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KD Old Testament Lesson 42: Jeremiah 16, 23, 29, 31

Posted by Karl D. on November 4, 2010

Gospel Doctrine
Lesson: Jeremiah (#42)
Reading: Jeremiah 16, 23, 29, 31

PDF Version of Notes

1 Approach

These represent the notes I made during my reading of the scriptural text for this lesson. It is not a lesson outline or a lesson plan but really notes about issues and questions that struck me as interesting during my reading. Consequently, the notes do not have a conclusion and very little mention of application. I like to let those things arise while I teach.

2 Outline of Jeremiah 16

Cragie, Kelley, and Drinkard, in the Word Biblical Commentary, propose the follow subsections for chapter 16:1

Symbolic Acts: Prohibition to Marry, Mourn, and Feast 1-9
What to Tell the People 10-13
Restoration 14-15
Fishers and Hunters 16-18
The Turning of the Nations 19-21

3 A Bachelor in the Land

Read Jeremiah 16:1-4

1 The word of the Lord came also unto me, saying, 2 Thou shalt not take thee a wife, neither shalt thou have sons or daughters in this place. 3 For thus saith the Lord concerning the sons and concerning the daughters that are born in this place, and concerning their mothers that bare them, and concerning their fathers that begat them in this land; 4 They shall die of grievous deaths; they shall not be lamented; neither shall they be buried; but they shall be as dung upon the face of the earth: and they shall be consumed by the sword, and by famine; and their carcases shall be meat for the fowls of heaven, and for the beasts of the earth.

There appears to be some debate about whether verses 1-9 should be viewed as poetry or prose. It appears that the majority opinion of scholars is that it is best viewed as prose.2 However, a kind of parallelism is apparent is some of these verses. For example, verse 2:

2 Thou shalt not take thee a wife,
neither shalt thou have sons or daughters in this place.

Also, verse 3 can be arranged in the form of chiasmus:3

A. For thus saith the Lord concerning the sons
   B. and concerning the daughters that are born in this place,
   B' and concerning their mothers that bare them,
A' and concerning their fathers that begat them in this land;
A. Male
   B. Female
   B' Female
A' Male

So the pericope is not without some interesting literary features even if we resist rendering it as poetry.

3.1 Symbolic Acts

The Lord commands Jeremiah to engage in a symbolic act: he is commanded not to marry and consequently not to have children. These symbolic acts were not uncommon for prophets of this era. It is hard not think about Hosea who was commanded to marry a prostitute or a promiscuous woman about 100 years earlier. Isaiah also engaged in symbolic acts (see, for example, Isaiah 20).

  • Can you think of any reasons why the Lord would want prophets to engage in symbolic acts like remaining unmarried?
  • Why might this have been a more effective way to deliver a prophetic message than the “normal” preaching of the word?
  • Does the willingness of Old Testament prophets to engage in these symbolic actions reveal anything important about these prophets? Can we, today as modern readers, learn anything from these acts?

3.2 Jeremiah and Hosea

To modern readers, I think Hosea’s symbolic act is clearly the more shocking. However, how about for the original audience?

  • Would an ancient Israelite audience view Jeremiah’s or Hosea’s as more shocking?
  • Would an ancient audience have viewed Jeremiah’s or Hosea’s act as requiring a greater sacrifice?
  • Why was Jeremiah commanded not to marry? What message does it impart to the people of Jerusalem? What message does it impart to us?
  • What do we learn when we compare and contrast this symbolic act with Hosea’s?
  • Could one argue that Jeremiah’s act is the stronger or more condemning symbol? For example, a marriage to a harlot may symbolize a corrupt relationship (caused by a corrupt wife). On the other hand, bachelorhood could symbolize a dissolution of the covenant or maybe that it would have been better if the covenant never existed. What do you think about the preceding interpretation? Do you agree or disagree?
  • Does any of the language in these verses support that idea that this symbolic act is, at least in part, about the dissolution of the covenant? Is there anything in theses verses that suggests the meaning of the symbolic act is not about the dissolution of the covenant?
  • What about the explicit mention that Jeremiah is to have no children in “this place?” Assuming Jerusalem is “this place”, how does the explicit mention of no children enhance your understanding of the meaning and purpose of the symbolic act?
  • What are verses 3 and 4 about? Particularly, how are verses 3-4 related to the first two verses and the symbolic act?
  • Notice how “sons and daughters” is a phrase that links verses 1-2 with verses 3-4. Is that important imagery? Are we supposed to notice it as readers? Do you think this suggests that Jeremiah is commanded not to get married and not to have children “since the coming warfare will be utterly destructive of families?”4

4 Funerals and Feasting

Read Jeremiah 16:5-9:

5 For thus saith the Lord, Enter not into the house of mourning, neither go to lament nor bemoan them: for I have taken away my peace from this people, saith the Lord, even lovingkindness and mercies. 6 Both the great and the small shall die in this land: they shall not be buried, neither shall men lament for them, nor cut themselves, nor make themselves bald for them: 7 Neither shall men tear themselves for them in mourning, to comfort them for the dead; neither shall men give them the cup of consolation to drink for their father or for their mother. 8 Thou shalt not also go into the house of feasting, to sit with them to eat and to drink. 9 For thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will cause to cease out of this place in your eyes, and in your days, the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride.

