Contaminated.

Thus says the Lord:
“Behold, a people is coming from the north country,
    a great nation is stirring from the farthest parts of the earth.
They lay hold on bow and javelin;
    they are cruel and have no mercy;
    the sound of them is like the roaring sea;
they ride on horses,
    set in array as a man for battle,
    against you, O daughter of Zion!”
We have heard the report of it;
    our hands fall helpless;
anguish has taken hold of us,
    pain as of a woman in labor.
Go not out into the field,
    nor walk on the road,
for the enemy has a sword;
    terror is on every side.
O daughter of my people, put on sackcloth,
    and roll in ashes;
make mourning as for an only son,
    most bitter lamentation,
for suddenly the destroyer
    will come upon us.

“I have made you a tester of metals among my people,
    that you may know and test their ways.
They are all stubbornly rebellious,
    going about with slanders;
they are bronze and iron;
    all of them act corruptly.
The bellows blow fiercely;
    the lead is consumed by the fire;
in vain the refining goes on,
    for the wicked are not removed.
Rejected silver they are called,
    for the Lord has rejected them.” Jeremiah 6:22-30 ESV

 

The enemy IS coming. God has ordained it and nothing is going to stop it. Unless of course, the people were to change their minds and return to Him. But God gives a bleak prognosis when it comes to any future repentance on the part of the people of Judah.

“They are as hard as bronze and iron,
    and they lead others into corruption.
The bellows fiercely fan the flames
    to burn out the corruption.
But it does not purify them,
    for the wickedness remains.” – Jeremiah 6:28-29 NLT

They were contaminated by sin. It permeated their very existence. And it didn’t seem to matter how much God brought the heat of His judgment against them, they remained unrepentant and polluted by sin. So, God tells Jeremiah that He will now refer to them as “rejected silver”. They had inherent value, but their unrepentant sin had diminished their worth. At one time they had been declared holy to the Lord.

Remember that the LORD rescued you from the iron-smelting furnace of Egypt in order to make you his very own people and his special possession, which is what you are today. – Deuteronomy 4:20 NLT

For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure. – Deuteronomy 7:6 NLT

They held the distinct privilege of being God’s own possession. Not because they had deserved it, but simply because God had chosen to make them so. He had rescued them from their captivity in Egypt, where they had been undergoing intense testing under the tyrannical hand of the Pharaoh. God had freed them and set them apart as His own. Not because they had deserved it, but simply because God had chosen to do so. And as a result, they belonged to Him, and their lives were to have reflected their new relationship as God’s chosen people. But over the coming years and throughout the successive generations, the people of Israel would prove to be anything but holy.

“Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. – Ezekiel 22:26 ESV

They had gone from holy to profane. That word, “profane” has very strong connotations. It refers to something that has been polluted or desecrated. But it is directly tied to the idea of holiness. God had set the people of Israel apart or deemed them holy. They belonged to Him. But their constant sin and rebellion had left them profaned, like damaged goods. Rather than being pure silver, they were marred by sin. And it didn’t seem to matter how hot the fire of God’s judgment got, they remained unchanged and unrepentant. The people of Judah had sat back and watched the destruction of their neighbors to the north in the kingdom of Israel. They had seen the devastating impact of the Assyrians as they had swarmed the northern territory, destroying its cities and wiping out its people. But now that they were faced with the same fate, they remained unchanged.

Oh, they were concerned. Jeremiah describes their reaction to his messages of coming destruction:

“We have heard reports about the enemy,
    and we wring our hands in fright.
Pangs of anguish have gripped us,
    like those of a woman in labor.” – Jeremiah 6:24 NLT

They were scared, but they weren’t repentant. They were wringing their hands in worry, but not lifting their hands toward God. They wanted to escape God’s judgment, but weren’t willing to obey His commands. So, Jeremiah warns them that they are going to mourn one way or another. They could choose to repent and come before God in sackcloth and ashes, expressing their sorrow over the rebellion against Him. Or they would find themselves mourning over the loss of their entire nation.

“Oh, my people, dress yourselves in burlap
    and sit among the ashes.
Mourn and weep bitterly, as for the loss of an only son.
    For suddenly the destroying armies will be upon you!” – Jeremiah 6:26 NLT

God reminds Jeremiah of his role. “I have made you a tester of metals among my people, that you may know and test their ways” (Jeremiah 6:27 ESV). His words of warning and his constant calls to repentance were going to reveal the exact nature of the people of Judah’s moral and spiritual state. So far, Jeremiah’s messages had fallen on deaf ears. His warnings had been rejected. His threats had been ignored. His prophecies concerning God’s coming judgment had been contradicted by false prophets who promised nothing but peace and prosperity. And God assesses the true nature of His people as being “stubbornly rebellious” (Jeremiah 6:28 ESV).

It’s essential that we keep in mind that the people of Judah were not pagans who knew nothing about God. They were not ignorant of who He was or unfamiliar with His ways. They were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They knew the stories of His rescue of their ancestors Egypt. They had heard about His miraculous miracles as He led them through the wilderness. They had been told of the fall of the walls of Jericho and the ultimate rise of David to the throne of Israel. They were proud to be Jews. But none of this seemed to keep them from turning their backs on God. They had taken His many blessings and turned their noses up at them, acting as if God was not enough. They turned to false gods and sought help from foreign nations. They treated God’s laws as optional. The prophet Ezekiel records God’s less-than-flattering assessment of them.

The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have wronged the poor and needy; they have oppressed the foreigner who lives among them and denied them justice. I looked for a man from among them who would repair the wall and stand in the gap before me on behalf of the land, so that I would not destroy it, but I found no one.– Ezekiel 22:29-30 ESV

They were thoroughly polluted, from top to bottom. From the princes in the palace to the peasant in his hut, everyone was stained by sin and polluted by immorality and injustice. They had become profane and, in the end, they had profaned the name of God. Their behavior had given God a black eye. As His representatives, they had done damage to His holy reputation. And that was not something God could or would tolerate. That is why they would end up in captivity. And even there, long after suffering the shame of defeat and deportation, the people of Judah would continue to profane God’s name. The prophet Ezekiel describe what was going to happen and how God, in spite of their continued unfaithfulness, even after their punishment by Him.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake that I am about to act, O house of Israel, but for the sake of my holy reputation which you profaned among the nations where you went. I will magnify my great name that has been profaned among the nations, that you have profaned among them. The nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the sovereign Lord, when I magnify myself among you in their sight.” – Ezekiel 36:22-23 NLT

God was going to protect the integrity of His name. He would prove to the people of Judah and the nations around them that He was faithful and that He was all-powerful. He would redeem His people once again. He would restore them to favor. He would make them His holy nation once more. Not because they deserved it, but simply because is faithful, loving, gracious and merciful. And He keeps His covenants.

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

Filing Suits Instead of Following Christ.

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud — even your own brothers! – 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 ESV

It seems that the believers in Corinth were having a difficult time grasping the significance of their new status as members of the body of Christ. The concept of having been set apart to God and separated from the world had not yet sunk in. They were still thinking like Greeks and as citizens of Rome. Their mindset was more worldly than godly. This was not an uncommon problem in the early church. In fact, in his letter to Titus, Paul gave him a much-needed reminder:

…we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. – Titus 2:12-14 NLT

Back in chapter three of this letter, Paul had reprimanded the Corinthians about their propensity to live their lives from a worldly perspective.

…you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world? – 1 Corinthians 3:3 NLT

Whether or not Paul is laying down a hard-and-fast prohibition against Christians taking one another to court is not clear. But his point seems to be that the Corinthians are not approaching their problems from a spiritual perspective. First of all, the fact that they were having disputes among one another that would require legal action is unacceptable. This indicates that they were living in the flesh and not the Spirit. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul gave a lengthy, but far from complete, list of sins associated with living according to our sin natures. In it he included sexual immorality, lustful pleasures, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension,  and division. Virtually any lawsuit or legal claim entails one or more of these “deeds of the flesh.” Which is what led Paul to say to them, “Even to have such lawsuits with one another is a defeat for you. Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated?” (1 Corinthians 6:7 NLT).

Paul’s primary concern seems to be the integrity of the body of Christ and the honor of God’s name. He is not making a sweeping accusation against the legal profession or courts of law. He simply desires that the believers in Corinth see their Christian faith as more than just a label. It was to become a way of life. It was to influence the way they lived their lives. Paul is also not naive enough to believe that disputes will never take place between believers. As long as we live in these earthly bodies, we will be prone to conflicts, even with fellow believers. But there is a proper way in which we are to settle our disputes. That is why Paul asks, “ Isn’t there anyone in all the church who is wise enough to decide these issues?” (1 Corinthians 6:5 NLT). For Paul, it made much more sense to settle disputes between believers within the family of God. It was a matter of common sense. How could ungodly judges know what is best when deciding a dispute between godly believers? What makes legal sense is not necessarily what God would have us do. The right legal decision and the right spiritual one are not always the same thing.

