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God’s Word for You

Jeremiah 9:17-21

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, September 18, 2014

The People Mourn
17 This is what the LORD of Armies says:
Consider, and call for the wailing women.
  Send for those who are the most skilled.
18 They should hurry and sob over us.
     Our eyes will run with tears,
     our eyelids will stream with water.
19 The sound of sobbing is heard from Zion.
     “We’re ruined!
     We’re so ashamed!
We must leave our land
   because they have torn down our dwellings.”

Women were employed as professional mourners in Israel (this practice continues even today in some parts of the Middle East). They would accompany the funeral procession, shrieking and wailing and generally drawing attention to the body being buried. Jeremiah doesn’t condemn the practice. On the contrary, he tells them to “hurry and sob over us.” The whole nation will need their service, because the whole nation will be destroyed. And if someone is going to mourn, they’d better start soon, because the destruction that’s coming will be that quick.

20 Listen to the word of the LORD, you women.
      Pay attention to the word of his mouth.
Teach your daughters how to sob.
  Each of you, teach her neighbor a lament.
21 Death has climbed in through a window
      and entered our palaces.
It has taken the children from the streets
  and the young men from the marketplaces.

Some people have speculated that Jeremiah might be relating a Canaanite myth in this passage. In order to become king of the gods, Baal had to win a battle with the god Yamm (the Sea). After the battle, the victorious Baal decided to build a fabulous palace for himself. The building was to be vast, with incredible luxury (the details are not important to the comparison, but they go on and on). The builder or architect wanted to add one detail: a window. Baal resisted, but the builder wore him down with the request and finally Baal agreed. But that was Baal’s mistake. Through the window came the god Mot (Death).

It’s more likely that here in the ninth chapter Jeremiah is referring to the final plague on the Egyptians. On the night of the Passover, the angel of death entered into every single Egyptian home. “At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well” (Exodus 12:29). That night, Egypt learned how to weep.

Whether Jeremiah was trying to draw a comparison with the tenth plague or some Canaanite myth, the image of death coming in through a window is terrifying. There is no place where death cannot go—palaces, prisons, streets, marketplaces; even into our homes. Just as Egypt wept, Judah would weep, because the day was coming when death would ravage Jerusalem and the surrounding towns and villages.

Most people who heard these prophecies from Jeremiah did not listen very carefully. He was ignored or jeered throughout his ministry. His true listeners are people like us who have come along later and read the word of God that Jeremiah proclaimed. We know what happened to Judah. We know that the people he warned suffered everything that he warned about. We know that his warnings are still in place today, because sin still infects mankind to the core. But we know something else. “Our God is a God who saves,” David said. “From the Sovereign LORD comes escape from death” (Psalm 68:20). Jesus our Savior “daily bears our burdens” (Psalm 68:19). Think about that: Jesus bore all of our guilt on the cross, and he still bears our burdens today. Our sin is paid for. Don’t forget that Jesus still bears your grief with you: your pain, your struggles, your loneliness, your ruined relationships, your agony over someone in your life—all your troubles, even the ones that come in through the window. He knows them, and he helps you bear them. He’s got you in his loving arms, and he won’t let go.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.