Sacrifice Without Sorrow.

Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem,
    look and take note!
Search her squares to see
    if you can find a man,
one who does justice
    and seeks truth,
that I may pardon her.
Though they say, “As the Lord lives,”
    yet they swear falsely.
O Lord, do not your eyes look for truth?
You have struck them down,
    but they felt no anguish;
you have consumed them,
    but they refused to take correction.
They have made their faces harder than rock;
    they have refused to repent.

Then I said, “These are only the poor;
    they have no sense;
for they do not know the way of the Lord,
    the justice of their God.
I will go to the great
    and will speak to them,
for they know the way of the Lord,
    the justice of their God.”
But they all alike had broken the yoke;
    they had burst the bonds.

Therefore a lion from the forest shall strike them down;
    a wolf from the desert shall devastate them.
A leopard is watching their cities;
    everyone who goes out of them shall be torn in pieces,
because their transgressions are many,
    their apostasies are great. Jeremiah 5:1-6 ESV

In order to prove to Jeremiah just how bad things had gotten and to justify the need for  the coming judgment, God gives him a challenge. He tells the prophet to run through the streets of Jerusalem and see if he can find a solitary individual who does justice and seeks truth. Just one man. That’s all Jeremiah had to find. But God warns Jeremiah not to be deceived. They will try to convince Jeremiah that they are God-fearers, but God tells him, “But even when they are under oath, saying, ‘As surely as the Lord lives,’ they are still telling lies!” (Jeremiah 5:2 NLT). They’ll say and do anything to get out of the disaster headed their way, even swear on a stack of Bibles. But God told Jeremiah not to believe them, because He knew their hearts. This is reminiscent of Abraham’s conversation with God when it had been revealed that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were to be destroyed because of their unchecked immorality. Abraham knew that his nephew Lot and his family were living in Sodom, so he tried to beg God not to destroy the cities. He started out asking God to spare the cities if there were at least 50 righteous people living in them. And God said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake” (Genesis 18:26 ESV). Then Abraham, seemingly knowing that the likelihood of finding that many righteous individuals in the two cities was unlikely, began to bargain with God until he got the number down to ten. And God responded, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it” (Genesis 18:32 ESV). In the end, Abraham was simply trying to spare his nephew and his family. But even when they were safely out of the city, God destroyed both Sodom and Gomorrah. There were not even ten righteous people left in either city.

The situation in Judah also brings to mind the days just before God destroyed the earth with a world-wide flood. The book of Genesis tells us:

The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. – Genesis 6:5 NLT

And as a result, He wiped out every living thing on the earth, sparing only Noah and his family, and those animals he had sequestered away on the ark. In those days, unrighteousness had run rampant on the earth. And the same sad state of affairs was true of the capital city of Judah. Wickedness was everywhere. Unfaithfulness marked the lifestyles of all those who lived in the city. It was just as Solomon had written:

Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. – Ecclesiastes 7:20 NLT

And David echoed this same sentiment when he wrote:

Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you. – Psalm 143:2 ESV

Who can say, “I have cleansed my heart; I am pure and free from sin”? – Psalm 20:9 NLT

And the apostle Paul would pick up on David’s less-than-flattering assessment of mankind when he wrote:

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. – Romans 3:10-12 ESV

Man is incapable of performing righteous acts apart from God’s help. Anything and everything we do, in our own flesh, ends up being tainted and polluted by sin. That reality is what led the prophet Isaiah to write:

We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind. – Isaiah 64:6 NLT

But God had graciously provided the people of Israel with His law to show them His holy expectations of them. And knowing they would be incapable of keeping His law perfectly, He provided them with the sacrificial system as a means of finding atonement for the sins they would inevitably commit. But despite God’s grace and mercy, they still chose to rebel against Him, turning to false gods and treating His sacrificial system with contempt. God knew their hearts. They had long ago fallen out of love with Him, which is what led Him to say of them:

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.”  – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

And Jeremiah’s search for one solitary individual who sought after truth proved to be harder than he thought. He soon admitted:

You struck your people,
    but they paid no attention.
You crushed them,
    but they refused to be corrected.
They are determined, with faces set like stone;
    they have refused to repent. – Jeremiah 5:3 NLT

But in an attempt to be optimistic, Jeremiah concludes that it was the poor who posed the problem. They were uneducated and uninformed. They didn’t know any better. So like Abraham, he makes a deal with God.

“But what can we expect from the poor?
    They are ignorant.
They don’t know the ways of the Lord.
    They don’t understand God’s laws.
So I will go and speak to their leaders.
    Surely they know the ways of the Lord
    and understand God’s laws.” – Jeremiah 5:5 NLT

He was going to check out the upper class, the well-educated cultural elite of the city. Surely, they would produce at least one man who was righteous. Yet Jeremiah would sadly conclude: “But the leaders, too, as one man, had thrown off God’s yoke and broken his chains” (Jeremiah 5:5b NLT). Jeremiah had struck out. His attempt to find just one faithful person had come up empty. And as a result, the judgment of God was assured.’

Therefore a lion from the forest shall strike them down;
    a wolf from the desert shall devastate them.
A leopard is watching their cities;
    everyone who goes out of them shall be torn in pieces,
because their transgressions are many,
    their apostasies are great. – Jeremiah 5:6 ESV

Like apex predators, the Babylonians would come into Judah, viciously and unmercifully ravaging the people of God, because of their open rebellion against Him. Their many sins would have dire consequences. Their failure to respond to God’s many invitations to return to Him in repentance would result in His just and righteous discipline of them. And God had proven to Jeremiah that what was about to happen was anything but undeserved. The prophet had been unable to find a solitary soul within the whole city of Jerusalem who could qualify as righteous before God. Unrighteousness and unfaithfulness go hand in hand. God had never intended the people of Israel to live righteous lives on their own. That’s why He had given them the law and the sacrificial system. One provided them with God’s holy expectations of them. It showed them how they were to live. But God knew they would be unable to live up to His righteous standards, so He gave them the sacrificial system to provide them with a means of atonement or cleansing for the sins they would commit. But these two things were to produce in them a complete dependence upon God. One represented God’s law, while the other represented His grace. And the two were designed to work in tandem, creating in the people of God a complete reliance upon Him for any hope of living righteous lives before Him. But when they determined in their hearts to live unfaithfully, by seeking other gods instead of Him, they revealed that they really didn’t need Him. And their sacrifices lost their value. They could make them. They could offer up their lambs and bulls, shedding their blood in an attempt to receive atonement and forgiveness from God, but the lives of these animals would be given in vain. Because what God really wanted from the people of Judah was true repentance for their sins. David expressed the desire of God well when he wrote:

Certainly you do not want a sacrifice, or else I would offer it;
you do not desire a burnt sacrifice.
The sacrifices God desires are a humble spirit—
O God, a humble and repentant heart you will not reject. – Psalm 51:16-17 NLT

Sacrifices without true sorrow for sin are meaningless. The apostle Paul put it this way:

For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. – 2 Corinthians 7:10 NLT

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