The Lord reminds Judah why they are in this mess. He commands Jeremiah to give them this message:
3 Tell them that this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Cursed is the man who does not obey the terms of this covenant— 4 the terms I commanded your forefathers when I brought them out of Egypt, out of the iron-smelting furnace.’ I said, ‘Obey me and do everything I command you, and you will be my people, and I will be your God. 5 Then I will fulfill the oath I swore to your ancestors, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey’—the land you possess today.”
From pretty much the moment this covenant of works was agreed to by the people, saying they would do all the Lord commanded, they didn’t. The whole point of the story of Israel, God’s chosen people, is not that so much that they didn’t, but that they can’t! They just couldn’t pull it off, nor can we. Jeremiah tells us yet again they the people of Judah run after other gods, as do we. For them Baal was as bad as it gets, but any god that is not the Lord God, is a recipe for destruction. As he says to them in v. 17, he “has decreed disaster” for them. Which is what we get, in this life and ultimately in the next, when we follow other gods.
We read yet another in the many fascinating takes on human nature we see throughout the Bible. The people turn to the very gods to save them who the Lord has promised will bring them disaster:
12 The towns of Judah and the people of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they burn incense, but they will not help them at all when disaster strikes.
People put their hope in anything but the true Lord and giver of life. Of course we know why. We are born rebels, enemies of the God who created us and demands our fealty. Any attempt we make to earn his favor fails before it even gets started. We are condemned prisoners waiting for the gallows we hear dispatching criminals outside our prison windows.
But we know the end of the story, and the Lord himself provided the remedy. A man who stood in our place, fulfilled all the demands of the covenant we could never keep, and took the punishment for us not keeping it! By a simple act of faith we are granted God’s very own righteousness, one secured for us by the perfect obedience of Jesus of Nazareth. Of course poor Jeremiah couldn’t know this at the time, and he is the unfortunately bearer of bad news for a people that don’t want to hear it.
The last verses of the chapter reveal a plot against Jeremiah by “the men of Anathoth” to take his life. This is the thanks he gets for obediently conveying to them the Word of the Lord. But the Lord showed Jeremiah what they were planning on doing, and the plotters will be the ones who will lose their lives, not Jeremiah. When God wants his word proclaimed, nothing will stop it.