We Come To You.

And when you have multiplied and been fruitful in the land, in those days, declares the Lord, they shall no more say, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord.” It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again. At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart. In those days the house of Judah shall join the house of Israel, and together they shall come from the land of the north to the land that I gave your fathers for a heritage.

“‘I said,
    How I would set you among my sons,
and give you a pleasant land,
    a heritage most beautiful of all nations.
And I thought you would call me, My Father,
    and would not turn from following me.
Surely, as a treacherous wife leaves her husband,
    so have you been treacherous to me, O house of Israel,
declares the Lord.’”

A voice on the bare heights is heard,
    the weeping and pleading of Israel’s sons
because they have perverted their way;
    they have forgotten the Lord their God.
“Return, O faithless sons;
    I will heal your faithlessness.”
“Behold, we come to you,
    for you are the Lord our God.
Truly the hills are a delusion,
    the orgies on the mountains.
Truly in the Lord our God
    is the salvation of Israel.

“But from our youth the shameful thing has devoured all for which our fathers labored, their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters. Let us lie down in our shame, and let our dishonor cover us. For we have sinned against the Lord our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even to this day, and we have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God.” Jeremiah 3:16-25 ESV

God has called the people of Israel to return to Him. He told them, “‘Come back to me, my wayward sons,’ says the Lord, ‘for I am your true master. If you do, I will take one of you from each town and two of you from each family group, and I will bring you back to Zion.’” (Jeremiah 3:14 NLT). The word for “master” that God uses is actually the Hebrew word ba`al and it is obviously similar to the name of the false god, Baal, whom the Israelites worshiped. The word ba`al can be translated as “master or husband” and carries the idea of dominion. It seems that God was using a play on words, telling His people that if they would give up their false gods (Baal), and return to Him, He would be there real master and faithful husband. And unlike a lifeless idol, God would give them blessings. He would provide them leaders who would prove faithful to him and capable of providing knowledge and insight. And even though God predicts that just a remnant will end up returning to Him, He promises to multiply them in the land. 

In 538 B.C., after the people of Judah had been in captivity in Babylon for 70 years, God arranged for a remnant of them to return to the land of promise. Cyrus, the Persian king, issued a decree that allowed the Jews to return the their land and even funded their trip.

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order to fulfill the Lord’s message spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord stirred the mind of King Cyrus of Persia. He disseminated a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom, announcing in a written edict the following:

“Thus says King Cyrus of Persia:

“‘The Lord God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has instructed me to build a temple for him in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Anyone from his people among you (may his God be with him!) may go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and may build the temple of the Lord God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. Anyone who survives in any of those places where he is a resident foreigner must be helped by his neighbors with silver, gold, equipment, and animals, along with voluntary offerings for the temple of God which is in Jerusalem.’” – Ezra 1:1-4 NLT

Not all of the Jews took Cyrus’ offer to return to Jerusalem. After 70 years of captivity, they had acclimated to life in Babylon and preferred to stay where they were. Many were probably turned off by the prospect of the long journey home and the prospect of returning to a destroyed city with few, in any, amenities. They were not interested in doing manual labor in a land with no king, no army and trying to survive in a city that had been completely destroyed 70 years earlier. But a few did return. They made the long trek back and, under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and reconstructed the temple.

But much of what God promises in these verses has yet to happen. This is typical of many Old Testament prophecies. There is a now/not yet aspect to this prophecy. It will be partially fulfilled when the people return to the land in 538 B.C., but it will not be fully fulfilled until a later time. God says:

“At that time the city of Jerusalem will be called the Lord’s throne. All nations will gather there in Jerusalem to honor the Lord’s name. They will no longer follow the stubborn inclinations of their own evil hearts. At that time the nation of Judah and the nation of Israel will be reunited. Together they will come back from a land in the north to the land that I gave to your ancestors as a permanent possession.” – Jeremiah 3:17-18 NLT

It isn’t difficult to see that this has not yet happened. The nations have not gathered in Jerusalem to honor the Lord’s name. In fact, in anything, the nations have gathered around Israel in order to destroy it. There are countless nations that would like to see Israel eliminated and its sovereign status annulled. This portion of God’s prophecy has yet to be fulfilled. But it will be.

From the day God determined to make Israel His own, He has longed to see them serve Him faithfully and love Him unconditionally. But despite all that God had done for them, they had proven to be anything but faithful.

“Oh what a joy it would be for me to treat you like a son!
What a joy it would be for me to give you a pleasant land,
the most beautiful piece of property there is in all the world!’
I thought you would call me, ‘Father’
and would never cease being loyal to me.
But, you have been unfaithful to me, nation of Israel,
like an unfaithful wife who has left her husband,”
says the Lord. – Jeremiah 3:19-20 NLT

These verses seem to indicate that God was totally caught off guard and surprised by Israel’s unfaithfulness. But He wasn’t. God knew they would prove to be unfaithful, and He had planned all along for their eventual destruction and captivity. When He had given them the Mosaic law, God knew they would fail to keep it. He had warned them that they would need to be obedient in order to receive His blessings. And He had told them that disobedience would lead to curses. And He had been very specific about what those curses would entail.

The Lord will force you and your king whom you will appoint over you to go away to a people whom you and your ancestors have not known, and you will serve other gods of wood and stone there. You will become an occasion of horror, a proverb, and an object of ridicule to all the peoples to whom the Lord will drive you. – Deuteronomy 28:36-37 NLT

God had not been surprised by Israel’s apostasy. He had planned for it. Left to their own devices, Israel had proven to be like every other nation: sinful and stubborn. While they had been chosen by God, their sinful natures had led them to choose false gods. Sin came naturally to them. And as a result, they turned their backs on God.

Indeed they have followed sinful ways;
they have forgotten to be true to the Lord their God. – Jeremiah 3:21b NLT

But God proved faithful to them. In fact, throughout their history, God has shown His love for Israel by constantly calling them to repentance.

“Come back to me, you wayward people.
I want to cure your waywardness.” – Jeremiah 3:22 NLT

God simply wanted them to return to Him and admit the folly of their ways. He was looking for confession, not a complete reversal of their behavior. He wasn’t expecting them to fix all their problems on their own and clean up their act before He would accept them. He just wanted them to confess what they had done to offend Him.

“Say, ‘Here we are. We come to you
because you are the Lord our God.
We know our noisy worship of false gods
on the hills and mountains did not help us.
We know that the Lord our God
is the only one who can deliver Israel.’” – Jeremiah 3:22-23 NLT

Notice those four simple words: “We come to you.” They are reminiscent of the words of Jesus spoke to the people of Israel when He appeared on the scene: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NLT). God and His Son both invited Israel to come to them with an attitude of dependency, with arms outstretched. They simply needed to admit their weariness and confess their wickedness. Their turning to God was to be an acknowledgement that He was their only source of deliverance. 

“Let us acknowledge our shame.
Let us bear the disgrace that we deserve.
For we have sinned against the Lord our God.” – Jeremiah 3:25 NLT

Come to me. That is God’s standing invitation and it always has been. He invites us to come to Him in humility and brokenness, ready to receive from Him what we could never have found anywhere else: Help, hope, strength, forgiveness, mercy, love and eternal life. But we have to come. And when we do, the benefits are unbelievable.

“Come, let’s consider your options,” says the Lord.
“Though your sins have stained you like the color red,
you can become white like snow;
though they are as easy to see as the color scarlet,
you can become white like wool.” – Isaiah 1:18 NLT

And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say: “Come!” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wants it take the water of life free of charge. – Revelation 22:17 NLT

Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never send away. – John 6:37 NLT

Seek the Lord while he makes himself available;
call to him while he is nearby!
The wicked need to abandon their lifestyle
and sinful people their plans.
They should return to the Lord, and he will show mercy to them,
and to their God, for he will freely forgive them. – Isaiah 55:6-7 NLT

Israel had a standing invitation from God. And they had an unbreakable promise from God. He would one day restore them. He would one day do for them what they could not do for themselves. He would redeem them and restore them to a right relationship with Him. He would give them new hearts and a new capacity to live faithfully and love Him fully.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Return!

The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: “Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the Lord.”

