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).

Independence

Israel’s relationship with God was meant to be special, unique in that it involved personal contact between God and his people. The basis for the relationship was a covenant that was similar to a marriage that permanently bound the two together. The problem was that Israel didn’t want to be dependent on God. The people thought they could take care of themselves and didn’t need to be forgiven of their sins. Hosea stated it this way. “They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God” (Hosea 5:4).

Basically, the message Hosea conveyed was that Israel was unconcerned about its own well-being. Like a reckless teenager barreling down the freeway at 100 mph, Hosea stated, “And the pride of Israel doth testify to his face: therefore shall Israel and Ephraim fall in their iniquity; Judah also shall fall with them” (Hosea 5:5). As much as God wanted to be in close contact with his people, the Israelites were determined to exercise their independence, so he had to walk away and leave them to their own devices.

Speaking through the prophet Hosea, the LORD communicated his intention. He declared, “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early” (Hosea 5:15). The way God’s system worked was that his people had to confess their sins and ask for forgiveness through sacrifices. The people thought their sacrifices were payment for their sins, but in reality, the sacrifices were symbolic of the substitutionary death required to erase the sin from God’s memory.

Israel had gotten used to God coming to her rescue whenever she cried out for help. Like a child whose mother constantly attends to her needs, the people of Israel thought God would respond as usual even though the people had stopped confessing their sins (Hosea 6:3). Their sacrificial system was no longer a means of clearing their collective conscience, but a way to get God’s attention and to secure the Israelites’ prosperity. The LORD pointed out the contradiction in their objectives when he stated, “For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

As a testimony to their disobedience, God reminded the Israelites that forgiveness was not automatic and the consequences they were going to experience was a result of sin (Hosea 7:2). Using the illustration of a hot oven to depict their uncontrolled behavior, God showed the Israelites that their resources had run out (Hosea 7:7). In spite of this, they thought they could survive without him. “And the pride of Israel testifieth to his face: and they do not return to the LORD their God, nor seek him for all this” (Hosea 7:10).

He knows what he’s doing

“If I regard iniquity in my heart, the LORD will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18). The word translated iniquity ’âven (aw – ven´) is derived from a root word meaning ‘to be strong'” (205). The idea behind this word is exercise or to exert oneself. It could be that aven is describing self-sufficiency or action that is independent of God. Ultimately, the action leads to misfortune and is considered to be a wasted effort.

In order to keep them from iniquity or a reliance on themselves, God tries or tests his children. It says in Psalm 66, “For thou, O God, hast proved us: Thou hast tried us, as silver is tried. Thou broughtest us into the net; thou laidest affliction upon our loins” (Psalm 66:10-11). The purpose of affliction or distress is to bring us to the point where we no longer rely on ourselves. God wants us to depend on him in times of trouble, so he lets the pressure build until we cry out to him for help.

To be tried as silver is tried means that you go through a process of refinement similar to what a gold smith uses to purify his metal. Those who have been purified “call on the name of the LORD” and are “qualified for battle” (6884). The testing God puts us through is intended to expose those that are lacking in faith or are self-reliant and therefore, destined for failure.

David said, “Blessed is the man whom thou choosest” (Psalm 65:4). The word translated choosest, bâchar (baw – khar´) is properly translated as to try (977). Therefore, it could be said, blessed is the man that God tries or the person that God puts through the purification process of affliction. In other words, we should be happy that God does not leave us to our own means and allow us to become so strong that we think we can handle things on our own.

The best position to be in is one of contentment. It says in Psalm 66:12, “We went through fire and through water: but thou brought us out into a wealthy place.” The result of purification is satisfaction. The wealthy place is the place where all of our needs are met, we are completely satisfied with our lives.

The goal of the silversmith is to transform his metal into a final product, usually one with a practical purpose. Before he begins work, the silversmith may investigate and test his metal to see what its capabilities are and determine its best use. It is within the silversmith’s power to make the metal into whatever he wants it to be, but his knowledge of and experience working with metal guide him in the decision making process. When God sets out to transform a life, he does so with a knowledge of the individual’s breaking point, how much pressure he or she can withstand, and the experience of listening to her cries since birth.

Don’t be a fool

“Fools because of their transgression and because of their iniquities, are afflicted” (Psalm 107:17). A fool is someone that lives by his own resources (191). The fool believes that he can figure things out on his own and does not rely on godly wisdom.

The problem with fools is they often get into trouble that they do not have sufficient experience or resources to get out of. Teenagers are great examples of fools because they by nature want to be independent and aren’t aware of the risks they are taking.

Transgression is willful rebellion. The person who commits a transgression is trying to break away from authority and establish their independence (6586/6588). Again, teenagers are perfect examples of people who transgress because by nature teenagers want independence, their goal is to break away from their parents’ authority.

Iniquity is in essence the crossing of a line between normal and abnormal behavior. By definition, iniquity is perversion. In some cases, iniquity is not intentional. It can be a trap that someone falls into such as drug addition or prostitution. It could be that transgression leads to iniquity through the gradual decay of a person’s moral character.

To be afflicted means to be bowed down or humbled. It also means to be meek or depressed (6031/6035). The purpose of affliction is not punishment, but discipline. It has the connotation of learning from one’s mistakes. Moses is described as being very meek (Numbers 12:3), probably because of the mistake he made in killing the Egyptian who was mistreating an Israelite slave.

The greatest thing that can happen to a person that is always getting into trouble is to become aware of their need for independence. Independence in and of itself is not a bad thing. It is only when a person turns his back on God and thinks he can make it through life without God’s help that a person becomes a fool.