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.

A Drink from Brooks: If God Is Not Your First Portion, You Get No Seconds

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“Most men are mad upon the world, and so they may have much of that for their portion, they care not whether ever they have God for their portion or no. Give them but a palace in Paris, and then with that French duke [the Duke of Burbone (Bourbon)] they care not for a place in paradise; give them but a mess of pottage, and let who will take the birthright; give them but manna in a wilderness, and let who will take the land of Canaan; give them but ground which is pleasant and rich, and then with the Reubenites they will gladly take up their rest on this side the Holy Land; give them but their bags full, and their barns full, and then with the rich fool in the Gospel they can think of nothing but of taking their ease, and of eating and drinking, and making merry, Luke 12:16–22. So brutish and foolish are they in their understandings, as if their precious and immortal souls were good for nothing but as salt to keep their bodies from rotting and stinking.

Oh that these men would seriously consider, that as a cup of pleasant wine, offered to a condemned man in the way to his execution, and as the feast of him who sat under a naked sword, hanging perpendicularly over his head by a slender thread, and as Adam’s forbidden fruit, seconded by a flaming sword, and as Belshazzar’s dainties, overlooked by an handwriting against the wall; such and only such are all earthly portions to those that have not God for their portion.” —Thomas Brooks, An Ark for All God’s Noahs

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).

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!”

A Drink from Brooks: The Devil Didn’t Make You Do It

“The whole frame of man is out of frame. The understanding is dark, the will cross, the memory slippery, the affections crooked, the conscience corrupted, the tongue poisoned, and the heart wholly evil, only evil, and continually evil. Should God chain up Satan, and give him no liberty to tempt or entice people to vanity or folly, yet they could not but sin against him, by reason of that cursed nature that is in them, that will still be a-provoking them to those sins that will provoke and stir up the anger of God against them (Jude 15, 16). Satan has only a persuading sleight, not an enforcing might. He may tempt us—but without ourselves he cannot conquer us; he may entice us—but without ourselves he cannot hurt us. Our hearts carry the greatest guilt in every sin. Satan can never undo a man without himself; but a man may easily undo himself without Satan. Satan can only present the golden cup—but he has no power to force us to drink the poison that is in the cup; he can only present to us the glory of the world, he cannot force us to fall down and worship him, to enjoy the world; he can only spread his snares, he has no power to force us to walk in the midst of his snares. Therefore do the devil so much right, as not to excuse yourselves, by your accusing him, and laying the load upon him, that you should lay upon your own hearts.”  —Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices

The Tools You Use Tell Me What You’re Building

“WHEREAS, Concerns have been raised by some evangelicals over the use of frameworks such as critical race theory and intersectionality; and

WHEREAS, Critical race theory is a set of analytical tools that explain how race has and continues to function in society, and intersectionality is the study of how different personal characteristics overlap and inform one’s experience… be it…

RESOLVED, That critical race theory and intersectionality should only be employed as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture—not as transcendent ideological frameworks…” —Resolution 9, On Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality

The permitted is certain to be utilized. This is what frightens me.

Yes, God’s common grace pervades the world and grows in unexpected soils, but this is no reason to promote the nutritional value of radioactive apples grown in Chernobyl. Some fields devoid of saving grace are ripe with common grace. I don’t think that’s where we’re gleaning. While Paul did quote a few pagans, he didn’t commend Stoicism or Epicureanism themselves as useful tools. I may have quoted Freud once but I’m certain I’ve never commended Freudian psychoanalysis. Critical race theory has tools within it but is itself is a theory, not a tool. Trying to use it as a tool is like trying to use abortion as a tool for life. Intersectionality as a tool for racial reconciliation is about as valuable as using the morning-after pill as a prenatal vitamin. Wrecking balls make poor hammers when you want to drive nails and build something good.

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But what about demo work? Racism, injustice, and tyranny are evils, but critical race theory and intersectionality are not the tools the saints should use to tear them down. When you use the devil’s tools to tear down the devil’s works, you’re still playing in his toolshed. Taking over a racist Nazi regime with a revolutionary Communist one is not the answer. Instead of destroying strongholds, we’ve built new ones and now labeled them safe playgrounds, with the qualifying fine print of playing by the rules of Scripture of course. We’ve traded our DeWalt tools for those of Playskool because we’ve been told they’re “safe” and cannot be used for oppression. This is just a ploy of Big Brother to keep potential usurpers under control. Also, these toy tools are likely coated in toxic paint.

Some tools are custom made for evil jobs such that the tool cannot be separated from the designated task. Further, to seek some redeeming use of such tools is folly when we already have that through which God is building up a new creation. He has promised to supply the power, we need only pick up the tool. Our task is simply to be faithful. The gospel is the tool. The Word is sufficient. If you want an analytical tool, it pierces and divides. If you want to build unity, it’ll do it and it alone. Why buy a dusty pagan stone axe when you’ve got a chain saw?

If I am told that such tools can help me in using or applying the tool, yes, perhaps the abortionist may have some information that can help a doctor deliver a baby. Common grace can indeed grow in such places. But the worldview ain’t that tool and that is what it seems I’m being permitted to pick up. I don’t feel as though I’m being asked to sniff the flower of God’s common grace so much as the manure pile it grew out of. The Word itself is the best lens by which to read both the Word and the world. When I breathe in the Word, I notice more clearly the stink of the world and am better able to spot and appreciate a flower when I find one growing there.

True, God’s big book of natural revelation does help in understanding His small book of special revelation, but it’s one thing to pick up a flower, another to pick up forceps. Look at the build date and the manufacturer. Creation was made good by our good God. Intersectionality was crafted by man post-fall (for some background on its forging, listen to this episode of Al Mohler’s The Briefing). It is an idol. I don’t need to learn from Baal to understand how YHWH liberates his people. A study of Baal may help me understand sinners, and in this way, what God is communicating to them; it might serve as a dark backdrop, contrasting God’s truth with this world’s lies; it cannot, however, in itself, serve as a tool in the way of righteousness.

Where others see permissible “analytical tools” I see a hammer and sickle: a hammer that cannot build but only tear down the church and a sickle that can only gather weeds and not wheat. Let us lay them down and take up again the sword of the Word.

A Drink from Brooks: Sin is a Straight Flush, but Faith Is a Royal Flush

“Sin always dies most where faith lives most. The most believing soul is the most mortified soul. Ah! sinner, remember this, there is no way on earth effectually to be rid of the guilt, filth, and power of sin, but by believing in a Saviour. It is not resolving, it is not complaining, it is not mourning, but believing, that will make thee divinely victorious over that body of sin that to this day is too strong for thee, and that will certainly be thy ruin, if it be not ruined by a hand of faith.” —Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices