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Josiah has been one of the best kings Israel has ever seen. In our last lesson, we learned about his war against idolatry, and how he purged the kingdom of Judah of all idol shrines and statues. Josiah has worked very hard to turn the people back to Yahweh, and Yahweh is quite pleased with him. The nation as a whole, however, has squandered the last of her grace and not even Josiah’s great reforms can release Judah from her death sentence. God has promised to utterly destroy the nation, her capital city of Jerusalem, and even His own Temple. Before we start thinking God is being unreasonable here, let’s remember that by now He has put up with centuries of abuse.
TWO KINDS OF PROMISES
In the Bible, God’s promises and curses are handed out on two different levels. There is the set He gives to large groups, and the set He gives to individuals. It’s important not to confuse these two, so whenever you are reading a passage of Scripture, always ask yourself, “Who is God speaking to? Is He talking to one individual or to a whole group?” These questions will help us steer clear of false assumptions. For example, when God rolled out His Covenant with Israel, He made several promises. First, He promised great blessings if Israel would obey Him. Essentially, He promised to make her life heaven on earth: as a nation she would be healthy, wealthy, and free of trials. If she disobeyed Him, He promised to curse her. Now all of these promises were given to Israel as a nation, not to specific individuals. God never promised to give individuals perfect lives if they were faithful to Him. Instead, the whole nation of Israel had to obey Him before He would pour down abundant blessings. Israel never gets to this point. When she has a righteous king at her helm—like David, Hezekiah or Josiah—we see her tone down the idolatry. Yet we never see God making her life heaven on earth, because one righteous king isn’t going to make up for a bunch of people secretly worshiping idols in their homes.
For the “perfect life” blessings to roll out, Yahweh demanded that the whole nation reverentially seek Him. Because He wrote many Laws that called for the immediate execution of those who displayed heart attitudes of willful defiance, obeying God’s Laws would have helped the righteous keep rebels purged from their midst. The problem was that there were never enough righteous people at one time to really put God’s Laws into effect. Over and over we see rebellious twerps and public idolaters allowed to live into adulthood. They then have children who they raise up in their evil ways, and a large population of rebels persecute the righteous until the righteous are only a scant minority.
Because the nation of Israel never put her whole heart into pursuing Yahweh, He kept the trials coming. The worse her rebellion became, the more trials He inflicted on her. National bliss was never experienced because the nation refused to stay obedient.
Now national bliss and individual bliss are two different concepts. As we read through the Old Covenant portion of the Bible, we don’t find anyone who had the perfect life. Instead, we are disturbed to find that many of God’s faithful followers—men like Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John the Baptist—had some very tough times on earth. But how is this fair? Didn’t God promise that obedience would result in a perfect life of health, wealth, and physical comfort? No. God has never promised this for individuals, and realizing this will protect you from becoming yet another victim of a large crop of false prophets and teachers in the Church today who are promoting prosperity theology. This is a set of beliefs which are built on the assumption that it is not God’s will for us to suffer down here. Well, yes it is.
Now while God wants us to suffer to some degree in this world, He never says our entire lives are supposed to be agony—this is another warping of Scripture by those who become obsessed with the idea that “pain is gain.” God calls us to sincerely seek Him in life and He promises us great eternal and spiritual rewards if we do. But as far as this earth goes, He does not make any specific promises about what our experience of this place will be. This is because God’s plan for everyone is different. Most of us will experience a mix of joy and sadness here, but the ratio will be different for everyone. The notion that God has promised to provide a wonderful earthly experience in exchange for obedience is a complete lie that Satan really wants you to believe. Why? Because when we try to live our lives based on lies, we are very easy to discourage. Once you swallow the idea that God has promised to bless His obedient kids in earthly ways (not just spiritual ways), then the moment your earthly experience goes south, it’s very easy for Satan to convince you that God must be mad at you.
So then, under the Old Covenant, the perfect earthly life is only ever promised to a nation of truly committed Yahweh followers. God makes other promises to specific individuals as we move through the Old Testament but no individual soul is promised a perfect earthly life. Instead, what we find is that God’s best guys all have their share of challenges. They have great triumphs, too, but it’s a mixed bag.
When we come to Jesus in Period 7 (the Gospel books), He makes a particular point of saying that under the New Covenant, the righteous can count on being persecuted. Jesus intentionally steers us away from forming false expectations that obeying God will be rewarded with earthly bliss. Jesus’ words shouldn’t come as any great surprise, because by the time we get to Him, we’ve seen a long history of the righteous being persecuted by the rebellious. Jesus merely assures us that this pattern will continue. Well, fine. This isn’t a crushing downer because we’ve also seen the righteous thrive despite persecution and we’ve learned how generous Yahweh is about rewarding His faithful followers in eternity.
