Jeremiah 11 consists of God’s message to Jeremiah concerning the broken covenant with Judah and the coming judgment as a result of their idolatry and sin. The chapter can be divided into three main sections:
- God’s reminder of the terms of the covenant (11:1-13)
- Judah’s breaking of the covenant (11:14-17)
- Judgment pronounced on Judah for violating the covenant (11:18-23)
A key theme of this chapter is that God will bring disaster on Judah because they violated the Mosaic Covenant despite originally agreeing to keep it. God had promised blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience, and now the time had come for the curses to be enacted because of Judah’s idolatry.
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Key Takeaways from Jeremiah 11
- God graciously initiated a covenant with Israel to be their God (vs. 1-5)
- Israel broke the covenant through idol worship (vs. 9-13)
- God will bring disaster on Jerusalem for breaking the covenant (vs. 11-17, 22-23)
- Jeremiah’s life is threatened for prophesying judgment (vs. 18-21)
- Only a remnant will be preserved through the coming judgment (vs. 23)
This verse-by-verse commentary on Jeremiah 11 will explore the background of the covenant, Judah’s violation of it, and the specific judgments God decreed upon them as a result. It provides a sobering warning against covenant unfaithfulness and reveals the seriousness of idolatry in God’s eyes.
Commentary on Jeremiah 11
God’s Covenant with Israel (11:1-13)
Jeremiah 11 opens with God commanding the prophet to remind the people of Judah about the covenant He made with their ancestors after delivering them from Egypt:
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, 2 “Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem; 3 and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel: “Cursed is the man who does not obey the words of this covenant 4 which I commanded your fathers in the day I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and do according to all that I command you; so shall you be My people, and I will be your God,’ 5 that I may establish the oath which I have sworn to your fathers, to give them ‘a land flowing with milk and honey,’ as it is this day.”’” (11:1-5 NKJV)
This covenant was conditional. God promised to bless Israel and be their God if they obeyed him, but curse them if they disobeyed. Verse 3 refers to the curses for disobedience listed in Deuteronomy 28.
In verses 6-8, Jeremiah is to proclaim this message in the cities of Judah. He obeys and does so with the priestly assistance of his friend Baruch. The people are called to “Amen!” this covenant, agreeing to live within its stipulations.
However, verses 9-13 contain God’s indictment that the people have already broken the covenant through idol worship:
And the Lord said to me, “A conspiracy has been found among the men of Judah and among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 10 They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers who refused to hear My words, and they have gone after other gods to serve them; the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken My covenant which I made with their fathers.”
11 Therefore thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will surely bring calamity on them which they will not be able to escape; and though they cry out to Me, I will not listen to them. 12 Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they offer incense, but they will not save them at all in the time of their trouble. 13 For according to the number of your cities were your gods, O Judah; and according to the number of the streets of Jerusalem you have set up altars to that shameful thing, altars to burn incense to Baal.” (11:9-13 NKJV)
The people were already worshiping foreign gods despite agreeing just recently to the terms of the covenant. Their idolatry constituted a “conspiracy” or betrayal against God. Thus, disaster is coming soon as the covenant curses against them are unleashed and their false gods will prove unable to deliver them.
Judah’s Violation of the Covenant (11:14-17)
Verses 14-17 contain God’s specific instructions to Jeremiah not to pray for the people’s deliverance from judgment. Their violation of the covenant has made judgment inescapable:
Therefore do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them; for I will not hear them in the time that they cry out to Me because of their trouble. 15 “What has My beloved to do in My house, Having done lewd deeds with many? And the holy flesh has passed from you. When you do evil, then you rejoice. 16 The Lord called your name, Green Olive Tree, Lovely and of Good Fruit. With the noise of a great tumult He has kindled fire on it, And its branches are broken.
17 “For the Lord of hosts, who planted you, has pronounced doom against you for the evil of the house of Israel and of the house of Judah, which they have done against themselves to provoke Me to anger in offering incense to Baal.” (11:14-17 NKJV)
Verse 15 refers to Judah’s “lewd deeds” of idolatry inside the Temple itself. Their evil and lack of fruitfulness (v. 16) has resulted in God kindling the fire of judgment – depicted as breaking and burning the branches of a tree.
Because of their sins, especially of offering sacrifices to the false god Baal, God pronounces their judgment is sealed. Jeremiah is not to intercede on their behalf.
Judgment Decreed on Judah (11:18-23)
The final verses of chapter 11 describe the specific judgments coming against Judah for breaking God’s covenant:
Now the Lord gave me knowledge of it, and I know it; for You showed me their doings. 19 But I was like a docile lamb brought to the slaughter; and I did not know that they had devised schemes against me, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name may be remembered no more.”
20 But, O Lord of hosts, You who judge righteously, Testing the mind and the heart, Let me see Your vengeance on them, For to You I have revealed my cause.
21 “Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the men of Anathoth who seek your life, saying, ‘Do not prophesy in the name of the Lord, lest you die by our hand’— 22 therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Behold, I will punish them. The young men shall die by the sword, their sons and their daughters shall die by famine; 23 and there shall be no remnant of them, for I will bring catastrophe on the men of Anathoth, even the year of their punishment.’” (11:18-23)
Enemies are plotting against Jeremiah’s life (v. 19) for prophesying this coming judgment, including men from his own hometown of Anathoth. But God will protect Jeremiah and punish these men by sword and famine (v. 22). Verse 23 reveals that only a small “remnant” of Judeans will survive the coming disaster. Most will perish as punishment for violating God’s covenant despite agreeing to obey it.
Jeremiah 11 highlights the seriousness of violating God’s covenant. The people of Judah originally agreed to the conditional Mosaic covenant with its blessings and curses. Yet their rampant idolatry constituted a breaking of this covenant, so now God is bringing the promised curses against them – disaster, famine, sword, and exile.
This reveals God’s justice and commitment to punish sin, while also displaying His mercy in preserving a remnant. Jeremiah 11 serves as a sober warning to all God’s people about the danger of covenant unfaithfulness, compromise, and idolatry. Yet even in judgment, hope remains for restoration after exile due to God’s faithfulness.