Our behaviour, actions and decisions all have consequences. This is true both at a personal and national level. We all know this – it’s not rocket science. But I have been struck forcefully by this principal again in recent days as I have considered the life and times of the ancient Jewish prophet Jeremiah.
Jeremiah lived at a time when time was up – literally. God had had enough of the hypocrisy, lies, cheating, manipulation and injustice, to name but a few sins, of the nation that claimed to represent him – the people who had covenanted to be faithful to him. And they were about to be plunged in to disaster as a result.
I am not concerned here with the technical detail of the history of it all – even if I had the ability to understand it – rather to grasp the heart, mind and motivation of a God who allows a people to walk in to the arms of their enemies, some to death, others to exile.
And I am interested in all of this – not from some historical or theological standpoint – but to understand the unchanging principles at work here and which have the potential to bring down a life or the life of a nation. For the things we discover here are not limited to a specific timeframe in history – they are relevant even today.
What was it then that so incensed the heart of God – that he withdrew his protection and allowed disaster? There are many sides to consider in answer to this question – but some of the main ones seem pretty clear to me.
First of all they abandoned God and his love (Jeremiah 2:13 & 2:32 as well as many other places) – and rejected every appeal to return (Jeremiah 3:19/22/14 & 4:1/4 as well as many other places).
The people became obsessed by, and sacrificed every principal in, the pursuit of greater prosperity (Jeremiah 2:8 & 22:17). Despite already having all they needed materially they were constantly greedy for more (Jeremiah 5:8/25 & 8:10). They abandoned justice for the poor and needy (Jeremiah 5:28 & 6:13). The land was filled with false prophets who proclaimed prosperity and a bright future when God had clearly declared otherwise through Jeremiah. The true prophet (who was in a majority of one) was persecuted for his standing on the side of truth and righteousness (Jeremiah 5:31). The people maintained a veneer of religiosity – but it was abhorrent to God (Jeremiah 6:20).
The consequences of such behaviour resulted the withdrawal of God’s protection and the removal of his peace (Jeremiah 3:3 & 12:10). The abandonment of God also resulted in negative effects in the natural world (Jeremiah 3:3 & 12:10).
I wonder if any of this is sounding familiar in 2020?
Some might say that we are looking here at a distinctive nation – one that claimed a unique connection to their God and he with them – so what we are reading is not relevant to the people, nations and church of the western world today. I beg to disagree. There is this very interesting declaration attributed to God in Jeremiah –
‘As for any nation that will not listen to and follow My ways, I will uproot it and destroy it completely.’
Jeremiah 12:17 (TV)
‘Any nation!’. That includes the nations of the world in 2020. God’s principles, borne from a heart of love – justice, mercy, compassion, truth and grace are not time or location limited!
But, and it’s a big but, another question that has troubled a lot of people is answered here – and it’s this – ‘In the face of impending judgement and disaster can God change his mind?’ Some say no – God says yes!
Even as Jeremiah declared God’s coming judgement he is called upon to go down to the palace of the king with this message –
‘This is what the Eternal has to say: ‘Do what is just and right. Rescue those poor ones being robbed by the extortionists. Protect the outsiders, orphans, and widows in your land from any oppression, for they have no one. Stop the violence and the shedding of innocent blood in this place. If you do what I say, there will always be a king on the throne in Jerusalem.’
Jeremiah 22: 3 & 4 (TV)
Tragically of course the nations to which the prophet spoke refused to listen. Thousands perished at the hand of their enemy and thousands more went into exile in Babylon.
I do often wonder if the people and nations of our day will chooses repentance, a returning again to the love of God, and neighbour over the selfishness which seem to dominate our society and which, if left unchecked, will ultimately lead to tragedy?
Post Image – Rembrandt, 1630 , Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem.