Chapter 6 describes the preacher’s (and the Lord’s) dilemma. The Word of the Lord is clear, but the people are unwilling to hear: “Their ears are closed (literally, “uncircumcised”) so they cannot hear” (10, see also 19). Jeremiah can sense and even see the disaster that is coming (prophets were called “seers”). He is frantically trying to convey God’s message of warning, but is not taken seriously. Other voices (priests and prophets) are giving a far more comforting message: “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace” (14).
This chapter includes God’s pronouncements of judgment and Jeremiah’s personal responses and reactions. God’s direct declarations are found in 1-5, 6-9, 11b-12; 13-15; 16-20; 21, 22-23—note the translators use of quotation marks and phrases like “This is what the Lord Almighty says” in 6, 9, 16, 21, 22). Jeremiah reacts emotionally to these dire declarations in 10-11a and 24-26. The chapter ends with God’s word to Jeremiah about his prophetic role as a “tester of metals” (27-30); Jeremiah bellows out God’s fiery words of warning, words intended to test and refine the people who hear them. Sadly, no purging is taking place, no dross is being consumed. The people are “rejected silver” (30).
Once again, God gives the warning of impending “disaster out of the north” (1); once again the Lord forewarns them of a military attack (6, 22-23) that will devastate the land (specifically the trees—6), the cities (especially Jerusalem, the Daughter of Zion—2, 8, 24) and the people (children, young men, older people, husbands and wives—11).
The Lord clearly holds the people responsible for their stubborn refusal to listen to His Word (17) and walk in His ways (16). Further, the Lord clearly takes responsibility or the punishment inflicted by the Babylonian armies: “I will destroy the Daughter of Zion” (2); “…I stretch out my hand against those who live in the land” (12); “…they will be brought down when I punish them” (15).
Jeremiah is agitated by God’s pronouncement. On one hand he seems desperate to get someone to believe his message (“To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? —10); on the other hand he is filled with a sense of God’s righteous wrath and can’t bottle it up inside him (11). Here we see the paradox of Jeremiah’s heart in this book. He weeps for the people and also rages against them. He is disgusted with their rebellion and distressed by their impending doom. He comes across as “against” the nation and “for” the nation—at the same time. In this way, he mirrors the heart of God.
These seemingly conflicted responses make Jeremiah such a complex and compelling figure to me. He’s a patriot and yet is seen as a traitor. He seems heartless and harsh in pronouncing judgment; he is tender and torn up in predicting destruction. He tears into the nation; He tears up over the nation. He is a faithful messenger and a good shepherd.
Jeremiah is an example for those of us who speak God’s Word to rebellious people in dangerous times. We must not pull back from prophetic words of warning and judgment. We must not imitate the false prophets and priests who “dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace” (14). We must forcefully and faithfully communicate God’s Word. At the same time, we must do it with a tender heart that aches for those we serve and weeps over the painful consequences of their rebellion.
The Lord compares Jeremiah’s role as His spokesman to “a tester of metals” (27-30). The word of the Lord is the fire, the people are the ore, and Jeremiah is to “observe and test their ways.” He is to see if the fiery message of warning and rebuke has a purifying effect on the people, burning away the “lead with fire” and purging out the wicked. But tragically, as God reports and Jeremiah observes, the people of Israel are “hardened rebels.” Though the “bellows blow fiercely”—a reference to God’s fiery words—the people do not change. They continue to sin with their words (“slander”) and “they all act corruptly.” The result is that after testing the people, God and Jeremiah have to pronounce them as “rejected silver.”
Here we see the intended impact of God’s Word on His people. As Jeremiah 23:28 says, God’s Word is a fire. The fire is meant to purge and purify evil, separating our sin from our silver. If we will not respond to God’s Word, we wind up as rejected silver. We can expect God’s fiery judgment to come upon us, like it did upon Israel.
The way to peace and protection is presented in the middle of this chapter: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it’”(16). The picture God gives is that of a traveler trying to find his way through life. He comes to a crossroads, a point of decision. Two roads diverge and he must choose one. God counsels him to “ask for the ancient paths” which reveal the “good way.” God’s Word maps out the ancient paths for us. We don’t need something trendy but something time-tested. We follow in the footsteps of those who’ve walked with God by keeping to His ways. This is the way to peace—to rest for our souls. This is the way, walk in it (Isaiah 30:21).