Jeremiah 17-20
(Speak Up)
August 9th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

Blessed are those who trust in the LORD;
the LORD will be their trust.

They are like a tree planted beside the waters
that stretches out its roots to the stream:
It does not fear heat when it comes,
its leaves stay green;
In the year of drought it shows no distress,
but still produces fruit.

- Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NAB)

Summary of Chapters

Chapters 17-20 contain a series of complaints from the prophet Jeremiah, as the burden of his duty begins to wear him down. Jeremiah had been serving as a prophet in Judah, the Southern Kingdom of Israel, among the generation that would be taken away for a 70-year exile. This seemed like it would be a choice assignment, but the reality is that few people wanted to listen, and many of those who did were offended so much that they sought to imprison, hurt, or kill him. Consequently, Jeremiah was conflicted, pleading for mercy for his fellow Israelites in one moment, and calling for swift justice at other times.

Chapter 17 begins with God describing the blatancy of Judah’s sins – it’s so ingrained in their behavior that it’s as if it was inscribed on their hearts with “an iron tool” and a “flint point.” The LORD tells them that they will lose their inheritance and are cursed for trusting in man, not in God. By contrast, he explains, those who trust in the LORD will be “ ‘like a tree planted by the water that…never fails to bear fruit’ (Jer 17:8-NIV).” The LORD reminds his audience that he can “ ‘search the heart and examine the mind to reward a man according to his conduct‘ (Jer 17:10-NIV).”

Then Jeremiah prays to the LORD for healing because the people mock him for prophecies yet to be realized.

    Heal me, LORD, and I will be healed;
       save me and I will be saved,
       for you are the one I praise.
    They keep saying to me,
       “Where is the word of the LORD?
      Let it now be fulfilled!”
       What passes my lips is open before you.
    Do not be a terror to me;
       you are my refuge in the day of disaster.
    Let my persecutors be put to shame,
      but keep me from shame;
    let them be terrified,
       but keep me from terror.
    Bring on them the day of disaster;
       destroy them with double destruction.

    - Jeremiah 17:14-18 (NIV)

The LORD responds by telling Jeremiah to push on. He instructs him to stand at the main gate and remind people of the law of the Sabbath. Jeremiah is supposed to tell the people that those who break the Sabbath will be subjected to an “unquenchable fire (Jer 17:27-NIV).”

In chapter 18, the LORD gives Jeremiah another assignment that becomes a symbolic illustration (similar to his experience with the linen belt in chapter 13). God tells Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house. The LORD addresses Jeremiah as he watches the potter work his spinner to make jars and pots from clay. The LORD explained that he can reject and repurpose the people of Israel in the same way that the potter rejects and repurposes clay that was not suitable for the originally intended purpose.

The LORD then expresses his frustration with the stubbornness of the people. Jeremiah responds with his own exasperation over the threats on his life because people didn’t want to hear the truth. He asks the LORD to be merciful with him.

In the 19th chapter, the LORD again uses a pot for an illustration. He tells Jeremiah to buy a clay jar, then smash it into pieces in front of an audience at one of the gates and explain that this is what the LORD will be doing to the nation of Judah.

Chapter 20 describes how Jeremiah was beaten and put in stockades for the “broken jar speech.” Jeremiah then complains to the LORD again. He feels he can’t win. If he speaks the LORD’s word, then he is persecuted by the people. If he is quiet, then the LORD’s word burns in him like a fire.

In one breath, Jeremiah praises the LORD for his omniscience and care for the needy. But in the next breath, he rues the day he was born, ending the chapter with a summation of his gloom: “Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame (Jer 20:18-NIV)."

Reflection and Application

The LORD could read the hearts and minds of the Israeli people, but he allowed them free will, and they stubbornly chose not to let God dwell in their hearts and minds.

A sign that we have let him into both our hearts and minds is when we trust him enough to follow his words. Then, as described in these chapters, we will be like a tree planted by the water, bearing good fruit. When we trust God, we allow that trust to override what our minds may be saying.

If God gives us a task that seems meaningless, like watching a potter spin jars, then we ought to do it, as Jeremiah did, and trust that there is a good reason for this task.

Jeremiah might feel equally frustrated if he stood at the gates of one of our commercial districts on a Sunday and warned us about conducting any economic activity. The LORD gave us the Sabbath because he knew we would need rest and because it is a time to worship him. Let’s try to take our Sabbath observation up a notch this week.

We may sometimes feel the same conflict that Jeremiah experienced: If we speak up about the Sabbath or other laws of God, we may incur some type of persecution, but if we don’t speak up, we may feel a burning in our heart to speak on behalf of the LORD. Let us commit to be aware of that burning heart and attune ourselves to the reason and required actions.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions

    1. What experiences have you had working with clay or making pottery?
    2. What does God see when he looks into our hearts and minds right now?
    3. What can we do to take up our Sabbath observance up one notch?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we know that you are the potter, we are the clay, and you can break us or build us up. Help us to submit to your will and speak of your goodness and majesty.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Jeremiah 21-23 (Time Is Up For Zedekiah)

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