Dark Days Ahead

1 The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem. Micah 1:1 ESV

This book opens up with an introduction to its author, Micah, whose name means “Who is like Yahweh.” Micah, as will be revealed from the content of his book, was a prophet of God. As is true with many of the other prophets of God, there are few details provided concerning his identity or background. We are simply told that he is from Moresheth, a town also known as Moresheth-Gath, located roughly 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah.

Like all the other prophets whose books were included in the canon of Scripture, Micah was a divinely-appointed spokesman for the God of Israel. He had been hand-picked by God for his role and given a message from the Almighty to deliver to the southern kingdom of Judah during the reigns of three successive kings: Jothan, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. This would have made Micah a contemporary of Isaiah, a much more familiar and famous prophet, who also served as God’s spokesman to Judah. In the north, the people of Israel were assigned Amos and Hosea as their divine messengers.

Micah’s commission from God lasted through the reigns of three consecutive kings, and during that time great changes took place in Judah. Jotham succeeded his father, Uzziah, to the throne. According to the book of 2 Kings, Jotham began to rule the people of Judah while his father was still king.

He [Uzziah] did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, just as his father, Amaziah, had done. But he did not destroy the pagan shrines, and the people still offered sacrifices and burned incense there. The Lord struck the king with leprosy, which lasted until the day he died. He lived in isolation in a separate house. The king’s son Jotham was put in charge of the royal palace, and he governed the people of the land. – 2 Kings 15:3-5 NLT

The explanation for Uzziah’s leprosy is given in the book of 2 Chronicles.

But when he [Uzziah] had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall. He sinned against the Lord his God by entering the sanctuary of the Lord’s Temple and personally burning incense on the incense altar. Azariah the high priest went in after him with eighty other priests of the Lord, all brave men. They confronted King Uzziah and said, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is the work of the priests alone, the descendants of Aaron who are set apart for this work. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have sinned. The Lord God will not honor you for this!”

Uzziah, who was holding an incense burner, became furious. But as he was standing there raging at the priests before the incense altar in the Lord’s Temple, leprosy suddenly broke out on his forehead. When Azariah the high priest and all the other priests saw the leprosy, they rushed him out. And the king himself was eager to get out because the Lord had struck him. So King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in isolation in a separate house, for he was excluded from the Temple of the Lord. His son Jotham was put in charge of the royal palace, and he governed the people of the land. – 2 Chronicles 26:16-21 NLT

Uzziah’s actions reveal what is going to become a growing problem in Judah. The kings will continue to lead the people away from God, compromising their convictions and replacing the will of God with their own. Upon his father’s death, Jotham was crowned king and he followed in his father’s footsteps.

Jotham did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight. He did everything his father, Uzziah, had done. But he did not destroy the pagan shrines, and the people still offered sacrifices and burned incense there. – 2 Kings 15:34-35 NLT

While Jotham is recognized for a few noteworthy accomplishments, his reign was marked by unfaithfulness to God, resulting in divine punishment for his actions.

In those days the Lord began to send King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah of Israel to attack Judah. – 2 Kings 15:37 NLT

Upon his death, Jotham was succeeded by his son, Ahaz, who proved to be one of the most wicked kings in Judah’s long history.

Ahaz son of Jotham began to rule over Judah in the seventeenth year of King Pekah’s reign in Israel. 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 his God, as his ancestor David had done. Instead, he followed the example of the kings of Israel, even sacrificing his own son 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. – 2 Kings 16:1-4 NLT

Ahaz was able to pack a lot of apostasy into his short, four-year reign, even shuttering the doors of the temple to prevent any sacrifices to or worship of God.

The king took the various articles from the Temple of God and broke them into pieces. He shut the doors of the Lord’s Temple so that no one could worship there, and he set up altars to pagan gods in every corner of Jerusalem. He made pagan shrines in all the towns of Judah for offering sacrifices to other gods. In this way, he aroused the anger of the Lord, the God of his ancestors. – 2 Chronicles 28:24-25 NLT

And, as a result of the growing apostasy in Judah, God brought judgment upon them in the form of the Israelites, Amareans, Edomites, and Philistines. And all of this was in keeping with the warning God had communicated to the people of Israel through Moses, generations earlier.

