The Pursuit of God

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The Snarky Prophet: Lessons Learned from Jeremiah 14-15

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When trouble comes, what do we do?  We pray and ask God for deliverance.  But what if we know that we have brought the trouble on ourselves through willful disobedience?  We still pray and ask God for deliverance.  Do we repent and change our ways?  No, we just want deliverance, and if God doesn’t give it to us, we start accusing Him of betraying us.  Is this obnoxious behavior?  It certainly is, and yet there’s something about human misery that makes us want to side with God’s enemies against Him.  We find an excellent example of this in Jeremiah 14-15.

By now, Jeremiah has spoken reams of God’s messages to his fellow Israelites, outlining the horrific extent of their willful rebellion and reminding them of how incredibly patient and merciful God has been with them.  But do the Jews care?  Not hardly.  They hate God and everyone who reminds them of Him.  They want to kill Jeremiah, but so far God has held them off.  Now a terrible drought has struck the land and the people are desperate for water.  We find a vivid description of just how bad things are at the beginning of Chapter 14.  The public water supplies are all dried up. The city of Jerusalem is in public mourning.  The farmers are despaired.  Even the animals are abandoning the young that they can no longer provide for.  There’s no vegetation.  The ground is dry and cracked.  It’s super miserable.

Now it’s no secret why this is happening.  Yahweh is furious with His rebellious people.  Jeremiah knows this better than anyone, yet listen to how he prays:

“Although our sins testify against us, do something, Yahweh, for the sake of Your Name. For we have often rebelled; we have sinned against You. You who are the hope of Israel, its Savior in times of distress, why are You like a stranger in the land, like a traveler who stays only a night? Why are You like a man taken by surprise, like a warrior powerless to save? You are among us, Yahweh, and we bear Your Name; do not forsake us!” (Jer. 14:7-9)

This has all the elements of the twerpy prayers we send up today when things are going tough.  Siding with the rebellious people, Jeremiah’s attitude is, “Okay, we’ve sinned, but come on already!  Give us rain!”  Notice how he has the gall to compare God to an aloof stranger and a weak soldier who is caught off guard and unable to defend himself.  These are some pretty insulting metaphors.  Then he ends by telling God not to forsake His people—the same jerks who even now continue to spit in God’s face.  What’s wrong with this prayer? Plenty.  Jeremiah has forgotten where his loyalties are supposed to lie.  To plead for mercy for a people who delight in insulting their God is taking things much too far.  It would be one thing if the Jews were actually repentant, but they’re so not.

God now gives His reply.

This is what Yahweh says about this people: “They greatly love to wander; they do not restrain their feet. So Yahweh does not accept them; He will now remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins.”

Then Yahweh said to me, “Do not pray for the well-being of this people. Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Instead, I will destroy them with the sword, famine and plague.” (Jer. 14:10-12)

Not only is God unmoved by Jeremiah’s petition, He finds it irritating.  He reminds the prophet that the people have yet to repent of anything, therefore God is not about to pretend that everything is roses.  He orders Jeremiah to stop praying for the rebels and He says that He’s going to ignore all of the whining and sacrificing that the Jews are doing because He knows that these actions are not sincere.  They are just attempts to butter God up.  The Jews fast and wail and roast a bunch of animal sacrifices, but their hearts are filled with defiance.  Just as bratty children  manufacture real tears as long as some treat is withheld from them only to be right as rain the moment they get what they want, so the Jews are only putting on the pretense of grief in order to get God to bring rain.  As soon as He does, they’ll drop the act and go back to full time defiance.  By now God has been through this routine with Israel countless times and His patience is gone.  This time He is determined to destroy His bratty people through war, starvation, and disease.

Jeremiah’s response to God doesn’t get him any points for good listening skills.  Still siding with God’s enemies, he now comes up with a new angle: the Jews shouldn’t be blamed for defying God, because they’ve been innocently led astray by false prophets who are speaking lies in Yahweh’s Name.

But, “Ah, Lord Yahweh!” I said, “Look, the prophets are telling them, ‘You will not see the sword nor will you have famine, but I will give you lasting peace in this place.’” (Jer. 14:13)

Now this is a really dumb argument which further insults God.  God has been convicting His people for decades about their sins and warning them that His patience was wearing thin, yet here Jeremiah accuses God of not giving His people fair warning.  After all, other prophets are saying that God is going to protect and bless Israel, so how are the poor people supposed to know who to believe?  This is the same as saying that God is incapable of effectively convicting people.  Jeremiah is suggesting that God’s words are so powerless that they sound less legitimate than the words of carnal liars.  He might as well tell God that Satan is a far more effective speaker than He is.  Wow.  At this point, Jeremiah really needs a refresher course in reverence.

