Covenant Breakers.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. You shall say to them, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Cursed be the man who does not hear the words of this covenant that I commanded your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God, that I may confirm the oath that I swore to your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as at this day.” Then I answered, “So be it, Lord.”

And the Lord said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: Hear the words of this covenant and do them. For I solemnly warned your fathers when I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, warning them persistently, even to this day, saying, Obey my voice. Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of his evil heart. Therefore I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not.”

Again the Lord said to me, “A conspiracy exists among the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear my words. They have gone after other gods to serve them. The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant that I made with their fathers. Therefore, thus says the Lord, Behold, I am bringing disaster upon them that they cannot escape. Though they cry to me, I will not listen to them. Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry to the gods to whom they make offerings, but they cannot save them in the time of their trouble. For your gods have become as many as your cities, O Judah, and as many as the streets of Jerusalem are the altars you have set up to shame, altars to make offerings to Baal.

“Therefore do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer on their behalf, for I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their trouble. What right has my beloved in my house, when she has done many vile deeds? Can even sacrificial flesh avert your doom? Can you then exult? The Lord once called you ‘a green olive tree, beautiful with good fruit.’ But with the roar of a great tempest he will set fire to it, and its branches will be consumed. The Lord of hosts, who planted you, has decreed disaster against you, because of the evil that the house of Israel and the house of Judah have done, provoking me to anger by making offerings to Baal.” Jeremiah 11:1-17 ESV

God had made a covenant with the people of Israel. It had been a bi-lateral, binding covenant that promised blessings if they kept it and curses if they didn’t. This covenant required obedience on their part. But it came with incredible benefits, backed by the personal guarantee of God.

“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God:

Your towns and your fields
    will be blessed.
Your children and your crops
    will be blessed.
The offspring of your herds and flocks
    will be blessed.
Your fruit baskets and breadboards
    will be blessed.
Wherever you go and whatever you do,
    you will be blessed.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-6 NLT

But this covenant had a downside. There were curses associated with it that would go into effect if they chose to break their end of the agreement.

“But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you:

Your towns and your fields
    will be cursed.
Your fruit baskets and breadboards
    will be cursed.
Your children and your crops
    will be cursed.
The offspring of your herds and flocks
    will be cursed.
Wherever you go and whatever you do,
    you will be cursed.

“The Lord himself will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in everything you do, until at last you are completely destroyed for doing evil and abandoning me.” – Deuteronomy 28:15-20 NLT

There was no question that the people had broken the covenant. They had willingly and blatantly disobeyed God and made a habit out of pursuing false gods. Which led God to proclaim:

“They have returned to the sins of their ancestors. They have refused to listen to me and are worshiping other gods. Israel and Judah have both broken the covenant I made with their ancestors.” – Jeremiah 11:10 NLT

So, God was obligated, by His very nature, to keep His Word and do what He had said He would do if they proved unfaithful to keep His covenant. The curses were coming. The people of Judah were going to be evicted from the very land He had promised to Abraham and given to Joshua and the second generation of Israelites who had survived the years of wandering in the wilderness. They had gone from paupers in Egypt to private land owners in Canaan. They had enjoyed all the benefits of a rich and fruitful land. They had experienced the protective hand of God and benefited greatly from His provision for all of their needs. But, in spite of all that God had done for them, they had proved unfaithful to Him. God had been the one to plant them in the land, like an olive tree. They thrived, bore fruit and were beautiful to look at. But eventually, they became barren and useless, unable to bear fruit and incapable of living up to God’s expectations of them. So He would be forced to destroy them. And no amount of prayers for mercy was going to help. Their sacrifices and vows would prove useless, because God knew their hearts and was well aware that their remorse was a sham.

“What right do my beloved people have to come to my Temple,
    when they have done so many immoral things?
Can their vows and sacrifices prevent their destruction?
    They actually rejoice in doing evil!” – Jeremiah 11:15 NLT

They loved sinning too much to give it up. They weren’t willing to change their ways. They just wanted God to call off the dogs and cancel His plan to destroy them. But all the while they were calling out to God for mercy, they were burning incense and offering sacrifices to their litany of gods, in the hopes that one of them might step in and rescue them. And if you think about it, they were asking their false gods to defeat the revealed will of the one true God. Unwilling to accept the ramifications of their disobedience to the covenant, they were demanding that their false gods deliver them from the divine justice of Yahweh. But God breaks the new to them that “the idols will not save them when disaster strikes!” (Jeremiah 11:12 NLT).

God was going to fulfill the covenant He had made with Israel. He was the one who had planted them in the land. He had made them fruitful. He had blessed them beyond measure. But they had proven to be unfaithful and unwilling to remain obedient to the covenant they had made with Him. And, as a result, God would keep His word and do to them exactly what He had said He would do.

“I, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, who planted this olive tree, have ordered it destroyed. For the people of Israel and Judah have done evil, arousing my anger by burning incense to Baal.” – Jeremiah 11:17 NLT

And God let’s them know that the blessings they once enjoyed would be a thing of the past. The abundance and affluence they had known in the land of Canaan would not follow them to Babylon.

“You will plant much but harvest little, for locusts will eat your crops. You will plant vineyards and care for them, but you will not drink the wine or eat the grapes, for worms will destroy the vines. You will grow olive trees throughout your land, but you will never use the olive oil, for the fruit will drop before it ripens. You will have sons and daughters, but you will lose them, for they will be led away into captivity. Swarms of insects will destroy your trees and crops.” – Deuteronomy 29:38-42 NLT

God had blessed them beyond belief. He had given them a land they did not deserve. He had provided them with victories over their enemies they could have never accomplished without Him. He had made them fruitful and powerful. He had repeatedly forgiven their sins and provided them with atonement through His sacrificial system. But they had taken all the blessings of God and responded in unfaithfulness. They had treated the God of the universe with contempt. And all God had really asked of them was that they respond to His love with love. He wanted them to show gratitude and affection for His many blessings. And He had warned them that failure to do so would have deadly consequences.

“If you do not serve the Lord your God with joy and enthusiasm for the abundant benefits you have received, you will serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you. You will be left hungry, thirsty, naked, and lacking in everything.” – Deuteronomy 28:47-48 NLT

The people of Judah loved sin more than they loved God. They found it easier to rejoice in doing evil than to find joy in loving and obeying of God. They took His blessings for granted. They saw His forgiveness as a foregone conclusion. He had always forgiven them of their sins. All they had to do was offer a few sacrifices and tell Him they were sorry. But God was looking for heart change. He wanted love, not sacrifice. He desired obedience motivated by faithfulness and true affection.

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

Just and Justified.

Woe is me because of my hurt!
    My wound is grievous.
But I said, “Truly this is an affliction,
    and I must bear it.”
My tent is destroyed,
    and all my cords are broken;
my children have gone from me,
    and they are not;
there is no one to spread my tent again
    and to set up my curtains.
For the shepherds are stupid
    and do not inquire of the Lord;
therefore they have not prospered,
    and all their flock is scattered.

A voice, a rumor! Behold, it comes!—
    a great commotion out of the north country
to make the cities of Judah a desolation,
    a lair of jackals.

I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself,
    that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.
Correct me, O Lord, but in justice;
    not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.

Pour out your wrath on the nations that know you not,
    and on the peoples that call not on your name,
for they have devoured Jacob;
    they have devoured him and consumed him,
    and have laid waste his habitation. Jeremiah 10:19-25 ESV

In the opening lines of this section of chapter 10, Jeremiah speaks on behalf of the people, expressing the dismay they will express at the coming destruction. He personifies the nation of Judah as a nomad whose tent has been torn down and his children, lost. He has no one to help him rebuild his home and he has no idea where his children might be. Understandably, he is distraught and filled with grief. But he realizes that there is nothing he can do about it. He must simply endure the pain.

