The Old Testament lesson for this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. The text is Jeremiah 17:5-8 and is a portion of a three-part section dealing with matters of the heart. Christopher J.H. Wright calls them, “Dialogues of the Heart,” and distinguishes them as follows: 17:1-4 “The Hard Heart”; 17:5-8 “The Trusting Heart”; and 17:9-13 “The Tested Heart” (The Message of Jeremiah, IVP, 2014).

Our section on the “trusting heart” is often misunderstood as the difference between those who are believers and people who are not. This is misleading because the text clearly tells us it is addressing the trusting/believing heart. The question the pericope begs us to contemplate is not whether the heart trusts or believes, but rather, what does the heart trust and believe in. “We are all ‘persons of faith,’ the only difference lies in the object of our trust” (Wright, p. 198). The cursed man’s heart has turned away from the LORD and places its trust in itself, flesh and blood, the things of man, etc. The blessed man’s heart trusts in the LORD. This provides a concise, simple sermon outline especially as we are told the roots of the faithful go down into the living water (stream) which is the Word of the LORD (Psalm 1).

Obviously, the result of trusting in man or the things of man is death and the result of trusting in the LORD is life. The language of desert, wilderness, wasteland, salt-land, drought, etc. all remind us how in the Old Testament the wilderness is seen as the dwelling place of evil. The sin-bearer goat is led out to the wilderness, to Azazel, to return the sin of the people to the evil one. In the Psalms and elsewhere we see the wilderness as the haunt of jackals and carrion birds, all used as symbols of desolation and evil. Drought is spoken of as the “death of the land” (Genesis 47:19) which then results in the death of man. However, this motif is balanced by the language of water, stream, and fruit in verse 8. The contrast is clear: Trust in man and you are cursed, like a stunted bush in the wilderness and barren like the salt lands. The one who trusts in the LORD has roots which go down into the Living Waters. They do not fear the drought or any other evil for they are nurtured and sustained by the Holy Word of the LORD.

The one who trusts in the LORD has roots which go down into the living waters.

17:5 אָרוּר (a-Rur) root: ארר (aw-rar) Qal imperative: “to curse (a person); to bind with a curse”

הַגֶּבֶר (hag-Ge-ver) “strong man; young man; man” The idea is this is a man in the vigor and strength of his youth. His personal strength cannot withstand the curse.

יִבְטַח (yiv-Tach) root: בטח (baw-takh) Qal: “to trust”

זְרֹעוֹ> (ze-ro-O) from: זרוֹע> (zer-o-ah) “help; arm; strength”

17:6 כְּעַרְעָר (ke-ar-Ar) from: ערער (ar-o-ayr) “bush; juniper; cypress” This word is a bit unclear but indicates some variety of tree/bush found in barren and parched places—the idea of being stunted could also be included.

בָּעֲרָבָה (ba-a-ra-Vah) from: ערבה (ar-aw-baw) “desert; wasteland; barren land” Important to note the lack of water.

וְשָׁכַן (ve-sha-Chan) Qal: “to dwell; live” Literally: but will inhabit

חֲרֵרִים] (cha-re-Rim) “parched place; lava field; stony desert”

אֶרֶץ מְלֵחָה, (E-retz me-le-Chah) “a land of barrenness; a land of salt”

17:7 בָּרוּךְ (ba-Ruch) Piel imperative: “to bless”

מִבְטַחוֹ (miv-ta-Cho) “trust; confidence (object of); reliance”

17:8 שָׁתוּל (sha-Tul) root: שׁתל (shaw-thal) Qal: “to plant; to transplant”

יוּבַל (yu-Val) “stream; water course; canal; river” The idea is moving water. Moving water is frequently thought of as “living” water.

יְשַׁלַּח (ye-shal-Lach) root: שׁלח (shaw-lakh) Piel: “to send; to send out”

שָׁרָשָׁיו (sha-ra-Shav) “root” “its roots”

חֹם (Chom) “heat”

עָלֵהוּ (a-Le-hu) “leaf; foliage”

רַעֲנָן: (ra-a-Nan) “luxuriant; leafy green”

בַּצֹּרֶת; (batz-Tzo-ret) “drought”

יִדְאָג (yid-Ag) root: דאג (daw-ag) Qal: “to be anxious”

יָמִישׁ (ya-Mish) root: מושׁ (moosh) Hiphil: “to cease”

As a review of these poetic forms read Psalm 1.

Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various resources in helping you preach Jeremiah 17:5-8 from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis MO.

Text Week-Resources from a variety of traditions to help you preach Jeremiah 17:5-8.