Addressing the issue of false prophets, God says:

“The prophets are prophesying lies in My Name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds. Therefore this is what Yahweh says about the prophets who are prophesying in My Name: I did not send them, yet they are saying, ‘No sword or famine will touch this land.’ Those same prophets will perish by sword and famine. And the people they are prophesying to will be thrown out into the streets of Jerusalem because of the famine and sword. There will be no one to bury them, their wives, their sons and their daughters. I will pour out on them the calamity that they deserve.” (Jer. 14:14-16)

Here God assures Jeremiah that the prophets will be getting what they deserve: the very things that they are promising won’t happen to Jerusalem will happen to them personally–war and starvation.  God then underscores how widespread the upcoming slaughter of His people will be.  Greatly upset by these words, Jeremiah retaliates with more complaints and nasty accusations.

“Have You rejected Judah completely? Do You despise Zion? Why have You afflicted us so that we cannot be healed? We hoped for peace but no good has come, for a time of healing, but there is only terror!” (Jer. 14:19)

What obnoxious language!  Notice how Jeremiah accuses God of being the problem.  He is the One who has turned His back on Judah and it’s His fault that the people aren’t repenting.  Wow!  Jeremiah is out of his mind to talk to God like this, especially after God has bent over backwards for centuries to give these rebels a chance to repent.  Notice how entitled Jeremiah sounds when he complains that the people have been waiting for God to bless them with peace and healing, only to receive the opposite.  And why is God supposed to be blessing these people again?  What exactly have they done to deserve anything good from His hands?

“We acknowledge our wickedness, Yahweh, and the guilt of our ancestors; we have indeed sinned against You. But for the sake of Your Name do not despise us; do not dishonor Your glorious throne. Remember Your Covenant with us and do not break it.” (Jer. 14:20-21)

Once again Jeremiah openly acknowledges that the people have been treating God abominably only to then fluff it off as some kind of irrelevant.  Sure, they’ve sinned, but so what?  Somehow in the prophet’s mind, God owes the Israelites a bunch of blessings.  Every time Jeremiah speaks in this exchange, his words are filled with disrespectful insults and illogical arguments.  Speaking just like the rebels he is so adamantly defending, he downplays the seriousness of sin while trying to say that everything is God’s fault.  Then he brings up Yahweh’s Covenant with Israel—this really demonstrates how idiotic his thinking has become.  According to the terms of God’s Covenant with Israel, He should have utterly destroyed her years ago.  He should have never been nearly as gracious to her as He has been, yet now Jeremiah tells God “don’t break Your Covenant with us.”  Break it?  Jeremiah should be showering God with thanks for not holding Israel to the Covenant far more strictly than He has.

Telling Yahweh to remember His Covenant is the same as saying, “Wipe us off the face of the earth, Lord, because that’s what You promised You’d do if we rebelled against You and we have.”  Clearly Jeremiah is talking out of both sides of his face.  He doesn’t really want God to uphold His Covenant.  Instead he wants God to uphold the fantasy Covenant that Jeremiah and all the Jews have invented in their minds—a Covenant in which God does nothing but bless, bless, bless these defiant brats.

The fact that Jeremiah has not been reduced to a smoking pile of ash by now is yet another testimony to God’s incredible grace.  Now before he pauses for breath, Jeremiah takes one last stab at trying to manipulate God into ending the drought.

Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain? Do the skies themselves send down showers? No, it is You, O Yahweh our God. Therefore we hope in You, for You are the One who does all these things.”  (Jer. 14:22)

Here Jeremiah is saying, “Don’t You want to prove that You’re greater than all the other gods around us?”  And then he adds on a nauseatingly fake description of a desperate Israel counting on her God to save her.  What a crock.  Israel isn’t looking to God, that’s why He’s nailing her with the drought in the first place.  He’s sick of being ignored and mocked while His people suck up to every idol they can get their hands on. It’s pretty low down for Jeremiah to lie to God’s face like this and try to sell Him this guff about Israel thinking He is better than the gods she’s sacrificing her children to.

By now, God is getting pretty fed up with His mouthy prophet.  His response to Jeremiah’s obnoxious petition is filled with ice.

“Even though Moses and Samuel were to stand before Me, My heart would not be with this people.  Send them away from My Presence and let them go!  And when they ask you, ‘Where should we go?’ then tell them: ‘Thus says Yahweh: Those destined for death, to death; those for the sword, to the sword; those for starvation, to starvation; those for captivity, to captivity.’” (Jer. 15:1-2)

Every Jew in Israel knew that Moses and Samuel were two of God’s favorite people.  They were right up there with Elijah, Abraham, and David—members of God’s elite incrowd whose concerns carried extra weight with Him.  There were times during the wilderness journey that God would become so furious with Israel’s constant rebellion that He wanted to wipe her off the map.  At those times, Moses was the only man He would allow to speak to Him—the only one He would actually listen to.  For God to now say that He would reject the petitions of even Moses and Samuel underscores just how furious He is with Israel.  God has decided to massacre His chosen nation and this time no one will be able to talk Him out of it.  He has already decided who He will chop down with a sword, who He will starve to death, and who He will drag off into captivity.

