God intends everything in the Old Testament to bring us to Christ. Jeremiah is among those Jesus referred to as “the prophets which testify of Him.” As our goal in life is to “come unto Christ and be perfected in him,” Jeremiah provides hope that, despite our failings, we can achieve this goal.
The Sin of Judah Is Written with a Pen of Iron
This lesson is about the heart. Of his own people, Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (17:9). Their hearts are hard, filled with adultery, idol worship, and murder. The Hebrew term for “desperate” in this verse is anash, meaning “incurable.” Their hearts were so hard and unyielding, the prophet writes, that “the sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of diamond: it is graven on the table of their heart” (17:1).
And at this point the wickedness of the people has reached a point of no return. Jeremiah makes it clear: “Behold, ye walk every one after the imagination of his evil heart. . . Therefore will I cast you out of this land” (16:12-13).
The punishment will consist of being sent into a spiritual wasteland. “Cursed is the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord. For he shall be like the heath in the desert . . . [he] shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness” (17:5-6). Israel will be taken captive, deprived of the temple, and dispersed throughout the earth. Spiritual drought leads to spiritual death.
I Will Raise unto David a Righteous Branch
Still, although Jeremiah is usually considered a gloomy prophet, his words are also full of hope for the future of God’s people. A day will come, he says, when their hearts will change and salvation will return to them. The situation will be reversed.
The key turning point will be the Atonement of Christ. Although Israel’s punishment cannot be averted, God’s love for His children cannot be quenched. As one scholar observes, “Jeremiah] lives very close to the hurts and hopes of God’s own heart. It is God’s heart made visible here which gives Israel a new chance in the future” (Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, 283).
Jeremiah’s eye is fixed on the coming of the Messiah as the source of all hope: “The days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (23:6).
Anyone listening to Jeremiah understands by this that a great reversal will take place with the coming of the Messiah. Ironically, in Hebrew the name of their current foolish and wicked king Zedekiah is the opposite of the name of the future King. As a scholar explains, “In this messianic prophecy . . . the name of the future king is to be yahweh zedek, ‘Jehovah is righteousness.’ This is an obvious play on ‘Zedekiah,’ zedek yahweh, which can be translated “righteousness is Jehovah’ . . . . The component parts are switched around. . . the reversal must be deliberate. Jeremiah wants to point out the discontinuity between the present king and the future king. The future king will be what Zedekiah ought to be but is not, viz., a sign of Yahweh’s righteousness. Or the new king will be a complete ‘turn-around’ from the present king” (Lundborn, 46).
I Will Gather the Remnant of My Flock
Jeremiah reveals that the children of Israel will return one day to their true king. The
righteous branch of David, Jesus Christ, will reign rather than the unrighteous branch, Zedekiah. The Lord says, “I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their fold; and they shall be fruitful and increase” (23:3).
The return of Israel will be accompanied by a return of their hearts to God. Instead of the despair and spiritual drought of chapter 17:5-6, new life and fruitfulness will spring from the living water of Christ. “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord. . . . for he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit” (17:7-8).
We learn from this that he great gathering of Israel will bear fruit unceasingly, meaning that the gospel covenants will never again be taken from the earth. The new gathering of Israel will dwarf the original gathering of Israel: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them; and I will bring them again” (16:14-15). The story of the Exodus will pale by comparison to the restoration of the House of Israel at a future date.
How will the Lord bring about this restoration of Israel? “I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks” (16:16). Who are the fishers and hunters? The men and women who are called to be the true messengers of the Lord: apostles, prophets, and missionaries. Jesus explained this prophecy Himself when He called his first messengers: “Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men” (Mark 1:16-17).
Today, the work of the restoration of the House of Israel goes on with great energy. The fishers and hunters, thousands of them, are gathering Israel “from every mountain and from every hill.” The hearts of millions are turning to the Lord. Israel is taking upon itself the “new covenant” Jeremiah promised:
I Will Make a New Covenant with the House of Israel
“Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
. . . But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people” (31:31-33).
How do we get to the point where the law of the Lord is “in our inward parts and written on our hearts?”
We must repent. Jeremiah pleaded, “O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved” (4:14).
Our hearts must be “broken and contrite” and set on Christ rather than on the wickedness of the hopeless (Psalms 51:17).
President George Q. Cannon says that we must thoughtfully and prayerfully turn our hearts over to God: “I should go in a prayerful spirit, asking God to write upon my heart his will; not with my own will already prepared, and determined to carry out my will.” (Cited in Henry B. Eyring, “Write Upon My Heart,” Ensign, Nov. 2000). The dangers we face are not so different from the dangers the ancient Israelites faced. Brueggeman writes, “In Jeremiah’s time the temptation was the gods of Babylon. In our day the comparable temptation may be the gods of militarism, of nationalism . . . of consumerism. In both cases the temptation is to vest one’s life hope in the things we ourselves generate, instead of receiving life as a gift from this One who stands beyond us and for us” (Brueggeman,102).
Elder D. Todd Christofferson also teaches that this change of heart is up to us: “The gospel cannot be written in your heart unless your heart is open. . . . As a first step, you must lay aside any feeling of pride that is so common in the world today. By this I mean the attitude that rejects the authority of God to rule in our lives. . . . Further, for the gospel to be written in your heart, you need to know what it is and grow to understand it more fully. That means you will study it. . . . You must not only open your heart to a knowledge of the gospel and the love of God, you must practice the gospel law. You cannot fully understand or appreciate it unless you personally apply it in your life.” (D. Todd Christofferson, “When Thou Art Converted,” Ensign, May 2004.)
Thy Children Shall Come Again
What of those who fail to make this choice? What about those “children of Israel” who stumble and refuse the merciful gifts of the Atonement of Christ? No one mourns for these children more than the mothers of Israel, as Jeremiah says: “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not” (31:15). Brueggeman writes, “Rachel is disconsolate for all the lost children of Israel, including the current generation of exiles. The weeping of the uncomforted mother easily traverses the generations, for all the lost ones are the same to this mother, regardless of their generation” (Brueggeman, 102).
The great reuniting of Israel depends on our faithfulness, but ultimately it is our Heavenly Father’s work. The Great Shepherd knows how to gather His sheep. There is great comfort in Jeremiah’s word to the faithful mothers and fathers in Israel: “Thus saith the Lord; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. And there is hope in thine end, saith the Lord, that thy children shall come again to their own border” (31:16-17).
We also have latter-day revelation on this point, as Elder Orson F. Whitney taught:
“The Prophet Joseph Smith declared—and he never taught a more comforting doctrine—that the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service in the Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain. Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God” (Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report, Apr. 1929, 110).
In the end, salvation happens when our own hearts reflect God’s heart. “I will be the God of all the families of Israel,” He promises Jeremiah,” and they shall be my people. I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindiness have I drawn thee” (31:1-3). I pray we may all grow soft in our hearts and in our love for Heavenly Father.