And the Lord said to me, “Faithless Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah. Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say,

“‘Return, faithless Israel,
declares the Lord.
I will not look on you in anger,
    for I am merciful,
declares the Lord;
I will not be angry forever.
Only acknowledge your guilt,
    that you rebelled against the Lord your God
and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree,
    and that you have not obeyed my voice,
declares the Lord.
Return, O faithless children,
declares the Lord;
    for I am your master;
I will take you, one from a city and two from a family,
    and I will bring you to Zion.’

“And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” Jeremiah 3:6-15 ESV

At this point, God shifts Jeremiah’s attention to the northern kingdom of Israel, which for all practical purposes, no longer existed. They had been defeated and taken captive by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.. So, by the time  Jeremiah began his ministry in 627 B.C., the people of the northern kingdom of Israel had been living in captivity for 95 years. What was likely a second generation of Israelites, born in captivity in Assyria, had probably given up any hope of seeing their land again. God had brought about their defeat and destruction because of their blatant disregard for Him. And He didn’t have to remind Jeremiah what had happened to them or explain why He had done it. Everyone in Judah knew the circumstances behind their fall. But God went ahead and refreshed Jeremiah’s memory.

You have seen how she went up to every high hill and under every green tree to give herself like a prostitute to other gods.” – Jeremiah 3:6 NLT

And God also reminded Jeremiah just why they were in the sorry state they were in. He refers to the as faithless. The Hebrew word is mĕshuwbah and it literally means “apostasy.” They were the epitome of what it means to be apostate, to have turned away and rejected God. Long before they went into exile, God had called them to repentance. He had sent prophet after prophet to deliver his message of warning.

“Yet even after she had done all that, I thought that she might come back to me. But she did not.” – Jeremiah 3:7 NLT

This is not an indication that God was somehow ignorant of what Israel might do. He knew all along they would not return. He had already raised up the Assyrians to do His bidding and bring an end to Israel’s apostasy. God is simply speaking in human terms to which Jeremiah can relate. From a human perspective, what Israel had done was hard to imagine. How could they have forsaken God the way they had? Why had they so stubbornly resisted His calls to repentance? But God remind Jeremiah:

“Her sister, unfaithful Judah, saw what she did. She also saw that I gave wayward Israel her divorce papers and sent her away because of her adulterous worship of other gods. Even after her unfaithful sister Judah had seen this, she still was not afraid, and she too went and gave herself like a prostitute to other gods. – Jeremiah 3:7=8 NLT

The southern kingdom of Judah had been an eye-witness to the fall of Israel. And they knew exactly why they had fallen. But instead of learning from Israel’s mistakes, they had followed her lead. The actual Hebrew word God uses to describe Judah is bagowd and it means “treacherous” or “deceitful.” They had known exactly what they were doing and they thought they could get away with it.

“…she took her prostitution so lightly, she defiled the land through her adulterous worship of gods made of wood and stone.” – Jeremiah 3:9 NLT

When Jeremiah had begun his ministry, it was during the reign of King Josiah, who had instituted a number of religious reforms in Judah. Josiah had legitimately tried to turn the people back to God, and while the people pledged to return to God and give up their false gods, they lied. Outwardly, they had showed signs of repentance, but inwardly, things remained the same. The people had no intention of giving up their false gods. It had all been a show. And by the time Josiah passed off the scene, things had gone back to the way they had been before. And God tells Jeremiah that He knew exactly what Judah had done. They hadn’t deceived Him.

“Israel’s sister, unfaithful Judah, has not turned back to me with any sincerity; she has only pretended to do so.” – Jeremiah 3:11 NLT

God even describes faithless Israel as less culpable than Judah. The southern kingdom had been able to watch what happened to their northern neighbor. They had been given the opportunity to learn from Israel’s mistakes, but had proven to be less-than-eager students. So, God tells Jeremiah to give a message to the people still living in the desolated remains of the northern kingdom. In other words, God turns His focus away from Judah and toward the former nation of Israel. And His message was clear.

“Come back to me, wayward Israel,” says the Lord.
“I will not continue to look on you with displeasure.
For I am merciful,” says the Lord.
“I will not be angry with you forever.
However, you must confess that you have done wrong,
and that you have rebelled against the Lord your God.
You must confess that you have given yourself to foreign gods under every green tree,
and have not obeyed my commands,” says the Lord. – Jeremiah 3:12-13 NLT

What is God doing? Why is He having Jeremiah spend his time prophesying to a nation that no longer exists? Because He is using this message as a reminder to the people of Judah that He is a faithful and forgiving God. In spite of all that Israel had done, He was still willing to forgive and restore them – if they would only confess their sins against Him. And if they would, God tells them exactly what He would do.

“If you do, I will take one of you from each town and two of you from each family group, and I will bring you back to Zion. I will give you leaders who will be faithful to me. They will lead you with knowledge and insight.” – Jeremiah 3:14-15 NLT

This message, while directed at the people of the north, was really intended to have an impact on the people of Judah. They would hear Jeremiah’s words and, if they were remotely sensitive to what God was saying, respond to them. If God would be willing to let Israel return to Him after 95 years in exile, perhaps He would relent in bringing punishment on Judah. And He would, if only they would be willing to repent and return to Him. It was not too late. They had not completely fallen from His graces. He was a merciful God who was incredibly patient and kind. In spite of all the atrocities and apostasies of Israel, He was still willing to accept them back. All He asked for was confession and contrition. He wanted them to admit their sin and recommit their affections to Him. And the same thing was true of Judah. It was not too late.

But we know how the story ends. Judah would fail to heed God’s call. They would stubbornly refuse His offer of mercy and forgiveness. Rather than learn from the mistakes of Israel, Judah would simply repeat them and prove to be even more unfaithful than their northern neighbors. But none of this diminishes the fact that God was willing to forgive. The very fact that He sent Jeremiah to call them to repentance was a sign of God”s heart. He did this, even though He knew what the outcome would be. And if we fast-forward to the day when God returned to Israel a remnant of the people of Judah from captivity in Babylon, it wasn’t because they had repented or returned to Him. He did so because He had promised to do so. He restored them to the land of promise, not because they deserved it, but because He had made a covenant commitment to do so. What an incredible contrast between the faithfulness of God and the faithlessness of men. Judah was undeserving of God’s mercy. They didn’t merit the presence of Jeremiah in their midst. They had no right to be given a second and third chance. But God is faithful. God is merciful. God is gracious. Not because of us, but in spite of us.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Familiarity Breeds Contempt.

“If a man divorces his wife
    and she goes from him
and becomes another man’s wife,
    will he return to her?
Would not that land be greatly polluted?
You have played the whore with many lovers;
    and would you return to me?
declares the Lord.
Lift up your eyes to the bare heights, and see!
    Where have you not been ravished?
By the waysides you have sat awaiting lovers
    like an Arab in the wilderness.
You have polluted the land
    with your vile whoredom.
Therefore the showers have been withheld,
    and the spring rain has not come;
yet you have the forehead of a whore;
    you refuse to be ashamed.
Have you not just now called to me,
    ‘My father, you are the friend of my youth—
will he be angry forever,
    will he be indignant to the end?’
Behold, you have spoken,
    but you have done all the evil that you could.” Jeremiah 3:1-5 ESV

There was little sign that the people of Judah were going to repent and return to God. But God emphasized just how difficult it would be for Him to accept them back should they do so. He compared their unfaithfulness to that of a wife who walked out on her husband and gave herself to another man, even marrying him. According to the Mosaic law, the first husband was forbidden to take his wife back, even if he wanted to.

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.” – Deuteronomy 24:1-4 ESV

If a man tried to take back his wife after she had committed adultery and married another man, he would be adding to her original sin. In God’s eyes, he would be making matters worse, not better. His actions, while well-intentioned, would only bring further judgment from God.

And God makes it quite clear that the actions of the people of Judah were far more egregious. They were guilty of having multiple lovers, not one. They were more like a prostitute who willingly and blazenly threw herself at every man she could find, with no sense of remorse or guilt. In fact, God says of the people of Judah: “you are obstinate as a prostitute. You refuse to be ashamed of what you have done” (Jeremiah 3:3b NLT). Their defiance of God’s will and willful determination to seek other gods had resulted in God’s judgment on the land. He had brought famine on the land, a fate He had warned them about hundreds of years earlier.

“I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze.” – Leviticus 26:19 ESV

This was just one of the curses God promised to bring on the people of Israel if they proved to be disobedient and unfaithful.

