False information

The people of Judah were dependent on false prophets and corrupt priests to guide them in their spiritual activities. One of the reasons God’s people were unrepentant was they thought their sacrifices were enough to guarantee God’s blessing on their nation. There was no real awareness among the people of Judah that they were in trouble. Jeremiah described their problem as a “perpetual backsliding” (Jeremiah 8:5). Jeremiah’s use of the term perpetual backsliding indicated there was a permanent separation between God and his people. Another way of describing their condition would be to say the people had abandoned their faith. They no longer believed in God.

It was difficult for Jeremiah to get through to the people because their consciences were unaffected by what they were doing. Jeremiah declared, “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among them  that fall: in the time of their visitation” (Jeremiah 8:12). A time of visitation was an appointed time when an officer or custodian would have to give an account for his area of responsibility. The nation of Judah was responsible to God for their worship activities. They were not free to worship in any other way than what had been prescribed to them by the Mosaic Law. God’s ultimate goal for his people was for them to receive salvation and eternal life. Because of their disobedience, God’s plan could not be carried out.

God was grieved over the situation in Judah. He didn’t want to punish his children, but he couldn’t overlook the fact that they had disassociated themselves from him and were going to die without their sins being atoned for. Jeremiah depicted God’s attitude toward his children as one of care and concern for their well-being. He said, “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?

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Recompense

God intended his children to be different than everyone else. He rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and gave them the Promised Land so they could prosper and live there for ever. When the Mosaic Law was implemented, God made a way for his people to be forgiven of their sins and again to prosper even though they had made mistakes. As a result of their special treatment, the Israelites became wicked, and selfish, and took advantage of God’s mercy toward them (Jeremiah 5:27-28). In some ways, God’s people acted as if the LORD was their servant, instead of the other way around. God asked Jeremiah, “Do they provoke me to anger? do they not provoke themselves to the confusion of their own faces? (Jeremiah 7:19). In other words, God was saying that the people had lost sight of who they were and why he had delivered them from slavery.

The main thing the people of Judah had forgotten was their responsibility to do the will of God. The LORD reminded Jeremiah, “But this thing commanded I them saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you” (Jeremiah 7:23). Just because their sins were forgiven didn’t mean God’s children were exempt from suffering the consequences of their wrong behavior. In effect, God had told the Israelites from the beginning that it would go well for them if they obeyed his commandments, but if they didn’t, they would be punished (Deuteronomy 28:15). In condemnation of their wrong choices, the LORD stated, “But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsel and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward” (Jeremiah 7:24).

Jeremiah warned the people  of Judah of terrible days to come. He described the scene of a great slaughter that would take place at a sight known as the “valley of the son of Hinnom” where children were burned in a fire pit as a sacrifice to pagan gods (note on Jeremiah 7:31). As if he was paying a recompense to the unfortunate children that had been killed there, the LORD said he would turn the valley of Hinnom into a cemetery when the people of Judah were slaughtered there by the Babylonian invaders. He said, “Therefore, behold, the days will come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of the son of Himmom, but the valley of slaughter: for they shall bury in Tophet till there be no place. And the carcasses of the people shall be meat for the fowls of heaven, and for the beasts of the earth; and none shall fray them away” (Jeremiah 7:32-33).

Backsliding

A constant problem for God’s people while they were living in the Promised Land was backsliding. The prophet Jeremiah declared “The LORD said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every  high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot” (Jeremiah 3:6) The Hebrew word translated backsliding , meshubah means backturning (4878), as in turning your back on someone. Another translation of meshubah is the word faithless. In other words, the people of Israel lacked faith. They did not believe in God and would not repent of their sins against him.

God used the northern kingdom of Israel as an example of his judgment when he sent them into captivity in 722 B.C. In spite of the fact that the northern kingdom ceased to exist after that, the southern kingdom of Judah followed down the same pathway to destruction. Jeremiah remarked, “And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole hart, but feignedly, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 3:10). The Hebrew word translated feignedly, sheqer (sheh´ – ker) refers to an untruth or sham (8267). Sheqer defines a way of life that goes contrary to the law of God. Sheqer is a relational term signifying ‘”one’s inability to keep faith” with what one has said or to respond positively to the faithfulness of another being.”

It could be said that Judah had become desensitized to sin. It no longer bothered the people when they made sacrifices to idols. They were like prostitutes that perform sex acts for money. It was just a way to earn a living. The LORD declared, “Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have you dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 3:20). The strong language used to describe Israel’s betrayal indicated that it was intentional act. The people treated God as if he were their enemy and could not be trusted with the truth. The people of Judah no longer considered themselves to be children of God, but instead were acting like children of the  foreign god Baal.

