“I Am Innocent.”

“Why do you contend with me?
    You have all transgressed against me,
declares the Lord.
In vain have I struck your children;
    they took no correction;
your own sword devoured your prophets
    like a ravening lion.
And you, O generation, behold the word of the Lord.
Have I been a wilderness to Israel,
    or a land of thick darkness?
Why then do my people say, ‘We are free,
    we will come no more to you’?
Can a virgin forget her ornaments,
    or a bride her attire?
Yet my people have forgotten me
    days without number.

“How well you direct your course
    to seek love!
So that even to wicked women
    you have taught your ways.
Also on your skirts is found
    the lifeblood of the guiltless poor;
you did not find them breaking in.
    Yet in spite of all these things
you say, ‘I am innocent;
    surely his anger has turned from me.’
Behold, I will bring you to judgment
    for saying, ‘I have not sinned.’
How much you go about,
    changing your way!
You shall be put to shame by Egypt
    as you were put to shame by Assyria.
From it too you will come away
    with your hands on your head,
for the Lord has rejected those in whom you trust,
    and you will not prosper by them. Jeremiah 2:29-37 ESV

In spite of all God had said about them and the indictments He had made regarding their unfaithfulness toward Him, they denied it. They argued or contended with Him about His assessment of their behavior. They had the unmitigated gall to refute God, demanding that they were innocent. And they were angry over the fact that He would ever consider punishing them. But God asks them, “Why do you accuse me of doing wrong? You are the ones who have rebelled” (Jeremiah 2:29 NLT). They were all guilty.

And God admits that His punishment of them had done little to change their hearts. They were stubborn and pigheaded. Even the younger generation had failed to learn from their parents’ mistakes. They had heard how God had brought divine discipline in the past. They had been told the stories of the northern kingdom’s fall. But they were just as rebellious as their forefathers. God had sent prophets before and they had been ignored and, in some cases, eliminated altogether. The people of God had a bad habit of rejecting the message by killing the messenger. And in doing so, they were rejecting God, the very one who had called and commissioned the prophets.

And this treatment of God was totally undeserved. It was not as if God had been cruel and unkind. He even asks them:

Have I been like a desert to Israel?
Have I been to them a land of darkness? – Jeremiah 2:31 NLT

They had no legitimate reasons to reject God. He had blessed them. He had been a light to them. He had provided for all their needs and protected them for generations. But they treated Him as a pariah. They turned their backs on Him. And by their very treatment of Him, it was as if they were saying, “At last we are free from God! We don’t need him anymore” (Jeremiahs 2:31b NLT). They didn’t actually say those words, but their behavior screamed them. It was if they wanted to get as far away from God as possible. In other words, they were acting toward God as they had toward Pharaoh when they finally were able to get out of Egypt. They were glad to leave him in their dust. They wanted nothing more to do with Pharaoh and his kingdom. And God accuses the people of Judah of treating Him in the same way.

But God wants to know how they can so easily forget Him. He compares their disregard for Him to a bride forgetting her wedding dress or a young woman, her jewels. That would be absurd. Both women would place two high a value on those two things to simply walk away from them. But the people of God had walked away from Him without cause and showing no regret. He flatly states: “Yet my people have forgotten me days without number” (Jeremiah 2:32 ESV). And yet, when confronted by God, they simply denied it all.

God accuses them of being so good at unfaithfulness and adultery, they could teach professional prostitutes a thing or two. The people of Judah had become adept at wooing other lovers. They were constantly chasing after false gods and making alliances with pagan nations, rather than sharing their affections with God and placing their hope and trust in Him. And God accuses them of not only spiritual adultery, but injustice. They had failed to care for the innocent and the poor. Over in the book of Micah, we have a short and succinct description of God’s expectations of His people:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8 ESV

God has a heart for the poor and needy. He expects His people to care for them and to treat them with justice. But the people of Israel and Judah, because they had failed to keep God’s commands, had made a habit of abusing those who were helpless among them. And thought God was fully aware of all their sins and could list them in detail, they simply denied it. “Yet in spite of all these things you say, ‘I am innocent’” (Jeremiah 2;34-35 ESV). But God gives them some very bad news: “But now I will punish you severely because you claim you have not sinned” (Jeremiah 2:35b NLT). Conviction should bring repentance. God exposes our sin in order that we might confess it and be forgiven for it. But the people of Judah simply rejected God’s conviction and denied any guilt. The apostle John addressed this problem in his first letter.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:8-10 ESV

There are two things going on in this passage. First of all, there is the outright denial of sin. It involves a refusal to admit that we have sinned. And John reminds us that if we simply confess our sins to God, He will forgive us. But there is a second issue going on. When we deny God’s convicting spirit and claim we have not sinned, we are making Him out to be a liar. We are accusing God of falsehood and slander. He has pointed out our sin and we have chosen to deny His charges. That is exactly what the people of Judah were guilty of doing. And God was forced to punish them by bringing their enemies against them. But instead of confessing and repenting, they turned to other nations for help. God say, “First here, then there—you flit from one ally to another asking for help” (Jeremiah 2:36 NLT). But they would find those alliances would prove to be disappointing. These pagan nations were not to be trusted. They would prove to be poor substitutes for God. Nations have a way of breaking their word or simply succumbing to the power of even greater nations. At one point God had used Assyria to punish the northern kingdom of Israel. But the Assyrians would later find themselves defeated by the Babylonians, who God would eventually use to punish the nation of Judah. Trusting in nations was risky business, because at the end of the day, they were all under the control and command of God Himself. And God breaks the bad news to Judah, “In despair, you will be led into exile with your hands on your heads, for the Lord has rejected the nations you trust. They will not help you at all” (Jeremiah 2:37 NLT).

When we place our trust and hope in something other than God, it will always prove disappointing. People make lousy gods. Even the most powerful nations make poor deities. People let us down. Nations have their day in the sun, then fail. Government are not divine. Financial security and material wealth may seem to provide a sense of well-being, but they are not eternal. They have a habit of disappearing just about the time you really need them. God had proven Himself a faithful provider and protector. He had gone out of His way to assure the people of Judah of His power and His persistent, unfailing love for them. He was completely reliable. He never went back on His Word. He never failed to do what He promised. He was gracious, kind and forgiving. But they had decided that God was not enough. They had determined that they needed more. So, they had turned their back on God. That’s what happens when you turn to something other than God for your help and hope. In the process of turning to that other thing, you end up turning away from God. You take your eyes off of Him. And in doing so, you treat the God of the universe with disrespect and open disregard. But God is a jealous God and His jealousy is driven by His love. He knows what is best for us and He will not allow us to wander far. He will do what it takes to bring us home. He will get our attention and bring us to an end of ourselves. Because He loves us. God was going to allow Judah to wander, but He would also bring them back some day. He would give them their fill of foreign nations, in the form of captivity in Babylon, but He would never leave them or forsake them completely. Because He is faithful.

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