And the heavens over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you shall be iron. The Lord will make the rain of your land powder. From heaven dust shall come down on you until you are destroyed. – Deuteronomy 28:23-24 ESV

But they proved to be stubborn and hardheaded, unrepentant and without remorse. And they took their relationship with God for granted. They simply assumed that He would always be there and He would always forgive and forget. After all, they reasoned, He had stuck with them through the wilderness years, putting up with their whining and complaining. He had not destroyed them during the years of the judges, when they repeatedly disobeyed Him and proved to be disloyal to Him. He had patiently endured their sins under the reign of King Saul and graciously given.them King David instead. Even now, after having split the kingdom in two because of the sins of King Solomon, Judah was still around and kicking. So, they assumed all would be well. They were God’s chosen people. He wasn’t about to abandon them. Or so they thought.

Like a spoiled child, Judah had grown accustomed to their privileged position as God’s chosen people. They had become presumptuous, believing that their status as God’s children provided them with immunity from His wrath. They fully expected God to forgive and forget.

“You are my father!
You have been my faithful companion ever since I was young.
You will not always be angry with me, will you?
You will not be mad at me forever, will you?”– Jeremiah 3:4-5 NLT

But God exposes the true nature of their hearts. They fully expected God to remain faithful to them, but they had no intention of following His lead. In fact, God says, “you continually do all the evil that you can” (Jeremiah 3:5 NLT). What’s interesting to note is that the people of Judah were demanding that God be the one to change. They knew He was angry, and justifiably so, but they wanted Him to simply let go off His anger. They were unwilling to acknowledge their sins, repent of them and return to Him. What they wanted was forgiveness with no repentance. They were demanding love in the face of infidelity. They had no intentions of changing their ways.

Forgiveness is a wonderful thing. We love being on the receiving end of it. And, as Christians, we can become uncomfortably accustomed to having a never-ending supply of God’s forgiveness at our disposal. After all, as John said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). But notice what that verse says: “If we confess our sins.” Confessions is a prerequisite for forgiveness. Yes, forgiveness if readily available to us, but first we must confess or simply agree with God about our need for forgiveness. We have to acknowledge what it is we have done to offend a holy God. And we also have to desire to give up that behavior in the future. Confession without contrition is meaningless. The definition of contrition is “sorrow for and detestation of sin with a true purpose of amendment” (contrition. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved June 22, 2017 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/contrition). Confession without contrition is like a child saying “I’m sorry”, but with no intention of changing their behavior. Far too often, our brand of confession is nothing more than remorse, a sorrow for having been caught and a fear of facing punishment. So we “confess” with no intention of changing the way we behave. Like the Israelites, we have the mistaken notion that God is obligated to put up with us – just the way we are. Our familiarity with Him breeds contempt for Him. We treat Him as a cosmic Genie, obligated to grant us our wishes and do as we command. We demand He forgive us, while refusing to give up the behavior that got us into trouble with Him in the first place.

But as King David learned: “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (Psalm 51:17 NLT). As the prophet Joel would warn the people of Israel: 

“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
   and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
    and he relents over disaster. – Joel 2:12-13 NLT

How easy it is to take God’s love for granted. We can so quickly assume that God is somehow obligated to ignore our sins or to accept our weak and heartless words of confession. We tell Him we’re sorry and fully expect Him to act as if nothing ever happened. But God takes sin seriously. His Son had to die for our sins. God had to put His own Son to death in order to pay the penalty for our sins. So, He doesn’t take sin lightly. He can’t just excuse sin. And while our gracious, merciful God offers forgiveness for sin, He also demands that we exhibit a brokenness and contrition for our sins.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

“I Am Innocent.”

“Why do you contend with me?
    You have all transgressed against me,
declares the Lord.
In vain have I struck your children;
    they took no correction;
your own sword devoured your prophets
    like a ravening lion.
And you, O generation, behold the word of the Lord.
Have I been a wilderness to Israel,
    or a land of thick darkness?
Why then do my people say, ‘We are free,
    we will come no more to you’?
Can a virgin forget her ornaments,
    or a bride her attire?
Yet my people have forgotten me
    days without number.

“How well you direct your course
    to seek love!
So that even to wicked women
    you have taught your ways.
Also on your skirts is found
    the lifeblood of the guiltless poor;
you did not find them breaking in.
    Yet in spite of all these things
you say, ‘I am innocent;
    surely his anger has turned from me.’
Behold, I will bring you to judgment
    for saying, ‘I have not sinned.’
How much you go about,
    changing your way!
You shall be put to shame by Egypt
    as you were put to shame by Assyria.
From it too you will come away
    with your hands on your head,
for the Lord has rejected those in whom you trust,
    and you will not prosper by them. Jeremiah 2:29-37 ESV

In spite of all God had said about them and the indictments He had made regarding their unfaithfulness toward Him, they denied it. They argued or contended with Him about His assessment of their behavior. They had the unmitigated gall to refute God, demanding that they were innocent. And they were angry over the fact that He would ever consider punishing them. But God asks them, “Why do you accuse me of doing wrong? You are the ones who have rebelled” (Jeremiah 2:29 NLT). They were all guilty.

And God admits that His punishment of them had done little to change their hearts. They were stubborn and pigheaded. Even the younger generation had failed to learn from their parents’ mistakes. They had heard how God had brought divine discipline in the past. They had been told the stories of the northern kingdom’s fall. But they were just as rebellious as their forefathers. God had sent prophets before and they had been ignored and, in some cases, eliminated altogether. The people of God had a bad habit of rejecting the message by killing the messenger. And in doing so, they were rejecting God, the very one who had called and commissioned the prophets.

And this treatment of God was totally undeserved. It was not as if God had been cruel and unkind. He even asks them:

Have I been like a desert to Israel?
Have I been to them a land of darkness? – Jeremiah 2:31 NLT

They had no legitimate reasons to reject God. He had blessed them. He had been a light to them. He had provided for all their needs and protected them for generations. But they treated Him as a pariah. They turned their backs on Him. And by their very treatment of Him, it was as if they were saying, “At last we are free from God! We don’t need him anymore” (Jeremiahs 2:31b NLT). They didn’t actually say those words, but their behavior screamed them. It was if they wanted to get as far away from God as possible. In other words, they were acting toward God as they had toward Pharaoh when they finally were able to get out of Egypt. They were glad to leave him in their dust. They wanted nothing more to do with Pharaoh and his kingdom. And God accuses the people of Judah of treating Him in the same way.

But God wants to know how they can so easily forget Him. He compares their disregard for Him to a bride forgetting her wedding dress or a young woman, her jewels. That would be absurd. Both women would place two high a value on those two things to simply walk away from them. But the people of God had walked away from Him without cause and showing no regret. He flatly states: “Yet my people have forgotten me days without number” (Jeremiah 2:32 ESV). And yet, when confronted by God, they simply denied it all.

God accuses them of being so good at unfaithfulness and adultery, they could teach professional prostitutes a thing or two. The people of Judah had become adept at wooing other lovers. They were constantly chasing after false gods and making alliances with pagan nations, rather than sharing their affections with God and placing their hope and trust in Him. And God accuses them of not only spiritual adultery, but injustice. They had failed to care for the innocent and the poor. Over in the book of Micah, we have a short and succinct description of God’s expectations of His people:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8 ESV

God has a heart for the poor and needy. He expects His people to care for them and to treat them with justice. But the people of Israel and Judah, because they had failed to keep God’s commands, had made a habit of abusing those who were helpless among them. And thought God was fully aware of all their sins and could list them in detail, they simply denied it. “Yet in spite of all these things you say, ‘I am innocent’” (Jeremiah 2;34-35 ESV). But God gives them some very bad news: “But now I will punish you severely because you claim you have not sinned” (Jeremiah 2:35b NLT). Conviction should bring repentance. God exposes our sin in order that we might confess it and be forgiven for it. But the people of Judah simply rejected God’s conviction and denied any guilt. The apostle John addressed this problem in his first letter.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:8-10 ESV

There are two things going on in this passage. First of all, there is the outright denial of sin. It involves a refusal to admit that we have sinned. And John reminds us that if we simply confess our sins to God, He will forgive us. But there is a second issue going on. When we deny God’s convicting spirit and claim we have not sinned, we are making Him out to be a liar. We are accusing God of falsehood and slander. He has pointed out our sin and we have chosen to deny His charges. That is exactly what the people of Judah were guilty of doing. And God was forced to punish them by bringing their enemies against them. But instead of confessing and repenting, they turned to other nations for help. God say, “First here, then there—you flit from one ally to another asking for help” (Jeremiah 2:36 NLT). But they would find those alliances would prove to be disappointing. These pagan nations were not to be trusted. They would prove to be poor substitutes for God. Nations have a way of breaking their word or simply succumbing to the power of even greater nations. At one point God had used Assyria to punish the northern kingdom of Israel. But the Assyrians would later find themselves defeated by the Babylonians, who God would eventually use to punish the nation of Judah. Trusting in nations was risky business, because at the end of the day, they were all under the control and command of God Himself. And God breaks the bad news to Judah, “In despair, you will be led into exile with your hands on your heads, for the Lord has rejected the nations you trust. They will not help you at all” (Jeremiah 2:37 NLT).

