God Has Spoken.

Woe is me, my mother, that you bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land! I have not lent, nor have I borrowed, yet all of them curse me. The Lord said, “Have I not set you free for their good? Have I not pleaded for you before the enemy in the time of trouble and in the time of distress? Can one break iron, iron from the north, and bronze?

“Your wealth and your treasures I will give as spoil, without price, for all your sins, throughout all your territory. I will make you serve your enemies in a land that you do not know, for in my anger a fire is kindled that shall burn forever.”

O Lord, you know;
    remember me and visit me,
    and take vengeance for me on my persecutors.
In your forbearance take me not away;
    know that for your sake I bear reproach.
Your words were found, and I ate them,
    and your words became to me a joy
    and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your name,
    O Lord, God of hosts.
I did not sit in the company of revelers,
    nor did I rejoice;
I sat alone, because your hand was upon me,
    for you had filled me with indignation.
Why is my pain unceasing,
    my wound incurable,
    refusing to be healed?
Will you be to me like a deceitful brook,
    like waters that fail?

Therefore thus says the Lord:
“If you return, I will restore you,
    and you shall stand before me.
If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,
    you shall be as my mouth.
They shall turn to you,
    but you shall not turn to them.
And I will make you to this people
    a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you,
    but they shall not prevail over you,
for I am with you
    to save you and deliver you,
declares the Lord.
I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,
    and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.” – Jeremiah 15:10-21 ESV

Jeremiah was fed up and burned out. He had come to an end of his rope and was ready to throw in the towel. His ministry had been anything but successful. The people were not responding to his message. And in spite of his intercession for them, pleading with God to spare them, God had completely rejected that idea. Their destruction was unavoidable and inevitable. So, it’s no wonder that Jeremiah felt like an abject failure. He even cursed the day he was born. After all, what had he accomplished in life? He was despised, rejected and an apparent failure at the one calling God had given him. And his frustration was aggravated by his knowledge that he had done nothing to deserve such treatment. He had just followed the commands of God. It wasn’t like he had cheated somebody out of their money or was about to kick someone out of their home for not being able to pay their mortgage.

“I am neither a lender who threatens to foreclose
    nor a borrower who refuses to pay—
    yet they all curse me.” – Jeremiah 15:10 NLT

All Jeremiah had done was faithfully proclaim the word of God. And he had absolutely nothing to show for it, except pain, rejection and failure.

But God had another perspective. He told Jeremiah, “I will take care of you, Jeremiah. Your enemies will ask you to plead on their behalf in times of trouble and distress” (Jeremiah 15:11 NLT). Little did Jeremiah know that God had plans for him. He would care for him, in spite of how bad things appeared. All Jeremiah could think about was the coming destruction and devastation of the land. He had a hard time seeing how any good could come out of that. He had forgotten the words of God, spoken to him when he had received his initial calling. 

For see, today I have made you strong
    like a fortified city that cannot be captured,
    like an iron pillar or a bronze wall.
You will stand against the whole land—
    the kings, officials, priests, and people of Judah.
They will fight you, but they will fail.
    For I am with you, and I will take care of you.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 1:18-19 NLT

Nothing had changed, except that the date of Judah’s destruction had come closer. But God’s commitment to be with Jeremiah remained the same. While Judah and its fortified cities would fall to the Babylonians, Jeremiah would stand firm. He would come out of this stronger than ever. But it was difficult for Jeremiah to understand how any of this was going to be beneficial to anyone, himself included. And when God confirmed yet again that the destruction of Judah was eminent, that failed to help Jeremiah feel any better about his circumstances.

“At no cost to them,
    I will hand over your wealth and treasures
as plunder to your enemies,
    for sin runs rampant in your land.
I will tell your enemies to take you
    as captives to a foreign land.
For my anger blazes like a fire
    that will burn forever.” – Jeremiah 15:13-14 NLT

How was Jeremiah to accept that as good news? Why should that news give him any sense of peace or assurance that everything was going to be okay? It was because God was faithful to keep His word. What He promises to do, He does. And that not only applied to the fate of Judah, but to His promise to take care of Jeremiah. He wanted Jeremiah to know that He would fulfill His commitment to provide for and protect Jeremiah, in spite of all that was going to happen. But Jeremiah was having a hard time seeing things from God’s perspective. All he could see was doom and disaster. He was stuck feeling like a failure and as if his days were numbered.

Lord, you know what’s happening to me.
    Please step in and help me. Punish my persecutors!
Please give me time; don’t let me die young.
    It’s for your sake that I am suffering. – Jeremiah 15:15 NLT

What Jeremiah feared most was death at the hands of his own people. He wasn’t sure he would live long enough to even see the coming of the Babylonians and the fall of Judah. He reminded God of his faithfulness and his refusal to take part in the sins of the people. And he couldn’t help but question God’s apparent unconcern and wonder about His seeming unreliability.

“Why then does my suffering continue?
    Why is my wound so incurable?
Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook,
    like a spring that has gone dry.” – Jeremiah 15:18 NLT

And God responds to Jeremiah, but in a somewhat surprising way. Rather than tenderly answer Jeremiah’s questions, God demands that Jeremiah repent. His self-pitying was exposing his lack of faith in God. He was whining about his lot in life and refusing to trust the God who had given him life. When God had called Jeremiah, He had told him:

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.
    Before you were born I set you apart
    and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” – Jeremiah 1:5 NLT

God had made Jeremiah for a purpose. He had commissioned Jeremiah for a job, to act as His prophet and to convey His message to the people of Judah. But Jeremiah had lost focus. He was more consumed with being liked than being faithful. He was spending more time questioning God’s faithfulness than relying upon it. So, God demands that Jeremiah have a change of heart.

“If you return to me, I will restore you
    so you can continue to serve me.
If you speak good words rather than worthless ones,
    you will be my spokesman.
You must influence them;
    do not let them influence you! – Jeremiah 15:19 NLT

It is when we get our eyes off of God that we begin to lose sight of His goodness and grace. We begin to question His reliability and wonder about His power to save. One of the most powerful things God said to Jeremiah was “you just influence them; do not let them influence you!” The negativity of the people was rubbing off on Jeremiah. Their rejection of God was having an influence of the prophet of God. He began to doubt God’s goodness. He began to question God’s power. But God simply said, “Return to me.” And, if Jeremiah would do so, God recommitted Himself to taking care of Jeremiah.

“I will make you as secure as a fortified wall of bronze.
They will not conquer you,
    for I am with you to protect and rescue you.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 15:20 NLT

God had spoken, and that is all the reassurance that Jeremiah should have needed. God would do His part. But it was essential that Jeremiah remain committed to God and faithful to fulfill His God-given responsibility – in spite of the dire nature of the circumstances. Everything that had happened was according to God’s plan. God had told Jeremiah that he would be despised and rejected. He had warned him that the people would refuse to listen to his message. But He had also assured Jeremiah that He would be with him.

“Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 1:7-8 NLT

God has spoken. That should be all the assurance we need. He is good for His word. He is faithful to fulfill what He has promised. He is not a liar. He never fails to come through. So, there is no reason we should ever doubt what He is doing or question His integrity for doing it.

God is not a man, so he does not lie.
    He is not human, so he does not change his mind.
Has he ever spoken and failed to act?
    Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

God can be trusted. Even in the midst of what appears to be devastating circumstances, we can trust that God loves us and has not forsaken us. We may not always understand His ways, but we can always trust them. He is the faithful one, at all times. But we must keep our eyes focused on Him. We must rest in who He is and trust that all He does flows from His all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful nature.
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
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Refusal to Change.

Then the Lord said to me, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go! And when they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord:

“‘Those who are for pestilence, to pestilence,
    and those who are for the sword, to the sword;
those who are for famine, to famine,
    and those who are for captivity, to captivity.’

I will appoint over them four kinds of destroyers, declares the Lord: the sword to kill, the dogs to tear, and the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy. And I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem.

