No balm in Gilead.

February 22, 2014.

Today I am attending Challenge Youth Conference as a recruiter for the CSC on UTC‘s campus. I was able to sit in on part of a lesson given this morning where the speaker was going over a section in Jeremiah. I liked this section so much, I decided to do today’s post about it, and possibly the next day or two, as it is a fairly packed section of scripture. To give a little background to the prophet, Jeremiah was a youth when God came to him and told him to proclaim this message of… well I guess today we would consider it hail, fire and brimstone preaching. Jeremiah was a prophet who did not want to be a prophet. He thought he was too young and that the message he was to speak was too hard to bear. He tried not to speak the words God told him to, but he says later in the book that even when he tried, they burned inside of him so that he could not help but speak the truth. I admire Jeremiah for his courage in this, as he was speaking a message of condemnation to a people who though that the way they were living was just fine.

Chapter seven of his discourse starts a four chapter long sermon which we will be further examining today and possibly tomorrow.

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’”
(Jeremiah 7:1-4)

This is God’s call to Jeremiah for his people who have strayed from his truth. Notice how God starts out with mercy! Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Come back to me, and you won’t have to worry about the rest of this message of condemnation. Sometimes Christians have this illusion that God only shows his merciful side in the New Testament and not in the Old. I would beg to differ as I have found more than sufficient evidence of the love of God throughout the Old Testament (if you don’t believe me, read through Hosea for just one wonderful example). Here we see God’s message through Jeremiah as first and foremost a call to repentance. Come back to me and all will be well. Unfortunately, we know that this call would have little effect on the people of Judah at this time.

Why were the people so unwilling to listen? I believe the first reason applies to any human at some point in our lives. When we are corrected or told that the way we are living is wrong, our instinct is to immediately get defensive. The people of Judah at this time did not want to hear that they had to change their lives and routines any more than we want to hear that today. However, many times this is exactly what we need to hear and do. Secondly, and perhaps more explicitly stated in the scriptures, the people to whom Jeremiah was addressing thought that they had The Lord on their side. There was a deception of living right that the people had been continually fed. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ They thought that as long as they had the temple [aka, they had the Lord], they could live and do whatever they wanted.

“How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie. The wise men shall be put to shame; they shall be dismayed and taken; behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord,so what wisdom is in them? Therefore I will give their wives to othersand their fields to conquerors, because from the least to the greatesteveryone is greedy for unjust gain; from prophet to priest,everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among the fallen; when I punish them, they shall be overthrown, says the Lord.”
(Jeremiah 8:8-12)

The scribes, the religious leaders, were telling the people that everything was great. “You don’t have to worry about your behavior, is it right in the sight of God.” Or even more simply, “We have The Lord, we can do whatever we want.” We can look back and see what a bad idea that was. But do we apply that same retrospection to the present? Surely we don’t believe that today!

I’m afraid that in many respects, we do believe the same thing today. You’ve heard the doctrine, you have Christ, you can no longer sin. Or, You have been saved, you will never fall, so don’t worry about it. Or even, you have the blood of Christ that has washed you from all your sins, past, present and future, thus you will always live a forgiven soul no matter what sin in which you continue, unrepentant. I believe is precisely what the priests were saying in the days of Jeremiah. “We have the temple of The Lord, carry on with your daily lives.” This is what ultimately led Judah into Babylonian captivity.

As we think on these things, I believe it is important to remember Jeremiah’s lament at the end of the eight chapter (my tumblr name is actually derived from this section, so you can infer how beautiful, yet sad, this is to me):

“My joy is gone; grief is upon me;my heart is sick within me. Behold, the cry of the daughter of my peoplefrom the length and breadth of the land: “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” “Why have they provoked me to anger with their carved imagesand with their foreign idols?” “The harvest is past, the summer is ended,and we are not saved.” For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded; I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of the daughter of my peoplenot been restored?”
(Jeremiah 8:18-22)

Jeremiah lamented over the state of his fallen people. Let us learn from Judah’s example rather than repeat it. I know these are hard words, but I hope you can seek truth from them.

Suggested Daily Reading: Jeremiah 7-10.

The Lord grant us soft hearts.

-Walter

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