Making It All About Us.

Like the partridge that gathers a brood that she did not hatch,
    so is he who gets riches but not by justice;
in the midst of his days they will leave him,
    and at his end he will be a fool.

A glorious throne set on high from the beginning
    is the place of our sanctuary.
O Lord, the hope of Israel,
    all who forsake you shall be put to shame;
those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth,
    for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water.

Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed;
    save me, and I shall be saved,
    for you are my praise.
Behold, they say to me,
    “Where is the word of the Lord?
    Let it come!”
I have not run away from being your shepherd,
    nor have I desired the day of sickness.
You know what came out of my lips;
    it was before your face.
Be not a terror to me;
    you are my refuge in the day of disaster.
Let those be put to shame who persecute me,
    but let me not be put to shame;
let them be dismayed,
    but let me not be dismayed;
bring upon them the day of disaster;
    destroy them with double destruction! – Jeremiah 17:11-18 ESV

The verse immediately preceding this section carried the words of God.

“I, the Lord, search all hearts
    and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
    according to what their actions deserve.” – Jeremiah 17:10 NLT

God sees and knows. He alone has insights into the inner motivations of men, seeing what they themselves are incapable of seeing. He knows what prompts their actions and rewards them accordingly. When someone does something righteous and good for the right reason, God knows and blesses them. When someone else does what, for all intents and purposes looks to be good, but out of a wrong motivation, God knows and allows them to experience the curses that come with the territory. And God uses an illustration from nature to describe what is going on.

Like a partridge that hatches eggs she has not laid,
    so are those who get their wealth by unjust means. – Jeremiah 17:11 NLT

The partridge or grouse makes a habit of sitting on the eggs of another bird. In other words, it “steals” what does not belong to it. From the outside, it looks as if it is doing what God intended for it to do, incubating its eggs. But they are not her eggs. And when the eggs hatch and the chicks are old enough to fly, they leave the nest, never to return. So it was with the people of Judah. They were doing all those ritualistic and religious things that made them appear as if they still worshiped Yahweh, but at the same time they were worshiping false gods. To the outside observer they would have appeared to be doing their right thing, but God knows the heart of man. They were practicing injustice while worshiping the God of justice. They were greedy for gain and seeking wealth through inappropriate means, all the while trying to portray themselves as godly people. And Jeremiah points out the absurdity of it all.

But we worship at your throne—
    eternal, high, and glorious! – Jeremiah 17:12 NLT

Yes, they still worshiped God. At least superficially and externally. But as God described them to the prophet Isaiah: “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13 NLT). Like the partridge, they appeared to be doing the right thing, but it was all a sham. Things were not as they appeared. And Jeremiah goes on to describe the true nature of their relationship with God.

O Lord, the hope of Israel,
    all who turn away from you will be disgraced.
They will be buried in the dust of the earth,
    for they have abandoned the Lord, the fountain of living water. – Jeremiah 17:13 NLT

Yes, the throne of God was in Jerusalem. But for all intents and purposes, the people had abandoned God a long time ago. They had turned their back on the fountain of living water. This is reminiscent of a statement God had made to Jeremiah and recorded earlier in his book.

“For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me–the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” – Jeremiah 2:13 NLT

They had created alternatives or replacements for God. But their false gods would prove to provide false hope. They would end up being like water receptacles dug out of rock and intended to hold water, but with cracks that allow the rain to flow out rather than fill up. No matter how things might have appeared or how religious the people of Judah may have thought themselves to be, God knew their hearts and the prognosis was not good. And Jeremiah knew it, which prompted him to call out to God for mercy and grace.

O Lord, if you heal me, I will be truly healed;
    if you save me, I will be truly saved.
    My praises are for you alone!
People scoff at me and say,
“What is this ‘message from the Lord’ you talk about?
    Why don’t your predictions come true?” – Jeremiah 17:14-15 NLT

Jeremiah can’t help but convey his frustration and fears to God. He has been faithful. He has done all that God has asked him to do. But the people do nothing but reject and ridicule him. They make fun of him because, so far, nothing he has predicted has come to pass. He just comes across as a lunatic spouting nonsense. So, Jeremiah cries out to God, “You alone are my hope in the day of disaster” (Jeremiah 17:17 NLT). He feels all alone. He knows the people can’t stand him. They probably crossed to the other side of the street when they saw him in public. People talked behind his back or scowled at him when he drew near. He was a pariah and a persona non grata. But he knew he could trust in God. And he also knew that God knew his heart. He had been faithful. He had never failed to do what God had told him to do or say what God had commanded him to say. And he reminds God, “I have not abandoned my job as a shepherd for your people” (Jeremiah 17:16 NLT). Not only that, Jeremiah reminds God that the destruction of the people of Judah had not been his idea. He had not been the one to ask God to judge them. he had simply been speaking the words of God. And now, out of his deep frustration with his lot in life, Jeremiah asks God to hurry up and fulfill His prediction.

Bring shame and dismay on all who persecute me,
    but don’t let me experience shame and dismay.
Bring a day of terror on them.
    Yes, bring double destruction upon them! – Jeremiah 17:18 NLT

Suddenly, Jeremiah had taken a personal interest in all that was going on. He was put out and frustrated by the way the people of Judah had been treating him and so, he asks God to vindicate him by bringing judgment on them, “double destruction” as he puts it. But notice that Jeremiah makes no mention of what the people of Judah had done to God. He seems unconcerned with how they had treated Yahweh – the God of the universe who had chosen the people of Judah and made Him His own. No, it had all become about Jeremiah. But the real injustice here was not what Jeremiah was experiencing. It was that the people of Judah had abandoned God. Jeremiah seems far less concerned about the harm done to the name and reputation of God than he does with his own suffering. God had blessed them repeatedly and, in return, they had worshiped other gods. God had provided for them consistently, but they returned the favor by seeking aid from false gods and pagan nations. He was the real offended party, not Jeremiah.

When people sin against us, they are really sinning against God. They are rebelling against the God of the universe. Yet, we don’t take up an offense of God. We tend to whine and complain to God about what has been done to us. We demand retribution and justice, but for our sake, not God’s. Jeremiah was missing the point. While he was on the receiving end of the peoples’ frustration, their real anger was directed at God. They hated what Jeremiah was saying, because they feared that he was speaking on behalf of God. And God had warned Jeremiah early on that his message would not be well-received.

“For see, today I have made you strong
    like a fortified city that cannot be captured,
    like an iron pillar or a bronze wall.
You will stand against the whole land—
    the kings, officials, priests, and people of Judah.
They will fight you, but they will fail.
    For I am with you, and I will take care of you.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 1:18-19 NLT

God was not going to be abandon Jeremiah. But He wanted Jeremiah to understand that he was not the one who deserved to be angry. God was the offended party. He was the faithful God who had been treated unfaithfully. He was the loving God who had sat back and watched His people shower their love and affection on false gods. He had blessed only to have His blessings thrown back in His face. If anything, Jeremiah should have been taking up an offense for God. His anger should have been directed at their treatment of God. But how easy it is to make it all about us.

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

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

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

The Choice Is Up To You.

Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
    and makes flesh his strength,
    whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
    and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
    in an uninhabited salt land.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
    that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
    for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
    for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

The heart is deceitful above all things,
    and desperately sick;
    who can understand it?
“I the Lord search the heart
    and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
    according to the fruit of his deeds.” – Jeremiah 17:5-10 ESV

Who are you going to trust? This is a question each and every human being ultimately has to answer. But for those who claim to believe in God, it should be a no-brainer. For the people of Judah, there should have been no question regarding the focus of their trust and hope. It should have been God. After all, He had more than proven Himself trustworthy over the years. All the way back to the days of Abraham, God had promised to make of the patriarch of Israel a mighty nation and to give them the land of Canaan as their possession. And He had done it. Early in their history, when they found themselves living as slaves in the land of Egypt, God had rescued them, miraculously freeing them and delivering them to the promised land. Time and time again, God had shown Himself faithful and worthy of their trust. But they had repeatedly chosen to turn their backs on God, placing their confidence in false gods and making alliances with pagan nations. And God makes it painfully clear that their decision to trust in someone or something other than Him was not going to turn out well for them.

Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
    who rely on human strength
    and turn their hearts away from the Lord.” – Jeremiah 17:5 NLT

They had made a choice. They had purposefully determined to place their confidence elsewhere. God wasn’t enough for them. In fact, we see this attitude revealed in all its glory when they had demanded that God give them a king like all the other nations. They had taken their demand to Samuel, the prophet, and he was appalled and appealed to God.

Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. “Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for it is me they are rejecting, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.” – 1 Samuel 8:6-9 NLT

They were guilty of putting their hope and confidence in man and making flesh their strength. It wasn’t as if God had let them down. He had ruled over them through a succession of judges. And those judges had rescued them time and time again from the attacks of their enemies. But they failed to realize that their suffering at the hands of their enemies had been the punishment of God for their sins against Him. Their unfaithfulness, illustrated by their idolatry, was their real problem. A king wasn’t going to fix what ailed them. And that would proven repeatedly over the coming centuries by the long line of wicked and idolatrous kings who would lead them down the wrong path, away from God.

They had been given the chance to trust in God. But they had chosen not to. And the outcome of that choice was far from pleasant. Their turning away from God produced spiritual dryness. Rather than fruitfulness, they experienced a loss of productivity and a moral drought that left them like withered plants in the desert. But God reminded them that trust in Him produced just the opposite results.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
    and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
    with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
    or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
    and they never stop producing fruit.” – Jeremiah 17:7-8 NLT

Trusting in God does not eliminate difficulties. Look at these verses. They mention the presence of heat and drought. But they also promise fruitfulness in spite of those less-than-ideal conditions. Trusting in God brings the provision of God. Those who place their hope and confidence in God find themselves provided for by God. The difficulties of life become opportunities for God to meet needs and prove His faithfulness. Drought is no match for God. Blazing heat can do no harm to those who find rest in the shade of God’s mercy and grace.

But here’s the problem: The human heart. It is wicked and deceitful. We can’t even understand why we do what we do. We may think we understand our motives, but we don’t. Only God truly knows the hearts of men. He is able to look into the inner recesses of our hearts and see the real motivation behind what we do and don’t do. He knew why the people of Israel had demanded a king. They were rejecting Him as their king. He knows our hearts. And He rewards us according to the motives of our hearts.

I, the Lord, search all hearts
    and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
    according to what their actions deserve.” – Jeremiah 17:10 NLT

The people of Judah had made their choice. They had chosen to place their trust in something other than God. They acted as if they still worshiped Him they went through the motions, offering their sacrifices and claiming to be His children. But their hearts were far from Him and God knew it. So, they were going to suffer the consequences. Rather than blessings, they would experience curses. Instead of fruitfulness, they would endure spiritual dryness and, ultimately, physical death. They had chosen. And they would suffer for their choice. The prophet Isaiah gives us some much-needed words of reminder.

Have you never heard?
    Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
    No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint.  Isaiah 40:28-31 NLT

God can and should be trusted. He is trustworthy. He is all-powerful, able to provide strength to the weak, hope to the hopeless, and renewed energy to those facing difficulty. But we have to choose to trust Him. We have to make the decision to turn to Him, rather than relying on our own human strength or placing our hope in something of someone other than Him. It is a daily, moment-by-moment decision.

 

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

New Hearts.

“The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart, and on the horns of their altars, while their children remember their altars and their Asherim, beside every green tree and on the high hills, on the mountains in the open country. Your wealth and all your treasures I will give for spoil as the price of your high places for sin throughout all your territory. You shall loosen your hand from your heritage that I gave to you, and I will make you serve your enemies in a land that you do not know, for in my anger a fire is kindled that shall burn forever.”– Jeremiah 17:1-4 ESV

These verses are filled with irony. They reflect the sad state of the people of God and are intended to illustrate how ironic it is that God’s chosen ones stand ready to lose their inheritance, their freedom and all their worldly possession – all because of sin. In these verses, God speaks of Judah’s sin being etched on their hearts, and it required an iron chisel with a diamond point because their hearts were so hardened. They had hearts of stone. It is important to recall that when God gave them the Ten Commandments, He had etched them in stone with His own finger.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain. Stay there, and I will give you the tablets of stone on which I have inscribed the instructions and commands so you can teach the people.” – Exodus 24:12 NLT

When the Lord finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, written by the finger of God. – Exodus 31:18 NLT

God’s commands had been permanently chiseled into stone, signifying their permanence and irrevocable nature. They contained His instructions and expectations for living holy lives before Him. And, ironically, the very first one had been “You must not have any other god but me” (Exodus 20:3 NLT). And just so they would understand exactly what He meant, God had chiseled the following clarification into the stone tablets:

“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.” – Exodus 20:4-5 NLT

And yet, here they were, generations later, hearing God describe them as having hearts of stone engraved with nothing but sin. Their sin was permanent in nature and seemingly irrevocable. It marked their very nature. They were transgressors of God’s laws. They were law-breakers and it was permanently etched into their characters. And if we look back at the days before the people of Israel entered into the promised land, Moses had warned them.

“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.” – Deuteronomy 6:4-7 NLT

And God would later reiterate this warning: “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 11:18-19 NLT). But sadly, the people of God had failed to heed the warning. They had not taught their children the ways of God. Instead, they had modeled unfaithfulness and lawlessness. And God indicts them for it. “Even their children go to worship at their pagan altars and Asherah poles, beneath every green tree and on every high hill” (Jeremiah 17:2 NLT). The law of God, including His command to worship no other gods but Him, had never made it from the tablets into their hearts. It had remained an external law that they had never internalized and made a part of their very nature. And on top of that, they had failed to pass on a love for God’s laws to their children. So, as a result, they had raised a generation of rebels and idolaters. They had grown up worshiping false gods and living as blatant transgressors of God’s commands. They had inherited their parents’ hard hearts and predisposition for unfaithfulness. And God warns them, along with their parents, “The wonderful possession I have reserved for you will slip from your hands. I will tell your enemies to take you as captives to a foreign land. For my anger blazes like a fire that will burn forever” (Jeremiah 17:4 NLT). They would lose the very land God had given them. And again, what is so ironic is that God had promised to give them this land, undeserved and unmerited. And all they had to do to remain in it and enjoy the blessings of it was remain faithful to God.

“The Lord your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill in this land, be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. You must fear the Lord your God and serve him. When you take an oath, you must use only his name.” – Deuteronomy 6:10-13 NLT

But they had failed. Their hearts had become hardened toward Him. His commands written on tablets of stone had never made it into their hearts of stone. And yet, God was not going to completely abandon them. In spite of their sin and transgressions, their unfaithfulness and open rebellion against Him, God will one day do for them what they had failed to do for themselves. They had failed to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. They had failed to teach their children the ways of God. Their hearts had become hardened toward God. So, one day, God is going to make a new covenant with His people. And unlike the Mosaic covenant, this one will be unilateral, not bilateral. In other words, it will non-conditional. They had already revealed their inability to keep their end of the Mosaic covenant. So, God will institute a new covenant with them that requires nothing of them. It will all be His doing.

“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” – Jeremiah 31:33-34 NLT

Notice what God says: “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts.” Rather than giving them external laws to keep, God will etch His laws on their hearts. He will internalize His will and His ways. And the prophet Ezekiel tells us exactly how God will do it.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.

“And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God. I will cleanse you of your filthy behavior.” – Ezekiel 36:25-29 NLT

New hearts. No more hearts of stone. No more transgression and law-breaking. Instead of stubborn rebellion, they will exhibit Spirit-empowered obedience and love for the will and the ways of God. The commands of God will become part of their very nature. Rather than having a predisposition to sin, they will have a God-given desire to live righteously before God. No more sin. No more stubborn rebellion. And all due to the gracious love 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

That We Might Know.

O Lord, my strength and my stronghold,
    my refuge in the day of trouble,
to you shall the nations come
    from the ends of the earth and say:
“Our fathers have inherited nothing but lies,
    worthless things in which there is no profit.
Can man make for himself gods?
    Such are not gods!”

“Therefore, behold, I will make them know, this once I will make them know my power and my might, and they shall know that my name is the Lord.” – Jeremiah 16:15-21 ESV

The majority of the nations of the earth reject God. It was true in Jeremiah’s day and it is true in ours. And yet, Jeremiah knew that there was a day coming when all of that would change. He had faith and hope in the ultimate sovereignty of God and believed that one day humanity would wake up to the reality that there is only one true God. He envisioned a day when people would realize the error of their ways.

Nations from around the world
    will come to you and say,
“Our ancestors left us a foolish heritage,
    for they worshiped worthless idols.
Can people make their own gods?
    These are not real gods at all!” – Jeremiah 16:19-20 NLT

And he was right, because God has said it would be so.

This is a vision that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s house
    will be the highest of all—
    the most important place on earth.
It will be raised above the other hills,
    and people from all over the world will stream there to worship.
People from many nations will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of Jacob’s God.
There he will teach us his ways,
    and we will walk in his paths.”
For the Lord’s teaching will go out from Zion;
    his word will go out from Jerusalem.
The Lord will mediate between nations
    and will settle international disputes.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation,
    nor train for war anymore. – Isaiah 2:1-4 NLT

Ultimately, God is interested in revealing Himself to mankind. He has done so through His creation. Paul makes that point clear in his letter to the believers in Rome.

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. – Romans 2:19-20 NLT

The Bible is a chronicles of God’s revelation to man. He revealed Himself to Abraham, calling him out of Ur and leading him to the land of Canaan. He revealed Himself to Moses in a burning bush and called him to be the one to deliver the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt. And all throughout the book of Exodus God assures Moses with the words: “You will know that I am the Lord your God.”

“I am the Lord. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment. I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt. I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your very own possession. I am the Lord!” – Exodus 6:6-8 NLT

The plagues God brought on the Egyptians were intended to show the Israelites that their God, Yahweh, was more powerful than any of the gods of Egypt. He was proving Himself to the Israelites by revealing Himself in power. And God continued to do so throughout the book of Exodus as He freed them from slavery and led them to the land of promise. And by the time God was finished in Egypt, the Israelites would not be the only ones who would know that Yahweh was God. He made that point quite clear.

“When I raise my powerful hand and bring out the Israelites, the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” – Exodus 7:5 NLT

Ten devastating plagues later, and God would have the attention of the Egyptians and the Jews. He would clearly reveal Himself as the one true God. And God lets Jeremiah know that there is a day coming when God’s power and prominence will once again be displayed before the nations, convincing them of His status as the one and only God of the universe.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: People from nations and cities around the world will travel to Jerusalem. The people of one city will say to the people of another, ‘Come with us to Jerusalem to ask the Lord to bless us. Let’s worship the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. I’m determined to go.’ Many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord of Heaven’s Armies and to ask for his blessing.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: In those days ten men from different nations and languages of the world will clutch at the sleeve of one Jew. And they will say, ‘Please let us walk with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” – Zechariah 8:20-23 NLT

That day has yet to come, but it will. Because God has promised it. And God, speaking through the prophet, Ezekiel, told the people of Israel that one day return them to favor in His eyes. Not because they had done anything to deserve it, but because He had promised it and was going to prove to the nations that His word was trustworthy and His power, unequaled.

Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign Lord: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord. – Ezekiel 36:22-23 NLT

But in all this talk of future restoration and the nations recognizing Yahweh as the one true God, there remains the painful reality that Judah was still going to suffer for their sins. God was still bringing judgment on them because they had rebelled against Him. And yet, even His judgment would prove to them that He is God.

“Now I will show them my power;
    now I will show them my might.
At last they will know and understand
    that I am the Lord.” – Jeremiah 16:21 NLT

The painful reality is that God sometimes reveals Himself through judgment. He disciplines His children, because He loves them. He took the son born to David and Bathsheba as a result of their adulterous affair. And as a result, David knew that God was serious about sin. God took the lives of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), when they lied about their gift of money to the church. And the church knew that God was serious about sin. God struck Miriam, the sister of Moses, with leprosy, because she and Aaron thought they had as much right to be leaders as Moses had (Numbers 12). And when Aaron saw what God had done to his sister, it got his attention. He suddenly feared God and begged Moses to intercede for her.

The people of Judah were going to experience the consequences of their sinful behavior. And they would learn a great deal about their God in the process. It’s sad to admit that, for many of us, we tend to learn better through difficulties. Our faith grows stronger during times of adversity and trials. But we must always remember that God is constantly revealing Himself to us, even in the difficult times. He wants us to know that He takes sin seriously. He wants us to recognize His power and to learn to rely upon it. He wants us to understand that He considers our call to holiness non-negotiable. He demands that we be holy, as He is holy. He requires obedience and faithfulness from His people. But sometimes, we doubt that He really means it. So, He reveals Himself through discipline. He manifests His displeasure by allowing us to suffer for our sinful habits. But the bottom line is that God is always there and is always revealing Himself to us. He is always proving His power to us and convincing us of His holiness and righteousness. Because His greatest desire is that we know and understand that He is the Lord.

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

Good News. Bad News.

“Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers.

“Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the Lord, and they shall catch them. And afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. For my eyes are on all their ways. They are not hidden from me, nor is their iniquity concealed from my eyes. But first I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations.” – Jeremiah 16:14-18 ESV

God is reliable. He can be counted on to do what He says. His character is unchanging and while His ways are difficult to understand at times, He is consistently faithful in all that He does. God had warned the people of Israel that if they failed to remain faithful to Him, He would bring curses upon them. They failed and He was going to faithfully keep His word. He was going to do exactly what He said He would do. He hadn’t been lying. He had meant what He said. And they were about to learn the trustworthiness of God the hard way. They were going to go into exile. And God compares their pending judgment to fish being caught by a fishermen or prey being stalked by a hunter. The prophet Ezekiel used this same kind of terminology when he described the pending fall of Jerusalem and the capture of the king, Zedekiah.

“And I will spread my net over him, and he shall be taken in my snare. And I will bring him to Babylon, the land of the Chaldeans, yet he shall not see it, and he shall die there.” – Ezekiel 12:13 NLT

Later on in his book, Jeremiah will chronicle the actual capture of Zedekiah after he attempted to escape from the city as King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians invaded.

But the Babylonian troops chased the king and caught him on the plains of Jericho. They took him to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who was at Riblah in the land of Hamath. There the king of Babylon pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. He made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons and all the nobles of Judah. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – Jeremiah 39:3-7 NLT

Exactly what God had said would happen took place. Zedekiah was taken captive to Babylon, but never saw it, because his eyes had been gouged out.

The prophet Habakkuk, like Jeremiah, had a hard time understanding why God was going to allow the Babylonians to take His people captive. And he uses the same imagery of fishermen catching fish to convey his concern.

Are we only fish to be caught and killed?
    Are we only sea creatures that have no leader?
Must we be strung up on their hooks
    and caught in their nets while they rejoice and celebrate?
Then they will worship their nets
    and burn incense in front of them.
“These nets are the gods who have made us rich!”
    they will claim. – Habakkuk 1:14-16 NLT

Judah was going to fall. They would be as helpless as fish caught in a net. Any attempt to escape their fate would prove useless because God had ordained it. It was going to happen just as He said it would. But that should also be a comfort to them. While it was difficult for them to see the good news in the midst of all the bad, God informed Jeremiah that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it was not a train. It was the goodness and graciousness of God. He reminded His prophet that He had long-term plans for the people of Judah.

“As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the people of Israel back to their own land from the land of the north and from all the countries to which he had exiled them.’ For I will bring them back to this land that I gave their ancestors.” – Jeremiah 16:15 NLT

Yes, they would go into exile. Because God had said they would. But they would also return from exile, because said they would. Both events would occur, because God said they would. He could be trusted to keep His word. And when we read these passages that contain examples of God’s judgment upon His people, rather than question the ways of God, we should be reminded of the faithfulness of God. He doesn’t lie. He never fails to follow through on what He has said. And when He tells the people of Judah that they will one day return to the land of promise, He means it. His word means something. His threats are never idle. His words are never cheap. His promises never prove false. Even before the people of Israel entered into the land of Canaan, promised to them by God, He had told them that if they failed to obey Him and remain faithful to Him, they would suffer the consequences of their disobedience and experience capture and exile. But He had also promised to restore them.

Even though you are banished to the ends of the earth, the Lord your God will gather you from there and bring you back again. The Lord your God will return you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will possess that land again. Then he will make you even more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors!

“The Lord your God will change your heart and the hearts of all your descendants, so that you will love him with all your heart and soul and so you may live!” – Deuteronomy 30:4-6 NLT

This prophecy has been fulfilled in part. The people of Judah were restored to the land of Canaan. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah record exactly how God kept His word. But there is a part of God’s promise that has yet to be fulfilled. He has not yet changed the hearts of the people of Israel so that they might love him will all their heart and soul. That part of His promise has yet to take place. The prophet Ezekiel provides us with further insight into what God has in store for the nation of Israel some time in the future.

For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.

“And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God. I will cleanse you of your filthy behavior.” – Ezekiel 36:24-29 NLT

That has not yet happened. But we can be certain that it will. Why? Because God has promised it. Jeremiah could rest on the certainty that God would one day return the people of Judah back to Jerusalem. Because He had promised it. And one day, God is going to give the people of Israel new hearts. He is going remove their stubborn hearts and replace them with tender, responsive hearts. He is going to put His Spirit within them so that they will love and serve Him faithfully. And the truly amazing thing is that God is going to do all this, not because they deserve it, but because He has promised it.

“I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations.’” – Ezekiel 36:22 NLT

“But remember, says the Sovereign Lord, I am not doing this because you deserve it. O my people of Israel, you should be utterly ashamed of all you have done!” – Ezekiel 36:32 NLT

But how can we know that this is going to happen? How can we be so sure that God is going to do what He has promised? He answers those questions for us.

“For I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I say.” – Ezekiel 36:36 NLT

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

When God Is Not Enough.

The word of the Lord came to me: “You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place. For thus says the Lord concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning the mothers who bore them and the fathers who fathered them in this land: They shall die of deadly diseases. They shall not be lamented, nor shall they be buried. They shall be as dung on the surface of the ground. They shall perish by the sword and by famine, and their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth.

“For thus says the Lord: Do not enter the house of mourning, or go to lament or grieve for them, for I have taken away my peace from this people, my steadfast love and mercy, declares the Lord. Both great and small shall die in this land. They shall not be buried, and no one shall lament for them or cut himself or make himself bald for them. No one shall break bread for the mourner, to comfort him for the dead, nor shall anyone give him the cup of consolation to drink for his father or his mother. You shall not go into the house of feasting to sit with them, to eat and drink. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will silence in this place, before your eyes and in your days, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.

“And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, ‘Why has the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?’ then you shall say to them: ‘Because your fathers have forsaken me, declares the Lord, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law, and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me. Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.’” – Jeremiah 16:1-13 ESV

Perhaps God was only sparing Jeremiah the potential pain of watching his family suffer and die before his eyes. Or it could be that God’s prohibiting of Jeremiah from getting married and having children had a more symbolic meaning behind it. As a bachelor living in Judah, Jeremiah would be an oddity. In that culture it was seen as a shame and a curse to be an able-bodied man of marrying age and still be unattached. Jeremiah would have stood out like a sore thumb and his singleness would have given the people of Judah one more reason to ridicule him. But it could be that God, who was the one who came up with the idea of marriage in the first place, was going to use Jeremiah as a living example of the end of His relationship with Judah. They would be as good as divorced from Yahweh, having to learn to live without Him. And as a single man, Jeremiah would never know the joy of having and raising children – as God would be giving up His own children to devastation and destruction. There is no doubt that marrying and raising a family with the coming invasion by the Babylonians looming over their heads would have been difficult. It was a less-than-ideal environment. And God makes it painfully clear that all those with families would suffer terribly as a result of the nation’s sin.

