How difficult is it to be the bearer of bad news? How painful? Consider those who were responsible during war to go to the homes of family members and give them the news that their son or daughter, wife or husband, would not be returning. They were casualties of battle. How agonizing is it when that bearer loved the person who was killed and knew the family. Then consider when that messenger knows the family; now it is more painful and personal. That’s the picture we need to understand as we arrive at the fifteenth chapter of Jeremiah. God has told Jeremiah to stop praying for the people because they had so hardened their hearts that they refused to listen and were headed for destruction. God was giving them up to their sinful ways. The apostle Paul captures this idea in the book of Romans when he states that God gives people over to their depraved thinking, which then leads to the consequences of their lifestyle.
Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.[i]
There is nothing so tragic in a person’s life, or in the life of a nation, when we cross over to that state of mind that nothing will curb our sinful passion and God gives us over to it. One of the roles of the Old Testament priesthood was to teach the people the distinction between what is holy and profane (common, unclean). Ezekiel, a contemporary prophet of Jeremiah relates:
They [priests] are to teach my people the difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.[ii]
Now who are the priests in the New Testament? We, who are God’s people are priests. We have the responsibility to reveal that distinction in our lives by both actions and words. What happens when we are biblically ignorant? We will no longer be able to make that distinction, even for ourselves, and find ourselves compromised.
Here in Jeremiah and Ezekiel’s hour, we see the impact of unrestrained sin on the ungodly, but also on the godly who care for them. There is no greater agony than to see those you love destroying themselves by their lifestyle. Here in our text we are going to learn about the impact that this lifestyle has on both the ungodly and the godly.
THE FIRST THING WE LEARN REGARDING THE IMPACT OF UNRESTRAINED SIN IS ON THE UNGODLY
What we discover is that God will not relent in allowing the outcome of sin upon the insincerity and unrepentant nature of sinners. Though God is extremely merciful, He can’t stop the consequences if people give themselves over to their sin. Only God knows when people cross the line of no return. Only God knows when a person is so hardened by sin, that they are unwilling to change no matter what the outcome is. There are a number of shocking things we see from our text.
A. The first thing we notice is that godly intercession alone will not spare the land.
Then the LORD said to me: ‘Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go![iii]
God’s answers to prayer are not determined by who we are, but by who He is and what He determines to be the proper thing to do in light of the heart condition of people. Here we see the example of two of the nation’s greatest intercessors that cried out on behalf of the nation and God spared them. Jeremiah sees himself within this same tradition, praying humbly and earnestly on behalf of the people, but God’s response is shocking. God is determined to judge them. The people in Jeremiah’s hour have moved past the point of no return. They are hardened. They are not open to correction. They are bent toward evil. One of the hardest things that a godly person faces is the moment we must relinquish people in order for God to discipline them. There is a part of us that wants to shelter those we love, even when they are wrong; but God in His mercy will address our sins in order to spare our souls.
B. The result of sin.
And if they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ tell them, ‘This is what the LORD says: ‘Those destined for death, to death; those for the sword, to the sword; those for starvation, to starvation; those for captivity, to captivity.
‘I will send four kinds of destroyers against them,’ declares the LORD, ‘the sword to kill and the dogs to drag away and the birds and the wild animals to devour and destroy.
I will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh son of Hezekiah king of Judah did in Jerusalem.[iv]
Jeremiah is simply outlining what God had communicated to Moses in the covenant that they had agreed to. Obedience to God and His word brought blessings, but disobedience and rebellion would bring this kind of devastating judgment.
We learn of Manasseh in 2 Kings 21 where he reigned for fifty-five years and undid all the spiritual reforms of his father Hezekiah. He actually was so vile that he led the nation into perversity until they were worse than the nations that God used Israel to destroy entering the promised land.
We are aware today that we can so contaminate a lake that nothing can live in that polluted water. It cannot sustain life. We can so pollute our planet that life can also be put into jeopardy itself. But we rarely consider that we can so morally pollute our lives and our world that death or alienation both from God and people reigns and spiritual life is being strangled. There have been moments throughout human history where civilizations have become so morally polluted that they have not survived. This was the condition in which Jeremiah was living. The land was now morally polluted.
The LORD said through his servants the prophets: Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols.[v]
What is being communicated here? The very reason God commanded the Israelites to destroy the people in the land of Canaan was because they had so perverted their culture that nothing was salvageable. Now they themselves were beyond that point. They were doing more evil than those Amorites. We need to realize that God is no respecter of persons. Sin doesn’t discriminate, it simply destroys.
Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle.
I will stretch out over Jerusalem the measuring line used against Samaria and the plumb line used against the house of Ahab. I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down.
