Jeremiah, the Social Outcast
In Jeremiah 16:1-17:4 Jeremiah is told not to marry, attend funerals, or go to parties. Why, and should we follow his example?
In the first 9 verses of chapter 16, Jeremiah is told not to do three things: first, do not marry (1-4); second, do not go to funerals (5-7); and third, do not go to parties (8-9).
Why not? Essentially it’s because the Babylonians are coming to kill them (Jer 16:16-17), steal their stuff (Jer 17:3), and take the rest off into captivity (Jer 17:4).
So, as a sign to the rest of the people that this is no time to start raising a family, go to parties, or even mourn the lost, Jeremiah is instructed to essentially live like a social outcast.
Don’t Marry, Attend Funerals or Parties
Now, let’s dig a little deeper into why he’s told to live this way. Jeremiah 16:2 says “Do not marry or have sons or daughters in this place...” because…
…They will die from deadly diseases. They will not be mourned or buried but will be like manure on the soil’s surface. They will be finished off by sword and famine. Their corpses will become food for the birds of the sky and for the wild animals of the land.
Okay, so don’t get married because your wife and your children are only going to die awful deaths if you do. Those with wives and children won’t even have time to bury them or mourn their loss.
Jeremiah 16:5 continues,
“For this is what the Lord says: Don’t enter a house where a mourning feast is taking place. Don’t go to lament or sympathize with them, for I have removed my peace from these people as well as my faithful love and compassion.” This is the Lord’s declaration.
Don’t get married and don’t even go to funerals because God has removed his peace, his faithful love, and compassion. As a sign that God’s judgment was going to affect all of society, Jeremiah was instructed to live like a social outcast. Besides, on the day of judgment, there will be more important things to worry about.
Jeremiah 16:6–7 says the judgment will be extremely intense,
“Both great and small will die in this land without burial. No lament will be made for them, nor will anyone cut himself or shave his head for them. Food won’t be provided for the mourner to comfort him because of the dead. A consoling drink won’t be given him for the loss of his father or mother.
Because things will be so brutal, their normal way of life will be completely disrupted. When people are being rounded up like animals and herded off into captivity, they aren’t going to be concerned about good manners. It’ll be every man for himself.
So, as an indication of how bad judgment would be Jeremiah was told not to marry, not to go to funerals. And he was also told not to go to dinner parties because there’s no reason to celebrate when everyone around you is dying.
Verse 8 says, “Do not enter the house where feasting is taking place...” and then verse 9…
For this is what the Lord of Armies, the God of Israel, says: I am about to eliminate from this place, before your very eyes and in your time, the sound of joy and gladness, the voice of the groom and the bride.
In other words, since God’s wrath is upon them there’s no reason for joy. When our lives are doomed and our children are about to die it seems a little inappropriate to throw a party.
In chapter 17:4 God speaks with finality, “For you have set my anger on fire; it will burn forever.” Now the point is, if we have set God’s anger against us because of how we’ve been living, there is nothing worth doing except getting right with God.
If we aren’t trusting in Christ, the Day of Judgment is coming and we should stop everything. Forget about getting married. Stop going to parties. Don’t even go to funerals. Get right with God.
Instead, Get Right With God
So, what does getting right with God mean? It means we need to admit what we’ve done wrong and repent.
But this is easier said than done, especially when we don’t know of what to repent. And as we see with the Israelites, they didn’t know what their problem was, either, so God tells them in verse 10,
“When you tell these people all these things, they will say to you, ‘Why has the Lord declared all this terrible disaster against us? What is our iniquity? What is our sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?’
Now, I really don’t think they honestly wanted to know the answer, but God gave them one answer anyway.
Jeremiah 16:11 says,
Then you will answer them, ‘Because your ancestors abandoned me—this is the Lord’s declaration—and followed other gods, served them, and bowed in worship to them. Indeed, they abandoned me and did not keep my instruction.
What’s their sin? Individually, and corporately they followed, served, and worshiped other gods. Their sin was idolatry and each generation was getting worse...
Jeremiah 16:12 says,
You did more evil than your ancestors. Look, each one of you was following the stubbornness of his evil heart, not obeying me.
So instead of getting better, each generation was getting farther from God’s commandments. Jeremiah 17:1 describes their decline this way,
The sin of Judah is inscribed with an iron stylus. With a diamond point it is engraved on the tablet of their hearts and on the horns of their altars,
Instead of having God’s laws written on their hearts, they were breaking the very first commandment (and all the commandments) that God, then Moses, had chiseled into stone: “Do not have any other gods besides me” (Exodus 20:3).
Their disobedience had permanent consequences for them and their children (Jer 17:2), and there was nothing they could do to change it.
Idolatry is the worst of all sins, with the worst consequences, because at its core it seeks to steal glory from God — glory that He alone deserves. Idolatry is stealing glory from God and giving it to ourselves.
So, as the worst sin, idolatry deserves double punishment. Jeremiah 16:18 says,
I will first repay them double for their iniquity and sin because they have polluted my land. They have filled my inheritance with the carcasses of their abhorrent and detestable idols.”
So to get right with God means primarily to acknowledge and repent of committing idolatry, the worst of all sins.
