Lessons From Jeremiah
We’re now at the end of our study of Jeremiah. It’s been an adventure; a lot of drama, emotion, and energy have been expended in the saga of our prophet.
Like all the prophets, Jeremiah didn’t write in a vacuum: his was a message from the Lord and for people at a specific time and place and under specific circumstances.
And yet, however radically different his circumstances were from ours or from those of the many other generations who have read Jeremiah, crucial principles expressed there are the same for God’s people in every generation.
Such as faithfulness to God and obedience to His commandments. Such as true religion, a religion of the heart, as opposed to empty and dead rituals that can leave people in a false state of complacency. Such as the people’s willingness to listen to correction, even when it cuts across what they want to hear. Such as true revival and reformation. Such as trusting in the Lord and His promises instead of the arm of flesh. Such as . . .
The list goes on. This week, let’s take a look at some of the many lessons we can learn from this revelation of God’s love for His people even amid many thunderous warnings to them about where their actions will lead.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, December 26.
Seventh-day Adventists understand that at the center of the great controversy exists a crucial issue: What is the character of God? What is God really like? Is He the arbitrary tyrant that Satan makes Him out to be, or is He a loving and caring Father who wants only the best for us? These questions really are the most important questions in the entire cosmos. After all, what would our situation be if God were not kind and loving and self-sacrificial but mean and arbitrary and sadistic? We’d be better off if no God existed than to have one like that.
So, the questions are of huge importance. Fortunately, we have the answers, and they are best seen at the Cross.
“Never will it be forgotten that He whose power created and upheld the unnumbered worlds through the vast realms of space, the Beloved of God, the Majesty of heaven, He whom cherub and shining seraph delighted to adore—humbled Himself to uplift fallen man; that He bore the guilt and shame of sin, and the hiding of His Father’s face, till the woes of a lost world broke His heart, and crushed out His life on Calvary’s cross. That the Maker of all worlds, the Arbiter of all destinies, should lay aside His glory and humiliate Himself from love to man will ever excite the wonder and adoration of the universe.”—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 651.
These are just a few of the many images and expressions used in the book that reveal to us something of the nature and character of our God. He is the Source of life, the powerful Creator, a God of judgment, a God who loves us and calls us, again and again, to repent of our sins and to turn away from the paths that will lead to our destruction.
“There is a document that records God’s endless, dispiriting struggle with organized religion, known as the Bible.”—Terry Eagleton, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate (Yale Univeristy Press, 2010), Kindle Edition, p. 8.
Not quite true, and that’s because the religion of the Bible, the religion that God has given humanity, has always been an “organized religion.”
On the other hand, there is no question that in the book of Jeremiah, the Lord was seeking to get people away from the cold, dead, but very organized rituals that came to dominate their faith, rituals that they believed covered their sin.
As said earlier, yet it is worth repeating, the vast majority of Jeremiah’s struggles were with leaders and priests and people who believed that because they were the chosen ones of God, the children of Abraham, the covenant people, they were just fine with the Lord. What a sad deception, one that we, also of Abraham’s seed (Gal. 3:29), need to watch out for.
Read Jeremiah 7:9, 10. If one ever wanted to find a situation that fits what has been called “cheap grace,” the term certainly applies here. The people do all these sinful things and then come back to the temple and “worship” the true God and claim forgiveness for their sins. God is not mocked. Unless these people change their ways, especially how they treat the weak among them, they are going to face harsh judgment.
What a deception they are under, the belief that they can claim God’s forgiveness and go on doing what they want, without regard to the conditions of the covenant so that they can continue on in those sins.
“So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12).
So much of the book of Jeremiah is directed toward the nation as a whole. Time and again he talked about Israel and Judah corporately, as God’s “choice vine” (Jer. 2:21, NIV), or the “beloved” of the Lord (Jer. 11:15, 12:7), God’s own “heritage” (Jer. 12:7–9), His “vineyard” (Jer. 12:10), and His “flock” (Jer. 13:17). Without doubt, in the book we get a sense of the corporate nature of the Lord’s calling to this nation.
Of course, it’s the same in the New Testament, where time and again the church is understood in a corporate sense (see Eph. 1:22, 3:10, 5:27).
Yet, salvation is personal, not a corporate issue. We are not saved as package deals. As with the New Testament church, the nation of Judah was composed of individuals, and it’s here, at the level of the individual, that the real crucial issues arise. The famous text in Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (NKJV), though spoken to the nation as a whole, is written in the singular second person. That is, the “you” in each case is the singular; God is talking to each one individually. In the end, each one of us, personally, will have to give an account of ourselves to God.
