terrible diseases. No one will mourn for them or bury them, and they will lie scattered on the ground like manure. They will die from war and famine, and their bodies will be food for the vultures and wild animals.” – Jeremiah 16:4 NLT
So, God was graciously sparing Jeremiah from having to endure the pain and suffering that the rest of the nation would have to experience. But he would have to stand by and watch his fellow Judahites die, and God refused to allow him to attend their funerals or mourn on their behalf. Once again, this would make Jeremiah a pariah among his own people. To refuse to mourn over the death of someone was unacceptable behavior. But as God’s representative and spokesperson, Jeremiah’s actions were to be a reminder to the people of Judah that God was removing His compassion from them.
“I have removed my protection and peace from them. I have taken away my unfailing love and my mercy.” – Jeremiah 16:5 NLT
And in a real way, God was simply giving the people of Judah what they wanted: Distance from Him. Their unfaithfulness to Him illustrated by their pursuit of false gods was evidence of their lack of love for Him. They had put their hope and trust in other gods. Yahweh was not enough for them. So, God was going to let them experience life without Him. He even warns them:
“Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.” – Jeremiah 16:13 NLT
There were going to get their fill of false gods. And they would no longer have Yahweh as a backup. These people who had made a habit of idolatry were going to be immersed in the worship of false gods. It would be all they had turn to. The temple would be gone. Their sacrificial system would be non-existent, leaving them with no means by which to receive atonement for their sins. And they would find themselves enslaved to the very gods they worshiped instead of Yahweh.
And God reveals a significant insight into just how idolatrous the people of Judah had become. When He refuses to allow Jeremiah to mourn on their behalf, He states, “Both the great and the lowly will die in this land. No one will bury them or mourn for them. Their friends will not cut themselves in sorrow or shave their heads in sadness” (Jeremiah 16:6 NLT). That last line is a reference to the pagan practices associated with their false gods. Idolatry had permeated every aspect of their lives, even their mourning over the death of a loved one. God had been pushed to the margins and treated as unnecessary. So, God was going to let them see what life was like without Him altogether.
And God knew the people of Judah well. He was well aware that when they heard what He was going to do to them, they would respond with incredulity and disbelief, asking, “Why has the Lord decreed such terrible things against us? What have we done to deserve such treatment? What is our sin against the Lord our God?” (Jeremiah 16:10 NLT). It is amazing to think that they would be so disconnected from reality that they would not know the cause of their suffering, but sometimes our sin blinds us. When we choose to live in darkness, we lose the ability to see the true nature of our condition. Jesus spoke of this very problem when He said, “God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants” (John 3:19-21 NLT). The people of Judah had become accustomed to the dark and could no longer see that their sins against God were the cause of their punishment by God. But He would make it perfectly clear why they were going to undergo such devastating destruction.
“It is because your ancestors were unfaithful to me. They worshiped other gods and served them. They abandoned me and did not obey my word. And you are even worse than your ancestors! You stubbornly follow your own evil desires and refuse to listen to me.” – Jeremiah 16:11-12 NLT
This was not something new. The sins of Judah went back generations. Since the day God had rescued them from captivity in Egypt, the people of Israel had shown their propensity to worship other gods. In fact, when they were living in Egypt, they had forsaken Yahweh for the gods of Egypt. That is why God spent so much time revealing His power to them. Over and over again in the Exodus story, God told the people of Israel that He was going to rescue them and prove to them that He was their one and only God.
“I am the Lord. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment. I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt. I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your very own possession. I am the Lord!” – Exodus 6:6-8 NLT
And while God had proven time and time again, that He was the one true God, the people of Israel had continued to seek after false gods. In spite of His love, mercy, grace, provision and protection, they had made a habit of turning their backs on God. So, now He would turn them over to their own desires. As Paul so aptly describes in his letter to the Romans:
So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! – Romans 1:24-25 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
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