Jeremiah 1:1-3, 17-19;
True or False Security?
June 23, 2002 © 2002, J.W. Carter
www.biblicaltheology.com Scripture quotes from KJV
This it the first lesson in a series that will be taken from the Book of Jeremiah. You will find the book towards the end of the Old Testament, a little less than two-thirds of the distance through the Bible. We are introduced to Jeremiah in the first verse of the first chapter, so read that verse at this time.
Jeremiah was the son of Hilkiah. Hilkiah was in the line of Abiathar who was the priest closest to King David. At the end of David's reign his son, Adonijah attempted to forcefully take David's throne with Abiathar's blessing. When Abiathar failed and Solomon was made King, Abiathar was banished to Anathoth. The descendents of Abiathar never would regain the respect and status that Adonijah originally had. Jeremiah would be the last in line to ever think that God would use him. However, the truth of the gospel is always a paradox when viewed from man's logic. Man's ways are never God's ways.
Isaiah 55:8-9. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. 9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
God gave Jeremiah the gift of discerning His will and word, understanding His thoughts and ways. We see the call of Jeremiah in the next few verses.
The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin: 2To whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. 3It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month.
These verses place Jeremiah's call in 627 BC, and if he was a young man, he lived through the reigns of Amnon and Josiah. These were times when the nation had turned from God and were following the ways of the world around them. The Assyrians (Syria) had many years of political and military domination, but at this point in time the Babylonians (Iraq/Iran) were becoming more dominant. The warring between the two of them caught up the weaker Israel and Judah as they were caught in the middle.
This is quite a contrast from the nation of Israel when they crossed the Jordan and took Jericho. When the nation crossed the river, people trembled in fear at their coming. All it took to take Jericho was a bit of screaming and trumpet blowing since their power came from God. Now the nation was not only influential, but the other nations considered them only pawns in their own strategies. What happened to this nation? What caused the decline in Hebrew influence? The people continued in their own ways, turning from God. The Hebrews gave no thought to their calling, and chose to assimilate into the pagan culture. Their society accepted the ways of the world, first accepting, and then participating in its immoral practices. Without the law, they were a perverse and lawless generation. No one knew any real security as they were always in danger of thieves, criminals, and other warring nations.
In what ways is their circumstance similar to that of our modern culture? What about the modern Church? How is the church responding to a world that is becoming more pagan every day?
Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them.
Jeremiah has been called by God, and expressed humility towards the task. God gives Jeremiah three commands. First, God tells him to get ready. The Hebrew word used here is literally "Gird up your loins," as indicated in the King James Version. What does this mean? Their men wore robes that blocked the hot Summer sun. Running in a robe is a rather cumbersome enterprise. Consequently, when getting ready to run, a man would reach down between his feet and grab the rear hem of the robe, pull it upward and tie it under his belt. Now he is wearing "short pants" and can run effectively. This is an example of girding.
God then calls Jeremiah to speak to the nation whatever God reveals to him to say. Finally, God tells Jeremiah to be courageous in the face of the wicked, or his cowardice will be evident to them. Where was Jeremiah to get his courage? He was to rely on God to give him the courage to do what he knew he was called to do. God would be faithful, and would be there for him through all that he would do.
This reminds me of God's command to Joshua prior to his taking command from Moses and leading the people across the Jordan,
Josh 1:9. "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."
In both cases we are seeing God state that we are to be courageous because it is He who has called us, and it is He who will protect us. Many Christian dominations provide opportunities for their members to go on mission-oriented trips. Such trips often take members to strange and exotic lands and call upon them to take part in activities that are bold witnesses to the faith. It is times like these that faith in God provides courage. Often the participant does not even realize that courage is demonstrated when he/she takes part in activities that otherwise would be difficult.
In our present time God's will and word is clearer to us than it was to Jeremiah. Why? We have it in our hands and in our hearts in the form of the Holy Scriptures. Jeremiah did not have this resource. Note that there is very little difference between Jeremiah's call and that of any Christian. We are called to the same purpose: to lead a lost world to God. Does this require courage? Does the thought of ministry scare you? God commands us to be unafraid because it is He who has called us, and he promises to protect us. This protection is illustrated in the next verse.
For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land.
God uses three metaphors to describe the defensive strength that God will provide. He describes Judah as a fortified city. This implies protection; God has placed walls of protection around him. Second, he is described as an iron pillar. Such pillars were used to hold up the lintels over the gates. We see the consequence of stone block pillars in the narrative of the death of Samson. What happened when Samson pressed his strength against the stone block pillars? The temple fell, killing its inhabitants. Pillars of iron could be compromised with the technology of their time. Jeremiah sees what, to him, is infinite and immutable strength. Finally, the wall that protects him is made of bronze. Again, this is a material that they considered impervious. How would an enemy penetrate a bronze wall? There is no way they could imagine such a wall being breached.
From whom does God provide protection in these words? Note that Jeremiah requires protection, not from the pagans, but from the priests and the people of Israel. God called Jeremiah to tell the people of Israel the truth about their apostasy, and Jeremiah would surely receive persecution as a result. It is unfortunate that the people who should be most open to the truth of God are often the most calloused to it, and respond to criticism with indignation. I have often stated with disappointment that "the Christian Army is the only one that shoots its wounded." The hypocrisy of the church has been maintained. Most church leaders can testify to the bitter treatment that they have received at the hands of the people of the church when they point out needs for change within its body.
Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the LORD.
God is going to describe to Jeremiah the state of the people. He uses the heavenly realm as a metaphor to illustrate the reaction in the heavenlies to the state of the Hebrew nation. He is pointing out that state to the heavens, first describing what their appropriate reaction would be. First, the King James Version uses "wonderful". However, it is translated in its truest sense. We have changed the definition of the word to mean something that is very good. However, here the heavens are to respond in wonder at how bad the situation is. The New International Version of the Bible uses the word "appalled." Why would the heavens respond in horror at the rejection of God by mankind? God created people for eternal fellowship with Him, and their pride and ignorance is sentencing themselves to an eternity of death; separation from the God who created them.
For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.
What are their two sins? Forsaking God, and creating another of their own. The example given is that of a broken cistern. A cistern is a structure that is designed to trap running water, forming a reservoir so that the water will be available at a later time. When the cistern is working properly, the people have to give little thought to obtaining water during the dry periods. The cistern serves its purpose by receiving the water and keeping it for the time that it is needed. However, if the cistern has a leak in it, the water is not stored, and the people who need it will perish. Likewise, those who have turned their backs on God received the living water, but in rejecting it they sentenced themselves to death. They would not receive the Holy Spirit that provides the seal of their salvation.
Saying to a stock, Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth: for they have turned their back unto me, and not their face: but in the time of their trouble they will say, Arise, and save us.
"Stock" here refers to an object made of wood. What is an idol? It is any created thing to which we give authority. I am reminded of the nature of man to worship idols by an event in the life of a Southern Baptist foreign missionary serving in Africa. While in the market place he saw what he considered to be a beautifully constructed cane image of an alligator. He purchased this large cane sculpture and placed it in his home. When he invited people to his home he showed them the alligator, and they responded with great interest. Soon neighbors were bringing other neighbors to see the alligator. Then the missionary found gifts left behind by those neighbors. As a respected spiritual leader, these people assumed that this was his idol, and they were coming to worship it. Needless to say, when the missionary found out what was going on he was surprised, and had to communicate to these people that not only was it not an idol, but such worship rejects the one God. The missionary got rid of the alligator.
It is not difficult for us to admire beautiful artwork that has taken much time and expense to create? Is it idol worship to do so? It is not idol worship to admire beauty and effort, such as that demonstrated by Michelangelo's sculpture, "The Pieta." It is an incredible work that is astonishing to view. Such things become objects of idol worship when the object is given authority. In what ways do we give authority to objects? If the object comes between us and our relationship with God in any way, it is an idol.
Certainly, we do not declare created objects to be "our father," but there are resources that we give to created objects. What are some of these resources? Time spent with the object instead of in God's called ministry, money that is no longer available for God's use when it is assigned to payment for this resource. It would not take a tremendous amount of thought to come up with a long list of things that we allow to come between us and our unswerving obedience to God.
But where are thy gods that thou hast made thee? let them arise, if they can save thee in the time of thy trouble: for according to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah.
When it comes time for the judgment, what value will these idols have? This verse reminds me of the duel between Elijah and the 400 prophets of Baal. Jeremiah say's "where are your gods?" Elijah also asked them, "Where are your gods? Are they busy relieving themselves?"
A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land;
Jeremiah relates the state of the people, describing it as horrible and shocking. Note the KJV translation of the word that is again translated as "wonderful." Wonderful does mean "full of wonder," and the Hebrew form is close to the appalling wonder that is felt by one when they observe the unreasonable response of the people.
The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?
What is happening that Jeremiah sees as horrible and shocking? He sees false prophesy from those who are trusted to be obedient to God. He sees religious leaders using their own authority to gain power, prestige, and wealth. He also sees that the people like it this way.
Does this sound familiar? Consider that Jeremiah is prophesying concerning the elect nation of Israel, not the pagans. In the same way, we must look at the church to see if it measures up to God's standard. Indeed, if we use the same plumb line that Jeremiah uses, we might find some parts of it horrible and shocking. What are the similarities between the church in Jeremiah's day and the church in our day?
(1) We observe today's collection of Christian cults, several of them very large. These present a completely false gospel, for example Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Christian Scientist, Universalists, etc. They proclaim the gospel but reject its basic truths, replacing it with their own dogma. Without exception they reject the Holy Spirit by rejecting the nature of Jesus Christ.
(2) Many independent evangelists rely on their own authority, presenting either a doctrine that they personally like, or is liked by the hearers. We should be very skeptical of any independent evangelist that is not working closely with a trusted main-line denominational source. We should listen closely to his words and measure them against the plumb line that is the Holy Scriptures.
(3) Many main line Christian denominations have left the ethical theology of the Bible and replaced it with popular humanism, rationalizing away that doctrine that they do not like. Examples include the ordination of homosexuals, removal of the blood from all church documents, pro-abortion stands, etc.
What are some areas of doctrine and ethics that we have compromised to make the gospel more palatable to our modern society?
There is really very little difference between the Hebrews of Jeremiah's day and today's church. We do have a remnant of sincere, obedient Christians, just as was true for the Hebrew nation. God's Word states that the remnant will always be preserved. However, it is up to that remnant to first get their own spiritual house in order to that they can then turn the rest back to God.
Every true Christian has the same Spirit that Jeremiah had, and we have the Word. If we were to go back to Jeremiah's day with our knowledge of the Cross, imagine the "prophet" you would be. Why should we be any less here? What stands in the path of our exercising our calling as a prophet of God? Idols, among other things. We should look at our lives and identify those things that stand in the way of obedience, declare them as idols, and deal with them as the Spirit leads, not by law or legalistic pressure. Then we will be freed from the bondage of those things.