Free to Choose

1 How lonely sits the city
    that was full of people!
How like a widow has she become,
    she who was great among the nations!
She who was a princess among the provinces
    has become a slave.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
    with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
    she has none to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her;
    they have become her enemies.

Judah has gone into exile because of affliction
    and hard servitude;
she dwells now among the nations,
    but finds no resting place;
her pursuers have all overtaken her
    in the midst of her distress. – Lamentations 1:1-3 ESV

Like the book of Job, Lamentations deals with the theology of suffering, but from a national, rather than a personal perspective. Written as poetry, Lamentations is a dirge, a song of mourning commemorating the fall of the city of Jerusalem and the desolation of Judah. But the book is far more than a reciting of the sad state of affairs in Judah. It is a theological treatise on God’s justice, love, and sovereignty.

The seeming contradiction between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are on display throughout the pages of Lamentations, and they are never fully resolved. Even at the close of the book, the unavoidable and inexplicable tension between these two truths remains.

The people of Israel had been given a choice by God. He had made a bilateral covenant with them that spelled out His expectations regarding their behavior. If they obeyed, they would be blessed. If they chose to disobey, the would experience the consequences, in the form of curses. The blessings and the curses had been covered in detail in the book of Deuteronomy.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ESV

“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. – Deuteronomy 28:15 ESV

The choice had been theirs. But God had made sure that the logical choice would be a clear and compelling one. There should have been no confusion or debate. God had promised that obedience to His commands would be accompanied by the benefit of His blessings on their cities, fields, flocks, agriculture, families, military exploits, business ventures, physical health, and financial prospects. They would enjoy status as “a people holy to himself” (Deuteronomy 28:9 ESV). And God assured them that this unique distinction would be accompanied by some significant implications:

all the peoples of the earth will see that you belong to the Lord, and they will respect you.” – Deuteronomy 28:10 NLT

But what if they chose to disobey God? What would happen then? God had made that outcome painfully clear. Everything He had promised to bless would be cursed.

“The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. – Deuteronomy 28:20 ESV

Their crops, cities, families, flocks, and fortunes would be cursed because God would remove His hand of protection and provision. If they chose to live in ways that were contrary and contradictory to God’s plans for His chosen people, they would experience the dire consequences. But again, the choice had been theirs to make. And we know from the history of Israel as recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures, that they ultimately chose to live in disobedience to God. They proved unfaithful to Him, regularly rejecting His will for their own. And while God had warned them repeatedly that destruction was coming unless they repented and returned to Him, they rejected the words of the prophets and followed the desires of their hearts.

A pattern of disobedience and unfaithfulness marked the history of God’s people. And it eventually resulted in the split of the kingdom, resulting in the nation of Israel in the north, and the nation of Judah in the south. And in 722 B.C., the northern kingdom of Israel was defeated and destroyed by the Assyrians just as God had warned. And while the southern kingdom of Judah had watched the fall of its northern neighbor, they learned nothing from the experience. Because in 586 B.C., they would experience a similar fate, conquered by the forces of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

And here, in the opening verses of Lamentations, we read the somber words describing the sad state of affairs in Jerusalem, the once flourishing capital of Judah. Jeremiah describes the city as a veritable ghost town. Its once-bustling streets are empty, its houses and buildings destroyed. The former glory of the temple has been reduced to rubble and the gates and walls of the city have been demolished. The book of 2 Kings describes the extent of the devastation.

In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem.  And the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the multitude, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile. But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and plowmen. – 2 Kings 25:8-12 ESV

Jeremiah describes the fallen city of Jerusalem as a princess who has fallen on hard times. Formerly married and accustomed to great wealth and privilege, she finds herself widowed and reduced to a state of abject poverty. Her fortunes have been drastically and dramatically altered. Having formerly enjoyed the benefits of royal sovereignty, she is now reduced to a state of slavery.

But while her fate may leave us feeling sorry for her, it is not undeserved. Jeremiah goes on to describe Jerusalem as an unfaithful wife. She cries but finds no one to comfort her, in spite of her long list of lovers. Those whom she once considered her friends have ended up abandoning and turning against her. And in the book that bears his name, Jeremiah had warned Judah that all of this was going to happen, long before it did.

And you, Zion, city doomed to destruction,
you accomplish nothing by wearing a beautiful dress,
decking yourself out in jewels of gold,
and putting on eye shadow!
You are making yourself beautiful for nothing.
Your lovers spurn you.
They want to kill you. – Jeremiah 4:30 NET

Judah had made a habit of making alliances with other nations, seeking safety and security through treaties and military pacts, rather than trusting in God. When God had warned that the Babylonians were coming, the leaders of Judah had sought to stay off destruction through partnerships with pagan nations that were in direct violation of God’s will. But these “friends” would prove unfaithful and incapable of delivering Judah from the hands of the Babylonians.

Verse three paints a stark contrast between God’s preferred future for Judah and the reality of their current circumstances. As God’s chosen people, they had been given the land of Canaan as their inheritance. It was a rich and abundant land, filled with tangible expressions of God’s love in the form of orchards, vineyards, fields of grain, and abundant sources of water. They had lived in homes they had not built located in cities they had not constructed. They had enjoyed safety and security from their enemies provided by the hand of God. But now, Judah had “been led away into captivity, oppressed with cruel slavery” (Lamentations 1:3 NLT).

Instead of enjoying the peace and rest of the promised land, the people of God were experiencing the pain and suffering of exile in the land of Babylon. God had promised them that if they would only remain faithful to Him, He would ensure that they remained at the top of the food chain.

“…the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you will always be on top and never at the bottom.“ – Deuteronomy 28:13 NLT

But Jeremiah reveals that their choice to disobey God had produced a far different outcome.

She lives among foreign nations
    and has no place of rest.
Her enemies have chased her down,
    and she has nowhere to turn. – Lamentations 1:3 NLT

The people of Judah had made a choice, and now there were reaping the consequences of that choice. God had warned them, but they had refused to listen. He had pleaded with them repeatedly to repent, but they had rejected those calls. They had not acted out of ignorance, but out of pride and stubbornness. They had chosen to live according to their own ways, living in keeping with their own selfish agendas. And now, they were experiencing the error of their ways.

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


The Potter and the Clay.

Astonish yourselves and be astonished;
    blind yourselves and be blind!
Be drunk, but not with wine;
    stagger, but not with strong drink!
10 For the Lord has poured out upon you
    a spirit of deep sleep,
and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
    and covered your heads (the seers).

11 And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” 12 And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”

13 And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
14 therefore, behold, I will again
    do wonderful things with this people,
    with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
    and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

15 Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel,
    whose deeds are in the dark,
    and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
16 You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”? – Isaiah 29:9-16 ESV

The people of Judah were spiritually dull and complacent. Isaiah compares them to a man stumbling around under the influence of alcohol. But he makes it clear that their stupor and instability is spiritual in nature, and it has been brought on them by God.

