CROSSING THE LINE OF NO RETURN

How do we get to the place where crisis overwhelms a country? Are there some contributing factors? Is what happened to Judah in the 6th century B. C. applicable to us and other countries in the 21st century?  If so, in what ways? What about each of us as individuals? What can we learn from ‘crossing certain boundaries in relationships and how does that impact our lives? The larger question is, who are we to believe today? There are so many voices crying out to be heard. Just like in that hour of crisis in the nation of Judah, most leaders were complacent regarding their relationship with God. They were making some terrible assumptions and presuming that all was well when, in reality, crisis was looming before them. In Jeremiah 14, we find a number of important things to consider as it pertains to our future before Almighty God. Are we building our lives upon the right foundation? Where are we getting our information from? Who are we listening to? What is God trying to say to us in this hour? There are two things we need to understand in order to avoid God’s chastisement and judgment upon our lives and land.

THE FIRST THING WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND REGARDING DIVINE CHASTISEMENT AND JUDGMENT IS THE CONSEQUENCES OF DISOBEYING GOD’S REQUIREMENTS

What is it that God desires from us? Do we have any obligation toward the One who created us and then redeemed us? Here we find that the Old Testament people of God were in violation of their covenant with God.

A. In Deuteronomy we have both the blessings that come as a result of obedience and what occurs when the people disobeyed.

If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth.

All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God.

However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you.          

The LORD will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish.[i]

Now, we need to stop there and ask a couple of important questions. We need to understand the difference between God’s chastising work in the lives of His people and the total destructions of some of the people groups that had so degenerated that there was nothing left to salvage. God will give people over to the outcomes of their sins, namely death and destruction. We see that with Sodom and Gomorrah where God could not find ten righteous men. We see it with the nations of Canaan where God gave them 400 years to repent, but they only grew worse. We see it when the Amalekites attacked the Israelites and God states that He would completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven in Exodus 17:14. God, however, will not totally destroy His people, but will discipline those He loves, and we are reminded of this in both Old and New Testaments.

There are some who falsely think they are God’s people, but the fruit of their lives reveal that their confession is not the possession of that divine life from above. Jesus reminds us of this in the Sermon on the Mount.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.[ii]

What is the condition? It is that we walk in obedience to God’s word and do what He requires of us. True faith can be seen by the kind of life we live.

Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?

Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.’[iii]

We notice the expression that though these people were professing a faith and performing miracles, the reality was that they were not doing God’s will and were considered evildoers.

Is our life producing good fruit? We know that all of God’s children will be disciplined by Him.

My son, do not despise the LORD’S discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.[iv]

Hebrews 12 quotes this text to make the same argument, that God’s children are disciplined by the Lord, and we need to embrace that as a sign of our relationship with Him and value that He is instructing us when we stray. If we are not corrected it leads to destruction in our lives, and that is why James tells us to consider it pure joy when we are faced with challenges and difficulties in our lives. It may not be just correction, but also the development of our faith. Faith has to be tested and developed in order to grow.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.[v]

So, how does a text like Jeremiah’s pleadings and warnings apply to us? We can see from Deuteronomy that it was very clear that obedience brought blessings and disobedience brought correction. These were certainly the terms under the Old Covenant. So, what does God require of us as New Covenant believers? We are to put our trust in Jesus Christ and His redemptive work on our behalf, then we are free to walk in the empowered life of the Holy Spirit and mature into the fullness of Christ. We are to grow into Christlikeness. So, we have an obligation and a responsibility as a result. The apostle Paul stated it this way.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation – but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it.

For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.[vi]

We who have God’s Spirit living within us need to yield to the work of God’s Spirit as directed by the Word of God. Our faith should be producing the nature of God, which is love. We should be manifesting the qualities of the Holy Spirit as described in Galatians 5:22.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.[vii]

So, let’s return to the message that God, through the prophet Jeremiah, was communicating to that generation. They were ignoring and disobeying their covenant responsibilities. We read that the consequences of their sin was now impacting their lives and the situation was about to grow worse. “This is the word of the LORD that came to Jeremiah concerning the drought. (Jeremiah 14:1).”

Remember that drought was one of the things that would happen if they disobeyed. The Masoretic text [which is the text used by the King James and New King James Versions] has the word drought in the plural, which suggests that there were a series of droughts. The idea that is being conveyed is the severity of the situation they were facing.  “Judah mourns, her cities languish; they wail for the land, and a cry goes up from Jerusalem (Jeremiah 14:2).”

The land of promise was nurtured by the rains. O. T. scholar, Andrew Dearborn points out:

The weather pattern in the eastern Mediterranean is such that from late spring through mid-fall, there is no rain. …Not only was drought a crippling phenomenon, it was a graphic reminder of how dependent life is on forces outside of human control.[viii]

Now the rainy season was not providing moisture, the land was suffering, the livestock were struggling and the people were dying.

B. The severity of the drought.

The nobles send their servants for water; they go to the cisterns but find no water. They return with their jars unfilled; dismayed and despairing, they cover their heads.[ix]

A couple things can be noticed here. The fact that the rich were now in lack suggests that there was no strata of society in which people were not affected. The idea of covering one’s head is an expression of sadness or grief as in a time of mourning, but it also speaks according to Elmer Martens, as “a cultural expression of embarrassment and frustration.”[x]

The ground is cracked because there is no rain in the land; the farmers are dismayed and cover their heads.[xi]

Not only is there no water but this has led to a famine in the land. There is no way to sustain the crops and so the need is critical. People are now in famine. This drought is so bad that Jeremiah in his Lamentations writes these chilling words.

Because of thirst the infant’s tongue sticks to the roof of its mouth; the children beg for bread, but no one gives it to them.

Those who once ate delicacies are destitute in the streets. Those brought up in royal purple now lie on ash heaps.

The punishment of my people is greater than that of Sodom, which was overthrown in a moment without a hand turned to help her.

Their princes were brighter than snow and whiter than milk, their bodies more ruddy than rubies, their appearance like lapis lazuli.

But now they are blacker than soot; they are not recognized in the streets. Their skin has shriveled on their bones; it has become as dry as a stick.

Those killed by the sword are better off than those who die of famine; racked with hunger, they waste away for lack of food from the field.[xii]

We are talking total destitution which in turn is leading to unthinkable and outrageous behavior in order to survive.

With their own hands compassionate women have cooked their own children, who became their food when my people were destroyed.[xiii]  

We also see that the wildlife is struggling to survive in these conditions. We rarely see the connection between human sin and the environment, but here there is a direct cause and effect being stated.

Even the doe in the field deserts her newborn fawn because there is no grass.        

Wild donkeys stand on the barren heights and pant like jackals; their eyes fail for lack of food.

Although our sins testify against us, do something, LORD, for the sake of your name. For we have often rebelled; we have sinned against you.[xiv]

F. B. Huey relates the all-encompassing nature of the drought.

All classes were affected by the drought—nobles, servants, farmers, and animals. The doe was proverbially known for its devoted care of its young. However, it deserted its newborn fawn and left it to die because there was no grass. Wild donkeys were accustomed to the desert and had the ability to find grass anywhere. However, they now stood on the barren heights, gasping for breath in the stiffing heat “like jackals” (cf. Joel 1:18, 20). As they looked in vain for grazing ground, their eyes glazed over in death or weakness.[xv]

Here Jeremiah’s petition is not based on the people’s repentance but rather upon the nature of God to show forgiveness or as he states it, ‘for the sake of your name.’

THE SECOND THING WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND REGARDING DIVINE CHASTISEMENT AND JUDGMENT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN REMORSE AND REPENTANCE

Going through the religious motions or ritual is not what moves the heart of God. Often, we act presumptuously in our relationship with God and others, but one day we’ll discover too late that we have crossed a line and severed our most vital relationships. Here we see that God is unaffected by Jeremiah’s petition as God sees the indifference in the hearts of the people.

You who are the hope of Israel, its Savior in times of distress, why are you like a stranger in the land, like a traveler who stays only a night?

Why are you like a man taken by surprise, like a warrior powerless to save? You are among us, LORD, and we bear your name; do not forsake us![xvi]

Jeremiah realizes that God is indifferent to this plea and seems unaffected to act on behalf of the people. This is like offending or transgressing against another and then acting shocked as if they seem indifferent to us. One of the great tragedies in relationships is when we keep violating the relationship and expect that everything will default back to a time when things were well. We are only deceiving ourselves. Bridges need to be mended and relationships need to be restored.

Here is where we need to understand another important distinction, which is the difference between repentance and remorse. Repentance is best understood where a person grieves over what they have done and begin to make changes so that this behavior doesn’t continue to affect those they love in a negative manner. In other words, they ask God’s help to make changes in their lives and work toward making those changes.  Remorse is simply being sorry for the consequences that a person is experiencing, and when things are settled, easily go back to what they did to create the problem. In other words, they are sorry for getting caught and the pain upon themselves, but not sorry for wounding and violating the others that are affected, including God.

What we all need to understand is that there does come a moment when we have abused the person one time too many and a line is crossed. Often it happens when the perpetrator doesn’t seem to understand that the behavior is violating trust and love. Here in Jeremiah, the sin of the people is that they have gone after other gods (lovers) and then expected God to forgive, bless and continue like it was no problem. This betrayal of love has been continuous and rather than repent from it and return to God, they have continued to be unfaithful. Here we have in verse 10 God’s indictment against His people.

This is what the LORD says about this people: ‘They greatly love to wander; they do not restrain their feet. So the LORD does not accept them; he will now remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins.

Then the LORD said to me, ‘Do not pray for the well-being of this people.

Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Instead, I will destroy them with the sword, famine and plague.[xvii]

God is now going to act on the covenant stipulations. Jeremiah now makes an interesting plea that the people have been deceived by the vast majority of religious leaders in the land who were prophesying that God will give them peace and prosperity.

But I said, ‘Alas, Sovereign LORD! The prophets keep telling them, ‘You will not see sword or suffer famine. Indeed, I will give you lasting peace in this place.[xviii]

However, God’s response to this deception is to point out the truth.

Then the LORD said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds.

Therefore this is what the LORD says about the prophets who are prophesying in my name: I did not send them, yet they are saying, ‘No sword or famine will touch the land.’ Those same prophets will perish by sword and famine.[xix]

In other words, the very thing that they say won’t happen, will become the reality not only to themselves, but to those who are trusting in their message.

And the people they are prophesying to will be thrown out into the streets of Jerusalem because of the famine and sword. There will be no one to bury them, their wives, their sons and their daughters. I will pour out on them the calamity they deserve.[xx]

Jeremiah makes an unsuccessful attempt to explain the shortcomings of his deluded compatriots, but God in reply castigates the authors of the mischief, the false prophets and dismisses their utterances as lying visions, valueless divinations and self-deception (14). Such deceivers will be the first to suffer, followed by the people as a whole, who had been revelling in the deception. …False prophets are promised at the close of the Christian dispensation (Mt. 24:11, Mk. 13:22).[xxi]

How does this apply to us? We can expect that there will be many false prophets in our day, saying things that are leading people astray. Their message of false hope will leave people living complacent and indifferent lives. “and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people (Matthew 24:11).”

For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.[xxii]

When the bodies of these prophets and of the people who believed them lie unburied in the streets of Jerusalem, then it will be seen that they were deceived. Only then it will be too late. If only they had known: but one of the ironies of life is that we seldom do know and that we often take the wrong choices for what we believe are the best of reasons, not least Christians who most loudly proclaim that they are led by the spirit of Christ.[xxiii]

‘Speak this word to them: ‘Let my eyes overflow with tears night and day without ceasing; for the Virgin Daughter, my people has suffered a grievous wound, a crushing blow.

If I go into the country, I see those slain by sword; if I go into the city, I see the ravages of famine. Both prophet and priest have gone to a land they know not.’[xxiv]

Walter Brueggemann relates the grief that Jeremiah is experiencing in verse 17.

The whole community is in death. The cause is failed leadership, which means there is no knowledge of God, no capacity for covenant, no inclination for obedience, no attention to torah. Such a total failure can only lead to death. That death, brought on by failed covenant, is the basis for grief of v.17, a grief so deep that the tears are unending (cf. 9:1). The poet is moved by what he sees in his prophetic imagination that his contemporaries refuse to see. He grieves as one might grieve in anticipation of a nuclear war, though the leaders do not notice the danger. The poet sees invading armies and the devastation they inevitably bring. He sees the hurt as inevitable, but complacent Jerusalem does not believe it and does not notice.[xxv]

Notice how Jeremiah concludes his prayer.

Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain? Do the skies themselves send down showers? Not, it is you, LORD our God. Therefore our hope is in you, for you are the one who does all this.[xxvi]

Jeremiah rightly states that our only hope is in the Lord. Too often we look to people or technology to control what is happening, but it is God who is allowing these things to occur to arrest our attention.

We are living in a moment of time where the nations of the world are experiencing breakdown. We are seeing a way of life crumble before our eyes: supply chains to maintain our lifestyle are being restricted, prices are escalating, inflation is impoverishing us, and yet we do not see a correlation between how we live and what we trust in and the outcomes we are seeing. We are inadequately addressing symptoms and not root issues to our problems. We see a culture grow in its hostility to God’s ways. Jeremiah knew that the only hope we have is in the Lord. The apostle Paul summarized it so beautifully in Ephesians.

Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.[xxvii]

Jesus has made a way for us to be reconciled with the Father, but what happens when we turn our backs on the only safe path? When do we know that we have crossed the line? I’m not talking here about our salvation, but about our wellbeing. I am talking about living in a healthy relationship with God or defaulting to severe divine correction and chastisement. I don’t think we can actually know from our end, but God certainly knows the heart and the direction of our lives. God in His grace warns us over and over again. Yet, I see in the people of God in the past, their rejection of God’s warnings and the terrible outcomes. May we surrender to the instruction of the Psalmist in Psalm 95.

Come let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if only you would hear his voice,

‘Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did at Massah in the wilderness, where you ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did.

For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.

So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’[xxviii]

Are we living to do God’s will? Is Christ preeminent in our lives? Are we hungering and thirsting after righteousness? Are we seeking first God’s kingdom and His righteousness? May you come to Christ and surrender either for the first time or a renewed act of consecration, the complete surrender of your life to Him. 

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[i] Deuteronomy 28:1-2, 15, 22, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.

[ii] Matthew 7:21.

[iii] Matthew 7:22-23.

[iv] Proverbs 3:11-12.

[v] James 1:2-4.

[vi] Romans 8:12-13.

[vii] Galatians 5:22-25.

[viii] J. Andrew Dearborn, Jeremiah, Lamentations, The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 2002), 155.

[ix] Jeremiah 14:3.

[x] Elmer Martens, Jeremiah, Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, Vol. 3. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), 532..

[xi] Jeremiah 14:4.

[xii] Lamentations 4:4-9.

[xiii] Lamentations 4:10.

[xiv] Jeremiah 14:5-7.

[xv] F. B. Huey, Jeremiah, Lamentations, The New American Commentary, Vol. 16, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 151.

[xvi] Jeremiah 14:8-9.

[xvii] Jeremiah 14:10-12.

[xviii] Jeremiah 14:13.

[xix] Jeremiah 14:14-15.

[xx] Jeremiah 14:16.

[xxi] R. K. Harrison, Jeremiah & Lamentations: An Introduction and Commentary, T.O.T.C. Vol. 19, (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), 102.

[xxii] Mark 13:22.

[xxiii] Robert Davidson, Jeremiah, Vol. 1, The Daily Study Bible Series, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1983), 121.

[xxiv] Jeremiah 14:17-18.

[xxv] Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary On Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 139.

[xxvi] Jeremiah 14:22.

[xxvii] Ephesians 2:12-13.

[xxviii] Psalm 95:6-11.

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