“The Lord will cause you to be defeated by your enemies. You will attack your enemies from one direction, but you will scatter from them in seven! You will be an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 28:25 NLT

“You will be oppressed and robbed continually, and no one will come to save you.” – Deuteronomy 28:29 NLT

“If you do not serve the Lord your God with joy and enthusiasm for the abundant benefits you have received, you will serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you. You will be left hungry, thirsty, naked, and lacking in everything.” – Deuteronomy 28:47-48 NLT

During Micah’s tenure as a prophet, he had to stand back and watch as all of these curses from God began to fall upon the people of Judah. And yet, he continued to faithfully proclaim God’s words of warning and His call to repentance. From his vantage point in Judah, he could witness the devastation taking place to the north, in the kingdom of Israel. He would live to see the fall of Israel and the destruction of their capital of Samaria at the hands of the Assyrians in 722 B.C. He would also be around two decades later when the Assyrians invaded Judah under the reign of King Sennacherib.

As a prophet, Micah had a God-given responsibility to point out the sins of his people. He was charged by God with delivering a message that contained warnings of destruction for continued disobedience and the promise of restoration if they would only turn back and obey. Micah is going to expose the dangerous and deadly nature of idolatry while pleading with the people of Judah to recognize the awesome attributes of their God covenant-keeping God.

While this book is filled with grim images and depressingly dire descriptions of God’s pending judgment, there are also surprisingly bright glimpses into God’s future restoration of His people. In spite of their wickedness and unfaithfulness, God would remain committed to keeping the promises He had made to Abraham and David.

The days ahead would be dark, but God had a bright future planned for His people.

Now many nations have gathered against you.
    “Let her be desecrated,” they say.
    “Let us see the destruction of Jerusalem.”
But they do not know the Lord’s thoughts
    or understand his plan. – Micah 4:11-12 NLT

Even during Micah’s lifetime, he would live to enjoy a brief period of revival under the reign of King Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz.

He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestor David had done. – 2 Chronicles 29:2 NLT

This young man would prove to be a good and godly king, instituting a series of important reforms designed to restore the nation’s commitment to Yahweh. He would reopen and repair the temple. He called the Levites to renew their God-given responsibility to lead the people spiritually, requiring them to purify the temple and reinstitute the sacrificial system. And his efforts bought the nation of Judah time.

In all that he did in the service of the Temple of God and in his efforts to follow God’s laws and commands, Hezekiah sought his God wholeheartedly. As a result, he was very successful. – 2 Chronicles 31:21 NLT

Hezekiah was living proof that, if the nation would only return to God, He would bless them. The wars, invasions, and military defeats that marked the reign of Ahaz would be replaced by deliverance at the hand of God. Hezekiah’s godly leadership would bring about a much-needed respite, providing the nation with the spiritual guidance they so desperately needed.

But, as we will see, Micah’s book is going to reveal what will prove to be an underlying spirit of rebellion among God’s people. One man will not be able to restore them to faithfulness. Hezekiah could make sweeping regulatory changes and require acts of outward obedience from his people, but he could not change the condition of their hearts.

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

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Intoxicated With the World

15 “Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink—
    you pour out your wrath and make them drunk,
    in order to gaze at their nakedness!
16 You will have your fill of shame instead of glory.
    Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision!
The cup in the Lord‘s right hand
    will come around to you,
    and utter shame will come upon your glory!
17 The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you,
    as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them,
for the blood of man and violence to the earth,
    to cities and all who dwell in them.” Habakkuk 2:15-17 ESV

It’s quite obvious that God had no love affair with the Babylonians. He was going to use them as His instruments of wrath against the disobedience people of Judah, but He despised their ways. They were a wicked and degenerate nation marked by ungodliness and driven by immoral passions that knew no bounds. They were opportunistic oppressors who took advantage of their superior military strength to extend their borders and expand their vast wealth at the expense of smaller, more vulnerable nations.

The “Babylon” described in Habakkuk’s book is the Neo-Babylonian Empire, which rose to power and prominence under the leadership of King Nabopolassar and would dominate that region of the world from 626 BC until its defeat by the 539 BC. It would be under the reign of King Nebuchadnezza that Babylon would reach the zenith of its power. But in 539 BC, the Medes and Persians would invade and conquer Babylon, bringing an end to the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Yet, for the biblical authors, the name “Babylon” would come to represent all those ungodly nations which stood opposed to God and His people, glorying in their own power and worshiping their self-sufficiency and autonomy. It was King Nebuchadnezzar himself who bragged about the glory of the magnificent capital city he had constructed with the revenue he had gained from his many conquests.