But Jeremiah blames the religious and political leaders, those men who had been tasked with shepherding the people of Judah. He describes them as stupid and accuses them of refusing to seek the Lord. They led the people according to their own wisdom, rather than trusting and obeying the word of God. Their failure was imminent and they would be held responsible by God for the moral decay and inevitable destruction of His people. But that did not mean the people were guiltless and innocent before God. They had allowed themselves to be misled because they wanted to be. Their leaders were simply telling them what they wanted to hear and setting an example they were more than willing to follow. In his first letter to the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul addressed the problem of allowing bad leadership to infect and influence the church.

Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.” Think carefully about what is right, and stop sinning. For to your shame I say that some of you don’t know God at all. – 1 Corinthians 15:33-34 NLT

There were evidently so-called leaders in the church in Corinth who were denying the doctrine of the resurrection. They were teaching that this life is all there is, and encouraged the people to “feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!” (1 Corinthians 15:32 NLT). In other words, there is not afterlife, so grab all the gusto you can in this one. That kind of message was popular because it appealed to man’s base desire for pleasure and self-gratification. But Paul warned the believers in Corinth to consider carefully before following the advice of these individuals. He wanted them to do what was right, not what was most appealing. Paul would also warn Timothy about this problem, telling his young protege, “For a time is 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. They will reject the truth and chase after myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT).

Telling people what they want to hear may make you popular, but it won’t win you any brownie points with God. Along with the crowds, you’ll end up attracting the judgment of God. And judgment was coming on the leaders and the people of Judah. The Babylonian invasion was looming. And this led Jeremiah to offer up to God a personal prayer of repentance. Even though he was God’s prophet and had faithfully fulfilled his duty to deliver God’s message to the people, he knew he was not without guilt. He was one of the people of Judah. They all shared in the responsibility of their corporate sins against God. So, Jeremiah pleaded with God to correct them, but not in anger. He didn’t ask God to refrain from bringing judgment, but begged Him to be gentle.

I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own.
    We are not able to plan our own course.
So correct me, Lord, but please be gentle.
    Do not correct me in anger, for I would die. – Jeremiah 10:23-24 NLT

But Jeremiah also asked God to judge the Babylonians. He fully understood that God was going to use this pagan nation to discipline the people of Judah, but Jeremiah wanted to know that God would also bring judgment upon them for what they were about to do to His people. As a citizen of Judah, Jeremiah was willing to accept the judgment of God and suffer the consequences for their unfaithfulness. He knew God would be just in His judgment and perfectly justified in bringing it. But He also appealed to God’s sense of justice when it came to those whom God would use to mete out His judgment. Jeremiah simply wanted to know that God would do the right and just thing when it came to the Babylonians. And near the end of the book that bears his name, Jeremiah receives a message from God letting him know that the Babylonians will one day face a judgment of their own.

This is what the Lord says:
“I will stir up a destroyer against Babylon
    and the people of Babylonia.
Foreigners will come and winnow her,
    blowing her away as chaff.
They will come from every side
    to rise against her in her day of trouble.” – Jeremiah 51:1-2 NLT

The Babylonians would be judged by God as well. God would eventually raise up the Medes, who would defeat the formally indestructable Babylonians. And God will remind Jeremiah:

“For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    has not abandoned Israel and Judah.
He is still their God,
    even though their land was filled with sin
    against the Holy One of Israel.” – Jeremiah 51:5 NLT

God can be counted on to do the just and right thing. He is always right in all His ways.

The LORD is righteous in all his ways… – Psalm 145:17 ESV

God’s way is perfect. All the LORD’s promises prove true. – Psalm 18:30 NLT

He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT

Therefore, the LORD has brought upon us the disaster he prepared. The LORD our God was right to do all of these things, for we did not obey him. – Daniel 9:14 NLT

Destruction was coming on Judah. They deserved it. The judgment of God was justified and He would be proven righteous in every action He took against Judah. He would also be just in His dealings with Babylon. While His ways may not seem to make sense to us or appeal to our sense of fairness, we have no right to question His motive or means. He is the sovereign God of the universe who not only has the right to deal with His creation as He sees fit, He is righteous in all that He does. He will not sin because He cannot sin. He is holy in all that He does. And His will for mankind is not based on a whim or subject to emotional instability on His part. He is not driven by His emotions or susceptible to sinful reactions. He can be trusted to do the right thing each and every time and in each and every circumstance.

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

Breathless and Worthless.

Thus shall you say to them: “The gods who did not make the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens.”

It is he who made the earth by his power,
    who established the world by his wisdom,
    and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.
When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens,
    and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth.
He makes lightning for the rain,
    and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses.
Every man is stupid and without knowledge;
    every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols,
for his images are false,
    and there is no breath in them.
They are worthless, a work of delusion;
    at the time of their punishment they shall perish.
Not like these is he who is the portion of Jacob,
    for he is the one who formed all things,
and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance;
    the Lord of hosts is his name.

Gather up your bundle from the ground,
    O you who dwell under siege!
For thus says the Lord:
“Behold, I am slinging out the inhabitants of the land
    at this time,
and I will bring distress on them,
    that they may feel it.”
Jeremiah 10:11-18 ESV

False gods versus the one true God. There is no comparison. There are no similarities. The only thing they share in common is that when the Babylonians invade Judah, their temples and shrines will all be plundered and destroyed. Even the gods themselves, will be taken as booty. Those made of precious metals will be melted down and re-purposed. Any wooden idols will be burned to ashes with the rest of the city when it is destroyed. And as Jeremiah so bluntly puts it, “When the time comes to punish them, they will be destroyed” (Jeremiah 10:15 NLT). But while the temple of Yahweh will end up plundered and its holy objects taken as loot, Yahweh Himself will remain alive and well. He will not cease to be simply because His house of worship is destroyed. As verse 11 states, it is “the gods who did not make the heavens and the earth” that will perish from the earth and from under the heavens. Not only will they be proven temporal and not eternal, they will be exposed as false. They have no power because they have no life. But it is Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews who “made the earth by his power, and he preserves it by his wisdom. With his own understanding he stretched out the heavens.” (Jeremiah 10:12 NLT). Yahweh is the one who made all that exists, including the trees that provided the wood that was carved into a lifeless idol. He made possible the gold that was used by sinful men to craft a figurine to which they would bow down in worship.

Yahweh alone has power. He controls the seasons. He sends the rain and lightning. He speaks and the skies thunder and shake. He gives life to all living things. He is the great and incomparable Creator-God. And yet, for generations, mankind has managed to look past God’s divine attributes and place their hopes in gods that lifeless and powerless to help them.

The whole human race is foolish and has no knowledge!
    The craftsmen are disgraced by the idols they make,
for their carefully shaped works are a fraud.
    These idols have no breath or power.
Idols are worthless; they are ridiculous lies! – Jeremiah 10:14-15 NLT

But God is no idol. He is not a figment of man’s imagination. The God of the Hebrews was not invented by them. In fact, it was the other way around.

But the God of Israel is no idol!
    He is the Creator of everything that exists,
including Israel, his own special possession.
    The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name! – Jeremiah 10:16 NLT

God made the people of Judah. He crafted them with His own hands. Then He called them to be His own possession. He set them apart to be a holy nation, belonging to Him and commanded to live in obedience to Him. He had made a covenant with them and had promised to provide for and protect them, as long as they remained faithful to Him. He had commanded them not to worship other gods.

“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.” – Exodus 20:2-6 NLT

But they had rejected their rescuer. They had turned their backs on their creator. And they had proven unfaithful to the one who had faithfully loved and cared for them over the generations. He had patiently tolerated their stubbornness and forgiven their sins. He had allowed them to sacrifice countless animals in order to experience atonement and enjoy continuing fellowship with Him, even though they had no intention of changing their ways. Like an abused spouse, God had put up with their infidelity and forgiven their indiscretions. But the time had come for Him to repay them for their sins. And He tells Jeremiah to warn the people of Judah that His patience has worn out.

