Jeremiah Chapter 17  PDF  MSWord

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Go to Bible: Jeremiah 17
Jer 17:1

“with an iron stylus and with a flint point.” The sin of Judah was so grievous that it was written in such a way that it left a permanent mark and could not be erased. By this time the consequences of Judah’s sin could not be avoided. The Babylonians were coming to devastate the land (cp. Jer. 17:3).

Jer 17:2

“while their children remember their altars.” This is not clear, and as a result the English versions vary quite a bit, struggling with the translation.

Jer 17:3

“shrines.” The Hebrew word “shrines” is bamot, which referred to a place that was leveled and built up and on which were placed various idols and objects of worship. The context indicates these shires were pagan in nature (cp. NLT, “pagan shrines”). Many of the towns had such shrines (see commentary on Num. 33:52).

Jer 17:4

“for ages.” The Hebrew word is olam (#05769 עוֹלָם), and it is often translated “forever,” but that is quite often misleading in English because olam generally refers to only a long period of time or an indefinite period of time. God’s anger against Judah will subside and He will eventually restore Judah completely, so here olam means “for a long time,” for ages (for more on olam, see commentary on Josh. 4:7). Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible reads that God’s anger will last, “unto times age-abiding.”

Jer 17:5

“who trusts in humans.” This is not a blanket statement that we cannot trust anyone at any time. There are obviously times when it is important to trust people, but this is certainly a warning about trusting people. In the context of Jeremiah, the people had turned from God to idols and were exceedingly sinful (Jer. 17:1-2). Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry was to confront all Israel: the kings, officials, priests, and people (Jer. 1:8-19). There were not many people he could trust. In the same way, people today need to be diligent about who to trust. Many leaders and even many clergy, are wrong either out of ignorance or for their own gain.

Occasionally a Trinitarian will argue from Jeremiah 17:5 that Jesus cannot be a man because we are expected to trust Jesus, but not to trust men, and therefore Jesus must be a God-man (there are not many Trinitarians who make that argument, but some do). That analysis misses the point of this verse. The verse and its context must be read to get its proper meaning. The immediate context reveals that a person is cursed if he trusts man and also turns his heart away from the Lord. But we are not turning our hearts away from God by trusting in His Son Jesus. On the contrary, “he who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father” (John 5:23). God is the one who made Jesus our Lord and Head of the Church. Indeed, our hearts would be turning from the Lord if we did not trust Jesus. This same logic applies to other servants of God. The people were not cursed when they followed Moses, or Joshua, or David, and trusted in what they said, because these men were acting for God. Exodus 14:31 says the people trusted God and Moses. The husband of the virtuous woman is blessed when he trusts in his wife, as Proverbs 31:11 (KJV) says, “The heart of her husband safely trusts in her.” It is clear that there are times when trusting another person is completely appropriate.

[For more information on Jesus being the fully human Son of God and not being “God the Son,” see Appendix 10, “Jesus is the Son of God, Not God the Son.” For more on “the Holy Spirit” being one of the designations for God the Father and “the holy spirit” being the gift of God’s nature, see Appendix 11, “What is the Holy Spirit?”].

“and makes flesh his arm.” The word “arm” is a literal translation of the Hebrew, and was idiomatic for “strength” but the Hebrew idiom is clear enough to be left in the text. The “arm” of Yahweh is often used for the strength or might of Yahweh (cp. Exod. 6:6; 15:16; Ps. 79:11; 89:10; Isa. 33:2; 51:9; 53:1). Here in Jeremiah 17:5, the ungodly person makes “flesh,” i.e., people and what they say, his “arm,” his strength. But such a person will end up cursed and thus disadvantaged both in this life and the next.

Jer 17:6

“a juniper in the desert.” The Hebrew word only occurs twice in the Bible and is most likely a kind of desert juniper. Here it grows in the Arabah, the area in the Jordan River valley, mostly just west of the Dead Sea. It is mostly desert with an occasional oasis such as En-gedi. The juniper “will not see when good comes” because generally there is no rain in the area, it falls before it reaches the Arabah. The juniper lives in “parched places,” away from the water, and water meant life. In contrast, the person who trusts God will be planted by the water.