“Twelve months later he was taking a walk on the flat roof of the royal palace in Babylon. As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.’” – Daniel 4:29-30 NLT

In the book of Revelation, Babylon comes to represent the kingdom of the Antichrist, the world leader who will come to power in the last days. He will set up a great vast empire that spans the globe and his capital city will become the economic, military, and political epicenter for the world. And like the ancient nation from which it borrows its name, the end-times Babylon will be destroyed by God.

“Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen!
    She has become a home for demons.
She is a hideout for every foul spirit,
    a hideout for every foul vulture
    and every foul and dreadful animal.
For all the nations have fallen
    because of the wine of her passionate immorality.
The kings of the world
    have committed adultery with her.
Because of her desires for extravagant luxury,
    the merchants of the world have grown rich.” – Revelation 18:2-3 NLT

And notice John’s reference to “the wine of her passionate immorality.” The power and influence of this future Babylon will tempt the nations of the world to become intoxicated by its vast wealth and attracted to the ungodly lifestyle it represents. Decadence and immorality will be the order of the day in the kingdom of the Antichrist. But it too will fall, leaving the nations of the world staggering under the weight of their loss.

…the kings of the world who committed adultery with her and enjoyed her great luxury will mourn for her as they see the smoke rising from her charred remains. – Revelation 18:9 NLT

The merchants of the world will weep and mourn for her, for there is no one left to buy their goods. – Revelation 18:11 NLT

“The fancy things you loved so much
    are gone,” they cry.
“All your luxuries and splendor
    are gone forever,
    never to be yours again.” – Revelation 18:14 NLT

“How terrible, how terrible for that great city!
    She was clothed in finest purple and scarlet linens,
    decked out with gold and precious stones and pearls!
In a single moment
    all the wealth of the city is gone!” – Revelation 18:16-17 NLT

“How terrible, how terrible for that great city!
    The shipowners became wealthy
    by transporting her great wealth on the seas.
In a single moment it is all gone.” – Revelation 18:19 NLT

In this fourth “woe,” delivered by God against the Babylon of Habakkuk’s day, we see a reference to “him who makes his neighbors drink” (Habakkuk 2:15 ESV). God accuses Babylon of using its vast power to degrade the nations of the world, causing them to stagger and reel like drunks, incapable of defending themselves against the immoral intentions of their adversary.  God exposes the true intentions of the Babylonians: “You force your cup on them so you can gloat over their shameful nakedness.” (Habakkuk 2:15 NLT). The imagery is that of sexual abuse, as the more powerful forces himself on a helpless and defenseless victim. 

But God warns that this kind of behavior will not go unpunished.

“But soon it will be your turn to be disgraced.
    Come, drink and be exposed!
Drink from the cup of the Lord’s judgment,
    and all your glory will be turned to shame.” – Habakkuk 2:16 NLT

The perpetrator would become the victim, getting a taste of their own medicine as God pours out His cup of judgment upon them. And rather than glorying in their power and prominence, they will experience shame and humiliation at the hand of God Almighty.

As has been the case with the previous three woes, God is making a not-so-subtle point, aimed at His rebellious and stubborn children, the nation of Judah. They stand guilty before Yahweh, having committed many of the same sins as the ungodly Babylonians. Prior to their fall to the Assyrians, the prophet Isaiah described the northern kingdom of Israel as drunks, who had willingly rendered themselves intoxicated and insensible, completely incapable of living up to God’s righteous standard for them.

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.
Their tables are covered with vomit;
    filth is everywhere. – Isaiah 28:7-8 NLT

God had blessed them with fertile and fruitful land, but they had taken the gift of His abundance and used it in ways that were out of step with His will for them.

What sorrow awaits the proud city of Samaria—
    the glorious crown of the drunks of Israel.
It sits at the head of a fertile valley,
    but its glorious beauty will fade like a flower.
It is the pride of a people
    brought down by wine. – Isaiah 28:1 NLT

They had become drunk on their own success, enjoying the fruits of God’s undeserved blessings, and arrogantly bragging that they were immune to His judgment.

You boast, “We have struck a bargain to cheat death
    and have made a deal to dodge the grave.
The coming destruction can never touch us,
    for we have built a strong refuge made of lies and deception.” – Isaiah 28:15 NLT

But they were wrong. Like the Babylonians, the people of Israel would see their immoral lifestyle come to an abrupt end.

I will cancel the bargain you made to cheat death,
    and I will overturn your deal to dodge the grave.
When the terrible enemy sweeps through,
    you will be trampled into the ground. – Isaiah 28:18 NLT

This fourth woe was intended to indict the people of Judah as much as the nation of Babylon. Just as their northern neighbors would fall to the Assyrians, the rebellious and arrogant Judahites would fall to the Babylonians. And, eventually, in His own timing, God would deal with the Babylonians themselves.

“The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you…” – Habakkuk 2:17 ESV

They would all reap what they sowed. Their glory would be turned to shame. Their self-sufficiency would result in self-destruction. Their love affair with wealth, power, and prominence would leave them staggering under the weight of their own poverty, weakness, and humiliation.

The prophet Isaiah warned the people of Judah that their fate was sealed. They had refused to listen to the messages of the prophets, calling them to repentance. So, God had chosen to keep His promise to bring curses upon them for their disobedience and unfaithfulness. And, like Habakkuk, they would find God’s decision difficult to fathom and even harder to accept, it was the just reward for their rebellion against Him.

Are you amazed and incredulous?
    Don’t you believe it?
Then go ahead and be blind.
    You are stupid, but not from wine!
    You stagger, but not from liquor!
For the Lord has poured out on you a spirit of deep sleep.
    He has closed the eyes of your prophets and visionaries. – Isaiah 29:9-10 NLT

They had become drunk on the things of this world. But they had also been blinded by God, spiritually incapable of comprehending the danger of their situation and insensitive to His call to repentance. How easy it is to allow temporal treasures and worldly delights to blind us to the reality of God’s love. We can even allow His blessings to become distractions, focusing on the gifts rather than the Giver. This is why the apostle John warned us to never allow the love of the world to replace our love for God.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

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

Because of You…

Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob
    and rulers of the house of Israel,
who detest justice
    and make crooked all that is straight,
10 who build Zion with blood
    and Jerusalem with iniquity.
11 Its heads give judgment for a bribe;
    its priests teach for a price;
    its prophets practice divination for money;
yet they lean on the Lord and say,
    “Is not the Lord in the midst of us?
    No disaster shall come upon us.”
12 Therefore because of you
    Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
    and the mountain of the house a wooded height. Micah 3:9-12 ES

Micah continues his merciless indictment of the religious and civil leaders of Israel. He holds them personally responsible for the judgment of God that is about to fall upon the nation. Their actions, which he outlines in detail, have played a significant role in the spiritual demise of the people under their care.

What they had failed to understand was the high view God held of their positions. He had placed upon them the mantle of leadership and it came with a divine expectation that they provide His flock with loving care and compassion. But they had dropped the ball. They had abused their authority and abandoned those over whom God had made them shepherds.

“…though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.” – Ezekiel 34:8-10 NLT

And Micah pulls no punches when leveling his charges against these men.  He accuses them of hating justice and twisting all that is right. And it’s likely that they wholeheartedly denied Micah’s charges. But their actions betrayed them. They were hypocrites who claimed to be serving on behalf of God, but were busy serving their own interests. The prophet Isaiah was equally harsh in his assessment of these self-ascribed leaders of Israel.

What sorrow for those who drag their sins behind them
    with ropes made of lies,
    who drag wickedness behind them like a cart!
They even mock God and say,
    “Hurry up and do something!
    We want to see what you can do.
Let the Holy One of Israel carry out his plan,
    for we want to know what it is.”

What sorrow for those who say
    that evil is good and good is evil,
that dark is light and light is dark,
    that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.
What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes
    and think themselves so clever. – Isaiah 5:18-21 NLT

Evil is good and good is evil. Not exactly the kind of conclusions one would expect from the leaders of God’s people. But as Micah said, their actions betrayed that they hated God’s brand of justice and twisted the truth of God into a lie. And as a result, they had built “Jerusalem on a foundation of murder and corruption” (Micah 3:10 NLT). They had led the way in modeling deceit, disobedience, and immoral behavior. As the leadership went, so did the people.