When we place our trust and hope in something other than God, it will always prove disappointing. People make lousy gods. Even the most powerful nations make poor deities. People let us down. Nations have their day in the sun, then fail. Government are not divine. Financial security and material wealth may seem to provide a sense of well-being, but they are not eternal. They have a habit of disappearing just about the time you really need them. God had proven Himself a faithful provider and protector. He had gone out of His way to assure the people of Judah of His power and His persistent, unfailing love for them. He was completely reliable. He never went back on His Word. He never failed to do what He promised. He was gracious, kind and forgiving. But they had decided that God was not enough. They had determined that they needed more. So, they had turned their back on God. That’s what happens when you turn to something other than God for your help and hope. In the process of turning to that other thing, you end up turning away from God. You take your eyes off of Him. And in doing so, you treat the God of the universe with disrespect and open disregard. But God is a jealous God and His jealousy is driven by His love. He knows what is best for us and He will not allow us to wander far. He will do what it takes to bring us home. He will get our attention and bring us to an end of ourselves. Because He loves us. God was going to allow Judah to wander, but He would also bring them back some day. He would give them their fill of foreign nations, in the form of captivity in Babylon, but He would never leave them or forsake them completely. Because He is faithful.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Prone to Wander.

“How can you say, ‘I am not unclean,
    I have not gone after the Baals’?
Look at your way in the valley;
    know what you have done—
a restless young camel running here and there,
    a wild donkey used to the wilderness,
in her heat sniffing the wind!
    Who can restrain her lust?
None who seek her need weary themselves;
    in her month they will find her.
Keep your feet from going unshod
    and your throat from thirst.
But you said, ‘It is hopeless,
    for I have loved foreigners,
    and after them I will go.’

“As a thief is shamed when caught,
    so the house of Israel shall be shamed:
they, their kings, their officials,
    their priests, and their prophets,
who say to a tree, ‘You are my father,’
    and to a stone, ‘You gave me birth.’
For they have turned their back to me,
    and not their face.
But in the time of their trouble they say,
    ‘Arise and save us!’
But where are your gods
    that you made for yourself?
Let them arise, if they can save you,
    in your time of trouble;
for as many as your cities
    are your gods, O Judah. Jeremiah 2:23-28 ESV

God knew that the people of Judah would deny His accusations. When confronted by the prophet of God bearing the indictment of God against them, they would simply resort to a pitiful attempt at denial. They cry, “Not guilty!” But God says that there is plenty of proof to convict them. He tells them to take a look at the valley – probably a reference to the Hinnon Valley just south of Jerusalem. It was at this place they worshiped Baal and Molech, even sacrificing their children to these false gods.

And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. – Jeremiah 7:31 ESV

When Jeremiah started his ministry, he did so under the reign of King Josiah. And we read in 2 Kings where he made many reforms, trying to correct the many misdeeds of the people of Judah. One of them involved the Hinnom Valley.

“he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech.” – 2 Kings 23:10 ESV

This chapter in 2 Kings validates God’s accusation, providing additional evidence of just how corrupt and immoral the people of God had become. Josiah found himself quite busy trying to remedy the spiritual problem that permeated every area of life in Judah.

…the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the keepers of the threshold to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven – 2 Kings 23:4 ESV

And he deposed the priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and the moon and the constellations and all the host of the heavens. – 2 Kings 23:5 ESV

And he brought out the Asherah from the house of the Lord – 2 Kings 23:5 ESV

And he broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the Lord – 2 Kings 23:7 ESV

And he removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun, at the entrance to the house of the Lord – 2 Kings 23:11 ESV

And the king defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, to the south of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites… – 2 Kings 23:13 ESV

And the list goes on. And while Josiah was busy trying to clean up the mess left by ages of disobedience and disregard for God, the people never really changed. Their hearts remained stubborn and totally opposed to returning to God. In spite of his best efforts at reform, Josiah would not be able to reform the hearts of the people. That is why God was sending Jeremiah and why the author of 2 Kings went on to write:

Still the Lord did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. And the Lord said, “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.” – 2 Kings 23:26-27 ESV

They could deny their guilt, but the evidence was stacked against them. God even compares them to a wild donkey or camel in heat. They couldn’t resist their inner urges. They were driven by their own desires, like a female donkey that runs away from its master in order to satisfy its base desires. God had repeatedly called the people of Judah to repentance, begging them to return to Him. He loved them and would have accepted them and restored them to a right relationship with Him, but they responded, “Save your breath. I’m in love with these foreign gods, and I can’t stop loving them now!” (Jeremiah 2:25 NLT). They weren’t going to stop. They couldn’t. Their sin natures wouldn’t allow them to do so. What a great picture of man’s inability to seek and serve God faithfully. If left to ourselves, we will always choose sin over righteousness. We may mean well, but our natural predisposition is toward sin. We can’t help ourselves. That is why Paul wrote, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10 ESV). The people of Judah were doing what came naturally. They were sinners in need of a Savior. They had been chosen by God and set apart by Him, but they still had hearts that were predisposed to sin. It was in their DNA, inherited from their ancestor, Adam. Paul reminds us of the terrible consequences of Adam’s original sin:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned – Romans 5:12 ESV

…by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners – Romans 5:19 ESV

And the people of Judah were living proof of this theological reality. They were sinners. In spite of all that God had done for them, they continued to follow their natural inclination to seek and serve other gods. But their passion for other gods was really based on a need for self-determination and autonomy. They wanted to be the arbiters of their own fate. They wanted to determine the kind of god they served. And this desire went all the way back to the garden of Eden. God had warned Adam:

“You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” – Genesis 2:16-17 ESV

It was Satan who came to them and subtly seduced them to disobey the command of God. He misconstrued the words of God and made it sound like God was denying Adam and Eve something they would really enjoy. He was attempting to keep them from being like Himself.

“You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 ESV

Satan was right. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, their eyes were opened. They not only knew what evil was, they had an irrepressible desire for it. And driving their urges from that day forward would be their desire to be like God. They would want to be in control. They would want to determine their own future and live according to their own will. Man’s ongoing attempt to create his own gods is nothing more than his need to find value and meaning in something outside of himself. Our innate need for God gets satisfied by our own attempt to create our own gods, whether in the form of an idol or an ideology. Today, we worship science and politics, education and enlightenment. Our gods are more sophisticated, but are no less idols than a Buddha statue sitting on a table.

God points out the absurdity of man’s incurable desire to create his own god.

“To an image carved from a piece of wood they say,
    ‘You are my father.’
To an idol chiseled from a block of stone they say,
    ‘You are my mother.’
They turn their backs on me,
    but in times of trouble they cry out to me,
    ‘Come and save us!’” – Jeremiah 2:27 NLT

We have this innate desire to worship anything and everything but God. Then, when things go south, we find ourselves turning back and crying out to God for help. Like the millions of people who flocked to and filled churches all across America after 9/11, we find ourselves falling back on God when our world falls in on us. But God would say to us as He did to Judah:

“But why not call on these gods you have made?
    When trouble comes, let them save you if they can!
For you have as many gods
    as there are towns in Judah.” – Jeremiah 2:28 NLT

Why not let science save you? Why not ask your politicians to come to your rescue? You’ve spent your life putting your trust in money, why not put your hope in it now? You’ve made pleasure your god, so why not let pleasure get you out of the fix you’re in? But false gods have no power to save. They are totally incapable of providing rescue from the effects of sin. Science can prolong life, but it can’t prevent death. Politicians can pass laws and legislate till their blue in the face, but they can’t prevent sin or promise eternal life. In fact, the gods we worship in place of the one true God, can only cause sin. They tempt us to turn from God. They cause us to misplace our trust and misdirect our affections. They produce sin, rather than prevent it.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Our Righteously Jealous God.

