“Those who do not think about their own sins make up for it by thinking incessantly about the sins of others. It is healthier to think of one’s own. It is the reverse of morbid. It is not even, in the long run, very gloomy. A serious attempt to repent and really to know one’s own sins is in the long run a lightening and relieving process. Of course, there is bound to be at first dismay and often terror and later great pain, yet that is much less in the long run than the anguish of a mass ofunrepented and unexamined sins, lurking in the background of our minds. It is the difference between the pain of the tooth about which you should go to the dentists and the simple straightforward pain which you know is getting less and less every moment when you have had the tooth out.” —C.S. Lewis, “Miserable Offenders” in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), pp. 464–465
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.
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.
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).
“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)
“O LORD, you have deceived me,
and I was deceived;
you are stronger than I,
and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day;
everyone mocks me” (Jeremiah 20:7).
If one was hoping the more uncomfortable passages in Jeremiah might be left behind after chapters 18 and 19, chapter 20 proves sorely disappointing. But whereas the discomfort of chapter 19 consists in Yahweh’s ear-tingling judgment, that of chapter 20 is found in Jeremiah’s complaints. We feel as though we are in the presence of a rebellious child publicly lashing out at their venerable father.
Here we see Jeremiah at both his best and his worst. Before he complains to the Lord, he is bold for the Lord. We too easily dismiss the boldness for the complaint. Jeremiah’s complaint is the last of six that are called the “Confessions of Jeremiah.” The others are found in 11:18–20; 12:1–6; 15:10–21; 17:14–18; 18:18–23. In some of these, Jeremiah righteously laments; in others, he sinfully complains. This complaint bears the most similarity to the one found in 15:10–21, which along with 12:1–6 are the only places where we find a word of rebuke following Jeremiah’s “confession.” This lament, though no rebuke follows it, stands above, or should we say, far below the rest. Here we see Jeremiah at his lowest; in his darkest pit.
I’ve argued before that though Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet, we shouldn’t unnecessarily slander him as a weepy prophet. He’s a sinner true enough, and he doesn’t need our imaginations to make him more so. Over a ministry spanning forty years we have five recorded lament/complaints, and we, on the basis of those, might like to think Jeremiah a cry baby, and thus below us. If you look down on his lament, ask yourself if you have risen to the heights of his courage? If you have never been so high, can you really understand such lows?
My point in this is not to excuse Jeremiah in the least. His complaint makes me cringe. It is repulsive. May we never complain as he does. Lord forgive me when my prayers and the sentiments of my heart are just as blasphemous. Forgive me that I think myself superior to Jeremiah simply because I mask the same ugliness. My desire is that instead of looking down on Jeremiah, we would see our own cowardice and complaining, and then, having seen it, strive, in hope of the same grace, to be as courageous in the future without the complaint on the other side.
“The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart, and on the horns of their altars, while their children remember their altars and their Asherim, beside every green tree and on the high hills, on the mountains in the open country” (Jeremiah 17:1–3a).
Sin being engraved on the heart isn’t so much the diagnosis as the prognosis. Here we’re not told the disease itself as of its advanced stages. Jeremiah will soon speak of humanity’s heart condition in verse 9. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” At the beginning of the chapter though, we see what happens when the sin-sick heart pumps sin after sin after sin.
Man, born totally depraved advances toward being utterly depraved. The more the heart flows with wickedness, the darker the flow of wickedness becomes. Sin, having flowed out of the heart, is then engraved on the heart. Heart-hardening is the result of our hereditary heart disease.
But it is not the heart being likened to a tablet which speaks to this hardness. The father of Proverbs pleads, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 3:1–3, emphasis mine). The heart is a tablet. It is what is written on it that is indicative of hardness.
In an oral culture the important and that which was to be preserved were written. Writing something on paper indicates was significant; engraving it on stone far more. Judah’s sin is indelible, ineffaceable, ineradicable.
This is humanity’s prognosis. We are all terminally ill. And because our hearts are deceitful, we are in denial. Our only hope is that the Great Physician, in mercy, grant us new hearts in the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31–34; 32:36–41; Ezekiel 36:24–32).
“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.
Judah 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.
“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)
Jeremiah 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.