I will forsake the remnant of my inheritance and give them into the hands of enemies. They will be looted and plundered by all their enemies; they have done evil in my eyes and have aroused my anger from the day their ancestors came out of Egypt until this day.[vi]
King Manasseh had kept Judah at peace for most of the first half of the seventh century B.C. by faithfully licking the boots of his Assyrian imperial overlord. He bought security and peace at a price, the price of encouraging the worship of many gods, including Assyrian gods, in Jerusalem.[vii]
John Thompson states about this king of Judah:
Manasseh was the most syncretistic of all the Davidic kings and had a profound influence on the nation (2 Kings 21).[viii]
In other words, he adapted the culture to embrace all the surrounding nations’ values by diminishing God’s values and words. Davidson’s comment and application to our lives is simple.
It is always possible to buy peace at a price, often at the price of compromising on the very issues on which we know we ought to take a stand.[ix]
The challenge is to know which issues are worth contending for. When it comes to our loyalty to God and His Word, we need to stand strong.
C. The lack of sympathetic support.
When we sin, we alienate not only God but eventually everyone around us.
Who will have pity on you, Jerusalem? Who will mourn for you? Who will stop to ask how you are?
You have rejected me,’ declares the LORD. ‘You keep on backsliding. So I will reach out and destroy you; I am tired of holding back.
I will winnow them with a winnowing fork at the city gates of the land. I will bring bereavement and destruction on my people, for they have not changed their ways.[x]
Why was God allowing this destruction to happen to them? Because they have rejected God and have not changed their ways, which is the nature of true biblical repentance. The winnowing process in the ancient world was to throw the grain in the air and allow the chaff to be blown away by the wind, while what is of substance will fall to the ground and be gathered. God was about to winnow His people and allow that which had no substance to be taken away into exile.
D. The destitution that sin brings.
I will make their widows more numerous than the sand of the sea. At midday I will bring a destroyer against the mothers of their young men; suddenly I will bring down on them anguish and terror.
The mother of seven will grow faint and breathe her last. Her sun will set while it is still day; she will be disgraced and humiliated. I will put the survivors to the sword before their enemies, declares the LORD.[xi]
Biblically, the number seven represents completion or ultimate fulfilment. A mother of seven would be considered in this ancient world to have a blessed and full life, but now at the loss of all seven of her sons in military battle, her blessing is now turned into a curse. That’s what sin does. It destroys the good in our lives.
THE SECOND THING WE LEARN REGARDING THE IMPACT OF UNRESTRAINED SIN IS ON THE GODLY
How was Jeremiah, this godly prophet affected by being a faithful messenger of God to the people? What impact did this have on his own soul and relationship with others? How does the sin of others that we love impact us? How does the sin of a broken world impact our lives? Jeremiah pours out his complaint to God. His life has become one filled with distress and despair.
Alas, my mother, that you gave me birth, a man with whom the whole land strives and contends! I have neither lent nor borrowed, yet everyone curses me.[xii]
He is a marked man, continually at loggerheads with the rest of the community. All of which would have been fair enough if he had been a detested money-lender, exacting exorbitant interest from his fellow-citizens (Deut. 23:19) or if he had been defaulting on a loan; but he is on the receiving end of others’ curses for no reason at all. Would it not have been better never to have been born?[xiii]
We should not be surprised that when we follow Christ in an Antichrist world we will be out of step and seen as a threat to those around us. Jeremiah now builds his case that he had been loyal to God and embraced his calling, but it had led to pain, loneliness and disappointment. He is complaining to God about what is transpiring in his life.
LORD, you understand; remember me and care for me. Avenge me on my persecutors. You are long-suffering- do not take me away; think of how I suffer reproach for your sake.
When you words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, but I bear your name, LORD God Almighty.
I never sat in the company of revelers, never made merry with them; I sat alone because your hand was on me and you had filled me with indignation.
Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.[xiv]
Jeremiah feels abandoned by God in this lonely and difficult time in his life. He likens his experience to the expectation for water in a brook, but often in this climate, they are seasonal, and these little wadis are dry. So, Jeremiah feels like God in his most difficult and painful moment has left him high and dry. What Jeremiah is feeling is grief. C. S. Lewis relates upon the loss of his wife, Joy in his book, ‘A Grief Observed.’
Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be – or so it feels – welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. [He then is reminded by someone] …the same thing happened to Christ: ‘Why hast thou forsaken me?’ I know. Does it make it easier to understand? …I have been gradually coming to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted.[xv]
Lewis is describing the intensity of grief after significant loss and a feeling of distance in his relationship with God. But God does answer in His time and way and in such a manner that we are comforted and grow in our hour of sorrow, disappointment, and pain.
B. God’s response to Jeremiah’s complaint.
God begins by reassuring Jeremiah that He will be cared for and protected by Him. God has a purpose in all of this both for Jeremiah, but also for the sake of others. God never wastes sorrow, but we must not yield to bitterness and remain open to God working ‘all things for good in our lives.’ God can turn our ashes into beauty. God is there for us in our most desperate and distressing moments.
The LORD said, ‘Surely I will deliver you for a good purpose; surely I will make your enemies plead with you in times of disaster and times of distress.[xvi]
Even though Jeremiah was being persecuted by his own people for faithfully delivering God’s message, there would come a future moment when they would be seeking Jeremiah’s help to know God’s intentions in the days ahead. God still had things for Jeremiah to do. God challenges the trap of self-pity when things are difficult in our lives and ministries, even as God does here. This self-pitying attitude often begins with our faulty thinking and lack of trust in the love and goodness of God. God now challenges Jeremiah.
Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman. Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them.[xvii]
What a challenge to anyone communicating to others. We must speak the truth in love as the apostle Paul told us to do (cf. Eph. 4:15). We do not craft the message so that people are hearing what they want to hear, but rather what God wants to say. Only as we are faithful to the message of God are we spokespersons on behalf of God. We cannot compromise the message. We must not focus on how we think people will respond, but rather be faithful to say what God wants said.
Perhaps God was telling the prophet that he had been overconcerned about what people thought and said about him when his one concern should have been to heed God’s word and proclaim it.[xviii]
We need to submit to God’s word even when we may be wrestling in our souls with obedience issues in our lives. Disobedience is what leads to heartache in our lives. Jeremiah needed to understand the challenges and difficulties in ministry in which he needed to rise above. We also, need to learn the same lesson. If we do what God asks of us, then we can expect that God will protect us from faltering in the hour of testing when conflict comes to us. We should expect that people will oppose us when we are being faithful to God if they are sinning. Why? Because they are, in reality, opposing God when we are speaking God’s message. They are not rejecting us rather they are rejecting God, whom we represent.
I will make you a wall to this people, a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue and save you, declares the LORD.
I will save you from the hands of the wicked and deliver you from the grasp of the cruel.[xix]
We need to remember that Jeremiah was persecuted and threatened in his ministry. He did experience suffering, as we read about the officials who came to the king requesting Jeremiah be put to death.
Then the officials said to the king, ‘This man should be put to death. …This man is not seeking the good of these people but their ruin.
He is in your hands, King Zedekiah answered. ‘The king can do nothing to oppose you.
So they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the king’s son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had not water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.[xx]
We see here that Jeremiah was being accused of the very opposite of what he was about. Jeremiah was seeking what was in the best interest of the people. He was trying to spare them from ruin, even though he was warning of its impending danger. God, however rescued Jeremiah from death.
But Ebed-Melek, a Cushite, an official in the royal palace, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern. While the king was sitting in the Benjamin Gate, Ebed-Melek went out of the palace and said to him, My lord the king, these men have acted wickedly in all they have done to Jeremiah the prophet. They have thrown him into a cistern, where he will starve to death when there is no longer any bread in the city.
Then the king commanded Ebed-Melek the Cushite, ‘Take thirty men from here with you and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the cistern before he dies.’[xxi]
We see from this intervention that the king anticipated some measure of opposition because he sends Ebed-Melek with thirty men in order to accomplish the rescue of Jeremiah. God was faithful to His promises. While many of his countrymen were experiencing God’s judgments, Jeremiah survived.
What are some of the lessons we learn from this narrative? We learn what happens to a culture that advocates for perversity. So, what happens to a society that says evil is good and good is evil? The people are in jeopardy of self-destruction. What can we do as believers in such a time as this? We need to live a holy life. We need to speak the truth in love. We need to pray, trusting that God’s grace will awaken the hearts of those who are bent on evil. Yet, we must be realistic and realize that not all will respond, that many may oppose God and also oppose those who follow God’s ways. We must remind ourselves of Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.[xxii]
We need to arm our minds for the challenges of living a godly life in an ungodly world. We are living in a time in which perversity is celebrated and propagated. Yet, we must not despair or give in. God rescues those who live godly lives in times of judgment. Remember how God spared Noah and his family during the flood, and Lot and his daughters in the destruction of Sodom. God is able to keep and deliver us from evil.
[i] Romans 1:28, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[ii] Ezekiel 44:23.
[iii] Jeremiah 15:1.
[iv] Jeremiah 15:2-4.
[v] 2 Kings 21:10-11.
[vi] 2 Kings 21:12-15.
[vii] Robert Davidson, Jeremiah, Vol. 1, The Daily Study Bible Series, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1983), 123.
[viii] John Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), 388.
[ix] Robert Davidson, Jeremiah, Vol. 1, The Daily Study Bible Series, 123.
[x] Jeremiah 15:5-7.
[xi] Jeremiah 15:8-9.
[xii] Jeremiah 15:10.
[xiii] Robert Davidson, Jeremiah, Vol. 1, The Daily Study Bible Series, 127.
[xiv] Jeremiah 15:15-18.
[xv] Wayne Martindale & Jerry Root, Ed. The Quotable Lewis, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1990), 274-75.
[xvi] Jeremiah 15:11.
[xvii] Jeremiah 15:19.
[xviii] John Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah, 398.
[xix] Jeremiah 15:20-21.
[xx] Jeremiah 38:4-6.
[xxi] Jeremiah 38:7-10.
[xxii] Matthew 5:10-12.