Pack your bags and prepare to leave;
    the siege is about to begin.
For this is what the Lord says:
“Suddenly, I will fling out
    all you who live in this land.
I will pour great troubles upon you,
    and at last you will feel my anger.” – Jeremiah 10:17-18 NLT

God was far from breathless and worthless. He spoke and His words had power. He was and is majestic in nature and fully capable of acting like God. You could destroy His temple, steal his holy treasures, kill His priests, and reduce the city called by His name to rubble, but He would continue to exist in all His glory, might and majesty. You could come up with a host of other gods to worship and manufacture as many idols as there are stars in heaven, but in the end, He would be the last god standing. God could not be relegated to a building or placed on a bookshelf or mantel. He couldn’t be carried from one place to another. Even King Solomon, at the dedication of the great temple he had built for God, was forced to admit: “But will God really live on earth? Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27 NLT). And Stephen, in the sermon he gave that led to his stoning, reminded the Jews of his day that God was greater than the temple.

“…it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?’” – Acts 7:47-50 NLT

Idolatry is sheer stupidity. It makes no sense. But that doesn’t change the fact that man has always been drawn to worship what he can make rather than revere the One who made him. Ever since the fall, mankind has made a habit out of making gods, because man was made to worship. We were originally made by God for the worship of God. We were intended to enjoy unbroken fellowship with Him and experience the joy of His love and the pleasure of returning that love in worship, honor and praise. But sin changed all that. Sin brought self-worship. It resulted in man’s obsession with false gods that are really nothing more than mere replicas of man himself. The false gods we make are intended to provide us with a false sense of self-worth and self-satisfaction. We tend to make gods whose primary purposes are to serve us, rather than be served by us. They exist for our pleasure, not the other way around. Because at the end of the day, what we really long for is to be gods ourselves. It was the very desire Satan used to tempt Adam and Eve in the garden.

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 NLT

But Adam and Eve proved to be worthless gods. In disobeying God, they gained a knowledge of good and evil, but not the capacity to choose one over the other. Rather than becoming like god, they were forced out of His presence and learned the painful lesson of life without Him. They had become their own gods. And like the people of Judah, they would find that their gods were breathless and worthless.

 

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

The One True God.

Hear the word that the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord:

“Learn not the way of the nations,
    nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens
    because the nations are dismayed at them,
for the customs of the peoples are vanity.
A tree from the forest is cut down
    and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman.
They decorate it with silver and gold;
    they fasten it with hammer and nails
    so that it cannot move.
Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field,
    and they cannot speak;
they have to be carried,
    for they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of them,
    for they cannot do evil,
    neither is it in them to do good.”

There is none like you, O Lord;
    you are great, and your name is great in might.
Who would not fear you, O King of the nations?
    For this is your due;
for among all the wise ones of the nations
    and in all their kingdoms
    there is none like you.
They are both stupid and foolish;
    the instruction of idols is but wood!
Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish,
    and gold from Uphaz.
They are the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the goldsmith;
    their clothing is violet and purple;
    they are all the work of skilled men.
But the Lord is the true God;
    he is the living God and the everlasting King.
At his wrath the earth quakes,
    and the nations cannot endure his indignation. Jeremiah 10:1-10 ESV

This passage provides us with a contrast, and one that is such stark differences, it borders on the absurd or ridiculous. And that is the point. In these verses we have the one true God compared with the false gods or idols of the pagan nations. In reality, there is no comparison, but these verses are intended to provide the people of Judah with an embarrassing and convicting illustration of what they have done. They have turned their back on God Almighty, the creator of the universe, and chosen to worship gods they have made with their own hands. From their earliest days in the land of Canaan, God had warned them against following the religions practiced by the nations occupying the land.

“When the Lord your God goes ahead of you and destroys the nations and you drive them out and live in their land, do not fall into the trap of following their customs and worshiping their gods. Do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations worship their gods? I want to follow their example.’ You must not worship the Lord your God the way the other nations worship their gods, for they perform for their gods every detestable act that the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters as sacrifices to their gods.” – Deuteronomy 12:29-31 NLT

It wasn’t just a ban on worshiping false gods. It was a commandment not to worship the one true God falsely. But the people of Judah were guilty of violating both. They did worship the gods of the surrounding nations and they also worshiped Yahwah in ways He never prescribed. They attempted to “improve” their God-ordained form of worship by adding aspects of idolatry, syncretizing Judaism with paganism. But God never asked them to do so. In fact, His assessment of these pagan religions is painfully blunt: “…the religion of these people is worthless” (Jeremiah 10:3 NLT). Then He explains why.

“They cut down a tree in the forest,
and a craftsman makes it into an idol with his tools.
He decorates it with overlays of silver and gold.
He uses hammer and nails to fasten it together
so that it will not fall over.
Such idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field.
They cannot talk.
They must be carried
because they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of them
because they cannot hurt you.
And they do not have any power to help you.” – Jeremiah 10:3-5 NLT

They’re not real. They have no life within them. Their very existence is attributable to man. They are a figment of the imagination and the fabrication of someone’s hands. And they have no power to help anyone. Yet, the people of Judah had placed their trust and hope in them. A tree created by God was used to create a false god. This isn’t a legitimate comparison. It is a comedy of errors and a sin of epic proportions. And Jeremiah can’t help but agree and adds His own thoughts regarding the undeniable superiority of Yahweh.

“There is no one like you, Lord.
You are great.
And you are renowned for your power.
Everyone should revere you, O King of all nations,
because you deserve to be revered.
For there is no one like you
among any of the wise people of the nations nor among any of their kings.” – Jeremiah 10:6-7 NLT

There are no other gods. They don’t exist. And anyone in his right mind should recognize that there is only one true God and that He is worthy of praise and honor. Jeremiah pulls no punches when he states: “The Lord is the only true God. He is the living God and the everlasting King” (Jeremiah 10:10 NLT). All the other gods are man-made and, while beautiful to look at, they are worthless to depend upon. They can’t speak, walk, or think for themselves. They can’t answer prayers because they can’t hear prayers. They can’t come to anyone’s rescue because they are incapable of movement. They have to be carried everywhere they go. And Jeremiah doesn’t pull any punches when he states: “The people of those nations are both stupid and foolish. Instruction from a wooden idol is worthless!” (Jeremiah 10:8 NLT).

But who are the real fools here? The people of Judah. They are the ones who have turned their backs on Yahweh, the God who called their patriarch Abraham out of Ur and promised to him the land of Canaan as his inheritance. They are the ones who knew the stories of God’s deliverance of their ancestors out of slavery in Egypt and of His miraculous provision for them during their 40 years in the wilderness. They were very familiar with the story of how God had given their predecessors the law in order to guide their daily conduct, and how He had provided the sacrificial system as a means of receiving forgiveness when the inevitably failed to keep His law. They also knew how He had provided victory over the nations that occupied land of Canaan – in spite of their superior strength and numbers. They were fully aware of God’s power and provision over the centuries. And they were anything but ignorant of the sins of their grandparents and great-grandparents, and how God had dealt severely with their idolatry.

But here they were repeating the same mistakes. Their knowledge of God and His ways was incomplete and unconvincing. They did not revere or fear Him. They showed Him no respect and saw no reason to repent of their ways. They should have known better. They knew the truth. They knew the one true God. But they refused to serve Him alone.

Their guilt was far greater than that of the pagans. They knew the truth, but refused to acknowledge it. They were well aware of God’s commands, but had chosen to disobey them. To know the truth and to ignore it is a dangerous game to play.

But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness. – Romans 2:8 NLT

If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. – 1 John 2:4 NLT

So whoever knows what is good to do and does not do it is guilty of sin. – James 4:17 NLT

The people of Judah knew the truth about God. There was no comparison between Him and their false gods. This wasn’t a case of good versus better. It wasn’t a matter of one god versus another. The pagans, in their ignorance, had taken what little knowledge they had of God as revealed in creation and made their own versions of Him.

But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:18-23 NLT

Paul goes on to say, “They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise!” (Romans 1:25 NLT). But the people of Judah had met the one true God. They had no excuse. They had witnessed His power. They had experienced His ongoing provision. He had revealed Himself to them. And yet, they had turned their back on Him. To know the truth and to ignore it is a deadly game to play. To have a knowledge of the one true God, but to act as if He doesn’t exist is to be doubly guilty. The people of Judah knew better because they knew God. But their knowledge of Him had become academic and impersonal. They claimed to know Him, but didn’t keep His commandments. And as the apostle John states so plainly, “that person is a liar and is not living in the truth.”

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

Mourning or Boasting.

Thus says the Lord of hosts:
“Consider, and call for the mourning women to come;
    send for the skillful women to come;
let them make haste and raise a wailing over us,
    that our eyes may run down with tears
    and our eyelids flow with water.
For a sound of wailing is heard from Zion:
    ‘How we are ruined!
    We are utterly shamed,
because we have left the land,
    because they have cast down our dwellings.’”

Hear, O women, the word of the Lord,
    and let your ear receive the word of his mouth;
teach to your daughters a lament,
    and each to her neighbor a dirge.
For death has come up into our windows;
    it has entered our palaces,
cutting off the children from the streets
    and the young men from the squares.
Speak: “Thus declares the Lord,
‘The dead bodies of men shall fall
    like dung upon the open field,
like sheaves after the reaper,
    and none shall gather them.’”

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh—Egypt, Judah, Edom, the sons of Ammon, Moab, and all who dwell in the desert who cut the corners of their hair, for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart.” Jeremiah 9:17-26 ESV

The time for mourning was fast approaching. It would not be long before the Babylonians invaded Judah and began their systematic destruction of the land. So, God instructs Jeremiah to summon the professional mourners, women whose sole job it was to mourn on behalf of the dead. They were going to be in high demand because the number of the dead would be catastrophically high. Those who survived the Babylonian onslaught would be weeping and wailing as they were led away as slaves. Mothers were to teach their daughters songs of lament in preparation for the days ahead. Neighbors were to teach their one another dirges, because the body count was going to be great and the number of funerals, seemingly unending. In fact, God warns:

“Bodies will be scattered across the fields like clumps of manure,
    like bundles of grain after the harvest.
    No one will be left to bury them.” – Jeremiah 9:22 NLT

At this point, God takes what appears to be a dramatic departure in tone. He goes from speaking about funerals, death and mourning to warnings about boasting. It is as if He has just told the people what is coming and now He is letting them know the cause behind it. He mentions the wise, the mighty and the rich, and He warns them not to boast in their wisdom, power and wealth. Those things were not going to save them. They were not going to think their way out of the coming destruction. They were not going to be strong enough to defeat the Babylonians. And their wealth would soon be nothing more than plunder, taken by force and carried away by the Babylonians. God gives only one legitimate cause for a man to boast: “that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:24 ESV). The only thing that would have given the people of Judah cause to boast was if they could have said that they knew and understood God. And this knowledge of God would have included an awareness of His loyal love – His faithfulness, mercy and unfailing devotion. It would also include an understanding of His justice – that He is the judge of the universe who is committed to  judge rightly and impartially. And finally, their knowledge of God would include an awareness of His righteousness – that all that He does is ethically and morally right. He makes no mistakes. And God emphasizes that He finds delight in these things. His own love, justice and righteousness bring Him joy. Which is why He expects His people to love these very same things. The prophet Micah used very similar terminology when he wrote to the people of God and reminded them of God’s expectations of them.

What can we bring to the Lord? What kind of offerings should we give him? Should we bow before God with offerings of yearling calves? Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins? No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:6-8 NLT

God “practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.” So, why would He not expect His own people to do the same? Later on, in the book of Jeremiah, God will give the prophet a word to speak to the king of Judah.

Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. – Jeremiah 22:3 ESV

The people of God were to reflect the attributes of God. Those who truly know God should exhibit the characteristics of God. But sadly, the people of Judah no longer knew God. They knew of Him, but had long ago lost their relationship with Him. They no longer found delight in the things in which He delighted. Justice and righteousness were in short supply in Judah. The people of God no longer valued the things of God. And, as a result, God was going to bring judgment. But it is important to note that God’s love, justice and righteousness are inseparable. It is not unloving for God to judge. It is not unrighteous for God to mete out just judgment on a people who had been warned repeatedly and who had refused His call to repentance. God was going to do what was right and just. But He did so as an act of love. He could not let His children continue to live in open rebellion to Him, sliding down a path that led to unchecked moral degradation. God was going to lovingly and justly do the right thing.

And God drives home the real problem with His people. They are circumcised in the flesh only. In other words, they met the physical requirement of being set apart to God, but their hearts were another matter. All they way back when the people of Israel were in the wilderness and making their way to the promised land, Moses had told them:

And the Lord your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. – Deuteronomy 30:5-6 ESV

Circumcision of heart was to reveal itself in a love for God. It was a sign of their belonging to God. And the apostle Paul would pick up on this theme of circumcision of the heart when he wrote to the believers in Rome.

For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people. – Romans 2:28-29 NLT

It was not being a Jew that set one apart to God. It was the condition of their heart. God was looking for those whose hearts were right with Him. But when He looked at the nation of Judah, He saw no one who loved what He loved. No one sought His praise or pursued His will. They were “circumcised merely in the flesh.” They bore the outward sign of belonging to God, but their hearts were far from Him. And sadly, God compares His people to the pagan nations around them – the Egyptians, Edomites, Ammonites, and Moabites. All of these nations were uncircumcised in the flesh, but also in their hearts. They had no knowledge of or love for God.. But God says that Judah is not different. “And like all these pagan nations, the people of Israel also have uncircumcised hearts” (Jeremiah 9:26 NLT). They were no different than the nations around them. Yes, they bore a physical sign intended to prove their status as God’s children, but their actions revealed that there was nothing about them that set them apart from the world. There was no love for the things of God. They did not share the heart of God. Wisdom, power and riches meant more to them than love, justice and righteousness.

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

Refined and Tested.

Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts:
“Behold, I will refine them and test them,
    for what else can I do, because of my people?
Their tongue is a deadly arrow;
    it speaks deceitfully;
with his mouth each speaks peace to his neighbor,
    but in his heart he plans an ambush for him.
Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the Lord,
    and shall I not avenge myself
    on a nation such as this?

“I will take up weeping and wailing for the mountains,
    and a lamentation for the pastures of the wilderness,
because they are laid waste so that no one passes through,
    and the lowing of cattle is not heard;
both the birds of the air and the beasts
    have fled and are gone.
I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins,
    a lair of jackals,
and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation,
    without inhabitant.”

Who is the man so wise that he can understand this? To whom has the mouth of the Lord spoken, that he may declare it? Why is the land ruined and laid waste like a wilderness, so that no one passes through? And the Lord says: “Because they have forsaken my law that I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice or walked in accord with it, but have stubbornly followed their own hearts and have gone after the Baals, as their fathers taught them. Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will feed this people with bitter food, and give them poisonous water to drink. I will scatter them among the nations whom neither they nor their fathers have known, and I will send the sword after them, until I have consumed them.”Jeremiah 9:7-16 ESV

There are those times in our lives when we find ourselves suffering as we go through unexpected difficulty, and we wonder why it is happening. As believers in God, we may question whether we have done something to make God angry with us. Yet, at other times, we might be unable to think of any logical reason for our suffering. We can come up with no sin or act of disobedience we have done that might have resulted in what we are experiencing. But the one thing we can always know is that God is in full control and can and does use all suffering as a means of perfecting us. He uses it to refine and purify us, creating within us a deeper and deeper dependency upon Him. Even if our suffering is the result of our own sin and divine discipline, God will use it to perfect us.

And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”

As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? – Hebrews 12:5-7 NLT

Suffering is inevitable in this life. It comes with living in a sin-filled world full of sinful people. But as the author of Hebrews reminds us, as God’s children, we must always see the pain and suffering we are called to endure as coming through the sovereign hand of God. And whether we realize it or recognize it at the time, we must constantly remind ourselves that God has something He wants to accomplish by allowing whatever difficulty we are experiencing. The apostle Paul wrote, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:23 NLT). There is no wasted suffering for the child of God. And while that fact may be hard to accept in the midst of a trial, it is important that we remind ourselves of its reality on a constant basis. The author of Hebrews went on to write: “God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way” (Hebrews 12:10-11 NLT).

But what about the people of Judah? They were about to endure a refining and testing at the hands of God that was going to leave them wondering what in the world just happened. The extent of their destruction was going to be great and the pain and loss they would face would have them questioning the very existence of God. But God wanted them to know that He was very much still in existence. In fact, He wanted them to know that their coming destruction was going to be His doing. But it would be for the purpose of purification, not annihilation. God was out to discipline them, not destroy them. But their pain would be great. Their suffering would be intense. They had left God no other choice.

“Should I not punish them for this?” says the Lord.
    “Should I not avenge myself against such a nation?” – Jeremiah 9:9 NLT

God could not let their insubordination and rebellion just slip by unnoticed or unpunished. They were His children and they deserved discipline. To fail to discipline them would be to fail to love them. God, in His perfect holiness, could not allow His children to remain in a state of unholiness, profaning His name and bringing shame to His character. And God makes it perfectly clear that their fate is the result of their own sinfulness. Speaking in the past-tense, emphasizing the inevitable nature of what is coming, God says:

“This has happened because my people have abandoned my instructions; they have refused to obey what I said. Instead, they have stubbornly followed their own desires and worshiped the images of Baal, as their ancestors taught them.” – Jeremiah 9:13-14 NLT

He didn’t want there to be any questions in the minds of the people of Judah when they found themselves defeated at the hands of the Babylonians with their once great capital, Jerusalem, destroyed and the temple lying in ruins. It would be their unfaithfulness to God that would be their undoing. And as a not-so-subtle reminder of God’s loving provision for the people of Israel in the days of their wilderness wanderings, God tells the people of Judah, “I will feed this people with bitter food, and give them poisonous water to drink” (Jeremiah 9:15 ESV). Rather than manna, miraculously provided by God and that tasted like honey, the rebellious people of Judah would eat bitter food. The Hebrew word God used is la`anah and it refers to wormwood, a root that was poisonous if consumed and was associated with cursing. And God’s mention of poisonous water seems to be a direct reference to the time when the people of Israel found themselves three-days past their Red Sea experience where God had miraculously parted the waters and rescued them. They arrived at a place called Marah, in the Desert of Shur, where they discovered the only source of water was bitter and undrinkable. So, they responded by complaining to Moses.

He cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When Moses threw it into the water, the water became safe to drink. There the Lord made for them a binding ordinance, and there he tested them. He said, “If you will diligently obey the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and pay attention to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, then all the diseases that I brought on the Egyptians I will not bring on you, for I, the Lord, am your healer.” – Exodus 16:25-26 NLT

God had provided. They had no reason to worry. There was no legitimate cause for them to be concerned over their well-being as long as they placed their trust in God and obeyed His will for them. But the people of Judah were going to learn another invaluable lesson. They were going to discover what happens when you refuse to obey. This time, there would be no clean water to drink or sweet bread to eat. There would be no rescue. And God paints a very bleak picture of the outcome of their rebellion.

“I will make Jerusalem into a heap of ruins,” says the Lord.
    “It will be a place haunted by jackals.
The towns of Judah will be ghost towns,
    with no one living in them.” – Jeremiah 9:11 NLT

And God would weep. But not for the people.

“I will weep for the mountains
    and wail for the wilderness pastures.
For they are desolate and empty of life;
    the lowing of cattle is heard no more;
    the birds and wild animals have all fled.” – Jeremiah 9:10 NLT

The land itself would be devastated. Pastures would be emptied of cattle, taken as plunder by the Babylonians. The desolation would impact the wildlife. The sins of the people and the punishment their sins required would even influence creation. Paul speaks of creation’s suffering at the hands of mankind’s sin.

Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. – Romans 8:20-23 NLT

Sin has devastating consequences. We see it all around us in the form of disease, famines, storms, wildfires, droughts, floods, and other natural disasters. God’s creation has been infected by man’s sin. And the sins of the people of Judah would leave the land of Judah in a state of devastation. The promised land would become a wasteland. The land God had once described as a land flowing with milk and honey, was going to be desolate and empty of life. God’s refining and testing of Judah was going to involve intense heat and the painful removal of the sin that had infected them. And even the land God had so graciously provided would suffer as a result.

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

Ignorance of God.

Oh that my head were waters,
    and my eyes a fountain of tears,
that I might weep day and night
    for the slain of the daughter of my people!
Oh that I had in the desert
    a travelers’ lodging place,
that I might leave my people
    and go away from them!
For they are all adulterers,
    a company of treacherous men.
They bend their tongue like a bow;
    falsehood and not truth has grown strong in the land;
for they proceed from evil to evil,
    and they do not know me, declares the Lord.

Let everyone beware of his neighbor,
    and put no trust in any brother,
for every brother is a deceiver,
    and every neighbor goes about as a slanderer.
Everyone deceives his neighbor,
    and no one speaks the truth;
they have taught their tongue to speak lies;
    they weary themselves committing iniquity.
Heaping oppression upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit,
    they refuse to know me, declares the Lord. Jeremiah 9:1-6 ESV

Once again, we have two contrasting perspectives provided for us in these verses. The first belongs to Jeremiah, the prophet. It is found in the first two verses. He has already expressed his dismay over the fate of his people.

My joy is gone; grief is upon me;
    my heart is sick within me. – Jeremiah 8:18 ESV

 I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me. – Jeremiah 8:21 ESV

He knows full well that they deserve what is coming to them. But he can’t help but feel pity for them. They are his people. He cares for them deeply and longs to see them spared the destruction headed their way. He expresses his deep grief in very descriptive terms.

If only my head were a pool of water
    and my eyes a fountain of tears,
I would weep day and night
    for all my people who have been slaughtered. – Jeremiah 9:1 NLT

It is because of this statement and others that Jeremiah has often been referred to as “the weeping prophet.”

But if you will not pay attention to this warning,
I will weep alone because of your arrogant pride.
I will weep bitterly and my eyes will overflow with tears
because you, the Lord’s flock, will be carried into exile. – Jeremiah 13:17 NLT

And God knew how much Jeremiah suffered. He was well aware of Jeremiah’s love for his people and even encouraged him to share his grief with the people in order to convince them that what he was saying was really true and was going to happen.

“Tell these people this, Jeremiah:
‘My eyes overflow with tears
day and night without ceasing.
For my people, my dear children, have suffered a crushing blow.
They have suffered a serious wound.’” – Jeremiah 14:17 NLT

But another part of Jeremiah wanted to run and hide. He was saddened, but also sickened by the actions of his people. So much so, that he expresses his desire to give up his role as prophet and find remote place in the wilderness where he could find relief from the constant presence of sin.

Oh, that I could go away and forget my people
    and live in a travelers’ shack in the desert.
For they are all adulterers—
    a pack of treacherous liars. – Jeremiah 9:2 NLT

Their behavior repulsed him. It sickened him to have to watch their hypocrisy as they went through the motions of worship, feigning allegiance to God, while they worshiped false gods on the side. Their actions were inexplicable and disgusting to him. But he had persistently given his time and energy to try and turn them back to God, all with nothing to show for his efforts.