For the Lord has poured out on you a spirit of deep sleep.
    He has closed the eyes of your prophets and visionaries. – Isaiah 29:10 NLT

Part of the punishment He has brought against them is their inability to discern the right thing to do. In spite of all their pride and arrogance, they were incapable of understanding what it was that God was doing. The signs were obvious, but their eyes were blinded to the reality of what was going on around them and to them.

All the future events in this vision are like a sealed book to them. When you give it to those who can read, they will say, “We can’t read it because it is sealed.” When you give it to those who cannot read, they will say, “We don’t know how to read.” – Isaiah 29:11-12 NLT

Isaiah, as the prophet of God, had been pleading with them to trust God. He had exposed their misplaced trust in Egypt and other pagan nations. He had warned them of God’s pending judgment. And he had made it clear that repentance was the solution to their problem. But they had remained stubbornly unwilling to listen to a word he said. And he delivers a stinging indictment from God.

“These people say they are loyal to me;
they say wonderful things about me,
but they are not really loyal to me.
Their worship consists of
nothing but man-made ritual. – Isaiah 29:13 NET

There were guilty of giving God lip-service. They claimed to be His loyal subjects, but they were simply going through the motions. Their words were not backed by appropriate actions. And what they alleged to be worship was nothing more than a set of man-made rules and rituals they performed by rote. Their hearts were not in it.

Not only that, they suffered from the mistaken impression that God Almighty was unable to see what it was that they were doing. In their warped and twisted minds, they fully believed that they could hide what it was they were doing from the penetrating gaze of God. And Isaiah gave verbal expression to their thoughts.

“The Lord can’t see us,” they say.
    “He doesn’t know what’s going on!” – Isaiah 29:15 NLT

And why did they have this remarkably naive outlook? Because they somehow believed that they had done a good job of hiding their actions from Yahweh. But Isaiah delivered the sobering news that their impressions were wrong. Deadly wrong.

What sorrow awaits those who try to hide their plans from the Lord,
    who do their evil deeds in the dark!
– Isaiah 29:15 NLT

Of all people, the Jews should have known that their God was omniscient. Nothing was hidden from His sight. And their own Scriptures were filled with reminders of this very fact.

For the Lord sees clearly what a man does,
    examining every path he takes. – Proverbs 5:21 NLT

“Doesn’t he see everything I do
    and every step I take?” – Job 31:4 NLT

The Lord is watching everywhere,
    keeping his eye on both the evil and the good. – Proverbs 15:3 NLT

“I am watching them closely, and I see every sin. They cannot hope to hide from me.” – Jeremiah 16:17 NLT

And that same understanding of God’s all-knowing, all-seeing capacity is carried over into the New Testament. The author of Hebrews states:

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. – Hebrews 4:13 NLT

And yet, we seem to believe that we can hide our actions from God. Not only thought, we sometimes have the false impression that we can keep God from knowing what we are thinking. But David, the great king of Israel, throws a wet blanket on that perception.

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord. – Psalm 139:1-4 NLT

Think closely about that last line. God knows what you are going to say even before you say it. A thought, unexpressed, is not hidden from God. He knows our inner thoughts. He even knows the motivations that flow from the condition of our hearts. He can tell the difference between an act of charity done out of selflessness and kindness and one done for the self-centered reward of recognition.

But Isaiah exposes the lunacy behind their false perception of God.

“Your thinking is perverse!” – Isaiah 29:16 NET

The Hebrew word Isaiah used is hophek, and it literally means “to turn things upside down.” The people of God were guilty of twisting the truth and perverting the reality of God’s omniscience. In a sense, they were guilty of wishful thinking. They could only hope that God was blind to what they were doing. But He wasn’t. And to press home his point, Isaiah uses a metaphor that compares God to a potter and Judah to clay.

He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay!
Should the created thing say of the one who made it,
“He didn’t make me”?
Does a jar ever say,
“The potter who made me is stupid”? –
Isaiah 29:16 NLT

God wasn’t like a lifeless lump of clay. They were. The Creator-God who made each and every one of the people of Judah was not the one who was ignorant, blind and clueless. They were. And they had no right to question what God was doing around them or to them. They were like clay in the hands of the Potter, and He would do with them as He wished. Their compliance was not needed. Their submission was not necessary. And their denial of God’s omniscience or omnipotence did not diminish His knowledge or power one iota.

God had sent His prophet, Jeremiah, with a similar word of warning to the people of Israel. He too used the metaphor of the potter and the clay.

“O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned. And if I announce that I will plant and build up a certain nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless it as I said I would.

“Therefore, Jeremiah, go and warn all Judah and Jerusalem. Say to them, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am planning disaster for you instead of good. So turn from your evil ways, each of you, and do what is right.’” – Jeremiah 18:6-11 NLT

But the people of Israel suffered from the same problem as the people of Judah. They were too stubborn and incapable of grasping the significance of the prophet’s words. So, they responded:

“Don’t waste your breath. We will continue to live as we want to, stubbornly following our own evil desires.” – Jeremiah 18:12 NLT

How ridiculous their words sound. How arrogant and ignorant can they be? And yet, as the people of God, we far too often exhibit the same characteristics. We boldly reject the words of God, demanding that we be allowed to live our lives the way we want to. We stubbornly determine to do things our way, rather than obeying God’s will for our lives. And we ignorantly assume we can hide our thoughts and actions from God. But He knows. He sees. And, as the Potter, He does what He has to do to mold His children into the vessels of glory.

Centuries later, the apostle Paul picked up on Isaiah’s metaphor of the potter and the clay and used it to address to believers in Rome.

But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have the right to make from the same lump of clay one vessel for special occasions and another for common use? – Romans 9:20-21 Berean Bible

God will do what He has to do to bring about the transformation He has planned. His will is never thwarted. His design is never altered. In our arrogance and pride, we may believe that are the ones in control. But Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Paul would have us understand that God alone controls our destinies. And it is far better to submit to His will than to resist it.

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

Drunk on Success.

1 Ah, the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim,
    and the fading flower of its glorious beauty,
    which is on the head of the rich valley of those overcome with wine!
Behold, the Lord has one who is mighty and strong;
    like a storm of hail, a destroying tempest,
like a storm of mighty, overflowing waters,
    he casts down to the earth with his hand.
The proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim
    will be trodden underfoot;
and the fading flower of its glorious beauty,
    which is on the head of the rich valley,
will be like a first-ripe fig before the summer:
    when someone sees it, he swallows it
    as soon as it is in his hand.

In that day the Lord of hosts will be a crown of glory,
    and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people,
and a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgment,
    and strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.

