“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.