Declare this in the house of Jacob;
proclaim it in Judah:
“Hear this, O foolish and senseless people,
who have eyes, but see not,
who have ears, but hear not.
Do you not fear me? declares the Lord.
Do you not tremble before me?
I placed the sand as the boundary for the sea,
a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass;
though the waves toss, they cannot prevail;
though they roar, they cannot pass over it.
But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart;
they have turned aside and gone away.
They do not say in their hearts,
‘Let us fear the Lord our God,
who gives the rain in its season,
the autumn rain and the spring rain,
and keeps for us
the weeks appointed for the harvest.’
Your iniquities have turned these away,
and your sins have kept good from you.
For wicked men are found among my people;
they lurk like fowlers lying in wait.
They set a trap;
they catch men.
Like a cage full of birds,
their houses are full of deceit;
therefore they have become great and rich;
they have grown fat and sleek.
They know no bounds in deeds of evil;
they judge not with justice
the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper,
and they do not defend the rights of the needy.
Shall I not punish them for these things?
declares the Lord,
and shall I not avenge myself
on a nation such as this?”
An appalling and horrible thing
has happened in the land:
the prophets prophesy falsely,
and the priests rule at their direction;
my people love to have it so,
but what will you do when the end comes? – Jeremiah 5:20-31 ESV
God gives Jeremiah another message to deliver to Judah. And this time, He tells Jeremiah to deliver it even though the people lack the wisdom and the heart to listen. He refers to them as fools who lack the capacity to see or hear. They are blind and deaf to the words of God and will stubbornly refuse to heed the warnings given to them by Jeremiah. In essence, they were living their lives as if God didn’t exist. Despite their love affair with false gods, they were essentially atheists. And David provides us with an apt description of these kinds of people:
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. – Psalm 14:1 ESV
Now, while they weren’t guilty of saying that God was non-existent, they were guilty of living like it. They had no fear of God. They scoffed at any idea that suggested God might do them harm, saying, “He won’t bother us! No disasters will come upon us. There will be no war or famine. God’s prophets are all windbags who don’t really speak for him. Let their predictions of disaster fall on themselves!” (Jeremiah 5:12-13 NLT). They had created their own view of God and saw Him as either overly tolerant of their actions or too impotent to do anything about it. They had no fear of Him. And they treated Him as if He didn’t even exist. But God has news for them.
“Have you no respect for me?
Why don’t you tremble in my presence?
I, the Lord, define the ocean’s sandy shoreline
as an everlasting boundary that the waters cannot cross.
The waves may toss and roar,
but they can never pass the boundaries I set.” – Jeremiah 5:22 NLT
The God of the universe, who had placed boundaries on the seas, had also placed boundaries on them. He had given them commandments to follow. He had made a covenant with them that He expected to be obeyed. But they lived as if there were no rules for them. They were above the law. And God describes their problem as one of the heart. “But my people have stubborn and rebellious hearts. They have turned away and abandoned me” (Jeremiah 5:23 NLT). This is the second time God has used the Hebrew word leb, which means “heart”. It was a word that had a wide range of meanings and was used to refer to the feelings, the will and even the intellect. It was seen as the seat of man’s emotions and inner life. So, God is accusing His people of having stubborn and rebellious hearts. Their outward actions were simply the symptoms of an inner ailment. And God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, said of them: “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13 NLT). Their hearts had grown distant and cold toward God. Oh, they said all the right things. They went through all the religious rites and rituals. They observed the feast days and made sure they offered the right sacrifices. But their hearts weren’t in it. And, once again, David had a stinging indictment against this kind of lifestyle.
Fools say to themselves, “There is no God.”
They sin and commit evil deeds;
none of them does what is right.
God looks down from heaven at the human race,
to see if there is anyone who is wise and seeks God.
Everyone rejects God;
they are all morally corrupt.
None of them does what is right,
not even one! – Psalm 53:1-3 NET
God revealed to Jeremiah the essence of Judah’s problem:
“They do not say from the heart,
‘Let us live in awe of the Lord our God,
for he gives us rain each spring and fall,
assuring us of a harvest when the time is right.’” – Jeremiah 5:24 NLT
They had long ago forgotten that all their blessings came from God. They no longer recognized Him as the sole source of their provision and protection. Other gods had taken His place. They looked to pagan nations for protection and security. And even when God began to punish them for their sins by removing His hand of blessing, they failed to recognize the cause-and-effect nature of their behavior. So, God told them, “Your sin has robbed you of all these good things” (Jeremiah 5:25 NLT). Disobedience had brought on them all the curses God had warned them about. And yet, at no point do they show any signs of remorse or regret. Their hearts were so stubborn that they failed to recognize their error of their ways and return to God in repentance.
And God points out that there was within the nation of Judah a particular group of individuals who were particularly guilty and worthy of His wrath.
“Among my people are wicked men
who lie in wait for victims like a hunter hiding in a blind.
They continually set traps
to catch people.” – Jeremiah 5:26 NLT
These people had grown wealthy by taking advantage of the people. They were unjust and dishonest, and God describes them as having “no limit to their wicked deeds” (Jeremiah 5:28 NLT). These were evidently people who held places of power and prominence. Obviously, the rulers of Judah were going to be held responsible by God for their lack of godly leadership. Over the centuries, both Israel and Judah had had their fair share of godless kings and unrighteous rulers. There had been a long line of ruthless monarchs who had taken advantage of the people, practicing injustice and living lives of immorality and idolatry. And God had seen it all. Later on, in the book of Jeremiah, God will level some strong words of accusation against the sons of King Josiah, indicting them for their unjust abuse of their power as kings over Judah.
“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
and his upper rooms by injustice,
who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing
and does not give him his wages,
who says, ‘I will build myself a great house
with spacious upper rooms,’
who cuts out windows for it,
paneling it with cedar
and painting it with vermilion.
Do you think you are a king
because you compete in cedar?
Did not your father eat and drink
and do justice and righteousness?
Then it was well with him.
He judged the cause of the poor and needy;
then it was well.
Is not this to know me?
declares the Lord.
But you have eyes and heart
only for your dishonest gain,
for shedding innocent blood,
and for practicing oppression and violence.” – Jeremiah 21:13-17 ESV
And God asks rhetorically: “‘Should I not punish them for this?’ says the Lord. ‘Should I not avenge myself against such a nation?’” (Jeremiah 5:29 NLT). The answer is an obvious, “Yes.” But just to make sure Jeremiah and the people understood why that was the appropriate answer and the only just response for a holy and righteous God, God adds the final nail in the proverbial coffin.
“A horrible and shocking thing
has happened in this land—
the prophets give false prophecies,
and the priests rule with an iron hand.
Worse yet, my people like it that way!
But what will you do when the end comes?” – Jeremiah 5:30-31 NLT
The people had grown accustomed to the sad state of affairs in Judah. They had acclimated themselves to a life filled with injustice, immorality, and idolatry. And this was far more shocking than anything that was going to happen to them. As God stated earlier in the book of Jeremiah:
“Has a nation ever changed its gods
(even though they are not really gods at all)?
But my people have exchanged me, their glorious God,
for a god that cannot help them at all!” – Jeremiah 2:11 NLT
And God will reiterate the shocking nature of Judah’s treatment of Him later on in the book. “Has anyone ever heard of such a thing, even among the pagan nations?” (Jeremiah 18:13 NLT). The fact that God was going bring judgment on Judah should have been anything but a surprise to anyone. But that the people of Judah had allowed it to get to that point was shocking. How could they have turned their back on God? What would have led them to abandon the one who had proven so faithful and loving to them? But the truth is, even those of us who claim to be Christ-followers and children of God can be guilty of turning our back on Him. We can treat Him as if He is not there. We regularly abandon Him and shower our affections and attention on other “gods’ we have created – from pleasure and power to materialism and entertainment. We seek help and hope from others. We give God lip service, but our hearts remain far from Him. And yet, through it all, He remains faithful, merciful, gracious and loving.
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.