The Crisis Continues
The travails and trials of God’s servant continue. In fact, pretty much all of the book of Jeremiah deals with the challenges and struggles the prophet had in trying to get the people to listen to the words that the Lord was seeking to convey to them out of love and concern.
Imagine what would have happened if the people had listened to Jeremiah and had accepted the prophet’s warning. If they had listened— if the people, the kings, and the leaders had humbled themselves before God—the terrible crisis would not have come. The chance for repentance was before them. Even after they had done so much wrong, so much evil, the door to redemption and salvation had not closed. The door stood open; they simply refused to walk through it.
Again, it’s so easy for us today to shake our heads at the hardness of their hearts. “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11, NKJV). We have these examples before us; what will we learn from them?
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, November 14.
In Jeremiah 9, the prophet began his lamentation because he saw the inevitable catastrophe coming to his country and people. God pronounced judgment over Jerusalem, and when God says something, He does it. What they would face wasn’t something fortuitous, not just one of those terrible and inexplicable things that happen from time to time. No, what they would face was going to be the direct judgment of God. And it was this realization that was causing Jeremiah such sorrow. His sorrow, though, was only a small reflection of the pain that God must have felt.
Though the context is different, this quote captures the idea so well: “The cross is a revelation to our dull senses of the pain that, from its very inception, sin has brought to the heart of God. Every departure from the right, every deed of cruelty, every failure of humanity to reach His ideal, brings grief to Him. When there came upon Israel the calamities that were the sure result of separation from God,—subjugation by their enemies, cruelty, and death,—it is said that ‘His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel.’ ‘In all their affliction He was afflicted: . . . and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old.’ Judges 10:16; Isaiah 63:9.”—Ellen G. White, Education, p. 263.
It has been said that when it comes to death, we are all like an “unwalled city.” Wisdom, might, and riches all have their place, but to rely on these things, especially amid catastrophe, or when death looms, is fruitless, meaningless, and empty. Amid all the warnings about the doom, the people are told what really matters, and that is to know and to understand for oneself, at least to the degree that we can, the loving kindness, the justice, and the righteousness of God. What else is there, what else alone can give us hope and comfort when everything earthly, everything human, including our own flesh, fails us?
As we have seen already, God’s people had been called out to be different from the nations around them, which were all steeped in paganism, idolatry, and false teachings. So many of the warnings in the first five books of Moses were especially against following the practices of their neighbors. Instead, the Israelites were to be witnesses to the world of the truth about the Lord as Creator and Redeemer. Unfortunately, so much of Old Testament history is the story of how they were often lured into the very practices that they were warned against.
Jeremiah is telling the people what they should have already known: these pagan gods are nothing but human creations, figments of people’s own demonically warped imaginations. This is a prime example of what Paul, writing centuries later, meant when he wrote about those who “changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen” (Rom. 1:25).
Notice in this verse how Paul contrasts the creation and the Creator. This same contrast is presented in these verses in Jeremiah, which talk about the impotence and weakness of these “gods” in contrast to the true One. All through these texts Jeremiah is trying to show the people how foolish and silly it is to put their trust in these things, which are incapable of doing anything. All this in contrast to the Creator God, who not only created the world but sustains it by His power (see Heb. 1:3).
However ancient these texts, the message is still so relevant. We might not be tempted to bow down and worship man-made statues; nor are most of us dismayed or worried about the signs in the heavens. Instead, though, it’s still so easy to put our trust in things that can no more save us than these idols could save Judea on the day of judgment.
The message here was the same as the message all through the Bible, Old and New Testament, and that is the call to repentance, to turn away from our sin and find the salvation that God offers to all.
“The inhabitants of Judah were all undeserving, yet God would not give them up. By them His name was to be exalted among the heathen. Many who were wholly unacquainted with His attributes were yet to behold the glory of the divine character. It was for the purpose of making plain His merciful designs that He kept sending His servants the prophets with the message, ‘Turn ye again now everyone from his evil way.’ Jeremiah 25:5. ‘For My name’s sake,’ He declared through Isaiah, ‘will I defer Mine anger, and for My praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off.’ ‘For Mine own sake, even for Mine own sake, will I do it: for how should My name be polluted? and I will not give My glory unto another.’ Isaiah 48:9, 11.”—Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, p. 319.
