Unprecedented and Unnatural.

“Therefore thus says the Lord:
Ask among the nations,
    Who has heard the like of this?
The virgin Israel
    has done a very horrible thing.
Does the snow of Lebanon leave
    the crags of Sirion?
Do the mountain waters run dry,
    the cold flowing streams?
But my people have forgotten me;
    they make offerings to false gods;
they made them stumble in their ways,
    in the ancient roads,
and to walk into side roads,
    not the highway,
making their land a horror,
    a thing to be hissed at forever.
Everyone who passes by it is horrified
    and shakes his head.
Like the east wind I will scatter them
    before the enemy.
I will show them my back, not my face,
    in the day of their calamity.”
Jeremiah 18:13-17 ESV

Even by pagan standards, what Judah had done was abnormal and a bit difficult to defend. Even they would consider it absurd for an entire nation to turn their backs on their national deity. It just wasn’t done. The kind of unfaithfulness Judah had exhibited to their God, Yahweh, was shocking. And that is God’s point in His message to Jeremiah. He describes what Judah has done as “horrible”. It is a word that conveys the idea of shock and dread at the thought of something. Seeing what Judah has done should cause the viewer to bristle with horror. He will use this same word again when He describes the sins of the false prophets of Judah.

“But in the prophets of Jerusalem
    I have seen a horrible thing:
they commit adultery and walk in lies;
    they strengthen the hands of evildoers,
    so that no one turns from his evil;
all of them have become like Sodom to me,
    and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.” – Jeremiah 23:14 ESV

Judah’s treatment of God has the equivalent shock value of you or I stumbling into the scene of a brutal murder. We would have to turn away in horror and disgust. It would be totally unexpected and abnormal, an assault on our senses. And this is how God portrayed Judah’s treatment of Him. Even by nature’s standards, it was abnormal and unnatural.

“Does the snow ever disappear from the mountaintops of Lebanon? Do the cold streams flowing from those distant mountains ever run dry?” – Jeremiah 18:14 NLT

These two rhetorical questions have the same answer: No. There is always snow on the mountaintops of Lebanon. And as a result, there is always melting snow providing the people of Judah cold, refreshing water. They can count on it. It is always there. It is a normal and natural occurrence that happens season after season. If the snow failed to show up, it would be shocking. If the streams dried up, it would be horrific. But, even in nature, there is a faithfulness exhibited that was missing among God’s people.

“But my people are not so reliable, for they have deserted me;
    they burn incense to worthless idols.
They have stumbled off the ancient highways
    and walk in muddy paths.” – Jeremiah 18:15 NLT

The people of Judah could rely on the streams to be filled with refreshing water. They could count on the sun coming up every morning and setting every evening. They had grown accustomed to the crops growing in their fields and their vineyards producing grapes. The blessings of God had become common place to them and they took them for granted. Had the rains ceased, the crops failed, the grapevines shriveled up and their herds and flocks died in the fields, the people of Judah would have been the first to complain. They would have demanded God fix the problem and put things back the way they were supposed to be. But for some reason, they were unable to see the unnatural and abnormal nature of their treatment of God. But He saw it. And He was going to deal with it.

“Therefore, their land will become desolate,
    a monument to their stupidity.
All who pass by will be astonished
    and will shake their heads in amazement.
I will scatter my people before their enemies
    as the east wind scatters dust.
And in all their trouble I will turn my back on them
    and refuse to notice their distress.” – Jeremiah 18:16-17 NLT

They had chosen to turn their back on God. It was unnatural and abnormal. It made no sense. It was shocking to witness. But even more shocking would be God’s judgment of them. Their once fruitful and productive land would become desolate. It would be a veritable ghost town, devoid of human life, leaving all those who see it shaking their heads in astonishment and wondering how it happened. The people of Judah would scatter to the four winds, in their vain attempt to escape the wrath of the Babylonians. And when things get tough, they will cry out to God, expecting Him to deliver them, just like He has done so many times before. They will offer sacrifices and make offerings to God in the hopes that He will intervene and spare them. But He will refuse to notice their distress. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God lets the people of Judah know how He views their attempts at pacifying Him with last-minute sacrifices designed to save them from a fate worse than death.

“Your acts of worship
    are acts of sin:
Your sacrificial slaughter of the ox
    is no different from murdering the neighbor;
Your offerings for worship,
    no different from dumping pig’s blood on the altar;
Your presentation of memorial gifts,
    no different from honoring a no-god idol.
You choose self-serving worship,
    you delight in self-centered worship—disgusting!
Well, I choose to expose your nonsense
    and let you realize your worst fears,
Because when I invited you, you ignored me;
    when I spoke to you, you brushed me off.
You did the very things I exposed as evil,
    you chose what I hate.”   – Isaiah 66:3-4 MSG

It will all be too little, too late. And God will know that their hearts are not in it. It was King David who wrote the following words after he had been exposed by the prophet Nation regarding his sin with Bathsheba. Convicted by the prophet, David responded in confession and contrition.

“You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” – Psalm 51:16-17 NLT

That’s what God wanted from Judah. He wanted brokenness over their sin and hearts that reflected a desire to turn away from their pattern of unfaithfulness and idolatry. David knew that God’s greatest desire was that His people turn to Him, but they must do so in true repentance, accompanied by broken spirits, crushed by the staggering weight of their own sin against Him.

The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. – Psalm 34:17-18 NLT

But the people of Judah were not yet crushed. Their spirits were not yet broken. They were filled with pride and consumed with their own self-importance. They didn’t really need God, but that would change when the Babylonians showed up on their doorstep. But even then, they would only come to God to get what they wanted from Him. They would demand rescue by Him, but refuse to pledge allegiance to Him. They were in for a rude awakening. And the devastating results of their unfaithfulness will linger long after they are gone, acting as a permanent “monument to their stupidity”. The people who had enjoyed the blessings of God will become those who bring upon themselves the judgment of God. Unprecedented and unnatural, but not unexpected. God had warned them. He had given them ample opportunity to repent and return to Him. He had been patient with them. But His patience had run out.

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. Petersoz