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Whenever one of our Gods is speaking, it’s thrilling. Today Christians have an obnoxious practice of only highlighting Jesus’ words in red as if He is the only God we care about. Well, no, we have three Gods, and we should be giving Them all equal attention and honor. If we were doing it right, we’d highlight Yahweh’s words as well, and then we’d be amazed at how much color would fill the Old Testament. Not only does Yahweh do far more talking than Jesus in the biblical records, we have records of Him speaking over a span of thousands of years and about a broad range of issues. It is really from Yahweh that we learn who a true God is—what He cares about, what pleases Him, and what He wants from us humans. In the Old Testament, Yahweh provides us with a fabulous introduction to the Character of all three of our glorious Creators, and if you really want to dive in to some rich dialogue from Him, then the Old Testament prophetic books are the place to go. In historical books like Chronicles, Samuel, and Joshua, we find heavy narration with some dialogue sprinkled in. But the prophetic books contain far more dialogue than narration. In fact, some of the shorter ones are all dialogue with no narration at all, and this is what makes them so thrilling. The longer Yahweh talks, the more details He shares about His point of view, and the better we can understand Him.
Now because spiritual rebellion is the main issue being addressed by our Gods throughout the Bible, you’ll find that most of Their long speeches center around negative subjects. Because Yahweh is venting so much anger in the Old Testament prophetic books, these books are commonly avoided by Christians, and this is a major mistake on our part. Consider this: do you learn more about who someone is when they are calm or when they are upset? Certainly we can glean some insights about Yahweh when He’s laying down His many Old Covenant Laws about what kinds of animals the Jews should sacrifice and which they shouldn’t eat. But we get a far richer education when we flip over to the prophetic books and hear Yahweh chewing Israel out for her incessant idolatry. Every time Yahweh starts raging at someone, He’s giving us invaluable insights about what He really cares about and how we can really please Him.
Suppose you have a friend named Joe who is a mechanic. If you attend a class in which Joe is teaching a bunch of folks about the basic principles of working on cars, you’ll be able to observe Joe’s teaching style, but you’re not going to learn much about him personally. But later on, when you and Joe are hanging out alone together and he’s going off about how furious it makes him when his wife flirts with other men right in front of him, well then you’re going to learn a whole lot more about your friend. When humans are angry, they quickly reveal their personal fears and insecurities. When our Gods are angry, They teach us about Their personal passions and priorities. Our Gods don’t have fears and insecurities, but They have very strong opinions about how we as Their creatures ought to be treating Them. Since failing to meet Their demands will result in dire consequences for us, we should be very receptive to any insights They are willing to share with us about what does and doesn’t please Them. This is why we’re going to take a close look at the first long speech Yahweh gives in the book of Jeremiah: not to learn about Jeremiah, but to learn about how we can better please our Gods.
HOW LONG IS THE MESSAGE?
Now whenever we’re studying the prophetic books, there are a couple of things we need to bear in mind. First, the start of a chapter is not necessarily the start of a speech. So to get a clear picture of what Yahweh is saying, we need to look for the true beginning of His speech. In Jeremiah 1, Yahweh calls the man Jeremiah to be His prophet. The focus of Chapter 1 is personal: it’s Yahweh talking to a specific individual about things that are relevant to just that individual. There are certainly lessons to be gleaned from Jeremiah 1, but for our purposes, we’re going to skip ahead to Jeremiah 2, where Yahweh changes the audience and addresses all of the Jews in the kingdom of Judah. This first broad audience speech starts in Chapter 2 and ends halfway through Chapter 3. How can you tell? Well, look for times when a prophet pauses to say, “Then the Lord gave me a message to such-and-such nation.” Or “In the days of King So-and-so, the word of the Lord came to me.” These kinds of comments cue you that the prophet is recording a new message which could have come to him a long time after the previous message. Some prophets (like Ezekiel) get very specific about dating their messages. Other prophets (like Jeremiah and Isaiah) rotate between being very vague and being more specific. Sometimes we’re just told which Jewish king was on the throne when the message was given, other times we’re told about historical events which help us really pinpoint when the message was given, but then there are times when we’re not given any clues at all. Clues are nice, but they’re not essential. The most important part is what God is actually saying, and this brings us to a second important principle that we need to bear in mind whenever we’re studying prophetic books…
Just because you can see that someone’s talking in an Old Testament prophetic book, don’t assume that someone is Yahweh. Be aware that many prophets dialogue back and forth with God without bothering to insert helpful clues like, “God said…then I said.” With practice, you can learn to recognize when the speaker is changing, and whenever we cover long passages with rotating speakers, we’ll tell you when the speaker is changing so you can learn to start recognizing the shifts. Remember, anyone can get good at interpreting the Bible. You don’t have to be some smarty pants with a fancy degree and a bunch of formal education. In fact, you’re actually better off not having a formal education on the Bible, because such education ends up greatly biasing you to think like a certain denomination wants you to think instead of seeing what the text actually says. If you want to learn more about the Bible, ask God to show you. Then start comparing various translations of the Bible to see how different translators are interpreting the language—this will help you become aware of where the unclear passages are, and it will help you better understand what’s being said. But don’t go running to some commentary—instead, read the context around the verse you want to understand and ask God to help you.
You see, many Bible commentaries are filled with guff because the people who wrote them were just passing on foolishness that other people taught them. Be aware that the New Testament is filled with misapplications of Old Testament passages. This means that once we declare the Bible to be inerrant and infallible, we are forced to treat those misapplications as correct, and this of course leads to some very absurd discussions about what certain Old Testament passages mean. When you’re trying to protect the reputation of a dolt like the apostle Paul, then you’re going to try and force some poor psalm to line up with what Paul wants it to say, instead of taking the time to appreciate what the original author of the psalm actually meant. Many Bible commentaries are working backwards from the New Testament to the Old and trying to force the Old Testament to anticipate the coming of Christ and other New Testament events even when those events aren’t being discussed. By the time we add on the issue of Bible teachers trying to stay aligned with the various political agendas of the Church, their material ends up being more of a hindrance than a help. If you have a personal issue with God lying or God being involved in evil, you’re not going to interpret the Old Testament correctly. If you have fallen for the lie that God loves Jews more than Gentiles, then you’re going to downplay His anger with Israel and pass His wrath off as being some trivial thing. To interpret the Bible correctly, we have to go into our study with the correct goals, and that means wanting to know and please God better. We can’t worry about staying in alignment with the Church and her idiotic ideas about who God can and can’t be. We need to be open to God teaching us anything, and be willing to accept that the human authors of the Bible were as imperfect as all humans are.
So now that we understand these basics, let’s get into our passage from Jeremiah. After Jeremiah describes some dialogue he had with Yahweh when Yahweh first called him to be a prophet, we come to Chapter 2, which begins with these words:
The word of Yahweh came to me: “Go and shout this message to Jerusalem. This is what Yahweh says:” (Jer. 2:1-2)
This comment tells us that we’re starting a new message, and that means we need to identify who Yahweh is speaking to. In Chapter 1, He was speaking to one individual: Jeremiah. Now He says that this message is for all of Jerusalem. Yahweh is very good about identifying who it is He’s speaking to, so when you’re not sure, just keep backing up until you find a clarifying comment like this.
So who lives in Jerusalem? A bunch of Jews. What’s Yahweh going to talk about? If you understand one basic principle about your Creators, you can answer this question without even reading on in Jeremiah. As we often say in our material, God’s top priority for you is improving your personal dynamic with Him. This means that most of the time when God speaks to you, He’s going to pull the focus onto you and Him. Even if He’s addressing some circumstances in your life—like troubles at work or health problems or conflicts you’re having with other humans—you’ll find that He’ll always find a way to turn your struggle into an opportunity for spiritual growth by tying your current dilemma to spiritual principles. It’s all about the relationship to God and no matter how the conversation starts, He will find a way to turn the focus onto how your soul is responding to Him.
This is what He’ll do with you, and it’s what He’ll do with everyone else as well. God talks to you about His relationship with you, He talks to Mary about His relationship with her, He talks to Fred about His relationship with Fred, etc.. If you try to ask God about His relationship with Mary, do you know what He’ll do? He’ll turn the focus back on His relationship with you. As a general rule, God isn’t going to tell you about what He’s doing with someone else, because He considers it none of your business. The sooner you understand this, the sooner you can keep your focus on you and God and stop trying to control what other people are doing with God. This is what God wants you to do, and this is why it’s a total waste of time for you to pray for other people. God won’t change what He’s doing with someone else because you were butting in where you weren’t invited (see Lifting Each Other Up in Prayer).