“I will send four kinds of destroyers against them,” declares Yahweh, “the sword to kill and the dogs to drag away, and the birds and the wild animals to devour and destroy. I will make them an object of horror among all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah, the king of Judah, did in Jerusalem.” (Jer. 15:3-4)

There are certain points in Israel’s long history of rebellion that were especially painful to God—certain people who betrayed Him in ways He never forgot.  Young King Manasseh was one of those people. Manasseh took the desecration of God’s Temple to new extremes by turning it into a shrine to demonic idols.

Manasseh built altars in the Temple of Yahweh, of which Yahweh had said, “In Jerusalem I will put My Name.” In the two courts of the Temple of Yahweh, he built altars to all the starry hosts. He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did great evil in the eyes of Yahweh, arousing His anger. (2 Kings 21:4-6)     

Manasseh was devoted to evil.  As king, he pressured the rest of Israel to follow his satanic example.  Thanks to his influence, Israel became worse than the nations who had originally inhabited the Promised Land—nations who God had commanded Israel to utterly destroy because He was so fed up with their sin.  In response to Manasseh’s actions, God announced that He would one day bring disaster on the capital city of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah (the southern half of Israel’s once unified nation).

Yahweh said through His servants the prophets: “Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. Therefore this is what Yahweh, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle.” (2 Kings 21:10-12)

Back in Manasseh’s day, God warned that His punishment of Israel would be extremely fierce.

“I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. I will forsake the remnant of My inheritance and give them into the hands of enemies. They will be looted and plundered by all their enemies; they have done evil in My eyes and have aroused My anger from the day their ancestors came out of Egypt until now.” (2 Kings 21:13-15)

Notice how God says that Israel has never been faithful to Him—not since the very start of their relationship when He miraculously brought her out of Egypt.  Israel’s unceasing rebellion is a theme that comes up several times throughout the Bible, proving how idiotic it is for the Church today to promote a picture of God being so pleased with His chosen nation.  God has never been pleased with Israel.  By His own admission, she has never been anything but a source of constant grief and heartache.

Here in Jeremiah, we’re doing the final countdown to God making good on the threats He gave decades earlier during Manasseh’s reign.  Jeremiah will actually witness the destruction of Jerusalem and God’s Temple firsthand, but at this point in his prophetic career, he doesn’t realize that he’s really living in Jerusalem’s last days.  God’s been threatening to destroy the city for a long time now, and it’s easy to slip into a mindset that He’ll never quite get around to doing it.  It’s like Christians today who hear prophets warn that soon God will be pouring out His wrath on a global scale because He is so fed up with the blasphemy of the human race.  It’s easy to shrug such messages off and think, “Nothing as scary as that will happen in my lifetime.”  Of course, when it does happen, suddenly you find yourself wishing you’d paid more attention to everything the prophets said.

“Indeed, who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem, or who will mourn for you, or who will turn aside to ask about your welfare? You who have forsaken Me,” declares Yahweh, “You keep going backward.  So I will stretch out My hand against you and destroy you; I am tired of relenting! I will winnow them with a winnowing fork at the gates of the land; I will bereave them of children and I will destroy My people because they did not repent of their ways.” (Jer. 15:5-7)

After refreshing Jeremiah’s memory about Manasseh, God continues to describe how fed up He is with His people.  After listening to God’s long speech, bratty Jeremiah now begins a pity party, mourning his tough lot as a prophet with a short “I wish I had never been born” speech.

“O my mother, how sorry I am that you gave birth to me!  I am a man who causes dispute and conflict throughout the land! I have not lent, nor have I borrowed, yet everyone curses me.” (Jer. 15:10)

Jeremiah sympathizes with God’s enemies and he sympathizes with himself.  The only one he isn’t showing any sympathy for is God.  Yet despite His prophet’s rotten attitude, God generously promises to support Jeremiah when this disaster strikes.

Yahweh said, “Surely I will deliver you for a good purpose; surely I will make your enemies plead with you in times of disaster and times of distress.” (Jer. 15:11)

God then finishes by reiterating how thoroughly He will devastate the people of Judah.

“I will give your wealth and your treasures away as free plunder because of all your sins throughout your country.  I will enslave you to your enemies in a land you do not know, for My anger will kindle a fire that will burn against you.” (Jer. 15:13-14)

Up until now, Jeremiah’s attitude has been seriously irreverent.  We now realize that God has responded to this by disciplining the prophet in some way that He has made Jeremiah quite miserable.  We don’t know the exact form this discipline has taken because the prophet doesn’t tell us.  But the next thing we hear is Jeremiah groaning for God to have mercy—not on all of Israel, but on himself.

