Refined and Tested.

Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts:
“Behold, I will refine them and test them,
    for what else can I do, because of my people?
Their tongue is a deadly arrow;
    it speaks deceitfully;
with his mouth each speaks peace to his neighbor,
    but in his heart he plans an ambush for him.
Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the Lord,
    and shall I not avenge myself
    on a nation such as this?

“I will take up weeping and wailing for the mountains,
    and a lamentation for the pastures of the wilderness,
because they are laid waste so that no one passes through,
    and the lowing of cattle is not heard;
both the birds of the air and the beasts
    have fled and are gone.
I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins,
    a lair of jackals,
and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation,
    without inhabitant.”

Who is the man so wise that he can understand this? To whom has the mouth of the Lord spoken, that he may declare it? Why is the land ruined and laid waste like a wilderness, so that no one passes through? And the Lord says: “Because they have forsaken my law that I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice or walked in accord with it, but have stubbornly followed their own hearts and have gone after the Baals, as their fathers taught them. Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will feed this people with bitter food, and give them poisonous water to drink. I will scatter them among the nations whom neither they nor their fathers have known, and I will send the sword after them, until I have consumed them.”Jeremiah 9:7-16 ESV

There are those times in our lives when we find ourselves suffering as we go through unexpected difficulty, and we wonder why it is happening. As believers in God, we may question whether we have done something to make God angry with us. Yet, at other times, we might be unable to think of any logical reason for our suffering. We can come up with no sin or act of disobedience we have done that might have resulted in what we are experiencing. But the one thing we can always know is that God is in full control and can and does use all suffering as a means of perfecting us. He uses it to refine and purify us, creating within us a deeper and deeper dependency upon Him. Even if our suffering is the result of our own sin and divine discipline, God will use it to perfect 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.”

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? – Hebrews 12:5-7 NLT

Suffering is inevitable in this life. It comes with living in a sin-filled world full of sinful people. But as the author of Hebrews reminds us, as God’s children, we must always see the pain and suffering we are called to endure as coming through the sovereign hand of God. And whether we realize it or recognize it at the time, we must constantly remind ourselves that God has something He wants to accomplish by allowing whatever difficulty we are experiencing. The apostle Paul wrote, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:23 NLT). There is no wasted suffering for the child of God. And while that fact may be hard to accept in the midst of a trial, it is important that we remind ourselves of its reality on a constant basis. The author of Hebrews went on to write: “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).

But what about the people of Judah? They were about to endure a refining and testing at the hands of God that was going to leave them wondering what in the world just happened. The extent of their destruction was going to be great and the pain and loss they would face would have them questioning the very existence of God. But God wanted them to know that He was very much still in existence. In fact, He wanted them to know that their coming destruction was going to be His doing. But it would be for the purpose of purification, not annihilation. God was out to discipline them, not destroy them. But their pain would be great. Their suffering would be intense. They had left God no other choice.

“Should I not punish them for this?” says the Lord.
    “Should I not avenge myself against such a nation?” – Jeremiah 9:9 NLT

God could not let their insubordination and rebellion just slip by unnoticed or unpunished. They were His children and they deserved discipline. To fail to discipline them would be to fail to love them. God, in His perfect holiness, could not allow His children to remain in a state of unholiness, profaning His name and bringing shame to His character. And God makes it perfectly clear that their fate is the result of their own sinfulness. Speaking in the past-tense, emphasizing the inevitable nature of what is coming, God says:

“This has happened because my people have abandoned my instructions; they have refused to obey what I said. Instead, they have stubbornly followed their own desires and worshiped the images of Baal, as their ancestors taught them.” – Jeremiah 9:13-14 NLT

He didn’t want there to be any questions in the minds of the people of Judah when they found themselves defeated at the hands of the Babylonians with their once great capital, Jerusalem, destroyed and the temple lying in ruins. It would be their unfaithfulness to God that would be their undoing. And as a not-so-subtle reminder of God’s loving provision for the people of Israel in the days of their wilderness wanderings, God tells the people of Judah, “I will feed this people with bitter food, and give them poisonous water to drink” (Jeremiah 9:15 ESV). Rather than manna, miraculously provided by God and that tasted like honey, the rebellious people of Judah would eat bitter food. The Hebrew word God used is la`anah and it refers to wormwood, a root that was poisonous if consumed and was associated with cursing. And God’s mention of poisonous water seems to be a direct reference to the time when the people of Israel found themselves three-days past their Red Sea experience where God had miraculously parted the waters and rescued them. They arrived at a place called Marah, in the Desert of Shur, where they discovered the only source of water was bitter and undrinkable. So, they responded by complaining to Moses.

He cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When Moses threw it into the water, the water became safe to drink. There the Lord made for them a binding ordinance, and there he tested them. He said, “If you will diligently obey the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and pay attention to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, then all the diseases that I brought on the Egyptians I will not bring on you, for I, the Lord, am your healer.” – Exodus 16:25-26 NLT

God had provided. They had no reason to worry. There was no legitimate cause for them to be concerned over their well-being as long as they placed their trust in God and obeyed His will for them. But the people of Judah were going to learn another invaluable lesson. They were going to discover what happens when you refuse to obey. This time, there would be no clean water to drink or sweet bread to eat. There would be no rescue. And God paints a very bleak picture of the outcome of their rebellion.

“I will make Jerusalem into a heap of ruins,” says the Lord.
    “It will be a place haunted by jackals.
The towns of Judah will be ghost towns,
    with no one living in them.” – Jeremiah 9:11 NLT

And God would weep. But not for the people.

“I will weep for the mountains
    and wail for the wilderness pastures.
For they are desolate and empty of life;
    the lowing of cattle is heard no more;
    the birds and wild animals have all fled.” – Jeremiah 9:10 NLT

The land itself would be devastated. Pastures would be emptied of cattle, taken as plunder by the Babylonians. The desolation would impact the wildlife. The sins of the people and the punishment their sins required would even influence creation. Paul speaks of creation’s suffering at the hands of mankind’s sin.

Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. – Romans 8:20-23 NLT

Sin has devastating consequences. We see it all around us in the form of disease, famines, storms, wildfires, droughts, floods, and other natural disasters. God’s creation has been infected by man’s sin. And the sins of the people of Judah would leave the land of Judah in a state of devastation. The promised land would become a wasteland. The land God had once described as a land flowing with milk and honey, was going to be desolate and empty of life. God’s refining and testing of Judah was going to involve intense heat and the painful removal of the sin that had infected them. And even the land God had so graciously provided would suffer as a result.

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