“Who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem,
    or who will grieve for you?
Who will turn aside
    to ask about your welfare?
You have rejected me, declares the Lord;
    you keep going backward,
so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you—
    I am weary of relenting.
I have winnowed them with a winnowing fork
    in the gates of the land;
I have bereaved them; I have destroyed my people;
    they did not turn from their ways.
I have made their widows more in number
    than the sand of the seas;
I have brought against the mothers of young men
    a destroyer at noonday;
I have made anguish and terror
    fall upon them suddenly.
She who bore seven has grown feeble;
    she has fainted away;
her sun went down while it was yet day;
    she has been shamed and disgraced.
And the rest of them I will give to the sword
    before their enemies,
declares the Lord.”  – Jeremiah 15:1-9 ESV

God was angry with the people of Judah and there was nothing Jeremiah could do to try and make Him change His mind. In fact, God said that even if two of the greatest intercessors in history were there, He would not listen to them. Moses, who had led the people of Israel out of Egypt, had learned what it was like to try and lead the people of Israel. He hadn’t made it far out of the land of Egypt when the people began to have second thoughts about this new god, Yahweh. Moses was up on the mountain receiving God’s commandments. And while he was out of sight and out of mind, the people decided to make their own god. They took the gold they had received from the Egyptians when they had left Egypt and created a golden calf, an idol and began worshiping before it. God saw their actions and informed Moses about what they had done and His plan to annihilate them for their actions. But Moses appealed to God, asking Him to spare His people.

Then the Lord said, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.”

But Moses tried to pacify the Lord his God. “O Lord!” he said. “Why are you so angry with your own people whom you brought from the land of Egypt with such great power and such a strong hand? Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Their God rescued them with the evil intention of slaughtering them in the mountains and wiping them from the face of the earth’? Turn away from your fierce anger. Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people! Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You bound yourself with an oath to them, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven. And I will give them all of this land that I have promised to your descendants, and they will possess it forever.’”

So the Lord changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people. – Exodus 32:9-14 NLT

What about Samuel? He had interceded on behalf of the people of Israel when they had demanded that God give them a king just like all the other nations. In doing so, they were rejecting God as their King. And God was angry.

So Samuel called to the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day. And all the people were terrified of the Lord and of Samuel. “Pray to the Lord your God for us, or we will die!” they all said to Samuel. “For now we have added to our sins by asking for a king.”

“Don’t be afraid,” Samuel reassured them. “You have certainly done wrong, but make sure now that you worship the Lord with all your heart, and don’t turn your back on him. Don’t go back to worshiping worthless idols that cannot help or rescue you—they are totally useless! The Lord will not abandon his people, because that would dishonor his great name. For it has pleased the Lord to make you his very own people.

“As for me, I will certainly not sin against the Lord by ending my prayers for you. And I will continue to teach you what is good and right. But be sure to fear the Lord and faithfully serve him. Think of all the wonderful things he has done for you. But if you continue to sin, you and your king will be swept away.” – 1 Samuel 12:18-25 NLT

These two men, Samuel and Moses, had prayed on behalf of the people of God and had apparently changed His mind. Or had they? In both cases, the outcome of their prayers to God seems to be less about God changing His mind than about the people changing their ways. God’s anger and threat to punish the people for their sins brought about repentance. Out of fear of God’s judgment, they had pledged to change their ways. And God did judge the people. He did not let them get away with their sin. In the case of Moses, more than 3,000 of those who took part in the worship of the golden calf were put to death by the Levites. And, “Then the Lord sent a great plague upon the people because they had worshiped the calf Aaron had made” (Exodus 32:35 NLT). And while Samuel pleaded on behalf of the people, God still punished them by giving them exactly what they demanded: a king like all the other nations. He gave them Saul, and he would prove to be a terrible king, who conscripted their sons into his army and their daughters as his servants. He would tax them and take the best of their fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants (1 Samuel 8:14). 

And while both Moses and Samuel appear to have had success in getting God to change His mind, the people still suffered for their sins. And God demanded that they change their ways. But in the case of Jeremiah and the people of Judah, God said that even if these great leaders of Israel had tried to change His mind, they would have failed, because the people of Judah had no intention of repenting. And God makes it clear just why He is going to bring His judgment upon the people of Israel. It was because of the sins of Manasseh. “Because of the wicked things Manasseh son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem, I will make my people an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth” (Jeremiah 15:4 NLT). And the book of 1 Kings gives us insight into just what Manasseh had done.

Then the Lord said through his servants the prophets: “King Manasseh of Judah has done many detestable things. He is even more wicked than the Amorites, who lived in this land before Israel. He has caused the people of Judah to sin with his idols. So this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I will bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of those who hear about it will tingle with horror. I will judge Jerusalem by the same standard I used for Samaria and the same measure I used for the family of Ahab. I will wipe away the people of Jerusalem as one wipes a dish and turns it upside down. Then I will reject even the remnant of my own people who are left, and I will hand them over as plunder for their enemies. For they have done great evil in my sight and have angered me ever since their ancestors came out of Egypt.” – 2 Kings 21:10-14 NLT

Manasseh, the son of King Hezekiah, had proven to be the exact opposite of his good and godly father. He was not a chip off the old block. He was the epitome of the wicked kings of Israel and Judah, leading the way in sin and rebellion against God. And the people had willingly followed his lead. God makes it painfully clear why He is about to do what He has threatened to do.

I will destroy my own people,
    because they refuse to change their evil ways.” – Jeremiah 15:7 NLT

The people were unrepentant. They had no intention of changing their ways. And God, because He is all-knowing, was well aware of the true state of their hearts. So, no matter of intercession by Samuel, Moses or Jeremiah was going to get God to relent, because He knew the people were never going to repent. And their sins would be judged. Their fate was sealed. They were going to get exactly what they deserved.

“You have abandoned me
    and turned your back on me,”
    says the Lord.
“Therefore, I will raise my fist to destroy you.
    I am tired of always giving you another chance.” – Jeremiah 15:6 NLT

God takes sin seriously. And while He had given the people of Judah plenty of time to repent, they had spurned His warnings and ignored His pleas to return to Him. So, His judgment was going to be unavoidable.
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

Reprimanded, but Not Rejected.

“You shall say to them this word:
‘Let my eyes run down with tears night and day,
    and let them not cease,
for the virgin daughter of my people is shattered with a great wound,
    with a very grievous blow.
If I go out into the field,
    behold, those pierced by the sword!
And if I enter the city,
    behold, the diseases of famine!
For both prophet and priest ply their trade through the land
    and have no knowledge.’”

Have you utterly rejected Judah?
    Does your soul loathe Zion?
Why have you struck us down
    so that there is no healing for us?
We looked for peace, but no good came;
    for a time of healing, but behold, terror.
We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord,
    and the iniquity of our fathers,
    for we have sinned against you.
Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake;
    do not dishonor your glorious throne;
    remember and do not break your covenant with us.
Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain?
    Or can the heavens give showers?
Are you not he, O Lord our God?
    We set our hope on you,
    for you do all these things. – Jeremiah 14:17-22 ESV

Transparency is a difficult thing to pull off. It is not easy being vulnerable and allowing others to see the real you, sharing your true feelings and opening yourself up to possible rejection or misunderstanding. And yet, that is exactly what God commanded Jeremiah to do – and with the very people who had refused to listen to his message. Jeremiah was going to have to reveal his most intimate feelings to those who hated and despised him.

“You shall say to them this word:
‘Let my eyes run down with tears night and day,
    and let them not cease,
for the virgin daughter of my people is shattered with a great wound,
    with a very grievous blow. – Jeremiah 14:17 ESV

God is not putting words in Jeremiah’s mouth. He is simple having the prophet share what his true feelings will be when he sees the devastation to come. The blow to Judah will be “grevious”. The Hebrew word, chalah refers to a state of sickness, weakness and weariness. The blow Judah will receive and the wound it causes will be deadly in nature. And God reveals the devastating nature of its impact through the eyes and emotions of Jeremiah.