These also reel with wine
    and stagger with strong drink;
the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink,
    they are swallowed by wine,
    they stagger with strong drink,
they reel in vision,
    they stumble in giving judgment.
For all tables are full of filthy vomit,
    with no space left.

“To whom will he teach knowledge,
    and to whom will he explain the message?
Those who are weaned from the milk,
    those taken from the breast?
10 For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
    line upon line, line upon line,
    here a little, there a little.”

11 For by people of strange lips
    and with a foreign tongue
the Lord will speak to this people,
12     to whom he has said,
“This is rest;
    give rest to the weary;
and this is repose”;
    yet they would not hear.
13 And the word of the Lord will be to them
precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
    line upon line, line upon line,
    here a little, there a little,
that they may go, and fall backward,
    and be broken, and snared, and taken. – Isaiah 28:1-13 ESV

Now, God turns His attention to Ephraim, referring to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Ephraim was the second son born to Joseph in Egypt. In fact, Ephraim’s mother, Asenath, was an Egyptian. Years later, when Joseph’s father, Jacob, adopted his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, intending to treat them as his own.

“And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are.” – Genesis 48:5 ESV

In giving his patriarchal blessing to Jacob’s two sons, he intentionally awarded Ephraim the blessing intended for the firstborn. When Joseph tried to correct what he believed was a mistake, Joseph told him: “Manasseh will also become a great people, but his younger brother will become even greater. And his descendants will become a multitude of nations” (Genesis 48:19 NLT). The tribe of Ephraim was later awarded land in Canaan, just north of the Dead Sea and would become a leading tribe of the Northern Kingdom after God split the nation in two. The city of Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, was located within the territory of Ephraim.

Ephraim, representing to ten northern tribes, is called out by God for its pride and arrogance. It was located in a fertile valley at the southern tip of the Jordan River. It benefited from the frequent flooding of the river valley and enjoyed the fruits of its rich and fertile soil. God even refers to them as “the drunkards of Ephraim” – probably a reference to literal drunkenness from the wine they produced and the spiritual drunkenness that resulted from their intoxication with idolatry. The prophet, Amos, had this to say about Ephraim.

You drink wine by the bowlful
    and perfume yourselves with fragrant lotions.
    You care nothing about the ruin of your nation. – Amos 6:6 NLT

In a sense, they were drunk on their own self-importance. Amos warned them, “you who feel secure in Samaria! You are famous and popular in Israel, and people go to you for help. But go over to Calneh and see what happened there” (Amos 6:1-2 NLT). Calneh had been overrun by Shalmaneser III of Assyria in 854-846 B.C., and God was letting Israel know that the same thing was going to happen to them.

For the Lord will send a mighty army against it.
    Like a mighty hailstorm and a torrential rain,
they will burst upon it like a surging flood
    and smash it to the ground. – Isaiah 28:2 NLT

The Assyrians were poised to bring the same devastation and destruction to the Northern Kingdom that had happened in Calneh. And God doesn’t sugarcoat the news regarding Israel’s fate.

The proud city of Samaria—
    the glorious crown of the drunks of Israel—
    will be trampled beneath its enemies’ feet.
It sits at the head of a fertile valley,
    but its glorious beauty will fade like a flower.
Whoever sees it will snatch it up,
    as an early fig is quickly picked and eaten. – Isaiah 28:3-4 NLT

But God, always rich in mercy, declares that He will spare a remnant of the Northern Kingdom. Yes, He will bring judgment upon Israel in the form of the Assyrian army, but there will be a handful within rebellious Israel who recognize Him as their true source of hope and help.

He will be the pride and joy
    of the remnant of his people.
He will give a longing for justice
    to their judges.
He will give great courage
    to their warriors who stand at the gates. – Isaiah 28:5-6 NLT

But what about Judah, the Southern Kingdom? They are Isaiah’s primary target audience, and his message is intended for them. So, God reveals that He has issues with them as well. They stand guilty of the same sin of pride. They suffer from the same condition of spiritual intoxication.

Now, however, Israel is led by drunks
    who reel with wine and stagger with alcohol.
The priests and prophets stagger with alcohol
    and lose themselves in wine.
They reel when they see visions
    and stagger as they render decisions. – Isaiah 28:7 NLT

God’s indictment against the governmental and religious leaders of Israel has less to do with physical inebriation than spiritual apostasy. They are described as staggering drunks, but their real problem was spiritual confusion resulting from their steady consumption of the lies of false gods. They were incapable of making wise decisions. Their words of advice were no better than vomit from the mouth of a drunk. And they despised everything that Isaiah had to say.

“Who does the Lord think we are?” they ask.
    “Why does he speak to us like this?
Are we little children,
    just recently weaned?
He tells us everything over and over—
one line at a time,
    one line at a time,
a little here,
    and a little there!” – Isaiah 28:9-10 NLT

Isaiah’s words were simple and easy to understand, but the people of Israel rejected them. His incessant call to repentance was despised by them. His repeated warnings of God’s judgment were obnoxious to them. They were tired of Isaiah’s message. So, Isaiah let them know that the next words they would hear would be in a language they couldn’t understand.

So now God will have to speak to his people
    through foreign oppressors who speak a strange language! – Isaiah 28:

Over the centuries, God had constantly reminded His people that the land of Canaan had been intended to be a place of rest. Their relationship with Him as His chosen people was meant to be marked by peace, blessing and the joy of His presence. But their disobedience had marred their relationship with God, resulting in the split of the kingdom, constant civil unrest, rampant idolatry, and anything but peace and rest. And while God had graciously sent His messengers, the prophets, with a call to repent, the people had refused to listen. So, Isaiah lets them know that their stubborn refusal to hear and obey will result in their fall.

So the Lord will spell out his message for them again,
one line at a time,
    one line at a time,
a little here,
    and a little there,
so that they will stumble and fall.
    They will be injured, trapped, and captured. – Isaiah 28:13 NLT

And all of this was in keeping with God’s warning, delivered centuries earlier by Moses to the people of Israel. He had called them to live in obedience to God’s commands or face the inevitable consequences.

“The Lord will bring a distant nation against you from the end of the earth, and it will swoop down on you like a vulture. It is a nation whose language you do not understand, a fierce and heartless nation that shows no respect for the old and no pity for the young. Its armies will devour your livestock and crops, and you will be destroyed. They will leave you no grain, new wine, olive oil, calves, or lambs, and you will starve to death. They will attack your cities until all the fortified walls in your land—the walls you trusted to protect you—are knocked down. They will attack all the towns in the land the Lord your God has given you.” – Deuteronomy 28:49-52 NLT

And the fulfillment of God’s warning had come. The people of Israel and Judah, drunk on their own success and self-significance, were about to experience the hangover of a lifetime as the wrath of God fell. Their intoxication with the things of this world and the false gods of the Canaanites were going to leave them staggering and stumbling under God’s righteous wrath and just judgment.

