Nerf Darts Versus ICBMs (Jeremiah 50)

“The LORD has opened his armory and brought out the weapons of his wrath, for the Lord God of hosts has a work to do in the land of the Chaldeans.” —Jeremiah 50:25

Can there be any more terrifying thought than Yahweh opening up His armory against you? The apex of man’s military might is the nuclear missile. Sure, man can hurl a missile at 15,000 miles per hour causing 475 kilotons of damage (Hiroshima had 12 kiloton yield). That all sounds impressive, until you consider that God is hurling billions of balls of nuclear fusion at speeds of over 500,000 miles per hour,  each by itself producing every second as much energy as trillions of our missiles.

But sinner, know that He is not only has an armory to dispose of His enemies, He is also a refuge for those who trust in Christ crucified. If you are in Christ, God’s judgment is your salvation. Judgment fell on the Son to save you from your sins and it will fall on the wicked to save his people from sinners.

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: The people of Israel are oppressed, and the people of Judah with them. All who took them captive have held them fast; they refuse to let them go. Their Redeemer is strong; the LORD of hosts is his name. He will surely plead their cause, that he may give rest to the earth, but unrest to the inhabitants of Babylon” (Jeremiah 50:33–34).

Big Promises Stuffed into Little Boxes (Jeremiah 49)

Concerning the Ammonites. 
Thus says the LORD:
 
“Has Israel no sons? 
     Has he no heir? 
Why then has Milcom dispossessed Gad, 
     and his people settled in its cities? 
Therefore, behold, the days are coming, 
     declares the LORD, 
when I will cause the battle cry to be heard 
     against Rabbah of the Ammonites; 
it shall become a desolate mound, 
     and its villages shall be burned with fire; 
then Israel shall dispossess those who dispossessed him, 
     says the LORD.

—Jeremiah 49:1–2

When unpacking the oracles against the nations (Jeremiah 46–51) it is critical to realize that they come vacuum sealed. Though judgment has been delivered to these nations, it hasn’t been fully unpacked. Jesus adds water to all the Old Testament and in Him, it swells substantially. He fulfills them. In Him, they reach their full. In Him, that fullness is filled to the brim. On the day of His return and forever thereafter I’m certain we will be in awe of how much God packed into so small a space. The oracles against the nations are compressed files. Jesus unzips them. In Jesus we will find that each these bytes communicate terabytes of information.

These oracles do come with fences but the fences are temporary. They are not simply meant to contain a judgment, but communicate the judgment. Note how dissolvable these fences are in Jeremiah 25:15–32, which in the Septuagint (an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) serve as the conclusion to the oracles against the nations.

“Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: ‘Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.’ So I took the cup from the LORD’s hand, and made all the nations to whom the LORD sent me drink it: Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, its kings and officials, to make them a desolation and a waste, a hissing and a curse, as at this day; Pharaoh king of Egypt, his servants, his officials, all his people, and all the mixed tribes among them; all the kings of the land of Uz and all the kings of the land of the Philistines (Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and the remnant of Ashdod); Edom, Moab, and the sons of Ammon; all the kings of Tyre, all the kings of Sidon, and the kings of the coastland across the sea; Dedan, Tema, Buz, and all who cut the corners of their hair; all the kings of Arabia and all the kings of the mixed tribes who dwell in the desert; all the kings of Zimri, all the kings of Elam, and all the kings of Media; all the kings of the north, far and near, one after another, and all the kingdoms of the world that are on the face of the earth. And after them the king of Babylon shall drink. ‘Then you shall say to them, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you.” And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: You must drink! For behold, I begin to work disaster at the city that is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the LORD of hosts.’ You, therefore, shall prophesy against them all these words, and say to them: “The LORD will roar from on high, and from his holy habitation utter his voice; he will roar mightily against his fold, and shout, like those who tread grapes, against all the inhabitants of the earth. The clamor will resound to the ends of the earth, for the LORD has an indictment against the nations; he is entering into judgment with all flesh, and the wicked he will put to the sword, declares the LORD.” Thus says the LORD of hosts: Behold, disaster is going forth from nation to nation, and a great tempest is stirring from the farthest parts of the earth !” (emphases mine).