If I go out into the fields,
    I see the bodies of people slaughtered by the enemy.
If I walk the city streets,
    I see people who have died of starvation.” – Jeremiah 14:18 NLT

Jeremiah was to share with the people the very real nature of the coming destruction that will be perpetrated on them by the Babylonians. There will be bodies strewn everywhere outside the walls of Jerusalem, the victims of the swords of the enemy. And within the safety of Jerusalem’s walls, there will be the bodies of those who have died of starvation as a result of the siege. And these scenes of devastation and death will take their toll on Jeremiah. Even the prophets and priests will attempt to act as if nothing is happening, going about their daily duties, but totally ignorant as to what to do.

And Jeremiah, ever wrestling with his duty as a prophet of God and his extreme love and loyalty for his people, can’t resist the urge to ask God some very pointed questions.

Lord, have you completely rejected Judah?
    Do you really hate Jerusalem?
Why have you wounded us past all hope of healing? – Jeremiah 14:19 NLT

The imagery God has given Jeremiah of complete devastation and destruction is hard for him to comprehend. It appears as if God is going to abandon Judah and Jerusalem altogether. Speaking in the plural personal pronoun “we”, Jeremiah includes himself as one of the people of Judah and expresses hope that God would spare them.

We hoped for peace, but no peace came.
    We hoped for a time of healing, but found only terror. – Jeremiah 14:19 NLT

He even confesses on behalf of the people of Judah, something they had yet to do.

Lord, we confess our wickedness
    and that of our ancestors, too.
    We all have sinned against you. – Jeremiah 14:20 NLT

Although he had been faithful to God, Jeremiah includes himself as guilty, willingly placing himself under the wrath of God and totally dependent upon His mercy. He begs God to spare them for His name’s sake . It would be a terrible blow to God’s reputation if He failed to spare the people He had called by His name. Or so Jeremiah thought. He even begged God not to break His covenant with them, something God is incapable of doing because of His nature. The coming destruction was not a sign of God breaking His covenant, but of Him keeping it. He had warned the people of Judah that all these things would happen to them if they disobeyed Him. The covenant had been conditional. They are the ones who had broken their end of the agreement, which meant He had to bring the curses upon them just as He had promised He would.

Jeremiah makes one last desperate attempt to change God’s mind. He butters Him up, attempting to appeal to His ego, by ridiculing the absurd nature of lifeless idols and their inability to provide any kind of help. But God could.

Can any of the worthless foreign gods send us rain?
    Does it fall from the sky by itself?
No, you are the one, O Lord our God!
    Only you can do such things.
    So we will wait for you to help us. – Jeremiah 14:22 NLT

Jeremiah was holding out hope that God would change His mind. He was still waiting on God to send rain and break the drought. He was also hoping that God would have second thoughts about sending the Babylonians. Jeremiah longed for God to spare the people of Judah. He had a hard time seeing how any good could come out of their destruction. What would the pagan nations think about a God who abandoned His own people? Why would the future generations of Hebrew children, forced to grow up in exile, worship a God who destroyed their homeland? But Jeremiah did not have the whole picture. He wasn’t aware of God’s full plan for His people. Like the rest of us, Jeremiah was human, and limited in his perspective. He trusted God, but was unable to fully understand what God was doing. And the only thing that made sense to Him was God relenting of His plan to punish Judah and restoring them to a right relationship with Him. But for that to happen, their sins had to be dealt with. God could not and would not overlook their rebellion against Him. Their hearts were wicked and their idolatry was proof.

God would punish them for their sins, but would also one day restore them. Jeremiah didn’t have the full picture. The people of Judah had to suffer for their sins and experience the humiliation that comes with willing rebellion against a holy God. But God, in His mercy and grace, would one day restore them, not because of them, but in spite of them. He would bring them out of captivity and place them back in the land of promise. He would allow them to rebuild the gates and walls of Jerusalem, and restore the temple and the sacrificial system. Not because they deserved it, but because He is a loving and faithful God who always keeps His covenant promises.

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

Lies About the Love of God.

Then I said: “Ah, Lord God, behold, the prophets say to them, ‘You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.’” And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds. Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name although I did not send them, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not come upon this land’: By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed. And the people to whom they prophesy shall be cast out in the streets of Jerusalem, victims of famine and sword, with none to bury them—them, their wives, their sons, and their daughters. For I will pour out their evil upon them.– Jeremiah 14:13-16 ESV

Contradicting God is a dangerous game to play. But even more dangerous is to claim to speak on God’s behalf when it isn’t true. To say, “Thus says the Lord” when He has not spoken is to put false words in the mouth of God and to make Him out to be a liar. That is not something God will tolerate. Even Jeremiah, a prophet himself, was a bit confused by the words of those who claimed to be speaking for God. Their messages contradicted his own and, more than likely, caused him to question whether he might not be the one who was wrong. If nothing else, Jeremiah recognized that their message was a lot more acceptable, making them far more popular with the people.

“O Sovereign Lord, their prophets are telling them, ‘All is well—no war or famine will come. The Lord will surely send you peace.’” – Jeremiah 14:13 NLT

They were telling the people what they wanted to hear. They were promising that God was going to rescue them, not punish them. And the people swallowed their message like a kid eating candy. It tasted great, but in the long run, was going to be very bad for them. And God makes it clear to Jeremiah that these false prophets did not speak for Him. He had not sent them or given them any words to speak on His behalf. They were nothing more than self-appointed prophets and bold-faced liars.

“They prophesy of visions and revelations they have never seen or heard. They speak foolishness made up in their own lying hearts.” – Jeremiah 14:14 NLT

If these individuals had bothered to read the covenant that God had made with the people of Israel, they would have known that their messages of peace did not gel with God’s warnings of curses for disobedience and unfaithfulness. But perhaps they did know, but they preferred to tell the people what they wanted to hear. It was messages of God’s mercy that resounded with the people, not Jeremiah’s warnings of doom and gloom. Painting God out to be all love and no wrath would prove to be popular, but it was anything but accurate. God is loving, but He is also just and righteous and must deal with sin. He cannot tolerate it or overlook it. It would violate His holiness to turn a blind eye toward sin – especially when it comes to His own people. Many of the laws He had given His people were prohibitive in nature, bearing the words, “Thou shall not…” These commands were not suggestions. They were not optional or discretionary in nature. They were to be obeyed. God’s love for the people of Israel was not going to supersede His holiness or His justice.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights. – Proverbs 3:11-12 NLT

Telling people that God loves them while ignoring their sin is to present God in a false light. It is to offer up a one-dimensional god whose love is overly tolerant and dangerously lenient. The god of many preachers and teachers today is more like a doddering old grandfather than a holy, righteous deity whose love is best expressed in offer of salvation from sin through the sacrificial death of His own Son.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 NLT

Ignoring the sins of mankind would not be love at all. Tolerating our sins and allowing us to continue in disobedience to His just and holy commands would be nothing less than a form of hatred. But God loves us too much to allow us to continue in sin unchecked. So He sent His Son to die on our behalf. And then He sent us to spread the message of the good news of salvation through faith in His Son. And part of that message is the reality of sin and the inevitability of death, eternal separation from God that sin produces. Failure to recognize our sins makes it difficult to accept the need for a Savior. Telling sinners that God loves them and would never punish them is not love, it is nothing less than a form of hatred. It is a lie. It creates a false sense of assurance and presents sin as non-dangerous and God’s wrath against it as non-existent.

But God told Jeremiah that the false prophets were in for a surprise.

“They say that no war or famine will come, but they themselves will die by war and famine!” – Jeremiah 14:15 NLT

They could deny God’s wrath, but that wasn’t going to make it go away. Pastors today deny the existence of hell or the reality of eternal punishment, but that doesn’t eliminate either one. Telling people that a loving God would never send anyone to hell will make them feel better, but it won’t prevent the inevitable from happening. Telling people the truth about God is the best way to express the love of God. It won’t make you popular, but it will give people a realistic view of who God is and how their own sins have separated them from the love of God. But God sent His Son to fix what was broken, to pay the penalty for sin and to provide mankind with a means by which they could be restored to a right relationship with God the Father. That is love. Anything less is a lie.