“They will die from terrible diseases. No one will mourn for them or bury them, and they will lie scattered on the ground like manure. They will die from war and famine, and their bodies will be food for the vultures and wild animals.” – Jeremiah 16:4 NLT

So, God was graciously sparing Jeremiah from having to endure the pain and suffering that the rest of the nation would have to experience. But he would have to stand by and watch his fellow Judahites die, and God refused to allow him to attend their funerals or mourn on their behalf. Once again, this would make Jeremiah a pariah among his own people. To refuse to mourn over the death of someone was unacceptable behavior. But as God’s representative and spokesperson, Jeremiah’s actions were to be a reminder to the people of Judah that God was removing His compassion from them.

“I have removed my protection and peace from them. I have taken away my unfailing love and my mercy.” – Jeremiah 16:5 NLT

And in a real way, God was simply giving the people of Judah what they wanted: Distance from Him. Their unfaithfulness to Him illustrated by their pursuit of false gods was evidence of their lack of love for Him. They had put their hope and trust in other gods. Yahweh was not enough for them. So, God was going to let them experience life without Him. He even warns them:

“Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.” – Jeremiah 16:13 NLT

There were going to get their fill of false gods. And they would no longer have Yahweh as a backup. These people who had made a habit of idolatry were going to be immersed in the worship of false gods. It would be all they had turn to. The temple would be gone. Their sacrificial system would be non-existent, leaving them with no means by which to receive atonement for their sins. And they would find themselves enslaved to the very gods they worshiped instead of Yahweh.

And God reveals a significant insight into just how idolatrous the people of Judah had become. When He refuses to allow Jeremiah to mourn on their behalf, He states, “Both the great and the lowly will die in this land. No one will bury them or mourn for them. Their friends will not cut themselves in sorrow or shave their heads in sadness” (Jeremiah 16:6 NLT). That last line is a reference to the pagan practices associated with their false gods. Idolatry had permeated every aspect of their lives, even their mourning over the death of a loved one. God had been pushed to the margins and treated as unnecessary. So, God was going to let them see what life was like without Him altogether.

And God knew the people of Judah well. He was well aware that when they heard what He was going to do to them, they would respond with incredulity and disbelief, asking, “Why has the Lord decreed such terrible things against us? What have we done to deserve such treatment? What is our sin against the Lord our God?” (Jeremiah 16:10 NLT). It is amazing to think that they would be so disconnected from reality that they would not know the cause of their suffering, but sometimes our sin blinds us. When we choose to live in darkness, we lose the ability to see the true nature of our condition. Jesus spoke of this very problem when He said, “God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants” (John 3:19-21 NLT). The people of Judah had become accustomed to the dark and could no longer see that their sins against God were the cause of their punishment by God. But He would make it perfectly clear why they were going to undergo such devastating destruction.

“It is because your ancestors were unfaithful to me. They worshiped other gods and served them. They abandoned me and did not obey my word. And you are even worse than your ancestors! You stubbornly follow your own evil desires and refuse to listen to me.” – Jeremiah 16:11-12 NLT

This was not something new. The sins of Judah went back generations. Since the day God had rescued them from captivity in Egypt, the people of Israel had shown their propensity to worship other gods. In fact, when they were living in Egypt, they had forsaken Yahweh for the gods of Egypt. That is why God spent so much time revealing His power to them. Over and over again in the Exodus story, God told the people of Israel that He was going to rescue them and prove to them that He was their one and only God.

“I am the Lord. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment. I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt. I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your very own possession. I am the Lord!” – Exodus 6:6-8 NLT

And while God had proven time and time again, that He was the one true God, the people of Israel had continued to seek after false gods. In spite of His love, mercy, grace, provision and protection, they had made a habit of turning their backs on God. So, now He would turn them over to their own desires. As Paul so aptly describes in his letter to the Romans:

So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. 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 1:24-25 NLT

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

God Has Spoken.

Woe is me, my mother, that you bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land! I have not lent, nor have I borrowed, yet all of them curse me. The Lord said, “Have I not set you free for their good? Have I not pleaded for you before the enemy in the time of trouble and in the time of distress? Can one break iron, iron from the north, and bronze?

“Your wealth and your treasures I will give as spoil, without price, for all your sins, throughout all your territory. I will make you serve your enemies in a land that you do not know, for in my anger a fire is kindled that shall burn forever.”

O Lord, you know;
    remember me and visit me,
    and take vengeance for me on my persecutors.
In your forbearance take me not away;
    know that for your sake I bear reproach.
Your words were found, and I ate them,
    and your words became to me a joy
    and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your name,
    O Lord, God of hosts.
I did not sit in the company of revelers,
    nor did I rejoice;
I sat alone, because your hand was upon me,
    for you had filled me with indignation.
Why is my pain unceasing,
    my wound incurable,
    refusing to be healed?
Will you be to me like a deceitful brook,
    like waters that fail?

Therefore thus says the Lord:
“If you return, I will restore you,
    and you shall stand before me.
If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,
    you shall be as my mouth.
They shall turn to you,
    but you shall not turn to them.
And I will make you to this people
    a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you,
    but they shall not prevail over you,
for I am with you
    to save you and deliver you,
declares the Lord.
I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,
    and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.” – Jeremiah 15:10-21 ESV

Jeremiah was fed up and burned out. He had come to an end of his rope and was ready to throw in the towel. His ministry had been anything but successful. The people were not responding to his message. And in spite of his intercession for them, pleading with God to spare them, God had completely rejected that idea. Their destruction was unavoidable and inevitable. So, it’s no wonder that Jeremiah felt like an abject failure. He even cursed the day he was born. After all, what had he accomplished in life? He was despised, rejected and an apparent failure at the one calling God had given him. And his frustration was aggravated by his knowledge that he had done nothing to deserve such treatment. He had just followed the commands of God. It wasn’t like he had cheated somebody out of their money or was about to kick someone out of their home for not being able to pay their mortgage.

“I am neither a lender who threatens to foreclose
    nor a borrower who refuses to pay—
    yet they all curse me.” – Jeremiah 15:10 NLT

All Jeremiah had done was faithfully proclaim the word of God. And he had absolutely nothing to show for it, except pain, rejection and failure.

But God had another perspective. He told Jeremiah, “I will take care of you, Jeremiah. Your enemies will ask you to plead on their behalf in times of trouble and distress” (Jeremiah 15:11 NLT). Little did Jeremiah know that God had plans for him. He would care for him, in spite of how bad things appeared. All Jeremiah could think about was the coming destruction and devastation of the land. He had a hard time seeing how any good could come out of that. He had forgotten the words of God, spoken to him when he had received his initial calling. 

For see, today I have made you strong
    like a fortified city that cannot be captured,
    like an iron pillar or a bronze wall.
You will stand against the whole land—
    the kings, officials, priests, and people of Judah.
They will fight you, but they will fail.
    For I am with you, and I will take care of you.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 1:18-19 NLT

Nothing had changed, except that the date of Judah’s destruction had come closer. But God’s commitment to be with Jeremiah remained the same. While Judah and its fortified cities would fall to the Babylonians, Jeremiah would stand firm. He would come out of this stronger than ever. But it was difficult for Jeremiah to understand how any of this was going to be beneficial to anyone, himself included. And when God confirmed yet again that the destruction of Judah was eminent, that failed to help Jeremiah feel any better about his circumstances.