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

The Futility of Fighting God’s Plans.

Jeremiah said to all the people and all the women, “Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who are in the land of Egypt. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: You and your wives have declared with your mouths, and have fulfilled it with your hands, saying, ‘We will surely perform our vows that we have made, to make offerings to the queen of heaven and to pour out drink offerings to her.’ Then confirm your vows and perform your vows! Therefore hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who dwell in the land of Egypt: Behold, I have sworn by my great name, says the Lord, that my name shall no more be invoked by the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, ‘As the Lord God lives.’ Behold, I am watching over them for disaster and not for good. All the men of Judah who are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, until there is an end of them. And those who escape the sword shall return from the land of Egypt to the land of Judah, few in number; and all the remnant of Judah, who came to the land of Egypt to live, shall know whose word will stand, mine or theirs. This shall be the sign to you, declares the Lord, that I will punish you in this place, in order that you may know that my words will surely stand against you for harm: Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will give Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt into the hand of his enemies and into the hand of those who seek his life, as I gave Zedekiah king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, who was his enemy and sought his life.” Jeremiah 44:24-30 ESV

The people have said, “We will not listen to your messages from the Lord! We will do whatever we want” (Jeremiah 44:16-17 NLT). They have dug their feet in and refused to budge. They were not going to repent or return to the Lord. They were not going to stop making sacrifices to their false gods. And they made their intentions very clear to Jeremiah.

“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.” – Jeremiah 454:17 NLT

No remorse. No fear of God. So, Jeremiah was left no other option but to give them the bad news regarding their poor choice. And to fully understand what Jeremiah tells them in these verses, you have to take a look back at an earlier statement they had received from God, back when they were still in the land of Judah and before the nation had fallen to the Babylonians.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

God spoke these words to the people concerning their upcoming fall to King Nebuchadnezzar’s forces, and their subsequent 70-year captivity in Babylon. God had let them know that it was all part of His divine plan for them. And that plan included a return to the land of promise when the 70 years was up. God had made a promise to the people of Judah.

“I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” – Jeremiah 29:14 NLT

Compare those words of promise to the ones Jeremiah delivers to the people of Judah who have stubbornly refused to return to Judah or to God.

“For I will watch over you to bring you disaster and not good. Everyone from Judah who is now living in Egypt will suffer war and famine until all of you are dead.” – Jeremiah 44:27 NLT

Instead of plans for welfare and hope, God’s plans had turned to disaster and not good. Rather than freedom from captivity and restoration of their fortunes, God was going to bring war, famine and death. Quite a dramatic difference. But why? Because the people who were living in Egypt were those who had refused to listen to God and had decided not to surrender to the Babylonians as He had commanded. God had clearly told them that their only viable option was surrender.

“Everyone who stays in Jerusalem will die from war, famine, or disease, but those who surrender to the Babylonians will live. Their reward will be life. They will live!” – Jeremiah38:2 NLT

And while it appears that some heeded the warning and did as God commanded, the majority of the people had not. And when the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem, thousands were slaughtered and others were taken captive. Only the poor were left behind.

“Then Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, took as exiles to Babylon the rest of the people who remained in the city, those who had defected to him, and everyone else who remained. But Nebuzaradan allowed some of the poorest people to stay behind in the land of Judah, and he assigned them to care for the vineyards and fields.” – Jeremiah 39:9-10 NLT

Along with those who had been left behind, there must be added the ones who had fled to the hills and hidden from the coming disaster. They had refused to surrender, but had also refused to take the punishment that God had decreed. And many of these people were the very ones who had fled to Egypt, against the expressed wishes of God. He had told them exactly what He wanted them to do.

“Stay here in this land. If you do, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you. For I am sorry about all the punishment I have had to bring upon you. Do not fear the king of Babylon anymore,’ says the Lord. ‘For I am with you and will save you and rescue you from his power. I will be merciful to you by making him kind, so he will let you stay here in your land.’” – Jeremiah 42:10-12 NLT

But as we know, they had rejected God’s counsel. Even though He had made it perfectly clear what would happen if they did.

“If you are determined to go to Egypt and live there, the very war and famine you fear will catch up to you, and you will die there. That is the fate awaiting every one of you who insists on going to live in Egypt. Yes, you will die from war, famine, and disease. None of you will escape the disaster I will bring upon you there.” – Jeremiah 42:15-17 NLT

And now, the consequences of their choice were about to happen. And just in case the people don’t believe Him, God determines to give them tangible proof. He declares that the Pharaoh of Egypt would fall to his enemies, just as King Zedekiah had done. Their new homeland and place of refuge was about to get extremely unsettled and dangerous. Their self-selected promised land was going to lose its luster and prove to be no safer than the land of Judah had been.

The bottom line was that the people were going to fine out who was the real one in charge. Was it going to be them or God? Would they prove to be the ones who had the right god and the right solution to their problem? Or was God going to come out of this on top and in perfect control of any all circumstances in Egypt as well as Judah? God shared His opinion:

“Then all those who came to Egypt will find out whose words are true—mine or theirs!” – Jeremiah 44:28 NLT

When the dust settled, it was going to be perfectly clear who was in charge. His way always proves best in the long run. His will always gets accomplished. We can fight it and refuse to submit to it, but our stubbornness doesn’t make a dent in the sovereign will of God. We can choose to do things our own way, but the only only one who suffers any harm will be us. God’s will remains unchanged and undamaged.

They could have repented of their unfaithfulness to God, but they had refused to do so.

They could have surrendered to the Babylonians as God had commanded, but they had refused to do so.

They could have remained in Judah as God had told them to, but they had refused to do so.

They could have submitted themselves to the all-knowing, gracious, and loving will of God Almighty, but they had refused to do so. But their repeated refusals didn’t change God’s will, it simply exposed them to another aspect of it. Rather than blessings, they would experience the curses that came from disobedience. Rather than plans for welfare, a future and hope; they would experience disaster, war, famine and death. Either way, God’s will would be done.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Read It and Weep.

In the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today. It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.”

Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah, and Baruch wrote on a scroll at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the Lord that he had spoken to him. And Jeremiah ordered Baruch, saying, “I am banned from going to the house of the Lord, so you are to go, and on a day of fasting in the hearing of all the people in the Lord‘s house you shall read the words of the Lord from the scroll that you have written at my dictation. You shall read them also in the hearing of all the men of Judah who come out of their cities. It may be that their plea for mercy will come before the Lord, and that every one will turn from his evil way, for great is the anger and wrath that the Lord has pronounced against this people.” And Baruch the son of Neriah did all that Jeremiah the prophet ordered him about reading from the scroll the words of the Lord in the Lord‘s house.

