Does He Hear? (Jeremiah 10:17–25)

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I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself,
that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.
Correct me, O LORD, but in justice;
not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.
Pour out your wrath on the nations that know you not,
and on the peoples that call not on your name,
for they have devoured Jacob;
they have devoured him and consumed him,
and have laid waste his habitation.
—Jeremiah 10:23–25

The section of Jeremiah running from 8:4–10:25 concludes with a humble petition from Jeremiah wherein he pleads that the Lord have mercy in judgment by judgement. He doesn’t plead to be exempt from correction, but that the correction be according to covenant justice, and not in His anger. He asks that God’s wrath not be aimed at Israel, but at the nations who do not know God.

So it is that this section ends with questions but no answers. Does Yahweh hear this cry? The answer to each petition is found to be emphasized by two following sections in Jeremiah.

Concerning Jeremiah’s plea for correction, unmixed with anger, we go to the section running from chapters 30–33 known as “The Book of Consolation.” Of course, we could look at those famous passages therein concerning the new covenant as the answer to Jeremiah’s petitions, and they are, but there is an earlier portion of the Book of Consolation that is especially pertinent.

“Then fear not, O Jacob my servant, declares the LORD, nor be dismayed, O Israel; for behold, I will save you from far away, and your offspring from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease, and none shall make him afraid. For I am with you to save you, declares the LORD; I will make a full end of all the nations among whom I scattered you, but of you I will not make a full end. I will discipline you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished. For thus says the LORD: Your hurt is incurable, and your wound is grievous. There is none to uphold your cause, no medicine for your wound, no healing for you. All your lovers have forgotten you; they care nothing for you; for I have dealt you the blow of an enemy, the punishment of a merciless foe, because your guilt is great, because your sins are flagrant. Why do you cry out over your hurt? Your pain is incurable. Because your guilt is great, because your sins are flagrant, I have done these things to you. Therefore all who devour you shall be devoured, and all your foes, every one of them, shall go into captivity; those who plunder you shall be plundered, and all who prey on you I will make a prey. For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the LORD, because they have called you an outcast: ‘It is Zion, for whom no one cares!’ ” (Jeremiah 30:10–17, emphasis mine).

Jeremiah’s petition is born out of his lament that his wound is grievous (10:19). When Jeremiah laments there, he is speaking as and for the people. In chapter 30 God promises that this wound will be healed and that He will not make and end of them but of the nations.

This passage alone is sufficient to answer both of Jeremiah’s petitions, but there is a whole section that speaks to the second petition just as there is a whole section that speaks to the first. Beginning in chapter 46 and running to the end is a section known as the “Oracle Against the Nations.” In Jeremiah 51:5 we’re given a reason for the destruction of Babylon: “For Israel and Judah have not been forsaken by their God, the LORD of hosts, but the land of the Chaldeans is full of guilt against the Holy One of Israel.” Israel is not forsaken. Babylon will be judged.

But how can these things be? Jeremiah 30:10–17 was prefaced in this way:

“And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the LORD of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. But they shall serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.”

The answer will be made clear in the King God raises up whom they will serve. How can Judah be healed from so grievous a wound? The answer is that their King will be wounded for her.

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4–6).

Jeremiah cried out “For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded” (Jeremiah 8:21). Our Lord cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Jeremiah suffered with his people; Christ suffered for his people. Know that He too prays for His people, pleading all that He is, and be certain that His prayers are heard.

Reading the News in Wonka’s Factory (Jeremiah 10:1–16)

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“Hear the word that the LORD speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the LORD:

‘Learn not the way of the nations,
nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens
because the nations are dismayed at them,
for the customs of the peoples are vanity.
A tree from the forest is cut down
and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman.
They decorate it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so that it cannot move.
Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field,
and they cannot speak;
they have to be carried,
for they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of them,
for they cannot do evil,
neither is it in them to do good’ ” (Jeremiah 10:1–5).

The Babylon Bee has recently demonstrated the inability of many to read satire. Reality is often so ridiculous that satire is assumed to be fact. Because many don’t see what’s wrong with the king having no pants on, they’re left scratching their noggin as to what the story is about. When you’ve lived in Wonka’s factory all your life, satire is easily mistaken for news.

While some cannot read satire, others question whether we should write it. Satire is thought to be a dirty bomb, off limits to those seeking to wage a just war. Don’t drop any s-bombs; they’re not polite. Evidently such super saints fail to remember Elijah and the showdown with the prophets of Baal when he mocked “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27). Douglas Wilsons’ insight is penetrating.

“When Jesus looked on the rich, young ruler and loved him, it is very easy for us to say that we should be loving as He was. When preachers make such applications, no one thinks anything of it. But when Jesus looked on the rich, old rulers and insulted them, why do we tend to assume that this is never, ever to be imitated? It is conceivable that such a division is defensible, but why does it never have to be defended? Some might say (and do say) that we are not Jesus, and so we do not have the wisdom to insult properly. Fine. So why then do we have the wisdom to love properly? Can’t we screw that up too?”

