Sunday School Lesson #42

Lesson 42: Jeremiah 16, 23, 29, 31

As you read Jeremiah, you should practice asking yourself how those to whom Jeremiah was speaking would have understood his prophecies, how those in the Book of Mormon (who had a record of part of his prophecies with them) would have understood them, how the members of the Church in New Testament times would have understood them, how we can understand them today, and how they may teach us of things yet to come. Looking at each prophecy from these perspectives will often help us see many things we otherwise would have overlooked.

As you read, also think about Jeremiah’s situation. We know that he was reluctant to serve as a prophet. (See Jeremiah 1:6-8 and 17.) He probably knew Lehi, and it isn’t difficult to imagine him wondering “Why me? I’ve been called to remain unmarried and without children, and to be persecuted for prophesying, whereas Lehi has been called to prophecy and then, after relatively brief persecution, to take his family with him to a promised land. That doesn’t seem fair.” Whether Jeremiah wondered something like that or not, what was his response to his call? See Jeremiah 1:18: “I have made thee a defenced city, an iron pillar, and brasen walls [i.e., walls of brass] against the whole land.” What does this image suggest about what Jeremiah can expect his relation with Judah to be like? What particulars of Jeremiah’s biography bear out this image? (Read about Jeremiah in your Bible Dictionary.) How does the Lord strengthen him for his task?

Because of Jeremiah’s personal sufferings and because of the horrific nature of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem and her defeat, we often focus on the woes that he pronounces. In fact his name has become a word we use for any lamenting and denunciatory complaint: a jeremiad. But if we are to understand Jeremiah’s prophetic message, it is crucial to remember that he does not only prophecy woe; he also prophecies restoration. Of course, the story of woe and restoration is the story that the scriptures tell over and over again, in a very real sense the only story they tell: though Israel was blessed and in covenant with God, it gave up its blessing and renounced its covenant, falling into sin and error; because of that, woe will come; nevertheless, there will be a restoration of the blessings and the covenant—Israel will return to her former state of grace.

Chapter 16

Verses 1-4: The family lives of other prophets have also been used symbolically (Hosea 1-3, Isaiah 7-8, Ezekiel 24:15-27). What did failure to have children mean in ancient Israel? Does the Lord’s use of the prophets in this way teach us anything about how he teaches? Not marrying was so unusual in Israel that ancient Hebrew had no word for bachelor. Why, specifically, does the Lord command Jeremiah not to marry?

Verses 5-7: Why shouldn’t Jeremiah mourn for Judah or join in their mourning?

Verses 8-9: Why shouldn’t he join in their rejoicing at the wedding feasts?

Verse 10: How will the people of Judah respond to these signs and prophecies?

Verses 11-13: What does it mean to forsake the Lord? Does that add to the meaning of these verses? Why is exile thought by the Jews to be a harsh punishment? My family is originally from Missouri and we have been “exiled” in Utah, but we don’t mind that and have no plans to return. Why was the threat of exile in Babylon a serious threat? To Judah and Israel, what does the promise of a homeland signify? What meaning does that have for us? In other words, how can we understand the homeland literally? How symbolically?

Verses 14-15: Before this, what has been the sign that the Lord watches over Israel? Now what will be the sign? Does this sign describe the events at any other time periods than the return from Babylon? For example, does it describe events at the time of Christ? At the time of the latter-day Restoration? Is there any sense in which might we say that we have been brought back into the land that the Lord gave to our fathers?

Verses 16-18: What did the image of fishers and hunters mean to Judah at the time of Jeremiah? Who are being hunted and fished? Who will do that hunting and fishing? Does this image have meaning for us today? Notice the order of ideas in these verses: “I will hunt them out because they cannot hide from me and because I know their iniquity.” What point is the Lord making? How does that point help us understand the fishing and hunting of verse 16? Why do you think that the sin the Lord singles out for mention in these verses is the profanation of the temple with sacrifices to other gods? How is that sin related to the sin of forsaking the Lord (verse 11), and how are the profanation of the temple and forsaking the Lord related to the sins of injustice among neighbors and the oppression of the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, as well as to idolatry (Jeremiah 7:5-7)?

Verses 19-21: What promise does the Lord make in these verses? To whom is the promise made? How is that promise relevant to what was prophesied in verses 16-19? How does the promise of these verses relate to us in the latter-days?

Chapter 23

Verses 1-9: What is the job of a shepherd? What do these shepherds do? These shepherds were probably the kings of Judah. What were they doing to scatter their people? Who are our shepherds? What might one of them do to scatter the flock? What promise for the future is held out for God’s people? Who will eventually bring them back to their own homes? Who is the “righteous Branch”? Why describe him that way? What does Jeremiah mean when he talks of the return of judgment and justice? How are the two related? In what way is the gathering of Israel in the last days akin to the deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt? How different?

Verses 9-40: In reading these verses, remember that Jerusalem was full of self-appointed prophets who opposed Jeremiah. How are Jeremiah’s times like Christ’s in this respect? Are there false prophets today? Where do we find them? Who would be equivalent to the false prophets and priests in the time of the Savior? How do Jeremiah and the Lord describe these prophets and priests? Why the reference to Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdoms? In what way is the reference to Sodom and Gomorrah applicable? Why would their message of peace be confusing to people such as Laman and Lemuel?

Chapter 29

Verses 1-3: Jeremiah writes a letter to the Jews in Babylon, those deported in 597 B.C. (The final deportation will occur in 586.) Why are they described as “the residue”? In other words, why would those who have been deported be the residue rather than those who remained behind?

Verses 4-7: What is the substance of Jeremiah’s letter? Why did the Lord give this commandment rather than a commandment to rebel and escape? How does Jeremiah’s instruction compare to the twefth Article of Faith? Are there any important differences?

Verses 10-14: Note that “seventy years” probably means “a long, indefinite time.” What does the Lord promise them at the end of that time? (In verse 11, “expected end” is probably better translated “hopeful future.”) On what condition will the promise be fulfilled? What does it mean to seek the Lord with all one’s heart? What indication do we have in these verses that this promise refers to more than just a return from Babylon?

Verses 8-9, 15-32: Note that the false prophets had also arisen in Babylon. What does the Lord decree for them? Note the reference to their being burned in a fiery furnace. What had they been doing wrong in Babylon? Notice that some the false prophets such as Shemaiah vilify Jeremiah even after they have been taken captive into Babylon. Why might they do so?

Chapter 31

This chapter consists of an introduction, verse 1, and four poems: verses 2-6, 7-14, 15-22, and 23-40.

Verse 1: Of what time is the Lord speaking here? Is it significant that he speaks of being the God of all the families of Israel rather than all the individuals of Israel? If so, how?

Verses 2-6: What does the Lord promise for the future of Israel? Of what is the wilderness or desert a symbol in verse 2? What does he mean by the term “everlasting love” (verse 3)? In what sense is his love everlasting? Why is it everlasting? In what has the Lord shown his love for Israel? Usually watchmen keep intruders and thieves out. What do these watchmen do (verse 6)?

Verses 7-14: In Israel’s history, where have we previously seen this event? When will those taken into Babylon see it? What does it mean to us? In verse 8, why does the Lord emphasize the return of those who are physically disadvantaged? How will this journey in the wilderness differ from the earlier one (verse 9)? Why are the islands of the sea and distant nations called as witnesses (verse 10)? Compare and contrast the scene of this poem to that of Jeremiah 6:26, and 16:1-9. What do you learn?