“Is Israel a slave? Is he a homeborn servant?
    Why then has he become a prey?
The lions have roared against him;
    they have roared loudly.
They have made his land a waste;
    his cities are in ruins, without inhabitant.
Moreover, the men of Memphis and Tahpanhes
    have shaved the crown of your head.
Have you not brought this upon yourself
    by forsaking the Lord your God,
    when he led you in the way?
And now what do you gain by going to Egypt
    to drink the waters of the Nile?
Or what do you gain by going to Assyria
    to drink the waters of the Euphrates?
Your evil will chastise you,
    and your apostasy will reprove you.
Know and see that it is evil and bitter
    for you to forsake the Lord your God;
    the fear of me is not in you,
declares the Lord God of hosts.

“For long ago I broke your yoke
    and burst your bonds;
    but you said, ‘I will not serve.’
Yes, on every high hill
    and under every green tree
    you bowed down like a whore.
Yet I planted you a choice vine,
    wholly of pure seed.
How then have you turned degenerate
    and become a wild vine?
Though you wash yourself with lye
    and use much soap,
    the stain of your guilt is still before me,
declares the Lord God.” Jeremiah 2:14-22 ESV

God continues His indictment of Judah and begins this section with another question. This time He asks a somewhat sarcastic and obviously rhetorical question: “Is Israel a slave? Is he a homeborn servant? Why then has he become a prey?” (Jeremiah 2:14 ESV). The northern kingdom of Israel had been taken captive by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., and everyone in Judah knew quite well the cause of their fall. There really was no question regarding the sad state of affairs to the north. The lions (a symbol of the Assyrians) had left their cities devastated and empty, and everyone knew why. They had been unfaithful to God. They had been idolatrous and adulterous, turning their backs on God and giving their affections to false gods. And while God had repeatedly attempted to call them back, they had stubbornly refused. And God had sent the Assyrians as punishment.

But the northern kingdom was not alone in their unfaithfulness. Even the southern kingdom of Judah had a track record of infidelity, pursuing false gods in place of the one true God. And on more than one occasion, Judah had turned to Egypt as a source of help and security. The very nation that had once enslaved them became their go-to solution when they were threatened by more powerful nations. But even the Egyptians had been used by God to bring punishment on Judah. In 925 B.C., “Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem. He took away the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house. He took away everything. He also took away all the shields of gold that Solomon had made” (1 Kings 14:25-26 ESV). Their savior had become their destroyer. And even during Jeremiah’s lifetime, the Egyptians would play a major role in Judah’s demise. In 609 B.C., King Neco of Egypt would take the life of Josiah, the great reformer/king. 

In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. King Josiah went to meet him, and Pharaoh Neco killed him at Megiddo, as soon as he saw him. – 2 Kings 23:29 ESV

And God tells the people of Judah, “Have you not brought this upon yourself by forsaking the Lord your God, when he led you in the way?” (Jeremiah 2:17 ESV). This had all been their own fault. They were the ones responsible for all that had happened to them. Not only had the people of Israel and Judah been guilty of pursuing false gods, they had made faulty, ill-advised alliances with pagan nations. Rather than trusting in God, they had placed their hopes in men, relying on human kings to do for them what only God was supposed to do. And God asks them, “What have you gained by your alliances with Egypt and your covenants with Assyria? What good to you are the streams of the Nile or the waters of the Euphrates River?” (Jeremiah 2:18 NLT). Their would-be rescuers had become tools in the hands of God to bring about their own destruction. Their safety net had ended up entrapping them rather than rescuing them.

God warns Judah that they are going to learn a valuable lesson from their apostasy.

Your wickedness will bring its own punishment.
    Your turning from me will shame you.
You will see what an evil, bitter thing it is
    to abandon the Lord your God and not to fear him.
    I, the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken! – Jeremiah 2:19 NLT

They were going to learn that forsaking God has serious consequences. You can’t just turn your back on God and expect Him to turn a blind eye. Years ago, God had warned the people of Israel, as they stood poised to enter the land of Canaan: “You must worship no other gods, for the Lord, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you” (Exodus 34:14 NLT). But over the centuries, Israel had proved to be repeatedly unfaithful to God. They had an ongoing love affair with the gods of the Canaanites and a tendency to put their trust in other nations, rather than looking to God.

Joshua, the one who led the people of Israel in their conquest of the land of Canaan,  had some serious words of warning for them as he neared the end of his life. He had helped them take the land that God had promised to them. But he knew the people of Israel well. So, he warned them:

“So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:14-15 NLT

And the people enthusiastically responded:

“We would never abandon the Lord and serve other gods. For the Lord our God is the one who rescued us and our ancestors from slavery in the land of Egypt. He performed mighty miracles before our very eyes. As we traveled through the wilderness among our enemies, he preserved us. It was the Lord who drove out the Amorites and the other nations living here in the land. So we, too, will serve the Lord, for he alone is our God.” – Joshua 24:16-18 NLT

But Joshua had his doubts. He had lived with and led the people of Israel for years. He had watched their repeated unfaithfulness and infidelity toward God, and he was not optimistic regarding their pledge of faithfulness. So, he told them:

“You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy and jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you abandon the Lord and serve other gods, he will turn against you and destroy you, even though he has been so good to you.” – Joshua 24:19-20 NLT

But the people were insistent, claiming, ““No, we will serve the Lord!” (Joshua 24:21 NLT). And when Joshua warned them that they would be witnesses to their own testimony, they once again replied: “We will serve the Lord our God. We will obey him alone” (Jeremiah 24:24 NLT). So, Joshua had them roll a huge stone by the tabernacle to serve as a memorial of their covenant to serve God faithfully. And he said to them: “This stone has heard everything the Lord said to us. It will be a witness to testify against you if you go back on your word to God” (Joshua 24:27 NLT). And we know the rest of the story. But just in case the people of Judah were having short-term memory loss, God reminds them:

“Long ago I broke the yoke that oppressed you
    and tore away the chains of your slavery,
but still you said,
    ‘I will not serve you.’
On every hill and under every green tree,
    you have prostituted yourselves by bowing down to idols. – Jeremiah 2:20 NLT

He had rescued and redeemed them, but they had rejected Him. He had given them the land of promise, and they had responded by breaking their promise to remain faithful to Him. And God paints a stark picture of just how bad things had gotten in Judah.

“But I was the one who planted you,
    choosing a vine of the purest stock—the very best.
    How did you grow into this corrupt wild vine?
No amount of soap or lye can make you clean.
    I still see the stain of your guilt.
    I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 2:21-22 NLT

His vine had become corrupt. His people had become stained by sin. His chosen ones had become rebellious and stubborn. Those whom He had set apart as holy and sacred to Him had chosen to set themselves apart to lives marked by sin and immorality. The redeemed had become enslaved once again, choosing a lifestyle of sin and disobedience over their freedom and security in God. As God stated earlier, they had made an illogical and indefensible decision.

They have abandoned me—
    the fountain of living water.
And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns
    that can hold no water at all! – Jeremiah 2:13 NLT

And that poor choice is one we all face each and every day of our lives. We are constantly tempted to turn our backs on the one true God and turn to false gods and faulty alternatives that can never provide for us what they promise and what we demand. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way. God allows us to choose. He doesn’t force our obedience or coerce our love. He simply loves us and then allows us to respond in kind, or to take our affections and share them with others. But we must never forget that our God is a jealous God. But His jealousy is just and righteous, not petty and petulant. He longs for us to be faithful to Him, because He longs to pour out His love and affection on us – in full.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Two Evils.

“Therefore I still contend with you,
declares the Lord,
    and with your children’s children I will contend.
For cross to the coasts of Cyprus and see,
    or send to Kedar and examine with care;
    see if there has been such a thing.
Has a nation changed its gods,
    even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
    for that which does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
    be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
    the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
    broken cisterns that can hold no water.” – Jeremiah 2:9-13 ESV

God wasted no time in prosecuting Judah’s guilt. And He challenged them to try and find another nation that had done anything as blatantly evil as they had done. Thy would find that there was no precedent for their behavior. Even the pagan nations were not guilty of the crime Israel and Judah had committed. God’s people, the ones He had chosen to bless, had forsaken Him. And God points out the ridiculousness of it all by asking, “Has any nation ever traded its gods for new ones, even though they are not gods at all?” (Jeremiah 2:11 NLT). Even the pagan nations were more faithful to their non-existent, imaginary, man-made gods than the Israelites had been to the one true God. And God warns that their actions would have serious consequences. Their decision to forsake Him would have long-lasting, generation-spanning consequences. Even their grandchildren would feel the effects of God’s wrath and suffer His judgment.

God points out the incredible absurdity of Israel’s decision by demanding that the heavens act as witness against them. He describes the heavens as being shocked and appalled at the scene. The stars, sun, moon and planets, part of God’s created order, are dumbfounded that one of their own, man, would refuse to worship the One who had made him. It was King David who wrote: “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship” (Psalm 19:1 NLT). Ethan, the Ezrahite, made a similar statement in his psalm: “All heaven will praise your great wonders, Lord; myriads of angels will praise you for your faithfulness. For who in all of heaven can compare with the Lord? What mightiest angel is anything like the Lord? The highest angelic powers stand in awe of God. He is far more awesome than all who surround his throne. O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies! Where is there anyone as mighty as you, O Lord? You are entirely faithful.” (Psalm 85:5-8 NLT).

And the heavens are to be shocked at the two evils that the people of God have committed. First, they were guilty of forsaking God. The Hebrew word is`azab and it means “to depart from, leave behind, leave, let alone” (“H5800 – `azab – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). In essence, they had deserted God. Like a husband or wife walking out on their spouse, the people of God had abandoned God. After all He had done for them, they had decided to turn their back on Him. He had chosen them, rescued them out of slavery in Egypt, led them through the wilderness and delivered them into the land, just as He had promised. He gave them victories over their enemies. He provided them with cities they had not constructed, fields and vineyards they had not planted, and homes they had not built. He had given them His law to clearly reveal for them how they were to live as His chosen people. And then He had provided them with the sacrificial system so that they could receive His forgiveness when they failed to live up to His law. He had graciously allowed them to demand a king and had given them Saul. When they discovered just how bad things could be with a king “just like all the other nations” had, He had given them David. And while David had his faults, he was a man after God’s own heart and “he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, And guided them with his skillful hands” (Psalm 78:72 NASB).

Over and over again, God had proven His faithfulness to Israel and Judah. But they had returned His favor with faithlessness. They had forsaken Him. But as if that was not enough, God levels the second charge against them. They had chosen replacements for Him. God puts their sin in very descriptive terms: “…they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” (Jeremiah 2:13 NLT). By forsaking God, they had turned their back on “the fountain of living water.” God had been their sole source of refreshment and nourishment. He had been their means of life support. The term, “living water” refers to fresh, flowing water, as in a stream or a brook. It is pure and free from stagnation or pollution. But it also provides life. It keeps those who drink from it alive and well. But the people of God had chosen to refuse the living water and, instead, had decided to dig cisterns to catch their own water. The picture here is one of stubborn self-sufficiency. Rather than rely on the living water, the free-flowing, life-giving water of God; they had decided to make their own source of water. Cisterns were a common feature in those days. They were simply depressions or holes dug into rock that were designed to collect rain water. In an arid environment, they were a necessity. But the contrast God provides is that of having a free-flowing stream within easy access and choosing to build a cistern instead. One of the natural problems with a cistern is that the water collected in it was prone to stagnation. It was easily contaminated by outside influences such as dust, dirt or even animals. It was less than fresh. That is what makes the comparison sound so absurd. And to make matters worse, God describes the cistern as cracked and, as a result, it leaked. It wasn’t even a good cistern. It failed to do what it was designed to do. What a great description of false gods. They are man-made, designed to deliver life, but incapable of delivering on their intended purpose. The Scriptures are replete with stinging accusations against the absurdity of idols.

Their idols are merely things of silver and gold,
    shaped by human hands.
They have mouths but cannot speak,
    and eyes but cannot see.
They have ears but cannot hear,
    and noses but cannot smell.
They have hands but cannot feel,
    and feet but cannot walk,
    and throats but cannot make a sound.
And those who make idols are just like them,
    as are all who trust in them. – Psalm 115:4-8 NLT

Their gods are like helpless scarecrows in a cucumber field! They cannot speak, and they need to be carried because they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of such gods, for they can neither harm you nor do you any good. – Jeremiah 10:5 NLT

The idol makers encourage one another,
    saying to each other, “Be strong!”
The carver encourages the goldsmith,
    and the molder helps at the anvil.
    “Good,” they say. “It’s coming along fine.”
Carefully they join the parts together,
    then fasten the thing in place so it won’t fall over. – Isaiah 41:6-7 NLT

Idols are like a cistern with a crack in it. Crafted by men, but deaf, dumb and blind, and incapable of providing life. The people of God had turned their back on God Almighty, the one who had defeated the forces of Pharaoh and conquered the nations of Canaan. And in His place, they had set up idols that they had made with their own hands. They had offered sacrifices to blocks of wood and pieces of metal. They had put their hope and trust in those things that had no power to deliver help or provide protection. They had staked their lives on lifeless, inanimate objects. Absurd? No doubt. Ridiculous? Absolutely. But we still do it today. In fact, Tim Keller provides us with a great definition of idolatry that brings it into our modern, 21st-Century context.

What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give…

An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I ‘ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship. (Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters).

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Forgetting God.

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the Lord,

“I remember the devotion of your youth,
    your love as a bride,
how you followed me in the wilderness,
    in a land not sown.
Israel was holy to the Lord,
    the firstfruits of his harvest.
All who ate of it incurred guilt;
    disaster came upon them,
declares the Lord.”

Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the clans of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord:

“What wrong did your fathers find in me
    that they went far from me,
and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?
They did not say, ‘Where is the Lord
    who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness,
    in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness,
    in a land that none passes through,
    where no man dwells?’
And I brought you into a plentiful land
    to enjoy its fruits and its good things.
But when you came in, you defiled my land
    and made my heritage an abomination.
The priests did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’
    Those who handle the law did not know me;
the shepherds transgressed against me;
    the prophets prophesied by Baal
    and went after things that do not profit. – Jeremiah 2:1-8 ESV

God has been speaking to Jeremiah, but now, he gives the prophet his first message to deliver to the people living in Jerusalem, Judah’s capital city. These were God’s words, not Jeremiah’s. He was simply God’s spokesperson or mouthpiece, tasked with the responsibility of delivering God’s message faithfully and accurately. And the first thing God had Jeremiah say to the people was a stark assessment of their apostasy in the form of a stinging indictment. It starts off in the form of a reflection on God’s part, as He looks back on His relationship with the people of Israel. He recalls the early years of their relationship, when He delivered them from captivity in Egypt and led them through the wilderness. God describes Israel as His bride, lovingly following Him as their husband and redeemer. And God describes Israel as “holy to the Lord” (Jeremiah 2:3 ESV). They had been chosen by God and set apart as His own. The Hebrew word for holy is qodesh and it refers to something as having been deemed sacred by God and separated out for His use. Israel, in being redeemed from slavery in Egypt by God, had become His possession. They belonged to Him and to Him only. Like a bride and groom becoming one flesh, Israel and God were to be inseparable, with the people of Israel living in faithful submission to their loving redeemer. And God reminds the people how He had protected them in those early days. He refers to Israel as the “firstfruits” – a reference to the firstfruits of the harvest. Under the leadership of Moses, God had commanded the Israelites to give Him the firstfruits of their harvest each year. They were to take the first of what they harvested and present it to the Lord as an offering. It belonged to God and was not to be used for anything or by anyone else. The firstfruit offering was used to feed the priests of Israel and was not to be consumed by others. So, God refers to Israel as the firstfruits, belonging to Him and not to be given to anyone else. And God reminds Israel that He had protected them over the years, punishing those who tried to take what belonged to God.

But then God goes from reminiscing to questioning. He asks the people of Israel, “What did your ancestors find wrong with me that led them to stray so far from me? They worshiped worthless idols, only to become worthless themselves?” (Jeremiah 2:5 NLT). It’s important to recognize that, while Jeremiah is delivering this message to the people of Judah living in Jerusalem, God keeps referring to them as Israel. You may recall that the nation of Israel had been split in two by God after the less-than-ideal end of Solomon’s reign as king. The nation of Israel was comprised of ten tribes to the north and the nation of Judah was made up of two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, in the south. By the time Jeremiah came on to the scene, the northern nation of Israel had already been destroyed by the Assyrians because of their apostasy toward God. But God saw the tribe of Judah as the true Israel, because He had promised King David that a descendant of his would one day come to reign on his throne in Jerusalem forever. That promise referred to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. So, all throughout the book of Jeremiah, God will refer to Judah as Israel. And in spite of them having watched the fall of the northern kingdom, the people of Judah learned nothing from it. They followed in their footsteps, committing the same crimes against God that had led to Israel’s destruction. In fact, in the very next chapter, God will indict the people of Judah for their blatant disregard for what He had done to their neighbors to the north.

“Have you seen what fickle Israel has done? Like a wife who commits adultery, Israel has worshiped other gods on every hill and under every green tree. I thought, ‘After she has done all this, she will return to me.’ But she did not return, and her faithless sister Judah saw this. She saw that I divorced faithless Israel because of her adultery. But that treacherous sister Judah had no fear, and now she, too, has left me and given herself to prostitution. Israel treated it all so lightly—she thought nothing of committing adultery by worshiping idols made of wood and stone. So now the land has been polluted. But despite all this, her faithless sister Judah has never sincerely returned to me. She has only pretended to be sorry. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 3:6-10 NLT

They had completely forgotten about God. They no longer asked where He was or recalled all that He had done for them. They acted as if He didn’t even exist. Rather than living in grateful obedience to God in the land He had provided them, they defiled it by living in willful disobedience to and open disregard for Him. Even the priests and leaders failed to seek God.

“Those who taught my word ignored me,
    the rulers turned against me,
and the prophets spoke in the name of Baal,
    wasting their time on worthless idols.” – Jeremiah 2:8 NLT

The book of Ezekiel contains a stinging accusation from God against the people of Israel. In very graphic terms, it portrays Israel as a newborn baby, unwanted and left in a field to die. But God found Israel and provided care and nourishment. Israel grew up into a beautiful woman and God chose Israel to be His bride.

“I gave you expensive clothing of fine linen and silk, beautifully embroidered, and sandals made of fine goatskin leather. I gave you lovely jewelry, bracelets, beautiful necklaces, a ring for your nose, earrings for your ears, and a lovely crown for your head. And so you were adorned with gold and silver. Your clothes were made of fine linen and costly fabric and were beautifully embroidered. You ate the finest foods—choice flour, honey, and olive oil—and became more beautiful than ever. You looked like a queen, and so you were! Your fame soon spread throughout the world because of your beauty. I dressed you in my splendor and perfected your beauty, says the Sovereign Lord.

“But you thought your fame and beauty were your own. So you gave yourself as a prostitute to every man who came along. Your beauty was theirs for the asking. You used the lovely things I gave you to make shrines for idols, where you played the prostitute. Unbelievable! How could such a thing ever happen? You took the very jewels and gold and silver ornaments I had given you and made statues of men and worshiped them. This is adultery against me! You used the beautifully embroidered clothes I gave you to dress your idols. Then you used my special oil and my incense to worship them. Imagine it! You set before them as a sacrifice the choice flour, olive oil, and honey I had given you, says the Sovereign Lord. – Ezekiel 16:10-19 NLT

After all God had done for them, Israel had treated God with disdain and disrespect. They turned against Him, forsaking His love and giving their devotion to false gods. They had been set apart by God as His own. They had been deemed holy by God and dedicated by Him to a life of faithfulness to Him. But they had chosen to reject their Redeemer and give their love and affection to someone else.

“What a sick heart you have, says the Sovereign Lord, to do such things as these, acting like a shameless prostitute. – Ezekiel 16:30 NLT

They had forgotten God. They had turned their backs on the very One who had rescued them from slavery and graciously given them a land they didn’t deserve and a love that was undeserved. And they treated it all with contempt. The grace and mercy of God meant nothing to them. The love of God was not enough for them. Their status as God’s possession was meaningless to them. They treated God’s devotion with disregard. They responded to His love by loving others. They reacted to His faithfulness with unfaithfulness, and to His unmerited favor with unimaginable forgetfulness. “What a sick heart you have!”

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Branches, Pots, Pillars and Walls.

And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.” Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.”

The word of the Lord came to me a second time, saying, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see a boiling pot, facing away from the north.” Then the Lord said to me, “Out of the north disaster shall be let loose upon all the inhabitants of the land. For behold, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, declares the Lord, and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls all around and against all the cities of Judah. And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands. But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.” – Jeremiah 1:11-19 ESV

Jeremiah must have looked like he needed a bit of convincing. Of course, God knew Jeremiah’s heart and was fully aware that just because Jeremiah was called didn’t mean he was convinced of and committed to that calling. So, God gave His reluctant prophet a few signs to confirm that what He was saying was true. These two signs are similar to what God did when Moses expressed reluctance at God’s call to be the deliver of Israel.  Moses had his doubts. He was unconvinced that the people of Israel would listen to what God had given him to say.

But Moses protested again, “What if they won’t believe me or listen to me? What if they say, ‘The Lord never appeared to you’?” – Exodus 4:1 NLT

So, God gave Moses a sign. He asked Moses what he was holding in his hand and Moses, responded, “A shepherd’s staff” (Exodus 4:2 NLT).

“Throw it down on the ground,” the Lord told him. So Moses threw down the staff, and it turned into a snake! Moses jumped back. – Exodus 4:3 NLT

Moses couldn’t believe his eyes. He jumped back in fright and astonishment. He hadn’t seen this one coming. But God was not done yet.

Then the Lord told him, “Reach out and grab its tail.” So Moses reached out and grabbed it, and it turned back into a shepherd’s staff in his hand. – Exodus 4:4 NLT

In a similar way, God asked Jeremiah what he saw, and he responded, “I see an almond branch.” Whether this was a vision or an actual almond tree, we are not told. I tend to believe that God simply pointed out a nearby tree and almond trees were plentiful in that area of the world at that time. So Jeremiah saw the almond tree, which is one of the first trees to bloom in the spring. God was going to use this common sight and turn it into a constant reminder of His faithfulness to do what He has said He will do. The Hebrew word for almond is shaqed and it is very similar to a key word God uses in the very next line: shaqad. This Hebrew word mean “watch”. God told Jeremiah, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it” (Jeremiah 1:12 ESV). Every time Jeremiah saw an almond (shaqed) tree, he would be reminded that God is watchful (shaqad) and will do what He has promised to do. Jeremiah could trust God.

But God was not done. Once again, He asked Jeremiah, ““What do you see?” And Jeremiah responded, “I see a boiling pot, facing away from the north” (Jeremiah 1:13 ESV). This time, Jeremiah was shown a pot of boiling water that was tipped precariously, as if its scalding contents were about to spill out. And when Jeremiah told God what he saw, God provide its meaning: “Out of the north disaster shall be let loose upon all the inhabitants of the land” (Jeremiah 1:14 ESV). What followed was God’s description of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of Judah. Remember, God had given Jeremiah a visual prompt in the form of the almond tree, that whatever He says will happen, will happen. And now, He was telling Jeremiah exactly what was going to happen. 

It is interesting to note that God simply tells Jeremiah, “ I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north … and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem” (Jeremiah 1:15 ESV). We know that it was the Babylonians who would eventually come against Judah. But when God gave Jeremiah this prophetic word, they were not a threat. It was the Assyrians who were the bully on the block at the time Jeremiah received his call and commission. But they would eventually be replaced by the Babylonians. The Neo-Babylonians would actually be a confederation of northern tribes that join forces in a massive army under the leadership of King Nebuchadnezzar. They would come against the cities of Judah and eventually establish a siege against the capital, Jerusalem.

God provided Jeremiah a glimpse into Judah’s not-so-pretty future. And He tells Jeremiah exactly why this was going to be their fate.

