Jeremiah 4 & 5 – God Will Overcome Man’s Rebellious Heart

Chapter 4 is not a pleasant chapter. Judah refuses to repent, and the Lord promises destruction will come from the north and ruin the land. You wonder by God would choose such a people:

22 “My people are fools;
    they do not know me.
They are senseless children;
    they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil;
    they know not how to do good.”

I think the answer is that they are a metaphor for the natural tendency of the sinful human heart. And that God must judge sin. Only his mercy keeps him from reigning down utter destruction, as he reveals:

27 This is what the Lord says:

“The whole land will be ruined,
    though I will not destroy it completely.

There is always this declaration of judgment, but . . . We know judgment will never be total because of God’s unilateral covenant promise to Abram in Genesis 15. Especially the ceremony he performs walking through the line of dead animals, which says in ancient Near Eastern custom, may I be like these animals if this covenant is not fulfilled. The rebellion of man is no contest for the living God!

Chapter 5 continues the same theme. It’s not only that Judah does evil, but the rebellious attitude in which they do it. For instance:

Lord, do not your eyes look for truth?
    You struck them, but they felt no pain;
    you crushed them, but they refused correction.
They made their faces harder than stone
    and refused to repent.

The sex metaphors continue as well:

    Your children have forsaken me
    and sworn by gods that are not gods.
I supplied all their needs,
    yet they committed adultery
    and thronged to the houses of prostitutes.
They are well-fed, lusty stallions,
    each neighing for another man’s wife.

And in their pride they delude themselves that they will not be judged or punished for their sin:

12 They have lied about the Lord;
    they said, “He will do nothing!
No harm will come to us;
    we will never see sword or famine.

They do not even acknowledge that the Lord is the Creator, and that they are dependent on him for everything. Their deeds reflect an utter lack of gratitude or reverence for the Lord. Not every sinner is as evil as they can be, but “good” people without the Lord refuse to acknowledge they he is God and that they are not.

Jeremiah 3 – God’s Faithfulness the Cure for Human Rebellion

Human, and not animal, sexual metaphors are used in this chapter to express Israel’s unfaithfulness. What is it about sex that compels the Lord to use it so often to communicate about his relationship to his people? Biblically speaking, sex is reserved for marriage. As we learn in Genesis 2, “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” It’s the exclusivity of the relationship as well as the complete unity I think the Lord is communicating. But Israel continues to commit prostitution with idols. Israel is not faithful to the vows it made long ago in the desert before Moses:

During the reign of King Josiah, the Lord said to me, “Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there. I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it. I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood.

The story of the OT is the constant theme of the choice between God or idols. There is no in between. It is the same with all human beings, it’s one or the other, the true God or false gods. Israel keeps choosing the latter, but right in the middle of this cataloging of their unfaithfulness and adulteries, we get gospel:

14 “Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband.I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion. 15 Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding. 16 In those days, when your numbers have increased greatly in the land,” declares the Lord, “people will no longer say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord.’ It will never enter their minds or be remembered; it will not be missed, nor will another one be made. 17 At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the Lord, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honor the name of the Lord. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts.

Then it’s right back to adultery. People reading this BC must have wondered what was meant by, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord” would no longer be necessary. The reason, we now know, is that the covenant promise would be fulfilled in Christ, and thus the ark is no longer necessary. Speaking of Jesus, the writer to the Hebrews says:

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

These verses are an indication that Jesus didn’t die for all humanity indiscriminately, and that whoever happens to accept the sacrifice gets the benefits of the sacrifice. Jesus’ death actually “made perfect forever,” his people, those whom the Lord is also sanctifying, that is, those “being made holy.” Jesus’ sacrifice actually took way sins! He didn’t potentially take away sins.

The Lord is telling Israel, and us, in the midst of the catalog of their continuing unfaithfulness, that he will remain faithful to his covenant promises. This includes him overcoming the “stubbornness” of their, and our, evil hearts. In other words, God’s salvation will include personal transformation of our inner being. The transformation will not come from external conformity to the law, but from internal reordering of our being, or heart in biblical terms. As I learned from the great Princeton theologians Charles Hodge and B.B. Warfield, Christianity is the supernatural work of God in the soul of man. And as I’ve come to say, Christianity isn’t about me, but about what God has done for me in Christ. Here in Jeremiah 3, the Lord gives us a glimpse of what is to come, what we even now experience in our lives in Christ.

Jeremiah 2 – Human Nature Revealed

There is so much insight in this chapter as to sinful man’s relationship to God, and just how much by nature we get wrong. It starts with the Lord through Jeremiah recounting Israel’s history from the beginning, and how quickly it went wrong. Speaking of their fathers he says:

They followed worthless idols
    and became worthless themselves.

What we worship will determine who we are. We are religious beings, and thus we will worship something. Both the people and their priests refused to ask: “Where is the Lord?” They just assumed the idols would fulfill them, that idols could fulfill the empty promises idols always make. They can’t. Back then they were gods of fertility or fire or war, but we are no less delusional today with our gods of fame and fortune and sport and sex, etc. All is worthless apart from “Where is the Lord?” Here is what sinful people do instead:

13 “My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
    the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
    broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

How typical. We forsake the source and ground of all existence, and then furiously work to fill up the void by building ships with holes in them that sink like rocks. In verse 18 we see Israel is looking to Egypt and Assyria for help, but that is all futility because:

19 Your wickedness will punish you;
    your backsliding will rebuke you.
Consider then and realize
    how evil and bitter it is for you
when you forsake the Lord your God
    and have no awe of me,”
declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty.

The point, I think, is that Israel sinned and brought punishment upon itself not primarily because of the evil it did (graphically portrayed in the verses that follow), but that it did evil because it forsook the Lord, and refused to stand in awe of him. Using animal sexual metaphors, the Lord gets to the heart of the issue in verse 25:

But you said, ‘It’s no use!
    I love foreign gods,
    and I must go after them.’

This is a perfect description of mankind in it’s natural fallen state. Nobody naturally “seeks God,” as if on our own initiative we would try to find him. Adam and Eve showed us what we actually do: we run and hide! Then we go after “foreign gods.” No, God seeks us, and we are found. Further implicating their idolatry, the Lord says:

27 They say to wood, ‘You are my father,’
    and to stone, ‘You gave me birth.’
They have turned their backs to me
    and not their faces;
yet when they are in trouble, they say,
    ‘Come and save us!’
28 Where then are the gods you made for yourselves?
    Let them come if they can save you
    when you are in trouble!

How obvious it is that our idols do not give us life, but the sinful human heart will go to patently absurd lengths to maintain its autonomy from the true and living God. Then when confronted with their sin:

Yet in spite of all this
35     you say, ‘I am innocent;
    he is not angry with me.’
But I will pass judgment on you
    because you say, ‘I have not sinned.’

It’s all so predictable. This chapter captures the sinful human heart in all of its self-delusional, futile striving after lies. It seems so much easier to let God be God, and admit we are sinners who need saving.

 

Jeremiah 1- A Prophet’s Call to Declare Judgment

Jeremiah is known as the “weeping prophet” because he was tasked by God in this chapter to call down judgement on Judah. The northern kingdom, Israel, had already been destroyed by the Assyrians (which was 100 years earlier during Isaiah’s ministry) and carried off into exile. Now it’s the southern kingdom that will soon meet it’s fate. It was Jeremiah’s burden to be the prophet of doom to his fellow citizens. Biblehub has a concise overview of his life and ministry. According to Wikipedia:

Jeremiah’s ministry was active from the thirteenth year of Josiah, king of Judah (626 BC), until after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in 587 BC. This period spanned the reigns of five kings of Judah: Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. The Hebrew-language chronology gives Jeremiah’s final year of prophecy to be 595 BC.

In chapter 1 we read of Jeremiah’s call as a young man. He, like so many of God’s prophets and servants, was reluctant to accept God’s charge because also like so many of these servants he felt inadequate. God isn’t looking for the self-sufficient to accomplish his purposes, but for those who realize they are utterly dependent on him for everything. And that would be every . . . single . . . thing.  The Lord tells him that he has appointed him as a “prophet to the nations” even before he was born, and his reply:

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

My older NIV translates this as he is only a child. The Lord, though, rebukes him because it isn’t what we think of ourselves that is important, but what God declares. As Paul says, “for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

I gather being a prophet of God’s judgment was not fun, but it had to be done. It always amazes me that God never apologizes for the misery and suffering in the world caused by sin. From the very beginning of God’s revelation, he is consistent: sin must be judged, it’s wages paid. Only perfect holiness will do, and that was lost when our first parents thought “that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom.” Some wisdom.

 

Isaiah 66 – The Inevitable Fulfillment of God’s Promises

The juxtaposition between the promise of judgment and the promise of hope continues right to the end of the book of Isaiah, and the first two verses represent the contrast starkly:

This is what the Lord says:

“Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
    Where will my resting place be?
Has not my hand made all these things,
    and so they came into being?”
declares the Lord.

“These are the ones I look on with favor:
    those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
    and who tremble at my word.

One type of person thinks they can build a life, like a house or temple, where God can dwell. It’s as if God needs them. They believe, whether they could articulate it or not, that God owes them, that he can be put in their debt. What they fail to take into account is the He is the Creator, their Creator, that he calls the shots, that he sets up the rules of the game, that he defines the things that are, and the things that are not.

The Lord affirms that he is the Creator, over and over and over again in the OT. It’s like he’s saying, don’t you get it? I’m God and you’re not! Paul may have been thinking of Isaiah when he spoke these words before the pagan philosophers at Mars Hill in Acts 17:

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.

That pretty much covers it all. We are contingent beings in every sense of the word, dependent on God for everything every moment of our existence. The contrast to human pride is humility and contrition. This second type of person knows they are unworthy.

These verses remind me of the first time I really heard the gospel, and it was in our Catholic church in Hacienda Heights when I was probably 15 or 16 before I was “born again.” The homily was on Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18. As Luke says, the parable was told because of those “who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” They were obviously not familiar with Isaiah 66! While at the temple two man were praying in exactly opposite ways, in Isaiah 66:1 and 2 ways. The Pharisee boasts about all he does and gives, while the (hated among the Jews of the day) tax collector “would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’” I remember thinking at the time, “Hey, I can do that!” Little did I realize at the time that this is the very essence, the very heart of the gospel, the good news! We can never, ever measure up, so our confidence before a perfectly holy God is built into our contrition, our “repentance and rest,” on which our salvation is grounded. Our confidence is not in our performance, but solely in what God has done for us, not whatever we do or don’t do. How freeing are the words, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner,” because we know he will!

The rest of the chapter takes these two mentalities to their logical and ultimate conclusion. The Lord uses pregnancy as a metaphor for that final eschatological fulfillment of his promises. We may wonder if this will ever actually happen; we’ve been waiting thousands of years, after all. But the Lord says:

Do I bring to the moment of birth
    and not give delivery?” says the Lord.
“Do I close up the womb
    when I bring to delivery?” says your God.

(Funny, but Ironic aside on these verses. On my wife’s 19th birthday, a little less than three years before I was to meet here, I wrote these words in the margins: “v9 Promise from God regarding possible future mate 10/23/83). I say funny because these words were not written to me! My hermeneutical principals were a bit Fundy at the time. And ironic because it was her birthday!”)

There is a certain kind of frantic inevitability near the time of birth. Nothing can stop this baby from coming! That’s the kind of inevitability the Lord wants us to realize for his coming, for his making all things right. This is going to happen! And Isaiah ends with people from “all the nations” gathered before the Lord in the new heavens and new earth. But it doesn’t end happily for those who rebelled against Yahweh. The saved

will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”

A bit of a harsh way to end the book, but the Lord is letting his people know that justice will be done. However things may appear to us, all who proclaim the name of the Lord, proclaim loudly with Moses:

I will proclaim the name of the Lord.
    Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
    and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
    upright and just is he.

Amen!

Isaiah 65 – A New Heavens and A New Earth

Yet another chapter delineating Israel’s rebellion. The Lord starts by telling us of his attempt to reveal himself to these people:

“I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me;
    I was found by those who did not seek me.
To a nation that did not call on my name,
    I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’
All day long I have held out my hands
    to an obstinate people,
who walk in ways not good,
    pursuing their own imaginations—

But he does this, and lays out their sins and judgment to come in the next several verses, to reveal his mercy. He “will not destroy them all.” They will be as he calls them in verse nine, his “chosen people.” He compares these chosen ones to those who did not answer when he called, and did not listen. They did evil in his sight, and chose what displeases him. Not so those whom he calls his “servants.” It’s all a stark presentation, with two very different types of people doing two very different types of things.

