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Jeremiah 19:36; 21:112comment (0)

July 7, 2011

By Douglas K. Wilson

Related Scripture: Jeremiah 19:36; 21:112

Explore the Bible
Professor of Christian Studies, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile

Jeremiah 19:3–6; 21:1–12

This week’s lesson begins with a connection to the potter. As you may recall, the focus of last week’s lesson was Jeremiah’s visit to watch the artist at work at his wheel. Chapter 19 addresses the pottery that did not measure up to the potter’s standard. Potsherds, broken pieces of pottery, were simply discarded outside one of the city gates. 

The clear message this week is get ready for discipline. Humility, endurance and discipline are born out of a relationship with God, our Father (Heb. 12:1–2). Leaders are accountable for their behavior and the people they lead. Those entrusted with civil and spiritual authority receive the greatest discipline. Jeremiah calls them and us to submit to the Lord’s discipline. 

Discipline for Idolatry (19:3–6)

Jerusalem’s inhabitants offered sacrifices to false gods, including their infant children. Their bodies were then placed in clay pottery and buried at Topheth in the Valley of Hinnom. Similar infant remains have been discovered in ancient Carthage, where people murdered their babies to appease the false goddess Tanit. Like broken pottery, the broken children were discarded after they had served their fathers’ purpose: sacrifice in order to attain fertile wives, livestock and land.

God told Jeremiah to buy a jug from the potter, take the civil and spiritual elders to the Valley of Hinnom and smash the pottery before them (v. 1–2). The message was that Jerusalem would become a wasteland like this burial plot for the innocents. As a representation of the people, the jug would never be the same and could never be completely whole.

We are a nation of idolaters. We worship politicians. We worship models. We worship actors, athletes and 15-minute celebrities. We worship our stuff. We even worship preachers. We worship “the American dream.” Worst of all, we worship ourselves. Let us wake up to the reality that our idolatry as a nation is inviting God’s discipline.

Discipline for Ignorance (21:1–10)

Pashhur and Zephaniah had been entrusted with authority in Judah yet they led in ignorance. This Pashhur, not to be confused with the one mentioned in Jeremiah 20:1, was a member of King Zedekiah’s court. Zephaniah, not the minor prophet by the same name, was a priest at the Jerusalem temple. As envoys of Zedekiah, they inquired from Jeremiah whether God was going to save the day by sending Nebuchadnezzar’s army away. Evidently both political and religious leaders in Jerusalem had ignored warnings previously announced by Jeremiah.

God’s response was firm. Using words reminiscent of the Exodus, God said He would stand against Judah with an “outstretched arm and a mighty hand.” Such words indicated God’s intent to show His sovereign power over the current ruler and his descendants. God’s discipline of Judah by means of the Babylonians would demonstrate His great love for His people (see Hebrews 12:1–12). Repentance and restoration would result only after firm discipline. 

Discipline for Injustice (21:11–12)

Moses presented a choice to the people of Israel: Follow the Lord and choose life and blessing, or follow the nations and choose death and God’s curse. In verses 8–9, God offered a similar choice to Judah’s citizens. They would surrender to the Babylonians and live or remain in Jerusalem and die. Judgment was coming but they had a choice in its severity.

Zedekiah was offered a choice. If he executed justice and cared for the oppressed, then God’s wrath would be stayed. Since he did not listen, however, Jerusalem was burnt and its inhabitants slaughtered. God’s discipline was harsh as He judged the rebellious actions and attitudes of Zedekiah and his countrymen.

The term “social justice” has become a litmus test in recent days in both political and religious circles. For some people, it means governmental subsidies as monetary restitution for historic wrongs committed against them. For others, these are code words used for vote buying and liberal theology. From a biblical perspective, social justice is treating individuals, families and groups justly in accordance with God’s will revealed in the Bible. It is lex talionis (an eye for an eye), in which the punishment fits the crime, no matter the perpetrator. Social status and economic standing have no consideration in the execution of justice.

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