And then God speaks up. He gives His assessment of the people of Judah and summarizes it all in one very short statement: “They do not know me” (Jeremiah 9:3 ESV). That says it all. It provides us with a succinct explanation for their sinful behavior and stubborn refusal to repent. They didn’t really know God. They may have been known as the children of God, but they had no real knowledge of Him. They may have believed in His existence, but they had no concept of who He really was. Their knowledge of Him was academic rather than personal and intimate. They had heard the stories about Him told to them by their parents and grandparents, but they had no personal relationship with Him or first-hand experience of His power. And this was not the first time this kind of thing had happened among the people of Israel. In the opening chapters of the book of Judges, we have a similar statement made regarding the spiritual status of God’s people. Under the direction of Joshua, the people had conquered the land of Canaan, the land promised to them by God, and had taken up residence there. But Joshua died, along with the generation that had taken part in the conquest of the land. Then we read these sobering words.

And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. – Judges 2:10 ESV

The next generation had no first-hand knowledge of God. All they had were the stories and the personal anecdotes of their parents and grandparents. And their ignorance of God led to rebellion against Him.

And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. – Judges 2:11-12 ESV

The knowledge of God is essential. And that knowledge has to be far more than head knowledge. It is not about having information regarding God. It is about having an intimate understanding of His true nature and a firm belief in His existence. Over in the book of Hebrews, the author reminds his Jewish readers:

Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. – Hebrews 11:6 NLT

That chapter in the book of Hebrews is often referred to as “the Hall of Faith.” It contains references to many Old Testament characters like Ahab, Enoch, Abraham, Sarah, Rahab, and others. And they are commended for their faith in God. They believed in His existence, but they also believed His words. They placed their hope and trust in His promises.

Through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, gained what was promised, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, put foreign armies to flight. – Hebrews 11:33-34 NLT

And these all were commended for their faith, yet they did not receive what was promised. – Hebrews 11:39 NLT

In other words, they believed in God and trusted in the promises of God, but for the most part, they never lived to see those promises fulfilled. Abraham never had the pleasure of having a home in the land God had promised to give him. Moses never set foot in the promised land. Sarah never lived long enough to see God’s promise fulfilled that she and Abraham would have a host of descendants. But they knew God. They had faith in God. And they were willing to suffer the temporary setbacks that came from living in obedience to God, because they knew He could be trusted to what He said.

There is an interesting statement made by Jesus that reflects the importance of knowing God. It is found in the prayer He prayed to His Father on the night He would be betrayed.

“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” – John 17:3 ESV

The essence of eternal life is knowing God. It is not a place. It is not about heaven. It is about a relationship with God the Father. An intimate, personal, loving relationship with the God of the universe. And Jesus came to make that kind of relationship possible.

The people of Judah had no excuse for their behavior. They had a long-standing relationship with God Almighty. He had been their faithful God for generations. He had led them, protected them, repeatedly forgiven them, patiently put up with them and faithfully rescued them from the consequences of their own sinful behavior. But His patience had run out. He had determined that enough was enough.

“They all fool and defraud each other;
    no one tells the truth.
With practiced tongues they tell lies;
    they wear themselves out with all their sinning.
They pile lie upon lie
    and utterly refuse to acknowledge me,”
    says the Lord. – Jeremiah 9:5-6 NLT

Their lack of knowledge of God showed up in their behavior. They lived as if He didn’t even exist. There was no fear of Him. They showed no respect for Him. They treated Him with contempt and acted like He was powerless to do anything about their rebellious behavior. The true essence of life is knowing God. If heaven represents unbroken fellowship with God, unhindered by sin; then the life we should long for on this earth should be of a similar, though obviously incomplete, nature. We should long for fellowship with God. We should desire to know Him. We should seek to live in constant communication with Him, listening to His every word and doing everything in our power to live in obedience to His divine will for us. Knowing God is knowing that he can be trusted. It is knowing that He is loving, kind, gracious, merciful, all-knowing, and all-sufficient to do what He has promised. In his letter to the Colossian church, Paul told them that they were constantly in his prayers.

So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. – Colossians 1:9-10 NLT

We grow to know God better as we learn to trust Him more. Reliance upon God produces a growing knowledge of God. Trust produces intimacy. Faith results in deepening love for and knowledge of 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

Our Only Source of Healing.

Why do we sit still?
Gather together; let us go into the fortified cities
    and perish there,
for the Lord our God has doomed us to perish
    and has given us poisoned water to drink,
    because we have sinned against the Lord.
We looked for peace, but no good came;
    for a time of healing, but behold, terror.

“The snorting of their horses is heard from Dan;
    at the sound of the neighing of their stallions
    the whole land quakes.
They come and devour the land and all that fills it,
    the city and those who dwell in it.
For behold, I am sending among you serpents,
    adders that cannot be charmed,
    and they shall bite you,”
declares the Lord.

My joy is gone; grief is upon me;
    my heart is sick within me.
Behold, the cry of the daughter of my people
    from the length and breadth of the land:
“Is the Lord not in Zion?
    Is her King not in her?”
“Why have they provoked me to anger with their carved images
    and with their foreign idols?”
“The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
    and we are not saved.”
For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded;
    I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me.

Is there no balm in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of the daughter of my people
    not been restored? Jeremiah 8:14-22 ESV

In this passage we are presented with three different points of view. First, we hear from the people. From their perspective, there was nothing left to do but flee to the cities where they might hide behind the fortified walls in a last-gasp hope of escaping the coming destruction. It’s interesting to note that they blame God for their predicament.

“…for the Lord our God has doomed us to perish
    and has given us poisoned water to drink.” – Jeremiah 8:14 ESV

They take no personal responsibility for what is about to happen. Yes, they admit that they have sinned, but their words reflect an attitude that says their punishment is far more than they deserve. They describe God’s reaction to their sin in harsh, almost accusatory terms, as if He was guilty of attempted murder. They claim that He was out to poison them to death. But at no point do they acknowledge that it was their sins against God that was bringing their own destruction. Instead, they paint themselves as innocent victims who had tried to do the right thing.

“We hoped for peace, but no peace came.
    We hoped for a time of healing, but found only terror.” – Jeremiah 8:15 ESV

But there is a huge difference between hope and repentance. The word that is translated “hoped” is the Hebrew word qavah and it means “to wait, look for, hope, expect” (“H6960 – qavah – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). They fully expected God to simply forgive them and restore them to favor, but had no intentions of changing their ways. And there is no indication that their expressed hope was in God. They could have been hoping in salvation from their many false gods or from one of their alliances with foreign nations like Egypt. They were expecting a different outcome. They were eagerly waiting and hoping to wake up from the nightmare, but nothing had happened. And the only solution they could come up with was to find refuge in their fortified cities. They had long ago forgotten the words of King David, who wrote:

O God, listen to my cry!
    Hear my prayer!
From the ends of the earth,
    I cry to you for help
    when my heart is overwhelmed.
Lead me to the towering rock of safety,
    for you are my safe refuge,
    a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me.
Let me live forever in your sanctuary,
    safe beneath the shelter of your wings! – Psalm 61:1-4 NLT

God was to be their fortress and protection. But they refused to turn to Him because they refused to repent of their sins against Him. Their own stubbornness was the cause of their hopeless circumstances. God was not to blame. They were.

And now, God gives His point of view. He gives a vivid description of the coming Babylonian invasion of Judah. The size of the army will be so great that their advance will shake the ground. Like an approaching storm, the people of Judah will hear them long before they see them. But when the Babylonians arrive, their destruction will be complete, wiping out entire cities and all those seeking refuge in them. And God makes it clear that this destruction is not just a case of bad fortune or fate. It is His sovereign decree.

