Dr. Rufus Fears is a professor of classic history, and he relates that just prior to the end of the Athenian empire at the hands of the Spartans the philosophers and people of Athens had arrived at the idea that there was no absolute truth. This is currently the dominant note of our Postmodern culture. We have abandoned our moorings and recast many historical narratives to suit our current values, one of which is the idea that there are no absolutes. It is interesting that 21st Century people have arrived at the same place that the ancient Athenians came to before their demise as a dominate civilization in the ancient world. Have we really progressed as a culture when our ancestors have already been there? The book of Ecclesiastes reminds us of a powerful reality.
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.[i]
Will we learn anything from those who have gone before us? We need to awaken and learn what happens when a culture embrace lies rather than truth as a value. In the biblical book of Jeremiah chapter 9, we discover what was transpiring just prior to the nation of Judah going into exile. It is the story of living a life of self-deception as a culture and rejecting values that reflect the heart of God. What a careful reader will discover from the text is what God values and how that shapes a person’s life and the possibility of an entire society. The tragic outcome of a self-deceived culture can only be halted when people begin to embrace the values that are espoused by understanding who God is and what God values. There are three movements in Jeremiah 9:2-26.
THE FIRST MOVEMENT IS THE IDENTIFICATION OF THE PROBLEM
How will we address the mess and trouble we are confronted with unless we understand the core issues that are causing the difficulties? We too often focus on symptomatic issues rather than the core, underlying problem. What happens when we cast God aside as a culture or even as a person? The result is that we embrace distorted values. This is the nature of sin or, in language that our culture understands, what is unhealthy and how it affects those in our lives.
A. Jeremiah expresses his anguish of soul as he was living in the moral corruption of his day.
How do we handle living in our broken world? Do we just succumb to the tidal wave of brokenness? Another response we might entertain and act upon is simply longing for escape. What can we do about the tide of moral pollution in our world? Here we see from Jeremiah both an emotional response and an active engagement with what was happening in his world. The emotional response was a desire by Jeremiah to flee. Jeremiah desired to run from it all.
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.[ii]
When Jeremiah is calling the people adulterers and unfaithful, he is speaking of their infidelity toward God. Andrew Fausset describes the level of despair that Jeremiah was experiencing.
A caravanserai for caravans, or companies traveling in the desert, remote from towns. It was a square building enclosing an open court. Though a lonely and often filthy dwelling, Jeremiah would prefer even it to the comforts of Jerusalem, so as to be removed from the pollution of the capital.[iii]
Despite the disgust that Jeremiah felt, he continued to weep over the condition of the people, and share God’s message, hoping that some would respond. It is so easy to give up on others who are indifferent and even at times hostile to what we are trying to convey to them. It takes grace not to give in to despair.
To opt out would have been easy. Yet Jeremiah did not take the easy way. He stayed to share the suffering which his people’s depravity made inevitable; and because he stayed, he had a word to say to them in their darkest hour. Nowhere does the Bible encourage us to believe that we can find or serve God by withdrawing from his world and from our fellow men into some private oasis of personal spirituality.[iv]
B. God’s attitude toward His people’s sin.
We know that God is loving, but also we need to recognize that God is just and is a covenant-keeping God. The people had broken trust and rebelled against God. They were busy worshiping false idols and the results were a lifestyle of self-deception and dishonesty reflected in how they were treating each other.
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.
Beware of your friends; do not trust anyone in your clan. For every one of them is a deceiver, and every friend a slanderer.
Friend deceives friend, and no one speaks the truth. They have taught their tongues to lie; they weary themselves with sinning.
You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,’ declares the LORD.[v]
Even those in the most intimate of relationships must be on their guard against deception. Friends and brothers betray each other. Implicit is the message that those who betray God will also betray their closest human relations, thus undermining community.[vi]
They were living in a society where trust had been completely eroded, where words were used to exploit each another.
The words that came from their mouths were like so many poison darts. They even took their tongues to boot camp, training them for verbal combat. ‘They have taught their tongues to lie’ (v. 5). …When a society loses its love for truth, it is in a lamentable condition.[vii]
When you have a society that has no standard of what is right and wrong, trust is quickly eroded in a whirlwind of deception and lies. Jeremiah concludes this paragraph with a daunting statement: ‘they refuse to acknowledge, God.’
The telling phrase is ‘falsehood, not truth is mighty in the land.’ Every practice of fidelity – theological, moral, judicial, economic – has become a practice of fickleness and self-deception. This is rooted in the fact that ‘they do not know me,’ that is, they do not recognize Yahweh as covenant LORD. …Judah has forgotten everything necessary to survival, forgotten commitments, forgotten shame, forgotten accountability, forgotten God. When that core commitment is disregarded, there are not enough arms, strategies, policies, prayers, or sacrifices to survive. The God ‘not known’ is the one drawn to grief, because the end is sure.[viii]
Are we not living in a parallel time? What happens when society becomes this corrupted? What hope is there when people refuse correction?