Now in Chapter 1, Yahweh talked to Jeremiah about Jeremiah’s relationship with Him, and He described specific soul attitudes that He wanted Jeremiah to practice as one of Yahweh’s prophets. As we start Chapter 2, Yahweh broadens His audience. Now He’s talking to a big group of folks: all of the people who are living in Jerusalem. So what happens when God addresses big groups? He still turns the focus onto the relationship between Himself and that group of humans. He still addresses spiritual issues and soul attitudes. So this is what we’re going to find as Yahweh starts yelling at the folks living in Jerusalem. Listen to how He immediately turns the focus onto His personal relationship with these people as He starts His long speech. We’re also going to put in headers to help you see who is talking.
JEREMIAH: The word of Yahweh came to me:
YAHWEH: “Go and shout this message to Jerusalem. This is what Yahweh says:
I remember how eager you were to please Me as a young bride long ago, how you loved Me and followed Me even through the barren wilderness. In those days Israel was holy to Yahweh: the first of His children. All who harmed His people were declared guilty, and disaster fell on them. I, Yahweh, have spoken!” (Jer. 2:1-3)
Things weren’t nearly as rosy back in the wilderness days as Yahweh is making them out to be here. This is a great example of Yahweh lying for the purpose of creating contrast. Our Gods use various forms of deception all throughout the Bible, which is why it is so ludicrous when the Church today tells you that God doesn’t lie. Of course He lies, He’s been lying for thousands of years, and He’s lying right here in Jeremiah 2 (see Practicing Discernment: Yahweh Lies).
In this passage, Yahweh is specifically referring to events that are recorded in the books Exodus through Deuteronomy. Those were the days when Yahweh miraculously freed a bunch of Jews from slavery in Egypt and led them through the Red Sea out into a barren wilderness, where He then formed them into the nation of Israel. The problem was that the Jews were already dedicated to worshiping false Egyptian gods, and they brought idols of those gods with them when Yahweh led them out of Egypt. Despite the fact that Yahweh had demonstrated His supremacy over the Egyptian gods through the ten plagues that He unleashed on Egypt, the Jews still remained loyal to those false gods and they refused to stop worshiping them, no matter what. Nothing Yahweh said or did got the Jews to switch their loyalties over to Him. Their spiritual rebellion was so intense and unwavering, that after forty years of wandering in a desert, an elderly Moses reflected back over his time with the Israelites and said:
“Always remember how you provoked Yahweh your God in the wilderness. You have been rebelling against Yahweh from the day you left the land of Egypt until you reached this place.” (Deut. 9:7)
Yet here in Jeremiah 2, Yahweh says:
“I remember how eager you were to please Me as a young bride long ago, how you loved Me and followed Me even through the barren wilderness.” (Jer. 2:2)
Why is Yahweh talking like this when He knows it isn’t true? Plenty of other places in the prophetic books, you’ll find Yahweh telling the truth: how ever since the beginning, the Jews have been spitting in His face. So why is He reversing things here in Jeremiah 2? To set up contrast. The point He wants to make is that even though He showed Israel great favor by choosing her out to be His special nation and providing those wandering Jews with all kinds of special provision and protection during those forty years with Moses, the Jews refused to devote themselves to Him. Instead of responding well to His gracious overtures, the Jews spat in His face. Let’s continue:
JEREMIAH: Listen to the word of Yahweh, people of Jacob—all you families of Israel! This is what Yahweh says:
YAHWEH: “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)
Moses dies at the end of the book of Deuteronomy, with the Jews camped on the border of the Promised Land, waiting to go in and take over. Joshua takes over for Moses, and in the book of Joshua, we read how he led Israelite soldiers into the land and began seizing territory from the natives. Of course the natives fought back, and the natives were far better equipped than the Jews. Yahweh wanted the odds to be against the Jews, because He wanted to get all of the glory for putting the land in their possession. Without miraculous stunts like the fall of Jericho, there’s no way Joshua’s army of foot soldiers would have been able to conquer anyone. But here’s the thing: while the Jews saw Yahweh perform miracle after miracle, guess what they were doing? Worshiping their stupid Egyptian gods. These people just would not let go of those dumb Egyptian idols. And to make matters even worse, as they were introduced to new cultures and learned about new gods like Baal and Asherah, the Jews started worshiping those gods as well. These people were like idol addicts—any god but the real God was warmly accepted by them.
