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.