How did we get into this mess? That is a great a question in times of crisis but what is even more critical is to ask, how are we going to get out of the mess we are in? If we don’t understand the root issues of what brought us to this point, all we’ll ever do is address the symptoms. Fundamentally it is an issue of what or who are we putting our confidence, faith and trust in. We have for generations been looking to science and technology which can be both a blessing and a curse, but in looking strictly there, we are only drawing from the well of human ingenuity. Is this being done at the expense of forsaking the One who created and came to redeem humanity? Are we returning simply to nature and what is natural for the solutions? Or are we really looking to God, the One who is ultimately in control of our future and destiny? In Jeremiah we can summarize God’s indictment toward His people as they had, for generations, being found unfaithful to God.
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.[i]
One of the powerful concepts in the Old Testament is the idea of a ‘covenant.’ We will never grasp the message of the bible apart from a proper understanding of that idea. Covenant is connected to the idea of kingship and authority and is a relational metaphor. God deals with both his people, Israel and now us the church, in the context of covenant. We find that covenants were drafted even in ancient societies. These covenantal agreements, or treaties, were often forged between nations. Sometimes they were covenants between equals, but more often we find vassal treaties where one nation was stronger and therefore promised to protect the weaker nation which, in turn, agreed to obey that nation’s oversight. In the covenantal agreement we find a historical background highlighting how good the sovereign or powerful nation had been toward the vassal. Obligations were then laid down in which both parties agreed, followed by blessings when the participants fulfilled their part, or curses if they were broken. Witnesses were mentioned as it was a legally binding document and needed to be reaffirmed from time to time. In the case of God and the nation of Israel, heaven and earth are called upon as witnesses. R. K. Harrison explains, “In Deuteronomy and secular Near Eastern international treaties the phrase ‘to go after’ meant ‘to serve as a vassal.’”[ii] The book of Deuteronomy is actually a covenant between Yahweh and the Israelites. Moses told them that they were to review and affirm their covenant with Yahweh every seven years. This was the responsibility of the leaders and the priests.
So Moses wrote down the law and gave it to the Levitical priests, who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel.
Then Moses commanded them: ‘At the end of every seven years, in the year for canceling debts, during the Festival of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing.
Assemble the people—men, women and children, and the foreigners residing in your towns—so they can listen and learn to fear the LORD your God and follow carefully all the words of this law.
Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.[iii]
Once we have this background, we can begin to understand the role of the prophets who were God’s spokespeople speaking to the violations of the covenant agreement. Here in Jeremiah 2, we have a summary of God’s complaint regarding the indifference of His people toward the covenant.
When we read over the entirety of the Scriptures, we see that God instituted a number of covenants with humanity from Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and finally we arrive at the New Covenant in which we are now a part of. We need to understand that each covenant was building upon the former, not so much a total replacement of the past, rather a fulfilling of them, which ended with the work of Jesus Christ. But what happens when we violate our part of the covenant agreement? It is to this that Jeremiah speaks with such relevance, not only for his own time, but also for ours as well. There are two essential aspects of Jeremiah’s message found here in chapter two.
THE FIRST ASPECT OF THE MESSAGE IS GOD’S CHARGE AGAINST HIS PEOPLE
What was God concerned about? How were the people in violation of their covenant with God?
A. The first charge is one of idolatry, described here as infidelity.
Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem: ‘This is what the LORD says: ‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness.
Israel was holy to the LORD, the firstfruits of his harvest; all who devoured her were held guilty, and disaster overtook them,’ declares the LORD.[iv]
Jeremiah is reminding them that while they were in the process of taking possession of the land, the people of the land who resisted were defeated in dramatic fashion. God protected Israel and gave the land to her. What we see in this metaphor of marriage is the exclusivity of God’s people’s relationship with God. Israel belonged to the LORD. She had a unique relationship with Almighty God. Israel is depicted as a new bride in the honeymoon stage of life. This picture is used to show an idealized relationship in the wilderness wanderings. The details of the complaining people who struggled with earlier forms of idolatry is overlooked to describe an idyllic relationship. But the issue of idolatry intensifies once the Israelites enter the land.
This is what the LORD says: ‘What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.
They did not ask, ‘Where is the LORD, who brought us up out of Egypt and led us through the barren wilderness…?’
I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable.[v]
In time they practiced the same corruption that the nations they drove out before them had been practicing and thereby were polluting the land. Ultimately, they rejected Yahweh, and forgot all that God had done for them.
Forgetting is associated with not honoring God or with being disobedient, just as remembering is associated with doing what is expected.[vi]
They had neglected their first love. God challenged this indifference.