There’s an old adage that says, “What parents do in moderation, children do to excess.” That timeless truism applies to civic and spiritual leadership as well. What leaders do in moderation, citizens do to excess. And Micah makes it clear that Israel’s leaders had been far less than moderate in their sinful behavior.

You rulers make decisions based on bribes;
    you priests teach God’s laws only for a price;
you prophets won’t prophesy unless you are paid. – Micah 3:11 NLT

They were all in it for what they could get out of it. Leadership had become nothing more than a means to an end and the end was personal gain. Even the prophets were profiteering from their positions. And, once again, Micah was not alone in his less-than-flattering assessment of these men. Isaiah was equally as harsh and unsparing in his indictment of these men.

Your leaders are rebels, the companions of thieves. All of them love bribes and demand payoffs, but they refuse to defend the cause of orphans or fight for the rights of widows. – Isaiah 1:23 NLT

They take bribes to let the wicked go free, and they punish the innocent. – Isaiah 5:23 NLT

For the leaders of my people—
    the Lord’s watchmen, his shepherds—
    are blind and ignorant.
They are like silent watchdogs
    that give no warning when danger comes.
They love to lie around, sleeping and dreaming.
   Like greedy dogs, they are never satisfied.
They are ignorant shepherds,
    all following their own path
    and intent on personal gain. – Isaiah 56:10-11 NLT

Not a pretty picture. But sadly, it was an accurate one. Both Micah and Isaiah provide an irrefutable assessment of the state of affairs in Israel. And it all started at the top. The nation of Israel had a long track record of lousy leadership. And it had taken its toll on the population.

And the worst part was that these men feigned allegiance to God. They claimed to be dependent upon God. And they were quick to claim that they held their positions of leadership because of God. Yet Micah exposed them for the hypocrites they were.

yet they lean on the Lord and say,
    “Is not the Lord in the midst of us?
    No disaster shall come upon us.” – Micah 3:11 ESV

The word translated as “lean” is the Hebrew word sha`an, and it can mean “to trust in” or “to lean upon.” But these men were not really trusting in or relying upon God. They were simply giving Him lip service. Their words were little more than spiritual rhetoric, pious-sounding platitudes intended to give the appearance of godliness. But God was not fooled. He knew their hearts. And in the book of Isaiah, we have God’s no-holds-barred assessment of their true spiritual condition.

And so the Lord says,
    “These people say they are mine.
They honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
And their worship of me
    is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.
Because of this, I will once again astound these hypocrites
    with amazing wonders.
The wisdom of the wise will pass away,
    and the intelligence of the intelligent will disappear.” – Isaiah 29:13-14 NLT

They were quick to claim God’s presence and provision. They were depending upon the Almighty to place His force-field of divine protection over them. Which had led them to falsely claim, “No harm can come to us for the Lord is here among us” (Micah 3:11 NLT). But they had failed to consider God’s commands concerning faithfulness, obedience, justice, mercy, and compassion.

Back in Isaiah 1, we find God’s clear communication of His divine will concerning His disobedient people.

Wash yourselves and be clean!
    Get your sins out of my sight.
    Give up your evil ways.
Learn to do good.
    Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows. – Isaiah 1:16-17 NLT

But from the top down, the people of Israel had been guilty of doing just the opposite. And, as a result, God was going to bring His judgment against the nation.

Because of you, Mount Zion will be plowed like an open field;
    Jerusalem will be reduced to ruins!
A thicket will grow on the heights
    where the Temple now stands. – Micah 3:12 NLT

They had no excuse for their behavior. They couldn’t claim ignorance or blame their actions on a lack of information. God had faithfully, persistently, and lovingly called them to change their ways. He had sent prophet after prophet, each declaring His message of pending judgment. These men had begged the people of Israel to repent and return to the Lord. But their messages had fallen on deaf ears.

Now, time was running out. God would not tolerate their stubborn rejection of His gracious offer of redemption forever. But as we will see in the very next chapter, God was not done with Israel. Despite the actions of their lousy leaders and the lemming-like behavior of the people, God was going to act on their behalf. He had a plan in place that included their judgment as well as their future redemption.

And chapter four opens up with words of hope that shine like a bright light in the midst of the darkness of Israel’s despair.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it… – Micah 4:1 ESV

 

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

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