Verses 15-22: Ramah (verse 15) was the home of Samuel and near the burial place of Rachel. (Compare Genesis 35:18-19.) Jeremiah 40:1 tells us that Ramah was a stopping off place for those on their way from Jerusalem to exile in Babylon. How is it relevant to this poetic prophecy? How did Matthew use this verse from Jeremiah (Matthew 2:18)? Compare verse 18 to Hosea 4:16 and 10:11. What does that comparison reveal? What does Jeremiah mean by comparing Ephraim to a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke (verse 18)? Keep in mind that the bull (or calf) is sometimes used as the symbol of Ephraim—for example, in the construction of the golden calf by the northern tribes after their break from Jerusalem. What is the yoke in the analogy? How does the Lord feel about the tribe of Ephraim? Is this one of the reasons that only Joseph and his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh will be given a home in the New Jerusalem, while all the other tribes will be headquartered in Jerusalem? In verse 22, perhaps the word “compass” should, instead, be translated “protect.”

Verses 23-40: What blessing does verses 23-25 describe? Recall that Jeremiah’s call (Jeremiah 1:19) was two-fold: to pull down and to build. Where have you seen him doing this? What does Jeremiah mean when he says “the fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (verse 29)? How are the sins of the fathers visited upon the children? Why does the Lord change this (verse 30)? What does the Lord mean by a new covenant (verse 31—note that the covenant will be made with both north and south, in other words, all of the house of Israel)? FYI: to make a covenant in the Old Testament is literally to cut a covenant. Why? How might that be relevant? How is this covenant different from the first covenant? What does he mean when he says that the covenant will be a “law in their inward parts” and “in their hearts” (verse 31)? What will happen to proselytizing in that day (verse 34)? Why? What might he mean by the term “know” (verse 34) in this context? Does it mean simply an awareness of? This is the same word used in Genesis 4:1. Does that suggest anything about what it means to know the Lord? (Compare Hosea 8:1-2.) How is the event described in verse 34 related to the prophecy of verse 33? The word “ordinances” could also be translated “order” (verse 35). What does verses 35-36 mean? How is what it means relevant to what the Lord has been saying previously in this poem? What is the point of verse 37? Verses 38-40 are an apocalyptic vision of the sanctification of Jerusalem. The places mentioned seem to be ones surrounding Jerusalem, recited in a clockwise direction if we are looking at a map. However, not all of them are identifiable.

5 comments for “Sunday School Lesson #42

  1. Sheldon
    November 12, 2006 at 12:54 pm

    posted in the nick of time…

  2. November 12, 2006 at 11:56 pm

    Glad to hear that it was in the nick of time and not too late. My apologies for getting behind.

  3. Mike
    November 13, 2006 at 1:37 pm

    Not behind for my ward.

    Jer. 23 has always scared me, especially when I held positions of responsibility. In my mind, when I liken it to modern times, this passage sounds like it is describing a bottom-half ward’s efforts. I shutter when I recall some of the things I have done. Without getting too personal and antedotal, sometimes we can really botch things up.

    One cynical friend claimed enlightenment, after reading this chapter. The purpose of ward Priesthood leadership was to scatter sheep so that the Lord could gather them. Another boring poorly prepared lesson? Just a little sheep scattering. A guilt-laden PPI with a guy who doesn’t home teach and promises he will and then doesn’t? More sheep scattering. Fourteen testimonies in Fast Meeting, many embarassing to non-LDS friends and scarcely a mention of Christ? Even more sheep scattering. Tell that 14 year old deacon who hasn’t been to church in 2 months that his blue shirt prevents him from passing the sacrament and you don’t see him again for another 6 months? More vigorous sheep scattering.

    Verse 4 rings home. To describe my ward as “lacking” is unkind but painfully accurate. That I am “dismayed” and filled with “fear” is correct. Spiritually hungry for authentic religious community, yes. I look forward to the Lord setting up shepards who gather not scatter (and we have a new Bishop and I am hopefully for some improvement.) What is ironic is that as lay leaders we become both the scatterers and the scattered.

