“How can you say, ‘I am not unclean,
I have not gone after the Baals’?
Look at your way in the valley;
know what you have done—
a restless young camel running here and there,
a wild donkey used to the wilderness,
in her heat sniffing the wind!
Who can restrain her lust?
None who seek her need weary themselves;
in her month they will find her.
Keep your feet from going unshod
and your throat from thirst.
But you said, ‘It is hopeless,
for I have loved foreigners,
and after them I will go.’
“As a thief is shamed when caught,
so the house of Israel shall be shamed:
they, their kings, their officials,
their priests, and their prophets,
who say to a tree, ‘You are my father,’
and to a stone, ‘You gave me birth.’
For they have turned their back to me,
and not their face.
But in the time of their trouble they say,
‘Arise and save us!’
But where are your gods
that you made for yourself?
Let them arise, if they can save you,
in your time of trouble;
for as many as your cities
are your gods, O Judah.” – Jeremiah 2:23-28 ESV
God knew that the people of Judah would deny His accusations. When confronted by the prophet of God bearing the indictment of God against them, they would simply resort to a pitiful attempt at denial. They cry, “Not guilty!” But God says that there is plenty of proof to convict them. He tells them to take a look at the valley – probably a reference to the Hinnon Valley just south of Jerusalem. It was at this place they worshiped Baal and Molech, even sacrificing their children to these false gods.
And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. – Jeremiah 7:31 ESV
When Jeremiah started his ministry, he did so under the reign of King Josiah. And we read in 2 Kings where he made many reforms, trying to correct the many misdeeds of the people of Judah. One of them involved the Hinnom Valley.
“he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech.” – 2 Kings 23:10 ESV
This chapter in 2 Kings validates God’s accusation, providing additional evidence of just how corrupt and immoral the people of God had become. Josiah found himself quite busy trying to remedy the spiritual problem that permeated every area of life in Judah.
…the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the keepers of the threshold to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven – 2 Kings 23:4 ESV
And he deposed the priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and the moon and the constellations and all the host of the heavens. – 2 Kings 23:5 ESV
And he brought out the Asherah from the house of the Lord… – 2 Kings 23:5 ESV
And he broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the Lord… – 2 Kings 23:7 ESV
And he removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun, at the entrance to the house of the Lord… – 2 Kings 23:11 ESV
And the king defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, to the south of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites… – 2 Kings 23:13 ESV
And the list goes on. And while Josiah was busy trying to clean up the mess left by ages of disobedience and disregard for God, the people never really changed. Their hearts remained stubborn and totally opposed to returning to God. In spite of his best efforts at reform, Josiah would not be able to reform the hearts of the people. That is why God was sending Jeremiah and why the author of 2 Kings went on to write:
Still the Lord did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. And the Lord said, “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.” – 2 Kings 23:26-27 ESV
They could deny their guilt, but the evidence was stacked against them. God even compares them to a wild donkey or camel in heat. They couldn’t resist their inner urges. They were driven by their own desires, like a female donkey that runs away from its master in order to satisfy its base desires. God had repeatedly called the people of Judah to repentance, begging them to return to Him. He loved them and would have accepted them and restored them to a right relationship with Him, but they responded, “Save your breath. I’m in love with these foreign gods, and I can’t stop loving them now!” (Jeremiah 2:25 NLT). They weren’t going to stop. They couldn’t. Their sin natures wouldn’t allow them to do so. What a great picture of man’s inability to seek and serve God faithfully. If left to ourselves, we will always choose sin over righteousness. We may mean well, but our natural predisposition is toward sin. We can’t help ourselves. That is why Paul wrote, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10 ESV). The people of Judah were doing what came naturally. They were sinners in need of a Savior. They had been chosen by God and set apart by Him, but they still had hearts that were predisposed to sin. It was in their DNA, inherited from their ancestor, Adam. Paul reminds us of the terrible consequences of Adam’s original sin:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned… – Romans 5:12 ESV
…by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners – Romans 5:19 ESV
And the people of Judah were living proof of this theological reality. They were sinners. In spite of all that God had done for them, they continued to follow their natural inclination to seek and serve other gods. But their passion for other gods was really based on a need for self-determination and autonomy. They wanted to be the arbiters of their own fate. They wanted to determine the kind of god they served. And this desire went all the way back to the garden of Eden. God had warned Adam:
“You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” – Genesis 2:16-17 ESV
It was Satan who came to them and subtly seduced them to disobey the command of God. He misconstrued the words of God and made it sound like God was denying Adam and Eve something they would really enjoy. He was attempting to keep them from being like Himself.
“You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 ESV
Satan was right. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, their eyes were opened. They not only knew what evil was, they had an irrepressible desire for it. And driving their urges from that day forward would be their desire to be like God. They would want to be in control. They would want to determine their own future and live according to their own will. Man’s ongoing attempt to create his own gods is nothing more than his need to find value and meaning in something outside of himself. Our innate need for God gets satisfied by our own attempt to create our own gods, whether in the form of an idol or an ideology. Today, we worship science and politics, education and enlightenment. Our gods are more sophisticated, but are no less idols than a Buddha statue sitting on a table.
God points out the absurdity of man’s incurable desire to create his own god.
“To an image carved from a piece of wood they say,
‘You are my father.’
To an idol chiseled from a block of stone they say,
‘You are my mother.’
They turn their backs on me,
but in times of trouble they cry out to me,
‘Come and save us!’” – Jeremiah 2:27 NLT
We have this innate desire to worship anything and everything but God. Then, when things go south, we find ourselves turning back and crying out to God for help. Like the millions of people who flocked to and filled churches all across America after 9/11, we find ourselves falling back on God when our world falls in on us. But God would say to us as He did to Judah:
“But why not call on these gods you have made?
When trouble comes, let them save you if they can!
For you have as many gods
as there are towns in Judah.” – Jeremiah 2:28 NLT
Why not let science save you? Why not ask your politicians to come to your rescue? You’ve spent your life putting your trust in money, why not put your hope in it now? You’ve made pleasure your god, so why not let pleasure get you out of the fix you’re in? But false gods have no power to save. They are totally incapable of providing rescue from the effects of sin. Science can prolong life, but it can’t prevent death. Politicians can pass laws and legislate till their blue in the face, but they can’t prevent sin or promise eternal life. In fact, the gods we worship in place of the one true God, can only cause sin. They tempt us to turn from God. They cause us to misplace our trust and misdirect our affections. They produce sin, rather than prevent it.
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.