The Hebrew has a beautiful poetic wordplay in the poetry of Jeremiah and it likely is the reason the word “juniper” was chosen as the plant in this verse. The word for “juniper” is arar (#06199), whereas the Arabah is arabah (#6160), so the bush is an “arar in the arabah,” and that wordplay would catch the attention of the reader.

“but will inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, a salt land and not inhabited.” The Hebrew word “wilderness” could also be translated “desert.” The point Jeremiah is making is that the person who trusts in people and not God, and whose heart is not inclined toward Yahweh, will live a barren and unproductive life.

In 1855 Horatio Hackett wrote about the uninhabited salt lands he went through when he traveled from Egypt to Gaza. He traveled “through a succession of basins or valleys, where the surface of the ground was moist, and covered with a thin incrustation of salt. It was so slippery here that camels could with difficulty keep erect; one of them actually fell at full length, with a groan which was piteous to hear. We were not far at this time from the Mediterranean [Sea], of which we had glimpses now and then. It is quite possible that a strong wind from the west causes the sea occasionally to overflow the entire tract, and on its receding, the water left in the low places evaporates, and encrusts the earth with salt. There are other deserts, or parts of deserts, in the east, as travelers inform us, which have a similar peculiarity, though the salt may be formed in those cases in a different manner. Perhaps the most remarkable among these is the region south of the Dead Sea. A soil of this nature must, of course, be unproductive; nothing grows there, and the means of supporting life are wanting. It may be to this feature of an eastern desert, aggravating so much its other evils, and rendering it unfit to be the abode of men, that the prophet Jeremiah refers, when he says of the ungodly man, “he shall inhabit the parched places of the wilderness, in the salt land, and not inhabited” (Horatio B. Hackett, Illustrations of Scripture, Boston, Heath and Graves, 1855, Chapter 1, para. “Salt Deserts,” accessed via Kindle).

Jer 17:7(top)
Jer 17:8

“a tree planted by the waters.” This tree is “planted” (also “transplanted”) by the waters. The clear implication in the verse is that someone “planted” the tree close to the waters, it did not grow there naturally. People who trust in God plant themselves by waters and are continually fed, versus the people who put their trust in what other people say and eventually end up without sustenance or support, like a juniper in the desert.

Jer 17:9

“The heart.” This is the only time in the Hebrew text where “heart” is combined with the definite article, and “the heart” is the heart of anyone, that is to say, people in general. The human heart is deceitful.

“deceitful above all things, and is incurable.” The human heart is deceitful, and is incurable. The Hebrew word translated as “incurable” generally refers to being sick, and especially sick beyond being able to be healed (cp. ESV: “desperately sick”). Here that meaning applies, but also by extension it refers to being sick in the sense that it is “corrupt,” “depraved,” “wicked,” etc., and thus “incurably bad” or “desperately corrupt” (cp. ASV; GNV; KJV; NET; NJB; NLT; NRSV; RSV). Because humans have a sin nature that will never go away in this life, there is a very real sense in which the natural human heart is indeed “incurably bad” (NET).

That people are born with a deceitful, corrupt heart shows up in many areas of life. It explains why children have to be taught civilized characteristics such as sharing with others, no biting or hitting, no interrupting the conversation of others, etc. Those things do not come “naturally.” It also explains why even godly people fight with being selfish and self-centered throughout their life, and why the majority of the people of earth refuse to humble themselves to God and obey Him and His Son.

Thankfully, the human heart is constantly changing, and the wise person is in a constant dialogue with their heart so that it conforms to God’s ways of thinking and acting. The more we obey God despite our natural inclinations, the more our heart conforms to God’s ways, and the more “natural” it becomes to think and act like God (a heart changed to God’s ways is also sometimes referred to as “an educated conscience,” that is, a conscience educated to think like God).