We find that same thing in Jeremiah as well.
Though both Testaments of the Bible talk about the corporate nature of God’s church, true faith is a matter of each person, himself or herself, making a daily surrender to the Lord, a personal choice to walk in faith and obedience.
What’s interesting in these texts is not just the way in which the prophet shows how vain and useless and silly these idols are but how he contrasts them to the living God. These things are powerless, useless, empty, and false; what a contrast to the Lord who made the heavens and earth! He will endure forever, while these idols will vanish forever. So, whom should we be worshiping and dedicating our lives to: that which is weak, false, vain, and powerless, or to the Lord, whose power and might are so great that He created and sustains the universe? The answer, of course, is obvious.
Yet, however obvious the answer, the fact is, we are in danger of falling into idolatry as well. Though today we might not worship the same kind of idols that those in Jeremiah’s time did, our modern life is full of false gods. These modern idols can be anything that we love more than God; whatever we “worship” (and worship doesn’t always mean singing and praying) becomes our god, and we are guilty of idolatry.
Of course, we know intellectually that none of these things is worthy of worship. We know that in the end, nothing that this world offers us, nothing that we make into idols, can ultimately satisfy our souls and certainly not redeem them. We know all these things, and yet, unless we are careful, unless we keep before us Jesus and what He did for us and why He did it, we can so easily be swept up in a modern form of the idolatry similar to that which Jeremiah so passionately railed against.
“In the closing years of Judah’s apostasy the exhortations of the prophets were seemingly of but little avail; and as the armies of the Chaldeans came for the third and last time to besiege Jerusalem, hope fled from every heart. Jeremiah predicted utter ruin; and it was because of his insistence on surrender that he had finally been thrown into prison. But God left not to hopeless despair the faithful remnant who were still in the city. Even while Jeremiah was kept under close surveillance by those who scorned his messages, there came to him fresh revelations concerning Heaven’s willingness to forgive and to save, which have been an unfailing source of comfort to the church of God from that day to this.”—Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, p. 466.
Even amid that prevailing apostasy and doom, God always had a faithful people, however small in number. Though as with many of the books of the prophets, much of the emphasis in Jeremiah was on apostasy and unfaithfulness—because these were what the Lord wanted to save the people from—all through sacred history the Lord had a faithful remnant. This, of course, will continue down until the end of time (see Rev. 12:17).
In verses 5–7 scholars have long seen a Messianic prophecy, a prophecy of redemption for God’s faithful people. Though it’s true that, after the Babylonian exile, a remnant returned, it was not a glorious return. However, God’s purposes would be fulfilled through the lineage of David, through a “righteous Branch,” the King who would one day reign.
This prophecy had a partial fulfillment in the first coming of Jesus (see Matt. 1:1, 21:7–9, John 12:13). It will have its ultimate fulfillment in the Second Coming (see Dan. 7:13, 14), when all of God’s faithful people, His true remnant, will dwell forever in peace and safety. The redemption, first symbolized by the Exodus from Egypt, will be final, complete, and eternal.
Further Thought: Many years ago a Seventh-day Adventist minister named W. D. Frazee preached a sermon called “Winners and Losers.” In it he went through the lives of various Bible characters, looking at their work and ministry, and then he asked the question regarding each one: Was he a winner or a loser?
For example, he looked at John the Baptist, who lived a lonely life in the wilderness. Though eventually John had a small following, it never amounted to much, and certainly it was not what Jesus, who came later, had. And, of course, John lived out his last days in a dank prison where, at times, he was harassed with doubt, finally only to get his head chopped off (Matthew 14). After recounting all this, Elder Frazee asked: “Was John a winner or a loser?”
What about Jeremiah the prophet? How successful was his life? He suffered a great deal, and he wasn’t afraid to whine and moan about it either. With few exceptions, it seems that the priests, prophets, kings, and common people not only didn’t like what he had to say, but also thoroughly resented it. He was even seen as treasonous against his own people. In the end, the destruction and doom that he spent his life warning about came, because time and again the people rejected his words. They threw him into a muddy pit, hoping he’d die there. He lived to see his nation go into a terrible exile while Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed. Thus, from a human perspective, not much went well for Jeremiah. From one perspective, you could argue that he had a fairly miserable life.