The great Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, speaking of his country’s spiritual demise, …’If I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty millions of our people, I could not put it more bluntly than to repeat: ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.’ The solution [Historian Richard] Weaver contends, is the right use of reason, which entails a recognition of absolute reality and a recognition that ideas-like actions-have consequences.[i]
Why is it that people who know what is right to do often refuse to do it? Why do people suppress the truth and would rather believe a lie than the truth? What keeps us from moving forward in our relationship to God? Here Jeremiah addresses the painful issue of willful sin. Why would a nation who had a covenant relationship with God and were entrusted with the very words of God, not return to Him? How do people who once professed a faith in God go off the rails and find their lives broken, distorted, and in despair as a result? Here in Jeremiah 8, we discover three aspects in understanding our resistance to God’s call to return to Him.
THE FIRST ASPECT IN UNDERSTANDING RESISTANCE TO GOD’S CALL IS HOW IRRATIONAL THAT DECISION IS
I’m often asked, why do people do the things they are doing when the outcomes are so terrible? The reason is that sin is an irrational behavior. What is assumed to be attractive and something we desire can actually be something that is destructive both for ourselves and others. We need look no further than our first parents in the garden of Eden where the tempter came and spoke to them.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’[ii]
Any time we entertain temptation rather than identify it for what it is, we are being set up to be entrapped and are in grave danger. Here we see the continued dialogue between the woman and the serpent, where the temptation to be ‘like God,’ knowing good and evil, overcame her obedience to God’s moral boundary.
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.[iii]
From that moment forward, everything change for Adam and Eve. Sin has a way of destroying the good in our lives. In Jeremiah 8, we move back to a poetic genre as exposing the subtle nature of sin and its consequences to a people who confessed that they had a relationship with God.
A. God revealed through the prophet the incredulity regarding the lack of rationality in sinful behavior.
Say to them, ‘this is what the LORD says: ‘When people fall down, do they not get up? When someone turns away, do they not return?
Why then have these people turned away? Why does Jerusalem always turn away? They cling to deceit; they refuse to return.[iv]
Verses 4-7 are introduced as God’s word to the people through the prophet, but they could equally well represent Jeremiah’s thoughts on what to him was the puzzling, irrational conduct of the people. The natural thing to do when you fall is to pick yourself up. You learn by experience. But apparently God’s people do not. This point is hammered home in the second half of verse 4 and in verse 5. Five times forms of the word shuv, ‘turn’, are used. We might translate: Does one turn (aside) and not turn back? Why is this a turncoat people, involved in perpetual turning? They resort to deceit; they refuse to turn.[v]
What is so strange about this behavior is how inconsistent we really are when we consider the goodness and grace of God. Why would we think that our way is superior and better than God’s path for our lives? Robert Davidson challenges us.
We tend to think of our failures and our disloyalty to God as being somehow natural – after all we are all sinners, are we not? They are in fact ‘unnatural,’ out of character for those who claim to be committed to God. Our homing instinct should be towards God, not away from him.[vi]
In other words, the normal and natural response is to turn to God, and the abnormal or unnatural response is to turn away from God. This is certainly true for believers. We do see nonbelievers running and hiding from God, like Adam and Eve, because of the sense of guilt and shame. The reality is that this is such a self-defeating strategy. Let us consider what the apostle Paul stated regarding this issue in the book of Romans. God has designed us in such a way that we must suppress truth within ourselves to distance ourselves from God. Paul tells us that as human beings we are without excuse in not knowing that God exists and that we are accountable to Him.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.[vii]
What is the Spirit of God through the apostle Paul explaining to us in these texts? This world in which we live is a declaration that there has to be a Creator, who is a brilliant designer. Not only is this created world revealing God’s power and nature, but God has also created within the human heart a consciousness of morality. This can be affected by culture, but the concept of what is best for people is part of the human equation. Human beings have a social consciousness and a conscience.
(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law.
They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)[viii]
God has written his laws within the hearts of people and He is at work within the human conscience. We realize that people can violate their consciences and when a society moves the boundaries markers of what is considered healthy behavior into deviant behavior, eventually that society experiences crisis, and historically human societies have perished. There are certain behaviors that bring life and others that bring destruction. What should be our take-away from these texts? There is a God longing within each human heart. There is a restlessness within us as human beings that only finds solace in knowing God. It was Augustine, Bishop from Hippo who summarized that longing in his autobiography, Confessions,’ when he wrote: “Our souls are restless until they find their rest in thee, O Lord.”
B. Clinging to Deceit.
Rather than repent and turn back to God, Jeremiah is told that the very nature of sin is deception.
Why then have these people turned away? Why does Jerusalem always turn away? They cling to deceit; they refuse to return.[ix]
We have already read in Romans that people ‘suppress the truth by their wickedness.’ When we turn away from the truth we develop a new narrative, and with a hardened heart we no longer hear the voice of God, nor do we want to hear the voice of God challenging our narrative and therefore we ‘cling to deceit.’ Jeremiah states that when we get to this condition in our souls, we no longer take ownership of our actions and charge into sin with reckless abandonment.
I have listened attentively, but they do not say what is right. None of them repent of their wickedness, saying, ‘What have I done?’ Each pursues their own course like a horse charging into battle.[x]
Jeremiah describes their flight from God, like a horse charging into battle. When we rebel against God’s standards we are singing along the lines of the Frank Sinatra song, ‘I did it my way.’ All fear of the danger is now past and all that is left is for the consequences to come. John Thompson describes it this way.
In willful fashion each man turns away (sub) in headlong career like a horse storming into battle. The headlong plunge is no gentle turning aside but a deliberate and vigorous action – a vivid picture.[xi]
Tremper Longman points out that this deceit has been nourished by the false prophets who are promising peace rather than judgment.
This deceit is a reference to the message of the false prophets who are telling them that there is no coming judgment and everything is just fine.[xii]
Jeremiah illustrates how irrational and unnatural this course of actions is, as even the birds by nature and instinct know their migratory seasons, whereas God’s people are oblivious to what God requires of them in their covenant obligations.
Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration. But my people do not know the requirements of the LORD.[xiii]
THE SECOND ASPECT IN UNDERSTANDING RESISTANCE TO GOD’S CALL IS THAT IT IS A STATE OF DECEPTION
Rather than face the truth regarding our condition, we often preferred to believe a lie. The source of this lie creates a false sense of security. People can even hide behind something as wonderful as the word of God, when we apply it incorrectly.
A. Deceptively Handling the Word of God.
How can you say, ‘We are wise, for we have the law of the LORD,’ when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?
The wise will be put to shame; they will be dismayed and trapped. Since they rejected the word of the LORD, what kind of wisdom do they have?
Therefore I will give their wives to other men and their fields to new owners. From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit.[xiv]
Warren Wiersbe points out:
Just as they boasted that they possessed the temple, so they boasted that they had the divine Law (v. 8), but possessing the Scriptures isn’t the same as practicing the Scriptures. Although the Bible is still a bestseller, its popularity isn’t keeping Western society from crumbling morally and spiritually. There appears to be no connection between what people say they believe and the way people act. The false prophets, who claimed to be writing and speaking in the name of the Lord, deceived the kingdom of Judah. They were men whose personal lives were godless, whose hearts were covetous, and whose remedies for the problems of the nation were useless.[xv]
In various surveys taken by the Barna group, the vast majority of professing Christians are not daily bible readers. Less than 20% read their bibles daily, and we see the outcomes in the majority of believer’s lives reflecting the same values as our culture and having great ignorance of what God’s word teaches. The false prophets message could be summarized in Jeremiah 14:13-14.
But I said, ‘Alas, Sovereign LORD! The prophets keep telling them, ‘You will not see the sword or suffer famine.’ Indeed, I will give you lasting peace in this place.’
