Only Hurting Yourselves.

“As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you. Do you not see what they are doing in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven. And they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger. Is it I whom they provoke? declares the Lord. Is it not themselves, to their own shame? Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, my anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, upon man and beast, upon the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground; it will burn and not be quenched.”

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh. For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers.

“So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you. And you shall say to them, ‘This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips.

“‘Cut off your hair and cast it away;
    raise a lamentation on the bare heights,
for the Lord has rejected and forsaken
    the generation of his wrath.’”Jeremiah 7:16-29 ESV

Don’t pray. Those words sound a bit strange coming from the lips of God. But that is exactly what He told Jeremiah. Things had gotten so bad in Judah that God commanded Jeremiah not to even waste his time praying for mercy for the people. They were not going to change. They would never repent. After all, God had sent them prophets all along the way. Jeremiah was far from the first. When God had delivered them from captivity in Egypt He had told them, “Obey me, and I will be your God, and you will be my people. Do everything as I say, and all will be well!” (Jeremiah 7:23 NLT). And that command had been given long before He gave them the law and the sacrificial system. And yet, here they were, going through the motions of sacrifice to God, while they were busy gathering wood, building fires, and baking cakes to offer to the Queen of Heaven. This is most likely a reference to the Assyrian-Babylonian goddess, Astarte or Ishtar. Worship of this god involved the baking of cakes that carried her image and were offered up along with drink offerings. And God says this kind of activity is widespread, taking place in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. Entire families were involved in this kind of idolatry. So, God tells Jeremiah to keep his prayers to himself. Whatever suffering the people of Judah will have to endure as a result of God’s judgment is their own fault. They have brought it on themselves. They weren’t hurting God. They were only hurting themselves. He was not suffering because of their unfaithfulness, but they soon would be.

God makes a stinging indictment about the people of Judah: “Truth has vanished from among them; it is no longer heard on their lips” (Jeremiah 7:28 NLT). This is far more than an accusation of lying. They had long ago forgotten the truth about God. His ways were not taught. His commands were not believed or obeyed. His judgment was not feared. His holiness was not revered or respected. But the Hebrew word translated as “truth” is ’emuwnah and it can also mean “faithfulness” or “moral fidelity.” Because God is truth, His word is truth. What He says is true. What He commands is true. And He expects faithfulness or moral fidelity among His people. God’s commands are not up for debate. When He had told the people of Israel, “Obey me, and I will be your God, and you will be my people. Do everything as I say, and all will be well!”, He had meant it. That was the truth and nothing but the truth. But God tells Jeremiah, “This is the nation whose people will not obey the Lord their God and who refuse to be taught” (Jeremiah 7:28 NLT). They have no intention of obeying God. They are not interested in the truth. Instead, they had been listening to the lies of the false prophets. They had been putting their hopes in the false gods of the nations around them. They had exchanged the truth of God for a lie. And God gives Jeremiah some less-than-encouraging news: “Tell them all this, but do not expect them to listen. Shout out your warnings, but do not expect them to respond” (Jeremiah 7:27 NLT).

All Judah had left to do was mourn over their fate. They might not believe the truth of God right now, but they would. When the Babylonians finally showed up and their doom was certain, the people would end up seeing the truth of God in a whole new light. They would discover the hard way that He had been telling the truth. He was really was the one true God. He really did expect obedience and faithfulness. Sin really did have consequences. And God gives Jeremiah a message to deliver to the people of Judah:

“Shave your head in mourning, and weep alone on the mountains. For the Lord has rejected and forsaken this generation that has provoked his fury.” – Jeremiah 7:29 NLT

Why is it that we take sin so lightly? When God tells us that He despises sin and is obligated by His holiness and justice to punish it, why do we not take Him seriously? We ignore His warnings. We disobey His commands. We justify our actions and we suffer the consequences. And we only end up hurting ourselves. He offers us blessings and we reject them, seeking instead the false promises of the gods of this world. We buy into the lies of the enemy. We worship at the altars of power, possessions, prominence, and pleasure. We offer our “cakes” to gods that are man-made and powerless to deliver anything of lasting value. We reject the truth of God for a lie. And, like the people of Judah, we end up guilty of moral infidelity and unfaithfulness. All of this, despite the fact that we have been introduced to the way, the truth and the life. We have come to know the truth and been set free by the truth. We have placed our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior, but still find ourselves wandering away, drawn by the offers of the false gods of this age. And we end up living as if the truth of Jesus Christ and His offer of abundant life are nothing but lies. But God loves us too much to allow us to continue to hurt ourselves, so He disciplines us. The author of Hebrews reminds us:

And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” – Hebrews 12:5-6 NLT

God was going to punish the people of Judah, because of their sin but, more importantly, because they were His children. He loved them too much to allow them to continue down the path they were going. His judgment would seem harsh and unloving. Their fate would appear cruel and uncaring. But again, the author of Hebrews provides us with some important insight into the ways of God.

“As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever?” – Hebrews 12:7-9 NLT

The people of Judah were only hurting themselves. They were bringing the judgment of God on themselves. But He was going to use that judgment for their own good. He would use their unfaithfulness as an opportunity to prove to them yet again His own faithfulness. Sin would bring pain. Disobedience would result in discipline. But God’s discipline produces righteousness.

“For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” – Hebrews 12:10-11 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