“Yahweh, You understand; remember me and care for me.  Avenge me on my persecutors. You are long-suffering—do not take me away; think of how I suffer reproach for Your sake.  When Your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear Your Name, Lord Yahweh Almighty. I never sat in the company of revelers, never made merry with them; I sat alone because Your hand was on me and You had filled me with indignation.  Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.” (Jer. 15:15-18)

We get several clues in this speech about what is going on.  God seems to have removed His support from Jeremiah in a noticeable way.  The prophet complains of being persecuted.  He asks God be patient with him.  He reminds God of the things he has done right in the past—the way he used to separate himself from God’s enemies and delighted in being God’s spokesman.  Then he describes himself as being in unrelenting pain while God intentionally withholds relief from him.

God’s response confirms that He has been inflicting His prophet with some kind of miserable discipline.

“If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve Me; if you speak worthy, not worthless, words, then you will be My spokesman. Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them.” (Jer. 15:19)

God is done listening to Jeremiah insult Him.  He says here that if the prophet repents of his ways and gets rid of his foul attitude, God will restore him to a more pleasant state of being.  He reminds Jeremiah that he is out of line to side with the Jews.  If anything, the Jews should side with Jeremiah and repent of their sins as God is telling them to do through the prophet’s mouth.  Now God generously encourages the prophet back towards obedience by promising to reward his loyalty with physical protection.

“I will make you a wall to this people, a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue and save you. I will save you from the hands of the wicked and deliver you from the grasp of the cruel.” (Jer. 15:20-21)

Does Jeremiah learn his lesson and repent?  Yes, he does.  He goes on to become a world traveling prophet—speaking God’s words to every nation he’s ever heard of.  He proves the sincerity of his devotion to God by putting his life constantly at risk so that he can carry out God’s dangerous and often humiliating assignments.

It’s a major blunder for a prophet to turn against God and align with His enemies.  Jeremiah makes this error yet he also recovers from it, showing us that there is always hope thanks to the fact that God is more faithful to us than we are to Him.  It is for our own sake that God disciplines us when we start getting snarky with Him.  Knowing that we can count on Him to deliver timely spankings brings us a sense of peace and security in life.  God doesn’t let His kids drift away from Him without a fight.  When we rebel, He responds with conviction, and then He breaks out stronger and stronger forms of discipline until we finally resubmit to Him and remember our place as His servants.

While it’s comforting to know that God won’t let us get away with disrespecting Him, we also don’t have to follow Jeremiah’s bad example.  There is much we can learn by studying how rapidly the prophet’s attitude decayed as he focused on the suffering of the people around him instead of focusing on God’s heart.  If a thug beats up a man in an alley, should that man’s wife then side with his attacker?  It is utterly obnoxious for God’s own people to discount His feelings while they pray for Him to bless those who openly despise Him.

We Christians really need to think before we start praying for God to end droughts, boost economies, or raise up good leaders in nations that despise Him.  Why should God reward rebellion?  When we see no signs of repentance around us, how can we possibly justify nagging God to hold back discipline that is long overdue?  How many times does Jesus have to be scorned and jeered at before we will consider His Father’s rage to be valid?  How can we be so callous about the fact that our magnificent Savior is being constantly insulted and at the same time plead and weep over the people who are closing their hearts to the Holy Spirit’s illumination?  How much abuse do our three Creators need to receive before we will stop acting like They are the last Ones deserving of our sympathy?  Jeremiah’s obnoxious comments to God provide us with a shocking picture of just how ugly our attitudes become when we love God’s enemies more than Him.

As Christians, we owe all of our devotion to God alone.  He should be the One we’re siding with in every situation.  We should never be accusing Him of being unfair as if that is a negative thing.  God has always been unfair—but in our favor.  Were He to suddenly start treating us as we really deserve, we’d all be roasting in Hell.  What was fair about Christ being brutalized for sins He never committed?  What’s fair about us being showered with such abundant grace and mercy?  Let’s not make Jeremiah’s mistake and pretend that God never spoke of wrath and cursing in His Covenant with us.  God’s wrath hasn’t gone anywhere—it’s just as real and as strong as ever.  The only reason we aren’t experiencing the full force of it is because He has chosen to be gracious to us.  Such incredible generosity should inspire us to want to show God unwavering devotion at all times.   Ask the Holy Spirit to help you stay loyal to your Creators in both the good times and the bad. Ask Him to make you into the kind of servant who brings continuous joy to your Master’s heart.

FURTHER READING:
The Enemies of God

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