Now the male god Baal and his female counterpart Asherah were two very popular gods in the Old Testament world, which is why you’ll see those two names coming up so much in the Bible. Imagine if every nation in Europe today worshiped different gods. Germany had a German god, Italy had an Italian god. But then in addition to these individual gods, suppose there were two “European gods” who every nation in Europe worshiped along with their national god. That’s what Baal and Asherah were like to the Old Testament folks—many different nations worshiped these two gods in addition to their own national gods. So while Yahweh is angry with His people worshiping any being other than Him, you’ll find Him mentioning certain false gods by name because those gods were extra popular.
So here in Jeremiah 2, Yahweh’s doing a quick recap of Israel’s history. He says she was so quick to turn away from Him, and that when she entered the land He’d given her—the Promised Land—she “defiled” it by worshiping false gods and rebelling against Yahweh. But wait—Israel had spiritual leaders who were supposed to keep her on track: the Levite priests. So why didn’t they speak up when they saw people worshiping idols? Because spiritual rebellion among the Jews was so widespread that even the priests and teachers of the Scriptures were worshiping false gods. Even the prophets were evil—speaking messages in the names of false gods instead of seeking the wisdom of Yahweh.
“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. 2:8)
We need to really soak in what Yahweh’s saying here because it helps us see why His wrath is so reasonable. Today, when you hear people griping about how the God of the Old Testament is some violent, merciless Meanie, it’s because those people aren’t reading things in context. They’re just yanking out one liners when Yahweh is threatening to butcher people without bothering to look at the reasons He gives for being so angry. Yahweh is far more gracious than we give Him credit for, and we’d learn to see this if we stopped slicing and dicing His speeches.
Here in Jeremiah 2, Yahweh is describing a whole nation of folks who are rebelling against Him quite intentionally and without any sense of remorse. The Jews were not uninformed about what Yahweh wanted. It wasn’t like He was some unknown God, and it wasn’t like they weren’t willing to go to great effort to please the gods they liked. Appeasing the false god Baal involved participating in horrific, traumatic rituals like tossing your own live baby into flames to be scalded to death or slashing your own body with a knife until you were covered in ugly scars. So don’t get the mistaken idea that Yahweh was some tough Taskmaster. He was actually far nicer and much easier to please than the freaky gods who the Jews chose to worship. The issue wasn’t that the Jews weren’t willing to make great sacrifices to please their gods. On the contrary, they spent a ton of time and resources on idol worship. Their reasons for rejecting Yahweh came down to one simple principle: they knew in their souls that He was the real God and they resented the idea of accepting their place as creatures who were not in control. Today, we reject the real Gods for the same reason: because They’re real, and that means we know we can’t control Them. Many people would rather live in a fantasy world than face uncomfortable truths, and that’s what the Jews did. They hated Yahweh intensely because He was the one real God in their massive collection of deities. Well, hating the real God results in real consequences, and here in Jeremiah, we find Yahweh warning His people over and over again about the epic disaster that’s about to fall on them because they are refusing to respect Him.
YAHWEH: “Therefore, I will bring My case against you,” says Yahweh. “I will even bring charges against your children’s children in the years to come. Go west and look in the land of Cyprus; go east and search through the land of Kedar. Has anyone ever heard of anything as strange as this? Has any nation ever traded its gods for new ones, even though they are not gods at all? Yet My people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols! The heavens are shocked at such a thing and shrink back in horror and dismay,” says 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. 2:9-13)
It is utterly nonsensical to worship a god who doesn’t even exist, and we’ll find Yahweh hammering this point over and over again in the prophetic books. Here He says to Israel, “You people are beyond crazy! Who has ever done what you have done? I am your national God: the real God, Yahweh! Yet you’ve tossed Me aside for these worthless delusions! You haven’t just rejected Me—you’re clinging to delusions instead! That’s how insane you are!”
As humans, we can’t understand truth until our Gods reveal it to us. Every nation in Bible times had at least one national god—usually more. In addition, many major cities had their own gods who they viewed as protecting them. In general, nations were fiercely devoted to their national gods, even when those gods appeared to be getting spanked by other gods. Once the Philistines stole the Ark of the Covenant, which was seen as a symbol of Yahweh’s Presence and power. When the Philistines put that Ark in the temple of their god Dagon, Yahweh knocked Dagon’s statue over and broke it. That sent a very clear message to the Philistines that Yahweh was more powerful than their god Dagon. So how did they respond? Did they switch their loyalties over to the new, better God? No, they stuck with Dagon and tried to help him out by putting distance between him and the Ark of the mighty Yahweh.
