This post from the Book of Jeremiah is spiffed up and better explained as part of Redo Week. Click and enjoy!
Jeremiah 10:5, 10
5 Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do you any good. …10 But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King. When he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath.
Here, Jeremiah compares false idols, which the Israelites’ neighboring nations worship, to God–and it’s a hard-hitting analysis. Not only are the idols powerless to speak or act, unlike God, but they also can neither do harm or good–they and the customs associated with them are ultimately “worthless,” as Jeremiah states in verse 3. In contrast to God, Who is the omnipotent, holy creator, these false idols are worth no more than the earthly materials they’re made of.
Why is this distinction so important? Because the Israelites have been repeatedly lured away from God by false idols of all sorts; the Old Testament is brimming with examples of Israel’s spiritual drifting, waffling between devout belief in God and the slow leak of worldly values into worship. Jeremiah knew that if he was to reach God’s people, he had to first snap them out of their belief in all these false idols. These idols were only dragging their attention away from God, when they should have been depending on Him most.
Today, we modern Christians must battle a similar tide of worldliness leaking into our faith life every day. This problem is not just an “ancient-Israel” thing–sin and false idols are still powerfully attractive to our human natures, and so the tug-of-war between the flesh and the spirit continues. None of us are immune, not even church leaders; sometimes, we worship false idols without even realizing it (worshipping church power, money, or accomplishments, anyone?). So Jeremiah’s words speak to us, too–even though modern false idols might be amazingly sparkly, they still cannot match up to the power and love of God!
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message: ‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. 3 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. 4 Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” 5 If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, 6 if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever. 8 But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.”
God lays it out pretty straightforwardly here: “Straighten up, do as you’re told, and all will be well. Keep doing what you’re doing, disobeying Me and trying to deceive Me, and I will not refrain from reprimanding you.”
But The people of Judah, unfortunately, were too busy following other local deities, killing, and being cruel, all while paying only halfhearted lip service to God. They were even resorting to repeating useless phrases over and over, as if that alone could garner them righteousness. God could see straight through that deceptive behavior, and so He tells Jeremiah, one of His prophets, to literally lay down the Law with these people. All the people of Judah would have to do is follow what God said–it seems laughably easy!
These days, however, we modern folk find it just about as hard to follow what God says. What He says hasn’t changed any, but our drive to be “in charge of our own lives” hasn’t changed much either. We like to pick and choose what to follow and what to ignore out of convenience and self-serving motives, rather than sticking with God 100%. We all need Jeremiah’s message from God, even those of us who are in church every time the doors open–we all need to be reminded of what God requires of us and how He expects His people to behave.
Jeremiah 10:11, 15-16
11 Tell them this: ‘These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.’ … 15 They are worthless, the objects of mockery; when their judgment comes, they will perish. 16 He who is the Portion of Jacob is not like these, for he is the Maker of all things, including Israel, the tribe of his inheritance—the Lord Almighty is his name.”
Jeremiah, speaking the Word of God to the wayward Israelites, is very clear: the idols and gods that other tribes and peoples in the region worship are not like God–they are false. They “did not make the heavens and the earth,” and thus they will “perish from the earth,” because they are nothing like God even though they purport to be.
False idols, according to God through Jeremiah, are worthy only of mockery. Earlier in chapter 10, the prophet describes how the false idols must be propped up, dressed, and carried because they cannot actually do anything for themselves, nor can they affect the world around them. By contrast, God made the earth, the heavens, and everything within them, and He not only watches over everything He created, but has power over it all as well.
Even today, we see the truth of this passage. Praying for anything else besides God to save us or help us does no good, but praying to God can and has caused some miracles to happen. God is definitely still active and still in the business of protecting and caring for His people. This is why the false idols, the false gods that have tempted the Israelites away, do not even compare with God–they can never do what He can, can never help people the way that God can. This is why the “Portion of Jacob” (a title for God only used here and one other place in the Bible) is so much better than those other idols; He is real, and they aren’t.
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
This oft-quoted verse is couched within a letter that Jeremiah sent to the remaining elders of the Israelite exiles, telling them what he had heard from God. The exiles by this time were disheartened and felt abandoned by God, and needed to hear from Him again, needed to feel His presence, even if they were still a little spiritually rebellious.
God had indeed used the Babylonian exile period as a way to teach the Israelites, but it was not for an evil purpose–it was to help them remember that they needed to depend on him. They had been far too proud and far too headstrong before, and the period of exile taught them humility. Thus, this letter from Jeremiah carries a message of reconciliation from God, including this verse. God wants to reassure the Israelites that He has great plans for them, which are for their best interests.
In fact, God has always worked for their best interests, even if the Israelites have not always understood it. Like children rebelling against a parent, the Israelites have been wayward and nearly untenable, worshipping any “god” but God, doing anything but what God has asked them to do. So, much like a parent who disciplines to teach their children respectful behavior, God has disciplined the Israelites with this time of exile, to teach them that His blessing is something they should rejoice in, not spurn. This discipline does not come from a place of hate and anger, but a place of love and nurturing–no matter how much it hurts at the time.
It’s much the same way with us. God does not do evil things in our lives or cause evil things to happen, but He uses trials and problems to help us develop strength and faith. This ultimately helps us grow into the people He created us to be. Nothing God does is for harming us; even the harshest trials we face can end up showing us how strong God’s love is for us. During my horrible failure of a teaching career, for instance, I felt very distant from God, so overwhelmed…but He never let me die, never let me really hurt myself or anyone else. In fact, I found myself reaching for God in those darkest of days, and I found Him there, with a plan ready to lift me from pain. God wants to do the same for all of us, whenever we decide we’re ready to listen.
60 Jeremiah had written on a scroll about all the disasters that would come upon Babylon–all that had been recorded concerning Babylon. 61 He said to Seraiah, “When you get to Babylon, see that you read all these words aloud. 62 Then say, ‘LORD, you have said you will destroy this place, so that neither people nor animals will live in it; it will be desolate forever.’
Dire words, for a dire prophecy; in Jeremiah 50:2-51:58, Jeremiah had foretold all the terrible things that would happen to Babylon because of its treachery towards and conquest of Israel, and here, he has that all written on a scroll, to read to the people of Babylon. According to Jeremiah’s writings, God would avenge His people’s suffering and strike down the nation that had dared to think so highly of its own powers. Even the land itself would be uninhabitable, according to this short passage quoted here.
God seems wrathful, even fearsome in the referenced passage, but it is a protective wrath; even as human parents defend their children, so God defends His children, the children of Israel. It is not an out-of-control rage that God is in; He knows precisely what must be done to right the balance of power and pull all the people back into line. He is just, righteous, and yes, a little frightening in that righteousness, but this is a punishment for Babylon that is fitting (and has been a long time coming). Babylon had worshipped other gods, had attacked and enslaved Israel, and generally lived in all sorts of sin; God would make an example of the city and its people.
What we forget, these days, is that God’s still in the business of making miracles and righting wrongs, even if it seems to take so long and so much suffering happens in the meantime. God sees our suffering, whatever form it takes, and if we are faithful to Him, we will see that suffering avenged with the same kind of just and fitting punishment. It may not always happen on the grand, epic scale of Babylon falling, but it will happen. (And if we’re personally involved in the business of attacking and hurting others, and thinking too highly of ourselves, this passage and the referenced prophecy should make us worried!)
“Am I a God near at hand,” says the LORD, “And not a God afar off? Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see him?” says the LORD; “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the LORD.”
In this part of Jeremiah, God is expressing his disgust for false prophets, who think that they can spread false testimony about what “God” is saying. God reminds the false prophets–and everyone else–that He is both close by and omniscient. He is right beside the people who need Him, at the same moment that He is watchful over all Creation. No one can hide from God or do anything that God does not know of. The false prophets believe they’re getting away with putting fake divine prophecy about, but God’s rhetorical questions in this verse say differently.
To the casual reader, this can sound scary, as if God is a “Big Brother” figure who just looks over our shoulders all the time. But this is actually a comforting verse–God knows all and watches over all, even when we think He has forgotten us, even when we think that He does not care what happens to us. He witnesses all the evil that goes on in our world and moves to right it according to His timetable (not necessarily ours), and yet He is right beside us when we need Him, too.
“This is what the LORD says: ‘You say about this place, “It is a desolate waste, without men or animals.” Yet in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither men or animals, there will be heard once more 11 the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord, saying, “Give thanks to the LORD Almighty, for the LORD is good; his love endures forever.” For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were before,’ says the LORD.”
This Bible passage reminds us that even if we don’t like what’s been given us, God provides us with what we need. The Israelites didn’t like the land God had led them to, but they were still living in towns together, in houses–God was providing for them, even as they were rejecting His gifts of land and protection as being “not good enough.” (And not only that, God promised even more blessings if the Israelites would only trust Him!)
Even if we’re living in difficult times, we must find the strength to trust in God that He will care for us and provide us with what we need to survive. Our wants may not be met, but our needs will be, if we place them in God’s hands.