Now since the New Covenant replaces the Old one, all the blessings of bliss that were offered to Israel as a nation have been nullified. Under the New Covenant, no single political nation or ethnic group is exalted as God’s chosen people. Instead, Jesus takes the “chosen” title away from Israel and applies it to all of His faithful followers, who become known as the Church or the Bride of Christ. A correct understanding of how the New Covenant differs from the Old will steer you clear of this ridiculous fawning over Israel that is going on in the Church today. There is no need for us to be sucking up to this one nation and oozing over everything she does in hopes that her Covenant blessings will rub off on us. There are no such blessings in effect at this time. The nation of Israel that you see on your map isn’t any more exciting to God than Germany or Australia or China. There is no longer any nation on this earth that has been especially set apart by God. Jesus threw that entire concept out the window when He introduced the New Covenant. He has swung the spotlight off of Israel and turned it onto the Church. We Christians are now the Bride of Christ, the children of God, and His chosen people.
It’s during the reign of Josiah that the prophet Jeremiah begins to preach. In the Bible, the book that Jeremiah authored is quite long and it includes a lot of historical detail. As we move through the final years of Judah, we will need to be moving back and forth between 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, and Jeremiah to get a full picture of what’s happening.
Jeremiah becomes an active prophet during the reign of Josiah and he’ll live through the fall of Jerusalem. He’ll have things to say to every king who reigns after Josiah, but in his book, his visions are not recorded in chronological order. Instead, they jump all over the place, which makes them difficult to sort through.
Jeremiah is a young Levite man who is living in the Levite city of Anathoth. He’s a very poetic, highly emotional fellow, but he’s never envisioned himself as another Isaiah. So it comes as quite a shock when Yahweh suddenly announces one day that He has chosen Jeremiah to be one of His prophets.
The word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Then I said, “But, Lord Yahweh, I can’t speak for You! I’m too young!”
But Yahweh said to me, “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, Yahweh, have spoken!” (Jer. 1:4-8)
God doesn’t tell people not to be afraid unless fear is already on their minds. Jeremiah knows that real prophets don’t have a history of being greeted with open arms and he is feeling quite intimidated by the thought of how the people will react to him.
Then Yahweh reached out and touched my mouth and said, “Look, I have put My words in your mouth! Today I appoint you to stand up against nations and kingdoms. Some you must uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow. Others you must build up and plant.” (Jer. 1:9-10)
Yahweh is planning to send Jeremiah traveling all over the biblical world delivering His messages to many nations and kings. But first, He gives Jeremiah a few warm-up exercises. He gives him two quick visions: first of an almond tree and then of a boiling pot. Yahweh explains that the visions symbolize His careful unfolding of His prophetic words as well as the coming judgment on Judah. Now the private practice is over and Yahweh is eager to get started.
“Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be intimidated by them or I will cause you to cower before them. Today I have made you like a fortified city, a pillar of iron, and like walls of bronze against the whole land, to the kings of Judah, to its princes, to its priests and to the people of the land. They will fight against you but they will never prevail over you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares Yahweh. (Jer. 1:17-19)
Notice the threat that Yahweh slips in: if Jeremiah tries to cower out of his calling, Yahweh will publicly discipline him. Speaking for God is serious business and Yahweh demands obedience from His prophets. Yes, it is a daunting assignment, but He promises to give Jeremiah the resources to stand strong. All that’s left is for Jeremiah to choose to obey—which he does.
Notice how Yahweh doesn’t try to pretend that the calling is going to be easy. The people are going to attack Jeremiah, but Yahweh says they won’t overcome him. There are going to be several times in the future when Jeremiah will remember these words with bitterness and feel like God’s protection is sorely lacking. He will even go so far as to accuse God of intentionally deceiving him. Is this really what God is doing here? Of course it is. God is purposely using metaphors of support and protection that are raising Jeremiah’s expectations through the roof. A fortified city. Impenetrable bronze walls. God is promising to make His prophet untouchable and invincible. Kings, priests, princes and the general masses—none of them will be able to throw Jeremiah off his game. This is what God promises, but this is not what’s going to happen. Instead, He’s going to stand by while Jeremiah is cruelly beaten, degraded in public stocks, locked away in prison, and left to die in a miserable underground pit. Jeremiah’s friends and family will all turn against him and plot for ways to try and murder him. He is going to end up depressed, miserable, and feeling like God is a big fat traitor. God knows all of this up front, but He intentionally paints a pretty picture of continuous empowerment and victory. Is this deception? It most certainly is.
