All Tarnish and No Silver (Jeremiah 6:16–30)

“I have made you a tester of metals among my people,
that you may know and test their ways.
They are all stubbornly rebellious,
going about with slanders;
they are bronze and iron;
all of them act corruptly.
The bellows blow fiercely;
the lead is consumed by the fire;
in vain the refining goes on,
for the wicked are not removed.
Rejected silver they are called,
for the Lord has rejected them” (Jeremiah 6:16–30)

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When God is after silver, bronze won’t do. Jeremiah, as God’s tester of metals, puts Judah into the furnace. During smelting, lead is added and the bellows are blown to introduce oxygen. This oxidizes the lead, so that it acts as flux, combining with impurities to form slag to be removed. All this is done in vain with Judah. The impurities cannot be removed because impurities are all that there are. Judah is all tarnish and no silver. She isn’t a soft malleable precious metal like silver or gold, mixed with some impurities. She is rebellious bronze and stubborn iron all the way through. Judah isn’t a diamond in the rough; she is a lump of coal.

Just because fool’s gold sparkles doesn’t make it valuable. Judah puts on a show of ceremonial obedience, but under the costume, her disobedience goes all the way to the heart (Jeremiah 6:16–20). Judah isn’t a dirty lamb in need of cleaning; she is a goat. Her sacrifices are impure because she is impure. The ore doesn’t need to be purified; it needs to be miraculously transformed.

Are you gold? Are you silver? When you baptize a goat, you don’t get a sheep, you get a wet goat. Many professing Christians don’t need sanctification; they need regeneration. They don’t need to be purified; they need to be born again as a new creation. They need the Midas touch of King Jesus to graciously transform them from being rebellious bronze to repentant silver, from being impure iron to precious gold.

Because Jesus bore the fire of judgment, all who trust in Him are no longer part of the impure ore of this earth doomed for eternal flames; instead, they are precious gold, being refined for the new heaven and the new earth. The flames of purification temporarily burn now for the saints, whereas the flames of destruction will burn eternally for the wicked. If you have not been touched by the King, the flames of this world do nothing for you but expose the impurity that you are.

WARNING: Non-evaporative Water (Jeremiah 6:1–15)

“Thus says the LORD of hosts:
‘They shall glean thoroughly as a vine
the remnant of Israel;
like a grape gatherer pass your hand again
over its branches.’

To whom shall I speak and give warning,
that they may hear?
Behold, their ears are uncircumcised,
they cannot listen;
behold, the word of the LORD is to them an object of scorn;
they take no pleasure in it.
Therefore I am full of the wrath of the LORD;
I am weary of holding it in.

‘Pour it out upon the children in the street,
and upon the gatherings of young men,
also; both husband and wife shall be taken,
the elderly and the very aged (Jeremiah 6:9–11).’ ”

water-1370297-1600x1200.jpgThe word of Yahweh doesn’t fall to the ground to evaporate into nothing. God’s word never falls idle, but accomplishes His purposes. None of His words are written to be forgotten, lost in some book, rotting away along with the perishable paper on which they were recorded. If the rains of grace are not received, they accumulate behind the dam of God’s long-suffering as a flood of wrath.

God here is conforming His messenger to His message. The repeated warnings Jeremiah has given are met with no reception. Because the people scorn the word, he is full of the wrath of Yahweh. God has been pouring His message into Jeremiah, but as it finds no release by Judah’s receiving it in repentance, it builds inside Jeremiah, ready to burst as wrath. God has made Jeremiah a dam with no release. Now, God commands him to pour it out. Rejected warnings accumulate wrath. If God’s words are not received as a rain of grace, they will destroy as flood of wrath.

As someone has said, “the same sun that melts the ice hardens the clay.” Likewise, the same rains that refresh with grace, will wash away the wicked. For some, Christ is the aroma of life unto life, for others, death unto death (2 Corinthians 2:14–16). The word of Christ will either serve to your salvation or your condemnation. It doesn’t evaporate. If the rain of grace is not received with faith and repentance, it will one day burst as a flood of wrath.

The Folly of Becoming a Court Jester (Jeremiah 5:20–31)

“Declare this in the house of Jacob;
proclaim it in Judah:

‘Hear this, O foolish and senseless people,
who have eyes, but see not,
who have ears, but hear not.
Do you not fear me? declares the LORD.
Do you not tremble before me?’ ” (Jeremiah 5:20–22a)

Psalm 111:10 tells us “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” If the fear of Yahweh is the starting line, I’m afraid the evangelical church has a handicap that is as deep as the race is long. Her handicap goes further back from the starting line than the race goes forward. She’s deeper in the pit of folly than the mountain of wisdom is tall which she pretends to climb.

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We laugh at the ridiculous studies funded by government elites and mock the idiotic courses often offered at institutions of higher learning, but this is like the court jester laughing at the street clown. Proximity to the truth is no guarantee of intelligence. Having a Bible in hand is not the same as having it in your head and heart.

