The more I read of the Old Testament, and the more slowly and repeatedly as I’m doing this time through, the more amazed I am that this is a book a people could be proud of. Here are the first two verses of chapter 9:
Oh, that my head were a spring of water
and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night
for the slain of my people.
2 Oh, that I had in the desert
a lodging place for travelers,
so that I might leave my people
and go away from them;
for they are all adulterers,
a crowd of unfaithful people.
What kind of people would write a book about their history that is so unrelentingly negative? And this negativity goes from Genesis to Malachi. I would argue people who are writing history that really happened! It’s call the criterion of embarrassment. Human nature is such that we are normally—likely always, one hundred percent of the time—loathe to reveal things about ourselves that are embarrassing to us. In fact, we are more likely to lie in the face of facts that are less than flattering to us.
Often when the gremlin of doubt about this whole God and Christianity thing infects my mind (and what psychologically healthy person doesn’t doubt–see some of my thoughts about doubt at keepingyourkidschristian.com), one of things I do is go back to this criterion of embarrassment. What would be the point of making up a story, and one that goes over 2000 years, that pounds home the message over and over again that your ancestors are horrible, terrible, unfaithful, and adulterous people? It makes no sense, and makes even less sense when you understand how human nature works, and how predictable is that nature. But it makes perfect sense with human nature as we find it, and with the New Testament God gave us to interpret the Old.
As I’ve herd it put, the Old Testament ends and you wonder what happens next. The story just stops, unfinished, uncompleted. There must be more. And there is, praise be to God!
But back to Jeremiah 9. Poor Jeremiah. He’s been giving the job of proclaiming all the horribles these horrible people, his people, continue to do. That would be a depressing career, but God has determined that he will reveal to a benighted human race what the next four verses address: the truth.
3 “They make ready their tongue
like a bow, to shoot lies;
it is not by truth
that they triumph in the land.
They go from one sin to another;
they do not acknowledge me,”
declares the Lord.
4 “Beware of your friends;
do not trust anyone in your clan.
For every one of them is a deceiver,
and every friend a slanderer.
5 Friend deceives friend,
and no one speaks the truth.
They have taught their tongues to lie;
they weary themselves with sinning.
6 You live in the midst of deception;
in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,”
declares the Lord.
Because they have refused to acknowledge the Lord, they are not friends of truth. And think about it, without God being real, there can be no such thing as truth, logically. So when people reject God, lying and deceiving are the natural state of affairs. There is no ultimate standard by which we can judge what is true and what is not. Fortunately for the human race, truth cannot be avoided. Lies themselves reveal that there is such a thing a truth, by which the crooked line can be compared to the straight one.
The first word of verse 7 is “Therefore.” And we get another description of God’s judgment to come. Another “Therefore” begins verse 15 after another litany of Judah’s sins. More judgment. Doesn’t this get tiring! Could be God is driving a point home.
Near the end of the chapter we get a couple verses that I memorized back in the day, and that seem almost out of place here:
23 This is what the Lord says:
“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
24 but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.
From a horrific scene of dead bodies lying “like refuse on the open field” to this? I guess it’s a contrast the Lord wanted to make. Those who are their own gods will be destroyed, while those who trust in the perfect character of Yahweh will be saved. And the final two verses the Lord punishing only those who are “circumcised in the flesh,” and even Israel who is “uncircumcised in heart.” It is the heart of man that is the issue, the center of our being. As we know from the NT, we are born the first time God’s enemies who do not only not trust him, but hate him. And we are born again by God’s mighty power in what’ I’ve called a radical relational reversal—a heart of stone transformed into a heart of flesh. We become by God’s Holy Spirit through Christ those who long to boast only in him.