In 1 Kings 20, after the Arameans get stomped on by the Israelite army in the midst of hilly terrain, they figure the Israelite gods must be stronger than their gods. So do they wise up and change religions? No, they try to change terrains so that their own gods—who apparently lose strength when they have to go uphill—won’t feel so taxed.
Now the king of Aram’s servants said to him, “Israel’s gods are gods of the hill country. That’s why they were stronger than we were. Instead, we should fight with them on the plain; then we will certainly be stronger than they will be.” (1 Ki. 20:23)
Yahweh responds to this ridiculous strategy by whooping the Aramean army again on the flatlands, but still the Arameans won’t convert to Judaism (see Know Your Bible Lesson 15). This is how stupid we become when we embrace delusions.
So what we learn from these stories is that nations in the Old Testament world didn’t change their national gods, no matter how impotent those gods were proven to be. But then there was Israel, who dumps her national God Yahweh to go worship gods who aren’t even real. Yahweh responds by saying:
“Has anyone ever heard of anything as strange as this? Has any nation ever traded its gods for new ones, even though they are not gods at all? Yet My people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols! The heavens are shocked at such a thing and shrink back in horror and dismay.” (Jer. 2:10-12)
This bit about the heavens shrinking back in horror is thrown in for dramatic emphasis. The ancient Jews were a very exaggeratory people, and when you’re always using extreme language to express your everyday emotions, then you have to get really over the top if you want to say something super serious. It’s because Yahweh is talking to the Jews that He says that the whole planet is about to shake and break apart when all He really means is that He’s about to spank Israel with a military invasion (see Distinguishing Between the Real End Times & the Day of Yahweh). Because our Creators are so fabulous, They speak to us using language and metaphors that make sense within the context of our own cultures. It was because the ancient Jews ran around in tunics that the apostle John saw angels, Jesus, and other humans sporting tunics in his visions of Heaven in the book of Revelation. If He was talking to a modern day American, Yahweh might make a metaphor using a pair of men’s boxers. But when He wanted to make a metaphor out of underwear in ancient times, He talked to Jeremiah about loincloths, because that was the style of underwear in those days (see Metaphors from Yahweh: Rebellious Underwear). Here in Jeremiah 2, Yahweh is talking about the heavens gasping in shock over what a rebellious twit Israel is being. Does He mean that the sky above is literally gasping in shock? No, He’s being figurative and dramatic because He’s speaking to dramatic Jews.
YAHWEH: “Why has Israel become a slave? Why has he been carried away as plunder? Strong lions have roared against him, and the land has been destroyed. The towns are now in ruins, and no one lives in them anymore. Egyptians, marching from their cities of Memphis and Tahpanhes, have broken your skull. Haven’t you brought this upon yourselves by rebelling against Yahweh your God, even though He was leading you on the way?” (Jer. 2:14-17)
Here Yahweh is prophesying that the Egyptian army will attack Israel and win–then He says that this will be an act of Divine discipline.
The Jews were big fans of rhetorical questions, which is why you’ll find both Yahweh and Jesus constantly asking these kinds of questions when They are speaking to Jews. Rhetorical questions are when you state something in a questioning tone but you’re not really trying to ask for more information—instead, you’re trying to emphasize a point. It’s like when Peter says to Jesus “Explain to us the parable that says people aren’t defiled by what they eat,” and Jesus responds by saying, “Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus isn’t really asking if Peter understands—it’s more like He’s scolding Peter for being such a dunce. While these kinds of cracks can sound harsh, realize that our Gods are extremely gracious and patient Beings. This means that when you find Jesus snapping at His disciples—which He does a lot—it’s because His disciples are refusing to learn (see Know Your Bible Lesson 53: Stubborn Disciples).
In the Church today, we’re so used to exalting spiritual rebels that we’re far too quick to assume the worst about our Gods whenever we find Them expressing irritation in the Bible. Instead of stopping to remember how good They are, we rush to side with twerpy humans against Them. Jeremiah the prophet does this quite a bit in his career: he sides with rebellious Jews against Yahweh and acts like Yahweh is being an unfair Meanie when He’s really not. To avoid following Jeremiah’s bad example, we need to pay more attention to what Yahweh is saying. Yahweh wants people to understand how reasonable His anger is, so He spends a lot of time explaining His rationale for doling out harsh discipline. He certainly doesn’t have to do this—as God, He doesn’t owe us any explanation for what He does. But because He is so nice, He volunteers the information. If we aren’t going to pay any attention to it, then the fault is with us, not Him, for the wrong conclusions we draw about His Character.