Then the LORD said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds.[xvi]
Warren Wiersbe then puts forward this challenge to us as to what we are going to embrace and follow.
What happens to the Lord’s people largely depends on the leaders they follow. Worldly leaders attract and produce worldly people, but you pay a price to follow spiritual leadership. It’s much easier to drift with the current and go along with the crowd. Jeremiah had few friends or disciples because his message wasn’t popular[xvii].
Jeremiah describes the kind of remedy that the false teachers and preachers were suggesting and how inadequate their solutions were. Remember this is poetic language and their spiritual condition was life-threatening but the false teachers acted like this was a minor problem.
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 they are punished, says the LORD.[xviii]
B. They have no shame and are unable to blush.
Sin has made major inroads in our lives when we feel no shame or guilt for sinning. This is a sign that we have hardened our hearts and seared our conscience. The apostle Paul describes false teachers as having their consciences seared so as to not be affected by their evil message of deception.
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.
Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared with a hot iron.[xix]
Walter Brueggemann writes:
The inability to blush means that there is no outside reference point to whom one must answer and by whom one is measured. Faithful people blush in the presence of the faithful God because the contrast between Yahweh’s hope and their conduct is so stark. When as here, however, the faithful God has been effectively banished, the fickleness is no longer recognized as embarrassing.[xx]
Abraham Heschel wrote that “‘the loss of embarrassment’ is a decisive step toward loss of humanness.”[xxi]
C. Motivation for the false message.
God is saying that not only will the wise men and prophets’ patients perish, but they will as well. As we have seen, the motivation for their false message of hope is self-interest. ‘From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain (cf. Jer. 8:10).’
THE FINAL ASPECT IN UNDERSTANDING RESISTANCE TO GOD’S CALL IS THE JUDGMENT THAT INEVITABLY HAPPENS
There are always outcomes to our actions. After being warned repeatedly by different prophets over a long duration without any course correction and change, judgment is inevitable.
I will take away their harvest, declares the LORD, There will be no grapes on the vine. There will be no figs on the tree, and their leaves will wither. What I have given them will be taken from them.[xxii]
A. The end of our sin is always barrenness.
We lose out. The assumption we often make is what is mine is mine, but here in our text, we read that all that we have has been given to us by God and can be removed by God. Job certainly understood that when he declared in Job 1:21.
Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away…[xxiii]
Jesus in the parable of the unfaithful servant explains in Luke 12:48b.
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.[xxiv]
God gives with the expectation that we will use it for His glory. What Jeremiah is pointing out is that sin will lead to their diminishment. While God is warning of impeding judgment, the response of the people is to find refuge in human fortifications.
B. The certainty of judgment.
Why are we sitting here? Gather together! Let us flee to the fortified cities and perish there! For the LORD our God has doomed us to perish and given us poisoned water to drink, because we have sinned against him.
We hoped for peace but no good has come, for a time of healing but there is only terror.
The snorting of the enemy’s horses is heard from Dan; at the neighing of their stallions the whole land trembles. They have come to devour the land and everything in it, the city and all who live there.
See, I will send venomous snakes among you, vipers that cannot be charmed, and they will bite you, declares the LORD.[xxv]
When we reject God’s provision of repentance and restoration, all we have left is consequences of our sins. The snorting horses heard in Dan speaks of the threat coming from the north. The military power of Babylon is a ‘scorched earth,’ policy where they will be destroying everything in their path. Notice that they are fleeing to unsatisfactory and deadly substitutes – ‘poison water to drink.’ Finally, we read of the deadly serpents that will be sent against the nation. This is a picture of an army that will conquer and occupy their land. The metaphor that Jeremiah uses reminds the people of another moment in their history where God sent poisonous snakes among the people because of their unbelieving criticism against God and Moses. The result was that many were dying in the wilderness. In that situation, the people cried out to God and Moses for deliverance and God made a provision for them. Moses was to fashion a serpent and by an act of faith, look upward upon that bronzed serpent on a pole.
Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.
