For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2003 James Melough

17:1.  “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart, and upon the horns of your altars;”


What is chiseled on stone with the iron instrument of the stone- carver, or engraved with the point of a diamond, would be no less indelible than the sin engraved on Judah’s stony heart, the altars to her multitudinous gods being the incontrovertible evidence of her idolatry.  Nor would her stony heart ever change.


Idolatry had become an unalterable mode of life


The assurance given every believer is, “... their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more,” Heb 8:12; but the converse is equally  true relative to the sins of the unbeliever: they will never be forgotten or forgiven.  That generation of Judah had passed for ever beyond hope of forgiveness, their refusal to repent in God’s time having carried them into the realm of His eternal wrath and judgment, the sins of everyone who refuses to repent in God’s time, carrying him into that same dread kingdom.


Apostate Christendom’s refusal to repent has carried her also over that fatal deadline.  Her doom is sealed.


17:2.  “Whilst their children remember their altars and their groves by the green trees upon the high hills.”


Because the parents had never taught their children about God, the children had never known any other way of life.  Idolatry was as natural to them as were all the other things that were common to their culture, which had become virtually the same as that of their heathen neighbors.


The children of apostate Christendom are in exactly the same situation, and are about to reap the same terrible harvest of Divine judgment.


17:3.  “O my mountain in the field, I will give thy substance and all thy treasures to the spoil and thy high places for sin, throughout all thy borders.”


“... my mountain” means Jerusalem, or God’s people, and “in the field” is more correctly “with the field,” the first part of the verse thus being God’s announcement that He was about to give the people and the land, and all that they possessed, into the hand of the Babylonian invaders. 


The “high places for sin” were the idolatrous shrines they had built on every mountain and hilltop; and since many of their idols were composed in whole or in part of gold or silver, and were adorned with precious stones, they too would become booty for the enemy.


Judah’s miserable end is God’s warning that all who refuse to obey Him will suffer a similar fate, the end of life’s brief journey ushering them first into hell, and eternally the lake of fire, all the things they had treasured on earth being left behind, and revealed for the worthless things earth’s so-called riches really are.  The salvation of a man’s soul is worth more than all the world’s fleeting riches, yet in their spiritual blindness it is for just such baubles that most men sell their souls.


17:4.  “And thou, even thyself, shalt discontinue from thine heritage that I gave thee; and I will cause thee to serve thine enemies in the land which thou knowest not: for ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn for ever.”


Relative to the loss of the rich inheritance God had given them, the thought is of their having to let go of it, or of its slipping out of their grasp.  How accurately this portrays the experience of all who live only for the things of this passing world.  Death will cause them to relinquish their grasp on the vanities that keep men out of heaven, consigning them instead to the eternal darkness and torment of hell and the lake of fire.  The utter worthlessness of the largest fortune ever amassed, the greatest power ever wielded, is known today only by those in hell who will bewail eternally the folly that led them to value such things instead of the salvation of their precious souls.


The Judeans, having chosen to serve idols, and disobey God, were about to become the bondslaves of the cruel Babylonians, learning too late in slavery and without freedom of choice, the folly of having disobeyed the God Who had loved them, and given them the freedom to choose whether to serve Him or powerless idols.  So will it be with every man who dies unrepentant.  In the torment of hell where they have no choice about anything, the former bondslaves of sin will bewail eternally the foolish choice made on earth to reject God’s priceless pardon and gift of eternal life.


“... the land which thou knowest not” is more than the description of the land of slavery to which Judah was about to be led: it is also the description of hell.  Today men make jokes about hell, a place whose horrors they can’t even begin to imagine, but there will be no joking, no laughter in that terrible place, the only sound heard there being the shrieks of those whose rejection of Christ has brought them into its unending darkness and torment.


“... for ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn for ever.”  The wrath aroused by Judah’s refusal to repent in God’s time, is impossible to imagine.  She had made herself the object of his eternal anger.  There was no possibility of His ever relenting.  Every man who dies without having trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior, kindles that same terrible eternal fire.  No words can begin to describe the terrible thing it is to become the object of God’s anger rather than His love.


17:5.  “Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord.”


The warning was to those who had believed the lying words of the men who had induced them to forsake Jehovah and worship idols.  In departing from Him the people had taken themselves out from under His omnipotent arm (power and protection), and placed themselves under the imagined authority and power of puny men like themselves.  Multitudes have repeated their error by placing themselves under the authority of the world’s religious systems and the men who control them, Romanism being the foremost example of such a deadly system.  For centuries the duped devotees of that evil “church” accepted the teaching that the only authorized language of Scripture was Latin, a language known only to the priests; and when the ready availability of the Bible in English frustrated Rome’s desire to keep its contents from the common man, its dictum now is that only the priests may explain its meaning!  And even though its power has been diminished by the scandals of the past decade (1990-2000), it still wields deadly power over the lives of millions, particularly the uneducated masses of earth’s more underprivileged countries. 


Only eternity will disclose the billions who have died confident in the lie that their being Catholic, and their having been given “the last rites,” have absolved them from sin and assured them of heaven, only to find themselves in the unspeakable torment of hell until their final consignment to the eternal torment of the dreadful lake of fire.  Those damned souls need no exposition of this verse.  They have learned too late the folly of having trusted in man, rather than in the Man, the Lord Jesus Christ.


17:6.  “For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited.”


This continues to depict the hopeless state, even while here on earth, of the man who trusts in man rather than in God.  He is like a stunted barren shrub barely clinging to life in the desert.  Any hope he may entertain of future good is groundless.  Only eternal torment awaits him.  The misery of life-long existence in a parched, uninhabitable salt wasteland is at best a feeble description of the state of those who reject God’s truth, and accept Satan’s lies uttered by his agents, many of whom are cleverly disguised in clerical robes, and having high-sounding ecclesiastical titles.


Terrible as is this sketch of the earthly life of the unconverted man from the spiritual perspective, it pales into insignificance compared with the awful eternal state that will succeed it.


17:7.  “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is.”


In vivid contrast stands the life of the believer: he is blessed, whereas the man we have just been considering is cursed.  Two greater extremes don’t exist.


17:8.  “For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.”


Unlike the unbeliever, portrayed by the stunted shrub in the parched salt wasteland, the believer is presented as a luxuriant tree growing beside an everflowing stream, the presence of that unfailing water rendering the tree impervious to the scorching summer heat that destroys less fortunate plants.


But the literal language is the symbol of the spiritual, for it is scarcely necessary to note the similarity of what is written here to what is recorded in Ps 1:3.  The tree, as always in Scripture, represents man, and in the present instance, a believer.  It is to be noted that the word planted as used here is literally transplanted.  The believer has been transplanted from his original location in the barren wasteland of this world, Satan’s kingdom, into the kingdom of light and life, as it is written in Col 1:13, “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his (God’s) dear Son.”


“... the waters” are the symbol of the written Word, and as the tree sends down its hidden roots into the earth permeated by that water, so does the obedient believer, by  means unperceived by the unconverted, nourish his new life constantly on that living water.  He reads it, studies it, meditates on it daily, and obeys it, and thus nurtures his new life.


It is instructive also to note that the tree is said to spread out her roots, for in the symbolic language of Scripture the female always speaks of submissive obedience, whereas the male speaks of the activity of the will, either in doing good or evil.


The two were perfectly combined in the Lord Jesus Christ, His perfect submission to His Father’s will being expressed in the words that concluded His prayer in Gethsemane, “... nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done,” Lk 22:42; and the perfect activity of His will in doing His Father’s will being revealed also in what is written, “And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem,” Lk 9:51.  He would permit nothing to hinder Him from doing His Father’s will.


The same perfect balance of submission and activity of the will ought to characterize every believer.


“... and shall not see when heat cometh,” means that the tree will have no fear, feel no alarm, will be unbothered by heat or drought, heat, in the present context, being that scorching heat which injures or destroys plant life.  It represents the adversity which touches every life; and in the case of the believer, reveals the weakness or strength of his faith.  He who is typified by that transplanted tree by the river, will be strengthened by the testing, in contrast with the man who may have nothing more than an empty profession of faith, or who is neglecting the study of Scripture.


“... but her leaf shall be green.”  Leaves are the biblical symbol of profession, genuine or false, e.g., Adam and Eve’s fig leaf aprons were the false profession that they were covered, when in fact they were naked: they had sinned; their righteousness was gone.  The green (color of life) leaves on the tree now being considered, represent the vibrant profession of the obedient believer, whose life demonstrates the reality of his profession.  And again we should note the emphasis upon the need of submissive obedience demonstrated in that it is “her leaf.”


“... and shall not be careful in the year of drought.”  Its being mentioned as “the year” rather than “the time” or “the season” may be to remind us that God’s testing of our faith may sometimes continue for a long time, e.g., lifelong sickness, disability, poverty, care of a mentally or physically disabled child or other loved one ....  The believer who nurtures his inner life on God’s Word will still be an effective witness to the reality of his faith, no matter how difficult the circumstances of his life may be.


“... neither shall cease from yielding fruit.”  The fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control,” Gal 5:22-23.  The obedient believer will produce this fruit abundantly no matter how adverse the outward circumstances of his life may be.


17:9.  “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”


The ancients believed the heart to be the seat of the intellect; and the reins, of the emotions, so the reference here is to the mind, and who will deny that it is indeed “deceitful above all things”?  How often has a smiling face been the mask covering a mind filled with such evil as murder, lust, greed, envy, and much more!


desperately wicked” declares that it is incorrigible; its evil is inherent, the proof of its bent towards evil being revealed in the warfare that goes on between it and the new mind received at the moment of the new birth, Paul describing that warfare, and bemoaning its activity in Romans 7, but concluding in verses 24 and 25 with the triumphant exclamation, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?  I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  So then with the (renewed) mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh (fleshly mind) the law of sin.”


“... who can know it?”  Only God.


17:10.  “I the Lord search the heart (mind), I try the reins (emotions), even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.”


In Heb 4:12 it is written, “For the word of God is quick (living), and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of the soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”  The written Word, however, is the revelation of the Living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is He Who knows the thoughts of each man’s heart, and the motives which prompt his actions.  It is He Who will reward each man, not simply according to a judgment based on what men may observe outwardly.  His recompense will be on the basis of the motive behind the conduct, and that is a far deeper examination than man is capable of making.


A great deal that earns the approval of men will merit only the Lord’s rebuke, for His assessment of our conduct takes account of our motives.  It behooves us therefore to be honest with ourselves so that at His judgment seat we may escape the shame of having Him expose as hypocrisy what we had deceived men into believing was righteousness.  In this connection it would be well for all of us to study, and take heed to what is recorded in Mt 23.


17:11.  “As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not; so he that getteth riches, and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at his end shall be a fool.”


The allusion here is to the fact that the partridge makes her nest on the ground where the eggs may be stepped on and broken, or devoured by animals.  The man who gets riches by wrong means is guilty of the same folly.  He may be called into eternity in the prime of life, and thus die as a fool for having sold his soul for “filthy lucre” without even having had time to enjoy it, having failed to realize that every man must eventually render account to God.


17:12.  “A glorious high throne from the beginning (from eternity) is the place of our sanctuary.”


In contrast with the man who foolishly puts his trust in earthly riches, stands the man whose trust is in God Whose glorious eternal throne is in heaven where that man will dwell in the assurance of eternal bliss, God’s throne being his sanctuary.


17:13.  “O Lord, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me (Your prophet) shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters.”


Israel here is to be understood in context: it refers only to believing Jews.  “Ashamed” means also to be made pale and disappointed.  They will be ashamed at the exposure of all their sins which would have been hidden for ever from view had they trusted in God.  They will be made pale, i.e., they will blanche with terror at the awful eternal torment to which their unbelief will have condemned them.


The “me” of “they that depart from me,” is Jeremiah.  Because he was God’s prophet delivering God’s message, to depart from him was virtually the same as departing from God, and their being “written in the earth” means that they will be cut off or uprooted from the earth.  Instead of having their names indelibly enrolled in heaven as saved men, it will be as though their names were merely written on the earth or on the sand.  Their brief day on earth, where they will quickly be forgotten, will be followed by an eternity of torment, first in hell, and then in the unquenchable flame of the lake of fire - all because “they have forsaken the Lord,” i.e., refused to believe His Word.


The Lord’s being described as “the fountain of living waters,” a fountain that will flow eternally, stands in dramatic contrast  with the equally enduring flame of the lake of fire to which their unbelief will have consigned them.


17:14.  “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise.”


The healing which God gives is eternal, as is also the salvation He provides, and because of this, those who avail themselves of His healing and salvation will praise Him eternally.


17:15.  “Behold, they say unto me, Where is the word of the Lord? let it come now.”


Taylor translates this verse, “If these threats of yours are really from God, why don’t they come true?”


Just because God in His patience had delayed the immediate execution of His threatened judgment, the people refused to believe that it would ever come; and so is it with today’s world.


The people also refuse to believe that judgment is impending; but as Judah received a terrible awakening so will today’s scoffers.


“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” the Lord will rapture His Church to heaven; a little interval will occur, and then the Beast will sign the seven-year treaty with Israel, and the world will settle down to enjoy what it will imagine to be the long sought peace, not realizing that it is but the calm before the terrible storm of the Great Tribulation that will conclude with the world in ruins, a third of its population destroyed by war, famine, and disease.  And when it will seem that nothing worse could occur, the Lord will descend to judge those who will have survived, that judgment ending with His consigning bodily into hell every remaining unbeliever, and His inviting the survivors, all believers, to enter into the enjoyment of His millennial kingdom.


17:16.  “As for me, I have not hastened from being a pastor to follow thee: neither have I desired the woeful day; thou knowest: that which came out of my lips was right before thee.”


The prophet was a willing instrument to bring God’s truth to the people.  No matter how much they abhorred him, even to the point of seeking his life, he had been faithful to God, and to them, not because he delighted in warning of coming doom, but because above all else he desired to be a faithful messenger rather than another false prophet courting the people’s favor by telling them what they wanted to hear rather than what they needed to hear.  He could confidently declare before God that everything he had told the people had been what God Himself had told him to say.


Today’s world is in exactly the same position as was the Judah addressed by Jeremiah: it faces imminent and certain doom, but sadly the men of Jeremiah’s caliber are lamentably rare, so that the people plunge on unwarned to inescapable destruction.


17:17.  “Be not a terror unto me: thou art my hope in the day of evil (disaster).”


His hearers may have scoffed at his warnings, but Jeremiah himself had implicit faith to believe the veracity of the message God had sent him to deliver.  He believed that the threatened destruction was as certain as it was imminent, and the reality of it struck fear into his own heart, for presumably he realized that genuine believers would also have to endure the effects of the coming judgments just as would their unbelieving fellows, hence his plea to Jehovah to be his place of refuge in the coming storm.


His fear and his hope are those that will also fill the hearts of believers in the coming Great Tribulation.


17:18.  “Let them be confounded that persecute me, but let not me be confounded: let them be dismayed, but let not me be dismayed: bring upon them the day of evil, and destroy them with double destruction.”


To be confounded means to be made to turn pale with terror, and to be dismayed means to be terrified and broken, while “the day of evil” is the day of misfortune and affliction.  “... double destruction” is also translated, “crush them with a double crush .... double ruin or hurt ... repeated destruction.”


Such imprecations were appropriate for the Jewish age, and they stand in dramatic contrast with what is proper for this present age of grace when the very opposite prayers are to be offered for those who persecute us; but as discussed already, much of the book of Jeremiah points typologically to what will be in the coming Tribulation era, those seven years being the seventieth week of Daniel 24, that is, they will be the final phase of the four-hundred and ninety year Jewish period that began on March 14, 445 BC with the decree of Artaxerxes which ended the Babylonian captivity, four-hundred and eighty-three of those years ending on April 6, 32 AD, the day Christ entered Jerusalem on the colt the foal of the ass.  The present Church age has come as a parenthesis interrupting the continuity of those four-hundred and ninety Jewish years, leaving the final seven years, the Tribulation era, to begin with the Beast’s signing the seven-year covenant with Israel, and concluding with the Lord’s return to inaugurate His millennial kingdom.  (For a detailed account of this period see the author’s commentary on Daniel, available on this website).  Such a prayer as is recorded in this verse will be appropriate to the Tribulation era, the Jewish period that will precede the Millennium.


17:19.  “Thus said the Lord unto me; Go and stand in the gate of the children of the people, whereby the kings of Judah come in, and by the which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem.”


This is the record of God’s command to His servant to stand first in the gate of Jerusalem used by the kings of Judah, and then to stand in each of the other gates of the city, sounding out the warning of imminent destruction, and it is the assurance that no one would escape: from the king to the lowliest peasant, all would suffer the judgment of an outraged God Whose patience had come to an end.


17:20.  “And say unto them, Hear ye the word of the Lord, ye kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that enter in by these gates:”


The emphasis continues to be upon the fact that no one was exempt from the need to heed God’s voice, for as already noted, the judgment upon the nation was inescapable, but there was still opportunity for individuals to repent and thereby save their souls.  All who entered the gates of Jerusalem believed erroneously that adherence to the outward ritual of worship which was centered in that city, was sufficient to absolve them from guilt, and save them from judgment, but a terrible awakening awaited them.


The same truth applies to Christendom.


17:21.  “Thus saith the Lord; Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem;”


From here to the end of the chapter the focus is upon observance of the sabbath, and it is significant that not only was each seventh day to be kept as a sabbath of rest, but so was each seventh year, see Le 25:1-5, 19-22; 26:34-35; 2 Chr 36:21.  For four hundred and ninety years they had failed to let the land enjoy its sabbaths, i.e., lie fallow each seventh year, but God saw to it that those seventy sabbaths were kept during the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity!


Israel’s failure to keep the sabbath rest, each seventh day or seventh year, was the outward evidence of the total rebellion that lurked in their treacherous hearts.


Above and beyond the literal proscription relative to working on the sabbath day, however, towers the far more important spiritual truth concerning dependence on religious ritual and good works as a means of salvation.  This was Judah’s error, as it is also that of Christendom, for she too believes that observance of outward religious forms is all that is needed to appease God, and enable her then to live in sin as she pleases.  As Israel was to rest on the sabbath, so are men to rest in Christ’s finished work for salvation, and not to seek justification by works.


The judgment of the Babylonian captivity with which God punished Judah’s hypocrisy is but a type of the far more terrible Tribulation judgments with which He will punish Christendom, that judgment being as imminent now as was the Babylonian then.


17:22.  “Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers.”


During this Christian dispensation or Church age, the Jewish sabbath or seventh day has been replaced with the first day of the week, but it is to be remembered that the ordination of the seventh day as a sabbath of rest antedated the giving of the law.  Whether it be the seventh or the first day of the week, one-seventh of the week is to be kept as a holy day of rest.  Christendom, however, like Judah and Israel, has dismissed God’s command as being of no importance, and uses that time for business and pleasure, and with what result?  She enriches herself temporally, but at the cost of spiritual impoverishment, the evil effects being clearly evident in a frazzled society that cannot rest, its perturbation being displayed in its antisocial behavior.


17:23.  “But they obeyed not, neither inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear, nor receive instruction.”


They refused to obey, wouldn’t even listen, stiffened their necks like a recalcitrant animal fighting against having the yoke placed on its neck.  They didn’t even want to hear God’s voice, or receive any instruction from Him.  Few descriptions depict more accurately the state of Christendom.


17:24.  “And it shall come to pass, if ye diligently hearken unto me, saith the Lord, to bring in no burden through the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but hallow the sabbath day, to do no work therein;”


17:25.  “Then shall there enter into the gates of this city kings and princes sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they, and their princes, the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: and this city shall remain for ever.”


The blessedness of obedience described here would not be enjoyed by the generation addressed by Jeremiah, for their refusal to repent had sealed their doom; nor has any succeeding generation fulfilled God’s requirements.  The nation’s long continued disobedience has rendered impossible the fulfillment of this idyllic prospect in the long centuries between the time Jeremiah wrote, and the present.  But the day of an even better fulfillment is near, for every sign points to the imminence of the Lord’s return, first to rapture His Church, and then seven years later to end the Tribulation and inaugurate His millennial kingdom.  In that halcyon age a literal descendant of David will sit as regent upon the throne in Jerusalem, while the Lord Jesus Christ will rule from the heavenly Jerusalem. 


Relative to the endurance of the earthly city Jerusalem, “for ever” in the present context, means till the end of the Millennium, after which there will be a new heavens and a new earth, to which the heavenly Jerusalem will descend, see Re 21:2.


17:26.  “And they shall come from the cities of Judah, and from the places about Jerusalem, and from the land of Benjamin, and from the plain, and from the mountains, and from the south, bringing burnt offerings, and sacrifices, and meat offerings, and incense, and bringing sacrifices of praise, unto the house of the Lord.”


Sadly, the nation’s disobedience has precluded fulfillment of this that might have been in the twenty-six centuries since Jeremiah wrote.


17:27.  “But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.”


Israel’s disobedience has brought fulfillment of this dire prediction.  Not only has she refused to keep God’s holy law, but in AD 32 she climaxed her rebellion by rejecting and crucifying His Son; and it wasn’t until a further 38 years of rejected mercy given her in which to repent, that God’s patience came to and end and He delivered her into the hand of the Romans in AD 70.


During the past two thousand years she has remained scattered amongst the nations, while her land has been under the heel of one usurper after another. 


But the restoration of Jewish autonomy in 1948 has seen a continuous stream of Jews returning to Palestine, evidence that the day is almost here when the terrible Tribulation judgments will bring a remnant of Jews, and Gentiles, to repentant faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, at the end of which time, He will return to inaugurate His millennial kingdom, and bring them into the enjoyment of the millennial blessings so long delayed by their disobedience.

[Jeremiah 18]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough