When reading through the seventeenth chapter of Jeremiah you can feel like you’ve unknowingly started to read the opening chapter of the psalter. There we also read of the blessed man whose leaf will be green because it does not wither. God apparently did not relegate that imagery to one book of the Bible; rather, He developed it further, as we see here in Jeremiah. by contrasting the blessed man with the cursed man.
The contrasts in themselves are striking: the cursed man trusts in man (Jer. 17:5a); the blessed man trusts in the LORD (vs.7a). The cursed man makes flesh his strength (vs.5a); the blessed man makes the LORD His hope (vs.7b). The cursed man shall be like a shrub in the desert (vs.6a); the blessed man shall be like a tree planted by the waters (vs.8a). The cursed man shall not see when good comes (vs.6b); the blessed man shall not fear when heat (i.e. trouble) comes (vs.8b). The cursed man shall inhabit parched places (vs.6c); the blessed man will not cease from yielding fruit (vs.8c).
Jeremiah briefly outlined two contrasting destinies that are derivatives of two contrasting trusts. The first is the foolish trust of the cursed man. As it is written:
Thus says the LORD:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the LORD. (vs.5)
This verse is not an apologetic for the cynic to use as a proof text as to why they never believe anything anyone one says. The kind of trust spoken about here is the trust that is placed in a man when it ought to be in God. This was the sin that Ahaz committed when he looked to the Assyrians for deliverance from both Syria and Israel (2 Ki 16:1-9; cf. Isa.7). It was the sin of both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah when each trusted in Egypt for deliverance from the Assyrians (2 Ki. 17:1-7; 18:19-21; Isa. 30:1-7). And likewise, in days of Jeremiah, the LORD warned the people of Judah of the results of such foolish trust (Jer. 2:36b). So contextually, this description should have had Judah tearing up its ‘In Egypt we trust’ banners.
But misdirected trust can also be applied to well-respected places, not just ‘enemy nations.’ John the Baptist told the Pharisees and Sadducees not to put their trust in their father Abraham (Mt. 3:9). Similarly, Jesus told the Jews who sought to kill Him: “Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust” (Jn. 5:45). Even though Abraham exhibited and modeled saving faith, he was powerless to communicate such faith to his posterity; and even though the Law came though Moses, grace and truth (and salvation) would come through Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:17), not Moses. They were great models of faith, but they were never meant to be objects of trust.
Therefore, every man and woman ought to say like the apostle Paul wrote: “For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3 emphasis added). To trust in one’s own work for salvation is to trust the arm of the flesh in the worst possible way. Such a man is cursed not only because he trusts in man (Jer. 17:5a), in that case – himself, but because the man that he is trusting in has not kept the Law of God perfectly and is under the curse of God’s judgment (Gal. 3:10; Deut. 27:26). Such misdirected trusting exemplifies – a heart that departs from the LORD (Jer. 17:5b).
Jeremiah described such a man, with such a heart, via the following imagery:
For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited. (vs.6)
It’s not a pleasant picture. It certainly isn’t one that a travel agency would use to entice would-be vacationers. It’s a picture of a tree, likely a juniper tree (cf. Jer. 48:6), that is at its ‘wit’s end.’ The imagery is one of barrenness and desolation, of worthlessness and uselessness. In the most ultimate sense, such is the end of the one who trusts in man. He looks for good to come but will not see it because his eyes were fixed on the wrong hope.
It’s quite the opposite with the man who trusts in the LORD (vs.7b), the man whose hope is in the LORD (vs.7c). He is “blessed” (vs.7a). His eyes are in the right place. His reliance is not on the arm of flesh but on the everlasting arms of divine omnipotentence. Jeremiah was such a man. And he was indeed blessed. Listen to the metaphor that follows:
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit. (vs.8)
Trees planted by rivers do well. Their soil is fertile; their roots are well supplied with water; and they bear much fruit. Such a tree does not have to ‘worry’ when the heat arises or the drought comes. It is secure because it has a water source that is independent from the weather. Such is the picture; and so it is with the blessed man. He is graciously planted into a relationship with the Almighty. And whether he endures seasons of much or little, rain or drought, peace or calamity, deliverance from the Assyrians or conquering by the Babylonians, the fountain of living water continually nourishes him. He will not wither nor will he be fearful; he will be spiritually prosperous and fruitful. Wow.
This passage ought to spur at least two emotions: one, the utter dread of having saving trust placed in any man except the God-man, Jesus Christ. The imagery, though striking, could be much more striking still. Reading the words of the God-man in the Gospels as He described the horrors of the coming judgment serve as a reminder that as bad as parched land is, it’s an arrow to an eternity that’s much worse.
And secondly, after contemplating the weightiness of the first image, we ought to be amazed by the second. Could such a glorious identification and such a powerful depiction really be the result of a proper trust and a proper hope in the LORD and His Son whom He sent (cf. Jn. 17:3)? Yes. That’s part of the reason why it’s good news. The table has been set; the battle has been won; God has demonstrated His great love for sinners by putting to death the ultimate blessed man, the Lord Jesus Christ; therefore, if you haven’t already, repent of your sin and trust in the person and work of Christ for forgiveness, and be a blessed man or woman forever.