While the fences are up, this “all the earth” language is an understandable use of hyperbole, not to exaggerate but to communicate. Still, can’t you also see that these fences will one day come down such that the hyperbole will then be an understatement? When Jesus baptizes the world in the fire of judgment these fences will dissolve. Even so, we look to the past fences to get some idea of the shape of the future. By this, the future doesn’t become hazy, but clear.

For instance, Ammon is indicted for possessing the land Yahweh allotted to Israel. Despite appearances, His people are not without an heir. Though the northern tribes, including Gad, were largely assimilated and absorbed but he alien cultures to which they were driven by Assyria long before this prophecy, this land is not up for grabs. This same indictment is brought against all these nations (cf. Jeremiah 10:25; 12:10–14). So in the judgment of the nations a promise of salvation is being made to God’s people. They will dispossess those who dispossessed them. But who are these heirs? I’m simply going to leave you with some New Testament unpacking and I think you can begin to see all that was tied up in these Old Testament prophecies.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

“For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith” (Romans 4:13).

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16–17).

“For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward” (Hebrews 10:34–35).

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3–5).

See? Big promises. Little boxes.

Gathered Dust No Sign of Being Well Aged (Jeremiah 47–48)

“Moab has been at ease from his youth
     and has settled on his dregs;
he has not been emptied from vessel to vessel,
     nor has he gone into exile;
     so his taste remains in him,
     and his scent is not changed.

Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I shall send to him pourers who will pour him, and empty his vessels and break his jars in pieces. Then Moab shall be ashamed of Chemosh, as the house of Israel was ashamed of Bethel, their confidence.” —Jeremiah 48:11–13

Though man is dust, sometimes he gets to thinking the dust covers a rare and expensive vintage under it all. But just because the wine has aged doesn’t mean it’s aged well. It may have settled on the lees so long that it’s turned bad.

Moab was a dusty bottle of wine forgotten in the cellar. She has long enjoyed peace, but she hasn’t aged well. She’s settled on the dregs of her boasting and become ripe, not for consumption, but destruction. She’s never been mixed up; she’s never been poured from one vessel to another, going into exile as Israel did and she’s the worse for it. Whereas Israel was smack dab in the middle of a major trade route, Moab was just off the beaten path, a plateau to the east to the dead sea. But God is sending pourers. She will be poured, her vessels emptied, and smashed.

As a result she will be ashamed of Chemosh as Israel was ashamed of Bethel. When the kingdom of Israel was split under the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam, Jeroboam, who then became king of Israel, erected a golden calf and an altar in Bethel for fear that his people would return to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh and thus defect to Judah (1 Kings 12:25–33). He also built a calf in Dan and dedicated both saying, “Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt,” (2 Kings 12:28). Although these gods did serve to prevent the mass of Israel from going to Judah, more so they were the cause of their being obliterated by the Assyrians. These gods delivered Israel neither from Egypt nor from Assyria. In the same way, Chemosh will prove impotent against the human hands that the sovereign Lord sends against Moab.

The dust will be blown off. There will be shouting, but it won’t be because the wine is so good. They will be poured out only to drink to the full of the wine of God’s wrath.

“Make him drunk, because he magnified himself against the Lord, so that Moab shall wallow in his vomit, and he too shall be held in derision…

Gladness and joy have been taken away
     from the fruitful land of Moab;
I have made the wine cease from the winepresses;
     no one treads them with shouts of joy;
     the shouting is not the shout of joy.
 —Jeremiah 48:26, 33

Know that present insulation doesn’t mean immunization. In the west we have long lived off the last fumes of the Protestant Reformation. The accrued blessings we have enjoyed because of past faithfulness should not be misread by any as sign of God’s favor with us or as a guarantee of future blessing. Present insulation from judgment is no indication of future immunization.

If you don’t enjoy God’s goodness in Christ, unto His glory, you will enjoy His goodness only for a time and His wrath forevermore. Judgment is certain and the only sure refuge is the split rock of Christ crucified for sinners and risen for their life. Anything else that you now boast in will one day be your shame. 

Swollen Rivers Subside (Jeremiah 46:1–28)

"About Egypt. Concerning the army of Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, which was by the river Euphrates at Carchemish and which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon defeated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah...

Who is this, rising like the Nile, 
     like rivers whose waters surge? 
Egypt rises like the Nile, 
     like rivers whose waters surge. 
He said, 'I will rise, I will cover the earth, 
     I will destroy cities and their inhabitants.'"

—Jeremiah 46:2, 7–8

With Assyria on the wane, Babylon waxes strong while Egypt enjoys something of a resurgence. Pridefully, Egypt swells like her Nile, ambitious to flood the lands around her. Assyria had acted as a buffer between Egypt and Babylon; so it is no surprise that Egypt heads north to aid Assyria. It was en route to do so that Pharaoh Neco was intercepted by King Josiah. Eventually Neco sets up his base at Carchemish. The two rising world powers of the age are set to clash. The Battle of Carchemish would prove a critical turning point in history.

The Nile’s resurgence proves to be due to nothing other than a flash flood. The waters will subside as quickly as they rose. All human glory, even that of nations, of superpowers, all of it fades. Their flow of glory can never surpass the ebb caused by God’s judgment. The nations can never rise so far as to mitigate their fall. It is futile for them to spread miles in hopes of keeping even a few inches. There can be no advance of human glory.

Humanity should remain humble before the Holy one, and this includes collected humanity as well. The Tower of Babel was not preserved despite man’s unified strength. The greatest judgements fall where pride is concentrated. Man’s collected power doesn’t dampen the blow; it intensifies it. So hear the Lord’s admonition in Jeremiah 9:23–26 afresh:

“Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh— Egypt, Judah, Edom, the sons of Ammon, Moab, and all who dwell in the desert who cut the corners of their hair, for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart’” (emphasis mine).

Hear this admonition and resolve as Paul did to boast in nothing but “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to [you], and [you] to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:14–15). And having been crucified to the world, rejoice, even when you see superpowers fall. Even when it seems as though the world is being flipped upside down, rejoice knowing that it is being prepared to be flipped right-side up in Jesus. Remember, you are a citizen of heaven. When all the nations of this earth are manifestly put under Jesus feet, then heaven will come down, all things will be made new, and the citizens of the kingdom will humbly serve their Lord with joy forevermore.

Tuning In Only to Tune Out (Jeremiah 26:1–24

“It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds” (Jeremiah 26:3).

Chapter 25 of Jeremiah is situated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim; chapter 26 at the beginning of his reign. As reading the Old Testament in light of the New proves clarifying, so here, the future illuminates the past. Chapter 25, in illuminating chapter 26, darkens it. We read it knowing the hope held out in the third verse is not to be realized. Though Jeremiah lives, his voice is dead.

In chapter 25 Jeremiah recalls his ministering to Judah for twenty-three years. Twenty-three years in which he received and spoke the word. Twenty-three years for which they did not listen. How do we get to the hardened state spoken of in chapter 25? The answer of chapter 26 is alarming.

Though there are many who wouldn’t mind rubbing Jeremiah out, the masses are fickle. They hear. They may even hear with conviction. They hear with affirmation, acknowledging Jeremiah to be speaking the word of Yahweh. But this is as far as they go and it is not far enough. Jeremiah is tolerated. He is ignored. They’re typical conservatives. “Maintain the status quo!” They think they can play it safe and play with sin. They’ll hear Jeremiah and listen to the false prophets. If they execute Jeremiah, destruction is certain. But if they simply ignore him, maybe God will return the favor and ignore them.

The way God’s truth is dismissed by the masses isn’t predominantly with overt enmity but with apathy. Man’s hatred of God displays itself frequently in disinterest, indifference, passivity, lethargy, and unresponsiveness. God’s word comes to man with its total demands. Man responds with “Meh?” To dismiss God calmly instead of violently doesn’t avert disaster. Indifference is just as much an expression of hatred for God as is rage. Partial credit isn’t given for not persecuting the prophet. Just because you don’t kill the prophet doesn’t ensure God won’t kill you—eternally.

So how does one get from here to there? The most common highway taken to hell is the one where the Word is allowed to play on the radio while your mind drifts elsewhere. The word is heard but the people don’t listen. They can hum the tune, but they don’t know the words.

Meridian Church · Jeremiah 26:1–24 || Who Is On Trial? || Josh King

Salvation by Judgment (Jeremiah 25:1–38)

“For twenty-three years, from the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, to this day, the word of the LORD has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened.

Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the LORD, making the land an everlasting waste.

Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.”

