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.

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.

The Way to Deepest Darkness Is Found in the Light (2 Peter 2:17–22)

“For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.” —2 Peter 2:17 (ESV)

Dante’s Inferno sets forth nine circles of hell, with the innermost being the most hellish. Working our way in those circles are Limbo (where virtuous pagans reside), Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Wrath, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, and Treachery.  Though The Divine Comedy is imaginative it is fitting that we find Socrates in Limbo and Judas near the center just shy of Satan. 

While Dante’s work is fanciful, here we learn who the “gloom of utter darkness” is reserved for—false teachers. Not false teachers as in pagan philosophers, like Plato, nor those false teachers of false religions who never learned of Christ such as Gautama Buddha. They are in hell, but not the hell of hell. Peter is speaking of false teachers who have risen within the church. Inside the church, one finds the door to the darkest pit of hell. There is no safer place for the saints than the church, and, there is no more dangerous place for hypocrites than the church.

False teachers are overcome with a particular and tragic kind of slavery. Having come within inches of freedom, they reject that freedom for slavery. It is one thing to walk in the darkness, another to refuse the way of righteousness. When an Ammonite king burned his child as an offering to Molech it was a horrid evil, but it was far more evil when Manasseh did likewise, for he, knowing the way of righteousness, turned from the holy commandment of God. False teachers exchange a slavery of ignorance for a slavery that rejects the true knowledge of Jesus Christ.

It is worse to sin in the light than in the dark. It is a sin worthy of an eternal hell to sin against the light of the finite Sun, that is, the light of natural revelation as it declares the glory of God. It is a sin worthy of the hell of hell to sin against the more radiant light of the eternal Son, the light of special revelation, the light of the glorious gospel of Christ.

The way to deepest darkness is found in the light. Be warned not just of false teachers, nor only of heeding them, but of becoming one. Before any are false teachers, they are false believers. As you sit under the preaching of the gospel, that gospel will be either your great salvation or your great damnation.

A Spiritual War with Human Meat Shields (Psalm 17)

There is an emphasis by some on spiritual warfare today, but most of it should be tossed into the looney bin. Many would have us flailing our spiritual fists wildly in the air praying against territorial demons and rebuking the evil spirits in hurricanes.

There is another contingency that thinks we’ll win by niceness. Love can be a potent weapon in war, but niceness is a limp-wristed way of handling a Scottish claymore that’ll result in hurting more friendlies than enemies. Love will make a man throw his body over razor wire so his platoon can escape enemy fire. Niceness will politely hold the wires apart for your allies while signaling the enemy, “We’re over here. Please come to our side.”

Then there are the Westboro militants. You get the impression that the only thing that keeps them from using Satan’s more gruesome weapons is the law of land. They say they’re building God’s kingdom, but they’re using the devil’s tools.

We are in a spiritual war that uses human meat shields. The meat shield shouldn’t keep one from using the imprecatory psalms. They enlisted for their own agenda. The psalms are not a dead language meant primarily for reflective reading and not for active singing.

How aware are we of this war? I think the pathetic nature of our strategies and tactics display that we don’t get it. While some are off playing Dungeons and Dragons in a virtual world, others think we’re in a Nerf gun fight with friends. There are real evils in this world, human and demonic. We must take refuge in God and we must call in heavenly artillery.

Jesus is a King and He is an opposed King. If you think Uncle Sam can draw a line down the middle of the back seat so that we kids play nice and get along, you’re as naive as a five year old. The agenda of the enemy isn’t to maintain space, but to advance space. Jesus said we’re sent out as sheep among wolves. We have all the tactical brilliance of thinking we are sheep among cows. Sure, they’re big and they may hurt us, but we can coexist, grazing peacefully in the same pastures.

Our fundamental confession is “Jesus is Lord.” All the pastures are His. That’s His grass. Repent and bow the knee to Christ as Lord. Persist in your hatred of Him and His bride, and know there is a judgment. 