YAHWEH: “What have you gained by your alliances with Egypt and your covenants with Assyria? What good to you are the streams of the Nile or the waters of the Euphrates River?” (Jer. 2:18)
Assyria was Israel’s neighbor to the north, Egypt was to the south. It was common to refer to nations by key landmarks in these times, so when Yahweh refers to “the streams of the Nile,” He’s talking about Egypt. Today it would be like Him saying, “What good is your alliance with the White House?” when He’s referring to some country making an alliance with the United States.
So why is Yahweh bringing up Egypt? Well, when Israel was in trouble, she turned to anyone but Him. Naturally she prayed to her false gods, but she also turned to the nations around her and tried to strike up military alliances so that she’d have buddies to come and help her if she was ever under attack. In Jeremiah’s day, the Babylonian Empire was the feared world power that was gobbling up more and more territory. Israel is a defenseless little dot of a nation and she’s trying to figure out ways that she can defend herself from an attack. The nation of Egypt is powerful, so she’s tried to make deals with him. The problem is that when she does these things, she’s not bothering to ask Yahweh. Instead, she’s publicly insulting Him by saying, “My national God can’t be counted on—let me have the protection of your gods instead.” That’s the way military alliances would be theologically interpreted by the ancient peoples, and that’s why Israel making treaties with pagan nations was such a slam on Yahweh.
YAHWEH: “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 fear Him! I, Yahweh, Yahweh of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!
Long ago I broke the yoke that oppressed you and tore away the chains of your slavery, but still you said, ‘I will not serve You.’ On every hill and under every green tree, you have prostituted yourselves by bowing down to idols. But I was the One who planted you, choosing a vine of the purest stock—the very best. How did you grow into this corrupt wild vine? Even if you wash with lye and use a great amount of soap, the stain of your sin is still in front of Me. I, the Sovereign Yahweh, have spoken!” (Jer. 2:19-22)
First Yahweh warns these Jews that their defiance of Him is going to result in epic discipline. Then He reminds them how He was the One who originally freed the Jews from slavery in Egypt. After that, there were many times when Yahweh rescued Israel out of the hands of stronger nations, proving the point that He is more than capable of protecting her from the nations around her. This is what makes her turning to false gods and wimpy humans such an insult—her actions keep declaring Yahweh as worthless when He has proven Himself time and time again.
Yahweh reminds these Jews how even when He freed them from oppression, they still refused to serve Him. These people are incredibly stubborn and wholly dedicated to their hatred of the true God.
Hills and lush gardens were favorite places to engage in “sacred” religious activities—this is why Yahweh says:
“On every hill and under every green tree, you have prostituted yourselves by bowing down to idols.” (Jer. 2:20)
By describing the Jews worshiping false gods on every hill and under every green tree, Yahweh is emphasizing how prolific idol worship is among the Jews He is currently speaking to. At this point in Israel’s history, the northern part of her nation has been destroyed and only a small portion of the south is left. That small southern state is called Judah and its capital city is Jerusalem. The Temple that Solomon built is standing in Jerusalem. But though that Temple was built to honor Yahweh, it’s been turned into a shrine for many false gods instead. The current king of Judah is Josiah, and he is the last good king Judah will know. After Josiah dies, there will be four lemons, and then Jerusalem will be burned down. All of this will happen in Jeremiah’s lifetime and the prophet will be living as a prisoner inside of the city when it goes down.
Now a very common characteristic of spiritual rebels is that they refuse to own up to what they’re doing. Many times in the prophetic books, we find Yahweh describing the Jews as totally denying how badly they are treating Him. Instead, they actually have the gall to say that He’s the Liar whenever He calls them out on their rebellion. Here in Jeremiah 2, He describes Israel as a hormone crazed animal in heat who just can’t get enough of mating with idol gods.