“At no cost to them,
    I will hand over your wealth and treasures
as plunder to your enemies,
    for sin runs rampant in your land.
I will tell your enemies to take you
    as captives to a foreign land.
For my anger blazes like a fire
    that will burn forever.” – Jeremiah 15:13-14 NLT

How was Jeremiah to accept that as good news? Why should that news give him any sense of peace or assurance that everything was going to be okay? It was because God was faithful to keep His word. What He promises to do, He does. And that not only applied to the fate of Judah, but to His promise to take care of Jeremiah. He wanted Jeremiah to know that He would fulfill His commitment to provide for and protect Jeremiah, in spite of all that was going to happen. But Jeremiah was having a hard time seeing things from God’s perspective. All he could see was doom and disaster. He was stuck feeling like a failure and as if his days were numbered.

Lord, you know what’s happening to me.
    Please step in and help me. Punish my persecutors!
Please give me time; don’t let me die young.
    It’s for your sake that I am suffering. – Jeremiah 15:15 NLT

What Jeremiah feared most was death at the hands of his own people. He wasn’t sure he would live long enough to even see the coming of the Babylonians and the fall of Judah. He reminded God of his faithfulness and his refusal to take part in the sins of the people. And he couldn’t help but question God’s apparent unconcern and wonder about His seeming unreliability.

“Why then does my suffering continue?
    Why is my wound so incurable?
Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook,
    like a spring that has gone dry.” – Jeremiah 15:18 NLT

And God responds to Jeremiah, but in a somewhat surprising way. Rather than tenderly answer Jeremiah’s questions, God demands that Jeremiah repent. His self-pitying was exposing his lack of faith in God. He was whining about his lot in life and refusing to trust the God who had given him life. When God had called Jeremiah, He had told him:

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

God had made Jeremiah for a purpose. He had commissioned Jeremiah for a job, to act as His prophet and to convey His message to the people of Judah. But Jeremiah had lost focus. He was more consumed with being liked than being faithful. He was spending more time questioning God’s faithfulness than relying upon it. So, God demands that Jeremiah have a change of heart.

“If you return to me, I will restore you
    so you can continue to serve me.
If you speak good words rather than worthless ones,
    you will be my spokesman.
You must influence them;
    do not let them influence you! – Jeremiah 15:19 NLT

It is when we get our eyes off of God that we begin to lose sight of His goodness and grace. We begin to question His reliability and wonder about His power to save. One of the most powerful things God said to Jeremiah was “you just influence them; do not let them influence you!” The negativity of the people was rubbing off on Jeremiah. Their rejection of God was having an influence of the prophet of God. He began to doubt God’s goodness. He began to question God’s power. But God simply said, “Return to me.” And, if Jeremiah would do so, God recommitted Himself to taking care of Jeremiah.

“I will make you as secure as a fortified wall of bronze.
They will not conquer you,
    for I am with you to protect and rescue you.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 15:20 NLT

God had spoken, and that is all the reassurance that Jeremiah should have needed. God would do His part. But it was essential that Jeremiah remain committed to God and faithful to fulfill His God-given responsibility – in spite of the dire nature of the circumstances. Everything that had happened was according to God’s plan. God had told Jeremiah that he would be despised and rejected. He had warned him that the people would refuse to listen to his message. But He had also assured Jeremiah that He would be with him.

“Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 1:7-8 NLT

God has spoken. That should be all the assurance we need. He is good for His word. He is faithful to fulfill what He has promised. He is not a liar. He never fails to come through. So, there is no reason we should ever doubt what He is doing or question His integrity for doing it.

God is not a man, so he does not lie.
    He is not human, so he does not change his mind.
Has he ever spoken and failed to act?
    Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

God can be trusted. Even in the midst of what appears to be devastating circumstances, we can trust that God loves us and has not forsaken us. We may not always understand His ways, but we can always trust them. He is the faithful one, at all times. But we must keep our eyes focused on Him. We must rest in who He is and trust that all He does flows from His all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful nature.
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

Refusal to Change.

Then the Lord said to me, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go! And when they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord:

“‘Those who are for pestilence, to pestilence,
    and those who are for the sword, to the sword;
those who are for famine, to famine,
    and those who are for captivity, to captivity.’

I will appoint over them four kinds of destroyers, declares the Lord: the sword to kill, the dogs to tear, and the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy. And I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem.

“Who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem,
    or who will grieve for you?
Who will turn aside
    to ask about your welfare?
You have rejected me, declares the Lord;
    you keep going backward,
so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you—
    I am weary of relenting.
I have winnowed them with a winnowing fork
    in the gates of the land;
I have bereaved them; I have destroyed my people;
    they did not turn from their ways.
I have made their widows more in number
    than the sand of the seas;
I have brought against the mothers of young men
    a destroyer at noonday;
I have made anguish and terror
    fall upon them suddenly.
She who bore seven has grown feeble;
    she has fainted away;
her sun went down while it was yet day;
    she has been shamed and disgraced.
And the rest of them I will give to the sword
    before their enemies,
declares the Lord.”  – Jeremiah 15:1-9 ESV

God was angry with the people of Judah and there was nothing Jeremiah could do to try and make Him change His mind. In fact, God said that even if two of the greatest intercessors in history were there, He would not listen to them. Moses, who had led the people of Israel out of Egypt, had learned what it was like to try and lead the people of Israel. He hadn’t made it far out of the land of Egypt when the people began to have second thoughts about this new god, Yahweh. Moses was up on the mountain receiving God’s commandments. And while he was out of sight and out of mind, the people decided to make their own god. They took the gold they had received from the Egyptians when they had left Egypt and created a golden calf, an idol and began worshiping before it. God saw their actions and informed Moses about what they had done and His plan to annihilate them for their actions. But Moses appealed to God, asking Him to spare His people.

Then the Lord said, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.”

But Moses tried to pacify the Lord his God. “O Lord!” he said. “Why are you so angry with your own people whom you brought from the land of Egypt with such great power and such a strong hand? Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Their God rescued them with the evil intention of slaughtering them in the mountains and wiping them from the face of the earth’? Turn away from your fierce anger. Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people! Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You bound yourself with an oath to them, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven. And I will give them all of this land that I have promised to your descendants, and they will possess it forever.’”

So the Lord changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people. – Exodus 32:9-14 NLT

What about Samuel? He had interceded on behalf of the people of Israel when they had demanded that God give them a king just like all the other nations. In doing so, they were rejecting God as their King. And God was angry.

So Samuel called to the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day. And all the people were terrified of the Lord and of Samuel. “Pray to the Lord your God for us, or we will die!” they all said to Samuel. “For now we have added to our sins by asking for a king.”

“Don’t be afraid,” Samuel reassured them. “You have certainly done wrong, but make sure now that you worship the Lord with all your heart, and don’t turn your back on him. Don’t go back to worshiping worthless idols that cannot help or rescue you—they are totally useless! The Lord will not abandon his people, because that would dishonor his great name. For it has pleased the Lord to make you his very own people.