If you’ve ever felt like God has led you down some garden path of promises only to end up tossing you into a patch of prickly cactus, Jeremiah is your man. There is a lot we can learn from studying his story, thanks to the fact that he wears his heart on his sleeve far more than any other prophet. While Ezekiel refrains from sharing any of his personal feelings and Isaiah tries to emphasize the positive, Jeremiah lets it all hang out. When he is feeling miserable, he says so. Jeremiah talks about the difficult side of serving God—the side we often try to avoid talking about today. Jeremiah is refreshingly honest and a comforting reminder that we can still succeed with God even when we go through seasons of feeling like He’s an ogre.
JUDAH’S SHOCKING BETRAYAL
Judah is the first nation Yahweh sends His new prophet to speak against. Referring back to Periods 2 and 3, Yahweh reminds the people how He faithfully led Israel through a barren desert for 40 years, only to have her utterly betray Him once she reached the Promised Land.
Listen to the word of Yahweh, people of Jacob—all you families of Israel! This is what Yahweh says: “What did your ancestors find wrong with Me that led them to stray so far from Me? They worshiped worthless idols, only to become worthless themselves. They did not ask, ‘Where is Yahweh who brought us safely out of Egypt and led us through the barren wilderness— a land of deserts and pits, a land of drought and death, where no one lives or even travels?’
And when I brought you into a fruitful land to enjoy its bounty and goodness, you defiled My land and corrupted the possession I had promised you. The priests did not ask, ‘Where is Yahweh?’ Those who taught My word ignored Me, the rulers turned against Me, and the prophets spoke in the name of Baal, wasting their time on worthless idols.” (Jer. 2:4-8)
Notice the emphasis on idolatry. Yahweh will exalt this sin above all others all throughout the Bible. God hates betrayal. Now we’re all going to engage in some form of idolatry in our lives, but when we do, God will convict us and hopefully we will be swift to repent. If the Holy Spirit suddenly opens your eyes to see that your job, wealth, or social status has become a god to you, it does not mean God is ragingly furious with you. The kind of rebellion that makes God get as mad as He is right now with Judah is not some unintentional blundering. It is willful, stubborn, long term defiance. Israel has been convicted over and over again, she is well aware of how much God hates what she’s doing, but she is doing it anyway. She is behaving like the bratty child who locks eyes with his mother, spits on her shoes, and tells her to go burn in Hell. This is hateful, “I love sticking it to You” kind of disobedience.
When you find yourself feeling tormented with guilt over some past sin and tearfully asking God to forgive you, you are nowhere near this kind of defiance and He is nowhere near this kind of angry with you. It’s important that we gain a proper understanding of God’s wrath. Yes, it is terrifying, but it is not unreasonable. Remember that God is always responding to heart attitudes, not just outward actions. Whenever we find Him explosively mad in the Bible, it means that He is reacting to hearts that are hatefully rebellious. As long as you are responding to the Holy Spirit and showing concern for His preferences, you are never going to see the raging side of God turning towards you personally. It might turn towards other souls around you, and if it does, you could very well be affected by the discipline He unleashes. When God destroys the nation of Judah, everyone living in it will be affected—both the righteous and the rebels. But getting caught in the crossfire of God’s anger with other people is an entirely different situation than being the target of His anger. You never want to be the one God is gunning for. Yet because God is so gracious, you really have to put your heart into defying Him before He will decide to start breaking out the terrible torments. This means there is no need to worry that you might suddenly wake up one day and learn that God is furious with you. It won’t happen. This isn’t the way that God works. By the time He gets angry enough to start ripping people apart, those people are well-informed of what they’re doing to tick Him off, and they have already decided many times that they will not change their ways. This is why there can never be any sympathy for those who attract the intense heat of God’s wrath. Souls can’t get into such a situation without treating God abominably, and by the time they do that, we Christians should be feeling outraged and wanting our Lord to exact His revenge.