Perhaps the reason we cannot read and do not like satire is often the same. Frequently, the real issue isn’t that we’re loving, save that we too love the idols and we cannot bear to see them shamed.

Can you laugh? Not the whimsical laugh of fools. Can you laugh at the idols as YHWH does at the nations who rebel against Him? Concerning those kings and rulers who seek to break free from the rule of YHWH and His King we are told, “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision” (Psalm 2:4). Can you laugh at the idols of this world and hold them in derision? You may laugh at the idols of others, but can you laugh at the idols you’ve bowed before? It’s easy to laugh at Buddha or Allah, but can you guffaw over the ridiculousness of the idols of sex, politics, leisure, sports, luxury, travel, family, entertainment, success, intellect, nature, fashion, health, diet, exercise and self-righteousness? Read that list again. Real slow. Pause. Contemplate.

If you want to identify your idol, what is that thing, that created thing, that if it were cut off, if it were pushed down before YHWH and put in its place, if it were tossed into the dumpster and lit up, would cause you grief? If you have now swallowed your laugh, then will you pull some nails and push the idol down before the Lord so that you may laugh at its decapitated head (cf 1 Samuel 5:1–4)? 

Many idols are good things that we have made god things. A felled tree makes a horrible idol, but it is great for fire. Can you offer that idol up as a sacrifice unto YHWH? What is your Isaac? If God were to ask you to take it up Mount Carmel and plunge a knife into it and set it aflame unto Him, could you do it? What is that thing you cannot imagine living without? If you can live without your arm, you may keep it, but if you insist you must have it, amputate it, for it is better to have no arm unto Christ than to have two and be plunged into hell forever. Laugh at the things of creation as gods and you may enjoy them seriously as gifts.

Riddle Me This (Jeremiah 9:12–26)

“Who is the man so wise that he can understand this? To whom has the mouth of the LORD spoken, that he may declare it? Why is the land ruined and laid waste like a wilderness, so that no one passes through?” (Jeremiah 9:12)

object-with-path-1552086-1279x1203.jpgJeremiah propounds two questions as to who could possibly answer a third question. First, who is so wise that he can understand this? Second, to whom has Yahweh spoken that he might reveal it? So what is this? What is it?

Before unveiling the enigma, consider that a short bit after Jeremiah we come to the prophet Daniel, who, because of his Lord, could explain mysteries no other could. When Belshazzar saw the writing on the wall and none of his wise men could interpret it, the king was alarmed, but then the queen explained:

“There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation” (Daniel 5:11–12).

Now, to resume our present mystery. What puzzle is Jeremiah going to set before us?

“Why is the land ruined and laid waste like a wilderness so that no one passes through?”

This is not a difficult question. It is an indictment of Judah. These questions are no insult to her intelligence, but her pride. Her inability to answer stems from no deficiency in intellect, but in humility. If you flunk this test, Ephesians 4:18–19 explains why.

“They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”

“The blindness of humanity is so great that people are actually proud of their blindness,” wrote Augustine. Look around at humanity and you will see blindness touted as sight, darkness paraded around as though it were light. It is because of the lies that Judah holds onto in pride that she cannot grasp the truth, for truth can only be held with the hands of humility. The false prophets have told Judah “He will do nothing, no disaster will come upon us” (5:12). They say “Peace, Peace!” when there is no peace (6:14). Judah doesn’t want to let go of these lies because that would mean she would have to turn from her idols. 

The reason she cannot answer this question is because she loves darkness. Judah has fallen for the wrong boy and she can’t admit the relationship is toxic. In Jeremiah 5:31 we are told not only that the prophets prophecy falsely but that the people love to have it so. They love lies because they love darkness. Jesus said, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:19–20).

Their pride is perplexed by God’s humbling them. Their sin is shocked by God’s righteous judgment. Their love of darkness is angry at God’s light. This is why they cannot answer so obvious a question. This is why the world still cannot see the curse all around us? This is why she cries “Why?” in the face of suffering. We act dumfounded because the apple is still in our hands and we want to eat it deceiving ourselves that despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary, we will indeed be like God if we just eat a bit more. The love our of idols is proud because the idol we love most is self.

God told Jeremiah that the people would ask this question. “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). The punishment rhymes with the sin, but their sin-muffled ears can’t hear the poetry.

Such is the wisdom of man. It can tell you how pain works, but it is blind to why a thing such as pain is.

“Where?” “Why?” (Jeremiah 8:18–9:11)

Behold, the cry of the daughter of my people
from the length and breadth of the land:

‘Is the LORD not in Zion?
Is her King not in her?’

‘Why have they provoked me to anger with their carved images
and with their foreign idols?’ (Jeremiah 8:18)

Judah asks “Where?” God asks “Why?” Do you see how His question silences theirs? They seek for Him in tragedy, but not in their lives. Judah has incessantly committed adultery with her idols showing no remorse; but now that the taxes are due for her lavish lifestyle, she accuses her husband of abandoning her.

Who has not acted so foolishly when grieving? C.S. Lewis captures the agony well in A Grief Observed. What Lewis unpacks is not always rooted in such profound sin. Often God seems absent to His faithful servants in the midst of trials. But frequently, we wickedly want God more in our grief than we want Him otherwise.

haunted-house-1225739-1599x1148.jpg“Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will be come. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’

…Of course it’s easy enough to say that God seems absent at our greatest need because He is absent—non-existent. But then why does He seem so present when, to put it quite frankly, we don’t ask for Him?”

We ignore God, and then we blame God for not being there when we taste something of the rod. Those who care nothing for God in their lives shouldn’t be surprised when He seems to care not for them as they taste of death. The scariest thing about running away from God, is that God just might let you. Of course you cannot escape Him totally. But one can, as it were, run from His long-suffering and into His judgment.

Of course, if one by grace turns in repentance, God is right there. But it’s quite presumptuous, isn’t it, to think one can spend a life running from God when happy, and then genuinely seek Him when sad? Such cries of “Where?” will be met with “Why?”

Sin Don’t Make No Sense (Jeremiah 8:4–17)

“You shall say to them, Thus says the LORD:
When men fall, do they not rise again?
If one turns away, does he not return?
Why then has this people turned away
in perpetual backsliding?
They hold fast to deceit;
they refuse to return.
I have paid attention and listened,
but they have not spoken rightly;
no man relents of his evil,
saying, ‘What have I done?’
Everyone turns to his own course,
like a horse plunging headlong into battle.
Even the stork in the heavens
knows her times,
and the turtledove, swallow, and crane
keep the time of their coming,
but my people know not
the rules of the LORD.” (Jeremiah 8:4–7)

wedgie-1355140-1280x960.jpgJudah’s behavior is “unnatural.” When a man falls, he gets up. When he has gone the wrong way, he retraces his steps. Judah however, has intentionally chosen the forbidden path leading to death and insists on continuing down it despite incessant warnings. Earlier God called for them to “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for [their] souls.” Their reply was, “We will not walk in it” (6:16).

Judah has fallen and it is not that she can not get up; she will not get up. Prideful idolatry has let to her fall, and now her pride refuses to rise. She is like the child who has ignored repeated warnings, and because they’ve done so, she now lies flat on her back. When you encourage the child to get up, her rebellious pride now refuses to stand. The problem isn’t that the mind is slow, but that the heart is hard.

The birds know their times and seasons for turning and returning. They are not made in the image of God and follow a less glorious rule. Whereas God’s people, not mankind generally, but specifically God’s people, those He has redeemed in covenant love, do not know His rules. Derek Kidner, ever the master of succinct commentary, summarizes the gist of the passage well, “In matters spiritual and moral we act with a perversity which is quite unlike our common sense at other levels, let alone the impressive wisdom of our fellow creatures (even the bird-brained, 7a!).” Isaiah observes the same “unnatural” behavior. “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken: “Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand” (Isaiah 1:2–3).

In one sense, sin is now natural. Sin is our default condition in Adam. This is why Scripture speaks of the “natural man” as it does. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Wisdom is folly to us, and folly is wisdom.

Even so, what is now natural to us is unnatural, it is contrary to creation. When we sin we are going against the grain of creation. Sinful man is like a fish trying to live on dry ground. This is seen in the penalty Paul unfolds for man’s denial and suppression of the truth in worshipping the creation rather than the creator. “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:26–27).

Sin is a kind of insanity unto greater insanity. Sin is a plunge down the rabbit hole. Sin is senseless. Sin is nonsensical. Sin is our nature, and yet, sin is unnatural. It doesn’t compute. All of God’s creation and revelation testify against it. Sin sticks out like a sore thumb, and yet, we call it a healthy finger.

Sin is drinking poison knowingly and intentionally and expecting health. Sin is losing your way on purpose and continuing when you know the path leads to destruction, and yet expecting to find happiness thereon. Sin is the rebellion of a finite creature against an omnipotent God and hoping for victory. Sin is falling down and refusing to get up but expecting to be exalted. Sin is as obviously foolish as adding one plus one over and over again and expecting anything other than two. Sin is eating the same forbidden fruit again and again and expecting something other than death and the curse.

What hope can there be when fallen man’s nature is so “unnatural,” so nonsensical? Only the supernatural grace of God. It is not something natural, not something from within, not something below; but something supernatural, something without, something above. When fools turn wise, all glory is God’s. No sinners are self-educated unto sainthood. When sinful fools graduate unto saintly wisdom, summa laud, highest praise is ascribed to God, not man.