Contrary to popular belief, God is not going to save everyone. There is a heaven and a hell. There is a penalty for sin and that penalty is death – not just physical death, but eternal separation from God. You can deny these facts. You can downplay them. You can try to wish them away or contradict them with your own version of the truth. And while you may find yourself with a following, you’ll still be wrong and responsible for misleading others with lies. The false prophets of Jeremiah’s day would suffer the same fate as everyone else. They would painfully discover that their words were false and that God really does despise sin. And all He asks is that we confess our sins.

People who conceal their sins will not prosper,
    but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy. – Proverbs 28:13 NLT

It is the acknowledgement of our sin that makes it clear we need salvation. Our sin separates us from God and only He has the remedy for that problem: His own Son. Salvation is found in no one else. He alone provides the means by which sinful men can be restored to a right relationship with a holy God.

 
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

His Will Be Done.

The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah concerning the drought:

“Judah mourns,
    and her gates languish;
her people lament on the ground,
    and the cry of Jerusalem goes up.
Her nobles send their servants for water;
    they come to the cisterns;
they find no water;
    they return with their vessels empty;
they are ashamed and confounded
    and cover their heads.
Because of the ground that is dismayed,
    since there is no rain on the land,
the farmers are ashamed;
    they cover their heads.
Even the doe in the field forsakes her newborn fawn
    because there is no grass.
The wild donkeys stand on the bare heights;
    they pant for air like jackals;
their eyes fail
    because there is no vegetation.

“Though our iniquities testify against us,
    act, O Lord, for your name’s sake;
for our backslidings are many;
    we have sinned against you.
O you hope of Israel,
    its savior in time of trouble,
why should you be like a stranger in the land,
    like a traveler who turns aside to tarry for a night?
Why should you be like a man confused,
    like a mighty warrior who cannot save?
Yet you, O Lord, are in the midst of us,
    and we are called by your name;
    do not leave us.”

Thus says the Lord concerning this people:
“They have loved to wander thus;
    they have not restrained their feet;
therefore the Lord does not accept them;
    now he will remember their iniquity
    and punish their sins.”

The Lord said to me: “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. Though they fast, I will not hear their cry, and though they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will consume them by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence.” – Jeremiah 14:1-12 ESV

Jeremiah has just finished begging the people of Judah to give up their pride, glorify God, and listen to his words of warning. On top of this, the people knew exactly what God had said He would do if they refused to obey Him fully. He had made it perfectly clear when He made His covenant with them.

“And if, in spite of all this, you still disobey me, I will punish you seven times over for your sins. I will break your proud spirit by making the skies as unyielding as iron and the earth as hard as bronze. All your work will be for nothing, for your land will yield no crops, and your trees will bear no fruit. – Leviticus 26:18-20 NLT

And now, God’s promise of famine was getting ready to come true. Since they refused to listen to the words of Jeremiah and humble themselves in willful submission to God, He would humiliate them by “making the skies as unyielding as iron and the earth as hard as bronze”. Famine is a non-discriminatory natural disaster. Everyone suffers, from the noble living in his posh palace to the farmer in his fields. And the lack of rain, which the people of Judah will tie directly to the hand of God, will cause each of them to cover their heads, a sign of deep grief. Even the farmers will feel shame, covering their heads in sorrow, over their inability to produce crops. They will be powerless to do anything about the dry and unyielding land. As long as God withholds the rain, the people of Judah will find themselves helpless and hopeless.

Verses 7-9 are either a prayer of Jeremiah for the people of Judah or the reflect a prophesy regarding the reaction of the people once the famine begins. Either way, these verses contain an admission of guilt and a cry for rescue.

“Our wickedness has caught up with us, Lord,
    but help us for the sake of your own reputation.” – Jeremiah 14:7 NLT

The hopelessness of the situation creates a willingness to turn to God, something that had been missing up until this point. I tend to believe that this prayer is a reflection of the hearts of the people, once they find themselves suffering under the devastating effects of the famine. They become desperate, calling out to God in the midst of their suffering, hoping that He will relent and send much-needed rain.

“O Hope of Israel, our Savior in times of trouble,
    why are you like a stranger to us?
Why are you like a traveler passing through the land,
    stopping only for the night?
Are you also confused?
    Is our champion helpless to save us?
You are right here among us, Lord.
    We are known as your people.
    Please don’t abandon us now!” – Jeremiah 14:8-9 NLT

Notice how they attempt to flatter God. But they also tend to make Him the guilty party. Now that they have confessed their own wickedness, they can’t seem to understand why God hasn’t done anything to rescue them. His silence and lack of action don’t make any sense to them. They said they were sorry, so why hasn’t He removed the famine and returned the rain? They remind God that they are His people and seem to infer that He is somehow obligated to protect them. But God gives them sobering news.

“You love to wander far from me
    and do not restrain yourselves.
Therefore, I will no longer accept you as my people.
    Now I will remember all your wickedness
    and will punish you for your sins.” – Jeremiah 14:10 NLT

He knew their hearts. Their confession of guilt was nothing more than a ploy to escape further punishment. They had no intention of changing their ways, and God knew it. And so He dropped the bombshell on them that they would no longer be His people. This does not mean that God was going to abandon them. It simply meant that, from all outward indications, it would appear to all as if they had lost their privileged status as His chosen ones. Without the blessings of God, the people of God become indistinguishable from everyone else. It was His guiding and providing hand that had set them apart from all the other nations. It was His constant provision for their physical needs and His unceasing goodness as evidenced by His gracious supply of rain and crops that were to have helped distinguish them as His people. He had made this clear when He established His covenant with them, long before they arrived in the land of promise.

“If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you the seasonal rains. The land will then yield its crops, and the trees of the field will produce their fruit. Your threshing season will overlap with the grape harvest, and your grape harvest will overlap with the season of planting grain. You will eat your fill and live securely in your own land.” – Leviticus 26:3-5 NLT

But they had failed to follow His decrees and to obey His commands. Now, the rain was ceasing and the crops were failing. Fruitfulness had given way to famine. Fullness and security were replaced with hunger and fear. And God commands Jeremiah to stop interceding on their behalf.

“Do not pray for these people anymore. When they fast, I will pay no attention. When they present their burnt offerings and grain offerings to me, I will not accept them. Instead, I will devour them with war, famine, and disease.” – Jeremiah 14:11-12 NLT

God was not going to relent, because He knew these people were not going to repent. Jeremiah could continue to beg God to show mercy, but God would refuse, because their fasts, mourning and tears were too little, too late. And their hearts were not in it. The prophet Isaiah records God’s stinging indictment against the people of Judah.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

And God goes on to reveal what they really thought about Him:

“What sorrow awaits those who try to hide their plans from the Lord,
    who do their evil deeds in the dark!
‘The Lord can’t see us,’ they say.
    “He doesn’t know what’s going on!”
How foolish can you be?
    He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay!
Should the created thing say of the one who made it,
    ‘He didn’t make me’?
Does a jar ever say,
    ‘The potter who made me is stupid’?” – Isaiah 29:15-16 NLT

They thought they could fool God. They treated Him like He was ignorant and easily deceived. They truly believed them could fake repentance, get Him to relent and then go on with their wicked ways. But God knew better. And He was going to bring more famine, increased suffering and, eventually, the armies of the Babylonians to destroy their land and take them captive. God will not be mocked.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. – Galatians 6:7 ESV

This was a truth the people of Judah were going to learn the hard way. They were going to reap the results of their centuries-worth of rebellion against God. He was the potter and they were the clay. He had every right to do with them He wished. God will confirm this very idea for Jeremiah a little bit later on, when He sends the prophet to the house of a potter for a real-life demonstration of His sovereign will over the people of Israel.

“Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there.” So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel. But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.

Then the Lord gave me this message: “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.” – Jeremiah 18:2-6 NLT

They were His people. He had chosen them and made them what they were. And He had every right to do with them as He saw fit. No, it would make no sense to them. It might not make sense to us. But He is God and we are not. He is sovereign and in complete control over His entire creation, including mankind. Just like a potter, God has a plan. He has something He is accomplishing in this world. And His will is going to be accomplished whether we like it or not, and whether we decide to go along with it or not. His will WILL be done.
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

They Won’t, But God Will.

Hear and give ear; be not proud,
    for the Lord has spoken.
Give glory to the Lord your God
    before he brings darkness,
before your feet stumble
    on the twilight mountains,
and while you look for light
    he turns it into gloom
    and makes it deep darkness.
But if you will not listen,
    my soul will weep in secret for your pride;
my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears,
    because the Lord‘s flock has been taken captive.

Say to the king and the queen mother:
    “Take a lowly seat,
for your beautiful crown
    has come down from your head.”
The cities of the Negeb are shut up,
    with none to open them;
all Judah is taken into exile,
    wholly taken into exile.

“Lift up your eyes and see
    those who come from the north.
Where is the flock that was given you,
    your beautiful flock?
What will you say when they set as head over you
    those whom you yourself have taught to be friends to you?
Will not pangs take hold of you
    like those of a woman in labor?
And if you say in your heart,
    ‘Why have these things come upon me?’
it is for the greatness of your iniquity
    that your skirts are lifted up
    and you suffer violence.
Can the Ethiopian change his skin
    or the leopard his spots?
Then also you can do good
    who are accustomed to do evil.
I will scatter you like chaff
    driven by the wind from the desert.
This is your lot,
    the portion I have measured out to you, declares the Lord,
because you have forgotten me
    and trusted in lies.
I myself will lift up your skirts over your face,
    and your shame will be seen.
I have seen your abominations,
    your adulteries and neighings, your lewd whorings,
    on the hills in the field.
Woe to you, O Jerusalem!
    How long will it be before you are made clean?” –  Jeremiah 13:15-27 NLT

Don’t be proud. Give God glory. Listen. These were the desperate pleas of Jeremiah to his stubborn brothers and sisters in Judah. He knew that God was going to follow through with His threats to discipline them for their rebellion against Him, but He also held out hope that if they would repent, God might relent. He tells them that “if you still refuse to listen, I will weep alone because of your pride. My eyes will overflow with tears” (Jeremiah 13:17 NLT). These are the words of a man who deeply cared for his people. He had no desire to see them annihilated, even though they had treated him with contempt and the people in his own home town of Anathoth had threatened to kill him if he didn’t stop prophesying against them. Jeremiah wanted to see Judah spared. And he would even stoop to begging if he thought it might help them wake up to the reality of the disaster looming over them.

God had even told Jeremiah to give a message to the king and his mother, warning them that their days were numbered.

“Come down from your thrones
    and sit in the dust,
for your glorious crowns
    will soon be snatched from your heads.” – Jeremiah 13:18 NLT

The pride of Judah was a top-down problem. The king and his royal administration led the way when it came to arrogance and opposition to God. And this had been the case with just about every king since the days of David and his son, Solomon. There had been very few kings in either Israel or Judah who had been faithful to God. During Jeremiah’s long tenure as the prophet to Judah, only Josiah had shown any desire to follow the ways of God. But his efforts at reform would prove to be too little, too late. When the leadership of any nation is too prideful and arrogant to place its hope and trust in God, the people tend to follow their example. But this was particularly problematic when the nation in question had been hand-picked by God to be His people. The kings of Judah were to have been shepherds over God’s flock, answering to Him as the Great Shepherd. They were to have been stewards of His possessions, including not only His people, but the land He had given Him and the city in which His temple and presence dwelt. But the kings of Judah had proven to be unfaithful caretakers. And as a result, “The people of Judah will be taken away as captives. All will be carried into exile” (Jeremiah 13:19 NLT).

A description of just one of the kings of Judah gives ample evidence of just how bad things had gotten.

Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. He did not do what was pleasing in the sight of the Lord, as his ancestor David had done. Instead, he followed the example of the kings of Israel. He cast metal images for the worship of Baal. He offered sacrifices in the valley of Ben-Hinnom, even sacrificing his own sons in the fire. In this way, he followed the detestable practices of the pagan nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the pagan shrines and on the hills and under every green tree. – Jeremiah 28:1-4 NLT

And that same sad description can be read about virtually every king who served as head over the people of Judah. And God warns the kings of Judah that things are going to get very bad, very quickly.

“Open up your eyes and see
    the armies marching down from the north!
Where is your flock—
    your beautiful flock—
    that he gave you to care for?
What will you say when the Lord takes the allies you have cultivated
    and appoints them as your rulers?” – Jeremiah 13:20-21 NLT

They will ask why this is happening. They will question the reason for their fall. And in spite of Jeremiah’s optimistic outlook and hope that the people will change their minds and repent, God has a very different view.

“Can an Ethiopian change the color of his skin?
    Can a leopard take away its spots?
Neither can you start doing good,
    for you have always done evil.” – Jeremiah 13:23 NLT

The answer to God’s rhetorical question is, “No!” Their ability to change their minds was non-existent. Their behavior was a permanent part of their nature. They could no more stop sinning and repent than someone born with a dark pigmentation to their skin could make themselves lighter in color. They weren’t just guilty of committing sins, they were inherently sinful. It was their very nature. Which is why God declared:

“I will scatter you like chaff
    that is blown away by the desert winds.
This is your allotment,
    the portion I have assigned to you,”
    says the Lord,
“for you have forgotten me,
    putting your trust in false gods.” – Jeremiah 13:24-25 NLT

They were not going to give up their pride. They would never give God glory. And they would continue to refuse to listen. And God closes out His address to them with the sobering words: “What sorrow awaits you, Jerusalem! How long before you are pure?” (Jeremiah 13:27 NLT). God’s question was not an admission of ignorance, but a statement of sovereign awareness. He knew that it was going to be a long time before His people would ever return to Him. But that day would come. The prophet Ezekiel provides a glimpse into that as-yet-to-be-realized day.

“Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign Lord: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord. For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.

“And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God. I will cleanse you of your filthy behavior.” – Ezekiel 36:22-29 NLT

That day is coming. And it will all be God’s doing. He will do for Israel what they could have never done for themselves. He will “change their spots” and miraculously alter the very nature of their hearts and dispositions. Their pride will be turned into worship of God. They will gladly give Him glory. And they will happily listen and obey.

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

Things Get Weird.

Thus says the Lord to me, “Go and buy a linen loincloth and put it around your waist, and do not dip it in water.” So I bought a loincloth according to the word of the Lord, and put it around my waist. And the word of the Lord came to me a second time, “Take the loincloth that you have bought, which is around your waist, and arise, go to the Euphrates and hide it there in a cleft of the rock.” So I went and hid it by the Euphrates, as the Lord commanded me. And after many days the Lord said to me, “Arise, go to the Euphrates, and take from there the loincloth that I commanded you to hide there.” Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. And behold, the loincloth was spoiled; it was good for nothing.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Thus says the Lord: Even so will I spoil the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing. For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.

“You shall speak to them this word: ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Every jar shall be filled with wine.”’ And they will say to you, ‘Do we not indeed know that every jar will be filled with wine?’ Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I will fill with drunkenness all the inhabitants of this land: the kings who sit on David’s throne, the priests, the prophets, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And I will dash them one against another, fathers and sons together, declares the Lord. I will not pity or spare or have compassion, that I should not destroy them.’” –  Jeremiah 13:1-14 NLT

As if things weren’t already bad enough for Jeremiah, now God commands him to do something pretty bizarre, and it will be the first of a series of strange directives given to him by God. Jeremiah is told to buy a linen loincloth and put it on. Now, this is odd enough just from the standpoint that God is telling Jeremiah what to wear, but it nature of the item of clothing that makes this particularly odd. The Hebrew word is ‘ezowr and it referred to a “waist-cloth, the innermost piece of clothing” (“H232 – ‘ezowr – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It has been rendered a number of different ways by various Bible translation, including “girdle”, “waistband”, “waistcloth”, “sash”, “belt”, and “loincloth”. The bottom line was that was a personal piece of clothing, an undergarment as we might say. It was worn close to the skin and out of sight from anyone else’s view. It was an intimate, personal piece of clothing. And God has Jeremiah purchase a new linen loincloth and wear it. Then, Jeremiah was instructed to “go to the Euphrates and hide it there in a cleft of the rock” (Jeremiah 13:4 ESV). There has been much debate over the years as to exactly where Jeremiah was instructed by God to hide the garment. The issue is the Hebrew word Pĕrath, which is translated here as “Euphrates”, and refers to the great river that flowed through the land of Babylon. If this is where God told Jeremiah to hide the loincloth, it would have required a 700-mile, round-trip journey to accomplish the task. And Jeremiah would have been required to make that long trek twice. Others believe that the word, “Perath” actually refers to a place known as Parah, not far from Jeremiah’s hometown. Regardless of where Jeremiah ended up going, he was told to hide the loincloth. And the important thing to note is that nowhere in all of this strange exchange between Jeremiah and God, did the prophet ever question the wisdom or instructions of God. He just did what he was told. And some time later, after the linen loincloth had had time to succumb to the elements, God instructed Jeremiah to go back and retrieve it. When he did, he discovered that it was ruined. The text tells us the garment was “was spoiled; it was good for nothing” (Jeremiah 13:7 ESV). The delicate fabric had rotted and decayed. The garment was useless. And that was God’s whole point.

“This shows how I will rot away the pride of Judah and Jerusalem. These wicked people refuse to listen to me. They stubbornly follow their own desires and worship other gods. Therefore, they will become like this loincloth—good for nothing!” – Jeremiah 13:9-10 NLT

Talk about an object lesson. This one spoke volumes. This intimate, highly personal garment, which Jeremiah had worn next to his own body, was now ruined, unrecognizable and completely worthless. It would no longer serve the original purpose for which it was created and bought. And God makes the connection quite clear.

“As a loincloth clings to a man’s waist, so I created Judah and Israel to cling to me, says the Lord. They were to be my people, my pride, my glory—an honor to my name. But they would not listen to me.” – Jeremiah 13:11 NLT

The people of Israel and Judah, the Hebrews, had been God’s chosen possession. They had enjoyed a personal and intimate relationship with Him. Like no other nation on the planet, they had been graced with the undeserved status as God’s children. But they had squandered that relationship, turning their backs on the very one who had chosen them. And now, God was going to remove them and hide them in the cleft of the rock, by the river Euphrates. They were going to be conquered by the Babylonians and taken captive. There they would “rot” away, suffering as slaves and no longer enjoying their intimate relationship with God Almighty. All because they had refused to listen to God.

Next, God moves from talking about linen loincloths to jars of wine. God tells Jeremiah to instruct the people of Judah to fill their wine jars with wine. And, of course, God knew that the people would respond sarcastically that they knew the wine jars were meant to hold wine. In other words, they would reject God’s command as unnecessary. They knew better. But God tells them that they didn’t know anything at all. They were missing the point.

“No, this is what the Lord means: I will fill everyone in this land with drunkenness—from the king sitting on David’s throne to the priests and the prophets, right down to the common people of Jerusalem. I will smash them against each other, even parents against children, says the Lord. I will not let my pity or mercy or compassion keep me from destroying them.” – Jeremiah 13:13-14 NLT

God was going to fill His people with the wine of His wrath. Just as wine jars were meant to hold wine, His people had shown that they were meant to hold His judgment. They would become like staggering drunks, inflicting harm on one another. And while God would still have compassion on them, He was not going to let it hinder His justice. They were not going to get away with their behavior. Their rebellion would be dealt with, once and for all. And the saddest part of it all, was that they had willingly given up their intimate connection with God and sacrificed their position as His chosen people, in exchange for idolatry and autonomy. Rather than submit to His will, they had chosen to live according to their own. Unwilling to accept the role He had chosen for them, they had decided to do things their way, and the result would be their own destruction. Like a ruined, worthless loincloth, they would lose their significance and value.

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

God’s Incomparable Compassion.

Thus says the Lord concerning all my evil neighbors who touch the heritage that I have given my people Israel to inherit: “Behold, I will pluck them up from their land, and I will pluck up the house of Judah from among them. And after I have plucked them up, I will again have compassion on them, and I will bring them again each to his heritage and each to his land. And it shall come to pass, if they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, ‘As the Lord lives,’ even as they taught my people to swear by Baal, then they shall be built up in the midst of my people. But if any nation will not listen, then I will utterly pluck it up and destroy it, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 12:14-17 ESV

One of the things we fail to realize when it comes to the sin and rebellion of Israel and Judah is that their behavior and God’s subsequent punishment of them had an impact on all those around them. They would not be the only ones to suffer as a result of their disobedience. When God sent the Babylonians as His disciplinary rod, they would prove to be non-discriminatory invaders, conquering anyone and everyone in their path, and taking them captive alongside the people of God. This would include Egyptians, Assyrians, Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, and Arameans. The Babylonian invasion would have a devastating impact on all the nations surrounding Israel. And while many of these nations had played a role in Israel’s rebellion against God, intermarrying with the Hebrews and influencing them with their false gods, they would be shown compassion by God. These nations were all guilty of serving other gods and of being a continual source of temptation to the people of Israel. And they were not the only ones. The occupants of the land of Canaan, who were dwelling in the land when the people of Israel arrived, were also pagan idol worshipers. And God had warned His people about these nations and what they were to do to them:

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are about to enter and occupy, he will clear away many nations ahead of you: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These seven nations are greater and more numerous than you. When the Lord your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you. This is what you must do. You must break down their pagan altars and shatter their sacred pillars. Cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols. For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.” – Deuteronomy 7:1-6 NLT

Of course, the Israelites had proven to be less-than-thorough in their obedience to God’s command. They ended up not eliminating those nations and were guilty of having intermarried with them and of worshiping their false gods. And many of these people would be conquered by the Babylonians and taken captive as well.

“Behold, I will pluck them up from their land, and I will pluck up the house of Judah from among them. – Jeremiah 12:14 ESV

But the truly amazing thing is that God expresses His intent to show them all mercy, including the pagan nations who had led His people astray. He tells them:

“And after I have plucked them up, I will again have compassion on them, and I will bring them again each to his heritage and each to his land.” – Jeremiah 12:15 ESV

After the 70 years in captivity that the people of Judah would have to endure, God would miraculously restore them to the land. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Ezra, a remnant of the Israelites living in captivity would be given the opportunity to return home in order to repopulate the land and rebuilt the city of Jerusalem and the temple of God. And there would be others who would join them on their return home. But God had added an important caveat to His merciful restoration of these people to their former residences in the land of Canaan: They would have to learn to worship Him alone.

“And if these nations truly learn the ways of my people, and if they learn to swear by my name, saying, ‘As surely as the Lord lives’ (just as they taught my people to swear by the name of Baal), then they will be given a place among my people.” – Jeremiah 12:16 NLT

God was not going to allow them to return to the land and go back to their same old habits of worshiping false gods and leading His people astray. His rescue of them came with a price – acknowledgement of His status as the one true God. They would be required to learn the ways of Judaism and worship Yahweh with the same zeal and enthusiasm as they did their false gods. And their failure to do so would result in further discipline at the hands of God.

“But any nation who refuses to obey me will be uprooted and destroyed. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 12:17 NLT

God would prove Himself more than compassionate in allowing the Israelites and these other pagan nations to return from their captivity. They would have done nothing to have deserved it. In fact, the entire situation would be His doing. He would be the one to stir the heart of King Cyrus to send the people of Judah back to the land and, not only that, but to fund the entire trip.