To stand around pleading the case of God’s enemies instead of showing concern for how badly God is being treated is a very foul attitude for Christians to have. As our gracious Savior, God should be getting all of our loyalty, love, and sympathy. He comes first, and people are a distant second. Far too often we are taught to live with backwards priorities: pleading for God to have endless mercy on His enemies while showing no concern for the fact that He is being grossly mistreated. God never authorizes us to put people above Him. Instead, He demands that we love Him first and that we give Him our complete devotion. So let’s get it right. God is first.
“Has any nation ever changed its gods, even though their gods were not even real? Yet My people have changed their Glory for worthless idols! The heavens are shocked at such a thing and shrink back in horror and dismay,” declares Yahweh. “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!” (Jer. 2:11-13)
“Your wickedness will bring its own punishment. Your turning from Me will shame you.
You will see what an evil, bitter thing it is to abandon Yahweh your God and not to fear Him. I, Yahweh, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!” (Jer. 2:19)
God hates idolatry. He hates it intensely. But Israel couldn’t care less what Yahweh hates, and in classic rebel style, she pretends not to know what He’s talking about. Baals? Who is worshiping the Baals? Surely not her.
“How can you say, ‘I am not defiled, I have not gone after the Baals’? Look at what you’re doing in the valley! Admit what you have done! You are like a restless female camel desperately searching for a mate. You are like a wild donkey, sniffing the wind at mating time. Who can restrain her lust? Those who desire her don’t need to search, for she goes running to them! When will you stop running? When will you stop panting after other gods? But you say, ‘Save Your breath. I’m in love with these foreign gods, and I can’t stop loving them now!’
Israel is like a thief who feels shame only when he gets caught. They, their kings, officials, priests, and prophets—all are alike in this. To an image carved from a piece of wood they say, ‘You are my father.’ To an idol chiseled from a block of stone they say, ‘You are my mother.’ They turn their backs on Me, but in times of trouble they cry out to Me, ‘Come and save us!’
But where are the gods which you made for yourself? Let them save you from your troubles! For you have as many gods as there are towns in Judah!” (Jer. 2:23-28)
It’s a very ugly pattern, the way that Israel treats God like dirt and then expects Him to come rushing to her defense the moment trouble comes. Unfortunately this pattern isn’t unique to the Old Testament. Today plenty of Christians are blowing off the Holy Spirit’s convictions, yet when trouble comes, they will expect to collect a bunch of privileges as the children of God. This is no way to be treating our King, and if you feel like you’re getting too casual about listening to God, now is the time to ask the Holy Spirit to get you back where He wants you to be. This is the awesome thing about our God: He doesn’t just point out problems, He also provides solutions.
There is much we can learn from Israel’s bald defiance of God. Watching her in action teaches us about the inner workings of the rebellious mind, and it helps us understand why some souls appear to be so immune to conviction. Even though Israel is doing it with every god she can get her hands on, she tries to play innocent. When that doesn’t go over with Yahweh, she then has the audacity to accuse Him of being the problem. It’s all His fault. He’s the real Source of trouble in this relationship.
“Why do you bring charges against Me? You have all rebelled against Me,” declares Yahweh. “In vain I have struck your sons; they accepted no chastening. Your sword has devoured your prophets like a destroying lion.” (Jer. 2:29-30)
The Israelites have been murdering God’s prophets right and left, trying to silence the conviction He was speaking through their lips. But God has done a lot more than just send human messengers. He’s also ravaged the land with invaders, struck the people with droughts and famines, and come up with countless ways of making their lives miserable. All of this has been done in an attempt to bring the people back to a state of reverential submission, but they just won’t have it.
Now if Yahweh were some oppressive tyrant, Israel’s constant resistance would make sense. But He’s not a tyrant, He’s her gracious, loving Husband who has only ever wanted to bless her. God is astounded by Israel’s insane behavior.
“O generation, heed the word of Yahweh. Have I been a desert to Israel or a land of great darkness? Why do My people say, ‘We are free to roam; we will come to You no more’? Does a young woman forget her jewelry, a bride her wedding ornaments? Yet My people have forgotten Me, days without number.
How skilled you are at pursuing love! Even the worst of women can learn from your ways! On your clothes is found the lifeblood of the innocent poor, though you did not catch them breaking in. But in spite of all these things, you say, ‘I am innocent; He is not angry with me.’ But I will pass judgment on you because you say, ‘I have not sinned.’” (Jer. 2:31-35)
Now is God really as shocked as He sounds by Israel’s betrayal? No. He saw this day coming from the very beginning, yet He is teaching us about His heart and His Character by making these long dramatic speeches (see The Complexity of God’s Will).
Notice how Israel has gone from denying her guilt, to blaming God, to denying the reality of God’s anger. That third stage is where the Church is at today. While we spit in God’s face, mangle His truth, and promote demonic activity as movements of the Holy Spirit, we adamantly deny the reality of God’s anger. After all, we’re Christians, and God never gets mad at His own kids, right? WRONG.
“If a man divorces a woman and she goes and marries someone else, he will not take her back again, for that would surely corrupt the land. But you have prostituted yourself with many lovers, so why are you trying to come back to Me?” says Yahweh. “Look at the shrines on every hilltop. Is there any place you have not been defiled by your adultery with other gods? You sit like a prostitute beside the road waiting for a customer. You sit alone like a nomad in the desert. You have polluted the land with your prostitution and your wickedness. This is why the showers have been withheld, and there has been no spring rain. You are a brazen prostitute and completely shameless. Have you not just now called to Me, ‘My Father, You are the Friend of my youth, will You always be angry? Will Your wrath continue forever?’ This is how you talk, but you do all the evil you can.” (Jer. 3:1-5)
Denial, blaming, scoffing, and now some insincere schmoozing—Israel is really showing her manipulative colors. “My Father, You are the Friend of my youth.” Yeah right. “Will You always be angry?” In other words, “Get over it, already.” And while they give God the brush off in their hearts, the people continue to devote their souls to idol gods.
Gee, what does this remind us of? We’re pretty short on wholehearted devotion in the Church today, but when it comes to collecting healing miracles, special anointings and blessings, the line is out the door. How many of us are just in it for the rush? We plead for demons to knock us senseless and send us convulsing on the floor, because that’s an invaluable experience. And we’re all over “getting drunk in the Spirit”—which of course is another way we surrender our souls to God’s enemies (see Is getting drunk in the Spirit worth an eternal hangover?). But when it comes to actually respecting God and submitting to His will…well, yuck, who wants to do that? Just like ancient Israel, the Church today is chasing after many Baals. Sure we call our idols by different names, but they all have the same demonic origins as the gods Israel played around with.
Jeremiah is living after the fall of the northern kingdom. God now compares the rebellion of the north with the rebellion of the south. Let’s remember that the north was the home of those ridiculous golden cow gods that King Jeroboam made (see Lesson 12). Surely the north was worse than the south. And yet this is not what Yahweh concludes.
“Judah saw that I divorced faithless Israel because of her adultery. But Israel’s treacherous sister Judah had no fear, and now she, too, has left Me and given herself to prostitution. Israel treated it all so lightly—she thought nothing of committing adultery by worshiping idols made of wood and stone. So now the land has been polluted. In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, but only in pretense,” declares Yahweh. Then Yahweh said to me, “Even faithless Israel is less guilty than treacherous Judah!” (Jer. 3:8-11)
Yes, Israel was terrible, but Judah saw everything she did and saw what Yahweh did to her because of it. Now Yahweh turns His focus to the scattered peoples of the north and He calls out for them to respond to His discipline and repent. God is all for fresh starts and new beginnings. If the people of the north will just repent, He will gladly pour down the blessings.
“O Israel, My faithless people, come home to Me again, for I am merciful. I will not be angry with you forever. Only acknowledge your guilt. Admit that you rebelled against Yahweh your God and committed adultery against Him by worshiping idols under every green tree. Confess that you refused to listen to My Voice!” (Jer. 3:12-13)
“I said, ‘How gladly would I treat you like My children and give you a pleasant land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.’ I thought you would call Me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following Me. But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to Me,” declares Yahweh… “Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding.” (Jer. 3:19-20, 22)
Jeremiah can’t take it anymore. He hears God’s heart, he sees the unceasing rebellion of his people, and he believes that mercy is still within reach. So he cries out an answer to Yahweh that he wishes the people would be giving.
“Yes, we will come to you, for you are Yahweh our God. Surely the idolatrous commotion on the hills and mountains is a deception; surely in Yahweh our God is the salvation of Israel. From our youth shameful gods have consumed the fruits of our ancestors’ labor— their flocks and herds, their sons and daughters. Let us lie down in our shame, and let our disgrace cover us. We have sinned against Yahweh our God, both we and our ancestors; from our youth till this day we have not obeyed Yahweh our God.” (Jer. 3:22-25)
Putting words in the people’s mouths is something that Jeremiah does a lot, and it’s important to realize that he is the one talking, not the actual people. The Israelites are not repenting, but the prophet is trying to prod them in that direction. We do the same sort of thing today when we end a sermon by saying the sinner’s prayer out loud in hopes that someone in the congregation will be silently praying along with us. Jeremiah is modeling for the people what repentance looks like—he’s desperately trying to get them to soften their hearts because he is a fierce patriot who dearly loves his fellow Israelites. He loves them so much that sometimes he’ll forget that he’s supposed to be loving God more and God will have to rein him in.