THE SECOND MOVEMENT IS THE RESPONSE OF GOD TO HUMAN INDIFFERENCE TO HIS CORRECTION
God will address our human injustice, deception, and abuse of relationships. When we have wrong values and pursue them, God will strip away those idols that we are pursuing.
Therefore this is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘See, I will refine and test them, for what else can I do because of the sin of my people?
Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks deceitfully. With their mouths they all speak cordially to their neighbors, but in their hearts they set traps for them.
Should I not punish them for this?’ declares the LORD. ‘Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?[ix]
A. God’s refining work in our lives.
God will allow suffering to come into our lives to refine us of the sinful dross and moral impurities in our lives. These are the things that will destroy us.
For such misdeeds Yahweh would punish or judge (paqad) the people (cf. 5:9,29) and avenge himself on such a nation (goy). The use of the term goy for Israel may represent the transfer to Israel of a term which was regularly used of non-Israelite peoples. Its use here suggest that Jeremiah had come to regard the people as no different in their behavior from the goyim, the people outside the covenant. Certainly, whatever they might claim, there was nothing about them to suggest that their covenant with Yahweh had produced in them ethical responses which would mark them out from others around them.[x]
What is Thompson relating to us? When the people of God degenerate and behavior like the sinful culture around us, God will address that in our lives. We constantly need to be reminded that God only disciplines those He loves.
My son, do not despise the LORD’S discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as the father the son he delights in.[xi]
This actual text is repeated in the New Testament in Hebrews 12:5-12. The issue is whether they would respond, just like it is for us, when God disciplines and corrects our lives.
B. A lament is taken up.
There are moments where weeping is appropriate in our lives. This is especially true when we see the effects of sin in our world. This should cause deep consideration and lament. We are told to weep with those who weep. Here we see the effects of sin causing devastation and sorrow. Tears are the only recourse.
I will weep and wail for the mountains and take up a lament concerning the wilderness grasslands. They are desolate and untraveled; the lowing of the cattle is not heard. The birds have all fled and the animals are gone.
I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals; and I will lay waste the towns of Judah so no one can live there.[xii]
C. The Reason for the Lament is given.
Who is wise enough to understand this? Who has been instructed by the LORD and can explain it? Why has the land been ruined and laid waste like a desert that no one can cross?
The LORD said, ‘It is because they have forsaken my law, which I set before them; they have not obeyed me or followed my law.
Instead they have followed the stubbornness of their hearts; they have followed the Baals, as their ancestors taught them.
Therefore this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘See, I will make this people eat bitter food and drink poisoned water.
I will scatter them among nations that neither they nor their ancestors have known, and I will pursue them with the sword until I have made an end of them.[xiii]
To really understand what is happening in our world, we must know God and understand His ways. God is explaining through Jeremiah that the reason they were being exiled was that they were not obedient to God’s word. They had violated their covenant with Him. They were resistant to truth and followed the ways of their neighboring nations who were worshiping false gods and that this had been happening for generations.
God’s people received judgment the old-fashioned way – they earned it. The question is not ‘What have these people done to deserve this? The question is, ‘What haven’t they done?’ You name it, they have done it: idol worship, adultery, lying, child sacrifice, not praising God, prostitution, unfaithfulness, treachery, shady dealings, false preaching, not fearing God, covenant-breaking, violence, greed, not walking in God’s way, hypocrisy, racism, murder, goddess worship, slander, and rejecting God’s word. In a word, they were stubborn (v. 14), which means to exhibit ‘a defiant attitude toward the Lord, a rejection of his law, a preference for other gods, and a refusal to repent.[xiv]
A time of reckoning had now arrived. Robert Davidson frames it this way:
The question which haunted the religious consciousness of the Jews, after the destruction of the city they thought indestructible, was ‘Why did this happen?’ The answer, in line with all prophetic teaching in the Old Testament is the people’s disloyalty to God. Out of this comes the bitter experience of exile to distant lands and death.[xv]
They were now to eat bitter food and drink poison water. This is poetic language speaking of their difficulties that separation from God and His blessings brought into their lives and into the lives of people who forsake God’s ways. When we turn our backs on God all we have left is brokenness.
D. A Nation of Mourners.
In the ancient world, professional mourners came to assist in the work of grief. Now we hear that things are about to become so devastating that there are not enough mourners.
This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Consider now! Call for the wailing women to come; send for the most skillful of them.
Let them come quickly and wail over us till our eyes overflow with tears and water streams from our eyelids.
The sound of wailing is heard from Zion: ‘How ruined we are! How great is our shame! We must leave our land because our houses are in ruins.
Now, you women, hear the word of the LORD; open your ears to the words of his mouth. Teach your daughters how to wail; teach one another a lament.[xvi]
E. The Inevitability of Destruction.
When there is a lack of repentance, all there is left is consequences for sin. Paul tells us in Romans 6:23 – that the wages of sin is death. God is not mocked, whatever we sow, we reap (cf. Gal. 6:7).
Death has climbed in through our windows and has entered our fortresses; it has removed the children from the streets and the young men from the public squares.
Say, ‘This is what the LORD declares: ‘Dead bodies will lie like dung on the open field, like cut grain behind the reaper, with no one to gather them.’[xvii]
What powerful images are now impressed on our minds. There is no way to shut the door on death, it will find entrance by ‘climbing through the windows.’ Here the children and young men are specifically mentioned as experiencing death, either through disease or war. The streets are described as empty, the bodies of the dead are lying uncared for lying in an open field rotting. There is no one to bury them. It is a picture of total devastation.
THE THIRD MOVEMENT IS A CHALLENGE TO EMBRACE GODLY VALUES
What should have been happening? How could they have avoided this coming devastation? What can we learn from this descent into destruction, so that we may not follow in the same path? We are about to hear the difference between God’s values and sinful, selfish values. What should our aim be?
A. Developing the Right Values.
This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the LORD.[xviii]
When we really know God, we will reflect God’s values. Here we are given two distinct triads.
God’s values are expressed as kindness (Hebrew Hesed), which is a covenant loyalty. It is the idea that someone who has the means, voluntarily helping someone in need or trouble.
Elmer Martens describes “justice as going beyond fairness; it represents putting things right and maintaining relationships that are honorable according to God’s behavioral prescriptions. Righteousness is a commitment to doing what is right.[xix]
This is in contrast to the wisdom, wealth and power that so many are striving for. It is detrimental to pursue wisdom, wealth and power at the expense of our relationship to God. Our society glories in the ‘fortunes of the rich, sport and entertainment stars and those who are the powerful in society.
Scripture is not negative about riches, power or wisdom, except when these usurp the place that God should have.[xx]
The apostle Paul inverts this value system.
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.[xxi]
When we are pursuing the wrong values, they lead us astray. They are the idols that our hearts covet after and bring about our destruction.
B. Transformation of the Heart is Critical.
One of the great challenges is that we must have a heart after God, which affects the entirety of our personality. One of the great seductions is when we have only an external, outward faith that doesn’t shape our lives. When we live for only what is seen, we lose sight of what really matters, which is what is eternal. That’s what happened to Judah.
‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh-
Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the wilderness in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.[xxii]
The people here were trusting in the fact that they were physically circumcised which spoke of their covenant relationship with God, but the problem was that it was simply an external rite with no spiritual and moral reality attached to it. By Jeremiah adding the names of these other nations who practiced some form of circumcision and placing Judah’s name among them, it was designed to shock them into realizing that God was seeking something far more significant from them than an external expression of faith. This relationship with God needed to impact their everyday lives. They needed to reflect the values of God.
How does this message from Jeremiah impact us? Do we weep over the brokenness in people’s lives? Are we reflecting God’s value system of loyal love, being faithful to God’s word, and our word? Are we keeping our commitments? Are we putting things right and maintaining relationships that are honorable to God? Is our heart into living for God, or are we just going through the motions? Do I really have a passion for God and compassion for people? Do I believe that Jesus is the truth, the way and the life? Or am I being slowly seduced by the lies of our society, embracing sinful attitudes and pursing the wrong values?
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[i] Ecclesiastes 1:9 The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[ii] Jeremiah 9:2.
[iii] Andrew Robert Fausset, A Commentary, Critical, Experimental, and Practical, on the Old and New Testaments: Jeremiah–Malachi: Vol. IV, (William Collins, Sons, & Company, Limited, no date), 32.
[iv] Robert Davidson, Jeremiah, Vol. 1, The Daily Study Bible Series, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1983), 86.
[v] Jeremiah 9:3-6.
[vi] Tremper Longman III, Jeremiah, Lamentations, New International Biblical Commentary, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 87.
[vii] Philip Graham Ryken, Jeremiah and Lamentation: From Sorrow to Hope, Preaching the Word Series,(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2016), 162.
[viii] Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 95.
[ix] Jeremiah 9:7-9.
[x] John Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), 310.
[xi] Proverbs 3:11-12.
[xii] Jeremiah 9:10-11.
[xiii] Jeremiah 9:12-16.
[xiv] Philip Graham Ryken, Jeremiah and Lamentation: From Sorrow to Hope, 166.
[xv] Robert Davidson, Jeremiah, Vol. 1, 89.
[xvi] Jeremiah 9:17-20.
[xvii] Jeremiah 9:21-22.
[xviii] Jeremiah 9:23-24.
[xix] Elmer A. Martens & Larry L. Walker, Isaiah, Jeremiah, & Lamentations, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary (Carol Stream: IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2005), 360.
[xxi] Galatians 6:14.
[xxii] Jeremiah 9:25-26.