Remember that Paul said earlier in this very same letter, “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. As the Scriptures say, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent’” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19 NLT). The message of the cross is at the heart of Paul’s argument. The cross of Christ doesn’t just provide us with forgiveness from sin and escape from future condemnation. It provides us with the power to live godly lives in this world. It is a means of both positional and practical righteousness. And none of that makes sense to those living in the world. While a secular judge may determine that a believer who owes a debt to a brother must pay it in full or face the full penalty of the law, God may require that both the debt and the brother be forgiven. God’s ways are not our ways. And because, “no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11 ESV), how can an unbelieving judge know what God’s will might be in a given situation.

Paul refers to the lawsuits they were filing as “trivial cases.” This does not mean that they were small matters or of little significance. Paul is simply saying that in the grand scheme of things, earthly disputes are nothing to worry about. We are to live with a future orientation, fully aware that our ultimate reward is in heaven, where we will sit as judges over the nations. We will rule and reign with Christ. And all disputes, large and small, will be settles once and for all. The greatest dispute being over the sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Christ. Every one who has refused to acknowledge God and accept Christ as Savior will be judged. And yet, here were the Corinthians wasting time and energy disputing with one another over “trivial cases,” and taking one another to court to settle insignificant issues that have no eternal value.

We have been set apart by God. We have been given new natures. We have the Holy Spirit living within us and the Word of God to direct us. Our designation as Christians is to be more than just a label, it is to be a description of our lifestyle. We are to live like Christ. We are to love like Christ. We are to model Christ in all that we do. Christ was willing to suffer so that we might live. He was willing to endure unjust accusations and an undeserved death sentence so that we might be saved. As Isaiah so poignantly put it:

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away. – Isaiah 53:7-8 NLT

Hear. Forgive. Act.

O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name. – Daniel 9:19 ESV

Daniel 9:4-19

As Daniel wraps up his prayer, he refocuses his attention on the mercy of God. He asks that God would hear his prayer. He asks that God would forgive the transgressions he has just confessed. Finally, he begs God to hear and do something about it. In the Hebrew, the next phrase is in the negative. He actually says, “delay not.” He is asking that God intervene immediately. In other words, he wants to see the power of God unleashed without delay. After all, they had been waiting 70 years. According to the writings of Jeremiah, the time was ripe for God’s promise or restoration to be fulfilled. Daniel wanted to see it happen ASAP.

But what is interesting is the reason Daniel gave for God to hear, forgive and act. He appeals to God based on His own name and reputation. From Daniel’s human perspective, he saw it as a case of God’s character being at stake. People had already been talking about the state of affairs in Israel, and how their God had abandoned them. Daniel had to have heard countless rumors and discussions regarding God’s apparent apathy toward His own people or His inability to do anything about their condition. Even the Israelites had to have given up hope that their God was ever going to do something about their captivity. That is probably why so many of them had turned to the gods of Babylon. But Daniel held on to what he knew about God. He put his hope in the reality of who God claimed to be and what He had already done for the people of Israel. The words of Jeremiah the prophet rang in his ear, providing him with the faith he needed to keep on believing.

There is none like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is great in might. Who would not fear you, O King of the nations? For this is your due; for among all the wise ones of the nations and in all their kingdoms there is none like you. They are both stupid and foolish; the instruction of idols is but wood! Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz. They are the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the goldsmith; their clothing is violet and purple; they are all the work of skilled men. But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King. At his wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure his indignation. – Jeremiah 10:6-10 ESV

Daniel’s God was incomparable. He was without equal in power and was worthy of all honor. Daniel longed for God to protect His own name, because he knew the people of Judah were incapable of carrying it off. He asked God to do something because he was painfully well aware that the chosen people of God had chosen to do nothing. There was nothing they could do. They were complete incapable of changing their ways. They were stubborn, rebellious and prone to solve their problems their own way. But Daniel knew they had one hope: God. He knew if anything was going to happen, it would have to be up to God. And if God was to do anything, it would be based on His own desire to protect the character and reputation of His name. God would not allow Himself to be perceived as a liar, as weak, as uncaring, without compassionate, powerless, indifferent, always angry, unmerciful, or unloving. God had promised to restore the people of Judah, and He would. God had made a covenant with the people of Judah, and He would keep it. God was all-powerful, and He would show it. God was loving, and He would prove it. God was sovereign, and He would reveal it. God would hear, forgive and act. Not because of the people of Judah, but because He is God.