“I will send these enemy troops among you
    like poisonous snakes you cannot charm.
They will bite you, and you will die.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 8:17 NLT

They won’t be able to get themselves out of this mess. There will be no escape. And God’s reference to poisonous snakes is a reminder of the scene that took place in the wilderness among the people of Israel generations earlier. It is recorded in the book of Numbers. God had just given the people of Israel a great victory over the Canaanites, but just a few days later they began to grumble and complain.

“Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness, for there is no bread or water, and we detest this worthless food.” – Numbers 21:5 NLT

So God, in response to their ingratitude, sent poisonous snakes among them.

So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit the people; many people of Israel died. – Numbers 21:6 NLT

As a result, the people changed their tune, and rather than complaining, they called out for Moses to intercede on their behalf and save them.

“We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord that he would take away the snakes from us.” – Numbers 21:7 NLT

And Moses prayed and God heard. But God didn’t just remove the snakes. He provided the Moses with very precise instructions that, if followed, would provide the people with healing.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous snake and set it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole, so that if a snake had bitten someone, when he looked at the bronze snake he lived. – Numbers 21:8-9 NLT

It is important to notice that God did not remove the snakes. They remained among the people and were still capable of biting the people. The punishment for their sin was still alive and well in the form of countless poisonous snakes. But, if the people, when bitten, would look on the bronze serpent that that Moses had made, they would find healing and life. This involved faith. They had to trust God, believing that the healing He promised would actually happen. They all deserved to be bitten and the inference found in the passage is that all of them were eventually bitten. But only those who believed the words of God and looked at the serpent were restored to life. They were forgiven by God and healed. Jesus would refer to this very event and compare Himself to the bronze serpent.

“And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.” – John 3:14 NLT

In the case of the people of Judah, God says there will be no forgiveness given. There will be no bronze serpent this time. The Babylonians, like poisonous snakes, would bite each and every one of the inhabitants of Judah and this time, there would be no way of escape, no antidote for the poison.

The final viewpoint we see is that of Jeremiah. He is an objective third party who stand back and watches what is happening. He knows the guilt of his people. He also knows and understands the holiness and justice of God that is bringing the coming judgment on his people. And he can’t help but grieve. He has been calling out and warning his people to repent. He has spent day after day, month after month telling them what was going to happen if they didn’t turn from their wickedness and return to God. But they had not listened, and He knew God would do all that He had said He would do. He knew God was just and right to bring judgment. The people deserved it. But that didn’t make it any easier for Jeremiah to stand back and watch was happening.

“I hurt with the hurt of my people.
    I mourn and am overcome with grief.
Is there no medicine in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why is there no healing
    for the wounds of my people?” – Jeremiah 8:21-22 NLT

Jeremiah struggled with the idea that God was not going to fix this problem. He knew God was fully capable of healing His people. He longed for God to come up with some kind of solution that would forestall the inevitable destruction.

All the way back in the book of Exodus, we have recorded the words of God, spoken to the people of Israel. Once again, they had been complaining and grumbling to Moses because they had come to a place in the desert where the water was undrinkable. So, God had Moses throw a branch in the water, causing it to miraculously transform into clean, drinkable water. Then God said:

“If you will diligently obey the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and pay attention to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, then all the diseases that I brought on the Egyptians I will not bring on you, for I, the Lord, am your healer.” – Exodus 15:24 NLT

Obedience brings healing. God had told the people of Judah what they needed to do to experience His forgiveness and healing. He had called them to repentance, but they had refused to obey. He was their potential source of healing, but they would not turn to Him. And so they would die, just like their ancestors in the wilderness who, when bitten by the snakes, stubbornly refused to look in faith at the bronze serpent. Healing and hope had been available, but they refused to avail themselves of it. Salvation was theirs to be had, but they were going to have to acknowledge their sin and turn back to God in humility and contrition.

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

Foolish Wisdom.

“How can you say, ‘We are wise,
    and the law of the Lord is with us’?
But behold, the lying pen of the scribes
    has made it into a lie.
The wise men shall be put to shame;
    they shall be dismayed and taken;
behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord,
    so what wisdom is in them?
Therefore I will give their wives to others
    and their fields to conquerors,
because from the least to the greatest
    everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
from prophet to priest,
    everyone deals falsely.
They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
    saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
    when there is no peace.
Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?
    No, they were not at all ashamed;
    they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among the fallen;
    when I punish them, they shall be overthrown,
says the Lord.
When I would gather them, declares the Lord,
    there are no grapes on the vine,
    nor figs on the fig tree;
even the leaves are withered,
    and what I gave them has passed away from them.”
Jeremiah 8:8-13 ESV

What good is it to know God when what you know about God is wrong? What good does it do you to have a knowledge of God’s Word that’s based on a faulty understanding of what it says? In these verses, God exposes a serious problem among His people that was due to the negligence and deceit of the men who were supposed to be their spiritual leaders. While the people had a false confidence in their knowledge of God’s laws, He tells them, “your teachers have twisted it by writing lies” (Jeremiah 8:8 NLT). Their interpretations of God’s laws and commands were blatantly wrong. They were guilty of manipulating God’s law in such a way that it made adherence to it easier and violation of it less likely. The prophet Isaiah wrote this less-than-flattering assessment of the people of Israel from the mouth of God Himself:

“this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” – Isaiah 29:13 ESV

And centuries later, Jesus would quote this very same verse when speaking of the Pharisees in His day.

“You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” – Matthew 15:7-9 ESV

The Pharisees and scribes had come to Jesus accusing His disciples of breaking the traditions of the elders by not washing their hands before they ate. And Jesus responded by accusing them of breaking the commandments of God for the sake of their own man-made traditions. While the law said that everyone should honor their father and mother, and that anyone who reviles their father or mother should be put to death, they had developed their own set of laws. They actually taught that if someone had parents who were in need of financial support, the adult child could get out of helping them by simply saying, “Whatever help you would have received from me is given to God” (Matthew 15:11 NET). And the result of taking advantage of this loophole was, “he does not need to honor his father” (Matthew 15:11 NET). Jesus describes this as nothing less than hypocrisy. It was a violation of the letter of the law.

And that was exactly the kind of thing going on in Jeremiah’s day. They were guilty of violating the letter of the law. By placing the interpretations of men over the God-given intent of the law, they could claim to be living in obedience to God’s will. But God accused these spiritual leaders of having rejected His word. Reinterpreting His laws to create loopholes so that obedience was easier to achieve was nothing less than violating His laws altogether. And God didn’t take what they were doing lightly. He described them stark terms:

“From the least to the greatest,
    their lives are ruled by greed.
Yes, even my prophets and priests are like that.
    They are all frauds.
They offer superficial treatments
    for my people’s mortal wound.
They give assurances of peace
    when there is no peace.” – Jeremiah 8:10-11 ESV

And worse yet, they had no shame for their actions. They exhibited no remorse or regret over what they had done. Rather than acting as shepherds of God, leading His people well and caring for their spiritual needs effectively, they were motivated by greed and power. They told the people what they wanted to hear. Unlike Jeremiah, who obeyed God and warned the people of coming judgment and called them to repentance, these false shepherds offered superficial words of encouragement and assurances that all would be well.

The role of a spiritual leader among God’s people is a high-cost calling. It can be dangerous. Speaking the truth of God is not always easy or appreciated by those who have to hear it. The prophets of God were rarely well-received or treated with respect. Even Jesus had warned His disciples:

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.” – Matthew 10:16-18 ESV

Speaking on behalf of God can be dangerous business. One would think that sharing the good news of God’s offer of forgiveness for sins would always be well-received. But that is exactly the message Jeremiah was given by God to share to the people of Judah. He was calling them to repentance. If they would only acknowledge their sins and return to God, He would forgive them. But there’s the rub. They refused to admit their sins. And they resented the fact that Jeremiah was accusing them of being sinners. In order to receive salvation for sins, God requires acknowledgement of those sins. Someone who refuses to see themselves as a sinner will never see their need for a Savior. That was the problem the Pharisees had. They refused to admit that they were sinners. They viewed themselves as righteous before God. And Jesus sarcastically said of them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matthew 9:12 ESV). They hated the words of Jesus. They rejected His calls to repentance. They saw no need of a Savior because they refused to see themselves as sinners.