Old Testament, New Testament—in the end, the message of God is the same to all of us: we are sinners, we have done wrong, we deserve punishment. But through the cross of Christ, through the atoning death of Jesus, God has made a way for all of us to be saved. We need to acknowledge our sinfulness; we need to claim by faith the merits of Jesus, which are freely given us despite our unworthiness; and we need to repent of our sin. And, of course, true repentance includes putting sin out of our lives by the grace of God.
From our perspective looking back, it’s hard to believe the hardness of the hearts of the people. As we saw in yesterday’s lesson, Jeremiah’s message—however strong—was still filled with hope. If they repented, God would avert the horrific punishments that, based on the covenant promises and curses, would come upon them. If only they would do what they were supposed to do, if only they would obey God and obtain the blessing that obedience would bring, then all would be well. God would forgive, God would heal, God would restore. The gospel provision, which would eventually come through the sacrifice of Jesus, would be enough to forgive all their sins and restore the people.
What a message of hope, of promise, of salvation!
In Israel, only a legally assembled court could pass a death sentence. Only a majority vote of the judges was acceptable for the death sentence. The priests and the prophets prosecuted Jeremiah with their deadly accusations. Those opposed to him wanted to present him as a political criminal and as a traitor.
Jeremiah didn’t back down at all; with the threat of death before him, the prophet, no doubt in some fear, nevertheless did not soften a single word of the message that he had been given by the Lord, who specially warned him at the start not to hold back a word (Jer. 26:2). Thus, in contrast to the Jeremiah who at times was whining, complaining, and cursing the day of his birth, we see him now as a man of God who is standing faithfully and with conviction.
As we saw yesterday, whatever his fears, whatever his own emotions, Jeremiah stood firm, fully aware of the potential death that his stance could bring him. He warned the princes and the people very clearly in Jeremiah 26:15 (“know for certain” [NKJV], he said) that if they killed him they would face punishment for spilling innocent blood. Jeremiah knew that he was not guilty of the charges against him.
How fascinating that the priests and the prophets, the ones who were supposed to be the spiritual leaders, had to be rebuked and challenged by mere “elders” and “regular people” who came forward in defense of Jeremiah. They brought up the memory of Micah, who had lived a century before Jeremiah, in Israel. The king then did not hurt Micah but listened to his advice, the whole nation repented, and disaster was averted, at least for a time. Now these people in Jeremiah’s day were wiser than their leaders and wanted to spare the nation from making a big mistake by putting a prophet of God to death.
The acquittal emphasized that Jeremiah was not guilty of those things he was accused of. However, the priests’ and prophets’ hatred became stronger. Anger and the desire for revenge rose in them so that at a later time they would pounce on Jeremiah with their full fury. His release meant only a moment of ease for the prophet. He was not completely out of danger.
What we can see here is an example of how some people learned lessons from history while others, knowing the same history, refused to learn the same lessons. We can see something similar centuries later, with the Pharisee Gamaliel and his caution to other leaders concerning how to handle the followers of Jesus.
Further Thought: “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). No doubt we can look around in nature, in human relationships, and in the marvels of the creation itself and get a view of God’s love, however much sin has damaged that creation as well as our ability to appreciate or even read it correctly. But at the cross, veils were torn off, and the world was given the starkest and sharpest revelation possible of that love—a love so great that it led to what Ellen G. White called “the sundering of the divine powers.”—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 924.
The sundering of the divine powers?
So great was God’s love for us that the Godhead, whose members loved each other from eternity, endured this “sundering” in order to redeem us. “ ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ ” (Matt. 27:46) is the clearest and most powerful expression of that “sundering,” of what it cost to save us. Here, we can again see the pain and suffering the Lord has endured because of our sin.
No wonder, then, that “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19, NIV). Of course, as fallen humans we only imitate that love, and even that imitation is often warped by our own selfishness and sinful desires. God’s love transcends ours; we reflect God’s love the way an oily mud puddle reflects the sky.