“Lord, you know all about their murderous plots against me. Don’t forgive their crimes and blot out their sins. Let them die before you. Deal with them in your anger.” – Jeremiah 18:23 NLT
Jeremiah was angry. He was upset and ready to have God give the Israelites just what they deserved. In fact, he made it clear just what he wanted God to do to them. He told God to “let their children starve! Let them die by the sword! Let their wives become childless widows. Let their old men die in a plague, and let their young men be killed in battle! Let screaming be heard from their homes as warriors come suddenly upon them” (Jeremiah 18:21-22 NLT). Jeremiah was wishing the worst on these people – the same people he had interceded for on several occasions in the past. Why was he so upset? What had made him go from praying for God to spare them to praying that God would completely destroy them? Was it because they had offended God with their sinful practices or idolatrous ways? Was it because they stubbornly refused to obey God and keep His Law? Was it because they worshiped other gods and failed to give God the glory and honor He deserved? No, Jeremiah made it perfectly clear why he was so upset. He said, “For they have dug a pit for me and have hidden traps along my path” (Jeremiah 18:22b NLT). This was all about Jeremiah, not God. It seems that Jeremiah was more upset about their sins against HIM, than their sins against a holy God. When the people turned their attention toward Jeremiah and he started feeling the affects of their sinful ways, he suddenly became indignant.
What had happened? Basically, the people began to attack the messenger. Since they couldn’t stop God, they decided to stop Jeremiah. They said, “Come on, let’s cook up a plot against Jeremiah. We’ll still have the priests to teach us the law, wise counselors to give us advice, and prophets to tell us what God has to say. Come on, let’s discredit him so we don’t have to put up with him any longer” (Jeremiah 18:18 MSG). They turned their attack on Jeremiah, and when they did, he became angry. But rather than righteous indignation, Jeremiah’s was self-righteous. It was me-centered and self-focused. Jeremiah told God, “GOD, listen to me! Just listen to what my enemies are saying. Should I get paid evil for good? That’s what they’re doing. They’ve made plans to kill me! Remember all the times I stood up for them before you, speaking up for them, trying to soften your anger?” (Jeremiah 18:19-20 MSG). Suddenly, they were his enemies. He reminds God of all the good he had been doing, all the times he had stood up for these ungrateful wretches. It had become all about him, not God. Jeremiah’s dander was up because he was beginning to feel the heat. But isn’t that what we do? Isn’t that how we react? We can tolerate the sins around us as long they don’t sin against us. We can read about murder, rape, injustice, and greed – and tolerate it – until it comes home to roost. Just let something like that happen to us or to someone we know, then we can become angry and demand that God repay those who have harmed us. We can silently watch others suffer, but just let one thing happen to us, then we become highly vocal and vengeful. And worse yet, we can sit back and watch the world thumb its nose at a holy, righteous God who we say we believe in, but just let the world sin against us, then our self-righteous indignation explodes.
The sins of men are always against God. We may feel the impact of them, but they are direct against a holy God. The people were attacking Jeremiah because he was convenient. They couldn’t get at God, so they chose to kill the messenger. Satan can’t get at God, so he attacks us, and he uses those around us to do his dirty work. The Jews destroyed Jesus because they couldn’t stand His message. But their sin was against God. And you don’t see Jesus whining and complaining from the cross about how much He was having to suffer. He didn’t call down wrath from heaven against those who were sneering and mocking Him. No, He said “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NLT). Two times before, Jesus had become angry when He walked into the Temple courtyard and saw how they had desecrated it and turned it into a carnival-like atmosphere where making money had become the focus instead of confessing sins. He practiced righteous indignation and cleared the place – because He saw their sins as an affront against a holy God. We should be angry when we see injustice and sin in the world. We should be upset when we see people destroy one another and snub their noses at a holy God. But we tend to tolerate a lot until it touches our lives. We can easily lose sight of the fact that the sins of man are always God-focused. That’s what had happened to Jeremiah. But God made it clear to Jeremiah that their sins were against Him. He said, “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will bring disaster upon this city and its surrounding towns as I promised, because you have stubbornly refused to listen to me.’” (Jeremiah 19:15 NLT). God was going to punish Judah for their sins against Him, not their sins against Jeremiah. It was about God, not Jeremiah. It is always about God. So the next time you are sinned against, remember that their sin is really directed at God. The next time you see sin taking place around you, examine your reaction to it. Does it bother you only if it directly impacts you? Does injustice in a place halfway around the world concern you? Do the sins being done every day in the face of the God you say you worship bother you? Are you indignant about a world that thumbs its nose in the face of your God? Or is your indignation more self-focused?
Father, it never ceases to amaze me how easy it is for us to make everything about US. Even the sins of others can become all about us. And we lose sight of the fact that the sins of all men are against You. But that doesn’t seem to bother us. Open our eyes and let us become angry over mankind’s sins against You. May our anger be at the flippant, flagrant sins committed against You every day. You are holy, righteous and just. You deserve better. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men