Does a young woman forget her jewelry, a bride her wedding ornaments? Yet my people have forgotten me, days without number.[vii]
Remember, forgetting is simply not honoring God, or worse, disobeying him. Even as believers we can be guilty of being busy ‘serving God,’ but miss the essence of what it is all about. Jesus, in revealing himself to John in the book of Revelation, gives messages to the churches in the first century. These messages are equally applicable to us today. In writing to the church at Ephesus, we see one way in which we can be forsaking God and creating our own ‘broken cisterns’. Jesus affirms much about this church that outwardly appeared great.
I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.
You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.
Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.[viii]
What does this mean to have ‘forsaken the first love? It means failing to embrace God’s love toward us. Jeremiah would say that when we are guilty of this we have ‘forsaken the spring of living water.’ We have stopped trusting God and started to trust other things. We are looking elsewhere for our solutions. How do I know that I’m not loving God as I once did? When I genuinely experience God’s love, my actions become loving toward others. The true measure of my love from God and then toward God is measured by how I treat others, even those who may not agree with me. They might even be persecuting me. John in his epistle reminds us that love for God can only be expressed by our love for others.
Whoever claims to love God yet hates his brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.[ix]
We all have a diminished capacity of love. We can love as God loves only by receiving His love into our hearts first. Judson Cornwall and Michael Reed relate:
That God’s love is totally undeserved, unmerited and unearned is self-evident. That this love is necessary for spiritual life is far less evident. Most of what God’s love does for us is behind the scene. [God’s love] is the strength of our being and is the wisdom of our minds. It gives direction to action, strength to function and support to being. When we embrace His love our lives are complete, but when we exclude it we flounder in life.
We now know that lack of parental love will affect the personality and behavior of an individual throughout his or her entire life. God, the perfect parent, knows that we need more than a token touch of his hand. We need to be made secure in his love in order to mature successfully in life, and he offers us that security. We can only love in proportion to the revelation we have of God’s love. What we need is not more religious activity but more divine revelation of Jesus Christ.[x]
That’s why Paul prayed that believers would know through experience and acknowledge God’s love.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.[xi]
When we look at Israel from a distance of time, we can easily see the problems. We believe that Jeremiah is God’s spokesperson. His messages are authentic and are now part of what we call the canon (the rule of law). We know that what he said happened exactly as he said because he was simply conveying God’s message. Yet, if we were living in that moment, we would have heard conflicting voices disputing with him regarding the messages. There were other conflicting voices declaring that they were speaking for God.
The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the LORD?’ Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me. The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols.[xii]
Many prophets were speaking words that promised peace and deliverance without regard for the actual spiritual condition of the people. So, what were their motives? They were eager to tell people what they wanted to hear in order to exploit them.
From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit.
They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.[xiii]
Jeremiah is reminding the nation that when they had forsaken God and breached their covenant obligations, the result would be disastrous.
but if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them,
I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.[xiv]
God speaking through Jeremiah is now bringing these charges against the national apostasy.
Therefore I bring charges against you again, declares the LORD. ‘And I will bring charges against your children’s children.[xv]
What were the charges against this people?
1. The first charge was that they had abandoned God and put their trust that which was false.
Cross over to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and observe closely; see if there has ever been anything like this: Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols.
Be appalled at this, you heavens, [note the appeal to one of the witnesses] and shudder with great horror, declares the LORD.
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.[xvi]
2. Secondly, they had made alliances with other nations to save them.
They were looking to Egypt and Assyria to help them with the growing Babylonians threat, but God warned them that this is not only futile but also dangerous. “Now why go to Egypt to drink water from the Nile? And why go to Assyria to drink water from the Euphrates (Jeremiah 2:18)?”
God is telling them that they are putting their trust in the wrong places. This self-reliance which is a key form of sinfulness has reduced them and threatened them with exile. “Have you not brought this on yourselves by forsaking the LORD your God when he led you in the way (Jeremiah 2:17)?”
Robert Davidson explains how they sought unwise alliances to address their plight, rather than turn to God.
In difficult times there were those who saw the answer to Judah’s problems in terms of political expediency; hence the pro-Assyrian and the pro-Egyptian lobbies in Jerusalem (verse 18). To Jeremiah, however, Judah was not merely another nation whose future could be guaranteed by skillfully playing the game of power politics. Judah was the people of God; her problems and her destiny were religious.[xvii]
We often politicize situations, rather than turn to God for solutions. The right response is for us to turn our hearts to God and cry out to Him to save us from our sins and hopefully from the consequences.
THE SECOND ASPECT OF THE MESSAGE IS THE CONSEQUENCES OF THEIR FAILURE TO FULFILL THEIR OBLIGATIONS
Jeremiah now explains to the people the promised consequences for their failure in keeping their covenant obligations and calls them back to God.
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.[xviii]
Jeremiah then explains what transpired as they came into the land and possessed it. Rather than destroy the images and exterminate the idols of the land, they embraced them.
Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, ‘I will not serve you!’ Indeed, on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute.[xix]
Again, we are reminded of the metaphor of a husband and wife. God expected an exclusive relationship with his people, but they were unfaithful to him and worshiped these false idols. Now that they are in jeopardy, God is telling them to go to their false lovers.
Where then are the gods you make for yourselves? Let them come if they can save you when you are in trouble! For you, Judah, have as many gods as you have towns.[xx]
Not only were they unfaithful to God, but now that they were in trouble because of their own sins they were now blaming God. “Why do you bring charges against me? You have all rebelled against me, declares the LORD (Jeremiah 2:29).”
God’s response was simply that He had tried in love to correct His people but they refused to listen and respond. “In vain I punished your people; they did not respond to correction. Your sword has devoured your prophets like a ravenous lion (Jeremiah 2:30).” Rather than heed the words of the prophets, they were attacked and some killed like Uriah, a contemporary of Jeremiah who was murdered for preaching the same message that Jeremiah was preaching (cf. Jer. 26:20-23). Generally what people do is reject the message and messenger and withdraw from obedience.
You of this generation, consider the word of the LORD: ‘Have I been a desert to Israel or a land of great darkness? Why do my people say, We are free to roam; we will come to you no more?’[xxi]
Possibly the greatest tragedy was the denial of any wrongdoing, even though they were guilty of destroying the innocent.
On your clothes is found the lifeblood of the innocent poor, though you did not catch them breaking in. Yet in spite of all this 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.[xxii]
Let me summarize. Robert Davidson explains the charges and consequences that were coming against Israel.
In her rejection of the LORD as the only source of hope and embracing the various idols that had brought God’s judgment upon Canaan, three stand out:
1. A rampant religious enthusiasm for false religions that promised much but delivered ultimate judgment.
2. Social anarchy which was symbolized by the murder of the poor and oppressed and justified by those who took advantage of them.
3. Political expediency is seen in the alliances being made with former oppressors.[xxiii]
Why do you go about so much, changing your ways? You will be disappointed by Egypt as you were by Assyria.
You will also leave that place with your hands on your heads [a recognized sign of mourning], for the LORD has rejected those you trust; you will not be helped by them.[xxiv]
Just as Israel broke free from serving God by trusting in false gods, they were taken into exile. They were bound by their captors. Sin is a bondage in our lives. We will either serve God or sin. We are either in a covenant relationship with God or we become slaves to our fears and addictions. We are called to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The focus of our lives must move away from ourselves to God and others. Only as we are filled with God’s love can we really love God and others. We are living in a day of great spiritual poverty. We are grasping for life and love, but it seems elusive. We blame others, cry, and demand, but we remain empty. Love is often absent in our relationship toward others because we ourselves are empty. In a time of crisis, we are now being exposed. Who, what and where are we looking for answers and hope? The only true freedom comes in fulfilling our commitment to a God who has demonstrated his covenantal love to us.
[i] Jeremiah 2:13, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011 (Zondervan).
[ii] R. K. Harrison, Jeremiah & Lamentations, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 19, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1973), 55.
[iii] Deuteronomy 31:9-13.
[iv] Jeremiah 2:2-3.
[v] Jeremiah 2:5-6a, 7.
[vi] J. Andrew Dearborn, Jeremiah, Lamentations, The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan, 2002), 60.
[vii] Jeremiah 2:32.
[viii] Revelation 2:2-5.
[ix] 1 John 4:20.
[x] Judson Cornwall and Michael Reed, Whose Love Is It Anyway?, (Essex, England: Sharon Publications, 1991, 58-59 as quoted by Paul Vallee, Revelation Revealed, (Victoria, Canada: FriesenPress, 2019), 27-28.
[xi] Ephesians 3:16-19.
[xii] Jeremiah 2:8.
[xiii] Jeremiah 6:13-14.
[xiv] Deuteronomy 30:17-20.
[xv] Jeremiah 2:9.
[xvi] Jeremiah 2:10-13.
[xvii] Robert Davidson, Jeremiah, Vol. 1; The Daily Study Bible Series, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1983.), 29.
[xviii] Jeremiah 2:19.
[xix] Jeremiah 2:20.
[xx] Jeremiah 2:28.
[xxi] Jeremiah 2:31.
[xxii] Jeremiah 2:34-35.
[xxiii] Robert Davidson, Jeremiah, Vol. 1, paraphrased, 34-35.
[xxiv] Jeremiah 2:36-37.