Paragraphs and subtitles are your friends when you’re trying to keep track of who’s talking in the book of Jeremiah. Pay attention to the quotation marks and remember that the whole revelation is being written by Jeremiah (technically his scribe Baruch is doing the actual writing, but Jeremiah is doing the dictating). Realize that whenever it sounds like Judah is having a sudden change of heart, she’s not. It’s either Yahweh describing a distant future time when His people will be living in total harmony with Him (Heaven) or Jeremiah is doing some role playing and saying what he wishes the people would say. It’s confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it, it reads like a very poetic and moving dialogue between a frustrated God, His passionate prophet, and His stubborn people.
For thus says Yahweh to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem, “Break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to Yahweh, circumcise your hearts, you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or My wrath will flare up and burn like fire because of the evil you have done—burn with no one to quench it.” (Jer. 4:3-4)
In Period 8, we will find the apostle Paul telling us that:
A person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. (Rom. 2:29)
Paul’s point is that all those who believe in Christ are “Jews” to Yahweh, for God’s chosen people are not defined by their ethnicity but by their soul’s response to God. We often think this “circumcision of the heart” is a new concept that was introduced after the coming of Christ. But as we see in the above passage from Jeremiah, it isn’t new at all. As we learned in Lesson 20 Yahweh has NEVER made His chosen people an ethnically exclusive club. Non-Israelites have been encouraged to join with the political nation of Israel from the very beginning and in His Laws, Yahweh demanded that all of His followers be treated as equals in His sight. Bloodlines have never been worth bumpkus. It’s soul attitude that God cares about.
But of course Judah has no intention of submitting, so Yahweh announces that His weapon of destruction is already chosen and coming their way. He calls it a “disaster from the north” and a “fierce lion”, and He is speaking of a foreign nation which will come storming in to tear Judah apart.
A lion has come out of his lair; a destroyer of nations has set out. He has left his place to lay waste your land. Your towns will lie in ruins without inhabitant. So put on sackcloth, lament and wail, for the fierce anger of Yahweh has not turned away from us.
“In that day,” declares Yahweh, “the king and the officials will lose heart, the priests will be horrified, and the prophets will be appalled.” (Jer. 4:7-9)
Remember that our young prophet is a very emotional fellow. He hears the words that are coming out of his mouth and, well, he freaks out.
Then I said, “Alas, Sovereign Yahweh! How completely You have deceived this people and Jerusalem by saying, ‘You will have peace,’ when the sword is at our throats!” (Jer. 4:10)
One minute Yahweh is talking about future days of peace and bliss, and then He leaps back into terrifying threats of imminent destruction. Jeremiah doesn’t like all this scary talk about Judah being ravaged. Well, tough. Yahweh is fed up, and Jeremiah needs to get on His wrath page if he’s going to keep up.
In the rest of Chapter 4, we find a perfect opportunity to practice our script reading skills. God is flooding His prophet’s mind with vivid visions of the terrifying devastation that is in Judah’s near future. Imagine Jeremiah reeling with emotions as he rotates between speaking Yahweh’s words and describing what he’s seeing in his mind.
[Jeremiah describing what he sees in his mind]
“Look! The enemy advances like the clouds, his chariots come like a whirlwind, his horses are swifter than eagles. Woe to us! We are ruined!”
[Jeremiah crying out to his people]
O Jerusalem, wash the evil from your heart and be saved. How long will you harbor wicked thoughts? A voice is announcing from Dan, proclaiming disaster from the hills of Ephraim.
“Tell this now to the nations! Proclaim over Jerusalem: ‘A besieging army is coming from a distant land, raising a war cry against the cities of Judah. They surround her like men guarding a field, because she has rebelled against Me,’” declares Yahweh. “Your own conduct and actions have brought this on you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is! How it pierces to the heart!”
[Jeremiah is tormented by his visions]
Oh, my anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain. Oh, the agony of my heart! My heart pounds within me, I cannot keep silent. For I have heard the sound of the trumpet; I have heard the battle cry. Disaster follows disaster; the whole land lies in ruins! In an instant my tents are destroyed, my shelter in a moment. How long must I see the battle standard and hear the sound of the trumpet?