“As for me, I will certainly not sin against the Lord by ending my prayers for you. And I will continue to teach you what is good and right. But be sure to fear the Lord and faithfully serve him. Think of all the wonderful things he has done for you. But if you continue to sin, you and your king will be swept away.” – 1 Samuel 12:18-25 NLT

These two men, Samuel and Moses, had prayed on behalf of the people of God and had apparently changed His mind. Or had they? In both cases, the outcome of their prayers to God seems to be less about God changing His mind than about the people changing their ways. God’s anger and threat to punish the people for their sins brought about repentance. Out of fear of God’s judgment, they had pledged to change their ways. And God did judge the people. He did not let them get away with their sin. In the case of Moses, more than 3,000 of those who took part in the worship of the golden calf were put to death by the Levites. And, “Then the Lord sent a great plague upon the people because they had worshiped the calf Aaron had made” (Exodus 32:35 NLT). And while Samuel pleaded on behalf of the people, God still punished them by giving them exactly what they demanded: a king like all the other nations. He gave them Saul, and he would prove to be a terrible king, who conscripted their sons into his army and their daughters as his servants. He would tax them and take the best of their fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants (1 Samuel 8:14). 

And while both Moses and Samuel appear to have had success in getting God to change His mind, the people still suffered for their sins. And God demanded that they change their ways. But in the case of Jeremiah and the people of Judah, God said that even if these great leaders of Israel had tried to change His mind, they would have failed, because the people of Judah had no intention of repenting. And God makes it clear just why He is going to bring His judgment upon the people of Israel. It was because of the sins of Manasseh. “Because of the wicked things Manasseh son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem, I will make my people an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth” (Jeremiah 15:4 NLT). And the book of 1 Kings gives us insight into just what Manasseh had done.

Then the Lord said through his servants the prophets: “King Manasseh of Judah has done many detestable things. He is even more wicked than the Amorites, who lived in this land before Israel. He has caused the people of Judah to sin with his idols. So this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I will bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of those who hear about it will tingle with horror. I will judge Jerusalem by the same standard I used for Samaria and the same measure I used for the family of Ahab. I will wipe away the people of Jerusalem as one wipes a dish and turns it upside down. Then I will reject even the remnant of my own people who are left, and I will hand them over as plunder for their enemies. For they have done great evil in my sight and have angered me ever since their ancestors came out of Egypt.” – 2 Kings 21:10-14 NLT

Manasseh, the son of King Hezekiah, had proven to be the exact opposite of his good and godly father. He was not a chip off the old block. He was the epitome of the wicked kings of Israel and Judah, leading the way in sin and rebellion against God. And the people had willingly followed his lead. God makes it painfully clear why He is about to do what He has threatened to do.

I will destroy my own people,
    because they refuse to change their evil ways.” – Jeremiah 15:7 NLT

The people were unrepentant. They had no intention of changing their ways. And God, because He is all-knowing, was well aware of the true state of their hearts. So, no matter of intercession by Samuel, Moses or Jeremiah was going to get God to relent, because He knew the people were never going to repent. And their sins would be judged. Their fate was sealed. They were going to get exactly what they deserved.

“You have abandoned me
    and turned your back on me,”
    says the Lord.
“Therefore, I will raise my fist to destroy you.
    I am tired of always giving you another chance.” – Jeremiah 15:6 NLT

God takes sin seriously. And while He had given the people of Judah plenty of time to repent, they had spurned His warnings and ignored His pleas to return to Him. So, His judgment was going to be unavoidable.
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

Reprimanded, but Not Rejected.

“You shall say to them this word:
‘Let my eyes run down with tears night and day,
    and let them not cease,
for the virgin daughter of my people is shattered with a great wound,
    with a very grievous blow.
If I go out into the field,
    behold, those pierced by the sword!
And if I enter the city,
    behold, the diseases of famine!
For both prophet and priest ply their trade through the land
    and have no knowledge.’”

Have you utterly rejected Judah?
    Does your soul loathe Zion?
Why have you struck us down
    so that there is no healing for us?
We looked for peace, but no good came;
    for a time of healing, but behold, terror.
We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord,
    and the iniquity of our fathers,
    for we have sinned against you.
Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake;
    do not dishonor your glorious throne;
    remember and do not break your covenant with us.
Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain?
    Or can the heavens give showers?
Are you not he, O Lord our God?
    We set our hope on you,
    for you do all these things. – Jeremiah 14:17-22 ESV

Transparency is a difficult thing to pull off. It is not easy being vulnerable and allowing others to see the real you, sharing your true feelings and opening yourself up to possible rejection or misunderstanding. And yet, that is exactly what God commanded Jeremiah to do – and with the very people who had refused to listen to his message. Jeremiah was going to have to reveal his most intimate feelings to those who hated and despised him.

“You shall say to them this word:
‘Let my eyes run down with tears night and day,
    and let them not cease,
for the virgin daughter of my people is shattered with a great wound,
    with a very grievous blow. – Jeremiah 14:17 ESV

God is not putting words in Jeremiah’s mouth. He is simple having the prophet share what his true feelings will be when he sees the devastation to come. The blow to Judah will be “grevious”. The Hebrew word, chalah refers to a state of sickness, weakness and weariness. The blow Judah will receive and the wound it causes will be deadly in nature. And God reveals the devastating nature of its impact through the eyes and emotions of Jeremiah.

If I go out into the fields,
    I see the bodies of people slaughtered by the enemy.
If I walk the city streets,
    I see people who have died of starvation.” – Jeremiah 14:18 NLT

Jeremiah was to share with the people the very real nature of the coming destruction that will be perpetrated on them by the Babylonians. There will be bodies strewn everywhere outside the walls of Jerusalem, the victims of the swords of the enemy. And within the safety of Jerusalem’s walls, there will be the bodies of those who have died of starvation as a result of the siege. And these scenes of devastation and death will take their toll on Jeremiah. Even the prophets and priests will attempt to act as if nothing is happening, going about their daily duties, but totally ignorant as to what to do.

And Jeremiah, ever wrestling with his duty as a prophet of God and his extreme love and loyalty for his people, can’t resist the urge to ask God some very pointed questions.

Lord, have you completely rejected Judah?
    Do you really hate Jerusalem?
Why have you wounded us past all hope of healing? – Jeremiah 14:19 NLT

The imagery God has given Jeremiah of complete devastation and destruction is hard for him to comprehend. It appears as if God is going to abandon Judah and Jerusalem altogether. Speaking in the plural personal pronoun “we”, Jeremiah includes himself as one of the people of Judah and expresses hope that God would spare them.

We hoped for peace, but no peace came.
    We hoped for a time of healing, but found only terror. – Jeremiah 14:19 NLT

He even confesses on behalf of the people of Judah, something they had yet to do.

Lord, we confess our wickedness
    and that of our ancestors, too.
    We all have sinned against you. – Jeremiah 14:20 NLT

Although he had been faithful to God, Jeremiah includes himself as guilty, willingly placing himself under the wrath of God and totally dependent upon His mercy. He begs God to spare them for His name’s sake . It would be a terrible blow to God’s reputation if He failed to spare the people He had called by His name. Or so Jeremiah thought. He even begged God not to break His covenant with them, something God is incapable of doing because of His nature. The coming destruction was not a sign of God breaking His covenant, but of Him keeping it. He had warned the people of Judah that all these things would happen to them if they disobeyed Him. The covenant had been conditional. They are the ones who had broken their end of the agreement, which meant He had to bring the curses upon them just as He had promised He would.