—Jeremiah 25:3, 12, 15

eric-gilkes-DNbdk2BM0_I-unsplashJeremiah 25 is a stout drink. It’s all judgment, 200 proof. Or perhaps we should say it’s 99.9% judgment. There is a hint of grace, but it’s easy to miss because it is disguised as judgment. That grace can dress as judgment should come as no surprise. The protoevangelion, that is, the first preaching of the gospel, was good news in just this way. Genesis 3:14–19 is all judgment but nestled in the judgment of the serpent is the implicit hope and salvation of man. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). That word of judgment was grace. Here, the disguise is simply harder to see through.

We shouldn’t miss the implicit salvation for the explicit judgement, for when salvation comes, it is certain to be salvation by judgment. What is subtle here is lurid in Jeremiah 29:10, “For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” However God saves, know that it cannot be in any way that compromises justice or righteousness.

The judgment of God is inescapable and inevitable. Judgment will fall and it will fall on every sin. Every injustice, every iniquity, every idolatry will be judged. You see this in how Babylon is used by God for judgment, and then judged herself. God’s judgment cannot be evaded. His righteousness cannot be compromised.

We have no hope that our sins might be swept under the rug. We, like Judah and the nations, have not listened. For this reason the wrath of God is revealed against us (Romans 1:18ff). We deserve to drink from the cup of the wine of God’s wrath and nothing more. Our only hope is that God would somehow act so that judgment would fall on our sins and yet not fall on us sinners.

The cup of God’s wrath is a common metaphor. In Isaiah 51 Yahweh promises grace to His people by judgment saying, “Thus says your Lord, the LORD, your God who pleads the cause of his people: ‘Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more; and I will put it into the hand of your tormentors…” (Isaiah 51:22–23a). Again, salvation for Judah comes by judgment. But still, how can the cup be taken from us? 

We find the answer in a garden where the only servant of Yahweh to ever listen perfectly and deserve no judgment prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus took the cup of the wine of God’s wrath, not because He failed to listen, but for our failing to listen. He drained it; finishing it off down to the bitter dregs, bearing the judgment of His people. Again, when salvation comes, it comes by judgment. We are saved because our sins were judged on another standing in our place.

Because judgment fell on the Just one, for the sins of the unjust, there is now no condemnation for those who are in union with Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Saints, judgment has already fallen on this earth for our sins, but praise be to God, it wasn’t we who drank of that cup of the wine of wrath. It was drained for us by the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. Because He drained of the cup of the wine of wrath, we now raise the cup of salvation given to us by the exalted Christ.

The Threat of Security (Habakkuk 2:6–20)

This post was originally published on December 29, 2014 and was revised  on April 3, 2020.

Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house,
to set his nest on high,
to be safe from the reach of harm!
You have devised shame for your house
by cutting off many peoples;
you have forfeited your life.
For the stone will cry out from the wall,
and the beam from the woodwork respond.

—Habakkuk 2:9–11

pawel-czerwinski-zBTYRFCeaS0-unsplash

When threatened, picking up a sword could be the most dangerous response. Reaching for a gun when an officer has commanded “Freeze!” is a fool’s act. Sometimes, the supposed wisdom of security is really the folly of unbelief. All our attempts at security might be nothing more than thinly veiled self-reliance and idolatry.

Nebuchadnezzar built an eagle’s nest where he thought his dynasty and kingdom would be safe. Walls were erected wide enough for a chariot to travel on. Much was invested in security, but all this was counterproductive because the most crucial factor in any building program wasn’t heeded—the One who holds the atoms of every stone, brick, and piece of lumber together—God Almighty.

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
—Psalm 127:1

All that was for safety only testified against Babylon. The materials gained by evil means antiphonally cry out against her (2:11), just as Abel’s blood cried out against Cain (Genesis 4:10; Habakkuk 2:12). Where men see glory, God sees sin; and He isn’t intimidated. Babylon was a city built with blood and sin; and thus, it was not a city to flee to, but to flee from. Worse than building their own prison, they’d constructed nothing more than a giant lightning rod to attract the unbearable storm of God’s wrath.

Your efforts at security may not be mortared with blood, but if they’re an expression of self-reliance and idolatry, then it’s still bonded with explosive-laced sin and a fire is coming. Tis far better to be Habakkuk in certain-to-fall Jerusalem, confusingly trusting in the Rock (1:12). The righteous shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4).

Perhaps? Perhaps! (Jeremiah 21:1–22:9)

“This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, when King Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur the son of Malchiah and Zephaniah the priest, the son of Maaseiah, saying, ‘Inquire of the Lord for us, for Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is making war against us. Perhaps the LORD will deal with us according to all his wonderful deeds and will make him withdraw from us’ ” (Jeremiah 21:1–3).

Zedekiah was the last reigning king of Judah. This siege began in the ninth year of his eleven year reign. This means Jeremiah had been prophesying near forty years at this point, warning Judah of judgment and calling for her to repent. Neither Zedekiah nor Jerusalem have repented, but ol’ Zed thinks “Perhaps?” Perhaps!

Perhaps Zedekiah recalls the instance when Assyria done messed up by mocking Israel’s God during the reign of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18–19). In that instance, it wasn’t so much that Judah was so good, but that Assyria was so bad. Though God has promised to destroy Jerusalem with the Babylonians, Zedekiah presumptuously thinks “Perhaps?” Perhaps!

Thomas Brooks warned “Despair hath slain her thousand but presumption her ten-thousand.” Ol’ Zed is not alone in thinking “Perhaps?” As Zedekiah went to the prophet, so we go to the word or the preaching of the word, not desiring to hear the word of the Lord, but a word from the Lord, because “Perhaps?” We don’t want to know what Scripture says concerning His will for our lives; we want Him to speak encouragement and blessing on our lives. We have no inkling of honestly obeying Him without reservation, yet we come to the word thinking “Perhaps?” Perhaps!

If you’re not following me, every time we sin, we presumptuously think to ourselves “Perhaps?” The presumption of “Perhaps?” is as foolish as heading west on Route 66 and expecting to get arrive in the Caribbean. We hear the serpent’s whisper, “You will not surely die… you will be like God.” We know what God said, but hey, perhaps? God clearly said that the wages of sin is death, but we think “Perhaps?” Perhaps!

To our wretched “Perhaps?” the immutable I AM of heaven always and without fail replies, “Absolutely not!”

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7–8)

Don’t Be Ashamed that He Shames the Shameful (Jeremiah 13:26–27)

“I myself will lift up your skirts over your face,
and your shame will be seen.
I have seen your abominations,
your adulteries and neighings, your lewd whorings,
on the hills in the field.
Woe to you, O Jerusalem!
How long will it be before you are made clean?” —Jeremiah 13:26–27

If there is a dominant note in the assortment of words that make up chapter 13 of Jeremiah, I’d say it is that of the shamed she. By putting the words “dominant” and “shamed” and “she” in the same sentence, however far apart and dissociated they may be, perhaps I’ve already put the misogynist match to the patriarchal fuse of dominance dynamite.

Indeed, the shamed she here is dominated, and as such, she is shamed. This passage isn’t politically correct. Truly, the shaming of the she is disturbing, but if we fail to see that her being shamed is a just punishment for her shame, then perhaps we too are trying to hide our nakedness behind inadequate leafy loincloths.

fig-2711420_1280.jpgJudah is shamed because she is shameful. It is because Judah is not ashamed that she is to be so shamed. One aim of this judgment is to shame the shameful. When God shames the she, His judgment pulls the curtain back and exposes the harlot for who she really is. The fig leaves are gone. She can no longer hide. The judgment is harsh because the sin is vulgar.

This passages in’t about the oppression of women. This passage is about the execution of justice. God’s grace had made His bride beautiful. Judah then used this beauty to whore after other gods. The promised land was like a wedding chamber. Yahweh brought Israel there that He might make her beautiful, radiating with His glory. Brought in as a bride, now, having committed adultery with the pagan gods, she is driven out as an adulteress. What was hidden in the darkness is now brought into the light. Yahweh doesn’t place a shame on Judah that doesn’t fit. He removes the royal robes with which He clothed her, garments she had used to conceal her harlotry, so that she is now seen for what she is. Yahewh clothes her in her own garments, and those fig leaves don’t cover.

When you shudder at the language of shame, remember, Christ wore this garment Himself so that His bride might be clothed with His righteousness. The severity of His justice, He has tasted Himself. The severity of His justice testifies then to the depths of His mercy and grace. He was stripped bare and exposed so that the church might stand before the throne of His Holy Father, clothed in His righteousness.

Yes, He rose as Lord over His bride, but His redeeming rule does not oppress; it liberates. Know that when you are repulsed at His lordship in judgment, you’ve then also foundationally rejected the lordship that redeems.

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.