Like the partridge that gathers a brood that she did not hatch,
so is he who gets riches but not by justice;
in the midst of his days they will leave him,
and at his end he will be a fool.
A glorious throne set on high from the beginning
is the place of our sanctuary.
O Lord, the hope of Israel,
all who forsake you shall be put to shame;
those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth,
for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water.
Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed;
save me, and I shall be saved,
for you are my praise.
Behold, they say to me,
“Where is the word of the Lord?
Let it come!”
I have not run away from being your shepherd,
nor have I desired the day of sickness.
You know what came out of my lips;
it was before your face.
Be not a terror to me;
you are my refuge in the day of disaster.
Let those be put to shame who persecute me,
but let me not be put to shame;
let them be dismayed,
but let me not be dismayed;
bring upon them the day of disaster;
destroy them with double destruction! – Jeremiah 17:11-18 ESV
The verse immediately preceding this section carried the words of God.
“I, the Lord, search all hearts
and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
according to what their actions deserve.” – Jeremiah 17:10 NLT
God sees and knows. He alone has insights into the inner motivations of men, seeing what they themselves are incapable of seeing. He knows what prompts their actions and rewards them accordingly. When someone does something righteous and good for the right reason, God knows and blesses them. When someone else does what, for all intents and purposes looks to be good, but out of a wrong motivation, God knows and allows them to experience the curses that come with the territory. And God uses an illustration from nature to describe what is going on.
Like a partridge that hatches eggs she has not laid,
so are those who get their wealth by unjust means. – Jeremiah 17:11 NLT
The partridge or grouse makes a habit of sitting on the eggs of another bird. In other words, it “steals” what does not belong to it. From the outside, it looks as if it is doing what God intended for it to do, incubating its eggs. But they are not her eggs. And when the eggs hatch and the chicks are old enough to fly, they leave the nest, never to return. So it was with the people of Judah. They were doing all those ritualistic and religious things that made them appear as if they still worshiped Yahweh, but at the same time they were worshiping false gods. To the outside observer they would have appeared to be doing their right thing, but God knows the heart of man. They were practicing injustice while worshiping the God of justice. They were greedy for gain and seeking wealth through inappropriate means, all the while trying to portray themselves as godly people. And Jeremiah points out the absurdity of it all.
But we worship at your throne—
eternal, high, and glorious! – Jeremiah 17:12 NLT
Yes, they still worshiped God. At least superficially and externally. But as God described them to the prophet Isaiah: “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13 NLT). Like the partridge, they appeared to be doing the right thing, but it was all a sham. Things were not as they appeared. And Jeremiah goes on to describe the true nature of their relationship with God.
O Lord, the hope of Israel,
all who turn away from you will be disgraced.
They will be buried in the dust of the earth,
for they have abandoned the Lord, the fountain of living water. – Jeremiah 17:13 NLT
Yes, the throne of God was in Jerusalem. But for all intents and purposes, the people had abandoned God a long time ago. They had turned their back on the fountain of living water. This is reminiscent of a statement God had made to Jeremiah and recorded earlier in his book.
“For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me–the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” – Jeremiah 2:13 NLT
They had created alternatives or replacements for God. But their false gods would prove to provide false hope. They would end up being like water receptacles dug out of rock and intended to hold water, but with cracks that allow the rain to flow out rather than fill up. No matter how things might have appeared or how religious the people of Judah may have thought themselves to be, God knew their hearts and the prognosis was not good. And Jeremiah knew it, which prompted him to call out to God for mercy and grace.
O Lord, if you heal me, I will be truly healed;
if you save me, I will be truly saved.
My praises are for you alone!
People scoff at me and say,
“What is this ‘message from the Lord’ you talk about?
Why don’t your predictions come true?” – Jeremiah 17:14-15 NLT
Jeremiah can’t help but convey his frustration and fears to God. He has been faithful. He has done all that God has asked him to do. But the people do nothing but reject and ridicule him. They make fun of him because, so far, nothing he has predicted has come to pass. He just comes across as a lunatic spouting nonsense. So, Jeremiah cries out to God, “You alone are my hope in the day of disaster” (Jeremiah 17:17 NLT). He feels all alone. He knows the people can’t stand him. They probably crossed to the other side of the street when they saw him in public. People talked behind his back or scowled at him when he drew near. He was a pariah and a persona non grata. But he knew he could trust in God. And he also knew that God knew his heart. He had been faithful. He had never failed to do what God had told him to do or say what God had commanded him to say. And he reminds God, “I have not abandoned my job as a shepherd for your people” (Jeremiah 17:16 NLT). Not only that, Jeremiah reminds God that the destruction of the people of Judah had not been his idea. He had not been the one to ask God to judge them. he had simply been speaking the words of God. And now, out of his deep frustration with his lot in life, Jeremiah asks God to hurry up and fulfill His prediction.
Bring shame and dismay on all who persecute me,
but don’t let me experience shame and dismay.
Bring a day of terror on them.
Yes, bring double destruction upon them! – Jeremiah 17:18 NLT
Suddenly, Jeremiah had taken a personal interest in all that was going on. He was put out and frustrated by the way the people of Judah had been treating him and so, he asks God to vindicate him by bringing judgment on them, “double destruction” as he puts it. But notice that Jeremiah makes no mention of what the people of Judah had done to God. He seems unconcerned with how they had treated Yahweh – the God of the universe who had chosen the people of Judah and made Him His own. No, it had all become about Jeremiah. But the real injustice here was not what Jeremiah was experiencing. It was that the people of Judah had abandoned God. Jeremiah seems far less concerned about the harm done to the name and reputation of God than he does with his own suffering. God had blessed them repeatedly and, in return, they had worshiped other gods. God had provided for them consistently, but they returned the favor by seeking aid from false gods and pagan nations. He was the real offended party, not Jeremiah.
When people sin against us, they are really sinning against God. They are rebelling against the God of the universe. Yet, we don’t take up an offense of God. We tend to whine and complain to God about what has been done to us. We demand retribution and justice, but for our sake, not God’s. Jeremiah was missing the point. While he was on the receiving end of the peoples’ frustration, their real anger was directed at God. They hated what Jeremiah was saying, because they feared that he was speaking on behalf of God. And God had warned Jeremiah early on that his message would not be well-received.
“For see, today I have made you strong
like a fortified city that cannot be captured,
like an iron pillar or a bronze wall.
You will stand against the whole land—
the kings, officials, priests, and people of Judah.
They will fight you, but they will fail.
For I am with you, and I will take care of you.
I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 1:18-19 NLT
God was not going to be abandon Jeremiah. But He wanted Jeremiah to understand that he was not the one who deserved to be angry. God was the offended party. He was the faithful God who had been treated unfaithfully. He was the loving God who had sat back and watched His people shower their love and affection on false gods. He had blessed only to have His blessings thrown back in His face. If anything, Jeremiah should have been taking up an offense for God. His anger should have been directed at their treatment of God. But how easy it is to make it all about us.
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)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.