Forgetting God.

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the Lord,

“I remember the devotion of your youth,
    your love as a bride,
how you followed me in the wilderness,
    in a land not sown.
Israel was holy to the Lord,
    the firstfruits of his harvest.
All who ate of it incurred guilt;
    disaster came upon them,
declares the Lord.”

Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the clans of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord:

“What wrong did your fathers find in me
    that they went far from me,
and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?
They did not say, ‘Where is the Lord
    who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness,
    in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness,
    in a land that none passes through,
    where no man dwells?’
And I brought you into a plentiful land
    to enjoy its fruits and its good things.
But when you came in, you defiled my land
    and made my heritage an abomination.
The priests did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’
    Those who handle the law did not know me;
the shepherds transgressed against me;
    the prophets prophesied by Baal
    and went after things that do not profit. – Jeremiah 2:1-8 ESV

God has been speaking to Jeremiah, but now, he gives the prophet his first message to deliver to the people living in Jerusalem, Judah’s capital city. These were God’s words, not Jeremiah’s. He was simply God’s spokesperson or mouthpiece, tasked with the responsibility of delivering God’s message faithfully and accurately. And the first thing God had Jeremiah say to the people was a stark assessment of their apostasy in the form of a stinging indictment. It starts off in the form of a reflection on God’s part, as He looks back on His relationship with the people of Israel. He recalls the early years of their relationship, when He delivered them from captivity in Egypt and led them through the wilderness. God describes Israel as His bride, lovingly following Him as their husband and redeemer. And God describes Israel as “holy to the Lord” (Jeremiah 2:3 ESV). They had been chosen by God and set apart as His own. The Hebrew word for holy is qodesh and it refers to something as having been deemed sacred by God and separated out for His use. Israel, in being redeemed from slavery in Egypt by God, had become His possession. They belonged to Him and to Him only. Like a bride and groom becoming one flesh, Israel and God were to be inseparable, with the people of Israel living in faithful submission to their loving redeemer. And God reminds the people how He had protected them in those early days. He refers to Israel as the “firstfruits” – a reference to the firstfruits of the harvest. Under the leadership of Moses, God had commanded the Israelites to give Him the firstfruits of their harvest each year. They were to take the first of what they harvested and present it to the Lord as an offering. It belonged to God and was not to be used for anything or by anyone else. The firstfruit offering was used to feed the priests of Israel and was not to be consumed by others. So, God refers to Israel as the firstfruits, belonging to Him and not to be given to anyone else. And God reminds Israel that He had protected them over the years, punishing those who tried to take what belonged to God.

But then God goes from reminiscing to questioning. He asks the people of Israel, “What did your ancestors find wrong with me that led them to stray so far from me? They worshiped worthless idols, only to become worthless themselves?” (Jeremiah 2:5 NLT). It’s important to recognize that, while Jeremiah is delivering this message to the people of Judah living in Jerusalem, God keeps referring to them as Israel. You may recall that the nation of Israel had been split in two by God after the less-than-ideal end of Solomon’s reign as king. The nation of Israel was comprised of ten tribes to the north and the nation of Judah was made up of two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, in the south. By the time Jeremiah came on to the scene, the northern nation of Israel had already been destroyed by the Assyrians because of their apostasy toward God. But God saw the tribe of Judah as the true Israel, because He had promised King David that a descendant of his would one day come to reign on his throne in Jerusalem forever. That promise referred to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. So, all throughout the book of Jeremiah, God will refer to Judah as Israel. And in spite of them having watched the fall of the northern kingdom, the people of Judah learned nothing from it. They followed in their footsteps, committing the same crimes against God that had led to Israel’s destruction. In fact, in the very next chapter, God will indict the people of Judah for their blatant disregard for what He had done to their neighbors to the north.

“Have you seen what fickle Israel has done? Like a wife who commits adultery, Israel has worshiped other gods on every hill and under every green tree. I thought, ‘After she has done all this, she will return to me.’ But she did not return, and her faithless sister Judah saw this. She saw that I divorced faithless Israel because of her adultery. But that treacherous sister Judah had no fear, and now she, too, has left me and given herself to prostitution. Israel treated it all so lightly—she thought nothing of committing adultery by worshiping idols made of wood and stone. So now the land has been polluted. But despite all this, her faithless sister Judah has never sincerely returned to me. She has only pretended to be sorry. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 3:6-10 NLT

They had completely forgotten about God. They no longer asked where He was or recalled all that He had done for them. They acted as if He didn’t even exist. Rather than living in grateful obedience to God in the land He had provided them, they defiled it by living in willful disobedience to and open disregard for Him. Even the priests and leaders failed to seek God.

“Those who taught my word ignored me,
    the rulers turned against me,
and the prophets spoke in the name of Baal,
    wasting their time on worthless idols.” – Jeremiah 2:8 NLT

The book of Ezekiel contains a stinging accusation from God against the people of Israel. In very graphic terms, it portrays Israel as a newborn baby, unwanted and left in a field to die. But God found Israel and provided care and nourishment. Israel grew up into a beautiful woman and God chose Israel to be His bride.

“I gave you expensive clothing of fine linen and silk, beautifully embroidered, and sandals made of fine goatskin leather. I gave you lovely jewelry, bracelets, beautiful necklaces, a ring for your nose, earrings for your ears, and a lovely crown for your head. And so you were adorned with gold and silver. Your clothes were made of fine linen and costly fabric and were beautifully embroidered. You ate the finest foods—choice flour, honey, and olive oil—and became more beautiful than ever. You looked like a queen, and so you were! Your fame soon spread throughout the world because of your beauty. I dressed you in my splendor and perfected your beauty, says the Sovereign Lord.

“But you thought your fame and beauty were your own. So you gave yourself as a prostitute to every man who came along. Your beauty was theirs for the asking. You used the lovely things I gave you to make shrines for idols, where you played the prostitute. Unbelievable! How could such a thing ever happen? You took the very jewels and gold and silver ornaments I had given you and made statues of men and worshiped them. This is adultery against me! You used the beautifully embroidered clothes I gave you to dress your idols. Then you used my special oil and my incense to worship them. Imagine it! You set before them as a sacrifice the choice flour, olive oil, and honey I had given you, says the Sovereign Lord. – Ezekiel 16:10-19 NLT

After all God had done for them, Israel had treated God with disdain and disrespect. They turned against Him, forsaking His love and giving their devotion to false gods. They had been set apart by God as His own. They had been deemed holy by God and dedicated by Him to a life of faithfulness to Him. But they had chosen to reject their Redeemer and give their love and affection to someone else.

“What a sick heart you have, says the Sovereign Lord, to do such things as these, acting like a shameless prostitute. – Ezekiel 16:30 NLT

They had forgotten God. They had turned their backs on the very One who had rescued them from slavery and graciously given them a land they didn’t deserve and a love that was undeserved. And they treated it all with contempt. The grace and mercy of God meant nothing to them. The love of God was not enough for them. Their status as God’s possession was meaningless to them. They treated God’s devotion with disregard. They responded to His love by loving others. They reacted to His faithfulness with unfaithfulness, and to His unmerited favor with unimaginable forgetfulness. “What a sick heart you have!”

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson