Proceeding From Evil to Evil (Jeremiah 8:18-9:26) June 13
As we read through these sections, it is evident that a dialogue is transpiring, wherein sometimes Jeremiah speaks and sometimes God speaks directly—and sometimes one of them relates the words, or future words, of the people. Verse 18 begins a lament of Jeremiah. In verse 19, he quotes the future words of the people, "wondering that God should have delivered them up to the enemy, seeing that He is Zion's king, dwelling in her" (Jamieson, Fausset & Brown's Commentary, note on verse 19). Of course, they shouldn't have placed so much stock in this—just as they shouldn't have relied too much on the temple in chapter 7. God interjects at the end of 8:19 to explain that the people have brought the situation on themselves. Verse 20 then has the people speaking a proverb about the harvest being past and the summer being ended. "Meaning: One season of hope after another has passed, but the looked-for deliverance never came, and now all hope is gone" (note on verse 20).
This is all too much for Jeremiah. He says he is deeply hurt over what is going to happen to his people—the NIV has "crushed," the Hebrew here meaning "broken" or "shattered" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verses 20-22). "Rather than gloat at the vindication of his ministry, Jeremiah is heartbroken at the suffering of his fellow countrymen. Love for God and love for others sometimes are in tension. But loving God doesn't mean we must stop caring for others, even when their tragedies are a consequence of their own sins" (Bible Reader's Companion, note on verse 21). Indeed, God Himself actually cares for these others even more than we do. And He looks for people who will love as He loves—who are willing to "stand in the gap" for mankind (compare Ezekiel 22:30). This quality abounds in Scripture among the leaders God chose—such as Abraham (Genesis 18:24), Job and Noah (Ezekiel 14:14, 20), Moses (Psalm 106:23), the apostle Paul (Romans 11:1), and of course Jesus Christ (John 3:17; Hebrews 7:25). We must exhibit this quality too (1 Timothy 2:1).
Jeremiah asks, "Is there no balm in Gilead...?"—that is, to heal the people. "The region of Gilead was known for its balsam ointment (see Gen. 37:25). There is no healing, physical or spiritual, for a people intent on rebelling against God" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Jeremiah 8:20-22). The prophet's lament continues into verse 2. Yet it appears that the last sentence of this verse begins another interjection by God, an interjection made clearer in verse 3, wherein He identifies blatant sins of the people—that they are not "valiant for the truth" but, instead, "proceed from evil to evil." In the same verse He says, "They do not know Me." Nor, as we previously read, did they understand His judgment (8:7). "Like his northern counterpart Hosea (see Hosea 4:6), Jeremiah identified the people's major deficiency as their lack of knowledge of the Lord and His judgment" (note on 8:7). And yet they were supposed to be Israelites—of God's own nation. Sadly, in one negative respect they did take after their father Israel—or, rather, Jacob as he was named before his conversion. God says, "Every brother will utterly supplant" or, literally, "trip up by the heel" (JFB Commentary, note on verse 4). This is the root meaning of the name Jacob, who was deceitful in supplanting His brother Esau before he changed and turned his life around.
In verse 9, God repeats His question regarding punishment from chapter 5 (verses 9, 29). It is almost as if He is convincing Himself that this action needs to take place. He is loath to completely remove His people and allow destruction to come. But He must—for their sake and for everyone's sake. All people must know where forsaking God's law leads (compare verses 12-16).
In verses 17-22, God speaks of a resultant time of great sorrow. "This brief poem has been called the most brilliant elegy in the O[ld] T[estament]. The weeping women are professional mourners hired to wail loudly at funerals. The prophet calls for them to quickly train their daughters, for there will not be enough of such women to put to rest all the slain. When death, like a robber, climbs in through the windows [verse 21], every household will be affected. We can lock our doors against disaster. But there is always some window through which calamity can creep unexpectedly. For security we must rely on the Lord (v. 23)" (Bible Reader's Companion, note on verses 17-22).
Indeed, verse 23 shows that the only way we as human beings should legitimately feel good about ourselves is through the acceptance we have in God through knowing Him, understanding His character and—as the clear implication is—exhibiting His character traits in our own lives. Yet this is not truly glorying in ourselves, as we know that all of this comes only through God's grace. That's why Paul paraphrased the verse this way: "He who glories, let him glory in the LORD" (1 Corinthians 1:31; see verses 29-30).
To truly live by God's character requires a spiritual change within us—a circumcision of the heart and not just of the flesh (see Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4). In fact, Paul later states that mere circumcision of the flesh is counted as uncircumcision if it is not accompanied by obedience to God (see Romans 2:23-29). In Jeremiah 9:25-26, God says He will punish Judah along with its uncircumcised national neighbors. In an end-time context, it is of interest to know that the Muslims practice circumcision. Thus most of the men of Egypt, Edom, Ammon and Moab today are circumcised as a matter of their religion. But God looks on them all, including Judah, as uncircumcised because they are uncircumcised in heart. Interestingly, Judah here "is listed as just another nation. In fact, it is not even at the head of the list. The point of this text is similar to the concept of temple inviolability (ch. 7). Just as God would destroy even the temple (7:12-14), so He would ignore even circumcision when it was merely an outward symbol (see Deut. 10:12-22)" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Jeremiah 9:25-26).