The Living God

Jeremiah exposed the trade of idolatry as a worthless pursuit of self glorification. He spoke of those who practiced idolatry as being vain. He said, “For the customs of the people  are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold, they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must be borne, because they cannot go” (Jeremiah 10:3-5).

Idols were nothing more that inanimate objects that were portrayed as having superhuman powers that could harm people unless sacrifices were made to them. Jeremiah said, “Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good” (Jeremiah 10:5). At the heart of idolatry was a superstitious belief that a person could control his own destiny and did not need help from God to be successful in life.

Jeremiah pointed out that God’s role in the universe was to control the final outcome of his creation. He said, “But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king; at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation” (Jeremiah 10:10). The Hebrew word translated everlasting, ‘ôlâm (o – lawm´) refers to something that is concealed or the vanishing point when time no longer exists (5769). Another interpretation of olam is eternity. In the context of an everlasting king, it refers to the God who always has and always will rule over the earth.

Jeremiah’s reference to the LORD as the true God, the living God, was meant to emphasize the fact that God is alive and is a divine being with real superhuman powers. Jeremiah said, “He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion” (Jeremiah 10:12). Jeremiah’s use of the words power, wisdom, and discretion to describe God indicate that he is an intelligent being with the ability to create a world that is stable in the midst of a chaotic universe.

Jeremiah acknowledged that there is no comparison between man’s ability and God’s ability. As much as we want to think we can control our own destiny, it is impossible. Without God, there is no way to know how our lives will change over the course of 40 – 50 years. Jeremiah said, “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. O LORD, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing” (Jeremiah 10:23-24).

 

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Heart trouble

At the beginning of Jeremiah’s ministry, the city of Jerusalem was active in its worship of the LORD. After king Josiah made a covenant “to walk after the LORD, and to keep his commandments,” a Passover celebration took place that included every citizen of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 34:31; 35:18). It says in 2 Chronicles 35:18, “And there was no Passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the Prophet; neither did all the kings of Israel keep such a Passover as Josiah kept.” And yet, the LORD challenged Jeremiah to try to find one upright man for whose sake he might pardon the entire city. He told Jeremiah, “And though they say, The LORD liveth; surely they swear falsely” (Jeremiah 5:2).

Although the people  of Jerusalem were practicing their religion, God could see their hearts were not in it. Jeremiah said, “O LORD, are not thine eyes upon the truth? thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved, thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return” (Jeremiah 5:3). Jeremiah’s reference to the peoples’ faces being harder than rock was actually a reference to their hard heartedness. The Hebrew word translated harder, chazaq (khaw – zak´) is the same word used to describe Pharaoh’s hardened heart when he refused to let the people of Israel leave Egypt (Exodus 7:13). In reference to Pharaoh, chazaq means “to brace up and strengthen and points to the hardihood with which he set himself to act in defiance against God and closed all the avenues to his heart to those signs and wonders which Moses wrought” (2388).

When the people of Jerusalem celebrated the Passover, they were only going through the motions. Their true motive for participation was a free meal at the expense of king Josiah (2 Chronicles 35:7). God could see the people had become complacent and were no longer concerned about his judgment of them. It was as if they believed God was unaware of what they were doing and could not hold them accountable for their sin. In order to show them the foolishness of their decision to reject his offer of salvation, God intended to let his children experience the fruit of their own labors. He declared through the prophet Jeremiah, “A wonderful and a horrible thing is committed in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means, and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?” (Jeremiah 5:31).

 

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).

Self-sufficiency

God’s relationship with the nation of Israel was based on his personal relationship with Abraham and his descendants. The name Israel was given to Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, when Jacob prevailed in a wrestling match with God. Jacob was told, “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with man, and hast prevailed” (Genesis 32:28).

Jacob’s power was essentially an ability to overcome or not give up. One interpretation of the name Israel is “he struggles with God” (note on Hosea 12:4). Jacob’s personality could be seen in the nation that bore his name when Israel relied on its own self-sufficiency to deal with the oppressive Assyrian empire. Like Jacob, the nation of Israel thought it could outwit the king of Assyria, but Hosea declared, “the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to return” (Hosea 11:5).

Initially, Jacob’s family went to live in Egypt because of a widespread famine that depleted the food supply in Canaan (Genesis 41:57). While they were living in Egypt, the people of the children of Israel increased in numbers and became stronger than the Egyptians, so they were made slaves and were afflicted by Pharaoh. “But the more they afflicted them the more they multiplied and grew” (Exodus 1:12).

Israel’s ability to handle affliction was in a sense what made it both great and stubborn at the same time. Describing Israel’s sin against God, Hosea declared, “Ephraim compasseth me about with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit: but Judah yet ruleth with God, and is faithful with the saints” (Hosea 11:12).

Ephraim, the recipient of Jacob’s blessing, was described as a liar and a cheat in keeping with the character of Jacob, who stole his brother’s birthright (Genesis 25:31) and lied to his father to obtain his blessing (Genesis 27:19). Hosea went on to say, “Ephraim feedeth on the wind, and followeth after the east wind: he daily increaseth lies and desolation; and they do make a covenant with the Assyrians” (Hosea 12:1).

One way to look at Hosea’s condemning remarks was that Israel’s trouble was all Ephraim’s fault. Jacob’s grandson had become just like him and Ephraim was the instigator of his nation’s decline. The cause of the decline was Ephraim’s self-sufficiency and pride. Hosea stated, “And Ephraim said, Yet I am become rich, I have found me out substance: in all my labours they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin” (Hosea 12:8).