And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands. – Jeremiah 1:16 ESV

Unfaithfulness. That would be the ultimate cause of Judah’s fall, just as it had been for Israel, the northern kingdom. And it is important to note that this word of warning came to Jeremiah when Josiah was king of Judah. He was the reformer-king. Unlike most of the other kings of Judah, he was described in positive terms: “He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight and followed the example of his ancestor David. He did not turn away from doing what was right” (2 Kings 22:2 NLT). He ordered repairs to the temple and in the process of doing the work, a copy of the book of the law was found. When Josiah heard what was written in the law, he was devastated. He realized that the people of Judah had been living in disobedience to God’s commands for years. So, he set out to change all that. He instituted a series of important reforms, calling the people back to the worship of Yahweh. He had the law read to the people and then he “renewed the covenant in the Lord’s presence. He pledged to obey the Lord by keeping all his commands, laws, and decrees with all his heart and soul. In this way, he confirmed all the terms of the covenant that were written in the scroll, and all the people pledged themselves to the covenant” (2 Kings 23:3 NLT).

So, when God gave Jeremiah the vision of the boiling pot, and warned him of the destruction to come, it was at a time in Judah when things were a spiritual upswing. Josiah was making some real progress in bringing about change. But God knew better. He knew the hearts of the people and was fully aware that much of what was happening was external in nature. The hearts of the people had not and would not change. Their unfaithfulness was inevitable and God’s judgment was unavoidable.

And God gives Jeremiah his marching orders: “Get up and prepare for action. Go out and tell them everything I tell you to say. Do not be afraid of them, or I will make you look foolish in front of them” (Jeremiah 1:17 NLT). Not exactly what you might call a pep talk. God let Jeremiah know that this was not going to be a walk in the park. He was going to face opposition. The people were not going to like what he had to say. Jeremiah was not going to win any popularity contests or be invited to a lot of dinner parties. But God let’s Jeremiah know that he will not be alone or left on his own.

“I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.” – Jeremiah 1:18-19 ESV

God was going to equip Jeremiah to handle the task ahead of him. God uses three images to assure Jeremiah that he will have what it takes to do what he has been called to do. God tells this reluctant and, probably shell-shocked young man that He will make him like a fortified city, able to resist the onslaught of the enemy. He will be like an iron pillar, strong and able to remain upright under the greatest of pressures. He will also be like a bronze wall, impervious to the arrows of those who would seek to do him harm. Jeremiah’s job was not going to be easy, but God was going to be with him.

It is not easy to speak the truth of God. It never has been. What Jeremiah was going to have to tell the people of Judah was not going to be easy to say and it would be even harder to receive. The idea that God would destroy them would be repugnant to the people of Judah. Any calls to reform or repentance would be met with deaf ears. The prophet of God is rarely ever met with open arms by the people of God. And that is true today as it was back in Jeremiah’s day. In fact, Vance Havener sarcastically describes the modern church as a “non-prophet organization” (Vance Havner, cited by Dennis J. Hester, compiler, in The Vance Havner Quotebook, p. 179.). We don’t like to hear the truth. We don’t want to be told that what we’re doing is wrong or out of step with God’s will. We don’t like to be called on the carpet or have our sins exposed. In fact, Paul told Timothy that a day was coming “when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3 NLT). And that day is here.

Jeremiah had his work cut out for him. But God was going to be with him. He just needed to be obedient and faithful to his calling, and God would do the rest. Jeremiah was not to seek the favor of men, but to pursue faithfulness to God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Called By God.

Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying,“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the Lord.”

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me,

“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” – Jeremiah 1:4-10 ESV

The verses above contain the conversation Jeremiah had with God concerning his calling to be a prophet. They reflect Yahweh’s sovereign selection of Jeremiah and Jeremiah’s reluctant response to the news. It is easy to read these words and miss the significance of the fact that Jeremiah was talking with God Almighty. We are not told how Jeremiah received this news from God. The text simply says, “Now the word of the Lord came to me” (Jeremiah 1:4 ESV). Was it in the form of a vision? Was it an audible voice? Did an angel appear? We don’t know. But suffice it to say, that Jeremiah was probably a bit surprised to hear from God, no matter how it happened. And, when he heard what God had to say, it obviously caught Jeremiah by surprise. Jeremiah was probably as young as 16, and no older than 20, when he heard this call from God. Which explains Jeremiah’s response: “I am only a youth” (Jeremiah 1:7 ESV). Hearing God speak to him was shocking enough, but when he heard what God had for him to do, Jeremiah was understandably dumbfounded. He was just a kid. What was God thinking? He didn’t have what it took to be a prophet. But God opened up his conversation with Jeremiah with a statement that should have brought the young man comfort.

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” – Jeremiah 1:5 NLT

Notice what God says. He tells Jeremiah that He knew (yada’) Jeremiah before gestation. The Hebrew word provides a glimpse into God’s incredible omniscience and sovereignty. He knew, had an awareness of, Jeremiah long before he was even conceived. This was not some last-minute selection process where God looked down from heaven and spied Jeremiah and determined he would make a good candidate for a prophet. No, God had pre-ordained Jeremiah’s birth and his ultimate appointment as a prophet. Jeremiah had been created by God for his role as a prophet. In speaking of Jeremiah’s appointment, God used the Hebrew word, qadash. It most often gets translated as “sanctify” and it usually means to consecrate or set apart as sacred. God was telling Jeremiah that he had been set apart by God for His use. He had been created by God for a specific purpose. He was not a cosmic accident or a byproduct of random chance. He had been fore-ordained and set apart to be God’s divinely appointed spokesperson. And that word “appointed” is the Hebrew word, nathan, which most often gets translated as “give”. God was giving Jeremiah to the nations as a prophet. Jeremiah belonged to God and was being sent by God to minister to His people.

And yet, Jeremiah responds to this astounding news by telling God, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth” (Jeremiah 1:6 ESV). All God’s talk of Jeremiah being preordained and created specifically for this role fell on deaf ears. To Jeremiah, this all sounded like a case of mistaken identity. God must have gotten him confused with someone else. So he attempted to inform God that he was too young and too ill-equipped for this assignment. But what Jeremiah failed to comprehend was that the God who had set him apart even prior to his conception, knew things about Jeremiah he didn’t know himself. God hadn’t just made Jeremiah for the job, He had equipped him to accomplish it. Within Jeremiah’s DNA were all the qualities and attributes he would need to do what he had been created to do.

God rejected Jeremiah’s attempt to use his young age as an excuse. God was not going to be limited by what Jeremiah believed to be a chronological deficiency. And his inability to speak was not going to be a deal-breaker either. God had made Jeremiah specifically for this job. He was perfectly suited for the assignment. He just didn’t know it yet. So, God simply told Jeremiah, “you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you” (Jeremiah 1:7 NLT). The only thing Jeremiah had to worry about was obeying God. He was going to be told where to do and exactly what to say. Jeremiah wasn’t going to have to come up with a criteria or agenda. He wasn’t going to have to write any speeches. God had all the details pre-planned, down to the very words Jeremiah was going to say. Not only that, God knew how it was all going to turn out. Which is why He told Jeremiah, “And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you” (Jeremiah 1:8 NLT). At this point, Jeremiah had no idea what it was that God was going to have him say. He wasn’t even sure where he was being sent. But God knew. And God was fully aware of how Jeremiah’s assignment was going to turn out. All Jeremiah needed to know was that God had created him for this role and that the outcome was completely up to God.

God touched Jeremiah’s lips and told him, “I have put my words in your mouth” (Jeremiah 1:9 ESV). This symbolic gesture was designed to assure Jeremiah that the words he spoke would be the words of God. Yahweh would be using Jeremiah’s lips to deliver His message to the nations. He would be speaking on behalf of God. And Jeremiah’s assignment was “to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10 ESV). In these words we have a synopsis of Jeremiah’s message. He was going to tell the people of Judah about God’s plan to bring judgment upon them in the form of the Babylonians. They would be destroyed because of their disobedience and unfaithfulness to God. But one day, they would return to the land and be restored to God. God would rebuke, but He would also redeem. He would punish, but He would also pardon. 

Jeremiah didn’t need to doubt his calling. He didn’t need to worry about his qualification. He didn’t even need to worry about whether he would be successful or not. God had it all under control. From beginning to end, this was all part of God’s sovereign plan. There were no loose ends. There were no aspects of the plan that had not been taken into account. No matter how Jeremiah felt about his qualifications or how he might later view the success of his efforts, God knew what He was doing and had already determined exactly what was going to happen. All Jeremiah had to do was go and speak.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson