The Broken Covenant (Jeremiah 11:1-17) June 21
Jeremiah 11 is a clear break from preceding chapters in the book. The section hearkens to God's covenant with His people—which included blessings for obedience to God's law and curses for disobedience. During Josiah's reign, the nation had renewed its covenant relationship with God after the Book of the Law was found. But the recommitment of the people was merely outward as their return to evil ways following Josiah's death made clear. "To a forgetful people the prophet says that the ancient stipulations still hold force, including the curses on the unfaithful. A date in the reign of Jehoiakim is appropriate for this discourse. Apparently Jeremiah was residing in, or frequenting, his native Anathoth, for he is made aware of a plot against him [there] (11:18-21)" (The New Bible Commentary: Revised, 1976, note on 11:1-12:17).
Because of Judah's violation of the covenant, God pronounces the curse on disobedience called for in the covenant (verse 3). Verse 5 ends with Jeremiah responding, "So be it"—or, in Hebrew, Amen, which was the response the people were to give to the proclamation of the curses according to Deuteronomy 27:15-26, showing concurrence with God's justice.
All the towns of Judah as well as the city of Jerusalem were to hear God's case against Judah (Jeremiah 11:6). In verses 9-10, God describes the return of the people to their evil and idolatrous ways following Josiah's death as an intentional plot—a planned rebellion to throw off the yoke Josiah had put on them. Just as the house of Israel had broken God's covenant, so had Judah (verse 10).
Thus, God decreed that certain calamity was coming (verse 11). The many gods of the people wouldn't save them (verse 12). God interjects with scorn over the fact that Judah had as many gods as they had towns (verse 13)—perhaps meaning that each town had its own god. Sadly, this statement is a repeat of the one made in Jeremiah 2:28, showing that the people had not changed at all since the time prior to Josiah's reformation. Furthermore, God adds the fact that they had as many shrines to Baal as they had streets! So He repeats his earlier directive that Jeremiah not pray for them (11:14; see 7:16).
In verse 15 of chapter 11, "My beloved" refers to "Judah, who remains the object of Yahweh's love although she must leave His house for her hypocrisy" (New Bible Commentary, note on verses 15-16). The mention of "holy flesh" in verse 15 is unclear in the New King James Version. Most other translations render this as meaning sacred offerings. For example, the New International Version has, "Can consecrated meat avert your punishment?" "The reference is to sacrifices offered at the temple. It is hypocritical as well as futile to hurry to church after sinning and then return eagerly to your sins" (Bible Reader's Companion, note on verse 15).
God looked on His beloved Bride—His people Israel, of whom Judah was now the remnant—as a beautiful and fruitful green olive tree (as King David was inspired to describe himself in Psalm 52:8). Olive oil represented richness and blessing (Psalm 23:5; 104:15). But here the tree is pictured with broken and burning branches. These branches, representing individual sinning Israelites, were to be broken off. Paul later uses this imagery in Romans 11.
Jeremiah 11:18-12:6, the first part of our next reading, appears to be an interjection, as 12:7 seems to pick up from 11:17.