One of God’s great expressions of mercy toward us is to address issues in our lives. We find this right from the very beginning in the story of Cain and Abel in which Abel’s offering to God is accepted while Cain’s offering is rejected. The response of Cain is very enlightening and may give us a clue as to why God did not receive his offering with favor. Cain’s response was one of anger and moodiness. Notice God’s response to Cain as it came in the form of a warning that if it was heeded would have changed the course of his life.
Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?
But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.[i]
God was addressing the issue in Cain’s life before it took control of him and caused him to act out in anger, murder his brother and alienate himself further both from God and others. God is always trying to get our attention. When we are deviating from His purposes, He will speak into our lives. The Scriptures are filled with instructions, words of promise and encouragement, but we also find sections of warnings. Here in Jeremiah 6, we find that God is calling for a decision that would move them in the right direction while warning them of the dangers of ignoring His counsel. Jeremiah has a vision of what is about to occur.
…Jeremiah employs an event-vision to describe the future judgment of God on his people. An event-vision describes a future occurrence as if it were a present event.[ii]
There are three things that we need to understand from God’s warnings that will help us make wise decisions in 2022.
THE FIRST THING WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND IS THE SEVERITY OF IGNORING THE WARNING
If we are about to experience danger, the greatest gift we can receive at that moment is to be warned in order to prepare for what is about to happen.
‘Flee for safety, people of Benjamin! Flee from Jerusalem! Sound the trumpet in Tekoa! Raise the signal over Beth Hakkerem! For disaster looms out of the north, even terrible destruction.[iii]
What is interesting here is that earlier in the book, Jeremiah was warning them to flee to the fortified cities in 4:5-6. Now it seems that these places of refuge are actually now a death trap. In essence they are to run to the hills.
Flight to the Judean wilderness is the only hope left for personal survival. …The mention of Tekoa is a play on the words ‘blow’ and ‘Tekoa’, which have the same letters. The suggestion is that the people will be safer in this hilly area twelve miles south of Jerusalem, on the borders of the desert, than in the fortified capital.[iv]
A siege is about to happen to the city of Jerusalem, which is also called Zion.
I will destroy Daughter Zion, so beautiful and delicate.
Shepherds with their flocks will come against her; they will pitch their tents around her, each tending his own portion.[v]
Jerusalem will be no match for their adversaries. She has not trusted God, so there is no hope for her defense. The Shepherds here are military leaders, and their followers are arriving to pillage the city. We gain a sense of the urgency involved and the support of God behind this activity. We also see that this attack occurs at night, which is an unusual time for military action in the ancient world.
‘Prepare for battle against her! Arise, let us attack at noon! But, alas the daylight is fading, and the shadows of evening grow long.
So arise, let us attack at night and destroy her fortresses.
This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Cut down the trees and build siege ramps against Jerusalem. This city must be punished; it is filled with oppression.[vi]
Here we find the reason behind the activity. God has assessed what is transpiring in the city and the nation and her actions have led to her destruction. Walter Brueggemann insightfully points out that “The army is not the real threat, but is only an agent of Yahweh, who is the real threat.”[vii] This is speaking of God’s judgment here against the people who have violated their covenant with him. What we need to realize in life is that the real threat to our security is not a pandemic or oppressive governments, but our response to God. Am I walking humbly before my God? Am I serving Him and living for His will and purposes for my life? The real blessings in our lives is that we become blessings to others. We live with an eternal purpose. We gain a sense of the moral pollution in the lives of God’s people as it is described here.
As a well pours out its water; so she pours out her wickedness. Violence and destruction resound in her; her sickness and wounds are ever before me.
Take warning, Jerusalem, or I will turn away from you and make your land desolate so no one can live in it.[viii]
All we can expect from a sick society is evil. That certainly was the case with the nation of Judah, in which Jerusalem, the capital, was at the heart of it all. But what is true of Jerusalem is true for all nations at all times. When nations degenerate and only perpetuate evil, what is happening is the disintegration of the society. We discover this throughout history, both ancient and modern. What is the answer?
While perusing a book on ethics this week, the problem is highlighted. While many people today are trying to change the world, very few are trying to change themselves. The key to a changed world begins with a work within our own soul. Here in Jeremiah’s day, God was calling them to repent and turn to Him before this judgment would befall them. This message was advocating repentance. This has always been at the forefront of God’s call on individuals and nations. Jesus expressed the same sentiment in His earthly ministry. While the people were pointing out the distress of living in servitude to the Romans.
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.
Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?
I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.[ix]
The understanding that the people in Jesus’ day were making from this incident was that these people must have committed some terrible sin to have had this befall them. Jesus, however, tells them that repentance is a necessity for all of us, otherwise we will all experience judgment. Repentance is a work of grace in our souls.
THE SECOND THING WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND IS THE RESPONSE THAT GOD IS LOOKING FOR
- God desires that we respond in obedience to His warnings.
These are designed to protect us and allow us to flourish. Yet, often when people are warned they refuse to respond positively. Many just ignore them, while others mock and scoff. I remember when Mount St. Helens in Washington was about to erupt, that people were warned to get away from the mountain. Some chose to ignore that warning and eventually 57 people were killed that fateful day in May of 1980.
This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Let them glean the remnant of Israel as thoroughly as a vine; pass your hand over the branches again, like one gathering grapes.[x]
We are seeing here a powerful imagery of a gleaner who goes after the harvesters to make sure that the entire crop has been gathered. Jeremiah explains the pent-up frustration as God’s message of warning is being dismissed.
To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the LORD is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it.[xi]
This has to be one of the most tragic statements. There is nothing more painful to watch as when those we love are unresponsive to warnings that will bring destruction to their lives and others. Our response to God’s word is a reflection of our innermost being. Here we see that they would not listen and we hear the impact that this had on God and his servant Jeremiah.
But I am full of the wrath of the LORD, and I cannot hold it in. ‘Pour it out on the children in the street and on the young men gathered together; both husband and wife will be caught in it, and the old, those weighed down with years.
Their houses will be turned over to others, together with their fields and their wives, when I stretch out my hand against those who live in the land, declares the LORD.[xii]
Robert Davidson explains this tension in the life of the prophet.
Not only are they deaf to what God wants to say to them, but they openly laugh at what the prophet is saying – and there is nothing more soul-destroying than trying to tell people something you believe to be of central importance to their lives, only to be met with ridicule. To preach is pointless; but not to preach is tearing me apart, says Jeremiah. I cannot keep this message of the wrath of God bottled up inside of me. Do not try to bottle it up, says the Lord in reply, pour it out (verse 11ff.). There may be an implied rebuke in these words, as if the Lord were saying to Jeremiah: What do you want to be – a successful preacher? Forget it: I am not asking you to be successful, I am asking you to be faithful.[xiii]
People need to hear what is about to transpire even if they reject it. Here we see the things that were causing such hardness of heart. People were being seduced by all the things that are temporal and fleeting.
B. Specific sins that were being exposed.
‘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.
Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them,’ says the LORD.[xiv]
What is driving the decisions of these people? What do they hope to gain at the expense of others? They are greedy and have no problem practicing deception to enrich themselves. To further aggravate the problem, many who claimed to be a spokesperson for God were speaking words of false comfort. We all want to be told everything is going to be okay and it will all work out. But we can only say that if we are obeying God. These false prophets were saying what people wanted to hear for their own benefit and felt no shame for their deceptive behavior. This is the nature of a false prophet. They speak what people want to hear rather than what they need to hear. Even the priests were guilty of perpetuating this faulty way of living as if all was well.
When one does not listen to the Word of God, the result is destructive social policy (v. 10). This community has lost every norm by which to evaluate and assess its rapacious and exploitive greed.[xv]
In other words, they refused to be corrected.
C. The right kind of response.
So, what should be our response? What should we do? How should we live? What path should we take?