In verse 5 Jeremiah receives a command for a second symbolic act: do not enter the house of mourning (i.e., no mourning rituals). In verse 8 Jeremiah receives a command for a third symbolic act: do not enter the house of feasting (no ritual feasting). Why these prohibitions?

  • Do verses 6-7 help us understand why the Lord commands Jeremiah not to take part in mourning rituals?
  • Does verse 9 help explain why the Lord prohibits Jeremiah from attending festivals?
  • What is the relationship between the house of mourning and the house of feasting? Together do they encompass or represent the span of normal Israelite social functions? Are these symbolic acts meant to convey the idea that normal Israelite social customs will come to an end?
  • How are these prohibitions linked to the prohibition against taking a wife? Are the prohibitions connected thematically or merely by proximity?
  • In verse 5 the LORD says “for I have taken away my peace from this people, saith the LORD, even lovingkindness and mercies.” How is this related to the prohibition not to mourn?
  • This theme of peace shows up in an earlier chapter. Read 14:13-14:

13 Then said I, Ah, Lord God! behold, the prophets say unto them, Ye shall not see the sword, neither shall ye have famine; but I will give you assured peace in this place. 14 Then the Lord said unto me, The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart.

  • It is possible that the prohibitions described in verses 5-9 are part of the Lord’s response to these prophets?

5 Question and Answer

Read Jeremiah 16:10-13

10 And it shall come to pass, when thou shalt shew this people all these words, and they shall say unto thee, Wherefore hath the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? or what is our iniquity? or what is our sin that we have committed against the Lord our God? 11 Then shalt thou say unto them, Because your fathers have forsaken me, saith the Lord, and have walked after other gods, and have served them, and have worshipped them, and have forsaken me, and have not kept my law; 12 And ye have done worse than your fathers; for, behold, ye walk every one after the imagination of his evil heart, that they may not hearken unto me: 13 Therefore will I cast you out of this land into a land that ye know not, neither ye nor your fathers; and there shall ye serve other gods day and night; where I will not shew you favour.

Notice how in this subsection we basically observe a question and answer session. The Lord anticipates the people’s questions and provides Jeremiah with answers.

  • Why mention the sins of the fathers? Why are the people being blamed for the sins of their fathers?
  • Actually, is that even true? Are the people being blamed for the sins of the fathers or are the sins of the fathers mentioned for some other reason?
  • Are you surprised that this question and answer subsection exists given the message of the first 9 verses? Does this suggest that these symbolic actions by Jeremiah wouldn’t send a clear message to the people about the pending judgment and destruction? Or is the reason or need for this subsection something else entirely?

6 Fishers and Hunters

Read Jeremiah 16:14-18

14 Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; 15 But, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers.

16 Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks. 17 For mine eyes are upon all their ways: they are not hid from my face, neither is their iniquity hid from mine eyes. 18 And first I will recompense their iniquity and their sin double; because they have defiled my land, they have filled mine inheritance with the carcases of their detestable and abominable things.

Verses 14-15 are usually seen as a separate subsection from verses 16-18. For example, the King James Bible marks 14-15 as a separate paragraph from 15-18 (this is true for all translations I have seen). This is different from LDS quotations of these verses which seem to typically look at verses 14-16 together. If one reads verse 16 as connected to verses 14-15 it takes on a very different meaning than if it is part of a new paragraph that starts with 16 and finishes with verse 18.

  • How do you interpret verse 16 if it is part of the paragraph from verses 16-18? How do you interpret it if you see it as part of a paragraph from 14-16? Does the argument or message in verses 17-18 make sense or seem complete without verse 16? Does the argument or message in verses 14-15 makes sense without verse 16?
  • Given,the first 13 verses of the chapter (and the later verses of the chapter), are you surprised to see the message that is relayed in verses 14-15? Do verses 14-15 connect with, for example, verse 13?
  • Do verses 14-15 serve to remind the reader of the Lord’s mercy in a chapter that primarily talks about the Lord’s judgment?
  • What does “they have filled mine inheritance with the carcases of their detestable and abominable things” mean (verse 18)? Could the carcases be idols? In what sense is this a good description of idols?