What is Idolatry
What is idolatry? Of course, it’s making and then worshiping idols, but it’s more than that as Paul says in Colossians 3:5–6,
Therefore, put to death what belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, God’s wrath is coming upon the disobedient,
All of these sins are a form of idolatry, but especially greed. Greed is the desire for acquiring more and more. Greed is a desire to be satisfied by things other than God.
So, idolatry, like greed, starts in the heart. An idol could be a boyfriend or a girlfriend. It could be a desire to be recognized. It could be a hobby. It could even be a ministry at church.
And idolatry is extremely dangerous because God is going to pour out his wrath upon the idolatrous. That’s what chapter 16 of Jeremiah is describing— the consequences of idolatry. Judgment has already happened for Israel but God’s wrath will also be poured out upon everyone who is idolatrous.
Since God deserves to be our greatest joy, when we find Him to be boring and irrelevant we not only offend him, we also make him angry against us.
Now there are two wrong responses to being told that we are idolatrous people: first, “I’m not that bad of a sinner and God will just forgive my sin because I’m not as bad as so-and-so” and second, “I’m so bad, that I could never be forgiven.”
The right response is to admit we are the worst kind of sinner, repent of our idolatry, and trust that Christ’s sacrifice is powerful enough for even the chief of sinners.
Salvation From and For the Nations
If we repent, then God promises salvation from the nations.
Jeremiah 16:14–15 says,
“However, look, the days are coming”—the Lord’s declaration—“when it will no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives who brought the Israelites from the land of Egypt,’ but rather, ‘As the Lord lives who brought the Israelites from the land of the north and from all the other lands where he had banished them.’ For I will return them to their land that I gave to their ancestors.
The days are coming when the remnant of God’s people will be fully restored. They will be removed from all of the evil nations. This has already partially happened with Israel's return to Jerusalem, but there will be a greater fulfillment for all of God’s people when we inherit the entire earth.
Jeremiah is saying that, compared with the Exodus from Egypt, the return from Babylon was even better. But even more wonderful still will be the return home for all those who have salvation in Jesus Christ. Remember, the promise to Abraham was that in him “all the peoples on earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3) and that hasn’t fully happened yet.
So there is a promise to be rescued from the nations but there is also a promise of salvation for the nations.
Jeremiah 16:19 says,
Lord, my strength and my stronghold, my refuge in a time of distress, the nations will come to you from the ends of the earth.
In the future, salvation will come for all nations as they seek after God from all the ends of the earth. And this salvation for all nations will start when they admit their idolatrous past...
Jeremiah 16:19–20 says,
And they will say, “Our ancestors inherited only lies, worthless idols of no benefit at all.” Can one make gods for himself? But they are not gods.
Imagine a time when our leaders, when our entire nation, recognizes that our past has not been filled with greatness but with idolatry. We like to think of ourselves as a great nation and compared to other nations perhaps we are. But other nations aren’t the standard. When God looks at this nation, he sees a lot of idol worshipers even among his own church.
Repentance is needed. Imagine a time when all nations, not just the United States, will confess that we loved our idols more than we have loved our Creator. For this to happen it will take a great miracle, it will take an act of God.
Jeremiah 16:21 says,
“Therefore, I am about to inform them, and this time I will make them know my power and my might; then they will know that my name is the Lord.”
Only God’s power is strong enough to overcome our resistance to repent of our idolatry. Naturally, we are self-worshipers, we are a nation of self-worshipers but God is going to save the nations so that all will know that he is the mighty and powerful Lord.
No More Social Outcasts
For those of us that already know and trust in Jesus as Lord, we are no longer social outcasts. Those that have been saved don’t need to act like Jeremiah, the social outcast.
Instead, Christians are encouraged to get married because marriage points to our greater “marriage” with Christ (Eph 5:32). Getting married, and staying married, is a wonderful thing for Christians to do.
Christians don’t have to get married, of course, because marriage a temporary institution. As it says in Matthew 22:30, there won’t be marriage in heaven. And Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7:32-35, says staying single even has a spiritual advantage for those who are called to serve Christ in unique ways.
Because we’re saved we don’t have to walk around in gloom and doom, fearing the world is coming to an end and that there will never be enough time to live a full and meaningful life. We are free to get married.
We aren’t called to avoid funerals either. We should attend them remembering that a funeral for a Christian is both a time of weeping and rejoicing (Romans 12:15). We weep, as Christ did for Lazarus (John 11:33), but not without hope (1 Thess 4:13). For those who know Christ, a funeral can be a joyful experience.
And we aren’t called to avoid dinner parties. God-honoring parties are a time for celebration. We don’t party the way the world does, but Christians, of all people, ought to be celebrating constantly.
Jeremiah lived as a social outcast because of what his country was experiencing and in many ways, our country is like Jeremiah’s. So, should we be like Jeremiah in this case? No, because we belong to Christ and a better kingdom.
As citizens of heaven, Christians should be continually expressing the joy we have in Christ. Potlucks, birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, et cetera, can and should all be celebrated for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).
But the best celebration of all is when Christians together partake of the Lord’s Supper because it’s a time when we not only celebrate what Christ has done, but also anticipate his return (Rev 19:9).
Next week we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper, but for now, let’s be thankful that we don’t have to live like social outcasts. We belong to Christ and his kingdom, and his kingdom is one of peace and everlasting joy.