Jeremiah 17

The Word Made Fresh

1“An iron pen with a diamond point has engraved the sin of Judah on the tablets of their hearts and the horns of their altars. 2Even their children are familiar with their altars and totem poles beside every green tree and on the highest hills, 3as well as on the mountains in the land. I will give for spoil all your wealth and all your treasures as the price for your sinfulness all over your territory. 4Because of your own behavior you will lose the land I gave you, and I will make you subservient to your enemies in a land you’re not familiar with. My anger has kindled a fire in me that will burn forever.”

5This is what the LORD says:
“Those who trust in mere humans
and make human flesh their strength are cursed,
for their hearts are turned away from the LORD.
6They’ll be like a shrub in the desert that cannot see any coming relief.
They’ll live in the bone-dry places of the wilderness,
an empty land of salt.”

7Those who make the LORD their trust are rewarded.
8They shall be like a tree planted beside the water,
sending out its roots along the stream.
They won’t be worried when hot weather arrives,
and their leaves will stay green.
They aren’t anxious in years of drought,
and they don’t stop producing fruit.

9The human heart is the most devious of all.
It is perverse – no one can understand it.
10I, the LORD, test the mind and search the heart
to reward each one according to their behavior
and the fruit produced by their efforts.

11Those who gather wealth illegally
are like partridges hatching eggs they didn’t produce.
In mid-life it will depart from them,
and when they die everyone will know they were fools.

12The throne of glory has been exalted since the beginning,
and is our sanctuary’s shrine.
13LORD, hope of Israel, put to shame all who turn away from you.
Let them be recorded in death,
for they have turned away from the LORD,
the fountain of living water.

14If you heal me, LORD, I shall be healed.
If you save me, I shall be saved, and I will praise you.
15Do you hear them asking me, “Where is the LORD’s word?
Why doesn’t it come?”
16But I have not turned away from being your shepherd,
and I have not welcomed the fatal day of punishment.
You know what I have said; I said it in your presence.
17Don’t terrify me! You are my safe place in the midst of disaster.
18Let those who persecute me be put to shame,
but don’t let them put me to shame!
Let them be dismayed, not me!
Bring the day of disaster upon them
and destroy them twice over!

19The LORD told me to go and stand at the People’s Gate, the gate through which the kings of Judah enter and depart; to stand in all the gates of Jerusalem 20and tell them, “Hear what the LORD has to say, you kings of Judah, and all the people of Judah and the residents of Jerusalem who come in through these gates.

21The LORD says, ‘For your own sakes, be sure you do not carry a burden on the sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of the city. 22And don’t carry a heavy burden from your homes on the sabbath, or perform any labor, but keep the sabbath sacred, as I commanded your ancestors.’ 23But they didn’t listen or pay attention. Instead, they became even more stubborn and wouldn’t hear or entertain any instructions.”

24Still, the LORD says, “If you listen to the LORD and don’t carry burdens through the gates of this city on the Sabbath but keep that day sacred and do no work on it, 25then the kings who sit on the throne of David and their officials riding in chariots and on horses, followed by the people of Judah and those who dwell in Jerusalem, can be promised that this city shall be inhabited forever. 26And the people will come in from the towns around Judah and the settlements around Jerusalem, from the territory of Benjamin and from the Shephelah and the hill country, and from the Negeb – all of them bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings and frankincense, and thanksgiving offerings to the LORD’s house. 27But if you don’t listen to me and keep the sabbath day holy and carry no burden through Jerusalem’s gates on the sabbath day, then I will kindle a flame in the gates, and it will devour the palaces in Jerusalem until they are consumed.”


1-4: The prophecy of doom begins all over again. One wonders if sections of the book might represent collections of sayings distributed over a long period of time, as if the prophet is recasting his dire predictions every few months or years.

5-8: A contrast is drawn between those who trust in temporal powers and those who trust in the LORD. If you have ever been to Israel, you can appreciate that the contrast is described in terms of a parched desert versus a fertile spring-fed oasis.

9-13: Several disconnected sayings are grouped here: how God respects the inner person, not the outer appearance; the folly of accumulating dishonest gain; a little psalm of praise to God and shame to God’s enemies.

14-18: Some time has apparently passed, and Jeremiah is being derided for pronouncing doom when no doom has yet appeared. But he is faithful and begs God to distinguish between him and his enemies by healing him and punishing them.

19-23: God tells Jeremiah to stand at one of the primary entrances to the city and call the people to properly keep the Sabbath day. They ignore him, however.

24-27: God tells Jeremiah that if the people will honor the Sabbath day observance the security of the city will be established and settled. If not, the city will be burned, particularly the palaces, the abodes of the wealthiest citizens.


Could it be as simple as that? Could it be that simply keeping the Sabbath holy would have been adequate evidence of a change in the people’s hearts that would have persuaded God to stanch the advance of the mighty armies of the north? Is it possible that the blessed life begins with such a simple practice as sabbath-keeping?