[Yahweh speaks angrily]
“My people are fools; they do not know Me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.”
[Jeremiah describes what he’s seeing in his mind]
I looked at the earth, and it was formless and empty; and at the heavens, and their light was gone. I looked at the mountains, and they were quaking; all the hills were swaying. I looked, and there were no people; every bird in the sky had flown away. I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert; all its towns lay in ruins before Yahweh, before His fierce anger.
[Yahweh clarifies the meaning of the vision]
This is what Yahweh says: “The whole land will be ruined, though I will not destroy it completely. Therefore the earth will mourn and the heavens above grow dark, because I have spoken and will not relent, I have decided and will not turn back.”
[Jeremiah describes more of the vision]
At the sound of horsemen and archers every town takes to flight. Some go into the thickets; some climb up among the rocks. All the towns are deserted; no one lives in them.
[Jeremiah scolds his people]
What are you doing, Judah, you devastated nation? You dress yourself in scarlet and put on jewels of gold. You paint your eyes with makeup, yet your efforts to make yourself beautiful are all in vain. Your lovers despise you; and they want to kill you.
[Jeremiah describes his vision]
I hear a cry like that of a woman in labor, a groan like that of one who is bearing her first child! It is the cry of Daughter Zion gasping for breath, stretching out her hands and saying, “Alas! I am fainting; my life is given over to murderers!” (Jer. 4:13-31)
You won’t find all of these subtitles in your Bible, but with practice, you’ll be able to add them in mentally as you go along. Jeremiah’s prophetic passages are filled with back and forth dialogue.
THE CHALLENGE TO FIND ONE RIGHTEOUS SOUL IN JERUSALEM
At this point, Yahweh comes up with a very interesting challenge for His prophet. Way back in Period 1 (Genesis), Abraham tried to negotiate for God to have mercy on the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Yahweh wanted to utterly destroy them, but Abraham asked if He would consider sparing them if some righteous souls could be found within their borders. Once Yahweh agreed, Abraham then tried to start whittling the required number of righteous down to as few as possible. He finally got God to agree to suspend judgment if just ten righteous souls could be found. Tragically, that number turned out to be far too high and the cities were destroyed. Now, centuries later, Yahweh suddenly volunteers to have mercy on Jerusalem if Jeremiah can find just one reverent soul in her midst. Jerusalem is a very large city, and all Yahweh is asking for is just one soul who sincerely respects Him.
“Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares. If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city. For although they say, ‘As Yahweh lives,’ surely they swear falsely.” (Jer. 5:1-2)
Well, this sounds simple enough. Jeremiah is confident that he can manage to find at least one good person in the city. But after searching among the common people, he finds only hardhearted rebels. Well, surely the leaders will be different.
“So I will go to the leaders of Judah and talk to them. Surely they understand the way of Yahweh and know what God wants them to do.” (Jer. 5:5)
Unfortunately, Jeremiah’s optimism proves to be misplaced.
“But even the leaders had all joined together to break away from Yahweh; they had broken their ties with Him.” (Jer. 5:5)
Wow. This little exercise gives both us and Jeremiah a fresh perspective on just how bad the spiritual crisis has become. There isn’t a single soul in Jerusalem who is sincerely respecting Yahweh. There are just a bunch of fakers. Hm.
So what if God were to tell you that the Church today is drowning in spiritual darkness and hardhearted rebellion? Would you look around at all those smiling preachers and sparkling evangelists and say, “Surely not, God!” God is teaching us an important lesson here in Jeremiah: He has a far more accurate view of reality than we do. So if God says the problem is bad, it’s bad. If He says the Church is up to her neck in idolatry, then that’s what she is. It doesn’t matter what we see. Jeremiah was being fooled by the righteous pretenses of fakers, that’s why he was so confident that the problem wasn’t as bad as Yahweh was saying. Of course once we decide to reject God’s view of reality, we then decide His anger is unreasonable. We really need to learn to do more listening and less arguing with the Holy Spirit.
Having proven His point, Yahweh now says to the people:
“Why should I forgive you? Your children have forsaken Me and sworn by gods that are not gods. I supplied all their needs, yet they committed adultery and thronged to the houses of prostitutes. They are well-fed, lusty stallions, each neighing for another man’s wife. Should I not punish them for this?” declares Yahweh. “Should I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this?” (Jer. 5:7-9)
Both the people and Jeremiah have been accusing God of being unfair. Now He is setting the record straight. He’s tired of being called a windbag by the rebellious little punks in Jerusalem.
