“Is Israel a slave? Is he a homeborn servant?
Why then has he become a prey?
The lions have roared against him;
they have roared loudly.
They have made his land a waste;
his cities are in ruins, without inhabitant.
Moreover, the men of Memphis and Tahpanhes
have shaved the crown of your head.
Have you not brought this upon yourself
by forsaking the Lord your God,
when he led you in the way?
And now what do you gain by going to Egypt
to drink the waters of the Nile?
Or what do you gain by going to Assyria
to drink the waters of the Euphrates?
Your evil will chastise you,
and your apostasy will reprove you.
Know and see that it is evil and bitter
for you to forsake the Lord your God;
the fear of me is not in you,
declares the Lord God of hosts.
“For long ago I broke your yoke
and burst your bonds;
but you said, ‘I will not serve.’
Yes, on every high hill
and under every green tree
you bowed down like a whore.
Yet I planted you a choice vine,
wholly of pure seed.
How then have you turned degenerate
and become a wild vine?
Though you wash yourself with lye
and use much soap,
the stain of your guilt is still before me,
declares the Lord God.” – Jeremiah 2:14-22 ESV
God continues His indictment of Judah and begins this section with another question. This time He asks a somewhat sarcastic and obviously rhetorical question: “Is Israel a slave? Is he a homeborn servant? Why then has he become a prey?” (Jeremiah 2:14 ESV). The northern kingdom of Israel had been taken captive by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., and everyone in Judah knew quite well the cause of their fall. There really was no question regarding the sad state of affairs to the north. The lions (a symbol of the Assyrians) had left their cities devastated and empty, and everyone knew why. They had been unfaithful to God. They had been idolatrous and adulterous, turning their backs on God and giving their affections to false gods. And while God had repeatedly attempted to call them back, they had stubbornly refused. And God had sent the Assyrians as punishment.
But the northern kingdom was not alone in their unfaithfulness. Even the southern kingdom of Judah had a track record of infidelity, pursuing false gods in place of the one true God. And on more than one occasion, Judah had turned to Egypt as a source of help and security. The very nation that had once enslaved them became their go-to solution when they were threatened by more powerful nations. But even the Egyptians had been used by God to bring punishment on Judah. In 925 B.C., “Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem. He took away the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house. He took away everything. He also took away all the shields of gold that Solomon had made” (1 Kings 14:25-26 ESV). Their savior had become their destroyer. And even during Jeremiah’s lifetime, the Egyptians would play a major role in Judah’s demise. In 609 B.C., King Neco of Egypt would take the life of Josiah, the great reformer/king.
In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. King Josiah went to meet him, and Pharaoh Neco killed him at Megiddo, as soon as he saw him. – 2 Kings 23:29 ESV
And God tells the people of Judah, “Have you not brought this upon yourself by forsaking the Lord your God, when he led you in the way?” (Jeremiah 2:17 ESV). This had all been their own fault. They were the ones responsible for all that had happened to them. Not only had the people of Israel and Judah been guilty of pursuing false gods, they had made faulty, ill-advised alliances with pagan nations. Rather than trusting in God, they had placed their hopes in men, relying on human kings to do for them what only God was supposed to do. And God asks them, “What have you gained by your alliances with Egypt and your covenants with Assyria? What good to you are the streams of the Nile or the waters of the Euphrates River?” (Jeremiah 2:18 NLT). Their would-be rescuers had become tools in the hands of God to bring about their own destruction. Their safety net had ended up entrapping them rather than rescuing them.
God warns Judah that they are going to learn a valuable lesson from their apostasy.
Your wickedness will bring its own punishment.
Your turning from me will shame you.
You will see what an evil, bitter thing it is
to abandon the Lord your God and not to fear him.
I, the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken! – Jeremiah 2:19 NLT
They were going to learn that forsaking God has serious consequences. You can’t just turn your back on God and expect Him to turn a blind eye. Years ago, God had warned the people of Israel, as they stood poised to enter the land of Canaan: “You must worship no other gods, for the Lord, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you” (Exodus 34:14 NLT). But over the centuries, Israel had proved to be repeatedly unfaithful to God. They had an ongoing love affair with the gods of the Canaanites and a tendency to put their trust in other nations, rather than looking to God.
Joshua, the one who led the people of Israel in their conquest of the land of Canaan, had some serious words of warning for them as he neared the end of his life. He had helped them take the land that God had promised to them. But he knew the people of Israel well. So, he warned them:
“So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:14-15 NLT
And the people enthusiastically responded:
“We would never abandon the Lord and serve other gods. For the Lord our God is the one who rescued us and our ancestors from slavery in the land of Egypt. He performed mighty miracles before our very eyes. As we traveled through the wilderness among our enemies, he preserved us. It was the Lord who drove out the Amorites and the other nations living here in the land. So we, too, will serve the Lord, for he alone is our God.” – Joshua 24:16-18 NLT
But Joshua had his doubts. He had lived with and led the people of Israel for years. He had watched their repeated unfaithfulness and infidelity toward God, and he was not optimistic regarding their pledge of faithfulness. So, he told them:
“You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy and jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you abandon the Lord and serve other gods, he will turn against you and destroy you, even though he has been so good to you.” – Joshua 24:19-20 NLT
But the people were insistent, claiming, ““No, we will serve the Lord!” (Joshua 24:21 NLT). And when Joshua warned them that they would be witnesses to their own testimony, they once again replied: “We will serve the Lord our God. We will obey him alone” (Jeremiah 24:24 NLT). So, Joshua had them roll a huge stone by the tabernacle to serve as a memorial of their covenant to serve God faithfully. And he said to them: “This stone has heard everything the Lord said to us. It will be a witness to testify against you if you go back on your word to God” (Joshua 24:27 NLT). And we know the rest of the story. But just in case the people of Judah were having short-term memory loss, God reminds them:
“Long ago I broke the yoke that oppressed you
and tore away the chains of your slavery,
but still you said,
‘I will not serve you.’
On every hill and under every green tree,
you have prostituted yourselves by bowing down to idols.” – Jeremiah 2:20 NLT
He had rescued and redeemed them, but they had rejected Him. He had given them the land of promise, and they had responded by breaking their promise to remain faithful to Him. And God paints a stark picture of just how bad things had gotten in Judah.
“But I was the one who planted you,
choosing a vine of the purest stock—the very best.
How did you grow into this corrupt wild vine?
No amount of soap or lye can make you clean.
I still see the stain of your guilt.
I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 2:21-22 NLT
His vine had become corrupt. His people had become stained by sin. His chosen ones had become rebellious and stubborn. Those whom He had set apart as holy and sacred to Him had chosen to set themselves apart to lives marked by sin and immorality. The redeemed had become enslaved once again, choosing a lifestyle of sin and disobedience over their freedom and security in God. As God stated earlier, they had made an illogical and indefensible decision.
They have abandoned me—
the fountain of living water.
And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns
that can hold no water at all! – Jeremiah 2:13 NLT
And that poor choice is one we all face each and every day of our lives. We are constantly tempted to turn our backs on the one true God and turn to false gods and faulty alternatives that can never provide for us what they promise and what we demand. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way. God allows us to choose. He doesn’t force our obedience or coerce our love. He simply loves us and then allows us to respond in kind, or to take our affections and share them with others. But we must never forget that our God is a jealous God. But His jealousy is just and righteous, not petty and petulant. He longs for us to be faithful to Him, because He longs to pour out His love and affection on us – in full.
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.