This is what the LORD says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’[xvi]
They must go back to the fork in the road and decide which way to go. If they listened to God’s instruction and took the “ancient paths” (the Mosaic law that required morality, holiness, obedience, and compassion), they would find rest (cf. Matt 11:28–30). These words should not be taken as a polemic [argument] against progress or stubborn intransigence against change but rather as a commitment to submit to God’s ways. Four verbs in v. 16 describe how this “good way” is found: “stand … look … ask … walk.” The good way is the way that God approves. It is the way that is best for us (cf. 29:11; Rom 12:2).[xvii]
When we arrive at that juncture in the road where we finally realize that there has got to be something better than what is happening at present in our world and possibly in our lives, we need to ask God for direction. Here in our text; God explains that the right path is an ancient path. Right from the beginning of time, God has communicated the way of faith and righteousness. This is the path that leads to the good way and the consequences bring rest and genuine peace to our souls.
What does that path look like? It is a heart attitude that reveres God and desires to please Him. As we respond in obedience to His word, we are walking in His path. This is a relational path not a mechanistic, legalistic path; it is based on relating to God, Himself. Jesus summarized it.
Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.[xviii]
We need to realize that God’s word is always pointing to a person, namely Jesus. This is where many religious people failed and fail today.
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.[xix]
The Scriptures are signposts pointing us to Jesus. We need to surrender to a person, to trust in Him, not knowledge of the bible.
THE FINAL THING WE NEED IS TO UNDERSTAND THE RESULTS OF REJECTING GOD’S WARNINGS
What is left when we ignore, neglect or simply just disobey what God is saying to us? Here in our text, God was speaking through the prophet Jeremiah. Today we are so blessed to have the words of the patriarchs, prophets and apostles conveying God’s eternal message to us. We may live in different times and cultural conditions, but we can discover the applications of God’s words to our current context. People have not really changed. We battle with all the issues that our forefathers did: greed, selfish desires that exploit others, lust, hatred, prejudice, and anger to name but a few. Sin is in our world dominating our culture, but more personally damaging, sin is dominating many personal lives. The battle isn’t just around us, it is also within us. So what happens when we ignore the warnings?
A. Ignoring warnings have consequences.
I appointed watchmen over you and said, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’[xx]
Here we see how the people in Jeremiah’s day responded to the message. They flatly refused to act upon the warnings. So what does God do when we reject His warnings? God will use their rebellion as a teaching tool for others to learn from.
Therefore hear, you nations; you who are witnesses, observe what will happen to them.
Hear, you earth: I am bringing disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not listened to my words and have rejected my law.
What do I care about incense from Sheba or sweet calamus from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable; your sacrifices do not please me.’[xxi]
God here states that he will allow the consequences of their sins to manifest in their lives. The wages or results of sin has been, and always is, death. God also is teaching that having a form of godliness is useless. God is more concern with obedience than He is with sacrifice.
We have already seen from the example of Cain that sacrifices must be presented with a right heart attitude that leads to a right kind of life. Another illustration of this is the story of the prophet Samuel’s instructions to King Saul, where he was commanded to address a longstanding evil by being God’s instruments of judgment in the lives of the Amalekites. Saul and his men however spare the best for themselves and even offer sacrifices to the Lord. Notice Samuel’s corrective.
But Samuel replied: ‘Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.[xxii]
Notice how God, through Samuel, describes this disobedience to His explicit command as seeking counsel apart from God. It is considered an act of arrogance. It is trusting in self rather than God, which is what idolatry is all about. Idolatry is looking to something or someone other than God for direction and guidance in life. Jeremiah describes what is about to occur as he sees that they are rejecting God’s counsel.
Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘I will put obstacles before this people. Parents and children alike will stumble over them; neighbors and friends will perish.
This is what the LORD says: ‘Look, an army is coming from the land of the north; a great nation is being stirred up from the ends of the earth.[xxiii]
Can we not see the Sovereign hand of God in the rise and fall of nations? Here Babylon is raised up as an instrument of God’s judgment upon His own people because of their rebellion.