Once ministers of the gospel were regarded to be among the most learned of society. Though now we are often laughed at, and should expect nothing less from the world, have we ever considered that we too are a joke? Folly abounds both inside and outside the church, unfortunately, we only want to hear the joke about the other guy’s stupidity. Here, God exposes the folly of His people, Judah, but He isn’t laughing, for their folly is no laughing matter. 

It is striking how wise folly can look. One thing the evangelical church has grown “wise” in is in making stupid look smart and making senselessness look like success. She is attracting unbelievers unaware of how unattractive she is becoming to her Husband. She is fat and slick, but there is a famine of the Word. Her vast numbers often testify not for her, but against her. The preachers speak falsely, the pastors rule at their own direction, and the people love to have it so (v. 31). We hide the vacuum of fear with an air of celebration. David Wells soberingly captured the temperature of the American church.

“The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is not inadequate technique, insufficient organization, or antiquated music and those who want to squander the church’s resources bandaging these scratches will do nothing to staunch the flow of blood that is spilling from its wounds. The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church. His truth is too distant, his grace too ordinary, his judgment too benign, his gospel too easy, and his Christ is too common.”

Saints, do not be desensitized by such senselessness. Do not be fooled by such folly. Fear Yahweh and tremble before Him.

Why? (Jeremiah 5:1–19)

“And when your people say, ‘Why has the LORD our God done all these things to us?’ you shall say to them, ‘As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve foreigners in a land that is not yours’ ” (Jeremiah 5:19).

Names have been referred to as “handles” and though I’m not completely certain of all the etymology involved, I’d bet it is largely because names help us to pick things up. It is peculiar how naming a thing can prove so useful in understanding it. This shouldn’t be mystifying, for naming a thing is as old as Adam, and once named, conversation may ensue. So let me give you a handle by which to pick up this chapter: theodicy. This chapter presents a theodicy, that is, it argues to vindicate the goodness of God. A theodicy answers the questions that begin, “How can God be good if… ?” This particular theodicy is a justification of God’s justice; it demonstrates that God’s justice is just. Now we’re talking huh?

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The answer given here to the question “Why has the LORD our God done all these things to us?” is not one that is universal but particular. And yet, ultimately, the answer given is the answer, for all suffering is foundationally rooted in sin. The judgment Judah faces here is the one we all deserve.

The real puzzle to turn over in your noodle is not a theodicy, but an anthropodicy. It is not the goodness of God we should question but the goodness of man. We ask “Why do bad things happen to good people?” but we have started with a false premise. The real dilemma is “Why do good things happen to bad people?” B.B. Warfield explains, “Righteous men amid the evils of earth seek a theodicy—they want a justification of God; sinners do not need a theodicy—all too clear to them is the reason of their sufferings—they want a consolation, a justification from God. …we are sinners, and what hope have we save in a God who is gracious rather than merely just?”

So why do good things happen to bad people? We might begin by answering that God is patient, long-suffering, and benevolent, but this answer is not enough. This is a big question and a larger foundation must underly such patience. To see what it is, let’s return to ponder that question we discarded, and see if it might help us now. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” One theologian answered, “That only happened once, and He volunteered.” Peter tells us that “Christ… suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). The real dilemma of God’s dealing with man was not “How could he judge?”, but “How could he show mercy?” The answer is that grace comes in the Christ who quenched the fury of God’s anger against sin so that we might be declared just.

Sinner, you are not righteous. Shall He not punish (5:7–9)? Do not delude yourself with words of wind, but hear these words of fire against your soul (5:12–14). And yet, know this, there is hope. Instead of expected justice God extends surprising grace. This grace is found in Jesus Christ who was everything we are not—righteous, and was reckoned everything we were—sinful, bearing everything we deserve—the wrath of God.

Repent of your sins, trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved. Then you will ask, not in agony, but in bliss? “Why has YHWH our God done all these things to us?” “Why has He blessed and loved us so?” And the answer you will love to hear and give again and again for all eternity is this, “Jesus!”

Poetic Justice (Jeremiah 4:5–31)

Declare in Judah, and proclaim in Jerusalem, and say,

“Blow the trumpet through the land;
cry aloud and say,

‘Assemble, and let us go
into the fortified cities!’
Raise a standard toward Zion,
flee for safety, stay not,
for I bring disaster from the north,
and great destruction.
A lion has gone up from his thicket,
a destroyer of nations has set out;
he has gone out from his place
to make your land a waste;
your cities will be ruins
without inhabitant.
For this put on sackcloth,
lament and wail,
for the fierce anger of the LORD
has not turned back from us” (Jeremiah 4:5–8)

Jeremiah 4:5–31 is certainly poetry, but it isn’t love poetry. This isn’t even like the poetry of scorned love that has preceded. Now the theme is judgment. Here is verse that would make Poe wince, or so it should, for this is no fiction. The terrors here are real.

God commands his people (the verbs of 3:5 are plural) to tell the themselves to tell themselves (nope, no stuttering) that disaster is coming out of the north. Judah is to flee to Jerusalem, the fortified city. 

God’s intent isn’t that there is any hope of withstanding the siege, he simply means to tell them to get ready. If Judah puts on armor instead of sackcloth she has missed the point (4:8). God isn’t warning them as an ally, but as their enemy. He is telling his people to get ready for Him. God uses no stealth. He broadcasts His blow knowing there is no possible way it can be blocked.

When the Babylonians draw their bows, God has drawn the Babylonians. He has sharpened His arrows. He is soon to let them fly. 

More than Judah needs to be saved from the Babylonians, she needs to be saved from God. The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of all wisdom, for it is folly to fear the mosquito when the lion is bearing down on you. It is folly to fear the sword and not the warrior who wields it.

God’s justice is poetic. The judgment of man will rhyme perfectly with His sin. The lovers Judah turned to, are now her murderers. Our sin is against an infinitely holy God; it is with an infinitely holy God that we will have to deal. 

The only possible refuge from God is God. Know that His salvation is as poetic as His judgment. At the cross God made judgment and salvation to rhyme as His Son bore judgment for the salvation of sinners.

Humming the Tune of Song of Solomon while Singing the Song of Sodom in Your Head (Jeremiah 3:19–4:4)

A voice on the bare heights is heard,
the weeping and pleading of Israel’s sons
because they have perverted their way;
they have forgotten the LORD their God.

“Return, O faithless sons; I will heal your faithlessness.”

“Behold, we come to you, for you are the LORD our God.
—Jeremiah 3:21–22

In Jeremiah 3:19–4:4 we have something of the inverse of that poetic dialogue between lovers, The Song of Songs. There, covenant love is in bloom; here, as regards God’s bride, it has rotted. While there is some tension in Solomon’s Song, it is the lover’s mutual adoration that comes to the fore. Here, the tension is stressed and you are left longing for the relationship to be resorted, for Israel to return to Yahweh.

white-1250978-1278x843.jpgIsrael speaks of returning, but we are left wondering if her “return” is like the presumptuous return of Judah (3:1), done in pretense (3:10). There is no resolution. God clarifies what true repentance involves in 4:1–2 but then turns from the north to the south, commanding Judah to break up her fallow ground and circumcise her heart, to repent. The dialogue between Yahweh and Israel in 3:19–4:2 is imaginative. It is something of a vision, like the boiling pot of chapter 1. Though fictional, it is true. It isn’t a recording of Israel; it is pedagogical for Judah. It is meant to teach presumptuous Judah what true repentance is.

As we study this passage, we are left, like Judah, with the command to repent lying on us. The aim isn’t that we become morbidly introspective, questioning whether or not we’ve repented enough. This is a call for hypocrites who vow fidelity with their mouths but prove adulterous with with bodies to repent, not perfectly, but truly.

God is no hopeless romantic. This is no cliche romance novel or cheesy romantic comedy. Israel’s tears and pleas are not met with instant embrace and reconciliation. Yahweh is indeed merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast covenant love and faithfulness, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but He is no fool. Israel’s pleas are met not with pardon, but with further pleas. True repentance will find the Father’s arms open wide, but only true repentance. God recognizes a fake cry. Such a cry doesn’t move Him to compassion, but wrath.

Repentance means turning with disgust from idolatrous lovers to vow fidelity to the Bridegroom, loving Him with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength. There should be no lustful glances cast aside wondering if others desire you. The eyes of repentance are fixed on Christ; they don’t look back to Sodom. You may be able to sing the song of Sodom to the tune of the Song of Solomon, but the Bridegroom knows when you’re just humming the tune, feigning loyalty while longing for others.

Never and Always (Jeremiah 3:1–18)

“If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man’s wife, will he return to her? Would not that land be greatly polluted? You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me? declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 3:1).

Following the opening prosecution of Judah for her marital infidelity (chapter 2) God leads the witness asking if there is any hope to restore relationship? While leading questions are forbidden in our courts of law, here the Prosecutor is the Judge. Lawyers may wickedly use leading questions to establish false evidence; God righteously uses them to expose the truth we deny. With this question God draws from His law.

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the LORD. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance” (Deuteronomy 24:1–4).

a-crack-in-the-ground-1630956-1279x853.jpgSeveral questions arise in out mind, but in light of this, what is the obvious answer to God’s question? An undoubted and resolute “No!” And yet, everything established here will seemingly be flipped on its head by the end of this passage—seemingly.

Initially there seems no hope of return, but then vv. 11–18 give way to two pleas for Israel to return accompanied by a plethora of promises. Topsy-turvy? No, note two things. The pleas and the promises are made to Israel, not Judah, although there is a glimmer of hope as Judah is included as part of the promise made to Israel (v. 18). It appears subtly assumed in this is that Judah will have to first face the same judgment that has befallen Israel. 

Second, there’s returning and then there’s returning. The returning spoken against in v. 1 is a presumptuous returning. Following the question, God commands Judah to lift up her eyes and see her whoredom (v. 2). Judah may not return without seeing her sin. Judah’s pious words are empty, but her wicked acts are full (v. 5). Her return is not with her whole heart, but in pretense (v. 10).

So may the whore return? God’s covenant name is His vow. He explained His name and revealed His glory to Moses saying that YHWH is a God “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6–7). May the unfaithful bride return to her Husband? Never and always; it depends on what you mean by return.