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, the Lord fulfilled the prophecy he had given through Jeremiah. He stirred the heart of Cyrus to put this proclamation in writing and to send it throughout his kingdom:

“This is what King Cyrus of Persia says:

“The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has appointed me to build him a Temple at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Any of you who are his people may go to Jerusalem in Judah to rebuild this Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives in Jerusalem. And may your God be with you! Wherever this Jewish remnant is found, let their neighbors contribute toward their expenses by giving them silver and gold, supplies for the journey, and livestock, as well as a voluntary offering for the Temple of God in Jerusalem.” – Ezra 1:1-4 NLT

God had promised to restore them to the land and He would one day fulfill that promise. Not because they deserved it, but because He is the faithful, loving, compassionate and covenant-keeping God. And what God desired from His people was that they too be faithful, loving, compassionate and covenant-keepers. Even those who were from the pagan nations around Judah could enjoy the grace, mercy and compassion of God if they would only worship Him as the one true God. When God had placed Israel in the land of Canaan, He had told them:

“For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. You must fear the Lord your God and worship him and cling to him. Your oaths must be in his name alone. He alone is your God, the only one who is worthy of your praise, the one who has done these mighty miracles that you have seen with your own eyes.” – Deuteronomy 10:17-21 NLT

God is impartial, just, loving, and compassionate to all. He expected His people to emulate His ways. And even in spite of Judah’s sins, God would still show them compassion, returning them to the land and restoring them to their former position as His children. And He was even willing to show compassion on those nations who had never worshiped Him as God. He would reveal to these godless nations just what a real God is like. He would prove Himself all-powerful, incredibly compassionate, and loving beyond measure. And all He asked in return was acknowledgement of His status as the one and only God.

There will always be those who want to make much of God’s wrath and harsh judgment. They will highlight God’s seeming injustice and bloodthirsty nature, questioning how a loving God could command the complete annihilation of entire people groups. But the God of the Bible is not one-dimensional. He cannot be caricatured as a vicious tyrant who loves to make people suffer. Yes, He is often portrayed in the Scriptures as a God of wrath who brings down His judgment in knee-shaking, seemingly merciless power. But that is an incomplete and inaccurate image of God. His incredible acts of mercy are not to be ignored or overlooked. His undeserved expressions of compassion are not to be minimized. He is the sovereign, holy and righteous God of the universe who has repeatedly and patiently put up with the sins of mankind. He has endured constant unfaithfulness and ingratitude. He has watched as those He has made have turned their backs on Him, while they cleverly come up with their own gods to worship in His place. He has showered grace upon grace, providing a planet on which to live, food, shelter, rain, heat, sunlight, and a host of other undeserved blessings – only to have those whom He has made to treat Him with disdain or to dismiss Him as non-existent. But His compassion remains incomparable. His love endures.

Where is another God like you,
    who pardons the guilt of the remnant,
    overlooking the sins of his special people?
You will not stay angry with your people forever,
    because you delight in showing unfailing love.
Once again you will have compassion on us.
    You will trample our sins under your feet
    and throw them into the depths of the ocean!
You will show us your faithfulness and unfailing love
    as you promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago. – Micah 7:18-20 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

A Divine Perspective.

“If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you,
    how will you compete with horses?
And if in a safe land you are so trusting,
    what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?
For even your brothers and the house of your father,
    even they have dealt treacherously with you;
    they are in full cry after you;
do not believe them,
    though they speak friendly words to you.”

“I have forsaken my house;
    I have abandoned my heritage;
I have given the beloved of my soul
    into the hands of her enemies.
My heritage has become to me
    like a lion in the forest;
she has lifted up her voice against me;
    therefore I hate her.
Is my heritage to me like a hyena’s lair?
    Are the birds of prey against her all around?
Go, assemble all the wild beasts;
    bring them to devour.
Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard;
    they have trampled down my portion;
they have made my pleasant portion
    a desolate wilderness.
They have made it a desolation;
    desolate, it mourns to me.
The whole land is made desolate,
    but no man lays it to heart.
Upon all the bare heights in the desert
    destroyers have come,
for the sword of the Lord devours
    from one end of the land to the other;
    no flesh has peace.
They have sown wheat and have reaped thorns;
    they have tired themselves out but profit nothing.
They shall be ashamed of their harvests
    because of the fierce anger of the Lord.” Jeremiah 12:5-13 ESV

In asking God, “Why?”, Jeremiah had shared his perspective. He saw things from a human point of view, wondering why he was having to suffer while those who plotted his death seemed to prosper. The circumstances surrounding his life appeared to make no sense. He was doing the will of God and suffering for it. The men of Anathoth were breaking the will of God and apparently, prospering because of it.

So, God share His perspective with Jeremiah. He gave the prophet some insights into how He saw things. First, God let Jeremiah know that things were going to get worse before they got better. And if he found his present circumstances difficult, he was going to be overwhelmed by what was coming. In fact, God gives Jeremiah the bad news that things were already worse than he thought. It wasn’t just the men of Anathoth who were plotting against him.

“Even your brothers, members of your own family,
    have turned against you.
    They plot and raise complaints against you.” – Jeremiah 12:5 NLT

As God’s spokesman, Jeremiah was going to find himself at odds with just about everyone in Judah. His message was not going to be well received by anyone. So, he better get used to being disliked. To use a more modern-day idiom, it was as if God was telling Jeremiah, “If you can’t run with the big dogs, you better stay on the porch.” Being a prophet was not for the weak or feint of heart. It took guts and determination. Speaking the truth, the Word of God, required real courage, because the opposition was real and the possibilities of facing harm were as well. God warned Jeremiah that it wasn’t just the outspoken loud mouths he had to fear. It was also the so-called friends who spoke to him using pleasant words and appeared to be on his side. No one could be trusted.

But the one thing Jeremiah had overlooked in all of this was how God felt. This is a common mistake we all make. For whatever reason, we see God as having no feelings. He simply acts, meting out justice and administering judgment, with no personal implications or emotional ramifications. We somehow see God as an unfeeling automaton, who lacks the ability to experience sadness or any other human-like emotion. But God paints a very different picture for Jeremiah. You can almost hear the pain in God’s voice as He shares with Jeremiah:

“I have abandoned my people, my special possession.
    I have surrendered my dearest ones to their enemies.” – Jeremiah 12:7 NLT

All throughout this section of chapter 12, God uses terms like “my heritage”, “my house”, “the beloved of my soul”, “my vineyard”, and “my portion”. God is expressing His deep love and affection for the people of Judah. They are His children and He loves them. This wasn’t a case of some distant deity lashing out in hate at His helpless human subjects. This was a loving Father having to discipline His own children. And He felt great pain for having to do so. As Thomas L. Constable points out in his study notes on Jeremiah, “The Hebrew verbs in this section are prophetic perfects, which view future events as already past.” God is revealing what is going to happen as if it already has. He knows what the future holds, but He does not relish the idea of His own children’s destruction. Yes, they deserved it, but that doesn’t mean God enjoyed the idea of having to bring it about. Unhindered by the constraints of time, God can see into the future and witness the suffering on His people. He can see the devastated land of promise that He had promised to Abraham and provided to Joshua and the people.

“They have made it an empty wasteland;
    I hear its mournful cry.
The whole land is desolate,
    and no one even cares.” – Jeremiah 12:11 NLT

He had given this land as a gift to the people of Israel. It had been an expression of His love for them. But it would lie wasted and abandoned, its cities destroyed and its inhabitants either murdered or taken captive as slaves. And this would all be God’s doing.

“The sword of the Lord devours people
    from one end of the nation to the other.
    No one will escape!” – Jeremiah 12:12 NLT

He would be the one to bring it about. His people had broken their covenant with Him. They had abandoned Him for false gods. They had been unfaithful to Him, willingly turning their back on Him and giving their affections to lifeless idols instead. Rather than trusting in God and relying on His track record of faithfulness, they had looked elsewhere.

“My people have planted wheat
    but are harvesting thorns.
They have worn themselves out,
    but it has done them no good.
They will harvest a crop of shame
    because of the fierce anger of the Lord.” – Jeremiah 12:13 NLT

And this broke God’s heart. He had promised to provide for them. He had made a covenant with them that guaranteed they would never do without – as long as they remained faithful to Him.

“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God:

Your towns and your fields
    will be blessed.
Your children and your crops
    will be blessed.
The offspring of your herds and flocks
    will be blessed.
Your fruit baskets and breadboards
    will be blessed.
Wherever you go and whatever you do,
    you will be blessed.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-6 NLT

God wanted to bless them. He wanted to provide for them. But they had decided to provide for themselves. They had made it a habit of relying on themselves or, worse yet, on the false gods of the nations around them. So, rather than enjoying the blessings of God, they were doomed to experience the curses He had warned them about. And God found no joy in any of this. But His holiness and justice demanded it. He could not allow them to get away with their treatment of Him. They had profaned His name among the nations. They had desecrated the land with their actions. They had proven to be poor bearers of His image. And God was obligated to deal with them accordingly. But like a loving Father punishing His wayward child, God was grieved by what He had to do.

Over in the gospel of Luke, we have recorded the words of Jesus, spoken as He neared the city of Jerusalem – the very same city that would be destroyed during the days of Jeremiah. And Jesus, as the city came into view, began to cry and said:

“How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.” – Luke 19:32-44 NLT

Jesus, like His Father, knew what was coming. He was well aware that, in the not-too-distant future, Jerusalem would be destroyed yet again. In 70 A.D., the Romans would set fire to the temple, reducing it to rubble and destroy the remainder of the city as well. But Jesus wept over what He knew was coming. He longed that the people of Jerusalem would recognize who He was and accept Him as their Messiah and Savior. But that was not to be. They would reject Him. They would play a part in having Him crucified, choosing to see a common criminal named Barabbas freed instead of Jesus. They would chant, “Crucify Him!” They would demand His death and jeer and mock Jesus as He made His way to Golgotha, bearing the weight of the cross upon which He would die. And even as Jesus hung on that cross, near death, rather than lash out at those who stood watching Him die, He would state, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24 ESV). Even in the midst of their rebellion and rejection of Him, Jesus loved them. He loved them so much that He took on their sins and died for them. And God would one day redeem the people of Judah as well. He would restore them to the land. He would rescue them from their captivity. Not because of them, but in spite of them. God takes no pleasure in punishing His children. But He lovingly disciplines them and faithfully rescues them – for the glory of His own name and in keeping with His covenant promises.

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

Why?

Righteous are you, O Lord,
    when I complain to you;
    yet I would plead my case before you.
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
    Why do all who are treacherous thrive?
You plant them, and they take root;
    they grow and produce fruit;
you are near in their mouth
    and far from their heart.
But you, O Lord, know me;
    you see me, and test my heart toward you.
Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter,
    and set them apart for the day of slaughter.
How long will the land mourn
    and the grass of every field wither?
For the evil of those who dwell in it
    the beasts and the birds are swept away,
    because they said, “He will not see our latter end.” Jeremiah 12:1-4 ESV

Jeremiah was a confused and conflicted man. One minute he is weeping for his people, longing for God to spare them the coming destruction he knows they so fully deserve. But here, we find Jeremiah praying that God would give the wicked exactly what they deserve – dragging them off like sheep to the slaughter. Jeremiah, though a prophet, was still human. He had feelings just like anyone else and he felt confident and safe in expressing those feelings to God. He was angry at the people of Anathoth for plotting his death. He was frustrated with the stubborn and persistent refusal of the people of Judah to listen to his words of warning and call to repentance. And though he knew that God was righteous and just in all his actions, Jeremiah still had questions for Him.

“Why are the wicked so prosperous? Why are evil people so happy?” – Jeremiah 12:1 NLT

Why? It’s a common question aimed at God by His people. We can’t help but ask why, because we don’t understand the ways of God. From our perspective, things seem illogical and even unjust at times. He doesn’t appear to be acting fairly or with integrity. We look at our life circumstances and see injustice, but then wonder how that can be if God is just. Jeremiah looked around him and saw wicked people who were happy and prosperous. With all that he knew about God, that seemed difficult to understand or explain. So, he asked God to provide him with answers. And Jeremiah would not be the first or the last human being to have questions for God. Job, in the midst of all his sufferings, expressed similar words to God.

“Why do the wicked prosper,
    growing old and powerful?
They live to see their children grow up and settle down,
    and they enjoy their grandchildren.
Their homes are safe from every fear,
    and God does not punish them.” – Job 21:7-9 NLT

He went on to say:

“They spend their days in prosperity,
    then go down to the grave in peace.
And yet they say to God, ‘Go away.
    We want no part of you and your ways.
Who is the Almighty, and why should we obey him?
    What good will it do us to pray?’” – Job 21:13-15 NLT

It was Asaph who wrote in his psalm:

“For I envied the proud
    when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.
They seem to live such painless lives;
    their bodies are so healthy and strong.
They don’t have troubles like other people;
    they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else.” – Psalm 73:3-5 NLT

The prophet Habakkuk expressed his confusion and complaint to God regarding His seeming indifference to the Babylonians and their treatment of the people of Israel.

“But you are pure and cannot stand the sight of evil.
    Will you wink at their treachery?
Should you be silent while the wicked
    swallow up people more righteous than they?” – Habakkuk 1:13 NLT

Things don’t always turn out like we think they should. Our expectations of God are sometime dashed on the rocks of reality. We expect deliverance and find ourselves suffering pain. We anticipate victory, but end up experiencing defeat. We attempt to follow God faithfully and then find ourselves inexplicably going through difficulties and trials. And like Jeremiah, we end up asking God, “Why?” We demand answers. From our human perspective, we see those who give God little but lip service seemingly prospering and skating through life unscathed. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t seem fair.

Jeremiah is incredulous. He can’t believe what he is seeing. He even tells God, “But as for me, Lord, you know my heart. You see me and test my thoughts” (Jeremiah 12:3 NLT). Jeremiah was no hypocrite and he was confident that God knew so. And yet, he was the one who was suffering, while his opponents were prospering. Nothing about that scenario seemed just, right or fair. How could God let that happen? Why would God let that happen?

Jeremiah suffered from a malady common among God’s people. It was a false assumption that community with God equaled immunity from suffering. As the children of God we too often assume that our lives will be trouble-free and painless. But the Bible paints such a different picture. We have the stories of Joseph, who was used by God to preserve a remnant of the people of Israel from starvation and provide them with food and shelter in the land of Egypt. But in order for that to happen, Joseph had to endure countless trials and repeated acts of injustice against him. It was all part of God”s plan for his life. Generations later, Moses was God’s chosen instrument to deliver the people from their captivity in Egypt. But first he had to run for his life, guilty of murder and a wanted criminal. Then he had to spend 40 years living as a common shepherd in the wilderness until God issued His call for Moses to be His deliverer. David was anointed by God to be the next king of Israel, but spent years running for his life in an attempt to escape the wrath of Saul, the current king who had placed a bounty on David’s head. Time after time and all throughout the Scriptures, we see the people of God suffering as part of God’s divine plan. Jesus suffered at the hands of the religious leaders of Israel, accused of crimes He had not committed and executed like a common criminal. The apostles suffered constantly as they took the gospel to the nations. Paul described his life as a faithful messenger of the gospel in less-than-glamorous terms:

“I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.” – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT

Paul would later tell Timothy: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV). And it was Peter who wrote: “For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21 NLT). Jesus Himself told His disciples: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NLT). The life of the believer is not for the feint of heart. Jesus told His disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Matthew 16:24-25 NLT). Following Christ requires daily death to self. It demands a giving up of our rights and expectations in order to submit to the will of the Father. Jesus never promised us a trouble-free life. But He did promise abundant life – a life filled with the peace that passes all understanding. A life marked by the promise of God’s persistent presence. A life characterized by joy in the midst of sorrow, hope even in times of sorrow, strength when we are weak, comfort when we are suffering, and the promise of an eternity free from sin, sorrow, pain and death. It was Paul who reminded the believers in Rome: “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (Romans 8:18 NLT).

We are more than free to ask God, “Why?” But we already know the answer. He knows what is best. He has a plan. He can be trusted. And while His ways are not our ways and His methods may seem nothing short of madness, we must trust that He knows what He is doing and has a perfectly good reason for our suffering.

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