“They have lied about Yahweh saying, ‘He will do nothing! No harm will come to us; we will never see sword or famine. The prophets are but wind and the word is not in them; so let what they say be done to them.’” (Jer. 5:12-13)
What a bunch of smart alecks.
[God speaks to Jeremiah]
“Because the people have said I will not punish them, behold, I am making My words in your mouth fire and these people will be the wood which that fire consumes.”
[God speaks to the nation]
“Behold, I am bringing a nation against you from afar, O house of Israel,” declares Yahweh. “It is an enduring nation, an ancient nation. It is a nation whose language you do not know, nor can you understand what they say. Their quiver is like an open grave, all of them are mighty men. They will devour your harvest and your food; they will devour your sons and your daughters; they will devour your flocks and your herds; they will devour your vines and your fig trees; they will demolish with the sword your fortified cities in which you trust.” (Jer. 5:14-17)
“Now hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see; who have ears but do not hear. ‘Do you not fear Me?’ declares Yahweh. ‘Do you not tremble in My Presence? For I have placed the sand as a boundary for the sea, an eternal decree, so it cannot cross over it. Though the waves toss, they cannot prevail; though they roar, they cannot cross over it. But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts; they have turned aside and gone away. They do not say to themselves, ‘Let us fear Yahweh our God, who gives autumn and spring rains in season, who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest.’” (Jer. 5:21-24)
“Their evil deeds have no limit; they do not seek justice. They do not promote the case of the fatherless; they do not defend the just cause of the poor. Should I not punish them for this?” declares Yahweh. “Should I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this? A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and My people love it this way! But what will you do in the end?” (Jer. 5:28-31)
Let’s see…people who cling to the words of false prophets and preachers who act like kings—what does this remind us of? Parallels to the modern Church are all throughout the Old Testament, so don’t let anyone tell you that this part of the Bible isn’t “relevant” for Christians. We’re up to all the same rot that Israel was back in the day. Do you want to learn how to prepare for the future? Don’t listen to some idiot pontificating about the beasts and bowls of Revelation. Read the whole Bible and study how God responds to rebellion. Listen to His heart. Take note of the forms His wrath takes. Then you’ll know what’s coming and you’ll know what your attitude needs to be when God decides He’s done putting up with the attitude this planet is continuously dishing out.
It’s no picnic being a prophet in these times. Jeremiah’s preaching his lungs out, but he can tell that his messages are falling on deaf ears.
To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of Yahweh is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it. But I am full of the wrath of Yahweh, and I cannot hold it in. (Jer. 6:10-11)
What’s Yahweh’s answer to Jeremiah’s frustration? Keep preaching.
[Yahweh speaks to Jeremiah]
“Pour My anger out on the children in the street and on the young men gathered together; both husband and wife will be caught in it, and the old, those weighed down with years. Their houses will be turned over to others, together with their fields and their wives, when I stretch out My hand against those who live in the land,” declares Yahweh.
“From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of My people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them,” says Yahweh. (Jer. 6:11-15)
[Yahweh speaks to the nation]
This is what Yahweh says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
I appointed watchmen over you and said, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But you said, ‘We will not listen.’ Therefore hear, you nations; you who are witnesses, observe what will happen to the people of Judah. Listen, you earth: I am bringing disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not listened to My words and have rejected My Law.” (Jer. 6:16-19)
Are you picking up on a theme here? God is reminding us over and over again about how many chances He’s given these people to repent. “I am an extremely gracious God”—this is the bottom line we keep hearing as He repeats the same messages using different words. God is presenting His side of the story over and over again so that we will completely divorce His wrath from the concepts of a cruel and evil character. God is not cruel. He does not make us suffer just for suffering’s sake. He prefers that we repent. He bends over backwards to help us restore our relationship with Him. But the day comes when enough is enough. When it does, “God is mean” shouldn’t be anywhere on our lips—not if we’ve read our Bibles and accepted the insights the Holy Spirit is showing us. God is extremely gracious.
Josiah’s still on the throne, Jeremiah is shouting in the streets, and in the background a massive shift in world powers is about to take place. In our next lesson, we’ll meet two more prophets who predict the fall of the mighty Assyrian Empire.
UP NEXT: Know Your Bible Lesson 28: A New World Order
Click here to see all the lessons in this series.