And that same kind of attitude is alive and well today. There are countless men and women masquerading as God’s messengers and delivering words of encouragement and false promises of future blessing, while the people of God live in open disobedience to the will of God. In pulpits all across the country, the seriousness of sin is downplayed or ignored altogether. Calls to repentance have been replaced with calls for social reform and messages about tolerance and love at all costs. Sermons on holiness have been replaced with pep talks about happiness. Rather than teaching the whole counsel of God, pastors have determined to cherry pick and proof text their way through the Scriptures, preaching only those passages they deem uplifting and encouraging. Pleasing men has become far more important than pleasing God. And the warning that Paul gave Timothy has come to fruition in our day.

For a time is 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

God would not tolerate this kind of spiritual leadership in Jeremiah’s day and He is not about to tolerate it in ours. He was going to deal harshly with the false prophets and priests in the land of Judah. And what makes us think He is not going to do the same thing among the people of God today. Their successful ministries are not a sign of God’s blessing. Their popularity among the people is not an indication of their position as God’s spokesperson. Diluting the Word of God may result in packed pews but it will never garner the blessing of God. Minimizing God’s call to holiness by preaching messages that promote happiness may build a successful ministry, but it will ultimately bring the judgment of God. God holds His ministers to a very high standard. Anyone who claims to speak for God will be held accountable by 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

No Sense of Direction.

“At that time, declares the Lord, the bones of the kings of Judah, the bones of its officials, the bones of the priests, the bones of the prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be brought out of their tombs. And they shall be spread before the sun and the moon and all the host of heaven, which they have loved and served, which they have gone after, and which they have sought and worshiped. And they shall not be gathered or buried. They shall be as dung on the surface of the ground. Death shall be preferred to life by all the remnant that remains of this evil family in all the places where I have driven them, declares the Lord of hosts.

“You shall say to them, Thus says the Lord:
When men fall, do they not rise again?
    If one turns away, does he not return?
Why then has this people turned away
    in perpetual backsliding?
They hold fast to deceit;
    they refuse to return.
I have paid attention and listened,
    but they have not spoken rightly;
no man relents of his evil,
    saying, ‘What have I done?’
Everyone turns to his own course,
    like a horse plunging headlong into battle.
Even the stork in the heavens
    knows her times,
and the turtledove, swallow, and crane
    keep the time of their coming,
but my people know not
    the rules of the Lord.”
Jeremiah 8:1-7 ESV

What was God to do with this people? He had loved and cared for them, persistently provided for them and patiently put up with them for generations. And yet, they had consistently and repeatedly spurned His love and turned their backs on Him. They had remained stubbornly unrepentant, in spite of all the prophets He had sent and His persistent warnings of coming judgment. So, He warns them yet again, that the day is coming when they will regret their rejection of Him. When the Babylonians come, they will not only destroy the city and its beautiful temple, they will plunder the graves of its people, from the richest to the poorest. Their bones will end up spread all over the ground, in plain view of the heavens; where the sun, moon and stars they once worshiped will look down on them in helplessness. At that time, their exposed bones will represent the ultimate sacrifice to their false gods. But it will also reveal the futility of their idolatry and the absurdity of worshiping anyone or anything other than God Almighty.

With that vivid imagery planted in their minds, God commands Jeremiah to ask the people several rhetorical questions. They are designed to expose the absurdity of the peoples’ stubborn refusal to repent.

When people fall down, don’t they get up again?” – Jeremiah 8:4 NLT

The answer is simple. Yes, they get up, because that is the natural and normal thing to do. If you fall, you don’t remain on the ground. That would be abnormal and unnatural. Even an infant who is learning to walk knows enough to struggle back to their feet when they have taken an unexpected spill. But to drive home His point, God asks another question.

“When they discover they’re on the wrong road, don’t they turn back?” – Jeremiah 8:4 NLT

If you lose your way, the natural response is to search for the right way, to get back on course. No one, in the right mind, would purposefully try to remain lost. They would do everything in their power to turn back and retrace their steps, in an attempt to return home. But God asks two more questions that are anything but rhetorical.

“Then why do these people stay on their self-destructive path?
Why do the people of Jerusalem refuse to turn back?” – Jeremiah 8:5 NLT

The point is that the people of Judah were headed in the wrong direction, but they were not doing a thing to course correct. The inevitable destruction to which they were headed was their own fault and yet, they were doing nothing to avoid it. Better yet, they were doing nothing profitable or helpful that would avoid what was coming. They were seeking the help of false gods and pursuing alliances with foreign nations, but they weren’t turning to God. They were listening to the words of false prophets who were promising them that none of Jeremiah’s warnings would come true. But the one thing they could do that would make a difference in their fate, they refused to do: Repent.

“They cling tightly to their lies
    and will not turn around.” – Jeremiah 8:5 NLT

This is the part that should stun and amaze us. The bullheaded nature of the people of Judah should stand as a stark warning to us, that we would not repeat their mistakes. But sadly, they also act like a mirror to us, revealing our own tendency toward hardheadedness and our own stubborn refusal to repent of our ways and return to the Lord. We can be just as resistant to the call of God. We can just as easily reject the still small voice of the Holy Spirit within us, calling us to repentance. The apostle Paul reminds us to use these stories of Israel’s unrepentance and stubbornness as living lessons and to learn from them.

These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. – 1 Corinthians 10:11-12 NLT

We are to learn from their mistakes. And we are to refrain from thinking that we are incapable of duplicating their sinful errors. We are just as susceptible of wandering from God and losing our way in this world. We can just as easily find ourselves worshiping the gods of this world and seeking all our help and hope in things other than God.

But God is not done. He asks two additional questions:

“Is anyone sorry for doing wrong?
    Does anyone say, ‘What a terrible thing I have done’?” – Jeremiah 8:6 NLT

And as before, the answers are obvious. No one was showing any remorse for their actions. There was no sorrow or sadness for what they had done. No words of confession or contrition. And God’s point seems to be that this is totally unnatural and abnormal. He had exposed their sin and they refused to acknowledge it. He had caught them in the act, but they refused to admit it. In fact, He describes them as being like a battle horse running headlong into the heat of the conflict with no regard for what was about to happen. The picture is of a animal that is operating against its own instincts. Under normal circumstances, a horse would run from danger, not towards it. But driven by its rider, a battle horse will ignore its own natural instincts and do the very thing it would normally avoid at all costs. And human beings, allowing their sin natures to drive them, do the very same thing. We run toward sin, rather than away from it. We seek out danger, rather than avoid it.

Even migratory birds instinctively know when its time to take to the air and seek safer nesting grounds. They are wired to return to the place which God has prepared for them. But the people of Judah refused to heed the call of God. They had His Word. They had heard His warnings. But they stubbornly refused to listen. And God indicts them for it, claiming that the migratory birds, “all return at the proper time each year. But not my people! They do not know the Lord’s laws” (Jeremiah 8:7 NLT). What a sad statement. These were the people of God, His chosen ones. And yet, God was forced to say of them that they didn’t know His laws. They had ignored the warning of Moses, spoken all the way back in the days before they entered the promised land.

Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. – Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NLT

And generations later, they found themselves ignorant of God’s will and ways. They didn’t know the right path to take and were prone to wander away from God. They had no sense of direction. They had no natural instinct to return to the One who could save them. Instead, they plunged headlong into self-destruction.

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