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.

When God Takes You to Court (Jeremiah 2:1–37)

“The priests did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’ Those who handle the law did not know me; the shepherds transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal and went after things that do not profit.” —Jeremiah 2:8 (ESV)

When God takes you to court, beware, for the Prosecutor is your Judge. Further, the apostate church should realize that the one prosecuting is the one she claims as her husband. The visible church’s infidelity is obvious, yet she claims innocence.

When God brings forth the charges, the only sensible plea is “Guilty, your Honor.” His questions pierce and expose. You have no shot at injustice by fooling the system. Make no countersuit. Hang you head in shame or He will bow it. Repent or perish.

In this court everyman has to give account for his own sin, but God lays primary responsibility where responsibility lies. As when man sinned in the garden, God first questioned Adam, so now, when His bride has been unfaithful, God explicitly brings forth the sins of the priests, shepherds, and prophets.

The church today is full of infidelity. Woe to the pastors, who as priests, have falsely comforted us that all is well. Woe to the overseers, who as kings, have led us into idolatry. Woe to elders, who as prophets, have called evil good and good evil. The church has been unfaithful, because of our Hophni and Phineases who dip into the pot to feed their own bellies. The church has been unfaithful, because our Solomons have many wives leading their hearts astray. The church has been unfaithful, because our Zedekiahs strike any Micaiahs speaking God’s judgment on the cheek, while proclaiming a false message of triumph.

“I Never Understood a Single Word He Said” (Jeremiah 1:1–19)

For the unaware or the novice to these parts, most of these posts, notably the ones with a Biblical text pinned on the title, are an overflow of my preaching ministry at my local church. That’ll explain some things as you proceed.

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“Why Jeremiah?” one might ask. The best reply might be, “Why not? Is not this too the Word of the Living God? Why would we think this, or any portion of God’s Word odd?” But perhaps the question is less a prideful indictment and more a humble inquiry. Perhaps the sheep queries the shepherd, with a mouth full of grass, “May I ask why you have now led us to this particular pasture?”

“Yes you may.” I am an undershepherd. I don’t presume to know exactly which portion of God’s Word would be best for us, but I know do takes the whole Word to make whole Christians. Because of limitations of time, the elder’s aim and method is simple. We want you to have a balanced diet. If we just started preaching straight through, some of you would hear nothing but law during your time here. Thus, we chew on some Old and then some New. We munch on poetry and then prose. We devour an epistle, then a prophet. After a bite of the historical, we chomp on some wisdom.

This being said, perhaps there is no genre of Holy Writ more neglected today than the prophets. Oh, they are certainly cherry picked, but when you see the tree as a whole you cannot but notice how very little fruit has been picked. The prophets contain much bitter medicine that would do our souls good, but we have been fed only the most sugary portions. If a poll were taken in the average Evangellyfish church to cite passages from Jeremiah, I’m certain Jeremiah 29:11 would be to most cited and nearly the only cited portion.

There is likely no genre more neglected, and also, none more needed. Not merely because our diets have been imbalanced, but because disease is rampant, and the prophets shout the cure—repentance. The whole of God’s Word is enduringly relevant for the church, but when the church has apostatized and committed adultery with the world in unfaithfulness to her Betrothed, then we had best go to Jeremiah and not Philippians, for such is a time to mourn and not rejoice.

Here we have not only medicine, but a lot of it. What is the longest book in the Bible? Perhaps you answered Psalms, and by chapter count that is correct. But man inserted the chapter divisions (though in the case of the Psalms their work was simply one of counting the divisions already there). If we count by God’s inspired words in the original languages, the Psalms fall to third place, behind Genesis in second place and Jeremiah in first.

There is not only much medicine, but there is potent medicine. The American church is riddled with cancer. Jeremiah is chemo for those who would receive it. 

“But are not we as a church celebrating a time of health?” Yes, but we are not immune from nor are we innocent concerning the sickness we see around us. Further, my zeal and hope is that our fellowship have a prophetic voice, speaking God’s Word into the nonsense that pervades in the American Church.