Jeremiah makes one last desperate attempt to change God’s mind. He butters Him up, attempting to appeal to His ego, by ridiculing the absurd nature of lifeless idols and their inability to provide any kind of help. But God could.

Can any of the worthless foreign gods send us rain?
    Does it fall from the sky by itself?
No, you are the one, O Lord our God!
    Only you can do such things.
    So we will wait for you to help us. – Jeremiah 14:22 NLT

Jeremiah was holding out hope that God would change His mind. He was still waiting on God to send rain and break the drought. He was also hoping that God would have second thoughts about sending the Babylonians. Jeremiah longed for God to spare the people of Judah. He had a hard time seeing how any good could come out of their destruction. What would the pagan nations think about a God who abandoned His own people? Why would the future generations of Hebrew children, forced to grow up in exile, worship a God who destroyed their homeland? But Jeremiah did not have the whole picture. He wasn’t aware of God’s full plan for His people. Like the rest of us, Jeremiah was human, and limited in his perspective. He trusted God, but was unable to fully understand what God was doing. And the only thing that made sense to Him was God relenting of His plan to punish Judah and restoring them to a right relationship with Him. But for that to happen, their sins had to be dealt with. God could not and would not overlook their rebellion against Him. Their hearts were wicked and their idolatry was proof.

God would punish them for their sins, but would also one day restore them. Jeremiah didn’t have the full picture. The people of Judah had to suffer for their sins and experience the humiliation that comes with willing rebellion against a holy God. But God, in His mercy and grace, would one day restore them, not because of them, but in spite of them. He would bring them out of captivity and place them back in the land of promise. He would allow them to rebuild the gates and walls of Jerusalem, and restore the temple and the sacrificial system. Not because they deserved it, but because He is a loving and faithful God who always keeps His covenant promises.

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

Lies About the Love of God.

Then I said: “Ah, Lord God, behold, the prophets say to them, ‘You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.’” And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds. Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name although I did not send them, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not come upon this land’: By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed. And the people to whom they prophesy shall be cast out in the streets of Jerusalem, victims of famine and sword, with none to bury them—them, their wives, their sons, and their daughters. For I will pour out their evil upon them.– Jeremiah 14:13-16 ESV

Contradicting God is a dangerous game to play. But even more dangerous is to claim to speak on God’s behalf when it isn’t true. To say, “Thus says the Lord” when He has not spoken is to put false words in the mouth of God and to make Him out to be a liar. That is not something God will tolerate. Even Jeremiah, a prophet himself, was a bit confused by the words of those who claimed to be speaking for God. Their messages contradicted his own and, more than likely, caused him to question whether he might not be the one who was wrong. If nothing else, Jeremiah recognized that their message was a lot more acceptable, making them far more popular with the people.

“O Sovereign Lord, their prophets are telling them, ‘All is well—no war or famine will come. The Lord will surely send you peace.’” – Jeremiah 14:13 NLT

They were telling the people what they wanted to hear. They were promising that God was going to rescue them, not punish them. And the people swallowed their message like a kid eating candy. It tasted great, but in the long run, was going to be very bad for them. And God makes it clear to Jeremiah that these false prophets did not speak for Him. He had not sent them or given them any words to speak on His behalf. They were nothing more than self-appointed prophets and bold-faced liars.

“They prophesy of visions and revelations they have never seen or heard. They speak foolishness made up in their own lying hearts.” – Jeremiah 14:14 NLT

If these individuals had bothered to read the covenant that God had made with the people of Israel, they would have known that their messages of peace did not gel with God’s warnings of curses for disobedience and unfaithfulness. But perhaps they did know, but they preferred to tell the people what they wanted to hear. It was messages of God’s mercy that resounded with the people, not Jeremiah’s warnings of doom and gloom. Painting God out to be all love and no wrath would prove to be popular, but it was anything but accurate. God is loving, but He is also just and righteous and must deal with sin. He cannot tolerate it or overlook it. It would violate His holiness to turn a blind eye toward sin – especially when it comes to His own people. Many of the laws He had given His people were prohibitive in nature, bearing the words, “Thou shall not…” These commands were not suggestions. They were not optional or discretionary in nature. They were to be obeyed. God’s love for the people of Israel was not going to supersede His holiness or His justice.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights. – Proverbs 3:11-12 NLT

Telling people that God loves them while ignoring their sin is to present God in a false light. It is to offer up a one-dimensional god whose love is overly tolerant and dangerously lenient. The god of many preachers and teachers today is more like a doddering old grandfather than a holy, righteous deity whose love is best expressed in offer of salvation from sin through the sacrificial death of His own Son.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 NLT

Ignoring the sins of mankind would not be love at all. Tolerating our sins and allowing us to continue in disobedience to His just and holy commands would be nothing less than a form of hatred. But God loves us too much to allow us to continue in sin unchecked. So He sent His Son to die on our behalf. And then He sent us to spread the message of the good news of salvation through faith in His Son. And part of that message is the reality of sin and the inevitability of death, eternal separation from God that sin produces. Failure to recognize our sins makes it difficult to accept the need for a Savior. Telling sinners that God loves them and would never punish them is not love, it is nothing less than a form of hatred. It is a lie. It creates a false sense of assurance and presents sin as non-dangerous and God’s wrath against it as non-existent.

But God told Jeremiah that the false prophets were in for a surprise.

“They say that no war or famine will come, but they themselves will die by war and famine!” – Jeremiah 14:15 NLT

They could deny God’s wrath, but that wasn’t going to make it go away. Pastors today deny the existence of hell or the reality of eternal punishment, but that doesn’t eliminate either one. Telling people that a loving God would never send anyone to hell will make them feel better, but it won’t prevent the inevitable from happening. Telling people the truth about God is the best way to express the love of God. It won’t make you popular, but it will give people a realistic view of who God is and how their own sins have separated them from the love of God. But God sent His Son to fix what was broken, to pay the penalty for sin and to provide mankind with a means by which they could be restored to a right relationship with God the Father. That is love. Anything less is a lie.

Contrary to popular belief, God is not going to save everyone. There is a heaven and a hell. There is a penalty for sin and that penalty is death – not just physical death, but eternal separation from God. You can deny these facts. You can downplay them. You can try to wish them away or contradict them with your own version of the truth. And while you may find yourself with a following, you’ll still be wrong and responsible for misleading others with lies. The false prophets of Jeremiah’s day would suffer the same fate as everyone else. They would painfully discover that their words were false and that God really does despise sin. And all He asks is that we confess our sins.

People who conceal their sins will not prosper,
    but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy. – Proverbs 28:13 NLT

It is the acknowledgement of our sin that makes it clear we need salvation. Our sin separates us from God and only He has the remedy for that problem: His own Son. Salvation is found in no one else. He alone provides the means by which sinful men can be restored to a right relationship with a holy 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