In the fifth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, in the ninth month, all the people in Jerusalem and all the people who came from the cities of Judah to Jerusalem proclaimed a fast before the Lord. Then, in the hearing of all the people, Baruch read the words of Jeremiah from the scroll, in the house of the Lord, in the chamber of Gemariah the son of Shaphan the secretary, which was in the upper court, at the entry of the New Gate of the Lord’s house.

When Micaiah the son of Gemariah, son of Shaphan, heard all the words of the Lord from the scroll, he went down to the king’s house, into the secretary’s chamber, and all the officials were sitting there: Elishama the secretary, Delaiah the son of Shemaiah, Elnathan the son of Achbor, Gemariah the son of Shaphan, Zedekiah the son of Hananiah, and all the officials. And Micaiah told them all the words that he had heard, when Baruch read the scroll in the hearing of the people. Then all the officials sent Jehudi the son of Nethaniah, son of Shelemiah, son of Cushi, to say to Baruch, “Take in your hand the scroll that you read in the hearing of the people, and come.” So Baruch the son of Neriah took the scroll in his hand and came to them. And they said to him, “Sit down and read it.” So Baruch read it to them. When they heard all the words, they turned one to another in fear. And they said to Baruch, “We must report all these words to the king.” Then they asked Baruch, “Tell us, please, how did you write all these words? Was it at his dictation?” Baruch answered them, “He dictated all these words to me, while I wrote them with ink on the scroll.” Then the officials said to Baruch, “Go and hide, you and Jeremiah, and let no one know where you are.” – Jeremiah 36:1-19 ESV

It has been about 22 years since Jeremiah began his prophetic ministry in Judah. He started when Josiah was king in Judah. Now Jehoiakim sits on the throne. In the two decades he has been acting as God’s spokesman, he has said many things. He has provided the people of Judah with many warnings and pleaded with them repeatedly to return to God and find grace, mercy and forgiveness. But there has been little to no positive response to his messages. The people remain stubbornly opposed to any form of repentance. They refuse to change their ways. So, God instructs Jeremiah to put it all in writing on a scroll. This would create a permanent record of God’s words and a tangible reminder of just how many times He has patiently pleaded with His people to change their ways.

Jeremiah enlisted the aid of Baruch, who carefully recorded on the scroll all that Jeremiah dictated to him. When this process was complete, Jeremiah instructed Baruch to take the scroll and read it in the presence of all the people at the temple on a fast day. It seems that Jeremiah was under some sort of civil restriction that prevented him from going to the temple himself, which is why he sent Baruch. And when the day came, Baruch did as instructed and read from the scroll. The text tells us, “People from all over Judah had come to Jerusalem to attend the services at the Temple on that day” (Jeremiah 36:9 NLT). It was a full house. We’re told that Baruch “stood in front of the Temple room of Gemariah, son of Shaphan the secretary. This room was just off the upper courtyard of the Temple, near the New Gate entrance” (Jeremiah 36:10 NLT). This is an important point of interest, because Gemariah’s father, Shaphan, was the one who had read the rediscovered book of the Law to King Josiah. During Josiah’s reign, he had committed himself to restoring and revitalizing Judah’s spiritual heritage. He instituted a wide range of reforms, including making much-needed repairs to the temple of God. In the process, they discovered the book of the Law.

And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. And Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the Lord.” Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king. – 2 Kings 22:8-10 NLT

Now, nearly two decade later, Baruch is reading the scroll containing God’s pronouncements against Judah from the room that belonged to the secretary for the temple, Gemariah, son of Shaphan. This note provides a tangible link back to the days when the book of the Law had been rediscovered and read to the king. And when King Josiah had heard what was written in the book of the Law, he had responded in fear and remorse. He told his spiritual advisors:

“Go, seek an oracle from the Lord for me and the people—for all Judah. Find out about the words of this scroll that has been discovered. For the Lord’s fury has been ignited against us, because our ancestors have not obeyed the words of this scroll by doing all that it instructs us to do.” – 2 Kings 22:13 NLT

These men ended up seeking the help of a woman known as Huldah the prophetess. And she gave them a word from God.

Say this to the man who sent you to me: “This is what the Lord says: ‘I am about to bring disaster on this place and its residents, the details of which are recorded in the scroll which the king of Judah has read. This will happen because they have abandoned me and offered sacrifices to other gods, angering me with all the idols they have made. My anger will ignite against this place and will not be extinguished!’” – 2 Kings 22:15-17 NLT

Fast-forward twenty years later and you have Baruch reading a scroll containing the words of God given to Jeremiah. Nothing had changed. The reforms of Josiah had failed to change the hearts of the people. They had continued to abandon God and follow after false gods. Their wickedness had increased rather than diminish.

And when Micaiah, the son of Gemariah and grandson of Shaphan, heard the words that Baruch read, he went immediately to the palace and reported what he had heard to a group of administrative officials who in the midst of a meeting. Notice that these men were not attending the fast day at the temple. They were too busy working. But when Micaiah told them what was happening at the temple, they immediately sent for Baruch and, when he arrived, they had him read the contents of the scroll to them. Upon hearing the words read by Baruch and, after having determined that they were from Jeremiah himself, they decided that this news needed to get to the king. And knowing that this news was not going to be received well, they instructed Baruch:

“You and Jeremiah should both hide,” the officials told Baruch. “Don’t tell anyone where you are!” – Jeremiah 36:19 NLT

They told Baruch and Jeremiah to go into hiding and then they secreted the scroll itself in the secretary’s office in the palace. Once again, it is interesting to note that there had been a group of men gathered for a meeting in the secretary’s office. One of them was Elnathan son of Acbor. Elnathan’s father had been present at the reading of the law scroll in Josiah’s day, and he had been one of the men sent to seek an omen from the prophetess. So, there is another detail provided that forms a generational link between the days of King Josiah to those of King Jehoiakim. Twenty years had passed, but no read change had taken place, except that the people had actually become worse, not better. The sins of Judah had increased, not decreased. The book of 2 Kings tells us that King Josiah, “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2 ESV). But of Jehoaikim it says: “he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done” (2 Kings 23:37 ESV).

Two decades had passed. Three different kings had reigned in Judah. And during that time, God had spoken time and time again through Jeremiah, calling the people of Judah to repentance. But no one would listen. And yet, God had told Jeremiah, “Perhaps the people of Judah will repent when they hear again all the terrible things I have planned for them. Then I will be able to forgive their sins and wrongdoings” (Jeremiah 36:3 NLT). That was not to be the case. And God was not surprised by their response. He knew the condition of their hearts. They were incapable of turning from their sins. They were addicted to their spiritual adultery and apostasy. So, judgment was inevitable.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson≠≠

They Won’t, But God Will.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

No Sense of Direction.