YAHWEH: “You say, ‘That’s not true! I haven’t worshiped the images of Baal!’ But how can you say that? Go and look in any valley in the land! Face the awful sins 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!’” (Jer. 2:23-25)
When it comes to having sex with idol gods, lusty Israel’s gotta have it, and Yahweh’s description of her sexual romps can get quite graphic as He emphasizes His disgust with her rebellion. But remember: spiritual rebellion comes down to our personal rejection of the true Gods. What positive point is Yahweh making by ranting on and on like this? Well, clearly He cares about these people. Yahweh is not expressing indifference here, He’s expressing engagement. He really loves these people and wants them to have a positive relationship with Him. But even God’s patience doesn’t last forever, and when we push Him for too long, He stops inviting us close to Him, and instead lets us have it for daring to defy the One who holds our molecules together.
YAHWEH: “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 why not call on these gods you have made? When trouble comes, let them save you if they can! For you, Judah, have as many gods as you have towns.
Why do you accuse Me of doing wrong? You are the ones who have rebelled,” says Yahweh. “I have punished your children, but they did not respond to My discipline. You yourselves have killed your prophets as a lion kills its prey.
Evil generation, pay attention to the word of Yahweh! Have I been like a desert to Israel? Have I been to them a land of darkness? Why then do My people say, ‘At last we are free from God! We don’t need Him anymore!’?
Does a young woman forget her jewelry, or a bride her wedding dress? Yet My people have forgotten Me for days without number.” (Jer. 2:29-32)
In this speech, Yahweh is explaining why His punishment of Israel will be so totally deserved. If you’re not convinced, then you need to ask God to help you get in alignment with His point of view. You see, God is not a doormat. He has boundaries, and we humans don’t get to decide where those boundaries will be. Today we are so quick to complain whenever God says “enough” and we’re always ready to say that His anger is unjustified. But if we’re honest, none of us would be willing to put up with the amount of flack that Yahweh says He’s been enduring in this speech. Israel has been around for centuries, and all she’s done is become more and more hardened. Yet notice how Yahweh says these Jews are accusing Him of being the bad Guy while they kill the prophets who have spoken His messages. Jesus will say the same thing centuries later when He stands in New Testament Israel, looking at the glittering city of Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, yet you were unwilling.” (Matt. 23:37)
The Israel in the Bible is everything we don’t want to be: rebellious, unrepentant, and obsessed with the worship of false gods.
YAHWEH: “How you plot and scheme to win your lovers. Even an experienced prostitute could learn from you!” (Jer. 2:33)
This is a reference to all of the time and resources the Jews are pouring into their idol worshiping activities. Making and selling idols, maintaining shrines, holding religious festivals, processing sacrifices—a lot goes into maintaining the idol worship industry. And spiritual prostitute Israel is good at it—so good that Yahweh sarcastically says an experienced prostitute could learn from her.
YAHWEH: “Your clothing is stained with the blood of the innocent and the poor, though you didn’t catch them breaking into your houses!” (Jer. 2:34)
When societies are this entrenched in spiritual rebellion, moral anarchy is quick to follow. The crime in Jerusalem is out of control, with people feeling free to murder anyone who annoys them. Crimes are being committed without any fear of legal consequences because all of the law enforcers are totally corrupt.
YAHWEH: “And yet you say, ‘I have done nothing wrong. Surely God isn’t angry with me!’ But now I will punish you severely because you claim you have not sinned.” (Jer. 2:35)
Notice the denial. Why is Yahweh going to trash these Jews? Because they are refusing to repent. It’s soul attitudes that Yahweh is responding to, not just external behaviors. When you worship a false god because that god is all you know, your behaviors are wrong, but your soul attitudes are not, because you’re not trying to defy the real Gods. Yahweh has never taught that it is our behavior which we are judged by—instead He’s always emphasized it is soul attitude. These idol worshiping Jews are in such big trouble with Yahweh because they know that what they are doing is wrong. They are being willfully rebellious. Their soul attitudes are wrong and even though Yahweh has been convicting them and giving them plenty of time to repent, they are refusing to do so. When we pay attention to what Yahweh is saying here, we realize that He is being anything but quick tempered.
YAHWEH: “First here, then there—you flit from one ally to another asking for help. But your new friends in Egypt will let you down, just as Assyria did before. In despair, you will be led into exile with your hands on your heads, for Yahweh has rejected the nations you trust. They will not help you at all.” (Jer. 2:36-37)
Being led into exile means another nation invades yours, trashes your property, and physically hauls you away as their slave. Yahweh is predicting a massive invasion of Judah, and He says that Israel’s alliance with Egypt won’t help her because Yahweh will intentionally get in the way. We can’t go around God in His own world—this is a principle which Yahweh teaches us quite clearly in the Old Testament.
We’re now at the end of Chapter 2, but Yahweh’s still talking so we need to continue into Chapter 3. Apparently these threats of military invasion and of Egypt being useless are starting to bother someone, for Yahweh now describes some Jews trying to butter Him up with insincere repentance. How do we know that it’s insincere? Because Yahweh always responds to soul attitude. Once we understand Yahweh’s Character, we know that if these people were at all sincere in their repentance, He would gladly receive them. But they’re not, so He adamantly rejects them. You can’t fake God out with insincere lip service. He will always respond to your actual intentions, not to your external show.
YAHWEH: “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. That’s why even the spring rains have failed. For you are a brazen prostitute and completely shameless.
Yet you say to Me, ‘Father, You have been my guide since my youth. Surely You won’t be angry forever! Surely You can forget about it!’
This is how you talk, but you keep on doing all the evil you can.” (Jer. 3:1-5)
Notice that line about “doing all the evil that you can.” Notice how Yahweh likens these people to a prostitute who is shameless. These are all references to spiritual rebels who are refusing to repent, and it is this refusal to repent and submit to Yahweh’s Authority that is going to land these Jews on the wrong side of eternity.
So now that we’ve gone through Yahweh’s first broad audience speech in the book of Jeremiah, what is the application for us today? There are many lessons we can learn from this passage, but lessons about God’s wrath are particularly relevant for us today, because we’re about to get into the end times—a period when our Gods will be unleashing all kinds of destructive miracles and causing mass casualties. When that chaos begins, we need to not fall into the trap of accusing our Gods of being unreasonable Ogres. Here in Jeremiah, we’ve just read a long speech in which Yahweh is explaining to us why His annihilation of Jerusalem was so justified. As we listen to the way He is speaking to the ancient Jews, we have to admit that He has been extremely gracious to put up with such defiant rebels for as long as He has. According to Him, the land is filled with idol worship and the Jews are delighting in their defiance of Him while they simultaneously deny doing anything wrong. The fact that there are still Jews alive on the planet at this time for Yahweh to yell at just proves how incredibly merciful He has been with them.
Now will our Gods keep giving us explanations like this every time They come against us with violent discipline? Certainly not, and we have no right to demand such explanations. The Creators and Sustainers of all things hardly owe an explanation of Their activities to specks like us. But by preserving these records for us in the Old Testament, Yahweh is really helping us out. He’s teaching us a principle which we can draw great comfort from if we are willing to accept it, and that principle is that our Gods are gracious. Yes, Their wrath is terrifying, but it’s not like They’re just waiting to stomp on us. On the contrary, They are epically merciful and kind towards us—giving us far more chances than we deserve to repent out of our defiance. This means that when we do see our Gods lashing out in anger, we can know that whatever They’re dishing out is more than deserved.
When we are learning the right lessons from the biblical records, we realize that we should always be siding with our Gods and assuming the best about Them, not the worst, when doubts arise. Instead of ignoring the reality of Their wrath or treating it as a terrible thing, we should view it as utterly justified whenever it is expressed, because we understand how very gracious our Gods are by Nature. In the biblical records, both Yahweh and Jesus emphasize that our Gods are slow to anger, and quick to forgive. They delight in being merciful, but They are not doormats. They have boundaries, and when we refuse to heed Their warnings, we run the risk of becoming eternal targets of Their great wrath. The bottom line is this: for souls who sincerely care about pleasing God, Divine wrath is not something we need to live in terror of. But we also have no grounds for criticizing the judgments our Gods make. While we humans would be easily fooled by lying Israel’s claims of innocence and phony acts of repentance, our Gods see the true intentions of every soul. Because They are so gracious and merciful by Nature, They are the only Ones we want to be judged by. But because They are so gracious and merciful, we have no grounds for complaining when They do come to the end of Their patience with our rebellious shenanigans.
Taking Advantage of a Merciful God: Can it really be done?
Destruction in the End Times: Respecting Ownership
Your End Times Faith Crisis: Staying Aligned with a Scary God
The End Time Prophet: Testing Our Loyalties
The Snarky Prophet: Lessons Learned from Jeremiah 14-15