Yesterday we watched the Babylonian-appointed governor of Judah get assassinated. The people, in a panic about the expected retribution of Babylon, asked Jeremiah if they should run to Egypt — promising that they would do whatever the LORD said. When the Lord told them to stay, they did exactly what the LORD said NOT to do. Jeremiah, given his situation in today’s reading, must have been beside himself! “Hadn’t these people been hammered enough? Were they really going to tempt Him to completely wipe them out?” Let’s see what Jeremiah says and does.
No agenda but God’s
The Jews tried to justify their actions by accusing poor Baruch (Jeremiah’s scribe) of turning Jeremiah against them and prophesying things that would doom them. One wonders what they had against poor Baruch! But they had missed the point: Jeremiah’s message wasn’t coming out of his own head or opinions or agenda; it was coming from God. Modern faithful preachers sometimes get accused of having a personal agenda or a political “line to toe”. As a preacher I am so grateful for a book that I can carry and point to, when such competitive debates arise, so that people can argue with God rather than me.
You can run, but you can’t hide
The Jews ran in Tahpanhes, Egypt and interestingly enough decided to take Jeremiah and Baruch with them, possibly to try to insure that God wouldn’t zap them on the way to Egypt. Tahpanhes was in the NE Nile delta region, and later the city would be called Daphnae. One of Pharaoh’s palaces was there, and the Jews probably thought that it would be among the safer places to hide from Nebuchadnezzar. How wrong they were! Upon arriving in Tahpanhes God had an assignment for Jeremiah: take some large stones, put them in the mortar of the king’s new brick terrace in the sight of some of the Jewish refugees, and tell them that the king of Babylon defeat Pharaoh and would be putting his throne and spreading his pavilion exactly over these stones. In other words, “You can run, Jewish rebels, but you can’t escape my wrath about your disobedience.” Perhaps, like Jonah, they thought that they could flee from God’s presence, as if God could be localized in Israel alone. But God is not local, He is universal. Deepest darkness is lit up like daylight to Him. No tunnel’s too deep, no walls are too thick, no corner of the world is too out of the way for God to see clearly and act powerfully.
And by the way, William Flinders Petrie, an early archaeologist, discovered this very brickwork pavement in front of pharaoh’s palace in 1886. This really is history that we’re talking about here.
We will carry out the words of our own mouths
Despite Jeremiah’s prophecy, despite his pleadings with his captors to repent of their revived pagan practices, they were still determined to do their own thing. They had even erected a justification for it: Jeremiah 44:17, 18 “But rather we will certainly carry out every word that has proceeded from our mouths, by burning sacrifices to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, just as we ourselves, our forefathers, our kings and our princes did in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; for then we had plenty of food and were well off and saw no misfortune. But since we stopped burning sacrifices to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have met our end by the sword and by famine.” Sadly, these folks had a pretty poor memory about when and why things had gone south for them. Even sadder is the fact that their “repentance” had been been shallow and insincere. Jeremiah reminds them that this misfortune was the result of the paganism.
God’s patience has often been mistaken for something else — God’s approval of what sins men commit, proof that sin is well rewarded, that God doesn’t care, that God can’t control things, etc. But God’s patience is about mercy — Romans 2:4 “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”
Watching over them for harm and not for good
With regard to this group of refugees that had rebelliously fled to Egypt God had taken a serious turn of intention. In Jeremiah 29:11 we read, “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Now He was saying, Jeremiah 44:27, “‘Behold, I am watching over them for harm and not for good, and all the men of Judah who are in the land of Egypt will meet their end by the sword and by famine until they are completely gone.” Notice: God didn’t go from wanting good for His people to being merely apathetic toward them; He went from giving them a “future and a hope” to “watching over them for harm and not good”! The lesson here: God may be patient and have good intentions for His people, even when they are rebellious — but beware tempting His patience!
Don’t get greedy, you have your life
Both Baruch and Jeremiah had gone through pretty horrible times. More than the scenes of blood and destruction that they had witnessed, they had also been unjustly accused of being traitors or having their own political agendas. And Baruch was having a meltdown about all this: “You said, ‘Ah, woe is me! For the LORD has added sorrow to my pain; I am weary with my groaning and have found no rest.’” (Jeremiah 45:3). God’s answer to Baruch seems to be something like: “Don’t be greedy, you have your life and My protection — which is more than many of your country have.” It can be a real temptation to see everything that we DON’T have and miss all that we DO have.
Lastly, it could be easy to think that these people were more culpable than we would be, because they were receiving messages directly from the LORD through Jeremiah; but we’ve got a full revelation of God’s word in the Bible. I would argue that we’re just as — perhaps even more — culpable, when we decide to do our own thing.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.