“At that time, declares the Lord, the bones of the kings of Judah, the bones of its officials, the bones of the priests, the bones of the prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be brought out of their tombs. And they shall be spread before the sun and the moon and all the host of heaven, which they have loved and served, which they have gone after, and which they have sought and worshiped. And they shall not be gathered or buried. They shall be as dung on the surface of the ground. Death shall be preferred to life by all the remnant that remains of this evil family in all the places where I have driven them, declares the Lord of hosts.

“You shall say to them, Thus says the Lord:
When men fall, do they not rise again?
    If one turns away, does he not return?
Why then has this people turned away
    in perpetual backsliding?
They hold fast to deceit;
    they refuse to return.
I have paid attention and listened,
    but they have not spoken rightly;
no man relents of his evil,
    saying, ‘What have I done?’
Everyone turns to his own course,
    like a horse plunging headlong into battle.
Even the stork in the heavens
    knows her times,
and the turtledove, swallow, and crane
    keep the time of their coming,
but my people know not
    the rules of the Lord.”
Jeremiah 8:1-7 ESV

What was God to do with this people? He had loved and cared for them, persistently provided for them and patiently put up with them for generations. And yet, they had consistently and repeatedly spurned His love and turned their backs on Him. They had remained stubbornly unrepentant, in spite of all the prophets He had sent and His persistent warnings of coming judgment. So, He warns them yet again, that the day is coming when they will regret their rejection of Him. When the Babylonians come, they will not only destroy the city and its beautiful temple, they will plunder the graves of its people, from the richest to the poorest. Their bones will end up spread all over the ground, in plain view of the heavens; where the sun, moon and stars they once worshiped will look down on them in helplessness. At that time, their exposed bones will represent the ultimate sacrifice to their false gods. But it will also reveal the futility of their idolatry and the absurdity of worshiping anyone or anything other than God Almighty.

With that vivid imagery planted in their minds, God commands Jeremiah to ask the people several rhetorical questions. They are designed to expose the absurdity of the peoples’ stubborn refusal to repent.

When people fall down, don’t they get up again?” – Jeremiah 8:4 NLT

The answer is simple. Yes, they get up, because that is the natural and normal thing to do. If you fall, you don’t remain on the ground. That would be abnormal and unnatural. Even an infant who is learning to walk knows enough to struggle back to their feet when they have taken an unexpected spill. But to drive home His point, God asks another question.

“When they discover they’re on the wrong road, don’t they turn back?” – Jeremiah 8:4 NLT

If you lose your way, the natural response is to search for the right way, to get back on course. No one, in the right mind, would purposefully try to remain lost. They would do everything in their power to turn back and retrace their steps, in an attempt to return home. But God asks two more questions that are anything but rhetorical.

“Then why do these people stay on their self-destructive path?
Why do the people of Jerusalem refuse to turn back?” – Jeremiah 8:5 NLT

The point is that the people of Judah were headed in the wrong direction, but they were not doing a thing to course correct. The inevitable destruction to which they were headed was their own fault and yet, they were doing nothing to avoid it. Better yet, they were doing nothing profitable or helpful that would avoid what was coming. They were seeking the help of false gods and pursuing alliances with foreign nations, but they weren’t turning to God. They were listening to the words of false prophets who were promising them that none of Jeremiah’s warnings would come true. But the one thing they could do that would make a difference in their fate, they refused to do: Repent.

“They cling tightly to their lies
    and will not turn around.” – Jeremiah 8:5 NLT

This is the part that should stun and amaze us. The bullheaded nature of the people of Judah should stand as a stark warning to us, that we would not repeat their mistakes. But sadly, they also act like a mirror to us, revealing our own tendency toward hardheadedness and our own stubborn refusal to repent of our ways and return to the Lord. We can be just as resistant to the call of God. We can just as easily reject the still small voice of the Holy Spirit within us, calling us to repentance. The apostle Paul reminds us to use these stories of Israel’s unrepentance and stubbornness as living lessons and to learn from them.

These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. – 1 Corinthians 10:11-12 NLT

We are to learn from their mistakes. And we are to refrain from thinking that we are incapable of duplicating their sinful errors. We are just as susceptible of wandering from God and losing our way in this world. We can just as easily find ourselves worshiping the gods of this world and seeking all our help and hope in things other than God.

But God is not done. He asks two additional questions:

“Is anyone sorry for doing wrong?
    Does anyone say, ‘What a terrible thing I have done’?” – Jeremiah 8:6 NLT

And as before, the answers are obvious. No one was showing any remorse for their actions. There was no sorrow or sadness for what they had done. No words of confession or contrition. And God’s point seems to be that this is totally unnatural and abnormal. He had exposed their sin and they refused to acknowledge it. He had caught them in the act, but they refused to admit it. In fact, He describes them as being like a battle horse running headlong into the heat of the conflict with no regard for what was about to happen. The picture is of a animal that is operating against its own instincts. Under normal circumstances, a horse would run from danger, not towards it. But driven by its rider, a battle horse will ignore its own natural instincts and do the very thing it would normally avoid at all costs. And human beings, allowing their sin natures to drive them, do the very same thing. We run toward sin, rather than away from it. We seek out danger, rather than avoid it.

Even migratory birds instinctively know when its time to take to the air and seek safer nesting grounds. They are wired to return to the place which God has prepared for them. But the people of Judah refused to heed the call of God. They had His Word. They had heard His warnings. But they stubbornly refused to listen. And God indicts them for it, claiming that the migratory birds, “all return at the proper time each year. But not my people! They do not know the Lord’s laws” (Jeremiah 8:7 NLT). What a sad statement. These were the people of God, His chosen ones. And yet, God was forced to say of them that they didn’t know His laws. They had ignored the warning of Moses, spoken all the way back in the days before they entered the promised land.

Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. – Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NLT

And generations later, they found themselves ignorant of God’s will and ways. They didn’t know the right path to take and were prone to wander away from God. They had no sense of direction. They had no natural instinct to return to the One who could save them. Instead, they plunged headlong into self-destruction.

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

A Stubborn Streak.

And Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord take vengeance on David’s enemies.” And Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him, for he loved him as he loved his own soul.

Then Jonathan said to him, “Tomorrow is the new moon, and you will be missed, because your seat will be empty. On the third day go down quickly to the place where you hid yourself when the matter was in hand, and remain beside the stone heap. And I will shoot three arrows to the side of it, as though I shot at a mark. And behold, I will send the boy, saying, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you, take them,’ then you are to come, for, as the Lord lives, it is safe for you and there is no danger. But if I say to the youth, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then go, for the Lord has sent you away. And as for the matter of which you and I have spoken, behold, the Lord is between you and me forever.”

So David hid himself in the field. And when the new moon came, the king sat down to eat food. The king sat on his seat, as at other times, on the seat by the wall. Jonathan sat opposite, and Abner sat by Saul’s side, but David’s place was empty.