It is important to read this in light of the whole testimony of Scripture. There are two types of people in the world: God’s enemies and God’s people. This is the harsh reality that awaits those who are not his:

15 You will leave your name
    for my chosen ones to use in their curses;
the Sovereign Lord will put you to death,
    but to his servants he will give another name.

These are difficult truths to accept. And the only way we can accept them is if we believe God is perfectly just. He always does what is right, and we cannot challenge his judgment simply because it appears wrong to us. The reason we can do this is because of what is declared in the next verse, something that has not been said about God in the OT yet:

16 Whoever invokes a blessing in the land
    will do so by the God of truth;
whoever takes an oath in the land
    will swear by the God of truth.
For the past troubles will be forgotten
    and hidden from my eyes.

The new NIV translates this as “the one true God,” but every other translation has it this way, and the Hebrew confirms that. In Hebrew it is literally in·Elohim-of amen. This God is truth, not just the true God. By definition he cannot do what is un-truth, or lie. So we trust him, even when it is hard. But notice even in judgment he declares his mercy. All of the mess of our lives lived in a fallen world will be wiped from his memory, and he gives us a vision of where this is all heading:

17 “See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
    and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
    will be heard in it no more.

We read practically these same words in Revelation 21, where we read that, “There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Which itself harkens back to Isaiah 25:8:

He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.

As we look at all the pain and suffering and sorrow throughout the world, especially during this Christmas season, we long for this new heavens and earth. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus. Μαρανα θα! (Maranatha)

 

Isaiah 64 – God Our Father and Our Righteousness

Isaiah’s doubts in the previous chapter turns to hope in this one, and a plea for mercy and grace from the Lord, whom he calls their “Father.” This moniker for God is rare in the OT. The word or a variation (like fatherless) is used 753 times in the OT, so I can’t go back and check every one, but I’m pretty sure calling God Father happens for the first time in chapter 63, where it was done twice. We remember in Isaiah 9:6 the child to be born would be called “Everlasting Father,” among other names, but these two references are different. God is seen as a Father, maybe not the abba father of Jesus, but a father nonetheless. The hope of Israel comes in the form of a God who they see as paternal, which means “showing a kindness and care associated with a father.” Here are the references in chapter 63:

16 But you are our Father,
    though Abraham does not know us
    or Israel acknowledge us;
you, Lord, are our Father,
    our Redeemer from of old is your name.

And then 64:

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.

God spent 1500 plus years giving humanity the longest object lesson ever: we are dependent on God’s mercy and grace, on his kindnesses as a Father for our salvation, not on our obedience to the law. God takes unworthy, unrepentant sinners (by birth we are his avowed enemies) and turns them into repentant sinners (the Lord tells us in a previous chapter that “In repentance and rest is your salvation”) made worthy of his acceptance by Christ’s obedience unto death on a cross. We are saved in spite of what we do and who we are, as even a cursory look at Israel’s history shows us. Jesus tells us how this is done in John 3:

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness,so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

In Numbers 21:18 we read these words:

The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”

How are we saved? We look UP! To Jesus! Not down, to ourselves, to the muck and mire in which we so often live. We do not look to our works, good or bad, or to our generosity or kindness to others, nor to our piety or religiosity, or our remorse for our sin. We look up to Jesus.

And notice what the Lord has Moses put up on the pole—a snake! In the Garden it was a serpent who tempted Adam and Eve to rebellion. and the human race has had to endure the curse of sin and death ever since. Jesus is tell Nicodemus, and us, that he will be lifted up, and will himself become that curse for us!

And as Isaiah says, this will be work of his hand (not ours), as does Paul (2 Corinthians 5:21):

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

We are in him the very righteousness of God. That’s so hard to fathom and accept at times. But if we look at Israel we know why this had to be the only way it could be done. That’s what the object lesson is for. Just prior to the Father verse Isaiah leaves no doubt that our righteousness had to come from somewhere, someone else:

All of us have become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
    and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

Even our “righteous acts” are not good enough, as I implied above. Compared with the righteousness of God they are like filthy rags (and as many know, in Hebrew those refer to menstrual rags that make a person ceremonially unclean).  This is why the gospel is good news. We can now trust God to provide what we are unable to that we might have a relationship with the holy Creator of the universe. Not a bad deal.