The Devil knows that the human heart is deceitful and sick (corrupt), so he keeps up a constant societal pressure for people to “follow the heart,” because he knows it often leads them astray. “Follow your heart” is not the message of Scripture. The message of Scripture is “obey God.” As Moses wrote long ago, “It will be our righteousness if we are careful to do every one of these commandments before Yahweh our God, as he has commanded us” (Deut. 6:25).

“who can know it.” The Hebrew word is the common word yada, “to know,” (#03045 ידע), and it has a wide range of meaning including to know and to understand, and both meanings are applicable here. Who can really “know” their heart and fathom how deceitful and corrupt it really is and who can “understand” their heart and why it causes a person to think and act the way that they do? The human heart is corrupt, which is why we cannot “trust our heart,” we have to trust what God says.

Jer 17:10

“heart...kidneys.” In the biblical world, the “heart” refers to the thoughts, not the emotions. The Hebrew placed thinking and planning in the heart, and emotions in the organs of the abdomen, the bowels and kidneys. The Word of God points to the fact that our kidneys, bowels, and belly (or womb) are part of our mental/emotional life, not “just physical organs.” Our “gut,” including our intestines, bowels, kidneys and stomach contain as many nerve cells as our brain, and studies are now showing that our “gut” contributes significantly to our emotional life and health. When the Bible mentions “heart” and “kidneys” it refers to the thought life (“heart”) and emotional life (“kidneys”). [For more on the heart referring to the thought life, see commentary on Prov. 15:21. For more on kidneys referring to the emotional life, see commentary on Rev. 2:23, “kidneys”].

“to give to each one according to his ways.” The teaching that on Judgment Day people will get what they deserve, good or bad, based on what they have done in their life is taught many times in Scripture (cp. Job. 34:11; Ps. 62:12; Prov. 24:12; Jer. 17:10; 32:19; Ezek. 33:20; Matt. 16:27; Rom. 2:6; 1 Cor. 3:8). See commentary on Psalm 62:12.

Jer 17:11

“godless fool.” The Hebrew word translated “godless fool” is nabal (#05036) נָבָל), and it generally refers to a godless person, or a person who acts ungodly, who is a fool, thus in this context the translation “godless fool.” The person who gets rich by ungodly means will be shown to be a godless fool. [For more on “fools” and the nabal fool, see commentary on Proverbs 16:22].

Jer 17:12

“from the beginning.” From the time that the Temple was first built by Solomon. God is not a latecomer or an imposter, His throne has been there since the Temple was built.

Jer 17:13

“written in the dirt.” Anything written in the dirt or dust of the earth in Israel soon disappears. The righteous are written in the Book of Life and will live forever (cp. Exod. 32:32; Dan. 12:1; Ps. 69:28; Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27; 22:19). Those people who are not saved will die a second death in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15). The unsaved do not burn forever, as is taught by some Christian denominations, but are burned up and die a second death. Jeremiah 17:13 is just one more piece of evidence revealing that fact. The saved are written in the Book of Life, but the unsaved are written in the dust, and like their names in the dust, which are written down but soon disappear, the wicked die in the lake of fire and are gone forever; annihilated.

The Hebrew can be translated such that “dirt” refers to the land, making the sense become “all in the land who depart from you.” The NASB goes that way: “Those who turn away on earth will be written down, Because they have forsaken the fountain of living water.” However, the Bible says that people’s deeds are written down anyway, so that translation, while grammatically justifiable, does not seem to fit with the rest of Scripture (Exod. 32:32-33; Mal. 3:16-17; Rev. 20:12). On the other hand, that the wicked will disappear from history and memory is written many places in Scripture.

[For more on the annihilation of the wicked, see Appendix 5, “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire”].

“living water.” “Living water” was water that was used for ritual cleansing from sin and impurity. Living water came from God, and thus included rain water, well water, and water from a flowing river or stream. Water that sat in a cistern was not living water. [For more on living water, see commentary on Num. 19:17].