Yet Saul did not say anything that day, for he thought, “Something has happened to him. He is not clean; surely he is not clean.” But on the second day, the day after the new moon, David’s place was empty. And Saul said to Jonathan his son, “Why has not the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?” Jonathan answered Saul, “David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem. He said, ‘Let me go, for our clan holds a sacrifice in the city, and my brother has commanded me to be there. So now, if I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away and see my brothers.’ For this reason he has not come to the king’s table.”

Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Therefore send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.” Then Jonathan answered Saul his father, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” But Saul hurled his spear at him to strike him. So Jonathan knew that his father was determined to put David to death. And Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had disgraced him. – 1 Samuel 20:16-34 ESV

David and Jonathan had come up with a plan. David would miss the feast of the new moon, knowing that his absence would be noticed by Saul. When Saul inquired of Jonathan where David was, David had instructed Jonathan to tell his father that David had gone home to Bethlehem. If Saul accepted this news without incident, then David would know it was safe to return home. But if Saul became angry and lost his mind like usual, then Jonathan was to secretly let David know so that he could escape. When the fateful day came and David was not at his place for the feast, Saul did miss him, but just assumed that something had come up. But by the third day, Saul became suspicious and asked Jonathan for an explanation, which he did not receive well. He became furious with his son, seeing through his ruse, and recognizing that he and David had conspired against him. Feeling betrayed by Jonathan, Saul lashed out in anger, using very coarse language to express his sentiments.

Saul, now incensed and enraged over Jonathan’s liaison with David, is actually hurling very coarse and emotionally charged words at his son. The translation of this phrase suggested by Koehler and Baumgartner is “bastard of a wayward woman” (HALOT 796 s.v. עוה), but this is not an expression commonly used in English. A better English approximation of the sentiments expressed here by the Hebrew phrase would be “You stupid son of a bitch!” – NET Bible study notes

Saul is beside himself with rage. His own son has taken sides with someone he sees as an enemy and a real threat to his throne. Saul even reminds Jonathan that his actions are going to end up keeping him from inheriting the kingship. “As long as that son of Jesse is alive, you’ll never be king. Now go and get him so I can kill him!” (1 Samuel 20:31 NLT).

What is amazing in all of this is that Saul had been clearly told by the prophet Samuel that his reign was coming to an end. He was going to be replaced.

And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” – 1 Samuel 13:13-14 ESV

And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” – 1 Samuel 15:26 ESV

But Saul stubbornly refused to accept the prophet’s words and God’s will. He somehow believed that he could hold onto his throne in spite of God’s statements to the contrary. There is inherent in sin a stubborn streak that seems to reveal itself in a refusal to repent and accept responsibility for God’s just and righteous punishment. Saul had a habit of shifting blame and denying culpability.

When Saul had been confronted by Samuel for offering a burnt offering on his own, rather than waiting on the prophet as he had been instructed, Saul simply offered up excuses: “Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering” (1 Samuel 13:12 ESV). He forced himself. He knew what he was doing was wrong. Only a priest was to offer sacrifices to God, but Saul, impatient and impulsive, took matters into his own hands and decided to do things his way.

On another occasion, when Saul had been instructed by God to wipe out all the Amalakites, he once again chose to do thing his own way. The text tells us, “But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction” (1 Samuel 15:9 ESV). When the prophet, Samuel, confronted Saul about his disobedience, his only response was, the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction” (1 Samuel 15:15 ESV). He blamed the people. Once again, it was not his fault.

Saul was never one who found repentance easy. He could not bring himself to accept responsibility for his own sinfulness. And he also had a difficult time accepting God’s decision to remove him from the throne for his repeated disobedience. It was as if he truly believed he could somehow get around God’s plan to replace him and remain on the throne by sheer will power. Saul was a fool. He had all the attributes of the fool outlined in the book of Proverbs.

Fools think their own way is right… – Proverbs 12:15 NLT

The words of the godly are like sterling silver;
    the heart of a fool is worthless. – Proverbs 10:20 NLT

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
   fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1:7 ESV

For the simple are killed by their turning away,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them.
– Proverbs 1:32 ESV

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
    but a wise man listens to advice. – Proverbs. 12:15 ESV

A prudent man conceals knowledge,
    but the heart of fools proclaims folly.
 – Proverbs 12:23 ESV

Saul was foolish to think he could escape the inevitable judgment of God. He was foolish to think he could defeat the man who had been chosen by God as his replacement. He was foolish to believe that his disobedience to God would not have consequences or that the divine will of God could somehow be circumvented. In fact, Saul lived as if there was no God, a hallmark of the foolish lifestyle. It would be David himself, who would later write, “Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.’ They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good!” (Psalm 14:1 NLT). Saul’s actions revealed his foolish assumption that God was either impotent or irrelevant. Saul was going to do what Saul wanted to do, as if God didn’t even exist. His stubbornness would ultimately be the end of him. But not before he spent the next years of his life foolishly shaking his fist in the face of the Almighty, somehow believing that his wisdom was greater than that of God’s. But he would be proven wrong, as fools always are.


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.

Before the Face of God.

When I would heal Israel, the iniquity of Ephraim is revealed, and the evil deeds of Samaria; for they deal falsely; the thief breaks in, and the bandits raid outside. But they do not consider that I remember all their evil. Now their deeds surround them; they are before my face. By their evil they make the king glad, and the princes by their treachery. They are all adulterers; they are like a heated oven whose baker ceases to stir the fire, from the kneading of the dough until it is leavened. On the day of our king, the princes became sick with the heat of wine; he stretched out his hand with mockers. For with hearts like an oven they approach their intrigue; all night their anger smolders; in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire. All of them are hot as an oven, and they devour their rulers. All their kings have fallen, and none of them calls upon me. – Hosea 7:1-7 ESV

As children of God, it is sometimes far too easy to forget that He is there and that He sees all that we do. Because He is invisible to our human eyes, we can find ourselves acting as if He is nowhere in sight and wrongly conclude that He is unaware of our actions. But God is all-knowing and ever-present. He sees all. Nothing escapes His sight. In fact, the author of Hebrews warns us, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable” (Hebrews 4:13 NLT). The psalmist tells us, “The LORD looks down from heaven and sees the whole human race” (Psalm 33:13 NLT). And in the book of Proverbs we read, “The LORD is watching everywhere, keeping his eye on both the evil and the good” (Provernbs 15:3 NLT). So the idea that somehow God is oblivious to our actions is ludicrous. Nothing is hidden from His eyes. And as followers of Jesus Christ, we should live with that insight in mind.

The idea of living our lives with a constant awareness that God is watching is biblical. When Adam and Eve sinned, God knew immediately. When Cain murdered Abel, God confronted Cain and asked him two questions: “Where is Abel your brother?” and “What have you done?” (Genesis 4:9-10 ESV). God was not asking for an update. He was not in need of a status report regarding what had gone on down on earth. He knew. He was looking for a confession from Cain, but instead He heard lies and denials. Many years later, when Abraham, the father of the Hebrew nation, was 99-years old, God appeared to him and said,  “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless” (Genesis 17:1 ESV). God was literally saying to Abraham, “live your life before my eyes.” God wanted Abraham to conduct his life with a constant awareness that He was watching. When God called Abraham to “be blameless”, He was not asking for sinless perfection. The Hebrew word translated “blameless” carries the idea of wholeness or completeness. Abraham was to have no hidden areas in his life. There was to be no compartmentalization, no sacred and secular split, where some things belonged to God and others were reserved for Abraham. What God was asking of Abraham was that he live his entire life, every area of his life, with a constant awareness that God was watching, because He was.

So what does all this have to do with Israel and Hosea? Everything. If you notice in verse 2, God says, “their deeds surround them; they are before my face.” The Hebrew word is פָּנִים (paniym) and it is the same word used in Genesis 17:1. God was telling the Israelites that they were committing their sins “in His face.” While they probably thought their actions were invisible to God, He made it clear that every single sin they committed was visible to His all-seeing eyes. Their kings may have approved of their behavior, but God didn’t. He not only saw what they did, but He knew the motivation behind their actions because He knew their hearts. God spoke through the prophet, Jeremiah, saying, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve” (Jeremiah 17:9-10 NLT). Jesus Himself said, “But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander” (Matthew 15:18-19 NLT).

The Israelites had a heart problem. Their hearts were far from God and it was reflected in their actions. They no longer knew God. They had no fear of God. They acted as if He could not see what they were doing and, even if He did, He would do nothing about it. Sadly, that is how many Christians live their lives today. Rather than understanding that God sees all that they do and even knows the motivation behind what they do, they live as if God is somehow oblivious or disinterested. But God would remind us, “The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chronicles 16:9 NLT). He is looking for those who want to live their lives in keeping with His will and with an awareness that He sees all that they do. God doesn’t demand perfection from us, only dependence. He has given us His Holy Spirit to empower us to live the life to which He has called us. Abraham was far from perfect, but he was called the friend of God (2 Chronicles 20:7). David was anything but sinless, and yet he was called a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). God wants us to live our lives in His strength, according to His will and right in front of His face. He is watching. He cares. He rewards those who seek Him. But He also disciplines those who refuse to rely upon Him and live in obedience to Him. The saddest statement in this entire passage is God’s indictment against Israel that said, “none of them calls upon me” (Hosea 7:7 ESV). May that never be said of us as His children.

Misplaced Trust.

Though you play the whore, O Israel, let not Judah become guilty.  Enter not into Gilgal, nor go up to Beth-aven, and swear not, “As the Lord lives.” Like a stubborn heifer, Israel is stubborn; can the Lord now feed them like a lamb in a broad pasture? Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone. When their drink is gone, they give themselves to whoring; their rulers dearly love shame. A wind has wrapped them in its wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices. – Hosea 4L15-19 ESV

God warned the northern kingdom of Israel not to pollute the southern kingdom of Judah with its unfaithful practices. While Judah had not been exactly an icon of virtue and faithfulness as a nation, it had not yet sunk to the all-time low that Israel had. The northern kingdom was guilty of having set up pagan shrines throughout its territory, in places like Gilgal and Bethel. Hosea sarcastically referred to Bethel (house of God) as Beth-aven (house of wickedness) because of the pagan worship performed there. And he warns the people of Israel not to go to these pagan shrines and make oaths to God, because they no longer worshiped Him. Hosea knew that once they heard of God’s pending judgment against them, the Israelites would try and call on His name in an insincere attempt to avoid punishment. They were stubborn and set in their ways. They were not going to change and God was no longer going to treat them like one of His own.

Ephraim was the largest of the ten tribes that made up the northern kingdom and so God uses the name of this tribe as another reference to Israel. The greatest and largest tribe had joined themselves to idols, and they were shameless in their abandonment of God. Even the leaders of the people felt no remorse or shame. So God was going to abandon them and called on all others to do the same. He would give them up to their desires and allow them to place all their faith and trust in false gods. But a wind of judgment was coming. The punishment for their rejection of God would catch them up like a mighty wind and blow them into captivity in Assyria, where they would finally recognize the folly of their ways. But up until that moment, they would remain stubborn and unresponsive to the calls of Hosea to repent and return to God.

It is amazing how stubborn we can become when we begin to stray from our faithfulness to God. We learn to justify our actions and defend our behavior, trying to prove that what we are doing is not all that bad. We argue that we have not really abandoned God, but our actions tell a different story. We stubbornly reject conviction, demanding that what we are doing is fully acceptable. We demand that we have really rejected or abandoned God, but are simply doing what is necessary to survive in this world. That’s how we end up justifying our more subtle forms of idol worship, turning seemingly innocent things like money, success, entertainment, pleasure, education, and materialism into replacements for God. When someone tries to point out that we have made a god out of money, having placed all our hope and faith in it and seeing it as our source of hope and contentment, we stubbornly deny it. But the very thought of losing or giving up our money frightens us beyond belief. If someone suggested that entertainment had become our god, providing us with joy and pleasure, we would vehemently deny it. But if we were challenged to give it up or fast from it for a month, the very thought would send chills up our spines. If we were accused of having made a god out of material things, we would scoff, arguing that we were simply enjoying the blessings of God. But if we were encouraged to give up those things and live simpler lives, trusting in the goodness of God, we would find the very though disconcerting.

There is nothing wrong with money, success, entertainment, pleasure, education, or materialism. In fact, God has promised to bless His people. But when we make gods out of those things, giving them prominence over the one true God, we are standing on shaky ground. When we look to anything other than God for our hope, happiness, fulfillment, satisfaction or peace, we are worshiping false gods. And when the threat of losing any of these things causes us to panic, it is a good sign that we have placed more trust in them than we have in God. Even our health can become a god. We can worship good health, trying to prolong our lives by spending inordinate amounts of time and money on our physical well-being, while neglecting our spiritual health. Paul warned Timothy, “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8 NLT). The constant danger we all face as believers is making the things of this world our primary emphasis and focus. At the heart of faith is trust. It is a reliance on and belief in the promises of God, that He will supply all our needs. It is trusting that He has our best in mind and that material things, while not sinful in themselves, are not the primary indicator of God’s blessings. That is why Paul said, “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13 NLT). He had learned to place his trust in God, so that his circumstances no longer served as his source of contentment or happiness. God was enough. But can most of us say the same thing? Is God enough? Or have we developed a litany of other things we have to have in order to be happy, content, satisfied, and fulfilled? The fact that we have other things we worship is not so much the problem as our stubbornness and refusal to let go of them. God is calling us to trust in Him and Him alone. But will we?