    Later in the chapter it flips over to prophets, with a small p. These prophets are not called false prophets, but their outrageous acts condemn them. How far up the chain of command are we to look for sheep scattering? I confess, the reason I am bringing it up here is that I really want to ask that question in class but I am too gutless. I bet we will just skip right over the last half of Jer 23. How many people have said that the prophets would never lead us astray? Usually while defending some practice that common sense would lead one to conclude is useless (or worse). We even have a slang term around here for this kind of thinking- “laying it on the prophet”. In Jer. the prophets are described as committing extreme wickedness in multiple ways, right in the scriptures. Next time I hear someone “laying it on the prophet,” I am going to just read to them some of these verses, out of context. That will shut them up. (More sheep scattering).

    The chapter ends with what sounds to me like a resounding rejection, a jeremiad. To hell with the wicked. The next chapter doesn’t help me much either. Here we are introduced to two baskets of figs set before the temple, one tasty and one rotten. (This is after the king and the “carpenters and smiths” are carried away, but years before Zedekiah; which brings up some interesting questions about the Book of Mormon story.) And the Lord promises that he will save the good basket of figs. Small comfort to the good people who already were tortured and killed by the Babylonians, or the children who were later to be butchered and eaten by their own mothers . Maybe in the next life it will all be made up to them.

    But I don’t like this explanation either. It is like this story I read somewhere else, about a missionary who ends up in a septic tank and almost drowns in the filth. He is so upset that he wants to go home. He gets a blessing from his ZL that his calling and election could be made sure because of his willingnes to serve the Lord and endure such a hardship cheerfully. Then another missionary feels bad that he didn’t go swiming in the sewer, it would be so much easier than two long years of tracting. The rest want to throw him in the sewer. I don’t want to be rewarded because bad things happened to me. I want to first not have bad things happen or second have the strength to overcome them.

    The trouble with the rotten figs is that rottenness is contageous. If the figs around you are rotten, it spreads. How does a good fig not go rotten if it ends up in a basket of rotten figs? And what if I am not a very good fig? I am dismayed by the loss of human potential. A drunken bum stumbles down the street and falls in the gutter. He might have been a brain surgeon under different circumstances. A brain surgeon treats his patients with arrogance and is greedy. He was in a position to be one of the most noble of Christians, helping people through the greatest difficulties they will likely ever face.

    What about the rotten fig who looks around the basket and says, “You know what guys? It stinks in here.” And they all reply “Does not.” Or “It’s you who stinks, not the rest of us.” So if your church experience isn’t uplifting the Protestants say- go find another church. But we say- stay (and shut up) and maybe we will let you try to help fix it. (90% in my ward have gone away). Or we say- fix yourself and the rottenness around you will become invisible because it really isn’t there.

    But it is.

  4. Sheldon
    November 13, 2006 at 5:35 pm


  5. Y Stephenson
    November 18, 2006 at 6:25 pm

    Ahead of my ward. Last week the question, \”How do we know Jermeiah never married was asked?\” The answer was chapter 16 tells us so. But, upon a re-reading of chapter 16 and some sober reflection it is clear chapter 16 does not tell us so. We conclude that to be the case because Jermeiah was dedicated to doing the Lord\’s will even when he would rather not.

    It hasn\’t been many years since some people used the possibility of nuclear war, over population leading to mass starvation and the generally decadent nature of the world as a rational for not bringing children into a world where they could know little but suffereing. This rational would seem to be supported by Jeremiah chapter 16.

    But, what if the command not to marry is only a teaching device, a bit of irony, if you will? What if Jeremiah had a family and we just aren\’t told about them? Is this really anymore speculative than the assumption that he did not marry and was a deeply lonely man. If in fact it is spoken ironically then it changes everything and there is no real rational left for those who see our wold as too decayed to be livable. For when we turn to our creator there is peace to be found within our own hearts and souls regardless of where we live or how difficult our circumstances might be. Perhaps this is the most important message to bring away from the gloom and doom followed by the words of promise and peace in the Jeremiah.


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