Let us love our enemies, but let us also sing and lament all rebellion against our King, certain of His glorious judgment to bring us into the fullness of salvation and peace.

Mediated Judgment and Mercy (Exodus 32:15–35)

“You break it, you remake it.” Is this the connection between Moses’ breaking the first set of tablets, which were completely the work of God, and the second set, which God required Moses to cut? Is Moses being punished for a temper tantrum? I doubt it. When Moses makes the second set, it doesn’t speak against, but for Moses.

Just before Moses comes down we have the fullest description of the tablets (Exodus 32:15–16). This sets you up to be devastated at their being broken; but who really has broken these tablets? The tablets say, “You shall have no other gods before me.” The tablets say, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image.” Who has broken the tablets? If Moses’ breaking the tablets was wrong, far better to break these tablets the way Moses did than the way Israel did. Still, I don’t believe Moses is sinfully throwing a hissy fit, and thus, neither was his making new tablets like being required to rewrite a sloppily composed essay.

Consider the following things that speak for Moses’ action. First, the very words are used to describe God’s anger (32:10), and now used for Moses’ (32:19). Second, unlike the instance in Numbers 20 where Moses does disobey God, there is no rebuke here. Third, Moses breaks the tablets at the foot of the mountain, the place where the true altar was built and their covenant with the true God was ratified. Finally, the tablets are a visible sign of the covenant. Israel has broken covenant, and now Moses throws them down as a sign of what has happened. Moses throws down the tablets of the covenant to show them what they’ve done.

Following this, further judgments are then mediated through Moses, yet, following this, he pleads with God for the people. When the people enter back into covenant through Moses’ mediation, the second set of tablets is carved by the mediator. This isn’t punishment, rather, it speaks to the necessity and blessing of mediation before God.

What we have broken, Jesus makes new. We have received something better than the sign of tablets for our covenant breaking. We have received the cup of the new covenant. Yet all the same, we should not take this sign lightly (1 Corinthians 11:27–32). Both judgment and mercy were mediated through Moses. We should not then be dumfounded that such things can be joined together in Jesus if they were united in Moses. Jesus will both save His church and purify her. All of His mediation is good and all of it is for the good of the church.

Poetic Justice (Exodus 7:14–25)

In the Exodus, how many signs are there? How many wonders? How many great acts of judgment? We speak of the ten plagues, but the Scriptures talk of signs, wonders, and acts of judgment. In 4:17 Moses was told to take the staff with which He will do the signs (4:22). The staff/serpent gig is clearly a sign. So, Pharaoh receives not ten, but eleven signs. Still, the staff/serpent sign is clearly not one of the “wonders” that God “strikes” Egypt with (Exodus 3:19).

What we commonly call the ten plagues are linked together as a set—ten wonders, ten great acts of judgment. Yet, this first wonder, and second sign, of water being turned to blood clearly forms an inclusio, that is, a form of literary brackets, with an eleventh wonder, the parting to the Red Sea. The first wonder foretells of the last. The previous Pharaoh commanded, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live (Exodus 1:22).” That very river turns to blood. The firstborn of Egypt die in the “final” wonder that brought them out of Egypt. Pharaoh’s heart grows hard again (remember this is God’s doing, cf. Exodus 4:22; 9:16; 14:8). He pursues Israel to the Red Sea, and there, his host is drowned.

This isn’t just justice. It’s poetic justice. The wrath that falls on Egypt has a beauty, a wonder, a rhythm, and a poetry to it. It has motifs and themes. It swells and moves. It is God’s orchestration. A symphony unto His own glory. This is no mindless rage. Wisdom unsurpassed has penned notes of wonder long ago for glory. One day, this motif will reach it’s pre-composed crescendo, and we will sing for its glory.

The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea.

The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say,

“Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was,
for you brought these judgments.
For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,
you have given them blood to drink.
It is what they deserve!”

And I heard the altar saying,

“Yes, Lord God the Almighty,
true and just are your judgments!”

—Revelation 16:3–7