Destruction and Restoration

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country’” (vv. 14–15a).

- Jeremiah 16

Christ Himself says that He places a light yoke on His people (Matt. 11:25–30). He bears the burden we cannot carry—to be perfect as the Lord is perfect (5:48)—by keeping God’s law fully, securing the perfect righteousness that is imputed to us by faith alone (Rom. 3:21–26; 2 Cor. 5:21). Having purchased us with His blood, He gives us the easy yoke of living a life in gratitude for the salvation He accomplished entirely by grace.

However, we dare not think that an easy burden means an easy life. God regularly calls His people to suffer, to be rejected by the world for the sake of “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). For Jeremiah, this meant a life of celibacy and solitude. In today’s passage we read of three charges the prophet received from the Lord, namely, that He was not to marry, or to attend funerals or feasts (Jer. 16:2, 5, 8). These commands were likely given at or near the time of Jeremiah’s call as a young man.

Modern culture is highly individualistic, so we may have trouble grasping the difficulty of these charges for an ancient Judahite. Today, it is not that unusual for a man to marry late in life or to remain single until death, but such was almost unheard of in the ancient world. In a culture that saw children as great blessings (Pss. 127:3–5; 128:3–4), getting married and having a family was the norm. Moreover, ancient Jews were accustomed to esteeming their community more highly than we might. To not mourn with those who mourned or celebrate with those who celebrated was dishonorable (Eccl. 7:2; see Rom. 12:15).

Many people would have asked Jeremiah why he did things as odd as remaining unmarried and shunning funerals and celebrations, giving Him the opportunity to explain these object lessons. Judgment so severe as to leave no women left for anyone to marry was coming. Things would be so awful that celebration would be unheard of and no true comfort could be offered to those who wept for the dead (Jer. 16:3–4, 6–7, 9). Jeremiah’s singleness and childlessness depicted the horror of the exile to come.

Yet hope was not entirely absent from Jeremiah’s preaching. For with the other prophets, Jeremiah foresaw blessing on the other side of exile. Though God would drive Judah out of the land, He would bring His people back (vv. 14–21). The glory of this restoration would overshadow the wonder of the exodus to such a degree that humanity would forget the exodus and remember only the restoration of His people from Babylon.

Coram Deo

When the Lord first called Israel out of Egypt, He had not yet given them His law and their sin, however gross, could not measure up to the sins of later generations who knew and wantonly flouted God’s law. To save a people who knew and openly violated the Lord’s commandments would take a greater mercy and display more power than salvation from Egypt. If this was true of the restoration from exile, how much more true is it of the abundant salvation we have been shown in Christ Jesus.

Passages for Further Study

2 Chronicles 33:1–20
Jeremiah 25:15–29
Hosea 1
Matthew 3:1–6

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