JEREMIAH, PART 7

Plastic flowers, like hypocritical Christians, look genuine but they aren’t.

Jeremiah 14:17—2

Chapter 14 is largely autobiographical, as is chapter 15, because in these two chapters we see God’s man living among the people he loved; the people who were playing fast and loose with God. What is Jeremiah’s first thought? When faced with cold hearts and false prophets, the man of God’s first inclination is to pray for his people. God’s answer to Jeremiah’s prayer is surprising:

Do not pray for the well-being of this people. Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Instead, I will destroy them with the sword, famine and plague.” (Jeremiah 14:11, 12)

In other words, friend Jeremiah, don’t waste your time praying for your friends. God’s mind was made up and their destiny decided. This is a hard place for a soft heart to be in! The people were far from the Lord, yet they prayed to Him. Instead of listening to the Word of the Lord from prophets like Jeremiah, they were listening to false prophets, preferring to hear what they had to say to what God had to say. God heard Jeremiah’s prayer of intercession but made it clear to him that the people he was praying for were individually responsible for their backslidden condition. Wallowing in sin while fasting and praying is a waste of time; it’s a mockery of the kind of relationship God desires from His people, and this is exactly the game the people were playing.

Why were the people so blind? Why did they believe the feel-good messages of the false prophets? In spite of the famine, the nation wasn’t hurting enough. The people were still living as though the “good times” would continue.

1. A dire need, verses 17—19

Still, Jeremiah could not stop praying for his people. God’s answer didn’t sit well with the prophet. Rather than accept the Lord’s response to his prayer, Jeremiah chose to bemoan the state of his life.

Why have you afflicted us so that we cannot be healed? (verse 19)

God’s people are not immune to negative emotions. Jeremiah was totally invested in God’s mercy, but now it appeared as though there was no mercy left. We can only imagine how Jeremiah’s heart ached for his people. His accusation of God was unfounded and untrue. But the prophet was overcome with grief and was tired. He tried to help his people, but they would have nothing to do with him. Worse still, Jeremiah confused how he was feeling about his people with what he once knew about his God.

Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails? (15:18)

Jeremiah was not made of stone! Maybe we can cut him some slack as he blamed God for his pain. But in fact, it wasn’t God who was causing his pain, it was his people. Jeremiah’s big mistake was one that many ministers make: he was so close to the people he ministered to that be became too much like them.

The need of the people was going to be dire:

If I go into the country, I see those slain by the sword; if I go into the city, I see the ravages of famine. Both prophet and priest have gone to a land they know not. (verse 18)

Life in Judah was about to change forever! What Jeremiah is writing about here is not the present condition, but what it will be like once the Babylonians begin their assault.

We hoped for peace but no good has come, for a time of healing but there is only terror. (verse 19b)

God gave His man a glimpse into the future, and that caused Jeremiah to make his stunning confession.

2. The confession, verse 20

O Lord, we acknowledge our wickedness and the guilt of our fathers; we have indeed sinned against you.

God did not consider Jeremiah’s prayer on behalf of his people proper and valid, so God told Jeremiah he must repent. There is no other way to deal with sin honestly. As God loves a cheerful giver, so He desires an honest confessor!

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”—and you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:5)

Jeremiah had to separate himself from the self-serving, worthless attitudes of his people and be the man God needed him to be. If Jeremiah was to be God’s man, he had to choose God’s calling, not his lost people.

3. The plea, verse 21

For the sake of your name do not despise us; do not dishonor your glorious throne. Remember your covenant with us and do not break it.

Here the nation, through Jeremiah, pleads its case to God. Notice, though, their pleas are based, not on their “relationship” with God, but on His honor. They sounded genuine. Of course, we know time would show they were not. But at the time, their words were good. The people, through Jeremiah, acknowledged the sin of their ancestors, and proceeded to give three reasons why the Lord should help them in spite of their sins:

  • His reputation;

  • His throne (or His temple);

  • His covenant.

So what was wrong these words? Nothing at all! The problem is, they were just words. Anybody can say anything to God. These were right words spoken in a wrong spirit. The people sounded like they had God’s best interests at heart, but really what they wanted was His help, not a relationship with Him. Insincere repentance is the bane of the church’s existence. We saw it in Pharaoh, in Balaam, in the life of Israel from beginning to end, and we see it in the lives of Christians every day. We are very quick to repent of a sin…when we get caught! But would we repent of it so casually if we knew our sinful act simply broke God’s heart?

Insincere repentance can sometimes lead to short-term changes in life for the better. But eventually insincerity will lead a person back to their old way of doing things. Why? Because the danger has passed. Because we feel safe. It is, in reality, an abominable wickedness to play this game with God.

4. The resolve, verse 22

Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain? Do the skies themselves send down showers? No, it is you, O Lord our God. Therefore our hope is in you, for you are the one who does all this.

Still haunted by the devastating drought, they proclaim a measure of faith in God’s ability to heal their land in verse 22. The same God that had answered Elijah by both fire and rain, is still in the business of meeting needs! Once again, we read a stunning confession of spiritual resolve. These words are supremely powerful in their implication: God is ultimately in control of even the weather. God alone was able to end their drought; God alone was their help. In the Talmud, we read this:

Three keys have not been entrusted to man but are kept in God’s hand—the keys of birth, rain, and resurrection.

Is it possible to know all the right things and to say all the right things but still be far from God? Absolutely! Chapter 14 is proof of this. The people of Judah, through Jeremiah, said all the right things but in the wrong way. They were completely insincere.

Why is insincerity such a grievous sin before God? It’s because insincerity leads to a false obedience and this is not a simple sin but a complex and devious act against the very nature and person of God. Here, during Jeremiah’s day, the Jews were manifoldly sinful in three things:

  • Their breach of faith with God and their fellow Jews. The people sinned against God in their disobedience to His will and they treated each other unjustly.

  • They dishonored the Lord by trampling all over His grace and mercy. Instead of serving Him in reverential fear, they took advantage of lovingkindness.

  • They lived in the height of hypocrisy. They spoke out of both sides of their mouths. On the one hand, they seemed to trust God; to have a relationship with Him. But on the other hand, their actions betrayed the true state of their hearts. That’s hypocrisy:  to claim on thing but act on another.

This kind of sin is not condoned by God or tolerated by Him for very long. The penalty for their sin was the destruction of what the Jews held most dear: their land. The Babylonians were on their way even while the Jews thought they were safe. God had no intention of stopping Nebuchadnezzar even while His people thought He would.

It is not our words or our intentions that determine our fate. It is our conduct. The awful fate that was Judah’s was not an accident. It was not an unfortunate twist of fate. It was not a whimsical act of a cruel despotic God. Judah’s fate was determined by its behavior. As it was with them, so it is with man today. Our fate depends on our behavior. Man can only be tormented by Satan when they are turned over to him.

…hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:5)

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