The Perils of Cut and Paste (Jeremiah 11:1–17)

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: ‘Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. You shall say to them, Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Cursed be the man who does not hear the words of this covenant that I commanded your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God, that I may confirm the oath that I swore to your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as at this day.’ Then I answered, ‘So be it, LORD'” (Jeremiah 11:1–5)

Covenant theologians of various stripes alike agree that there is both continuity and discontinuity as we move from the Old Covenant to the New. It’s my contention that whereas my presbyterian friends get too crazy with the glue, we reformed baptists play a bit wild with the scissors at times. Even so, I believe credobaptist covenant theologians are more mature with their scissors than their paedobaptist counterparts are with the glue.

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These are important matters but they pale in significance compared to a far more deadly hermeneutic of continuity and discontinuity—one of personal convenience. If you only see the stream flowing where you’re thirsty, and always damned up where you desire no flooding, I’m afraid you’ve drifted from the truth. If you only see continuity where it benefits you, and discontinuity where it could harm you, beware, because you’re probably off on both counts.

If you read a text like Jeremiah 11:1–17 and think, “Phew! I’m glad I’m not under the Old Covenant.” because this would be bad news for your idols, then you’re not grateful, but an ingrate. We should indeed be ecstatic that we live on the fulfilled side of the promises, but not that kind of happy. If you think that because you’ve heard the gospel, you need not hear the law, then I’m afraid you’ve heard neither the Old nor the New Covenant. If your concept of liberty involves liberty to sin, you’re not free. You’re still in bondage.

If you think the dark warnings and curses of the Old Testament have no application to you simply because the Son has risen, I’d advise you to listen to the New Testament and then take another listen to the Old.

“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard…” (Hebrews 2:1–3, emphasis mine).

“Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, “They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.” As I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.” ’ Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:1–6, emphasis mine).

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).

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.

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!”

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.