“God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’ ” (1 Corinthians 2:14, emphasis mine).

When You Should Just Eat What You’re Trying to Serve (Jeremiah 7:16–8:3)

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh. For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Jeremiah 7:21–22).

Here’s a confusing command, unless you’re reading your Bible carefully. For those who wonder what’s with all the details about the sacrifices in Leviticus, well, here’s one example of where the dictionary of Leviticus makes for quite a dramatic story later on.

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On the surface God seems to be saying two contradictory things in vv. 21 and 22. “Add another one to the fire.” “I never asked for any.” The catch is that burnt offerings were to be consumed whole on the altar; whereas, there were sacrifices of which the offerer partook. God tells them, that when they make a sacrifice, of which they may eat, to add a burnt offering to it, and go ahead and eat that as well. They might as well please their own palate because they’re not pleasing Yahweh. He told them in 6:20 that “their offerings are not acceptable, nor [are their] sacrifices pleasing to [Him].” Since they’re not worshipping, they might as well have a BBQ. Because the lamb is wasted as a sacrifice, they should eat it up so that it’s not a complete wash.

If our baptisms are more about getting the excited wet, rather than signifying the death and resurrection of disciples, we might as well turn the baptistry into a hot tub so that it serves some practical purpose.

Many churches are right to replace congregational worship with concerts, because worship of the true God is far from their hearts and thus cannot be on their lips.

If we’re not going to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, let’s deck out the minivan of the church with the entertainment package so that they can be amused as they are driven to hell.

If you give offerings as though they are indulgences, you might as well have kept them for yourself.

Because such sacrifices are full of idolatry, Judah might as well eat the world whole and quit trying to play religion. Many “churches” should follow suit.

Backstage Immorality Ruins the Show (Jeremiah 7:1–15)

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“Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.’

Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 7:4, 8–11)

Judah worships the true God with a false heart so that she might worship false gods with a true heart. Her worship is full hypocrisy. It’s all paint and no reality. It’s two dimensional. It’s flat. It’s on display but it isn’t living. Like painted fire, there is neither heat nor light. Samuel Rutherford once wrote, “You may paint a man, you many paint a rose, you may paint a fire burning, but you cannot paint a soul, or the smell of a rose, or the heat of a fire.” Judah is all paint and no soul. She is all paint and no aroma. She is all paint and no heat.

Judah’s puts on the theatrics of covenant fidelity so that she can fund her life of immorality backstage. She comes to the temple not seeking refuge from sin, but unto sin. In this way she makes the house of Yahweh a “den of robbers.” When Jesus says this in Matthew 21, because of the flipped tables of the money changers, we think we understand all that is meant by the metaphor. But that square peg doesn’t fit as nicely into this round hole. There’s more to this. The den of robbers would have been their hideout between jobs, where they could lie low after one heist and prep for the next one. This is how they come to Yahweh’s house. They think they can take refuge there, not from their sin, but unto sin.

They have a mystical and sentimental view of the temple. They treat the temple as though it were some kind of talisman they could wield. They thought they had God trapped in a box, forgetting that that box was only His footstool. Play with the footstool and expect a kick.

Deceptive words abound in the American Church today. Many are shouting “We are delivered!” only so that they may return to their abominations with a clear conscience. There’s no fruit, but they declare the tree good, and thus, not destined for the fire. Some think they’re good because of who planted the tree, others, where the tree was planted, and some, how it was planted. A preacher cannot deliver you; it matters not if he be the apostle Paul. A church cannot save you, not even if it is a sound and healthy church. A method cannot save you, no prayer will save you, no matter how true the words of the prayer are, if your heart isn’t true.

Hosts think they are delivered because of sentimental-deceptive words, or mystical-deceptive words. They may say “Falls Creek, Falls Creek, Falls Creek!” or “Baptist church, baptist church, baptist church!” or “Baptism, baptism, baptism!” or “Sinner’s prayer, sinner’s prayer, sinner’s prayer!” But neither should you think you are delivered for true words. Deceptive trust in truth is as deadly as trusting in deceptive lies. Do not say to yourself, “Doctrine, doctrine, doctrine!” As one pastor put it, “Doctrine without… life is like spelling everything right on the tombstone.” Believing truth about Christ isn’t the same as trusting in the true Christ. False doctrine can damn you but true doctrine cannot save you; it can only point you to the true Christ, in whom is salvation.

Because of all these deceptive words, many houses called by the name of Christ are really dens of robbers. They are not assemblies of the saints, finding refuge in Christ to live holy lives unto His glory; they are assemblies of the wicked, where they come from wickedness to go to wickedness, but with their consciences eased thinking they are delivered. But God sees such hypocrisy, and none of the talismans of evangelicalism stay His hand of judgment.