Jer 17:14

“save me, and I will be saved.” The primary focus of Jeremiah’s plea is for healing and deliverance here and now and on earth; being healed and saved from his Judean enemies.

Jer 17:15

“Where is the word of Yahweh?” The unbelieving Jews mocked Jeremiah and questioned what he said. Jeremiah had been saying for years that Judah and Jerusalem would be stricken by God, but God’s judgment was delayed, causing people to doubt and mock. This was very hard on Jeremiah, and it happens to all prophets and believers (cp. 2 Pet. 3:4). God is merciful and wants to give room for people to be saved, but there will come a day, as there always has, when God’s pronounced judgment will come (2 Pet. 3:9).

Jer 17:16

“nor have I desired the woeful day.” Although Jeremiah was terribly persecuted by his own people, he took no pleasure in knowing that a day of disaster was soon coming upon them. He wanted God’s justice to come (Jer. 17:18), but it would still be a sad day for him.

Jer 17:17

“terror...refuge.” The words rhyme in Hebrew (“mechittah...machaceh”) and thus make a punchy point as Jeremiah expresses his confidence in God.

Jer 17:18(top)
Jer 17:19

“the gate of the children of the people.” Which gate this refers to is not known, although many scholars feel it must be a gate on the north side of the city leading out into the tribal area of Benjamin. But in any case, God told Jeremiah to go and warn the people in every gate of the city. To best deliver God’s messages, Jeremiah had to go to where the people were, and the gates were gathering places and places where people would walk.

Jer 17:20(top)
Jer 17:21

“Be careful if you value your lives.” The Hebrew is perhaps translated more literally, “Be careful at the risk of your souls,” where “souls” refers to the lives of the people. If the people disobeyed God, they would be killed or captured by the Babylonians here on earth, and would forfeit everlasting life as well.

Jer 17:22(top)
Jer 17:23(top)
Jer 17:24

“listen, yes, listen.” The Hebrew text has the figure of speech polyptoton, using “listen” twice in the sentence but inflected in different ways; an infinitive followed by an imperfect tense. In this context, listen has the meaning of “listen and obey,” which is why some versions have “obey” instead of “listen.” [For more on the figure polyptoton and the emphasis it brings, as well as the way it is translated in the REV, see commentary on Genesis 2:16].

Jer 17:25

“sitting on the throne of David.” This is an idiom meaning that they are a descendant of David and are reigning as king. It does not mean that they are carried through the gate while sitting on a throne. This is an example of how one must understand the culture and idioms to understand the Bible.

“for ages to come.” The Hebrew word that many English versions translate “forever” is olam (#05769 עוֹלָם), and it is often translated “forever,” but that is quite often misleading in English because olam generally refers to only a long period of time or an indefinite period of time. [For more on olam, see commentary on Josh. 4:7].

Jer 17:26

“from the land of Benjamin, and from the Shephelah and from the hill country and from the Negev.” This is an accurate geographical description of the area around Jerusalem. Although Jerusalem is in the tribal area of Benjamin, it is on the extreme southern border, so Benjamin is to the north, the shephelah is the lowlands to the west toward the Mediterranean Sea, the hill country is generally to the northeast and southeast, and the Negev is to the south. So Jeremiah’s geographical description is accurate and describes territory in all four directions from Jerusalem.

“thank offerings.” The Hebrew is more literally, “sacrifices of thanksgiving,” but that wording can be confusing. What is being offered is a “thank offering,” a sacrifice being offered in thanks to God for something He has done. The wording “sacrifices of thanksgiving” makes it sound like what is being offered is thanks.

Jer 17:27

“then I will kindle a fire in its gates.” An enemy would generally first breach the gates, often by burning them down, and then enter the city and burn it down. Jerusalem was burned down (2 Kings 25:8-9; 2 Chron. 36:19; Jer. 52:13).

“it will not be quenched.” The fires in the palaces of Jerusalem “will not be quenched,” meaning the fires will burn until the palaces are burned down. [For how “quenched” is used in the Bible, see commentary on Mark 9:48].


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