The people came to Moses and said, ‘We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people.[xxvi]
Here we see the people repent and turn to God and God’s servant Moses to mercy. Moses prayed, God instructed and the people responded in faith and obedience and the result was deliverance.
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.’
So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.[xxvii]
In contrast to the wilderness generation under the leadership of Moses, we see the people in Jeremiah’s day refusing to come to the Lord and asking for deliverance. They resisted the call to return to the Lord.
C. The anguish of the prophet and the heart of God.
Jeremiah cries out to God in his distress at the suffering that is and will come upon the people. Jeremiah is not indifferent to the people he is speaking to. “You who are my Comforter in sorrow, my heart is faint within me (Jeremiah 8:18).”
God’s response to Jeremiah’s anguish.
Listen to the cry of my people from a land far away: ‘Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King no longer there?’ ‘Why have they aroused my anger with their images, with their worthless foreign idols?’[xxviii]
The response begins with the voices of people in exile. This could be a picture of the future voices crying from exile or some of the people have already been taken in exile. What God is saying is that sin exiles us from Himself. What was true for Adam and Eve banished from the garden is still true for us today. Sin separates us from God. In explaining this tragedy of hardheartedness, the people are bemoaning the lost opportunity. Jeremiah is weeping for a people who will not be saved, who have rejected that means of grace and can only expect devastating consequences.
The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.
Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me.
Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?
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.[xxix]
What happens when we reject what God is offering? What happens when our hearts become hardened and we embrace a false narrative, clinging to deception and believing a lie? What happens when the tears of God’s servants are expressing the pain of a lost opportunity for deliverance? I am reminded of Palm Sunday where Jesus is seen weeping over the city of Jerusalem. God had come to save His people and they did not know the hour of their visitation.
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace- but now it is hidden from your eyes.[xxx]
Here we see a lost opportunity because they were being held hostage to a false hope. Jesus, talking to a religious leader retells the story of Moses and the people in the wilderness, their sin, but also their salvation and deliverance.
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.[xxxi]
Jesus was obviously speaking here of His crucifixion. Jesus ‘death for our sins. Think of how deceived the culture is. Think of how irrational sin is. Think of the inevitability of the consequences of our sinful behavior brings upon ourselves and others. The only hope lies in looking up. May we turn to Christ as our Savior, our only real hope in our sinful broken world. We can see that in a general way, but what about you and me? Do we see in our own personal lives the need to look up and live?
[i] Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, as quoted from James Emery White, A Mind For God, (Downers Grove: IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 26.
[ii] Genesis 3:1 The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[iii] Genesis 3:6.
[iv] Jeremiah 8:4-5.
[v] Robert Davidson, Jeremiah, Vol. 1, The Daily Study Bible Series, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1983), 81.
[vi] Ibid, 81-82.
[vii] Romans 1:18-20.
[viii] Romans 2:14-15.
[ix] Jeremiah 8:5.
[x] Jeremiah 8:6.
[xi] John Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), 298.
[xii] Tremper Longman III, Jeremiah, Lamentations, New International Biblical Commentary, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 80.
[xiii] Jeremiah 8:7.
[xiv] Jeremiah 8:8-10.
[xv] Warren Wiersbe, Be Decisive, (Victor Books, 1996), 46–47.
[xvi] Jeremiah 14:13-14.
[xvii] Warren Wiersbe, Be Decisive, 47.
[xviii] Jeremiah 8:11-12.
[xix] 1 Timothy 4:1-2.
[xx] Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 89-90.
[xxi] Abraham Heschel, Who is Man? (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1965), 112-114 as quoted by Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, 90.
[xxii] Jeremiah 8:13.
[xxiii] Job 1:21.
[xxiv] Luke 12:48b.
[xxv] Jeremiah 8:14-17.
[xxvi] Numbers 21:6-7.
[xxvii] Numbers 21:8-9.
[xxviii] Jeremiah 8:19.
[xxix] Jeremiah 8:20-9:1.
[xxx] Luke 19:41-42.
[xxxi] John 3:14-15.