The Word Made Fresh
1“Then,” the LORD says, “the bones of the kings and officials and priests and prophets, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem shall all be brought out of their graves 2and spread before the sun and moon and stars which they have loved and followed, and which they have worshiped and sought advice from, and they shall not be gathered up and buried, but will be like dung on the ground. 3All the members of this evil family that remains, wherever I have driven them, will prefer death to life, says the LORD Almighty.
6“Tell them this is what the LORD says: ‘When people fail, don’t they get up again? If they go down the wrong path, don’t they turn back?’ 5Then why have these people continued their terrible behavior? They embrace dishonesty and have refused to change. 6I have warned them and I have listened, but they are not honest. They don’t repent of their wrongdoings. They say, ‘What have I done?’ They all follow the road they wish, like a headstrong horse plunging into battle. 7Even the stork as it flies knows when to do things; also, the turtledove, the swallow and the crane pay attention to what’s going on, but my people don’t know what God wants of them.
8“How can you claim to be wise
and say the law of the LORD is with you
when, in fact, the false writings of the scribes
have turned it into a lie?
9Those who are wise will be ashamed, dismayed, and trapped,
but because they have rejected the LORD’s words
what wisdom do they have?
10So, I will give their wives to others.
I will give their fields to foreign conquerors
because they are all greedy for unfair advantages.
From prophet to priest they all deal unfairly.
11They are careless with my people’s wounds.
They say, “Peace, peace,” when there is none.
12They act shamefully and do terrible things,
but they aren’t ashamed.
They don’t know how to feel ashamed.
So, they will join those who are defeated
and when I decide to punish them,
they will be overthrown,” says the LORD.
13“I wanted to do away with them,” the LORD says,
“because there were no grapes on the vine,
no figs on the tree – only leaves that had withered.
They have done nothing I have asked of them.”
14“Why, then, are we just sitting here? they say.
Come, let’s go into the walled cities and die there,
for the LORD our God has doomed us to destruction,
and has fed us poisoned water because we have sinned.
15We watch for peace but find none.
We seek a time of healing but have only fear instead.
16“From Dan we have heard the snorting of the enemy’s horses,
and when their stallions neigh the whole land shakes.
They come and devour the land and everything in it,
including the cities and those who live in them.”
17“Pay attention! I am sending snakes among you –
poisonous snakes that cannot be charmed,
and they will bite you,” says the LORD.
18“I have nothing to be joyful about,
and grief has come over me because my heart is sick.
19Listen! My poor people in every corner of the land cry out,
Is the LORD no longer in Zion? Has our King left us?
Why have they provoked and angered me
with their gods and foreign idols?
20Harvest time has passed; the summer is gone,
and we haven’t been rescued.
21“I hurt for my poor people.
I grieve for them, and I am in dismay.
22Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no healer there?
If there is, why haven’t my poor people been healed?”
1-3: The spreading of the bones of prominent people is likely a reference to a ritual performed by conquering armies to disorient and humiliate the people.
4-7: Jeremiah is to charge the people with refusing to acknowledge their wicked ways and turn back to God.
8-13: The condemnation continues: the people are not at all ashamed of the greedy and selfish ways they have behaved. God says it is as if he came to a vine to gather grapes and found none, or to a fig tree in vain to gather figs (compare Jesus’ reaction to a barren fig tree at Mark 11:12-14).
14-16: The leaders of the people are speaking here, complaining that God will give them no peace.
17: God’s judgment, however, is persistent.
18-22: There is disagreement among scholars as to whether these are the words of God or of Jeremiah. I believe it is the voice of God (the parentheses around the second part of verse 19 [NRSV] should be removed). The balm produced in the region of Gilead was believed to have pain-relieving qualities, but no human treatment can cure what ails them.
God is a loving God, but God is also a demanding God. We have a responsibility to everyone around us to behave fairly and honestly, even to our own detriment from time to time. If we do the right thing, the right consequences will follow.