April 10, 2015.
Daily Reading: Jeremiah 7-11.
Background: Jeremiah 1-6.
Concepts and Connections.
1. False hope: In this chapter, Jeremiah beings a discourse that would last through the end of chapter 10, proclaiming the judgment and lament of God on His people for the transgressions they were committing against Him. It is not an easy or popular message, but one that was urgent. The leaders of the people were spreading false hope, claiming that having the temple of the Lord in their midst acquitted them from any sin they were living in. As long as they kept God somewhere in their life, that was all they needed. The people had learned that it was alright for them to serve both the Lord and the gods of the nations around them. This, however, would be their destruction. Note here that just because the people believed in God, and perhaps even worshipped Him to an extent, they were still in the wrong. They were still considered to have rejected God for other gods (see Exodus 20:3). Looking back on what the people had done here, we might find it easy to see what the problem was: their hearts were not set on God. Though we can recognize this problem with the children of Israel, it is often hard for us to recognize it within ourselves. How many false gods have we set up before the Lord? What do we put our most time and effort into? It it the kingdom? Are we living in false hope, just as the children of Israel were? These are some sobering questions that we need to ask ourselves honestly if we are to discern our position with God. Simply claiming to have His presence was obviously not enough for the children of Israel.
2. A stiff-necked people: Jeremiah is told in this chapter not to pray for the people, a people who have been stubborn and rebellious, for God would not hear him. He had made up His mind on what the punishment of His people would be, and He would indeed execute that punishment (Babylonian captivity). Jeremiah was not to waste his time crying to the Lord over a people that he could not save, for they had made their decision. They had been given a choice after the Lord brought them out of the land of Egypt, a choice to serve God with their full heart and be blessed, or not to serve God (see Exodus 15 and Deuteronomy 6). The latter came with consequence, however, for it came with a curse. The children of Israel had been given a special opportunity to be the people of the Lord, with the special revelation of His law and righteousness, to be a light to the world, a pathway that showed the glory of the Almighty. But they had been stubborn in their disobedience, refusing to know truth, claiming to have already obtained it, though it was a false hope. Sometimes stubbornness is a characteristic that is very deeply rooted inside our being. This, however, can cause major problems, especially when our stubbornness leads us to believe mistruths and to continue in sin. Let us learn to not be a stiff-necked people, who only know their own way, not open to what God actually has to say about a certain matter.
No balm in Gilead: Continuing on his discourse, much of this chapter deals with the foolishness of the people and the sins that they were continuing to commit. Judah had gone into deep treachery, not even listening to the voice of the Lord, but rather assuming their wisdom was all they needed, for they boasted in their falsehood and deceived many, though they themselves likely did not even realize what they were doing. They were following after other gods and misleading the people. They were claiming to be wise and have the Lord in their midst, but the lying pen of the scribes was set on error. They took the brokenness of the people lightly, not providing a satisfactory cure for their spiritual disease, but rather putting on the bandaid of false hope, saying “peace, peace,” when there was none. It seems that the leaders of the people were trying very hard to make the people think everything was okay and that life was good, when in reality, they had rejected the Lord their God and had fallen into apostasy. The Lord would not sit back idly and watch has His people went astray, but rather was sending their punishment quickly. Jeremiah is often referred to as the weeping prophet for good reason, as he often laments over the people of Judah, as he does at the end of this section. Though the people think they have God with them, they are not healed, and they don’t know why. Is there no balm in Gliead (Gilead was known for its special ointments associated with healing)? Yet the health of the people had not been restored. The people of Judah were spiritually sick, and the only cure was a return to the Lord.
Lament and refinement: Jeremiah’s discourse continues with a lament from the Lord over His people. Their sins were many and their foolishness great. There could be no trust among the people, for they all dealt deceptively. This use of hyperbole shows the great distress that the Lord was in over the people, for they refused to know Him. They refused to hold to His ways and to accept His instruction. They continued in adultery and deceit, not willing to heed the word of the Lord. Thus, the Lord determined to send punishment upon them. But notice the reason for the punishment. Many find that the Old Testament is full of the wrath of God on His people for the sake of punishment alone, but this is simply not the case. Even a slightly more comprehensive reading of the Old Testament will reveal the love of God that is steadfast throughout the ages (see Hosea and 11). His punishment was not simply because He was angry (though His anger did burn against them), but rather to refine them and test them. The Lord’s love for His people, along with His righteousness, led Him to punish the people for their transgressions, just as a father would disciple his son or daughter. It was to train the people, to refine them, to save the remnant that would survive. Yes, they had brought a curse upon themselves by forsaking the covenant of the Lord. However, the Lord was still seeking to refine His people, even if this refinement would leave but a remnant.
The worthlessness of idols: Finally, the discourse leads to the heart of the problem for Israel at this time: the idols and customs of the nations around them. They had taken the Baals and the Asherah, gods of metal and gods of wood, and bowed down to them. They had placed foreign idols above the Lord their God, and their heart was set on these gods rather than Him who had created them. The gods of these nations could not compare to the God of Israel, for they were foolish and stupid. They knew nothing, for they had no life, no breath. They were formed and crafted by the hands of men, and there was no power within them. Yet the people still worshipped them and served them. They would perish before the true power of the Lord. They are ultimately worthless. Though they may not be made of silver and gold, we still have idols that we worship today. These idols can be anything that we worship as opposed to only worshipping God. Some people idolize fame or money, while others pour their hearts and souls into their job or sports. None of these things are inherently evil, yet they can easily become a snare to our soul. Jeremiah laments over his people towards the end of this discourse, crying out to the Lord that He would not correct him in His anger (though he was told not to pray for the people). It is not in man to correct his steps, but rather it is the Lord who guides us into righteousness. May we ever look to Him to be our guide.
The broken covenant: This chapter is somewhat of a dialog between the Lord and Jeremiah, where the Lord explains the reason that His punishment was about to be poured out on the children of Israel. They had broken the covenant of the Lord, and had transgressed His ways (see Deuteronomy 11:26-32). They had been warned when they were given the law of what would happen if they forsook the command of the Lord. And that is exactly what they had done. They refused to hear the word of the Lord, but rather turned to the iniquities of their fathers (this transgression was not new in Israel or Judah), falling after other gods of the nations around them. This was the message that Jeremiah had to bring to the people. But his message was certainly not popular, and actually made him a lot of enemies. He says that he was led like a lamb to the slaughter (compare with the messianic prophecies of Isaiah 53, cited in Acts 8:32), for the people he was sent to proclaim the word of the Lord to turned towards him to try to destroy him. They charged him not to prophesy in the name of the Lord (compare with Isaiah 30:10 and Acts 4:13-22). But the Lord would not let them harm Jeremiah, and He was going to send punishment on them. They had broken the covenant of the Lord, and now they were going to reap the consequences.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Mark 7-8.
Seek the wisdom of the Lord.