Even though the situation with Judah seemed hopeless, God did not intend to abandon them as he had the northern kingdom of Israel. God said to them, “Return ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings” (Jeremiah 3;22). In order to cure his rebellious children of their backsliding, God would turn them over to the Babylonians so that they could experience life apart from him. The objective of their Babylonian captivity was to remind God’s people of what slavery was like. It had been hundreds of years since the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt. Over the course of seventy years, God expected the people of Judah to come to a point where they would say:

We lie down in shame, and our confusion covereth us:  for we have sinned against  the LORD our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even unto this day, and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God. (Jeremiah 3:25)

A legal case

Jeremiah’s message to Judah began with the presentation of a legal case against God’s people. According to the Mosaic Law, the Israelites were forbidden to worship any other God besides YHWH, the name of God translated into English as LORD. God chose this name as the personal name by which he related specifically to his chosen or covenant people (3068). The first three commandments of the Mosaic Law stated:

  1. Thou shalt have not other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in the heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
  3. Thou shalt not bow down thyself  to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children  unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. (Exodus 20:3-5)

The first three of the Ten Commandments given to the children of Israel dealt with idolatry because the covenant between God and his chosen people depended on a relationship existing between the two parties of the agreement. In some ways, the Ten Commandments were like a marriage contract that specified the terms for a divorce to take place. It was implied that both God and his people would be faithful to each other and remain in the relationship for ever. The reason why idolatry was off limits for them was because like adultery, it undermined the intimacy that was necessary for a loving relationship to exist. The only way the Israelites would trust God and depend on his provision for them was knowing God and God alone could take care of all their needs.

God’s issue with his people was not so much that they had broken his commandments , but that they had abandoned him for worthless idols. Speaking through Jeremiah, the LORD declared, “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns; broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). A cistern was a man-made storage tank designed to capture rain and make it available throughout the year. The cistern was representative of an idol because it was cut or carved out of stone and signified man’s ability to live independent of God’s ongoing provision. God’s reference to broken cisterns that could hold no water was meant to highlight the fact that a cistern was useless without rain, which God still had to provide.

The Israelites’ desire for independence was seen by God as being the same as an unfaithful spouse. Particularly in the book of Hosea, God’s people were likened to “a wife of whoredoms” (Hosea 1:2). Rather than being thankful for what God had provided, the Israelites preferred to fend for themselves (Jeremiah 2;25) and to worship whomever they pleased (Jeremiah 2:31). In spite of their flagrant idolatry, God’s people claimed to be innocent of the charges God brought against them. It was only because they refused to repent that God proceeded with his judgment. Jeremiah declared the truth about the people’s attitude when he said, “Yet thou sayest, Because I am innocent, surely his anger shall turn from me. Behold, I will plead with thee, because thou sayest, I have not sinned” (Jeremiah 2:35).

The curse

It’s hard to imagine that God knew Israel would end up going into captivity even before they entered the Promised Land, but along side the blessings of obedience listed in Deuteronomy 28 are the curses of disobedience which state:

And it shall come to pass, that as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you dood, and to multiply you; so the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you, and to bring you to nought; and ye shall be plucked from off the land whither thou goest to possess it. And the LORD shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone…Then men shall say, Because they have forsaken the covenant  of the LORD God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt: for they went and served other gods, and worshipped them , gods whom they knew not, and whom he had not given unto them; and the anger of the LORD was kindled against this land, to bring upon it all the curses that are written in this book: and the LORD rooted them out of their land in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them unto another land, as it is this day. (Deuteronomy 28:63-64; 29:25-28)

Hoshea, the last king of Israel, reigned from 732-722 B.C. Shalmanezer, the successor to Tiglath-pilneser king of Assyria, conducted a three-year protracted siege against Israel that ended in 722 B.C. “At that time, according to Assyrian annuls written on clay ‘I (Sargon) besieged and conquered Samaria, led away as booty 27,290 inhabitants…I installed over (those remaining) an officer of mine and imposed upon them the tribute of the former king” (Campaign of Shalmanezer V).

The explanation of Israel’s captivity was that they did not believe in the LORD their God. “And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified against them; and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that were round about them, concerning whom the LORD had charged them, that they should not do like them” (2 Kings 17:15).

God did not force the Israelites to obey him. He gave them a choice (Deuteronomy 30:19) and clearly stated the consequences they could expect (Deuteronomy 28). Israel’s disobedience resulted in God rejecting them and turning them over to their enemies to be punished (2 Kings 17:20). After the king of Assyria removed them from the land, he “brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of God” (2 Kings 17:24).