7 The Turning of Nations

Read Jeremiah 16:19-21

19 O Lord, my strength, and my fortress,
and my refuge in the day of affliction,

the Gentiles shall come unto thee
from the ends of the earth, and shall say,

Surely our fathers have inherited lies,
vanity, and things wherein there is no profit.

20 Shall a man make gods unto himself,
and they are no gods?

21 Therefore, behold, I will this once cause them to know,
I will cause them to know

mine hand and my might;
and they shall know that my name is The Lord.

  • The last three verses of the chapter are poetry. What is the poem about and how does it differ from what preceded it? Is it meant to contrast to some degree with earlier parts of the chapter?
  • On the other hand, is there continuity between these verses and earlier parts of the chapter?
  • What is verse 20 about? What does it mean for “man to make gods unto himself?”
  • Are you surprised to see the gentiles mentioned given the focus of the chapter as a whole? How does this fit in with message of the rest of the chapter?

8 Promises: Jeremiah 23:1-8

8.1 Fun With Chiasmus

Read Jeremiah 23:1-4

1 Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the Lord. 2 Therefore thus saith the Lord God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the Lord. 3 And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. 4 And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the Lord.

The first four verses can be outlined as a chiastic structure:5

A. Shepherds that destroy and scatter
   B. Shepherds that scatter, drive out, and do not feed
      C. The Lord will visit evil on the shepherds
   B' The Lord with gather, bring, and bless with increase
A' New shepherds will feed and the flock will not lack
  • Who are the shepherds and pastors in these verses? Does the preceding chapter (22) help us identify who Jeremiah is talking about? Given chapter 22, do you think Jeremiah is talking about the Kings of Judah or do you view the condemnation as more general (maybe applying to all leaders)?
  • The word “visit” is used in a couple of places in these verses. How is “visit” used in the different places? Is this wordplay? Why emphasize the word “visit?”
  • The center or keystone of the chiasmus is the message that the Lord will “visit upon you [the shepherds] the evil of your doings.” First, what does that phrase mean in this context? Second, the chiastic structure suggests that this is the central message of these four verses. In what way is this the central point? Does this centerpoint undermine or subordinate the theme of restoration found in these verses? How is the theme of restoration related to the centerpoint of the chiasmus?

8.2 A Promised King

Read Jeremiah 23:5-8:

5 Behold, the days come, saith the Lord,
that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch,
and a King shall reign and prosper,
and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.

6 In his days Judah shall be saved,
and Israel shall dwell safely:

and this is his name whereby he shall be called,

7 Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that they shall no more say, The Lord liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; 8 But, The Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land.

Verses 5-6 also can be outlined as a chiasmus: 6

A. God will raise a righteous King
   B. the King shall reign and prosper
      C. The King executes justice and judgment
   B' The King shall save Israel
A' God will name the King: "The Lord is our Righteousness"
  • What are these verses about?
  • Why is the King called a “righteous branch?” How should we understand the “righteous branch” imagery? How might have the “righteous branch” imagery have been part of a message of hope and restoration to people in Jeremiah’s time? Is the imagery still important or hopeful for us today?
  • Verse 6 indicates the King saves his people. What is meant by saved here? Also do these verses indicate how the King saved his people or why he was able to save his people? Does the chiastic structure help you answer the preceding question?
  • How do the first four verses of this chapter inform or affect your reading of verses 5-8?
  • What do you make of verses 7-8? Why would the promised “exodus” from the north or the new gathering of Israel be remembered in place of the exodus from Egypt?
  • Some scholars suggest that “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” is wordplay on the name of Zedekiah. Does that makes sense?7 Why or why not?


1 Cragie, Peter C., Page H. Helley, and Joel F. Drinkard, 1991, Jeremiah 1-25, Word Books, 215.

2 Thompson, J. A., 1980, The Book of Jeremiah, Eerdmans, 401.

3 Thompson, J. A.,1980, The Book of Jeremiah, Eerdmans, 401.

4 Overholt, Thomas W., 2000, “Jeremiah” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary, Harper & Row, 559.

5 adapted from Cragie, Peter C., Page H. Helley, and Joel F. Drinkard, 1991, Jeremiah 1-25, Word Books, 325.

6 adapted from Cragie, Peter C., Page H. Helley, and Joel F. Drinkard, 1991, Jeremiah 1-25, Word Books, 329.

7 Thompson, J. A., 1980, The Book of Jeremiah, Eerdmans, 401.

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