They are armed with bow and spear; they are cruel and show no mercy. They sound like the roaring sea as they ride on their horses; they come like men in battle formation to attack you, daughter Zion.
We have heard reports about them, and our hands hang limp. Anguish has gripped us, pain like that of a woman in labor.
Do not go out to the fields or walk in the roads, for the enemy has a sword, and there is terror on every side.
Put on sackcloth, my people and roll in ashes; mourn with bitter wailing as for an only son, for suddenly the destroyer will come upon us.[xxiv]
The description of the invading army strikes fear into the hearts of the people. God is calling them to ‘put on sackcloth and roll in ashes.’ These were expression of distress, mourning and grief. They were being called to mourn over their sin.
B. The chapter ends as God designates the role to Jeremiah as the silversmith in God’s evaluative process.
Here we have an analogy of the work of the prophet among the people. He was called to be like the metalsmith, refining the various metals.
‘I have made you a tester of metals and my people are the ore, that you may observe and test their ways.
They are all hardened rebels, going about to slander. They are bronze and iron; they all act corruptly.
The bellows blow fiercely to burn away the lead with fire, but the refining goes on in vain; the wicked are not purged out.
They are called rejected silver, because the LORD has rejected them.[xxv]
In the process of refining metals, extreme heat is created in order to purge the slag or the impurities from the metal. The problem here is that there is no purity in this metal, it is all dross. There is nothing salvageable.
God by his prophets and by his providences had used means to refine this people, but it was all in vain. …God has no pleasure in the death and ruin of sinners. He did not reject them till he had used all proper means to reform them; nor abandoned them as dross till it appeared that they were reprobate silver.[xxvi]
What is Matthew Henry telling us? That God gives each of us every opportunity to respond to Him. The only person ultimately we can blame for our lives is ourselves. We are the product of our choices. We cannot control everything, but we can control our response to what is happening to us. Will we trust God and walk in his ways or will we go our own way?
What is God speaking to you about in this season of your life? Is he warning you to break off a sinful or unhealthy relationship? Is God calling you to address an addiction? Is He asking you to reallocate your priorities of time and resources differently? Some of you today are at a crossroad. Here is what God is saying: ‘Look and ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.
May we not harden our hearts and say, ‘We will not walk in it.’ If we respond in obedience, we will never regret doing what He is asking us to do. But you say, ‘I can’t do it. I’m not strong enough.’ That’s the point: Come to Jesus and He will set you free.
‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’[xxvii]
[i] Genesis 4:6-7, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[ii] Tremper Longman III, Jeremiah, Lamentations, New International Biblical Commentary, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 61.
[iii] Jeremiah 6:1.
[iv] R. K. Harrison, Jeremiah & Lamentations, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 19, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1973), 79.
[v] Jeremiah 6:2-3.
[vi] Jeremiah 6:4-6.
[vii] Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 70.
[viii] Jeremiah 6:7-8.
[ix] Luke 13:1-3.
[x] Jeremiah 6:9.
[xi] Jeremiah 6:10.
[xii] Jeremiah 6:11-12.
[xiii] Robert Davidson, Jeremiah, Vol. 1, The Daily Study Bible Series, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1983), 64.
[xiv] Jeremiah 6:13-15.
[xv] Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, 72.
[xvi] Jeremiah 6:16.
[xvii] F. B. Huey, (1993). Jeremiah, Lamentations, New American Commentary, Vol. 16, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 99.
[xviii] John 14:6.
[xix] John 5:39-40.
[xx] Jeremiah 6:17.
[xxi] Jeremiah 6:18-20.
[xxii] 1 Sam. 15:22-23.
[xxiii] Jeremiah 6:21-22.
[xxiv] Jeremiah 6:23-26.
[xxv] Jeremiah 6:27-30.
[xxvi] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary: On The Whole Bible In One Volume, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1961), 949.
[xxvii] Matthew 11:28-30.