The resettlement of Samaria with a mixture of cultures and nationalities led to diverse religious practices and idolatry. It says in 2 Kings 17:29 that even though the people were taught God’s divine law, “Howbeit every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelt.” In a very hypocritical manner, these people practiced syncretistic religion. “They feared the LORD, and served their own gods” (2 Kings 17:33).

Judgment

The prophet Amos was an ordinary man that God used to deliver a universal message of judgment to all the inhabitants of the land promised to Abraham. Unlike Isaiah who had a formal role in the kingdom of Judah, Amos worked for a living as a sheepmaster. Although Amos was probably uneducated, he spoke eloquently, perhaps a sign that the words he spoke came directly from God.

Amos used the same phrase to introduce each of the eight judgments he pronounced. “For three transgressions…and four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof” (Amos 1:3). The Hebrew word translated transgression, pesha’ means a revolt (7588). “Basically, this noun signifies willful deviation from, and therefore rebellion against, the path of godly living.” Amos’ reference to three transgressions, and four that they would be punished for indicated there was a repeated or habitual tendency that remained unchanged.

Amos’ testimony of God’s judgment on the nations revealed that all were guilty and deserved punishment. No one, including Israel and Judah, had met God’s expectations of a peaceful co-existence. Much like Jacob’s family, the conflict was continual and bitter dissention kept the nations divided. Among the list of offenders were enemies that had plagued Israel since they had arrived in the Promised Land; Damascus, the capital of Syria; the Philistine territory of Gaza; Tyrus and Edom; Ammon and Moab, who were the descendants of Lot.

Prominent in the description of eight judgments was the failure of Israel to conform to God’s standards. Amos’ indictment stated, “Because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes; that pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek: and a man and his father will go into the same maid, to profane my holy name” (Amos 2:6-7). God wanted his people to reflect his character, but instead they resembled the heathen who were cruel and oppressive, and eager to take advantage of those who couldn’t defend themselves.

Israel’s powerful army had enabled them to withstand numerous attacks by the Syrians. Because they had come to rely on their military skill rather than God’s protection and defense, their punishment would be an overwhelming defeat by the king of Assyria:

Therefore the flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not strengthen his force, neither shall the mighty deliver himself: neither shall he stand that handleth the bow; and he that is swift of foot shall not deliver himself, and he that is courageous among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day; saith the LORD. (Amos 2:14-16)

Mercy

Jonah’s reaction to the transformation of the people of Nineveh shows a disregard for the purpose of his visit. Jonah knew that God wanted the Ninevites to repent and turn from their wicked ways, and yet, when they did, “it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry” (Jonah 4:1). Jonah was not interested in seeing a change, he wanted revenge.

In spite of his successful mission, Jonah was distraught. It is clear from his prayer that Jonah wanted a different outcome. Jonah prayed, “Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:3). What Jonah meant was that he thought the outcome was unfair. God was only supposed to care about the Israelites because they were his chosen people.

At the core of Jonah’s complaint, was a belief that the Israelites should be treated different than everyone else. Jonah did not want God to forgive the people of Nineveh. As Jonah was demonstrating, the Israelites had become proud and were taking advantage of their relationship with the LORD. God wanted Jonah to realize that his mercy was not exclusive, anyone could repent and be saved.

Jonah was convinced that the Ninevites repentance was not genuine. It says in Jonah 4:5, “Jonah went out of the city, and there made himself a booth, and sat under it in the shade till he might see what would become of the city.” Jonah expected that on day 41, the day after the people were to be overthrown, everything would go back to normal. Jonah thought as soon as the people had escaped God’s judgment, they would return to their evil ways.

The booth Jonah made for himself was a temporary shelter or hut constructed by weaving together tree branches or the leaves of a plant (5521). Jonah’s attempt to make himself comfortable while he waited made it seem as if the destruction of Nineveh was a spectator sport that Jonah was meant to enjoy. In spite of his calloused attitude, God indulged Jonah by causing a plant to grow over him that provided additional shade. Unfortunately, the plant was eaten by a worm the next day.

In a final attempt to bring Jonah to his senses, God demonstrated his sovereign control over Jonah’s circumstances by sending a hot east wind to drive him away, but Jonah would not relent. Jonah was determined to prove God wrong and could not accept that the people of Nineveh were worthy of God’s compassion. What Jonah didn’t understand was that God’s mercy was not a part of his covenant with Israel. Rather, it was a part of God’s covenant with Noah that applied to the whole world (Genesis 9:15-17).