Death, disaster, and an end to every joyous occasion are to be expected when Yahweh withdraws his grace from his people (16:1-13). Even Jeremiah cannot enjoy a normal family life. He cannot extend to his people any feelings that Yahweh does not have for them. Yahweh no longer looks at his people with favor, for they possess an evil heart, which was also found in their fathers. Sin, which corrupted the previous generation, is found in the present generation with a greater degree of perversity.
Judgment is not Yahweh's last word. His people hear the word of hope even in the midst of judgment (16:14-15). Yahweh's love compels him to restore the nation from the land of their exile. This promise of a new exodus experience (see 23:7-8; 31:8-9) clearly attests to the infinite grace of God available even to the most defiant sinner.
God's judgment upon sinners is a present reality (16:16-18). No sin or sinner is hidden from the scrutiny of God. Neither height nor depth can provide a sinner an escape from the wrath of God (see 4:27-29).
A universal eschatology of salvation is expressed in 16:19-21. Gentiles will abandon their idolatry and acknowledge Yahweh as the true God. V. 19 may be viewed as a “prediction of the calling of the Gentiles by the Gospel of Christ” (Clarke, 300). What prompts Jeremiah to express this confidence is his own experience of Yahweh as the source of his strength and hope (v. 19 reflects a faith found in several psalms). Yahweh himself, through his power and might, will teach the Gentiles to acknowledge his lordship over them.
Judah's present existence as God's people is not governed by Yahweh's will revealed to them (on the tablets of stone), rather by the will of their own heart, which is deeply corrupted by the power of sin (17:1-4). Their pagan religious practices, known even to their children, attest to this moral depravity. Judah must pay the price for their sin. The wages of sin is destruction and deportation.
Jeremiah reiterates the wiseman's emphasis on the two ways of life (17:5-8; see Ps 1). The way of the wicked is cursed and hopeless because he relies on his own resources. The way of the righteous is blessed and prosperous because he trusts in Yahweh's resources for his life.
Jeremiah's understanding of the individual (17:9-11) is important to Wesleyan theology. The primary emphasis of this text is on the total corruption of humankind. The heart and kidneys (mind, niv) represent the center of human thoughts, emotions, will, and actions. Deceitfulness ('aqōḇ or “Jacob”; see also 9:4) is the characteristic of human beings. Wesley comments: “There is nothing so false and deceitful as the heart of man; deceitful in its apprehensions of things, in the hopes and promises which it nourishes, in the assurances that it gives us . . .” (p. 2173). The constant yearning of the heart is to “gratify its propensities to pride, ambition, evil desire, and corruption of all kinds” (Clarke, 302). NIV beyond cure also refers to the feebleness of the heart. It is so corrupt that even its owner does not comprehend it (Wesley, Clarke). This “worst enemy of the fallen creature” (Clarke), though concealed from others, cannot escape the scrutiny of Yahweh. Though the wicked may seem to prosper for the moment, ultimately the righteous judgment of Yahweh would bring them to their destruction.
Yahweh is the eternal hope for all those who seek his presence (17:12-13). The destiny of those who reject him, who is the true and everlasting source of human existence (the spring of living water, see also 2:13) is already determined.
Jeremiah's lament (17:14-18) is similar to the individual laments of the oppressed in the Psalms. Yahweh is the Healer, the Savior, and the object of Jeremiah's praise. Jeremiah's opponents demand an immediate fulfillment of Yahweh's word. He is convinced of his own faithfulness as shepherd over the flock of Yahweh. The rest is with Yahweh who will vindicate his faithful servant and bring judgment against his enemies.
The primary emphasis of 17:19-27 is on the conditional nature of divine judgment. Judah is offered an opportunity to repent and to make a concerted effort to obey the covenant requirements. Continuation of their existence is promised as a reward for obedience. The consequence of disobedience is also repeated. The life or death choice is thus given to the nation. The fourth commandment is singled out here because this commandment, above all others, calls for a collective and visible expression of obedience by the nation as a whole.