Then all the men who knew that their wives had made offerings to other gods, and all the women who stood by, a great assembly, all the people who lived in Pathros in the land of Egypt, answered Jeremiah: “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you. But we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster. But since we left off making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine.” And the women said, “When we made offerings to the queen of heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, was it without our husbands’ approval that we made cakes for her bearing her image and poured out drink offerings to her?”
Then Jeremiah said to all the people, men and women, all the people who had given him this answer: “As for the offerings that you offered in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, you and your fathers, your kings and your officials, and the people of the land, did not the Lord remember them? Did it not come into his mind? The Lord could no longer bear your evil deeds and the abominations that you committed. Therefore your land has become a desolation and a waste and a curse, without inhabitant, as it is this day. It is because you made offerings and because you sinned against the Lord and did not obey the voice of the Lord or walk in his law and in his statutes and in his testimonies that this disaster has happened to you, as at this day.” – Jeremiah 44:15-23 ESV
This passage provides a remarkable glimpse into the mindset of an individual whose heart is set on sin. When a lifestyle of sin or rebellion against God becomes habitual, the individual involved in that sin will do everything he or she can to justify and rationalize their behavior. The truth is, they enjoy their sin and want to keep on doing it. They have grown accustomed to their disobedient lifestyle and any attempt by anyone, including God, to stop them will be met by stiff resistance, even anger. If they feel their sin, which they love to commit, is threatened in any way, they will become defensive and combative. And that’s exactly what we see in these verses.
The remnant of the people of Judah, led by Johanan, had fled to Egypt in order to escape the Babylonian occupation of their land. But they did so against the command of God. They had been warned not to go to Egypt, but had done so anyway, and they took Jeremiah with them by force. And now, after they had settled into their new lives in Egypt, Jeremiah had given them a word from God:
“I will take this remnant of Judah—those who were determined to come here and live in Egypt—and I will consume them. They will fall here in Egypt, killed by war and famine. All will die, from the least to the greatest.” – Jeremiah 44:12 NLT
This dire warning from God didn’t produce its intended effect. Rather than fear God and repent of their sins against Him, they responded with blame and indignation. They justified their actions and told God’s spokesman, the prophet Jeremiah, that they were not going to listen to his words any longer.
“We will not listen to your messages from the Lord! We will do whatever we want.” – Jeremiah 44:16-17 NLT
And they gave him their reasons why.
“We will burn incense and pour out liquid offerings to the Queen of Heaven just as much as we like—just as we, and our ancestors, and our kings and officials have always done in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For in those days we had plenty to eat, and we were well off and had no troubles!” – Jeremiah 44:17 NLT
As far as they were concerned, it was going to be business as usual. When they served their false gods everything had gone well for them, or so they claimed. Their memories, clouded by the fog of time and the mist of sin, were less-than-accurate in their portrayal of how things had been, but that was going to be their justification. It’s all very similar to the story of their ancestors as they made their way from Egypt to the promised land. God had fed them manna and provided them with water from a rock. But the day came when they were dissatisfied with God’s provision and took their complaint to Moses.
“Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” – Numbers 11:4-6 ESV
They had foggy memories of how things had been back in Egypt. They recalled their former days of slavery with fondness and saw their current circumstances under God direction as burdensome and unpleasant. They preferred captivity to freedom. They wanted their old way of life back. And the remnant of Jews who had fled to Egypt were expressing the same sentiment. They preferred their sin in Egypt over obedience to God in Judah. And they gave the credit for any joy or happiness they had enjoyed back in Judah to their false gods, not Yahweh. Once again, their sin-soaked memories were a bit vague on the actual details of how things had gone when they were still in Judah. They seem to recall a time when they had given up their false gods.
“But ever since we quit burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and stopped worshiping her with liquid offerings, we have been in great trouble and have been dying from war and famine.” – Jeremiah 44:18 NLT
But even during the days of King Josiah, the last king who tried to bring spiritual reform to Judah, the people had not fully given up their false gods. Their efforts at reform and repentance had been nothing more than window dressing. All along, they had continued to worship and offer up sacrifices to the Queen of Heaven and all their other idols. What they failed to remember was that their “dying from war and famine” had been God’s punishment on them for NOT turning from their false gods. It was their disobedience and unfaithfulness that had gotten them in trouble in the first place, and now they were doing it again. And they were adamant about it, boldly claiming, “We will do whatever we want.”
But Jeremiah wasn’t going to let them play fast and loose with the facts. He wasn’t going to allow them to use their revisionist history to distort the reality of what had happened. And he let them know that God had always known that their so-called efforts at reform had always been a sham and a show.
“Do you think the Lord did not know that you and your ancestors, your kings and officials, and all the people were burning incense to idols in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem?” – Jeremiah 44:21 NLT
Was God blind? Had He not seen what was going on behind closed doors? Was He unaware of what they had been doing in secret while they had been feigning allegiance to Him? Jeremiah let them know that their problems were the result of their unfaithfulness to Yahweh, not their unfaithfulness to their false gods. They had never really given up their idolatry. Had they been willing to do so and had they turned back to God in true repentance, He would have spared them from judgment and restored them to a right relationship with Himself. But Jeremiah doesn’t pull any punches when he tells the people unvarnished truth about their past unfaithfulness and present predicament.
“It was because the Lord could no longer bear all the disgusting things you were doing that he made your land an object of cursing—a desolate ruin without inhabitants—as it is today.” – Jeremiah 44:22 NLT
The state of affairs back in Judah was God’s doing, not the work of the Queen of Heaven or any other false god. They were under God’s judgment and not that of some other non-existent deity. But the truth is, the people of Judah were simply trying to justify their sin and rationale their disobedience to God. They didn’t want to be led by Him. They didn’t want to live according to His rules and obey His commands. They wanted to worship gods they had created on their own. But it was their stubborn demand for autonomy and their refusal to willingly submit to the leadership of God in their lives that had brought all the pain and suffering on them. So, they had no one to blame but themselves.
“All these terrible things happened to you because you have burned incense to idols and sinned against the Lord. You have refused to obey him and have not followed his instructions, his decrees, and his laws.” – Jeremiah 44:23 NLT
They could attempt to revise history, but the facts would remain unchanged. Their sin was still worthy of judgment. Their rebellion against God was still deserving of His punishment. No amount of justification or rationalization was going to change their status before God. They were guilty. God was holy.
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.