The most terrifying state to be in is when we find ourselves in conflict with God. Is it possible for God to ever be against us, rather than for us? The decisions we make, can move us in a direction that brings us into conflict with God. We are either moving toward God or away from God in our lives. Using the image of light and darkness within a moral context, we are either walking or living in the light of God’s word, or we allow our sinful desires to move us into darkness away from God and ultimately face the greater terror of finding ourselves at war with God. James warns us that this is a very real possibility.
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.[i]
What is James telling us? He is not speaking of befriending people, but rather embracing the values system in a society that has turned its back on God and is therefore, against God. In Jeremiah 21, we find a significant chronological movement in time. Years have elapsed from the previous chapter. Many of the things that Jeremiah had warned about were now happening. The king and the people had hardened their hearts, disregarded God’s word and counsel through prophets such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Babylon was now attacking the city. King Zedekiah who had made a political alliance with Egypt in order to rebel against the Babylonian’s control over Judah is now facing total destruction. So how do we become God’s enemy? What happens when we are in conflict with God? These are questions that Jeremiah 21 answers for us. What is it that God requires of us if we are to walk with God as our friend? There are three things we need to understand in becoming God’s enemy.
THE FIRST THING WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND IN BECOMING GOD’S ENEMY IS GOD’S REQUIREMENTS FOR OUR LIVES
What does God expect of us? What happens when we disregard God’s will and embrace the values of those who are in rebellion against God? What will happen when we are seduced by sin and embrace the values of our morally deficient culture? We now move from a position of being God’s friend to becoming His opponent. One thing we should grasp is that we are no match for God. God, motivated out of love for us, will discipline us. Better to be in step with God and out of step with a society that has abandoned God. What will it profit us if we embrace the values of the world, and find ourselves at enmity with God? If God be for us, who can be against us, but if all the world is for us and God is against us, how will we stand?
A. Seeking clarity in crisis.
Here we see in our text that in a time of desperation, King Zedekiah had spent nearly a decade rejecting Jeremiah’s counsel, but now in desperation he reaches out for a word from God through the prophet. Jerusalem is surrounded by the armies of Babylon. What will God do for them? Was this a test of faith or an act of discipline? In this moment of desperation, Zedekiah sends a delegation to Jeremiah in order to find the mind of God. Zedekiah knows that in their past history, God had delivered them from foreign domination. Not too far in their past, the Assyrian threat was ended by God’s intervention during the reign of King Hezekiah. Would God ‘perform wonders on their behalf as in the past?
The word came to Jeremiah from the LORD when king Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur son of Malkijah and the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah. They said: Inquire now of the LORD for us because Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is attacking us. Perhaps the LORD will perform wonders for us as in times past so that he will withdraw from us.[ii]
Who is Nebuchadnezzar but God’s instrument of discipline on a wayward nation? Robert Davidson gives us some insight into complexities of this leader, Zedekiah.
This last king of Judah is a strange and fascinating character. He seems almost to have dithered into disaster, unable to resist pressure from the powerful anti-Babylonian lobby among the military in Jerusalem. Brutally cynical on occasion, he nevertheless seems to have been haunted by the thought, or perhaps by the fear, that the true word for his day was to be found not on the lips of his political advisers or his official chaplains, but on the lips of that odd-ball Jeremiah. On several occasions during the last fateful months of the Judean state (chs. 37-38) he asks for Jeremiah’s diagnosis of the nation’s condition and prospects. He is like a patient returning again and again to a doctor in search of reassurance, yet unwilling to take the medicine prescribed.[iii]
We can end up in this state of mind. Knowing what the right thing to do is, but refusing to act on it. We hear what God requires of us, but we disregard it. We don’t act on it and then wonder when things start falling apart in our lives what we should do. Many times people try to negotiate with God: bargaining, sacrificing, but the principle that God is trying to teach us is that ‘obedience is better than sacrifice.’ Obedience to God’s word which is His will is the evidence of our love and compliance toward God. Obedience is the fruit or result of genuine faith and trust in God. John reminds us of this practical aspect of faith in his first letter.
This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.
In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.
Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.[iv]
Genuine faith responses in a way that honors God. Obedience is an evidence of a person that genuinely trusts God. Their desire is to please and honor God with their lives. Romans 12:1-2reflects this attitude.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.[v]
THE SECOND THING WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND IN BECOMING GOD’S ENEMY IS THE WARNING AND CHOICE THAT GOD CALLS FOR
God’s response is an explanation and a challenge.
But Jeremiah answered them, ‘Tell Zedekiah,
This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I am about to turn against you the weapons of war that are in your hands, which you are using to fight the king of Babylon and the Babylonians who are outside the wall besieging you. And I will gather them inside this city.
I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm in furious anger and in great wrath.
I will strike down those who live in this city – both man and beast – and they will die of a terrible plague.
After that, declares the LORD, I will give Zedekiah king of Judah, his officials and the people of this city who survive the plague, sword and famine, into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and to their enemies who want to kill them. He will put them to the sword; he will show them no mercy or pity or compassion.[vi]
What is actually transpiring here? Why is God giving up His people to the enemy? This needs to be understood in light of the covenant God made with His people on Mount Sinai. Here we find that God is fighting against them. God promised to bring them into the land and blessed them, which God had faithfully done. However, God also warned them, that if they forsook Him and embraced the idols of the land and the ensuing sinful and corrupted behavior that they would also be exiled and disciplined for their rebellion.
So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today – to love the LORD and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul – then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil.
I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.
Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them.
Then the LORD’S anger will burn against you, and he will shut up the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the LORD is giving you.[vii]
The LORD will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to a sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him.
The LORD will plague you with diseases until he has destroyed you from the land you are entering to possess.
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.
The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven, and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth.
The LORD will drive you and the king you set over you to a nation unknown to you or your ancestors. There you will worship other gods, gods of wood and stone.
You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule among all the peoples where the LORD will drive you.[viii]
Now after warning them repeatedly over centuries and the response was apathy and indifference; God is bringing this judgment upon their sin. F. B. Huey reminds us:
The words sound harsh and insensitive to modern ears that have a faulty understanding of God’s attitude toward sin and how it offends his holiness. It should be remembered that these words were not spoken in a moment of anger.[ix]
We may be wondering, ‘Okay, I see that; but this is the Old Testament. What does this have to do with us?’ God has not changed! He is still opposed to sin. He will address sin in our lives. He will discipline us when we go astray. He will allow the enemy of our soul to bring devastation into our lives. Paul challenges the Corinthians to discipline a man who is ‘sleeping with his father’s wife’ while the believers were condoning his behavior. What does Paul tell them to do?
hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.[x]
He was telling them to ‘put him out of their fellowship,’ thereby removing him from God’s hand of protection. What ultimately was the purpose of such an action? So that the man might ultimately be saved from his sin. Here in our Jeremiah text, there is yet a final opportunity of mercy extended to the people.
Furthermore, tell the people, ‘This is what the LORD says: See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death.[xi]
There is a specific course of action that they needed to follow in order to be spared death.
Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live; they will escape with their lives.[xii]
Walter Brueggemann relates an interesting take on the language used here.
It is worth noting that the verb ‘go out’ is yatsa, the primary word for ‘exodus.’ Perhaps the usage is an accident, as it is a quite ordinary word. But in light of the explicit Exodus language (v. 5) and in light of the yearning for ‘wonderful deeds’ (v. 2), it may be suggested that Judah’s hope now is an exodus away from the ‘bondage’ of Jerusalem to an odd ‘freedom’ under Babylon.[xiii]
It seems strange to us that to surrender to an oppressive foreign authority would be God’s will. Jeremiah saw the destruction of Jerusalem and their way of life ending as part of God’s discipline in order to ultimately redeem His people.
I have determined to do this city harm and not good, declares the LORD. It will be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will destroy it with fire.[xiv]
Tremper Longman summarizes how this action though seemingly an action that undermines the kingdom, reveals that Jeremiah is no collaborator nor traitor to his own people.
The choice is to either surrender to the Babylonians and live under their authority or else to resist and die in the city. Because of the sins of the people, there must be punishment, but still there is a choice. Either way, the city will be destroyed. It is in light of oracles like this one that we can understand why Jeremiah was accused of being a Babylonian collaborator. But he is not pro-Babylonian; he is pro-God and he knows that God is using the Babylonians, at least temporarily, to effect punishment on Judah.[xv]
THE FINAL THING WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND IN BECOMING GOD’S ENEMY IS THE FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY WE ARE SEDUCED INTO BY SIN
One of the great dangers in life is that we develop a hardened heart and resist God in our lives. We develop a false sense of security in our abilities and resources. God had been warning Zedekiah and the Jewish people of this very thing. In this final oracle spoken primarily to the leadership of the nation we see where their trust was being placed.
Moreover, say to the royal house of Judah, ‘Hear the word of the LORD,
This is what the LORD says to you, house of David: Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done – burn with no one to quench it.[xvi]
Tremper Longman points out: “The implication of the demand is that these officials were not fulfilling their duty.”[xvii]
A. The importance of doing the right thing.
What is required of leaders? What is required of us as believers? God was concerned that those in leadership were to administer justice. They were to defend the oppressed and not be the oppressors. This is equally true in our time. God is still looking for us to do the right thing by others. Listen to the summary of God’s requirements found in that text in Micah.
he has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.[xviii]
Even in this dire hour that they were living in as a result of their sin, God was still extending mercy to them. Walter Brueggemann points out: “The possible escape from judgment in these verses does not come by submitting to Babylon, but by doing what is most characteristic for Israel, namely justice.”6 If the people were to submit to Babylon, the leaders were to repent and do justice. When we in faith act in obedient response to what God calls us to, God’s response is kindness to us. We are called upon to act justly or ‘to do the right thing’ on behalf of others. Leaders are to protect those entrusted to their care. Yet, often leaders exploit the people they are to protect. God will address all unrighteousness. When we violate God’s ways, we find ourselves in opposition to God. We become His adversary.
I am against you, Jerusalem, you who live above this valley on the rocky plateau, declares the LORD – you who say, ‘Who can come against us?’[xix]
There are two things we notice in this text. First that God was against them. Imagine God as your enemy. Yet, their response reveals their arrogance, which was driven by a sense of false security. They felt secure in their fortress, Jerusalem, which they felt was impregnable. However, they failed to remember that their predecessors, the Jebusites, felt the same way and actually taunted David’s armies. However, the city was not beyond being taken.
The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, ‘You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.’ They thought, ‘David cannot get in here.’
Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion – which is the city of David.[xx]
Where are we really putting our trust? What fortress are we hiding behind? Ourselves? our resources? Those who govern us? Science and technology? All these things are in and of themselves are unable to sustain us. We are warned by the wisdom writers in Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” That is exactly what happened here.
I will punish you as your deeds deserve, declares the LORD. I will kindle a fire in your forests that will consume everything around you.[xxi]
What a tragic ending to the nation as a political entity. Many died because of plague, famine, war and those who survived were either exiled or became a small remnant that struggled in the days ahead.
So what can we learn from our text? What is God trying to say to us? We often quote the text and rightly so, that in light of God’s great salvation on our behalf, that ‘If God be for us, who can be against us?’ The answer is simply, no one. Yet, it’s stated in a conditional manner, ‘if.’ Is it ever possible to find ourselves like these ancient Jewish believers at enmity with God, and discover that God is opposing us? For those who see this as not consistent with the New Testament, we need to remember that James understood that we could find ourselves embracing ungodly values and ultimately succumb to the lifestyle of the ungodly and find ourselves opposed by God. As I was reflecting on this issue, I was reminded of Samson; a man called, chosen, and used mightily by God in stirring up God’s people from their lethargy and causing a movement away from the dominion and subjugation of their enemies the Philistines. Yet, the tragedy of Samson’s life was that he assumed that how he lived didn’t affect his life. The day came when the enemies fell upon him and he assumed that he would be empowered by God to defeat them as he had done in the past, but he was defeated and taken captive.
Then she called, ‘Samson, the Philistines are upon you!’ He awoke from his sleep and thought, ‘I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the LORD had left him.
Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding grain in the prison.[xxii]
Samson was unaware of his true condition as he had lived a compromised life for such a long time. He assumed God would be there to deliver him, but God allowed him to be taken into captivity, even as God allowed the nation of Judah to be taken into Babylonian captivity. What happened then still happens today. We can presume on the grace of God, persist in a sinful way, and then think all is fine. However, a day comes when God allows us to be defeated and taken into captivity. Why would God allow this defeat in our lives? Simply put: in order to ultimately salvage our souls.
God will fight the powers of evil when they oppress his people, but God can also use the powers of evil in this world to judge his people. God is not indifferent to the sins of his people. …In spite of the harsh language, annihilation of his people is not God’s goal no matter how much it appears to be a necessary option. Historical judgment can be combined with the saving of a remnant, and they can become the seeds of renewal and hope.[xxiii]
What fortress are we hiding behind? Where are we putting our trust? How are we living our lives? Are we living a devoted life or a compromised one? Are we embracing God’s values or being seduced by the values of our ungodly and worldly society? May we, like the Psalmist says: ‘The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold (cf. Ps. 18:2).’ Let us heed God’s warning and embrace the warnings that we refrain from a worldly life that leads to painful consequences. God in his ultimate mercy will discipline us when we sin, and work toward our restoration and redemption.
[i] James 4:4, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[ii] Jeremiah 21:1-2.
[iii] Robert Davidson, Jeremiah, Vol. 2, The Daily Study Bible Series, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1985), 8-9.
[iv] 1 John 5:2-5.
[v] Romans 12:1-2.
[vi] Jeremiah 21:3-7.
[vii] Deuteronomy 11:13-17.
[viii] Deuteronomy 28:20-22, 25, 36-37.
[ix] Frederick Huey, Jeremiah, Lamentations, New American Commentary, Vol. 16, (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 200.
[x] 1 Corinthians 5:5.
[xi] Jeremiah 21:8.
[xii] Jeremiah 21:9.
[xiii] Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 191.
[xiv] Jeremiah 21:10.
[xv] Tremper Longman III, Jeremiah, Lamentations, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 152.
[xvi] Jeremiah 21:11-12.
[xvii] Tremper Longman III, Jeremiah, Lamentations, 153.
[xviii] Micah 6:8.
[xix] Jeremiah 21:13.
[xx] 2 Samuel 5:6-7.
[xxi] Jeremiah 21:14.
[xxii] Judges 16:20-21.
[xxiii] Andrew Dearborn, Jeremiah, Lamentations, The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 200-201.